NEW

"The Feudal Unconscious:
Capitalism and the Family Romance"

October 159 (Winter 2017)
MIT Press

Now Available

Portuguese translation of THE MYTH OF POPULAR CULTURE (Blackwell Manifestos, 2010) now available from Tinta Negra (Rio de Janeiro, 2015)



OS MITOS DA CULTURA POP: DE DANTE A DYLAN

O renomado crítico cultural americano Perry Meisel detona as noções convencionais sobre a divisão entre “alta” e “baixa” cultura.

O autor transita pela provocante teoria de que a cultura pop experimentou ritmos dialéticos. A hábil análise que o livro apresenta de três tradições culturais duradouras – o romance norte-americano, Hollywood, e o rock inglês e americano – nos leva a um ciclo histórico da cultura pop que tem Dante como ponto de partida e revisita ícones como Wahrol, Melville, Hemingway, Twain, Eisenstein, Benjamin, Scorsese e Sinatra.



THE MYTH OF POPULAR CULTURE: FROM DANTE TO DYLAN

The Myth of Popular Culture discusses the dialectic of "highbrow" and "lowbrow" in popular culture through an examination of literature, film, and popular music. With topics ranging from John Keats to John Ford, the book responds to Adorno's theory that popular culture is not dialectical by showing that it is.

Available as eBooks

COURSE IN GENERAL LINGUISTICS. Trans. Wade Baskin. Co-ed. with Haun Saussy. By Ferdinand de Saussure (Columbia University Press, 2011)

THE LITERARY FREUD (Routledge, 2007)

THE COWBOY AND THE DANDY: CROSSING OVER FROM ROMANTICISM TO ROCK AND ROLL (Oxford University Press, 1998)

FREUD: A COLLECTION OF CRITICAL ESSAYS (Prentice-Hall, 1981)




10/28/10

Gunslinger in a Time Warp

by Perry Meisel

The Place of Dead Roads. By William S. Burroughs. 306 pp. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. $15.95.

William S. Burroughs is probably still best known for Naked Lunch (1959), a savage confession designed to break the rules of both social and literary decorum as violently as heroin had broken the will of its autobiographical hero. Naked Lunch not only exemplified the Beat subculture out of which Mr. Burroughs emerged; it also prophesied the wider fate of the American sensibility well into the next two decades. By the time the counterculture of the 1960's succeeded the Beats, license had become the law, and Mr. Burroughs had become a principal avatar of the liberationist esthetic he helped create.
By now, Mr. Burroughs's early work may appear anachronistic, even though both Naked Lunch and the work of his subsequent middle phase - particularly The Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket That Exploded (1962) and Nova Express (1964) - have led to accolades from an enduring cult that heralds him as an American original and a major innovator in experimental fiction. To be sure, Mr. Burroughs's novels have all the markings of a studious infatuation with modern literature. Harvard-educated and a legendary cosmopolitan, he has pursued that infatuation as aggressively as he once pursued narcotics, and the pursuit has resulted in an almost textbook replica of the techniques of James Joyce's polylogues and T. S. Eliot's fragmented verse narratives throughout the novels on which his literary reputation has been based for 20 years.
With the publication of Cities of the Red Night in 1981, Mr. Burroughs entered a new phase, presenting his own vision with exactitude and originality. Gone was the slavish scrambling of syntax, sequence and sense. Instead, the novel presented two neat, clipped narratives - a detective story and an account of a young sailor's adventures in 1702. The book's climax comes when the two plots collide, and the collision is extraordinary. The stories join as the youngster from the 18th century eventually exchanges identities with the missing suburban boy from the present whom the novel's deadpan sleuth, Clem Snide, has been hired to find.
In fact, the two merge quite literally by means of a bizarre, quasi-medical procedure in which the head of one boy is transferred onto the body of the other, making Mr. Burroughs's long interest in telepathy or astral projection a physical as well as a psychic reality in his books. The key is time travel and conspiratorial cloning, technologies controlled by feuding cosmic cabals that link the Central Intelligence Agency and the Mafia with the wizards and sorcerers of mythical ''cities of the red night'' located somewhere near the Gobi Desert 100,000 years ago. The picture grows more complicated when intelligence from outer space is shown to have had a role in the manipulation of time by the ancients. Cities of the Red Night becomes a reeling universe of ''Transmigrants and Receptacles,'' where Mr. Burroughs's characters even get star tan from their travels.
Mr. Burroughs takes the premises of cosmic conspiracy and time travel a step further in his new novel, The Place of Dead Roads, continuing to fulfill a wish he expressed in The Soft Machine, to produce a mythology durable enough for the space age. In no way an attempt at generic science fiction, Mr. Burroughs's new novel, like Cities of the Red Night,' is really an extension of his earlier work - but only now have his intentions become plain. Even Naked Lunch contained enigmatic allusions to star travel and cosmic struggle, but it was not until The Soft Machine and Nova Express that exchange of identities, interplanetary transit and galactic war between the forces of tyranny and freedom became real activities rather than mere metaphors in the world Mr. Burroughs creates. Cities of the Red Night, his best novel, made all this especially convincing and absorbing because the prose was less ostentatiously surreal than before, so the reader experienced the kind of vertigo Mr. Burroughs's characters had to contend with. In The Place of Dead Roads, he adds to both the scope and the settings of his mythology.
The emergence of his new hero, Kim Carsons, is already foreshadowed in Cities of the Red Night by the appearance there of Audrey Carsons, who was originally Clem Snide, the detective. Late in the story, he is transmuted into a frontier rowdy who knows Wyatt Earp and the Clantons thanks to the artistry of time warping and identity transfer. As the names suggest, Mr. Burroughs is interested in the Old West as well as in time travel and interplanetary strife. Kim is a gunslinger, or ''shootist,'' who goes West in the 1880's to form a cowboy conspiracy Mr. Burroughs calls ''the Johnson family.'' The moniker is borrowed from Western lore and denotes the proverbial bond of honor among thieves and murderers.
Despite a largely naturalistic style and an often conventional mode of storytelling, The Place of Dead Roads slips and slides in time and place - almost unaccountably until one is again reminded that a transpersonal web links everything together. Like the boys in Cities of the Red Night, Kim and his Robin Hood outlaws are really agents in a vast organization; they are allied with Venusian political insurgents in a fight for galactic liberation. Time travel, space travel and cloning again account for the oddities in what is otherwise a predictably Beat picaresque novel. At one moment Kim is at a shoot-out on Bleecker Street on Oct. 23, 1920, but in a flash he is in Boulder, Colo., on Sept. 17, 1899. And he is on Venus on Nov. 19, 1980.
Wherever he is, Kim is connected to a network of Johnsons that spans time and space. He can travel more easily than Mr. Burroughs's earlier characters because the technology of the author's universe has progressed beyond the surgical time transport of Cities of the Red Night. Now the technique of transport is simple, far superior to organ transfer, since it encodes and transmits every variety of life-form by genetic engineering. By implication, space and time travel need no longer be bound by the limitations of bodily form, psychological identity or even natural conception. Instead, in Mr. Burroughs's ideal state, ''identity'' consists of random particles drawn from the infinite reaches of space and time. Like the distortion of the name Kit Carson, everything in The Place of Dead Roads is a trifle out of focus, testimony to the presence of another point in time in another place always synchronous with the one the reader - or the characters - occupy. ''Kim's memory of his past life,'' the narrator says, is ''spotty. Sometimes he feels he is getting someone else's memories.''
Kim even writes a book, ''Quien es?'' (''Who is it?''). That title suggests how difficult it is to tell heroes from villains, or friends from foes. Like Dr. Benway - an omnipresent figure in Mr. Burroughs's work, whose cures are always more painful than the diseases they are meant to correct - Kim and his band are almost as unlovable as the space gangs opposing them. Indeed, this shifting vortex of a world is so unstable that the very maintenance of personal identity is almost impossible. Even Kim, it turns out, is more than one person, having been genetically recycled at least 10 times. ''Sometimes he shifted his identity ten times in the course of a day.''
To imagine such a world is one thing; to represent it is another. The advance in technology in Mr. Burroughs's magnificent universe is not matched by similar advances in the writer's style. Cities of the Red Night had promised a new narrative strategy. It featured the cool flow of an almost hard-boiled realism, punctured only late in the story when the novel revealed its cosmic intentions. Mr. Burroughs then had good reason to use the Joycean mannerisms of his middle phase in an attempt to show how all things metamorphose into one another in the book's concluding sections.
In The Place of Dead Roads, Mr. Burroughs tries to play the two styles off against each other, and the result is a watery realism on the one hand and a now tiresome imitation of the Joycean approach on the other. If the former is too loose compared to the realistic portions of Cities of the Red Night, the latter is too mechanical. In retrospect, much of his writing seems like that. Joyce's apparently foolish puns and juxtapositions have an internal logic that detonates almost endless possibilities of meaning; Mr. Burroughs's use of such techniques is meretricious. Rather than build his world, as Joyce does, through montages that yield detail and density when scrutinized closely, too often he takes the short cut of simply swathing signs and images together to be strange and absurd. His justification is doubtless the Beat poet Brion Gysin's theory of ''cut-ups,'' with which Mr. Burroughs has long been associated; it defines literary composition as the assemblage of bits and pieces of discourse at random.
In fact, his zaniest writing is still obliged to Joyce, and so is the bold idea behind it. Mr. Burroughs's time travel is a logical extension of Joyce's notion of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, in Ulysses. As Joyce puts it, ''we . . . weave and unweave our bodies . . . their molecules shuttled to and fro.'' The description elucidates Mr. Burroughs's ideas at least as well as Joyce's own.
Mr. Burroughs also follows his contemporaries very closely. There is recent precedent for some components of his vision. The mixture of experimental writing and popular forms is already present in Eliot's work, as well as in Gertrude Stein's, and it has become the very subject of fiction as different as Gilbert Sorrentino's Mulligan Stew and the stories of Donald Barthelme. Many of his notions about corporality and molecular coding have been adumbrated in significant science fiction as old as the 1956 film Forbidden Planet. Even the ''cut- up'' technique owes a lot not only to Joyce but to Eliot's program of distributing lines from earlier poets among his verses and to a somewhat literal interpretation of Ezra Pound's Imagist poetics. And Julio Cortazar had put ''cut-ups'' and detective fiction together in his 1963 jigsaw-puzzle mystery, Hopscotch. On balance, Mr. Burroughs is more a comprehensive historian of modern literature than a practitioner of it.
Too learned to be simply an example of what Lionel and Diana Trilling called the ''modernism in the streets'' of the Beat Generation, Mr. Burroughs's project is really a soft Modernism that relies on effect more than effectiveness, suggestion more than achievement. Unlike his late partisan and friend Jack Kerouac, he does not radiate the deep passion that commands attention, whatever the shortcomings of style.
Such overt and inescapable discipleship may well point to the ultimate irony of Beat, counterculture and many other brands of post-Modern esthetics. They are indebted to a modern tradition of revolt that inveighs above all against indebtedness, against the staleness of habit or convention. (Mr. Burroughs blandly cites most of the relevant literary representatives in each of his books.) Although kicking ''junk'' has symbolized kicking all habits for Mr. Burroughs ever since Naked Lunch, kicking the habit is the very habit of modern literature itself.
His is a position of untenable contradiction. As the stylistic impasses of The Place of Dead Roads suggest, his work as a whole is caught in an insoluble quandary. The very signature of his originality is the signature of someone else. While this may be the kind of truth his own fiction portrays to the extent that it can, it is also the truth that modern writers have the most difficulty accepting - unless (as great writers always do) one is willing to outsmart it. The decline of the avant-garde - at least of a Modernist or post-Modernist avant-garde - is already well under way, but Mr. Burroughs remains one of its more intriguing figures.

