Friday, May 28, 2004
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
“Everyone asks me what I ‘think’ of everything,” said Spencer Brydon; “and I make answer as I can—begging or dodging the question, putting them off with any nonsense. It wouldn’t matter to any of them really,” he went on, “for, even were it possible to meet in that stand-and-deliver way so silly a demand on so big a subject, my ‘thoughts’ would still be almost altogether about something that concerns only myself.” —Henry James, “The Jolly Corner”
“When seen correctly, however, this interpretation is only a fleeing in the face of the conscience—a way for Dasein to escape by slinking away from that thin wall by which the ‘they’ is separated, as it were, from the uncanniness of its Being.” —Martin Heidegger, Being and Time
Can we separate the man from the living picture? —Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”
Part One: Three Methods for Beholding in “Brute Neighbors”
At the beginning of “Brute Neighbors,” Thoreau asks, “Why do precisely these objects which we behold make a world?” In a concise but detailed manner that conceals as much as uncovers its complex philosophy, Thoreau explores three ways beholding phenomena in the world happens. Each reflection is based on a different form of interaction with the natural world around Walden Pond; each uses different narrative structures to relate claims about the act of beholding itself.
He begins with a simple claim: “You only need sit still long enough in some attractive spot in the woods that all its inhabitants may exhibit themselves to you by turns” (153). A few significant concepts are dropped into this line gleaned from cliché to make a complex claim seem more ordinary. As will be shown, the mode of beholding changes in mood and intellect with each subsequent form explored; one kind need not be considered more valuable than the other, though each does build on the other in levels of complexity through increased involvement of both the beholder and the beheld—henceforth referred to as the observer and observed, respectively.
Thoreau begins as an observer who beholds the world while tranquilly tarrying alongside what will be, is desired to be, or is already being observed. The observer accomplishes such beholding while sitting still for a long time. Through patient observation, the natural world shows itself to the observer. Hence, this method for beholding is an involved patience that allows the world to show itself for what it is at the time it is observed, each time it is observed. Thoreau implicitly characterizes this method as an active passivity. In this engaged, yet passive state of mind, Thoreau is likely to wander about aimlessly if not encouraged to sit still.
- Let me see; where was I? Methinks I was nearly in this frame of mind; the world lay about at this angle. Shall I go to heaven or a-fishing? If I should bring this meditation to an end, would another so sweet occasion be likely to offer? I was as near to being resolved into the essence of things as ever I was in my life.
Thoreau utilizes an active passivity that needs, or (important for Part Two of this essay,) calls out for, some phenomenon to show itself for him to look towards. He worries, “my thoughts have left no track, and I [will not be able to] find the path again” (150). Only after he expresses this anxiety does he query “precisely these objects” that make “a world.” The emphasis on “these” is significant. The objects beheld are exactly the phenomena that must have a prior being always already before they are beheld as if they were waiting for and expecting the presence of Thoreau at Walden if he is to behold them as phenomena. He adds precision to the beholding of “these objects” because it is important for him to note that they, in fact, could not have been any other objects at that time but those precise objects that made his world at Walden what it inevitably was.
If the first method for beholding the world through nature is an active passivity that involves sitting still long enough to allow all creatures to show themselves for the observer, the second method requires a two-fold form for the observer to begin to leave active passivity behind. The first form is a means to actively engage and involves being startled from passive engagement; the second involves active accounting of what is being observed. The first form of this two-fold method involves observation that appears suddenly in the sense that the observer becomes an eyewitness to an event already occurring. In Thoreau’s example, he also becomes a kind of reluctant over-seer to the event as it unfolds; such observation is not tranquil at all.
- I was witness to events of a less peaceful character. One day when I went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I observed two large ants…fiercely contending with one another. Having once got hold they never let go, but struggled…on the chips incessantly. Looking farther, I was surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants, that is was…a bellum, a war between two races of ants….
The observer witnesses, in this case, above an event not able to be seen with a patient stillness. Such observation over-comes the observer as he over-takes the observed; both observer and observed are, therefore, taken by surprise. In other words, he did not plan to behold ants-at-war. Nevertheless, once coming upon the scene laid out before him, he stays to look on.
His decision to remain and observe as an over-seer or eyewitness, no matter how reluctant, is vital to distinguish this form of beholding from the first. Unlike the first kind of observing, though the ants do exhibit themselves for the observer, he is not in any manner prepared to observe the show. He must stop what he is planning on doing, his day’s work, to “look farther” in order to see better what is there to be seen. The observer might ask at this time What is there to be seen? in a much different sense than in the first kind of beholding. According to the first kind of beholding, the question asked takes the form, What is there-to-be-seen? Actually, this may be even too much for such passive looking; whatever chooses to exhibit itself may not appear long enough to be considered an “is there.” The Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster, or the winged-cat of “Brute Neighbors” that is “gone a-hunting in the woods, as was her wont” are examples of such mystifying creatures to behold that may not actually “be there” at all. Instead, the observer at this time asks What is there (to be seen)? Such a question engages an observer as an observer and encourages a taking account of his surroundings. Thoreau explicitly refers to himself, for the first time in “Brute Neighbors,” as an observer when he discusses the ants.
The second form of the two-fold method in beholding the world involves relating to the account taken in observation. Within the first form of beholding, Thoreau provides concise narratives of immediacy and familiarity. He holds mice in the palm of his hand because they crawl into it. For unknown reasons, a phoebe builds a nest in his shed, and a robin makes nest in the tree against his house. A partridge, the shyest of birds, leads her brood past his windowsill. Either Thoreau is the most invisibly present human in history or he is making a point about seeing. The latter makes the most sense, of course: the first form for observing events in the world is always at the level of fortunate occurrence. Always, immediate and familiar; at the comfort level we might associate with the amateur botanist or entomologist with his or her sketchbook coming upon fortunate sights.
In the second method for beholding, the first form of the two-fold structure involves immediate yet unfamiliar and not necessarily fortunate occurrences. The second form is less concerned with the “is” objectified and the “there” showing itself. Such seeing is more concerned with the “there” not known in which something is occurring now. The second form of the two-fold method involves, then, finding an explanation for any event itself and involves making up for the lack of waiting for the event to let itself be shown. Thoreau explains,
- I was myself excited somewhat even as if they had been men. The more you think of it, the less the difference. And certainly there is not the fight recorded in Concord history, at least, if in the history of America, that will bear a moment’s comparison with this….
- I took up the chip on which the three I have particularly described were struggling, carried it into my house, and placed it onto my window-sill, in order to see the issue. Holding a microscope to the first-mentioned red ant, I saw that…his own breast was all torn away; and the dark carbuncles of the sufferer’s eyes shone with ferocity such as war only could excite.
After being taken by surprise, Thoreau carries off a few ants to home “in order to see the issue.” Before his encounter with the ant war, Thoreau has seen “the issue” without such action called for. The difference in this scene, with this type of beholding, is that he is not waiting, not tarrying alongside, for the moment to be. In this case, Thoreau goes so far as to examine the ants under a microscope to estimate the physical damage done to the ants in battle.
Within the second form, the observer abandons any given setting, time and place to achieve a distance from the occurrence of the event, a distance from which specific observations can be made that are always extracted from the prior exhibition. Like the first method for beholding, the second method relies on the observed phenomena giving itself up to being observed always before showing itself to the observer. The ant war happens regardless of Thoreau’s observation or interruption, just like the mouse scurries across Thoreau’s floor whether or not he is there waiting for it to appear. In both methods, regardless of different points of view and technologies for seeing implemented, the observed as phenomena must give themselves in order to show themselves. In this manner, Jean-Luc Marion’s claim, “[a]ll phenomena appear, but only to the extent that they show themselves” (30), takes on a special significance in context with Thoreau’s project. In lieu of Marion’s claim, Thoreau’s sitting still long enough for all things to appear makes some sense. It is certainly not practical, yet it is a manner of beholding that allows events to have some originary phenomenal structure. Marion limits his claim; he argues a phenomenon must “first give itself” in order to “reach that point” to show itself.
