Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Samuel Beckett: An Unpublished Fragment

I can no more travel to Sligo than I can walk.

Beckett's words, yes. From where, I'll tell you later. But suppose it was typed out on a piece of paper. We didn't yet know whether a fiction or a fragment of autobiography, or a text in itself. It would be enough to permit speculation. Someone might say: Sligo, is of course Yeats country. The Beckettian creature can no more accept all that mythic Celtic landscape than he can leave the mute suffering body. Remember, this someone says, that when Beckett was asked about Yeats's influence he replied 'You mean Jack?'. 'Sligo' - a certain version of Ireland - is no longer available. The landscape may be resonant with certain dry ghosts, but it is, in Beckett, stripped of its mythic inscriptions.

In fact, then: in 1988 I attended a literary summer school in Sligo. Several of Beckett's plays were performed, and we listened to the entire radio plays, saw Film and Quad. The organizers, out of courtesy, and trying their luck, sent a letter to Beckett inviting him to attend. He replied with a postcard: 'I can no more travel to Sligo than I can walk'.

Remove this explanation, and we have an enigmatic fragment, attractively delphic, extravagant with connotation. But let this 'removal' stand as a kind of parable as to the birth of 'literary' language.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Academic attachments

The attachment to Zizek, the fond and indulgent ways people have of referring to him, are in no way new or worthy of individual analysis. They are to be understood as part of the behaviour of a fraktion of homo academicus. I remember from my undergraduate days a similar stance around Derrida. Now it’s by no means obvious (to say the least) that Derrida comes off best from his exchange with John Searle. But of course, no, Jacques was just playing with Searle, it was so amusing, Searle didn’t even realise it etc. I remember another acolyte, visible excited after hearing Derrida speak, ‘Jacques was so funny’ he opined, ‘pretending he couldn’t speak English very well..’Of course, he and 'Jacques'[he’d never met Derrida] knew this, the Others didn't. The thing was Derrida was always ‘in the know,’ archly clever and ludic. There were no errors or flaws, only masks, ruses, tricks, and other pretexts for complicit laughter. But always this presumption of intimacy on the part of the acolyte, this curious identification with the Master. And in fact it’s not that far removed from how some Shakespeareans treat Shakespeare – he’s unbelievably clever, there’s nothing in the text that he hasn’t anticipated, he’s already stood in the place towards which you’re myopically stumbling. Same kind of thing. The need for the master, the complicity and identification with this genius-Imago… To put it in more demotic terms, they all want a piece of him

Spectacular Thinking

re Zizek's remarks about China & George Bush, as cited in the previous post:

Marxism was never a theory of how largely agrarian or pre-industrial societies could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps to become post-capitalist classless societies. This statement, pace Zizek et al, does not involve some antique concept of Iron Historical Necessity. It’s simply about material preconditions.

It would hardly be a measure of the utter tenacity of capitalism, then, that it wasn’t eradicated ‘even’ in China, with or without the ‘Cultural Revolution’. But does Zizek really think the ‘Cultural Revolution’ was primarily about eradicating traces of capitalism? And if, in error, he does think this, why from a Marxist perspective would capitalism’s ability to survive cultural assault really be so surprising.

There is no point in asking these questions. For the actual Cultural Revolution is here replaced by the mere signature or idea of the thing, as copied and profaned in the spectacular imagination.


Theorists of Hegemony have long been aware that – putting it in basic terms – the ruling class will try and appropriate, recuperate, use for their own ends, resistance and opposition. They will cite it as evidence in prosecuting their own case, rename and reinterpret it. Acts of legitimate resistance will become acts of criminal madness by agents of foreign powers. There will be attempts to ‘scramble’ or denigrate the language of opposition, to make ‘liberal’ or ‘socialist’ merely pejorative items. And these attempts will in turn be contested, will fail adequately to describe or summarise the reality of the situation.

