Another Country

I just finished Another Country.  No surprise – it’s a badass book.  I have much to say about it, but I’m going to focus on Ida.  Specifically, Ida on pages 324 and 325.  Embroiled in one of the many (in an ongoing fight?) fights with Vivaldo, she takes on his conception of the world in the following exchange:

“Our being together doesn’t change the world, Vivaldo”
“It does,” he said, “for me.”
“That,” she said, “is because you’re white” (324).

I take this as another way to grapple with the uneven politics of worldliness.  For Vivaldo, the self is the world.  To change one’s self is to change the world.  For Ida, however, it’s not so simple.  To change the self doesn’t change the world.  She still has face the way that others construct the world, the way the state insists upon a world, the way that power perpetuates a world.  Ida’s right.  One cannot simply invent the world, one must inhabit a world that is in part constructed by others.  The belief that one can change the world grows out of whiteness – grows out the privilege of not having to confront powerlessness or see the others who construct your world.

Such an understanding of worldliness is powerful because it exposes the inequalities, easy ignorance, and privilege lodged in something as seemingly universal as one’s understanding of love.  But when Ida insists upon what such a conception of worldliness means on the personal level – what it means for her and Vivaldo – it shows how accepting this reality puts one in a very difficult position.  For there it requires a recognition of differences that can’t be overcome through desire because no one desires to “pay their dues” (i.e. to see the world as it is, to feel its inequalities, to experience its pain):

“What I don’t understand,” she said slowly, “is how you can talk about love when you don’t want to know what’s happening.  And that’s not my fault.  How can you say you loved Rufus when there was so much about him you didn’t want to know?  How can I believe you love me?” And, with a curious helplessness, she took his arm.  “How can you love somebody you don’t know anything about?  You don’t know where I’ve been.  You don’t know what life is like for me.”
“But I’m willing,” he said, “to spend the rest of my life finding out.”
She threw back her head and laughed.  “Oh, Vivaldo.  You may spend the rest of your life finding out – but it won’t be because you’re willing.”  And then, with ferocity, “And it won’t be me you’ll be finding out about.  Oh, Lord.”  She dropped his arm.  She gave him a strange side glance; he could not read it, it seemed both pitying and cold.  “I’m sorry to have hurt your feelings, I’m not trying to kill you.  I know you’re not responsible for – for the world.  And, listen: I don’t blame you for not being willing.  I’m not willing, nobody’s willing.  Nobody’s willing to pay their dues” (324-5).

I don’t think I’ve read a more beautiful – or a more difficult – understanding of love.  For to be able to love is to accept the world as it is.  And that’s fucking hard.

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Yeats on Moore

One of the many reasons why George Moore isn’t read today is because of W.B. Yeats.  They collaborated for a bit during the Celtic Revival, then Moore wrote Hail and Farewell which made fun of Yeats (and declared that his poetry was played out).  Yeats outlived Moore, and, of course, his poetry wasn’t played out – he won the Nobel Prize.  Respected by the establishment, Ireland, the world, he ‘honored’ his old friend by damning him with faint praise.  Yeats’s take on the revival is the one we remember, Moore is largely forgotten except by his small group of earnest and eager fans (I count Glenn Close among them).

But one of Yeats damning statements captures precisely why I love George Moore’s writing so much.  As Yeats says:

“Improvement makes straight roads; he pumice-stoned every surface because will had to do the work for nature” (266).

I’ve talked about this before, elsewhere, and thought about it a lot.  Moore is someone who couldn’t and didn’t make things easy.  He didn’t make straight roads, he didn’t follow straight roads: he made things messy.  As a contemporary, this must have been infuriating.  As a friend, insufferable.  And yet, this is what his writing offers us today – the visible effort of giving up the bullshit of ‘improvement,’ of ‘order,’ of and idealized ‘nature.’  A will to power in its place, but a will to pumiced power – one that bears traces of its effort and makes visible its engagement with the fucked up (and yet powerful) powers that be.

Metalepsis

This weekend at his poetry reading, Joshua Clover read a poem about Metalepsis.  He suggested that it was the literary form most associated with a conference paper that wasn’t – one that contributed nothing new but rather said, “as I argue elsewhere. . . ” “to summarize” and shuffled papers a lot.  I suppose he’s right about the formal device – metalepsis is going on when academics are all discourse and no story.  

For Clover, metalepsis is a form of evasion.  For Freedgood it’s even more dangerous: it evades and colonizes.  By pointing elsewhere, it reifies the center, taking over imaginary and then real space.

But my beef is that does more story get us more in touch with gritty realities or ‘real’ referents (what Freedgood wants)?  Does it help us understand the structural violence of our capitalist regime?  Does metalepsis only evade?

I’ve been trying to write an article on this for a good long while.  Today, I read new work by Catherine Gallagher and Jonathan Lamb that helped me see that I’m not the only one struggling with the complex connections between history, fiction, referents, order and disorder.

I don’t think it’s an accident that people are thinking about fictionality (and imagination, and deferrals, and evasions, and referents) in relationship to history right now.  All we see is fictionality.  People claim historical truth without articulating their theory of history and it’s frustrating.  Most obviously we see it in the crazy claims of the republican party, but also in the subtle ways that people claim the present, the future, the next movement, the right to define the moment.

Fuck that shit.

All we have is metalepsis.  The discourse – which is messy because it requires a narrator, a narrated time, and all that entails – and the story – which is messy because its fictionality inspires both order and disorder, characters rooted in history and contextualized in imagined worlds – in constant collision which makes them messier still.

But we’re not just left with mess.  Metalepsis offers us a way out – precisely because it’s messy and evasive – by showing that mastery is not the answer.  Humility, and an openness to new collisions is precisely what’s going to help us revise our ways of being in the world so that we don’t colonize.