Thursday, July 20, 2006

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).


srt said...

Jameson is amazingly lucid here, making the connection between aesthetics and politics/ revolution palpable. The concluding lines of the excerpt you offer here hints toward a working link between class formations, aesthetics and Foucauldian power-knowledge grids that ground colonialisms of various sorts: “fatigue after work, lack of access to knowledge and information…”

The link between bodily fatigue and access to education is an interesting one that, I think, can be pursued to fruitful ends. My initial thoughts are to say that knowledge-power, at least in terms of colonialism, grounds the economic exploitation and slavish work conditions that render it impossible-even physically-to pursue education. Of course, capital’s self-perpetuating spread gives birth to trade route exploration, “discovery” and colonization. Perhaps what can be said is that they are deeply linked, cyclically even, and cannot be heirarchized according to our own theoretical propensities.


2 funny observations:
1) Justin is shutting down his blog precisely because he found people intellectually masturbating in the comment fields annoying. I promise I'll clean up.

2) I have to mark myself "other" in order to make a comment because I am neither Blogger nor Anonymous: ahh...lovely didactic metaphors.

Viagra said...

I can't wait to get my hands on this book!

Elliott Broidy said...

one of my faves.