Wednesday, November 26, 2008

the counterforce continues

My first big essay in graduate school a couple of generations ago was titled “The Ironic Consciousness.” Dealing mostly with E. M. Cioran and Stanley Romaine Hopper, if I recall rightly, it bore an epigraph from Simone Weil to the effect of “Method of investigation: When we have thought one thing, try to see how the opposite might be true,” and one that is either from Soren Kierkegaard or based on him, to the effect that no matter what path we try to take to faith, “irony bars our way.”

I omit, if I remember to delete it, a self-indulgent autobiographical paragraph in order to skip to the point that irony was not only the quintessential European attitude ever since Nietzsche but the governing factor of American poets from Wallace Stevens on.

But Stevens’ “The final belief must be in a fiction” and “We believe without belief, beyond belief” had much in common with the incipient belief in the fictions of the inheritors of Marx mixed with Nietzsche such as the Situationists. There were a host of avant-garde movements that argued bitterly over the proper relationship between science and the imagination, and they were all alien to the cockeyed optimism of American innocence.

Situationist psychogeography, as transformed in Britain, consisted of belief-ful constructs that were constructed in a state of conscious disbelief. Wanderers with a purpose, they rediscovered the Surrealists’ state of the marvelous without marveling at it.

So Eyedrum’s “Crop Circles, Cosmograms, Psychogeographies” is about the state of the marvelous and those who marvel at it and those who only enjoy it and those who somehow manage to do both.

But the show raises so many problems for me that I have written several thousand words already, trying to locate the sources of my discontent, and will most likely continue to do so.


oRb said...

'Irony'(which I will be forward thinking and assume that it refers to modes of 'belief' as evidenced -- or at least alluded to in re: the crop circle show below) most often eats itself (yes, the same criticism that was often leveled against deconstructionists) leaving the situation the same as it was before; leaving, in fact, a rather 'listless apathy' and 'deflating humility' as the locus of any sort of critique that hopes to see things as other than they are, but through an ironist lens leaves them exactly as they are... Well, that inability is sort of at the nature of 'irony', yo?

One could even say that po-mo (or one variant anyway) was (is?) as attempt to hold the gates open (in this case primarily language, but one might be inclined to say 'representation' in general) until some other little sumpin' sumpin' showed its head.

The so-called 'speculative realists' seem to be trying to push the envelope on what is possible by pushing various Kantian/Humean buttons (that is pushing them itno and past their limits) re: cause/effect, neccessity/possibility, etc. by saying (and here I quote Quentin Meillassoux, heir apparent to the lot of'em, in an review by Peter Hallward from Radical Philosophy -- url of the pdf is at the end). One could call it a philosophy / theory of the 'miracle' -- minus a divine agent:

"there is no reason for anything to be or to remain thus and so rather than otherwise...Everything could actually collpse: from trees to stars, from stars to laws. from physical laws to logical laws; and this not by virtue of some superior law whereby everything is destined to perish, but by virtue of preserving anything, no matter what, from perishing."

"Neither events or laws are governed, o the end, by any necessity other than that of a purely 'chaotic becoming -- that is to say, a becoming governed by no necessity whatsoever'. (Meillassoux, 'Potentiality and Virutality'. Collapse 2 march 2007)"

Yes, it is a fanciful approach to such things but I rather like it, and certainly like the thought of turning Hume on his head by becoming even more Humean! and becoming more materialist than even the most diehard marxist -- and coming out an other side into a more, um, one can only say. de-materialized world -- but de-materialized like the teleporter beam in Star Trek, say...

Hallward provides some critiques but whether they last or not, dunno. I will say however that the populist book called 'The Black Swan' which is being bandied about quite a bit now in the midst of financial smackdown, makes an oddly similar point to Meillassoux. ie, in the financial world, anything can happen at any time and that chaos rules (if rather covertly, as in the picture of Benjamin's wizened chess playing dwarf) so it may not be wise to follow Hallward's assertion (or perhaps po-mo ironists!) that the more evanescent/subtle tags of our modern heritage (Cantor, the quantum, coming things, who knows?) have little or no impact on the way things are--why? because that's just the way things are!

review of :

littlejoke said...

Actually, I thought that the message of The Black Swan was the opposite, almost: that it is because things mostly happen in a certain way that we cannot imagine the exceptions in which they happen in another way. Thus we construct inadequate predictive systems, whereas the appropriate predictive system takes into account the existence of uncertainty regarding causes and consequences. Or are we saying the same thing, that causality is ultimately necessary but unknowable? just as reality really exists but is unknowable? (so that our real is always in part irreal...)