sartre on possessing, giving and receiving

 

I see the birth of luxury in all those ways of possessing, since luxury resides not at all in the number or quality of the objects possessed, but in a relation as profound, hidden and intimate as possible between the possessor and the object possessed: it’s not just necessary that the thing be extremely rare, it’s necessary that it be born in its possessor’s household and have come into existence especially for him. But, for my part, I’m just the opposite of the luxury-lover; since I have no desire to possess objects, I wouldn’t know what to do with them. In this, assuredly, I ‘am of’ my day; I feel money as an abstract and fugitive power; I like to see it vanish into smoke, and feel out of my element faced with the objects it procures.

I‘ve never had anything of my own, in civilian life – neither furniture, nor books, nor trinkets. I’d feel very awkward in a flat; moreover, it would very soon turn into a pigsty. For ten years, all that I’ve had of my own has been my pipe and my fountain-pen. And I’m profligate even with these objects: I lose pens and pipes; I don’t grow attached to them; they’re exiles in my hands, and live in an atmosphere hardly any more intimate than the cold light which bathed them when they were ranged alongside their brothers in the shop- window.

I don’t positively like them; a new pipe may amuse me for a couple of days, after which I use it without noticing. When anyone gives me a present, I’m always very embarrassed and ill at ease, because I feel obscurely that I’m not taking it as I should. Granted, I’m perhaps more touched than another would be by the attention. (All the more so, since I’m almost never given presents; people must feel they’d be coming to the wrong person – they may be as fond of me as can be , they still give me nothing. Similarly, it’s rare for anyone to  photograph me . That goes together.) But it’s the immediate attention, as portrayed on the tender countenance of the man or woman who’s giving – it’s that attention which moves me. I give too many thanks, because I have a bad conscience; I know I shouldn’t feel the kindness being done me so much on the person’s face, but more in the object.

—from Jean-Paul Sartre, War Diaries – Notebooks from A Phoney War, 1939 – 40. Notebook 12 (February 1940), pp 246 – 247. 

 

levinas on existence: “imagine all beings, things and persons, reverting to nothingness”


From Emmanuel Levinas, Existence And Existents:

  

2. EXISTENCE WITHOUT EXISTENTS 

Let us imagine all beings, things and persons, reverting to nothingness. One cannot put this return to nothingness outside of all events. But what of this nothingness itself? Something would happen, if only night and the silence of nothingness. The in-determinateness of this “something is happening” is not the indeterminateness of a subject and does not refer to a substantive. Like the third person pronoun in the impersonal form of a verb, it designates not the uncertainly known author of the action, but the characteristic of this action itself which somehow has no author. This impersonal, anonymous, yet inextinguishable “consummation” of being, which murmurs in the depths of nothingness itself we shall designate by the term there is. The there is, inasmuch as it resists a personal form, is “being in general.”

We have not derived this notion from exterior things or the inner world — from any “being” whatever. For there is transcends inwardness as well as exteriority; it does not even make it possible to distinguish these. The anonymous current of being invades, submerges every subject, person or thing. The subject object distinction by which we approach existents is not the starting point for a meditation which broaches being in general. 

We could say that the night is the very experience of the there is, if the term experience were not inapplicable to a situation which involves the total exclusion of light. 

When the forms of things are dissolved in the night, darkness of the night, which is neither an object nor the quality of an object, invades like a presence. In the night, where we are riven to it, we are not dealing with anything. But this nothing is not that of pure nothingness. There is no longer this or that; there is not “something.” But this universal absence is in its turn presence, an absolutely unavoidable presence. It is not the dialectical counterpart of absence, and we do not grasp it through thought. It is immediately there.

There is no discourse. Nothing responds to us, but this silence; the voice of this silence understood and frightens like the silence of those infinite spaces Pascal speaks of. There is, in general, without it mattering there is, without our being able to fix a substantive to this term. There is is an impersonal form, like in it rains, or it is warm. Its anonymity is essential. The mind does not find itself faced with an apprehended exterior. The exterior — if one insists on the term — remains uncorrelated with an interior. It is no long given. It is no longer a world. What we call the I is itself submerged by the night, invaded, depersonalized, stifled by it. The disappearance of all things and of the I leaves what cannot disappear, the sheer fact of being in which one participates whether one wants to or not, without having taken the initiative, anonymously. Being remains, like a field of forces, like a heavy atmosphere belonging to no one, universal, returning in the midst of the negation which put it aside, and in all the powers to which that negation may be multiplied.

There is a nocturnal space, but it is no longer empty space, the transparency which both separates us from things and gives access to them, by which they are given. Darkness fills it like a content; it is full, but full of the nothingness of everything. Can one speak of its continuity? It is surely uninterrupted. But points of nocturnal space do not refer to each other as illuminated space; there is no perspective, they are not situated. There is a swarming of points.

Yet this analysis does not simply illustrate Professor Mosch Turpin’s thesis, in the Tales of Hoffman, that night is the absence of day. The absence of perspective is not something purely negative. It becomes an insecurity. Not because things covered by darkness elude our foresight and that it becomes impossible to measure their approach in advance. For the insecurity does not come from the things of the day world which the night conceals; it is due just to the fact that nothing approaches, nothing comes, nothing threatens; this silence, this tranquility, this void of sensations constitutes a mute, absolutely indeterminate menace. The indeterminateness constitutes its acuteness. There is no determined being, anything can count for anything else. In this ambiguity the menace of pure and simple presence, of the there is, takes form. Before this obscure invasion it is impossible to take shelter in oneself, to withdraw into one’s shell. One is exposed. The whole is open upon us. Instead of serving as our means of access to being, nocturnal space delivers us over to being.

The things of the day world then do not in the night become the source of the “horror of darkness” because our look cannot catch them in their “unforeseeable plots”; on the contrary, they get their fantastic character from this horror. Darkness does not only modify their contours for vision; it reduces them to undetermined, anonymous being, which sweats in them.

One can also speak of different forms of night that occur right in the daytime. Illuminated objects can appear to us as though in twilight shapes. Like the unreal, inverted city we find after an exhausting trip, things and beings strike us as though they no longer composed a world, and were swimming in the chaos of their existence. Such is also the case with the “fantastic,” “hallucinatory” reality in poets like Rimbaud, even when they name the most familiar things and the most accustomed beings. The misunderstood art of certain realistic and naturalistic novelists, their prefaces and professions of faith notwithstanding, produces the same effect: beings and things that collapse into their “materiality,” are terrifyingly present in their destiny, weight and shape. Certain passages of Huysmans or Zola, the calm and smiling horror of de Maupassant’s tales do not only give, as is sometimes thought, a representation “faithful to” or exceeding reality, but penetrates behind the form which light reveals into that materiality which, far from corresponding to the philosophical materialism of the authors, constitutes the dark background of existence. It makes things appear to us in a night, like the monotonous presence that bears down on us in insomnia.The rustling of the there is … is horror. We have noted the way it insinuates itself in the night, as an undetermined menace of space itself disengaged from its function as receptacle for objects,as a means of access to beings. Let us look further into it.

Continue reading

céline’s prose style explained, plus more from normance . . .

. . . Normance is a full-throttle grotesquery. The prose rears up at the reader like an exploding grenade, pumping shards of hate and disgust into the air, the pages littered with the fallout of sentences and word shrapnel. The novel lacerates linear narrative, leaving grammatical scars and the broken bones of syntax. What plot there is is lost in invective and fire-and-brimstone prose. Louis/Ferdinand – the novel’s narrator – trapped in a Paris apartment block, under siege during an air-raid by Allied forces during April 21-22 1944, dodges bombs, falling masonry, spastic dancing furniture, occasionally giving a slap to his girlfriend Arlette/Lili, while all the time aiming his own verbal volleys at Jules the hunchback, pervert sculptor he believes is directing the aerial assault and who has fingered Louis/Ferdinand as “a Kraut, a spy! A traitor!” Huddled under a table or squeezed into the concierge’s office, the inhabitants of the apartment block do anything to survive. The characterization of the narrator, the thug Ottavio, and the monstrous and eponymous Normance force the reader to question how far humanity will go – and how low individuals will stoop – to stay alive. The apartment block is an apocalyptic version of Georges Perec’s building in Life: A User’s Manual, but whereas Perec’s building had its rooms exposed to view, as if the façade had been carefully taken down by the author, Céline’s apartment block has had its floors and ceilings ripped out by Allied ordnance; indeed, Normance could be subtitled Death: A User’s Manual. Normance resists categorization, resists the history of the novel. 

  

. . . Exclamation marks mirror the bombs’ detonations, used together with Céline’s trademark use of ellipses … which pepper the paragraphs and act like punctuative landmines, these explosive points !!!!! – even before he became politically ostracized – placed Céline beyond the confines of French literature, beyond even his near-contemporary and un-familiar Jean Genet. This anti-academic approach made  Céline a hero to a new generation of American writers such as Jack Kerouac (the prose velocity), William Burroughs (use of the ellipsis and view of humanity), and Tom Wolfe who – in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – took Céline’s experimentation in punctuation to the limits of English grammar: 

  

Sandy hasn’t slept in days::::::how many::::::like total insomnia and everything is bending in curvy curdling lines. 

  

—just then—

 

FEEOOFEEOOFEEOOFEEOOFEEOOFEEOOFEEOO
¡WHOP!

 

—Cassady—twenty feet away across the beach road has suddenly wheeled and fired the four-pound sledge hammer end-over-end like a bolo and smashed the brick on top of the fence into obliteration, fifteen feet from the Mexican. 

