Friday, May 16, 2008

doctors and devils

LI wrote the following post last night. This morning, I woke up and found that there had been several comments left on Amie's post, which make good reading.

So read that instead of this, which is a post pursuing the project of my first chapter - the reconstruction of the broken schemata of volupte.


I’ve been working up to translating Theophile’s visit to the possessed woman of Agen. And, as you will remember from my previous posts, I have tried to do an ungodly quick triangulation between Robert Boyle, writing almost half a century after Theophile, and Quevedo, writing at the same time, in order to bring out the complexities in ‘erudite’ culture concerning nature and spirits. To add to that catalogue, I went to Johann Baptist Ullersperger’s Geschichte der Psychologie und Psychiatrie in Spanien and found an impressive roll call of 17th century Spanish doctors and their concerns. This isn’t quite the list of animals from the Chinese encyclopedia of Borges, but it is illuminating. Psychology of course didn’t exist in the seventeenth century – and, frankly, it might not exist in the 21st, as neurology and superstitions about genes take over a discipline that has never been able to stabilize itself – but in the 17th century, doctors wrote about a range of subjects that could be considered mental. And what amazing stuff...

There’s Alonso de Freilas, doctor the Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo, whose work on the plague ends with a discourse on melancholics. “The result of his discourse leads him back to the doubt, “whether melancholics with the natural power of their genius, in displays of a deep and very stressful power of the imagination, or retreating into dark, lonely places, may free themselves from distraction by external actions, or sink into natural sleep, or quietly watch with their imaginations what it is hard for the soul to understand, or know the future? In order to cast light on this doubt, he divides divination into a false, vain and diabolical, and divine or natural.”

There’s Pedro Garcia Carrero, the probable author of Los hijos ilustros of Madrid, who is the son of Luis Garcia, King Philip’s doctor, wrote one of the textbooks of Galenic medicine of the time, in which some chapters handle melancholy, other incubuses or nightmares, others vertigo.

Juan Gutierrez de Godoy’s book on useful physic devotes two books to memory in which he reveals the point in the brain where memory is contained, explains why it is better in childhood, how it is better on an empty than a full stomach, how it gets disorganized, why happy memories rarely go with great talents, and the means to preserve the power of memory.

Don Francisco Leiva y Aguilar, who writes around 1634, gave a description of the melancholic that “deserves to be preserved”. “A melancholic, even when he is not fully characterized by this disease, how unsocial is his behavior? How unfriendly is he against everybody? when you look at him, he shrinks back, when you speak to him, he gives no answer – seek him, he hides, call him, he denies that it is himself, invite him in, he holds back, satisfaction makes him sad, he finds nourishment in care, loneliness supports him – society horrifies him, he begins to speak, then says nothing, if he was silent, then he would begin to speak – if he wants to go, he stays, if he goes on to stand still, he will go further, he has intercourse with shadows – in company he remains dumb, he loves darkness, flies the light, if you give him the means, he never takes it, his health is failing and he doesn’t seek it, he puts doubt into certainty, has fear before what is certain, the easiest appears to him the hardest, will divide what can’t be divided, will undertake the impossible, doesn’t eat, when he is hungry, doesn’t mark, when he eats, - he is thirsty and doesn’t drink, he counts the stars and weighs the sand along the seaside, he observes the atoms, he has pre-feelings about future events, brings the past into order, spends his cares on nothings, forgets his own, doesn’t remain with the ones about whom one speaks, isn’t bothered by what one is saying, he has and doesn’t enjoy, what he has, is lacking to him, life repulses him, he wishes for death, he knows no more constant friend of evil as not to die. So the melancholic behaves at the outset, our author writes, until he latter perhaps hangs himself from a rail, or throws himself in a well. “

Gaspar Bravo de Sobemonte Ramirez, 1610 to 1683, wrote a treatise in which he described Queen Isabella’s pregnancy and her epilepsy. In the first part of his Resolutiones medicae he described lycanthropia and its causes.

Thomas Murillo Velarde, first a ship doctor and then a doctor to King Philip IV, wrote a treatise in which the first chapter is dedicated to the question of whether a peasant who is seized with frenzy or melancholy can speak latin, understand philosophy, or make verses without having learned it previously. He also mentions that he once saw a Negro in Seville who had a demon who could speak out of the left side of his heart.

And, to add one more story from a different place – France – to complete the mosaic I’m creating, here.

In Maurice Souriau’s monograph on Pascal, he includes the following story, related by the daughter of one of the Pascal family’s intimate friends, his niece, Marguerite Perier:

Blaise was only a year old when he began to languish, to grow more and more enfeebled, a victim, or so claimed the neighbors, of a woman who was given alms by his mother, and who had cast a spell on him. The father had the suspected person brought before him, and by threats, he drew out an avowal of her crime. in order to revenge herself on Etienne Pascal [the father], who had refused to defend her in a trial, the witch had throw a mortal curse on the baby: it was thus necessary, to save him, to transfer the curse to a living being. M. Pascal offered a horse: the witch was contented with a cat. Then, with nine herbs collected before dawn by a seven year old child, she made a magical plaster: they put it on little Blaise’s stomach, who will be cured at midnight. The child seemed dead, everyone cried, astonished at the credulity of the grave magistrate who, confiding in the incantations of the witch, watches over his son, who he alone believes is sleeping. A little after midnight, life seems to reappear, then Blaise awakens. All the signs of his illness gradually disappear. Later the father repents of having dabbled in all this diablerie, a new proof that he still believed in it.” [17]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The phantoms of ideology

You can skip this boring part ...

LI has not been able to keep up with Chabert in her multi-entry assault on Derrida. As in a proper duel, this one has been about honor – Chabert defending Marx from Derrida’s “cynicism” and misprision – or outright fraud - and LI lagging behind, defending the honor of Derrida. But that’s a harder task to do for a writer who was born into the decline of the honor culture than to do for a writer who was conversant enough, in his student days, with dueling clubs. So I have defended, instead, a Derridian approach to Marx – which is to see Marx’s texts not in terms of doctrines that become lessons to repeat, but as historically situated, and full of conceptual choices that pull against each other. Some are derived from ripostes and occasions and gradually entombed in the massive work - this is true, I believe, of Marx's materialism. Or, just the reverse, promising tendencies from the romantic years are not fully developed - Marx's idea of alienation, for instance, which never seems to be socially embedded to account for alienation across the classes. In any case, Derrida’s Specters of Marx is about entering the texts by a back way – for instance, by way of a persistent metaphoric – and which is fully connected to the history it made, which is, it should be needless to say, a preeminently European history. We are of course speaking of a writer who self consciously represented the framework for the European alternative in German history – as the cliché has it, Zivilisation vs. Kultur. The non-European tendency in German history – that urge to become the Volk der Mitte, which Thomas Mann writes about in The Reflections of a Non-Political Man – project a system of rejections that led to a bad end. One of the Chabertian themes that has been helpful to me in the past is her sense of how composite, how full of input from the outside, is Europe, and how full of forgetting the Eurocentric position has to be. I’ve been rather surprised that she has skipped this theme in Marx, for it is, after all, one of the major themes in the Specters – those ghosts from the “superstitious” past that must be chased away in the name of science. Among other things, the German Ideology is about the border of that so called European form of thinking.

Well, the duel has been conducted with some fierceness on both sides. And it has spread, I’m pleased to say. Tables have been kicked over, bystanders sprayed with breaking glass. Or at least there has been some responses, here and there. I particularly note Praxis, who has had a number of posts about Marx and Derrida.

And start reading here:

And now our frequent commentor, Amie, has written an incredible piece on Marx and is allowing us to post it. Hooray!

She hasn’t given it a title. I’m tempted to chose one from the Three Musketeers - for instance, LES MOUSQUETAIRES DU ROI ET LES GARDES DE M. LE
CARDINAL. But instead, I’ll call it The Phantoms of Ideology

CLOV (regard fixe, voix blanche). –
Fini, c'est fini, ça va finir, ça va peut-étre finir.(un temps.)

- Samuel Beckett, Fin de partie, 1957.

I'm very late in entering the lists for the "duel" with the Colonel. If I haven't before, it's not that I'm afraid that I would risk losing my head in the duel, though that is highly likely. It has more to do with the fact that the set-up is more akin to lining up ducks in a tub and shooting at them from close range with an elephant gun. Where is the gallantry in that! The "production values" are not exactly water-tight. The tub has holes in it, the water leaks everywhere, the ammo gets all wet, and the ducks continue to speak in tongues. Or in French, which is the same thing after all.

But why quibble when the pay-off is that Derrida is a shorter Charles de Gaulle and an apologist for the Nazis, which is quite the dénouement.

Alas, the staging is such that it ends up shooting the hero of the drama in the chest. Poor Marx, his texts once again reduced to a doctrine, and him reduced to the role of an idealogue. I search on the Colonel's set in vain for the great Marx, the thinker, the revolutionary, the writer. The Marx who was too much of a thinker to hasten to conclusions or tailor them to suit the "facts" without submitting the facts or the cloth to scrutiny even if they fell apart in his hands, who was too much of a revolutionary to bow down to facts or reversals in fortune or to pass by catastrophes as if they had never happened, too much of a writer to not ceaselessly rework this texts and rectify them in the blinding light of events rather than succumb to the vanity of a finished work and the illusions of a total doctrine. Did he ever conclude?

The question I would like to ask concerns ideology. After all, the first post in the series began with bringing up ideology, of which the Colonel says that it might do or count for a "little something". What if ideology counted and did more that a little something for Marx, something he had to confront and account for and more than once?

The good folk who have Marx well in hand and the Marx-Engels Werke at their fingertips will undoubtedly know the rather strange way in which ideology flits in and out of those texts. The term of ideology is everywhere in the texts from 1845-1846, reduced to a few marginal occurrences between 1847-1852, and then is almost nowhere to be found, until returning rather prominently in the 1870s. I'm not bringing this up as a matter of mere philological interest, there is something else involved.

Let's take up The German Ideology. I can hardly get into the entire history of the composition and publication of this text, but why does this text essentially written (mostly by Marx) between 1845 and 1846 not get published till 1932? Is it only because of the difficulties of finding a publisher, something that Marx was to endure more than once, or is there something else as well? And may I add, that one has merely to look at the composition and history of this text and the related correspondence between Marx and Engels to see that the two do not exactly share the Colonel's opinion that Max Stirner is a feeble-minded idiot not worth reading. On the contrary they go to considerable time and trouble to read, discuss and respond to Stirner and at some length. The "Saint Max" section in The German Ideology accounts for two-thirds of the entire text and the debate with Stirner is no less present in the first section on Feuerbach. Indeed, Engels is one of the first readers of Der Einzige und Sein Eigeuntum and recommends, even insists, that Marx do so. If Marx's response to Stirner is in scathing terms – which is hardly unusual for Marx – it is because Der Einzige und Sein Eigeuntum poses not a few problems for Marx and Engels, hits home, as it were. As I am not concerned here with Marx's setting of accounts with Stirner but with Marx's own settling of accounts with ideology, let me pass on and briefly rehearse some of the well-known themes of The German Ideology.

The guiding thread of the text is the division of labor from which Marx deduces the successive forms of property and State. The two main intertwined threads of the text are production and ideology. Marx analyses man's productive activity from its beginning which is man confronting nature to its end point which is bourgeois/civil society. Much of the text is organized around the notion of production and one might even say that here Marx is proposing a social ontology of production as it is production that defines and shapes man's being (Sein) and his "ensemble" of social relations. For to recall the much debated and discussed sixth thesis on Feuerbach (with its mixture of French and German): "But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of social relations" (das Ensemble der gesellschaftlichen Verhältnisse).

Enter Ideology. With its abstractions and illusions – and its uncanny power. Let's first consider the most common reading of ideology in this text. It is one that is fostered by the rather misleading form of the text as it is published (which occurs in 1932 let us recall.) It is not a little misleading as it actually inverts the order in which the text was written by placing the polemical part second as if it had secondary value or was but an appendix and putting the first part at the head, presenting it as if it was a stand-alone account of "historical materialism". So then ideology can be read in terms of the development of the division of labor, can be read as a derivation of the "base" of "real life" and production. It would then be a matter of demystifying the mechanisms of illusion and of "autonomization" by which a "fantastic" world replaces – substitutes for – reality. The matter is of course not so simple or reassuring. For one thing, as we shall see, the process of demystification, the reduction of the "fantastic" world and the access to historical reality for Marx is only possible through historical change – revolution. But in such a reading of ideology one can at least rest secure and be (re)assured that in the realm of real life and the realm of production there is no ideology. Nor, of course, any ghosts.

Marx's account of ideology is undeniably an attempt at demystification, an attempt to dissolve the distortions of social relations and of intercourse(Verkehr) between individuals. Marx regularly uses this term Verkehr in order to underscore relation in both its productive and communicative aspects. And when he speaks of illusions he also makes use of metaphors, and ones with a venerable history, as for example, "the inversion of reality" in a cave. Permit me the "obvious" statement that metaphor as well as all the common figures of rhetoric are not absent from Marx's texts, far from it, his texts are a battleground of rhetorical figures. Marx is a master at marshaling a formidable array of tropes and marching them into battle. I'm not going to even attempt to delve into the question of the rhetorical modes of Marx's texts or of Marx's "style" or rather styles, since there is more than one, in different texts and quite often in the same text. I'm in over my head as it is. Anyway, the metaphor of "an inversion of reality" in a cave goes back a long way. The "owner" of this cave, one is told, was a rather crafty idealist with a theory about the power of ideas. Now, Marx's account of ideology in The German Ideology is not just about illusion, it is also about the power of ideas. Or more precisely, how ideas and ideology can take hold, take power, dominate. The question of domination is central to Marx's account of ideology. To dominate here has to be understood in two senses, more evident in the German word herrschend. It is a matter of dominating through exercising power but also by holding sway, reigning, extending universally.

In The German Ideology, ideology refers to the dominating class. The proletariat are entirely without it, they are outside ideology, pure of it, if you will. This last point is essential. It is from this point of view that Marx's account of ideology takes place. The German Ideology is considered to be Marx's clearest account of the proletariat as a Universal Class. But if one looks a little more closely, Marx does not present the proletariat as a class which would raise its particular interests in turn into universal interests, which would only be to repeat the process of mystification. Rather remarkably, we find Marx describing the proletariat not simply in terms of class but as a Masse, as a mass or as masses. But if it is not the proletariat's own proper particular interests which make it the bearer of change, transformation and revolution which Marx clearly considers it to be, what is it? It is precisely the proletariat's position outside of all ideology. The proletariat is eigentumslos (propertyless) and without any "particular quality" (Eigenschaft), and as such it is without illusions, absolutely Illusionslosigkeit. It is this extreme denuded position of the proletariat that is beyond ideology and without illusions that for Marx primes it for change and revolution. It is from this perspective or point of view that Marx can write in GI of a "real movement" that has nothing to do with the old order and abolishes it, and of the discovery - or promise - of "the language of real life" (Sprache des wirklichen Lebens).

It is not a matter of wondering why Marx does not consider or articulate a proletarian ideology. The matter rather is that if there is something like that, if the proletariat "has" ideology, well then the entire edifice constituting materialism in GI and its chain of equivalences between materiality, production, practice, history and revolution starts to give way, fall apart. Things, from this perspective, are not very different in The Communist Manifesto written the following year (1847). There again Marx writes of a proletariat which is totally Illusionslosigkeit and which has nothing to do with nation nor religion nor family nor morality nor political-juridical illusions. There again, as such, the proletariat is in the position of destroying the dominating class and its ideology and ending its reign. If in this process the proletariat is to become the dominant class in turn it is only to dissolve all classes and domination. Transparency of life and language and of intercourse. Such is the promise – of revolution. Exit ideology.

Enter 1848. Arrival of Revolution. 24 February in Paris. 13 March in Vienna. 18 March in Berlin. Le Printemps des peuples. The people will soon pay dearly for their springtime. In June, massacre of le peuple in the streets of Paris. A number of French socialists defect to bonapartism. Apathy of the proletariat faced with the coup d'état. Catastrophe. Instead of the dissolution of bourgeois power, one is confronted with the dissolution of the proletariat hope.

