You ask what I mean by the 'nothingness' of revelation? I understand by it a state in which revelation appears to be without meaning, in which it still asserts itself, in which it has validity but no significance. A state in which the wealth of meaning is lost and what is in the prfocess of appearing (for revelation is such a process) still does not disappear, even though it is reduced to the zero point of its own content, so to speak.
Surely one of the things that make it so difficult to write about Sebald, to say anything genuinely new or revelatory about his work, is that he has done so much himself to frame the discourse of his own reception, to provide in advance the terms for critical engagement with the work; his fiction already practices a rather efficient sort of autoexegesis that leaves the critic feeling a certain irrelevance (the posture of awestruck adoration that one finds in so much of the critical literature is, I think, one of the guises such irrelevance assumes).
... melancholy, the contemplation of the movement of misfortune, has nothing in common with the wish to die. It is a form of resistance. And this is emphatically so at the level of art, where it is anything but reactive or reactionary. When, with rigid gaze [melancholy] goes over again just now things could have happened, it becomes clear that the dynamic of inconsolability and that of knowledge are identical in their execution. The descriptino of misfortune includes within itself the possibility of its own overcoming.
I am learning to see. I don't know why it is, but everything enters me more deeply and doesn't stop where it once used to. I have an interior that I never knew of. Everything passes into it now. I don't know what happens there.
Will Rees's extremely interesting review of Wittgenstein Jr for the Quietus.
The characters themselves don’t really develop at all; it is that which binds them together—friendship, disappointment—which grows. It is this, the apparent background to the novel’s action, that shines through.
Sitting before my little fire, I know, when the wind blows outside, moaning in the fieldstone chimmney I caused to be built for ornament, shrieking in the gutters and the ironwork and trim and trellises of the house, that this planet of America, turning round upon itself, stands only at the outside, only at the periphery, only at the edges, of an infinite galaxy, dizzingly circling. And that the stars that seem to ride our winds cause them. Sometimes I think to see huge faces bending between those stars to look through my two windows, faces golden and tenuous, touched with pity and wonder; and then I rise from my chair and limp to the flimsy door, and there is nothing; and then I take up the cruiser ax (Buntings Best, 2 lb. head, Hickory Handle) that stands beside the door and go out, and the wind sings and the trees lash themselves like flagellants and the stars show themselves between bars of racing cloud, but the sky between them is empty and blank.
Nietzsche never seemed to lose sight of his own condition: he simulated Dionysus or the Crucified and took a certain delight in the enormity of his simulation. The madness consisted in this delight. No one will ever be able to judge to what degree this simulation was perfect and absolute; the sole criterion lies in the intensity with which Nietzsche experienced the simulation, to the point of ecstasy. [...]
What he was conscious of was the fact that he had ceased to be Nietzsche. [...]
In [eternal] return, everyday things abruptly receded into the distance: yesterday became today, the day before yesterday spilled over into tomorrow.
Almost everything I do now is a 'drawing-the-line under everything'. The vehemence of my inner oscillations has been terrifying, all through these past years; now that I must make the transition to a new and more intense form, I need, above all, a new estrangement, a still more intense depersonalization. So it is of greatest importance what and who still remain to me.
What age am I? I do not know - as little as I know how young I shall become...
Nietzsche, from the letter to Fuchs (14 December 1887)
This is the neoliberal period of capital in all its fetid glory: the ruthles marketization of everything existing - including itself, in the sense that the marketization is itself marketed as, among other things, 'natural', 'fair', 'win-win', 'progress', and other empty signifiers. [...]
Neoliberalism triumphant presents us with the more frightening specter of what I am calling educational eliminationism, by which I mean a state of affairs in which elites no longer find it necessary to utlize mass schooling as a first link in the long chain of the process of the extraction of workers' surplus labour value. It has instead become easier for them to cut their losses and abandon public schooling altogether. Any remaining commitments are purely vestigal and ahve more to do with social stability rather than with education proper, as vast swathes of our school system (particularly in urban areas) are decisively repurposed as holding facilities for (putative) proto-criminals, lost within what Henry Giroux decries as a 'youth crime-control complex', with a special layer of legal menace for urban kids in what Michelle Alexander pointedly calls 'the new Jim Crow'. [...]
