josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

newest | archives | search | about | wishlist | flickr | email | rss

3 Feb '05 01:42:06 AM

The introduction (I'm not sure if it's all of it) to the Cambridge Companion to Adorno seems astute, more than I have come to expect from that series. This could just be because all that is required to appear astute in this case is to have actually read a substantial enough portion of Adorno's three big books and thought about them carefully. Nevertheless. Astute.

(I came across this when looking for people commenting on Adorno and mimesis, because I'm at least well enough acquainted with Aesthetic Theory to know that mimesis is given an important role in it, and I was excited to find myself yet one more step closer to Adorno, closer to being invested enough in similar concerns to be able to make the struggle with him worth it, when the other day I suddenly found myself writing down notes about things that I wrote 'mimesis' under, things that bore a probably not totally coincidental similarity to various ways of talking about the nonconceptual, or nonidentical. There was no reason that sentence needed to be that long. But: so I sez, wait, mimesis, that doesn't sound like mimesis, referring it in my head to dumb representing- or copying-nature concepts I must have picked up in a dirty bathroom in a department of analytic philosophers somewhere - but, I sez, it does sound like Adorno - I wonder if that has something to do with where he's like mimesis mimesis all the time? Well.)

(A respected and trusted teacher of mine, also the only one I've ever been taught any Adorno by, not that I understood it at the time, asked a couple of years ago whether I had checked out Aesthetic Theory yet, when I tried to explain my long-term projects to him. Every time I get led back to Adorno by something else I'm doing, that question weighs heavier and heavier.)

2 Feb '05 09:54:44 PM

'We remarked earlier that most people would call Gulliver's Travels fiction but not a novel. It must then be another form of fiction, as it certainly has a form, and we feel that we are turning from the novel to this form, whatever it is, when we turn from Rousseau's Emile to Voltaire's Candide, or from Butler's The Way of All Flesh to the Erewhon books, or from Huxley's Point Counterpoint to Brave New World. The form thus has its own traditions, and, as the examples of Butler and Huxley show, has preserved some integrity even under the ascendancy of the novel. Its existence is easy enough to demonstrate, and no one will challenge the statement that the literary ancestry of Gulliver's Travels and Candide runs through Rabelais and Erasmus to Lucian. But while much has been said about the style and thought of Rabelais, Swift, and Voltaire, very little has been made of them as craftsmen working in a specific medium, a point no one dealing with a novelist would ignore. Another great writer in this tradition, Huxley's master Peacock, has fared even worse, for, his form not being understood, a general impression has grown up that his status in the development of prose fiction is that of a slapdash eccentric. Actually, he is as exquisite and precise an artist in his medium as Jane Austen is in hers.

The form used by these authors is the Menippean satire, also more rarely called the Varronian satire, allegedly invented by a Greek cynic named Menippus. His works are lost, but he had two great disciples, the Greek Lucian and the Roman Varro, and the tradition of Varro, who has not survived either except in fragments, was carried on by Petronius and Apuleius. The Menippean satire appears to have developed out of verse satire through the practice of adding prose interludes, but we know it only as a prose form, though one of its recurrent features (seen in Peacock) is the use of incidental verse.

The Menippean satire deals less with people as such than with mental attitudes. Pedants, bigots, cranks, parvenus, virtuosi, enthusiasts, rapacious and incompetent professional men of all kinds, are handled in terms of their occupational approach to life as distinct from their social behavior. The Menippean satire thus resembles the confession in its ability to handle abstract ideas and theories, and differs from the novel in its characterization, which is stylized rather than naturalistic, and presents people as the mouthpieces of the ideas they represent. Here again no sharp boundary lines can or should be drawn, but if we compare a character in Jane Austen with a similar character in Peacock we can immediately feel the difference between the two forms. Squire Western belongs to the novel, but Thwackum and Square have Menippean blood in them. A constant theme in the tradition is the ridicule of the philosophus gloriosus, already discussed. The novelist sees evil and folly as social diseases, but the Menippean satirist sees them as diseases of the intellect, as a kind of maddened pedantry which the philosophus gloriosus at once symbolizes and defines.

