METAPHORICITY AND NARRATIVITY IN FICTION: THE CHRONOTOPE AS THE DIFFERENTIA GENERICA

Darko Suvin                                                                                                           (1984, 7000 words)

0. This essay presupposes that any text unfolds a thematic-cum-attitudinal field, and that fiction does so by necessarily presenting relationships between fictional agents. According to the way these relations are presented, a fictional text is either metaphorical or narrative. I wish to discuss here what is the basis and hallmark of this differentiation. To that purpose, I shall first discuss metaphor, mention briefly larger “metaphorical texts” and textual paradigms, and then focus on the connecting link between a metaphoric and a narrative text, the parable, in order to find out what is the differentia generica of narrative texts or narrativity. My hypothesis is that all texts are–by way of their paradigm, model, or macro-metaphor–based on a certain kind of metaphoricity, but that the narrative texts add to metaphorical ones a concrete presentation in terms of space and time, the chronotope. (The upshot of my argument would therefore, more precisely, lead to calling these subdivisions “only metaphorical” vs. “metaphorical-cum-narrative,” but it might be confusing to start by changing accepted meanings.)

  1. On Metaphor

1.0. In one of the most recent and most illuminating syntheses of metaphor analysis, Umberto Eco notes that the incomplete l97l bibliographie raisonnée by Shibles registers ca. 3,000 titles, and  yet that these thousands of pages contain only few which add anything fundamental to the two or three basic concepts introduced by Aristotle.1/ I shall therefore in my first part, dealing with some basic properties of metaphor, focus only on those key aspects which are indispensable for my argument, without at all pretending to a complete survey, much less a new theory of metaphor. I simply wish to derive from the discussions of metaphor which I found most useful (Aristotle, Beardsley, Bellert, Black Models, Black “More,” Eco “Metafora,” Henry, Lewis, Richards, Ricoeur “Process,” Ricoeur Rule, Shelley, Whalley) the basic orientations necessary for envisaging similarities and differences between metaphor and narrative.

Both on imagery and on feeling in connection to metaphor, I am in sympathy with the horizons of Ricoeur (cf. “Process”) that cognition, imagination, and feeling presuppose each other. Already from Kant on, it seems clear that one major kind of Urteilskraft or power of judgement consists in imaginative reflection upon a field of representations, searching for universals under which a particular might fall, though Kant then waffled on the possibility of this subsuming the particular under a determinate concept. Since this disclaimer is part of Kant’s general sharp distinction between concepts grounded in the object and our subjective (teleological or aesthetical) judgments, I believe it should be disregarded in favor of Ricoeur’s stance. However, I would wish for some clarification of his oscillation between invoking metaphors for space or seeing and suggesting that metaphor literally evokes iconic or pictorial images (142seqq.), as well as for further analysis of the distance between knower and known, which I do not believe is or can be entirely abolished. PHAPS CF. MORE ON HONECK 60-67.

1.1. This domain, as all of its students know, is both a “somewhat boundless field” (Ricoeur “Process” 141) and a minefield. I am trying to leapfrog most of it by adopting a probably incomplete, working definition of metaphor as a unitary meaning arising out of the (verbal) interaction of disparate conceptual units from different universes of discourse or semantic domains. It should be added that metaphor presents a complex cognition not by literal or analytic statement but by sudden confrontation: it is a language deviance that results in the perception of a possible relationship which could establish a new norm of its own.

       It follows that it is not necessary to think of metaphor, romantically, as either peculiarly imagistic or peculiarly emotional (cf. Manzoni, Shklovskii O teorii, Richards, and della Volpe), though the metaphor often contains a visualisable image and always embodies a value-judgment correlative to an integral, i.e. also emotional, involvement.

        1.2. If “connotation” is taken to mean the difference between an ideal dictionary entry and an ideal encyclopedic entry about the same term, i. e. any meaning of a term which is “normally” thought of as secondary (Eco, “Metafora” 206-08 and passim), then metaphor “create[s] new contextual meaning by bringing to life new connotations” (Beardsley 43). Its synthesis does not obliterate discordances, but in order to have any unity at all, its two terms have to share some connotations. In the canonic example “This man is a lion,” the meaning of the lexeme “man” and the lexeme “lion” which are the metaphor’s two terms gets to be extended by the context or intratext of the metaphor as a whole. From literal dictionary meaning current in a given culture and sociolect, the meaning modulates into some selection from the encyclopedia of cultural commonplaces, presuppositions, and categories (cf. also Eco Lector, passim). This is usually an encyclopedic entry current in a given sociolect and ideology, but it can also be a new entry, invented ad hoc by the metaphor’s author and enforced by its context.

       The sum of all the cultural topoi and categories implied and presupposed by a text constitutes the ideological system of its social addressee. The maxims of this system encompass the connotation chosen in a metaphor. In “This man is a wolf,” e. g., the “normal” connotation of a wolf in our epoch would probably be cruelty, a connotation encompassed by the ideological maxim of Social Darwinism where man is necessarily wolf to man. On the contrary, under the maxim of a tribal society, where wolves may be totemic ancestors or reincarnations of people, the above metaphor will work in a totally different, axiologically quite opposed way. The two semantic domains and cultural categories of “wolf” and “man” which in a metaphor act as lenses and filters for seeing each other, will be very different; a fortiori, so will be their interaction, which in a feedback spiral uses the movement between these domains to emphasize some and suppress other traits potentially present in “wolfness” (lupineity) and “manness” (humanity). “The wolf-metaphor…organizes our view of man” (Black Models 4l) and vice versa: when wolf and man are projected upon each other, a new whole emerges (cf. Richards, Black, Models 38-42 and 236-37, Eco “Metafora”). This does not necessarily imply (as in Black) that the interacting domains must both be equally illuminated by the metaphoric process: in Plautus’s “Homo homini lupus,” man is already more stressed, while in Leonardo’s Time as swift predator of all created things, or in “eddying time,” time clearly dominates over its predicates–we will not spend much thought over just how is a predator or an eddying temporal.

       The two semantic domains interacting in any metaphor can work upon each other because the connotations of their representative terms within the metaphor have a common ground. Aristotle (chap. XXI: 1457b) defines metaphor in two main ways, the strongest way being “transference by analogy”:

. . . for example, to scatter seed is to sow, but the scattering of the sun’s rays has no name [in GreekJ. But the act of sowing in regard to grain bears an analogous relation to the sun’ s dispersing of its rays, and so we have the phrase ‘sowing the god-created fire’.

In modern language, Aristotle has here picked out the single semantic property or seme of scattering and used it as the common ground between the relation sowing/grain and the relation sun’s beaming/light rays. All other semes are neglected in order to establish this common ground; however, while suppressed, they continue to function subterraneously as qualifying dissimilarities: in this case such is, far example, the action of the hand in throwing grain, which also implies a person sowing, the corpuscular nature of the material being scattered, etc. (cf. Henry 65-67).

1.3. The discussions of 1.2. hold fully only far what is variously called the high-grade, full(-fledged) or true metaphor (Whalley 491 and 494; Black, Models passim; Lewis 140-41ff.)–a unique presentation of previously non-existent meaning. On the other end of the metaphor spectrum is the low-grade metaphor, which transposes pre-existent meaning. In the ‘full-fledged’ metaphor new meaning, accessible to us in no other way, is being formed and thus explored. We have no other ways at hand far thinking through the relationship such a metaphor refers to; if it fossilizes or dies by lexicalization into a ‘literal’ lexeme, we shall far the time being cease thinking about that relationship (cf. also Köller 40). For an example from cultural-cum-ideological history, animales comes in classical Latin from anima = breath; when this is later lexicalized into the dead metaphor of ‘soul’, the dead-end quandary of medieval theology, whether animals bave souls, could arise (and SF has to go back to Greek far its lay naming of beings with souls or conscious intelligences — psychozoa). To the contrary, if a low-grade metaphor – such as the late Latin word for and root of  ‘arrive’, adripare, whose literal meaning is ‘come to a shore’ – dies, no great harm is done since we bave other ways of thinking about the relationship of bodily translation in space up to a final point. I shall have occasion to return in section 3.5. to the parallel between this polarization of high vs. low-grade metaphor and my opposition of true vs. fake novum. Here I would just like to note that the low-grade, or indeed fake, metaphor can be recognized, first, by the lack of textual preparation and sustainment of the metaphoric confrontation; and second, by the fact that inserting a copula such as “to be” or “to seem” will destroy the metaphoric confrontation or fusion and reveal the emptiness of that metaphor. Using Whalley’s example “When the play ended, they resumed/ Reality’s topcoat” (494), if we put “Reality is (or: seems) a topcoat” (or viceversa), it becomes apparent that the resumption of a topcoat upon leaving theatre is already a re-entry intro extra-ludic reality of which any topcoat is a part. Thus, the supposed modifying term is contained in the first term, and we do not enter upon a synthesis of discordant semantic domains. Instead, we are here faced with what is in relation to the full metaphor only a formal mimicry.

       Therefore, the full-fledged, “interaction” or transformational metaphors cannot be paraphrased without a significant loss of cognitive yield (Black, Models 45-46); while the low-grade, “substitution or comparison” metaphors can be exhausted by paraphrase into commonplaces–e.g., “on leaving theatre, spectators pick up coats and reenter reality.”

l.4. If we do not confine cognition to analytical discourse only but assume, in a more realistic vein, that it can equally (and in all probability necessarily) be based on imagination, then metaphor is not an ornamental excrescence but a specific cognitive organon. Its specificity of reference is still poorly understood, but metaphor seems to be directed toward and necessary for an insight into continuously variable processes when these are being handled by language (which is composed of discrete signs) (Hesse, Ortony; curiously, Thom [120, 159] founds mathematics in the same insight). If metaphor is such a dialectical corrective of all analytical language, it necessarily refers, among other things, to what a given culture and ideology consider as reality. This means that some conclusions educible from any metaphor–e. g., “people are cruel,” “wolves are conscious”–are pertinent to or culturally “true” of given understandings of relationships in practice. The metaphor can affirm such an understanding or (in the case of full-fledged metaphors) develop “the before unapprehended relations of things” in ways at that moment not formulatable except by way of metaphor (Shelley 357, cf. Shklovskii, Khod 115 and O teorii l2). Exploding literal semantic and referential pertinence, turning heretofore marginal connotations into new denotations, it proposes a new, imaginative pertinence by rearranging the categories that shape our experience. Metaphor sketches in, thus, lineaments of “another world that corresponds to other possibilities of existence, to possibilities that would be most deeply our own…” (Ricoeur, Rule 229). In so doing, it redescribes the known world and opens up new possibilities of intervening into it.

       In more analytical language, the sum of all literal statements which can be educed from a full-fledged metaphor will be both too restricted and too abundant. Too restricted, not exhaustive: people are perhaps cruel like wolves, but how should one formulate the hesitation between “people are instinctive” and “wolves are conscious”–connotations or implications simultaneously also present within the over-determination of this, as of any metaphor–in sense-making literal propositions? Too abundant: for “the implications, previously left for a suitable reader to educe for himself, with a nice feeling for their relative priorities and degrees of importance, [will be] now presented explicitly as though having equal weight” (Black, Models 46). Thus, literal statements are both frozen into connotative univalency and ponderated into cognitive equivalency; in order to acquire  analytical functionality, such propositions are left with a binary choice between the 1 of true and the 0 of false rather than with a spectrum of possibilities. To the contrary, cognition through a full metaphor, reorganizing the logical space of our conceptual frameworks, increases understanding of “the dynamic processes of reality [dinamismi del reale]” (Eco “Metafora” 212). It is, thus, not necessary to think of any such imaginative cognition as a mystical insight or magical transfer but rather  as a hypothetic proposition with specifiable yields and limitations. Parallel to other forms of cognition–say, analytic conceptual systems, plastic representation, music or mathematics–metaphoric cognition can be partly or wholly accepted or rejected by feedback from historical experience, verbal and extra-verbal.

       The potentially cognitive function is, then, not an extrinsic but a central quality of metaphor. Technically, it is graspable as the distinction between vehicle and tenor (first introduced, though not fully clarified, by Richards). Following refinements by students of parable (cf. Bultmann, Crossan, Dithmar, Funk, Jeremias, Jones, Linnemann, Via), I propose to call vehicle the metaphoric expression as a whole taken literally, and tenor the meaning it refers to.2/

1.4. What can, then, be considered to be the basic conditions for a full-fledged metaphor? I think there are three:

       (1) it is coherent or congruent: the connotations admissible in interpretation must have a cultural-cum ideological common ground;

       (2) it is complex or rich: consonant with (1) above, it uses all the connotations that can be brought to bear, “it means all it can mean” (Beardsley 144);

       (3) it contains or embodies a novum: “it constitutes a set of conclusions which would not follow from any conventional combination of words…” (Bellert 34); it is “not inferrible from the standard lexicon” (Black, “More” 436); it is “the emergence of a more radical way of looking at things” (Ricoeur, “Process” 152). This novum is necessarily (at least in part) historico-referential insofar as it disrupts the synchronic cognitive system current when it was coined. The criteria for deciding which metaphors are to be seen as dead, remotivated or farfetched are all drawn from historical semantics and pragmatics.

     We may call these basic conditions the three axioms of coherence, richness, and novelty. Beardsley — who admits only the first two — notes that such axiomatic conditions may be considered as analogous to Occam’s razor in literal, e.g. scientific, texts (145). While I agree with Bellert not only that among the conditions for metaphor are consistency and novelty but also that any metaphor necessarily contains a multiple reference to what in a given sociolect and ideology is taken for reality, I do not think it is necessary to erect such a partial “reference to reality” (38) into a separate condition or axiom, since it is already implied in my second and third axioms as the norm against which both the richness and (as I just argued) the novelty are necessarily measured: Occam’s razor again.

  1. Fictional Texts as Paradigms and Possivble Worlds

2.1. This argument can be opened up in the direction of larger texts by adopting Bellert’s delimitation of a metaphorical text. It is “a text not supposed to be interpreted literally…but assumed to have an interpretation different from that which would follow merely from the application of conventional semantic rules to the constituent expressions and their combinations” (25). I would point out that this delimitation holds for a text of any kind, and there is no reason to confine it to lyrics or small forms.

     Thus, the interpretation of metaphorical texts can, on the one hand, not even begin unless an intertext of the literal or conventional senses of its constituent propositions is first assumed. On the other hand, the metaphor is defined by violating at least one semantic, syntactic or pragmatic conventional rule in a meaningful way, by a “paradigmatic deviance” (Ricoeur “Process” 144). A shuttling operation is established between the metaphor’s initial semantic im-pertinence, its pars destruens, and (in successful cases) the pars construens of its final heightened pertinence.

I shall proceed by assuming that I can also largely leapfrog an argument I developed at length elsewhere (Suvin, “Science Fiction”) on such “metaphorical texts” larger than one single sentence-metaphor or micro-metaphor, as well as the equally boundless and mined domain of narratology, by means of a pair of extremely foreshortened devices. First, by referring to a large bibliography; second, by adopting an incomplete working definition not only for metaphor but also for narrative.. I shall get to a definition of narrative in the latter half of this paper, in order to proceed, by logic of size, from metaphor through the “small form” of parable to narrative.

2.2. My argument in “Science Fiction” tried to show how there is a theoretically almost unbroken continuity between a single or micro-metaphor, a sustained series of metaphors (the métaphore filée), a metaphor theme, and finally the model or paradigm (a property of each and every fictional and indeed doxological — e. g. scientific — text). If one accepts that metaphor is a cognitive organon, then both it and the model  or paradigm are heuristic fictions or speculative instruments analogically mediating between two semantic domains. To take the example of a scientific text (an example a fortiori applicable to any fictional text), such a metaphorical mediation prevails between the atom and the solar system in Bohr’s early model of electron orbits. While believers in orthodox 19th-century scientism would claim that model differs from metaphor by controlling a coherent theory, i. e. a set of linked and falsifiable concepts and not merely presuppositions, I believe this claim has by now been refuted (Hesse, Ricoeur “Hermeneutics,” and cf. on the debate also Black Models and Hoffman). There is an unbroken theoretical continuity between the “strict” or natural-science and the “loose” or sciences humaines verifiability (Thom et al. 53-55). In other words, the verifiability proper to the model seems to me in principle to repose on what I have called the three axioms for metaphorical texts: coherence, richness, and novelty–even if a scientific model will as a rule be more coherent and less rich than a fictional one (cf. Gentner). Thus, by the time the term “model” is applied to a fictional text, say a writer’s opus, I can see no useful difference between saying “Balzac gives us an insightful model of the French society at his time” and saying that his opus is something like a complex and not yet fully understood macro-metaphor.

     An example very pertinent to this discussion is given by C.S. Lewis. He argues that Flatlanders–beings living in two dimensions–can be a useful metaphor for understanding the fourth dimension. The analogy would go: as Flatland is to the sphere of our three-dimensional life and understanding, so our three dimensions are to the fourth. Therefore, the Flatland metaphor can make us begin cognizing the fourth dimension, by way of understanding at least some of its implications: e. g., we should not be surprized if a four-dimensional being could control our space and time, since this what we could do to the Flatlanders (139-40). Mischievously, Lewis omitted to mention that his example is taken from a remarkable science-fictional parable, Flatland (1884) by Edwin A. Abbott. This novellette, however, uses the geometry vehicle for ethico-political tenor, so that the dimensions and cognitive limitations in physics signify also those in ethics and politics. Clearly, in this case “englobing metaphor,” “model,” and “narrative text with metaphor-like paradigm actualized in a metaphoric series” mean the same thing.

2.3. The discussion of Flatland can serve to indicate also a crucial coinciding: both metaphoric and narrative texts can in contemporary semiotics be treated in terms of the implied possible worlds. Eco in fact also uses the example of Flatland when discussing that concept in his Lector (148-54). To summarize a long argument very briefly, whatever possible worlds might be in logic, each and every fictional text implies in semiotics a possible world, specifying a state of affairs which differs from the “normal,” and analyzable as if based on counterfactual conditionals or “as if” hypotheses (Eco Lector 122-73, and cf. Elam 100-14, Pavel “Possible Worlds” and “Incomplete Worlds,” Petöfi, and the special Versus issues no. 17[1977] and 19[1978]). As different from the logicians’ possible worlds, the fictional ones are not exhaustively posed but are created by the reader on the basis of interaction between the fictional “counterfactuality” and feedback references to his/her own presupposed factuality. The world of any fictional work is understandable only as the reader’s  set of cultural and ideological norms–the social addressee’s verisimilitude, be that an illusionistically mimetic or a frankly conventional one — changed in such-and-such ways. Most pertinent to my argument, if both metaphorical and narrative texts entail possible worlds, then the main differences between a single metaphor and a fictional text would have to be correlative to the latter’s quite different articulation. The paradigm of a longer fictional text must be sufficiently articulated in its syntagmatic development to permit exploration of the text’s key hypothesis–which is also its founding metaphor–as to its properties, most prominently the relationships between people it implies; i. e., to permit falsification of its thought-experiment. In any prose tale, it must be possible to verify examined aspects of the central propositions which have by means of coherence, plenitude, and novelty created the narrative universe of that tale.

  1. On Chronotope and Parable

3.0. Any argument about continuity between a micro-metaphor and a longer literary text needs, then, to be supplemented by an argument about their clear differences. It is here that I believe Bakhtin’s inexorable insistence on narrativity is quite indispensable. The central thesis of this paper is that the necessary, and I believe the sufficient differentia generica.between metaphoric and narrative texts can best be grasped by formulating it in terms of Bakhtin’s chronotope. I propose to discuss briefly this concept of chronotope, and then look at its key cognitive status with help of a fictional form which is generally acknowledged to be somewhere between metaphor and story–the parable.

3.1. I shall assume to begin with that what Bakhtin means by chronotope is by now well enough known for me to content myself with a few pointers and to isolate one or two necessary foci. At the beginning of “Formy vremeny i khronotopa v romane,” Bakhtin explains that in the chronotope, “spatial and temporal marks are fused into a meaningful and concrete whole. Time here thickens, grows denser, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes more intense and drawn into the movement of time, plot, history” (235; Imagination 84)3/. A chronotope is, then, the method for “artistically assimilating time and space in the novel, and thus for assuring its unity” (“Formy” 236, Imagination 86). In particular, what we might today call the kind of agents (and actions) to be found in any narrative is correlative to a given concrete chronotope: “the image of man in literature…is always intrinsically chronotopic” (“Formy” 235, Imagination 85). To give just one significant example, “[t]he rogue, the clown, and the fool create around themselves their particular little worlds, their particular chronotopes” (“Formy” 309, Imagination 159).

       The richness of Bakhtin’s analyses in a “historical poetics” of the chronotope and the potential fruitfulness of this concept are well-nigh overwhelming; the obverse is that possible traps are abundant too. Here I wish only to record my basic disagreement with Bakhtin’s theoretically unsupported and practically (one is grateful to see) contravened contention that time rather than space is thg dominant principle in the chronotope. Thus, Bakhtin’s best developed chronotope, the Rabelaisian one with its roots in pre-class, agricultural societal relationships, is magnificently characterized as follows:

This time is profoundly spatial and concrete….Time here is sunk deeply in the earth, implanted in it and ripening in it. Time in its course binds together the earth and the laboring hand of man; its pace is impelled, perceived, smelled…, seen by people. Such time is fleshed-out, irreversible (within the limits of the cycle), realistic.  (“Formy” 357, Imagination 208)

And the artistic world of another from his great triad of favorites, Goethe, “is the budding seed, utterly real, present and visible, and at the same time filled with an equally real future that grows out of it” (Èstetika 232).I trust these two examples can serve to point out that such a time of “productive growth” (“Formy” 356) is consubstantial with and not dominant over space, as well as to prepare my discussion of the parables of sowing.

       It is curious to note in the present context Bakhtin’s unqualified — though, as far as I can tell, never argued — disapproval of metaphor. It is most evident in his non-dits, such as his total refusal to discuss lyrical poetry. (This is one of the main differences between Bakhtin and the critic who has best continued his space analysis, Lotman.) But it can also be glimpsed in a few overt statements. In the popular-cum-Rabelaisian chronotope, e.g., human and natural events are equally grand, so that the same words and accents can be used for both, “and in no sense metaphorically” (“Formy” 360, Imagination 211). In Homer’s style, again, metaphors (and “tropes in general”!) “have not yet utterly lost their straightforward meaning, they do not yet serve the purposes of sublimation” (“Formy” 367, Imagination 218; emphases DS). But by the time we get to the love idyll (in the 18th century, or maybe even in the ancient pastoral?), the potentially positive aspects of the idyll as such are for Bakhtin weakened and blurred by reducing life to “a [completely sublimated] love…, conventional, metaphorical, stylized.” This bad, metaphorical character of the idyll is only counteracted by an orientation eschewing convention and focussing on “the real life of the agriculturist,” based on labour: “the element of agricultural labour creates a real link and community between the phenomena of nature and the events of human life (as distinct from the metaphorical link in the love idyll)” (“Formy” 375, Imagination 226-27; emphases Bakhtin’s). I must regretfully note that I find this mixture of vulgar sociologism, vulgar (anti-)Freudianism (“sublimation”), and vulgar muzhik-worship untenable. It should suffice to confront Bakhtin’s example of the good Georgics with Virgil’s other, pointedly unmentioned and thus disqualified “idyll” of Bucolics, to make this clear. In the final analysis, the metaphor is for Bakhtin identical to an effete and by definition upper-class sublimation, to “the official sphere of speech and literature” (“Formy” 386, Imagination 238). He perceives all tropes as diametrically opposed to those other “forms of indirect use of language” serving for laughter: “irony, parody, humor, the joke, various types of the comic, etc.”–because the tropes do not reinterpret “the point of view contained within the word…, the modality of language and the very relationship of language to the object and to the speaker” (“Formy” 385, Imagination 237). I would basically disagree with such an one-sided tropology, but I want to note here only that this allotment of monologic authoritarianism to the all-pervading lyrical voice explains Bakhtin’s banishment of it into outer darkness. In a way, he conceded metaphor and lyrics to his Formalist enemies: he conceded much too much.

       Finally, it is very noteworthy that the already mentioned discussion of Homer explicates also when can a trope be redeemed, placed among the sheep rather than the goats, so to speak. This is the case when its image is not enmeshed into “sublimation” but retains an independent existence, which is judged by nearness to narrativity: Homer’s razvernutye sravnenia (drawn-out or sustained comparisons) become “almost [underline DS] an introductory episode, a digression.” Narrative equals “autonomous significance and reality”  (“Formy” 367, Imagination 218); trope equals the opposite.4/

3.2. For easier comparison to Aristotle’ canonic example of full-fledged metaphor, the analogy of sowing quoted in 1.2, I am choosing the three parables of sowing from Matthew 13. This has also the advantage of allowing me to use some insights from the witty analyses of that text (Gerhardsson, Marin, Ricoeur “Hermeneutics” 54seqq.; cf. also on parable in general Angenot, Bultmann, Crossan, Dithmar, Funk, Jeremias, Jones, Linnemann, Via) while taking a different tack from them.

       The common ground within each of the three parables embedded in Matthew 13:1-43, is–exactly as in Aristotle’s classical example of the analogical metaphor and as in Bakhtin’s rhapsodic description of the Rabelaisian, people’s chronotope–the seme of implanting or taking root (successful or failed). It arises out of the basic analogy between sowing the good seed and preaching the kingdom of heaven, which is carefully explained in the framing parts of the text. As Ricoeur rightly remarks, “[t]he parable is the conjunction of a narrative form and a metaphorical process“; he then observes as correctly that the problem of “how a metaphor may take the mediating form of a narrative” is “only partially” solved by the contemporary theory of metaphor (“Hermeneutics” 30-31). For, the classical (lyrical or micro-) metaphor is a local unit of discourse, operating at the level of sentence or lexis, whereas the parable is a literary genre (even if a small form) operating at the level of text composition, Aristotle’s taxis (ibidem 92-93). I submit that the major significant accretion to metaphor effected in parable is that the relationship between sowing/good seed and preaching/kingdom of heaven is actualized through a narrative action leading to a change of state in a determinate spacetime. This can be exemplified on the briefest of the three “sowing” parables, the Parable of the Mustard Seed:

  1. …The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
  2. Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. (King James Version)

The vehicle of this parable is a minimal story involving precise space and time, whose characteristic is the deployment of hyperbole and paradox by which the least shall become the greatest given some preconditions. The space begins with the very small seed, fitting into a man’s hand; it is cinematically (both in the sense of moving and of movies) enlarged by way of the connecting “shot” of sowing to the horizontal dimension of a field (Luke 13:19 speaks of a garden); in it, the mustard seed grows after a lapse of time–tacitly filled in by the hearers from their empirical norm–to a large tree, whose greatness is verified by the last cinematic shot of many birds finding enough place to lodge in it. The spacetime dimensionality unfolds thus from the point-like seed, through the implied hand and the two-dimensional field, to the dimension of vertical development (accommodating both the upward arrow and the arrow of time) and to a final four-dimensional shot of birds flying into and finding protection within the tree (in Mark 4:32, “under the shadow of it”). As important, the story’s spacetime is consubstantial to changes through action: first the sower taking the seed into his hand and sowing it out over the field, second the growth of the seed into a tree, and third the arrival and nestling of the birds.

     Now whereas in a metaphor like “The chairman plowed through the discussion” there is certainly an action (the metaphoric focus is a verb), a micro-metaphor or sentence-metaphor cannot, I would maintain until proof to the contrary, envisage a sequential change of state, a succession of events tied to a mutable chronotope (cf. Bakhtin 84 ff.). Though the metaphor compensates for this impossibility by a  point-like flash of insight, the cognitive necessity of subjecting aspects and elements of any complex proposition or hypothesis to detailed scrutiny can only be satisfied by a story. It is, therefore, not action (by a narrative agent such as the plowing chairman) which differentiates story from metaphor; it is the development of space and time from seed to field to tree and from sowing through growing time, which add story to metaphor and form the parable — so much richer and more persuasive than an unsupported metaphor would be. The story–the plot–is the organizing backbone of the whole message. Varying Ricoeur, I would say that the kingdom of heaven is not as who but as how (i. e. what changes have happened when-and-where); indeed, “the metaphorical power of the parable proceeds from the plot” (“Hermeneutics” l25). It is the plot that functions as an analogue model, a developed cognitive vehicle, of the tenor (the kingdom of heaven), and not the mustard seed by itself. Precisely because of this model-like function of the plot, the parable shares in the basic common traits of model and metaphor, those of being “heuristic fictions” and “redescriptions of reality” (Ricoeur ibidem 95, 125, and passim), while adding to it chronotopic, story-telling articulation in which agential and spatial relationships will be unfolded as choices. Any narrative (even a small parable) is an articulated, i.e. multiply falsifiable thought-experiment.

3.3. The other two parables of sowing in Matthew 13 are significantly longer. The Parable of the Sower (13:3-8) involves four alternative actions: seeds devoured by the wayside, scorched because of weak roots, choked by thorns, or triumphantly bypassing all these threats and bringing manifold fruit. Its plot, thus, suggests alternative time-streams and possible worlds, based on qualitatively different spaces. Of the alternative chronotopes, the three initial ones traverse the spread of bad agricultural possibilities: “the whole plot is articulated following an almost land-registry-like topology (topique)” (Marin “Essai” 59). The chronotopes progress axiologically from the wayside, through the stony places (or rocky places, ta petrode), to the ground covered with thorns. In other words, the plot traverses the bad ground beginning with the wayside and continuing with the transitional space between wayside and field where rocks and thorns delimit the field: the plot (the story) is plotted upon the plot (the seeding ground), the tenor in time apparently derived from but in fact projected on the vehicle of space. These chronotopes are opposed but also lead up to the climax of the one and only perfect possibility–the seeds falling onto the agriculturally good or deep ground (literally: the beautiful earth, epi ten gen ten kalen). By the same token, the four locational and axiological chronotopes which make up the plot delineate four alternative possibilities in the zero world of the implied reader. They are typical, i. e. they are supposed to exhaust the pertinent possibilities of the seed’s destiny; so much so that when the parable is explained in 13:18-23, its tenor is four types of narrative agents, or four sub-types of “hearers of the word” (Gerhardsson 175; and cf. Suvin “Per una teoria”). I do not see how any single metaphor could accommodate four views.

       In the final parable of this group, that of the Tares (l3:24-30), there is furthermore a violent change of chronotope: the sowing and the (potential) springing up of good seed alone is first supplanted by the addition of tares, which spoilage is then presented as undone at the envisaged future gathering. The plot is here incipiently dramatic, because both the seeming inner contradiction of the Mustard Seed (smallness of seed vs. greatness of shrub) and the “objective” antagonists of the Sower parable (birds, rocks, thorns) have been replaced by the agential conflict between the wheat-sowing Protagonist and the tares-sowing Antagonist: again, the most typical “good guy” and “bad guy.” True, the Protagonist does not enter into a face-to-face conflict with the Antagonist, but explains to his Satellites (present servants and future reapers) how the Antagonist will be outsmarted at gathering time; however, this only serves to stress the temporal and substantial depth of the conflict. The mingled didascalic actions and dialogs define an already complex sequence of reversals, leading in a full seasonal sowing-to-reaping cycle from clean through contaminated field to a final cleansing by fire. I do not see how any micro-metaphor, however drawn out, could accommodate more than two agents (i.e. more than one action).5/

  1. Prospect on Narrative Texts

4.1. Should the above hypothesis about the constructive elements and factors necessary for a bridge between sentence metaphors and narrative texts prove defensible, it seems intuitively clear that it would be less difficult to pass from a small narrative form such as the parable to any other, larger narrative form, such as the short story and the novel. This extension may be approached, first, from the metaphoric side. As Ricoeur convincingly argues, “[m]etaphoricity is a trait not only of lexis but of muthos [story or plot] itself” (Rule 244). Frye had already formulated this precisely (except for the use of the wholly redundant concept of “myth”):

     …whatever is constructive in any verbal structure seems to me to be invariably some kind of metaphor or hypothetical identification….The assumed metaphors in their turn become the units of the myth or constructive principle of the argument. While we read, we are aware of an organizing structural pattern or conceptualized myth. (353)

       Second, however, the passage from parable to larger narrative forms could be approached from the narrative side too. In the space at my disposal, I can do this only deductively. We may provisionally define a narrative as a finite and coherent sequence of actions, located in the spacetime of a possible world and proceeding from an initial to a final state of affairs . Its minimal requirements would be an agent, an initial state changing to a commensurate final state, and a series of changes consubstantial to varying chronotopes (I am spelling out the last element from the seminal discussions of Eco, Lector 70, 107-08, and passim, where it already seems implied). Since all of these elements have been found in the above discussion of parable, there is no generic difference between it and any other narration.

4.2. Thus, the one major addition to a metaphoric text, the differentia generica which in fact constitutes the narrative as a mega-genre of fictionality, is the existence of a chronotope, consubstantial to the action of several agents in a developed plot. As BAkhtin concluded in 1973, looking backward at his chronotope across four instructive decades, it is the backbone of the siuzhet, of what we may today call narrativity. Still insisting that in chronotope the narrative “event does not become a figure (obraz),” he defined chronotopes as “the organizing centers for the fundamental narrative events…. It can be said without qualification that they are of fundamental significance for the formation of narrative (siuzhetoobrazuiushchee znachenie). – Thus the chronotope, functioning as the dominant means for materilizing time in space, emerges as a center of concrete presentation, of incarnation, in any novel” (“Formy” 398-99; “Imagination” 250). Indeed, I would add, as the dominant means for constituting narrative in the first place. For, in its long history, the siuzhet has at different times managed to do without many elements or aspects: overt action, individuality of narrative agents, linear causality, etc., etc. Yet I cannot imagine any narrative — epic or dramatic, to use familiar terms — that would not have some form of chronotope. The undoubtedly present and important differences between forms and genres of narrative texts (say from parable to roman-fleuve, or further to Aeschylean tragedic trilogy or the Comédie humaine) are in that perspective “merely” differentiae specificae. It should be therefore possible — though not necessarily always useful — to read any longer narrative as an enlarged and otherwise modified parable. Useful examples of different length are literally innumerable. To mention only a few discussed in scholarship recently, this would include the development of the metaphor of “nightingale” from Boccaccio’s novella V/4 to Lope de Vega’s play El ruiseñor de Sevilla (studied by Segre 106-08 within a series of interesting similar confrontations); Dickens’s Little Dorritt as a paradigm of imprisonment (Olsen 44); Proust’s 80-odd pages in A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur as the development of the metaphor (Henry 136-37) and parable of girls as flowers; or Eco’s mention of Le Rouge et le noir as a Bonapartist parable (Lector 48). The to my mind most convincing interpretation of King Lear also concludes (one generation before Ricoeur’s stress on plot as vehicle) that “all along the bare contour of the story has been expressing the play’s most inward meanings….The story is a parable.” (Danby 194). But then, all fictional (and non-fictional) texts are in this view “analogical mappings” (Gentner 109) of one semantic domain upon another. If further, and more particularly, any narrative text can be read as parable, by subtracting the chronotope each can also be read (pace Bakhtin) as a much enlarged and much transposed — metaphor.

Notes

1/  Eco “Metafora” 191. All further references, keyed to the final bibliography, will be entered in the body of the essay by last name with page. My thanks go to Marc Angenot for our indispensable discussions; to Irena Bellert for nudging me (not with complete success) toward the straight and narrow path of precision; to Clive Thomson, for the invitation to the 1983 Bakhtin conference at Queens University; to Elena Sala di Felice, for kindly drawing my attention to Manzoni’s important note on metaphor; and last but not least, to Mike Holquist, friend from the far-off chronotope of Yale SF and Bakhtinian mystagogue.

2/ INSERT NOTE FROM met-mat:  A confusion of central importance is unfortunately present, from Richards on, between tenor — or topic — vs. vehicle employed in the meaning “Subject vs. Modifier” (used by psycholinguists such as Hoffman and Ortony and also by Ricoeur) as against the meaning “metaphor focus vs. the metaphor’s semantic referent” (used by most students of biblical parable). I am in favor of the latter use, though I acknowledge the whole question still awaits clarification. I shall for present purposes eschew the probably indispensable semiotic formalization of this approach, which would have to speak about semic fields, isotopies, Porphyry’s trees, or meaning quadrangles if not hexagons (cf. Eco “Metafora” and Henry).

2/  The intensely charged language of Bakhtin is not univocally translatable; perhaps the best one can hope for is pertinence for given purposes. For my purpose, I have used but in places modified the meritorious Emerson-Holquist translation in Imagination when citing “Formy.”  It seemed both fair and useful to retain the indication of their pagination too.

4/ I do not know whether such a “metaphorophobia” was and can only speculate that it might have been one of the main reasons that Bakhtin never wrote anything of note on Shakespeare. It might seem unreasonable to demand even of this myriad-minded theoretician to do everything, and yet I must at least record here my conviction that Shakespeare’s is the crucial corpus on which Bakhtin’s historical poetics (though not necessarily his anthropology etc.) will have to be verified or falsified.–At the Bakhtin conference mentioned in note 1, the paper of Professor Anthony Wall and an anonymous discussant after this essay was presented both posed the problem of Bakhtin’s own abundant use of metaphors. I cannot at this juncture explain the discrepancy, but I can note that by exemplifying Lawrence’s “never trust the teller, trust the tale,” it strengthens my case.

 5/ For the differences between the analytical levels of actants (redefined against Greimas to the non-syntactical terminology of Protagonist, Antagonist, Satellite, etc.) and of types see Suvin, “Per una teoria.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Angenot, Marc. “Structures herméneutiques de l’Evangile de Luc,” in A. Mingelgrün and A. Nysenholc eds., Ecritures  Maurice-Jean Lefebve. Bruxelles: Ed. de l’U de Bruxelles, 1983, 67-78.

Aristotle’s Poetics. Eds. L. Golden and O.B. Hardison, Jr. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968.

Bakhtin, M.M. The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: U of Texas P, l98l.

————-. Èstetika slovesnogo tvorchestva. Moskva: Iskusstvo, 1979.

————-. “Formy vremeni i khronotopa v romane,” in his Voprosy literatury i èstetiki. Moskva: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1975.

Beardsley, Monroe. Aesthetics. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958.

Bellert, Irena. “Sherlock Holmes’ Interpretation of Metaphorical Texts.” Poetics Today 2 (Winter 1980/81): 25-44.

Black, Max. Models and Metaphors. Ithaca NY: Cornell UP, 1962.

———–. “More About Metaphor.” Dialectica 31 (1977): 431-57.

Blumenberg, Hans. “Paradigmen zu einer Metaphorologie.” Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte 6 (l960): 7-142.

Bultmann, Rudolf. The History of the Synoptic Tradition. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

Chabrol, Claude, et al. Le Récit évangélique. [Paris]: Aubier  Montaigne, [1974].

Crossan, John Dominic. In Parables. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

Culler, Jonathan. “The Turns of Metaphor,” in his The Pursuit of Signs. London: Routledge, 1981, 188-209.

Danby, John F. Shakespeare’s Doctrine of Nature. London: Faber & Faber, 1982.

de Man, Paul. “The Epistemology of Metaphor,” in S. Sacks ed., On Metaphor. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980, 11-28.

della Volpe, Galvano. Critica del gusto. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1971.

Dithmar, Reinhard, ed. Fabeln, Parabeln und Gleichnisse. München: dtv, l972.

Dodd, C.H. The Parables of the Kingdom. Brooklyn NY: Fontana, 1971.

Eco, Umberto. Lector in Fabula. Milano: Bompiani, 1979.

—. “Metafora,” in Enciclopedia Einaudi, Vol. IX. Torino: Einaudi, 1980, 191-236.

—-. A Theory of Semiotics. London: Macmillan, 1977.

Elam, Keir. The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama. London: Methuen,  1980.

Funk, Robert W. Language, Hermeneutic, and Word of God. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. New York: Atheneum, 1966.

Gentner, Dedre. “Are Scientific Analogies Metaphors?” in D.S. Miall ed., Metaphor: Problems and Perspectives. Brighton:Harvester P, 1982, 106-32.

Gerhardsson, Birger. “The Parable of the Sower and Its Interpretation.” New Testament Studies 14 (1967-68): 165-93.

Groupe d’Entrevernes. Signes et paraboles: Sémiotique et texte évangélique. Paris: Seuil, 1977.

Henry, Albert. Métonymie et métaphore. Paris: Klinksieck, 1971.

Hesse, Mary B. Models and Analogies in Science. Notre Dame IN:  U of Notre Dame P, 1966.

Hoffman, Robert R. “Metaphor in Science,” in R.P. Honeck and R.R. Hoffman, eds., Cognition and Figurative Language. Hillsdale NJ: Erlbaum Associates, 1980, 393-423.

Jeremias, Joachim. The Parables of Jesus. New York: Scribner’s,  1963.

Jones, Geraint. The Art and Truth of the Parables. London:  S.P.C.K., 1964.

Köller, Wilhelm. Semiotik und Metapher. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1975.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1970.

Lewis, C.S. “Bluspels and Flalansferes,” in his Rehabilitations.  Folcroft PA: Folcroft Ps, 1970.

Linnemann, Eta. Parables of Jesus. London: S.P.C.K., 1966.

Manzoni, Alessandro. Tutte le opere. Ed. M. Martelli. Firenze: Sansoni, 1973, 2:1892-97.

Marin, Louis. “Essai d’analyse structurale d’un récit-parabole: Matthieu 13/1-23.” Etudes théologiques et religieuses   46 (1971): 35-74 [now in Chabrol et al. (see above) 93-134].

————-. Sémiotique de la Passion. Paris: Aubier Montaigne, 1971.

Masterman, Margaret. “The Nature of a Paradigm,” in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge UP , 1979, 59-89.

Olsen, Stein Haugom. “Understanding Literary Metaphors,” in Miall ed. (see under Gentner), 36-54.

Ortony, Andrew. “Why Metaphors Are Necessary and Not Just Nice.” Educational Theory 25 (1975): 45-53.

Pavel, Thomas G. “Incomplete Worlds, Ritual Emotions.” Philosophy and Literature 7 (1983): 48-58.

—. “Possible Worlds in Literary Semantics.” Jl of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 34, no. 2 (1975): 165-76.

Pelc, Jerzy. “Semantic Functions as Applied to the Analysis of the Concept of Metaphor,” in Poetics-Poetyka-Poètika. Warszawa: P.W.N. & The Hague: Mouton, 1961, 305-39.

Petöfi, Janos S. Vers une théorie partielle du texte. Hamburg: Buske, 1975.

Reverdy, Pierre. Le Gant de crin. Paris: Plon, 1926.

Richards, I.A. Philosophy of Rhetoric. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1936.

Ricoeur, Paul. “Biblical Hermeneutics.” Semeia no. 4(l975):27-148.

—. “The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling,” in Sacks, ed. (see under de Man),  141-57.

—. The Rule of Metaphor. Toronto: U. of Toronto P, 1978.

Segre, Cesare. Semiotica filologica. Torino: Einaudi, 1979.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. A Defence of Poetry, in C. Kaplan, ed., Criticism: The Major Statements. New York: St. Martin’s P, 1975, 354-80.

Shibles, Warren A. Metaphor: An Annotated Bibliography and History. Whitewater WI: Language Press, 1971.

Shklovskii, Viktor. Khod’ konia. Moskva-Berlin: Gelikon’, 1923.

—. O teorii prozy. Moskva-Leningrad: Krug, 1925.

Suvin, Darko. “Per una teoria dell’analisi agenziale.” Versus no. 30 (1981): 87-109.

—. “SF: Metaphor, Parable, and Chronotope,” now in his

 Thom, René. Paraboles et catastrophes. Paris: Flammarion, 1983.

Tomashevskii, B.V. Teoriia literatury–Poètika. Moskva-Leningrad: Gos. izd., 1928.

Via, Dan O. The Parables. Philadelphia: Fortress P, 1967.

Vico, Giambattista. La scienza nuova…. Bari: Laterza, 1974.

W[halley], G[eorge]. “Metaphor,” in Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Eds. A.  Preminger et al. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1972, 490-94.

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COMMUNICATING VESSELS: FORMS, POLITICS, HISTORY INTERVIEW WITH DARKO SUVIN

INTERVIEW WITH DARKO SUVIN*                                                                 (18,700 words)

By Sezgin Boynik, May 2014, Lucca

[This piece is forthcoming in Rab-Rab {Helsinki] July 2015]

Sezgin Boynik: Can you tell in which way the discussions concerning Brecht and Formalist issues in late fifties and beginning of sixties were related to politics and to Marxist theories, in general and particularly in Yugoslavia?

Darko Suvin: I started writing about literature, fiction, poetry and drama roughly in the second half of the fifties. I finished my studies in ’55/56 and then went to army service. So I started to write somewhat as a student, but mainly after 1957. At that moment I didn’t know much about old battles (socialist realism versus modernism) that had been fought and won by modernism, more or less. If you read Sveta Lukić’s book Savremena jugoslavenska literatura 1945-1965 (published as a whole in 1968, but his theses were known earlier) you will see these things. The battle was won on the basis of a compromise between the Left intellectuals and the Party politicians. The political top was not much interested in arts or literature, they realised these were politically of secondary importance if you hold all newspapers, radio, and TV. So they offered a quid pro quo: as long as you writers and intellectuals don’t question present-day power; we will let you in peace to write in whatever form you wish. This implicit compromise had two components (of course I realised this retrospectively, I didn’t know it then): first of all there was a genuine revulsion against the arbitrary Stalinism, both on the top of the party (Kidrič, Djilas, Tito, Kardelj, probably also Ranković, but he never spoke much publicly, so you couldn’t guess what he really thought) and in the masses — not so much in between, in the middle party cadres where Stalinism was strongest. And second, the central Party Agit-Prop commission lost all effective power even during Djilas’s heading it in the early ‘50s, it was dismantled in the drive against USSR Statism, and especially after his ouster in 1954.  Even though Agit-Prop commissions remained in each federal republic’s central committee, they didn’t do too much, they were more or less vatrogasci (they put out fires), but they weren’t good enough to start any fire on their own. I knew some guys in the Agit-Prop of the Croatian central committee, for example Marin Franičević, a good poet from Dalmatia in his youth, or Vojin Jelić, from Kninska Krajina, a very interesting and tormented novelist – but they just didn’t know what to do in cultural politics, and they had practically no research apparatus. Of course they were all in the Partisans and many of them, depending on age, in the Left underground movement even before the 1941 occupation by the Axis. They were all brought up on Lukács in the best case and Todor Pavlov (a Zhdanovian esthetician in USSR) in the worst case. The best knew also what Second International people wrote about culture, such as Plekhanov and Mehring, and some Lenin, as filtered by Stalinism. And they knew oodles of Engels, and of course of Stalin. Retrospectively, Engels is all that remains from those theories, and he never wrote specifically about the arts (though when he incidentally did, he could be illuminating, I remember a bit about Ibsen having the background of values from free Norwegian peasantry). I think also some Lukàcs about French realism remains; his really first-rate work up to the mid-20s we didn’t know, I discovered it in the 60s. Engels is a great genius in my opinion, but he was not applicable without great changes to a mutated capitalism and world: a great genius with great mistakes, such as finding dialectics in nature or believing in scientism.

In brief, the climate in SFR Yugoslavia was in the 1950s very open, right up to the late 60s, to all kind of neo-Marxism. We young ones were at that time calling it an ‘open Marxism’: I theorised the openness in theatre by using Brecht’s “open forms” (also the title of Eco’s first theoretical book, which I used). It was like a plant on which you could graft many new things — the Soviet selectionist genetician Michurin was very popular, also the American Burbank. For example, I remember one of the things which made me less than popular in the Faculty of Philosophy (that is, Arts) in Zagreb: we had a debate on the first theory of literature which was published in Zagreb, based on an introductory book by several hands coordinated and edited by two professors, Zdenko Škreb and Fran Petre – the former was a Germanist and the latter a real “cemented” or hard-line Slovenian Party member, follower of Ziherl, the Slovenian Zhdanov, who  fortunately didn’t have that much power. So we had a discussion in Hrvatsko filološko društvo (the Philological Society, a kind of professional organisation of people dealing with “language arts”) at the beginning of the 1960s. I was then a young assistant in Dramaturgy and Theatre Arts, I stood up and said, “The whole book is based on the idea of difference and interaction between form and content, could you please explain to me how do these work in literature? Is it for example like a glass of water, the glass is form and the water is content? And if so, how we could differentiate the form from the content in the novel?” They were extremely offended, because they had no answer; and I suppose I got the reputation of a disrespectful extremist. What we learned actually is what every critic already knows, that you cannot disjoin these two. If you write about anything, say in my case about Krleža or Brecht, you start where you can, what struck you as salient when reading, because criticism is not a science but an art, and you go where you can, following certain protocols of evidence and consistency. The basic modernist idea, which was theorized by the Formalists, is that the izjava (the message) of any work of art is to be understood through its form, and at that point the relationship of form to content becomes uninteresting. You can say that what remains from content are themes, for example Balzac has a theme of avarice in Gobseck. But the same theme would have a totally different effect in another novel by Balzac, not to speak of Molière, because it was written up or about in different way: in other words, it had a different form.

My generation came to know about Russian Formalists through the work of Aleksandar Flaker in Russian studies, who was my personal friend. I knew him from political conferences before I came to university; he was a very active and engaged researcher. He published a fantastic book, Heretici i sanjari (Heretics and Dreamers) in 1954, which was an overview of all non-socialist-realist writings in Russia in twenties. Also there were other critical approaches which Škreb mediated from postwar West Germany, such as those by Wolfgang Kayser, maybe second-rate stuff but useful in order to know what is grotesque and such studies (it is actually important if you think that half of Krleža, our great writer, is grotesque, not to speak of Swift or satire in general). So there were no problems in grafting other plants on the sturdy tree of Marxism, we had no fear; we thought that truth will win because of its inner persuasiveness, we didn’t need a police, we just needed to upgrade the plant through its own inner juices. In  short, the most important thing my generation learned – say in movies through Eisenstein — is that any statement about art, including the politics of art, is to be arrived at through form. Somewhere I wrote that this is “the ABC of any materialist approach to art,” but there are 25 other letters, then you go on, to DEF etc. But if you don’t begin with Formalism you don’t get anywhere, while if you do begin with this, you have more chances to deal with your material and ideological circumstances.

SB: While describing relation between Marxism and Formalism in Yugoslavia you said that you were then not scared by innovations, can you develop that?

A: Of course we thought of ourselves as the avant-garde, as friends of the novelty. We are the novelty in backward peasant and patriarchal Balkans, and therefore we were communists. That was the idea in the young Left intelligentsia. I theorised this later for SF literature by adapting for it Ernst Bloch’s Novum.

The problems in the Party were different; they had their hands full with economy and foreign policy. Also, culturally speaking the Party was very provincial in Yugoslavia; they just didn’t know what was happening in the world. For example I was a kind of protégé of Marijan Matković, a prominent middle generation dramatist who was editor of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences’ periodical Forum in Zagreb where I published. He was a “krležijanac” (disciple of Krleža), formally rather a pre-Modernist realist, and an extremely loyal fellow-traveller of socialism. I gave him some stuff about Brecht, and he made a grimace and exclaimed, ‘Darko, Brecht in Yugoslavia!?!?’. This was ambiguous, maybe we weren’t yet up to Brecht, maybe he was too severe for us, but at any rate he was asynchronous to us (in his opinion; I disagreed). Or when I translated Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade in the early 60s, he refused to print it: ‘I cannot spend socialist money for a piece against socialism’, was his reply. I tried to persuade him that the debate between Marat and Sade was exactly one of the things we needed to graft on our tree, but I failed.

Q: You have published in 1965 a text on Brecht where you say that in Yugoslavia there is still resistance toward Brecht …

A: The staid theatre people hated him, both the bourgeois and the Party…

Q: …yes, and you say that in Yugoslavia in the mid-sixties Brecht was thought of as too sociological, and not enough Formalist to be taken into consideration.[1]

A: Well that is my vocabulary. Because in Russia in the twenties there was a big battle between sociologists and Formalists. The synthesis of that was a kind of socio-formalism with people like Bakhtin and Voloshinov. You may know that Bakhtin, who was censored, has published much of his writing under the name of his friends Voloshinov and Medvedev; at any rate the decisive ideas in those books were his. Some reactionary US Bakhtinists say that these things published under the name of Voloshinov and Medvedev are Marxist and Bakhtin was anti-Marxist, so he wouldn’t have written them. But this is nonsense, Cold-War stupidity. Even Formalists like Eikhenbaum, Tinyanov, and Shklovsky were also interested in sociological aspects and Marxism. I think that both approaches in itself are insufficient, both Formalism and sociologism. In literary studies, sociology means relationship of writings to its own production and politics; Formalism means inner workings of writings (or art) in general. The inner workings of art apply in the moment of writing and in the moment of reading, so in the moment of production or in the moment of consumption. But of course these workings are shaped by so-called sociology, that is to say by ideology: what and how do you choose to write, what and how do you understand. Therefore you cannot have a Chinese wall and say, here is society and politics and there is pure art. Pure art sounds fine, but it is only a fin de siècle fantasy, at the end of 19th century, l’art pour art. I think this is intrinsically nonsense. There is a group of poems in English called “nonsense poetry”; that is great fun, but it’s not really nonsense, it is just a refusal of dominant sense. Or for example zaum poetry in early 20th-Century Russia; or even Alice in Wonderland, one of the greatest books in English literature. It does not make sense only in the sense of Dickens and George Eliot, or even worse of bourgeois and if you wish capitalist positivism. But surely there are other ways of making sense.

SB: Apart from not having sense, these limit cases of literature always have some social background. They are always somehow related to the ideology.

DS: Partly what they want to do is some experimental probing of limits of literature. For example, is it true that the limit of poetry is a word? Well maybe not, maybe it is a syllable. But at least it is a valuable experiment, even if it is proved as a negative experiment.

SB: In which way it was negative?

DS: A “negative experiment” in science is a failed one which is useful because it points out which way not to go further. And the limit of poetry is a word, not a syllable, because the syllable has no semantic dimension. But why not try it and see how it works, as say in Khlebnikov. I see no problem for anybody in power to let the kids play with these kinds of experimentations. By the way if you look at the political attitude of Futurists in Russia, they were communist sputniks .

SB: What do you mean by communist sputnik?

