III The Hotlink

With the number of observers increasing (imagine!) the role of observation itself was bound to push its way into consciousness. Kant is often called the watershed between earth and worlds; for Foucault and others, Velázquez's Las Meninas is an icon of this shift: a painting with nowhere for the eye to rest for it becomes caught up in a cycle of gazes that includes the gaze of the viewer, thereby clashing with the assumptions inherent in still lifes: third person articulations that assume a tree will make thunderous crashes in the forest whether or not anyone is there to hear it fall.

Likewise, the second half of that great work of Cervantes, a contemporary of Velázquez, reflects upon its own first half — a narrative reflex that waxes into our present day. Words, like genres, are seen to come out of other words, not Truth, and we turn them this way and that to wring from them all that is being said either consciously or unconsciously, even against intent. And to do so we need other words. That is, the epistemology we live with isn't directed at revealing God's hand, nor cause and effect, but to reconstruct that which is hidden, that which took place beyond the words, or between the lines. The anthropologist's Other. Or shall I call it the Unconscious.

By doing so, Dr. Freud comes rushing in. For good reason. Freud's most pervasive achievement seems to be that he taught the 20th century how to read — a method of literary criticism performed on a living text. In fact, Freud's importance as a literary figure becomes more apparent as his importance as a scientist fades; the Freudian hypothesis that the unconscious is where the action is became the great modern myth, an order-giving narrative. Compare this to the Iliad, for example, where all desire is depicted on the surface, grammatically articulated, even if the speaker has a spear through the throat.

José Ortega y Gasset, like John Barth some 40 years later, bemoaned in 1925 the exhaustion of the novel. And like Barth, he identified its revitalization through attention to its true subject: its form, not its content. What made Modern novels such as those by Dostoyevsky engrossing, he wrote, were not their plots, for it was impossible to come up with a new plot — they had all been used. Rather, it was that the myriad details that a reader had to interpret to understand these books; the imagined psychologies of the characters that the reader had to decipher created an atmosphere within the book much like the one a reader would face in his or her own life the minute the book was closed. Techniques for reading, as well as writing, this new type of novel evolved — with parallels in the world outside of literature. And inevitably, these tools of analysis — a hermeneutic reading of lived texts — were turned on the totalizing myths that first employed them.

Today, we see Freudianism less as a science than as a discursive practice left naked before Lacan by the lapses of a poet who thought he was practicing biology. Likewise, Marx marches into paradox rather than a Rising Sun of Truth and many writers and artists and critics have concluded that representation can in fact be of nothing in the way that E.H. Gombrich's child on a hobby horse re-presents riding without representing riding.

You can see what this type of thinking will do to traditional boundaries that even a Modernist like Freud would have been comfortable with: man/machine, history/fiction, high art/popular entertainment, male/female, truth/image, private/public, original/copy, mind/body, text/image — there is no such thing as a pure image. There is no such thing as a pure text. Once again, one is catenaed to others with the result that, as for Medievals, representation is suspect for it is partial. The grand illusion, image/language effects, shadows on the wall of Plato's cave that we make up our stories about and in so doing weave a veil that displaces the Thing Itself — and becomes even more precious, for it is the only thing we have to read.

 

saying knowing