‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Was it Kipling who once said ...?

Sir Bors and the Holy Grail.

Sir Bors achieved the Holy Grail and so took it home with him.
And it was naught but a handled beaker made out of hammered tin;
And he set it high on his sideboard shelf to jostle with clutter and mould
And there the beaker hoarded its magic until his life was old.
For that's when he took it down again and wondered at its design,
And said 'I've owned it all these years, and forgot that it never was mine.'
And he polished it up and held it, and took it and threw it outside,
And soon as he'd done so he laughed in release, and laid himself down and he died.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Jameson's Antinomies of Realism (2013)



Here's a quick index (for my own benefit, really) of the posts I wrote annotating my read-through of Jameson's latest book. Also: a link to my friend and colleague Bob Eaglestone's THES review. Bob liked it a lot. My initial bounce-off the book is less enthused than this, but it may grow on me as I ponder it.

One: chapters 1 and 2

Two: chapter 3 (Zola)

Three: chapter 4 (Tolstoy)

Four: chapters 5 ('Pérez Galdós'), 6 ('George Eliot') and 7 ('Realism and the Dissolution of Genre’)

Five: chapters 8-12

That's the lot. There's much here that is stimulating and even exciting; but much more than is clogged and obtuse and dreary. I wonder if the theory stuff Jameson is interested in ('affect', especially) isn't a fortiori a Romantic conceptual category, and mismatched rather to the post-Romantic, and in many cases deliberately anti-Romantic, 'realist' novels he's actually writing about? Perhaps that's a bold and brilliant interpretive strategy. Perhaps Jameson's just gets it wrong. Also: I felt I should have applauded the turn to SF at the book's end (for obvious reasons!). But actually it felt a bit meagre: as if Inception and Cloud Atlas is the best contemporary SF has to show for itself ...

It's left me in a rather sour mood; and since that's never the best state of mind in which to write a review I'll leave it a week or two before I start on that.

Readthrough 5 -- Antinomies of Realism chapters 8-12



Increasingly sticky. I've taken advantage of a slow Sunday morning to press ahead with this, but the returns seem to be diminishing. Chapter 8 'The Swollen Third Person, or, Realism after Realism' purports to be an analysis of what happens to 'style indirect libre' in the realist novel over the 20th-century. Briefly: J. thinks that the 'classic' novel is written in what he calls 'the objective third person', a more-or-less plain and declarative style; where, as the century goes on, it increasingly comes to be written in 'the subjective third person, [a] swollen or blank unidentified third person' style [174]. There's something in this, I think; the Flaubertian or (more to the point) Faulknerian style does interestingly blur third and first, objectivity and subjectivity. The point could have been more crisply made, perhaps. As it is, J. detours through a lengthy and rather rebarbative summary of Käte Hamburger's structuralist-narratological The Logic of Literature (1973) (J. calls her 'Käthe Hamburger' throughout, which is unfortunate) plus gobbets of Sartre. I don't know Hamburger's book, but the thicket of pseudo-Lacanian Sartrean notation it provokes in Jameson makes rather dreary reading.



The brief chapter 9 ('Kluge, or Realism after Affect') is hard to judge, since I am almost perfectly ignorant of Kluge's work (Wikipedia makes him sound interesting; and there's this, too). The chapter is a quick trot through the dialectical interaction of 'high' Modernist culture and mass popular culture; ground J. has covered pretty thoroughly elsewhere. There's some discussion of Doktor Faustus, a novel he sometimes calls Doctor Faustus. I wish he'd make up his mind what he wants to call it (there's a similar inconsistency with many other novel titles throughout the book).

So now we're into the study's final straight, a three-section 'Part Two' called 'The Logic of the Material'. The first chapter of this is 'The Experiments of Time: Providence and Realism'; and it starts promisingly enough:
Happy endings are not as easy to bring off as you might think, at least in literature: but they are in any case a literary category and not an existential one. [195]
There's a good reading of Dick's Martian Time-Slip which I'd have liked to see expanded: the weird left-field moments, almost never at the end of the story, when Dick's fiction sudden open into 'happiness'. J. then reads The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, a novel whose title he misremembers as The Personal Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner [200], but, hey: who's counting? Wilhelm Meister is presented via some further elephantine quotations [204-05 is one; 205-07 is another], followed by a more roundabout discussion of Dickens, Balzac, Flaubert. Some of this is a more than a little baffling: 'what we call ontological realism is to be characterized as a truly immanent kind of immanence' [211]. Indeed, there's a fair bit of this rather zen-like contemplating:
Would it make any sense to propose a parallel category of transcendental transcendence? I think so, provided we understand once again that we are operating within a secular corpus from which all genuine transcendence has been eliminated. [212]
I'm still thinking about that, but it's a little like pondering the sound of one James sunning.

