Loads of Learned Lumber

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Jacques Rancière, _Aesthetics and its Discontents_, part two

PICKING UP FROM where we left off last week: two of the remaining three pieces in the book deal with certain of Alain Badiou's and Jean-François Lyotard's contributions to aesthetics. I haven't read the works by these two that Ranciére comments on, but I gather he thinks Lyotard's Kantian take on art could be usefully enriched by deeper acquaintance with Schiller's Letters on Aesthetic Education and that Badiou's Platonic take on art could be usefully enriched by deeper acquaintance with the writings of Rancière himself.

The final essay in the book, "The Ethical Turn of Aesthetics and Politics," covers some of the same ground as the essay on the "unrepresentable" in The Future of the Image, adding an interesting dimension, though, in its consideration of the ethical. He begins by noting that "today [i.e., 2004] there is an increasing tendency to submit politics and arts to moral judgements about the validity of their principles and the consequences of their practices," a tendency, he further notes, that many applaud.  He demurs, however, "because I do not believe that this is actually what is happening."

He goes on to say that invocations of the ethical tend to push towards consensus, e.g., "we can all agree that terrorism is wrong"--the snag being that this "all" is not truly "all," large group that it may be, but calling it "all" places those in disagreement beyond some pale, in a hinterland where mercy and forgiveness are out of the question, in the zone of "infinite justice," as R. calls it. Here he brings in, with stunning pertinency, Giorgio Agamben on states of exception.

What of the push to dissensus? What of strikers, say, who fought back against the police who were trying to suppress their strike? "The opposition between two types of violence was therefore also that between two sorts of morals and of rights. This dividing of violence, morality and right has a name. It is politics."

A "tendency of differences in politics and right to disappear in the indistinctness of ethics is also defining of a certain present of the arts and of aesthetic reflection" Rancière asserts as the essays wings towards its conclusion, a swing that takes in Christian Boltanski, earlier and later Godard, Shoah, and the TV miniseries Holocaust. My brutal oversimplification of the gist of this part of the essay would be that we should be asking more of our art than that it keep reaffirming that genocide or the sexual abuse of children is wrong. A little more dissensus, please.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Still Sore at Rorty?

WONDERING WHY RICHARD Rorty got dragged by the heels into Samuel Moyn's review-essay on Elaine Scarry in the February 25 Nation.

Moyn's criticism of Scarry seems (to me) to be that she is insufficiently Marxist. Scarry calls attention (esp. in The Body in Pain) to the suffering inflicted on individuals by the powerful, and discusses Marx, but Moyn notes that "missing from her account of Marx is the critique of ideology, along with class struggle and violent revolution." Just about everything that makes Marx Marx, in other words. Scarry, he writes, "has never seen torture (or creativity, for that matter) as a concrete social and political event linked to specific institutions."

I am guessing from Moyn's tone that he believes Scarry ought to have seen torture and creativity as linked to specific institutions, which leads me further to guess that he would prefer that she analyze art in terms of ideologies and the actions of the state in terms of class conflict. Not that he says as much.

But he does go on to quarrel with Rorty at this point, who he also sees focusing on humane-intervention sorts of politics rather than tackling the big picture: "For Rorty, idealism in public affairs isn't possible in the foreseeable future, so our world of hierarchy and suffering just has to be accepted."
Rorty's reading of 1984 is contrasted with, and found weaker than, that of...Raymond Williams.  Oy.

So I wonder--are some still sore at Rorty for trying to imagine a non-Marxist intellectual left? If Moyn completed his BA, as Wikipedia claims, in 1994, he is too young to have been one of that wave of Rorty-disparagers; he would have been in middle school when Eagleton and Jameson were ascendant, and Lukács, Benjamin, Adorno, Althusser, and Williams were every grad student's must-reads. So why revive this old quarrel? Is this sort of thing due for a resurgence?

I hope not, myself. Marxists were certainly skilled at disparaging and discrediting any and all varieties of non-Marxist leftist thinking--they were better at that, I recall, than at anything else--but for my money Rorty made a cogent argument in Achieving Our County and elsewhere that the siren song of Marxist thought was, for the time being, better resisted than heeded.

I sense irony in Moyn's Nation piece being immediately followed by an (excellent) review-essay by Ben Ehrenreich on Viktor Shklovsky, whose career would be one of many exhibits in making the case against putting Marxists in charge of culture.

