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have you heard the one about … : kinda a follow-on from the yobbism post

With serendipitous timing Adam Shatz’s Writers and Missionaries: Essays on the Radical Imagination (Verso, 2023) arrived today, serendipitous because of what I left out of said yobbism post. I had Oliver Bottini say it instead. There it came down to no longer belonging to a community of whatever sort and not missing it but instead missing the feeling that what one said, did and wrote was in some sense an answer to that community, had a necessity, the necessity of being answerable.

This is Levinas’s definition of responsibility. It has an ethical dimension that is absolute. God, for Levinas, is an individual to whom one is answerable.

In turn we are put in mind of Lingis’s categorical imperative. I made it the basis of the last phase of Minus Theatre’s work.

Lingis takes categorical imperative from Kant for whom it was, in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, 1785), those foundations or that groundwork, the basis of moral obligation. Lingis takes this literally. He invokes the ground, the earth the other stands on, the air the other breathes, the fire of life in her, the water life in him depends on, the elements. Here, like Levinas, he says the basis of ethical behaviour is in a disposition towards the absolute other, God-the-individual.

He has us in a supermarket in a country where we don’t speak the language. Someone in front at the checkout turns to us. They smile in recognition at our mutual helplessness before the elemental dependence we share, both of us. We smile back in recognition of what the elements make imperative: we stand on the ground, we breathe the air, we are warm with life and our bodies, watery objects, move and flow in time. Perhaps we are not conscious of this but the point is that we can recognise it, we can recognise it in our disposition towards the other, as an absolute, an imperative.

Or the other calls on us by name, Hey, Simon! And I find I have to answer without the mask of a social role but in my own name. I affirm in so answering that I am answerable. I choose for this, in my own name, I exist, Simon.

Or we are ill and illness pushes us up tight against the body. It is unescapable, the unavoidable fact of our existence, its dependencies absolute. Take them away and we cease.

In Minus Theatre, a development of our practice that I didn’t carry over into the exegesis but was the reason I called it Minus Theatre: Scenes | Elements, this elemental imperative was to be consciously recognised. It took time. One actor faced another across a distance that became significant since it contained air, the air both were breathing, ground, the earth that let them stand, warmth, the warmth from their breath and bodies, and the moisture, the wateryness of those bodies in their movements. And then one would move … and the other would become answerable to that movement. The movement need be no bigger than a smile.

Yes, there is this community and the question it posed to me too to which I was answerable. I was after all responsible for this group, Minus Theatre, coming together; although it was my practice for a PhD. it was a group practice that that work followed.

And there is the community into which I politically awakened in 1981. This was not only the year of Halt All Racist Tours, the year we protested the visit of the Springboks to New Zealand. This was the year the union, Actors’ Equity, a poor thing now, took all actors out on strike, technical staff joining them in solidarity. (Some of the history is here.) Theatre’s were closed, the professional theatres, the profession a poor thing too, the community theatres. Almost unspeakable now, there had been 10 of them, in all the major centres, the communities, in NZ. And to speak about it is what that political awakening asked from me. To Whom Can I Speak Today?–the words of a poem adapted by Lambchop as the following lyric, also covered by David Byrne, the link for which at the Dalhousie University bears this note, (A dispute over suicide, Egypt, before 2000 BC):

To whom can I speak today?
The brothers they are evil
But the old friends of today
They have become unlovable
To whom can I speak today?
The gentleness has perished
And the violent man has come down on everyone

To whom can I speak today?
The wrong which roams the earth
There can be no end to it
It is just unstoppable
Death is in my sights today
And when a man desires
To see home after many years in jail

February through December
We had such a tragic year
As separate as the fingers
Or suddenly
As one
As the hand

And the violent man comes down on everyone
And the violent man comes down on everyone
And the violent man comes down on
Everyone

It’s odd to see how much of my work is a struggle with the idea of community. Political philosopher Roberto Esposito brings the ideas of community and immunity together. They are from the same root, munus, meaning an individual’s service or duty to the public body, including and going up to the sacrifice of his or her body, for example in the gladiatorial arena. And I suppose it could be seen to include self-sacrifice in the political arena or self-immolation.

Esposito does something similar to Benjamin, in suggesting that when state-violence enters into the moral relations of a cause it becomes yobbism or, in the old style, totalitarian. He points out that if a positive value is attached to us to distinguish us from them the result is totalitarianism, so that the positive way through is to choose for the negative, the nothing, the void, which must then itself be annulled.

