Saturday, July 13, 2013

Humanity's "Absolute" Gains

Slavoj Zizek, in a presentation to Deutsche House at NYU, spoke as a materialist on the subject of history and the role of German Idealism in contributing to human gain. He introduced the subject by stating that humanities "absolute gain" from the Peloponnesian War was Thucydides history, and not the death and devastation that the war produced. He went on to state that humanity's "absolute" gain from the Elizabethan era was the works of Shakespeare, ersatz, "books." And so the world of "thought" and the books that store them are the absolute products of historical epochs, the works of Alfred Hitchcock the "absolute" products of the American Einsenhowerian epoch. And so the real question becomes, what "absolute" and immortal works will our current Age likely will humanity? Hopefully, it will be a bit more than entertaining popular spectacles.

36 comments:

nicrap said...

These two essays might give you a perspective [and no more] on the subject:

1.

2.

:)

nicrap said...
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nicrap said...
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nicrap said...

Let me quote from the first essay a bit, so that 1) you can see that they are relevant to the matter in hand, i.e., which [or of what kind] 'books' will survive and why?; and 2) that you are tempted to read them in full [that is, unless you have already read them.] :)

On the face of it no material could be less promising. When TROPIC OF CANCER was published the Italians were marching into Abyssinia and Hitler's concentration camp were already bulging. The intellectual foci oof the world were Rome, Moscow, and Berlin. It did not seem to be a moment at which a novel of outstanding value was likely to be written about American dead-beats cadging drinks in the Latin quarter. Of course a novelist is not obliged to write directly about contemporary history, but a novelist who simply disregards the major public events of the moment is generally either a footler or a plain idiot. From a mere account of the subject-matter of TROPIC OF CANCER most people would probably assume it to be no more than a bit of naughty-naughty left over from the twenties. Actually, nearly everyone who read it saw at once that it was nothing of the kind, but a very remarkable book. How or why remarkable?...

Thersites said...

...but I think that you again hit upon the "nail on the head" of my objection to the premise of a "death" of the author. For I don't want to read a book in which I can find the "reality" of the every day. I don't want to experience a "virtual reality" of it, either. I want to catch a glimpse of a new possibility that radically departs from the current real and read about people who are not "ordinary/ common", but who are extraordinary in their unique character and values.

Because the result of this desire to capture the ordinary "real" of India (as in the 2nd essay) and "universalize" it by Western authors will ever be a failure... for I am sure that no Western author is capable of producing a work that reaches inside the Eastern identity. For the Western author has been steeped in Western values, and cannot fathom that "his" values are NOT "universal" at all. The Western authors attempts will ALWAYS be a outright sham filled with stereotypical situations, encounters, and results as perceived from a Western perspective.... yet praised by the West as an accurate depiction.

If I read a book about India, let it be from an Indian perspective. Let it be strange and uncommon. Let it reflect a different world view, one that is not universal. Let me read the book and conclude, "This book must have been written by an Indian."

Thersites said...

I'm not saying that the East and West don't "share" a subset of "common" values with the rest of "humanity". But let's face it, different First principles result in different outcomes. Why settle for a "perversion" of the story, of an Indian through European eyes? Why not write a story of India through Indian eyes?

I need to complete my read of the two examples you left in their entirety... perhaps I missed your intent in posting them. As it is, I only read 1/3 of each.

nicrap said...

No, no, your assessment is quite correct, though my reason for posting them was to offer a "perpective" [or two; moreover, not my own but others', might i point out?] to the question you had raised here: what "absolute" and immortal works will our current Age likely give humanity?

Of course, the essays i have "cited" don't deal with "our current age", but they do provide a set of indicators which it may be worthwhile to study. :)

Thersites said...

As humans, our "values" will always show through in the production of a piece of writing. Every culture has it's "fetishes" which shine through and reflect in the finished work. The concept of a disappearing author seems but a proxy for the universal humanist fetishist's disavowel... "I know that there is an author, but...."

There will always be a "gap" between the writer and reader. But without this gap, nothing new/novel could ever slip in. ;)

nicrap said...

As to the deat of the author, let me take a different approach. Perhaps it will make the things a little bit clearer. Ask yourself the question: What is the function of the signifier "author" [which is very different from the author author, who makes its appearance only during the "act" of writing ... and has no existence either before or after.] It is the death of this signifier "author" that Barthes professes and not of the author author, much as Nietzsche professes the death of the signifier "God". Of course, many have misunderstood it to mean the death of the author itself, just as many have misunderstood Nietzsche to mean that God itself has died [For God to be dead, he must have a beginning - do we know that He does?] They even try to deliberately efface themselves and to produce the kind of writing ashamed of itself, of its "roots", that you seem to rue. It is but a passing fad, believe me, and a case of "a great idea ... dragged into the street, as Dostoevsky puts it. It will soon pass. :)

nicrap said...
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nicrap said...
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nicrap said...

Above: They even try to deliberately efface themselves and to produce the kind of writing ashamed of itself, of its "roots"...

A better description would be: A writing that aims at the constant "subverion" of the very process of writing ... at every level. Beckett is a very good example of it.

Now i leave you to your read. Sorry. :)

nicrap said...

A quick last comment [my apologies again]: As to the question you asked here [and i am paraphrasing you]: In this age of spectacle, is there anything that might "survive"? I think that both Orwell's and Rushdie's essays give a certain "perspective" on it, whether we agree with them or not is another matter - but they are worth a read, i assure you. :)

Thersites said...

Okay, I'm getting a clearer conception of what you mean. Like "Josephine the Singer and the Mouse Folk"... is she singing, or just "piping" like the rest of us?

The "art" is not separate and distinguishable from life, but p-art of it?

Thersites said...

The "artist's act" I mean.

nicrap said...

Let's say he is the act itself. Whereas the signifier "author" which exists independently of it, and over and above it, it is his death that Barthes proclaims. The best approach to its understanding, as i said, would be to ask yourself: what is its function?

nicrap said...

Another very good approach to its understanding is through the "problem" of Oeuvre [as Foucault outlines it]. I would suggest that you look it up sometime at your own leisure. :)

Btw, tell me, have you read Beckett's Murphy?

Thersites said...

Do you think it would be relevant to this conversation? I can certainly read it, if you do. :)

nicrap said...

No no, just like that. I guess i was thinking of something, can't recall what now, and posed the question.

P.S. You will forgive me if i came across a little bit "professorial" in our conversation above, you know i woud never presume to be such with anyone let alone you. Sometimes when i want to say, "may i suggest", i end up saying, "i would suggest." Blame my command of the language. :)

nicrap said...
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nicrap said...

Btw, the entire discussion around Raj and its revival in literature, televsion and films during the period under discussion [in Rushdie's essay], and much else beside [in both of them], were incidental to my purpose in posting the two links. The actual arguments [and counter-arguments] that i wanted to bring to your notice [in the light of your blogpost above] do not appear until late in each essay - why i would like you to read them in their entirety. Also, if on reading them, you could tell me to which side you lean more, i would be most appreciative. :)

Thersites said...

Sorry it took me so long to get back to this.

I very much enjoyed the two essays, and in many ways agree with both perspectives offered, although suspect that the Zizekian/ Lacanian in me sides a but more with the more pessimistic Orwellian, as opposed to Rushdian, perspective.

I think that Mr. Rushdie failed to address Mr. Orwell's larger point, vis a vis the death of laissez faire capitalism and consequent "classical liberal" perspective. For one to "tend his garden" IS that Panglossian tendency. And we all know how far the British gardens have declined since the late Victorian Age.

I also lend towards a more "cynical" and Zizekian tendency to regard "opposition" as a tool that is co-opted by Power, and that can then be used to sustain it, ala Kung Fu Panda...

Thersites said...

In sum...

