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aluminum can’t: sisyphusian capitalism

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From the New York Times a few days back:

Hundreds of millions of times a day, thirsty Americans open a can of soda, beer or juice. And every time they do it, they pay a fraction of a penny more because of a shrewd maneuver by Goldman Sachs and other financial players that ultimately costs consumers billions of dollars.

The story of how this works begins in 27 industrial warehouses in the Detroit area where a Goldman subsidiary stores customers’ aluminum. Each day, a fleet of trucks shuffles 1,500-pound bars of the metal among the warehouses. Two or three times a day, sometimes more, the drivers make the same circuits. They load in one warehouse. They unload in another. And then they do it again.

This industrial dance has been choreographed by Goldman to exploit pricing regulations set up by an overseas commodities exchange, an investigation by The New York Times has found. The back-and-forth lengthens the storage time. And that adds many millions a year to the coffers of Goldman, which owns the warehouses and charges rent to store the metal. It also increases prices paid by manufacturers and consumers across the country.

Thoughts right now about what it would feel like to be of the drivers of that fleet of trucks. Absolutely meaningless efforts in the service of bending a crimp in the system’s hose ironically to keep the profits fluid. Like a not quite as dark version of this:

 “I avoided a vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the slope, the purpose of which I found it impossible to divine. It wasn’t a quarry or a sandpit, anyhow. It was just a hole. It might have been connected with the philanthropic desire of giving the criminals something to do. I don’t know. Then I nearly fell into a very narrow ravine, almost no more than a scar in the hillside. I discovered that a lot of imported drainage-pipes for the settlement had been tumbled in there. There wasn’t one that was not broken. It was a wanton smash-up. At last I got under the trees. My purpose was to stroll into the shade for a moment; but no sooner within than it seemed to me I had stepped into the gloomy circle of some Inferno. The rapids were near, and an uninterrupted, uniform, headlong, rushing noise filled the mournful stillness of the grove, where not a breath stirred, not a leaf moved, with a mysterious sound — as though the tearing pace of the launched earth had suddenly become audible.

At any rate, go read the rest…

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July 29, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Posted in conrad, inefficiency

“must be kept in one channel only lest no one gets anything and i am completely undone”

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Taught Conrad to the grad students yesterday. When I say taught, I mean it. I’m a little worried that my seminars turn into lectures, each and every time. Not because I’m reading from a stack of pages or anything. I basically go in and freform for two hours, a semi-conversation, not unlike what Marlow’s doing on the decks of the Nellie himself.

Hmm…

Anyway, they seem to like it. Or did last year on the evaluation forms, so I’ll not change. They scribbled and nodded often and insistently today as I ranted, so I’ll take that as a thumbs-up. Mostly, with HoD, we look at paragraphs like this one:

I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all meant. They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence. The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse.

The rhythm of Marlow’s discourse is keyed to frantic oscillations just like this one. Back to work, back to work, no more thinking about my mad colleagues, no more thinking or seeing in general. (Remember from the start: “What saves us is efficiency – the devotion to efficiency.” Indeed – but saves us from what?) Then, then: the still. Do you see the pivot. “One must look about sometimes.” Uh oh. “I asked myself sometimes what it all meant” – no don’t do that! And from there it plummets into frantic pilgrims and corpse stink, a Wellsian space-invasion and a avant-Lawrentian apocalypse as Marlow’s eyes and mouth run away with him.

The whole novel works like that. As Jameson argues in The Political Unconscious, Conrad’s stuff is often about the obsolescence of vision, thought, subjectivity, and interiority in a world in which those things seem to have been just now invented. Modernist subjectivism is born under the sign of its own unsuitability, is born to the sound of a whispered wish that it would simply go away.