With regard to community, Esposito writes, “It’s only through the abolition of its nothing that the thing can finally be fulfilled. Yet the realization of the thing, which is necessarily phantasmic, is precisely the objective of totalitarianism.”

I’d heard the one about the death of the author. From the eponymously titled essay by Roland Barthes, 1967: “It is language which speaks, not the author” … To assign an author is to foreclose on the possible meanings of the writing.

I hadn’t heard the one that Shatz, in Writers and Missionaries, follows it up with: Foucault defines the author as “the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning.”

Foucault two years later undoes what Barthes does: not the author’s suicide but a principle of thrift applies.

Barthes is calling for meanings to proliferate, Foucault calling for de-proliferation. The reader is a means to proliferation, the author a means to de-proliferation, of meaning: a sponge, a filter or screen.

Shatz reads as the antidote to Claire Dederer’s Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma. That book set out the dilemma of our choices as consumers being raised to the status of ethical decisions. The dilemma is what we choose to avow has too much meaning, meaning that continues as it prolongs the meaning that preceded it, meaning that we cannot shake, choosing to or choosing not to, not to see, read, serve, work, listen, feel and so on. Shatz says,

“In this book, I try to describe how such works [as have changed the way we think about the world as have Wright’s Native Son, Lévi-Strauss’s Triste Tropiques, Derrida’s Of Grammatology, Barthes’s Camera Lucida, Said’s Orientalism, Lanzmann’s Shoah] came into being: their position in intellectual history, but also their place in the lives of their creators. I make no attempt to present their authors as models for contemporary emulation or social media branding.”

… and,

“The flaws that I describe may, for some, call into question the value of my subjects’ achievements. That is not my view. It is impossible to study intellectual history without suffering heartbreak from time to time. (Just think of Arendt on Little Rock, Chomsky on Cambodia, Foucault on Iran, Angela Davis on East Germany, Sartre on Israel, Malcolm X on gender, or any number of writers on Stalinism.)” … “The purpose of these essays is not to establish a moral balance sheet but rather to explore the difficult and sometimes perilous practice of the engaged intellectual: the wrenching demands that the world imposes on the mind as it seeks to liberate itself from various forms of captivity.”

Explaining what to liberate means, Sartre:

“And he captured the desire for freedom that, as he saw it, lies behind all creative writing. Freedom, he insisted, is ‘at the origin’ of writing, since ‘no one is obliged to choose himself as a writer.’ Writing, therefore, ‘is a certain way of wanting freedom; once you have begun, you are committed.'”

3% writes D. to me, the 97% need to be able to other 3% of its number, just to be safe. And, therefore, the 3% have this service to perform of being the inside-outsiders.

What if no matter how many are othered there is no safety to be found?

Is it the same thing, human advantage over other humans, as has driven the biological advantage of humans over other animals? And would this not be less technology, technical advancement through prostheses, than social advancement? the need for variation within human community leading to big-brain-edness being therefore the big social brain of humans compared to other species (with perhaps the exception of aquatic mammals and primates who are also social-brained)?

Communities in Esposito’s political deontology have to be destroyed that are improper. These are the ones who abjure social relations, who keep their gifts for themselves, sharing economies. The social organisation crushes them and keeps a blank space where the obligation of relation was, that obligation which led to those services (of munus, munera) rendered within community, the commitments made by individuals to each other. It becomes an immunological space … of nothing given that is not first discounted for being an improper use of time, work, commitment, freedom and so on and displaced by symbolic exchange, by a conventional sign that sits on nothing and so annuls nothing.

For example this library has been made into a council service centre. A fellow librarian was subjected to a complaint regarding roading. I suggested posting it as anonymous on behalf of the complainant on the Auckland Transport website, since roading is not within the remit of council, however, the library is. We are council employees. This has allowed to the service of being a library the addition of extra services to the public.

Librarians here are council officers so I ought to have said that it’s not within our remit to deal with complaints in regard to roads but, I abjure this relation.

Does this mean that librarians form some kind of community on the basis of holding the relation to council in contempt? It would be one where we share amongst ourselves values that do not fit and are improper; it would be an improper community: but council does not go out of its way to crush it. It would rather turn libraries into a sort of parasite.

