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Georgi Gospodinov, bulgarian cosmonaut, cosmopilot tells us what literature can. Not where

While I was writing the book [The Physics of Sorrow] and wondered where this sadness was draining from, it had flooded all over Europe and, in a sense, all over the world. As a writer, I know that the long accumulated sorrow, the concealed sorrow is a dangerous thing ready to explode. That is why it should be freed, narrated, tamed through the story. It should be danced out, if you like. And this is one of literature’s capabilities.

Yes, people dancing out sorrow in literature, can you imagine it in NZ Aa [Aotearoa]?

I can in Aus[tralia], not here. And yet without it, the sorrow concealed accumulates and is concealed. It explodes.

How does it explode? Are there people crying on the streets or just onto the screens of their cellphones?

O, no, of course if not danced out in literature the explosion of the accumulated sorrow, which is mountainous today, can only be violent. It digs a hole for itself as deep as the mountains are high and throws children down into the pit.

We used to say it went all the way to China but that’s a two-way street.

The immigrants who come here, they take the happiness that would have been ours in a fairer world.

Now I would like to say a few words about what literature is still capable of in a world like ours today.

It is capable of doing simple things. Like saving a life for example. You tell the stories and thus you postpone the end. We know this best by Scheherazade–stories in exchange for life (simple deal). When the victim tells a story she inhabits another, protected zone.

If my last post had been a how-to book this is what it would’ve said about cinema. It seems to have everything to do with rushing forward but in fact it is How To Hesitate.

Perhaps this will be the title if I give that long post called “a note on cinematic time” another life. This is just something I’m playing with, an idea.

This is the special guarantee of literature. This is the strength of the weak one who narrates.

I must have known this instinctively as a child because I always chose to read books narrated in the first person. I knew the simple rule that the hero wouldn’t die as long as he or she keeps telling the story. I tell a story, therefore I am. Narro, ergo sum.

What else can literature do? … these quoted bits are from here.

It seems to me we slowly begin to understand that the world cannot be explained only through the first pages of the newspapers, the political statements or markets, banks, etc. Because we are not made of economics and politics. We are made also of sorrow and hesitation, of such fragile and inexplicable, sometimes irrational things.

It is as I was saying:

A critical mass of hate and insecurity has accumulated worldwide, a madness, if you wish, that is easily multiplied and intensified by the new fast media. We are getting harshly radicalized in our opinions and words. This internal jihadism hidden in each of us is one of the most dangerous conditions today. Now the great battle goes on not just over geographic territories but over the territory of the human. There are limits of human nature that shouldn’t be overstepped. Because historically, the human kind comes before ideologies, before states. And the migrants today are part of a great migration of sorrows. And this migration of sorrow is something we should think over and try to narrate.

Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen, for sharing a few minutes together in one of the sentences of this world.

Thank you for the feeling.

Published June 12, 2107
© 2016 Fondation Jan Michalski

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putting it to the vote:

…the lyric has limitations. I’ve found myself impatient with the lyric form. And that’s the reason I changed my style, a rebellion against the traditional, contemporary, lyric form of, say, William Carlos Williams. I had had it that way. I found my language was responding to the form rather than to my sensibilities. I was getting a little too self-conscious about it. So I decided: Cut loose and give emphasis to the imagination rather than to the line. By “imagination” I mean also the intelligence within the imagination, giving the intelligence its opportunity to explore the imagination as far as it will go. Of course it has a form, but it’s a form that constantly renews itself because the intelligence is restless. Emotions tend to repeat themselves over and over again, whereas the intelligence is constantly renewing itself, recreating itself. Therefore, I feel in the prose poems the emphasis is on the intelligence with an undercurrent of emotion. In the lyric form the emphasis was on the emotion and the intellect was the undercurrent. I’m also following Pound’s rule, that poetry should be as good as good prose. That it’s a vernacular, colloquial thing. And vernacular, the colloquial, doesn’t sing. It talks. If you want to sing, then you write an elevated line, an elevated language. Occasionally, I’ll do that. There are moments. But, on the whole, the contemporary tradition is talking. And if that’s the case, then why not come out and use the prose line?

— David Ignatow, The Art of Poetry No. 23, interviewed by Gerard Malanga

Today I was resolute. I was following Baba Yaga’s advice: (see below) and not choosing between the different callings but listening for which would burn the rest up. And then I read César Vallejo (below), who led me to David Ignatow (above and below).

