Friday, November 30, 2007

blind contours

These blog writings began as things that could not be included in my dissertation. i suppose at some point, my feelings about the dissertation began to change. i think at this time, the content of what was included here also changed. though the dissertation is hopefully changing in positive ways, what is here is not. and that is largely because there is very little here. this is very sad to me. at the same time, the fact that there is not very much here seems to be one of the phenomena that i am trying to explain in my dissertation. i am writing about how poetry is able to theorize about political activity. one of the outcomes of this is that i am able to see and to say how poetry can engage in political action. in the first chapter, which deals with the Bertolt Brecht, i suppose i am trying to see how poetry sees its removal from the realm of politics, and how Brecht theorizes its return. one of the consequences of this removal from politics is the loss of external reality. by external reality, i mean things that are registered as belonging to the world--the "many-sided world," according to Brecht. i feel like not being able to write things in this blog is related to the loss of external reality, of my external reality. i think this relationship--that is, to external reality--is always very tenuous anyways. i think it takes a lot to maintain it, but the "work" of its activity is not always that clear. in fact, i think the work is downright murky; it is dark.

One of the things that has made the dissertation writing go better is that i am slowly realizing how slowly i need to proceed in order to present an intelligible argument. sometimes i am surprised at how "beyond me" this has seemed. i have begun to think that this process is somewhat like drawing blind contours. i have held onto this practice for quite some time, since high school, i think. the task is to move your pen as slowly as your eyes trace the object you are drawing, not looking at your paper until you have finished tracing the whole object. what results is, of course, never realistic, but it is rare that the object that is traced is not at all intelligible on the paper. i have never grasped the idea, exactly, that in writing, my pen might have to move as slowly. the value of the patience of sticking with it blindly to end goes without need to say more. so perhaps that is something

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

the lost posts

As my "Humanities Core" ( blog threatens to overtake "Zoo" in sheer number of posts, as November begins, as the pressure to finish chapter one increases, and as i get used to idea that the letters are still not about love... as all these things, I really hope that I am picking up again, on these postings. Even with this, there is the sense of loss and redemption, and perhaps this where to begin. I had come to the conclusion that redemption is what Brecht wanted to thwart through his development of anti-aristotelian theater.

In "Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting," Brecht's 1936 [1949] essay relating his observation of Mei Lan-fang's theater company in Moscow to his development of the estrangement-effect, Brecht's concerns seem primarily to involve what we have come to understand as consciousness-raising. It seems possible find in hte essay the repetition of a call for consciousness. From the beginning, he writes: "The efforts in question were directed to playing in such a way that the audience was hindered from simply identifying itself with the characters in the play. Acceptance or rejection of their actions and utterances was meant to take place on a conscious plane, instead of, as hitherto, in the audience's subconscious." It follows, therefore: all of the readings of his didacticism, his empiricism, his objective reality, his undeserved greatness... all of these things deal with and assert the primacy of the "conscious plane" to Brecht.

The interesting part of this process seems to be the way in which "identifying with" the actions subconsciously becomes Brecht's shorthand for the way that theater, and art in general, has functioned since Aristotle. It is what Leo Bersani has called "the culture of redemption," what Benjamin saw as the messianistic, what myths of "primitive accumulation" allow, and, as Savvy T and I discuss endlessly, it is the predominant justification and grounds for the production and study of literature. Or is it itself an uninvestigated, assumed uncritical blah blah blah ideology? But this percolating idea about Brecht's non-redemptiveness is that art, for Brecht, does something other than affirm (positively or negatively) the adequacy of the relationship between form and content (which, for Aristotle, is intricately related to the interdependency of the soul and the body), that before art conveys the coincidence of form and content (something accidental?), it does something else: this is the question that it seems even the very consideration of involves the willingness "to suspend belief."

Picture: Cozydan t-shirt design. thanks to Becky for buying.

Friday, October 12, 2007

identity threat

Craters of the Moon National Monument: where the "them" are spatter cones.
Talking with friends last night about irony (thanks to Alanis Morisette for providing the the procative lyrics that were inspiration for the conversation—something about rain and wedding day), we struggled to define irony itself. This arose from the observation that the incidents Morisette mentions do not qualify as irony because they do not involve the thwarting of intention and are instead just “bad things” that happen. It seemed that, in some way, the not knowing had to be related to intention--as if the incongruity between what was expected and what actually happened needed, nonetheless, an active agent. What is irony with this idea that in some way, without your knowing, you contribute to your downfall?

Monday, October 1, 2007

not making waves

If the "hard things do give way," as Brecht wrote, it is hardly a reassurance, although it is one that Benjamin holds onto, and esteems, when he speaks of Brecht. We might be inclined to want this--the passing away of tension, the eventual ease of transformation, the hopeful sense that change is endless--but with Brecht, one does not dwell with this too long. More than the sense that things can change (and counter to the obvious rendition of "change, not mere interpretation"), Brecht seems to find that the sense of "being otherwise" depends upon a tenuous perception of the difference between the rules that govern and the society that persists. The insight here is perhaps not so profound, but what I think Brecht offers is the idea that art is not there to change or even to reflect the possibility of change, but that art is there to maintain this tenuousness. What is the work of maintaining this disjunct, one that might be seen to correspond to the inadequacy of the relationship between content and form, or between reality and representation?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

inside joke, outside job

How people decide whether or not it matters to be on the inside (and then what inside) or the outside is a matter of passion, of Leiden, of suffering. It follows from such a description (in which choice is not so much an action, or an act, but rather something that acts upon you) interiority and exteriority are related to affect, or to the exchange of activity and passivity. The exchange of interior and exterior, or the blurring or solidification of each sphere, seems to fixate nonetheless on the boundary in between rather than the logic involved in their obversity in the first place. This contrasts with our attention to the substantive realms of subject- and objecthood when we fixate on what distinguishes the one from the other; instead, their relationship seems figured by a "determining" logic that persists (or is blurred or solidified) between them. In fact, it seems kind of arbitrary to say that this type of distinction, between the contours of interiority/exteriority and the substantiveness of subject/object, holds. Figures of the encounter between the subject and an other have sought to capture the gesturality and ephemerality, the mutual constitutivenss of the subject by the other, and of the object-world or environment in which she finds herself, in an effort to rethink the ontological status of the subject and its other. But the question that such a juxtaposition seems to present to me at this point has to do with the desire to even think of the pairs of interiority/exteriority and subject/object as analogous, or minimally, as fitting comparisions.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

lost lust: before Freud

In Exhausted Modernity, Teresa Brennan notes that though Freud’s pleasure principle might be criticized for its economic (quantitative) aspects, discussion tends far less towards its descriptive characteristics, the type of phenomena that it qualifies. For Brennan, this quality is instant gratification, one that relates to the commodity form. She writes, “[m]oreover, if one reconsiders the desires implicit in commodities, it will be plain that while the pleasure principle accords with the desire for instant gratification that they express, and with their visual presentation in various media, it does not account for the other desires revealed in their design, namely: the desire to be waited upon; the desire to believe one is the source of agency who makes it happen; the desire to dominate and control the other who is active in providing, but whose activity is controlled by a relatively passive director, and the aggressive desire towards the other, if we take pollution as evidence of aggression” (23). Brennan's summary of the forms of latent desire registers the complications of knowing or seeing the factors involved in circulation; these unaccounted for desires or pleasures are what Freud calls “forepleasure,” which he uses to describe the various pleasures of infantile sexuality, jokes, creative, and stage-acting, is “the pleasure that serves to initiate a large release of pleasure.”[1] I want to explore the notion of desires that don’t “count” or can’t be quantified as forms of circulation. One form of this question is how we enter (voluntarily) into circuits that we also suffer from, which is also a question of the translation of passivity (or passions) into activity (or actions). Brennan's observations of latent desires reveal that there is a utility to passions that are not as immediate willful agency. Freud's mentions of preconscious pleasure generally become subsumed in the unconscious, but I would like to extend Brennan’s observations of this affective realm that is “beyond” circulation, exchange, and pleasure by examining the aesthetic principles that are behind these dynamics.

Freud’s citation of these dynamics often refers to the work of G.T. Fechner, whose work on psychophysical phenomena is seen as the basis of Freud’s economic and energetic principle of constancy. Fechner is perhaps less known for his two-volume work, The Primer of Aesthetics, but it here that he develops the notion of “forepleasure”; describing the contribution of multiple factors “without contradiction,” Fechner develops a notion of the aesthetic that comes from this transformation of passive factors into activity. Freud describes this as an aesthetic in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious not he did in Project for a Scientific Psychology as “relating to sensation or perception,” but as “deriving pleasure from its own activity” (emphasis mine). Freud's rough, apologetic definition of the aesthetic presents the possibility that the causes of aesthetic pleasure are obscure, but this autonomy is generally revoked for a more certain, unconscious empirical, one which is easily quantifiable and whose circulation is registered at a conscious level. In this extension, I move to exploring the aesthetic underside of this desire for a scientific basis, places where the aesthetic might betray its scientific intention.

Monday, July 9, 2007

forms of vor

In his essay "Comittment," Adorno describes the tension between didactic and non-political art, and labels art that is itself and no other thing "pre-artistic." This designation signals a realm outside of the tension (and perhaps also relationship) between subject and object.

Adorno writes: “The notion of a ‘message’ in art, even when politically radical, already contains an accommodation to the world: the stance of the lecturer conceals a clandestine entente with the listeners, who could only be rescued from deception by refusing it. […] But any literature which therefore concludes that it can be a law unto itself, and exist only for itself, degenerates into ideology no less. Art, which even in its opposition to society remains a part of it, must close its eyes and ears against it: it cannot escape the shadow of irrationality. But when it appeals to this unreason, making it a raison d’etre, it converts its own malediction into theodicy. Even in the most sublimated work of art there is a hidden ‘it should be otherwise’. When a work is merely itself and no other thing, as in a pure pseudo-scientific construction, it becomes bad art—literally pre-artistic.” (Adorno, "Comittment" 193-194)

The equation between bad art and the "pre-artistic" is compared to the non-referentiality of a pseudo-scientific "construction," something that does not have the verifiability of organic replication, perhaps. Adorno's construction of the problem of art in this manner introduces the tension subject and object into the field of artistic creation. I think something like the struggle between the individual, human world and the collective, social world can be sensed here; it is this anxiety that overpowers what for Adorno seems to be the real danger. The real danger seems to also need some signification that the "times" which the artwork opposes are also, in some way, exceptional--perhaps, as Adorno would say, damaged. From this, Adorno can go on to say that the problem of the "message" is its "accomodation" to the world, and can use the force of the tension between the subject and the object to differentiate art that accomodates from art that says "otherwise." The tension between the subject and the object is what Adorno, in other places, describes as "form." Here, he merely says that when this tension is not strong enough, there is no "art," or worse, that there is "bad art"--that this realm of not art is "pre-artistic." Here--when we are talking about what counts as art (vs. what is pre-artistic)--the stakes of judging good and bad are revealed, since form can seem to hinge on something as flippant and finnicky as taste.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

chose consequence

In a 1934 essay titled "In the Fight against Injustice even weak Weapons are of Use" ("Man muss das Unrecht auch mit schwachen Mitteln bekampfen"), Bertolt Brecht defends The International League of Human Rights, against leftist criticism for its "individual aims" in its efforts to prosecute rights violations. The organization was banned by the Nazis in 1933. He writes:

"I did not go as far as many, who claimed to be observing a wholesale, long-term collapse of the large-scale organizations which aimed to change the social structure completely, but I too saw the tough and important small-scale activities of frequently disparaged organizations like the League of Human Rights, which actually saved many people, which constantly and untiringly exposed injustice with its small voice, and which galvanised many to return to the struggle. So we saw that the fight against injustice must not only be waged in the most ultimate way, addressing all of its causes, but also in the most general way, i.e., using all the means available, even the most feable. For even worse than the illusion that it is possible to eradicate unnecessary misery without removing its causes is the illusion that we can fight the causes without their consequences, separately, without recourse to the weakest and most feable of means. I have seen how knowing about these terrible things actually prevented many people from combating their terrible consequences." (Brecht on Art and Politics 140-141)

Brecht is here writing about the transformation of Germany into a Nazi state, a moment and a historical shift which remains inaccessible. I find it interesting that he is talking about this moment--one that the historical record tries to shore up in various ways. The problem that he describes is what counts as "doing enough" and he here argues that even the smallest effort needs to count. The position that he takes here is one he is characteristically criticized for, since it is often read as a moment of compromised investment (in communism vs. capitalism at all costs even to the extent of praising Stalin), of failed dialectic (see David Pike's inflammatory argument in Lukacs and Brecht), or of apologetic politics (as reform socialist); in one way or another he doesn't hold the line. In other places, in his poetry, for example, Brecht seems to phrase this conflict between possible action and principled action in terms of "the times"; with a pseudo-utopic nostalgia he documents the things disallowed by the darkness of the age--and this darkness is the spread of fascism, of the imperial rule of Germany, and therefore and in turn the spread of the capitalist mode of production. To an extent, the equation of fascism and capitalism seems to be the confused relation behind each of the above-mentioned positions he is criticized for. Confused, not in terms of interpretation alone or in terms of the history, but in reality, i.e. for Brecht. Whether or not this equation was right (or true, as Brecht might claim) seems to be a question that is lost to us, but the question of the political efficacy of small actions is one that constantly circulates in places where intellectual labor is a form of political activity.

So it could be said that Brecht's phrasing of these pairs--capitalism/fascism, condition of possible action (unfriendliness)/principled action (friendliness), cause/consequence--represent a strained equality. I am not sure that this is the best way to phrase a relationship that seems to have the markings of a base/superstructure form, but I feel that given the moral weight of the terms, the type of conflict and commensurability that Brecht presents is a version of his "realism," and thus of his reality. In other places (such as most of the ones cited by David Pike), Brecht seems to hold blindly to the "conditions of production" as the bearers of reality. This might be especially clear in his address at the First International Writers' Congress in Paris in 1935 ("A Necessary Observation on the Struggle Against Barbarism"), where he is clear that the conditions of ownership bear upon every relation man has in society. It might also be clear in places where he equates these conditions to the "truth" of communism (and the lie of capitalism). But in this little piece, it seems less clear that one's project need always be with the conditions, or the cause. That the weakest weapons might be what is needed to fight some of the consequences seems to formulate still a need for weapons, a clarity of "a cause," and the sense that any action counts.

image: Dragon, Tim Hawkinson (2007)

Friday, June 22, 2007

the state of poetry

The announcement that President Bush is considering an early closure to the prison in Guantanamo Bay has been accompanied by news of the release and forthcoming publication of 22 prisoners' poems. The collection, Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak (University of Iowa Press, August 2007), has roused a fair deal of commentary on translation, bad poetry, and the particular threat posed by the "code" of poetry. Among the commentaries is one by former poet laureate, Robert Pinsky, which is the subject of a Mike Nizza's blog in The New York Times on June 20 Pinsky, in an interview on PRI's The World, cast doubt (and judgment) on the artistic merit of the poems: "“I havent found a Mandelshtam in here,” he said, referring to the great Russian poet who died in a Stalinist labor camp." Nizza's piece echoes the general concern that the media has with the "goodness" of the poems--this was for example the first question asked by the PRI interviewer (hear interview; Pinsky, although he refers to the urgency of the poems, nonetheless seems unable to escape the idea of greatness. There is also a news blurb in today's Washington Post:

Do They Write In Iambic Pentameter?

