Friday, 19 February 2010

bring back the Luddites!

I'm not quite sure what to make of this. I used to think I could understand most modern English prose. I also used to think that the University of Cambridge was immune to the excesses of garbled postmodern opacity. Alas, not. Here is the abstract of a paper delivered to the Literary Theory Seminar yesterday evening. My provisional verdict on it is "complete twaddle". It's not just a pointless piece of abstract musing or antiquarian interest (I found plenty of examples of those as a student, and might even have been responsible for some), it's truly, madly, deeply incomprehensible.

This essay explores how to find a way of being in the world at a time when
common meanings become scarcer and the gauntness of unmediated objective
existence starker. A recent study of the poetics of place in modern French
writing (by Steven Winspur) stresses the irreducibility of ontic presence
as itself revelatory. I argue that the way humans encounter objects and
places is more problematic, not because "absolute contingency" (Curry 1999)
is not a given but because the "way" along which it is given offers a
threshold of relation which is hyperbolic. The conditions for
re-enchantment do exist, but as part of a poverty of dependent response
making itself "less" in order to "greet" the object as sacrally given, but
in a way which does not disperse the enigmatic commonality of that

The mute presence of the non-modernist spear-grass in Wordsworth's Ruined
Cottage is at once chastened and in excess of the naturalistic. What
exceeds the naturalistic is a givenness not reducible to the conditions of
description of the object. Here a plenitude of existence is already
diminished but retains its role as gift amid the scarcity of its own
reception. This section involves some debate with Paul H Fry's radically
ontic reading of Wordsworth's poetics.

The second part of the essay reflects on some fragmentary remarks in
Merleau Ponty's The Visible and the Invisible, Jean Luc Marion's notion of
the "adonné" and the themes of call and response in Jean Louis Chretien,
before adducing William Desmond's sense of the "between" further developed
in John Milbank's writing on diagonals. The between is not a mediation but
the sheerly disjunctive porosity of being, whereby nothingness is itself
open to divine invitation.

Any ethics of responsiveness (Wheeler, 2008) should include a response to
the inaffordance of origin, not as a negative idealism, but as the apex of
what it is to live in relation to existence under the radical poverty of
gift. My argument concludes that the scarcity of origin finds itself rooted
in the hyperbolic, ie in an earth offered sacral horizons, not just
frugally from within but as an active (festive) poverty before, which
generates ritual and art.

I then began to read the paper itself, just in case it got any clearer...