Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Quaeritur: Aber ein Sturm...

How does a poet write history? I once began with this question. But after several years of focusing on the first part of my questionable query, I find myself now drawn more to the latter half: history--a story we tell ourselves about who we are, a narrative creatively employing the past tense, a systematic account of methodically documented or transmitted records.

Benjamin's assessment: "a pile of debris": Wo eine Kette von Begebenheiten vor uns erscheint, da sieht er eine einzige Katastrophe, die unablässig Trümmer auf Trümmer häuft und sie ihm vor die Füße schleudert. I'm rereading Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals in preparation for my spring course, Smith's translation: "Human history would be a much too stupid affair were it not for the intelligence introduced by the powerless" (I.7).

Rereading Nietzsche I've been struck by the dominance of language's seduction toward the domestic belief in a subject behind action, thought, and will. Is this the originary (modern) glimpse into the abyss, a sight unseen since Parmenides, Heraclitus, Anaxamander? A lacuna of wisdom covered over neatly by Platonic ideals? Something immanently not there? Nietzsche speaks: "But no such substratum [as the subject] exists; there is no 'being' behind doing, acting, becoming; 'the doer' is merely a fiction imposed on the doing--the doing itself is everything" (I.13). I imagine Professor Luanne Frank pounding her fist on the table after reading aloud this line. But of course she would recite the original German.

Is there no subject then behind the movement of Benjaminian Katastrophe? No dwarfish hunchback beneath the table manipulating the chess-playing, hookah-smoking puppet in a fez who wins every game? History is after all a fiction, as evidenced by its aphetic, its pathetic story. Do we merely need to will forgetting this fiction, this noble lie upon which we base what we loosely call reality? Or do we simply need to stand back in utter passivity and allow for the forgetting to come on its own, outside all subjective control and desire?

As we no longer attempt to split the thunder from its crash, to separate the lightning from its flash, we already still (as yet) resort to our domestic tricks and techniques of history, reading and writing and rewriting that which writes itself outside of willing, released of the metaphysics of the subject as well as of the object. Pure processuality: es gibt Geschichte. Es gibt nichts.

Es gibt kein (Da-)Sein. Not even a there in which to find oneself at the end of one's own history. A history that writes itself in its unwriting as it unravels the metaphysics of narratology, of grammatology. It's like Carolyn Forché's book recommended by the philosopher who told me that philosophy does not care for or about history. And yet all the philosophers I care both for and about care both for and about history: Heraclitus, Nietzsche, Benjamin, Heidegger, Blanchot. Even the historians who write philosophically: Herodotus, Thucydides, Procopius.

Benjamin, we always return to thee: who penned your most prescient words on history only days before succumbing to the end of your own history, before History caught up with you in the foothills of the Pyrenees, with half a handful of morphine tablets--after giving the other half to Koestler--by, as history tells us, your own hand. Smuggled manuscripts to Arendt, stolen kisses given to Bataille, who rendered them guiltless, treasonous. Even earlier: imprisoned for three months for existing in a state of statelessness in the telling town of Nevers.

If I could, I would write poetry like Miguel Murphy: "... The way the frame of his body went / slack to ruins. He knew what is dark and forgotten // rises in the body. Epilepsy / how a star is a struggle / of light. And we are very deep. And we are wounded // ...." And not just because he's beautiful and intelligent, but because his words matter. They are matter, the very material (of) language, (of) poetry, [of (even)] history. Hermeneutic lifeboats swirling about the dizzying eddies of meaning. Of meaninglessness.

How does a poet write history? How does a poet provide us access to something lost in the past, whether its our own personal story or the story of humankind? How does a poet bridge the chiasmus between the here and now and the there and then? History, that Agnostos Theos. Si deus si dea.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Bullet-Point Friday: Holday Gifts

The Gift of Travel
Saw the new Jason Reitman film (based on the Walter Kirn novel) Up in the Air Tuesday evening at the Plano Angelika with the great unwashed suburban masses. I'm not sure it's entirely unfair to hate a film because you share the experience with such despicable humans. Well, I didn't actually hate the film. It simply was not the film I wanted it to be. My friend Luis called it "a love letter to America," and I can see what he meant. That part I enjoyed: the traversing of vast geographical and emotional landscapes in order to find the center-most point called "home," the very essence of the ideatum of America. But there was just too much sentimentality, amplified exponentially by the audience gasping (when the enlarged photograph blew into the water) and the constant Hmm expressed by the affected woman to my immediate right every time there was an overly poignant scene, overly poignant line, or overly poignant situation. While I was driving Luis to the airport Tuesday morning I confessed that the happiest I had been in my life was when I traveled the most, while living in Japan and spending time in flight home or on my way to summers in Europe. Or even just traveling around Japan itself, with a surplus of hard cash, loads of free time to fulfill personal goals, and creativity to spare. The best moment of the film for me, however, was when Bingham "proves" the validity of his personal philosophy, his cosmology: by crashing into Goran's overwrought domesticity, which seems to be just the thing to get him back in the air, above the things and people who would only weigh him down. Ah, what I wouldn't give (up) to reach 10,000,000 miles and be able to say, "The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places; and one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip passing over."

The Gift of Writing
Wednesday afternoon I finished watching the ninth and final season of Roseanne, a personal project I started a few weeks ago.I was a huge fan of the sitcom for most of the years it was on. And I always thought that the final episode was the classiest and most uplifting finale of all television, itself a real meditation on television, on loyalty and love, on creativity. I wasn't as sad to see it end when it went out with such style and guts. Many people have expressed disappointment over the last season, over the way it ended by rewriting itself, but I maintain that it only remained true to its original intentions by reinventing the metadiscursivity of not only the last season, the very last episode, but the entire series itself. We discover that Roseanne did finally become the writer she always dreamed of being, that she took that most difficult step of not just talking about what you wanted to do but actually doing it. Nothing is more positive or powerful. Sure, her narratives, especially from the last season, were tempered, restricted, and informed by blue collar television (i.e., wrestling, soap operas, other sitcoms, Roseanne itself), but therein lies the brilliance and humor of this most postmodern of postmodern narratives. Finally Phoebe Snow's voice wraps up the theme song and this quote from T.E. Lawrence is superimposed on Roseanne sitting on the couch we had thought was gotten rid of in the wake of the renovations: Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that all was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, and make it possible. I still feel like I can change the world. Or at least myself.

The Gift of Friendship
Yes, it's true: I deactivated my Facebook account. It is the most positive change I've made in my life in years. Even when compared to joining a training program and running a half marathon.