The reason is the yobbism that prevails prevails in general and librarians are complicit in it. We are not then we but further divide. We are dividual.

The evidence for this yobbism in the library has everything to do with work culture, in the old style, and a downgrading of, professionalism. So it goes to an ethical consideration, the ethical consideration of what constitutes professional practice and practices.

The library has become a parasite on technical culture and it is this that has detrimented library practices, or, as has been said here, destroyed the profession. It can be said then council, through its technical culture and its imposition of a work culture in its place, has brought about the destruction of the professional community.

Now what the object was above in speaking of the place of nothing that replaces community, in the example professional community, is both to draw attention to the void left and how a shifting series of signs nullifies it. Among these can be counted the imposition of work culture that no longer has a chain of command but a reporting line, that is no longer designated library service but is part of connected communities.

Nullification can take the form of doubling and simulating. How we know it’s a double is the plural. There are always small flaws in the simulation. Of course this is how we recognise God’s work as well, by its small cracks, by the irreality that survives in its interstices.

We might talk about AI as the grossest yobbism of technical culture.

“We, the indivisible divinity that operates within us, have dreamt the world. We have dreamt it resistant, mysterious, visible, ubiquitous in space and firm in time. But we have consented within its architecture tenuous and eternal interstices of unreason to know that it is false.”

— Jorge Luis Borges, “Avatars of the Tortoise”

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in his image

                                                                            
listen to the deep
	along the lines of
the face and darkness.

a spark, a sink
	among the eggshells

outside it all was broken into pieces

and I said, the darkness is not total
	the chaos is not     fatal
		or even original

although, what did Brian think?
	it is genetic	his favourite
drink     his Boy George hat but
      he was skinny  a grenadine
a double, sinking in his beer like pisschrist,
shotglass   wobbles to the bottom of the pint.

bi   drunk and on her single bed he was having
  a threesome with Tracey he came out and said
    with Tracey and a friend, punk girlfriend 
      and he had to stop to take timeout
        he said, two punks and a goth
            he had come they had not
              because of his one lung
          use his inhaler have a cigarette
            then go back in again   because
              he said he liked to watch,


Depth-charge, depth-charger Brian says
   he said it so it rhymes with plays
     it's not a competition to see if he could
       break the record he set on 
   the last time dole day, Thursday's dole day
           of how many he could drink
             and more than once 
           he comes home to the flat bashed in
             and spent the rent and 
               Tracey fixed him up, and he 
                 liked women 

but he said,
    he was sad and had     one lung:

     how many can you 
       and can you afford to


    the shot glass sinks to the bottom
                of the pint glass

       it goes it goes wobbly then goes
                             clink

softly too,

	afterwards, after Brian's bashed in for
		   what he says it rhymes with lays
               to the men at the bar 
        and jokes that pieces are always
      falling off him always are and they
    say fucking queer and Tony pulls him away

		he was deaf in one ear.

		  too soft to hear.

I left him in the mall at Cashel Street
          it was the eighties '83
  badges clinking on his blazer the satin
    lapels stained with dribbles or semen
      always are     I saw him
                with his one leg
                  and crooked smile
                    walk a crooked mile

to see a sad friend that he had who
                topped herself
  so he says it rhymes with stays
    and a man    about a dog
    and a man    about a pea, Miranda said
      who shrinks down to the size
        of suicide
          and is dead         who
                    gets inside your head
            inserts himself in your ear
                              who
                                is bent
who means it always did and stays there

down deeper than a vacuum cleaner
  deeper down than vomit vomit that
    they cannot clear
      a human vacuum cleaner

Tracey now is picking at the carpet
  pinching fluff between her fingers
    finding coins 
      and applecores 
        behind the sofa
          the flat
            came down in a demo
              don't look for it
         I read the cantos in the turret
       but that is not where it began

I began as we all do and I did not become
 insufficient   brothers sisters brothers
                  take my arms

take me outside no I'm not like we all do 
                going to be sick take
                  my hair    need
                    something from me

along these lines and on the fourth day
                    he found inspiration
                      it came to him
                        as it was on
           the first day of creation and
                          God said
                            Order up!

He thought 
        I do think the birds sing to me
                      piu piu piu piu
                        like owls the
                          ringneck doves
                              and a bird
        sang Speak speak speak speak
                            as he passed

            casting shadows on the deep
         and as it was 
            as it was what he was thinking
      at the time I think at the time
            the present
   passed over like clouds casting
                    shadows on the deep

                    why write when I can
                    speak     ? why work
                    when I can sleep   ?

so he dreamt he was a famous star
  playing in a famous scene and
    at the bar a minor bird called out
      Mister where have you been?

he dreamt he was Julie Andrews
  skiing with her groom
    on the mountains of the moon

dreamt of sweeping wide and wider still
  round the corners of a frozen hill
    a snow-carpeted hill
     he dreamt he was in Switzerland

He dreamt of sitting in the window
  with a garden view and his love
    who was a woman who
      He stood up in and
        saw into his soul

and   how many   needed nothing

and he dreamt so he dreamt 
   of the groom and the vacuum
     of the scene and the actor
       of the pea in his ear
         of the man and the beer

         of steps being taken
       suspicions he was faking

how many thoughts are dreams    ?
  and how many dreams are
    how many dreams    are there

as if dreams are our mother
  when she married memories
    after sleeping with chaos

he dreamt of an eternal cafe table
  and of waiting on it
    when God said Order up!
      but he was unable

how many dreams are memories
  and how many thoughts are
    how many thoughts    are there?

his mother in the bath
  her pubes all tangled in the water
    a tattered butterfly 
     who he said to he thought
       it's worth it
         I think so too 
          and waited to

each shall be given
    the deserving and the non
      the believing and the non

god's gift    he said   as an actor
you're not    too soft  
                  for the extractor

Tracey was a human vacuum cleaner
      no, not that way
Is the light on   ?
  Have the right steps been taken
    is the vomit clear?
      is there a man in your ear?
        a man here and   he says
         it rhymes with pays
           no, not that way

suspicions he was faking 
          were mistaken
he did not awaken   god's gift

from the lucky and the un
forsaken and un
  from father son and holy one
      will be taken   God's gift
       he was not and from a man
        in your rear depth-
         charging your beer
          the fizz
           holy un
 from the gearshift she sat on
 to Brian with his hat on
   Louie frothing at the mouth
          one is 
            not enough

from the fizz of creation this
  one man is not      this man
    was my brother    he was
      in arms     taken
        in his image  as was
          God's gift  in his

from mother and daughter
  to mother-daughter too
    to unmother daughter
      my daughter
        how deep is
           the water is it
      
in his image    god's gift
            too    ?








[11 March 2023]

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who killed my father

I picked up today Édouard Louis’s book with this title. I added a question mark. Then removed it.

Because without a question mark it is a statement. I couldn’t see it at first. It doesn’t ask who killed my father. Rather it states who did it.

I cite it only to lead where it led me when it was a question, since I could ask the question, who killed my father. And I could answer the question but I could not state who. Who killed my father?

I have been writing about my father. Writing imaginatively, not factually, and without thinking very much about… what can I say? Who killed my father.

First there was the responsibility I felt towards his life. Second is responsibility for his death. What killed him was his life, but his life, for such a little phrase, carries with it a load.

His life entails, although it doesn’t follow from it, all that he gave his life for, all that he lived for. It engages in fact everything that was not him. His life is small compared to what for him life was about.

How do I, how does anyone address themselves to the dreams, principles, the values and ideas, that a father lives for? If I think of my mother. In contrast I think of her living for life. Not like my father, living for some thing.

And many would and should side with someone who lives for life. Perhaps they say it is more admirable to live like that and that living for some thing, some intangible purpose, is not at all what it purports to be. It is actually self-centred, selfish and even cruel.

My mother also lived for my father and her children and out from them for those they in turn loved and lived for. But she did not live for what my father lived for, although she sympathised with it. She loved my father for that little bit of him that was his, which he probably couldn’t see, which I doubt any of us ever really can.

As I said, I felt responsible too for his responsibility, the responsibility he chose. I felt less responsible for his life, the responsibility he didn’t choose. So that I can say who killed my father turns on the responsibility he took on, the fate he chose.

It is to do with what he thought himself to be doing when alive. It is implicated in what he struggled and fought for. And what he thought was worth the fight.

A book by Barack Obama passed through my hands called Dreams from My Father. In it the dreams might be of an imported cultural inheritance, finding a place in a new culture for them. I suspect many fathers die on the job of this, but is it the job that kills them?