Petronius, Apuleius, Rabelais, Swift, and Voltaire all use a loose-jointed narrative form often confused with the romance. It differs from the romance, however (though there is a strong admixture of romance in Rabelais), as it is not primarily concerned with the exploits of heroes, but relies on the free play of intellectual fancy and the kind of humorous observation that produces caricature. It differs also from the picaresque form, which has the novel's interest in the actual structure of society. At its most concentrated the Menippean satire presents us with a vision of the world in terms of a single intellectual pattern. The intellectual structure built up from the story makes for violent dislocations in the customary logic of narrative, though the appearance of carelessness that results reflects only the carelessness of the reader or his tendency to judge by a novel-centered conception of fiction.

The word "satire," in Roman and Renaissance times, meant either of two specific literary forms of that name, one (this one) prose and the other verse. Now it means a structural principle or attitude, what we have called a mythos. In the Menippean satires we have been discussing, the name of the form also applies to the attitude. As the name of an attitude, satire is, we have seen, a combination of fantasy and morality. But as the name of a form, the term satire, though confined to literature (for as a mythos it may appear in any art, a cartoon, for example), is more flexible, and can be either entirely fantastic or entirely moral. The Menippean adventure story may thus be pure fantasy, as it is in the literary fairy tale. The Alice books are perfect Menippean satires, and so is The Water-Babies, which has been influenced by Rabelais. The purely moral type is a serious vision of society as a single intellectual pattern, in other words a Utopia.

The short form of the Menippean satire is usually a dialogue or colloquy, in which the dramatic interest is in a conflict of ideas rather than of character. This is the favorite form of Erasmus, and is common in Voltaire. here again the form is not invariably satiric in attitude, but shades off into more purely fanciful or moral discussions, like the Imaginary Conversations of Landor or the "dialogue of the dead." Sometimes this form extends to full length, and more than two speakers are used: the setting then is usually a cena or symposium, like the one that loom so large in Petronius. Plato, though much earlier in the field than Menippus, is a strong influence on this type, which stretches in an unbroken tradition down through those urbane and leisurely conversations which define the ideal courtier in Castiglione or the doctrine and discipline of angling in Walton. A modern development produces the country-house weekends in Peacock, Huxley, and their imitators in which the opinions and ideas and cultural interests expressed are as important as the love-making.

The novelist shows his exuberance either by an exhaustive analysis of human relationships, as in Henry James, or of social phenomena, as in Tolstoy. The Menippean satirist, dealing with intellectual themes and attitudes, shows his exuberance in intellectual ways, by piling up an enormous mass of erudition about his theme or in overwhelming his pedantic targets with an avalanche of their own jargon. A species, or rather sub-species, of the form is the kind of encyclopedic farrago represented by Athenaeus' Deipnosophists and Macrobius' Saturnalia, where people sit at a banquet and pour out a vast mass of erudition on every subject that might conceivably come up in a conversation. The display of erudition had probably been associated with the Menippean tradition by Varro, who was enough of a polymath to make Quintillian, if not stare and gasp, at any rate call him vir Romanorum eruditissimus. The tendency to expand into an encyclopaedic farrago is clearly marked in Rabelais, notably in the great catalogues of torcheculs and epithets of codpieces and methods of divination. The encyclopaedic compilations produced in the line of duty by Erasmsus and Voltaire suggest that a magpie instinct to collect facts is not unrelated to the type of ability that has made them famous as artists. Flaubert's encyclopaedic approach to the construction of Bouvard et Pecuchet is quite comprehensible if we explain it as marking an affinity with the Menippean tradition.

This creative treatment of exhausitve erudition is the organizing principle of the greatest Menippean satire in English before Swift, Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. Here human society is studied in terms of the intellectual pattern provided by the conception of melancholy, a symposium of books replaces dialogue, and the result is the most comprehensive survey of human life in one book that English literature had seen since Chaucer, one of Burton's favorite authors. We may note in passing the Utopia in his introduction and his "digressions," which when examined turn out to be scholarly distillations of Menippean forms: the digression of air, of the marvelous journey; the digression of spirits, of the ironic use of erudition; the digression of the miseries of scholars, of the satire on the philosophus gloriosus. The word "anatomy" in Burton's title means a dissection or analysis, and expresses very accurately the intellectualized approach of his form. We may as well adopt it as a convenient name to replace the cumbersome and in modern times rather misleading "Menippean satire."

