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Sequoia Nagamatsu, How High We Go In The Dark

He imagines people on the street looking up from their phones and into each other’s eyes–Hello, how are you? Why are you so sad? How can we do better?

— Sequoia Nagamatsu, How High We Go In The Dark, 2022, p. 232

Why read this book?

For the reason it fails, certainly, that it is cracked and a little corny, the links between, like those spiders Kundera talks about in Testaments Betrayed, a little hinky, but that it faces away from convalescence and makes a glancing attempt on the present.

Nagamatsu’s present presses on the sore point, the part about what has been done, the damage that has been done, being past undoing. The damage dealt with is due to climate change and massive loss of human life from pandemic.

Publishing details show that important chapters appeared as separate stories as long ago as 2013. In his endnote, Nagamatsu says by the time of publication it had been in his head for ten years. Like Station Eleven, there is some prescience here. I think it has to do with the sore point: that is, with an adequate diagnosis of the present moment, the long present, its start difficult to date. Deleuze says in an interview, in Desert Islands (2002/2004), “The artist in general must treat the world as a symptom, and build his work not as therapeutic, but in every case like a clinic. The artist is not outside the symptoms, but makes a work of art from them, which sometimes serves to precipitate them, and sometimes to transform them.”

It is at personal risk that the artist engages the present, and this present may be so in very different guises. It may be present in the autofiction of Rob Doyle, as in Threshold, or in that of the South American writers that I love, who seem to have a knack of putting themselves at risk.

They after all call on truth before art. (I am thinking of Mario Levrero’s disgust with Flaubert, in contrast with his love for Thomas Bernhard, whose work, being so intensely and minutely personal, achieves grandeur.) In practice, it means to give the truth your personal guarantee.

This is so far from speaking one’s truth as to make it laughable. What is best in Nagamatsu is there in relation to an impersonal truth he is no more than schematic link to: a truth in general got from pushing on the sore point of the world developed from aspects of his personal history, as if these provided him with keys or emotional cues, that, followed, lead out onto a future history in general, activating a virtual future history, a diagnosis.

What is worst in Nagamatsu seems to be what he has been most lauded for, the humanity, redeeming human qualities he finds. My feeling is that he buys his redemption at below cut price. It is too cheaply bought. Still, the darkness stands.

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HVA DET BETYR AT VÆRE MENNESKE

(What does it mean to be human?)

— HVA DET BETYR AT VÆRE MENNESKE (What does it mean to be human?) starts @18:35

…“a peer of the Norwegian pessimist Peter Wessel Zapffe [argued] ‘against Zapffe’s view that life is meaningless, that life is not even meaningless.’”

— Rob Doyle, Threshold, (London, UK: Bloomsbury Circus, 2020), 75 [unless otherwise indicated all quotes following from this source]

The peer in question is Herman Tønnessen. Is one the peer of the other? If so, Arne Dekke Eide Næss, responsible for the term deep ecology, allegedly on the inspiration of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, is also a peer.

Here are their dates:

Peter Wessel Zapffe, December 18, 1899 – October 12, 1990: Zapffe called himself a biosophist. He defined biosophy to be thinking on life. He “thought that man should and will perish to exist [sic.]. The only thing we should do before we go is to clean up our mess.” (Perish to exist: sounds right. It’s from here.)

Herman Tønnessen, 24 July 1918 – 2001. His works appear to be out of print. Although the article “Happiness Is for the Pigs: Philosophy versus Psychotherapy,” 1966 is available here. The title is strikingly reminiscent of Gilles Châtelet’s To Live and Think Like Pigs: The Incitement of Envy and Boredom in Market Democracies, 2014 (original work published 1998). A small excerpt of this latter work’s epigraph is worth citing: “And there is no way to escape the ignoble but to play the part of the animal (to growl, burrow, snigger, distort ourselves): thought itself is sometimes closer to an animal that dies than to a living, even democratic, human being.” This is from What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari, whose notion of shame provides its motivation: hence the ignoble, responsibility before the victims; in turn from Primo Levi (and Emmanuel Levinas, although he is not cited). I would add that this thought stands distinct from either Tønnessen or Zapffe’s meaning. Having shame, the shame of being human, as one of philosophy’s most powerful motifs, this thought does not arise exclusively in philosophy, except inasmuch as philosophy and thinking are practices among other practices, including film-making, theatre, painting, sculpture, writing and expression in all its forms and modes in what I have elsewhere described as the inhumanities.

Arne Dekke Eide Næss, 27 January 1912 – 12 January 2009. His notion of deep ecology correlates with deep time, illustrated by Robert MacFarlane’s Underland, 2019. Næss’s article “The Shallow and the Deep: Long-Range Ecology Movement. A Summary” is available here.

Rachel Carson, May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964. Her Silent Spring, 1962, drew attention to the effects of chemicals, particularly pesticides, on the natural environment. She is credited, along with being perhaps the best ‘nature’ writer of the twentieth century, as being an ecologist before ecology and before the ecology movement. (I have put ‘nature’ in scare quotes because in contrast to the nihilism of human existence, its negativity, nature should not be thought of as being entirely positive: nature might be said to be outside the human, in the same way as it is for Spinoza Deus sive Natura (God or Nature), and that this is for Deleuze immanence.)

We have what Deleuze and Guattari call thought as distinct from what Zapffe calls meaning, when he says that life is meaningless, and from what Tønnessen calls meaning, when he says that life is not even meaningless. Having thought as being rare is one of the rare cases Deleuze (or Deleuze and Guattari) give credit to Heidegger. We also have it that the rarity thought is is in the responsibility the practices take for themselves: they are practices of the inhumanities, for which “man should and will perish to exist.” [sic.] Thought stands outside the human; inasmuch as it exists, this is its existence.

(For this notion of practice, see Minus Theatre: scenes | elements; for moving-image as such a practice see here; for writing as practice, here.)

…anyway, as much as we might say, not meaning anything, Rob Doyle writes Threshold, an autofiction (the question, why put yourself through the fictional process is a good one), and not the book on (of or about) Emil Cioran (Cioran looks like Eraserhead, possibly for good reason) that he talks about in it, the book he intends. Does he write Threshold instead of that book?

