Friday, March 12, 2004

"We, conscious of the justness of that confusion of tongues [at Babel], recognize the fragmentary as a characteristic of all human striving in its truth and realize that it is precisely this that distinguishes it from the infinite coherence of Nature, that an individual's wealth consists precisely in his power of fragmentary extravagance, and that the producer's enjoyment is also that of the receiver, not the laborious and meticulous execution, nor the protracted apprehension of this execution, but rather the production and enjoyment of that gleaming transience for which the producer contains something more than the completed effort, since it is the appearance of the Idea, and which for the recipient too, contains a surplus, seeing that its fulguration awakens his own productivity--since all this, I say, is contrary to our Society's penchant (and since, indeed, even the period just read could well be regarded as a disquiting attack upon the interjectory style in which the idea breaks out but without breaking through, a style which in our Society is accorded official status), then, having called attention to the fact hat my conduct still cannot be called rebellious, seeing that the bond holding this period together is so loose that the intermediary clauses stand out in a sufficiently aphoristic and arbitrary manner, I shall merely call to mind that my style has made an attempt to appear what it is not--revolutionary."

--Soren Kierkegaard, Either Or: A Fragment of Life. trans. Alistair Hannay. New York: Penguin, 1992.

This is Kierkegaard speaking under the aesthete pseudonym "A" in "Ancient Tragedy's Reflection in The Modern;" In my more skeptical moments, I've entertained the idea of making it the epigraph for the thesis.

Monday, March 08, 2004

"All the leisure time which his school life left him was passed in the company of subversive writers whose gibes and violence of speech set up a ferment in his brain before they passed out of it into his crude writings."
---James Joyce, Portrait of An Artist as A Young Man

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Fascinating comments connecting the nostalgia for debate (of which my lengthy post the other day is surely a, perhaps mild, example) and Debord's Society of Spectacle on fait accompli

Nick's final questions,

Can I wonder aloud if this argument and debate method of exchanging
knowledge and inducing change, discovering truth,
and uncovering greatness is totally bankrupt?
What might replace it? What could replace it?

beautifully frame what is at stake, i think. It is interesting to think about the idea of the debate (especially considered in the context of the shrewdly DNC orchestrated primary election season recently witnessed) as being a sort of spectacle (see my previous comments on the "prurient" interest of those observing a blog/listserv fight), especially since I tend to think of "the debate" in the best sense of the word, as a sort of anti-spectacle--an arena for contesting value in which the parties involved actively participate (I like Charles Berstein's suggestion that a poetry reading could also be thought of as a sort of anti-spectacle--you can't go to a poetry reading to "be entertained;" it's not an arresting experience, but a potentially engaging experience). I find it interesting that the recently attempt by the last active members of the buffalo listserv to revive it didn't call for a debate or a discussion, but a "fight"--in my mind fights are what happens at the point where engaging discourse becomes arresting; there is no longer anything that the observer of the dialogue could take from it other than its status as spectacle.

I am still troubled by the fact that, on the blogs, it seems very difficult to have a sustained interchange in which there is clearly something "at stake," and maybe this is a belief in a sort of dialectical understanding of knowledge that's time may be gone. Despite this qualm, i am very much interested by the idea of blogs as a system of signal response interchange that operates like a network (as opposed to linear/dialectical) model (as I take Nick's comments on signal-response to be suggesting).

A final thought. I reread a great Roland Barthes essay called "Saussure, the Sign, Democracy" (in "The Semiotic Challenge;" trans. Howard, CA UP, '94) in which Barthes discusses the curious parallels between (and near simultaneous emergence of) Saussurean linguistics, democracy, and a financial world that abandoned the gold standard in favor of a system of exchange value. Speaking very crudely, we can draw parallels between all these phenomenon and the emergence of the pluralistic (network) model of exchange about poetics that occurs (has the potential to occur?) on the blogs: there is no positivist "norm" by which to discuss poetics, "the relation to the signified (to gold) [to an aesthetic norm] being uncertain, fragile, the whole system (of language, of currency) [of poetic discussion] is stabilized by the behavior of the signifiers among themselves..." (154; my brackets)

Despite the positive/democratic connotations of this parallel, theories that posit language as a system that operates via the play and difference of signifiers, not via a more stable relationship between the signifier and the signified (still being rudimentary here...) have always induced a great deal of skepticism in me, even though to a large extent I buy into them...Barthes reads a similar anxiety in Saussure:

"There is another Saussure...this Saussure already hears modernity in the phonic and semantic swarming of archaic verses: then, no more [social] contract, no more clarity, no more analogy, no more value: the order of the signified is replaced by teh gold of the signifier, a metal no longer monetary but poetic. We know how much such hearing troubled, even maddened, Saussure, who seems to have seen his entire life pass between the anxiety of the lost signified and the terrifying return of the pure signifier." (156)

The reference to poetry here opens up a whole vast new issue that i don't have time to wade into, but i think the basic analogy i'd like to draw may already be self evident. The anxiety people are feeling about the network of interchange, as opposed to the dialectic of debate, that occurs on the blogs is very similar to the sort of anxiety one might feel when approaching a poem that highlights its own materiality (poeticitiy): one can't help but mourn the loss of the stability presented by a text (or a form of aesthetic discourse) with pretensions towards the normative, but on the other hand awed by the unstable but dynamic system of multivalent reference that is energized by its freedom from positivist standards.

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