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.

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