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how many faces can you fit on the face of a single coin?

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Ah! Now I remember what made them laugh during the lecture yesterday. I was teaching in the Anatomy Building (we don’t have that sort of lecture space in the department, so we end up borrowing from the sciences…) and, in addition to pattering on about the vicissitudes of doing English,  I was at one point telling them about paragraphs, how they should recuperate what came in the paragraph before and move things a step forward at the same time. I drew a little picture of Janus on the board as an illustration. And then labelled it, for the benefit of the anatomists who’d be using the room after me, Accurate rendering of the human head, courtesy of your friends in the English department. Defund us now.

Relatedly, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking a bit about personae, not Pound’s but ours. Specifically, how many of them we can have and how many of them we should have. By persona I suppose I mean nothing more than a fictional version of ourselves that we live up to, disappointingly underperform, sync with in spots, or trade for another as the case may be.

But here’s the real question: When one grows tired of donning the mask that comes along with a particularly arduous role – and how many persona parts are truly easy to play, in the end? – one can either look around for another to wear or one can imagine, or even anticipate, quitting the mask-and-part show altogether. The latter seems preferable, less Sisyphusian, but is hard to manage without subtler, more translucent, but nevertheless just as determinant personae slipping in the back door. So… tired, say, of the oscillation between roguish rambler and upright alpha, one wants to abandon the game altogether, one decides “no more.” But then all the souless robots and assembly-line labourers of art and autistic and desensitized angels start swimming up from below.

In short, to have two or more is hard. One might even be harder. Zero is a beautiful thought but probably impossible. Especially once you’ve gotten even a wee bit meta about the whole issue.

It’s interesting to think that modernism, in its negotiations with the concept of impersonality, grappled with this question all the time. Often, impersonality meant the serial adoption of personae, the preparing of faces to meet the faces that you meet. Impersonality as impersonation, in other words. The Flaubertian fantasy takes a turn at Robert Browning, as the dramatic monologue becomes a holding pen where you can keep the romantic impulse and stay unmucked yourself. But always in the corner of the period’s vision there is another, more profound impersonality, the degree zero of unmasked empty subjectivity, Mrs Ramsay’s wedge-shaped core of darkness.

This core of darkness could go anywhere, for no one saw it. They could not stop it, she thought, exulting. There was freedom, there was peace, there was, most welcome of all, a summoning together, a resting on a platform of stability. Not as oneself did one find rest ever, in her experience (she accomplished here something dexterous with her needles) but as a wedge of darkness. Losing personality, one lost the fret, the hurry, the stir; and there rose to her lips always some exclamation of triumph over life when things came together in this peace, this rest, this eternity…

She gets there, of course, but she only gets there in the way that we all do in the end.

Written by adswithoutproducts

October 13, 2009 at 7:45 am

20 Responses

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  1. Is this coded snipe at ‘M.D.’?

    wayne

    October 13, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    • What’s ‘M.D.’, I saw you mention it before, but don’t know it, is it a TV series?

      truckdriver

      October 13, 2009 at 5:13 pm

  2. rougish rambler and upright alpha,

    whoo woo, good spelling slip. A rougish rambler might be a kind of tranny, I think you meant ‘roguish’ as in rogue. Interesting choice of oscillation, I’m sure many guys try to balance it, and I know of one who works it like a son-of-a-bitch, but the ‘rogue’ part can’t ever evolve very far if the ‘alphe’ is kept ‘upright’, can it? Could go back to the ‘alpha’ persona, but if do rogue on the side, the alpha may still be possible to do a Thespian version of in real life, but will be tainted.

    and how many persona parts are truly easy to play, in the end?

    I’d just suggest that the hard parts get easy, but probably none of the ones one really wants start easy, there’s always a long period of arduousness. Otherwise, one could just vegetate, and that does not bring about a desirable result, unless it’s short periods of it.