Originally published in The New York Times Book Review, February 19, 1984

10/27/10

Arctic Spring

A Consumer Guide to the USFL

by Perry Meisel

Except for Herschel Walker, they all have a lean and hungry look. Somebody seems to be watching from behind - you, me, the coach, the owner, the NFL. Above all, the NFL scouts. Those prospective gazes are the secret diversion in both the players' and their mentors' eyes even in the thick of a sometimes bruising, sometimes sluggish game in the fledgling United States Football League.
Sure, the overtness of the anxiety has receded now that the season is several weeks old. And no, as Lou Grant would say to Mary, "it doesn't stink," either as spectacle or achievement. Boring maybe, but not pathetic. With only a month's camp and no exhibition games, some offensive lines actually started to click by the second week of play (Philadelphia's in particular, releasing North Carolina rookie Kelvin Bryant for big yardage), though others stayed inarticulate (Washington's); team concentration sagged in some cases (New Jersey), but in others it deepened profoundly, especially in Arizona's stunning alarm-clock comeback to beat powerhouse Chicago under the new gun of LSU rookie star Alan Risher.
But the almost palpable anxiety remains and is likely to endure, qualifying the major-league credibility of the new league. Even the Birmingham press corps - as ready (again) as any for a pro franchise - was reportedly grumbling "Triple A" after the opener there against Michigan.
By turns jaunty and tedious, exhilarating and downright dull, the USFL will in all likelihood remain Triple A in stature, a highly formalized, almost luxurious hybrid of established minor institutions like the Canadian Football League, the Central American baseball leagues, or summer pro basketball clubs. But it wouldn't stand a chance against even the impromptu NFL Players Association squads that played two games during last fall's strike (John Riggins took the red-eye to play in both). The USFL will forever be a three-quarters to seven-eighths version of the NFL, everything - and most everybody - built just a tad off-scale, especially (and in this case, happily) the exciting young quarterbacks like Risher who wouldn't - and won't - get legitimate shots at the Real Bigs.
But while the USFL is offscale aesthetically, it will probably have no financial problems in staying afloat (or adrift) for at least a few more years, certainly longer than the two-year bubble of the old World Football League in the early '70s. After all, the marketing boys at ABC said go ahead and spend a rumored $20 million last year. Meanwhile, ESPN -- which shares the league video package with ABC and whose former president, Chet Simmons, is the new league's commissioner - is rumored to have its future hanging on the new venture at a supposed cost of $11 million. But after a couple of weeks the Nielsen numbers aren't just respectable - they're terrific, both for ABC and ESPN (of the 30 million households that have cable, almost 25 million get ESPN). Stadium attendance, too, has been more than reasonable - consistently over 30,000 plus an average per game, producing a controlled but visible jubilance among league personnel and contradicting guys like Dave Anderson (the John Simon of sportswriting) who prophesy a virtual biogenetic dysfunction as the result of pro football in the spring and summer.
And add still another advantage, this one the plain (and perhaps the only) result of real football work: two extremely different kinds of high-caliber players buttressing the league at its inception - some good NFL veterans plus some genuinely dazzling rookies. Hence the re-emergence of tested rifles like Chicago's Greg Landry, and even the emergence of Tampa Bay's John Reaves; the shocking jump to the new league by ex-Lions linebacker Stan White (NFL strike spokesman, by the way) now calling signals for the Chicago Blitz defense; and the signing of Eagle linebacker John Bunting by Philadelphia.
Hence, too, not just one but two sets of college rookies, one group normally NFL-bound (North Carolina's Kelvin Bryant, SMU's Craig James, Wisconsin's David Greenwood); the other brilliant but slightly offscale (the kind of college stars you've always wanted to see more of but couldn't, performers like Risher, Birmingham quarterback Reggie Collier, and Chicago wide receiver Trumaine Johnson).
This is the one important - and historically salutary - difference that the USFL adds (or subtracts?) to pro football. Sure, James or Bryant would likely start in the NFL (at least on a noncontender). But Risher would get cut, like Yale's John Rogan last year with the Jets, as would Washington's rookie quarterback, Minnesota's Mike Hohensee.
Of course, in the middle, both figuratively and literally, come all the no-names and never-names, guys cut for years and years but who could at least beat out the hundreds who came to the earliest camps. But let's face it: like the Académie Française, the NFL has the legal standards no matter its mistakes or its politics.
Both credible and incredible, then, what's this three-quarters to seven-eighths operation like? Only real football junkies need apply (I confess to watching CFL replays at 3 a.m. in August). Most of us expected a wide-open offensive game like the old AFL at season's start. Even the commentators (and more especially the coaches) huffed about offense being prime.
The consistent ring (clunk would be too strong a word) is not so much poor execution as it is an almost uniform principle of conservative rather than reckless play - as if to offset all the prophesies (including the coaches' own hype) about mega-offense. Conventional idiom would say defense was simply ahead of offense. But defense is hardly the dominant factor. Offensively, the games have simply centered on the ground, superadded to a control passing game used either simply to mix it up or, more often, to maintain possession by zipping the ball to receivers curling under the defensive backs and behind the linebackers, or by tossing outlet passes to flaring backs.
Under the relative duress of sketchy video coverage and only a few weeks of play, then, here is a set of team-by-team impressions, containing some maybe harebrained predictions (special thanks to ABC Sports for providing whatever additional video has been available).

Atlantic Division

New Jersey Generals: Even before the signing of Walker, everyone thought this was the team to beat, based largely on coach, president, and part-owner Chuck Fairbanks's reputation, a stolid if soggy customer. Boy, were we wrong. Just thinking about how much depended on rickety old Bobby Scott after nine years on the beach in New Orleans during its "glory years" should've clued us in. The Generals' receivers do include two former Giants, Mike Friede and Mark Slawson (Friede's acrobatic catches often made highlight films when the Giants rolled).
Without Herschel (is this a scam we have to get used to, or are we really waiting for something?), the Generals' backfield has looked strangely like the Giants' did a few years ago, especially with ex-Giant Larry Coffey stroking off a few elegant yards on one play only to fall on his face in the backfield on the next.
But it's not all Coffey's fault, any more now than it was with the Giants. Plagued by a demoralizingly inept offensive line, Herschel will have to start carrying the ball 30 to 40 times a game after (so Fairbanks's rap goes) he learns all the plays, especially his blocking assignments and a better way to see holes. And even despite a line in shambles, Herschel still runs like he did at Georgia, sweeping mostly to the right and simply feeling his way along his blockers' asses till he finds a crack. He's hardly had a blast-off run yet; questions are actually cropping up about his ability to accelerate.
But if Herschel does start carrying more often, it still means he'll have to take Earl Campbell-style punishment, extremely damaging both physically and mentally. Marcus Allen, for example, will last longer (like Tony Dorsett or Walter Payton) because his narrowness doesn't give tacklers a chunky target to spear - the weighty Campbell and Herschel are sitting ducks by comparison. What this will spell for Herschel's later NFL career, we won't know for a while. But to think that Herschel will stay in the USFL very long is naive.
Philadelphia Stars: A slashing tailback from North Carolina, Kelvin Bryant was easily on his way to breaking the record for NCAA season touchdowns (29) when his knee gave out early in his junior year (despite arthroscopic surgery, he still came back to gain over 1000 yards in the 1981 season). The injury clearly hampered him in his senior season, scotching once-genuine hopes for a Heisman bid. On the first Sunday, the sleek and stocky Bryant still had 77 yards. And with a full camp behind him, Bryant at least has, like his linemen, obviously learned the system well (Herschel, Herschel). But, like Walker, look for him to jump to the NFL at the right time.
Quarterback Chuck Fusina (one of innumerable Penn Staters in the USFL, including teammate Scott Fitzkee) is indeed an NFL backup but a much younger one (three years behind Doug Williams at Tampa Bay), but in charge as much as any quarterback in the league. Exuding a quieter and more convincing confidence than Reeves or even Landry, Fusina's second game was the best exhibition yet of the control passing that will highlight the league's conservatism more consistently than the rushing game. But with Bryant in there, too, Philadelphia obviously has the most balanced attack in the East.
Washington Federals: Even though SMU tailback Craig James would've doubtless ended up a probably latish NFL pick (he played alongside Eric Dickerson, the cool, wise one who sits and waits), he'd likely have ended up on special teams ("oops, my frontal lobe"), seeing only backup duty at fullback on a contender and a faceful of defense on a lousy team. After a dismal opener, though, James went down with a jammed back the second Monday night against L.A. And along with him went Washington's other best hope, rookie quarterback Mike Hohensee, another Risher in stature but without the mobility (receiver Reggie Smith also went down in the second game, decimating an already sluggish squad).
Boston Breakers: It's been an ex-Eagle Johnnie Walton's passing that has seen Boston first lose one of the few seesaw openers to an equally aerial Tampa Bay team, and then win one the next week against Denver on a fleaflicker bomb plus a 14-yard TD strike (Walton also has ex-Eagle Charlie Johnston to throw to). Add to the passing a defense that can block field goals and run 'em back for TDs, and you've actually got one of only a few defenses to say something positive about. Boston is balanced enough to merit real scrutiny once they get fuller video exposure. Besides, they're the only threat in the division to Philadelphia's otherwise clear supremacy.

