Saturday, September 29, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
“What I call ‘infinite’ is what excels any actual or possible finite being to a degree beyond any determinate measure you take or could take.”
- Scotus’ first move is to present the infinite as perfect rather than imperfect.
- Second, Scotus had to move beyond the notion of the infinite understood mathematically-i.e., in extensive terms where 10 is greater 9 and so on ad infinitum. This is to understand the infinite in a strictly quantitative sense.
- Third, Scotus develops an understanding of the infinite in an intensive sense.
If you consider a number sequence in which you can always add an additional number (the idea of 1, 2, 3., n+1…), this sequence is dominated by potentiality. Scotus then engages in a thought experiment in which this infinite sequence is understood in act. In other words, he asks us to imagine the sequence being finished. If we can think of the sequence as finished, we have an infinite quantity in actuality. If we grant Scotus’ thought experience, then we have an (actual) quantitative infinite.
Contrary to what enters the mouth and nourishes, what goes out of the body, out of its pores and openings, points to the infinitude of the body proper and gives rise to abjection. Fecal matter signifies, as it were, what never ceases to separate from a body in a state of permanent loss in order to become autonomous, distinct from the mixtures, alterations, and decay that run through it. That is the price the body must pay if it is to become clean and proper. Psychoanalysis has indeed seen that anal dejections constitute the first material separation that is controllable by the human being. It has also deciphered, in that very rejection, the mastered repetition of a more archaic separation (from the maternal body) as well as the condition of division (high-low), of discretion, of difference, of recurrence, in short the condition of the processes that underpin symbolicity (The Powers of Horror, p. 108) From my vantage point, which is rather removed, this is a case of the psychologist believing too strongly in her metaphors. I'd prefer not to doubt Kristeva's idea of an archaic separation, yet our separations from our mothers are many and complex. Here I question the belief in repetition not in order to supplant it with an idea of the ongoing, but rather to clear a space to question what it means to have faith in a metaphor. To be faithful to metaphor, what beliefs are required? Must we believe in source (mouth) and target (anus)? Must we believe that boundaries may be crossed, and if so, must we believe in boundaries? If we take seriously the defense of the psychoanalytic position, according to which the metaphor belongs to and is perhaps bodied forth by the in-fant, then must we also believe in conditions of processes that underpin symbolicity? Must we beleive in meaning? To use another metaphor, does metaphor ask us to become monotheistic or polytheistic in our beliefs? Possibly metaphor doesn't ask us to believe anything. Being faithful to metaphor expresses a commitment to expressivity or even a commitment to meaning, but such commitments do not require a foundation of belief. They require a sending with, but who can say what the truth of the sending is. Since I don't believe in the clean and proper body (corps propre) its infinitude doesn't impress me. But I'll play along. Is infinitude an entailment of metaphor itself? Faithfulness to metaphor situates itself within the disorientation of metaphor, betwixt widdershins and deasil flows of sense. Neither difference of flows nor senses across boundaries hit me over the head with infinity, though disorientation does appear to carry beyond finite points. It's a mystery to me how finite ever got to be infinite, unless it was by a short cut–metaphor is the long way home. The paradox of infinite becoming, i.e., the paradox of infinite identity, has not yet become a real problem for me (Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, "First Series of Paradoxes of Pure Becoming"). By the same token, I neither believe nor disbelieve in the pause. Possibly the pause is relative to the speed of metaphor, although the speed of metaphor is not constant. Metaphor is an upper mantle beneath a subterranean dualism of the hard and the soft, of that which receives and that which eludes the kneading of Dough. Metaphor can just as easily be a Tree. Metaphor disorients without asking that we be sent to infinity. Is this a paradox? Metaphor is a parable, a circumlocution. Would the infinity that metaphor would carry over to–were we prepared to believe it–be a meaninglessness? That might contain a genuine paradox, though I might still hestitate to call it a problem. The destruction of meanings is de rigueur in metaphor; it happens most casually. Does the destruction of meanings requires a faith in meaninglessness or a faithlessness in meanings or neither. Perhaps a commitment to the destruction of meanings is concomitant to a commitment to expressivity. If only to clear a path. I remain agnostic about metaphor, though I follow its path. Labels: Deleuze, infinity, Kristeva, metaphor, repetition posted by Fido the Yak at 3:42 PM.
