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Showing posts from April, 2010

Desire and Time in Sappho

This is an absolutely fantastic book - Guy Davenport's sharp, elegant translations of some of the earliest Greek poetry and philosophy. I'd thoroughly recommend.
From the above, I have been reading Sappho's fragments, and wanted to discuss them - only to find it difficult. Wittgenstein described the Pauline letters as foam on the top of the cool, transparent streamwater of the gospels, and these poems reminded me of the metaphor: the Sapphic lyric does tend towards a crystalline transparency, a luminosity, which is resistant to critical discourse. It could just be me, but how does one talk about: Where leaf melody In the apples Is a crystal crash, And the water is cold, All roses and shadow, This place, and sleep Like dusk sifts down From trembling leaves (Fragment 2) Anyway, in lieu of a language I do not have to hand, I'd like to briefly read the following fragment: She was like that sweetest apple That ripened highest on the tree, That the harvesters couldn't reach, And preten…

Althusser and Historicist Literary Criticism

I have recently been reading the French Marxist Louis Althusser, a theorist who is notable among other things for strangling his wife: although, to be fair, he did claim that he was just intending to 'massage' her...
Anyway. The essays collected in the little collection For Marx (published in the Verso radical thinkers series, but also available for free online) are fascinating, painting a forcefully antihumanist Marx. For Althusser, the great scientific advance is to understand that history cannot be interpreted and engaged through categories of the individual human subject and his/her 'essence', 'identity' or 'freedom', but through radically new concepts introduced by Marx, such as social formations, relations of productions, and superstructures and bases. He also makes some important arguments about the relationship between knowledge and ideology, as well as introducing his famous notion of overdetermination.

Perhaps the most complex essay - complex b…


I have just finished reading - properly, for the first time - Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish. It's a fantastic little book, tracing the history of crime and punishment from the post-medieval age of violent execution and judicial torture to the post-Enlightenment epoch of equality before the law and rationally designed prisons. Two of Foucault's theses were already familiar to me, in that osmotic way that seems to accompany the academic existence:
1. The obverse side of the Enlightenment's 'humane' reforms, based on the universal juridical subject and its inalienable rights, is something Foucault glosses as 'discipline'. Whilst it seems that modernity abolishes the law's right to inflict punishment on the criminal's body, in fact it simply modulates that process, so the criminal's body is now appropriated in a much more subtle system of control: surveillance, regimentation and categorisation.
2. The final chapter of Discipline and Pun…