Tag Archives: marketplace

Ezra Pound – Gaudier-Brezka (1916)

A “memoir” of the sculptor who worked mostly between 1912 and 1914 before heading to the Trenches, where he as killed at the age of 23. The format is strange, consisting mostly of previously published pieces (by G-B, Pound, Ford and other) on the Vorticist movement or Vorticist works. Pound also includes letters written to him and others by G-B when we has was in the Trenches. Distinguishing the editorial voice from the primary documents is often difficult, since Pound is prone to insert paraphrase and summary without warning. Can read the form of this book as one more instance of bricolage that characterizes in a different way the mode of constructivist, vorticist artwork. 

Pound repeats over and over the centrla tenets of Gaudier-Brezka’s aesthetic theory:

Sculptural feeling  is the appreciation of planes in relation.
Sculptural ability is the defining of these masses by planes.

It should be pointed out that “masses” does not have a reference in the first tenet despite the use of “these.” Determining the material of art is an ambiguous enterprise throughout.

Many themes from imagism and Vorticism are recycled in these pages.:

“Great art is a stasis.”

Lyric is poetry in which music seemingly bursts into speech, while imagism is that art in which sculpture or poetry seems to “come over into speech.”

Symbolism turns the symbol into a metonym, whereas as imagism preserves the absolute metaphor.

The image is that which presents and emotional or intellectual complex in an instant of time.
The image is not an idea, but a node or cluster through which ideas are constantly rushing.

But there is also some curious, novel stuff. For instance, his reading of his own poem “In a station at the metro” highlights (indirectly) the importance of the colon as a mode of equivalence that suppressed the distancing of simile. There is an immediacy of equivalence. 

Also, on the art market: Pound is happy that Quinn has been able to collect most of G-B’s work, so that it does not get distributed into the market, owned by people that simply wait for prices to rise. This comes right after Pound directly addresses G-B’s death. The consolidation of his work somehow compensates for his death. Relate this to Pound’s connection to an older system of patronage, etc.

The “caressable” artwork: by which he means the ability for the subject to be caressed by the work: he argues that the more it is caressed, the more its stimulating character is diminished. Relate this to the kick and the caress in Murphy.

Mentions that Hulme, as a child, would pester the local blacksmith for a piece of metal absolutely square. Just a ridiculous anecdote.

Concludes with a late essay distinguishing the satisfactions of art and the satisfactions of life. They are different, but both valuable. Art stands in opposition to the demands made of social necessity, which is inauthentic necessity imposed by powerful imbeciles. The artwork is supposed to transform that relationship between art and necessity: this is imaged in the hacking off of large pieces of rock from the stone.


Sianne Ngai – “Our Aesthetic Categories” (2010)

PMLA, 125.4

Ngai makes the argument that our aesthetic experience is always mediated by certain aesthetic categories, at once both affective and conceptual. She proposes the zany, interesting, and cute, each of which are associated with a “binding process” of capitalism:

Production, in the case of the zany (an aesthetic about performance as not just artful play but also affective labor)l circulation, in the case of the interesting (a serial, recursive aesthetic of informational relays and communicative excahnge); and consumption, in the case of the cute (an aesthetic disclosing the surprisingly wide spectrum of feelings, ranging from tenderness to aggression, that we harbor toward ostensively subordinate and unthreatening commodities). (948-9)

These three categories all touch on the ambiguous oscillation between labor and play that all artworks are forced through. They are undeniably important but also trivial. It is their triviality that marks historical positioning of the aesthetic today. How can triviality (small, transient, etc.) be “defended” as such? While some would relegate these categories to mere style,” Ngai argues for their status as discursive judgments (of course, they are both): she points out that Kant’s “taste” is constituted by the “error” of “confusing” subjective judgments with objective fact as well as the way in which the aesthetic subject toggles between aesthetic and nonaesthetic (practical) judgment. One wonders, in fact, how much this essay is merely updating Kant.

