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The world is a partially obscure place to me. I always feel that I only see and understand pieces of it.
The mezzotint, apart from being beautiful in its own right, renders the world semi obscure - not a photograph which depicts reality (or does it?), nor a painting which depicts the images of an inner eye.
So I deem my view of the world to be a mezzotinted view. My reading this year will, for the most part centre around some themes which I desire to know more about.
28. Swanns Way, Proust
27. On the Nature of the Psyche, Carl Jung
26. Dore's London
25. The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard
24. The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James
23. Swann's Way, Proust
22. Gods, Mongrels and Demons, Angus Calder
21. A little larger than the entire universe, Pessoa
20. The Book of Disquiet, Pessoa
19. Nadja, Andre Breton
18. Atget, Paris
17. The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus
16. Lost Cities, Gavin Stamp
15. A New Science of Life, Rupert Sheldrake
14. He knew he was right, John Gribbin
13. The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil
12. Shadow Lines, Lorna Martens
11. Robert Musil Diaries
10. The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin
9. Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
8. Russian Thinkers, Isaiah Berlin
7. The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Isaiah Berlin
6. Mayhews Characters, Peter Quennell
5. London in the nineteenth century, by Jerry White
4. Mapping London, by Simon Foxell
3. Balzac, by Stefan Zweig
2. Eugenie Grandet, by Balzac
1. Pere Goriot, Balzac.
Balzac was the conduit for something of a revelation to me. It was brewing anyway - the neocon experiment in Iraq was a learning for me - idealism (even if it was a very different idealism from mine) at the expense of expertise and dispassionate analysis was shown clearly to fail.
What Balzac showed - to my mind at least - was that utopias were for imagining not for trying to build. The real world was for more complex and unknowable.
I repeat here what I wrote at the time, as it still is a fair summary of my feelings;
Balzac understands how the world works.
Beavering away in the night-hours, drinking pots of coffee while the rest of the town sleeps, he writes of a fictional world close to his own real world.
Both worlds follow the tracks of his internal logic - ideology does not tell us anything about the world. It influences how people act, but it has no reality other than that. Instead, existence and events are governed by a series of minute connections, multiplied into infinity.
Thus, as these minute details become joined and conjoined and built up - into the world, the universe, the sum of human relations - they reach a level which can no longer be explained unless we isolate and understand each of the minute details. This is an impossible task. Therefore, logically, the world cannot be understood.
All that we can usefully do is understand each interaction, no matter how small, and weave it into a narrative.
The narrative therefore becomes the de facto explanation.
Balzac is the nickname given to the Socionics INTp type (also known as the 'Observer'). This is because the Russians consider Balzac to be a good example of this type.
One important personality trait of the INTp is said to be a well-developed imagination, and a corresponding rich inner world. This fits Balzac well.
He developed hundreds of characters across his many novels, each drawn - to my mind - in a way which allows you to imagine them as real people with real thoughts and feelings. They ring true, even if Balzac only devotes two sentences to them.
The other author that does this for me (in a different genre entirely) is Patrick O'Brien. I can see him too as an INTp.
> 4 I have not read O'Brien, but just last night I watched the movie of Master and Commander for the 100th time. It is a fantastically good film. If anyone reading this thread has any influence in Hollywood, please suggest to the powers that be to make a sequel.
This has resonance for my own thinking about Balzac.
Berlin appears to have had his own journey from idealist to 'realist' - or 'pluralist' as I think he would have it.
He describes pluralism as '...the conception that there are many different ends that men may seek and still be fully rational, fully men, capable of understanding each other and sympathising and deriving light from each other, as we derive it from reading Plato or the novels of medieval Japan - worlds, outlooks, very remote from our own.'
By contrast, of those seeking perfection in society according to their particular ideals, he warns:
'To force people into the neat uniforms demanded by dogmatically believed in schemes is almost always the road to inhumanity'
Now I wonder if he goes on to mention Balzac....?
This is in part what he writes:
'Whatever the political theorists may have taught, the imaginative literature of the nineteenth century...has (despite the apocalyptic moments of Dostoevsky or Walt Whitman) remained singularly unaffected by Utopian dreams. There is no vision of perfection in Tolstoy, or Turgenev, in Balzac or Flaubert or Baudelaire or Carducci.'
He includes others:
'The German romantic school and those it influenced, directly and indirectly, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Wagner, Ibsen, Kafka, Becket, the existentialists, whatever fantasies of their own they may have generated, do not cling to the myth of an ideal world. Nor from his wholly different standpoint does Freud.
Berlin can't help but add:
' Small wonder that they have all been duly written off as decadent reactionaries by Marxist critics'
It may be fun to contrast him with Balzac.
The German romantic school: one of my great interests. We are having a group read of Hoffmann's Kater Murr (one of the key texts of German Romanticism) here if you're interested:
It would be great to have you along.
'To force people into the neat uniforms demanded by dogmatically believed in schemes is almost always the road to inhumanity' This is very similar to what Herzen says. I think Berlin was very influenced by Herzen.
In this book Berlin sites Machiavelli, Herzen, Johann Herder and Giambattista Vico as his key early influences in realising the importance of pluralism as a contrast to perfectionist idealism.
Isaiah Berlin on the reality of systems which seek to better mankind.
Note to self: Where do the puritans fit into this?
But what if one did exist - would there be harmony if there was an objectively best of all possible worlds?
I think here of Bozo, a character in one of Orwell's pieces (was it Down and Out or possibly the shorter work on tramps). Bozo said something like even if God existed I would personally dislike him.
Surely there will always be those who rail against the system, either agressively or passively, just because the consensus, the majority, the perceived right way of doing things is boring, inhibiting, and maybe a little tawdry...?
1. ideals, or supreme values are not always compatible with one another
2. different societies through time have had different ideals - there is not one ideal or group of ideals that has been held by all societies
3. in real life, as old problems are solved, new problems appear - nothing stands still, therefore to work towards an ideal society is a misplaced effort, and
4. if an ideal society was reached where goals were accepted by all, mans inner life, his ability to think and question and challenge would be denied him.
Berlin on Tolstoy's view of history, (and, in passing, of reality):
1. Tolstoy valued the concrete, the empirical, and distrusted the abstract, and the supernatural
2. "History, only history, only the sum of the concrete events in time and space...this alone contained the truth..."
3.However, history is a succession of unexplained events, so can never be 'mastered'
4. "Those who affect to be able to contract this infinite multiplicity within their 'scientific' laws must be either deliberate charlatans or blind leaders of the blind"
5. as a result, Tolstoy came to see that causal determinism ruled and man could not master it, because to master it would mean understanding every cause however small
6. the only thing which man can know consists of "...the individual experience, the specific relation of individuals to one another, the colours, smells, tastes, sounds and movements, the jealousies, loves, hatreds, passions, the rare flashes of insight, the transforming moments, the ordinary day to day succession of private data which constitute all there is...."
My view of Balzac:
1. Balzac intuitively understood all of this
2. Balzac captured the world - which he and Tolstoy believed must be unknowable - by writing about it. The tale is the de facto reality.
My initial sources are Illuminations and Shadow Lines.
Martens, in the introduction to her book, argues that the Austrian intellectual mileu of the turn of the twentieth century was interested in the far side of what Nietzsche called '... a line which distinguishes what is clear and in full view from the dark and unilluminable'.
This was, she asserts, a break from the late 19th century view which had rejected analysis of the self in favour of the ability to 'feel', and 'live'.
And the 'dark area' which earlier writers had seen as delicate and elusive, was now seen 'as a seat of power'. In fact this dark area now '...comes to be viewed as the point of reference for everything that goes on in the light area.'
I can already see where this might lead:
- Jung and collective unconscious
- the visions of Kafka, Musil, Broch and Zamyatin
- dada and surrealism
ETA correction to touchstone
It seems that Jung shared some proclivities with Schroëdinger which kept them both active, alert, and intellectually productive well past the normal time for diminished capacity. Sometimes we have to dip into the shadow, so to speak, to find the good.
This is the actual touchstone that works:
Shadow Lines: Austrian
ETA a bit of this and that.
1. The unconscious is a source of hidden meanings
2. "...in its innermost nature it is as much unknown to us as the reality of the external world"
3. but it is the source of vitality and meaning - so meaningful life no longer derives from the realm of light, but from the dark area, the irrational becomes more important than the rational, the past becomes of more import than the present, and the unknown of more interest than the known.
4. and Freud's system is dynamic: " This dynamism, the interplay of force and resistance, is also admirably suited to the construction of literary plots....The conflict between the two terms generates the story."
And so comes the birth of the modernist artist.
This seems to be the crux of the Martens argument - that Freud and the zeitgeist in Vienna at the turn of the century established a step change in the view of one's relationship with the dark area. From Freud onwards the unknown, this dark area, acquires something new. It is no longer static, it erects "... a mysterious line between it and us that itself becomes an object of fascination."
I fully expect that Dostoevsky and others were the vanguard in this movement towards modernism (and that the German Romanticists were a necessary step on that path), but Martens' thesis is that the real step change came with Freud. No longer was the removal of conflict seen as the path to a healthy state of being, to 'wholeness'. Conflict was actually part and parcel of the dynamic development of each individual and society.
Would you say he saw conflict as a state which needed to be resolved in order for an individual to attain a wholesome and fulfilling life?
Or did he already have some inkling of what was to come in terms of the upweighting of the unknown and the celebration of conflict as a dynamic force?
So as a fellow 99%'er I immediately felt a connection with him.
Over the next period of time I am going to work through Martens' assessment of his place in the pantheon of the Viennese turn of the century literati, and will scroll through both his Diaries and The Man Without Qualities.
BTW, I agree totally with your assessment of Musil's picture, from one 99 % er to another. I have not read the Diaries, but MWQ is brilliant, as is Young Torless, a shorter and earlier Musil work you might want to look at.
Note to self - Is reality the product of nature or culture?
Musil = the detached observer and critic.
Obsessive - but in what way? The Man Without Qualities certainly a manifestation of this.
It has been said that M saw the world:
"...as an unfixable, variegated and constantly self-transforming phenomenon."
The known, the unknown and the line between them are dealt with by these writers in a certain fashion.
If we call the unknown A, and the known or the knower B, some patterns can be illustrated.
Firstly, A is always more powerful than B, the latter having no power over the former.
Secondly, B cannot directly perceive A. Instead it may see merely a projection of itself, B1.
Periodically, A may manifest itself in symbolic form, A1. However, A1 always appears to B in a form which does not allow B to interrogate or examine it.
Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams posits that A1 is the dream. Whilst A, the unconscious, is inaccessible to us, it can reach us via the mediation of the dream. But B cannot move in the other direction towards A.
The alternative to Freud's explanation is that A is the means by which B, the person dreaming, understands A1. In other words we explain the dream by referring to an important unknown 'entity' for which the dream is the messenger.
For Musil, B is reason, thought and language.
A is sensuality and feeling.
While B once again cannot reach A, A1, the 'simple view of things' reaches B:
"What looks grand and remote so long as our words are still reaching out towards it from a long way off, later, once it has entered the sphere of our everyday activities, becomes quite simple and loses all its disturbing quality."
To Martens, Musil is more pessimistic than Freud on the possibility of us penetrating to A through interpretation via A1. Musil illustrates each unsuccessful attempt by Torless' consciousness B to reach or capture A by using the motif of a small, light object emerging then disappearing into a dark background. For instance, we see:
"...a lit leaf against the darkness beyond the window", or later in the story, "...illuminated drops of water that are sprayed up and fall back into a dark sea."
Musil was particularly fascinated by the process whereby:
"...the simple state of things A1, becomes the confused state of things, A and B."
To Musil, these two states are mutually exclusive. They can happen in turn in the same subject, but not together. It is like a switch turning on and off, or like Wittgenstein's duck rabbit - you can only have one or the other inhabiting consciousness at any one time.
As I wrote this I had a strong vision of the early experiments with photography, when leaves arrived on a treated piece of paper only to disappear soon after. And when they did finally remain fixed, they were still ethereal, magical:
"The most transitory of things, a shadow, the proverbial emblem of all that is fleeting and momentary, may be fettered by the spells of our natural magic, and may be fixed for ever in the position which it seems only destined for a single instant to occupy."
Natural magic here means the newly invented photographic process.
Whilst reason was important, it coexisted with the mystical and with instinct, these latter two being something which, in Musil's mind, could equally be explained by logic and reason.
Thus, in Young Torless Ulrich sees ecstatic states as:
"...not glimpses into another world but another way of seeing this one."
The Vanishing Subject, Judith Ryan
Musil appears to suggest the mystical experience, which the reasoning of the enlightenment does not explain, was neither divine in nature, nor even the expansion of the consciousness ("the privileged moment" of Pater), but rather a biological process.
It is the response to inner rather than outer stimuli, and is directed inwards rather than to the outside world. But it is not fundamentally different from feelings and actions which are stimulated by and reflected back onto the outside world.
ETA corrected Ryan reference
This is not dissimilar to the view of the greater unknown in Jung's collective unconscious.
Is the breadown of Musil in 26 and 27 your own, or are you summarising Martens? It's very very interesting indeed. It's clear to me that I need to read TMWQ again. One thing I remember from it is the prevalence of the window as an image. The watcher through the window symbolizes the detachment of the observer, and the perception of reality through a lense, or a pane of glass, which for me, is language, or at least consciousness.
Is reality the product of nature or culture? or is it a projection by the self, as Buddhism posits?
I have been meaning to ask for some time, who is the artist of the mezzotint in your first post. Do you have any lists for websites featuring mezzotints. What about reliable sellers of mezzotints?
However, I agree it is most interesting. I have been using it in all sorts of situations recently.
And as you alluded to in your last sentence, the nature of reality could indeed be looked at this way.
Do we actually perceive the reality of things as A, A1, B1 or a mixture of all 3? And when you add in Martens view about A always being both more powerful, and fundamentally unknowable in any direct sense, it makes for quite a heady brew.
I am afraid my knowledge of mezzotints does not match my appreciation of them, so I cannot give you any useful answers.
However, the mezzotint at the head of this thread is Sunshine Falling on a Door by Peter Ilsted, an early 20th century artist.
I like his pieces because they link back to the feel of Vermeer.
Here is another work by him:
Marco Polo to Kublai Khan, Invisible Cities
For Martens, Kafka differs from these other writers in two important ways:
i) as opposed to using as an authority an impersonal narrator above the fray, he considers, almost without exception, only the perspective of the main character, a technique which "... lends his stories an unprecedented obscurity."
ii) he seems to be parodying the use of dualities. Whereas his Viennese contemporaries "... see the world as governed by two terms both of which are real, Kafka affirms only the term occupied by the subject, setting up the unknown or 'dark' term merely as an elusive, infinitely receding, unattainable goal."
Kafka therefore appears to doubt the possibility of any transfer of information from A to B:
"Whereas Freud optimistically supposed that the inquiring analyst can see through the distorting form to grasp the latent content of the wish", and where, as we have seen, Musil saw the hidden content as important, although difficult to reach, and confusing, "Kafka seems to be parodying the idea of content. The story (An Imperial Message) suggests that there is no content at all, but merely forms of thought."
So, in Kafka's view, A and A1 are each no more than a "... complicated, far-flung construction of B."
The Martens books sounds excellent, Zeno, I must try to get hold of it.
More Ilsted here. I love them. Vermeer meets Karl Larssen.
Kafka's perception of the present day world in which he lived was 'conveyed' to him by mystical experience,
"... in particular, the experience of tradition."
Thus, one facet of Kafka's writing involves:
"... the rumour about the true things (a sort of theological whispered intelligence dealing with matters discredited and obsolete)."
Whereas most modern followers of traditional wisdoms try to stick to the 'truths' as they understand them, they must abandon the consistency of vision which of necessity atomises as the 'truths' become diverse and complicated just as modern life experience becomes diverse and complicated.
Kafka's uniqueness here, in Benjamin's mind, comes from the fact that he foregoes the specific 'truths' in order to retain the consistency of vision.
Like Musil, Kafka believes the mystical experience to be an important ingredient in one's world view. Although Musil was cynical about our ability to break through to understand A, he was nevertheless sure that we could use mystical experience - but significantly he saw this experience as scientifically explainable - it was a process that happened within us, whereby B became B1 for a moment and saw things in a different way.
I now need to understand how Kafka felt about all this. Significant in this, to me at least, is why do certain Kafka readers laugh out loud at his writings (to the chagrin of those who see him as the arch melancholic)? I class myself in the former group - Kafka has always been amusing to me - in a liberating way that very few others have been. I need to understand this more as well.
I read somewhere quite recently that Kafka often burst into laughter when reading his stories out loud to friends and family. I am sure it was something to do with a certain way of looking at the world - a certain understanding about the ultimate futility of our quest, which in its absurdity was one of the most deeply amusing things to understand.
To be explored further.
Pieta, or Revolution by Night - by Max Ernst.
This is the closest visual equivalent to a Kafka story, and richly amusing to me in the same way as Kafka's tales.
I have also remarked on Kafka's humor, here in my blog, and probably also somewhere on LT. I must have read the same source as you about his reading his works aloud. To me, the humor comes from actually visualizing what Kafka writes.
You can see it in the dance of Josef K with his guards on the way to the quarry. They intertwine their arms, stiffly, straight-out and downward, and march off in unison. When K decides to stop, the guards are powerless to force him, in this tightly-knit configuration, to go on--no leverage! It plays like a scene from the keystone kops.
Or visualize the scene where Gregor, in Metamorphosis, emerges from his room and frightens the head clerk, who then stumbles out of the apartment and flees down the stairs. Gregor, with his immense self-identity as a human, doesn't relate the clerk's actions to his own horrific external appearance, but just reports the scene matter-of-factly, from his human point of view. The absurdity of this scene is laugh-out-loud funny, if you don't let the conventional preconceptions of Kafka get in the way.