Loved Moyn's shout-out to Judith Shklar, though.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Brian Evenson, _Father of Lies_

I'VE READ Brian Evenson's The Open Curtain three times--about time I picked up a different one, do you suppose? Father of Lies is his first novel, I think. (His bibliography is complicated.)

In its blend of religiously-inspired mania with homicide, its maybe-real-maybe-not demonic presences, and its utterly persuasive experiments with point-of-view to convey the texture of delusion, The Open Curtain reminded me a great deal of James Hogg's minor classic The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824).  Father of Lies is even more closely reminiscent of Hogg, mainly in the use it makes of antinomianism...cue brutally simplified explanation.

Antinomianism springs from good Calvinist doctrine--the Perseverance of the Saints, the "P" in TULIP--the idea that the saved are so well and truly saved that nothing they do (or anyone else does) can separate them from God's grace. Here and in other respects Calvin was perhaps seeking to undermine the idea that any human institution (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church) had the power to save or damn a believer--the power is God's alone, and cannot be delegated. So far, so reformed. In a controversial development of this idea, some speculated that nothing the saved did could count as a sin, given that it was performed by someone assured of salvation. This line of thinking seemed dangerous; it's part of what drew the ire of the authorities upon Anne Hutchinson.

In Hogg's novel, the main character, Robert Wringhim, is a Scots Calvinist, assured of salvation, but his friend Gil-Martin--who is really, we gradually realize, a demon or devil--so powerfully convinces Robert of the soundness of the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints that Robert embarks on a series of increasingly horrible crimes and comes to a very, very bad end.

In Evenson's novel, Eldon Fochs is made a "provost" of the "Corporation of the Blood of the Lamb."
He does not feel worthy of the honor, since he has the most awful kinds of thoughts from time to time, but he is assured by the elders that the church could not possibly make a mistake, and that his very election to the post is proof that he is worthy of being God's instrument.  With this assurance, Fochs embarks on a series of increasingly horrible crimes--much worse, I would have to say, than anything Robert Wringhim got up to. Fochs even has a Gil-Martin like demonic familiar, whom he calls Bloody-Head. Unlike Wringhim, however, Fochs gets away with everything and is flourishing in his awfulness at novel's end.

Father of Lies struck me as not as strong as The Open Curtain, insofar as it was not as narratively ingenious, but still worth reading, especially if you like your literary fiction braided with a little horror.

Is the Corporation of the Blood of the Lamb a stand-in for the Church of Latter-Day Saints, in which Evenson was raised, and which he eventually left? It is true that the Mormon church has in the past been guilty of abuses of power, cover-ups of said abuses, denial, hypocrisy, exploitation...but then again, which church hasn't?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

John Ashbery, _Planisphere_

AS OFTEN HAPPENS to me, the arrival of a new book by a favorite writer was a pointed reminder that I had not yet read the previous one, so I plucked Planisphere from the shelves last week.

I may be missing something--in fact, it's near a dead certainty that I am missing something--but the volumes following Girls on the Run seem very much alike to me, each poem seeming as though it could as easily have come from, say, Your Name Here as from, say, A Worldly Country.

Not that Ashbery has anything left to prove; he's as entitled as he could possibly be to say, "OK, I've settled into my late manner, and if you don't like it, fuck off." And I do like it. The sound of Ashbery is the sound of contemporary American poetry; you hear his note everywhere, as you heard Eliot's everywhere in the poetry of the mid-20th century. The quick changes of register from erudite to demotic, the mid-sentence dislocations, the pronoun shifts that seem to bring in the stormclouds (or break them up), the nail-driven-home smack of those last lines that, on examination, turns out only to have deepened the mystery--no one does Ashbery like Ashbery.

the consequence of leaves
got thrown into a bath of lemon and eucalyptus

the day was raging crisp
heavily outlined

he had been in touch with old buildings

How does Ashbery make someone's being in touch with old buildings seems both inevitable and unfathomable?

Those are the last lines of the second of the two poems titled "Episode," which begins with part of a Browning line: "or what's a heaven for?"  Familiar or once-familiar lines wander through like deer in the backyard, often re-contextualized and re-purposed:

I remember I remember
the word "shovel"


So we'll go no more a-teething
For now.


