Monday, 23 November 2009

In Reply to Lethe

 I could not post this reply to a post by Lethe because of its length. Please read her post first and then my response. I love you all. You are my family. I am not argumentative.

You asked me to comment on your post and I have chosen to in serious vein given the thought you have applied.

Allow me, rudely, to pick at the seams first to test the strength of your material.

In your eighth paragraph you refer to the 'effervescence of language', and in the following of 'language in its purest, most accessible, most fluid form […] It's on a wavelength most of us can hear.'

Pedantically, effervescence means to bubble, to froth up: language does, indeed, bubble. It is not concrete; it does not point irrevocably to things but seethes around them, crashing over them to reveal their shapes as outlines much as a pier is made visible by stormy water. This, needless to say, is a Saussurean image; however, the fact is, as the late Jacques Derrida endless explored, language, or text, which is far more encompassing, is notoriously unreliable; treacherous even in the way that it undermines itself. So my ears twitch when I read of language, any language, being 'on a wavelength most of us can hear'.

My concern grows when I read a few paragraphs later of 'this ability to zero in on transcendence'. Here is an assumption of belief in a transcendence, or one that can be written on a menu for human consumption, human dialogue. Given the fish slipperiness of language, of the human mind, it is doubtful. You explicitly acknowledge this when you write, 'After all, the concept "art" is in our minds.' Art is artifice, as is language.

Given the direction of your thinking, it is of small surprise to find you drifting towards a Jungian construct of human consciousness - 'what if we attributed an author's sparkling sentences to a state of mind rather than an individual person?'. It is wishful, wistful.

Derrida has presented us with a problem that the Anglo-American tradition of thought is trying to solve through pure logic, forgetting pure logic, itself, is a piece of human engineering (my cards are turned face-up). Even it were proved beyond all doubt in all possible universes that mathematics was a transcendental language, it has already gone beyond the boundaries of what was once the definition of a science, i.e. a demonstrable proof of an experiment conducted in similar conditions producing equivalent results,  as string theory, for example, is beyond demonstration and remains only a mathematical conjecture. Reductively, mathematics is only another language.

Derrida never denied the absolute, the transcendental, only the ability of man to bring it into a textual context, as the moment man attempts to do so, he corrupts it by the very process of the transmutation. (Derrida would never write as bluntly as I; indeed, I would be sent to the bottom of the class for being so direct.)

I have picked at the seams and, perhaps, found a few loose threads worthy of further thought. Now permit me to address the meat, or soya, if vegetarian, of your thesis: the concept of genius and criticism.

I love the sentiment, 'Art criticism flattens the journey, however, by making it into a vacation… etc.' It is accurate but begs the question as to what art criticism should achieve. Whose fault this desire for potted heros, self-affirming images of ourselves?

Let's discuss genius. Caravaggio has only been 'discovered' as a genius in recent decades. Why? I would assert for political reasons, not political as in government, but political as in polis, the people. In his paintings, he was the great democrat; recognisable individuals populate his paintings, his lighting technique mirrors contemporary portraiture, he was a rogue: in summary, he is a successful rebel and how we wish we had the balls to be him. In the arts, one can argue that the concept of genius is relative only because the impact of an individual on human consciousness, in terms of the written word or painted canvas, is harder to assess than that of a scientist such as Darwin or Einstein.

I believe your desire to link an individual's unique ability to a wider influence correct. I, too, counter the capitalist desire to divide and sell to us as dumb individuals, but I do not bow to their simplistic argument that you are either for us, i.e. progress in their terms, or the ability to sell more of the same crap from an ever limited number of corporations in the desire to make more profits for the few, or against us, i.e. a Sarah Palin socialist. (Why do so many Americans react so strongly against the idea of people socialising, being concerned about people in worse positions than themselves? It does my head in.)


In conclusion, thank you so much for your post. It has got the blood pumping.


Lethe said...


Thank you for giving consideration to my essay! I've read your response and am in the process of forming my thoughts.

It sounds like, from your references, Derrida, Saussure, et al. that you feel something I've said goes against things you've read in theory.

I studied literary theory in college and I appreciate the fact that these writers/philosophers are important to you, but I couldn't exactly piece together from your response what each theorist said which conflicted with my argument.

You critiqued my "language" in the essay, and found some contradictions, but then it seemed, you also were pointing out the inherent contradictions in language that most of these theorists, the Structuralists, and Post-Structuralists were so concerned with.

Let me first say that I'm a guy and not a girl, so we're on the same page there.

Second, let me say that I'm an essayist, not a theorist. I appreciate theory, but I do not abide by theory. I abide by my creative impulse to write.

My writing is lyrical, not scientific. I'm philosophical, but not philosophical in the sense that Husserl is philosophical. I'm writing for the sheer love of language, the sounds it makes, and the images it creates.

That's the best way to understand my essays. That is, do not take them too too literally. You will find yourself in knots. Because my purpose is to cast a spell, to seduce, and nothing else.

Does my argument stand up?

That's for you to decide.

Did I elicit a response from you?

That's the real goal behind the writing. "To get the blood pumping".

If nothing else, I've achieved what I set out to do.

Kind Regards,

DOT said...

Lethe, I apologise for the gender confusion, though it is part of the pleasure of remote communication; the idea of sexuality or desire becomes irrelevant.

Please understand what I am striving towards, like all philosophers, a grandiose expression for myself, is debate. It is never personal, always personal. It is an exploration of your thought and mine. Neither is conclusive.

I have the intuition you feel raw: I do not wish to make our condition worse, neither do I wish you to imagine I have such an ability within my power; let's curse and swear at each other over some disputed point.

For our differences are points.

I would argue the essence of being as an essayist, a contemporary writer, is to be totally conscious of modern thought. Words are lies. Words only have inflection within the modern world, the context within which they are aired, printed, or received.

To effect change is to understand.

What I have to say in no way belittles what you have to say. What you've prompted is an important debate.

Love. DOT

Lethe said...

First off, I'm not upset by your statements. I want you to disagree with me so long as you have something I can carry on an exchange with or about.

But you're going to have to be clearer with your claims. You're going to have to not assume I know what you're talking about.

You write:

"I would argue the essence of being as an essayist, a contemporary writer, is to be totally conscious of modern thought"

There are two problems with this statement. A) No human is totally conscious of anything, let alone "modern thought" B.) I don't believe there is an essence to being an essayist which exists outside of myself, "out there", which you are suggesting

You write:

"Words are lies."

Okay, but they are also truths. So I'm a little confused here. Are you referring to French Post-Structuralism, are you suggesting that I need to understand the "constructed nature of language"?

You write:

"Words only have inflection within the modern world, the context within which they are aired, printed, or received."

Again, I don't necessarily disagree with this statement; I just don't see the connection you are making. I don't see your point.

And there are no hard feelings. But if you want to debate, you're going to need to make some better punches. You're ideas aren't exactly carried through. You seem to want me to wink at you like I understand, but I really don't. You're going to have to be more clear with your arguments.

I love discussion. Trust me. It's passion of mine. But if you step up to the plate, I will expect you to communicate something. That is, let us define what we're talking about.

I'm not sure I can say with assurance I know what you're talking about. You're making some claims in very casual, loose way. I'm not even sure what you're claims are.

Please don't take this as offense. I'm not offended by anything you say. But understand I live, breathe, sleep words, language, and ideas.

I'm not a light-weight.

DOT said...

It is late for me, I am half-pissed yet totally with you on your last sentence, 'But understand I live, breathe, sleep words, language, and ideas'. Me too.

It is a work, not of love, of life.