About a year ago I was thinking about the appropriation of the haiku in Imagism and intrigued to learn about the relatively modern refinement of this form in Japanese literature. In particular, I was fascinated by the link between the modern haiku (sometimes perceived as serious, oblique, excessively short, authentic and the creation of the individual poet) and the older haikai no renga (comic, vulgar, spontaneous, epic in its length and collectively produced). When you understand the relationship between the two, the “profundity” of modern haiku takes on the semblance of a joke without the punchline (or the brilliant Garfield minus Garfield website).
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Then I read the literary critic Kojin Karatani’s discussion, in Origins of Modern Japanese Literature and elsewhere, of Natsume Soseki’s literary experiments as an attempt to develop the haiku-novel, and began to read Soseki’s satirical novel I Am A Cat in order to find out more about the influence of a comic tradition within modern literature (and, because Soseki was influenced by Sterne, I was interested in these fertile movements between English and Japanese literature that complicate the history of modernism). At the time I was writing a book about modernism and starting to develop an account of this tradition in contrast to Zizek’s claims about the haiku, Buddhism and the Deleuzian event (that the haiku, which corresponds to Deleuze’s account of the event, cheats by only poetizing noble events). 

If there were correspondences between the haikai no renga and Soseki’s work, we’d have a way to think about a modern literary updating of this tradition of the comic, satirical, grotesque that would expand Deleuze’s empiricism. I was interested in whether Zizek and Deleuze’s claim about the fourth person singular provided a way of connecting the temporal perspective of the haiku-event with the impersonal and detemporalized narrative voice of jokes: “Man walks into a bar…”. I was also reading Nuar Alsadir’s poetry in connection to this (https://granta.com/fourth-person-singular/):

Nuar Alsadir

I was trying to develop these thoughts in a way that would allow me to connect this comic tradition back to Benjamin’s alternative version of modernism (non-auratic, destructive, cheerful, collective, inhuman, etc.) but in the end I had to remove these discussions from the book because they were too much of a digression from the central argument. They raise lots of interesting questions – about Benjamin/Brecht and the English tradition, Benjamin/Brecht and comedy, Benjamin/Brecht and the modern European reception of Buddhism, etc. – that I’ve touched on in places before that I feel largely ignorant about and wish I had the time to develop more fully. They might resurface in the background of a new research project I’m about to start on the category of the grotesque, but this will focus on education rather literature.

In the meantime, though, I’ve almost finished my year of reading Soseki. Of the literary works, I’ve only one more book to read: his final, unfinished novel, Light and Darkness 
(1916). Before that, though, I’m in the middle of his 1912 novel 行人 or kojin, meaning a wayfarer, traveller or passer-by, and which very neatly brings me back to the point I started out from, in Kojin (行人) Karatani’s work, whose own philosophy is itself rooted in an account of movement.

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New article: Secret Signals from Another World: Walter Benjamin’s Theory of Innervation (New German Critique)

702da4ebbd8ad54f5700819844d5dbc4My article on Benjamin and innervation has just been published in the latest issue of New German Critique. The article developed out of an unwieldy footnote on the concept of innervation in an article on ‘Pedagogy as “Cryptic Politics”: Benjamin, Nietzsche, and the End of Education,’ which was published as part of a special issue of boundary 2 earlier this year (and that special issue itself arose from the 2013 conference on Walter Benjamin, Pedagogy and the Politics of Youth). The idea of revolution as an innervation of the technical organs of the collective constitutes, Benjamin declares in the Arcades Project, one of the articles of his politics: a politics that, the boundary 2 article argues, remains “cryptic” because linked to the traumatic submerging of his early pedagogical thought. This New German Critique article attempts to explain the idea of innervation itself, locating its origins not in Freudian psychoanalysis or Surrealistic shock, as usually claimed in the scholarship, but in a cosmopolitical reworking of the vitalist concepts of expressive movement and formative power. These ideas, associated primarily with Ludwig Klages, who was invited to address to the first congress of the German Youth movement on Mount Meissner in 1913, therefore link back to Benjamin’s political break from Wyneken and the re-emergence of a set of politicized pedagogical concerns following the direct encounter, via Asja Lacis, with the Soviet avant-garde in the late 1920s (the mediating figure between Benjamin, Klages and the Soviet avant-garde, as my forthcoming book on Modernism between Benjamin and Goethe explores, is the natural philosophy of J. W. von Goethe). What remains undeveloped in the article itself, and so needs further work, is the directly political application of this idea of revolutionary innervations, which would bring together – via the mediation of avant-garde modernism – the poles of pedagogy and politics, spirit and technology.