The volume's title itself seems such an echo, the most memorable previous use of the word "planisphere" having occurred in Andrew Marvell's "Definition of Love," a beautiful love poem, though one about an uncrossable separation.  Perhaps emphasizing that the course of true love ne'er did run smooth, lines from Wyatt's "They Flee from Me" also appear-- twice, in fact, both times to stunning effect, in" Trespassing"('my love, how like you this?") and in "Working Overtime" (the last line, no less: "with naked foot stalking my chamber").

"Breathlike," which does double duty as inner-jacket-flap copy, seems an Ashberyean "Circus Animals' Desertion": "Just as the day could use another hour, / I need another idea." Judging from the 143 pages of Planisphere, he has a way to keep finding them.

"Therefore poetry dissolves in / brilliant moisture and reads us / to us," we read in one poem.  "Poetry is seriously out of joint," we read in the next. Palinode, or accident arising from Ashbery's having again printed the poems in alphabetical order of their titles? Forget it, Jake, it's Ashbery.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Did Kenneth Anger Curse Christopher Sorrentino?

AND WHY WOULD I even ask such a question? Well, I am just now getting around to Conjunctions 58, which includes a story by Christopher Sorrentino, "The Cursed."

The story's POV character, Nolan Dane, is a writer interested in film whose father, recently deceased, was a "coterie artist."  In brief, Nolan Dane has traits in common with Sorrentino, son of the late great Gilbert Sorrentino and the author of, among other things, a book on the Charles Bronson film Death Wish.

Some time ago, Nolan Dane published an interview with the biographer of Frederic Constant, an "underground filmmaker" whose films rely on "midcentury homoerotic imagery" and who has also published "an anecdotal history of old Hollywood scandals." Constant was so incensed at the contents of the interview that he has--so Dane learns--placed a curse on the interviewee, the magazine, and the interviewer.

Dane's life has been difficult of a late, and he begins to think perhaps he actually has been operating under a curse. And so the story begins.

Okay.  Constant sounds a lot like Kenneth Anger, director of Scorpio Rising (with its homoerotic biker gang) and other landmarks of underground film, and author of Hollywood Babylon.  Furthermore, Anger is famous for an interest in the black arts. A scholar of Aleister Crowley, he would certainly know how to place a curse, were he ever so inclined.

Did Sorrentino ever interview Bill Landis, author of an unauthorized biography of Anger? No--but he did interview Zachary Lazar, author of Sway, one of those historical-novels-about-people-who-are-not-yet-dead-yet-are-referred-to-by-their-real-names.  A genre that needs a name, and one probably prone to lawsuits, to say nothing of curses. Kenneth Anger does indeed figure prominently, as do some of the Rolling Stones and Charles Manson, in Sway. (I have not read and may never read Sway, but you or I can pick it up for one penny plus $3.99 shipping and handling on Amazon.)

In sum: Kenneth Anger may in fact have been annoyed at Christopher Sorrentino for his role in promoting a novel Anger may have thought defamatory of himself, and Anger may actually have threatened to curse him.

Which is interesting, no?  But beyond all that, "The Cursed" turns out to be a great story. Dane is led to acknowledge that the ordinary burdens of life--loss of love, loss of health, loss of life itself--are such that every one of us has all too many reasons to think of ourselves as "cursed" already, that we all somehow have to manage in a world not designed to preserve us. If the only thing we had to worry about was bad-tempered underground filmmakers, life would be pretty sweet.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Martin Kantor, _Homophobia: The State of Sexual Bigotry Today_

COINCIDENTALLY, THIS BOOK on homophobia early on praises the book on homophobia I had just finished: Kantor's introduction mentions Byrne Fone's "brilliant history of homophobia." Wait a minute; hold the...phone. Brilliant? It was a good, respectable book, but brilliant?

Kantor goes on to say that Fone's book shows that "the neuroses of the human brings who create that homophobia in the first place remain depressingly the same over the ages." Hmm.  I wouldn't say Fone shows that homophobia is always and everywhere the same; I would say that Fone assumes it is always and everywhere the same, which it might well appear to be if you are comparing a contemporary English translation of an ancient Greek text to a contemporary English translation of a medieval Latin text to a Victorian sermon. But what distinctions get blurred in those comparisons?

