swweesaience

velvet & vomit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhinehart has to obey the die in The Dice Man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorfman looks at how this literature came to be written.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is wrong with New Zealand place names?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P asked me what I think the Bible is.

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

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

Now, P did not necessarily want to hear that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it true?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What sort of quality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wayne Koestenbaum writes:

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

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

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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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a short series up to christmas


I think of the demands of people

	they fill my dreams and I

cannot satisfy them. Perhaps
 
	they can’t be satisfied. Yet,

woken by birds and the light of day

	that is always sudden, I still

hear talking. Being polite’s been

	overtaken by the demands of

sociability. That’s a fact. So why do I

	find it so hard to get my head

around? I mean, now children are

	to be heard, and not seen, and,

I mean, it’s a fact of growing up that

	we communicate more and more,

but, by saying we, I don’t know what

	I mean. Who, after all, is
 
growing up? If there’s a threshold of

	respect, I can honestly say

I have not crossed it. So the demands

	turn to insults, with the full meaning

the word has of a physical insult, that is
 
	worse than an injury. And like the

victim of injury, even sleeping I have

	a sense of shame and harbour it

when I am woken. And carry it, like a

	small broken heart or a bird,

hidden in my palm, throughout the day.






23 . 12 . 2021

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a short series up to christmas

a small colourful bundle

	arrived yesterday

We must trade offline



first inclination

	to propose it, in this form

Must be kind



“the mystery you would be

	I would unfold, pausing at the mystery

Be careful



“of unfolding, trembling fingers

	following soft bifurcations...

We must move



moments laid bare, a trail

	"unwound wonder wounds"

To a new form of life



of fragmentary insights, like

	garments, or threads

We must change now



teasing or warning? to propose

	to time, unlike anything in

Now each of us recognises



the original bundle,

	here, its skin

In the other the same need



and every moment of its skin

	unwound, veins and neurons

In a nutshell, I want to say a skull,



minute, fractions of Horror

	and Love,

We are bound



a colourful bundle

	arrived yesterday

We must not break down.







21 . 12  . 2021

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sixty-fourth part, called “on movement LXIV,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

on movement

It has become a commonplace, the initially critical claim for the divided subject, invoking Rimbaud, or, better, Pessoa: I am bursting with others. In our agreement we lose sight of the division, and—await the explosion, or sense the slow leak, as the meanings, feelings, dynamisms and intensities leak out of us. Or, otherwise, we are forced into a condition of having to agree. These freedoms are no more and no less than differentials of movement. They are minima. And we should conserve our energies.

What we are called on to accept is the production of a subjection as a complete entity, such that the completion occurs: being is what happened. This is the view of time we have from the state of the surface we have ascribed to its mobility. So, what is the entity? What entity has survey over this concept of time?

Here time is full. It is full forever. Never trickling in from the future. Never flooded by the past. Being full, we get the impression of immobility; or, it presses on us: time is the constantly taut surface of a time under pressure.

Virilio talks of the pressure exerted on time by speed. Everything speeds up, is in competition for time, and so exerts a global pressure. The squeeze is on, for the earth and its resources. He calls this the dromosphere. An atmospheric pressure.

How is the impression static? when the surface is in motion? because we are talking of two distinct systems. It appears one leads to the other, that global mobility leads to stasis. Or is there an error of levels here? since what applies to the individual cannot be said, except in hyperbole, to apply to the globe. That is, my impression of immobility owes nothing to dromospheric pressure. But it is this creation of a globe which is completed in time, in one of them, in the time of the anthropocene.

Knowledge is this accumulation. We may concede it to be incomplete but it is under pressure to be complete. Not the past pressing up against the present, drawing from it a form incommensurable with its antecedents, in Bergson’s phrase, knowledge, complacent or despairing, neither despairs of its form nor, think of science, is not pleased with its results, and think of where these press. They press on the future, giving us the sense of it being an accomplished fact, one that human knowledge is sufficient to, or, inducing in us a false humility, insufficient. Philosophy has come to seem chiefly concerned with our reassurance.

Being is this accumulation, in a terminal time. Catatonia, as we have said, in all the parts that matter: stasis. The static system is not the one arresting movement, or giving us the feeling of arrest in time. It is rather the system coupling in us speed and stasis, at least as they are formed in impression, where we see everything moving too fast and ourselves stuck.

