Monday, July 07, 2014

Alain Badiou, a Twit

This isn't fair to anyone, not Alain Badiou and not Laura Carter, but since I just realized that the latter has a Twitter feed, something must be done. Here are four recent tweets out of Atlanta:

Now, as I react to this, keep in mind that I am a great admirer of Laura's poetry and, in fact, of her poetics. (Though it's been too long since I've engaged with her work.) What I want to say, in effect, is that Badiou, even in Laura's reading of him, doesn't understand Laura's poetry. Or something like that.

My response consists of four pangrammatical correctives. First, poetry is obviously the guardian not of decency but indecency in speech. Second, the heart of a poem is not ontological but ethnopathic, it's about people not things, passions not reasons, and what is affirmed is not "not set out" as an object but not set out as a subject. ("Set out" may be the wrong phrase. "Put down" may be better. The heart of the poem is to set down the emotion on the page, not to put down the subject.) Third, (as I said to Laura almost ten years ago, in my fourth post to this blog) a poem is a positive machinery, just like philosophy. It does something, though they do different things. A poem utters not being but becoming at the point where the subject appears. Fourth, as in philosophy, the "correct method" in poetry is to say only what it is possible to say. It's just that poetry says it about different subjects.

James Baldwin once said that white people are protected from an understanding of jazz by their sentimentality. The point of my corrective of Badiou is to show that philosophy about poetry is often too much in awe of its object to really understand it. We must prevent the sentimentality of philosophers from making nonsense of poetry.


Andrew Shields said...

Lately, I've been pondering the scandalous quality of great literature. Perhaps that's something like your "indecency." It's no surprise that great novels used to end up in court! But even those that didn't would have caused scandals if people had known how to read them, with Austen being the most vivid example of that. She managed to make herself look harmless while utterly exposing "polite" society's foundation in cruelty (of a wide variety of kinds).

Thomas said...

Yes, it's my view that art must be a "proximate occasion" of scandal.

You're right about Austen. Literature must describe social life in way such a way that our judgments are informed by our interpretations. The reader must always be sufficiently implicated in the imagery not to raise the alarm. Literature brings us into the proximity of the scandal, but leaves the actual corruption of our values to ourselves.

A trivial example: I'm reading Voltaire's Candide. There's some perfectly filthy innuendo in the first chapter. But you'd have to expose your own lack of innocence to take offense.