Thursday, January 28, 2010


In "Intuitionists: History and the Affective Event," Lauren Berlant searches for a way to talk about what she calls the "historical present." She argues that the present has undergone some serious neglect and defamation in theories that prioritize the past, the future, or that mark the present as simply an effect of these pasts and futures. Instead, her theory of the present is one that also argues for a notion of "embeddedness," in contrast to structure or agency. Berlant's argument for a strong, substantive third is unmistakable--that is, for the substantiality of an alternative option. Perhaps this is what I have been struggling to describe in posts and project-beginnings since the more or less formal completion of my dissertation, a work which, I must add, I'm still sorry to be done with, even as I realize that being done only means that I must also pick it up again and continue along. Since it seems that being "done" means that the anticipated liberatory feeling of being able to now write about anything has actually been experienced as not that.

The third, as it occurs in Berlant's work, is an argument for ongoingness, one that could be seen to complete with Brodsky's argument for building, as the equal meeting of theory and praxis in technology. These are, however, different forms of materialism. Berlant writes, "But Cayce is no modernist flaneuse: the aleatory is a professional style by the time of Pattern Recognition" (857). Referring to William Gibson's 2003 novel, Berlant implicitly compares the protagonist here with Lila Mae Watson in the other novel she discusss, The Intuitionist (1998). In the time of five years, then, and given the crises to which Berlant also refers, namely 9/11, the mode of sensory detection inhabited by Lila Mae has become something not just to make a profit on (Berlant suggests that Lila Mae's profession turned non-profitable at the point where she experienced the crisis), but to make a career out of. Berlant does not emphasize or discuss this point, but sees professionalization as an outgrowth of an earlier mode of inhabiting the present, and indeed of seeking ways of theorizing, although not actualizing, utopia. Such a career based on the style of the aleatory, however, is perhaps a way of returning to some of my earlier thoughts on Fatih Akin's films. Here, the first word that came to mind was "aleatory," "dependent on chance," in particular the notion as it occurs in Althusser, as "aleatory materialism," the materialism of the encounter. What Berlant reminds me of, even as she discusses the move into professionalism of a mode that is attached to chance, is that embeddedness has a price, at least, as the story goes.

picture: San Diego Zoo, built chimpanzee environment (eternal present)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I have had the experience, in the past couple of days, of feeling okay where I am. It seems like a new feeling, or at least one newly experienced after months of bad moods, bitterness, and unjustness. I don't know why; I mean, nothing seems to have changed, and chances are, the old will return tomorrow, but here it is. The coincidence of this state with my continued reading of Claudia Brodsky's In Place of Language has led me to think about the significance of this feeling for Brodsky's discussion of the immediacy of the present--the pastness of present words--involved in what she calls building. Brodsky describes the non-metaphorical qualities of building, how it does not transfer anything, carry anything over, or exchange one thing for another; instead building, in the first part of her discussion, refers to building as a form of technology, and to the technological grounds of freedom that arise from theory and praxis becoming "at once" one another (57). Brodsky wants to get at an "ungrounded" place, that is, the inessential aspect of the deictic act (which is itself essential), which marks "here" as here, "there" as there, and "here and there" as here and there. This is the meeting of poesis and technology, of "poetry making," in her marked Heideggerian discussion. Brodsky writes, "Rather than a body or an idea, technology dazzlingly embodies the break with bodies and ideas, the caesura that allows these to be stored and transferred at will" (53). The referentiality established here, not unlike the contested hyphen of identity, imagines the freedom that is offered by the "here and there."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Nejat’s conversation with the owner of the German bookstore in Istanbul is one of many exchanges that occurs within the paradigm of Turkish-German entanglement in Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite). The conversation sticks out in my mind as a moment in which Akin speaks. Commenting that it would truly be remarkable for a German man in a bookstore in Istanbul to meet a Turkish man who is a professor of German, the bookstore owner expresses a na├»ve wonder at the serendipity or irony of such a form of cultural exchange. Nejat’s response, a slight nod and glance aside, assures the viewer that the stakes of the exchange do not reside in the apparent referentiality of this here and there. In other words, Akin redirects our attention from the apparently ambiguous and unstable relationship of here and there—in short, the problem of the hypen in “Turkish-German”—towards something else. Relocating the problem of here/there, self/other, homeland/diaspora, Akin’s films nonetheless remain composed of these dyads of cultural and national belonging, the problem of identity and activity. I should like to think about what Akin looks aside to, about how his construction of global Germany suggests some alternative conceptualizations of contemporary film that attempts to navigate globality. This thinking is situated somewhere between Leslie Adelson’s desire to get out the “inbetween” of two worlds. I understand the problems of this model, and would like to take up Adelson’s initiative to find other ways of thinking about this space. However, I cannot help but feel that much contemporary writing which seeks to describe film as something mobile, transient, transitional, interrelated, entangled, etc,… somehow serves to flatten out the radical nature of global rotundity. It seems tantamount to discovering, all over again, that the earth is round—a second, or third, Copernican Revolution.

