by Joyelle McSweeney on Nov.22, 2010
I’ve been working on a 40 page essay on Bolaño and how Art leaks, flows, or surges from the evil eye; I’ve been thinking of Nazi Literatures in the America as materializing the physical co-incidence of Art and evil—evil because it inverts, perverts, controverts the homologously normalizing forms of the body, society, and the text. Nazi Literatures in the Americas is a fake-textbook (fake, so already artificial and evil); at once bio- and biblio-graphical, it gives the birth and death dates for a collection of Fascist writers, synopses of their lives, a description of their careers and the fates of their writing. Their actual writing is absent. Bolaño’s short prose is frequently marked by flimsy/improbable/hasty frame narratives through which a comparably excessive main narrative spurts and flows; in Nazi Literatures in the Americas we get only the frame narratives, without the main narratives, the overproduction, the issue, the Art. In this sense we get only a set of collapsed evil eyes, with the Art drained out of them.
However, reading up on Wilfred Owen and shell-shock, I’ve come across information about the specific therapy administered to him in Craiglockhart Hospital. Owen’s doctor prescribed metrical poetry writing and other art activities to help his shell-shocked patients re-ordinate themselves to society’s temporality. Here is Brock’s description of shell-shock, as quoted in scholar Meredith Martin’s essay “Therapeutic Measures: The Hydra and Wilfred Owen at Craiglockhart War Hospital.”(Modernism/modernity, Volume 14, Number 1, January 2007 ):
The shell-shock patient is out of Time altogether. If a “chronological,” he is at least not a
historical being. Except in so far as future or past may contain some memory or prospect
definitely gratifying, or morbidly holding him, he dismisses both. He lives for the moment,
on the surface of things. His memory is weak (amnesia), his will is weak (aboulia),
he is improvident and devoid of foresight. He is out of Space, too; he shrinks from his
immediate surroundings (geophobia), or at most he faces only certain aspects of it; he is
a specialist à Outrance. (from Brock’s postwar volume Health and Conduct, p. 146.)
As Martin summarizes, the goal of Brock’s treatment of Owen and others was “[to force] the patients to actively and metrically order their mental chaos in new contexts of time (the five-beat line of a poem, a first person narrative or short-story, a play) and space(a diagram of the city, a lecture, a description of local museums.)”
Against this regime/n of form and genre, Brock “warned against the dangers of ‘art for art’s sake,’ where art become a kind of drug that separates the patient from the social world, an extreme form of outrance.”. Here is a literalization of Derrida’s modeling of Art as the pharmikon, the drug, the supplement; for Brock, ‘art for art’s Sake’ entailed a counter-therapy, a counter-regime to the ordinating regime of form and genre whose goal was to turn the shell-shocked patients into functioning soldiers and integrate them back into body of civilized temporality—or, actually, the War.
Brock’s prescription of form and genre, his proscription of Art-for-Art’s-Sake as an anti-social drug, prompts me to reassess the thrust of Nazi Literatures in the Americas. These fake authors are not just evil because they are Nazis; they’re evil because they are Artists. Their Nazidom is a kind of metonym for the extremity of their commitment. People who’ve gone off ‘the grid’ actually make their own grid. When you get to the point in which you are so caught up in your frame narrative about Art that you stop making Art, you could also say that everything you make is Art, your whole life is Art, unwholesome Art, out of wack with Society’s temporality, Art for Art’s Sake.
This in turn makes me think of Joseph Beuys, whose personal charisma and motto ‘Every person an artist” is to this day held up by critics as evidence of his inexpungeable Nazi instincts. Viewing this through Bolaño’s Nazi authors and Brock’s notion of Art as both drug and anti-drug, then we can start to see that Beuys’s critics perceived something very apt about him. His charisma is his Art. Art is charisma—a charism, a charm. It is contagious, antisocial, occult. If it begins to leak, unregulated, from diverse cites and bodies, rather than in carefully cultivated forms and doses in approved precincts, it entails a whole new evil regime.