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On Enzensberger’s poem “Will and Representation”

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The italicised texts are from Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s poem “Will and Representation” in his collection, “A History of Clouds”. Translated by Martin Chalmers and Esther Kinsky (Seagull Books, 2010)

He thinks he knows what he wants.
The seed of success is exactly in this thinking. Even if in the end what he gets is nowhere near what he wants, or near what he knows what he wants, or near what he thinks he knows what he wants, it is his thinking that he knows what he wants that encourages him, so that
He gives of his best
What else is the meaning of giving his best if not that
He strives He toils
Here it is not just about thinking, or knowing or wanting, but doing with plans to achieve what he thinks he knows what he wants. If he doesn’t do anything he can’t get anything – as great Lucretius said nothing comes out of nothing. But if he does without plans, he might not get what he thinks he knows what he wants. He has to plan, to adjust according to the context, to the forces that he can’t manage, and to the forces that he must manage, so that
He makes it He climbs
When he makes it, he climbs. His surge humbles powers that resisted his making it, his climbing, and they take their
Hats off to his effort
Rags to riches, so much striving and toiling against all oddities – they wonder what use are those multi-generation dynastic lineages. Here is He thinking what he knows what he wants, strives and toils, makes it and climbs. He is the biography of the modern man, he represents each of us – our ideal. Thus,
A breeze bore him
It gives him some solemnity after so much hard work, but in the end he must be on
A Wind
He represents us, he must ride the Wind, which bears whatever has climbed. The system must take over, in other words, he must be on the top of the system representing us, our thinking, our knowing, our wanting, our striving, our toiling. Through his sheer will, he has climbed. But now he takes over the driving seat in the automatic roller coaster, or rather the wind takes him over
Like this maple leaf
We invest our energy, our concrete labour to feed into the abstraction of the system, for a place in the system, which takes us as this maple leaf
Suspended up there
he is at bliss taken over by the wind, which is unaware of what he thinks, what he knows, what he wants. Look at this maple leaf, how
Playfully it gets into a spin, wavers
Exactly like this, he too is playful, and usefully he spins and wavers – demonstrating to aspirants his blissful state, enjoying his abstraction. Lo! He
Rises up once more
a shudder of ecstasy, and now he
Slowly sinks Lies there weak-willed
Quenched, he
Rests awhile Rustles
His body like the maple leaf
but he becomes one with the machine, the spirit of the wind, evermore striving and toiling through us, feeding on us.


Written by Pratyush Chandra

September 28, 2017 at 12:07 pm

Against the ‘enchantment’ of poetry and for the ‘arrogance’ of critical thinking

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Robert Walser’s stress on the small, the insignificant, the minor, the almost-invisible is constitutive of his aporectic – I prefer to call it asymmetrically dialectical — literary discourse that ‘arrogantly’ affirms singularity precisely in and through the ‘humility’ of “continually stepping aside” from the light of recognition that affirmation of singularity inevitably calls upon itself. In one of his stories, for example, a heroic figure erupts suddenly from the insignificant margins of life only to once again melt away and disappear.

Does this Walserian sensibility not resonate with Blanchot’s literary practice, which is an affirmation of the singularity of visible-invisibility (or arrogance through humility)? Blanchot’s reclusive life-practice, which can arguably be construed as the continuation of his conception and practice of literature — writing as a continuous process of withdrawal from itself — beyond the paradigmatic frame of the literary, was possibly a demonstration of this ethics (and singularity) of arrogance-through-humility. This is a quality that is neither arrogance nor humility, but something entirely novel in that it exceeds the anthropologically-indexed affective coordinates of arrogance and humility in their dualised existence.

Walser’s style, if we may still talk in those terms, is the constant articulation and questioning of style itself as something that is always imperfect, and intrinsically inadequate. In that context, we would do well to conceptually approach poetry, not so much as style — which is thinking poetry through a foregrounding of its experiential dimension that is the necessary anthropological register and anthropological-passional index of its historically determinate instantiation as excess of meaning and language — but as a mode.

To conceptualise, and envisage, poetry modally is to grasp it, and have it articulate itself, in a manner that its form is already always a demonstration of its own excess. (Here the importance of the experiential dimension of poetry as the necessary condition of its determinate emerging is doubtless acknowledged, but what is also indicatively underscored is that this dimension is, in itself, not a sufficient condition for poetry to continue being itself.)

In such a (singular) situation, the separation between enchantment and disenchantment is rendered a zone of undecidability, and is thus immensely complicated. For instance, is the singular in the excessiveness of its eruption, which amounts to a break with the thrall of the banal, an enchantment or a disenchantment? And this poses yet another question: what is the condition in which the line shifts, causing the defamiliarising singularity of the quotidian to lapse into the familiarity of the exchangeable and the banal? Is familiarity, insofar as it’s an anthropologically-indexed affect concomitant with the internalisation of domination, disenchantment or enchantment? And, in such circumstances, is defamiliarisation — as an anthropologically- and thus passionally-indexed affectivity of singularity in its excessive eruption — enchantment or disenchantment?