The following might be the first bit of uncontroversial news out of Guantanamo Bay. Prisoners at the U.S. military prison there can now add “poets” to their (questionable) resumes, the Wall Street Journal reports. "Poems From Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak," an anthology, will be published in August by the University of Iowa Press. It would probably be unfair to call them tortured artists.

The transparent assumption behind the goodness reveals itself in the ghost meter reference to "iamic pentameter." The Wall Street Journal (see the article also for two of the poems: "Humiliated in the Shackles" by Sami al Haj and "Is it True?" by Osama Abu Kabir), which ran the article on their front page on June 20, 2007, included a quote by Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Defense Department spokesman: "While a few detainees at Guantanamo Bay have made efforts to author what they claim to be poetry, given the nature of their writings they have seemingly not done so for the sake of art. They have attempted to use this medium as merely another tool in their battle of ideas against Western democracies." What is so incredible about the above bytes is the aesthetic grounds upon which the argument for moral goodness also lies--or perhaps better, the aesthetic grounds upon which moral goodness is waged. Given the conditions of censorship and translation, it remains remarkable that such a valuation of goodness could even be made, particularly by Pinsky--who notes but passes over the fact that the poems are prohibited from being published in the original and the translations had to be done by those with secret-level security clearances, rather than literary translators.

Leonard Doyle's article in The Independent reports that "As far as the US military is concerned: "poetry ... presents a special risk, and DoD [Department of Defence] standards are not to approve the release of any poetry in its original form or language." The fear, officers say, is that allegorical imagery in poetry may be used to convey coded messages to militants outside." I thought about this line a bit last night--the idea of the coded message, the double meaning which poetry is seemingly especially well-equipped for; it was this that I thought might begin to get at my feeling of the paucity of poetry that "does" something today, to reference Yeats, in passing, and other greats who posed questions about the silence of poetry--something I think about when I think about the 400 plus poets that Brecht dismissed as "useless" in 1927. This is another story, but I wanted to keep it in mind.

The collection of poems was organized by defense lawyer Marc Falkoff after he received 2 poems in letters from inmates. These poems, like many others, remain classified; only 22 will be published in the collection. He refutes the idea that there is a "real" risk involved in the censorship of the poems and states: "If the inmates were writing words like 'the Eagle flies at dawn,' the censors might have a case, but they are not. I fully accept their right to stop any coded messages to militants outside. But what the military fears is not so much the possibility of secret messages being communicated, but the power of words to make people outside realise that these are human beings who have not had their day in court." This thread--the "risk" of the code is picked up on by "liberal catnip" in her June 20th blog On the other side, though, there is just hatred, I think, like allahpundit in hotair, and like this blog Debbie Schlussel (Best Conservative Blog 2005 finalist), which mocks the sentimality generically associated with poetry.

I don't know why I find the conceptions that people have about poetry in this discussion so compelling--and I'm not sure either why I feel that in some way the politics of this situation is more delicate than it might first seem. Perhaps one of the reasons is that the question of poetry provokes the need for more sensitive reading practices--and indeed, this seems to be exactly the thing that is so easily targeted by both the far right and defenders of the idea of democracy. The distinctions between these positions seem much less clear once the aesthetic pronouncement of "bad" poetry has been made. On the other hand, there is Ariel Dorfman's message of hope, which asserts the universality, primeval, and originary practice of poetry. And that is, on the other hand, something to think about as well.

image: pin with Brecht slogan, Ruth Hecht (owner, father inscribed words from never-found poem)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

for the love of

transference-love. Reading Freud's essay, "Observations on Transference-love" made me wonder if there is love other than transference love, or if, in fact, all love is transference love (and, what would this would mean!?). This distinction in the essay is so strained--rescinded and then reinvoked again--that the insistence is notable. In order to deal with the clinical problem of transference love, he must also detail what it is that "real" love is. One of the things it seems that Freud would like to say is that we should be able to rid ourselves of at least most of our childhood inclinations towards love, that the definition of love as transference-love depends upon the degree to which the love feelings can be adequately attributed to the present object of desire rather than than they would remain fixated in the past. Certainly this is how the relationship comes to stand for transference, but it also seems that one of the implicit consequences of this lies in the distinction between infantile and mature sexuality, or between sexual perversion and sexual satisfaction. This distinction is one that Freud also describes in terms of the type of pleasure that can be attained. Forepleasure, in Freud's discussion of infantile sexuality, is contrasted to the end-pleasure of mature sexuality, which relates pleasure to the release of tension. It seems, though, that to draw out the consequences for forepleasure, that the release of tension would not be the measure of pleasure, since the possibility of release is here something difference. Forepleasure is something that, for Freud, is always "dependent" (like passive forces) upon the pleasure of tension release. Forepleasure, in other words, seems to count only insofar as it augments the pleasure of the end--this is Freud's description in all his uses of forepleasure--in jokes, in art, in psychopathic characters on stage, in sex. But as I am thinking about in other contexts, especially for poetry, this "dependence" seems to rely on a pathos-oriented, dramatic, identificatory model of art in relation to reality.

The question of transference-love brings the issue of resistence to bear on this "dependence." It seems that the issue of transference allows us to talk about resistances as things that are meant to be overcome, unconditionally, almost, as similarly, passive forces could also be seen (like suffering) to be something only to get over. And the unquestionable "good" of this is always there for us to read in the cure, in the love. And the question of what this priority on overcoming means for transference (as the relationship between the analyst and analysand) and for love is probed far less often. Freud writes: “But above all, one gets an impression that the resistance is acting as an agent provocateur; it heightens the patient’s state of being in love and exaggerates her readiness for sexual surrender in order to justify the workings of repression all the more emphatically, by pointing to the dangers of such licentiousness.” And thus the logic of "dependent" passions, guided by the priority of overcoming or of love, runs: resistance, as agent provacateur, is only greater resistance; this goes for forepleasure as well: pleasure, as incentive bonus, is only pleasure. As resistance, the transference-love must be registered without being renounced, but must nonetheless not be acted upon. The course of action for the analyst involves making a distinction between real love and unreal love: "He must keep firm hold of the transference-love, but treat it as something unreal, as a situation which has to be gone through in the treatment and traced back to its unconscious origins...." The status of the "unreal" nature of this love is put on hold briefly as Freud discusses an exceptional case, "women of elemental passionateness who tolerate no surrogates." He writes, "They are children of nature who refuse to accept the psychical in place of the material, who, in the poet's words, are accessible only to 'the logic of soup, with dumplings for arguments'." The transference-love in this case refuses to be unreal, and this presents an impossibility for the analytic scene: "With such people one has the choice between returning their love or else bringing down upon oneself the full enmity of a woman scorned. In neither case can one safeguard the interests of the treatment. One has to withdraw, unsucessful; and all one can do is to turn the problem over in one's mind of how it is that a capacity for neurosis is joined with such an intractable need for love." The extreme ambivalence here between love and resistance for the loving subject and the loved object (if we can say this) is worth noting, for it is this that presents the "danger" and the seeming impossibility of working-through.

