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[Xmca-l] Verismo and the Gothic


When my wife is bored with what I say (usually when I am nattering on
and she is trying to read) she sometimes uses a Chinese quotation from Mao
Zedong, "mei you diao cha, mei you fa yan quan", which means something like
"He who has not done the investigation has no right to speak". I was
thinking about this, because sometimes the xmca list of texts to
investigate gets so long (cf. eight hundred odd pages of Bloch!) that it's
a wonder anyone has a right to write at all.

I think that your solution of an "executive summary" is one possibility of
keeping the (indispensible) dialogue alive. But of course executive
summaries are a little like summary executions: I also understand why Bloch
specialists would not consider the executive summary equivalent to the real
thing and why them ight even retort with the German equivalent of "mei you
diao cha, mei you fa yan quan".

So it seems to me that there is another solution. A lot of xmca discussions
are sufficiently abstract that other texts that I am in contact with for
one reason or another seem quite related. I sometimes feel as if Larry's
letters are a little bit like threatening letters one might receive from a
kidnapper--that is, they are composed of quotations snipped from here and
there--but I also feel that, juxtaposed in such a way, the most disparate
quotes sometimes reveal completely new but not completely irrelevant

All of which is preamble. You say that the PRESENT is the only conceivable
"You are here" sticker we can use on the little floor plans we have to
carry around of our lives (mine usually says something like "you are here
and the men's room is way at the other end of the mall"). Bergson, the
arch-idealist and dualist who had such a big influence on Proust and on
"Recherche de Temps Perdu", stoutly denies this. According to the Catholic
Bergson, we have two such deictic stickers: a brain, which functions like
any animal brain in the present, and a mind, which functions like any other
historical object, in the past--or perhaps, in the perfective, in the
immediately relevant past, the past of "I have just...".

You might think that Vygotsky utterly rejects the idealism and dualism in
this view, and so he does. But Vygotsky is never wholly accepting and never
wholly rejecting: his attitude towards other thinkers is never one of trust
but always one of hope. So he DOES accept Bergson's distinction, though of
course he re-interprets it so that it coincides with his own distinction
between the visiographic lower psychological functions and the
linguistically mediated higher ones.

Now, this means that the distinction is no longer really about "memoire et
matiere", or even past and present; it's now about the real (that is,
sensually present) and the potential (the "hoped" if you like). And like
most really profound distinctions, it doesn't really go away when we choose
one end of the continuum or the other--we find that within the realm of
linguistically mediated potential, the same distinction is reproduced, and
within each part of that, re-reproduced. That is, some forms of verbal
imagination--yea, verbal art--are more oriented towards the visiographic
and others towards the purely verbal.

Opera is an extreme example of this, because it necessarily includes both
the immediately sensual and the verbally mediated. For most of the history
of opera, the tendency has been away from speech making (e.g. recitatives,
which have speech rhythms) and towards elaborate sets, exciting action, and
visiographic sensation (e.g. arias, which have regular meter). But, as with
many literary arts, this tendency took an "inward turn" after the French
Revolution, and opera bifurcated: Realism on the one hand, and Gothicism
(sentimentalism, extreme sensationalism, and above all introspection) on
the other. You can think of the two lines as  being social-realism and
psychological realism.

I was very conscious of this while in Chamonix, in the French Alps, about
two weeks ago. It was a very poor area, and so in the nineteenth century it
was a hotbed of verismo ("Linda di Chamounix", and all those alpine operas,
like "La Fille du Regiment" and "La Wally"). But it was also a seedbed of
the Gothic: the crucial scene in Frankenstein is set on the "mer de glaces"
near Mont Blanc across from where I was skiing with my father, and the
first vampire stories were set in nearby Geneva.

Even the "verismo" operas cannot escape the inward turn. In the last scene
of "La Wally", for example, Wally has given away all her lands, her house
in the valley, and even her lover, Hagenbach, to the barmaid Afra, and sits
up in the mountains freezing. Traditionally, the last part of the opera
(notoriously difficult to stage, for reasons that will soon become
apparent) involves the sudden appearance of her lover: they forgive each
other (she forgives him for having stolen a kiss during a dance for a bet,
and he forgives her for attempted murder in revenge). Then an avalanche
kills them both, or first kills him and then her when she jumps in after,
if you want to get technical.

But in THIS version, which I actually think is the only correct version,
the WHOLE of the last scene takes place ONLY in Wally's mind! That's the
nature of the Gothic: Bergson's brain (matiere) becomes a prisoner of mind
(memoire). And that is one reason why, although Vygotsky did acquiesce in
Bergson's distinction between mind and brain (unlike, say,
Chomsky) Vygotsky insisted on proplepsis--that is, on resituating the
potential in the future rather than the past.


(The intra-psychological sequence begins at 1:40:00. Note that this version
has a really very fine Korean tenor in the role of Hagenbach--at the very
end, when he takes a bow, if you read his lips he is thanking the audience
not in his singing language but in his
thinking-and-feeling language--Korean!)

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies