Wednesday, November 30, 2011
It is important to understand that complicity entails this entire nexus--that perhaps it is a term that contains the double meaning of German Schuld because it involves the idea of the guilt of existence, of surviving, and the temporal structure of debt requires one`s permission for the extraction of one`s own labor. The fundamental aspect of this complicity--its self-destructiveness--is what is ultimately disavowed by those who claim that capitalism is the reality, the lesser of evils, the only viable economic system. The contradictions of this yet to be realized self-destructiveness call up not only as the ``cracks`` of higher ups, indicative of the ``time`` of revolution, but as signs of the weary resolution of those for whom revolution is imperceptible--the tense crumbling of regents` meetings and public lectures, Chancellor Linda Katehi`s deafening walk of silence, and images of onlooking police officers called in to raid occupy sites. These signs of the thoroughgoing self-destructiveness of the economic policies are not recognized by those involved. Instead, such self-destructive is experienced and felt as complicity. Being ``implicated`` has become the one sure sign that one is still alive, still ``there`` in the big sense, within the system.
It is precisely this feeling of aliveness that can be challenged through a comparison with the postwar regime of complicity. There, we can see how those who dwelt in the contradictions of these multiple positions--the voice, body, eye--took up in addition to the question of resistance (the political question of how to remain opposed, to remain an enemy of that which extracts you from your life) the question of what to do in the aporia of a subjectivity that no longer turned into an objectivity, the collapse of disinterested liking. The question of how to ``refuse`` the system includes the problem of how to create a space for the experience of common, or universal, or objective feelings. This is the problem that occupied postwar thinkers, such as Adorno, Brecht, Bachmann, and Arendt, and it is one that continues to occupy others, such as Zehra Cirak, Denise Riley, Tiqqun, and Rosemarie Trockel, working to become unimplicated from the paradigm of postwar complicity that persists in our assumptions about what counts as effective ethical and political activity.
picture: Er-war-the, Juergen Walter (1984)
Monday, November 28, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
picture: Franklin Bridge, Minneapolis
Friday, October 21, 2011
In his essay ``Autumn of the System: Poetry and Financial Capital,`` Joshua Clover uses this figurative language of the change of seasons--Braudel`s ``sign of Autumn,`` which must already be the ``onset of Winter``--to describe a challenge to narrative, the problem of time. The narrative mode that he details here, of ``Autumnal literature,`` is one that takes as its organizing trope ``the conversion of the temporal to the spatial.`` The fact of this conversion, something like the synchronization of diachronic passages, leads Clover to argue for the aptness of poetics--including as variants the non-narrative and poetry, to grapple with these situations of ``manifold absence`` (46), ``discontinuity`` (47), and ``dislocation`` (46).
Such situations refer to the gap between our experience of daily life and our material role in the economy, what Clover calls a ``phantom space`` (48) between the financial and real economy, which represents the inability to ``forward its accumulation via real expansion.`` Similar reflections seem to abound in the Zizek- and non-Zizek-inspired discourse of the end times, with its varying degrees of fantasy about life and non-life.
The feeling is, if not easy to take up, at least ubiquitous. How could it not be? Riding home on my bike tonight, it occurred to me that the unseasonableness of the weather reflected, more than anything, the ephemerality of existence, the basic fact of non-existence that is so aptly characterized by the season.
Winter becomes a trope for this state, in ways that belie this more fundamental presence of non-existence in life. In riding home, so pleasantly--one of the truly enjoyable activities that I undertake in the city--it was easy to imagine that in a month, this form of activity would no longer take place. It is not much of a revelation, and trying to recapture some of it makes it less so, but it is the case that the summer (and as the summer moves to fall) produces the sublime effect that winter is unimaginable. Not just undesirable (in fact it is quite desirable), but actually impossible to imagine that the terms of accessibility and environment are so altered (buried, to be precise) that the prior form of existence can really appear not just to be altered, but actually gone.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Thursday, September 29, 2011
picture: Ozay Fecht in 40qm Deutschland
Thursday, September 15, 2011
At the present time we [Englanders] are in the apparently fortunate position of having an enemy who says, ‘I am bad; I intend to be bad’, which enables us to feel, ‘We are good’. If our behavior can be said to be good, it is by no means clear that we can thereby slip out of our responsibility for the German attitude and the German utilization of Hitler’s peculiar qualities. In fact, there would be actual and immediate danger in such complacency, since the enemy’s declaration is honest just where ours is dishonest. (211-212)Complicity is the very movement of identifying and dis-identifying that comes to define the status of individual ambivalence in relation to group or collective identification. In most writing about guilt in the context not only of Holocaust studies but also, and potentially more problematically, in the context of contemporary Human Rights discourse and problems of ethics, complicity, however, remains the defining paradigm for thinking about the relationship between guilt and responsibility. Adorno`s statement on Auschwitz is often interpreted as one that identifies the inevitable complicity of art (and poetry), as for example Nouri Gana`s (nonetheless beautiful and compelling) essays on post-elegaic, post-Nabka, post-catastrophic film and poetry. Still others have attempted to shift the discussion away from such issues of guilt by turning to the theoretical notion of shame. For these individuals, including Ruth Leys and Timothy Bewes, shame is preferable because it provides a way of talking about conditions of vulnerability as ontological states, in contrast to the ethics that guilt seems to proscribe.
It is however, particularly difficult to want to talk about Adorno without talking about guilt, since the notion of guilt is so central to his conceptualization of both the artwork and individual experience after Auschwitz. Guilt--the ``guilt of the artwork,`` the ``encompassing context of guilt [umfassende Schuldzusammenhang], the ``guilt of society``--is pervasive. Winnicott`s idea that complacency figures into guilt highlights something which is also there is Adorno`s writings on the society of the artwork in postwar culture. One does not, in fact, have to look far. In his revision of his (by now tired) Auschwitz statement, Adorno noted that he was speaking about culture particularly (this is evident when one reads ``Cultural Criticism and Society``) , but about the ``resurrected [auferstanden]`` culture of postwar Europe ( Metaphysics: Concept and Problems 112).
The idea complacency [Wohlbehagen] is also resonant with Freud`s discussion of the sense of guilt, which he suggests is ultimately the same as (or maybe a ``close up`` of) the discontents [Unbehagen] of civilization [Kultur].
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Sunday, August 28, 2011
“Consequently it is very conceivable that the sense of guilt produced by civilization is not perceived as such either, and remains to a large extent unconscious, or appears as a sort of malaise [Unbehagen], a dissatisfaction, for which people seek other motivations.” (Freud, Civilization and its Discontents 99).
In his introduction to Cinema 2, Deleuze famously describes a shift from pre- to post-war cinema (from movement-image to time-image) as the crisis of the “cinema of action.” Throughout, Deleuze persists in attributing the cause of this crisis to the figure of the broken “sensory-motor link,” which, if un-broken, signals the correspondence of incoming sensation and action, in short, the ability to register and react to stimulus. Commenting on his choice of the war’s end as a point of demarcation between these two periods, he says that “in fact” the postwar consists of an increase in “spaces which we no longer know how to describe.” It’s not clear whether the post-war as described is cinematic or real; for Deleuze this ambiguity is constitutive of becoming. Such is the ambiguity that inheres in the “I,” the lyric speaker, of postwar poetry. The problem of this speaker is not just one of speaking or representation, but one of being seen, of being observed. The crisis is typically assumed to be traumatic, but as Deleuze’s construction shows us, the crisis of the subject is one of description, not experience.
Deleuze’s own descriptive discourses of these “any-spaces-whatevers” highlight questions for action in general. Such “empty or disconnected” (272) spaces—“deserted but inhabited, disused warehouses, wasteground, cities in the course of demolition or reconstruction (xi)—are alternately referred to as situations: the “rise of situations to which one can no longer react” (272). The disturbance of reception and reaction marks the breakdown of the “sensory-motor” relationship in indescribable spaces and situations which foreground the impossibility of reaction. This crisis of describing and reacting involves exchanging action for perception, hence the breakdown of the “sensory-motor” apparatus. This breakdown and exchange occurs at the level of the character, but as we will come to see in Deleuze and elsewhere, the postwar is qualified by the difficulty and confusion of identifying and differentiating oneself from this omniscient character.
For Deleuze, the war marks a break in filmic modes—not by staging the dictum of writing after Auschwitz, but by reading these broken, postwar “spaces” as the positive introduction of a new subject, a “mutant” character who “does not act without seeing himself acting” (6). In these “any-spaces-whatever,” he states, “a new race of characters was stirring, kind of mutant: they saw rather than acted, they were seers” (xi). A similarly eerie perceptiveness is present in Civilization and its Discontents. But this perceptiveness—the coincidence of observing and being observed—is not ascribed to characters and spaces, but first to the meta-critical faculty of the super-ego. Freud notes that the super-ego, conscience, and the “sense of guilt” are different aspects of the same thing: “the perception which the ego has of being watched over in this way” (100). Freud orders them topographically, or primordially, describing how the super-ego comes before conscience, and the sense of guilt before the super-ego, such that the sense of guilt is primary. Perhaps Freud later becomes more occupied with how the conscience and super-ego function and how they exercise their critical powers, but for now his most astonishing connection is between the “sense of guilt” is misrecognized, that it appears as “a sort of malaise [Unbehagen].”