The problem is not to introduce movement into a static system or to arrest time. We want to allow movement from being stuck. We want to be pulled out of time, or the current temporal arrangement, why many turn to the sacred. It is into association with the sacred that we might bring the notion of sacrifice: both cut into temporality: they go outside, go by way of the outside.

The problem is physical not spiritual. It is one of physics, or, physics’ problem that it can’t get outside. It can’t leave its theatre of operations. Laruelle, in proposing a nonphilosophy, has said the same of philosophy; but he then goes about refilling the glass that he has emptied. The mystic knows emptying to be endless, until we have removed the glass.

Having said the problem is physical, then it’s clearly one of bodies. Perhaps too many bodies. As in Aristotle’s injunction to avoid the unnecessary multiplication of characters. Or, is it in an atomisation of performing bodies that we have exploded onto the screen: the necessary articulation of technological advancement, of information technology?

I once thought it was this. I don’t think so anymore. I think it’s this: the inside can fill up. And we are still inside.

We have been concerned with movements of the inside, the movement that is the event of the subject. We’ve said it to consist of minima, a slight gesture, or even a hesitancy, either an active decision or not: an active decision is still a build-up of passive ones, just as the nonstatic system, the system of mobility, can lead to stasis—but in the other direction. That is, it is unidirectional: we might reconsider what kind of freedom lies in this direction: if it belongs to space, it is of external freedom of movement; if it belongs to time, it is of internal freedom, to choose that which happens. So, in a sense, the active leads back to the passive.

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

If you would like to help it come to pass, and show your support for what I’m up to, please sponsor it: become a patron, here.

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

subject matter

At some level, somewhere, everything is moving too fast. Where this is so, what grants us immunity from it? Movement.

Roberto Esposito has developed the political theme of immunity. He finds a relation by contrasting the immunitas and the communitas that unites the two. It is physically there in the words to see.

Esposito does not follow the route of pitting one against the other, of making communitas in the community an exclusionary principle. The exclusion of what is external to that principle does not make it an internal principle forming the community, the political community. The pushing out of foreign matter, foreign subjects, does not form the community in its ontological integrity.

Instead, Esposito has it that the immunitas is in the community. And it is this which makes it one. It is always a little bit of the outside raised to play on the surface of political certainty.

Immunity is then a matter of what Althusser calls interpellation, whereby the individual is interpellated within the ideological state apparatus. This is perhaps a funny way to put it, but isn’t it the case that ideology is made to work by including what is foreign to it? And isn’t this especially true at the level of the state? It would, in fact, be to construct it as apparatus, or what we have also called mechanism, that it does.

As soon as we say everything is moving too fast, we are struck by its inadequacy. More than its inadequacy to actual experience, what strikes us is either that the opposite is true, instead, or that it can be. And this makes for uncertainty: we are uneasy at comparing the surface of the world to the weather. Beautiful day. Ever get the feeling everything’s moving too fast? Well, it’s not!

We are in a stasis comparable to the last stages of a depression, a state of catatonia, where movement has become impossible. Ideology no longer covers over the truth while initiating us into it, as if it were a conspiracy. We are no longer covered by false beliefs of a false, imposed consciousness against the climate. The two directions, extreme as they are, coexist. The reason for this is that as a result of its suppression by the mobility of the surface, political movement has become impossible.

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forty-fourth part, called “subjective powers XLIV,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

subjective powers

The digital surface is socially invested, given the power to produce subjects. The subjects we ought to want to be: that is, according to the narrative. It is a narrative of progress, yet it precedes the subjects of, shall we say, speculation, in a speculative data economy.

Those subjects who we ought to want to be and become are the trading pieces. And therefore, trade in pieces, pieces of a psycho-graphology or psycho-grammatology, like parts of speech, the swapmeet we earlier mentioned, where we don’t feel a thing, feel nothing like the insertion of the psyche, or the psychic body, the human one, into the social story, because these parts, and here the paranoia, are inserted into us. Or, better said, into the psyche. So there has been a previous paring down of it, the body-psyche, or body’s mind, if you like, a breaking down and a building up again, from borrowed parts. This is why changing the narrative is the same business: because it is in the same business.

The paranoia breaks out when we feel a part of us take over the role we had hitherto supposed to be ours. As in drunk-texting, the words escape; and with certain drugs, we notice, senses deranged, that they are serial, the senses, from their being put out of order, out of, that is, the social order. We might just as well say, the narrative order. The essence of tragedy: personally to feel so ordered, by, what we can further call, social destiny or narrative necessity. Of course, it’s a comedy to everybody.