DS: The original Russian meaning of sputnik, before the little machine sending beep-beep from the sky in 1957, was “fellow traveller”: one who will go together with, accompany the Communist Party, in Croatoserbian suputnici. They were intellectuals, much too undisciplined (maybe fortunately, we have to say today) to be Party members, but agreeing with the Party line. I read in a book published in Russian in sixties, called Lenin and Literature, how Lunacharsky persuaded Lenin to go to a recital of Mayakovsky in 1921. After the recital Lenin said that it was very interesting; it was “hooligan communism” –  khuligan in the very Russian sense as dangerous people on the margins of society, bohemians… Which I would gloss as: why not bohemian communism, each class should have their communism! If there is workers’ communism, intellectuals’ communism, why shouldn’t there be a bohemian communism? We are all alienated by class society, even the workers are no saints… So why not put together our fragments and hope something more coherent will emerge? Consider that bohemians as a social class were anti-bourgeois, they were poor for one thing and also despised (if you see the opera La bohème, taken from a French novel, they are all starving). They are poor because they still don’t want to or cannot sell their services to the bourgeoisie. Sometimes they are on the Right, mostly on a kind of anarchoid Left, but always against the dominant class. Considering this, we can talk about the contribution of the bohemian class to the revolution.

It would be interesting to examine swearword nouns in general, the obverse of your positive slogans. Bugger, say, the contemptible word for homosexuals, came from the French bougre applied to Albigensian heretics, whose religion was supposed to stem from Bulgaria (bogomils). Hooligan itself was adopted from Irish Gaelic as an English slur on the Irish rebels (houlihan). And loot is Hindustani slang for plunder, which entered English in 18th Century when the East India Company simply appropriated the Moghul emperor’s treasury, evaluated today at 273 million British pounds (of which the modest company chief in India Clive took personally only 8%). The same holds for thug, only it was Indian rebels that time (the “Thuggee” sect). By the way Lenin and the Dadaists met in Zurich in 1916 …

SB: I am not sure whether they met, but they were living in same quarter in Zurich in 1916.

DS: Well, yes, we have no data they met (except in Stoppard’s play).[2] But why were they living in same quarter? They were against the war, they were against imperialism and the whole old world, and they had to flee where they could. These two groups were what the surrealists would call ‘communicating vessels’. To refuse that kind of energy is one of the greatest mistakes of later Leninism, not to speak of Stalinism: it refuses the energies available to it, it refuses present energies from workers and from intellectuals, because the new class thinks it is enough to have power. Speaking in Gramsci’s terms, they had constraint by force, but they didn’t have a consensus. The communist party in Russia had a majority consensus in 1917/1918, and following the Civil War which they won, this consensus lasted until roughly 1926 or so. After that the party ruled mostly by police terror. Why? Because they lost the energies from below – of course, not only or even mainly from the marginals but from the workers and intelligentsia (the peasants were never wholeheartedly for communists in Russia, as different from Yugoslavia, where they were the pillar of communist power from 1942 to 1949, the ill-guided attempt at working cooperatives).

SB: My understanding of formalism is related to what you are explaining now. If intrinsic processes are not sufficient to explain the transformations happening to an art form, then in any case we will need some extrinsic factors such as a social field or ideology.

DS: I think that terms such as intrinsic and extrinsic are misleading. Adorno once said “The social is where it hurts”. That is a gloomy way to put it, but the social is primarily inside us.

SB: I agree with that. But I want to say that many formalists and socio-formalists were dealing also with explicitly political issues. For example LEF in 1924/5 published a special issue on‘Lanage of Lenin’, the Futurist Kruchenykh published one year earlier small booklet with same title, etc, which is somehow related to the limits of the language, what we were talking about earlier, but also with the effectiveness of that language. So in any case even intrinsic Formalists were not entirely interested just with the shape of the artistic forms.

DS: But these were only their personal opinions in politics. What matters is that if you want to understand anything in art, whether it is music, painting or especially literature, you have to talk about transformation. Writing is composed of the stuff of everyday life, because we use language in our everyday life communication, but it is composed in such a different way that it gains a cognitive autonomy: you can understand life in and around you better. When I was starting to write in fifties and in sixties the best people called this structuralism, or structuralist poetics. My dissertation on Ivo Vojnović has the subtitle ‘genesis and structure’, because I found I had to do a genesis, which I think is a very good thing in a dissertation. I would recommend to any doctorate to deal with the historical coming about of its subject-text: look at biography, letters, and all available material of its incubation period, which will help to understand the genesis. Then you understand in which situation it was produced, and then you can see what it is, how it reproduces and changes elements of its environment in what is actually a form, or structure. Structure is the sophisticated French version, maybe sublation, of form. Structure deals with limitations or inner constrains of the formal properties (as Lévi-Strauss described them in his work on kinship relations). The problem with a rigid understanding of structure is that it evacuates history: how do structures then change? In fact, how did they originally even come about? This is connected with the issue of variations, to begin with in the Darwinist development of species. I have in literature – and especially in theatre performance, where this is a focus — always been fascinated by variants. What is an original, what is a variant? I have arrived at the position that I don’t think there is any original: this is a theological problem …

SB: I didn’t understand why it is a theological problem…

DS: Well in monotheism your origin is in God, all origin comes from God. By the way I am in a perverse way rather fond of some well-articulated theologies, such as some variants of the Catholic and even more the Buddhist ones. Some of these variants lasted for half a millennium or longer as the only way of systematic thinking available in important civilizations, so they got to some insights that shouldn’t be sneezed at but maybe taken over and re-functioned. But if you are atheist then there is no origin; there are just variations, Epicure’s aleatoric (that is, historical and situational) swerves of atoms.

SB: Isn’t that also one of the main questions of Formalism which is dealing with historical transformations, or historicism? But before that I would like to know what you think about Formalist involvement with the literary movements. Because I have an impression that the advancement of their methodological approach had partly to do with their involvement in the most advanced literary experiments. For example Jakobson wrote a book about Khlebnikov, Shklovsky on zaum, and so on, they were always engaged with the newest forms in artistic productions.

DS: They were a theoretical parallel to the Futurists, again a case of “communicating vessels”. But then they had also other interests. What was the supreme paradigm of Shklovsky in the novel? It was Laurence Sterne. Why? Because Tristram Shandy is always written in variants: my uncle Toby said that, and afterwards he said this, while this was happening, then it turned out like that, etc. It is sequence of variants or cases; it foregrounds what is hidden in a smooth pre-planned plot. In Aristotelian Poetics this is called episodes, situations not fully defined by the overall plot but with a certain autonomy, as in Brecht. All Formalists were fascinated by Gogol, a grotesque writer who proceeds by episodes, as Bakhtin was by Dostoevsky. The Formalists started by analysing and deconstructing phonetic features of poetry through Futurists and similar vanguardists, but then they had to invent their forebears. So who can serve better in Russian literature than Pushkin, Gogol or Dostoevsky? In the novel they reacted against realism, just as Mayakovsky’s plays reacted against Stanislavsky.

SB: Also they were against Symbolism, and especially literary theory coming from Symbolists.

DS: Symbolism is an inadequate response to realism. It’s a kind of uncle who tried to kill his brother but didn’t manage: they were not successful, we the sons we will kill the father  (remember the Russian fascination for the Hamlet constellation!). Basically they downgraded the Tolstoy-Turgenev line, wrongly believing that even Chekhov fit into it (but that was so only in Stanislavsky’s interpretation of his plays, which Chekhov disliked). Now here is a dilemma: as you know, Lenin loved Tolstoy, and he wrote a very interesting essay about Tolstoy, regarding him as a “mirror” –  the metaphor is dubious – of the peasants’ horizons  in the budding of Russian revolution, which in my opinion is correct, though insufficient. It is a pity that Lenin didn’t have time to be a literary critic; he would have been a very good one. So we have (in Russia and elsewhere) in fact two vanguards in modernism: one is the Leninist party, and the other is Modernist artistic movements. It is very interesting to see the relationships between these two vanguards: except for a few examples, they generally refused to learn from each other, they were arrogant or suspicious. One exception on the political side is Gramsci, who understood the role of culture (in the widest sense, including advertising and brainwashing) very well, and was even a quite interesting theatre critic. Another exception on the intellectual side is Brecht, who tried very much to collaborate with worker choruses and the communist party. To my mind, the two most important Marxist thinkers after –  and in the wake of but not confined to –  Lenin of the 20th Century are in fact Gramsci and Brecht. I could add Benjamin but he is very much influenced also by Jewish mysticism and the Frankfurters: unthinkable without Marxism and very usable in it, but not quite inside it.

But who had the main influence in the workers’ choirs for whom Brecht was writing his plays? It was the social-democratic party, not the communist party. Both Brecht and Benjamin thought hard about becoming members of communist party, but in the end they did not formally join, they were sputniks. They didn’t want to be members of a party already rather ossified in 1928/29 when they were seriously thinking of joining. At that time and in the thirties the German Communist Party was in terrible shape, all good people were kicked out by Zinoviev and later Stalin, or they were exhausted by fractional sects and fights. But ideologically Brecht considered himself as communist; or, as one of his friends described Brecht in USA in 1941-1947: “a party consisting of one person, closely allied with the communists”. I think this good definition of a sputnik is the best political definition of Brecht. As the early feminists were talking about a failed marriage of Marxism and Feminism, in general here too we have a failed marriage of Marxist avant-garde and artistic avant-garde. Surely this has to do with arrogance on both sides: partly by politicians who didn’t have sufficiently sensitive antennas to understand Brecht and Benjamin, or Pilnyak, Belyi, and even Mayakovsky, who was rudely criticized for his theatre plays, which I think contributed to his suicide.

SB: I have looked at the index of ‘Lenin on Literature and Art’ book where Mayakovsky is mentioned five or six times in very contradictory terms. Sometimes Lenin got furious at his poems, and in another instance Lenin thought that his poems are a better contribution to economy than the dull economist is offering.

DS: That’s the poem about too many conferences, Perezasedavshiesia. It is a sociologically interesting but I think innocent little poem, not very important. Though I may be wrong, it has a wonderful Gogolian grotesque image of the bureaucrat splitting in half to go to two conferences.

SB: Going back to your previous answer that in fifties and sixties you were not afraid of novelties in merging Formalism and Marxism and that you were seeking for novel artistic expressions in Marxism, I would like to know what was for you a novel artistic expression at that time in Yugoslavia?

DS: Miroslav Krleža. He was the idol of us youngsters. In high school we were all krležijanci, anybody who thought about art at all, or about committed art and Left-wing art, was a krležijanac. We didn’t know much about painting.

SB: What about initiatives such as Exat, New Tendencies …

DS: Let me rephrase it this way: I didn’t know much about art. Even though I am very much interested in visual art, it is a new language to learn, and I never had time to do it systematically. Still, I am an inveterate goer to art events. For example if you look at my book covers, chosen by me, they are usually some art works or paintings. A book published in Belgrade has a painting by René Magritte, whom I like deeply, Nena and I went to several exhibitions of his all over the world (he too practices estrangement!). But at that time most energies were concentrated on literature. Some people at the Faculty of Arts in Zagreb had a review called Umjetnost riječi (word-art or Wortkunst), where I published a theoretical text on science fiction at the beginning of sixties. Those times were very active, with lots of contradictory positions. I concluded in my latest book, largely dealing with the self-management epoch in Yugoslavia (Samo jednom se ljubi, Belgrade 2014), that the golden age of self-management was between 1958 and 1968. Here I am talking about self-management in production related to economy and politics. But in culture, self-management started a bit earlier, though it was sabotaged by the party. The first attempts at autonomous periodicals in the beginning to mid-fifties, as one in Zagreb Faculty of Arts, also in Slovenia, were forbidden. Even though at that time first attempts at self-management were made in factory organizations, the cultural attempts were thought of, I believe wrongly, as a bit dangerous. What you don’t understand seems menacing. Thus you ossify.

However, from another aspect, the intelligentsia which was introducing the self-management experiments in culture was not “organic”, as Gramsci would say, to workers and peasants; it was the classical intelligentsia coming from petty or indeed, though rarely, from high bourgeoisie. Many of the best people from these classes decided to adopt the Popular Front version of Marxism (for example my father, a doctor who went with the partisans). However its majority was in favour of socialism because it benefited them in economic terms, they had financial privileges, also it was patriotic, and their professional work was prized. There were a few people, like the Praxis philosophers and sociologists, who really believed (so did I) that in SFR Yugoslavia we had a kind of Hegelian sublation of all the best in the bourgeoisie without the worst, that is to say  the citoyen without the capitalism. That was the Party cell in the Faculty of Arts in Zagreb, people like Frangeš, Prelog or Gajo Petrović, hugely influential writers and teachers. All was then new and open, very contradictory. Petrović and the excellent sociologist Rudi Supek edited then the bimonthly Praxis, but this started just before I left. Of course I read and mostly shared its views, I think they were politically right to insist on self-management and energies from below and contest creeping Stalinism from above. On the other hand the philosophers were rather exclusive, they didn’t interact with us “art critics.” Furthermore, they went in for a weird symbiosis with Heidegger, thinking he supplied the philosophical horizon lacking in Marx, so they were forever talking about Being,  Dasein, Sosein, ontic, etc. That was similar to Sartre’s thinking that Marxism applied to mass problems but not to individual problems, so it had to be compensated by Husserl and company, but to my mind (now retrospectively) much worse: Heidegger is the great reactionary thinker of the 20th Century, the brown Plato; his affinities to Nazism are not casual, I don’t believe you can combine him with any Marxist horizon. (This is I think proved by similar attempts in the French deconstructionists.)

Finally, in regard to the Faculty of Arts itself, the Praxis people didn’t have an adequate cultural policy. If you read my Memoirs of a Young Communist you will see that we in the Student Union had a cultural policy — I wrote a position paper about it which I still think was pretty good — that the upper echelon of professors was not happy about. We wanted to end the semi-feudal position of full professors (in Italy they call them barons). Those power relations were based on very concrete interests and a strong will to dominate, even in each little and unimportant field of culture and philology. There was so much libido involved in those fights, it was unbelievable. Whereas we in the Student Union said, let’s have a teaching collective in each section (Odsjek), and the head of collective would be elected each year, or each two years, he or she could be professor, docent (junior assistant professor) or anybody; normally it should be someone who has already published a book, so we acknowledged professional competence. This came to naught, the “barons” had much energy and the Party little for cultural matters, thinking it was all superstructure anyway, while we students and later young assistants were naive and easily deflected onto professional matters. The Praxis people thought in lofty general terms and didn’t want to waste their time on such piddling matters as pedagogy in the Faculty of Arts. So my relations to them were sympathetic but distant, they didn’t defend me when I was attacked. They behaved, maybe unavoidably, as an embattled little sect.

The main trouble with the Party was that, not having an adequate cultural policy, they didn’t know what to do with contemporary collective creativity. Instead they wanted to give the heritage of the past to the masses; so you had cheap novels of Balzac and Fielding and Tolstoy, you had free exhibitions, cheap theatres, literature, cinema, discounted visits for trade-union groups, etc.; however, everything shown was belonging to the past or to a present stylistically continuous with the past, that is, pre-Modernist (this changed in some fields from the mid-50s on). They knew how to deal with that, because Lenin liked Gorky, and Marx and Engels liked Balzac. But they didn’t know how to deal with the new stuff. So it was easy for the Zhdanovians to call Joyce, Proust or Kafka decadents. I must say in Yugoslavia there was little of that, maybe from 1946 to 1951.

SB: Are you talking about the post-1945 situation and the fifties?

DS: This begins in the workers’ movement even earlier. It is a philistine or subaltern tradition which passed from the Second International to the Third International, basically: let’s take the best that exists and give it to the masses. But what is the best in this case is what the bourgeoisie has done, sifted, and codified. Remember the huge laudation of the bourgeoisie in The Communist Manifesto: ‘the bourgeoisie built things more imposing than the Cologne dome, etc’ — that logic was still active in the fifties in Yugoslavia. But that logic of a productive bourgeoisie is not valid anymore, the bourgeois logic is entirely destructive now; it is responsible for imperialist wars, huge desolations, mass killings —  just look at the two world wars, at the hundreds of “small” mass killings since 1945, at West Asia today. You can’t admire solid bourgeois virtues anymore, they don’t exist; now it is all suicidal. The First World War is to my mind the beginning of modern history, everything changes after that, violent barbarism is in command (which then infects “really existing socialism” too). The Left cannot any more seek anything affirmative in bourgeois horizons, though of course I am all for Enlightenment and citoyen virtues – but updated as socialist or communist.

SB: What was your cultural policy at that time? Concretely I would like to know how you thought of Krleža’s formal innovations in relation to cultural policy you were interested in.

DS: You have to know that Krleža begins his literary career as a quasi- or semi-Expressionist at the time of World War 1; he wrote long Whitmanesque unrhymed expressionist poems, expressionist plays and prose. In the thirties Krleža was involved in a conflict with the Socialist realists, that is the orthodox (illegal) communist party, regarding art and literature, known as “the literary conflict on the Left” (sukob na književnoj ljevici), and this was a reason why he never went to Partizans. He was generously rehabilitated after the war by Tito, not by Djilas who hated Krleža and even reportedly wanted his execution. (Djilas was a real maximalist; first he was a maximalist inside the party and later on he was a maximalist against the party. To my mind he was a good historical writer, by the way, but a very limited politician and bad political writer.) At any rate we didn’t know much about Krleža’s involvement with the 1930s cultural struggles, this was only clarified in the sixties. However, he learnt his lesson, and later didn’t meddle in non-artistic politics. After the war Krleža evolved this Enlightenment plan of summing up all knowledge about the Yugoslav lands in a Yugoslav Encyclopedia (Enciklopedija Jugoslavije), was given ample finances for it, edited this huge work, and wrote more novels and a play. I knew Krleža slightly, I visited him, and we had discussions. An example: a congress by the Union of Writers of Yugoslavia was due in Titograd in 1964.  I went to Krleža and said, why don’t we organize some small group including you, Marijan Matković, and your disciples, and propose something about the current cultural policy. He looked at me with pity and said: ‘Have you seen the TV performance of my play Gospoda Glembajevi a few weeks ago?’ (One of the principal actors in it was Fabijan Šovagović, who was from rural Croatia; in his way not a bad actor, but not for drame du salon of Ibsenian provenience.) ‘They do not know how to wear a tuxedo!’

That response of his was the same as Matković saying ‘Brecht in Yugoslavia, Darko what are you thinking of? We are not ripe for it.’ Though I think he was wrong, we had a mass basis for understanding Brecht in self-management, had we had much support and patience to show the working people how to understand itself (maybe different from how we understood it). True, it was not a traditional working class; it was a peasant-derived new working class, lacking for example common workers’ traditions such as trade union organizations, etc. They had to be constantly lifted out of the momentary serious problems of personal and their enterprise survival, lodging in cities, education, and so on. And my elders and betters implied that first we have to do the job of the Enlightenment, and maybe after one generation we can get to the Brechtian, that is truly communist agenda. I disagreed, I thought both agendas were the same: communicating vesels again, or maybe the DNA double helix.  And I think I may have been right: postponing communist elements means they never come.

SB: But isn’t this a contradictory position, to ask for cultural policy in such a situation; to insist for a cultural policy for workers who were lagging behind the self-management? Wasn’t the party behind the mass movement which initiated self-management?

DS:  There would be no contradiction in cultural policy had the Party allowed changes to happen. To begin with, let me point out it was only one little group at the top of the Party who were in favour of self-management; it was proposed initially in 1948-1950, by people like Boris Kidrič, when they were afraid of Soviet invasion and they were still enemies with the West. So they needed a mass basis, to activate the people four or five years after the war, and they picked up the workers’ spontaneous idea to have factory councils. Basis democracy was the way to mobilize and motivate for reconstruction and unity very tired and exhausted people in the post-war situation. Later on Kardelj and Djilas claimed that they were mainly responsible for this idea, but whatever their input the genuine articulation was clearly Kidrič’s. And it worked for 10 or 20 years. Maybe they had difficulties in first five years to make people to understand what all this change was about. Then they passed a law in 1958 that it was possible to veto the director, the manager, and through such experiences self-management got a more concrete shape. Though we cannot talk about full workers’ management; it would be more appropriate to call it workers’ participation, but there was great participation: I calculated in my book on SFR Yugoslavia Samo jednom se ljubi that perhaps 25% of the 4 million workers at the time passed in a dozen years through membership of the Workers’ Concils.

SB: Even if there was a platform also to discuss art in relation to the self-management theory, it seems that there were not so many attempts to do that.

DS: There were two problems. Number one is kulturna zaostalost, which means that we were really backward, except some artists and writers around Krleža and the pre-war Belgrade Surrealists; people didn’t even know that somebody like Brecht existed (you must know that before post-1945 mass education  the majority was illiterate or with a bare 3-4 years of elementary schooling). Maybe I better say the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia didn’t know, for when I published my book on Brecht in 1970 I got a letter of thanks from a woman worker saying she sang Brecht songs (I suppose with Eisler’s music) in the workers’ choir before 1941. Brecht means also Bloch, Benjamin, all Weimar culture; they only knew that Lenin disliked Mach, where actually he was half right and half wrong. Lenin was right on the political fallout of the Machists in Russia, but he was not right about Mach himself. There is no modern physics without Mach, and there is no Einstein without Mach; basically Leninists, as different from Lenin himself, never digested Einstein. What does Einstein mean? In science he means whatever his equations mean; but in philosophy he means that your situation co-determines your world, the place you are situated in (your locus).

SB: It radically contextualizes the position.

DS: Exactly. Here we get to the second problem, which is an ideological aberration. Engels and Lenin are always based on the assumption that there is a general and overarching scientific truth, but of course one which we don’t fully know yet, because we are fallible people who fell from Eden — or translated into Marxism, we fell into class society, so we cannot know the full truth — but we are getting there asymptotically. That is a method which can work, as Marx would say, in a society based on the steam engine (capitalist competition), but it cannot work in society based on electricity and electronics.

SB: You just mentioned asymptotic. I have read in your early article, published in journal ‘Delo’, on the asymptote in Krleža which opens up unforeseen possibilities or radical futurity, through Lenin. Can you say more about this?

DS: Well this is a fantasy Lenin – which doesn’t mean some important aspects of his cannot be caught in this way. These early plays by Krleža, the Legends, which I argued amounted to the image of an asymptote to infinity, were all written between ca. 1917 and 1920, nobody knew anything about Lenin, except either what the bourgeois press wrote about him, as a maniacal sadistic killer, or hymnic praise. Krleža accepted the “demonic” aspect, but turned it into the tradition of the fallen archangel, the rebel Lucifer; he uses the ‘lighthouses’ metaphor for Michelangelo, Goya, Lenin and Columbus. Krleža then visited Russia as you know in 1925, at the time when a very solid bureaucracy was beginning (there is a short story in his Glembayevs cycle, where one of them is a communist and goes to Russia and becomes part of the State trust). Krleža was very dubious about all kind of things going on in revolutionary Russia. I think he knew Stalinism from the inside, at the very beginning of it. I have a feeling that he was rather pleased with Bukharin but I don’t know. So the Party could not expect much politically from Krleža after 1945, he did what he had to do at the Ljubljana congress of Union of Writers at the beginning of fifties where he gave a great keynote speech about socialist misunderstandings of culture, which he camouflaged by talking about the Second International. Clearly he knew that there was continuity between Second and Third International, culturally speaking. Politically there was a big difference between them, indeed opposition: shall we make revolution or shall we not. But culturally they were living in the same world. Lenin was living in the world of Kautsky, more or less. Yet at the same time he was Einsteinian enough to forge the hypothesis of ‘weakest link’: the weakest links of imperialism are backward countries. That was totally Dadaist; everybody in the Second International told him he was crazy. It was a great flash of genius, and this is what happens: Russia, China and Yugoslavia are all proof that Lenin’s crazy idea could work. In other words, the working masses of Western and Central Europe, Germany, France, England and even USA, at least tolerated, and often supported, the World War of imperialists against other imperialists. So the Russian Revolution showed that Marx, who reasonably for 1848 and maybe even for 1871 claimed that the revolution will happen in the West, was wrong. This is the thesis of Gramsci in his article Revolution against Capital, which he wrote in 1917/18, that the Russian revolution is a revolution against Das Kapital. This was to say that Lenin had to change some basic concepts of Marx regarding revolution, but sticking to the main trunk of Marx (to go on with my botanical analogy), which was getting rather dry at that time. Lenin was grafting new stuff on that trunk which helped its energy to vitalize, to flow.

SB: How would you describe this main trunk, is it the concept of class struggle?

A: No, the main trunk is to me alienation and dis-alienation; it is the concept of freedom, self-determination of each and all. But in order to be dis-alienated, to gain the freedom, we have to have conscious class struggle. In my terms, dis-alienation is the horizon towards which to move, the goal; class struggle is the – alas — necessary vector of how anybody can move from the present alienated locus towards that horizon (see “Locus, Horizon, and Orientation:  The Concept of Possible Worlds as a Key to Utopian Studies (1989)” in my Defined by a Hollow). As Brecht once wrote, in order to have a handful of rice, the coolie has to bring down three empires. Since we are living in the world of class struggles from top toward the bottom leading to huge barbarisation, we have to reverse this and turn it the other way around, as class struggle of bottom against the top and against barbarisation. This is actually an Einsteinian idea. In my opinion, Marx is the great forebear of Einstein as far as situated thinking goes. Marx still has some elements of the old, as “iron laws of society” in preface to Capital, which I think is more Newton than Einstein. This is actually Roman Law (lex), which Newton transferred to a physics based on eternal truths. Einstein deconstructed the eternal truths, just as Marx deconstructed the eternal truths of Smith and Ricardo and the bourgeoisie.

SB: We have skipped one topic that I would like to know more about; namely the concept of history and critique of historicism in the work of Russian Formalism. This anti-historicism, which is often discussed in Viktor Shkovsky as the zig-zag history of literary changes, etc. is somehow related to the discussions of Marxism.[3]

DS: I am not so sure about their anti-historicism, they were very interested in history inside literature but refused its mechanical dependence as a “superstructure” on an economic “basis” (which was right) and then exaggerated the autonomy. After all, they came from a very backward Russia and didn’t have the tools of a Williams or Jameson. Also, the Formalists are a very heterogeneous group, very much differing from each other. Shklovsky is different from Eikhenbaum, Tynyanov is different from Jakobson, and so on. But if we take a common denominator, I don’t think they were anti-historicist. They are against a certain dominant kind of historicism, that of Ranke who defines history as “wie es eigentlich gewesen”, as it really happened (he also wrote a book on Serbia and Bosnia). This typical German historicism is basically a laicized Protestantism, some kind of opus dei in Germanos, of God working by way of the Germans: a monolithic and determinist historical method, based on totally teleological conceptions. You have to understand that this concept of history is actually a quasi-delirious teleology, and its insistence on first-hand data is subordinated to that. Since Formalists have criticized these kinds of approaches to history thoroughly, me and my generation, as many others, have benefited immensely from them. In one of my first essays, published in Umjetnost  riječi, on science fiction, I had used the Shklovskian theses you speak about, of inheritance from junior uncle to nephew (or niece), in order to propose a sophisticated way of treating the history of literary genres, and I still believe this is correct.[4] How do historical changes come about in Formalism? They come about when a dominated (or oppositional) style of yesterday – the junior uncle — becomes the dominant style of today. But how does that huge reversal happen? That is a class struggle for heaven’s sake, you only have to put a little bit of Marxism into it and everything is clear. Of course the Formalists didn’t say this, they were not interested in macro-politics. There is a wonderful apocryphal anecdote, which I like to quote, an imaginary dialogue between Shklovsky and Trotsky, the most intelligent Formalist and the most intelligent Leninist. Shklovsky said to Trotsky, and the first half is a real sentence of his, “I do not care what flag flies on the fortress, I am a literary critic and I don’t care about the war ,” to which Trotsky replies “But war cares about you.”

SB: But Shklovsky himself was in the war!

DS: Yes he was; he was SR [Socialist Revolutionary] commissar and commander of an armoured battalion, and afterwards he was for a time in Berlin. In his personal life he cared a lot about the war, and this dichotomy is interesting in a negative way, the dichotomy between a personal and official posture. When he is a Formalist, then the Holy Ghost comes down upon him and he does not care about war anymore…

But formalist historicism is all about that zigzag transformation of dominated to the dominant, which is about a real driving force in history. I would like to see a whole history of literature written through this dynamics. I tried to do that in my writings on science fiction. But concretely to trace and discuss these transformations, or to prove the theses of Formalists, you need a huge group of scholars, some kind of Einsteinian Socialist Academy of Science, which does not exist anywhere. Raymond Williams tried later to do this with his “Social Theory of Literature”.

SB: I was just going to ask about the concept of ‘residual elements’ in Williams, to whom you refer frequently in your texts.

DS: Exactly. Williams is my maitre à penser, not the only one. I have others too, Lucien Goldmann, Krleža, Brecht, Bloch, most important Marx, and so on. Finally my contemporary Jameson.

SB: Can you please schematize the relation between the historical concepts of Formalists and the Marxist sociology of Williams?

DS: Well, Formalists gave you a form, and Marx gave you classes.

SB: No, I meant the relation between the concept of ‘residual elements’ of Williams and the idea of uneven historical transformations in Formalists?

DS: The Formalists didn’t know enough about society, except when they were studying the history of their subject, for example the history of Russian poetry or something similar; but in general they didn’t have much knowledge of social history. When Shklovsky is writing about Sterne he does not care about England in 18th century, for him Sterne is an extra-temporal or eternal paradigm, an exemplum. Williams comes from a Left which was ideologically not Leninist. He began as a kind of Leftwing or Left Labourite modification of F. R. Leavis, an interesting literary critic, a petty-bourgeois rebel who fought against the dominant high bourgeois tastes (he loved for example D.H. Lawrence). At some point Williams read Marx, not through Lenin but through Leavis or through the class struggles that he knew very well in Britain, coming from a Welsh worker family. Of course you know that Marx himself got the idea of class struggle primarily from England and France. True, struggles between classes go on everywhere all the time, see for example Heine’s poem The Weavers or Brecht’s Questions of a Worker Reader; but in Germany they were masked by the (exactly “residual”) feudal elements. And when we talk about Williams we have to remember this historical importance of class struggle in England, from at least Cromwell’s revolution on. So I think that the concept of residual in Williams is coming from two sources. One is English or UK history, that is quite clear, the Non-conformists are residual; and second, it comes from Marx and Engels who said that Balzac by being on the Right and hating the bourgeoisie, understood it very well, and his descriptions could be used by the Left. What is Balzac? He is ideologically residual – not in his writing technique, his technique is on the frontline of the future, but his ideology is completely reactionary, a bourgeois monarchism. I found Williams very congenial, I read all he wrote before I met him while on sabbatical in Cambridge in 1970/71, he was then in Jesus College. Also I saw him in the seventies-eighties when he was teaching part-time at Stanford University, he would stop often in Montreal where we arranged a lecture for him, for example on Brecht’s St. Joan of the Stockyards we were performing at McGill. He was also interested in science fiction, he wrote even a novel of politics set in future and some historical novels, also an essay on utopian science fiction. But I think his magnum opus is The City and the Country.

SB: In your article ‘Can People Be (Re)presented in Fiction?’ you say that ‘Formalism is the A and B of any integrally materialist approach to art, from which should then proceed to C, D, and so on, ’ this C and D meaning dialectics.[5]

DS: Yes, I mentioned that earlier; also meaning semiotics and narrative analysis (agents, chronotope). I would today stress more this historical component, or dialectical component as understood by Marx (not by Hegel). As you know Marx took dialectical logic from Hegel but adapted it to the circumstances of capitalism, which means to a macro-historical situation. I have been struck by Braudel’s longue durée vs durée événementielle (long before Badiou). Duree événementielle is for example the French Revolution, it lasts ten, maybe fifteen years, as one generation. Longue durée is the key for solving the problem which Marx faced in his famous passage about Greek literature in the introduction to Grundrisse:.[6] how can we still enjoy the Greek tragedy? We can, I would say today, because we are in the longue durée of class society. That means that a duration of the last five thousand years is united by some macro-continuities, for example by dominant and dominated, killers and killed, exploiters and exploited. Of course there are big differences between the Homeric aristocracy and Wall Street today (the former risked their lives and the latter never do); but on the other hand, dialectically speaking, in this history there is also continuity; you can find this in Benjamin’s idea that ruling classes have their continuity. This could be seen very clearly in the transformation of the bourgeoisie: they entered the scene of history as anti-aristocratic, but soon started to act as an aristocracy, because they took the same role of a ruling class. This is a clear example of continuation of domination. In order for this to happen ruling classes need certain apparatuses of domination. Althusser didn’t invent the ideological apparatuses, discussion regarding ideologies and apparatuses existed before him, but maybe he, for the first time, put these two concepts together. For example the salons in and around Napoleon’s time are ideological apparatuses, as centres of a kind of power forging the tastes of what is acceptable or not in discourse – say, on art. If you adopt the key of longue durée versus the short  duration  versus the medium duration (one has to have a hierarchy of durations), then the way how we understand historical transformation will change. If you look at my book Metamorphoses of Science Fiction you will see that in the theoretical part there is one scheme describing how science fiction deals with time. Time/temporality is for me a very important issue.

SB: How do you treat these different temporalizations, distinct durées in your theoretical work? Do they co-exist, or are they in some kind of constant struggle, in kind of contradictory relations?

DS: They are in dialectical relations. Of course they co-exist. I would say today that of my three levels in agential  theory, the actants are long duration and unchanging, half a dozen narrative functions. I can’t imagine any narration without actants, in history or pre-history or even species-specific, as Feuerbach would say. The types are probably a long duration of class history but they change according to major “geological” shifts – some become marginalised and a few new ones arise; and the characters are related clearly to the individualism, which begins partly the end of the Antiquity, as in Plutarch’s characters for example, Alexander the Great versus Caesar. Christianity adopted this as the concept of one single soul; whereas Greeks had many souls, or Socrates had his daimon speaking to him about his community, the politeia; but characters then got backgrounded until the Renaissance, the rise of the cities and merchants. So to answer your question I would say that dialectic is  methodologically the starting point, but one must historicize, as Jameson said “always historicize!” This means that the durées sometimes mesh and more often are in contradictory oppositions.

SB: But I was speaking more of teleological historicism …

DS:  As I argued earlier, teleological historicism is essentially a theological problem. If we are not willing to accept the theological answer, then we have to find an alternative to teleology. Either we get communism or we get savagery, to adapt Rosa Luxemburg. That is to say, instead of teleology you have a bifurcation, Hercules on the crossroads… It is a time and a vision of catastrophic choices. This also means social struggles never end. I have realized while writing my last book on socialist Yugoslavia, that I cannot imagine any society without politics, and I think Marx was wrong there (maybe we should say semantically imprudent).

SB: Can you clarify this …

A: Marx thought that politics was all about class conflict; so that after the abolition of class conflict there will be no politics. But if politics means primarily how society or any collective distributes its material resources, when, how much, for what and to whom, then it will always exist. There is a novel by Wells set in a future where all our problems are solved; but still there is a conflict between scientists and artists.  The scientists want to go to Mars or Venus and so on, whereas the artists want something else here and now. I think that human wishes and desires will always be larger than our material bases. So, do we now build a huge expensive accelerator, or do we go to Pluto, or do we let the sea into Sahara? There must be politics to solve this. In class society you solve this with violence, and in classless society by argument: as Brecht said in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, with pencils, not pistols. But important problems to be solved will remain in classless society. In that case you need politics to solve them, as Montesquieu said by “pressures, checks and balances” — I am a big fan of Montesquieu.

SB: You describe this dialectics needed for an integrally materialist approach to art, referring to Bakhtin and Mukařovský, as social formalism.

DS: I would not call it that now. These are traces of my intellectual genesis.

SB: Then in the same text you offer a criticism of Greimas’s theory of actants by proposing instead a Marx’s model of history from ‘18th Brumaire’.[7]

DS: Marx speaks of “character mask”, which is a type: the capitalist, the worker, etc. In the 18th Brumaire you have the best description of how Marx characterizes the classes.

SB: What you find as most objectionable in Greimas’ model of actants is lack of any social and ideological context.

DS: I am less and less fond of the word ideological; I would rather say historical, and if you wish a lack of historical semantics. I mean by this even macro-historical: I think it is perfectly fine if you have chosen to talk about overarching transformations happening in the time span of one or five thousand years. But you must have some kind of fundament, what the French would call assiette, a place where you are seated, a seat in history. For us time is history, we don’t exist outside of that. This does not mean that you are Robinson on your island and history is an ocean, or any other metaphor in which you are here and history is there. History is in your language, in your dreams, in your body, everywhere. If you have grown up during the war and you ate badly, history is then in your bones – you will have trouble with your health when you are forty or fifty. Only when you are striking and the police shoot at you, history is at the moment outside and getting forcibly into your inside. The so-called biological inside or “inner environment” is 90% historical. That’s why I think that the discussion around genetics is one of the greatest bourgeois operations of ideological obfuscation. I have nothing against genes, but it is used in very reactionary ways to obliterate the importance of history. A good  example of this is Dawkins’s book Selfish Gene. I rather like his conceit by which individuals are nothing but seed-pods for chromosomal propagation, but on the whole it is sheer nonsense.

SB: If we assume that history is everywhere, then any literary theory which avoids history is actually violence toward the literature it analyses. Could you say about Greimas that too?

DS: The basis for Greimas’s analyses and his system are Lithuanian folk stories. In Lithuanian folk stories the main agent is usually a Catholic priest; is that not historical!? Whereas a few hundred kilometres or years away that would be an orthodox or a protestant or an animist priest; which would make things completely different. I find Greimas very obnoxious, though he has one advantage: he has brought his system to the point where it becomes so self-contradictory and top-heavy that it is ready to collapse into materialism and history, which is what I try to do.

SB: When you discuss the text through three agential levels, then the problem of representation alters from the usual discussions which consider the artistic work as reflection of reality. Thus I would like to know your position regarding the discussions on realism?

DS: When Aristotle speaks about mimesis, he at some point asks, referring to zither I think, what kind of reflection is that when you represent somebody’s state of mind by musical sounds? It certainly is not a reflection in the ordinary sense of how a mirror works. The worst book Lenin ever wrote is Materialism and Empiriocriticism, or at least half of the book. The pars destruens is ok, as I said, but his pars construens is terrible, very Engelsian at his most reductive. I much like Gramsci’s finessing this in his Quaderno 11 (1930-32). He substitutes “translation” for Lenin’s infamous “reflection” as the basic principle of Marxist philosophy. This gets interesting: for him it is a principle of productive convertibility between two texts (so this is a general approach not confined to translating texts between two different languages, though he himself did that from German). His exemplum is that there must in fact exist a convertibility between the specific languages of philosophy, politics, and economics since all three share the same stance towards the world. This is then, I would say more precisely, a general  epistemological principle that gives dogmatic priority to none of such languages: and though he doesn’t say so aloud, out goes the primacy of economic basis as against philosophical or political “superstructure”! For example, he situates Lenin’s term of “hegemony” into a translatory oscillation between philosophy and political practice (the Greeks would allot the latter to sofrosyne, practical wisdom).

You see, reflection is based on the metaphor of mirror, whether it is an ordinary mirror or a mirroring in water, as with Narcissus. But once you start to reflect on reflection, even the simplest reflection has seine Tűcken, as Marx would say, its complications or malices or vagaries: for example, left becomes right in mirroring. What did this mean; that a revolutionary party becomes right-wing in literature? Of course not (necessarily)! But you see it is a very complicated question, the change of shapes or anamorphism (much beloved by the Baroque). What Stalin and Zhdanov meant by reflection is some kind of imagined political correctness: to say good things about us, and bad things about enemies. That is a self-reflection – to reflect our own opinions, horizons, and point of views, to repeat and confirm them. In this case what is being reflected is nothing material, it is the apparatus idea of the ruling party; not the things or relationships between people. We have several questions here. There is a very good book written by another Lithuanian, Jurgis Baltrušaitis, an art historian who wrote on many different varieties of morphing, such as anamorphosis, metamorphosis, etc. Anamorphosis is describing distortions; like in the famous Baroque park Bomarzo near Rome, where all wall horizons are distorted. Well, in any mimesis, which is a metamorphosis (and it is not a coincidence that my best known book is called Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, which means changes of shapes in it), there are various way of producing distortions,  such as one to one, one to two, upside-down, inversion, eversion, conversion, subversion, etc. Then there are convex and concave mirrors, as in fairgrounds (and one of my latest books is again not by chance called Defined by a Hollow). This business of mimesis is horribly complicated; just imagine imitating a state of mind by playing music, by having the chorus dancing. It is a simple fact that the dance does not imitate in any precise way the war before the Troy; it is a dance that must follow its own laws of a body traversing space – gravity, kinds of leaps and turns, etc., even if you give spears to the dancers. It is absolute petty-bourgeois stupidity to say that imitation is a kind of one-to-one relation. Let me take the canonic Socialist Realist example: Gorky’s Mother (a book I am sentimentally fond of, and it is not the author’s fault it got into such a canon). Gorky wrote about the mother of a revolutionary in Russia, because there were revolutionaries in Russia outside of literature. But not all revolutionaries, probably not even too many, had a mother that would carry on their work.  So what Gorky did is to make a type, which is a Mother of the Revolutionary, and very near to an allegory, the Revolutionary Mother, if not indeed The Mother of the Revolution. If we agree that type is kind of form, then it has its own laws, just like distortion (say perspective) in painting has its laws. Therefore you must investigate the form, and that is the materialist part. Form is not, as my elder colleagues at Faculty of Arts would have said, the glass outside holding the water inside.

SB: Brecht said that if something had a good form we have to take its content. You are quoting this as well.

DS: All of us are children of our epochs. Brecht for example thought that he was doing anti-Aristotelian theatre. Because German Aristotelians, both in theory (such as Gustav Freytag, a theoretician of drama) and in theatre practice claimed their basis lay in Aristotle’s Poetics. In fact they were not Aristotelians, they were 19th-century bourgeois Positivists. So Brecht being anti-Aristotelian meant anti what was meant by Aristotelianism when he was young. Brecht is also a child of his time, of the discourse of his time. In fact if you read his poetics, in many ways he is Aristotelian as well, as I mentioned his overall structure is episodic, etc. Aristotle didn’t theorize enough the episodic nature of theatre, but he recognized it as such. Brecht wouldn’t have the concept without Aristotle. So if Brecht was speaking in terms of form and content, it is because he was raised in a German school in the first decade of 19th century, poor guy! And so were the listeners to whom he was trying to get something across.

SB: But it seems that he wanted to break from that legacy.

DS: Of course he saw the limits of that education very soon, he almost got kicked out of school when he wrote against the World War. But one question is centrally important here: what is estrangement (his Verfremdung), is it form or content? It’s a way in which form makes you look at your world.

SB: You write that the most formalized analysis can become precise, instead of formalistic, if only enters into feedback relation with the environment?

DS: I am great admirer of the feedback metaphor. This is a cybernetic metaphor which Marx didn’t have. I understand it as two entities which interact. A changes B then B changes A, which become A1, and so on.

SB: Feedback is possible because there is a flow of information from one source to another.

DS: Exactly: flow of information, or of anything else. This is a semiotic concept, which begins with thermodynamics.

SB: If we talk of reformulations of reproductions of agencies, then usually discussion goes toward the re-articulation of artistic text, which you also mention occasionally.

DS: You have here basically the old question: which one is first, chicken or egg? This is what some anthropologists, such as the interesting Gregory Bateson, called a double bind. Whatever you answer will be a wrong answer. The solution is that you have to step out of the double bind, that is, to say “I don’t agree with your question.” Thus, the question whether artistic work is a reflection or not, is also such a double bind. In some ways it is, in some it is not, and anyway what is meant by reflection is most imprecise and unproductive. We have to recognize it as such and refuse to recognize it as valid question.

SB: How is it possible to do that?

DS: By using imaginative freedom. My entire last book (Samo jednom se ljubi) has advanced to foregrounding this concept of freedom, meaning dis-alienation.

SB: Can you tell briefly how Brecht became your intellectual and artistic horizon in the fifties in Yugoslavia?

DS: Very simple, through student theatre. I was deeply engaged in student theatre, which was one of the democratic forms of self-expression in socialist Yugoslavia. First I was involved in the Zagreb Youth Cultural Society Goran Kovačić, which had its own theatre troupe. Later on it became the famous SEK (Studentsko eksperimentalno kazalište, Student Experimental Theatre), whose main director was my friend Bogdan Jerković. I was a kind of dramaturge (art director) of SEK, and we were part of the international body of Western and Central European student theatres, which was an incubating space for the ‘68 movement. You know the ‘68 youth and student movements didn’t come out of nowhere, they were incubating since the fifties. So we had four festivals each year, at Easter time in Parma, Italy; in middle of May in Zagreb, in June in Erlangen, West Germany, and in October, we had it first in Istanbul, but the Turkish police didn’t like that, so we shifted it to Nancy, in France. It was called UITU (Union Internationale des Théâtres Universitaires).  The head of the student theatre  and festival in Nancy, Jack Lang, later on became a famous Socialist Party minister of culture. At that time there was a big Brecht renaissance in two student theatres of West Germany, Frankfurt and Hamburg. This was in the fifties, the time of SDS (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund, people who were later demonstrating). They also produced some very  interesting discussions, with theoreticians in Germany such as Karlheinz Braun or Claus Peymann (who much later became intendant of Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble), and in France some like Chéreau who later went to direct films. They were focusing mostly on the peripheral Brecht; not Galileo, not Mother Courage, but Lehrstűcke (his 1930s’ “plays for learning”), the early Drums in the Night, Der Tag des Großen Gelehrten Wu, one of his school’s adaptation in 1940s from Chinese, and mostly on early anarchist Brecht. After I saw these plays I started reading Brecht.

We had a huge scandal in Erlangen when Brecht’s son-in-law, the great actor Ekkehard Schall, came as a guest and recited some of Brecht’s most communist poems in 1961 just after the Berlin Wall; right-wing students in the audience booed it with hate, a real theatre scandal in a nice 19th-century theatre. I was vice-president of UITU, an organization consisting mainly of Western Europe countries and Yugoslavia. The Russians were outside that organization; only in some exceptions, Polish student theatres would come to UITU events. Therefore the Student Union of Yugoslavia forbade me to be president, they were afraid of Russian disapproval; it was part of Tito’s balancing policy. So, to answer your question, I haven’t met Brecht inside Yugoslavia, but in Germany, Italy or France; as you know Brecht’s greatest world success was with Mother Courage in 1954 in Paris, when Roland Barthes and a whole group of intellectuals became Brechtians. After that I was collecting books and publications related to Brecht. I was spending my per diems of 25 DM for buying books while abroad in these UITU meetings. These festivals had also debates. I was head of the debate programme of the Zagreb May IFSK festival (Internacionalni festival studentskog kazališta), which I have eternalized by putting into my mentioned book the cover-image of our publication, made by Mihajlo Arsovski, famous Macedonian graphic designer in Zagreb. I was editing the IFSK Bulletin with these debates, heavily influenced by Brecht. For us Brecht was anti-Stalinist and anti-capitalist, that is to say totally analogous to socialist Yugoslavia.

SB: Were you at that time then drawing this parallel between Yugoslavia socialist self-management and Brecht?

DS: No, then I was not thinking about the Yugoslav situation as a problem. I was, as all of us, very naïvely of the opinion, quite wrong, that the revolution had happened, we have solved all antagonistic problems, and we are left only with material difficulties, cultural backwardness, and remnants of the past that would be solved due to science, our wise leadership, and all that. OK, that was crap, we all had to mature! But I think Brecht was identical to the furthest horizons of the Yugoslav revolution, that is to say radical refusal of alienation. Verfremdung actually is a refusal of Entfremdung – the estrangement counteracts alienation. By the way this was very well discussed by Ernst Bloch in his essay Entfremdung /Verfremdung.[8]

In the student theatre there was a very interesting fight between formalists and nihilists, say the Brecht wing and the Grotowski wing; Grotowski was soundly beaten. Then he went to New York and became world-famous by being followed by US theatre people such as Schechner and company. And he beat Brecht worldwide just based on American ideological export. Of course Grotowski has some interesting things, he is a great director of actors, he knew quite a bit about Asian theatres, and he has this kind of Catholic existentialist background, which has its own strength. But I didn’t like that much, it’s all revelling in Christ’s passion – blood, sweat, and snot, no women allowed except as mourners. Thus, when I came to the USA for 1967/68, I had to decide whether I wanted to continue with theatre criticism. During that year I taught in Amherst, Massachusetts, which is five hours by bus to New York. Nena and I went on weekends to see all plays of that season in New York, Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, and the leading theatre journal, TDR, gave me the money for all the often expensive tickets. At that time, ever since the US public was shocked by success of Sputnik in 1957, a lot of money was being thrown at the universities, to invest into research. Of course most of the money went to the weapons industry, arms technology, space, hard sciences, and similar, but even the small portion given to Humanities and Social Sciences was relatively huge. So there was no problem getting funding and grants for halfway decent proposals. But I didn’t like the atmosphere and horizons of the US theatre, and to systematically criticize for years something you don’t like is counter-productive, you become what is in German called a nörgler – a nagger or moaner; that is boring to read and boring to write.

Therefore I returned the money, and I stopped being a theatre critic. There were also other reasons, one was that I was busy with my academic work (lecturing and writing). However, I could have stayed in New York City. Because universities were hiring a lot of teachers, in ‘68 I had four contracts awaiting signature on my desk. One was to stay in Amherst, at Massachusetts University; it was a progressive State, the only US one with protective labour legislation and so on; another in San Francisco; and a third one on the outskirts of New York City, on Long Island. And the fourth contract was from McGill University in Montréal, Canada. Now I liked the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, but I didn’t much like the USA. It was a very violent country, with wonderful oases which you could also call ghettoes – the campuses. In New York a lot of things were happening, like later the siege of Columbia University; I went to see that, but I didn’t much believe in those student revolts (paradoxically: the rich kids were striking, and the proletarians in police uniforms were putting down the strikes). Of course their strong revulsion against both consumer capitalist and Stalinist forms of human relationships was  correct, and they pioneered the revulsion against life being absorbed by getting more and more things, against reification – though that was easy in a country of most abundant production. They were sincerely on the Left without quite knowing what this was or should imply (say clearer ideas, more organisation). When a strike happened in Amherst I felt my duty was to solidarise with the students, but they were basically anarchists, they were only against the war and sexual or drug repression, and what they were for was unclear. However, I didn’t believe in smoking marijuana, it obfuscates the mind which we need. Certainly some of the general US fights were worthy fights, those against the Vietnam War and against racism, but they were not fights in which I could as a foreigner participate, not my fights. So at the end I went to Canada and I didn’t become a theatre critic. A few years later I experienced some of the 1968 student leaders, whom I defended, turning into Post-Modernists and attacking me.

SB: Why did you leave Yugoslavia?

DS: They didn’t vote to prolong my assistant status job in the Faculty of Arts after six years, in spite of my having had a special dispensation to teach courses and published 5 books.  There were all kinds of intersecting reasons, personal and political, the nationalists were already on the rise, the Party didn’t protect me; I fell between two stools so to speak. I believe I got about 47 votes as against 25, but out of a 100 members of the faculty Council (all teachers), the rest was absent, and we operated under a utopian self-management rule that you need to get an absolute majority of 51 votes. There were some irregularities in the meeting, so I sued them and might well have won. But you cannot be in a university on the basis of a court ruling instead of peer approval, I believed, and I was very disgusted. On top of some other conflicts I had had earlier with theatres and so on, I concluded I could very well be an alienated intellectual anywhere in the world. So though the Faculty got frightened and gave me a one-year paid leave (at the time I was also very sick and mainly in hospital), I resigned in 1967 and applied for a job through friends in the USA —  which I then got in Amherst as described above. I had been in the USA in 1965/66 on a Ford Foundation grant, had had lectures all across the country and followed courses at Yale University, and refused with patriotic indignation offers of employment in various places. Now I had to come back with tail tucked in.

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SB: I would like to continue the discussion with your translation and analysis of Brecht’s verse poem ‘The Manifesto’. You relate it to cognitive faculty of estrangement: “Poetry is here not only in strong opposition to the stifling superficial babbling of the reigning, totally ideologized doxa of the capitalist media or brainwashed common sense; it is above all a “stumbling block” (formulation of the poet Giampiero Neri) to the hegemonic babble—one which forces the reader/stumbler to stop and look at what is really happening at his feet. (p. 19-20)”

A: Brecht did a transposition of Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party into verse; which of course, if you believe in form being meaning, makes it a different animal. This is theoretically too interesting, because the style of the Communist Manifesto is also very artistic, it is a prose pamphlet style. Otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted for 150 years. Brecht was turning it into a verse translation/adaptation in 1944, when the Red Army was approaching Germany (later on he doubled the initial adaptation). He read everything he could get, both US and German émigré literature, and was struck by the fact that no one rebelled during the defeat of Hitler when the Nazi army was on the front, so a rebellion by workers should have been on the cards but did not happen. He was horrified by this, and thought (rightly) that the German working class had forgotten Marxism. Therefore it had to be re-acquainted with it in a way which would be interesting, that is to say in verse. In my opinion he also thought that Marxist prose, due to the abuse by the social-democratic (and I think also communist) party in banalities did not work so well any more. He was giving it a new lease of life, so to speak, by putting it into verse. He used the hexameter form based on some German translation of Lucretius’s De rerum natura from 1820s, which he had known in the Weimar era and taken with him into emigration.

This raises the huge question of the relation of poetry to history. I wrote in that analysis: “Surely, charity begins at home: poetry cannot exist without a relation to its own history. The poet — and the translator — must be cognizant of it, but not necessarily the synchronic reader who has to fry today’s potatoes today. For the reader, the relation is basically one of poetry to what Marx and Engels called the only science they knew — the history of relationships among people, in different social formations, in the struggles of classes differently shaping each formation.” I wish I could go on, but this needs a semestral doctoral course… Maybe this can be approached a little by the essay I recently wrote and which I propose you print in the same issue of RAB-RAB as this interview, “Epistemology,  Science, Narration/Poetry”.

SB: Can we describe the adaptation of ‘Manifesto’ by Brecht as an instance of estrangement? In your text on the adaptation you describe it as a stumbling block, which is a term used by Russian Formalists.

