(Boulevard du Temple, First known photograph by Daguerre of a human. The figure is close to the bottom of the print: a person at a shoeshine stand. The exposure is so long that all the bustle of the street disappears, leaving the lone stationary shoe man standing. There was to be a photo of the bare spot where white house stood but it has proven as illusive as the street goers on the Boulevard du Temple.)
LAW pt 3
The long community of the dead wasn’t always so inoperative; and it could be that the desouvrement of the dead, and dead matter generally, is an illusion of later times, back-channel communication always being able to dial in. (Especially when you consider that the dead always choose the living to inhabit–and besides, where WOULD all that ‘history’ go? The advent of an archival telematic only gathers more shades around Benjamin’s ‘blood-filled sacrificial pit’ which is history, more ‘hauntology’ as the philosopher then puts it.)
He stepped back on the road as the cemetery came to an end and turned to look back over the graveyard as the wind picked up, blowing leaves and rolling a few artificial chrysanthemums toward him.. The main storm had never made it much beyond the horizon and the sky now seemed crystal clear, the red lights of a passenger plane far in the distance. Strangely enough, a cock crowed several blocks to his right. The headstones undulated away from him in broken lines, a couple of cenotaphs reaching up.
…death now leads nowhere, and least of all, toward any
sort of (transcendental) beyond. Death remains, as it were,
enclosed in the world of immanence: the dead do not depart,
or if they do so, it is only to return as revenants, as ghosts.
Instead of defining identity, death returns as the shadow that
splits life into a life that consists largely in passing away, and
a death that has nowhere to go but back to the living. Living
and dying tend to overlap. Mourning…responds to this confusion
with the theatrical reanimation of a world emptied of meaning.
Samuel Weber in Genealogy of Modernity: History,
Myth, and Allegory in Benjamin’s Origin of the
German Mourning Play
The whole walk had the feel of a ceraunoscope, an apparatus used in the ancient mysteries for imitating thunder and lightning –presumably for an initiatory effect. But here, in this place and this time, it seemed to have only a screen effect, and not necessarily a scrim between the two worlds, porous, and inviting of redemption. And although the ancients perhaps didn’t think exactly in terms of redemption, nevertheless where was the hope in a ‘screen effect’ continually throwing one’s own projection at one? Didn’t at least one type of hope reside in a certain porosity, the ability to cross borders? And that, ultimately, there was truly some Other place to go? Now, even the Final Border seemed sealed off, no There there, and certainly no traffic — at least in the ‘official’ border patrol version of events.
“O brother I somehow perceive your fears, not only the iron law of death but all others. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”
“Right. Bible, right?” turning to look at O with a wounded look and with that Slim picked up the pace.
They rounded the street corner for the final fifty feet to the house. Through a high pitched sizzling whine coming from seemingly the end of the street, he could hear the phone ring and started to break into a trot, jogging through the moist summer cricket air. The ringing stopped just as he reached for the door.
Otis stopped abruptly at the end of the drive way.
“Brother, your mind sparks in one direction.” He assumed his quote-like stance, “the attempt
to carve out an immaculate space of inwardness either masks a prior contamination or prepares a virgin zone for occupation.”
Slim stood at the head of the short driveway, hands slack at his side, staring morosely at Otis.
“Give it a rest O.” But of course he knew he couldn’t. Otis was already occupied so to speak. Or as Michel Leiris once quipped, it’s better to be possessed than to study possession.
I have never liked the flatness of the world. Rather than accept it wholeheartedly (taken in with ‘mother’s milk’ as they say) I have alternately been astonished by it and extremely depressed by the thought. But on the other hand the religious thing never worked for me either. Not because it presented some vast transcendental entity but precisely because it was so flat, institutional-wise and everywise. The current of the age is flatness…as economic pundits celebrate. Or did at one time. At some point the tide will and always has, flow again, as the great roils of the historic dialectic are prone towards, and mountains will appear, wreathed (though some would say wretched) visions at the top. Maybe, maybe not. No doubt something will happen, some momentous event will occur and one which didn’t even get recognized at the time. The thing is, me and Otis didn’t have time for all the gobbledegook to play out. And no way to push the shadow.
All Otis could say was:
“Even as science progresses, however, it convinces us that we are becoming less and less capable of mastering by means of thought phenomena that, by their spatial and temporal orders of magnitude, escape our mental capacities. In that sense, the history of the cosmos is becoming a kind of great myth for the ordinary mortal: It consists of the unfolding of unique events whose reality, because the events occurred only once, can never be proven.”
