vertigo 2

The more I ponder it, the more I consider Veronique Nahoum-Grappe’s essay on dizziness one of the great essays – like Caillois’ essay on the praying mantis, or Ginzberrg’s on Making It Strange. It is bizarre that this 1993 essay hasn’t been translated into English. Perhaps I ought to ring up October Magazine and tell them that I’ll do it for them.

I’ve already advanced through the first section of the essay. It is remarkable that Nahoum-Grappe’s coordinates, in this and the essays that group around it – her essay on beauty, her essays on nteoxication – are so close to those in Aristotle’s Poetics, where, as I remarked, we have a fourfold space, with the vertical axis being the high and the low, and the horizontal axis described by the ugly and the beautiful.

These poles are both preserved and violated in laughter – that is, as it relates to the absolute comic. For Nahoum-Grappe, the relationship between high and low, in terms of dizziness, is the relationship between the highest moment of suspense and the plunge. The moment of suspense traverses a number of behaviors – just think, for instance, of sexual arousal. Why should it be the case that being aroused – being hard, being wet – is so often accompanied by a distinct light feeling in the stomach? Is so often enfolded in drinking? Is so often merely the breadth of a slip away from dizziness, a disorder in the thoughts – a disorder that is classically present in 18th century novels, where women, under the influence of seduction, are always described, or describe themselves, as thinking in a confused fashion. Order, here, the moral order, certainly preserves the Aristotelian grid that separates the high from the low. There is, I’d suggest, a certain coordination between the plunge that is the parameter of suspense and a certain movement between ugliness and beauty.

Nahoum-Grappe’s method is to take the phrases that are ordinarily overlooked from diverse … routines, and see that they have a functional seriousness:

“It is rare that a French attempted suicide explains himself like this: I am a more than50 year old male, a transient agricultural worker and excessive consumer of alcohol” – which we may extract from the too happy appropriations of statistical data. Insteaad, there will be phrases like – “everything seemed pointless,” “everything was going wrong”, “nothing worked”, “why live?” which risk being heard prior to the silence preceding the fatal act: phrases which have in common the vertiginous closure of time (never again, always) and space (the world is just a but of shit”). The addicted toxicomaniac who tries to give an account of his ‘relapse’, the excessive drinker who closes his eyes and accelerates his speed taking a hairpin curve in the night. Or even the lover shutting the door in an access of chagrin, ordinary heroes in the field of social suffering, will thus have recourse to these vertiginious closures. ..

This ‘nothing more is possible’ consists, on the plane of an invisible topic, to put oneself above an emptiness: a functional sociology will tend to evacuate that manner of seeing as a subjective point of view of the social actor, whereas the poet will make it a song and the psychologist will dig out its implications. But here, that attitude of ‘suspended above everything is taken as an objective segment of signification, as an effective intellectual posture, as a kind of belief making an effect on behaviors. It is rendered possible by a corporal competence: that of the vertiginous perception.”

Here, then, we come back to mimetism – vide the discussion regarding Baudelaire’s irony – not by way of Aristotelian mimesis, but by way of Caillois’ praying mantis.