I don't know exactly what to make of Freud's dismissal, or the case of the woman scorned (but he did abandon fantasy), but it leads him to attributing the quality of submissiveness to real love: "Genuine love, we say, would make her docile and intensify her readiness to solve the problems of her case, simply because the man she was in love with expected it of her." Real love should, as it would, contain no resistance, a distinction that Freud dismantles in the next step: "can we truly say that the state of being in love which becomes manifest in analytic treatment is not a real one?" The nature of love, Freud continues, is one that is characterized by its departures from the norm; each of the differences he had tried to outline he now retracts, which is explained "by the fact that being in love in ordinary life, outside analysis, is also more similar to abnormal than to normal mental phenomena." Case closed, perhaps, was my sneaking suspicion--love is transference-love, which necessarily implies that it is also not, in its "real" (i.e. requited) form, only this. And this logic, if it is coming through at all, presents the dependence of passive forces. The problem provoked by this logic is perhaps revealed when we are forced to think about the object common to resistance and love. In Freud's essay, the object of resistance is never fully articulated--it is to treatment, generally, as can be assumed also by the dynamic of transference, but this has a more explicit description as Freud makes clear when he attempts to speak more directly to the analyst (and with an awareness of a public weary of psychoanalysis). The issue of transference-love compels a dynamic within analysis that the analyst is forced to fight against; this analysand is the scorned woman, those "who first behave like opponents but later on reveal the overvaluation of sexual life which dominates them...." Here, the initial resistance seems to be to the idea of "overvaluation of sexual life," but the resistance of transference-love seems to be of a different sort, and not easily assimilable within the logic of passive forces, since it takes the form itself of this overvaluation. At this point, the resistance-as-love-as-transference-love phenomena seems to overtake the transvaluation of infantile sexuality as mature sexuality.

image: Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Finch, midwest perfume action (2006)

Mistranslated Kites: une Chose without a Cause

“Ernst Jones, in his biography of Freud, has called the mistranslation
‘a singular lapse in Freud’s knowledge of natural history.
Kites were as common in Italy as vultures in Egypt.’”
—Alan Bass, “On the History of a Mistranslation in the Psychoanalytic Movement”

James Wagner’s “Auralgraph 6” reads like a joke; in fact, commentary on Wagner’s contemporary “homophonic translation” or “ear writing,” treats it as a joke, as a language game, an aesthetic exercise that surprisingly yields a little more than nonsense, but a nonsense that, for some, sounds like every other homophonic translation.[1] “Auralgraph 6,” a translation of a poem by the German poet Paul Celan, is one of fifteen auralgraphs published in Wagner’s 2003 collection, the false sun recordings. The auralgraph presents a case in which the correspondence between the original and the “translation” resembles hieroglyphic inscription, a correspondence of sound that also registers a certain sameness in content.[2] But what is this certain sameness? Here is Celan’s English version:

“The eternities struck / at his face and / past it, / slowly a conflagration extinguished / all candled things, / a green, not of this place, / with down covered the chin / of the rock which the orphans / buried and / buried again.”

Like other translations of Celan, Hamberger’s negotiates the paradoxes of the original, its preservation and transformation. Wagner’s auralgraph presents (or perhaps exposes) the problem of the original (i.e. in the generic way that Celan’s German is not German) as the paradox of “original” language. Wagner’s choice of “original” (Vallejo and Reverdy, in addition to Celan) reveals his interest in the internal difference of language, one that might begin in dialect, or with an accent. The auralgraph, even if we don’t take it seriously, presents the problem of a version that is simply more interesting than either the original or the translation. I will read the German, now, if you would follow along with Wagner’s English translation.

[Die Ewigkeiten]
Paul Celan

Die Ewigkeiten fuhren
Ihm ins Gesicht und druber

langsam loschte ein Brand
alles Gekertzte,

ein Grun, nicht von hier,
umflaumte das Kinn
des Steins, den die Waisen
begruben und wieder

Auralgraph 6
After Paul Celan’s [Die Ewigkeiten]

The highway kite in foreign
Hymen gets sick and drew bare
In house

long song locks brandy
all is get hurt

A groan, nicked veneer,
O, flower dump that can
Destine eyes, then the wayside
by grubbing and wider

“Auralgraph 6” interprets the erotic content of Celan’s original, and in so doing, we lose sight of if that erotic content was there in the first place. The erotic content of Wagner’s poem is superficial—better: it is the surface translated—“him in,” “ihm in,” as “hymen, or as in another of the auralgraphs, “I hear,” “Ich hore,” as “Each whore. The auralgraph is a poem presented as dream, one that ironically defies interpretation based on the wish-fulfillment.

The erotic content of the poem is apparent in the “foreign Hymen,” and, as we know, once we open the door to reading innuendos, it is difficult to shut, and this, perhaps is the impossibility that translation affords. It is the process not of reading either what is or is not there, but the uncertainty of reading both at the same time that replaces the original paradox of translation. I would like to suggest that the case of the auralgraph allows us to think about translation as being not only proper, as in the transporting of meaning from one site to another, but as a particular mode of exchange that is not only not based on the transference of content, but that positively values another mode of transference, a method of dream interpretation that is not based on wish-fulfillment.[3] The auralgraph presents a limit for thinking about psychoanalytic translation as the movement from the unconscious to consciousness.[4] In this sense the parallel between the movement from the unconscious to consciousness can be seen as a model of translation in which priority is placed upon moving from unknown to known, of bringing dark to light, something that transference, in a sense, is all about. But the problem of keeping things in the dark in transference is another altogether different problem.[5] What is the practice of psychoanalytic translation, or transference, that takes seriously the case of the auralgraph’s defiance of wish-fulfillment as a means of interpretation?

According to Alan Bass (translator of Derrida and psychoanalyst), psychoanalysis, and more precisely transference, is a mistranslating machine. In his article, “On the History of a Mistranslation in the Psychoanalytic Movement,” mistranslation is a fetish, similar to translation that if not good, is bad. The problem of being so good that you are bad follows a logic of the fetish that Bass describes in terms of a mistranslation that is, for one reason or another, too “precious” to give up.
[6] Bass gets here by pointing to a logic in which the fetish, or mistranslation, is a fantasy, a childhood memory, and notably, one that “may become unconscious” (118).[7] His topic is Freud’s mistranslation (and the many subsequent mistaken translations) of the Italian nibio (kite) as the German Geier (vulture) in his study of Leonardo’s notebooks.[8] Freud not only translates nibio as “vulture,” the bird of prey, but uses this to discuss the role of the vulture as mother in Egyptian hieroglyphic in relation to the fantasy of the maternal phallus. Bass writes, “the vulture, then, is a mistranslation as precious as the “precious object” for which the fetishist searches so passionately.” Bass’ threadlike question: “What is a mistaken translation in psychoanalysis?” results in the end in the positive content of mistranslation, the confusion of “transference-translation,” something pointing to transformation as the nature of transference.

One of the ways that I want to think differently about transference and the “impossibility” of translation is by questioning the common and somewhat homophonic practice of translating “translation” [übersetzen] as “transference” [übertragen]. Bass’ articulation of the fetishistic, substitutive logic that combines translation and transference puts the “impossibility” of translation to work; he shows that the latent content resides in transference, and describes the process of translation as a code that transforms “baffling inscriptions” into “everyday language” (103). Derrida’s presentation of translation in “Des Tours de Babel” as “necessary and impossible” looks for the limits posed to theories of translation by the paradoxical nature of the necessary impossibility.
[9] He considers more radical the complexity introduced by needing to translate more than one language within one language—thus to translate the internal difference of language.

The mistranslated poem, “Auralgraph 6,” repudiates but also registers the difference within language. My reading here, of its ironic and erotic tension hopes to disturb the double fantasy of Benjaminian “pure language,” on the one hand (the fantasy of “essential” language), and on the other hand the fantasy of coming as “close as possible” to the original, something like the unity of form and content (the fantasy of the completeness of expressive voice).
[10] Both of these logics, I think, are based upon a homophonic model of language, one that holds that learning to speak (and thus to translate, and to interpret) consists of identifying a given originary language in which expression is total.[11] In this model, expression and activity are modes in which obscurity and passivity signal the inhibition of the wish-fulfillment, and thus represent stages to be worked through in order to attain the clarity of expression or the decisiveness of action. The logic is one of a “homophonic method” of translation, noted by V.W. Quine in Word and Object, which involves the idea that sound—and perhaps best to say not only “sound,” but the correspondence of sounds, “creates” meaning.

