Wednesday, June 30, 2010


How far is too far?

The "book" in The Book of Eli

Near the end of the Hughes Brothers' film The Book of Eli (2010), there is a reference to Shakespeare made by a character played by Malcolom

A gloss in "Don Quixote" on "Pierre Menard"?

"Rather than appear to be one of those authors, who when they are requested to rehearse their works, refuse to grant the favour; and, on the other hand, disgorge them upon those who have no inclination to hear them, I will repeat my gloss, from which I expect no reward, as I composed it solely to exercise my genius" "It was the opinion of an ingenious friend of mine, said Don Quixote, that no man ought to fatigue himself in glossing upon verses, because, as he observed, the gloss could never never come up to the text, and very often, or indeed,almost always, the gloss was foreign to the intention and proposition of him who proposed it; besides, the laws of the gloss were extremely narrow, restricting the paraphraser from the use of interrogations; and "Said he,' or,'I will say;' as well as form changing verbs into nouns, and altering the sentiment; and with other ties and shackles incurred by those who try their fortune in this way as you undoubtedly know." . . . your worship will be pleased to hear the paraphrase and the text, which runs thus:" (682-83)

Recount! as Request in Don Quixote

On recounting and accounting, see Volume II, Book IV: "call me to account," "give an account," "no jokes to repeated," "resurrection from this present death" (942; 943)

"incessant wheel," "The life of man alone runs lightly to its end, unlike the circle of time, without hope of renewal, except in another life, which knows no bounds" (938)

"Cid Hamet recounts" (931)

On doubles, see:
See also the student who writes two books (728-29) who repeats the galley slave who is also writing two books, as is Cervantes (Galatea and Don Quixote, which is in two parts). On the student's books, see p. 712.

On omissions and additions, see the two passages below:
"The author here minutely describes Don Diego's house, gives an inventory of the furniture usually contained in the house of a rich country gentleman: but, the translators of this history have thought it advisable not to mention these and such other particular matters, as being rather foreign to the main scope of this history,in which truth has more energy than needless and languid digressions." (678)
The narrator here follows Don Quixote's earlier advice about what does or does not belong in a history.

The student wrote a third "performance" which he calls "The supplement to Polydore Virgil: adding what "many things of great importance, which Polydore has omitted" (712)

He who translated this sublime history from the original, composed by its first author Cid Hamet Benengeli, says, that turning to the chapter which treats of the adventure of the case, he found this observation written on the margin, in the hand-writing of the said Hamet. (727)

"I have often said what I am now going to repeat, answered Don Quixote" (680)

An economy of requesting and reception works through these additions and omissions that attend recounting, calling into question what is a generous gift, a supplement, and what is madness, error, folly, digression. What is given to be read? When is a gift not a gift? What is being requested? How is the request met? Is it met? How does one get to (mis)read by recounting (and retrieving, recovering and re/collecting)? To write? To publish? What is the reward? Should there be a reward?
"With this advice, did the knight, as it were, sum up the process of his madness, which, however, was made more manifest in this addition." (685)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Borges and Cervantes on the dead end of the archive

Borges repeats Cervantes, not word for word, but by formalizing a philological problem of archiving, cataloguing, and reconstructing already present n Don Quixote. Compare and contrast the following passages from Don Quixote and from Ficciones:

That very night, the housekeep set fire to, and consumed, not only all the books that were in the yard, but also every one she could find in the house: and no doubt many were burned, which deserved to have been kept as perpetual archives. But this, their destiny, and the laziness of the inquisitors would not allow. . . .


