ads without products

Archive for the ‘literature’ Category

decadent, inhuman…

leave a comment »

Wow. A roundtable on the “Condition of the Novel” from a 1965 issue of NLR. I’ve only read the Robbe-Grillet contribution so far. He’s getting, here, a bit testy with the commies:

The comparison which has been made during this conference between the novelist and the airline pilot is no more than a joke. The novel is not a means of transport, it is not even a means of expression—by which I mean that it knows in advance the truths or the questions which it sets out to express. The novel, for us, means search which does not even know what it is searching. The pilot of course must know where his passengers are bound, and the shortest route; The writer by definition does not know where he is going. And so, if I had absolutely to answer the question of why I write, I would simply say: ‘I write to try to understand why I feel the desire to write.’

But what seems most scandalous to us, is to find the socialist camp sharing the illusions of the bourgeois world, about the political power of art, sharing the same cult of obsolete artistic forms, the same language in which to couch its criticism, and in the end the same values.

‘Decadent’ you say? In relation to what? ‘Inhuman’? Isn’t it rather your conception of man which needs revivifying? It is understandable that bourgeois critics in the West persist (although more timidly than you) in defending literary forms which embody for them the golden age of the novel and of the propertied class. But what we find bizarre is that you are fighting the same cause, and that you can talk about innocent and natural writing when Gustave Flaubert began to have doubts about this in 1848.

You accuse us of ‘formalism’, but it is the literary form that expresses a work’s true meaning; and we know precisely that the forms which you advocate are representative of a world which you are supposed to be fighting.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

December 14, 2006 at 8:25 am

serving size

leave a comment »

From an interesting interview with Geoff Manaugh, the guy behind BLDGBLOG, at Ballardian.

Ballard’s book don’t sell well in the U.S., but that’s entirely a top-down problem. I think the American publishing industry is in a state of free-fall, marketing all the wrong books in all the wrong ways. Trying to market Ballard would never occur to them. They want to sell people John Updike novels in hardcover — despite the fact that no one wants John Updike novels, and hardcover books are completely obsolete as a format. So they ‘experiment’ by publishing 900-page hardcover epics about farm life in 1920s Nebraska — and then still seem surprised that no one’s reading fiction in this country.

Short, good, fairly priced, intellectually progressive paperback books — that’s all you need.

Just so. If, seriously, I can’t bring myself to read those monsters – and I’m a professional for god’s sake, who exactly do they think will?

Xmas presents, xmas presents, and stuff for pretentious college-aged New Yorker readers… But not for immediate and actual consumption…

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

November 12, 2006 at 11:38 pm

Posted in literature, marketing

extension du domaine de la lutte

with one comment

(Crossposted from Long Sunday, where I’m taking part in a symposium on democracy

I’m a bit daunted, now, by the passage that I breezily told Angela I’d deal with for this symposium. It’s from E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910), and it deals with a central character of the work – or, better, a character whose centrality to the work is very much the question, the issue, at play.

Leonard Bast is 21 when the novel opens, something of a would-be social and intellectual climber, an auto-didact, who has somehow pinned himself on to the Schlegel sisters, who fascinate him as avatars of cultural capital and unearned income. (The “umbrella” in the passage below refers to an embarrassing incident, fraught with class-anxiety, that occurs when Leonard first meets the sisters…)

The boy, Leonard Bast, stood at the extreme verge of gentility. He was not in the abyss, but he could see it, and at times people whom he knew had dropped in, and counted no more. He knew that he was poor, and would admit it: he would have died sooner than confess any inferiority to the rich. This may be splendid of him. But he was inferior to most rich people, there is not the least doubt of it. He was not as courteous as the average rich man, nor as intelligent, nor as healthy, nor as lovable. His mind and his body had been alike underfed, because he was poor, and because he was modern they were always craving better food. Had he lived some centuries ago, in the brightly coloured civilizations of the past, he would have had a definite status, his rank and his income would have corresponded. But in his day the angel of Democracy had arisen, enshadowing the classes with leathern wings, and proclaiming, “All men are equal–all men, that is to say, who possess umbrellas,” and so he was obliged to assert gentility, lest he slipped into the abyss where nothing counts, and the statements of Democracy are inaudible.

