Theory and Meaning (Ode to a Nightingale)

‘All people want is to be understood, but that’s already too much.’ There is something fundamentally wrong with ‘meaning’ — which is always related to the human, to bad TV shows, and to time. Meaning is something that begs or pleads to me in an annoying way, it’s something that I am bored of or something that I want nothing to do with. Another misanthropist thought: thinking back to the times I’ve been threatened with violence, what infuriates me the most is the air of beggary about it. Meaning is too godamn liberal.

Now consider ‘theory’. Theory always implies practice, maybe some moment when theory becomes visible, but at the same time it develops independently. Theory’s independence comes from its link to *memory*, in that sense it is related to the subconscious. When theory finally enters into ‘practice’, or into the world, there is at that moment a threshold that is formed. When theory encounters practice, and when theory and practice begins to feed back into one another, then that is meaning, which we hate.

There’s something that happens when theory and practice transforms into meaning, something is lost. Yet, there is that pivotal moment when one is on a threshold that is quite interesting and, hopefully, also historically significant. Or, actually, the real interest we have in this threshold is it’s ‘communicability’, it’s universality, the way in which there is a convergence towards it regardless of starting position, which is the cause of its historical significance.

Let’s talk about Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” in this context, we will be interested in two things:
1) ‘Figurization’, becoming a figure
2) Keats’s progressive rejection of ‘the blues’ and of meaning

In speaking of (2), I’m reminded of that ‘Hyperion’ essay I wrote, where we derisively referred to the modern style as a ‘laugh track’, which is what I call here ‘the blues’. Stanza I is ‘bluesy’: “My heart aches, as though of hemlock I had drunk …”. Particularly interesting, actually, is the 3rd Stanza, where Keats aknowledges, and in aknowledging, dismisses, escapism:


Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond tomorrow.


Away! away! For I will fly to thee …

So what’s interesting here that flight or escape here at least refers to Keats’s flight from the form of escapism itself. Now, escapism as a trope is, in fact, highly sentimental, one escapes because what’s really there, the causa prima, is the misery of the real world. But escapism as trope, as meaning, is also a part of this very misery.

More genrally, in OtN there is in each later stanza some desire to abandon the earlier stanza and this is the awareness of Keats (or rather, of the speaker) that he is entering into a realm where the stakes are already set (I remember here the first line of “Phaedra”: “The case is set”), where there is harmony between the consciousness and the subconsciousness, where reflection yields fruit only because they are filled with meaning.

This passage resonates with me, there is actually a growing sense of misanthropy here that seems to relate to what I called ‘begging and pleading’ earlier. There is the sense that it is not their fault but it takes a great deal of restraint not to blame them.

I wrote this in Facebook the other day:

Today I feel to have glimpsed a world that I was never even aware existed, of new things and happenings that await categorization and cataloguing: the haphazard construction of the subconscious via the interplay of action (always concommitant with blindness), dramatization, and retrospection, the infernal wheel of the interplay of the subconscious and the consciousness. The key difference between my model and psychoanalytic ones is the extreme simplicity of the mind: it is purely memory association — the subconscious is formed by yet unseen happenings without any need to postulate any particular physiological substrate.

What’s interesting here is the self-conscious but nonetheless sincere dramatization of a ‘threshold’, to a world of hidden happenings, a world, however, which is emphatically theoretical rather than emperical, but which at the same time is characterized by a strong *phenomenal* component (which we called, ‘practice’) — to have ‘glimpsed a world’, which in fact is not merely metaphorical here. And this is really the turn at stanza IV as well, where the previous stanzas could be characterized as a kind of stutter, perhaps.

(TODO: talk about the redeemed error of a positivistic subconsciousness in the previous essay)

This phenomenality is the vision of agency — at once theoretical and phenomenal. It is the sorting through the traces of this agency…



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