Unreal Nature

June 12, 2016

A Dream of an Eternalized Present

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… their analogy in space is to the prefabricated souvenir of tourism, an object that incorporates into its manufacture a particular reference to place that is largely the invention of the very system of objects to which it belongs.

This is from ‘Notes on Distressed Genres’ in Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation by Susan Stewart (1994; 1991):

To distress: in common usage (although, curiously, not in dictionaries), “to make old, to antique,” particularly in reproducing material goods from previous times. Simultaneously, the dictionary definition, “to afflict, to place in a state of danger or trouble, bad straits.”

… Of all the ways in which one could evaluate the significance of the literary appropriation of oral forms, the most mistaken would be to assume that literature thereby records the lost world of preindustrial culture. Instead, we find that to “rescue” a form in this sense would necessarily be a means of killing it off. Nor is this “murder” arbitrary in either content or style: when oral forms are transformed into “evidence” and “artifacts,” they acquire all the characteristics of fragmentation, symbolic meaning, and literariness that are most valued by the literary culture.

… The eighteenth century looked for a natural writing in nature itself, in the productions of imagination, and in the creations of such peasant/poets as these. But untutored geniuses both began and ended in the library, their speech already written.

… If distressed forms involve a negation of the contingencies of their immediate history, they also involve an invention of a version of the past that could only arise from such contingencies. We see this structure of desire as the structure of nostalgia — that is, the desire for desire in which objects are the means of generation and not the ends.

[line break added] Hence the polymorphic possibilities of forms compelled to mean historically. Turning to specific examples of such historicized forms, we find that they have been pried from a context of function and placed within a context of self-referentiality. The irony here is that the literary “voicing” of folklore forms emphasizes their new textuality all the more.

… The fable is only one of a number of genres employing what might be called a “naïve voice.” Naiveté of voice always implies separation from immediate context, a deliberate “unawareness” of history as it mediates the relation between then and now, an authority based upon the absence of a contamination that is the effect of actual practice, and the making over of nature into culture.

[line break added] The voice of the proverb, like the voice of fable, is also the voice of both everyone and no one. As everyone it bears upon the situation with the weight of tradition and traditional authority: as no one, it escapes the limitations and contingencies of biography and historical context. Thus like the fable, the proverb is already accomplished, already dead; change and novelty could only diminish the proverb by qualifying its capacity for transcendence. …

[line break added] The proverb thus presents a paradigm for all ideological forms, in that it subordinates the concreteness of lived relations to an idea that thereby substitutes and cancels the unruly detail and flux of experience. The proverb marks the resolution of confusion, the end of history, and speaks with a voice that is both time-honored and superannuated. Hence the irony of a genre worn thin and the proverb’s always dubious status within contemporary culture.

In its oral form the proverb is “worn,” in both the positive and negative senses, because of its status as a transcendent and time-proven form of discourse. A new proverb would be as unimaginable to tradition as an original Aesopian fable or a private fad.

… any genre that in literature attempts to “pass itself as” the oral is destined to appear an ill-fitting clothing. The literary’s nostalgia for oral forms is a nostalgia for the presence of the body and the face-to-face, a dream of unmediated communication that, of course, could never be approximated even in the oral — a dream of an eternalized present, a future-past.

[line break added] Thus distressed genres often exaggerate a movement of time into space on several simultaneous levels. First, such a movement characterizes the transformation of the temporality of speech into the spatiality of writing. Second, the movement of time into space is often a device for the legitimation of territory and property, both private and national, by means of narrative and textual evidence.

… Yet the nostalgia of the distressed genre is not a nostalgia for artifacts for their own sake; rather, it is a nostalgia for context, for the heroic past, for moral order, for childhood and the collective experiences of preindustrial life. Thus we can understand why it makes little difference whether the artifact itself is real or a forgery: distressed genres are characterized by a counterfeit materiality and an authentic nostalgia.

[line break added] In fact, such genres point to the immateriality of all nostalgic objects. These artifacts of memory, these mnemonics, are artifacts of appearance, both partial and allusive. Their evocation lies in their surface (therefore many souvenirs are tied to the sensuality of touch), while their depth arises not from intrinsicality, but from the narrative of the subject they engender. Souvenirs must typically be economically worthless in order to serve the narrative of the personal; otherwise, they are a contradiction of the personal.

[line break added] However, distressed genres as temporal artifacts are not such relics or archaeological remains … . Instead, their analogy in space is to the prefabricated souvenir of tourism, an object that incorporates into its manufacture a particular reference to place that is largely the invention of the very system of objects to which it belongs.




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