infemmarie

Mario Levrero’s unnecessary masterpiece The Luminous Novel: excerpts therefrom; the part about a terrifying experience; illustrated with images by Jan Švankmajer & his 10 Commandments follow boldly in red

Mario Levrero’s The Luminous Novel came out in 2005, a year after Roberto Bolaño’s 2666.

Where Bolaño’s work is full to the brim, Levrero’s is, writes Annie McDermott, his translator into English, empty–but empty to the brim.

– Jan Švankmajer

Mauro Libertello writes:

If Roberto Bolaño showed us it was still possible to write the great Latin American novel, Levrero told us it wasn’t necessary.

Another writer, Juan Pablo Villalobos tells us on the back cover of his unnecessary masterpiece, “Levrero is an author who challenges the canonical idea of Latin American literature. If you really want to complete the puzzle of our tradition, you must read him.”

– Jan Švankmajer

I don’t want to complete any puzzles, least of all those dealing with traditions, literary or not. But I have, after many weeks reading it in breaks at work and at lunchtimes, reading it slowly and carefully and sometimes dismissively, finished The Luminous Novel, and if I had stopped reading it, as I was sometimes tempted to do, due to the temptation of other books, perhaps even of necessary ones, if I had stopped, if I had before the section of the book, that really amounts to about a fifth of its 530 pages in the English edition, if I had stopped during the interminable diary making up the other four fifths, if I had not read through to the end, racing through the last section called The Luminous Novel, that the rest is really an excuse for not writing, and if I had made my excuses before then for not reading, I would not be calling Levrero’s book a masterpiece. I would probably be calling it unnecessary and, in the belief they were necessary even if they were not, I should much earlier have moved on to other books. But I did not; and if I were to recommend you read Levrero’s masterpiece it would not be to solve the puzzle of Latin American literature but to understand what it means, that Bolaño showed with 2666 it was still possible to write the great Latin American novel and Levrero, with The Luminous Novel, that it was unnecessary. Because it is.

– Jan Švankmajer

I see that now, in view of any literary tradition. Although can we say that of any literary tradition?

I would not be recommending The Luminous Novel to understand this puzzle, or any puzzle. Although, it seems, by certain things Levrero says, that he likes or used to like puzzles.

It’s an interesting question, though, for where I am writing from, in New Zealand, where it seems every work has some kind of compulsion or compunction behind it. Some wound, platform or soapbox. Some confession or excuse. Some kitsch. Some actually necessary. What is the novel that shows us it is still possible to write the great New Zealand novel? and, more importantly, what the one that tells us it is not necessary?

Any contenders?

Unnecessary does not mean, as opposed to soapbox, soap bubbles: an unnecessary work can still be a masterpiece, as Levrero tells us and The Luminous Novel shows.

A masterpiece of what is not needed. No, what is not needed, I think Mauro Libertello is saying, is the great Latin American or the great New Zealand novel, or the great work in any tradition. Then, do we listen to Bolaño or to Levrero?

This is the question of the puzzle again. Bolaño is only part of the puzzle, but the puzzle can only be completed by reading Levrero. So in this way is Levrero necessary.

I think he’d say this is claiming too much. I can’t be sure, however.

Levrero is conscious, even when writing just the diary about not writing The Luminous Novel that makes up about four fifths of the book, of writing badly. And yet he says he thinks of Kafka as being his spiritual father because Kafka showed him how to write badly.

He doesn’t say Kafka told him worrying you are writing badly is unnecessary. Kafka showed him how to.

Kundera says something similar in Testaments Betrayed, but there it comes as a comment on Kafka’s translators. Kundera cites the French and English translators who tend to prettify Kafka’s prose. Of course, the German ones don’t get the chance.

Prettify is perhaps the wrong word. What they do is refer to good style. Good style is not repeating the same word. It is something Kafka does, repeatedly. Cleaned up, synonyms cover over this stylistic failing.

Kafka for style does something similar to Levrero for the novel: writing the great whatever novel, the great representative novel, is unnecessary. (This goes to a theme in Deleuze, against representation.)

