Thursday, July 2, 2020

Syntax Club: "XVII. Mitwelt"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

Please see here for previous installments of Syntax Club; feel free to post comments and thoughts and sentences you love here on the site or Twitter; if you try an exercise feel free to Tweet some of your results using the #SyntaxClub tag.


--How is this work essayistic, or possibly of value to essayists?
--What is distinctive, noteworthy, excellent, or interesting about the sentences in this work?


We get our first view of the adult Geryon hanging out in Buenos Aires, as well as more details about Geryon's life: he studies German philosophy, seems to have a fondness for Heidigger, maintains contact with his brother, finds travel a little bit stressful and alienating, and struggles with how the blank desertion of his own mind (i.e., his inability to render his experience of the world in terms comprehensible to others, I think) might mean that he was mad.


What is a Mitwelt?

"in the thought of German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), that aspect of Dasein (being-in-the-world) that is constituted by a person’s relationships and interactions with other people. It was introduced into psychology by Swiss existentialist psychologist Ludwig Binswanger (1881–1966). Compare Eigenwelt; Umwelt. [German, literally: “with world”]"

So...we're gonna have to talk about Heidegger?

We probably need to have at least a peripheral awareness of the fact that Heidegger and time play a role in this text, though I will admit it is not a role I have a full grasp on. There is a box inside my head labelled "Incomprehensible German Mysticism", and for a long time I placed both Heidegger and Hegel in this box; it was only through the patient and kind and tireless efforts of Dr. Dennis Sepper, an excellent instructor I once had at the University of Dallas, that I began to accept that Heidegger is a serious thing worth serious study (Hegel I am still not so sure about). Despite all that, I will quickly find myself hopelessly out of my league if I attempt Super Serious Heidegger Analysis, but I can put together some loose resources and notes if it is helpful to our readers.

Mitwelt, at least, seems approachable--the fact is that Geryon's being-in-the-world, in terms of his relationships and interactions with others, is wildly atypical, and worth keeping a close eye on as we move through the remainder of the text. Notice here how his internal world is both strained (fears that writing in German rather than Spanish might be illegal, though the waiter will merely approach to ask if he wants another drink in English) and illegible to others (not only is his likely synaesthesia, seen via the burning roses incident, strange, but also the poetic-mythic dimension; I don't think Geryon's alienation is only a function of his sensory experiences, but also the odd, shifting valves of internal and external inside his pysche--in some ways it feels like he might be the only one in this world to have an "ancient", "enchanted" understanding of what it means to be in the world).

The scraps of German we see in these sections are interesting too; I don't know either Heidegger's philosophical vocabulary well enough or any German at all to comment on them in a rigorous manner, but some cursory googling indicates that the first is something along the lines of "they are what they do" or "they are that which operates" (reminds me of Aristotle's notions of character: you are what you habitually do), the second "for/to lost hearing".

What's up with Geryon's brother?

Yeah, this is a complicated relationship to trauma, definitely (though the text steadfastly refuses to directly harness the language of abuse: it was given as an economy of sex). Geryon quite sincerely seems to want to stay in-touch with his brother (i.e., we don't get the sense that his adult brother directly coerces Geryon into sending postcards), but the figure of the brother definitely looms darkly large in some of the later sections. I'll be very curious to hear what people think as we move through the text.


There is no person without a world. (82)

The return of the aphoristic statement, and an excellent rejoinder to any and all debates on the personal essay! Person does not exist separate from world; being-in-the-world is contingent upon contexts, dependencies, relations, interactions; thus the essay, the act of unspooling the mind to be co-extensive with the work on the page must also be an act of robust engagement with the world itself--we might say "so there's no such thing as a clean-cut Cartesian or Kantian self", if we want to be expansive but sloppy undergraduates about it; more seriously, a reminder there's nothing special about an essayist per se--it's what we write with, in, and to the world we occupy.

The red monster sat a corner table of Cafe Mitwelt (82)

Much more straightforwardly, opening the meat of this section by identifying Geryon as the red monster in such close context to person above subtly but powerfully emphasizes his odd, distinctive qualities.

A cold spray
of fear shot across his lungs. (83)

Cold spray is nice, compact, powerful, as is shot--notice how this stark sensation is rendered in a sentence almost entirely monosyllabic.

They stood up straight and pure on the stalk, gripping the dark like prophets
and howling colossal intimacies. (84)

Howling colossal intimacies is fantastic, both in that it seems absurd (we generally think of intimacy as small, quiet, etc) but also accurate (surely we all have small textures to interpersonal life that loom large, no?)

He moved off into the tragicomedy of the crowd. (84)

Carson smoothly and effectively nestles some prepositions (into; of) on top of each other to drop a metaphorical or emotional movement (moving into the tragicomedy) into a literal or physical one (moving into the crowd). This read-through has given me a much greater appreciation for how she layers into the literal/physical things that other authors might treat separately, expounding on them after the action itself is described.


Prepositions & Movement

Stack or juxtapose prepositions such that an emotional or metaphoric action occurs within a syntactic unit describing a literal or physical action (see: moved off into the tragicomedy of the crowd).

Heidegger Ahoy!

Browse around the internet and familiarize yourself with some concept associated with Heidegger's work. Attempt to incorporate some aspect of that concept into a lyric or essayistic passage. Wait until the next day. Drink 2-5 glasses of brandy (depending on personal need--essayists vary wildly in disposition & experience), wait 60 minutes, and then write a different lyric or essayistic passage incorporating that same Heideggerian concept. Wait until the next day. Place the two passages side-by-side, and see which makes more sense (probably the brandy-borne one). This is not a serious exercise suggestion, but if you do try it please let me know how it goes.

Next Week, in 3 parts:
--Skepticism & Slopes


Will Slattery helps curate things here on Essay Daily. He tweets on occasion: @wjaslattery.

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