17 July 2009

We Browse, So You Don't Have To

Enough about politics. Let's aggregate:

If you aren't checking in here regularly, you are doing yourself a disservice.




It seems that modernism was the source of all the ills of the 20th Century. It is big, rational, ordered: soul-crushingly unifying. Post-modernism is warm & fuzzily diverse, local, tribal: essentially divisive. I wonder how that's gonna' work out. Oh and it has something to do with the Fleshtones. A panacea? You'll have to ask Levi.

Is this really how you're supposed to structure your short-story collection? Who knew Canadians had such short fuses?

Is there any hope for fiction—beyond rationalism and commerce?

Mark Sarvas interviews Joseph O'Neill here. My review of Netherland is here. I still don't see why no one else sees the image of the WTC at the end of the book as wickets: "'Even, at the end, with his wife and son gliding up and around on the gleaming London Eye, Hans is content to drift back in memory to an earlier Staten Island Ferry ride toward the Twin Towers with his mother which, in turn, reminds him of a childhood memory of pencils.' (but NOT wickets!?)."

I'm not so sure this post is really about mathematics or even money. But I sincerely hope it is. Don't pull a Mme. Psychosis on us. Just write.

Monty Python coherent? But doesn't that take all the fun out of it? I guess it depends on what you were smoking when you saw it.

(h/t 1 & h/t 2) Richard Powers videos here, here, here, here, and here. My encounter with Mr. Powers here. Guy's brilliant. Great writer.

This promises to be an interesting series of posts re: the world of literary magazines.

Are you keeping up? I'm a few pages behind, but that's okay.

I'm not sure that this guy isn't onto something. We can quibble about specifics, but he's definitely asking the right question.

Jacob Russell thinks that "Aesthetics is lost without ontology." That seems trivially true, as everything is lost without ontology. Without ontology there is nothing. So, we can agree there. Russell's piece appears to be a response to this post at Larval Subjects. Larval believes as follows:
"It seems to me that what has been most fruitful in literary studies– and its best chance for relevance beyond the monadic cells of literary studies folks –are not those moments where it “respects the literary object qua literary object” (though we hear a lot of this rhetoric) but precisely when the literary object is assembled with something else: linguistics, marxist social theory (Jameson), phenomenology, philosophy, systems and complexity theory, ethnography, information theory and cybernetics, etc. In other words, literary studies does not articulate what is “in” the text, but rather provokes texts to speak by assembling them with something other than the text."
a/k/a Intertextuality. Larval then takes a run at Jacob here: He is "willing to wager that the aesthetic theory of a philosopher contains, in fractal form, the inner kernel and truth of any philosopher." And, to my mind, he asks precisely the right question: "Might it instead be the reverse, that ontology (and epistemology) is nothing without aesthetics?" But his thoughts then sort of dwindle into anecdote. Perhaps it's because there's a fundamental contradiction in his argument.

Look: We cannot know what is not presented to us, i.e., apparent to us either perceptually or conceptually. Aesthetics just is the attempt to grasp what is apparent in all its manifest plenitude. And based on a full appreciation of what is apparent we can begin to posit what is (if, in fact, it is any different), i.e., ontology. So, yes, ontology (and epistemology) is nothing without aesthetics in this sense. However, aesthetics is something other than theory. Aesthetics is precisely the study of what Beardsley liked to call the "regional qualities" of the work. To bring it all back home to fiction, a novel is a "model of consciousness". It challenges us to inhabit it, thus (re-)creating the reality it presents. Understanding how this reality is created—the techniques, mechanisms, forms, craft, artistry, conception (i.e., the aesthetic values)—is of utmost importance, and the intertext (particularly the intertext of theory) is merely subservient to this quest. To the critic or, better yet, the Larval theoretician, however, the square peg of the text must be made to fit into the round hole of some theory. That is, s/he has some axe that needs a good grinding. Thus, s/he refuses the immersion in the world of the text. Refuses the fullness of the aesthetic moment with a flailing grasp for relevance: "I don't like that book because it doesn't have any relevance with my life as a (insert ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, political affinity, etc., label here)." "That character is not sympathetic because s/he doesn't resemble me or share my concerns." "That novel doesn't jibe with my fixed ideas of what a novel should do and be." The Larval point of view is an explicit disavowal/refusal of any experience that is other or alien (i.e., non-relevant): If the text cannot be subsumed in the (favored) theory, then the text has no relevance. Larval seeks to extract some readily identifiable (commodifiable) theoretical content from the novel, when what the aesthetic object is all about is form. The novel, true to its name, is the presentation of something new—a new experience, a new reality, a new model of consciousness.


Richard said...

Hm, I think you're misreading what Levi at Larval Subjects was saying, but I'm still thinking it through, in the context of my own ongoing concerns.

Perhaps my misgivings have to do with my problem with aesthetics. That is, fairly clear interventions such as your own notwithstanding, I'm never clear precisely what they are. Or maybe it's more that I'm resistant to attempts to view works only through the lens of aesthetics.

Richard said...

Also, fyi, the link is messed up in the paragraph where you say you're not so sure "really about mathematics or even money".

Richard said...

Though, on second thought, that does appear to be what Levi's saying, doesn't it?

I have much more to think through on this topic (which actually just complicates, or perhaps obscures, what I've already been trying to think through on art and being)...

Jim H. said...

Thanks, Richard. Link fixed. I've never read Larval Subjects before, so I could very well have missed the drift for lack of context.

Jim H.

Rose Hunter said...

Re: CanLit - yes Canadians have a very short fuse when it comes to this! I lived in Toronto for ten years and I also developed a short fuse for it because it did seem to be synonomous with purple-prosed weepy epics about wimpy people. However, there is so much good Canadian literature out there! But it's not what gets put on the display tables at major bookstores, by and large, & reviewed by the major papers. Anyway, that was my experience of the situation.

Frances Madeson said...

Thanks for all this, Jim. This maker's taking her Neruda to the beach.

Jacob Russell said...

I would agree--I don't think Levi Bryant at Larvel Subjects would hold aesthetics (or ontology) to a conceptual model. He draws on Deleuze's idea of "white" in relation to colors...this toward the end of ch. 2 of Difference and Givenness. Seems to be a crucial part of Bryant's own thinking as I've been able to follow him--avoiding the either/or of nominalism or Platonic idealism.

For myself--aesthetics is always about process, the coming into being of form, not 'form' in itself.

Hey, always good to find someone who appreciates Richard Powers!--and glad you found Jakie... even if he was tied to a conundrum...

Frances Madeson said...

I have a pet peeve about the use of the word conundrum for anything but its formal meaning, which as you know is a riddle answered by a pun. You are hereby challenged in the matter of The Jakie Conundrum. Nothing banal, please. Keep it elegant as befits Jake.

Jacob Russell said...

Words slip out of their 'formal meanings' like bridegrooms from comerbuns--eager to conjugate new definitions with unbrideled passion.

Give two choices, I'm inclined to skip the first and ride the second, or better yet, invent a third!

Frances Madeson said...

Very well putt. Normally I would agree with you. But the formal definition of this word--conundrum--is an exception in my mind because of the joy it can bring (if engaged with) and therefore deserves a special reverence.