Saturday, July 24, 2021

on Ferdinand Kürnberger, for Vienna Modern mokes

 

Der Mensch ist geboren, nackt zu gehen und Kokosnüsse zu essen, nicht Uniformen zu tragen und Militärbudgets zu bewilligen. 

 

“Man is born to go about naked and eat coconuts, not to wear uniforms and approve military budgets.” – Such is the conclusion of Ferdinand Kürnberger, a Viennese satirist from Nestroy’s generation. His essay on Cold weather and world history, written in 1865, laments the wrong turn made by history when the inhabitants of the Indus, enjoying great weather and blue skies, decided to migrate to the Danube and upwards: a mistake! “And thus hot Indians became cold Germans.”

Kürnberger was a radical – he was on the socialist-anarchist side, against the prevailing classical liberalism of the time, or at least in the beginning. He was even suspected of being a part of a ring of conspirators who brought off the storming of the war ministry in Vienna in 1848 and the lynching of the war minister, Latour. He spent a lot of time hopping from one German town to another, trying to escape shadowy policemen. From this experience he developed an outsider’s distance and a satiric edge, which he especially used to dissect the Austrian government. He was also a great fan of Schopenhauer – whose reactionary instincts became, transformed, a subversive theme in Viennese culture.  Kürnberger’s phrase “life doesn’t live” is quoted not only by Wittgenstein, but by Adorno in Minima Moralia. There’s a melancholy here that preceded the war-defined twentieth century, as Austrian intellectuals, living in the Funhouse of the Habsburg Empire, instinctively felt the black spot in classical liberal culture, the distortions it was producing. Karl Kraus’s prophetic career was fed by these springs.

Kürnberger’s novels and plays are forgotten – by which I mean that they are fodder for the stray dissertation, but have no real hearing in intellectual life. In contrast, his occasional essays are still alive. He was a master of the feuilleton, which he transformed into the anti-feuilleton, a critique of nineteenth century progress and all of the newspapers that followed in its wake. He is a spiritual descendent of Nicholas Chamfort – although aren’t we all? Some of the Viennese wits have English language fans – I’m thinking of Clive James attempt to make Alfred Polgar a name to at least recognize among the literati. Kürnberger has not been so lucky. Although what is luck to a dead writer?

There is, I feel, a large appreciation and even nostalgia in American literary culture for Vienna. That Jonathan Franzen chose to write a book on Karl Kraus, or a translation of Karl Kraus, doesn’t seem that odd when you consider that books like Wittgenstein’s Vienna sold, for academic books, very well. Musil is now on the list of author’s one might not read, but one must recognize (and sigh and say, I’m going to read The man without qualities one of these days). For those who groove to Vienna Modern,  Kürnberger is a nicely prefiguring nineteenth century marginal. In his introduction to a collection of his literary essays, he speaks about his relation to the collection of them, in his desk drawer, as one more of an editor to posthumous works than of an author to his own living work – a trope picked up by Musil for his own essay collection. And his anti-ornamentalism definitely influenced Adolf Loos. Kürnberger was highly sensitive to the exponential increase in visuals – drawings, paintings, photographs, etc. – in his time, and correctly saw the newspapers as a key mediator between an older, visually abstemious culture and his visually decadent one. He predicted the coming of the filmed adaptation of the “classics” – which for him was a product of the decline of the imagination.

“When a Goethe, with the mightiest poetic imagery, brought forth a Gretchen, what sketcher, shaver and doodler should dare place himself between me and Goethe with his pretension: you should imagine Gretchen not as Goethe willed her, but as I do? Can that be even allowed? What after all is all the intellectual pleasure of poetry more than the stimulus, which the phantasy of the poet communicates to the fantasy of the reader? And now, between the two, we have to have a dabbler push himself in, who illustrates, and between the union of us two makes himself the third?  I imagine that there is more than one kind of union that is too intimate, too personal for a third!”

