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day 33

a propitious day to state the sabbatical principle, of one in seven is our rest taken, one day in seven, one year in seven

work is the saddest passion it will never be done

and rest relief on the seventh according to the seven virtues:

good wine

good food

good conversation

good sex

good art

good politics

good religion,

that follows them that is their thought and that accompanies each with thought and that follows rest relief from work

and from the sabbatical principle the good of birds mountains fish and seas, not men, women

and the virtuous things that are without number

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day 29, 30 & 31

I knew that the promise of this crisis, that it didn’t make any; least of all did it promise through the slippages entailed in the political management of the crisis any reevaluation of the principles by which that political management is in government informed.

What is meant here by political management is shutting down economies; what is meant by principles are those on which the business-as-usual of economies is based. Then by reevaluation is meant the power of a political will, of government, to change those principles on which the business-as-usual of economies is based.

At best what we have had over the period of economic shutdown–which can be taken quite literally in the lockdown of the public realm to the private and domestic realm–is a vague period. It has been one of not knowing how it will come out, of not knowing if any political strategy is going to work, and of not knowing, or of having inadequate knowledge, of what is really going on.

On one side we have felt the state flexing its muscles, sometimes behind the vanity screen of voluntary adherence to social rules, and out in the open, the enforcement of an almost arbitrary authoritarianism, then through the complicity of private agents jamming police lines dobbing other citizens in for breaches, Stasi-like. On the other side we have experienced what has felt almost like an over-reaction. Although to say so is to fistpump with the types of people whose opinions Trump mainlines, so we won’t be saying that.

The enigma continues in the prospect of many workplaces becoming filled once more, but by people doing very little; the businesses themselves propped up by subsidy and returning to work workers who will have little work to do. This has been, will have been, another of those embarrassing moments when that light negligee of economic dogma has shifted–showing, unsurprisingly, but nonetheless still shockingly, no body, nobody!, underneath.

Others have been a universal living wage having been coughed out to millions without any government whining about if you don’t work for it, just die, you just die! (As it happened this was what a Russian friend said to a Chinese friend, then both laughed and said: And we both had revolutions!) And if we take into account that the pretext for this coughing up is not say so bad as some global pandemics (but we won’t say that), then has it been too easily sidelined, the economic orthodoxy of neoliberalism? Has it given up without a fight? (The enemy COVID-19 is… evil evil evil, but hardly lifethreatening to the world economy! or globalism!)

But some of the explanation can be found in the price-mechanism of Hayek-inspired (who said so? Mirowski said so!) neoliberal thinking. That is, the machine is supposed to run independently of government actions, government being relegated to irrelevance, otherwise known as governance.

Then what happens? State governments shut down the mechanisms of the market, almost as if they no longer know what they are; almost as if they have forgotten that these levers and stop buttons used to have big signs on them saying use by political prerogative IN EMERGENCY ONLY!

The market is the market’s to shut down!

What to say about the promise–some commentators have evoked the work of Mark Fisher, who talks of the present as haunted by the possible futures which have never come to pass, and now never can. Why haunted? because of the hope, because of the promise … even if it’s simply one of a technological utopia. (I recall undergoing training at primary school in how to deal with all the leisure time I was going to have to endure as an adult, when technological progress was going to have, was supposed to have, coincided with enlightened social policy.) Now the future’s here and it’s hardly what we expected. … But then the future gets here again, with COVID-19, and it’s really not what we expected!

And again it returns, the future, bearing the φάρμακον, the pharmakon, that Greek gift–think Troy as well as Austerity–Derrida so well interprets.

And with the promises of returns to work looming, for me and some young people I know, as if this were the promise, I picked up Kundera’s book Encounter. It reminded me about the role of kitsch in hiding human cruelty.

And in view of the certitudes of work, as opposed to the enigmas we have suffered through, and suffered from, I read: “The existential enigma has disappeared behind political certitude, and certitudes don’t give a damn about enigmas. This is why, despite the wealth of their lived experiences, people emerge from a historic ordeal still just as stupid as they were when they went into it.”

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day 23, 24: we are the destroyers of society

Yes, Je est un autre is become a collective and communal assertion: we are …

Or, if it remain a matter of me it still maintains and expects the collective endorsement of too, it is poised or it poses on the edge of common recognition, which is ours in general, which it assumes to make such good moral sense that you’d be a complete troll idiot not to recognise the righteousness of the numbers–and dissent.

But the sense of moral outrage is endlessly manipulable as Trump shows even when showing his small hands hamfistedly engaged in this sleight or slight.

We might ask, together, and unifying in our common moral outrage for or against, how does it hold up, the trick, when we can see how it is done, and how badly; how do they get away with it?

Should we think of them as the better magicians for it? Or of ourselves as the stupider? Dumb, and so on.

