Nutzerkonto

I’m not really sure what is and what isn’t theory.

Tom McCarthy

“Something that is not nothing”
Zurich seminar

Aus: Recessional—Or, the Time of the Hammer, S. 49 – 74

Elisabeth Bronfen

Tom, our idea here was that you would give us a little insight into how you find your themes, how you use theory for your texts.


T.MC.

I’m not really sure what is and what isn’t theory. I don’t really know where theory stops and fiction begins. If you take someone like, for example, Derrida: half of The Post Card is basically an epistolary novel; it’s fiction, there are characters, there is a character speaking to another character—even while he’s conducting a “theoretical” analysis of Heidegger. I think it’s very hard to pin down that border-line between it being theory/fiction or not theory/fiction. So theory wouldn’t just be a reflection on something else which is somehow more integral; it’s more fluid than that.

A figure like Lévi-Strauss is just wonderful in this respect: Tristes Tropiques is one of the most brilliant books and it’s much better as literature than almost all of the fiction that was being produced in France at that time—with the possible exception of Robbe-Grillet or Claude Simon. When he describes the sunset for example; it’s amazing. But it’s also an undermining of any “natural” experience of sunset: he’s describing it and theorizing it; the theorizing becomes not just part of the description but of the experience too. Lévi-Strauss clearly wants to be a great writer or to be a poet and doesn’t quite manage. He always feels like he’s doing the wrong thing, but in that very mode of “missing his calling,” he produces almost a whole new field of discourse. There’s that wonderful bit that I have my narrator reproduce almost word for word in Satin Island, where Lévi-Strauss is losing it and going a bit insane in the jungle and he decides to become a great playwright; so he turns his research notes over and starts writing an “epic” play on the flip side. I love the idea of the actual piece of paper: on one side you’ve got supposedly empirical, scientific, evidence-based research—although empiricists would say it’s just speculative theory—and then on the other side you’ve got this attempt at epic art, which fails as well. Then, somewhere in the middle, if you could enlarge that physical piece of paper into three dimensions with a microscope, you would see this mulchy, messy pulp—and I think that would be the space of literature, which is neither one nor the other; it’s this messy, unresolved between. This kind of slippage between not one thing and not quite another, this falling between two chairs or two horses all the time is one thing I was interested in.

When I started writing this novel, U, the character, was going to be a writer. I hadn’t thought of anthropology, I just thought: he’s a writer working for a contemporary consultancy, as Head of Semiotics or some such (this role really exists). Then I thought: do I really want to write a novel about a writer? It’s been done a million times. Then I stumbled across the anthropologist as a much more interesting figure than a writer; but who is also to a large extent a stand-in for the figure of the writer. And I think it’s significant that my hero is so compromised politically (feeding left-wing theory back into the corporate machine) because I just don’t buy the myth of creative autonomy: this idea that the artist operates in some elevated space “outside,” unbesmirched by society and politics and commerce and all the rest. Of course, we don’t; you’re inside the grid, you’re operating in a relationship with power, always. So I think that’s an aspect of what U, my hero, does in this book. Basically, theory, fiction and capital form the triangle around which this whole book is slipping between messily the whole time.


Audience

Could we relate recessionality to the idea of buffering that is so central to Satin Island—especially buffering the relation to narration? There’s this idea developed by Peyman if we go into the text at chapter 7.7 and read: “We require experience to stay ahead, if only by a nose, of our consciousness of experience—if for no other reason than that the latter needs to make sense of the former, to (as Peyman would say) narrate it both to others and ourselves, and, for this purpose, has to be fed with a constant, unsorted supply of fresh sensations and events,” which he bases of course on the idea of the YouTube lines. It comes up again on page 127: there’s the scene where Petr is dying in hospital and he’s talking about narrating events, and the impossibility of narrating the most important event—your own death—when you die. It seems to me that U is cut short at that point: he was trying to utter that it’s a buffering problem, but he just gets buffered himself. I was wondering if this would really be a problem of buffering, or if it’s rather a problem of the end of narration. The book narrates and then it ends: there’s the last word, the last line, the last dot and it ends and then, there’s a new idea of buffering which seemed to be in the middle of narration.


T.MC.

