Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2001 19:21:18 -0500 (EST)
From: Kevin Magee

(Grundrisse fragment 701_750)
speaking being/language-being
(for Agamben, “the voice has never yet been written into language”)
“Europe devoid of philology is not even America” (Mandelstam, 125)
The first word of his essay, The Nineteenth Century, is Baudelaire.
This concerns the daily life of a citizen of the twentieth century.
“The ‘appearances of things’ which ‘bear down from America’ (Rilke)

“The appearance of closed facticity which attaches to a philological investigation and places the investigator under its spell, fades to the extent that the object is construed in an historical perspective.” (Benjamin to Adorno).

(Mandelstam, 113-17): “Not a single poet has yet appeared.”

“Yesterday has not yet been born. It has not yet really existed. I want Ovid, Pushkin, and Catullus to live once more, and I am not satisfied with the historical Ovid, Pushkin, and Catullus.”

“If continuity has been preserved, how far back does it go into the past?”

“Poetry is the plow that turns up time in such a way that the abyssal strata of time, its black earth, appear on the surface.”

The absence of material labor in Infancy and History. Opposing time to history, being as ontology and not economy continues to be asserted, refusing to release its hold on the thought, which is class thought (which class is thought) as heavy as that must sound, consciousness, and not social relations, their contradictions, history as site of production, means and modes, the Grundrisse fragment 701_750 shows what the division of labor is, and the kind of time brain labor requires.

“Labour cannot become play, as Fourier would like, although it remains his great contribution to have expressed the suspension not of distribution, but of the mode of production itself, in a higher form, as the ultimate object. Free time - which is both idle time and time for higher activity - has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject. This process is then both discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming; and, at the same time, practice [Ausebung], experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulated knowledge of society.”

In place of the transmission of knowledge, and the possibility of a knowledge-bearing language, accumulation and consumption. Speculative thought is Dasein's capital. “The experience of dead time abstracted from experience, which characterizes life in modern cities and factories.” Clock time is industrial-military time (how many days, weeks, years in a war), though Agamben's conception of the Marxist concept of history does not include maps and terrains, treaties and alliances, strategic objectives, the relationship of forces. Either Playland, or Pandemonium.

“The original task of a genuine revolution, therefore, is never merely to ‘change the world,’ but also - and above all - to ‘change time.’ Modern political thought has concentrated its attention on history, and has not elaborated a corresponding concept of time. Even historical materialism has until now neglected to elaborate a concept of time that compares with its concept of history. Because of this omission it has been unwittingly compelled to have recourse to a concept of time dominant in Western culture for centuries, and so to harbour, side by side, a revolutionary concept of history and a traditional experience of time.” (Agamben, 91).

The continuum and its divisions into instant and eternity, or point and infinity, is proposed as the “breach” in the city walls, or citadel, the trope used for historical materialism, invaded by ideology. But armies have been digging trenches since the time of Baudelaire. Can the experience of time and the concept of history be set on the same grid like diachrony and synchrony? Can they even be called ‘invariable accompaniments’? He's not trying to construct this as a dialectical relationship, is he? (“the relationship between structure and superstructure, which Marx nowhere constructs as a dialectical relationship” - 118).

Revolutionary and traditional are impossible to separate, and only describe Agamben's error of mentioning nowhere in Infancy and History Benjamin's dialectic of the recent and distant past. The extreme effort to face the future forces art and thought to turn to the past, turning up the past. “Classical poetry is the poetry of revolution.” (Mandelstam, 116). Chained time, or chains of time, the industrial-classical paradigm, which exists between the slow, wide rural durations and the speed of the information economy. The experience of time is specific to the organization of social production. Labor, nowhere visible in Infancy and History, presses everywhere through its pages. It is the negative determination of speculative thought. The experience of time abstracted from social relations and their contradictions produces speculation, waiting and expectation. The real subject of time is the Proletariat. “People are hungry.

The State is even hungrier. But there is something still hungrier: Time. Time wants to devour the State.” (Mandelstam, 115). “The real subject of history is the State.” (Agamben, 99).

Labor, like war, organizes time, and revolutions overturn the ownership of the means of production, initiating efforts at transforming social relations, which take centuries. Changing time, or changing how we think about time, appears nowhere in any revolutionary program, though the Fourier that Benjamin photographs in the Arcades probably would have included it, but as a precondition?

Time is method and application, and its conditioning occurs in the way it is organized and for what purpose. This is impossibly empirical, instrumental, and threatening to speculative thought. Unity, continuity. This kind of time wants to put thought to use.

“It is not in historiography but in philology that we must seek the model for a concept of history which, by its independence from chronology, can simultaneously free myth from its archetypal isolation.” (Agamben, 148-49).

“But we all have the desire to live in history; and in each one of us there is an invincible need to find the solid kernel of a Kremlin, an Acropolis: it doesn't matter whether that nucleus is called ‘state’ or ‘society.’” (Mandelstam, 123).

Where is there a way out of ideology? Where the Project for a Review states that criticism must first situate itself in antithesis. Who does not deserve another translation. Or, who does not deserve to be. And from which social class. Like the word, “which, like all go-betweens, is prompt in demanding its percentage.” (Agamben, 118). What word does not bear the weight of its conditioning in the social architecture. Text is a language which knows no outside. In each and every case an ideological nightmare.