Quine’s discussion in this section is on “Translating Logical Connectives” and the example he follows in his discussion of the “normal” homophonic method has to do with negation: “That fair translation preserves logical laws is implicit in practice even where, to speak paradoxically, no foreign language is involved. Thus when to our querying of an English sense an English speaker answers ‘Yes and no’, we assume that the queried sentence is meant differently in the affirmation and negation; this rather than that he would be so silly as to affirm and deny the same thing” (59). The homophonic model defends against both nonsense and difference within the same language, against what Quine calls “the hidden differences of language” (59). Here Quine wants to think about examples that would suspend the homophonic method, instances in which “the hidden differences of language” even in the same language create a problem for translation. For him, the hidden differences can account for bad translation, “or in the domestic case, linguistic divergence,” and this is interesting, since he says that “beyond a certain point” bad translation is more likely to account for these differences than “the interlocutor’s silliness.” What happens to the “hidden differences” in the case of an interlocutor’s silliness that is also a bad translation?

The mistranslated auralgraph presents the impossibility as something we can feel differently about and pushes us to think about situations in which “becoming unconscious” is more compelling, or “too precious,” in other words, in situations in which our interest in the other is simply more compelling.
[13] The interest in one that Freud identifies as erotic—in the form of liking, love, and lust; this erotic content, or the mere possibility of it, presents the difference between thinking of the other as an ethical bind and thinking of the other as one liked. The difference in such a case involves the occurrence of unavoidable feeling for the other in a situation, such as transference or interpretation, where one is best instructed to keep feelings, especially those of the erotic interpreter’s, out of it. The erotic interpreter (could he be someone like Balibar’s “vanishing mediator”?) is there on both sides, to obscure and make ambiguous, to keep some things in the dark. I have articulated this problem of the “impossibility” of translation differently because I saw the metaphysical problem of individuality presented by the necessary impossibility of translation to be the same as the ontological failure of the subject to find its origin. Although the ironic transposition of erotic content in “Auralgraph 6” exposes the fantasy of complete translation, the hope or wish for complete transference might be more difficult to dislodge. These problems, in particular that of equating the moment of the self’s failure with the recognition of the other, are ones that seemed to me to need another logic that is not the interpretive logic of wish-fulfillment, of making conscious, or of translation as transference proper.[14]

Ironically, the erotic interpreter does not deal with the erotic content of wishes, but with the model of the joking unconscious. I would like to turn to the case of the joke as a way of situating the work that the auralgraph does and the work that it frees us from. The auralgraph, unlike other translations, takes the job of mistranslation seriously.
[15] It is, perhaps surprisingly, jokes and the logic that Freud develops for them that can tell us most about this process of “reverse censorship,” in which the obscurity of the form is preserved by the sense that it has meaning. Unlike the process of censorship that uses the form to obscure the content of a potentially damaging or dangerous transmission, Freud writes that jokes cause pleasure by the “alternation between ‘thinking it senseless’ and ‘recognizing it as sensible.” He continues, “The psychogenesis of jokes has taught us that the pleasure in a joke is derived from play with words or from the liberation of nonsense, and that the meaning of the joke is merely intended to protect that pleasure from being done away with by criticism” (131). Freud calls this process of “reading” “reducing”; he writes, “It will be recalled that when we had succeeded in reducing a joke (that is, in replacing its form of expression by another one, while carefully preserving its sense) it had lost not only its character as a joke but also its power to make us laugh—our enjoyment of the joke” (112). Throughout these sections on both purposeful and innocent jokes, Freud continuously makes the point that the source of pleasure in joking is related to what we don’t know; he writes: “Thus, strictly speaking, we do not know what we are laughing at” (121).

In the case of innocent jokes, like the wordplay of “Auralgraph 6,” pleasure seems to be something aesthetic, something derived merely from the form. Freud seems to suggest here a sense of the aesthetic that might not be in his other writings on art and literature. Here, the pleasure is not something that is merely aesthetic, rather, the aesthetic is that which seeks “to derive pleasure form its own activity.” Freud’s emphasis on the idea that the “from its own activity” counts as a form of pleasure refers us again to his main point (as he winds about a variety of possible causes for the pleasure) that the pleasure of jokes relies on the obscurity of cause. He here presents cases in which the pleasure principle, which functions to assure the equivalence of exchange or translation, is suspended in some way so that a qualitatively greater pleasure can be attained. It is important to note that the logic of this “suspension,” like the “precious mistranslation,” is not an exception but is all too caught up in pleasure. The suspension is a descriptive difference that amounts to a reason for keeping things in the dark. Freud writes, “What we have before us here is in fact no simple effect of force but a more complicated situation of release” (134). The shift “to release” instead of “force” serves to introduce the complex situation in which factors of pleasure (and in other cases, pain) become quantitatively indistinguishable. Freud writes here, “we have said above (p. 94) that a good joke makes, as it were, a total impression of enjoyment on us, without our being able to decide at once what share of the pleasure arises from its joking form and what share from its apt thought-content. We are constantly making mistakes in this apportionment” (italics mine).
[16] The “mistake in apportionment” is the characteristic unconscious of jokes; it is not that jokes allow for greater pleasure, but that the joke relies on what is unknown as its source of pleasure. In so doing, it creates situations of complex release, and therefore it also creates new forms of satisfaction, new forms, I might say that come “from its own activity.” This ambivalence of activity is something I will return to in a moment.

I would like to note that I have moved through this discussion of joking without being clear that the questions posed by the translation of jokes differs from the “mistaken” translation of Freud’s “kite,” his vulture, since the translation is situated within one language. And this returns us to the case of the auralgraph, which refers the impossibility not to the sameness of content between languages but to the representation of difference via the sameness of sound. The joke’s unconscious is a pervasive, unknown code. The ambiguity that arises in the situation is most interestingly related to the joke’s capacity not to increase the force of expression of the first person (and who is the first person? The analyst? The patient? Celan? The auralgraph?), but to complicate the situation of release by introducing a third person. The complication seems to result from the fact that the first person speaks as the patient. The relationship is not just one in which the analyst is the translator who is making conscious the unconscious of the analysand, but that in doing so, he creates a third position, similar to the case of innocent jokes, in which the second person becomes the third person. Freud writes: “But this second person in the case of jokes does not correspond to the person who is the object, but to the third person, the “other” person.” As I have been suggesting, the third person is the erotic interpreter, one who brings, and “always with some irony,” the transference of the individual consciousness through the common possibility of mistranslation, of mistaken apportionment.
[17] Jokes present an alternative to wish-fulfillment, to expression as a gesture or outcome of satisfaction and most importantly and obscurely, they offer a theory of a passivity that is itself a form of activity. I have wanted to think about passions and passivity that do not inhibit the possibility for activity and thus to think about the types of situations in which holding off expression of something would result in an increased capacity for action. Here, even “holding out for action” seems that it would detract from the ability to care for the actions or activity that you take in receiving the impressions of others, the passions, and in dealing with your own passivity as something that is itself a form of activity.

