Saturday, July 22, 2006

"Walking We Ask Questions"

The subject line is from an interview with the Marxist economist and theorist John Holloway who is mentioned over at Long Sunday. (My favorite blog of the moment.) Holloway wrote the book Change the World Without Taking Power, which has been compared to Hardt and Negri's Empire. After reading the Long Sunday post on Althusser I'm left a bit confused....I've taken it for granted, in my relatively paltry notions of marxist politics, that structural change must happen by taking over the mechanisms of the state, at least initially. So I find Holloway's refusal/problematization of this both interesting and, well, problematic. Holloway's Marxism (affiliated with Adorno's negative dialectics, tho I have my doubts)--termed "Open Marxism"--reminds me of Lenin's defense of tactical uses of governmental programs, procedures, and structures. Of course, the "compromise" that was supposed to last for a few short years turned into a huge beauraucratic nightmare, but it's difficult to say that this is inherent in state takeovers of power. Mightn't it reside with the historical fact of continued forms of imperialism and capitalism and Cold War diviseness? That is to say, the failure to entirely acheive the "dictatorship of the proletariat" as one stage on the way to the "withering away" or abolishing of the state couldn't be acheived, not because statism is inherently corrupting but because the international scene prevented it. When Cold War ideologues decried the world revolutionary plans of communist ideology in order to inspire fear in the hearts of bourgeois Americans, they were, of course, partly right.

It would seem that the difficulty in determining who's "right" or "wrong" lies in the fact that as (budding) literary/cultural critics, we are trained to know, at least somewhat well, marxist theory while the history of marxist politics, in all its various contexts, is left in cloudy background. This is not to say that there isn't a significant gap betwen the two, that they should necesarily be studied always in tandem, or that one "proves" the limits or possibilites of the other. Yet it might be a fruitful area of study to think the historical development and relation between Marxist theory and political practice.

Anyway, I havent' even read Holloway's book (yet), so maybe I'll end up agreeing!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Meaningful coincidences

As is often the case when I'm unable to sleep but very tired I turned on the radio tonight. The local NPR affiliate was playing some lovely violinist (I didn't catch the name) whose work melded classical and "ethnic" styles. It set me to thinking, given recent horrible events in the Middle East, of one of my favorite musical experiences--seeing a performance of the Egyptian National Orchestra. It also goes by the name of the Oum Kalthoum Orchestra after the famous Egyptian singer, Oum Kalthoum. (There are various spellings of her name. You can also read about her here as Umm Kulthoum.) I did some searching online to see what else was available about her and, behold! a nice overview at Perfect Sound Forever.

Oddest thing--the main source for the article is a book written by one "Virginia Danielson." That was, in fact, my mother's name. It seems that this Virginia wrote a book called The Voice of Egypt. The mention of her and her writing on Oum struck me as quite meaningful, in light of recent events:

"In the 1960's, Riad el-Sounbatti was still writing songs such as "A'qllak Eih" (1961), which is full of Kalthoum's virtuosic, inventive, variations on the same line or phrase. The second half, at first, sounds as though it is a new song. It contains passages of exquisite vulnerability, her voice plaintive while violin, kanun, and ney drift around it as sea-gulls do above the ocean. "El Hob Kedah," also from 1961, is another strong contribution from el-Sounbatti. "Al Atlal" (1966) is a particularly famous work from this period. The text is a love poem, but the words were commonly given other interpretations. Virginia Danielson writes: "Several of the climactic lines took on political meaning: 'Give me my freedom, set free my hands! I have given freely, I have held back nothing. Ah, how your chains have made my wrist bleed. . . .' In 1966, these lines were perceived by some as addressed to the repressive measures of 'Abd al-Nasir's government. After the Egyptian defeat of 1967, they took on a wider meaning, suggestive of the bondage in which many Egyptians felt the entire Arab world to be held." (Voice of Egypt, p. 180) The title itself translates as "The Ruins" or "The Traces." The piece draws heavily on Western classical music, but long stretches of it rock or swing with Arabic rhythms. Instrumentation includes a violin section, a prominently featured upright bass, and kanun. Though late in her career, Kalthoum's singing is quite powerful throughout this work, which is extremely dramatic even by her standards. Kalthoum's vocal delivery is relatively straight, with few obvious improvisatory digressions."

Now, this isn't all about me, of course, but I just want to point out that the song Virginia Danielson writes about as having resonant political meaning for the entire Arab world, Al Atlal, was written in 1966, the year of my birth. More important is the point that Oum's ouevre was and remains so meaningful and resonant for the Arab world. The experience of sitting in an audience filled with Middle Eastern peoples from various countries all singing and clapping along and shouting out requests for familiar songs was an incredibly joyous and moving experience. That love of music, at the deepest and most emotional level, was absolutely something my mother (and father) transmitted to me. My mother, though she didn't see that particular performance, would have so understood and sympathized with the audience's joy and participatory passion. It was one of her great gifts, that deep, visceral connection to music--a gift, I think, often lost on American audiences.