It’s an interesting passage, very tough to pin down the narrator’s tone here, the degree of affiliation or remove from Bast’s own sense of things. Our first response might be that Forster says Democracy when he really means Capitalism. This anxiety that haunts Bast, the necessity of constantly scrambling, constantly reinforcing the foundations of the self, lest he slip into the “abyss” is not, of course, a matter of political self-representation or governmental organization, but rather a matter of market forces, economic liberalism, and individual gumption. Or, if were more politically charitable to Forster, then he means us to hear the euphemistic usage of the word Democracy as euphemistic. And then there is the reactionarily nostalgia, ironized or not, for “the brightly coloured civilizations of the past.” It is true, even if it doesn’t mean all that much, that were Leonard born under pre-democratic / capitalistic feudalism, he at least wouldn’t have suffered from this anxiety about the abyss – either in it or not, but no nervousness about climbing and falling. And, it follows, why leathern wings, exactly? The angel of democracy, as it grants the ability to fly, also turns the classes satanic, naturally unnatural?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 20, 2006 at 12:55 am

Posted in literature


with 17 comments

An article that gets written all the time, a sentiment that never stops circulating, sifted out of always-on archives of cliché and delivered over for your perusal here.

Digest version: becoming a professional Englisher alienates you from the things that brought you to the business in the first place.

We’ve heard.

Benton polls his undergrads, most grad school bound, on why they love the lit:

They were all considering graduate school, but their answers had little to do with what I knew they would need to write in their application essays. Sitting in a circle in the grass, backed by purple hydrangeas, they offered the following motives:

Formative experiences with reading as a child: being read to by beloved parents and siblings, discovering the world of books and solitude at a young age.

Feelings of alienation from one’s peers in adolescence, turning to books as a form of escapism and as a search for a sympathetic connection to other people in other places and times.

A love for books themselves, and libraries, as sites of memory and comfort.

A “geeky” attraction to intricate alternate worlds such as those created by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and George Lucas.

Contact with inspirational teachers who recognized and affirmed one’s special gifts in reading and writing, often combined with negative experiences in other subjects like math and chemistry.

A transference of spiritual longings — perhaps cultivated in a strict religious upbringing — toward more secular literary forms that inspired “transcendence.”

A fascination with history or science that is not grounded in a desire for rigorous data collection or strict interpretive methodologies.

A desire for freedom and independence from authority figures; a love for the free play of ideas. English includes everything, and all approaches are welcome, they believe.

A recognition of mortality combined with a desire to live fully, to have multiple lives through the mediation of literary works.

A desire to express oneself through language and, in so doing, to make a bid for immortality.

A love for the beauty of words and ideas, often expressed in a desire to read out loud and perform the text.

An attraction to the cultural aura of being a creative artist, sometimes linked to aristocratic and bohemian notions of the good life.

A desire for wisdom, an understanding of the big picture rather than the details that obsess specialists.

But of course, this won’t do. We live, apparently, under the Reign of Theory, which prohibits enjoyment, engagement, anything other than earnest critique in service of the revolution. Benton’s students will learn, the hard way, that life just ain’t all momma reading to you at bedtime, Kerouacian coffeehouse, a precocious Middlemarch devouring under the covers, flashlight.

It makes me sad to think how little those motives will be acknowledged if they go on to graduate school. They will probably go for the wrong reasons: to continue their experience as undergraduates. They are romantics who must suddenly become realpolitikers. Maybe that’s why most drop out before they complete their doctorates. Those who stay have political commitments (and probably come from undergraduate programs where those commitments are encouraged early), or they develop them as graduate students, or they feign or exaggerate them to get through.

Here’s the thing. I’m not sure I understand the equation between theory and dour-faced analysis, politburo-distributed graph-paper writing. Seems to me, theory gets blamed on both ends – it produces irrational exuberant poesy-as-criticism and staid, bureaucratic boilerplate at the same time. As everyone already knows, but for some reason can’t bring themselves to say, is that if Benton’s students reach grad school and find themselves bored and frustrated and manufacturing work that fails to live up to their initial literary aspirations, it won’t be because of theory but rather the new archival / historicist turn in literary studies, that silent but mass counter-revolution that has settled on the accumulation of fact and the castration of purpose to produce inelegant works that sift through the dusty corners of the library, producing nothing new but lots and lots of old.

