Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I like this post on celebrity over at the Pinocchio theory, using one of Graham Harman’s concepts, that of allure, to tease out something of the nature of modern celebrity.

One of the reasons I like it is that it helps me to understand Harman a bit more. My lack of understanding has nothing to do with Harman’s prose or presentation which is basically as straightforward and lucid as you could hope for. One of the tedious things about having no philosophical training/background is just how long it takes you to understand exactly what other people are going on about via a process of incrementally less baffling encounters with their work/thought, so it’s often when their ideas are applied to pop-cultural phenomenon that you can get a grasp on at least some aspect of them. This was one of the great beauties of the Music press circa the mid to late eighties, as we all know, something that has now largely shifted to the blogosphere.

It’s true that I feel a kind of responsibility to know in the degree of depth that I can, the Significant Thought Of The Day. I assume that it’s kind of incumbent on everyone to be as aware of philosophical trends and significant thinkers as possible. That it’s a kind of a human obligation, some form of basic indebtedness for having existed at all. The fact remains that understanding just what the fuck anyone’s going on about can be tricky. I well remember accidentally seeing Zizek: The Reality of the Virtual at the ICA a few years ago having arrived too late for the screening of Beckett’s Play. I’ll give it a go I thought, having already eyeballed a number of his books in the bookshop. I followed the argument for about the first ten minutes, and then my head imploded, trapping me in a dark, confined space with a huge madman ranting incomprehensible and harshly inflected gibberish at me for another two hours. What the fuck was that all about?

At those what the fuck was that all about moments you can go two ways. Decide that it’s either bullshit/not worth your time and effort to find out about or make some effort to get to grips with it. I’ll do the latter. This won’t immediately, necessarily make me any happier; in fact it will just present me with a disheartening seemingly impossible uphill slog. Lacan? Christ, I understand the rudiments and this is after a couple of years of exposure to his thought, and only ever reading secondary texts of course. I have read Zizek’s “How to read Lacan” several times and each time grasped a concept that was initially elusive a little better, and hey, this is the idiot’s guide. Darian Leader’s “Why do women write more letters than they post?” another, widely praised introduction to Lacan’s thought struck me as being pretty difficult to understand and there were long passages where I was completely lost. Never mind. I’ll return to it. Again.

I also work on another assumption, that it’s much better to repeatedly fail to understand something than just to decide it’s incomprehensible and stop trying, I also work on the assumption that basically I can and will understand something if I continue, it may simply be that what prevents me from understanding it is the time I have to devote to it. Some people will get it in ten minutes, it might take me a lifetime, or more, but what am I supposed to be doing that's so much more gratifying/rewarding anyway? I also assume that bluffing is a) immediately detectable even to other bluffers and b) antithetical to what brought you there in the first place.

What I am broadly encouraged by is the fact that if you do return to it, if you do think about it, probe at it, reflect on it, it will yield up its meaning, or at least a meaning. It will sound perverse but one of the best experience s of my life was being stuck in Ramsgate as a twenty six year old with the collected works of Wallace Stevens and little else to distract me, no You Tube in those days. I read poem after poem in total incomprehension until I got to “On the road home” one of the simpler expositions of Steven’s thought, a toehold of sorts. Then other pieces began to take on a sort of sense until I felt confident that I could reasonably offer an idea as to what Stevens was about. It required months of engagement (but hey, y'know it was a deeply committed and complex poet's lifework I mean, excuse me for not immediatley having a handle on him) to come up with nothing very sophisticated, a basic idea, and there is still much of his work that remains thoroughly obscure to this day.

The point is it was an adventure, a form of exploration, discovery and limited conquest that all took place in a dingy basement flat with a book from the local library. I take it that the goal of life in some ways is to make its primary elements thought, language, the body and the thoughts, bodies and language(s) of others the primary source of pleasure. this is one of the ways we escape from the poverty of over-reliance on "things". Perhaps I’m idealising it, but after a certain stage I imagine that the mind needs less and less material in order to occupy itself, that a single object/concept can be viewed from and wrung through so many perspectives and processes that it yields up a multiform richness . This is the alchemy of thought and its addictive quality, also its liberating aspect.

So despite Professor Power's* heroic attempts to explain phenomenology to me on a bus ride to Stratford one rainy afternoon, I’ll probably have to keep banging my head against that particular edifice for a good long while. Don’t worry though; eventually I’ll shake something loose.

*And actually I should point out here that the people I know who genuinely know stuff are always much more intellectually generous than those who know relatively little. This is testified to by the fact that they would be immediately uncomfortable at the idea that “they really know stuff.”

1 comment:

Daniel said...

thank you for posting this. it meant a lot to me.