The other problem is that Fone's book is deeply Eurocentric, as we used to say in the 1990s. Its focus is on western Europe, with some attention to western Europe's cultural antecedents (Greece, Rome, the Bible) and some to western Europe's crazy cousin in North America, the United States. Compared to Louis Crompton's Homosexuality and Civilization (2003), which at least devoted chapters to China and Japan, Fone's book provides little foundation for universalist claims.

It was a good book, though. Kantor's, I have to say, strikes me as not that good. He is a (retired?) psychiatrist, and his main idea is that homophobia can be understood as an "emotional disorder or mental illness." A lot of his book is taxonomic, we might say, establishing categories of homophobic persons according to the structural similarity of their bigotry to OCD, or narcissism, or paranoia.

Fair enough.  One problem with the book, though, is that Kantor does not always make clear the nature  of the evidence he brings forward.  For instance: "Today, we mainly hear things like comments of the personal trainer who said that though many of his clients are gay, at least his clients know that he is a happily married man, so they never try to cross the line with him [emphasis Kantor's]." Was this personal trainer a former client? Someone Kantor read about in a study?  Someone he met at a party (the sentence has a reported-speech quality to it)? Is it a kind of composite fiction for the sake of illustration, as suggested by the tag "we hear comments like"?

We never learn. Kantor identifies many of his examples as former patients, and these examples are often illuminating and have a lot of good gritty detail, but too often the evidence seems impressionistic and ungrounded, the tone that of someone blowing off steam over an item in the morning's paper. Given that he is a medical man, his argument could have been more rigorous.

The other, more awkward problem with the book is while Kantor seeks to show that homophobia is an emotional disorder or mental illness, his tone recurringly reveals that he is angry at homophobes. "Grandiose sophomoric narcissists"--that's on page five.  "Overwrought, panicky, and defensive"--that's on page six. If a psychiatrist took that tone about his schizophrenic patients, or depressed patients, or OCD patients, wouldn't we think, "jeez, time for you to retire"? If the homophobic have a disease, is it OK to blame them or condemn them for it?

Kantor almost seems to want to have it both ways--one chapter is devoted to the "cognitive errors" of the "illogical ideology of homophobia." We are within our rights, I think, to blame or condemn people for relying on bad information, mistaken assumptions, and illogic, although there are obviously more and less diplomatic ways of doing that. But how does this jib with the claim that homophobia is an illness? Is Kantor saying that homophobia is a mental illness generated by a cognitive error? Or that it is a mental illness that generates cognitive errors? Which end of the stick should we grab here? Someone at Praeger should have made him think this through, because it makes the book's argument incoherent.

Still, there is a kind of poetic justice, homosexuality having long been subject to judgmental medicalization, in seeing homophobia getting a taste of the same medicine.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Jacques Rancière, _Aesthetics and its Discontents_, part one

"THERE IS NO postmodern rupture," Rancière states on p. 36, and then, for good measure, again on p. 42 in the very same words: "There is no postmodern rupture." What, no postmodern rupture? I think of the postmodern rupture as an old friend, so this came as disconcerting news, like the terrible thing they did to Pluto.

No postmodern rupture... but how else name the difference between Pollock and Warhol, say, or Hemingway and Pynchon?

Rancière's dismissal of the postmodern rupture stems from his conception of the "aesthetic regime"--"regime" being his term for "the specific gaze and thought" brought to an object that enable that object to register on us as art, "aesthetic" being his name for the regime that arose and became dominant about the era of the French Revolution, or the Romantic era as we anglophones usually think of it, succeeding the "representative regime" of the early modern period. Among the defining characteristics of the aesthetic regime are that art is seen less as something presented to a specific audience in a specific place for specific purposes, and more for "an undifferentiated public," broadly connected to "people, civilization, or history"; that art no longer assumes some individuals and events are naturally more important or serious than others, but instead devotes just as much attention to the small, the ephemeral, the ordinary; that art was esteemed less for the "story" it told than for how it went about telling it.

Rancière has been elaborating the ideas in the preceding paragraph for many years now; fortunately, he provides a swift and succinct summary in the "Introduction" to Aesthetics and Its Discontents.

For Rancière, we are still in the aesthetic regime--hence, no postmodern rupture.  For that matter, no modern rupture, either, no change in regime between Dickens or Joyce.

