Sunday, December 6, 2009
Elsaesser, a Brecht scholar (and also a scholar of Fassbinder), suggests that some of Akin's other devices, such as the band which plays at the beginning, end, and interludes of Head On (Gegen die Wand 2005), distance and estrange to allow for critical reflection "on the social forces" behind things. This "self-reflexivity," which Elsaesser notes Akin also wants, seems to be what is most aroused by the "intersecting" but not "converging" nature of the parallel lives in the narrative. If it is self-reflexivity that is the result, then, of chance, how does this relate to the fact that seemingly little else is produced by coincidence?
Awareness certainly seems to be one of the things up for grabs in the film. I also happened to watch another film that deliberates (albeit on a different level) on the role of chance, Puccini for Beginnners (Maria Maggenti, 2006), which ends with some commentary on the role of chance--that Freud's comment that there are no coincidences is certainly true because our capacity for awareness is so much greater than for registration. This is my rephrasing, at least. In The Edge of Heaven, awareness refers to both the characters' fated missed passings and their relationships with the social world around them. This is most pointedly portrayed in the contrast between the level of political involvement held by the two women who are together at the end of the film, Susanne and Ayten. In their first encounter, Ayten rails against her for her seeming lack of awareness of how things really are for Turkish people. Susanne's tired, worn gaze tells us more, however, so that the type of political and social awareness that the film is after is here held in tension.
picture: LA in gray/Urban Ocotillo
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Perhaps one of the differences between literary versions of schizophrenia and delusion at the turn of the century and contemporary memoirs of people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder is the role of society. Much has happened to society, and to the concept of society, in the interim period of the twentieth century. So it would not be surprising to say that here again the difference is social. In Alfred Schnitzler’s “Leutnant Gustl,” the narrator moves restlessly through the streets of Vienna after hours, and we get some of this external environment through the surface of his perceptions. So it seems that this recedes, the surface of these social phenomenon, Vienna beneath his fingers. Somewhat like touching things that are too close, or trying to see things that are too close, the receding surface of the social mirrors the psychic inability to touch those things that have been disavowed in the process of psychotic mental life. I have gone a long way from thinking about psychosis as a sort of break in the structure of the normal, as it is usually understood, particularly in contemporary memoir literature. In these memoirs, accounts, and experiences, this break with the social is the determining feature of psychotic existence. Society is seen to induce this break, and medicine to repair the rift connections. Emily Martin’s Bipolar Expeditions, which traces the cultural phenomenon of bipolar disorder is one such book that extrapolates the social coordinates of mental illness. Martin’s book is not a memoir, rather it is a sociological study, which includes case studies of bipolar individuals in Orange County, California. But the gist that I am attributing to her work and to contemporary memoirs is that society overwhelms, that the flash of images, the technology of the screen, the rapid pace of life, that all of these things contribute to the structure of mania in contemporary society. In a similar way goes the argument that the violence of video games begets a more violent society.
This is an outgrowth of some thoughts I have had about the difference between attributing an aggressive nature to society and talking about the aggression inherent in individuals. And it begs the question of what the relationship is between these contemporary analyses of the state of society and the decadence of turn of the century Europe? Discussions of Viennese modernism even seem tired or belabored, in a certain way. In Robert B. Pynsent’s concluding essay in Decadence, Decay, and Innovation, he provides a short description of the Austrian fin de Siecle as that which “records the decay of civilization, but also suggests a cure for that decay” (111). And it seems that much of this decay can be attributed to the “world-weariness,” as Pynsent calls it, that is related to the instability and economic disparity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Despite what seems to be the pressure not to identify Vienna as the center of this activity, or to identity phenomena of Modernity with geographical locations, there are nonetheless the identified “circles” of Viennese intellectual life. In her recent book, Viennese Jewish Modernism: Freud, Hofmannsthal, Beer-Hofmann, and Schnitzler, Abigail Gillman references Edward Timms’s diagrams of the circles of Vienna, and her book involves the overlap of two of the more prominent ones, the psychoanalytic circle of Freud and his followers and the circle of writers associated with “Jung Wien.” However it is called, it does seem that there is something that can be described as decadent art in Austria, which Pynsent does, identifying it with the characteristic of “the instability of the self and the anguished attempt to construct an alternative identity,” and associating it with Schnitzler, Hofmannsthal, Kafka, and Musil.
