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.

1 comment:

R said...

Some attempts to be other than resentful (some more convincing than others):

de Man, glossing Heidegger: "To preserve the work is simply to listen to it, in all passivity, knowing that it is uniquely and absolutely true. Borrowing an image from Holderlin, Heidegger compares the work to a bell; the commentator causes it to resound (Erlauterung: interpretation, commentary includes lauten, to sound, peal); he makes us hear what it holds wholly by itself, as when snow falls on the bell."

Blanchot: "the act of reading does not change anything, nor does it add anything to what was already there: it lets things be the way they were; it is a form of freedom,not the freedom that gives or takes away, but a freedom that accepts and consents, that says yes. It can only say yes, and, in the space opened up by this affirmation, it allows the work to assert itself as the unsettled decision of its will to be--and nothing more."

These make me understand the resentment...


"The critic...can in the last resort have recourse only to writing which is fully writing, that is to say assertive writing. It is pointless to claim to avoid the act of starting things off which underlies all writing by protestations of modesty, doubt, or prudence...writing declares, that is what makes it writing....Thus 'approaching' a text, not with one's eyes, but with writing, creates an abyss between criticism and reading....Only reading loves the work, entertains it with a relationship of desire. To read is to desire the work, to want to be the work, to refuse to echo the work using any discourse other than that of the work....To go from reading to criticism is to change desires, it is no longer to desire the work but to desire one's own language." (*Criticism & Truth*)