Metaphor as Praxis
The freedom of existence to exist is existence itself in its "essence," insofar as existence is itself essence. This "essence" consists in being brought directly to this limit where the existent is only what it is in its transcendence. "Transcendence" itself is nothing other than the passage to the limit, not its attainment: it is the being-exposed at, on, and as the limit. Here the limit does not signify the arrested circumspection of a domain or figure, but signifies rather that the essence of existence consists in this being-taken-to-the-edge resulting from what has no "essence" that is enclosed and reserved in any immanence present to the interior of the border. That existsence is its own essence means that it has not "interiority," without, however, being "entirely in exteriority" (for example, in the way that Hegel's inorganic thing is). Existence keeps itself, "through its essence," on the undecidable limit of its own decision to exist. In this way, freedom belongs to existence not as a property, but as its fact, its factum rationis which can also be understood as "the fact of its reason for existing," which is similarly "the reason for the fact of its existence." Freedom is the transcendence of the self toward the self, or from the self to the self–which in no way excludes, but on the contrary requires, as we can henceforth clearly see, that the "self" not be understood as subjectivity, if subjectivity designates the relation of a substance to itself; and which requires at the same time, as we will show later, that this "self" only takes place according to a being-in-common of singularities. (The Experience of Freedom, pp. 29-30, Nancy's emphasis)
Repetition and negativity do not take place in the present for Heidegger. They take place in the future of Dasein
Negativity, Repetition, and das Geschehen das Daseins
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
I have not read any serious Agamben, apart from his Paul book. The question that strikes me after an extremely vague look at his other texts and what I have learnt through philosophical osmosis is: has anyone done anything on Bataille’s concept of heterogenous matter and Agamben dealings with related concepts such as soveignity? For in Bataille, heterogenous matter both constitutes the strange and powerful force external to political community that is thought to be responsible for its constitution, for example, the leader in a fascist state, the Hobbesian king (high) and elements that are forced out of the community, the unclean, the poor, the filthy etc (low). Clearly the latter could be considered something akin to homo sacer, no? Amazon tells me that he refers to Bataille on a few pages of Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, but I am wondering if this is a big engagement or just a passing reference. Filed under: Agamben, Bataille 2 Comments
Digging around, I always thought that despite the scientific gleen of Ray Brassier’s intriguing project, that I recognised something of the Bataille’s base-materialism underneath.
Most materialists, even though they may have wanted to do away with all spiritual entities, ended up positing an order of things whose hierarchical relations mark it as specifically idealist. They situated dead matter at the summit of a conventional hierarchy of diverse facts, without perceiving that in this way they gave in to an obsession with the ideal form of matter, with a form thai was closer than any other to what matter should be.
Materialism in Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess : Selected Writings, 1927-1939, p 15.
This amphiboly, we shall argue, leads to an fundamental indiscernibility between the theoretical postures of materialism and idealism, an indiscernibility in virtue of which philosophical materialism remains incapable of distinguishing itself from idealism. Consequently, ‘the decline of materialism in the name of matter’ describes that movement whereby any philosophical materialism which accepts the premise of a transcendental distinction between ‘thought’ and ‘matter’ must forsake the attempt to encompass matter in the concept and abandon the materiological register in order to initiate a theoretical posture whereby not only does materialism no longer presume to circumscribe matter by way of a concept, it is now matter which determines materialism through its very foreclosure to every concept. In other words, Part I argues that transcendental materialism achieves its most rigorous theoretical consummation at the point where it necessitates its own elimination as a system of discursive statements ‘about’ matter.