Who is behind the assumption of these positions if not us? Is it the fear of being left out–a real fear–that, by the speed of communication in the age of the interweb, is retrojected to precede the impulse on which each of us acts? Is this what pushes?–the statistical impasse in which not to recognise ourselves (with the other or others) is to deny our identity, to deny that with which we identify?

The big fear expressed by government in New Zealand over its handling of COVID-19 has been that the virus is in the community. Of course this is xenophobic. But we can sacrifice the bad meaning of fear of foreign agents for the good meaning, which is that those agents are not people. They are barely even life as we know it, but parasitical on life, not travellers, so much, not tourists,

but viral, which means foreign and subhuman…

…however: dissent in general does not exist…

except in society.

Society exists to protect us from community. What an outrageous claim!

But how many times have you heard, a number so large it is statistically absolute, I know my community

And: In my community this would never happen

But that it does.

It does with increasing, and statistically verifiable, frequency.

What in our communities would never happen is happening in and to our society all the time. Which is what I would suggest is the virtue of society.

Not virtual society. That’s just dumb. But the reason why our social media empower the limited cognitive bubbles and lowest common denominators (ah, the old language!) of communities. Not societies.

(Media is of course also a misnomer: since what are called social media are privately owned commercial platforms.)

Societies should be set up to deal with an influx of foreigners, viral and other, and not be part of the setup in which social infrastructures, nonvirtual, are stretched to the limit by that kind of dissent from community which is foreign, viral and other.

Didn’t we all always know the end would be an inside job? Like me.

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days 21, 22: or an institution is defined by its freedoms

Now when it comes to community do we not normally consider it to be ours?

When we think of it are we not drawn to think of community as this one in particular of which we are a part, to which we belong?

And then when the association is invoked, of other communities having a claim to our attention, is it not normal to think of them being like ours, composed of men and women, of rainbows and children? That is to say LGBTIQ communities now want to be thought of as communities just like any other, just like ours, because we are them. So it is not facetious to talk about the rainbow community, of community as being inclusive, universal and… possibly absolute?

The communities that suffer suffer through causes external. They do not suffer through any inequality but that it is imposed from some outside cause.

We think of our community and we award it qualities we wish to see replicated in others, or we wish in our communities for those qualities to be replicated we see in others.

And when one says others one means communities of others not other’s: when community comes up it has normally the meaning that it is not other, not other than our own. It is meant to reduce differences. To equalise–opportunities to prosper, the opportunities to live and prosper of all those, all of us, who belong.

Spinoza writes that to any person nothing is more useful than another person. Because if their natures are in agreement together they are twice as powerful; and if they are to find a third whose nature agrees with theirs, thrice as powerful; and a fourth and fifth, and so on, and eventually a whole community as powerful as the sum of the number of members who belong to it. Or is it to the power of the number of members?

Spinoza doesn’t say. But it would make sense that a community’s power to be, which is how Spinoza understands power, as also its power to act is the sum of the differences it includes to the power of the number of individuals belonging to it. The rider would be that of the equalisation of differences, that we can put our differences aside in belonging and caring for community. But our differences still count here. We simply understand them as equivalences. Just as their community is like or is the same as ours, your differences are like or are the same as mine.

I am different in so many ways from you, and my friendship with you is not despite our differences, but sums them up in a greater unity with a greater power to be and act, a greater essence, that is to the power of us two.

So community is not the extension of relations necessary for the perpetuation of a race, people, class or genetic line but extends the advantage of friendship to a larger group of individuals.

So community includes friends as well: it includes the differences friends set aside for the enjoyment of the friendship, which is that of a greater power to be, to exist, as Spinoza says.

Now we understand community also from an evolutionary perspective. We think of it as a survival tactic, increasing our power to survive. We agree we need to unite in our community against a common foe; we agree to agree. And this before any need is our genetic advantage.

Humans form organisations taking in numbers of individuals of both genders impossible for other primates which makes human communities capable of defending themselves against apex predators. Other primate species are not so gifted at this: sexual competition for gene continuation leads to internal competition impossible to reconcile, to the internal predation of males on males. Experiments with chimpanzees in captivity have shown that their communities do not have the human capacity for setting aside the claims of sexual competition. Disagreements over who has a claim over whom have led to the devastation of their communities in human captivity. On the other hand, humans can unite into a single organism. Claims are not neutralised but one’s claim to the preservation of one’s genetic line can be seen to be the equivalent of an other’s; and at the ultimate this equivalence is a right to life, since it serves to the preservation of life.

And it serves to a right to life beyond the individual.

Now by individual, do we not normally mean the one who says I, who can say of herself I am, who can speak of himself in what grammarians call the first person?

