Friday, January 23, 2009

Atemporal Durations, Electric Vibes

Myth dissimulates time as it is actually lived, insofar as time itself isn't just a bag of moonshine, a concept whose time has come and gone with the tides. Perhaps we are compelled by circumstances to make of myth an instrument of doubt, to use it's transformative power over thought in order to pursue our inquiries undeterred by such stupidities as the Real or Finitude. You see, we are so wrapped up in myth it is to be doubted whether we can formulate a proper question, an emancipated question. We try to undo by the same means by which we've been done in. So who's up for a little abolition of time?

Loraux writes, "wrath in mourning, the principle of which is eternal repetition, willingly expresses itself with an aeí, and the fascination of this tireless "always" threatens to set it up as a powerful rival to the political aeí that establishes the memory of institutions" ("Of Amnesty and its Opposite," in Mothers in Mourning, p. 98). Loraux wants us to think about the cultural construction of mourning (one thinks of Danforth and Seremetakis, among others, though Loraux's work isn't an ethnography, obviously, and we might suspect the ethnographers of having their own narrative issues with time), yet I think maybe the mask has slipped and I can't help wondering about the thought behind "eternal repetition," a concept which can only be understood in mythic or dramatic terms. In a footnote Loraux adds that the aeí falls under Lyotard's category of "identical repetition" in which the mark is upon the speaker, in contrast to the "Jewish" sentence in which the mark is upon the addressee. Hmm.

If we can bring the impossible on stage, why not the brazenly contradictory? "[J]ust as mēˆnis, álaston expresses the atemporal duration, immobilized in a negative will, and immortalizing the past in the present" (p. 100). Her meaning is that forgetting is also positive, at least for the polis. We'll keep that in mind. But what a strange alignment of concepts! "Nonoblivion is all-powerful insofar as it has no limits–and especially not those of a subject's interiority" (p. 102). We are dealing here, allegorically in a certain light, with ritual mourning in ancient Greece, proscribed mourning, that is, mourning as it is written, which also means mourning as it is performed in the theatre. Loraux wants us to understand this genre of mourning as more "real" than any feeling of mourning that isn't put together just so, with just-so puttingtogethers of time and its opposite. Does one rebel? Does one criticize? Is it even in the picture? And for Sophocles' Electra, who has a freedom from time that we don't have, though we know (always knowing that we are free to see our knowledge ironically) that it's a falsehood? "Refusal and control of time, such appears to be the preferred linguistic formula to assert the oblivionless existence of Electra" (p. 105). An existence without oblivion? Omnipotence? Isn't this all the same story, the same myth, even myth itself and by extension conceptual thinking? Or is it just the concepts we've elected to deal with that constrain us? Well, in any case I'll give Loraux the final word:

And the negative formulation becomes a claim for omnipotence and a plan for eternity. Nothing of that recourse to litotes we sometimes think is detectable in the utterance of nonoblivion. Just the opposite, the reduplication that reinforces the negation, as in oú pote amnasteȋ 'No, he does not forget,' or the eternity of a future perfect (táde áluta keklḗstai 'Forever it will be called indissoluble'). It is up to us, listening to Freud, to understand in all these utterances the same denial, and the confession, made without the speaker's knowledge, that in fact one shall renounce and disown the wrath to which the future gave assurances of an unlimited becoming; it is up to us especially to understand the confession that the excessive negation will nevertheless be fought–vanquished, or at least silenced, and already forgotten–by another negation, for renunciation also expresses itself with a great many verbs meaning "to deny": apeȋpon in the case of Achilles, and apennépō in the case of the Erinyes, compelled to revoke the prohibitions they had uttered against Athens.

(p. 106)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:40 AM.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mind blowing post, Fido.


January 24, 2009 2:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The connections being made in this post are dazzling…I wouldn’t have made them without reading this.

For example, with wrath and mourning. I think of these as subjective, interior, private, individual. (Though of course a group of people could be filled with wrath or even a nation could go into mourning.) But as is being done here, my conception of wrath and mourning is deliberately contrasted and minimized in validity next to collective, public, shared contrived-artistic wrath and mourning, which has a startling effect. I am plagued by a kind of interiorized maelstrom of wrath and mourning, simultaneously craving a kind of dramatic visibility (a la a celebrity status?) which would confirm the being and importance of the interiorized maelstrom. All the while, the white noise and silence of death, (oblivion), hovers—as an impending triumph of interiorized maelstroms. I could never dream of a formalized or precise or shared or artistic wrath or mourning any more than I could believe in my existence or life as infinite or mythic. I don’t think I would become immortal if I could just watch a good drama, but I really do think it would change my vision of what’s real. (And nothing is more real than this unwanted conception and experience of myself as an enclosed maelstrom-labyrinth-blah!)


January 24, 2009 11:38 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Hi, Yusef. This sort of critique is bread and butter for the anthropologists. Sometimes I forget how strange it is. At the extreme, however, there is the risk that the ethnographer would deny somebody their grief—not a friendly gesture, and not too becoming of an anthropology of human feelings, which I believe should be at its core an empathic undertaking. It's much less thorny to take this kind of distance on emotion when you are working with texts, perhaps especially ancient texts. In any case you might enjoy Seremetakis' study of mourning. I sure did. I need to check out Danforth's myself, since I've only just found about it.

January 26, 2009 8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which parts are bread and butter? Surely some of this is novel. Please don't answer if I am engaging you in banality.

