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velvet & vomit

Since you asked (my little joke), my writing is going a lot better, thank you, more smoothly. Foucault required of his writing style that it feel like velvet, that it have a velvet surface. This velvet-surfaced prose for some reason, perhaps because of the expression velvet-tongued, makes me think of a tongue. He wanted the surface of his writing to have this quality or, he wanted his writing to have the surface quality of velvet.

An unusual turn of phrase in Levrero: an hallucination allows us to see things that are not there. On the one side, there is the epistemology of an hallucination; on the other, its ontology. Saying, It was an hallucination, allows what was seen, despite it not being there, to pass over to the side of things seen and known. What about its being? What about if an hallucination were a pass to visibility for what is not there?

At any point, a thousand hallucinations press on the air. We are given leave to see one. We do not say, It is merely an hallucination or afterwards, it was merely an hallucination; we thank the hallucination for allowing us to see what is not there, what was not there: a thousand unseen things, and we were granted access to one. Or, rather, the hallucination granted that access, giving it to be seen.

The same might said of all those instances when epistemology becomes confused with ontology, where the concept or the word is like an empty form, a voucher that is made out in the name of what was unseen, because not there, before, but is now. The situation recalls the song “Haddock’s Eyes.” That’s what the name is called, says the White Knight to Alice, but not the song.

The song is called “Ways and Means.” While what the song is is really “A-sitting on a Gate.” The tune, the White Knight says, is pure invention.

Ferrante writes in Incidental Inventions, collecting pieces written for the Guardian in January 2018 to January 2019, There’s nothing I wouldn’t write about. In fact, as soon as I realize that something has flashed through my mind that I would never put in writing, I insist on doing so. This is on 5 May 2018.

On 12 May, she writes about the urge to write, But be careful: we have to refrain from taking our barren, proud, cruel creative deliriums for a mark of quality.

Sometimes it is the urge to write that insists you write what you would never put in writing. It is not you. But this does not mean it is not a barren, proud, cruel creative delirium that you (or I) mistake for having quality.

I was reading Carrère on his search for Luke Rhinehart, writer of The Dice Man, pen name of George Cockcroft, about a man who makes decisions of exponentially growing importance in his life based on the throw of a die.

What is it, I thought, about Carrère’s writing?

I had also been listening to a reading of The Adversary. What is it that makes it not to appear the willful imposition of a distinctive voice or personality onto his material and yet to be full of a voice and of personality?

I mention The Dice Man because of the aleatory device of the die, because of the introduction or intrusion of chance operations in writing and in life.

The whole idea then, when the novel came out, in 1971, was escape from the self.

The self is a product conditioning; today it is simply a product: so, now, it is thought to have greater or less utility by those entrepreneurs of the self. But I am getting away from my question.

If I read Carrère, or, yes, Ferrante, as willfully writing against their own ideas of what either of them would write, as insistently imposing this on themselves, I would be able to tell; and I would see it as an intrusion, as an imposition on the writing.

It might be entirely authentic. But I think it would read as being forced and artificial, as if the writer were asking too much, not of the reader (Ferrante seems to say this), but of the writing.

Rhinehart has to obey the die in The Dice Man.

If, since this is one of the alternatives he may have assigned to a number on it, the die says commit murder, the die is responsible. For him the die is responsible; regardless of how the rest of conditioned society may view it, he is not.

Murder and the alternatives of killing someone he knows or a stranger are put on a throw of the die.

As they say, the dice are loaded. Is writing itself the same kind of technique or practice?

Burroughs and Gysin’s cut-up technique might say it is; but in being so, is such a technique only bringing out what is true of the practice in general?

There is something attractive about Ferrante’s, if it flashes through my mind, and I realise it is not something I could put in writing, I insist that I do, that I write it. (Put like that, that is a lot of I’s.)

There is also something appealing about letting the die take the hit.

Deliberately writing against or in flight from oneself, whatever the reason: is it a lie, like the one about, If you go far enough to the Left you end up on the Right? that if you do you go full circle? And, by writing the opposite, finish by writing the same?

You end up by writing what you would have had you gone all out to please yourself and indulge your personal inclinations, or follow your heart. Is this true?

A swerve away from what you would certainly put in writing, in the direction of what you never would, perhaps is a good thing. But is it not a matter of degree? Is it not a matter of introducing small degrees of difference, rather than of imposing on oneself, in life or in writing, the inescapable duty to do the opposite of, as it were, being true to oneself?

Another way of saying being true to oneself is the currently popular excuse, Telling my truth.

What it is an excuse for is, at best, testimonial writing.

The origin of that word, testimonial, is in testes; something Mussolini is said to have done before making a public speech: fiddle with his balls.

Dorfman, in Some Write to the Future, 1991, gives the best, most sensitive analysis, being the least morally judgemental one, of testimonial literature, specifically that of Chile detailing the “the brutality with which the military, decades after it was supposed that Hitler and Mussolini had been defeated and buried, punished the Chilean people for having dared to pursue their liberation.” (from here)

Dorfman looks at how this literature came to be written.

He analyzes the political, moral and commercial demands for it:

1) in the political domain, the need for denunciation;

2) in the moral, the need for these crimes to come to light, to be seen to be the crimes they are;

3) in the commercial world, that popular impulse feeding on vicarious experience, arousing a sentiment of national outrage, of shared moral indignation, and setting, from an identification with the victims, this in the place of any shame in complicity or sense of shared historical responsibility, in place of any more nuanced or problematic response.

In New Zealand this weaponised empathy, called identity politics, is good for sales in the moral arms race of the culture wars.

To meet these demands requires a certain format, a degree of tidying, organising and shaping, to make the testimony into narrative, but also, at the same time, to conceal signs of tampering and of editorial intervention.

What the editor is after, who with the testimony giver may be one and the same individual, is not expression in the raw, with its lumps of undigested because indigestible truth, not the atrocity itself but the exhibition of atrocity.

The inhumanities of humanity are like animals in a zoo, curated according to species and on display as examples of species, not for being exemplary in their own right, as would be the case with individual experience in, say, a novel by Ferrante or an autofiction by Carrère.

