Delivered a paper at the 20th Century Literature and the Weight of History conference at Columbia today. It’s up for your perusal on the work page.
Reading Enrique Vila-Matas’s Bartleby & Co. as a kind of warm-up to constructing my orals lists. It’s a hybrid text – a series of reflections on (mostly?) real “writers of No” within a fictional frame. Writers of No, writers that withdraw from writing or never write anything at all, wrench language open by refusing to use it. Part of the work of the writer of No is to puncture the boundary between working and not working, yet almost all of the writers of No Vila-Matas lists experience their not-writing as a zone of indetermination, an uncomfortable and permanent caesura in life’s rhythm. Vila-Matas’s narrator, of course, being a writer of No until he stirs and begins to write his book.
I find myself envious of both Vila-Matas’s book and the writers he chronicles, secret practitioners of conceptual art avant la lettre.
Thinking a bit about “Shock” while reading Benjamin and Eisenstein today. “Shock” as a term freighted with Dada’s anarchism, Benjamin’s mystical Marxism, Eisenstein’s communism. It’s a term that — at least when translated into English from German, French, Russian, etc — cuts across the first few decades of the twentieth century. But I’m not sure if “Shock” is always “Shock.” For Benjamin, shocks both stun and shatter constellations of thought, an instant of insensibility that leaves its trace in thought. For Eisenstein, the term relates to the affective dimensions of film content: “As I understand it, content is the summary of all that is subjected to the series of shocks to which in a particular order the audience is to be exposed” (“The Method of Making Workers’ Films”). Perhaps the only difference between the two of them is that Eisenstein is the filmmaker, and thus delivers shocks to the world, while Benjamin is subjected to them.
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