DS: Yes, that is a term used by Shklovsky. That is what Formalists called zatrudnenie formy, making the form difficult, which prevents distracted reading. It is based on the simple idea that unless you concentrate on text, you will not understand it. If you stumble over a feature, you come to pay attention (or perhaps you throw it away). Furthermore, the form is difficult not only or primarily because it is baroque and complicated, but because it introduces new images and concepts. Then you ask “what is this?”, you de-automatise your relation to the artwork. On the contrary, if you automatise the concept as a cliché, and discuss it through automatically expected images and concepts, then nobody will pay full attention to it. So the text or its style has to be refreshed  by putting it in some other way, which will be vivid enough to make the reader stop (stumble) and ask about the text. As I said, Brecht also introduces some new things that were not in The Communist Manifesto. Of course they are Marxist terms, concepts, and images, but certainly they were not in the original Manifesto. For example he introduces the “God of Profit”, something like Moloch or Baal. He sits there ruling the people, he is blind but very powerful. Literally, he is a blind God sitting in a temple, certainly a vivid image. Marx himself was not bad at finding vivid images, ‘the spectre is haunting Europe’ for example. That spectre is more or less a spectre of Hamlet’s father, because Marx loved Shakespeare whom he recited to his children when they were riding on his shoulders on Hampstead Heath. There are also spectres in German tradition, but with Shakespeare it is related to revenge righting an old wrong. Also Marx speaks often about theological or supernatural caprices of the Capital, a dead thing bearing fruit and so on. Therefore it is easy to make a parallel with a religious entity out of it. Of course Brecht reworks also Mammon from Bible, false god of gold and riches, since he was a very close reader of Bible, the Luther translation which is the beginning of modern German literary language.

SB: In your book on Brecht you criticize the work of Lee Baxandall on Happenings as nihilist estrangement, as no more than a renewal of sensual perception without cognitive values. Or you even say that this is a right-wing estrangement.[9]

DS: Well mythology is primarily, for us at least, an estrangement. By right-wing I mean basically some kind of mythical approach. For example Hitler believed in the occult science of I think seven moons, six of which have already disappeared, each in a catastrophe where the Earth changed; in the last one the Aryans had to retreat to North Scandinavia, but before that they were ruling all Europe, and they should come back and start to rule again. This myth I would say is an estrangement, of course this is not a part of the normal bourgeois world, but from the Right. So, there is nothing in estrangement which makes it automatically progressive or left-wing. It is a technique of perception. If you gave me a little time I could find you more sophisticated examples of right-wing estrangements from literature. Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantoes, say, have a section against usury, which is the right-wing, traditionally Catholic name for capitalism. Right-wing is, to put it in general terms, a reaction against French revolution, freedom, equality, and democracy from below; it can easily be ideologically anti-bourgeois too. Fascism has always had a left wing, such as the SA of Nazi Germany whom Hitler had killed in 1934. They were sincerely anti-capitalist, so they thought, and horrified that Hitler made a compromise with capitalist industrialists. They really thought that it was a national socialist party. So, right wing estrangement exists too.

As to nihilist estrangement: by the way, I was a good friend of Baxandall, he was a left-wing guy in New York. And I got interested in these Happenings while in New York City. I saw a few, and they also published very good small pamphlets describing various Happenings by Kaprow and others. After studying them I wrote that critique for TDR (Theatre and Drama Review). Basically I understood happenings as a-political estrangement, that is to say, they are dealing with individual re-orientation to the world, and whether this has anything to do with politics is none of our business. Once we re-orient you can go out and do whatever you want, something or nothing, left or right. I thought that this was a variant of estrangement which was formally interesting, and up to a point maybe even useful, but certainly insufficient. I didn’t know what to call it except nihilist estrangement, by which I was referring to Nietzsche — certainly not to the Russian nihilists who killed the Tsar.

SB: Baxandall’s theory of Happenings is actually similar also to his interpretation of Eastern European political cinema (particularly of Makavejev) which he calls cine-marxism.[10]

DS: In these writers it is all approximate, because they didn’t know too much about Eastern Europe.

SB: Apart from not knowing, they were also reproducing certain Western stereotypes of Eastern Europe avant-gardes. For Baxandall, Makavejev’s estrangement techniques are better than Godard’s, because he has a sensual, non-mediated, and non-cognitive approach.

DS: I am all in favour of sensuality in arts. It can provoke a gut reaction. But gut reaction is, more or less, semi or un-conscious. How do you then go on, what can it orient you toward? Everything or nothing. Also I don’t think that Baxandall is right about Makavejev. True, there is a little bit of what Baxandall was getting at. I can tell you that Makavejev was very much impressed by Deleuze and Guattari. While I was staying with him in Paris in his apartment I saw on his working table their Anti-Oedipus book, which he praised to me as a great revelation. I have some very basic doubts about them, even as I think that A Thousand Plateaus and also Guattari on his own are better. Certainly not all of Makavejev is as Baxandall wants to portray it. For me Makavejev is a utopian communist, as redefined by the New Left.

SB: In your text you describe this nihilism as pseudo-biological values substituting for the historical ones.

DS: Exactly. For they are not truly biological, as I was saying earlier that 90% of what is inside us is not biological. I don’t have much to add to this text; probably today I would define more accurately what I meant by nihilism, but in first approximation it may be OK. I wrote somewhere that political economy, including politics pivoting on political economy, is our version of the Greeks’ ananke, destiny. As you know in Greek tragedy destiny decides what will happen, that Oedipus must do this and that, and there is no escape from it. Our version of it is probably pretty near to the Greek one, but where the ancient Greeks said destiny we say political economy. It is what the actantial system calls the Mandatory, the supreme power which determines your world. I think that even the Marxist concepts of political economy describe a horribly alienated way of life. Of course, in order to change it, you have to first describe it. But in order to describe it well, which is from a value-based point of view, you have to have lot of doubts about it – as Marx had. You simultaneously posit and deny, a tough thing to do formally.

SB: Can you tell bit more about your concept of cognitive estrangement, how it is related to knowledge and politics?

DS: Brecht said once, in his optimistic phase before Hitler, that he wanted to make his audience into an audience of statesmen – in other words, people who are able to build and rule a State (there are astounding parallels between him and Gramsci, unbeknownst to both). We should today add to these people who know how to build a State also people who know how to keep and maintain this State as a non-State, a dialectical democracy from below. But Brecht was not so far wrong. What he meant is roughly similar to Lenin saying (in his fiercely utopian State and Revolution) that every cook, svaka kuharica, which is female, is going to be able to rule the State. In other words Brecht and Lenin take the plebeian society or classes and believe they can do what was the prerogative of rulers, which is to know how collectively to rule and maintain the State or a society. How do you do that? You must learn a lot, about finances, about military matters, about psychology, etc, which the ruling class knew, in their own brutal and imperfect ways. You cannot say that Disraeli or Bismarck didn’t know how to rule. But we are talking about different kinds of learning and knowing. For plebeians or proletarians, to know how to rule is, if you boil it down to a minimum common denominator, to make people willing, interested, eager and able to learn by saying that what exists now is not the only possibility. So this is cognitive estrangement. For example, to see that what exists as State is not what it seems it is but is a machine of exploitation, or a killing machine. It is maybe a very rough kind of estrangement, but still it is an important estrangement. Basically today the State is two things: a machine for extracting money out of the ruled in favour of the rulers, for keeping and maintaining this exploitation and killing of people, and a killing machine; it kills people in prisons or in the wars. Marx somewhere says that each government has two basic departments, the army and the finances. That is, how to extract money from people and then how to dominate them and other people by means of moneys you have extracted from them, which is by an organized army. That is true for any State that ever existed.

SB: So cognitive estrangement is to rethink about the world where we are living in.

DS: Yes, to rethink, not only conceptually but also sensually, to see anew and to understand what you see something as (this is what the mature Wittgenstein was about). I arrived to this through defining science fiction. I disliked the adjective scientific, a futurological function, which was in the West identified with militarism – science and futurology work for the army. And in the East it was identified with a Stalinist type of pseudo-Marxism, which was also supposed to be a science. In both cases there was a 19th-century view of science that I disliked, which is this asymptotic arrival at absolute truth or certainty instead of situatedness. So cognitive, as adjective of understanding, suited me better than science as describing estrangement. It refers to a process, as cognition which has to be gained. But science usually meant something which already exists, and we had to apply it successfully. And the Stalinists added that only the stupid bourgeoisie thought science was confined to natural sciences; whereas we know also that there is the social science of Marxism.

SB: What you explain is part of your two horizons, Einstein and Lenin…

DS: Yes: Einstein with Marx as precursor, and the best Lenin, which is the Lenin of State and Revolution.

SB: Is communism a horizon for all utopologists?

DS: Yes and no. Empirically no, utopological stances span the whole political gamut, though most of it is somewhere on the Left. But if you want to be radically consistent, and you refuse the status quo, then it is the final horizon. However, let us be careful and first define what we mean by communism! I wrote an essay three years ago, which I haven’t managed to publish in English yet but should come out in Critical Quarterly, about the Janus nature of communism. There is the sense of Marx, Brecht, Bloch, Gramsci and the best Lenin, which I call C1; it is plebeian communism by direct democracy from below, the original Soviets. And then there is what was “really existing” communism as it ruled after the Russian, Yugoslav, Chinese, Cuban, and a couple of other revolutions, which I call C2; it is State communism by an elite (soon becoming a  bureaucratic oligarchy and a ruling class) from above, and this is  ambiguous: at first mainly liberatory, it grows into an alienated and corrupt form of C1. So what I am talking about here as a horizon, which means a final line when you look as far as you can, or as a Weberian “ideal type”, is C1. This communism as the coming about of de-alienation is of course the horizon of all utopologists.

SB: I found your text on Engels and Utopia very useful and interesting.[11]

DS: The essay on Engels is one I really like, I would today write it in the same way. It seems to me that I proved, at least to myself, that there is an unsaid part (a non dit, as the French say) in Engels, a blank where I put my question marks – if you remember – which falsifies his argument. I can understand why he and Marx were on the one hand very respectful towards people like Owen and Fourier, and on the other hand quite exasperated by their followers in practical politics of the 1840s. So, you have to say they were socialist, they were well-meaning, they had good insights, but they incorporated something that was insufficiently thought out. How do you call that which was insufficiently precise? Well, they called it as it was called by everybody back then in England, which is utopian, and it meant  being nowhere (u is no, topos is place), being up in the air. That to my mind is, if you read Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, a bourgeois definition of utopia. It is wonderfully put by Macaulay, great ideologist of England in 1820 and 30’s, he wrote the Indian Education Act, and so on: ‘An acre in Middlesex is better than a principality in Utopia’. One is concrete and empirical bourgeois possession, worth a lot of money (London is in Middlesex); whereas the other is fumisterie, as the French would say, hot air. Well, this is very convenient from the bourgeois point of view: utopias are cobwebs in the mind, get solid possessions! But that totally denies the emancipatory potential of utopia, which is exactly put by Raymond Ruyer: ”les choses pourraient  être autrement, things could be different”. Thinking this way then, in Utopia you would have more than in Middlesex. You would have other and better things. Maybe you would not possess acres in Middlesex, but you would have use of the fruits of the whole country, plus solidarity with the other people who grow and use them. The whole Lockean tradition of knowledge and possession is turned upside down in the terms of utopia. This is the first point, that Marx and Engels had to find a bad adjective for Fourier and Owen, but not as being reactionaries and enemies, simply using a term available to them then that would describe them as not sufficiently “scientific”. However, there are two problems here, and beyond the bad definition of utopia there is also a bad definition of science. The bourgeois definition of science is perpetual progress in the asymptotic form; it is the science (both science of society and natural science) which led to – or gave no problems in being used for — Auschwitz, Hiroshima, today the bombing of Ukraine. I don’t buy this! That’s why I didn’t like to use word science, and instead used the wider term cognitive, referring to the striving to understand.

This procedure of splitting a single semantic concept into a good and bad pole was first used by Hesiod in Works and Days, so far as I know. Of course you could use the same Hesiodean procedure I used for communism also for science, and have S1 as wisdom and S2 as corrupt bourgeois positive truth which can be capitalised. I wrote an essay about that too, called “On the Horizons of Epistemology and  Science” (Critical Quarterly 52.1 (2010): 68-101; //onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8705.2010.01924.x/full). What does this procedure or stance basically imply? It implies that originally, in pre-class or lower-class or even liberatory intellectual semantics, there was a first usage and interpretation of the concept which was usable for de-alienation. Then in bourgeois or monopolistic capitalism, a second usage and interpretation came about, which was totally alienating and must be rejected if the human species is to survive barbarism. It is a historically well-known and most important development in semantics, in which for example sub-iectum, that what is below you and on which you base yourself, becomes the “subject” that looks at the now inert object; Williams has several more such examples in his wonderful Keywords.

SB: You mention also a heuristic aspect of this estrangement.

DS: I am very much taken by little games in psychological optic illusions, for example when you have a line which is put between arrows, and then you have same line which is put in reverse arrows. The lines seem longer between reverse arrows though they are exactly identical. If you extrapolate this to the huge illusions we are living in, then heuristic is to say “take a centimetre measure and you will see that they are the same.” This is heuristic to my mind: take a value system, measure by it, and you find X.

SB:  What about your novum? In your chapter ‘SF and the Novum’ from Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, in order to delineate the singular condition of literariness of a SF you propose a term novum as “differentia specifica” of the SF narration. You distinguish SF “by the narrative dominance of a fictional ‘novum’ (novelty, innovation) validated by cognitive logic.” This specific novelty of SF, as far as I understood, has one very productive epistemological effect, which keeps the notion of empirical (i.e. science) and the notion of fiction (i.e. utopia) as in some kind of strange irresolvable tension. Further, this tension and unfamiliar relation implies also certain estrangement through novum of SF.

DS: Well, we hadn’t yet got to turbo-capitalism which is full of fake novums every year. So what I later added to this text from my Metamorphoses of SF book, in an essay in Defined by a Hollow, is to again split it into the fake novum (continuous with the capitalist  status quo) and the true novum, radically different. As you may notice, I love such dichotomies, though I think that this could be refined. So it would be nice to have a reasoned typology of novums, I wish somebody would do it.

SB: In the reprint of your text in 2008 on defining the literary genre of science fiction (originally published in 1973) you add a new line concerning the discontented social classes. What was reason of this? The earlier text defines the literary genre of utopia as: “Utopia is the verbal construction of a particular quasi-human community where socio-political institutions, norms, and individual relationships are organized according to a more perfect principle than in the author’s community, this construction being based on estrangement arising out of an alternative historical hypothesis.” Now  you add: “it is created by discontented social classes interested in otherness and change, in it, difference is judged from point of view or within their value system”. How should we describe an interest of social classes in relation to the specific narrative of SF, which is novum? Is this an echo of Marxist thesis that class struggles are engine of history?

DS: The earlier definition was up in the air without any social anchoring, it was supposedly eternal rather than longue durée (a fossile remnant of scientistic universalism). The addition is in historical longue durée, “as carried by a discontented class”. It is not enough to say simply a discontented group, then you can have reactionary utopias as well. I read a number of them by Russian White émigrés, for they too can be discontented. It must be a sufficiently important social class to produce a viable ideology. In other words if we accept a socio-formalist vocabulary, I lacked the social part in first definition.

SB: From your ‘Memoirs’ on Yugoslavia: “In another place I hope to speak about the Communist Party vocabulary which on the one hand soon grew rather wooden but on the other had surprisingly spontaneous aspects.” What would you say about political slogans from the perspective of conceptual discussions we had until now (estrangements, novum, etc.), especially about slogans in Yugoslavia?

A: I never researched that in any systematic way. First of all I know of no collection of political slogans, there is no corpus of material on that issue, so that research still remains to be done; it may of course be difficult to collect this corpus. Second, I fear we would need  a rather elaborate theory on ideology and language in order to do this. So I personally won’t do any serious research about it. But I did remark on this issue here and there. For example in Samo jednom se ljubi I briefly discussed how the wartime (and later) slogan “Brotherhood and unity” (Bratstvo i jedinstvo) melds the French revolutionary fratérnité with the necessities of 1941, of countering murderous fascist and quisling chauvinisms in an extremely divided ex-Yugoslavia (not so dissimilar from today’s frozen exploitation). The brotherly unity has a connotation and a denotation – one can illustrate this with the old model of the atom: connotation is the nucleus, and denotations are all electrons dispersed around the core. Connotations in this case are Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Bosnians, Albanians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, all ethnic groups; and the denotation is that which can bring about the unity, which is nothing else but the Communist Party, an Aristotelian unmoved mover. It is a core which didn’t assert itself openly; throughout the whole NOB (Liberation War) there is no talk about the Communist Party, except in very confidential documents. There are three reasons for this: most Yugoslav communists were formed in illegal circumstances during the monarchist regime when communists would be shot at sight without further reasons; so they had that reflex of secrecy in order to survive. You have to read Krleža’s memoirs about meeting Tito in the late 1930s: it was in some village, veiled with mystery and precautions, Tito had a revolver in his pocket. The two other reasons were not to offend Stalin and the Western powers. I think this was a correct strategy until 1945/46, which afterwards turns to its opposite. It becomes what I call in my latest book abominable secrecy (mrska tajnovitost), meaning bureaucratic secrecy.

The French revolutionary liberté was present in the parallel slogan of “Death to fascism, liberty to the people” (Smrt fašizmu, sloboda narodu). Both of these are parallel constructions, much like the distichs in classical Chinese poetry, with identical syntax but variant — in this case strictly antithetic — semantics in the two halves. Thus, the unitary brotherhood fights for freedom (quite rightly not for égalité, which is both philosophically and politically dubious).

Or take the wonderful voluntary work brigades’ slogan at the Youth Railways 1946-48: “We build the railway, the railway builds us” (Mi gradimo prugu, pruga gradi nas)! Of course this establishes the ideal horizon only, people are always more complex than slogans; I was there in all three years; you can read it in my Memoirs. This is a full-fledged case of feedback, similar to what we were talking about earlier. It means that while people change and renew things around them, these things and doings change and renew the people who do them. All three slogans are strokes of genius. No doubt, some agitprop section staffed by (published or not yet published) writers first coined them, but those particular ones survived a kind of Darwinian selection to prove very durable memes. I wish I knew who imagined them.

As you rightly remarked to me, there was also the Partizan song “Padaj silo i nepravdo, narod ti je sudit zvan”, I well remember its mellifluous music. It has an especially good text, alluding to the Hvar Island revolt in the 16th Century, very Benjaminian (it can be found at http://lyricstranslate.com/en/jugoslovenske-partizanske-pesme-padaj-silo-i-nepravdo-lyrics.html). And yes you’re right, “Fall down thou violence and injustice, the people is called to be thy judge” is the program of NOB, both a national liberation struggle and a plebeian revolution. This whole matter of the Partizan cultural revolution by means of songs, dances, little theatrical sketches, and a lot of improvised printed leaflets with articles, poems, and even black-and-white drawings is now being investigated, for example by the excellent Slovene essayist Miklavž Komelj. It is the matrix within which the slogans of the time should be considered.

*          Copyright (C) Darko Suvin 2015

[1]          “Naši ‘socijalistički larpurlartisti’, kako ga više ne mogu, kao što su to ždanovci činili, nazivati formalistom, sada mu paradoksalno zamjeraju sociologiziranje, nedovoljni formalizam, neučestvovanje u ‘vječno-ljudskim’ problemima’.” Darko Suvin, ‘Paradoks o čovjeku na pozornici svijeta (praksa i teorija Berta Brechta)’, Forum: Casopis Odjela za suvremenu književnost Jugoslavenske Akademije Znanosti i Umjetnosti, 1965: 7-8, p. 586. (ed. note)

[2]            Tom Stoppard, Travesties, London: Faber & Faber, 1978.

[3]          “These ruptures in literary history takes place for reason that have nothing to do with chronology. No, the real point is that the legacy that is passed from one literary generation to the next moves not from father to son but from uncle to nephew”, Viktor Shklovsky, ‘Literature without a Plot: Rozanov’, Theory of Prose, Dalkey Archive Press, 1990, p. 189-190. (ed. note)

[4]          Darko Suvin, ‘Naučna fantastika i utopizam,’ Umjetnost riječi, 1963:2, pp. 113-115. (ed. note)

[5]             Paradoxically, all the lessons of Russian formalism without which we can’t begin making sense of action, belong here under the heading of materialism (albeit a partial and inconsistent, not yet a dialectical one). Formalism is the A and B of any integrally materialist approach to art, from which we should then proceed to C, D, and so on.” Darko Suvin, ‘Can People Be (Re)Presented in Fiction? Toward a Theory of Narrative Agents and a Materialist Critique beyond Technocracy and Reductionism’, Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, (eds.) C. Nelson and L. Grossberg, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. (ed. note)

[6]             “In the case of the arts, it is well known that certain periods of their flowering are out of all proportion to the general development of society, hence also to the material foundation, the skeletal structure as it were, of its organization. For example, the Greeks compared to the moderns or also Shakespeare. It is even recognized that certain forms of art, e.g. the epic, can no longer be produced in their world epoch-making, classical stature as soon as the production of art, as such, begins; that is, that certain significant forms within the realm of the arts are possible only at an undeveloped stage of artistic development. If this is the case with the relation between different kinds of art within the realm of the arts, it is already less puzzling that it is the case in the relation of the entire realm to the general development of society. The difficulty consists only in the general formulation of these contradictions. As soon as they have been specified, they are already clarified. … But the difficulty lies not in understanding that the Greek arts and epic are bound up with certain forms of social development. The difficulty is that they still afford us artistic pleasure and that in a certain respect they count as a norm and as an unattainable model”, Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, Translated by Martin Nicolaus, London: Penguin Books, 1973, p. 110 – 111. (ed. note)

[7]          Suvin, ‘Can People be (Re)Presented’, p. 667.

[8]          Ernst Bloch, ‘Entfremdung, Verfremdung: Alienation, Estrangement’, translated by Anne Halley and Darko Suvin, TDR/The Drama Review 15.1, 1970, pp.120-125.

[9]          “It is a beatific vision of the discontinuous flux of things, related to a consciousness of the limits of philosophical humanism and of the positive meaning of alienation. As such it is the horizon of all consistent nihilist estrangement”. Darko Suvin, ‘Reflections on Happenings’, To Brecht and Beyond: Soundings in Modern Dramaturgy, Brighton & Totowa NJ: The Harvester Press, 1984, p. 253. (ed. note)

[10]        Lee Baxandall, ‘Toward an east European Cinemarxism’, Politics, Art and Commitment in the Easth European Cinema, ed. David W. Paul, London: Basingstoke, 1983.

[11]        ‘”Utopian” and “Scientific”: Two Attributes for Socialism from Engels’ (1976)’, Defined by a Hollow: Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction and Political Epistemology, Oxford: Peter Lang, 2010.

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Erkenntnis: KEYSTONES FOR AN EPISTEMOLOGY (11 THESES AND 1 INDICATION)

Darko Suvin                                                                             VERSION 8, 2,950 WORDS (2012)

These are some reflections as keystones for a usable epistemology. They are initial and amendable.  These presuppositions and positions are divided into general or methodological approaches, approaches to “science,” and a brief indication how to go on.

In both, a double cognitive movement is necessary: destruction (deconstruction) of old ways of thinking, focussing on useless interpretation of key terms; construction of dialectically flexible usable meanings of such terms, with a constant denotative core yet pulsating (expanding and shrinking) periphery of connotations. The rhythm and direction of the pulsations is historically contingent, it is subject to phronesis (Fingerspitzengefühl, practical wisdom) rather than theoria.

Our tools are no doubt notional, they are regulative ideas, but in any richer case they repose on a metaphor (in the widest sense of a trope). They are all initially located in the imagination, but “imagination becomes reality when it enters the belief of masses” (Marx, slightly tweaked).

 A/ METHODOLOGICAL PRESUPPOSITIONS AND POSITIONS

 Thesis 1: GOODBYE EXTRAPOLATION

 Old futurology was based on a rudimentary proceeding of early Baconian-Cartesian science culminating in 19th C.: holding the state of affairs still while adding to it one variable and observing where its extrapolation would lead. At best it could play with a very few variables (Boyle-Mariotte’s law of gasses had pressure, temperature and volume). This is of no use in a rapidly changing, polymorphically perverse (Freud) or polyphonic (Bakhtin) world.

 Thesis 2: DIALECTICAL TOTALITIES

 Old totality was stable; it changed only slightly in the fashion of Lampedusa’s Gattopardo novel:  “everything changes [in politics] in order to remain the same [in economics] .” It was then perverted by Gentile and Mussolini into the ideology of “totalitarianism”, meaning total organization of society by the State from above, fusing the politics and economics. Stalinism largely came to follow a kindred idea. Such totalities were centrally aspiring to religious perfection — which any sophisticated theology knows is a heresy — relevant to times before the Industrial revolution and its huge changes within one lifetime, such as the Napoleonic wars (not to speak about the following revolutions in technology and cognition). Shocked by these two politics, Arendt and the liberal doxa of Post-Modernism not only rightly refused them but also threw the baby out with the bathwater, logically ending in “weak thought.”

It is much more economical to wash the baby: i.e., to retain the concept of flexible and imperfect totalities as the only possible objects of cognitive acts. Flexible = changeable in extension and intension; imperfect = not only unfinished but in principle unfinishable; in one word = dialectical.

Dialectics centrally means that any totality has inbuilt contradictions which make for changes, glacially slow or explosively sudden. The art or phronesis of planning,. i.e. of being ready for the unforeseeable future, is to find the dominant contradiction (Mao).

 Thesis 3:  POSSIBLE WORLDS

 A Possible World is a provisional totality with a defined spacetime and agents — all else is open. Rather than pertaining to logic (à la Kripke, or the Eco-type semiotics following logics) a useful Possible World is philosophical: modelled on our historical world (i.e., on dominant conceptions thereof or on its imaginary encyclopedia) yet significantly different from it. The possible cognitive increment lies in the difference and in its applicability, direct or very indirect, to our common world.

All art and all planning deals implicitly with Possible Worlds. This is foregrounded in e.g. Science Fiction or Five-Year Plans.

A Possible World contains in principle no guarantees of success — or failure — for the agents and actions in it: on s’engage et puis on voit (Napoleon). Some variants may have inbuilt felicific rules (e.g. fairy-tales or Sun-hero myths à la St. George, or official optimism about a plan); some may have inbuilt horrorific rules (e.g. Horror Fantasy after Poe and Lovecraft, or much Kafka, all apocalyptic pessimism), but these are protocols superadded to its fundamental neutrality. These protocols are therefore special cases very limited in epistemic relevance and spacetime applicability. What remains of the wholly rosy and wholly bleak horizons is a use, first, for extreme moments (when they may be extremely relevant), and second, a propedeutic use at various other moments.

 Thesis 4: VALUE AS KEY HORIZON AND GROUND

  1. Homo sapiens, who knows s/he will die, is a value-bound creature: this defines his/her exit from the purely animal world of infinite contingency and instinctual reaction. What is it all for?
    Our personal and collective lives are barks, or at best sailboats, buoyed by the ocean of values, with conflicting cold and warm currents traversing it and us (most fish are to be found at their meeting points). Even if they were transoceanic liners or super-aircraft carriers, a tsunami groundswell is stronger. Remember the Titanic, the USSR, and Lehman Brothers!
    Since we must use the long wave-roll of values, let’s pick one main one wisely. Surf it.
  1. “If God and Communism are dead, anything is permitted” (extrapolation from Nietzsche and Dostoevsky).
    Yet people either live with values of freedom and friendliness (solidarity), or with values of violent domination and exploitation —  whether well articulated or not. They may be more conscious in intellectuals, but operate and act just as strongly in everybody else. In that sense, as Gramsci and Brecht argued, everybody is an (at least latent) intellectual.
    Value is co-extensive with productivity or creativity in the widest sense, encompassing almost all human action. A mother cares for the child because she values it, and herself for it. A worker cares for its work insofar as it and s/he are not alienated. A learner (such as most of us all through most of our lives) cares for his learning because it multiplies his strengths and delights. A lover cares for her beloved because the love enriches her being.
    Given that human nature abhors vacuum of value, there are after the Industrial Revolution, and with increasing insistence, two possible clusters of non-perverted value: traditional and new, known or unknown. Creativity may be rule-governed or rule-changing (Chomsky); often, both interpenetrate in different proportions. In the former case the status-quo may be changed, while in the latter cases it cannot. In good times rule-governed values are to be preferred, in bad times — such as ours — the rule-changing ones.
  1. Exactly contrary to Nietzsche’s proposition that value increases where there are “more favourable preconditions for more comprehensive forms of domination” (Will to Power, cited at second hand), my axiom and presupposition is that value gets formed and expands where there are more comprehensive chances for and experiments with self-determination. The locus of self-determination is in each individual personality but its actualization and form is only possible through collective actions of production, circulation, and/or use. A believable collective project always lurks in the background, shaping the horizons of one’s individual life (or we are in anomie and pathology). This constellation results in non-violent meanings, meaningfulness.
    Domination or lording it means enjoying the loss of self-determination in others. This inevitably perverts one’s own self-determination. In today’s inverted world most people in power follow this Satanic dictum on relation to other people and our natural environment. This is why we have to find and favour the exact contrary.

Thesis 5:  LOCUS, HORIZON, AND ORIENTATION

Locus is the place of the agent who is moving;
horizon is the furthest imaginatively visible goal toward which that agent is moving;
orientation is a vector that conjoins locus and horizon, the direction of the agent’s glance and movement.
Locus is where a single personal or collective body is pragmatically or contingently at; it is a given that must be understood as to its potentialities but cannot be argued away. It can, however, be subject to orientative projection.
It is characteristic of horizon that it moves with the location of the moving agent (as argued by Giordano Bruno); it can therefore never be attained. Obversely, it is characteristic of orientation that it can through all the changes of locus remain a constant vector of desire and cognition; e.g. “Eine Utopie ist aber kein Ziel, sondern eine Richtung” (Musil, The Man Without Qualities — a text that is itself emblematic for its intended signification of permanent movement through various loci in a fixed direction which is also a movable, expanding horizon).
In the ideal case of a dynamic utopia, locus constantly tends toward and yet never fuses with horizon (e.g. the end of Brecht’s Badener Lehrstück vom Einverständnis).
These are spatial metaphors. Caution and flexibility is much needed for their temporal use, with periodical reappraisals — confirmational or agonizing, as the case may require.

B/ PRESUPPOSITIONS AND POSITIONS ABOUT SCIENCE AS TWO-FACED JANUS

Thesis 6: SCIENCE IS HISTORICAL, NOT TRANSCENDENT

 The religious quest for Truth is a point of rest for the weary: “simple, transparent, not contradicting itself, permanent, enduring as identical, with no crease, hidden sleight, curtain, form: a man conceives thus the world of Being as ‘God’ in his own image” (Nietzsche). It is an ideal impossible to fulfil, thus finally a lie, that leads to faking and skepticism.
If success is measured in terms of duration and proper balance with nature, there have been many successful civilizations either without an institutionalized science (such as the ancient Roman one) or with science based on radically different presuppositions (such as the Chinese and Arabic ones). Most important: all scientific paradigms are temporally finite: the productions, enunciations, and applications of knowledge begin and end in function of interests within their societies.

Thesis 7:  THE HEGEMONY OF VIEWPOINT OR STANCE (Haltung)

“Is water necessarily H2O?” For some purposes — of separating H and O or reconstituting water, and all understanding pertaining to such possibilities — yes, but for other purposes no (Putnam, Gendlin). Purposes change according to the situation, which is only understood as being such-and-such by the interests of the subject defining it. Interests and judgments necessarily contain both evaluative and factual aspects; truth — or better, correctness — is context-dependent. All modes of knowing presuppose a point of view. Therefore, we should responsibly acknowledge our own viewpoints and look critically at our own and other opinions. (Levins, Gramsci)
Though repressed into “intuition,” factors such as suppositions of relevance and plausibility, selection of problems recognized as valid, concepts of “projectability” of facts and theories, and so on, play a major role in science (Einstein).
Scientific theories are “underdetermined” by facts: “Many, indeed infinitely many, different sets of hypotheses can be found from which statements describing the known facts can be deduced…” (Harré). Even more radically, the “facts” of scientific theories are not fully determined and univocal but always already conceptually elaborated (this also puts paid to Popperian falsification as an overriding criterion), and furthermore it is quite unclear how univocal are the prevailing philosophical categories used in science (Castoriadis). As a whole current of philosophers has maintained since Gassendi, theories are not true or false but good or bad instruments for research. Reality is in principle prior to human thought, yet it is co-created by human understanding, in a never-ending feedback.

Thesis 8: THE CENTRAL VALUE CRITERION OF LIFE ENHANCEMENT

The huge limitation that defines capitalist technoscience, as institution and ideology, is that science is life-blind. In Tolstoy’s words, “science is meaningless because it does not answer >what shall we do and how shall we live<” (cited by Weber; Nietzsche said similar things). The horizons of such a science have been indifferent to destruction of people and the planet, and its results increasingly deadly.
“Scientific management” comported centrally the progressive alienation of the process of production from the worker, and “progressed” into the alienation of brainwashed consumers as well as all those engaged in the specialized and esoteric knowledge of new clerisies.  As a hierarchical institution devoted to manipulation, such technoscience was easily usable for “human resources” too: the Nazi doctors’ genocidal experiments were only an extremely overt  and acute form of such Herrschaftswissen (Müller-Hill and Leiss).

Thesis 9:  TWO SCIENCES: DOMINATION VS. CRITIQUE

In sum, I propose that our best strategy is to differentiate the institutionalized horizons of science-as-is fully from those of a potentially humanized science-as-wisdom, which would count its dead as precisely as the US armed forces do. I shall call the historically firstborn, good science “Science 1” (S1) and the present one, whose results are powerful but mixed and seem to be increasingly steeped in the blood and misery of millions of people, “Science 2” (S2). Aquinas would have called them sapientia vs. scientia.
These are ideal types only, intermixed in any actual effort in most varied proportions: also, the beginnings of S2 are in S1, and it retains certain of its liberatory birthmarks — centrally, the method of hypothesis plus verification. Nonetheless,  the fixation on domination and the consubstantial occultation of the knowing subject in S2 render it too dangerous. In Marcuse’s summary, the “method and concepts” of S2 have projected and promoted a universe in which the domination of nature was indissolubly intertwined with the domination of a ruling class over the majority of people.
To the contrary (in S1), “sever[ing] this fatal link would also affect the very structure of science…. Its hypotheses, without losing their rational character, would develop in an essentially different experimental context (that of a pacified world); consequently, science would arrive at essentially different concepts of nature and establish essentially different facts.” (One-Dimensional) In other words, it would be a critical and self-critical science.

Thesis 10: TWO SCIENCES: CONFLICT VS. COMMONALTY

The adversarial methodology of S2 is opposed to the “communal” nature of S1, to the truths and the horizon all of its practitioners hold in common, as any true cognition does. Cognition or understanding is necessarily non-exclusive, shareable outside a conflictual stance and incompatible with a zero-sum game. True, in every economy of efforts priorities have to be determined, and in that sense a confrontation between opposed interests will be with us forever. But this is perverted when conflictuality or adversariness, the antagonistic and warlike subspecies of confrontation or opposition, is posited as the central methodology. To “have” an idea, an approach or technique, a software or any other byte of knowledge, means others can share it without my losing it, indeed I can thereby gain enrichment, stimulus, perhaps even fame. Cognition is communist: it resists being fenced in like a piece of land or locked away in a safe like a financial share.

C/ FURTHER

Thesis 11: BODIES AND FREEDOM

Finally, the opposition S1-S2 is strangely, richly, and intimately interfused with the question of bodily freedom for one and for all, for our bodies personal and bodies politic. This would also deal with what was in religion called soul, with all its values and dead-ends, but subsumed, as in East Asia (cf. the Japanese kokoro), under the premise that behaviour and cognition are whole-body processes.  This inquiry could be called “somatics,” and deal with a cluster of problems centering upon humanity’s vulnerable personal and collective bodies. Feminists and gay movements have foregrounded some of them (sex/gender orientation, birth/ abortion). However, a full discussion of — for example — drugging and prostitution remains to be done, for like Marx’s relation of worker to capitalist production each of these involves “the whole of human servitude” (“Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts”; cf. some hints in Suvin, “On Cognition as Art and Politics,” in Defined by a Hollow). It should advance from Marx, Nietzsche, Bakhtin, and Merleau-Ponty to Barthes and beyond, and could properly branch into all other  mega-lesions of personal integrity, from war and other overt violence to hunger and alienation.
In the turbocapitalist age the body is being diverted from satisfaction of needs and enjoyment of glories to a double use. For the powerful and exploiters, it becomes a strategy for  accumulation (Haraway): accumulation of capital, as a central model for possessions and domination (theoretically  internalised even by Bourdieu). For the powerless and exploited — in war, toil, hunger, torture, and similar lesions or indignities — it becomes a site of pain (Scarry). For both, the body is the final perversely marketable commod­ity in horrible and obscene lives, also in horror and pornographic violence TV, movies, comics, novels. Inevitably, it becomes a supreme fetish. Somatics will become more and more neuralgic, for breathless capitalism is profoundly inimical to personal sovereignty and is working full out at new supertechnological means of ruthless somatic manipulation — biogenetics (in use) and nanophysics (coming fast). Yet it is humanity’s final “commons.”
Democritus’s atoms fell in a straight line from above to below; they come from a place of power not subject to human will, of whimsical Gods or blind Nature, and may break in upon any of us (Derrida). To this picture Marx preferred in his dissertation Epicurus, who scoffed at the anthropomorphic idea that in the infinite there is an up and down: the fixed destination of  Destiny may be disturbed and deviated by some action. In Lucrece’s great poem De natura rerum (On the Nature of the Universe) the atoms swerve and break the chains of Fate; this sanctions “the free will of people living in the world /…By which we move wherever pleasure leads each of us” (II: 254-58). It opens a space for choice, for Being born from Non-Being, for a surplus of Being.

AUSKLANG

Much more needs to be gone into. What immediately comes to mind is Labour/Production/Producers; Capital (now Financial); Sex/Gender (Women);  Nature (Ecology).
Whether I get to it depends on inner factors and outer response.

                                                                                                                               Lucca 2012-15

Note

*/ I have grown increasingly dubious of the notion of respublica litterarum: not as an ideal but as a practical possibility today. Who reads footnotes and follows leads from bibliographies any more under turbocapitalism, which takes good care intellectuals should not have time for radical questioning?
Therefore I have avoided footnotes.  Hardy souls can get a bibliography at dsuvin@gmail.com.

Posted in 3. POLITICAL EPISTEMOLOGY | Leave a comment

WHERE ARE WE: AND A RADICAL WAY OUT

Darko Suvin                                                                          2nd version 2-2-’15      11pp.,  5,930 w.

–For Stan Robinson, in poor return–

Howbeit doubtless, Master More (to speak truly as my mind gives me) wheresoever possessions be private, where money bears all the stroke [has all the influence], it is hard and almost impossible that there the weal public may justly be governed, and prosperously flourish. Unless you think thus: that justice is there executed, where all things come into the hands of evil men; or that prosperity there flourishes, where all is divided among a few; …and the residue live miserably, wretchedly, and beggarly.
Thomas More, Utopia Book I, orig. 1516

 Le choix que je suis [the choice that is me]
Jean-Paul Sartre, L’Être et le néant, 1943

0. Approach

What happened around and to me in the last 20 years or so propelled me towards two quasi-disciplinary perspectives, epistemological and political. I adopt the definition of epistemology as the theory of cognition (where psychology should meet philosophy) dealing with the possibilities and limits of human knowledge, the analysis of conceptual and other cognitive systems – including metaphors and figurations – and in particular the critique of language and other sign-systems, pioneered by the historical semantics of Raymond Williams and the work of modern semioticians. As to politics, I am comfortable with the Hellenic approach to it as “affairs of the community,” but in today’s global dynamics I would update this  by insights into the class structure of people’s life together by a  few masters such as Marx, Brecht, Benjamin, Bloch, and Jameson, from whom I took whatever I could and left aside what I could not.

Max Weber said that history teaches us the true meaning of what we have willed. And history is constituted by each of us but then also by all of us, and furthermore by forces institutionalized and solidified by some people or classes of people among us which operate in ways both very evident and very opaque. What is evident is their results: bombings, murders, hunger, unhappiness, the exponentially rising moral and material pollution. History permeates and constitutes us, it is the atheist equivalent of gods and metamorphosis of Destiny, it is a teacher of life and a delusive siren, past and present in feedback eating at future, a promise and a threat. It is not to be circumvented. But if its results at some point become unbearable, one stops and opposes, saying  “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.” There the effort to comprehend, as at least a first step towards doing something, inscribes itself. So: where are we? And how are we to find a way out?

  1. We Are within Catastrophic Capitalism

The present deep and unresolved economic crisis has only brought to the surface some permanent trends of capitalism, largely occulted in the foregoing decades. I shall suggest what I see as the mortal sins of capitalism.

 1.1. The Capitalist Societal Formation Makes for Mass Collective Death

This mode of production and way of life is always centrally shaped by the irreconcilable conflict between the capitalist urge for profits and the working people’s need for a humanly decent life. The urge was somewhat curbed by the fear of revolt after the Russian Revolution and the Great Depression, which led to a modest but real “security floor” conceded to the middle and working classes, largely at the expense of the global “South” and of the natural environment. With the waning of any such fears, as of the mid-1970s capitalist corporations engaged in a large-scale offensive to depress wages per unit of production and boost profits from huge to monstrous. Using the slogans of free trade and globalization, the rich organized bundles of radical interventions by major States and the roof organizations of international capitalism to make themselves vastly richer, while multiplying the poor in their nations, eviscerating the middle class prosperity based on stable employment, and upping the income gap between rich and poor countries from 10:1 to 90:1.  A large class of chronically poor was created, politically neutralized by creating fear of even poorer immigrants. The asset bubbles bursting venomously from 2008 on  are the consequence of this class warfare from above (see Buffett in Stein, Farrell): masses of people in the North had not only to work much more and exhaust their savings but also to borrow against their homes and other investments – the total 2008 debt in the US has been estimated at $48 trillion. (Murphy, Turner, Bourdieu et al., Suvin “Immigration,” Magnus)

Facing the few thousand billionaires, possibly nearly 3,000 million struggle today to survive, failing fast, while more than half of them live in the most abject poverty, more or less quickly dying of hunger and attendant diseases (Pogge); the hundred million dead and several hundred million other casualties of warfare in the 20th Century seem puny in comparison (though their terror and suffering is not). It has been calculated that a 1% increase in US unemployment correlates with 37,000 deaths (650 of which homicides) and an increase of 4,000 inmates of mental hospitals, but the hidden psychic toll is surely greater. Economic “growth” benefits only the richest, at the expense of everybody else, especially the poor and the powerless in this generation and future ones. (Ayres, Rogers, Barnet and Cavanagh)

The purpose of capitalist economy, profit, has led to mass dying and unhappiness. For billions of people it means shorter and more painful lives, for everybody except maybe the upper 2-5% in the world disabling stress, gnawing want, and often utter despair (Hinkelammert). Technosciences could have finally made this planet habitable; when dominated and shaped by profit, they provide enormous quantities of shoddy commodities without regard to quality or duration of life. Upon this systematic and long-duration exploitation by capitalist power, aggravating factors are being added: the effect of the debt bubbles, the recent sharp increase of prices for foodstuffs in the world – the list could go on. In my work I have dealt mainly with migration and war, but I shall here speak only to the latter.

1.2. Capitalism Needs War: I define war as a coherent sequence of conflicts, involving physical combats between large organized groups of people that include the armed forces of at least one state, with the aim of political and economic control over a given territory. Other aims may be securing advantages for coming conflicts (e.g. dominion over air, sea or oil resources), the destruction of commodities and people, and evading inner class tension.  The ratio of military to civilian casualties in wars has during the 20th Century  “progressed” from 8:1 to 1:8 (eight civilians killed for each combatant), and the fighters have diversified from regular armies into paramilitary groups, police forces, mercenaries, local warlords, and purely criminal gangs. The mass casualties have been mainly people marginal to “White” patriarchal capitalism: the poor, the uppity “middle” States, the “coloured,” women. (Kaldor, Mesnard, S. George)

War is more than a Hobbesian metaphor for bourgeois human relationships. It is securely based in antagonistic competition, the “essential locomotive force” of bourgeois economy and “generally the mode in which capital secures the victory of its mode of production” (Marx, Grundrisse). Continuous warfare has never ceased under capitalism. Capitalism came about in plunder wars, war financing set up its modern bureaucracy and central national banks, and there is no evidence it could climb out of economic depressions without huge military spending, a war mega-dividend. The political fall-out is the spread of military rule that subordinates the civil society to its barbarity even in times of official peace – as seen in spades today. (P. Anderson, Amin, Pannekoek, Virilio)

Weapons commodities are since World War 2 not only the source of greatest  extra-profit but a system-pillar of capitalism. The yearly money value of the international armament trade oscillated in the last 30 years, according to the available faulty statistics, between US$20 and over 30 billion, and today it is more. The capitalist market systematically favours armaments commodities because of their uniquely high value-added price, their specially rapid rate of obsolescence and turnover, the monopoly or semi-monopoly position of their manufacturers, and the large-scale and secure financing of military research, production and massive cost overruns – all taken from public taxation of the middle classes. By the time of the First Gulf War, world spending for military purposes was nearly a trillion US$ annually or between 2 and 2.5 billion dollars daily, more than half of it attributable to the USA; and today it is way past this. This most profitable part of global trade is the strongest factor of both international violence and of colonization of life-worlds and eco-systems by commodity economy.  The tens of millions of dead in the two World Wars brought about tens of trillions of profitable investments in the huge reconstructions of destroyed homes and industries and ongoing rearmament: a million dollars or more per dead body. No capitalism without increasingly destructive weapons and wars which might still destroy the world: the marvellous technoscientific progress means that one nuclear submarine can destroy the peoples of an entire continent, yet eight new US nuclear submarines have been made since the fall of the USSR. One quarter of the public monies which are expended on weapons commodities would eradicate poverty, homelessness, and illiteracy, as well as pay for the cleanup of all our major environmental pollution… (Baran-Sweezy, Kolko, Luxemburg, Marx Kapital,  McMurtry, Suvin “Capitalism,” the Tofflers)

1.3. Some Other Capitalist Blights

There are further pressing threats, which I shall group as somatics and ecology, while recognizing that this neglects important areas, for one example the “knowledge economy”.

Somatics: I would call that a cluster of problems centring upon humanity’s vulnerable personal and collective bodies.Today, people have had their bodies (time, movement, faculties) literally stolen from them, by what Ursula Le Guin nicely called the “propertarians” and their turbocapitalist pursuit of profit (in lieu of life, liberty, and happiness) The feminist and gay movements have broached some problems (sex/gender orientation, birth/abortion, care/caress). A full discussion of both drugging and prostitution is still to be done, for like Marx’s relation of worker to exploited production each of these involves “the whole of human servitude” (“Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts”). Probably all I would want to speak about, from war and other overt violence to hunger and alienation, these mega-lesions of personal integrity, could be included here.

Ecology: When our environment is poisoned, we die – of cancer, lung diseases, heart overload, and a thousand other preventable ills. It is being poisoned by capitalist industry and squandering, which has by now plundered the carbohydrate  fossil fuels to proximate extinction, caused global warming (with consequences that might include tens of millions of “climate refugees” from low-lying areas such as Bangladesh and trillions in expenses to refurbish the world’s ports), and on and on. Mammalian life on this planet itself is now at risk: as Wells and Sartre foresaw, crabs and ants — and, no doubt, cockroaches — may inherit the Earth.

The nonsensical capitalist dogma of infinite growth, modelled on personal enrichment, collides with the elementary fact that any physical system of a finite Earth must itself also eventually become non-growing. There can and must be sustainable development in the sense of qualitative improvement but without quantitative growth beyond the point where the ecosystem can regenerate.  (Daly-Cobb, Georgescu-Roegen, Greider) Production can only be optimized by raising the productivity of its scarcest element – today, natural resources. This is possible to achieve only if the real social costs of using air, water, soil, and labour are figured in (Kapp), while unproductive activities extraneous to use-values – most marketing and PR, useless innovations, artificial obsolescence, unceasing turnover of fashion trends – are rigorously taxed. Crucially, the total consumption of energy must be strongly, if reasonably, curbed.  This means fighting both population growth in the South and per capita consumption in the richer countries and classes of the North. The only fair and efficient way to curb population growth is, of course, making the poor richer – and emancipating women.

Since a given amount of low entropy can be used by us only once, the economic process is entropic. Thus the importance of purpose, what something is done for, becomes overwhelming. Aristotle’s final cause and the old Roman query cui bono? (in whose interest?) are to be rehabilitated as against scientism’s narrow concentration on the efficient cause, how to manipulate matter. The economic process always generates irrevocable waste or pollution and forecloses some future options – as fuel after it has been burned. Since, however, labour and knowledge in the economic process allow life and all of its possibilities, we must become careful stewards, on constant lookout for minimizing entropy (Suvin “Introductory”). “The only possible freedom is that… the associated producers rationally regulate their metabolism with nature by spending the minimum of forces and in a way most conformable to human nature.” (Kapital III)

1.4. In sum: The ills of capitalism were for the last 40 years mainly hidden in slums of the North and the far-off South of the world. True, poets and thinkers whom existence had brought into contact with the exploited masses have always warned us, in the words of Aimé Césaire, that this is a decaying civilization which cannot cope either with the metropolitan or with the colonial dispossessed and exploited (the proletariat). These ills and dangers are now growing all-pervasive: nobody – not the middle class, already reduced to utter dependency, not the youth, reduced to precarious begging for crumbs, not even middle management and the great majority of scientists – will be spared. Capitalism has greatly furthered the destruction of all qualities, the capillary barbarization and alienation of all areas of daily life, including science and the arts; and quantitatively, a direct and indirect reduction of life-span or outright killing of millions through immiseration and wars (and attendant evitable illnesses). On the horizon are further dirty wars, with unchecked use of uranium and phosphorus weapons, possibly nuclear ones too, and a world war against China is not excluded. Quite certainly, an ecological collapse is a matter of a few decades, its symptoms are already present. These ills are not only horrendous, worse than anything even degenerate pseudo-communist loci brought about, but also systemic: they flow out of the central and all-consuming urge of capitalism for vampiric maximization of profit and cannot be reformed.

  1. A Radical Break Is Necessary : Marx and Beyond

 2.1. Deconstruct and Reconstruct Karlchen

In my hypothesis we have to reread Marx. He held that “Truth includes not only the result but also the way…. [T]he true inquiry is the unfolded truth, whose scattered members are gathered up in the result.”  (“Prussian Censorship”) Fruition encompasses also the – always provisional – fruits. Thus, his most useful insights today may be divided into propositions and methods.

I take it that some of Marx’s fundamental propositions, often doubted in the Welfare State interval of the metropolitan North but today vindicated, are:

–that human societies are divided into classes based on a relationship towards and in production of life and goods, of which the two antagonistic poles are those who buy and exploit labour power (capitalists) and those who sell it (let us call them again proletarians, instead of confining this term to industrial workers); and that the “absolute general law of capitalist accumulation [is]: accumulation of wealth is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality” (Kapital);

–that the unceasing alienation of creative power in capitalism subjects proletarians to impoverishment. In the last generation or so the world proletariat has almost doubled, working under conditions  of ever grosser exploitation and increasingly of  political oppression (Harvey), so that Marx’s thesis of the absolute immiseration of the proletariat as compared to 500 or 200 years ago has turned out to be correct for 90% or more of the working people in the world; and there is no doubt of the huge relative immisera­tion in comparison to the dominant classes and nations.

–that this immiseration, and the attendant hollowing out of all qualitative social functions and values, means that for all its technological advances capitalism as a social formation leads to a radical historical change, beneficent (as Marx mainly believed) or maleficent, leading to civilizational collapse.

Of methods, I shall single out: the radical critique and the social shaping of all understanding. Marx’s stance of critique indicates the limits of a practice (Balibar), it is the equivalent in epistemology to Epicure’s systematic deviation of atoms from universal straight paths. Therefore it is also a radical and permanent labour of reassessment, of self-critique. What I call “social shaping” means that practical relationships between active agents enable and shape all understanding, refusing the division between looking subject and looked‑at object.  If there is a human “essence”, it consists of a full set of people’s social relationships. Thus no theory or method can be properly understood without understanding the practice of social groups to which it, in however roundabout ways, corresponds.

In sum: As opposed to production of exchange-values for profit, a vampiric dispossession of labour and its vitality, the production of use-values is a beneficent metamorphosis of life into more life. Humanized production or creativity replaces death with life: the central Marxian argument is as “simple” as this.

What then remains of Marx? Many things: the notion of social  relations  and modes of  production; the notion of classes; the notion  of  unquenchable  contradiction  based on  capital’s  expropriation  of labour; the notion of the necessity of a radical break between  human relationships  in class society and those in a new society  rid  of irreconcilably  antagonistic classes, necessary  for the naked survival of our species & planet. Centrally: the realiza­tion that the figure of Destiny is in capitalism Political Econo­my. Fortune is  swallowed into the Stock-market, Necessity rides on the profit‑bringing and profit‑enforcing bombers and missiles. Hell is the sweatshops of China and Montreal, the cubicles of solitary rooms.

2.2. The Commons and Communism

However, it has been clear for almost half a century to everybody truly on the Left (excluding its main political parties) that we need to graft upon Marx new branches after the failure of ”State socialism.” Marx himself was unable to emerge fully into his own novelty, leaving us to recognize where it was that he was going. Further, much of importance has changed since Marx‘s insights. I cannot provide anything like a full list, but to begin with: there are no guarantees that this break will happen; there is no sanctified history – much less nature or epistemology – in which a Saviour (e.g. the  proletariat) will appear to do the above. All depends on historical contingencies and the will-cum-intelligence to use given power relations as leverage. The negative experiences of degeneration after Lenin’s, Tito’s or Mao’s revolutions, as well as their initial huge achievements, shall be present in my proposals. I also accept the positive side of “western”  Marxism, its disjunction of long-term theory from politics legitimating a State.