What Petr is describing isn’t exactly a buffering problem, it’s a more Blanchotian thing about how to narrate the instant of your death. It’s what he says in L’Arrêt de mort: these things only get interesting when I stop. The really meaningful stuff will communicate itself when I stop writing about it, but of course, at that point, who can read it? I think that’s the problem Petr is describing there. But then he’s thinking back to when he was in Berlin and the wall fell and even as he watched the wall fall he was thinking: “I’m going to tell everyone about the wall falling and how incredible it was.” This happens in Don Quixote: the first time he rides out on one of his re-enactments as the noble knight Don Quixote, he basically plays himself a soundtrack in his head. He says: “When the book comes to be written of this moment, it’s going to begin like this …”—and he starts writing it in his head. So in order to experience the presence of his present moment he has to detour it, wire it via its imaginary future mediation. And then it’s a very strange temporality and he does this in order to be authentic, but he’s radically inauthentic at that point. I was thinking about that a lot when I wrote Remainder.

But coming back to buffering, I tried to use that word and echo it in other parts in the book: when U meets the woman in the bar she’s got a “buffer zone” of objects (cigarette lighter, drink, metro ticket etc) around herself; and when the Charon-like ferry arrives at the end, there are buffers to stop it smashing the peer and the dead parachutist is being “buffeted” by wind. It’s not like there’s one coherent thought behind it, so I can’t really answer the question. I was just trying to kind of constellate some thoughts around the variations on this term, buffering.


Audience

However, you gave us a very interesting image, the image of Lévi-Strauss of the two sides of the paper, and then you said to imagine enlarging the middle. This idea of theory on one side and the literary text on the other side, or, one could also think of the sujet barré in Lacan—the barred subject. But normally when one talks about the bar, one just calls it a cut or trauma; an emptiness. What I found interesting in what you presented us in this image is that there is something. You called it “pulp,” which is of course also a highly charged word in relation to literature: pulp fiction. Therefore, that’s what I’m interested in: it’s not just negativity; it’s not just that there’s nothing there, but there is something.


T.MC.

Yes, it’s a material negative. And this is what the Satin Island is in the protagonist’s dream. The same as when in Remainder the hero is trying to have his ideal moment of the liver lady frying liver and wants to smell it—what this actually creates is a massive mountain of congealed liver fat around the ventilator shafts. That would be another kind of Satin Island. This goes back to the material–immaterial thing: I think there is no immaterial; everything is material. Even digital culture is totally material. There are big black boxes in Nevada, Uzbekistan and Finland; there are wires. In C as well, radio is a material phenomenon; it’s about pulses and atmospheric materiality moving through the air. Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not material. And writing would be a material practice—which is why U is so obsessed with the spilled oil. Particularly that moment when the black oil hits the white snow is a beautiful moment for him because this is writing. This is the moment of writing; it’s ink polluting paper, or words marring the whiteness of a page. So it’s another messy, fluid, material process.


Audience

When it comes to buffering in video images, we would normally think that it’s just a disruption, it’s just an interruption of the video stream, but it happens that when you have a frozen frame, you see something that you cannot normally see. All of a sudden you have a facial expression that you thought never existed.


T.MC.

Yes, it’s fascinating. When the World Cup was on, I spent half the time just taking iPhone snapshots of the moment when the image froze. If you’re watching it on a laptop it keeps freezing and pixelating in sometimes absolutely beautiful ways—bits of grass and player and sponsors’ ads and overlaid broadcaster’s text, all these blocks of color and movement collaging in every which arrangement—it becomes this really avant-garde piece of visual art. The interruption is a wonderful moment and it’s not nothing, it’s something much more interesting than the other thing.


E.B.

Would you say we’re still in the modern period?


T.MC.

I don’t know. You go back and read the Oresteia and it begins with an account of a signal network linking all of space together. At the beginning of Agamemnon you see this signal and then Clytemnestra comes out and says that Troy has fallen. She spends about two lines saying that and then another seventy lines or more describing every beacon between Troy and Argos. She’s a nerd: she’s describing a data network. And all this heroic stuff that follows, about vengeance and justice, is preconditioned on the fact of being in a communication grid. Is that modern then? That seems incredibly modern to me. Hamlet is also all about data surveillance and scanning private correspondence. I have a real problem saying this is modern and this is pre-modern. Also, I think the term “postmodern” is a real red herring. In his book The Postmodern Condition Lyotard says postmodernism isn’t what comes after modernism, but it’s an attitude of incredulity towards grand narratives. It’s the interruption within the modern; the tendency to crack and split. So that’s not really a temporal thing, even though clearly things are a bit different in different times.


