To write in fragments: this is the mode du jour of the late blog style. It is a hysterical, overwrought and supercharged style, symptomatic of the anxiety that attends anything in its late phase. The late style stinks of death, wreaks of an institution in terminal decay, but also holding that end off, keeping it all alive with a supreme effort of will, a willfulness that is written across every prosaic spasm; the late modality, then, is a sysyphian modality.
My friends recently gave a beautiful and challenging talk at my university about the late and posthumous voice. What strikes me in this juxtaposition (late and posthumous) is just how unstable the juxtaposition is, and therefore how intriguing, how gloriously productive. Italian Germanist Massimo Cacciari's Dallo Steinhof, translated into English as Posthumous People, opens with Nietzsche’s famous Maxim: ‘It is only after death that we will enter our life and come alive, oh, very much alive, we posthumous people!’ Nietzsche’s textual self-projection into an abstracted reader-reception after his death touches on a ubiquitous process that had been under way in the Hapsburg lands since the 1850s and which continue right into our own predicament of the late modern – the careful reorganization of education around homogenized standards of reading and an immersion of students into and out of tradition: a kind of gentle dipping motion, like sheep in need of a good barrier against the pests and diseases of the vernacular. Cacciari’s complex but beautiful account of the intellectual and artistic world of fin-de-siècle Vienna points in essence to the observation, metaphorically cast from the Steinhof (a hill above the metropolis on which stands the church of Sankt Leopold designed by Otto Wagner), that tradition and innovation are here ranged against each other, in productive but deadly conflict:
The symmetrical, repetitive rhythm is accentuated from the outside by a revetment of thin marble blocks. The iron clamps and bolts that keep them in place, rimmed with copper leaf borders, give a sense of motion to these walls, yet without any monumental emphasis and without any concession to ornament. Inside, the building’s perfect measure of basic forms is joined, without contrast, by the multicoloured clarity of light that streams through the stained glass windows. Here is the meeting, never realised so well, of the principles of tradition and quotation on the one hand and the Nervenleben [vitality] of the Secession Movement’s images and colour on the other.
In these two juxtapositions (late and posthumous and tradition and innovation), which refuse absolutely to coincide or resonate with each other, we can detect something of what seems to be at stake in the blogging moment (and it is a moment: this too will pass), a provocative and yet utterly hopeless questioning of the extent to which speaking and writing might have an intimate connection.
I do no want to emblamatize the writing/speaking binarism or link the two poles to a simple presence/absence oscillation. It is better, it seems to me, to think of medialities, the materializations that each allows and forbids: when one dose this, their relation is not binaristic, but differentiated along a line of medial fields (channels, ruts, dikes) and speaking and writing are close, very close, but not structurally summative, not able to grasp the full complexity of the late modern imagination of what it is possible to mean.
The late and posthumous voices are thus fragments, parcels of symbolic material hat have broken off and set adrift in a free from reign of terror, of joy, of agony.
This is the logic of the fragment: to run free in chains, to play in strict discipline, to tarry and to leave, to conjure and to bury.
Late indeed; posthumous, certainly.