Anywho. I get quite ramped up when I teach stuff like this. Hard to keep quiet. Especially when there are things like this to talk about, from a letter from Conrad to William Blackwood, the editor at the magazine that had commissioned HoD in the first place:

And this is all I can say unless I were to unfold for the nth time the miserable tale of my inefficiency. I trust however that in Jany I’ll be able to send you about 30000 words or perhaps a little less, towards the Vol: of short stories. Apart from my interest it is such a pleasure for me to appear in the Maga that you may well believe it is not laziness that keeps me back. It is, alas, something – I don’t know what – not so easy to overcome. With an immense effort a thin trickle of MS is produced – and that, just now, must be kept in one channel only lest no one gets anything and I am completely undone.

Can you spot the HoD keywords lurking in the letter? I’ve given you one clue already. The last sentence is chocked with them, tho. Remember the “thin trickle of ivory” that comes out of the jungle in exchange for all the manufactured trinkets and other garbage they send up river? And the “one channel” is just slightly interesting, right, given the fact that he’s writing novel about a guy headed on a little boat up an increasingly narrow river?

The much-discussed politics of the novel are to be found in this sort of thing, I think… and have argued this much in print. If you want the rest, you’ll either have to use your google-fu until you find the paper or sign up for our MA programme. Preferably the latter, and especially if you’re from elsewhere, as we need the loose change.

It’s definitely the perversest possible point to take away from HoD, but I too am trying to keep myself and my energies in “one channel” lately, trying not to “look about,” not even “sometimes.” I am fantasizing this morning about a life lived clockworkwise – get up, read the paper and eat breakfast, play with kids, off to the bus same time every morning. Instantly to desk and computer on and typing with the time I have. No mooning about – no thinking about. Then home, then relaxation, then reading, then bed. If there was an operation, preferably non-painful and I guess reversable, that could extract the self-distracting, meaning-seeking part of the brain and put it in a beaker for a bit, I’d be the first on-line, if a bit reluctantly, just at the moment.

At any rate, I started working last night – as a stupid sort of hobby – on a short and sloppy little  book – one written in semi-blog style and which proposes some suggestions toward  a new prosaics. It’ll follow the rubric suggested by Aristotle in his Poetics – “Every tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality – namely, plot, character, diction, thought, spectacle, song.” I’m going to take up each of those aspects, translated into novelistic application of course. I’ll post things here as I write them – I have no idea what I’d do with this little book if I actually finish it. And just so you know which future posts are attached to this project, I’ll title them like this: prosaics x.x, indicating the chapter at hand and (roughly) where it might fit in that chapter. So:

0 = Introduction

1 = Plot

2 = Character

3 = Diction

4 = Thought

5 = Spectacle

6 = Song

7 = Conclusion

Let’s see what happens. Going to try to do a page a night, whenever possible. Might be interesting, this – and perhaps a slightly more pragmatic (and pragmatically programmatic) use of the time that give to blogwriting than disparate random stuff. As far as I can imagine it, the point of the book will be to look again at the lessons of modernist innovations, identify their persistence in the present, and then propose alternative ways forward.

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November 5, 2009 at 11:12 am

dysekphrasis, heavenly art of the bubble, i’d like your help

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There’s an audience participation opportunity to come at the end of this post, so don’t skip the end if you want to play along at home and win great prizes! But to start, here’s a fantastic moment from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, not long after Marlow has reached the Outer Station:

“I had no idea why he wanted to be sociable, but as we chatted in there it suddenly occurred to me the fellow was trying to get at something — in fact, pumping me. He alluded constantly to Europe, to the people I was supposed to know there — putting leading questions as to my acquaintances in the sepulchral city, and so on. His little eyes glittered like mica discs — with curiosity — though he tried to keep up a bit of superciliousness. At first I was astonished, but very soon I became awfully curious to see what he would find out from me. I couldn’t possibly imagine what I had in me to make it worth his while. It was very pretty to see how he baffled himself, for in truth my body was full only of chills, and my head had nothing in it but that wretched steamboat business. It was evident he took me for a perfectly shameless prevaricator. At last he got angry, and, to conceal a movement of furious annoyance, he yawned. I rose. Then I noticed a small sketch in oils, on a panel, representing a woman, draped and blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch. The background was sombre — almost black. The movement of the woman was stately, and the effect of the torchlight on the face was sinister.

