April 2009

___ _______ S__, not even a man from the Lives of the Saints series [CALL IT PREPUBLICITY] / after Scott Walker


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public access 24/7 street dildonics: – look for the ACTION TRAFFIC logo, guaranteeing all-weather lubricity since whenever (we stand by our workmanship), from the Lives & Workplaces of the Saints series


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dandiacal complicity and the fabric of colonialism (protoglobalisation) on the political stretcher of representation

– Yinka Shonibare, The Confession, 2007


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THEATRUM PHILOSOPHICUM, why? OR, the theatre-of-theatre

theatrum philosophicum

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From Under the Volcano: οἶκος / δῆμος / ἔρως / ἔθος

Ethos: a few details:

I wouldn’t torture except in affirming the play of perversity;

I think the crack in thought is unavoidable and the source of the difference that makes a difference in thought – because thought (or play) cannot do it on its own;

I wouldn’t because I couldn’t ‘enlarge’ this crack;

I could talk up its affects, theorising from there, or involving myself in that theatre – of quasi-causality;

I would force people to do the good of destroying their Life as the Good upstanding Life we have in Common while sounding a warning about forces and goods and the circularity of that exchange, that engagement, the circulation of forces which guarantees the circulation and distribution of goods (currently placed in mutual question in the Crack of Recession – this Crack Recession);

The lava is here:


Anne Carson: The self forms at the edge of desire, and a science of self arises in the effort to leave that self behind. … Change of self is loss of self to [the Greek lyric poets]. Their metaphors for the experience are metaphors of war, disease and bodily dissolution. These metaphors assume a dynamic of assault and resistance. … In Greek lyric poetry, eros is an experience of melting. The god of desire himself is traditionally called “melter of limbs” ([by] Sappho […] [and] Archilochus […]). His glance is “more melting than sleep or death” […]. The lover whom he victimises is a piece of wax, (Pindar, […]) dissolving at his touch. Is melting a good thing? … The physiology that they posit for the erotic experience is one which assumes eros to be hostile in intention and detrimental in effect. Alongside melting we might cite metaphors of piercing, crushing, bridling, roasting, stinging, biting, grating, cropping, poisoning, singeing and grinding to a powder … The lover learns as he loses it to value the bounded entity of himself. [from /Eros: The Bittersweet/, Dalkey Archive Press, London, 1998. pp. 39-41]

For Deleuze the erotic encounter epitomises the encounter with the sentiendum. In this, he may be seen to be following in the Greek lyric tradition. Carson develops a thesis of Bruno Snell’s that the introduction of the Phoenician alphabet into ancient Greece, the alphabetization of Eros, is decisive for this tradition, in allowing metaphors and modes which break from a previous oral tradition. In tracing the letters of the separate words it draws us close to the experience of a separation which is essentially erotic. Nietzsche turns repeatedly to this ancient bibliographic legacy, out of preference.

Life contains an oppressive machine, which is its thought. It suppresses the unthought, papers the cracks or crack and writes an order of moral reasons which displaces a life onto, and fills it with, good actions and pure souls. The indefinite article has something of an aspirational character in this regard: at the edge which the self forms, that immanent edge, a life opens. Pull back from the edge and a self forms with all its attendant dynamisms of “assault and resistance” – those distractions, shadows and dramas, shaking and noise.

The New Age puts a moralist-political spin on this Life I would ask people to give up: even more parsimonious – if that word can be read to connote the whole arc of belated-ness and mean-ness Colin Campbell evokes in tracing over the West’s progress. (I’m referring to his essay, “The Terror“.) The New Age is something of an oxymoron in that it invokes the authority of the past, of pagan and / or polytheistic ritual (a monoculture’s denial it was ever monotheistic) – like Burning Man – and allies itself with the Modern history of barbarism, the irrationalism and the vitalism, that marked the end of the Industrial Age in the West and the beginnings of liberal democracy, the modern birth of homo democraticus.

– Guintovt, Spatial Revolution, 2004 (inverted)

This combination of the irrational and the vitalist is summed up in that miserable misrepresentation conjoining Nazism and Nietzsche. A conjunction that made rather a punctuation point along the trajectory of the West.


Rubens, sculpture-document by Zhang Huan, 2001, here

Does giving up life, or being asked to give up life, whether the life or a life, lead to any modality of existence? Giving up life is often confused with giving up the self. To be forced to give up one’s means of identification, to an authority, to be stripped of one’s identity in this way is considered more reprehensible than being asked to surrender one’s identity and its means of reassurance and recognition. This is a conundrum of the New Age, if not of the New World Order under the American Imperium.

One may be induced to loosen one’s hold on the assurances and recognitions which render identity and this is an ordinary rendition. One may be constrained to give up papers and material markers of identification, and be geographically disenfranchised, and this is an extraordinary rendition. The play on identity and its signs tells us where the social and political interest lies – giving us moral coordinates for transgression. Which is more violent?

