textatics

days 144 – 149

Death is not supposed to be part of the American dream, begins Richard Wolffe’s article for the Guardian. [here] Above this is a photo of a banner reading The Lasting Monument to Trump’s Presidency is Being Built One Death At A Time, above a Goyaesque pile of severed heads.

I watched the first NZ Leaders’ Debate of 2020 last night. It’s posted below, with, the YouTube comments say, the commercial breaks intact, but I don’t recommend watching it. It is not something one chooses or wishes others to watch. It is a troubling watch and this is the best that can be said about it.

It is troubling in the sense that political content ought to be troubling. I am writing about it now because I remain troubled by it and Wolffe’s article reminded me why, with its blandly ironic opening line.

Watching it last night–until I reached the point I could see it would go no further and I could watch no further–I saw clearly the attraction of Trump, Trump, the Monument to whose Presidency is Being Built One Death At A Time. I saw it clearly in the coldest harshest light–in the light of the NZ Leaders’ Debate, in the light of the poverty of vision in the Vision Statements of the Leaders (only two: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins) and in the light of it looking like it was edited by a child.

The problem for a politician in the Post-COVID state is we know she knows where the lever is that stops the economy. Yet the vision of both Ardern and Collins went straight to the economy–and to growth. No mention was made of it being slowed or stopped.

Back to America: The New Yorker, Sept. 7 2020, leads with a Comment column by Amy Davidson Sorkin, who writes that the dominant theme of the Republican National Convention in the week previous was control. America is in danger of ceasing to be America. Evidence to support this claim is suppressed. Sorkin cites Kimberly Guilfoyle saying at the Conference, “They are coming for me, because I am fighting for you!” and “cosmopolitan élites … want to control what you see and think and believe so that they can control how you live.” The Wolffe article above puts this down to a strain of individualism endemic to America.

Told the ‘crux’ of QAnon’s “family of conspiracy theories” is that he is “secretly saving the world from [the] satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals” and of course cosmopolitan élites, according to Sorkin, Trump asks, “Is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing?”

Sorkin writes, “A St. Louis couple who pointed firearms at Black Lives Matter marchers were rewarded with a speaking spot at the Convention.” She ends: “fear and suspicion cannot be the means by which this country is controlled”, then adds, “That isn’t how America remains America.”

This is not disturbing. It is not politics. This is the secret meaning–which you have to dig deep into the web to find–of Trump not being a statesman: an animal, perhaps, but not a political animal. He is not a politician. He is not available to the bodysnatchers.

Deleuze writes about something called ‘control society.’ [here] He didn’t have this in mind. He had in mind the autoveillant society of self-scoring on performance and psychic investment in types of scoring, ranking and measuring, in individualist competition–as a form of control belonging to the sort of capitalism we have come to think of as neo- or neuro-liberalism.

Here is a quote from “Postscript on the Societies of Control:”

…the factory was already familiar with the system of bonuses, but the corporation works more deeply to impose a modulation of each salary, in states of perpetual metastability that operate through challenges, contests, and highly comic group sessions. If the most idiotic television game shows are so successful, it’s because they express the corporate situation with great precision. [which we can extend to the US Presidency]

On a banner–another banner–in the background of a photo of Joseph Goebbels, 18 February 1943: something I have not seen before in association with Total War–Totaler Krieg – Kürzester Krieg.

Shortest War.

Totaler Krieg. In his speech, pictured below, courtesy of the commons, Goebbels asked those at the convention–another convention–whether a war was wanted more total and more radical than anything even yet imagined.

totaler und radikaler, als wir ihn uns heute überhaupt erst vorstellen können?

You notice that the spelling of totaler remains the same whether it means more total or just total–the German for a total war is ein totaler Krieg.

What the banner then reads is in English not Total War–Shortest War but The More Total War [is the] Shortest War.

Goebbels had earlier referred to the depraved and perverted threat of Bolsheviks and Jews facing Germany–not unlike the threat of the pedophiles and cannibals (and cosmopolitan élites) facing America.

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J05235 / Schwahn / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5434259

Goebbels–at least as far as the banner speaks for him–therefore goes further than von Clausewitz in announcing not a total war–opposable to a limited war–but a more total war.