We have now to focus on humanity’s “commons”. They are, first and foremost, the right to survive by minimizing unnecessary lesion of our bodies, unnecessary rise of entropy and destruction of our life-world, and unnecessary barriers to free displacement and learning on this globe. Now capitalism jettisons humanity in all its senses: civilized relations, interests of people, even their bodies. Our immiseration is not simply economical, it seamlessly extends from wars through hunger and evitable illnesses to political disempowerment in relation to power and metaphysical disempowerment in relation to the universe.  Thus, our answers have to be a defence of commons against enclosures, always a source of pauperization. They could reassign meaning to “communism” as radical humanism, on condition that communism return to its political  roots  as radically self-managing democracy. Communism is what keeps the commons for the people.

When Lenin resuscitated the term of Marx and Thomas More as name for his party amid the most murderous First World War, he did so as a gesture of mental hygiene, to wash off the dirt accumulated on the once useful name of a social democracy that had abetted and aided that war. Many glories were associated with his reborn term during the struggle against war, exploitation, and especially against fascism. Yet also horrors: the ossifications of a hierarchic Party in power which didn’t know how to interact with a polycentric civil society, the blood and cruelty of Stalinism, and finally the betrayal of a rising new class of exploiters. As of somewhere in the 1950s, communism ceased to be admissible to polite society for the “western” Left, that much preferred the unclear term of socialism – which anyway led to fewer reprisals. I know because I participated in that. But after the 1990s there is no Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or its dwarfish satellites, to differentiate oneself from, and the socialist politicians are indistinguishable from the anti-socialist ones. And our plight is as bad as in the First World War. Re-enter the spectre of communism (Badiou).

How can we begin making sense of the term Communism? First of all, by unpacking it. The chthonic roots of communism are, no doubt, in the cry of suffering and of indignation that accompanies class society as its dark twin, in the deepest desires for the reversal and subversion of such an “inverted world” of injustice. In that sense it is as immortal as that society; when repressed, it flows as a subterranean Karst river. However, the plant itself begins to appear and be analyzable only when the cry is organized.  Articulated communism can be a locus, an orientation for a movement, and a horizon. Each of these somehow implies and needs the other two: a consubstantial trinity, each of whose members may yet be approached and used independently for some purposes.

Communism as horizon is the future Earthly Paradise of a classless society, a society where oppositions will not be dealt with antagonistically, through murder and hunger: not by pistol but by pencil, as Brecht says in the nearest approximation to it he allowed himself to pen, the Prologue to the Caucasian Chalk Circle. As all horizons, it is orienting, often inspiring, and always unattainable, for it moves with the viewer and pursuer oriented toward it. As long as there is such a pursuer, the horizon cannot be extinguished.

Communism as locus is any real society proposing to be largely or even asymptotically utopian or non-antagonistic (harmonious, as the Chinese “Communist” Party hypocrites today say) – that is, radically reducing exploitation and ignorance, developing equality of rights and opportunities or justice for all. It could be, as all classical socialists and communists believed, a first absolutely necessary step towards a disalienated  life of people in a community. However, this holds IF (and only if) it, a/ was not stifled by poverty and aggression, and b/ did not pretend to be the oxymoron of a finally reached horizon, an illusion that also necessarily grows into a religion and a lie. This locus existed in partial and always endangered ways in the first years after the Soviet, the Yugoslav, the Chinese, and probably the Vietnamese Revolutions; I believe it still exists, in most threatened and stifled ways, in Cuba. Yet as a rule it soon became a façade for class struggles between a new oligarchy developing inside the elite Party bureaucracy, and the working people: in the USSR after ca. 10 years, Yugoslavia and China ca. 15 years. Since the imperfect attempts of Trotsky and Mao to “fire on the headquarters” failed, the communist locus was finally destroyed by a combination of outside capitalist pressure and inner hollowing out or corruption.

Today, we still might have (if we keep the faith) the orientation, a vector leading from our quite dystopian and catastrophic locus of capitalist barbarism towards the utopian horizon. Orientation means, etymologically, turning toward the Orient of the rising Sun, the source of light and warmth, indeed of all life. This orientation is today our minimum requirement, without which all talk of communism should cease. But for a proper collective orientation, that is, a movement with this orientation, we need a cultural revolution for the Einsteinian, cybernetic, electronic age. Anarchism, noble as it is in many ways in people like Kropotkin, and with which we should practice fraternal solidarity in its radical refusal of any oppression, will get us nowhere: as we have seen in these last dozen years from Seattle and Genova on.

This orientation means the self-preservation of humanity and its ecology, to be reached through radical self-determination on all levels, by means of peace and disalienated labour. To be or not to be, that is the question. But that depends on a fusion of  communism and radical democracy.

2.3. Democracy

Allow me then, reaching for the end, to minimally unpack this term too, to which almost universal lip-service is today paid. The crucial question seems to me how is democracy institutionalized, that is, permitted to operate. The genus democracy, “rule by the people,” has three main species: representative democracy, associational democracy, and direct democracy.

Representative democracy is the species favoured by the bourgeoisie – when it does not prefer absolutism or direct dictatorship – and therefore the most frequent one. In it, people are (or the people is) supposed to rule through representatives, typically elected within territorial districts. It allows alternative teams for and variants of  capitalist exploitation of labour to spell each other without radical change, yet with some input from people on secondary but sometimes important modalities. The change of teams administering the State allows for some welcome relief in “kicking the rascals out.” However, when it allows for major private financing of electoral campaigns in a two-party system, capitalist interests will practically own the parliament.

Associational democracy is less present in the news but at least as important. In it various kinds of collective organizations – for ex. labour unions, co-operatives or business associations – directly engage in aspects of political decision-making: through involvement in government commissions, through various “corporatist” forms, through organizational representation on regulatory agencies, etc. But its contribution to democracy in the interest of (the) people depends on the internal democracy of the associations themselves.

In direct democracy, citizens are directly involved in the activities of political governing. One of its forms is a plebiscite or referendum, where citizens vote on various proposed laws or policies, and which has become a favourite tool for supplementing a failing representative or parliamentary democracy. But more important is significant popular empowerment when real decision-making authority and resources are given to popular councils of various sorts.

This last form is the revolutionary democratic idea of Councils, common or “organic” to all popular uprisings from time immemorial to the Soviets of Trotsky and Lenin – sadly emasculated after ca. 1921 – and on to Yugoslav self-management from 1941 on (where I met it), Hungary in 1956 or Argentina in the 1990s. Classically, it includes a binding mandate and the possibility of recall upon petition by a reasonable fraction of electors, thus diminishing considerably chances that the powerful and rich could corrupt Council members away from wishes of people.

To favour both associational and direct democracy as against a representative democracy that is the watchdog of capitalism – this is the first lesson that could be learned from the best tradition of the best moments of popular and democratic movements in the last 150 years. Self-management is even today our furthest horizon. And it should be built up internationally, to encompass planning from below in feedback with central decisions (including democratic control of large financial transactions), suggested in this little scheme:

A/ Plan B/ Market
1/ From Lower Classes Upward COMMUNISM (Marxian) EARLY CAPITALISM
2/ From Upper Classes Downward WELFARE/WARFARE STATE C19 CAPITALISM

2.4.Possible Allies

Who are prospective allies on the road to such a Council democracy? Potentially, all working people, plebeians or proletarians. But since they are largely brainwashed by material and moral misery, I would begin by asking first for allies in de-alienating them. Here too there could be many, it is a matter of understanding who they are and then building rainbows with them. Alas, science as an institution has been largely corrupted by Positivism, money, and hierarchical institutionalisation – though a precious few must be listened to. Out of my experience, I shall start by naming the arts of image and word, insofar as they are rooted in artisanal self-direction and therefore more difficult to corrupt. They are traditionally from bottom up, often open‑ended, often not only a merited pleasure and rest but also cognitive. I have written much on this and must ask the interested reader to look it up (in the books To Brecht, Lessons, Defined, Darko Suvin, and many essays, such as those on Brecht). But I shall briefly indicate the horizon by the example of narrative and poetry. They always imply a reader standing for a collective class audience, ideally his whole community (this is foregrounded in plays). In proportion to her creativity, the writer is one who doubts the reigning commonplace opinions, who swerves from them by infringing old usages and meanings and, implicitly or explicitly creating new ones. Poetic creation sutures conceptual thought to justification from recalled immediate sensual, bodily experiences and stances.

To give one pregnant example, Rimbaud was led to exasperation at having to reconcile his deep hatred of the bourgeoisie and existing society with the irrefragable fact of having to breathe and experience within it:

….industrialists, rulers, senates:
Die quick! Power, justice, history: down with you!
This is owed to us. Blood! Blood! Golden flame!
All to war, to vengeance, to terror…. Enough!

             …I’m there, I’m still there. (“Qu’est-ce pour nous…,” 113; see Rancière 92-93)

The obverse of this dead end – between “enough” and “I’m still there” – is Thomas More’s great coinage of utopia: the radically different good place which is in our sensual experience not here, but must be understood as our indispensable orientation – today, on pain of extinction. What is not here, Ernst Bloch’s Yet Unknown, is almost always first adumbrated in fiction, most economically in verse. From many constituents of the good place, I shall here focus on freedom – Wordsworth’s “Dear Liberty” (Prelude l. 3) which translates the French revolutionary term of liberté chérie – that then enables security, creativity, order, and so on. The strategic insight here is that the method of great modern arts is freedom as possibility of things being otherwise.

Works Mentioned

Amin, Samir. Capitalism in the Age of Globalization. London: Zed Books, 1997.

Anderson, Perry. Lineages of the Absolutist State. London: Verso, 1979.

Ayres, R[obert] U. Limits to the Growth Paradigm. Centre for the Management of Environmental Resources, Working Paper 96/18/EPS. [Amsterdam]: Elsevier Science, 1996.

Badiou, Alain. L’Hypothèse communiste. S.l.: Lignes, 2009.

—. Le Siècle. Paris: Seuil, 2005.

Balibar, Etienne. La philosophie de Marx. Paris: La Découverte, 1993.

Baran, Paul, and Paul Sweezy. Monopoly Capital. New York: Monthly R P,  1966.

Barnet, Richard, and John Cavanagh. Global Dreams: Imperial Corporations and the New World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Bourdieu, Pierre, et al.  The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society. Transl. P.P. Ferguson. Cambridge: Polity P, 1999 (La Misère du monde, Seuil 1993).

Cohen,  Joshua, and Joel Rogers, Associations and Democracy, London, 1995.

Custers, Peter. Questioning Globalized Militarism: Nuclear and Military Production and Critical Economy. New Delhi: Tulika P, and London, Merlin P, 2007.

Daly, Herman E. Beyond Growth. Boston: Beacon P, 1996.

—. Steady-State Economics. 2nd edn. Washington DC/ Covelo: Island P, 1991.

—, and John B. Cobb, Jr. For the Common Good. rev. edn. Boston: Beacon P, 1994.

—, and Kenneth Townsend. Valuing the Earth: Economics, Ecology, Ethics. Cambridge MA: MIT P, 1993.

Farrell, Paul B.Reagan Began Class War in 1981, Buffett Declared in 2006.” MarketWatch. Nov. 1, 2011, accessed through /beyondmoney.net/tag/class-war/

[George, Susan.] The Lugano Report. London: Pluto P, 1999.

Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas. The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. New York: toExcel, 1999.

Greider, William. One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Harvey, David. Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

—. The Limits to Capital. London & New York: Verso, 1999.

Hinkelammert. Franz J. The Ideological Weapons of Death: A Theological Critique of Capitalism. Maryknoll NY: Orbis, 1986 (Las armas ideológicas de la muerte. San José CR: Dep.to Ecuménico de Investigaciones, nd ed.n rev. 1981).

Hobsbawm, E.R. Revolutionaries. London: Little, Brown, 2007.

Kaldor, Mary. New and Old Wars. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999.

Kapp, Karl W. The Social Costs of Private Enterprise. Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1950  (Soziale Kosten der Marktwirtschaft. Frankfurt: Fischer,  1979).

Kolko, Gabriel. Century of War. New York: New P, 1994.

Luxemburg, Rosa. The Accumulation of Capital. Transl. A. Schwarzschild. New York: Modern Reader, 1968.

Magnus, George. “Important to Curb Destructive Power of Deleveraging. “ Financial Times Sept. 30, 2008.

Marx, Karl. “Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction”, in The Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society. Eds. and transl. L.D. Easton and K.H. Guddat. Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1967, 67-92.

—. “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844),” in Writings, see “Comments” above, 283‑337 [ “Prussian Censorship”].

—. Grundrisse. Transl. M. Nicolaus. London & New York: Penguin-Vintage, 1974.

—. Das Kapital, Vols. I and III. MEW Bd. 23 and 25. Berlin: Dietz V., 1993 and 1979.

—. “Speech at the Anniversary of the People’s Paper,”  in The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. R.C. Tucker. New York: Norton, 427-28.

—, and Friedrich Engels. Werke. [as MEW]. Vol. 1. Berlin: Dietz V., 1962ff. .

McMurtry, John. The Cancer Stage of Capitalism. London: Pluto P, 1999.

Mesnard y Mendez, Pierre.  “Capitalism Means/ Needs War.” Socialism & Democracy 16.2 (2002): 65-92, also on http://www.sdonline.org.

Murphy, R. Taggart. “Bubblenomics.”  New Left R. no. 57 (2009): 149-60.

Pannekoek, Anton. Workers’ Councils. Oakland & Edinburgh: AK P, 2003.

Pogge, Thomas. “Reframing Economic Security and Justice,” in D. Held  and A. McGrew eds., Globalization Theory, Cambridge: Polity P, 2007, 207-24.

Rancière, Jacques. “Transports de la liberté,” in idem ed. La politique des poètes. Paris : Michel, 1992, 87-130.

Rimbaud, Arthur. Oeuvres complètes. Éd. L. Forrestier. Paris: Laffont, 1992.

Rogers, Paul. Losing Control: Global Security in the Twenty-first Century. 2nd edn., London: Pluto P, 2002.

Stein, Ben. „In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class Is Winning” [Interview with W. Buffett].  www. nytimes.com/2006/11/26/business/yourmoney/26every.html?_r=0

Suvin, Darko. “Capitalism Means/ Needs War,” in his In Leviathan’s Belly: Essays for a Counter-Revolutionary Time. Baltimore MD: Wildside P for Borgo P, 2012, 93-113 (“Kapitalizam znači/treba rat,” u Gdje smo? Kuda idemo?: Za političku epistemologiju spasa. Zagreb: Hrvatsko Filozofsko društvo, 2006, 115-45; Kje smo? Kam gremo? Za politično ekonomijo odrešitve. Ljubljana: Založba Sophia, 2010).

—. Darko Suvin: A Life in Letters. Ed. Ph.E. Wegner. Vashon Island WA 98070: Paradoxa, 2011.

—. Defined by a Hollow: Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction, and Political Epistemology. Oxford: P. Lang, 2010.

—.  “Immigration in Europe Today: Apartheid or Civil Cohabitation?” Critical Quarterly  50. 1-2 (2008): 206-33.

—. “Introductory Pointers toward an Economics  of  Physical and Political Negentropy,” in his In Leviathan’s Belly: Essays for a Counter-Revolutionary Time. Baltimore MD: Wildside P for Borgo P, 2012, 161-69 (also as e-book).

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—. To Brecht and Beyond: Soundings in Modern Dramaturgy. Brighton: Harvester P, and Totowa NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1984.

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Posted in 3. POLITICAL EPISTEMOLOGY | Leave a comment

ON THE HORIZONS OF EPISTEMOLOGY AND SCIENCE (2009)

Darko Suvin                                                                                                               14,360 WORDS

–To Gene Gendlin—

One basis for life, and another for science is in itself a lie.
Karl Marx (1844)

… Because the lust for profit of the ruling class sought satisfaction through technology, it betrayed humanity and turned the bridal bed into a bloodbath. The mastery of nature, so the imperialists teach, is the purpose of all technology. But who would trust a cane wielder who proclaimed the mastery of children by adults to be the purpose of education? Is not education above all the indispensable ordering of the relationship between generations, and therefore mastery, if we are to use this term, of that relationship and not of children? And likewise technology is not the mastery of nature but of the relation between nature and humanity.                                                                                                         Walter Benjamin (1928)

 1.Central Orientation Points for Epistemology1/

I wish first to speak of how I ought to speak, and only then to speak.
Agathon, in Plato’s Symposium (C4 BCE)

 1.1. Against the Unique Truth (Monoalethism)

Ein Führer, ein Volk, ein Reich! (One Leader, One People, One Empire)
Powerful Nazi slogan

Towards the end of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant raises three vital questions for human reason: How can I know? What shall I do? What may I hope? The sequence of the questions is very interesting: first comes what interests the philosopher or critical intellectual in general, which would be fair enough for his purposes except that he pretends they are universal, and only second the practical applications of properly gained knowledge. The horizons of hope come last (while faith and love, the other components of the classical Christian triad of virtuous values, are nowhere to be found).2/ To the contrary, there are good arguments that for most less specialized people as well as for all collectives (groups, classes, societies) first come the horizons determining why bother to think and do something, while the epistemological question of how does one, or how do we, know what (we think) we know is subordinated not only to them but also to practical action with which it is in continuous feedback, and thus on the whole would come last. Nonetheless, for orientation in periods of great confusion and/or for limited purposes, epistemology remains important, and will in this essay (which partakes of both) be my beginning, though I trust not my end, since I want to go on into science as politics.

I am not aware of a systematic basis for epistemology (gnoseology, theory of knowledge in the wider sense) we could today use, but it seems possible to glean some central orientation points for it. I postulate that our interpretations of what is knowledge or not, a proper or improper one, is largely shaped by the “framework of commitments” we bring to them. I take this term and my subsequent initial discussion mainly from Elgin, who summarizes one widespread kind of agreement by formulating what I would call a strategic “soft” skepticism, which still allows action and value-horizons:

Philosophy once aspired to set all knowledge on a firm foundation. Genuine knowledge claims were to be derived from indubitable truths by means of infallible rules. The terms that make up such truths were held to denote the individuals and kinds that constitute reality, and the rules for combining them… were thought to reflect the real order of things. — This philosophical enterprise has foundered. Indubitable truths and infallible rules are not to be had. (183)

Instead, thinking always begins with working approximations based on “our best presystematic judgments on the matter at hand” (ibid.) or by “the general fundaments of our orientation in the world” (Weber 323). As we advance toward a larger whole of understanding, we often discover they are untenable or insufficient, and at any rate have to be both tenable and modifiable to accommodate breadth and coherence. As Mark Martial said about a book of his verse, some are good, some bad, some so-so–there is no other ensemble to be had.

Some scientists (usually not strong on theory) like to discourse on evidence, in the sense of proof. However important this may be, what counts as evidence is “theory-laden,” determined by “our conception of the domain and… our goals in systematizing it…” (Elgin 184-85).3/  The New York Times claims it brings “All the news that’s fit to print”: discounting the hyped “all”  and the bad grammar, who determines how what is fit? There may be some internal rules wedded to novelty (dog biting man is not news, but man biting dog is), but even novelty as criterion is an invention of fast-moving times with worldwide commerce and industrial production, not to mention the capitalist scramble for profitable niches. Alternative presuppositions and goals would always find alternative ways of organizing the domain of what is worth knowing–say, all the news of interest to anti-capitalists (which would, e.g., disbar calling the mass killing of civilians “collateral damage,” or the present Iraqi and Afghan regimes “democratic”). Choices between these alternatives are, in all interesting cases, not arbitrary but of a piece with our interests and goals, which steer the categories that cut up our world (cf. Weber 323-25). In a dispute, they depend on the available background of agreement as to which category is relevant to judge an event. Of course, if we are loyal to the enterprise of understanding or cognition, we shall often fine-tune these, and sometimes modify them drastically: all hypotheses are fallible. Nor is experiencing something a magic wand: any police constable or UFO reports’ investigator will tell you that  our beliefs and expectations largely steer that too.

              The horizon I am sketching is in a subsequent book by Goodman and Elgin characterized as “reject[ing] both absolutism and nihilism, both unique truth and the indistinguishability of truth from falsity” (3). The difficulty is that, when we construct however open-ended a system of interpretations, we employ–knowingly or not–multiple standards of rightness beyond consistency (appropriateness or relevance, accuracy, scope, entrenchment in previous discourse–this is discussed by them at length in 11-23), and the standards may conflict with each other and/or with our practical goals. Adjudication between them, giving the various factors different weightings etc., will often lead to a solution, but it remains that, as a rule, “A number of independently acceptable systems can be constructed, none of which has a claim to epistemological primacy” (24). A univocal world–the fixed reality out there–has been well lost, together with the Unique Final Truth (divine or asymptotically scientific) and other Onenesses of the monotheist family. This is both encapsulated and symbolized by Gödel’s theorems, which are a rigorous proof that any non-trivial formalized system of a certain richness necessarily includes undecidable propositions and that the non-contradictory nature of such a system cannot be demonstrated within its own terms. In other words, deduction can very well get to apodictically necessary (“true”) propositions, but who shall deduce the deductions or terminate the terms? A sense of panic at the loss of this clear world, at the loss of theological certitude, not only permeates dogmatists of all religious and lay kinds, but has also engendered its symmetrical obverse in the absolutist relativism, which often claims to be  authorized by (say) Kuhn or Feyerabend–who have at any rate, I would add, great liberating merits. How is a third way possible beyond this bind?

It can begin by recognizing that right and wrong persist, but that rightness can no longer be identified with correspondence to a ready-made, monotheistic Creation, but must be created by us, with skill and responsibility: “Having been ordered to shoot anyone who moved, the guard shot all his prisoners, contending they were all moving rapidly around the sun. Although true, his contention was plainly wrong, for it involved an inappropriate category of motion.” (Goodman  and Elgin 52). Thus, truth in the strict logical sense is subordinate to rightness or correctness (cf. Aronowitz vii-xi and passim), in Hellenic terms to orthotes rather than aletheia. Truth is too solidly embedded in faiths and certitudes of monotheistic allegiance, Goodman and Elgin think, while  categories as well as argument forms and other techniques within continual human cognition, are better instruments for practical use, testable for situational rightness. The rightness is also dependent on our various symbol systems. One consequence is that science loses its epistemic primacy: “[it] does not passively inform upon but actively informs a world”–as do in different ways and with different standards of rightness the arts and everyday practices of other kinds (Elgin 53). As Bruner argues, the arts are differently entrenched: they implicitly cultivate hypotheses, each set of which requires a Possible World but not the widest possible extension for applying that set in our World Zero, that is, testability in the scientists’ sense; rather, they must be recognizable as “true to conceivable experience” or verisimilar (52 and passim). Both arts and sciences finally repose on intuitions, which are however for science buried in their axioms (Aristotle and Frege agree on this) as indubitable certainties. Whether you prefer Marx’s or Balzac’s description of 19th-Century France will depend on your general or even momentary interests, but they’re in no way either incompatible or subsumed under one another. It is not the case that one is cognitive and the other is not.

Sketching an operative epistemological way can further proceed by recognizing that there are still some logical ways if not of defining truth then at least of defining untruth: “if p is false, one cannot know p; knowledge then requires truth. Moreover, one cannot know that p without being cognitively committed to p; knowledge also requires belief or acceptance.” (Goodman and Elgin 136) As Orwell might have put it, all opinions are constructed and relatively wrong or limited, but some are more wrong than others. This holds first of all for those whom I shall call monoalethist (from aletheia, truth): all those which–from monotheists through Laplace’s scientific determinism4/ to lay dogmatists such as the Fascists, Stalinists, and believers in the Invisible Hand of the Market–hold they have the Absolute Truth, including Post-Modernists who believe relativism is absolute. Only belief in the absolute right—Haraway’s “God-trick” (“Situated” 589)–is absolutely wrong.

William Blake’s poetic Jehovah put this monomania perhaps best:

Let each choose one habitation,
One command, one joy, one desire,
One curse, one weight, one measure,
One King, one God, one Law.
(The Book of Urizen, ll. 79, 81-84)

Nonetheless, even Goodman and Elgin cannot quite manage without the term truth. They offer a strong argument against using as a main instrument of evaluation “truth” in the strict logico-theological sense, inside a closed circle of verbal statements, and in favour of using rightness (cf. the long discussion 150ff.), but I wish to continue using the term truth by redefining it to include rightness. What is in that sense, say, the truth of the atom bomb? Depending on the categories and interests chosen, it may (among a multitude of other possible answers) be the instantaneous liberation of a given high quantity of energy for a destructive purpose, or the proof for a given inter-atomic structure of matter, or finally the effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first answer is military, the second pertains to “objective” theoretical physics (it was “sweet physics” for Fermi and Oppenheimer, see Haberer 185-216), the third to the horizon of a not yet existing humanized science. The formal difference between them is that each succeeding answer has a larger scope: the physical one can envision the military one, but only the humanized one may envision all of them. The third answer is–beyond politics, but also because it incorporates humanist politics–formally and cognitively the richest one. In other words, scientific cognition relates not only to the epistemic aspect but also to the political and financial presuppositions of science as well as to its effects upon people–from which a counter-project to certain types of (today dominant) navel-gazing cognition may be inferred. I shall return to this in Section 2.

In other words, we are here faced with the necessity for a dialectics between systems and openness, in brief the necessity for open-ended systems or indeed provisional and historical totalities. The openness is both formal and historical, it pertains to viewing a subject(-matter) within different situations and by different appraisers with differing value-systems—as in the example of the atom bomb. I approach it in Suvin, „On Cognition” and “Two Cheers,” but it would bear much development.

Goodman and Elgin go on to argue that one cannot know “that p” if one’s belief in it, though it may happen to be true, is not connected to other propositions which “tether” it, that is, which make it part of a consistent and justifiable argument. A tether in the form of  accounting and arguing for your insights there certainly must be, or no judgment will be possible, and thus no critical politics or cognition (cf. Arendt 40-41). Epistemologists divide according to the nature of this indispensable tether. “Internalists” believe the tether is purely epistemic: knowledge is anchored by justification epistemically accessible to the knower, usually as propositions in natural language, possibly buttressed by mathematics. They employ only concepts and categories, plus various operations by which they form a system. “Externalists” believe knowledge is anchored to a fact or set of facts that makes it true, and there is a debate as to the anchor, which could be arrived at inductively or deductively.  From where I stand, epistemic absolutism presents the danger of wonderful closed systems of statements chasing each other’s tail but with insufficient purchase upon practice; while ontological absolutism presents the danger of unjustifiable assumption of anchoring, usually some certainty of a divine kind. Bhaskar calls the former–a reduction of being to knowledge–the epistemic fallacy, and the latter–a short-circuit between knowledge and being–the ontic fallacy (Scientific 200ff.). I prefer a Solomonic  melding: without something ontologically “out there,” to be available as at least a check and an obstacle to action in any practice following from knowledge, there might be Cartesian discussions of method but there is no knowledge. But I think knowledge must pass also through epistemic justification, especially if it is to be attained within language (and is thus akin, in ways still to be elucidated, to poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and essays). A fortified city with gates in two concentric walls, maybe.

If one allows externalism or ontological realism as at least an indispensable element of knowledge, the problem of causes necessarily arises: must a belief “that p” necessarily be caused by “facts” or constellations from which it follows “that p”? It seems obvious that causal relationships are very often present: a certain type of cloudiness will as a rule (statistically) result in tempests. As Jaurès put it (and was killed for it), capitalism brings war as clouds bring tempests. But is the strong form of “must” defensible, must there always be a (however complex and mediated) cause for p? I am not sure of my ontological ground here, for Epicurus would say that deviations happen (cf. Suvin “Living”); but I would think that at least in human affairs causes must obtain, and that their understanding is one of the “conditions of possibility for emancipatory practices” (Bhaskar 210-11). The suspect Post-Modernist rage against causality tout court seems to me well foreseen by Brecht: “They could not see the causes of events, because they could not get rid of the events” (GKA 21: 307). What is well lost is a member of the family of Oneness: monocausality, the One unique or final Cause, that major sin of Hellenic logos.

The two major examples of monoalethism after the monotheist religions could be science-as-is and Marxism-as-was. Scientism (what I shall later call S2) was “the inheritor of the great religions by pretending to bear the truth of Being and the way of salvation, by glorifying Man as the monarch of the universe” (Morin 52). The official, stodgy, and by now dead kind of Marxism theorized economics as the scientific cause, however mediated, of all human affairs, and (since this didn’t wash) practiced an arbitrary ad hoc politics. However, parallels in psychoanalysis or feminism are not difficult to imagine. The corruption of the best is indeed the worst.

Obversely, as Augustine of Hippo wrote, “When truths are reached, they renew us.”

But also: When truth is sold as a commodity, its principal aim is not to convey truth. Its aim is to be sold, regardless and quite often despite any invalidating falsehood it may contain. Truth is for sharing, not for an elect caste, priests or rich.  It is to be shamelessly blurted out on the streets (or on internet).

 1.2. Cognition Is Constituted by and as History: Multiple Sources and Methods

 History is bunk.
       Henry Ford

 In a remarkable passage right at the beginning of Works and Days, Hesiod invents the myth (maybe it’s already an allegory) of the two Erises,  the benign and the malign one (I: 11-26). The bad Strife favours wars and civil discords. But the firstborn is the good Strife, whom Zeus has placed at the roots of the earth, for she generates emulation: one vase-maker or poem-singer envies the other, the lazy and poor peasant imitates the industrious and richer one. This polar splitting of concepts seems to me a (perhaps the) central procedure of critical reason, dissatisfied with the present categorizations and trying to insinuate opposed meanings under the same term. While it is sometimes preferable to redefine one single term (as I did for truth), I shall adopt this  Hesiodean procedure for knowledge and then science.

The principal ancestors to this endeavour may be found in Marx and to a minor degree Nietzsche. The latter seems to have hesitated between two very different meaning of truth and knowledge: the accepted one committed to an Aristotelian correspondence of knowledge to reality and therefore to an ideal of adequate description for science, and an alternate or constructivist model, where truths are instruments for given purposes. I take from him as useful what follows. First, the correspondence of intellect to thing/s is a Truth perhaps arrived at in complex ways but finally a point of rest for the weary: “simple, transparent, not contradicting itself, permanent, enduring as identical, with no crease, hidden sleight, curtain, form: a man conceives thus the world of Being as ‘God’ in his own image” (Wille 543). It is an ideal impossible to fulfil and leads to faking and skepticism. This Truth  is thus a lie, and whenever erected into a system–as in religion and in Galileian science–it compels lying, always unconscious and frequently also conscious. Any cognition developed against this fixed horizon partakes for Nietzsche of a huge, finally deadly “illusion.” Science can thus become a variant of asceticism, even an opiate for “suffering the lack of a great love” (Zur Genealogie 128).The constructivist account, on the other hand, is a creative transference of carrying across, in  Greek meta-pherein, whence his famous hyperbolic statements about knowing being “Nothing but working with the favourite metaphors” (Philosophy xxxiii; on the preceding three pages the editor Breazeale gives a survey, with sources in Nietzsche’s works, showing his permanent oscillation). I have argued at length elsewhere (For Lack) that for Nietzsche wisdom arises out of the knowledge of nescience: “And only on this by now solid and granite basis of nescience may science have arisen, the will for knowing on the basis of a much more powerful will, the will for unknowing, for the uncertain, the untrue! Not as its opposite, but–as its improvement!” (Jenseits 24) Jumping over the monolithic Plato, Nietzsche may have derived this from the Presocratics: “Appearances are a glimpse of the invisible” (Anaxagoras, in Diels-Kranz, B21a). Careful: this “untrue” is the opposite of the illusionistic, for example of angels, gods, UFOs, Mickey Mice or the Invisible Hand of the Market as empirical existents leading to fanatical belief. It demolishes The Monolithic Truth while preserving verifiability for any given situation.

Thus Nietzsche’s “philosophizing with a hammer” is most useful as destruction, with precious hints as to the direction of a reconstruction, such as his defence of multiple perspectives (Zur Genealogie 100-01). But it stops short of a major discovery, which can be phrased with Haraway, in the wake of theories about Possible Worlds, as “Nothing comes without its world” (Modest 37; cf. Blumenberg 3 and passim). And furthermore, any such world is necessarily dynamic, it evolves in time: “Recte enim veritas temporis filia dicitur non auctoritatis” (“Truth is correctly said to be the daughter of time and not of authority”), noted Francis Bacon, fighting for a non-dogmatic truth. It must be said in Kuhn’s praise that he was the first to drive home the notion that science happens in time, and is in its essence historical. But before him, much more sweepingly and “thickly” (as the anthropologists say), this was developed by Karl Marx.

Kant had a major difficulty in the Critique of Judgment: judgments deal with particulars, but how is one to account for any particular, notoriously contingent and as it were anarchic, for which the general concept has still to be found (cf. Rickert 150)? He sometimes finessed this by using examples, which hide a generalized allegory: the particular Achilles is the example of Courage in general (cf. Arendt 77-80); however, this doesn’t always work (at other times he opted for imagination, but this raises more problems then it lays to rest). Marx’s judgments applied to “thick” modern society Hegel’s great insight that “truth is concrete”: a paradox which means that truth must span, as a good bridge and a dialectical  conceptuality do, both abstract generality and the particular or even the individual, as feedback from and possibility of intervention into the particular. Marx’s concepts and the overall story they build up remove strategic insights from the static “natural” domain to social and above all historical–that is, dynamic–categories (cf. Aronowitz, esp. ch.s 2 and 3). His strongly developed conceptuality is “sucked into the flow of things and the pain of struggles. The uncompromisingly worldly, historical, and class character of what is being cognized becomes a property of the cognitive form itself.” (Korsch 54)  Capital is neither natural nor everlasting: it is a human, thisworldly, historical, and class construct. This also means that, as long as the phenomena are integrally respected, they can be most lawfully explained in multiple ways, as Marx proposes already in his dissertation while discussing Epicurus’s theory of celestial bodies: only the obviously wrong, mythical absolute unity and fixity of the superlunar sphere is to be disbarred (Differenz 170-71).5/ He too went in for Hesiodean splitting, opposing to dogmatic (for example, mythical) critique a “true” critique which understands the contradictions within its object as historical necessities (MEW 1: 296). Hegel’s encapsulation for truth means today also that if the particular out there will vary depending on the question we put to it, then the concreteness demands that there be no one single capital-T Truth that accounts for it. When Putnam asks “Is water necessarily H2O?”, the answer is: for some purposes–of separating H and O or reconstituting water, and all understanding pertaining to such possibilities–yes, but for other purposes no (see his whole argument in Realism 54-79 and 120-31, and Gendlin 39 and passim). Necessities change according to the situation, which is only understood as being such-and-such by the interests of the subject defining it. If, as argued earlier, all our judgments contain both evaluative and factual aspects (cf. also Putnam Collapse), though not necessarily in same admixtures; and if furthermore very many scientific accounts and all theories are not in one-to-one relation with the experiential phenomena they explain, but rather the relationship is one-to-many and many-to-one;  then truth is context-dependent.

Now Marx clearly had for his explaining of capitalism as a social formation a strongly favoured red thread (arrived at after many painful attempts), and he poured his scorn on the falsities of bourgeois political economy. But his was a struggle on two fronts, for simultaneously he chastised with scorpions all attempts to subject science or cognition to “a point of view from the outside, stemming from interests outside science and alien to it” (MEW 26.2: 112). Capital itself is presented as a project of “free scientific research,” which assumes the task to clarify the inner relationships of the phenomena it deals with without imposition from the outside and in particular against “the Furies of private interest” (MEW 23:16).  His two major, consubstantial cognitive insights might be thought of as a double helix: the insight about capitalism, the labour source of value, the class conflict, and similar doctrinal tenets, which in brief reveal that societal injustices are based on exploitation of other people’s living labour; and  the insight that the proper way to talk about the capitalist exploitation which  rules all our lives is not in the a priori form of dogma, a closed system, but in the a posteriori form of critique. The latter means that legitimate cognition is epistemically grounded in the process it describes, and strategically developed by developing a radically deviant stance against a dominant in a given historical situation (one of the first and best of such discussions is in Marcuse, Reason). After Marx, it should be clear that “All modes of knowing presuppose a point of view….Therefore, the appropriate response to [this is]… the responsible acknowledgement of our own viewpoints and the use of that knowledge to look critically at our own and each other’s opinions.” (Levins 182; see more in Gramsci, Selections 427-70 and passim)  The rightness of a theoretical assertion depends on evidence as interpreted by the  assertor’s always socio-historical needs, interests, and values.

All of this argues strongly in favour of allowing many other epistemologically sound sources of understanding or cognition besides institutionalized science’s shibboleth for fully analytic and fully fragmented knowledge, today quite out of date when faced, for example, with dissipative structures. The list of more or less equivalent participants in the passion of cognition is long, for it includes not only “knowing-that” but also “knowing-how” (Anscombe). The latter is centred in bodily practices and subject to the pull of what Aristotle called “aim as cause” (causa finalis), so that “because” in it means “in order that” rather than merely “was caused by”: Husserl spoke of “ways in which the future pulls us towards it,” and Whitehead of “the lure of form as yet unrealized” (in Grene 245). To this clearly belong all arts, but also many other practices not readily expressible in conceptual form (the Greeks called most of them tekhnè, cf. Vernant, and it was connected with phronesis, practical wisdom), and finally also certain facets of emotion or feeling. An important connection is established when Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics 6, though he downgrades ungentlemanly work, assigns precisely to such wisdom how virtue in political communities functions through right choices–that is, through freedom (cf. Carr 154).

I cannot enter here into any properly historical discussion, which would reveal that, even after tribal formations,  there have been many civilizations either without an institutionalized science (such as the ancient Roman one) or with science based on radically different presuppositions (such as the Chinese and Arabic ones), and–most important–that all scientific paradigms are temporally finite: the “modes of production, enunciation, and application of knowledge” begin and end in function of interests within their societies (Lévy-Leblond 33). The logical structure of the present scientific method is enabled at the price of systematically limiting its investigation to the homogeneous and the quantifiable. Changeable and metamorphic history would immediately burst its bounds: science-as-is knows only a history of errors (cf. Castoriadis 164 and passim). Nonetheless, though repressed into a not further discussed “intuition,” factors such as suppositions of relevance and plausibility, selection of problems recognized as valid, concepts of “projectability” of facts and theories, and so on, play a major role in it (cf. Einstein). I shall discuss here only one usually backgrounded cognitive practice, the “tacit knowledge” as explained by Michael Polanyi.

This starts “from the fact that we know more than we can tell” (4): for example, how we recognize a human face, or any other physiognomy that cannot be fully described by words–diseases, rocks, plants, animals. This also holds for bodily skills, such as swimming, skiing, and many professional gestures of using tools: “we keep expanding our body into the world by assimilating to it sets of particulars which we integrate into reasonable entities” (29). As Merleau-Ponty put it in his discussion of perception, path-breaking for us Europeans since we don’t understand Buddhism and Daoism well, “thought… [can be] ahead of itself… [and] at home everywhere” (371). But beyond everything that is learned through practice and observation, often from a master, tacit knowledge intervenes crucially in formalized science too, as the experience of seeing a hitherto unknown problem through an intimation of unity or form or Gestalt from a few particulars:  in all knowledge there is an element of inferring. No pursuit of truth can be wholly explicit: if we differentiate between focal and subsidiary awareness, Polanyi points out no knowledge can be wholly focal. When we do not know in the focal sense what we are looking for, we rely on clues to its nature, which flow also out of our own attitude, skills, real or crypto-memories, hunches (see more on this in Gendlin, and Suvin “On Cognition”). Our focal core of consciousness is carried by that tacit acceptance of things not explicit, which bind us to and within our world.

Of course, it should be added to his argument that tacit knowledge can turn out to be mistaken as often as the formalized one. However, its acknowledgement “restores knower and known [to]… the Cartesian-Newtonian world… without life,” Polanyi’s pupil Grene concludes (14). This means that knowledge always begins and ends in the personal; the impersonal knowledge is the collective mediation and validation on that route (23-25) and is itself codetermined by a not wholly formalizable consensus of professional opinion. Finally, the knowing mind and our ultimate beliefs are always tied to our psychophysiological orientation, stance or bearing (for more see Suvin “Haltung“). We can thus use also those epistemologically indispensable constituents of knowledge that cannot be stated as a proposition or argument, including our central personal commitment which “can never be… exhaustively stated in a non-committal form” (Grene 204). Such unspecifiable elements are from Kant’s Critique of Judgment on often called esthetical, as in Dirac’s comment that the Theory of Relativity was accepted for two reasons: the agreement with experiment and the “beautiful mathematical theory  [that is, “simple mathematical  concepts that fit together in an elegant way”] underlying it, which gives it a strong emotional appeal” (205). The pattern may also be statistical, or an analogical model as Darwin’s transfer of pigeon- and stockbreeding to the origin of all species (cf. on analogy Angenot, Hesse Models, Gross, Haraway Primate, Squier 25ff. and 54ff., and  Suvin “On Cognitive” with further bibliography). In all cases it is a sense of relevance or rightness. Since  today science does not deal in substances but in events (for example an experimental situation), this sense of pertinence, impossible to detach from the tacit base of knowledge, is particularly important.

Last not least, as argued earlier, all understanding is by default pluralistic (cf. Marglin 233-36).  First, scientific theories are “underdetermined” by facts: “Many, indeed infinitely many, different sets of hypotheses can be found from which statements describing the known facts can be deduced…” (Harré 87). But second, more radically, the “facts” of scientific theories are not fully determined and univocal but always already conceptually elaborated (this also puts paid to Popperian falsification as an overriding criterion), and furthermore it is quite unclear how univocal are the prevailing philosophical categories used in science  (cf. Castoriadis 175-77, 218-19, and passim). As a whole current of philosophers has maintained since Gassendi, theories are not true or false but good or bad instruments for research. Reality is in principle prior to human thought, yet it is co-created by human understanding, in a never-ending feedback.

If cognition is not only open-ended but also codetermined by the social subject and societal interests looking for it, its multiple horizons are unavoidable. The object of any praxis can only be “seen as” that particular kind of object (Wittgenstein) from a subject-driven–but also subject-modifying–standpoint and bearing. The choice which cluster of data (or problems) to begin with in any research, which to look for next, and so forth, is already a never-ending series of interpretations. True, in all developed knowledge there must be hierarchies, but there should be no pretence to a deductive unity, a watertight closed system of concepts, as the only and sometimes not even as the most important component of knowledge. The more modest inductions and analogies, that is, analogue spreads instead of the digital 0 or 1, should be stripped of their lower status. The reality described by quantum mechanics is “composed of many worlds” (Castoriadis 161). In several of its branches “a whole battery of models” is regularly used, and “no one thinks that one of these is the whole truth, and they may be mutually inconsistent” (Hacking 37):

The best kind of evidence for the reality of a postulated or inferred entity is that we can begin to measure it or otherwise understand its causal powers. The best evidence, in turn, that we have this understanding is that we can set out… to build machines that will work fairly reliably, taking advantage of this or that causal nexus. Hence, engineering, not theorizing, is the best proof of scientific realism about entities. My attack on scientific anti-realism is analogous to Marx’s onslaught on the idealism of his day. Both say the point is not to understand the world but to change it. (Hacking 274).

The post-Einsteinian science is thus harking back, after centuries of the Baconian and Galileian quantified unicity, to the science of Hipparchus and Archimedes, which also dealt with a polyphony of hypotheses possible for explaining a given result (Serres 118 and passim; and cf. Russo). Such science (I shall discuss it as S1 in 2.1) becomes again, as in them or in many Asian analogues, a complex evaluation of open models (see more in Suvin, “Living”).

Finally, as soon as we deal–as we must–with models, which can obviously be used only for those groups of phenomena which they are modelling, monoalethism is dead and buried (except on TV and for the politicians of capitalist domination, outside and inside science). Truth has acquired a history. But then, what kind of plurality within what kind of necessarily unitary horizon should we strive for in present-day technoscience, if humanity is to survive?

  1. On Technoscience as Politics

 Since we come by airplane to our conventions, let us not announce there that science is a    mere construction.
E.T. Gendlin, 1997

Addition to above: Though every time I land, I say “we’ve made it once more.”
DS, 1964 to present

 2.1. Life-destroying or Life-preserving?: Science as Is vs. Science as It Has To Be6/

…in the end, for millions and millions of people on the landmasses around us [Africa and   Asia, DS], the West meant only this—science and tanks and guns and bombs.
Amitav Ghosh, 1992

 I am in this section not attempting to say anything which has not been said, from Marx and Nietzsche through Simmel, Marcuse, and Benjamin to others cited below, but simply to summarize for myself and my readers, within a Babylonian confusion of interested languages, a life-affirming red thread about science–the privileged cognitive horizon for our age, to which I too am committed.

From this stance, science as it really exists gradually became after Galileo and Newton a matter of salaried professionals socialized by rigorous and hierarchical training into refusing any discussion as to their profession’s presuppositions: it was delimited as sober “factuality,” and whoever speculated too much about alternative horizons was read out of it (cf. Hagstrom 9 and Haberer passim). It grew into a powerful institution, an alternate Church popularized by means “of saints’ (the geniuses’) lives, their miracles (discoveries), and holy sites (laboratories and similar)” (Traweek 141). True-blue “scientism” believes that science  possesses a universal validity which is in principle independent of the people, society, and interests among which it happens to have sprung up, so that sciences are merely systems of formal propositions and procedures for the construction and corroboration of theories. This scientism eliminates the knowing subject, individual and collective, in favour of an artfully posited “objectivity”: “There is nothing about human beings mentioned anywhere in this [Objectivist] account–neither their capacity to understand nor their imaginative activity nor their nature as functioning organisms…” (Johnson x; cf. for a wide-ranging introduction Aronowitz). As Eddington put it, the ideal scientist must eliminate all of his senses, except “part of an eye that he might observe” (22). Human relationships of production, consumption, and existence–from which after all  science proceeds and into which it returns–are no longer its system of reference, but its accidental  breeding soil. Instead of such historical relationships, institutional science-as-is adopted for  its reference-system logic and mathematics as self-sufficient formal methods. This also means an orientation not simply to quantification, but to a reified quantification without qualities, as part and parcel of the capitalist orientation to exchange-value instead of use-value. This is life-denying in the strictest sense: leading to mass hunger, wars, and devastation of the planet.

 True, new approaches have in the last 40 years finally taken into consideration the Einsteinian epistemological revolution by adopting a variety of methods not only as between distinct subfields but often within them. However, this has been subordinated to a counter-tendency building on the fact-value split and locked into militarization and the profit motive, which have made for highly restricted access, first, “to scientific knowledge… funding, positions, publication, conferences”; second, “to tacit knowledge–the crucial craft knowledge that is never written into articles”; and third, “to the groups that define present and future priorities for problems, methods, research equipment….” In consequence, first, the hierarchic structure of who decides what is important (or a fact) has been much reinforced, and second, scientific writing has increasingly downgraded  narration, including reference to the authors’ agency: “[I]t would be almost impossible to reproduce an experiment based upon the information provided in scientific articles…. The[ir] purpose… is to announce findings and to lay claim to a discovery… [in] a succinct and formulaic literary economy….”  (Traweek 143) In fact, the most capital-intensive research is rarely replicated, it is corroborated by differently designed experiments. But “the proof race is so expensive that only a few, people, nations, institutions or professions are able to sustain it… “; technoscience is developed in relatively few places “that garner disproportionate amounts of resources” (Latour 179, and cf. his whole ch. 4). Quite contrary to a sanitizing distance from values and politics, “[t]he definition of science is made by those who are empowered to offer resources” (Traweek 144; cf. also Castoriadis 221-24, Penley and Ross eds., Pickering ed.). This extends to imperial concentration of such “research power” in a small “North Atlantic” area of the world, which drains brains and profitable information from other areas and disallows traditional knowledge (cf. Hountondji, Shiva, and Mies and Shiva). In the era of capitalist technoscience, this means that the periphery will forever remain such, since it can only copy commodity products, not the matrix that produces them (cf. Oliveira, esp. 48-51).

The huge limitation that defines this pursuit is that, outside focussed manipulation, science is life-blind. In Tolstoy’s words, “science is meaningless because it does not answer >what shall we do and how shall we live<” (cited in Weber 322; Nietzsche said similar things). Even the Nazi fellow-traveller Heisenberg had to concede that natural science “is in some ways the attempt to describe the world insofar as it is possible to abstract from ourselves, our thinking and our activity” (95). While a certain degree of indispensable abstraction enters into any name and concept, science-as-is practices that kind of extreme abstraction which Kierkegaard characterized as “the thought without the thinker” (7: 287).  The horizons of such a science have been indifferent to destruction of people and the planet, and its results increasingly deadly, as testified by Belsen, Hiroshima, Chernobyl,  ecocide, and so indefinitely on.  We cannot use any longer the excuse that science is a pure maiden raped by outside powers: she is collaborating enthusiastically.

Levins calls this state of affairs science’s “dual nature,” springing out of “the liberal progressivist ideology” it shares with capitalism (182 and 184). He believes that the “Marxist critique attempts to see science in both its liberating and oppressing aspects, its powerful insights and militant blindnesses, as a commoditized expression of liberal European capitalist masculinist interests and ideologies organized to cope with real natural and social phenomena” (186). He is clearly attuned to the feminist critique identifying “in the denial of interaction between subject and object” as well as in the stress on domination “the intrusion of a [masculinist] self” (Keller 182-83; cf. on the openly anti-feminine character of Baconian science as mastery also Harding and Hintikka eds., Dorothy Smith, and Noble Religion, and Leiss on its derivation from Judeo-Christian clericalism down to Luther). Today it seems plain that the relation between scientist and nature is quite analogous to the relation of a male upper class to the indispensable but dangerous Others of women and working classes. Thus I sympathize with much of what both such critiques bravely say. And I  fully agree with Levins’s conclusion: “We should not pretend or aspire to a bland neutrality but proclaim as our working hypothesis: all theories are wrong which promote, justify or tolerate injustice” (191). But I submit that by now, a dozen years and untold horrors later, including a full subsumption of science as institution under destructive rather than liberal capitalism, a better strategy is the Hesiodean procedure of splitting the institutionalized horizons of science-as-is fully off from those of a potentially humanized science-as-wisdom, which would count its dead as precisely as the US armed forces. I wish I could call the latter science and the former something else, perhaps technoscience, but I do not want to give up either on science or on technology. I shall provisionally call the firstborn, good science “Science 1” (S1) and the present one, whose results are mixed but seem to be increasingly steeped in the blood and misery of millions of people, “Science 2” (S2). Medieval theologians such as Aquinas would have called them sapientia vs. scientia, though in those early days they optimistically believed the latter could be tamed by the former, by knowledge as the highest intellectual virtue.

These are ideal types only, intermixed in any actual effort in most varied proportions: also, the beginnings of S2 are in S1, and it retains certain of its liberatory birthmarks–centrally, the method of hypothesis plus verification–to the present day. For example, “[i]n this tradition a self-conscious effort has been made to identify sources and kinds of errors and to correct for capricious biases. It has often been successful….” Nonetheless,  the fixation on domination and the consubstantial occultation of the knowing subject in S2 “is a particular moment in the division of labor.” The avoidance of capricious errors “does [not] protect the scientific enterprise as a whole from the shared biases of its practitioners.” Science is highly normative, concluded Aronowitz, in its theory and method, the form of the result, the choice of field of inquiry, and the constitution of the scientific object (320). In sum, “The pattern of knowledge in science is… structured by interest and belief…. Theories, supported by megalibraries of data, often are systematically and dogmatically obfuscating.”  It is not by chance, I would argue, that “major technical efforts based on science have [led] to disastrous outcomes: pesticides increase pests; hospitals are foci of infection; antibiotics give rise to new pathogens; flood control increases flood damage; and economic development increases poverty” (Levins 180, 183, and 181)–not to mention that Einsteinian physics produces the A and H bombs, and so on and on.

The bourgeois civilization’s main way of coping with the unknown is aberrant, said Nietzsche, because it transmutes nature into concepts with the aim of mastering it: that is, it turns nature only into concepts and furthermore makes a more or less closed system out of concepts. It is not that the means get out of hand but that the mastery–the wrong end–requires consubstantially wrong means of aggressive manipulation. If you want to be Master of your Domain, you have to treat profit-making concepts as raw material on the same footing as profit-making laborers and iron ore. The problem lies not in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice but in the Master Wizard. In Marcuse’s summary, S2 has “by virtue of its own method and concepts,” projected and promoted a universe in which the domination of nature was indissolubly linked to and intertwined with the domination of a ruling class over the majority of people.  To the contrary (in S1),

sever[ing] this fatal link would also affect the very structure of science…. Its hypotheses, without losing their rational character, would develop in an essentially different experimental context (that of a pacified world); consequently, science would arrive at essentially different concepts of nature and establish essentially different facts. (One-Dimensional 166-67)

I conclude that S2 is not only a cultural revolution but also a latent or patent political upheaval. This clearly presupposes nature and its knowledge as a zero-sum game, a finite domain allowing for asymptotical progress to a final solution. The scientific, finally, is the political. S2 is, finally, in the sense of Marx’s epigraph to this essay, based on a falsehood.