If the events of 1848-51 are a crushing blow for Marx, it is the measure of the man that he will face up to them and try to take their measure. Not the least of which is that Marx has to acknowledge and to confront the fact that the proletariat is not immune to ideology. The proletariat – the propertyless (eigentumslos) – somehow possesses or is possessed by ideology, which is not a little uncanny. Now, from this point on, the term of ideology virtually disappears from Marx's text. Which is not to say that the theme or its analysis does so. Even if not named, it is present everywhere in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1851), a text which is also about repetition and how the past can haunt the present. Here again, Marx attempts to account for the mystification and the power, the domination that past figures (whether nationalist or historical or religious, republican or imperial ) exercise on the present and on the actors of 1848. Can it all be determined in terms of class interests? When Marx addresses the problem of the passage from the "class in itself" to the "class for itself" the very schematic of "two classes" splinters in a series of subdivisions. It would appear that in the time of revolution, when time "accelerates", classes decompose as well-defined entities defined by distinct and simple interests capable of finding direct political representation. Here again, when Marx speaks of revolutionary conflict and struggle he doesn't do so simply in terms of class, but rather in terms of masses, of mass movements. Marx doesn't say "classes make history" but that "masses (or men en masse) make history."

Let me quote a famous passage from the The Eighteenth Brumaire:

"Thus Luther donned the mask of the Apostle Paul, the revolution of 1789 to 1814 draped itself alternately as the Roman Republic and as the Roman Empire, and the revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793 to 1795. In like manner a beginner who has learnt a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he has assimilated the spirit of the new language and can freely express himself in only when he finds his way in it without recalling the old and forgets the native tongue in the use of the new."

Here again we find the question of revolution related to a "new" language, the language of real life of which The German Ideology spoke or promised. In order to learn to use this new language and to properly appropriate its spirit as the spirit of revolution, why is it necessary to forget and efface the maternal, the mother tongue?

After 1848, Marx's main project is of course the immense research that goes into the writing of Capital. In this text the question of ideology is reworked in terms of the famous analysis of the commodity fetish and its "theological niceties". Here again one finds the theme of domination, of the market subjecting everyone and everything to its reign and power. And one finds that the enigma, the secret, the mystery, the mystification it would appear is all on one side, the side of commodity value and the famous turning and dancing table. Use value is apparently pure of such craziness. From whose point of view, one might wonder? The properties (Eigenschaften) of the thing of use-value relate to man, to what is proper to man and his needs. But what exactly is proper to man?

There is a famous scene where Marx wonders what the commodity-value would say, if it could speak. "If commodities could speak, they would say this: our use-value may interest men, but it does not belong to us as objects. What does belong to us as objects, however, is our value. Our own intercourse (Unser eigner Verkehr) as commodities proves it. We relate to each other merely as exchange-values." Marx does not say what use-value would say, if it could speak. And, I wonder how a dialogue between use-value and commodity-value would go?

But, taking our cue from Marx, let us try and think what use-value would say, if it could speak. Would it say, "take me, I'm yours"? Is that what the bit of wood, the little piece of nature would say? Or would she be silent, keep her secret to herself? Phusis kruptesthai philei . Or would she lament.

"...all nature would begin to lament if it were endowed with language (though 'to endow with language' is more than 'make able to speak'). This proposition has a double meaning. It means, first, that she would lament language itself. Speechlessness: that is the great sorrow of nature.[...] This proposition means, second, that she would lament. Lament, however, is the most undifferentiated, impotent expression of language. It contains scarcely more than the sensuous breath..."
(Walter Benjamin, On Language as Such and on the Language of Man, 1916)

After almost twenty years of immense unremitting research and writing, the first volume of Capital is published in 1867. The Workers Bible, as Engels calls it. A text that can also be read as an attempt to account for 1848. Then comes 1870, and the Franco-Prussian war. And 18 March 1871, the Paris Commune, or more simply La Commune. Ah, Vive la Commune! Alexis de Tocqueville recounts in a letter how a certain Thiers had proposed to the National Assembly in 1848 that they wipe out le peuple de Paris. This time, the butcher Thiers will not let the opportunity go by. The semaine sanglante is unsparing and is followed by massive deportations. Marx does respond with memorable pages devoted to the Paris Commune. But he has to acknowledge that once again events have not followed the directing forces and conflicts of history and politics as he had envisaged them. Once again, there are passions and other factors that cannot simply be reduced to the class struggle. And if revolution took place in France rather than Britain, this didn't quite follow the "logic" of it occurring from a crisis in capitalist accumulation. The writing of Capital is suspended in the midst of a chapter on "classes", and Marx will attempt to begin again. After the destruction of the Commune and the dissolution of the International, what response did Marx have to the question of "historical change"? After 1870 as in 1848, Marx has to acknowledge that history cannot simply be thought in terms of imminence or progressive maturation, as there is an irreducibly unforeseen and unexpected aspect to what comes to pass, arrives. In other terms, there is a non-contemporaneity to historical time, the time is out-of-joint.