This has been a minor but persistent complaint about visual culture since the cultural industry overwhelmed us with its own pics, films, etc. I am a child of the cultural industry, myself, and can’t imagine certain characters from novels without imagining the actors who played them. That purity of contact – the sort of fucking that Kürnberger sees as the model for reading – is a thing I doubt. Goethe’s Gretchen and Gretchen’s Gretchen are distinct entities – perhaps one of Kürnberger’s faults as a novelist, in as much as his novels are pretty much forgotten, is that he has way too idealistic view of fantasy, and the contract between author, image, and reader. I suppose this is a good place to mention that Kürnberger was a friend of Sacher-Masoch and prefaced one of his novels.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

turning points - the American conversion story

 

What would history be like if you knocked out the years, days, weeks, centuries? How would we show, for instance, change? In one sense, philosophical history does just that – it rejects the mathematical symbols of chronology as accidents of historical structure that have functioned to place people in time for various interests – religious, political, existential – but that veil the real pattern of change (and blocks of changelessness). These are the crutches of the historian, according to the philosophical historian, who brings a sort of human need – even a servile need – into the telling of history. Instead, a philosophical history will find its before-after structure in the actual substance of history, under the assumption that there is an actual substance to history.

In the case of the most famous philosophical history, Hegel’s, a before and after, a movement, is only given by the conceptual figures that arise and interact in themselves. To introduce a date, here, is to introduce a limit on the movement of the absolute. A limit which, moreover, from the side of the absolute, seems to be merely a superstition, the result of a ceremony of labeling founded on the arbitrary, and ultimately, on the fear of time itself, that deathdealer.

 

Andrew Abbott, in his book, Time Matters, issues an interesting defence of “narrative” as a legitimate sociological method, which is founded on understanding time outside of a state or cult ordained inventory. The chapter on turning points is especially rich.

 

“Note that this "narrative" character of turning points emerges quite as

strongly in quantitative and variable-based methods as in qualitative or

case-based ones. If quantitative turning points could be identified merely

with reference to the past and the immediate present, algorithms locating

turning points could beat the stock market. It is precisely the "hindsight"

character of turning points-their definition in terms of future as well as

past and present-that forbids this.

 

Given this narrative quality, we can reformulate and generalize our con­

cept of turning point to include simpler "bends" in a curve. What defines a

turning point as such is the fact that the turn that takes place within it con­

trasts with a relative straightness outside (both before and after).”

 

The turning point is definitionally linked to the “new” and its value. The archetypal American turning point, I think, is usually a conversion story. These stories are oddly powerful – x describes, say, being a leftist and then confronting a reality that makes him or her realize that leftism is bogus. In this story, what seems to be told about is x’s variable judgment, which one would think would disqualify x from analysing leftism or rightism. But that is not how the story signifies. It signifies as a conversion experience, an account given from beyond some turning point. It doesn’t imply the continuity of the foolishness of x, but x’s newfound wisdom. These cases can be found throughout our newspapers, tv, movies, novels, poems, etc. American conversion is a genre in itself.

 

Abbott digs into this a bit in his own way: “There is for the individual actor a curious inversion of " causality" and "explanation" in the trajectory-turning point model of careers or life cycles.  From the point of view of the actor moving from trajectory to trajectory, the "regular" periods of the trajectories are far less consequential and causally important than are the "random" periods of the turning points. The causally

comprehensible phase seems unimportant, while the causally incomprehensible phase seems far more so.”

 

I think this says much about affect and time. But time is short, and I have other non-turning points to turn to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Final Girl by Karen Chamisso

 

The final girl is a trope in horror movies, referring to the female protagonist who remains alive at the end of the film – Merriam Webster dictionary

 

The final girl writes her scenario

in the blood of the stabber

she outstabbed in the finale

Not once but twice. Fortunate she.

Are these all things that totally must be?

 

Whose friend by toxic hand

Of masked psycho was skewered

Such einsatzgruppe of serial killers!

And such normal neighborhood streets

Where  victim and slasher meet n greet.

 

In this landscape mourning has no memory

but as is borne in backyard barbecue dusk

- only the synaptic jigger

of jumpscares endless, sequel after sequel

and in the tired end, the prequel.

 

Here’s the closet where he hid.

Here’s the garage where he hid.

Here’s the kitchen where he hid

implement in hand

- I know it’s hard for you to understand.

 

Still, the final girl proves to be

our real desperado

as full of tricks as a rattlesnake,

frozen in teenhood for a thousand years

See: In her eyes there are no tears.

 

 

 

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