But the misfortune is, that in this very critical instant, the author of the history has left this battle in suspense, excusing himself, that he could find no other account of Don Quixote’s exploits, but what has already been related. True it is, that the second author of this work, could not believe that such a curious history was consigned to oblivion; nor, that there could be such a scarcity of curious virtuosi in la Mancha, but that some papers relating to this famous knight should be found in their archives or cabinets: and therefore, possessed of his onion, he did not despair of finding the conclusion of this delightful history, which indeed he very providentially lighted upon, in the manner which will be related in the second book. (95-96)

From Part I, Book IV

When the innkeeper took up the portmanteau with the books, in order to carry them away, “Stay, said the curate, until I examine these papers which are written in a fair character.” The landlord accordingly pulled out a manuscript, consisting of eight sheets of papers, in large letter, The novel of the Impertinent Curiosity.. . . if I like the novel, you shall give me leave to transcribe it.” . . . Cardenio having taken up the manuscript, and begun to read . . . intreated him [the curate] to read it aloud, that the whole company might hear it. . . “Well then, said he, listen with attention, for the novel begins in this manner.” (334; 335)

But, the author of this history, although he inquired with the utmost curiosity and diligence, concerning the actions of Don Quixote, in his third sally, could never find any satisfactory and authentic account of them; only, fame hath preserved some memoirs in la Mancha. . . but, with regard to his death and burial, he could obtain no information, and must have remained entirely ignorant of that event, had he not luckily met with an old physician, who had in his custody a leaden box, which he said he found under the foundation of an ancient hermitage that was repairing. This box contained some skins of parchment, on which were written in Gothic characters, and Castilian verse, many of our knight’s exploits. . . All that could be read and fairly copied, are those which are here inserted by the faithful author of this new and surprising history, who, in recompense for the immense trouble he has undergone in his inquiries, and in examining the archives of La Mancha, that he might publish it with more certainty, desires the reader to favour him with the same credit which intelligent persons give to those books of chivalry that pass so currently in the world. . . . The verses which were written in the first skin of parchment found in the leaden box, were these: (535-536)

These were all the verses which could be read; the rest being worm-eaten were delivered to an academician, that he might attempt to unravel their meaning, by conjecture. This task, we understand, he has performed with infinite pains and study, intending t publish them to the world, in expectation of the third sally of Don Quixote

END of the FIRST PART (539)

From Juan Luis Borges, “Pierre Meynard, Author of Don Quixote,” Ficciones

I have said that Menard’s visible lifework is easily enumerated. Having carefully examined his private archive, I have been able to verify that it consists of the following” (45)

I don’t know if I would add a fourth, which coincides very well with the divine modesty of Pierre Menard: his resigned or ironic habit of propounding ideas, which were the strict reverse of those he preferred. 53

He dedicated his conscience and nightly studies to the repetition of a pre-existing book in a foreign tongue. The number of rough drafts kept on increasing; he tenaciously made corrections and tore up thousands of manuscript pages.* He did not them to be examined, and he took great care that they would not survive him. It is in vain that I have tried to reconstruct them I have thought that it is legitimate to consider the “final” Don Quixote as a kind of palimpsest, in which should appear traces—tenuous but not undecipherable—of the “previous” handwriting of our friend. Unfortunately, only a second Pierre Menard, inverting the work of the former, could exhume and resuscitate these Troys. . .

*I remember his square ruled notebooks, the black streaks where he had crossed out words, his peculiar typographical symbols and his insect-like handwriting. In the late afternoon he liked to go for walks on the outskirts

What Borges quotes from Don Quixote

Pete Donaldson has pointed me to the passage cited in "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote":

. . . la verdad, cuya madre es la historia, emula del tiempo, deposito de las acciones, testigo de lo pasado, ejemplo y aviso de lo presente, advertencia de lo por venir.
[. . . truth, who mother is history,who is the rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, and warning to the future]
Ficciones, 52-53

My point about recounting as a paradoxical voiding and surplus is illustrated by this passage. The quotes this passage to prove his point that Menard has not merely repeated Cervantes. The narrator sets up a distinction without a difference: Menard "did not want to compose another Don Quixote—which would be easy—but the Don Quixote. It is unnecessary to add that his aim was never to produce a mechanical transcription of the original; he did not propose to copy it. (49)