In classic tragedy, madness ensues. And we see this fairly regularly, the patch-up jobs, the motley of the general social roles, see, it is comical! Called in by friends, we assist in changing the narrative, so that you or I can get back up again, face the void.

Why void? Well, isn’t that the feeling? The feeling of starting again, and the fear. Like having nothing inside.

We return to a beginning actor, but in taking back possession of ourselves, normally proceed like the selfish one. We fall back on, often disingenuously, sometimes with real terror, what we know. The strangest thing can occur when we are the donors of our own body-parts. They become the opposite of ghost limbs. We become the ghosts.

It is said to be perfectly normal for our psychic well-being to view the space below the stage, the surface, as already full of the lives we are in fact living. But that is the past. We have reversed the order. It is not as full bodies we step out on to the void; it is as voids we step out on to the fullness of who we were.

What help is it to be considering subjective powers in the nightmare or mania we are living of living as introjected subject matter, part-consumables, grammatical egos? For a start, of the latter we can say we see the attraction, since to be part of digital discourse is reassuring, gratifying even, to think we have symbolic entity; this is what analysis does: as symbols of ourselves we can carry on… but it is only by granting such symbols as being outside us that we can do this.

That is, enter the void: the stage direction given not by the void but to the void. Here it comes now, extending its surface under us, at a point we can choose. It is a point in the now.

What is happening is the choice of the minima we go on with: What does a risking actor do? Joaquin Phoenix for some reason comes to mind, perhaps as an example because we can see the results on the plane of their registration, as compositional elements of the screen. He twitches. Or his grimace is nonsensical, out of place, and that’s how we can tell it’s part of the character. From the smallest gesture, we have said, with Kirkkopelto, a world.

Or it is in an angle of his body we see it flash blade-like. A light comes out of his eyes and illuminates the planes of his face. And it is a compulsion, from an inner compulsion, that he acts so in small bits and pieces, the minima of subjectivities; yet we cannot go so far as to call it inner or inward because pure expression, outside, a part of speech that makes absolutely no sense, but here is the pain in the yelp of a dog, a cur, that signifies a world, a world where such a yelp, scream, can be made. Such a world is not produced, not the product of the scream, but suffuses the surface: is the event we have noted, then the impersonal affect, then… the whole subject in its subjective duration, in its subjective duration so whole: a subjective power we have reserved for the indeterminate duration of the reported on, on, not a surface of registration, but receptive centre, the centre of a hearing of indeterminate duration.

The pruning off of perception, selection, all the way to active election, choosing what happens as it does; undoing it, giving it a power that is internal to a receptive centre, is not the expression that reaches out, of a metaphysical impression, but the expression of a psychic minimum in which the subject subsists, comes about or revolves; the revolution itself, of a past pressing up against the present, producing affects without antecedents: all the surface’s roles. The stage’s. This revolution is the saying, the telling, we need to be hearing, is not the story, the warning, the moral lesson, the past, but pushes, has the means to, against the future. Opens it, a crack.

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thirty-sixth part, called “subjective powers XXXVI,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

subjective powers

We see more clearly what is at stake in a beginning actor. Everything for some. That’s why it can be a good exercise to raise the stakes. And we might leap immediately to the conclusion that this means the stakes for you, or me, personally; the guts we sometimes say it takes guts to show: when we know the visceral does not come from the viscera.

Out on the stage, on the surface, even when they are real, like in the case of Hermann Nitsch, there’s something pitiful about this loose jumble of organs. And something shameful in the sacrifice. Nudity, sexual acts, faked are pathetic, performed have a flattening effect, unless the point of these is this alone: to be what they are, and, being what they are, the effect of the surface. That is, the stakes are rather flattened than raised. Pornography tends to being a pure surface on which nothing moves, and it is often, if not always, the artifice or its exaggeration that we find moving: shame or titillation, it can go either way.

With artifice and exaggeration, we are back home in the theatre. The ‘being what they are’ which looked to be an action, wanted to be an event, ends up being a subject who makes no more claims on us than any other. On a raised board, underlined, so we can see it as it is, or as it ought to be.

In other words, at the extremes there are no breaks. Open your legs, open your fly, your mac, and what are you asking for, really? Sympathy? Same with the spill of our innermost organs, those structuring identity. Those upon which it is said we can make a politics.

