Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Clamour of Personality

[I wrote this post back in February and decided against posting it. Rereading it now, it seems to me to have gained something that applies more generally.]

There is a good feeling surrounding Tom Raworth. He is not a clamorous personality.

No negativity is justified. All negativity is based on a misperception of reality.

Gabriel Gudding

It occurs to me that, for all my claims to take an impersonal interest in poetry, my personality generally precedes my criticism. Certainly it seems lately to be preceeding the reception of my criticism. There has been some talk recently about the essential "egoism" of blogs, and I fear that I have carelessly transported my blogging persona into various corners of the Internet that are less tolerant of it, or less resistant to it. And for which it may be ill-suited.

Gabe describes a "clamorous personality" as one who

seem[s] to accuse or shout or fight or contend or argue or scramble or vie or stoke debates or flap about for attention or toot or boast himself or pretend to be attacked or beg for aid or tout his work from sun to sun or exact a loyalty to a pettiness or threaten the ruination of friendships.

I think those words, "seem to", are important. One of the projects I probably won't get around to until I retire is something I call the literature of "elemental vehemence". I constructed the idea as an inversion of the title of Thomas Carl Wall's Radical Passivity, which is an enviable little book. He presents a single, reasonably well-defined idea by locating it in the the work of three specific authors: Blanchot, Levinas and Agamben. If I recall, his aim is to identify and, in his way, insist upon "the passion that I must be". While he explicitly rejects the opposition of his idea of "passivity" with the notion of "activity", there is an all pervading sense of humility, of "letting be", in the book, a reverence for being, indeed, for being "whatever" (Agamben's qualqunque, L. quodlibet). I also get the sense that he wanted to write a wholly unobjectionable book. At one point (again, I'm quoting from memory) he says that he would be content merely to note as it were "in parenthesis" (or in quotation marks) the passivity that is his theme (the typographical gimmicks are his, as I recall.) There is a distinct effort in the book not to be clamorous.

I bought Norman Mailer's Advertisements for Myself in a used book store. The notes in the margins are written in green ink and seem to belong to someone who was studying Mailer from the point of view of, say, Kate Millet's Sexual Politics. On the first page, for example, she underlines the words "settle for nothing less than making a revolution in the consciousness of our time" and writes the following remark at the bottom: "typical Mailer arrogance - reflects his fascination with power". Reading this running commentary is quite interesting, and I get the sense that she finds Mailer clamorous.

I'm a bit puzzled by people who pride themselves on identifying (or at least feel themselves compelled to identify) the "fascinations" and "arrogance" of people who are obviously themselves very conscious of their self-consciousness. People who are putting themselves "out there", so to speak, to find out what they mean by seeing what they say. Gudding praises Raworth for being "a real person, not someone stuck inside a fantasy of himself" as opposed to those who "poison social networks" with their clamorous being. It would be clamorous to name names, I suppose, but I imagine that the relevant beings know who they are.

Like I say, I think it is in any case worth looking at the literature of this clamour of personality, this elemental vehemence. Its modern examples are people like Norman Mailer, Mordecai Richler, and Irving Layton; there is reason, I think, to count Melville and Whitman among their progenitors. Henry Miller could probably be listed here (though Mailer has noted the spiritual progress in his work towards something like a sage; Hesse's Siddhartha, of course, has an important period of bawdy decadence). And there is certainly something vehement (the etymology of the word is interesting, by the way: "deprived of mind") about Pound (Mr. Directio Voluntatis) and Hemingway (Mailer said, "Hemingway has always been afraid to think"). I'm a long way from having a theory about it, but I think it is worth pointing out that Wall's thesis depends on a particular kind of literature; once we look at other voices, a different sense of the "the passion I must be" emerges.

Love, I call out, find me
Spinning around in error.
Display your dank, coarse hair,
Your bubs and bulbous shoulders.
Then strike, witless bitch, blind me.

(Irving Layton, "Love's Diffidence")

And this brings me back to the epigraphs. You often hear people say stuff like "negativity is based on a misperception of reality" especially when faced with the palpable negativity of someone in the room. This response is generally "justified", in the sense of "socially acceptable"; making this judgment displays, and perhaps exhibits, "emotional intelligence". But we have to keep in mind that there is a parallel argument to be made about "positivity", if you will: it is the elaboration of an unfeasible ideality. I think the sages would back me up on this. Any judgment, good or bad, is in error. Party pooping is perhaps to be frowned upon; but is not partying itself predicated on maya? We tend, however, only to censor the fantasies of clamorous people, we prefer quiet errors to loud ones. We should keep in mind that a good many sweet and gentle people are only as "seemingly" so as someone like Mailer is seemingly arrogant. To judge them as sweet or as arrogant, as passive or as vehement, as peaceful or clamorous, is precisely a judgment. It is directed at a phantasm that haunts the mind of the judge.

1 comment:

suzanne said...

terrific post, thomas___
thank you