Monday, September 01, 2003

In the mid 80s I spent two years working on an essay that after one hundred pages of rewriting came to ten pages, typed. The title as I wrote it was "Modernism, Parody and the Denial of Narrative," and it was the perfect example of the contradictions it described. It was an inward looking, self supporting, utterly logical, almost diamond hard argument for open-ended ambiguity and narrative: an autistic's attempt to transcend autism. It was published as "Parody and Privacy" in ARTS Magazine in 1987. [now also here] A longer piece, on modernism and ideology, will probably never see the light of day.

It's all well and good to use the language of synchronic analysis to argue for a diachronic view of the world. That's what Wittgenstein was doing by the end of his life. It's the story of Kafka and it's his flaw. When I read that Thomas Mann called Kafka's work "too perfect" I became so excited I almost threw a chair across the room. The history of critical anti-modernism from Duchamp to Warhol is the history of need for order and the fear of narrative, time, and death. The history of 'analytical' and therefore synchronically based critique is the history of using the conservatism one knows to design an escape, to maintain authority over a process one can not control. And it don't work, Son. The wonder of the great 19th century thinkers is that they had access to and thrived in the world of diachronic, narrative, communication. They understood that communication without mediation, without misunderstanding, was impossible. And with rich social lives they weren't so lonely or so desperate for communion that they found the process isolating and painful.

The problem now is not to argue for a diachronic and flexible understanding but to be able to have one. Modernist intellectualism does not understand the difference, does not understand how something can exist only in it's use. A few weeks ago I made a similar comment about Colin McGinn. For a more general argument go here

I've been repeating myself on all this since about 1981, but I'm getting more articulate. So answer me this
What is 'The Law?' Is it the concept or only the concept in action? Is it a set of rules, or is it the process of arguing about those rules - in a room, in summer, without air conditioning, and with a bad hangover? 
Is it the relation between the two?
For all the fact that I come off as an ass -usually without apology- my argument with Scott Martens is entirely intellectual. He's making an argument for something using the tools he has, but he's describing his opinions and I'm describing the history of my life. If he were writing for Volokh I wouldn't give a shit, but he isn't, and I'm a little sheepish about my tone.

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