… the great pile of unread or half read books keeps accumulating, mutating, collapsing, merging, diminishing (ever so slightly), but mainly growing by leaps and bounds. The idea was of course to review them here on NOMADICS, but books are patient while events vent their urgencies, real or imagined. And thus I rarely get around to review books (not an activity I have ever taken vast pleasure in, except on rare occasions) while holding back from just posting lists — though that may of course have been the best thing to do. Ideally a pithy perfect para per book (hmmm, that’s half as many p’s as in my Schwitters title) would have been my pref, but, but, but…
From a pre-summer trip to France I brought back a few books — that have held up my reading a bit, given the girth of the books. Here’s two of them:
Philippe Sollers, Discours Parfait (Gallimard 2010) 912 pages. Essays, reviews, notations, these Sollersian meditations are the latest installment in PS’s oeuvre, and — he says so himself — they follow logically on La Guerre du Goût and Eloge de l’Infini. He also writes on the back page, the 4ième de couverture: “Contrary to any apocalyptic vision, or any ‘end of history,’ or fascination with the Terror, the writings assembled here have as sole aim the preparation of a Renaissance in which, with a few rare exceptions, nobody any longer believes. This future — certain, though highly improbable — has by the way been affirmed very clearly in a recent, still misunderstood, novel: Les Voyageurs du Temps.”
Régis Debray, Dégagements (Gallimard (2010) 290 pages. A gathering of smallish pieces Debray wrote over a number of years for the magazine Médium under the general title of “Pense-bête.” A “pense-bête” is something that helps you to remember, a reminder, a memory jogger. Debray, as always, speaks passionately, intelligently sardonically about everything under the sun, and somethings that are not, or else very well hidden. From politics to literature to communication to the media to the death of friends and others. Here, in an instant and thus all too hasty translation, is a typical page, under the heading Materials for a Funeral Oration:
Something will, of course, regrow on this impoverished but hardy compost, out of this irredentist and egalitarian sensibility. And yet we have to acknowledge an endgame taking place under our very eyes, that sees three historical cycles coming to a close with a distressing simultaneity. The first and shortest one, born in 1945, had suggested the following lovely thought to Malraux: “There are the Gaullists, the communists, and nothing besides.” Sixty years later, Gaullists and communists have left the stage, and the nothing is henceforth everything (‘sometimes the nothing comes through’ as someone said). The second cycle had opened in August 1789, when a parliamentarian left and right arrayed itself for or against the adoption of the royal veto in the rectangular hall of the Estates-General. This is the cycle of politics as capital passion. For the first times human beings united among themselves in relation to an idea of man, and not because of native belonging, of a hereditary religion or some dynastic loyalty. That an idea of the world could determine free choices for existence, had been unknown until then. And the third great cycle that is silently coming to a close is nothing less than the one that opened in the year 33 of our Christian era, when western mankind linked its fate to the march of time by locating its desire for the superhuman (resurrection of the bodies and Last Judgment) in the future, and later, in its millenarian stride, also its expectation of a definitive success (justice, finally!). Now man divorces history to take nature as his second spouse. An old couple that had been, since prehistory, the mode of our thinking and living for thousands of years. Thus the passions of innocence have migrated, and, playing the role of the “passionate idyll,” as vanishing point for its march, “organic” society has replaced classless society. The devil has relocated from late capitalism to the GMO. Ecological anxiety supplants historical anxiety and pollution is stigmatized the way exploitation was once upon a time.
You may argue with some of Debray’s thinking, but he is always worth having argument with — especially in the arena of political thought and cultural analysis and criticism. You will not need to argue when he tells of the great literary loves of his life, in, for example, those magnificent pages on Julien Gracq.
Two books can be moved from the pile to my left to their alphabetical place on the shelves. No end in sight, however…