Human individuality has a special status. Is it perhaps derived from the human propensity to communal organisation? and the attendant evolutionary advantages?

It is not like the individuality of blade of grass or grain of sand or mountain, river or blue whale. Rather than equivalent, these are interchangeable. One blue whale is worth another, down to the last few. One blade of grass is able to be substituted for another without the first being too much missed–unless it was the first, or most perfect, or ideal blade of grass. But every human individual is the first, most perfect and ideal example of human individuality. It is absolute.

We do not pit individuals against communities. We do not set the differences individuals can claim to absolutise them against the communities which make those differences equivalent in absolutising themselves, communities in fact which amplify those differences to the power of the number of their members; communities which are, like the individuals belonging to them, regardless of their number or their differences, in their absolute-ness absolutely equivalent.

I am like you, I am as they say because you are; we are like (plural) you, we are because (inclusive) we are.

But is to consider oneself an individual to consider one’s qualities as like an other’s? One is an individual inasmuch as one’s qualities are thought to be unique. They have arisen out of internal causes in which we can count our communities. These are our good qualities; our bad qualities however are said to have arisen from external causes–in which we cannot count our communities.

I wrote here of those who cast their problems at society that they do so out of inadequate understanding of their causes. That we can try to understand but that it would be unlikely for us to be given credit, or for us to win their credence, for us to be thanked, or for them to be grateful for our understanding on their behalf.

But this is the presumption which exists in that of the equivalence of our differences, whether differences between communities, or among individuals, where differences are not interchangeable: human individuality seems to be an absolute of a different order than human community. It might seem to have been hasty to have suggested community is or could be absolute.

If it was hasty to suggest human community is absolute, does this also obtain for the evolutionary advantage of forming a community?

What possible evolutionary advantage can be maintained for human individuality?

What stake do we set on it now?

Do we consider it to be an evolutionary liability?

Or is the idea of absolute individuality equally at fault?

Now I wrote at the end of this post that society is defined by the problems attributed to it.

Neither is it impugned by the problems attributed to it, nor, as Thatcher said, does it cease to exist.

We are more likely to attribute the problems we face in our communities to society than we are to attribute to it the problems we face as individuals. They are not one the same.

Problems faced by communities that are cast at society have a general equivalence. They could so easily be faced by our community, by mine or yours.

But problems faced by individuals do not. My problem is not interchangeable with yours.

Individual problems are in this way effaced by community problems.

Your problem is not and you cannot let it be exchanged with an other’s or lumped in with those of a community. With the absolute identity of a community. A community is never a community of others but a community of consent. In this consists its absolutism.

Now society is defined by the problems we have. Not together. We have never been together. Noone should ask us to be together. We should not unite.

To each granted what is common to all; from all excluded what is unique to each.

This law of exclusion is society’s. But it is in a deeper sense community’s law, its rule being there has never been a community of others but that it has been assumed to be the same.

I have been troubled by the convenience of the term biopolitics for the political emergence, emergency, we seem to be living through in the current state of exception, emergency. And what is troubling seems to be tied to a social emergence. But one that is buried. Was in fact buried approximately 35 years ago. Because it was relayed to the infrasocial emergence of communities of difference from the extrasocial politics producing difference. That is it was diverted. Was a diverted social passion, as Lordon calls politics.

Arthur Kroker, from a recent post to <<empyre>> here, seems to have provided a more adequate term in biofascism–on which we can catch the faint scent of community and communicability, and transmission, as being the problem.

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enjoy your resurrection, day 17, into day 18

Once resurrected then what?

And what bits will be and which won’t?

What will society lose? the weakest and most vulnerable?

…or the sense that they are… having lost the sense of their welfare being our responsibility and of our meaning society.

There may never have been any society in general. But it is just as true to say there may never have been any body in general.

Of course there is the external society.

Of course there is the external body.

But neither the body nor society are relations to true externalities–until they include the experience of a society-of-others and a body-as-other.

Just this, or that which Lingis calls in his eponymous work the community of those who have nothing in common, is what is meant by bearing responsibility for the weakest and most vulnerable. And we might say making accountable the strongest and most powerful.

When do we experience the otherness of the body? When we are deprived of the touch of the other. Our own limbs start to feel eerily bereft as if they have lost touch with the sense they made before. Why did I have this hand if not to caress? Was it always meant to tap tap tap at the keyboard, to turn the pages, to work the remote, to slice and dice, to be endlessly scrubbed?

When do we experience the otherness of the body? When part of it is infected. Or afflicted. It is the opposite of a phantom limb. A dead limb. An arm in a cast. A dismembered member. A face, even, swollen and strange, only the eyes recognisable as our own.

When do we experience the otherness of society? When every other person we meet might be the potential carrier of a disease.

