<<

. 3
( 50 .)



>>

of Baudelaire™s wonderful address to his readers: “Hypocrite lecteur,
mon semblable, mon fr` re.” The source, for Baudelaire at any rate, is
e
Byron.
“ It™s grotesque, cynical “ hopeless and helpless.
“ If you say so, perhaps. But not necessarily. The problem lies in the ways that
culture “ that is to say ideology, that is to say false consciousness “ enlists works
of imagination to its causes. Culture is always seeking to turn poetic tales
into forms of worship, “the Wastes of Moral Law” as Blake called these
things.
“ So the ironist Byron is good, the “sincere” Wordsworth is bad.
Please. I confess I am tired of answering that kind of remark. It™s just a way

to maintain some kind of moral ground as the measure of art. Blake was
perfectly right, art has no truck with morality, it™s a ¬eld of revelations
and imitations. Wordsworth is splendid, Byron is splendid. Byron is in
fact Wordsworth™s salvation, his way away from being possessed by the
demons of culture. They are to each other what Blake called Corporeal
Enemies “ that is to say, they are Spiritual Friends.
“ Each others™ masks.
“ Just so. Each is the other™s limit state and “bounding line.” But in our day “
in this Blakean “State” we are passing through, Byron has been the salvi¬c
Voice of the Devil “ because our Heaven and our Law have been “ in the
terms I™ve been using here “ “Wordsworthian.”
At least they have been for you.

“ Yes, that™s right. What I™m saying is only objectively “ it™s not generally “ true.
(You keep insisting on this matter of your objectivity! What™s all that about?)

“ (Think about it. Anyhow, you™re digressing.)
“ OK. A key problem here surely lies in the way critical and theoretical writing “
commentaries and re¬‚ections on primary acts of imagination “ commit
themselves to perceiving, de¬ning, and even acquiring “general” truth.
“To generalize is to be an Idiot” Blake declares. Of course it isn™t at all
idiotic to generalize “ unless you™re an artist! But from the artistic point of
view, works of culture will always be regarded with suspicion. For works of
culture do and must aspire to general authority, and the greatest of these
works achieve some degree of that authority.

But artists and works of art occupy an equivocal position in the world
of culture, as Plato saw very clearly. His view was that the poets and
artists should be expelled, that they were at best charmingly unreliable.

General analytical and historical introduction
He went on to say “ it™s important to recall this “ that they might come
back if they “or their friends” could make a case for their work in other-
than-artistic terms.µ It never occurred to Plato that artistic work as such “
not art as mediated by philosophers or critics “ possessed intellectual or
cognitive authority “ or that this authority rested exactly in the peculiar
intellectual character of artistic work: that it embodied a re¬‚exive form
of unmediated knowing. For Plato “ and the view remains widespread,
if much less lucidly held “ art is a craft, not a method of knowing the
world and re¬‚ecting on the self. Building on the empiricism of Enlighten-
ment, Romanticism installed “The Aesthetic” as a form of knowing. The
institutions of culture have always resisted this claim of art, and in our own
epoch, when the claim has been so powerfully advanced, the resistance
took an accommodating form. So “the function of criticism at the present
time” has been to translate works of art into other cultural terms “ as
if they could not speak on their own behalf and authority. (That “present
time” isn™t just Arnold™s speci¬c Victorian time, it is the period of the
past °° years in general.)
The clearest way to see how an Aesthetic form works is by comparing
it to the operational procedures of a different form of knowing. Logic,
for example. Peter Ochs has recently exposed with remarkable clarity
the development of Peirce™s work by tracing the history of its errors and
its attempts to correct those errors. Most important, Ochs tracks the
work in the context of Ochs™s own self-re¬‚exive thought. The Peirce we
encounter in Ochs is a special creature developed from a kind of double
helix, one strand “Peircean,” the other “Ochsian,” with each strand
fused to the other in order to generate this new intelligent creature, this
study of Peirce by Ochs. Here is Ochs™s general description of what he
is doing:
My thesis is that pragmatic de¬nition is not a discrete act of judgment or
classi¬cation, but a performance of correcting other, inadequate de¬nitions of imprecise
things. Pragmatic reasoning is thus a different sort of reasoning than the kind
employed in de¬ning things precisely. It is a corrective activity . . . My thesis
is therefore not a thesis in the usual sense. Since my claim is that to de¬ne
pragmatically is to correct and that to correct is to read, my “thesis” is bet-
ter named my “corrective reading.” But that is not quite right, either, since
my claim is that reading cannot be done “in general,” or “for everyone,” but
only for someone: for some community of readers . . . And this is not to cor-
rect Peirce per se but to correct problems in the way Peirce would be read by a given
community. The point is not that Peirce is wrong and I can see better! Not
at all. Only that his pragmatism can show itself to another thinker only in
the way that thinker acquires the practice of corrective reading . . . To exhibit
±° Byron and Romanticism
the meaning of pragmatism will therefore be to perform some way of correcting
the meaning of pragmatism. For this study, I read Peirce™s writings on pragma-
tism as his corrective performance of pragmatism, and I offer the follow-
ing chapters as one way of pragmatically and thus correctively studying his
performance.


