Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Writing degree zero, residual entropy and geometrical frustration.

"Feeling permanently guilty of its own solitute, it [literary writing] is none the less an imagination eagerly desiring a felicity [bonheur] of words, it hastens towards a dreamed-of language whose freshness, by a kind of ideal anticipation, might portray the perfection of some Adamic world where language would no longer be alienated." (Barthes)

I think the ubiquity and appeal of this notion, found for example in James Woods, arises from an intuition of something else- what we might call the residual entropy of the reading mind. Clearly, to read is to be as stupid as possible. 'Only very stupid people read'. It represents the lowest possible energy state, yet its residual entropy turns out to be infinite.

What of style, of everything that coruscates or is crystalline? It is a stone or a piling on of stones as part of reading's peine forte et dure, except if abstracted from as a form of geometrical frustration


Anonymous said...

I don't know that James Wood (or do you mean the actor?) is a disciple of Barthes.
This is from a review of his 'how fiction works'-
(His) 'two favorite twentieth-century critics of the novel are the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky, and the French formalist-cum-structuralist Roland Barthes." Such critics appeal to him because they "thought like writers: they attended to style, to words, to form, to metaphor and imagery. But," Wood continues, "Barthes and Shklovsky thought like writers alienated from creative instinct [. . .] they come to conclusions about the novel that seem to me interesting but wrong-headed, and this book conducts a sustained argument with them."

His main point of contention is the way in which Barthes and Shklovsky, and their numerous bastard spawn, wish to deny the power of fiction to imitate reality, preferring instead to view it as "a self-enclosed machine," simply because they have seen the means by which it goes about constructing that imitation. Wood's nimbly dialectical mind insists that exactly the opposite is true—that by its very artifice, fiction "refers deeply to reality"—and makes the disciples of such skepticism seem like those obstinately lugubrious people who never quite recovered from the news that Santa Claus doesn't exist.'

windwheel said...

I'm afraid I'm no admirer of either Barthes or Wood- though they're readable precisely because they understand that reading is stupidity.
I just looked up Wood's review of Rushdie's 'Fury'- it was published in the New Statesman the day after 9/11- clearly it had been written to order long before- but Wood probably didn't get the irony. Rushdie is interesting because he has a mediumistic quality- he predicts the future- but, like most mediums, he is an empty vessel and a total fuckwit. But that's a good thing coz it turns out 9/11 was perpetrated by deracinated fuckwits who'd watched too many videos, and avenged by the sort of fuckwits who read books by the fuckwit Professor who is the protagonist of Rushdie's crap novel.
Thus Rushdie's second worst novel prophesies the Universal history of the first decade of the 21st century precisely because Rushdie is shit and people who read Rushdie are deliberately enstoopidifying themselves.
But, it turns out Rushdie IS Reality- what's more there was never any golden age, shit is all that happens. So, bizarrely, Woods trying to point out Rushdie's shittiness ends up demonstrating the fatuity of nothing by the craft he practices and the credo he prides himself & incontinently poops upon.
Incidentally, Santa Claus does exist. Every dept. store has got one. Fuck is wrong with Woody?
Of course, the real point I was making- apart from the usual one that thinking and drinking just don't go together when on is two years short of 50, as opposed to 20-is that 'writing degree zero' or the dream of an Adamic language or other such shit is shit coz. the reading mind is geometrically frustrated and has infinite residual entropy- and this is what makes reading, and everything else that enstoopidifies, adaptive on our fitness landscape- more so, indeed, than getting drunk and uttering dithyrambs especially when one is like pushing 50 and carrying 50 pounds of surplus fat around one's belly and stuff.