Martin Procházka, Transversals

Sudipto Sanyal
Bowling Green State University

Procházka, Martin. Transversals. Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2008. 167pp.

[1] It's unsettling to begin reading the introduction to a book purportedly on Romanticism and run immediately into a definition of the transversal in Euclidean geometry in the very first line, followed shortly by its variant notions in Reimannian geometry, chaos theories, combinatorics [1] and graph theory, computer science, and bioinformatics. This, however, is well in keeping with the project of Transversals, which is a radical Deleuzian re-reading of Romanticism, its emergence, its tendencies, and its transversalities.

[2] The transversal, as Procházka points out, taking a leaf out of Gilles Deleuze, is anti-totalizing, creating instead an architectonics of multiple series that allows them to interact with each other across time and space, thereby resulting in the "step-by-step, internal, dynamic construction of space which must precede the 'representation' of the whole as a form of exteriority" [2]. In the process of this construction, transversality imparts to this whole representational process an agency that is essential for it to actively communicate with its composite parts, and with its audience. Transversality in the Deleuzian scheme, and therefore in its use in this book, is "not only a framework of reference but also an agency by means of which 'a work of art communicates with a public and even gives rise to that public'" [3].

[3] This is heady stuff, but crucial for understanding the relational system of thought, ideas and actions – affects, really, if one is to be strictly Deleuzian about it [4] – connecting the different Romanticisms that Procházka sets out to unmask. This latest project seems to be a fertile engagement with his longstanding interest in Romanticism and its ways of (de)constructing subjectivity, thereby creating a palimpsest of variations on a Romantic theme when taken into consideration with his previous books –both in Czech, unlike the present volume– Romanticism and Romanticisms (with Zdeněk Hrbata, 2005) and Romanticism and Personality: Subjectivity in English Romantic Poetry and Aesthetics (1996). This concern leads to a rhizomatic revision of the way in which Romantic art is traditionally viewed. Procházka argues that transversality is central to Romantic art, because the "only universal features" of Romanticism are "diversity and difference" [5]. In so doing, Romanticism is analyzed as "the first pluralistic project" of modern Western culture.

[4] This is the monumental re-ordering of the ways of analyzing Romanticism that is achieved in Transversals. By engaging with all the phases of Deleuzian thought, Procházka creates a comprehensive system of analysis that goes beyond a surface reading and expresses a profound engagement with its subject. Hence, Deleuze's ontological attempt to replace the conscious subject with a subject-through-time is, as Procházka points out, exactly what the Romantic process sets into motion. The Romantic subject, in this reading, is capable of defining itself by its "creative potentials rather than its conscious experience of itself" [6]. The Romantic subject is thus mapped heterotopically and heterochronically in the unified field of thought, writing and spatial markers. The Romantic subjectivity appears to be produced within and flow through a larger cosmological process that bears little resemblance to conventional subjective experience, and Romantic art manifests itself at various assemblages –compositions of energies that act, have agency– in its passage through time to create a common space for itself.

[5] Transversality, in this view, becomes the way in which both Romanticism and this book are ordered. It

characterizes the structure of [both] as a network of nodes of different complexity, function and significance, from verbal signs, through quotations, texts, intertextualities and discourses to various cultural systems and spatiotemporal and representational orders. This network provides alternative referential frameworks for discussing a set of major problems characteristic of Romanticism as the first pluralistic project of modern culture. This set includes the questions of the purpose of and responsibility for history, the relations between freedom and subjectivity, nomadic existence and segmentation of social spaces, cultural boundaries and hybridities, artistic representations and simulacra, aesthetic objects and "literary machines," traditional aesthetic categories..., national identities and "imagined communities." [7]

[6] Chapter 1, 'Inscribed on Imperial Ruins,' introduces the problem of history in the last canto of Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. By tracing the transversal movement from "the ruinous centre of the global empire and the crisis of the subject" [8] towards a space of ambiguity that is expressed within the discrepancy of socio-historical visibility –the notion of history as telos with an end or ultimate purpose– and religious invisibility (think Foucauldian panopticism coupled with Derrida's view of Christianity as anti-Platonic because the Ideal, i.e., God, is essentially invisible), history is seen as alternating between responsibility and Absurdism.

[7] This problem of history is linked ('link' functioning as both active and as passive verb) to 'Ruins in the New World: Uses of the Past in U.S. Culture,' which examines the process by which ruins are being gradually replaced by ghost towns as markers of historicity in the American imagination. This, believes Procházka, is symptomatic of the attempt to subvert finalist notions of history and transplant them with the historical logic of late capitalism, i.e., that technology can retard the inevitability of ruin, conquering both nature and 'lesser' civilizations. This chapter engages with Lyotardian and Baudrillardian interpretations of ideas of simulacra and different orders of ghost towns to show how "networks of heterotopias and historical narratives connect the violent beginnings of American colonization not only with the post 9/11 traumas, but also with ironic visions" in certain American Romantic literature, such as Moby Dick and Nathaniel Hawthorne's prose works [9]. Procházka thus, remarkably, connects the American Romantics to this sense of history as make-believe in a postmodern world, what John Jackson in 'The Necessity of Ruins' believes is "the end of history."

