Saturday, 29 August 2009

Watched The Wrestler

Micky Rourke's bravura, first and foremost. My first reaction last night, right after seeing the film: the allegorical dimension is rather simple and transparent, as it seems, for a European outsider with an image of the USA largely filtered through film and television. "USA! USA!" the audience chants when Randy "the Ram" Robinson (whose real name is Robin Ramzinski, of course) meets Necro the drug addict or the wrestler with mohawk hairdo and finally the Ayatollah himself, waving Iran's flag. Sexism, consumerism, utter violence as entertainment, all the appropriate themes, the daughter's lesbianism, etc.; Ram as sacrifice and Christ figure with stigmata (including the direct and ironic reference to The Passion of the Christ), et cetera et cetera. Is it all too obvious, then?

When the first impression is followed by this certain unease, I know I may have encountered something that really touches me in a more profound way, beyond the beauty of the film as a film and beyond the angry "message" directed rather at the American society than the average outside viewer who feels he has "seen it all" already, not to mention the melodramatic and sentimental ingredients of whose power I find myself ambiguously "critically aware." At least the strong presence of the allegorical dimension invites me to attempt thinking more clearly about allegory – I also guess I will watch The Wrestler again some time.

(Above: "The official trailer" via YouTube.)

I have to point out that the "American culture" and "American society" are by no means geographically determined and bound by the borders of the nation. The American culture and society is everywhere. This pervasiveness allows us non-US citizens (I have never even visited America!) also to enjoy the humorous, ambivalently nostalgic references to the eighties' emphasis on partying to hard rock against "that pussy Cobain," an incarnation of the nineties, who ruined everything, etc.

I will return to The Wrestler some time, after watching it again. Some time, probably not very soon, though.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A Couple of My Favourite Text Samples, Part 2

Above is the beginning of Tristram Shandy's discourse against plagiarism. Cf. Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy ("Democritus Junior to the Reader"):
As apothecaries we make new mixtures everyday, pour out of one vessel into another; and as those old Romans robbed all the cities of the world, to set out their bad-sited Rome, we skim off the cream of other men's wits, pick the choice flowers of their tilled gardens to set out our own sterile plots. Castrant alios ut libros suos per se graciles alieno adipe suffarciant (so Jovius inveighs.) They lard their lean books with the fat of others' works. Ineruditi fures, &c. A fault that every writer finds, as I do now, and yet faulty themselves, Trium literarum homines, all thieves; they pilfer out of old writers to stuff up their new comments, scrape Ennius' dunghills, and out of Democritus' pit, as I have done. By which means it comes to pass, "that not only libraries and shops are full of our putrid papers, but every close-stool and jakes," Scribunt carmina quae legunt cacantes; they serve to put under pies, to lap spice in, and keep roast meat from burning. "With us in France," saith Scaliger, "every man hath liberty to write, but few ability." "Heretofore learning was graced by judicious scholars, but now noble sciences are vilified by base and illiterate scribblers," that either write for vainglory, need, to get money, or as Parasites to flatter and collogue with some great men, they put cut burras, quisquiliasque ineptiasque. Amongst so many thousand authors you shall scarce find one, by reading of whom you shall be any whit better, but rather much worse, quibus inficitur potius, quam perficitur, by which he is rather infected than any way perfected. [...] So that oftentimes it falls out (which Callimachus taxed of old) a great book is a great mischief. Cardan finds fault with Frenchmen and Germans, for their scribbling to no purpose, non inquit ab edendo deterreo, modo novum aliquid inveniant, he doth not bar them to write, so that it be some new invention of their own; but we weave the same web still, twist the same rope again and again; or if it be a new invention, 'tis but some bauble or toy which idle fellows write, for as idle fellows to read, and who so cannot invent?

&c &c – "... as I do now"; "... as I have done."

Friday, 21 August 2009


Point d’ironie n° 37 by Ed Ruscha at agnès b., rue du Jour, Paris. Sculpture by Jen-chri.

Point d'ironie*

Plusieurs raisons ont été avancées pour expliquer le manque de succès du point d'ironie en tant que signe de ponctuation :

* Les signes comme le point d'interrogation ou le point d'exclamation servent généralement à retranscrire la façon dont est ponctuée la phrase à l'oral. Or, une phrase ironique n'est pas forcément ponctuée d'une certaine façon. Parfois, seul le contexte permet de la reconnaître comme telle. D'ailleurs, les personnes qui se veulent ironiques jouent souvent sur l'ambiguïté. [C'est moi qui souligne, P.R.]