The real question then is, can poetry be approached, and envisaged, as a decision of dwelling in that zone of undecidability? There can, of course, be more than one literary register through which such dwelling in the undecidability of excess is accomplished: the savagely explosive registration of continuous excess (the surrealist poems of Eluard, Aragon and Peret, or Rimbaud’s poetry); the fragile web of language, but one which is baroque in its interminable convolutions and elaborations, and which gets spun through the ceaselessly persistent valorisation of the evanescent and the irreducible (Proust, Beckett); but also, excess as the quiet slipping through of the small, the insignificant and the minor through the meshes of the system (Walser, Kafka, Celan ). In none of these registers, however, does the undecidability with regard to the distinction between enchantment and disenchantment become less demanding in any essential sense. All that such registers of ontological excess in their variegated multiplicity appear to accomplish are different anthropological-passional indexing of the truth of undecidability.

The same – that is, the decision to dwell in the undecidable, the purely possible –holds true for politics as well. That, needless to say, renders poetry and politics, vis-à-vis one another, a question of encounter rather than of some kind of deep or hidden ontological similitude. It is not for nothing that philosophy as the passion for truth begins, as Brecht accurately pointed out, in wonder and awe.

Truth on one hand, wonder and awe on the other. How much more aporetic — and thus undecidable — can a situation be? In such circumstances, to grasp such undecidability as enchantment is to privilege the experiential dimension of such undecidability over its practical-evental/performative dimension that informs the former but is irreducible to it. To indulge in such privileging of the experiential over the performative (or the practical-evental) is to abandon the post-phenomenological rigour of thinking and envisaging sensuousness for a phenomenological (and thus descriptivist) accounting of the same. This phenomenological — and wholly experiential — mode of approaching the sensuous logically amounts to moving away from conceptions of immanence and allegory (which is the immanence grasped in its inscription) to conceptions of interiority and myth, and thus productivism. The latter is inconsistent in its sensuousness because experience remains in it a subjective depth that does little to suspend the objectivity of presence and its metaphysics. In other words, in the phenomenological accounting of sensuousness, experience in its subjectivity fails to seek the institution of its own commensurate materiality and, thereby, become its own surface. As a result, experience, and the subjective, remains interiorised as a depth that is always in diremption from its objectivised and objectified surface. This is, to say without pulling too many punches, the abdication of materiality to spirit. This is a return, albeit through the rear window, of the Hegelian notion of art as the identitarianisation of the negativity of religion. This is poetry, not as the condition and procedure of truth, but as religious mystification.

The Financial Crisis – The Crisis of Not Finding Barbarians?

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There is so much anxiety everywhere. Till recently the neoliberal world prospered by spreading insecurity and inculcating the feeling of ‘what comes next’ among the working class. This fragmented the class consciousness and competition thrived. Didn’t our good old Marx and Engels taught us the following?

“In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed — a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market…[T]he “organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves… The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers.”

But Marx understood that competition among workers is essentially a representation of competition among capitalists. There is a theory of displacing crisis, anxiety etc, that gives a patient reason to survive. In economic theory it is called the theory of external markets. Capital and capitalists thrive only by externalising/selling/’exporting’ commodities, crisis etc, to labour and other nations (or capitalists)… Rosa Luxemburg stressed on this aspect in her understanding of imperialism. The crisis period is that period in the political economic life of capitalism, when this export meets with obstinate hurdles.

Economists tell us that the present crisis is due to an unrestrained financialisation that the neoliberal globalisation has triggered. But then, hasn’t this radical financialisation diminished every external space? As soon as externality is posed, we find it accommodated and submitted to the larger global structure. Then in the above perspective, this is the crisis and the reason for anxiety! For the time being, there is no place to ‘export’ crisis – this is the biggest crisis!

More than a hundred years ago, a prominent Greek poet C.P. Cavafy wrote the following which clearly presents what is happening today – a crisis of not finding barbarians!

– Why should this anxiety and confusion
suddenly begin. (How serious faces have become.)
Why have the streets and squares emptied so quickly,
and why has everyone returned home so pensive?

Because night’s fallen and the barbarians have not arrived.
And some came from the border
and they say the barbarians no longer exist.

Now what will become of us without barbarians?
Those people were some kind of solution.

(‘Waiting for the barbarians’ in The Collected Poems of C.P. Cavafy, Translated by Aliki Barnstone, WW Norton & Company (2006), p 29)

Written by Pratyush Chandra

November 18, 2008 at 4:04 am

Time is not any dog

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Avtar Singh Sandhu ‘Pash’

If not Frontier, read Tribune
If not Calcutta, talk about Dacca
Bring the clippings from
Organiser and Punjab Kesari
And tell me
Where are these eagles flying?
Who has died?
Time is not any dog
That can be chained and driven wherever you like
You tell us
Mao says this and Mao says that
I ask you, who is Mao to say anything?

For the complete poem, click here.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

August 25, 2008 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Poetry

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