One wing of the aesthetic regime makes art of what was previously regarded as irredeemably inartistic, making the boundary between art and "life" porous; Balzac, shall we say, or Warhol (my example, not Rancière's), who insisted that art could be Brillo boxes, Brillo boxes could be art.

Another wing of the aesthetic regime refuses any idea that art merely reflects reality, or "the way things ought to be," or the orthodoxies of external authorities, the church, the ruling class; instead the art object stubbornly insists on playing by its own, and only its own rules. So we have Mallarmé and, say, Jackson Pollock.

So, different though they are, Pollock and Warhol are both part of a logic about art that has been deploying and ramifying itself since the late 18th century.

So... no rupture, but two paths made possible by the same new dispensation. And both political. (The essay in which Rancière develops all this is titled "Aesthetics as Politics.") The first, seeking to cancel the border between art and the lived, rejects the idea that only certain people are worthy of art's attention. The second can constitute a kind of otherness that resists whatever the hegemony of the moment is; by not playing nice, so to speak, it suggests that the way things are is not the way  things have to be.

Rancière studied with Althusser, so he must be intentionally declining to bring in the familiar Marxist argument that the "aesthetic regime" is the art of the bourgeois dispensation. The innovations of Romanticism were indeed liberating and empowering from the era of the French Revolution up until perhaps 1848, this argument runs, at which point it became crustily hegemonic and repressive, ready to be knocked over by the new art of the empowered working class.

But what would that art look like? Brecht famously disagreed with Lukács over whether modernism  was revolutionary or not, Fredric Jameson famously disagreed with Terry Eagleton and almost everyone else over whether post-modernism was.

Rancière leap-frogs over all such irresolvable debates about what the real next art will look like. If he is right (and I find him persuasive) the possibilities of the "aesthetic regime" are still unfolding, and there are many ways this art can help bring about "a world without domination" (37). He seems to concede that some art is doing way too little in this regard (Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle gets a raspberry on p. 58, not entirely fairly, if you ask me).  Compared to the usual hectoring tenor of such discussions, though, he is surprisingly optimistic about what art can do.

Art is not, in the first instance, political because of the messages and sentiments it conveys concerning the state of the world. Neither is it political because of the manner in which it might choose to represent society's structures, or social groups, their conflicts or identities. [Both those gestures would belong more to the pre-1800 "representative regime" of art, as well as being more what Marxist critics used to call for.] It is political because of the very distance it takes with respect to these functions, because of the type of space and time that it institutes, and the manner in which it frames this time and peoples this space. (23)

All due praise to John Heartfield and Martha Rosler, but Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman too can in their different ways dislodge the rubble in our brains and let the light in.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Byrne Fone, _Homophobia: A History_

IN QUEER LONDON, Matt Houlbrook inserts quotation marks whenever he uses the word "homophobia," which he rarely does, and at one point refers to "the historically and culturally blind category of 'homophobia'," leaving the impression he finds the concept unhelpful for serious analytical purposes.

He doesn't say why, though. Some critique of the concept is in progress, obviously, which he assumes we know about, but about which I, for one, haven't a clue. Extrapolating a bit from his obiter dicta about the category being historically and culturally blind, I am going to guess that he objects to the idea that some unchanging, essential, transhistorical attitude reappears throughout human history, taking various guises in different eras, but in substance always one and the same.

So I imagine Houlbrook would have reservations about a project titled Homophobia: A History. No, no, no, he might--I imagine--object, we need to understand the particulars of a society at a particular  time, its laws, its institutions, its modes of life, before we can understand what gay men and lesbians of that time and place were up against. We don't have to postulate a transcendent bogey-figure and call it "homophobia."

Byrne Fone acknowledges historical differences; he is clear on the point, for instance, that the repression, exclusion, and punishment of gay men goes from being a campaign against a sin to being a campaign against a vice to being a campaign against an illness as we move from the middle ages into modernity. However, he does at times seem to assume all these campaigns share basic premises at their dank, greasy, unconscious cores. For instance, he prefaces a particularly ugly passage ("inverts are not fit to live with the rest of mankind") from 19th century moral crusader Anthony Comstock by noting Comstock's judgment was one "with which the author of Leviticus, [the apostle] Paul, [St. John] Chrysostom, and [Pope] Gregory [IX] would have concurred." Okay, yes, all five condemned men having sex with men. But since they lived in quite different societies at quite different times, can we really imagine them all nodding sagely as a Victorian postal inspector holds forth?

Fone's history of homophobia begins with a quick look at Greek and Roman antiquity and the relevant texts in the Old and New Testaments, then focuses on western Europe up to the trial of Wilde, then hops the Atlantic and discusses the Americas, mainly the North and mainly the United States, from the arrival of the Europeans up to Stonewall (an epilogue goes up to about 2000, the year the book was published).  The larger part of the book relies heavily on secondary sources, some of them a tad overfamiliar perhaps (K. J. Dover, John Boswell), but when Fone gets to the United States from the founding to the Kinsey Report, he obviously knows the material extremely well and the analysis becomes more original and more illuminating.

Back to that point about a "historically and culturally blind category," though. Is there no such thing as homophobia, then? In his epilogue, Fone writes:

For some, it [homophobia] seems to have the command of a force of nature, to speak from the deep structures of the inner self, and in those psychological or even pathological dimensions, homophobia emerges as a condition, even a disease, of the psyche as well as a disorder of the imagination, the spirit, and the soul.

I may be just carried away by the rhetoric here, but that sounds true, somehow, doesn't it? Like something we've seen manifest itself?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Jonathan Littell, _Les Bienveillantes_, interim notes

IT MAY BE years before I finish this--I am 230 pages in, with 1,150 to go--so I may as well record a few notes now.

Daniel Mendelson's review in NYRB persuaded me to take this one up--he called the novel "a serious one, deserving of serious treatment," and even compared it to Moby-Dick, suggesting that it is one of those "improbable hybrids whose two sides seem to have little to do with each other, that, however unlikely we are to find them in nature, can give us nightmares that will haunt us long after the show is over." 

Having trusted Mendelson that far, I wish I had also heeded his observation that "Littell’s style is unremarkable, even pedestrian—his translator, Charlotte Mandell, has produced an admirably fluid English version that is more pleasing to read than the French." No, I had to go and do the conscientious thing and find a French copy, and I can confirm that the style is less than lively. Sometimes it seems like an over-literal translation from American English. We have the familiar expression that something of other is "stuck in my head," but I don't think any French native speaker would say something is "collée dans la tête." Similarly, we speak and write of people "sweeping away objections," but would a French speaker say a character "balaya ces réserves"? 

But it certainly makes sense, for reasons of verisimilitude, that Littell's narrator and main character, Maximilien Aue, would write his memoirs in French. He's a former S.S. officer, now in hiding, who was present at the beginnings of the Holocaust in the Ukraine, including participation in the mass killings of Babi Yar--which is roughly the point in his narrative I have reached. Over the course of the book, according to the reviews I have read, he shows up in other sites associated with the Holocaust, ending up in the bunker with Hitler. The reviews noted that Littell's descriptions of the killing are intensely and graphically rendered.  I can confirm that.

What really intrigued me, though, is Mendelson's account of how Littell structured the narrative around the Orestes myth.  The title is the French translation of "Eumenides," the "kindly ones" as the traditional English translation has it--that is, the Furies, the supernatural beings that pursue Orestes after he has avenged his father by murdering his mother. Thus far in the novel, the connection between Aue and Orestes is not too emphatic--his father disappeared mysteriously during his childhood, he's a bit tight-lipped on the subject of his mother, there are queasy intimations about his sister, but so far, nothing overt.

I'm looking forward to the unveiling of this element, though.  There is something quintessentially modern about Orestes: inheritor of a titanically fucked-up situation created by the preceding generation, desperately attached to his peers, mentally imbalanced, self-destructive streak, damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.  It does not seem accidental that the Orestes myth got picked up by such quintessentially 20th century writers as Eliot, in his most convincing play, and Sartre. There is a lot of Orestes in Hamlet, so by natural descent there is a lot of Orestes in Stephen Dedalus, who has to do battle with his mother's ghost in the Circe episode, and in Hal Incandenza in his agon with Avril. 

At the end of the first chapter, "Toccata" (all the chapters are titled after sections of a Bach instrumental suite), Aue tells us, "je suis un homme comme vous," "I am a man like you." Orestes in the SS as everyman? I'm thinking, well, could work.