The stakes it can be a good exercise to raise are indeed the ones we place in what is personal. And here they can have the value of our identities, of our selves. Of the jumble of things which go to make us up: they have the inflated value our investment has given to them, that inflated is real; and it is not for the sake of a disenchantment, for their deflation to ‘being what they are,’ or for the spectacle of humiliation or a moral lesson, however twisted, like the one parodied, when I am nothing. When he was, as Mervyn Thompson wrote about 1984, an empty husk. But it is to raise the stakes when these are sacrificed.

We raise the stakes in order to show we are mistaken if we think there is on the stage no sacrifice. Because it is the stage itself which comes along and renders what is most personal into subjective effects, impersonal. It renders them as having no consequence: for this is one of the subjective powers we are talking about. That is, the personal is the starting point, not the destination of the exercise. You don’t get your guts back after the show. These are thereafter stage properties.

The type between a beginning actor and a selfish actor might be named the actor who takes risks. A risking actor is one who can raise the stakes, by taking what is personal and turning it to impersonal effect. Thereby losing his possession of it; spontaneously letting go of her investment: because it happens suddenly, in a single movement.

We can start from a story that has personal intensity for you, for example, your life. Play it. Take your time.

Use all the resources you have around you, most of all time. Use the language of theatre, which involves placing yourself imaginatively in the situations that had maximum intensity for you, and, if it involves speech, involves speaking from there, to the people you imagine around you. In the words you would use, and they understand.

… but look: when you place the noose around your neck like that using that imaginary rope it is like you are giving yourself airs… You are on the Western Frontier, not at home at all, and playing at once the hangman who places the noose around your neck and the man who shot Liberty Valance. … and when you tease up your hair like that, as if you would pull it out by the roots, it’s like you’re at the hairdresser, very upset with what you’ve got or with the results.

I don’t need to make these suggestions to you verbally, anyone can see it! …another actor might like to shoot through the rope on which you were so recently hanging. And together ride away, Calamity Jane.

Or, hold the mirror to you. So you can see in fact your pain, your soul sickness, is not being poked fun at. It is being moved somewhere else entirely from where you’d stuck it. Where it had stayed so long mired in your person that you came to suspect it was not only yours but you.

Movement on the surface distinguishes itself from action by giving itself what may be the slimmest excuse to move to something else. To invent something new. Some new outcome. The movement is not then caused by the action. Neither is it causative, in having agency. The movement is from its point of fixity, away from it. An abruption. A subjective event.

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

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thirty-third part, called “subjective powers XXXIII,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

subjective powers

The three subjective powers rely on a surfacing constituting their positivity: only at the surface can they be constituted in their positivity. That is, mobilised. Whether they come from the depths or from the heights, as obedience seems to, on the surface, or at the surface, new passages can form. And this is necessary because working in an institution is sometimes like walking in sticky mud and sometimes like quicksand. You get stuck or you get sucked down, by negation.

The nature of negation is that we hope we can reconcile our differences. So we do something like bringing to the surface our mutual resentments, our contradictory views, even admitting childhood trauma or matters of deep identification, identity politics, into the mix. The problem is these too are institutions: they belong to the subject; then they belong to subjectivity; and then they belong to processes of subjectivation, those producing the subjects through the masks, their masks, of desire and belonging. They never free themselves from either preexisting subjects, a presupposed subjectivity, or a fetishised subject to come.

It is this freeing, that is also a cut, crack or cutting, that is a subjective power. Does it turn the subjective and usually negative contents positive? No. It frees from etiology. From the paths set by habit and recognition (for example, institutionally recognised) as well as from the ganglionic root system, because this trailing apparatus is useless at the surface. It does not make for movement but stasis. It does not permit of extrication without trailing mud everywhere.

Not that the surface is clean! But a beginning actor does not know this. It fears betrayal by signification, of the signifiers said everywhere to be emitted. Leading to the great chains of predetermination and negation.

A beginning actor fears the slightest move might give rise to a meaning. The meaning to a world. The world one to which she is condemned. (Yes, I said ‘it.’ The ‘she’ that followed was not a correction. The ‘slightest move’ which the subject is at this stage is an ‘it’ before being submitted, or condemned, to sexualisation.)

A beginning actor does not know yet that to be on the surface is to have a nonhuman becoming. The selfish actor gets used to it, linking it back to his humanity. And note that the nonhuman becoming is principally a loss of the rest of language, to be left with only this monkey paw that does not link up in any human way. It is the destructuring of a sound made in the air, a word, a gesture or movement.

