Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In thinking again about unobservable change, it is a certain return to perception, to self-perception, to the equivalence of these two things in the eyes of some external world, the one that Zizek says does not exist. There is so much at work in such logic. And logic, it seems, derives from the persistent desire to resolve something about all of those inperceptible entities, even as they seem to push towards perceptibility.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

street life

At the same time that she is critical of this perspective, Julia Hell also must spend some time in the midst, and murky waters, of the Cold War logic that she claims "functioned like a mirror." Hell objects to the use of the term "totalitarian" (even as a critical concept, it seems) on the grounds that it remains bound to this "mirror logic," and insofar that it remains blind to "the specific forms of domination and resistance to that system." She also describes this Cold War "mirror logic" as one that creates dichotomies that need to be critically evaluated, such as between "Lukacsian realism" and "Western modernism." So in large part, her book, Post-Fascist Fantasies, is a thorough re-reading of those works in the tradition of "Lukacsian realism" in order to provoke and provide insight into the elements of non-realism (i.e. "fantasy") in these novels. As a project, this is productive and necessary to a reconsideration of East German literature. The wish to interrogate totalitarianism no further is, however, another thing. But it is an interesting "other thing," since it seems to me that the wish to dismiss "totalitarianism" is the backhand of a more moral endeavor--one that more self-consciously wants to discuss its past, future, and present--to deal with the repressed past (and implicit here, is "of the German nation"). Hell does not go at repression from the point of repression until the very end of her book, perhaps, in the epilogue, titled "History as Trauma." Instead, she uses the psychoanalytic notion of "fantasy" to designate an unconscious that functions alongside conscious political activity. In these versions of national repression, which pop up everywhere (I am becoming more convinced of this--not only because they "do," but also because people (?) also want to see them everywhere), the wall functions as a splitting mechanism, one that projects all of the bad elements to the other side. Hell uses the "Iron Curtain," but the logic of the wall (see Klaus Theweleit, for example) follows, "what was valued on one side of the Iron Curtain was devalorized on the other; what counted as a "good," "realist," affirmative text in the GDR became a "bad" text outside the GDR and vice versa" (11). This reading, of the wall as both a symbol and psychic fact of repression, fixes the projective fantasies of both the East and West Germans. With the fall of the wall, the continuation of this perspective was to claim that the "invisible" wall "within the head" was a sign of greater repression. So the "wall within the head," the unconscious "fantasy," becomes the conceptual and methodological turning point of post-totalitarian ideology. Similarly, the figure that Hell reads in this literature is the "sublime body" of the post-fascist father, which she takes from Zizek. What is it about this split, antagonistic subject--the transcendental/material, idealist/realist, communist/individual self--that is threatened by the very conceptualization of "totalitarianism"? It might perhaps be something similar to the threat that could be perceived by finding value in the Berlin Wall, by reading the Berlin Wall not as a symbol or thing of repression, but as something that reconfigures the mood of the people living around and after it. Arendt describes totalitarianism as an "experience"--of indeterminate quality--that becomes either foundational or pervasive. In "Ideology and Terror," she notes that this experience has a "general mood," which, "although it may be familiar in every other respect—never before has pervaded, and directed the handling of, public affairs" (461). This mood is an elusive, but nonetheless essential quality of the totalitarian state, and one which might prove useful for thinking about the wish to dismiss totalitarianism.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

the difference between one and zero

In her June 1966 preface to Part Three of The Origins of Totalitarianism [1950], Hannah Arendt writes that totalitarianism can perhaps best be identified by what can exist when it is no longer:
“The clearest sign that the Soviet Union can no longer be called totalitarian in the strict sense of the term is, of course, the amazingly swift and rich recovery of the arts during the last decade. To be sure, efforts to rehabilitate Stalin and to curtail the increasingly vocal demands for freedom of speech and thought among students, writers, and artists recur again and again, but none of them has been very successful or is likely to be successful without a full-fledged re-establishment of terror and police rule. No doubt, the people of the Soviet Union are denied all forms of political freedom, not only freedom of association but also freedom of thought, opinion and public expression. It looks as though nothing has changed, while in fact everything has changed. When Stalin died the drawers of writers and artists were empty; today there exists a whole literature that circulates in manuscript and all kinds of modern painting are tried out in the painters’ studios and become known even though they are not exhibited. This is not to minimize the difference between tyrannical censorship and freedom of the arts, it is only to stress the fact that the difference between a clandestine literature and no literature equals the difference between one and zero.”