The auralgraph interrupts the desire to even know the meaning of the original, to get to pleasure, and taking seriously this interruption, or suspension, in turn recalibrates the relationship between desire and pleasure. The “total impression” of the auralgraph allows the mistaken apportionment to become the substance of the unconscious, hidden “differences,” not hidden content. It is not so much the “unknown” or the “impossible” as such, but rather that the movements between what we know and don’t know take place not in the realm of consciousness, but in the realm of the unconscious. The antagonism—the “convergence without mutual contradiction”—of what we know and don’t know is the unconscious content.
[18] The erotic content of “Auralgraph 6” is ironic; Wagner’s kite, like Freud’s absent kite, tells us only more of what we don’t already know.
Image above (Not a Kite): Egyptian Shrew, Cleveland Museum of Art

[1] In a journal publication of several of the auralgraphs, Wagner writes: “Maybe the term “auralgraphs” (or ear writings) is new, but that’s about it. I believe my initial interest came via writing experiments mentioned by Bernadette Mayer on the web somewhere. Charles Bernstein’s interests in these things, and a phonetic translation of a Henri Michaux poem in Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets, were also components.”
[2] See Derek White and Jessica Fanzo’s brief commentary on Wagner’s 2005 translation of Caesar Vallejo’s Trilce. From “Terrestrial Visitation to the Contemporary Zapotec Underworld” ( “I picked up a copy of Cesar Vallejo's Trilce in Spanish on my last day. Reading it now on the plane. My Spanish is not good enough to fully comprehend, at least the poeticness of it, but in a sense this makes it more interesting, reading into it. I can appreciate James Wagner’s obsession with his parasitic and “homophonic” translation of Trilce (some of which are going to be in the forthcoming SleepingFish). You can read it for the sound or pure language of it, more than for the content, and from the sounds alone create something entirely new of your own invention. It's like viewing Mayan hieroglyphics without a codice, without fully understanding the original intent. Appreciating it just for the superficial look or sound. Or like appreciating mole without knowing what goes into making it. The meaning surfaces on its own and hits the sense organs directly without any cerebral processing from the brain.” (July 17, 2005). For a full on discussion of hieroglyphic interpretation, see Derrida, “Freud and the Scene of Writing” in Writing and Difference. See also Freud (cited in Bass 103) in The Interpretation of Dreams (V): “The productions of the dream-work, which, it must be understood, present no greater difficulties to their translators than do the ancient hieroglyphic scripts to those who seek to read them.”
[3] For an account of the significance of improper transation, see Dina Al-Kassim, “The Faded Bond: Calligraphesis and Kinship in Abdelwahab Meddeb’s Talismano” in Public Culture 12:1 (2001), in which she describes the practice of “transgraphing” which “shifts the emphasis from a concern with semantic meanings toward a search for new terms and new forms of writing that might materialize the social transformations of kinship that are evident in the modern postcolonial state.” In Des Tours de Babel, Jacques Derrida cites Jacobson’s definition of a “proper” translation in One Tranlsation (1959) as being (in contrast to interlingual (rewording) and intersemiotic (transmutation)) interlingual, transferring content from one language to another.
[4] As such, psychoanalysis seems to consistently offer a compelling analysis of how the transference from individual to collective organization is made.
[5] Bass’ book, Difference and Disavowal: The Trauma of Eros (Stanford 2000), describes resistance to interpretation in the psychoanalytic setting as a problem of the concrete patient, a term that he provides a psychoanalytic genealogy of, surrounding Edith Jacobson’s description of such patients as those who “treat their psychic strivings as if they were concrete objects.” (cited in Difference and Disavowal 14-15. Cf. Jacobson, “Denial and Repression” (1957)).
[6] See also Freud’s essay on “Fetishism” (1927) in which he writes: “In the last few years I have had an opportunity to study analytically a number of men whose object-choice was dominated by a fetish…. For obvious reasons the details of these cases must be withheld from publication; I cannot therefore show in what way accidental circumstances have contributed to the choice of fetish. The most extraordinary case seemed to me to be one in which a young man had exalted a certain sort of “shine on the nose” into a fetishistic precondition. The surprising explanation of this was that the patient had been brought up in an English nursery but had later come to Germany, where he forgot his mother-tongue almost completely. The fetish, which originated from his earliest childhood, had to be understood in English, not German. The “shine on the nose” (in German, Glanz auf der Nase) was in reality a “glance at the nose” [Blick auf die Nase, Blick = glance: Glanz]. The nose was thus the fetish, which, incidentally, he endowed at will with the luminous shine which was not perceptible to others.”
[7] See Bass page 119, cf. Freud in “Leonardo” page 85. emphasis in this quotation Bass’.
[8] Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood (1910), in SE XI.
[9] For a related notion of the effect of co-constitution, see Fechner’s principle of aesthetic assistance: “If determinants of pleasure that in themselves produce little effect converge without mutual contradiction, there results a greater, and often a much greater, outcome of pleasure than corresponds to the pleasure value of the separate determinants—a greater pleasure than could be explained as the sum of the separate effects.” (Vorschule der Ästhetik 1: chpt V), see Freud’s reference in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious 135.
[10] Adorno has a similar account of poetic language in “Lyric Poetry and Society.” He writes: “The moment of unself-consciousness in which the subject submerges itself in language is not a sacrifice of the subject to Being. It is a moment not of violence, nor of violence against the subject, but reconciliation: language itself speaks only when it speaks not as something alien to the subject but as the subject’s own voice.” (in Notes to Literature page 45).
[11] Quine, in Word and Object, refers to the “homophonic method” “so fundamental to the very acquisition of language.”
[12] The logic that I am interested in is that which is not “rhymes,” as Derrida notes in his foreward to The Wolf Man’s Magic Word. Taking “tieret,” the magic word of the wolf man, Derrida writes: “tieret, on the other hand, tieret alone produces no speech at all. The pleasure it gives rise to is only that of a living tableau. But tieret is not contrasted with this tableau-fetish in the way that the thing itself is traditionally opposed to its fetish. This thing is not the thing-in-itself philosophers speak of. It is a mark or cipher, a piece of a cipher that can only be translated into a vast interminable sentence or into the scene of a tableau with more than one object, more than one entrance or exit. A trace with no present in its wake, a Thing, ein Ding, une Chose without a cause, “Cause” to be designified in the crypts of anasemia” (xlv).
[13] I’m thinking here of both David Berman (“the feelings about the feeling…”) and Rei Terada’s comments on the importance of the matter being how you feel about the feeling (the demand, in this case, of impossibility).
[14] See Daniel Tiffany’s reiteration of the “impossibility” that defines translation in Radio Corpse: “What distinguishes translation historically—and what makes deconstructive theorists so enamored of it—is its nihilism: its repeated admission that extreme literalism—the very principles that condition translation itself—is impossible. In other words, translation discourse proclaims with self-destructive candor what is often forgotten or submerged in the history of aesthetic philosophy and literary criticism: a realistic image is no more possible than an exact translation” (200).
[15] I see the implications of this as being three-fold, and all are related to what Etienne Balibar describes as “problematic individuality,” and what I understand as the problem of coincidence of self-ownership and the “desire” for a community. The first is in terms of transference and the work of psychoanalysis as the “mistranslating machine”; the second is in terms of non-literary translation and the political stakes of the mistranslation of essential “inessential” information; and the third is in terms of literary translation and a practice of textual interpretation retains the registration of difference (i.e. in paradox).
[16] In German, the passage reads: “Wir täuschen uns beständig über diese Aufteilung.”
[17] The logic of the traumatic dream is similar, since Freud acknowledges it as a situation in which wish-fulfillment is interrupted. Freud writes, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, “We may assume, rather, that dreams are here helping to carry out another task, which must be accomplished before the dominance of the pleasure principle can even begin. These dreams are endeavoring to master the stimulus retrospectively, by developing the anxiety whose omission was the cause of the traumatic neurosis.” See further: “If there is a ‘beyond the pleasure principle’ it is only consistent to grant that there was also a time before the purpose of dreams was the fulfillment of wishes. This would imply no denial of their later function. But if once this general rule has been broken, a further question arises. May not dreams which, with a view to the psychical binding of traumatic impressions, obey the compulsion to repeat—may not such dreams occur outside analysis as well?” (page 38)
[18] This phrase is taken from Gustav Fechner, one of Freud’s strong influences on the matter of psychophysical phenomenon. The effect of “convergence without mutual contradiction” is based on a ‘principle of aesthetic assistance or intensification,’ which Fechner describes in Vorschule der Ästhetik as the Vorlustprinzip (the “forepleasure” principle”).

Saturday, June 9, 2007

affective thought

When Spinoza makes the distinction between active force and passive force, he also weighs in indirectly about materiality. Deleuze sums in Expression and Philosophy: Spinoza, <<But on a deeper level Leibniz asks: should passive force be conceived as distinct from active force? Is its principle autonomous, does it have any possibility, is it in any way assertive? Answer: "Passive force has no autonomy, but is the mere limitation of active force.">> It is perhaps not immediately apparent how materiality, per se, enters into a discussion of the limited assertiveness of passive forces, but I would propose that both of these aspects--materialism and the duality of active and passive force--are components of a theory of work, for Spinoza, which might always be "working for a cause." And it is the question of the cause that Spinoza poses by asking whether or not passive force is autonomous. Even as he asserts the non-autonomous character of passive force (something which seems to be a logical consequence of the idea of adequate thoughts, and notions, of the adequacy of cause and effect), he nonetheless raises the question of why it is that the "autonomy" is the question. Of the passions (those things that we suffer, passively), there are those of joy and those of sadness. Because passions are only understood as the inhibition of action (and Spinoza acknowledges the differential in inhibitions based on the particular passion), they are not understood, or perhaps, they don't count until they become translated into activity (this translation, I have been thinking, is one way of thinking about affect). Maybe it makes sense that passive joy needs to be taken as active (as part of the conatus) in order for it to be "real action," but it makes less sense for sad passions, things for which there seems never to be an "adequate" cause. Sad passions seem to be a part of the Spinozan unconscious, things you know you should be able to turn to active but which perhaps instead dwell in a realm of affective thought (something I need to return to Freud's 1912ish papers for). But work, in the above quotation, is what makes this transference to activity possible, I think. And somehow, this seems to put off work, and put off the cause, as well.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

for they know not what they do

i have been reading Zizek on enjoyment lately. He writes: "The external law regulates pleasure in order to deliver us from the superegotistical imposition of enjoyment which threatens to overflow our daily life. Carpe diem, enjoy the day, consume the surplus-enjoyment procured by your daily sacrificing--there is the condensed formula of 'totalitarianism.'" Here, enjoyment involves a notion of surplus. I have always had a really hard time thinking about surplus, in Marx as well as as a remainder, an excess, or as something that exceeds a particular system, and a hard time thinking about this surplus as the material. So I wonder what things Zizek assumes when he assumes the existence of this remainder, and what things can remain untheorized if this is the governing construct of materiality. In another passage, he makes clearer the distinction between pleasure and enjoyment. He writes:

"And it is precisely at this level that the opposition of pleasure and enjoyment is to be located: a simple illicit love affair without risk concerns mere pleasure, whereas an affair which is experienced as a "challenge to the gallows"--as an act of transgression--procures enjoyment; enjoyment is the "surplus" that comes from our knowledge that our pleasure involves the thrill of entering a forbidden domain--that is to say, that our pleasure involves a certain displeasure."

Enjoyment involves desiring that which might also be threatening to us, or this is Zizek's rationale and explanation for the phenomenon of totalitarianism, something that he theorizes as the disappearance of a distance between the external law and the internal moral law, or between knowledge and belief. The distinctions here raise some questions, namely: is pleasure so innocent? And, correspondingly, is knowledge ever so certain (and belief) that they remain fixed poles between which a difference could be measured?

photo: Mask for production of Dead Souls, Evan Williams

Monday, May 28, 2007

memorial day

Jonesville, Indiana
Nobody knows; that's the thing. The sky is light and dark, and refractory, and it's inexpressible, Frank, the raw feeling that is felt by all of us who walked with you along these dirt roads. And the pigs won't eat, without you; nor the roosters brew; nor the cowboys ride; nor the tractors dance; and your laughter, without you... To say miss doesn't even touch it.

Saturday, May 26, 2007


There are also other things that feel as if they were solely constructed as obstacles. I want to say, other things in life, as if that broad category that includes death by absence would give the activity a greater actualization. But it seems to not be so. Would you die with me?, so the question goes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


""Flight"": I think might be related to the question of if there can be desire without expectation. This question was posed (I think in this form, apologies to the former, if this is distorted) late in a long day at a bar called the Rush Inn (I heard "the Russian"), and at the end of a conversation about fascism and what forms the conservative revolution takes in the contemporary world. Flighting and fighting present a limit for thinking about natural instincts. It is kind of a fun and interesting thing to consider the world as sorted into them and divided by them and accordingly governed by them or their forces, more generally--but I think that what has been getting me recently not at all that I don't think about the problems with them, or that I don't think about the other things that could replace these naturalized instincts--fright, foresight, feint--but that I haven't been thinking long enough or in enough detail about the differences that emerge between flight and fight, between any of these things--what these things are, or look like, what their universe consists of--but this might be something like the tissue-thin experientiality of the hypnosee, the fantasy of immediacy. Is that the relation to desire and expectation?

Monday, May 21, 2007

I fear that the question i have been trying to phrase--and also the question that has prevented me from quote doing what i really need to do is that of expression, and expressibility, expressiveness and all of the questions of what to do with one's own tendency towards nostalgic sentiments. And not only sentiments of nostalgia, but sentiments in general. Affect. But what that is is as enigmatic to me as certain other highly unspecified and yet robust things. Several weeks ago when going over notes that I made from reading Deleuze's book on Spinoza, I noted that it seemed that the formulation was something like affect is the turning from passivity into activity; this play and movement that is not unidirectional. But this seems to me to be my question as I write this blog that at times strikes me as being nostalgic and dripping with sentimentality. i also feel i drip nostalgia and am sentimental.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


is something that works, seemingly, because otherwise you would fall. i think that my fear of flying is related to the idea that flying is merely not falling. animal spirits of flight or fight are among the associations i am having (especially now that beatrice the kitten is, along with choco the dog, one of the inhabitants of our house). but i am also thinking of a decisive moment in the film Journey to Kafiristan in which the choice must be made to travel on to India or to return to Switzerland at the outbreak of World War II. The one journeyer (and National Geographic Society journalist) continues, and wants the other, Annemarie, to continue with her. Annemarie replies that she thinks that they should return, to where they could be useful during the war. She asks the other woman, "But what if you don't know it's you who is turning the wheel?" But flight is clearly the choice of the other woman, who doesn't want to be "useful." I often wonder about the fantasy involved in such a choice. The idea that if you don't do either you would fall is not necessarily elaborated, since flight is, in one way or another, generally synonymous with fall. But not falling presents another question. Marx, for example, in "The Secret of Primitive Accumulation" (Chapter 26 of Capital I), makes an analogy between primitive accumulation and the original sin. The fall of original sin is supposed to account for the division of the world into good and bad, in the same way that primitive accumulation is supposed to account for the division of the world into lazy rascals and the frugal elite. Marx's insight is that primitive accumulation is the point of departure for the capitalist mode of production, not its consequence. As "primitive," it is the pre-history of capital. The analogy with original sin is not played out, but Marx's critique of it implies that the myth of the fall (as with the myth of primitive accumulation) involves the type of certain uncertaintly that riddles the presentation of anything that, like flight or fight, seems necessary.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