In the first method of beholding, seeing absolutely and in every case relies on a phenomenon giving itself in order to show itself. Thoreau’s careful description of watching the young partridges wait for their mother’s distant commands, not only foreshadows the call of the loon therefore a more complex form of beholding, but shows his concern for the animals themselves as delicate creatures—how the partridge’s presence is a gift first and showing second.
- In June the partridge…which is so shy a bird, led her brood past my windows, from the woods in the rear to the front of my house, clucking and calling to them like a hen, and in all her behavior proving herself the hen of the woods. The young so suddenly disperse upon your approach, at a signal from the mother, as if a whirlwind swept them away….
Thoreau is obviously aware of what a partridge is and should look like. He knows when partridges seasonally appear. He knows their virtues—character and habits. Consequently, he can anticipate their appearance with more or less accuracy. He admires similar skill in fishermen: their ability to find worms in frozen, wintry woods. They know where to look without knowing what they will find. Like the fishermen, he can look out for the partridges. He can certainly wait for their appearance for he will know them when he sees them. But he must wait for the event to happen (to give itself.) Though anticipated, what we are looking for can only be seen properly through a showing itself that gives itself. Thoreau comments on this anamorphosis, “All intelligence seems reflected in them…Such an eye was not born when the bird was, but is coeval with the sky it reflects” (152).
By waiting patiently for the possible return of partridges, one can anticipate the resulting phenomenon of their appearance. But when actively engaged with beholding an event such as the ant war, one must come to terms with the anamorphosis itself. A comportment must be reached towards being in front of one another in order to be shown at all. For Thoreau to fully understand the ant war, he had to remove himself from the site (sight-ing) where the war took place. He had to find in himself a recollection of an idea that would help ground the present event. He was taken by surprise yet taken by some phenomenon he nonetheless anticipated. For he knew how to see it show itself. He knew how to “look farther.”
So far, Thoreau’s “Brute Neighbors” has illustrated two methods of beholding in nature. The first, not necessarily the simplest, involves the least work and the least engagement. It is an active (in that one looks) passivity (in that one sits still) that covers a substantial duration of time (in that one is still for a long time.) Such beholding will allow phenomenon to occur in front of the eyes. In this manner of beholding, we have seeing at a primary level, possibly akin to the kind of seeing described in Plato’s Republic that occurs deep within the cave. Not that such beholding is at all like the shadows on the wall but that such seeing requires restraint. The second method for beholding is a two-fold method that involves surprise and accounting for the surprise. The first aspect involves an over-sight, a method of observation that allows the observer to behold as much as possible of a phenomenon at one time. Once the observer is satisfied with having seen it all, then accounts are made of what was observed. If possible, technology is implemented in order to find a way to explain the phenomenon from a distance.
The third method for beholding is whole-heartedly engaged participation in the showing itself that phenomena give itself. The benchmark of such beholding is the use of story telling to relate what was observed. The observer is typically a major character, usually in the role of pursuer while the object of the occurrence itself is the pursued. Before explaining anything else, it should be noted that such beholding does have waiting or anticipating as its characteristics even though the observer may intend to anticipate and may desire to wait. This troubles the observer.
“Brute Neighbors” closes with a tale of such beholding told about Thoreau pursuing a loon by Thoreau himself. The begins in the “once upon a time” fashion that most authors use in order to immerse their readers into a world where patient waiting can allow observed phenomena to show themselves. The story of the loon is preceded with the concise anecdote of the winged cat that Thoreau himself never observes although he was given a pair of its “wings”—strips of matted fur. Thoreau jokes, “this would have been the right kind of cat for me to keep, if I had kept any; for why should not a poet’s cat be winged as well as his horse” (156)? Thoreau presents himself no longer as the naturalist observer in different states of quiet observation; at the beginning of the pursuit of the loon, he gives himself to the reader as poet.
Thoreau begins his tale “as I was paddling along the north shore one very calm October afternoon” in the manner of the most classic of tales. He describes how he “pursued with a paddle” and the loon “maneuvered so cunningly” diving into the water and reappearing always “where there was the widest expanse of water and at the greatest distance from the boat.” Thoreau works hard to give us the image of him in pursuit of the loon, of the intelligence of the loon itself, and a metaphor for something left unstated in the text itself.
- What appears gives itself, that is to say, it appears without restraint or remainder; it thus comes about, happens, and imposes itself as such, not as the semblance or the representative of an absent or dissimulated in-itself, but as itself, in person and in the flesh; what appears is emptied totally, so to speak, …to the point of passing from the rank of image, from simple seeming or bereft appearance, to the one unique thing at stake. And if the phenomenon did not give itself as such, it would remain simply the other of being.
Marion’s description of the phenomenology of givenness illustrates what Thoreau shows us happening between the loon and himself. In fact this kind of beholding of an appearance of a phenomenon is allowed a complexity in Walden whenever it appears.
In “Brute Neighbors” the loon first appears through its uncanny laughter; Thoreau will use the modifier “unearthly.” After the laughter is heard, and only after, do folks pursue the loon. All the emotion of pursuit is detailed in Thoreau’s telling and such telling exhausts anything that might be consider “restraint or remainder” in the loon’s appearance.
- He led me at once to the widest part of the pond, and could not be driven from it. While he was thinking one thing in his brain, I was endeavoring to divine his thought in mine. It was a pretty game, played on the smooth surface of the pond, a man against a loon.
Therefore, the loon’s appearance is indelibly tied to Thoreau’s looking for it as if the two were not only at odds with one another but expecting to find one another, too, in each moment. As Marion insists above, what does appear is “the one unique thing at stake.”
- I found that it was as well for me to rest on my oars and wait his reappearing as to endeavor to calculate where he would rise; for again and again, when I was straining my eyes over the surface one way, I would suddenly be startled by his unearthly laugh behind me.
The one unique thing at stake is beholding the loon; in other words, Thoreau and the loon together. And the marker for the phenomenon is uncanny laughter. It is worth pointing out that as the first method for beholding requires an active passivity in engaged viewing the world as it passes one by who sits still for a long period of time, the second method for beholding moved the location for viewing to a location suitable for scientific observation that has a method all of its own, one typically suited to the specific observer. The third method for beholding is giving up science for letting something be in narrative in order to allow the one thing at stake in the phenomenon to appear for others.
In a significant manner, Thoreau’s third method for beholding requires him to give up close and personal observation and to take a purposeful step back towards the quality of the first method for beholding. He must “rest on his oars” and wait patiently for the loon to give itself to a showing. However, the third method of beholding then transforms this stepping back into a moving ahead of itself in that Thoreau leaves a story for others who have yet to see the loon for themselves in the form of an unanswered question that is meant to haunt the reader much the same way a loon’s laughter haunts the lake at daybreak. He asks, “But why, after displaying so much cunning, did he invariably betray himself the moment he came up by that loud laugh?” And he leaves the loon “disappearing far away on the tumultuous surface [of the pond.]” Hence, the third aspect of the third method for beholding involves the retreat of the pursuer from the pursued.