She uses Jameson’s Postemodernism–where he distinguishes between taste, analysis and evaluation–as means for showing how taste can get transformed from pointing out that something is “merely interesting” to an evaluation–a higher form of judgment–of the very category of taste that made the original judgment possible. In other words, judgments of taste do not need to apply to specific artworks, but can be directed at (and instigated by?? we can’t let that part of Kant drop out, right?) whole genres, bodies of work, historical situations (and the dispositif tout court?).

Very interesting overall in the way that it makes the “world of taste,” i.e. postmodern consumerist culture, into a “useful tool” for political evaluation. [Relate this to Arendt and Bourdieu and rigorously mark out the differences–there are many.] Still, I feel like the affective dimension drops out towards the end…gets sublated by a critical practice based on a more or less “appropriative” model. The strength of the article is in its ability to see affect, and its immanent connection to economic and cultural forms of exchange, as marking out the originary contour of the modern subject. Why not then intervene affectively–that is tastefully?

Christina Rossetti – “Goblin Market” (1875)

Tells the story of two sisters, the elder Lizzie and the younger Laura. Laura is tempted by the Goblin’s trying to sell her a bunch of exotic fruits. Lizzie holds her back but can only do so for a little while. Laura sells her hair for some fruits, but then cannot quench her appetite and the goblins disappear. She pines away. The goblins return but only Lizzie can hear or see them. To help her sister, she tries to buy some fruit, but the Goblins will only sell it to her if she eats it. They try to force-feed hear and the smashed fruits gets all over her face. They return her penny and she goes to let Laura lick her face. But the taste is bitter. She flies into convulsions and almost dies. But she recovers. Surprise! Both sisters eventually marry, bearing their own “fruit,” to whom they tell the story of the nasty goblin merchants.

Rossetti is obviously worried about the market. Part of the problem is that it is impossible merely to taste–since taste is always already implicated in a cycle of appetite that cannot be quenched on the terms set by the market. Laura becomes listless, yes, but also voracious. Can think of this as a rewriting of the Lotos-Eaters. While males can taste the pleasures of the market and afford to not work, women, in order to taste those pleasures, must bear the burden of labor that is the precondition of something like the male aesthetic dimension.

The eating of fruit as violation of the aesthetic dimension.

Contrasting figures of Eve and Mary. How does Rossetti solve the antinomy of female sexuality: portrayed as always-already fallen but require to be completely pure nevertheless. How does this connect with the discourse of the secret and with purity and virginity more broadly (in Hardy, Brontës, etc.)


George Gissing – New Grub Street (1891)

Jasper Milvain, great Darwinian survivor in the evolving literary market, has two sisters, Dora and Maud (whom he convinces to start writing children’s stories), to whom he constantly spouts out his cynical and frank views on what it takes to get ahead as a writer in the 1880s: ingenuity without integrity. In the country he meets the Yules: John Yule (a somewhat rich  businessman); Alred Yule (a struggling writer); Marian Yule (Alfred’s daughter and assistant, and later Jasper’s almost-wife). Eventually, the patriarch of this family will leave an inheritance to his family. Meanwhile, Edwin Reardon, married to Amy Yule (sister to John Yule), is struggling to keep up his repute as a promising author, but is failing to do because he is impractical, unable write down to the commercial demands of the marketplace. His friend, Harold Biffen, who calls his style “ignoble realism” (similar to Zola’s naturalism), is also a commercial failure. Reardon and Amy sink into poverty and eventually separate. Jasper keeps climbing the rungs, and becomes engaged to Marian after she inherits some money. Her father disapproves of the match because of Jasper’s relation to Fadge, an editor of a journal that consistently excoriates Alfred’s works. Amy also inherits money, but her and Reardon don’t get back together until Reardon is on his deathbed. Biffen almost loses his manuscript in a fire, but saves it in a dramatic scene reminiscent of the Gaskell scene in North and South. Jasper breaks off his engagement with Marian after her inheritance fails to come through. His sisters marry folks in the marketplace, and he marries Amy Yule, and soon after becomes editor of The Current, and thus achieving his dream. Biffen commits suicide after losing hope in both his literary future and his romantic future with Amy.