There are strong analogies and probably causal relations between this “search for truth, proclaimed as the cornerstone of progress” and “the maintenance of a hierarchical, unequal social structure,” within which capitalist rationalization has created the large stratum of “administrators,  technicians, scientists, educators” it needed (Wallerstein, Historical 82-83). In particular, it created the whole new class of managers. As Braverman’s path-breaking book pointed out, “to manage” (from manus, hand) originally meant  to train a horse in his paces, in the manège (67). F.W. Taylor did exactly this–he broke “the men,” calling in his Shop Management for “a planning department to do the thinking for the men” (Braverman 128). Later, since “machinery faces workers as capitalized domination over work, and the same happens for science” (Marx, Theorien 355), control was built into the new technologies. During the 19th Century, “science, as a generalized social property” (S1) was replaced by “science as a capitalist property at the very center of production”; this is “the scientifico-technical revolution” (Braverman 156), while technoscientific ideology becomes, as Jameson notes, “a blind behind which the more embarrassing logic of the commodity form and the market can operate” (Singular 154). Already by the early 1960s, 3/4 of scientific R&D in the USA was corporate, financed directly or through tax write-offs by the Federal government, that is, by money taken from tax-payers, while profits went to corporations (164-66). For almost a century now, scientific research has been mainly determined by expected profits to the detriment of S1 (cf. at least Kapp 208ff.), where it is not neglected for purely financial speculation. Technoscience increasingly has no goals of its own but is pushed by political economics from behind; correspondingly the technoscientist also does not know what he is working for, “and generally he doesn’t much care. He works because he has instruments allowing him… to succeed in a new operation.” (Ellul 272)

The resulting “scientific culture” (S2) “became also a means of class cohesion for the upper stratum [of cadres]…. The great emphasis on the rationality of scientific activity was the mask of the irrationality of endless accumulation.”  (Wallerstein, Historical 84-85) The presupposition that science does not deal in values, which began to be widely doubted only after the Second World War, had as “its actual function to protect two systems of values: the professional values of the scientists, and the predominant [status quo] values of society as they existed at that moment….” (Graham 9, and cf. 28-29, also Kuhn). What Putnam has passionately dubbed “The Philosophers’ of Science Evasion of Values”  (title of his chapter 8),  not only hides that—as he agrees with Dewey–“Value judgments are essential to the practice itself”  (Collapse 135), that “Knowledge of facts presupposes knowledge of values…. justifying factual claims presupposes value judgments” (137). Further, this evasion reveals how, instead of clarifying and further developing common experience, S2 strove for, and largely achieved, a monopoly of “expert knowers”; and the more specialized a field of expertise got, the greater became the likelihood that new skills would be invented–which then seek application, useful or not. As Bauman summarizes it, since the 19th Century it is “not the plain man who knows where it hurts but… the professional expert who ’knows best’ what is good for him”; and furthermore, “the state of ‘being hurt’ is itself expert-defined,” whether the patient likes it or not. This medical experience can stand also as a metaphor for all other fields where “the self-declared servants turn into managers,” not to say dictators (212-14).

The stances of “objectivity” and erasure of subject lent themselves to the treatment of people (workers, women, patients, consumers) as objects to be manipulated, for were they not a part of nature? As a hierarchical institution devoted to manipulation, S2 was easily usable for “human resources” too: the Nazi doctors’ genocidal experiments were only an extremely overt  and acute form of such Herrschaftswissen (knowledge used for domination—cf. Müller-Hill and Leiss 101-18). This may present itself innocuously as “scientific management,” but it comports centrally “the progressive alienation of the process of production from the worker” (Braverman 37-38, and his book relates this to transformation of all aspects of life within monopoly capitalism). What began with the great invention of factories in order to centralize and intensify (“rationalize”) the exploitation of labour for profitable productivity (cf. Noble Forces, Marglin 220-23) has been preserved in updated forms as the building block of both industrial and post-industrial society. In the formulation of Max Scheler, “To conceive the world as bereft of value predicates is a task taken up precisely because of a value: the vital value of domination and power over matters” (cited in Leiss 106).

Michael L. Smith has identified as “commodity scientism” a systematic fusion of a select technology and image-creation in the service of a politico-ideological project, so that

the products of a market-aimed technology are mistaken for the scientific process, and those products, like science, become invested with the inexorable, magical qualities of an unseen social force. For the consumer, the rise of commodity scientism has meant the eclipse of technological literacy by an endless procession of miracle-promising experts and products. For advertisers and governments, it has meant the capacity to recontextualize technology, to assign to its products social attributes that are largely independent of the products’ technical design or function [i.e., of their use-value]  (179)

“Progress” is here identified with science, science with technology, and technology with new products supposedly enriching life but largely disregarding the products’ technical capacities or function, i.e. their use-value, enriching the financiers while brainwashing the taxpayers (Smith 182). Under such hegemony, we must ruefully accept, with due updating, Gandhi’s harsh  verdict about science: “Your laboratories are diabolic unless you put them at the service of the rural poor” (Gandhigram).  S2 is Power (over people), S1 is Creativity. S1 would be able to take a historical and pragmatic approach, well formulated by Gramsci–halfway between Marx and Hacking–as:

…what interests science is not so much the objectivity of reality but people, who elaborate research methods, who continually rectify the material instruments that reinforce their sensory organs and logical instruments for discrimination and verification–that is, culture, that is, world-view, that is, the relationship between people and reality mediated by technology. In science too, looking for reality outside people, in a religious or metaphysical sense,  is merely a paradox. (Quaderni II:  1457)

That does not at all mean there is nothing outside the human brain, as Orwell’s O’Brien–the power freak–puts it. It means that the observer is part of the system even outside of atomic physics. In this view science is a usable and misusable ensemble of cognitions, not an absolute truth (which we  sinful people can of course only approach asymptotically, that is, without ever fully reaching it). It does not pretend, as S2, to be a pure methodology, an organon with its formal propositions and procedures for the construction and verification of theories, principally a “how”; while including “how,” S1 is principally a “by whom” and “for what”–an “impure” productive relationship between (for example) workers, scientists, financiers, and other power-holders, as well as an institutional network with different effects upon all such different societal groups, which can and must become less death-oriented.

Furthermore, the adversarial methodology of S2 is directly opposed to the “communal” (a coy synonym for communist) nature of S1, to the truths all of its practitioners hold in common, as any true cognition does. Cognition or understanding is necessarily non-exclusive, shareable outside a conflictual stance and incompatible with a zero-sum game. True, even in the most disalienated economy of efforts, priorities have to be determined, and in that sense a confrontation between opposed interests will be with us forever. But this is perverted when conflictuality or adversariness, the antagonistic and warlike subspecies of confrontation or opposition, is posited as the central methodology (cf. Suvin, “Conflitto” and “Revelation”). To “have” an idea, an approach or technique, a software or any other byte of knowledge means others can share it without my losing it, indeed I can thereby gain enrichment, stimulus, perhaps even fame. Cognition cannot be fenced in like a piece of land or a financial share locked away in a safe.

S1 should be based on holistic understanding, which would encompass and steer analytical knowledge (Goodman and Elgin 161-64), always on the lookout for inevitable bifurcations which lead to benign and malign Prigoginian catastrophes. It would not at all lose its impressive status as institution, with exacting (only now further expanded) criteria for rightness and an always situationally delimited, or situated (Haraway), truth. On the contrary, S1 would finally be as truly liberating, both for its creators and its users, as its best announcers have, from Bacon to Wiener and Gould, claimed it should be. It could at last embark not only on the highly important damage control but also on a full incorporation of aims for acting, which would justify Nietzsche’s rhapsodic expectation:  “An experimenting would then become proper that would find place for every kind of heroism, a centuries-long experimenting, which could put to shame all the great works and sacrifices of past history”  (Fröhliche 39–truly, a joyous science. It would have to ask, looking at our parlous state of natural and psychic ecology, both of which are a “direct result of the externalization of costs by capitalist entrepreneurs” (Wallerstein, Historical 130), what questions have not been asked in the last 400 years, and for whose profit. The “long wave of Cartesian inheritance” in scientific method has been shown by Licata and Morin (in my paraphrase) as based, among others, on the propositions that the accumulation of knowledge is inversely proportional to the remainder of ignorance, and that to solve a complex problem it should be subdivided in soluble sub-problems (Licata 63). S2 is thus wedded both to  monoalethism and to its dynamic adaptation to a fenced-in, solid world of private property over matters that concern everybody. To the contrary, S1 is wedded to an open world of fluxes where Being is constantly being reborn from (and dying into) Non-Being, where verbs (processes) are more important than nouns (congealed states). Its atoms and interstellar places are built on hollows, thresholds, minima, momentarily stable equilibriums, turbulences, swerves (cf. Serres 79, 30-34,  and passim).

Noble points out how the S1-S2 dichotomy can be followed in the diverging of von Neumann and Wiener paths from the 1940s. Von Neumann’s “mathematical axiomatic approach reflected his affinity for military authority and power,” while “Wiener insisted upon the indeterminacy of systems and a statistical, probabilistic understanding of their function… [T]he ‘steersman’ [of his cybernetics] was human in social systems and thus moved not by formal logic but by skill, experience, and purpose…. [He] urged ‘a constant feedback that would allow an individual to intervene and call a halt to a process initiated, thus permitting him… second thoughts in response to unexpected effects and the opportunity to recast wishes’.” He protested military secrecy, accurately seeing “it will lead to the total irresponsibility of the scientist, and, ultimately, to the death of science” (the good one, S1). As is well known, he was ignored by a solid wall of scientifico-military bureaucracy, and decided to stop further work in militarily usable cybernetics “to kill civilians indiscriminately.” He turned his attention to the development of prosthetic devices in medicine and co-operation with trade unions (Noble, Forces 71-74; see Wiener’s 1946 “open letter” in Haberer 316-17).

Last not least, a Wienerian responsible science, co-directed by other community members, would reopen, as he did, the totally forgotten question of its democratic accessibility and accountability, definitely lost since the atom bomb, with a return to full transparency, to a “cognitive democracy” (Morin 166-69). This would also mean reorganizing fully education, from top to bottom, to befit citizens for such an understanding.

 2.2. Whither Now?

From halls of learning
Emerge the butchers.

Hugging their children tightly,
Mothers scan with horror the skies
For the inventions of the scientists.
Brecht, “1940”

 In 1932, sensing the worse to come (which has since, in long duration terms, not ceased coming), Brecht asked:

Faced with all these machines and technical arts, with which humanity could be at the beginning of a long, rich day, shouldn’t it feel the rosy dawn and the fresh wind which signify the beginning of blessed centuries? Why is it so grey all around, and why blows first that uncanny dusk wind at the coming of which, as they say, the dying ones die? (GKA 21: 588)

He went on for the rest of his life to worry at this image of false dawn through the example of Galileo. His final judgment was that Galileo (reason, science, the intellectuals) failed, and helped the night along, by not allying himself with a political dawn-bringer. But then, we might ask today (and I did, in “Heavenly”), where was he to find a revolutionary class who wanted such an ally in his spacetime, and where indeed was Brecht to find it after 1932 (see his poem in epigraph, after the pustule had broken)?

What would an updated, sophisticated S1 mean? Many things, to be properly developed in feedback from its mass practice. In brief, in order for our (and many other) species to survive, we need to limit human interventions on this planet flowing out of the profit principle, centrally by limiting the increase in population in poorer countries and the consumption of energy in richer ones. This necessity has become ineluctable and urgent in the last 30 years. Yet our rulers do not deign even to discuss them, and those who do are small minorities. Therefore, our first necessity is radical social justice, so that rethinking would get a chance. I cannot speak here about this founding presupposition, but only venture to suggest a few quite preliminary, methodological guidelines, which would flow out of the epistemological insights discussed in section 1.

This begins by noting that multiplicity entails choice. If science is a human and societal institution with a history, traversed by often intense class struggles, then our Archimedean point necessarily takes a stand on the side of humanity or against it, using all the good insights we can muster from practice, science, art or elsewhere.

We may need a modified version of the felicific calculus. I take my cue from the path-breaking work of Georgescu-Roegen, who pleads for a “maximum of life quantity,” which “requires the minimum rate of natural resource depletion” (20-21; cf. Schrödinger and Lindsay 440ff.). He starts in the proper scientific way by identifying life as a struggle against entropic degradation of matter, bought at the expense of degradation of the “neighboring universe” or total system–for example Terra. The inevitable price to be paid for any life-enhancing activity reintroduces, as against classical physics’ narrowing of causality to the efficient cause of manipulating matter and its disregard of the time sequence, the importance of purpose, Aristotle’s final cause (192-95) discussed above, reinforced by Lenin’s cui bono, a choice “for the sake of what” (in whose interest or for whom) is that activity undertaken. As Prigoginian theory puts it, there is never such a full reversibility so that time (history) could be left out as a factor: matter has memory (cf. Wallerstein, End 16466).

Georgescu-Roegen explains “life quantity” as the sum of all the years lived by all humans, present and future. I differ from him by finding this first useful step still too benthamite in its disregard for quality. True, we can neither properly specify a positive life-quality nor legislate for the horizons of future generations. But we know at least what is to be avoided as bad quality of life: lives traumatized by direct violence, hunger, (mostly evitable) diseases, and also by anxiety and aimlessness.  And I think we know enough to say, first, what major financial orientations, and second,  what major productive orientations are not to be pursued. As to the first orientation,  his main continuator and updater, Herman Daly, points out that even in classical economics it is accepted “that in accounting income we must deduct for depreciation of capital in order to keep productive capacity intact. This principle… needs only to be extended to natural capital…” (16). This means that environmental costs must be internalized into prices “so that the polluter and the depleter pay”, through tax measures. (15) Faced with uncertain effects of new technologies or substances, “an assurance bond in the amount of possible damage [should be required], to be posed up front and then returned over time as experience reduces the uncertainty about damage” (16).  Thus we could approach a Steady-State Economy, which is not defined by the capitalist instrument of GNP but by “ecological sustainability of the throughput”, which is NOT registered by market prices. (32) ”[T]he maximand is life, measured in cumulative person-years ever to be lived at a standard of resource-use sufficient for a good life” (32–Daly acknowledges this standard is vague, but vagueness to be worked out in practice is much better than total disregard as in the GNP).  Such a Steady-State Economy would also do better for preservation of all other species.

As to the second orientation, according to Georgescu-Roegen’s “thermodynamic calculus,” only pursuits as minimally entropic as possible can be allowed if civilization is not to collapse. This is directly opposed to the pursuit of unnecessary quantity: “‘bigger & better’ washing machines, automobiles and superjets must lead to ‘bigger & better’ pollution” (19). But it is fully consonant with the post-Einsteinian concept of nature, from quantum physics to the catastrophe theory (cf. also Collingwood 13, and Grene ch. 9 on “Time & Teleology”). His approach can thus be usefully continued by using the notion developed by Nussbaum of “central human capabilities” to be used in order to establish “a basic social minimum” (70-71) for a life of human dignity. Her list of capabilities which also constitute entitlements is rich, and I shall mention from it only what seem to me two central groups and one precondition. The two groups are entitlements to life, bodily integrity and health, and then to a development of sense, imagination, thoughts, and emotions. The precondition is what I would rephrase as control over the relationship between people and the environment, which could be expanded to encompass all the inextricable political and economic means to the above ends (cf. 76-77). These entitlements as rights supply a “rich set of goals…in place of ‘the wealth and poverty of the economists,’ as Marx so nicely put it” (284).

Further, our technical competence, based on an irresponsible S2 yoked to the profit and militarism that finance it, vastly exceeds our understanding of its huge dangers for hundreds of millions of people and indeed for the survival of vertebrate ecosphere (cockroaches and tube worms may survive). For humanity to survive, we imperatively have to establish and enforce a graduated system of risk assessment and damage control  based on the negentropic welfare of the human community and its eco-system (which includes the fauna and flora) as an absolutely overriding criterion. This means retaining, and indeed following consistently through, Merton’s famous four basic norms of science–universalism, skepticism, public communism, and personal disinterestedness (cf. also Collingridge 77-85 and 99ff.)–or Kuhn’s five internal criteria—accuracy, scope, fruitfulness, consistency, and simplicity–as well as strict scientific accountability in the sense of both not falsifying findings and accounting for them. However, it means also practicing science from the word go (say, from its teaching) as most intimately co-shaped by the overriding concerns what and who is such an activity for, and thus why would it be worth supporting or indeed allowing by the community: “A stronger, more adequate notion of objectivity would require methods for systematically examining all the social values shaping a particular research process…” (Haraway, Modest 36, building on Harding; cf. also Wallerstein, End 164-67, 238-41, and 264-65, and Cini). All theories can today be seen to have powerful biases, the goodness or badness of which must be treated in each case on its epistemologico-political merits.

A lot of discussion has already ensued, from the heyday of the Welfare State on, how to fairly assess such risks, and in the USA the International Association of Machinists, spurred by automation, has even formulated a “Technology Bill of Rights” (Noble, Forces 350-51). I can only present here some partial and  (fortunately) highly biased summaries of what appears to me a clear and present necessity. The prevention of irreparable damage would have to move through clearly delimited stages, all of them subject to review boards with various mixtures of science and community representatives,  at various levels from the basic research unit to international bodies. A first step is initial screening, calling a halt to what can be reasonably demonstrated  as serious dangers in our situation, where decision-making about the future of novelties must largely be based on ignorance. A second step is imposition of strict rules about a testing of consequences, which must be temporally as protracted as necessary before a full development, costly and perhaps impossible to reverse, is embarked upon. A third step is  continuous and rigorous monitoring of all important products and processes in use. Though lip-service is paid to these steps now, they are always secondary to profit-making or military considerations (for an example, cf. the discussion on the wrong presuppositions of “dominating nature” within the Human Genome Project in Casalino-Keller and Lewontin); therefore, techniques for all of them are still in their infancies. Still, however difficult this may be, they can and must be developed by efforts similar in size to the US Manhattan Project for the atomic bomb, only geared to survival rather than destruction and ongoing for many targets. This will be costly, but less so than not insisting upon them, allowing the killing damages.

To specify a bit: decision-making under ignorance means “to place a premium on highly corrigible options,” so that mistakes can be eliminated both relatively quickly and cheaply (Collingridge 32).  Monitoring requires adversary confrontation of factual evidence from  different axiological points of view, that is, who is it good for, when, how much:

[R]eliable scientific knowledge was won for mankind [by subjecting one opinion and decision to the criticism of others]. The control of advanced technical projects on behalf of society must  depend on the same principle…. This is what we call monitoring technology,… a range of institutions and social techniques enabling the critical scrutiny of corporate decisions and actions, by and on behalf of competent and concerned opinion at every level.  ([U.K.] Council for Science and Society 27, cited in Collingridge 147)

This means that, first, in proportion to their importance, cost, and potential irreversibility, major scientific projects should not be allowed to become “in house” faits accomplis without a public debate that follows the juridic norm of hearing more than one side (audiatur et altera pars). Second, recognizing that “[e]very decision involves the selection among an agenda of alternative images of the future, a selection that is guided by some system of values” (Boulding 423), all individuals involved in screening, testing, and monitoring should provide the “bias statement” demanded already a third of a century ago by the American Academy of Sciences: a list of all previous major research funding, occupations, investments, public stands on political issues, and similar (cited in Collingridge 186, with disfavour); clearly, this applies a fortiori to the biases of collective or legal bodies, and no private bodies can be exempted.

But probably even this is  not enough. We are today irreversibly steeped in technoscience: very little technology is to be had apart from the science that produced them, very little science is to be had apart of complex technology. It is a time not only of particle physics and molecular genetics but also nanotechnology and untold further possibilities of highly risky  forays. We therefore have to draw on, encourage, and discuss all suggestions for limiting risks, such as the one by Kourilsky and Viney on precautionary steps before prevention, and many other debates for a “University of Disaster” (Virilio). Yet furthermore, we have to pick up the suggestion by Denis Noble “that there is an obligation on the part of creators of this stockpile of knowledge to work out how to disarm its ability to destroy” (184). “First of all, do not harm”: this old Hippocratic oath must be amplified by adding, “Whatever else you do, put up barriers against destruction.” These would be still recognizably scientific debates (cf. Collingridge 189-94), only enhanced by the wider horizon of a life-oriented S1, where the opponents are transparently honest and explicit about their presuppositions, and thus allow both an understanding how rival interpretations of data may be  arrived at and, where necessary, a questioning of the presuppositions (for example, not where to build a highway and how to build a nuclear power-station but also whether). As mentioned above, this profile of decision-making should, after the original decision, be preserved for needed corrections as consequences unfold.

I do not pretend the above is more than a first orientation. Among its huge gaps is, for example, lack of discussion on who should establish and administer such reviews and controls, and how to prevent an unnecessarily cumbersome bureaucracy to take root. These are however not beyond human ingenuity, if transparency and accountability are achieved. What ought to be stressed is that today science (S2) is fully accountable to and strictly steered by capitalist interests, while pretending to be technical and apolitical. It has therefore grown ecocidal and genocidal (for the genus homo), with almost all scientists as “craftsmen of power” (Haberer 303), “barbarian experts” (C.P. Snow), and today  willing mini-entrepreneurs of destruction. We need a science for survival (S1), which would look anew at its reason for being by openly acknowledging its civic political responsibility, and be steered–probably, in the long run, less tightly than today– by the interests of community and species survival.

Finally, I wish to point out, how strangely, richly, and intimately the opposition S1-S2 is interfused with the question of bodily freedom for one and for all, for our bodies personal and bodies politic. Democritus’s atoms fell in a straight line from above to below; they come from a place of power not subject to human will, of whimsical Gods or blind Nature, and may break in upon any of us (cf. Derrida 22-24).  To this picture Marx preferred in his dissertation Epicurus (Texte 59ff., 99-103, 142, and 148-58), who scoffed at the anthropomorphic idea that in the infinite there is an up and down: the fixed destination of  Destiny may be disturbed and deviated by some action. In Lucrece’s great philosophical poem, the atoms swerve and break the chains of Fate, which sanctions “the free will of people living in the world /…By which we move wherever pleasure leads each of us” (II: 254-58; cf. Suvin, “Living”). It opens a space for choice, for Being born from Non-Being, a surplus of Being.

If we really wanted to follow the Epicurean science of Lucrece, we’d have to embrace his metaphor of High Venus, mother of gods and humans. Its erotic contract with nature and human society is opposed to the hatred of Subject, and the hatred of the human body as a feeling embodiment (just see how the geneticists look at it, or how patriarchy has always looked at women!)–a contract of violent domination which is at its clearest in the service of Mars. S2 relates to S1 as warfare maiming of bodies by bombs or napalm and maiming of psyches by anxiety and terror, both characteristics of late capitalism, relates to the caress of friendly sympathy.

 Notes

 1/ My understanding of epistemology has been much shaped by the tradition of Brecht’s and Marcuse’s dominating vs. emancipatory science on one hand and on the other by Merleau-Ponty and some of his French contemporaries in psychology and philosophy, by Vygotsky, Wittgenstein, and too many others to mention. I have to single out my discussions for 20+ years with Gene Gendlin, that go much beyond what I could say in a note but can be glimpsed in “On Cognitive.”

My thanks also go to Rich Erlich for much textual help and editing.

2/ Kant practically created the focus on epistemology, see Rorty 134-48. At the end of his Logik (Introduction, A 25), he seems to have subsumed these three queries under a fourth:  “What is Man?”

For useful historical overviews see Suchting and Laugstien, esp. the former on Marx and the latter on Brecht and Gramsci; neither mentions Nietzsche.

 3/  I am attempting in this paper an as clear as possible overview and summary without too much technicality. Even when I’m in sympathy with some intricate arguments, they often, alas, get short shrift, so for ex. those in Barnes-Edge eds., Hesse’s “Theory and Observation” in Revolutions, Longino…

 4/ I am referring to the famous statement in Laplace’s Essai philosophique sur les probabilités of 1925:

The present state of the system of nature is evidently a resultant of what it was in the preceding instant, and if we conceive of an Intelligence who, in a given moment, embraces all the relations of the beings in the Universe, It will be able to determine for any instant of the past and the future their respective positions, motions, and generally their affections. (cited from Wallerstein, End 206)

 5/ An excellent example of my distinction between S1 and S2 is the semantic career of the Hellenic phainomena. For Archimedes and the whole Hellenic science, they were perceived by interaction between subject and object. In S2, a phenomenon is an “objective” fact. See for much more the astounding Russo 440 and passim. (Marx is much impressed with Newton and paleotechnics but on the whole is to be seen as continuing the S1 of his exemplar Epicurus, as I argue in “Living”.)

 6/ This section is a reworking of much milder propositions I wrote in 1987 for a gathering of the Royal Society of Canada members at McGill University. The eminent conveners of the gathering opined the discussion would not be of interest–thus confirming my diagnosis.

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ON THE EPISTEMOLOGY AND PRAGMATICS OF INTERCULTURAL THEATRE STUDIES

Darko Suvin                                                   (1997, 11,600 words)

*/This essay was published in Darko Suvin: A Life in Letters. Ed. Ph.E. Wegner. Vashon IslandWA 98070: Paradoxa, 2011, ISBN 1-929512-34-8. It may be ordered at <info@paradoxa.com>.
Copyright (C) 2011 Darko Suvin

Sound, sound aloud / The welcome of the orient flood / Into the west/
With all his beauteous race, /. . . Who . . . are bright, / And full of life and light. . . .

Ben Jonson, The Masque of Blackness (1605)

The populous East, luxuriant, abounds with glittering gems, bright
pearls, aromatic spices, and health-restoring drugs. The late-found
western world glows with unnumbered veins of gold and silver ore. . . .       It is the industrious merchant’s business to collect the various blessings     of each soil and climate and, with the products of the whole, to enrich         his native country.

George Lillo, The London Merchant (1731)

SEE

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THE ECONOMICO-POLITICAL PROSPECTS OF BORIS KIDRIČ: A BETRAYED DISALIENATION

Darko Suvin                                                                                                       (201-14, 6,100 words)

 In this essay I wish to draw out the significance of Boris Kidrič’s approach to political economy and radical democratic perspective for the incipient socialism in Yugoslavia.1/ It was in a way decisive for the creation of the SFRY (as I shall for brevity call the whole period of 1945-89) as well as for its aporias – which also means for our glance at the horizons of that society, and what we can learn from them today. I start from the axiom that any intelligently argued emancipatory alternative is worth careful consideration, and especially indispensable today, in the age of a savage and misanthropic capitalism. Thus I am not here dwelling on my objections to some aspects, for example to the notion of „Socialism“ as a separate societal formation,2/ but on Kidrič’s horizons and his argumentation. His second major and most significant field of activity, that is, the organization and implementation of the People’s Liberation struggle and revolution in Slovenia by means of founding and leading the Liberation Front, shall remain wholly outside my purview. Therefore this first approach of mine to a largely forgotten figure does not pretend to a rounded off conclusion about the significance of the revolutionary and statesman Kidrič.

  1. I shall begin by focussing on Kidrič’s „Theses on the Economy of the Transitional Period in Our Country“ („Teze o ekonomici prelaznog perioda u našoj zemlji“), which appeared at the beginning of 1951. It can be inferred that the text was written at the end of 1950 as a summa of Kidrič’s experiences as the leading official in charge of economic policy in the Party and the government of Yugoslavia from the beginning of 1948. That period was one of a sudden turn from State to self-managing socialism, and he was one of the main champions of this turn.3/

The „Theses“ constituted a theoretical self-understanding for Kidrič – and most probably for a crucial portion of top members of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) and the overlapping State leadership – and provided a basis for  significant action. The essay consists of four parts, each part having five to eleven theses. Bearing in mind the length of single theses, which – particularly in the first part – encompass two or three printed pages or 1000 words each, we would today probably call his work rather a „Tractate,“ in the wondrous Arabic and Jewish tradition reactualized by Spinoza and more recently by Wittgenstein (though Wittgenstein was probably unknown to Kidrič). The name of the genre is of course not essential, but one can feel in this text an oscillation between the tradition of brief theses and of an article. A second general characteristic and permanent method of Kidrič’s writing is a fusion of scientific argumentation, radical democratic-socialist horizons, and orientation towards immediate applicability. I shall limit myself here to a discussion of the first part, which is of fundamental theoretical importance; the other three parts are „Planning,“ „Prices,“ and „Money.“ The first part is untitled in the book but we might call it „General and Basic Considerations.“ I shall here follow the order of his theses, while at  times using some of Kidrič’s later work.

The first brief thesis begins with the definition of „a socialist enterprise” (poduzeće), an entity that acts „within the socialist commodity exchange… as an economic and legal individual under the legal regulations of the State of the working people (the dictatorship of the proletariat). These regulations ought to correspond to objective economic laws….“ (79) The single enterprise is here both an empirical and an axiomatic agent, “a fictive person” in burgeois legal jargon, important as the nodal point for action, yet acting only within a definite and defined frame or field of force in a polity. Already this first step is a decisive notional breakthrough, because it proceeds inductively from the working collective, that is, from below upwards, as opposed to the Soviet way of proceeding from the State apparatus of titanic central ministries and their branchings downwards. In other words, for Kidrič the socialist enterprise is no longer an object of State administration and State acquisition of accumulation from surplus work, which in the USSR took the place of profit. To the contrary, the enterprise is the subject of creating income for the whole society, within which accumulation is still its largest part, withdrawn by the State for the purpose of planned distribution.  The accumulation itself is not determined by the State a priori but to a large part a posteriori: it depends on the success of the enterprise’s work and is defined by a prescribed percentage of State withdrawals. The enterprise’s success thus does not increase the percentage but only the total size of the accumulation withdrawn (cf. Lipovec 269-70). This represents the axiomatic or fundamental stance of orientation towards the popular initiative from below (as in the wartime Liberation Struggle) as against the Stalin-type command system of monocracy from above (odinonachalie). Kidrič situates Yugoslavia within the horizon of plebeian creativity as an alternative to the horizon of command power (Gramsci would have called this set-up a hegemony based on consensus rather than on naked coercion).

The field of societal forces within which the enterprises’ self-initiative operates is „socialist commodity exchange,“ discussed in Theses 1.2 to 1.6. It proceeds as regulated by a State that Kidrič has no qualms in calling „dictatorship of the proletariat.“ This was rather unusual among the CPY leadership of the time, as the term was backgrounded in the Popular Front strategy before, during,  and immediately after the war. It testifies to Kidrič’s deeper understanding both of Lenin and of the history of Soviet struggles after Lenin’s death, within which Stalinism arose. This is to my mind an indication that he was striving for a democratic communism led by a vanguard, and not at all for a „market socialism.“ Be that as it may, for Kidrič socialist commodity exchange flows out of „objective economic laws“ and is seen as the best realistically available variant of material life in „the State of the working people“ as defined in postwar Yugoslav practice and theory. Socialist exchange is opposed, as Kidrič constantly stresses, not only to capitalist commodity exchange but also to Soviet-type totalized administrative planning which pretended to do away with commodity value. It had however become manifest that the liquidation of commodity exchange led not only to violent oppression and exploitation of the working people, but also to poor results in production: to shortages of goods, their abysmal quality and limited variety, etc. (80-81). The USSR example shows that „State socialism,“ after its initial necessity immediately after the revolution, necessarily grows into „the strengthening of a privileged bureaucracy as a social parasite, the throttling… of socialist democracy, and a general degeneration of the whole system,“ so that there comes about „ a restoration of a specific kind… a vulgar State-capitalist monopoly“ (84).4/ In other places, as in Kidrič’s long article „On the Drafts of the New Economic Laws“ („O nacrtima novih ekonomskih zakona,“ 116-42), he explicitly stressed that the Yugoslav experience in the years 1945 to 1950 was of the same type: it was then still necessary „to throttle the law of supply and demand as well as the law of value.“ It is clear now that these laws, though being „an avowed remnant of the past,“ must necessarily operate, albeit within the limits of societal planning, on the „present-day level of material productive forces, which is relatively still very low“ (Socijalizam 124).

At the same time Kidrič manages dialectics well and does not shy away from the inner contradictions of his system.5/ Both “the socialist enterprise” and “the commodity” represent, on the one hand, societal property as against private property, first as “socialist State property, and then increasingly as all-people’s property managed by freely associated direct producers, only under [general] control and protection of the State“ (80). On the other hand, within this large novelty there exist four „elements of the past“ (or „remnants of capitalism,“ 82): „commodity exchange as such”; the “socialist enterprise as an economic and legal individual“; „economic measures of a State-capitalist character in the socialist sector“ (which he however holds to be transitory and optimistically believes are on the whole subsiding); and „the appearance of the socialist State and its enterprises on the world market“ (80-82). It should also be stressed that he clearly characterized the accumulation taken (taxed away) by the State as the „alienated“ part of the surplus labour, and defended it as unavoidable at a time of primitive accumulation. All the same, here as well as later, Kidrič stresses that „The law of value and commodity production still bear within themselves the danger of some tendencies towards restoration“ (113). Kidrič meant here primarily a restoration of capitalist relationships, but he was quite clear in his own thought, and made quite clear to his readers and in his policies, that dangers could also nestle in the federal administration and that of the constituent Yugoslav republics. This understanding and contemning of “restoration” was later accompanied by the harshest attacks on Stalinian „bureaucratic counter-revolution, which anti-dialectically denies that within the socialist sector itself… there necessarily exist contradictions and a struggle between the objective… elements of the capitalist past and the communist future“ (128). He even postulated that „the economic and societal role of the Soviet bureaucratic caste  was quite similar to the role of the capitalist class“ − if the role played by the USSR rulers was not worse (230). A position so radical was rare in Yugoslavia, and it was totally forgotten after the leaders of CPY were reconciled with Krushchov in 1955.

His conclusion from the first five theses in part 1 is

Socialist commodity exchange is… a dialectical contradiction valid for a given time in the transitional period between capitalism and communism.” And further: „It appears as the basic inner contradiction of the whole societal economy…. It certainly gives rise to contrary interests but does not necessarily lead to class antagonism.” (82-83, italics by Kidrič)

Thesis 1.6 then discusses the character of an „economic association” of enterprises that represents a „higher association of the producers” and comes about by transferring certain rights of the enterprise to the association’s “planning and operative administration.” And Thesis 1.7 proposes, very radically, that the State can immediately begin a transfer of certain planning and operative rights to the enterprises through such „higher associations.” In Thesis 1.8 this is articulated, in what Ernst Bloch would call a perspective of concrete utopia, as the possibility that such an association „covering an entire economic branch in the whole of Yugoslavia” could be run by a super-ordinate or highest workers’ council elected by the lower councils of the local “higher associations.” This highest council of the whole branch „would consist of the workers from the enterprises; the only payment would be given to its chairperson with a small apparatus of two to six people…” – presumably specialists hired for planning and coordination purposes. Each full or highest branch association and its council would, on the one hand, be subject to the general rules of the State organs nominated by the Federal Assembly, and on the other hand, the branch association would have the right and the duty to participate in the „federal councils for individual economic branches [the equivalent of ministries, DS].” (87). In a later article, Kidrič defends this hierarchy of plebeian democratic authorities by citing at great length the measures, documents, and rules of the Paris Commune of 1871 (148-52).

As far as planning is concerned, the „Theses” insist at length on the necessity of only basic planning on the federal scale and level, that is, the determination of some key economic proportions for distributing resources among branches and regions, while the micro-planning is left to the enterprises and their higher associations on the basis of the market’s law of supply and demand. Kidrič broaches here the whole problem of „market socialism” which was to become dominant in the 1960s and later − unfortunately bereft of his careful framing within a plebeian and planned horizon. He  insisted, however, that even the basic planning ought to be speedily de-etatized, so that the branch associations and their articulated organs „gradually grow from purely State organs into mixed ones with the participation of direct representatives of associated producers“ (90). In a lecture from 1951, he foresaw that the State − the federal government − would then immediately leave 50-70% of investments to the planning by direct producers and their associations (104): the same percentage was aimed at by the apparently sincere but lukewarm proponents of the 1965 socio-economic reform (such as Kardelj and Bakarić).5/

The macro-economic independence of enterprises was accompanied by a second permanent novelty that characterized the history of socialist Yugoslavia, the micro-economic division of salaries into a fixed component − that is, the mandatory part which corresponds to the minimum use of productive capacities − and a variable component, which is proportional to the rise of labour productivity up to a federally-fixed maximum (in percentage of salary, 105). Within such given parameters, salaries are not fixed by State regulations but set by the enterprise itself − through the workers’ councils system Kidrič was just introducing − as a function of their sales, where the prices are again (within given limits and regulations) determined by each enterprise. This new way of operating led at the beginning of the 1950s to an exceptionally high rise of production and productivity, and the competition among enterprises led also to lower prices. However, this could be managed only by technologically better equipped enterprises, which led to a quest for better technologies; to this end, Kidrič introduced a new „Law on Inventions and Technical Perfecting“ (cf. Puharič), a policy that ingloriously perished in the ‘60s in favour of uncontrolled import of foreign licences.

Within the enterprises tensions lessened between the director, nominated by the municipality, and the workers, since the management and the workforce had more interests in common. Historically speaking, the division of income into a fixed and a variable component was potentially a step towards abolishing the exploitative wage relationship. In fiscal terms, Kidrič‘s system meant passing from direct (that is, administrative) financing by the State to lending, to a system of credits. All of these actions opened the door to additional processes and further contradictions that characterized the Yugoslav economy from that time on.

In his Theses and policies, Kidrič envisaged a synergy of two processes. The first one, thoroughly discussed in his Part 2, is to continue the centralized planning of certain basic proportions, starting from the necessity of „a single centralized plan“ for the country (91), but a de-etatized or democratized one (a detailed project is in Thesis 2.11). The second process is to use within such a centralized plan the good aspects of the markets which possess, within limits, the capacity of automatic adjustment between supply and demand, that is, of correcting the planning errors. Should the overall plan not be fulfilled, „be it because of newly arisen conditions, or because of a low degree of consciousness in the working collective, or because of still slack socialist relationships,” the central administration might introduce supplementary planning instruments. However, their „every detail shall have to be minutely justified,” with a right of appeal by the direct producers, to be adjudicated by mixed panels of the two parties, panels required to consider both the appeal and the mandatory justifications by central administrators of their supplementary instructions (106). The mixed top Councils with a strong participation by the direct producers and all such attendant proceedings were however never instituted; instead, the economic instruments, proportions, and regulations were arrived at without public participation, by means of behind-the-scenes struggles between the federal and the republican powers.6/

The conclusion of Kidrič‘s first part in Thesis 1.9 clearly sums up his main thrust:

It is necessary to introduce as soon as possible workers’ councils in each economic branch for the whole of Yugoslavia…. Without introducing at the same time centralized and democratic association of working collectives, that is, of the direct producers, the decentralization of operative management away from the State does not lead forward but leads inexorably back to State capitalism—in fact, to several State capitalisms [in the republics] which would be particularistic in relation to the whole [of Yugoslavia] and bureaucratic-cum-centralist towards below, in relation to the working collectives. (88)

A few months later, this was supplemented by the general statement that the discussion on the economic system deals with the basic question „of exploitation of man by man in… the system born of the socialist revolution, that is… who disposes of the surplus labour − and behind this questions sooner or later the even more fateful one arises of who in fact appropriates the surplus labour” (122).

Beside using a kind of bridled law of value, an initial development of „socialist societal relationships needs,” Kidrič insisted, „two more matters.” First, all levels of the SFRY had to respect and adopt “at least some elements of management by the direct producers of the basic productive means,“ and second, the society had to incorporate deeply “at least some elements of socialist democracy in the content and character of power” (128-29 − I speak further to his political and class stance in ”Diskurs” and a forthcoming book). Kidrič proceeds also to the important category of monopolism as the most dangerous enemy of socialism, strongly denying it is identical with a planned economy but educing it from „a blind empiricist adoption of Soviet practice,” and even deeper from „monopoly capitalism… brought to a peak in Soviet bureaucratic centralism“ (70; on monopolism − especially as exercised by the banks! − cf. 229). Socialist democracy is for Kidrič „most deeply connected with… the process of abolishing monopolies“ (200-01). I assume the category of monopoly was borrowed from Lenin’s Imperialism, where it plays a major role not only as the hallmark of that phase of capitalism but especially as a source of blockage and decay in economy. „The socialist democratic rights of the direct producers“ cannot at all be reduced to territorial self-government (Kidrič 201); for them “basic is − the right of the working masses to self-management at all levels of socialist State power” (221-22). It might be remarked that integral dismantling of monopolies, in particular, cries out for further development, but  Kidrič was not granted time for it.

These propositions by Kidrič were deeply prophetic for the future and fate of SFR Yugoslavia. The disposition of surplus labour was clearly the central societal and political problem in the development of workers’ self-management, and of socialist democracy from below. I do not see how, even today, both the rise of republican State capitalisms and the need for a strong interaction between self-government in production and in civil society could be formulated more clearly and pithily.  Thus, the failure to adopt Kidrič’s bedrock principles of democratic socialism and its planning led by steps to decentralization without democratic association of working collectives, „several State capitalisms” in the republican mini-fiefs, economic failure, and finally to the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the horrors of the Yugoslav Secession Wars.

  1. After Kidrič‘s death, his approach to planning and in general to the economic system was forsaken. It was in force from September 1951 to 1954, less than three years. In my view, Kidrič‘s insistence on a single centralized plan of developing Yugoslavia, in constant feedback with the direct producers, was fully right, whatever additions and corrections would need to be incorporated into it by experience. Like all proper cognition and science, Kidrič‘s system possessed built-in possibilities for self-correction (cf. Lipovec 273 i 275). Without such a plan (which is the central, potentially fertile project of all communist economic horizons), Yugoslav economy necessarily found itself in a blind alley. Jettisoning democratic de-alienation of socio-economic structures in favour of incompatible stresses on profit and on full employment exacerbated friction between the federal centre and the republics and finally led precisely to that economic and political anarchy that Kidrič proposed to avoid.7/

PHOTO: Boris Kidrič, Kočevski Rog (Spring 1944)

kidric

 In SFRY Kidrič‘s set of proposals and horizon, clear in the “Theses” and other cited works, did not have time to be tested and developed in practice. To the contrary, the dark alternative which he so well foresaw came into force. Kidrič‘s detailed counter-proposal formulated very clearly, at the beginning of the Yugoslav self-managing trajectory, the overriding need for an integral self-government as not only an economistic or productivistic measure but as a political and organizational one. As opposed to local self-government and self-management in production, victory fell to the conservative current in the Communist Party and the power centers, which brought about an ossified oligarchic monopoly in politics and a slow but sure de facto (and at the end also de iure) return to the capitalist profit principle. An atomised self-management confined to the ghetto of  basic enterprises − which had even so raised great hopes and at its beginning been an essential factor for great economic successes in SFRY − had  by the latter 1960s become a minor economic sop to working people in compensation for their disempowerment, for the denial of effective and permanent democratic control from below. SFRY thus fell prey, in spite of all the difference between it and the USSR, to a variant of Brezhnevian stasis, leading to an equally inglorious end.

After Kidrič, there remain some cognitions to be treasured and some open problems. I shall mention only one, which appeared also in the USSR and PR China after the revolution and coming to power of the communist party, so it might be a central one. In all Leninist revolutions, the mainspring for the great majority of participants was the slogan with which the Italian partisan song Bandiera rossa ends: “Evviva il comunismo e la libertà!” (Long live communism, long live freedom!) In the Yugoslav popular uprising this mainspring was encapsulated in the omnipresent slogan „Smrt fašizmu–sloboda narodu!“ (Death to fascism, liberty to the people!). For communism as liberty for the people, the post-revolutionary system clearly had to break down the hypocritical sundering of (officially) water-tight compartments of economics and politics. The huge concentration of economico-political power ensuing upon  Party/State control of the economy was initially necessary both for a revolutionary conquest of power and for the material reproduction and development of a backward society. But how was that seizing of power to be harmonized with a political democracy that would not be a fraud in the interest of the ruling class − as is mostly the case in indirect (parliamentary) democracy and more or less in all “socialist” imitations of such parliamentarism? How might a revolutionary movement avoid the fateful split between communist theory and practice, or between communism and the plebeian democracy it was supposed to usher in (cf. Lenin’s State)?

I mentioned earlier that Kidrič quickly arrived at the central question which will incessantly plague SFRY and any other would-be socialist polity: „who in fact appropriates the surplus labour”? In Marx’s terms, we are speaking about de-alienating the real decision-power about central questions of life in society, about their quick and decisive transfer into the hands of a fully articulated vertical system of associated producers (which Kidrič strongly urged). In China, for example, there were serious discussions during the 1960s and 70s and before Deng’s turn towards capitalism − that is, just before and during the so-called Cultural Revolution − about the expropriation of the workers’ decision-power and their surplus labour by the commanding political heights. Even more important, on the agenda was the structurally perhaps deeper problem about the incompatibility between the interests of working people and the oligarchic management of economy within which the reproduction of capital still reigns. In Leninist terms, the question is: should the revolution, made in the name of the proletariat and led by the communist party, only carry out the failed bourgeois revolution while topping it up with a dispossession of the bourgeoisie – that is, by abolishing private exploitation – or does this revolution have deeper aims? Does not the first alternative, in conditions of economic and cultural backwardness, usher in a new type of etatist exploitation and alienation? Is socialism only an economistic and productivistic alternative to bourgeois society or is it also a cultural alternative in the widest sense of this term − the coming about of a different relationship between people as well as of people with nature? Does the revolution lead to a new Leviathan or to the replacement of Leviathan with a society of all-sided citizens as Marx imagined it?

Decisive for these processes are depth economic and psychological currents that can be theoretically identified as the “law of value” and an economy based on commodity exchange. Kidrič was without doubt the pioneer of a protracted discussion about these processes in SFRY, which in the decades after his death came to no satisfactory conclusion. The theoretical and highly practical question remains: does Marx’s opus equate commodity production with capitalism, or does commodity production, once begun, continue forever, that is, after capitalism too? In SFRY theoretical thought there were conflicting stances about this question. One group, the official view whose main spokesmen were Edvard Kardelj and, among social scientists, Miladin Korać, held that Marx does not criticise commodity production per se but only its capitalist „form,“ so that a socialist political economy whose object is „socialist commodity production” is possible. A second group, mainly composed of Praxis collaborators such as Gajo Petrović, Vanja Sutlić, Ljubomir Tadić, and Žarko Puhovski, held that in a truly Marxist analysis only a socialist critique of commodity production, as well as a critique of political economy, is possible. I hold that in a careful Marxian analysis, and in fact, capital is not merely an economic category but a given historical way of producing a human community and its metabolism with nature − the regulative principle of a specific way of life. That capital has been taken to be only an economic category flows out of a historically unique constellation, a hegemony of capitalist thought in which it is believed that “the economy is not a means for developing other human activities; on the contrary, other human activities become a means for developing the economy“ (Divjak 67). Thinking in dialectical opposition to such hegemonic ideas leads to the realization that socialism is not a historical epoch on a par with capitalism or feudalism but a transitional period (which may last for generations) between exploitative capitalism and communism – with communism defined, following Marx, as a society putting into effect the full slogan, Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!”, emphatically including “to each according to her needs.” If this is correct, „socialism is simply the historical practice of communist interventions into material and productive [as well as moral and imaginative, DS] presuppositions of the bourgeois world“ (Divjak 13).

We cannot know of which camp the realistic Marxist and statesman Kidrič would approve. He was certainly for the horizons of the second camp, but also for a realism of transitional measures which the first camp often advocated (or took as an excuse). Still, I finally hold that theoretically the first group’s stance is untenable, since for a Marxian commodity exchange is not at all simply a legal or technical activity but a way, as Kidrič understood, for people to live together that determines their lives.8/

Notes 

1/ Biographical note: Boris Kidrič (1912 – 1953) was born in Vienna as the son of the prominent progressive Slovene academic and literary critic France Kidrič. In 1953, he died of leukemia in Belgrade. In this short span, he achieved two major historical feats. First, he organized the liberation of Slovenia through underground and then increasingly partisan struggles. Second, he was the main driving force in creating and outstanding theoretician of the modern Yugoslav economy, in which he was the main theoretician and practical introducer of the Workers’ Councils..

Kidrič became in his late teens a member of the illegal and harshly persecuted Communist Party of Yugoslavia and soon rose to be one of the leaders of SKOJ (League of Young Communists). He studied in the 1930s for a time in Prague but mainly devoted himself to underground work in his country, during which Tito picked him for one of the inmost circle of leaders for the small but agile and increasingly influential C.P., and assigned him to work in Slovenia. During the Italian and German fascists’ occupation of dismembered Slovenia after April 1941 he became the secretary of the C.P. of Slovenia and the chief organizer of the Slovene underground resistance. He became the leader of the  Liberation Front of the Slovenian people, forged together with a number of other patriotic groups and party fragments. Operating underground in the city of Ljubljana under his political guidance, the “Osvobodilna fronta” became probably the best organized European city resistance, the chief of Security and Intelligence being his wife Zdenka. Following this crucial role in the antifascist liberation struggle in Slovenia between 1941 and 1945, he was between 1945 and 1946 the first Prime Minister in history of the independent Slovenian Republic within federal Yugoslavia. After 1947, he was called to Belgrade as the chief responsible for the creation of Yugoslav economics, and became a member of the CPY Politburo in 1948.

At his death, Djilas rightly called him “the most daring mind of our revolution.” In 1959, a large monument was erected in his honour in front of the Slovenian Government Office in Ljubljana, where it still stands despite some protests.

Of his four main achievements in life, the theory and the practice of liberation struggle in Slovenia and of socialist economy in Yugoslavia, this essay deals only with the theory of the latter.

 2/ See Suvin, “Death,” and my forthcoming book on SFR Yugoslavia, in particular the essay „15 Theses.” In that book I treat at length notions such as “the working people,” also the work of the Praxis periodical.

I have not been able to check the Slovene edition of Kidrič’s essays and so do not know whether the Serbo-Croatian or the Slovene variant was the „original.”

Unless otherwise indicated, citations in the text are by number of page in Kidrič’s Socijalizam (1979). Where there might be confusion, I repeat Socijalizam.

The term „republican“ denotes here, following SFRY practice, the six federal republics.

My thanks for help to get texts to Srećko Pulig, Matko Meštrović, and Marko Kržan, and for discussion to Richard D. Erlich.

2/ At the time of Kidrič’s first works on economics in 1946-47, on pp. 1-54 of his Socijalizam.book, the only and unavoidable set of sources for ideas on „building socialism“ was a one-sided interpretation of Soviet experiences (see on this Stalinist context Bilandžić 95-131). The official theory of Soviet practice (after Lenin) held not only that the State plan determines prices, salaries, and quantities of produced goods; this theory also implies that politics can more or less fully determine economics. Under Stalin this − never argued − voluntarism was equated with the abolition of commodities and all possible exploitation. The only exception on the Left to such theorizing was Oskar Lange’s On the Economic Theory of Socialism in 1938 (which Kidrič may not have known). Very early on, Kidrič began modifying the Stalinist traditions; nonetheless in the speech at the Fifth Congress of CPY in 1948 he still claimed that „there is no surplus value in the socialist sector [the State-run enterprises]“ (O izgradnji 24). His works from that period are of interest because they point not only to key issues in the social history of the SFRY and USSR – and beyond  – but also to the gigantic turn in Kidrič’s stance, which he swiftly and radically effected in 1948-49.

3/ I leave by side here the vast, and to my mind inconclusive, debate on the real economic character of USSR after the victory of Stalinism. For this article it suffices that Kidrič correctly identified both the economic and political consequence of the Stalinist system.

5/ Kidrič’s stress on the central role of contradictions within socialist development itself precedes by seven years Mao Zedong’s speech on „contradictions within the people“; to my mind, Kidrič‘s treatment is deeper though less systematic. Mao’s two articles on practice and on contradiction from 1937 were at the time unknown in Europe.

6/ It should be added that in 1946 Kidrič formulated, as one of his first orientations in the capacity as head of the Federal Planning Commission, a very interesting ideal model for the dynamics of the republican economic development, having as its presupposition a socialist equalisation of per capita income in the future. It foresees that when the average income will in year N (its number is not specified) be tenfold as compared with a present base level, then the per capita income of all republics will be equal, which would mean that the income of for ex. Slovenia would grow 6.75 times, Croatia 9.5 times, Bosnia 13.25 times, and Kosovo 18.75 times (adduced in Hamilton 138-39, who cites Ekonomist no. 3-4 [1963]: 608-09). As I debate at length in my book, such a truly revolutionary horizon was sadly and foolishly forgotten after Kidrič‘s death.

7/ The early historian of SFRY Bilandžić allows that Kidrič took an important step by using „the socialist enterprise” as the keystone of his economic theses (instead of a small cog in the centralized machinery), but faults him for insisting on firm planning proportions that limit the enterprise’s independence (172-73). However economics is based on interdependence, and the end result of the jettisoning of federal proportions (which Kidrič wanted to be decided by panels where representatives of citizens meet with representatives of workers’ councils) has been demonstrated by the ensuing chaos in SFRY history. Bilandžić was a representative of a republican oligarchy, so that for him any federal organization or rule is automatically reactionary; this is dead wrong. The central problem was the degree of direct democracy to be achieved, for which was needed open confrontation between various socialist programs and teams. Only when this confrontation was repressed did the problem of federal centre vs. republics take centre stage.

9/ I have not found thorough discussions of Kidrič on economics, but a first approximation may be found in the well-balanced Milenkovitch 55-59 and 77-89, also in  Lipovec. Boffito rightly writes that he put into his anthology about socialism and market in Yugoslavia of nine essays between 1949 and 1967 three by Kidrič, „because he clearly had the main role in introducing the new economic system based on self-management“ (19 − see also 21-22 and 26-27).

Works cited

Bilandžić, Dušan. Historija SFR Jugoslavije: glavni procesi. Zagreb: Globus, 1978.

Boffito, Carlo. „Introduzione,” in his Socialismo e mercato in Jugoslavia. Torino: Einaudi, 1968, 11-49.

Divjak, Slobodan. Roba i revolucija: Marks, kritika političke ekonomije i socijalizam. Beograd: SIC, 1982.

Hamilton, Ian F.E. Yugoslavia: Patterns of Economic Activity. New York: Praeger, 1968.

Kidrič, Boris. O izgradnji socijalističke ekonomike FNRJ: Referat na V Kongresu KPJ. Beograd: [Borba?, 1948].

—. Socijalizam i ekonomija. Ur. V. Merhar. Zagreb: Globus, [1979].

Lenin, Vladimir I. The State and Revolution. www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/

Lipovec, Filip. „Nastanek dohodkovne mere v Kidričevem sistemu stopenj akumulacije.” Ekonomska revija br. 3-4 (1979): 265-79.

Milenkovitch, Deborah. Plan and Market in Yugoslav Economic Thought. Yale UP, 1971.

Puharič, Krešo. „Boris Kidrič o pomenu izumiteljstva in novatorstva.” Ekonomska revija no. 3-4 (1979): 325-30.

Sednice Centralnog Komiteta KPJ (1948-1952). Ed. B. Petranović and others. Beograd: Komunist, 1985.

Suvin, Darko. „15 Theses about Communism and Yugoslavia, or The Two-Headed Janus of Emancipation through the State.” (forthcoming in Critical Q).

—. „ Death into Life: For a Poetics of Anti-Capitalist Alternative.” Socialism & Democracy 26.2 (July 2012): 91-105.

—. “Diskurs o birokraciji i državnoj vlasti u post-revolucionarnoj Jugoslaviji 1945.-1974 [A Discourse on Bureaucracy and State Power in Post-revolutionary Yugoslavia 1945-74].” Politička misao no. 3 (2012): 135-59 and 4 (2012): 228-47.

