Saturday, December 12, 2009

Interpreting the Failure

This is an expanded version of a comment I left on Richard Crary's Existence Machine to a long and thoughtful post on  Flannery O'Connor, and the problem of how to balance (if balance is justified) the aesthetic merits of her stories with the, at least superficially, offensive political and moral nature of the content.

I've made some additions that I hope justify my repeating my amended comment here on The Dog.  Amounts to a summation of ideas I've been working through here lately.
See HERE, and here on Creative Failure  (or should I call this Negative Capability, after Keats--only applied more to the interpretive potential of the poem than to the poet?)
Content is not only impossibly entangled with form, but (in part, because it is), also impossibly entangled with interpretation. The text is not whatever the reader makes of it, but neither is it free of the associational (re)configurations necessary to make sense of it. It's precisely this openness that makes it impossible to fashion any set of signs that can't be put to use--turned into propaganda. Why for me a critical reading has to be speculative and theoretical--in the sense that it is positing and responding to (not explaining or explicating) a relationship which is only partly manifest--not unlike a dream, a cultural dream only in part already present, and in part constructed with every reading. No work of art is complete or completely successful--this sounds trite, but that element of failure is all important--the interacting force that mediates and brings author, the evocation of the completed work, and reader into an encounter with what is other, not reducible to any part in this set--an encounter with what is real in the world, a relationship that is below the threshold of normativity, and only out of which do we construct and choose among the possibilities, political, ethical, and moral.

I would go so far as to say that normative judgments, whether moral or political, are as irrelevant to a work of art as to a dream (for similar, but not identical reasons); and that when such judgments are irrepressible, when we feel we cannot responsibly ignore their interpreted content-in-relief (raised in profile of reduced dimensions from their dynamic relationships)  we have altogether abandoned them as (aesthetic) objects in relation to their generative ground.  This is not so because they are above politics, but because they are below politics, figuratively speaking: prior to politics and to normative calculus, as much so as the behavior of other primates, for all those behaviors have contributed to, and are still retained in our own--as the material of what has not yet become fully human--and so, possibly all the more important for the understanding of our political and moral life

1 comment:

  1. Please keep eating those yummy root vegetables, Jacob. You're cha-chaing on pinnacles. So much fun to be a spectator (even if my neck hurts a little from looking up so steeply).