I recently remarked to a friend about Kafka's humor. She didn't see it herself, but admitted that it must be weird, if it existed at all. Well, it's not weird, or twisted. It's just funny, but you have to have cleared out all your preconceptions to realize it. Kafka speaks directly to the human condition, and if that's not funny, nothing is.
ETA some minor grammatical corrections.
I need to think further about all these things, your blog is food for thought, and happily Benjamin is also a good source of ideas.
I'm glad I have another source for Kafka's laughing.
Wilf, your reading of Kafka reminds me very much of Schweik.
Zeno, I thought you might be interested in these two articles on Berlin in the TLS...
I have been sitting in blzaing heat on various beaches this last week reading more of Russian Thinkers, and yesterday re read 'The Hedgehog and the Fox', so these were quite apposite.
Benjamin on Kafka:
1. Kafka had a vision outside of the everyday "... he perceives what was to come without perceiving what exists in the present...."
2. and he knew implicitly of the ancient wisdom and tradition: "... his experience was based solely on the tradition to which Kafka surrendered."
3. Thus "... the rumour about the true things (a sort of theological whispered intelligence dealing with matters discredited and obsolete)" a line of thought and knowledge which operated outside of the rational, the everyday, the scientific.
Berlin on Tolstoy:
1. the world is fundamentally unknowable and deterministic
2. science can discover and measure certain things on the surface of existence, but it cannot measure the depths where "... we are immersed and submerged in a medium that, precisely to the degree to which we inevitably take it for granted as part of ourselves, we do not and cannot observe as if from the outside...."
3. This is the world in which traditional wisdom operates, a world which we cannot pierce or manipulate. The best we can do is to understand that it exists, without challenging it or seeking to dominate it.
4. This traditional wisdom is, in Berlin's stating of Tolstoy's view, "... a special subjectiveness to the contours of circumstances in which we happen to be placed; it is living without falling foul of some permanent condition or factor which cannot be either altered, or even fully described or calculated, an ability to be guided by the rules of thumb - the 'immemorial wisdom' said to reside in peasants and other 'simple folk' - where rules of science do not, in principle, apply."
This last passage actually feels like a synopsis from a Kafka story. Only it is most everyone apart from Kafka's 'hero'/narrator who appear to understand that this is how the world works.
There is another unknown which is a kind of B-1 a known which is yet to be discovered. This is the realm of the rational and scientific where discoveries can be made.
But in making such discoveries we think we are piercing A. We are not, we are merely finding B-1 which is only surface knowledge.
Tolstoy's unending wish to find a 'hedgehog' solution to provide a unifying vision of the whole, and Kafka's world of endless mental labyrinthes in the protaganist's mind, are perhaps their individual ways of attempting to deal with this fundamentally absurd and unbroachable reality (as they see it).
Entertainment on a budget:
I feel like I have reached a natural plateau at this point, where I can take a breather. So over the next couple of weeks I am keeping away from too much thinking. Back soon, maybe looking further at 'the unknown' in terms of Jung, Pater, William James......
Camus argues that while Kafka sees the fundamental absurdity of existence ("I recognize here a work that is absurd in its principles"), he (Kafka) also sees hope:
"The word 'hope' used here is not ridiculous. On the contrary, the more tragic the condition described by Kafka, the firmer and more aggressive that hope becomes....we find here again in a pure state the paradox of existential thought as it is expressed, for instance, by Kierkegaard: 'Earthly hope must be killed; only then can one be saved by true hope'".
Thus The trial sets up and extinguishes an earth bound answer to the protaganist's problem, but The castle illustrates a way forward.
This way is through a relationship with the divine and eternal, but a rather abstract and obscure one. In The castle the protagonist "...tries to recapture God through what negates him, to recognize him, not according to our categories of goodness and beauty but behind the empty and hideous aspects of his indifference, of his injustice, and of his hatred."
Camus, at a later point, adds: "Kafka refuses his god moral nobility, evidence, virtue, coherence, but only the better to fall into his arms. The absurd is recognized, accepted, and man is resigned to it, but from then on we know that it has ceased to be the absurd."
This is in contrast to Tolstoy whom, one suspects, was too much of a realist to see true hope from such metaphysical speculation.
But I need to give this more thought. I need to work out how Theravada Buddhism fits into all this. On one level I see parallels, but I suspect that Buddhism goes beyond hope for a true unbinding.
Zeno, are you (is Camus) saying, then, in >55 zenomax:, that, for Kafka, the absurd becomes God/God becomes the absurd? is that right, and if so, is there a difference?
Keirkegaard: God becomes the absurd
Camus must have read the version edited by Max Brod, based on his references to theology and grace. I see no religious subtext in my reading of the Harmon translation, which is based on scholarship completed after Camus' death and which includes the restored ending that Brod had removed. The Barnabas story is not "placed at the end of the book" in this version.
Rather than a theological theme of salvation, I see an existential hero in the Surveyor K., who contrasts with the existential tragedy of Josef K. in The Trial. Josef K. contends with an extra-judicial system run by unseen people according to impenetrable rules. The rules laid down by the officials of the Castle are similarly impenetrable. Josef K. never understands the system, never takes the advice of those who know the system better than he, and eventually succumbs to the verdict of the system. True, as Camus states, Josef K. "does not neglect to love to eat, or to read his paper." But he does not take charge of his life, things happen to him, he lives passively like a dog and as he dies, he says, enigmatically, "Like a dog." He could have lived out his life like a human if he had faced the existential question facing him on his thirtieth birthday, but he did not.
Surveyor K., on the other hand, constantly probes the system. He learns from each person he contacts, judges the worth of the information, and makes his next move with greater knowledge. He begins his stay at the village precariously, with no job, no residence, with every possibility of dying in the snow. His reasoning keeps him going, attacking the uncertainty in the operant rules of order. Josef K. quietly went with his jailors to his death. K. rejected interrogation by the official, Momus, and suffered no harm.