When part of it is infected. Or afflicted. …Perhaps even when part of society is afflicted with being weak, or poor, or vulnerable, we experience its otherness.

When we feel power over a part of society we are haunted by the feeling that we are the same as them. We want to deny it. Sometimes we can. Sometimes we cannot.

Levinas writes that this is the response to the address the other makes, the imperative she places on us to respond, and as Lingis takes on this thought, it is the stranger, the diseased one in the street, who reaches out his hand to us… making us responsible. Sometimes we can deny it. We might turn around to make sure we are not being seen turning away. Sometimes we cannot. We are haunted by that sick face… haunted by our own powerlessness to help. But what really were we being called on to do?

All we are being asked to do in order to get through the absence of treatment for COVID-19 is to treat society as infected.

We are not asked to deny those parts of society infected exist.

We are asked to cut them off.

resurrected, what will that do?

Fisher wrote that we are haunted by futures, our futures sometimes imagined glorious, sometimes perfidious, the possibility of which actually occurring is absent.

They are the phantom limbs of our current society, of our current social organisation. And they itch. And we scratch. A literary scratch there. A cinematic one here. Utopian here. Dystopian there.

At least we can take refuge in the thought we were not responsible and are not accountable for the not-coming-to-pass of futures, global, environmental or social.

We can take refuge in the thought we are responsible and accountable only for our individual ones. That we did not put away savings for a son or daughter; that we did not buy health insurance… that our private dream was never realised …

But this presence of those present who are cut off because infected…

can we take refuge in the thought we were forced to

cut them off?

(Thank you Gloria Chan-Sook Kim whose phrase ‘phantom touch’ in a post to the <<empyre>> listserv gave occasion to think these thoughts.)

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what does Rona (thanks M.) tell us about mor(t)ality? days 14, 15, 16

I just read that Hal Willner–genius of collaboration–died of symptoms consistent with C-19 (as M. relates, Rona, in Oz). See this, since we are in one:

And this:

And:

It is also shocking to read that named celebrities are being COVID-ed, coveted, and their deaths converted to the virus’s … dominion. For Rona will have dominion: and this is easy, in the isolation of lockdown, to neglect.

That there are deaths unobserved. Funerals unattended. Obsequies undelivered; or given by digital token attendance; by priests and others holding holy office in bulk to caskets waiting to be interred.

That the dying are dying without human touch. (Alphonso Lingis writes so well on this.) They are dying without contact; that those dear to them cannot come near. They are dying uninstructed in the patter of commonplaces attendant on those dying delivered by the ones who don’t know what to say. Say anything! the parents say. Say anything, we tell ourselves–the contact, the touch of a hand is enough, the brush of a hand against a cheek, or a cheek caressed.

That some of us are living as the others are dying, without a body other than our own to keep us company.

But is it worse for those who cannot be at the bedside? And for the medical staff who stop them, for the nurse who bars the way; and for the doctor who knows his gloved hand, or her medical patter not to be enough. To be in fact insulting, an insult to the life; whose interest now is in passing through this latest trial and not in why or how it is occurring.

It must be worse for the mothers and fathers, for the children, for the brother, sister and the lover of those who are now sequestered awaiting the final prognosis.

And this must be the worst.

And then it is not so bad many are revelling in self-congratulation that their institutions recently made the switch to digital. That books are available through the token of a digital presence.

Courses are provided online. The outsourcing to digital providers is vindicated! The outlay on IT and digital infrastructure is justified!

Just wait for augmented reality and haptic feedback! It will all be suited so well to the next pandemic! think of the apps!

And then, think of the numbers.

But I had had no intention of making these token comments.

My mind had still been on the political where there is no pulse.

I had had an enlightening conversation with my family–but tonight my family have been using the outdoor bath I had been building as I had had in mind the politics–and in that enlightening conversation I had entirely failed to enlighten them and they had had to be dragged kicking and screaming all the way there … and all the way back … for my trouble: well if it was my trouble let me bathe in my own trouble! marinate in that polluted water!

But now… we are neglectful. Even though I had been wanting, waiting and wanting, to say how governments have not wrested powers away from those to whom they gave them–for whatever good reason, because I’m sure the reasons for government must be good.

Governments have not wrested powers, even as these powers are their own, of legislature, back: there is only talk of rules; laws are much harder to come by, especially those limiting the powers of economic and market players.

Disaster economics. The point is not that there will be profiteers in this situation. The point is it will neither be to the political profit of government nor to good reason. And it is not the point that economics can claim the prerogative of running most of the business of being human. The point is governments have not taken back what they gave away and that they will not, even as extreme as, in some cases, even as authoritarian, in some, it has been.

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we must in a world we cannot, days 10, 11 & 12, 13

I have moved some of my comments onto the <<empyre>> listserv this past several days, named a soft_skinned_space by Melinda Rackham its founder, in Melbourne, 2002, now based at Cornell.