At the moment I write this the music has stopped for the NPR news updates, primarily concerning Lebanon. The report isn't about joy and solidarity and music, but of tears and cries of pain and suffering. Perhaps the coincidence of my meandering thoughts and discoveries is not such a happy one; if anything it is a moving and painful reminder of the many things that are lost in war. I wonder if anyone in Lebanon or Palestine or Iraq is listening to Oum singing "Al Atlal" tonight.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Aeshetics of Resistance cont.

"Inseperable from economic advantage was the superiority of knowledge. Ownership involved greed, and the advantaged tried as long as possible to block the road to education for the have-nots. The privileges of the ruling class could not be eliminated until we gained insight into the conditions and acquired fundamental knowledge. We kept getting repulsed over and over because our ability to think, deduce, and conclude was insufficiently developed. This state of affairs began changing with the realization that the upper classes essentially opposed our thirst for knowledge. Ever since, our most important goal was to conquer an education, a skill in every field of research, by using any means, cunning and strength of mind. From the very outset, our studying was rebellion. We gathered material to defend ourselves and prepare a conquest. Seldom haphazardly, mostly because we continued with the things we understood, we moved from one object to the next, fending off weariness and familiar perspectives as well as the constant argument that we could not be up to the strain of self-education at the end of a workday. While our numb minds often had to squeeze out of a void and relearn nimbleness after monotony, we did not want paid labor to be either derogated or despised. In rejecting the opinion that it was a special acheivement for people like us to deal with artistic, scientific, and scholarly problems, we wished to maintain ourselves in work that did not belong to us. When Coppi's father, in a dark suit shiny from many brushings, a collarless shirt, a beret pulled way back from the forehead, with a battered briefcase under his arm, entered the kitchen and stood by the table, we all felt the day hanging down on us and the huge gap we had to overcome before laying claim to imagination, excessive mental pressure, or meditative leisure. Once, we had furiously refused to admit that reading a book, going to an art gallery, a concert hall, a theater would require extra sweat and racking of the mind. Meanwhile our attempts to escape speechlessness were among the functions of our lives, the things we thereby found were first articulations, they were basic patterns for overcoming muteness and measuring the steps into a cultural realm. Our idea of culture rarely coincided with what constituted a gigantic resevoir of goods, of pent-up inventions and illuminations. As have-nots we initially approached the accumulations with anxiety, with awe, until it dawned on us that we had to fill all these things with our own evaluations, that the overall concept might be useful only when expressing something about the conditions of our lives as well as about the difficulties and peculiarities of our thought processes. The topic had been taken up by Lunacharsky, Tretyakov, Trotsky, whose books we were familiar with; we also knew about the initiative that had emerged during the twenties for educating workers-writers, and in study groups we had discussed the statements that Marx, Engels, and Lenin made about cultural issues. All these things may have been informative, stimulating, and perhaps also indicative of the future, but they did not chime with the totality we were striving for, instead they expressed traditional notions, conventions that ultimately did not renounce the standards of the dominant class. We too, as we were told by progressives, should benefit from what was known as culture, we recognized the greatness and power of many works, we began understanding how the social stratifications, contradictions, and conflicts were mirrored in the artistic product of eras, but we did not yet acheive an image that included us as ourselves, everything that was supposed to jibe with us was a conglomerate of forms and styles borrowed from various sources. Whatever we read into completed things could only confront us with our own exclusion, and we were in the midst of discovering timeless and powerful things, we ran the risk of estrangement from our own class. Our using new names, new associations aroused the distrust of those who had been so violently raped by the predominance of bourgeois ideology that they did not even contemplate gaining any access to intellectual levels. Yet we only had to glance at their faces to recall the expressive power concealed in them. Before nineteen thirty-three, when I sometimes visted my father during lunch breaks at work, a representative of an educational alliance might be lecturing or reading poetry in the canteen, and I realized how impossible it was to establish a link to intellectual regions in this way. There the workers sat over their metal boxes, their thermos bottles, their sandwiches unwrapped from greasy paper, their ears half deaf from the smashing of metal and the riveting hammers, with only twenty minutes alloted them for eating, and the reason they kept averting their faces from the speaker and crouching deep over the table was not that they had to wolf down their food, but that they were embarassed at failing to make head or tail of the well-meaning presentation they were offered. When they subsequently applauded, about to dash back to the factory halls, they clapped out of politeness, he, the artist, got something from them, but they left empty-handed. This was so, as I already understood, because nothing could impress us from outside, from above so long as we were prisoners, any attempt to grant us a vista could only be awkward, we wanted no rations, no doled-out patchwork, we wanted the totality, and this totality was not to be a traditional thing, it had to be newly created" (45-46).