But the narrator's quotation from Don Quixote (in Spanish and in English is already doubles the "original" and the difference between the two "versions" (which are identical, word for word) can only been established through its negation (the difference between coincidence and copy is no difference at all; there are only more Don Quixotes; there never was "The" Don Quixote.) And yet by quoting from the composition (Menard's) in the next paragraph, the narrator can make the passage mean something different.
it is worth recalling that Cervantes calls the novel a history and in part two includes a discussion of poetry versus history:

Don Quixote discusses with Sancho Panza would could be left out for good reason by Cid Hamet from his comprehensive history:

Don Quixote observed, that they may as well has have omitted them; for those incidents, which neither change nor affect the truth of the story, ought to be left out, if they tend to depreciate the chief character. . . . it is one thing to compose as a poet, another to record as an historian: the poet may relate or rehearse things, not as they were, but as they ought to have been, whereas, an historian must transmit them, not as they ought to have been but as they were; without adding to or subtracting the least tittle from the truth.” (575)

Since history is a recounting, however, it always involves addition and subtraction, becomes a story of irreducible but productive losses in the archives and other storage devices.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Borges' Recounting of Don Quixote

The true irony of Juan Luis Borges’ wonderful short story “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote” is that Pierre Menard’s word for word repetition of Don Quixote is in fact an act of criticism of Cervantes’ novel precisely because it is the negative image of that novel. [Note: I recommend Tobias Smollet’s translation.] Pierre Menard’s exact repetition of Cervantes’ novel as repetition makes explicit the formalization of repetition as recounting already in play in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The novel allegorizes the madness of reading as repetitions: it a translation of a text written in Arabic written by a Moor who in turned translated other texts and transcriptions of letters, bills, found manuscripts, handwriting on the margin (727, Smollet). These repeated texts which are only partially recovered (all of Part two is what can’t be deciphered except by an academician (last page of Part One). The novel depends on an economy in which repetition that recounts in a paradoxical manner, adding new material that is repeated and by partially voiding. These various kinds of repetitions constitute the literariness of the novel, not because of it framings (novel within a novel) and self-reflexive modernity. The literariness of don Quixote lies in the way repetitions and recountings always adds on yet one more that is also lacking, unreadable, unmemorized, lost or subject to decay (by worm eating) and destruction (book burning). Some of the texts are unfinished, such as the galley slave’s autobiography. Even Don Quixote may be viewed as unfinished, a third part hinted at in the preface to Part Two put out of its misery in the final chapter of part Two. The novel’s literariness is a function both of its philological self-consciousness and of its philosophical ironization of philology: repetition cannot recover an original, correct errors, emend what has been lost. Rrecounting is always miscounting. But one can only understand this point about the error of repetition by reading the novel as if it could be read philologically, as if it could all add up by recounting it. Borge offers us Pierre Menard’s ‘exact” repetition of Don Quixote as the unacknowledged and misrecognized proof of this truth of Cervante’s novel.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wounded Narcissism

Is there any other kind?


Is it the fate of aging academics to become increasingly agoraphobic, with the default for all social interactions, even so-called live ones, being tele-phonic and tele-graphic? Or is solo-tude the condition of academic life, listening to your own unconsciousness, the intrapsychic distances between me, myself, and I, being the possibility of composing the chamber music of one's mind?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Is Zizek popular because he is the obscene stain of academic discourse? (because he sucks)?

Slavoj appears to be a serious Lacanian capable of translating almost anything into what he calls "Lacanese." His prose is energetic, inteilligent, and, perhaps best of all, he can be funny. Isn't what appears udner the name "Zziek" as authentic political philosophy / Lacan 6.0 psychoanalysis actually a masquerade, a sham that makes Zizek either into the ultraLacanian charlatan / shaman or the dupe who dupes his readers and himself into thinking he has something to say. Are his rhetoric of overkill (why say anything briefly if you can say it ad nauseam) and suicitation (if you said something in a previous book that was good why not repeat it whole-cloth in your present book?) "sinthomes" or "symptoms?" Consider, for example, the lengthy chapter on "political subjectivation" (borrowed from Jacques Racniere) in The Ticklish Subject. Does Ziek really any anything worth listening to? He begins by characterizing three theorists as the inversions of what they appear to be, then translates them first into "Hegelese" and "Lacanese" and finally comes out at Derrrida's Spectres of Marx. In no case does he actually quote from any of the authors he discusses. In no case does he read. Is is just the ideal pundit of academics? Is that why he gets op-eds published in the NY Times? Because he doesn't read and reading hims relieves the reading of the responsibility of reading, of not having to "traverse the fantasy," which is precisely what Zizek never does while claiming constantly to have done it? My recommendation: Press "Eject" Zizek. Put the slightest pressure on his randomly structured "arguments" and they dissolve into the obscene stains of roadkill.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Theory: Self-Plagiarism, Recycling, Repetition

