In the book of my memory, after the first pages, which are almost blank, there is a section headed
Incipit vita nova.
Beneath this heading I find the words which it is my intention to copy into this smaller book, or if not all, at least their meaning.

Dante,La Vita Nuova

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

This Man is Going to Pieces: On the emerging a-relational male subject and the salutary process of decomposition

Since so much of the story recounted in Swann's Way is Oedipal in nature, it's not hard to imagine a group of readers interacting with it in the way Rilke describes. However, the poet's life is representative not because he desires his mother but because he wants to get rid of her, and because by repudiating her he has lost the capacity to love. Women have a "diploma" in this affect, Rilke argues in a 1912 letter, but all that men have ever done is mouth meaningless phrases. Over the centuries, the male subject has become increasingly a-relational, and now a "man of the 'new grain'" has emerged, whose defining attribute is solitude. Since it is neither psychically nor ontologically possible for any of us to be alone, this man is "going to pieces." When this "salutary" process of decomposition is complete, he will finally start learning how to love, and at some point in the future we will witness something that we have not yet seen: the heterosexual couple.
Like Rilke, Nietzsche, Rodin, Cezanne, and Proust are all striking examples of this "man of the 'new grain,'" and the a-relational male subject also occupies an important place in Paul Valery's writings. Nietzsche, Rodin, and Proust share Rilke's preoccupation with corporeal disintegration, as well. Zarathustra tells his disciples that mankind is "in ruins and scattered about as if on a battle field or a butcher field." One of the most basic principles of Rodin's work is the "repetition and exploitation of fragments, constantly metamorphosed and renewed in context and meaning," and in the opening section of Swann's Way, a solitary male subject offers a detailed description of the numerous "pieces" into which his ego falls whenever he enters the indeterminate zone between sleeping and waking. Like Rilke, Proust seems to find this decomposition "salutary," because he treats it as the prelude to an almost unimaginably capacious relationality. In an important passage early in Swann's Way, Marcel describes the process of coming to consciousness as a vertiginous journey not just through his own memories but also through a much larger past.
from the introduction to Kaja Silverman's Flesh of My Flesh (Stanford UP, 2009)

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