At the end K. is secure, not because of his reasoning but because of the vagaries of the system. In the restored ending, K. has an interview with two officials, Bürgel and Erlanger. From these association he gains enormous respect in the village. But what of these interviews? He was mostly asleep when with Bürgel and Erlanger just passed along a request to reinstate Frieda as barmaid (which was already accomplished, but beyond the control of K.).
So Kafka does offer hope through K., but I say we can also derive hope from Josef K. That is, don't be a nebbish, take charge of your life, make it yours, be responsible for it. This is the hope that Camus asserts in The Myth of Sisyphus, though it seems obscured in Hope and the Absurd in the Work of Franz Kafka.
Murr, I like your encapsulation in 58. I think that is close to Camus' view of Kafka.
Wilf, Camus states that his views are '...obviously true of the unfinished version of The Castle which Kafka left us.' If further work has provided the intended ending then obviously Camus may have reinterpreted.
However, I can't help but draw comparisons between Camus' view of an absurdist god figure with Benjamin's view of Kafka's reliance on an old wisdom,"... the rumour about the true things (a sort of theological whispered intelligence dealing with matters discredited and obsolete)" a line of thought and knowledge which operated outside of the rational, the everyday, the scientific. See #48.
The similarity between the two views is of a power which is beyond the rational. The difference is that Camus adds a view that Kafka ekes a kind of hope from this situation.
If we go back to #38, Martens has a rrelated but alternative take:
Whereas his Viennese contemporaries "... see the world as governed by two terms both of which are real, Kafka affirms only the term occupied by the subject, setting up the unknown or 'dark' term merely as an elusive, infinitely receding, unattainable goal."
Here, Kafka sees the reality which others have not grasped. Everything is subjective, a projection by each individual of the world, which can neither be proven or disproven by any outside, objective agency. This is a view I am quite comfortable with. The question is, should this lead one to despair, to surreal humour, or to hope? Or perhaps to acceptance that that is how it is.
Oh dear, another 99 percenter.
The translation thread was informative, but inconclusive so I went for look and longevity!
However, I would like to read the Lydia Davis book for comparison at some stage, given the enthusiastic views of many here.
Mmm. This is very close to my own view of things. And Theravada, again.
All that being said, I flipped through M/K and M/K/E in the bookstore, and I found virtually no differences (I do appreciate Enright's changing the titles). I doubt that it would be worth replacing your M/K with the Enright. (Adding the Penguin translations to your library, however, would most definitely be worth it, as they offer a substantially different experience.)
Yes, I thought about adding those.
"The thirteen volumes of Marcel Proust's 'A la Recherche du temps perdu' are the result of an unconstruable synthesis in which the absorption of a mystic, the art of a prose writer, the verve of a satirist, the erudition of a scholar, and the self-consciousness of a monomaniac have combined in an autobiographical work."
This, then, is what we are to deal with.
As a result of this, Benjamin believes that Proust had a profound will to happiness, part of which found form in his works as "...the eternal repetition, the eternal restoration of the original, the first happiness."
Is there a relationship here between Proust's evocation of his memories and Pessoa's evocation of the absurd?
"The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd: the longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world's existence."
They " reinstate the world in its diversity and deny the transcendent power of the reason. The spiritual universe becomes incalculably enriched through them. The rose petal, the milestone, or the human hand are as important as love, desire, or the laws of gravity. Thinking ceases to be unifying or making a semblance familiar in the guise of a major principle. Thinking is learning all over again to see, to be attentive, to focus consciousness; it is turning every idea and every image, in the manner of Proust, into a privileged moment."
As we recall from earlier, Musil in particular saw inner visions as a biological process: "...not glimpses into another world but another way of seeing this one". Could not Proust's memories be part of this same process? Or are they closer in nature to Pater's view that the inner vision is a privileged moment, an epiphany that arrives from a momentary expansion of one's consciousness?
I think it is almost time to look at Pater and at William James, two 19th century thinkers who may shed more light on Proust.
Great Camus quote. Looking forward to more on Pater and Wiliam James, two heros of mine.
I go walking there for an hour every week.
Paul Desjardins quoted in Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project.
Given their similar ways, it is not surprising that Proust was drawn to Baudelaire. Benjamin qoutes from an article written by Proust:
"I have not had time to speak here of the part played in Baudelaire's work by ancient cities, or of the scarlet note they strike, here and there, in the fabric of his poetry."
A wonderful sentence, suggesting Proust's innate connection with B. and illustrating (even in translation) P's superb evocation of language and image.
Greil Marcus on "The Coo Coo Bird", as sung by Clarence Ashley.
and does that take me to your final post?
Does Camus just mean French phenomenologists?
You pose a nice question about the uniqueness of each individual's understanding. This is something I have often thought of - Jung had some interesting things to say about personality types in this regard (not surprising - he had interesting things to say about many things)
You have me on the question on phenomenologists - I don't have enough knowledge of them to make the distinction. Could you elaborate?
#83 Murr the quote in 81 is from Benjamin. He is talking about Kafka. And yes, it does seem to connect to A1. There seems to be a link between this quote and Tolstoy's peasant wisdom, and Freud's dreams and Musil's inward - facing thoughts.
I read somewhere that Benjamin, although a Marxist, appeared to be more influenced by kabbalistic and other mystical Jewish thought in his writings. This sentence seems to confirm that.
One writer has drawn a connection between the photographic and Proustian worlds.
" Has the analogy been drawn between Proust's innovative narrative techniques - changes in perspective and of optical angle - and those which the universe of photography afforded him?"
"...in his battle against Time, that enemy of our precarious existence, ever on the offensive though never openly so, it was in photography, also born of an age old longing to halt the moment, to wrest it from the flux of 'duree' in order to 'fix' it forever in a semblance of eternity, that Proust found his best ally."
I have a little awareness of Jung, often liking him ( a favourite axiom was his observation that 'if you are depressed you are too high up in your own mind') -- but I am cautious about personality types. I suppose it runs against my desire to recognise uniqueness....and thats a tension I feel a lot (with diagnosis too).
Edit -- #85 -- do you know the photography of Lartigue?