In Convolute W of the unfinished Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin refers to the “idea of revolution as an innervation [Innervation] of the technical organs of the collective” as one of the “articles of my politics.” The idea is repeated in material related to the second version and the French translation of Benjamin’s “Work of Art” essay from 1935–36 but expunged—along with the context of first and second technology through which it is explained—from the final version written in the late 1930s. The significance of Benjamin’s assertion has received scant attention in the philosophical reception of his political thought compared with the alternative model of revolution—made famous from the paralipomena to “On the Concept of History”—as the emergency handbrake of history. The latter tends to equate more straightforwardly, almost tautologically, with the messianic figure of interruption with which Benjamin’s thought has become synonymous, although perhaps only at the risk of conflating the political and the theological in his work.

Conversely, Benjamin’s more affirmative idea of revolutionary innervations has received more attention in film and media theory, primarily in the pioneering work of Miriam Bratu Hansen, where it tends to remain isolated within the history of cinema. Drawing on some of the debates and tensions generated by Hansen’s work, the present article analyzes lesser-known intellectual sources that influenced Benjamin’s theory of innervation, focusing on the theory of bodily innervations as well as his extension of this theory into the collective domain of technology. Rather than reconcile or integrate this account with dominant philosophical reconstructions of what is sometimes characterized as Benjamin’s Western Marxism, this article attempts to reveal a less familiar and largely repressed set of intellectual sources, including Asja Lācis’s proletarian children’s theater, Vsevolod Meyerhold’s biomechanical training, Sergei Eisenstein and Sergei Tretyakov’s theory of expressive movements, and V. M. Bekhterev’s collective reflexology in the Soviet Union, as well as debates about bodily rhythm associated with the reactionary, anticapitalist Lebensphilosophie of Rudolf Bode and Ludwig Klages in Germany. What connects these theories is a critical rejection of the bourgeois “subjective psychology” of Freudian psychoanalysis, problematizing attempts to frame Benjamin’s politics in terms of the synthesis of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud typical of Western Marxism. In Benjamin’s work, these innervated bodily gestures provide a political model for a utopian will whose “secret signal of what is to come” is “not so much a signal of the unconscious, of latent processes, repressions, or censorship (as the psychologists like to think), but a signal from another world”.

Full article here: https://read.dukeupress.edu/new-german-critique/article/45/3%20(135)/39/135670/Secret-Signals-from-Another-WorldWalter-Benjamins


Chapter on Erziehung/Education in The Sage Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory

The digital edition of the new SAGE Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory is now available, with the print edition being published in July 2018. The three volume set has been edited by Beverly Best, Werner Bonefeld and Chris O’Kane and contains 99 chapters divided into sections on ‘Key Texts’, ‘Critical Elaborations’ and ‘Critical Reception and Further Developments’ (Volume 1), on the themes of ‘State, Economy, Society’ and ‘Culture and Aesthetics’ (Volume 2), and on the contexts of ‘the Emergence of Critical Theory’, ‘the Later Development of Critical Theory’ and ‘Elements in Contemporary Movements and Theories’ (Volume 3).

I’ve not had a chance to read through the other contributions yet but of relevance to the themes of this blog is my own chapter in Volume 2 on ‘Erziehung: The Critical Theory of Education and Counter-Education,’ which contains sections on the foundations of critical theory, Late Capitalism and the Education Industry, Mimetic and Rational Education, Intersubjectivity: Communication and Recognition, and Counter-Education.

The free preview has some chapters available and those with institutional access, such as through the British Library, should be able to read all the chapters online. Do feel free to contact me if you’d like to read a copy of my chapter and don’t have institutional access.