– Jan Švankmajer

I was saying however that had I quit the book during the diary part I would not hold The Luminous Novel to be a masterpiece, that I needed the part called The Luminous Novel to come to the conclusion that it is.

And yes, this is already too much, or too little, because I did not conclude that The Luminous Novel is a masterpiece at its conclusion, rather the first page of the part called The Luminous Novel, the first few paragraphs of that final fifth of the book, had me yelling This is a masterpiece.

It had me yelling that even though I knew it was both unnecessary to because others had already said so and because The Luminous Novel is an unnecessary masterpiece.

In other words, the diary four-fifths, approximately, of the book prepared an impression that was completed at the beginning to the last fifth not at its conclusion.

It was prepared under conditions of misdirection, you might say. Although misdirection makes it sound as if Levrero was up to something all along and then sprang it on an unsuspecting reader, like the solution to a puzzle, the solution having been in plain sight all along.

– Jan Švankmajer

There is some truth in this.

The answer was in plain sight. It was in plain sight not however as the solution to a problem or to a whodunnit might have been. What was and had been in plain sight throughout was the problem and the answer that appears is exactly that, the problem to be formulated. The appearance of the problem completes the puzzle, much as we might say the appearance of the puzzle, the puzzle or problem assuming its essential characteristics, and finally although without any finality becoming a well-formulated problem.

What is the problem?

How to speak of certain things.

Levrero says it at the start, transcendental things: how to write about transcendental experience.

Misdirection is wrong. Indirection is better. Levrero comes sideways at the problem, like prying the lid off a jar. He circles it.

At the part called The Luminous Novel, he gets a knife under its edge and it makes a soft but satisfying pop. The pressure equalises.

It’s not like blowing the lid off of something. It’s not even like the lid comes off. That revelation becomes unnecessary.

– Jan Švankmajer

Now, this idea of pressure equalising can be used to describe the difference between the diary part and the Luminous Novel part, because there is really no great difference, just that soft but satisfying pop.

Or it’s like a change of gear. The voice remains the same, but what it was avoiding saying, although touching on in passages, skirting around, nudging at, or, as I said, outright avoiding, talking about something altogether different, it says. But it says it in the same way as it doesn’t, as it had not and was not prepared to before, as I also said, by not being prepared to preparing for, at least, preparing the reader for, unconsciously. Indirectly.

A nice thing: I like how Levrero believes in the unconscious. He trusts it. It gives him the reason he needs to talk about what he had no intention of talking about; but it does so in and as his experience.

– Jan Švankmajer

His experience comes first. I’m going to copy out some excerpts, of note, in view of the primacy of experience to his writing, is his contention that Flaubert does not place experience first and so his writing is in the end valueless, whereas Thomas Bernhard’s for the narrowness of its focus ends up as grand as the universe.

The grandness of universe in Levrero is the strange and unique experience of the individual, whether it is the experience of transcendental things or the observation of an ant.

Dear reader: never dream of mixing your writing and your life. Or rather, do; you’ll have your fair share of suffering, but you’ll give something of yourself, which is ultimately the only thing that matters. I’m not interested in novelists who grind out their four-hundred-page doorstoppers with the help of index cards and a disciplined imagination; the only information they transmit is empty, sad, depressing. And deceitful, since it comes disguised as naturalism. Like the famous Flaubert. Pah.

–Mario Levrero, The Luminous Novel, translated by Annie McDermott, 2021, 68

– Jan Švankmajer

I’m very jealous of a writer like W. Somerset Maugham, whose The Razor’s Edge I’m currently reading. … He’s an excellent writer, though for some reason underrated. I used to underrate him myself, in fact … When you’re young and inexperienced, you look for dramatic plots in books, as you do in films. With time, you come to see that the plot has no importance at all; and that the style, the way the story is told, is everything.

–Ibid., 71

– Jan Švankmajer

It’s difficult to spot one’s prejudices, which take root in the mind in a strange and inexplicable way, accompanied by a certain sense of superiority. Those dwarves settle in like absurd dictators, and we accept them like revealed truths. Very rarely, because of some accident or chance occurrence, we find we have to reconsider a prejudice, argue with ourselves about it, lift a corner of the veil and peer through the gap at how things really are. In those cases, it’s possible to uproot them. But the others are still there, out of sight, carrying us foolishly in all the wrong directions.