Edit Edit - I hope its not too basic a question!
I have invested in a Taschen edition of Atget (love it, could look at each image for an hour), but haven't yet come across a Lartigue book.
- The Legend of Crazy Horse, J D Blackfoot
Tony, that quote from Jung is very profound: 'if you are depressed you are too high up in your own mind' It seems to me that depression is the result of a pathologically foregrounded consciousness, something Dostoevsky was very aware of in The Double and Notes from Underground.
This site gives a flavour of Lartigue.
Atget biography and link to photos (look closely at these - as often as not what looks to be a still life has people in, as blurs in the distance or as curiosities peering from behind glass panes or over balconies).
I like the biographical detail on this site too - particularly the quote that he was "... a Balzac of the camera..." Quite appropriate I think.
L was a true amateur, taking photos for enjoyment. Atget declared himself to be a jobbing photographer, a functional artisan, the exact opposite one would think from a visionary.
He kept his personal vision tightly held to a few friends and collectors, although he set out most days with his cart and (even then) old fashioned equipment, taking numberless images over the days, weeks, months, years...
I love Lartigue's work -- a true amateur, self taught I think from an early age, a pioneer like the pioneers of cars and motorbikes and planes that he often photographed. My favourite is the self portrait he took in the bath, he looks about 10 years old - fantastic. I think he was recognised towards the end of his life due to a chance meeting with a publisher on a plane.
tomcat - the site zeno linke dto is good -- but you'll get more if you google image his name, well worth it I think!
Benjamin argues that Atget photographed empty, or near deserted streets in order to establish the evidence - as if they were recent crime scenes. By eliminating the human element, or at least relegating it to an almost hidden subtext, A appeared to be taking an outsider's view of Paris, a city built by and inhabited by the human race, but with an existence external to it.
Thanks to Tony for bringing up Lartigue, for L and A both have applicability to my meanderings here.
And tomcat, I saw what you said about the Jung quote (which I hope I am accurate about) and that idea of foregrounding is interesting. But it also leads me to also reflect that there is also evidence that depressed people may actually see the world very realistically - and so support may help them to make change to it and diiscover new ways of seeing options (and sometimes seeing other interpretations of how things are). But thats putting it very simplistically - but something I try to remember when meeting a depressed person.
Nothing seems quite real tonight.
Tony, I agree, and honestly, I find that depression is like looking through the veil of Maya to the reality of things. Not a pretty sight at all.
I am still enjoying these Atget pictures very much.
" The Atget prints are direct and emotionally clean records of a rare and subtle perception, and represent perhaps the earliest expression of true photographic art."
Balzac, as my dear readers may remember, allowed me something of a revelation. To repeat my thoughts from #3:
Balzac understands how the world works.
- ideology does not tell us anything about the world. It influences how people act, but it has no reality other than that. Instead, existence and events are governed by a series of minute connections, multiplied into infinity.
Thus, as these minute details become joined and conjoined and built up - into the world, the universe, the sum of human relations - they reach a level which can no longer be explained unless we isolate and understand each of the minute details. This is an impossible task. Therefore, logically, the world cannot be understood.
All that we can usefully do is understand each interaction, no matter how small, and weave it into a narrative.
The narrative therefore becomes the de facto explanation
Now, in the writing of Msr P., it appears to me that everything exists according to its true nature, a nature not dissimilar from that which followers of that ancient wisdom - which Berlin attributes to Tolstoy, and which Benjamin likewise attributes to Kafka - may have understood very well.
Thus, things are not understood according to a grand plan or set of rules. Life is too complex and the interconnections too vast and multifarious in number. (Here Balzac would argue we understand instead the interactions within our orbit and weave them into a narrative that 'explains' the time and place).
For P the best that can be done is to understand the hidden meanings behind things, their true natures, through allegorical mirrors and oblique descriptions, which reflect the way things really feel to us.
Through imagery and memory rather than through statements of fact do we get to see, as if through an inverted microscope, a small distant chink of distorted light.
Do P & B tap into an ancient stream of innate acceptance of the way things are? And if they do, are they alone in seeing that this actually gives a freedom to delve deeper into how things are the way they are? In other words, we may not be able to get to an ideal world of peace and harmony, but instead let us understand that there is more to an everyday object or interaction or thought or dream than just the statement of it in factual prose. There is indeed more things in heaven and earth to celebrate.
The famous example of P's madeleine comes to mind here.
... I place in position before my mind's eye the still recent taste of that first mouthful, and I feel something start within me, something that leaves its resting-place and attempts to rise, something that has been anchored at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is, but I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance, I can hear the echo of great spaces traversed."
It was he who coined the Law of the Infinite Cornucopia. "This states that there is never a shortage of arguments to support whatever doctrine you want to believe in for whatever reasons." (This definition comes from Timothy Garton Ash).
K. has a penchant for quotable knife - turning phrases. Here are some others:
"And thus Prometheus awakens from his dream of power, as ignominiously as Gregor Samsa in Kafka's The Metamorphosis." (in reference to the emergence of Stalinism out of Marxism)
"A modern philosopher who has never once suspected himself of being a charlatan must be such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading."
"The self-deification of mankind, to which Marxism gave philosophical expression, has ended in the same way as all such attempts, whether individual or collective: it has revealed itself as the farcical aspect of human bondage." (not too far away from Berlin's views of those who seek to promote a set of ideals for mankind).
K. appears to be alive and still teaching at Oxford (where he has taught for almost 40 years). I am in Oxford today - maybe I should drop in and ask to see him....!!
If that great hope of the 20th century, Marxism, was a monster in disguise, where do we go next? Is progress an illusion in all but the scientific sense (new vaccines, new sources of power generation), and is even this ultimately an illusion of progress?
Should we look only inwards, a la Proust, in order to deal with it all?
John Martin, Fall of Babylon, 1835.
If we are to be conservative in outlook, at least let us be conservative in the way a quiet anarchist is conservative.... not really conservative at all inside.
The realisation that the modern world means living in a complicated but fundamentally unknowable universe.