Compare to Céline’s:

I can hear him!… ‘grrumph!…hraah!’ there’s a rattle in his throat…he’s got a bit of a cold…see, I’m being precise… you don’t care about the little details? well, tough luck!… I’m not going for artistic effect, that “almost-like-life” stuff! I was there, and while there I saw the following sights! that’s my motto!

Other writers, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, Philip Roth, and Ken Kesey, have also claimed Céline as an influence. But try to place Céline in a school of writing and your task becomes near impossible. The closest I can get is some awful hybrid writer/monster: Henry Miller + William Burroughs + Pierre Guyotat but that would be without Miller’s ego and Burroughs’ archness. If Zola is an obvious forerunner, then Pierre Guyotat – albeit from a reverse political pole – is the heir to Céline’s incendiary prose and explosive style. We can even see Céline’s influence on contemporary writers: Dan Fante’s A Gin-Pissing-Raw-Meat-Dual-Carburetor-V8-Son-Of-A-Bitch from Los Angeles is straight Céline “stinking ammoniac piss-sodden tippling snitching thieving spying abominable agitator” filtered through Bukowski. Céline defies and denies the canon, is resistant to history and political correctness.

. . . Is Céline a racist? An anti-Semite? A Nazi sympathizer and apologist? A collaborator? A misanthrope? Is he a novelist? A pamphleteer? And do these questions really matter when his prose is still shocking and fresh and a whole new generation of readers will have access to the phantasmagoric Normance? What Céline offers the reader is a fresh yet ugly take on human weakness, violence, and suffering – far from accusing the good doctor of  treason, we should applaud him for his honesty. Céline doesn’t blink when faced with human excess and pride – his prose may be rebarbative but it is necessary. Like William Burroughs, Céline preferred felines to human beings (the narratorof Normance worries more about the whereabouts and fate of his pet cat Bébert than he does the suffering of his neighbours). Ultimately, both Burroughs and Céline were moralists, their experimental styles and inflammatory prose became their means to deal with the 20th century’s absurd terrors. Despite the dodgy politics, Céline is an unflinching chronicler of humanity’s ethical depravity and moral relativism.

…they talk about love, in verse, prose, or songs, they can’t help themselves! the nerve! and always procreating! unloading fresh Hell-spawn on the world! and then speechifying! and their endless promises! … constantly swollen with pride! drooling and strutting around! only when they’re prostrate, dying, or sick do they lose a little of their human vileness and become poor beasts again, and then you can stand do go near them… 

 

—from Steve Finbow, “Roaring Up from the Depths”

 

http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/roaring-up-from-the-depths/

Cover Image

 

Ferdinand versus Jules “the jerk-off artist”:

— Hey, Jules! Hey, Jules!

He could at least answer!

— You try calling him!

He gestures to us to leave him alone… he’s sulking… brooding…

— Leave me the fuck alone!

I can hear him clearly… between two tremendous bombs… a moment of calm… he wants a drink! Ah, a drink?… he’s outta luck!

The whole garden is flaming, all the shrubs…

It’s amazing that he doesn’t catch on fire, and his gondola and platform with him! considering the waves of sparks!

— Hey bozo, in the cart! jump! weirdo!

He called me a Kraut, a spy! a traitor! I can talk trash as well! all the names in the book!

— Faggot! hey, faggot!

— Please, Ferdinand! Take it easy!…

Always trying to calm me down! me, so tolerant and fair!… me, who he’d offended horribly! and publicly! and intentionally!…

— I hope your Jules roasts, the pig! the sub-pig! you were in on it together? tell me you were! admit it!

— No, Louis, calm down! Of course not!

— I hope that bozo of yours roasts! your fondler! I’d like to see him glazed in the flames all right! he’s poised for it! right into the pot!

Vrrouum! vrroum!

You’re probably finding me monotonous… I’m imitating the ruckus… what can I do? that’s how it is, period!… twenty squads fly over us, seething…

Ah! the windmill is leaning! and us! our whole building!… a powerful puff of air!… up above, Jules pitches against the rail, I think he’s going to crash through… no! he slams into it and ricochets off to the other side… he was thirsty, the gondolier now it must be a bit worse! he must have no tongue left!… it’s a dry wind from Levallois! even in our room, we’re baking in this heat!… especially our eyes! our eyes! our eyelids won’t close!… I’m not making it up!… the people who were there will tell you: an eruption! fifty… a hundred bomb craters spurting into the sky!… and not just in the sky, all around! and the windmill still isn’t burning! you want proof: Jules in all his glory on his skates! look how he maneuvers! and pivots! swerves! but he doesn’t break the barrier!… no! no!…

— Nut-job! Lunatic!

I howl at him!

He’s really taking a ride! his little platform is swaying, pitching, rolling and he’s still riding it in his gondola! from one railing to the other!… and in a hell of a wind! it’s blowing in from the Renault factory! from the west, a real oven! tornado after tornado! I’m not making any of this up! all the outskirts are an eruption… not just one little neighborhood!… the factories are torching!… the clown in his crate catches it all… right in the face! he’s a lot more exposed to the wind than we are… the whole windmill is leaning into the wind!… the whole frame… and the big strut and the ladder!… him up there, he rolls with the swells, pitching, then he shoots off again! if the platform really tips, that joker’s going to take a dive! in the lilacs! in the fire-and-phosphorous lilacs! jeez , he catches the railing! pivots! and off again! ah, he’s the acrobat of the elements! if he were overcome with rage, he’d fling himself off!… all the same I’m insulting him good and plenty! he tacks straight up against the swell… seems to me… I think… really!… they played a trick on him bringing him up there… or did he ask his pals to bring him? isn’t that the question?… there are strange forces at work, frequency waves, and more!… nothing would surprise me seeing how Jules behaves! the way he hangs onto his traffic light… acrobat artiste!

— Jump, you vampire!

There’s a little lull… the windmill straightens up… but the wind starts up again from the other side, towards Dufayel… a terrible aftershock!… this quake, I think this is it!

Sail, ship’s pup

The wind is up

I sing to him… he doesn’t give a fuck!… he throws himself against the other rail! his torso, face and nose are lit up… he’s all you see above Paris… naturally, being so high in the air! take a look at all the sparks hitting him! gust after gust!… even for us in our room, what swarms pouring in the window! crackling over us! we should have caught on fire too! we’re as lucky as Jules!

— I’m thirsty, Lili!… aren’t you thirsty?

She doesn’t answer… I shake her… I pick her up in my arms…

Aren’t you thirsty, Lili?

All she’s watching is Jules!… her eyes are glued to him! Jules up there, doing acrobatics with the bombs! I yell at him!

— Go on, chickie! dive!

It’s true, he’s stalling, the jerkoff artist!… I’m spurring him on!… he takes off at a zigzag, starts over! what a scene!… he’s never gonna break the rail!… and it’s flimsy too…

 

read more from Normance:

the rest of sartre’s the age of reason, chapter one

"I’ve only got to look at you to see that you’re born unlucky—you’re the sort that upsets glasses, and smashes mirrors. And women trust you. Well, they get what they deserve."

the_age_of_reason_jean_paul_sartre_.jpg image by romanowt13

‘Marcelle,’ said he.

She did not answer: there was a hard look in her eyes: and then she sat up abruptly. He sat down once more on the edge of the bed, irked by his own nakedness.

‘You must now tell me what’s the matter.’

‘There’s nothing the matter,’ she said, in a toneless voice.

‘Yes, there is,’ he said affectionately. ‘There’s something on your mind. Marcelle, didn’t we agree to be quite frank with each other?’

‘You can’t do anything about it, and it will only upset you.’

He stroked her hair lightly. ‘Never mind, tell me all the same.’

‘Well, it’s happened.’

‘What’s happened?’

‘It has happened.’

Mathieu made a wry face.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Quite sure. You know I never get the wind up: I’m two months late.’

‘Hell!’ said Mathieu.

And he thought: ‘She ought to have told me at least three weeks ago.’ He felt he must do something with his hands—fill his pipe, for instance: but his pipe was in the cupboard with his jacket. He took a cigarette from the night-table and put it down again.

‘There, now you know what’s the matter,’ said Marcelle. ‘And what’s to be done?’

‘Well—I suppose one gets rid of it, eh?’

‘Right. I’ve got an address,’ said Marcelle.

‘Who gave it to you?’

‘Andrée. She’s been there.’

‘That’s the old woman who messed her up last year, isn’t it? Why, it was six months before she was well again. I won’t allow that.’

‘So you want to be a father?’

She drew back, and sat down a little way off Mathieu. There was a hard look in her eyes, but it wasn’t a masculine look. She had laid her hands flat on her thighs, her arms looked like the twin handles of an earthenware jar. Mathieu noticed that her face had grown grey. The air was pink and sickly – it smelt and tasted pink: her face was grey and set, and she looked as though she were trying to stifle a cough.

‘Wait,’ said Mathieu, ‘you’ve rather sprung this on me: we must think.’

Marcelle’s hands began to quiver: and shesaid with sudden vehemence: ‘I don’t want you to think—it’s not for you to think.’

She had turned her head towards him and was looking at him. She looked at Mathieu’s neck, shoulders, and hips, and then lower down, with an air of astonishment. Mathieu blushed violently and set his legs together.

‘You can’t do anything,’ repeated Marcelle. And she added with painful irony: ‘It’s a woman’s business now.’

