Wednesday, 13 February 2008


...sod Passage to India for a little while more. I was doing some washing up and a train of thought began. I didn't want it to thunder off into the night with me making sad attempts to leap on the footplate.

I often sound apologetic about the football stuff, about my love for something which often doesn't seem to be redeemable even via the mediations of thinking (or blogging) about the irrelevance, or non-existence, of a discrepancy between 'low' and 'high' culture. I often feel like it is the one interest or concern that I can't really justify, even to myself.

Now, I write about Henry Green, and about the relationship between fiction and historical and national identities, and about the role of affect in the literature of the 40s, and about nostalgia. Green, perhaps, is a way into explaining, and hopefully assuaging, my anxieties regarding this matter. In broadly Lacanian terms, Green's novels often dramatize the interplay between the Imaginary (the attempt to capture an identity through identification) and the Symbolic (the letting-go of identification and submission to the fluidity of signification). I won't mention the Real here, by the way. Of Lacan's interlocutors, I think Malcolm Bowie gets it right by arguing that 'good' maturation involves an affirmative response to the inevitability of the Symbolic, particularly because he alights upon the political ramifications of such a reaction. One might well argue that many of history's most shocking aberrations have been perpetrated in the pursuit of identification and fixity, or against the potential amorphousness of the subject as it is (relationally) constituted in the Symbolic.

For Green, the concept of identity reveals its true potential in its solubility, or in the possibility that it might quite literally 'give up the ghost'. Plots turn on the capability (or lack of) a character to reject an (often sexual) identification and embrace instability. By and large, they don't, or don't fully. While recommendations for the Symbolic burst out all around them, and inside them (this may or may not mean the same thing, but they will not grasp the positive implications of the fact), they attempt to keep hold of that which transfixes them. No-one moves. Narratives move full-circle, encompassing a poetry which erupts at the cost of a misidentification on the behalf of the characters.

In The Future of Nostalgia, the contemporary critic and playwright Svetlana Boym seems to hint at such a distinction by embedding Jean Starobicki's definitions of 'restorative' and 'reflective' nostalgias within a covertly psychoanalytic argument. Realising that contemporary culture is incurably nostalgic, Boym seeks to find a pathway for the affliction which will prevent it being mobilised by a conservative, 'restorative' politics. Like the early Derrida, she hypothesizes a way in which the significations of nostalgia might be motivated kaleidoscopically, towards undefined, and therefore not strictly nostalgic, ends. The identifications which one forms in the spirit of nostalgia might, therefore, become productive, benign, and even spontaneous.

So, football, to which I relate in a fundamentally nostalgic fashion. It seems to me that we 'happen' as the nexus of complexly stratified identifications. While the primary identifications are, at least in a pragmatic sense, necessary and desirable, certain cultural choices are more visibly contingent. We pick things up, we roll them around in our hand, we let them go as and when it becomes possible or providential to do so. While it is frequently providential, possibility doesn't show itself quite so often. Neurotically, pathologically, we clutch tightly onto our symptoms.

And the football, and the Darlo, is one that I do hold onto. It is utterly Imaginary, until I pick up on the fact and put more of myself back into play, as it were. Can I have the significations of my symptom on my own terms? I think I'll dawdle towards that conclusion, ever so slowly. But I don't see a predilection for football, or boxing, or flat racing as being more of a secondary identification than, for example, a predilection for critical theory, Tarkovsky movies, Gauloise or organic food is. I don't see why I should have to be significantly more distanced from my optional cultural affiliations than people who appreciate contemporary dance should be. And I think that this argument is one of the most profound that emerges from Green's novels: we live, and love, in a state of absolute delusion, and it is only the missed encounter with the delusion itself that makes this problematic.

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