Saturday, May 20, 2006

solar anus my arse

All went well at the reading last night. A pretty good crowd despite the rain, and a particularly enjoyable set from Gary Goodman whose long rolling half-chanted delivery and tender adjectival pile-up poems always please me. I’m not sure how they’d work on the page (I don’t mean I think they wouldn’t, I just mean I can’t guess, his performance being so particular), but he’s great to listen to.

Jay Clifton, who organises this reading series, and Anthony Banks publish a literary journal called Succour. I’ve had a couple of things in this in the past, but don’t have anything in the current issue (which has really turned a corner design-wise and now looks beautiful). Anthony asked me to contribute to the next issue, whose theme is ‘The Obscene’. This got me thinking for the first time in ages about Georges Bataille, who is part of this current exhibition.

‘Obscene’, from the greek for ‘offstage’, is often construed as a supplement to the normal. If the stage is a parameter and the scale of the possible exceeds the playing area, then obscenity is normative, a question of degree, a limit function. Bataille, however, seems to understand this other region as a territory outside thought, where there are no co-ordinates, where there are paths but no vectors, and where consequentialist morality is revealed as a function of a kind of existential false-consciousness. Where violence, chaos and abjection reign and are redeemed only by their halo which is beauty.

It strikes me that it is rather easier for a comfortably employed (as a numismatist), healthy and well dressed, well educated, articulate, white, mid-century french man to expostulate on the beauty of profanity, its being prior to justice, and the ways in which aesthetics might redeem violence, than someone whose freedom to act is a little more circumscribed. Someone to whom the products of the ‘bourgeois machinery of justice’ may be of more immediate and pressing utility. Someone for whom the varieties of sexual practice and the contiguous practices of deviancy are nothing more than their place of work, dull and familiar as a call centre. Someone perhaps like the nameless prostitutes habitually fucked, humiliated and denied agency by Bataille and his penguin-suited cigarillo-twirlers.

As subtle and complex as his philosophy is, as useful a thinker as he might seem to be, I have to ask whether Bataille’s thought, its emanations and avatars, are things with which one might align oneself, rather as one stands next to a friend the better to see where she points with her arm, or whether it might be an obstacle to pleasure, justice and peace. And the more I think of the women ploughed away by his Friday night jolly-ups, the more he looks like one of those corpulent waitress-grabbing old creeps that lurk about in Neue Sachlichkeit paintings. I’ve met a few of these guys in my life (hello and fuck you Dave Neil), and have found their nietzschean posturing laughable or alarming according to their power to act (which power is often circumscribed in these men by a pathetic cowardice in social situations – ever met a Thelemite?). I don’t think I’d have liked Bataille very much, and I’m pretty sure it’d have been mutual.

Incidentally there are a series of discussions running alongside that exhibition including one with Sinclair, Catling, Allen Fisher and Aaron Williamson on July 5th. Just try and keep me away from that.

"things with which one might align oneself, rather as one stands next to a friend the better to see where she points with her arm, or whether it might be an obstacle to pleasure, justice and peace."

Yeah, spot on, as usual. I am usually of the opinion that Bataille ,and many other, oh I dunno, "Transgressives" (that word gets more and more 80's by the day), exist as a map of possibilites. Whether you'd wanna take 'em up is another question. Some do, undoubtably, and they are generally arseholes adding to the sum total of human misery, but the necessity of the work remains.

I usually cite the Viennese Actionists. Their work (and indeed their private lives, as far as I am aware) was pretty unpleasant, with strong overtones of misogyny, amongst othet t'ings, but there address was vital in the context it appeared (post-war German youth. The same circumstance which gave us Can, Faust et al), their parents being implicated in mass-murder and such.

Battaile a tougher nut, and it's hard not to see him as simply a perverted librarian with power fantasies, but his work retains a power that radiates beyond simple pornography. "Story of the Eye" stays strong and strange, not simply because of its Bellmer-esque perversitys, but because it's an ostensibly "pornographic" novel that has little or nothing to do with titillation. It is a strange headspace governed by desire, frustrated or otherwise, and existing according to its own logic. I find it closer in effect to the work of people like Phillip K dick or Borges than any of the other "Extreme" (EXTREME!) writers of the period (or after).

We should be thankful that at least he's not another Peter Sotos. Disgraceful personal habits or not. I'm judging the song, not the singer.
I just followed your link to Succour and read an excerpt of the current issue, Radio Eye. It's great, I'm going to buy a copy, good luck with whatever you do for the next one. Once piece in it, St. Kilda by Meredith Okell, reminded me of your poem Blank Retina which I was listening to recently with great pleasure, as we say in radio poetry land.
I don't think that anyone should wish to align themselved precisly with Bataille's philosophy. Isn't it the point, rather, to find one's own way? You would have to have Bataille's temperament -- and not all that is healthy for one is healthy for another. He obviously was trying to overcome some barriers within himself. The type and nature of superego barriers to self and how to overcome them will differ from one to another.
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