An Act of Resistance

‘But one day the why arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement. Begins – this is important. Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return into the chain or it is the definitive awakening. At the end of the awakening comes, in time, the consequence: suicide or recovery.’

‘To think that the work of art can be considered at last as a refuge for the absurd, it is itself an absurd phenomenon and we are concerned merely with its description. It does not offer an escape for the intellectual ailment. Rather, it is one of the symptoms of ailment which reflects it throughout a man ́s whole thought. But for the first time it makes the mind get outside of itself and places it in opposition to others, not for it to get lost but to show it clearly the blind path that all have entered upon.’

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

Returning from a trip that took me from LA to NYC, speaking to emboldened Conservatives bolstered by the pervasiveness of a rising right, what was most visible was the social vulnerability on the streets. As I write this, the UK is governed by an unelected and xenophobic administration expecting great success at an imminent election. Each day brings further frightening developments barely reflected in a neutered media.

This blog reflects my passion for a literature that ‘awakens consciousness and provokes what follows’, but it is sometimes difficult to sustain the concentration necessary when witnessing daily the destructiveness and xenophobia. Will literature help understand poverty beneath the cloud of abundance and extraordinary consumption, or the loneliness of rampant individualism? Is community, literary or otherwise, even possible in this late capitalist society?

Art, for Malraux, was triumph over death, the only thing that resists death. It is a beautifully simple idea. Deleuze wrote something similar: ‘The act of resistance has two sides. It is human, and it is also the act of art. Only the act of resistance resists death, whether the act is in the form of a work of art or in the form of human struggle.’

On the flight from LA, I watched Oliver Assayas’ Non-Fiction, essential for those passionate about literature, but also its themes of individualism and loneliness. Social criticism is the film’s undercurrent, with complex and multi-layered characters that, exposed in vulnerable moments, display aspects and emotions that people prefer to conceal. It isn’t preachy, nor are there moral judgements, but an encounter with an artist that handles painful subjects with honesty and courage. This is the possibility of art, whether film or literature, a place where dreadful things happen in a parallel existence, creating the chance for us to encounter our unplumbed fears and the Other within.

‘For we are made of lines. We are not only referring to lines of writing. Lines of writing conjugate with other lines, life lines, lines of luck or misfortune, lines productive of the variation of the line of writing itself, lines that are between the lines of writing.’

— Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (trans. Brian Massumi)

[There is satisfaction in returning to a work you once found all but incomprehensible, and read as poetry, only to find that this time perhaps your thinking has in some senses caught up and you are able to read with greater clarity, or that is at least how it feels. It’s probably illusory.]

Remaining on the Shore

“What is left for the abstract thinker once she has given advice of wisdom and distinction? Well then, are we to speak always of Bousquet’s wound, about Fitzgerald’s and Lowry’s alcoholism, Nietzsche’s and Artaud’s madness while remaining on the shore? Are we to become the professionals who give talks on these topics? Are we to wish only that those who have been struck down do not abuse themselves too much? Are we to take up collections and create special journal issues? Or should we go a short way further to see for ourselves, be a little alcoholic, a little crazy, a little suicidal, a little of a guerrilla—just enough to extend the crack, but not enough to deepen it irremediably? Wherever we turn, everything seems dismal. Indeed, how are we to stay at the surface without staying on the shore? How do we save ourselves by saving the surface and every surface organisation, including language and life? How is this politics, this full guerrilla warfare to be attained? (How much we have yet to learn from Stoicism. . . . )”

—Gilles Deleuze, Logic of Sense (trans. Mark Lester).

Deleuzian pyrotechnics. I’ve a real urge to revisit his writing. I’m sure I was too young when first encountered. But where does that thought process stop?

“The past is not to be confused with the mental existence of recollection-images which actualise within us. It is preserved in time: it is the virtual element into which we penetrate to look for the ‘pure recollection’ which will become actual in a ‘recollection-image’. The latter would have no trace of the past if we had not been to look for its seed in the past. It is the same with perception, just as we perceive things where they are present, in space, we remember where they have passed, in time, and we go out of ourselves just as much in each case. Memory is not in us; it is we who move in a Being-memory, a world memory.”

Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2

Quignard’s The Silent Crossing – thoughts on society

One of the recurrent themes of Pascal Quignard’s Lost Kingdom series, at least across the three volumes I’ve read, is the denial of community. In The Silent Crossing Quignard writes:

To turn one’s back on society, to break off from believing, to turn away from anything to do with looking and to prefer reading to surveillance, to protect those who have passed on from the survivors who denigrate them, to give succour to what is not visible—these are the virtues. The rare ones who have the matchless courage to escape spring up out in the wilds.

Quignard’s turning away from the world is centred on the idea of detachment from given identity. He writes “Do not become the slave of your people in the patronym they gave you within the collective language they taught you. Otherwise, the name they gave you will take the place of your flesh.”

Like an echo before a mirror, this idea has played on my mind for days until, this morning at 4.00am I dug out an old book and found the reference I was seeking. Before this blog, there were times when I was preoccupied with the work of Bourdieu and Badiou (at different periods). In this case I was trying to ferret out references from the work of the wrong ENS philosopher. What I was looking for I found in Badiou, mostly from one of the best introductions to Badiou’s  philosophy, Peter Hallward’s Badou: A Subject to Truth.

I have no competence in philosophy so forgive any misinterpretation. Badiou, like Quignard, rejects concepts of the Other. Hallward writes:

The whole ethical predication based upon recognition of the other should be purely and simply abandoned. For the real question—and it is an extraordinarily difficult one—is much more that of recognising the Same.

Badiou holds that assertions of any group identity are pernicious, writing in his Ethics, “Rimbaud was certainly not wrong when he said ‘I am another.’ There are as many differences, say, between a Chinese peasant and a young Norwegian professional as between myself and anybody at all, including myself.” Assertions of difference, whether social, biological, cultural or other, are not incorrect (or lacking powerful effects) but simply banal. It is not of course that there are no differences between us. There are only differences and each of us is not a self-identity but a self-difference.

Where Quignard and Badiou might differ is that denying community entails a turning away from the world. Badiou is after all Marxist to his core. In response to the Do Not Become What You Are quotation I posted recently, a reader linked to this conversation between Gilles Delueze and Antonio Negri which ends like this:

One might equally well speak of new kinds of event, rather than processes of subjectification: events that can’t be explained by the situations that give rise to them, or into which they lead. They appear for a moment, and it’s that moment that matters, it’s the chance we must seize. Or we can simply talk about the brain: the brain’s precisely this boundary of a continuous two-way movement between an Inside and Outside, this membrane between them. New cerebral pathways, new ways of thinking, aren’t explicable in terms of microsurgery; it’s for science, rather, to try and discover what might have happened in the brain for one to start thinking this way or that. I think subjectification, events, and brains are more or less the same thing. What we most lack is a belief in the world, we’ve quite lost the world, it’s been taken from us. If you believe in the world you precipitate events, however inconspicuous, that elude control, you engender new space-times, however small their surface or volume. It’s what you call pietas. Our ability to resist control, or our submission to it, has to be assessed at the level of our every move. We need both creativity and a people.

This is one consequence I like about Quignard’s work, that it compels so much more thinking and reading. It is like a hunt chasing down allusions and memories that range across Badiou, Lacan, Melanie Klein, Freud and numerous ancient Franks, Greeks and Romans.

Great Secondary Philosophical Work

Walter Kaufmann’s Nietzsche is pleasing in several different ways. A great start to a new year’s reading, as it’s got me reading, writing and thinking like a man on fire.

I’ve always been stubborn about tackling the major thinkers directly, head on. Stubborn and in cases like Derrida, likely to end in tears. Kaufmann’s Nietzsche is a first-rate work of literature, as good as Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which Nietzsche felt, probably correctly, was his finest moment. I’ve lined up other secondary material on Nietzsche by Nehemas, Safranski and Malcolm Bull.

But I’m wondering what other books on the major thinkers stand up as works of literature in their own right? Is there someone I ought to be reading that will open up Bourdieu’s philosophy/sociology in the way Kaufmann has for Nietzsche’s work? Or Deleuze’s work, which I almost read as poetry, allowing meaning to sink in where it can?

It isn’t just Kaufmann that has me thinking along these lines. Richard Geldard’s Remembering Heraclitus was enlightening. I also became aware from Samuel Beckett’s Library, one of my all-time favourite pieces of secondary literature, how much Beckett approached the major thinkers indirectly before, if ever, launching a direct assault on their major works.

If you have any suggestions please reply in Comments (so other readers can share) rather than Twitter, where everything just gets lost or buried in Favourites.