Doyle introduces Zapffe (and Tønnessen, without naming him) in view of Cioran and the book on Cioran Threshold in a way (not meaning anything) chronicles either the gestation of but not the nativity. (Zapffe is identified as an antinatalist, not for his abandonment of children (unlike Jean-Jacques Rousseau) but for his abandonment of hope in light of the birth of new (human) life. He writes: To bear children into this world is like carrying wood into a burning house; and: In accordance with my conception of life, I have chosen not to bring children into the world. A coin is examined, and only after careful deliberation, given to a beggar, whereas a child is flung out into the cosmic brutality without hesitation.

(Of his own nativity, he says, “The synthesis ‘Peter Wessel Zapffe’ was formed in 1899.”)

I read Threshold some time ago. And I read Cioran much longer ago, in The Stiffest of the Corpse. This volume selects and collects items from the magazine, Exquisite Corpse, where Andrei Codrescu, who edits the collection, was also editor. 1989, Leonard Schwartz translates:

Standing, one admits without drama that each instant which passes vanishes for ever; stretched out, this obviousness appears so unbearable that one desires never to rise again. (Cioran)

When a human being takes his life in depression, this is a natural death of spiritual causes. The modern barbarity of ‘saving’ the suicidal is based on a hair-raising misapprehension of the nature of existence. (Zapffe)

I had the misfortune to read in MetaFace (call it that) a comment someone whose name I did not recognise had appended to a photo of Leonard Cohen. The poster of the photo usually posts art, paintings, photos, images (why, they are not hers? another good question). This time she had posted a photo of Leonard Cohen, standing in his dressing gown, in a galley kitchen, at home, possibly, possibly an apartment (New York, why not? in the older style, white tiles in the kitchen, a sink; no appliances visible, but not spartan, a shelf with things both decorative and useful), and she had written above it something like, I’m not used to seeing Leonard Cohen in a domestic setting.

In addition to the dressing gown, he has a beard. He holds a mug of coffee. The possibility of coffee is further suggested by the cigarette in his other hand. He is staring into the camera, straight at the viewer, as if he has been surprised and he too is not used to being captured in a domestic setting. A flash might have been used.

Leonard Cohen holds the mug in his fist, at waist level. It is level with his dressing-gown cord, tied in a tight bow. The dressing-gown is full but not over-large, with vertical stripes, that could either be navy blue of black. Since the photo is in black and white, we cannot tell, but my guess is blue; and the material appears plush, soft and warm (whether it is velour or velvet, but not whether it is velveteen, this useful resource addresses (here)). Its broad long collar crosses his chest diagonally, completely covering it, while going down as far as his ankles, his pale thin ankles, his feet in slip-on slippers.

In his other hand the cigarette stands at an angle erect, between index and middle finger. (The shape of the hand is as is usual for a blessing.) As is (also) usual, his elbow is crooked, his upper arm against his torso, and his lower arm describes a similar angle to the cigarette, a sequence of angles. The cigarette has just been lit.

The comment was: (it went something like) I had a friend who loved Leonard Cohen, he listened to him all the time, and he committed suicide. No, it was stranger still. I went to some trouble to find it and I have found it now.

“I had a friend in college who worshipped Leonard Cohen and his music. My friend has since committed suicide, no thanks to Cohen’s depressing and warped view of the world. I truly despise and have a distaste for this man who so many venerate as a great poet.”

The original poster replies in a friendly way (this also is verbatim; when I relied on the resources of my memory to recall what she had said, all I came up with was: Yes, and what about those others people call poets, Nick Cave and _____?… She cited another name. It escaped me, hence my reason, although it took some time, to go back to find out exactly what she had said, to find out the name of the other person, poet, artist, song-writer, whom people so wrongly worship; and of course to see what the commenter actually had written.): “well, we can agree to disagree. John you of all people know my views re Palestine, the occupation, & Zionism!
That said I own one record by Cohen, unlike those worship at the alter of any musican/song writer, artist is a fool.The Nick Cave & Dylan worshipers are the worst!

And then:
“Also if we remove from the Arts, all of the people whom conducted themselves in shitty ways, personally, politically etc, it would be a very bland landscape indeed, that said, it seems to me that is what is desired by a self professed bunch of white middle class, liberals, who have appointed themselves the gate keepers of what is & is not acceptable, without context etc, a polemic I refuse to buy into at any level!”

It was worth going back to find out the exact wording of both the comment and the reply made by the poster of Leonard Cohen’s photo, to quote them accurately and in full, and not only for comic effect (worship at the alter? and so on), but also to get the other name, of the one Leonard Cohen called Mr Dylan, whose worshipers, alongside those of Nick Cave, are not only worse (I think this is the intended meaning) than Leonard Cohen’s (and we should think here of the commenter’s friend in his worship) but the worst. They are the worst for believing something is great when it is execrable.

Then, while the commenter rates Leonard Cohen’s expressing his depressing, warped world view, that is he says worthy of being despised, highly enough that the worship of Leonard Cohen can lead to death, the poster splits her angsting two ways. She splits it between the worship, of Nick Cave and Bob Dylan, and the judgement of the self-professed white middle-class liberals.That they are self-appointed to pass judgement she cannot buy at all.

The issue here is not gate-keeping so much as its disavowal, its enthusiastic disavowal, from the poster. Yet the commenter is, no less enthusiastically, slamming the gate in the face of Leonard Cohen, and his poetry, art, song-writing, expressing his warped, depressing worldview. He will not be getting into heaven, and it is to be regretted that he ever made it into the tower of song.

He is no better than the lousy little poets going round trying to sound like Charlie Manson; and his followers are as misguided as well. This is, as Leonard Cohen sings, the future (here). It is the future when everyone is self-appointed gate-keeper.

Emil Cioran (8 April 1911 – 20 June 1995, Deleuze died later that year, in November, allegedly throwing himself out of the second storey window of his apartment, 84 Avenue Niel in the 17th arrondissment, in Paris: he could, according to Dan Smith, because of his pulmonary condition, have been trying to get a breath, trying to catch his breath. Smith talked to a specialist in pulmonary diseases who, asking what floor Deleuze lived on, said we never put them on the second floor or ever anything above the ground.) (I admit, I have not yet watched the above documentary, but I wanted to hear Cioran’s voice.), he is often associated (and note the long lives of these famous pessimists. A commentator, echoing the common wisdom on Deleuze’s death, writes “this flight from the window and illness was not one of pessimism, but affirmative action”, (here) as if it could have been anything but), with contemporary writer Thomas Ligotti, born on 9 July 1953, and at the time of writing still alive.