I was moved to pass on Levi Bryant’s article “A World is Ending,” and to point to what I had already written into and out of squarewhiteworld.

Bryant wrote a beautiful book on Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, with the best explanation of the three syntheses of time.

“A World is Ending,” rather than a philosophical response, is the response of an academic professorial chair to COVID 19, a chair the pandemic, in its impact on Bryant, had made so spikily uncomfortable, “A World is Ending” talks of a before and an after, much as there was a before and after to history, according to Fukuyama, to which the attacks on New York’s Twin Towers come after.

“A World is Ending” does talk philosophy. Kant’s shadow falls heavily over the whole thing. And it is because of him, his transcendental framework, and Heidegger’s world worlding, that we can get anywhere close to one ending.

The carpentry of the world is coming apart. The unity and continuity on which we can support objects has gone skew-whiff, like a set of shelves, or, the heart of the girl in Lloyd Cole’s song, like crazy paving, upside down and back to front.

And not least the things at the market have taken on some alarming characteristics: each one is morbidly fascinating, as it steps up to threaten us, in its own right addressing itself to us with the demands of its potential toxicity. It has become unfamiliar and alien.

Rather than transcendental it is now in Levinas’s terms transcendent. A world is ending when common things transcend our ability to comprehend them.

This is not to say I don’t love the reading of the super market in fragmentation. But it is the case in exactly a transcendental sense. At least this is what I think Deleuze describes with his failure of time’s third synthesis, the synthesis of the future, which would ground the first two syntheses of time, and orientate the world to the continuity of the future, to it being continuous with past and present, a time making sense of our life’s journeys retroactively–but it can’t, it can’t make this kind of sense, if anything new is to come out of something as big as a world ending, or even for a window to open a crack, letting in a little fresh air.

The super market. The wiping of hands. The wringing of hands. And the breath restricted to recirculation in our masks. Our masks.

An empyre contributor, Gary, came back with this paragraph from Merleau-Ponty, in a letter to Sartre, 1953:

I have in no way renounced writing on politics… What I have decided to do since the Korean War is a very different thing. I have decided to refrain from writing on events as they are unfolding. This has to do with reasons that belonged to that period, and also with reasons that are permanent. … I have suggested a number of times that what the journal [Les Temps Modernes] should be doing is not take hasty positions, but rather propose lengthy studies. … What I had in mind was to act as writers, a type of action that consists in a back and forth between the event and the general line, and which does not simply consist in confronting every event (in imaginary fashion) as though it was decisive, unique and irreparable. This method is much closer to politics than your method of ‘engagement continue’ [continuous engagement] (in the Cartesian sense). Indeed, precisely in that sense, it is more philosophical, because the distance it creates between the event and the judgement one passes on it defuses the trap of the event…

And they are clearly right, Merleau-Ponty and Gary. This advice is something Sartre would never follow.

But I was moved to ask Gary through the door opened by Bryant’s world ending, his chair against the door, whether the notion of politics when applied to today’s conduct of politics by governments might not, like the before and after, and like Fukuyama’s history’s end, be an exaggeration? An emplaced exaggeration, and I would say for that reason a theatrical exaggeration?

(But this is to follow on in a groove I have spared you from, writing in my other writing.)

Time has intervened, synthesised, opened out again, chairs have moved on the decks, deckchairs, dreck has shifted. To one side. And we’re offbalance again.

We watched Funny Games. If you recall, the action ramps up quite rapidly.

It’s eggs. Eggs dropping from whitegloved hands. Sound familiar?

Communications cut off for our hero family unit. George the son. The failure of the pater familias to read the writing on the wall….

It should remind you to retrace, retroactively making sense of, the course of events: Is the significant lapsus the father’s to pick up on the signals the mother is sending?

Is this what launches the entire family unit into tragedy?

Very quickly, in Anouilh’s definition of tragedy, the spring that is wound up tight uncoils. Fate becomes ineluctable. Delivered as if by a clockwork mechanism.

The philosophically inclined will see here the cosmos in its clockwork continuity. Chairs rotating. Musical chairs. Before … the playing of dice with the universe. Indeterminacy. Or uncertainty. Bohr or Heisenberg.

But it should remind us to take care.

Or should it?

This is not Heidegger’s care.

It is the crayfish noticing the water growing warmer.

The mother getting some kind of formal organic inkling that things, that oceans ought not be warming, that this big stainless steel pot of self isolation and social distancing, in which we have let ourselves be immersed, ought not be getting awful hot…

What I had to say on <<empyre>> to Gary, and Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Heidegger, Kant was that there is a representative layer, a gestural level, to this whole boiling water thing going on underneath.