“It arrested me, and he stood by civilly, holding an empty half-pint champagne bottle (medical comforts) with the candle stuck in it. To my question he said Mr. Kurtz had painted this — in this very station more than a year ago — while waiting for means to go to his trading post. ‘Tell me, pray,’ said I, ‘who is this Mr. Kurtz?’

That painting! It’s the very definition of the grotesque, and mirror of the grotesqueness of the world of the novella, to condense two incompatable (but why should they be incompatable, justice and enlightenment, fairness and truth?) allegorical females into a single weird image. It’s moments like these where

When I teach, I explain to my students that best I can guess what we mean when we say the “Kafkaeseque” or “the uncanny in Kafka”  (after of course going through “heimlich” and “unheimlich” and the rest of the Freud stuff) is that is not just the weird thing, the thing out of place, but the weird thing inserted into a context that takes it as normal, everyday, that ignores it. It becomes compulsory, in a deep and strange sense: something’s out of place, everyone acts as if it isn’t, and then, as in a nightmare, you feel yourself pulled along by both by not wanting to make a scene and the fact that there’s time to stop and really think about all of this. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness works in much the same way. The compulsion of the unremarked grotesque is all over the place in the Outer Station section – you see things that are illogical, absurd, stupid, or that make you sick… But still: “I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life.” Or with this picture, this painting that doesn’t make any fucking sense, but which is left hanging there, a year after Kurtz painted it, a year after Kurtz, whom everyone in the station absolutely hates, left, never to return.

So, as far as ekphrastic moments go in modernist novels, I rate this one quite highly, as you can see. And I’d like to have something similar in something that I’m working on at the moment. Here’s what I’m looking for: I’d like to describe not one but two paintings (or photographs – or images that you can’t tell whether they are photographs or paintings) hanging on the wall of let’s say for simplicity’s sake a hotel room or nicely furnished apartment from the era of the bubble – the era in which we’re still lingering, at least in terms of hotel design. (Thinks can’t turn 1983 Bucharest fast enough for me, in terms of hotel aesthetics… But that’s another story…) I’d like them to be something like the one that Marlow sees at the Outer Station, though not nearly so obviously fucked up. I.e. if they are emblems of some sort of socio-individual brain damage, I’d like it to be the ambient brain-damage of the world in which we’ve lived or live. And their subject matter should be relatively upbeat, as the world in which they hang doesn’t have lots of time or really need for social critique, bad-conscience-bourgie-art, and the like.

I don’t care whether they form a clear diptych, an subtle diptych, or bear no clear relationship the one to the other. I’d love to hear a lot of them – first thought tries, or considered responses – as I might actually feature quite a few of these things in the thing that I’m doing.

If I’m not being clear, ask me questions. This is a little hard to describe. Not sure whether I should do this, as it primes the pump, but I’ll paste some notes that I’ve written and that I’m not at all satisfied with, so feel free to ignore the models.

On the left side is a photograph (it looks like a photograph, though it may well be a painting, there’s a certain subtle smudge and line to it that hints that it was made by human hands rather than a lens) that features four naked adolescents, late adolescents perhaps eighteen or nineteen years old hugging each other in a circle. Two males and two females, two whites and two blacks, and all four are fit and beautiful. Additionally, the genital area of each one is clearly visible. The models had to turn in a slightly awkward way in order for this to be so, which renders this image, which otherwise would seem to be more fine art than pornography, more erotically provocative than it might have been.