Whatever. My advice for Benton is the following. When your students bring up these feelings, why not help them to develop them into workable projects that move from idle announcement of interest toward self-aware analysis of it. No, no one wants to hear about your momma’s lap, but examinations of relation between the aesthetic and the commodified alienation of literary works would be valuable. Point them towards the question of the aesthetic, a question that partakes of all of the positions that they have here espoused, and suggest that work through the what and why and to what end of it.

Mooning on about how lovely was the novel they read when they were a kid, no, isn’t going to work. But working toward an understanding of how this strange magic trick – so out of step with an irrationally rational world, so out of touch with the normative economism that fills our lungs with every breath – of a bunch of words that creates a feeling (happiness, warmth, togetherness, isolation, discomfort, desire, disinterested interest, egotistic fire, full wallet of cult capital, whatever) works is something that not only needs to be undertaken, but will find acceptance if artfully done.

(A quick example: “A “geeky” attraction to intricate alternate worlds such as those created by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and George Lucas’ might yield something like this, and probably even better, were the student encouraged properly, rather than told at every turn that the question is an either/or, literary interest / abstract politicizing.)

For the field of literature, after theory and during the rise of this new empiricist reaction – a field which currently buys the solid ground but forever fails to build – could use some new blood, self-aware, and ready to take poems and novels as something other than an archive of social data, an archive they were forced to use, when so many other, better archives exist, because they made the mistake of getting into English.

As always, and like never before, we today face the question of the value of literature – and of the aesthetic more generally. We need to know why it is that we return to these textual objects, and what sort of energies might be borrowed from them, what sort of doors they have closed and which they might open. And, in particular, why we are so unwilling to do without them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 17, 2006 at 1:24 pm


leave a comment »


Marx claimed that with the accomplishment of socialism, a typical day might consists of fishing in the morning, tending sheep in the afternoon, and writing literary criticism at night. But we are left to wonder: what sort of literature would such a world produce for criticism to attend to? On what terms would such a criticism proceed? Surely, the years of refining bourgeois recidivism out of the novel would have long ended by this time… Surely it is easier to purge bourgeois recidivism from the novel than to overthrow the division of labor in real life?

Speaking of Marx, Francis Wheen (unfortunately a Eustonite) had a rather nice piece in the Guardian this weekend on Marx and literature, Marx as modernist.

Like Frenhofer, Marx was a modernist avant la lettre. His famous account of dislocation in the Communist Manifesto – “all that is solid melts into air” – prefigures the hollow men and the unreal city depicted by TS Eliot, or Yeats’s “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. By the time he wrote Das Kapital, he was pushing out beyond conventional prose into radical literary collage – juxtaposing voices and quotations from mythology and literature, from factory inspectors’ reports and fairy tales, in the manner of Ezra Pound’s Cantos or Eliot’s The Waste Land. Das Kapital is as discordant as Schoenberg, as nightmarish as Kafka.

Marx saw himself as a creative artist, a poet of dialectic. “Now, regarding my work, I will tell you the plain truth about it,” he wrote to Engels in July 1865. “Whatever shortcomings they may have, the advantage of my writings is that they are an artistic whole.” It was to poets and novelists, far more than to philosophers or political essayists, that he looked for insights into people’s material motives and interests: in a letter of December 1868 he copied out a passage from another work by Balzac, The Village Priest, and asked if Engels could confirm the picture from his own knowledge of practical economics. Had he wished to write a conventional economic treatise he would have done so, but his ambition was far more audacious. Berman describes the author of Das Kapital as “one of the great tormented giants of the 19th century – alongside Beethoven, Goya, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Ibsen, Nietzsche, Van Gogh – who drive us crazy, as they drove themselves, but whose agony generated so much of the spiritual capital on which we still live”.

