Thursday, 4 June 2009

With Respect to What Might Have Been

Language and what Wu Ming call ‘the mistaken side of history’.


Somewhere in Percorsi del ’68 Augusto Illuminati warns of the dangers of confusing revolution in all its destructive intent (shooting the clocks and so forth) with the historical frame we later put around its unsatisfactory achievements, which are (for better or worse) a great deal more conservative.

‘Never mistake the pattern of the nails for the structure of the house,’ was one of Faulkner’s apothegms. According to Illuminati you should likewise never see the ruins of some former politics as ‘a prequel of the rebuilding’. Destruction, opposition and/or defeat, on the one hand, and creation, re-creation and/or success, on the other, are orthogonally positioned. History is written by its victors, according to the phrase sometimes ascribed to Churchill. Or in the version which Clinton ascribed to Plato:

‘Plato said thousands of years ago: Those who tell the story rule society.’

(Bill Clinton: Remarks at a Jewish community centre in Scarsdale, NY, 2000)

And so on and so forth. The point is clear enough. The other side of history is what Wu Ming call its ‘mistaken side’ in the blurb to Manituana.


‘The form in which language is expressed itself defines subjectivity,’ according to Lacan. And this is another aspect. Lacan also (famously) has much to say on the future perfect, the ‘historical’ subject in all its completedness:

‘I identify myself in language, but only by losing myself in it like an object. What is realised in my history is not the past definite of that which was, since it is no more, nor yet the present perfect of that which has been in what I am, but the future perfect of that which I shall have been for what I’m in the process of becoming.’

(Jacques Lacan: from Part III of Fonction et champ de la parole et du langage en psychoanalyse, Rapport du Congrès de Rome,1953)

Which is to say that rather than inflecting causally the historical sequence First A then B then C… as A was the cause of B…, we might complain instead that our present state of A is explicable by our becoming B. Change what we would become, in other words, and we can change our present state:

The revolution ...
isn’t some simple event.
The revolution ...
is a daily conquest.

(Enzo del Re: La Rivoluzione)


And finally here is Benni on how restraints can be put in place through the use of nostalgic language:

‘Our dreams were better than theirs.’
‘Maybe … Or maybe we just dreamed that our dreams were better.’

(Stefano Benni: La compagnia dei celestini)

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