If there is any indication that the concept of surrealism has lost its world-historical significance, it is in the habitual application of this term to any fantastic intermingling of the mystic, representation, and the narrative of disaffected everydayness. No surrealist—nor for that matter a true Camusesque existentialist—could weep at the absurdity of ‘a wild sheep chase’. The existentialist, rather, would laugh, which is precisely what never occurs, what is excluded, from this kind of pursuit—the pursuit of nothing other than the weakness of one’s own spirit that remains opaque even as one struggles desperately never to surrender finitude for world-historical meaning. Time, rather, “is surely passing” for yet another—one wonders why we need more—alienated soul who can neither lose himself in everydayness—in a world of universal anonymity—nor transcend this everydayness through the standard retreat (“spirit quest”) into the inwardness of heaven (“the wind’s private thoroughfare”). All that is left is the trace of a melancholy catharsis that would be nostalgic were it not for the fact it has no object when one’s culture itself has been interrupted by war.
In the final volume of the Poetics of Social Forms, Jameson has again (as if we were not convinced previously) demonstrated that there is apparently nothing he has not read and, more importantly, nothing he could not fail to illumine. AF is more than the application of the critical functions previously developed to a particular genre, as certain reviewers (friendly as they may be) would have us believe. AF is itself a certain poetics, just as the genre it treats constitutes a certain poetics.
In speaking of Friedman, I take one key insight from AF (while doing some neglect to the critical method developed therein): that utopianism is not the goal of SF (science fiction) narrative but is a function of it. Is this not precisely what is revealed at the end of Friedman’s Coldfire triology? In the human encounter with the fae–with the unconscious power of life, of production, of immanence–Friedman posits the encounter with nihilism and presents a startling alternative to Zarathustra in Tarrant: the redeemed Messiah, the tragic Christ who brings God to man but in so doing debars himself from ever seeing His face. When the patriarch of the Church unites humanity under the sign of the Go(o)d–thus foreclosing the possibility of magic–he does so precisely by giving birth to the modern man–the divided psyche (Freud), the sovereign separated from nature (Comte or any number of others), the Ulysses bound to the mast (Adorno): Erna becomes the Earth from which the colonists had left.
And here the narrative ends. Utopia is signified by the absence of any détente or dénouement but in the smile “at the dawn of a new world”.
This new world is not a project (Heidegger) or a program (Saint-Simon, Fourier, etc). Friedman indicates nothing other than possibility itself–but a possibility marked by the burden of guilt (sacrifice), responsibility (the withdrawal of God), and freedom.
After trying to come to terms with Ellis’ oeuvre, I’ve finally decided that it’s too moralistic, despite flashes of brilliance. If Ellis had chosen a style more suited to the expose, his prose might have not pressed too far across the boundary into pornography. What is so frustrating about him is not the point he is trying to get across but that his style is not adequate to the task at hand—he needs, in short, to read his Adorno. Note, then, I am not at odds with the object of Ellis’ moralism—just his moralism. One cannot, after the avant-garde, shock anymore, but unfortunately this seems not to be Ellis’ point.
1. I had wanted to write a piece along the lines of ‘the author is always a fiction’. I realized today that it’s rather unnecessary—it’s something we should know anyway from reading Homer, Lao Tzu, or any number of other fictitious authors.
2. If there is a salient difference between Danielewski and Nabakov, it is simply that Danielewski makes Nabakov speak to Nietzsche—and the result is terrifying. I once said that Danielewski “borrowed” Nabakov; I think this was the right word to use—the two are colla voce.
3. Kinbote thinks he can write himself into existence by inserting himself into a work of art a la commentator/interpreter. Do we not all think the same thing? (Actually, Danielewski’s editor is much more amateur and, therefore, much more apropos.)
4. The pale fire is, really, memory itself. We exist only in/as memory. There is nothing moral or even beautiful about it—these categories simply do not apply.
There is a political message in Inferno XXIV: “Now you must cast aside your laziness / … / … for he who rests on down / or under covers cannot come to fame; / and he who spends his life without renown / leaves such a vestige of himself on earth / as smoke bequeaths to air or foam to water”. But this “renown”, as Hegel showed us, is only the reciprocal recognition of one’s love in the world. One loves the world by becoming its mirror (I wonder if the converse is true). That the intrepid wanderer refers himself to the Christ is well-known; this is why Dante’s Christianity prefigured Hegel by 500 years.
Dante’s “io sol uno” becomes, in Montaigne, “je le recite [l’homme]”. Montaigne describes a man and not, as Rousseau, of man. Thus the innocent naïveté of Montaigne vis-à-vis the totalitarian naivete of Rousseau. “If the world finds fault with me for speaking too much of myself,” Montaigne says, “I find fault with the world for not even thinking of itself!” What could be farther from the modernity that has come to us in the guise of bourgeois liberal democracy? Mimesis is mandatory because we are never ‘outside’ the world. Auerbach was on to something here; so too was Nietzsche who asked whether he could show us this world—this “zoological monstrosity” as Jameson says—in his mirror. But as we know, it was Nietzsche’s own shadow that drove him to madness. … And perhaps that is the fate of any truly ethical engagement with the world.
A friend of mine likes to say she is “broken”, as if this were an insight. We “pull ourselves together” every morning. We do it better or worse, but we must do it constantly. There are times we “lose ourselves”, but is not psychic activity nothing else than the assemblage of an identity in fragments? There is, as Bergson points out, only memory.