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

31 comments:

Le Colonel Chabert said...

I know you're not so into it, but he's Verdi's falstaff:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igCZGOO0u-E


this is based mostly on Merry Wives of Windsor. In that, the falstaff of the history plays is i think more revealed as a troublesome figure of errupting individualism, individualism as the expression of the piggish body getting the upper hand over the reasoning mind and instrumentalising the mind for its gratification, pitted against a functioning and fecund if conflicted community.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

semi sequiturs:

Northrop Fry, 1976:

"Nothing seems less likley today than a return to the introspection ofthe Eisenhower decade, yet I cannot help feeling that such a return in just around the corner. Student unrest is not a genuinely social movement, it has no roots in a specific social injustice as Negro unrest has. Like the beatniks,who have gone, the hippies, who are on the skids, and the LSD cults, which are breaking up, student unrest is not so much social as an aggregate of individual bewilderments, frustrations, disillusionments, and egotisms." (the university and personal life)

Milos Forman (and twyla tharp), 1979:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhbxI5eVnM4

Le Colonel Chabert said...

fry-fryE

Le Colonel Chabert said...

oh and:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8v4r6b2X0E

Le Colonel Chabert said...

(that was really re: the empson on pastoral post below.)

catmint said...

thanks, I thought the Verdi was super

I can see now what I'm trying to say is that

1. the character of Falstaff, first of all, in Henry IV 1, is meant to be slightly disconcerting. Because Shakespeare gets him right, as an ambivalent character, he inspires this fascination in the audience. But this results in the progressive domestication of Falstaff, by Shakespeare in The Merry Wives... and then Verdi. A similar thing happens sometimes with well drawn "ambivalent" characters in soap operas etc.

2. This relates to a sort of trick whereby you can effectively suggest a social class (imaginatively not really) not by showing representive figures but by showing incongruous figures

catmint said...

"this is based mostly on Merry Wives of Windsor. In that, the falstaff of the history plays is i think more revealed as a troublesome figure of errupting individualism, individualism as the expression of the piggish body getting the upper hand over the reasoning mind and instrumentalising the mind for its gratification, pitted against a functioning and fecund if conflicted community."

yes, as far as I can judge - the character of Falstaff is predicated on post-medieval individualism, Burckhardt writes:

"But wit could not be an independent element in life till its appropriate victim, the developed individual with personal pretensions, had appeared."

& individualism probably is always piggish

I don't know if instead you could argue Falstaff stands for common law against statute law

catmint said...

I always like the style of things like this

"G R E E N S,

GROATS-VVORTH
of Wit,
bought with a
million of Repentance.

Describing the follie of youth, the falshoode of make-
shift flatterers, the miserie of the negligent,
and mischiefes of deceiuing
Courtezans."

...which, I can't say is meant to be ironic, in that Greene's really valorising these "follies", but there's a suggestion of this inversion of morality, it's considered and declined, perhaps

catmint said...

...I'm sometimes resistant to other people's ideas; yes, Falstaff probably does represent a troublesome figure of erupting individualism

catmint said...

...I've tried make this article a bit less negligent

catmint said...

Hair does seem close to straight pastoral - I've noticed lots of things since reading this book

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"Hair does seem close to straight pastoral - I've noticed lots of things since reading this book"

yeah it's interesting how sharply it illustrates Empson's points: but also the forman movie was already a bit of nostalgia: the era was already alien (it was made in '79) - and its curious how the passage of just a few years could be very much a "period piece" and have the pastoral feeling in that sense, too, of the archaic golden age, a cynical "modernity" looking at "innoncence". the eve of the reagan era is already understanding unfolding history in this ironised way practically day to day, as it passes. the production design was very good of course on that film, forman is meticulous about eye-pleasing, but its not era-facsimile at all - there is the taste and feeling of that rich ornament thingy of the moment, the eve of the reagan era, early madonna and the brocades from some talking heads album. the aquarius singer's gold vest and girly romantic white shirt was fashionable just then, and the empress sissy hair...its not a brutal commodification of signs but an avid one nonetheless, possessive, acquisitive, branding/imaging, post modern. the conservative spirit of northrup frye triumphs but with its condescension and hostility transformed into an excuse for exploitation.


