Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from March 20, 2011

Jacobi's sock

There is a philological dispute about whether Jacobi was the first to use the word nihilism; but there is no dispute that Jacobi was the first to introduce the word into modern philosophy, in his letter to Fichte renouncing the identity of the I and Not-I that, he thought, was the result towards which Fichte was taking transcendental philosophy. Jacobi’s letter to Fichte is full of images that have long careers ahead of them. When Jacobi points to the the fearful essence of transcendental idealism – that totalitarianism of thought that, as Jacobi puts it, has the chemical quality of eating through everything - which is its leveling quality. It launches the equations that level the I and the not-I as the two categories that divide up the world as a sort of philosophical side show encoding the dream of a fully humanized earth, one wholly grasped by universal history. That history is, of course, the global market place. How does one ward off the universal solvent? Here, too, Jacobi is

combining the last two posts

Note: I combined the last two posts here. It makes for a prettier read. In the introduction to his story, A Gentle Creature, that Dostoevsky produced for his column, A Writer’s Diary, he traced the story back to a fait divers about a seamstress who committed suicide with an icon in her hands. Dostoevsky scholars have found other routes to the story – Dostoevsky brooded over a similar plot quite a bit before the newspaper story precipitated the narrative as a whole in his mind, with the picture it gave him of the husband, a pawn broker, telling the tale as his wife lies stretched out dead on a table in their apartment. Unlike Henry James, whose introductions are quite consciously framing work, existing outside the work in tone and vision and highly enjoyable in themselves, although eminently dispensable except to the stories they preface (except in so far as the artist wants his critical word, too), Dostoevsky does not separate the preface from the story: quite otherwise, he, in a se

some hasty thoughts about confession

Until the eighteenth century in Catholic countries, the predominant notion of confession was pre-eminently that of a sacrament. In the legal sense – that is, the sense ended up on trial, either in a ecclesiastical or secular court – the sacramental sense existed as a sort of sanctioning halo around the most direct witness to a crime – the witness of the perpetrator himself. The sacramental sense of confession lent itself to the justification of torture, that strange moment in the juridical process in which pain – usually associated with the punishment merited by the guilty – is used to give a proof of guilt. Punishment first, the sentence afterward – torture is by its nature an inversion of the course of justice, or at least its institutional logic. Torture can, of course, exist after the sentence – torture then merges with all the other punishments, and it loses its sacramental associations. Its diminishment becomes a purely humanitarian matter. It is through a connotation of sacramen

He comes with his underground: the stenographer

In the introduction to his story, A Gentle Creature, that Dostoevsky produced for his column, A Writer’s Diary, he traced the story back to a fait divers about a seamstress who committed suicide with an icon in her hands. Dostoevsky scholars have found other routes to the story – Dostoevsky brooded over a similar plot long before the newspaper story precipitated the narrative as a whole in his mind. Unlike Henry James, whose introductions are quite consciously framing work, existing outside the work itself and eminently dispensable to those who want to get the thing itself, Dostoevsky does not quite cut the umbilical cord so elegantly. The intro is shot through with the same eye gleaming urgency as the narrative – it seems to be of a piece with the monologue of the pawn broker through whose consciousness the story unfolds. This is what Dostoevsky says about his method, here: “If there had been a stenographer to listen to him and note it [the narrator’s monologue] down, the result wou