July 20, 2004

I've also been working on Charles Altieri's The Particulars of Rapture: An Aesthetics of the Affects the last few days. I almost always find his work hard going and yet worth the work finally.

There is this passage where he talks about Swann pursuing jealousy "intensifying it and actively attempting to appreciate the intricate shifts in sensibility it creates for a love affair" and I was immediately thrown back to my junior year in college when I was obsessed with this guy who was constantly avoiding me and I spent an entire summer on the couch in Ohio reading all of Remembrance of Things Past and feeling this intense empathy, almost embarrassment, with everyone in it. The emotions that this very long work provoked in me have been something that I have often thought about but have not been able to understand. Suddenly with this book I thought I might be able to think about it more.

He is on to something, that we don't think enough about emotions in our talk about art/literature. And my evidence is that I found each of his close readings (and these close readings of poets like Creeley and Oppen are one of the real pleasures in this book) very strange. So strange that I started to play a game where I would read the poem or look at the painting he was going to discuss and then I would imagine what I might say about it and then read what he wrote with great surprise. So I would look at Caravaggio's The Fortune Teller and think oh yes, a story about class and desire; end of story. And then I would read Altieri and he writes "What the boy registers about being moved becomes visible only in the implication that his body can no longer quite sustain the attitudes it could sustain before this encounter. So rather than locating intentionality in belief, this painting locates it in the boy's sudden sense that his powers to formulate beliefs about himself are sliding away into the hand and out to the sword. Where belief might be, the painting offers only this sense of beliefs now irreducibly inadequate."

But I don't mean strange as a dismissal. I mean that he is reading against the conventions I've been trained in. And thus the getting at something that is often overlooked. And this is something that has the potential to change how we read. The book feels like to me like this analogous moment: the moment when I realized that racism isn't rational, isn't explained by things like economic factors, and that it might only makes sense with some frame that is more complicated, such as psychoanalysis. (I think it was reading Zizek years ago that I got this insight from but I can't remember its history in my brain now.) Or what matters is how this book is arguing that there is something about reading that isn't rational finally and we need a more complicated frame for it.

Blog Archive