I regret having to set aside so much of this interesting work in order
to attend upon one matter: the issue of intellectual generality. Ochs
says his reading is not “in general,” and while this is the case in the
sense he means, that is no sense that would make sense to an artist.
Ochs proposes to engage Peirce™s work at a secondary level of general-
ity “ not “in general” (universal) but “under the horizon of generality”
(for a certain “community”). To do that is to make something other
than an aesthetic commitment to the work being done, it is to make
a moral or social commitment. (Let it be said that artists themselves
make such commitments all the time, as they should, but that in doing
so they are putting their art to some social use “ for better and/or for
worse.)
Of course it might be objected that I am merely pointing out how
we distinguish an abstract or ideal “form” in all forms of thought, and
hence that Aesthetic Form is merely a way of referring to that entity
(what Aristotle called the “formal cause” of anything). In this sense Logic,
Theology “ whatever: all forms of thought may have their formal causes
distinguished.
(Who is making this argument, who is writing these sentences?)
But Aesthetic Form cannot be subsumed by formal cause. It is for-
mal cause perceived and functioning as material cause “ to stay with
Aristotle™s categories. And its ¬nal cause is indeterminable from any per-
spective available to us. In this sense Aesthetic Form is like that fabulous
medieval “circle whose center is everywhere but whose circumference
is nowhere” “ but only like, because this will always be a circle with a
determinate material form, what Blake called (playing with his words)
a “Bounding Line.” Blake and all artists can thus play with their words,
or whatever they work with, exactly because their primary care is to op-
erate with their ideas through their materials (for an artist “ Shelley and
Byron illustrate this unmistakably “ to think is to make something, to
make something concrete). Material forms, articulations like “Bounding
Line” (or the artist™s physical marking of some such line), are physi-
cally determinate but cognitively ¬‚ooded. Underdetermined cognitively,
overdetermined materially.
±±
General analytical and historical introduction

BYRONIC TEXTUALITY

Ochs set about to correct Peirce™s errors via a pragmaticist reading
of Peirce™s work. It reminds one of Blake™s efforts to “correct Milton™s
errors,” which is as we know one of the main themes and “leading
tendencies” of Blake™s work. It is a leading tendency because, in Blake™s
view, giving a form to Milton™s errors is a way to expose his own. Unlike
Blake™s, Ochs™s writing does not turn his critique simultaneously into a
self-critique. This is not to denigrate his study but only to point out a
generic limitation of the critical powers of discursive form.
I have brought Peirce (and Ochs) into this discussion because their
work helps clarify the contemporary critical relevance of Byron™s poetic
discourse. Ochs recovers for us a Peirce who gradually moved from prag-
matism to pragmaticism, from a philosophic program of error-correction
to a program re¬‚ecting on its own processes of error-correction. In this
movement Peirce discovers the form of the existential graph, a form of
philosophic commentary and re¬‚ection that clearly seeks to break free
of the material limitations of discursive form.· Peirce™s existential graphs
are the equivalent of Kierkegaard™s masks and, later, of the dialogical
drama Wittgenstein stages in the Philosophical Investigations. In each case
we observe a theoretical mind seeking for critical forms that will escape
the limits of discursive form.
Poets do not employ language discursively and the example of Blake,
just glanced at, illustrates one important result of their choice. In this
respect poetry will always be the demon “ that is to say, the redemptive
dream “ of philosophy. In our day Byron has emerged, has returned, as
a demon of great consequence. We have had ¬fty years to look back with
clarity and horror and an inevitably cynical wonderment at the spectacle
of Western Civilization. We have an Imperial view of this scene, we are “
as Byron knew himself to be, as Wordsworth (for example) deliberately
chose not to be “ “citizens of the world.” Byron™s eyes have been here
before, have seen all this. Most important of all, Byron saw himself as
part of the scene: a player, a participant, “doomed to in¬‚ict or bear.”
What a difference it makes to survey the Great Wars™ bestial ¬‚oors from
the vantage of Vietnam, Palestine, Northern Ireland “ Bosnia, Kosovo,
Cambodia, Chile, Uganda . . .
How does one live in such a world and with such a disillusioned view
of it, being in it? Byron™s verse poses that question over and over again “
it is one of his “leading tendencies,” to pose the question and to keep
posing it. Here is one famous posing (from Childe Harold™s Pilgrimage IV ):
± Byron and Romanticism
But let us ponder boldly; ™tis a base
Abandonment of reason to resign
Our right of thought, our last and only place
Of refuge; this, at least, shall still be mine:
Though from our birth the faculty divine
Is chained and tortured, cabin™d, cribb™d, con¬ned
And bred in darkness, lest the truth should shine
Too brightly for the unprepar´ d mind,
e
The beam pours in, for time and skill will couch the blind.
(st. ±·)

