March 1, 2008

The Agonizing Predicament

True to its spirit, Gillian Rose's The Broken Middle does not hold up to fragmentation. There are few passages that sit well on their own, detached from the accretion of her philosophical insistence. Rose's style is dense. It has little of the soothing poetic resonance of those who can craft thought into sculpture by the patient shaping of the material.

For her, the style seems intent on trapping the mind and forcing it remain en route. This is surely owing to the necessity of a rigor she claims as her own, a rigor missing too often, she says, from an approach loosely defined as "postmodern," or "post-structuralist."

Rose writes:

"Irony" as this yawning rent of yearning, passing to and fro between interchangeable poles -- evident throughout the authorship -- is transformed . . . into the sober statement of "irony" as "the pathos of the middle . . . its moral too, its ethos."

"I have been told that in Hebrew the words for knowing and insight have the same stem as the word for between."
The famous essay . . . itself exercises irony as "playful reserve."

This appears in the chapter, "Myth Out of the Hands of the Fascists," wherein Rose reads both the impulses of Thomas Mann's Joseph books, and Mann's own reading of Freud in the light of those works.

Given that they appear as Nazism does its infernal damage, Rose turns to Mann's works in order to trace how myth is called upon and yet wrested from the instrumental use of fascism; or how a hyper-vigilance over the performance of myth effectively undermines its force. The "substitution," she writes, "of an overly rationalized 'ethical' for the equivocation of the middle brings both the psychology and the politics into discredit" (133). Where the ethical remains uncertain and an agonizing predicament is precisely where, Rose suggests, we must dwell -- neither surrendering in defeat nor claiming that the violence we do brings victory.

Throughout, Rose seeks a "middle" suspended between the poles of pure repetition of the past and a utopian rejection of whatever forms of history have been inherited; this is the realm of ethical equivocation. For Rose, what is vital is where ethics and the law remain unharmonized, where there remains uncertainty in the face of authority and an uncertain authority; an authority that refuses the authoritarian temptation to heal the necessary divides between "universal, particular, and singular, individuals and institutions," and "inner morality and outer legality, individual autonomy and general heteronomy, active cognition and imposed norm" (xii).