A Rose for Emily (and metaphysics)

The main reading I want to make is that the body of Homer presented by Emily should be considered “art”, and I want to go from that to my main point. I don’t want to get into a discussion here on how decadent art is or whether a corpse can be art. This corpse is not the same as that corpse of a shark or something that was causing some controversy awhile back, in particular since the people bursting into the room more or less expected a corpse — or at least expected to find something crazy in that house, some remnant of a bygone age – and this is what Emily gives them. But it is “art” in the sense that it is not precisely what they want, it seems to be almost too perfect. Let’s recall that Emily, post murder, did not actually spend her entire life in seclusion, she briefly taught painting on china to neighborhood girls, and I think this is the kind of art art that Emily has in mind – technically masterful but nonetheless disturbing. I wrote on Facebook two days ago that “My biggest recent misreading was (unwittingly) thinking that Emily was some sort of romantic floozy”. My biggest recent misreading was understanding the corpse of Homer as modern art, along with all the idiocy that entails. (Indeed, Emily could very well be a figure for Faulkner himself and for the kind of “pulp” novels that he wrote or for that distinctly Faulknerian combination of violence and history – which is fine.)

But my big idea involves actually the possibility that culture can anticipate something, or that culture can be smart. This in itself is not a new idea, but it is often linked with “oppression”, since it is equated to the way in which culture seems to guide everything along a predefined path. But this view cannot be sustained – the sense of cultural anticipation I want to talk about here involves the a kind of scattered prescience, which is how we want to understand RfE. In other words — I want to think of cultural anticipation not as conformism but rather as prescience, as a rare moment when art seems to recognize what the people want — violence — and be able to work off of that.

That is, the people crave violence in two senses: (1) they want depictions of violence, and (2) they want violence done to them, they expect art to challenge them or be violent to them in some way. And Emily, who seemed to have despised the townsfolk, in fact, surprisingly, gives them exactly what they want — so that this surprising “benevolence” (pandering?), if you can call it that, begs to be explained. And I sense here that the explanation — or, the real reading of RfE / corpse of Homer — involves an attempt to speak of the mode of violence. But this attempt to speak of, I sense, will not be full complete, it will also be an attempt to bring forth something.

Jumping topics, but this is related to our main point: I’ve been training for a new job, and I’ve been talking a long time to my black coworker, a fellow whose at the same time philosophically inclined and pretty deeply involved in black pop culture. As I was talking to him, I made the argument — I don’t know if this will stand — that there is a vague fundamental form to the violence of different cultures, his and mine. My “culture” I would not say is Chinese – I get annoyed at people who say so – but actually, my violence involves the word “error”. Violence, recall, is basically, well, “wasting somebody’s time”. This is not simply an arbitrary choice of words here. Physical violence is closely related to ‘teaching’, to teaching somebody the ways of the world. When you perform a violent act on someone, you hope to alter them, to give them what can only be called a more philosophical understanding of the world. My violence is pretty much summed up in that passage about “why I am an amazing writer”, it’s something that sounds like a greater state of truth or awareness but is in fact useless to anyone else (different from me).

My comment, then, does not sound all that interesting– different cultures have different forms of violence — fine. Culture itself may be nothing but violence. You may have heard the expression, “What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger” — well, the relationship between violence and growth is assured only within a particular culture. Violence, otherwise, is merely an unfulfilled promise. And even when the promises of violence are fulfilled, that fulfillment is not of the promise itself but only in a nihilistic, pragmatic sense. But I believe that there actually is something interesting about my comment, but precisely in the sense that it doesn’t want to go too far. Different cultures are different is a tautology. But what if, instead, we were talking aobut the metaphysics of violence or the mode of violence? Then we are talking about violence as cut off from all that it establishes. But at the same time: this word, “mode” or “metaphysics” is not something that’s “actually there” – it is not in fact any essence of cultural violence. Violence is related to the promise, is related to otherness, to profundity, to another world. But what I sensed there at that moment, I believe, was an understanding of violence that also seems to alter the object being understood.

I mean, we really dislike culture, we hardly leave our house, and we are filled with bitterness. But there is now, I sense, a “metaphysics” to culture that is not, in fact, any essence of culture but rather the purity of culture, or the purity that we impose onto culture. This purity would avoid all the endless complications and figures that arise, that we called “the virtual”. But it would not really explain the virtual, nor is it even a study of the virtual. I hereby suggest here that we hardly understand what metaphysics is: like all good analyses, we can start: “It is first of all a practice, it is not defined structurally…”

Let’s actually return to RfE and see if there’s anything we can say about it. What’s surprising here is the combination of bitterness and pandering, Emily dislikes the town she lives in and yet in an act of apparent generosity leaves them with a parting gift. This “generosity” is the anticipation which is based on the intuition into the metaphysical form of violence. And yet, this gift is something like a Trojan horse, but without merely being another (eg, “feminist”) form of violence. But rather — and we will have to continue this — the violence of the corpse of Homer is a kind of “pure art”, a kind of “pure mobilization”.

That is, with my coworker, the emphasis was on how speech led to a mode of thinking that emphasized repetition, reiteration, etc. – such as in sampling, jazz, etc.. This can lead, obviously, to the development of virtual worlds. But the mode of violence avoids virtuality, it instead contents itself with the mode of intention itself, with cultural fragments. (All this only makes sense if we recognize metaphysics as itself a historical event, and not merely the summation of the virtual.)

TBC: What is metaphysics?


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