There are signs of it in the apologetic tone struck by our own PM: government departing from the script, economies fragmenting: between the economies of the many and economies of social atomies.

But more than this more than this when is it clear we have to get out … ?

And quite apart from the moralising imperatives of the We must kind, who say, after this We must save the planet… We must…love each other well… We must…act like it’s after and not before, like history has not ever ended before and re-started. We must see finally see neoliberal we-musts for the ideological interpellations they always already were. (Even Trump says this.) We have seen the global economy get stopped. We must acknowledge that… We can make it stop. This endless despoliation of the globe. This endless devastation of the social sphere. This pointless endless pointlessness.

We also watched Paolo Sorrentino’s The New Pope.

It is in every way sublime.

Not the Kantian sublime.

But care, take care, the forces are heating the water, despite themselves, good governments and bad governments, are apologising… lost moral compass… all those moral values we have been asked to call in to Crisis Line… when they are all middle class values.

Can we live in a world, I don’t know if I can, in which politics does not concern itself with the tragedy unfolding, says it cannot, cannot, while all around the critics and the commentators, less the media these days, but, well, that’s sad, another sadness to have to bear, all of them, tell politics what we must do and that we must do it … and that current events have shown we must.

With the blood heating or the blood cooling, the atmosphere, not even the atmosphere, is keeping pace with the global political climate: which is a climate, since 1946, scared of its own possibility, and the failure, and the prevarication, are as nothing compared to … the escalation, the mechanism wound up tight, ready for the spring to release, the water to heat…

Have you heard the screaming of the crayfish?

White gloves.

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Days 1 – 2 LOCKDOWN & NATIONAL EMERGENCY

Did they act in wartime, like, you know, it was just a good idea? Like it was a good idea to stop people congregating by shutting down things like public communication (wifi) services? (Although loose lips sink ships.) Like, it was a good idea just to stay in your bubble? (Although a bubble’s not a blackout.) And when was it a good idea for an entire population to go along with these good ideas?

Was there, has there ever been, a time when we did voluntarily?

Was it a good idea to go along with these good ideas and then find we were submitting to enforced imposition of what we had previously been going along with because it was a good idea?

Michael Joseph Savage, whose picture appeared behind the Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern during her presidential style PM-Office addresses, didn’t quite prepare a peacetime postwar fit for heroes. But his brand of socialism instituted during WWII, soft and Christian-value-inflected as it was, did set the scene for a period of prosperity at least with a bead on egalitarianism (when the word was actually utterable)–doing everything successive political incumbents, after 1984’s Fourth Labour Government, have done their best to undo.

So there was an irony in Savage’s presence behind our PM as she told us about all the things we were being asked to do. A savage irony, in retrospect, after the imposition of Level 4 Eliminate.

Level 4 Eliminate is the point at which we are instructed to stay at home, educational facilities are closed, as are businesses, excepting essential services, at which supplies may be rationed and facilities requisitioned, travel is severely limited, and at which there is a “major reprioritisation of healthcare services.”

The irony is one of omission, since the New Zealand government as agent is omitted.

Government as agent is omitted in instructing people to stay home, in closing schools and businesses, with the exception of essential (to government) services, is omitted as agent acting to ration supplies and requisition facilities, to limit travel, and is omitted as agent directing healthcare services towards its own priorities.

It is a situation compared to wartime but one in which martial law has not been imposed.

Even with the New Zealand government acting like a government, unlike the Australian one, there is no claiming by government of its political prerogative. There is no commitment from government to govern.

What is asked of the population is an accord, an agreement, a contract, and a will to be governed, where government is not imposed.

Where government has not been imposed we have a state of governance in which we are to be the agents of our self isolation. (Its reflexivity may better explain the use of this term than the confusion over whether we are in quarantine or self quarantine before being infected but self isolation upon infection or whether it is the other way around: quarantine, even self quarantine, demands an external agency quarantining or providing the means to; self isolation is DIY, all you need is a home to stay at.)

If it turns out it was not a good idea we, not government did it, in conceding to being governed. And what would the tip-off be?

At what point would we know we had conceded too much to a government that dare not speak its name?

Will it have turned bad when we are asked to go out and catch those who are not doing it properly?

What is going to be today’s or tomorrow’s equivalent of conscientious objection?

At the end of Day 1 and into Day 2 it is an absurd situation.

But it is less absurd than the righteousness of those, and the good humour of those, who are doing it properly, whose righteousness consists in the fact that we are somehow uniting against COVID 19, whose good humour consists in invoking the wartime analogy:

Your grandparents were asked to kill or be killed for your country; you’re being asked to sit on a sofa and stay home. Now, let’s get this right!

I don’t know how we unite in a state of voluntary or enforced social atomisation so extreme we are said to be in ‘bubbles’ of self-isolation.