James is there, too. The female characters in The Bostonians function as a 'far nastier and more malicious repudiation of politics than anything in the experiment of The Princess Casamassima' [214], which I think is right (although it's not helped by the fact that the latter novel is, pretty much, a failure). I'm still on the fence about the larger point: that actual novelistic representations of 'politics', as in Trollope's parliamentary novels say, are paradoxically not political but ontological; and vice versa. It's neat, but neatness in itself isn't necessarily an index of truth. And there are more errors in this chapter than any previous one, which is just distracting. A big one: the long and detailed discussion of Our Mutual Friend gets derailed when J. reveals he thinks 'Mr and Mrs Boffin miraculously survive a destructive railway accident' [221], something that never happens in the novel. (J. is thinking of the postscript, where Dickens recalls how he had to rescue the manuscript of the novel, for which Mr and Mrs B. are metonyms, from the actual Staplehurst railway disaster in which he was himself caught up.) It gives the impression that J. really hasn't been paying close attention during his reading. 'The very word "providence" is dropped fatefully in the course of every chapter of Middlemarch' [222]: 10 seconds online tells me that the word occurs 23 times in this 86-chapter novel; but the point still stands, I suppose. Indeed, J. is probably onto something when he notes that the realist novel is caught between the logic of (pseudo-Providential) emplotment and the logic of (verisimilitudinous) openness and freedom. The result, he argues, is a kind of formal fragmentation:
When relationships are focussed close-up in their intolerable proximity ("marriage is so unlike everything else," Dorothea reflects, "there is something even awful in the nearness it brings"), then a new dimension, a social continent has been discovered, which is the microcosm corresponding to the new macrocosms of collectivity on the level of cities and social classes. After this, the intricate molecular patterns of a Henry James; or the violent spasms of cruelty and self-abasement of a Dostoevsky; and on into the multiple sub-atomic languages of what we are pleased to call modernism itself. [226]
It's almost a cliché to read late Dickens as proto-Modernist; but it's quite striking to read Eliot that way too.

The next chapter, 'War and Representation', carries this larger argument through: how to 'write' war realistically, such that it comes over both as an individual experience and a collective, historical one? The epigraph is from Joseph Goebbels: 'Stalingrad is like a painting that cannot be observed from close up, but from which one must step back in order to do it full justice' [232]. There's discussion of the topography of war; of the fallacy by which war is represented as (for instance) 'Napoleon versus Kutuzov', Clausewitz's 'anthropomorphic notion of war as a duel' [239] (Clausewitz nowhere, I think, compares war to 'a duel': on the contrary, he sees it as lacking any of that kind of formal structure: 'War therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will ... To introduce into the philosophy of War itself a principle of moderation would be an absurdity'. But OK). Long quotations from Golo Mann's Wallenstein (1971) stand-in for analysis. I was puzzled by J. saying that in Slaughterhouse Five Vonnegut 'sets the firebombing of Dresden offstage' [251] -- does he?

