Saturday, 2 November 2013

On Intellectual Culture and the Experience of Time

A remark by Baudelaire which haunts me: “I would gladly write only for the dead.” One could just as easily say: “…for the unborn.”

One result of extensive and passionate reading throughout early life, when the contours of subjectivity are being formed—and thus a pervasive trait within intellectual subcultures generally—is a radical relativisation of time as it relates to the subject: the visceral investment of that subject in historical time, with an integrality which most others seem to invest only in the lived time of their direct experience. Historical time, along with the forms of relation that traverse it, ceases to be experienced as abstract. In its most concentrated form, this investiture encompasses not only or primarily ‘the past’, but the unfolding of the historical process itself, and the potential-objects (one might say pataphysical objects, with the second word placed under erasure) that are imminent, or can be imaged as such, within a historical future. So that the epoch in which one lives—indeed, the conscious life one lives—is experienced less as a plenitude which ‘past’ and ‘future’ lack, than as a constraint against which one’s life continuously agitates. One’s literal life becomes analogous to the Ego of psychoanalysis: the active function of a subjectivity that indefinitely exceeds it. One ‘is’ whatever one’s work, one’s effect, will be, and whatever one has drawn into one’s self through it. Past and Future (with all the dissemenatory movement of the latter) become sites of the unconscious. This radical infusion of the process of subjectivity with the materials of social and historical process underlie the very possibility of  intellectual experience and culture. This state of existing lies at the root of the constant theme within the avant-garde of being at odds with one’s epoch, of being born too late or too early, jarring against one’s time—from Nanteuil, Bertrand and Gautier to Huysmans and Mallarmé to Hugo Ball. It is also what, in a sometimes stumbling manner, Coleridge, Hazlitt, and earlier Samuel Johnson and others in a certain British discourse were attempting to approach in their thinking on ‘fame’. 

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