16 July 2006

The emptying of fate

The Quechua language does not have words for the future. They have a active (not passive) future imperfect tense that allows syllables to be added to verbs that suggest an individual will (I will be, I will desire, I will love) and the “sunchi” suffix that suggests a collective action in the immediate future “Let’s eat.”

Lyn Hejinian’s “The Fatalist” ends with the lines:

That’s what fate is: whatever’s happened
-Time regained.

One way to read this book is to graph it in relation to its verb tenses, as there would seem to be a statement about fate and tense that can only be aptly elaborated by the text itself.

Like the ‘fate-texts’ I have listed on the previous post, Hejinian’s work throughout her career has tended to have a narrative component. ‘My Life’ sought to make parataxic phrases rigorous by using them to express a personal history. The structure of the work is tied indelibly to time, because just as every year one lives is of equal duration, each year of Hejinian’s life is given equal space.

Bob Perelman’s analysis (Marginalization) of the relation between parataxis and capitalism suggests a kind of Road Runner - Coyote relation between langpo and the economic base. A critic makes the assertion that Ronald Reagan (or W) is a language poet because of his use of parataxis, or that the ‘many walks of life’ montages of TV commercials are also so juxtaposed, following what had been an attempt on the part of Langpoets to develop a linguistic method that escapes the capitalist determinations of the fate of the Victorian narrative.

The determination of poets to escape the influence of the economic base relates to my comment two months ago (before I read “The Fatalist“), reprinted in a post below, that Langpo “dealt with fate at the level of the surface of the work,” in a way that creates an Althusserian critique of caste and karma without spiritualist affectations. Hejinian’s book “Oxota: A Short Russian Novel” was written during her trip to Leningrad where she was told by a USSR native that it was natural for them to see language as commodities.

Looking at another excerpt that addresses fate directly:

The upended woman on her head on a potato
is exactly what is needed to devise
an elegant argument in which the limiting condition
known as “fate” and the limiting condition
known as “beginning” merge to create
an unfated ongoing incipience into which fate can accumulate
without determining anything, not even my mother’s name
and intellectual curiosity
which explains my presence, Samuel Johnson’s fear
of ceaseless useless motion, and the characteristic heterogeneity
of Language writing, the mark of its relationship to knowledge.

Those eleven lines light a maze of interpretive alleyways, but I want to focus on “unfated ongoing incipience into which fate can accumulate” and “fear of ceaseless useless motion.”

“unfated ongoing incipience into which fate can accumulate”:

Jain teachings, considered the most complex and self-determining treatment of fate in the Indian tradition, conceive of karma as an influx, “asrava,” which fills and empties within the “karmana-shahira,” the innermost of the five bodies of the human being. The emptying of fate is experienced by the siddhas, who are without spatial location, similar to not “determining anything.” The history of existentialism can be viewed as an independent realization of Jain philosophy.

“fear of ceaseless useless motion”

It has been proven that Mallarmé and Nietzsche were not influenced by each other, but as exemplars of poetry and philosophy they have each constructed the image of the eternal dice roll.

Gilles Deleuze in ‘Nietzsche and Philosophy’ charts the similarities and differences between A Throw of the Dice Does Not Abolish Chance and the texts of the Eternal Return. Where the two agree is that (1) thought is a dice roll; (2) man does not know how to think; (3) the act of thinking is infinitely irrational, absurd, tragic, and superhuman, (4) the totality of dice throws constitutes the outcome and justification of art and the world.

The difference Deleuze notes is a key one, that Mallarmé wishes for chance to be abolished, in a gesture that abolishes subjectivity, absurdity, and tragedy, while Nietzsche affirms the dice throw, believing life to be an aspect of a finite but countless Dionysian series of ‘throws’ which constitutes the totality of existence. So the “fear of ceaseless useless motion” Hejinian attributes to Samuel Johnson could be viewed as the Mallarméan fear of subjectivity in deference to justice and pure essence.

More to come…


andy gricevich said...

Interesting stuff as usual.
I like that you're bringing in things that are certain not to show up in my posts on the book (either because I don't know it or because it's just not "my thing," though it is worth reading and thinking about--I mean particularly the Vedic/Hindu stuff).

Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche seems to me to have a lot to do with it. I love the book (and The Logic of Sense, which has some of this stuff in it as well), and I'm 99% Hejinian has read it, though I don't think it's cited in A Border Comedy. Reading Deleuze's book, I had one of those "this guy says what I've been thinking about the subject for a decade, only better" experiences.

I always think that the equation of poetic parataxis with the structure of late capitalist culture misses what actually happens in encountering signification in either sphere. By which I mean that Perelman gets it sometimes, and that Jameson's analysis of Perelman (and others) is malarkey.

Looking forward to more...

david raphael israel said...

Lot of interesting ideas tossed out here . . .

The bon-mot (as one might deem it), "The history of existentialism can be viewed as an independent realization of Jain philosophy" could merit elaboration (if intended seriously). That existentialist philosophy appears to stand as a primary influence behind certain modernist creative writers (especially the absurdist generation of Beckett and Ionesco, as well of course as Camus and Sartre himself) -- whose work presents an aspect of existentialist literary history, makes the possibilities of such an elaboration all the more curious to imagine. (The question of the extent to which Milan Kundera might be deemed a post-Existentialist novelist, also comes to mind in passing.)

This reminds of a certain proposition I have heard: that Freudian psychology may be construed as a rediscovery or fresh formulation of some aspects of ancient Yoga philosophy and practice -- involving the introspective study of the ego and its inherent structure, dynamics and dimensions. The appearance of psychoanalysis at the tail-end of the great elaborations of Victorian literature (with the highly psychological self typical of the 19th century novel) is notable to consider as a correlary matter.

I am currently reading the novels of Jose Saramago, who seems -- in a different mode and way than Hijininan of course -- exceedingly absorbed in questions of human fate. The first I read was The Double, second a novella-fable called The Unknown Island, and now I'm reading All The Names. This last seems, so far [I'm only a few pages into it], the most purely Kafkaesque of the three.

To what degree did Kafka presage (or even open the door for) Existentialism, one might also wonder? Paul Auster seems the American novelist perhaps most dedicated to mining a Kafka/Saramago-esque vein. (One also thinks of the question of Donald Barthelme as post-Existentialist; but I guess a lot of people were.)

Properly speaking, one might esteem Poe to be the original American Kafka -- except that the gothic stylings of Poe lent a different esthetic patina; and he seemed less dedicated to Kafka's nascent absurdism. Both give literary expression to some aspects of paranoia. At any rate, Kafka -- being more modern -- seems closer to our own time and sensibility. But I digress.

The problem of fate perhaps arises wherever narrative per se exists. Because narrative involves the sequence of past, present and future -- or a series of sequential moments -- and then issues of causation, contingency, expectation, and surprise, all rush in.

david raphael israel said...

Ah I see, this was the comment you reference:
<< Looking at modernity-post-modernity through the prism of fate, Surrealism dealt with fate in a way that can‘t be summarized, but extending out Rimbaud‘s ‘change life,’ followed by Existentialism that dealt with fate at the level of action, Deconstructionism that dealt with fate at the level of consciousness, and Langpo that dealt with fate at the level of the surface of the work. >>

I was unaware of Rimbaud's "change life"; but the words remind of Rilke's and James Wright's "You must change your life." One could wonder if Wright's followed from Rilke's, and Rilke's from Rimbaud's phrase.

Ian Keenan said...

Thanks so much for the feedback and for the inspiring writings by both of you on Andy's blog.

Andy, I just read that section of Jameson's Postmodernism along with Perelman's reaction to it and I think Perelman overreacted to what couldn't be a more complimentary, albeit bird's eye view, of an aspect of his stylistic strategy. In response to your objections, although Jameson discusses Perelman's 'China' in the context of capitalism and schizophrenia, he doesn't seem to be going out of his way to calling 'China' a symptom of capitalist disjunction, although the rest of the book takes that view in general.

David, I do intend to elaborate on my Jain - existentialism statement. I was considering delaying this post to encompass that but thought I would just present that as an offhand comment to see if anyone was paying attention.

david raphael israel said...

Good! -- I'm sure the results may prove most interesting (not to mention a good excuse to get perhaps more up to speed with both Jainism and Existentialism) ;-)

andy gricevich said...

I'll have to re-read that bit of Jameson again to fine-tune my critique... but I wasn't thinking of Perelman's reaction--rather my own.

Actually, I have some serious problems with almost all of BP's critical writing (though I adore his poetry), but that's another story.

Jameson is also awful re Heidegger's "The Origin of the Work of Art," an essay that needs to be hacked to pieces in order to salvage what's good about it (I'm fascinated and repelled by that piece, as with most of Heidegger, who I just seem to keep reading).

Actually, I like Jameson a lot, much of the time, though I've never finished one of his books. Late Marxism and Marxism and Form seem better than Postmodernism...

Ian Keenan said...

just ordered Marxism and Form.. can't believe I've never seen that. Everyone seems very concerned that I'm not influenced enough by Sartre and Lukács :P I tend to turn to Eagleton for my MarxistLit overviews.