This Living Hand (and haunting)

This Living Hand

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.

John Keats

TLH is really a cool poem. It seems to be about violence, but it is a kind of violence in passivity, my nights will be chilled precisely because I do not yet feel it, because I am not touched or violated — or at least warmly touched. It is not coldly touched either — it is held out.

With Rose for Emily, we never got to actually reading the text, unfortunately – I admit I haven’t read it in like 6 years or so. The figure of the corpse is very interesting, it actually suggests something that wants to come alive (as is the point in TLH). But we can never bring it fully “to life”, ie, by “life”, I mean, “the virtual”. Life we understand here as something useful, pragmatic, something evokes or provokes something. Let’s return briefly to the case of my black coworker, his name is Elijah. Now, he claims that he “is not really that into hip hop” but the stuff he writes nonetheless can pass, thematically, as “standard fare”. He conceived of his work as sort of laying a trap for the listener. But, not getting into specifics, really, this is what I would call “life”, it is something that happens “in the world” even if it is virtual — this is not a paradox. Our contact with mediums of memory — speech and writing in this case — has the effect of giving us a “second life”. If rappers rap about how they became rappers, that is not surprising because of the enormous time spent working, composing, etc., so that writing becomes an “event”, or perhaps so that all life events become filtered through writing. This is the argument being made in “Why I am an amazing writer”. But all this is still “life”.

The difference between what I or Elijah write and TLH & RfE is subtle but at the same time enormous. In the past few days, I’ve often paused in wonder at how enormous insights have often such subtle formal ramifications, or how enormous differences express themselves so subtly. This is because formalism is in some sense not adequate to insight. Because, really, in the end, formally speaking, all the works mentioned above are tied to issues of violence, eventness, reflexivity, and so forth — for example, can certainly understand Homer in RfE as referencing a tradition that has been slayed. But I assert here that the main point of interest in those works is way in which these works withhold violence, their violence comes from their very withholding (the strange “passivity” of TLH), which is not “meekness”. TLH here announces that “I am dead”, or, “this work has failed”, this work has not (must not, will not) yet reached “life” — one can only misunderstand it by calling it life. I remember saying a few months ago that the hardest part about reading Bartleby is not overreading it (and so death or failure is an insistence and not merely an inability, it is the strength of the text) — and here we can speculate on what this means:

We must begin with memory. Memory leads to the arising of virtual worlds, but that’s not what it is essentially, or rather, that’s not all that it is. In the last entry we said that we hardly know what metaphysics is, and here I think I have a response. Metaphysics is that which remains after failure, it is that world of possibilities opened up, not in the height of the virtual or within the virtual, not of new communities, new techniques and so forth, but rather with the departure of the virtual, which we can associate with the “deathbed vision” and not necessarily with the end of an era in history. Thus, metaphysics is indeed not holistic since it arises from a set of possibilities thus opened up. It is, strangely enough, related to a beginning that comes after the end, it is associated at the same time with death and with starting over. And this is really what I mean in saying that “we have not yet begun to read RfE”, I mean, even though we’ve provided vague sketches or outlines, we have not yet attempted to understand how RFE is something that requires our participation. We’ve laid out the formal outlines and intentions but we have yet to understand the work aesthetically, which requires our participation, we have yet to be haunted.

Participation is a very interesting word. We are perhaps better off talking about TLH here as it is much more explicit with these concepts. It is related to familiarity — we are haunted by something that we think we know well. It is in fact very radical in it’s thinking of familiarity, knowledge, it seems to hearken back to the idea of knowledge as know how, which familiarity does not necessarily suggest. Because with haunted participation, the departure or the absence of that which we are familiar with means that we are absolutely uncertain whether our knowledge of something is in fact correct. This uncertainty we can call speculation, to speculative aestheticswhich sounds oxymoronic but not all that paradoxical, since most of what we experience aesthetically is based on memory. The action that it speaks of — haunt thy days, chill thy dreaming nights — is entirely indirect and this is what separates TLH and the “Elijian” or myself. The action that TLH or RfE speak of, their historical action, their radical break with tradition, is not formally given, is not based on crisis or on another perspective on the world but rather on the way in which it leaves us haunted, renders us incapable of going back to that tradition.

Again, the thought in my mind here is the wonderment at just how little, formally, these works differ, how conservative they are formally. Because, from here, everything can be reconstructed, the project of reading TLH — which we haven’t undertaken yet, we are not yet haunted by this poem — must be philosophical or metaphysical, but it would have to focus instead on particular words rather than on formalism events. Perhaps formalism will return (and by formalism I really mean, a visible eventness, a historical form, a definite intention), perhaps certain definite events will seem to occur, but this will come only from the “starting over”, the thinking, theoretical rather than pragmatic (cf, “life”), the reflection on the bare beginnings of the reconstruction of intention. The idea here is that formalism will be absolutely cut off from the haunting that is the experience of the text.

 

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