But simply to take one of these attempts at recuperation on its own terms, to accept it, admit defeat….Bush said it: it’s true. Astonishing. And of course, what Bush said has in fact long been the staple, utterly banal and predictable, response to dissent in the liberal democracies, going back to the Cold War: you should think yourself lucky that you can protest like this. We’ve heard it all before, and for most of us it washes over us. It’s the background noise we live with. It takes a ‘brilliant dialectical philosopher’ to take it seriously.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

A stubborn attachment

From a comment I left elsewhere:

Zizek is now little more than a jaded professional contrarian. It’s clear from his article that he knows next to nothing about Chavez, or rather, nothing that you couldn’t glean from Fox news; that he’s made no effort to actually investigate and ponder the details, because be has no interest in the labour of detail, no interest in accuracy or the merely empirical. Chavez, Bill Gates, Shakespeare et al are used only illustratively in the service of by now endlessly reiterated Theoretical points. This is the salient feature, surely, of Zizek’s writing - a willfully instumental and careless use of ‘examples’, made to perform the same ersatz-dialectical tricks for a stubbornly admiring audience.

Moreover, it is striking how many of Zizek's political points repose on assumptions that reveal another politics entirely:

Is it necessary to explain, for example, the political stupidity of the following two remarks:

"Even Mao’s attempt, in the Cultural Revolution, to wipe out the traces of capitalism, ended up in its triumphant return.

"Those in power calmly accepted it, even profited from it: not only did the protests in no way prevent the already-made decision to attack Iraq; they also served to legitimise it. Thus George Bush’s reaction to mass demonstrations protesting his visit to London, in effect: ‘You see, this is what we are fighting for, so that what people are doing here – protesting against their government policy – will be possible also in Iraq!’"

If it is, I'll do so at the weekend.

But anyway, Zizek's citation of Bush's remark has led, among the Zizek shareholders, suddenly to all kinds of discussion about the political efficacy of protest. The striking thing of course is that this sudden animation comes about only in defending Zizek. What's at stake is not the nature of political protest - a subject which otherwise never arises among these people - but only the continued viablity of Zizek. This attachment to Zizek is so radically stubborn that it requires analasis in its own right.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

What Matter Who's Speaking

As so often in Beckett’s prose, you’ve no sooner read a sentence one way than you hear it another way. The second reading washes over the first like a wave over sand. Beckett facilitates this kind of thing often by subtraction – syntactic elisions, removal of verbs or conjunctives, which free up otherwise hemmed in voices. In Not I, the very absence of grammatical and orthographic markers forces the reader to make immediate decisions. This is experienced almost as a constraint, a strange transformation of freedom (to interpret, to arrange) into tyranny (the necessity of imposing these so as to suppress dispersal). Or the ambivalence of one sentence will be opened or closed by the sentence following it, endlessly..

I have always being a little intrigued by this:

What matter who's speaking, someone said what matter who's speaking

For it seems to me that this can be inflected numerous ways. For example:

What does it matter who spoke – someone did. What does it matter who.

“what matter who’s speaking” someone said, “what matter who’s speaking”

What does it matter who’s speaking, someone said ‘what matter who’s speaking?’

No sooner is one of these seen that another appears in the corner of vision.

But what's interesting in the sentence is the minmal difference between what matter who's speaking and its reiteration.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Pure Theory

A previous post reports on Israeli military personnel quoting Deleuze and Guattari as useful to their strategy. "Furthermore, they used none of the city’s streets, roads, alleys or courtyards, or any of the external doors, internal stairwells and windows, but moved horizontally through walls and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors". This is bollocks. Tunnelling through walls has long been a tactic of military organisations fighting urban warfare. It needs no Deleuze or Guattari to come up with any of this this stuff. But the gratuity needs interpreting. The invocation of D&G is an obscene supplement. A display of supposed theoretical elan flaunted in the face of homes and human beings detroyed. Talking about this process as if was some kind of spatial puzzle - ‘the reorganization of the urban syntax by means of a series of micro-tactical actions’. The actual horrific violence is both denied and doubled by the the symbolic violence of talking about it in these terms.

But it struck me that this isn't too removed from how a a lot of Theory is used i today's academia. It redescribes a reality that is already in fact perfectly visible, leaving that reality completely untouched while somehow making it seem more 'interesting'. There's a surplus of enjoyment that comes from this redescription, and this mistakes itself for some kind of radical analysis. More later,..