Its counterpart on the right side takes up an entirely different subject matter, yet somehow subtly seems to correspond with its partner across the wall. It is an aerial view of a section of some city – perhaps this one, you’re not familiar with it enough to say yet. Within the boundaries of the picture are perhaps thirty houses, of modern design and painted in bright colors, each one exactly identical to the next. Uncannily identical, same lift of the eaves, same blue shutters, same windowboxes planted with the same flowers. There are approximately ten or twelve human beings visible in the picture, and they are the only mark of distinction in what is otherwise a grid pattern of sameness. A man toward the bottom waters the flowers in his front garden, several are walking up or down the streets, and barely visible, half-cut off by the limits of the image, two naked people, a male and a female, lie on top of each other, naked, on the grass in the backyard of the house that fills the bottom left corner. The crop of the thing renders it unclear what they are doing – no faces are visible, all you see are two torsos, with the breasts and hair to indicate that they are the genders that they are.

Please, please, do me one – or twenty – better. IT always says she’ll send you something for your trouble at this point. If you provide something really helpful I’ll send you hmm, how about an autographed picture of a smiling American narcissist abroad? (You should see the ebay resale market for that shit!) What could be better than that? Or I’ll name a happy person after you in this thing that I’m doing. Or I’ll say the rosary for you, backward, and in esperanto or any other artificial language.

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April 18, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Posted in conrad, kafka, uncanny

Workers, with a capital

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Two passages from Heart of Darkness, the first a famous one and the second less so:

1) Still on the Nellie, waiting for the tide to turn, before the start of the story proper, Marlow’s just fantasized the life of a Roman imperial administrator in Britain and the “fascination of the abomination — you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate” – that he would have experienced. And then the turn:

“Mind,” he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower — “Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency — the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force — nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind — as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea — something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . .”

So a distinction grounded on something like a “just intervention” theory of imperialism. But he can’t, of course, define the “idea” that distinguishes “us” from “them.” Rather, it remains empty – fetishistic in the true sense of the word.

Marlow is mystified, but can’t quite come to terms with the fact. Instead, as he often does, he turns away from the problem – this time heading on the story of his time as a “fresh-water sailor,” the central narrative of Heart of Darkness.

2. A few pages into the story proper, Marlow turns to his aunt to find him some work on a ship. (This more or less really happened to Conrad himself…) And once she has pulled some string and found him a job, he returns to thank her before setting off to the Congo.

“One thing more remained to do — say good-bye to my excellent aunt. I found her triumphant. I had a cup of tea — the last decent cup of tea for many days — and in a room that most soothingly looked just as you would expect a lady’s drawing-room to look, we had a long quiet chat by the fireside. In the course of these confidences it became quite plain to me I had been represented to the wife of the high dignitary, and goodness knows to how many more people besides, as an exceptional and gifted creature — a piece of good fortune for the Company — a man you don’t get hold of every day. Good heavens! and I was going to take charge of a two-penny-half-penny river-steamboat with a penny whistle attached! It appeared, however, I was also one of the Workers, with a capital — you know. Something like an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle. There had been a lot of such rot let loose in print and talk just about that time, and the excellent woman, living right in the rush of all that humbug, got carried off her feet. She talked about ‘weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways,’ till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable. I ventured to hint that the Company was run for profit.

“‘You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his hire,’ she said, brightly. It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole thing over.

“You forget, dear Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his hire.” Marlow’s aunt has slyly introjected the flipside of the “idea at the back of it” evoked above – she has voiced the logic that can never be named, the secret affiliation between the “us” and “them” denied in the first passage. She may have reversed the hierarchy of causes – she has the “hire” secondary to the “work,” while Marlow knows the opposite is the case – but how is it that Marlow is so able and ready to call his aunt out now, while a few minutes ago he was deploying an explanation of the work that was even more deluded and dishonest than this one?

The idea, it seems, so buoyant a few pages before, cannot survive even the most grazing contact with the realm of commerce, which instantly throws Marlow into a misogynist rant about the “facts” that men live with, what has always, ineluctably, been the case.

(Did you notice the echo of “set [it] up” in the two passages? A rhyme…)

At any rate, thank god everything’s better now…

Capition from wikipedia: “Clearing tropical forests ate away at profit margins. However, ample plots of cleared land were already available. Above, a Congolese farming village (Baringa, Equateur) is emptied and levelled to make way for a rubber plantation.”