The third method, then, involves aspects of the prior two methods such that both the observer and observed are implicated in a given phenomenon of their own appearance that an outside reader or listener beholds for himself. The image of Thoreau pursuing the loon appears for what it is worth and nothing more of the pursuit remains after he retreats from it. The story itself is given. Nevertheless, a lingering unanswered question is there. And that unanswered question marks the call for participation of an audience—a reader or readers—who will use up any significance and behold or interpret the meaning of the event itself—Thoreau and the loon together.
Part Two: A Heideggerian reading of Thoreau’s methods, A Beginning
Heidegger begins his essay “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth” with an acknowledgement of the usefulness of knowledge that comes from scientific observation. He qualifies his acknowledgement, though, by addressing what thinking leaves unstated. For Heidegger, “the ‘doctrine’ of a thinker is that which, within what is said, remains unsaid, that to which we are exposed so that we might expend ourselves on it” (Pathmarks 155). Thoreau opens and closes “Brute Neighbors” with questions. He wants us to answer both. First, why do precisely these objects which we behold make a world? Second, after displaying so much cunning, why does the loon betray himself with his laughter? These questions may not appear related, but they do provide mark the beginning and end of the explication of a doctrine that we can expend ourselves on as readers.
A. On Phenomenon and Appearance
In the Second Chapter of the Introduction for Being and Time, Heidegger goes to great lengths to show how appearance, though always dependent on phenomena, are never phenomena in and of themselves (51-4 [29-31]). Appearance is possible “by reason of a showing itself of something.” Showing itself is not appearing itself. Heidegger argues, “[a]ppearing is an announcing-itself.” Take each of Thoreau’s observations in “Brute Neighbors” for example. Each appearance of phenomena was announced whether anticipated or not. Thoreau accidentally stumbles across a litter of kittens and the mother, and the phenomenon is announced by “hissing and spitting.” In other words, we get what Heidegger means when he says that appearance doesn’t define the concept of phenomenon, it “rather presuppose[s] it.” It is important to clarify appearance a bit more. An appearance announces itself and does not show itself and also signifies the showing itself. However, Heidegger points out that this showing-itself is concerned with “the wherein” in which the appearance takes place.
For Thoreau, and each of his methods for beholding, the form appearance takes is as important as the appearance of a given phenomenon. As an observer, the scientist in Thoreau enjoys annotating the wherein events happened and each wherein is signified by an announcement like the hissing and spitting of frightened cats or the uncanny laughter of a loon. Though, the laughter that announces the loon is a call different from the announcement we hear in the hissing and spitting of the cats.
The latter is announced and then the phenomenon can give itself to show itself. Or, as Heidegger puts it the “phenomenon, the showing-itself-in-itself, signifies a distinctive way in which something can be encountered. Appearance, on the other hand, means a reference relationship…which is such that what does [the announcing] can fulfil its possible function only if it shows itself in itself and is thus a phenomenon” (). The cats were there before, must have been there before, Thoreau stumbled across their path. In this way, the announcement in their appearance is dependent upon their phenomenal existence. The event happens as it unfolds: Thoreau wanders into their litter unannounced; Kittens and Mother hiss and spit announcing themselves; the image of the phenomenal event is uniquely presupposed and experienced and, afterwards, relatable to others.
The laughter of the loon comes only after it appears unannounced. Thoreau sees this as a problem for the loon. Practically, the loon gives itself to being easily hunted. It harms it own existence, which Thoreau admires and finds beautiful. One need not reflect too hard to hear in Thoreau’s lament his own fear of death. But Thoreau wisely leaves his question about why the loon laughs after emerging from the depths of the pond unanswered. This allows readers not to fester on the fecundity of the loon or their own mortality. Rather readers are invited to experience a phenomenon that is as yet apparent though always already announced. I want to claim that Heidegger might allow such an invitation as “good.” After all, Heidegger instructs in “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth” that “‘the good’ grants the appearing of the visible form in which whatever present has its stability in that which it is. Through this granting, the being is held within being and thus is ‘saved’” (176). Thoreau allows this granting to appear, to give itself to show itself in itself. Therefore, his third method for beholding provides a way in which to bring about the good, or in this case the given.
A quick note about “Brute Neighbors” as a whole. Taken as a singular narrative rather than a series of small tales about beholding precise object that make a world, Thoreau’s short chapter can be considered a discourse in the Heideggerian sense of the concept. Heidegger defines discourse as that which “lets something be seen”, that lets “us see something from the very thing which the discourse is about” (56 ). From his patient watching of mice and partridges to his involved pursuit of a loon, Thoreau develops a discourse that ends exactly at the point where we can see the very thing his discourse is about. What his discourse is about is a matter for speculation and further debate, but the discourse is there.
B. The Fugitive Laugh: Conscience as a Call
The loon’s laughter in “Brute Neighbors” is a metaphor for being in the world and its call to itself. The particular lunacy or uncanny quality of the “demoniac laughter” of the loon, lies not only in its creepy utterance that, as I have argued above, reminds Thoreau of his own mortality, but in its backwards announcing-itself. The loon first appears, then laughs, then flees his own calling to himself, then reappears before calling out again in order to flee. Heidegger notes in Chapter 2 of Division 2, in Being and Time, that “to any discourse there belongs that which is talked about in it.”
Heidegger insists that conscience summons Dasein’s Self “from its lostness in the ‘they’” (319 ). Significantly, the call of conscience is not planned nor voluntarily performed. Conscience announces itself “from me and yet from beyond me and over me.” Thoreau’s account of the loon may at first appear to be an account of such a call, that some association exists between the laughter calling Thoreau to seek the loon, to chase it down, and Dasein calling itself from its falling into the they. But Thoreau chasing the loon is more representative of a kind of lostness in the pursuit of the uncanny. The loon repeatedly flees from itself and in this way is a fugitive from its own call. The loon is lostness-in-the-they-itself. What the phenomenal being of the loon and its fugitive laughter reflect is a call, in Thoreau, that “discourses in the uncanny mode of keeping silent” (322 ).
The question Thoreau asks in lieu of the loon’s unfortunate and disturbing laughter is not asked publicly, not involved in the everyday chatter of public existence. Its utterance, though recorded in print, is mute and its presupposed answer is never given. The unanswered question, or the answer itself, is conscience calling Dasein to itself from its falling into the they. In answering questions in quiet reflection about the care of being in the world, “we need not resort to powers with a character other than that of Dasein; indeed, recourse to these is so far from clarifying the uncanniness of the call that instead it annihilates it” (323 ). Thoreau’s developing methods for beholding being in the world allows us finally to back away from the tendency to interpret the caller, which is actually Dasein itself, as another power. What are we pursuing when going after the loon, following its call, but ourselves?
I have missed blog-land; have much catching-up to do.
For those of you who like Heidegger and Thoreau, I am going to post something for you...
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
writing: Heidegger--re sections from Being and Time, "Phenomenology and Theology," & "What is Metaphysics?"--and Pessoa & Thoreau. Section 1: Thoreau discovers the depth of Walden pond; measures it; lost in they; provides example, maybe ideological only (practice), for movement from inauthentic to authentic being. Section 2: Pessoa lost in the "Forest of estrangemnt"; discourses on time; finds authentic being--in the moment of vision repeating and anticipating--only possible between sleep and not sleep.
And it's supposed to be a short essay.
oh well: what am I supposed to do about it? I absolutely refuse to write the typical summary of Heidegger's ideas. They are so playful and engaged--engaging even. Every so often I wake up manic: not so much in the delusional way, rather I awake as Rimbaud wanting to assign a color to each vowel. Well Rimbaud assigned vowels colors already. So I wake up wanting to leave something bodily behind. I understand the neighborhood children sneaking through our allies at night looking for some thing to break. Awful memories of beating each other bruised, pulling hair, dirt rain, and chlorine. What children leave behind adults find nutritive. Late news spectacular. Colors and vowels; well that really paints reality.