What I’m saying is that I’d like to write with the same serene pleasure as Somerset Maugham.

–Ibid., 72

Since the very early days of my computer addiction, I’ve been convinced that my dialogue with the machine is, deep down, a narcissistic monologue. A way of looking at myself in the mirror. This diary is also a kind of narcissistic monologue, though in my opinion it doesn’t have the same pathological connotations at all, but it also has a few positive effects that somehow balance things out. …

… I thought I’d have a quick look through some issues of Cruzadas. I did a couple of crosswords, and then turned almost automatically to the letters to the editor. But the issue was from a time when I no longer dealt with the letters. That didn’t do it for me, so I looked for the bound collection. I came across one of the letters I’d written myself, and there I stayed, locked in the cycle, in the narcissistic monologue, and unable to get out. I read, one by one, all the pages of all the letters to the editor with responses written by me, and then I found another volume in the collection … and so it went on, until seven in the morning. … I even found a letter from a reader who’d included a few paragraphs in code at the end, a message with the letters swapped, something like CBJHF XFR. And I found my response, in the same code. What did those cryptograms mean? I decided to solve them, and some time later I was able to read what the reader had written, as well as my reply.

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 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.

–Ibid., 160-161

NB: back might mean back to the beginnings of The Luminous Novel, its first several chapters, retained in the section of this book called The Luminous Novel, written by Levrero in 1984. The diary, making up the rest, is written between August 2000 and August 2001.

The book was published posthumously.

– Jan Švankmajer

Doña Rosa must have been trying to fit into some trend or other; her autobiographical writing never hides her desperate longing for recognition and a place in Spanish literature. Naively, she believed merit along would be enough, unaware that in literary careers, as in all careers, everything is primarily a question of politics, or nepotism. Rosa Chacel’s talent and nature should have made her remain in obscurity out of choice, dedicated to developing her writing simply out of a spiritual or vital need, but that wasn’t what happened. And that must be what led to freakish creations like The Maravillas District.

–Ibid., 195

– Jan Švankmajer

The moment she realises it’s a joke, she switches off. She stops following. When it’s over she doesn’t laugh, or understand why I find it funny. And yet she’s capable of understanding perfectly well and laughing at more subtly funny stories, as long as they’re not in the form of jokes. I’ve concluded that Chl, like many, many women, intuitively captures the psychological significance of the system of telling jokes and realises that it’s actually a form of disguised sexual penetration. Laughter is the equivalent of an orgasm. When a man tells another man a joke, he’s exercising his right to sublimated homosexual desire, which is one of the few such rights that are socially acceptable. This is what I think, and it sounds very convincing to me. It’s highly probable that women who shut themselves off from jokes also shut themselves off (one way or another) from sexual penetration. By ‘one way or another’, I mean they shut themselves off both in the sense of closing their legs, and in the sense of not participating in the sexual act or reaching orgasm, even when they open them. That’s why they don’t laugh at jokes. Not because they don’t understand, but because they understand all too well.

–Ibid., 258-259

– Jan Švankmajer

Since I haven’t touched this diary for many, many days now–although, as usual, I haven’t once stopped thinking about it–events have been accumulating, filling my memory to overflowing; and the memories that remain have probably lost whatever interest or emotional charge they had at the time they were formed, or shortly afterwards, which is when I should have been writing them down; and whatever wording I imagined I’d use to record them has certainly been lost as well. Meaning that now, when I try to return to them, the same thing will happen as is happening, or would be happening, with the grant project [The Luminous Novel]: they’ll turn into a kind of fraudulent literature.