An important novel because of its depiction of the professional author’s position in a social world increasingly controlled by the forces of market capitalism. Indeed, one can think of this as a response to Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy: author’s may be the guardians of sweetness in light, but this guardianship is premised on a certain amount of material wealth–and more broadly on a system that has inherent class, race and gender disparities. Carlyle had already foreseen this problem in 1840 when  in Hero as Man of Letters he parsed out the double-nature of professional authorship.

The struggling idealists in the novel (Reardon and Biffen) have a complicated relationship to the Arnoldian ideal. Yes, they sight-translate from Homer, but they also aspire to be realistic in a way that is anything but a return to a golden age of Hellenic representation. Biffen calls it “an absolute realism in the sphere of the ignobly decent” (144). This is frequently contrasted to both Dickens and Zola: this first turns low class people into absurd tragic-comedic heros, the latter into tragic heroes. This is an emergence of a realism that will be peculiarly modern–and it is reflected by the form of the novel that contains it. Gissing constantly draws attention to the forces of production that allow or disallow the author “to produce,” as Benjamin would later say. This connects New Grub Street with Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and with Jacob’s Room.

In borader ideological terms, the book can be read as intervention into the debate over culture’s relationship to society–a late intervention into the utilitarian debate that spans the century. Crucially, this novel (and the novels of Reardon and Biffen) are not mechanical mimetic organs, but rather aesthetic ideals that are worked for and persistently defended. Can relate this to Lukacs’ Theory of the Novel.

The Museum Reading, “the valley of the shadow of books,” is a crucial image that connects this book to both Jacob’s Room and A Room of One’s Own.  It represents a literature that is dead–fit for copying and recopying….

Key Passages:

Art must be practices as a trade, at all events in our time. This is the age of trade. Of course, if one refuses to be of one’s time, and yet hasn’t the means to live independently, what can result but breakdown and wretchedness? (51)

Connect this idea of untimeliness to Arnold’s idea of the untimely, penultimate critic. Gissing, again, giving material flesh to Arnold’s thoughts.

For months he had been living in this way; endless circling, perpetual beginning, followed by frustration. A sign of exhaustion, it of course made exhaustion more complete. At times he was on the border-land of imbecility; his mind looked into a cloudy chaos, a shapeless whirl of nothings.  (123)

Connect this to the opening of Daniel Deronda, where Eliot talks about the arbitrariness of making a beginning. Gissing gives on more turn to the problem of beginnings (use Copperfield as an example, and before that, Pride and Prejudice), by showing the physicality the process of writing. Reardon’s investment in his story backfires onto his psyche. New Grub Street, however, starts with ease–but with Jasper Milvain, cracking an egg as a man gets hung and bell tolls–the convergence of the political, personal, etc.–the fiction of freedom, the tightness of the ISA–is the condition of all beginnings. Also, the idea of “the abyss” is picked up by Forster in Howard’s End, when talking about Leonard Bast. That narrative similarly describes the precariousness of the petty-bourgeois existence.

You have to become famous before you can secure the attention that would give you fame. (385)

A motto coined by Jasper Milvain, which spell out clearly the Catch-22 structuring the lives of just about every author. Marks out the (now-legible) relationship between fiction and the critics as overdetermined.

It was an excellent piece of writing (see the Wayside, June 1884), and in places touched with true emotion. (462)

A bid on realism by way of extra-diagetic empirical verification.

 I would have the paper address itself to the quarter-educated; that is to day, the great new generation that is being turned out by the Board schools, the young men and women who can just read, but are incapable of sustained attention…bits of stories, bits of description, bits of scandal, bits of jokes, bit sof statistics, bits of foolery. Am I not right? Everything must be short, two inches at utmost; their attention can’t sustain itself beyond two inches. Even chat is too solid for them: they want chit-chat. (460)

This vision of bite-size prose comes toward the end of the novel, and has an obvious historical referent in Tit-Bits. An interesting commentary on the size of writing (contrast to the sheer bigness of the Victorian long poem), the time of reading (cf. I.A. Richards and Quiller-Couch), the fragment now reified as that best suited to the demands of industrialized consciousness: the quarter-educated.