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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Más metarrelatos

One thing I like doing is seeing what the metanarrative of my own career is all about. I guess I can afford that amount of navel-gazing because I have written a lot, been around for long enough, but still have a ways to go, assuming I want to retire in 15 years. That is two more "tenure cycles" more or less. That means I can write a few more books after the one I am on now. I have to think hard about what I really want to accomplish.

Anyway, the narrative of my book The Twilight of the Avant-Garde was the paradoxical survival of late modernism. Now I am thinking in a slightly different way about this because of my interest in the rhetoric of national exceptionality. Late modernism draws on this rhetoric quite heavily, so I am torn between my sympathy for the poetry itself and my suspicion of the narratives that justify it. Take Valente: no other poet works harder to inscribe himself in an aspirational narrative of triumphant modernity, looking Janus-faced toward "Europe" and toward Spanish mysticism--a Spanish mysticism interpreted syncretically in relation to Islam, Judaism, and zen.


Eco famously defined ur-Fascism in terms of a syncretistic "cult of tradition." New Age thought is implicitly Fascistic, then? That's what he says:
This new culture had to be syncretistic. Syncretism is not only, as the dictionary says, "the combination of different forms of belief or practice;" such a combination must tolerate contradictions. Each of the original messages contains a sliver of wisdom, and although they seem to say different or incompatible things, they all are nevertheless alluding, allegorically, to the same primeval truth.

As a consequence, there can be no advancement of learning. Truth already has been spelled out once and for all, and we can only keep interpreting its obscure message.

If you browse in the shelves that, in American bookstores, are labeled New Age, you can find there even Saint Augustine, who, as far as I know, was not a fascist. But combining Saint Augustine and Stonehenge -- that is a symptom of Ur-Fascism.

Then almost everyone I know is an Ur-Fascist. Not that everyone is into everything New Age, but that generally there is a tolerance for just about everything, without much concern for the contradictions. This is just middlebrow multi-cultural college-town America, now. I associate our current American-exceptionalist Fascism more with born-again Christians who brook no tolerance for contradiction.

But anyway, Umberto Eco's remarks are a useful reminder of how cultural exceptionalisms (whether ur-Fascist or not, leaving that as a debatable point) are not incompatible with religious syncretism. Look at Lezama Lima. I was surprised by my first Grad course on American modernism when the professor, a Jungian, emphasized all the occult crap that modernists were into. H.D., Yeats, and even Pound. Surely that was the most embarrassing aspect of modernism, one that I felt should be swept under the rug. Now I see things differently. Not that I respect it any more than I did, but that now I see why it might have been necessary--and interesting to study.

Of course, the American exceptionalism of Williams or Ginsberg did not prevent them from identifying with the Spanish exceptionalism of Lorca. That was one of my main insights in Apocryphal Lorca. I also talked about "multi-cultural" Lorca. Now multiculturalism is also ur-Fascist, if we believe the author of The Name of the Rose. Exceptionalists are more likely to "respect" other forms of exceptionalism or Völkisch thought.

So aside from its anti-rationalist side, why is spiritual syncretism ur-Fascist?


Leslie B. said...

The kind of spiritual syncretism Eco is talking about is ur-Fascist because it has no coherence or rigor of its own -- which is on purpose, a manipulative technique to keep people looking for coherence (that single message all phrases lead to) and also because the point is to have no content, and only wield power.

This is how new age and born again ideologies work. I know because I have really studied this, I have had to figure these people out in real life.

Other syncretic religions, e.g. vodun, aren't ur-Fascist because they have rigor and content. NB tolerance for ambiguity is not the same as tolerance of contradiction. Even the occult is or can be like this. You always need good readers, not freakin' flakes, and learned experts, not gurus and mumbo-jumbo.

Jonathan said...

I hadn't given this much thought, though I am child of 70s. How does bland tolerance for almost everything create opportunities for cults, as well, to operate? How does the refusal to call bullshit on anything work into this?

Leslie B. said...

70s were not as flaky as 80s and 90s.
People in 70s still had some brain cells.

Bland tolerance is part of disinterest. "Oh, how nice." All of it is very Christian, you are patient knowing people will come to Jesus in the end. Bland tolerance for almost anything interdicts analysis. Of course you would not call b.s. since you are purveying it. You are just waiting for people to come to yours.