Central Division

Michigan Panthers: Probably the only team in the league with a more interesting and potent defense than offense. Already feared for some beefy backers, Michigan also features world-class rookie strong safety David Greenwood, a Ted Hendricks/Bob Baumhower look-alike, blitzing his lanky frame all over the place, very often in the quarterback's face. Michigan is lucky to have his excitement - and his punting - as well as the psychological and strategic relief he provides cornerbacks like Clarence Chapman, who can gamble with Greenwood roaming the streets.
There is also a good quarterback rivalry to watch, though coach Jim Stanley has yet to exploit it, staying with rookie Bobby Hebert and letting Vandy rookie Whit Taylor sit on the bench. This is still not one of your big play/major action teams. Like Birmingham, Michigan will be relatively interesting to see develop over a few years, but expect less and less as this season wears on - unless, of course, Taylor gets a chance to come on like Risher.
Birmingham Stallions: Quarterback Reggie Collier is exactly the kind of great college offensive threat (Southern Mississippi '83) who'd at best end up as a defensive back in the NFL (like Darrol Ray or Nolan Cromwell), but who can continue his offensive career in a USFL that allows a fair amount of quarterback running at three-quarters punishment. A blastoff sweep-runner (or up the middle) whose only other pro shot at offense would've been the Great White North, Collier resembles Oklahoma's J.C. Watts, who led the Toronto Argonauts to the Grey Cup out of nowhere in 1981 (the Generals' Lott was also a wishbone quarterback at Oklahoma, but Fairbanks is almost surely too old-fashioned to try him out under center if things get even worse in the Meadowlands).
Defensive backs have been brought into lots of action so far throughout the league and the Stallions' Billy Cesare is a prime example of how to bottle up outside routes so as to allow pressure coverage of the underneath receivers (Cesare can even do a Jerry Holmes, getting into the backfield before a running play can start).
With little else going for 'em other than a reasonably tough if no-name defense, then, the Stallions' future now depends on how much punishment Collier's body can endure and whether or not he can learn to throw more and better.
Chicago Blitz: Chicago's opener was easily the most convincing game of the lot, the kind you expect from a George Allen-coached team. Balancing Stan White on defense is vet quarterback Greg Landry - never a question to the extent Scott or L.A.'s Mike Rae have been. And unlike former backup Scott, Landry did get to play a fair amount with Baltimore (Bert Jones got hurt often) and so has not just psychological but also physical experience - the toughening will doubtless help preserve him in the USFL. Landry is also fortunate in his receivers, especially rookie Trumaine Johnson (maybe an NFL shot if looked at long enough), an instant star on day one, a Reynaldo Nehemiah or Lam Jones who already has soft hands even if he's thinking about running before catching the ball. He's also one of the few really explosive runners in the league, with more acceleration than almost any of the backs.
Tampa Bay Bandits: Landry can do it for Chicago, and veteran John Reaves (Bengals, Eagles) is doing it up big for Tampa Bay. Reaves got in a seesaw spearchucking affair with Boston's Walton the first day; like Landry's, Reaves's was no short-passing game but the bombardier antics of an old pro. Adding to the offensive push is a running game headlined by Duke rookie Greg Boone, the first back to break 100 yards in a single USFL game.
But will good old quarterbacks like Reaves and Landry make it through an 18-game season? Scott is already more than a question, but even the proven ones are vulnerable. They have experience - bench experience - but the punishment factor, even for Landry, has yet to be assessed. Will there even be any pressure late in the season? Or will people just sigh - or not even notice - when the CFL kicks off July 4th and the USFL finishes its regular season?

Pacific Division

L.A. Express: The simple fact that Hughie Campbell has come should tell everybody else to get out of town. This cool and largely unknown customer is probably the best coach in pro football today. A receiver at Washington State, he coached at little Whitworth College in Washington before going north in 1975, eventually leading the Edmonton Eskimos to five champion Grey Cupa in a row before coming to Los Angeles this year. Certainly Fairbanks's fate and even Allen's mean coaching aren't everything but, like Allen, Hughie is also blessed with talent.
With the one-two punch of veteran quarterback Mike Rae (Oakland, Tampa Bay, Washington) and UCLA rookie sensation Tom Ramsey, the cunning Hughie started with Rae in the opener, switching to Ramsey only after the flutters were gone and getting a fairly exceptional pro debut out of him. By the second game, Hugh's line system was clicking well enough to get even the substitute backs hunky hardage, and well enough too to leave Rae in there long enough (three quarters) to make him the second week's star.
Already rich and balanced in quarterbacks, then, L.A. probably surprised itself when it saw incandescence in a classic backfield combination of swift tailback rookie Tony Boddie and a Sam-the-Bam-style fullback in LaRue Harrington. Even the defense is hitting in harmony, led by linebacker Eric Scroggina. Add receivers like Ellis and a zesty backfield bench and L.A. has got it all, growing not just sounder each week but fierier too.
Oakland Invaders: Oakland's young quarterback Fred Besana (Cal) played as well as Reaves when the Invaders tackled Arizona in their opener. One of the few instances in which offense outdid defense convincingly on opening day, Oakland also produced the league's only defensive shutout the first weekend.
Former Raider, tailback Arthur Whittington gives Oakland some backfield credibility on paper, though its young fullback Ted Torosian who's actually done what rushing damage there's been so far. With only a few old vets to stabilize line play (especially 13-year veteran Cedrick Hardman at defensive end), Oakland will live or die by how well the youngsters jell in a future more secure than Washington's, but less so than Tampa Bay's or even Boston's.
Arizona Wranglers: Even though center Dave Otey wears a horseshoe belt signifying his status as a "bucking" star on the rodeo circuit ridin' bulls, the Wranglers at first didn't look at all like the "roughneck" outfit they've learned to call themselves in interviews. Apparently the dog of the league the first week out (the only shutout victim), their second week's upset of powerhouse Chicago was the biggest surprise yet, and probably the most exciting game. Maybe the Wranglers didn't realize they were really a finesse, collegiate-style team rather than a bunch of gunfighters until Risher turned it all around in the second half of the Chicago affair. Expect anything.
Denver Gold: Coach Red Miller is, of course, a local folk-hero, leading the Broncos to the Super Bowl in 1977. Bob Niziolek and Lionel Phea are Colorado rookie quarterback Jeff Knapple's most dependable targets, even though Knapple himself throws too many floaters, easily picked off on fly patterns. Ken Johnson can at least spell him, though, throwing tighter spirals and showing more pocket poise. At his best, though, Knapple features the USFL's control passing game, tossing underneath dumplings to his receivers and backs - a better way (in this league anyway) of keeping the ball than the largely damp running game it has (un)developed so far. Former Bronco Larry Canada - good for breaking off a few long gainers between stumbles and occasional short-yardage success - is the best Denver has in the backfield, and is probably better at snagging short passes than running the ball with any particular consistency. Look for catnapping fans at Mile High Stadium as the weather gets better.

Predictions

It took the NFL till the last few years to achieve Rozellian parity. It will probably take this league more time than it's got. That makes prognostication easier even if the enjoyment is subpar. And though it's absurdly early, these picks ain't coin tosses either.
Atlantic: Philadelphia will take the division with relative ease and relatively little competition.
Central: Chicago and Tampa Bay will fight for a while, but Chicago will glide in the end.
Pacific: Best race of the three by far. L.A. will eventually take it all (Hughie doesn't lose), though the endurance of Besana's arm at Oakland and Risher's fortunes at Arizona may give the Express some skirmishes before it's all over.
Pick for the championship game: Los Angeles against Chicago, with Hughie a winner all the way.

Originally published in The Village Voice, April 12, 1983

Sample view:


10/24/10

Reinventing Freud

by Perry Meisel

Freud: Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend. By Frank J. Sulloway. Basic Books. $23.50.