The Aesthetics of Resistance

Reading Peter Weiss's The Aesthetics of Resistance. (I should be reading for the Anderson seminar, but I'm squeezing in the time to "do my own thing.") Weiss's' book is truly absolutely amazing, heartrending, historically and politically thought-provoking. I am upset that only the first volume has been translated.

I feel the urge to transcribe something from it, although, due to the form--it's pretty much a series of huge, seamlessly melded paragraphs, no chapter divides, quasi-Proustian sentences, but ones that continually shift out of and into different descriptive registers--it's difficult to extract a moment. Actually, that's not quite right. The sentences and paragraphs both shift dramatically and meld almost imperceptibly, so that one an easily lose the shift, thus becoming disoriented, and/or one is jarred by a sudden transition. I really think this is a remarkable and new way to enact the dialectical possibilities of the novel. As Jameson notes in his very helpful introduction (well, helpful for Jameson), the novel, through its dialectical approach to form and content, is a form of pedagogy, (a totalizing pedagogy, if you will), or what Jameson calls "a proletarian Bildungsroman, a pedagogy of the subaltern" (x). The pedagogical theme is quite explicit in the novel; the workers and resistance leaders struggle for freedom is centrally connected to a struggle to understand and reformulate, for themselves, the meaning of art. This is all enacted through a series of dialogues that weave discusions on history, art, labor, and politics into each paragraph. Thus, volume 1 begins with a collective dialogue that weaves together the specific time period of the narrative (Germany/Europe of the 1930's and the Communist/Socialist underground resistance to fascism) to long, descriptive passages on (in vol. 1) the Pergamom Altar, a museum piece around which Weiss threads a dialogue and disquisition on exploitation and hope.

First let me quote from the Jameson introduction, which I think explains the form and significance of this dialectical apprach as a movement between continuity and discontinuity in the novel much better than I have been attempting here (and which I think is similar to my interest in the possibilites of perfection/imperfection). Since it's quite lengthy, I'll put up a quote from Weiss in another post :

"But this materialism is also reinforced by the sharp mental reversal administered by such a view: we do not normally connect the Spanish Civil War with the classical past, and, even more fundamentally, we do not often see the history of oppressed classes as a continuity: continuities are always on the side of "culture," that is to say, on the side of the modes of living of the dominant classes. To invert these ideological priorities is thus not necessarily to revive an idealist conception of history, so much as to administer a materialist shock to just such categories and sterotypes. Thus Walter Benjamin recommends a dual procedure: ' For the materialist dialectician discontinuity must be the regulative idea of the tradition of the ruling classes (essentially the bourgeoisie), continuity that of the oppressed classes (the proletariat)'.
In fact, it is precisely the idea of the methodological reversal which will provide the key to so many bewildering twists and turns in Peter Weiss's aesthetic analysis here: nor, given the agon-organized structure of his dialectical thought generally, should there be any surprise in the way in which the sympathetic contemplation of a given aesthetic position suddenly and without warning generates the emergence of a not always predictable opposite.
Yet the first moves are logical enough: the bloody triumph of the Olympians over the giants is a celebration and a warning, and transposes and expresses the power of the Attalid dynasty that commissioned the frieze. And just as this translation of human rulers into divine ones effaces history with a vision of the sheer eternity of power, so also the sculptors must make of the frieze itself a superhuman artifact, from which all traces of production must be removed: stylistic perfection, then, also serves the ideology of the masters. Yet this shift of attention toward the production of the work reminds us that class struggle can also be identified there, in the pulling and hauling of unskilled labor under the direction of the builders and master sculptors. Nor is the monitory effect of the frieze some merely "historical" one, which present-day viewers can abstract in the name of pure aesthetic reception ... [T]his reactivation of historical memory opens an access to the Alexandrian period generally, and in particular to Pergamum's own failed revolution, the uprising of Aristonicus, and even, ironically, all the way back up to the nineteenth century and the ideological reasons for the newly united German empire to 'buy' the newly excavated altar and transport it to Berlin. These seemingly extraneous historical footnotes are not only part and parcel of our reinterpretations: 'And after a lengthy silence, Heilmann said that works like those stemming from Pergamum had to be constantly reinterpreted until a reversal was gained and the earth-born awoke from darkness and slavery to show themselves in their true appearance' (1:44/1:53). More that that, I think we have to conclude that, for such an analyses from below, the split between form and content, between intrinsic and extrinsic, the aesthetic and its context, has not yet taken place. It is only for the bourgeois spectator or reader that it exists, only there that at best it has to be struggled against and overcome. It is the structure of bourgeois daily life and subjectivity, and the collective division of labor and privileges of power which tacitly underpin that structure, which exclude the unity of the work of art as something that can no longer be perceived or conceived, that escape the bourgeois categories of perception and reception, let alone analysis. A true 'aesthetics' of resistance therefore will not seek to 'correct' bourgeois aesthetics or to resolve its antinomies and dilemmas: it will rather search out that other social position from which those dilemmas do not emerge in the first place. The difficulties under which that other, proletarian aesthetic education labors, however, are of a different kind: not the philosphical or conceptual antinomies of form and content, but rather those of subalternity: fatigue after work, lack of access to knowledge and information, repudiation of the aesthetic of class privilege, underdevelopment, finally, of a stubborn will to appropriate the acheivements of the dominant class--aesthetic as well as scientific and technological--in the interests of building a new social order. In the present instance one may say that the very existence of the project of a proletarian aesthetic education is a sign that this will already exists" (xliv/xlv italics added).