(Voir aussi: lien interne)
* The Wikipedia entry exists also in English: Irony mark

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Rephrasing, Paraphrasing Kant's "Reply..."

"... to the Question: 'What is Enlightenment?'"
Wenn denn nun gefragt wird : Leben wir jetzt in einem aufgeklärten Zeitalter ? so ist die Antwort : Nein, aber wohl in einem Zeitalter der Aufklärung. [If it is now asked, “Do we presently live in an enlightened age?” the answer is, “No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment.”]
Enlightenment, not "being enlightened" but "being in the process of enlightening [Aufklärung]" or "becoming enlightened," is reason's constant readiness for critical self-examination – a constant crisis and not a status quo.

This is why I would consider "The Age of Sentimentality" (Sterne, Rousseau, Laclos) and Romanticism as a continuation of Enlightenment and not as simple objections or counter-reactions. Les liaisons dangereuses is a wonderful demonstration of how instrumental reason seeking to play games without sentiment becomes unreason and absurdity.
Online texts:
German original, Immanuel Kant, "Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?" (1783) –
English translation, by H.B. Hisbet (?), "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?" (1784)

Is it Necessary to Die?

As a child or reluctant adolescent, whenever I asked, "Do I have to ...?" or "Must I ...?", my father used to say, "The only things you 'have to' are to be born and to die." Or, in other words, "You 'must' nothing but birth and death." As you can imagine from the two clumsy renderings, the original Finnish sentence is hard to translate from one idiom to another. "Pakko ei ole kuin syntyä ja kuolla," that's the Finnish phrase. See, for instance, the Wiktionary entry for the Finnish noun pakko and you can realize the difficulty. We could try yet another translation, using one or rather several of the very approximate, context-dependent equivalents suggested by Wiktionary, "obligation, force, necessity or compulsion": "Your only obligations are birth and death." "Birth and death are the only necessities." "The only compulsory things are birth and death." "Only birth and death come by the force of necessity." None of these translations is satisfactory. "Il ne faut que naître et mourir." That might be more accurate, I think, but not any more faithful to the Finnish formula than the English versions. Yet: "Abtrünnig erst bin ich treu." More than one language may be necessary for translating "necessary" from one language to another.

I find the question "Is it Necessary to Die?" both compelling and highly suspicious. The adjective "necessary" seems out of place. "Necessity" implies "need" and this notion makes the question sound like a category mistake.

What is "necessity"? What is "necessary"? I take the liberty of citing the OED's etymological explanation – click on the thumbnail image below to see a screenshot of OED Online:

Death is hardly something "[t]hat is needed," in the sense of "[i]ndispensable, vital, essential; requisite." OED adds: "Also with to or for (a person or thing). In the 16th and early 17th centuries the sense freq. approaches ‘useful’ without being ‘absolutely indispensable’." It is hardly something "required" or "imperative," even though it seems meaningful to say "You must die." Here the "must" is, however, used in a different sense than, for instance, in the formula "You must perform the act A in order to achieve the result B."

Yet, what is necessary is also something "[t]hat must be so; inevitable." Death is inevitable, a necessary consequence of being mortal, or rather – more seriously speaking – analytically inherent to the concept of mortality – and thus la condition humaine. Perhaps it is not simply incidental that mortality provides a classical example or the classical example of a premise in a syllogism ("Socrates is a man. All men are mortal. Socrates is a mortal.") Death is an inevitable consequence of being born. "Inevitably determined or fixed by predestination or the operation of natural laws; happening or existing by an inherent necessity" (OED). And so on.

In the strictest "transcendental-phenomenological" sense of evidence, death is not "certain," however. No one can face death as a certainty inasmuch as we consider the situation from a purely egological perspective and lived experience. What is more, death does not belong in the sphere of ego cogito. Death never happens "to me," "in person," as an experience in the living present.

In Heidegger's terms, death is the possibility of impossibility. Death is indeed "necessary" (for Dasein), necessary and inevitable or necessary as inevitable, but only in this sense of possibility, an imminent possibility of the impossibility of "being there."

