Saturday, December 6, 2014

Preface to Blood by Gil Anidjar

This book offers no explanation. And certainly no historical explanation. After all, Pablo Neruda already explained a few things (algunas cosas*), enough things, and blood is still running in the streets. A different exercise in resignation, the pages that follow laboriously linger in uncertain viscosity, contending instead with the fact that explanations are, if not a thing of the past, then a peculiar and particularly constricted struggle with finitude. “ We do not seek to explain why things persist,” writes William Connolly, “least of all ourselves, we scholars.”[1] Indeed, to acknowledge the finitude of the scholarly enterprise in confronting perdurance as well as transience could well mean welcoming its ends, one of which would be the irremediable failure ( not just belatedness or irrelevance) of explanation. There is no history lesson, one might translate, no lesson learned, not from the victors. [2] And there is no meta-image, which means that it is no longer clear, if it ever was, which is the medium and which the message (which the Christian, which the Jew), or whether an explanation would be forthcoming or even possible, let alone believable. The time of explanation may not be completely over – what ever is? – but explanations, particularly scholarly explanations, have no doubt reached a limit (they have to end somewhere, as Wittgenstein had it). Having proliferated further than every Ockhamian edge, they are past repair and beyond hope.

Call it digital nihilism or obstinate retardation, “the last gasp of a dying discipline”[3]; call it speculative realism or negative pedagogy (”the teaching of language is not explaining,” Wittgenstein went on); or call it, as Sheldon Pollack did, ‘”the death of Sanskrit.” [4] But the recourse to name calling is here analogous to alleging that resoluteness in being toward death – with “the evening redness in the West”  (Cormac McCarthy) (or perhaps it is Twilight), is it not time? -  can only be glossed as testifying to a suicidal inclination or to an apocalyptic imagination, as if these were what? This, in any case, is not to say that thought, learning, or reflection are at their end (although that is a distinct possibility), but that we are past sensing the futility of writing a scholarly book, doing it by the book (as if the book could do it just do it) as if this was not the end of the book in the age of world tweet-ture. Especially now, “when the history of the world has so terribly and so untidily expanded its endless successiveness.”[5] The sheer weight of accumulation, fifty shades of clay and mountains of waste (not to mention, horribile dictu, footnotes), among other expansions and past all counts, nonetheless counts for something, that is, for nothing, if only because what it accounts for  testifies to the victory of the quantitative – by attrition. Was it ever otherwise? This may of may not be the reason to stop writing books (though I suspect it is). Cunningly endorsing Marx’s take on the “gnawing criticism of the mice,” Lacan suggests somewhere that praise might be in order when producing a worse-seller.

Have I not called this a book? Is it not one after all? To the extent that my opinion matters (having been exposed, just like anybody by now, to an inordinate number of opinions, I am less and less persuaded that I should have or add any, much less that I am capable or in fact entitled to an opinion of my own), I will merely assert that I did not wish for this to be a book. Instead, one could imagine the whole thing as restless and otherwise bound, neither new science nor archeology, but rather partaking of a different, older tradition of disputation – in its initial and final stages a reading, a measuring of the adversary, among whom one lives and whom one invariably emulates, however grudgingly. Think of it as an unfinished project of some premodernity. Early on, at any rate, the growing number of meandering pages now lying ahead impressed themselves upon me, though I would have preferred otherwise. Like so much else, the uptake is hardly mine – my fear is that I am but “full of goodwill, a devoted local government worker who has not earned the right to responsibility” – which why worn caveats blissfully apply, regarding propriety, property, and indeed responsibility, the legal and financial kind in particular (going public, with block if not stock quotes).[6] That being said, I beg you, please, delicate and obsolete monster, mon lecteur, ma soeur, copyleft and rearrange at will. Dispute and destroy.

One late night, this story goes, a man is pacing under a streetlight. Another comes along. “Have you lost something?” “Yes,” answers the first, “my keys.” They search together for awhile. “Are you sure you lost them here?” “Oh, no, no. I dropped them over there, but here is where the light is." In the spirit of Witz [7], then, past the enlightenment and through a scanner darkly, blood illuminates, if nothing else, the chapter ahead. Blood, described by Wallace Stevens as ‘the more than human commonplace of blood/ The breath that gushes upward and is gone,” marks a more specific trail, delineates a contained if expanding domain, and signals limits. A long way from here, out of sources that – neither Greek nor Jew, not quite, thankfully – bring the trail of repetitive iterations to a provisional end, an answer beckons (ah, but for the question!). All of which signals but another series of negations: blood is not found here as an object, nor is it a subject. It is neither a thing nor an idea. And blood is not a concept. It is not an operator, neither actor nor agent. Blood mobilizes and condenses, it singles out and constitutes, a shifting perspective (ebbing and flowing, later circulating) like one of those images and forms – elements, again, or complexes of culture –that filled the material imagination, of which Gaston Bachelard wrote in Water and Dreams. Blood could promisingly have served the function of a “signature,” which, Giorgio Agamben insists, is not a concept but “something that in a sign or concept marks and exceeds such a sign or concept referring it back to a determinate interpretation or field, without for this reason leaving the semiotic to constitute a new meaning or a new concept.”[8]  Blood is better intuited, I said, as an element. Part or whole, in any case, blood does not, cannot refer back to any privileged field, not even to theology, coming as it does to seize, occupy, and linger in and across regions, dissolving between and beyond signs; this spread and proliferation through multiple field and meanings that, clotted or liquidated, speak to its place and instantiations as the element of Christianity. Blood, I repeat, is not an explanation, though it may be so misunderstood -  what ever has not? Blood has no identity to speak of, and its integrity or agency, its “internal consistency” is not what I am after. There will be bloods, in other words, but more precisely, multiple iterations of blood – medical and anthropological, juridical and theological, political and economic, rhetorical and philosophical, in disorder of appearance and disappearance .  .  .


* I’m Explaining a Few Things

    You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
    and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
    and the rain repeatedly spattering
    its words and drilling them full
    of apertures and birds?

    I’ll tell you all the news.

    I lived in a suburb,
    a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
    and clocks, and trees.

    From there you could look out
    over Castille’s dry face:
    a leather ocean.
    My house was called
    the house of flowers, because in every cranny
    geraniums burst: it was
    a good-looking house
    with its dogs and children.
    Remember, Raul?
    Eh, Rafel?
    Federico, do you remember
    from under the ground
    my balconies on which
    the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
    Brother, my brother!
    loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
    pile-ups of palpitating bread,
    the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
    like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
    oil flowed into spoons,
    a deep baying
    of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
    metres, litres, the sharp
    measure of life,
    stacked-up fish,
    the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
    the weather vane falters,
    the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
    wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.

    And one morning all that was burning,
    one morning the bonfires
    leapt out of the earth
    devouring human beings –
    and from then on fire,
    gunpowder from then on,
    and from then on blood.
    Bandits with planes and Moors,
    bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
    bandits with black friars spattering blessings
    came through the sky to kill children
    and the blood of children ran through the streets
    without fuss, like children’s blood.

    Jackals that the jackals would despise,
    stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
    vipers that the vipers would abominate!

    Face to face with you I have seen the blood
    of Spain tower like a tide
    to drown you in one wave
    of pride and knives!

    see my dead house,
    look at broken Spain:
    from every house burning metal flows
    instead of flowers,
    from every socket of Spain
    Spain emerges
    and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
    and from every crime bullets are born
    which will one day find
    the bull’s eye of your hearts.

    And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
    speak of dreams and leaves
    and the great volcanoes of his native land?

    Come and see the blood in the streets,
    come and see
    the blood in the streets,
    come and see the blood
    in the streets!

[English translation by Nathaniel Tarn (American poet, essayist, translator, and editor) in Selected Poems: A Bilingual Edition, by Pablo Neruda. London, Cape, 1970.]

[1] William Connolly, Capitalism and Christianity, American Style; Duke Univ. Press, 2008]

[2] Carlo Ginzburg, “The Letter Kills: On Some Implications of 2 Corinthians 3:6”, History and Theory 49; Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance, Columbia University Press, 2001

[3]  Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Death of Discipline (Columbia Univ. Press, 2003)

[4] “The Death of Sanskrit”, Comparative Studies in Society and History 43, no.2 (April, 2001)

[5] Frank Kermode, The Sense of Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction, With a New Epilogue, Oxford University Press, 2000

[6] Spivak, Death of Discipline

[7] A novel by Joshua Cohen : ‘Like any epic, it defies summary and overflows with puns, allusions, digressions, authorial sleights of hand and structural gags-in the tradition of Thomas Pynchon, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift and Laurence Sterne. Its extravagant imagined world also suggests William Burroughs and Hunter Thompson, as well as the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Its voice, however, is consistently in the rhythms and vocabulary of New York Yiddish.’

[8] The Kingdom and The Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government (Homo Sacer II, 2)

1 comment:

  1. In which the controversial Columbia University Comparative Literature professor, who teaches a course called "Hate", answers his critics and 'reads' Deconstruction.