Such a sound, a word, gesture or movement can just as easily belong to a plant, a scenic device, a sign, an animal or a stone. And still be meaningful. Still? For the stone there is no movement. There is the other kind of movement belonging to the image, its fractalling involution.

And meaning-ful is wrong. In that fractalling involution is a meaning-emptying. In other words, it’s not going to wait around for you or I to interpret it. Is there in all its positivity. Its position. Its attitude and style. …but first get the surface working. How?

It should be clear we are talking of the stage. Static genesis had it being a line underscoring any action, even the smallest, a throat-clearing (or the tube inserted into Marco Antonio’s throat after his laryngectomy in Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio’s Julius Caesar for his funeral oration), so that the action became an impersonal one. And then impersonal affect. And, we said, subject; a subject of this strange sort: its activity now is dynamic. It has dynamic subjective powers. It possesses the dynamism of subjective powers.

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

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thirty-first part, called “the subject XXXI,” of a series of ‘letters’ written to you, the reader, towards a book called, theatre | writing

the subject

That a beginning actor brings to the stage something of which she feels she is about to be dispossessed is why the notion of sacrifice, that runs through Blau’s reports, manifestos and theoretical writing on theatre, still holds true. Where a selfish actor remains intact, identifying the depths of her personal formation, the formative years, coaching, training, and so on, with the void beneath the stage, identifying it as being what supports her, instead of the real nothing, a beginning actor is able to experience the sensation of these being cut from him. As if all that training was for nothing.

It was all for nothing and means nothing: this is the truth of the matter. This is your first day on the job. And what they didn’t teach you at school is what you need to know around here. Otherwise, you won’t survive.

What’s the good of this castration–this obedience to beginning that means going through each time, risking each time, out of necessity, one’s identity? …but haven’t we said it goes further than risk? That there is sacrifice?

What else is about to happen? What else is the audience here for? If there was no sacrifice to the audience would be returned their capacity for judgement. If there were none, as the selfish actor seems to deny there being, or the necessity for there being sacrifice, to her would be returned the self-congratulation. For him would be the applause: and she stands without the smile that is anyway ungracious and holds out her palms, open, in acknowledgement that this is all I am. Like you. Human.

If the guts left on stage at the end of the performance aren’t mine, then why do I feel this emptiness? I want to be among people again. Among my own. In company, engaged in pointless chat, which to the outside looks like the most pointed bitchery.

At the bar, after the show, well it’s like a very personal slanging match. Like the Colony Room. What a relief to be called a cunt! One knows that the vicious, the really vicious attacks will be those couched in the most childish terms.

One understands that if one is really truly upset or truly upsets another there will be silence, then, Pooh. If the most awful thing has happened, the Arts Council has withdrawn its funding, for the last time, a pause, then: That’s a pooh.

Deflation at the most significant events; inflation of the most trivial. And we should note among the trivialities are counted the most personal of issues, her dose of clap, his impotence. Or the age of a new girlfriend: For Christ’s sake, she’s three! … Yes, I know. But she has the body of a four year-old.

Why is it that personal identity, those things we had hitherto considered our most precious memories and shameful secrets, our depths, when the show’s over are subjects for hilarity? Because it is restorative. Not to be laughed at for them, but to be thought to have them still. For it to be acknowledged one is still in possession of those organs of which one had been relieved by the knife of the stage.

We repeat, but what’s the good of it? Isn’t it exactly for there to have been a hearing, to have been given a hearing by an audience? For the accolades, well of course: but these are due the corpses too left for the stagehands to pick up and drag off after the show. And note the theatrical meaning of corpse is to be overtaken onstage by unsuppressable hysteria. The deflationary language for this, one of the worst things that can happen, is getting the giggles.

Isn’t it exactly for the good of the audience, that good which comes from its exercise of judgement? that good Badiou talks about as going on and as necessary in the interval, pointing to a contemporary trend in France to do away with the interval. Making the interval, for him, into a necessity. A necessity for there to be theatre, as if without the interval’s permission to pass judgement there would be little point to it.

Then there’s the good in itself: it is good to have public sacrifice. In however sublimated a form. But in a form so sublimated as the modern stage, is it really sacrifice? For the selfish actor it is not. To think not, and to agree, we are like selfish actors.

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

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