The anatomy, of course, eventually begins to merge with the novel, producing various hybrids including the roman à these and novels in which the characters are symbols of social or other ideas, like the proletarian novels of the thirties in this century. It was Sterne, however, the disciple of Burton and Rabelais, who combined them with greatest success. Tristram Shandy may be, as was said at the beginning, a novel, but the digressing narrative, the catalogues, the stylizing of character along "humor" lines, the marvellous journey of the great nose, the symposium discussions, and the constant ridicule of philosophers and pedantic critics are all features that belong to the anatomy.

A clearer understanding of the form and traditions of the anatomy would make a good many elements of the history of literature come into focus. Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, with its dialogue form, its verse interludes and its pervading tone of contemplative irony, is a pure anatomy, a fact of considerable importance for understanding its vast influence. The Compleat Angler is an anatomy because of its mixture of prose and verse, its rural cena setting, its dialogue form, its deipnosophistical interest in food, and its gentle Menippean raillery of a society which considers everything more important than fishing and yet has discovered very few better things to do. In nearly every period of literature there are many romances, confessions, and anatomies that are neglected only because the categories to which they belong are unrecognized. In the period between Sterne and Peacock, for example, we have, among romances, Melmoth the Wanderer; among confessions, Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner; among anatomies, Southey's Doctor, Amory's John Buncle, and the Noctes Ambrosianae.'

2 Feb '05 09:05:04 PM

K. Silem Mohammad's Language Poetry Dossier.

2 Feb '05 06:20:56 AM

I have begun keeping a for real on paper this is what I ate and this is who I slept with diary. I've never done that before. So far it is both satisfying and tiring. I'm waiting to see if one of those wins out, but I'm rooting for the former. I want to look back in eleven months and be able to fan the pages open and be impressed at all the ink. I hope I don't have to change the color before then. If so then all my fun with being impressed could be ruined.

2 Feb '05 06:14:23 AM

'watchin' the sun go behind a tree'

2 Feb '05 06:11:01 AM

Why am I so tired?

29 Jan '05 05:04:47 AM

Why do I think I have to be doing more than one thing, do you suppose?

On reflection it occurs to me that if I just play a record then I might fall asleep. Not just now, when I'm getting sleepy (I've been waking up early lately). Whenever. It's not as if the mere presence of music is so exciting that I can manage to keep myself open to it, listening intently. More often I would say that the regularity is comforting, and that I know it, and for whatever other reason don't want to take the chance of sleeping the day (or night) away.

I wonder whether this has anything to do with how they're always playing one record at a time in books. One record, then stop.

29 Jan '05 04:50:00 AM

You are supposed to be extra careful on the black ice. It's gotten to the point of winter where most of anything on the sidewalks is black, unless it's the liquid gray ice that's just newer, still slick white ice with black ice underneath. I am extra careful about it. Still occasionally there's a little slip. Usually when I'm just coming off a long stretch of it, of slow, mincing steps, and picking up speed again with confidence - and my last step catches on the edge of the ice behind me and even though I'm secure enough not to really lose my balance or even my step, I still feel that moment of panic that's like a stab, I suppose because it's gone so immediately for being so intense. Tonight in the middle of an especially long and opaque stretch of sidewalk, something somehow suitable, Kompakt something I suppose though I now can find no sign of it since my iPod somehow forgot everything it played while I was out tonight, came on my headphones - and I thought, well, how about this. And then in the middle it comes with this late night TV 80s thriller danger-synth stuff. I suppose I might have raised my eyebrows. But I did walk even slower.

28 Jan '05 06:40:54 AM

At one point Oshima refers to a story from Genji - of how Lady Rokujo becomes a living spirit out of jealousy and possesses Genji's main wife, Lady Aoi. As far as I can tell before settling down to read it carefully, the story is from chapter 9.