Or Lay Myself Down By Sorrow’s Side

With all my books 2500 miles away, I’m left without the ability to write substantively about Rameau’s Nephew (weird!) and Robert Walser’s The Robber (which, incidentally, has given me the toughest time of finishing it of any short book since Notes from Underground). So I figured I’d loosen the reins a little and wander through the detritus in my head that I usually leave well-covered.

Genealogy of Metaphysics: what was it that caused the shift from the master dichotomy of real/unreal to the slave dichotomy of real/fake? The loss of authority/authenticity in young American authors (see Eggers, Foer) indicates a preoccupation with returning to an imagined time where every utterance was a statement of the real, as opposed to the supposed fakeness that surrounds us that everyone is fed up with. The term “irony,” which once signified a sophisticated sort of social satire that required a certain amount of intelligence to appreciate, has become to devalued to the point where it simply signifies insincerity, the positive referent not being a specific target but simply the mores of society. The “return to sincerity” movement folks are no better since they are acting the part of ignoring what they know to be ever-present: this inauthenticity. In the goal of people to return to a pre-Enlightenment, tradition-directed (to use David Riesmann’s term) society in which one’s words emerge organically from one’s position in society, they forget that this is not especially possible in the greater culture, which in turn speaks of their own disingenuousness. To continue with Riesmann’s terms, it is not legitimate to be fomenting a rebellion in ingenuousness when you are using borrowed terms; you remain other-directed. In Heidegger’s phrasing, they are as unthrown into the world as anyone, but this is the constituent state of post-Enlightenment modernity. Real/fake denotes a qualitative judgment once removed from the matters at hand, a tertiary quality once removed from color and twice removed from shape and form. Real/unreal merely judges ontology, which is to say, treats the former as a gestalt. In the slave irony mentality, the rise of Menippean satire stems from the lack of an authentic culture to critique. When people are divided between faux-authentic personae and a nascent state of mind, satire directed at the personae loses its teeth, as the personae have an impenetrable defense, namely that they are personae. Less-directed Menippean satire pursues the idea behind the real/fake culture itself by repeatedly invalidating it, making the effort more transcendent, but also leaving itself open to the charges that such satire is pointless. It is not pointless so much as it is easily made obsolescent, as it is internalized and melded into that which it satirized. It is built upon faster than any other genre.

A little too much Kenneth Smith there, I think. Another route. There has been too much talk of the fragmentation and delinearization of personality. In the presence of a more global culture than ever before, placing more universal restrictions on the outlines of acceptable thought, why should we look at ourselves as fragmented, or “shattered” as one wag decided to put it? Only because there is a prejudice that a self constructed from bits and pieces of media dreams should somehow hold less integrity than one of the shared prejudices of a close-knit community. So we go “bowling alone”? The idea of the integrity of a mind (or of minds) being corrupted by distant, unresponsive influences is as illusional as the idea that these shared universals will eventually create a group mind on the order of the techno-utopians’ fabled singularity. Without wanting to fall into a trap of evolutionary psychology, the cognitive schema of the mind is probably far more static than people seem to imagine. Which makes those social schemas, of authenticity for example, all the more important, since they are firmly dynamic.

A little memory about times past. When I was 17 or 18, I heard existentialism called an adolescent philosophy. I thought, “How can something so fundamental, something that strips things down to bare reality, be termed adolescent?” But could I have expected myself to answer back when told “Existence prececes essence,” “Existence and essence of what?”, not being able to identify such words as properties rather than implied particulars? Freud’s achievement was in the clear artifice of his schema, rather than in the deceptively fundamentalist appearance of so much recently fashionable social thought. I was suckered like many others. Fiction writers and poets are always the most susceptible to amenable schemas. They are their lingua franca.

All right, that’s enough. I would never publish this if it were for posterity, but the idea of a Coming Attractions is more appealing if you don’t have to live with it in plain sight for the rest of your life.

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