January 2007

an island narrative

The horizon of what is known extends far out beyond what is seen. But there is still doubt about whether either has any bearing on what is.

Lawrence Durrell writes, We all seek rational reasons for believing in the irrational. This statement comes as a note, an excerpt from the writing of the character Pursewarden, in The Alexandria Quartet, a character of whom one critic has said that he is Durrell’s finest achievement, a writer who is, in fact, a better writer than Durrell himself.

The horizon of what we can potentially know extends far out beyond the horizon of what we can possibly see. But neither potentiality nor possibility is universal. There is still doubt as to whether we will be allowed to see what is granted to others to see and as to whether those who know will pass on or be permitted to pass on to us the benefits of their knowledge. We also doubt our desire to see and know insofar as there is neither universal nor natural right to knowledge and vision and the privileges and benefits that accrue are not ours of right or sight, or out of mind. And we doubt our desire to see and to know because whatever right there is must be that for which we work hard, from the start, to be selected and for which we are, from start to finish, selected to work.

So, three figures: copyrighted knowledge and proprietary vision, and, at once, the assumed neutrality of knowledge workers and the works of vision; their contingent lack of neutrality, however, having been imprisoned in organisational bodies, enslaved by corporate entities and buried in institutional apparati; specialisations of fields of knowledge and arenas for vision, partitioned amongst specialists, experts, technicians and scientists.

The fourth figure would be the scientist as the model of the knowledge worker and seer. Therefore an idealisation: the scientist is free, regardless of the prison, the chain gang or the grave in which he or she works and regardless of the imprisonment, enslavement or the burial from which he or she makes work, seeing and knowing to the horizon of what can be seen or known.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon, in the last part of The Shadow of the Wind, similarly to Lawrence Durrell, invents a writer, in Zafon’s case, a writer-narrator, who is a better writer-narrator than the narrator himself, the voice we we have followed through the body of the book. Daniel, the primary narrator, uncovers, after her death in the novel, a letter written to him by Nuria. Nuria, a secondary narrator, is not only in possession of knowledge necessary to Daniel in relating the events of the story but also sees more, possessing powers of expression and resources of sensitivity to those events, to challenge, in the eyes of the reader Daniel’s right to act as primary narrator.

Nuria performs the role of no clunky narrative or expositional device. She leads us to question Daniel’s role precisely as such, as providing a narrative in which such a clunky device could have appeared. What she imparts to the reader, putatively through the eyes of Daniel reading, appears in excess of what she could possibly know about or potentially have seen of the story’s events.

Hence, I think, the similarity between Durrell’s Pursewarden and Zafon’s Nuria, better writers than their writers. In Durrell’s case, we ask, what if Pursewarden had written the book, a book? In Zafon’s, what if Nuria, from the start, had narrated the story or, from start to finish, was allowed to narrate a different story?

Within the horizons of what is seen and known, then, regardful of the priority of either – what is seen, like a coral atoll bounded by its lagoon and what is known, like the far horizon of the ocean against the sky – who are the characters and how do we arrive at the characters in whom the rights and privileges are vested and to whom the benefits already accrue – precisely because they are invented, living on this island in its lagoon and surrounded by its sea – who are those characters, and how do we invent them, who are not so lazy and stupid as us, who are not victims of prohibitions and exclusions, and whose very excess fits them to see and to know at the limit of what can be seen and known, from the beyond of their absurd existence as virtual, to see and know, better than us, without doubt as to what is but that it is – and bears on – the narrative of the world?

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theatres of shadow

Yes, the flow of sense is a theatre of shadows, but this does not mean that we should neglect it and focus on “real struggle” – in a way, this very theatre of shadows is the crucial site of the struggle; everything is ultimately decided here.

– Slavoj Zizek (in Organs without Bodies, p. 31)

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la betise noire

  • stupidity is the other of the thought that thought does not negate
  • philosophy starts from misosophy
  • that which is incommunicable is in communication

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wellspring & datepalm

even in Deleuze the wellspring and the datepalm. But this, these, not above all. The important articulation is of the ‘and’, the conjunction. And lose now the definite articles: wellspring and datepalm.

The problem is that of the role of sexed reproduction with regard to speciation and the interdependence, the reciprocal relations between these two series: species and generation – as with the genitality of structure.

The term commonly sensed to be identical with itself, generation here, as in sign systems there say, in 1000 Plateaux, fragments because each sustains the other’s difference in an ontology of difference. Or more to the point, neither can support the illusion of negation that the other represents.

So in 1000 Plateaux we have Signifying Regimes where the roles of the symbolic actors do not negate and follow (or precede) Regimes. For instance, the structural topos of Saussure’s negative terms becomes all too readily the singular if relativised plane of representation as an itself of itself. But, before any such representation can be made, these symbolic roles reciprocally determine the finitude and generative virtuality of that which hitherto, common-sensically, has existed in the elastic girdle of its infinite concept, Signification.

Simply put, you don’t fragment signification – its singularity is a given. And you accept as given the symbolic forces, actors, inside the singularity, naturally, as multiple. However, each informs the other and each fragments the other – because neither, tautologically, can negate the other. (Again the affirmation of the conjunction.)

Wellspring and datepalm – the multiplicity of genital structure in which both collocate – in which place both participate in the many – metexein – after – how can we start asking the question of whether communication occurs between these or any two? Neither is reducible to the other and each has its singularities. Whatever information passes between them has and is before representation. Communication is elsewhere.

The ideal and ethical function of a writing or a speech cannot be simplified to communication because there are communications of which the point, whether ideal and ethical, or simple and ironic, is a writing, a speech.

The absurdity of a non-writer writing or a writer writing nonsense finds no higher calling, must sense depth?

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whore 2/ culture 0

what gives us most cause for thought is the fact that we do not yet think

– Martin Heidegger

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Nouvelle Caledonie

We visit New Caledonia for New Years. Unlike Condy Rice, of whom a BBC correspondent, speaking from Jerusalem, said recently, “She’s coming so that she’s come, if you like,” we have an idea. We’re on holiday to discover something, tourists with time to detour.

It’s almost thirty years since I was last here, when I traveled with a bunch of legation kids under the auspices of Alliance Francais.

From back then, I remember being shocked to find at the bottom of the garden of the family with whom I stayed, a garden I was never meant to venture to the bottom of, the lady who did the cleaning with her family living in a small tin shack. They were preparing their evening meal.

The family who billetted me at weekends – during the week we stayed in an institutional dormitory that reeked of sour cabbage and sweet disinfectant – were white French, called with appreciable irony the Browns, les Bruns.

I was as shocked by the cleaning lady’s embarrassment at being discovered as I was at the existence of a colonial divide. I never mentioned it to Mme le Brun.

The commonplace about New Caledonia has it that the indigenous peoples, the Kanaks or Kanaky, have won some kind of reprieve from French colonialism, the hand of the French having been turned during the 1980s in a very French form of public action, manned barricades. Now the islands comprising New Caledonia are known as a TOM not a POM, that is, as a territory, Territoire, rather than a principality, Principalite, d’Outre Mer – a phrase with its own baggage, its own typicality.

We are struck by the visibility of the Kanak population and by its diversity. Another thing strikes us: a mood, an edge on the streets, to the streets. What is represented to us is one thing – an anti-French sentiment, however prevalent a general Frenchness – and what gets us and stimulates us to want to find out what’s really going on is our inability to read the street, to recognise in the faces either a desire to harm or help.

We are after all identified with the problem and its French solution: occupation and the maintainance of an economic underclass, the Kanaky, in which scheme tourism plays its part, supporting both local business and the status quo.

In this spirit, we are approached one day in the Place des Cocotiers by a Kanak man who has picked us for Australians. But what does he really want?

Edouard turns out to be neither Kanak nor to subscribe to the illusion of there being such a thing. He comes from the Loyalty Islands. During the ’80s he was imprisoned in Paris, where he studied, for voicing anti-French-government sentiment.

Let’s not say Kanak, he says. I tend to agree. I’ve read pamphlets and articles that state that there are sixty to eighty languages specific to these islands and their peoples.

I ask him why everything is so expensive. Globalisation, he says. Economic neocolonialism, I say. Of course it is, he says.

Why don’t the French simply leave? I ask. They’re in the minority.

Nickel, he says. For Airbus. The problems you see here are ten times worse back in France. What’s the solution? Independence. It may take ten, twenty or fifty years but it will come, he says.

So there’s another commonplace: the raping of New Caledonia’s mineral assets and their economic return is the reason the French remain. But under it is another reason: the replication of conditions of coloniality or neocolonialism-globalisation fracturing French society. However bad the political situation for the French is in the Pacific, it’s still warm here and preferable to experiencing the same symptoms back in France.

But the really curious thing is that when we ask Edouard what we should see while in New Caledonia his first advice is the same as that given by the tourist brochures. Tjibaou, Centre Culturelle.

Tjibaou, designed by Renzo Piano, is both a Pacific architectural and cultural landmark – in the colonial sense as well – and a memorial to Jean-Marie Tjibaou, a permanent exhibition to whose life-story occupies one of Renzo Piano’s beautiful rising weather-eaten hulls. There are ten of these impressive wooden structures, pictures of which do not convey the lack of structural integration with the main exhibition halls and foyers.

Tjibaou is a song of praise and encouragement to the idea of a distinctively New Caledonian culture – a culture of Kanaky. Designed by an Italian.

Jean-Marie Tjibaou, from the island of Lifou, was assassinated. The exhibition memorialising him has this strange elision: it does not state by whom he was assassinated.

Tjibaou, the man, is presented as a visionary, his vision being the integration of the indigenous peoples and cultures of New Caledonia under the collective title of ‘Kanaky’, an ideal. I can’t help thinking of Tjibaou and of the ideal of Kanaky as a compromise, of the acceptance of it in principle by the French as a mollifying gesture.

This is going on then. And I have this question: Is it actually incumbent on the dominant culture, the French in this case, to show a way forward? to perhaps lead with the example of a French Pacific culture? before there is even the possibility of – as it has been termed in New Zealand – a ‘renaissance’ (renaissances) in the culture of the indigenous peoples?

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the fractal structure of big brother

more than seventy countries produce their own copies based on the Big Brother code of reality tv. The formula, the code, crosses national boundaries, is as global as the appeal of its drama – sex and fights. The degree of tolerance to that drama increases over time globally just as the sense of its actors increases over time that they are actors and that what is expected of them – by audience and networks – is that they perform to a level to match increasing tolerances. But the drama in one country (the fights, presumably, not the sex?) does not successfully transcend cultures, nations. So that what arouses a Spanish audience’s interest, or what sparks controversy in Britain, will not be the same as that which is controversial and therefore good for audience numbers in Australia.

As the ‘creator’ of the Big Brother code has to say, We might all watch one production of one of Shakespeare’s plays or one Hollywood movie or one Bollywood movie but with Big Brother we have to make our own. There has to be a multiplicity.

Of course, it’s the topicality of the show that generates interest and controversy, the speed at which the media feeds off itself in the improvised figures of its local actors, the celerity with which an audience recognises itself in the temporising cycle of its changing prejudices. This is also like the racist joke – which in every national culture will have a different focus, a changing cast of characters, of racial stereotypes to slur. And that might in itself be the joke, the liberal joke.

Is it then a question of a fractalisation of drama in reality tv? Or what is the question of a drama that can be asked once and universally accepted as opposed to that asked in reality tv? What is the difference so that differences have to be made?

And is there an answering fractalisation – a generative microscale structure – in the social body, that body which spans both the industry producing reality and the industry producing reality tv?

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antarctica

the first step is always like this
the first step of another
it expresses the possibility of a world beyond it
and they have made it possible as the limit of what can be achieved

the first step is always like this
to go from this theatre to that theatre
and then be told to move to a new theatre of war

it expresses the possibility of a world
circumscribed in the movement
by the action

so they have allowed it
in the name of knowledge
that knowledge runs before it

as if to say in the beginning
was not the word
in the beginning it had all already been said

back up for a second
if the first step is always like this
so is the chance being the chance of a world beyond it

I’m not saying that they haven’t thought of that
that they haven’t made account of that contingency
but that they will not ask the question

what is the world? in the sure expectation
of a grounding on the other side
of the enemy finding his complement of force
and of the guide or the map or strategy leading us directly to him.

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we in the grip of these endless preparations, which amount to war

Nothing feeds forgetfulness better than war … We all remain silent and they try to convince us that what we’ve seen, what we’ve done, what we’ve learned about ourselves and about others is an illusion, a nightmare that will pass. Wars have no memory, and nobody has the courage to understand them until there are no voices left to tell what really happened, until the moment comes when we no longer recognise them and they return, with another face and another name, to devour everything they left behind.

– Carlos Ruiz Zafon, (trans. Lucia Graves) The Shadow of the Wind

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don’t exaggerate

Modern phonology lacks a dimension which would prevent it from playing with shadows on a single plane

– Gilles Deleuze

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