And so to the final chapter: 'The Historical Novel Today, or, Is It Still Possible?' and J.'s attempt to reconcile the fact that 'the historical novel has never been so popular or abundantly produced' despite the fact of our 'present-day enfeeblement of historical consciousness' [259]. The prestidigitator's flourish in this chapter is the thesis that historical novels are not really about history, and that 'History' often appears much better (though even then, only 'fitfully' [262]) in non-historical novels. There's a long and interesting account of War and Peace via Boris Eikenbaum's observation of three levels of 'historical error' in the novel: one, the anachronistic (lots of the specific details are wrong because Tolstoy is reproducing the experiences of his own youth in the 1840s/50s rather than researching the 1800s-10s); two the 'generic discontinuities' of mashing together the immiscible 'domestic or family novel' and 'the war novel'; and three the embarrassing and dull second postscript 'philosophy of war' stuff [280]. J. thinks the postscript is actually an attempt to solve narratological, not philosophical or historical, problems (the 'solution' is that 'named characters are able to stand for the masses behind them in an non-allegorical way' [285], it seems). There's some stuff on Dos Passos, on The Waste Land, and a cool mention of the excellent Red Plenty. The chapter, and book, closes with a reading of Christopher Nolan's Inception (which J. likes because its dream sequences are not 'cut aways' or 'flashbacks' but complexly embedded contemporaneities: an 'aesthetic of absolute present, where, as Adorno warned about late capitalism, all negativity has been tendentially reduced and extirpated' [300]); and a reading of Cloud Atlas as 'a new form of the historical novel defined by its relation to future fully as much as to past' [305]. I'd like to buy this latter, if the future sections of that novel weren't so much feebler than the historical ones. But Jameson gushes, rather, over Mitchell's novel (and even over its 'excellent' film adaptation: 'a magnificent collection of performances'), which results in a mushy sort of ending. There's also some discussion of a text identified as 'Road Warrior'; but I don't know what this is. Mad Max 2, maybe?

So the read-through is done, and so am I. I'll digest for a bit and then write up my review. Current status: hmmm.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Readthrough 4 -- Antinomies of Realism: chapters 5, 6 and 7



The Pérez Galdós chapter ('Pérez Galdós; or, The Waning of Protagonicity') takes me, personally, into uncharted waters. I’ve read a little over a third of the Rougon Macquart novels; and I have read War and Peace and various other Tolstoyan things (though I have not, to my shame, read Anna Karenina. I really must rectify that omission). But no Galdós. I have, on the other hand, read everything George Eliot ever wrote, right down to the essays and poems; so I should be well placed to tackle chapter 6 (‘Eliot and Mauvaise Foi’).

In the meantime I can’t gauge the accuracy of J.’s claim that Galdós’s large and (in Spain) very highly regarded body of work is characterised by ‘what I will call a deteriorization of protagonicity, a movement of the putative heroes and heroines to the background, whose foreground is increasingly occupied by minor or secondary characters whose stories (and “destinies”) might once have been digressions but now colonize and appropriate the novel for themselves.’ If you say so. I’m not in a position to disagree with J.’s insistence that the ‘Bringas wife’, the main, titular character from the novel called La de Bringas who occupies the centre of the centre of the story and through whose consciousness the events are all filtered, is ‘not a protagonist at all; she is preeminently a minor character who has unaccountably been allowed to become the center of a novel in her own right.’ [99] If you say so, mate. I read through the whole chapter, amusing myself by mentally replacing Galdós’s surname with ‘Hilton’ throughout, because I have a juvenile sense of humour. Pages 103-05 is one long quotation from Fortunata y Jacinta; pages 106-7 is another such quotation, almost as long. After I had finished I read through Wikipedia entry on Pérez Galdós. I feel I learned more about the great Spanish novelist from this latter exercise than from this chapter. I really will have to get around to reading his books.

And onto the Eliot chapter (‘George Eliot and Mauvaise Foi’), where I'm surely on surer ground. But as if trying to twit me, Jameson chunters on for a long time in this chapter before so much as mentioning Eliot: we get Paradise Lost and the Iliad; Kant and Nietzsche; Robert Musil; Spenser’s Fairie Queene; Proust; Sartre—it's 11 pages into this 25-page chapter before we get to Romola. All this range of reference is brought to bear on a simple enough point, one J. is picking up from his Tolstoy chapter: Realism doesn’t do baddies. My sense is that J. argues this because he thinks life itself doesn’t trade in heroes and villains, and that Realism is closer to life: ‘The binary opposition between good and evil is a most peculiar thing,’ he says; adding ‘[it] is also, as philosophers from Nietzsche to Sartre and Foucault have insisted, an immense swindle’ [115]. There’s also the dramatic problem that ‘the good is the center and evil is the marginalized other. It is in the very nature of this phenomenology, then, that the self cannot originally and virtually by definition feel itself to be evil’ [116]. J. takes this from Sartre, but I have my doubts about it: plenty of people have been oppressed by a sense of their innate wickedness. Religions have been constructed about this belief; on a psychological level human depression is often informed by it. But more to the point, I simply don’t agree with Jameson that Realism, and what he calls ‘its increasingly enlarging explorations of the inwardness of its characters’ [117] is a baddie free zone. As I said in the Tolstoy post, I think War and Peace does have a villain in Napoleon. Napoleon III plays a similar role in the Rougon-Macquart novels. And Eliot is a strange writer to use to embroider this thesis, since of all the writers covered she is the one who comes closest to writing the sort of ‘stage villains’ Jameson here insists are banished from the pages of the Realist novel: Grandcourt in Daniel Deronda is the most egregious example of this; and Silas Marner in his early-novel miser incarnation could have stepped out of a play by Douglas Jerrold.

But J. doesn’t deal with those. Instead he reads Romola, calling it (a novel published in 1862-3, remember; half a century after Waverley and itself following in the footsteps of many hundreds of historical novels published in Britain) an example of ‘Scott’s new genre’ [124]. A bit like calling 1950s Hollywood westerns 'examples of Méliès new mode'. But alright, let’s give him a pass on that. His argument is the dialectical one that Romola, precisely as the most melodramatic novel, with the most stage-villanous of all her characters in the snake-like Tito—is therefore proof that the Realist novel eschews melodrama and good-evil ethical binaries. That’s dialectics for you. Aspects of this reading seemed to me a stretch, and some elements are frankly squeezed complainingly into J.’s conceptual boxes—Tito, for instance, is advanced as ‘a minor character par excellence’ who happens to have become the protagonist [126]. I don’t see it. On the upside, the reading of the character as Eliot anticipating Sartre’s mauvais foi is much more convincing. The chapter closes with a rather hurried reading of Middlemarch (‘the bad totalization projected by [Casubon’s] Key to All Mythologies is perhaps the caricature and distorted mirror image of Eliot’s own achieved totalization in Middlemarch itself’ [133-34]).

Chapter 7 is called ‘Realism and the Dissolution of Genre’, and draws together some of the earlier threads. J. started by defining ‘Realism’ against melodrama, romance and modernism; ‘Now, however, we must admit that all these opppositions are somehow also internal: and that (to take the inaugural moment itself) realism is opposed to romance only because it carries it within itself and must somehow dissolve it’ [139]. I liked this idea, although the example J. then gives—Don Quixote—is hardly ‘realist’. But he goes on to suggest that Realism ‘as a formal strategty’ starts ‘to form new genres in its own right, hardening over, as it were, in a few tale-types genres … a process in which they serve as a scaffolding which must in turn be dismantled’ [144]. J. thinks this ‘a curious and dialectical process’ generated by a tension between the conflicting desires to universalise and to particularise. These genres are fourfold: Bildungsroman, the historical novel, the novel of adultery and naturalism. He parks discussion of the first of these on the grounds that Moretti’s The Way of the World has already comprehensively covered it. But his treatment of the other three is brief: historical novels register the ‘new sense of history emerging at the time of the French revolution’ [146], which is probably true, but certainly has more to do with Romanticism than Realism. The novel of adultery is about the way women are ‘not yet fully absorbed into capitalism’ [147]; and naturalism ‘opens a space for the worker and along with him the more heterogeneous population of the “lower depths”, of lumpenproletarians and outcasts generally’ [148]. There’s a clutch of various observations: Ulysses is a ‘modernist after-image of Madame Bovary itself’ [150]—really? Adam Bede is ‘a replay of [Goethe’s] Faust I [159]—say what? He overplays, I think, the heterogeneity of Eliot (Adam Bede is a melange; Mill on the Floss ‘an even greater hodgepodge of subjects and of plot lines’ [155] No it’s not!); and the chapter ends gnomically. ‘Realism’s ultimate adversary will be the realistic novel itself’ [162].

[The fifth and final part of this readthrough is here]

Readthrough 3 -- Antinomies of Realism chapter 4: Tolstoy



The Tolstoy chapter is not only mercifully much shorter than the Zola one, but more to the point too. The main thrust of the argument is that ‘when we come to affect, whether registered in solitude or in interpersonal relationships, Tolstoy is surely unequalled’ [93]. To advance this case Jameson doesn't lay out the bits of War and Peace you might think he would—say, Nikolai Rostov fleeing battle, consumed by a vivid desire to live epitomized by the bit of blue sky he can see. Instead he discusses a more downbeat episode from Book 2 chapter 6 when Prince Andrei (‘Prince Andrew’, J. calls him; which I suppose is OK) carries the news of a small victory in the 1807 war back to the military high command at Brno. The emphasis is on Andrei’s jittery four-seasons-in-one-day mood swings—he is excited, and anxious, and then gloomy, affronted when made to wait and so on, until in the end he experiences a kind of anti-climax after the message is delivered. This, apparently, is the heart of the Tolstoyan ‘affect’: ‘Not the content of these moods, but rather their rapid succession is the mark of Tolstoy’s peculiar sensibility' [84]. It is, it seems, ‘this changeability and variability, this capacity for sensitivity (in the sense of irritation) and for sudden bouts of ennui, for passing enthusiasms, obsessions, drops in enthusiasm and niveau’ [85] that is the heart of what Tolstoy achieves. I’m prepared to ponder this, although it doesn’t quite match my experience of reading War and Peace: certainly a superbly varied novel, but also one characterised (I would have said) by a remarkable solidity and steadiness of aesthetic momentum, almost a placidity. Still, I could be wrong.

I am on surer ground, I think, when I deny that this agitated, cyclotropic ‘affect’ starts with Tolstoy the way Jameson is arguing. J. compares Mahler’s music [85-6] and then quotes Fourier, of all people [86] before coming back to War and Peace. But the elephant in the room is surely Byron. This dramatically moody self aggrandizing self lacerating pose is paradigmatically Byronic; and the jittery emotionally febrile ‘affect’ Jameson here pegs as starting with Tolstoy actually informed an entire post-Byronic English poetic movement, the ‘Spasmodics’. They’re all forgotten nowadays of course (except to nerdy Professors of 19th-Century Literature like me); but they were symptomatic of a broader set of specifically Romantic cultural fascinations. J. characterises Tolstoy the man like this (‘the self-doubt and the evanescence of whole projects, the abandonment of the early works in mid course’ [87]—but, wait, he rewrote War and Peace in its entirety nine times! That to me speaks to an almost preternatural capacity for sticking doggedly at a thing); sees it in the novel on a formal level (‘the multiplicity of characters … the brevity of multiple chapters’: seriously?) and connects it, with a degree of randomness, to ‘the syndrome named Attention Deficit Disorder, whose symptoms are well known.’ Right.

One other thing bugged me, and it is this thing:
There are no villains in Tolstoy (another feature of the great realists to be discussed later on): for categories of good and evil are, as we shall see survivals of those melodramatic forms and stereotypes that realism must necessarily overcome. [91]
I don’t think this is right, at least not in terms of the specific claim being made here. I think there is a villain in War and Peace, and his name is Napoleon. Great stretches of Part 3 are given over to characterising his pettiness and delusions of grandeur, his restlessness and the huge misery it has caused. No?

[Part 4 of this readthrough is here]

Friday, 2 May 2014

Readthrough 2 -- Antinomies of Realism. Chapter 3: Zola



After the two positioning chapters on ‘narrative’ and ‘affect’ Jameson moves into four case-study chapters: 3 on ‘Zola, or; the Codification of Affect’; 4 on ‘Tolstoy, or; Distraction’; 5 on Pérez Galdós, or; the Waning of Protagonicity’ and 6 on ‘George Eliot and Mauvaise Foi'. Is there an uglier neologism in the world than ‘protagonicity’? Still: not to digress.

The Zola chapter is lengthy but thin, buoyed with an elephant's parade of immense quotations from various Rougon-Macquart novels. Many of these are a page, or a page-and-a-half, or even two pages long; all are printed in small font; the French followed by an English translation. The argument is that Zola ‘offers some of the richest and most tangible deployments of affect in nineteenth-century realism’, and I suppose the superlong blockquotes are there to display such moments. Which is just as well, since when he glosses the passages J.’s prose tends to wax opaque:
Affect is perhaps here as an invisible figuration, which doubles the literal invisibility; a convex that shows through, as though reality itself blushed imperceptibly, and some strange new optical illusion separated the trees from one another stereoscopically, allowing their three dimensions to be visible three-dimensionally. [47]
Say what? This does not (for example) follow a passage in which Zola describes trees; rather, it follows a general couple of paragraphs on how ‘the registration of affect’ begins with the second and third Rougon-Macquart novels. I suppose it falls under the rubric of dialecticism to trope Zola’s style as a vividly visual 3D cinema (a passage from La Terre captures, apparently, ‘the boustrophedon of the camera eye, giving us now the landscape, now the town’ [48]) that is simultaneously invisible, a lens that makes nature blush, a sort of trompe-l'œil that is actually imperceptible ... no. No, I don’t follow.

One thing this chapter argues is that Zola generates his ‘affect’ via what J. calls his ‘sensory onslaughts’ [65]. There are several examples given, but I’ll reproduce just one (from chapter 3 of Le Ventre de Paris) where seafood unloaded for sale at Les Halles is described in a chocka paragraph. (I’ll omit the French):
The deep-lying forests of seaweed, in which the mysterious life of the ocean slumbers, seemed at one haul of the nets to have yielded up all they contained. There were cod, keeling, whiting, flounders, plaice, dabs, and other sorts of common fish of a dingy grey with whitish splotches; there were conger-eels, huge serpent-like creatures, with small black eyes and muddy, bluish skins, so slimy that they still seemed to be gliding along, yet alive. There were broad flat skate with pale undersides edged with a soft red, and superb backs bumpy with vertebrae, and marbled down to the tautly stretched ribs of their fins with splotches of cinnabar, intersected by streaks of the tint of Florentine bronze—a dark medley of colour suggestive of the hues of a toad or some poisonous flower. Then, too, there were hideous dog-fish, with round heads, widely-gaping mouths like those of Chinese idols, and short fins like bats' wings; fit monsters to keep yelping guard over the treasures of the ocean grottoes. And next came the finer fish, displayed singly on the osier trays; salmon that gleamed like chased silver, every scale seemingly outlined by a graving-tool on a polished metal surface; mullet with larger scales and coarser markings; large turbot and huge brill with firm flesh white like curdled milk; tunny-fish, smooth and glossy, like bags of blackish leather; and rounded bass, with widely gaping mouths which a soul too large for the body seemed to have rent asunder as it forced its way out amidst the stupefaction of death. And on all sides there were sole, brown and grey, in pairs; sand-eels, slim and stiff, like shavings of pewter; herrings, slightly twisted, with bleeding gills showing on their silver-worked skins; fat dories tinged with just a suspicion of carmine; burnished mackerel with green-streaked backs, and sides gleaming with ever-changing iridescence; and rosy gurnets with white bellies, their head towards the centre of the baskets and their tails radiating all around, so that they simulated some strange florescence splotched with pearly white and brilliant vermilion. There were rock mullet, too, with delicious flesh, flushed with the pinky tinge peculiar to the Cyprinus family; boxes of whiting with opaline reflections; and baskets of smelts—neat little baskets, pretty as those used for strawberries, and exhaling a strong scent of violets. And meantime the tiny black eyes of the shrimps dotted as with beads of jet their soft-toned mass of pink and grey; and spiny crawfish and lobsters striped with black, all still alive, raised a grating sound as they tried to crawl along with their broken claws.
This, clearly, is Zolaesque; I get that. And a common textual strategy of realism, I get that too. You give the reader great scads of closely observed and specific detail about the world, and thereby trowel on a sort of thickness of verisimilitude (it’s one of the things Joyce parodies so nicely in Ulysses). Ah but the question is: is it anything more than this? Jameson wants to argue so. He sees it as a complex ‘resolution of multiplicity back into unity, of difference back into identity’ [54], a place where ‘the realm of the visual begins to separate from the verbal’ and ‘to float away in a new kind of autonomy’ [55]; his particular sense of the 'affect' he is insisting is key to Realism as a whole. It is ‘the lived experience of Bauderlairean synaesthesia, whose specificity lies in the ambiguity of separation and identification.’ It is also, he says, new, bourgeois and specifically realist: ‘the new autonomization of the sensory as it here first emerges in Zola’ [55]. Is it though? Does it really start in the 1870s? There are, after all, great spooling lists of actual things in Dickens; and in Sterne—and, for that matter, in Rabelais. How is this particular horn of plenty (think of all those Renaissance canvases groaning with painted multiplicities of luxurious foods and drink) a specifically bourgeois representation? The main character in Ventre de Paris is Florent, who returns from an eight-year prison term on Devil’s Island at the novel’s beginning (J. mentions this, but doesn’t make much of it). Couldn’t passages like the one above register his simple human astonishment at the plenitude of food in Paris compared to his previous life?