Her mouth snapped out the last words: a varnished mauve-tinted mouth, like a crimson insect intent upon devouring that ashen visage. ‘She’s feeling humiliated,’ thought Mathieu, ‘she hates me.’ He felt sick. The room seemed suddenly cleared of its pink haze: there were great blank spaces between the objects it contained. And Mathieu thought: ‘It is I who have done this to her!’ The lamp, the mirror with its leaden reflections, the clock on the mantelpiece, the armchair, the half-opened wardrobe, suddenly appeared to him like pitiless mechanisms, adrift and pursuing their tenuous existences in the void, rigidly insistent, like the underside of a gramophone record obstinately grinding out its tune. Mathieu shook himself, but could not detach himself from that sinister, raucous world. Marcelle had not moved, she was still looking at Mathieu’s naked body, and the guilty flower that lay so delicately on his thighs with a bland air of innocence. He knew she wanted to scream and sob but she would not, for fear of waking Mme Duffet. He gripped Marcelle round the waist and drew her towards him. She collapsed on to his shoulder, sobbed a little, but she did not cry. It was all that she could allow herself: a rainless storm.

When she raised her head, she was calmer. And she said, in an emphatic tone: ‘Forgive me, darling, I needed to explode. I’ve been holding myself in all day. I’m not blaming you, of course.’

‘Quite natural,’ said Mathieu. ‘I feel bad about this. It’s the first time… O Lord, what a mess. I’ve done this deed, and it’s you that have to pay. Well, it’s happened, and that’s that. Look here, who is this old woman, and where does she live?’

‘Twenty-four Rue Morère. I’m told she’s an odd old party.’

‘I believe you. Are you going to say that Andrée sent you?’

‘Yes. She only charges four hundred francs. I’m told that’s absurdly cheap,’ said Marcelle, in a suddenly even tone.

‘Yes, I realize that,’ said Mathieu bitterly. ‘In short it’s a bargain.’

He felt as awkward as a newly accepted suitor. A tall awkward fellow, completely naked, who had done something he should not, and was smiling amiably, in the hope he might be overlooked. But it wasn’t possible; she saw his white, sinewy, stocky thighs, his complacent and uncompromising nudity. It was a grotesque nightmare. ‘If I were her, I should want to get my nails into all that meat.’ And he said: ‘That’s just exactly what worries me: she doesn’t charge enough.’

‘My dear,’ said Marcelle, ‘it’s lucky she asks so little: as it happens, I’ve got the four hundred francs. They were earmarked for my dressmaker, but she’ll wait. And,’ she went on emphatically, ‘I’m perfectly certain I shall be looked after just as well as in one of those discreet clinics where they charge you four thousand francs as soon as look at you. Anyhow, we can’t help ourselves.’

‘No, we can’t help ourselves,’ repeated Mathieu. ‘When will you go?’

‘Tomorrow, about midnight. I gather she only sees people at night. Rather a scream, isn’t it? I think she’s a bit cracked myself, but it suits me all right, on Mother’s account. She keeps a draper’s shop in the daytime: and she hardly ever sleeps. You go in by a yard, and you see a light under a door—that’s where it is.’

‘Right,’ said Mathieu. ‘I’ll go.’

Marcelle eyed him in amazement.

‘Are you crazy? She’ll shut the door in your face, she’ll take you for a policeman.’

‘I shall go,’ repeated Mathieu.

‘But why? What will you say to her?’

‘I want to get a notion of what sort of place it is. If I don’t like it, you shan’t go. I won’t have you messed up by some old harridan. I’ll say that I’ve come from Andrée, that I’ve got a girl friend who’s in trouble, but down with influenza at the moment—something of that kind.’

‘But where shall I go if it won’t do?’

‘We’ve got a few days to turn round in, haven’t we? I’ll go and see Sarah tomorrow, she’s sure to know somebody. They didn’t want any children at first, you remember.’

Marcelle’s excitement subsided a little, and she stroked his neck.

‘You’re being very nice to me, darling. I’m not quite sure what you’re up to, but I understand that you want to do something: perhaps you’d like her to operate on you instead of me?’ She clasped her lovely arms round his neck, and added in a tone of comic resignation: ‘Anyone recommended by Sarah is sure to be a Yid.’

Mathieu kissed her, and she dimpled all over.

‘Darling,’ she said. ‘O darling!’

‘Take off your vest’

She obeyed, he tipped her backwards on to the bed, and began to caress her breasts. He loved their taut, leathery nipples, each in its ring of raised, red flesh. Marcelle sighed, with eyes closed, passionate and eager. But her eyelids were contracted. The dread thing lingered, laid like a damp hand on Mathieu. Then, suddenly, the thought came into Mathieu’s mind: ‘She’s pregnant.’ He sat up, his head still buzzing with a shrill refrain.

‘Look here, Marcelle, it’s no good today. We’re both of us too nervy. I’m sorry.’

Marcelle uttered a sleepy little grunt, then got up abruptly and began to rumple her hair with both hands.

‘Just as you like,’ she said coldly. Then she added, more amiably: ‘As a matter of fact you’re right, we’re too nervy. I wanted you to love me, but I was a bit frightened.’

‘Alas,’ said Mathieu, ‘the deed is done, we have nothing more to fear.’

‘I know, but I wasn’t thinking sensibly. I don’t know how to tell you: but I’m rather afraid of you, darling.’

Mathieu got up.

‘Good. Well then, I’ll go and see this old woman.’

‘Yes. And you might telephone me tomorrow and tell me what you thought of her.’

‘Can’t I see you tomorrow evening? That would be simpler.’

‘No, not tomorrow evening. The day after, if you like.’

Mathieu had put on his shirt and trousers. He kissed Marcelle on the eyes.

‘You aren’t angry with me?’

‘It isn’t your fault. It’s the first time in seven years, you needn’t blame yourself. And you aren’t sick of me, I hope?’

‘Don’t be silly.’

‘Well, I’m getting rather sick of myself, to tell the truth; I feel like a great heap of dough.’

‘My darling,’ said Mathieu, ‘my poor darling. It will all be put right in a week, I promise you.’

He opened the door noiselessly, and glided out, holding his shoes in his hand. On the landing he turned. Marcelle was still sitting on the bed. She smiled at him, but Mathieu had the feeling that she bore him a grudge.

The tension in his set eyes was now released, and they revolved with normal ease and freedom in their orbits: she was no longer looking at him, and he owed her no account of his expression. Concealed by his dark garments and the night, his guilty flesh had found its needed shelter, it was gradually recovering its native warmth and innocence, and began to expand beneath its covering fabrics;  the oilcan, how on earth was he going to remember to bring the oilcan the day after tomorrow? He was alone.

He stopped, transfixed: it wasn’t true, he wasn’t alone. Marcelle had not let him go: she was thinking of him, and this was what she thought: ‘The dirty dog, he’s let me down.’ It was no use striding along the dark, deserted street, anonymous, enveloped in his garments—he could not escape her. Marcelle’s consciousness remained, full of woe and lamentation, and Mathieu had not left her: he was there, in the pink room, naked and defenceless against that crass transparency, so much more baffling than a look. ‘Only once,’ he said savagely to himself, and he repeated in an undertone, to convince Marcelle: ‘once in seven years.’ Marcelle refused to be convinced; she remained in the room, and was thinkingof Mathieu. It was intolerable to be judged, and hated, away back in that room, and in silence. Without power to defend himself, or even to hide his belly with his hands. If only, in the same second, he had been able to exist for others with the same intensity… But Jacques and Odette were asleep. Daniel was drunk or in a stupor. Ivich never remembered people when they were not there. Boris perhaps… But Boris’s consciousness was no more than a dim flicker, it could not contend against that savage, stark lucidity that fascinated Mathieu from a distance. Night had engulfed most human consciousnesses: Mathieu was alone with Marcelle in the night, just the two of them.

There was a light at Camus’s place. The landlord was stacking the chairs: the waitress was fixing a wooden shutter against one side of the double door. Mathieu pushed open the other side and went in. He felt the need of being seen. Just to be seen. He planted his elbows on the counter.

‘Good evening, everybody.’

The landlord saw him. There was also a bus-conductor, drinking an absinthe, his cap pulled down over his eyes. Two kindly, casual consciousnesses. The conductor jerked his cap back, and looked at Mathieu. Marcelle’s consciousness released him, and dissolved into the night.

‘Give me a beer.’

‘You’re quite a stranger,’ said the landlord.

‘It isn’t for want of being thirsty.’

‘Yes, it’s thirsty weather,’ said the bus-conductor. ‘It might be mid-summer.’

They fell silent. The landlord went on rinsing glasses, the conductor whistled to himself. Mathieu felt at ease because they looked at him from time to time. He saw his head in the glass, a ghastly globe emerging from a sea of silver: at Camus’s, one always had the feeling that it was four in the morning, which was an effect of the light, a silvered haze that strained the eyes, and bleached the drinkers’ faces, hands, and thoughts. He drank: and he thought: ‘She’s pregnant. It’s fantastic. I can’t feel it’s true.’ It seemed to him shocking and grotesque, like the sight of an old man kissing an old woman on the lips: after seven years that sort of thing shouldn’t happen; ‘She’s pregnant’—there was a little, vitreous tide within her, slowly swelling into the semblance of an eye. ‘It’s opening out among all the muck inside her belly, it’s alive.’ He saw a long pin moving hesitantly forward in the half-darkness: there was a muffled sound, the eye cracked and burst: nothing was left but an opaque, dry membrane. ‘She’ll go to that old woman: she’ll get herself messed up.’ He felt venomous. ‘All right, let her go.’ He shook himself: these were bleak thoughts, the thoughts of four o’clock in the morning.

