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Attempts and Temptations. (An incursion.)

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Avital Ronell

PostPosted: Wed Nov 05, 2014 5:39 pm    Post subject: Attempts and Temptations. (An incursion.) Reply with quote

(The great artist Broder pictures, in the dark, a way to the genetic circle. [An incursion.] Versuch, Versucher. AR.)


To Be Like The Others

By James Broder

If the title read To Be Like Others it would not clash so strongly. ‘The others,’ the phrase reminds us of Sartre, of existentialism. They, the others, are not something we, ourselves, us, I, me, can control. However often the subject has been treated, the subject of how much I may become like them, I still claim the right to say a bit more about that! Well, why? Recently I was reading something written by Chus Martinez, one of the star curators of recent times, along with the likes of Hans-Ulrich Obrist. Many of us know of such types, appropriate, no doubt, to our own time. In any case, thinking myself one of her admirers I was ready to indulge in the mimetic art, in assuming the appropriation of her tastes, and to this aim I picked up Dublinesque, the recent novel by Enrique Vila-Matas. Immediately, almost form the beginning, the text brilliant-ified itself, with the sparkling ornament of prose lifted out of a French novel, from the writer Gracq, (himself not so long ago parted.) Was it that, like me, Vila-Matas was quite overcome by the desire to be like him, like the other? The word of Gracq appearing in the pages of Vila-Matas novel read: the unleashing of erroneous energies. In what follows I am going to take up this question — why can’t I take it up again — it is too old!, too boring!, but I am obstinate in my purpose to read it out of this world, today, couldn’t I have an insight or two, not yet known? But, I haven't sated my subject clearly. What I want to get at is the question of imitation, is it an ‘unleashing of erroneous energies,’ deadly, or will we be forced to some mundane interpretation, eg, there is a little good, and there is a little bad in that impulse, or some such cliche, one not even worthy of the absurdists? And must we then say that, overall, we need not talk of it, if we ain't totally stupid? But that is my subject, and so….

Dublinesque itself is about a man who seems under constant threat of being crushed by the others, but it is such a modest threat, such a mundane and uneventful menace, even a placid threat. But, as such it is relentless. One is reminded then of the notion of those masses given to despairing, to ‘quiet desperation.’ “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” A well known judgment! It is worth quoting the immediate following line of our American friend, Henry David Thoreau: What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. There is much of this ‘confirmed resignation’ in Dublinesque. And is that what I am trying to imitate!? I, who had meant to adopt the habits of my admired curator, a certain woman from Barcelona, or some such location, far from Dublin? Are the hot-blooded Spaniards like that!? That they want to read about cold dreary Irishness? To become Irish? But didn’t Becket, even Joyce, resemble most of all a French? Didn’t he write in France, and hadn’t he said, Paris in wartime is better then Dublin by peace... Yes, my perception was starting to blur, and I felt the focus was becoming suppressed, occluded, I could barely get a sense of where all these dominoes began, wasn’t everyone simultaneously imitating everyone else? Let us introduce a little sanity. Another American, how wise they all are, Emerson says that “Imitation is suicide.”

Of course I did not even contemplate the notion that all this chain of folks, dangling from the wrist of my gifted curator, could be suicides — that is too wild an idea. Emerson spoke of self reliance, and thus he damned the copied life, the ready-made life, but Emerson himself was under the spell of aristocratic notions, of the aristocrat’s ideal of self possession. What good would it be to merely be alert to the mistake of imitation if all I did was make some superficial changes in myself and then posed, for my own edification, who else would notice, as a kind of hero. Sheer delusion. I don’t say Emerson was some mythmonger, not exactly, but whatever there is real like his self reliant man, with his injunction resembling the commands of Emmanuel Kant to free oneself from tutelage, is much too abstracted from the world to be of much use. That is how it seems to me. Oh, one could after all be a genius and a superman and yet go under, unnoticed and congealed in a kind of new, abnormal, even unexpected and original pose. A mere posture, that is the problem. Emerson wants us to avoid the others, but I say, that is too weak for me, why should I give a care for some hidden independence of judgment? I could have that anyway even whilst I append the opinions and tastes of my betters, who would be the wiser?

Now, it would be quite a different matter, I thought to myself, if a whole country were to take it upon themselves to produce something distinctive and fantastic as a way of life, as series of practices and of real life, so one could point and say, look there, look how it is done with them! That is all OK. But, as it turns out, basically, in the liquid moment, in this moment where our professionals and bearers of cultural links are jumping here and there to the tune of four countries a month, how can they avoid being subsumed in mimetic leveling down, in the impulse to cosmopolitanism? Is that not the ultimate extermination of the individual, by the them and the others? Even nations becoming replicas of other nations? I mean how does it happen practically, these professionals come home, write an article which subsequently appears online, some fool reads it, imitates it, and we are off to the races. We all end up attracted to certain stories, certain windows onto reality, highly constructed in their own way, a series of suppressed openings.

It seems to me that instead of ever reaching any determinate view on this matter, what is all the more likely is that first, even allowing that my attempt to litigate all this is a genuine and serious one, worthy of notice by reasonable people, all I will end in doing is showing that it is inevitable. Or, if not that, instead that the issue is totally vague, since everything already from the beginning is a copy of something else, and where did it all start? And so, what difference? I must admit that having come this far my appetite and ambition are whetted. So I want to try to get an exact hold on this, without collapsing the matter into useless details and prattle.

Firstly, would it matter if we made it, the prescription to freedom of mind, part of our curriculum? The teacher is ready to respond to the student’s desire to learn, take this — be yourself child! Does that resemble a possibility? Is that at all serious; this sort of normative teaching of difference? Not at all. But what would be more interesting is that certain materials were given to a student, such that from a very early time they could form their own curriculum. Such that highly constructed capacities, most suitable to the individual, were made piecemeal beginning in the formative years, in open ended fashion, leading into the economic world. Assuredly, I would have fallen into a trap if I believed in such things, here purposed, just as they stand in these small suggestions. That is, in such vagueness. But, it gives me an inkling what real self reliance might mean, something that might at once correspond to that aristocratic notion of former centuries, but only, at the same time, bring it forward. In this I must admit I have been given the idea — by another! By one of them. This was really inspired by Roberto Unger, the great thinker from, it seems, America and from Brazil.

It is fascinating to me though, the way the genetic circle forms a thread that kind of runs through everything, even at the political level alone, and not only at the existential level, but there too at the level of impulse responding to perceptions understood according to immediate ideas. I see hair as hair, for instance, and not as fur. And that means I am impelled to certain distinctive thoughts and engagements in action accordingly. Naturally, someone will say, but those things, if we look into the window turned on reality, turn out to be some proteins called keratin. Forget about your anthropomorphic delusions of hair and fur! Don’t you mean, in point of scientific fact, what you call fur!? What you regard as hair!? Well, yes, but that too entails a kind of idea; a conceiving according to the natural-scientific concept. If we could think that far, without suddenly turning aside, we would invade a realm of paradoxes turning on paradoxes. This examination would involve imitation of the ideas we would have to learn in order to follow the thread. Goethe says: All unseen the threads are knit together, an infinite combination forms. But must it be ‘all unseen?’ Aren't some of the elements or components logically visible? Is there no learning in this world, is there no discovery and only mimetic slavery? Of course, one becomes confused, even if one makes a great effort not to simply pass the matter off as silly. Well, if people are utterly unimpressed, at least they will avoid the problems associated with imitation, they will not imitate us here, not in this case, and so not become suicides. In that I console myself at the sight of the extreme boredom of the remaining readers. But, one last word.

Vila-Matas book describes an incident from a film by David Cronenberg. Therein a man is described: It is clear right away that he is different. This is the understanding of the matter Vila-Matas recommends we take up. And further we are told that here we might be dealing with “A lonely man struggling to communicate in an inhospitable world.” In all likelihood this character knew nothing of Chus Martinez, or of the book she inspired me to read. Whereas Villa-Matas describes people who know nothing of Joyce or even of Beckett, does that resemble a possibility? Perhaps, but it is all disorienting, it suggests little stagnate pools quite separate from the general circulation of imitation. A romantic and dramatic picture — worthy of Rousseau! I only round out my essay with this completion of my litigation, showing that I have not forgot to look around a bit at what is already known to everyone, and repeating only the questions that have often been asked. Is there any true value in such stagnating puddles? These puddles perhaps might suddenly go out towards the margins, and spill over, going beyond the current ring of thoughts and circles of ideas. That might be, there is one, a strange image of a lonely person, a smorgasbord of possibilities begins unexpectedly passing over the face and the body of that person, of that isolated puddle, made up as it might be of last week’s rainwater, and they, the strange potentials, go deep into that puddle until it overflows.
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jany watson

Joined: 11 Jan 2017
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Location: london

PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2017 6:38 am    Post subject: great one Reply with quote

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