Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Philosophy and Biography

If you want to apply bio-bibliographical criteria to me, I confess I
wrote my first book fairly early on, and then produced nothing more
for eight years. I know what I was doing, where and how I lived dur­
ing those years, but I know it only abstractly, rather as if someone else
was relating memories that I believe but don't really have. It's like a
hole in my life, an eight-year hole. That's what I fnd interesting in
people's lives, the holes, the gaps, sometimes dramatic, but some­
times not dramatic at all. There are catalepsies, or a kind of sleep
walking through a number of years, in most lives. Maybe it's in these
holes that movement takes place. Because the real question is how to
make a move, how to get through the wall, so you don't keep on bang­
ing your head against it. Maybe by not moving around too much, not
talking too much, avoiding false moves, staying in places devoid of
memory. There's a fne short story by Fitzgerald, in which someone's
walking around a town with a ten-year hole. There's the opposite too:
not holes, but an excess of memory, extraneous foating memories
you can no longer place or identif (that did happen, but when?). You
don't know what do with that kind of memory, it gets in your way. Was
I seven, fourteen, forty? Those are the two interesting things in some
one's life, amnesias and hypermnesias.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

What a relief to have nothing to say...

"We sometimes go on as though people can't express themselves. In fact they're always expressing themselves.. Radio and television have spread this spirit everywhere, and we're riddled with pointless talk, insane quantities of words and images. Stupidity's never blind or mute. So it's not a problem of getting people to express themselves but of providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say. Repressive forces don't stop people expressing themselves but rather force them to express themselves. What a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, and even rarer, thing that might be worth saying." Deleuze

Monday, 21 January 2013

A Tranquil Atheism

Deleuze on Francois Chatelet:
Never before has there been a philosophy more tranquilly atheist.. A tranquil atheism is a philosophy for which God is not a problem. The non-existence or even the death of God are not problems but rather the conditions one must have already acquired in order to make the true problems surge forth..

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Kafka: Capsizing

"“the story came out of me like a real birth, covered with filth and slime.” Kafka, Diaries

The figure of the writer conceiving, gestating and giving birth to a work is all too familiar*. It implies some organic process of development and the work's emergence as a separate thing.  What Kafka does is to intercept this metaphor at a seemingly incidental, rather literal point: the image of 'filth and slime'. This is I think a common feature of Kafka’s ‘method’: he ‘breaks’ an existing metaphor by intercepting it overstretching it in a ‘perverse’** way, in order to emerge somewhere else. 

Other examples can be found in the aphorisms: 

“I need solitude for my writing. Not like a hermit, that wouldn’t be enough, but like a dead man."

The familiar image is that of the solitary writer in his garret. Kafka stretches the image to a limit – death as the ultimate isolation – at which point it capsizes in laughter, a comic reductio of the solitary writer motif. But it is a liberating laughter, for we have passed through the figure altogether and emerged somewhere else, at another idea, namely Kafka’s idea of ‘being dead in your own lifetime’, in the company of the dead. ‘The dead’ here means a position in regard to life. Not a zombie or vampire, those familiar figures of life colonised by death, death colonising life, but the Dead as a kind of visitant, able to observe without violence or desire, grateful, unenvious, puzzled, enraptured. It is this position to which Kafka aspires in his writing. He expresses this by making the available language (the familiar trope of the solitary ) stretch, stutter and yeild another content. 
Something not dissimilar happens with “some deny misery by pointing to the sun; others deny the sun by pointing to misery.” Such aphorisms have almost the structure of a joke, a ludicrous capsize in the tail of the sentence which is also the welcome discharge of laughter. What strikes us is the formal symmetry of the clauses vying with the utter asymmetry of their content. For denying the sun is clearly madness, the gesture of a lunatic. But after this, through the other side of it, there is, once more, a reward, a gem, a new pathos – a rather heroic Canute-like, image of pointing defiantly to suffering in the face of something vast, implacable and indifferent.

* See, among many many examples, James Joyce: 
I went into the backroom of the office and sitting at the table, thinking of the book I have written, the child which I have carried for years and years in the womb of the imagination as you carried in your womb the children you love, and of how I had fed it day after day out of my brain and my memory.
** By ‘perverse’ I mean stubbornly drawing attention to what is logically entailed in the metaphor but not ordinarily implied by it. So, with Joyce’s metaphor, above, it would be seen as deliberately obtuse and wrongheaded, facetious even to respond with ‘ah, so your book will emerge covered in slime and mucus”

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Kafka's Slime

In a previous post I was trying to suggest that metaphor is not necessarily a ‘trope of resemblance’, at least not in the obvious way. 

I thought of this again, reading this description of Kafka’s composition of “The Judgement” by Eric Santner:

In a diary entry of September 23, 1912, Kafka registered the miraculous composition of “The Judgement” in the course of a single night’s labour, one he would, the following year, characterize as a kind of couvade in which his story emerged covered with the “filth and mucus” of birth.

(Kafka’s Diary entry reads as follows: “the story came out of me like a real birth, covered with filth and slime.”)

A ‘couvade’ or sympathetic pregnancy, when a man experiences some of the symptoms of an expectant mother, is a curious metaphor to use here. It plunges us right back into psychoanalytical territory, and in a text about a judgment by a father suggests some kind of ‘identification’ with a mother. 

But before regressing down such a route (or even root), is not Kafka’s image less about the whole process of labour and gestation as about the experience of delivery – of being delivered of an alien, incipient being which is ultimately not-you, an Other, an experience that is minimally ‘miraculous’ in the sense that every conception is miraculous – there is this gap, this unaccountable interval between cause and effect (the effect being this faintly repulsive yet beautiful creature). The resultant shock, puzzlement, horror, joy: It seems to me that the image is about such a constellation of reactions as it is about any identification with a mother (which is what couvades seems to imply). It is about affects more than objects.

Between the manuscript in front of Kafka and the delivered infant a glance is exchanged - in order to capture something otherwise ephemeral  - the impression of an alien, fascinating thing, the repulsion, perhaps, or sudden rush of love, a compound of all these things, a compound that melts language into metaphor. No mother is involved, no reassurring (for the psychoanalyst) identification with the mother or recoil from the judgement of the father, only an effervescent compound of perception and affects.

It seems, furthermore, an example of Kafka taking a conventional metaphor (the conceiving and gestation of a story) and radically shifting it in a different direction. In Kafka’s image, there is now no sense of the ‘organic’ development of a piece of writing, but of shock, disgust, of something rather unexpected..These things also of course concern his relation to the object, to what he's written, rather then the object itself, for relations are detachable from objects.

And it seems to me that metaphors are often about affects and relations rather than the objects that incite or constitute them.Relations and affects are not glued to objects, nor do they serve simply as signs of those objects with which they were originally associated.