If you look at the online entry, you will see that the idea of a total war going beyond the political and diplomatic objectives to be achieved by a limited war–going all the way to ideological conflict and achieving an ideological victory, or victory of the idea–is linked by Brittanica.com to Goebbels’s announcement in his speech of February 18 1943. Except that he didn’t announce or ask the conference whether a total war was wanted and neither did the banner behind him advert to a total war being the shortest.

The question then is what is a more total war than one achieving the victory of an idea?

The other question is, with whom is it to be achieved–so that

ham’ se alle Ja geschrien–

they all cried YES.

…? perhaps it is this list from US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera:

those who fight for you

write for you live for you act for you study for you dance for you

parade for you paint and construct for you carry for you build you

inform you feed you nanny you clean you vacuum for you swipe

the grease off your clothes chef for you serve you teach you carry

carry you rock you to sleep and console you

— from “You Just Don’t Talk About It,” Juan Felipe Herrera, in Every Day We Get More Illegal, 2020.

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days following, 105-143

I just watched Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz. More frightening, I just watched a plane disappear above the clouds.

The advice is insistent on how to deal with COVID. From the Stoics. It is part of the general onslaught, a how to of personal reconciliation that would be worthless were it not for the Romantic and soteriological tradition of personal salvation. (That would be the Romantic tradition of nationalist salvation and the soteriological tradition of personal salvation.) For example, suicide and the idea of a personal death. See Schopenhauer.

The two, nationalist and personal, are combined in the idea of Brexit:

Here is a snapshot of nationalist culture in auto-affectionate self-parody. And here is a portrait of Schopenhauer with his poodle.

painting inside my skull

it might be useful to think of it shaped like a donut.

and be not conformed to this world

— thanks Isaias Braga

“It was bad back then; society was diseased.”

— writes Julianna Baggott, Pure, (London, UK: Headline, 2012), 63.

“[He] imagines that this isn’t real, that, instead, it’s just some elaborate reenactment of destruction, not the actual destruction itself.

“He remembers once being in a museum … Each display was dedicated to a theme: before the impressive prison system was built, before difficult children were properly medicated, when feminism didn’t encourage femininity, when the media were hostile to government instead of working toward a greater good, before people with dangerous ideas were properly identified, back when government had to ask permission to protect its good citizens from the evils of the world and from the evils among us, before the gates had gone up around neighborhoods with buzzer systems and friendly men at gatehouses who knew everyone by name.”

— Ibid., 236.

“My body is the truth. It’s history.”

— Ibid. 413.

Notes, you might say. But don’t you think we are no longer free to float happily with fragments?

No need.

Yet the demand is more imposing than ever personally to reconcile the contradictions, that are quite public, evident in our political lives.

I would say that our political lives impose but that they are equally irreconcilable for being mutually incompatible, a clamping down here with a liberalisation there, liberalisation of cannabis or euthanasia laws with mandatory mask-wearing and the possibility of mass vaccination being mandatory as well.

The rift is not between the public and the private, making one irreconcilable to the other. It is a general crazing of the public to which the private is not equal, is not enough crazy.

There is no point of view given by state mandate but the mad movement of a conflicting polity, so that any attempt personally to reconcile oneself to it can only end in disaster.

Or in the absurdity of believing a conspiracy is behind it.

As we used to say, undercover of human malice or stupidity, the conspiracy of confusion and disinformation serving political ends–but this time, unpoliticisable, irrecuperable to any recognisable political viewpoint, ends set for self-destruct.

And yet, are we happy to be getting on with the craze of fragments?

There seems to be something like an expectation we ought to be able to understand we take on; we should be able to make sense and reconcile for ourselves the competing interests the results of which we can only anathematise.

That is we cannot undo them.

Cannot analyse them.

Slippery as,

So neonatology as well as neontology concern the study of neons.

— at the antilockdown rally aotea sq. 4.9.2020,
courtesy Simon Wilson
(note cap)

One sometimes thinks that for a voyage to the depths of the human soul one needs a powerful submarine, and in the end is surprised to find oneself in a wetsuit trying to sink into a standard household bathtub.

— Andrés Barba, A Luminous Republic, Trans. Lisa Dillman, (New York, NY: Mariner Books, 2020), 11.