E.B.

Probably it’s the way one approaches texts rather than what they do. But I say this because I think there is a great epiphany in your novel. It’s the same as in a Joyce novel or a Woolf novel: you can’t grasp it, but it’s just that something has actually happened. Something has changed, and he turns back to the sea. So, in fact, I see this very much in continuation with the people that you are invoking. I would agree that postmodernism is a red herring and even regarding what Lyotard says about the interruption within the modern: the modern always had that interruption within it to begin with. In fact, the early modern already has that interruption within it so that on some aesthetic, epistemological level, although there are historical differences, there is a clear continuum. Although, of course, how do we know? We’re reading Shakespeare now through our eyes, so who knows how they would have read him in the 19th century. That’s what I’m saying: part of it is definitely on the reception end. Nevertheless, I am taken with what I would call a quiet epiphany in your book, an unmarked epiphany, not an ecstatic, emphatic epiphany.


T.MC.

U thinks he has an epiphany about the parachutist—that he’s “solved” the enigma of why parachutists are dying in series or parallel or whatever, by deciding it’s a secret Russian Roulette cult, dispersed around the globe, whose members agree to randomly sabotage chutes, perhaps their own, to get an extra adrenaline rush—but the epiphany turns out to be totally bogus.


E.B.

Yes, that is bogus but then at the end of the book I would just say that something has actually become clear; it’s only that it didn’t matter whether he went to Staten Island to receive the epiphany that may or may not have been awaiting him there. That decision is both meaningless and in that sense also meaningful.


T.MC.

Yes, talking of the end, I more or less lifted that straight from Balzac’s Le Père Goriot. The hero, Rastignac, goes through Paris and learns how dreadfully corrupt it is and at the end of the book (if I recall correctly—it’s ages since I read it) he’s standing on this hill above Paris and he looks one way out to the rest of the world and he realizes: I could just leave this shithole and turn my back on it and go out and discover new worlds. Then he turns back to Paris and he looks down on it and says “À nous deux”—“me and you”—and he walks back down the hill and goes back into the city. And I wanted that ending too. I think it’s really important that U goes back into the heart of the machine with all his unresolved, restless anger. Staten, or Satin, Island would just be another city; it would be beyond, it would be leaving it all and walking out. It might even be death. But he goes back into the city and he continues to be this Kafka-like bug at the heart of the machine, the glitch. Even the machine operator is a piece of virus in a way.


E.B.

But I would say that that’s a much more honest way of approaching the whole problem that you talked about at the very beginning—which is that we can’t get outside the system. This is the Derridean idea that there is no “hors-texte.” But there is actually something that somehow or other impinges on a text and there are moments when we recognize that. I think this is your point with the frozen pixelated image: there’s a moment when the glitch becomes clear. In The Matrix it’s that moment when the cat comes twice and you realize that this is the Matrix. It’s not either you’re in or your out of the system; we’re always in the system, but that doesn’t mean that we have no intimation or perhaps even perception of that which could be outside or beyond. I’m also thinking of Blanchot when he talks about “autre nuit,” for example, as that which is beyond representation, but which can only really be thought of within the grid of representation. Great literature for Blanchot seeks to move beyond that; move outside, “hors.” For him that whole idea of the “hors” is very important. This is what all of the work of literature is for: it’s for the day; it’s not for that other night, because we can’t, in fact, fall out of the coordinates of the day. I could probably name hundreds of films that end with this idea of turning back, of going back into the machine. I looked at so many films where people move through the night, and at the end of the night, they turn back. They go back into the machine; they go back into the city. I was also thinking about Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit, even though it has that emphatic epiphany: at the end of it all he sits on the bank of the river and says “I just want this all to be over,” which, of course, it won’t. Whereas here, U has seen something and he turns back. I think there’s an honesty to that because, thinking about events, we grasp these events after they’ve happened as something that has happened, but not while they’re happening. And that too means that everything is always part of the system. That’s how I understand this buffer: we’re just caught in that little ball and we keep spinning and spinning.


Audience

I’ll ask one more thing about the buffering. In Satin Island there’s a scene where U and his museum-curator friend are driving fast across a bridge in Frankfurt; and they see a crane turning; and the box suspended from its arm is moving down the arm—so everything is moving fast, but due to the relative speed and position of everything, it all seems still. Would you say that’s a kind of buffering as well? The illusion of stillness only occurs because three movements in space are coordinated in such a way that only from this vantage point would that effect arise. So buffering as a conception of stillness when there isn’t any: data packets are actually being exchanged and things are happening. Do you ascribe any productivity to the buffering itself? You talked about negativity a lot, but it seems to me that there is also productivity in the negativity. Would you say that’s true?

T.MC.

Yes, it’s a generative space. It’s like in photography where it’s the negative that produces the photo. It’s almost the first image in Satin Island as well: a photographic image looming into view from noxious, poisonous, polluted chemicals in a dark room. And regarding the stillness, Eliot also talks about the still point of the turning world and this whole Romantic idea of tranquillity and emotion recollected in tranquillity.


Audience

Yes, but buffering is exactly not that. Buffering is recollection in anxiety. The Romantic position is no longer an option, nor is it desired I think. It’s just much too self-conscious for our modern identities.


T.MC.

Yes, but with U’s anxious recollecting there’s all his whimsical stuff where he ponders a parachutist’s death he’s read about in the news, and muses on and on about parachutes while he’s meant to be doing productive work, and even pins diagrams of parachutes to his walls; and when his boss, Tapio, calls him out on it and says, “what is all this crap?” he just makes something up, about how the parachute is a perfect structural illustration of the project the company is working on—which actually turns out to be true; it turns out to be a useful insight. And pondering this second fact, U cites the passage from Tristes Tropiques where Lévi-Strauss asks what a con is, and wonders if all of anthropology (and perhaps by extension, literature) is a con. Isn’t knowledge a con? And then there’s the whole question of stealing time and experience from work, from one’s boss, from productivity and the general advancement of capital. Even walking down a corridor to his boss’s office, moving through a blind spot hidden from the rest of the work-floor and clicking his fingers, and relishing that moment as it joins with all the other times he has clicked or will click his fingers as he moves through that same blind spot (like Hans Castorp waiting for his soup), U is entering another buffer zone or recess. I was reading lots of Michel de Certeau when I wrote Satin Island, and he talks a lot about the worker’s small moments of private time grabbed back from the boss. But in a way that buffering is actually quite generative and quite useful. For example, Google says you’ve got to spend 20% of your time just wasting it, because they know that that’s when the good stuff is going to come—which they will own. They force their employees to spend 20% of the time not doing what they’re meant to be doing.


Audience

I think the paradox with the buffering is that once you see the epiphany, for example once you see the digitalness of a video stream that all of a sudden becomes much clearer when frozen, and once you recognize that as a moment to cherish or as a productive moment, it stops being that. Once you’ve realized you now have these free twenty minutes in which things happen, then it just becomes work.


E.B.

But isn’t this like: you have to ejaculate now; you must enjoy now? How are you going to enjoy?


Audience

Yes, I think that’s a good example.


T.MC.

The artist Omer Fast made a film about the porn industry. He goes on a pornography film set and just films what happens and it is exactly that: it’s about this regulation and control of pleasure, which of course then isn’t pleasure any more, it’s just chemicals and bodies.


Audience

Yes, but I think the interesting thing is that you take the outtakes of a porno shoot, for example, and you turn that into pornography. You have people who are into the bits in between where nothing really happens: when the actors talk to each other or when you have someone like the fluffer girl who is only there so that the guy remains hard. You have people who are making that into the main subject. But that’s the Marxist logic: you can feed everything into the machine and make a product out of it, even the bits that at first could not be used; the waste.


E.B.