J. should be on better ground with the more specifically commodified stuff-for-sale in Au Bonheur des Dames; but here, after what amounts to a five page (count ’em!—pages 57-61) quotation from the novel, Jameson hurries through a paragraph on the ‘overwhelming juxtapositions’ the department store descriptions contain (‘here perhaps the Sartrean opposition between centrifugal and centripetal poetics has its revelance’ [61]). Subsequent argument detours via Wagner (‘the relevant example here might be … the love potion in Act 1 of Tristan, and the potion of oblivion in Götterdämmerung’ [69]) which is fine and dandy, although it rather reinforces my hunch that what Jameson is actually doing is talking about a deep-rooted Romanticism of affect. Still: onward and upward, I suppose.

Fewer errors in this chapter, at any rate. Odd that a French expert like Jameson would date ‘Louis Napoleon’s coup d’état’ to 1840 [46]—it was 1851, of course. And he gets some of the Rougon-Macquart publication dates trivially wrong (L'Assommoir was 1877, not ‘1878’ [56]). But that’s not much.

[Part 3 of this readthrough is here]

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Readthrough -- Antinomies of Realism: Chapters 1 and 2



And off we go. Jameson wants to argue, of course, that the realist novel is a historical form (‘closely associated with the bourgeoisie and the coming into being of bourgeois daily life’ [5]); but he wants to go deeper and more dialectically into it both as an aesthetic and a historical phenomenon. So he begins by setting out, across the first two chapters, two definitional concepts: narrative and affect.

The first of these is the subject of chapter 1: ‘The Twin Sources of Realism: the Narrative Impulse’. Here J. draws a distinction between récit and roman, the former a ‘tale, whose events are already over and done with before the telling of it can begin’ [9], the latter defined via Sartre as re-establishing ‘the open present of freedom, the present of an open undecided future.’ The introduction and first chapter of The Antinomies of Realism talk around this in a slightly hard-to-pin-down manner, although it gets in-a-nutshelled as James’s venerable distinction between ‘telling’ and ‘showing’ [21]. Not that Jameson wants to privilege the latter over the former: this is a dialectical enterprise all the way through. True, ‘Malraux, along with James himself, is biased in favour of showing rather than telling’ [22]; but Jameson puts in a good word for the immediacy and symbolic force of ‘telling’ too, via Paul Heyse’s reading of a told-not-shown Boccaccio story. Chapter 1 finishes with a breezy intervention into the philosophy of time:
This then is the moment to distinguish two kinds of time, two systems of temporality, which will be the basis for the argument that follows. The distinction is one between a present of consciousness and a time, if not of succession or of chronology, then at least of the more familiar tripartite structure of past-present-future. [24]
The point of this comes into clearer focus in chapter 2: not that Jameson thinks that ‘consciousness’ exists in some magic space outside past-present-future, but rather that there is an apprehension of time, accessible in art, that transcends the mundanity of clock-time, an open-ended expression of being that J wants to call ‘affect’. ‘Affect’ is the second definitional concept Jameson wants to put in place before he moves on to his reading of specific realist novelists; but before we go there it’s worth noting that, in essence, the distinction Jameson is groping towards is that of Frank Kermode’s ‘chronos’ and ‘kairos’ from Sense of an Ending, a work missing from the bibliography here. That’s a shame. It wouldn’t be right to call this ‘re-inventing the wheel’, but only because Jameson is too clipped to do anything so time-consuming as reinventing. It’s a gesture towards the idea that he could, if asked, invent a wheel.