Thursday, July 14, 2011
At Marx Farm, there are lines everywhere between industrial production and self-production. The lines that I am referring to are not connectives, I come to think, but more like those produced by somewhat randomly connecting a series of points on a plane. They signal layers and multiply. There are ruins, recycleds, and growth. Behind everything are the finely scripted and worn pages of notes that are part of the elaborate eco-system. The farm is a block of land with rows of vegetables—eggplant, kale, purple and green cabbage, corn, cucumbers, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, celery, peas, broccoli—and herbs. Upcoming, a chicken coop. The fields that surround it, then, are owned by the people who let Mark keep up his plot. They are corn fields and berry fields, from all appearances, heavily doused with pesticide in the evening, which clouds up and over in light plumes. The smell of the pesticide is noxious and invasive. Greenhouses, low and white peaked. Beyond the immediate fields that surround, there are signs of another complex, a tractored, leveled hill , construction at work, trees, more green, and then further beyond, barely peaking from the trees, the three skyscrapers of downtown Cleveland. Train tracks where trains often pass in both directions. The gravel parking lot, upon which sit some seedlings and the tables where the produce is collected, is also home to a computer- and medical equipment recycling warehouse. The field itself is littered with china, cracked bits and pieces from some former dish factory. Mark is weed tolerant, and thistles adorn.
Purple star thistle, red clover. The cantaloupe looks like a weed, trampled upon at the edge of the herbs. It is a place on the edge, it’s easy to feel on the edge of many things there, not of the world perhaps, but of several different ones, whose common factors are more like collisions.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
What is the barbarism of poetry? Adorno’s declaration that poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric is often taken as both an indictment and a prohibition, although in the context of his philosophical work, it is meant as neither. Here, the riddle of the statement lies in his claim that the barbarism of writing poetry has “corroded our knowledge” of why it has become impossible to write poetry. In a recent essay on contemporary post-catastrophe Arabic poetry, Nouri Gana finds that the impossibility of writing after what he calls the “proximate historical corollary” of Auschwitz, the occupation of Palestine (the Nakba, or catastrophe of 1948), is one of the conditions for writing poetry after it has been declared barbaric. In this essay, I turn to one of the first writers of Arabic free verse, the Iraqi poet Nazik al-Malaika, to consider how poetry registers the experience of barbarism through its appeal to the impossibility of its expression. I argue that in deliberation over the condition of its impossibility, poetry attempts to answer the metaphysical and increasingly ethical questions that Adorno poses for the “resurrected cultures” of society after catastrophe. Poetry recasts the ethical question of good and evil as the fragile relation between meaning and incoherence. In al-Malaika’s poem, “Five Hymns to Pain” (1949), there is no ethical imperative to “remember,” or to retain the barbaric incoherency of suffering, and neither is there an attempt to find meaning in the remains. Rather, pain is sequestered: it is given “a little corner” in the heart; it partitions, raising walls “between our longing and the moon”; and is sheltered “among the ribs of our joyful songs.” The poetry of barbarism does not work to remember, to account for, or to memorialize, it works to forget: “We shall forget pain, / we shall forget it, / having nurtured it with satisfaction.” Pain is material; figured as an object more than a subjective experience, al-Malaika’s poetry divorces the continuity between pain and barbarism that has been one of the (to my mind false) legacies of Adorno’s philosophical writing on poetry. I argue that in emphasizing this separation of pain and barbarism, al-Malaika realigns barbarism and culture to the extent that Adorno also did when he wrote, just before writing about the barbarism of poetry, that we are at “the final stage” of the dialectic of culture and barbarism.” Such a final stage is conveyed in the melancholic sentiment of al-Malaika’s poetry, which, affectively very different from Adorno’s philosophical-poetic tone, may also help us appraise the permutations of this dialectic and its various points of origin. In this paper, I hope to explore how consideration of al-Malaika’s poetry can help to revise our understanding of Adorno’s philosophical work, especially as it pertains to poetry and lyric theory, but also and perhaps more importantly insofar as it contributes to philosophical discussions of ethics in the twentieth century.