So let me simply ask this. If we acknowledge that these questions of ideology, of historical change and time, remain for Marx insistent, open-ended questions that he takes up again and again, then it seems to me difficult to argue that Derrida in Spectres de Marx is somehow dismissing or mystifying Marx. On the contrary, it is precisely these questions that he attempts to renew and re-think. And if one were to say that these questions are of secondary importance for Marx, this would be, it seems to me, to dismiss and mystify a great deal of Marx and of the history in which his thinking is inscribed and to which it responds.

To say that there is no pure exit from ideology, which would be the ultimate ideological ruse, is not to reduce everything to it but to mark it as a site of conflict and struggle. As is history and the language of real life.

I have been suggesting that 1848 was "decisive" for Marx. Let me just point out that in Spectres, Derrida explicitly "links" the "New International" to 1848: " La 'nouvelle Internationale'[...] C'est un lien d'affinité, de souffrance et d'espérance, un lien encore discret, presque secret, comme autour de 1848".

But this is not say, of course, that there are no differences between Marx and Derrida. Let me refer to just one of them. It relates to Marx's phrase, "let the dead bury the dead." As one knows, this is a phrase that Marx uses more than once, in his texts and in his letters. Derrida does not follow Marx in this, but insists that one must [il faut] not let the dead bury the dead. I was reminded of the weight and justice of Derrida's insisting on this by a recent post here at Limited, Inc I am also reminded of a woman who wrote in Marx's mother tongue and who, in the wake of the Second World War when apparently all the horrors and crimes and ghosts had been laid to rest and all was sweetness and light, was not finished with mourning and the dead and crimes in the present. "I've often wondered, and perhaps it has passed through your minds as well, just where the virus of crime escaped to – it cannot simply had disappeared from our world twenty years ago just because murder is no longer praised[...] Indeed, I maintain and will attempt to produce the first evidence that still today many people do not die but are murdered."( Ingeborg Bachmann, The Book of Franza, 1966)

The phrase, let the dead bury the dead, occurs in a very famous passage in The Eighteenth Brumaire: "In order to arrive at its own content the revolution of the nineteenth century must let the dead bury the dead." This seems to me a terrible price to pay in order to arrive at one's own content. Call me weak for saying so. I will accept and even affirm such "weakness". But, let me ask, is this even possible, does one arrive at one's own content in this way? For what if this phrase, this very phrase which claims to break free of the past, to arrive to its own time and seize the day, is a repetition of the past and more than once and more than one time.

I can think of at least two. There might be others. One is Christ who repeats the phrase twice (Matthew 8:22, Luke 9.60). I am not going to explore this repetition here, except to note that here is another instance of the Messianic in Marx's text. No, Derrida didn't somehow invent or import it into Marx's text.

For there is an even older repetition and it goes back to an "inaugural" text of the "West": Pericles' Funeral Oration. There one finds the interdiction of mourning, an interdiction which is directed at women. There one finds the valorization of strength and hardness, and softness is called an Oriental vice.

Why is it, I wonder, that a certain marxist materialism valorizes strength and hardness, lays claim to it, claims it for its own? And why is it so bothered by others, such as Derrida or Benjamin who are not afraid of weakness and even affirm it. Perhaps there is an indominatable strength of weakness? To recall the past, to call a revenant so that it comes from the future – an arrivant.

Do you believe in the life to come?

