Issue 3: Chance and Control

Autumn 2006

The autumn 2006 issue of Forum addresses the interrelated concepts of chance and control within the arts and culture through a diverse selection of papers examining William Blake's reading of the Bible; the subversive potential of the anecdote in Soviet-era Russia; Kundera's reading of Nietzsche's concept of eternal recurrence in his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and William Burrough's notion of the Controller's Dilemma as an alternative to the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Whatever your interest in the arts and culture, we are confident you will find something of interest herein.

Jackson Pollock - Full Fathom Five (1947) - an image of Chance and Control
Jackson Pollock - Full Fathom Five, 1947

Contents

Guest Article

Butterfly and Bulkhead: Chance, Control, Conrad 
Randall Stevenson, The University of Edinburgh

Articles

William Blake and the Bible: Reading and Writing the Law 
Michael Farrell, University of Oxford

I Wrote Eugene Onegin: Voices of Subversion and Submission in Soviet Anecdotes 
Sally P. C. Henderson, University of Edinburgh

Happiness Filled the Space of Sadness: the Weight, Tragedy and Paradox of Milan Kundera's Freedom 
Jeremy Wattles, University of Edinburgh

"Prisoner's Dilemma" vs. William S. Burroughs's "Controller's Dilemma": A Discursive Motif in the Repression of Working-Class Self-Organization 
Manuel Yang, University of Toledo

Review

Edward W. Said. On Late Style 
Frauke Matthes, University of Edinburgh

 


 

Guest Article

Butterfly and Bulkhead: Chance, Control, Conrad 
Randall Stevenson, University of Edinburgh

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Articles

William Blake and the Bible: Reading and Writing the Law 
Michael Farrell, University of Oxford

William Blake held an ambiguous view of the Bible, believing it to be at once revelatory in its prophetic or visionary mode and yet oppressive in its espousal of the Moral Law. By imitating the principle of parallelism, which is to be found in Hebraic verse, Blake's poetry offers a radical aesthetic which subverts the notion that the Bible, as the embodiment of the Law, is a semantically stable and formally unified text. He believed that the Bible, despite being the Law, is not subject to the classical and neo-classical laws or conventions of reading and writing which promote a single, authoritative voice or textual presence and which promote form over content. Blake's poetry is multivalent and foregrounds the semantic as opposed to the formal unity of the text, subsequently challenging notions of reading and writing as creative acts bound by formal and institutional laws and conventions.

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I Wrote Eugene Onegin: Voices of Subversion and Submission in Soviet Anecdotes 
Sally P. C. Henderson, University of Edinburgh

Soviet anecdotes may appear to be simple jokes, but they were taken seriously enough by the Soviet government to be made illegal; retelling them could be punishable by heavy sentencing. They form a rich and vibrant discursive body, and one that has largely evaded critical attention. This paper explores the content of the jokes, and what it reveals about levels of awareness among the soviet people and the infiltration of propaganda. Yet more crucially it aims to investigate what these anecdotes reveal about power relationships in more general terms, not just the content of the jokes but the very act of joke telling. In simple terms the anecdotes demonstrate a resistance, as they shift the ability to generate discourse, and hence knowledge and power into the hands of the masses. Yet the anecdotes are deeply ambiguous, for there also appears to be an inherent passivity: to mock one's surroundings, and create a tradition and almost an identity based on such mockery, also tends to suggest a tacit acknowledgment that one accepts the status quo.

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Happiness Filled the Space of Sadness: the Weight, Tragedy and Paradox of Milan Kundera's Freedom 
Jeremy Wattles, University of Edinburgh

This paper examines Milan Kundera's interest in Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence in the novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984). Using both Nietzsche and Freud, primarily On the Genealogy of Morality (1887) and Civilization and its Discontents (1930) as critical references, it discusses the thematic and narrative revaluations of and challenges to traditional morality and literature. Kundera’s basic question is whether our lives will have weight or lightness; specifically, he asks us to consider Nietzsche’s difficult challenge that we will each moment in our lives to recur eternally. The paper wishes to show how such a thought experiment allows for a paradoxical existential freedom in repetition, as opposed to a weightless, linear life where an event occurring once might well not occur at all. I will discuss how this revaluation of values is situated in a philosophical tradition leading to Nietzsche and Freud. Moreover I will discuss how Kundera dramatizes his philosophical concerns through both the novel's content, mostly with his characters Tomas and Tereza, as well as the non-linear form of the novel.

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"Prisoner's Dilemma" vs. William S. Burroughs's "Controller's Dilemma": A Discursive Motif in the Repression of Working-Class Self-Organization 
Manuel Yang, University of Toledo

In 1966 Noam Chomsky published Cartesian Linguistics, which surveyed the origins of modern linguistics, and Jacques Derrida a year after furnished a commentary on the book (The Linguistic Circle of Geneva). Using these two interrelated texts as a point of departure, we look at the origin of the crisis of the Keynesian capitalism through the shifting uses of the "prisoner's dilemma", a postwar capitalist parable of chance and control, from its original conception at the start of the Cold War to its post-Keynesian reformulation in Garret Hardin's "The Tragedy of the Commons". The ideologically loaded assumptions of "prisoner's dilemma" stand in stark contrast to William S. Burroughs's "controllers' dilemma", which demystifies capitalist power of control for the neoliberal era. However, it is necessary to recognize that even the "controllers' dilemma", aimed to critically grasp the corporate-media-driven mechanisms of population control, does not adequately grasp the power of revolutionary chance embodied in spontaneous working-class collectivities, such as the workers' council and the commons. Just as Derrida proposed to rethink the rationalist origin of modern linguistics through Rousseau, we must do the same in relation to the history of working-class self-organizations and the assumptions underlying their formation.

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Review

Edward Said, On Late Style 
Frauke Matthes, University of Edinburgh

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Editors

Claire Altree
Keith Brown