Language in the reality making operation #2

GA:

So by ‘real’ I had in mind the Real as I derive it from Lacan via Zizek, one definition being that which prevents language from closing on its object.

PP:

I have not been exposed to the nuances of either Lacan or Zizek. So, I operate on the basis of gleans of distillations. The idea that the Real “resists symbolization” could be easily misunderstood as suggesting some “positive entity”, external to a symbolic structure, is inimical to its functioning. But this is not the case; “basically nothing [no-thing] resists symbolization”. Zizek’s reading of Lacan’s idea is that the Real is internal, that “symbolization has an inherent obstacle caught in its own loop” In other words it is a way to account for the inherent limitations of the symbolization ‘machine’. The implication is that there are times when language fails us completely, but this is not because the objects it is tackling are ungraspable; it is because there are limits to the symbolizing capacity of the machine. [1] [2] [3] [4]

GA:

Once you’ve subtracted everything else preventing that, that you can never finally enumerate, there remains the abstract imperative of profit-enhancement at all costs that is actually determinant in the world but which we grope to locate; & remains also, part-generative of all the stories we tell of our motives, some fantasy more fundamental still, our own pathological tic, operative only through remaining inaccessible. So the Real is less “an elusive essence” than a counter-slab, a compound rebuffing pressure w/in all flexibilities of wielding the language & which those flexibilities themselves forever call up.

PP:

Yes, the Real never works in that guise, the ‘elusive essence’; it is a mistaken expectation that forever returns and is always left hanging. There is an inhibition inherent in any process of symbolization and one might apply the term ‘Real’ to register the effect. Let us go with the Zizek-Lacan formulation of this and move on.

I wonder if the inherent limitations one is trying to account for are less to do with symbolization per se and are more to do with an overarching reality-making operation that serves fitness for survival. The cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman suggests as much in The Case Against Reality ch. 4. The ‘imperative of profit-enhancement’ then would be the fitness payoffs that the organism actually perceives, i.e. it never was dealing, adequately or otherwise, with the ‘truth’ of its objects, and the ‘pathological tic’ then would be being (a process not a thing) which is that ‘reality making operation’. Reality is always ‘reality for’; everything persistently realized is so because it contributes to a reality characterized by its fitness payoffs. Consequently reality is dynamic and full of necessary illusions. If the Real applies from this perspective it does so as an inherent limitation in reality making, and kicks-in even in a pre-linguistic condition.

GA:

Your original question, then (“What happens when the reality one is trying to negotiate pushes the language to the limits of intelligibility?”), might be rephrased: In face of all this, how can we think to make aesthetic form at all? What various things can we ask of it that would make it recognizable as (satisfying, at least provisionally) form at all? How can this paragraph even end?

PP:

You draw us back to the original question suggesting a reformulation in terms of the making of “aesthetic form”. This is an excellent suggestion.

GA:

In Spring and All (1923), William Carlos Williams insists “that ‘beauty’ is related not to ‘loveliness’ but to a state in which reality plays a part.” (I quoted this line to a PhD student in the late 80s, & she answered, more or less, “None of the key words there means anything to me.”)

PP:

 ‘Beauty’, ‘loveliness’, ‘state’, and ‘reality’ … it is so easy to forget how quickly frames of reference slip. WCW had in mind a contemporary visual art which had travelled a very long way from the art Plato damned as two steps removed from the truth, i.e. the imitation of appearances, and even from that which, through reason, Plotinus thought could commune with Ideal-Forms. Plotinus might have been convinced by Analytic Cubism, but I think not by the later Synthetic Cubism of Juan Gris to which WCW refers. When he says “the illusion once dispensed with, painting has this problem before it: to replace the reality of experience with its own,” he is prefacing the central point of the Formalist future, that a painting is its own reality and that the experience of painting (and by implication, of writing poetry) takes precedence.

GA:

Once he hit his stride, Williams’s sense of reality was pretty much naturalistic & included, crucially, the imaginative shapings that made it tolerable. I’m interested, then, in your ease w/ the term ‘poetics’ & disenchantment w/ ‘aesthetics’; the former to me has always seemed a sub-set of the latter, although your noting that “The will to make poetry is bound into precedent, principle, pre-existing lines of thought” fleshes out something I’d only grazed on the way to making another point.

PP:

I have my reservations about other aspects of Formalism, particularly as it played out in the postwar period, but I do think that the painter that needs any explicit theory at all should adopt or adapt one that accounts for the experience of painting, and artists in general one that accounts for the act of making, i.e. a poetics. For the artist in full flight aesthetics is at best a luxury and at worst a distraction, something best left to the philosophers and the critics. Aesthetics at root concerns ‘sense perception’: as we know Kant tried to retrieve this classical origin after Baumgarten’s appropriation of the term to mean ‘judgment of beauty or critique of taste’. Sadly fashion went with Baumgarten for the next two-hundred years and we live with that legacy (it put belt and braces around the art market even before recent speculative capital made it fat). However, whether or not one adopts a hierarchical perspective on aesthetics and poetics, maybe we can agree on this—it is a sentiment widely expressed by artists and writers—while we work, we work to satisfy ourselves, trying to satisfy (imagined) others just gets in the way. Being aware of one’s cultural situation is important, but primarily because one is in dialogue with one’s peers and/or owes some allegiance to the dead, and not because one is directed by arbiters and audiences.

