Notes to Self

From Robert Richardson’s “Henry David Thoreau: A Life of the Mind” (University of California Press, 1986), pg. 194: “Whereas the Christian yearns to be redeemed, and the Dionysian to be possessed, the Apollonian yearns to know, to see clearly, to perceive.”  It is that urge for redemption and how to step outside of it that interests me.  William James is a Christian by this account but one, in fact, fascinated with possession if Varieties is taken into account.  I don’t know enough about Thoreau to know if Richardson is right about him and am not even sure that I can wrap my head around this Apollonian alternative.  But I definitely want to try to think about these different character types to consider their possibility and figure out how they shift one’s way of being in the world.

On a separate note.  Bruce Robbins has a great response to Rita Felski’s The Limits of Critique (University of Chicago Press, 2015) in a recent issue of PMLA.  I read it on line so don’t have exact info.  Robbins talks about how the insistence that questions of “power” be addressed by criticism is most often a way, albeit often a clumsy one, to raise the issue of injustice.  To pay heed to power differentials and to “the ruses of power” (to use a favorite phrase of Judith Butler’s) is to attend to what justice demands and how the world falls short of those demands.

Seems to me that this point is relevant to thinking about violence.  First, injustice is often sustained by violence.  Certainly, the prevalent tendency to expand definitions of violence out beyond direct physical assaults is often motivated by the effort to delineate more subtle forms of coercion that are connected to maintaining various inequalities.  Second, however, is the opposite point that violence is used by the state in the name of justice, in the restraint and punishment of criminals.  And somewhat analogously, violence is also deployed by the revolutionary in the name of justice.  The revolutionary says that the violence that maintains injustice can only be overturned by violence.  Anything else is meek submission.

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