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ancestory

ancestors were onto something
or on something

one way
cul de sac

unrolling or creeping
the surprise of mistaken
identity

rude not to notice or
to kill them again

who took
who gave their lives
who furnished nation
who in a thankless nation

someone’s darling
served a cold dish

did not deserve
horror mainly
 dig them up now see
 who’s horrified

whose disease
 we surpass
  whose disease is

if you could only open up
your mouth not talk
in bird sounds

and visiting me again, is it a
surprise I cannot reconstruct
the agony ate you up

you follow me now. Beasts

of religion or
what is
belief no hope no agony
 
 must be the right word
  and contest life
   over death on.

Conscious is over your shoulder
not standing.

It lies about
where you are, cloud
 in the upper atmosphere
  unrolls, creeping 
   things are the impulses
    you have and hold and
     have
      hold, You strike out

in dreams.
alone. play your many pipes
	play and dance and sing
       in birdsong if it has to be 
you
     did not kill
                       or stole
	
	are not a man
planted your seed not
 in the carcase
	your sin in the hill.



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“you are only the living face of those who have gone before”
— 20 August 2022
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22 August 2022

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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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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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only

the old sensitive trees    you see on the coast here

they can make you believe   life is sad

gods in the forest


a character's always he or she or they
never it Levinas    the French Jewish philosopher

my friend, Alphonso Lingis, you can call me Al
and when you call me, I am called to myself
    to answer for myself, Al
       as if my self is what you have when you're busy
               doing other things    also from Lithuania

anyway, Immanuel Levinas insight is God is individual
is not the general category of transcendent Being
       an individual    like a character, he she and they

they pull their own roots out of the ground

the old sensitive trees do not oppose the young
and when you meet God, it's like anyone

hey, how ya doin? like the song ...

they throw themselves they hurl themselves off cliffs

yell, Bollocks overboard ! 

and hurtle out of bed like they are leaving this life

any gods       must die?

it's a question you can only answer with a proper name.

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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]

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lecture 10 – transcript + slides

lecture-10

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