Sunday, April 6, 2014
the supposedly self-maintaining organism
Claire Colebrook's Death is not about Modernism, though I quoted from it a few posts ago and that quote was a quote about Modernism; but she is writing about the extinction of the human race. The arts are not dealing well, she says. One day it will happen but we are not prepared. Artists go up to a point and then they baulk. All of our post-apocalypses have people in them. The end of the world will come and go and we think will still be running around the streets shooting vampires. Summoned into a fresh life of weary heroism. Untrue! This is where prose and its “disintegration” come into her argument. “[I]t is only when writing is liberated from life, when one no longer grounds systems of inscription on the supposedly self-maintaining organism, that one disrupts the normalizing figure of bodily life.” The apocalypse is the moment of incorruptable disruption. The normalizing figure of bodily life will vanish.
Modernism seems optimistically added-on in this book, not conclusive or even decisive – it comes along like a thought that has just occurred to her -- but her central point still stands, and if personal death had always been dealt with as falsely as species death usually is, then literature, I think, would feel like a more dishonest enterprise or maybe a more relentlessly playful one, very sweatily playful, until frivolous might be the word I'm looking for, and every character would come back as a ghost, not really gone, just feinting, now returning to continue the story in a slightly different way, maybe with two heads, the equivalent of the post-apocalypse with the campfire 'mongst the muddy ruins and all the can openers gone missing.
Or else the last person on earth poisons themselves and the book ends there, predicting the moment of disintegration but not venturing in, or it is like John Crowley's Little, Big and the cast has moved on to a different place, the slow crumbling of the old place described by the author but this description is a sweetly sad goodbye from a creator who can't follow them to the next iteration of their existences. They have gone to fairyland, which is beyond description. Their adventures will have to be imagined in some other way. Dead but not dead dead. Equivalent to the inhabitants of an escape pod volunteering for detachment from the mother ship. Compare Gertrude Stein at the end of The Making of Americans, hammering herself spastically into a cul de sac. She tries to summarise everything, she gives up, there's nowhere smaller to go, she has pounded her “history of men and women” into fragments but each set of words, no matter how basic they are, makes her pen hop on to another set of words, nothing final, but nothing more to say that is meaningful either, the story told and told and told but the words keep coming in their ever-tinier permutations, rattling on almost beyond meaning but retaining a trace of it, that indelible serpent of intent.