–Ibid., 266

But what I’d begun to say, or rather, what I wanted to begin to write, was something else. I wanted to write that a while ago I sat in the greeny-grey-etc. armchair, with the light off, and watched, fascinated, as the clouds blew past. The clouds form a roof over the city, a roof that doesn’t let the humidity evaporate, and although that roof travels at a considerable speed up there, it seems like it never ends, and never will end. It runs from the rambla towards the bay. The clouds are white and they look like smoke, white smoke, because they have a tendency to disintegrate, although they never fully do, and there are holes in them that gradually change shape, as if some parts of a cloud move at a different speed to others. These holes, through which you can see a dark sky, constantly threaten to give the cloud the form of a skull; but I was watching for a long time, and the threat never materialised. Other holes come along and almost do the same, and they don’t manage either. I’m glad, because the signs from the sky are always frightening, and besides, I already have too much death in my midst. There aren’t many of us left.

–Ibid., 277

This how the part called The Luminous Novel begins:

Fairly often, for some time now, an image has been occurring to me spontaneously in which I’m writing calmly with a pen and India ink on a sheet of very high-quality white paper. And now I’m doing just that, giving in to what seems to be a deep-seated desire, even though all my life I’ve tended to use a typewriter. Unfortunately, this image that springs upon me unannounced on an almost daily basis never includes the words of the text I’m presumably writing. At the same time, however, and completely independently of this image, I have a desire to write about certain experiences of mine. This would become something I’ve been describing to myself as a ‘luminous novel’, which is the counterpart to what I’ve been calling–again, only when I talk to myself–a ‘dark novel’. That dark novel exists, thought it’s unfinished and perhaps unfinishable. I feel imprisoned by it, by its mood, by the shadowy images and even more shadowy emotions that have been pushing me to write it for the past couple of years. There are periods of weeks or months when I wake up almost every day with an overwhelming urge to destroy it.

–Ibid., 425

and so it goes on… and I had to pull myself up: the urge to keep on copying, keep on tap-tap typing it out was so strong.

– Jan Švankmajer

This simple rumination–but the reader would have to have been in my place, under that sun and that sky, among the aromas of the trees and the beach, and with all the time in the world to do nothing in … Anyway, this simple rumination had noticeable effect on the wiring–or, to be more up to date, on the chemistry–of my brain. It felt rather like a complicated series of cogs grinding into motion–not heavily, though, but lightly. I felt the joy that follows an intimate discovery, and the fright, the fear, as if I’d just trespassed on some mysterious land that belonged to someone else, or opened a forbidden door. Not for nothing do I associate the taste of adrenaline with literature, although literature hadn’t yet appeared …

–Ibid., 428

– Jan Švankmajer

Now and then I feel, or think–via the superego–that these laidback ants and I are like the respective cancer cells of our respective socially minded individuals. If I fight hard enough against the superego, however, I sometimes manage to think the opposite: that these ants and I are the salubrious cells of our societies. As far as I can tell, the anthill is a wholly sick individual, decaying and useless, and capable only of looking after itself (sub-existence); and I see contemporary human society–that crazy bus I was talking about at the beginning–in the same way. If I were God, I’d pardon it solely on the basis of the few ‘just men and women’ in the Bible, or, from my own point of view, on the basis of those magnificent individuals, those all-round great people who have gone down in history as such or are personally know to us. And the ones I know personally are great regardless of their apparent social function and way of thinking; I’ve found them in the ranks of communists, Nazis, Catholics, occultists, Masons, etc., or simply as unaffiliated lunatics. What they have in common is that, one way or another, consciously or unconsciously, they participate, and make you participate, in what I’ve called the ‘unknown dimension’; and I should point out that the ‘events’, if we can call them that, which occur in or form part of that dimension, don’t always look like ‘luminous’ experiences; these great people may have their sinister side, or even be entirely sinister, and yet, because of their disproportionate sinister side, they’re worthwhile.

–Ibid., 480

– Jan Švankmajer

Have you ever been looking at an insect, or a flower, or a tree, and found for a moment your values, or you sense of what’s important, have completely changed? … It’s as if I’m seeing the universe from the point of view of the wasp–or the ant, or the dog, or the flower–and finding it more valid than when I saw it from my own point of view. Civilization become meaningless, as do History, cars, cans of beer, neighbours, thoughts, words, and even mankind itself and its undisputed place at the top of the pyramid of living beings. In that moment, all forms of life seem equivalent. And, … inanimate things are no longer inanimate, and there’s no place for any kind of non-life.

