Sunday, 28 July 2013

Kafka's Room and the Philosopher

“Everyone carries a room about inside them. This fact can be proved by means of the sense of hearing. If someone walks fast and one pricks up one's ears and listens, say at night, when everything round about is quiet, one hears, for instance, the rattling of a mirror not quite firmly fastened to the wall. 

For philosophers are beings who have passed through a death, who are born from it, and go towards another death, perhaps the same one.


These are two unrelated ideas, from Franz Kafka and Gilles Deleuze respectively. But together they might open a window onto how philosophical and literary texts are differently read.

Much of the criticism levelled at philosophers like Deleuze (or more generally ‘continental philosophy’) relates to the obscure style, the use of ‘techniques’ more associated with poetry and literature, the predilection for a language which, taken literally, is ‘nonsense’. And yet, had such ideas been expressed by a 'literary' writer, they would meet with a different, more generous response. 

Take Kafka's image, above, that we carry a room around inside us. In a literary text, something like this is entirely tolerable, in fact welcome.  Nor is it just that in the case of Kafka we are appreciating something specifically literary, in the narrow sense - the style and silence, the economy of language. No, we think it's a beautifully suggestive Idea. For sure it's neither a paraphrasable philosophical idea nor a piece of surreal whimsy. Perhaps another way of putting it: what Kafka gives us is not so much an idea as the place where it might start. It has something to do with personal space, with memory, with loneliness, with intimacy and haunting..

What happens when we think is that we feel an idea come to us like a fleeting wind, and unless we catch it then and there with words it vanishes. But we don't have to catch the whole idea, fully developed and elaborated. The thing is to draw the outline of the idea, a few watchwords that will enable us to return to it. An idea begins as a kind of space that opens up before we have all the content.

What Kafka has done is demarcate, beautifully, such a space.  And what literature does is to open such spaces again and again. But it seems to me that this is also what a philosopher like Deleuze does, with his rhizomes, his witches, demons, revenants, his plains of grass.. He is a philosopher who marks out a space and a direction.

Friday, 19 July 2013

John Berger on Van Gogh



"The gestures come from his hand, his wrist, arm, shoulder, perhaps even the muscles of his neck, yet the strokes he makes on the paper are following currents of energy which are not physically his and which only become visible when he draws them […] the energy of a tree's growth, of a plant's search for light, of a branch's need for accommodation with its neighbouring branches… My list is arbitrary; what is not arbitrary is the pattern his strokes make on the paper. The pattern is ilke a fingerprint. Whose?"

see here (and here)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Decantation of the I

"The individual is the seat of a constant process of decantation, decantation from the vessel containing the fluid of future time, sluggish, pale and monochrome, to the vessel containing the fluid of past time, agitated and multicoloured by the phenomena of its hours." Beckett, Proust



Monday, 15 July 2013

"Language has the peculiar power to render things absent and to keep only the ghostly image of their presence.Close to the narrator's voice, he tells us, there is a narrative voice that speaks through the script; it is an impersonal murmur, a con- sciousness that does not answer to a living subject and that cannot be brought under its sway.. "
Kevin Hart,The Dark Gaze: Maurice Blanchot and the Sacred.

Malone and the murmur of language..

"..too am in perpetual motion, accompanied by Malone, as the earth by its moon. "
"Me, utter me, in the same foul breath as my creatures? Say of me that I see this, feel that, fear, hope, know and do not know? Yes, I will say it, and of me alone."  (Beckett, The Unnameable)

Yes, I will say it, and of me alone


It's hard not to hear, in 'me alone', the echo and presence of 'Malone', so that we hear the supervention of  an other at the very moment of self-assertion. What matters, then, is not what is stated in the sentence, but what happens in the sentence: the ghostly reappearance of Malone, the murmur of language that stains even the clearest I. What is given in the sentence is not its propositional content* but the ventriloquism that takes place when we use language - and which is perhaps the very theme and substance of "Texts for Nothing").

It is true both that Malone speaks in him and that he speaks through Malone: 'Malone' is the proper name given to this other who the I cannot shake off, who is present depite the I; the I is never a 'clean' place from which to speak, but Malone also is a vehicle or a mask that 'permits' something which would otherwise remain not only unsaid but unknown. 

In this sense 'me' and 'Malone' are like two sides of a piece of paper.


* This serves also as a useful example of how unwise it is (although impossible, finally to avoid) to treat the clauses or sentences of a literary text as propositions. The proposition is simply one element, and not an element to which the others - sound, echo, rhythm etc are subordinate.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Beckett and the Subject: Three Quotes

"We are disappointed at the nullity of what we are pleased to call attainment. But what is attainment: The identification of the subject with the object of his desire. The subject has died–and perhaps many times–on the way"
(Proust)

"The words too, slow, slow, the subject dies before it comes to the verb.’ (Texts for Nothing)

"In the meantime no sense in bickering about pronouns and other parts of blather. The subject doesn't matter, there is none." (The Unnameable).