MY MAIN MEN
WALTER BENJAMIN AND BERTOLT BRECHT
TOP: FRED DAPPRICH, PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE ARENSBERGS’ HOLLYWOOD HOME
BOTTOM: CHARLES SHEELER, PHOTOGRAPHS OF THEIR LA HOME
SOME THOUGHTS FROM 2012
"Down with Memory, source of custom. Personal experience renewed," writes Oswald. The conception of experiential memory has changed quite drastically over time, in some sort of "progression" from Locke’s wax tablet of experience to Kant, German Idealism, and the Empiricists, to the Pragmatists (James in particular). The order of that might be wrong, or overlapping, or reductive, but the idea is just this—that at present, we’ve come to understand that psychological production of memory is just as vibrantly fed from imagined experience than from "real" experience. Enter the paranoiac—convictions more "real" than the psychologically "normative" subject. Yet the materiality of the body has fluctuated and drifted in and out of historical reckoning with the mind/soul. "Memory is not an instrument for surveying the past but its theater," writes Benjamin on childhood. "It is the medium of past experience, just as the earth is a medium in which dead cities lie buried. He who seeks to approach his own buried past must conduct himself like a man digging." Benjamin’s conception of history as something to be "dug" out suggests his interest in history as something of descent—something that has been rolled down to us as subjects of cosmogonic history as its path disapparates behind it. Yet it also evokes a materiality of the mind inseparable from the body.
It comes as no surprise that the relationship between body and mind—that the ingestion of a body supposed a mystical absorption of the mind/soul—has remained a subject of inquiry in art and literature since the “birth of the body in the 17th century” (155). (A different) Jacques Lacan, who treated Artaud during a stint of his inconsistent, but lifelong, psychiatric treatment, forbade his protegees access to Artaud’s writings, considering them “dangerous” during a time when the regularity of social behavior was, in fact, still thought to be affected by a “belief in occult forces” discussed in ‘Caliban’ (143). The subversive belief in the empowerment of subjects via the ‘magical’ power of intellectual-psychological matter has been at once enormously repressed and exploited throughout history. The The setting of the body in distinct opposition or struggle with the mind is a premise of the rationalization of the body discussed in Caliban as a precursor to the mechanization of the body under Capitalism—Descarte’s initial insistence of the divorce between the corporeal and the soul, the divorce of intellect with the materiality of the body held fast for hundreds of years (and in many ways holds fast still). The Caliban text discusses Foucault’s observation of the mechanization of the body to the point that faculties develop as ostensibly exterior to the body—“The product of this alienation from the body, in other words, was the development of individual identity, conceived precisely as ‘otherness’ from the body, and in perennial antagonism with it.” (151) This divorce of mind and body in historical thought swam upstream across time to James, and finally, to Freud, with diversionary tracts and loops and tributaries through Surrealism, avant-garde performance, etc., and now returns to us as intellectuals, mind and body intact, but free of its mystical threat to pre-/early Capitalist growths. The problematization of this phenomenon—this loss and regaining of the body—lies precisely in science’s recovery of the body and mind as a unified subject through neuroscience, as if neuroscience invented the phenomenon, as if the body were materialized out of thin air.