Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Cunning Intelligence, Chapter 10

 Summary of Chapter 10: The Circle and the Bond

They begin their concluding chapter with a discussion of how mêtis is not the possession of one particular god, but being “polymorphic and diverse,” it is shared by many (279). The powers of every god run up against limits embodied by the other gods; they ask, is there a limit on how much mêtis can be possessed by a single god? Zeus is discussed. Certain gods possess mêtis and others do not; this is an important distinction for understanding the distribution of powers in the ancient Greek pantheon; mêtis also sets limits on the powers of each god.

They discuss the various gods who possess mêtis, and the differences between them. Hephaestus and Athena inherit their tech powers from the Cyclopes, but the latter were really just fire gods; Athena and H are more broadly about all human technologies (particularly A). The example of the horse-bit, a mixture of both their particular powers, is revisited. They compare Hephaestus and Hermes, both linked to fire; then Hermes and Apollo as two gods of technology, of whom only Hermes has mêtis.

They cover stories of the gods behaving in ways which reveal their limitations: particularly Hephaestus’ trap for the lovers, Ares and Aphrodite. Ares maybe faster and more powerful, but Ares has beat him with his trickery. [but per Ovid, iirc? This was a mistake, because now everyone knows about the lovers, and they no longer need to hide.] Aphrodite is the more important and impressive catch, since she has abundant mêtis. Apollo taunts Hermes, who agrees that yes, he would willingly be bound in Ares’s place.

This leads to the question of the meaning of apeirōn, which describes the bonds Hephaestus has used. Per Porphyry, it means “limitless” with “twofold connotation of binding and circularity” (287). [Unfortunately the role of this concept in the philosophy of Anaximander is never raised.] There are modern debates over the etymology of apeirōn; D&V choose two “trends in the semantic field encompassing the pair of words apeirōn-peiras” (287): path, and bond.

Referring to Alcman’s Cosmogony, they show how these terms relate to concepts from navigation; showing the synonymity of peirar and Tekmōn (guide-mark); illustrated by usage in the Argonautica:

here we find one particular type of path which takes the form of a bond which fetters, and, conversely, the action of binding is sometimes presented as a crossing, a way forward. (291)

They revisit the concept of póros from an earlier chapter. There is the interesting example of Xerxes crossing the Hellespont, the bridge of ships is “a yoke cast about the neck of the sea” (291) in Aeschylus. In Herodotus, the same story is a sign of the king’s hubris, and when he tries to whip the sea after it breaks his ships, of the insanity of despotism.

Another example, when Odysseus orders Melantheus to be “wound in a plaited rope,” “Peiraínein which means to cross here takes on the sends of winding around...” One wonders how this same conflation or relationship between binding and journeying could be found in English words, e.g. cross, or wind. Because to “wind” can mean to wander, as well as to tie up; because to “cross” could describe travelling an ocean, but also a cross, or a barrier across a passageway (for example); does this mean these concepts of binding and travelling are also themselves one in English, as D&V seem to be arguing they are in Greek? Or are these just two different applications? They argue:

For our own part, we believe that the ‘meaning’ of a linguistic form is to be determined by the sum total of the ways in which it is used. (291)

But my question is, is that “meaning” supposed to have some unity, as they are implying? Or could it be just a diverse set of applications-in-context?

Anyway, from seeing peirar and apeirōn as interlinked opposites, they move to them as a combined paradox, peîrar apeíron, “an impassable bond and an inextricable path.” Their example is Tartarus:

Tartarus is not only a prison from which there is no escape; it is itself a space which binds; the expanse of it is indissociable from inextricable bonds. Tartarus is a space from which there is no exit and which, being devoid of guide-marks, without peîrar, it is impossible to cross, so it is also seen as a gigantic bond without beginning or end for whoever is imprisoned within its sphere. (294)

It is “in a sense the opposite of organised space”

They discuss related technologies: the hunting or fishing net, weaving and snares; various animal traps; and the ancient sea-battle tactics of períplous and diékplous. The circularity of basketweaving is an expression of the craftiness involved in it:

But whether it be a net or a piece of jewellery the circular bond with its rejection of the imposition of any limit to its polymorphism is simply an expression of one of the fundamental characteristics of mêtis.” (300)

They discuss Hermes as a god of mêtis; then riddles; then return to the question of mêtis in relation to power:

Mêtis cannot be fully deployed without this fundamental combination of the bond and the circle. To exercise all its powers the intelligence of cunning needs the circular reciprocity between what is bound and what is binding.” (305)

Yet by swallowing Metis, his first wife, Zeus transformed the meaning and operation of mêtis so instead of working to undermine or destabilize the order, in his hands it works for that order, is deployed by it.

The disorders brought about by the power of Metis when she was left to her own devices are thus eliminated from the world ordered by the gods of Olympus.

By swallowing her he has made her a part of his own sovereignty. Being, as she is, inside Zeus, Metis makes it possible for him to meditate in advance upon all the cunning tricks which might be devised in the future by men, gods, or monsters yet unknown. (306)

They list several types of “men of mêtis;” the example of the doctor as a man of mêtis [this reminds me of an anecdote a student recently told me: she was working as a student nurse in a hospital when an unusual situation developed, after which the doctor asked her, “When you hear hooves coming, what animal do you expect?” She answered, “A horse,” and he replied, “What about a zebra?” The moral being that a medical professional has to have mêtis...]

The concept of mêtis was of great importance and explanatory power in ancient Greek thought:

Over ten centuries the same, extremely simple model expresses skills, know-how, and activities as diverse as weaving, navigation, and medicine.... Its domain is a veritable empire and the man of prudence, of mêtis, can assume ten different identities at once.” (307)

The question then is, why has this super-important concept been neglected by later scholarship? The answer of course begins with the philosophers, and their culture war against the sophists, so Plato and Aristotle are discussed.

According to Plato and Aristotle, “mêtis proceeds obliquely, that it comes straight to the point in the shortest way, that is, by taking a detour” (308). It has two key qualities:

1. agchínoia, quick-wittedness, in a short, almost imperceptible space of time; Aristotle gives the example of midwife sensing when to cut the umbilical cord (309). [So this is “knowing” in the sense of awareness, timing, and sensing.]

2. eustochía, the good eye. “A sharp intelligence is never aimless, it implies an ability to reach a desired goal.” (310)

The link is emphasized between the art of taking aim, stocházesthai, and the modern concept of the stochastic; “the stochastic nature of practical intelligence”. To “conjecture” is tekmaíresthai, “to open up a path for oneself with the aid of guide-marks and to keep one’s eyes fixed on the goal of the journey just as the navigators do ….” According to Alcmaeon of Croton, humans have this “oblique, stumbling knowledge” in contrast to the certain knowledge possessed by the gods (311). Medicine and politics were closely associated domains in the Greek mind, both requiring mêtis.

Plato condemned “knowledge and skills based upon the stochastic intelligence” (315); rhetoric is “found guilty of owing its success to intuition and a good eye,” and so is “neither an art nor a rational form of knowledge.” P furthermore distinguishes between certain and uncertain forms of knowledge (the latter D&V call “stochastic arts”); he privileges the former, valuing calculation (arithmós), measuring (métron), and weighing (stathmós). “Only that which is measurable can belong to exact science, to epistēmē and the domain of truth.” (D&V note that he makes an exception for the art of building, “no doubt through respect for its impressive tools”).

Plato restricts sophia from its earlier, broader application as any kind of knowledge including craft, to “contemplative wisdom.”

Plato is at pains to give us a detailed description of the components of metis

in order to lend added weight to his reasons for condemning this form of intelligence. He goes to considerable lengths to expose he wretched impotence of devious methods and of cunning involved in making guesses. (316)

Ironically he is the one who brings this all into stark representation, contrasted with scholarly wisdom.

Aristotle is more subtle, more open to the oratorical and sophistic tradition. [ A’s concept of “virtue” includes more of the kairos, etc. and responsiveness that had apparently been missing from Plato.] Nevertheless A distinguishes between phrónēsis (prudence) and deinótēs, “cleverness.” The man possessing the latter is a panoûrgos, “ a sly one or a rogue” (317) [a definition Rabelais was perhaps influenced by]. There is a discussion of Aristotle’s difficulty given that, even after excluding “cleverness,” prudence, one of the virtues, involves mêtis, and that both prudence and mêtis are said to be possessed by some animals, which breaks down the key Aristotelian distinction between human and animal intelligence. D&V state that “Aristotelian thought accepts that there can be a type of knowledge bearing upon what is inexact even if, like its subject, this knowledge can itself only be inexact” (317). It can never be a science, but A does at least recognize it as a form of intelligence.

They conclude with two reasons why cunning intelligence has been for so long neglected as a subject of study: 1) for Christian thought, it became even more essential to maintain the difference between humans and animals, which the concept of mêtis erodes; and 2) “the concept of Platonic Truth, which has overshadowed a whole area of intelligence with its own kinds of understanding, has never really ceased to haunt Western metaphysical thought” (318).

Thursday, September 21, 2023

A Thousand Plateaus, Chapter 6

Summary of Chapter 6: November 28, 1947: How Do You Make Yourself A Body Without Organs?