Warhol has written about that in his From A to B and Back Again where he talks about outtakes. He thinks the outtakes of movies are what things really should be about. I had the feeling that what you’re also picking up on here is what the most serious of pop art is interested in. I was reading it in relationship to a project I’m working on regarding series and seriality, so I was very interested in the way the whole book keeps circling around: these people keep repeating things. They do it again and again and again and each time they do it, difference is brought into the sequence and you have the feeling that with each new repetition, it’s not just that something was added, but, in fact, what was there before changes in retrospect because of the whole question of the repetition. What Warhol is so interested in with his silkscreens, for example, is that you have many images that keep getting repeated and all of them in a sense are the outtakes because none of them are the real image; they are the offcuts. So I think that in itself is an interesting aesthetic that one could think about.


T.MC.

U points out that as an anthropologist you’re not interested in unique events, you’re interested in generic events; in seriality and repetition. When U goes to the museum his friend who runs it explains to him that it’s no good getting one fetish or cooking pot; you need a hundred, because then you study the morphology and it’s in that repetition with difference that you can actually make a taxonomy of culture. This is very counterintuitive to a humanist or even a contemporary middlebrow literary credo where you’re meant to be unique and have an absolutely unique remarkable thing. It’s very much like Warhol: the boringness of just repeating the same with a difference is much more interesting.

Talking of outtakes, there’s a very good contemporary Dutch artist called Aernout Mik. He’s a video artist and his work is all about outtakes. He did a series which is very anxious to watch because he got hundreds of hours of footage of the Yugoslav wars and just took the outtake bits; not the horrible bits, not the bits where people are being shot or bombs are falling, but just the bits in between where nothing is happening. A bomb will have landed an hour ago or will land in another hour. It’s incredibly boring—people are just milling around—but it’s horrific too. He did the same thing when he staged a stock market crash: he showed the interim bit where people are just sitting around on the trading floor and there’s all these chits of paper and the screens are all red and, again, nothing is really happening. These as well are the outtakes.

Audience

I just read Remainder a couple of weeks ago in preparation for this seminar and putting my impressions together now I wonder what importance authenticity has. I think in Remainder it’s quite important: he wants this genuine feeling of being in the place. This is not so prominent here, but, at the same time, there is this idea of using things in different contexts and there is still the big Project that is supposed to accomplish something. There are levels of truth, particularly in the part when he complains that some tribes don’t make any sense at all and are too mysterious. There is the right mixture between understanding and not understanding, little pockets of mystery that need to remain in order to keep humankind going. And authenticity seems to be part of all of this, but I can’t really put my finger on it.


T.MC.

In Remainder the hero believes in authenticity—he’s a naïve hero. The hero of Satin Island is not naïve; he’s a knowing subject, of course, as he’s read his anthropology—whereas the guy in Remainder hasn’t read his anthropology. But it still comes to the same thing because the guy in Remainder believes in authenticity and believes you can arrive at that moment of authenticity and, of course, he doesn’t arrive at it. But then what happens is the accident: the radical, unplanned departure from the script where his bank heist, which is meant to be a simulation, goes wrong and the real jumps out. But the real is not authenticity anymore; it’s a radical eruption within the inauthentic which is basically just pure violence. I guess here as well, it’s in these interruptions, in these glitches and buffer zones that something else emerges—whether that’s a vision of the whole fabric or what Derrida would call a space of unresolved difference or “différance.” So in that sense they have that in common.


E.B.

I’m thinking of two other concepts: one is Duchamp’s idea of that interval, that “infra-mince” where things don’t ever fully come together but they’re very close. And it seems to me that all of your novels are also an attempt to think around what Swiss curator Harald Szeemann, who did a big show here thirty years ago, called “Gesamtkunstwerk”; totalized art work. I think one can say that the whole 19th century moves towards that. One could think of someone like Wagner as an embodiment of that impact. But so much of the modern—call it the 20th century—could begin earlier with Baudelaire already. There’s this desire for a “Gesamtkunstwerk” which brings together the different modes of perceiving the world and of understanding the world.


T.MC.

That would be the Great Report that U is meant to be writing throughout Satin Island—which he never actually gets round to writing.


E.B.

Yes, that’s my sense. And it seems to me that if one were to compare this with Remainder, you would say you’re getting at it from two different sides. The one guy believes in the authentic and he’s trying to recreate that in these various architectural spaces. And what I’m interested in is the idea of trying to move towards that: constructing that, performing that, even if this inevitably always has to fail—that’s Duchamp’s point. That for me is the gesture of the modern, which, for all I care, begins around 1800, or actually, even with Shakespeare.