In her book, The Turkish Turn in contemporary German Literature: toward a new critical grammar of migration, Leslie Adelson develops a model of Turkish-German literature that stands as an alternative to what she calls the “two worlds” approach. She criticizes, in this way, the standard interpretation of hyphenated identity as being “in between” two rigid and fixed cultural identities. Indeed, in part, it seems like what she is arguing for is a dialectical understanding of ethnic and national belonging. She calls the model that she develops and discusses “touching tales,” to emphasize the entanglement of cultural identity that she finds at play in the literary works she reads. Adelson’s notion of “touching tales” involves an understanding of “referentiality,” which she defines as “the conjoined effect of literary figuration and narrative development” (17). Such tales allow for an added dimension of the imagined relationship between textual and lived worlds (Adelson here refers to David Hermann’s Story Logic: Problems and Possibilities of Narrative). Adelson directly refers to (and disputes) Katrin Sieg’s discussion of her notion of referentiality, because she disagrees with Sieg’s reading of the relationship between the literary referent and social reference. Adelson writes, “I apparently did not make it clear enough that the combined effect of figuration and narrative in the novel precludes social reference indexing political claims tied to ethnic identities or anti-racist coalitions” (19). As she moves into a discussion of Claudia Brodsky’s writing on referentiality, it occurs to me that these discussions of the cosmopolitical claims of a “transnational aesthetic” (see Cosmopolitan Screen Schindler and Koepnick) are in this way a matter of the problem of the referent, or of referentiality, more generally. The problem of the referent takes place, as Claudia Brodsky describes, in the form of “demarcation” rather than “signification.” As I hope to develop, this problem involves, at its heart, the contradictory relationship and confusion between reason and cause (see the discussions of Wittgenstein and Freud—Richard Allen, “Psychoanalysis after Wittgenstein”). Adelson’s critique of Sieg seems to emerge out of her perception that Sieg does not make a similar distinction between representation and demarcation. For Sieg, the importance of referentiality is that it is able to exceed, but nonetheless fix, “the representation of clearly recognizable social and ethnic milieux” (see B. Venkat Mani’s discussion of Sieg and Adelson in Cosmopolitical Claims). This is the construction of the “here and now.”

In the context of questions of the cosmopolitical (that is, the negotiation between universal and particular identity and difference), this question of referentiality also takes on the question of the extent to which self-referentiality constitutes a model of referentiality at large (re: analogies between individual and cultural models of psychoanalysis). In East, West, and Others: The Third World in Postwar German Literature, Arlene Teraoka asks, “If discourse about others is self-referential, how do the specific Third World constructions of these authors reflect reciprocal, imaginative constructions of German or Europe?” (1). Teraoka’s question, and her project, reflect the inescapable grounds of Goethian Weltliteratur: the imposition of humbling self-reflection that arises from a concern that one’s own environment would become too narrow. For Goethe, this cures the writer of his feeling that he himself is great (i.e. his realization that he is one among many). Indeed the problem of self and other referentiality introduces to the discussion of general referentiality a tension, which, it seems to me, makes inadequate the argument that pits the undialectic “two worlds” approach against the entangled dialectic of touching tales. For the problem of self-referentiality helps us to think about the way that such a notion of entanglement becomes ascribed as an essential, rather than referential, reality of something called a transnational aesthetic, or, as B. Venkat Mani writes, the “accelerated human mobility” that becomes characteristic of the relationship between nation and diaspora. As a way of working through the tension that arises from self-referentiality, I should like to turn to Kant’s essay on cosmopolitanism, “On Perpetual Peace,” in which he describes global living as a result of geographical space: “Since the earth is a globe, they cannot disperse over an infinite area but must necessarily tolerate one another’s company” (106). He continues to describe the repercussions of global living in his definition of cosmopolitan right, of a universal community “where a violation of rights in one part of the world is felt everywhere.”

In Auf der Anderen Seite, globality is figured not just by or through or as transit, but as the missed meetings, passing non-recognitions, as when Yeter is pictured passing by Ayten, her daughter, on a train, or when the coffins of Yeter and Lotte pass by one another as they are unloaded from the airplane, or when Ayten is sleeping in the corner of a room where Nejat is giving a lecture. This globality, a specific version of "modernist travel," one could argue, could be considered in its rotundity, something that might give form to the impossibility of entanglement.

picture: the MIssisssippi River, from the air.