Sunday, October 12, 2008

Caught with your pants down--naming, being, and fetishes

EDIT: As these things were still in play when I first posted this, I didn't mention that in addition to the Amazing Anna K., others invovled in the project I discuss below are, the Not-to-be-messed-with Nicola Masciandaro, and the Ever-Evanescent Eileen Joy.

Et quant il les vit en apert
Que do bois furent descovert,
Sit vit les hauberz fremïenz
Et les hiaumes clerz et luisanz
Et vit lo vert et lo vermoil
Reluire contre lo soloit
Et l'or et l'azur et l'argent,
Si li fu molt tres bel et gent
Et dit Biaus sire Dex, merci!
Ce sont ange que je voi ci.
(Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval, La Pochotèque, 120-132)

Commant avez vos non, amis?
Et cil qui son non ne savoit
Devine et dit que il avoit
Percevaus li Gualois a non,
N ne set s'il dit voir o non,
Mais il dit voir, et si no sot.

(Perceval, 3509-3515)

It was a chainless bicycle, with a freewheel, if such a bicycle exits. Dear bicycle, I shall not call you bike, you were green, like so many of your generation, I don't know why. It is a pleasure to meet it again. To describe it at length would be a pleasure. It had a little red horn instead of the bell fashionable in your days. To blow this horn was for me a real pleasure, almost a vice. I will go further and declare that if I were obliged to record, in a roll of honour, those activities which in the course of my interminable existence have given me only a mild pain in the balls, the blowing of a rubber horn--toot!--would figure among the first. And when I had to part from bicycle I took off the horn and kept it about me. I believe I have it still, somewhere, and if i blow it no more it is because it has gone dumb. Even motor-cars have no horns nowadays, as I understand the thing, or rarely. When I see one, through the lowered window of a stationary car, I often stop and blow it. This should all be written in the pluperfect. What a rest to speak of bicycles and horns.
(Samuel Beckett, Molloy, Grove Centenary Ed. Vol II, 12)

Yes, my mind felt it surely, this tiny sediment, incomprehensibly stirring like grit at the bottom of summer weighted and the splendid summer sky. And suddenly I remembered my name, Molloy. My name is Molly, I cried, all of a sudden, now I remember. Nothing compelled me to give this information, but I gave it, hoping to please, I suppose. They let me keep my hat on, I don't know why. Is it your mother's name? said the sergeant...
(Molloy, 18)

I had a little chat with Jeffrey Cohen last weekend at SEMA. He, shall we say, encouraged me to take up the blog again. Well, maybe he was just observing that I haven't been blogging much at all for along time. But I am going to choose to interpret those words as encouraging.

I can't promise anything. NYU is keeping me on my toes. But there are so many things I want to be blogging about, and its such a fantastic way to feel like one is being read, that perhaps its just worth a shot. I will try to get my SEMA paper up also, but I need to format it for HTML with the notes and all, and I can be sorta slow with that. And I haven't given up on my little story either!

As an opening salvo, I will throw out a few very very preliminary thoughts on a current project, one I am lucky enough to be working on (the gravity that needs to fall on the word 'lucky' here cannot possibly be enough) with the wonderful Anna Klosowska. The gist of the project is best summed up at this point by a list of key nodes: Perceval, Beckett, Heidegger; language, humannesses, feelings. But that's crazy, you say? Why yes, thank you very much.

I am starting with some very obvious resonances. Beckett deals with characters that are so fully spoken by language one can read him and believe Heidegger's whole thing about language speaking Dasein and not the other way 'round. Perceval also operates, in my mind, as such a text. I have always felt that the best preparation for reading Beckett's novels was found in reading Chrétien. The idea of the Romance is so fully flowing into these novels which go on and on and on, with seemingly unmotivated plots and mysteriously opaque characters, arising magnificently and marvelously out of their worlds--. What I'm saying in part is that both can be loved (and I mean erotically), but only with a certain queer patience.

Beyond that though, there are some more specific resonances, between which I would like to touch the feeling of an affective connection betwixt how each set of texts speaks various--yes, let us say it--humans. One such moment might arise from thinking Perceval as a phenomenon, an event of Being, and thinking Molloy also as a phenomenon--an event of either Being or nonBeing but an event either way. Both have to upspring from the ground cleared by the language that speaks them. And they seem to upspring in these really silly (but, because they are so, deadly serious) cracks in the narrative and language of the work: Moments which themselves are fetishes, to be seen (as they see and arrest you) as partial nonteleological and wildly non-sequitor textual phenomena. So, part of the crux is that these humans are spoken by language, but only by a shard of language, and so their worlds are also arrested in these discrete and bounded fetish-fragments of language--and the way they must then function as Beings in a world is only ever always in partial fetishized relation to World and World and others--and thus never participating in World as we know as in a totality of relations.

