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the literary like a cancer that you catch from yourself

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When you walk around with a sense that you are literary, and further that what literary means in this case is not quite perverse but perhaps something like dialectical in a rather unanchored way, you are of course rendered unfit for political position-taking, you tend toward the overreading of documents, the endless deferral of signature writing, awkward conversations with those who know better.

“But wasn’t that always the point of the dialectic? It’s unanchoredness?” you ask yourself just before you ask yourself the next question, which is whether you believe that there is such a thing as bad faith. And there you are back again, right in the middle of the not-quite-perversity that might or might not be the hallmark of the dialectic, the unanchored one.

Of course, the answer is no. You don’t believe that there is such a thing as bad faith. This is a problem. But even with a gun to your head, even if you in extremis answered that you did believe in bad faith, even if people would die because of your lie, “Yes, yes, god. Of course there is. Of course there is such a thing as bad faith! Obviously, god, of course!,” it still wouldn’t be bad faith, not in your opinion. It would only be the gun at the back of your head and a completely comprehensible human response.

Of course people save themselves. Of course they distractedly save themselves first, block off the thought of the others who will perish. You can hear the very thoughts in their heads as they do so, because they are not unfamiliar thoughts. (Not unfamiliar to anyone you want to add but stop yourself). And if others die because of it, because of the lie or the solipcism, it is not their fault, but the fault of the structures and systems that are unforgiving of lies or solipcism, that render them more deadly than they ever should be.

What sort of answer is this and to what? It’s getting humid in here so you decide for a change to think about yourself.

When one’s habits of thought, the only instrument that works in one’s trusty toolbox is a sort of vulgar Derrideanism that both survived the end of Derrideanism with a capital-D and one’s own unwillingness to get on board with Derrida to begin with, in the first place, back when that was the sort of decision one was asked to make, one is clearly left in an awkward place.

You wonder if it was Derrida at all. How could it have been? How much of his work did you actually read? You read Grammatology, Writing and Difference, the one about Hegel, the big one with paintings, the one with Blanchot in it (did you?), some of Specters, other things. What is the one with the essays? Which one has the interviews? Christ now you can’t even remember the name of the one with the signature, and whether that’s the one with Austin in it.  You did meet him once,  you introduced yourself. But whatever had happened had happened long before that. That was the end of the story, when whatever it was was already set in the stone of your method, your calcified method. This is only dawning on you now.

When you got your first job you should have remembered, you should have stopped and considered (this coming only now, amazingly, just now four years later) that what you call “vulgar Derrideanism” is actually and simply only quite refined but basic liberal-arts college English technique. It is what you learn to do when someone takes the time to mark your work well but ambiguously, and when you have the time and the need for approval that you ponder the ambiguities, discuss them endlessly during walks with your one-day wife. What did he mean by that? Why did he draw the question mark in the margin? What was wrong with that passage? It is what you learn to do when you are there to learn and you are taught by conscientious vulgar Wittgensteinians who haven’t read much or any Wittgenstein. They don’t need to – there are decades worth of essay prompts for them to draw on. Why bother with the foundational materials at this point when what works truly works.

Describe the process of taking a book out of Frost Library.

Describe what it’s like to hit a tennis ball.

Describe what it’s like when you read this poem.

You were rewarded when you learned to balance paradoxes, to pull the string of ambiguity without snapping it, to keep the little plastic ball bobbing just above the straw that extended upwards from your lips toward the sky. But another way to put it is that you learned perversity, sinistrality, to coin a word. Always let the left hand remodel what the right hand is doing.

Despite some reservations, they allowed you to continue working in the field. This happened again and again until you are just where you are. You do what people used to be able to do but can’t anymore. And what is that, exactly? And can you imagine hearing something like that and feeling a spurt of unreflective pride. I do what people used to be able to do but can’t anymore.

It is a relief when, as you correct your manscript, when the readers have pointed you to a passage that could use more analysis. There is nothing easier for you than more analysis. You will get to the part about the major, and absent claims of the work later.

In the afternoons, you work for an hour (two during summer) on fiction. It is no wonder why. And it is unlikely that you will ever publish a single word of it. It is no wonder why.

Today you taught. You teach very well. At least they smile when they leave. They say nice things about you, very very nice things about you, when you’re not around to hear. You get a raft of Ph.D. students, here like the last place. When you teach, someone, always a female when it happens, almost always stops to thank you for your enthusiasm. No one, none of them, are enthusiastic. You are so enthusiastic. It’s such a breath of fresh air, your enthusiasm. You are enthusiastic, it is true. You are intense – everyone tells you you are intense. You took the first paragraph of the 1802 Preface to the Lyrical Ballads and showed them at least three extremely convincing but mutally contradictory ways to make Wordsworth into a parodoxicalist, an ironist, a dupe of haunting ambient ironies, or perverse. You love the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads because almost every paragraph of it contradicts itself in its own distinct way. The science of pleasure, the real but made, metrical but natural, poetry but prose but poetry but prose. The social and historical determination of art and thought, but mere idiosyncratic intensification of the timelessly common.

Paul de Man. He was one of those people who did the sort of thing that people no longer do, but you can do. Paul de Man. You wonder if you have it in you to be Paul de Man. You wonder if they’ll let you write for the papers too.

Or…. you are Private Joker in an alternate (and perhaps more interesting, perhaps) version of Full Metal Jacket, in which after he learns to disassemble and reassemble his rifle so very well, takes all too strongly to the running joke about the eroticization of his weapon, in the climactic scene, instead of blowing away his teacher and sticking the barrel up his mouth, he instead is himself made a drill instructor on Parris Island. And in fact, rather than shifting the scene to Vietnam (that is to say London, really…), we watch as now Master Sgt. Joker brings his own sets of inductees into fully and effectively the Corps, despite the fact that the war, after Tet, isn’t going all that well. Best of all, he is cool and methodical where the first drill-instructor was bluster and joke. He is better, cooler, cleaner than his teacher.

So you acquired technique, a proficiency. But there will be no program to reskill workers with obsolescent skill sets, no federal program to subsidize engineering’s transformation into massage therapy, telecom marketing into environmentally sensitive agricultural work, financial (and other forms of) speculation into deaconry or even church sweeping. There will be no subsidy to beat croquet mallets into shovels, tuning forks into spoons that feed knives to hungry children. It is unlikely that you can do these things, unfortunately, on your own, with out a bailout.

No, you will be left with your toolbox and single tool to make do as one can despite the closure of the factory, the bakery, the plant. Piecework, odd jobs, putting out, freelancery. All while holding down your sinecure – the unemployment is elsewhere, has little to do with your job.

When all this is the case, one is likely to do no harm, but one is also almost certain to do harm in doing no good. Whether more harm than others, it’s hard to say.

All of this is so much as to say, in what can only be called (dishonestly, really, or is this too a lie) an extreme case and performance of bad faith, I should have signed the fucking letter. What the fuck is wrong with me, really?

Like David Lurie at the end of Coetzee’s Disgrace, they should put me in the backyard with a banjo with broken strings and a three-legged dog and an operata about Byron’s abandoned mistress to write. They should, but it’s too late, as I’m so already there.

Written by adswithoutproducts

January 16, 2009 at 2:18 am

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