Saturday, June 11, 2016

Happy Otherwise: 1869

Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin, and Marya Nikolayevna Bolkonskaya — each from different novels published in 1869 — and each drawn as spiritual characters —the first holy and the second religious — express the thought that happiness for them must lie elsewhere than in the conventional happiness of romantic love.

Мое призвание другое, -- думала про себя  княжна Марья, мое  призвание -- быть счастливой  другим  счастием, счастием любви и самопожертвования.

“My calling is different - Princess Marya thought to herself, “my calling is to be happy with a different happiness, the happiness of love and self-sacrifice.”

Myshkin when asked whether he had in Switzerland been in love: "я... был счастлив иначе" ... "I ... was happy in a different way".

Saturday, April 25, 2015

How nice it is to go struggling and grasping for things

Giotto: Expulsion of the Money-Changers
In an article contributed to Art Futures (2010) Bernard Stiegler summarizes Marx's view of labour ... "With general proletarianisation, human knowledge is short-circuited as a result of its technological reproduction and implementation," and then sets out how consumerism takes the disenfranchisement to another level: "In the consumerist model it is not only the know-how (savoir-faire) of workers that becomes obsolete, but also the knowledge of how to live (savoir-vivre) of citizens, who thus become as such mere consumers a good consumer is both utterly passive and irresponsible."

"Consumerism tries to bind consumers and make them submit by producing dependence, that is, addiction". But we have been in this bind a long time. In his 1909 book Jakob von Gunten, Robert Walser observes: "Man hat es hier allgemein eilig, weil man jeden Augenblick der Meinung ist, es sei hübsch, etwas erkämpfen und erhaschen zu gehen. " ...  "There is such a general hurry here because people think every moment how nice it is to go struggling and grasping for things."

Friday, April 24, 2015

The ruffian world

"Ich werde als alter Mann junge, selbstbewußte, schlecht erzogene Grobiane bedienen müssen, oder ich werde betteln, oder ich werde zugrunde gehen." – Robert Walser, in Jakob von Gunten, Ein Tagebuch ... "As an old man I shall have to serve young and confident and badly-educated ruffians, or I shall be a beggar, or I shall perish." (Christopher Middleton's translation).

Walser's body was found in the snow on Christmas Day 1956, the year after his book Der Spaziergang had been translated into English by Middleton. Walser had been reported missing from a nearby asylum; he was 78 years old.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The missing epigraph

The German edition of the Sebald's Die Ringe des Saturn bears three epigraphs, only two of which survive into the English edition. The epigraph missing in action is a quotation from Milton - "Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably" - which is strangely misattributed to Paradise Lost. Given that there is no way this sentence can be fitted into the metric scheme of Milton's poem, it is - one would think - quite obvious that the attribution is wrong.  As often with Sebald, many questions are raised: was the misattribution deliberate? Why? And why was it omitted from the English version? One plausible explanation is that the translator, Michael Hulse, pointed out the error, and Sebald decided to drop it entirely, perhaps thinking that the echoes of the words "Paradise Lost" were crucial to the aimed at effect. Here I am also reminded of how Sebald in Logis in einem Landhaus (A Place in the Country) holds up Johann Peter Hebel's poem in which the burnt cinder of a destroyed earth is viewed from space, just as the boy returning home at night with his father asks if their home with its bright windows will one day be a ruin like the old castle. And in the same vein is the cumulative plangent sense of loss that permeates Die Ausgewanderten (The Emigrants).

The mis-cited Milton quotation is actually from The Areopagitica, and its full context is:

On the importance of even wrong ideas
Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed upon Psyche as an incessant labour to cull out and sort asunder, were not more intermixed. It was from out the rind of one apple tasted that the knowledge of good and evil, as two twins cleaving together, leaped forth into the world. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evil, that is to say of knowing good by evil.

Der gute Kamerad, Alun Lewis, und Die Ringe des Saturn

Alun Lewis's second and final and posthumous book Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets opens with an epigraph from Ludwig Uhland's Der gute Kamerad.

Kann dir die Hand nicht geben,
Bleib du im ew’gen Leben
Mein guter Kamerad!

which assigned the date March 5th, 1944, the date on which Lewis died at the age of 28 on military service in Burma from a gunshot wound which - according to the official report - was self-inflicted accidentally.

Uhland lived from 1767 to 1862. Der gute Kamerad appeared in his 1815 Gedichte from Stuttgart where he had been recently been working as a lawyer.

Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden,
Einen beſſern findſt du nit.
Die Trommel ſchlug zum Streite,
Er ging an meiner Seite,
In gleichem Schritt und Tritt.

Eine Kugel kam geflogen,
Gilt’s mir oder gilt es dir?
Ihn hat es weggeriſſen,
Er liegt mir vor den Füßen,
Als wär’s ein Stück von mir.

Will mir die Hand noch reichen,
Derweil ich eben lad’.
Kann dir die Hand nicht geben,
Bleib du im ew’gen Leben
Mein guter Kamerad!

I had a comrade,
A better you'll not find.
The drum called us to fight,
He walked by my side,
In the same step.

