In Bolano, literature is a helpless, undignified, and not especially pleasant compulsion, like smoking. At one point you started and now you can't stop; it's become a habit and an identity. Nothing is so consistent across Bolano's work as the suspicion that literature is chiefly bullshit, rationalizing the misery, delusions, and/or narcissism of various careerists, flakes and losers. Yet Bolano somehow also treats literature as his and characters' sole excuse for exisitng. This basic Bolano aporia - literature is all that matters, literature doesn't matter at all - can be a glib paradox for others. He seems to have meant it sincerely, even desperately, something one would feel without knowing the irst thing about his life.
It can be said that any art is avant-garde is it permits the reconstruction of the real-life circumstances from which it emerged. While the conventional work of art thematizes cause and effect and thereby gives the hallucinatory impression of sealing itself off, the avant-garde work remains open to the conditions of its existence.
... the material of experience is not the material of expression and I think the distress you feel, as a writer, comes from a tendency on your part to assimilate the two. The issue is roughly that raised by Proust in his campaign against naturalism and the distinction he made between the “real” of the human predicament and the artist’s “ideal real” remains certainly valid for me and indeed badly in of revival. I understand, I think no one better, the flight from experience to expression and I understand the necessary failure of both. But it is the flight from one order or disorder to an order or disorder of a different nature and the two failures are essentially dissimilar in kind. Thus failure in life can hardly be anything but dismal at the best, whereas there is nothing more exciting for the writer, or richer in unexploited expressive possibilities, than the failure to express.
Beckett writing to Matti Megged, November 1960 (Via)
We tend to think that student debt was a problem only since the economic problems of 2008 and Occupy, but it arose with deregulation and other policies in the 1980s. I’ve detailed the facts and figures in several essays, but I’ve especially thought about how student debt is an experience not unlike indenture, and it leaves lasting scars. It teaches lessons in civics — rather than a social good, higher ed is an individual good, atomizing us instead of democratizing us. It teaches lessons in economics — rather than a public obligation that we all contribute to and benefit from (I’d like my neighbors’ children to get an education), it’s a private concession, and a majority of students become instruments of the world of finance almost automatically at 18. It also teaches career choices — forget about being a schoolteacher; you want to go into finance. And it teaches a mode of feeling — of personal self-interest and of anxiety, or worse.
People know what they want because they know what other people want.
There is no right life in the wrong one.
One must have tradition in oneself, to hate it properly.
Talent is perhaps nothing other than successfully sublimated rage.
Laughing in the cultural industry is mockery of happiness.
What can oppose the decline of the west is not a resurrected culture but the utopia that is silently contained in the image of its decline.
Of the world as it exists, it is not possible to be enough afraid.
The darkening of the world makes the irrationality of art rational: radically darkened art.
Dissonance is the truth about harmony.
The melancholy science from which I make this offering to my friend relates to a region that from time immemorial was regarded as the true field of philosophy, but which, since the latter’s conversion into method, has lapsed into intellectual neglect, sententious whimsy and finally oblivion: the teaching of the good life. What the philosophers once knew as life has become the sphere of private existence and now of mere consumption, dragged along as an appendage of the process of material production, without autonomy or substance of its own.
Tenderness between people is nothing other than awareness of the possibility of relations without purpose.
All the world's not a stage. – use for Witt Jr on theatre
Everywhere bourgeois society insists on the exertion of will; only love is supposed to be involuntary, pure immediacy of feeling. In its longing for this, which means a dispensation from work, the bourgeois idea of love transcends bourgeois society. But in erecting truth directly amid the general untruth, it perverts the former into the latter.
Life has become the ideology of its own absence.
The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption.
Thinking no longer means any more than checking at each moment whether one can indeed think.
Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.
Today self-consciousness no longer means anything but reflection on the ego as embarrassment, as realization of impotence: knowing that one is nothing.
Life has become the ideology of its own absence.
People know what they want because they know what other people want.
We have been corrupted by novels. For through them the sacred has ceased to be sacred, while the purest, most human, most innocent happiness is degraded to a daydream.
For art, as you well see, there has never been a favourable time; it has always been said that she must go a-begging; but now she will die of hunger. Whence might come that unaffectedness of spirit that is so necessary for its enjoyment, in times like these when, as Pfuel says, sorrow deals everyone such blows?
We yearn to do what is good and beautiful, but no one has need of us, everything happens without our assistance.
Their criss-crossing chatter can hardly be called conversation.
The more I see of Berlin, the more certain that this city, like all the cities and capitals of the world, is no proper abode for love. People here are too affected to be true, to clever to be open.
[... he is obsessed by one thought, namely that] 'your only, your highest goal has sunk from sight'.
... one should read at least one good poem daily, see one beautiful painting, hear one sweet melody, or exchange heart to heart words with a friend, and thus educate the more beautiful, I might say the more human, side of our nature as well.