it (the transformation of the Hippie into a cinematic image and fashion action figure) differs from but has some parallels with the trajectory of falstaff. there is as you say a disturbing broad signification about the history play falstaff, he is a figure of a class in a intricate, complex developing relation with monarchy. it is not erased by his transformation, but its power is domesticated and exploited, the complexity simplified, a structure solidified (which is one of transformation of complex referentiality to the orderliness of a kind of spectacle)...through the operas too (salieri wrote one, the carl otto nicolai, before verdi).

Le Colonel Chabert said...

if we accept just provisionally frye's insistance that More's Utopia and this type of thing is an allegory of the individual, of mind's suzereinty over body, and then ernest jones' assumptions that the characters of drama are aspects of individual psyches divided so it is the psychic drama that is staged in these genres, both the Hippie and Falstaff are sort of addressing an ongoing political struggle on yet a further layer of reference, treating the psyche that is the target domain as the source domain of another metaphor targeting the must-be-really-concealed unspeakable political, that is a political struggle being staged and described as if it were a spiritual/psychic one (which is a common enough christian theological operation at that point) - the political since the late 16th century in yerup north by north west (in 'modernity' and also in capitalism) appearing as a psychic one (so this is the prehistory of spectacle, eventualy necessitating a metaphysics of its own, which is psychoanalysis proper). the psychoanalytic "excuse" and model is prepared for over a few centuries, as the function of this metaphor in which the social and political are spiritualised but in an anti catholic way, a way better suited to modernity with its key elements of the individual and secularism. Contrast falstaff to elsewhere - to Machiavelli or Cervantes - where basically the same social elements are present (differently in each) but the political problem is not the same and thus the psychoanalytic excuse not appropriate (its differently thelogical)...the Prince or Callimaco and Don Quixote share much with Falstaff (fabulizing for one); falstaff as a machiavel undone by the body (hal is a machiavel too); the founding fables of modernity give you different distribution of classes and a different character of class conflict (and the dividual individual v society), shakespeare's is distinct from the "modernity minus capitalism" of variously poor rural Spain and rich mercantile urban italy.

common law more against monarchy-toward-absolutism I think, against the metaphysics of monarchy and all the nation-state abstractions and charisma stuff (astraea) which go along.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"mind's suzereinty over body"

i should have said here reason over imagination, desire, emotion, etc.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

oh also, last thought, with falstaff you can see this pivot that shakespeare is regarding the relation of past and present, the function of tradition. In an essay "castrating the creditor" susan penuel pointed out that just before writing Merhcant of Venice, Shakespeare financed the purchase of gentility, of a coat of arms, for his father. there is a tension between "the past determining the present"/"tradition and inheritance makes the individual" and the past as what the ascendant individual makes, the tradition what the virtuous ascendant individual fashions to suit himself. But the comparison between how Machiavelli and Cervantes explore this and how Shakespeare stages it is really telling I think, about the various possibilities within modernity which co-exist, but then capitalism decides on one dividual individualism, on one theology of property, and masters the others

catmint said...

I wanted initially to criticise two assumptions from this paragraph here

"The relationship between materialism and idealism was configured, unsurprisingly, partially through an interrogation of the theological register, especially Christianity. What for me needs to be immediately addressed are the implications of the elevation of Christianity as the only universalist religion and hence paradigmatic model for a militant atheism. At the conference two speakers, John Milbank and Creston Davies, presented the theological Christian view (and not a model) as the political solution to the failures of liberal democracy itself. These were very strange presentations - Milbank, especially with his disconcerting assertive mode, critiqued democracy from what could be rightly called Christian authoritarianism. The unapologetic, near fascism of this undemocratic position raised explicitly the potential problems of the logical construction of a militant politics inside the prescriptive contours of a reworked Marxism through Christianity. The narrow formulation of these still euro-centred Christian polemics also indicated clearly for me how the claim to universality in philosophy is still enunciated in a narrowly western register, where a straight linear line is drawn from ancient Greek philosophy, through Christianity, modernity and global word order with little reference to the constitutive role of ‘Afro-Asiatic’ history and thought in the very formation of Europe as the West."