It should now be clear to everyone that neoliberal education policy is not about reforming public schools. It is about obliterating any remaining vestiges of the public square via a market discipline that is officially supposed to apply to everyone but in reality is selectively applied only to those lacking sufficient wealth to commandeer state policy; ironically the sacred market applies to public schools not to megabanks. It is in essence the strategy of the gated community, where those at the top 'have theirs' and withdraw from the educational commons and into their state-backed corporatist enclaves. Our elite capitains are abandoning the public educational ship in whose hold lie nearly 90% of US school children. [...]
The newer kind of non-recognition involves not merely reducing people to means but simply wishing them away and ignoring them altogether; in this way at the level of the concern for the Other, we are transforming from abuse to neglect. An increasing proportion of humanity - in the global South but also here at home - grows non-exploitable economically. Their labour is incapable of importing enough value to render them serviceable for traditional capitalist production and so they are economically 'out of the loop'[...] They have become 'extra people' and superfluous. At best their realtion to the formal economy is occasional and precarious as evidence by the stunning growth of those living most of their lives in what anthropologist Keith Hart desceribes as 'the informal economy', living, for example, under subsistence conditions of 'forced entrepreneurship' such as prostitution or the selling of odds and ends. They are the disposable ones[...] Their main productive function now is to serve as part of a disciplinary warning to precarious remaining workers that 'but for the grace of the (job)Creator, there go I'. [...]
From a wider lens, what is actually occurring is that monopolistic neoliberal elites are asserting their grip more strongly by more directly harnessing all social institutions as adjuncts for their ever-more desperate drive to accumulate capital[...] the end result is [...] a flattening-out and homogenising of the range of what human beings value, where every activity is to be translated into the language of only one would-be totalizing sphere. This in the end is the neoliberal leviathan in all its monomaniacal glory. It seeks only itself, a monomaniacal sameness, ultimately offering the existentially terrifying boredom of absolute self-identity. [...]
Who are the these rugged competitive heroes who live by the global free market alone? Who actually embraces this? It is manifestly not today's capitalist class, who by now by and large enjoy secure monopoly positions from which they can watch at a distance the little people tear each other apart as gladiatorial economic sport.
David J. Blacker, The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame
<Transcription of the review of Wittgenstein Jr by Jon Day in the Daily Telegraph, Saturday 13th September.>
Bonfire of the Humanities
Jon Day relishes a clever satire on academic life that is also a love letter to the world of ideas.
Lars Iyer's previous three novellas - Spurious (2011), Dogma (2012) and Exodus (2013) - followed a pair of academics as they travelled around the country attending conferences and exchanging gnostic utterances. They were hilarious and unsettling books about the limits of friendship set against the backdrop of what Iyer calls the 'suburbification' of professional philosophy. As well as being terrifically funny they were stylistically bold: critics invoked the name of Beckett in hushed tones.
Wittgenstein Jr is both a continuation and a development of the themes of the Spurious trilogy. The book centres on the relationship between a group of Cambridge philosophy students and their don, an enigmatic, lonely figure they take to calling 'Wittgenstein'. He has gone to Cambridge to 'do fundamental work in philosophical logic' (Iyer, himself a philosophy don at Newcastle University, is fond of italics, always seasoned with a deep irony) and to write a book - Die Logik - so profound as to end philosophy.
Wittgenstein himself is not quite a character but rather a collection of aphorisms. 'It is never difficult to think', he says, 'it is either easy or impossible'. His classes are, by the standards of the contemporary academy, terrible. His students complain they have no idea what he is talking about. They revere him anyway. He is tolerated by his fellow dons.