Surrender, the ordinary surrender of oneself to a lover, remains painful. Pain is love, says the Catholic, Paul Virilio. Is it a more ‘worthwhile’ theme than the extraordinary surrender of rights to having an identifiable identity? to that political surrender Giorgio Agamben invokes for his homo sacer? Persona non grata does not signify one is not free, otherwise we would avail ourselves of that other word afforded by the native lingo, homo liber.

The problem I am cutting to might be summed up as one of value and therefore one at which the question of interest clearly arises. Quentin Meillassoux raises the stakes for interest in interest by reconstructing Deleuze’s concept of immanence via Bergson. He shows in “Subtraction and Contraction: Deleuze, Immanence,and Matter and Memory” that greater returns from matter are possible once we account for the subtractions made by perception: there is not only more there than meets the eye; seeing blinds us to what is there.


Buddha Never Down, sculpture by Zhang Huan, 2003, here

The problem of value I’m interested in here is: homo democraticus or homo oeconimicus, which is he, this man whose extraordinary rendition we deny, whose torture is not as serious an offense as his loss of the means to identify himself to our authority?

The simple contrast of liber to gratis would seem to give us an answer. Oscar Wilde describes this difference well: knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Where I believe in theatre as a necessary form of art and necessarily a form of art as I write this is its insistence on an undifferentiated audience, individually unidentifiable except for their emissions, equal before the stage, surrounded by the stage, below and above it. Franz Kafka recognised the theatrical nature of the tribunal, of an unequal law to which all are required to submit equally but whose definition is not that they are in fact equal before it. They are equal only in principle.

Theatre deals with this problem of value, of oikos and demos – we the people, as distinct from we in the household, in our inclusionary zone – because it is the art of representation par excellence. Over and above – when what is taken from it is taken into account – its expression of an economic relation, theatre expresses a democratic ethos: this would be its return, that of its difference, and its benefit.

Outside of the play of interest, John Ralston Saul points to the same distinction – that by which we are disbarred from stating a human value and constrained to indicate a human cost. In On Equilibrium, he argues that disinterest has ethical value:

John Ralston Saul: There is … the basic economic argument: because of new international interest-centred and specialist-based groups, linked by new technology, the need for disinterested geographically based groupings – societies – is at an end. … What they seem to have forgotten … is that democracy only exists as a reality inside the nation-state. That is not an accident. Democracy is an expression of calm, long-term relationships between people. It is an expression of shared knowledge. [On Equilibrium, Penguin, Australia, 2001, p. 28]

Later, John Ralston Saul: … the idea that our central relationships … should have urban walls put around them would be a major step back. … Let me go back for a moment to the pretension that society has never existed, is now dead or is dying. History is a continual expression of the individual’s desire to live in society. Individualism itself is the expression of our life with others. We see this in our social habits, in the way we organise ourselves, the way we live together, in our relationships. These ‘expressions’ may require optimism, but that doesn’t make them romantic. Optimism is an essential tool in social progress. To be sensible is not to be pessimistic. [Ibid., p. 29]

Earlier, John Ralston Saul: These inner forces we believe we have, what are they? Talents? Characteristics? Virtues? … They seem to be a mixture of all three. The point is, they do act as an inner force. … The qualitative difference between humans and others is our ability to consider. … rather than be driven by inner forces. And to consider is not to reason, although consideration may sometimes have reason within it. … Our ability to consider means that to some extent we have the ability to shape events rather than be shaped. The operative word here is ‘ability.’ We may or may not use it. We may use it a little, periodically. Worst of all, we may convince ourselves that we are considering when we aren’t. … To embrace this ability we need tools – qualities – which allow us to free ourselves from our own psychodrama, at least enough to consider real questions in a real context. These qualities are the tools of the human condition. We use them and that use makes us human. We use them and yet they have nothing to do with vulgar utilitarianism. [Ibid., p.3]

I allowed John to go on like that because a great many strains cross his argument tangentially which appear to be central here: forces, interests, dramas, acts and usages, social stakes, others, and bondage or restraint and freedom or play. I am reminded of another generalist, the social anthropologist, Clive Bromhall who writes that the human species are infantile apes, that in us evolution chose the quickest route to change, neoteny. He shows to what extent our societies are non-violent, that this is their advantage over other primate groupings: the relative statistical absence of violent behaviours.

I understand this violence as being immanent less to democracy than to a material economy, a mode of articulating social organisation which assigns values or signals them: hence, violence arises as a problem of valorising the human.

This problem is summed up in the image of men and women stripped of their means of identification, queuing behind barbed wire to board and embark from railway carriages; in the rooms full of shoes, the piles of suitcases, the jewellery and sequestered personal effects of people whose identity is incontrovertible but to whom identification is denied: that they have identities is left unquestioned; their means of identification are removed.

That they have these particular identities accounts for there being such interest in them that they are stripped of their means of identification: without asking what accounts for that accounting system or order of reasons; without it itself being brought to account.

– couple fresco Pompeii


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POP! in Riverhead, March 2009


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