Madness, chaos, bone-deep mayhem, devastation of innumerable souls—while we scream and perish, History licks a finger and turns the page. (Ligotti)

Is Ligotti another lousy little poet trying to sound like Charlie? (here) (John Moran’s Charlie Manson opera is here. It is worth a listen as a celebration of some of the themes I am handling of in this post.) Ought we despise him for his outlook on life?

As for procreation, no one in his right mind would say that it is the only activity devoid of a praiseworthy incentive. Those who reproduce, then, should not feel unfairly culled as the worst conspirators against the human race. Every one of us is culpable in keeping the conspiracy alive, which is all right with most people. (Ligotti)

Thomas Ligotti explains to what extent his pessimism, nihilism and antinatalism is due to his medical (some would say chemical) condition. He suffers from anhedonia, broken by periods of hypomania, during which he writes (he says here). Ligotti uses the technical terms, to describe his bipolar disorder, as if they name artistic techniques; and I think they do.

Anhedonia, incapacity to experience pleasure, hypomania, phases of over-excitation and irritation, bipolarity, depression, chronic pain, frantic activity: these are all tools. Rather than explain why they tell how Ligotti writes. Writing itself can equally be considered, along with these, to constitute a technology and this technology to be a writing-with or writing-through these means.

Can the work of Zapffe, or Cioran, or Tønnessen, who wrote it is not that human life is meaningless, it is that it is not even meaningless, be explained as Ligotti does his own, in terms of emotional or physical illness? Can we accord to science, brain chemistry or medicine the pessimism of Zapffe, the nihilism of these, in the one who diagnosed nihilism, Friedrich Nietzsche, or give a medical causation to the warped depressing worldview of Leonard Cohen?

Can we give a medical or scientific meaning? Can we say it is brain chemistry, or even an aspect of neurodiversity, leading these men, as all of them are (is it hormonal?), to the conclusion the human being is a tragic animal, to a tragic view of life? We should note that it is a tragic view of life unalleviated by the slightest heroism, an unmitigated disaster, and not meaning, not even not meaning, anything.

The problem is not that to give a diagnosis drawn from brain science or medicine is reductive. The problem is that it explains nothing. It explains nothing, unless it is, as it is for Ligotti’s work, a tool or technique of that work, a way of making and writing.

What motivates this thought that is nihilism is neither its meaning nor its meaninglessness. It is found elsewhere. There is a voice.

The voice says to find justification for living or the purpose of life, or its meaning, is just more loot to come home with.

“Sitting opposite me on the Métro was an impossibly chic woman who was reading a book by Félix Guattari. In Paris, you could have been forgiven for reaching the conclusion that the printed word and literature as we know it were not issuing their death rattle. People read, often in public, on the Métro or alone in cafes. And their choice of reading material was generally not the bloodbath bestsellers and child-wizard fuckery to be seen on the metros of other capitals, but books by authors whose very emblem of authority was their unreadability. I had already spotted a pretty teenager burying her face in Levinas’s Totality and Infinity as her boyfriend tried to plant kisses on her neck, and a tiny woman who looked to be pushing one hundred thumbing through Derrida’s The Archeology of the Frivolous while wearing an expression of indulgent scepticism.” (Doyle, 79)

Doyle on Cioran:

“One of the constraints I had set for myself when I decided to write about Cioran was that I would not quote his work, the reason being that it was too quotable. If I quoted one passage, I would want to quote another, then another, and many more, until I was not so much writing about Cioran as presenting the reader with his entire body of work”… (82-83)

“Having already decided that I would write about Cioran without quoting him, it now seemed would have to write about him without even writing about him.” (83)

“What had Cioran ever given to my life, other than pessimism and discouragement? He had exacerbated the very tendencies in myself I had spent my whole adult life trying to curb: withdrawal, cynicism, nihilism, despair, spleen, derision, scowling, indifference, resentment, defeatism, contrarianism, torpor, detachment, provocation, rage, arrogance, insolence, bitterness, hostility.” (83-84)

“Nous sommes tous au fond d’un enfer dont chaque instant est un miracle.” (Cioran, at 87)

“She said: ‘We are all deep in a hell, each moment of which is a miracle.’” (88)

And this:

“Imagine this. Even if the most extreme pessimism accords with how things are, and existence is a nightmare, and consciousness is a chamber of hell, and Western civilization is awaiting its coup de grâce, and we’re all adrift in the Unbreathable, or the Irreparable, or the Incurable, or all these things he writes about; what if, in spite of all this, the very articulation of this pessimism was so exquisite, so profound, that it redeemed our moments here in the nightmare? What if the writing itself, the beauty of it, not only pointed towards but provided reason enough to stick around a while longer? Wouldn’t that be strange?” (87)

What if that beauty were not only an accident but also ephemeral and fleeting, in flight from one void to another?

Says the Tao Te Ching: nature never hurries, yet everything gets done.” (90)

… “I was alone in Asia, with no real reason to be there other than an aversion to what other Westerners I met called real life, which seemed to mean doing what you did not want to be doing.” (101)

“The Vajrayana account of the afterlife … was hardly reassuring. Next to it, Western annihilationism seemed an easy way out, rendering not only death but life, too, weightless and without risk. The Tibetans believe that in the bardo following death, when one peers into ‘the mirror of past actions’ and the moment arrives to decide the nature of the next rebirth—hellish or exquisite, brilliant or debased—it is no external agency that issues the judgement, but one’s deepest self. The idea struck me as terrible, profound and, in some sense, true.” (107-108)

“Terence McKenna, who remarked that ‘the notion of illegal plants and animals is obnoxious and ridiculous’, insisted that government bans on psychedelics are motivated not by concern that citizens may harm themselves while under the influence, but by the realisation that ‘there is something about them that casts doubt on the validity of reality’.” (299)

Doyle on DMT:

“You can still be an atheist up to forty milligrams”… (310)

What is strange about the metaphysical shock of DMT is that it upsets the technoscientific framework of human reality and its anthropocentric presumption, … “there is categorically another consciousness present AND they have better computers than we do.” (310, my emphasis) (Note the Kantian categorical.)

