pique-assiettes

Terry Sheat’s “Time For A Public Inquiry Into Creative New Zealand,” for Scoop (30.09.2022), excerpts

Creative New Zealand (state funding body for the arts), responding to Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand’s application for funding, “specifically questioned ‘the role and relevance of Shakespeare in Aotearoa.’ It […] also stated that ‘the genre [Shakespeare] was located within a canon of imperialism and missed the opportunity to create a living curriculum and show relevance to the contemporary art context of Aotearoa’ (interestingly, not Aotearoa/New Zealand). One assessor [on the CNZ advisory panel] felt the need to ‘question whether a singular focus on an Elizabethan playwright is most relevant for a decolonising Aotearoa in the 2020s and beyond.'”

–Terry Sheat, “Time For A Public Inquiry Into Creative New Zealand,” 30 September 2022, here

excerpts from the article follow and are followed by a call to support an independent public inquiry into CNZ:

I believe that there is a systemic failure within Creative New Zealand and the Arts Council by having allowed “the development of a New Zealand identity in the arts” to become the dominant factor in their considerations as opposed to being one of a number of factors to be taken into account.

CNZ is failing in several duties under the [Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa Act 2014], including, in particular, upholding and promoting “the rights of artists and the right of persons to freedom in the practice of the arts” and supporting “activities of artistic and cultural significance that develop the creative potential of artists and art forms”. 

CNZ, perhaps in the mistaken belief that they are tackling elitism, are in fact creating their own elitist model of what art in New Zealand should be.

With all the threats in the modern world to literacy, culture, understanding and tolerance, who knew that CNZ would add their name to the list?

I am calling for a Public Inquiry into (i) the fairness and lawfulness of Creative New Zealand’s funding priorities, (ii) the way in which arts organisations are treated by CNZ and (iii) the effects CNZ’s decisions have had and are having on the state of the arts and arts organisations in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

–from here

To email in support of an independent public inquiry into CNZ:

The persons to email are any or all of:
carmel.sepuloni@parliament.govt.nz (Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage)
jacinda.ardern@parliament.govt.nz (PM and Associate Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage)
grant.robertson@parliament.govt.nz (Minister of Finance)
simon.oconnor@parliament.govt.nz (National Party spokesperson for Arts, Culture and Heritage)
nicola.willis@parliament.govt.nz (National Party spokesperson for Finance)
chris.bishop@parliament.govt.nz, (National Party MP)
Heather Baggott (CEO Ministry of Culture and Heritage) c/o her executive assistant bridie.cooper@mch.govt.nz 
Stephen.Wainwright@creativenz.govt.nz (CEO Creative New Zealand)
Caren.Rangi@creativenz.govt.nz (Chair of the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa, the governing body of Creative New Zealand)

please cc emails to ArtsFundingInquiry@gmail.com

for further related links here on squarewhiteworld.com

— from here

In 1960 the government set up an arts council, which three years later it renamed the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council in honour of the queen, who was then visiting New Zealand. She is seen here with the council’s charter at a royal performance in Auckland in 1963. [source]

It was replaced in 1994 by the Arts Council of New Zealand Toi Aotearoa Act, which is administered by Creative New Zealand. [source]

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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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raw materials of justice & capitalism’s temple prostitutes

– temporary mortuary for 13,000 bodies (COVID-19), 14 January 2021, Glasgow Times

This is the police mortuary, the tradesmen’s entrance to the Court, as it were. Here are delivered the raw materials of justice, corpses that are precipitates of strange experience, alloys of fear and hate and anger and love and viciousness and bewilderment, that the Court will take and refine into comprehension. Through the double glass doors come those with a grief to collect. They take away the offal of a death, its privateness, the irrelevant uniqueness of the person, the parts that no one else has any further use for. The Court will keep only what matters, the way in which the person became an event.

To come in here is to be reminded that the first law is real estate, and people are its property.