Ray Brassier, Alien Theory: The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter
Note to self: look into this. Further note to self: write something as good as Alien Theory for PHD thesis. Filed under: Bataille, Materialism, Ray Brassier, Speculative Realism 0 Comments Strange Discoveries 07 Sep 07
There are times when one is browsing through one’s favourite online paper repository when one is struck by a paper which is so out-there that it cannot pass without a digital leaf through and maybe more. Such a paper is Michael Tratner’s Derrida’s Debt to Milton Friedman. Nuts - but the essay does go for it. Derridians, some commentary?
In summary, then, I suggest we add to the list of disciplines that have contributed to deconstruction. In Of Grammatology, Derrida credits numerous fields, including philosophy (Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Husserl), linguistics (Saussure), ethnography (Lévi-Strauss), and psychology (Freud). To this list, let’s add economics, citing Keynes, who marks the end of production as the basis of economics, but who maintains the belief that individuals in powerful enough positions can still act to counter the effects of the system, and Friedman, who brings in the notion that the sign system operates separate from any individual agency. Historians of theory would probably prefer to cite Marcel Mauss and George Bataille as the ones who led Derrida to the concepts of gifts and of mysterious, uncontrollable economic structures. It is probably true that they figure more consciously in Derrida’s own thinking than do Keynes and Friedman. But the emergence of deconstruction and its rapid spread during the 1970s are not merely events in the history of highly intellectual disciplines; they are also events in the broader history shaped by the changes in everyday economics and governmental practices. Keynes and Friedman developed theories which had material consequences; Mauss and Bataille were in effect mythologizing the events going on in mainstream economics.Mauss and Bataille may seem better predecessors because they were critics of capitalism, as Derrida is, but if mainstream twentieth-century economic practices in effect involve the deconstruction of signs as an everyday part of their functioning, then perhaps deconstruction should not be considered inherently anti-capitalist or even anti-authoritarian. Derridean theorists need to be careful when they generalize that a deconstructive challenge to one form of authority (such as the authority given to production as the source of economic value and the source of linguistic meaning) carries with it a challenge to authority in other realms, or even a challenge to the very idea of authority entirely. Derrida makes such an unwarranted leap when he argues in his essay that the power of a counterfeit coin to generate real wealth is equivalent to a radical disruption of patriarchy: the power of the counterfeit coin in Baudelaire’s story, Derrida claims, reveals that “the phantasm” has “the power . . . of producing, of engendering, giving, rather than the ‘True Father’” (GT 161). The image of a True Father, Derrida implies, depends on theories of production and human giving as the basis of prosperity, in other words, on outdated economic theories. In noting that the phantasm, the sign, the code, has more power of “engendering” and of “giving” than the True Father, Derrida might be tracing not the demise of patriarchy but simply the demise of Keynesian economics and [End Page 804] of the liberalism of the 1960s, the demise of the notion that the government can wrap itself in the guise of the True Father and maintain the economic system by appearing to give gifts whenever recession threatens.By describing the results of the economic transformations he has traced as the end of patriarchy, Derrida’s theory implies much more than has happened. The deconstructive revision of money into a system of signifiers in endless freeplay may be a modification of capitalism, one that capitalists and patriarchs opposed for centuries, but it turns out that it is possible to perform such a deconstruction without undoing much of capitalism or patriarchy at all—and Friedman did just that. Twentieth-century economics reveals that non-logocentric sign systems can coexist quite well with capitalism and can even play a crucial role in the functioning of structures of authority, which apparently can operate quite well without invoking any True Fathers at all. Filed under: Uncategorized 1 Comment Just In Time… 04 Sep 07
On Monday I give my paper on Bataille and Catholicity at Oxford. Today I found this interview with Andres Serrano regarding his work “Piss Christ”, his views on religion and other work.
Coco Fusco: Your use of Catholic symbolism stands out in part because you are operating in a predominantly Protestant context. An attraction to the sensuality and the carnality that you bring out in your Catholic iconography can develop, since Protestant symbolism looks rather pale by comparison. How would it affect your work to be exhibited in a Catholic context?