The book is written in the repetitive, lulling metre that Iyer perfected in the Spurious trilogy. Clauseless sentences do the job of description: 'Eating in class. Mulberry, chewing gum. Titmuss, sucking mints. Doyle, eating a packet of crisps and regretting it: the crackling! the rustling! the grease!'
Wittgenstein Jr is as much a satire on the contemporary academy as it is an existential novel of udeas. But is is also a love stroy. Ultimaitely it's a novel about the idea of philosophy, about what Wittgenstein's students call 'the romance of learning' and that all-consuming erotic yearning for knowledge that you sometimes experience as an undergraduate.
It is also an elegiac book. 'There's a fire backstage, the clown comes out to warn the audience. Laughter and applause. They think it's a joke! The clown repeats his warning. The fire grows hotter; the applause grows louder. That's how the world will end', Wittgenstein says, 'to general applause, from halfwits who thik it's a joke'. Amid the humour, or despite it, Iyer is deadly serious. The bonfire of the humanities is upon us.
David Rose reviews Wittgenstein Jr at Quadrapheme.
The group of students, including the narrator Peters, who seem to behave more like third formers than undergraduates, act collectively like some uncomprehending Greek chorus similar to that in Murder In The Cathedral; witnesses to Wittgenstein’s agony yet not fully touched or involved. They represent brute Life, destined always to be creatures of the sun-suffused shallows.They act out being philosophers, realizing they are only going through the motions. Significantly, they play-act death, play-act the deaths of philosophers: the death of Socrates; the death of Nietzsche. Displays of ersatz despair which throw into relief the real despair of ‘Wittgenstein’,which is fictionally underwritten by the suicide of his brother and the temptation to follow suit.
Yet maybe the students’ desire for despair is real? Maybe there is hope for them, spiritually?
What I suffer from this continuous idleness I am quite unable to describe. I would like most to hang myself on the nearest branch of the cheery trees standing now in full bloom. This wonderful spring with its secret life and movement troubles me unspeakably. These eternal blue skies, lasting for weeks, this continuous sprouting and budding in nature, these coaxing breezes impregnated with spring sunlight and fragrances of flowers … make me frantic. Everywhere this bewildering urge for life, fruitfulness, creation – and only I, although like the humblest grass of the fields of one of God’s creatures, may not take part in this festival of resurrection, at any rate not except as a spectator with grief and envy.
There will never be any summer any more, and I am weary of everything. I stay because I am too weak to go. I crawl on because it is easier than to stop. I put my face to the window. There is nothing out there but the blackness and the sound of rain. Neither when I shut my eyes can I see anything. I am alone…. There is nothing else in my world but my dead heart and brain within me and the rain without.
But it is always a question of whether I wish to avoid these glooms…. These 9 weeks give one a plunge into deep waters; which is a little alarming, but full of interest…. There is an edge to it which I feel is of great importance…. One goes down into the well & nothing protects one from the assault of truth.
The more I am spent, ill, a broken pitcher, by so much more am I an artist – a creative artist… this green shoot springing from the roots of an old felled trunk, these are such abstract things that a kind of melancholy remains within us when we think that one could have created life at less cost than creating art
I am so ill – so terribly, hopelessly ILL in body and mind, that I feel I CANNOT live … until I subdue this fearful agitation, which if continued, will either destroy my life, or, drive me hopelessly mad.
I roll on like a ball, with this exception, that contrary to the usual laws of motion I have no friction to content with in my mind, and of course have some difficulty in stopping myself when there is nothing else to stop me…. I am almost sick and giddy with the quantity of things in my head – trains of thought beginning and branching to infinity, crossing each other, and all tempting and wanting to be worked out.
She talked almost without stopping for two or three days, paying no attention to anyone in the room or anything said to her. For about a day what she said was coherent; the sentences meant something, though it was nearly all wildly insane. Then gradually it became completely incoherent, a mere jumble of dissociated words.