“Okay yeah well where does that leave us then? It sounds to me like you are pulling the Resurrection in to this”
Which was NOT where I wanted to go with this…..ok, more than just the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ…but still, too tired to consider fairies, elves, UFOs and conspiracies of any kind. Mostly I felt alone, alone amongst the ghosts. But maybe there was a secret communion there also as Jean Genet noted: ‘Solitude [. . .] does not signify an unhappy
state, but rather secret royalty, profound incommunicability yet a more or
less obscure knowledge of an invulnerable singularity’.
It ha been a hard afternoon of avoiding creditors and I didn’t think I could put up with much more of Otis’s high mindedness. More than anything I just wanted to collapse on the hardwood floor and sleep.
Palimpsest of Souls
People perhaps take it for granted that you don’t own yourself in a big city, that in some ways, very impersonal ways at that, that a city, the largest havens of souls, have it over us in ways that small towns don’t.
But what if it is a fact also that small towns may just as well dream us, that we are under illusion when we seem to drift though a town and markers flash up, the illusion that WE are causing it, our subconscious. I’ve never been able to figure it out. Maybe it depends on what temporal strategy you use: larger, trans-temporality over geological strata, and the time of just hanging around, one tiny little bit of a chain of thought following the other, only making sense when you perform it. But still….it seems that the Ouside has the upper hand here in most ways. And it may not matter where that openness is since nobody really knows WHAT it is after all, with the subject—us—being formed as an aftermath.
At any rate, I was back. WE were back, back in time some fifty years, still feeling a geo-topologico-historic (maybe not even historic) torque. Like my flesh is pressed thinly across the surface of the entire town. Except not in a now kind of way but as a constant pulling and pressing from somewhere else. Lovecraft Lite let’s say. My narratological machinery gets jammed somehow. And pointless really. I mean, really what is the POINT of all this, of all of it? Maybe only the point of the obscure and peculiar, almost pronounceable generic. But wasn’t that opposite of the generic: only TOO pronounceable, too seeable? Hot shot thinkers having to think around the generic into more articulations. But why? How come? Are we supposed to somehow evolve ourselves into some sort of Mega-something or other, just out of here? Am I going ‘forward’ or ‘backward’ here. Being here now I mean, the only place I can be?
Otis was squirming uncomfortably at the end of the old green sofa with the little wooden pegs for legs. I knew something was coming.
He stood up, looking very formal and uttered:
“Even when I confide things that are very secret, I don’t confide them in
the mode of a story. At times, I provide certain signs, facts, dates, but
otherwise, I don’t write a narrative. And so the question for me is the
question of narration, which has always been a serious question for me.
I’ve always said I can’t tell a story. I’d love to tell stories, but I don’t
know how to tell them. And I’ve always felt that the telling is somehow
inadequate to the story I’d want to tell. So I’ve just given up telling stories.
I’ve just given up.”
Well, this was true I felt. I can very seldom be concerned with the textures of the everyday, enough to concerned to reproduce it. Relationships, names, secret intimacies, sexualities, stories of betrayal and redemption, of faith given and taken away… I know that it is the very lifeblood of this ‘generic’ (sometimes the generic looks like a strained and filtered version of the popular which alternately elates me and distresses me. It feels like taking a really hot bath and then all of a sudden it feels way way too hot, pass out sort of hot.
And look! I still haven’t named any names for you, any plots, any situations for you to float comfortably in and then for you to dismiss. And there perhaps won’t be any—I warn you now, close this book!—maybe only passages, thresholds, the stroke between, just enough movement to get me and Otis moving again. I’m thinking floating gas fields in the farthest interstellar corridors. Even now we pass though them! Meanwhile it’s like the generic and elite find ways to imitate and mimic each other becoming secretly intelligible somehow. Or maybe it’s the other way around. That’s something else that has to be figured in. I mean without it screwing things up too much.
Otis marches to the other end of the couch and stands at attention again:
“A slip is taking place. It is in the works. It is at work-enacting,
active-beneath our eyes and in our words. Some thing or some idea is
withdrawing itself from us. An unhinging is taking place. As always, we are
necessarily both its authors and its witnesses. We write it and read it in one
and the same gesture. It is too soon to know or to sense whether it is a rupture
or an evolution, whether the mode is that of a displacement or a break,
whether the movement is reversible or absolutely oriented.”