‘Good night.’

He paid and went.

‘What did I do?’ He walked slowly, trying to remember. ‘Two months ago… ‘ He couldn’t remember anything. ‘Yes, it must have been the day after the Easter holidays. He had taken Marcelle in his arms, as usual, in affection no doubt, rather than with any feeling of desire; and now… he’d got stung. A baby. I meant to give her pleasure, and I’ve given her a baby. I didn’t understand what I was doing. Neither in destroying nor in creating life did I know what I was doing.’ He laughed a short, dry laugh. ‘And what about the others? Those who have solemnly decided to become fathers, and feel progenitively inclined when they look at their wives’ bodies—do they understand any more than I do? They go blindly on—three flicks of a duck’s tail. What follows is a gelatinous job done in a dark room, like photography. They have no part in it.’ He entered a yard and saw a light under a door. ‘It’s here.’ He felt ashamed.

Mathieu knocked.

‘What is it?’ said a voice.

‘I want to speak to you.’

‘This isn’t a time to visit people.’

‘I have a message from Andrée Besnier.’

The door opened slightly. Mathieu saw a wisp of yellow hair and a large nose.

‘What do you want? Don’t try to pull any police stuff on me, it’s no good, everything’s in order here. I can have the light on all night if I like. If you’re an inspector, show me your card.’

‘I’m not from the police,’ said Mathieu. ‘I’m in a fix. And I was given your name.’

‘Come in.’

Mathieu went in. The old woman was wearing trousers, and a blouse with a zip fastener. She was very thin, and her eyes were set and hard.

‘You know Andrée Besnier?’

She eyed him grimly.

‘Yes,’ said Mathieu. ‘She came to see you last year about Christmas-time because she was in trouble: she was rather ill, and you came four times to give her treatment.’

‘Well?’

Mathieu looked at the old woman’s hands. They were a man’s hands, a strangler’s hands: furrowed, cracked, with broken nails, and black with scars and gashes. On the first joint of the left thumb, there were some purple warts, and a large black scab. Mathieu shuddered as he thought of Marcelle’s soft brown flesh.

‘I’ve not come on her account,’ he said. ‘I’ve come for one of her friends.’

The old woman laughed drily: ‘It’s the first time that a man has had the cheek to turn up on my doorstep. I won’t have any dealings with men, let me tell you that.’

The room was dirty and in disorder. There were boxes everywhere, and straw on the tiled floor. On a table Mathieu noticed a bottle of rum and a half-filled glass.

‘I’ve come because my friend sent me. She can’t come today, and she asked me to fix up a date.’

At the other end of the room a door stood half open. Mathieu could have sworn there was someone behind that door.

‘Poor kids,’ said the old woman. ‘They’re too silly. I’ve only got to look at you to see that you’re born unlucky—you’re the sort that upsets glasses, and smashes mirrors. And women trust you. Well, they get what they deserve.’

Mathieu remained polite.

‘I should have liked to see where you operate.’

The old woman flung him a baleful and suspicious look.

‘Look here! Who told you that I operate? What are you talking about? Mind your own business. If your friend wants to see me, let her come herself. I won’t deal with anyone else. Youwant to make inquiries, do you? Did she make any inquiries before she got into your grip? You’ve had an accident. All right. Then let us hope I shall be better at my job than you were at yours—and that’s all I have to say. Good night.’

‘Good night, Madame,’ said Mathieu.

He went out with a sense of deliverance. He turned and walked slowly towards the Avenue d’Orléans: for the first time since he had left her, he could think of Marcelle without pain, without horror, and with a sort of tender melancholy: ‘I’ll go and see Sarah tomorrow,’ he said to himself.

“yes—you want to be free. absolutely free. it’s your vice.”

The Age of Reason (L’âge de raison) is the first novel of Jean Paul Sartre’s trilogy The Roads to Freedom (Les chemins de la liberté). Set in bohemian Paris in the late 1930s, the novel recounts an eventful two-day period in the life of Matthieu Delarue, a philosophy lecturer, who is trying to raise 4,000 francs to pay for his girlfriend’s illegal abortion. Concerned with Sartre’s conception of freedom as the ultimate aim of human existence, the novel presents detailed accountings of the characters’ psychologies as they are forced to make significant decisions in their lives.

Jean-Paul Sartre

The Age of Reason

 

Book I of The Roads to Freedom trilogy

 

 

First published in 1945

 

CHAPTER I

 

Half-way down the Rue Vercingétorix, a tall man seized Mathieu by the arm: a policeman was patrolling the opposite pavement.

‘Can you spare me a franc or two? I’m hungry.’

His eyes were close-set, his lips were thick, and he smelt of drink.

‘You mean you’re thirsty?’ asked Mathieu.

‘No: I’m hungry, and that’s God’s truth.’

Mathieu found a five-franc piece in his pocket.

‘I don’t care which you are; it’s none of my business,’ he said: and gave him the five francs.

‘You’re a good sort,’ said the man, leaning against the wall ‘And now I’d like to wish you something in return. Something you’ll be really glad to have. What shall it be?’

They both pondered: then Mathieu said: ‘Whatever you like.’

‘Well. I wish you good luck. There!’

He laughed triumphantly. Mathieu observed the policeman strolling towards them, and felt sorry for the man.

‘Right,’ said he. ‘So long.’

He was about to pass on, when the man clutched him: ‘Good luck isn’t enough,’ he said in a sodden voice: ‘not nearly enough.’

‘Well, what then?’

‘I’d like to give you something…’

‘I’ll have you locked up for begging,’ said the policeman. He was a fresh-faced, youthful officer, and he tried to assume a stern demeanour.

‘You’ve been pestering the passers-by for the last half-hour,’ he added, but there was no menace in his voice.

‘He wasn’t begging,’ said Mathieu sharply, ‘we were having a little talk.’

The policeman shrugged his shoulders, and walked on. The man was swaying rather precariously: he did not even seem to have seen the policeman.

‘I know what I’ll give you. I’ll give you a Madrid stamp.’

He produced from his pocket a rectangular bit of green card, and handed it to Mathieu. Mathieu read: ‘C.N.T. Diario Confederal. Ejempteres 2. France. Anarcho-Syndicalist Committee, 41 Rue de Belleville, Paris II.’ Beneath the address there was a stamp. It too was green, and bore the postmark—Madrid. Mathieu reached out a hand: ‘Thanks very much.’

‘Ah, but look…’ said the man angrily. ‘It’s… it’s Madrid.’

Mathieu looked at him: the man seemed excited, and was plainly struggling to express what was in his mind. He gave it up, and merely said: ‘Madrid.’

‘Yes.’

‘I wanted to get there, and that’s the truth. But it couldn’t be fixed.’

A gloomy look came over his face, and he said: ‘Wait a moment,’ and he slid a finger over the stamp.

‘All right. You can have it.’ ‘Thanks.’

Mathieu began to walk on, but the man shouted after him.

‘Well?’ said Mathieu. The man was holding up the five-franc piece.

‘Some guy has just slipped me a five-franc piece. I’ll stand you a rum.’

‘Not this evening.’

Mathieu moved off with a vague sense of regret. There had been a time in his life when he had strolled about the city and haunted bars in any sort of company, with anyone who cared to ask him. Now it was all over: that game never paid. The fellow had looked decent enough. He had wanted to fight in Spain. Mathieu quickened his step, and he thought irritably: ‘Anyway, we hadn’t anything to talk about. He took the green card out of his pocket. ‘It comes from Madrid, but it isn’t addressed to him. Somebody must have passed it on to him. He kept on fingering it before giving it to me, just because it came from Madrid.’ He recalled the man’s face, and the look with which he had eyed the stamp: an oddly ardent look. Mathieu in his turn eyed the stamp as he walked on, and then put the bit of cardboard back in his pocket. A railway engine whistled, and Mathieu thought: ‘I’m getting old.’

It was twenty-five minutes past ten: Mathieu was before his time. Without stopping, without even turning his he passed the little blue house. But he looked at it out of the corner of his eye. All the windows were dark except in Madame Duffet’s room. Marcelle hadn’t yet had time to open the outer door: she was leaning over her mother, and those masculine hands of hers were tucking her up into the great testered bed. Mathieu still felt gloomy, the thought in his mind was: ‘Five hundred francs until the 29th—thirty francs a day, or rather less. How shall I manage?’ He swung round and retraced his steps.

The light had gone out in Madame Duffet’s room. In a moment or two the light went up in Marcelle’s window. Mathieu crossed the road, and slipped past the grocer’s shop, trying to prevent his new shoes from squeaking. The door was ajar: he pushed it very gently and it creaked. ‘I’ll bring my oilcan on Wednesday and drop a little oil into the hinges.’ He went in, closed the door, and took his shoes off in the darkness. The stairs creaked faintly: Mathieu walked cautiously upstairs, shoes in hand, testing each step with his toe before putting his foot down. ‘What a game,’ he thought.

Marcelle opened her door before he had reached the landing. A pink iris-scented haze from her room pervaded the staircase. She was wearing her green chemise. Through it Mathieu could see the soft rich curve of her hips. He went in: he always felt as though he were entering a huge sea-shell. Marcelle locked the door. Mathieu made his way to the large wall cupboard, opened it, and put his shoes inside; then he looked at Marcelle and saw that there was something the matter.

‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, in a low tone.

‘Nothing,’ said Marcelle under her breath. ‘Are you all right, old boy?’

‘I’m broke: otherwise all right.’

He kissed her on the neck and on the lips. Her neck smelt of ambergris, her mouth smelt of cheap cigarettes. Marcelle sat down on the edge of the bed, and gazed at her legs while Mathieu undressed.

‘What’s that?’ asked Mathieu.

There was an unfamiliar photograph on the mantelpiece. He went up to look at it and saw an angular girl, wearing her hair cut like a boy’s, and a hard, nervous smile. She was dressed in a man’s jacket, and flat-heeled shoes.

‘It’s me,’ said Marcelle, without raising her head.

Mathieu turned round: Marcelle had pulled her vest up over her fleshy thighs: she was leaning forward and beneath her vest Mathieu caught the soft outlines of her rounded breasts.

‘Where did you find it?’

‘In an album. It was taken in 1928.’

Mathieu carefully folded up his jacket and put it in the cup-board beside his shoes. Then he asked: ‘Do you still took at family albums?’

‘No, but I had a sort of feeling today that I’d like to remind myself of those times, and see what I was like before I knew you, and when I was always well. Bring it here.’

Mathieu brought it to her, and she snatched it out of his hands. He sat down beside her. She shivered and drew back, eyeing the photograph with a vague smile, ‘I was a scream in those days.’ she said.

The girl was standing stiffly upright, leaning against a garden railing. Her mouth was open: she too was just about to say: ‘It’s a scream,’ with the pert assurance of the Marcelle of today. But she was young and slim. Marcelle shook her head.

‘Such a scream’. It was taken in the Luxemburg by a chemistry student. You see the blouse I’m wearing? I’d bought it that very day, for a trip to Fontainebleau we had fixed for the following Sunday. Good Lord…!’

There was certainly something wrong: her gestures had never been so brusque, nor her voice so curt and masculine. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, blankly naked and defenceless, like a great porcelain vase in that dim pink room, and it was almost painful to hear her speak in that masculine voice, and smell the dark, strong odour of her body. Mathieu grasped her shoulders and drew her towards him. ‘Do you regret those days?’

‘No,’ replied Marcelle acidly: ‘but I regret the life I might have had.’

She had begun to study chemistry, and had to give it up owing to illness. ‘One would think she bears me a grudge for it,’ thought Mathieu. He opened his mouth to ask her some more questions, but caught her expression and was silent. She was gazing at the photograph with a sad, intense expression.

‘I’ve got fatter, haven’t I?’

‘Yes.’

She shrugged her shoulders and flung the photograph on to the bed. ‘It’s true,’ thought Mathieu, ‘she’s had a rather rotten life.’ He tried to kiss her on the cheek, but she drew back, quite gently, laughed nervously, and said: ‘That’s ten years ago.’

And Mathieu thought: ‘I give her nothing.’ He came to see her four nights a week; he told her all his doings in minutest detail. She gave him advice, in a grave and slightly maternal tone. She often used to say: ‘I live by proxy.’

‘What did you do yesterday?’ he asked her. ‘Did you go out?’ Marcelle waved her hand wearily and answered: ‘No, I was tired. I read for a bit, but Mother kept on interrupting me about the shop.’

‘And today?’

‘I did go out today,’ said she, gloomily, ‘I felt I ought to get some air and see some people in the street. So I walked down as far as the Rue de la Gaité, and enjoyed it; and I wanted to see Andrée.’

‘And did you?’

‘Yes, for five minutes. Just as I was leaving her, it began to rain: it’s a funny sort of day for June, and besides the people looked so hideous. So I took a taxi and came home. What did you do?’ she asked nonchalantly.

Mathieu didn’t want to tell her. ‘Yesterday,’ he said. ‘I took my last classes at the school. I dined with Jacques, which was as boring as usual. This morning I went to the bursar’s office to see if they couldn’t advance me something: but apparently it’s not done. When I was at Beauvais I always managed to fix it with the bursar. Then I saw Ivich.’

Marcelle raised her eyebrows and looked at him. He didn’t like talking to her about Ivich. ‘She’s a bit under the weather just now.’

‘Why?’

Marcelle’s voice was steadier, and a sage, masculine sort of look had come into her face. He said with lips half-closed: ‘She’ll be ploughed in her exam.’

‘But you told me she’d been working hard.’

‘Well—I daresay she has, in her own way—that is, she no doubt sits for hours over a book. But you know what she’s like. She has visions, almost like a lunatic. In October, she was well up in botany, and the examiner was quite satisfied: and then she suddenly saw herself opposite a bald chap who was talking about coelenterata. This seemed to her just funny, and she thought: "I don’t give a curse for coelenterata," and the chap couldn’t get another word out of her.’

‘What an odd little creature she must be,’ said Marcelle dreamily.

‘Anyway,’ said Mathieu. ‘I’m afraid she may do it again, or get some fantastic idea into her head.’

His tone, which suggested a sort of protective detachment, was surely intended to mislead. Everything that could be expressed in words, he said. ‘But what are words?’

He paused, then hung his head despondently. Marcelle was well aware of his affection for Ivich: she would not in fact have minded if he had been her lover. On one thing only she insisted—that he should talk about Ivich in just that tone. Mathieu had kept on stroking Marcelle’s back and her eyelids began to droop; she liked having her back stroked, particularly at the level of her hips and between the shoulder-blades. But she suddenly drew back, and her face hardened, as Mathieu said: ‘Look here, Marcelle, I don’t care if Ivich is ploughed, she isn’t suited to be a doctor any more than I am. In any case, even if she passed the P. C. B., her first dissection would so revolt her that she would never set foot in the place again. But if it doesn’t come off this time, she’ll do something silly. If she fails, her family won’t let her start again.’

‘What exact kind of silly thing do you mean?’ asked Marcellein a precise tone.

‘I don’t know,’ he replied, rather crestfallen.

‘Ah, I know you only too well, my poor boy. You daren’t admit it, but you’re afraid that she’ll put a bullet through her skin. And the creature pretends to loathe anything romantic. One really might suppose you’d never seen that skin of hers. I wouldn’t dare touch it, for fear of scratching it. A doll with a skin like that isn’t going to mess it up with a revolver shot. I can quite well picture her prostrate on a chair with her hair all over her face glaring at a neat little Browning in front of her, in the best Russian manner. But anything more—not on your life! Revolvers are meant for crocodile-skins like ours.’

She laid her arms against Mathieu’s. He had a whiter skin than hers.

‘Just look, darling—especially at mine, it’s like morocco leather.’ And she began to laugh. ‘I would puncture rather well, don’t you think? I can picture a nice little round hole under my left breast, with neat, clean, red edges. It wouldn’t be at all disfiguring.’

She was still laughing. Mathieu laid a hand over her mouth. ‘Be quiet, you’ll waken the old lady.’

She was silent, and he said: ‘How nervy you are!’

She did not answer. Mathieu laid a hand on Marcelle’s leg and stroked it gently.

He loved that soft and buttery skin, its silky down that sent a thousand delicate tremors through his fingers. Marcelle did not move: she looked at Mathieu’s hand. And after a while Mathieu took his hand away.

‘Look at me,’ said he.

For an instant he saw her circled eyes, and in them a flash of haughty desperation.

‘What’s the matter?’

‘Nothing,’ she said, turning her head away.

It was always like that with her: she was emotionally constricted. The moment would come when she couldn’t contain herself: then she would blurt it out. One could do nothing but mark time until that moment did come. Mathieu dreaded those noiseless explosions: the whispered caution with which passion had to be expressed in that sea-shell room, in order not to awaken Mme Duffet, had always revolted him. Mathieu got up, walked to the cupboard, and took the square of cardboard out of his jacket pocket ‘Look at this.’

‘What is it?’

‘A fellow gave it to me in the street not long ago. He looked a decent sort, and I gave him a little money.’

Marcelle took the card with an indifferent air. Mathieu felt a tie of something like complicity between himself and the fellow in the street. And he added: ‘It meant something to him, you know.’

‘Was he an anarchist?’

‘I don’t know. He wanted to stand me a drink.’

‘Did you refuse it?’

‘Yes.’

‘Why?’ asked Marcelle casually. ‘You might have found him amusing.’

‘Pah!’ said Mathieu.

Marcelle raised her head, and peered at the clock with a half smile.

‘It’s curious,’ she said, ‘but I hate you to tell me things like that: and God knows there are enough of them at the moment. Your life is full of missed opportunities.’

‘You call that a missed opportunity.’

‘Yes. There was a time when you would go out of your way to meet such people.’

‘I dare say I’ve changed a bit,’ said Mathieu, good-humouredly. ‘What do you think? Am I getting old?’

‘You’re thirty-four,’ said Marcelle soberly. Thirty-four. Mathieu thought of Ivich, and was conscious of a slight shock of annoyance.

‘Yes… But I don’t think it’s age: it’s a sort of fastidiousness. I wouldn’t have been in the mood.’

‘You very seldom are, nowadays,’ said Marcelle.

‘And he wouldn’t have been either,’ added Mathieu briskly. ‘When a man gets drunk he gets sentimental. That’s what I wanted to avoid.’

And he thought to himself: ‘That isn’t altogether true. I didn’t really look at it like that.’ He wanted to make an effort to be sincere. Mathieu and Marcelle had agreed that they would always tell each other everything. ‘The fact is—’ he began.

But Marcelle had begun to laugh: a low, rich, cooing laugh, as though she were stroking his hair and saying: ‘Poor old boy.’ But she did not look at all affectionate.

‘That’s very like you,’ said she. ‘You’re so afraid of anything sentimental! Supposing you had got a little sentimental with that poor lad, would it have mattered?’

‘Well, it wouldn’t have done me any good.’

He was trying to defend himself against himself.

Marcelle smiled a frosty smile. ‘She wants to draw me,’ thought Mathieu, rather disconcerted. He was feeling peaceably inclined, and puzzled: he was in fact in a good temper, and didn’t want an argument.

‘Look here,’ said he. ‘You’re quite wrong to catch me up like this. In the first place, I hadn’t the time. I was on my way here.’

‘You’re quite right,’ said Marcelle. ‘It’s nothing. Absolutely nothing, really: not enough to get a cat into trouble… But all the same it’s symptomatic.’

Mathieu started: if only she wouldn’t use such tiresome words.

‘Really, really,’ he said. ‘I can’t imagine why it should interest you.’

‘Well, it’s that same frankness you fuss about so much. You’re so absurdly scared of being your own dupe, my poor boy, that you would back out of the finest adventure in the world rather than risk telling yourself a lie.’

‘Quite true, and you know it,’ said Mathieu. ‘But that’s an old story.’

He thought her unfair. ‘Frankness’—he detested the word, but Marcelle had acquired it some while back. The winter before, it had been ‘urgency’ (words did not last her for much more than a season), they had grown into the habit of it together, they felt mutually responsible for maintaining it—indeed it was, actually, the inner meaning of their love. When Mathieu had pledged himself to Marcelle, he had forever renounced all thoughts of solitude, those cool thoughts, a little shadowy and timorous, that used to dart into his mind with the furtive vivacity of fish. He could not love Marcelle save in complete frankness: she was his frankness embodied, his comrade, his witness, his counsellor, and his critic.

‘If I lied to myself,’ said he, ‘I should have the feeling I was lying to you as well. And I couldn’t bear that.’

‘Yes,’ said Marcelle; but she did not look as if she believed him.

‘You don’t look as if you believed me?’

‘Oh yes I do,’ she said, nonchalantly.

‘You think I’m lying to myself?’

‘No—anyway, one can’t ever know. But I don’t think so. Still, do you know what I do believe? That you are beginning to sterilize yourself a little. I thought that today. Everything is so neat and tidy in your mind: it smells of clean linen: it’s as though you had just come out of a drying-cupboard. But there’s a want of shade. There’s nothing useless, nor hesitant, nor underhand about you now. It’s all high noon. And don’t tell me this is all for my benefit. You’re moving down your own incline: you’ve acquired the taste for self-analysis.’

Mathieu was disconcerted. Marcelle was often rather hard: she remained always on guard, a little aggressive, a littlesuspicious, and if Mathieu didn’t agree with her, she often thought he was trying to dominate her. But he had rarely met her in such a resolve to be disagreeable. And then there was that photo on the bed. He eyed Marcelle: the moment had not yet come when she could be induced to speak.

‘I’m not so much interested in myself as all that,’ he said simply.

‘I know,’ said Marcelle. ‘It isn’t an aim, it’s a means. It helps you to get rid of yourself; to contemplate and criticize yourself: that’s the attitude you prefer. When you look at yourself, you imagine you aren’t what you see, you imagine you are nothing. That is your ideal: you want to be nothing.’

‘To be nothing?’ repeated Mathieu slowly. ‘No, it isn’t. Listen. I… I recognize no allegiance except to myself.’

‘Yes—you want to be free. Absolutely free. It’s your vice.’

‘It’s not a vice,’ said Mathieu. ‘It’s… what else can a man do?’

He was annoyed: he had explained all this to Marcelle a hundred times before, and she knew it was what he had most at heart.

‘If… if I didn’t try to get my life moving on my own account, I should think it just absurd to go on living.’

A look of smiling obstinacy had come into Marcelle’s face.

‘Yes, yes—it’s your vice.’

‘It’s not a vice. It’s how I’m made.’

‘Why aren’t other people made like that, if it isn’t a vice?’

‘They are, only they don’t know it.’

Marcelle had stopped smiling, and a hard, grim line appeared at the corner of her lips.

‘Well, I don’t feel such a need to be free.’

Mathieu eyed her bent neck, and felt troubled: it was always this sense of remorse, absurd remorse, that haunted him in her company. He realized that he would never be able to put himself in Marcelle’s place. ‘The freedom I talk about is the freedom of a sound and healthy man.’ He laid a hand on her neck, and gently squeezed the luscious but no longer youthful flesh.

‘Marcelle, are you feeling bored with life?’

She looked at him with faintly troubled eyes. ‘No.’

Silence fell. Mathieu felt a thrill at the tips of his fingers. Just at the tips of his fingers. He passed his hand slowly down Marcelle’s back, and Marcelle’s eyelids drooped: he could see her long black lashes. He drew her towards him. He had no actual desire for her at that moment, it was rather a longing to see that stubborn, angular spirit melt like an icicle in the sunshine. Marcelle let her head fall on to Mathieu’s shoulder, and he could see only too clearly her brown skin, and the bluish, veined curves beneath her eyes. And he thought to himself: ‘Good Lord, she’s getting old.’ And he reflected, too, that he was old. He leaned over her with a feeling of uneasiness: he wished he could forget himself, and her. But time had passed since he forgot himself when making love to her. He kissed her on the lips: she had fine lips, firm and sharply cut. She slid gently backwards and lay on the bed with eyes closed, limp and prostrate. Mathieu got up, took off his trousers and his shirt, folded them up and placed them at the foot of the bed, and then lay down beside her. But he noticed that her eyes were wide and set, she was staring at the ceiling with her hands clasped beneath her head.

 

jerzy kosinski’s steps: a sartrean turn in step number five

"I felt the longing for pleasure and abandonment inside me, but I also sensed that I had been accepted too readily, that everything had suddenly become very predictable. All we could do was to exist for each other solely as a reminder of the self."

Bookseller Photo 

I went to the zoo to see an octopus I had read about. It was housed in an aquarium and fed on live crabs, fish, mussels — and on itself. It nibbled at its own tentacles, consuming them one after another.

Obviously the octopus was slowly killing itself. One attendant explained that in the part of the world where it had been caught, an octopus was believed to be a god of war, prophesying defeat when it looked landward and victory when it loooked seaward; this particular specimen, the natives had claimed, had only looked landward when captured. A man jokingly remarked that by eating itself it was presumably acknowledging its own defeat.

Each time the octopus bit into itself, some of the spectators shuddered as if they felt it eating their own flesh. Others were impassive. Just as I was about to leave, I noticed a young woman staring at the octopus without any apparent reaction, her lips relaxed. There was a serenity about her that went beyond unconcern.

I approached and engaged her in conversation. She turned out to be the wife of a well-known public official whose family lived in the city. Before the afternoon was over she invited me to a dinner party she was giving at her home.

It was an imposing household, and the dinner party flawless. The hostess behaved very naturally, attending equally to her family and guests, and yet somehow she seemed quite remote. I thought she had glanced at me with a suggestion of intimate interest, and I wanted proof of this. I planned to leave the city the next day. This would be my only opportunity.

She had just turned away from a departing couple, and stood, drink in hand, near one of the library bookcases. With an assumed casualness I told her I wished to see her alone, for I couldn’t freemyself from the images she excited in me.

I proposed a meeting. I suggested the capital of the neighboring country to which I was going the next day. She was just about to answer when several guests approached us. She turned toward them but first handed me her glass as though it had been mine, quietly stating the name of the hotel where she would join me.

During the next few days I thought of her constantly, recalling every moment I had spent near her. I speculated about the other men at the party, about which of them might have been her lovers, and about various situations in which she had made love. The more I meditated about her, the more concerned I became about our first encounter.

. . . . We were both naked. There was nothing I wanted so much as to be at ease with her. But the very thought of what she might expect from me made me less aroused. It was almost as though my thinking had to subside before my body could perform.

Yet I could not conceal my inadequacy, for in her mind, it seemed, my desire was reflected only in one part of me, a part suddenly grown very small. She blamed herself for what she insisted was her lack of finesse in gratifying me. She became increasingly frustrated and upset. I dressed and left her, walking the streets and trying to understand what had happened. I tried to decide how, in the future, I would explain my predicament to her; I was afraid she might reject any discussion as merely an excuse for a second futile attempt at physical intimacy.

On the street I approached a woman: her face was thickly painted and the shape of her figure lost in an ill-fitting dress. After some talk, she agreed to accompany me.

In the room she helped me to undress and then, still clothed herself, she began to caress me. There was a familiarity to her touch, as though her hands were guided over my skin by the current she felt pulsing underneath it; had I desired to use my own hands on my body, I would have guided them along the same path.

I looked again at her dress and suddenly realized my partner was a man. My mood altered abruptly. I felt the longing for pleasure and abandonment inside me, but I also sensed that I had been accepted too readily, that everything had suddenly become very predictable. All we could do was to exist for each other solely as a reminder of the self.

frederic jameson on the disappearance of the individual subject and the practice of pastiche

"Cultural production is thereby driven back inside a mental space which is no longer that of the old monadic subject but rather that of some degraded collective ‘objective spirit’: it can no longer gaze directly on some putative real world, at some reconstruction of a past history which was once itself a present; rather, as in Plato’s cave, it must trace our mental images of that past upon its confining walls. If there is any realism left here, it is a ‘realism’ that is meant to derive from the shock of grasping that confinement and of slowly becoming aware of a new and original historical situation in which we are condemned to seek History by way of our own pop images and simulacra of that history, which itself remains forever out of reach." 


