Sunday, April 19, 2009

the name of place

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.
picture: blind shot from driver's seat window, Los Angeles

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