Although Frank Sulloway takes Wilhelm Fliess as the real hero of Freud's early development, his sociobiological perspective raises the questions that Fliess's theory of genetic bisexuality only implied: that gender must be different from sexuality; that genetically keyed regression cannot account for the technicalities of individual desire; that, above all, the assumption of innate developmental timetables is prescriptive. This liberal critique of genetics is reaffirmed and extended in its analogy in poetics - a realm Sulloway dismisses from both Freud's speculations and his own, ignoring Burke's and Trilling's insistence that Freud maps the mind as a receptacle of social symbols rather than as a physiological reflex. By implication, Freud's apparently scientific texts are themselves elaborate symbolic documents that are to be read figuratively, just as the mind itself is to be read as an apparatus designed by the symbolic laws of culture and history
The biogenetic Sulloway, however, announces that Freud meant his biological metaphors "literally," thereby linking his own methodological commitment to the physiological with what he takes to be a crude referentiality in Freud himself. Sulloway reduces even the allegorical Totem and Taboo by taking it at its word, as though the events Freud purports to describe there - the killing of the father by the fraternal horde, Freud's originary myth for the birth of civilization - actually took place. "Freud fully believed," says Sulloway, "that some such prehistoric drama had to have occurred if his various psychoanalytic claims about repression, sexuality, and neurosis were to possess universal truth."
But these assumptions about the epistemological status of both texts and people have political consequences. Does language, for instance, whether in Freud's text or in the world at large, refer simply to natural facts, to a world of natural law beyond culture? Or does it refer instead to the symbolic machinery of culture itself, which produces and situates the mind in its web, just as the symbolic machinery of language produces and situates Freud's writing? The implausibility of Sulloway's alternative becomes especially apparent when we see that by taking Totem and Taboo literally - by assuming it simply names things - Sulloway reconstitutes the mistake of the original seduction theory: that something had really happened in the past to set later events in motion. Indeed, if the "repressed impulses" that "generate phantasy" - for example, of seduction as an infant - are really the "spontaneous" recapitulation in the individual of the history of the race as a whole, Sulloway has only succeeded in asking us to believe in the reality of something even more remote than what Freud's patients had reported in their own lives. Sulloway's assertion that Freud saw a difference between what he calls "truth" and "charged fiction" in the original seduction theory already shows how unaware Sulloway is of the real change: Freud's acceptance of "charged fiction" as itself the "truth" of a psychic, not an objective, reality. Thus Sulloway's attempt to biologize Freud is largely antipathetic to the very factor that distinguishes psychoanalysis from the start: its conviction that soma is a consequence of psyche, not, as Sulloway proposes, its cause. "Freud," wrote Philip Rieff more than twenty years ago, "puts language before body."
To be sure, objections will inevitably arise that state the case for real reference even apart from genetics. One example is Freud's Schreber, whose hallucinations Morton Schatzman's Soul Murder has shown to have the "real" referents that a Laingian epistemology requires. But what we witness in such argumentation is less a real debate than an active demonstration of the bifurcated possibilities that Freud's work has always possessed. It is in fact the generative dissonance in Freud himself that allows Sulloway, like his ironic bedfellow Jung, to find as much evidence for his position as he does, and that also allows the sociological Freudians to find the rival evidence that positions them against the literal-minded reductionists. It is, however, precisely the overdetermined structure of both Freud and his legacy that Sulloway does not wish to see despite his duties as a cultural historian. Like dreams, and neurotic symptoms, Freud's writings can hardly be said to be irreducible in their sources or their meanings whatever a given researcher's skill or perseverance. The overdeterminations that allow symptoms to develop in Freud's view of the mind are akin in structure to the overdeterminations that situate Freud's work within the honeycomb of intellectual history, and that make it available to a variety of persuasive readings at once, depending on the selective key - biology, linguistics, Romanticism, modernism - by which the historian organizes it. Sulloway so little understands overdetermination that the influences his scholarship has unearthed make him wonder aloud (recalling Norman Fruman and the case of Coleridge) whether Freud should be called a plagiarist. That any writer or movement would be defensive in the self-image it presents strikes Sulloway as somehow odd, and sets him in a realm altogether apart from psychoanalysis.
Even more puzzling, however, is Sulloway's anxiety that the demonstration of exact influences upon Freud may seem to belittle him - more, it should be added in the author's eyes than in the reader's. Why Sulloway grows guilty about the apparent success of his manifest intention may have more to do with an uneasiness that he has no theory of influence subtle enough to suit his subject than with any concern about the kind of Romantic originality that his genetic presuppositions implicitly require him to reject. But perhaps what unconsciously frightens Sulloway after all is the same failing that links his politics with his poetics, a fear that the very categories and aims of his own study - those of texts, ideas, of human history and intellectual achievement - are to be dismissed by the genetic biology in whose service he writes. To deny the symbolic dimension of psychoanalysis, as Sulloway does, is to deny the symbolic status of culture itself.

Originally published in Partisan Review 3, 1983

10/21/10

Real George Thorogood

by Perry Meisel

It was the doggedly homespun sincerity of George Thorogood's first LP that, truth be told, finally converted me to p--k in 1977. How could any thwacky guitar belter - no matter how funky, no matter the innocence of his roadhouse upbringing - stay so mannered without knowing it? The pretense to authenticity was both tedious and appalling; p--k by contrast meant showing (off) the manner at the heart of every matter. But Thorogood has persisted in his apparent folly, and five years later to distinguish between conscious authenticity and witting affectation seems like hair-splitting. The result: Thorogood is arguably the twangiest nonschooled rhythm guitarist since Keith Richard.
Thorogood is at his fiery best on his new, and third, LP, Bad to the Bone (a complex of puns, on EMI America/Rounder), putting on the (sometimes rhythm and) blues the way he puts on his genes. More coiffed and do-ed in concert last Saturday at the St. George Theater on Staten Island than at local clubs in years past (fitter venue anyway for a traditionalist), the catarrhalThorogood remains decidedly minimal in his deployment of personnel both live and on disc - just bass, drummer (a good one), and tenor sax (a luxury), a sparseness designed to leave his guitar all the room it wants. Flashing red hoops of steel and flipping them over like flapjacks in mixed metaphors like this one, Thorogood's densepack ranges from laminated brassiness at the metal end of his tonal spectrum to grunting wood at the other.
But the sparseness is dangerous as well, especially when Thorogood rests a song too much on his dubious voice (a little fuller, strangely, in concert than on disc). No Marshall Crenshaw(the failure is clearest on sweet songs like Jimmy Reed's "It's a Sin"), Thorogood could care less. He retains the boyish habit of the roadhouse singer too much of the time - letting the flab of his voice show along with all its incidental texture, deflected by no particular wit or even embarrassment.
The guitar, though, redeems him. It's perpetually scalding in Thorogood's preponderant Chuck Berry moods (on Chuck's own "No Particular Place to Go" and Thorogood's bop-titled disciple piece "Back to Wentsville"), both on the new record and in concert. His other three grooves - straight boogies like John Lee Hooker's "New Boogie Chillun," Britishy blues ballads like "Bad to the Bone," and old Diddley thompers thrown in from earlier records for the gig - are too predictable by contrast, despite the old Savory Brown crash thunder he can milk (for example, from the album's title tune). When he's of a mind, though, Thorogood almost shreds the sound, rewashing its elements - the whole goddam tradition - and even pressuring it in certain supreme moments, almost like such preeminent rhythm guitarists of his generation as Greg Ginn of Black Flag or the Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce.
But however rich Thorogood may be on wax, his live performances appear to have becomebighall trash scenes (biz success maybe), at least on the evidence of both Thorogood'sdemeanor last Saturday and that of the devoted neorednecks who came to hear him - I counted only one CAT hat but innumerable flannel shirts and beer cans. Rolling determinedly butprogrammatically through his major grooves, Thorogood reminded me of an otherwiseperfecto-knit Orleans playing an aggressively lazy concert some years ago - dispiriting as hell compared to the hot wax. If I used to find Thorogood appalling, he's now in danger of becoming tedious - except, of course, when he chases Chuck.
Such uneven performance betokens Thorogood's symptomatic rather than monumental status. Unfortunately, my desire to let p--k wipe away the distinction between manner and matter doesn't help when people act under authenticity's preconceptions anyway - too often they end up ventriloquizing both their sources and their crowds without ever realizing it. Like the narrator of Thorogood's recover of Dylan's "Wanted Man," Thorogood's music, especially live, is everywhere and nowhere at once, not quite sure what it is. Neither am I. "Wanted Man" is an expression (among other things) of the inevitable anonymity of the traditional artist, though in Thorogood's hands it can get pathetically literal. Done rather anachronistically as a picking ballad on acoustic, it describes the Singer in a light like Thorogood's own: "I might be in Colorado or Georgia by the sea/Working for some man who may not know who I might be."
Young and supple enough to take advantage of influence rather than be captured by it, Thorogood seems nonetheless too recalcitrant, too bound to the habits of the roadhouse to move beyond his present level without a bigger conception and a bigger (or somebody else's) band. If he fails to understand just what he's got in his hands, he can aspire only to heavier metal and (maybe) money.

Originally published in The Village Voice, December 7, 1982

10/16/10

Alienating Alienation: Fredric Jameson's Revisionary Romance

by Perry Meisel

The Political Unconscious. By Fredric Jameson. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Modernist as Fascist. By Fredric Jameson. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979.


