Tuesday, December 7, 2010
In A Theory of Literary Production, Pierre Macherey formulates several fallacies of literary criticism, which detail problems with contemporary reading practices. The point of identifying these--the empirical, normative, and interpretive fallacies--is to make a distinction between the modes of textual consumption and production, and this distinction amounts to an anti-Platonic materialism that nonetheless seems to maintain an idea of substance. In the section "Positive and Negative Judgment," Macherey writes, "Because it is powerless to examine the work on its own terms, unable to exert an influence on it, criticism resorts to a corroding resentment... Both the "taste" which asks no questions and the "judgment" which dispenses with scruples are closely related. The naive consumer and the harsh judge are finally collaborators in a single action" (18). The complicity between "naive consumer" and "harsh judge" that Macherey asserts has to do, for him, with the intent that both have in regarding a work. Here the tasteless and the tasteful, otherwise polarized to all appearances, conspire. Whether to regard and evaluate the value of a work, or to consume and own it, the act is one and the same on the basis of how little object remains to the object after this exchange is complete. The psychological correlate of this process, resentment, exhibits a quality of "corroding" similar to the damage we can imagine is done to the object. But on what terms can we regard the carrying out of an action to the same effect as a collaboration? Would they not just be unwitting participants who whose coincidence is rather just that, a chance? Their common disregard for the object turns to resentment when it is not able to know the work "on its own terms," and this seems to indicate such an option is foreclosed when something like neglect, on the one hand, and principled interests on the other, overtakes our capacity for relating to a work. Resentment seems to come in when these dynamics of relation fail to produce something that could be called having "an influence" on the work. Similar questions occupied Ingeborg Bachmann in her 1960 lectures on poetry. How do we look at a work of art without taking on these roles, without resentment?
picture: pair of dice, MOCA, from the exhibit pieces from the current collection 2008. photo taken by Rebecca Ellen Bowden.