Wednesday, June 11, 2008
a cunicular affair
Hannah Hoech - Denkmal 1
I am the passenger...
And now, the act you have all been waiting for, ladies and gentlemen, I give you... Victor Turner!
(A friend of LI’s once described going to a whorehouse in Nueva Laredo when he was a teen and watching a magic act, which consisted of an indifferent magician piercing himself and his assistant with a big needle, then making objects disappear, while the M.C. kept up a deadly chorus of applauso, applauso, applauso in an effort to rouse up the drunk Texas fratboys sitting at the tables, mulling over their choices of fuck. Sometimes, that image comes over LI as we think of this blog.)
I want to pull out a few of Turner’s concepts to make clearer what I mean by the adventurous turn.
In some famous papers in the sixties and seventies, Turner (who worked with his wife, Edith) constructed an elaborate anthropological theory around Arnold van Gennep’s notion of rites de passage. This is from the paper, Dramas, Fields and Metaphors:
“He [Arnold van Gennep] showed us that all rites de passages (rites of transition) are marked by three phases: separation, limen or margin, and aggregation. The first phase comprises symbolic behavior signifying the detachment of the individual or group, either from an earlier fixed point in the social structure or from a relatively stable set of cultural conditions (a cultural “state”); during the intervening liminal phase, the state of the ritual subject ( the “passenger” or “liminar”) becomes ambiguous, he passes through a dimension that has few or none of the attributes of the past or coming state, he is betwixt and between all familiar lines of classification; in the third phase the passage is consummated, and the subject returns to classified secular or mundane social life. The ritual subject, individual or corporate (groups, age-sets, and social categories can also undergo transition), is again in a stable state, has rights and obligations of a clearly defined structural type.” – Victor and Edith Turner.
The passenger is an adventurer. As I’ve pointed out, there are various ways of sitting still. Newton’s is one way – it is a stillness filled with waiting. Some of the libertine writers sat in another way – they were attached to various of the great houses. And then there was the circle that formed around Theophile de Viau, and, in the 1650s – after his death – still kept the memory of the esprit fort alive. Among those esprits forts were Theophile’s lovers, Chapelle and des Barreaux – who were friends of Moliere. Cyrano de Bergerac was also part of this group. The figure of Don Juan was extracted by Moliere from this group. He, too, is a passenger, but his form of sitting still was to engage in an eternally obsessive hunt that took him over the same trajectory again and again. He moved, but his movement returns him to the beginning. This is the significance of continually being on the threshhold of marriage - not simply looking for the next fuck. Don Juan is a marrying man, as Sganarelle says, who wants to marry the whole world - except that he never wants to go through the entire ceremony. He wants to eternally return from the point at which he is pledged to marry to the point at which he hunts for another woman to marry. This space, in terms of age, is youth. It is youth as the artificial paradise. As Kierkegaard points out, his desire is infinite, but it is an infinity of made up of repetitions of the same trajectory.
The adventure, that space ‘betwixt and between all familiar lines of classification’, became the modality through which hierarchized social structures could be experienced – moved through. The libertine ethos and adventure have an elective affinity one with the other. Remember that it is in two things that the libertine stands out: his absolute modernity, and, through that, his perception of nature. By being modern, one understands nature beyond any schema that involves the marvelous. What one understands is that nature is the collective effect of constant motion. One’s own nature is, in this schema, definitely part of the whole. It is here that passion plays a signal role, for passion arises as a form of pure motion within the self. It comes from the bottom up, so to speak. The adventurer as a passenger not only passes through landscapes and social strata, but he passes through passions. The libertine notion of character is subtly different than the classical notion insofar as the classical notion searches for an organic principle – self love – which gives rise to various molds of character, whereas the libertine conceives of character as something hardening at the extreme of the self. The libertine character is hectic – it retains the mark of the inconsistency and contradictions of the struggle of passions one with the other.
There is another aspect of the adventurer that can be brought out in Turner’s terms. Turner wrote that it might be more accurate to think of the limen – the middle period – in terms of the tunnel – the cunicula. We’ve been trying to connect the world of reading – the rise of the third life – to adventure, using Don Quixote as the connecting and symbolic figure. The tunnel is a very precise symbol of the reading experience. To read does create a tunnel – a cunicular space – between the page and the reader. The reader is in two places in that tunnel – at the one end, as the physical agent doing the reading, but – in his or her imagination – in the middle. Don Quixote issued out of that tunnel at the beginning of the period in which he would normally be settling into the habits of old age.