David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Tag: psychology (page 3 of 6)

Peirce on William James

His comprehension of men to the very core was most wonderful. Who, for example, could be of a nature so different from his as I? He so concrete, so living; I a mere table of contents, so abstract, a very snarl of twine. Yet in all my life I found scarce any soul that seemed to comprehend, naturally, [not] my concepts, but the mainspring of my life better than he did. He was even greater [in the] practice than in the theory of psychology.


from Jose Donoso

The fact remains that Wenceslao, like my other children, is an emblematic figure: the most memorable, perhaps, of a number of boys and girls who, as in a Poussin painting, caper in the foreground, untraceable to any model because they are not portraits, their features unconstrained by any but the most formal lineaments of individuality or passion. They and their games are little more than a pretext for the painting to have a name, because what it expresses does not reside in those quaint games which merely provide a focal point: no, a higher place in the artist’s intent has been given to the interaction between these figures and the landscape of rocks and valleys and trees that stretches toward the horizon, where, in golden proportion, it gives way to the beautiful, stirring, intangible sky, creating that unabashedly unreal space which is the true protagonist of the painting, as pure narrative is the protagonist in a novel that sets out to grind up characters, time, space, psychology, and sociology in one great tide of language.

A House in the Country (tr. Pritchard/Levine)

A weird quote from a weird book by a weird genius of an author. This is one of his typically oblique attacks on “realism” in fiction, which (he says elsewhere) comes naturally to him, but is a lie. I will have more to say after I finish reading the book.

Aeneid Psychology

And Nisus says: “Euryalus, is it
the gods who put this fire in our minds,
or is it that each man’s relentless longing
becomes a god to him? Long has my heart
been keen for battle or some mighty act;
it cannot be content with peace or rest.

(Aeneid IX 243-247, tr. Mandelbaum)

Strikingly modern, that.

The Fall and Romanticism

K-Punk’s wonderful series on the aesthetics of Mark E. Smith and the Fall is wonderful nostalgia for any of us who spent months or years obsessed with Smith’s verbal acuity and ruminated over the cryptic lyrics (transcriptions c/o the invaluable Fall Lyrics Parade:

So R. Totale dwells underground
Away from sickly grind
With ostrich head-dress
Face a mess, covered in feathers
Orange-red with blue-black lines
That draped down to his chest
Body are a tentacle mess
And light blue plant-heads
TV showed Sam Chippendale
No conception of what he’d made
The Arndale had been razed
Shop staff knocked off their ladders
Security guards hung from moving escalators

And now that is said
Tony seized the control
He built his base in Edinburgh
Had on his hotel wall
A hooded friar on a tractor
He took a bluey and he called Totale
Who said, “the North has rose again”
But it will turn out wrong

(The N.W.R.A.)

“The Fall’s Pulp Modernism:” Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

K-punk begins with two of Smith’s avowed heroes–H.P. Lovecraft and Blake–and from there spins a chronicle of Smith’s embrace of pulp materials in the service of anti-romanticism in the tradition of Wyndham Lewis. And there’s something to this. Horror, science fiction, and conspiracy theories figure prominently in the lyrics, but they’re never properly shaped. Nazis pop up repeatedly as sinister figures precisely because they are cartoonish and inhuman; Smith is fatalistic about these matters, not humanistic. The dog-fucker of “Impression of J. Temperance” who impregnates one of his canines (hat tip to pastemob for explaining this to me many years ago) is clearly on the other side of normal, and so is his offspring:

The next bit is hard to relate.
(There are no read-outs for this part of the track.)
The new born thing hard to describe
Like a rat that’s been trapped inside
A warehouse base, near a city tide
Brown sockets, purple eyes
And fed with rubbish from disposal barges brown and covered

(Impression of J. Temperance)

Even “Spectre Vs. Rector,” one of the more outright narrative pieces, turns abruptly when Spectre possesses the rector and two more characters (the Inspector and the Hero) have to show up to finish the storyline. Yet I don’t see the modernism in this. Smith ladles on Gysin/Burroughs-esque cut-up techniques and Artaud-esque writing processes, but what results is not modernism, not even the collage and nonsense modernism of Dada and surrealism. The psychology and historicism of high modernism doesn’t exist in his lyrics, but neither do the word-poems of Tzara and Huelsenbeck. Smith’s referents are slippery, but with the exception of things like “Levitate,” where he slips into outright language poetry, he remains attached to Blake’s idea of language as invocation, and not as reality in itself. When K-punk says:

If pulp modernism first of all asserts the author-function over the creative-expressive subject, it secondly asserts a fictional system against the author-God. By producing a fictional plane of consistency across different texts, the pulp modernist becomes a conduit through which a world can emerge. Once again, Lovecraft is the exemplar here: his tales and novellas could in the end no longer be apprehended as discrete texts but as part-objects forming a mythos-space which other writers could also explore and extend.

