Thursday, January 25, 2007

Notes on a talk given by Michael Clune, a scholar of twentieth-century American fiction, who visited Cornell on Tuesday. My comments are bracketed off from the text that constitutes reportage:

"Cutting Knots in Postwar American Fiction."

Regimes of recognition in postmodern theory: Levinas' Other, Lacan's mirror, Foucault's panopticon. The look of recognition binds the human world together. What happens when the knot of recognition is art? Sylvia Plath's novel, The Bell Jar, gives us a protagonist, Esther, unable to recognize herself in a mirror, seeing innstead unrecognizable social others (a Chinese woman, an Indian). Charles Taylor calls recognition a vital human need. Scene after Esther's sucide attempt in which she breaks a mirror, the break becoming "the jagged smile of a new kind of subject not defined by recognition." This break results in her commitment [in more senses than one!] to a mental hospital in which the cure is equated with the subject's return to the regime of recognition.

Yearning of Plath and her speakers for communication unbounded by recognition: "The freedom of her speakers endows them with expanded powers of communication with the community." "To enter into intersubjectivity is to enter the split within oneself." Plath seeks "a utopian alternative to the split subject... a new kind of consciousness beyond crisis." "From the inside this new subject feels like a god," but from the outside such subjectivity registers as insanity.

[Clune doesn't mention Deleuze/Guattari, but I keep thinking of Anti-Oedipus when he cites R.D. Laing and the anti-psychiatric movement, and more generally the Deleuzean fantasy of the schizophrenic body without organs.]

"A mode of access to collective value that does not pass through recognition." William Gaddis' JR offers a depiction of the market as such a mode: "it looks like a five-hundred page novel written entirely in unattributed dialogue." "In JR's marekt world, no clear line separates any voice from any other." JR, an 11-year-old boy who becomes a millionaire by buying and selling useless items like picnic forks, is an example of what the non-recognition based subject is capable of. Unlike entrepreneurial personalities such as Donald Trump, his success is based not on personality or branding but on his ability to recognize opportunities that others miss by being entirely oriented to [exchange-value]: "He is oriented toward the priced environment."

Classical economics holds that desire is formulated independent of price, but in JR the opposite is the case. Price shapes JR's experience as the fiction of up-down shapes the experience of an astronaut in a zero-gravity environment. This is what Clune calls "the fiction of exchange."

"Shaped by price, JR's is a collective subjectivity." "The market looks like a mode of creating desire, a subject of desire." "The price system is partly constitutive of JR's intentional acts." "The price system is an interface between an embodied individual and a global collective." Bodies have no special status in JR's world, which exists entirely in dialogue (much of which takes place on the telephone, through which a comedy of misrecognition is threaded) [and seems to anticipate the disembodied subjectivity of the Internet, or even more specifically, of eBay]. "The book produces a phantasmatic image of the agency of the price system—the voice of the market itself—the fiction of a voice without an addressee."

Hannah Arendt's Heideggerian desire for artworks to constitute the space that organizes the social world, as a table separates and connects the people who sit around it, since "intersubjectivity is constructed out of non-human objects... The things' self-identity grounds our self-identities." "The aura of the millions of gazes directed at non-human objects" organize the "between-world" that separates and relates people. Artworks are privileged as preservative of the threatened between-space. [Seems to restore Benjamin's notion of aura through the back door: artworks are no longer the products of religious ritual but the remnants of that ritual's capacity for organizing social space.]

The work of art as technology of recognition versus the "anti-recognition" aesthetic of Plath and Gaddis. "Aesthetic form interfaces with economic form." Non-recognized subjects must remain virtual [but this does not deprive them, apparently, of agency]. Heidegger's Dasein may be a name for this: neither a subject nor an object but an organization of social norms. [In Gaddis' novel, "price" replaces "norms" as constitutive of being-there.]

Clune's book project also considers the work of Kathy Acker (characterized by "intense negativity toward the social as such") and rappers [I infer that rappers practice a philosophy of "I bling therefore I am" to attack a regime of recognition that denies them personhood. Ellison's Invisible Man rapping about our inability to see him].

[Interesting implications for my own project. Although JR's seems an entirely dystopian subjectivity, the fiction of exchange constitutes a space of imaginative resistance to regimes of recognition that stratify social space, always to someone's disadvantage. (And of course it's an old argument that the (bourgeois) free market is radically egalitarian in its corrosion of (aristocratic) social norms—and how much of the new, albeit precarious status of groups like Hispanics and gays has to do with their emergence as markets?) But in any case the yearning for an anti-recognitive subjectivity seems like a powerful concept. I could characterize an Arcadian space as one in which the regime of human recognition is eroded and priority given to the human being's ability to recognize nature and to be recognized as a particpant in a natural landscape. The more radical possibility is that Arcadia and Arcadian speech are not based on recognition but in some way organize a fantasy of collective value. In Benjamin's essay "On Language as Such and on the Language of Man," such a fantasy is organized around melancholia: a negation of recognition but only because real recognition (which he connects with speech) is deferred: "There is a language of sculpture, of painting, of poetry. Just as the language of poetry is partly, if not solely, founded on the name language of man, it is very conceivable that the language of sculpture or painting is founded on certain kinds of thing-languages, that in them we find a translation of the language of things into an infinitely higher language, which may still be of the same sphere. We are concerned here with nameless, nonacoustic languages, languages issuing from matter; here we should recall the material community of things in their communication" (Selected Writings Vol. 1 73). A material community that operates free of recognition, in large part perhaps because recognition is unavailable to non-human objects.

Is recognition always the telos of the attack on any given regime of recognition? Must territorialization always follow deterritorialization?

Pastoral becomes a means of thinking this kind of fictionality: the space that operates at a critical distance from a social world organized around the exclusion of nature.]

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