porte-parole

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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E S S E N T I A L _ V I E W I N G : Bo Burnham: Inside, (Netflix) 2021

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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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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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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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on transcendental experience … after Mario Levrero

Mario Levrero begins The Luminous Novel… he is a writer from Uruguay, was. An unnecessary detail, perhaps. Alejandro Zambra, a writer I admire, Chilean, as it happens, or happened, like Bolaño, yet very unlike him, writes about Levrero that we cannot, we readers, we cannot hope to understand that mythical beast, that chimaera, that the literature of Latin America is, without taking in the part Levrero has in it. He says something like that.

And we might for a moment consider the chimaera. Mythical, yes, but also a fish…

…although to call it a fish is to dismiss the inventiveness that’s gone into it. …but also man-made, the chimaera:

…here pictured as a kind of babble of bodies.

Chimaera is mythical, fish and … here made by Kate Clark:

Or, consider the following, in view of literature, from E.V. Day:

The chimaera is also a work of conscious and deliberate construction. Matching chicken and lion, bird and reptilian parts. To put on display, and this is the key word, don’t you think? display.

4222 years ago, the Egyptians weren’t engaging in the earliest known taxidermy for the sake of producing chimaera to display. Embalming and processes of corporeal preservation, of animals, including humans, was conducted not for the living but for the dead on whom these practices were being used. Unless we consider that the exhibition of the dead was not as we understand it but for religious purposes.

Was the intended spectatorship some kind of cosmic audience?

Probably not, because the way out into the cosmos was back in through the world, a world of living deities and cosmic entities present rather than having to be presented, not requiring elaborate rituals, for example, in order to be presented, but already there, in attendance. And these were waiting to see themselves join the throng of the dead.

Their embalming and preservation must have seemed like having to join the queue, for the afterlife. Death.

And now they see themselves sail the stygian waters of the Nile into the omphalos of night. They don’t leave their bodies… no Judgement will have to restore the lucky ones who got the winning ticket to their discarded corpses.

Embalmed, taxidermied, they wait in line, the living gods, and travel over into death beside themselves, beside themselves, if everything has gone well with their preservation, beside themselves in the same way as we might think of an other world being beside this one. An early multiverse.

It is also the Egyptians we tend to thank for our first glimpses of chimaerae. (The word itself is something like a chimaera.) The Sphinx, whose riddle is herself. The bird-headed people, the dog-headed, and the alligator-headed dog.

When does this all change?

Is it at the birthplace of the human individual that Siedentop announces with the advent of early christianity? When, he maintains, before a subsequent crackdown by the institutions of a priestly caste, there were just as easily female communities and communities in which women were considered individuals as they were male… children, individually, born with a relation, a corporeal relation, to the living body of Christ, and, to life everlasting?

So Larry Siedentop maintains in Inventing the Individual: the Origins of Western Liberalism, 2015.

If you bear in you this inner connection, in your living body, this special relation that is special to you, would not the display of the dead pass to individuals to behold? Would you not already have in hand your ticket, to join the queue…?

General exhibition would be a thing institutions might want to have some say over, so restricting entry to an other world, and cutting out the ones not worthy for being somewhat… chimaerical. Raising ticket prices, and so on.

Cutting out animals entirely. Women. Naughty children. Saving them who’ve not had time to sin. Little angels. But all would press against the gates, to see… the exhibition.

Instruction enters. Education, and edification. Now it is on how to live beside yourself, next to your immortal part: the real you. It is no longer the practice of separating to be rejoined in the afterlife.

Until we consider resurrection in the body. Then we have to consider which one the dead part is: and it is clear. It is the body of the animal to which the soul is glued on, by cosmic taxidermy. Well, not really. More by transcendental taxidermy:

the human soul stuck to the body of a corpse… and which the afterthought? For the afterlife, the latter.

…Is resurrection in the body metaphorical? or… virtual?

This would make sense. I mean: it would make sense. The rational part of sense, to which the soul is the best proportion, the perfect ratio. … And freed from the body takes off, like this:

Pause.

What part is the insubstantial again? and what the rendered insubstantial? the de-prioritised?

It’s that old body of the animal again, of which the chimaera is the perfect example: a constructed thing.

A mechanical thing, even, that David Bentley Hart rails against with such seriousness. Seriously. (In a nod to Hart I wanted to say, with such wanton solemnity.)

A book I am reading. Roland is a dog. He talks to the narrator on serious subjects like the dismissal of the transcendental experience (of living beside yourself, body and soul) by the mechanistic world view. The book’s success will be in the measure to which Roland separates himself from the views of Hart, the narrator.

From instruction, edification, tutelary and educative purposes, to … entertainment, would seem to be the path followed by chimaerae into modernity. Entertainment and art, that is. And we ought to think of those lesser souls belonging to lesser bodies, bodies more chimaerical, like those, classically, of women. And of the children who are yet to be edified and educated; and of non-whites, yet to be colonised, indentured, and given a mission.

