Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Day 277: Desert Islands Part IV

Robinson Crusoe Island

The fourth of 5 excerpts to be posted over time from Gilles Deleuze's Desert Islands.

(Read Part I on Day 258 and Part II on Day 262, Part III on Day 263)

At the same time, its destiny is subject to those human conditions that make mythology possible. Mythology is not simply willed into existence, and the peoples of the earth quickly ensured they would no longer understand their own myths. It is at this very moment literature begins. Literature is the attempt to interpret, in an ingenious way, the myths we no longer understand, at the moment we no longer understand them, since we no longer know how to dream them or reproduce them. Literature is the competition of misinterpretations that consciousness naturally and necessarily produces on themes of the unconscious, and like every competition it has its prizes. One would have to show exactly how in this sense mythology fails and dies in two classic novels of the deserted island, Robinson and Suzanne. Suzanne and the Pacific emphasizes the separated aspect of islands, the separation of the young woman who finds herself there; Robinson Crusoe, the creative aspect, the beginning anew. It is true that the way mythology fails is different in each case. In the case of Giraudoux's Suzanne, mythology dies the prettiest, most graceful death. In Robinson's case, its death is heavy indeed. One can hardly imagine a more boring novel, and it is sad to see children still reading it today. Robinson's vision of the world resides exclusively in property; never have we seen an owner more ready to preach. The mythical recreation of the world from the deserted island gives way to the reconstitution of everyday bourgeois life from a reserve of capital. Everything is taken from the ship. Nothing is invented. It is all painstakingly applied on the island. Time is nothing but the time necessary for capital to produce a benefit as the outcome of work. And the providential function of God is to guarantee a return. God knows his people, the hardworking honest type, by their beautiful properties, and the evil doers, by their poorly maintained, shabby property. Robinson's companion is not Eve, but Friday, docile towards work, happy to be a slave, and too easily disgusted by cannibalism. Any healthy reader would dream of seeing him eat Robinson. Robinson Crusoe represents the best illustration of that thesis which affirms the close ties between capitalism and Protestantism. The novel develops the failure and the death of mythology in Puritanism. Things are quite different with Suzanne. In her case, the deserted island is a depository of ready-made, luxurious objects. The island bears immediately what it has taken civilization centuries to produce, perfect, and ripen. But mythology still dies, though in Suzanne's case it dies in a particularly Parisian way. Suzanne has nothing to create anew. The deserted island provides her with the double of every object from the city, in the windows of the shops; it is a double without consistency, separated from the real, since it does not receive the solidity that objects ordinarily take on in human relations, amidst buying and selling, exchanges and presents. She is an insipid young woman. Her companions are not Adam, but young cadavers, and when she reenters the world of living men, she will love them in a uniform way, like a priest, as though love were the minimum threshold of her perception. What must be recovered is the mythological life of the deserted island. However, in its very failure, Robinson gives us some indication: he first needed a reserve of capital. In Suzanne's case, she was first and foremost separate. And neither the one nor the other could be part of a couple. These three indications must be restored to their mythological purity.

No comments: