Mar 5, 2010 [17:14]
Mar 5, 2010 [23:54]
This is my first entry. Blogging is a way for me to relax, but it's also genuinely useful to me, since it's what I'm most interested in at the moment. So the tone of these entries will not really be cathartic, confessional, expository, polemic, etc., but it will be a kind of curiosity, since it will be something that I'm genuinely interested in and that I'm even somewhat confused about myself.
Let's talk about the knight. The knight is someone who, paradoxically, seeks the unexpected. This is a paradox: one cannot seek the unexpected.
The knight (we have in mind Don Quixote and the knight from Keats's poem, La Belle Dame Sans Merci) is a figure that combines romanticism and folly. The romanticism of the knight is his /honesty/. It is the way in which the knight commits his body or his spirit. So, in Keat's LBD, the knight is genuinely in love -- there is a sensuality there. In Don Quixote, there is always the emphasis on how much the knight suffers -- he is beaten, bruised, and so on. This sense of honesty is that which is missing from modern "romantic" interpretations of the knight (such as the Man of La Mancha) where Don Quixote is able to gain a certain intelligence only because you get the sense he never really commits to what he says, that the whole thing is a well thought-out lesson.
This sense of folly is related to the /seeking/ of the knight, the one who does/does not find what he seeks. Or, we can say, he finds two things. The first is the object of folly. Don Quixote finds the giants in the windmills, the knight in LBD finds true love in some random spirit he meets in the woods somewhere. This first finding is at once a fulfillment and leaves one with a sense of emptiness. It is both unexpected (in the sense of -- fantastic -- we did not expect giants to be there, or for some beautiful girl to be in the meads) and, of course, entirely expected.
But the knight is cleverer than this -- he finds a second unexpected thing, in the emptiness left by the fulfillment of the first. Thus, there are two things that are found, which we can call: the strong and the weak sublime. The strong sublime is the giant itself, the breathtaking experience, the unexpected but entirely expected. The weak sublime is that which remains in the sense of emptiness left by the strong sublime -- something like the Wordsworthian "shock of mild surprise".
Let's talk about this weak sublime, in the context of La Belle Dame Sans Merci. This poem is either a very bad poem by Keats, or it is about the weak sublime. The weak sublime is not the mourning of the knight, or the sense of failure or depression. Because even that is the strong sublime, one finds a tragic failure there, and one is even content with this tragedy. Thus, it's important to realize that LBD is about /success/ in this traditional reading, the success of failing the right way. We can imagine, for example, the knight overcompensating, in this sentimental poem, in order to control a situation that he did not really understand. This corresponds with the observation that -- no matter how loudly one complains, and how "clearly" the depressed person claims to see their position (as if pessimism were a form of truth), this loudness is always "successful" in that it covers up something deeper that is not understood.
Our argument here, however, will not be to simply assert that the knight is overcompensating, but we want to ask what exactly is being covered up at this moment. The intelligence and the awareness of the knight is always undecidable -- he is either an enormous idiot, or far more clever than we had imagined. And far more clever than the stupid "romantic" interpretation of Don Quixote of The Man of La Mancha. In other words, we will be claiming that this stupid complaining is related to the weak sublime.
Thus, the knight does/does not find what he seeks. The knight is /split/: there is one component of him, the honesty, romanticism, and folly, that rushes on forward and honestly commits to the situation of nobility and romanticism, that one that fights and overcompensates, and so on. But there will be a second component to the knight that has always known that the foolishness of the first moment, rushing forth, is the only way to get to that /weak sublime/ -- which has always, from the beginning, sought that weakly sublime moment, left by the sudden emptiness of the strong sublime.
This /split/ is probably the way to understand Kafka's famous one-paragraph interpretation of Don Quixote, "The Truth of Sancho Panza", where he asserted that Sancho Panza and Don Quixote where not in fact two but one (ie, one split into two) and that Sancho Panza followed his "personal demon, Don Quixote", and "gained a great many edifying lessons".
Let's talk about the weak sublime, and why we are so interested in this. I want to talk about two things: first, an interpretation of the weak sublime, as it appears in LBD. Second, I want to argue that this is a kind of "origin" in some way, and that the weak sublime will be related in a very fundamental way to how we experience the world.
Basically, in La Belle Dame, the knight falls in deeply in love with this girl and then becomes genuinely melancholic when she leaves. There is always an "honesty" here, which is figured by the body -- sweat, lethargy, listlessness -- even if the overall poem is "ironic" in some way. I keep on having to insist on the "genuineness", on the difference between a "split" Don Quixote and merely a romantic but internally consistent "romantic" misunderstanding of Don Quixote.
But can we even name a moment when this "weak sublime" appears? We cannot: there are no traditional clues that would indicate that this poem is ironic -- there are no explicit declarations, no moments of laughter, and so on. Of course, we have plenty of clues, based on what a typical Keatsian poem looks like. But this inability to name is part of the rigor of the poem -- the poem does not resort to the traditional divisions that result in an /internally consistent, but "deep"/ character, rather than a true split.
1. Further readings of LBD
2. Randomness and the world
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