Date: Fri, 17 May 2002
Subject: Who is Sil-Vara?
It's interesting to me (or ironic) that, in the
heightening rhetoric against criticism --- that is,
against poetics? ---
the warnings against criticism's evils are taking on
metaphoric form as:
(1) death ("You turn him to dust and then you go off
to sparsely attended conferences where dozens of other
academic-morticians gather") which, needless to say,
seems some type of mirror image confirmation of
Theory-Death somewhere, regardless of whether in no
longer hiding under the rug it's now, like crimes of
passion, justifiable incitement to riot; and
(2) waste ("be very careful not to waste your waste.
That is the key thing: not to waste your waste. Too
much time gets spent re-inventing the wheel, or
feeling sh--ty"), which, as if by intuited by sixth
sense, is the second leg of Paul Mann's Theory-Death
exposition in Masocriticism: waste.
and Rilke first, though,--- doesn't Rilke seem to be a
particularly inauspicious or telltale choice for a
poet to cite against the Dead Kennedies of criticism?
inasmuch as he, almost (like Rimbaud or Valery) more
famous for not having written than for having
written, after all, more than anyone else, is the
author of --- get it? --- The Duino *Elegies,* and the
poetic mausoleum on the death of the nineteen year old
Ruth Ouckama Knoop that the Sonnets to Orpheus are
("Friend of death, for in easy transformation / it
grew through death a hundred times"). That is, even
if the teacher of German literature had subjected
Rilke to his Midas Touch of a dusty death, who more
the beautiful mortician than Rilke?
[On Rilke's military duty, in lieu of active service,
of drawing ruled lines on paper:
"Industriously he drew vertical and horizontal lines
for hours on end. Sometimes the spaces between the
lines were only two millimeters wide, but he worked
with perfect accuracy and a genuine humility . . . the
severe geometrical network of pencil lines . . .
almost made a work of out out of it" ---The Austrian
writer "Sil-Vara," quoted in Stephen Garmey's
Harper Colophon introduction, p. 19]
But, waste, too:
After repetition as (theory-)death, Mann turns to
waste, and Georges Bataille's doctrines about waste.
In brief, in Bataille, economies do not function on
scarcity, as we generally believe in a "free
market"/capitalist system, and even the niggardly
surplus that economics does allow is insufficient to
reveal anything at the level of drive, or principle;
he evangelizs instead toward: yes, waste. Waste, as
one of Bataille's main platforms (the others being:
sacrifice, heterology, and transgression), is cited as
the very expression or eruptive consummation of
theory-death, in that the loss and attrition of
meaning decline in tandem with the degradation into
profligate, generous waste. The potlatch of the
avant-garde. (Mann, not insignificantly for the
hypo-critical camp ["hy.po- or hyp- pref. . . . Less
than normal; deficient" --- American Heritage, 1997],
in passing speaks of academic criticism as restricted
economy, the very opposite of heterology and euphoric
waste, since its forces of containment and
regularization forestall transgression.)
For the time being, I'll let these quotes (below)
serve as further explanation of waste as a signal of
the presence of theory-death.
What I am suggesting is that it is not necessary or
healthy for anti-criticism to explode into destructive
mutilation fantasy ("I wanted to maim"), since their
vengence is a case of mistaken identity. The
mortician has not killed the cadaver you find him
near. It simply died, and keeps on dying. Geoff Dyer
mistaking the mourner for the murderer.
Indeed, maybe criticism, in attempting to reveal that
the avant-garde's relatively recent death still leaves
it half-warm, to locate some posthumous growth of
ideology's good yeast upon it (!!), enrages by thereby
calling attention to what denial had screened out. (I
wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't covered him with a
sheet, damn you.)
It's not a bad thing to get all Type A about, though.
We don't have to stop writing poetry because of it.
Hardly, . . . even if sometimes the spaces between the
lines were only two millimeters wide. It doesn't stop
poetry from multiplying, or the fine collectibles
convention from going on. The avant-garde as Sequel.
We can still wear berets.
Theory-death, is like death at Graceland: every day
there are still Elvis sitings
("Last year, I met a group from a Church of Elvis in
Sweden. They claim that when they pray to him, he
listens and understands."
Quotes on WASTE from Masocriticism:
'One's failings in respect to Shakespeare or Hegel or
Bataille are therefore not merely
intellectual errors, rectifiable through closer
reading: failure becomes, in a sense, the very mode of
our reading: our perpetual failure to cross the line
that separates the reading from the work, no matter
how far we advance in its direction, is at least as
fundamental to us as any insight into the work that we
. . .
'a principle of absolute expenditure as value, a
"general economy" based on surplus, waste, loss,
sacrifice, ejaculation, excretion, and death. . . . or
the glorious waste . . . ', the potlatch, 'a breach of
every restricted economy. . . . an exemplary
expenditure, in excess of any possible compensation: a
gift-combat in which one warrior tries to defeat
another by squandering his riches, by giving away so
many exorbitant gifts that the other can never repay
them, even if it means he loses everything in the
process. . . . At bottom, at the economic base of the
basest materialism, all value is waste value,' Van
Gogh's ear as the ultimate avant-garde gift, 'the
extravagant, sacrificial, excretory movement of the
solar anus of art. . . . the abyss of Language Itself
opening onto a curriculum vitae and grounded in an
ideal footnote, a footnote bearing one's own name. . .
. Whatever transgression occurs in writing on Bataille
does so only through the STUPID recuperation' (my
emphasis) 'and hence evacuation of the whole rhetoric
and dream of transgression, only insofar as the false
profundity of philosophy or theory evacuates the false
profundities it apes. . . . [T]he interest of
Bataillean discourse lies chiefly in the compulsive
and symptomatic way it plays with its feces. The
spectacle of critics making fools of themselves does
not reveal the sovereign truth of death: it is only
masocritical humiliation, a pathological attempt to
disavow the specter of death. . . . Nothing is gained
by this communication except profit-taking from lies.
. . . to witness the slow freezing to death of every
satellite text. . . . Theory comes finally to reflect
this circular loss or lack as the interminable and
productive self-consumption, the endless theory-death,
of theory itself. In this movement, theory manages to
transgress every project of transgression by forever
failing to launch it.'