File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0106, message 86

Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001 21:53:28 -0500
Subject: Re: the Goths

Happy belated Bloomsday!

I was busy this past weekend, so I'm just catching up now with my

For those who may not be familiar with it, the novel Ulysses by James
Joyce takes place on a single day, June 16, 1904.  It has become a
tradition of sorts for fans around the world to gather together on this
day to read passages from the novel or do other activities to help
commemorate it.  Those who celebrate the holy day in this manner call
June 16 Bloomsday.

While not a visually dramatic as the Goths, perhaps, there are certainly
more than a few affinities here.  A totally fictitious character,
Leopold Bloom, is treated as if he were a real person, in ways that are
very ritualistic and, for some, almost sacred.  The banal aspects of
everyday life are transformed by the Joyce's prism of language into a
word portal of deep mystery - strandentwining cable of all flesh,

Poor Poldy - Ulysses, cuckold, Wandering Jew, Everyman. .. and yes I
said yes I will yes, under the heaventree of stars hung with humid
nightblue fruit. 

This connects to the question Reg raised, echoing Coleridge. These
activities "transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a
semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of
imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which
constitutes poetic faith."

The difference today, however, in the silicon age of the postmodern
where incredulity towards metanarratives furtively meets with the
precession of the simulacra, it is consensual reality (that accumulation
of  W.A.S.T.E.) that now seems to require the "willing suspension of
disbelief."  Pataphysics, the science of imaginary solutions, has become
the foundational basis of science itself, or so it seems.

And yet, consider Coleridge once again: "The imagination, then, I
consider either as primary or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold
to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a
repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the
infinite I AM.  The secondary I consider as an echo of the former,
coexisting with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the
primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in the degree, and
in the mode, of its operation.  It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in
order to recreate, or where this process is rendered impossible, yet
still, at all events, it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is
essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially
fixed and dead."

This sounds impossibly romantic to our contemporary ears, yet is it
really all that different from Baudrillard?  Simply replace organic
process with digital technology, vitalism with mechanical reproduction,
theology with hyperreality, and nature with Walt Disney and virtual

Perhaps Baudrillard is simply Coleridge born again on crack cocaine.  

Nonetheless, the vestiges of religion remain to be found in this power
of the imagination, no matter how much the minimalist bride has been
stripped bare by her bachelors.  Coleridge himself recognizes the extent
to which the primary imagination precedes the subject and goes beyond
Baudrillard both politically and philosophically in warning of the
despotism of the eye.

"Under that despotism of the eye (the emancipation from which Pythagoras
by his numeral, and Plato, by his musical symbols, and both by geometric
discipline, aimed at, as the first propaideutikon of the mind) - under
this strong sensuous influence, we are restless because invisible things
are not the objects of vision; and metaphysical systems, for the most
part, become popular, not for their truth, but in proportion as they
attribute to causes a susceptibility of being seen, if only our visual
organs were sufficiently powerful."

In addition, this centrality of primary imagination formulated by
Coleridge points forward to current considerations of the simulacra and
hyperreality.  As Baudrillard himself points out, the social ends to the
extent that the "model acts as a sphere of absorption for the real." 
Borges' fantastic map which terminates by devouring the kingdom.

But what is all this, if not the land of make-believe, once again a form
of play-acting akin to the Goths and the Bloomites?  This points to the
another aspect of postmodern religion - the significance of play.  Johan
Huizanga pointed this out long ago, in his book, Homo Ludens.  As he
puts it: "In play as we conceive it the distinction between belief and
make-believe breaks down.  The concept of play merges quite naturally
with that of holiness.  Any Prelude of Bach, any line of tragedy proves
it.  By considering the whole sphere of so-called primitive culture as a
play-sphere we pave the way to a more direct and general understanding
of its peculiarities than any meticulous psychological or sociological
analysis would allow... Even for the cultured adult of today the mask
still retains sometime of its terrifying power, although no religious
emotions are attached to it.  The sight of the masked figure, as a
purely aesthetic experience, carries us beyond "ordinary life" into a
world where something other than daylight reigns; it carries us back to
the world of the savage, the child and the poet, which is the world of

Two points I want to make here.  Any adequate discussion of
Baudrillard's theory of symbolic exchange would have to explore its
roots in Mauss' "The Gift" and Bataille's theory of La Part Maudite, the
Accursed Share.  The potlatch of the symbolic sign is essentially a
theory of play and Baudrillard needs to be understood in this context
where every exchange is a gambit.

The other point is simply to quote Nietzsche:  "It is only as an
aesthetic experience that life can be justified. "  In this sense, it is
possible to see Nietzsche as a kind of prophet of postmodern religion.
Both the imaginary and play press against the capitalist work machine
with its diachronic logic of terror while the machine attempts in turn
to capture each one of its moves.  "Time is a child playing chess
against Big Blue" to quote old Heraclitus. 

In this sense, religion is no longer the opium of the vanished people,
the shadow of the silent majorities.  Instead, it is the placebo in the
opium which gives rise to true hallucinations, overcoming the despotism
of the eye. It reveals the "real frogs in imaginary gardens."


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