And so onto Chapter 2, ‘The Twin Sources of Realism: Affect or, the Body’s Present’. This is a much more troublesome concept than the first. It doesn’t so much matter that Jameson is reappropriating a word with a pretty hefty semantic field: he is up-front about this. It is ‘a technical term which has been strongly associated with a number of recent theories which alternately appeal to Freud or to Deleuze’ [28], but Jameson doesn’t mean it that way. He wants to distinguish ‘affect (in my sense of the word) from emotions as such.’[29]. What does he mean by the word?
I wish to redefine emotion as ‘named emotion’ and thereby not only to mark a structural difference between emotion and affect but also to underscore yet a further dimension of this problem, which involves the intervention of language as such. The new implication is that affect (or its plural) somehow eludes language and its naming of things (and feelings), whereas emotion is pre-eminently a phenomenon sorted out into an array of names … —love, hatred, anger, fear, disgust, pleasure and so forth. [29]
For Jameson this ‘affect’ is ‘nameless and unclassifiable’ [33]; it is somatic (‘the senses are mobilised' [33]); it ‘seems to have no context, but to float above experience without causes’ [35] (although ‘this is not to say that in reality affect has no causes whatsoever’). He aligns it with ‘impressionism and post-impressionism in painting, the Wagnerian revolution in music’ [42]. Old fashioned récit-based emotions are like Beethoven’s sonata form, he suggests; affect is like Wagner’s sonic chromatism. And of course, most centrally of all, ‘affect’ is crucial to the way the Realist novel works; a new concept in the novel linked to ‘a new bodily reality’ [40], intimately connected in turn with the rise of the bourgeoisie. We are given a date: ‘it is towards the mid-century, let us say in the 1840s’ that this new thing ‘become[s] audible, at least for the most alert modern arts that scan the era for the new.’

This, though, is all wrong; and wrong in a way more fatal for the argumentation of a critic like Jameson (‘always historicize!’) than it might be for another kind of thinker. It’s not that his concept of the ‘affect’ is incoherent—it’s not, and it may even be an important way of reading Tolstoy, Zola and so on. But it does not begin in the 1840s (kind of late in the day to be situating the ‘rise of the bourgeoisie', don’t you think?). It begins earlier.

Specifically, Jameson is talking about, without mentioning, Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’. (There's one, baffling reference in passing to 'Wordsworth's imbeciles' [28]; but that's not right at all. The 'spots of time' are 'affects' in this sense that apply to the growing Wordsworth himself, not to one of his leech gatherers). The parallel, actually, is very precise. The Prelude falls formally outside the remit of ‘the realist novel’ because it is, you know, an epic-length blank verse poem; but Wordsworth’s textual strategies are very ‘realist’: the accumulation of precisely observed, specific real-life detail and qualia, a balance between ‘récit’-like summary of a life story with transcendent poetic presentisms.

It is not just nit-picking to point this out. Jameson applies ‘affect’ to the realist novel in this tail-wagging-the-dog manner because he wants to talk about the realist novel, and for no other reason: not because it leads historically into the period of the rise of Realism. In fact, suggesting that affect comes into being with the realist novel is historically wrongheaded. And what it so grievously misses is the way Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’ very precisely name a politically revolutionary affect—bliss was it in that dawn to be alive and so on.

In other words, Jameson is running the risk of applying a central, defining feature of Romantic art (really: almost a thumbnail definition of Romantic art) to a completely different body of work. It's a kind of historical category error, and does not fill the reader-reviewer with confidence.

Nor, I have to say, does the general level of more trivial errors. Some of these are negligible (‘It is crucial not to load one of these dies …’ [22]: um, the plural is dice). There are various little slips, of the sort of which Jameson is often guilty, and indicative of haste, or a disinclination to revise, or perhaps of a haughty disregard for getting things spot-on (Aristotle never wrote a book called Nichomachean Ethics [29]; its title is Nicomachean Ethics. Stuff like that.) Some are more substantive.
It is indeed a delicate philosophical problem, if not a false one altogether, to distinguish between a phenomenological state of being—say the experience of anger—and the word by which it is is named: “Sing, Muse, the wrath of Achilles”—thumos. [30]
This is just wrong. θῡμός (‘the soul, or spirit, Latin anima’, sometimes used to mean 'passion') is not the word Homer uses in that desperately famous opening line: that’s μῆνις, ‘rage, wrath’. It’s the single most famous line of poetry in all of ancient Greek verse (Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά, Πηληιάδεω Ἀχιλῆος). Does Jameson really not know it?

Chapter 2 ends with this little 'emotion' versus 'affect' table which is, as near as I can figure it, complete bobbins:



[Part 2 of the readthrough is here]