As a question who killed my father is both gendered and generic. Who killed my mother doesn’t translate it. It pertains to a general state of affairs. As a statement it is the particular story of who killed my father. There again is the question of responsibility that is of a calling, that is ethical and political.

What my father was called to do was particular but is applicable to fathers in general inasmuch as they take on and become answerable to it. Some ethical or political mission you might say. And why should this be?

Do all fathers die in the way that the question who killed my father can be asked? If asked, is it only askable by a son? Is it only asked by a son inasmuch as a son is, as I have said of myself, at least in part answerable, responding to a father’s calling in a way that calls on him too?

Can we put down the burdens of our fathers? We can choose not to respond, choose to make that choice, but I know that if they are sins then, got rid of, they can bounce back in unpredictable ways. There are of course matrilineal sins and gifts and griefs.

And grand missions that sons can see as much as daughters. Is this mostly due to them being unfulfilled, unfulfilled dreams, things left undone or partly done? And is this the case because of men and often because of that other choice, having children? Or not choosing to but having children anyway and then being forced into a position of self-denial, of living one’s life for one’s children, having had them, regardless of any mission one might have had in one’s life? (I forget the writer whose first advice to students in her lectures on writing was always, Take control of your fertility.)

I’ve just reached the part in Retrospective, a book I am reading slowly on breaks, by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, when Sergio Cabrera has gone to visit his ninety year-old father and been told by him that he, Sergio, has betrayed everything they had lived their lives for. It is another book, after The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura (some excerpts here), about the failure of communism. His father, Fausto, like Sergio a real character whose life has by Vásquez been imaginatively reconstructed, of course includes in his condemnation his son: You have betrayed everything that we lived our lives for.

Sergio Cabrera Cárdenas was appointed, by President Gustavo Petro, ambassador to China in 2022. And this makes sense because in the novel based on his life, his life and his father’s, Fausto moves the family to China, almost out of the blue, where Sergio and his sister acquire the language, and Fausto and his wife teach Spanish to the Chinese. With his father’s words on his betrayal, Sergio enters a deep depression.

You might say that this is the point the novel comes alive for me. I ask myself about who is to blame for the failure of communism. In Padura, it is Stalin. But I also ask myself if my own father were alive would he think that I had betrayed everything we had worked for in our lives? And I quickly answer no.

It’s not that the stakes are so much smaller for me. When dealing with the responsibility for a life how could they be. I still take my father’s side on who killed him. I can see their faces.

Some of them would be the ones he himself would have pointed out and some are not. And his face is of course among them. For not taking responsibility for the part of his life he didn’t live for, the part he was loved by my mother for, that part that we can’t simply reduce to his physical health or his living being or his beating heart. His face is among his killers’ for another reason too.

And this is more complex. It is also more or at least it has been more burdensome, more difficult as his son to disinherit, to shuck off. Another oversimplification: it is that his dream was quixotic… And again, I would add, too quickly, perhaps every such dream is?

My honorary grandmother, Davina Whitehouse, recognised it as such in the most elegant way, in the form of things. She brought him gifts from what in those days we used to call overseas. One of these gifts was a Man of Straw, from Mexico, a crucifix made of straw. Another was a beautifully carved wooden sculpture of Don Quixote, the man himself, that my ex-wife now has in her possession. You see, I still couldn’t keep it.

Fanny Howe’s The Winter Sun is subtitled Notes on a Vocation. In it she asks, What could I call what was calling me? Her answer is, A vocation that has no name.

I am led there by “Since early adolescence I wanted to live the life of a poet. What this meant to me was a life outside the law; it would include disobedience and uprootedness. I would be at liberty to observe, drift, read, travel, take notes, … and struggle with form.” Jennifer Hodgson quotes it. She writes, “‘outside the law… struggling with form’ pretty much hugs together everything I think about/can’t stop thinking about”.

When my mother said to me, You are a born teacher, it felt like a death sentence. The year at teachers’ training college, where she had lectured but had not continued for not having gained a degree or higher qualification, where my grandmother had been more-or-less sent while her sister, Ava, whom she never spoke of, was one of the first women to enter Victoria University, that I would have been required to do to get my teacher’s certificate, seemed like a forced admission of guilt. The guilty acceptance of what I was born to do.