I'm definitely going to check out the books you reference, including the books you use in the post.


January 27, 2009 2:32 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

BTW, on the subject of interiors (and their opposite), can you recommend a good bear spray?

You're not engaging me in a banality, though that's no guarantee that I won't say something boring or stupid. My graduate advisor, when I confessed that something had made me angry, told me to pay attention to my deepest feelings because that was culture. Since Franz Boas and for several generations of cultural anthropologists the discipline operated on the assumption that (a) culture is a psychic phenomenon, (b) it encompasses everything about a way of life and (c) it's the kind of psychic phenomenon that doesn't originate in the musings of an individual but is rather internalized at an early age. Two things were happening when I was in graduate school to alter this basic approach: (1) there was an interest in culture as affect and the like rather than as simply an idea or a mental structure, and (2) there was a more critical understanding of structurations, which means a questioning of how culture becomes internalized and also recognizing that agency or freedom, even the freedom to feel, is not nothing.

A book that was widely read in my cohort was Unnatural Emotions: Everyday Sentiments on a Micronesian Atoll and Their Challenge to Western Theory, by Catherine Lutz. One of my advisor's favorite books which I also appreciated was Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society, by Lila Abu-Lughod. A favorite of mine in a more structuralist mode was Steven Feld's Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics, and Song in Kaluli Expression. The Seremetakis book that I think is just so dope is The Last Word: Women, Death, and Divination in Inner Mani. Her theoretical approach has to be understood in contrast to structuralism, its predecessor, but it is perhaps better described as poststructuralist ethnography rather than as an outright rejection of structuralism. In a way the monograph's about a kind of acoustic violence that transgresses or undoes the social order, but it is not utterly wild, or is it? Dig: "The singer's improvisation of poetic discourse, her sudden presentation of unexpected and even transgressive sign relations and layers of meaning, her unparalleled control over language, sound, and senses, are further demonstrations of women's mastery over time in its fullest polyphony" (228-229). Okay. Then, "In the mourning ritual, the most crucial task of the moiroloyistra (singer) is salvaging personal history; the history embedded in the transcient [sic] materiality of the dead as the latter dissolves and is effaced. Here, the structured relation between language and memory as units of time and as constructing time is crucial. The body is a divinatory unit displaying heterogeneous temporalities (see discussions of dream imagery, laying out the body, birthing beliefs, and exhumation). The body, like language, is a carrier of moira and time. Death gradually effaces the body as receptacle of a specific moira. The moirolói (lament) in turn reconstructs individual biography as a substitute symbolic unit of time. Through antiphony, the mourner transfers her embodiment thematized as wound, pain, and labor to the mourning song as the new carrier of personal time. In kláma, it is difficult to shake the impression that the lament, as it passes from mourner to mourner, becomes a substantive, tangible object, an artifact that is taken from mouth to mouth. In the singing and the "taking" of laments, mourners exchange time among themselves" (pp. 229-230).

moira: fate, what structures an individual's life over time
kláma: ritual weeping

Just a taste.

So I have a sense of what a Bahktinian study of lament as a genre ought to look like, and that makes me a harsh critic. I will leave it at that.

January 29, 2009 9:28 AM  
Blogger Yusef Asabiyah said...

"BTW, on the subject of interiors (and their opposite), can you recommend a good bear spray?"

I recommend Deleuze's "Proust and Signs." The copy I have is from the Theory Out of Bounds series put out by the University of Minnesota Press, translated by Richard Howard.

January 29, 2009 4:19 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...


January 29, 2009 4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is all getting too hard for old people.

January 29, 2009 11:12 PM  
Blogger Yusef Asabiyah said...

I wasn't kidding about the Proust and Signs, Fido. The Peircian-derived pragmaticism which is used to create an intelligibility of interior/exterior without conceiving of these as opposites (or alternatives) I have discovered to be one way to make progress.

January 31, 2009 9:28 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Okay, I'll check into that for sure. I still am needing some bear spray. I'm planning a trip into bear country.

February 01, 2009 8:16 AM  
Blogger Yusef Asabiyah said...

I use a bear spray made by MCNEIL RIVER ENTERPRISES INC.

Actually, I carry this spray with me in my front pant pocket (used as a holster,for quick access) every time I go for a hike in bear country, but I've never had to use it--not even once.

I am convinced pepper spray is more effective than a rifle, but best of all is to use precautions.

February 02, 2009 11:03 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Thanks a million for that link. I hope not to need it, but if a bear finds us out hiking it's better to be prepared.

February 03, 2009 6:42 AM  
Blogger Yusef Asabiyah said...

Fido, why did your earlier question link interiors and bear spray? Was that a joke?

February 07, 2009 9:17 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Yes. BTW, my Forgotten English word of the day is peelaflee, "a light person, and not heavily clothed," in other words, just the sort of person who might be in need of some bear spray.

Why do I look for oppositions? Is this an opening phase in a clumsy modus operandi, a starting off on a wrong foot? I want to check out Proust and Signs this week (it's on the university's library shelf).

Just chatting here. I finished Edward Reed's Necessity of Experience. I don't have much to say about it except that I agree with him that too much television sucks and it would be better to get out more. But I don't want to be a hypocrite. We use Netflix and the library to watch dvds, including dvds of television shows. Television is a weird interior/exterior kind of experience. Maybe plain vision is similarly weird.

February 09, 2009 7:59 AM  

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