expressive politics

My question is about how one can define, or understand, the latent, and also looming "political situation" that compels the need for extreme abstraction--what are the characterisitics of this political? I am thinking of an article that I read recently, which was published after the Virginia Tech shootings. The article draws a connection between the 33 people who lost their lives at Virginia Tech and the 230 people who lost their lives on that same day in Iraq. The article makes a distinction between the "instrumental" violence of American forces in Iraq and the "expressive" violence of Seung-Hui Cho, which is described as useless and as irrational. The article's insight is that the instrumental violence of Iraq might actually be, at this point, "expressive" violence. In this account, the political situation can be understood as one that has devolved into mere "expressiveness." I am suggesting that this might be one way of understanding the "depression" and the "exceptionality" of our current political situation, one which would call for the type of abstraction that you have described. On the other hand, what the article does not talk about or is not able to talk about is the idea that the Iraq war was only ever, in its mode of instrumentality, expressive violence--a violence and a politics that relies upon--and more pointedly, exploits--the consitutive confusion of instrumentality and expressivity. The "depressing" effect of the political situation in this account could be that expressivity is something that is masked by instrumentality, or to return to your work, that attraction and affect, in their negative and positive forms, is not seen to bear on the instrumental or useful purposes delimited by politics. In this case, it is the very elision of "expressivity" (or the epistemological) that is so troubling, because it seems that we would not want to or be able to talk about the instrumentality of Cho's act, and on the other hand about the expressivity of Bush's.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

plant tables

I have only ever seen two plant tables in my life, that I remember. This one is from my great aunt and uncle's house in Moab, Utah, where I visited this spring. Moab was not my original destination; I had said I was going to Montana, but anxiety about mountain driving and the idea of having someone who expected you on an otherwise unexpected road trip led me to Moab. It's funny to think that everything I thought I would see in Montana ended up on this table instead. I had never met my Aunt Toots or my Uncle Al, and in fact, the last time they both saw any of my family was for my parents wedding or perhaps some anniversary shortly after that. My Aunt Toots is my grandpa's little sister, and she had returned to Ohio when my grandma died 28 years ago. She remembered playing with my older brother, and I must have been around too. But in the 30 years since they've moved west, despite the my dad's promises of going to Moab some day (for as long as I can remember), no one from the family has ever made it out to visit them. And then there I was, 3 years to the day after my grandpa died, hoping, I think, to communicate in some way how very dear this man had been to me. We shared people, but it struck me how my whole life was a profound absence in their knowing of these people--not me, but the time of my life. I found it difficult to convey the dearness, and the sense that it seemed important to me that his life before me be as dear to them as his later life had been to me. And there were similarities--of sensibility, of gruffness, of thoughtful matter-of-factness, of sweetness--that I drew between my grandpa and his sister, but it was the uncanny plant table that stood between them. My grandpa had changed so little in his house after my grandma died; traces of her remained everywhere and mostly remained undisturbed, except a collection of porceloin animals on shelves that he moved because it became too much to dust. And so the plant table was a fixture, his perhaps filled more with pictures than with plants. None of the plants on either of the plant tables could be said to be that beautiful--and at times, I can say, I have thought that they seem dead, even, or not exactly alive. Or, I might say, they seem to be something to keep around, something that doesn't gather dust in the same way that other parts of the house do, something that needs care and implies order, like the gentle bringing of wishes to the surface, or of our dreams to our lives, or of our lives to what isn't lived.

Sunday, May 6, 2007


dear claude,
if these letters seem to be written to you or to be written about you, you are probably right for thinking so. claude is the name of person x, and also the name of the stuffed bird that lydia and becky bought for me in mexico. so claude, i must apologize if you see through the thin fiction of these postings--they were never meant for your eyes. if you have found them it is because of your own hidden desire to do so. i point this out because i know it is there; there have been times where i can see it--your hidden desire, manifest in many ways. i would not be one, as you know (if it is you i am writing to), to talk about hidden desire. but how? could? you? have?, claude? is a question. you, a silent songbird, a stuffed sexy-tailed sparrow,
yours if you can answer,

Friday, May 4, 2007

the last resort

has always seemed like a place, somewhere you could go, at least in your mind, if all other options seemed exhausted. i once met this very sad woman when i was selling my jewelry in ohio. she was not sad to the world; there she saw beauty, but the sadness was a tenor, red wine, wildly inexpressible. she told me she had gone to oberlin's bead paradise, not buying a thing. she said she wanted to wait for when she really needed it, when she didn't have anything left to go to. i don't remember her name. the earrings i made yesterday, three lines of batiked shell, are a part of the last resort. she told me not to change. i was 15 then. the earrings changed inevitably, but i think yesterday's she would like. the prescription not to change is perhaps part of the last resort, as is the sense that you can't choose to find yourself there. and it seems to remain to be a question about the illusion of choice, since once you're there, the sense is that you don't want to leave, even if it's the contradiction imposed by the situation that keeps you--the overwhelming sense that any choice you do make would be not the right one. As the title of one of Indian Jewelry's albums reads, "I hate it hear; i never want to leave." Deleuze (Expressionism in Philosophy), thinking about Spinoza, says it more dogmatically: "Individuals rarely "decide" in the strong sense of the term. What they mistake for their will is most often only ignorance of the passions which lead them to prefer certain actions to others."

the dream of the totalitarian mind

"The traumatic neuroses and the war neuroses may proclaim too loudly the effects of mortal danger and may be silent or speak only in muffled tones of the effects of frustration in love."
--Freud, "Introduction to Psychoanalysis and the War Neurosis"

Addressing the fifth annual Psychoanalytic Congress in Budapest in 1918, Freud argued that the work that had been done by psychoanalysis on treating peace-time neurosis could be extended to the treatment of war-time neurosis. Through this timely discussion of war neurosis before "official representatives from the highest quarters of the Central European Powers," Freud defended psychoanalysis against its dissenters, and also attempted to put the techniques of psychoanalysis to use in a larger social context. The paper, "The Psychoanalysis of War Neuroses" was later revised as the introduction to a collection of papers on war neurosis given at the Congress by Sandor Ferenczi, Karl Abraham, and Ernst Simmel. Freud "laments," in his introduction, that the ending of war resulted in the collapse of state organizations that were interested in the problem of mental illness. In the following year, Freud testified to the Austrian War Commission against the use of electric shock therapy as a treatment for war neurosis, concluding that the cause of war neurosis was without doubt "psychical," and recommended the use of psychoanalytic therapy instead of corrective electrical treatment. Freud acknowledges the operative logic of war that justified the treatment of war neurotics "as maligners," but ends up condemning medical professionals who "may have forgotten that the patient whom he was seeking to treat as a maligner was, after all, not one." His sensitivity to this confusion alludes to a violence that is measured in the slightest degree, by "the strength of the current." Drawing a parallel between degrees of "curative" violence and the extreme external violence of war, Freud addresses the complicated issue of treatment in Brechtian "dark times." He writes, "the insoluable conflict between the claims of humanity, which normally carry decisive weight for a physician, and the demands of a national war was bound to confuse his activity." The activity that Freud here testifies against revolves around the question of what it means to continue "care" for the recovery of a patient even when a time seems to demand that the "cure" of a patient be "the restoration of his fitness for service." My work on the strange silence of postwar poetry begins with the problem of complicity in the activity of war, and involves the implicit parallel between the autonomy of therapeutic care and artistic practices of estrangement and obscurity.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

the project

where does a strange silence begin? some have suggested that it is in the forest, the sound that a falling tree makes when no one is around to hear. at times, for brecht, it's the talked-about tree that is the strange silence. A Strange Silence is the title of the project, my dissertation, the thing that everything here is a footnote to, especially the poems, since they are the leaves, what is left over.

from 4/4/07//:

and the green fall to unsafe water:
welcome to the 21st century
let not many other things be spared--save your
happiness; this was Brecht's nightmare.
Humanity, the human dog, wants to let go
to forget, dismiss, judge, pee wherever it wants.
a condition remiss, or a saying unheard.
in the woods, we are all quiet; it is solace.
and save to other things, too, save to find yourself
alone. the distance is unmarked. cross-hatches
are what i saw in the desert and didn't draw.
the things nightmares are made of
leave you with the distance
of their unmarkings.
becky's dreams are about writing (ask me
how i felt when my mom died. it's a feeling
i can't think of). i watch her grow.
communism is short-lived. the brown notebooks
are filled. you are always thinking of brecht.
his return is unsettling, a time
when autonomy in writing is needed.