Monday, 24 May 2010

The secreted world

This passage from Jameson's new Valences of the Dialectic is cool enough:
We have indeed secreted a human age out of ourselves as spiders secrete their webs: an immense, all encompassing ceiling ... which shuts down visibility on all sides even as it absorbs all the formerly natural elements in its habitat, transmuting them into its own man-made substance. Yet within this horizon of immanence we wander as alien as tribal people, or visitors from outer space, admiring its unimaginably complex and fragile filigree and recoiling from its bottomless potholes, lounding against a rainwall of exotic and artificial plants or else agonising among poisonous colours and lethal stems we were not taught to avoid. The world of the human age is an aesthetic pretext for grinding terror or pathological ecstasy, and in its comsos, all of it drawn from the very fibres of our own being and at one with ever post-natural cell more alien to us than nature itself, we continue murmuring Kant's old questions -- What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope? -- under a starry heaven no more responsive than a mirror or a spaceship, not understanding that they require the adjunct of an ugly and bureaucratic representational qualification: what can I know in this system? What should I do in this world completely invented by me? What can I hope for alone in an altogether human age?
This could go further. It could, for instance, lose the slightly alarmed, nervy tone and embrace the exhilaration of this artificial world -- could register, in other words, the manifold possibilities of bliss it offers us. And more to the point, it might note that we have secreted this world for a reason, and that reason is prophylactic, as an oyster secrets the pearl. That this world is defensive, against the depredations of nature. Like a sort of Maginot line, with this important difference: that our world, more or less, works.

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