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August 11, 2006 at 12:00 am

Posted in conrad, distraction, empire, war

“as in some picture of a massacre”

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James Wolcott takes on the fake Lebanese dead libel, among other things.

The whole affair calls sends me spiraling down a string of associations, starting with Full Metal Jacket, the scene where the huey door-gunner is mowing down sprinting vietnamese famers and starts talking to joker:

Door Gunner: Git some! Git some! Git some, yeah, yeah, yeah! Anyone that runs, is a VC. Anyone that stands still, is a well-disciplined VC! You guys oughta do a story about me sometime!

Private Joker: Why should we do a story about you?

Door Gunner: ‘Cuz I’m so fuckin’ good! I done got me 157 dead gooks killed. Plus 50 water buffalo too! Them’s all confirmed!

Private Joker: Any women or children?

Door Gunner: Sometimes!

Private Joker: How can you shoot women or children?

Door Gunner: Easy! Ya just don’t lead ‘em so much! Ain’t war hell?

More to the point, if a bit indirectly, is this moment in Heart of Darknesss, near the start of Marlow’s time “in country,” when he comes upon a group of natives dying from overwork:

“Near the same tree two more bundles of acute angles sat with their legs drawn up. One, with his chin propped on his knees, stared at nothing, in an intolerable and appalling manner: his brother phantom rested its forehead, as if overcome with a great weariness; and all about others were scattered in every pose of contorted collapse, as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence. While I stood horror-struck, one of these creatures rose to his hands and knees, and went off on all-fours towards the river to drink. He lapped out of his hand, then sat up in the sunlight, crossing his shins in front of him, and after a time let his woolly head fall on his breastbone.

“I didn’t want any more loitering in the shade, and I made haste towards the station…

What the frame narration of the work allows Conrad to capture is fully visible in scenes like this one. Marlow is confronted by the visible output of the system that he’s just entered into, and can’t – back when he saw it, presumably, nor “now,” in retelling the story – bring himself to come to any conclusions about what he has seen, to make it mean anything beyond itself. There’s lot of editorializing on Marlow’s part elsewhere in the narrative, but it’s generally disjoined from “reportage” like the stuff here. The break in the paragraph, and the turn away from the “bundles of acute angles,” tells us both everything and none of what we need to know at once. And we even get a few hints of the distancing program ostensibly at work in Marlow’s mind: his aestheticization of the scene (“as in some picture of a massacre or a pestilence” – can you imagine standing before of heap of the dead and dying and thinking this? “This is just like a picture of a heap of dying people!”) and the way the “loitering” of the last line forges an implicit – and delusionally euphemistic – connection with the dying men. As if that is what they’re doing – loitering – and Marlow had momentarily forgotten himself and his work and joined in with them during their “break.”

The passage is emblematic of Heart of Darkness as a whole, which shows us nothing so clearly as the fissuring off of thought and perception, reason and experience, that occurs – has to occur all the time – in order for business as usual to continue. Said’s reading in Culture and Imperialism is brilliantly succinct on this point:

Conrad’s self-consciously circular narrative forms draw attention to themselves as artificial constructions, encouraging us to sense the potential of a reality that seemed inaccessible to imperialism, just beyond its control, and that only well after Conrad’s death in 1924 acquired substantial presence.

I’m sure all this is giving Walcott’s wingers far too much credit – presuming interiority, even blocked, is probably going too far. Rather, perhaps, think of the stuff that Walcott takes on as the visible manifestation of the society-wide psychopathology (or useful adaptation, god knows…) which allows for certain things to keep happening, even on tv, without the citizenry coming at once to its senses and abolishing itself in a rage of sudden, terrible empathy and devastating guilt.

To its great credit, I believe, the modernist novel (Conrad’s, Woolf’s, Joyce’s, Lawrence’s, etc) was perhaps preoccupied with nothing so deeply as the things that we see but do not think about, know and do not fret about, the people that we kill and do not cry about.