A bullet flew,
Aimed at me or you?
It tore him away,
He lies there at my feet,
As if he were a piece of me.

He reached out a hand
While I reloaded
I cannot give you a hand,
You stay in eternal life
My good comrade!

Maybe it was the German language-connection, but something set me to seeing echoes between the Lewis book and Die Ringe des Saturn by W. G. Sebald.

The first lines of the first poem in Lewis's book immediately signal both the military content and the strong theme of nature which runs through his work ... The poem is called 'Dawn on the East Coast' and begins ...

From Orford Ness to Shingle Street
The grey disturbance spreads
Washing the icy seas on Deben Head.

The military connections of this locale are set out clearly and evocatively by Sebald in Die Ringe des Saturn (The Rings of Saturn). Reading that book readily reinforces the appropriateness of the word 'disturbance' in relation to these places. Concerning Orfordness he writes
War damals, bei meinem ersten Aufenthalt in Orford, ein Übersetzen auf »die Insel« ausgeschlossen gewesen, so stand einem solchen Vorhaben jetzt nichts mehr entgegen. Das Verteidigungsministerium hatte den geheimen Forschungsbetrieb vor einigen Jahren aufgelassen, und einer der beschäftigungslos an der Hafenmauer sitzenden Männer erbot sich ohne weiteres,mich für ein paar Pfund hinüberzufahren und später, wenn ich meinen Rundgang gemacht hätte und ihm von der anderen Seite her winkte, wieder zurückzuholen Während wir in seinem blauen Dieselkutter den Fluß überquerten, erzählte er mir, daß Orfordness nach wie vor weitgehend gemieden werde. Sogar die bekanntlich mit nichts so sehr wie mit der Einsamkeit vertrauten Standfischer hätten es nach ein paar Versuchen aufgegeben, dort draußen in der Nacht ihre Angeln auszuwerfen, angeblich weil es sich nicht verlohnte, in Wahrheit aber weil die Gottverlassenheit dieses ins Nichts vorgeschobenen Postens nicht auszuhalten gewesen war und in einigen Fällen tatsächlich zu langanhaltenden Gemütskrankheiten geführt habe. [pp.278-279]
When I was first in Orford it was forbidden to approach "the island", but now there was no longer any obstacle to going there, since, some years before, the Ministry of Defence had abandoned secret research at that site. One of the men sitting idly on the harbour wall offered to take me over for a few pounds and fetch me later after I had had a look around. As we crossed the river in his blue-painted boat, he told me that people still mostly avoided Orfordness. Even the beach fishermen, who were no strangers to solitude, had given up night-fishing out there after a few attempts, allegedly because it wasn't worth their while, but in reality because they couldn't stand the god-forsaken loneliness of that outpost in the middle of nowhere, and in some cases even became emotionally disturbed for some time. [p.233 of the Hulse translation]
I assume Sebald was at least in some way involved in this translation, nevertheless it seems worth noting that quite different impressions arise fem the the two phrases “blue-painted boat” and “blauen Dieselkutter”.

Siebald describes Shingle Street as "the most abandoned spot in the entire region ... which now consists of just one wretched row of humble houses and cottages and where I have never encountered a single human being" (p225).
Sogar in dem bei weiten verlassensten Flecken der ganzen Gegend, in der heute nur mehr aus einer einzigen trostlosen Zeile niedriger Häuser und Hütten bestehenden Ortschaft Shingle Street, in der ich noch nie einem Menschen gesehen habe. [pp268-269]
He relates the unusually long embargo on the release on an MoD file on the evacuation of Shingle Street:
Tatsächlich lag bis vor kurzen eine Akte mit der Aufschrift Evacuation of the Civil Population from Shingle Street, Suffolk, in den Archiven des Verteidigungsministeriums, die, im Gegensatz zu ähnlichen, im allgemeinen nach dreißig Jahren freigegebenen Dokumenten, fünfundsiebzig Jahre under Verschluß bleiben sollte,weil sie,einem anscheinend nicht auszurottenden Gerücht zufolge. Einzelheiten beinhalte über einem grauenvollen, in Shingle Street sich ereignet habenden Zwischenfall, den man bis heute vor der Öffentlichkeit nicht verantworten könne. [p.275]
And it is a fact that until recently a file labelled Evacuation of the Civil Population from Shingle Street, Suffolk was in the archives of the Ministry of Defence, embargoed for seventy-five years as distinct from the usual practice of releasing documents after thirty, on the grounds that (so the irrepressible rumours claimed) it gave details of a horrifying incident in Shingle Street for which no government could accept public responsibility" [p.231]
The last section of Lewis's poem 'The Jungle' contains the lines

Only aloneness, swinging slowly
Down the cold orbit of an older world
Than any they predicted in schools,
Stirs the cold forest with a starry wind,

