Tuesday, October 12, 2004

"distance...for the sake of an encounter"

Barrett Watten weighs in on the insulting NYTimes obituary:
"Jacques Derrida's obituary in the New York Times is an index to the reactive jingoism that stands for intellectual debate in this country. It is a grand symptom of xenophobia, the "fear of the other" that has produced a series of scapegoats in the second half of the twentieth century, from communists under the bed to Freedom Fries and the Axis of Evil. Derrida must be defended as a site for questioning this fear of the other. But even more, Derrida at his best provided an exemplary instance of an open philosophical stance that pursued the questions of language and certainty from a position that first and always comes under its own self-scrutiny. The method of deconstruction, which can never be objectified as a positive doctrine, is not Derrida's alone, but intersects with varying and widespread practices of self-reflexive questioning as the basis of poetry, ethics, and truth. Language-centered critical writing of all sorts has a long-standing common cause with Derrida."

While listening to Philip Roth's interview re-broadcast on NPR tonight, I learned that Bob Dylan will be giving his first radio interview in nearly 20 years tomorrow morning, on the very same NPR, from 5-9am they said? Anyway it's on the website, here, although I suppose you Brits are all too cool now for such things. In which case the latest N+1 essay on JD is not to be missed.

I will save my exposé of the fascinating connections between Dylan and Blanchot for another post. Instead, here's a quote from the middle of Celan's Speech on the occasion of receiving the Georg Büchner Prize, Darmstadt, 22 October 1960:

"Thus he had lived on.
He: the real Lenz, Büchner's figure, the person whom we encountered on the first page of the story, the Lenz who 'on the 20th of January was walking through the mountains', he - not the artist thinking about art - he as an 'I'.

Can we perhaps now locate this strangeness, the place where the person was able to set himself free as an -- estranged -- I? Can we locate this place, this step?
'...only, it sometimes bothered him that he could not walk on his head.' This is Lenz. This is, I believe, his step, his 'Long live the king'.

'...only, it sometimes bothered him that he could not walk on his head.'
A man who walks on his head, ladies and gentlemen, a man who walks on his head sees the sky below, as an abyss.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is very common today to complain of the 'obscurity' of poetry. Allow me to quote, a bit abruptly -- but do we not have a sudden opening here? -- a phrase of Pascal's which I read in Leo Shestov: 'Ne nous reprochez pas le manque de clarté puisque nous en faisons profession.' This obscurity, if it is not congenital, has been bestowed on poetry by strangeness and distance (perhaps of its own making) and for the sake of an encounter.

But there may be, in one and the same direction, two kinds of strangeness next to each other.

Lenz -- that is, Büchner -- has gone a step farther than Lucile. His 'Long live the kind' is no longer a word. It is a terrifying silence. It takes his -- and our -- breath and words away.
Poetry is perhaps this: an
Atemwende, a turning of our breath. Who knows, perhaps poetry goes its way - the way of art -- for the sake of just such a turn? And since the strange, the abyss and Medusa's head, the abyss and the automaton, all seem to lie in the same direction - it is perhaps this turn, this Atemwende, which can sort out the strange from the strange? It is perhaps here, in this one brief moment, that Medusa's head shrivels and the automatons run down? Perhaps, along with the I, estranged and freed here, in this manner, some other thing is also set free?
Perhaps after this, the poem can be itself...can in this now art-less, art-free manner go other ways, including the ways of art, time and again?

Perhaps we can say that every poem is marked by its own '20th of January'? Perhaps the newness of poems written today is that they try most plainly to be mindful of this kind of date?
But do we not all write from and toward some such date? What else could we claim as our origin?"

-Paul Celan, Collected Prose. Trans. Rosmarie Waldrop. Sheep Meadow Press, 1986.

It's tempting to keep going...as always. In any case, I cannot think of any more fitting transcendental-humanist-atheist-"deconstructionist" ("don't hide behind labels Mr. President") to read tonight. Well maybe there is one other...

No comments: