Monday, April 21, 2008

A Gap in Experience

Since becoming acquainted with the word ostranenie, I've been dying to put it down here, dying to talk about it. The other night I was watching Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love and it occurred to me that all of Wong's films are saturated in ostranenie, or, to hew to the particular, in Mood ostranenie is the doorway where desire passes languishingly. Anyway, Wong's films are a topic for another day. Today I want to talk about a certain "gap in experience" that Giorgio Agamben deduces from his brief examination of poetry and experience (Infancy and History, Chapter Three). He says, "It is experience that best affords us protection from surprises, and the production of shock always implies a gap in experience. To experience something means divesting it of novelty, neutralizing its shock potential" (p. 41). I disagree. Experience can't fully divest a thing of its potential to surprise without becoming something other than experience. Of course one must question what a thing is and what it means to experience a thing, and so we approach the question of what it means to be surprised by a thing. We have to imagine that this being surprised by could be other than a discovery of the surprising essence of a thing or one of its surprising qualities, that the potential for surprise may be something vested by experience. Yeah, well we haven't settled what a thing is, and that's a problem here.

Agamben may be well aware of my commonplace thoughts about experience, the ones I carry close to me without allowing them to be examined too closely. After all his essay means to destroy experience (for reasons that would matter to me to the degree I care about dialectics). It's hard to say to what degree I've been anticipated. In any case I'll try to keep alive for a moment the idea of a gap of experience and relate it to ostranenie. Agamben says, "Estrangement, which removes from the most commonplace objects their power to be experienced, thus becomes the exemplary procedure of a poetic project which aims to make of the Inexperiencible the new 'lieu commun', humanity's new experience" (p.). A quibble: estrangement does not remove from things a potential to be experienced so much as it makes the experience of things strange, or, since we have things on the back burner, makes strange experience itself. We oughtn't forget that the work of estrangement is foremost making strange, or perhaps more precisely a drawing into the strange. Quibbles aside, it occurs to me that I may have in the depths of my soul taken the Inexperiencible as experience. Just a thought.

A final detour, if you please. I recall from my readings that László Tengelyi, for whom an element of surprise is very much essential to experience, holds that experience, in its primary sense, has a characteristic poignancy. I'd like to say then that ostranenie intensifies the poignancy of experience, or even that it reminds us of the poignancy of experience. Would a gap in experience intensify the poignancy of experience, or function as a space for remembering the poignancy of experience?

Agamben's "gap in experience" may serve as a corrective to the notion that experience covers everything at all times equally. Why, even were we to agree that experience were downright essential to all that there is, we might still want to allow for gaps in experience, if only to keep some modicum of distance between you and me, for example. Quite possibly being is intermittent, which is to say, being lets go now and then. It allows for betweenness. In light of this intermittency what then would we want to say of experience, our way of being, if I may presume for a moment? Would we want to say under any circumstances that experience refuses to let go? Well, I couldn't naysay somebody who sensed a resistance there, a pull in experience against the intermittency of being. If the poignancy of experience arises from its resistance to intermittency, would that mean that experience would somehow be posterior to being? It's a vicious circle, I'm sure. Or a silly circle. Take your pick. In either case it may be that a gap in experience remains a gap in experience, that it is something that experience, however painfully, relinquishes.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 10:53 AM.


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