So it is that decadence seems to be constructed out of the dynamic of self-destruction and self-cure. In Schnitzler’s Gustl, the narrator deliberates over two events, primarily, neither of which ever happens, it seems: an incident at the opera in which he thinks that the baker of the coffeehouse he often frequents, insults him and takes hold of his sword; and his suicide. Given the above notion of narrative uncertainty, it seems that the first event is a hallucination, a delusion, and one which seems to take place in a string of racing thoughts. He wavers between wanting to kill the baker and to kill himself; in the end, neither happens because he hears from the waiter at the coffeehouse that the baker has already died, having fallen on the opera house stairs. His death allows Gustl to live. Schnizler writes, “Die Hauptsach’ ist: er ist tot, und ich darf leben, und alles g’hört wieder mein [The main thing is: he is dead, and I am allowed to live, and everything is mine again].” But it is perhaps not so much his death as the fact that Gustl’s death wish is fulfilled, or, he survives. Nothing of his mental state is resolved; nothing disrupts him nor is he able to confront its contents with the reality he moves about in, and yet, society also does not contribute in a visible way to his state. He experiences a “Mordsglück,” the luck, not the wish, of death.
picture: Lightposts, LACMA
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Whorls would be a trope, either way. I'm stuck in the middle of job applications and the desire to move from what has been towards some new other thing. I am thinking about the remnants of the natural world, and the way that they enter dreams, through sleep. Or how to look at the thing in front of you and to try and see what is going on beneath its surface, when that surface is complex and conflicted, full of hidden resentments and knots. Fin de Siecle Vienna might be the same. Or the same to imagine an unmediatized world from the point of view of now. But this crossover between waking and sleeping is the space of madness, either way.
picture: cross-section of fallen tree, Malibu State Park
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I found it ironic, in a certain way, that in Winnicott’s book, The Child, the Family, and the Outside World, there is no mention in either the index or the table of contents of sleep. Of course I have found this to be the most difficult thing about having a child, seven months in. So maybe my response is a little overdetermined. On the other hand, the hundreds of books on sleep, sleep training, sleep techniques, and etc,.. attest to this problem, at least in contemporary society.
In Jacqueline Rose’s essay, she explores the question of what sleep is, for Freud. She writes, “Although Freud will crucially identify all the features of the dreamwork, not only in symptom formation, but also in jokes and slips, the dream—through sleep—at least partly escapes the mantle of these forms. It breaks the line which Freud—in a gesture which might be seen as the founding gesture of psychoanalysis—runs from the neurotic to the everyday (the ‘approximately normal person’ as he famously describes himself in the preamble to the specimen dream). Sleep changes everything” (106). In this passage, Rose addresses the primary task of psychoanalysis, arguably, the distinctions it makes between the normal, neurotic, and psychotic states of the individual. If sleep breaks the line between or beneath the normal and the neurotic, it is, as she describes, because it is psychotic. The question of how psychotic states of mind intervene in the normal/neurotic continuum is one that is often understated in literature on madness and psychoanalysis, because, I think, it is often assumed that it interrupts or is a rupture in this manner. Perhaps because it seems to follow from the way that psychosis itself is figured as a break, or a rupture with reality. I’ve begun to consider psychosis as less radical and more regressive, perhaps as a reaction to the drama involved in pseudo-psychotic moments.
Regression also turns up in Rose’s essay (also in my above notes that it’s okay if the night of sleep was an anomaly, as if to forestall already the disappointment of regression), several pages later. Rose writes, “Could it be then that the greatest fear for the analyst is not the fear of not knowing, one loss of omnipotence, but another, more tangible, more physical, the fear of slipping backwards (regression is of course also central to this chapter), of turning—with awesome, hallucinogenic vividness—into a frightened child?” (110). For Rose, the idea of the “infantile wish,” which contains the ambiguity of this as a wish that was had as a child or a wish to be a child. Of course regression involves the idea of being “taken back” to something. This is a very abstract and general formula for regression, but it can also therefore include a number of experiences, ones that I would like to think together—certain forms of tradition that are authenticated by being able to be “taken back,” Winnicott’s desire to return to a time when metaphors mean something, recovery from the past or the present, historical reference or citation to an earlier version of an event or idea, the two steps forward one step back theory of progress…
Friday, September 11, 2009
Reading through my journal of the past months, nothing of much substance is to be found, just lists of things to do, and things done, notes about how tired I am, etc,... There are a few passing comments about wanting to see Philomena's dreams. The blog began as an effort to write alongside the dissertation, and now that that's past, I feel the paucity of new material. Or the overwhelming nature of white space. So, squiggle. I mean, that's one answer. I've been thinking of organizing some thinking on mobility and childhood aggression around the figure of the squiggle, D.W. Winnicott's game for the analysis of children. It's in line with blind contours, at any rate. This is just to mark the end. And, just now, the beginning of the wiggle: meaning, Philomena started crawling today.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
On the way back from LACMA's The Art of Two Germanies exhibit, Philomena and I drove beneath a canopy of trees, and it made me think of the enfolding monumentality of Berlin's Karl-Marx-Allee. Philomena was literally a pea when I drove my bike beneath those trees last August, turning off to visit the monument to Soviet soldiers with Travis on one of our last nights in Berlin. We had had many conversations about monuments in Berlin, with our friend Dave, who has been attempting to articulate an argument about the relationship between monuments and the filth, trash, or refuse of a city, which are the general terms Adorno uses to describe the problem of culture in his lectures on metaphysics.This is the dialectic of cutlture and barbarism central to his thinking about expression and Auschwitz. In the last of these lectures, he attempts to identify the possibility of metaphysical experience, given this dialectic and the sense that he has of the prevailing barbarism, the corruption, of society. He gives two examples, which are not intended as a dialectical pair, but which are interesting to think as the particulars of the barbarism/culture dialectic. Earlier, he says, metaphysical experiences of the sort theorized by Proust were available to us, experiences related to the feeling of "it" being held in a single word. For Proust, this happens in terms of the names of places, places that seem to offer all possible fulfillment. These experieces are metaphysical because even if the place disappoints (and it always/often? does), the feeling of it being "it" is retained. Adorno also gives the example of looking back on children's literature, of having the feeling of being able to return to the imagined places of childhood. It seems that this would be the monumental version of cutlture. On the other side, and realistically, in the post-Auschwitz trash heap of barbarism, the most we can hope of a metaphysical experience is what Adorno calls "fruitless waiting." Fruitless waiting, bureacracy, a disillusioned promise, a dystopia maybe, and yet it retains something of the metaphysical offer of fulfillment, despite disappointment.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
In his lectures on metaphysics (1965), Adorno writes
One would need to be a very superficial and, if you like, a very nominalistic linguistic philosopher to deny that this experience of being unable to take certain words into one's mouth--which you can all have and which was probably first registered, though in a avery different way, in Hugo von Hofmannsthal's 'Chandos' letter--also says something about what the words stand for. I believe that one of the crucial points on which the theory I advocate, and of which I can present you at least some sizable fragments in these lectures, differs from the currently prevalent one, is my view that the historical-philosophical fate of language is at the same time the historical-philosophical fate of the subject matter to which it refers. This is supported, incidentally, by a viewpoint which was by no means foreign to German idealism, and especially to Wilhelm von Humboldt: that language constitutes thought no less than thought language.
Adorno's comments about the way that language constitutes thought (as more radical than the idea that thought constitutes language) take place only within the "negativity" that he urges his students to be able to "think." To me it seems that the purported radicalness of this formulation does not lie in the role of the constituent, but in the idea that language is in some sense crucial to the type of thinking that Adorno advocates as our way of not merely "adapting" to the ways of the world, of not simply accepting what is. But in what sense language? His version here of something like "silence"--of "not being able to take certain words into one's mouth"--differs indeed from the prevalent notions of silence. In these, silence registers as good or bad: as a mode of resistance, as testiment to the enormity of the referent, as traumatic symptom, as irresponsibility for the past, as the bystander's response to atrocity, and as lack of awareness of real social or political injustice (i.e. a problem of ideology). It might, in fact, be helpful to catalogue these forms of silence. What Adorno grants to silence here is an ambivalence, one that takes place however, only within the need to think about the negativity of the world. This "not being able to take in certain words" is both the fate of language and the fate of the subject matter; it stands not for language's inability to grasp reality, but for the nature of language to be on course with reality--I want here to say to "reflect" reality, but it is not exactly this, at least the mimetic implications. In previous lectures, these "certain words" are "squalid" and "dark" realities necessarily suppressed by the sublime and lofty goals of culture. It is to gain some form of access to these "unsayable" squalids and darks that is the task of philosophy. This silence is thus a silence that is paired with talking out the other side of one's mouth. Perhaps this is also its ambivalence.