Yet how many people would think of including Marx in a list of great writers and artists? Even in our postmodern era, the fractured narrative and radical discontinuity of Das Kapital are mistaken by many readers for formlessness and incomprehensibility. Anyone willing to grapple with Beethoven, Goya or Tolstoy should be able to “learn something new” from a reading of Das Kapital – not least because its subject still governs our lives. As Berman asks: how can Das Kapital end while capital lives on? It is fitting that Marx never finished his masterpiece. The first volume was the only one to appear in his lifetime, and the subsequent volumes were assembled by others after his death, based on notes and drafts found in his study. Marx’s work is as open-ended – and thus as resilient – as the capitalist system itself.

Although Das Kapital is usually categorised as a work of economics, Marx turned to the study of political economy only after many years of spadework in philosophy and literature. It is these intellectual foundations that underpin the project, and it is his personal experience of alienation that gives such intensity to the analysis of an economic system which estranges people from one another and from the world they inhabit – a world in which humans are enslaved by the monstrous power of capital and commodities.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 11, 2006 at 10:30 am


with one comment

Spurious today, on Blanchot, literature, and community or communism.

What happens when Blanchot’s writings are refracted through the prism of what he calls community? They shift slightly, or shimmer in a different way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 28, 2006 at 9:43 am

il faut être absolument moderne

with 5 comments

A pictorial illustration of Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 3-4:

“Just as Rimbaud’s stunning dictum one hundred years ago devined definitively the history of new art, his later silence, his stepping into line as an employee, anticipated art’s decline.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 25, 2006 at 11:47 pm


with one comment

Design Observer on Kafka and Typography:

We get the word “koan” from Zen Buddhism, where in Japanese it translates literally as “a matter for public thought,” sort of an open-source philosophy for ancient times. Koans often demonstrated the inability of logical reasoning to produce enlightened thought, and, as a trained lawyer and insurance clerk throughout his life, no one knew the deadening effects of logic better than Franz Kafka.

Yes, and that slip from “we” to “they”… Go look…

(Image above: “Walbaum, typeface design by Justin Erich Walbaum, 1804. Kafka’s favorite typeface and the original used for Meditation.”)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 20, 2006 at 11:07 am

round the world

The Financial Times this weekend had a nice guide to summer reading, fiction and non, broken up by nation of origin.

I ordered:

by Yiyun Li
Fourth Estate ₤14.99

Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing but emigrated to the US in 1996. This short story collection – providing a poignant glimpse into people’s lives in post-Marxist China – won the prestigious Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award last autumn.

and preordered:

by Paulo Lins
Bloomsbury ₤8.99

Published for the first time in English, this is the original novel on which the 2002 Oscar-nominated film of the same name is based. Awash with violence, guns and drugs it depicts gang life in Rio de Janeiro’s most notorious slum during the 1970s and 1980s.

and I’m tempted by these two:

by Pierre Merot
translated by Frank Wynne
Canongate ₤9.99 (July 6)

A bitterly funny novel about a dissolute, alcoholic loser who wanders between dead-end jobs and therapists. This is the first of Parisian Merot’s novels to be translated into English.

by Andrew Hussey
Viking ₤25 (July 6)

An enthralling new look at Paris from the perspective of its outcasts – immigrants, sexual outsiders, criminals and revolutionaries. Starting with the origins of the city as the home of the nomadic Parisii tribe and culminating with the riots of disaffected suburban immigrant youth last autumn, it provides a fresh take on the world’s most romanticised city.

A helpful list. Lot’s of stuff I hadn’t seen before…

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 19, 2006 at 12:19 pm

Posted in literature

summer reading list

leave a comment »

Happens every summer, when I’m granted a smidgen more reading time than during the academic season, and I use that freedom to start umpteen books, until I can no longer figure out which to take up again at night, when I have a chance, and thus decide to start yet another one. Or, even worse, to just read blogs until it’s time for bed.

Make me think of this, a list of “Books on Tony Kushner’s Bedside Table,” which appeared in the NYT in 2003. I remember taking this “bedside table” thing quite literally at the time, wondering “seriously, is he reading all of these at once?” Maybe he was!