Too embodied, these ones.

Will Hart allow his dog, Roland, to be one of these?

And what of the bodies of literature, like Latin American literature? The chimaera of …?

I don’t think Zambra really uses the word, chimaera. χίμαιρα is the female form of χίμαρος, meaning, in Ancient Greek, male goat: female goat.

– Jacopo Ligozzi, c.1600

I said female goat… but we do have here the fire-breathing part, and the querulous lion: is this masculinisation concessionary?

We can ask the same of literature, of course, as well as we can whether it is non-concessionary.

Mario Levrero begins his novel… this happens in the first two pages… by relating the sort of psychologism that Hart might reject.

Levrero tells us that he had a transcendental experience, which he told a friend about in the form of an anecdote. Why an anecdote? Because the etymology of anecdote is clear: it means unpublished account (ἀνέκδοτος = ἀν- not + έκδοτος published. έκδοτος derives from έκ- out of or ex– and δίδωμι, which is the first person singular of the verb to give).

Levrero’s friend says he must write it down. It would make a great novel. A great and luminous novel, perhaps, like we have here in our hands.

And Levrero says no. Impossible. Impossible to recapture the transcendental experience, to do it justice, in anything more substantial than an anecdote. End of discussion.

Except that it’s not, it’s not the end. It’s the beginning.

Levrero forgets, and this is the important point: he forgets the friend’s instruction, the friend telling him what he must do; he has, afterall, rejected it. And, anyway, it turns out they are no longer friends.

He forgets it. Levrero says, of course, what he is in fact forgetting is his resistance to his friend’s advice. And from this resistance comes the whole problem. The problem that is The Luminous Novel, in its published form. Because his opposition to the idea inflames it.

He tries again and again to write down the anecdote in which he relates his transcendental experience. And he dismisses each effort, and destroys it. But, the next important point: the urge and urgency to pursue the idea no longer comes from the friend, the friend who is no longer a friend, but from Levrero himself. It comes from inside him.

He attributes to himself, to his inner being or core, or soul, if you like, the demand, the commandment to write … and even tells himself it was own idea. It came from him…

And what is he doing, then, the poor man, torturing himself, when every effort to write down the story of the transcendental experience is in vain?

One thing is for sure, he can’t write his way out, he can’t write himself out of this problem, because he is the problem!

He is the problem and the cause of the problem and he can’t cut himself into two halves, even if they are unequal halves, returning to himself once he has cut himself off from or cut out the criminal part. The corpse, if you like. The animal. He can’t claim transcendence by following the only part that is transcendental.

As I said a psychologism, or a psychological ghost story. And, like Hart’s, a spiritual one.

The friend is ghosted, dead to you, and you tell yourself it is you yourself who told you what you must do because of what you had done.

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matter in the raw, and god or simulationeer must be a monster, capable of near-infinitely sadistic cruelty: Iain M. Banks, the moral argument for their nonexistence, our existence.

You know there is a theory … that all that we experience as reality is just a simulation, a kind of hallucination that has been imposed upon us.

…how can we know that our own reality is the last, the final one? How do we know there is not still a greater reality external to our own into which we might awake?

There are those who hold that, statistically, we must live in a simulation; the chances are too extreme for this not to be true.

If we assume that all we have been told is as real as what we ourselves experience–in other words, that history, with all it torturings, massacres and genocides, is true–then, if it is all somehow under the control of somebody or some thing, must not those running that simulation be monsters? How utterly devoid of decency, pity and compassion would they have to be to allow this to happen, and keep on happening under their explicit control? …

War, famine, disease, genocide. Death, in a million different forms, often painful and protracted for the poor individual wretches involved. What god would so arrange the universe to predispose its creations to experience such suffering, or be the cause of it in others? What master of simulations or arbitrator of a game would set up the initial conditions to the same pitiless effect? God or programmer, the charge would be the same: that of a near-infinitely sadistic cruelty; deliberate, premeditated barbarism on an unspeakably horrific scale.

By this reasoning we must, after all, be at the most base level of reality–or at the most exalted, however one wishes to look at it. Just as reality can blithely exhibit the most absurd coincidences that no credible fiction could convince us of, so only reality–produced, ultimately, by matter in the raw–can be so unthinkingly cruel. Nothing able to think, nothing able to comprehend culpability, justice or morality could encompass such purposefully invoked savagery without representing the absolute definition of evil. It is that unthinkingness that saves us. And condemns us, too, of course; we are as a result our own moral agents, and there is no escape from that responsibility, no appeal to a higher power that might be said to have artificially constrained or directed us.

— Iain M. Banks, Matter, 2009, 338-340

Attila Richard Lukacs, S.H.A.R.P.

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