Called to the antithesis, invited, imperatively, by philosophy, where does poetry situate itself antithetically to ideology without dissolving the cohesion of its proximity to politics, “at a time that has lost sight of any other criterion for events than ‘what the newspapers say,’ just when ‘what the newspapers say’ no longer has a jot to do with reality.” (Agamben, 143).

“This time philological concerns have definitely suffered - no one would dispute that. We can expect a philological impoverishment of the schools in the near future which, to a large extent, is the fruit of conscious educational policy and the inevitable consequence of our reform, for it is carried out partly in this spirit. However, the anti-philological character of our age does not prevent us from regarding it as a humanistic age, since it restores man himself to us: man in space and time, rhythmical, expressive man. . . . We live under a barbaric sky, yet we are still Hellenes.” (Mandelstam, Government and Rhythm [1920], 109).

The unease with which philosophy refers to the appearance of the present, the symbolic emissions emanating institutional power. “Poets consider it a great honor to live in hell.” (Mandelstam, 100). Adorno to Benjamin: “You put things in metaphorical rather than categorical terms.” What small cell of reality does the Grundrisse fragment observe? Vagrants and paupers viewed against dates in time, like 1376, false markers, all of them, chronology and the continuum, the point, and infinity. Historiography must be destroyed. Agamben's Project for a Review: “The point of view it intends to adopt is in fact so radically and originally historical that it can easily renounce any chronological perspective; instead including among its tasks a ‘destruction’ of literary historiography.” This sentence might be interpreted as chance reference to pages 581-710 of Jane Harris and Constance Link's Mandelstam, where the chronology of literary time is meticulously projected with Benjamin's care for the micrological against an implicit recognition of the problem of knowledge-bearing in poetry (and politics, and philosophy) and its transmission.

“A science based on the principle of connection rather than causality saves us from the bad infinity of evolutionary theory, not to mention its vulgarized corollary - the theory of progress. The movement of an infinite chain of phenomena having neither beginning nor end is precisely that bad infinity which has nothing to offer the mind seeking unities and connections. Such a concept hypnotizes scientific thought with a simple and easily accessible evolutionism, which, to be sure, gives an appearance of scientific generalization, but only at the cost of renouncing all synthesis and inner structure.” (Mandelstam, 118).

“The object of history is not diachrony, but the opposition between diachrony and synchrony which characterizes every human society. If it figures historical becoming as a pure succession of events, as an absolute diachrony, it is then constrained, in order to salvage the coherence of the system, to assume a hidden synchrony operating in every precise instance (representing it as a causal law or as teleology), whose sense is revealed, however, only dialectically in the total social process. But the precise instance as an intersection of synchrony and diachrony (the absolute presence) is a pure myth, which Western metaphysics makes use of to guarantee the continuation of its own dual conception of time.” (Agamben, 75).

“Chaadaev, in stating his opinion that Russia has no history, that is, that Russian belongs to the unorganized, unhistorical world of cultural phenomena, overlooked one factor - the Russian language. So highly organized, so organic a language is not merely a door into history, but is history itself. [‘Mandelstam's thesis that language is history’ - the editors]. For Russia, defection from history, excommunication from the kingdom of historical necessity and continuity, from freedom and teleology, would have been defection from its language. Reduction to a state of ‘dumbness’ for two or three generations could have brought Russia to historical death. Excommunication from language is the equivalent for us to excommunication from history. For that reason, it is certainly true that Russian history travels along the brink, along a ledge, over an abyss, and is on the verge of falling into nihilism at any moment, that is, of being excommunicated from the word.” (Mandelstam, 122). “The space between voice and logos is an empty space, a limit in the Kantian sense. Only because man finds himself cast into language without the vehicle of a voice, and only because the experimentum linguae lures him, grammarless, into that void and aphonia, do an ethos and a community of any kind become possible.” (Agamben, 9).

“But Rozanov could get bogged down in one line of poetry from any Russian poet, just as he got bogged down in Nekrasov's famous line: ‘Whether I am driving through the dark street by night . . .’ Rozanov's commentary was the first thing that popped into his head as he was driving along one night in a cab: You can hardly expect to find another line like that in all Russian poetry.” (Mandelstam, 124).

“What characterizes gesture is that in it there is neither production nor enactment, but undertaking and supporting. In other words, gesture opens the sphere of ethos as the most fitting sphere of the human. But in what way is an action undertaken and supported? In what way does a res become a res gesta, a simple fact become an event?” (Agamben, 140).

“The age will shout itself out, culture will fall asleep, and the people will be reborn, having given their utmost to the new social class; and this current will draw the fragile ship of the human word away with it, out into the open sea of the future where there is no sympathetic understanding, where cheerless commentary will replace the fresh wind of contemporary enmity and sympathy. How can one equip this ship for its distant voyage without furnishing it will all the necessities for so foreign and cherished a reader?” (Mandelstam, 132).

“If, to use a simile, one views the growing work as a funeral pyre . . .”

“Once more I shall liken a poem to an Egyptian funerary ship. In that ship everything is provided for life . . .”

“whose living flame goes on burning over the heavy logs of the past and the light ashes of life”

“a candle burning inside a paper lantern”

Works cited:

Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History: The Destruction of Experience. Translated by Liz Heron. London: Verso, 1993.

Osip Mandelstam, The Complete Critical Prose and Letters. Edited by Jane Gary Harris. Translated by Jane Gary Harris and Constance Link. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1979.

Louis Zukofsky, “A” 22 & 23. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1975.