NB: journals due either in class on the 27 or in the English Dept. office before noon on the 28th.
Burke suggests that the French revolution is illegitimate in part because it’s barbarity couldn’t be “commemorated with grateful thanksgiving” (11); but is the point of revolutions to be commemorated?
Beyond emphasizing its barbarity Burke imagines the sacking of Versailles in a way that, to put it mildly, is somewhat sexually suggestive; how important is it that Burke implicitly likens the revolution to a rape? does his political theory provide a way of making sense of this metaphor?
Burke’s metaphor of the “drapery of life” (12) suggests that we esteem only what we imaginatively construct whereas, stripped of the latter, our “naked” nature, reduced to empirical facticity, is inherently “defective.” As we’ve already seen he also says the effect of power is increased rather than decreased by its obscurity. In analogous paradoxes he says that virtue must be habitual to be effective and that “prejudice” has its own kind of “reason” and “justice.” What can just and rational prejudice possibly mean? Could such a just prejudice bear some relation to the prejudice Austen’s dealing with? There must be some limit to Burke’s advocacy of habitual illusion and renunciation of the kind of empirical/rational critique he associates with the French revolution; how and where does he draw the line?
What does Burke mean by “the cold sluggishness of our national character”? is this a good or bad thing? It can’t mean complete inertia given what Burke suggests above about the importance of an at least somewhat actively, imaginatively elaborated “drapery.” In the following passage from the Reflections not included in your excerpt, he describes this balancing act in terms of the theme that represents a key, clear point of departure from Rousseau, property. Private property for Rousseau is, as for Marx, is the source of reified, abstract amour-propre and arbitrary exchange-value. As the passage below attests, Burke sees the matter differently, to put it mildly. He defends precisely the radically unequal distribution of property that Rousseau and Marx attack, but Burke argument is extremely complex and subtle and arguably ultimately not necessarily totally incompatible with theirs. Do you see possibilities of reconciliation or not? why?
“Nothing is a due and adequate representation of a state, that does not represent its ability, as well as its property. But as ability is a vigorous and active principle, and as property is sluggish, inert, and timid, it never can be safe from the invasions of ability, unless it be, out of all proportion, predominant in the representation. It must be represented in great masses of accumulation, or it is not rightly protected. The characteristic essence of property, formed out of the combined principles of its acquisition and conservation, is to be unequal.”
Adorno’s brutal; there’s no getting around it. The only way to read him is to resign yourself to the difficulty, don’t demand to understand every sentence but rather just go with the flow, let yourself fall into the dark woods and wait for the occasional formulations that appear and somewhat illuminate the surroundings. Adorno’s whole point is that reification is so insidious that nothing can be said clearly and straightforwardly against reification without this very accessibility secretly promoting the reification it renounces. So difficulty is part of Adorno’s point: strenuously exercising our brains is necessary to extricate ourselves from our complacently commodified existence.
A couple illuminating passages I’d draw your attention to:
“Art is related to its other like a magnet to a field of iron filings. The elements of art as well as their constellation, or what is commonly thought to be the spiritual essence of art, point back to the real other. The identity of the works of art with existent reality also accounts for the centripetal force that enables them to gather unto themselves the traces and membra disiecta of real life” (234).
“[Art] gives the lie to the notion that production for production’s sake is necessary, by opting for a mode of praxis beyond labour” (237).
“Prose writings like Metamorphosis and Penal Colony…seem to call forth in us responses like real anxiety, a violent drawing back, an almost physical revulsion. They seem to be the opposite of desire, yet these phenomena of psychic defence and rejection have more in common with desire than with the old Kantian disinterestedness….The precondition for the autonomy of artistic experience is the abandonment of the attitude of tasting and savouring….In a false world all hedone is false. This goes for artistic pleasure, too. Art renounces happiness for the sake of happiness, thus enabling desire to survive in art” (237).
In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud postulates the “death drive” in an attempt to explain the repetitious traumatic war neurosis he witnesses in the wake of WWI. The repetitions of traumatic neurosis disobey the pleasure principle. This disobediance is consistent with the definition of trauma as an overwhelming of the mind’s capacity to incorporate stimuli into a stable economy of pleasure and unpleasure; the traumatic stimulus penetrates what Freud calls the mind’s outer “crust” or “protective shield” and inundates the mind directly (29, 33). Thus, Freud writes, “the pleasure principle is for the moment put out of action. There is no longer any possibility of preventing the mental apparatus from being flooded with large amounts of stimulus, and another problem arises instead—the problem of mastering the amounts of stimulus which have broken in and of binding them in the psychical sense, so that they can then be disposed of” (33f).
The option is available to Freud of resigning himself to an essentially negative explanation; i.e., that traumatic neurosis simply represents the mind’s failure to execute the fundamental operations that allow it to operate according to the pleasure principle. Indeed, Freud almost seems to take up this option when he says that the phenomena of traumatic neurosis “are endeavoring to master the stimulus retrospectively, by developing the anxiety whose omission was the cause of the traumatic neurosis” (37). Here it is possible to picture the traumatized mind as attempting to reactivate the functions that would allow for reinstallation of the pleasure principle. Repeating the traumatic experience, then, would be a function of this attempt to retrospectively “bind” it somehow, to integrate it into the psychic economy so that it may be metabolized and “disposed of.”
But Freud apparently doesn’t take this option, but instead offers the very ambitions, speculative hypothesis that in such disruptions of the pleasure principle we actually glimpse the functioning of an even deeper principle, that of the death drive, the self-destructive impulse of all organic life to return to its original, pre-organic state.
As an economic drive that functions to undermine the economy of the pleasure principle the death drive is profoundly perverse, and sets up something like an anti-economy economy, a sheerly entropic force towards disrupting any homeostatic balancing of pleasure and unpleasure. As a such an anti-economistic principle does Freud’s death drive bear some resemblance to Burke’s inertia, and Adorno’s art?
The ultimate question raised by Burke, Freud and Adorno in this regard is whether and how they manage to theorize, to offer some kind of general purpose conceptualization of, a principle of resistance to theoretical abstraction? are they self-contradicting? if yes, is it to the point of invalidating what they say, or do they manage to be suggestive in spite of self-contradiction?
As the title suggests, The Romantic Ideology is a critique of romantic literature as ideology. But McGann’s critique is also a meta-critique (a critique of a certain critical method) in that it accuses critics today of uncritically repeating romanticism’s ideology. This he describes on p. 13: “One of the basic illusions of Romantic Ideology is that only a poet and his works can transcend a corrupting appropriation by ‘the world’ of politics and money.” Romantic poetry tries to valorize this illusion, which means trying to disguise its status as an illusion, trying to rationalize it, etc., but consequently involves itself in, or as McGann says, “suffers,” the “contradictions.” As post-romantic critics, then, McGann says we have the choice of attuning ourselves either to the ideological illusion itself that romantic poets promoted or to the effort or suffering that promoting it required of them. The former approach isn’t criticism, McGann argues, but the opposite because it just perpetuates an illusion (and an outdated one at that). The latter is critical by virtue of pointing out two kinds of difference: 1. between the reality of the romantic’s socio-historical context and the illusions of their self-representations, and 2. between the historical context of the critic and that of romanticism. Thus in genuine critique “ideologies of the present are thereby laid open to critique from another human world, and one which–by the privilege of its historical backwardness, as it were–can know nothing of our current historical illusions. Our own forms of thought thereby being to enter our consciousness via the critique developed out of certain past forms of feeling. Like Trelawney at the cremation of Shelley, we shall reach for the unconsumed heart of the poem only if we are prepared to suffer a genuine change through its possession” (13). So present-day critique of romanticism, by uncovering the “suffering” self-contradictions of romantic poems, becomes self-critique that pierces our own ideological illusions and makes us likewise “suffer” our historical particularity.
In Chapters nine and ten Bingley seems to espouse a principle of impulsiveness that is the antithesis of Burkean inertia. When a debate ensues as to whether a friend’s persuasions might mitigate Bingley’s impetuosity, Darcy says that in order to judge the matter one can’t speak of a generic friend but must specify “the degree of importance” attached to the friend’s persuasions and “the degree of intimacy subsisting between the parties” (34). By way of concurring Bingley makes a jocular remark with profoundly Burkean resonances of which no one could be more obvious Bingley himself: “By all means, let us hear all the particulars, not forgetting their comparative height and size; for that will have more weight in the argument, Miss Bennet than you may be aware of. I assure you that if Darcy were not such a great tall fellow, in comparison with myself, I should not pay him half so much deference. I do not know a more aweful object than Darcy, on particular occasions, and in particular places; at his own house especially, and of a Sunday evening when he has nothing to do” (34).
A few things to consider here:
1. “weight/inertia” effects a non-discursive kind of persuasion; it commands “deference” and “awe” precisely by what it does not say for itself, by what remains inarticulate, “obscure.”
2. as in Burke this is associated with property; the objective properties/possessions of a person, their body and estate.
3. in Bingley’s statement this specifically means Darcy’s body and Pemberley which will prove to have just such non-discursive persuasive power over Elizabeth.
4. but why would Austen thus have Elizabeth’s fate not just foretold but explained in advance by a character as vapid as Bingley? Consider Elizabeth’s earlier remarks on poetry: to Darcy’s comment that “I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,” she replies, “Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away” (31). Again in a way Burkean spirit the emphasis seems to be on getting a proper appreciation for the inherent inequality between the “stoutness” or inertia of love, property, “the English character,” etc., and whatever we might discursively or cognitively say or think about it.