I could barely keep upright and despaired of ever reaching the end of this ride through the impossible. We had abandoned the real world, the one made up solely of dressed people, and the time elapsed since then was already so remote as to seem almost beyond reach. Our personal hallucination now developed as boundlessly as perhaps the total nightmare of human society, for instance, with earth, sky, and atmosphere.
Although based on his journals, Noa Noa is really a crafted memoir of Gaugin’s time in Tahiti. At the outset, it seems as if it is going to be a tragic tale of the European seeking to escape alienation by immersing himself in a traditional culture of the colonial sphere, only to find that his condition is inescapable, and that he himself perpetuates it no matter where he goes. And that reading could be sustained–but it’s not Gaugin’s assertion. Instead, he claims to have succeeded in “going native” sufficiently to be spiritually rehabilitated and creatively inspired.
A considerable section toward the end of the book is given over to an attempt to describe indigenous Tahitian religion, with special attention to cosmogonic myths and the rituals involved with the secret society of Areois which is supposed to have ruled the island in the pre-colonial period. Most spectacularly, Gaugin relates his understanding of the Matumua ceremonies transacted with the enthronement of a new king. This rite allegedly culminated in a royal gang-bang: as Gaugin suggests (in more circumspect phrasing), it was a formalized opportunity for the people to screw the king before he’d screw them.
Gaugin’s language emphasizes the sensuous throughout, although he refrains from being too explicit regarding the conspicuous erotic contents of his own experiences. His relationship to his eventual native bride offers the unselfconscious intimation that the way he exploits the island paradise may not be so far removed from the other agents of that prudish and dirty Christian civilization he professes to deplore.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence 1982-1985 [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Jean-François Lyotard, edited by Julian Pefanis and Morgan Thomas, trans. Barry Don, Bernadette Maher, Julian Pefanis, Virginia Spate, and Morgan Thomas, afterword by Wlad Godzich.
Postmoderne expliqué aux enfants could potentially be read as “The New Aeon Explained for Babes of the Abyss.” Lyotard suggests that modernity is characterized by a critical position common to Augustine and Kant, contrasting with the “empiricocritical or pragmatic” posture of the postmodern. (63) Technoscience and capital together have effected an “escape of reality from the metaphysical.” (9)
The author has sometimes been misunderstood as an advocate for the postmodern, rather than a diagnostician of it, and in several pieces of the correspondence collected here the reader can see his frustration that the public misses his opposition to “capitalism’s regime of pseudorationality and performativity.” (73) He is not at all smug about the demise of the elements of modernity that give way to the postmodern, but he is also convinced and convincing that retreat to the modern is not a viable option.
In discussing the failure of modern strategies of legitimation, he glosses Hegel to the effect that “the sole normative instance, the sole source of law, the sole y, is pure will — which is never this or that, never determined, but simply the potential to be all things. So it judges any particular act, even when it is prescribed by law and executed according to the rules, as failing to live up to the ideal. Terror acts on the suspicion that nothing is emancipated enough — and makes it into a politics.” (54) While the ideology of capitalism does not itself give rise to such terror (because it deals in evanescent needs rather than final norms), it is still vulnerable to it, in ways that have become ever more evident in the decades since Lyotard wrote the “Memorandum on Legitimation” that is the longest of the missives and essays collected here.
The afterword by Wlad Godzich constitutes an insightful summary of Lyotard’s efforts prior to the publication of Postmoderne expliqué, and it might be profitable to read it first for those who have no previous familiarity with either The Postmodern Condition or The Differend. Reading it myself, I conclude that it will indeed be the child who will master the aeon, but I also register how difficult the achievement of childhood is becoming.
Most pornography—the books discussed here cannot be excepted—points to something more general than even sexual damage. I mean the traumatic failure of modern capitalist society to provide authentic outlets for the perennial human flair for high-temperature visionary obsessions, to satisfy the appetite for exalted self-transcending modes of concentration and seriousness. The need of human beings to transcend “the personal” is no less profound than the need to be a person, an individual. But this society serves that need poorly. It provides mainly demonic vocabularies in which to situate that need and from which to initiate action and construct rites of behavior.
The young men of France are studying alchemy, hoping to learn the secret of the transmutation of gold. If you will study your own spirit and its limitless powers, you will gain a greater secret than any alchemist ever held; a secret which shall give you whatever you desire.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox, The Heart of the New Thought
Lark in the Morning: The Verses of the Troubadours, a Bilingual Edition by Robert Kehew, with both French and English, translations by Ezra Pound, W D Snodgrass and Robert Kehew, a 2005 paperback from University of Chicago Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.
“Although the troubadours flourished at the height of the Middle Ages in southern France, their songs of romantic love, with pleasing melodies and intricate stanzaic patterns, have inspired poets and song writers ever since, from Dante to Chaucer, from Renaissance sonneteers to the Romantics, and from Verlaine and Rimbaud to modern rock lyricists. Yet despite the incontrovertible influence of the troubadours on the development of both poetry and music in the West, there existed no comprehensive anthology of troubadour lyrics that respected the verse form of the originals until now.
Lark in the Morning honors the meter, word play, punning, and sound effects in the troubadours’ works while celebrating the often playful, bawdy, and biting nature of the material. Here, Robert Kehew augments his own verse translations with those of two seminal twentieth-century poets—Ezra Pound and W. D. Snodgrass—to provide a collection that captures both the poetic pyrotechnics of the original verse and the astonishing variety of troubadour voices.” — back cover
“Now when I see the skylark lift
His wings for joy in dawn’s first ray
Then let himself, oblivious, drift
For all his heart is glad and gay,
Ay! such great envies seize my thought
To see the rapture others find,
I marvel that desire does not
Consume away this heart of mine.”
—from “The Skylark” by Bernart de Ventadorn, trans. W D Snodgrass
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