Sunday, July 16, 2006

It's official. I *am* a Melancholic

From Eric Santner's On Creaturely Life:

"The melancholic disposition is caught up in a 'desperate attempt to protect itself from the lost object and to adhere to it at least in its absence, so it might be said that the withdrawal of melancholic libido has no other purpose than to make viable an appropriation in a situation in which none is really possible. From this point of view, melancholy would be not so much the regressive reaction to the loss of the love object as the imaginative capacity to make an unobtainable object appear as if lost. If the libido behaves as if a loss had occurred although nothing has in fact been lost this is because the libido stages a simulation where what cannot be lost because it has never been possessed appears as lost, and what could never be possessed because it has never perhaps existed may be appropriated in so far as it is lost'. In this way melancholy comes very close to the modality of perversion that Freud called fetishism, that ingenious strategy of unconscious mental life that both avows and disavows a perception (of the missing maternal phallus) in a single symptomatic act or formation. 'Similarly' Agamben writes, 'in melancholia the object is neither appropriated nor lost, but both possessed and lost at the same time'" (91).

The inter-quote is from Agamben's Stanzas: Word and Phantasm in Western Culture.

Sonic portraits

want these albums described below. They're on sale at Stormy Records. Maybe I should get off their mailing list; its too tempting. That being the case, I'll pass it on.

The photographs are Jeff Wall's "A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hokusai)" and Hiroshi Sugimoto's "North Atlantic Ocean-Cape Breton Island." These aren't the album covers, just images by the photographers who inspired the music. I love the idea of music made in contemplative response to photography....

Specification Fifteen Line US CD $14.99 LINE is proud to present the first full-length collaboration by Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree since 1999's Spec. (12k). For this collaboration, sound artists Richard Chartier and Taylor Deupree were invited by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC, to create a new live work inspired by the Seascapes series of renowned Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto on the occasion of his retrospective exhibition. The result is this live recording, Specification.Fifteen. This work premiered on March 30, 2006 in front of the curved panoramic window of the Museum's Lerner Room as the sun set across the city1s skyline. Specification.Fifteen evokes the stillness and opposing yet related spaces of Sugimoto's Seascapes, which suggest infinitesimal change and variation under a seemingly uniform surface. Mystery of mysteries, water and air are right there before us in the sea. Every time I view the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing.

For Line US CD $14.99
This Alva Noto CD brings together disparate recordings created throughout the last four years, unified under a theme of dedication. All nine studies share the history of being made specifically for someone or for a project that for one reason or another remained open ended. 'Wall Anfang' for example, opens with the voice sample 'there must be a reason why it is so clear in my mind.' When we realize the person speaking is pioneering contemporary Canadian photographer Jeff Wall, we may understand the rising high tone that introduces the track as the imitation of a photo-flash warming up to be triggered. The track was originally prepared for a documentary about Wall, who became famous for his large scale light boxes that cast white light evenly through his photographs. Like this balanced light, the track presents a purity of thought, that spirals inside and out, the voice of Wall breaking only impartially this conjecture of sound, while adding an atmosphere of introspection and study to the piece. The percussive, almost marimba-like sounds of the track 'jr' echo the woodcutting of Japanese printmaker Katsushika Hokusai, (whose work Wall allegorized in his photograph A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai),1993). The stark, poised three point intervals of sound bring to mind the intricate and exquisitely considered compositions of Hokusai's style of Ukiyo-e pictures of the floating world. Jhonn Balance's premature death in 2004 gave way to multiple dedications to his life and music by people who took influence from his activities in Coil. The track 'odradek' was originally prepared for the tribute record ...It Just Is (In Memoriam: Jhonn Balance). Nicolai worked with Balance when commissioning him for the award-winning release 20' to 2000 a CD set for the last 20 minutes of the year 1999. These diverse engagements come to rest within this release. Like the image that seals the font cover of the CD, that depicts liquid oscillating with various frequencies, we are reminded that sound can give form to image and to thought and that it may continue to resonate in absences, particles, or processes until a point of final closure.


For Amanda Anderson's seminar this week we are reading James Tully's Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity. So far (I'm about half-way through), I'm finding it a stunning and compelling read. In particular, it's critique of universalist perspecitivalism (what I think of as both a Kantian and Cartesian one-to-one, transcendent, universal viewpoint) is opposed to a multiple, aspectival mode of thinking/seeing, which is seen as a more just form of approaching cultural recognition and therefore more effective for present and future forms of governance, constitution-making and reforming. I was struck by this, not just for its own importance culturally and politically, but because it seemed to be modeled on the opposition that postmodern aesthetics perform. Interestingly, Tully locates this aspectivalism and its influence on certain aesthetic practices (i.e., landart) with the storytelling (narrative), artmaking, and governing practices developed in aboriginal cultures. He notes: "Jamake Highwater, a Blackfoot-American philosopher, explains that this ability of reflective disequilibrium, which is common to Aboriginal cultures, has been learned by twentieth-century European artists and writers through their interaction with 'primitive art' and slowly introduced into European cultures under the name 'post-modern'" (28 italics added).

The notion of an aesthetic "reflective disequilibium" providing purchase on ways of rethinking cultural politics and forms of governance is, again, crucial in its own riht, of course, but in that it's totally inline with my interest in conceptual art... Exciting! With that in mind, I'd like to place part of an essay by Smithson alongside some quotes from Tully. (This isn't necessarily the best example of Smithson's writings on perspective, but I don't have my collected essays with me, so it'll have to do.):

An excerpt from Smithson's "A Crystal Land":

We arrived at the Great Notch Quarry, which is situated "about three hundred yards south west of the Great Notch station of the Erie Rail road." The quarry resembled the moon. A gray factory in the midst of it all, looked like architecture designed by Robert Morris. A big sign on one building said, THIS IS A HARD HAT AREA. We started claimbing over the files and ran into a 'rockhound', who came on, I thought, like Mr.Wizard, and who gave us all kinds of rock-hound-type information in an authoritative manner. We got a rundown on all the quarries that were closed to the public, as well as those that were open.

The walls of the quarry did look dangerous. Cracked, broken, shattered; the walls threatened to come crashing down. Fragmentation, corrosion, decomposition, disintegration, rock creep debris, slides, mud flow, avalanche were everywhere in evidence. The gray sky seemed to swallow up the heaps around us. Fractures and faults spilled forth sediment, crushed conglomerates, eroded debris and sandstone. It was an arid region, bleached and dry. An infinity of surfaces spread in every direction. A chaos of cracks surrounded us.

On the top of a promontory stood there motionless rockdrill against the blank which was the sky. High-tention towers transported electric cable over the quarry. Dismantled parts of steam shovels, tread machines and trucks were lined up in random groups. Such objects interrupted the depositions of waste that formed the general condition of the place. What vegetation there was seemed partially demolished. Newly made boulders eclipsed parts of a wire and pipe fence. Railroad tracks passed by the quarry, the ties formed a redundant sequence of modules, while the steel tracks projected the modules into an imperfect vanishing point.

On the way back to Manhattan, we drove through the Jersey Meadows, or more accurately the Jersey Swamps-a good location for a movie about life on mars. It even has a network of canals that are chocked by acres of tall reeds. Radio towers are scattered throughout these bleak place. Drive-inns, motels and gas stations exist along the highway, and behind them are smoldering garbage dumps. South, toward Newark and Bayonne, the smoke stacks of heavy industry add to the general air pollution.

As we drove throughout the Lincoln Tunnel, we talked about going on another trip, to Franklin Furnace; there one might find minerals that glow under ultra violet light or 'black light'. The countless cream colored square tiles on the walls of the tunnel sped by, until a sigh announcing New York broke the tiles' order.

Industry and arid wastelands that are "unlocatable" or that produce an "infinity of surfaces" are in effect returning land and space to multipying forms of vision and material complexity. It is as though the universalizing perspective necessary to justify the expansion of modes and forms of capitalist production, and the unifying vision that operates as the all-seeing eye, which guards the strict division of labor, is in a losing a battle against nature. Or that the cultural uniformity of "Nowhereland" (the moon, Mars, space, i.e., the universalist perspective of Euro-Western cultures) cannot bear up under the weight of "the avalanche everywhere in evidence."

