Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Friday, August 08, 2008

an historical novel

Writing The Historical Novel Lukacs describes the characteristics of great popular writers as commensurate with those of great political leaders, whose:

"genius manifests itself in the unusual rapidity with which they are able to perceive in quite small and insignificant reactions a change of mood, in the people or a class, and to generalise the connection between this mood and the objective course of events. This power of perception and generalisation forms the basis of what leaders customarily call "learning from the masses". Lenin in his pamphlet Will the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? describes a very instructive instance of of this interaction. After the suppression of the July rising of the Petrograd proletariat in 1917 Lenin is forced to live in illegality with a worker's family in the suburbs. He describes the preparation of the midday meal. "The wife brings in the bread. The husband says: "Look at this lovely bread. They don't dare give us bad bread now. We had almost forgotten that there was good bread to be had in Petrograd"," Lenin adds:

"I was amazed at this class estimate of the July days. My thoughts had revolved around the political significance of those events ... As a person who had never known want, I had never given a thought to bread...Thought follows an uncommonly complicated and intricate path to reach what is at the basis of everything, namely the class struggle for bread."

Here we can see such an interaction in wonderful plasticity. The Petrograd worker reacts with spontaneous class-consciousness to the events of the July days. Lenin learns from these reactions with the greatest sensitivity and turns them to account with remarkable speed and precision in the consolidation, substantiation and propagation of the correct political perspective."

I was going to put together some kind of historical argument as per why Lenin's role as an intellectual would be coherent in 1917, by Lukacs standards, but may not serve as the basis for a transhistorical theory of "the intellectual and masses". Evidently one of the premises in Lukacs' example is that the workers constitute a political force (collectively, piecemeal or mediated some way). Experience shows this is not always the case. Also, there's something strange in Lenin as democratic intellectual writing Will the Bolsheviks Retain State Power? We're perhaps obliged to see this as some kind of novel Lukacs wrote in which Lenin appears.

This isn't a very good analysis, but we could be back there again, tomorrow, with the worker's family, at the table, with Lenin making notes.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"circuitous paths"

The circuitous paths of council estate buses could be said to materially embody the inefficiency with which this society is permeated, and which it disavows. Reverend Roy Walker often uses these buses to attend outlying churches. He's one of the few passengers today. Where the motion permits he jots down a few words in an exercise book. I've been on these buses when kids have chucked stones at the bus, walked across in front of the shops, and chucked stones at the bus again as it came back round the corner. Revd. Walker is composing a prayer:

D.L.W.P. (dear lord we pray) for pensioners struggling with fuel costs at this time. The bus rocks on its gearing and descends the next street.

&W.P.O.L. Past rhodedendron bushes. Our soldiers in Afghanistan.

&W.A.P. (we also pray) Our soldiers in Iraq, that they may be returned. Past blurred out front gardens kids playing on a swing.

&W.A.P. People in hospitals, and awaiting operations.

The bus lurches onward.

T.W.P.O.L. - Amen.

Monday, August 04, 2008

"Let us finish with a classic example in this connection, from Eisenstein's masterpiece Battleship Potemkin: the montage of the three lightning shots of the stone lion with those salvoes from the battleship in revolt, and its effect. It is not just, as Pudovkin says, that this effect can be "reproduced in words only with difficulty": it is impossible to reproduce it or translate it into words or verbal "values" without entirely losing its filmic-visual artistry. Phrases such as "revolutionary lion" or "the very stones rise up and shout" and the like, into which we might and in fact do translate this celebrated visual metaphor, are generic, banal and impoverished by comparison with the montage of these shots of the lion. For the latter possess a far superior power of individuation, attained by the artistic use of plastic expressive force: an optical-expressive force achieved precisely in the modes of montage of photo-dynamic idea-images. By the same token, it would be impossible to turn Dante's lion

holding its head high and furious with hunger so that the air seemed in dread of it (Inf. I,II.47-48)

into filmic or pictorial or sculptural idea-images without entirely losing its artistry, which is of a poetic and literary character."

- G. della Volpe Critique of Taste

(sequence mentioned at 9:00, you may want to turn the sound off.)

Galvano della Volpe's theory of literature

Poetry, according to della Volpe, constitutes an autonomous sign-system, borrowing the meaning of its terms from the general social sign-system: itself ranged between precise technical language and ordinary social language, which possesses some autonomy without acceding to a properly poetic level of autonomy. This sign-system is to be distinguished from Saussure's la langue which abstracts out sociological factors.

