Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Notes near the end of the year

      I haven't been posting much this month for a number of reasons, notably because of travel, research, and other distractions.  Happily, this brief exodus has translated into a full if fairly rough draft of another chapter, books read, and two trips undertaken, one to Minneapolis and one to San Francisco.  Not much of this has translated into the sort of material that I could easily translate into blog postings.  (No doubt, other writers would have produced a number of excellent posts, but not me.)  However, I've been driven back into writing by my brief reading of Samuel R. Delany's 7 Essays, 4 Letters, and 5 Interviews About Writing,  which might be titled 7 Essays, 4 Letters, and 5 Interviews About Why You're Probably Not a Writer. While neither Delany's primary message nor the main point that I gained from the text, it was a good reminder that I had set up this blog in order to do more day to day writing, and the fact that this day to day writing has translated into much stronger writing on my part in other situations.

      The result is what you are seeing now, a slightly stream of consciousness effort taken up in order to start the creative process.  I suspect that I will be writing another piece about the current problems with the Progressive Labor Party, but I suspect that I will need to check in with folks to get a better sense of the current situation.  (The organization has written a defensive and not terribly coherent response to the demands that they deal with the rapist in their organization, but I'm not sure what they have been doing on the ground.)  Similarly, I want to return to some of the questions about science fiction that have been a thread through the publication, but the last book I read, John Scalzi's Old Man's War, while enjoyable, didn't really translate into a desire to write about it.  Perhaps, I should visit Uncle Hugo's while I'm in town.  Finally, I'm tempted to write about Kathi Weeks' new text, The Problem With Work, but I haven't completed reading it.  It does deal with the ways that work has been increasingly marked as private, a current political interest of my own.

      Moving on, the question of generic convention has been on my mind a considerable amount recently, most likely because of the sheer amount of time that I have spent reading, thinking, and writing about women's magazine.  The work of Lauren Berlant has played a significant role in shaping the way that I read those publications, and the ways that they attempt to construct particular types of subjects through their pedagogical efforts.  However, Delany's work also brings up the issue of convention and genre in his work, emphasizing the ways that writing must rigorously engage with a set of generic conventions and reader expectations in order to operate as successful writing, even if that work is designed to unsettle or transgress those infrastructure.  The thread that runs through this is the way that each conceptualizes generic convention not as restriction or censorship, but a constitutive of a set of social relations, whether producing the housewife installed in the matrix of unpaid reproductive labor or the novel that is recognizable as successful by both reader and writer.

      Perhaps at some point I'll take another point that has interested me, the pleasure in generic familiarity, whether in the form of the enjoyment of a piece of literature that fulfills these familiar expectations or the ways that we attempt to shape our social relations based on a series of conventions.  This question has been an implicit one through a number of my short essays, whether in the exploration of how anarchist activists attempted to take Boots Riley's critique of particular forms of property destruction and transform it into a very familiar set of debates about the divisions between anarchists and communists, or the ways that both critics and advocates of the Occupy phenomena refuse to recognize the multiplicity and immense contradictions in the emergent form.  Perhaps my position is increasingly close to the positions taken by Delany because of our common influences through marxism, formalism, and a sort of structuralism.  For Delany, the question of ethics and aesthetics are distinctly related, and the construction of richer and thicker literary conventions gestures towards the ability to produce a more ethical society.  (It would take a long time to work through how this remains faithful to a sort of materialist analysis, but I think you can.)

      It's significant that this position doesn't argue for the end of conventions as either a desired outcome or even as a possibility.  Instead, the goal is to produce an aesthetic that deals with the complexity, contradictions, and conflict that defines what might be called the real, the immense complexity of the world.  To turn briefly to my examples, each response refuses to engage with the emergent properties of the social phenomena, or to use Ernst Bloch's term, it's function as novum or novelty.  Conversation becomes repetitive and ultimately futile, but in such a way as to reinforce the positions of both parties through a series of mechanisms of pleasure.  I don't deny the functionality of this approach at times.  Offering substantial and thoughtful criticism to racist and sexist internet trolls is exhausting in a not terribly productive manner.  But there's a danger in attempting to take every utterance and place it into a familiar and repetitive category, and perhaps more significantly in the desire to only engage with the modes of communication that fall into this terrain, which is stasis,stasis not understood as a sort of immobility but as a sort of unending and repetitive civil war.  If those sorts of engagement are unavoidable, and I do believe that they are, we need to find other forms of engagement in order to escape being fully defined by their terms....  somehow that ties into the aesthetic novum.

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