The shared experience of a sort of internal exile must, the philosopher Giorgio Agamben suggests, be assumed in the contemporary community, whether “coming” or “unavowable” (see Agamben’s post 9/11 articles as well as “We, refugees”: http://www.egs.edu/faculty/giorgio-agamben/articles/we-refugees/ ). To be in internal exile is an experience twentieth century literature centrally explores, and one which contemporary writing continues to confront all the more urgently since our image-bound society has fed on and been bloated by continual crisis and the resulting paralysis. Language itself has been usurped by the rule of crisis with its ever multiplying images and manipulations. Given the resulting deterioration – the sense of the exile and death of language – ‘what is to be done?’ Writers often minister parody, paradox, and solipsism to the patient, instead of making the tragic demand Benjamin defined: that there is more to language and existence than what the rule of continuous spectacle and emergency imagines or allows.
As I noted earlier, Benjamin understands that “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule....[I]t is our task to bring about a real state of emergency,” to make manifest the shocking reality of emergency and oppression, to make visible those who are invisible in the emergency world of sovereign power, and to retrieve the marginalized and give voice to the voiceless. Artists and thinkers must meet Benjamin’s challenge and promote the redemptive awareness that yet endures under the tragic and “irreparable” condition of post-modernity. “Our task” is continually to imagine and probe how to activate and sustain alternatives to the world of emergency regulation, to tap the alternative “emergency power” of the tragic reach for and receptivity to the potential still alive within a world of shared exile. My earlier discussion has attempted to show how more recent thinkers, including Agamben and Blanchot (along with Ranciere, Zizek, Nancy, and others), have addressed Benjamin's challenge.
In this time of emergency, the risk remains of being entrapped within the solipsism of a grievous isolation. Dostoyevsky – whom J. M. Coetzee powerfully imagines in The Master of Petersburg – explores just such an entrapped state in his novels, where ravenous and tragically isolated selves become part of a nexus of competing voices, of continual contact among humans, of intrusions, mixings, impositions – even between author and reader. In Dostoyevsky’s vision of emergency, the zone of abandonment is transformed into a zone of contact, and an entire world of contact is imagined with “a little difference,” with a tragically redemptive openness and exposure to the vivid and flowering sense of potential connectedness among humans. In the art of such novels as in the thinking of Walter Benjamin and the other philosophers we engaged, we encounter the model of responsiveness to and contact with the range of life from the margin to the center. Given these ten years of America in crisis after 9/11, the possibility of a resilient responsiveness can yet find its model in the demanding aesthetic experience of tragedy, which tests and activates the capacity to respond in the midst of erasure and abandonment. Such is the ethical obligation to respond incurred in the face of the state of emergency.
About the arts and ideas - on my novels and literature, music, and art
A new book about Beethoven gathers together (and reconfigures and edits) my blogs on Beethoven into a short introduction to the composer, Ways of Hearing Beethoven, which I'm now circulating to publishers. My novel The Fall of the Berlin Wall, completed a year ago, is about musicians and particularly the intense, irrepressible daughter of the legendary pianist featured in my previous novel Hungry Generations, now fifteen years after those events. Five years ago, my 2015 novel, The Ash Tree, was published by West of West Books in conjunction with the April 24, 2015 centenary of the Armenian genocide; it's about an Armenian-American family and the sweep of their history in the twentieth century - particularly from the points of view of two women in the family.
There are three other novels of mine, which I sometimes circulte. One is Pathological States, about a physician's family in L.A. in 1962, which is as yet unpublished. Another is Hungry Generations, about a young composer's friendship in L.A. with the family of a virtuoso pianist, published on demand by iUniverse. A Burnt Offering - a fable (a rewriting and expansion of my earlier Acts of Terror and Contrition - a nuclear fable) is my political novella about Israel and its reactions to the possibility of a war with Iran (with the fear that it will be a nuclear war).
[These blog posts are, of course, copyrighted.]
[These blog posts are, of course, copyrighted.]