I began again to doubt the direction I’d given myself in the morning. And so, as if the imagination is a democracy, I’ve decided to put it to the vote. On the evidence you have here, should I:

a) write more of those pieces (for example, here) that in extremity (for example, here) come close to poetry?

b) continue with the letters that started here, the first part reaching its completion one year less one month ago at number 68? (This is what I resolved to do this morning; the second part, about writing, is unfinished business.)

c) write that book proposal for a booklength study drawing out the implications of the ideas developed during the series of lectures about moving image: animation and schematism (lectures 1-5); modulation and screentime (lectures 6-10)?

d) develop the same material as in c) for publication as separate articles in peer-reviewed academic journals?

e) give up writing altogether? It’s flattery to call it writing anyway. What I do is scribblage. After all, when “everybody’s a fucking writer,” there’s already too many.

f) all of the above?

g) Other: suggestions welcome!

How to vote: please use the contact form.


IN A DREAM

a vacuum cleaner held over my head
is drawing out my brains through my nostrils,
blood running in a column straight up
into the vacuum bag whining like a jet engine.
I feel my intestines too beginning to move up
through my gullet and soon they will be pouring
through my nose. My bones quiver in their sockets,
my knees are shaking. I sit down,
emptiness is becoming me. I can no longer think,
I just listen to the sucking vacuum.
Here goes my heart, straight up into my throat
and choking me, pumping in my throat.
It is filling my mouth, it is forcing its way
between my teeth. The vacuum roars
and my mouth flies open and my heart is gone.

How is it I keep writing?
The vacuum roars and whines alternately,
my ears stick to my head but now my head
is rising, a wind is whistling through my skull.
My head is being lifted from my neck.
Take me altogether, great vacuum:
my arms, legs, sex, shoes, clothes,
my pen gripped in my whitened hand
drained of blood. Take me altogether
and I triumph, whirled in the vacuum bag
with my satellite heart, brain, bones and blood.

— David Ignatow, May 1973

Stumble Between Two Stars | Traspié entre dos estrellas

There are people so wretched, they don’t even
have a body, their hair quantitative,
their wise grief, low, in inches;
their manner, high;
don’t look for me, the oblivion molar,
they seem to come out of the air, to add up sighs mentally, to hear
bright smacks on their palates!

They leave their skin, scratching the sarcophagus in which they are born
and climb through their death hour after hour
and fall, the length of their frozen alphabet, to the ground.

Pity for so much! pity for so little! pity for them!
Pity in my room, hearing them with glasses on!
Pity in my thorax, when they are buying suits!
Pity for my white filth, in their combined scum!

Beloved be the sanchez ears,
beloved the people who sit down,
beloved the unknown man and his wife,
my fellow man, with sleeves, neck and eyes!

Beloved be the one with bedbugs,
the one who wears a torn shoe in the rain,
the one who wakes the corpse of a bread with two tapers,
the one who catches a finger in the door,
the one who has no birthdays,
the one who lost his shadow in a fire,
the animal, the one who looks like a parrot,
the one who looks like a man, the rich poor man,
the extremely miserable man, the poorest poor man!

Beloved be
the one who is hungry or thirsty, but has no
hunger with which to satiate all his hungers!

Beloved be the one who works by the day, by the month, by the hour,
the one who sweats out of pain or out of shame,
the person who goes, at the order of his hands, to the movies.
the one who pays with what he does not have,
the one who sleeps on his back,
the one who no longer remembers his childhood, beloved be
the bald man without hat,
the thief without roses,
the one who wears a watch and has seen God,
the one who has honour and does not die!

Beloved be the child who falls and still cries
and the man who has fallen and no longer cries!

Pity for so much! pity for so little! pity for them!

_____________

¡Hay gentes tan desgraciadas, que ni siquiera
tienen cuerpo; cuantitativo el pelo,
baja, en pulgadas, la genial pesadumbre;
el modo, arriba;
no me busques, la muela del olvido,
parecen salir del aire, sumar suspiros mentalmente, oír
claros azotes en sus paladares!

Vanse de su piel, rascándose el sarcófago en que nacen
y suben por su muerte de hora en hora
y caen, a lo largo de su alfabeto gélido, hasta el suelo.

¡Ay de tánto! ¡ay de tan poco! ¡ay de ellas!
¡Ay en mi cuarto, oyéndolas con lentes!
¡Ay en mi tórax, cuando compran trajes!
¡Ay de mi mugre blanca, en su hez mancomunada!

¡Amadas sean las orejas sánchez,
amadas las personas que se sientan,
amado el desconocido y su señora,
el prójimo con mangas, cuello y ojos!

¡Amado sea aquel que tiene chinches,
el que lleva zapato roto bajo la lluvia,
el que vela el cadáver de un pan con dos cerillas,
el que se coge un dedo en una puerta,
el que no tiene cumpleaños,
el que perdió su sombra en un incendio,
el animal, el que parece un loro,
el que parece un hombre, el pobre rico,
el puro miserable, el pobre pobre!

¡Amado sea
el que tiene hambre o sed, pero no tiene
hambre con qué saciar toda su sed,
ni sed con qué saciar todas sus hambres!

¡Amado sea el que trabaja al día, al mes, a la hora,
el que suda de pena o de vergüenza,
aquel que va, ñpor orden de sus manos, al cinema,
el que paga con lo que le falta,
el que duerme de espaldas,
el que ya no recuerda su niñez; amado sea
el calvo sin sombrero,
el justo sin espinas,
el ladrón sin rosas,
el que lleva reloj y ha visto a Dios,
el que tiene un honor y no fallece!

¡Amado sea el niño, que cae y aún llora
y el hombre que ha caído y ya no llora!

¡Ay de tánto! ¡Ay de tan poco! ¡Ay de ellos!

— César Vallejo, October 1937 (translated by Clayton Eshleman)

WHERE SHOULD I PUT MY ENERGY?


Dear Baba Yaga,

I am blessed with many interests, talents, and

desires. They pull me in different directions,

thereby ensuring that movement is forever lateral

and never forward. How do I determine which of

these fires to stoke?


BABA YAGA:

Whether or not you may say so, there is always ;

one fire louder than the others, more consuming. ,

Who knows why–maybe the twigs it devours are aged

best, maybe the wind is stillest around it. It is

not for you to think on. Let this fire get too ;

big. Let it threaten the forest. Let it eat the

other fires around it, until they are living in it.

You will see ; abandonment of yr smaller flames is

not needed to grow yr wildest, most dangerous one.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

— Taisia Kitaiskaia, ASK BABA YAGA: Otherworldly Advice for Everyday Troubles, (Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2017), 139.



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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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introduction to a poem

This is an introduction to a poem called ‘All it Takes’ or ‘Clay Birds.’ Although I hesitate to call it a poem. But that’s my problem. Not yours. And I’ll be talking about that in another introduction.

I was listening to the editor of The Economist magazine. When was it? It doesn’t matter. The magazine’s been going for 36 years so they’re probably still doing it now. Every year they do a report on the year. And this one was for 2021.

Asked about what he felt was going to happen with the pandemic—the announcer covered himself and sort of undid the question by saying nobody can know—whether it was going to develop from pandemic to endemic, the Economist editor said Omicron looked like it might be the bridge from a pandemic situation to the situation of an endemic. Where we get vaccinated every year for Covid along with our other flu jabs. Then he went on.

He said that the first two decades of the millennium were very settled. Talk about rolling back neoliberalism, and so on. Local issues, but issues raised within a period of global stability, so it felt. Then 2020 hit.

People say they’ll hunker down, that they’ll wait for things to get back to normal. I don’t think they will, he said. I think the shape of 2022 is the shape of the coming decades, where we have more chaos.

We have it at all sorts of levels. From climate change to our fragile democracies. People living under autocracies, like China, although I think they prefer to call it socialist democracy, and in Eastern Europe are asking political leaders to do something. Rising prices for basic goods, housing. Distribution networks strained and disrupted and supply chains breaking down.

We are going to have to get used to chaos and this poem is about that. Called ‘All it Takes,’ because all it takes is a little chaos. At the social level and for nature. It’s natural to want to preserve the status quo.

We can see it in this country, how conservative forces can take advantage, because all it takes is a little chaos. These forces can mean well. They often do. Take the minor level of the national library. The so-called book cull. The chaos that’s been unleashed.

What has changed I think, which the poem addresses, is you can have your little chaos, you can indulge in it if you will. You can have your little coup. You little revolution. But conservative forces, and by that I mean forces of conservation also, whose good intentions are taken advantage of, because this is what has changed, conservative forces know it suits them. It suits the oligarchs. It suits the corporate hierarchy. It suits the rich and getting richer.

They know that all it takes is a little chaos to preserve the status quo. And the funny thing is that the left, perhaps the reason for the other title of the poem, are made of straw, easy to ignite. To sow more chaos, and, like clay birds, to take potshots at.

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fifty-fourth part, called “subject matter LIV,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

subject matter

The role of political management over the last two years of pandemic, or, to be histrionic, plague, has looked to be a direct use of biopolitics. Control of populations has been control of bodies, control of movement. And there looks to have been something sacrificed.

Biopolitical policing of populations, infected populations, has seemed to bring about a concession of the kind, since it is on a global scale, not seen since the mass mobilisations at the time of the globalisation of warfare, in the first and second world wars. Apparently it turns on matters of economy, this concession, where it is both disincentive to ‘growth’ and incentive to a type of specialised ‘wartime’ economy, to which the first makes its concession. Or sacrifice. But the sacrifice the political apparatus makes to biopolitics is of itself.

I think we can see this in a small change made in the vocabulary of New Zealand government representatives. As if by policy, for political reasons, the change has been from speaking of the vaccination metric in terms of the ‘protection’ of populations to speaking of it as immunisation. From a medical, scientific standpoint, this change seems unmotivated.

In consideration of climate change could or would we similarly replace environmental protection with environmental immunisation at stake might be human affairs in their entirety. The environment would need to be immunised against every human action. Can we imagine what this immunity might look like?

It has been said that it is capitalism, the capitalist plunder of resources, from which we must protect the environment. OK, why not immunise it? The thought is also there that we might do so by introjecting the problem—of capitalist plunder of resources—into the economic form of capitalism. The carbon market to trade in pollutant emissions seems exemplary in this respect. And the thought is there too, and to the contrary, that pandemics are natural forms of defenses: that is, the nonhuman environment’s immunity system.

We can, however, lay human affairs in their entirety at the door of politics. Or should that be at its feet? Then, I would have thought, since the forms of social organisation of politics are sacrifice, it is at its feet that they already lie. And herein the concession: biopolitics in fact looks like an abrogation of politics and a reduction in its political means such that it has no power. Or, it is immune to the charge making it responsible. Is immune to being asked to take responsibility: for what? human affairs in their entirety; every human action.

Politics no longer answerable, the forms of social organisation of politics sacrifice, the immunisation of populations as a political project: well, what meaning does this have other than the auto-immunity of political systems? That is, it’s no longer about the suppression of symptoms symptomatic to power but of political immunisation against those powers. They slide off, like the skins of images. So that the most obviously biopolitical plays into the freedom of politics from tragic necessity, from the tragic necessity of responsibility, plays as, slipping up on its own skin, comedy.

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#TrueCost

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twenty-ninth part, called “the subject XXIX,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

the subject

The surface receives the gesture. On which side sits the subject? With gesture, or with reception? And…

Is it definite, this action? Is it possible to slow down the selfish actor, to find this moment that breaks every habit? I want to say it is more violent than definite, but this is contradicted by the physical evidence, of which there is none. And this is what’s wrong with asking for it to be marked, with asking the selfish actor to go back to the beginning. She will forget entirely the stage, and make the most natural movement: and there will be no difference between gestures. Mark it? How?

It seems already to be marked. Not physically. That’s obvious. Not symbolically: the addition of any symbol, sign, would signal the gesture, would be it. So it would not take place. All we have is the index.

The selfish actor says as much. He says, What? This? … you want me to believe in the smallest… one of these… is a world? Huh?

…but it is what happens when an actor reaches the line, takes a step, makes a sound… And it is not taken away when the stage is empty. Can we compare it to the brain? to internal experience?

What index do we have to thought? To think there is one gives a vertiginous feeling. We are like the selfish actor, unable, for some reason, to find the beginning; but for what reason?

Now, we have the endocrinal revolution. Can talk to the facts of emissions of signal chemicals, but to talk this way places these outside, outside the subjective nonfacts of internal experience? The physical causation cannot account for the metaphysical impression.

Then there’s the barely scientific analysis of psychology that wants to find footing using behaviour as index, or using the social activity of neurons as index, their communication, their inner gestures and almost spontaneous formations, worlds. The dramas of psychoanalysis passing from favour. In these dramas however we do find violence and narratives of metamorphosis, but they too are contradicted by the physical evidence, of which there is none. None for castration. None for Oedipus. None for the phallus, as a signifier occluding its presence, by a process of signification. Removing from the beginning the evidence. Some of the lies told about me are untrue, as Geoffrey Palmer said, some time in the 90s.

The opposite of the selfish actor is the beginning actor. A beginning actor is frightened by the seemingly symbolic function of the stage. It would be great if the beginning writer were too, afraid that in the first word lay coiled up all of his, all of her, future failure. While we are inured to thought.