T.MC.

I completely agree. Regarding the “Gesamtkunstwerk,” Mallarmé writes about “The Book.” He says everything exists in order to be in The Book that is to come. One day “The Book” will come but it won’t even look like a book. I was looking at his notes towards “The Book” and they’re amazing: he’s imagining rituals and hymns and sometimes it seems like Christians in the catacombs of Rome. And at other times it’s a bit like theater, but he hates bourgeois theater so it’s not going to be in a theater. It will be a book, but it also won’t; it will be on and off the page. All the stuff that U is going on about, his musings about multimedia and performance and cult-activity and even revolution in relation to the Great Report, is just straight from Mallarmé. What would this transformative Great Report be and is it possible? At first U says it’s not possible; and then an even worse thought strikes him, which is that it’s already been done—by software. Every time we go on Amazon or Facebook, the networks of kinship are being mapped, our own likes and buyings and linking to others who we know or don’t know but with whom we share liking or buying patterns, are being mapped, written—but we can’t read it; only software can read software. It’s this kind of Kafkaesque moment when he realizes that “The Book”, like the plan for the Great Wall of China, has always–already been written and that we’re already in it.


E.B.

For Mallarmé’s Book to come, I would emphasize this notion that works in French: “à venir” which is also the future, “l’avenir.” This is what Derrida does with his idea of the rogue and democracy. For him democracy is something that is always still to come. So if I’m trying to describe why I think there is an epiphany in Satin Island—the way I think there are epiphanies in the best of DeLillo’s novels, while they are completely lacking in authors such as Paul Auster and Eugenides—it’s because of this sense of a movement towards something which you want to reach, but which you also know you can never reach. It’s this idea of something that is achievable, but is not yet achieved and should never be achieved because you want to keep that little bit of movement going. It seems to me that that’s what you’re bringing in here as well.


T.MC.

Derrida is huge for me and I love it when in The Post Card he spends his whole time trying to decode this post card he finds where he thinks Plato and Aristotle are having sex together. He thinks it’s the secret of philosophy: Plato is transmitting while pretending to receive, and Aristotle is being ventriloquized by Plato, and it’s all to do with transmission and obfuscation about transmission’s networks. He basically spins the whole of Western philosophy out of this post card—and still then says that he’s barely begun. He says that if only he could crack the post card that would be it; but then he realizes that would be horrific: the day there’s a definitive reading of the post card is the end of philosophy, and democracy, and it’s the end of love as well; it’s the end of the world; it’s fascism. This is why I hate what Quentin Meillassoux has done with Mallarmé in that idiotic book, The Number and the Siren, where he basically says, “I’ve cracked it: if you take the number of words in it and divide it by Mallarmé’s birthday and my social security number you get the true answer, which is Jesus”—it’s appalling. So I agree that this sense of incompletion is incredibly important and the whole of literature depends on the Book not being written.


Audience

But again, I think the danger here is of course that you start to fetishize the interval; you start to fetishize the incompletion, the lack. That’s very much what one could criticize in Derrida.


T.MC.

Yes, it becomes buffer porn.


Audience

Yes, exactly. And that’s why I’m still fascinated by this image that keeps coming up in Satin Island: of pulp, the messy “medium” or between-space that you envision as (for example) the middle of a piece of paper on either side of which are different types of meaningful writing. You would hold on to it and not call it a cut, or an emptiness, or a lack, but pulp; there is something.


T.MC.

That’s the remainder; that’s Bataille’s base matter: the thing that’s always there no matter how much you systematize it and think it; it’s still just there, messy and unassimilable.


Audience

Talking about these zones of unresolved in-betweenness makes me think of Resnais’ film Nuit et brouillard. The most interesting parts are when you see the surroundings of Auschwitz. It’s made in ’55 and he visits Auschwitz when it’s not yet a museum. So you have these shots of the landscape surrounding Auschwitz and what is so haunting is that you don’t see anything. And that is haunting in the sense that you feel you are responsible for filling in this void. The film does not remember for you; you have to remember because the film cannot capture what happened there; what it captures is really the in-between.


E.B.

