the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

Archive for July, 2010

quotes: on the necessities of third parties in amusement

Posted by rigorousm on July 29, 2010

The comic differs from wit in its social behavior. The comic can be content with only two persons, one who finds the comcical, and one in whom it is found. The third person to whom the comical may be imparted reinforces the comic process, but adds nothing new to it. In wit, however, this third person is indispensible for the completion of the pleasure-bearing  process, while the second person may be omitted, especially when it is not a question of aggressive wit with a tendency. Wit is made, while the comical is found; it is found first of all in persons, and only later by transferance may be seen also in objects, situations, and the life.

– Sigmund Freud, “Wit and Its Relations to the Unconscious,” p. 761, 1905.


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quote: on comedy and tragedy

Posted by rigorousm on July 29, 2010

And the real trouble is not that the contemporary stage aims at artifice, but that it professes to aim at naturalness. It was one of the real virtues of the Restoration stage that it never sought– and never managed– to be “natural.” It lied its head off about a good many appurtenances of life, but it managed to capture a surprising amount of the thing itself; and even its lies squared with the partial truth that life is a masquerade.

Comedy appeals to the laughter, which is in part at least the malice, in us; for comedy is concerned with human imperfection, with people’s failure to measure up either to the world’s or to their own conception of excellence. All tragedy is idealistic and says in effect, “The pity of it”– that owing to this fault of circumstance or that from or that flaw of character, a man who is essentially good does evil, a man who is essentially great is toppled from the heights. But all comedy tends to be skeptical and says in effect, “The absurdity of it”– that in spite of his fine talk or noble resolutions, a man is the mere creature of pettiness and vanity and folly. Tragedy is always lamenting the Achilles tendon the destructive flaw in man; but comedy, in a sense, is always looking for it. Not cheaply, out of malevolence or cynicism; but rather because even at his greatest, man offers some touch of the fatuous and small, just as a murderer, even at his cleverest, usually makes some fatal slip. In tragedy men aspire to more than they can achieve; in comedy,  they pretend to more.

… Tragedy cannot flourish without giving its characters a kind of aura of poetry, or idealism, or doom; comedy scarcely functions till the aura has been dispelled. And as it thrives on a revelation of the true rather than the trumped-up motive, as it is in one way sustained by imposture, so in another it is sustained by incongruity. … If through laughing at others we purge ourselves of certain spiteful and ingenerous instincts– as through tragedy we achieve a higher and more publicized catharsis– that is not quite the whole of it. Comedy need not be hostile to idealism; it need only show how far human beings full short of the ideal. The higher comedy mounts, the airer and more brilliant its forms, the more we are aware of man’s capacity for being foolish or self-deluded or complacent… At the heart of high comedy there is always a strain of melancholy, as round the edges there is all gaiety and ebullience and glitter….

– Louis Kronenberger, “Some Prefatory Words on Comedy,” pp. 3-4, 1952.

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quote: on comedy

Posted by rigorousm on July 28, 2010

These bad traditions of comedy affect us, not only on the stage, but in our literature and may be tracked into our social life. They are the ground of the heavy moralizings by which we are outwearied, about life as a comedy, and comedy as a jade, when popular writers, conscious of fatigue in creativeness, desire to be cogent in a modish cynicism; perversions of the idea of life, and of the proper esteem for the society we have wrested from brutishness, and would carry higher. Stock images of this description are accepted by the timid and the sensitive, as well as by the saturnine, quite seriously; for not many look abroad with their own eyes– fewer still have the habit of thinking for themselves. Life, we know too well, is not a Comedy, but something strangely mixed; nor is comedy a vile music….

George Meredith, “On the Comedy and the Uses of the Comic Spirit,” pp. 24-25, 1877.

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quotes: wandering through the other city

Posted by rigorousm on July 27, 2010

All at once I knew that the other city must open up to whoever really wants leave; then every path they take will lead them to the shining palaces and gardens. I had not really left yet. To really leave one must leave everything behind and go smiling and empty-handed with no thought of return. Those who depart while counting on returning do not leave home, even if they reach the white cities in the depths of the jungle and repose on the marble of its squares: their journeys remain woven into the tissue of the objectives that create the space of home; the shining borders of foreign parts retreat before them. I have lived my whole life on the periphery and have been more at home in the world of stains and cracks on old walls than in the world of shapes acknowledged as meaningful and alon important. I never understood the purpose of the play being performed and the roles of which I was supposed to choose one; sometimes I tried to assume one of them and play it, but I would always rattle off the prescribed part parrot fashion, with distate and a sense of awkwardness and embarrassment. Eventually it totally undermined my feeble performance, so that I preferred to fall silent and retreat to a corner of the stage — and yet up to that moment I had been in constant fear of throwing away the script and exiting to the darkness of the wings. I used to exist as my last role, the role that would eventually, in some strange way, involve me in the play after all.

Now I knew that the other city can only be entered by someone who leaves in the awareness that they journey he is undertaking has no purpose, because purpose means a place in the fabric of relations that create the home, and that it is not even purposeless, because purposelessness simply complements purpose and belongs to his world. The restlessness engendered by the awareness that all testimonies about the other city contradict each other had vanished.

