October 2023

this is …

I was so struck by this photo of Fritz Haber, I have done a … that thing where a lecturer or speaker shows a slide and then simply says, This is … in this case Fritz Haber. In the case I’m thinking of, it was Martin Heidegger which, in that case was a redundancy. The audience already knew it was … and met the announcement with gales of laughter. In the case of Fritz Haber I doubt that they would do the same or know him from his photo. This is Fritz Haber.

He is the first figure in Benjamín Labatut’s literary project exploring the crack in human experience, between science and literature, the void and singularity, the shifting imperceptible boundary between madness and creation, destruction and reason. Paul Barach (here, whence also the photo) describes Haber, after a note warning, graphic descriptions of war, on the German front in 1915, spring,

“Small, bald, and potbellied, … Wrapped in a fur coat against the chill of the late April evening, the German-Jewish chemist … In front of him were 6,000 metal tanks … At six in the evening, the wind was just right to put his plan into action. With his typical Virginian cigar hanging below his trimmed mustache, he gave the signal. …

“168 tons of chlorine gas was released into the world.”

The father of chemical warfare–without whom there would be no Zyklon-B–Faber won the Nobel Prize in 1918 for chemistry, the same year Max Planck won for physics. The prize was awarded for his discovery of a method of fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere, the single most important contributor to human population growth. Without the Faber-Bosch method, and the production of artificial fertilizer, only half the current world population is sustainable.

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Liberal Democracy

= truth defined by market competition.

CAPITAL CAPITAL CAPITAL
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— Benjamín Labatut, eating god

What I admire most about science is that it is completely unwilling to accept the many mysteries that surround us: it is stubborn, and wonderfully so. When it comes face to face with the unknown, it whips out a particle accelerator, a telescope, a microscope, and smashes reality to bits, because it wants–Because it needs!–to know. Literature is similar, in some respects: it is born from an impossible wish, the desire to bind this world with words. In that, it is as ambitious as science. Because for us human beings, it is never enough to know god: we have to eat him. That’s what literature is for me: putting the world in your mouth.

–from here

Really, if I’m honest, I … shattered into many pieces and became odd.

the following excerpts are from …

an interview with Frederico Perelmutter, here

My lack of roots has certainly affected my literature. Though I’m Chilean, and can’t deny it (well, I can, actually, and do so frequently, mostly to mess with my compatriots), I don’t feel identification with my country, or its literature, or nationality. But I don’t feel Dutch either. Argentine, even less so, though many people believe I am when they meet me for the first time, because I share their typical character flaws. I’d love to say (like Bolaño did) that I feel Latin American, but that too would be untrue.

I feel like Pinocchio. Not the dictator

—I feel like the wooden doll: someone unsure of who he is, but diametrically certain of what he wants to become.

–dir. Matteo Garrone, 2019

What do you want to become?

I won’t tell you. Not because I don’t know, but because I’m a superstitious man. People should not know who you are, at least not really. And more importantly, they should never know what you want. Life is at stake in desire.

I write in English and Spanish. It depends on the project. And my fancy. But if I had to choose between the two, I’d take English.

Betrayal is important for writing. For life too. One must always betray something. And since I’m unwilling to betray my parents, my friends, or my country, I prefer to betray my tongue.

I don’t think anyone, anywhere, writes like Sebald. I reread his books every year. His melancholy and humor, the density of information that they hold, the beauty of his prose—which has a deeply strange effect, somniferous and hallucinogenic, that prevents you from remembering everything you’ve read, no matter how much you try—make him a complete exception. His oeuvre is an unreachable monolith, a summit that exits our world.

Sebald’s books (about which I can say nothing negative) all have the same absolutely characteristic narrator, who is very present: though he’s talking about real events, his gaze, and a horrifyingly lucid and beautifully melancholy perspective, drenches everything he narrates. In my book, that’s almost entirely absent. I try to avoid appearing in what I write.

… with Calasso: his books are a path to enlightenment and an aesthetic pleasure all at once, but they can also be rather boring, overly cerebral, dry, and theoretical. Erudition is like that, because it doesn’t regard entertainment as the only measure of value.