Is possible to formulate a poetics of repetition in "theory"? Zizekis undoubtedly a self-plagiraiszer. he lifts whole passage out of one book and uses them in the next, starting with They Know Not What They DO (or whatever the tittle of his second book is). Metastases of Enjoyment is the worst offender and horribly written. Routledge gave him an editor after that, and the ticklish Subject was a vast improvement (Zizek acknowledges his debt to the editor is a witty way). That's when I stopped reading Zizek too (except for Welcome to the Desert of the real and his review of 300, which I already read before I read it, Zizek having become so predictable). Derrida does and does nto rpeat himself. He often leaves little citational trials in foonotes to back up clism htat he has always beenwriingwhat he hpens to be writing at the time. But htese trials are more illusory than truly bibliographic. They are only partial, and don't amount to a totalizing reading of the sort Derrida asserts since they are not comprehensive and since they are more heterogeneous that Derrida implies they are. Derrida reists being htemztized by doing a sort of fake out thematiizing of his own work. ranciere I find an unusal case. he often repeats himself in hte curse of making his argument. Sometime he repeats the exact same sentences on the same page. But he doesn't repeat himself exactly, and so the effect is not to lose the reader r through redundancy but to keep going with the low key delirium Ranciere to which has given himself over. Ranciere also pulls off a kind of disappearing act. There are next to no "pullable" quotations in his texts. His far readings and densely illuminating syntheses make his works useless in terms of the ways in which academic readers usually define useless. But they do kind of shake up your readings, and the fact that he is totally contentious (dissensus is contention for Ranciere) and disagrees with everyone helps intensify the force of the shake up. Ranciere furthermore delays getting to questions the reader will have raised much earlier. For example, he gets to the question of the rationality of disagreement only in chapter three of Dis-agreement. He doesn't get to it at all in Dissensus. That said, there are repetitions than recyclings, if not self-plagiarism. parts of Dissensus are rewrites of parts of Hatred of Democracy (I would not buy / read the latter having read the former). A whole section of Dissensus repeats a whole sections of Dissensus (on metapolitics). Of course, people do this sort of thing all the time. But it is customary to note having done so in some paratext (preface, headnotes, or endnotes, and so on). Dissensus is largely a collection of previously published essays, and the original place of publication is noted by the editor. But the repetitions with Ranciere's work are not noted either by Ranciere or by the author. In Ranciere's case, I think this kind of recycling is worth reading, even though it has gone unread (probably because it has not noticed or seems mean-spirited to do so if it has been noticed). Since Ranciere thinks of democracy as a re-opening, counting of the uncounted, disruption, and contention, his deployment of various kinds of repetition (or repetitions to which his works are subjected by the vagaries of translation and publication) stage the kind of political action he says is actually very rare.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Jacques Ranciere's Dissensus

Dissensus is a collection of short essays and interviews. Quite pellucid. There's a fair amount of repetition, but not in a bad way. It's the perfect introduction to Ranciere, especially to Dis- Agreement. He has a really strong critique of the ethical turn as the eviction of politics (in the name of consensus), esp. Badiou on evil and Hart and Negri's Empire. Ranciere is a very strong far reader but a very careless reader of Derrida and Agamben (straight out misreadings of both), and he can be quite dogmatic (anti-Heidegger--nothing close to the sophistication fo Lacoue-Labarthe's critique). Ranciere is opposed both to Arendt on citizenship and to biopolitics (too Heideggerian--Being, given=way of life / bare life=destiny=only a god can save us. Ranciere is resolutely anti "onto-technological" and anti-political theology (messianic time). He has a reductive account of the sacred and messianic and misreads Agamben (homo sacer is not sacred for Agamben) and Derrida (messianism is without a messiah for Derrida). But Ranciere is really smart on democracy and a good writer to boot. I think Ranciere's critique of consensus--a look back at catastrophic created by infinite evil leading to a future of (George Bus's) infinite justice (pretty much exception as norm) that replaces politics with the police (not the police as we tend to think of them, however) and the evacuation of dissensus, or politics (the counting of the uncounted, the displacement of the placed). Democracy is not reducible to the population but comes with a supplement that makes politics / democracy (Demos) possible. Sort of like Agamben, Ranciere has his own aporias and neatly formulated paradoxes; he makes a combination of deconstructive moves (set up an opposition and collapse it) and Zizekian moves (invert what seems obviously the case and show that the inversion is actually the case). So I find it stimulating to read through the essays in Dissensus and recommend them to you. Sparks fly here and there.
Ranciere's Consensus is coming out later this Summer.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience Blu-ray

The blu-ray transfer is gorgeous. The plot structure of the film, set in New York, is far more interesting than its theme (vapid, narcissistic call girl played by a real life porn star and self-pitying Wall Streeters in the dumps after the 2008 Crash), but the real standout is the cinematography. The lighting often verges on overexposure, the compositions are original, and the look of the film alone makes it worth watching. The music is really good and makes what might otherwise have been a downbeat film into an uptown ride on the A train fueled by cocaine.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Revanche Criterion Blu-Ray review

The blu-ray is excllent. the film is great for the first thirty minutes but then goes totally South into a totally contrived plot and increasingly derivative formal structure (stationary camera and longer takes). It's as if it starts shouting this is a European art film, but you get to feel good in this one! Feel good movies always make me feel worse. And Revanche left me feeling sick. This film is perhaps at the opposite end of Michael Hanenke's Cache, White Ribbon, and Funny Games (both versions). Oesterich macht sauber! To be fair, there's no ethnic cleansing in this film. But there is a lot of bad faith. We start off with two working stiff in the sex trade trying to escape from the bad pimp, but the "redemption" of the "illegal immigrants" (a younger prostitute from the Ukraine and an older pimp's assistant, from somewhere in in rural Austria) comes at the expense of the women--how predictable (one is shot dead and the other's a housewife whore). Lots of gorgeous shots in the film, but the composition and editing are so unoriginal that they just flush this film down the drain even faster. Another weird Criterion choice.

Make the call!

Decide to get over your resistance and phone it in.

The Condition of Connection

is interference, static, and other kinds of disruption.

Befriendship--a LOST thought

While watching Season Three of Lost (on DVD) it occurred to me that the show is about telefriendship as a form of bereavement. You can befriend anyone but never really be friends because everyone is permanently estranged from everyone else. The Others / Them are Us. They / We are the good guys. "Live," face-to-face friendship, as we should have always already known, involves its own kinds of distancings. if you can only befriend on LOST, you no get to die whenever you want and as many times as you want, and there's no banishment, no voting off the island. There's no conclusion, no generic telos (Sci-fi--X-files or Western or thriller), no final destination (despite the episode with Desmond with the actress from the Others basically rehearsing a final destination serialization formula). The dead don't die in LOST. But the living don't live either. Life is a serial, a formula, that keeps repeating with small variations, like porn, but with reverse and replay the tape inversions.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Burt's Bumpersitcker Wizdumb: Be Mindless

To try to be "mindful" as New Age Yuppies think they (or you) should be is a big mistake. The idea of mindfulness forgets the ever present process of brain drain. Be Mindless. Put that on your bumpersticker. Or at least remember that your mind is only half full.

More Burt's Bumpersitcker Wizdumb

Don't"Be there." Design your Dasein for living out--lost in what is called thinking. Absent thyself from thyself awhile.