In the quotes above, Perceval and Molloy are both caught with their pants down. Molloy is being questioned, for doing something apparently offensive (though in the seemingly authoritarian police state of the novel, it may have been totally arbitrary) in public with his beloved bicycle that has him so besotted [and on 'besotted,' I can only say how amazing Anna's paper at SEMA last week was], and Perceval, for not asking any questions of the marvels which had him so besotted chez fisher-king the previous night, so that this wildly mourning girl can tell him that he's pretty much ruined his and a bunch of others' lives as a result. In both scenes, both remember their names. Wild. They just don't know for sure either, but it seems to work for both of them.

Among some other things, it is this moment of naming, by language, in language, which has me in total wonder right now. As soon as Perceval divines his name, this girl tells him a whole set of other names which befit him better, and his now messed-up fate. Later in Beckett's novel, the narrator-Molloy writes "And even my sense of identity was wrapped in a namelessness often hard to penetrate, as we have just seen I think. And so on for all the other things which made merry with my senses. Yes, even then, when already all was fading, waves and particles, there could be no things but nameless things, no names but thingless names. I say that now, but after all what do i know now about then, now when the icy words hail down upon me, the icy meanings, and the world dies too, foully named. All I know is what the words know, and the dead things, and that makes a handsome little sum, with a beginning, middle and an end as in the well-built phrase and the long sonata of the dead. And truly it little matters what I say, this of that or any other thing. Saying is inventing. Wrong, very rightly wrong. You invent nothing, you think you are escaping, and all you do is stammer out of your lesson, the remnants of a pensum one day got by heart and forgotten, life without tears, as it is wept." (27).

What is hard to penetrate of what makes merry with the senses is a concept that is now hard to penetrate, but perhaps only because it is so wispy. Because what makes merry with the senses is language itself. But that is only because everything is language and language is everything. Not the prison-house of language, but--well, I don't know. Language speaks, catches hold a fragment of Being, a fragment of a wispy being catches on a fragment of a language and is spoken--here embraced as a fetish in the non-sequitor word. The the arbitrary word (where the World itself is a word and made of words and the World is always already a Language), makes for not a thing you could have yourself invented as your self, but a very silly Lesson. So, it is in speaking that you let language speak you. But, not as some high modernist empty form, or platonist perfected eidos. Waves and particles need something to move through or reflect off of. This all must move through sense--and this is the erotics of its upspringing.

I'm not sure that makes any sense to me, and I need to think through better the actual logic of all of this. Consider that an initial waxing poetical in the most profane senses of the term.


Eileen Joy said...

For now, let me just say, "yowsa!" It was sheer joy to read this, and I have a new favorite word: upspring. I also see this as an important contribution to all these human/humanist conversations we keep having. Delightful. But seriously . . . .

anna klosowska said...

you are unbelievable, Dan. lucky does not begin to describe how I am to be even in a conversation with you--to say nothing of co-writing a text. With our names on it...Nicola and Eileen have now for a few years been reasons why I am glad I am who I am.
OK you guys, I don't want to sound like Mrs Maximilien Robespierre or something, but... back in the old country we had all these forms of group therapy we engaged in, like we always carried backpacks so that they could not pick out who had a heap of flyers in theirs--and we figured, if we ever even gave it thought, which I truly don't think anyone did, maybe 10 years later we may see some subtle change, a little thaw-- have as much fun in the meantime as we could--and then all of a sudden-- it was over. Pouf! Imagine our surprise. I feel, I am not kidding, the same surprise now although in a different part of the body (heart and soul, not my body politic). All this Hegelian strain to balance against what (no longer) exists is freed for work and be me. Thanks Eileen for making Babel--thanks Dan and Nicola and everyone for being you here now.

Anonymous said...

Perceval, Beckett, Heidegger; language, humannesses, feelings

Fascinating. You've doubtless read The Zollikon Seminar? Also, you should look at Maria Lugones, "Playfulness, World-travelling, and Loving Perception," Hypatia 2.2 (1987).