[8] The omission of a discussion of Edgar Allan Poe from any of the analyses of American Romanticism in the book seems to be a shortcoming of Procházka's approach. Poe's hallucinations of self-destruction and a society in ruin or on the verge of collapse might complicate this sense of history as simulacrum and render an intricate connection even more intricate. Even Chapter 9, 'Mechanic? – Organic? Hawthorne's Machines of Art,' which is a deconstruction of the "binary opposition of romantic [sic] aesthetics between mechanical fancy and organic imagination based on the model of organic form" [10], avoids mentioning, for instance, the classic 'The Tell-Tale Heart,' where the mechanic-organic binary functions as a dialectics of fear and imagination.

[9] The schizophrenic Romantic process is emphasized frequently, with chapters on "nomadic trajectories" in Byron's poetry and a reconsideration of the narrator of Walter Scott's Waverley as an historical ironist, and thence of the picturesque in the novel that makes it articulate its own becoming, thus being seen as a Derridian operation, a "history of the meaning of the work itself" [11].

[10] 'A Tale of Two Orders: Word as Go-Between,' is the epistemological core of Transversals (it is, incidentally, the chapter that is at the precise middle of the book, with four chapters on either side). The subtitle could easily be a nod to the opening line of L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between – "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there" – especially in the chapter's reference to differing historical epochs and its analysis of a linguistic referent that is literally from a foreign country – the distorted Chinese expression "sharawadgi," meaning approximately "the quality of being impressive or surprising through carelessness or unorderly grace" [12]. This is a truly remarkable chapter that analyzes different attitudes to the planning and architecture of landscapes and gardens in Early Modern England as markers that open up "the possibility of a different representative order" [emphasis in the original] [13]. Another transversal is drawn between the pre-Romantic sense of landscaping aesthetics and the postmodern paradox of the interplay between a global –as Procházka notes,

'sharawadgi' signifies the art of gardening as a free play, in the course of which the fixed hierarchical structures of representation are desedimented, and the garden is opened to the neighbouring landscape... the Other implied by 'sharawadgi' has two imcompatible aspects: the playful, illusionist creativity and the grim triumph of global powers. Both these features may be said to haunt our present time. [14]

[11] Transversals concludes with an analysis of the temporality that constructs "imagined communities."[15] 'Beyond Romanticism? Imagined Communities Revisited' begins with a provocative critique of Benedict Anderson's theory of the temporal order, a "simultaneity-along-time" [16], in which communities create imagined identities, contrasting this to the Czech novelist Milan Kundera's notion of the emptiness of time and historical coincidence. The chapter then attempts to examine myths as discursive practices (à la Roland Barthes and Clifford Geertz) and how they produce "imagined communities," in this case, Europe. Procházka ends with a proposed "aesthetic of the picturesque" [emphasis in the original] that draws transversal links from Romanticism, as the most feasible way of "imagining the culturally diversified Europe" [17].

[12] It is important to note that Transversals is not an easy read, especially for the reader unacquainted with Deleuze and the special Deleuzian vocabulary – one should, for example, be aware beforehand that for Deleuze, and thus for its meaning in this book, 'representation' signifies a way of thinking about the world in terms of a systematic model that is centred on "the notion of the 'individual object'" and synchronizes with the way everyday life is experienced [18]. The baroque language is a double-edged sword – on the one hand, it can be extremely intimidating for the unprepared or casual reader, but on the other hand, its baroque operation as a mode that needs a particular perspective for it to make sense is a wonderfully provocative invitation to rethink Romanticism and its transversals linking assemblages across empty time. Transversals often seems fragmented, and each essay could have been standalone (all the essays, in fact, have been published in one form or another prior to the book's publication), and a serious problem with the book is its sloppy printing (it often feels like a real printer's devil worked its mischief by misspelling and removing articles and prepositions) that frequently makes perfectly clear sentences appear nonsensical. The fragmented nature, of course, is a strategic device that forces the reader to draw transversals connecting the disparate essays in a supreme act of readerly intervention. As for the printing, one can only hope it's rectified in the next edition.

[13] Reidar Due compares Deleuze's philosophy to French surrealism, namely, that its aim is to bring about "a revolution of the mind, a fundamental change in how we think" [19]. The same can perhaps be said about Martin Procházka's Transversals – in its rethinking of Romanticism, it attempts to seek the central Deleuzian impulse towards becoming as a creative "line of flight," but this concept, as Due points out, entails a problem of freedom. Is this, Procházka seems to be asking, our late capitalist age's primary transversal link with Romanticism, this problem of freedom?


[1] Which, for the curious cat, is a branch of pure mathematics that concerns itself with studying discrete objects.

[2] Procházka, Transversals (Prague: Litteraria Pragensia, 2008) 3.

[3] Ibid., 4. Procházka is here quoting Gilles Deleuze, Proust and Signs, trans. Richard Howard (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000) 169.

[4] For Deleuze, affects are "the basic components of mental activity." See Reidar Due, Deleuze (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press) 10. These components, I think, should be viewed dialectically, as belonging to a flow of mentality and experience.

[5] Procházka, 5.

[6] Due, 9.

[7] Procházka, 5.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 6.

[10] Ibid., 9.

[11] Jacques Derrida, 'Force and Signification,' in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978) 14. Quoted in Procházka, 8.

[12] Y. Z. Chang, quoted in Procházka, 83.

[13] Procházka, 86.

[14] Ibid., 95.

[15] See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London and New York: Verso, 1991).

[16] Anderson, 24. Quoted in Procházka, 10.

[17] Procházka, 164.

[18] Due, 6.

[19] Ibid., 1.