Saturday, February 17, 2007

Critical Acumen

"I have wandered extensively in several great European cities, and I appreciated everything that deserved appreciation. The catalogue on this subject could be vast. There were the beers of England, where mild and bitter were mixed in pints; the big schooners of Munich; the Irish beers; and the most classical, the Czech beer of Pilsen; and the admirable baroque character of the Gueuze around Brussels, when it had its distinctive flavour in each local brewery and did not travel well. There were the fruit brandies of Alsace; the rum of Jamaica; the punches, the aquavit of Aalborg, and the grappa of Turin, cognac, cocktails; the incomparable mezcal of Mexico. There were all the wines of France, the loveliest coming from Burgundy; there were the wines of Italy, especially the Barolos of the Langhe and the Chiantis of Tuscany; there were the wines of Spain, the Riojas of Old Castille or the Jumilla of Murcia."

-- Guy Debord, Panegyric (1.III, p. 32, trans. James Brook)


Alex said...

If Debord can appreciate EVERYTHING that deserved appreciation, it would naturally follow that Debord's taste is perfect, or more philosophically or globally, that Debord knows the good and beautiful. Only someone who had perfect knowledge of the good could know that he had appreciated EVERYTHING that was good. Debord himself says that though the catalogue of good things is long, it is still finite.

An interesting passage, since it implies that Debord here is a Platonist.

Maya said...

...or that, at the least, he likes to get a good buzz on.

Zach Campbell said...

Is Debord a platonist? I don't know. He does seem to have a high opinion of himself and an even higher opinion of his taste in whatever it is he deems worthy of his attention (such as alcohol, which part III of his Panegyric 1 is devoted to entirely). But he makes for very enjoyable reading. In Considerations on the Assassination of Gerard Lebovici he writes about how the press, in their effect to make Debord this mystical, radical anti-christ, talk about how he shutters up his remote woodland home. Debord's response is basically, "You idiots! This is done in the summertime because it keeps out bugs!"

My friend went to a Debord conference here in NYC a few years back, and said that one of the speakers, a friend or acquaintance of Debord, told of how on numerous visits to Debord's home he was unable to decipher the logic (he knew there was some logic) to the library. "How is this organized?" he finally broke down and asked Debord, who responded with, "They're organized by war!"

Anyway ...

dave said...

It seems to me that Debord is organized by the pursuit of experience in a momentary context. Which is to say, he's not really speaking of what 'deserves appreciation' in the sense that physical reality is immutable and existent, but instead engaging with events and experiences on a timeline. So while Plato might say that all things exists as shadows of the idea of their existence, Debord might say that all things exist as I experience them.

Debord establishes his own phenomenology, where the experience of places/things/liquors do not reach for the essence of thingliness, but instead for the essence of experienceliness. He's not thinking about it, but he's using 'being' to approach the temporal aspect of 'Being.' (Aren't we all?)

Also, he likes to drink.

Alex said...

Drinking is important, as we learn from the Symposium.

"It seems to me that Debord is organized by the pursuit of experience in a momentary context."

I'm not so sure this passage supports that interpretation. First, Debord is comparing things over a quite wide span of time, as he takes pain to both tell us directly and implied in this list. His memories might all be occuring in a momentary reflection here, but the memory encompasses years.

Second, Debord indicates that he's been doing a fair amount of contemplation on the subject, he uses the terms "catalogue" and "loveliest", both of which imply judgements, and probably judgements made from careful analysis of many data points. Catalogue reminds us of Enlightenment scientists, and loveliest reminds us of Romantic or Renaissance art criticism. Some things are not lovely, and some things do not appear on the catalogue - so there's discrimation or an analysis of Being implied here.

"but he's using 'being' to approach the temporal aspect of 'Being.'"

Isn't it more correct to say your argument is that he's using Becoming to approach the temporal aspect of Being?

dave said...

Alex -

OK, I consider myself corrected by the last line of your response, but I'm not sure I agree with the rest.

Debord's project has always seemed to me to be the reclamation of time from the machine of spectacular capitalism (spectacle commodity being the voluntary release of your own time and agency, the giving away of life in favor of the imitation of life). So my first thought was to apply his other ideas to the passage at hand (a kind of dérive through the world of alcohol). But an even better support might come from the paragraph preceding this one:

The hours and their shifting conditions almost always retain a determining role in the necessary renewal of the moments of a spree, and each brings its sensible preference to bear on the available possibilities. There is what is drunk in the mornings, and for a long while that was beer. In Cannery Row a character who one could tell was a connoisseur professes that “there’s nothing like that first taste of beer.” But I have often needed, at the moment of waking, Russian vodka. There is what is drunk with meals, and in the afternoons that stretch between them. There is wine some nights, along with spirits, and after that beer is pleasant again — for then beer makes one thirsty. There is what is drunk at the end of the night, at the moment when the day begins anew. It is understood that all this has left me very little time for writing, and that is exactly as it should be: writing should remain a rare thing, since one must have drunk for a long time before finding excellence.

In light of this I see the paragraph Zach posted as a catalogue of his alcohol experiences rather than of the alcohols themselves.