Andres Serrano: I have always felt that my work is religious, not sacrilegious. I would say that there are many individuals in the Church who appreciate it and who do not have a problem with it. The best place for Piss Christ is in a church. In fact, I recently had a show in Marseilles in an actual church that also functions as an exhibition space, and the work looked great there. I think if the Vatican is smart, someday they’ll collect my work.
CF: Does your interest in Catholicism have to do more with an attraction to the iconography or is it about wanting to make a social or political comment about what the Church represents?
AS: Look at my apartment. I am drawn to the symbols of the Church. I like the aesthetics of the Church. I like Church furniture. I like going to Church for aesthetic reasons, rather than spiritual ones. In my work, I explore my own Catholic obsessions. An artist is nothing without his or her obsessions, and I have mine. One of the things that always bothered me was the fundamentalist labeling of my work as “anti-Christian bigotry.” As a former Catholic, and as someone who even today is not opposed to being called a Christian, I felt I had every right to use the symbols of the Church and resented being told not to.
CF: So you do see yourself carrying on a tradition of religious art?
AS: Absolutely. I am not a heretic. I like to believe that rather than destroy icons, I make new ones. Filed under: Andres Serrano, Art, Bataille, Conference, Photos, Surrealism 0 Comments
Without a rational metaphysics--or worldview--and without an epistemology, it is easy to enforce conformity, and totalitarian thinking
"The traditional subject areas have been hijacked to promote fashionable causes such as gender awareness, the environment and anti-racism, while teachers are expected to help to achieve the Government's social goals instead of imparting a body of academic knowledge to their students...."
History has become so divorced from facts and chronology that pupils might learn the new "skills and perspectives" through a work of fiction, such as Lord of the Rings, it says.
Teenagers studying for GCSEs are being asked to write about the September 11 atrocities using Arab media reports and speeches from Osama bin Laden as sources without balancing material from America, it reveals.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Freud still manifests himself to us as a grand patriarch. Collectively we have thought about him as the father, as the one who is supposed to know. We have hoped he’d confer the truth — make us whole and happy. Of course, he cannot. But he has been different from all the other aspiring masters in that he has taught nothing so insistently as the need to dissolve our illusions about masters, and to be responsive to more moderate, subtle and humane sources of authority.
Such a figure — authoritarian and anti-authoritarian at the same time — cannot help but be confusing. But once we understand our confusion, Freud can also be quite illuminating. Among other things, his ideas about authority help us understand (and in some measure sympathize with) the hunger for absolute leaders and absolute truth that probably besets us all, but that has overwhelmed many of our fellow humans who find themselves living under tyrannical governments and fundamentalist faiths.
But the best of Freud will not be available to us until we can work through the transference he provoked. We need to see him as a great patriarch, yes, but as one who struggled for nothing so much as for the abolition of patriarchy. Mark Edmundson, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, is the author, most recently, of “The Death of Sigmund Freud: The Legacy of His Last Days.” nytimes.com/2007/09/23/
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Philosophy Beauty and Truth are unrelated according to the modern view of the world.
Every beautiful thing in creation is beautiful because it shares, to some degree, in the Absolute Beauty which is Dea. The Philosophy of Beauty (as opposed to mere aesthetics) teaches us that Beauty and Truth are one. Why Beauty and Truth? Because according to traditional philosophy Beauty is the aspect of the Absolute that we perceive through love while Truth is the aspect of the Absolute that we perceive through Intelligence. Intelligence, is not mere reason (which simply manipulates and organises the information of the five senses) but the means by which the contemplative may see things that lie beyond the material. Traditional thought always speaks of two paths to God, or to the Absolute: jnana marga - the Path of Light, or Intelligence and bhakti marga the Path of Love. Now the Object of Intelligence is Truth and the Object of Love is Beauty. And the ultimate Truth and the ultimate Beauty are One and the same - the Absolute. Thus, as we are taught by true philosophy Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty. And while that may not be all we know, our other knowledge belongs in the sphere of contingent things - things that might or might not be. In the sphere, in fact, that is currently called "science". For the serious scientist knows that science can never speak of what is, only of what is probable. So, as we know from our philosophy Beauty and Truth are the only things we can truly Know. The Path of Love and the Path of Light are our only ways to the knowledge of That which Is rather than the shifting flux of material things. The Philosophy of Beauty is thus one half of the most fundamental philosophy of all.
