Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Time in the shadow of the wing of the thing too big to see, rising

“Sometimes I wish I could properly articulate my suspicion of disinterested aestheticism,” wrote John in an e-mail to me. Wallace Stevens is probably less skeptical than John when it comes to aestheticism, but for now we’ll take his eighth way of looking at a blackbird as expressing a similar failure of articulation:
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.
Stevens’ blackbirds are many things to many people. This one, for me, is a figure for the political sublime, the outer-edge, negative-space shape of the sensation-streams that sweep us, the unseen-unbelievable that frames the narratives and arguments that seduce us with plausibility, the unnatural-inhuman border of the natural and intelligible, the self-concealing mental map of the network of social and economic relations in which alone we can experience the claims of taste, which network taste tastefully excludes—all that revolutionary thought attempts to see steadily and whole.

Showing in so many ways what is involved in what we know was the aim of the weblog Alphonse van Worden; Either a Libertine Diary or Notes in Its Margin. The author of that page, who knows noble accents and lucid, inescapable rhythms, and that the blackbird is way involved, has retired it, to the detriment of all of us who learned from her renderings of the sublime shapes of things. Ready or not, we inherit the responsibility of thinking for ourselves. This may be a good thing. We strongly crave the forms of words of others, but political imagination cannot be passively received, conscience cannot be borrowed. Thought lives in spark and act alone; all else is ideology, repetition, doxa, darkness.


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