GA:

I think it’s true that both of our poetic affiliations are to writers & works having an eye & ear to location w/in some version of the supra-personal, to put it mildly. But then your other question is fundamental also: “Is the motive [for poetry] warranted and is it a genuine prospect [of what’s real to enough people to count]?” Is it simply a product of “precedent, principle, etc,” steering us into a fool’s / charlatan’s paradise of (even if only provisional) satisfaction / pleasure-giving? & if “playfulness and resistance … define the poet’s dichotomy,” what is the type of that resistance? not to mention of the play?

PP:

The strange thing that often occurs to me is how unpredictable are the vibrations out there that cause me to resonate. I know why I do it, but not why particular things catch me. The first ‘why’ is a question of so-called ‘neurodiverse’ constitution: I have a surfeit of sympathetic and hardly any empathetic channels. If you cry I cry, but without the ‘emotional intelligence’ to read a situation I have no idea what is at the time the right thing to say or do. That is putting it simplistically, of course, but not exaggerating. So the motive for poetry in my case has a lot to do with compensating for the anachronistic, the dislocated, and the alienated qualities of for me ‘ordinary’ experience. And I think that carries across all modes and media in my work. The second why … that defeats me; I just go with the flow and hope for the best. And this does give rise to play and to resistance. Can we characterize them? If we can, maybe the business of ‘negotiating realities resistant to intelligible expositions’ or ‘thinking to make properly aesthetic forms’ might become clearer. This will be speculative of course.

On resistance: perhaps in line with the Real and standing in for all ungraspables, the poet is constant in prising the lids off things, refusing a focus on one facet or another of the intriguing, the serendipitous, the bothersome, the emotionally confusing, etc. This ‘opening-up’ is a conscious display of resistance to the artificial closure that the prosaic presents through the “distilling trajectory of traditional ‘clearing’ strategies” (as I put it in post #1). If the clarity of something is suspect it provides one motive for poetic in(ter)vention: a display of resistance that mirrors the Real (and potentially staring dangerously into its abyss—William S Burroughs was only too aware of this danger.)

On play: for me playfulness is manifest in an openness to and facility with the materials to hand, whatever they may be—words, sounds, colours, images, gestures—and the great purpose in that—invention, the ‘coming-upon’—is best served ironically through initial purposelessness. Initially at least it has little to do with symbolization as already in process, of the semantic/pragmatic closure or otherwise of the material selected. In the ‘selecting’ I venture that an ‘aesthetic-of-the-one’ may come into play, neither rational nor irrational decision (both acts in relation to conscious thought), but rather a non-rational gesture (more akin to the compulsive, involuntary, and autonomic.) Play does not only manipulate and reconfigure materials, it uses them up, extracts anything and everything from them, including semantic/pragmatic possibility, and as play wastes its materials it similarly wastes its time.

GA:

This is a fairly familiar vexing. But before pushing further into it let me ask if you sense some pressure there toward martyrdom, given Judeo-Christianity is burrowed into the habitus & the poet shorn of broad social relevance. Conceptual poetry, surely the century’s most challenging of genres / factions, at its most extreme posits poetic pleasure, including (especially) that generated by a sense of critique or resistance, as culpably delusional sop to the urban complacency its exponents share; performances are staged as savvy annihilation into public or institutional discourse. Is the call of the bleak, something that’s taken multiple forms over the centuries, currently real & virulent? If so, does it lead to the bracing or debilitating? Or is it simply an outlier?

PP:

According to Burgess, Joyce’s prose “often looks odd when its intelligibility is not in doubt” (Preface to his: Here Comes Everybody). This conforms to age-old poetic expectations: it serves aesthetic ends without sacrificing sense. The real trick (kick) comes however when intelligibility is most in doubt and the ‘prose’ ordinary-looking. From the outset this is an attack on complacency toward contemporary mythologies (Allen Fisher does this brilliantly in sections of Gravity…) But you are quite right, the danger is that, especially in more extreme and vehement manifestations, ‘conceptual poetry’ becomes an incestuous orgy of cosmopolitan mesmerism. I am not so concerned about this, on a personal level, because I don’t really participate in the circus and, on a critical level, because I believe that rage and outrage—virtuous anger and convention busting—tend to shine above the sympathetic impotency of the delusional and to influence institutions for the better, even if their inertia means the effect is belated and somewhat dampened. But then from this ‘political’ perspective, no-one would argue that conceptual poetry, conceptual art of any sort, was in the ‘front-line’ … ‘avant-garde’ perhaps, if you don’t mind the modernist connotations, but never ‘front-line’.


Post #3 forthcoming

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s