...let us pause and consider the possibility that beauty is not a relative human perception, but an objective reality. That, indeed, Beauty is a cosmic reality that characterises all sorts of different things - a flower, a star, a song, an angel - just as surely as hotness characterises a sun and a fire, or wetness an ocean and a drop of dew.
We should be grateful if you would pause for just a moment in reading this page, and think about this most important concept - that beauty is a cosmic reality, not merely a human perception. That beauty is as objectively real as heat or light or weight. Because if, even for a moment, even partially, you can let this truth take hold of you, you will have broken one of the chains that bind you, and will have seen a glimpse of the cosmos as it really is. From The Feminine Universe Chapter IV
Friday, September 21, 2007
One of Heidegger’s central contributions to philosophy was his concept of truth as aletheia. Ordinarily truth is understood as a correspondence between a proposition and a state-of-affairs. For instance, the proposition “the sun is shining” is true if, in fact, the sun is shining. A key feature of this conception of truth is that the state-of-affairs to which the proposition refers is transcendent to the proposition, independent of the proposition, and exists in its own right regardless of whether or not the proposition is enunciated. The proposition in no way effects the thing itself. Another theory of truth treats truth as coherence. A proposition here is true if it coheres with a body or web of propositions as in the case, perhaps, of Hegel’s system. For Heidegger, by contrast, truth is aletheia or the disclosedness or revealing of being. Lest I earn the condemnation of the Heideggarians, I will say upfront that I will not here do Heidegger’s conception of truth as aletheia justice, nor is it my intention to give a careful analysis of his claims. Rather, I wish to indicate how it might be of use in thinking certain rhetorical phenomena. To claim that truth is aletheia or disclosedness is to claim that an entity must first disclose or reveal itself as a particular sort of entity prior any statements we might make about it. Perhaps this idea can best be elucidated by way of the human body. In encountering the body as a seat of action, an object of medical intervention, a sexual object, and so on, is the body disclosed or revealed in the same way? In living my body, there’s a way in which its physicality, its nature as a volume, flesh, a surface, disappears. Far from being an object like other objects in the world, there’s an invisibility about my lived body, a specific bodily intentionality, such that it is not my body that is the focus of engagement, but rather the destinations towards which I move and the objects with which I am engaged. My hand is not this geometry of flesh, bone, and sinew, but rather is a grasping that is entirely exhausted in this act of typing or this grasping of my coffee cup. To say that my lived body is “exhausted” in this act of typing or in taking hold of the coffee cup and drinking is not to say that it is fatigued, but rather that it disappears in these acts by virtue of the very activity of revealing the world that it is engaged in. It is the coffee cup that is disclosed, the words on the screen, the destination towards which I am moving, not the lived body itself. As such, the lived body is more a collection of vectors, trajectories, directions, illuminating the world independent of it, rather than a geometrical shape and configuration of flesh, bone, and sinew.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (NASB)Yet, as previously pointed out, Paul did not intend to warn us against philosophy itself, but against philosophies that set itself up against God and Jesus Christ. Instead of shunning philosophy, Paul utilizes philosophy in the very logic and argumentation used in his letters! So, if Paul used philosophical principles of logic and argumentation, should we as Christians today avoid philosophy as a whole, or can we employ philosophy, without shame, for the furtherance of God’s kingdom and for the defense of His Gospel? This semester I am taking History of Philosophy I taught by Dr. Ted Cabal. This course, in conjunction with my previous philosophy courses, has fostered in me not only a joy for philosophy, but also an awareness of its place and role in Christianity. Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Ted Cabal, Professor of Christian Philosophy and Applied Apologetics, for a short interview on the issue of philosophy in the Christian’s life and its proper place. Below is his biography from his faculty page on http://www.sbts.edu/: Dr. Cabal has sought to instill in his students a drive for academic excellence, as well as devotion to Christian apologetics. This entry was posted on Thursday, September 20th, 2007 at 9:50 pm and is filed under interviews, philosophy, theology.