Young writers--18, 19--get Robbe-Grillet's For a New Novel. My class enjoyed a good, beginning, discussion about "realism" and "reality". What are the significant differences between the "practice of a/the real" and "the quality of the real"? R-G's chapters "On...obsolete notions" & "From Realism to Reality" are good.
They are currently writing a 600 word fragment called "Home" (thanks Brian Kitelely). The house, or room(s) therein, must play an important, though passive, part in the narrative. R-G's For a New Novel set a task: how can they write about character with attention to their expression as and in writing rather than attention to the demands of convention.
The quarter is coming to an end: one more week.
We have read: Pessoa's poetry, disquiet anthology, and factless autobiography; early sections of S Howe's My Emily Dickinson; Alice James's diary; "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"; Boisseau's Writing Poems. The poetry text served its purpose. Very good points about verse; excellently straightforward coping with scansion. Any student who keeps it rather than selling it back will have a nice reference. I needed the text as a crutch for my first intro workshop. I won't use it next time: 1. TOO EXPENSIVE; 2. Students read texts like fundamentalists read the gospels. And the latter is a shame; Writing Poems makes every effort to nudge students to wander. I know it would be too expensive; nevertheless, the majority of the poetry anthologized in the text is so typical, bland.
I learned that sestinas are great exercises.
I am still planning on responding to Hank Lazer's Boston Review article here. For now, all I need to say is: So what? What's your point? And Lazer (et al) need to wake up to the fact that there are a few programs in the US scene immersed in "new" not "hybrid" writing. Univeristy of Denver is certainly one such program. Unfortunately, a few poets and other writers from our program insist on referring to any versification that strays from conventional verse form as hybrid form. But we--the students--know better.
I am not going to address too many of his comments about academia; I honestly don't feel I have been around enough to know all the ins and outs, if you will. However, Lazer's implied definitions for "new" poetry are terribly limiting and (purposefully?) shortsighted. I have read the article three times now: he seems unaware that he excludes the reading public from participation in forming a new poetry, yet aware that writers of such poetry are in need of an audience outside of academic circles. This is not simply a contradiction. His is a claim that most academics us to excuse the co-opting of poetry by academia.
Difficult forms of verse were attempted and accepted, even patronized, by the reading public through the early fifties. Then poetry was mainstreamed, slowly but surely, by the institutions who claimed knowledge of poetics and required claimed knowledge of poetics for proper participation in poetry. Language poetry--as a writer removed from that generation of poets: they are my teachers' contemporaries--Language poetry may be the strangest form of privatization of poetry ever to exist: it is a practice both private and institutionalized. Like capital, language poetry is self-valorizing.
I hope you are teased enough to look forward to my comments...I look forward to on-going debate...poke poke...wake up sleepy blog land...
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
I have to write about my Heideggerian adventures; I cannot decide how to proceed.
Maybe you, my friends, can help me choose between three topics:
1. Heidegger and Thoreau. Specifically, work with H's ideas in "Phenomenology and Theology," "What is Metaphysics?" & "On the Essence of Ground" and Thoreau's Walden.
2. Heidegger and Pessoa. H's ideas about anxiety from Being and Time and "What is Metaphysics?" and Pessoa's writings, "Forest of Estrangement" esp.
3. Heidegger and Herzog. Herzog claims his films owe nothing to German Romanticism--who's he kidding! Heidegger, falling and thrownness & fear and anxiety in Being and Time and other essays mentioned above; his ideas to address Herzog's use of Bruno S in Every Man for Himself/Kaspar Hauser & Stroszek.
Any comments, ideas...?
I really cannot wait for the end of the academic year. June 4th. I miss typing my thoughts and whims out here.
I feel both asleep and awake; neither tired nor refreshed; ready.
Friday, May 14, 2004
On Freakbeat Radio [KVDU],
a super set of garage, psyche and pop oddities from the sixties.
(small note: gotta use your pc to stream...we haven't a webmaster around yet who understands the allure of the mac...much to my chagrin.)
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Swamped time of the quarter again. Beginning to feel like a broken record: busy, busy, busy, busy, etc. I miss daily writing in this space. Two more weeks, then back to causing trouble full-time.
Screening Herzog's Stroszek this evening for my students.
Received from Netflix: Robert Altman's Three Women, The Long Goodbye, and Buffalo Bill & the Indians.
Received: Carlo Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms. MmmMmmGood.
Reading: Ginzburg, Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction, Heidegger's essays in Pathmarks, Lazer, editor, What is a Poet?, Pessoa.
Singing: Galaxie 500
Eating: Chocolate, Almond Butter, Carnitas, Chard, Carrots, Turnips, Apples, brown bread, eggs; not in that order, nor necessarily together.
Monday, May 10, 2004
to seminar work:
I have been able to watch
Bon Voyage (2003. Dir. Rappeneau) well written; wonderful mise en scene; crisp satire
Robert Altman films:
McCabe & Mrs.Miller
eagerly waiting for the release of Three Women.
Screening Werner Herzog's Stroszek Thursday evening for my students. One of my favorite films. Grotesquely lyrical. Carl Perkins sappy-version of By the Time I get to Pheonix used as a haunting refrain throughout. We watched Bruno S as Kaspar Hauser in Enigma of Kaspar Hauser a couple of weeks ago. Need to write about the two Brunos Herzog gives us--much to reflect re: history of German culture post WWII; a father-less fatherland; a roaming, abused child.
Mint copy of Eyes of the Beacon Street Union: great album.
Paul Mitchell Trio, Live at the Playboy Club: great set, on Verve. Never heard of Mitchell, and appears to be his only album.
Couple of rare Erroll Garner lps for 2$ each. Unbelievable finds, really. The Jazz selection at Wax Trax in Denver never fails to offer the best. Owner must drop in goodies on purpose each week to spice up his selection. Good tactic to keep us vinyl junkies returning. But he could get 40-50$ on ebay for some of the records he sells for 2$ in store. True independent spirit. Very fair. I shop nowhere else.
Andrea picked up two more Toshiko Akiyoshi albums on ebay for cheap.
currently listening to: Tim Buckley Happy Sad. Very groovy, lots of vibraphone, mellow.
Faves of the moment: Lali Puna, Denise James, Clue to Kalo, Clouddead, Camera Obscura, American Song-Poem Book on BarNone, Galaxie 500 (I wrote a poem on a dog biscuit and my dog wouldn't look at it.)
Thursday, May 06, 2004
revised my review of Howe's Tis of Thee
Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction, paper, 0375756574
Shock Cinema #24
books for Fall Quarter class on Everyday Life and Mass Observation;
kids will read:
Baudelaire. Paris Spleen
Highmore. Everyday Life and Cultural Theory
Kafka. The Trial
Bataille. The Blue of Noon
still compiling a packet of essays...films and art.
write the syllabus
essay on Marx's move from commodity to money to capital
heidegger's temporalities and thoreau's wanderings
Movern Callar (ambiguities)
Images (Altman, 1972)
Days of Heaven (one of my faves)
Intolerable Cruelty (so well written)
Ernesto, over at Never Neutral, on Archives.
The entire post is worth a look as are his daily pickings; I was attracted most to the sentiment in the following fragment:
"And I think about what you have taught me: I want to look forward. Forget, in a way, the archive. Even delete it. Where does the past go if its archive is deleted? What comfort do we get from the fact that, say, we can reach our archives in our blogs? What would happen if we were brave -or stupid- enough to delete them all, and only write day by day, only to see what we have written disappear tomorrow? Can we substitute the past with future only? Is there such a thing as only future?"