Now Tully:

"As a consequence of the overlap, interaction, and negotiation of cultures, the experience of cultural difference is internal to cultures. This is the most difficult aspect of the new concept to grasp. On the older, essentialist view, the 'other' and the experiences of otherness were by definition associated with another culture. One's own culture provided an identity in the form of a seamless background or horizon against which one determined where one stood on fundamental questions (whether this identity was 'British' , 'modern', 'woman', or whatever). Having an identity consisted in being oriented in this essential space, whereas the loss of such a fixed horizon was equated with an 'identity crisis'; with the loss of all horizons. On the aspectival view, cultural horizons change as one moves about, just like natural horizons. The experience of otherness is internal to one's own identity, which consists in being oriented in an aspectival intercultural space constituted by the three features mentioned above" (13).

For Tully, the "three features"that all claims to cultural diversity and recognition have in common, despite their internal and external differences (and this is in terms of their constitutional or political demands) are: 1) "demands for cultural recognition are aspirations for appropriate forms of self government." 2) "The second similarity is the complementary claim that the basic laws and institutions of modern societies, and their authoritative traditions of interpretation, are unjust insofar as they thwart the forms of self government appropriate to the recognition of cultural diversity. and 3) The final similarity[...]is the ground of both the aspiration to culturally appropriate forms of self rule and the claim of injustice. It is the assumption that culture is an irreducible and constitutive aspect of politics. The diverse ways in which citizens think about, speak, act and relate to others in participating in a constitutional association (both the abilities they exercise and the practices in which they exercise them), whether they are making, following, or going against the rules and conventions in any instance, are always to some extent the expression of their different cultures. A constitution can seek to impose one cultural practice, one way of rule following, or it can recognize a diversity of cultural ways of being a citizen, but it cannot eliminate, overcome or transcend this cultural dimension of politics."

More to come....

Friday, July 14, 2006

Sandy Denny

Someone on the Hansen Records/American Tapes message board just sent this youtube video (youtube rules!) of Sandy Denny. If you're not familiar with her...well, now there's this and then there's Google. I'll just say that she was an amazing, beautiful folksinger/songwriter from Britain who played a major part in the 60's folk scene and was in the band Fairport Convention for the good albums. She is, I think, better than Joan Baez and sadly overlooked.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Fragments on Proust

These are very disconnected fragments/thoughts on Proust, which I wrote last year. I'm not sure why I'm resurrecting them. (I blame Justin!) But maybe something will come of it. Plus, there's never a bad time to think about Proust or look over past ideas. It's amazing the overcomplicated garbage the mind struggles to produce then weed through.

Beginning to prepare a presentation on Proust (Swann's Way). And, of course, I want to disuss too many things... Love, perversity, jealousy/desire, inversion (i.e the homosexual), time, object, light, nature/artifice, class relations, textuality, music and the refrain arghhh...

There's this: Thinking about Deleuze's notion of the refrain and Proust... also this: would that work in organizing some a sense of heirarchy among these issues: " These elective affinities between love and textuality exist because love and text are two of our most fundamental social acts. We make love and we make texts, and we make both in a seemingly endless series of imaginative variations." - Jerome McGann, _The Textual Condition_.
A sense of presence and absence, of course memory or mnemonics is key to all of this. So a psychoanalytic take on Proust's desires and his textual unfolding of those desires sees time as repetition. How does repetition work in terms of the fudamental fluidity to all these concepts in there relation to one another and to a sense of subjective and objective historical time? The refrain is fluid and yet calls up (back) emotions due to its continued presentness. Idea for a presentation: Psychoacoustics of Love: The Refrain, Class, and Jealousy in Proust. That's kind of a joke.

But what can be made of the relationship between aesthetic forms in Proust? Music, painting, poetry... the movement and influence betwen these, seems related to the levelling of Swann's mind ostensibely produced by the effect of his love for Odette (low class) and his disinterested love of the higher classes. Thus, aesthetics and social forms are paralelled with the levelling he performs in his mind in terms of the flow of time, somehow. All are one or co-eval in Swann's mind. Bergson and Freud's ideas of repetition might be key here. And/or Deleuze's _Difference and Repetition_ (which I haven't read yet). And what might this have to do with sexuality and the formal qualities of the text, the way it's written? Is there , perhaps a palimsestual effect? So that the line of music, in its fluidity (and what it is able to call up), and love itself are developed through these layers of aesthetic mediations?