What stirred Freud on his first visit to Rome in 1901 - as it had George Eliot and Walter Pater before him - was the disconcerting lesson that the city's form was its content. It was decay, the very decay of Europe inscribed in the "Eternal City," that startled in Freud its recognition and defense. A modernist reading of this episode would gloss it as an allegory of the soul's privation in a world of crumbling values. Yet the revolutionary side of this, Freud's representative experience, is not allegorical but structural. For in such a moment of vision we find the exemplary collapse of the Romantic oppositions that had organized Freud's early thought and then transformed it: form/content, self/other, subject/object, reader/text, consciousness/unconscious.
It has taken years for the consequences of this collapse to spell itself out in the various disciplines or gazes it invokes. And only in the dissemination of (post-)structuralist thought over the last decade or so have the consequences grown formalized enough to produce anything like the mighty narratological machinery engineered in the United States by Fredric Jameson. Especially significant is that Jameson's most recent work - The Political Unconscious and Fables of Aggression: Wyndham Lewis, the Modernist as Fascist- goes out of its way to restore to criticism in the current continental mode what its often lewd and ignorant opposition claims it lacks: an ambition beyond mere "formalism," some evidence against its supposedly aggressive contempt for "referentiality." Both The Political Unconscious and Fables of Aggression are monuments to the renewal or, really, the reinsertion of what we might call the referential imperative that proceeds directly from (rather than against) what Jameson will polemically call the "windless closure of the formalisms."
Key to the problem of referentiality for Jameson's noninstrumental or nonmimetic view of language is the problem of what really mediates social life and literary language. If language doesn't simply mirror the world, in what fashion does it refer? Much of the strength of Jameson's revisionist Marxist intervention derives from the answer to the question provided by the French refocusing on what in Marx is crucial, a project historically analogous to the great though troubled rereading of Freud begun by Lacan and recentered by Laplanche and (silently and negatively) by Foucault. Lacan's counterpart in the Marxist tradition is Althusser, and Pierre Macherey Jameson's Laplanche. Even the title of Macherey's Theory of Literary Production (Paris, 1966) already reverberates with the metaphorical linkage it enacts - a rapprochement between the production of goods and the production of texts. Needless to say, Lacan's rereading of Freud lighted on a metaphor in psychoanalysis structurally similar to the metaphor of production in Marx (note also the advanced efficiency with which it explained both Freud's system and its revisionary ratios). In psychoanalysis what had been revalorized - largely by an act of retranslation - were the Freudian notions of psychic economy and psychic investment (the latter a reappropriation of James Strachey's Hellenizing version of Besetzung, "cathexis"). Marx's language allowed art and ideology to find far closer and reflexive relations to the means of production than they seemed to have before.
Though Jameson himself is quick to refute the production analogy as a homology (one evidence perhaps of his certain indebtedness to it), it is nonetheless from this level of presupposition that his project is set in motion. The rejection of homology is in fact part of what Jameson claims the restoration of the category of mediation makes plausible all over again, namely, the staggered or "dialogical" relation between the social order and its symbolic products. Rather than an isomorphic relation between base and superstructure - for example, the production of material goods is structurally equivalent to the production of cultural goods - Jameson proposes the (only slightly) more complex notion that artistic texts are ideological products that try to escape or outwit the contradiction inherent in the production of goods as such. Thus the task of ideological production is to rewrite the contradiction as a "coherent" narrative.
Central, then, is the definition of ideology, which Jameson takes from Althusser's deconstruction of the classic Marxist opposition between base and superstructure. Ideology, says Althusser, is "the imaginary representation of the subject's relationship to his or her real conditions of existence." Jameson "refines" Althusser's definition "by distinguishing between such an 'imaginary representation' and its narrative conditions of possibility." To determine the latter, Jameson revalorizes the aesthetic in such a way as to "complete" Althusser, as he puts it, by offering, in Fables of Aggression, the following notion of aesthetic value as a methodological proposition: "that great art distances ideology by the way in which, endowing the latter with figuration and with narrative articulation, the text frees its ideological content to demonstrate its own contradictions: by the sheer formal immanence with which an ideological system exhausts its permutations and ends up projecting its own ultimate structural closure." Hence the privileged status of literature as a means of studying in action what Gramsci called "hegemony." "Ideology is not something which informs or invests symbolic productions," writes Jameson in The Political Unconscious. "Rather the aesthetic act is itself ideological, and the production of aesthetic or narrative form is to be seen as an ideological act in its own right, with the function of inventing imaginary or formal 'solutions' to unresolvable social contradictions."
Thus Jameson's object is to intercept aesthetic form at is historical limit, indicating closures and/or breaks rather than narrating - overtly at least - a development or teleology that (in)directly causes or even governs the shifts his choice of texts enacts (modernism in the Lewis book, the movement from Balzac's classical realism to Conrad's impressionism in The Political Unconscious). And though ideology is narrative (and vice versa), history itself cannot be narrated as such because it is - Jameson uses another of Althusser's formulations - the always "absent cause" (like the Freudian unconscious) that the critic or historian can only reconstruct after the fact, as a paradigm or model installed retroactively by the act of analysis.
If Jameson's Marxism is largely Althusserian, the precise source of his methodological apparatus is in turn Lévi-Strauss's "The Structural Study of Myth," that central essay in which (the) myth(ological) is apprehended (as Barthes would also show) as an ideological structure. This structure is ideological in Althusser's exact sense: "as the imaginary resolution," as Jameson puts it, "of a real contradiction." But the myth's ideology is also structural, yielding thus to the analysis of its terms. Presented at length in The Political Unconscious, the Jamesonian "permutational scheme" (in his usage, always referred to as a combinatoire) is a structuralist invention designed to supersede the impossible options now open to "normal" criticism: "between antiquarianism and modernizing 'relevance' or projection." Such a "double bind" is especially familiar - indeed, exacerbated - in the study of pre-Romantic writers such as Shakespeare (did Hamlet have a "character problem" before the nineteenth century gave him one?), the history of whose criticism is, more than any other, a history of criticism's own historical determinations. In pre-Renaissance writers such as Chaucer, the "double bind" is especially obvious, forced as scholars are to choose between Talbot Donaldson's modernist, virtually Proustian reading of Chaucerian narration and D.W. Robertson's absolutist historicism, insisting, contra Donaldson, that Chaucer is unreadable without learning one's way back into the knowledge and presuppositions of the Middle Ages - only, of course, to remain there.
The specific elements Jameson has plugged into Lévi-Strauss's compensation structure are each familiar enough (semiotics, psychoanalysis, Marxism), although it is in the exchange among the three levels of analysis it projects that its peculiar strength is to be found. Before showing how the combinatoire works in practical criticism, let us quickly sketch its components in more detail:
(1) The introduction of Greimas's semiotic rectangle in order to diagram the binary oppositions that organize a given fiction's options: the ideals to which its world can aspire (usually through its characters), and the levels to which it can sink.
(2) The use of psychoanalysis at a Derridean level of apprehension: that is, narrative (like memory or language) as an exercise in simultaneous cancellation and preservation (the model of mind that emerges in Freud's "Note on the 'Mystic-Writing Pad'").
(3) The use of an Althusserian notion of mediation which seeks the closures of the resolution that a given text tries to perform upon its own "raw materials." It is also at this level that we see what Jamesonian mediation promises to produce: that opening onto the real or to history that emerges against the horizon of ideological closure dis-closed by the first two steps of analysis (what a given text resists, its "absent or unrepresentable infrastructural limiting system"). Thus the modernist ideology of ressentiment as Jameson describes it in an unlikely chapter on Gissing - the familiar modernist ideology of a restive resistance to civilization - becomes itself no more than the inverse of the order to which it is opposed, and so exposes not only the slavery of avant-garde sensibility to the master it seeks to dethrone, but also the shared capture of both sides of the (now sham) struggle within the same epistemic closure. Liberation and repression can be thought only in relation to each other.
In Fables of Aggression, Jameson appeals to Deleuze's and Guattari's distinction between the molecular and molar levels of narrative as a means of shifting his gaze from one level of his combinatoire to another, the levels in turn of a narrative's molecular and micro-components ("style," figural motifs) and its shaping or containing strategies at a more holistic level (often that of genre, such as the imposition of a romance tag in the second half of Lord Jim). Nor is the "unity" of a work what the combinatoire is designed to register and unpack.
From Jameson's point of view, the novel is therefore a privileged form, not only because it is the classic site of production of the bourgeois subject, nor even because ideology understood as narrative has no more exact expression than in the mechanisms of prose fiction. No, the novel is significant above all because it is a genre that takes earlier genres - as well as the codes of contemporary social life and value and their histories - as its own "raw materials" or "ideologemes." Jameson's notion of the novel is, from the start, that of the representation of representations even in its moments of realist desire. For even the classical realist is in fact reflexive, since the signifiers of his text are drawn from the signs that constitute the culture he depicts: if life itself is a matrix of sign systems, then representational art is always already a kind of (meta)commentary. Here the full extent of Jameson's particular debt to Bakhtin emerges, since these representations or ideologemes are the sedimented inheritances of social and aesthetic laws of every kind and description, laws or languages with which a "novel" (including what Jameson calls the "artificial" or vernacular epic) is, by definition, in constant and polyphonic dialogue (Bakhtin's "heteroglossia" or "dialogism" proper).
How does the combinatoire work in practice? In truncated form in a reading of Wuthering Heights: The question of Heathcliff's status as villain or hero is dismissed as a "disguise," his apparent centrality merely a function of his role as donor in the sedimented genre of the folktale (here Propp emerges behind Greimas) at work in the novel as an ideologeme. Though Heathcliff is no longer "the hero or protagonist in any sense of the word," the text nonetheless "deliberately" projects such a "misreading" to cover his function as "a mediator and a catalyst" in "his twofold mission . . . to restore money to the family and to reinvent a new idea of passion." (The habits of mind produced by this kind of narratological exercise even allow Jameson such provocative throwaways as the following brief meditation on the nature of tragedy and our customary interpretation of it: "Neither Creon nor Iago can be read as villains without dispersing the tragic force of the plays; yet our irresistible temptation to do so tells us much about the hold of ethical categories on our mental habits.")
With Jameson's reading of Balzac, we can watch the combinatoire stretch out a bit more. The semiotic rectangle allows Jameson to map out social inconsistencies or contradictions in a given novel as precise antinomies. Presented as a series of logical permutations, they offer fictional ways out of the "intolerable closure" of thought and action described by the diagram in order to produce a "solution" realizable only at the level of the imaginary or ideological. Thus in La Vieille Fille, Mademoiselle Cormon's two suitors come to represent (as productions of the "anthropomorphic combinations" of historically given possibilities that generate "characters") a double bind with no apparent escape: the impossible coexistence of Napoleonic energy and bourgeois impotence on the one hand (Du Bousquier) and, on the other, of languor and the (once-)legitimate power of the ancien regime (the Chevalier). Mademoiselle Cormon is thus denied an acceptable "match" from either point of view, since neither produces the ideal permutation that history has already taken away: energy combined with aristocracy. Hence the appearance of the exiled aristocratic officer, the Count de Troisville, who represents in a single figure what the other two cannot: the "legitimacy" of an aristocratic lineage and the almost "bourgeois" energy of a Napoleon. But because the count is already married, the solution or "match" can be thought at the only level proper to it - the imaginary. The count's emergence produces what Jameson calls the novel's "horizon figure," one who "blocks out a place which is not that of empirical history but of a possible alternate one: a history in which some genuine restoration would still be possible, provided the aristocracy could learn this particular object lesson, namely that it needs a strong man who combines aristocratic values with Napoleonic energy."
With Conrad we come to the edge of the history The Political Unconscious narrates (the earlier Lewis book continues the later one's historical trajectory into modernism proper), largely because Conrad's work embodies a "fault line" at which the nineteenth-century reduction of experience to the psychological subject reaches its outer limit. What Jameson calls Conrad's "sensorium" - the tendency of perceptual impressions to replace the objects which prompt them - is a "strategy of aestheticization," which turns the object world into a virtual museum by means of fetishizing the "independence of the image," thus recontaining it politically. Hence emerge (as one theorization) those ideologies of autonomous art, formalism, and so on, that may be said to (be able to) derive from the novel's first part (and that Conrad himself sought to guard against even earlier in the preface to The Nigger of the 'Narcissus'). And yet because this first theorization threatens to collapse under the burden of what it represses, the text must produce a second part that will recontain what is socially dangerous in it (here we may recall too that Conrad interrupted composition of the novel at its midpoint):
On the one hand the manifest level of the content of Lord Jim . . . gives us to believe that the "subject" of this book is courage and cowardice, which we are meant to interpret in ethical and existentializing terms; on the other, the final consumable verbal commodity - the vision of the ship - the transformation of all these realities into style and the work of what we will call the impressionistic strategy of modernism whose function is to derealize the content and make it available for consumption on some purely aesthetic level; while in between these two, the brief clang from the boiler room that drives the ship marking the presence beneath ideology and appearance of that labor which produces and reproduces the world itself, and which, like the attention of God in Berkeleyan idealism, sustains the whole fabric of reality continuously in being . . . .