“Getting Mother’s Body” by Suzan-Lori Parks

“Following Hadrian: A Second-Century Journey Through the Roman Empire” by Elizabeth Speller

“The Best American Short Stories of the Century” edited by John Updike and Katrina Kenison

“Selected Poems” by Conrad Aiken

“Motherless Brooklyn” by Jonathan Lethem

“The Book of Salt: A Novel” by Monique Truong

“Elective Affinities” by Goethe

“Dry: A Memoir” by Augusten Burroughs

“Horace: A Life” by Peter Levi

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain

“Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath” by Kate Moses

“The Charterhouse of Parma” by Stendhal

Classy list! Anyway, I’m hoping if I list all the stuff that I’ve started but not finished since the end of the semester, maybe it will help me to figure out how to actually finish a book or two. And I’m sure this list is only partial – there’s inevitably stuff hiding, that I’ve given up on, that I’ve repressed, etc…

“Le Corbusier,” Kenneth Frampton

“The Basic Writings of Kant”

“Selected Stories,” E.M. Forster

“We Have Never Been Modern,” Bruno Latour

“The Radical Aesthetic,” Isobel Armstrong

“Cultural Capital,” John Guillory

“Our Hidden Lives: The Remarkable Diaries of Post-War Britain,” Simon Garfield

“Consciousness Explained,” Daniel Dennett

“The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup,” Weiland and Wilsey

“The Future of Nostalgia,” Svetlana Boym

“Slow Man,” J.M. Coetzee

“Neuromancer,” William Gibson

“Modernism and Time,” Ronald Schleifer

“Imagine No Possessions,” Christiana Kiaer

Which would be impressive, no, if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve read like the first 20 pages of each.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 12, 2006 at 12:59 am

Posted in literature


with one comment

From Wikipedia:

Von Neumann bottleneck

The separation between the CPU and memory leads to what is known as the von Neumann bottleneck. The throughput (data transfer rate) between the CPU and memory is very small in comparison with the amount of memory. In modern machines, throughput is very small in comparison with the rate at which the CPU itself can work. Under some circumstances (when the CPU is required to perform minimal processing on large amounts of data), this gives rise to a serious limitation in overall effective processing speed. The CPU is continuously forced to wait for vital data to be transferred to or from memory. As CPU speed and memory size have increased much faster than the throughput between the two, the bottleneck has become more and more of a problem.

The term “von Neumann bottleneck” was coined by John Backus in his 1977 ACM Turing award lecture. According to Backus:

“Surely there must be a less primitive way of making big changes in the store than by pushing vast numbers of words back and forth through the von Neumann bottleneck. Not only is this tube a literal bottleneck for the data traffic of a problem, but, more importantly, it is an intellectual bottleneck that has kept us tied to word-at-a-time thinking instead of encouraging us to think in terms of the larger conceptual units of the task at hand. Thus programming is basically planning and detailing the enormous traffic of words through the von Neumann bottleneck, and much of that traffic concerns not significant data itself, but where to find it.”

And now Woolf in To the Lighthouse:

How then did it work out, all this? How did one judge people, think of them? How did one add up this and that and conclude that it was liking one felt or disliking? And to those words, what meaning attached, after all? Standing now, apparently transfixed, by the pear tree, impressions poured in upon her of those two men, and to follow her thought was like following a voice which speaks too quickly to be taken down by one’s pencil, and the voice was her own voice saying without prompting undeniable, everlasting, contradictory things, so that even the fissures and humps on the bark of the pear tree were irrevocably fixed there for eternity.

Thinking about literary modernism – “stream of consciousness” narration and the like – as a problem of bandwidth or “data transfer rate,” just as, in a sense, consciousness itself is during this period, for Freud and Bergson and others, an issue that boils down to how many sense impressions / repressed memories can fit through the very narrow pipe. Woolf struggles in To the Lighthouse to get it all down, chokes the text with data, so that across (despite) all the abundance of detail we feel all that is being left out, all that can’t make it into the text.