Abstract

The economico-political writings of Boris Kidrič from 1947 to 1953 are analyzed to indicate their innovativeness as concerns democratic but firm socialist planning. using the market for correction only. His theory proceeds inductively from the „socialist enterprise“ basic unit and its working collective. Within  „socialist commodity exchange“ it creates income, of which the largest part will be withdrawn by State planning as „accumulation.“ The planning should very soon be done by interaction between citizen and workers’ councils’ democracy These are contradictions  which “bear within themselves the danger of some tendencies towards restoration.“ After his death, his ideas were forsaken and the disalienation they bore betrayed.

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DEITY VS. WARRIOR Nô PLAYS: REVELATION, NOT CONFLICT

Darko Suvin                                                                                                        (1996, 9,340 words)

It should be clear that our study of the nô must include the resources of comparative literature. Indeed …we must study the nô drama from every possible direction, using every useful approach.
Konishi Jin’ichi, 1960

0. How May Intercultural Theatre Studies Approach Nô?

0.1. To begin with, two notes about the object and approach of this essay. First, any student of Nô is acutely aware that its verbal signs are in constant interaction with a rich array of musical and other acoustic signs as well as with  dance and other optical signs; the final dance of the shite1  takes by itself often one third of performance time. Though it is misleading to call the verbal text of Nô a libretto, encompassing meaning resides only in the performance as a whole. Nonetheless, my approach is predicated on the hypothesis that the integral “stage story” is the backbone of Nô’s “performance text,” and that some crucial parameters of this theatre story-telling can be inferred from natural language and must be fruitfully isolated for an initial discussion.

Second, I take it that it is by now widely accepted that there is no stable object “out there” which would be analogous to the Moon seen imperfectly or anamorphically in our telescopes or spectrometers. The first thing that strikes one in Nô studies is (at least in my experience) how inevitable it is to foreground this realization in them. Instead of approaching a stable ontology, wiser and sadder today, we have to deal with the epistemology of competing societal stances towards, and indeed competing definitions of, an entry in the imaginary cultural encyclopedia of a given spacetime (Eco). What such an entry refers to, its referentiality, is perhaps more arbitrary  in the case of the Nô play than in most other fields of theatre studies. This will be exemplified by the quite basic or constitutive decision of what are the significant units of Nô. For the purposes of this essay I shall attempt to skirt the minefield of referentiality (cf. at least Whiteside) by refusing both the contemporary ontological absolutists  who believe they can travel with Plato and Saul of Tarsus from shadowy contours to the deep Truth, and the deconstructionist absolutists who believe no legs are lost in minefields and no delights incurred or emotions  hurt in sexuality since all these are–since reality in general is–simply matters of discourse. To my mind the golden in-between position is to be found in a dialectical refusal to segregate to opposed poles the seeing subject and the object seen, since the act of seeing presupposes and proves that they share the same structure. As seminally introduced by Hegel, “It becomes clear that behind the so-called curtain which is supposed to veil the inner, there is nothing to see unless we step behind it, not just in order that there be someone who can see, but equally in order to have something there to be seen” (129; tr. from Taylor 147). An analogous denial of enclosed interiority or depth for both observer and cultural text is suggestively formulated in Paul Ricoeur’s two-tier discussion of sense and reference in texts:

This is perhaps most precisely phrased in Brecht’s discussion of criteria for the art of acting:

The positions (enunciations) were thus not brought near to the spectator but distanced, the spectator was not led but left to his discoveries. (17: 984)

For such a stance, it is impossible to believe any longer that  cultural constructs are finally anchored by referring back to a pre-existent eternal reality or inside to an equally fixed “objective” essence of Nôness. Rather, the pragmatically useful concept and category of “Nô,” its world and its values, would become present or unfold in front of the (culturally constructed) text, as the observer’s discovery, as a methodological necessity and mandatory presupposition for speaking at all about this congerie of phenomena. As Fredric Jameson concluded: “The study of the referent, however, is the study, not of the meaning of the text, but of the limits of its meanings and of their historical preconditions…” (Ideologies 108); meaning is a given text’s “‘historically operative’ significance or function…, the meaningfulness of a gesture that we read back from the situation to which it is precisely a response” (Ideologies 145-46). The quest for meaning is unavoidable because to my mind inseparable from the human condition, the interpretive mysteries subsist, yet not in any monadic unit that bestows meaning –be that subject or object. If we are still forced to use these terms, let us at least have meaning arising between the two societal, historical and situation-bound,  constructs of knower and known. The essence is historical and dynamic, the founding epistemological unit is not a monad but a relational dyad (this too can be found in Hegel).

In that sense–but only in that one–I believe the term “Nô” does refer, albeit to a subject-object constellation rather than to an objective reality; so that it still makes sense to talk about Nô (or Renaissance theatre or Brecht).

0.2. The shifting and evidently “socially constructed” nature of a unit of Nô studies–a good instance of what Saussure identified (if misnamed) as the arbitrariness of linguistic and other signs- -can be followed on at least three levels. First, when we speak about any Nô title, which text and/or variant are we speaking about? Texts and scores were until this century transmitted exclusively by the performing “extended families” (ryû), which had their own criteria of selection. Konishi has noted how “many plays popular today were not well liked during the Muromachi period, ” including some of Zeami’s masterpieces; the staging of Kinuta, possibly Zeami’s favourite, lapsed for about a quarter millennium so that no performance traditions survived. Obversely, evidence  from  various sources, centrally from  Zeami’s  own writings, establishes that “a number of important works performed at that time have not been retained in the [modern] repertory” (Rimer xxvii). Other aspects were simply changed: Konishi goes on to discuss how (e.g.) the dramaturgic agent played by the waki was in a well-known play degraded from daimyô (feudal lord) to yeoman.2 In fact, from the ca. 250 plays today considered canonical, only about 100 are performed in the original, pre-Edo verbal text. “Over half a millennium has passed since Zeami himself performed his plays, a period in which changes have inevitably taken place,” remarks Hare, so that (a  striking and accurate parallel) a discussion of Zeami in terms of today’s plays “would be tantamount to discussing Shakespeare’s style using Polanski’s Macbeth” (54); he follows this up with a careful discussion (55-61 and 267) of what we can assume has changed from Zeami’s to present-day performances. A possible conclusion might be that the central red thread of plot outline has in most cases changed little, but that there are numerous, sometimes startling, transformations in many segments. In some cases the play variants may diverge widely,  amounting to rewrites, and the modern printed versions may be “often simplified, even bowdlerized” (Rimer xxvii). Furthermore–although we seem to know very little about the changes in dance and instrumental music–all proportions must have been radically altered by the approximate doubling of performance time in the quarter millennium after the latter part of 16th Century, when the performance of one Nô took no more than 45 minutes (see O’Neill’s painstaking proof, Early Nô 88-90)! Other major shifts included the introduction of the tsuyogin and yowagin –roughly, “major” and “minor”– scales ca. 1680,  the increased stylization of masks and the canonization of their kinds ca. 1600 (cf. for both Konishi, “Approaches” 13 and 15-17) as well as the freezing of fixed dimensions for the Nô stage (cf. Rimer xxiv).  Finally, political monopolization of all Nô groups by shogunal patronage led to a strong ceremonializing trend of shortening texts, cutting down on secondary and parallel –especially female –agents, and slowing the dances (see Yokota 261-66, 268-70, and passim, also Brazell, “Nature” 214ff.). In sum, there is general agreement that the original Nô performances were more realistic and much less solemn than after the Edo period (cf. O’Neill, “Background” 20), so that, in a diplomatic formulation, “the kind of stately experience usually offered today seems at some variance with the rough-and-tumble world described in [Zeami’s] treatises” (Rimer xxiv).

However, all such deep changes in play texts shall not be pursued further here (I attempt to discuss in somewhat greater detail the case of the Nô-play Tanikô, where the shite-role probably shifted to a different agent in Edo time,  in Suvin, “Use-Value”). Instead, I shall briefly face two other levels. For, second, if we take as our unit one single play, how many plays are we speaking about? And third, if we wish to approach any significant generalization about Nô, how do we categorize them into higher-order units or groups?

On the second question of this subsection, in the Nô’s heyday, the Muromachi period (14th to 16th Century), perhaps more than 1,000 plays were written, of which about 600 survive. To them another 1,000 or more plays were added later–mainly in the Edo period, 300 years on–but these were not at all or very rarely performed, so that O’Neill suggests they should be considered as (a separate sub-genre of?) closet plays.3 However, only about 250 are in the canon performed by the five Nô schools, the first trace of whose establishment–a list of Nô plays no longer in the active repertoire–stems from 1686 (Matisoff 254). In this canon, there are perhaps less than 100 plays performed  and discussed with any frequency (according to a forthcoming investigation of mine, there are over 150 Nô plays translated into one of the main European languages in reasonably accurate versions, but only 84 of them more than once). Yet frequently there exists “a misapprehension that the existing repertory or canon of 200 plays suffices to study the nô….Most of the plays in the acting canon are excellent dramas, superior to the rest in many respects, and we seldom find a masterpiece among the uncanonical plays….Is it reasonable, [however,] to discuss the style–much less the history–of nô drama on the basis of the present-day repertory…?” (Konishi, “Approaches” 3-4)

 My subsequent argument demands a reminder that in this canon Zeami is the central “playwright,” in the integral sense including text, music, and probably dance (he was also protagonist and organizer-“director,” of course). Attributions in this genre– where plays are often anonymous or rewrites–are always difficult and most frequently a matter of guesswork subject to oscillations in what one might call constructive and deconstructive waves, so that Zeami’s opus is estimated at somewhere between 50 and 110 titles. It has been increasingly recognized as not only splendid but also very personal or idiosyncratic, rather different both from his predecessors (such as his father Kannami) and from his successors, and as having set up some central parameters in terms of which Nô is being discussed and perceived– first by the players themselves, and consequently by the often intensely clannish Japanese critics,  on whom necessarily much of the foreign discussion builds. (To this should be added in our century the impact of the newly published theoretical writings by Zeami;  they are highly interesting but also obscure and will be only fugitively mentioned here, within a methodological choice that favours implicit over explicit poetics.) A first conclusion is, therefore, that a contemporary critic must be very cautious when generalizing from the plays seen in performance and known from translations or critical discussions to Muromachi Nô in general. Our view today is a combination of Edo-period and 20th-Century filtering and refraction. The resolute shogunal moulding of Nô into an official institution cut it off from the commoners and congealed it into rigid upper-class forms; and the post-Meiji refraction of the last 100 years largely retained that tradition within its own, nostalgic–and sometimes indeed chauvinist–agenda of a quintessential “Japaneseness.” Thus, a selection of plays and aspects to be foregrounded, quite analogous to the procedures of condensation and relocation (Verdichtung und Verschiebung) Freud discovered in “dreamwork,” is inevitable and sometimes very illuminating, but only on condition that it be clearly seen as what it is: a particular slant (or series of slants) rather than “as it really was” (the historian Ranke’s illusory wie es eigentlich gewesen). Nô theoreticians in particular should bear this in mind when attempting speculations such as those in my following sections.

 On the third question, the contingent nature of determining significant units or macro-texts (cf. Barthes 155ff.) holds in spades for the various Nô categorizations. The commonest one, used in actually composing a Nô-performance program (though decreasingly so in practice)  is a system of division into five categories (goban date), variously called First to Fifth Piece; or Deity, Warrior, Woman, Miscellaneous, and Final Piece (kami, shura, kazura, zatsu with various subtitles, and kiri-Nô); and other names. It reposes squarely on the nature or type of shite-role in each group, though there is strong evidence for “an older form of Nô before Zeami established the Shite as the single central figure” (Shimazaki 42), and at some point after Zeami the waki-role became a second focus in some prominent plays. The first category consists of auspicious plays about the blessings by deities, the second is about dead warriors recounting their memorable downfall, the third consists of graceful plays about beautiful women, living or dead,  and about the spirits of plants or non-sentient beings. It is quite remarkable that only the first two categories are clear-cut. The third begins to grow eclectic; the fourth  or miscellaneous may have for shite-role mad people, living warriors, vengeful spirits, female deities, etc., while the fifth-category shite-role is a beast, demon, non-warrior spirit, etc. However, though extremely important from the Edo period to the present, this system was arrived at precisely in the conservative systematization of the Edo period and it cannot be extrapolated backward except as an open theoretical imposition on a period that did not know it (cf. Rimer xxvii). I shall use it as a convenient shorthand to get to more important distinctions. Some other distinctions, such as the division into of geki or “dramatic” Nô vs. furyû or “spectacular” Nô (cf. Hoff-Flindt 214 and Terasaki passim) may be getting at worthwhile oppositions but seem to me too impressed by a quasi-Aristotelian, in fact European 19th-Century drama-model, and therefore not very useful today. More useful may be the distinction between plays where the shite remains in the same role throughout, called one-part Nô, and those where he plays two roles, changing mask and costume, called two-part Nô. Still, a theoretically minimally satisfactory grouping of Nô plays on the basis of clear, compatible, and encompassing parameters is not yet present.

 0.3. My initial denial of objectivism does not at all mean (as I concluded in 0.1 against philosophical idealists and agnostics) that there is  nothing out there interacting with our critical eyes and constricting what they may see. As Einstein once remarked, the belief into the existence of an external world, independent of any single observer, is the basis of all knowledge (though we would have to add today that the knowledge is constituted by the interaction of observers with observed). In Shakespearean studies, e.g., Terence Hawkes’s famous  “sense of a text as…an area of conflicting and often contradictory potential interpretations, no one or group of which can claim ‘intrinsic’ primacy or ‘inherent’ authority…” (117) manifestly has to rely on a provisionally stable text and also on a pragmatic authority, however socially contingent, for (its) given purposes. I quite agree with him that “Our ‘Shakespeare’ is our invention” (124); but I have argued at some length elsewhere that it is not only our invention (Suvin, “Modest”). Thus, on the one hand, all interpretations are negotiations between a set of presuppositions and an object partly constructed by the obscure wish to articulate those same presuppositions. But on the other hand, the object and the presuppositions are partly constricted by material limits, resistances, and vectors coming from  “out there.” The more one knows about the practice and history of interpretation, the more one realizes that what the interpreter finds is not the fixed meanings of a text (or of the Book of Nature) but only other interpretations. One could apply to the Edo-period categorizations Harry Berger’s discussion of authoritative closure by “citation” of past categories (though I believe you can never “prevent” interpretation, not even in societies with a myth-hegemony):

 Myth and ritual, for example, are citational acts that…prevent against interpretation by closing down on unbound meaning. Such performances can succeed only because they presuppose and continually reinvent an iterable corpus of detextualized ‘texts’ that privilege a certain interpretation of cosmology, values, and norms, i.e., an interpretation of what there is in the world, what one ought to think about it…. (155)

 Therefore, a second conclusion from the foregoing discussion, complementary to the first one, might be that, while not disregarding the significant continuities within the nonetheless changeable traditions of the Nô acting schools, both Edo and post-Meiji Nô can be illuminated by Hobsbawm’s definition of an “invented tradition.” This is:

 …a set of practices … which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, […and] normally attempt to establish continuity with a suitable historic past….The peculiarity of “invented” traditions is that the continuity with it is largely factitious. In short, they are responses to novel situations which take the form of reference to old situations, and which establish their own past by quasi-obligatory repetition. (1-2)

 “Seek to inculcate” is a bit one-sided, and Hobsbawm speaks later  of other types of “invented traditions” that establish, symbolize or legitimize real or artificial communities and institutions (9). Nô is clearly not instituted in the ad hoc way of various European and other nationalisms, “mass produced” since the 19th Century, but more like Scottish “Highland Traditions” or English Christmas carols, i.e. with a significant but unacknowledged break in continuity (Hobsbawm 6-7); with these caveats, much of the rest in the quote and argument seems applicable.

 Thus, there is no cognitive reason why a contemporary critic cannot, with due humility, attempt to emulate the Edo-period shites of Nô or the earlier 20th-Century Japanese critics who have in fact excogitated the present canon and categories of Nô, i.e. “invented” the present “tradition,” and why she or he cannot find for new purposes some new units and categories–or indeed new functions for carefully reformulated old, not quite invented categories. Since any macro-text (e.g. “the Nô play”) is always established as a cognitive and pragmatic unit/y by specifiable agents from a specifiable point of view or stance, it stands to reason that for a different purpose all texts current in (say) Zeami’s lifetime might constitute a macro-text. This is in fact what Nô studies routinely do when elucidating any play by Zeami by means of its intertextuality with tankas, Kannami, The Tale of Genji, etc. My present purpose, as suggested by the references to Barthes, Eco, Jameson or Ricoeur, is “not an ultimate appraisal but some answers to the practical questions: what particular attractions and values have the Nô plays for [people] of the twentieth century?” (Wells 154). Now, for various interests these attractions and values will be legitimately different, ranging from interpretations of particular segments or aspects in plays that increase the spectator’s delight to very general questions that may be posed by these plays to a comparative dramaturgy and theory of theatre. While I believe that ultimately any theory is justified mainly by feeding back into an increased understanding of historical texts and attitudes, it may itself at times be a both necessary and enjoyable detour, to what one hopes would be a new vantage point for mapping. This is the road I propose to take here.

 1. A Move Toward Recategorization: Zeami and the Anamorphosis of Warrior Nô From Deity Nô

 1.1. Proposing to practice what I preach, I shall now attempt to build on the crucial  distinction between genzai nô (where the role played by the shite or protagonist is a dramaturgic agent alive in the time of the story) and mugen nô (the “visionary” plays where this agent comes from outside of that quasi-empirical time, i.e. is a deity, spirit, and similar). This division was developed in the 20th Century, the term mugen nô being introduced by Sanari Kentarô in 1930 and genzai nô by Yokomichi Mario in the 1950s (Terasaki 14-17). Thus, it is equally anachronistic in relation to the Muromachi period, and it is not absolute or all-encompassing, but it does seem to repose on some dominant structural features of the plays such as central agent and time-horizon, so that it is better suited for a theoretical discussion than the empirical bricolage of the fivefold categorization. Today the genzai nô–the “everyday” plays in which, to repeat, the shite plays a human living at the time of the stage story–are to be found mainly in the fourth category and partly in the third and fifth categories (Miscellaneous, Woman, and Final Nô). Zeami himself wrote both genzai and mugen nô,4 but his major innovation seems to lie in the series of masterpieces which codified the mugen nô.  Thus, for reasons both of fascination with his talent, comparable to very few people in the history of world theatre such as Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Molière or Brecht, as well as of ideological preference by the commentators, the main impression about Nô plays (certainly outside Japan) is based on mugen nô. This is a Meiji-period invention, sometimes traced back to the influential position formulated by Haga Yaichi in 1899: “the essence of Nô is the ghosts” (cited by Terasaki 27); in Europe, this was furthered by the elitist fantasies of Pound and particularly Yeats.

 Yet historically speaking, the defining of Nô in terms of mugen nô only is an optical illusion. Even prescinding from a possible different ontology in medieval Japan, for which numinous beings were perhaps differentiated from empirical ones in other ways than in secularized thought, it seems that at the time of Nô’s inception and early development the  more “realistic” plays–or better, the plays developing exclusively within supposedly empirical time-horizons–constituted its mainstream. Other templates clearly existed,  and in particular the auspicious visit of a godhead in folk-rite-derived plays carried forward by priestly patronage: “some kinds of liturgical dramas,  whose direct posterity is today still found in the kagura plays…of most Shinto shrines. Which, of course, does not mean that Nô itself is religious art….” (Sieffert 16; cf. also, e.g., Honda, O’Neill, Early Nô 85-93 and passim, Raz, Audience 83-85 and passim, as well as Wang for early Chinese parallels) Nonetheless, as has been argued by Kobayashi Shizuo, there is evidence that such old shushi sarugaku (sarugaku plays performed by priests in temples) were not an exclusive or possibly even not a prevailing ancestor of Nô, as compared to the plebeian, empirically oriented and often satirical, senmin sarugaku (Terasaki 22-26; cf. O’Neill, Early Nô 4-9, 87, and passim, Raz, Audience 80 and 98-101). At least one prominent history  of Japanese literature has no doubts at all: “[W]e  must conclude that living-figure nô…–and, moreover, other plays that had a dramatic plot–were the mainstream of nô in its early period” (Konishi, History 524). Finally, if one takes into account all Nô plays written, genzai nô seem to account for almost half of the 2,500-3,000 pieces, while in the canonic 250 repertory plays they may account for half or more (Terasaki 76-77 and 197; other estimates place genzai nô at one third of the repertory, further evidence of the unclear categorizations).

 1.2. I shall begin by presenting an initial argument in the form of a table of parameters which, starting from the dominant categorization into five groups, proceeds to doubt it by means of the division into genzai and mugen nô and proposes to refine this in favour of a trisection. Leaving other matters aside, I shall then advance to focus on the first two categories–the Deity and Warrior plays–which are obviously, prima facie correctly distinguished sets, more or less monolithic because mainly created for the same purposes and same audiences by Zeami.  I am banking on these clear groupings being apt for an initial theoretical discussion which could lead us to what I take to be the central theoretical problem in a discussion of Nô dramaturgy, and of immense consequence for any theory of dramaturgy and theatre, namely: the puzzle of whether conflict is necessarily present in Nô.

Cattura

What I propose is, it can be seen, a first step (and only first!) toward a new categorization. As was mentioned, beginning with category 3 (which is characterized as having elegant and soft protagonists) the subdivisions of the fivefold categorization grow hopelessly miscellaneous. The very useful division into genzai vs. mugen Nô gives us a good pointer by differentiating in theshite-role between the presentation of living humans and of non-human entities (deities or specters), which entails significantly different time-flows (the arrow of empirically sequential time in genzai nô vs. multiple qualitative times in mugen nô) and time-horizons. We could call this parameter “shite-role reference and temporality.” I believe it may turn out to be necessary for a sensible definition, but it is not sufficient. This seems easily proved by the fact that each of these two categories again contains admittedly heterogeneous groups of plays, with little similarity to each other beyond the shite-role’s reference-cum-temporality. One division of genzai nô, e.g., breaks it down into plays: 1/ dealing with events contemporary to the author; 2/ drawn from previous literature (such as the Komachi plays); 3/ realistic, non-masked portrayals of historical warriors– e.g. Ataka; 4/ episodes from the earlier life of spirit-Nô heroes or heroines, marked by a title beginning in “Genzai,” such as Genzai Matsukaze (Terasaki 65-73). The mugen nô subdivisions are still more heterogeneous, as I hope partly to show in the next section. It is rather as if Kafka, Tolkien, Steven King, Isaac Asimov, and William Morris were all to be put into a single category called Fantasy Fiction (a grouping that alas is being propounded, but has at least the excuse that itdeals with matters no older than the 19th Century and usually not deemed of central generic or genological significance). Other parameters have to be introduced for a basic sense-making categorization. To begin this, in a combination of structural and historical arguments, I propose the above trisection into Deity Nô, Warrior Nô, and Others.

As indicated by the little overlap at the bottom of Table 1 between mugen nô and my “other categories,” the boundary between my second and third categories is deficient. In particular there are in Woman Nô obviously some plays (e.g. Seigan-ji, Eguchi or the plant-spirit plays such as Bashô) which are homologous to the laudatory Deity Nô, and some (e.g. Yuya, Sôshi-arai Komachi, Senju, Yoshino Shizuka) which tend toward a conflict, albeit backgrounded, muted, and/or finally amicably resolved or superseded. In between, some plays are rather similar, possibly homologous, to the Warrior Plays.5 Were this not so inelegant, my second category ought more precisely to be called “Warrior Nô and some Woman Nô and possibly some plays from the goban date Fourth and Fifth Pieces.” It is therefore adopted here as an intermediary step, provisional and clearly needing supersession, for the sole purposes of the present initial essay; it should be considered further at a later stage of the approach broached here.

In the meantime I may, to begin with, claim that I am starting from what most previous categorizations also started from, the quite central attitude-cum-emotional-aura transmitted by the shite-role, who may be largely “the incarnation of some powerful emotion” (Keene, Nô 24).
However, the shite is clearly at the antipodes of an individualistic protagonist, since the emotion this role is transmitting to the audience results from an interaction between her or his desires and the all-encompassing stance toward the world that this agent shares with the audience. Thus, my categorization introduces as parameters what seem undeniably matters of overriding importance for these plays: the shite-role’s–and the audience’s–central desire(s) and its (their) relationship with the play’s cosmological framework (permanence vs. impermanence), which is consubstantial to the type and ranking of the values espoused by the play.

1.3. I shall narrow my focus now to the relationships between the Deity Nô and Warrior Nô categories. It is generally acknowledged that the Warrior Nô were practically Zeami’s singlehanded invention, in 13 plays of which at least half are masterpieces: he certainly or probably composed ab ovo or reworked into its distinctive shape Atsumori, Kanehira, Kiyotsune, Sanemori, Tadanori, Tamura, Tomonaga, Tsunemasa, Yashima, Yorimasa, and possibly also Ebira, Tomoakira, and Tomoe. All of them are even today in the repertory of all five Nô schools (ryû), except for Tomoakira which is in the repertory of four schools. The three dubious titles and three more non-Zeami Warrior Nô in the canon are centrally imitations of his model (93 more “inactive” plays seem to have been written in this mould, see Terasaki 76). How did Zeami come to compose them thus, whence did he take their common distinctive elements and aspects?/6

Now, it would be very possible and I think useful to pose the question what do the Nô deities and warriors stand for or signify. There is little doubt that one of their central intertexts is the power relations and value horizons of Japanese politics (in the widest sense of long-duration orientations) in the country community as a whole and on the shogunal court in particular. Our distinctions between religion and politics do not obtain in the Middle Ages, when (e.g.) the deities were guarantors and indeed personifications of “an ordered country,” as monotonously repeated in one after another Deity Nô. However, before proceeding to this, I believe much more work is due on the signifier level. Therefore, I shall discuss here some central implications, modalities, and consequences of this trajectory of Zeami’s. The generally accepted thesis that the Warrior Nô were created by Zeami taking as their template the Deity Nô seems to me not only correct but inescapable. This argument may be strengthened by the fact that this innovator yet also continuator within a living theatre tradition explicitly championed such a procedure, e.g. when transforming his troupe’s traditional totally fierce demon type and Nô-play into “a variant derived from the form of the warrior,” where the usual “demon form” was transformed by adding to it the “heart/mind of a human.”7 Zeami proceeded then from “the prototype first established in kami nô” (Konishi, History 526 and passim) to Nô plays such as the Warrior Nô–as well as to some Woman Nô–in which the shite plays a human, not a deity. My argument will again be proposed first in the form of a synoptic table.

Cattura2

The originating parameters here are clearly the first two, the play’s overall action and central agent (shite-role), which amount to transplanting the same central understanding of action (or story) as revelation from divine to human dramaturgic agents. However, this shift is simultaneously feasible and problematic. It is possible because the humans are dead, it is problematic because their passions are still human: “Violently my heart yearns for the earthly world,” exclaims quite typically, if in a somewhat simplified translation, the eponymous hero of Yorimasa (Shimazaki 118). There is a common theological or ontological trait between godheads and dead warriors in relation to the time-horizon of other stage roles (primarily the waki-role’s horizon, imaginatively identified by the audience with their everyday horizon). As Professor Brazell put it, “[t]here is a connection between the nature of the [shite-role] and the way in which the time and space are manipulated” (“Nature” 206): both divinities and fallen warriors come from outside, and thus deny the exclusivity of, the quasi-empirical or human time-horizons on the stage, and yet both can manifest themselves within them. Furthermore, both these types of agents appear in two shapes–in a kind of disguise and then in propria persona— which require, and correspond to, the two parts of these Nô plays.

Yet Zeami’s bold shift from Deity to Warrior Nô is also fraught with problems, for the theologico-ontological status of godheads and dead humans is after all very different. Beside coming from outside the waki-role’s human time, they have little in common. In Deity Nô, the numinous fullness of the Shinto divinities makes of the shite-role of the play’s first part (the maejite) a human incarnation of the same deity that appears in the second part (as nochijite) in one of its divine aspects. In Warrior Nô, that joy-bringing succession and clear uplifting movement necessarily gives way to the troubled succession from maejite as misleading spectre– presented by Zeami, in a direct copy of Deity Nô, in seemingly human form–to nochijite as vision of the warlike nobleman from the past (cf. Konishi, History 524-25). True, the nochijite warrior visions are more vivid than the shadowy European stage-ghosts in the tradition of Euripides and Seneca, which as a rule do not attain protagonist status (e.g. in Hamlet or Macbeth). While I doubt that Zeami deals in anything resembling individualist identity or Self (cf. Suvin, “Soul” passim), I concur that “an inability to escape the ties of a past life, love, hate, longing, and pride…[are] characteristics [that] persecute Zeami’s shite” (Hare 242). The vividness can be attributed to various factors of the Japanese cultural tradition, which in Nô come to a head precisely in Zeami’s eduction of the warrior ghosts out of the resplendent Shinto divinities that bring the blessings of fertility in the latter part of Deity Nô. This is why I have substituted the more specific “passion” for the “desire” of Table 1. Yet this same change radically transforms the logic of the story. It enforces and sets into train a set of complex anamorphic manoeuvres so that the stage-action may make sense to the Nô audience.

The resulting play-model for Warrior Nô/8 is by necessity significantly modified. I mentioned that at the beginning its maejite appears on the stage in the same way as in Deity Nô–as a lay person, usually an old man, of the locality the waki-role is visiting. But instead of a felicific (medetai, happiness-bringing–cf. Gundert 225ff.) divine revelation or theophany, the Warrior Nô proceeds then to a tale of woe and regret. This is epistemologically speaking also a revelation, and I have found it convenient to call it the revelation of a final permanence, an absolute cosmic closing chord, as supreme value. But if the dramaturgic syntax is the same, the semantics diverge. If both Nô groupings reveal a permanence, it is in Warrior Nô not a positive but either a frankly negative permanence (the warriors are often in the special realm of torment  for them9); or, at best, it may become, in a second and final revelation, the “positive negativity” or zero of Buddhist nirvana attained at the end of the play (the warriors’ pre-history is usually recounted in verse, music, and dance to the waki-role listener so that he, a priest, may pray for their salvation through purgation of their martial passion as well as of any other earthly attachment–e.g. to poetic fame in the case of Tadanori).

True, in the “non-duality” (Loy) of Mahayana Buddhism a proper passage through desires may be finally conducive to enlightenment; but once enlightenment is achieved, desires are definitel left behind. This is clearly foregrounded in Warrior Nô. For all these reasons, Zeami’s adaptation of the Deity-Nô model has to modify it much more strongly in the second part of the Warrior plays, where the real situation will out. The founding divergence between Deity and Warrior Nô is that the fallen warriors’ final permanence not only contrasts with the impermanence of their earthly life, it also differs radically from the “positive” permanence of the Shinto deities. Reaffirming the evergreen continuity of time’s ongoing cycle (e.g. in Takasago’s marriage of two great historical ages of poetry as magical creativity), the deities ensure and bring forth the future to an audience that is ideally supposed to represent the community. Their fulness of value and time–the potential simultaneity of all times–is in sharp contrast to the dead warriors bringing up only their personal past (albeit typical of a hegemonic social class) for anamnesis and redemption out of time. True, in both Deity and Warrior Nô the audience in the present also experiences delight and probably (more so before the Edo period) a magico-religious awe at seeing in the shite-role’s apparition (cf. Gundert 221) respectively the promise of communal felicity or the representative passion and comforting of the great transgressor (cf. Ruch, “Medieval” 306); this should qualify my oversimplified isolation of positive vs. negative permanence, necessary for a tabular overview. Still, in Warrior Nô the only connection that I could see to the community’s future is in the nature of an awful warning about what is to be avoided.

The Warrior Nô therefore induces an affect quite distinct from Deity Nô (though these affect  are symmetrically obverse and quite compatible). Or it might be better to see the Warrior-Nô revelation as working through a number of passionate affects, such as the affection for another person–kin, lover, master–or the striving for fame, but finally leaving the spectator with two main, complementary affects: first, of the sweetly sad beauty of that special impermanence of passions mentioned above, well-known in the Japanese poetic tradition and retrospectively named mono no aware, the sense of the fugacity or tears of things (cf. Morris 208-09); and second, of the final peace of nirvana.10 The latter is not always present (e.g. not in Kanehira or Yashima), but when it is present it is usually achieved in the last verses and seconds on stage, after the main dance. Furthermore, while the stage agent may have freed him/herself of passion, this achievement can only be transmitted to the audience by way of a sympathy affect, complementary to yet also sustained by the clash of desire and fugacity. The shite-role may (in some plays, not always) by his confession and the waki-role’s sympathetic intercession have been purged of “wrongful clinging” to earthly ambitions and passions (môshû), but the audience must affectively cling to the shite’s story.

For both these weighty reasons–the brief, indeed sometimes omitted, instant of mostly verbal affirmation that the shite-role’s passions have been extinguished, and the affect-laden transmission of all stage propositions–, the shite-role’s supposed release into nirvana does not seem to me so important for the spectator as verbally inclined commentators looking for official religious doctrine would have us believe. Zeami’s affect-laden refunctioning of nirvana seems incompatible with the Buddhist a-ranâ, dwelling in Peace, which combines conflictlessness with full absence of passion (cf. Diamond Sutra 9 in Conze ed., 44-45). As Professor Ruch convincingly establishes, the popular imagination and art of medieval Japan freely chose among elements of official Buddhist doctrine (embracing, e.g., karmic causality) and then even more freely or fancifully alloyed them with aspects of other “available traditions and doctrines” so as to make them “most emotionally and aesthetically satisfying to the need of the moment” (“Coping” 100 and passim). In particular, “[the Nô] plays…are not religious rites or treatises, but art; and their goal is not primarily to set forth ideas….An accurate account of Nô should convey its lack of [doctrinal] rigor.” (Tyler, “Path” 170, and see Gundert 5). This is why there can be an inherent and, as far as I can see, unresolvable contradiction between the peace of nirvana as value-horizon striven for and explicitly invoked, and nirvana as affect to be induced in a spectator who balances it with the aching beauty of the warrior’s doomed passions. The dead warriors move fluidly across the supposedly strictly separated realms of transmigration, in every play they are found “clinging to the [earthly] place of their greatest love, deepest hate, or greatest pain” (Ruch, “Coping” 102), usually near their grave. This is why I have in Table 2 called nirvanic yearning a “subordinate” affect. The Nô plays mingle “accuracy of canonical detail” with a “disregard for overall paradigm integrity [concerning the Buddhist afterlife, DS]” in a doctrinally incoherent “illogical eclecticism of major scope” (Ruch, “Coping” 103 and 129): which was yet, I would maintain for the superior instances at least, affectively coherent.

1.4. Finally, and perhaps for a comparative dramaturgy most interestingly, the last two parameters of Table 2 deal with opposition and conflict (cf. my “Revelation vs. Conflict”). In this case, Zeami’s twofold adaptations in the Warrior Nô template are not complementary but divergent. Deity Nô had no trace of conflict of individual wills. It simply told, by stage means, a story (katari, the principle of classical Japanese theatre –cf. Raz, “Japanese”) enacting the wakirole’s– and the audience’s– advance from ignorance to knowledge, or from blindness to enlightenment: a trajectory characteristic for epochs of practically absolute, and thus theoretically–or discursively–unchallengeable, norms such as partly the European and even more so the Japanese Middle Ages (in sua voluntade è nostra pace, “in His will is our peace,” is the way Dante formulated it). In Warrior Nô it was impossible to fully evacuate individual subjects and their oppositions or confrontations. First, there is the brute fact of death in war, as a rule recapitulated in the nochijite’s final dance; often, however, the opponent is either not important, simply an agent of destiny (as Rokuyata in Tadanori), or non-existent in any individualist sense, as in the suicide of the eponymous protagonist of Yorimasa, so that this as it were background conflict seems to me quite subordinate. Second, there may be a “conflict” (or better opposition) within the protagonist, which is in some cases also double: the tension between two passions (poetry and martial prowess in Tadanori), and the overall or umbrella opposition between any earthly desire and the fleetingness or impermanence (lack of stay, hakanasa), which is in Buddhism foregrounded as unavoidable suffering and in this Nô category evidently demonstrated. This is a full inversion of the happy enlightenment from the Shintoist Deity Nô into the mono-no-aware enlightenment, further tending toward a more complex, bittersweet but equally blessed, nirvana.

Notes

*/ My thanks go to the Saison Foundation for support in Spring 1992; to the Japan Foundation for an earlier Short-term Fellowship; and to the SSHRC of Canada for a two-year Research Grant–all for work on Japanese theatre. For introduction to viewing Nô I am grateful to Günter Zobel, Yamada Kazuko, and Elsa Hatsumi Tsuzuki, and for useful indications of critical material to Frank Hoff, Fredric Jameson, Karatani Kôjin, Shelley Fenno Quinn, and Jacob Raz. George Szanto, Rich Gardner, and David Loy raised potentially fruitful critical objections to earlier drafts. None of them is even remotely responsible for my views. Translations from texts identified as not being in English are mine. Japanese names are adduced with family name first.

1/ I assume that the terms of shite (= doer, central and dominant player, protagonist) and waki (= sideman, introductory player) are by now so domesticated that I do not need to put them into italics. However, analytic and indeed ideological ambiguities may appear when the shite, e.g. Kanze Hideo, is confused with his role, e.g. the Takasago deity (this shite-role I sometimes faute de mieux call “protagonist,” though there is no antagonist and strictly speaking no agon in many Nô); the same holds for “waki,” used in criticism both in its proper meaning and as ellipse for “waki-role.” I have therefore reluctantly decided that the clumsy addition of “-role” may in all ambiguous cases be unavoidable semantic hygiene. Other terms are italicized and explained in the text, but I might repeat the main ones: maejite, nochijite = in two-part Nô, where the shiteplays different roles, name for shite in the first and second part; genzai nô = Nô where the shite plays a living human in the (supposedly) empirical time of the stage story; mugen nô = Nô where the shite plays “non-empirical” entities (deities, specters), sometimes appearing in the wakirole’s dream.
It might be added that the original implication when the term of mugen nô was coined, namely that it always presents an empirically non-existing dream or vision, is not acceptable any more. It was always semiotically tricky to enforce different epistemological statuses on actors equally present on the stage. But even without invoking semiotics, it would be absurd to exclude from mugen nô one of its mainstays, Deity Nô, where the divinities appear in real spacetime (Kanai Kiyomitsu observed this apropos of Takasago in 1969, as cited in Gardner 33; and in fact Konishi seems to follow that line, cf. History 525).

2/ Konishi, “Approaches” 4 (based on Nose Asaji) and 14-15 (based on costume changes for the waki of Yoroboshi) and cf. 8ff.; had his splendid overview from 1960 had the impact it deserved on criticism in European languages, my Section 0 could have been different and briefer.

3/ O’Neill, Early Nô 101 and 94, also Konishi, “Approaches” 4-5; and see Goff 3, Keene, Nô 41 and passim. Sieffert follows Tanaka Makoto’s “Yôkyoku no haikyoku” (“Uncanonical Nô Texts,” in Nogami Toyoichirô ed., Nôgaku Zensho, Tôkyô 1942, 4: 133-35) by speaking–as do Konishi and O’Neill–of “nearly 3,000 Nô libretti,” 12; the discrepancies are largely due to the yet imperfect bibliographic control of a list of some 3,000 titles, which comprises in some cases same title for different plays and in other cases same play under different titles.
For quicker orientation, I recall the standard historical periods referred to: Muromachi–14th to 16th Century; Edo–17th to 19th Century; Meiji–1866-1912.

4/ Sieffert allots Zeami 48 plays in the Deity, Warrior, and Final categories and 59 plays in the other two categories. O’Neill, another impenitent “attributor,” gives him from among plays “thought to be directly connected with one in the modern repertoires” 49 in the Deity, Warrior, and Final categories and 76 in the other two categories (Early Nô 161 and 165-71). On the otherpole, Hare (42-47; he follows Omote Akira) confines himself to 46 plays in the present canon  plus 15 “of uncertain attribution,” which leads him to allot four fifths of Zeami’s plays to mugen nô (236)…

5/ The complexities of the Woman-Nô category as constituted in the Edo-period, which also contains some plays that are possibly derivative from the revelation model but do not precisely follow either the conflictual or the revelatory pattern (e.g. Ohara Gokô, Ohmu Komachi or Yôkihi), are such that a separate investigation is needed.

6/ In the vexed and shifting matter of attributions I follow Dômoto Masaki; cf. also Shimazaki 73. In view of my comparatist purpose, I am in this paper not touching upon Zeami’s own stage “micro-syntax” of division into dan (sections) and its build-up from blocks or subsections (called shôdan by Yokomichi), nor upon Zeami’s jo-ha-kyû theory of rhythm; cf. Hare for detailed treatment of both. Zeami’s distinctions based on what I would call social type (woman, oldster, warrior) would have to be considered carefully in a more detailed treatment.

7/ I have used both the Rimer/Yamazaki (157) and the Quinn (79) translations with minor
modifications. I am much indebted to their useful comments.

8/ A somewhat different sub-type is presented by Zeami’s three kachi-shura (Warriors’ Victory) Nô, Ebira, Tamura, and Yashima, whose shite-role is a victorious warrior. This may modify the second four parameters in Table 2 (most clearly in the case of Tamura). Whatever these plays’ dates of composition, such Nô may therefore be typologically somewhat nearer to, or a transition from, Deity Nô to the “pure” make-shura (Warriors’ Defeat) Nô. At any rate, it seems most significant that the consensually most memorable plays and protagonists are the “defeat” ones, and that even the “Victory Asura” plays leave the victors in the Warriors’ Hell (ashuradô, see next note). Obversely, and I think characteristically for Zeami’s heterodox position, these “Victory Asura” plays were the most frequently performed ones for the Tokugawa shoguns (see Yokota 366). Though the kachi-shura are not analyzed here, it may therefore be seen how they could be accommodated by the above Table. For other possible divisions of Warrior Nô based on position between the poles of dance-cum-song and narration, on the social rank of shite-role, etc., see Shimazaki 185-87.

9/ Doctrinally, in Japanese Buddhism this ashuradô is not a hell but one of the six “realms of transmigration” or states of sentient existence (rokudô) through which people are cyclically reborn according to their karmic deserts until released to a paradise and ultimately into nirvana (see Ruch, “Coping” 93ff.). However, it is a place and/or state of the dead warriors’ perpetual, bloody torture in frenzied battle, befitting their passion, and usually translated as “hell” in Nô renditions (see e.g. Shimazaki 64, 84, 92, and 136). Professor Ruch stresses a significant difference between officially “commissioned” and “noncommissioned” works, e.g. “religious/ didactic writ” vs. poetry and most prose in Japanese Middle Ages (“Coping” 106 and passim).
Nô seems in this usage too to show its hybrid nature, arising out of a contradictory fusion of “low” with “high” cultural and ideological elements (cf. Ruch, “Medieval”).

10/ This matter of affects is crucial for any discussion of Nô as plays composed to have effects for given audiences. It is also the major unresolved crux of present-day theatre theory. Cf. some interesting hints on the “affect pattern” of mono no aware in Hijiya-Kirschnereit 214.

Works cited

Barthes, Roland. Image–Music–Text. Sel. and tr. S. Heath. New York: Hill & Wang, 1977.

Berger, Harry, Jr. “Bodies and Texts.” Representations no. 17 (1987): 144-66.

Brazell, Karen. “Atsumori: The Ghost of a Warrior on Stage.” par rapport no. 5-6 (1982-83): 13- 23.

—. “On the Nature of Noh,” in eadem ed., Twelve Plays of the Noh and Kyôgen Theaters.

Cornell East Asia Papers 50. Ithaca: Cornell U East Asia Program, 1988, 205-31.

Brecht, Bertolt. Gesammelte Werke. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1973.

Conze, Edward, ed. Buddhist Wisdom Books. [London: Arnold, 1958].

Dômoto, Masaki. “Bangai-kyoku kenkyû josetsu” [Introduction to the Study of the Noncanonical Pieces of Nô]. Bull. of Geinô-shi kenkyû-kai no. 94 (1986): 1-14.

—. Interview with D. Suvin, Kamakura 2/6/1993.

Eco, Umberto. “Dizionario versus enciclopedia,” in his Semiotica e filosofia del linguaggio. Torino: Einaudi, 1984, 55-140.

Freud, Sigmund. Die Traumdeutung. Leipzig: [n.p.], 1909.

Gardner, Richard. “Takasago: The Symbolism of the Pine.” Monumenta Nipponica 47.2 (1992): 203-40.

Goff, Janet. Noh Drama and “The Tale of Genji.” Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991.

Gundert, Wilhelm. Der Schintoismus im japanischen Nô-Drama. Mitteilungen DOAG XIX. New York: Johnson Reprint, [1965]; orig. 1925.

Hare, Thomas Blenman. Zeami’s Style. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1986.

Hawkes, Terence. That Shakespeherian Rag. London: Methuen, 1986.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Phänomenologie des Geistes. Sämtliche Werke, Vol. 2. Ed. J. Hoffmeister. Leipzig: Meiner, 1949.

Hijiya-Kirschnereit, Irmela. “The Concepts of Tradition in Modern Japanese Literature,” in P.G. O’Neill ed., Tradition and Modern Japan. Tenterden: Norbury Publ., 1981, 206-16 and 301-02.

Hobsbawm, Eric. “Introduction: Inventing Traditions,” in idem and Terence Ranger eds., The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983, 1-14.

Hoff, Frank, and Willi Flindt. “The Life Structure of Noh.” Concerned Theatre Japan 2.3-4 (1973): 209-56.

Honda, Yasuji. “Yamabushi kagura and bangaku.” Tr. F. Hoff. Educational Theatre J. 26.2 (1974): 192-208.

Jameson, Fredric R. The Ideologies of Theory, Vol. 1. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1988.

Keene, Donald. Dawn to the West, Vol. 2. New York: Holt, 1987.

—. Nô and Bunraku. New York: Columbia UP, 1990.

Konishi, Jin’ichi. A History of Japanese Literature, Vol. 3. Tr. A. Gatten and M. Harbison, ed. E. Miner. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991.

—. “New Approaches to the Study of the Nô Drama.” Tôkyô Kyôiku Daigaku Bungaku-bu Kiyô 27, Kokubungaku Kambungaku ronsô 5 (1960): 1-31.

Loy, David. Nonduality. New Haven: Yale UP, 1988.

Matisoff, Susan. “Holy Horrors,” in James H. Sanford et al. eds., Flowing Traces. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992, 234-61.

Morris, Ivan. The World of the Shining Prince. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985.

O’Neill, P.G. Early Nô Drama. Westport CT: Greenwood P, 1974.

—. “The Social and Economic Background of Nô.” Maske und Kothurn 27 (1981): 19-29.

Quinn, Shelley Fenno. “How to Write a Noh Play: Zeami’s Sandô.” Monumenta Nipponica 48.1 (1993): 53-88

Raz, Jacob. Audience and Actors. Leiden: Brill, 1983.

—. “The Japanese Itinerant Storyteller,” in his Aspects of Otherness in Japanese Culture. Tôkyô: ILCAA, 1992, 35-62.

Ricoeur, Paul. Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences. Ed. John B. Thompson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981.

Rimer, J. Thomas. “The Background of Zeami’s Treatises,” in [Zeami,] On the Art of the Nô Drama. Tr. idem and Yamazaki M. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984, xvii-xxviii

Ruch, Barbara. “Coping With Death,” in James H. Sanford et al., eds., Flowing Traces.
Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992, 93-130.

—. “Medieval Jongleurs and the Making of a National Literature,” in John W. Hall and Toyoda Takeshi eds., Japan in the Muromachi Age. Berkeley: U of California P, 1977, 279-309.

Shimazaki, Chifumi. Warrior Ghost Plays from the Japanese Noh Theater. Ithaca: East Asia Program, Cornell U, 1993.

Sieffert, René. “Introduction” to idem ed., Nô et kyôgen: Printemps–Été. Paris: POF, 1979.

Suvin, Darko. “A Modest Proposal for the Semi-Demi Deconstruction of (Shakespeare as) Cultural Construction,” in Loretta Innocenti et al. eds., Semeia: Itinerari per Marcello Pagnini. Bologna: Il Mulino, 1994, 67-76.

—. “Revelation vs. Conflict: A Lesson from Nô Plays for a Comparative Dramaturgy.” Theatre J. 46.4 (1994): 523-38.

—. “The Soul and the Sense: Meditations on Roland Barthes on Japan.” Canadian R. of
Comparative Lit. 18.4 (1991): 499-531.

—. “The Use-Value of Dying: Magical vs. Cognitive Utopian Desire in the ‘Learning Plays’ of Pseudo-Zenchiku, Waley, and Brecht.” Brock R. 3.2 (1994): 95-126 [somewhat different Japanese version in Hihyô kûkan (Critical Space) no. 10 (1993): 110-33].

Taylor, Charles. Hegel. New York: Cambridge UP, 1977.

Terasaki, Etsuko. “A Study of Genzai Plays in Nô Drama.” Diss. Columbia U, 1969. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1970.

Tyler, Royall. “‘The Path of My Mountain’: Buddhism in Nô,” in James H. Sanford et al., eds., Flowing Traces. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992, 149-79.

Wang, C.H. “The Lord Impersonator: Kung-shih and the First Stage of Chinese Drama,” in Ying-hsiung Chou ed., The Chinese Text. Hong Kong: The Chinese UP, 1986, 1-14.

Wells, Henry W. The Classical Drama of the Orient. London: Asia Publ. House, 1965.

Whiteside, Anna. “Theories of Reference,” in eadem and Michael Issacharoff eds., On Referring in Literature. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1987, 175-204.

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EMOTION, BRECHT, EMPATHY VS. SYMPATHY

 Darko Suvin                                                                                                        (2008, 7,650 words)

EMOTION, BRECHT, EMPATHY VS. SYMPATHY 1/

I wish to pursue here in tandem two lines of argument for mutual illumination. The first one is a general view of emotions which uses, among other approaches, some feminist-materialist argumentation (primarily but not only of Alison Jaggar) and insights by Brecht. It seems to me important to show some serious–though not central–blind spots in Brecht’s treatment of the female gender in life or in effigy, and to show that he had an understanding of subjecthood or personality that refused the patriarchal or militaristic downgrading of emotion as well as its Hollywoodian or philistine misuse. The second one builds on my argument in other places2/ that the red thread central to understanding Brecht’s work and life, which  crystallized out of Brecht’s own cognitive emotions and insights, was the image, concept, and practice of stance or bearing: Haltung, a posture-cum-attitude consubstantial with an interest, which is in turn not to be disjoined from certain kinds of emotion. The notion that his work is unemotional, or split between reason and emotion, is obsolete and misleading. The two lines are united in a discussion of the pivotal distinction between empathy and sympathy which I think can and must be extrapolated from Brecht’s stance and writings.

  1. An Orientation about Emotion

…this concept too we shall have to clean before using, as a         ancient concept, used much and by many people and for many  purposes.
Brecht, “Volkstümlichkeit und Realismus,”  22.1: 408

I shall start by paraphrasing what I take to be the most reasonable mainstream interpretation of emotion by Mandler (66-71 and passim), supplemented by Bruner: An emotion is the name given to an aspect of personal life that arises as interaction between a general situation, as a rule involving other people, and a pre-existing personal (single or collective) disposition. A sharp demand from the situation is interpreted or reworked by the individual–who understands it as a given overall intimation or Gestaltinto bodily arousal, with outputs both to consciousness (conceptual thought, and resulting self-perception) and to response readiness. I conclude that emotion (subjects being affected by subjects) is an intricately intertwined obverse of action (subjects affecting other subjects). The central question about emotion/s today is how they permit or hinder which actions.

Briefer and more primitive emotions are often called affects. More than momentary emotions, which are usually therefore also less simple, result when action is for a while interrupted.  Such emotions also have an evaluative, clearly cognitive, dimension, though they may be given as an implicit whole without articulation. They have to do with the way in which a person’s particular activity or state relates to her/his whole embodied personality, its life-horizons, values, and (dis)pleasures (cf. Wolf 113-14), and in particular its bearing or stance. My approach also adopts Jaggar’s working delimitation of emotions which  excludes “automatic physical responses and nonintentional sensations, such as hunger pangs” (“Love” 148). Most important, emotions are not in some kind of totally non-rational limbo or “dumb”; in this “cognitivist” view, they comprise not only feelings but also orientation or intention,  “their intentional aspect, the associated judgment” (ibidem  149).3/

There is no necessary opposition between cognition and emotion. I would count as understanding, cogni­tion or knowledge anything that satisfies two conditions: that it can help us in coping with our personal and col­lective existence; that it can be validated by feedback with its application in the existence, modifying it and being modified by it (cf. more in Suvin, “On Cognitive”). Thought, action, and emotion represent “abstractions that have a high theoretical cost. The price we pay… in the end is to lose sight of their structural interdependence. At whatever level we look, …the three are constituents of a unified whole [that achieves its integration only within a cultural system].” (Bruner 117-18) As to reason, Brecht noted that “people do much that is reasonable yet does not pass through their Verstand [formal or conceptual reasoning, DS]. We cannot well do without this.” (GBFA 22.2:  825, further used by Volume: Page) The systematized notional constructs tend to false harmony and ideological univocity necessarily present in any closed doctrine or world view (e.g. 21: 414-17): “The learner is more important than the doctrine” (21: 531) was Brecht’s central orientation.  In such considerations, he is an astonishingly early pioneer of a reintegration of the body, with all its senses (as the young Marx also was), into the practice and theory of our knowledge: the body is for Brecht the co-determining anchorage for stance. A stance is present, I think, in all personal and possessive pronouns, all deixis (indication of pointing), and all metaphors of vision and orientation. It allowed him finally to conclude: “Such a thinking… does not oppose feeling…. It seems to me now simply a kind of behaviour, namely a societal behaviour. The whole body with all the senses participates in it.” (22.2: 753). This dovetails well with Merleau-Ponty (Phénomenologie, also Structure), in whose terms embodiment is both a lived experience of being body and a realization that the body is the site of cognition or understanding, which is itself inextricably tied to embodied action as preparation, surrogate, response or feedback validation.