I’m surprised how “entertaining” Borges is. Such a lucid, winged intelligence that extends toward transparency.

A similar thing happens with Bolaño: he never says anything clever, in the sense that he isn’t crafting a literature of ideas. And yet, one feels the talent and the genius behind every feint.

What I dislike about poetry is the author’s voice, which is usually far too present. That exhausts me. I’m attracted by the impersonal. I prefer the rare beauty one can find in a good Wikipedia entry to the cries and cackles of a poet who feels like they must always relay what lies deep in their heart.

Sebald, Borges, Chatwin, Bolaño, Burroughs: they’re all deeply Romantic writers. I dare say your work is, too…

I don’t feel like a Romantic. Nor have I ever thought about what Romanticism might represent for me. Those ideas and debates that look to categorize a writer or aesthetic movement don’t interest me in the slightest.

What I’m fascinated by is delirium, by reason’s mad dreams and the excesses of thought. I feel called toward the contradictions that at once torture and enlighten us. I’m interested in chaos, senselessness, irrationality, randomness, and infinity. If that makes me part of a 19th-century movement, well, there’s not much I can do about it. I’ll never willingly include myself into any group. Unless aliens arrive.

your literature in relation to “the contemporary” in some way, … ?

I’m interested in the past and the future. There’s almost nothing contemporary that fascinates me. The best literature anticipates what is coming or rescues some treasure from the hands of oblivion.

There are better idioms for the contemporary than the literary. Especially now, when we’re so immersed in and invaded by the present. We have to resist that. Think of other times, other ways of being human.

The past and the future are far wider than the present. Comparatively, the present moment is impoverished, practically doesn’t exist. But we’re ailing with the present, and with a present that is particularly miserable. That the contemporary doesn’t seduce me is not strange: this is my time, …

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Dear Greens,

Kia ora Simon,

I can feel it: the green wave is surging.

I’m emailing you today from Tāmaki Makaurau where I’ve been visiting violence prevention organisations, and I can tell you that the momentum is growing. I’m invigorated by the aroha of people up and down Aotearoa, some who’ve never voted, or never voted Green before, or people who have been with us through many elections. …

wrote Marama Davidson,

then asked for money

signing off,

Mauri ora.

Ngā mihi nui ki a koe,

Marama Davidson
Green Party Co-leader

I replied,

No, Marama. 

Give up on carbon credits and marketisation of the ongoing disaster of market capitalism. 

Use and endorse in party policy the power of the legislature to create a legal framework restricting carbon emissions at the point of their emission. Fining emitters use business to adapt to the legal framework. 

UBI should be policy. 

You join the ranks of the enablers if you do anything less. 

Best, 

Simon Taylor, PhD. 

Kia ora Simon, 

This is it. This is our time. The time is now for the Greens to change the shape and direction of the next government. 

wrote James Shaw to me …

and asked for money,

GIVE TODAY AND MAKE IT A REALITY

Today Luxon is backpedalling trying to rationalise how he’ll work with NZ First and ACT. But truth be told, he’s desperate to get into power – and he’ll do anything, work with anyone, to get it. Even if it means putting our country at risk. 

which as a sideline is interesting, sad and ironic: the Greens and the Left by extension (see below) appealing to conservative values and risk-aversion, when taking a risk is what is needed

James Shaw signed off,

I’ve never felt more hopeful about the future of our country. 

Ngā mihi nui,

James Shaw

Green Party Co-leader  

which, receiving an automated reply, I answered,

I would vote for you if you dumped the whole idea of a carbon market. 

What is the purpose of the legislature? 

Introduce a legal framework restricting the level of emissions--at their points of emission. 

Fewer planes, fewer trucks, fewer carbon burning factories, in fact none. 

Use business and the market to adapt to the legal framework. This is the only place where a market is of any positive use. 

Best, 
Simon Taylor, PhD. 

CAPITAL CAPITAL CAPITAL
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a speech or song for Milly and Dan

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X

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