Protesting altogether too much, Lars Iyer's fourth book carries the subtitle 'A novel'. Readers of Iyer's Spurious trilogy will know that he pays little attention to the conventions of the novel form, with characterization and plot of secondary importance to the mechanics of setting up a good joke or, better, diatribe. Wittgenstein Jr is a little different. It isn't really a novel, or not only a novel. It's more interesting than that.
Our narrator is Peters (we learn only his surname, and that through reported speech), a sophomore student of Philosophy at Cambridge University, the once-august institution now swarming with 'Ethno-sloanes', 'Sloane-ingenues', 'rah boys in gilets', 'yummy-not-yet-mummies' and the various other sects concomitant with privilege, public school and the assumption that higher education is a drunken rite of passage rather than an intellectual adventure. Though it is not made explicit - the reader is never provided with Peters's backstory, nor direct access to the workings of his mind - it's easy to infer from the anthropologist's distance with which he reports on these tribes that he does not belong to them. He is the archetypal provincial scholarship boy, expected to be grateful for access to a world he does not understand, and by which he is at once awed and appalled.
Peters is among the more reserved of a motley group of male friends united by their dedication to the reckless consumption of recreational drugs, konb jokes, conspicuous Weltschmerz, and showing off. Cynical and confused, beautiful and damned, they belong to a generation 'too late for politics' and conscious of the corruption of academia by market-capitalism. Into this morass steps a young new professor - radical, aesthetic, inscrutable - whom the students nickname Wittgenstein Jr. This plot development is dealt with perfunctorily, and beyond the generational fig leaf Iyer takes no pains to disguise the fact that our hero is modelled on his historical namesake. A native German speaker, he has 'come to Cambridge to do fundamental work in philosophical logic' (Iyer is fond of italicis). He is haunted by his brother's suicide (three of Wittgenstein's four took their own lives); he rebels against the academy; he is working on a book called Logik, 'with a k' (Wittgenstein's thesis of the same name was rejected by the university). This is a fictionalized portrait of Ludwig Wittgenstein as a young man, parachuted into contemporary society in order to pass damning judgement on it. Drawing on source material including the diaries of David Pinsent (to whom the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is dedicated) Wittgenstein Jr might have easily been subtitled 'Historical Novel'. Or 'Historical-Philosophical novel'. Or 'Tragic-Comical-Historical-Philosophical-Novel'.
This character, 'pompous' and 'ridiculous' as he seems to them, fascinates his twenty-first century students ('we confide our desires to share in Wittgenstein's walks. To become, if not fellow thinkers, then at least fellow walkers, companions in thought'). They compete for his attention, responding to his disdain for their ignorance with desperate attempts to gain his respect. Their admiration is predicated on the authenticity of Wittgenstein's obvious suffering, which gives the lie to their own theatricalized performances of despair, and Wittgenstein comes quickly to resemble a messianic figure (a Second Coming, perhaps). Foremost among his acolytes is Peters, mocked by Ede as a 'virgin gay' with 'a thing for genius. You want to be fucked by genius'.
The double act was a defining feature of Iyer's previous novels, built on the bickering of two lecturers in Philosophy, and here he establishes a productive comic tension between the students' anarchic dissolution and Wittgenstein's Mitteleuropean po-facedness (his diatribes against Labradors and lawns, those metonyms for English gentility, are among the funniest of many funny passages in the book). The dialogic mode is a vehicle to expand on his own preoccupations, which have little to do with psychologizing depths, interiority, direct characterization or any of the other conventions of the British novel since the middle of the nineteenth century. Instead the author creates characters who are almost allegorical in their one-dimensionality, and through which he can vent unreservedly on his favourite themes, specifically the parlous state of higher education in the UK, the corruption of a society that equates progress with gross domestic product, and the romance of intellectual endeavour.
Fans of Iyer's previous work will relish the comic hyperbole of these polemics, to whoch the author's barracking style is perfectly suited, but Wittgenstein Jr is distinguished from its predecessors by the possibility of redemption to be found in the relationship between teacher and student. Incorporating allusions to Wittgenstein's own writing alongside nods to sources as various as Bela Tarr and Derek Jarman, Iyer has compiled an idiosyncratic - and surprisingly tender - paean to love and learning.
Harmlessness no longer exists. The small pleasures, the expressions of life that appear exempt from the responsibility of thinking, not only contain an element of defiant stupidity, of obstinate blindness; they enter directly into the service of their extreme opposite. Even the blossoming tree connives in falsehood at the moment when its blossoming is experienced without the shadow of horror; even the innocent 'how nice' becomes and escape from the shape of an existence that is quite the opposite.
Your madness has broken out and you use it as a toy of destruction, you change what lies behind other people's ramparts. It reveals itself to be the equivalent of revolutionary dissidence, a far cry from other people's buried madness....
They are mad, but they don't know it, you are mad too, and you don't know it either. But they remain afraid of madness, while youi aren't.
You are swarming with words, like them, but your condition causes you to see words glide into sentences, and the words slip unnoticed into their sentences.