Nietzsche makes the persuasive claim that Apollonian culture is a form of alchemy that overcomes the horror of being born into death
The Kugelmass Episodes (x-posted to The Valve)
When I hear calls to give up enjoyment such as they are issuing from Jodi Dean or Zizek, I hear the thesis that somehow social change should consist in rendering our living conditions even more intolerable than they currently are. Why is this a form of social transformation that anyone should desire? To put it in crude and less than trendy-jargonistic terms, if social transformation does not lead to better work and living conditions, better, more equitable, more just, more satisfying, and more meaningful ways of relating to one another, more freedom to pursue our desires and cultivate ourselves, why should these forms of social transformation be desired at all?
So, for me, the return to the Greeks will be a search for pleasure. Rather than asking why people aren’t more disciplined, I am interested in why they should be so miserable. It is not enough just to accuse consumers of being insatiable; one has to trace the losses of solidarity and vision that accompany the crippling of pleasure.
Friedrich Nietzsche still holds title to the most influential study of pleasure in Greece ever written, The Birth of Tragedy. In that book he famously divided Greek culture into two halves, named after Apollo and Dionysus. He then described the decline of both cultures after the advent of philosophy, and blamed Socrates and Plato for an optimistic account of truth that banished the fundamental pessimism of both Apollonian and Dionysian art.
Here are Nietzsche’s rather inescapable descriptions of the Dionysian mood (from the Modern Library’s Basic Writings):
Either under the influence of the narcotic draught, of which the songs of all primitive men and peoples speak, or with the potent coming of spring that penetrates all nature with joy, these Dionysian emotions awake, and as they grow in intensity everything subjective vanishes into complete self-forgetfulness….Under the charm of the Dionysian not only is the union between man and man reaffirmed, but nature which has become alienated, hostile, or subjugated, celebrates once more her reconciliation with her lost son, man. (36-37)
In the Dionysian dithyramb man is incited to the greatest exaltation of all his symbolic faculties; something never before experienced struggles for utterance—the annihilation of the veil of maya, oneness as the soul of the race and of nature itself. The essence of nature is now to be expressed symbolically; we need a new world of symbols; and the entire symbolism of the body is called into play, not the mere symbolism of the lips, face, and speech but the whole pantomime of dancing, forcing every member into rhythmic movement. Then the other symbolic powers suddenly press forward, particularly those of music, in rhythmics, dynamics, and harmony. (40)
For Nietzsche, all of these experiences are built upon a “hidden substratum of suffering and of knowledge” (46). This is why Nietzsche ultimately identifies Dionysian culture with tragedy, and with philosophical pessimism.