The truth of this text comes as the contradiction between its “what”
and “how.” “[R]eason” and a “right of thought” are declared “our last
and only place of refuge,” and the argument is that a persistence of
disciplined inquiry will bring enlightenment. But even assuming this
actual result, what then? To see thus clearly, we now grow to see, is to
be astonished by a visible darkness stretching back across the forty-nine
stanzas before this one and forward to forty-four that directly follow it, all
linked to “the electric chain of that despair” (st. ±·) which is the Byronic
byword. You shall know the truth and it will not set you free: that is an
essential part of the message here.
It is not the whole of the message “ or rather, the text is imagining itself
beyond its discursive form. The chain of despair is electric, forbidding
rest or any but momentary comforts. To be Byronic is precisely not to
be laid asleep in body to become a living soul. So beyond the dream of
reason and its right of thought is the driving verse, the famous passion
emblemized by those astonishing enjambments that fractured for ever
the purity of the Spenserian inheritance:
I know not why”but standing thus by thee
It seems as if I had thine inmate known,
Thou Tomb! And other days come back to me
With recollected music, though the tone
Is changed and solemn, like the cloudy groan
Of dying thunder on the distant wind;
Yet could I seat me by this ivied stone
Till I had bodied forth the heated mind,
Forms from the ¬‚oating wreck which Ruin leaves behind;
And from the planks, far shatter™d o™er the rocks,
Build me a little bark of hope, once more
To battle with the ocean and the shocks
Of the loud breakers, and the ceaseless roar
Which rushes on the solitary shore
±
General analytical and historical introduction
Where all lies founder™d that was ever dear:
But could I gather from the wave-worn store
Enough for my rude boat, where should I steer?
There woos no home, no hope, nor life, save what is here . . .
There is the moral of all human tales;
™Tis but the same rehearsal of the past;
First Freedom, and then Glory”when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption”barbarism at last,
And History, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page, “ ™tis better written here
Where gorgeous Tyranny hath thus amass™d
All treasures, all delights, that eye or ear,
Heart, soul, could seek, tongue ask”Away with words! draw near.

“Admire, exult, despise, laugh, weep, “ for here / There is such matter
for all feeling: “” (±°“±°). And so on, relentlessly. It has been said
that Byron™s verse can™t be appreciated in brief quotation. These stanzas
illustrate why (and how) that™s true. This is verse observing its own passion
of thought, the passion of its insistence, its determination to think and
think again and again. The imagined “refuge” “ the dreams of home,
hope, and life “ are precisely “here,” in these moving lines that signal a
decision never to cease this side of an absolute extinction. Nor is there
any thought that the thinking will come out “right,” for this is thinking
that lives in its expenditures. Unlike Wordsworth (once again), Byron™s
writing begins and thrives in disillusion. At its ¬nest moments it is either
ludic or it is failing. Like Beckett, however, the texts rise to unbuild
themselves repeatedly. In the process they cast not dark shadows but a
kind of invigorated negative textual space. So here “meaning” slips free
of every conclusion, including the idea of conclusiveness, and fuses with
its eventuality.
Lyric self-expression marks a Romantic ethos, and this verse fairly
epitomizes its style. So for a hundred years “Byronism” in poetry was
another name for “Romanticism.” At that point, with the emergence
of Modernism™s neo-classical demands, a different style of Romanti-
cism was summoned from the deep Romantic chasm. This was called
“The Greater Romantic Lyric.” It is not a form that Byron culti-
vated, and on the one occasion when he undertook it, in Canto III of
Childe Harold, he did so only to heat it to meltdown. His practice fore-
cast what would emerge in late twentieth-century Romantic scholar-
ship, starting with the immensely in¬‚uential work of Geoffrey Hartman
and Paul DeMan. Romantic lyricism, we came to see, was a ¬eld of
± Byron and Romanticism
“aporias” and brave self-con¬‚ictions. But this was not to deconstruct the
art of Romanticism, it was to break off from a neo-classical reading of
that art. (To point this out here, let me hasten to add, is not to say that
the neo-classical reading is “wrong,” it is merely to signal its case and its
kind.)
Byron™s cultural re-emergence in the late twentieth century is thus an
historical fate. Who else could redeem Romantic self-expression from
the conceptual heavens that threatened it? Byron™s lyric style became
Romanticism™s dark angel when his work was of¬cially cast off and
set apart. That critical move, which can be given a precise historical
locus as we know, would insulate Byron from the aesthetic challenge
raised by deconstruction. His work was invisible through deconstruc-

<<

. 3
( 50 .)



>>