And what is the connection between these bubbles we are in bodily and those cognitive bubbles we are in digitally, that we are also in voluntarily, in which we are said not to have a single experience that breaks with the continuity of past experience, but to experience the continuous transmission of the same?

What is the connection but that one bubble leads into another (as Peter Sloterdijk has already written, at length)?

Under the ongoing state of exception of a National State of Emergency we seem to have done nothing more than pass through the liquid and diaphanous membrane from one bubble into another. Without there being much difference to note.

In face of a common sense calling on unity against an internal enemy and in the way one good idea leads to another and one bubble leads to another, the recourse to reason outside that of the state, to any reason outside of the state’s, becomes ever slimmer, as do reason’s resources become slighter outside of those to the requisition of which we have conceded. In fact we have recourse to agency not in the way it defers to us or is ours by right but only by reference to the service sectors the state has already auctioned off, those agencies which, although they may be accountable to the state are neither responsible to it nor to us for the supply and provision of their services.

I would like to agree and affirm this period for the good that the private realm withdraws from that public realm in which it can of late be said to have lost all faith.

I would like to agree and affirm this period for the good that the public realm needs to be assessed on the basis of this withdrawal from it and from the fact that we have conceded to it.

What this means is a “major reprioritisation” of the political, of the role of government in the public realm.

It is a global TIME OUT.

To do it properly means to reverse our concession to withdrawal from the public realm at the very time we see it can get by without us as if we were never really part of it.

To do it properly means to claim the political prerogative entailed in our concession, that government fails to claim, entailed in the suspension of all economic activity except for the services essential to public life. At the very time we see a reality that is the political reality, we see money and markets can get by without us.

It is a political reality, not dictated by the commercial reality, of economic activity, as if after all we did for it, after all that work and all that study, we were never really part of it.

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say, fear…

… is underestimated as a political risk. As soon as afraid, for loss of position, simple social advantage, or political status, the most primitive opportunistic intuition sets in–as if the limit condition for responsibility, in individual, social or political dealings, was accident aversion.

Safety culture is then symptomatic of a fearful society. Health is too: whether it is the health of the planet or of the foetus.

Fear does not drive career politicians or political usurpers to seek advantage, status and power. Fear drives them to avoid its loss.

Fear is the more forceful driver for those selfless ones on the left; and not because they have advantage, status or power but because they do not find in advantage, status and power as much meaning, while these are goods in themselves, in principle, for those others on the right. Still, for the ones on the right, fear prevents them from easily relinquishing advantage, status and power at the promptings of democratic process or change in political economy. They hold on: fear has them holding on; while the others on the left are fearful of taking hold.

The goods in themselves those on the left are fearful of losing are those based in the communicative realm, of consensus, or of the show of consensus, democratic principles, middleclass principles of fairplay, equality, and values called qualities to contrast them with the quantities of financial economy. This is the area where the left most needs a Nietzschean critique–an analysis that gets down and pulls up their servility by the roots.

What is called populism procures for the value of popularity a newly elevated status: but at the cost of those who care about it, who may even have gained most from it, becoming fearful for its loss.

What drives compulsive gamblers? It is a strange psychopathology, and a sociopathology when something large like global human ecocide is being gambled on: it is not fear of loss that compels the compulsive gambler. Loss can always be denied.

Loss can always be denied if it is seen to concern the future. A compulsive gambler lives inside the present moment of the gamble being made. This moment can be called mindfulness.

Mindfulness is inversely symptomatic. It diagnoses from within the pathology annulling the future for the present gain to be had from it. Mindfulness is not mindful of fear. It should be.

Fear is more basic than being mindful of what we have to lose. It is more direct and basic than any reflection on our own advantage, status or power. Yet fear is discouraged, except when dealing directly with our own personal welfare. A fear that is mindful of the risk of global human ecocide is discouraged. It is thought that this fear would be paralyzing.

The abjection of safety and health cultures consists in their continued reverence for what is to the advantage of the individual. The abject reality of safety and health cultures is the level of control they exercise over the individual, for the good of the individual.

The fear is not seen that drives people with power, status and advantage. In fact all we see of it is their paralysis.

They are paralyzed in the face of fear even while their faces attain a strange mobility and their actions acquire a character strangely hollowed out by hyperactivity. Their faces turn away, on the inside. They twitch. Their actions run in circles. They follow the same route as the traumatised, covering the same ground with a compulsion to repetition which resembles that of gamblers.

Fear in the case of those in the public media is of the nature of ongoing stagefright. It is visible in CEOs and in local and global leaders. But privately many experience the same stagefright.

