Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Paul Levi Bryant at Larvel Subjects offers some Lacanian insights on Finnegans Wake that apply equally well to the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets , their cousins and heirs, to FLARF--and to much of the poetry outside of what Ron Silliman calls the 'school of quietude.'
Perhaps thinkers and artists shouldn’t be evaluated by influences within their art or discipline, so much as by their idiosyncratic fetishes and obsessions that fall outside of their work. What are we to make, for example, of Graham’s obsession with Gibbon? As I read Harman’s daily posts about Gibbon, I can’t help but feel that I’m encountering something purely singular and inarticulable. As Graham himself would admit, I’m sure, there is something deeply libidinal in this obsession, a jouissance that falls outside of language, even though it seems to be all about language. If the suggestion of a jouissance outside of language that is all about language seems paradoxical, we need only think of Joyce’s final work. As Lacan observed, Finnegans Wake is a pure jouissance, a sinthome rather than a symptom.

Where a symptom is either a metaphorical substitution or a metonymical displacement susceptible to interpretation, a sinthome is a jouissance that admits of no interpretation. Lacan, perhaps influenced by Deleuze and Guattari, referred to the sinthome as a haecceity. When a woman continuously has fits in public where she falls down and where there’s no medical condition that accompanies this malady, we probably won’t be far off the mark in concluding that the signifier “fallen woman” is at work somewhere in her unconscious. This symptom is a message to the Other, indicating perhaps the manner in which she has betrayed her desire. The sinthome by contrast, does not function in this way. When Lacan says Joyce cannot be interpreted, he is not saying that he is so difficult that his work defies any analysis. Clearly this is not the case. What he is saying is that the relation to language in Joyce is that of the sinthome or a pure jouissance in language itself, without this language being organized around a series of metaphorical and metonymical substitutions that would allow for an interpretive master key. And indeed, to read the late Joyce you have to read him at this level. If you are looking for meaning in Joyce’s later work (i.e., the relation between the Imaginary and the Symbolic), you’re going to be tremendously frustrated and outraged. Joyce has to be enjoyed at the level of the rustle of his language itself, at the level of the texture of that language. While the later work of Joyce is capable of producing a great deal of meaning (it’s almost like hyper-text), it does not contain pre-delineated meaning that would lie beneath the shimmer of the text as its secret key.
I would take this further and suggest that in the strongest poets, there is always a remainder that eludes interpretation, not because its symbolic meanings are inexaustable, but because it is beyond and outside of the configurations of imagination and symbol. Think of Blake. How accesible his poetry is to children.(*) My oldest son would carry around a little paper back anthology: "My Book of Blake," he called it.  I remember with what joy he would recite Tyger Tyger and Rose Thou Art Sick--and this,  not long after he learned to read.
Then we grow up and read Frye and think we have found our way toward a deeper understanding. More complex, yes--and not without meaning... but deeper?
(*) "...accesible to children: ok... not Milton, or the Four Zoas... for the longer 'prophetic' works, we can be grateful for Frye... )

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