    Intersting thoughts you come up with sometimes, and this may account for the richness of variety of commenters here. You’ve got a much wider cross-section now than ever in the past, don’t you? You mentioned an ‘anti-club’, but it may be that you have a ‘club-within-the-club’ or ‘club-within=the-anti-club’ that is good. John Doyle of ktismatics has got some of this too, so you may realize that must give some consideration to the idea that dillettantes may actually be the desirable personae.

    ‘By persona I suppose I mean nothing more than a fictional version of ourselves that we live up to, disappointingly underperform, sync with in spots, or trade for another as the case may be.’

    This is very cool, because it’s basically success-oriented, isn’t it? (I’m not sure, of course, what someone else sees in something like this.) Because in the ‘disappointingly underperfoem’, there is made allowance for the ‘living up to’ and the ‘sync with in spots’, which aren’t possible to hit the high points of unless you ‘take breaks’, which are like rests in music, and they might not really be underperforming, and yet those moments are not the ‘highs’, and so you take a breather and get the energy back to go ‘get in sync’ with the fiction you’ve chosen. Or, as you say, you’ll probably end up ‘trading it for another’.

    truckdriver

    October 13, 2009 at 5:10 pm

  3. wayne,

    Absolutely not. This is an uncoded swipe at my own dysphoria!

    truckdriver,

    Ha! I’ll fix the rouge / rogue bit. Unfortunately, no, it’s not a parapractical admission that I moonlight as a tranny. I just have trouble with ou spellings.

    Yes! I like my widely-drawn commentors. I’ve got American poetry types and British philosophy types, American grad students, people interested in my expatriation, longtime blog types, lots of others… All good!

    Yes the persona issue is driven by success widely considered. Success in all sorts of fields of endeavour.

    Ads

    October 13, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    • i fall into this category…

      other exotic people from the outer boroughs

      …i do try and keep my online personas separate from the real life ones though. all hell tends to break loose when i dont:(

      pollywog

      October 14, 2009 at 12:00 am

      • AQ69 = MANHATTAN = BROOKLYN = PEOPLE’S MEMBERS = ZPINCH = POMONA = HOLLYWOOD = SMOTHERED CHICKEN = ICED MOCHA AT STARBUCK’S = SOME MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL = SNAKETONGUE DISALLOWED IN SOME ESTABLISHMENTS = ORCHID ARRANGEMENTS PLEASE

        lewd sorceress

        October 14, 2009 at 2:13 am

  4. Also, how do you know that “rougish” wasn’t more about politics than sexual preference, if a properly significant slip it was?

    My politics are pretty rougish. Rougish is the mot juste I think.

    Ads

    October 13, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    • Mais oue, I didn’t know. It’s just I thought a tranny was closer to ‘rogue’ than a feminist would have been. They’re not very roguish and also not the ‘rougish’ type, are they? I little lipstick at the most, but not the rougepots of some of my types of dames…

      But this is the kind of thing I like and do a lot with with someone else, I mean this is a good new word we’ve discovered, whether it’s properly significant slip I don’t know. Never thought you moonlighted as a tranny, of course, but wouldn’t object, as you well know (lol)–that’s ’cause I’m just soooo roguish as well as rougish at heart.

      truckdriver

      October 13, 2009 at 10:35 pm

  5. Roguish

    Am much looking forward to your review of a certain former governor’s forthcoming analytico-critical publication on the phenomenological fabric of politico-philosophical discourse in the early 21st-century.

    David

    October 13, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    • Well, it’s bad enough when I KNOW what the pdf’s are. So information please, I’ve been too busy cramming for my Ray Fuller exams to know what governor you’re talking about.

      truckdriver

      October 14, 2009 at 1:55 am

      • The sequel is already in the oil pipeline: Going Rouge: One Hockey-Mum’s Journey from Lip-Stick Conservatism to Communistic Ribaldry.

        David

        October 14, 2009 at 3:31 am

  6. I feel obligated to comment because you dropped in my nom de blog. I’m certainly feeling like I’m crafting and putting on multiple masks, what with the whole job-application thing. The preparing of faces to meet the faces you meet gets at it somehow, nice. Though I don’t feel particularly modernist about it —- less shoring fragments against my ruins and more irritable hoop-jumping: I can do that job, see? Here, what about this as a potential colleague? Pick me, pick me!

