Sunday, October 14, 2012

Max Frisch, Man in the Holocene

Max Frisch's novella Man in the Holocene, starts with Geiser, the elderly protagonist of the story, is building a pagoda out of crispbread as torrential rains fall upon his Swiss canton of Ticino. The rain continues for days, triggering landslides and floods and blocking the highway. Bored, Geiser finds another way to keep his failing mind occupied - he cuts entries out of the encyclopedia and attaches them to the walls of his house.

He gathers articles on every topic that he can think of: the creation of the world, the history of his canton, and, more obsessively, the geologic timelines of the Earth. He starts from the Cambrian period of 500,000,000 years ago and all the way to the present, known as the Holocene. Soon he’s cutting out every entry he can find about dinosaurs. He then, as the storm intensifies even further, he moves onto texts about of personal annihilation: getting struck by lightning, memory loss, apoplexy.
He packs his rucksack and heads toward a mountain that is crumbling above him due to the rains. No point in staying trapped inside a house, he reasons. He escapes into the rain and begins a hike along the mountain...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The return of the grand narrative, affect and suspension of disbelief

I remember reading Nicolas Bourriaud in 2009. He proclaimed the death of postmodernism and the beginning of a new era of altermodernity. Since then I was meeting similar trends in thinking about philosophy and art- viatorizing identities instead of hollowing out, breaching the barriers instead of removing them.
Now I found a brilliant article in Frieze Magazine, called Theoretically speaking, actually on twitter:

I am going to discuss fiction here (Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives and Spike Hawkins' The Lost Fire Brigade), but let me introduce the theoretical context in which I discovered both of them and the link between them for that matter. What I am trying to approach is the part of the article, an essay written by Timotheus Vermeulen, Now & Beyond. He is a lecturer in Cultural Studies and Theory at the Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands, and co-founding editor of

He is discussing the return of the grand narrative, affect and suspension of disbelief.
We are tired of irony, we want to be serious again, but we don't feel like giving up hybridity and the cool.

"To my mind, a few debates stand out: the renewed appreciation of grand narratives, of transcendence, of optimism and sincerity, the reinvention of the commons, and the rediscovery of affect and of love, even, of techne, craftwo/man-ship, and of the body as origins and remains. In order to give something resembling an overview of what I imagine – and to an extent hope – ‘philosophy’ today and tomorrow to be about, I will very briefly describe three of these debates below. "

What he means by the grand narrative is not a Hegelian view on history as ruled by a dialectical law, but an allegory. History deconstructed by postmodernism can be re-constructed by re-connecting the dots, making room for optimism, a kind of informed naivety (Akker's term) that is suspending the postmodern suspension of belief.

If postmodernism is characterized by waning of affect, not in Deleuzian sense, but simply a lack of passion and abundance of ironic cool and distance, it seems like we can have both now without being cynical or superficial. Now I go straight to the authors, despite of the fact that the books were written in 98 and 68 in the order I mentioned them. What strikes me in Bolano is that he is the only author extremely frank about sexuality I don't find abusive. In connection to what I said before, I think it's his being poetic and earnest, frank, but not like Joyce, funny, but not like the Brat Pack writers.

There is a striking character there, a poet Ulysses Lima, the leader of the group of visceral realists (visceral meaning the poetry coming from inside), who used to read in shower. He was only reading poetry and he couldn't help it, his books were wet as the result. A similar image In the Lost Fire Brigade by Hawkins ( I cannot take credit for noticing the connection though) :

the poet's position

From their backs pour water
And in their passing reflect
As aquariums the colours of
moving fish in afternon windows
They are the water people
and live on land
with neighbours who take baths

Bolano uses the image of being immersed in water even previously, in poetry. If music is a kind of mental drowning, a poet sinks to the bottom and enters God's eye.

I think the books raise an important question on the place of art and role and position of the artist.The Savage Detectives is the search for answers- both literally, as the main characters, accompanied by a young hooker, chased by her pimp, are looking for Cesarea Tinajero, the founder of the group of visceral realists previously existing in Mexico, the actual group named themselves after, only to find her overweight, living like a peasant woman in the desert of Sonora, and then getting her killed in the confrontation with the pimp, and symbolically, the narrative presented as disjoint personal diaries from different perspectives, all giving the clues about what happened. The reader is re-connecting the dots, to return to the borrowed metaphor, building up an overall texture of the personal stories. Still the answers are the search itself. Such are the practices of metamodern artists- although they know that they will never find the truth, they have to look for it, oscillating between transcendence seeking and being immersed in the immanence of matter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

August Strindberg's To Damascus

Sweden celebrates Strindberg year in 2012. The drama “To Damascus” from 1898 is a wonderful and enjoyable read as fiction. It is together with “A Dreamplay” from 1902 an attempt to capture the logic of the dream in a play. It draws extensively on Stringberg’s life and in the first public presentation in 1900 “The Lady” was played by his wife Harriet Bosse (image above).

The dramatic structure of the first part utilises a circular, palindromic form of the Medieval "station drama.” The protagonist, The Stranger, on his way to an asylum, passes through seven "stations;" having reached the asylum, he then returns to each in reverse order, before arriving at his starting-point on a street corner. Peter Szondi describes this form as a type of subjective theatre in which the classical "unity of action" is replaced with a "unity of the self":

In the "station drama," the hero, whose development is described, is separated in the clearest possible manner from the other figures he meets at the stations along his way. They appear only in terms of his encounters with them and only from his perspective. They are, thus, references to him.

This technique affects radically the way in which time operates in the drama, producing a static and episodic quality to the scenes. It belongs to what came to be known as "I-dramaturgy."
(Latter part of the text from Wikipedia.)