Fear is the friend, the best and most reliable friend, to the one in whom it takes the form of the most primitive opportunistic intuition: it enables success through its utter lack of regard for consequences of any kind. It even makes the person in whom it is allowed to govern appear fearless. Fear then lives in an endless now where the one in whom it governs is only scared when he or she is not afraid.

[illustrated with images by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes]

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from David Berman to Wallfacers

In a very abstract frame today, I tried continuing with my writing and realised I would rather be talking to you. Whoever you are … wherever you are …

I have a lot of tabs (1, 2, 3 …) open I’ve been meaning to close once I wrote something about David Berman, David Cloud Berman I read in one of them. It was to be an RIP piece. Beside me I have the notes from when I heard he had suicided. They go like this:

this is coming

I’ll explain how

we’re all going to get through it

and “rebuild” society

Video after the jump

The last is from one of the links.

Then there is the line with the typo: The meaning of the world lies outside thw world. It’s from a Silver Jews album, the song ‘People.’

“Video after the jump” links to Berman’s blog, mentholmountains: arc of a boulder, which doesn’t link anywhere, but has links to writers, Thomas Bernhard, for example, and Robert Walser, and pictures and videos. It is not too dissimilar from squarewhiteworld.

An arrow directs on the kokuyo paper from the line “Video after the jump” to a reference to Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem. It reads:

Become a Wallfacer.

Humanity faces extermination, the extermination of a species of bug, coming from the stars, from the planet Trisolaris. It will take four light years to arrive. Meanwhile every human effort is directed towards defending itself, not the earth, but doing whatever it takes to defend itself.

400 years would seem to be sufficient time to prepare, however, the Trisolarans have sent an expeditionary force ahead to spy on human efforts and to limit them to what can be achieved from a current understanding of the fundamental laws of physics. The technology of Trisolaris far exceeds this limit, since the expeditionary force itself comprises AI supercomputers shrunk down to the size of subatomic particles, protons, quantumcomputers called Sophons. (The word for proton 质子 (zhì zǐ) is the same as the word for Sophon .) The lockdown on scientific research imposed by the Sophons is something that I was writing about in view of the comparable lockdown or limitation on paradigm shift, on fundamental advance, in the sciences–and more generally, in political economy–that is self-imposed in neoliberal institutional systems of governance where the pursuit of science is becoming the performance of science through representative means. (This source, considering the science of Three-Body misses the potential for critical diagnosis Liu’s fiction contains: note it contains info you might want to avoid if you intend to read the novels: it has the strangely phenomenological name, Exposing the structure of how we got our answers: Poetry in Physics.) (The diagnostic criticism implicit in Liu of the Sophonic lockdown as science fiction is explained by Philip Mirowski as the neoliberal fact of Open Science, ironically, at 56’57” in Hell is Truth Seen Too Late.) (I recommend reading Three-Body for its clinical diagnostic potential–and equally I recommend watching Mirowski, even if just for the part about Open Science.)

The Wallfacer project is undertaken by a humanity under threat of annihilation because of the lockdown on science imposed by the Sophons–which is described as being their ability to falsify experimental results from research in fundamental physics (note the Popperian line on falsification). The Trisolarans have a vulnerability: they communicate with each other through thought-reading, thought-hearing, thought-speaking. But they can’t read the thoughts of humans. Neither Sophons nor Trisolarans can see what is going on inside human minds. The notion of lying, of misrepresenting one’s true thoughts, of misrepresentation through speech and language is alien to these aliens–as is the notion therefore of representation. The Wallfacer project is to take advantage of this vulnerability. Wallfacers are selected to help save humanity through indirection and misdirection–through not representing their intentions. Besides the mental freedom to dream up plans and projects the use of which they need neither justify nor defend–in fact the Wallfacer project depends on their doing neither–they have all the world’s resources at their disposal to carry out their plans and projects.

They would be artists, poets, revolutionaries, for not having to answer to anyone for their freedoms, but for the fact that they are so and unquestioningly so resourced. Perhaps this is the link I wanted to make to David Berman: Become a Wallfacer.

The diagnostic import of the Wallfacer project can be seen when placed in relation to the lockdown on science. If, as I tend to think, neoliberal systems of institutional governance entail of the sciences a comparable lockdown–and we can see evidence of this in the shutting down of labs in the ‘hard’ sciences (those without direct application in technology and commercialisable IP) and see it also in the decrease in institutional support for intellectual labour, whether in fundamental theory in the sciences or in philosophy–then the Wallfacer project serves as critique of the view that it is to science, to scientists and to scientific research we must turn to find solutions to the problems facing life, to overcome the threat from earth.

Earth has this vulnerability: it doesn’t know we make it in our own image.

To overcome the threat from the earth, first undo the image we have made of it. The meaning of the world lies outside the world

[R.I.P. David C. Berman, 4 January 1967 – 7 August 2019]

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