This semiological analysis permits della Volpe to criticise the dominant contemporary schools of aesthetic criticism:

1. Romantic criticism, which failed to analyse literary works as sign-systems and so failed to recognise writers as being engaged in formalistic work, subject to various social and historical constraints. Consequently romantic criticism ended up perpetuating various mysticisms.

2. Marxist literary or art criticism such as that of Lukács, which pursued an overly restricted appraisal of literature based on its sociological determination. Consequently this criticism failed to recognise the relative autonomy of writers, and developed a theory of literature restricted to validating:

a. the specific form of the 19th century novel

b. partisanship at the level of content, and this understood in a peculiar way, i.e. the positive portrayal of characters whose social position coincided with that valorised by communist party propaganda, at the time Lukács wrote this meant workers and peasants.

della Volpe explains his approach:

"If criticism is to be rigorous and scientific, rather than a matter of chance impressions, it can only be a comparison of two elements: to start with, the ordinary thoughts and ordinary meanings and the instrumental "form" related to them (the totality of their lexical-grammatical and phonic elements), which are the specific and technical basis of the poetic text; and then, the un-ordinary thoughts and meanings which are developed in the poetic text from the ordinary. The originally denotative lexical terms are developed into connotative terms, while, running parallel, certain related phonic developments may also occur - the two resulting in what can be defined as stylemes. The comparison between ordinary and un-ordinary is to be executed through paraphrases of the un-ordinary meanings and the connotative terms in which they are expressed. Such paraphrase, however, being relational and dialectical, must be discriminatory. The object of its discrimination will be nothing less than the switch, the separation or progress, of meaning or thought or (poetic) cognitive value, realized (expressed) by the stylemes, with respect to the values realized (communicated) by the glossemes, or elements of the linguistic-instrumental "form". Critical paraphrase/paraphrase as criticism in short. Paraphrase, which hasalways been a heresy for critics of a mysticizing bent indifferent to language, ceases to be one. The ingenuous conception these critics have of paraphrase has never extended beyond an unrelated, undialectical, uncritical paraphrase, which they see as an alien interference with aesthetic raptus or poetic "ineffability"."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

"If we were to restart theory"

I read quite an interesting article the other day "If we were to restart theory", whose title summarises precisely enough Georg Lukács' Soviet era literary-philosophical project: a project that today appears rather odd.

Lukács' subsequent political trajectory as well as his voluntary acceptance of Soviet citizenship and patronage ought to convince that his works do not merely passively reflect his circumstances as Soviet apparachik. Amid a vast polemic against "decadent" bourgeois civilisation that does not fail to denounce what were supposed to be its most "beautiful" "artistic" representatives, in the harshest terms, is a defence of the most bourgeois, individualist genre of all: the novel. Lukács evidently did not feel, as Gramsci did, distate at the thought of a lone individual exceeding the influence of an entire university.

It seems probable that Lukács' politics didn't fundamentally change between Hungarian Revolution and Hungarian Revolution. The way these politics were played was obviously largely dependent on historical circumstances, hence the apparent inconsistancies.

At the core of Lukács' politics is the notion that progress finally demands that the mass of people consciously participate in the reproduction of the social environment in accordance with their needs. This requires the mass of people to be able to exercise such control, but as a preliminary condition it requires the mass of people to "see the specific qualities of their own age historically" to "comprehend their own existence as something historically conditioned, for them to see in history something which deeply affects their daily lives and immediately concerns them".

The role of the intellectual, that Lukács is determined be retained, is coherent with respect to this project of facilitating "history as a mass experience". To adopt a metaphor, the intellectuals are to undertake reconaissance work on behalf of the masses, themselves steadily advancing like Napoleon's Grand Armée. They will carry out investigations, analyse information and present results. The masses whom they serve act, on this and other information, and consequently dissolve the existing situation, at which point the process starts again. The Soviet authorities apparently did not realise, or chose not to realise that this relationship is only valid in a pre-revolutionary period.

The problematic in Joyce's Ulysses is something like an analysis of how this organic model of intellectuality can break down, in a word its "disorganisation".

adumbration of the week

"The site will further proceed as a regular movie reviewing site."

Dejan Nikolić, having abandoned what were loosely called "parodic activities" announces his reinvention as an autistic auto-retarded wall-eee character, pathetically turning over junk in a post futuristic wasteland.