Saturday, July 05, 2008

"physiological phenomenology of unending desolation"

That's the phrase of the day even though I don't really understand what it means exactly. It is from Susan Sontag's essay on Antonin Artaud, titled Approaching Artaud (collected in Under the Sign of Saturn).

"The language that Artaud uses is profoundly contradictory. His imagery is materialistic (making the mind into a thing or object ), but his demand on the mind amounts to the purest philosophical idealism. He refuses to consider consciousness except as a process. Yet it is the process character of consciousness, its unseizability and flux, that he experiences as hell. "The real pain," says Artaud, "is to feel one's thought shift within oneself."

The consequence of Artaud's verdict upon himself, his conviction of his chronic alienation from his own consciousness, is that his mental deficit becomes, directly or indirectly, the dominant, inexhaustible subject of his writings. Some of Artaud's accounts of his Passion of thought are almost too painful to read. He elaborates little on his emotions, panic, confusion, rage, dread. His gift was not for psychological understanding (which, not being good at it, he dismissed as trivial) but for a more original mode of description, a kind of physiological phenomenology of his unending desolation. Artaud's claim in The Nerve Meter that no one has ever so accurately charted his "intimate" self is not an exaggeration. Nowhere in the entire history of writing in the first person is there as tireless and detailed a record of the microstructure of mental pain."


Madhuri said...

Quite a phrase, this. In fact, I was not very conversant with the term phenomenology, I think it is a very useful term - to describe all works where there is an acute consciousness of consciousness itself :)
I have been reading some reviews from Susan Sontag - she does put into words somethings that you feel on reading it. Pedro Paramo for instance. Don't think many people have talked elaborately of this ghostly novel, but she has, and quite clearly.

Alok said...

It is at these times that I think I should have studied philosophy... there are many other words too... like "ontology" or even "Being" :)

Yeah, it is amazing whenver I think i have discovered a new writer she is almost always already there on the blurb or back cover of the book extolling and praising it as some masterpiece! Now I try to follow her tastes in book and also try to understand how she thinks about these things...

It is great how you manage to find all these books. Pedro Paramo has been on my reading list for a long time but I couldn't find in either the local library or the bookstore... I will try to order it online, which for some reason I generally always do as a last resort.

Madhuri said...

I do trust online ordering a lot, but this one I ordered at the Landmark store instead. They are helpful, even if not particularly fast. I loved the book, will write about it when I have some time - I barely had time to recollect my thoughts on Radetzky March, which was such a wonderful and overwhelming work.

Anonymous said...

Hello Alok,

Do you know of a collection of essays by Susan Sontag? What I am looking for is a kind of 'Sontag Reader' or a collected book with important essays. I looked on the net but could not find any.


Alok said...

Amazon shows only used copies of the book... I have seen this collection in the library and I think it is quite representative.

As for individual collections I like the essays in Under the Sign of Saturn and Against Interpretation the most.

Anonymous said...


That was quick. I don't know why that title did not come up when I searched the amazon. I loved that essay on photography from the excerpts I read on this blog. I find what she writes lucid and inspired.

Thank you so much.

Alok said...

I am not sure if that volume contains her essay on photography too. It is actually a separate volume ("On Photography") containing four or five long essays.