Mine was always that.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Theory Theory Theory

Robert I. Levy, in a very useful essay entitled Emotions, Knowing and Culture [1984], proposed two axes for analyzing emotions on the sense making level – that is, not as private experiences, but as experiences that enter into the public domain. On the one hand, he speaks of hyercognition – “Hypercognition involves a kind of shaping, simplifying, selecting, and standardizing, a familiar function of cultural symbols and forms. It involves a kind of making “ordinary” of private understandings.” In contrast to that stands hypocognition – “Hypocognition forces the (first order) understanding into some private mode.” Citing his own work on “sadness” among Tahitians (Levy claims that, while there are words for severe grief and lamentation, there are “no unambiguous terms that represent the concepts of sadness, longing, or loneliness… People would name their condition, where I supposed that [the body signs and] the context called for “sadness” or “depression”, as “feeling troubled” pe’ape’a, the generic term for disturbances, either internal or external;…”) Levy writes that these are some “underschematized emotional domains”, and that these are hypocognized. “One of the consequences of hypocognition is that the felt disturbance, the “troubled feelings,” can be interpreted both by the one who experiences them and by others around him as something other than ‘emotion’. Thus, the troubled feelings that persist too long after the death of a loved one or those that occur after some loss that Tahitian ideology holds to be trivial and easily replaceable are in the village often interpreted as illness or as the harmful effects of a spirit.” [219]

When speaking of a shift in the emotional customs that occurred in Europe in the time of the ‘social revolution’ marked, ultimately, by the rise of the industrial and market system, I am often at a loss for the terms to denote shifts that are a matter, so to speak, of keying one’s feelings and their meanings to social reality. It is not, of course, that happiness was unknown in Europe, or that voluptas was not experienced before the 17th century. However, new affective standards and expectations did arise, a new vocabulary and science displaced the vocabulary of the passions and the characterologies that corresponded to the passional system. In that sense, volupté, which expresses an ethical and affective mix around the sensation of pleasure, hypercognized a set of feelings that were hypocognized – that is, that were seen as moral failings, or were considered dishonorable, or wicked. That could even be seen as diabolical.

It is for this reason that I find it interesting to compare Quevedo’s comic account of interviewing a ‘catchpole’ – a tax gatherer – who was possessed by the devil with Theophile de Viau’s much cooler account, which has connotations of the sort of seigniorial disbelief which eventually flows into the romantic image of the great sinner – the Byronic atheist. I will translate that in my next post.

Here, I want to contemplate something else – the way in which these hypocognized emotions are caught in the narrative of adventure. Levy cites a Freudian psychologist, Ernst Schachtel, who claimed that childhood amnesia has to do with an acculturation process in which the child’s conceptual schemata for understanding his or her feelings is systematically starved, and a new schemata is put in its place. In a sense, the language of childhood is lost. Levy claims that the devastating encounter with European cultures has had an analogous effect on many indigeneous peoples. “The “starved schemata” are left as a basis for creativity, dreams, humor and transcultural understanding.” This negotiation between dominant and repressed schemata, I think, occurs in that dimension of culture I’m calling the third life – the life of reading. The transformed ethical and affective modalities are forged, in part, in adventure stories. These play a really critical role in the early modern context – they present a sustained critique of older forms of imitatio. The burlesque conflict between the ancients and the moderns is one aspect of this struggle.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Off to see the witches

LI is going to fumble around a bit. When I last left Robert Boyle, I was drawing an implicit contrast between his objections to the ordinary or scholastic use of the term “nature” and the use of nature as a touchstone of style in Theophile de Viau.

Since volupté emerges as a way of living in conjunction with the revival of Epicurus, and since that revival was a controversial part of the new learning – a way of introducing atomism into philosophy – “nature” is partnered with volupté among the libertines. In the chain of sememes, if volupté appears, soon nature will appear. Either as a term of reproach – the voluptuary who lives like a beast – or as a term of affirmation. The latter is new, it is modern, it is something that doesn’t yet have a full meaning. It is the promise of a program. Certainly, it leads the esprit fort to a negation – the negation of those things that are against nature, or supernatural. It is this slide towards skepticism that Boyle fears, and that we might not expect him to fear if we have the conventional expectations about the rise of science. He himself not only opposes the court libertines, among whom one can find his brother, but the skeptical attitude towards the supernatural. Though it might seem surprising that a writer who is so thoroughly imbued with the mechanical philosophy would be a believer in witches and ghosts, he not only is, but his belief in mechanism, as we saw, is fully incorporated into his theology, and that theology recognizes God, angels or spirits, and the human soul. Boyle contributed some witch stories to Joseph Glanvill, another broker between the Royal Society’s mechanism and the traditional belief in spirits, who was collecting them for a work defending the witch belief. In a note in his papers, Boyle set himself the standard objections against the commerce with the devil of “silly old women” and replied to it like this:

‘we men understand very little of the nature, costumes, & government of the iIntelligent creatures of the spirituall world: and particularly what concernes the Falne Angells or bad Daemons. And therefore they being themselves invisible to us, and capable of working in wayes that our sences cannot discern; and being Agents of great craft & long experience; tis no wonder that many of their actions, tho never so pollytickly contrived and carried on, should seem irrationall to us: who know so little of their particular inclinations & designes, and the subtil & secret methods in which they carry them on.” [Boyle on atheism, 32]

Theophile recounts his own visit to a possessed woman in Fragments in a very different spirit, having no regard for the Falne Angells, but casting a seigniorial glance at the exchange between the peasant and the priest. I’ll translate that in some future post. But I’ve been thinking that I need to cast my net further, here, since it isn’t only in France and England that Epicurus is re-introduced as an either respectable or dangerous model. In Spain, Francisco de Quevedo, also sought to revive Epicurus. And since Quevedo also was extremely interested in Daemons, I want to write about him. Also, he’s funny. And repulsive to the modern sensibility insofar as he truly finds cruelty funny. In 1990, Malcolm Kevin Read reviewed the recent critical literature on Quevedo and found a lack of it and attributed this to Quevedo’s “copraphilia”.

Quevedo lived about the the same time as Theophile de Viau, although he lived longer than Theophile. And Theophile was certainly aware of his work, as all the great Spanish writers were being read in France at the time. Meanwhile, Quevedo was certainly aware of some French writers, notably Montaigne, whom he quotes as an authority as great as the ancients. The quote comes in Quevedo’s essay on Epicurus. It was through Quevedo’s assimilation of Epicurus to the Stoics that a form of “Christian Epicureanism” was introduced into the Hispanic world, and notably in New Spain, where the vita of Epicurus was read and commented upon in the late 17th century by Siguenza y Gongora and Sor Juana. So we should remember that as Gassendi was writing his commentary on Epicurus, in Spain, Francisco de Quevedo was defending Epicurus from the slander that his notion of pleasure was all bodily. Quite the contrary, according to Quevedo, Epicurus put the whole of pleasure into virtue, and thus was as good as any Stoic – and in fact, a deal better. This unexpected defense of Epicurus, or at least unexpected if you have a stereotypical view of Habsburg Spain as a backwater is not unconnected with what Theophile calls writing a la moderne – Quevedo was, after all, the master of the criminal picaresque, and his El Buscar seems to repel the liberal imagination even now, with its delectation over the odors and struggles of human beings, those animate sausages, their scents, their money, their multiple paths to the gallows or the sick bed. Like Theophile – and in his own way, Boyle – Quevedo was concerned with dismantling what he viewed as an intolerable structure of linguistic obscurity, and sought the means to do it. His assimilation of Epicurus to the Stoics began a very common strategy, one that was defensively held by the erudits libertines, at least for public consumption, up until La Mettrie put paid to it by an all out attack on Stoicism in the eighteenth century. Epicurus seemed to Quevedo to be exemplary precisely because he was neither a Platonic nor an Aristotelian:

Epicurus placed happiness in pleasure and pleasure in virtue, which is such a Stoic doctrine that even the absence of this label does not render it unrecognizable. He freed the attention of his disciples from the stranglehold of the sophists’ dialectic, as if it were a load of rubbish; and if he mentioned dialectic, he did so only because in the classroom it is a large and important part of theology. This rejection of dialectic (by which one should understand that of the sophists), which was the greatest source of pride for other philosophyers, was the reason why Epicurus was loathed and discredited.” [Kray, 246]

Now, this is what I’m going to do. One of Quevedo’s great works is the Suenos, the Visions, which begins with an interview with a possessed beggar. I think I’m going to write a bit about that in my next post on these themes.

Biden's foreign policy: let's bet everything on authoritarianism!

  And watch it all slip away (Por fin se va acabar) Or leave a garden for your kids to play (Jamás van a alcanzar)  --- The Black Angels, El...