Thus the second half of Lord Jim is, according to Jameson, little more than melodrama (shades of the later Conrad?), which functions to recognize the explosive possibilities of the first half under the (now-)archaic genre of romance. Lord Jim becomes, then, an "ideological fable designed to transform into a matter of individual existence what is in reality a relationship between collective systems and social forms."
Focused as it is on the self-erasing structure of ideology or "mythology," Jameson's exemplary reading of Conrad's novel is obviously not limited to use of modernist, novelistic, or even canonical texts alone. The same sort of operation motivates many television advertisements today: Beta Max commercials, for example, about the simultaneous marriage of quadruplets - copies of copies for copies - bearing the "unifying" or recontaining "logo" "the one and only"; or even news shows advertising paintings of their video images as proof of their "originality." (Mary Tyler Moore had already only a few years before demystified the latter by making the production of a news show its enabling comic fiction.) Jameson's analysis of founding modernist documents such as Lord Jim, then, actually uncovers and elaborates the paradigm that produces ideological formations even in their broadest contemporary manifestations in popular culture.
Nostromo, too, indicates the limits of its ideological closure, but, as Jameson shows, in a way that inverts the strategy of Lord Jim, and, in the process, allows the later novel to touch upon history in a manner the earlier one cannot. For in Nostromo, the apparently psychological or personal drama of Decoud and Nostromo produces the emergence of the far more genuinely public drama that they secretly represent: "a narrative production of society itself" in their passage from nature to culture as they cross the gulf with their lighter of silver. But the cost of this production (the nuances of its development are too elaborate to recapitulate here) is the repression of one form of popular insurrection in the service of the new culture (the Montero brothers, whose "caesarism," as Jameson calls it, disallows them the right to represent "democracy" in a separatist occidental republic), in favor of another version, that of old Viola and the spirit of Garibaldi. The phenomenon, says Jameson, is "akin to Freudian splitting," whereby the "bad double" of the Monteros is canceled (even as it is preserved) by the valorization, instead, of the European (and so "properly" Latin) representation of revolution.
In the earlier Fables of Aggression, the combinatoire (there only implicitly formulated) performs similar work on Wyndham Lewis's corpus, and allows us to see the strategy of recontainment at work in a starker manner than in either Balzac or Conrad. At the molecular level of Lewis's sentences, argues Jameson, the trope of hypallage is privileged and therefore symptomatic: this is the trope by which an adjective comes to refer to a substantive different from the one to which it is assigned by the grammatical context. The opening of Lewis's 1917 Cantleman's Spirng Mate displays hypallage exactly: "Cantleman walked in the strenuous fields . . . ." Thus, remarks Jameson, "The attributes of actor or act are transferred onto the dead scenery . . . . 'Properties' come loose and stick to the wrong places." Metaphor, to put it another way, yields up its secret status as metonymy, thus collapsing the sacred difference between the languages of prose and poetry (at least in Jakobson's influential reading). And the point of Lewis's aggressive use of hypallage? To "transform the figurative into the literal," and so to "kick . . . away the metaphorical apparatus by which we have risen into the figural."
Before the consequences of such a claim rebound upon the later Lewis, however, the simple recontainment strategy of the "national allegory" of his early fiction will do, since his text does little to threaten it, hence gives it little to repress. "National allegory," after all, retains all those categories of essence and original qualities (racial type and so on) that are in fact vouchsafed by a prose that believes itself closer to the real than any literary language before it. For any speech with so much faith in its ability to achieve a higher verisimilitude must presume not only the existence of a natural and/or object world independent of language, but also the existence of fixed, universal essences that metaphysically - rather than socially - determine the fabric of social law from a transhistorical, archetypal, ultimately racist point of view.
The break in Lewis's career comes, however, when the earlier molecular strategy of a "literal" prose ends up deconstructing the conditions of its own possibility, admitting the price of its readability:
This complex narrative operation thus involves a four-term process. The novelist establishes an initial "literal" (which is to say, "fictive") situation, only immediately to fragment it into the building blocks and components of a new allegorical and thematic textual narrative, which has little enough thematic relationship to the original. The reader is then obliged to begin with the fragments of the allegory, which must be reconstructed in narrative form before the first-degree or "realistic" narrative can be deduced and inserted beneath the text as the latter's signified.
Yet this signified exists nowhere: it is an evanescent effect of the reader's own "prior knowledge" or existential experience, which comes before him/her with the force of something already known, something recognized, rather than witnessed for the first time.

So in order to repress the inauthenticity (in the Frankfurt Jameson's vocabulary) of modern life, Lewis is forced to invent a new kind of molar recontainment that will repress - that will (in the vocabulary of the Derridean Jameson) preserve and cancel at one and the same time - the utterly figurative nature of the "raw materials" of both life and literature. And what danger does its leakage threaten to expose? That of the "crisis" of the "authentic self," as it is dispersed into a vortex of ideologemes, transformed into what Jameson calls, following Jean-Francois Lyotard, a "libidinal apparatus." So the new vision that "displaces the crisis of the self" as it is decentered into a force field of dialogical proportions is the recontaining myth of the "strong personality" (Lewis's "proto-fascism" and its lineage in the earlier "national allegory"). By aligning the determinate possibilities of existence in a semiotic rectangle that allows only such judgments as weak/strong, mediocre/masterful, the only possible imaginary solution is that of the "strong personality."
To resuscitate Lewis, however, is also (and here Jameson follows Lewis himself exactly) to dismiss those canonical modernists situated squarely within Romantic tradition such as Joyce and Virginia Woolf. The repression (through a strong misreading) of Woolf and Joyce alike is symptomatic at a number of levels, especially when we remember that the "libidinal apparatus" is dramatized with far more pungency and authority in Woolf (or even Lawrence) than in Lewis (that "jar on the nerves," as Woolf puts it, skewing subjectivity in her fiction); or even more, when we recall that the decentering of the subject at the mercy of the raw materials of the vortex becomes an older Stephen Dedalus's overweening preoccupation in Ulysses. Of course, the flooding of a weak novelist by a strong critic is probably the real motivation for both Jameson's choice of Lewis and the swerve from canonical orthodoxy, even though the strategy carries in its train other side effects as well, especially the questionable endorsement of only those writers who practice an overtly "dialogical" prose fiction - James and Beckett in particular. (Why Jameson is willing to grant a separatist legitimacy to a postmodern literature still almost wholly within the debt of Joyce remains enigmatic.)
Surely, then, the dialogical appeals to Jameson not only because it describes the novel equally well from both a dialectical and a differential point of view, but also because it mirrors the structure of his own imagination so neatly. As a tissue of relations to other discourses and traditions, Jameson's own discourse constantly shifts its relations to its relations - moving, most characteristically, from Derrida in one phrase to the Frankfurt hermeneutic in the next - and can thereby change its entire range or play of epistemological coordinates from moment to moment in a transpositional strategy at once exhilarating and exasperating. To invoke Jameson's use of Bakhtin in his own defense is therefore a necessity as Jameson moves through the dialogical operations of the combinatoire by means of what he himself calls an "unavoidable shifting of gears." But whether this is all a calculated effect or simply the overflow of a sensibility overdetermined to the point of saturation remains for us to consider. Does Jameson's text, dialogical as it may be, perform the "critical return upon itself" that Jameson maintains all texts should display as a sign of auto-accountability, of what he calls the necessity of "reflexive play" in analysis?