From Roger Shattuck's _The Work and Its Author_: "No single theory or approach will make Proust easily and quickly available to all inquiring minds. The very resistance of his work to simplification and analysis constitutes its most evident general characteristic. Beyond this feature, however, we discover endless contradictions in the Search. Walt Whitman lived at peace with the fact that he contradicted himself. He said that he contained multitudes. Proust asks the next question. How much of his multitudinous self can a person be or embody at one time? The first answer is plain common sense: it all depends. It depends on many things, from chance and volition to memory and forgetting. The second answer is categorical. No matter how we go about it, we cannot be all of ourselves all at once. Narrow light beams of perception and of recollection illuminate the present and the past in vivid fragments. The clarity of those fragments is sometimes very great. They may even overlap and reinforce one another. However, to summon our entire self into simultaneous existence lies beyond our powers. We live by synechdoche, by cycles of being. More profoundly than any other novelist, Proust perceived this state of things and worked as an economist of the personality. In himself and in others he observed its fluctuations and partial realizations. Through habit and convention we may find security in "the immobility of the things around us." Yet it affords only temporary refuge. We yield with excitement, apprehension, and a deeper sense of existence to the great wheeling motion of experience. On a single page Proust refers to that endless shifting process as both "the secret of the future" and "the darkness we can never penetrate." He also has a word for it: our lot is "intermittence," the only steady state we know. Problem is though, this assumed somewhat unproblematically, an author behind the work."

Quote from Village Voice Literary supplement article (October 2003) on Proust and translation:

"I want to try to translate my own soul," he wrote, "if it doesn't die in the meantime." The article emphasizes Proust's complete self-absorption as the very method that allowed him to convey the world around him. But what of the critique and satire? These imply or require a distance. Proust himself said (somewhere) that his viewpoint/writing was telescopic in nature. "Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure" (Proust). "For a long time I used to go to bed early" (Moncrieff). " For a long time, I went to bed early" (Davis). Michael has brilliantly pointed out to me the differences b/w the two translations. The Voice article defends the Davis as more accurate, true to the original. But, upon closer examination, as Michael notes, with Proust's temporal intent in mind, the Moncreiff seems to convey the *repetition* of the event, even in its historical nature, more adequately. "I used to go..." implies a past that is repeated "more than once", it has a sense of that "continuous present' of Stein's, whereas "I went" is cut off, unrepeatable and unreachable.


I want to bring in succession and simultaneity to my analysis of Proust (these are also significant terms, and can be developed for a reading of Joyce ,or almost any other modernist text, of course). Sucession, the linearity of temporality, is related to music. Think about the notion of meter and timing mentioned in Proust (the bobbing of a head to rythms of music) the listening to music itself that plays such a prominent role in Proust is a trope pointing to a method of negotiating (parceling out) time. It is also relating a type of negotiated time to an affective response. Music, (metered time) is a spaced and temporalized event that creates a rhythm (a rhythmic space ?) allowing for feelings. Then there is the concept of simultaneity asociated with the visual arts. These are in effect false divisions to some extent, as both visual and musical arts take place in the space of time. Time and space are concomitant, or necessarily related, so if visual works seem simultaneously graspable (can be apprehended all at once) this can actually be broken down into a series of succesive moments. By the same token, successive notes occupy spaces, not just virtually or metaphorically, but in that music or sonic elements require physical space to reverberate in and by or through which they are produced (the piano or the violin are physical spaces). So then, Proust's immobility of the object approaches what Roger Shattuck calls the "intermittence" of the totality that shines through the successive and simultaneous pairings of the arts that Proust attempts to mnemonically recall. Through various aesthetically rendered images --the sonata fragment, the church spire, Odette's face as a Boticelli --the totality inscribed in the figure is the total picture of sight and sound, or space and meter. Thus we have a rhythm of the image, and/or the portrait of a sonic fragment; a conjoining of presumably separable aesthetic techniques through the mnemonic faculty of both sides of the aesthetic coin.

Extracted from "Running Backwards Into the Future" at: I have found this:

"The alternations of generation and decay, the evolutions ever beginning over and over again, the infinite repetition of the cycles of celestial spheres - this all represents merely a certain fundamental deficit, in which materiality consists. Fill up this deficit: at once you suppress space and time, that is to say, the endlessly renewed oscillations around a stable equilibrium always aimed at, never reached. Things re-enter into each other. What was extended in space is contracted into pure Form. And past-present and future shrink into a single moment, which is eternity." [Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution]

To look at the Vinteuil sonata as a fragment is to look at it in terms of memory, and the relation here would be that it 'represents' the fragmentation of memory as well. It is then, not only a metaphor but a metonym. Perhaps?

Is reading in Proust (is reading Proust) entropic, i.e a virtual experience of moving towards a state of irreversable equilibrium? If this is the case, then the becoming of time, the discreteness of events experienced within the novel, and repeated by both involuntary memory-- the presence of the past evoked by repeated images and refrains-- are all a becoming-entropic. The instability, gaps and interruptions of temporality (the non-linearity of the present as it "contains" fragments of the past) is a movement toward that stillness that de Man speaks of which is the reading space. The lived time or elan vital must then contain the becoming-entropic in order to reach the still point that contains the space for reading. And if entropy is irreversable then the immobility of the object necessary to achieve memory (to search for it) is then ......


I can't recall now exactly where I was headed with the entropy claim above. D'oh! But I do think there might be something to my idea despite the fact that I don't think entropy can be defined as heading toward an "irreversible equilibrium." I think the use made in communication or information theory of entropy might be applicable to what I'm trying to do in relation to Proust and the refrain. Wikipedia source on that issue:


The Bergsonian concept of duree, or "lived time", in relation succession and simultaneity is analogous to the relation between mind and body, or the psychological and the physiological. For Bergson the example of aphasia (the loss of speech capacity as a physical fact) proved a theory of independnece b/w mind and body:"From this observation Bergson concluded that memory, and so mind, or soul, is independent of body and makes use of it to carry out its own purposes." Bergson's notion of elan vital (duree) opposes mechanistic time There are two profoundly different ways of knowing, he claimed. The one, which reaches its furthest development in science, is analytic, spatializing, and conceptualizing, tending to see things as solid and discontinuous. The other is an intuition that is global, immediate, reaching into the heart of a thing by sympathy. The first is useful for getting things done, for acting on the world, but it fails to reach the essential reality of things precisely because it leaves out duration and its perpetual flux, which is inexpressible and to be grasped only by intuition. Bergson's entire work may be considered as an extended exploration of the meaning and implications of his intuition of duration as constituting the innermost reality of everything.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


From Frederick Copleston's A History of Philosophy:

Vauvenargues treats of the passions which, 'as Mr. Locke says', are all founded on pleasure and pain. These last are to be referred respectively to perfection and imperfection. That is, man is naturally attached to his being, and if his being were in no way imperfect but developed itself always without hindrance or imperfection, he would feel nothing but pleasure. As it is, we experience both pleasure and pain; and 'it is from the experience of these two contraries that we derive the idea of good and evil'. The passions (at least those which come 'by the organ of reflection' and are not immediate impressions of sense) are founded on 'the love of being or of the perfection of being, or on the feeling of our imperfection'. For example, there are people in whom the feeling of their imperfection is more vivid than the feeling of perfection, of capacity, of power. We then find passions such as anxiety, melancholy and so on. Great passions arise from the union of these two feelings, that of our power and that of our imperfection and weakness. For 'the feeling of our miseries impels us to go out of ourselves, and the feeling of our resources encourages us to do so and carries us thereto in hope'" (26).

Granted, Vauvenargues's definition of the relation between perfection and imperfection, which for him is equivalent to good/evil axis, seems to be antithetical to my claim that imperfection is not a pejorative, but that isn't my point of interest, for the moment. (After all, we don't know what he means by 'good' or 'evil'.) What I find resonant is the last sentence-- that, as constitutive of one another, the 'passions' of perfection and imperfection impel a departure, a 'becoming outside' of ourselves. Is this necessary relation then a founding desire for community? A foundation for a politics? A psychological motive for investment in ourselves in and as other(s)? I love the possibilites of this imbrication.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Dusty Groove

I know I said I was going to put upstuff about 1) Brent Edwards talk and 2) musings on Proust and temporality, but for now I want to direct your attention to the Dusty Groove website. DG is a record distribution/store out of Chicago and their fab listings of new arrivals in the soul/funk vein are to drool over. And isn't this album cover awesome!? How fitting (except no Brazil in the finals this year...)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

the nude

I want to write (collaborate on?) a series of vignettes around these.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Love, friendship, community

An interesting discussion at Long Sunday on Hannah Arendt and her controversial response to Gershom Scholem's admonishment that she did not have Ahabath Israel-- "love of the Jewish People." ( I've always admired Arendt in this instance, it led, in great part, to my larger interest in her work--what are the conditions that the mind must engage in in order for it, for "us," to think of/against/with/beyond "our own.") This aligns interestingly with Kasey Mohammad's response on limetree to Lisa Robertson's recent journal post on friendship and community at the Poetry Foundation. (It's really worthwhile reading her posts in their entirety; she is truly amazing, one of my idols, and Kasey's response is very interesting, illuminating.)

Williams on Stein

"Either, we have been taught to think, the mind moves in a logical sequence to a definite end which is its goal, or it will embrace movement without goal other than movement itself for an end and hail "transition" only as supreme.

Take your choice, both resorts are an improper description of the mind in fullest play.

If the attention could envision the whole of writing, let us say, at one time, moving over it in swift and accurate pursuit of the modern imperative at the instant when it is most to the fore, something of what actually takes place under an optimum of intelligence could be observed. It is an alertness not to let go of a possibility of movement in our fearful bedazzlement with some concrete and fixed present. The goal is to keep a beleaguered line of understanding which has movement from breaking down and becoming a hole into which we sink decoratively to rest."

You can read it in its entirety here