FAME: IS IT REALLY HOLLOW?

Fame is not anything like we expect.  Fame is an ‘outside’ experience which has no correlation with our ‘inside’ experience—with ourselves, with who we are.  This is why fame so often leads to madness.  It splits the person.  But what if the ‘inner self’ wishes for fame and does not get it, that could ‘split us’ and lead to madness, as well.  “Sweet fame” is how the Romantic poets referred to it—it was considered a worthy ambition for the poet. Perhaps fame is a comfort to some, a vindication, a desire to spread goodness and beauty.  We are not here to simply disparage it.

But we suspect fame is often misunderstood.

How is it…hollow?

Let’s see…the first myth of fame which needs destroying: fame is not adoration; it is, in fact, its opposite.

To be “talked about” is the last thing a good moral reputation needs.

And, as the famous Poe once quoted, “No Indian prince to his palace has more followers than a thief to the gallows.”

A hanging draws great crowds, and disgusting curiosity is enough, in itself, to crown fame upon almost anyone.

We hear that some writer is famous, and we often don’t know how they came by that fame.  We often have no idea.

We assume their fame is because they write well.

This is mostly naive.

There are millions of beautiful women.  Why do only some—for their “beauty”—become famous?

Think about it.

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, James Joyce and his Ulysses, Charles Baudelaire and his Fleur du Mal, Allen Ginsberg, and his Howl, Nabokov’s Lolita, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, just to name six famous modern examples, all owe their fame to law courts and cases of public morality. (one might note: the authors here are all men)

These are not just six ‘juicy’ works—these are icons in the top ten of Modern Literature, period.

Fame by cheating?

Poe—mentioned above—was chaste in manner, but his fame exists for another dubious reason: parody.

The Raven, Poe’s famous poem, was immediately parodied when it was first published.  Poe was reviled, as a harsh critic, in certain circles: parody and dislike often leads to fame, as well.

Another example which quickly springs to mind is the ridicule which greeted works of modern art—Marcel Duchamp and his museum-placed urinal—or the indignation elicited by new works of music.

The Beatles, in a sense, were parodied by The Monkees, a “manufactured” Beatles-type band for TV, and this leads to the question: is fame always a formula?

Those who worship the Beatles as sophisticated musicians often forget that children made up most of their audience when they first attained fame, and later, too, with their film and album, Yellow Submarine.

But is this such a bad thing?

We can almost say that fame is produced in two ways:

1. Sexually, offending child-like innocence—Flaubert, Joyce, Baudelaire, Ginsberg, Nabokov, and Lawrence.

2. Naively, offering up child-like innocence for sophisticated adult disapproval—Poe (“Once upon a midnight dreary”) The Beatles (“Yea, yea, yea”).

We could simplify the two types above by calling them the 1. Tragic and 2. Comic routes to fame.

The really famous will often feature a hybrid of the two:

For instance, when people found drug references (not innocent) in Beatle John’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” song, inspired by a drawing done by his kid (innocent).

Poe was ridiculed for a “childish” poem, “The Raven,” but was attacked for depraved habits, as well.

This interpretation of fame which we are now outlining is more accurate than the commonly used: Offends bourgeois taste.

Flaubert and Baudelaire date from 1857, and “Howl” went to trial in 1957, so we are looking at a 100 year window of sex, fame, and modernity, the so-called Tragic path.

T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, Edna Millay, W.C. Williams, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath have had some success, but since Plath’s “Daddy” was published in the wake of her suicide in 1962, not one poem has become famous, not like “The Raven,” anyway, or one of Frost’s little gems; that’s a drought of 50 years, and we now live in a ‘social media’ age where things “go viral” all the time.

Recently, thanks to Twitter and Facebook, a poem by Patricia Lockwood called “Rape Joke” made a stir.  The numbers were not phenomenal, but they were pretty good for the ‘poetry world.’

The raw content of “Rape Joke” could easily be filed under Tragic, and yet in a gesture to the “hybrid” characterization mentioned above, Lockwood’s poem “jokes,” also—if grimly.

We published a response to “Rape Joke” on Scarriet.  One reader reacted to it angrily, which we—writing about our experience as an innocent child—never saw coming.