When, as Ginette McDonald visiting the café he was running at the time told my father how she had loved working with him as a director in theatre, he said to her, You should try working with Simon. He’s a great director, it felt like being sentenced to live rather than a life sentence. The more so for being indirectly given.

I’d recently staged Antimony. Here’s Francis Till’s review, attributing all the magic to Kim Renshaw, the producer, who did work wonders but it was my brother and I who were responsible for transforming the space. Mum and Dad attended with Beanie, Davina Whitehouse. It was if not the last one of the last pieces of live theatre she attended. (She died on Christmas day 2002. Here’s a piece I wrote for her.)

The part of life we cannot see is our insertion among material things. We can take it up as our calling to make a temple of the body. In attending to it as a temple we make an idol of the materiality and lose sight of the life. Is it better to put the temple that is the body to the service of something else?

I am suggesting our insertion among material things concerns not only the organs we cannot take out and inspect, to establish their health or proper function, their malfunction or the affects of accumulated time and habits on them. It includes also the rhythms of those organs, their breathing, pumping, living periodicities, that in sum are equal to what it means to be living, since they, from the largest organ of the skin, to the smallest bacteria, equate to its time or to its timing.

Its own time produces the inner experience that it cannot have any experience inner to. It is at the surface, a timing, and what we normally think of as our identity is no more than a key to it, a connecting dash, and discontinuous with the living tissue, connecting to it by contiguity, by a cut.

The cut is also question of when, of timing. To make it so or measure time in the materiality of the body, life, is to place a cut in the cut. It is to place it at further and further removes while maintaining its contiguity. So the temple of worship can be superimposed on to the body and coincide with it in space but not in time.

When I was very young my father explained to me the difference between vocation and avocation. You can have an avocation for the priesthood, he said. The distinction seemed to hang on belief.

What did my father believe in deeply enough he might consider it his avocation, give his life for as well as, and at the same time as, having it taken from him? To say my father believed deeply enough in theatre he might have agreed it to be an avocation at once goes too far and not far enough. Too far because he would not go all the way with theatre directing being any more than a profession, a vocation. Not far enough because saying theatre makes it the answer to a question that is not fully formed.

The question would have to have a political component. I think a political theme has been lurking here the whole time. It’s in the title to Édouard Louis’s book and I’m sure it’s in the content of the book. As being in the nature of fathers in general the theme’s political tinge or seriousness is perhaps what has drawn me on. Does this mean mothers are exempt from or excluded from political seriousness?

Who killed my mother as a title, although it might have political resonance, would not have the same resonance. Perhaps I am wrong but I am imagining two sets of generalities, pertaining to my mother and to my father, ethical and political, and necessarily then to my relationship to them. I am thinking out from these two personal cases and imagining them to bear on some general things that can be said.

The difference in resonance applies to my mother’s avocation. She was a born teacher, and as such saw this in me, but she was not born a teacher. She was born an actress and she directed from the perspective that gave her. She also taught from the perspective given her by directing from the perspective of an actress, if that makes any sense.

Who killed my mother. Neither in the form of a question or of a statement does this work for her. My mother died for medical reasons not for political ones. Although the medical reasons were exacerbated by her grief over the loss of my father so it is possible there is a reflection here of the complication of her living for him and him not for himself.

He lived for something other than himself. It was a greater health and a political reason to which he was responsible. I would say it was the responsibility of necessity. And it is this political reason that makes work both the question and the statement of who killed my father.

The hardest thing to get rid of is my own answerability to what he took to be his responsibility. His responsibility was to say what was necessary. In Minus Theatre, Edward Scheer, noted writer on Artaud, in his report on my doctoral thesis project said that I had reduced theatre to ground zero. He meant to nothing.

I had got rid of the whole apparatus of the literary theatre. Productions were in multiple languages. I had got rid of most of narrative. In getting rid of the dramatic conflict my father said was essential to drama, I had got rid of drama. And yet would he have called it, as in Vásquez’s Retrospective Fausto did to his son Sergio Cabrera, a slap in the face of everything you and I did in this life? No. That’s why to call his avocation theatre is not enough.

He insisted that theatre has to say what it is necessary to say and, in a move away from an overtly political, programmatic or issue-based theatre, what cannot be said in any other way. He also insisted, in line with this second point, that theatre is an art form. Certain plays are necessary, and normally get written, at the time, but theatre is in service to itself as an art form before literature.

The art of theatre has its own artists. These include playwrights but they are members of a collective engaging in the collective work of artistic creation. I tend to think of the group artist being the company (as you can see from this manifest from the 90s). Although artistic responsibility follows from it, I am concerned with the first point here, the responsibility of necessity.

The formula, responsibility of necessity, suits the ideas I am trying to express of an avocation as a calling. The religious sense of calling meets the political one and social responsibility meets responsibility to one’s brain and heart and sex. This is to put into words a gesture my father made to Paul Minifie, then directing at Theatre Corporate. The gesture was intended to express just this necessity, of theatre having to appeal here and here and here, and, preferably all of them.

Minus Theatre was a form of theatre as necessity. And so it was found to be irrelevant, passed over as an academic exercise, by the same considerations, if not the same people, who killed my father. I have no doubt focused down too narrowly over the course of this writing but I think it is the question or statement that has drawn this out of me.

Who killed my father is important. It’s important to remember. It’s important to remember for me personally since so few still do. Yesterday I heard Grant Bridger had died.

Yes, there are some who die of not wanting to remember. Of those who are still living I can only think of Shirley Kelly, member of the Southern Players, one of the first theatre companies in New Zealand, who remembers the ones who would rather forget than acknowledge their debt and she is very very old. In German, the word for debt connects with the word for guilty, Schuld and schuldig.

There are some who would rather die than admit in failing to acknowledge their debt they are siding with the killers. Since by their actions they have found the killers innocent, they would protest their innocence all the louder. It is always a very loud silence surrounding guilt.

And the guilt of the killers is the source of the silence, who maintain their silent exclusion zone, while making the usual theatrical gestures of mollification, like the noise around cancel culture. The necessity of responsibility is the necessity that there be responsibility. The question who killed my father is answered by the statement.

It is not the necessity of holding those responsible who are but of being responsible, answerable to the memory. To be answerable to what might be called a political memory or a memory of politics. In this case what does it mean truly to remember? What does it mean for a son, for a daughter to be called on to answer for memory?

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“the past is a fire that eats up the present”

“Our vast imaginations pull in the opposite direction from our small, frail bodies.” – from here

Consciousness covers itself.

Consciousness covers itself with abstractions, with the abstract, as much with materialities, in the pragmatics of everyday life.

In the pragmatics of everyday life, the “social absolute”–Seitaro Yamazki’s fossils of the future.

Reminds me of “not the relativism of truth, the truth of relativism”–Deleuze and Guattari.

A critic questions the absolute. Is it capitalist? Is it not so much absolute as absolutising?

Is it relativisable? for example, through historicising what was thought absolute, see if it has been constructed, when and how. Then it can be made relative to historical circumstance, some determinations some accidents.

Is this deconstruction? No. Deconstruction starts from what is already there in the construct, the social construct, the epistemic construct, that is always at work to undo it: deconstruction has to do with an inner contradiction, a tiny difference and an infinitesimal crack in the foundation which will be singularly responsible for bringing the edifice down.

To see how it has been made so that it can be unmade: how the trick was done to undo it. It is usually words and their effect on institutions: is this Foucault’s genealogical method?

Yes, first is showing the social absolute is not absolute, but not by using the critical method. Not by using the critical method because the critical method is also historicisable, is too timely.

Another absolute is called for… this is a bit like Alex Hochuli, George Hoare and Peter Cunliffe‘s suggestion that leaderless political movements are ineffectual; especially so when looking at anti-politics. Anti-politics has its leaders, leaders whose appeal is of a different quality than political, that is mythic, iconic and demagogic. (probably why political dirt does not stick to them)

Social absolute covers: a social self.

Yes, social self is individuated: the Other is an individual. God is. Absolute is.

…so the individuation has a timeline that it is relative to, so what? Critic of the critic asks.

Consciousness, political consciousness, covers itself in its timely exercise: in the pragmatics of everyday life.

Under consciousness is not the time of the social absolute but the individuating absolute, an internal time. An infernal time: the past is a fire that eats up the present.

knowledge is a determination of the future: use it

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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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a musical interlude–takes me back to chapter two you know who

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a short series up to christmas

a small colourful bundle

	arrived yesterday

We must trade offline



first inclination

	to propose it, in this form

Must be kind



“the mystery you would be

	I would unfold, pausing at the mystery

Be careful



“of unfolding, trembling fingers

	following soft bifurcations...

