“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Friday, February 16, 2007

sage and buffoon




I’ve been lining up sages, as you might have noticed. This is because I have a hunch that the sage and the buffoon share a destiny. I’m interested in the sage since I am at an age - middle age - a lying description because tomorrow, surely, or the next day, biking along, my backbone will be suddenly crushed in a blinding moment by a speeding truck driven by a hit and run drunk, I will see blackness, and then go down to the house of shades – when the sage should become important to me. And yet, to aspire to be a sage is such an obsolete and pathetic wish, the placeholder of that figure is so null and void in this culture, so completely disregarded, so much a joke moniker for some greyhaired keeper of baseball statistics or some fat brownnosing pundit oozing conventional wisdom and cancer, that it can only be a punch line ambition. (Well, so much for this culture, to which I give my middle finger). To my mind, the absence of the sage is not some natural event, but is all about that path through politics and history which the sage and the buffoon shared.

And having this obsession, I am naturally draw to Rameau’s nephew. For there the sage – moi – and the buffoon – lui – truly did meet. There are some odd and sinister things in that dialogue.

But this post will be about the backstory, the strange history of this text. While Diderot seems to have started it in the early 1760s, and polished it intermittently up until the mid 1770s, there is no mention of this text in the correspondence. That isn’t like Mr. D. The first we hear about it is after Diderot’s death. Schiller has a copy of the ms., which he gives to Goethe to translate. Goethe translates the ms., and then carelessly tosses it away. How did Schiller get it? Rumor has it that it was given to him by a German officer who came into possession of it in St. Petersburgh. Meanwhile, there is no published French version. Finally one comes out, published by a press run by “Le Vicomte de Saur” and “Le Compte de Saint-Geniès”, who seem to have been like Huckleberry Finn’s Duke and Dauphin. Their version, which they claimed came from an original manuscript, obviously was translated from Goethe. A rival publisher, one Brière, decides to publish a real version, so he applies to Diderot’s daughter, who gives him a manuscript. He publishes it, and in the process loses the ms. There is a flurry of charges and countercharges between the two publishers, but in the end, it looks like we will have to settle for the Brière version – when one Georges Monval, apparently looking for spicy books, comes upon it in the box of a bookseller in 1891. Always remember that, for most people, Diderot is still the author of one of the great fuckbooks, Les Bijoux Indiscrets, about a magic ring that could make a woman’s pussy talk. Anyway, this is the official Rameau we now all read.

In that transit, Rameau had come to the attention of Hegel. Hegel does a good job of pissing around the work in the Phenomenology. As we know, Hegel was a world champion pisser – he marked, with his gargantuan pizzle, all of world history, for instance. We have all dutifully followed him into the pissoir of the system, but we will never quite manipulate an instrument like the Man’s – and nobody else will, either.

We’ll start with Hegel when, in another post, we return to this subject.

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