American popular culture has always had an immense fund of pessimism in the form of its musical traditions, most archetypally via country music and the blues. This compensated for the exclusion of pessimism elsewhere, by the optimism of enterprise and the Protestant work ethic. (The only American holiday faintly resembling a “bacchanal” is New Year’s Eve, and even that carries with it the tradition of making resolutions.) For example, Greil Marcus, discussing Robert Johnson in Mystery Train, duplicates almost every one of Nietzsche’s terms:
In “Stones in My Passway” terror is too ubiquitous to have a face: it is formless, elusive, overpowering….The idea simply takes shape as the song draws in all the echoes of hellhounds, devils, the weirdness of blues walking like a man, draws in those images and goes past them. If those images were a means to expression, they are no longer necessary—they are no longer good enough. Because not even his body is how own, Johnson cannot satisfy his woman. Because that matters more than anything else in his life, that fact, as a symbol, expands to create more facts, more symbols. Finally, with stones in every passway and no way clear, there is a way in which the singer’s life is resolved: he has seen all around his life, for as long as he can hold onto the image….It communicates so directly any distance between the singer and the listener is smashed. (36)
Here is the recurrence of “terror” as a primary impulsion towards ecstasy. Here is the moment when the image fails, to be replaced by mythic symbols, which themselves prove to be fleeting manifestations of a primal formlessness that affirms and resolves life. The bounds of subjectivity are broken. Johnson is no longer himself, and the “union between man and man” is reaffirmed when the distance between him and us goes smash.
So, what happens to these musical traditions in a stubbornly optimistic country? The “primal unity” of its ritual gets torn apart into two separate and vulnerable practices: pessimism and dancing (”the whole pantomime of dancing”).
Dancing, on its own, reverts to optimism. Going out to clubs or bars, for example, has nothing to do with some German philosopher’s vision of “these dancers of St. John and St. Vitus, [in whom] we rediscover the Bacchic choruses of the Greeks” (36). It is an opportunity to socialize and flirt, thoroughly hedged in by work schedules for everyone except some college students. The wilder the party, the more likely somebody is about to get married. And yet, despite the fact that these outings are sources of terrible anxiety for many people, and manifestations of loneliness, boredom, and need, they still get the shakedown. Philosophy blogger Grundlegung writes,
In the spirit of Zizekian austerity….I am somewhat attracted to this inversion of Emma Goldman’s notorious demand: “If I can dance, it’s not my revolution.”
He’s not being entirely serious, but the irony only goes as far as a “somewhat.” Above all, dancing is something young people do. Chris Rock put it well: “Every man has to settle down, eventually. You know why you gotta settle down eventually? Because you don’t want to be the old man in the club. You know what I’m talking about. Every club you go into, there’s always some old guy. He ain’t really old, just a little too old to be in the club.” The perfection of the sketch is twofold: You know what I’m talking about, because of the universal prohibition, and He ain’t really old, because real age isn’t the point. The point is settling down: catharsis and courtship, not hedonism. The one kind of dance culture really devoted to self-forgetfulness, rave culture, regresses all the way back to costumes that signify infancy and childhood, and the fantasia of childhood as we dream it.
The other element of Dionysian culture, pessimism, becomes mired in puerility just as much. We call it angst, and put it squarely on the shoulders of adolescents, who have to go through both generalized existential angst and the angst of unrequited love. In the place of Robert Johnson’s actual pessimism, or the actual revelation of futility, we get a contemptible epiphenomenon. In fact, even Nietzsche himself falls in. There are two Nietzsches who now live side-by-side: the “serious” Nietzsche, author of the genealogical critiques of morals and metaphysics, and the adolescent Nietzsche, author of most of Friedrich Nietzsche’s books. As waxbanks put it, in an eloquent comment elsewhere: “Only asshole teenagers read Nietzsche, right?!” Or look at Feministe, where criticism of the eminently criticizable Avril Lavigne went like this:
You’re a married grown-up now; the middle school mall-punk “Ugh, this suuuucks” schtick is a little tired. We all have our teenage angst, but at some point, you move on.
Of course it’s tired. It has to dress up like high school every time.
So what becomes of Apollonian culture? What enters into its spirit when its opposite is transformed into a discourse for children? After all, Nietzsche makes the persuasive claim that Apollonian culture is a form of alchemy that overcomes the horror of being born into death:
The same impulse which calls art into being, as the complement and consummation of existence, seducing one to a continuation of life, was also the cause of the Olympian world which the Hellenic ” will made use of as a transfiguring mirror….Where we encounter the “naïve” in art, we should recognize the highest effect of Apollonian culture—which always must first overthrow an empire of Titans and slay monsters, and which must have triumphed over an abysmal and terrifying view of the world and the keenest susceptibility to suffering through recourse to the most forceful and pleasurable illusions. (43)
In the absence of a legitimate Dionysian culture, Apollonian culture becomes likewise regressive, veering towards adolescent romantic plots and nostalgic genre references. At other points, I’ve written about regressive art, of which the best example continues to be Harry Potter. But here I want to emphasize, not the aesthetic limitations of regression, but the paralyzing effect it has on creativity. The real risk one takes writing a poem, or a novel, or even a series of reflections, is that of becoming a child — a real risk, not something to be shrugged off heroically, because childlike perceptions and plots have been blended with the authentic impulse. The only remainder, subtracted from the childlike experience, is ethics, the discourse of iron. Ethics intrudes everywhere, with its relentless speechifying: every episode of The West Wing ends with a speech, and so does Benjamin Kunkel’s Indecision, just as Dumbledore’s speeches echo through Harry’s adventures. Zizek’s review of 300, with which this whole investigation began, hones in on the film’s “programmatic statement” about freedom and reason. Where the impulse towards puerility has been successfully avoided, one rarely escapes an equal loss of Hellenic lambency: the remainder is Cormac McCarthy.
So, for the consumer, the irony is that the conjunction of adolescent pessimism, nostalgic escapism, and inviolable ethics puts the work of art continually out of reach, while making it simultaneously necessary as a form of relief. In fact, the work of art escapes even when it is right there, in front of us, thanks to the “criticism of purpose” described so well by Caroline Levine, or else remains uncomprehended. The phenomenon of consumption is not, ironically enough, the result of too much engagement with things. It is actually the symptom of a lack of engagement with things: an inability to carry on a lasting study of a piece of culture, an inability to wrench material objects away from the advertisements or stigmas that constitute them. In the Apollonian dream, things have to be what they are, and be subject to the perceptual discipline that realizes beauty in things without the missing term of the purchase.
In his study of Giorgione, Walter Pater wrote:
In these then, the favourite incidents of Giorgione’s school, music or the musical intervals in our existence, life itself is conceived as a sort of listening—listening to music, to the reading of Bandello’s novels, to the sound of water, to time as it flies. Often such moments are really our moments of play, and we are suprised at the unexpected blessedness of what may seem our least important part of time; not merely because play is in many instances that to which people really apply their own best powers, but also because at such times, the stress of our servile, everyday attentiveness being relaxed, the happier powers in things without are permitted free passage, and have their way with us. (from The Renaissance)
So, having established the principle of play, in a way that recalls childhood without becoming bound to it, Pater himself begins to engage more deeply with Giorgione’s Fête Champêtre in the mode of play. As he does so, first water, and then air, become the symbols of desires awakened and satisfied, questions asked and answered:
But when people are happy in this thirsty land water will not be far off; and in the school of Giorgione, the presence of water—the well, or marble-rimmed pool, the drawing or pouring of water, as the woman pours it from a pitcher with her jewelled hand in the Fête Champêtre, listening, perhaps, to the cool sound as it falls, blent with the music of the pipes—is as characteristic, and almost as suggestive, as that of music itself. And the landscape feels, and is glad of it also—a landscape full of clearness, of the effects of water, of fresh rain newly passed through the air, and collected into the grassy channels.
The whole thing is instinct with joy. It ventures inside of the original work, but also surpasses it through the playful exposition of a reverie, one whose limpid depths are clear all the way to the bottom, where are thirsts and tears. In the hope that media like blogs will prove to be some means of access to the happier powers in things, I will end with a landscape full of clearness, of the effects of water, of fresh rain newly passed through the air. From the art blog Big Window: Published in: Art & Aesthetics Blogroll Ethics & Morality Marxism & Culture Music Nietzsche Pater Philosophy Politics Utopian thoughton May 13, 2007 at 8:14 pm Comments (0)