–William McIlvanney, Laidlaw, 1977/2020, 39-40

1. Witness or victim – a person who tells the court about what happened or what they know about the case.
2. Support person – a person who the judge has agreed can support a witness or victim in court.
3. Court victim advisor – a court staff member who helps the victim understand the court process.
4. Defendant – the person charged with an offence.
5. Prosecutor – the Crown lawyer who is trying to prove if the defendant (you) is guilty.
6. Defence lawyer – your lawyer.
7. Judge – the person in charge of the court.
8. Registrar – the person who makes sure court processes are followed, helps the judge and records what happens in court. The Jury/Court Attendant sits alongside the Registrar. The Jury/Court Attendant is a court staff member who looks after the jury and will oversee them when deliberating.
9. Jury –these 12 people decide if you are guilty or not.
10. Media – the journalists who report on the case.
11. Prisoner’s escort – the person who escorts the defendant in court.
12. Public gallery – this is where members of the public sit, including the victim’s and your families and whānau. Victims and witnesses can also sit here after they‘ve given evidence, not before.

Taking McIlvanney’s Laidlaw with me as my jury service read was a bad idea, because the raw material for the Court is not only a corpse. It is any living body.

The living bodies of the Witness, the Judge, the Jury, among whom I was, who, according to the glossary above, decide whether or not you are guilty: all of us are raw materials for the wheels of justice…

…and its property.

I chose better for the second day. I took Metamorphoses, Ovid, translated by A.D. Melville.

Poetry is the antidote for the Law, perhaps the only one.

The Burleigh Hotel was at the West end of Sauchiehall Street. The architecture was Victorian and very dirty. It had been cunningly equipped with curlicues and excrescences, the chief effect of which was to make it an enormous gin for drifting soot and aerial muck. It stood now half-devoured by its catch, weighted with years of Glasgow, its upper reaches a memorial to the starlings that had once covered the middle of the city like an umbrella of demented harpies.

The woman who came out of the cubby-hole at the side was unexpected. A woman like her was always unexpected. She was mid-twenties, attractive, and she had that look of competence in being female that makes men count their hormones. …

‘I don’t suppose you have a vacancy,’ he said, nodding at the keyboard.

She had adjusted to the archness of his levity before he had finished speaking.

‘This is our quiet year,’ she said.

–Ibid., 158-159

‘You like golf?’

‘Yes and no,’ Laidlaw said.

Harkness said nothing. He wasn’t in the mood for riddles.

‘It’s a good game,’ Laidlaw said quietly. ‘But I suspect all professional sportsmen. Grown men devoting their lives to a game. They’re capitalism’s temple prostitutes.’

–Ibid., 160-161

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of the end of the end [politics after {the end (of politics)}]

in an excellently titled early section, “I hate myself and I want to buy,” quoting Hobsbawm:

the “short twentieth century” “ended in a global disorder whose nature was unclear, and without an obvious mechanism for either ending it or keeping it under control.” This impotence was not, however, only due to the complexity of the problems themselves. After all, talking-up complexity is the trick technocrats have been pulling for 3 decades, with the sole purpose of lowering expectations. Rather the impotence lay “in the apparent failure of all programs, old and new, for managing or improving the affairs of the human race.”

— Alex Hochuli, George Hoare, Philip Cunliffe, The End of the End of History: Politics in the Twenty-First Century, 2021, 3 (all quotes below from this work; my italics)

now I might attribute this to the abrogation of human agency in human affairs (see here), itself a trick technocrats and technocracy have been playing for the whole of the short twentieth century, substituting the symbolic framework of a global financial system mainframe for the physical framework of reference comprising the material conditions of life and of human affairs. Hochuli, Hoare, Cunliffe however engage in class analysis, effectively; so effectively, their book is the best explanation, the best statement of the problem and most adequate image, of what the political is now that I have read.

…citizens [have] largely seemed resigned to leave affairs of the state to the “political class.” What [has] proliferated in the wake of this withdrawal [is] an “amalgam of slogans and emotions” that [can] barely be called ideology: identity politics and xenophobia.

