the rigorous m

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Archive for May, 2010

assemblage’s little dictionary of time and space-related ills

Posted by rigorousm on May 18, 2010

Diseases of the Soul

Are there diseases or maladies that belong particularly to houses and apartments, to the places where one lives? … To consider everyday day (when and where one lives), one must consider the two main categories of existence: time and space. One might create dual lists: diseases of time, or “temporal diseases,” and diseases of space, “spatial diseases.” Anxiety is a disorder of time perception; this panic is described as a fear of the instant. Nostalgia, a social disease, a long for past time, is also a temporal malady. Another malady of time, melancholy, the medieval melancholia, was thought to be caused by an overabundance within the body’s organs of “black bile”…. Physiologists since the nineteenth century have described the human body as a kind of thermodynamic motor and have analyzed its dispersion of energy through entropy; this is the notion behind fatigue, both physical and psychological. Jet lag, a result of the disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm, epitomizes the contemporary time disease. Of spatial diseases, the most obvious is claustrophobia— or, in America, “cabin fever”– which occurs when an individual remains constrained for too long in a constricted space. In counterpart to claustrophobia are claustrophilia, the love of or need for being enclosed and confined, and agoraphobia, the fear of large, open spaces. The malady of homesickeness is the spatial correspondent of nostalgia. Another form of spatial disease, uncanniness (the Unheimlichkeit) is the perturbing and uneasy feeling derived from habitual surrounding that suddenly appear too familiar.

Of all the maladies that thread through a discussion of everyday architecture, the one that seems most common, and perhaps least tragic, is boredom, a peculiar state of melancholy and sadness bound to the perception of time and quite close to the some of the diseases just described. … Instilled by the dreaded “noontide demon,” it appears in the space of the soul, abstract and transparent. In modern times, acedia would transform into spleen and ennui. Spleen manifests itself as a shround outisde the body: the black color of melancholic bile emerging to wrap the body in the dress of the dandy, the flaneur, immersed in the crowd of the metropolis. Ennui moves beyond the physical limits of the body, to reveal itself in the interieur, the interior rooms of domesticity, where intimate space cloaks the body with the uncanny shapes of familiarity.

The state of the eternal return, the immutable sameness in the seemingly new, the semper idem, can bring forth tedium.

– Georges Teyssot and Catherine Seavitt, “Boredom and Bedroom: The Suppression of the Habitual,” pp.44-61 in Assemblage, No. 30 (19996):46-47.


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distance, pity

Posted by rigorousm on May 10, 2010

Critics who castigate Coover for his lack of pity seem to me to misunderstand the nature of his pity. They are quite correct that we are not invited to feel pity. But then pity allows the pitier to feel superior to the pitied. Pity enforces a distance, because we who pity are aware that we do not suffer as the protagonist is suffering. Vonnegut is a master at inducing pity. It feels so good to join him in his low-keyed, sophisticated indignation. We feel flattered at our own moral wisdom. His objects are entirely worthy, his causes just, and his own response may be deeply felt. But his creations do invite facile sympathy, or even sardonic pity toward his fantastically exaggerated victims….

Coover does not allow us the luxury of such pity. The anesthetic quality of some of his violence may indeed be prompted by a desire to discourage pity…. electrocuted bodies are reduced to jerky, mechanical things. As bodies, their vulnerability is all too apparent. But the response evoked is partly miserable whimpers of laughter. Bergsonian reification makes the jerking marionettes funny as well as sickening, even while forcing us to acknowledge that we too are just as vulnerable to death through our bodies…. Pity may be Coover’s ultimate weapon, for in a way, pity degrades the recipient.

We prefer our sympathies to be played upon. That process makes us less aware of our own weaknesses. But Coover prefers to batter us, even violate us, rather than allow us to hide from the same awareness of nakedness that his characters have to face.

– Hume, Kathryn. Pp. 145-148 in “Robert Coover’s Fiction: The Naked and the Mythic,” 1979.  NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction  12(2):127-148.

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Posted by rigorousm on May 10, 2010

“Philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed.”

– Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p. 3

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