(I’m not going to bring it all into this post, but searching for the word “word” in the text is, well, very revealing…)

And something else – thinking about this bit from the quote above:

Not only is this tube a literal bottleneck for the data traffic of a problem, but, more importantly, it is an intellectual bottleneck that has kept us tied to word-at-a-time thinking instead of encouraging us to think in terms of the larger conceptual units of the task at hand.

And this, from Lukács:

The greatest discrepancy between idea and reality [in the novel of romantic disillusionment] is time: the process of time as duration. The most profound and most humiliating impotence of subjectivity consists not so much in its hopeless struggle against the lack of idea in social forms and their human representatives, as in the fact that it cannot resist the sluggish, yet constant process of time; that it must slip down, slowly yet inexorably, from the peaks it has laboriously scaled; that time – that ungraspable, invisibly moving substance – gradually robs subjectivity of all its possessions and imperceptibly forces alien contents into it. That is why only the novel, the literary form of the transcendent homelessness of the idea, includes real time – Bergson’s durée – among its constitutive principles.

The novel – or really, literature in general – now as the materialization of the human inability to think/say/write more than one word at a time. Only now, with machines that promise/threaten/already do “think” or “process” everything all at once, once and for all, can we see the secret pathos that lives within the form.

As of now, the computer retains its romanesque form, its all too human handicap (from Wikipedia again):

Cache between CPU and main memory helps to alleviate some of the performance issues of the von Neumann bottleneck. Additionally, the developement of branch prediction algorithms has helped to mitigate this problem. It is less clear whether the intellectual bottleneck that Backus criticized has changed much since 1977. Backus’s proposed solution has not had a major influence. Modern functional programming and object-oriented programming are much less geared towards pushing vast numbers of words back and forth than earlier languages like Fortran, but internally, that is still what computers spend much of their time doing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 5, 2006 at 12:17 am

benjamin on the blog

leave a comment »

From the Work of Art essay, thesis X:

For centuries a small number of writers were confronted by many thousands of readers. This changed toward the end of the last century. With the increasing extension of the press, which kept placing new political, religious, scientific, professional, and local organs before the readers, an increasing number of readers became writers–at first, occasional ones. It began with the daily press opening to its readers space for “letters to the editor.” And today there is hardly a gainfully employed European who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to case. At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer. As expert, which he had to become willy-nilly in an extremely specialized work process, even if only in some minor respect, the reader gains access to authorship. In the Soviet Union work itself is given a voice. To present it verbally is part of a man’s ability to perform the work. Literary license is now founded on polytechnic rather than specialized training and thus becomes common property.

Of course, it was probably just a passing phase, a little utopian flicker before the tubes grow tolls… You didn’t really think this could go on like this, did you?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

April 26, 2006 at 12:29 pm

avant garde

leave a comment »

Was looking for something else on Amazon – David Harvey’s Spaces of Global Capitalism – and for some reason the ISBN listed at Verso took me here. Weird…

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

April 15, 2006 at 11:55 am

Posted in literature

fantasy-based community

leave a comment »

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…

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by adswithoutproducts

April 4, 2006 at 1:47 am

Posted in conrad, literature

My heart leaps up…

leave a comment »

…when I read this sort of thing in Coetzee’s new one… (bought one, still warm from the press, today…)

If none is left who will pronounce judgment on such a life, if the Great Judge of All has given up judging and withdrawn to pare his nails, then he will pronounce it himself: A wasted chance.

Compare (from Joyce’s Portrait):

The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his

And further back, from Flaubert’s letters, what Joyce was filially deranging:

An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere, and visible nowhere. Art being a second Nature, the creator of that Nature must behave similarly. In all its atoms, in all its aspects, let there be sensed a hidden, infinite impassivity. The effect for the spectator must be a kind of amazement. “How is all that done?” one must ask; and one must feel overwhelmed without knowing why.

So Coetzee’s running it in reverse… Not like god paring his fingernails… but god himself that we’re worried about. But wait: not god but “the Great Judge of All.” Think I see where we’re headed here – do you?
In the previous paragraph we had “the word of the gods, tapped out on their occult typewriter.”
Oh boy…
I’ll keep you posted…

Written by adswithoutproducts

September 24, 2005 at 1:00 am

Posted in literature