Perhaps we have entered a Post-Famous-Poem Age.

Maya Angelou asks in her 1978 poem, “Still I Rise:” “Does my sexiness upset you?”

Patricia Lockwood makes this rueful comment in her poem, “Rape Joke:”

“The rape joke is if you write a poem called Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.”

POST-MODERN BATTLE: LACAN VERSUS SAID

The great post-Freudian psycho-analyst, Jacques Lacan.

LACAN:

 

This passion of the signifier now becomes a new dimension of the human condition in that it is not only man who speaks, but that in man and through man it speaks, that his nature is woven by effects in which is to be found the structure of language, of which he becomes the material, and that therefore resounds in him, beyond what could be conceived of by a psychology of ideas, the relation of speech.

It speaks in the Other, I say, designating by the Other the very locus evoked by the recourse to speech in any relation in which the Other intervenes.

The phallus reveals its function here. In Freudian doctrine, the phallus is not a phantasy, if by that we mean an imaginary effect. Nor is it such an object (part-, internal, good, bad, etc.) in the sense that this term tends to accentuate the reality pertaining in a relation. It is even less the organ, penis or clitoris, that it symbolizes. And it is not without reason that Freud used the reference to the simulacrum that it represented for the Ancients.

For the phallus is a signifier, a signifier whose function, in the intra-subjective economy of the analysis, lifts the veil perhaps from the function it performed in the mysteries. For it is the signifier intended to designate as a whole the effect of the signified, in that the signifier conditions them by its presence as a signifier.

 

SAID:

 

We must take seriously Vico’s great observation that men make their own history; that what they can know is what they have made.

The Orient was Orientalized not only because it was discovered to be “Oriental” in all those ways considered commonplace by an average nineteenth-century European, but also because it could be—that is, submitted to being—made Oriental. There is very little consent to be found, for example, in the fact that Flaubert’s encounter with an Egyptian courtesan produced a widely influential model of the Oriental woman; she never spoke of herself, she never represented her emotions, presence, or history. He spoke for and represented her. He was foreign, comparatively wealthy, male, and these were historical facts of domination that allowed him not only to possess Kuchuk Hanem physically but to speak for her and tell his readers in what way she was “typically Oriental.” My argument is that Flaubert’s situation of strength in relation to Kuchuk Hanem was not an isolated instance.

It is very easy to argue that knowledge about Shakespeare or Wordsworth is not political whereas knowledge about contemporary China or the Soviet Union is.

The determining impingement on most knowledge produced in the contemporary West (and here I speak mainly about the United States) is that it be nonpolitical, that is, scholarly, academic, impartial, above partisan or small-minded doctrinal belief. One can have no quarrel with such an ambition in theory, perhaps, but in practice the reality is much more problematic. No one has ever devised a method for detaching the scholar from the circumstances of life.

 

We may as well face it: 20th century scholarship and intellectualism is mostly pure horror.  Is this the way of literature?  Has it always—must it always—be this way?  Writing happens when something is wrong.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t exist: who needs ink if all of us are eating melons in the garden? Who needs letters sent—when no one is absent?  But the trials and tribulations of the 20th century were so complex, massive, and malicious, scholarship seemed to lose its mind.  Everything became hidden—words were used to hide.

We see the two poles above:

Jacques Lacan (b: 1901): A rhetoric obsessed with absence: so absent it is present, ad infinitum. The rhetoric of psychology and language—we do not speak language, language speaks us, etc.— as opposed to politics.

Edward Said (b:1935): The rhetoric of massively present political inequality, colonial, imperial, racist, gendered, tallied up in the plainest way possible, but finally done in such a general way, that it becomes a rhetoric of insult which insults no one, the inequality so staggering that no complaint has any effect.

The reader witnesses a kind of atom bomb explosion, but learns nothing specific or useful—nothing to make their life happier or easier.

Morality, overly poetic because of religion, becomes not more accessible and scientific, but is simply abandoned.

Philosophy is given over to impotence in the face of oppressive, material power.

It makes no difference who we choose here: the hopelessly obscure (Lacan) or the self-evidently obvious (Said).

WINNER: SAID

 

 

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