Monday, June 28, 2010

From a Notebook (July 2009)

Thought versus the senses. Religion reconciled them, or rather put the senses in service to a prescribed thought. Philosophy versus aesthetics and poetry. Philosophers are perpetually on guard against the seductions of poetry, against metaphor, against taking the world of the senses for the only ground, which obscures truth. Poets are not so guarded but trespass exuberantly, willing to turn any turn of thought or discourse--any language, even and especially philosophical language --into a trope. to aim at truth must poetry then be tropeless--that is, not poetry? It must obey its own law. Yet I'm tantalized by the possibility of a tropeless imagination. Badiou calls it mathematics.

Digression on a (male) fantasy of writing: Betty Blue. In which the animalistic young hero Zorg drives a big machine and has wildly sublime sex with a beautiful young woman while filling an endless series of black notebooks with--what? The muse Betty finds them, types them up, finds a book in them--a novel. And all Zorg has to do to enjoy his success thereafter is smother poor mad one-eyed Betty with a pillow.

The dream there is that writing shall be indistinguishable from life, a life lived abandoned from responsibility to anything but the moment, the sensation. Erotics of the pen, its motion. The labor, the editorial intervention, is given over to a female other, and it drives her mad.

Energy and melancholy. Energy of melancholy. Melancholy as economy: the four humors are systems, an apparatus, for the management of human energy. Melancholy concentrates--the sanguine transmits--the phlegmatic stores up--the choleric broadcasts and scatters. Lisa Robertson: "the little drama of sensitive /expenditure."

Put the question differently. Can poetry be laicized? The fundamental religious impulse is to turn life into allegory: reality is displaced in the name of the divine, the ineffable, the unperceived. Poetry can try and return our attention to matter--to things--yet these things take up numinosity simply by being indicated, as a boat takes on water. But why should poetry be different from other structures of thought and feeling? All the modern languages claim to discover the operations of the not-directly-perceivable. Marx: capital. Freud: the unconscious. Darwin and evolutionary biology: the selfish gene. Badiou suggests that poetry creates a space for choice between and among imperceivables--that is, it creates subjects--through subtraction (Beckett) or multiplication (Pessoa). It's the angle of engagement that matters.

Not then a poetry (or a fiction) that excludes mimesis but which tests it through estrangement (ostranenie), through deliberately "unnatural" (what follows) arrangement, narrative, syntax. Syntax is where the action is--in existential terms, it's where decision happens. The syntax of the novel is called plot. The novel tests representation without abandoning it, though less rigorously perhaps than an Oulipian constraint or procedure would. Ideally I produce something--call it "decisionality"--for the reader without subtracting every readerly pleasure.

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