[-empyre-] regarding grief and mourning

Jonathan Marshall Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au
Mon Oct 15 10:58:19 EST 2012

Sandy writes

> I think the difficulty he starts with is central: the difficulty and
>confusion between the forms and genres of expressing pain (e.g. grief,
>mourning) and the pain "itself," and with this the communities and
>structures of reception that handle (or not) this difficulty. For me
>this was an extremely useful post, because it insisted on the
>performative/artistic aspects of the discussion; it asked about our
>works as art (and for me this means particularly writing that is
>problematically "literary"). 

These are important questions, and i'm ignorant, but lets essay something. 

It is possible that a lot hangs on the term 'performativity'.  For me performativity is one of the ways that we make something real. 
In Austin's original use of the term, performativity clearly depends upon conventions, rituals, specified times, places, performers etc. Thus, the wedding marries people in a complex and particular situation; the contract defines obligations or indeptedness, the court/justice system defines something as legal etc. These realities, as made, are often social conventions - and they are not always coherent - they have 'edge'. 

In a way this version of the idea of performativity distinguishes between proper performances and artistic performances, as a person is not generally concieved to have married if they get married or tried in a film or a play, and this is not trivial. (although it seems easy to be confused).

The ritual of theatre or art, defines something so that the marriage or trial ritual is not real in the same sense as it might be outside the art.
the events are structured differently by the audience, as well as by the performers.

So art conveys its effects, though not being 'real....', but without convention there is no performance and no manifestation of the recognised real. And sometimes this 'bracketting off' can make it seem more real to us than the actual events the art may be based upon.

Without the conventions of pain and grief it is difficult to convey pain and grief - because the conventions give the grief body for others.
(just as without linguistic conventions it is hard to say anything that is not noise)

The hassle with conventions is that sometimes (perhaps often) they can (for some) no longer seem natural, they can seem confining, and at that moment breaking conventions can seem more real and new conventions start to be made. The problem here is that breaking conventions can then become the aim of the art/work, or thus become equally conventional.  
That is to show the extremity of our pain feeling thought etc, we break convention and then risk becoming as tied in the convention of breaking conventions as we were previously tied in the conventions we are breaking; or we take the risk becoming incomprehensible or repetative, because there are no conventions to interpret us by.

So, expression of pain within convention is both necessary and limiting at the same time. That conflict is (some of) what art deals with.

>We may, in a good old critical sense, feel
>the depiction is an "accurate" one, but we remain a long way from saying
>"I feel the pain" of the characters. 

Indeed but should we?

Should we be able to say to the tortured or the person with chronic pain "I feel your pain?"
Isn't this risking a kind of dismissal or imperialism....? 

the best one might be able to say is something like:

"I feel that i resonate with your pain" , or "the way you have conveyed your pain upsets me, shatters me, or motivates me to do something", or "i have gained understanding or experienced some transformation, through perceiving your 'story'"

And that depends on a degree of sympathy and imagination (of faking it?) - although sympathy explains nothing, it just restates what we observe.

These actions are not a reduction, but the limit of the possible and the enablers of the possible.

>it is this [sympathy] that Ades asks us to
>see as absurd. I take this' absurdity very much in a Sartrean sense of
>the impossibility and yet necessity of art to the human condition of
>suffering and pain. (I think of Johannes' irony in the same way.) 

What it might point at, again, is the paradoxical, self-undermining nature of attempting perfection in communication (telepathy).

We fail. but we achieve something. We fail again, in that the failure of the project breaks our communication, and distances us from the reality that we try and make manifest. We work towards something that cannot be done, but which has to be done, and which is part of making ourselves and others 'human', of mutual enriching. 

The sympathy venture, is a political project as well as an artistic project. It is both together, whether we want it to be or not. 
Just as the 'anti-sympathy project' making our enemies, (the dogs, the scum, the deluded, the blasphemers, the terrorists), is also a political and artistic project.

>I also
>see this absurdity as deeply tied to the artwork as medial. As Johannes
>accurately notes, the question here is reference to the real and how
>this slips, more or less intentionally, into reference to mediations of
>the real (which we may or may not want to term virtualities). 

Perhaps, the reality *is* always the mediated in a way as, even if pain resists signification, then it is still expressed, conveyed and known through the failure of that mediation/signification.

>discourses that address this problem by and large to not resolve it but
>restate it in new terms. Barthes' famous "punctum" is precisely not art,
>it is nature or the "unconstructed" vis a vis the "studium" (the
>cultural). This is not to say that art and artists can not set out to
>"capture" the punctum, but it remains a problem and not a technique.

But this could imply that the nature culture divide is clear, rather than being intertwined, blurry and ambiguous.
That, say, pain is 'just' nature.

Perhaps good art performs and thus makes the natural (while conflicting with it....)

insufficiency is good (I hope)


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