Dag Snag, then:
Can we delete an archive?
Nevermind the spirit of an event that may always relate to our horizon(s) of possibility--our potentiality:
the way we always reflect in being,
on our state(s) of mind,
between moments of here and now,
looking back from now to then.
Such reflection is either rational--
form of an accountant--
form of romanticist.
But also, it may be abject: becoming
sick to the stomach,
body in pain,
putting holes in walls,
talking to your self,
running away, etc. Even ingoring.
Aren't all these attempts-to-delete, to deform the archive, formations for the archive?
Hives on the skin rarely erupt left to their own swollen progress.
Excoriation is required for true release.
She finds herself attacking her own body: a negation; irruption.
And that the urge to forget the archive is an instruction,
a structure he is encouraged to recollect:
What a delightful confession!
We do remember what we have forgotten; forgetting may be necessary to the archive.
Nothing new here: Plato to Priego.
Deleting, however, has the flavor of erasing in totality, which means erasing the erasure in addition to what has been erased. Double negative: Is deletion a creation of a memorable moment or is it throwing the baby out with the bath water?
Anyway we look at it:
This is more than de-historicizing;
more than reverse-engineering...
To delete completely an archive, we must be able to gather all data in a singular datum, see all networks in a singular moment in which the compact archive as datum can be in, and then we still have free radicals: those particular datum that never were networked, maybe never even communicated, not necesarily private, but immanently embued with and in solitude. This is a tricky project. Having once, all at the same time, recovered all association and disassociation, having it all in hand, then we might be able to throw it away. Yet, somebody might remember tossing it all out and screw things up good.
The neurotic one in the corner demanding revision;
an editor, a rewrite.
How do we resist recollection?
In addition: if time is some multi-dimensional recurrence of moments that can be described objectively as "here and now" and again and again and again, infinitely and if this is how we ordinarily express time--count it--then only in ceasing to be--death--can an individual archive delete for an individual. Contemporaneity as an enitity itself makes it incredibly difficult to even consider a temporary refuge from the/any archive. The archive doesn't belong to me, it belongs to us.
I just don't see the archive deleted.
"We shall never forget." Important that folks don't say, "We can not ever forget." It may be true that we cannot forget. But:
Not a statement about the archive, or the possibility for forgetting, as much as it is an ethical demand.
Not "I have no choice but to remember," rather "I must know."
Must knowing is a step towards deletion; quite possibly may be as far as we can get.
"And I think about what you have taught me: I want to look forward. Forget, in a way, the archive. Even delete it." Is one demand for knowledge in its negation of self, the negation the concept itself.
Looking forward equated to forgetting,
possibly deleting, the archive
(of a relationship gone sour; a lost friendship; maybe a simple coincidental incident?):
[Dante's Beatrice in La Vita Nuova before the fall or as he falls]
These qualities of "looking forward" are actually signs of living grounded in the present.
As such, always archived moments of now repeating.
And as such, deletion is not only impossible but so is archiving.
Like Hegel's concept of spirit and time as a negation of a negation.
I don't know.
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
why did they have to say
I was funny?
Laughing, rubbing: crickets
out my window, under a
living room couch,
In Tulsa, nine. One standing almost
hands on his hips
Affirming the affirmative;
as if I had come to be right there—
a spectacular me—
Openly, freely, in response to a
grotesque incantation invitation.
In midsentence, he paused,
Pulled it together magically.
Thinkers after Goethe would say:
he collected himself
Through my joke, me bird-flapping
into the room out the pocket
of his jacket,
Where deep down grow memory holes
stealing all my good jokes:
we all get together.
This morning a dove ate from our feeder
next to a squirrel.
We thought he was a clean pigeon.
We’ll call him Charlie.
He’ll whisper shit dreams in my ear—
uniquely mine punchlines.
It is measurable.
The distance from a birdfeeder to
empty seed shells
from lingering recollections of place
I try to forget
I may not even have put right.
If they thought I was funny,
why did they have to say
I was funny? Laughing, clapping
rubbing: crickets outside my window,
under the living room couch, in Tulsa,
I was nine. One standing almost
triumphantly triumphant hands on
his hips giving specific affirmation
as if I had come to be right there
in front of everyone openly, freely
in response to some grotesque incantation
invitation. In midsentence, he paused,
magician-like, pulled himself together or
like German philosophers following
Goethe reflect, collected himself,
through my joke, me bird flapping
into the room from out the inside pocket
of his pressed jacket. The one deep down
inside grows a memory hole stealing all my good
jokes as smug explanations we all got
This morning a dove ate from our feeder
next to a squirrel. We thought it was a
clean pigeon. We called him Charlie.
He will whisper shit dreams in my ear
leaving no doubt as to the truth and
ultimate whereabouts of my uniquely
"My scalp peels..."
All a birdfeeder and empty seed shells,
possibly a lingering recollection of
some event I am trying awfully hard
to forget that I may not even have right.
[I opened a too-big door of possibility with this "paper" and for six months now it continues to open up into a larger project. Will most likely be shaped into the critical introduction to my manuscript in my dissertation. More on this to come in future months. I have about thirty pages of material for it or some essay to come. Below are the rough notes for the presentation I gave at the conference; I prefer to read and improvise at panels...I also read from Alice's diary and Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson.]
1. William James wrote the following to his sister Alice after doctors found a tumor in her breast:
Your fortitude, good spirits and unsentimentality have been simply unexampled in the
midst of your of your physical woes; and when you’re relieved from your post, just that bright note will remain behind, together with the inscrutable and mysterious character of the doom of nervous weakness which has chained you down for all those years. (Reference Alice’s diary entries concerning doctor’s diagnosis; her earlier diary entry about William’s psychology)
Alice died a year later cornered, still in her invalidity. William’s letter concretely illustrates the confinement Alice withstood to her body. “To her body” rather than “within her body” is significant. The contrast between the qualities of being as being-confined-to-her-body and being-confined-in-her-body distinguishes a problem left unexplored in writing about Victorian women and their illnesses: hysteria and invalidism. Sick women are presented to readers trapped inside defined bodies they did not construct themselves. Such representations are problematic given that many critiques of sexist culture focus on a conflation of physical and psychological illness—a conflation of bodily pain with mental anguish. For example, a common narrative trope: upon encounters with beauty, hysterical women faint. Alice, in fact, participates in this narrative. [read sections from diary.] Men, not only doctors but also husbands and fathers and brothers—like William to Alice—find ways to explain hysteria through their philosophical, religious and medical faith in the separation of mind and body. This dualism, however, is a problem not a given, and should remain a problem, about what it means to know who we are as distinct thinking individuals. Alice’s hysterical confinement was directed to her body not by an ill mind but by a society whose narratives of hysteria require(d) Alice, in fact, to be immobilized.
Gillian Brown, Empire of Agoraphobia, defines the hysteric as “the preeminent figure of immobility for the nineteenth century…whose strange postures freeze normal bodily motion and activity” (135).
Alice explains her daily dilemma in this manner: The only difference between me and the insane was that I had not only all the horrors and suffering of insanity but the duties of doctor, nurse, and straight-jacket imposed on me, too. (October 26, 1890)
Many feminist and medical critiques rely on the definitions of dualism they seek to criticize. I not only hope to promote an image of Alice James using her daily writing in order to form her own body out of a text, exemplifying her form-ing narrative which I will refer to as a corpus Alice James, I criticize a tradition of theory that refuses to allow women like Alice out of the binding, almost contractual, commitments to rigid gender and sex definitions. I think immediately of Emily Dickinson...SH's MED.