I realized that my efforts to unify my nocturnal interpretations in the light of day were simply the expression of a yearning to incorporate the other city into a familiar order, to change it into a colony of the home, and thereby subjugate and annihilate it. The insoluble question was solved by ceasing to be a question. I now glimpsed in the darkness a space in which alien luminescent shapes rolled around and metamorphosed, shapes that could not be converted to forms from our world and which had no meaning, even though they did contain some kind of justification, which seemed more powerful, authentic and incontrovertible than the justification of meaning: it was a right that was directly connate with being; it was independent and unaccountable to anything, and therefore in danger from nothing. What surged languidly in that space was also a raw presence and cause: a mesmeric and indifferent dark effulgence. The questions I had previously directed at those rolling shapes and to which I had always received different and contradictory answers could not cope with that dark effulgence. In the spaec that opened up it was impossible to distinguish the sources of the laws and customs from the fragments of extinct beings and detritus of our world, the shapelessness of the beginning from the shapelessness of extinction, the battle of hostile forces from a profound and unshakable unity, turbulent chaos from the most stable order. This space had finally freed itself from the power of home. There opened before me the landscape that they try to protect from throughout our lives, denying us the right to defeat and the right to exile, the right to lose ourselves and stray alongside walls, to be exiles in the world of nooks and crannies, in the dark courtyards of being. How tedious they are, importunately forcing refuge and home onto us all the time. They want to deprive us of the shining foreign land, where splendid, cold light flows softly from liberated things, of the joy of solitude on nocturnal plains above glittering cities, of the beautiful, slow dance of monsters on a deserted road, of intoxicating extinction in the depth of dark bedrooms, beneath cold mirrors, in which there sway the lights of distant lamps like painful constellations of the zodiacal belt winding through the interior of houses.

— Michal Ajvaz, “The other city,” pp. 162-164.

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quotes: on glassy stares

Posted by rigorousm on July 25, 2010

“I know the fear of encounters that accompanies us throughout our lives. Every genuine encounter destroys our existing world. What comes from the space beyomd the frontiers of our world and destroys it we call monstrous: every genuine encounter is an encounter with  a monster. But the conjecture that windowpanes constitute walls of a shelter that protects us from the danger of encounters, and from monsters, is maybe only a deception. I would have said that, on the contrary, it is the importunate proximity that dominates our daily lives, which prevents encounters and conceals the monstrous that disrupts our world and brings a strange salvation. Proximity space is a stage on which we see only the roles and masks that are part of the play in which we are performing. Cold windowpanes break down proximity space. They rupture the mesh of goals — the spider’s web behind which reality has disappeared. It is through glass that we first see for real: dreamily urgent waves of gestures, in which secret rivers of being appear, the fluctuating and fascinating script of the folds of clothing, whose meaning we start to suspect — the fiery glow of colors at the heart of things. We can only start to encounter those things that we have really seen. Those who sit behind cool windows looking out are not seeking sanctuary but demonstrating that they have the courage to encounter. Only behind glass, which strips existence of its false and tiresome roles, is the monstrous shining cosmos revealed to us: a painful dream and our real home.” That was another reason I though the waiter’s daughter was not entirely correct when she contrasted my life behind glass and my entry into the other city. It is precisely when we are looking through glass tthat we stop dividing reality into center and periphery, and we start to feel a yearning to know the menacing and enticing shapes that loom indistinctly on the border: what appears to be idle gazing behind the glass is actually the beginning of a journey into another world.

— Michael Ajvaz, “The other city,” pp. 69-70.

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Bourgeoise v. Lacan

Posted by rigorousm on July 22, 2010

I am suspicious of words. They do not interest me, they do not satisfy me. I suffer from the ways in which words wear themselves out. I distrust the Lacans and Bossuets because they gargle with their own words. I am a very concrete woman. The forms are everything….

With words you can say anything. You can lie as long as the day, but you cannot lie in the re-creation of experience.

– Louis Bourgeoise

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Benjamin on Durer’s Melancholia I

Posted by rigorousm on July 18, 2010

The deadening of the emotions, and the ebbing way of the waves of life which are the source of these emotions in the body, can increase the distance between the self and the surrounding world to the point of alienation from the body. As soon as this symptom of depersonalization was seen as an intense degree of mournfulness, the concept of the pathological state, in which the most simple objects appears to be a symbol of some enigmatic wisdom because it lacks any natural, creative relationship to use, was set in an incomparable productive context. It accords with this that in the proximity of Albrecht Durer’s figure, Melencholia, the utensils of active life are lyring around unused on the floor, as objects of contemplation.

— Benjamin, Origin of Greek Tragic Drama, p. 140.

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[]ing, June ii

Posted by rigorousm on July 7, 2010

Reading: Completed: Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground, Le Vot’s biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Laure Halse Anderson’s Speak, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, Harold Pinter’s The Betrayal.

Watching: Natural Born Killers, African Queen, Nanny MacPhee, The Seventh Seal, M, The Thief Lord.

Listening: BBC7’s Philip Marlowe radio plays, Talking Head’s Stop Making Sense, One Eskimo’s Kandi (here).

Doing: Visiting various places in downtown Oakland: the Layover (here). Exhibits of note: “Fighting Nazism with Words” at the UC Berkeley Doe Library (here). Illegal printed matter from the period of German occupation in the Netherlands. Mike Lees’ “Hobo-opolis” show (here) at FM (483 25th Street, downtown Oakland). Lees presents a series of speculative illustrations — a future, post-apocalyptic New York of violence and debris, but also (he writes) community and hope.

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