—Frederic Jameson


The disappearance of the individual subject, along with its formal consequence, the increasing unavailability of the personal style, engender the well-nigh universal practice today of what may be called pastiche. This concept, which we owe to Thomas Mann (in Doktor Faustus), who owed it in turn to Adorno’s great work on the two paths of advanced musical experimentation (Schoenberg’s innovative planification and Stravinsky’s irrational eclecticism), is to be sharply distinguished from the more readily received idea of parody.

To be sure, parody found a fertile area in the idiosyncracies of the moderns and their "inimitable" styles: the Faulknerian long sentence, for example, with its breathless gerundives; Lawrentian nature imagery punctuated by testy colloquialism; Wallace Stevens’s inveterate hypostasis of nonsubstantive parts of speech ("the intricate evasions of as"); the fateful (but finally predictable) swoops in Mahler from high orchestral pathos into village accordion sentiment; Heidegger’s meditative-solemn practice of the false etymology as a mode of "proof" . . . All these strike one as somehow characteristic, insofar as they ostentatiously deviate from a norm which then reasserts itself, in a not necessarily unfriendly way, by a systematic mimicry of their willful eccentricities.

Yet in the dialectical leap from quantity to quality, the explosion of modern literature into a host of distinct private styles and mannerisms has been followed by a linguistic fragmentation of social life itself to the point where the norm itself is eclipsed: reduced to a neutral and reified media speech (far enough from the Utopian aspirations of the inventors of Esperanto or Basic English), which itself then becomes but one more idiolect among many. Modernist styles thereby become postmodernist codes. And that the stupendous proliferation of social codes today into professional and disciplinary jargons (but also into the badges of affirmation of ethnic, gender, race, religious, and class-factional adhesion) is also a political phenomenon, the problem of micropolitics sufficiently demonstrates. If the ideas of a ruling class were once the dominant (or hegemonic) ideology of bourgeois society, the advanced capitalist countries today are now a field of stylistic and discursive heterogeneity without a norm. Faceless masters continue to inflect the economic strategies which constrain our existences, but they no longer need to impose their speech (or are henceforth unable to); and the postliteracy of the late capitalist world reflects not only the absence of any great collective project but also the unavailability of the older national language itself.

In this situation parody finds itself without a vocation; it has lived, and that strange new thing pastiche slowly comes to take its place. Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique, idiosyncratic style, the wearing of a linguistic mask, speech in a dead language. But it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without any of parody’s ulterior motives, amputated of the satiric impulse, devoid of laughter and of any conviction that alongside the abnormal tongue you have momentarily borrowed, some healthy linguistic normality still exists. Pastiche is thus blank parody, a statue with blind eyeballs: it is to parody what that other interesting and historically original modern thing, the practice of a kind of blank irony, is to what Wayne Booth calls the "stable ironies" of the eighteenth century.

It would therefore begin to seem that Adorno’s prophetic diagnosis has been realized, albeit in a negative way: not Schönberg (the sterility of whose achieved system he already glimpsed) but Stravinsky is the true precursor of postmodern cultural production. For with the collapse of the high-modernist ideology of style — what is as unique and unmistakable as your own fingerprints, as incomparable as your own body (the very source, for an early Roland Barthes, of stylistic invention and innovation) — the producers of culture have nowhere to turn but to the past: the imitation of dead styles, speech through all the masks and voices stored up in the imaginary museum of a now global culture.

This situation evidently determines what the architecture historians call "historicism," namely, the random cannibalization of all the styles of the past, the play of random stylistic allusion, and in general what Henri Lefebvre has called the increasing primacy of the "neo." This omnipresence of pastiche is not incompatible with a certain humor, however, nor is it innocent of all passion: it is at the least compatible with addiction — with a whole historically original consumer’s appetite for a world transformed into sheer images of itself and for pseudo-events and "spectacles" (the term of the situationists). It is for such objects that we may reserve Plato’s conception of the "simulacrum," the identical copy for which no original has ever existed. Appropriately enough, the culture of the simulacrum comes to life in a society where exchange value has been generalized to the point at which the very memory of use value is effaced, a society of which Guy Debord has observed, in an extraordinary phrase, that in it "the image has become the final form of commodity reification" (The Society of the Spectacle).

The new spatial logic of the simulacrum can now be expected to have a momentous effect on what used to be historical time. The past is thereby itself modified: what was once, in the historical novel as Lukacs defines it, the organic genealogy of the bourgeois collective project — what is still, for the redemptive historiography of an E. P Thompson or of American "oral history," for the resurrection of the dead of anonymous and silenced generations, the retrospective dimension indispensable to any vital reorientation of our collective future — has meanwhile itself become a vast collection of images, a multitudinous photographic simulacrum. Guy Debord’s powerful slogan is now even more apt for the "prehistory" of a society bereft of all historicity, one whose own putative past is little more than a set of dusty spectacles. In faithful conformity to poststructuralist linguistic theory, the past as "referent" finds itself gradually bracketed, and then effaced altogether, leaving us with nothing but texts.

Yet it should not be thought that this process is accompanied by indifference: on the contrary, the remarkable current intensification of an addiction to the photographic image is itself a tangible symptom of an omnipresent, omnivorous, and well-nigh libidinal historicism. As I have already observed, the architects use this (exceedingly polysemous) word for the complacent eclecticism of postmodern architecture, which randomly and without principle but with gusto cannibalizes all the architectural styles of the past and combines them in overstimulating ensembles. Nostalgia does not strike one as an altogether satisfactory word for such fascination (particularly when one thinks of the pain of a properly modernist nostalgia with a past beyond all but aesthetic retrieval), yet it directs our attention to what is a culturally far more generalized manifestation of the process in commercial art and taste, namely the so-called nostalgia film (or what the French call la mode retro).

Nostalgia films restructure thewhole issue of pastiche and project it onto a collective and social level, where the desperate attempt to appropriate a missing past is now refracted through the iron law of fashion change and the emergent ideology of the generation. The inaugural film of this new aesthetic discourse, George Lucas’s American Graffiti (1973), set out to recapture, as so many films have attempted since, the henceforth mesmerizing lost reality of the Eisenhower era; and one tends to feel, that for Americans at least, the 1950s remain the privileged lost object of desire7 — not merely the stability and prosperity of a pax Americana but also the first naive innocence of the countercultural impulses of early rock and roll and youth gangs (Coppola’s Rumble Fish will then be the contemporary dirge that laments their passing, itself, however, still contradictorily filmed in genuine nostalgia film style). With this initial breakthrough, other generational periods open up for aesthetic colonization: as witness the stylistic recuperation of the American and the Italian 1930s, in Polanski’s Chinatown and Bertolucci’s Il Conformista, respectively. More interesting, and more problematical, are the ultimate attempts, through this new discourse, to lay siege either to our own present and immediate past or to a more distant history that escapes individual existential memory.

Faced with these ultimate objects — our social, historical, and existential present, and the past as "referent" — the incompatibility of a postmodernist "nostalgia" art language with genuine historicity becomes dramatically apparent. The contradiction propels this mode, however, into complex and interesting new formal inventiveness; it being understood that the nostalgia film was never a matter of some old-fashioned "representation" of historical content, but instead approached the "past" through stylistic connotation, conveying "pastness" by the glossy qualities of the image, and "1930s-ness" or "1950s-ness" by the attributes of fashion (in that following the prescription of the Barthes of Mythologies, who saw connotation as the purveying of imaginary and stereotypical idealities: "Sinité," for example, as some Disney-EPCOT "concept" of China).

The insensible colonization of the present by the nostalgia mode can be observed in Lawrence Kasdan’s elegant film Body Heat, a distant "affluent society" remake of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, set in a contemporary Florida small town a few hours’ drive from Miami. The word remake is, however, anachronistic to the degree to which our awareness of the preexistence of other versions (previous films of the novel as well as the novel itself) is now a constitutive and essential part of the film’s structure: we are now, in other words, in "intertextuality" as a deliberate, built-in feature of the aesthetic effect and as the operator of a new connotation of "pastness" and pseudohistorical depth, in which the history of aesthetic styles displaces "real" history.

Yet from the outset a whole battery of aesthetic signs begin to distance the officially contemporary image from us in time: the art deco scripting of the credits, for example, serves at once to program the spectator to the appropriate "nostalgia" mode of reception (art deco quotation has much the same function in contemporary architecture, as in Toronto’s remarkable EatonCentre).8 Meanwhile, a somewhat different play of connotations is activated by complex (but purely formal) allusions to the institution of the star system itself. The protagonist, William Hurt, is one of a new generation of film "stars" whose status is markedly distinct from that of the preceding generation of male superstars, such as Steve McQueen or Jack Nicholson (or even, more distantly, Brando), let alone of earlier moments in the evolution of the institution of the star. The immediately preceding generation projected their various roles through and by way of their well-known off-screen personalities, which often connoted rebellion and nonconformism. The latest generation of starring actors continues to assure the conventional functions of stardom (most notably sexuality) but in the utter absence of "personality" in the older sense, and with something of the anonymity of character acting (which in actors like Hurt reaches virtuoso proportions, yet of a very different kind than the virtuosity of the older Brando or Olivier). This "death of the subject" in the institution of the star now, however, opens up the possibility of a play of historical allusions to much older roles — in this case to those associated with Clark Gable — so that the very style of the acting can now also serve as a "connotator" of the past.

