Friday, October 15, 2021

Party time, #15 - a poem by Karen Chamisso



“For look how oft I kiss the water under” -

o claustrophobic opulence of this bathroom mirror

Undine undone among  the social blunders

Look at me. Look at me! Get a little nearer.


Echo leans blonde and  tall among the messes

Pines behind a cigarette and stalks out

Someone says the key to unlock this party’s wildernesses

Is lost. A couple start to shout


In the corner at each other.

“Nought is left but voice and bones.”

In the morning she gets a call from her mother.

Why is this gal all alone?

Thursday, October 14, 2021

On the ending of novels


Like the groundhog in Pennsylvania who sticks his head out of his hole every February to check on his shadow,  Viktor Shklovsky survived from the beginning to the Brezhnev stagnation by sticking his head out at the right time, understanding how the shadows fell, and finding just the right burrows to hide in if it was killing season. In 1978, he gave a series of interviews to an Italian Slavicist, Serena Vitale, who fled Moscow with her tapes after being pushed around by the KGB. The book was published in Italian and translated into English (Shklovsky: witness to an era), and it is as aphoristic as fuck, just like you’d expect.

There’s a passage about the problem of ending, a perennially fascinating topic.

-SV “So on the one hand, the impossibility of knowing the future makes it so that a writer can’t “finish” his novels; on the other, it seems like the great novels you’ve been talking about contain some sort of prophecy of the future.

-S: The fact is that the writer “predicts” the future, but doesn’t know what his role in that future will be. He struggles with the future, he’s afraid for himself . . . You see, he has to be very naïve to delude himself into believing he can bring something to a conclusion. And I myself, with all the love I have for novels, I prefer to doze off before the denouement. About epilogues—Thackeray wrote that they’re like the lump of sugar left at the bottom of the cup. That’s it—the conclusion, in the novel, is a cloying additive.”

Shklovsky thought in terms of jumps, of knights moves, of instinctive connections, or synaptic disconnections, or run-arounds, work-arounds. He could make up an argument as well as any intellectual – an intellectual can be defined as a fabricator of arguments. If there is such a thing as a pseudo-intellectual – a term that I think is meaningless, since it applies to all intellectuals and to none – the mark of the pseudoness is an inability to make an argument. However, Shklovsky saw beyond his own intellectual position, saw how an argument limits our view of the world.  The question is, of course: how can one write an essay, a criticism, a discourse, a text, without an argument? Isn’t that bound to become a boring association of thoughts?

The solution is to make the thoughts striking, interesting in themselves.

What is interesting is opposed, on one plane, to what makes one “doze off”. The interesting is insomniac, the end, to use Shklovsky’s image, is narcoleptic – or the maker of narcolepsy in others. Man without Qualities and In search of Lost Time literally don’t end – Finnegan’s Wake ends by throwing the reader back to the beginning. Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain seems not to end – it seems like it could just keep going on. War and Peace was meant to begin with the book it never became, the Decembrists. Perhaps every novel, or every novel of a certain personal canon, is haunted by the ghost of the ending it never achieved. Ghosts stalk the insomniac and the narcoleptic, just in different ways.

In another way, the interesting leads, by its own complexity, to sleep not insomnia. In this sense, dozing off is just the right ending for a novel – the one provided by the reader.



Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Greatness is a rip off

 I was raised on the rhetoric of "greatness" like any other whitebread suburban boy. I have since gone through an education sentimentale about the whole greatness thing, finding the word great to be a hollow sham used by politicians, for the most part.

Adam is learning "encadrement" in his school - which is basically a way of teaching that there are three relations between a whole number x and another number - greater, lesser, or equal. Here, the use of great is all on the surface. It is the transposition from the realm of quantity to the realm of quality that we run into problems.
There have been psychological experiments done to see if transitivity holds among taste preferences - as was once assumed as an axiom by economists. This means that if one prefers x to y and y to z, then you should prefer x to z. However, it turns out that preferences are entangled. Some people do express their preferences in a transitive order, and some don't. This happens regardless of the objects of the preference - whether poltiical candidates or vegetables.
Still, in the aesthetic realm, a form of transitivity is assumed, so that if Shakespeare is greater than Shelley and Shelley is greater than Musset, than Shakespeare must be greater than Musset. Yet this view of greatness does seem, to me, rather bogus. It isn't that I can't predict, from a subjects list of favorite auithors, for instance, other authors this subject might like - but the prediction is hedged with contingencies. I recently bought as a gift the letters of Chekhov for a friend. This friend also liked Stendhal - is a real Stendhalian. I thought Chekhov's form of tough liberalism would appeal. It did! So then I gave this friend Radetzky's March. Joseph Roth's novel seems to me to have so many Stendhalian motifs, though of course with a different twist. I was sure that this was a good gift. Error!
I find, as I grow older and closer to death, that superlatives mean less and less - they organize less and less of what I think about, say, literature or politics or history or philosophy. I have a feeling that this agnosticism about superlatives and their correlates in the world is not a popular view, because who wants to toss out greatness?
But to me, greatness is a rip off.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...