Friday, August 26, 2005

Literary agents and particulars

For part of what being an agent is (always) like, apparently, is being caught up in an irreducible oscillation between typicality and particularity: between (on one side) the forms of action that an agent must understand in order to make sense of herself as the possible performer of certain actions, and (on the other side) the concrete history without which the agent could not distinguish herself from those who might, otherwise, just as well replace her.

A Raskolnikov does not neatly fit into any such categories as “agent” or “type”: the character determines the type; the existential situation with which he’s confronted--i.e. Raskolnikov feverish, brooding on his couch, “should I whack and rob this wretched crone and landlady or not"--is not easily specified as some jungian or freudian myth, “coming of age” crap--a literary crisis of this type is more individual specific, as is our own life. One could call it ethics, mention “intentionality,” free will, et al.--or, ala Watson/Skinner, inquire as to whether Raskolnikov (a poorly conditioned lad) was perhaps reacting naturally (or not) to some stimulus--yet there are no outside frames of reference that the character (or agent) can extract from a realm of right actions, some platonic realm of “goodness” or obligation, which Raskalnikov can insert into his mind---Raskalnikov until his imprisonment does not realize or acknowledge a Kantian imperative, and he’s refusing any sort of liberal social contract--neither rationalist or empiricist, he more or less refuses to make the liberal association--the “identity function” that precedes an ethics discussion or any putative social contract--that he has some characteristics in common with his fellow humans: you could perhaps refer to him as a sort of uebermensch and he is--Die Raubtiere--one who cares little for helping either the starving or the bourgeois: he chooses to subvert all “normal” bourgeois values (and any imagined marxist ones as well really)), though still beset with some anxiety, and whack the hag, content that his reality is a subjective and solipsistic construct.

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