Friday, August 05, 2011

Heehs unfurls a million hermeneutical mutinies

[Calling All Philistines (Arts and EntertainmentBooks and the Arts) FROM THE ARCHIVE Clement Greenberg
The article presents information on the book "Mona Lisa's Mustache: A Dissection of Modern Art," by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings. This book was written to make money. The vulgarity of its learning and thinking, the misinformation it contains, and the violent and banal simple mindedness with which it mauls its material to fit its thesis--all these disqualify it from serious discussion. But, as sometimes happens with very, very stupid people, its author does have hold of the truth by a hair on Its tail, a hair that many infinitely more intelligent writers on modern art have not, even brushed.]

The vanishing mediator is closely tied to the also excellent notion developed by Harold Bloom of the ‘anxiety of influence’, namely, that very often authors are incredibly influenced by one or more crucial influences in their intellectual development which profoundly shape who they are, but which they feel they need to negate strongly to gain their own freedom. Bloom presents this notion psychoanalytically, arguing that all authors need to get rid of their own textual ‘fathers’, and yet, they also often try to conceal this very process, lest they simply seem like rebellious teenagers.
The result is an anxiety of influence, an uneasy attempt to throw off the influence of the past which pervades a text like a ghost because it continually tries to deny that’s what it’s doing. Bloom does a nice job explaining why mediators vanish, namely, simply being against those before you makes you seem, well, unoriginal. The result, though, is that from the outside its own necessary yet difficult to reconstruct the vanishing mediators that really helped create the transitions between intellectual movements, or stages in people’s lives. Yet without these, the changes seem irrational, even unreasonable, and certainly mysterious. Reconstructing vanishing mediators therefore becomes an essential act in the writing of histories.]

[Re: Prayers and Meditations came to me—the Mother by Sandeep on Thu 04 Aug 2011 11:40 PM IST |  Profile |  Permanent Link
Anything which was not translated by Sri Aurobindo has been newly translated. I guess that is the reason there are multiple versions. Maybe it has something to do with what Post-modern scholars call "plurality of interpretation" :-)]

Heehs is drunk on the idea that no one understands Sri Aurobindo better than him, if the aggressive sales pitch of his fan club is any indication. But, unfortunately, despite having well informed friends, he has failed to display any trace of postmodernist influence or insight barring the primitive psychoanalytic interrogation that he employs so crudely. More than situating Sri Aurobindo securely within the borderline of authentic or objective history, the need of the hour is to look at his persona as diffused through the current debates in philosophy and contemporary political theory.

This engagement with cultural studies is a hugely challenging task and not much enthusiasm is visible to undertake a tryst with the surfboard. Heehs’ book rather serves as a dampener on this front because to recover from the shock that a young learner receives by it is not that easy. Either he is repelled by the intellectual distance from the subject of the book or repulsed by a moral disgust that is likely to linger and torment his core.

Heehs, however, uses a curious procedure of interpolating intricate collages of off-site quotations to make his text speak right. This perhaps is a throwback to selecting Sri Aurobindo’s own words for explication while compiling dictionaries (which hardly anyone could follow!). This maze of subtexts and interplay of subterranean voices, nevertheless, through their permutation possess the potential of churning out countless mesmerizing scenarios of kaleidoscopic proportion. Now, who would have thought that an unintended consequence of purportedly clinical precision will, paradoxically, be a million hermeneutical mutinies? And to top it all should go the disclaimer that these retouched impressions (including the earlier ones) are, in fact, derivative - or, should we say, intuitive - and independent of (i.e., without) actually reading the book. [TNM55]     

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