Sunday, 16 December 2012

Ariadne's Thread

Reflecting on the comments on my paper from the Walter Benjamin paper, particularly Paula Schwebel's point that I tended to talk about spatial images when referring to a politics of time and Andrew McGettigan's suggestion about intoxication, I fortuitously came across this 'thread'.

Reading Benjamin's On Hashish on an appropriately slow and apocalyptic Saturday night journey home from the badlands for South London I found this:
To begin to solve the riddle of the ecstasy of trance [Rauschgluck], one ought to meditate once again on Ariadne's thread. What joy in the mere act of unrolling a ball of thread! And this joy is very deeply related to the joy of intoxication, just as it is to the joy of creation. We go forward; but in so doing, we not only discover the twists and turns of the cave into which we're venturing, but also enjoy this pleasure of discovery against the background of the other, rhythmic bliss of unwinding the thread, The certainty of unrolling an rtfully wound skein - isn't that the joy of all produtivity, at least in prose? And under the influence of hashish, we are enraptured prose-beings raised to the highest power. (53)
I then came across this passage, today, from the 'Paralipomena':
Only when the course of historical events runs through the historians hands smoothly, like a thread, can one speak of progress, If, however, it is a frayed bundle unraveling into a thousand strands that hang down like unplaited hair, none of them has a definite place until they are all gathered up and braided into a coiffure.
 Here, I think, we can see the imposition of a spatial line of progress by the historian, which I think corresponds to the image of the rail tracks extending into the future, and to the infinite idea of progress. This spatialised conception captures the spatial features of capitalist time as 'empty, homogenous time'.
The intoxicated image of unwinding Ariadne's thread, which recurrs in the Hashish writings, suggests a 'productive' act that takes as its power not to unwind one thread as the line of progress, but to multiply and trace different 'threads' that need to be gathered together, or made citable, to resist being 'spatialised' as the line of progress. I think this may be another image of the variable production Benjamin invokes and which suggests another image of time as gathered threads.
It may also be linked to Kant's invocation of 'guiding threads'. Its probably an equally enigmatic image as the train, once we'd got through nearly all the permutations on that metaphor, but I think it suggests the kind of intoxicated self-extinguishing practice Andrew was invoking (against some more pious conceptions) and suggests another way of figuring 'spatialised time' on the grounds of that spatialisation (as with the Arcades project), but also against it.


Joshua said...

You've tugged on an interesting thread here. I think you have further support for your reading in Benjamin's Fuchs essay when he is addressing the surpassing of classicist artistic values:

"[I]t would be a mistake to assume that the idealist view of art was itself entirely unhinged. That cannot happen until the dialecta membra which idealism contains - as "historical representation' - on the one hand and "appreciation" on the other-are merged and thereby surpassed. This effort, however, is left to a mode of historical science which fashions its object not out of a tangle of mere facticities but out of the numbered group of threads representing the woof of a past fed into the warp of the present."

Benjamin said...

thanks for that, after tracking trains in Benjamin, now it's threads... but more seriously, I think there is something in the metaphor in untangaling/plaiting which might speak to those 'numbered threads' you note and a new practice that speaks to production and temporality.