Which I set against Sebald's description of the destructive gales during the night of October 16, 1987.
Jedenfalls ist es mir noch erinnerlich, daß ich meinen Augen nicht traute, als ich von neuem hinausblickte und dort, wo zuvor die Luftwogen an der schwärzen Masse der Bäume aufgelaufen waren, nur mehr den fahlleuchttenden, leeren Horizont sah. Es schien mir, als hätte jemand einen Vorhang beiseite gezogen und als starrte ich nun hinein in eine gestaltlose, in die Unterwelt übergehende Szene. Im selbem Moment, in dem ich die ungewohnte Nachthelle über dem Park wahrnahm, wußte ich, daß dort drunten alleezerstört war. [p.316]
At all events, I still remember that I did not believe my eyes when I looked out again and saw that where the currents of air had shortly beforehand been pouring through the black mass of trees, there was now just the paleness of the empty horizon. It seemed as if someone had pulled a curtain to one side to reveal a formless scene that bordered upon the underworld. And at that very moment I registered the unaccustomed brightness of the night over the park, I knew that everything down there had been destroyed. [p.266]
And the next night he describes how "during the night, doubting what I had seen with my own eyes, I walked once more through the park. As there were power cuts throughout the whole region, everything was in deep darkness. There was no glare from streetlights or houses to dull the sky. But the stars had come out, in a display so resplendent as I had seen only over the Alps when I was a child." [p.267]
Ich weiß nicht, wie ich den ersten Tag nach dem Sturm überstanden habe, entsinne mich jedoch, daß ich mitten in der Nacht, zweifelnd an dem, was ich mit eigenen Augen erblickt hatte, nochmals durch den Park gegangen bin. Da der Strom in der ganzen Gegend ausgefallen war, lag alles in tiefer Dunkelheit. Nicht der schwächste Abglanz von unseren Behausungen und Verkehrswegen trübte den Himmel. Statt dessen waren die Sterne aufgezogen, so prachtvoll, wie ich sie nur in der Kindheit über den Alpen gesehen habe. [pp.317 - 318]

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Malouf and Late Style

In last night's interview on Lateline, David Malouf provides insight into the phenomenon, described by Adorno amongst others, of Late Style:
You discover really that your brain does not really work in the same kind of way, and it’s partly to do I think with patience. You know, if you’re writing a novel, for example, you really do have to work at it every single day for as long as the novel takes: that could be six months; it could be two years. And you’ve also got to be endlessly interested in detail, and I think there’s a point you get to as a writer where you become impatient of that kind of finicky detail. And I think that’s the point where you need to think ‘Can I really go on writing novels which demand this?’ Because what I will write will be “thin” rather than dense.
David Malouf, 1 April 2015

Adorno rather than seeing late works, and he is focussing on Beethoven's late music, as "thin"; rather "The maturity of the late works of significant artists does not resemble the kind one finds in fruit. They are, for the most part, not round, but furrowed, even ravaged. Devoid of sweetness, bitter and spiny, they do not surrender themselves to mere delectation."

Edward Said, in a piece published in the London Review of Books, characterizes Adorno's thinking: "It is the episodic character of Beethoven’s late work, its apparent carelessness about its own continuity, that Adorno finds so gripping ... Adorno is describing the way that Beethoven seems to inhabit the late works as a lamenting personality, and then to leave the work or phrases in it incomplete, suddenly, abruptly jettisoned."

Malouf's simple explanation suggests that we do not necessarily need to follow Adorno into thinking that an ageing artist such as Beethoven is, by his abrupt jettisoning of detail and apparent disregard for continuity, in effect declaring that 'no synthesis is conceivable'.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Human amidst the inhuman

The final shot of Tarkovsky's Solaris shows that what we might have thought of the protagonist Kris's return to Earth – despite disconcerting signs such as the pond being frozen, the small metal box he had taken with him into space sitting already on the dacha's window sill, and the father inside the house being sprinkled and splashed with hot rain from the ceiling – is really evidence that he has remained on Solaris. The camera zooms out and we see that the little patch of what we may have taken to be Earth is in reality a small island in the mysterious brain-ocean of Solaris.

One of the themes of the film is for the various characters to find a way to be human in the inhuman environment of Solaris and space exploration. But is not the real Earth also just such a small island in the midst of the vast inhuman and possibly numinous ocean of space? And isn't our challenge how still to be human in a reality which Darwin, quantum physics and cosmology has already revealed to be mysterious, vast, random, and not at all centered around this happenstance speck of a species.

Tarkovsky later uses this same device of zooming out to reveal a framing context at the very end of the film Nostalghia. Throughout the film there have been a few dimly lit shots of a Russian rural landscape, like a memory or recurring dream of a place from childhood ...

I have written about these colour-drained shots elsewhere. At the end of the film we see the protagonist and a dog in front of what seems to be this childhood house, lying on the ground looking into a pond. He is the grown man of the present, but the posture – lying idly with a dog and gazing into a pond – is a childhood posture. There is again the telescoping of time that ended The Mirror where the aged mother, after her middle-aged son's death, is seen (still aged as in the present) leading her two small children through the rural landscape around their childhood home (which I have also written about here),
The pond carries a strange reflection which is only explained when the camera zooms out to reveal that the entire remembered landscape is mysteriously contained within the walls of a great cathedral.

In Solaris we zoomed out to show that the context of our limited bound human life is a mysterious alien and conscious ocean. In Nostalghia we see that the entire scope of our lives exist incomprehensibly within the frame and constructed order of a spiritual realm.