Friday, August 31, 2007

Locus classicus

I'm still reading the ekphrasis ish of Classical Philology, as mentioned earlier in the blog, and still learning from, enjoying, argufying with Simon Goldhill's "What is Ekphrasis For?" Not so much because of what Goldhill says, which is illuminating, but with the way we have to write about writing; I don't mean to beat dead ekphrastic horses, either. Still... OK, here I go! The Artistotelean idea of enargeia naturally arises: the ability to make something visible; and so does phantasia, impression. Cool. But the article comfortably demonstrates that enargeia as the effect of phantasis "is a way of provoking emotion, of bypassing the intellectual and critical faculties. It sets out to make a slave of you." (7) G. describes an "argument brewing" in Longinus "over the fashionable sense of phantasia and the Stoic philosophical sense," about which I am completely ignorant. He continues, "I do not think these are discrete usages... but a conflict over how to theorize the regime of the visual and rhetorical performance in society." And it's that sort of language that has me bothered. "Theorize," "regime," "rhetorical performance," along with that foregoing bit about enslavement. True, as he says, there "is a lot at stake in how persuasion works." Yes, indeed. And "that is why there is such a focus in the ancient sources on the power of the word to astonish, confuse, and enslave." But nowhere, and not even, I think, implicitly, is the difference between antiquity's notions of "slavery" and ours ever clarified. There are some big differences being elided here, and this is so in order to enslave us into believing the the structures of rhetoric, and of writing and perhaps art altogether make slaves out of us. There's the dubious notion that critical engagement is an imposition, that a rigid template is placed upon a text to "show how the text conforms to the rules." This bugs me, though I must be among the enslaved - or am I one who (as an editor, someone who writes sometimes about writing) enslaves... it's not clear! Whatever it is it's supposed to be bad. Strangely, though perhaps inevitably, this fascinating article veers off for a while to engage the debate about "the question of a 'female voice'" (8 ff) as an "area of theoretical concern." Put plainly, looking and reading (which I don't mean to say are simple things) are fraught with "conceptual and ideological contention," down to one's gender. That space for debate is large and worthwhile, but it somehow writes over, paints over the necessarily and eternally vague (or better: mysterious) physical and mental spaces in which we create, transmit, and apprehend artistic work. The debate is imposed upon the work, and for me that's enslavement because we must conclude or even take for granted that our minds cannot be seen to have freedom. Why would we ever read, write, gaze were this to be true?

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