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August 4, 2006 at 11:46 pm

Posted in conrad, distraction, war

an idea at the back of it

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Precedent suggests that it is wise to worry whenever we encounter the formulation “not quite empire.” While naming can itself be a form of domination, when the names slip away and the workers of empire continue to operate provisionally, exceptionally,as it were, we know that we are nearing the darkest heart of the matter.

Robert Skidelsky in the New York Review of Books:

The main conclusion which emerges from Maier’s study, though it does not seem to me that he spells it out explicitly, is that between the two poles of “empire” and “independence” there are a large number of intermediate positions which exhibit different mixtures of independence and subordination. It is the fiction that there are only two alternatives—a fiction which is the joint product of Wilsonian idealism and anti-colonialism—which causes most of the current confusion. Any exertion of power by the strong is called “imperialist” by its opponents, while the imperialist has to pretend that his actions are fully consistent with national independence.

Yet while this disguise may offend simple souls who crave sharp contrasts, it may also be a sign of progress. There is some evidence that forms of rule have been growing softer, more subtle, and more humane; being less transparent, they are harder to define. Despite the mass killings and other atrocities that still disfigure parts of the world, the systematic “imperial” brutality of Hitler or Stalin which Dallas documents is past history. They tortured and killed millions; now a relatively small number of violent deaths, of “human rights” abuses attributable to imperial efforts, arouses universal condemnation—partly, but not wholly, because of the difficulty of keeping violence off the airwaves.

Proudly, I am, perhaps, one of those “simple souls” offended by the blur, as it causes me to recall Marlow’s circumlocution in Heart of Darkness:

“Mind,” he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower–“Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency–the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force–nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind–as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea–something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . .”

It is a bit uncanny, isn’t it, how similar the structures of the arguments are… We can see what Marlow either 1) cannot see or 2) can see, but forces himself to go on anyway. That the indefinability of the “idea,” the way it functions only to fill a gap in his argument, his comparison, to keep the sentences rolling out. It cannot be defined, for definitions are, in many cases, inefficient

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June 27, 2006 at 9:57 am

Posted in conrad, distraction, empire, war

fantasy-based community

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Wendy Steiner in The Scandal of Pleasure:

Art occupied a different moral space from that presented in identity politics, because art is virtual. We will not be led into fascism or rape or child abuse or racial oppression through aesthetic experience. Quite the contrary – the more practiced we are in fantasy the better we will master its difference from the real.

This sort of argument, one that we’re all familiar with and one – especially if we’re teachers – we find ourselves functionally endorsing from time to time or even often. For instance. when I teach Heart of Darkness, and we come to this –

“What saves us is efficiency–the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force–nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind–as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea–something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. . . .”

– of course, in the back of my mind is a sense that perhaps if they could learn to see (upon first reading, not my retelling) the fact that the “idea” is unspecified, can’t be explained further (at least without complications), these students might turn a slightly more skeptical ear towards the empty ideological gestures of the guardians of “efficiency” today.

But this isn’t all that art does, is it? A dribble of pleasure, and a little education in the difference between artifice and reality? The forms of art only lessons in distortion, skips and static in the recording that we can listen for, so that we can know the difference between the song of the sparrow and the recording of the song of the sparrow? The represented content of the work only there to show us how easy it is to translate the things of the world, the recognizable, into the artificial and false?

This can’t be it…

On the other hand, and this is where things get a bit complicated, isn’t Steiner’s rather banal formulation simply the negative, pedagogical form of Adorno’s evocation of artistic autonomy in his Aesthetic Theory?

By virtue of its rejection of the empirical world – a rejection that inheres in art’s concept and thus is no mere escape, but a law immanent to it – art sanctions the primacy of reality.

More to come…

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Written by adswithoutproducts

April 4, 2006 at 1:47 am

Posted in conrad, literature