That is more it: autofiction is not testimonial but anti-testimonial. It sets individual experience up to be so exceptional that it needs to be accounted for or borne witness to by the writing.

Witnessed, observed, experienced is not a truth of, say, evil, an absolute leaving no room for witness, the individual observer. Not a matter of individual experience, that it is one of national significance or significance to the species, crimes against humanity captures well.

Autofiction registers and records the fictionalisation that Dorfman’s analysis finds is part of a type of writing, that cannot bear the thought of it, as narrative.

As narrative, it tells the truth in the form of a fiction even if it is not itself a fiction. The point of autofiction is admission of the inadmissable; and this goes to Ferrante’s point too: to admit the inadmissable, in fact, to insist on it.

Why does she insist on writing what flashes through her mind that she would never put in writing?

Her insistence has not to do with her exclusion of her self but her exclusion of getting in its way: this is her insistence.

It is not because what flashes through her mind is intrinsically worthwhile, possesses some special significance for women, for society, for humanity. That it is not is the reason for her second admonition, her cautioning, Be careful: we have to refrain from taking our barren, proud, cruel creative deliriums for a mark of quality.

Our barren, proud, cruel creative delirium is, she writes in the piece it comes from, the product of another exclusion: the isolation of the writer.

The writer isolates herself from family, from affection, from society and from, inasmuch as she is herself a product of the social absolute and so conditioned by it, herself.

She does so because of the urge to write, to fulfil the demands of writing. Or, writing makes her do it; like the die made Rhinehart do it.

It is further to fulfil its demand that she insists on writing what flashes through her mind that she could not put in writing.

The inhuman part that is indigestible, inadmissible and must be isolated is in this case the writer. It is not the suffering of the individual and the truth of that suffering, the truth of that individual or even the individual, speaking a personal truth, who has to speak this truth. It is the writer writing, the technical practice of writing, that isolated is put on exhibition, its own sort of atrocity.

I was surprised to hear Andy Warhol on Vivienne Westwood’s hate list in Roddy Doyle’s adaptation into a TV series of Steve Jones’s autobiography, called Pistol, book by Steve Jones. I was thinking about kitsch. Yesterday, it must have been.

What is wrong with New Zealand place names?

First off, Nigel Corbett, brother of Jeremy who hosts the TV show 7 Days, and has done since 2009 according to the wikipedia page (quite funny: gives the format of all the ‘games’ in the show), his, Nigel’s comedy routine: presented maybe 1992 or 3 at the Watershed Theatre, now no more, like most of Auckland’s theatres (including the university theatre, The Maidment; The Mercury remains, but as a venue for hire: Creative New Zealand seems to like it better that theatres remain venues rather than have the expense of actors and so on), Nigel’s routine riffed on New Zealand place names.

What do you call one of the most beautiful places in the country? … Russell. Russell. (Perhaps only beaten by that part of Auckland that used to have a sign on the road announcing, You Are Now Entering Rodney.)

Russell? why not call the Milford Sound, ummm, Trevor, or perhaps, Milford?

New Zealand place names are kitsch for being nostalgic, nostalgic for a fake 1950s colonialism, the Six O’Clock Swill, violent simple hearted and minded men, women who baked, caravan holidays, barefoot childhoods and some of my best friends at school were Maori, at school where they were punished for speaking Maori, grey woolen shorts and scratchy jerseys, choice of future occupation and therefore of training and education for girls, teacher, nurse or housewife (my grandmother’s sister, incidentally, Ava, was one of the first women to go to Victoria University, Wellington; my grandmother, my mother, both teachers, grandfather and great grandfather, school principals; on the paternal side, freezing works and housewifery).

New Zealand place names of colonial imposition have that whiff about them. What is it? wet wool. Also dissociation, spiritual, mental and genealogical: a supposed binding of ties to England that, cut from locality and source, sets the name floating above the place.

It is kitsch because the name covers over the reality of the colonial past and that past where the colonial one was already thought past and buried. It is also kitsch for that nostalgic evocation.

In other words, the colonial imposition of names is a first cover.

The second (kitsch) cover is the one that inserts the placename for that history’s sake that did not exist, the one evoking nostalgia.

The third (kitsch) cover is the retrospective maorification of placenames, for being a cover of a cover, of a cover.

Now the Maori placename covers the actual or potential English placename, or, in the case of Dunedin, a city planned in facsimile to Edinburgh in hair-rising denial of local topography, its streets taking their names from the ‘original,’ the Scottish one, Ōtepoti. Dunedin is called Ōtepoti; Dunedin is the name for this Edinburgh; what its actual name is is a matter for your own invention. (See the Haddock’s song.)

Then the pakehackification of Maori placenames: the Kworra and the Why-mack rivers. Tie-happy. Paraparam.

Although frowned upon, there is something autofictional about these bastards. For, after all, that is our theme: and, after all, autofiction, is not about authenticity but, as an act of self-originating, is about originality. I was talking with P yesterday.

P asked me what I think the Bible is.

The Bible sent me back to Carrère and the essay I referred to earlier, “Resemblance.”

After a lengthy peroration on what the Bible is not and what it excludes, those writings called apocryphal, and what it includes in the effort at achieving a kind of root-hormonal synthesis, Old Testament, rooting it in Judaism, and on that period of synthesising and standardising (knowledge, in the encyclopaedia, language, in the dictionary) and species-being, in all kinds of hierarchical trees, because of the threat posed by the Outside in the imperial onrush of global domination of Western nations, after that I said to P, The Bible is a portrait of one man, an historical person, someone who actually existed, lived and breathed, from several different points of view.

Now, P did not necessarily want to hear that.

P told me that some people consider the Bible to have been directly dictated by God and therefore to be of unimpeachable authority.

P told me about a transition or conversion that many former New Agers are undergoing. In this period of uncertainty and chaos they are turning to Jesus Christ and finding in him a sense of certainty and faith. One person she knew became a priest.