As emotions participate in the cognitive process they are often affected by its categorizations, arguments, and organization4/: they may be intensified or softened, diffused to the whole process or dwarfed into insignificance. It is not useful but scandalous to apply to them the hackneyed, mechanical, and obfuscating division where reason is seen as masculine, analytic, proper to the mind, cold, objective and universal, sane, public, and orderly, while emotion would be feminine, synthetic, proper to the body, warm, subjective and particular, sick, private, and politically untrustworthy. From the stance adopted here (which attempts to find a way amid a jungle of contrasting opinions), what may today be tenable views  on emotion? I shall touch only upon four points.
First, the hegemonic notion about emotions is that they must be largely involuntary and private: but in fact they are never only such. At least in the most significant cases (including the exemplary case of art), they  are active engagements of the whole personality, psychophysical stances. The emotions are so intimately interfused into personality that only to a rather limited degree are we entitled to disclaim responsibility for them. They are necessary concomitants of any horizon of action, including fear of and horror at actions. This is particularly true for long-term emotions, which are obviously not affects (cf. Mother Courage’s discussion of “the long rage” with the Young Soldier in Scene 4 of that play). Once we have refused the pernicious Cartesian split between the cogito and the sensual body, it is possible to see that emotions are neither fully intentional or conscious nor fully non-intentional or irrational; “[r]ather, they are ways in which we engage actively and even construct the world” (Jaggar, “Love” 152-53 and passim).
Second, as Brecht quite correctly realized, among the most fundamental categories when discussing any psychology geared toward action are evaluation, observation, and finally intention. Not only are they not to be sundered from each other, but all of them are closely related to emotions. This seems clear for value-judgments, which are in constant feedback with emotion. In complex ways, this holds for observation too, which is also deeply enmeshed with intentions (interests), from the primary choices what to focus on and privilege, to the interpretive frames chosen: “Observation is an activity of selection and interpretation.” In it, the Humean chasm between value and fact is not possible. What will in a given situation be, by given agents, taken for facts depends on “intersubjective agreements that consist partly in shared assumptions about ‘normal’ or appropriate emotional responses to situations” (Jaggar, “Love” 154).
Third, at least some determining factors of any emotion participate also in some collective engagement that is at that juncture of social history possible to sketch out or imagine–imperfectly, or perhaps more perfectly. While probably sharing other factors with “long duration” (though not eternal and “intrinsically human”) emotional stances, a particular and personal emotion is in that sense always also a historical and social Gestalt, a construct not fully or even decisively determined by genes or neurobiology. This is particularly clear in connection with the value-judgments, intention, and interests just discussed (cf. Brecht 22.2: 657-59). Emotions are social constructs which use biological potentialities in a number of culturally overdetermined ways. The concept itself of emotion is not only different in different societies but indeed invented as a closed semantic field only in some of them. I would instance that in Japanese culture the term and concept of “kokoro” means equally what is in English expressed by a person’s disposition, heart, mind, feeling, spirit or conception, i.e. something like the aware and feeling essence of personality (since the East Asian cultural sphere has no Christian concept of “soul,” awareness is awareness of one’s embodied  personality, not split between reason and emotions–cf. Suvin “Soul”). Jaggar argues that “[i]f emotions necessarily involve judgments, then obviously they require concepts, which may be seen as socially constructed ways of organizing and making sense of the world” (“Love” 151). Conversely, it is important that “emotions provide the experiential basis for values,” so that these two induce each other (ibidem 153); values and value judgments are in close feedback with emotion. I would doubt that the concepts required for emotions are necessarily very clear, but certainly emotions are in each person hugely inflected by the semantic hierarchies we are socialized into (e.g. the undoubtedly strong macho emotions about female virginity or chastity). As for values or evaluations, they are both intimately inflected by concepts and in immediate experience, no doubt, emotional.
Last but not least, our lives are largely shaped by a complex societal hegemony, that includes (alas) the determinations by political economy as well as direct political control and social group control, in fact–in the argument of Raymond Williams–all

the relations of domination and subordination, in their forms as practical consciousness, as in effect a saturation of the whole process of living. . . . It [hegemony]     is a whole body of practices and expectations, over the whole of living: our senses and assignments of energy, our shaping perceptions of ourselves and our world. It is a lived  system of meanings and values. . . . (109-10, emphasis added)

Fortunately, within any hegemony many people possess a range of oppositional, subversive, and potentially productive emotions incompatible with the dominant perceptions and evaluations. Such emotions may follow on our convictions or they may indeed precede them–say, when “all feelings are dominated by unemployment” (Brecht 19: 668). However, “Only when we reflect on our initially puzzling irritability, revulsion, anger or fear may we bring to consciousness our ‘gut-level’ awareness that we are in a situation of coercion, cruelty, injustice or danger” (Jaggar, “Love” 161).
In sum, it is necessary to rethink the relation between reason and emotion as mutually constitutive rather than oppositional. Far from precluding the possibility of reliable knowledge, emotion as well as value must be shown as necessary to  knowledge (Jaggar, “Love” 156-57). A good example is Brecht’s 1938 reflection on the personal roots of his exile:

       When I reflect what has Mitgehen [fellow travelling, falling into step, with an allusion on Mitfühlen–DS] led me to and in what has repeated examining helped me, I must counsel the latter. Had I succumbed to the former stance, I would still be living  in my homeland, but had I not taken up the latter stance, I would not be an honest person. (26: 308)

To put all of this into technical terms: while emotion may be ontogenetically and phylogenetically prior to conceptuality, it is axiologically a necessary, intimate component of all reasoning or cognition. In our personal lives, emotions may follow on our conceptualized convictions or they may precede them. In any event, the feedback between emotions and conscious reflecting on them is necessary for any efficient intervening into societal reality–and particularly for societal groups struggling for a “perspective on reality available from the standpoint of the oppressed,” which we might optimistically take as “a perspective that offers a less partial and distorted and therefore a more reliable view” (Jaggar, “Love” 162). But this means, in turn, that the “epistemic potential of emotion” (ibidem 163) has to be taken seriously if any stance is to be stable (cf. also Hartsock; Jaggar, Feminist; Jameson; Lukács; Suvin, “On Cognitive,” “Subject,” and To Brecht, ch. 4). An epistemic potential does not confer any magical efficacy on either emotions or systematized concepts, simply a possibility for use or misuse. I cannot put it better than Brecht’s Me-Ti  section “Über die Prüfung der Gefühlsbewegungen” (“Examining the Emotions“):

      In our youth, said Me-ti, we were taught not to trust reason, and that was good. But we were also taught to trust our feelings, and that was bad. The source of our emotions is just as contaminated as the source of our judgments: for it is just as accessible to people’s designs and therefore continually polluted by ourselves and others. . . .

To assume there are emotions without reason means to understand reason wrongly.
(18: 138-39)

  1. On Emotion in Brecht

Few statements about art have so struck me as Meier-Graefe’s
one about Delacroix: In him a hot heart beat in a cold person.

Brecht, Tagebuch 1922, 26: 270

2.1. The 1998 Suhrkamp six-volume “Jubilee edition” of Brecht, Ausgewählte Werke in 6 Bänden (4000 pages, 128 DM) was announced in a flyer and advertised as “Bertolt Brecht – Der ‘Klassiker der Vernunft’.” Who coined “The ‘Classic of Reason’” tag is not clearX/, but its hype at any rate wondrously encapsulates the red herring which has made a whole generation of German schoolkids hate Brecht like the plague. However, the appellation is either false (if reason is opposed to emotion) or quite unclear (if it is not argued what “Vernunft” may mean for and in Brecht, and what his stance toward and use of emotions really were). In an attempt to find this out, I collected ca. 50 propositions overtly mentioning feeling or emotion to be found in the 33 volumes of Brecht’s latest giant collected edition (GBFA). Among these, I have found two or three early ones which indeed oppose “emotio” to “ratio,” culminating in the “Anmerkungen zur Oper Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny“ (“Notes to the Opera Mahagonny”) published by  Brecht together with Peter Suhrkamp in 1930 (24: 74-84). This one example has been cited again and again, probably because these notes were not only provocatively pointed and thus brief and clear but also because they were the only proof that could be found for Brecht as “the classic of reason” in the narrow sense. I have examined it at some length in “Haltung (Bearing)“ and I shall here just briefly summarize my finding.

The “Notes” contain many other significant themes, such as defining the central stance of existing opera “a culinary (or enjoying, geniesserische) stance,“ and further that “the present historical form [of enjoyment is] that of commodity” and that in Mahagonny this “provocative” thematics is subjected to some examination:  “When for example in Section 13 the Glutton eats himself to death, he does so because hunger dominates” (24: 76-77). Emotion is mentioned in a memorable Kantian table with two opposed columns, which then became the bone of all future contentions. Some of its many brief entries stress a theatre that does not project the audience member into the action on the stage and thus paralyze his activity, but rather makes of him an onlooker and thus stimulates his activity, that does not give him the possibility for emotions but rather “forces him into decisions”; a theatre where “the feelings are not conserved” but rather “heightened into cognitions,” where people are not presupposed as known but rather  become “an object to be examined.” Finally, the table ends with two oppositions: the first is taken from a brief summary in Marx’s Preface to For a Critique of Political Economy (MEW 13: 8), and the second is what I am leading up to in this particular discussion:

              Thought determines being                     Social being determines thought
Emotion [Gefühl]                                     Reason [Ratio]

This little scheme or table was then several times reprinted by itself, outside of the “Notes to Mahagonny,” which made it easy to forget Brecht’s initial important qualification that his table marked a  change of stress (Gewichtsverschiebung) rather than a rigid metaphysical opposition. Nonetheless, the perceived opposition was then subjected to strong attacks not only by bourgeois conservatives but primarily by Lukács and his followers within official, increasingly Stalinist KP press. In 1938, reacting against oversimplifying provocations to which he was prone in the Weimar epoch, Brecht clarified and partly modified his position by rewriting this table. Together with minor cuts and modifications, he added an opposition between “what people ought to do” and “what people have to do,” i.e. between ethical prescription and economical-cum-physical necessity; and he suppressed the final opposition between emotion and reason (24:  85).

Furthermore, in an important letter from Sweden in July 1939 to a “comrade M,” Brecht commented:

[These] are notes to theatre performances and thus written in a more or less polemical vein. They do not contain full definitions and therefore often lead their student to misunderstandings which prevent him from working with them in a theoretically productive way. In particular, the opera article about Mahagonny needs some additions in order for the discussion to become fruitful. People have read out of it that I take the party “against the emotional and for the rational.” This is, of course, not so. I would not know how thoughts could be separated from emotions. Not even that part of contemporary literature which seems to be written without reason (Verstand) really separates intelligence from emotion. In it, the emotional is just as rotten as the rational. . . .

I would not write you all this had my works not in fact contained formulations which may push the debate toward a direction from which nothing follows. For, a discussion about “emotion or reason” obscures the main result that can be found in my works (or better attempts): that a phenomenon so far held as esthetically constitutive, the EMPATHY,  has lately been more or less dispensed with in some works of art. (This obviously does not at all mean that emotion has been dispensed with.) (29: 149-50)

This is a crucial clarification. Any further discussion of Brecht’s stance toward emotions can only be fruitful if it begins by taking this letter seriously.

2.2. Thus, Brecht very soon retreated from any rhetoric against emotion. “This type of (epic) presentation,” he noted around 1931 a propos of The Mother, “does [not] renounce emotional effect: in fact, its emotions are only clarified…  and have nothing to do with intoxication (Rausch)” (22.1: 162). Or in 1940, “non-aristotelian theatre uses also a critique based on emotions (gefühlsmässige)” (26: 438). This obviously holds for many other passages and figures of his plays and poems–always clearly delimited and de-automatized, which means wrested away from philistine sentimentality. Slighting here many other testimonies from Brecht’s emigration years, such as his major theoretical writings The Messingkauf Dialogues and A Short Organon for the Theatre, I shall cite here only two diary notes. In their brevity, they seem to me to constitute the two parts of his final, balanced view of a general approach to the “militant position of ‘reason vs. emotion’” (see the quote below). The first part deals with the art of theatre, and the second with the art of living.

In the diary note from Nov. 15, 1940, Brecht defined his theatre–“for a change” from the usual “bad definitions [as especially intellectualistic]” –“in emotional categories”:

This is possible without any problems, since in the epic theatre the emotional line and the intellectual line remain identical in the actor and in the spectator. It would be necessary [for such a defining] to build on the basis of curiosity and helpfulness a set of emotions which balances the set based on terror and pity. Of course, there are other bases for emotions too. There is above all human productivity, the noblest of them all. (26: 441)

A whole Brechtian theory of personality, including emotionality, could be reconstructed around this basic stance of productivity. It is variously associated not only with curiosity but also with happiness, friendliness, love, and “indignation, this socially highly productive affect” (27: 140).

Finally, Brecht could quite consistently announce, in the note of  March 4, 1941, “that one must get out of the militant position of ’emotion vs. reason’”:

The relationship of ratio to emotio in all its contradictoriness should be exactly researched, and one should not allow our opponents to present epic theater as simply rational and anti-emotional. [On the one hand, “i]nstincts” which, automatized reactions to experiences, have become opposed to our interests. Muddied, one-track emotions, no longer controlled by reason. On the other hand the emancipated ratio of the physicists with their mechanical formalism. . . . The epic principles guarantee a critical stance in the audience, but this stance is eminently emotional. This critique is not to be confused with a critique in an exclusive scientific sense, it is much more inclusive, not at all specialized (fachbegrenzt), much more practical and elementary. (26: 467)

In sum, there is no use pretending Brecht did not indulge in provocatively one-sided exaggerations to shock the bourgeois, and then change his mind under the pressure of experience. He confessed to Benjamin in 1934 that his thinking had at times an “inflammatory” (hetzerische) stance  (GS 6: 531), and in 1938 further explained to him: “It is good when one who has taken up an extreme position is overtaken by a reactionary period; one gets then to a location in the middle” (GS 6: 535). Brecht was uncommonly aware of the pressures of bloody politics in our century: “Fascism, with its grotesque stress on the emotional, and perhaps no less a certain decadence of the rational moment in the Marxist doctrine stimulated me to a stronger stress on the rational. Nonetheless, precisely the most rational form, the ‘play for learning’ (Lehrstück), shows the most emotional effects.” (22.1: 500)

A constant tenor of Brecht’s may be found in his defense of a certain type of flexible but critical reason, refusal of uncritical submersion in both stupidity and corrupt emotions, and attempt at contradictory reconciliations of emotion and reason in a proper stance (cf. e.g. 26: 324-25 and 28: 564-65). Thus, if we want to make full use of Brecht’s insights for our orientation today, I think at last three directions of further work are indicated.

The first direction would be to find out at least approximately what were in his opinion the emotions within “the set based on” curiosity, helpfulness, and indignation–indeed, sometimes based on “a mixture of pleasure and horror (which should not exist, no?)” or on “pioneering adventurousness” (22.1: 418 and 559). I believe a central place would be taken by a carefully weighted spread of emotional stances (see 21: 99 already in 1921)–but never indifference. Two pivots of such a spread  could be the central stance of Brecht’s late period, friendliness, and his almost always practiced though not so often discursively stressed category (but cf. 22.2: 810-11 and 817) of grace uniting “passion and reason”–as in his proposed anthem, for which one much regrets it isn’t the German national anthem today (as it wasn’t in the GDR):

Anmut sparet nicht noch Mühe
Leidenschaft nicht noch Verstand
Dass ein gutes Deutschland blühe
Wie ein andres gutes Land.
(“Kinderhymne,” 12: 303)

[I cannot translate this gracious force here but will put it into rhyming prose at least:
Spare not any toil nor grace/ Spare not passion nor reason/ That a good Germany, as any good place, / Might come to its flowering season.]
The second direction of investigation should be to find out how in Brecht’s practice (of performances, poetry, and prose writings) differing emotions flexibly interact with each other and with notional propositions in precise places and precise dosages of emphasis. Brecht is much exercised with flexibility and a Daoist softness winning over rigidity (this is perhaps most memorably encapsulated in his poem Legend on the Coming About of the “Tao-te-king” Book). I shall begin discussing both these horizons in the third section below. I believe the strategic tension and opposition to be focussed upon is one between the dethroning of illusionistic, sentimental, uncritical, pseudo-compassionate empathy (Einfühlung–this is stressed in the cited 1939 letter, and other testimonies are in GBFA volumes 22-23 and 26-27, mostly adduced in my “Haltung [Bearing]”) and a possibly intense but always reasonable sympathy. This opposition between Einfühlung and Mitgefühl, empathy and sympathy, found in  Brecht’s poetic, scenic, and other artistic (as well as practical) stances, may be used as applicable to empirical behaviour.
A third direction would approach Brecht’s central stance that productivity encompasses love and that love is a production. I have approached this strand elsewhere (in “Brecht: Bearing ,” using the pioneering indications by Haffad and Nussbaum) and hope to return to it.

  1. On Empathy vs. Sympathy: A Matter of Critical Distance

Emotions too participate in critique, maybe it is precisely your task to organize critique through emotions.
Brecht, Messingkauf Dialogues, 22.2: 751

Surprise and [spatial or temporal] distance… are both equally necessary for comprehending what surrounds you… so evidently that you can no longer see it clearly.
Braudel, “History and the Social Sciences”

The most important and enduring treatment of emotions pertaining vaguely to “sympathy” or  “vicarious understanding,” i.e. to orientation toward other people, was in Brecht’s Germany Max Scheler’s intricate, today in places quite obsolete but in his time authoritative discussion. Its terminology ranges from not always clear to obfuscating, but I propose to dig out the following indications, changing them where need be for my purposes.
Scheler sharply differentiates fellow-feeling (Mitgefühl) both from commiserating with (Mitleiden)–or rejoicing with (Mitfreude)–and from a mere distanced reproduction (Nachvollzug) of others’ feeling or experience with no participation in it. On the one hand, in a putative imitation or reproducing (Nachvollzug) we feel the general quality of the other’s sorrow without suffering with her, or of his rejoicing without rejoicing with him. The other’s feeling is given at a remove, represented “like a landscape which we ‘see’ subjectively in memory, or a melody which we ‘hear’ in similar fashion” (9/20). Of course, this already presupposes an initial grasping and understanding  of the fact that other people have their own experiences. However, while it remains unclear how this “intuitable intrinsic connection between individual and experience” works between two agents, it does not necessarily involve empathy on the part of the percipient (me). The other person has “an individual self distinct from our own,” which “we can never fully comprehend…, steeped as it is in its own psychic experience…”. We can only have “our own view of it…, conditioned as this is by our own individual nature” (10/21). Scheler therefore polemicizes expressly against any theory of “projective empathy”5/ based on identity between individuals, or on Schopenhauer’s metaphysics of unified Being as against illusory individuation (51/66), in which the Other, subject to suffering, is “another I (Ich noch ein Mal).” On the other hand, in fellow-feeling “a genuine experience takes place in me… similar to that which occurs in the other person…,” but not at all identical–not even in a perhaps briefer or weaker form (11/22).
We have thus to do here with two extremes, total lack of interest and contact (infinite distance) and total fusion of feeling and will (zero distance). Somewhere in between the two extremes, there is a middle area which he calls fellow-feeling. Full spiritual and practical entrusting of oneself to a cause and/or a person, say in religious or crypto-religious identification such as nationalism and fascism, is by Scheler called “emotional contagion” (Gefühlsansteckung, 14/25ff.), though again discussed in rather unclear ways. Still, he rightly points out that as a rule  “belief in” a charismatic person is quite different from any argumentable “belief that” (86/96). It is here that Brecht’s contribution, and vectors based on it that can be carried further, may prove of central importance. To foreshadow: Brecht himself wanted to wean people from “feeling together (mitzuempfinden)” by incarnating themselves in the hero, in favour of “a higher kind of interest: the one in similes, in the other, the incalculable, the surprising” (26: 271; cf. 21: 534).
I conclude that what is useful today is to distinguish three stances: indifference without emotion; full emotional contagion (Mitleiden or Mitfreude), which is usually called empathy; and fellow-feeling, for which I propose to use the term sympathy. This can be best discussed in terms of cognitive (both notional and emotional) distance between the percipient and the perceived, the observer and the observed events.
Distance is an indispensable constituent and component of all understanding. It is a metaphor by which space is used for a moral and/or cognitive tenor when dealing with the psychological experience of involvement with events or existents, primarily other people and their actions. It presupposes an awareness of their separateness; as Simmel put it, distance is crucial “in order to cognize the specific meaning (Eigenbedeutung) of things…. The object… is juxtaposed to us only as far as it is not  merely included into our relationship to it.“ (Philosophie 41-42) And more developed (or convoluted):

The image reached by means of a however constituted distance/interval (Abstand), has its own right, it cannot be replaced or corrected by another image reached by means of another distance/interval…. Only the particular goals of cognition may decide whether the immediately appearing or lived reality should be examined in view of (befragt werden soll auf) a personal or a collective subject…. (Grundfragen 11-12)6/

            I believe Brecht’s Estrangement (Verfremdungs-Effekt, NOT alienation!) means that the spectator (and quite overtly also the social agent outside the theater) ought to take up a distance proper for understanding towards events and existents so that she might be surprised by their specific unlikenesses to what we know yet not prevented from understanding by their generic similarities. The proper distance should fit the matter treated, oscillating as required by the situation, as in Keller’s ability to move in and out of intimacy (Reflections passim); however, it is always somewhere within the range of Scheler’s Mitgefühl rather than indifference or full identification. This sympathizing distance (both terms of this tension being equally significant) most importantly means that  the agent’s value-judgments and interests necessarily contain both approval and critique, though in quite various proportions according to the situation and her interests. I can here only allude to the decisive anthropological argument that experiences function in large part implicitly, so that when they cross between people, who never have quite the same presuppositions, the implications necessarily change  (cf. Gendlin 399 and passim). A full identification is always illusory: it is itself an illusion and it works towards a life of unrealistic illusion. My emotion may have another’s ache or suffering as its intentional object, but the actual quality of the ache is inescapably my own. Already the pioneering Adam Smith had realized: “As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation” (I.i.1.2). Last not least, empathy is an important method of uncritical identification in politics, as Hitler most efficaciously realized—Benjamin called it in the 1930s “empathy into the victor” (GS 1: 696).
Brecht’s main orientation, in line with today’s most interesting anthropological psychology, is therefore a refusal of empathy as the be-all and end-all in favour of precisely graded and argued sympathy. Sympathy means, even etymologically, “feeling with” (as opposed to empathy’s “feeling into”); as Smith argued, when rightly defined it necessarily involves reflection and imagination since it is an opinion. Brecht emphatically stated that his  theater “in no way dispenses with emotions. And in particular not with the feeling for justice, urge toward freedom and righteous anger…. The ‘critical stance’, to which it attempts to bring its audience, can never be too passionate for this theatre.” (23: 109) To the contrary, for him empathy (Einfühlung) is a stance brought about by “suggestion” in which “the spectator is. . .  prevented from taking up a critical position toward the represented in proportion to the artistic efficacy of the representation” (26: 437).7/
Nonetheless, Brecht also powerfully, though sparingly, used and eventually began to theorize a transitory empathetic identification with some actions where they include emotions activating the spectator–most clearly, an indignation against the waste of human lives in oppressive situations of war or unemployment. Such an emotional identification may be found, he allowed, in many figures who reluctantly and sometimes only  partially approach the right stance, but finally do take it up. This would hold for his female protagonists Pelagea Wlassowa in The Mother, Joan Dark in St. Joan of the Slaughterhouses, and Señora Carrar in the eponymous play (22.1: 161-62, 26: 455, 22.2: 677), as well as for Kattrin’s anger and pity when she is drumming to save the city and its children in Mother Courage and Her Children. For Galileo, it would hold only in patches (cf. Suvin, “Heavenly”).
Thus, Brecht’s work articulates a lifelong battle against hegemonic empathy.  His main motive was that he witnessed in the 20th Century too many variants of polluted emotions: “The sources of [a person’s] feelings and passions are just as muddied up as the sources of his cognitions” (15: 295). The vampiric praxis of a passive audience emotionally “creeping into” the skin of the great as well as greatly suffering individual on the stage who will think, feel, and live for and in lieu of any spectator,  which was memorably analyzed in The Messingkauf Dialogues, militated against self-determination. It was quite correctly identified by Brecht as the central mechanism of a “theatralics” or consensus-bonding of fascist unity between the leader and the led. As the Nazi slogan had it, “Der Führer denkt für uns!” (“The Leader thinks for us!“); and High Stalinism agreed.
Alas, his concern is  not outdated. Illusionism has since shifted into the new US-led or “disneyfied” technologies of movie, and then TV and its successors (I discuss this at length in “Utopianism”). Research has shown there are many soap-opera fans who (con)fuse characters and actors, though nobody knows just how many sustain it for how long: the best guesstimate I found is that perhaps 5-10% are in a “lunatic dimension” (cf. the conflicting views in Harrington-Bielby 104-10 and 120-21). The uncritical use of empathy, from hero worship to the turn to “reality as spectacle” in late imperialism, arrogantly denies the Other the status of a person who is like me–somebody who is in given essential aspects of needfulness for life and justice the same as me–but also unlike me, having her own will and rights. Concomitant to this, my own freedom and identity are also slighted. Empathy thus remains the central mechanism for illusion(ism), a psychological and political menace. It may only be avoided by a constant interaction of knowing with not‑knowing, of the already significantly under­stood and the now for the first time to be significantly under­stood.

Notes                                                                                                          

X/ Mr. Günter Berg of the Suhrkamp Verlag answered my queries about the source of this quote that it muist have been coined by Dr. Unseld, head o Suhrkamp Verlag (e-mail to me of 30/10/1998).  I found later on the inner dust-jacket of Hans Mayer’s Brecht in der Geschichte (Bibl. Suhrkamp Bd. 284, 1971) a bombastic quote from a certain Hans Vetter, which may be Dr. Unseld’s source: “Im Buch der Literatur des Jahrhunderts gebührt Brecht der Titel des Klassikers der Vernunft.”

1/ The terminology about emotion is a jungle of competing disciplinary or indeed personal semantics, so that anybody venturing upon it must hew out her own path and stick to it, or founder. For ex. One school holds that “feeling” encompasses both psychological emotions and physiological affects; and so on. “Passion” started out in Latin as passive suffering (for ex. the Passion of Jesus), it is in English and French generally regarded as intensely goal-directed. “Pathos” is in English a theatrical and not quite genuine representation of emotion. The situation in other languages, such as German, is not less but differently intricate—see note 6.

My thanks go to the Humboldt Foundation for a Prize which allowed me to work in the Brecht Archive during the tenure at some intervals in 1997-2000, and to Erdmut Wizisla and the Archive staff. Also to Sabine Kebir and Thomas Weber for indications of materials. All the unattributed translations from non-English texts are mine.

For reasons of space I am not discussing here Brecht’s personal relationships to women, about which much misleading and simply wrong stuff has been written in criticism of Fuegi’s type. The most balanced books on this theme seem to me those by Kebir (see the four titles in Works cited), about which I have written in Brecht Yearbook (Suvin, “A Very” and “Sabine Kebir”).

2/ See Suvin, “Haltung” and “Haltung (Bearing).” I find with pleasure that this conclusion has been earlier arrived at by Dümling (626), whose excellent book is most useful for discussing Brecht’s bearings–not only as concerns music.

3/ Most philosophical approaches from Husserl on, especially after 1950, would generally agree with the view that emotions are intentional, that is, in part constituted by cognition and evaluation, cf. Rorty and Stocker; illustrious precursors of such a stance would include Rousseau. From this it follows that people an be held responsible for acting on basis of emotions. But it does not follow that emotion, though in principle or potentially cognitive, is to be simply identified with reason; an interesting argument is that it supplements inadequate (for ex. too slow) reasoning, cf. de Sousa.

4/ See for an introduction to the literature on categorization Rosch, and for an interesting complementary approach on “kinesthetic image schemas” Johnson. Even the ultra-formalist Kripke allows that feeling is essential to concepts, since all conscious mental states are inseparable from a raw feel of experience, while the psychologist Lazarus has in extensive discussions (I cite the latest I found) argued that a situational appraisal of personal significance is indispensable for an emotion.

5/ On Lipps’s “projective empathy” and the history of the term up to and including Brecht, see Weber.

6/ Simmel’s most important discussion on distance is perhaps in “The Stranger.” –Besides Brecht, and the two people on whose shoulders he here stands, Nietzsche and Shklovsky, in the pleasingly interdisciplinary secondary literature on distance I found useful Blumenberg, Bullough, Ginzburg, Scarry, the survey by Phillips with a larger bibliography, and the rich materials in Osterkamp. Osterkamp points out that the dichotomy of affects  vs. more complex emotions is by some scholars termed Gefühle (feelings) vs. Emotionen, but this minority view is at odds with Brecht’s usage of Gefühl and Emotion as synonyms as well as with the English use of “emotion” for both.

7/ Here Brecht was not that far from Aristotle, who in his Rhetoric (6 2.8) rightly observes that :suffering without distance is not pitiable but horrible. There can only be pity (say in theatre) when the onlooker is sufficiently near to the suffering of others yet not completely identified with it.

Works Cited                                                                                                                                       

Benjamin, Walter. Gesammelte Schriften. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1980-87. [as GS]

Blumenberg, Hans. Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988.

Brecht, Bertolt. Werke. Grosse Kommentierte Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe. Frankfurt & Berlin: Suhrkamp & Aufbau V., 1988-98.  [as GBFA]

Bruner, Jerome.  Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1986.

Bullough, Edward. “‘Psychical Distance’ as a Factor in Art and an Esthetic Principle,” in Melvin M. Rader ed., A Modern Book of Esthetics. New York: Holt, Rinehart, 1951, 315-42.

de Sousa, Ronald. The Rationality of Emotion. Cambridge MA: MIT P, 1987.

Dümling, Albrecht. Brecht und die Musik. München: bei Kindler, 1985.

Gendlin, E.T. “The Responsive Order.” Man and World 30 (1997): 383-411.

Ginzburg, Carlo. Wooden Eyes. Trans. M. Ryle and K. Soper. New York: Columbia UP, 2001.

Haffad, Dorothea. Amour et société dans l’oeuvre de Brecht. Alger: Office des Publ. Universitaires, 1983.

Harrington, C. Lee, and Denise D. Bielby. Soap Fans. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1995.

Hartsock, Nancy C.M. Money, Sex, and Power. New York: Longman, 1983.

Jaggar, Alison M. Feminist Politics and Human Nature. Totowa NJ: Rowman & Allanheld, 1985.

—. “Love and Knowledge,” in eadem and Susan Bordo eds., Gender/ Body/ Knowledge. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1989, 145-71.

Jameson, Fredric R. Brecht and Method. London &  New York: Verso, 1998

—. “History and Class Consciousness as an Unfinished Product.” Rethinking Marxism 1.1 (1988): 49-72.

Johnson, Mark. The Body in the Mind. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1990.

Kebir, Sabine. Ein akzeptabler Mann? Berlin/DDR: Aufbau, 1987, enlarged edn. 1998.

—. Ich fragte nicht nach meinem Anteil: Elisabeth Hauptmanns Arbeit mit Bertolt Brecht. Berlin: Aufbau, 1997.

—. Abstieg in den Ruhm: Helene Weigel. Eine Biographie, Berlin: Aufbau, 2000

—. Mein Herz liegt neben der Schreibmaschine: Ruth Berlaus Leben vor, mit und nach Bertolt Brecht. Algier: Ed. L. Moulati, 2006.

Keller, Evelyn F. Reflections on Gender and Science. New Haven: Yale UP, 1985.

Kripke, Saul A. Naming and Necessity. Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1982.

Lazarus, Richard S. “”The Cognition-Emotion Debate…,” in T. Dalgleish and M. Power eds., Handbook of Cognition and Emotion. New York: Wiley & Sons, 1999, 3-20.

Lukács, Georg. Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein. Berlin & Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1968.

Mandler, George. Mind and Emotion. New York: Wiley, 1985.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Werke. Berlin: Dietz, 1962ff. [as MEW]

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phénomenologie de la  perception. Paris: nrf, 1943.

—. The Structure of Behavior. Trans. A. Fisher.  Boston: Beacon, 1963.

Osterkamp, Ute. “Zum Problem der Gesellschaftlichkeit und Rationalität der Gefühle/ Emotionen,“ in Forum Kritische Psychologie 40. Hamburg: Argument, 1999, 3-49.

Nussbaum, Laureen. “The Evolution of the Feminine Principle in Brecht’s Work.” German Studies R  8.2 (1985): 217-44.

Phillips, Mark Salber. “Relocating Inwardness.” PMLA 118.3 (2003): 436-49.

Rosch, Eleanor. “Principles of Categorization,” in eadem and B.B. Lloyd eds., Cognition and Categorization. Hillsdale: Erlbaum, 1978, 28-50.

Rorty, Amélie Oksenberg. “Explaining Emotions,” in eadem ed.,  Explaining Emotions. Berkeley: U of California P, 103-06.

Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain.  New York: Oxford UP, 1985.

Scheler, Max. The Nature of Sympathy. Trans. P. Heath. L: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1954 [Wesen und Formen der Sympathie (1923), in his Gesammelte Werke, Bd. 7. Bern, 1973: 7-258; cited in text as A/B, A being the English and B the German page].

Simmel, Georg. “The Stranger,” in The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Ed. K. Wolff. London: Free P, 1940, 402-08.

—. Grundfragen der Soziologie. Berlin & Leipzig: Goschen, 1917.

—. Philosophie des Geldes. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp 1989.

Smith, Adam. Theory of Moral Sentiments. Ed. D.D. Raphael and A.L. Mackie. Indianapolis:  Liberty, 1982.

Stocker, Michael, with Elizabeth Hegeman. Valuing Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.

Suvin, Darko.  “Brecht: Bearing, Pedagogy, Productivity.” Gestos 5.10 (1990): 11‑28.

—. “On Cognitive Emotions and Topological Imagination.” Versus no. 68‑69 (1994): 165‑201; available on http://www.focusing.org/apm_papers/suvin.html.

—. For Lack of Knowledge. Pullman WA: Working Papers  Series in Cultural Studies, Ethnicity, and Race Relations [No. 27], 2001.

—. “Haltung,” entry in Historisch-kritisches Wörterbuch des Marxismus, Vol. 5. Hamburg: Argument, 2002, col. 1134-42.

—. “Haltung (Bearing) and Emotions: Brecht’s Refunctioning of Conservative Metaphors for Agency,” in T. Jung ed., Zweifel – Fragen – Vorschläge. Frankfurt a.M.: Lang, 1999, 43-58.

—. “Heavenly Food Denied: Life of Galileo,” in P. Thomson and G. Sacks eds., The Cambridge Companion to Brecht.  Cambridge:  Cambridge UP, 1994, 139-52.

—. “Sabine Kebir. Mein Herz liegt neben der Schreibmaschine.” Brecht Yearbook 32 (2007): 420-24.

—. “The Soul and the Sense: Meditations on Roland Barthes on Japan.” Canadian R. of Comparative Lit. 18.4 (1991): 499-531.

—. “The Subject as a Limit-Zone of Collective Bodies.” Discours social/ Social Discourse 2.1-2 (1989): 187-99.

—. To Brecht and Beyond. Brighton: Harvester P, 1984.

—. “Utopianism from Orientation to Agency: What Are We Intellectuals under Post-Fordism To Do?” Utopian Studies 9.2 (1998): 162-90.

—. “A Very Acceptable Public Sphere Critic.” Brecht Yearbook 24 (1999): 386‑96.

Weber, Thomas. “Einfühlung,” entry in Historisch-kritisches Wörterbuch des Marxismus, Vol. 3. Hamburg: Argument, 1997, col. 133-47.

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 1981.

Wolf, Ursula. “Gefühle im Leben und in der Philosophie,” in H. Fink-Eitel and  G. Lohmann eds., Zur Philosophie der Gefühle. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1994, 112-35.

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GOODBYE AND HELLO: DIFFERENTIATING WITHIN THE LATER P.K. DICK

Darko Suvin                                                                                    (VERSION 2015, 14,960 words)



“You’ve read these?” Allen scanned the volume of
Ulysses. His interest and bewilderment grew. “Why?
What did you find?”
Sugermann considered. “These, as discriminated
from the other, are real books.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Hard to say. They’re about something.”
(Dick, The Man Who Japed, ch. 9)
Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it
doesn’t go away. (Dick, VALIS, ch. 5)

1. Two Personal (But Not Only) Premises

1.1. Historical
It must have been 1972 or ’73 when my nose was first rubbed into the work of Philip Dick by a student at McGill, a young woman who went on to become a professor of psychology at Berkeley.
A friend of hers, a young Lithuanian-Canadian, was one of those fans having the entire opus of favourite SF writers in his flat, in this case all I was missing from Dick. I then asked my coeditor Dale Mullen whether he’d let me edit an issue of our journal, Science-Fiction Studies, on Le Guin and Dick, which soon became two separate issues. Among other matters in organizing that issue, I somehow got Dick’s phone number in southern California to solicit from him a contribution, which he eventually graciously gave. I had the feeling he was somewhat bewildered by academic attention, and it turned out later he had classical ambivalence toward it–he both wanted and resented our praise. Our conversations were entirely practical and unremarkable, except for one incident after he had received the SFS issue in 1975, when he gently complained about my slighting of his German, since he had been readily understood by the hotel he stayed in in Munich.
This turned out to be an instance of his talent for fabulation, for it appears he never was in Munich, but I was at the time entirely innocent of his psychic complexities…
Many years later, when his executor was preparing a volume of his letters for print, he asked me for permission to reproduce Dick’s 1974 letters denouncing me and two other prominent participants in the SFS issue, at the same time that he was cordially conversing with us, to the FBI as agents of a Soviet-bloc Communist committee situated in Cracow and going under the name of Lem; he knew that Lem wasn’t a single person because the latter had corresponded with him in several languages… I have since understood the terrible existential panic he was in when he tried to ingratiate himself with the FBI, and forgiven if not forgotten.1/ It is a case in point for Dick’s typically American cocoon, the political illiteracy to which I shall return in my conclusion. But away with memories of Atlantis! How is it proper today to talk about him? We could say this as in the title of Michael Bishop’s novel: “Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas”–and we are alive, at a time probably worse than his fears, 20 years later. We have therefore the benefits of hindsight, of having available almost all that matters which he wrote, including the mainstream novels, his letters, essays, and other expository prose. All of this, including a lot of critical literature, should of course be critically sifted, for beside benefits snares for the unwary have also multiplied since he died in 1982. And furthermore, most important, all of us who have loved (or love-hated) his work, but who at any rate have recognized his genius–that is, his cognitive importance to us the readers then and now–have cognitive, which means also ethical, obligations to his opus and his memory. Perhaps I should then start rather from 1975, when the first major collection of critical work on him was published in that SFS issue. This would for me personally be an obligatory starting point because I feel that my essay in that issue needs supplementing in two ways: by taking into account the new materials, and also new theoretical insights and positions some of us on the Left have arrived at examining the few splendors and many miseries since 1975–including among the splendors new thinking about salvation sparked by new needs and with help of Liberation Theology or a better understanding of Walter Benjamin.
My question would then be what does P.K. Dick’s fiction from Ubik on have to say to those of us, his readers, who have not given up trying to make sense–in however overdetermined and roundabout ways– out of our common world in order to find out possibilities of action in it. After all, we see the powerful social classes, all the Palmer-Eldritch-type mad capitalist and military groups lording it over us, that work successfully for destruction all the time–which proves that action is possible. We need horizons and orientations, today more than ever, which allow for radical change to counteract their destruction of material and moral life, of our bodies and our values. Let me be as clear here as I can: I do not wish to talk in the simplified language and conceptuality of a difference between “esthetic” and “committed” or engagé texts, nor, a fortiori, in that of “progressive” vs. “regressive” that lurks at its back. I hold with and Brecht that “to see how or as”–as opposed to staring or seeing only retinally–is to think as well as to see, that the optical nerve functions by way of the brain. The whole history of art and philosophy has shown us that we cannot understand any “what” without the “how,” for the “how” is in a way an inquiry into “what is what.” A navel-gazing “how” may engage our sympathies at moments of the gazer’s great navel pain.
But such a “how,” that denies it exists as a function of “what,” grows increasingly sterile. Thus 
I do wish to cleave to the fundamental opposition between Eros and Thanatos, fertility and sterility, making our lives easier or more difficult to understand.
Therefore: what can Dick’s late novels say to those of us who are not interested in theology as believers or even near-believers, but who are prepared to see theology and cosmogony as an interesting and perhaps highly important symptom of earthly relationships? Those interested in mystical experiences or Gnostic divinities are welcome to find pleasure in dealing intransitively with them, but I wish to explore whether they could be profitably treated as a highly abstract or coded form of transitive talking about individual vs. community and other crucial matters of relationships among people in Dick’s time–and by easy extension, in our unhappy times too.While I would like to investigate the significant post-Ubik novels of Dick with this in view, I can here manage only an overview of some foci in selected novels. I cannot, as one should, reconsider here the two “bridge novels,” Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (written 1966, published 1968) and the much richer Ubik (written 1966, published 1969). I shall concentrate on A Scanner Darkly, Radio Free Albemuth, and the “VALIS Trilogy.”

1.2 Methodological: The Emitter and His Signals
What I am looking for as far as method goes is a tool or lens which would allow us to approach the tug-of-war between simple psychological alienation or rebellious anomie on the one hand and, on the other hand, a more articulated delving into the collective reasons ceaselessly reproducing that alienation and reification, between a creativity or critique that is useful or useless for radical anticapitalist change; and only a “thick” version of such an approach, not only ideational but also formal, has a chance to be enlightening. This may be a central problem of all SF (not to say of all art today); at any rate, as befits a major creator, it is clearly a major and increasingly foregrounded dilemma at the heart of Dick’s opus. I have no wish to conceal that this is a variant of the permanent Left or radical critique of the bourgeois world, which is for urgent salvational reasons inevitably drawn to ideal polarities, although we know full well that in practice, and especially artistic practice, there is little black and white but rather various shades of grey and all other colours. The
point is that taking centrally into account the shifting spacetimes and value-systems in fictional texts can retain this political interest but supplement it not only with the tools of modern narratology and if you wish semiotics (let me invoke here only early Lukács, Bakhtin, and Jameson), but also of modern existential and phenomenological inquiry. Indeed, this approach can at its best embody the politics in its inquiry, while recalling it overtly and criticizing where need be any of its stripes, including the necessary simplifications of day-to-day activism. In other words, I wish to test and if need be clarify my 1975 thesis that in P.K. Dick’s opus we can see an oscillation between the horizons of transitive epistemology, where reality is undoubted but the characters’ or reader’s approach to it is in question, and intransitive ontology, where the reality itself is in question. I shall use the shorthand of “epistemological” vs.”ontological” for these horizons. Perhaps this distinction can be further focussed by borrowing the one between signal and
noise from the theory of information. Given a stream of information, signal means all that informs us about the source of that stream or that has “meaning”–in the case of a novel, a however roundabout or mediated meaning about possible relationships in the koinos kosmos (as Dick would rightly say), the Possible World Zero common to author and readers. It is then usually thought by engineers that noise is all that which carries no information or has no meaning. However, noise gives us another type of information, that about the channel. It is autoreferential information, indispensable for any technician who wants to repair a radio or TV and, as De Carolis points out, “listens to the buzzes and whistles to draw information about the device and not about modern music” (modern music then often incorporates the buzzes and whistles by upgrading them from noise to signal). I’d add that in a larger sense, this somewhat misnamed noise is also information, and indeed one about a specific subset of PW Zero, the psychophysical consciousness of the author as refracted through the writing conventions and genres she is using. In the case at hand, the “device” or subset is Dick’s existential situation as he understood it at the moment of writing, and (this seems important) through or indeed in part because of the writing.
The problem here is a dialectical one: on the one hand, the flow of information being received by the readers scanning the novel is single; on the other hand and simultaneously, at every and any moment optimal information about PW Zero can only be attained by distinguishing clearly between the channel noise–here, Dick’s psycho-theological encoding–and the meaning coming from and about the signal source. In the theory of information, this distinction is essential but only possible as the work of an external observer: “the channel itself is indifferent to it.”
In the classical case in which a system observes itself, which is the case of every artist, there is an inbuilt temptation to confuse signal and noise. The temptation grows particularly strong in the case of a badly functioning society which causes the appearance of isolated and anomic intellectuals and reinforces their anguish. I hold that this is the case of a good part of us, and that in the humanist intelligentsia the isolation–Karl Marx’s “alienation” and Hannah Arendt’s “loneliness”–is directly proportional to our clear-sightedness and significance as intellectuals, say writers. It causes what De Carolis calls a “primary solipsism.” Even conservative or Rightwing writers in SF have been known to share the anomie, witness Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” and the interminable follow-ups in the novels of his senility. The pedigree of such solipsism is impressive, for it extends from Buddhism and Plato’s Myth of the Cavern to all subjectivist philosophy, say from Descartes through the German Idealists to early Wittgenstein and today. Their common horizon is one of taking the blend or confusion between signal and noise for a natural condition of our PW Zero. An epistemic beast, how to understand the source, is mistaken for an ontological beast, what the source is. The central materialist tenet that we can only have given interpretations of reality but that it exists outside of us and independent of any our group, is here abandoned.
Obversely however, for use in a highly sophisticated and sui generis context such as fiction or art in general, the engineering aspect of the theory of information has to be modified. No significant writer is able to quite forget the meaningful signal. The urge to communicate to readers matters not confined exclusively to herself as channel seems to make the difference between creativity and psychosis. We shall see that in Dick’s case there is a functional equivalent to the emitter’s indifference in an artful oscillation concerning the presence and nature of meaning within a spectrum of mutually exclusive explanations. While the civic persona of Phil Dick may have hovered very near psychosis and was most probably at moments deep within it, the control and clarity largely evidenced in his work disallow using this as a key to their interpretation: the writer’s persona, the implied author, was for all relevant purposes not psychotic or crazy.
The criteria I’m using as epistemic tools makes it mandatory for criticism (as I understand it) to scrutinize whether it is generally possible to extend the author’s understanding of his situation as exemplary to everybody else’s situation. A spread of answers is possible, which I tried to discussonce for the specific case of Victorian SF (Suvin, “Narrative”). In the pessimal case, the author is so idiosyncratic that it cannot be extended at all; the writings are then soon forgotten. In very rare optimal cases, the author’s understanding can be shared with some appreciable accuracy by large groups of people, entire social classes of a civilization–these are then the authors taught in Literature 101 or high school, your Shakespeares, Dostoevskys, Rabelaises, Homers or Lucretiuses.
More usually, the author’s take on reality cannot be extended outside of a small group sharing his existential position (his core fans, in SF parlance), or at least not without confronting it significantly with other types of understanding which the critic has good reasons for treating as more illuminating and useful–in brief, better. Any such more normative reasons are finally in the nature of a bet and neither necessarily nor (for sure) eternally valid. But for given purposes, those of discussing a worthwhile and significant but not quite optimal writer–which is, as a rule, what we do in SF–they can be supremely useful. Given the resonance that the works of P.K. Dick have now had for 30 or 40 years, and which may in the foreseeable future vary as to whom it affects and in exactly which directions but to my mind has no reason to abate, I believe this is his position in our present debates.
To discuss the significance of Dick’s later works, then, necessarily leads to some disentangling of meaning and noise. It also necessarily leads to some, I hope discreet, use of his biography. I shall assume as a given for this investigation what a number of us have been arguing about the epistemologically transitive and thus socially critical or “signalling” nature of his earlier novels, which culminates (as is by now generally accepted) in what I called his “plateau tetralogy” of The Man in the High Castle, Martian Time-Slip, and Dr Bloodmoney (written 1961-64, published 1962-65). I leave here unresolved the stature of the contemporary Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, on which some critics heap one-sided praise2/ whereas others such as myself now doubt we should speak of a “plateau tetralogy.” Finally, I see no other way of seizing what Dick is getting at than to identify in each case the main nodes of his plots, which inevitably means also to interpret them, while getting at an encompassing evaluation only after having disentangled them. Dick’s truth lies in his plot or fabula.

2. Approaching the Later P.K. Dick: Dead End and Necessity of Salvation

2.1. Both for my purposes and in fairness to Dick, I do not have to deal with works that do not represent him at his utmost stretch (except as testimonials to his dilemmas). In my judgment such is the case of five novels written in what one might call his crisis decade 1966-76, that is between Ubik and A Scanner Darkly. Stableford and Clute rightly call Deus Irae “a rather unsatisfactory collaboration with Roger Zelazny.” In Galactic Pot-Healer (written 1967-8, published 1969), the emblematic artist-craftsman is chosen as the necessary helper of a very unclear godhead. Though any novel by Dick will have its share of felicities, the central flaw of this one is a hesitant approach to an “inner space” quasi-Jungian allegory, which is neither clear nor cogent enough to sustain the weight put upon it. It also ends abruptly, and such perfunctoriness will increase in the following three novels. A Maze of Death (written 1968, published 1970), Our Friends From Frolix 8 (written 1968-69, published 1970), and Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (written 1970-73, published 1974), are broken-backed narratives. Most of A Maze is a banalized ontology, with insufficient narrative control and a plot of successive murders in an isolated planet community à la Christie’s And Then There Were None, which is pulled back into epistemology in the last dozen pages. There the preceding narration is revealed as a collective dream generated by a mind-linking machine to alleviate the dead end of a crew’s endless voyage in an out-of-control spaceship. This superordinated reality seems even more hopeless, since it lacks the presence of divine manifestations from the universe of the realistic dream, but in Dick’s frequent sting-in-the-tail reversal one appears to the main character Seth who will be reborn as a cactus.
Our Friends is a story of competing supermen “races” out of van Vogt, where a redeeming man returns from the stars with a selfless Frolixian alien who wipes out the superior part of the supermen’s brains. The usual and prescient Dickian police state is in evidence hunting the little working man, and among the felicities which make it the most interesting text of the three is some excellent satire of fakely objective TV comments; however, the final discussion pits the superiority of private sentiments not only against the arrogance of power but also against intellect in general.
Finally, the protagonist of Flow finds out he officially does not exist in the US police state of an alternate reality, but in the last quarter of the story his original reality seeps back for reasons vaguely indicated as due to mind-altering drugs, that also ontologically alter reality. The main turns in the plot thus arrive like a succession of rabbits out of a hat, in a quite arbitrary way. These new drugs are associated with a subsidiary female character, one of the four or five who flit scattershot in and out of the protagonist’s life; there is also a subplot bearer, no less than a humane police general… Beside the grim background of concentration camps and besieged campuses, the novel has, as usual, some splendid passages of pain and bewilderment, and six pages of a great Parable of the Rabbit trying to overcome his biology, which however stands isolated in the narration.
All these novels are interesting documents–but not much more–for what Stableford and Clute call Dick’s “sense of a shrinking [and derelict] world,” full of pain and increasing loss of orientation for everybody involved, that has been coming intensively to the fore since Martian Time-Slip and is calling for extraordinary forces of salvation. The dead end in and of these novels, where the politics (if any are indicated) can only be totally oppressive and are to be forsaken in favour of new existential orientations, centered on an ethics of love and caring, threatens to dissolve even the powers of coherent narration. All of this indicates well the reasons for Dick’s receptivity to a sudden radical break of horizons which would hold the promise of starting anew. Robinson’s example of Our Friends From Frolix 8, where “For the first time since the 1950s, a world police state is overthrown, but the revolution is accomplished by an alien with God-like powers” (Novels 103), indicates the direction to be taken.
My question is, then, whether the remaining half a dozen novels–the two “bridge novels” Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (written 1966, published 1968) and the richer Ubik (written 1966, published 1969), and then A Scanner Darkly, Radio Free Albemuth, and the “VALIS Trilogy”–and their peculiar do-it-yourself theological focus and argumentation may be read–in terms of literary theory as well as of theological tradition–as a parable of collective earthly matters.
I am dealing here with Radio Free Albemuth and the “VALIS Trilogy.” A first tentative indication of the horizons within which to approach the later Dick is then that the theological aspect of his speculations may be a property of the channel, of the individualist psychology of Philip Dick, while the focus on the salvation of our common world below deals with the source in Dick’s reality, the USA of 1967 to 1981 (as emblematically represented by its different California locales). Not being a psychologist or theologian, I’m in the position of the engineer who is not interested in the channel except insofar as it is indispensable for articulating the source–but at that moment, I may be supremely interested in the channel. In fiction, the channel is even more intimately interwoven with
message or meaning than in information theory, for it codetermines if not the source, then our understanding of or take on it.
However, before I get to Dick’s last “vision” novels, I wish to sound the depths of his descent into despair in A Scanner Darkly as a logically and historically necessary introduction to my question. It is a powerful and almost unbearable novel, certainly his first masterpiece since Ubik.