Nietzsche, quoted in Benjamin, The Arcades Project.
Although no doubt meant as an aphorism, this is, in point of fact, not too far from a literal description of the way the world/universe works when taken from a systems/entropy viewpoint.
Your thread leaves me breathless, Zeno. I need to step back and think.
This is excellent, and is a nifty little tool for once and all demolishing such psuedos as Kahlil Gibran, Paulo Ceolho (spelling? do we care?) and Ayn Rand. I definitely want to read Kolakowski.
Zeno, can you enlarge the pictures? I'd like to get a closer look at them.
I have not read Swallows & Amazons - should I? I do have a soft spot for childrens writing by middle aged Britsh men (Milne, Carroll...)
Parts of the mezzotint seem almost Blakean to me - dark satanic mills and beings or phenomena flying through the air.
Atget did a series of photos on ragpickers living precariously on the edges of the city and another on prostitutes in the very stomach of the city.
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.
if you like children's books by middle aged Englishmen, and are nostalgic, and love messing about in boats on the Broads, you must read them!!!
if I remember rightly the ones set in Norfolk are:
The Big Six
Also, Missee Lee is set in the Taiwan archipelago!!!
Too little to love or to hate
Leave us alone and you'll see
That we can bring down the state
The Pict Song
So WJ had a tradition of science and mysticism behind him.
Unsurprisingly, amongst multifarious interests, he had a particular interest in the concepts of mysticism and religious experience. In his later works James suggests either a 'finite God' or a 'mother sea of consciousness' as potential replacements for the traditional view of an Absolute god figure. It is in these writings that James begins to find common cause with Jung, a few generations behind him. Jung, of course, in what has been one of the key themes behind this thread, proposed that, in addition to the individual conscious and subconscious, there was a collective subconscious which linked all of humanity (or maybe all of life on earth) together.
Jung, like James, was influenced by Swedenborg, and all three appear to have that odd but interesting mix of science/rationalism and mysticism in them.
The Varities of Religious Experience.
This again harks back to the Balzac, Berlin, Benjaimn axis that the world cannot be known or controlled in any real way, the possible causal links are too great in number and the connections between each too intricate.
Jung = collective subconscious
Pater = the privileged moment (a momentary expansion of consciousness)
More recently, from a scientific perspective, Rupert Sheldrake has revived the Lamarckist view of life on earth (the original version of which was wiped away by Darwin's theory of evolution) with his theory of morphic resonance.
Musil, on the other hand, sees the whole thing as a biological function, a response to inwardly directed feelings resulting from stimuli from within as opposed to without.
Now it could be asked does eidetic intuition have any links with the collective subconscious, or the mother sea of James. To get to an essence of an object, we tap into a universal (?) perception using eidetic intuition. Where exactly does this come from?
I do not know enough about phenomenology to comment further a this stage.
By the way Musil studied psychology and was aware of and influenced by the phenomenologists.
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities
"Being as chaste as paper, as sober as water, as devout as a woman at Holy Communion, as harmless as a sacrificial lamb, I would not be displeased to be taken for a lecher, a drunkard, an infidel, a murderer."
Baudelaire, 'Studies for a preface to Les Fleurs du mal', quoted in Benjamin, The Arcades Project.
Proust, "A Propos de Baudelaire", in Benjamin, The Arcades Project.
("The solemn geographies of human limits"), Paul Eluard. From The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard.
Bachelard looks at the ways we experience intimate spaces.
On 'the dialiectics of outside and inside':
"But how many daydreams we should have to analyze under the simple heading of Doors! For the door is an entire cosmos of the Half-open. In fact, it is one of the primal images.... At times, it is closed, bolted, padlocked. At others, it is open, that is to say, wide open."
This reminds me of a couple of Atget images - one of a closed, railed gate with an unkempt park landscape visible through the far side, the other in the image here of a chateau gate, half ajar.
If doors are the stuff of daydreams, gates seem to be invitations to cross the border between the known and unknown. These 2 concepts were at the height of their intellectual popularity when Atget was at his business. We have, to my knowledge, little explanation from Atget as to what he was seeking to achieve. He was pleased to play his cards close.
What you wrote about phenomononononology earlier (dammit I can never type that word) ties in so much with Plato and Buddhism and the notion of the self that I am exploring in Dostoevsky. I want to put some thoughts together on this.
but I think I need to go lie down and read some Baudelaire.
Saint Roland Barthes writes on the meaning of doors and windows in literature:
a whole complex of death, pleasure, limit, secret is bound up in them
In Musil's Man without Qualities, 'the hero' spends a great deal of time standing at the window looking into the street; it's a recurring trope throughout the book. could this be a symbolic reference to what Musil was reading in his studies in Phenonompmmonetc?
From post 27: Musil illustrates each unsuccessful attempt by Torless' consciousness B to reach or capture Aby using the motif of a small, light object emerging then disappearing into a dark background.
A window often seems to be the medium through which such things occur in Musil. I think you are right, phenomenology had an influence on M., at least to the extent that Carl Stumpf, for whom Musil was a student, was an influence on Husserl.
"These first experimental psychologists were in the same predicament as the mythical discoverer of the numerical sequence, who strung peas together in a row and simply went on adding another unit to those already present. When he contemplated the result, it looked as if it was nothing but a hundred identical units; but the numbers he had thought of only as names unexpectedly turned out to be peculiar entities with irreducible properties. For instance, there were even, uneven, and primary numbers; positive, negative, irrational, and imaginary numbers, etc. So it is with psychology: if the soul is really only an idea, this idea has an alarming air of unpredictability about it - something with qualities no one would ever have imagined. One can go on asserting that the psyche is consciousness and its contents, but that does not prevent, in fact it hastens, the discovery of a background not previously suspected, a true matrix of all conscious phenomena, a preconsciousness and a postconsciousness, a superconsciousness and a subconsciousness."
