[-empyre-] an interlude on sympathy

simon swht at clear.net.nz
Fri Mar 9 10:49:30 EST 2012

Dear <<empyreans>>,

Thank you, Kamen, for citing Paul Chan's piece The Spirit of Recession. 
I was so taken by its poetry that I found and listened to it. [here 

I offer the following as a brief interlude:

In The Spirit of Recession Paul Chan invokes three cycles:

   1. the ineluctability of the cycle of history - a war, a banking
      crisis, or scandal, a recession, repeated from father to son, Bush
      by Bush
   2. the ineluctability of the cycle of domination - whereby
      disarmament is a high calling (note already a religious-pacifist tone)
   3. the ineluctability of the cycle of the self - the most mysterious,
      since it is the subject of a domination, in a circular or
      voluntary relation with its dominated object

He brings in two disciplines or orders:

   1. the practice of religion
   2. the practice of art

Both in a practical sense rely on repetition.

The parallels between the two are well-known: it is in regard to the 
first, that, while also linking it with the sacrament of exchange in 
capitalism, Paul Chan says, I am a liar, I have no problem being a liar; 
he gives the context of labelling himself a Christian while in Iraq in 
order better and more fully to engage with Iraqis. While art practice he 
describes in eschatalogical, religious terms: as about being about last 
things, like the last thing in the service, the recessional, when the 
church is blessed for authority having left it. There is a beautiful 
role reversal at work here.

What strikes me as strange, however, as given the lie to, or the true 
paradox of his speech, is that he explicitly says there is no magic, 
when spirit or magic is clearly the issue. A perennial magical 
domination of the spirit.

It is a power immanent to and exercised in religious work as much as 
artistic work in so far as both involve, convolve, revolve, these three 
cycles, even when from below, in terms of their hypostasization, their 
iteration at a deeper, hidden level. Albeit in plain sight, as Paul Chan 

These practices are rites - good works, work itself, right? ("Jesus," he 
says, "and so much more!") repeated, undertaken in a spirit of humility, 
modesty, recession, even, as suggested, yet for that very reason 
vulnerable to having already been coopted, to having already been made 
complicit, and to precisely conspiratorially and magically supporting 
the cycles of repetition: of history, of power, of identity.


Simon Taylor

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