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Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns

Thanks for all of that including the paper, David.
A non-German reader, I like the poem as translated, which mucks up
serious engagement with Rilke I guess. I have checked out other translations
but like this one probably for idiosyncratic reasons. Those reasons, however
circuitously, lead me to agree with the conclusion in the final paragraph.

odd but probably not accidental.

On Sun, Oct 18, 2009 at 10:40 PM, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>wrote:

> I'm going to give two late cheers for eric's formulation "being does", at
> least insofar as we are talking about cultural being in general
> and aesthetic being in particular. But at the same time I want to reserve my
> third cheer for some kind of complement to the verb, and to put in a plug
> for a rather literal interpretation of the word "ideal" in the cultural,
> artistic realm; I think in order to qualify as culture even material
> culture really does have to have a utopian, unicorn element, but that
> element is nevertheless irreducibly realist.
> Mike likes to cite the Rilke poem about the unicorn. The English
> translation he gives, though, goes like this:
> The Unicorn by Ranier Maira Rilke
> This is the creature there never has been.
> They never knew it, and yet, none the less,
> they loved the way it moved, its suppleness,
> its neck, its very gaze, mild and serene.
> I think this is a mistranslation; in the German the unicorn is "geliebt" or
> "beloved", because in Rilke love is intransitive; it's not an object
> oriented activity at all. There's actually a good paper on this poem and how
> it was derived from the unicorn tapestries at Cluny at:
> http://sas-space.sas.ac.uk/dspace/bitstream/10065/66/4/Segal+-+Rilke+&+unicorns+revised+paper+_April+2007_.pdf
> It turns out that intransitivity is an important trope in Rilke generally,
> and of course it was a favorite device of the German neoromantic lyric
> poets, who believed you could get a kind of unmediated sense of reality by
> stripping verbs of their arguments, like petals from a flower.
> Adorno is scathing about all of this. It's sometimes hard to read Adorno
> because he seems so irritated all the time, until we remember that he really
> had a LOT to be annoyed about. In this case, what he is eating him is the
> "jargon"  (or "aura", as Walter Benjamin says) of a secular sacred language,
> a language which pretends to be unmediated by human lips.
> What infuriates him is the philosophical rehabilitation of the linguistic
> work of Heidegger, a devout Nazi whose main criticism of the extermination
> camps was that they were too newfangled and modern (presumably real Germans
> would have strangled the Jews one by one with their bare hands). It's really
> Heidegger who likes to say things like "Being is" and above all "death is"
> (yes, I know that Hegel said it too). But even Rilke likes to speak of
> "encounters" and "statements" as if what was encountered was a unicorn and
> statements were not concretely instances of who says what to whom and why.
> Habermas says, in a book that would have greatly annoyed Adorno if he had
> lived to read it (The Theory of Communicative Action) that our knowledge has
> the structure of propositions. I think Adorno would prefer to say that it
> propositions have the structure of knowledge, but that knowledge is composed
> of questions as well as statements. I'm not sure he would agree that it is
> composed of imperatives; I think imperatives are too sly about their
> subjects and objects; in linguistic terms, they don't have enough argument
> structure.
> One of the things I most like about the unicorn paper (link posted above)
> is the historical research. Segal points out that unicorns are reported in
> almost all the major cultures, and go back many thousands of years.
> Take, for example, the Chinese unicorn, which is probably the oldest
> speciment. During the early Ming Dynasty, when Zheng He was sent on voyages
> of discovery to Africa, he captured a pair of giraffes and had them brought
> back to China. The emperor then had them widely exhibited, because of a
> tradition which held that the discovery of a unicorn during the reign of an
> emperor was an extremely auspicious sign. One of them survived, and I
> remember seeing an astonishing realistic portrait of it, which for reasons I
> never understood, did not have any of the usual polygonal marks on its skin.
> When I was researching a book on the great Chinese famine of 1962-1963, I
> interviewed an old woman who said she had eaten part of the giraffe (which
> is still called a "qilin", or a unicorn, in Chinese) in the Beijing zoo. She
> remarked wistfully that it was a time when
> nobody could afford hopes for the future.
> The ubiquity of unicorns is really clear evidence that they really do
> exist, or rather it would be evidence of their existence except for the fact
> that insistence on the NONexistence of unicorns is an important feature of
> all these instances. To me, it is evidence of something even more wonderful;
> the literally IDEAL component of even material culture, the element of
> culture which suggests, not its reproductibility but rather its
> perfectibility. And that's what Adorno is really complaining about, and why
> he can't find any culture worthy of the name on television.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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