‘The World of Made Is Not the World of Born’: America and the Edge of the Continent
The risk of America’, Tadeusz Slawek writes in the final plenary lecture, ‘is […] America itself—its endless, limitless ambitions […] to know absolutely everything’. These words resonate in important ways with the diagnosis of the contemporary world offered in The Transparency Society by Byung-Chul Han—a German-Korean theorist whose work has only recently begun to appear in English translation. Byung-Chul Han attacks transparency as a contemporary false ideal. The illusion that we can obtain information about everyone and everything—that thanks to technological innovations like the Internet, the world has become transparent—runs counter to the actual impoverishment of our ability to make sense of this wealth of data. We accumulate information, but this does not necessarily mean that our knowledge of the world increases. Through a deft and illuminating reading of poetry by Robinson Jeffers and e. e. cummings, matched by astute references to Norman O. Brown, Jean Luc Nancy, and George Bataille, and others, Sławek traces the poets’ brave struggle against the culture and rhetoric of ‘excess’. Jeffers and cummings, but also D. H. Lawrence, were quick to denounce that America was turning into a ‘world in which everything is “far too”, i.e., a world subjected to human ambition and desire, a world of hasty activism’ where only Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘one hundred percent Americans’ would be welcome. To the nightmarish dream of a panoptical, completely transparent America, Slawek opposes a poetic and cultural tradition that stands firmly opposed to ‘the hubristic desires of the American state to know absolutely everything regardless of civil rights and political and economic costs’.
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