We must move



moments laid bare, a trail

	"unwound wonder wounds"

To a new form of life



of fragmentary insights, like

	garments, or threads

We must change now



teasing or warning? to propose

	to time, unlike anything in

Now each of us recognises



the original bundle,

	here, its skin

In the other the same need



and every moment of its skin

	unwound, veins and neurons

In a nutshell, I want to say a skull,



minute, fractions of Horror

	and Love,

We are bound



a colourful bundle

	arrived yesterday

We must not break down.







21 . 12  . 2021

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

on movement

The static: civil war: it elicits a … breach, that runs through society. It breaches, then runs in all directions at once. But this is to say that it surfaces. It surfaces as the mobile displacement of every certainty. It has that other meaning of static, white noise, and causes a superfluidity of motion, like the sea. Passes like a wave over the world, without resolving, so, also cloud-like. Vaporous. And intoxicating.

Static, it is the music that doesn’t allow you to hear. Only in the last instance will it resolve into melody, in Bergson’s terms, time. Yet at that instant, along comes a tragic figure, limping. And we should note that for Bergson there are no instants: we are always in the cloud, caught in the wave of time as duration, for as long as we can. So he supports this confusion: is it like the thought severed from itself? or severed from potency? No, Oedipus chooses for just this type of displacement, just this type of mobility.

We must ask how things differ for us when everything is in this shifting cloud of abstraction which is more like a screaming hurricane or jet engine. The difference is that we are immobilised. In those beautiful lines from La mort en direct, Eveything is of interest. Yet nothing matters. Enormous effort is expended on trying to make it matter again. This is unlike any will to power we have ever seen before. It is, as Houellebecq writes in the novel of the same name, atomised.

Each harbouring her little cut. Yes, I recognise it as a sexual image. And each his.

It will be a great relief to be able to use words again as they were intended: to enable movement. A similar relief was found, you recall, when we were talking of theatre people, about how, after the show, after the evisceration of it, happy or unhappy, about how great it was to have imposed on one the most ferocious violence of language, about how being called a cunt and a cock doubled for those organs one, happily or unhappily, had left or spilt on the stage. And this is in fact the way we have been using the language of theatre, without malevolence. To speak for movement, not on behalf of bodies, but to offer them some relief.

Another film: My Dinner with Andre. Wallace Shawn is speaking with Andre Gregory. He asks why the other gave up theatre. Gregory answers, Everybody got so good at acting in their everyday lives. Gregory, a theatre director, having given up theatre had initiated a new project he called a hive. Really just a dinnerparty where everybody turns up and we just see what happens.

With everybody so good at acting all the time, performing, as well as being their own (atomic) impressarios, entrepreneurs of the self, we experience humanity as an endless mobility. But not an open-ended one. Since each one is the end point. A stop.

And this is the word one cannot say. At least, it brings no relief to say it. Saying it is like plunging into the punctuation point at the end of a sentence.

Mobilities are of those old things, gender, race and class: the working class is on the move like never before and so has been the main victim of the various state-imposed lockdowns. Gender fluidity has been called by some performance, while those little words, the linguistic shifters, have become intransigent like never before, and we are asked to have our pronouns permanently assigned. Like smiles. Race and gender have most exercised the middleclasses even in the middle, exactly in the middle, of their crisis in values. When, perhaps, it gives relief from being squeezed. And when that class is empty, will the mobilities remain?

Yes, we are in the cloud of our own carbon emissions. Stumbling around and trying not to acknowledge how we falter. Seeking therapy not to make that acknowledgement. Or plastering over the cuts. When along comes Oedipus, not that old one we can thank for doing so much harm in the century before the last one. And not that Anti-One Deleuze and Guattari take out for a schizo stroll. This one solves the Sphinx’s riddle. By choosing to walk with a faltering step, he (or she, or both, let’s see) is two-legged, three-legged, and four-legged.

note: source references available on request–these will be part of the book, if it should come to pass.

If you would like to help it come to pass, and show your support for what I’m up to, please sponsor it: become a patron, here.

If you would like to receive these posts, as they are written, as letters addressed to you, please send me your email address.

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