2. William’s letter to his sister refers to leaving “just that bright note” as well as a “mysterious character…of…doom.”
Invalids are often characterized as non-productive individuals without agency. Alice’s invalidism, according to William, is productive. She is “chained down” by her nervous weakness, yet she produces a mysterious character. I do not wish to give William too much credit. Though he cared deeply for Alice and relied on her being there, he appears at times nothing more than a teasing patron. He instructs her how she should see herself. Consequently, William figured Alice as a good-spirited, morally strong yet physically weak, and unsentimental woman. That would be the bright note Alice would leave behind.
The mysterious character in her, he relates to the doom of her hysteria. If we examine the anxiety present in William’s letter to Alice—rather than impose a quality onto Alice through projection we can apply the recognition of doom to the one who recognized it as a sign of dread—a fear of death—we can reasonably claim that Alice’s mysterious character may be in direct, active and open conflict with the character William, and others in her community, impose on her body.
3. mind/body issues:
Alice’s mind, after her diary, is quite involved with her surroundings and actively engaged with her so-called invalid body. Such a resilience of mind and body together is more likely a source of her alienation from society and of William’s implied dread concerning her mysterious character. The doom he recognizes in her is more appropriately tied to his philosophies than to her being. So, let us address her being, then.
[The first entry from her diary]
During her adult life, Alice was either physically alone or struggling with solitude itself. Out of her struggle with solitude she cultivated a space to create a master narrative for her self. We should appreciate such work, which is the fundamental work of literature and, for Alice, the creation of a radical invalidism.
[define Rad Inv and compare/contrast to W's Rad Empiricism]
Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, explores the solitude any work of literature conducts:
In the solitude of the work—the work of art, the literary work—we discover a more essential solitude. It excludes the complacent isolation of individualism; it has nothing to do with the quest for singularity. He who writes the work is set aside; he who has written it is dismissed. He who is dismissed…doesn’t know it.
We want to focus on the being alone Alice accomplishes when we listen to her story. Narratives of loneliness are important tales in popular discourse meant to instruct the individual about the validity in everyday, public being. Such narratives a steadily stretched along an authentic historicality of being towards death (Heidegger.) Alice, as an invalid (I hope you will allow me to footnote a lengthy discussion involved with the word multiple meanings implied with invalid) was not permitted to participate and quite often could not physically cope with public life. She was physically alone.
In popular, biographical portraits about her life many tales of seclusion, solitude and loneliness are told. Jean Strouse’s significant bio includes a chapter simply titled "Alone." Alice's literary work and the essential solitude such work uncovers as it resists the isolation of the individual is not a monument to being alone; it is not simply a title or casement. Such a monument would fundamentally define her as a woman who cannot keep the facts straight, who cannot pull herself together, and one who merely attempts vainly to profit from her staged invalidity. The weaknesses in her composition as an individual could then be reasonably due to her mental confusion with physical pain. Instead, Alice composes herself radically altering the already present solitude in invalidity. She revises invalidism into the work essential solitude permits a literary artist. Out of her radicalization of invalidism, she produces a distinct body of work. That body of work relies on an essential singularity of mind and body working together in spite of its illnesses that manifest as a united rebellion against representational singularity in the ideal individual.
4. In many ways, Alice’s journal begins as a memorial to solitude. She finds a place alone, a place to be alone, a place to fashion the habit of writing. She takes William’s thesis from his essay “Habit” and makes her “nervous system her ally instead of [her] enemy”. William’s thesis, from his chapter on habit in Psychological Foundations is that “an acquired habit, from the physiological point of view, is nothing but a new pathway of discharge formed in the brain, by which certain incoming currents ever after tend to escape.”
The transition from incoming current to escape is the narrative form-ing that Alice sets out to accomplish with her opening salvo: "I think if I get into the habit of writing a bit about what happens, or rather doesn’t happen, I may lose a little of the sense of loneliness and desolation which abides with me."
so I may
In the Spring of 1889, Alice left a note behind to create a space within which to work out the bright—shedding light on what does and does not happen—from the dark—coming to terms with the “inscrutable and mysterious character of the doom of nervous weakness.” She continues writing letters. Her correspondence to her friends and family, her visits with close companions, continue alongside her new project. As she works out the difference in a “written monologue by that most interesting being, myself,” she expects to find a few “yet to be discovered consolations.” Many people write in diaries to find unexpected consolations from daily life. The task produces a record of the mundane (but not superficial) character of journaling. As Edel notes in his introduction to her diary, Alice had been keeping a daybook before the 1889 entry we know refer to as the beginning of her diary. In her explicit beginning or opening statements, Alice intends to build a book of her self in order to realize/recognize a corpus Alice James.
[discuss immobility and impermanence]
Dante, similarly, begins his La Vita Nova. When he was ready to share his literary work, his art, with the public, he wrote in his notebooks proofs for his existence as a poet. Alice’s decision to present herself as a writer and to explain her observations and reflections, to develop her ideas, therefore, is a participation in a specific literary tradition that exceeds the formal conventions of the diary or autobiography. [excess] Dante writes as if keeping a notebook. La Vita Nova is an aesthetic treatise written as a poet-already to, for and against other poets.
He begins: "In the book of my memory, after the first pages, which are almost blank, there is a section headed Incipit Vita Nova. Beneath this heading I find the words which it is my intention to copy into this smaller book, or if not all, at least their meaning."
He copies from memory what he recalls, admits forgetfulness, and for that which he cannot remember he will attempt to illustrate meaning. Alice does not merely record facts that happened during the course of her day. She looks at those facts and records them to create meaning. Her diary like Dante’s book marks a beginning for her and is her struggle to order memory. In this manner, Alice creates a self or myself.
5. Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson, asks “How do I, choosing messages from the codes of others in order to participate in the universal theme of language, pull SHE from all the myriad symbols and sightings of HE.” (17) Howe doesn’t mention Alice in her study instead uses Emily Bronte...I know she loves Bronte, but Alice is there, too. Howe cites the following Dickinson poem on Identity and Memory.
[read the poem]
[Blanchot “on recourse to the journal” before reading the quote comment on the HE of Blanchot’s discourse. Empty for women/Howe commentary on Dickinson poem.]
In a well-known photograph, Alice rests at her house in Leamington circa 1889-1890. She is on her sofa bed. Her companion, Katharine Loring, stands above her. They are in the distant corner of the room, window to the left. The room is washed in light. Though most certainly staged by Alice, therefore, certainly not candid, the image captures Alice in her corner. It corners her. Captures Alice because she is inside; because she must look out from it and out through the window; because Katharine permanently accompanies her, stands above her as if attending to her both as a nurse to a patient and as a guard to a prisoner. No conversation, not even a gaze between them. Alice looking down at her hands; Katharine looking towards the photographer. Nevertheless, this is Alice’s production—an image to accompany her narrative. We aid Alice in cultivating her corner, rebuilding it each time we read her writing from it.
Gaston Bachelard explores corners in The Poetics of Space:
Every corner in a house, every angle in a room, every inch of secluded space in which we like to hide, or withdraw into ourselves, is a symbol of solitude for the imagination; that is to say, it is the germ of a room, or of a house.
Alice’s life, after her breakdown at nineteen, is a series of retreating into corners. The photograph from the Leamington house is only one corner of many possible corners but is likely the ideal corner—in other words, a corner staged.
6. When William expresses his love for Alice and discusses what she will leave behind—what she distinguishes in the world between light and dark—he unconsciously looks to Alice’s corner. She occupies a corner where the light spills into her corner and the image. She is spatially associated with the light-source for the camera. When William looks for her, he finds her there. He tries to see her the way he needs her to be—always at tension with the way she will allow herself to be seen. He stabilizes his view and captures her like a camera captures its image. His eulogy to her is one wall dark, the other light. The two meet at her. From her corner, she writes out to him but also in repose for him.