*

Surely the relative autonomy that Althusser gives to art requires aesthetic discourse to play at the limits of its possibilities. Jameson is, of course, a critic at the limit, but also a critic at a moment of crisis as he comes into his maturity. However, can we legitimately address Jameson's project in the vocabulary of those now-suspect Romantic terms: development, style? And what of Jameson's often rawly layered prose, an insufficient irony, even an insufficient truculence? Can we say such things without presuppositions of personality and expressiveness that the Derridean (if not the Frankfurt) conscience forbids? Is Jameson's intent simply to reject the problem of style altogether in favor of a dialogism that can border on a resurrection of the Imitative Fallacy? Does Jameson genuinely relinquish the pose of the critic as sensibility in favor of the critic as mere functionary or sieve for the knowledges (sciences) that leak through his text? Or, by contrast, is Marxism itself an elaborate defense mechanism by which he can, in conscience, allow himself to dodge the question of his status as a writer under the shelter of the collective?
Lest we be accused of ideological capture by speaking of what may seem to be "style" in the quaint sense, let us recall that our purpose is not to reconstitute an Author, but to indicate gaps in the text's accounting machinery. One trope by which we can intervene in the problem of thinking the "collective" (for we do retain, as Deleuze and Guattari remind us, our "bodies" and our "pleasures") is to reconsider that agency identified by another hybrid kind of criticism as the Reader (the best of it indebted to the last, decisive paragraphs of Barthes's "Death of the Author"). Who is the Reader if not precisely that absent but organizing agency that Jameson seeks in his attempt to find an equally totalizing subject to follow, even to rival (with all the requisite epistemological hedges) history in Althusser's sense, or the unconscious in Freud's? And what better model to mediate not only the dialogical relations already in place in a text of the past (Jameson's aim), but also to mediate in turn the additional relation of the belated Reader to the dialogical brew?
And yet despite whatever accommodations may be possible at the level of redefining the collective, grayer difficulties emerge when we consider the stamina with which Jameson defends the classical Marxist notion of alienation within the vortex of a postauthenticist deconstruction of the mythology of voice and presence (hence it is tempting to reconsider the trope of alienation, like much of the terminology of classical Marxism, as an ideologeme in its own right). From an immediate point of view, of course, no one can doubt that certain laborers are alienated from their work by a structure of relation quite different from the intellectual's. And yet to insist, as Jameson does, on a relative identity is not only to presume some "nature" from which "we" are supposedly estranged, but also to reconstitute that homology between the production of goods and of thought that Jameson himself rejects.
As the Lewis book attests, Jameson knows well enough that alienation is not simply the precondition of the artist as we know him. It is (also) his precise goal. In the Romantic case above all, the "originality" of the artist and his work - even of personality as such - is a product of precisely the degree of alienation from precedent that allows us to see something else, something "new" emerge from its sources in force fields whose agency the "new" text wishes to cancel ("individual talent") even as it preserves ("tradition"). This is, of course, the very structure of Lewis's problematic (and therefore exemplary) modernity, the separation that defines connection that in turn requires separation that in turn requires connection, and so on. Jameson correctly identifies this chiasmatic or transgressive schema as the recurrent structure of the modernist imagination, but the curious denial of its primary novelistic exponents returns again as a symptom that must mean something else.
Why, then, the repression of Romantic modernism despite its even richer possibilities for Jameson's argument than Lewis? Largely because it allows Jameson to repress that which Marx seems to go out of his way to avoid but which The Political Unconscious reconstitutes - or, better, recontains - in its final, and quite unexpected, chapter. There Jameson simply asserts an avowedly utopist view of what we might call the "socialist projection," a view of history as "a single vast unfinished plot," with the Marxist garden/resurrection marking the limits of its desire. Astonishingly enough - especially given the gear marked "Althusser" - here Jameson fully recuperates those apparently offhand Frankfurt tropes scattered throughout his text - the "fallen world of capitalism," the "radical impoverishment and constriction of modern life" - in order to produce the terms of an argument guaranteed (like the arguments of the canonical high modernists he deplores) to result in that Eliot/Lukacs (!) view of contemporary society as one of "reification" (the latter as much an ideologeme now as alienation). In fact, we may even say The Political Unconscious is structured very much like Lord Jim: it recontains at the molar level of the romance of Marxism the molecular level of deconstructive insurgencies of a practical critic who, like the text of the first part of Lord Jim, is already beyond the closure of the macro-text's inevitably frustrated strategy of recuperation. Despite Jameson's rejection of Hayden White's reading of Marxist historiography as romance in structure, Jameson quite clearly means to perceive the truth of the romance or the humanist argument - the Frankfurt reading of Marx - even as he cancels it with the voice of the French, Althusserian rereading. And to say that Marx is, like Hegel or Freud, a product of Romantic tradition anyway is to say nothing new.
By what transdiscursive authority, then, can Jameson speak of an ability to achieve what no philosophy has ever achieved - freedom from the closure his work describes? Even the simplest formulations make the problematic of prognosis a delicate one indeed, whether Freud's ("Only a wish can impel the psychic apparatus to activity"), or Marx's own, which reaches its limit in the fragility of the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach. The authority to which Jameson appeals, of course, is that of Marxism itself, to that (representation of a) "resistance to matter" which is, as he puts it, the crucial third term missing both in Derridean difference and in the (ultimately non-)dialectic of Hegel's master/slave relation. It is here that the ultimate instance of Jameson's self-accounting (or lack of it) emerges, and it lies in the difference, as it were, between dialectic and difference. Whether there is such a difference or not is the central but largely repressed question that Jameson himself raises only briefly, in the relative safety of an aside in Fables of Aggression. (In The Political Unconscious, he directly rejects any identity between the two procedures.) To try to mediate between a notion of differance and dialectic is, as Jameson suggests in an underdeveloped footnote in the later book, to appeal to another notion of temporality altogether (here the readerly alternative of Nachträglichkeit, or belatedness, recurs).
But the question remains: Do Derrida and, through Nachträglichkeit, Hegel, deconstruct Marx's "contradictions" into Foucault's chiasmatic, productive oppositions, the force fields of the symbolic, the very structure of ideological closure? If Marxism is a "romance" (whether Jameson assents or not), then its transcendental signified is the production of precisely that absent third term whose presence, as Jameson well knows (whether it is history, the unconscious, or the Real) is marked only by its absence. Indeed, the very reflexivity by which Jameson tries to have his garden and deconstruct it too is Derridean rather than properly dialectical (for the dialogical can also be read either way): "to invent a space from which to think . . . two identical yet antagonistic features together all at once." Of course, what emerges in this double definition is also what emerges when we note that the structure of surplus value in Marx - the difference between a worker's pay and the value of the object his labor produces, the classical measure of his alienation - is also the structure of signification as such for Derrida: the necessity of a surplus or residue of the always-already against which all that may be must come into being.

*

Despite these inevitable difficulties - even despite the fact that the irritation they often engender can become an odd source of pleasure - we owe to Jameson, as to no other Anglo-American critic, the debt of a profound politico-aesthetic revelation and example. It is not surprising, then, to find that, unlike the relatively recent Fables of Aggression, the newer Political Unconscious is addressed to a public rather more general than Jameson's work has presumed to address before. Life Geoffrey Hartman's Criticism in the Wilderness, it is additional evidence of avant-garde criticism giving way to the necessity of a more public stance, already a symptom of the resistance to theory that now becomes a subject in its own right. Such resistance suggests, of course, that public issues of the gravest significance are at question, especially the question of political action itself. Given Jameson's attraction to Nietzsche's deconstruction of antinomies such as good and evil, might not his own ideologemic position suggest in turn the historicization of left and right as we crest a new wave in history?
Jameson's most powerful contribution to the politics of theory, then, is not simply the referential yield of his rigorous discipleship to European criticism, nor even the practical fusion his work enacts between New York social criticism and New Haven close analysis. It lies instead, in the final instance, in the force with which it pressures the necessity, intentional or not, of rethinking the political agenda through the cautionary epistemologies that Europe has produced as the price for its dead.

Originally published in October 22, Fall 1982

L’Affect et l’affectation dans la culture contemporaine

by Perry Meisel
Nous évaluons d’habitude la vie et l’art d’après des coordonnées analytiques où—même quand elles empruntent le nom de Freud—il n’est plus question de ce qui est vraiment à l’œuvre dans le tissu quotidien de la culture contemporaine. C’est le prix qu’elles payent pour le fait d’y vivre, je suppose. Même Freud n’a pas pénétré suffisamment nos esprits pour rendre les choses plus claires. Vous me corrigerez si je ne parle ici que de la vie intellectuelle en Amérique. Notre aveuglement quant à ce que veut dire l’inconscient est bien sûr un symptôme due problème qui se pose à nous aujourd’hui. C’est le problème de la différence, que nous évoquons silencieusement ou non, à tout moment : la différence entre affect et affectation, authenticité et fiction, sincérité et parure.
Les registres qu’il recouvre comprennent d’autres différences significatives pour la façon dont nous organisons notre pensée entre le privé et le public, l’impulsion et l’autorité, la transgression et la loi…la liste est virtuellement infinie. C’est même une différence qui nous a fait mettre en croix nos dirigeants élus, à cette époque d’authenticité qui est en train de s’achever, et dont les chapitres portent les noms de Profumo, Nixon, Jeremy Thorpe.
Rien que ceci soit ordinairement la pâte dont est faite la psychobiographie vulgaire, son expression la plus concise et représentative est sans doute littéraire. On la trouve chez Norman Mailer, dans Un rêve américain en 1964. La myopie des suppositions contenues dans la citation qui suit, au sujet de ce que les psychologues de l’égo appellent « l’identité » sera en fait corrigée par Mailer lui-même, comme nous le verrons, dans la ligne de la critique de l’authenticité que nous entreprenons aujourd’hui. Voici ce passage exemplaire de Mailer au milieu de sa carrière, et la notion fondatrice—que nous partageons avec lui—de ce que le héros supporte afin d’arriver à être un symbole public. « Je voudrais—dit le Rojack de Mailer—m’éloigner de la politique avant d’être à jamais séparé de moi-même par la distance entre mon aspect public, qui était devenu primordial à la télévision, apparence presque robuste en fait, et mon histoire d’amour secrète et effarouchée avec les phases de la lune. »
C’est précisément l’éclatement de la différence entre l’affect et l’affectation, le privé et le public, le sentiment et la façade qui menace de détruire Rojack, en tant que politicien dans Un rêve américain.
Et cependant, ironiquement, ce n’est que l’imminent effondrement de cette différence qui permet d’en sentir la valeur ou le sens. C’est, paradoxalement, l’épreuve par laquelle nous n’espérons pas découvrir cette valeur. Essayer d’évaluer l’absence de différence entre affect et affectation, que nous appelons caractère ou intégrité, c’est rechercher une différence qui contient déjà sa propre impossibilité.

