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).


Mr. Waggish said...

Wow. I love Musil, Broch, Grass, Bachmann, Bernhard, Krasznahorkai, and all of those folks, but this looks like rough going. Is this passage typical or more dense than the rest?

kfd313 said...

It pretty much continues like this, sans paragraph or chapter breaks, for 3 volumes. But if you mean the sort of didactic tone and the dense, go nowhere passages, it does actually have a story-line.

Mr. Waggish said...

I'm still rather hesitant, I admit. I was hanging out with a German friend last week and she was claiming that Germans aren't as much into writing huge, long novels any longer. I brought up Aesthetics of Resistance, and she said, "That's not a novel."