A Strange Commonplace by Gilbert Sorrentino

By Gilbert Sorrentino


Borrowing its identify from a William Carlos Williams poem, A unusual Commonplace lays naked the secrets and techniques and desires of characters whose lives are intertwined via twist of fate and necessity, possessions and experience.

Ensnared in a jungle of urban streets and suburban bed room groups from the boozy Nineteen Fifties to the culturally vacuous current, traces blur among households and buddies, violence and love, desire and depression. As fathers attempt to hook up with their young ones, as writers fight for credibility, as other halves stroll out, and an outdated guy performs Russian roulette with a deck of playing cards, their tales resonate with poignancy and savage humor—familiar, tragic, and cathartic.

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Bataille does not desire to escape history and temporality but to engage with them differently, and he makes use of the ambiguities of his mystical sources to help him think, write, and live a new relationship to history and to the other. This new relationship involves a continual contestation of the distinctions between content and form, mysticism and history, and atheism and theism on which Sartre’s critique rests. “T H E PHILOSOPHER —SARTRE—AND ME” 35 1 THE SCANDAL OF THE REAL ......................................................................

NM 174) Sartre glimpses the excesses of Bataille’s prewar work on the festival in Bataille’s wartime writing; he here acknowledges that Bataille’s desire is exorbitant, INTRODUCTION TO PART ONE 28 without limits, and uncontainable. Yet Sartre immediately asks whether Bataille is sincere in this desire and argues, ultimately, that he is not. Despite denying salvation, Sartre avers, Bataille claims to find it. Thus it is less the prewar excesses of Bataille (and the other surrealists and dissident surrealists with whom Sartre associates him) that Sartre explicitly rejects than it is Bataille’s complicity, as Sartre sees it, with a certain “totalitarian thought” (NM 149)—despite the fragmentation of Bataille’s text.

In chapter 8 I argue that one of the crucial differences between the medieval mystic and the modern hysteric is that the former insists—often against strong ecclesial opposition—on her ability to interpret her own symptoms, thereby recasting repression as sublimation and the forces of the unconscious as God (even if, as in the case of Angela, this is a God who will be radically “unsaid”). Regardless of our ontological commitments, the modern fascination with the mystical exhibits a nostalgia for a time when there were ritual means to deal with the traumatic effects of loss, limitation, and death.

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