On devaluation of the theoretical variable of "experience"

It is fashionable these days to utter: “It is old fashioned to assume that one must experience something in order to appreciate it!” Rather, one engages fully with the text only on the basis of one’s reading.

In the initial instance of trying to understand this ideology (expressed above) I understand that it is to be accepted that we are swept along in a similar direction of thought and culture and psychology, by means of a force. On the other hand, if this is not so — ie. if no objective force is working to keep us all on the same page — then the expressed perspective that one can understand as much as there is to be understood by reading a text (and not by experiencing) is a reference to inner subjective life, with no guarantee of an underlying objectivity to keep what is seen to be in the text stable. Rather, each reader will have her own perspective on the text. That perspective will be based not upon experience (as per the statement above) but will be based upon a kind of inner dreaming, a kind of randomness, that allows meanings to emerge or disappear, without unifying cause.

An alternative half-way position on all of this is that a text both enables us to dream as well as to process things somewhat objectively (on the basis of having certain reference points in common with others). The assumption here is any objectivity has an a priori basis (emerging from the pure structures of the mind) and not an a posteriori basis (emerging from reflection upon experience).

Let us assume, then, that the meanings to be found within a text are a priori. They are there because of the way minds are structured, prior to any kind of experience of the world. A notional objectivity is maintained in that way, but alas, not objectivity that is founded on anything other than theoretical postulates (ie. it is intellectually unfounded, but merely assumed). This a priori postulation is given as the basis for the “objectivity” of any reading. Objectivity must be claimed, if one is to give any authoritative reading. Without authority, words have only an aesthetic quality, but beyond that, no meaning. So, objectivity is certainly necessary in the interpretation of a text.

Objectivity is necessary, then, but what is the pleasure of reading without subjectivity? This too is necessary — and it is also necessary that each person’s subjectivity is not based on experience, which is the basis of the statement’s founding principles. In that case, one can assume that any difference between one person’s interpretation and another person’s intepretation of a text is founded on differences between subjective dream states. Whilst this may be the case , it is also so that one cannot afford to be purely and wholly subjective — for to interpret a text in terms of pure subjectivity would mean that texts would lose their basis for differentiation. In a realm of pure subjectivity, all texts merge into one, and whatever would make them unique and discrete from each other (their objective difference) disappears. When all texts become wholly unstable, they merge into each other in a general field of dreaming.

I have delineated what it means to engage with a text on the basis that one is not influenced by experience. I have suggested that one must lean very heavily on the idea of brain structure — as an a priori universal — so as to maintain a necessary semblance of objectivity, if one is really to claim to be able to understand something independently from experience.

But perhaps, to have achieved a real understanding of a text is nobody’s particular claim?

A prevalent ethical problem

Rent Party says:

One of the things I find insulting from such individuals is that they not only take such great advantage of my kindness but that they so underestimate my intelligence.

They are just failing to conceptualise your intelligence. They don’t have a working theory of “other minds” — which is quite a common lack in this post-humanist era. (Postmodernist decentering contributes to this soul lack.)

So, whereas they can SENSE your intelligence, they are afraid of it, and don’t know what to make of it. They do not see it as a feature of your whole being, but rather as an unpredictable upsurge of self-directed spontaneity entailing ideas, while knowing not from whence they come. So, your intelligence is felt as a danger to them, something to be batted down, or dealt with manipulatively in the moment. It’s not that they are doing this because they think you are an idiot — but because they fear that you are NOT(and that your thinking, if it pursues its current stable path, will start to overwhelm them.)

They believe that they are justified in treating you in this way, because they are catering to their fear and doing it in self defence.

Not postmodernism, but rather never far from politics

THE BLACK INSIDER. In it, ideas have a material force and are hence considered in a material way (language as water). The book also has a dualist construction in there being a conceptual parallel between the realm of the living and the dead. Thus a kind of spiritism is invoked in the reader’s imagination. The little corridors and rooms and dead-ends are the themes, sub-themes and stories contained in the novel.

The protagonist proposes that the book was written in his mind during three months in a Welsh prison as an illegal immigrant. The imagery and context of the book (emotionally and imagistically) is relatively flattened and intellectual in approach and style rather than being emotionally loaded.

Is the book mad?

It seems not to be. It comes across as almost a toning down of the author’s emotions — the less he is capable of roaming, the more intellectual he must necessarily become. (He does have a sexual fantasy or two, however, the details are skipped over — the tone of the book is repressed, urbane.)

But the context of the writing of the book, the context of the book is the corridors of the mind — the inward world that one has — after one has been locked up for one’s drapetomania (I mean his absconding from the social control of the university, to take up an independent life as a vagrant in Britain.)

The book has some slight Foucauldian resonances — the halls of culture, with some rooms arbitrarily bricked up with their skeletons mouldering inside — sounds like the historical cultural architecture that each generation inherits without its meaning from the generations before. Despite an emphasis on language and its determinism for our thinking processes, the book does not seem Derridean, since language, thinking and attitudes have a material (and hence political) force that is much more dire than sheer play.

Culturally, Marechera was African, and even when locked up to think alone, his images and ideas are grass-roots democratic and collectivist. He does not quite feel that we are the victims or products of a cultural apparatus to the degree that Foucault does. Nor does he accept the mind-body dualism that would lead to the conclusion that mental processes could lead us to a realm of pure play (Derrida). There is always something more deeply and materially political at play than this in Marechera’s writings.

He jokes about identity, and feels ambivalent about the freedom that has come to him through the removal of colonial control from Zimbabwe’s people. “The winds of change have cooled our porridge,” he says, nonchalantly. It is now possible for those who have been liberated to eat it.

The non-serious tone of the approach to national politics was part of a grass-roots participatory tradition in that part of Africa. On the part of the whites — who also had their oral history, news and reactions to it moved like a fire to communicate good or bad news. Nicknames for certain things also implied a degree of contention as to their value. But always with an ironic air
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I just came from this site and, well, you can kind of see the sorts of consequences when we devolve into accepting a kind of écriture automatique but without the sense that we are producing something new: We are just replicating the forms of the cultural structures that have invaded us. And seemlessly too, for let there be no jarring historical factors involved but instead a gentle elision of meaning and reality as one state of being surpasses and replaces another.

Marechera’s writing in The Black Insider is not “postmodernism” (only, similar to Barthesian perceptions) because he perceives that “attitudes”, although seemingly empty and without foundation, nonetheless have real consequences. In this view he is more premodernist and engaged with actual material reality, rather than being modernist or postmodernist. But perhaps arguably there are all three strands of ideology in his novel.

I would say that the flattening of reality effect of the sort of writing in The Black Insider could be termed postmodern.

I am reluctant to term it thus, however, because I think that to do so would potentially mislead a reader into thinking that his intentions were to operate purely at a level of “play” — and whereas, I think this is certainly this element in his work, he seems ultimately drawn to the gravitational pull of realpolitik. He is not yet wholly subsumed by the modalities of theoretical projections (which is the condition I take to be the quintessential postmodern one).

What I see are elements of a pre-modernist (sense of adventurous direct relationship with an environment, without ideological mediation) creativity, combining with various modernist and postmodernist elements. But bearing in mind that Marechera did not emerge from a modernist system of culture, I do not see a great deal of point in postulating that it was his modernism that produced postmodernist shoots, or postmodernist recoiling of thought. He seems rather to have concocted a much more audacious (and insoluble) mix of postmodernist adventurism (eg. Robert louis stevenson) and Barthian cultural determinism.

But I think I’m taking Fredrick Jameson’s definition of postmodernism as the one that rings true — the cultural logic of late capitalism.

Lyotard’s one makes sense as a very abstract paradigm, but socially and historically (in a concrete sense) appears incoherent to me. Because even in very tribal contexts there will be those who are excluded for thinking differently. It happens in every context and the sheer ubiquity culturally excluded aspects from society renders the term of postmodernism, as describing such an effect, vague and obtuse.

Shaka Zulu was victimized by his tribe from an early age, because his father was dead and he was considered to have been in effect a bastard child. So was Shaka Zulu and his situation therefore postmodernist at this point?

And Shaka turned the situation around an became a sadistic abuser himself. And so we lose a sense of the cultural logic of late capitalism here, because the outsider does not remain solidified in his outsider position. But if he did (remain the masochist rather than becoming the sadist) wouldn’t he then be a quintessential postmodernist?

Getting to know you, again.

For many years, it has been hard for me to get a feeling for Western society as a whole, mostly because asking questions has never produced for me a solid answer about real dynamics and motivations. One does in fact need some position of social transcendence in order to approach the reality of the western zeitgeist, otherwise one is put on the back foot constantly, since most people experience probing questions to be nothing akin to innocent communication but as something more akin to a cynical attack.

One needs the solid overview of zeitgeist in order to know how not to waste one’s time spinning one’s wheels in futile efforts of communication –either aimed too high and too abstract, or too low and insulting. This knowledge is of utmost import to those not born in a Western culture, if they are to succeed in solid thesis writing. If we are unable to grasp what is presumed known or not known in this culture (moreover, what is presumed to be even ‘knowable’), then we have no logical starting point from which to proceed. Needless to say, this is profoundly problematic.

Recent political endeavours have given me a much, much better sense of this society’s pulse than I have ever had before. I’ve got its temperature, too; know its number, now. This has all been afforded by the small amount of social transcendence known as senate candidature.

Of all cultures that have ever existed, this present form of Western culture is surely the one that most does not want one to know its name. There is perhaps a sense of shame — a feeling of a soiled existence — in being Western. The legacy of colonial exploitation is perhaps partly to blame. The chickens are coming home to roost, and much of their outrage can barely be contained by the ideologically co-opting measure of contemporary identity politics. Postmodernist theory tries its best to spread around a smokescreen in honour of the continuation of Western-society-as-it-is. There is no “society” … “no zeitgeist”, it desperately proclaims, vainly. Yet clearly that is not true. One can still be marked down in one’s assignments for not speaking adequately to the Western zeitgeist.

In terms of sparring practice, the Western zeitgeist engages itself in many defensive measures. It’s particular method of combat is akin to grappling. One gets ones arms on the inside of the other person’s arms. The other is considered the opponent. From the inside position, one pulls the other left or right in accordance with the sense of what will most unbalance them when one of their legs is lifted above the ground. One keeps one’s chin in to prevent reprise, and chooses one’s best moment to land knees and elbows into the soft points of the other, once the opponent is suitable unbalanced.

“So what is to be done about the present day colonialism then?’

Of course the ‘first world’ types want to consign [colonialism] to the pastthey do not want to see what they have done – just as they want to get rid of Natives, etc. But it amazes me that people you know think the colonial world is a thing of the past – are then not aware of what is happening in the news right now? !

Yes, but they use such an intricate dodge to say what they do. It’s not like they make statements directly denying the material world and what it is in it, or something. Rather, they employ klippoth prowess. Here’s how it plays out:

Me: “What about the current colonial invasions of Iraq and elsewhere?”

Postmodernist klippoth: “I’m surprised you would mention that to us directly. These things are totally appalling, and you should be ashamed of yourself to bring these things to our attention, when everybody knows how appalling they are.”

Me: “Oh yes, I see. A terrible faux pas I have made, which certainly reflects back poorly upon me. I really ought to shut up now and sink back into my hole. But before I do, what are your solutions to this appalling travesty of modern day colonialism?”

Postmodernist klippoth: “Everybody knows what they are. The world is a terribly violent place, and the only reason you are speaking up about it is because you have a terribly violent nature in you. We are all doing our best to remedy the problems of the world, but it needs a sophisticated approach, and not the terribly violent one that you are taking because of your directness. It only hurts people and makes them feel bad.”

Me: “So what is to be done about the present day colonialism then?’

Postmodernist klippoth: {blocking his ears} “We need to create safe places. There are no safe places in the material world, because it is a fallen world. Evil!Evil! I say. So we need to purify our hearts for the coming millenial era. Self improvement is the key, and I can tell that you, my dear friend, have a long way to go with that. I will try to help you purify your mind by censuring those aggressive things you say whenever you try to draw before my eyes or speak before my ears aspects that pertain to material reality. It is all evil. And censuring you is the best thing I can do to help you along your way!”

Me: “Thankyou postmodernist klippoth! Mine eyes and ears have been opened now!”