According to Bachelard, “the corner is a haven that ensures us one of the things we prize most highly—immobility. It is the sure place, the place next to my immobility” (137). [more on impermanence and immobility: light-source] The place next to a woman’s immobility in the late nineteenth century might very well be impermanence. Words, immobility and impermanence, characterize concrete gender conventions for women. From hygiene guides to women’s literature, from daily dress and proper posture to what and when to study, women were cornered and flexible. In Alice’s case, however, her corner was a prop from her vision of immobility and thus allowed her to form a narrative regardless of permanence.
7. Alice’s corner is unique to her because it allows her to present herself as she is; provides her a place to project her being out into the space of her room; to create a complex narrative; moreover, from her corner, her looking at her hands rather than at us through the photographic image or even out of the window is a kind of anamorphosis; her immobility alters how we are able to see her, possibly how we desire to see her and is, therefore, dependent on her presence. [problem with ecriture: author's present absence: Alice's death: etc] In addition, her corner provides those who depend upon Alice with a specific justification for who they wish to be in reference to her. She cannot back off from their approach.
[December 2, Barnum monstrosity]
8. In her response to William’s letter, Alice offers her older brother the ideal example of pragmatic living in the form of radical being.
But you must believe that you greatly exaggerate the tragic element in my commonplace little journey; & so far from ever having thought that “my frustrations were more flagrant than the rule”, I have always simmered complacently in my complete immunity therefrom….I always rejoiced that my temperament had set for my task the attainment of the simplest rudimentary ideal, which I could carry about in my pocket & work away upon equally in the shower as sunshine, in complete security from the grotesque obstructions supposed to be life…
William’s pragmatism always rests in the intersection between rationalism and empiricism. His radical empiricism is charged by a pragmatic muse looking forward to a concrete subject while turning her back on an abstract object. Alice turns her back on her illness to use it as a prop in order to look out for her brother who uses her as a prop to look out into the world. She creates for William an illusion based on her quiet laboring away in tranquility. William would want Alice to be unsentimental and carefree in the face of illness, to habituate/situate within her a solution to any number of troubling narratives for illness. [hysteria as a dealing with panic; invalidsim as a non-specific, or without location, illness] He would want her not to be immobile yet needs to rely on her impermanence as an individual, namely being his sister. Alice solves the enigma of confinement through writing and moves beyond the need to write.
One only begins to write when, momentarily, through a ruse, through a propitious burst of energy, or through life’s distractions, one has succeeded in evading this impulse which remote control of the work must constantly awake and subdue, protect and avert, master and experience in its unmasterable force. The work draws whoever devotes himself to it toward the point where it withstands its impossibility.
9. [explain role William and Henry play]
Alice offered Henry comfort as well. On March 25th, 1890, she reflects on the empathy she and Henry share for one another. "Henry came on the 10th, and spent the day…He comes at my slightest sign and hangs on to whatever organ may be in eruption and gives me calm and solace by assuring me that my nerves are his nerves and my stomach his stomach."
Alice describes a being together that is dependent on her illness. [not lost in the they; not inauthentic] The sibling-sharing occurs through her invalidity, because of her signification of specific moments as an invalid. From her corner Alice embraces her brother. They cared for each other; they became each other. Apparently, that the illness described is ambivalent and ambiguous—having neither symptom nor cause—is not all that important. “Whatever organ may be in eruption,” Henry and Alice share organs, nerves and bodies alike. Her corpus Alice James becomes relevant, useful and generative, transferrable and textual—a germ; a narrative; a habit.
10. In addition to providing her brothers with both signifier and referent for their ideas—William’s pragmatics and Henry’s germ theory, both generative aspects vital to their literary pursuits—Alice used her corner as a place from which to build a conduit for directing her potentiality [more specific, p for what?].
In her first entry, Alice self-reassuringly comments that writing every day might “bring relief as an outlet to that geyser of emotions, sensations, speculations, and reflections which ferments perpetually within my poor old carcass for its sins.” Janet Bottom, re: Alice’s intentions as a writer, claims “one of the most noticeable thins about her diary…is that it is not a ‘geyser of emotions’” (Swindells 110). Bottom purposefully oversimplifies in order to make a point about the restraint involved with making a habit of writing. [more on the narrative of restraint this brand of feminist theory relies on for a critique of masculinist culture to be possible. Link to Howe's criticism of Gilbert and Gubar.] Her claim slips into the mode of the confinement of the invalid. Yet, the reclining posture of the immobile invalid Alice practiced and participated in is not the sign of a lack of emotion. [read George Eliot entry on page 40 of diary--Dickinson & Eliot] The posture allows Alice the control she desires over an obvious lack she should represent. She should lack sentiment as William characterizes her. Nevertheless, Alice refuses to use privation as a marker for sexual difference and identity. This refusal narrative, Alice's writing towards a moment of vision, should not be tossed out to justify a reading of Alice as a narrative for theory...more
Her hysteria may have been and may be now ready at hand descriptions for the immobility of the invalid and the sexual panic of the hysteric, yet she uses the space privation opens—its irruption—to move out—to erupt—into the world. The wound lack typically signifies is from where Alice meets her immobility and radiates not-Alice. She creates a geyser of emotions and radiates immobility, the corpus Alice James. Alice worked her way into the role of the hysterical invalid. [frenzy; physicality of such a critique; sexuality or erotics of such moment of vision as self-coding femininity regardless of sexist masculinist cultural narratives; narrative of possibilities; impossibility]
11. Alice often played the part at will for the purpose of gaining attention. [read from diary entries about acting the part of hysteric] For example, she would fall into fits when Katharine Loring would leave to be with her sister, Louisa. Henry joked about this performance. Nevertheless, Alice’s performances provided her the solitude she needed to become an author...
further fragments from
Blanchot, Maurice. The Space of Literature.
"on recourse to the journal"
it is perhaps striking that from the moment the work becomes the search for art, from the moment it becomes literature, the writer increasingly feels the need to maintain a relation to himself. His feeling is one of extreme repugnance at losing his grasp upon himself in the interests of that neutral force, formless and bereft of any destiny, which is behind everything that gets written. This repugnance, or apprehension, is revealed by the concern, characteristic of so many authors, to compose what they call their “journal.” (28)
The journal is not essentially confessional; it is not one’s own story. It is a memorial. What must the writer remember? Himself: who he is when he isn’t writing, when he lives daily life, when he is alive and true, not dying and bereft of truth. (29)
The journal indicates that already the writer is no longer capable of belonging to time through the ordinary certainty of action, through the shared concerns of common tasks, of an occupation, through the simplicity of intimate speech, the force of unreflecting habit. He is no longer truly historical; but he doesn’t want to waste time either, and since he doesn’t know anymore how to do anything but write, at least he writes in response to his everyday history and in accord with the preoccupations of everyday life. (29)
"Fascination of time's absence"
to write is to surrender to the fascination of time’s absence. (30)
"approaching literature’s space"
The poem—literature—seems to be linked to a spoken word which cannot be interrupted because it does not speak; it is. The poem is not this word itself, for the poem is a beginning, whereas this word never begins, but always speaks anew and is always starting over. (37)
"the need to write"
one only begins to write when, momentarily, through a ruse, through a propitious burst of energy, or through life’s distractions, one has succeeded in evading this impulse which remote control of the work must constantly awake and subdue, protect and avert, master and experience in its unmasterable force.