The selfish thinker being the precise double of the selfish actor. So that what if thought does not actually occur? And can we throw that back at the surface that receives the gesture?

Can we say, sometimes neither the stage nor acting occur? The surface does not appear. The line does not divide. And… it’s not that the gesture is impotent, or sterile, or say in some other way non-virile. These are the conditions precisely for the surface to receive the gesture.

In the gesture is already marked the lack of consequence. The stage’s triple oath is like the monastic: poverty, chastity and obedience. Might we unpack that last, and say obedience to the beginning?

No physical trace is left, neither by thought, nor by the stage or acting. Poverty has its correlate in the smallest gesture, the pruning of the subject to its bare fractal life. Chastity is the cleaving of the stage to itself, its complete powerlessness, and its failure even to be a surface of registration for the gesture it receives, which summons it. Obedience has its correlate in the necessity we can observe, since it is this observance, for the actor every time and at each instant to be beginning. So the gesture with the subject its centre of reception is always new.

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

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twenty-third part, called “the subject XXIII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

the subject

It seems human beings create two worlds, when we know there is one. To one, humans are alien. Are alien or see themselves (ourselves) to be alien. This is the one world we know of through detailed empirical observation and description going back to the Natural Philosophers.

To the other, human beings have done something like naturalise themselves. It is the world borne of imagination, ingenuity and reason, seen to be the natural consequence of having a human brain. In it we see reflected ourselves, our, as it were, workings, the workings of distinctly human faculties, and find that it expresses most clearly our inner experience. (Ourselves, reflecting on ourselves, reflecting on ourselves.) It expresses our deepest truth as humans (seen currently to be the brain and functionings of the neurons). Built around interests that are human, this is also the world that is spitting us out: either we or it have gone bad.

So the world to which we have naturalised ourselves contrasts with the natural world, the world which from a philosophical perspective is natural. Of course, that we know it to be so is a function of science, the sciences. But this is something like a tautology. While the human sciences inform us of the human nature of the built world and remind us that it is humans who are responsible for making it as it is, the natural sciences (including both physics and biology) measure our distance from the natural world as well as take their distance from it, or keep distant from it, in order to measure that distance. That is, they rely on what is natural to the human, most true, our deepest truth: that we are different from the rest of nature.

Now, the human sciences, sociology, economics (debate may still be open as to whether it is a science, however to us, considering the actual influence and participation of economics, as an epistemological formation, in producing what we know, the question seems to have been settled, say, in the post-imperial age, before and between the first and second world war), political science (ditto) and to an extent biology, or these drawing on biological (and recently neurobiological) insights, may insist on a continuity between human being and animal being, on the human brain as being a natural fact, and on evolutionary factors—at base, because even social factors are said to have evolved—, which lie behind all of nature, all of life, in fact; while sciences focused on the human as an object of knowledge situate us in the natural world, they do so for the sake of public morality. Privately, it’s ok to go on thinking, indeed knowing, you differ from your dog and your garden. Publicly we must insist on a natural continuum, giving rise to notions of ethical use and sustainable practice. As much as Aesop, from the critical interpretation of human nature, from analyzing human development, in the species and individual, are extracted moral lessons, on pride, humility, arrogance, hypocrisy, and so on.

The hard sciences weigh in with studies on what we think and on how much of what we think, and on how much of what we think we know, is to our detriment—as a species—inasmuch as we experience the deleterious effects of what we do. Of course, at the individual level are harmful effects. But there is no current epistemic reversal going on in view of the fight between worlds: public morality remains convinced of human exceptionalism as it does of human culpability, or, as these are currently termed, anthropogenetic global threat and anthropocene.

The subject remains a moral one, and so does, in answer, our subject of the stage as centre of reception and receptive surface. The claims, we have said, for human exceptionalism rest on language. We have qualified this by saying that human exceptionalism can depend on language to support its claims only inasmuch as what is claimed for language belongs to the system and systematicity of language—of all human languages; and of all languages insofar as they are human. Human exceptionalism relies on the structure of language. In this structure is where human culpability is found. Its foundation. Or moral core.