We can overcome this meaningless world order by constantly letting two become one and over and over again until the last human dies out. (Zapffe)

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antinomy or, ring the bells: the fire is upon us

Times were simpler when I was reading the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I don’t recall whether I read the Second Chronicles. But I must have.

I picked up that volume just now and the events it relates seem familiar: the daughter of the woman Thomas raped now a woman herself; the potential for a world to be sacrificed to save a single soul. I wonder, did Lord Foul’s bane, the sunbane, occur in the first or second chronicles? Note, I said ‘volume.’

I remember the successive volumes, I, II, III, appearing. Now all three of them, both of the first chronicles and of the second, are collected in one book, one thick book, or two, to be precise. I remember waiting for the successive volumes to appear–and the delay in their arrival in New Zealand.

Times were simpler, and slower. The days were slow and waiting for the next installment of the story of Thomas Covenant, leper, was… How was it, really?

Dad and I were reading the books by Stephen Donaldson. I think about them often because of Lord Foul’s bane, the title of one of them. What the weather’s doing these days, although it is not the act of one man, seems to be a similar act of malice.

No, it is not the act of one man, but the act of all of them. All of us, that is. What were the times before the sunbane like?

Those would be the times I am thinking about, that they were simpler and the waiting, for books and other items to arrive in New Zealand, was sweeter. What were the days and nights like before we were aware of anthropogenic climate change? What were they like, before that pressure we have inflicted on ourselves, or that has been inflicted on us, by all, on all, called the anthropocene?

Sweeter than now can only mean the past. It can only relate to the nostalgia familiar to all of those who feel the need to reach back, and inevitably to compare their times with these. All of us, that is, reaching back for a comparison that can, that is and can only ever be a source of odium, or tedium. But this reaching back is also in some way reassuring. I do not know if I want even to describe those times, or if I ever did. Why is it reassuring? Of what is it reassuring?

Does it reassure all of us or them that their own and our own times were sweeter than these now? Does it reassure them that the waiting then was sweeter? That it is not, was not then, an imposition, inflicted on them, inflicted on all of us, by all? Does it reassure them, or us, the times were not back then thought to be characteristic of the species? They were not a general human circumstance but are reassuring now because they were then theirs, belonged to them, just that: the times were ours.

The times were simpler, and the waiting, owing to our isolation, for items like books to arrive in New Zealand, sweeter. We knew we would have to wait and it was important because of that to take our time with a book, no doubt enriching the experience.

It would be easy enough to make it sound as if all the complications of the present arise from the growing sense of our universal culpability but it is not entirely so. Rather it is one more symptom, this guilt at being human spreading out to include everyone in general, of a layering of temporalities, laying one over another. For example, in one temporality, we are all in this together; in another it is us and them; and, in yet another, the great majority blame a tiny percentage; and further out there is virtually and so temporally, if not actually and therefore spatially, the singular time of automated sentience, of the singularity, and our enslavement to its terminal horizon.

Be that as it may, what I wanted to say is that the times were simpler and the waiting for further installments in whatever one was reading sweeter. Remember waiting a whole week for the next episode of a favourite TV show? It was so because there was not the complication of all these layers of temporalities, of local, global, cinematic, machinic and financial, as it were, times. What Dad and I liked about the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is that Thomas is an anti-hero. I can understand why this might have appealed to Dad, but why did it appeal so much to me?

Thomas Covenant, leper, rapist and anti-hero, was the type of an antidote to the hobbits or to Peter, Susan, Lucy, whose name I always mispronounced internally as Lucky, and Edmund, although Edmund does come with his own problems…

Was it that year? later anyway, while waiting for the next installment in the chronicles, Dad and I both read The Jesus Incident, co-authored by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom

And we picked up at the local general store of St. Arnaud, one of those odd chance finds that turn out better than expected, a collection of short stories called New French Science Fiction. How it got there I have no idea, unless the Kramers’ eldest son ordered it. He had tastes somewhat congruent with ours–one memorable night he introduced the whole family to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and to Lou Reed’s Transformer and Mum and Dad smoked some weed–so he could have.

In it was one story I have never forgotten. It is about the breeding of spaceships, huge sentient living beings, like whales, crossing the desolate ocean-like voids between stars, and from it I drew inspiration for a strange piece and its sequel I posted here some time ago (link and link).

Although inspiration is not the right word. It stayed with me, put it that way. It is probably because of Dad that I am always looking for antidotes for poisons I have not taken already.

The times were simpler but that does not mean to say they were any less profound. If anything, what has happened with times becoming more complex is a lessening in profundity relative to their complexity. Life may be more complicated now but it is equally more superficial. I have noticed this relationship between complexity and profundity in two of the books I am reading.

David Bentley Hart’s Roland In Moonlight, despite the knots it ties itself up in to establish profundity, not least that of spiritual insight, achieves only surface complexity. While the book I picked up as antidote to it, Mario Levrero’s The Luminous Novel, is instantly alive in its simplicity and has a surface that goes all the way down.

See, for instance, Levrero (the translation is by Annie McDermott) confronting various disorders he is seeking to consult a psychiatrist about; he is asked by the psychiatrist to fill in a questionnaire:

The questions were very well formulated. As I answered them in my head I saw my whole life parading past me at full speed, and plenty of things popped up here and there to explain why I have the disorders I do. After the initial shock, I realised that the things I’m fighting against as if they were disorders, without managing to overcome them, are not in fact disorders at all but admirable solutions I’ve been devising unconsciously, in order to get by. This is an excellent definition of my disorders: they’re the result of all that’s happened in my life, and more than that they’re the price of my freedom. (2021, 29-30)

Levrero provides a vital clue to why I started writing about Thomas Covenant, with, I admit, some nostalgia for those simpler times, but not for their simplicity or innocence.

Actually, the last thing I wanted to do was say that it was better then, or compare Roland In Moonlight with The Luminous Novel or say Levrero is a better writer than Hart, although he is. The Luminous Novel is even about the impossibility of writing about transcendental experience; and how do we experience or understand the impossibility of being able to write about it?

We understand through Levrero himself undergoing, that he underwent and is still undergoing, this luminous fact, at once both transcendental and impossible, of writing and of writing about personal transcendental experience.

So there is something, no, something more than contrarian about Levrero’s task. It is absurd, but not futile; it is heroic, it is after all the price of freedom, but paid for in a kind of disbelief in any transcendental justification or excuse outside of absurdity: and Thomas Covenant is the Unbeliever.

Beyond contrarian, for disorders that are tickets to freedom, absurd and trivial habits, actions that are even shameful and only by accident heroic, or are undertaken with heroic nihilism: they are antinomian.

I woke up trying to recall a sense of how I was in those earlier times, perhaps so as to reclaim something of those times, by first trying to remember all the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody and second by recalling my reaction when I first heard it. As you know, I just killed a man.

Hart goes on at some length in one of his nighttime discussions with his dog Roland, conducted in the liminal space between sleeping and waking, about human guilt. He points to its source being in transcendental but also in an irretrievable organic experience. Here is Roland’s view: I know the myths, the dog begins,

… the Eden myth and the other tales from around the world of the loss of an original beatitude or innocence. But, even if that’s something that actually happened rather than an allegory about something that’s always happening in your kind, then it happened in some other world, some other kind of time. As for this world–this fallen world, this aftermath of that other world–here, in this world, it may be that your feeling of original sin also consists largely in a kind of oblivious memory of your organic past… an ineffable ache of conscience that’s really a kind of organic recollection of all the phylogenic misery and slaughter and blood-soaked attritions by which your species climbed its way out of the mire of purely biochemical existence. Long before your species had even appeared in the world of chronos, the world of the time of death, you were gestating in the womb of nature as a mere stochastic organic possibility, an only remotely likely final issue of incalculable ages of violence. And you bear that lineage and that whole physical history as a kind of ontological guilt, a stain deeply imbrued in every cell in your body–written in every strand of your DNA. Every one of you is Cain, the mark of your immemorial guilt indelibly inscribed on each mitochondrion and every cell-wall… Ah, well, so it goes. A delicate blue flower springs up atop a noisome midden, and its fragile, incandescent beauty dazzles us, and we forget all the purulence and waste and dissolution and ceaseless decay from which its exquisite, transient charm was born. That evanescent flicker of enchantment inveigles and beguiles us. But deep down in the cellars of your cerebral cortices your reptile brain still lurks–a serpent, so to speak, perhaps the serpent of Eden himself–and all the later excrescences of your modular brain are compounded upon that ineradicable ophidian core. And it knows. It remembers, in its cold, cruel, scaly way. And you of course, my friend… (2021, 190-191),

Roland the dog says, are no blue flower.

It ends in a typical bathos. Except that Hart comes back with, But you are a philosopher.

I hope you can see why an antidote might be needed.

The thing is, having had more of the former than the latter, I had forgotten which was antidote and which poison. My dream reminded me.

Before leading me to the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody, I had heard a voice, like that unforgettable moment in The Fly.

After getting sick, when your appetite returns, the last thing you want is spicy food. You want something plain, bland and easy to digest, like McDonalds. A burger lay under a friend’s car seat, forgotten, for 3 months.

When it was found, it looked as good as the day it was bought. There was not a trace of mold on the bun. The patty still had the same muted and insipid colour and, no doubt, taste, and had not a trace of mycellium.

Whether it is a sickness with its origin in emotional imbalance or in gastrointestinal upset, it is the same on the emotional side of things.

In convalescence, on the return of affect, the last thing wanted is spicy emotion.

The appetite for strong emotions may take longer to return than that for heavy or highly flavoured food and strong wine. It may never return. This may have happened to large proportions of the population and be just as much to blame for the homogenisation of culture and cultural experience as the influences of either commerce or social media.

What I am trying to say is that by the times we live in now, under the sway or influence of our times, most of us have gone through similar … I want to say trauma, but it is as if the convalescence does not follow from anything but a vague anxiety, such as Levrero writes of, that he is haunted by; or, rather, that it precedes it.

Our whole society, I don’t think I am generalising or exaggerating, would have passed through or is still passing through and is even in the middle of a global convalescence. I am too.

I had, before today, forgotten at one time that I relished the thought of having killed a man. And that I wore my mark of Cain with pride.

Levrero’s clue is his disorder. His many disorders are like signals sent into the future from former times, by his former self. This earlier version of him or of me had the foresight to arm him against the traps set by the future, but had not reckoned on his being trapped in turn by what was intended to protect him. Luckily he realises in the passage quoted above what the true intention in those disorders is.

My shame and guilt that I consider myself to have been carrying for decades resembles Levrero’s disorders. They are precautionary, and had I known, would have come with a message, like a user’s instruction: these are meant to keep you free. They are antidotes to poisons you now have taken.

You can imagine it like this, it is easy to be disturbed hearing alarm bells in your head. You must realise however they are signals of real danger. The fire is upon us.

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on transcendental experience … after Mario Levrero

Mario Levrero begins The Luminous Novel… he is a writer from Uruguay, was. An unnecessary detail, perhaps. Alejandro Zambra, a writer I admire, Chilean, as it happens, or happened, like Bolaño, yet very unlike him, writes about Levrero that we cannot, we readers, we cannot hope to understand that mythical beast, that chimaera, that the literature of Latin America is, without taking in the part Levrero has in it. He says something like that.

And we might for a moment consider the chimaera. Mythical, yes, but also a fish…

…although to call it a fish is to dismiss the inventiveness that’s gone into it. …but also man-made, the chimaera:

…here pictured as a kind of babble of bodies.

Chimaera is mythical, fish and … here made by Kate Clark:

Or, consider the following, in view of literature, from E.V. Day:

The chimaera is also a work of conscious and deliberate construction. Matching chicken and lion, bird and reptilian parts. To put on display, and this is the key word, don’t you think? display.

4222 years ago, the Egyptians weren’t engaging in the earliest known taxidermy for the sake of producing chimaera to display. Embalming and processes of corporeal preservation, of animals, including humans, was conducted not for the living but for the dead on whom these practices were being used. Unless we consider that the exhibition of the dead was not as we understand it but for religious purposes.

Was the intended spectatorship some kind of cosmic audience?

Probably not, because the way out into the cosmos was back in through the world, a world of living deities and cosmic entities present rather than having to be presented, not requiring elaborate rituals, for example, in order to be presented, but already there, in attendance. And these were waiting to see themselves join the throng of the dead.

Their embalming and preservation must have seemed like having to join the queue, for the afterlife. Death.

And now they see themselves sail the stygian waters of the Nile into the omphalos of night. They don’t leave their bodies… no Judgement will have to restore the lucky ones who got the winning ticket to their discarded corpses.

Embalmed, taxidermied, they wait in line, the living gods, and travel over into death beside themselves, beside themselves, if everything has gone well with their preservation, beside themselves in the same way as we might think of an other world being beside this one. An early multiverse.

It is also the Egyptians we tend to thank for our first glimpses of chimaerae. (The word itself is something like a chimaera.) The Sphinx, whose riddle is herself. The bird-headed people, the dog-headed, and the alligator-headed dog.

When does this all change?

Is it at the birthplace of the human individual that Siedentop announces with the advent of early christianity? When, he maintains, before a subsequent crackdown by the institutions of a priestly caste, there were just as easily female communities and communities in which women were considered individuals as they were male… children, individually, born with a relation, a corporeal relation, to the living body of Christ, and, to life everlasting?

So Larry Siedentop maintains in Inventing the Individual: the Origins of Western Liberalism, 2015.

If you bear in you this inner connection, in your living body, this special relation that is special to you, would not the display of the dead pass to individuals to behold? Would you not already have in hand your ticket, to join the queue…?

General exhibition would be a thing institutions might want to have some say over, so restricting entry to an other world, and cutting out the ones not worthy for being somewhat… chimaerical. Raising ticket prices, and so on.

Cutting out animals entirely. Women. Naughty children. Saving them who’ve not had time to sin. Little angels. But all would press against the gates, to see… the exhibition.

Instruction enters. Education, and edification. Now it is on how to live beside yourself, next to your immortal part: the real you. It is no longer the practice of separating to be rejoined in the afterlife.

Until we consider resurrection in the body. Then we have to consider which one the dead part is: and it is clear. It is the body of the animal to which the soul is glued on, by cosmic taxidermy. Well, not really. More by transcendental taxidermy:

the human soul stuck to the body of a corpse… and which the afterthought? For the afterlife, the latter.

…Is resurrection in the body metaphorical? or… virtual?

This would make sense. I mean: it would make sense. The rational part of sense, to which the soul is the best proportion, the perfect ratio. … And freed from the body takes off, like this:

Pause.

What part is the insubstantial again? and what the rendered insubstantial? the de-prioritised?

It’s that old body of the animal again, of which the chimaera is the perfect example: a constructed thing.

A mechanical thing, even, that David Bentley Hart rails against with such seriousness. Seriously. (In a nod to Hart I wanted to say, with such wanton solemnity.)

A book I am reading. Roland is a dog. He talks to the narrator on serious subjects like the dismissal of the transcendental experience (of living beside yourself, body and soul) by the mechanistic world view. The book’s success will be in the measure to which Roland separates himself from the views of Hart, the narrator.

From instruction, edification, tutelary and educative purposes, to … entertainment, would seem to be the path followed by chimaerae into modernity. Entertainment and art, that is. And we ought to think of those lesser souls belonging to lesser bodies, bodies more chimaerical, like those, classically, of women. And of the children who are yet to be edified and educated; and of non-whites, yet to be colonised, indentured, and given a mission.

Too embodied, these ones.

Will Hart allow his dog, Roland, to be one of these?

And what of the bodies of literature, like Latin American literature? The chimaera of …?

I don’t think Zambra really uses the word, chimaera. χίμαιρα is the female form of χίμαρος, meaning, in Ancient Greek, male goat: female goat.

– Jacopo Ligozzi, c.1600

I said female goat… but we do have here the fire-breathing part, and the querulous lion: is this masculinisation concessionary?

We can ask the same of literature, of course, as well as we can whether it is non-concessionary.

Mario Levrero begins his novel… this happens in the first two pages… by relating the sort of psychologism that Hart might reject.

Levrero tells us that he had a transcendental experience, which he told a friend about in the form of an anecdote. Why an anecdote? Because the etymology of anecdote is clear: it means unpublished account (ἀνέκδοτος = ἀν- not + έκδοτος published. έκδοτος derives from έκ- out of or ex– and δίδωμι, which is the first person singular of the verb to give).

Levrero’s friend says he must write it down. It would make a great novel. A great and luminous novel, perhaps, like we have here in our hands.

And Levrero says no. Impossible. Impossible to recapture the transcendental experience, to do it justice, in anything more substantial than an anecdote. End of discussion.

Except that it’s not, it’s not the end. It’s the beginning.

Levrero forgets, and this is the important point: he forgets the friend’s instruction, the friend telling him what he must do; he has, afterall, rejected it. And, anyway, it turns out they are no longer friends.

He forgets it. Levrero says, of course, what he is in fact forgetting is his resistance to his friend’s advice. And from this resistance comes the whole problem. The problem that is The Luminous Novel, in its published form. Because his opposition to the idea inflames it.

He tries again and again to write down the anecdote in which he relates his transcendental experience. And he dismisses each effort, and destroys it. But, the next important point: the urge and urgency to pursue the idea no longer comes from the friend, the friend who is no longer a friend, but from Levrero himself. It comes from inside him.

He attributes to himself, to his inner being or core, or soul, if you like, the demand, the commandment to write … and even tells himself it was own idea. It came from him…

And what is he doing, then, the poor man, torturing himself, when every effort to write down the story of the transcendental experience is in vain?

One thing is for sure, he can’t write his way out, he can’t write himself out of this problem, because he is the problem!

He is the problem and the cause of the problem and he can’t cut himself into two halves, even if they are unequal halves, returning to himself once he has cut himself off from or cut out the criminal part. The corpse, if you like. The animal. He can’t claim transcendence by following the only part that is transcendental.

As I said a psychologism, or a psychological ghost story. And, like Hart’s, a spiritual one.

The friend is ghosted, dead to you, and you tell yourself it is you yourself who told you what you must do because of what you had done.