the work draws whoever devotes himself to it toward the point where it withstands its impossibility.
experience means renewal of oneself in contact with what has been forgotten in memory
"can I die?"
at first glance, the preoccupation of the writer who writes in order to be able to die is an affront to common sense. . . . No one is sure of dying. No one doubts death, but no one can think of certain death except doubtfully. For to think of death is to introduce into thought the supremely doubtful, the brittleness of the unsure. It is as if in order to think authentically upon the certainty of death, we had to let thought sink into doubt and inauthenticity, or yet again as if when we strive to think on death, more than our brain—the very substance and truth of thought itself—were bound to crumble. (95)
Kahane, Claire. “The Aesthetics and Politics of Rage.” States of Rage: Emotional Eruption, Violence, and Social Change. Eds. Renee R. Curry & Terry L. Allison. New York & London: New York UP, 1996.
although [Alice James] had no public presence during her life nor was she a writer by profession or identity, she is an interesting figure precisely because. . .[she] became primarily the good patient, her body the medium through which she could covertly represent the problematics of her being. When shortly before her death, she took up the pen to write, her writing took the form of a diary, a private voice, to be acknowledged only after her death. (129)
When she does turn her eye on herself, her text resonates with suggestive ambiguities (130)
thinking without great anxiety (131): look above, thinking with anxiety and concentration is a form of producing the space for literature—a form-ing narrative.
[see Alice’s attacks on George Eliot's abject reaction to pain. 40-41 of diary]
if we follow the logic of the imagery, the morbid growth, the mildew and fungus all share the quality of a repugnant parasitic dependence. (132) –see blanchot’s use of repugnance above.
the body as enemy is a trope in the diary (133)
Monday, May 03, 2004
Here are my lists:
Author: Nietzsche (as psychologist)
Birth of Tragedy
Human, all too Human
Thus Spake Zarathustra
Genealogy of Morality
Beyond Good and Evil
Writings from the Late Notebooks
(add a giant helping of writing about N as psych and N & lit)
Genre: Novel as Document
Chopin. The Awakening
Defoe. Journal of the Plague Year
Darnton. The Great Cat Massacre
Dostoyevsky. Crimes and Punishment
Eliot. Felix Holt, the Radical
Faulkner. The Sound and the Fury
Ginzburg. The Cheese and the Worms
Hardy. Jude, the Obscure
Hawthorne. House of the Seven Gables
Joyce. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kempe. The Book of Margery Kempe
Nabakov. Pale Fire
Saramago. History of the Seige of Lisbon
Tolstoy. Anna Karenina
White. Tropics of Discourse
Bataille, Georges. Blue of Noon
Bronte. Wuthering Heights
Capote. In Cold Blood
Celine. Journey to the End of Night
Dickens. Hard Times
Special Topic: Literature of Illness
Burton. The Anatomy of Melancholy (nyrb edition introduced by William Gass)
Dick. The Transmigration of Timothy Archer
Dickinson. Poems (w/ Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson)
Dostoyevsky. Brothers Karamazov
Freud. The Schreber Case; The Uncanny
James, Alice. Diary of Alice James.
James, W. The Writings of William James (McDermott, editor)
especially: “Part One: Personal Depression and Recovery”; “The Notion of Consciousness”; “A World of Pure Experience”; “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings”
Kharms & Vvedensky. The Man with the Black Coat
Lacan. The Psychoses 1955-1956: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book III
Maupassant. “Le Horla”
Merleau-Ponty. Phenomenology of Perception (especially, Part One: The Body)
Miller, Rachel and Susan Mason, editors. Diagnosis Schizophrenia
Ratcliff, Jason Stuart. Rites of Passage: My Schizophrenic Youth in Mosaic
Rimbaud, Arthur. (Mason translation): especially: A Season in Hell; Illuminations
Sartre, Jean Paul. Nausea
Sass. Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature, and Thought
Schreber. Memoirs of my Nervous Illness
Walser. Selected Stories (Sontag intro)
Period: 1900-1950, American Modernisms
James, H. Spoils of Poynton; “The Jolly Corner”
Pound. Pisan Cantos (Sieburth, ed)
Stein. Three Lives; Making Americans
Wallace Stevens. The Necessary Angel; Harmonium; Ideas of Order
William Carlos Williams. Imaginations
T.S. Eliot. The Wasteland; Landscapes; criticism
William Faulkner. Absalom, Absalom
Richard Wright. Native Son
Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man
Marianne Moore. Selected Poems (1935, intro by Eliot)
Sterling Brown. The Collected Poems of Sterling A Brown.
Langston Hughes. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
Alain Locke. The New Negro
Jean Toomer. Cane
James Weldon Johnson. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
Charles Olson. “Projective Verse”
Jameson. A Singular Modernity; selections from others
Perloff. Twentieth Century Modernisms
Baker, Jr. Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance
I have a ton of secondary source material available to use, but not encouraged (thankfully) to read too far outside of the determined lists. They're looking for very focused and masterful answers rather than signs of broad or anthologized awareness. I always over-prepare anyway. I am actually excited to write answers. We get a week to write four, ten page answers. I have picked out an old hotel in the canyons above Boulder to escape to in order to write in peace--very cool spot and super-cheap. I am looking forward to that week--to finish--I want to begin work on my dissertation.
This will be a Nietzsche-filled, psychotic summer. A modernist('s) nightmare.
Andrea is thrilled, I'm sure.
Sunday, May 02, 2004
(the word for the way students conform
verbs in essays.) A thrown nest or
an early vision of us--
one broke egg--
cracked under neat gifted noon sun.
Break ink to gather (a word for
the color new bruises suck from
late urban dusks) that joke she told
making him mad by making a plan;
I will wait (how they wait in waiting
rooms,) invite stakes like posts sunk
deep, even, space marks (that word
for talking over a longer line
across borders freely for a price)
Patiently, over a long distance, consistently aubergine.
Burlington, Vermont, to New York, New York
The Narrative Conference was a bit of a wash for me. My colleague and I presented engaging work, I think. But were charged with being too traditional. The critique coming from a narratologist-type made my head spin a bit: a structuralist calling a post-structuralist traditional.
Also, the habit of scheduling celebrity and showcase panels in each time slot, each day at conferences is annoying. Such planning guaranties poor attendance at most panels. Certainly does nothing for building a dialogue across the academic community. Nothing new here: I sincerely believe the academic community treats the concepts of access and community as illnesses.
New York, on the other hand, was wonderful.
The Hayden Hotel is a true hole in the wall.
PoTelCom was a success.
Shanna and Shawn were gracious enough to invite me into their home; shared food, drink & poetry.
Spent much of the night chatting with Aaron McCollough and Maureen Thorson--poetry, law, music, muffins.
Spent time with my old Denver pal Kevin Elliott and his friends Matthew and Liz.
Liz gave me a Brooklyn Tour and we walked Coney Island Boardwalk in the rain.
Great Photos. Long Subway rides.
Saw Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players, Anna Copacabana, Touching You, et al @ The Knitting Factory
Chatted up by too young to be pouring sherry barista at Cafe Vivaldi
Drank Guinness at Tribeca Tavern
Every bar in lower Manhattan has a dj.
Are there any 20 something urban hipsters who aren't djs anymore or does the equipment come with the ben shermans?
New York rain is wonderful
Taxis are fast, still
No one you don't know looks you in the eye
Found a great Toshiko Akiyoshi lp at Bleeker Street.
---Am on a scheduled blogging break through tomorrow...after an april of conferences and jaunts, I have to spend time locally consumed. Finishing a review; finishing Being and Time and Capital.---back to the daily posting on Tuesday.