And now for something somewhat different
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now
I’d like to return to the small subjects, so you can get to know me, and so that I can write with no starting or stopping point.
Last night I posted my essay on Paul de Man, here, and over at The Valve. I’m exhausted by it, and pleased to have begun in earnest the project of critique that crystallized in my mind as soon as I recognized the consequences, for literary studies, of works like Aesthetic Ideology. I’m not sure whether I should be posting that kind of work to a blog, or not — I had my doubts about posting the essay on Hegel, too — but at any rate I’m ready to re-claim this webspace for the kind of micrological study of everyday life that I was pleased to churn out over at The World’s Forgotten Boy. (I’m still enchanted with the Valve, and will still be posting literary and philosophical reflections over there, with cross-posts here. But you’ll be forewarned by the x-posted header. By the same token, if you don’t see that header, you can expect a potpourri of the ordinary.)
I’m sure I’ve been led to this partly by Spurious, who continues to sing the Lacanian blues with a crazed fervor, omitting nothing. I’ve even felt the tug of some posts on the subject of blogging identity over at Rough Theory and courtesy of A White Bear. It is very difficult, writing under your own name, to write with the sort of abandon that produces style; reading AWB’s thoughts on the value of academic blogging (basically, that it allows you to talk about academic subjects off-hours, and informally), I was oddly conscious of how much the name of an academic person merges with their work, even during graduate school, because we are public figures as teachers, and multiplied out of our own reckoning by written work published on paper and online.
So, enough throat-clearing! On to the real work: that of throat-clearing.
* * *
The only thing I had available to make for dinner was pasta and tomato sauce: three packages of noodles, all the same, all spirals; three cans with varying quantities of Three Cheese Sauce. I thought about ordering a pizza with zucchini, which is not possible, and was followed by the more general plan of ordering a pizza with mushrooms. “Why am I ordering a pizza by myself?” I thought, feeling like a stoner. I briefly sat there, thinking about kung fu movies, and then decided to drive to Del Taco, after doing several Google searches to figure out which burrito had the most protein.
I saw a man sitting in his car, kitty corner from the Del Taco, wearing a Del Taco uniform, on break. I considered the line from my post yesterday — “the material fact of suffering” — and the fact that I’m in graduate school because I couldn’t survive temping. I got fired very quickly from my job entering medical records into a computer database. I don’t know why I got fired, exactly; the guy at the temping agency, who we’ll call Alan, was very hazy about it. “I like you, Joseph,” he’d say, after we’d broken the ice. “I’m going to put your name out there, shop you around.” Alan never called. He doesn’t have my new number. I’m not sure he was doing a good enough job looking. He always wore the same shirt, off-white.
I’ve started the new Pynchon novel. I’ve been struck with the feeling, which I get from certain artworks, that the premise of the work is much too comforting and familiar. Like Paul McCartney refusing to believe he’d written “Yesterday,” when I saw Godard’s My Life to Live, and considered the feminist ironies of the prostitute’s entrapment, combined with the fleeting moments when her life is actually suspended in its downward course by beauty (as when she waits to exhale smoke until finishing a kiss), I had to believe that I was reading onto it, in order to avoid the numbness of thinking I already knew it too well. Anyhow, the new Pynchon novel, which is called Against the Day, is about the buried potential of light. According to Tesla, and now to Pynchon, the universe is humming with magnetic “resonances” that are somehow related to photons. These resonances could be turned into a source of unlimited electrical power. So Against The Day is literally flooded with light: references to Edison, references to the chemicals in a photograph “turning into light,” references to a “White City,” symbolically constructed of pure light/energy, at the heart of a World’s Fair. According to the metaphorical logic of the novel, the exploitation of labor by capitalism has buried this omnipresent light and power in darkness — trapped it. There’s even a sentient ball of lightning that pleads with its human friend not to be captured and grounded.
Thus through this effusion of mystical passages about white rays and currents, Pynchon welds Platonism together with Anarchism, running exactly parallel to my own thinking about the potential for a different way of living the “good life” that has to do with the costless, unproductive state of being with things. (Although I’m not an anarchist.) When I was young, I used to trace my way down one of our white plaster walls with my fingertips, convinced that little circles of light were pooling around my fingers. The electrical sea of the novel is occasionally up-ended in the name of Marxist conspiracy theory, as when Pynchon talks about the “wardens” of America, who keep the democracy out of popular hands, or when Pynchon describes the structure of every city, and every inhabited, modernized country in the world, as an imprisoning re-creation of a state of siege.
I watched some of the sixth season of The Sopranos, with Tony in a coma. It’s such a piece of daring, and a game with the audience, to let the show run on with the central figure missing. In some ways it is an exasperated re-statement of what has been true all along — Tony’s in his own world, or he’s being controlled by the people around him, but between his solipsism and his obligations there is nothing to call a “self.” Now, here, he’s literally in his own world, in a coma-dream where he’s lost his name and is stuck, incredibly for a viewer like myself, in a dream version of Costa Mesa in Orange County. Meanwhile, it is impossible not to notice, after a fashion suddenly troubling, that Tony is the only person in the opening credits. It’s just him driving his car through the countryside, which becomes ridiculous when the viewer knows that the episode will have Tony lying like a vegetable in a hospital bed. The episodes play more and more games: now Christopher Moltesanti, the nephew, wants once again to get into the movie business. Thus the show is pretending to be fishing around for somebody to take Tony’s place, play the lead role — meanwhile, the ridiculous script Christopher has prepared, which is about a dismembered “wise guy,” is also a reflection of all the hopes and responsibilities centered in Tony that are now scattered across his two families, willy-nilly.
My own room is filled with lamps, all three of which are switched-on. There are two packs of cigarettes on my bookshelf. I don’t smoke, but I seem to remember that the box of Winstons only has one cigarette anyway. There’s also a pack of nicotinated, caffeinated gum from Japan that was taped to my door three days ago, and which still has a vestigial tail of tape. I was given a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, too. Reparations were made for the in absentia birthday party in a very unexpected and touching way, and yet I’m still not eager to smoke the final Winston or try chewing the gum. According to the note included with the scotch and gum, one should not chew the gum without a lot of water within easy reach. I don’t want to throw out all those exotic, alluring, bohemian scraps, but that part of the year is clearly over.