    Which then brings me to the thought of interpellation: how much are we crafting our personae and how much of it is really about the call and response?

    And here’s another vote for Ads to cross-dress with makeup! It’s highly important. It is the ultimate commodity of feminine transcendence, after all. In that way I think it might even be analogous to porn.

    Sisyphus

    October 14, 2009 at 4:40 am

  7. I shudder to recall that the wedge-of-darkness passage was a touchstone for one particularly reactionary Columbia professor (whose class I had the curdling experience of taking). Somehow, all modernist roads led back to the wedge of darkness–and as I remember, he didn’t really understand it.

    pollian

    October 14, 2009 at 4:45 am

  8. I love being in the ‘others’ category – its like the rush of ‘specialness’ I get when filling in an equal opportunities section!

    wayne

    October 14, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    • Excellent point, and also AD’s inclusion of it at the end of the other of his blog-frequenters is what allows this to be the anti-club as he claimed but I didn’t first accept. Maybe it’s because thare is more than one club-within-an-anti-club, so that both humour and seriousness is allowed, sometimes simultaneously. ‘Other’ has that nice feel of anarchy to it, that sort of outcast person who learns how to drink in reasonable moderation without having to go to AA (in which case he’s disliked by teetotallers and AA graduates alike.) Allowing all this sort of Coalitionism is what being a human being is all about, even if you’re just awwwwwful some time. So I, too, always get a sense of ‘specialness’ when I walk past, say, a 12-step program or a gay community center, although I still like temp agencies and some video clubs.

      buck

      October 14, 2009 at 3:34 pm

  9. Well in socio-economic terms, it can also be a bit of a drawback – it can render one ‘homo sacer’.

    wayne

    October 14, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    • Yes, there are many rough spots in life.

      buck

      October 14, 2009 at 6:46 pm

  10. Ads, did you see this? It’s really interesting for thinking about scale and history, but I can’t figure out what I want to say about it:

    http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/10/the_berlin_reunion.html

    Sisyphus

    October 15, 2009 at 12:57 am

  11. David,

    There are a bunch of people who I’m waiting to hear on that one. At 432 pp., it seems unlikely I’ll be able to fit it into my busy, busy life. We’ll see though…

    Sisyphus,

    Which then brings me to the thought of interpellation: how much are we crafting our personae and how much of it is really about the call and response?

    Yeah, exactly. I guess I’m going with agency-lite here. You can try to pick from the costumes hanging in your closet, but they’ve all been made by someone else… Self-fashioning, erm, but only out of pret a porter.

    And here’s another vote for Ads to cross-dress with makeup!

    Now Sisyphus, you’ve actually met me a few times and you know that wouldn’t be a great deal of fun for anyone involved….

    Those pics are odd! I think I see what you are seeing, but I’m not sure what to say either!

    pollian,

    I shudder to recall that the wedge-of-darkness passage was a touchstone for one particularly reactionary Columbia professor (whose class I had the curdling experience of taking). Somehow, all modernist roads led back to the wedge of darkness–and as I remember, he didn’t really understand it.

    Har har. We used to have drinks after said seminar, the original foursome (and strangely enough, given this thread) in a bar that hadn’t quite fully made it’s transition from gay to not-just-gay. The Brazen Head, was it called? I can never remember the names of bars / pubs. Go figyah.

    wayne and buck,

    I probably like the “others” category the best, as an aggregate mass. As I think has been sort of clear in the last couple of weeks on the blog. I’m not a great club joiner myself…

    Ads

    October 17, 2009 at 9:09 am

  12. Ads,

    About we-all-get-there-in-the-end, yes that’s the rub, the fact the interesting game stops. Would there were devised a way it didn’t, quite. In fact that’s why I like the ongoing phenomenon of symbological life-after-death at Wittgenstein’s Grave

    (By the by, what the heck is a “poetry type”?)

    tom clark

    October 18, 2009 at 11:25 am


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