[...] Act out the text in its brutality, as it is, without looking for anything else, without psychology.
Above all it has to be wild, no niceness, no halftones; what makes it wild is that these are people who have become raw, abrupt, pure again like uncut crystal.
Duras's advice to actors in a performance of Le Shaga in early 1968
Duras has always maintained this link with God, indulging in the ambiguity and the nostalgia that she voices in all her books and interviews. God is everywhere in her texts, in the children, in this fragile, scarcely perceptible unknown, a mysterious presence in her night, in the miracles of love, in the skies above the estuaries of the Seine, in the unpredictable movements of the sea, in Yann Andrea's sea-washed gaze, in her walk, with her hand in Yann's. God circulates beneath the little brother's smooth skin just as the water flowed from earthenware jars, suddenly appearing in the miracle of the book being composed, by some secret alchemy. God is so present in the writing that his name has 'become', she says, 'a common noun' - 'it is everything, it is nothing', but it is an appeal, and remains the object of her quest.
She always appeals to the religious, 'this silent impulse, stronger than anyone, and unjustifiable', the incomprehensible staring us in the face, a force that language cannot possibly describe, stumbling miserably, time after time, something unknown that can only be expressed in a stuttering voice, through silence, or words gasped out and, for want of anything better, finding breath enough to say: 'The noise, you know? ... of God? ... that thing? ...'
Now she can go around in circles in her books. She has put into place a sufficient number of motifs, reverberating among one another, so many schoes, already, that there remains nothing for her to do but to weave the Work, like one of the Fates, rewriting the books, converting them for the stage, imagining new possibilities, new variations for them. For one book to the next, from one dramatic scene to the next, she draws from writing the song of exile that goes out in all directions, droning it pell-mell: there is ther mother, love, the seaside, especially the cries, the waiting, the pain.
DANTON: In nothingness. What offers more peace, more oblivion, than nothingness? And if ultimate peace is God, then doesn't that mean that God is nothingness? But I'm an atheist! How I curse the dictum that 'something can't become nothing'! And I am something, that's the misery of it!
Creation's so rank and rampant that no void is left, there's seething and swarming wherever you turn.
Nothing has killed itself, creation is its wound, we are the drops of its blood, the world the grave in which it slowly rots.
I’m fortunate enough to not have instilled in me an aversion to Christianity, and to Christian terms and concepts. It’s sort of easy for me to translate any religious or Christian term or concept into a language I understand in a heartbeat.
My general argument is that the traditional leftist narrative, which was quite serviceable in its day as a critique of education as exploitation, is simply a Kantian critique, which is that education was treating people as means and not ends, so is an affront to human dignity — not to mention it’s bad for you physically and has these deleterious effects on all levels of the person, like what Marx talked about in terms of factory work. The great Marxist critiques of education in the English speaking world — Bowles and Gintis, Daniel Liston, a lot of the critical pedagogy school — is that education is exploitation, it’s excessively vocational and narrowed down in an artificial way to service the needs of capital accumulation and not to service a broader conception of human needs.
My argument is that this critique was serviceable for its day, but I think capitalism has moved beyond that and made that critique almost quaint. Anyone of a certain age in the US and Western Europe realizes that being exploited may even be good, “please, find a capitalist to exploit me, at least that means I have a job.” If I could boil it down to one quote that inspired me to think about this it would be from Joan Robinson, who is an English economist, and she said something to the effect that for the worker “there’s only one thing worse than the capitalist exploiting you, and that is not being exploited by the capitalist within a capitalist economy.” So you are placed outside the loop of production in this precarious, disposable position, and I think that’s because capitalism itself has shifted.
In the book I say that that traditional leftist critique of education was appropriate for what I call the “all hands on deck” phase of capitalism, which coincides with the advent of universal schooling. [...]
Due to an intensification of automation, technology, etc., I think that capitalism has advanced beyond that and it’s not the case that quantitatively more and more workers are functional and useful for profit accumulation, for the system. We’ve reached a point where we’ve out-produced ourselves, where productivity has increased so that simply not as many workers are needed. From the cold logic of capitalist accumulation, this increasingly youthful, educated group is kind of just surplus, they are more of a management and political stability problem — which we see inklings of in the Arab spring, or occupy movements, or London, or Greece, where there are huge levels of youth under-employment, or here where people with massive student debt are working for minimum wage at Starbucks.
A saying from the Zohar: On the sixth day, having created man, God said to him: I have worked heretofore, now you shall continue.
A saying: Cain's true punishment? He unlearned the meaning of Shabbat.
The return of the scouts, discouraged and discouraging, provoked such distress among the tribes that Moses decided to commmemorate it every year. At every anniversary Moses ordered the Jews to dig graves for themselves and to lie in them overnight. The next morning heralds ran between the trenches, shouting: Let the living separate from the dead, let the living detach themselves from the dead! On the fortieth anniversary all rose, for by that time all of them belonged to the new generation; they were worthy of entering the Promised Land, for to them, bondage was no longer a temptation.