Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Writing for Jules, or writing for Jim

Jim taught everyone how to handle a great bow. The copper-tipped arrow sped up so high towards the sun that they lost sight of it. They were frightened lest it come down on someone’s head, and during its descent they shut their eyes and held each other’s hands. 
Jules et Jim, Henri-Pierre Roché

The bohemian is fixed into his character by the invariance of his caprice. He lives according to his overriding preference for evading conventionality. If he is flighty, and uncommitted to any particular set of arguments, then he is also fated to fulfil the fixed social function of the dilettante. If his behaviour is erratic, drifting, unreliable, then it is predictably so. 

Of all the manufactured personae, the bohemian is the most frequently diagnosed... occupying as he does the borderlands between conformity and outright rebellion. The bohemian stops halfway along self-destruction’s line of escalating inferences. If he rejects convention then he does not reject it to the point of suicidal confrontation. If he embraces the transgressive as a deliberate risk then he does so in order that it might be sustained indefinitely as a self-managed lifestyle. 

The bohemian meticulously records time passing by choosing against a perceived external pressure for constancy, but this manoeuvre is so ingrained that it indicates the delusions of subjectivised eternity: ‘Well,’ said Kate decisively, ‘when you’ve come to the end of something you should always anticipate it and cut it short.’  

He communicates from the leading edge of his life by a series of postcard declamations. And from one card to the next everything has changed. 1. He has met some friends; 2. He is in love; 3. He has moved city; and someone has died; 4. He has had a fight; 5. He is writing a novel; 6. He is on a tour; 7. He is ill; 8. There was some music; 9. A mountain was beautiful; 10 He has met the one he had previously lost contact with. 

Jules and Jim were completely alone in the Chalet, alone with their leisure, their peaceful life and their inexhaustible conversation. A peasant woman came in and did a little summary housework. Jules was translating a book by Jim; he also did the cooking, with his pipe in his mouth, and made potato-cakes while Jim read aloud. They went for slow, lazy walks together.

Everything is in constant flux for the bohemian whilst nothing much seems to change... but somewhere behind the successive moments of his youthful experiences, moves a deeper process of maturation. He is subject to an inexorable shifting ground which progressively rescinds its permissions for participation, closing off scenes and moments, until he finds himself squeezed out from that space where he once occupied its heart. 

Jules et Jim is written in contemplation of this creeping process of objective removal from the milieu. There functions within its rolling texts of life recorded in its raw moment, a counter-stream of wistful disconnect. Its form is that of the declamatory postcard, or ‘I am a camera’ snapshot (Truffaut in his essay on the novel, describes it as ‘telegraphic’). Every page carries the content of about 4 postcards’ worth of lived content. 

The prose of the postcard is an appropriate means for presenting the bohemian’s passing moments as they are considered retrospectively, as if retrieved and transcribed from diaries and correspondence. It captures whatever may be captured in the short form: shifting personal relations mediated through fashionable ideas, poetry, paintings and drawings, clothing and hairstyles, photographs and novels, and places (capital cities, remote cottages, mountains, railways), and drugs, and events, and resources, and chance happenings, and newer ideas, and psychological states. It is always name, action, relation. And all of it expressive indirectly of an external history of greater forces which cannot be engaged... the postcarded life, its best scenes having just passed, filling its limited space, with the jotted details, urgent in their moment, of an exuberant unemployment. 

The milieu of Jules et Jim, with its temporary beds and bare boards, short lease rooms, acoustic guitars, passionate-through-the-night-conversations, long walks, naked swims, travelling, formal experiments, clumsy gestures, friends of friends, social mealtimes, festivalisations, part-time jobs and squandered inheritances, the milieu of Jules et Jim, this is the milieu within which the communist theorist’s writing must appear. 

The milieu of the sidelined and marginal, the milieu of subjective overcompensation and listless drifting. That is the milieu where communist theory appears. That is the milieu, and nowhere else. And thus it appears, bound up in some short-lived journal bought at an underground fair or passed around and transported from one place to another, in a bedroll or rucksack, to be laid on a cafe table, next to a coffee or beer, next to the cigarette papers, lighter and tobacco pouch. It is in this exact location, and nowhere else, where the communist theorist’s thought physically manifests itself. That is if it is lucky enough to manifest at all, and not die solipsistically.  

The communist must write generally in the direction of the bohemian milieu because nobody else would read him, and nobody else could read him, but mostly he writes for a single specific, if as yet, unknown reader-writer within that milieu... one who is of it, but who no longer belongs there. 

There is for the communist theorist only one reader who will turn out to be also the writer capable of developing his ideas in the direction that they should be developed. The reader-writer, the unknown recipient of the message, is a denizen of the milieu which the communist writer ineffectually deplores, whilst wishing for readers from an altogether other provenance. 

Where does the committed reader come from? How does he emerge? By what process is he distinguished, revealed, engaged? It is possible that the reader-writer to come, the one for whom all the effort has been expended, is numbered amongst those just then being squeezed out from the milieu.  Is he at that moment becoming conscious of his place as an outsider excluded from the outsiders? There has to be some mark upon him, something that would cause him to stand out. There has to be something that would set in motion his reading, his commitment, his writing. 

The communist theorist writes what he cannot not write... his is an act of necessity, an obligation to the writing itself. And yet, as is proper for any stochastic process, he writes in order that his writing be selected, taken up, circulated for a sufficient period within the milieu for the content of that writing to be favourably encountered by that reader-writer to whom it is really aimed.  The theorist’s commitment to an unknown other supplies to the writing its internal energy, its patina of contemporary jargon, its tropes, motifs, obscurities... its je ne sais quoi appeal. Without this surface jazz, the communist could not hope to find his committed reader, and yet he also depends on that reader not being absorbed by such surface patterns.

There must be a mannered relation, an awkward dance, between the theorist-writer and the milieu within which the reader-writer will appear; the dance is undertaken on terms which the writer is not entirely comfortable with. He is subject to the arbitrary whims of the milieu. And this is the source of any irony that might be derived from stochastic process: the non-identity, the direct non-reciprocality, between its necessary components (between the selecting mechanism and the selected units). 

The committed theorist is obliged to engage a milieu defined by its infidelity, and furthermore he must seek within it, a committed reader. That is, a reader who is willing to faithfully commit, in the midst of reinforced habitual caprice, to his writing. The committed writer may only attract the committed reader by coding his desperate writings with the camouflage of unconcern; he trusts that this affect will serve as an adequate defence mechanism in the great swirl of other texts.
‘Admirable!’ said Jules to Jim. ‘Such tremendous manoeuvres! What excitements you invent for yourselves!’