The concept of a “body without organs” is essentially a reversal of the death of Chaos, that moment at the beginning of time when the other gods stabbed Chaos to create organs, and Chaos then died. At the same time, as Hakim Bey puts it, “Chaos never died,” and the BwO continues to exist, as the plane of consistency which [feeds and devours] the strata, as the Earth itself on which we live and circulate like vermin. The BwO is thus preexisting, already present, and easy, difficult, and impossible to create, as it is a limit, something you can’t reach but are already attaining. The date for this chapter refers to the date Antonin Artaud recorded To Have Done With the Judgment of God, in which he introduced the concept of the BwO.

They start off discussing various failing or limited attempts to reach the BwO, which tend to create “sucked-dry, catatonicized, vitrified, sewn-up bodies” instead of fully alive, vibrant BwOs (150). These include various forms of insanity, drug use, and masochism. On page 151 a detailed set of instructions to a dominatrix lays out what D&G assert is a program, not a phantasy (distinguishing it from ideology or hallucination, and linking it to the formation of strata (to which the machinic/programmatic refers; this is bound to be complicated later). The point of this program is that it has two distinct phases, one of which creates the BwO, and the second of which sends something circulating in or on it (in this case, pain).

The BwO and desire:

The BwO is the field of immanence of desire, the plane of consistency specific to desire (with desire defined as a process of production without reference to any exterior agency, whether it be a lack that hollows it out or a pleasure that fills it). (154)

The give a parable of a priest cursing desire, by invoking lack, hedonistic pleasure, and the Lacanian manque-à-jouir (lack of enjoyment/lack to be enjoyed), the last identified with phantasy (these are later described as the “three phantoms” of internal lack, apparent exteriority, and higher transcendence). In reality, desire is immanent and does not need any of these external standards or objects, which would attempt to subordinate it, hierarchize it, explain it away in terms of something other than itself. The psychoanalyst is this kind of priest.

There is, in fact, a joy that is immanent to desire as though desire were filled by itself and its contemplations, a joy that implies no lack or impossibility and is not measured by pleasure since it is what distributes intensities of pleasure and prevents them from being suffused by anxiety, shame, and guilt. (155)

They describe the becoming-animal of a masochist imitating a trained horse; giving up instinctive forces for transmitted forces (of training; link to Canettian cyst?). Courtly love, and ancient Taoist sexuality are discussed as ways of achieving BwOs; there is an intimation of multiple BwOs having some mass effect; this is the plane of consistency (157).

They distinguish:

1) different types of BwOs, with varying attributes (drugged, masochistic, etc.). “Each has its degree 0 as its principle of production (remissio)” (157). For remission, Alexander Galloway provides the translation “a returning, releasing, abatement; similar to Deleuze’s “repetition,” or the concept of the fetish.”

2) What happens in or circulates in each type of BwO, latitudo. (Galloway: “breadth, width, freedom; similar to Deleuze’s “difference””).

3) “The potential totality of all BwO's, the plane of consistency,” omnitudo, or “the” BwO. [Omnitudo realitatis, or the sum total of reality, is a Kantian concept.]

[Galloway adds that this triad corresponds to that of attribute, mode, and substance from Spinoza.]

They raise the question of the possible linking or conjugation of all the different BwOs, and tie this to the concept of plateau from Bateson, “continuous regions of intensity constituted in such a way that they do not allow themselves to be interrupted by any external termination, any more than they allow themselves to build toward a climax” (158); thus linking to the title of the book (A thousand plateaus = a multitude of BwOs, the plane of consistency).

In a discussion of more works by Artaud, they reveal that the BwO is not really defined against organs per se, but against the organism, which is the unity of the body, bound by the judgment of God. They then expand on this: the BwO opposes the three great strata that most directly bind humans: “the surface of the organism, the angle of signifiance and interpretation, and the point of subjectification or subjection” (159). To the articulations of these strata the BwO opposes disarticulation, “or n articulations.” They reiterate their call from before that caution is needed; it seems the search to become a BwO is to be distinguished from death; though one perhaps courts death in the process, death is itself nevertheless not the desired state.

You have to keep enough of the organism for it to reform each dawn; and you have to keep small supplies of signifiance and subjectification, if only to turn them against their own systems when the circumstances demand it, when things, persons, even situations, force you to; and you have to keep small rations of subjectivity in sufficient quantity to enable you to respond to the dominant reality. Mimic the strata. You don’t reach the BwO, and its plane of consistency, by wildly destratifying. (160)

The goal is not an emptying of organs, but to “momentarily dismantle the organization of the organs we call the organism” (161).

They discuss the concepts of nagual and tonal from Carlos Castañeda, then return to Artaud, to articulate more on the dangers to avoid in trying to become a BwO: in addition to the “full” BwOs on the plane of consistency, and the previously described “empty BwO’s on the debris of strata destroyed by a too-violent destratification,” there are also “cancerous” or “fascist” BwOs that function for the strata, as part of the engine of their proliferation (163). They refer to this as the “three-body problem,” a term out of physics, which I suppose evokes an unstable relationship between the three. The BwO is discussed as an egg, and as desire; the organs circulate in the BwO instead of belonging to the organism, indefinite articles are to be used: “an” eye, not “the” eye, “my” eye, or “your” eye. They end with reflections on the similarities and relations between BwOs, and the possibility of a totality of BwOs:

All we are saying is that the identity of effects, the continuity of genera, the totality of all BwO’s, can be obtained on the plane of consistency only by means of an abstract machine capable of covering and even creating it, by assemblages capable of plugging into desire, of effectively taking charge of desires, of assuring their continuous connections and transversal tie-ins. Otherwise, the BwO’s of the plane will remain separated by genus, marginalized, reduced to means of bordering, while on the “other plane” the emptied or cancerous doubles will triumph. (166)

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Profane Illumination, Chapter 1

Margaret Cohen, (1993) Profane illumination: Walter Benjamin and the Paris of surrealist revolution. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Summary of Chapter 1: Gothic Marxism

Cohen introduces the concept of Gothic Marxism, by which she refers to “a Marxist genealogy fascinated with the irrational aspects of social pro­cesses, a genealogy that both investigates how the irrational pervades existing society and dreams of using it to effect social change” (1-2). Her two primary interlocutors for the study will be Walter Benjamin and Andre Breton, both of whom struggled with the economic determinism of the “vulgar Marxism” of their day; Breton developed a “modern materialism” which, Cohen argues, influenced Benjamin in his great unfinished Arcades Project, and in his work of bringing Freud into a Marxist vision.

Cohen appears fond of long numbered lists, for instance she summarizes Breton’s influence on Benjamin thus:

We will see Benjamin particularly provoked by (1) the modern materialist appeal to the fissured subject of psychoanalysis to modify the conscious and rational subject dear to practical Marxism; (2) its application of psychoanalytic notions of history to collective history in order to displace a linear or mechani­cally causal vision of historical process and to break down the base­ superstructure distinction with appeal to libidinal forces permeating both; (3) its use of psychoanalytic formulations of determination and representation to complicate a reflective model for the relation between superstructure and base; (4) its psychoanalytically informed interest in the everyday, which it uses to revise orthodox Marxist notions of the stuff of history as well as to open possible reservoirs for recuperative experience in damaged life; and (5) its application of psychoanalytic notions of therapy to an Enlightenment view of critique, notably as this application pertains to the dialectical image (p. 6).

She notes past scholarship on the connections between Benjamin’s Arcades Project and surrealism; this has normally been interpreted as Benjamin importing surrealist influence into Marxist analysis:

In the standard Marxist readings of this relation, informed by the Marxism either of the Frankfurt School or of Brecht, Benjamin's use of psychoanalytic language, notably dream language, has been considered the place where he substitutes the smoke and mir­rors of writerly technique for critical analysis. (8)

Breton, in turn, has been dismissed by mainstream Marxists as "lacking in seriousness.” C situates this in relation to the contest between “high surrealism” (Breton) and “renegade surrealists” (Bataille), with the latter being the ones favored by later theorists. She discusses the relation with, and the debt owed to, the surrealists such as Breton, by the later “theoretical avant-garde” of Lacan, et al., who dismissed Breton and the high surrealists. A lot of the rejection by the subsequent generation can be seen as a reaction to the dominance of surrealism for a time: “With the aging of the generation tyrannized by high surrealism, official recognition of the movement is returning” (12n33).  

She situates her project as a form of what Benjamin called “rescuing critique,” that is, a critique that rescues elements of the past through an understanding of their resonance with the presence, but which, by remaining “critique,” does not devolve into nostalgia. She gives another list of the rescued material with which a Gothic Marxism will be interested:

The most suggestive material rescued here includes: (1) the valorization of the realm of a culture’s ghosts and phantasms as a significant and rich field of social production rather than a mirage to be dispelled; (2) the valorization of a culture’s detritus and trivia as well as its strange and marginal practices; (3) a notion of critique moving beyond logical argument and the binary opposition to a phantasmagorical staging more closely resembling psychoanalytic therapy, privileging nonrational forms of “working through” and regulated by overdetermination rather than dialectics; (4) a dehierarchization of the epistemological privilege accorded the visual in the direction of that integration of the senses dreamed of by Marx in The 1844 Manuscripts: “. . . the complete emancipation of all human senses and qualities . . . The senses have therefore become directly in their practice theo­reticians” ; accompanying this dehierarchization, a practice of criticism cutting across traditionally separated media and genres as well as critical attention to how and why these separations came to be; and (5) a concomitant valorization of the sensuousness of the visual: the realm of visual experience is opened to other possibilities than the accomplishment and/or figuration of rational demonstration. (11-12)

To summarize the above:

1) a culture’s “ghosts and phantasms” are not just a mirage, but a “field of social production;”

2) ditto for a culture’s “detritus and trivia,” likewise not to be consigned to the dustbin;

3) moving beyond critique as a form of argument and opposition to something more like                            psychoanalytical therapy [this feels very 90s];

4) replacing the privilege of the visual with an integration of all the senses; and

5) at the same time, valorizing the “sensuousness of the visual” as more than just a stand-in for “rational     demonstration.”

She notes that she will be linking up to the Gothic Marxism of later French avant-garde thinkers, including Deleuze and Guattari, Michel de Certeau, and particularly Louis Althusser, and concludes with a note on Benjamin’s concept of “fascination” (15), which seems related to the Aristotelian concept of wonder; she quotes Ackbar Abbas, stating that Benjamin “sees in fascination not a will-less affect, not the response of last resort, but a willingness to be drawn to phenomena that attract our attention yet do not submit entirely to our understanding.” This sounds very much like the sensibility of the "modern hero" in Benjamin's Baudelaire book.




Sunday, September 10, 2023

Labor and Monopoly Capital, Chapter 11

Summary of Chapter 11: Surplus Value and Surplus Labor

Braverman starts off this third section of the book, on “Monopoly Capital,” with a very brief chapter of barely four pages, relating the growth of surplus value in financial/monopoly capitalism, to the growth of “surplus labor,” here referring not only to the labor that produces surplus value, but the surplus of labor available in a heavily automated society, and the uses (other than direct production) to which that labor is put.

He begins with the observation that the atomized and competitive capitalist system of Marx’s day has been replaced by something very different. Observers have differed over what to call it: finance capitalism, late capitalism, and so on. Braverman chooses “monopoly capitalism” as the most felicitous, citing Lenin, and Baran and Sweezy, as precursors in this regard (175). Monopoly capitalism had its beginnings in the last decades of the 19th century, which saw the end of colonialism (everything had been conquered) and the birth of true imperialist era:

Monopoly capitalism thus embraces the increase of monopolistic organi­zations within each capitalist country, the internationalization of capital, the international division of labor, imperialism, the world market and the world movement of capital, and changes in the structure of state power. (175)

This also corresponds in time to the scientific-technical revolution, and the birth of scientific management, etc.

He discusses how this book relates to and differs from that by Baran and Sweezy: they focused on the movements of value, whereas Braverman’s emphasis is on the corresponding movements of labor. He cites Marx on the relation between the movements of labor and of value, and how the creation of vast amounts of capital in need of investment goes along with the creation of the reserve army of labor, in need of employment. Marx had described this capital as rushing into old branches of production which it transforms, and into new branches which it creates anew; Braverman adds that both labor and capital are being funneled into new non-productive jobs, similar to what David Graeber called “bullshit jobs” which exist just to keep the economy expanding despite the fact that more than enough wealth is already being generated:

In tracing this mass of labor, we will be led not only to “newly formed branches of production” in Marx’s sense, but also, as were Baran and Sweezy, into branches of non-production, entire industries and large sectors of existing industries whose only function is the struggle over the allocation of the social surplus among the various sectors of the capitalist class and its dependents. (177)

This leads capitalism, and commodification, to colonize more and more aspects of social life:

In this process, capital which “thrusts itself frantic­ally” into every possible new area of investment has totally reorganized society, and in creating the new distribution of labor has created a social life vastly different from that of only seventy or eighty years ago. And this restless and insatiable activity of capital continues to transform social life almost daily before our eyes, without heed that by doing so it is creating a situation in which social life becomes increasingly impossible.

Obviously, many links/contrasts with Bookchin are here available, and no doubt will come up again and again in the rest of the book. For now, he states that his plan going forward is to discuss how the occupational structure of capitalism has changed, and the forces at work in this.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Discourse In the Novel, Part 5

Summary of Part 5: The Two Stylistic Lines of Development in the European Novel

This section starts with what might be called Bakhtin’s manifesto of the novel:

The novel is the expression of a Galilean perception of language, one that denies the absolutism of a single and unitary language—that is, that refuses to acknowledge its own language as the sole verbal and semantic center of the ideological world. (366)

[Deleuze and Guattari’s insistence in A Thousand Plateaus that they as authors are not “Gods” comes to mind.]

This Galilean, earth-shaking perception “has been made conscious of the vast plenitude” of national and social languages, which are all capable of being “languages of truth” (367). [And this lack of one truth-position is what makes it particularly “Galilean;” later on he will contrast this with the geocentric “Ptolemaic” consciousness.] The novel is a move of “verbal and semantic decentering of the ideological world,” a “linguistic homelessness of literary consciousness,” aware of its own contingency and situatedness in relation to a multitude of social and national languages. The novel is thus revolutionary, it is the “liberation of cultural-semantic and emotional intentions from the hegemony of a single and unitary language,” and the end of language as “myth,” aka “an absolute form of thought.” He then embarks on an investigation of the “specific sociohistorical conditions” that made this consciousness possible in the case of the novel.

What is essential is a consciousness that “begins by presuming fundamentally differentiated social groups” (368). The “sealed off cultural universe” of a unitary, solitary group has to lose its “uncontestably authoritative unitary language” and be thrown into the context of heteroglossia. “It is necessary that heteroglossia wash over a culture’s awareness of itself and its language, penetrate to its core, relativize the primary language system underlying its ideology and literature and deprive it of its naive absence of conflict.”

However, it is not enough in itself that a society recognize itself as being composed of a multitude of languages and groups; the nation itself has to be situated in an “ocean of heteroglossia,” of other competing and mutually influencing national languages. “A deeply involved participation in alien cultures and languages (one is impossible without the other) inevitably leads to an awareness of the disassocation between language and intentions, language and thought, language and expression” (369).

What is important about this “disassociation” is that it destabilizes and disables “mythological and magical thought, which depends on “the absolute fusion of word with concrete ideological meaning;” that is, a fixed, unquestionable reality. [Everything is true, nothing is permissible.] Mythological thinking and language generates “out of itself a mythological reality” that “substitutes itself for the connections and interrelationships of reality itself.” This domination of language by images “fetters” language intentions, and limits flexibility and expressiveness. Disassociation, by contrast, results in a consciousness for which “Language, no longer conceived as a sacrosanct and solitary embodiment of meaning and truth, becomes merely one of many possible ways to hypothesize meaning” (370).

Thus, the novel originates in the “poly- and heteroglot” Hellenistic era, then again whenever there is a “disintegration of stable verbal-ideological systems” (371). B briefly discusses the variety of ancient genres in which he finds “germs” of the novel, in the form of “an orchestration of meaning by means of heteroglossia.” This subject is pursued at much greater length in the Dostoevsky book, and I believe also in the Rabelais book. He begins to lay out the history of how this developed through the Middle Ages into the modern novel.

He discusses sophistic novels (which are covered in more depth in the Dostoevsky book); he notes that parody is not always easy to identify in texts from other or ancient cultures, “without knowing the background of alien discourse against which it is projected, that is, without knowing its second context” (374). B asserts that in world literature “there are probably very few words that are uttered unconditionally, purely single-voiced.”

B now begins to outline his two stylistic lines of development of the novel. The “First Line,” (arbitrarily so named, he states), is stylized and unitary after the manner of the Sophistic novel; it “leaves heteroglossia outside itself.” Yet “even its perception presumes heteroglossia as a background, and … interacts dialogically with various aspects of this heteroglossia.” The Second Line, in contrast, “incorporates heteroglossia into a novel’s composition, exploiting it to orchestrate its own meaning and frequently resisting altogether any unmediated and pure authorial discourse.”

The two lines actually interweave and influence each other; they merely represent trends in the balance and interaction of stylization, versus “heteroglot orchestration” (376)

He covers chivalric romance in verse, and the first prose novels; he discusses and defines “style,” making a distinction between “individual consciousness” and the “literary-language consciousness of the epoch” (378). He discusses the effect of the printing press, which acted to “shift and displace” the audience of the chivalric romance, sending it on a “period of wandering between social classes” (379).

He discusses “general literariness,” or the “extra-generic literariness of language,” in a way related to his concept of social language from earlier sections; he seems to be talking about the way a regional or class group or groups will use the writing and reception of literature to form a sort of community, but also the way nation-states create a sense of “Frenchness” and so on. The romance Amadís, for example, spawned derivative texts on how to converse nobly: “The chivalric romance provided a discourse proper to all possible situations and events in life, while at the same time everywhere opposing itself to vulgar discourse and its coarse ways” (384). Cervantes is brought up as an exemplar of the Second Line, who in contrast to the First brings such courtly discourse in the mouth of Don Quixote into stark contrast with the lower-class dialects of Sancho Panza and other characters.

He goes on to the pastoral novel, and in particular the Baroque novel, focusing on the trial or test of the hero, which distinguishes the novel from the epic, in which

From the very beginning the epic hero has stood on the other side of the trial; in the epic world, an atmosphere of doubt surrounding the hero’s heroism is unthinkable. (388)

[Obviously this goes against the common doctrine derived from Campbell’s “hero’s journey.” And there are plenty of epic heroes whose initial weakness is integral to the story: Sundiata, Theseus; though I suppose it is true that at no point does the reader really believe those heroes will not succeed; instead, those characters in the story who doubt that the epic hero will succeed are just being foolish, and we readers or listeners laugh at them knowingly.]

Anyway B traces the idea of trial through the various historical forms of the novel (sophistic through baroque), on the way making an interesting connection with the Christian idea of confession.

The Romantics go beyond the mere testing of a hero, to his shaping or character development through the story, markedly in the Bildungsroman. Bakhtin contrasts this with the older use of trial/testing in epic and earlier novel forms (which contrast is also a theme of his Chronotopes essay):

Life and its events no longer serve as a touchstone, a means for testing a ready-made character … now, life and its events, bathed in the light of becoming, reveal themselves as the hero’s experience, as the school or environment that first forms and formulates the hero’s character and world view. (392-3)

This is the concept of Bildung, meaning education or shaping, which becomes more central to the modern worldview than destiny. Testing/trial and Bildung can be combined.

He discusses dialogue in the Baroque novel, and spends a lot of time on “pathos.” The concept of “zones of contact with still-evolving contemporaneity” reappears (395); then, shortly later, the term is used to indicate the pathos or feelings of specific spaces and architectures of interaction, as they are evoked in the Baroque novel:

Public-square and private-room zones of contact and familiarity (“proximities”) are very different, as different, from this point of view, as are the palace and the private home, the temple (cathedral) and the more house-like Protestant church. It is not a matter of scale, but rather of a special organization of space (here parallels with architecture and painting could be drawn). (397)

[The spatial relevance makes it also interesting to consider the idea of “zone of contact” in relation to chronotopes.]

He contrasts Baroque and Sentimental novels, and how the use of pathos in the latter is a reaction to the former. Both Baroque and Sentimentalist novels engage in “one-sided dialogism” encountering heteroglossia outside the novel as an opposing, shaping force, but not allowing it into the novel. Still, “social stratification of language in the process of evolution is the basis for the stylistic shaping of discourse even in this First Line of the novel” (399).

Novels of the First Stylistic Line approach heteroglossia from above, it is as if they descend onto it …. Novels of the Second Line, on the contrary, approach heteroglossia from below: out of the heteroglot depths they rise to the highest spheres of literary language and overwhelm them. (400)

While the first line novels of the Chivalric era, etc. try to maintain a pure language in contrast to the heteroglossia that surrounds them, the precursors of the second line exist in the “minor low genres, on the itinerant stage, in public squares on market day, in street songs and jokes.” Here we get the representation of the speech corresponding to different stock characters or social positions. “Every discourse has its own selfish and biased proprietor; there are no words with meanings shared by all, no words ‘belonging to no one’” (401). This results in a better understanding of language (from the Bakhtinian point of view) than modern linguistics has:

When we seek to understand a word, what matters is not the direct meaning the word gives to objects and emotions—this is the false front of the word; what matters is rather the actual and always self-interested use to which this meaning is put and the way it is expressed by the speaker, a use determined by the speaker’s position (profession, social class, etc.) and by the concrete situation. Who speaks and under what conditions he speaks: this is what determines the word’s actual meaning. All direct meanings and direct expressions are false, and this is especially true of emotional meanings and expressions. (401)

Modern linguistics is being targeted here. for always taking this “false front” of meaning at face value, instead of learning from double-voiced discourse, with its “radical scepticism toward any unmediated discourse and any straightforward seriousness;” this kind of writing counters the “lie of pathos” (which B has identified at work in the Baroque and Sentimentalist novels) with “gay deception” practiced by the “merry rogue.”

He introduces the fool, who fails to understand everyday conventionality and “prosaic forms of stupidity” (404). The fool is stupid, and renders the stupidity of the conventional world clear. The fool can play the only-one-who-is-not-crazy kind of role, or on the other hand can be a foil, used for exposition, commentary, etc. The narrator can even despise the fool, “but the author needs the fool,” because as a representation of stupidity, it makes “prose intelligence” and “prose wisdom” teachable.

A failure to understand languages that are otherwise generally accepted and that have the appearance of being universal teaches the novelist how to perceive them physically as objects, to see their relativity, to externalize them, to feel out their boundaries, that is, it teaches him how to expose and structure images of social languages. (404)

Next he discusses the clown, a coupling of the fool and the rogue: “a rogue who dons the mask of the fool:” “the clown is the one who has the right to speak in otherwise unacceptable languages and the right to maliciously distort languages that are acceptable” (405). These three figures (rogue, fool, and clown) tie back to the prehistoric roots of prose thought in folklore.

He dwells on the importance of the rogue in the first novel form of the Second line, the picaresque novel; without using the word, he shows how the picaresque is the origin of the [antihero], since earlier first-line novels had to show the main character as either purely good or purely bad; the picaro is the first hero to be both and neither.

The effect of the rogue on popping the balloon of convention:

All the old links between a man and his act, between an event and those who participate in it, fall apart. A sharp gap now opens between a man and the external position he occupies—his rank, his public worth, his social class. (408)

[On the one hand he is describing the advent of modernity and individualism, the man-made, arbitrary order replacing the eternal god-given one. It is interesting to see this as a gap or disconnection. as he is also describing to some extent the context of the emerging disciplinary society with its interest in interiority; an attention could be paid to the forms such transformation or anxieties might take in the disciplinary to post-disciplinary (aka, circulation to routing) shift of today...]

What had been accepted truth now becomes seen as a mask; B calls this “radical re-accentuation” which at first I had understood as being like revoicing, the words and images which had at first had one “accent” of a given social class within a privileged novelistic discourse relating to that social group, being “re-accented” with the voice of the rogue, himself voicing a different social interest/language. However, from his later discussion of re-accentuation at the end of the essay, it appears the meaning is more like accentuation or markedness in language; a word or image or language which had been marked (accented) as serious (for instance), now becomes comic, and so on.

B discusses two differences between the First and Second lines, illustrating their different relationships with heteroglossia: 1) their use of inserted genres, and 2) their relation to literariness in the novel. The First line incorporates inserted genres but subsumes them, eliminating their “brute heteroglossia” and replacing it with “a single-imaged, ‘ennobled’ language” (410). The Second line, in contrast, uses inserted genres to bring heteroglossia fully into the text. Second line novels also exist in response to the literariness of the First line, as most clearly exemplified by Don Quixote and other characters who attempt to live life imagined through literature; the First line had thus tried to create and purify a single-voiced literary language, which the Second line brings back into conversation with the world, as just one voice among others.

Around the beginning of the 19th century the two lines converge, leading to the 19th and 20th century domination of the Second line, which fully makes use of the novel’s potential, allowing it to become “what it in fact is” (414). The “being in itself” of single-voiced language dialectically becomes the “being for itself” of language fully conscious of heteroglossia:

Languages of heteroglossia, like mirrors that face each other, each reflecting in its own way a piece, a tiny corner of the world, force us to guess at and grasp for a world behind their mutually reflecting aspects that is broader, more multi-leveled, containing more and varied horizons than would be available to a single language or a single mirror. (414-5)

[And the Kantian in-itself/for-itself language is fitting, since what B is celebrating here is a form of the Enlightenment consciousness that refuses to be guided by a totalizing single-image worldview, instead preferring to find its own way among heteroglossic fragments.]

Situated after the revolutions of the Renaissance and the Reformation, “which destroyed the verbal and ideological centralization of the Middle Ages” (415), the novel is fitting the age of great discoveries and inventions, “that destroyed the finitude and enclosed quality of the old universe;” the novel provides the “Galilean language consciousness” required by such an era. The modern school of “traditional stylistics,” against which B is rebelling, understands only a “Ptolemaic language consciousness,” and is thus incapable of correctly understanding the novel as a form. Lacking a properly Galilean consciousness of heteroglossia, such an approach is limited to trying to describe the “language of the novel,” which is a fool’s errand, because no such unitary language exists. In contrast to this he neatly sums up his overall position:

What is present in the novel is an artistic system of languages, or more accurately a system of images of languages, and the real task of stylistic analysis consists in uncovering all the available orchestrating languages in the composition of the novel, grasping the precise degree of distancing that separates each language from its most immediate semantic instantiation in the work as a whole, and the varying angles of refraction of intentions within it, understanding their dialogic interrelationships and—finally—if there is direct authorial discourse, determining the heteroglot background outside the work that dialogizes it... (416)

B makes a form of the argument which in D&G will take the shape of insisting on the primacy of pragmatics in language. In B’s case, this is an insistence on the necessity of understanding the multiple social languages and intentions at work in the background, the “dialogue of languages as it exists in a given era” (417). Our lack of understanding in this regard is why texts in ancient languages, for example, appear flat and lifeless, because we know so little of their heteroglot context; socio-historical research is needed to recreate a “third dimension” in which to better understand these.

The last several pages concern the competing processes of canonization and re-accentuation, which he discusses with great nuance, and a characteristic dearth of concrete examples.