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grief, and a sense of loss…

we have to …

no, we don’t.

wake up?

no, we don’t.

and it is as if we are passing through a dream…

pass through

dreams passing through a dream…

pass through

gathering the images to us we want

desire is like turbulence

in our transit

who has time these days to furnish themselves

for the interior decoration of their minds?

who has time to…

choose carefully, cos you’re gonna be spending a lot of time in there …?

who has room?

to gather together the images around us…

we want?

in our transit, passing through.

and I recall your 20th century critique of an airport,

a hotel lobby, or foyer: that it was merely a place to pass through,

a transit lounge. Decorated by …?

“architecture is the first science of sensation”

I think we need more screens.

we don’t. cos you’re not gonna be spending much time in there, at all

and pushed up against the body by pain, it has evicted us

pushed up against the wall… it’s nice to have something to watch

out of the corner of your eye

Lou Reed & John Cale knew Andy knew:

a pathology, which the Quay brothers say somewhere is what they need to find

as if a pathology were … no, yes, a character or gave character, by giving to the work

direction: to the transit, direction

gathering together the images … in the turbulence of a wake,

a passing through, in the turbulence of a …transit.

in pain, we lose our sense of independence to

the body,

like an alien thing, like an image we didn’t choose or want.

Who has time, anyway, to furnish the room of the mind?

…or sick, discovering my time is not my own…

it passes differently, differently passes, with indifference to … the wallpaper.

time we have no choice but to pass through

rewards of loss, in shame

but loss, no matter still

what we have really lost is the body

no, we haven’t. It is, as used to be said of desire

repressed.

but loss, no matter still:

still in your room, still against the wall, still

evicted from your sense of self, out of the corner

of your eye: images.

Are they the one’s you would have chosen?

it was repressed, your desire. Now it is not.

but the shame is how your body has evicted you

the sense of loss is from its betrayal.

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the book from the TV: DIEM25 TV

Everything Must Change! The World After Covid-19 is the book from conversations from the online television series from the Democracy In Europe Movement 2025. (ed.s Renata Ávila and Srećko Horvat, OR Books, 2020.)

DIEM TV diem25

it’s probably more important to know that it happened, that it’s happening, than to read the book or watch the TV… I didn’t know before how much of a stranglehold is exercised by Wall Street on the global financial system, simply because of the high percentage of transactions globally that are conducted in dollars. I didn’t know that Gaddafi was assassinated, dragged from a drainpipe and shot, before he was able to institute a pan-African currency called the Afrique. … And I didn’t know a lot more. But what I suspected and what has been confirmed by this book is that the Left is embarrassed.

Embarrassed by the redundancy of its moral indignation. Embarrassed by the winding-up of the ideas market. Embarrassed by the downturn of its own fortunes in that market, from stakeholder to small stall-holder, to panhandler. Embarrassed by a nostalgia for its own rich past, a nostalgia for Ideology; now a poverty of ideas. A riches to rags story. Embarrassing for all that it seems able to do is to critique. To slip around in the spilt blood of its historical and historicised present. … Panhandler? no, the pan has no handle.

Here’s a little of Brian Eno’s contribution to the conversation, a bit I liked, a kind of dandiacal tastegroup led political aesthetic, slowcooking populism to raise consciousness:

one thing I think might make a difference is a shift in societal attitudes toward wealth. I think that displays of wealth will soon seem very coarse, gross and crude, and that this shift will impact people’s actions. For example, when minimalism began as an art movement about fifty years ago, it seemed quite radical in its questioning of this idea of “more is better,” and that more detail and luxurious materials were better. Minimalism has now, however, translated into a broader cultural movement from its beginnings as a stylistic notion. While it takes a long time, these aesthetic shifts do eventually have societal effects.

Yes. There’s a call to arms!

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a short series up to christmas


I think of the demands of people

	they fill my dreams and I

cannot satisfy them. Perhaps
 
	they can’t be satisfied. Yet,

woken by birds and the light of day

	that is always sudden, I still

hear talking. Being polite’s been

	overtaken by the demands of

sociability. That’s a fact. So why do I

	find it so hard to get my head

around? I mean, now children are

	to be heard, and not seen, and,

I mean, it’s a fact of growing up that

	we communicate more and more,

but, by saying we, I don’t know what

	I mean. Who, after all, is
 
growing up? If there’s a threshold of

	respect, I can honestly say

I have not crossed it. So the demands

	turn to insults, with the full meaning

the word has of a physical insult, that is
 
	worse than an injury. And like the

victim of injury, even sleeping I have

	a sense of shame and harbour it

when I am woken. And carry it, like a

	small broken heart or a bird,

hidden in my palm, throughout the day.






23 . 12 . 2021

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“That the Holocaust…” —Jacqueline Rose: on getting stuck inside your mind by experience, as a traumatic diktat

…could have become a premise–that is, a proposition which produces its own logical conclusions–is striking, or rather strikingly different from seeing it, for example, as unrepresentable atrocity, as unassimilable, or barely admissable trauma in the way Judith Butler, citing Primo Levi, has so powerfully described…

— Jacqueline Rose, The Last Resistance, 2017, p. 214

— Antoni Tàpies, lithograph

As I thought about it, it seemed to me that the idea of ‘premises’ as diktat over the future might also do as a working definition of trauma. When I was studying Sylvia Plath a long time ago, and trying to understand the appearance of the Holocaust motif in her writing as something other than the opportunism of which she was accused, I read an article by German psychoanalyst Ilse Grubrich-Simitis on working with second-generation Holocaust survivors that has stayed with me ever since. She described how the language of these patients was characterised by a dull, thudding referentiality, with no mobility or play, as if they were saying–in a way only made clear after the most difficult analytic listening–‘this happened,’ ‘happened‘ ‘happened‘ over and over again, to compensate for the silence, the psychic refusal to acknowledge the reality of the Holocaust, in the generation before. And in one of his evocative articles, ‘The Trauma of Incest’ of 1989, psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas describes how trauma shuts down the mind of the patient. The problem is not believing what they say, but the fact that that is all they have to say, so that there is nowhere else left for them to go inside their minds.