The Archetypes which reside in the collective unconscious "... fall phenomenologically into two categories: instinctual and archetypal. The first includes the natural impulses, the second the dominants that emerge into consciousness as universal ideas. Between the contents of collective consciousness, which purport to be generally accepted truths, and those of the collective unconscious there is so pronounced a contrast that the latter are rejected as totally irrational, not to say meaningless, and are most unjustifiably excluded from the scientific purview as though they did not exist. However, psychic phenomena of this kind exist with a vengeance, and if they appear nonsensical to us, that only proves that we do not understand them."
"The medieval man had not yet fallen such a helpless victim to worldliness as the contemporary mass man, for, to offset the notorious and, so to speak, tangible powers of this world, he still acknowledged the equally influential metaphysical potencies which demanded to be taken into account."
Jung also seems to concur with Berlin in his tirade against idealistic strategies for progress:
"The current 'isms' ... are nothing but dangerous identifications of the subjective with the collective consciousness." The argument here being that following the whims of the collective consciousness without the balancing factors of the shadow collective unconscious will lead to false premises being followed. This "... infallibly produces a mass psyche with its irresistible urge to catastrophe."
i) the conscious mind - the accessible area, aware of its own thoughts.
ii) the unconscious - the repository for repressed ideas and thoughts.
iii) the preconscious - the link between i) and ii) with non - repressed thoughts which are not in the conscious mind but can be easily recalled.
so Jung also posited 3 levels:
i) the conscious mind - unique to each individual. Perception, memory, thoughts and feelings are organised here.
ii) the personal unconscious - also unique in each person, made up of thoughts, feelings, memories that have lost their intensity, were forgotten or repressed.
(so far Jung's i) and ii) are similar to those of Freud. However, Jung's third level is a departure from Freud),
iii) the collective unconscious - this level is not unique to each person but is shared. Unlike personal conscious, it cannot be changed or added to because it is already fixed, fully formed, outside of the orbit of individual control."Jung saw the collective unconscious as the true basis of the individual psyche." Teach Yourself Jung, Ruth Snowden
Complexes are driven or influenced by the archetypes.
The archetypes themselves are basic, fundamental prototype ideas around patterns of behaviour. Myths and religious movements are the most obvious embodiements of the power of these archetypes to drive human behaviour and understanding.
"In view of the structure of the body, it would be astonishing if the psyche was the only biological phenomenon not to show clear traces of evolutionary history, and it is altogether probable that these marks are closely connected with the instinctual base." Jung, On the Nature of the Psyche.
Do you know Carl Rogers' work at all? That's my base ground and more recent developments of it -- and humanistic psychology/approaches.
The previously unpublished book sounds rather intriguing, I would be interested in it if you find any more out about it.
I am not familiar with Rogers- what are his main interests and ideas?
I just had time to look the previosuly unpublished book - it was called liber novus, but he often referred to it as the red book (it was bound in red). you can read about it here:
and see some of his illustrations for it and text here (fantastic, very Blake-like I think):
I think I remember where I read that story and will look it up.
Carl Rogers is to me very important - the originator really of Person Centred counselling/therapy. part of the humanistic or third wave of therapies -- which to me are such a relief to medical models and the priests of psychoanalytical psychotherapy.
My wife talks of the shortcomings of the medical model in relation to her work. She manages a team of community psychiatric nurses and social workers who work with the elderly. The former use the medical model and often lose sight (I am told) of the person behind the symptoms.
I keep meaning to post this Baudelaire poem with reference to your remarks on Jung's archetypal symbols. You probably know it anyway.
La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.
Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.
II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
— Et d'autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,
Ayant l'expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l'ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l'encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l'esprit et des sens.
— Charles Baudelaire
Nature is a temple in which living pillars
Sometimes give voice to confused words;
Man passes there through forests of symbols
Which look at him with understanding eyes.
Like prolonged echoes mingling in the distance
In a deep and tenebrous unity,
Vast as the dark of night and as the light of day,
Perfumes, sounds, and colors correspond.
There are perfumes as cool as the flesh of children,
Sweet as oboes, green as meadows
— And others are corrupt, and rich, triumphant,
With power to expand into infinity,
Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin,
That sing the ecstasy of the soul and senses.
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)
'Sweet as oboes, green as meadows...'
Strangely, this is not one of the poems which I had anchored on in my reading of The Flowers of Evil, but having just now picked up my copy, I see that it reads a little differently (transl. by James McGowan, Oxford World's Classics).
My version starts:
Nature is a temple, where the living
Columns sometimes breathe confusing speech;
Man walks within these groves of symbols, each
Of which regards him as a kindred thing.
If only my french was more servicable, I would like to get B's exact phrasing. However, I think his idea of the world comes through in both texts.
Baudelaire predates but perhaps anticipates.
I am coming to the conclusion that Proust is a phenomenologist of the highest order. If the extreme of phenomenological philosophy is that all things (living and non livng) bear equal importance, then Proust is your man. I will try to organise my thoughts to write more on this - it has tempered my reading of Proust (in a good way)
The more I think about it, the more I think you are right about B and P being phenomenologists of the first order.
'Correspondances' has suggestions of synasthesia. What does the study of synasthesia have to contribute to phenomenology?
Scriabin was also a synasthesiac.
And with Jungian thought?
And with synesthesia - which I always wanted to have - colour and symbols can have a deep meaning for me - to have them combined in this strange way would be a fine thing indeed.
I should like to go into all this further at some stage. What literature is there on semiotics for a beginner?
Here is a quick list of references on Semiotics.
Semiotics: The Basics Daniel Chandler
This Means This, This Means That: A User's Guide to Semiotics Sean Hall
Elements of Semiology Roland Barthes (this is a classic, but you might want to try the other two first as more general introductions.)
THe wikipedia entry on Semiotics is also rather useful.
The Chardin essay was written perhaps a decade before ISoLT with its cast of animate and inanimate characters. But the impression left by Chardin must have lasted.
Still life by Chardin:
There is something about the equality of all things, and the latent but hidden depths of all things. Is it related to this idea of an ancient wisdom, sceptical of ideals and programs for improvement, reliant, instead, on arcane rites and methodologies for appeasing whatever big or small gods inhabit this domain with us?