26 August 2007


In the final volume of the Poetics of Social Forms, Jameson has again (as if we were not convinced previously) demonstrated that there is apparently nothing he has not read and, more importantly, nothing he could not fail to illumine. AF is more than the application of the critical functions previously developed to a particular genre, as certain reviewers (friendly as they may be) would have us believe. AF is itself a certain poetics, just as the genre it treats constitutes a certain poetics.

In speaking of Friedman, I take one key insight from AF (while doing some neglect to the critical method developed therein): that utopianism is not the goal of SF (science fiction) narrative but is a function of it. Is this not precisely what is revealed at the end of Friedman's Coldfire triology? In the human encounter with the fae--with the unconscious power of life, of production, of immanence--Friedman posits the encounter with nihilism and presents a startling alternative to Zarathustra in Tarrant: the redeemed Messiah, the tragic Christ who brings God to man but in so doing debars himself from ever seeing His face. When the patriarch of the Church unites humanity under the sign of the Go(o)d--thus foreclosing the possibility of magic--he does so precisely by giving birth to the modern man--the divided psyche (Freud), the sovereign separated from nature (Comte or any number of others), the Ulysses bound to the mast (Adorno): Erna becomes the Earth from which the colonists had left.

And here the narrative ends. Utopia is signified by the absence of any détente or dénouement but in the smile "at the dawn of a new world".

This new world is not a project (Heidegger) or a program (Saint-Simon, Fourier, etc). Friedman indicates nothing other than possibility itself--but a possibility marked by the burden of guilt (sacrifice), responsibility (the withdrawal of God), and freedom.

02 August 2007

Tragedy II

We are all looking for a good time. Life is too short and there is no day but today (time flies, time dies). If we are all born into sin, then redemption can only consist in the denial of sin by taking the sin of someone else’s failures onto my own soul—into me, eating of this bread, swallowing your pride. But always someone else—not “you” but “that one”, another one … no one.

“Don’t hate me for my beauty!” How can I give you a mile when all I have is an inch, caught between me and you, between me and myself? If I wanted to show you my nakedness, I wouldn’t wear fishnet. “Look! LOOK AT ME … and let me disappear.”

01 August 2007


1. Courage must always manifest in the face of violence. In particular, courage is predicated on self-violence, in death (the extreme possibility), in the willing of death. (This is, however, different from suicide, for suicide cannot be a willing.) Courage, real courage, is more common and, thus, more demanding than perhaps we always want to acknowledge. At the risk of falling into the jargon of authenticity, there is courage in every faithful act—in the greeting, in the glance, in the smile, in the departure.

2. In courage the distinction between morality and ethics is blurred: there cannot be a distinction between the care of the self and the recognition of the other, for example (not because these two things are conflated, but because they are presented under two aspects of this phenomenon).

3. Courage is also an artistic virtue (which in some sense is also an intellectual virtue, I suppose). Artistic courage opposes every utterance like “I want to be famous” (which in academia manifests in wanting an “–ian” attached to one’s name), for nothing could be more disastrous for an artist.

At first, this seems like a strange thing to say. What, for example, is more lamentable than the fate of “forgotten” artists (like Thalberg or Méhul) who are being valiantly “recovered”, now that we are getting bored with Liszt and Beethoven? Would not their art have been better served with fame?

Fame, of course, is recognition, and nothing is more ruinous for art than recognition (the shortest path to ideology). What art requires, instead, is repetition. Hence the term “recovery” is not quite right, for there is nothing more asinine than the “rediscovery” of third-rate art simply because it is an alternative to the exhaustion of the classics. (But, of course, a classic that is exhausted is not a classic.)

The real tragedy is for an artist to disappear. But in this case there is a special problem and forms the very limit of art: if an artist disappears, then we (here, now) can never know that he has. (Hence, to eulogize or elegize this artist would require the construction of a fiction.) This possibility of disappearing is, in short, the very definition of artistic courage.

3a. This explains why the artist cannot care for fame. Along the same examples I’ve been using, this is why Alkan more than Liszt is the artist par excellence (and why, among his more limited output, there is more uniform quality in Alkan’s work than in Liszt’s). And yet, what was Alkan’s fate?