–Ibid., 490

…even good old Jung thought participation mystique involved a kind of regressive perception, corresponding to a time before the ‘self’ is formed in the child. But this ‘self’–has it not hypertrophied within us, has it not grown at the expense of a psychological formation that would be a source of health for humanity? In other words: is there anyone, for God’s sake, who is satisfied with this thing called ‘reality’? Is there a single imbecile out there who thinks the world is inhabitable? Yes, I know, I know; there is. There is, there is, there is. Anyway.

–Ibid., 491

– Jan Švankmajer

That’s it for the excerpts from The Luminous Novel. I was thinking, before I went into my shed to do a bit of licking this (not this, another) piece into shape, like a bear-whelp: Levrero writes from experience. While he’s experiencing he’s also thinking of the words to use and composing, writing the experience in his head; does that not take him away from the experience, or take something away from the experience? take away, for example, its purity, by fitting it into the forms of the given, of the conventions of ordinary usage, setting meaning to that coming ready-made in a language? or, displacing the sensibility of the one experiencing onto one who observes the one experiencing, who is the ghost at their (writing) machine in the ghost in the machine? Or, more simply: writing from experience can mean experiencing for (the sake of) writing, just like, when writing dreams, you wind up dreaming for writing, and no longer dreaming for the sake of it. Or, again, simply: is part of me at my desk (in my shed) and only part of me having the experience? … I thought all of that, although it boils down to only a little, as well as thinking, I don’t really have experiences worth writing. … Then I came back to Levrero’s point about the greatness of Thomas Bernhard precisely because of the ‘narrowness’ of the world he writes of, and the fraudulence of Flaubert. Still, I can’t think of my own experience like that, and to do so would probably add an angle, a subjectivity, to outside experience, that, for me at least, would be falsifying, a falsification. I like the problem posed by experience to be its being-without-subjectivity, its resistance to the subject, who, like water on a duck’s back, runs off and cannot stick.

And having done some shed work, I jumped on my bike to go to work, work work. But I will still in that mindset, the mindset of writing, of sitting at my desk in my shed and fixing sentences to the page. And I said to myself, I was on the ridge by this time and the sun was shining, the air still, and the cold wind we’ve been experiencing lately absent, a relief, You’ve got to get out of your head.

– Jan Švankmajer

David Abram says the present is breath. I was going up a slope, not steep, enough to get me breathing and for me to feel myself breathing rhythmically; I thought, each breath, a present. Imagine dying each breath.

And each breath, each present, dead to the next.

The air dead to itself, the earth, the sun and the hills, and the bay below, all dead to the passing present, because dead to its passing, its passage. And I, too, dying on each breath, with nothing to prolong being, my being. Its being.

– Jan Švankmajer

Julian Barbour writes about the universe in this way, as being without time, about time not existing for it. It seems many theoretical physicists are beginning to agree with him that time does not exist.

Barbour is then the anti-Bergson, who says that time is an anthropomorphism, a projection, childish almost, of the sense of time we have with our bodies at the centre of our universe, but that this inner experience of time is true.

To die each present is not to endure: it is the opposite of enduring. The feeling of not enduring from one moment to the next was terrifying, frightening because plausible.

Perhaps I was having a Levrero-type experience?

– Jan Švankmajer

Guillermo Arriago’s book The Untameable in the most unforced and natural way brings in Spinoza, the conatus. The conatus is the will to persist as what it is that every living thing has. Arriago says the tiger wants to carry on being a tiger, the wolfdog a wolfdog: each wants to endure in itself to itself.

– Jan Švankmajer

And how does the human conatus endure beyond the present that in itself to itself does not?

– Jan Švankmajer

Well, writing is one way; and writing experience is one way experience in itself to itself endures. This doubling consciousness that works its way out in symbols… as Bergson writes, If I make a line on a piece of paper with my eyes shut, it is with a single unbroken movement; now, upon opening my eyes, I see, juxtaposed with that movement, the line that will be its symbol. Or something like that. And it is through this spatial detour and this symbolic detour that human conatus in particular endures.