At this I become very excited. “Yes! And you don’t know what it is do you mr. jones?”
“Dance that mess around.” Declared Otis as he sat back down, resting his hands on his knees.
“It’s been this way since 1956.”
I knew that was from Love Potion Number Nine from that old song by the Glovers, written by Lieber and Stoller, with a light drift to it: the actual quote should go “I’VE been this way since 1956” but I wasn’t about letting Otis know that. Besides I catch his oblique drift. It was a perfect song of generic prosthesis (the aphrodisiacal potion), a pharmakon meeting up with it’s intended generic other, love, and being interdicted by law, the cop down on thirty-forth and vine. It might be interesting to note an alternate spelling of the type of potion into afrodisiacal, given the primacy of afro-american culture for the development of American popular music culture and the white mimesis it has always spawned. But that’s for another day. We never stray far from Law and its stroke between love/hate.
Building in the Storm: On The Banks of Lake Bols
There are those who are astonished by my lack of memory about certain things. What are those things? I don’t know. How could I if I don’t remember them. Or else I remember them differently from others. Maybe Otis could address that but I doubt it, My brother has memories, slight things, I mean nothing major, that I have absolutely no remembrance of. Intimates have queried me about this or that—I’m talking childhood things—and I am a blank (odd, I just miswrote that as ‘black’). I do have a mental shoebox of faded sepia images that at one time I would pull of its place and flash through them. They have no redeeming value to anyone else. And why should they? There is a sense in which all memories are generic, and none more so within temporal sweeps, or statistical gatherings of selves, regional expositions, media implantations which give the illusion that the memory is mine but not necessarily that of ten thousand other souls. (and know by that account that we are more multiplicity than unity, souls bundled together into some unfathomable and unfashionably tight knot.
I am about to sink into a spell of melancholia that I know will be difficult to rise from. Otis, sensing my distressing into a collapse mode of time, extended a hand toward me palm up and in an oddly comforting tone spoke:
“The past carries with it a hidden index by which it is referred to redemption. Doesn’t a breath of the air that pervaded earlier days caress us as well? In the voices we hear isn’t there an echo of now silent ones? Don’t the women we court have sisters they no longer recognize? If this is so, then there is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. Then our coming was expected on earth. Then, like every generation that preceded us, we have been endowed with a weak messianic power, a power on which the past has a claim.”
Yeah, well, let me tell you this O: nobody wants salvation anymore, if they EVER did. What they want is justice. Salvation can wait until the End of Time for all of that. Salvation is for the tyrants, survival is what is left for the rest of us who have no hope, but only waiting. Or maybe for the fate of those who have already Gone but still hang around, tenebrous ghosts forgetting that they are out of bounds, condemned to ricochet inside our skulls. A sprawling squalling mass that sometimes feels as if it were our very selves, that there is no one exept this multiplicity.
O. slumped his huge frame into the worn sleigh rocker that my father had that photograph taken in, stern pharaoh, then leaned forward his elbows on knees and intoned magisterially:
“Only on Judgment Day will the meaning of history (a meaning that cannot be mastered or possessed by “man or men”) emerge from the political unconscious and come to light. Only on Judgment Day
will the past come into full possession of its meaning: a meaning in which even the expressionless of history (the silence of the victims, the muteness of the traumatized) will come into historical expression.”
Dammit O. Why you gotta be like that.
My family left Mississippi for the Big City of Atlanta in nineteen sixty one, even as the Cheatham family was about to sink into tragedy, just as the nation was about to do likewise, a mark that the wound-licking times of the laid back fifties was about to be over for good. One always, perhaps, realized in hindsight that even a weak messianic power has (or had) a captivating appeal: something or someone will come back to save us, redeem us from all the wrongs that have been committed. Or at least provide a faint hope before the fairy tale ends that it could have been otherwise, that youth is the only trump card one has, that it can only be used once, that no one knows that until it is always too late to rescue affairs from the grinders of the gods. (One of those grinders is surely The Automobile. In those days it took upwards of nine hours over two lane surface streets to travel from Philadelphia MS to Atlanta GA; it took commitment and purpose to make the trip and then under the chaos generator of tragedy, the first one being the murder of my cousin Ricky, to be followed, all too rapidly then it seemed, by the deaths of grandparents, the uncles and aunts.
But all I wanted at the moment was a philly cheese steak sub.
Meetings on the Edge of Eternity