we must in a world we cannot, days 10, 11 & 12, 13

I have moved some of my comments onto the <<empyre>> listserv this past several days, named a soft_skinned_space by Melinda Rackham its founder, in Melbourne, 2002, now based at Cornell.

I was moved to pass on Levi Bryant’s article “A World is Ending,” and to point to what I had already written into and out of squarewhiteworld.

Bryant wrote a beautiful book on Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, with the best explanation of the three syntheses of time.

“A World is Ending,” rather than a philosophical response, is the response of an academic professorial chair to COVID 19, a chair the pandemic, in its impact on Bryant, had made so spikily uncomfortable, “A World is Ending” talks of a before and an after, much as there was a before and after to history, according to Fukuyama, to which the attacks on New York’s Twin Towers come after.

“A World is Ending” does talk philosophy. Kant’s shadow falls heavily over the whole thing. And it is because of him, his transcendental framework, and Heidegger’s world worlding, that we can get anywhere close to one ending.

The carpentry of the world is coming apart. The unity and continuity on which we can support objects has gone skew-whiff, like a set of shelves, or, the heart of the girl in Lloyd Cole’s song, like crazy paving, upside down and back to front.

And not least the things at the market have taken on some alarming characteristics: each one is morbidly fascinating, as it steps up to threaten us, in its own right addressing itself to us with the demands of its potential toxicity. It has become unfamiliar and alien.

Rather than transcendental it is now in Levinas’s terms transcendent. A world is ending when common things transcend our ability to comprehend them.

This is not to say I don’t love the reading of the super market in fragmentation. But it is the case in exactly a transcendental sense. At least this is what I think Deleuze describes with his failure of time’s third synthesis, the synthesis of the future, which would ground the first two syntheses of time, and orientate the world to the continuity of the future, to it being continuous with past and present, a time making sense of our life’s journeys retroactively–but it can’t, it can’t make this kind of sense, if anything new is to come out of something as big as a world ending, or even for a window to open a crack, letting in a little fresh air.

The super market. The wiping of hands. The wringing of hands. And the breath restricted to recirculation in our masks. Our masks.

An empyre contributor, Gary, came back with this paragraph from Merleau-Ponty, in a letter to Sartre, 1953:

I have in no way renounced writing on politics… What I have decided to do since the Korean War is a very different thing. I have decided to refrain from writing on events as they are unfolding. This has to do with reasons that belonged to that period, and also with reasons that are permanent. … I have suggested a number of times that what the journal [Les Temps Modernes] should be doing is not take hasty positions, but rather propose lengthy studies. … What I had in mind was to act as writers, a type of action that consists in a back and forth between the event and the general line, and which does not simply consist in confronting every event (in imaginary fashion) as though it was decisive, unique and irreparable. This method is much closer to politics than your method of ‘engagement continue’ [continuous engagement] (in the Cartesian sense). Indeed, precisely in that sense, it is more philosophical, because the distance it creates between the event and the judgement one passes on it defuses the trap of the event…

And they are clearly right, Merleau-Ponty and Gary. This advice is something Sartre would never follow.

But I was moved to ask Gary through the door opened by Bryant’s world ending, his chair against the door, whether the notion of politics when applied to today’s conduct of politics by governments might not, like the before and after, and like Fukuyama’s history’s end, be an exaggeration? An emplaced exaggeration, and I would say for that reason a theatrical exaggeration?

(But this is to follow on in a groove I have spared you from, writing in my other writing.)

Time has intervened, synthesised, opened out again, chairs have moved on the decks, deckchairs, dreck has shifted. To one side. And we’re offbalance again.

We watched Funny Games. If you recall, the action ramps up quite rapidly.

It’s eggs. Eggs dropping from whitegloved hands. Sound familiar?

Communications cut off for our hero family unit. George the son. The failure of the pater familias to read the writing on the wall….

It should remind you to retrace, retroactively making sense of, the course of events: Is the significant lapsus the father’s to pick up on the signals the mother is sending?

Is this what launches the entire family unit into tragedy?

Very quickly, in Anouilh’s definition of tragedy, the spring that is wound up tight uncoils. Fate becomes ineluctable. Delivered as if by a clockwork mechanism.

The philosophically inclined will see here the cosmos in its clockwork continuity. Chairs rotating. Musical chairs. Before … the playing of dice with the universe. Indeterminacy. Or uncertainty. Bohr or Heisenberg.

But it should remind us to take care.

Or should it?

This is not Heidegger’s care.

It is the crayfish noticing the water growing warmer.

The mother getting some kind of formal organic inkling that things, that oceans ought not be warming, that this big stainless steel pot of self isolation and social distancing, in which we have let ourselves be immersed, ought not be getting awful hot…

What I had to say on <<empyre>> to Gary, and Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Heidegger, Kant was that there is a representative layer, a gestural level, to this whole boiling water thing going on underneath.

There are signs of it in the apologetic tone struck by our own PM: government departing from the script, economies fragmenting: between the economies of the many and economies of social atomies.

But more than this more than this when is it clear we have to get out … ?

And quite apart from the moralising imperatives of the We must kind, who say, after this We must save the planet… We must…love each other well… We must…act like it’s after and not before, like history has not ever ended before and re-started. We must see finally see neoliberal we-musts for the ideological interpellations they always already were. (Even Trump says this.) We have seen the global economy get stopped. We must acknowledge that… We can make it stop. This endless despoliation of the globe. This endless devastation of the social sphere. This pointless endless pointlessness.

We also watched Paolo Sorrentino’s The New Pope.

It is in every way sublime.

Not the Kantian sublime.

But care, take care, the forces are heating the water, despite themselves, good governments and bad governments, are apologising… lost moral compass… all those moral values we have been asked to call in to Crisis Line… when they are all middle class values.

Can we live in a world, I don’t know if I can, in which politics does not concern itself with the tragedy unfolding, says it cannot, cannot, while all around the critics and the commentators, less the media these days, but, well, that’s sad, another sadness to have to bear, all of them, tell politics what we must do and that we must do it … and that current events have shown we must.

With the blood heating or the blood cooling, the atmosphere, not even the atmosphere, is keeping pace with the global political climate: which is a climate, since 1946, scared of its own possibility, and the failure, and the prevarication, are as nothing compared to … the escalation, the mechanism wound up tight, ready for the spring to release, the water to heat…

Have you heard the screaming of the crayfish?

White gloves.