Or, it is through the habit of composing in your head, of formulating, symbolically, the record of the experience that the internal experience persists. But these detours through space and symbol displace the experience… and, more still, in the case of the moving image entirely replace it.

The moving image replaces an inner experience of time not because it moves but as an image, an image of time, so that our tendency is to prefer to the actuality of an inner experience of time its technical double.

– Jan Švankmajer

This was not the case with the symbolic detour, in writing, for example, (or in dream) since the inner sense of time a written record possesses or evokes is not experienced socially: the fact of social attendance changes the quality of the experience.

It convinces us of the temporal nature of the image, while that of the symbolic double in writing or dreaming is all in my head, a matter of the local and individual imagination, and of knowledges of genre, register, tone, tropes and archetypes, and so on. But this individual experience, although another experience than the experience providing its raw material, and processed, by narration and so on, is in a way truer because it, like the inner experience of time, is in me, and part of me; it is part of the interaction that I bring to reading the text, and, as Bernard Stiegler says, giving the strongest sense possible to reading, repeating it in a living, unfolding duration.

Human conatus endures, is not instant by instant, breath by breath, thanks to a doubling of consciousness. This doubling has to do with the manipulation of symbols, with a symbolic form of knowledge. Stiegler is one who is very conscious of the deleterious effects of semi-autonomous digital technologies on this knowledge, causing it to be lost. (In contrast to Stiegler, from Bergson, I get the idea of knowledge as being a determination of the future, a way that the present impends over the future.)

The other side of this is that any sense of duration in the present makes recourse to a kind of artifice and that this artifice is natural to the human. It is human nature not to notice itself enduring in itself. The human occupies a time that is partly outside of direct experience.

Does the world then die to itself with every passing instant? In some ways Bergson encourages this (terrifying) view. There follows from it the idea of technical field, a field of technics (Stiegler), separate from the world; of this field separating the human from the world: and yet if it is accepted the human conatus includes this field, as its will to persist to and in itself as human, the human is no longer immanent except to itself, to its own human-technical world. This is what might be called the ideological view, the entrapment in their own historicity or episteme, as forms of technically mediated cultural understanding and knowledge, of human beings.

– Jan Švankmajer

In works after Matter and Memory, Bergson encourages the idea that only humans are the subjects of duration. Where Deleuze goes further than Bergson is in speaking of pure immanence, where the human subject is not at the point of disconnection between world, culture and technics.

He relieves us of the terrifying possibility of the world being dead to itself with every passing breath, in every passing present.

an interview conducted by Mario Levrero with Mario Levrero, from here:

I notice that something is bothering me: an image, a series of words, or simply a mood, an atmosphere, an environment. The clearest example would be an image or mood from a dream, after waking up in the morning; sometimes you spend a long time almost tangled up in that dream-fragment; sometimes it fades in the end and sometimes it doesn’t. It can come back, whether spontaneously or evoked by something else, at other points in the day. When this goes on for several days, I take it as a sign that there’s something there that I need to deal with, and the way to deal with it is to recreate it. For example: I have a story, ‘The Crucified Man’, which stemmed from this kind of disruption, although it didn’t come from a dream. I noticed that for some days I’d had a crucified man in my head, someone whose arms were permanently outstretched. In fact, I didn’t realise the man had been crucified until I stopped to examine that disruptive image, because he was dressed; you could clearly see that he was wearing an old jacket. Looking more closely, I discovered that under the jacket he was nailed to the remains of a wooden cross, and right away I began work on that story. Another story, ‘The Sunshades’, arose from a phrase overheard in a dream: ‘Nohaymar’ [‘No hay mar’, or ‘There is no sea’]. In the dream, a girl was jumping on a bed and saying something like ‘nohaymar’, or rather I was hearing ‘noaimar’. While I was in the shower, that image and that phrase came back to me and I decided it meant ‘no hay mar’, and by the time I got out of the shower I already had a fairly well-structured story. My novel Displacements also arose from a brief scene from a dream: a woman in her underwear washing dishes in a kitchen. It took me about two years to unearth the whole little world contained in that image. And in case you take an interest in parapsychological phenomena, I’ll tell you something else that happened with ‘no hay mar’: a few days after the story was written, I ran into a friend who told me that he’d been writing a story himself at more or less the same time, and a character had infiltrated it with a kind of obsessive force. This character was called Mariano. As you may have noticed, ‘Mariano’ is a perfect anagram of ‘no hay mar’.

and:

What’s more, I think that’s the true function of criticism: preventing the craziness contained in a work of art from spreading through the whole of society like a plague. It’s a repressive function, a kind of policing, and I’m not saying it’s wrong; I think it’s necessary. But personally I find it irritating, because it happens to be repressing me, or at least what I write. It’s fencing me in, putting barriers between the reader and the writer. This, of course, actually ends up benefiting literature, allowing it to grow, to find new ways of saying what it wants to say – in the same way that policing allows different forms of crime to evolve.

– Jan Švankmajer
What is your view of the digital medium? Do you feel there is any relevance in regard to celluloid being more tangible, or is this irrelevant?

Here lies the central point of my reservations about computer animation. Virtual reality has no tactile dimension. It is an „untouched reality“. It is therefore not charged by strenuous human emotions. It is a stillborn child.

thank you to Jan Švankmajer.

Prague, November 2011
Jan Švankmajer’s ten commandments, here compressed into ten lines:

1. Before you start making a film, write a poem, paint a picture, create a collage, write a novel, essay, etc.

2. Surrender to your obsessions.

3. Use animation as a magical operation.

4. Keep exchanging dreams for reality and vice versa.

5. If you are trying to decide what is more important, trust the experience of the eye or the experience of the body; always trust the body, because touch is an older sense than sight and its experience is more fundamental.

6. The deeper you enter into the fantastic story the more realistic you need to be in the detail.

7. You should always use your wildest imagination.

8. Always pick themes that you feel ambivalent about.

9. Cultivate your creativity as a form of self-therapy.

10. Never work, always improvise.

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velvet & vomit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhinehart has to obey the die in The Dice Man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorfman looks at how this literature came to be written.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is wrong with New Zealand place names?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P asked me what I think the Bible is.

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

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

Now, P did not necessarily want to hear that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it true?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What sort of quality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wayne Koestenbaum writes:

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

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

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



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

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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Sequoia Nagamatsu, How High We Go In The Dark

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

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

Why read this book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HVA DET BETYR AT VÆRE MENNESKE

(What does it mean to be human?)

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

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

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

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

Here are their dates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doyle on Cioran:

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

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

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

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

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

And this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doyle on DMT:

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

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

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

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David Bentley Hart: consciousness Ltd.

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

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

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

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

– Pinturicchio, Bernadino of Siena, 1480s

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

— Hart, ibid., 312.

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

— Ibid., 353.

Roland again:

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

– dated to between 1CE – 199CE

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

Itzcuintli Dog With Me, Frida Kahlo, 1938

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

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

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

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

— Hart, ibid., 355.

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

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

— Ibid., 359.

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

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

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

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

— Ibid.

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

Du Fu’s austere lucidity

– 杜甫 Du Fu, 傅抱石 Fu Baoshi, 1959

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

– 将进酒 [Bring in the Wine], 李白 Li Bai

in Buddhist moods we crave Wang Wei

– 王维 Wang Wei

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

– 李賀 Li He
– 義山 Li Shangyin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland the dog says, are no blue flower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paula Rego, The Artist in Her Studio, 1993

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

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the post-retro Ostalgie of Paulina Olowska

Yesterday I was looking at the retrofuturism (or is that Nachträglichkeit?)of Paulina Olowska:

Paulina Olowska, L’introvertie, 2012
Paulina Olowska, Girl in Portobello Road Market Offers For Sale Dresses She has Made, 2012
Paulina Olowska, The Swan (After Norman Parkinson Foundation), 2017

…and today I read that Paula Rego died yesterday…

…not that there’s much similarity: Olowska’s work is like a painterly Ostalgie. Perhaps it recalls Antoine Volodine?

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