I thought the author seemed basically decent, and these aren't his opinions, but he's effectively accepting these ideas as an orthodoxy his argument's working against. It's not at all mainstream to think "a straight linear line is drawn from ancient Greek philosophy, through Christianity, modernity and global word order". It was commonly thought that the renaissance had taken place, for instance. It was widely accepted that there was a trade off between technical advances and religious stability, Burckhardt considered this obvious, and he was considered a conservative.

In the end I didn't think this article deserved being criticised line by line, but I thought I could say something about the milieu involved in this materialism conference, and assert that such a thing as the renaissance took place, and that this genre existed: the falstaffian.

unfortunately the two halves of my article don't really gel

catmint said...

thankyou for your comments on the formation of the prototype "bourgeois individual" - there's a lot to consider - I'll give it some thought

parody center said...

Catmint, as I told you AT MY OWN SITE, the currency tradeur is not talking to me, so you can tell her that will have influence on the development of her character in The Slovenly Alien ! (which by the way she refused to co-script with the lame excuse that she doesn't want to get into conflicts with people)

Le Colonel Chabert said...

It's not at all mainstream to think "a straight linear line is drawn from ancient Greek philosophy, through Christianity, modernity and global word order".

No not mainstream, but I think the blogger is describing what he calls "the Badiou/Zizek tendency", and indeed this linearity is something they are both constructing, by implication, in their Paul revival. Badiou will be defended as more "nuanced" about the yerocentrism implied, and rightly, but it is still something which emerges, if subjected to self criticism, in his stuff, including his dramas, for example Ahmed le Subtil, which is a delightful piece but ultimately involves a kind of mastery and absorption of an imperial centre present by Molière whose "universalism" and universal applicability (eternal, ahistorical) is celebrated, rather than putting Molière as subordinate legacy/tradition at the service of a present situation. It is not so uncommon nowadays to hear grad students and young professors tagging Marcus Aurelius, Epicurus, Paul of Tarsus and Augustine as belonging to some "yerupeen" and at the same time "universalist" this or that, somehow or other.

The writings of Paul of Tarsus are mainly very repugnant and vile. One little quote is snatched out and treated without the least historical or philological responsibility and sensitivity to ground a bogus argument about Christianity's "essence" as universality with unique harmony with "Enlightened atheism" etc.. As if christianity had no history and is a fairy of tremendous longevity or something.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

look here for the throwback yeroworship and the confident orientalist sweeping simplicities; ("joseph k" is daniel miller/antigram). Amusingly, in that thread, my comment responding to aps, in which I asked whether he and kotsko and josephk were arguing that apostasy from the monotheisms was a bar to membership in the communist party in china (i listed some prominent people, like soong ching-ling, whose father was a methodist minister), was among several that were deleted; (the topic is so evidently deranging, the questioning of the intelligibility of this beloved Yerup so evidently intolerable, one is tempted to apply the tactic of group psychoanalysis.)

Le Colonel Chabert said...

the tradition of treating history as global and analysing the renaissance as a meaningful stage does not speak of "easternised" and "africanised" european thinkers, artists etc - you never hear it said that John Calvin was an "africanised" European and Heidegger "Orientalised" european despite the well established influence on them of Augustine and Taoism respectively. Nonetheless antigram's gesture of declaring all the atheists or generally "modern" cosmopolitan educated people outside europe even in the 20th century and right now - Biko, Habash, Soong, Roy, whomever - "westernised" is accepted as intelligible and indeed obvious by the majority of the participants in that argument, all of whom of course have the benefit of access to global elite culture product on the subject of "european history" and "western civ" which of course has for decades now treated such assumption-encrusted remarks as white supremacist rubbish, long discredited and rather 'vulgar'.

dejan said...

one is tempted to apply the tactic of group psychoanalysis.)

That's the spirit, Chabert!

Of course the true perversion of Zizek's universalizing version of Christianity only becomes obvious when you realize he's completely ignored the Serbian Orthodox Church, which would condemn (if it was privy to banning, which it isn't) his Puppet and Dwarf as heresy for implying the universal validity of Christianity vis-a-vis other religions, leading up to intolerance and the Old Testamental sword-wielding mentality. This sort of vanity is the single most horrible sin in the Christian book, yet the book commits it while pretending that it doesn't.

But Zizek´s narrative is not Christian, it is social-democratic: Yerup is placed in the role of the benevolent but stern Master who ´´yes butts´´ disobedient members by the force of inherent justice.

catmint said...

there's this film Quills about the Marquis de Sade, where for one reason or another he's shown somewhat domesticated. He's teaching Kate Winslet about the importance of liberal tolerance, and about the deleterious effects of the jesuitical type of austerity. His eccenticities and excesses are best seen as a form of zen teaching. Kate Winslet puts up with this with good grace but I think dies in the end.

catmint said...

Daniel, while I do respect his cleverness, unfortunately seems to implicitly accept that writers such as Zizek, Zupancic and Badiou, by having acceded to the vanguard of "thought", logically subsume the field of thought, in the manner of Kandinsky's Spiritual Life:

"The spiritual life can be accurately represented by a diagram of a large acute triangle divided into unequal parts, with the most acute and smallest division at the top. The farther down one goes, the larger, broader, more extensive, and deeper become the divisions of the triangle. The whole triangle moves slowly, barely perceptibly, forward and upward, so that where the highest point is “today;” the next division is “tomorrow,” i.e., what is today comprehensible only to the topmost segment of the triangle and to the rest of the triangle is gibberish, becomes tomorrow the sensible and emotional content of the life of the second segment.

At the apex of the topmost division there stands sometimes only a single man. His joyful vision is like an inner, immeasurable sorrow. Those who are closest to him do not understand him and in their indignation, call him deranged: a phoney or a candidate for the madhouse."

...the effect of this assumption, which wouldn't create too much mischief elsewhere, is that it prompts one to argue that Zizek, for example, has a kind of infallibility, having aprioristically refuted any and all objections that could be levelled against him.

catmint said...

I'm not sure about Zizek's politics. His frequent assertions that the world is really on its head etc, to me places him with laissez-faire liberalism, in that it makes the political causes of things ineffible. He maybe hopes mankind will leave its infancy behind through Lacanian Psychoanalysis and will be able to build the New Jerusalem after that.

But his politics are vague surely because they aren't urgent.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

...I think the remote psychoanalysis of the blogartist formerly known as antigram's relation to these celebrity thinkers must begin with an examination of his peculiar fondness for and clumsy overdeployment of the word "rigorous".

winky-smiley.

But really if one is persuaded by Kandinsky's pyramid of spirit, and wanted to be an Alpha Minus or Beta Plus in the human stack, one would be making an effort to really understand the strings well enough to be able to explain it, not this secularised religious speculative horseshit that is produced on the margins of literary criticism, film reviewing and other culture connoisseurship production.

catmint said...

I think Kandinsky's reverie would conform closely enough to Gramsci's "romantic idea of the innovator" though I haven't read the piece where he explains this idea. Positively, I believe Daniel's adequetely equipped with dialectical žoužou and can competently proceed with analysing concrete political circumstances. & with statistics too.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

...speaking of miracle play herods, zen faloured draumas, metaphors for the frightful teeming masses, etc; perhaps a spectacular turning point was around the time one could see the Last of Tbe Moss Green Pastoralists gravely explaining how Enframing has Driven Away Being! on television.

catmint said...

thanks Chabert

the other thing that struck me about the LS discussion is that the "thinkers" discussed, in this case Zizek, are just assumed exempt from the politics of the milieu in which the discussion takes place, and from which they themselves have presumably emerged...

catmint said...

...to the effect that Dr Zizek appears as a kind of sufi saint

catmint said...

...I should have stated more obviously Burckhardt's renaissance includes the appropriation of Arabic, Hebrew and contemporary (as well as ancient) Greek literature, in addition to the Latin author's with which his humanists often overtly identified themselves