Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence



Louis Aragon, Paris Peasant (trans Simon Watson Taylor) (Exact Change '94): A 1926 anti-novel meant to provoke his fellow surrealists as much as the critics. I picked it up on spec a couple weeks ago, and brought off the shelf when I happened upon reference to it in Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project (which I've been reading between novels), not knowing how fundamentally it served as the impetus that sent Benjamin down the path towards creating that monument, or rather recreating the monument that appears on the summit in §XIII of Buttes-Chaumont. Much has been made of this (and much more behind jstor or other appurtenances), but his own words perhaps capture it best:

"If I insist on this mechanism of contradiction in the biography of a writer ..., it is because his train of thought cannot bypass certain facts which have a logic different from that of his thought by itself. It is because there is no idea he adheres to that truly holds up ... in the face of certain very simple, elemental facts: that workers are staring down the barrels of cannons aimed at them by the police, that war is threatening, and that fascism is already enthroned ... It behooves a man, for the sake of his dignity, to submit his ideas to these facts, and not to bend these facts, by some conjuring trick, to his ideas, however ingenious." Aragon, "D'Alfred de Vigny à Avdeenko," Commune, 2 (April 20, 1935), pp. 808-809. But it is entirely possible that, in contradicting my past, I will establish a continuity with that of another, which he in turn, as communist, will contradict. In this case, with the past of Louis Aragon, who in this same essay disavows his Paysan de Paris: "And, like most of my friends, I was partial to the failures, to what is monstrous and cannot survive, cannot succeed ... I was like them: I preferred error to its opposite' (p. 807). (N3a,4 trans Eiland & McLaughlin)

But if it is a failure, it succeeds brilliantly, and through "... error which demands that a person contemplate it for its own sake before rewarding him with the evidence about fugitive reality that it alone can give. Surely it must be realized that the face of error and the face of truth cannot fail to have identical features? Error is certainty's constant companion. And anything said about truth may equally well be said about error: the delusion will be no greater. Without the idea of evidence, error would not exist. Without evidence no one would even pause to think about error." (p7, "Preface to a Modern Mythology"). And so he gives evidence; not for him automatic writing, nor the exquisite corpse: "The inner meaning [le fonds] of a surrealist text is of the greatest importance, since it is that inner meaning that gives the text a precious revelatory quality. If you write dreary idiocies following a surrealist method they will remain dreary idiocies. Without possible excuse." (Traité du style, 1928)

Per that textual exhumer and architect, Benjamin, in a letter to Adorno: "I could never read more than two or three pages in bed at night before my heart started to beat so strongly that I had to lay the book aside" ("... excitable boy, they all said / and he dug up her grave and built a cage with her bones ...") (speaking of cages, how it is that it was the Jardin des Plantes that housed both Rilke's panther and Nabokov's ape ["As far as I can recall, the initial shiver of inspiration was somehow prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage." — afterword to Lolita]) (I'll be visiting an old friend at the Botanical Garden here next week myself) — where was I? Benjamin differentiates his project in convolute N, "On the Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress":

Delimitation of the tendency of this project with respect to Aragon: whereas Aragon persists within the realm of dream, here the concern is to find the constellation of awakening. While in Aragon there remains an impressionistic element, namely the "mythology" (and this impressionism must be held responsible for the many vague philosophemes in his book), here it is a question of the dissolution of "mythology" into the space of history. That, of course, can happen only through the awakening of a not-yet-conscious knowledge of what has been. (N1,9)

For all this, Benjamin's skeletal construction is built on generalities, the abstractions of others taken as particularity, as elemental fact, which can lapse grandly into error: "'The truth will not escape us,' reads one of Keller's epigrams. He thus formulates the concept of truth with which these presentations take issue." (N3a,1) Rolf Tiedemann's note: "This sentence could not be found among Keller's epigrams." But there is a more comprehensive error, a conflation of infrastructure with superstructure, non-recognition that interpretation is contained within interpenetration:

Obviously, there can be no true sense of the unconscious, if we limit ourselves to the general conception of this faculty. At least, one could not have more than an abstract knowledge, or rather, a logical intuition, of it. But if we consider that the conscious can derive its elements from no other source than the unconscious, then we are obliged to agree that the conscious is contained within the unconscious. It is thus a preliminary sense by the conscious of the unconscious, a sense (of direction) which starts off figuratively but extends itself logically* [*A sort of sentimental backward march.], and which in this way occupies the whole mind, that we may justifiably name the sense of the unconscious. Bearing in mind the definition I gave of myth, it will be seen that this sense is in every respect identical with the mythical sense, that it is indeed the mythical sense. And its description explains to us its power and its effects. (p125, "A Feeling for Nature in the Buttes-Chaumont")

Yet it was Benjamin whom Adorno criticized for Jungianism. But I am presenting this as if there were some dialectic operating between Aragon and Benjamin, when in fact even within the confines of Benjamin's dialectical treatment of historical materialism, there is hidden agreement:

Scientific progress — like historical progress — is in each instance merely the first step, never the second, third, or n + 1 — supposing that these latter ever belonged not just to the workshop of science but to its corpus. That, however, is not in fact the case; for every stage in the dialectical process (like every stage in the process of history itself), conditioned as it always is by every stage preceding, brings into play a fundamentally new tendency, which necessitates a fundamentally new treatment. The dialectical method is thus distinguished by the fact that, in leading to new objects, it develops new methods, just as form in art is distinguished by the fact that it develops new forms in delineating new contents. It is only from without that a work of art has one and only one form, that a dialectical treatise has one and only one method. (N10.1)

Compare with Aragon's prefactory conclusion, his defining myth, to see whether the face of truth and the face of error share the same features:

I no longer wish to refrain from the errors of my fingers, the errors of my eyes. I know now that these errors are not just booby traps but curious paths leading towards a destination that they alone can reveal to me. There are strange flowers of reason to match each error of the senses. Admirable gardens of absurd beliefs, forebodings, obsessions and frenzies. Unknown, ever-changing gods take shape there. I shall contemplate these leaden faces, these hemp-seeds of the imagination. How beautiful you are in your sand-castles, you columns of smoke! New myths spring up beneath every step we take. Legend begins where man has lived, where he lives. All that I intend to think about from now on is these despised transformations. Each day the modern sense of existence becomes subtly altered. A mythology ravels and unravels. It is a knowledge, a science of life open only to those who have no training in it. It is a living science which begets itself and makes away with itself. I am already twenty-six years old, am I still privileged to take part in the miracle? How long shall I retain this sense of the marvellous suffusing everyday existence? I see it fade away in every man who advances into his own life as though along an always smoother road, who advances into the world's habits with an increasing ease, who rids himself progressively of the taste and texture of the unwonted, the unthought of. To my great despair, this is what I shall never know.

Aragon is very particular in his explication of detail in "The Passage de l'Opéra", less so in "A Feeling for Nature ..." but still well-grounded underneath his 'vague philosophemes'; these are framed by "Preface to a Modern Mythology" and "The Peasant's Dream", dissolving into a series of maxims. Paris Peasant, which does not depend on Benjamin's use of it for its value (though perhaps for its readership), remains unacknowledged as anti-novel, only mentioned as proto-anti-novel at best, another measure of its success.

In my own case, the bookshop is the arcade.

Witold Gombrowicz, Bacacay (trans Bill Johnston): Answering the question of what one could possibly read after that. What can I say?


Anonymous Perezoso said...

Yet it was Benjamin whom Adorno criticized for Jungianism.

Adorno's analysis seems fairly accurate, though not sure WB was Jungian, but sort of repressed theologian--not entirely sure whether it was judaism or xtianity. But sort of spooky.

Adorno's consumerist critique entertains me (though I sometimes hear the voice of Karl Popper saying something like, "prove it, Red..."), and I find TA's essays rather more rational than the manifestos of most of the parisian PoMos..

TA did tend towards a certain snobbishness which probably upsets many Apeneck-Sweeneys (it does me, a lil'), but he seems to have a certain integrity---at least his writing suggests that--maybe he attended the infant cannibal feasts as well.

Anyone who hated pop culture in its entirety can't be all bad.

14/10/07 19:28  

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