— Ibid., 215

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sixty-eighth part, called “on movement LXVIII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

on movement

Why is there misapprehension? is it out of malevolence? Is it out of malevolence your signals are misunderstood? that they are taken for meaning something far away from your actual desire? And the desired meanings, they have somehow been wrested from you.

Now they are being used to control you, so you should suppress them. You really ought to exercise self-control. And is it with a kind of malevolence then that you turn on yourself, practice austerities on your own libidinal economy, at least inasmuch as the messaging is concerned? And isn’t it with sadness you look at the comments, take literally the feedback, which might not be unkind, might be of the kindest sort and might have the best intentions behind it, but feeds back by a closed loop into the structured economy of your identity, exercising a control which becomes a suppression?

Must suppress internal difference, you don’t think it, you do it. Especially the most internal difference of all, sexual difference is given over to the comedy of mistaken identity. That is, it is identified with the symbol for it, with which one should, such is its morality, identify oneself.

Fraudulence—what is its source? Well, in play are the symbols, each one of which, like the smallest gesture, expresses a world. But what has happened to the choice of world? What has happened to its decision? And what has happened to the cut?

It’s a craze, a frenzy, we have said, and a froth, buried under layers and layers of similarly mobile surfaces. A metastasis, we have named it, belonging to a metastatic temporality. For each particle of the subject, all the human parts are instantaneously reassembled. And the sign itself is left outside, so each one, static on its surface, is like a doughnut. Each expands with such rapidity, internalising its outside, the hole, externalising structure, so avid for expansion, it goes unnoticed. The misapprehension of the crowd is like a yeast working from the outside and froth of oil slicking and lubricating the surface of the public comedy, the local slapstick.

Each has these three mythic parts… then why misapprehension? because the symbolic is exactly that which cannot grab hold of them, only gesture towards them, either inwards or outwards, centrifugally or centripetally …having the structure of a subjective economy: this goes for the whole socius; identity, given the economising motif of its lack, its in-the-hole-ness; and a toroidal, or doughnut-shaped feature of completion and continuity, throughout society: the famous circular economy. The famous circular economy stands here for the myth. The myth stands for the foundation. This is human in that it feeds back, to the extent that power here is circular.

Misapprehension, the flaw in the myth, goes from crowd to individual. Individual is mobilised. But this does not account for the apprehension of, the feeling of not being understood, that, introjected, spirally, becomes, I am a fraud. We might here be describing false consciousness, reinscribing the individual into the ideological state apparatus, except that what we are describing is the object of it, its outside. Where? …the hole… and if we could only join up, not the fatty tissue of inflating yeasty dough suspended in bubbly grease, but the holes, we should see fissures and cracks start to form.

Going from the crowd into the individual, in fact, all shame is from the social institution. The very same can be said of the foundation myth. So there is shame in marriage in the same way as there is shame in the self. Shame in theatre: we have seen before, in the beginning actor, in her hesitancy and indecision, as to what to do; but more powerfully in the confusion of the audience with the action onstage.

In the consciousness of one’s shame being asked to participate, or being required to, by the direction the show has been taken in, one is like anybody before, we might say, the law. But such is the mythic law, the human, and the sad; and not the natural law that would address why it is we are made sad by what should make us happy. In the unhappy consciousness, shame, turning-away, self-suppressing, desexualising at the same moment it auto-oedipalises, we see human consciousness being, acting like the rehearsal for public shaming, turning away, and so on. And, yes, this is its role, given the shape of the symbolic and thrice-greatest foundation myth that is subtractive with being contracted, signed up for the social contract. That this is its role public misapprehension implies, from which private shame draws its inference.

Yet, if the role of consciousness can be seen to be in rehearsal its place is in the invisible work, and the inaudible. Being overheard here on the little stage of the self, the void which makes up that hole, comes before structure, the structure of character, the role, the play, the show and self-display. It prepares it and comes before the production. Only confusion would lead one to invite an audience in to hear one’s private thoughts, and then to take a seat among the spectators. This human participation would be the opposite direction to go in if we want to avoid shame, sadness and misunderstanding.

Should we want to increase joy we might respect the process, attend to the production in ourselves of what is not yet a human subject, overhearing the animal cries and invisible vegetative states, the stony stares, of us, and move from one to an other. We can move by way of fractions, degrees of difference: time fractures the natural surface, it is fractal. In movement, changing the subject, the myth may be undone; because, in turn, founding the myth, we have the dream of being human: to which art is antidote.

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sixtieth part, called “on movement LX,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

on movement

We experience communication as bodiless, yet we feel it as movement. All those pleasures we feel from being communicated with, and all that pain: it is what makes us human, keeps us human, leads us to hope or wish to be. But isn’t so wishing also to wish to be bodiless?

If there’s a spiritual realm it belongs to communication. It doesn’t belong to emotion, to our feelings. It causes them. And yet it is the authority we most invoke for their expression, which communication authorises, so is seen to be despotic in the prohibition of that expression, and, in granting it, beneficent and even munificent.

Art’s humanising task: to elevate through its emotional appeal, and its function: communication. To bring our emotions to their fullest expression, with communication in judgement of their truth: that is the aspiration to being human art sets in motion. This would be a function of language except that so little of what we say, or signal through language, arrives at communication. It rather tends to reinforcement, habits of expression, expressive habits.

Not until we reach custom, the customary, do we experience communication. That is: the coded. Codes of communication encode language as institution. And institutions are judged for their humanity on whatever values of truth they embody. That is: disembody. This value derives from its production, with the despot ruling its range and the munificent one to grant the fullest range of expression. That is, the codes of expression like those of behaviour are political avenues.

Zones of relative freedoms, they are relative to being a nobody without any right to express emotions, and without their having any claim on truth. Such a nobody opposes the spirit, is all body, and is less than human. Somebody who doesn’t communicate is however thought to have a mental disorder before they are considered to have a communicative one, as in the case of autism.

Is emotional intelligence an intellectual capacity, an emotional one, or a communicative one? If it is a matter of communication, it is at once a question of institutional codes, of their humanising or dehumanising purpose. And of the role of art, the purpose of which is … to be free: free in the sense of an always politically arbitrated, calibrated, conforming relativeness.

And if art should wish to be free of politics? It should accede to the highest form of humanity. And in its disembodiment, participate in the spiritual economy of communication.

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