They are leaving the New Age and going to Jesus. Jesus might be the opposite of Luke Rheinhart, the Dice Man.

Jesus is not an aleatory technical detour or détournement, a circuit breaker in either the continuity or discontinuity of lived experience. Or is he? In some cases the Bible might serve this function, as does the Book of Splendour, the Zohar, for Cabbalists.

The indeterminacy of throwing a die to effect choices resembles pre-alphabetic indeterminacy in Hebrew, a symbolic system representing spoken language through the consonants alone. Lacking vowels, the meaning of a given word is open to multiple interpretations: God could as well be Gouda.

Abram in The Spell of the Sensuous (1996) says like philosophy written language as a determinant symbolic system is a Greek invention. The Greek addition of vowel sounds, well, Abram identifies vowels with breath and breath with temporal presence.

To animate a word is to fill it with breath, anima and spirit having comparable etymological origins, in Greek and Latin respectively, as words for breath. Seen (or heard) this way, the word is spirit, world spirit.

How this pertains to philosophy is by enabling abstract qualities to be interrogated. It enables qualities to be abstracted from the present and to be interrogated in themselves. This is Socrates’ method: all very well to talk of the justice of the wise king, but what is justice in itself? Or good?

The good in itself must be the highest good, the ideal form of goodness. It must determine what is good in all the many instances when what is good occurs.

Qualities as concepts come to have ideal forms determining the myriad instances of their instantiation, in their actualisation. In other words, the hallucination allows the invisible to be seen: to be seen and known is the path to being.

The Bible, its original language Greek in large part, so an animate inanimate, a writing having in it the decisions about meaning breath makes, has enjoyed many hundreds of years of interpretative debate as to true meaning, as if some indeterminacy still ineradicably attached to it, that would, by extension, attach to the written word.

The source of this indeterminacy is usually put as a question of faith and a matter of authority.

Its truth is doubtful, for those who doubt it, for the reason of authority, not for cleaving or not cleaving to reality, for the reason of its authority being doubtful. It is not for those who doubt the Word of God. Neither is it animated by Spirit for them, nor does it in turn animate them with its spirit: it is as if, exactly, its spirit did not speak to them, and was not dumb but meaningless, as the speech of animals is said to be.

The faithful in contrast must come to terms with its certainty, the surety of its fixed meanings, through either understanding, the expert advice of priests and other institutionally invested representatives, or interpretation. This is like Dani Rodrik’s policy trilemma that holds democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration to be mutually incompatible, saying, we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full. (from here)

We can have faith in the spirit of the Bible; in the authority of the Bible; or in the meaning of the Bible: and we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full. The historical reason: the big interpretative, exegetical spree that occurred in Protestant homes, particularly in the 19th century, was due to taking out the middleman, after Luther, making it possible or even necessary to enter into direct relationship with God, to allow your own personal Jesus, in a passage from being able to be known to his reality being abundantly manifest. Yes, said P, The people I have talked to talk about their relationship with Jesus like that.

It must have been the day before yesterday, the conversation with P. Yesterday I was talking with M and the conversation suddenly veered towards the Bible.

We were talking about a book review in the Guardian, An Inconvenient Apocalypse, Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen, 2022, released the day we were discussing it, September 1.

M accepted without reservation that we are headed towards global societal collapse. It was self-evident to her, and I assumed that this was because Things Can’t Go On Like This.

According to the Guardian review, Jackson, an agronomist, and Jensen, a journalist, offer something like a panchreston, a universal origin or original sin to explain how We Got In This Mess. Farming or harvesting is the original sin. With it came human settlement, territorialism, population explosion, competition for resources, technical innovation, to feed a settled mass of humans, each ratchetting up the other… to arrive after 10,000 years or so at Where We Are Today.

What is called for, after the societal collapse that the authors and M accept as being inevitable, is to be hunters and gatherers forever after; and called for as well is a scripture reinforcing this message: in other words, a return to scriptural authority.

Yes, said M, unsurprised, this also in her view an inevitability. So, the Bible.

I picked up Mojo. Good News! I read, Lambchop’s latest release is The Bible.

The truth by received wisdom, expert advice; the truth by personal discovery, personal relation; the truth through understanding, election and affirmation: the truth, although there are the everyday conventional truths, seems to elude convention; it is rather the institutions allowing the truth to be seen that enable different and diverging truths.

The institution of a personal relation with Jesus allows one truth; while the institutions of religion, having their professional cohorts, their own professional managerial class, allow another; and the institution of freedom of belief allows another truth, this trilemma.

The other meaning of apocalypse Derrida has written on, and, I suspect Heidegger (I do), is the veil being rent from our eyes. That is the other meaning besides personal, general, social or natural destruction or self-destruction.

The veil being rent is something again other than the pressing of invisibles like dark matter (Levrero writes of this in The Luminous Novel, 2021) up against the veil and the hallucinations (he writes of) that sometimes allow certain of them to be seen.

If we consider an inconvenient apocalypse, of the sort described in Jensen and Jackson’s book, to be like this, we are then given to see it at a time or in a place where it may be inconvenient. It may be more convenient for Things To Continue As They Are, in other words.

The apocalypse is the being its hallucination allows or gives us to see, and to know.

Is it true?

Jensen and Jackson give the event agency in its coming to be seen, to be known and into being, however; they do not allow it to be known in any other way than by its brute imposition.

This for them is apocalypse: and their answer to Hell is, if not Heaven, then the promise embodied in a writing, a scripture and determined by it, a New Bible. Good News!

It can only be good news on the strength of the bad.

I wonder what the trilemma of faith says about the trilemma of the mutual incompatibility of democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration?

After testimonial literature, and this is what the Bible is, isn’t it? After testimonial literature, that Speaking Your Truth is at best, comes the confessional writing that it is at worst. The weaponisation of empathy called identity politics in the moral arms race of current culture wars can occur to either the worst or the best. It is relative.

At worst, Ferrante’s insistence on writing, where, as soon as it flashes through her mind what she would never write about, should it be sufficiently insistent, leads to confession; or, it does without her caution: But be careful, there is no guarantee here of quality.

What sort of quality?

Is it that of Karl Ove Knausgård? who once said in an interview (he said it in fact in different places. I heard him say it at the Writers’ Festival, Auckland, before Covid.), Kill off your internal censor.

He said this is the only way he could manage to write so much so quickly: by not writing so well, because, he also said, Sometimes the life is shit, so sometimes the writing is shit.

The internal censor is not imposed by the social absolute and that is to say it is not opposed to the social absolute: to oppose it is to be on the level with it, and that, I suppose, renders it no longer absolute but relative.

The internal censor could also be what Ferrante is talking about, and the thing would be not to oppose the internal censor either, not deliberately to write for censorship, as if this internal game, like the external one of calling attention to yourself for being contrarian so as to raise your profile worked in your own mind, raising your profile internally and elevating yourself in your own esteem.

Truth, is what DBC Pierre calls it, Release the Bats, 2017.

Where is the self-awareness of the writing that allows it to know itself not to be vomit?

It is both in its presence and on its surface, Foucault’s velvet and what it has to be so that it is true to itself as writing. Autofiction comes closest to honesty when it is closest to itself as writing.

Carrère, again, gives the example. Talking about Jesus, he asks how we can tell that Jesus is an historical person who actually existed. How do we discern from his multiperspectival biblical portrait that he lived and breathed, existed in historical time?

Carrère’s answer is the superficial, the trivial and unflattering detail. Made to look too good, Jesus can only be a fake. When we read he performs a miracle, raises the dead, we have to doubt it (or take it on faith). When we read he talks to a soldier and the soldier is named, this trivial fact alone is enough to consider the possibility it may be true. Why else would the soldier be named?

To whose benefit is it for the soldier to be named? It is one of those facts that has made it through the standardisation process of the Bible, an extraneous detail, a detail that is not flattering but is included in the portrait, and is a matter of indifference to the subject of the portrait.

This is key for Carrère: do we believe the portrait of the king with the wart? The portraitist has not added the wart as an afterthought.

The only explanation there can be is that the king actually had a wart, and, for whatever reason, allowed this unflattering feature to slip through.

If the wart is exaggerated, as it might be if it were your confession, and, say, the wart not available to public view, or if the wart were a wound and you working on your personal mythology, it ceases to be a disinterested observer on the main subject. The testimony again becomes doubtful.

Going too far in either the direction of making yourself look good or making yourself look bad causes something like a separation. The smooth consistency starts to turn. Lumps and clumps appear on the velvet of what appears now to be indigestible as the truth; not the avowal of inadmissability, but an imposition on the writing it cannot support, a sticky vomit.

Autofiction seems to oppose fiction in this way, but it is also in opposition to fact: the line it walks, that it risks walking, is not the one between true and false.

If there is a crack (Deleuze) or a hyphen (Bergson) between inner experience and its expression, an expression that will always differ from the experience, by the addition of the totality of the experiencer, an infinitesimal difference, as it were, linking virtual to actual, an actual that will always differ from the virtual; if there is a break (Deleuze) or link (Bergson) (that for both Deleuze and Bergson is the body), this is the line autofiction walks. At risk are both the body and the whole of writing. It comes down to this, the indifference of a detail, that is however singular but not special: a trivial, surface detail; and one that has nothing to say in the end, that is not the telling detail.

No amount of interpretation will resolve it, and no special meaning attaches to it. Neither does it resist analysis; then nor does it give analysis, say, the purchase, leverage, angle of a chink in the armour, or weak link, or slip. In other words, the crack (Deleuze) or hyphen (Bergson) that is the line autofiction risks walking is entirely unmetaphorical and literal.

Autofiction could not be any more unlike autobiography, because its practice requires the inclusion of the totality of the subject, and his, her, your experience, and all of what he, she or you have experienced, as no more than a part, and an apart.

Wayne Koestenbaum writes:

Because I’m rereading Giorgio Agamben’s Remnants of Auschwitz (which acknowledges the impossibility of testimony), I’m moved to tell you the following story. My father’s cousin Wolfgang survived Auschwitz, though Wolfgang’s parents were gassed upon arrival. I wasn’t nice to Wolfgang. That’s part of my poetics–not being nice (not being a mensch) to Wolfgang and not being nice to his wife, Luisa, who also survived Auschwitz, I wasn’t nice to her, either, I wasn’t a mensch, and that is part of my poetics, not being nice to survivors of death camps, my permanent culpability and rottenness is part of my poetics, an integral part. I could go into detail about my not being nice to survivors; going into detail would be part of my poetics. (I wrote this final paragraph while eating chocolate cake at a hotel restaurant.)

— from “Play-Doh Fun Factory Poetics,” (2009), in My 1980s & Other Essays, (2013)

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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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the significance of dissolving sugar: or, the earth has lost its centre

The image appears in Bergson’s Creative Evolution of mixing sugar and water. In some readings it is either a lump or a spoonful of sugar. The quantity is unimportant. What is important, Bergson says, is that I must wait until the sugar melts.

“This little fact is big with meaning”, he writes.

Deleuze takes up the image as shorthand for its big meaning: the time it takes for the sugar to dissolve. Now, this duration cannot be measured as it transpires. Only when the time has expired can it be.

Neither can this time be, Bergson writes, protracted or contracted. It is, he says, an absolute: on elapsing, it will have been the duration required in order for the process to complete itself, in order for the sugar to have dissolved. On the basis of its necessity, the actual elements, water, sugar, glass, Bergson says, are abstractions. Time is not here the variable, it is the a priori and a posteriori condition for the process to take place.

Nor can this be said to be contingent on the will of the observer or contingent on observation: the time it takes will always be the time it takes. I can attend to or not attend to the passage of time. It will have the the same quality, and its quality will not be that of a quantity: its duration will not be its measurable duration; two instances of dissolving sugar in water even if measurably identical in duration will occupy a duration that, lived, is absolutely different each time. It is then of a different quality and is an individual, unique, incapable of replication and irreducibly singular, such that Bergson writes it is in the manner of a consciousness.

It can be said that consciousness has for Bergson the qualities of irreducible and radical difference, and a uniqueness of interiority, a subjectivity that is singular and individual, because of the time it takes to pass through, because of its duration, not that the sugar dissolving in water is conscious or participates in the subjectivity of an observer or by participating in an inner experience of time that is consciousness. Consciousness is what it is because of its duration and it is from the qualities of an individual duration that the individual receives its qualities, not the other way around.

Duration can be said to be the source of difference, and this is what Bergson’s Creative Evolution is about: duration as being where creativity originates.

The difficulty reading Bergson today I believe comes from having lost or covered duration. Our inner experience of time has been replaced by screen-time, the digital involves images that are always moving whether or not movement is depicted, or cinematic time. Movement itself it not the key. The temporality movement occupies is.

The time it takes for sugar to dissolve in water: on screen, this time is no different each time footage of sugar dissolving in water is shown; the time it takes is no different each time it is watched. We may be different but, again, this duration does not gain its qualities of irreducible and unrepeatable singularity from us, either in our paying conscious attention or in our inattention to it.

The other way around: we have covered or lost in duration the source of the individuality of consciousness, its creative source, and that of our own individuation.

Consciousness comes from time. This notion of time, or duration, is unscientific, anti-scientific even; but then I wonder how much science owes to the technology that gives us our primary experience of time, that technology concerned with the moving image?

Emmanuel Carrère, as a finalist for the Gregor von Rezzori prize, gave an address in Florence in 2014. In it he considers the difference between fictional and historical characters, those drawn from life and those made up, for example as ideal types. Doing so he describes well what distinguishes the ones who lived, in this case Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate:

These two men, Jesus and Pilate, weren’t mythological figures, gods or heroes, living in a fantasy world where everything is possible because nothing is real. They were a colonial officer and a local visionary: men like you and me, who had specific faces, wore specific clothes, and talked with specific voices. Their meeting didn’t take place like things we imagine, in one of an infinitely variable number of ways, but the way all things happen on earth, that is, in one specific way that excludes all others. We know next to nothing about this specific way, this unique way, that had the privilege of passing from the virtual to the real. Yet it happened.

— “Resemblance,” translated by John Lambert in 97,196 Words: Essays. It handles really I suppose of what makes the unique individual unique. Yet it is called “Resemblance.” I would say that in the singular quality of duration it is not identity that is at issue, or that identity is so only in so far as it is resemblance. Duration has rather to do with difference than identity, Deleuze would say, difference in itself, whereas identity goes towards the same.

The event of sugar dissolving in water or Christ appearing before Pilate: I am more struck here by Carrère’s statement that this is the way all things happen on earth, in one specific way that excludes all others; and of course I am also struck by his coincidental and parallel statement that we know next to nothing about what way this was, which excluded all others, that had the privilege of passing from the virtual to the real, that is, of occurring. Bergson, and Deleuze from him, says the virtual is no less real. Bergson’s duration depends on it. This passing is, for both, from the virtual to the actual. Only the event in actuality, actualised, can be measured; quantity, number, for Bergson, presupposes the setting out of one thing and another in space, not the qualitative difference that is in duration.

That quantity, number, setting out for example images one after another, belongs to space, and not time as Bergson understands it, tells us why he held cinematic time to have no relation to understanding absolute time, duration. He rejected early cinema in much the same way Freud did, and for similar reasons: it is all just chases. Although there is something Freudian in this.

For Bergson, it was all merely motor-sensory, without a memory or spiritual, or artistic, component. He liked it for the study of biological processes and thought it outside of enabling to be seen natural processes that are ordinarily invisible to be trivial. Yet, in his cinema books, Deleuze takes him to the cinema for its philosophical importance.

There is an intermediate point to be made here. Bergson’s and Freud’s rejection of film for being trivial is based on subject matter and genre, and the first subject matter, from the first commercial screening made in Paris in 1895, developed into genre was not either the chase or highly kinetic, motor-sensory, movement-based moving image sequence we are used to thinking of, in for example L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat

On the approach of the train the audience is said to have rushed for the exits. The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station was only the year following the Lumière brothers’ first commercial showing of a programme of short films. What grabbed the attention of the audience at the earlier screening was not the chase elements, or the thrill of speed and movement.

It was, the leaves on the trees are moving. It was, the dust from breaking the wall billows in a cloud. It was the smoke, steam, spray from waves and the waves themselves in all their chaos that were appreciated. From this appreciation grew the Wave Film. (Support for the notion that the Wave Film was the first genre can be found here: Jordan Schonig’s doctoral thesis, “Cinema’s Motion Forms,” 2017, p. 62.)

This too is a little fact with a big meaning. I deal with some of the implications in my moving image lectures (6, 7, 8, 9, 10). I would love to think that these have an afterlife.

I opened The Needle’s Eye, Fanny Howe, by chance on this passage:

Babette Mangolte, the French filmmaker, wrote that now, with digital image, and “no shutter reprieve, no back and forth between forty-eighth of a second dark followed by one forty-eighth of a second of projective image, with no repetitive pattern as regular as your own heartbeat, you are unable to establish and construct an experiential sense of time passing.”

— 2016, p. 86.

This goes to the question of what enables us to establish and construct an experiential sense of time passing. Where do we hear the heartbeat of time? With Deleuze, I would answer that in cinema we do, whether it is digital or not. The movement in the image is the issue because this movement has a distinct duration, and, replayed, it has the same duration.

Should it surprise us that the individual clip is the same individual each time it is played? The significance of the Wave Film is that it did surprise. That what in nature was unique and unrepeatable could be repeated on screen captivated audiences of early cinema.

We should also bear in mind the reach of cinema from its beginnings. Within in a few years almost every country in the world had seen cinema and in many places cinema was in production. This accounts for major advances in cinema being able to take place outside of the traditional centres of culture. For example the first feature film was made in Australia, The Story of the Kelly Gang, and released in 1906.

Film was, considering the forces of production mobilised, considering its global mobility, what might be called a first (world-)war-machine. The means of production circulated as rapidly as the films made. What was spreading, what spread so rapidly, was not simply a new form of representation, medium, a new art form or a new from of entertainment, production and consumption, and it was not simply a new way to represent movement and time, but was a new regularisation or gave a new norm to time and to the experience of observed movement, and therefore scientific knowledge.

What might happen from this point is attention might suddenly cut between topics. We see this in modernist literature, in parataxis. It is strange that accounts of modernist poetry treat this as if the juxtaposition of dissimilar topics in a newspaper or their coincidence with the commodity-form might explain it. It is strange, because what distinguishes cinema is the ability to jump between spaces, to be anywhere and at any time in the next cut, as long as it is the next, and then the one after that, as long as it is in the temporal sequence of the moving image, and along its duration.

In cinema and screen time over all, the time element specific to it is strengthened at the expense of its spatial element; and this spatial element includes historical succession, just as Bergson suggests that number and quantity follow on from a setting out that has less to do with time than with space. The time element of cinema and screen becomes rigid and for that reason replayable, no matter the chaos of movement in the shot or the distance in space or space-time a single cut leaps over: for example, the millions of years between the bone being thrown into the air in 2001: A Space Odyssey and the spaceship it cuts to.

Deleuze is right to think about screentime in terms of duration, in Bergson’s terms. But this leads to the greater problem he addresses in Cinema 2. This problem is the loss of belief in the earth. The problem is also stated by Deleuze this way: the earth has lost its centre. It has not because of loss of belief. Both statements belong to the problem of duration as the source of that creativity, its origin, that the earth is.

How still to tackle this problem? How, when our own creative origin has been lost or covered over in the inner experience of time by screentime? I would suggest… doing nothing.

I would suggest passing through screentime. I would suggest making images adequate to pass through. We cannot restore a centre to the earth or an experience that has become alien to us. That is belief in the earth.

We must not try. We must not must. We pause, stop working, pass through …

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headfucks & shitstorms, writing prompts:

DBC Pierre in Release the Bats:

  1. Nothing is at it seems. Show what really is.

3. The taste in your mouth is ultimately what you’re writing out. Whether you know what it is or not: trust it.

4. What would you write if you weren’t afraid? Write that.

[similar to: Joe Lansdale’s “Write as if everyone you know is dead.” the epigraph to Charlotte Grimshaw’s memoir; not to be confused with Kate Zambreno’s “To write as if already dead.”]

6. ‘The tigers have found me, and I do not care.

[see 16.]

[a quote from Charles Bukowski (here)]

8. It’s far easier to improve crap than to originate brilliance. Love crap.

10. Thomas Wolfe had to stand naked fondling his genitals in order to write well. Do what you have to do.

13. Headfucks are symptoms of an underlying mass. We don’t lose it, we move it.

[surprisingly helpful.]

16. Events don’t arise from purposeful steps. They arise from walking through accidents.

[a good one. Before you try writing out the trauma, write through it. Or Lacan, traverse your fantasy… for fantasy, while holding onto it, substitute identity. When you think about it, not too far from Joseph Campbell’s Follow your bliss.]

[links to and how to understand 6. ‘The tigers have found me, and I do not care.‘]

17. The human immune system is at its most effective against the ideas of others.

25. A fifty-two-hour meat stock doesn’t gel till the last ten minutes. Simmer your work until then.

[Anthony Bourdain would agree: when you can, always cook meat on the bone. Same for writing. It has more flavour.]

to:

31. Writing down an idea for a story is like planting its seed.

[there’s a line from Lessons of Darkness, Werner Herzog’s 1992 documentary (here): the firefighters have finally extinguished the burning oilwell; a moment: “Two figures are approaching an oil well. One of them holds a lighted torch. What are they up to? Are they going to rekindle the blaze? Is life without fire become unbearable for them?… Others, seized by madness, follow suit. Now they are content. Now there is something to extinguish again.”]

32. A shitstorm looms. Get writing.

— still from Werner Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness, 1992

Most of Mario Levrero’s The Luminous Novel is taken up with what he calls a narcissistic monologue or is the record of the narcissistic monologue in which his relationship to his computer and past publishing projects consists. He attempts to decipher a section of his past. He says,

That whole section of my past is a cryptogram I need to decipher. The narcissistic monologue is working on a higher level. I mustn’t condemn it or reject it as pure pathology, because there are many different routes back to where I need to go. And I mustn’t forget that where there’s no narcissism there can be no art, and no artist.

— Mario Levrero, The Luminous Novel, translated by Annie McDermott, 2021, p. 161

There exist I would think two narcissisms, at least two. One of these narcissistic conditions is not at all aware of itself as such. I am thinking of cases that I know of. Both of them follow the same pattern, since it is their mothers they ascribe narcissism to, not themselves.

Both of them describe themselves as having a sensitivity to others of empathy that borders on being painful. Yet neither of them is aware of the pain they cause others in the slightest degree. A young woman hurt by one of them burst into tears the other day. The one who had inflicted it on her followed her into the toilets, refusing entry to anyone, as if, on the pretext of managing the situation, holding her captive, or hostage. In fact she was being held for the exclusive attention of the narcissist so as to prove to herself, if not others, how empathetic she is.

The other sort of narcissist, the one who engages in narcissistic monologue, like Levrero, the narcissistic artist, resembles the figure in the case of false recognition described by Henri Bergson. Bergson shows what is perceived to be false recognition of an event taking place that is doubled. On the one side there is the experience of the event taking place; and, on the other side, the impression simultaneous with it of a kind of foreknowledge of it; or, another way of putting it: even though it seems to have happened before, it is actually taking place at the same time.

That is, the knowledge of it seems to come before the event. Yet this knowledge is contemporaneous with the event; it is not true foreknowledge, therefore called false re-cognition. Or else, the event seems to have taken place before, yet occurs at the same time as this impression arises.

The figure is of a split. The one who experiences this split is divided between being an actor in the event and a member of the audience, an audience of one, who seems to know what is going to happen next. This feeling of a repetition happening in the same instant as what is being repeated is familiar to artists whose material is often their own experience. As a relation to self, it resembles, in fact it is, since it involves a kind of bewitchment with one’s reflection, narcissism. It does not however, despite the image of the self-absorbed artist, equate with any decrease in sensitivity to others.

The two types of narcissism can coincide in the same person. They can, and do, because of the split, go on doubling. Meanwhile, the second type, of the narcissistic artist, goes along with finding out what happens as it goes along.

Bergson gives another view of the split to be that occurring in the figure of time in the present between past and future. Consciousness, which is largely that of the past, of memory, impends over the future. The present treads on the future which recoils from its advance.

[recoil, here]

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David Bentley Hart: consciousness Ltd.

Imagine a day when the algorithmic processes in computers will have become so advanced that they can convince their programmers of the existence of real personal agency on the other side of the screen, and a method is then devised for impressing a convincing simulacrum of living minds on the canvas of that binary platform. And then imagine that people were to begin, as far as they could tell, to download themselves into that virtual realm and to dispose of their bodies in this world, not realizing that in fact these little virtual eidola with which they’re replacing themselves in fact have no inner experience at all. And, of course, once the exchange has been made, and only these virtual shadows of the ‘downloaded’ remain, no one in this world can tell. They would continue to converse with these seemingly transferred selves and wouldn’t know that they’re actually interacting with no one at all–conversing with nothing, that is, other than a digitally generated illusion. And then imagine that, in time, everyone in the world were to decide to become ‘immortal’ by the same method, and to transfer themselves into deathless virtual forms. And, as a result, the entire world becomes a magnificently elaborate program mimicking the behaviors of living persons, but entirely devoid of so much as the faintest twinge or twinkle of consciousness.

— David Bentley Hart, Roland In Moonlight, (Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2021), 131.

Some terminological oddities aside, like using ‘downloaded’ for ‘uploaded’ (and Hart persists in calling printed files PDFs and DOCs as if they were, like Roland here says, binary… I mean, digital files), this replacement of inner experience by the time of technics is already there in the concept of screentime, in the movement of cinematic imagery, or motion writing. (see lectures on moving image, lecture 7ff.) In other words, no sooner said than done.

Before this, Roland, the dog, has said those “poor souls who’re so terrified of their own personal extinction that they fantasize about the day when they might be able to download their consciousness into [sic.] computers” would do better to ‘download’ [here the term fits] themselves into books … by writing their autobiographies” for the reason that “the paper and ink and bindings of the book would be no less conscious than those electrical notations made by any software [sic.] that might be designed to receive their ‘souls’.” (Ibid., 130)

– Pinturicchio, Bernadino of Siena, 1480s

I am not entirely certain how anyone ever learns to speak about the death of his or her parents. To those who knew them, there is nothing one need say. To those who did not, there is nothing that one can. Everything one might try to communicate would be fragmentary at best.

— Hart, ibid., 312.

It seems to me [says Roland, the dog] that among your species there are three classes of chronic cultural sentimentalists: those fixated only upon the past, those obsessed only with the future, and those capable of happiness only in the fleeting present. All are deluded. It’s a rare anthropine soul indeed that knows how to place his or her hopes and allegiances in the eternal. That’s why, for instance, political conservatism is typically so infantile, splenetic, resentful, and petulant a philosophy. It’s also why so much bien pensant liberalism lapses so effortlessly into inflexibly adolescent sanctimony. And it’s why those who live entirely in the fashions of the moment exist in a state of perpetual distraction and anxiety and fascination with the trivial.

— Ibid., 353.

Roland again:

To Freudians, of course, the death-instinct could only seem to be a longing for a slackening of the tensions and constant neural stresses of the life-instinct–the élan vital seeking to subside again into the blessed oblivion and anonymity of pure matter. But the deeper truth of both instincts, toward life and death both, however disfigured and dissociated from one another they might be by your wounded natures, is a more original longing for the ultimate, for the final divine consummation of spiritual love. Even the darkest impulses of self-destruction, even the pain of suicide–there’s a still more primordial innocence in that, one that can never be extinguished, one that makes it impossible for any final culpability to attach to it. It’s a damaged but at some level sincere expression of the same love that compels the contemplative to flee from his or her ego into a final unio mystica. Or that drives two lov-ers [the word, interestingly, is split over two pages] to seek release from themselves in emotional and sexual fusion, each in the other’s embrace. Or that prompts parents to have children, and thereby to will their own displacement by a succeeding generation. In either the tenderest or the most tragic surrender of the empirical ego to its own dissolution–in that final fatigue of the conatus essendi–there’s always the memory, the promise of an eternal longing not for nothingness, but for the whole of being… for liberation from selfishness, union with all… in a God who is all in all. (Ibid., 354-355.)

– dated to between 1CE – 199CE

Which is why I speak of the horror of sheer limitless successive existence. The desire simply to perdure forever, the resentful refusal to die– which at a deeper level is also the refusal to die into the now. But that sort of dying, that relinquishing of the past–that’s precisely what life is. It’s also a matter of relinquishing the self that clings to the future so long as that future is understood only as the ego’s mere duration. […] True life is a dying into the now, and ultimately the fullness of life is a dying into the eternal now. And learning to live is learning the art of dying fruitfully. Unless the grain…

Itzcuintli Dog With Me, Frida Kahlo, 1938

… so much of what Hart writes, in Roland’s voice or his own, and there are tiny spots where it might actually be Hart letting his dog speak for itself, in character: so much goes against the grain.

For all the resonances with Bergson (élan vital, inner experience, temporal over spatial experience), or those with Bataille (particularly inner experience), Hart’s ‘soul’ consists in individual rational consciousness. He does not consider that the ultimate, God, telos, is made in the image of this consciousness, is in its nature of, as Bergson writes, impending over the future; and that its terminus lies in its own determination, as an horizon for conscious (or, as Hart often says, intentional (Husserl might be added to the list of philosophical presences without speaking roles in the book)) experience.

Consciousness is for Hart God: limited to being transcendent, not immanent. Neither the transcendent that is necessary to being immanent, nor that necessity of the transcendent called singularity in immanence.

To learn to die properly is to learn to live, says Roland.

— Hart, ibid., 355.

Setting the limits of consciousness {God}, end to end:

… [Roland:] the final reality of all things–the world where the lion and lamb lie down together–is the real and eternal world of the first creation, the only world really created by God, not contaminated with the illusion and transgression of a fallen cosmos. And, from the perspective of eternity [add Spinoza], it’s always already been accomplished. We began there together because that’s our one true end in the eternal–the ground of spirit where we’re all present to one another in unity.

— Ibid., 359.

David Bentley Hart gives the dwarves full reign. He even let, lets them take over his dog (dog Roland to the dark tower came). Here’s the antidote, Levrero again:

It’s difficult to spot one’s prejudices, which take root in the mind in a strange and inexplicable way, accompanied by a certain sense of superiority [which in Hart manifests itself in pretension, and he says as much]. Those dwarves settle in like absurd dictators, and we accept them like revealed truths. Very rarely, because of some accident or chance occurrence, we find we have to reconsider a prejudice, argue with ourselves about it, life a corner of the veil and peer through the gap at how things really are.

— Mario Levrero, The Luminous Novel, translated by Annie McDermott, (Sheffield, UK: And Other Stories, 2021), 72.

In those cases, it’s possible to uproot them [like habits]. But the others are still there, out of sight [like habits], carrying us foolishly in all the wrong directions.

— Ibid.

some Chinese poets from Hart page 319, op. cit.:

Du Fu’s austere lucidity

– 杜甫 Du Fu, 傅抱石 Fu Baoshi, 1959

Li Bai’s magnificent glittering combinations of the wildly visionary and naïvely sentimental and gaily whimsical … and the mad eruptions and lightning-bolts of his language… and his […] nature mysticism.

– 将进酒 [Bring in the Wine], 李白 Li Bai

in Buddhist moods we crave Wang Wei

– 王维 Wang Wei

when one’s feeling a bit like Chinese Rimbaud, only Li He or Li Shangyin can satisfy.

– 李賀 Li He
– 義山 Li Shangyin

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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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R.I.P Paula Rego 26 January 1935 – 8 June 2022

read Johnathan Jones’s excellent valedictory in the Guardian: ‘She is dancing among the greats’: the dangerously honest, richly ambiguous Paula Rego

Paula Rego, The Artist in Her Studio, 1993

…magical realism… says Johnathan Jones … so, read Eden Kupermintz, “On the Radical Escapism of Magic Realism or how to become a god in late capitalism

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to you of all people

harvest the leaves of grass

harvest all things mottled, bare of charm

how can you harvest that
       like anchors on the seafloor

a luminous watery sky
     a wash a watered silk

gather the wings of flies, 
 ...I said, flies.

I know what I said.

yo, measure the beds...
      we have lain on, still lie, will lie on

how are you with dogs, I mean
      how are you with animals in general?

and leaves that fall now and leaves that don't know
      to

how are you over this?

is it courage to feel what you are
to feel what you are feeling
      is it courage

gather on white paper

I'm sorry I said that

how are you about being at all?
how      are you over this

...
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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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on shrinking

In, as part of, Claire Bishop’s original Artforum article, “The Digital Divide,” there appears a ‘media case study’ where Mark Dion says what he’s afraid of in the digital, as part of it. I talked about this in the lectures uploaded here. In a strange serendipity, Mark Dion appeared in another Artforum I picked up yesterday. Now, here that is.

That serendipity I have been thinking about all through the writing of the lectures linked to above. Had been. I thought it connected with the recourse to character, that thought seems to necessitate. At least, this is the impression Gilles Deleuze gives: of personae being necessary to think through; conceptual personae, that is. And there is a passage in The Logic of Sense where Deleuze writes of the torsion of character.

This torsion is the experience familiar to us when thinking about blue cars, for example, of blue cars coming to us out from the images the world is full of, as if having their own intentionality. Or, for example, that experience of reading about Mark Dion in an article unconnected to the one by Claire Bishop, which I had set myself to read for the sake of the topic on which I was lecturing–digital media and the moving image. And now that same sense of a torsion, of images attracting themselves to the characters of thought, as if having their own intentions, when I read in Wayne Koestenbaum’s My 1980s, in an essay supposed to be about giving advice to the young, that is really more about Koestenbaum giving up (pretensions of?) teaching.

What is the connection here? not so much Mark Dion as what he says in the ‘media case study’ beside the Claire Bishop article: because Bishop’s article asks why the number of artists (in 2012, when it appeared) who thematise the digital, media, is so few. Perhaps the more interesting point she makes is that the preference she sees for artists to use older, analogue media devices, rather than the newer, digital ones, with which contemporary life seems to be saturated, that this preference is itself expressive of a thematisation of the digital for its repression.

Dion’s example in the ‘media case study’ is for taking the side of resistance to using digital media in his art work. It doesn’t seem like he is himself repressing the digital, and so thematising the digital in spite of himself. Rather he prefers for people to experience his work at the scale on which it is built, to be surrounded by it, near it, and to have a spatial relation to it.

My thematisation of the digital in my lectures has more to do with temporal relations, brought about the moving image and screentime, that are a part of the digital condition, than with spatial ones. But the spatial relation is striking, since on the screen the work, the image, the blue car or the Mark Dion, are small. Or that they shrink…

And this is where Koestenbaum’s essay in My 1980s comes in: making a contrast between “image and reality,” he realised, in the dream he’s recounting to us, that he was the sculptor of his fate, and, he writes:

… as a consequence of this new self-determination, I began to grow small, as in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, until it seemed I was only a photograph of myself, a miniature pedagogue, with the jauntiness of a child on the way to kindergarten, lunchpail in hand.

–Koestenbaum, 2002.

– alternative pedagogy, workstyling, at Mildred’s Lane [look how little everything and everyone looks]

(&&&[Deleuze])=-1...
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