Arendt notes that totalitarianism is experienced as a "zero" environment, in which not only does art not have a public, it is also not produced. The above then, the change that appears "as though nothing has changed," is her description of the "thaw," a word she uses hesitatingly to describe the process of destalinization following the death of Stalin. It seems that this tension--"the difference between one and zero"--is raised in particular through the genre of lyric poetry. Emily Lygo has written of the "embargo on lyric poetry" during the Stalin era, but this seems to involve, for her and for the others, the idea that despite the official taboo, writers continued to produce poetry, among other things, "for the drawer." She and other historians of Soviet destalinization would perhaps prefer to discuss this period as one of the "impoverishment" of lyric poetry, which suffered most because it was the most direct form of expression. Those loyal to the party line might have felt differently, or justified the impoverishment of individual expression for the sake of upholding communal solidarity. Here, lyric suffers simply out of the moral sense that there were "more important things to do." But this argument is also one that seems to be echoed whenever this discussion is raised, since it involves deciding or placing a judgment upon the art that can actually do something to achieve political or social justice. In short, this is the issue that Arendt seems also to highlight; one part of it is something like seeing change where there appears to be none, and the other part, perhaps implicit, is that you would have to hold off, or not be swayed, by the insistence of the need to make decisions about moral, or artistic, or aesthetic realities. Perhaps I can't write anymore regarding this here, but it seems that at this point, Zizek's arguments about "complexity" being used to avoid making decisions you need to make could be seen as iterations of this problem. I think it's also interesting that Arendt wants you to see something where nothing appears; Zizek to see "nothing" or the "real" where something appears (in his language, to "discern the hidden necessity") as an irreducible antagonism. The location of antagonism in Arendt's formulation is always deferred, however: here, not one v. zero, but the difference between one and zero, also not locating the point at which ideology becomes itself, but about identifying the perceptual desire to see "one" in the first place.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

the totalitarian mind

A world turned upside down carries with it the idea that there would be new things to revere. how are these things not salvatory? I'm reading an article by Karl Figlio, "The Absolute State of Mind in Society and the Individual" (Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 2006), which develops a theory of such a mind in terms of Wittgenstein's notion of the difference between certainty and knowledge. Taking into consideration the idea that knowledge is disposed with a certain emotive aspect, Figlio moves on to discuss this phenomenon in terms of pyschoanalysis. He discusses the difference between certainty and knowledge--both strategies for eluding doubt--in terms of the relationship between Melanie Klein's notions of the paranoid-schizoid position and depressive anxiety. Depressive anxiety, a response to the loss of an object of perception, differs from the paranoid-schizoid loss of object of phantasy (and how is this related to mourning/melancholia), and it is this difference that results in the "totalitarian mind." Since the loss on the side of certainty (paranoid-schizoid) is of a phantasized object, it is experienced internally, as a persecution of the self, and thus the response in "reality" is the disparagement of the external world. So according to Figlio. This process is aided by an externalized other, the externalization of the "doubt" from which escape is sought. Figlio announces that this is the point of lapsing into "psychosis." And here, he writes, "the rules are different": "Phantasy is unchecked by perception; indeed perception becomes a vehicle for phantasy. One "sees" clearly and accurately the hidden thoughts and motives of others. One "knows" through conviction rather than through evidence. The slow, straightening lessons that the external world forces upon the reality-oriented ego, do not impinge upon the ego that is identified with the ego-ideal" (128). It is easy enough, from the perspective of my recently described negativity, to imagine this process. But I think that this is also a helpful intervention in Zizek's super-structural ways of schematizing ideology, and for that matter, the largely subject-oriented ways of thinking about ideology. He continues, "In such a state, there is a "collusion of reality," in which events in the external world seem so pressing or so reasonable, that they conceal the phantasy that drives them" (128). Now, I think that conceiving of a phenomenon as "collusion" rather than as "lack" is an interesting idea. In place of "lack," Figlio refers to something like an engraining, or channeling, of this emotive aspect of thinking, as something that once done for the first time functions somewhat like a "template." He writes,

From now on, the perceived object will, in its good qualities, also be attacked, so the good internal object will be in danger of annihilation and loss. This state of "depressive anxiety" at the first loss of an object is the template for all further loss; as such it is a most powerful stimulus either for psychic growth or defence. The ego will always be unfulfilled by any actual object, whether by frustration, inconstancy, frailty or unappeasable anxiety. The psyche reacts to this state of perturbance either with thinking and internal dialogue or with action and narcissistic idealization. (128-129)

The turning upside-down of the world (something that both Bela Grunberger and Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel are credited with discussing) results in the idealization of some sort of turned-over object (they take shit, in a "faecalized universe"). Like something that might have the form of an annihilated wish, this object seems to be somewhat like the objects that fill Grunbein's "grayzone" landscapes. Still leaves the question of salvation...
picture: parking lot with flies as streaks of light and a painting of Mary that seems a church in its own right, Echo Park

Thursday, June 12, 2008

beatrice and choco hang out in the backyard in the evening. i feel like choco's tail is taking on a personality of its own. mark wanted a picture of the tail next to the corn, in order to size the corn, but mark, it might be the other way around. we may never know. bea and choco are key creatures in this zoo. and then there is cyrus, the rabbit, and most recently, his new rabbit friend, the colonel. i guess this is the remaining sense of backyard adventures. and i feel like floundering for words, and figuring out what more there is to say. an-i-mals, daniel would say. the Grenzhund of Grunbein's "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Border Dog," are the Grenzganger, "boundary walkers" of Schneider's Wall Jumper. Grunbein de-humanizes this fantasy figure; his dogs are written in memory of Pavlov and all of the laboratory dogs of the medical academy of the Russian armed forces. It seems that this series of poems is perhaps a light attack on the dialectic, since it seems that Grunbein rightly corrects the "Herrn/Sklaven" relationship to "master/dog." But I think what the poems also do is refigure the "frozen" past; the "Frozen dog [Eingefrorener Hund]" of the epigraphic poem, "Brought back to life [Wurde wiederbelebt]" is not alone in his thawing.