2.2. Dick’s Second Plateau: A Scanner Darkly
In this novel (written 1973-75, published 1977), Dick’s frequent depiction of a US police State (“this fascist police state,” ch. 1) to whom the little man-protagonist is opposed grows almost totally dark since the little man Bob Arctor is himself an active agent of the police, a narc with the cover name Fred. While the rich live “in their fortified huge apartment complexes” (ch. 2), the little people–our almost exclusive focus in the text–live in a totally controlled State where surveillance cameras (upgraded to holograms) are routinely used, every pay phone is tapped, supersonic tigh beams are used for police assassinations (ch. 10), and the closest friends inform on each other (Fred, Donna, Barris) and suspect each other. Two themes are prominent: the universal use of drugs which not only cause hallucinations and loss of reality sense but finally make for physical death or at least brain death; and the SF gadget of the scramble suit, an invention that hooks up a multifaced lens to a mini-computer holding a million and a half physiognomies projected at random onto a spherical membrane that fits around a person. The suit makes police agents unrecognizable, and is used not only for spying on the public but also in all of the narc’s contacts with the police. This latter quite improbable ploy, which no police in the world would have authorized, serves to strengthen the paranoid situation where not only everybody informs on everybody but nobody knows who is who.
A thick web of correspondences obtains in the novel. The scramble suit resonates semantically with drug-induced scrambled receptor sites in the brain, or the split between its two hemispheres.
This was a popular hypothesis at the time, which is presented with a fair amount of pseudoscientific gobbledegook: “a toxic brain psychosis affecting the percept system by splitting it” (ch. 7) mixes about three incompatible theses. This can be taken either as one of Dick’s frequent fast shuffles as a virtuoso semantic cardsharp or more charitably as a sign he wasn’t taking the hypothesis too seriously as a causal explanation. Dick was usually (alas) little interested in causes, he was interested in the phenomenological results, which had then to be explained through the best analogies he could at the moment find. In other words, the cybernetically created shifting identities are not only parallel but in some unexplained way analogous to the drug-created split identities. A further almost Symbolist correspondence surrounds the acronym SD: it is the new superdrug Substance D, whose source the police can apparently never find; it is Spiritual Death or Slow Death; it is also Scanner Darkly (with the A edited out in another fast shuffle–and an early title was “To Scare the Dead,” Shifting 229). Finally, the omnipresent image of the novel is the materialized metaphor of a man divided against himself: when the narc “Fred” has to spy on himself he must edit enough out of the holo videos to keep his identity as Arctor secret.
The boundaries of fact and fiction begin to crumble in this “creative editing yourself out” (ch. 7) but leaving enough in to avert suspicion. Nonetheless, there are two villainous forces in the book, the total police control over his characters’ lives and the total invasion of drugs into it.
Though the novel is held together not only by the system of correspondences but primarily by the focus on how both these forces “scramble” Fred’s mind, their duality introduces a basic confusion of values. The police control which is ostensibly there to combat drugs is shown as not only abhorrent but totally counterproductive: in order to inform on the dope-dealers the narcs have to begin taking drugs themselves, and in fact our protagonist Fred /Bob Arctor becomes addicted to Substance Dand succumbs to it in the course of the novel. But on the other hand Dick’s animus is clearly against the drug culture, which he knew well but only marginally participated in during the 1960s (his thing was rather pills). True, his appended “Author’s Note,” which identifies this novel as a requiem for  the naive and wiped-out drug-taking generation of his, is entirely too oversimplified to account for
the book. Still, if the drugs are supremely bad, then the bad and grotesque police fighting it is in a way good. This contradiction is never explored nor even mentioned in the novel (it can obliquely be inferred through Fred’s sympathetic boss, and is accompanied by some dubious theology about God transmuting evil to good in ch. 14). It is of a piece with Dick’s permanent ideological type that I would call “the good ruler,” or finding the good in a bad ruler. How illusory and misleading this tends to be can be seen by comparing it with the Rampart scandal in Los Angeles, which revealed that the L.A.P.D. Crash sections had set up prostitution and drug networks to compete with the gangs they were supposed to be fighting…
Finally, there is also a hint that there has been a total take-over by commercial interests:
all places are the same, with identical McDonaldburgers everywhere: “Life in Anaheim, California, was a commercial for itself, endlessly replayed. Nothing changed: it just spread farther and farther in the form of neon ooze…. How the land became plastic, he thought…” (ch. 2). However, this is not analyzed further; the economics of the drug-trade will only surface at the end, but then in an interesting way.
Instead, A Scanner focusses on the phenomenology, and primarily on Fred’s increasingly split and malfunctioning mind. This is both the novel’s limitation and its strength. On that level it is coherent and narratively consistent, even though it does creak in a few places (such as Arctor’s German quotes in ch. 11, or his final adventures as “Bruce”). As K.S. Robinson puts it, “There exists no finer character study of an undercover agent in contemporary America than this novel ” (Novels 109). Amid the thick gloom, the novel abounds in sympathy for the put-upon little people, primarily Arctor and his love Donna. Arctor’s possibly drug-induced visions, as when he hears a voice saying death will be vanquished and all the lives “backward right now” will be righted, do not help him to help himself. In the same culminating chapter 13, amid his withdrawal seizure, Donna recounts to him the story of Tony Amsterdam who saw God after an acid trip and felt very good;
however, after a year he realized he would never see God again: “he was going to live on and on like he was, seeing nothing. Without any purpose.” What he had actually seen through a doorway was another mysterious world of silence and nighttime beauty: “And then later on, when he couldn’t see it any more, he’d be on the freeway driving along, with all the trucks, and he’d get madder than hell. He said he couldn’t stand all the motion and noise, everything going this way and that, all the clanking and banging.” After this parable, Donna tells the stupefied Fred /Arctor he’ll be restored: “On the day when everything taken away unjustly from people will be restored to them. It may take a thousand years, or longer than that, but that day will come, and all the balances will be set right.” (all in ch. 13). Such passages prepare the outburst of the soteriological theme in the “VALIS cycle” (Albemuth and the “Trilogy”).
Though not sufficiently developed, Donna is an interesting character. She’s both a federal
police agent and the member of a resistance movement, and uses Arctor’s illness to “plant” him inside a work farm which the resistance suspects of growing Substance D. Her speech about ripping off Coca Cola as a capitalist monopoly (ch. 8) is an instance of the genuine, somewhat crazy plebeian resentment not too far from Pirate Jenny’s song from Brecht-Weill’s Threepenny Opera, the downtrodden dishwasher girl dreaming of killing the whole class of her oppressors. The authorial voice is very near to Donna: after the Tony Amsterdam parable and some further meditation on this cursed, fallen, wrong world, she hears a police car siren in hot pursuit: “It sounded like a deranged animal, greedy to kill.” (ch. 13)
Arctor gradually loses his identity, evolving first into a cohabitation with the emotionless
informer Fred, while after the crisis both identities are lost in a seemingly brainless treatment patient called Bruce. Unbeknownst to him, Bruce has been secretly planted by Donna to work for the powerful and rich New Path company, which offers work-rehabilitation for the drugged. In their closed fields, we are shown Bruce discovering the pretty flowers that indicate the company grows the drug Substance D or Mors ontologica. It is made clear that even though he doesn’t understand what he saw, he will be able to report back. Thus finally, the spirit of rebellion and subversion is continuing on in spite of the overwhelming forces of the Police State and drugging. It must be confessed though that this is only a vague and in some ways unresolved indication, a little undying spark of hope amid the overwhelming gloom.
Among the novel’s strengths is sceptical self-reflexivity (Dick’s forte whenever used), so that epistemology and ontology are actually discussed on the final two pages. When Bruce thinks the blue flower are gone, the New Path boss who cut off his view tells him, “No, you simply can’t see them…. Epistemology….” (ch. 17). This fits well into Dick’s definition of reality as “that which when you stop believing in it, it doesn’t go away” (VALIS ch.5), but not with his less clear-eyed moments. Both of the themes here, the occlusion of reality by means of biochemistry or of electronic optics, are epistemological. So is all the talk about the split percept system, Fred’s selfdiagnosis that he has a “cognitive… rather than perceptive” impairment (ch. 7), or the realistic affair of the forged cheque (ch. 11). Ontology, a true change in reality, takes over briefly here and there, as when the picked-up girl’s face melds into Donna’s and this registers on the scanned holo-cube (at the end of ch.s 9 and 10). Yet doubts linger on: compared to Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians which
invokes a superior reality, Dick’s title is not only technologically upgraded from glass to scanner (ch. 13), but even in this largely epistemological novel lacks Paul’s monolithic confidence in a real and superior reality.
The private psychological problems of the small man culminate and self-destruct in this
descent into Hell, after which they cannot be of further fictional use for Dick. As in Dante, even though much more ambiguously, he emerged and looked at the stars.

2.3. Dick’s Second Plateau: Radio Free Albemuth
Diametrically oposed to Scanner in tone (but not only in that), Radio Free Albemuth (written 1976, further RFA) is Dick’s first full-blown attempt to translate his “mystical experience[s]” (RFA ch. 2) into fiction, to present them as fiction, and to cope with them by means of fiction. Since it was published only after the Valis Trilogy and Dick’s death, in 1985, it has been unduly overshadowed by the Trilogy and the debates it promoted about his sanity and his theological system, which I consider marginal to my purpose and to Dick’s significance. Unduly, for it is a coherent, lucid, and significant achievement, at least on par with the “Valis trilogy.” On the whole, it successfully melds the Police-State theme with the theme of invading extraterrestrial visions.
The police State is instituted by Ferris F. Fremont–a blend of Nixon, McCarthy, and Hitler– who had become US president in 1969. First of all, this locates the story in a parallel Possible World or universe, which is however a parable of what is coming about in the Possible World Zero, our universe in the mid-1970s. But dating the swing to full repression to before rather than after the novel’s appearance is strange. In this type of dystopian SF, the nearer the story date the greater the urgency. Orwell’s putting the Possible World in a shockingly near future was also a twisted way of talking exactly about what Dick too is talking about, for the date of 1984 simply inverts the last two digits of 1948, the year Orwell was writing. Thus, in a further twist on Orwell, Dick’s chronological
novum underscores the urgency of danger: in a very similar world, whose Berkeley and Orange County venues are described with detailed autobiographic realism, freedom has already been lost.
Fremont comes to power by denouncing a mysterious but ubiquitous subversive organization “Aramchek”: “Obviously no one can destroy it. No one’s safe from it. No one knows where it’ll turn up next…” (RFA ch. 3). As Valis reveals to Nick, Fremont is himself part of a vast secret organization which has assassinated the Kennedys, Malcolm X, King, and so on. Like Hitler, he institutionalizes ubiquitous “security” agents–specially zealous are the young– to check on “the moral state of hundreds of thousands of citizens,” and builds concentration camps (ch. 9).
I cannot but interpolate here that a bad limitation of Dick’s–which he however shares with the great majority of US SF–is his insularity. While vastly if unsystematically knowledgeable about music, literature, and the aspects of philosophy that interested him, he was not at all conversant with nor really interested in the world outside the USA–except for the Cold War rivalry with the USSR which subsumed the Vietnam War, but is here explained as a covert identity of the two “Fascist” powers. True, the USA is a very big island and up to the invention of the airplane, submarine, and ICBM could really isolate itself from the Old World, but at the same time it has since the 19th Century related to most of the world as the rich North to the poor South, and moreover a North which is rich because the South is poor. Therefore, Dick is reduced to noticing poverty only in the specific and overdetermined form of the US slums, mainly formed by immigrants, and he can easily forget economics in his otherwise totalizing explanations. Nonetheless, if we factor this limitation in, then Fremont’s canny political invention and strategy is prescient of, and continues to be highly apposite to, the present regime’s repression in Bush Jr.’s “Homeland” (including the use of the Social Security number for checking on people). And the objection that the huge US military establishment proves it cannot be in cahoots with USSR is met with another, to my mind prescient reply : “To keep our own people down. Not theirs.” (ch. 15) The prescience is again partial; the real reply would be, of course, “to keep both the US and other peoples down.”
The visionary experiences are discussed as they unfold between two alter egos of the author, Nicholas Brady and Phil Dick, who also function as alternative narrators in a tripartite Phil-Nick- Phil narrative.3/ Nick has the revelations from aliens that push him into an underground movement called “Aramchek” against the dictator Fremont. His friend Phil, an SF writer, functions not only as a dialogic sidekick but also as a doubter whose confutation adds to Nick’s credibility, and finally as an ally who remains as the focus in a coda to the novel after Nick’s death.
Dick’s message is heavily and multiply safeguarded and so to speak fenced in through
spinning a series of conflicting interpretations, a feat he excelled at. This is a staple of interesting SF, prominent in Wells’s foundational Time Machine, though Dick probably absorbed it rather through van Vogt’s Null-A series. As he put it, “Theories are like planes at LA international: a new one along every minute” (ch. 19). It has the function of forestalling, ventilating, and undercutting the reader’s objections. Phil’s first alternative hypothesis is one of psychosis: As far as I was concerned it was a chronic fantasy life that Nicholas’s mind had hit on to flesh out the little world in which he lived. Communicating with Valis (as he called it) made life bearable for him, which it otherwise would not be. Nicholas, I decided, had begun to part company with reality, out of necessity…. This was a classic example of how the human mind, lacking real solutions, managed its miseries. (ch. 5) Come back, Nicholas. To this world. The present. From whatever other world you’re
drifting away to from pain and fear–fear of the authorities, fear of what lies ahead for all of us in this country. We’ve got to put up one last fight. “Nick,” I said, “you’ve got to fight.” (ch. 14) However, Phil then witnesses Valis flashing a message to Nick which saves his small son from death by an undiagnosed hernial failure, and his second hypothesis is that Valis is God, more precisely the Christian Holy Spirit (ch. 7). A bewildering string of incidents and speculations taken from Dick’s life, including some frank admissions of the fear that made him collaborate with the FBI by denouncing others (ch. 10), is worked into the novel. It is revealed the messages from the star Albemuth are beamed to Earth through an orbiting satellite, which is discovered and blown up by the Soviets, covertly allied with the USA. The messages seem to imply also that the characters live simultaneously in the evil Roman Empire (an idea possibly stimulated by the masterpiece 334 by his acquaintance Thomas Disch), at a time when the first failed attempt of overthrowing it by
Christ will be repeated. It should be stressed that the soteriological speculations arising out of a channelling of the 1960s impulse for justice and peace into mystical visions are as usual, but perhaps more fully so, firmly rooted in a American demotic or plebeian language, a mix of innocence and arrogance, that makes up a great part of their charm and believability. When the vision allows him to see the trashy world around him with new eyes, Nick reflects: My incompetence had called these invisible friends forth. Had I been more gifted I would not now know of them. It was, in my mind, a good trade. Few people had the awareness I now possessed. Because of my limitations an entire new universe had
revealed itself to me, a benign and living hyperenvironment endowed with absolute wisdom. Wow, I said to myself. You can’t beat that, I had caught a glimpse of the Big People. It was a lifetime dream fulfilled…. (ch. 18)
Phil’s third hypothesis is that a parallel universe, possessing a more advanced science that had not divorced itself from Christianity, was assisting our backward Earth; or alternately, fourth, that the ancient Christians were returning and broadcasting to Nick’s through his unused brain tissue (ch. 19). A fifth hypothesis about a superior life-form from Albemuth materializing in his brain and making the chosen carriers immortal is broached later by Sylvia, a first sketch for the Sophia of the Trilogy. When this welter of conflicting interpretations has slyly established that what is to be interpreted is at any rate believable, we are given Nick’s most extended dialogue with Valis, a fatherfigure arranging for a usually fatal accident out of which Nick walks away reconstituted, understanding he has been reborn many times, “to work toward some distant goal unseen, not as yet comprehended…. Overthrowing the tyranny of Ferris Fremont was a stop along the way, not a goal but a moment of decision, from which I then continued as before.” (ch. 23). For all the echoes of Plato’s anamnesis, the mystical vision is here also a political one, which can be shared by total disbelievers in supernatural agencies. Dick constantly oscillates between rankest UFOlatry or mystification of the Scientology type and a shrewd realization of political oppression and a faith that enables resistance to it.
As Nick then correctly realizes, Fremont would win, the police would destroy their small
resistance group. Typically and self-reflectively, Dick envisages resistance by means of coded messages through art: Nick is a highly placed recording studio executive and he attempts to smuggle subliminal messages into popular records. This fails, Nick and his whole group are shot, and Phil is condemned to perpetual forced labour. However, an opening toward brighter perspectives is re-established in the novel’s coda, narrated by Phil as lifelong convict of the Fascist regime.
It is a double opening, ideological and pragmatic, on a continuing subversion against the
Fascist takeover. The ideological opening is achieved in the discussion, similar to the end of a Shavian play, with another convict friend, the plumber Leon, who prefers political resistance to religion but appreciates Aramchek’s actions and its reliance on the inner voice of simple people. His final judgment is however: “There has to be something here first, Phil. The other world is not enough…. Because… this is where the suffering is. This is where the injustice and imprisonment is.
Like us, the two of us. We need it here. Now.” (ch. 30) And at the end of the whole novel, the despondent Phil hears the latest hit rock release from a radio used by staring kids beyond the pressgang workplace, which features the exact words Nick was going to use smuggling in the revelation about Fremont. Nick’s group was a diversion that achieved its goal. The tune is suddenly cut off, but still it exists. The novel ends on this impenitent 68er note: The transistor radio continued to play. Even more loudly. And, in the wind, I could hear others starting up everywhere. By the kids, I thought. The kids.
It should be noted that this culmination of the novel, to me one of the high points of Dick’s
whole opus, articulates the typical Dickian, multilingually coded, title in political terms. For “Albemuth” carries strong echoes of “alba” from Latin which means both white and later, as in Provençal poetry, dawn and also a poetic form, the song about dawn when the lover must part from his damsel (best known in English literature from Romeo’s dawn parting with Juliet); while “muth” means courage in German, phonetically adjusted to proper Semitic sound as in the Biblical “behemoth”. The courage of waiting for the dawn of justice, the supreme earthly or societal virtue, hidden in an allusive metaphor. The whole title of Radio Free Albemuth imitates in its form the various “freedom stations”–true or fake–of anti-Nazi and anti-Stalinist resistance as well as some countercultural enterprises run by local communities in the 1960s as “the free University” and indeed “free” radio-stations (e.g. in the US and Japanese student revolt). Beyond that, it can be glossed as an emission by a more knowledgeable, artistically hidden source working for freedom from political oppression and instilling the courage of waiting for the dawn of justice. There are
many noises in the channel, and some outright fade-outs; and as any emission, it is liable to misinterpretation as to what the source is saying.

3. The “VALIS Trilogy”

3.1. VALIS
The novel VALIS (written 1978, published 1981) can be divided into two parts, before and after the viewing of the eponymous movie Valis in chapter nine. Both parts are rather prolix, but the first part especially so. They are situated in the 1960s California, to begin with the Bay Area where “[t]he authorities [had become] as psychotic as those they hunted” (ch. 1), and the author’s alter ego is suffering from “fear, helplessness and an inability to act” (ch. 4). As K.S. Robinson encapsulates it, the first part is of interest as a presentation of a character similar but not identical to P.K. Dick, split into Horselover Fat and Phil Dick: “the flamboyant science fiction thinker, with reality breakdown as his dominant theme [,and] the hard-headed realist observer of contemporary America” (“Afterword” 251). In my terms, Fat’s belief in a divine revelation from VALIS carries the ontological theme, bolstered by long excerpts from Fat’s exegesis, and Phil’s as well as his friend’s Kevin’s needling the epistemological theme.
Through most of the book, “Fat plunges into the flow of theories, terms, citations, accepting, forgetting (never refuting), collaging, stitching…. As we read, we lose the propositions in the process.” (Palmer 335) Confusingly if endearingly, right at the beginning the narrator, whose diagnosis is that Fat is going nuts, says “I am Horselover Fat, and I am writing this in the third person to gain much-needed objectivity.” Phil the narrator keeps in the first eight chapters a running fire of shrewd observations about how Fat projects his hunger and his take on world as information onto the God that is supposedly firing independent info (the Logos) on him. Thus, Fat(as Phil) is writing very convincingly how Fat is a silly and whacked-out psychotic. Yet this ironic distance conveys in fact Fat’s (and even more so the author’s) sanity and believability. In the novel’s second part, sparked by the viewing of a movie which convinces the little group around Fat to visit
the movie-makers, it becomes clear Phil was a disbelieving patsy, and his frequent and quite shrewd sardonic observations and rude hyperbolae were set up so that they can be confounded, wiping out the reader’s disbelief too.
However, at the end it still remains unclear how Fat can go cavorting around the world–
unless Phil is truly a psychotic imagining this. This is only one main example of an intrusive, perhaps willed, lack of focussing in the novel as it develops: a lot of mutually incompatible  speculations, repetitive info dumping, repetitive fixations of Fat’s (such as the needless detour on his relation to Sherri for a chapter and a half), or simply bits of sloppy writing–the noise in the channel. Amid all this, the interesting aspect of Fat’s cosmology is his belief that we all live in “the Empire,” a Black Iron Prison for body and soul, composed simultaneously of contemporary USA/ California and the Roman Empire at the time of the first Christians. The less interesting aspects is Fat’s belief in a plasmatic quasi-divine species which from time to time bonds with people like Jesus, the Kennedy brothers, and Martin L. King, or–at different times–his belief in an irrational and evil ruler of the present universe (or at least Terra, as in C.S. Lewis) behind whom the real benevolent forces of creation also operate and venture down to help us. This is, as Dick knew, a form of Gnosticism. Therefore, Dick’s home-made cosmology added, the phenomenal world of evil isn’t real, and we deluded people are morally innocent–though neither necessarily follows from the rule of evil.
Fat has grown increasingly agitated by missing God (like Tony Amsterdam) and is coming to believe that his choice is immediate salvation or death. Therefore, when his group views the movie Valis, written and directed by the rock star Lampton who receives the same pink-beam burst as Fat did, after some decidedly delirious exegesis they contact the makers, and get invited to visit them in Northern California. The movie-makers appear to be from a race come to Earth in ancient times to counteract the Empire with help of VALIS, the satellite from Albemuth, though hints may be found that its info radiation is also toxic. The real godhead or Logos is Sophia, the preternaturally wise two-year-old daughter of Lampton’s wife and VALIS. At the first interview with her, Phil and Fat fuse back into one person, that is, Phil grows whole. The new female Christ’s or Wisdom’s teaching, where Dick rewrites the Sermon on the Mount, is a kind of humanist rather than theist religion: “Man is holy, and the true god, the living god, is man himself…. You… are to love one another as you love me and as I love you….” And further: “The day of Wisdom and the rule of Wisdom has come. The day of power, which is the enemy of wisdom, ends…. This has not been your world, but I will make it your world; I will change it for you. Fear not.” (all ch. 12) However, Sophia warns them not to trust the Lamptons, who turn out, in a Van-vogtian twist of competing supermen, to be on the wrong side. Immediately thereafter, Sophia is killed by the Lampton group, supposedly in an accident, Fat “returns,” and sets off on a search for her reincarnation. The rest remain in California; at first disenchanted, they keep getting hints that the true king may return.
They keep the faith and wait. It is a minimal and unresolved ending, when compared with the highflown
hopes of salvation or even (as K.S. Robinson points out) with the aching dream-glimpse of
harmonious life in a petty-bourgeois suburban Arcadia, taken from an earlier age or childhood memories (ch. 7).
What is one then to make of this novel, which is to my mind at best a half-success both ideationally and narratively? Ideationally, because it perhaps rightly refuses to present any coherent cosmo-theological system. But then the interest shifts out of the cosmological non sequiturs either into the analysis of Fat’s psychosis and/or into the interaction of Fat with Phil, Kevin, the deity, the superior race of Lampton’s, and similar. The urgency and importance of the salvational quest, as well as the grave charm of the encounter with Sophia, have undercut the assumption of simple psychosis. Yet the interest in the quest bogs down in narrative repetitions and meanders, for the novel abounds in false starts and dead ends; themes and motifs get picked up and dropped for no apparent reason except that another and more dazzling one occured to Dick as he was writing.
Reportedly, the major narrative success of his last period, A Scanner, was tightly edited by a New York editor. He could have profited from such help here.
The main hinge where a lack of clarity and narrative coherence makes itself felt is the ideationally central Sophia, who appears too late and is snuffed out after one bout of interviews and pronouncements. Maybe there’s a valid allegorical point there, something like “we see supreme and coherent wisdom only late and only briefly,” akin to incarnating Wisdom into a two-year-old girl, which I take to be a valid and indeed felicitous indication. In the theology of VALIS, Wisdom, even when revealed, will be destroyed by the forces of the Blind God just as Christ was. This is a tenable if despairing hypothesis. But the novel as a whole has a much too large investment in realistic questions of life in Orange County and Fat’s sanity to make such a sudden and brief irruption of allegory believable. The same holds for the ensuing second split of Phil and Fat, with a regenerated and active Fat roaming around Oceania (which suggests to me he hadn’t learned much from Wisdom). The echoes of Gauguin are out of place in a Tahiti and Bikini of nuclear fallouts and venereal diseases.
In the French 18th Century, a short prose form was found which came to be called conte philosophique. In the hands of great writers, such a “philosophical story”–that is, a narration whose goal was to reveal through a series of incidents and debates about them a major ideological and civic point– became a major social force, and by the way a major form of early SF. It faced the false pretenses of European civilizational superiority with the dignity and wisdom of Others–the superior political and sexual morality of the Tahiti chief in Diderot’s Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage or the superior cosmic stature, material and moral, of the inhabitants of Saturn and Sirius in Voltaire’s Micromégas. Dick’s final works, and perhaps most of his major achievements, aspire to the status of a novel kind of roman philosophique, indeed in the “VALIS Trilogy,” with its ambitions of a new Ulysses, of a roman-fleuve philosophique. The ambition is laudable and where it most nearly succeeds of major importance. But a do-it-yourself philosophy, even by an imaginative genius as Dick certainly was, will result in major problems. One way of putting it would be the significant fact that in VALIS the true God “takes on the likeness of sticks and trees and beer cans in gutters–he presumes to be trash discarded” (ch. 5)–though perhaps the superior extra-terrestrials do this as his agents. As in RFA and indeed earlier, Dick’s god is an artisan /artist–potter, writer or modern sculptor–who works in trash and discarded Americana. Dick knew of Stanisław Lem’s diagnosis that he makes art in spite of and out of trash, the metaphor for his world pinpointed by his famous neologisms “gubbish” and “kipple,” and went the atheist Lem one better by deifying trash.
The cosmology itself is like the above description of the divine force, cobbled together from bits and pieces of trashy Americana with a beautiful little glazed pot thrown in at some points, but with little unified impact except as they are typical objects of a realist gaze. This is to be followed in the other two novels of the Trilogy.

3.2. The Divine Invasion
This second novel (written 1980, published 1981, further DI) is ideationally and narratively more coherent, though the following account streamlines not only Dick’s gradual revelations but also his sometimes competing explanations, confusingly overloaded details and layers, and simple inconsistencies (only a single set of planes will be landing on LA International Airport in my account, without collisions). True, for most of the first eight chapters it is located on a standard paranoiac planet where each colonist lives alone in an isolated dome, akin to Dick’s earlier and usually inferior SF. However, that planet is far from the influence of the evil Demiurge fashioning the reality of Terra (as in C.S. Lewis), so that Jehovah can arrange for the coming about of a latterday and somewhat weird Holy Family. It consists of Herb Asher as an unwilling Joseph, Rybys as a
combination of Virgin Mother and sick Bitch, and their child-to-be Emmanuel. Dick’s usual roles of the little-man protagonist plus the powerful protagonist are filled by Herb and–in a jump to Gnosticism–the boy Emmanuel or Manny, who eventually turns out not to be Christ but the fallen male aspect of a split Godhead that has for unclear reasons forgotten his divine character. The family, accompanied and aided by old Elias, then travels to Earth for the novel’s theological-cumpolitical battle evolving in the flesh and mind of the characters.
The central antagonistic conflict is, as in VALIS, between a reconstituted Manny and the satanic ruler of this world, Belial, who has crowned his dominion since the fall of Masada by setting up a clerico-fascist police State run by the combined forces of the Christian-Islamic Church and the Communist Party; in a Vanvogtian subplot, there is a behind-the-scenes struggle between Church and Party, on the model of the medieval Papacy vs. Empire. This dystopia is again a version of Plato’s Cave, the Black Iron Prison from VALIS: “They are living in a cheap horror film” (ch. 5).
There are two non-antagonistic subsidiary tensions: Manny meets the girl Zina, a refurbished female principle or Shekhinah much more articulated and charming than her predecessor Sophia in VALIS, and Herb finally gets to meet his idol singer Linda Fox who is in this universe not yet famous and thus not out of his reach. The first opposition is more weighty: the male aspect of divinity, aided by Elias–the prophet Elijah–and gradually remembering he is En Sof, wishes to reconstitute “substantial” reality by wiping out the enemy world as Lord of Hosts, a proceeding which discounts the unwilling victims of even the best power play, such as Rybys (ch. 5–the point is not fully clarified). The female aspect, equally opposed to the satanic Demiurge and dystopia, wishes to break reality down and to make the male principle remember their joint powers by using beauty and play in a subworld that Belial never penetrated, which I would interpret as art, playfulness, and epistemology, though in Dick it is also consubstantial with compassion (ch. 12). A series of reality fluctuations arises both from Belial’s temporarily getting the upper hand and from the contention between Manny and Zina; their ontology is somewhat unclearly superimposed on earlier epistemological fluctuations due to Herb’s cryogenic suspended animation–a contamination of recycling from Palmer Eldritch and Ubik. These fluctuations shape the tensions of the second opposition in the Herb-Linda subplot. However, the correct actions of the little man feed back into the macrocosmic level: Herb’s accepting Manny’s brute facts of reality (Linda’s menstruation) in spite of his esthetic idealization of her, as well as his turning back from his private interest at a key point, in turn enable Manny to realize his limitations and accept Zina.4/ In that sense Herb’s story is a sophisticated and optimistic semi-humanist rewrite of the bet in Job or Faust. Linda herself becomes then Herb’s intercessor or personal Saviour, the female principle on the micro-level, bringing mercy into the harsh world of Old Testament justice and divine wrath. Concomitantly, as the Godhead remembers its entirety and grows whole, Belial can be defeated without destroying the underlying reality his sway has occluded.
I would here too find the most interesting ideational aspect in the eventual fusion between
Zina’s beauty and Manny’s truth, which is a variant of Keats’s ending to the Grecian Urn, though I think it is unfortunately too optimistic about the powers of beauty to hold today’s
technoscientifically enhanced forces of destruction at bay without a Lord of the Hosts. I do not mind Dick’s creative rewriting of the Bible (see the witty discussion of it as a hologram in ch. 6) in a blend of Gnosticism, the Kabbala, Platonism, and scraps of half a dozen other mystery religions (cf. Shifting 337): by their fruits ye shall judge them. What I mind is that in DI the incompatibility between epistemology (that is, interpreting an underlying real reality–that which doesn’t go away when you disbelieve) and ontology (that is, changing the underlying reality or making it go away) is never fully faced; when briefly glanced at (in ch.s 5, 11, 13, and 15 for example), it is interpreted in different but always improvised ways. The trouble with the Gnostic-cum-Kabbalistic idea of two realities with competing supernatural powers running each, is that, in the SF parts or aspects, violating “the H.G. Wells Law”–to have only one (or let us say one set) of unbelievabilities in one narration–results in narrative incoherence; while in the “realistic” parts or aspects, it makes for case-studies of psychosis which are to me of some interest as articulations of real pain but of real inspiration only when its political causes are articulated–directly as in A Scanner or however indirectly.

3.3. The Transmigration of Timothy Archer and the “VALIS Cycle”
“If The Divine Invasion is considered as the work of Horselover Fat, then The Transmigration of Timothy Archer is ‘Phil Dick’ at work,” remarks Robinson wittily: “the narrator… Angel Archer shares many qualities exhibited by the narrator of VALIS: a lucid, straightforward style, using the colloquial language of 1970s’ California; and a fascination with their visionary friends and their ideas” (Novels 120).
This final novel of the putative VALIS Trilogy (written 1981, published 1982, further TA) is
not SF–nor Fantasy nor writing about visions that seriously suggests they change reality–but mainly a flashback account by Angel about Bishop Timothy Archer (modelled on Dick’s friend Jim Pike) and subsidiarily about his lover Kirsten and his son Jeff. While it has some grim humour and a number of Dickian insights strewn scattershot throughout without much regard to characterization, it is a world in which all main characters except Angel and the somewhat unclear commentator Edgar commit voluntary–or in Tim’s case involuntary–suicide, while Kirsten’s hebephrenic son Bill is maimed through electroshock treatments. Tim dies last, while searching in the Palestinian desert for the anokhi mushrooms, which the sect of newly found, sensational pre- Christian manuscripts apparently used to attain illumination (this seems the only faint SF element left). In ch. 14 Angel’s narration returns to the present framework for a coda in which Bill believes he has been taken over by a Tim returned from death.
Tim is fascinating to Dick, and his loss painful, because he too strove to get at the meaning or sense of existence. But he has a central flaw: to see everything in the world in terms of competing written texts, such as the manuscripts which prove to him Jesus was not divine, rather than seeing suffering people. Therefore, his stance is undercut by Angel’s pragmatic scepticism: it is as if Phil from VALIS were succeeding to finally demolish a dessicated Fat. Chapter 7, one of the two culminations of TA, contains a not only hilarious but also brilliant and for the nonce quite coherent demolition (starting from ancient Hindu logic yet) of the role of self-delusion in Tim’s occult beliefs, as well as a remarkable outburst of Angel ‘s against Tim’s book detailing his belief inastrology and in being haunted by his dead son, which I cannot forbear citing for the edification of all believers in occultism:

Cast charts of the stars, cast horoscopes while the most destructive war in modern times is raging. It will earn you a place in history books–as a dunce. You get to sit on the tall stool in the corner; you get to wear the conical cap; you get to undo all the social activist shit you ever engineered in concert with some of the finest minds of the century. For this, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., died. For this you marched at Selma…. (ch. 7)

This leads to Angel’s scathing critique of “the otherworldly orientation of the revealed religions of the world” and of the bookish mind in Tim, failing to attain illumination. However, Angel not only notes at the end of this critique–eight pages of perhaps the most brilliant writing Dick penned after A Scanner–that she was herself also deluded in her opinions about Tim, and she turns out later to be deluded about other important matters, but as a narrator she participates in Dick’s fundamental confusion between occultist abstraction and conceptual abstraction in general. No human being can do without abstract concepts: in that sense, abstraction defines Homo sapiens. True, a purely “horizontal” abstraction, spinning concepts out of concepts, if unchecked by frequent “vertical” verifications in practice, can lead to irrelevant and highly pernicious systems, such as Tim’s (and sometimes Dick’s) occultism. It may be legitimate if a bit trite to deride a bookishness such as Tim’s, which does not notice he had run over a gasoline pump. However, the argument recurring in Dick’s whole Trilogy (and descending from The Brothers Karamazov) that the death of a cat or dog is ethically and indeed ontologically more significant than pretensions to divine omnipotence is itself a bit of high, if pleasingly materialist, abstraction; even Sophia in DI fails that test. And the refusal of abstraction is cannily caricatured in this novel, as Robinson notes, in the pleasant and wronged but also comically inefficient Bill: it seems appropriate that he is the polar opposite of the  equally inefficient Tim. Equally, the bookishness is redeemed in TA’s second culmination, Angel’s relation in ch. 9 of the impact on her of the end of Paradiso, which issues in initiating her into “the real world… of pain and beauty” as opposed to Tim’s use of books where “words pertained not to world but to other words.”
The novel’s world is quite sterile, as is for instance spelled out in the great ch. 5 passage about suicides in America, cited later. For, the alternative to careful and verifiable abstraction is (except for music and tending animals, about which Dick is usually at the top of his sympathetic form) a politically passive–if not outright reactionary–and psychologically deadening pragmatism.
From Angel’s own stance, which indicts Tim for a wrongly conducted search after illumination and salvation, there are strong indications that we find her in a rut at the end of the novel: “I am stuck, now, and… know but know not what” (ch. 13). Thus I don’t see much reason or justification for the novel’s coda (nor for its title) in terms of a believable “transmigration of Timothy Archer.” If there is a point to the coda, it is in the dead end Angel has arrived at in her job and life, instanced in the inconclusive discussions with, and the New Age banter of, her would-be new guru Edgar. She is not a Holy Fool as Parsifal (who haunts this book). No resolution is arrived at in Dick’s last novel: to the end he remains a bearer of bad news.

Finally, if one is to try for a synoptic view of what might be called the VALIS Cycle (the so-called Trilogy, which we might as well accept as such, and RFA), their common denominator would be the explicitly theological salvational quest, arising out of the deep despair evident in all the post- 1966 works and culminating in A Scanner. My thesis is that the superhuman godheads are allegorical projections of individualist psychic states that Dick cannot otherwise account for (cf. his interview with Lupoff). They come openly onstage in Palmer Eldritch and then Ubik and Do Androids? as either clearly evil or deeply ambiguous, the recourse to them grows hesitantly affirmative in Our Friends and A Maze, and crescendoes into a full-blown main salvational theme here. Very interestingly, the bearers of salvation are either disembodied info dumps or females. As earlier too in Dick, anchorage in reality and salvation is sometimes sought in a personal erotic relationship, but few female figures can bear such a load. Linda Fox in DI can function as Herb’s personal saviour (in a heretical US filiation of female Intercessors or Christs, present for ex. also in Bellamy’s Looking Backward) only because she is semi-divine, in a universe codetermined by the female part of the Godhead. Usually, exaggerated expectations lead to exaggerated, sometimes hate-filled, characterization of the blameworthy erotic partner, or to the figure’s downgrading into plot prop or ideological mouthpiece. Beside the divine females in DI, the only exception is Angel in TA, a late but significant amends of Dick’s.
A genological note: Dick subsumed the strengths of his then unpublished mainstream novels, culminating in Confession of a Crap Artist, in his first plateau beginning with Man in the High Castle. In this second, more hesitant plateau, he begins deliberately mixing SF and mainstream realism, drawing authorization for this from his heretical theology in which the Godheads are just as real as the Little Man. To my mind this does not fully work, but it makes for a bewildering richness of alternative hypotheses and plot twists. In a final welcome twist, the cycle culminates in TA, a realist novel about the quest for salvation which subsumes and subtly undermines the theological quests. For: all the objections Angel makes to Bishop Archer, the excessively book-fixated quester  and eldritch palmer, could be made to P.K. Dick’s mode of Theological Fantasy.

4. Looking Backward at PKD

4.1. Questions, Objections
Probably, any criticism that could be addressed to Dick’s erratic brilliance from a Left or materialist point of view, he already knew and in some way or at some point in his life shared. If we quoted the young fireball atheist Marx to him: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world…. To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of people is to demand their real happiness” (Marx 175)–he would, possibly with some exaggeration, refer to his Berkeley phase as “a fireball radical and atheist” (Shifting 106)5/ and, more persuasively, refer us to his persona Phil from RFA and VALIS. If we told him what the real trouble was with the Gnostic-cum-Kabbalistic idea that there are two realities (the evil occluded one which we see and a more real underlying reality, consubstantial with the true God, which may displace it):namely, that it is extremely difficult to make a non-arbitrary or coherent narration out of it, and that he never succeeded in doing so–he could point to his prescient 1966 note, “Religion ought never to show up in SF except from a sociological standpoint… God per se, as a character, ruins a good SF story; and this is as true of my own stuff as anyone else’s. Therefore I deplore my Palmer Eldritch book in that regard.” (58) If we pointed out that, despite Angel Archer’s fulminations in TA against abstraction as deadly mechanical, no human being can (as I argued earlier) do without abstract concepts, and that concepts were certainly omnipresent in Dick–he could reply that the defining trait of SF readers is, “Basically, they enjoy abstract thought” (45), and that obversely, it is “the schizophrenic [who] is unable to think abstractly” (76). If we persisted in harping that whatever the means, the end is to solve people’s woes in this world, Dick could reply that even his wildest metaphysics never
forsook that goal, that for him Christ’s Kingdom of God was an actual, fleshly place existing not only in a possible but in a real alternative reality (238), and that his obstinate kicking against the pricks of the phenomenal world flowed out of his belief both in the utter necessity and the possibility of a just reality, to be attained by Blake’s mental strife (310). Insofar as the shifting and contradictory Dick clung to such answers, and never quite forsook them, he has remained the firebrand radical from his twenties, and it may then be secondary whether he was an atheist or a “panentheist” (46).
Nonetheless, if we then saw Dick not as a renegade, one of the many Collettis and Laclaus
intellectually fallen by the way under the terrible psychic pressures of Post-Fordism, but as a friend and comrade, we could still have legitimate, sometimes even strong, disagreements with some of his horizons and oscillations. Let me make it clear that I do not necessarily object to the theological coding: it may not be my way of seeing human relationships, but I am prepared to respect it. It becomes obnoxious if and when it hinders liberation on the reader’s Earth–as both Liberation Theology and the end of Dick’s RFA would agree. It is in that perspective that fuzziness leads astray. My objections would take different forms for different novels, but I shall here make only four points: the absence of strong yet mainly sympathetic female figures; the absence of urbanization and of the key production and speculation aspects of capitalist economics; the compositional fixation on what Dick calls his “love of chaos” which may be clearest in the “sting in the tail” reversal; and the characterological fixation on the “Good Magnate or Ruler” beside the Little Man. They converge in and largely constitute Dick’s political illiteracy, outside his clairvoyance about the police:

1/ I shall leave the first point to other critics since it is so blatantly obvious, and only state that there are to my mind deep subterranean links between the fascination with but also refusal to accept non-maternal femininity and the isomorphic refusals to acknowledge the city, capitalism, and little people acting together without the upper levels of power.6/ I do not mean to tell a writer what to write about; but Dick liked Spinoza, who knew that every determination is a negation and viceversa, and he knew that bringing light means shutting out darkness (206) and viceversa. It’s the writer’s business to choose what to write about; but it’s then the reader’s business to notice what his choice shut out.

2/ Dick’s loci are rural, small town, and suburban; cities occur rarely and then usually as nightmarish habitats. This is an understandable reaction to Los Angeles, though less to the still beautiful San Francisco of the 1950s and 60s. However, it is coupled with the taboo on  large industry, industrial workers, and the workings of high finance (even in the US, never mind globally). True, except for the foreclosing local banks Dick had no experiential link to them, but he could have read up on them at least one tenth as much as he did on metaphysics.
He was very interested and shrewd about politics, until complete disillusionment set in at the end of the 1960s. In 1976, he wrote despairingly:
Perhaps my days of being a fighter for freedom are over, due to age, due to worry, but due mostly to the discovery–and existence–of the enormity of the secret political police apparatus… and the dreadful things they have done…. So my novel in progress [one of the drafts for the “VALIS cycle,” DS] has nothing to do with politics; it has to do with the mystery religions…. I have not made my peace with the “straight” society, but at the same time I am too weak, too worn out by illness and fear, to do anything but try to make financial ends meet…. (34-35)

Dick may be here too harsh on himself, for his mystery religions are also political. He also elsewhere rightly lists among reasons for his stance the disillusionment in oppositional movements (191). But politics rarely had for him to do with economics (the splendid system in Martian Time-Slip– cf. Suvin, “Opus” 8–and the unclear hints about Substance D in A Scanner would be among the exceptions): he knew all about reification and alienation, but little or nothing about exploitation.7/ He is nearer to Simak than to Pohl, never mind cyberpunk.
3/ I suggested earlier that the truth of P.K. Dick is to be found in his plots. This makes analysis doubly difficult. First, it ideally calls for a blow-by-blow discussion that results in exegeses longer than the texts they discuss, such as Barthes’s S/Z–and its pioneering imitation as applied to SF, Delany’s Angoulème–or previous works of the close reading school (Spitzer, I.A. Richards). The criteria for judging message vs. noise in the plot depend on believability and coherence; what may be believable is almost entirely, and what may becoherent is at least partly, a matter of cognitive (and finally ideological) horizons. Second, Dick could not only spin a new theory every minute (see the remark in VALIS) but he also, unfortunately, took to heart the worst teaching he could have got as a young writer, A.E. van Vogt’s device of a new idea every 800 words (66). John Huntington has clearly shown how this mechanical generation of complexity “give[s] the impression of deep understanding simply by contradicting [it]self” (172). It may make for richness and bedazzlement but it certainly enforces confusion. In particular, Dick has a recurring Vanvogtian habit of pulling a final rabbit out of the hat at the very end of a narrative so as to upset any conclusion about it. This may be a part of what he meant by his love of chaos, but as he also remarked, “a selfcancelling  othing… will not even serve as a primordial chaos” (Shifting 209).7/ His love of chaos is thus potentially fertile, especially when brought to bear on what was experientially known to him, the personal relationships around the Little Man protagonist in a world of grim pressures. But its downside is mystification. The introduction of new concepts and absence of orthodox conceptual coherence is potentially liberatory, an act of primal subversion or naysaying; but the absence of any coherence, including narrative believability, however papered over by dazzling footwork, opens wide the door to arbitrary associations from the latest source Dick has read (such as the double brain hypothesis in A Scanner) or privately encountered.

4/ As to Dick’s permanent ideological type that I would call the “Good Magnate or Ruler,” or finding the good in a bad upper-class representative, this may be ethically appealing as charity toward all, but it is only defensible when one totally gives up questions of  political responsibility. The best example is the supposedly good police general from Flow My Tears.
Reliance on the individual ethics of the powerful but good guy; mistrust of conclusions and
solutions; mistrust of strong women; disinterest in cities and exploitative economics: insofar as these obtain in Dick, his stories can only connect personal with universal redemption, “revolt and disobedience” (307) with changing the spurious world, by means of miracles. In such, often key places, they are not only ethically and politically but also narratively flawed. It might be fair to encapsulate Dick’s major strengths and weaknesses by noting that he–in the vein of Ibsen, Pirandello, much Post-Structuralism, and the Kabbala–tended to equate language and reality, “As if the world had become language” (DI ch. 14). He was quite right in refusing the prevailing reality, but his basic and irreducible philosophical as well as political mistake was, I believe, to envisage this refusal only from the vantage point of the lonely craftsman-creator, however allegorized; whereas reality can only be, and is constantly being, changed by bodies or classes of people.

4.2. Laudation, or What Remains
Finally, however, all objections would be sterile unless accompanied by a view of why do today, in our new body-killing and psyche-wasting global maxi-disorder, those of us who have no investments in born-again pentiti nor in the “Pink Beam” sects recur to Philip Dick? In brief, for a twofold reason: he never ceased to argue with the world, refusing the suffering of Joe Everyman yet also also solidarizing with his heroic endurance and active efforts under attack of the Powers That Be; he never ceased to search, and have him search, if often in contradictory, fuzzy or indeed flawed ways, for thisworldly salvation. (Alas, except for Angel in his last novel, this does not extend to her.) The first entry in Dick’s selected non-fiction, dating to 1949, has his protagonist think: “So it was not his world. If it were his world he would have made it differently. It had been put together wrong, Very much wrong. Put together in ways that he could not approve of.” (6) A quintessential countercultural figure of the Californian and US 1950s and 60s, he kept the faith to this root insight: saying NO in thunder and if need be galactic godheads. A quarter of century later, his definition of an SF writer was still, “He is stuck with a discontent” (74). Insofar as this holds, my apprehensions from 1975 do not obtain, for Dick has in these places not turned his back on illuminating the koinos kosmos, our common reality.
If few of us have anything to tell Dick about alienation, reification, and commercialization, on the contrary all of us can learn a lot from him about their effects in pain and bewilderment on normal Americans–which today, within the American and increasingly Americanized empire, means the pain and bewilderment of 95 or maybe 98% of all inhabitants of this globe. The Black Iron Prison from the “VALIS cycle,” a blown-up version of the dark scanning in A Scanner’s California, is diametrically opposed to the Reaganite fantasy of an Evil Empire–and today to Bush Jr.’s Forces of Evil–attacking the virtuously pure and free USA and “West” (whatever that may mean–“the rich North” would be more appropriate). Even in his last novel, his great gift of indignation was undimmed:

Thousands of young people kill themselves in America each year, but it remains the custom, by and large, to list their deaths as accidental. This is to spare the family the shame attached to suicide. There is, indeed, something shameful about a young man or woman, maybe an adolescent, wanting to die and achieving that goal, dead before in a certain sense they ever lived, ever were bom. Wives get beaten by their husbands; cops kill blacks and Latinos; old people rummage in cans or eat dog food–shame rules, calling the shots. Suicide is only one shameful event out of a plethora. There are black teenagers who will never get a job as long as they live, not because they are lazy but because there are no jobs–because, too, these ghetto kids possess no skills they can sell. Children run away, find the strip in New York or Hollywood; they become prostitutes
and wind up with their bodies hacked apart…. (TA ch. 5)

Dick fought hard against the temptation of weariness, leading people to look for a Fuehrer above them to whom they can delegate responsibility, the Man on the White Horse, which in practice means some form of Fascism. Mostly though not always, I think he avoided it. His godheads are either monsters to be fought, as Eldritch or Jory, or children, as Sofia, Manny, or Zina, working in tandem with, and in the best cases–as in my reading of DI–in feedback with the little people. Undeniably, there is a deeply salvational, and therefore in my book also political, aspect to this. His salvational godheads are sometimes overdogmatic, as Sophia or Manny until he learns better, but basically plebeian and liberatory. He passed judgment himself on dehumanized fanatics, whom he then called androids and schizoids:

Once I heard a schizoid person express himself–in all seriousness–this way: “I receive signals from others. But I can’t generate any of my own until I get recharged….” Imagine viewing oneself and others this way. Signals. As if from another star. [Maybe Albemuth?–note DS] The person has reified himself entirely, along with everyone around him. How awful…. (201)

There are two key phrases for me here. The first one is the generating of–not signals but–
messages. Dick’s oeuvre is full of messengers: from Juliana in Man in the High Castle and Walt in Dr. Bloodmoney, the theme grows omnipresent and mysterious in Ubik. In A Scanner, messages inside Arctor’s brain get so confused that they break down. By the VALIS Cycle, almost everybody is a messenger and everything a message (cf. Galbreath 113): the universe is practically nothing but information. Dick too was an urgent messenger.
The second key phrase may be “in all seriousness.” It has been noted that Dick was one of the most humourous writers of his time. His gamut was large: from grim to uproarious humour, passing through sympathetic pathos. Humour is seeing the same event or object in several incompatible frames at once. I cannot imagine an unhumorous SF writer I would care to reread.
An urgent message for salvation, with humour. This too, we have learned from Philip Dick.

Notes
*/ My thanks for help with primary and secondary materials go to Stefano Carducci, Alessandro Fambrini, Fabio Gadducci, Donald M. Hassler, Salvatore Proietti, and Mirko Tavosanis, as well to Prof.ssa Carla Dente, Dott.ssa Sara Soncini and the kind librarians at the Biblioteca d’anglistica, Università di Pisa; I could not have written this essay without them. It was sparked by the invitation to a keynote speech at the Dick Days of Mutamento ZC of Torino in May 2002, for which I also thank Giordano Vincenzo Amato and Gabriella Serusi.

1/ It is not fully clear just which of the 21 letters to the FBI Dick mailed and which he left in his trash expecting the FBI may sift it (cf. the debate in Mullen et al. eds., 246-64 and 275-78, and Sutin 215-17). In both cases he thought they may be read.

2/ Among those critics is Lawrence Sutin, to whom we owe the rich and refreshingly balanced, and thus so far the best, biography of Dick (albeit with a quite one-sided title), but whose readings of Dick’s texts often seem very dubious to me.

3/ To prevent confusion, “Dick” will henceforth mean only the author P.K. Dick, whereas his namesake in the various novels will be called Phil.

4/ I reluctantly part company here with Robinson, who thinks Herb’s subplot is from ch. 13 on in an illusory world, created only by Zina and not also validated by Manny (Novels 119-20). It seems both uneconomical and contradicted by as straightforward statements as one gets in the later Dick, though admittedly all of them call for more or less probable interpretations. Mine might be kinder than Robinson’s kind interpretation of what he sees as the ensuing murkiness (that is, failure) of the novel as deliberate on Dick’s part.

5/ Unless another name or title is mentioned, all quotes from Dick’s non-fictional writings are from Sutin ed. by page number.

6/ See Hayles for a first sounding into such interconnections.

7/ Rabkin’s article has the great merit of opening this discussion, but he takes economics as what impinges on Dick’s little people, not in the political economists’ sense of an encompassing system (a Dickian reality behind and within empirical reality, indeed).

8/ I have, except for this final section, rarely used Dick’s non-fictional pronouncements, for usually one can be found to buttress any thesis you want to set up. This is probably also true for pronouncements within his fiction, but there they at least serve to characterize the writing’s tone and horizon, and possibly the opinions of the narrator.

Works Cited

Primary (in order of writing)
Dick, Philip K. Galactic Pot-Healer. New York: Berkley, 1969.
—. A Maze of Death. New York: Paperback Library, 1971 [1970].
—. Our Friends From Frolix 8. New York: Ace, 1970.
—. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. New York: DAW Books, 1975 [1974].
—. A Scanner Darkly. New York: DAW Books, 1984 [1977].
—. Radio Free Albemuth. New York: Avon, 1985.
—. VALIS. Worcester Park [UK]: Kerosina Books, 1987 [1981].
—. The Divine Invasion. New York: Timescape Books, 1982 [1981].
—. The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. London: Gollancz, 1982.
[—.] The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick. Ed. L. Sutin. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
See also Lupoff below.

Secondary
De Carolis, Massimo. “La condizione naturale del pensiero.” Il Manifesto Apr. 17, 2002, p. 14.
Galbreath, Robert. “Redemption and Doubt in Philip K. Dick’s Valis Trilogy.” Extrapolation
24.2 (1983): 105-15.
Huntington, John. “Philip K. Dick: Authenticity and Insincerity,” in R.D. Mullen et al. eds.,
170-77.
Lupoff, Richard [and P.K. Dick]. “A Conversation with Philip K. Dick.” Science-Fiction Eye
(Aug. 1987), on http://www.philipkdick.com/frank/lupoff.htm. 13 electronic pp.
Marx, Karl . “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law,” in idem and
Friedrich Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 3. Moscow: FLPH, 1975.
Mullen, R.D., et al. eds. On Philip K. Dick. Terre Haute & Greencastle: SF-TH, 1992.
Olander, Joseph D., and Martin Harry Greenberg, eds. Philip K. Dick. New York: Taplinger,
1983.
1Dickfin.wpd
Palmer, Christopher. “Postmodernism and the Birth of the Author in Philip K. Dick’s Valis,”
in Mullen et al. eds. 265-74.
Rabkin, Eric S. “Irrational Expectations; or, How Economics and the Post-Industrial World
Failed Philip K. Dick,” in Mullen et al. eds. 178-87.
Robinson, Kim Stanley. “Afterword” to P. K Dick, Valis. Worcester Park: Kerosina Books,
1987, 242-55.
—. The Novels of Philip K. Dick. Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 1984.
Stableford, Brian, and John Clute. “Dick, Philip K.,” in John Clute and Peter Nicholls, eds., The
Multimedia Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, rev. edn. Danbury, CT: Grolier Electronic Publishing,
1995.
Sutin, Lawrence. Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick. New York: Harmony Books,
1989.
Suvin, Darko. “Narrative Logic, Ideological Domination, and the Range of SF: A Hypothesis,”
in his Positions and Presuppositions in Science Fiction. London: Macmillan, & Kent OH: Kent
State UP, 1988, 61-73.
—. “Philip K. Dick’s Opus: Artifice as Refuge and World View,” in the above, 112-33.

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