The subject of the stage is a moral one, but is a dreaming subject: the dreaming subject is what we have in mind. So our strategy is not (only) in the unmaking or undoing that occurs in the interval, in the hesitation between stutters, in the selecting from perception of what will be acted on, that we have addressed as its freedom. Our strategy is to show that in theatre we find, we make, unmake, produce, undo, lose sight of, then strike, the hallucination of what it is not to be human. As if we had been dreaming…

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

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seventeenth part, called “a way in XVII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

A way in

A creature of language. Homo logos. Whose sapiens is only through language, because it is through language she comes to know the world. As it is in language he becomes a subject. A social creature. With all the problems attendant on social organisation. Such as her own status, that of being human, which does not automatically confer on her any status. Is not a recognised institution in society, such as being a subject is. Just as it does not automatically mean he speaks, let alone entail she is heard. So we ask, is an institution all a subject is?

We have claimed that human being becomes exception before being in general through language, a natural and exclusive right. And further proposed it is the system of language that founds this right. Exclusive to human being and natural.

Exclusive because systematised: having ascertainable rules and functions that are common to all languages if they are human. A grammar is the primary example. Then there are repertoires of sounds and the specificity of their production to the human anatomy, the laryngeal, lingual, palatal, dental and labial make-up. Which is unlike that of a cicada. And the further dependence of this exclusive proclivity natural to the human on upright bipedalism: having to feed against a vertical face, the frontal breast, and neither suffocate, though the conformation of the nostrils, now downwards, nor be held at a distance by a rigid snout or nose, and the out-turning of mucous surfaces, the lips as independently prehensile and able to latch on the nipple. A shortening of the jaw, and so on, all ideal as if retrofitted to allow for the production of sensible sounds, meaning sounds making sense through their separation from those that don’t, like gurgling-feeding.

Or chirruping? Doesn’t that make a sense separate from those of mastication, in an unnecessary expenditure of energy? Expenditure of no evolutionary use, not motivated by instinctive purpose, but pure display, as we see in birds, tropical fish, flowers. Yes, I know, finding a mate. Reproducing. Still, excessive in this regard. As it is in humans.

The chirruping of cicadas doesn’t follow the rules or functions of human language, which functions for what? Communication. Then these rules and functions of linguistic systematicity are retrofitted since they are not communicated in communication, back-engineered to account for the system itself. They are presuppositions of systematicity, otherwise what else does it organise?

The distinctions between signifiers? Repetitive patterns of sound? Do we say of music it is rule-based because of twelve-tone equal temperament? that seriality proves a latent serialism? We know these to be of human invention and to become matters of social convention, that is, musical institutions.

Codification is the necessary step in music as in language and it is provided for by symbolisation. Notation, separation, transposition of articulations of air into those manipulations of elements, minerals and chemicals, that give us paper and ink as they give us electronic means of registration. Encoding, a surface of registration and its recollection, as well as accepting the loss of the gestural and other physical signs and significations is compensated by the gains in, what? transmissability? These are necessary.

What is the transmission of? more language? differences that make a difference? Or more system and more of the same? The transmission of institutional understanding, like philosophy, and the reproduction of those institutions. In other words, pure display. And to restate or reinstate a purpose extends that which we may call libidinal economy. We are in fact left with transmissability for its own sake. So, data-communication. The autoproductivity of the code that at its most exalted is Artificial Intelligence.

We should note that it’s not AI decentring human being, neither the promise of it nor its actuality, of which we already see the effects. And we have for this reason no need to fear it. There are those that even encourage this decentring from his centrality of Man (sic) as being long overdue and want to hurry it up because they reckon on the intelligence of machines in surpassing human intelligence as heralding the coming of a Greater Wisdom. No doubt in an apocalypse. A messianic cybernetics: and Machine to pass Final Judgement on Man. Ending His destruction of ourselves and of our home on planet earth.

Anthropocentrism decentres itself in such wishes: the real danger, of which we are living both the actuality and the promise, is not the transfer and construction of the means of transference of instrumental reason to technical mechanism, like the singularity—systematicity in excelsis—but human abrogation of reason itself. The technical mechanism has and is undergoing development to be applied to human house-keeping. That is the problem it is meant to solve: economic. The decision is being and already has been passed over to transmissability itself, for itself.

This is why I want to return to the question of language, because its systematisation provides the rules of code-functions for the technical system. And I want to ask about the extra-being of language that exists without the system. Because that language is a system makes it a human system.

So, what is language before its invention as a system? And what is language both outside the human, to which its systematisation is subsequent, and during the anthropocene? Not to return, and not to make human language, after what happened, evil, so that the only answer to What can we do? is, obviously, physical theatre.

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

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Lecture on Academic Writing–delivered online for AUT 14.9.2021

Part I
Part II
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