I would argue the opposite. When Lovecraft goes on and on about how inexpressible his horrors are, and when Smith invokes Nazis and spectres, the world does not emerge, but instead it subsumes. The disorganization and cut-ups are not manifestations of authorial process as with Dada, but mimetic representations of a reality that corrupts language. (K-punk’s reference to Smith as “channeling” is apt, but again, I think the flow goes the other way: it pulls the listener rather than pushes.) I do not see Joyce in these words. If I was going to trace a lineage, it would be from Blake to Baudelaire to Hofmannsthal to Rilke to Pynchon and others who have taken up the pre-modern mantle. Anti-romantic, certainly, but hardly anti-Romantic. The world triumphant over the word, represented immanently in the broken, strained language of visionaries. Blake, Coleridge, Byron. Like so:

Hail the new puritan
Out of hovel, cum-coven, cum-oven

And all hard-core fiends
Will die by me
And all decadent sins
Will reap discipline

(New Puritan)

What’s Missing from Finnegans Wake

Finnegans Wake has so many languages, so many people, so many sheer things that, although they don’t defy enumeration, they defy easy categorization. I spoke before of Joyce’s obsession with overlaying contradictory, consubstantial layers of signification and structure. But the one spot where Joyce can’t pull this trick is in omission and elision. I.e., there are certain areas which are conspicuous by their absence, or at least their relative scarcity. Here are several that were always present in my mind by dint of their absence in the text.

Homosexuality. Given Joyce’s obsessive depiction of the body and its functions, explicit homosexuality is downright marginalized in the Wake. It takes such a secondary role next to heterosexuality that one always wonders where it fits in the cosmology of the book. It is less present in the Wake than it is in both Ulysses and Portrait, where homoerotic male friendships and gender confusion both play a significant part. Shem and Shaun are brothers-in-arms in both opposition and camaraderie, but there appears to be no element of a sexual relationship between them. HCE masturbates and has his obsession with anal and urinary functions, but appears wholly heterosexual. Hints of gender confusion are present for Issy and the Tristan-Isolde pairing, but this is relegated to a pre-adult portrait of sexuality, not one of homosexuality per se. What of this marginalization? Homosexuality does not move history along by generating descendents, but as an expression of the body, I find its rarity puzzling. If I had to hazard a guess, it would be that Joyce simply did not consider homosexuality to be primary, and thought of it as merely a misdirected heterosexual urge. But surely there is more….

Eschatology. I mean this in two senses, both in the sense of general finality and of religious teleology. The absence of finality from the book is core to its structure; nothing ever ends, and nothing ever develops. History and individual human lives reiterate the same patterns and archetypes. This much is evident, but by avoiding any greater eschatology, Joyce goes after any notion of “higher purpose” that is not contained in the physical world itself. We sin and do good, we reproduce and die, but the ideas that these things have a greater meaning and we are just shadows on the wall are anathema to Joyce. The chief religious myth he uses is that of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and even there he takes from it the cycle of sun rising and setting, Osiris’s journey through the underworld to be reconstructed and resurrected, and the inexorable battle between enemies. The idea of any paradise or finality, or even the idea of eternity itself, is as nonsense in the Wake. It is a temporal sequence that can be viewed forwards and backwards, but it is always moving and always changing. One can counter that Joyce views the archetypes and repeating events as eternal, but even in their repetition, they are always changing even as they are always the same. It is Heraclitus without the logos. Needless to say, this also extends to interpretations of the Wake itself: not postponed or unstable, but merely evanescent.

Metaphysics. As with eschatology, Joyce rejects any notion that the phenomenal world may only be a representation of something greater or hidden (in the gnostic sense, for example). His epistemology is simple and uncomplicated: what you see is what you get. Nowhere does he seem to imply that what he is representing is in any way unreal or questionable. Rather, the facts of human life, suffering, and pleasure are nearly sacred to him, and I feel as though he would be offended by any attempt to dismiss them. Samsara is it.

Politics. There is a caveat here, since the details of several political struggles, especially English-Irish relations, are quite frequent in the book. But Joyce always refers to them in a near-fatalistic manner, and even when he appears to take sides, it is on the more general grounds of anti-oppression rather than nationalistic partisanship; even then, he quickly points out the massacres and crimes of both sides. Intrigues and strategy are not particularly present; violence and death are.

Introspection. Yes, the author famed for stream of consciousness has comparatively little of it here. Physical description, third-person histories, and interrogation (lots and lots of it) are the order of the day here. ALP and Issy are the only two figures given extended spots of first-person monologue, and even ALP’s monologues are often given in the form of letters containing words shaped by Shem. Her verbiage in II.2 and IV, constantly analogized as a river, is less a “stream” of consciousness than it is the stream of existence, as both are interrupted by passages that could in no way be termed stream of consciousness.

There are unities amongst these omissions, especially in the hardcore physicalism that more and more pervades my view of Joyce. It becomes easier to understand his dislike of psychology and Freud specifically. Psychology, with its normative states of neurosis, repression, and mental health, would not hold an appeal to someone who had a tendency to see everything (or nothing) as normal. Perhaps homosexuality was not so notable, nor perverse, to obtain an primary position in the schema of the Wake. But I still don’t know.

Postscript: Fritz Senn adds one very significant omission that I can’t believe I forgot: eros. As he says:

There is a lot of sexual content, for some readers there seems to be nothing else. One unfortunate result of finding something sexual in every passage is that thereby SEX is removed from the book. What I do miss, however, is anything erotic.

In my response none of the abundant parts with sexual content, or overtones (or vibrations, etc.), are erotic as something pleasant or stimulating, or cheerful.

And I would agree with him. The joyous personal sexual reveries of Stephen, Bloom, and Molly are not apparent in the Wake. My own explanation for this absence is that Joyce’s exhaustive study of sexual behavior was, by this point, at the level of anthropoligical and biological activity: primarly procreative. At the level of archetypes and history, this may have been all sex seemed to be to Joyce. Eros was too particular and personal to fit into the figures of HCE and ALP.

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