The Loss of a Loss

Alec Niedenthal, “Literature, Materialism, and the Present Conjuncture: an Interview with David Winters,” HTML Giant 6 August 2012

[…] We might say that literature is the self-effacing object of criticism, its object whose total existence is the mark of its vanishing. So perhaps a materialist criticism needs to begin to defile and, as you say, humiliate literature because it cannot touch it — because, for it, literature is not. In its stead we find a formal aperture, a hole that invokes what has gone away, that allows criticism to begin. What is in question would then be a discourse that has lost its object. But because literature is already a loss — a loss of the world, at the site of representation — criticism could be called the loss of a loss, the loss of what itself already annihilates the world on whose border it hangs. This is where I find the utopian kernel in criticism, that it can lose the loss of which literature is culpable: the loss of the everyday object, that stagnant dumb stuff which modernism once tried to recuperate by convincing itself that the object already and always is marked by art. It is only through this double loss that a new object, an object beyond the literary Ding, can be brought to bear upon thought — not the form already contained in the mundane but the mundanity of literary form itself.

All Writing is Conceptual

Tom McCarthy, Transmission and the Individual Remix: How Literature Works, 2012

“But all this — Blanchot, Barthes, or any other dubious French character whose name starts with B — is theory,” certain voices might cry out at this point. “Writing should be natural, spontaneous, not underpinned by dogma.” It’s an argument that has led my own work, in the past, to be described in the past as “conceptual” — as though it had gone down a certain path, entered a thorny, awful region, a vast realm of boundless chaos, the sensible, productive alternative to which would be to not have any theory, to just write. As an argument, it’s stunningly naïve. All writing is conceptual; it’s just that it’s usually founded on bad concepts. When an author tells you that they’re not beholden to any theory, what they usually mean is that their thinking and their work defaults, without even realizing it, to a narrow liberal humanism and its underlying — and always reactionary — notions of the (always “natural” and preexisting, rather than constructed self), that self’s command of language, language as vehicle for “expression,” and a whole host of fallacies so admirably debunked almost 50 years ago by the novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet.


MG: Talking of our generation — I mean ours (we’re exactly the same age) — a real symptom of it, as this conversation is so aptly demonstrating, is that we keep referencing theory when we talk about our work. More than that: theory informs the making of it.
TMCC: But that’s always the case, even for people who claim not to ‘have’ theory. ‘Not’ having theory just means having crap theory, i.e. adhering to a humanism that has erased all traces of its own constructedness.”
Tom McCarthy and Margarita Gluzberg, “Circuits and Loops,” BOMBlog 4 May 2012