So, what has changed since 1994 when Hobsbawm’s work was first published? The disorder is only too apparent now, and movements for “secure identity and social order” seem an adequate descriptor for the political forces that rule many Western nations, such as national-populism. But to see only uninterrupted disorder would be to ignore precisely the settled order that governed the End of History era.

The New World Order pronounced by President George HW Bush in 1991 promised peace and cooperation under the aegis of American leadership–indeed, its total hegemony. But it was not only in geopolitical terms that stability would be achieved. The whole way that national politics operated was premised on the withdrawal of citizenry from active engagement. In its place was “post-politics,” a form of government that tries to foreclose political contestation by emphasizing consensus, “eradicating” ideology and ruling by recourse to evidence and expertise rather than interests or ideals. Underpinning all this was an economic regime–neoliberalism …

–Ibid., 4

neoliberalism Mirowski is right in avoiding calling an economic regime or set of policies but rather a thought collective. It is as such it goes to the beyond-the-human use of symbolic logics, beyond-the-human in this case meaning as-close-to-the-speed-of-light-as-possible. If it is any sort of regime, it is one of time.

The victor of the twentieth century ideological struggle between communism and capitalism was, in fact, consumerism–“the ‘ism’ that won.”

Of course, it was capitalism that really won. But shorn of a systemic alternative, even the notion that we lived in a system called “capitalism” receded from view. Contemporary society came to be seen as a natural order instead of the product of conflictual historical development.

–Ibid., 5

the flattening of there is no alternative makes it difficult to distinguish a political realm or level separate from the economic or the cultural. The advantage of Hochuli, Hoare and Cunliffe’s approach is in defining the political as being based in conflictual historical development, that of traditional class conflict between the working class and the bourgeoisie, being the capitalist class proper, owning the means of production, able to buy the labour power of others so that it becomes a commodity among commodities. The authors refer more readily to the PMC, either as the Professional Managerial Class or the Professional Middle Class, however they do so in awareness of the dangers of eliding the PMC with the capitalist class. In fact they show the PMC to be split between the downwardly mobile service middle class and the merchant middle class, with a bias to the market. Again, this is a smart move.

the theme developed in The End of the End of History is anti-politics as it supercedes the post-political dispensation Fukuyama called The End of History, a period rather than event during which it was accepted that there was no alternative to liberal capitalism. Anti-politics signals complete disenfranchisement with representative political processes. It becomes political through public and even popular participation in events that work against the political, protests against government, for example. Anti-politics is epitomised by figures from outside the political class and those promising to take over political processes, ex-president Trump, for example.

…if it is clear that the End of History has ended, it is likewise evident that History has not restarted; what we are witnessing is further fragmentation, disintegration and drift. Fukyama’s own picture did not account for the fact that the order he described might crumble away. Meanwhile, none of his various efforts to modulate or restructure his thesis–to incorporate new populisms and new forms of identity politics–fully convince.

–Ibid., 30

Already, in the aftermath of the Al Qaeda terror attacks on the Pentagon and New York in 2001, the US neoconservative Fareed Zakaria proclaimed the End of the End of History, by which he meant the end of the supposed ease and comfort of the post-Cold War era that had been secured by the prosperity of global growth. Zakaria expected this era, by necessity, to give way to the curtailing of democratic liberties and a new twilight struggle that would rely on covert operations and proxy forces, much like the Cold War itself. Neoconservative Robert Kagan and strategic theorist Azar Gat saw the return of history in the growth of geopolitical rivalry between the West on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other.

–Ibid., 30

Politics is the home of the Left, whereas the quelling of political enthusiasm is the natural home of the Right. This stands to reason. Consider the recent historical trajectory: the End of History was initiated by the global defeat of socialism. The post-political order that followed was justified by an ideology that pretended to be non-ideological. It was in effect a mask for the untrammeled rule of capital. Where there is no systemic alternative, there is no politics. Therefore, when the Left falls prey to the logic of anti-politics, it signs its own death warrant.

–Ibid., 50

…not every revolt against the post-political is worthy of support. Often, these take xenophobic or exclusionary forms, or their anti-politics is a recursive and self-defeating dead-end. But it is important to understand why revolt takes the forms it does in our age. With traditional representatives of the working classes–the social-democratic parties–fully signed up to neoliberal globalization, there are few “respectable” avenues for protesting against economic and cultural degradation, nor political leadership to give voice to these sentiments in the appropriately coded forms of political discourse. Hatred, in the post-political era, is suppressed or invalidated, to the extent that even simple disagreement is pathologized. Dissenting expressions then explode in other venues, often on social media, raw and angry. And the more they are objects of censure, the greater the temptation to poke at elite sensibilities.

–Ibid., 54

…to state our position and definition: politics at its most essential is the demand for reordering statuses and upending hierarchies. It is a demand for equality; it is even the basic notion of contestation. The “end of politics” is a transhistorical tendency, for whereever politics emerges, there are forces trying to moderate it, ground it, smash it, transcend it or foreclose it. Politics is there of relative rarity. Anti-politics then emerges in earnest as a visible, regular concern at the End of the End of History. The strategy of depoliticization known as post-politics breeds an angry reaction: the institutions of formal politics come to be rejected by citizens. At the End of the End of History, anti-politics becomes the predominant force. The rejection of the old consensus politics (post-politics) and its precise forms, modes and representatives, does more than just express a negative mood. It also takes aim at political authority and representation itself; it is thus that politics itself is rejected, tout court.

–Ibid., 57

the positive definition of the political project here is less compelling than its negative definition. The former had me scribbling in the margins a question I have just erased: … the political project?

On the paradox of population sector most affected by NOBS (Neoliberal Order Breakdown Syndrome): This section of society assumes their views and predilections are common sense, while at the same time feeling constantly embattled. Another way to put this is that, while the “liberal package” (combining elements such as cosmopolitanism, respect for expertise, individualism, an emphasis on personal ethics) is culturally hegemonic, liberals refuse to acknowledge their own hegemony. …their political identities are founded on the idea of being “the good guys.” A less charitable interpretation would even argue that their interest in politics only exists insofar as it allows them to cast themselves as ethical actors. All this means hegemonic liberals could be moral critics from positions of relative comfort, content in the knowledge that the world would not really move against them, or even change appreciably.

But then it did.

–Ibid., 62

a persecution complex among some of the more well-off and influential members of society is another characteristic of NOBS.

We see the self-idealization of anti-Trump liberalism as the #Resistance, invoking the authority of anti-fascist guerilla struggle. In Britain, MPs developed their own complex: protestors who called ex-Tory MP Anna Soubry a Nazi, a traitor, and a fascist outside parliament had to plead guilty to causing the one-time leader of “The Independent Group for Change” “harassment, alarm, or distress.” In this way, speech acts are hysterically re-coded as threats at the same level as physical violence and intimidation. The consequence of this presentation of elite-as-victim is to allow relatively privileged members of society to mask their real economic and political power, and instead portray themselves as worthy of popular sympathy.

I have referred to this elsewhere as weaponised empathy.

…hollowness. Our political world has retained its external appearance, but if you crack open the shell, there’s nothing inside. We still have parties and elections and campaigns. We occasionally have big protests. Even trade unions still have some members (quite a lot if you live in a Nordic country or Belgium). Yet the reality is that party membership has declined, electoral participation has decreased and union density is much diminished. There is a void where “the people” should be.

–Ibid., 115

Hollowness:

The End of History saw the full unfolding of long-term dynamics: the end of party government and its modes of popular sovereignty. Although the old vehicles remained–often, such as in Germany, the UK and the US, under the very same names–the 1990s and 2000s saw parties divest themselves of their substantive function of organizing social conflict and structuring political division. They became more appendages of the state–“cartel parties” in political scientist Peter Mair’s terminology–than organic social institutions. As the late Mair concluded: “The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.”

–Ibid., 116

…without significant working-class participation, protest fails.

–Ibid., 124

this raises the question, Where are the working classes? and… What do they want?

the answer in part given by The End of the End is authoritarian populist leadership that is an agent of antipolitics. There is here also a reactionary sentiment, a desire for past securities represented symbolically by organised religions and institutions like the monarchy.

…broadly speaking, it is the young and middle class that are driving protest today. The divide is not only generational. There are two middle classes, divided socio-culturally. One is oriented toward the public sector comprising academics, public sector managers and professionals, lawyers, civil servants, teachers, [artists, musicians, ‘culture workers’] etc., the other toward the market. It is the former group who are increasingly mobilized in left-wing movements.

–Ibid., 125

the merchant middle class vs. the (downwardly mobile and increasingly precariarised) service middle class (whose values are in turn marginalised, bringing about the famous crisis in (middle class / liberal) values)

As information technology and other changes to labor processes destroyed less-skilled white-collar jobs, so political elites pushed higher education as a means of preparing a workforce for the new economy. This of course was a lie, as there were not enough new, well-paying jobs to mop up those new degree-bearing graduates… A generation faced the prospect of being worse off than their parents [and having to have paid for the pleasure, privilege, of … dashed expectations]…

–Ibid., 127

lockdowns…

…state propaganda around the lockdown enjoined all citizens in collective responsibility for public health, and collective participation in protecting social interests.

It is, to be sure, a minimal and hedged form of national politics, a truncated embodiment of collective responsibility–“stay home” as per the message of so many governments. The form of this collective vision notwithstanding, the content is different to the persistent efforts of the past to shrink and strangle the public sphere over the last 3 decades, in which the public has been repelled from collective life, with the result that social order has been entrusted to lawyers, activists, remote governmental experts on transnational commissions, central bankers, technocrats, the market, CEOs… not to ordinary citizens. Unsurprisingly, this era coincided with the age of the consumer–the privatized, apathetic citizen-voter, encouraged to benefit from low inflation and cheap goods resulting from global trade and supply chains, and to consume politics, in turn, as a remote, mediatized spectacle offering different brands of essentially similar products, while not concerning themselves with the questions of how production functions, is organized and distributed. That was left to the supply chain managers, investors and trade negotiators, not unions or politicians.

–Ibid., 158

it was in other words left to economic rather than political actors and agents. The interesting thing about this view of the antipolitical is that it retains human agency. (see here)

I am more inclined to see it as a politics without the political because of the abdication of human reason to calculative and necessarily computational agency, for its being better, more efficient and faster than the human–and for that more reasonable. A posthuman (or postneurological) political function abrogated to intelligent machines.

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CAPITAL CAPITAL CAPITAL
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TikTok war?

this

because of

this

[TikTok]

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the end of the end (of history) is not the end of the purpose (that declared itself in 1946)

Dani Rodrik’s policy trilemma holds that “democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full.” – from here.

I just misread that as politics in the (twenty-) first person

D. writes to me the foregoing, under the subject-line, Re: Anti politics at work,

He includes this example of Sovereignty Versus Trade, here.

Re: Anti politics, a twerk, my reply:

how does it devolve onto (or into) the trilemma otherwise than with a shift back or retreat into national sovereignty? National sovereignty has not been at the top of minds (the Carl Schmidt buzz notwithstanding) for decades, since, I would say, 1946. It has not been because it is dirty and guilty of ethnic cleansings, genocide and holocaust. In other words, it is human.

With the bruited, louder than it is real, turn from outrightly and forthrightly neoliberal policy, national sovereignty reemerges, but in what form? Does it reemerge in the clash, in the antagonism, between politics and economy, that is inside political economy? The Mexican example would seem to say so. But then, that is in a poor, a tabescent form: hardly fit, agile or having the resilience of entrepreneurial culture, the verve of it, and its clean hands, while the burnouts fall like Satan.

Is it then as economic self-determination that national sovereignty reemerges? It is in that case inside the state. That sounds serious, that sounds like serious division, but politics is still not thinking, is not thinking yet, because this political problem is really a matter of hypocrisy, subterfuge and covering, covering for a financial system of globalised free markets conducting their business in the abstraction layer of the technical apparatus the purpose of which is not to need politics. Its purpose is not to recognise exactly national sovereignty, as its purpose is also to avoid what is human, with its obvious pitfalls.

This is what The End of the End… is lacking, but I will wait and see, as I read further.

If you are reading this and have not read The End of the End of History, I recommend you do.

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bits of Jamieson Webster:

People were really angry that Lacan said that being melancholic was cowardly–it seemed to rough ride over what in it might be an ethical or legitimate response to loss. But he felt this was too much Romanticisation. The thing about the melancholic is, even if they have the courage to strip through the veils (there’s this idea of the melancholic seeing the truth and not being blinded by the usual illusions, especially the fear of death), this doesn’t mean that does anything for them, and it doesn’t mean that they’re doing anything creative, or having another vision of the world. The real destructiveness of melancholia is to refuse to do that, to only lament what’s wrong, to only have that criticality that gives them a lot of power and a lot of enjoyment. I think the Left right now has zero energy for invention.

A real anarchist, which I don’t know if I believe in, is libido as pure movement at all costs. It’s appealing, especially in this paralysed phallic political paradigm. You either have the Right phallic male or you have the Left impotent male, but they’re the same thing. And maybe within that you have some phallic women.

When Judith [Butler] used Lacan’s notion of the phallus as a signifier for thinking drag and queerness in the nineties (the performance of the copy of the copy of the copy shows there is no original), it felt like she had so thoroughly deconstructed gender and the nuclear family we had to be moving on to something else, something more inventive, ethical, and inclusive. Sometimes, I still believe that; that what is happening now is a last hiccup. But I also sometimes feel this is naive, especially when I listen to the ubiquity of the phallic dream of totality and its grip on psychic life. 

— from here

– detail from Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Francis I Receives the Last Breaths of Leonardo da Vinci, 1818

Helping us to breathe, holding our breath, but also taking our breath away: In this long year, have we not surreptitiously faced an entire human history embodied in breathing? We must not forget what the coronavirus—breath, masks, contagion, and death—has stirred into consciousness. The video of George Floyd being suffocated by a police officer went viral and reignited the struggle for civil rights, forcing a reconsideration of the violent history of racism in this country, while the cataclysmic forest fires in Australia before the pandemic and in California during it seem to confirm the climate catastrophes to come. The air will become more and more infected, toxic, while asphyxiating forms of oppression have drawn us into dead space. [This is] not a metaphor

… pranayama in yoga practice […] calms the nervous system, lowers the rate of respiration, miraculously reducing “dead space” in the lungs. Shallow breath is breathing into dead space—

— from (along with illustration) here

Never does the patient seem more ill than when they try to order associations into a logical tale. Classical analysis sees this in terms of a repudiation of sexuality: an attempt to avoid speaking from a place of desire. But why should psychoanalysis reduce everything to sex? If sex only ever achieves partial satisfactions, fragments of pleasure, its pursuit creates our subjectivity and our world.

Disorganisation & Sex argues that the sexuality of psychoanalysis is not a reductive biologism, but an archaic remainder that cannot be colonised, endlessly disorienting meaning in our everyday lives. It is our proximity to this terrain that undoes our most tedious habits, and opens onto something revelatory.

— (seems important at the moment) from here

Just now I misread climate justice as climate juice.

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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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headfucks & shitstorms, writing prompts:

DBC Pierre in Release the Bats:

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

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

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

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

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

[see 16.]

[a quote from Charles Bukowski (here)]

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

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

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

[surprisingly helpful.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

to:

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

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

32. A shitstorm looms. Get writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[recoil, here]

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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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