The gift of life is the gift of death. (I cordially recommend Saramago's The Gospel According to Jesus Christ for a heart-rendingly profound statement of this observation.) Inasmuch as "necessity" implies need, requisite, prerequisite, action to be taken, compulsory task, death is beyond necessity. It is none of our concern. It is something that's been taken care of. Birth and death lie beyond our powers. One's birth is an immemorable event – thus it is paradoxical to call it an event in the first place – and none of us lives to tell about their death, for one's own death is by definition something that will not be survived and does not allow for an afterlife. Birth and death are not life-events to be told in memoires.

If there is an afterlife, there is no death. If there is just life and no afterlife, there is no death, either, inasmuch as only that which can be experienced (and thus "survived," "in person") really is in a strongest sense of evidence.

* * *

We should continue by quoting and discussing Blanchot, but I shall leave that for another time.

"Another time" remains necessary. Another time, an other's time, always another. Always, ad infinitum.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Non-believer in first person singular

Someone said, "Even an atheist must believe in something." I am not sure about that – or let us say, I am not ready to believe that. But the term "atheism" is much too vague and generic. There are fundamentalists who consider themselves "free thinkers", advertising their own world view as a key to freedom, and I find such fundamentalism just as alien to myself as religious fundamentalism. I would characterize myself as a phenomenologist – even though I do not think I am professionally qualified to call myself that, having read only some Husserl and never visited the Archives, etc. – and I do not differentiate between being a phenomenologist and being a person. I am not obliged to have faith. I do not deny faith to myself, either: faith can be an "object of study" and I can reflect on the possibility of faith as a genuine possibility of my own (genuine, eigentlich, something of my own). Calling myself a "religious atheist" amounts to having a serious interest in questions of faith and religion but lacking faith myself.

Thank you, J. B.

A friend reminded me after reading my former post:
You are perhaps aware that the oldest manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark – the oldest canonical gospel – ended after 16:8 where the women discover Jesus' tomb to be empty and leave it in distress. "And they told ... no one anything; for they were afraid" (who is narrating this?)
Thank you J. B., I hope you don't mind me quoting you.


Writing: leaving the initiative to language (see Blanchot).

Language, a society without a subject and – thus – without society.

Without society: essential solitude? (See Blanchot.)

* * *

Religion, for an atheist: the only way to preserve mystery might be to affirm the kinship of faith and fiction (read again Derrida, La littérature au secret).

* * *

Being sociable, thanks to, and in spite of, language.

* * *

Speaking of love, I meant reading.

* * *

Reading you like an open book.

Open, like an abyss. Abyss: depthless.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Reprise – of more or less everything written below

Repeating myself, but this is important enough to be re-thought, reconsidered over and over, "always again only for once": An everyday encounter is an act of reading, not only metaphorically but rather in a quasi-metonymical fashion, because every true encounter takes place in remembrance of the secret of the poem, as I tend to rephrase what Paul Celan once wrote.

This is a sequel to the quick and whimsical note from last night, in which the adjectives "intriguing" and "cathartic" may have been quite misplaced. A sequel, also, to everything I have previously written in this weblog.

"Denn mein Herz gehört den Toten an!" (Hölderlin)

"My heart belongs to the dead!" exclaims Hölderlin in a poem written in April 1794. As any reader, perhaps, awakened to the dire reality of the living.

But isn't that the human condition par excellence? The condition of reading – loving that which is no more or perhaps never was, and still is – even more than what "really" is?

Love for the ephemeral. For that which will soon cease being. Any moment.

Love for God, too. For "God is dead". Don't we, the "Christians" (and I would always emphasize my "religious atheism"), actually love the God who became flesh, the perishable god, the Son of Man? The God who could always perish, and did, too. The Lovable God instead of the God to be Feared (I get no reasonable top Google results for "fearable"). The Suffering God instead of the Eternal and Immaculate.

Maybe this is just my perversion – as a non-believer – but the story of Good Friday as a non-happy end seems more intriguing and cathartic than its sequel, the story of resurrection, etc. etc.

* * *

Click on the thumbnail below to read Hölderlin's Griechenland (Apr. 1794) in Sattler's Bremen edition (Hölderlin, Sämtliche Werke, Briefe und Dokumente, ed. Sattler [München: Luchterhand, 2004], 26-28). I trust this fits within the rules of Fair Use. Sorry for the less than perfect quality of the scan.