Un rêve américain

Cette façon rhétorique de priver de leurs moyens de production certaines machines idéologiques comme le moi n’est pas le seul fait du domaine de la subjectivité. Comme nous le savons bien, parmi les procédures techniques, qu’emploient également la littérature et la psychanalyse se trouve la primauté du langage, spécialement le langage de la narration et de la mémoire qui compose aussi bien les vies que les romans. Tout comme, par exemple, l’absence souhaitée d’une différence entre l’affect et l’authenticité d’un caractère à la fois en nous-mêmes et chez les autres—c’est le problème qui inquiète Rojack « l’authenticité »--de même la coupure nulle, dans le récit, entre ce que les formalistes russes appellent récit et histoire entre le temps du récit et le temps de l’histoire racontée est le moteur du désir qui nous fait lire jusqu’au bout un livre ou continuer de regarder un film. En fait la coupure du récit avec l’histoire, qui cherche à atteindre l’authenticité d’une histoire dans la forme particulière du désir narratif propre et endémique au discours réaliste est un des plus claires modèles auxquels nous puissions faire appel pour élucider les différences opérationnelles qui produisent le désir dans tous ses registres—l’un des plus clair tout spécialement parce que son éclatement est aussi compliqué dès le début par l’assurance de sa propre impossibilité. Par la nécessité du gommage de sa première activité organisatrice dans la soumission à ce qu’elle produit.
Et il y a un modèle qui est encore plus réduit pour ce que nous voulons montrer, c’est la notion spécifique à Harold Bloom du trope, qui situe cet impossible désir de l’identité entre l’affectation, désir naturel à la subjectivité comme au langage littéraire. Pour Bloom—comme pour Derrida—le trope est le trope du chiasme, une figure qui nous permet de voir que le système du désir—c’est-à-dire de la référence comme telle—n’est pas réel empiriquement, mais est une structure rhétorique qui situe l’affect et l’affectation comme fonctions l’une de l’autre. (Je passe ici sur la question maintenant traditionnelle de l’emploi de « structure » dans le contexte de la temporalité.) Le chiasme, par définition, inverse les termes d’une proposition donnée—par exemple : la littérature de science, la science de la littérature—et se propose ainsi comme modèle pour la façon dont est produit l’espace à la fois du personnage et du action. Bloom l’appelle contamination dans écart vis-à-vis de Derrida—et ses exemples incluent la tactique rhétorique du texte de Freud, par laquelle la mutuellement, en une structure de contamination ou de chiasme mutuel. Suivant Laplanche, par exemple, Bloom prétend que la conduite s’appuie rétrospectivement sur une défense qui la précède au niveau de l’histoire mais qui la suit au niveau du récit. C’est le nœud que Lacan noue au niveau du langage littéraire et aussi de la défense psychique, faisant de sa structure chiasmatique une fonction de la référentialité inventive du discours de Freud.
Mais bien que nous puissions faire appel à Bloom, à Lacan, ou à Derrida pour la boucle qui constitue les structures homologues de la subjectivité aussi bien que du récit—interrogeons plutôt une évidence sociale—comme Freud lui-même plutôt que de nous en tenir uniquement au niveau de la théorie. Interrogeons en fait, pour les symptômes, le caractère dramatique, dramatistique, au même dramaturgique de l’histoire contemporaine telle qu’elle se joue à travers l’instrumentalité patente des media. Des exemples à la fois récents et immédiats peuvent être facilement donnés : tout comme la fiction du nettoyage produit par Watergate avait sa racine dans le désir de supprimer la différence entre l’affect et l’affectation—de même un livre comme la nouvelle biographie d’Elvis Presley par Albert Goldman n’insiste pas seulement sur la différence entre le public et le privé. Il fait aussi apparaître le gain idéologique obtenu en faisant la séparation : la possibilité de rendre compte (et dans le cas de Goldman, presque de rejeter) d’un succès public ou artistique comme celui d’Elvis par les vices privés de la personnalité dont le nom y est lié. Le fait que l’on peut considérer la situation dans l’autre sens (l’antisémitisme de Pound, par exemple, coexistant avec sa réputation plutôt que la ruinant véritablement) est en fait une preuve supplémentaire de notre argumentation plutôt que sa réfutation.
Mais s’il y a un discours culturel pour lequel est central à la fois le danger et le désir, le handicap et l’inévitabilité, de l’éclatement de la différence fondatrice bien qu’impossible entre affect et affectation, c’est la pop-music, le rock en particulier. Dans l’art-rock de Manhattan—dans ce qu’on a appelé punk depuis le milieu des années 70—notre querelle théorique sur la différence entre affect et affectation est une question primordiale.
Il est assez facile d’aligner la structure de la problématique punk avec les structures de la subjectivité et du récit par lesquelles nous avons commencé. Dans la boucle de la subjectivité comme dans celle du récit, il y a le produit d’une différence impossible mais désirée entre ce que se trouvait là et ce que se trouvera là—entre le récit et l’histoire, la mémoire et le souvenir : dans le rock l’organisation même de l’espace discoursif procède directement d’une série de doubles significations presqu’avouées. Ces procédés exposent dès le départ les opérations rhétoriques—en fait, chiasmatique—par lesquelles nous plaçons nos normes au rang des dieux.

Le chiasme en action

Je prends pour texte central—texte qui a fourni à mon article son titre et ses termes essentiels—un morceau du premier groupe punk, le plus grand groupe de rock de la décades, les Ramones, morceau intitulé I’m affected dans un album récent End of the Century. Le « double entendre » du titre du morceau, qui et aussi le chœur qui retentit encore et encore dans le morceau, éclaire le paradoxe du nom de l’orchestre, et de ce fait le paradoxe du rock lui-même qui est, pour parler réthoriquement, d’exposer le chiasme en action. Ce qui bouge, ce qui est chargé « d’affect » ou d’émotion, est aussi ce qui est affecté ou simulé. Comment savoir la différence ? Pour les Ramones, la question est indécidable. Le rock est exemplaire parce qu’il est, ainsi, plein d’affectations, de maniérismes, de façon tellement connue en perdant aussi peu contenance, affectations qui nous remuent profondément alors même que nous les savons être de pure fiction, de pur rituel. (Je devrais ici prendre le temps de dire que le jeu de mots en anglais entre affect au sens freudien et affect au sens de jouer ou d’affecter un rôle ne se trouve pas dans les possibilités de son anglais. Je fonde donc le jeu de mots autour duquel s’organise notre discussion, uniquement sur la déviation poétique et séductrice qui nous est permise par l’anglais de Bloomsbury).
Le déguisement familial des Ramones est un autre exemple de la structure de leur humour, en leur faisant échanger la simple allégeance due au fait de jouer dans le même orchestre contre le sentiment (apparemment plus authentique) d’appartenir à une famille. Mais en fait, bien sur, les Ramones n’ont aucun lien de sang—le nom et la chose sont entièrement inventées—même quand ils nous tourmentent en échangeant le sang et la fiction comme des liens d’égale valeur. N’est-ce pas Joyce qui dit que la paternité peut être une fiction légale ?
La fonction qu’a le sujet parlant—ou chantant—en relation avec les modes discursifs qui déterminent son émergence est, qui plus est, le point de mire à la fois des plus récents et des meilleurs éléments de la musique punk ou New Wave. Joan Jett par exemple, chante I love rock ‘n roll, titre de son nouveau 45 tours, certainement pas comme sujet véritable, ni comme ce que nous pourrions, bizarrement, appeler une personne : mais plutôt comme canal serein entre la personnalité et le genre. Notez encore la confusion intentionnelle à l’œuvre dans les noms d’orchestres anglais comme Liquid Liquid ou Medium Medium : dans les deux cas, le même signifiant est utilisé à la fois comme adjectif et comme nom, ce qui pose les questions suivantes : quelle est la différence entre la qualité et la chose elle-même, entre la quiddité et la caractéristique, l’essence et l’attribution ? Nous évaluons nous à la mesure des choses ou des signes ? Même le nom d’un autre nouvel orchestre. A Certain Ratio, joue sur le même problème : un certain rapport est un rapport qui est à la fois précis et incertain.

Notre suprême fiction

Ainsi la raison pour laquelle nous avons l’impression que le rock est le diamant produit par la pression accumulée par l’histoire de la bohème devrait maintenant s’éclaircir. Plus que tout autre discours contemporain, il est obsédé par, et prend comme son scénario même le jeu de l’affect et de l’affectation, du sérieux et de l’imité, de l’angoisse, et de l’ironie, de l’appris et du spontané—et montre comment chacun n’est produit qu’en relation avec l’autre. Le rock ‘n roll est, pour emprunter l’expression de Wallace Stevens, nôtre suprême fiction, celle à laquelle nous croyons le plus aisément du monde, précisément parce que la bouffonnerie et la contamination qui sont secrètement à l’origine de tout ce que nous ressentons quand nous l’entendons est à présent une condition avouée de la musique, à la fois pour ceux qui la jouent et ceux qui l’écoutent.
Et le jeu chiasmatique n’est pas le seul fait de la période punk, même si ce n’est que maintenant qu’il apparaît comme le sujet du rock par excellence. Considérez, par exemple, la double signification du mot rock lui-même : ce qui remue et ce qui est inamovible. Ou considérez le vieux nom donné premier style de bohème de l’Amérique d’après guerre : Beat. Kerouac a lui-même suggéré la double signification à l’œuvre ici : être beat voulant dire à la fois être épuisé « I’m beat » et aussi se sentir en état de béatitude ou de sainteté. La transcendance vers le haut égale la transcendance vers le bas. L’affaiblissement ou la distortion sensorielles égalent la plus grande plénitude de vision—point auquel nous joignons Leary et les années soixante. On peu même mentionner Yoko Ono, son nom est-il un anagramme, qui épelle en les joignant O.K., et Oh no ? Comment évaluer même l’intention ou la distinction dans un tel cas ?
Mais revenons en à la littérature pour voir ce mode avoué de subjectivité et sa présence dans la culture « boho »comme mouvement narratif conscient. Revenons, en fait, à Norman Mailer, cette fois dans un texte très récent,The Executioner’s Song. Là il devient clair que Mailer est allé de la problématique de l’authenticité de la fiction à la fiction de l’authenticité aussi surement que l’a fait le rock lui-même. En fait, avec The Executioner’s Song, nous pouvons voir maintenant que le schéma de toute la carrière de Mailer met en récit la différence indécidable entre l’affect et l’affectation en présentant la différence, non plus comme réelle mais comme stratégique, et en fait chiasmatique. Dans le mouvement même qu’a accompli Mailer, de l’instinctualisme vulgaire due manifeste de 1952, The White Negro, à travers le moment pénible, déjà décrit, d’American Dream en 1964, jusqu'à Executioner’s Song en 1980, sa carrière est passée, consciemment ou non, peu importe, de l’essentialiste au sémiotique, du racisme latent du Beat à la poésie démocratique d’une esthétique punk. Ou, pour le dire autrement. Mailer a infléchi son point de vue, en accord avec l’époque et le tour qu’elle prenait, en lui donnant les diverses teintes que la psychanalyse elle-même a découvert progressivement à la notion qu’avait Freud du Trieb. Si le premier Mailer et aussi le Mailer de la période moyenne aimait à prendre de belles couleurs, à la Laing, l’instinctualisme gratuit du gangster nouvelle vague, The Executioner’s Song déconstruit véritablement notre notion héritée du gangster comme héro tragique en examinant la relation de l’affect et de l’affectation dans Gary Gilmore lui-même. Est-ce que la force de Gilmore vient de l’intérieur ou de l’extérieur ? Est-ce que son affect est fonction de son affectation, ou le contraire ? Ou est-ce que chaque terme n’est en fait rien de plus qu’une fonction de l’autre ?
Ce que met en récit la carrière de Mailer, le punk-rock le répète, de nuit. Ce que les deux ont en commun est, sans aucune gêne et avec une exactitude presque technique, le projet de mettre en question la différence entre l’authenticité et la fiction, et, alternativement, les moyens de la produire.