Finally, the setting has been strategically framed, with great ingenuity, to eschew most of the signals that normally convey the contemporaneity of the United States in its multinational era: the small-town setting allows the camera to elude the high-rise landscape of the 1970s and 1980s (even though a key episode in the narrative involves the fatal destruction of older buildings by land speculators), while the object world of the present day — artifacts and appliances, whose styling would at once serve to date the image — is elaborately edited out. Everything in the film, therefore, conspires to blur its official contemporaneity and make it possible for the viewer to receive the narrative as though it were set in some eternal thirties, beyond real historical time. This approach to the present by way of the art language of the simulacrum, or of the pastiche of the stereotypical past, endows present reality and the openness of present history with the spell and distance of a glossy mirage. Yet this mesmerizing new aesthetic mode itself emerged as an elaborated symptom of the waning of our historicity, of our lived possibility of experiencing history in some active way. It cannot therefore be said to produce this strange occultation of the present by its own formal power, but rather merely to demonstrate, through these inner contradictions, the enormity of a situation in which we seem increasingly incapable of fashioning representations of our own current experience.

As for "real history" itself — the traditional object, however it may be defined, of what used to be the historical novel — it will be more revealing now to turn back to that older form and medium and to read its postmodern fate in the work of one of the few serious and innovative leftist novelists at work in the United States today, whose books are nourished with history in the more traditional sense and seem, so far, to stake out successive generational moments in the "epic" of American history, between which they alternate. E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime gives itself officially as a panorama of the first two decades of the century (like World’s Fair); his most recent novel, Billy Bathgate, like Loon Lake addresses the thirties and the Great Depression, while The Book of Daniel holds up before us, in painful juxtaposition, the two great moments of the Old Left and the New Left, of thirties and forties communism and the radicalism of the 1960s (even his early western may be said to fit into this scheme and to designate in a less articulated and formally self-conscious way the end of the frontier of the late nineteenth century).

The Book of Daniel is not the only one of these five major historical novels to establish an explicit narrative link between the reader’s and the writer’s present and the older historical reality that is the subject of the work; the astonishing last page of Loon Lake, which I will not disclose, also does this in a very different way; it is a matter of some interest to note that the first version of Ragtime9 positions us explicitly in our own present, in the novelist’s house in New Rochelle, New York, which at once becomes the scene of its own (imaginary) past in the 1900s. This detail has been suppressed from the published text, symbolically cutting its moorings and freeing the novel to float in some new world of past historical time whose relationship to us is problematical indeed. The authenticity of the gesture, however, may be measured by the evident existential fact of life that there no longer does seem to be any organic relationship between the American history we learn from schoolbooks and the lived experience of the current multinational, high-rise, stagflated city of the newspapers and of our own everyday life.

A crisis in historicity, however, inscribes itself symptomatically in several other curious formal features within this text. Its official subject is the transition from a pre-World War I radical and working-class politics (the great strikes) to the technological invention and new commodity production of the 1920s (the rise of Hollywood and of the image as commodity): the interpolated version of Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas, the strange, tragic episode of the black protagonist’s revolt, may be thought of as a moment related to this process. That Ragtime has political content and even something like a political "meaning" seems in any case obvious and has been expertly articulated by Linda Hutcheon in terms of

its three paralleled families: the Anglo-American establishment one and the marginal immigrant European and American black ones. The novel’s action disperses the center of the first and moves the margins into the multiple "centers" of the narrative, in a formal allegory of the social demographics of urban America. In addition, there is an extended critique of American democratic ideals through the presentation of class conflict rooted in capitalist property and moneyed power. The black Coalhouse, the white Houdini, the immigrant Tateh are all working class, and because of this — not in spite of it — all can therefore work to create new aesthetic forms (ragtime, vaudeville, movies).10

But this does everything but the essential, lending the novel an admirable thematic coherence few readers can have experienced in parsing the lines of a verbal object held too close to the eyes to fall into these perspectives. Hutcheon is, of course, absolutely right, and this is what the novel would have meant had it not been a postmodern artifact. For one thing, the objects of representation, ostensibly narrative characters, are incommensurable and, as it were, of incomparable substances, like oil and water — Houdini being a historical figure, Tateh a fictional one, and Coalhouse an intertextual one — something very difficult for an interpretive comparison of this kind to register. Meanwhile, the theme attributed to the novel also demands a somewhat different kind of scrutiny, since it can be rephrased into a classic version of the Left’s "experience of defeat" in the twentieth century, namely, the proposition that the depolitization of the workers’ movement is attributable to the media or culture generally (what she here calls "new aesthetic forms"). This is, indeed, in my opinion, something like the elegiac backdrop, if not the meaning, of Ragtime, and perhaps of Doctorow’s work in general; but then we need another way of describing the novel as something like an unconscious expression and associative exploration of this left doxa, this historical opinion or quasi-vision in the mind’s eye of "objective spirit." What such a description would want to register is the paradox that a seemingly realistic novel like Ragtime is in reality a nonrepresentational work that combines fantasy signifiers from a variety of ideologemes in a kind of hologram.

My point, however, is not some hypothesis as to the thematic coherence of this decentered narrative but rather just the opposite, namely, the way in which the kind of reading this novel imposes makes it virtually impossible for us to reach and thematize those official "subjects" which float above the text but cannot be integrated into our reading of the sentences. In that sense, the novel not only resists interpretation, it is organized systematically and formally to short-circuit an older type of social and historical interpretation which it perpetually holds out and withdraws. When we remember that the theoretical critique and repudiation of interpretation as such is a fundamental component of poststructuralist theory, it is difficult not to conclude that Doctorow has somehow deliberately built this very tension, this very contradiction, into the flow of his sentences.

The book is crowded with real historical figures — from Teddy Roosevelt to Emma Goldman, from Harry K. Thaw and Stanford White to J. Pierpont Morgan and Henry Ford, not to mention the more central role of Houdini — who interact with a fictive family, simply designated as Father, Mother, Older Brother, and so forth. All historical novels, beginning with those of Sir Walter Scott himself, no doubt in one way or another involve a mobilization of previous historical knowledge generally acquired through the schoolbook history manuals devised for whatever legitimizing purpose by this or that national tradition — thereafter instituting a narrative dialectic between what we already "know" about The Pretender, say, and what he is then seen to be concretely in the pages of the novel. But Doctorow’s procedure seems much more extreme than this; and I would argue that the designation of both types of characters — historical names and capitalized family roles — operates powerfully and systematically to reify all these characters and to make it impossible for us to receive their representation without the prior interception of already acquired knowledge or doxa — something which lends the text an extraordinary sense of deja vu and a peculiar familiarity one is tempted to associate with Freud’s "return of the repressed" in "The Uncanny" rather than with any solid historiographic formation on the reader’s part.

Meanwhile, the sentences in which all this is happening have their own specificity, allowing us more concretely to distinguish the moderns’ elaboration of a personal style from this new kind of linguistic innovation, which is no longer personal at all but has its family kinship rather with what Barthes long ago called "white writing." In this particular novel, Doctorow has imposed upon himself a rigorous principle of selection in which only simple declarative sentences (predominantly mobilized by the verb "to be") are received. The effect is, however, not really one of the condescending simplification and symbolic carefulness of children’s literature, but rather something moredisturbing, the sense of some profound subterranean violence done to American English, which cannot, however, be detected empirically in any of the perfectly grammatical sentences with which this work is formed. Yet other more visible technical "innovations" may supply a clue to what is happening in the language of Ragtime: it is, for example, well known that the source of many of the characteristic effects of Camus’s novel The Stranger can be traced back to that author’s willful decision to substitute, throughout, the French tense of the passe compose for the other past tenses more normally employed in narration in that language.11 I suggest that it is as if something of that sort were at work here: as though Doctorow had set out systematically to produce the effect or the equivalent, in his language, of a verbal past tense we do not possess in English, namely, the French preterite (or passe simple), whose "perfective" movement, as Emile Benveniste taught us, serves to separate events from the present of enunciation and to transform the stream of time and action into so many finished, complete, and isolated punctual event objects which find themselves sundered from any present situation (even that of the act of story telling or enunciation).

E. L. Doctorow is the epic poet of the disappearance of the American radical past, of the suppression of older traditions and moments of the American radical tradition: no one with left sympathies can read these splendid novels without a poignant distress that is an authentic way of confronting our own current political dilemmas in the present. What is culturally interesting, however, is that he has had to convey this great theme formally (since the waning of the content is very precisely his subject) and, more than that, has had to elaborate his work by way of that very cultural logic of the postmodern which is itself the mark and symptom of his dilemma. Loon Lake much more obviously deploys the strategies of the pastiche (most notably in its reinvention of Dos Passos); but Ragtime remains the most peculiar and stunning monument to the aesthetic situation engendered by the disappearance of the historical referent. This historical novel can no longer set out to represent the historical past; it can only "represent" our ideas and stereotypes about that past (which thereby at once becomes "pop history"). Cultural production is thereby driven back inside a mental space which is no longer that of the old monadic subject but rather that of some degraded collective "objective spirit": it can no longer gaze directly on some putative real world, at some reconstruction of a past history which was once itself a present; rather, as in Plato’s cave, it must trace our mental images of that past upon its confining walls. If there is any realism left here, it is a "realism" that is meant to derive from the shock of grasping that confinement and of slowly becoming aware of a new and original historical situation in which we are condemned to seek History by way of our own pop images and simulacra of that history, which itself remains forever out of reach.

Notes

7. For further on the 50s, see chapter 9.

8. See also "Art Deco," in my Signatures of the Visible (Routledge, 1990).

9. "Ragtime," American Review no.20 (April 1974): 1-20.

10. Lynda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism (1988), pp.61-2.

11. Jean-Paul Sartre, "L’Etranger de Camus," in Situations II (Paris, Gallimard. 1948).

 

—from Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Duke UP, 1991.