Someone who frequents the idiosyncratic theories of Zizek would understand that the notion of his ideological system relies on a difficult premise, that knowing something is not enough. His critiques are radicalised as they are not often left to rational choice, he believes that human beings must live more plastically to escape ideological confines. In this, he first narrates a bleak story regarding two holocaust children. While escaping from blood thirsty dogs let loose from the SS prison guards, one of the boys, the younger brother, falls over. The elder of the brothers runs back, and clasps his hands together with the younger, and they are slaughtered maliciously by the canines. However, the hands were not separated. Zizek describes that this image of the hands, are a frozen image that renders the eternal real, it overshadows the grotesque image of the dogs destroying what is left of the boy’s bodies, it is an image that exists over the reality of sound. He suggests that as this is an image of the real, it is also one that is of the virtual.

These are the ‘brutal events that awaken us to the reality of the stage’ – Zizek also describes how olden art resurfaces through contemporary art to remind ourselves of the aesthetic fiction, to ‘wake us up from the sweet dream.’ The virtual image, such as ones disseminated from television is what dehumanises us. Zizek uses the example of a dying African child in charity programmes. While we may think that we are helping the other, we are really helping ourselves. This is because we, as consumers, are only finding methods in life that eases our guilty for the suffering other. I agree with Zizek, as I believe that it is our selfish id, our inner desires that make us humane, and forces us to cultivate an intellect to proceed with life for the hopes of fulfilling those desires. As Zizek has used the example of a hen being slaughtered in front of him when he was younger; because of our humanity, we are unable to witness a brutal event without feeling apathetic.

Thersites said...

People are hungry for a mission, as Orwell stated. Tending one's "own" garden is hardly heroic, hardly commendable in most cases. But it is the death of this "universal enlightenment" vi sion that has opened the door for "communist" and other "fascist" ideologies to surmount "laissez faire" in favour of more nationalistic "merchantilist" interests. And as the Chinese have shown the world, capitalism can thrive very well absent "democracy" and liberal social institutions.

Thersites said...

As for the status of the author, I am unfamiliar with Aulden and the ideological writers mentioned, although I am a big fan of Eliot, Lewis, el al.

But perhaps that what Orwell was alluding to, is in fact what the next "School" of literature is more likely to arise in a totalitarian China, than a "liberal" India.

Regardless, the great liberal conversation of the past millenium will never be the same.

Thersites said...

btw - I think that Orwell stole his "room/ womb" in the belly of the whale from Wyndham Lewis' "Vorticists"... but regardless, it makes an excellent "Tale of a Tub". ;)

Thersites said...

The view inside the leviathan. ;)

Thersites said...

btw - Have you perhaps read or surveyed the book by Charles Murray, "Human Accomplishment"? The death of laissez faire "literature" is perhaps well documented there, as well... Murray's argument is that without "liberty", the totalitarian model is unsustainable. Although I suspect that in reality, that the only thing "unsustainable" in it, is a liberal Western perspective "itself".

I suspect that the success of the Nazi and Chinese models, as well as the Soviet one, undermine Murray's premise a bit... but who knows if the Chinese could succeed in the absence of a "liberal" Western market for its' products? I suspect that there is a philosphical "generation from opposites" actuality at work, here.

nicrap said...

Sorry, FJ. I had something i wanted to say, but i seem to have lost the thread since then - even though i have been trying, on and off, throughtout the day. So can i please return some other time, perhaps, soon as it comes back into my head? :)

P.S. No, i am not familar with Murray's work. Though i looked it up just now in wiki, but couldn't glean much.

nicrap said...

I seem to be missing some key element in the overall argument, apart from what Mr Orwell and Mr. Rushdie had to contribute ... i don't know what it is but it is there. It will come, DV. :)

nicrap said...

P.S. That is the kind of thing Dee always vees, said Mr. Hackett. [Watt. Beckett.] ;)

-FJ said...

I think that what Mr. Rusdie "missed" was "liberal" ideology... and the "fetishist's disavowel" as it relates to a need to "believe" in the intellectual project. From the Orwell essay:

In 1930 the English Communist Party was a tiny, barely legal organization whose main activity was libelling the Labour Party. But by 1935 the face of Europe had changed, and left-wing politics changed with it. Hitler had risen to power and begun to rearm, the Russian five-year plans had succeeded, Russia had reappeared as a great military power. As Hitler's three targets of attack were, to all appearances, Great Britain, France, and the U.S.S.R., the three countries were forced into a sort of uneasy rapprochement. This meant that the English or French Communist was obliged to become a good patriot and imperialist — that is, to defend the very things he had been attacking for the past fifteen years. The Comintern slogans suddenly faded from red to pink. ‘World revolution’ and ‘Social-Fascism’ gave way to ‘Defence of democracy’ and ‘Stop Hitler’. The years 1935-9 were the period of anti-Fascism and the Popular Front, the heyday of the Left Book Club, when red Duchesses and ‘broadminded’ deans toured the battlefields of the Spanish war and Winston Churchill was the blue-eyed boy of the Daily Worker. Since then, of course, there has been yet another change of ‘line’. But what is important for my purpose is that it was during the ‘anti-Fascist’ phase that the younger English writers gravitated towards Communism.

The Fascism-democracy dogfight was no doubt an attraction in itself, but in any case their conversion was due at about that date. It was obvious that laissez-faire capitalism was finished and that there had got to be some kind of reconstruction; in the world of 1935 it was hardly possible to remain politically indifferent. But why did these young men turn towards anything so alien as Russian Communism? Why should writers be attracted by a form of socialism that makes mental honesty impossible? The explanation really lies in something that had already made itself felt before the slump and before Hitler: middle-class unemployment.

-FJ said...

(cont)

Unemployment is not merely a matter of not having a job. Most people can get a job of sorts, even at the worst of times. The trouble was that by about 1930 there was no activity, except perhaps scientific research, the arts, and left-wing politics, that a thinking person could believe in. The debunking of Western civilization had reached its Climax and ‘disillusionment’ was immensely widespread. Who now could take it for granted to go through life in the ordinary middle-class way, as a soldier, a clergyman, a stockbroker, an Indian Civil Servant, or what-not? And how many of the values by which our grandfathers lived could not be taken seriously? Patriotism, religion, the Empire, the family, the sanctity of marriage, the Old School Tie, birth, breeding, honour, discipline — anyone of ordinary education could turn the whole lot of them inside out in three minutes. But what do you achieve, after all, by getting rid of such primal things as patriotism and religion? You have not necessarily got rid of the need for something to believe in. There had been a sort of false dawn a few years earlier when numbers of young intellectuals, including several quite gifted writers (Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Hollis, and others), had fled into the Catholic Church. It is significant that these people went almost invariably to the Roman Church and not, for instance, to the C. of E., the Greek Church, or the Protestants sects. They went, that is, to the Church with a world-wide organization, the one with a rigid discipline, the one with power and prestige behind it. Perhaps it is even worth noticing that the only latter-day convert of really first-rate gifts, Eliot, has embraced not Romanism but Anglo-Catholicism, the ecclesiastical equivalent of Trotskyism. But I do not think one need look farther than this for the reason why the young writers of the thirties flocked into or towards the Communist Party. If was simply something to believe in. Here was a Church, an army, an orthodoxy, a discipline. Here was a Fatherland and — at any rate since 1935 or thereabouts — a Fuehrer. All the loyalties and superstitions that the intellect had seemingly banished could come rushing back under the thinnest of disguises. Patriotism, religion, empire, military glory — all in one word, Russia. Father, king, leader, hero, saviour — all in one word, Stalin. God — Stalin. The devil — Hitler. Heaven — Moscow. Hell — Berlin. All the gaps were filled up. So, after all, the ‘Communism’ of the Ebglish intellectual is something explicable enough. It is the patriotism of the deracinated.

-FJ said...

Laissez-faire as an ideology is NOT an "efficient" means for organizing a WAR effort... at least, it is not NEARLY as efficient as Facism, Socialism, or Communism.

And in Western Liberalism Laissez-faire has always played a central (non) organizational role. Toqueville's "Democracy in America" extolls the Starfish over the Spider, just as Jonathan Swift's "bee" was considered "superior" to the Library Spider ("Battle of the Books").

Thersites said...

In other words, Mr. Rushdie never left the belly of the whale.

-FJ said...

"who may tell the tale
of the old man?
weigh absence in a scale?
mete want with a span?
the sum assess
of the world's woes?
nothingness
in words enclose?"


- Samuel Beckett, "Watt" (1953)