Saturday, July 28, 2007
a Miracle Play Herod
(Max Stirner at least seems to have noticed that Hegel's historical scenes are largely populated with papier-mâché figures)
Athlone Contemporary Thinkers etc: an industry exists producing these books about politics that convince not through their appraisal of real political structures but rather through the adoption of a style and tone that suggest a real political theology, as if such a thing were possible. In this arrangement the properties afforded to a single figure, here the writer, work to suggest a whole metaphysics, which in turn extends and frames the work itself. Versions of pastoral can do something similar: using single figures or figures in small groups to suggest coherent classes. Of course these works aren't immune to the effects of bureaucratic processes (alternatively "the effects of the market") - and so the slogan "imminence in philosophy" - a refutation of these arrangements, is effectively promoted in exactly this way. This doesn't make it a bad slogan though.
Here's a sort of explanation from renaissance drama:
1. Falstaff suggests a Plantagenet underclass, in the same way as Žižek suggests a class of theologians. In the case of Dr Žižek a few real or imagined novelties, or perhaps novelties with respect to the everyday language of the media, imaginatively suggests the efficacy of an imputed science that does not need to be shown. Likewise the incongruity of Shakespeare's Falstaff as an underclass figure is used to suggest the properties of this underclass. This unusual, disturbing quality is I think what Empson's getting at* in objecting to the "tender attitude" shown toward the latter Falstaff or the popular Falstaff. His argument recalls the notion of "compulsion anxiety" - pleasure (in this case) achieved through the repetition of an experience that's initially distasteful. (Advertising often takes advantage of this sort of process).
2. An incongruous figure suggests a coherent other class better than a figure typical of that class. Common paranoia can be left to construct around the few strokes drawn a coherence that can only be really shown in a truly pedestrian way.
*"It is as well to look at Falstaff in general for a moment, to show what this tender attitude to him has to fit in with. The plot treats him as a simple Punch, whom you laugh at with good humour, though he is wicked, because he is always knocked down and always bobs up again. People sometimes take advantage of this to view him as a loveable old dear; a notion which one can best refute by considering him as an officer.
I haue led my rag of Muffins where they are pepper'd: there's not three of my 150 left alive, and they for the Townes end, to beg during life
We saw him levy a tax in bribes on the men he left: he now kills all the weaklings he conscripted, in order to keap their pay. A fair proportion of the groundlings consisted of disbanded soldiers who had suffered under such a system; the laughter was a roar of hatred here; he is "comic" like a Miracle Play Herod."
- Empson Some Versions of Pastoral