I think this is what you, Tom, mean with the pulp.


Audience

Yes, something that is not nothing; it’s in fact everything and that’s what is really there. It’s not something you can show to people.


T.MC.

U describes the pulp as “the middle, at whose outer edges the others hover like mirages.” So epic art is a mirage at one end and science is a mirage hovering at the other and I guess the pulp would be another real as well. But it’s not an epiphany in and of itself, because then the others would be fake epiphanies.


E.B.

It seems to me that you are talking about two reals: one is that moment of violence.


T.MC.

That’s Leiris’ moment where the bull’s horn kills the matador or Ballard’s moment where the car crash goes wrong and it’s a real car crash. That’s the violent real.


E.B.

Yes, and the other real is that material that is always there and that can’t be brought into the grid but it’s also not outside the grid. How do emotions come into play in all of this?


T.MC.

A criticism that some maybe more conservative critics or journalists have leveled about Remainder is that the character is so unfeeling: he doesn’t have any compassion and he’s just killing everyone or making them become automata in his almost Nazi control architecture. But then, when the man the hero doesn’t even know has been shot in the street and the police take their photos, wash the blood away and reopen the street within three hours so that capitalism and life can continue, the hero is the one who goes: no, that’s not enough; somebody has died here and we need to attend to it. And he goes back and back and re-enacts the death-moment—like people in the Philippines who nail themselves to crosses every Easter. Again and again, he places himself in the other’s position, but not in some interpretative way. I hadn’t read Levinas when I wrote that book, but I read him afterwards and thought that that’s exactly what ethics is. That’s another interruption: the interruption that comes back and snags itself again and again on that same glitch moment. So I’d say Remainder is actually a very ethical book—which is almost a perverse claim because he kills everyone. Levinas talks about ethics as happening at the moment where the bullet penetrates the skin—which is a very counterintuitive kind of language. In Satin Island as well, U becomes obsessed with a parachutist that he’s never met. For him it’s an individual—although it’s not because there’s one in Canada and one in New Zealand and it’s happening everywhere, a series as you say—but there’s also a kind of compassion for humanity there. And when he wants to become this anarcho-revolutionary saboteur, I would say that’s also compassionate. It’s political but I think there’s a real passion in that as well. So I always try to displace the passion from one thing to something else. Even when he’s passionate with Madison, it’s actually about the other thing; it’s about seeing the buffering through her eyes. There’s another bit in The Post Card where Derrida talks about a lover of his who was always very passionate, but who could only have an orgasm if she was thinking about someone else. No matter who she was making love with, she had to think about someone or something else.


Audience

That’s very normal. Lacan would claim that that’s exactly how it works: there’s always someone else.


E.B.

There’s M always watching Bond and the Bond girl.


T.MC.

Yes, don’t get me started on Bond.


E.B.

Okay, I won’t start you on Bond because, in fact, we have come to the end of our discussion. What in fact we did here I thought was staged buffering. I thought that for one and a half hours we were putting time on hold. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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Tom McCarthy

Tom McCarthy

lebt als Künstler und Schriftsteller in London. Er ist Generalsekretär der International Necronautical Society, einem semi-fiktiven Avantgarde-Netzwerk, und hat zahlreiche Erzählungen und Essays veröffentlicht. »8½ Millionen«, sein erster Roman, erhielt 2008 den Believer Book Award. Sein Roman »C« stand 2010 auf der Shortlist des Man Booker Prize.

Weitere Texte von Tom McCarthy bei DIAPHANES
Tom McCarthy: Recessional—Or, the Time of the Hammer

In this essay, based on a talk he gave in Zurich, award-winning British novelist Tom McCarthy ("Remainder", "C", "Satin Island") unearthes a pattern, a rationale that is working both in and against the canon of modern(ist) literature, of authors such as Thomas Pynchon, Maurice Blanchot, Thomas Mann, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce and William Faulkner. McCarthy tackles a specific obsession with time that haunts their works; a time that is marked by arrest, pause, suspension, interval, eternal moments, tool-downage, waiting. Recessional time, as it were. Time-out-of-time. This is precisely that time (or tense) of fiction that is central to Tom McCarthy's own writing. The essay is followed by a conversation with the author in which he discusses his own practice of writing.