…the demands of international treaties trumped by nationalist interests…

…but also the ramifying in the nationalist arena of conflicting global interests…

It is worth restating these are not macro interests, rather a micro fragmenting … and this bespeaks a kind of vulnerability to the broader strokes–hammer blows–of which the Left seems to have become wary.

Given that you are a force of opposition, what do you want?

Calming devices used to be those narrow perspex boxes in which you could see and witness particulate sorting processes. Sometimes with oil.

Then diving you see a skate, a ray, shake off the sand in which it is camouflaged, and the sand settle.

…it settles without you doing a thing.

This is what you are watching slowly coming down–the pretence is that it happens quickly.

The pretence is that it can–that it can operate by some human, humanly imposed scale of time, of time reduced to the technologically available advanced scale of minute increments speeding past, speeding into the past under what Virilio calls dromological pressure. Speeding into the future. This is what you get speeding into the future.

This is what you get, I have been writing in my other writing: it is not speed except that it is communicable and the speed is of the communication. Which makes a joke of communication.

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days 88 – 105: including the comeback of lockdown, ackl; or, papa goff gets a payoff

what kind of report to make, not a record of the days, and this music playing, with its dark intimations, which make you yearn for WAP feat. Megan Thee Stallion and its easy innuendos of something beyond both sex and death. For so it must be.

It must be further out than the body’s passions and further in than the deep well.

Perhaps it belongs to the totalitarianism of data Refik Anadol visualises:

— thanks K!

just as perhaps it is in the ludicology of fluxus, so imagine us saying, who that woman was is not important, but art is alive. I mean let’s keep names out of this.

As I was saying…

Wrong Link

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there are no boundaries in art … or it is the very boundary that is its sustaining cheesewire g-string

a light, fluent surface.

— from here is M. John Harrison talking about a story in his own collection, Settling the World, that taught him how to …

and on this surface, say the philosophical surface or its equivalent in one of Leonard Cohen’s songs, there are mining operations.

These are as energy intensive, writes Bloomberg, or have been, as in 2018 to require 140 TWh of electricity, “rivaling the entire annual electricity consumption of Argentina.”

In 2017, the cost of mining a single bitcoin varied between $11,000 and $26,000–says Investopedia.

What’s more is that the majority of mining takes place in China, and, Business Insider writes, “tightening government security is pushing miners to relocate to places like Kazakhstan and Venezuela.”

These places are Politically Unstable–as my source for these figures presents it:

Hive’s Vision, by contrast, is to build a better digital currency mining infrastructure–go deep in the well–using green power for the blockchain.

Hive is building their “rigs in stable jurisdictions to prolific industrial scales–making them some the world’s largest and most energy-efficient datacenters.” [sic.]

the ascent of Hive

Lockdown

on the edges of a storm. Out the window deep grey tones broken by a white edge of ermine. Fading light but it has been circling all day. The heat and humidity amplified by curtains on each side thick and dark walls of dark water. Solid walls black like black mould creeping up a wall. Like being in an old fridge, hotter for having been an appliance to keep things cold and insulated, its heat exchange broken anyway. Not plugged in beside the road.

We are insulated in the sick insulation of what was once a natural product but is now synthetic, a thready material that is barbed. Not so bad as Pink Batts which is made of glass fibre and gets in our lungs, blows free from the cracks in rooftiles, or under eaves, cracks in never well put together New Zealand homes, gets in our eyes. I remember reading about such glass fibre insulation being recorded as present in the Yosemites. This now spills out globally from the world’s broken fridge. A zoonotic thread made of stripes and bars of genomic fibre.

It’s hot in here, even here, on these evening islands. Windblown by virus fibres.

Perhaps it is pollen.

Like sickly orchids in a hothouse we are being pollinated.

Ah, on another tangent or asymptote it is so refreshing to read Ulrik Ekman’s questions that are network critical but that feed in to the other writing I am engaged in in parallel, the reason for my absence here over stretches–but then I’m never sure there are readers for this here.

Mark Blyth is another voice important to listen to–thanks D.–for his curmudgeonly critical pugnacity on economic matters. He explains what it is the market values, and, as byblow, why it might be whole countries and cities can be shut down–from an economic point of view. Why has the world, the muchbruited and feted globalised world of the global marketplace, not simply sat down and given up and … frozen to death or burnt to a crisp … given the shuttings-down governments have now figured out they can do?

It is that the market values assets and capital liquidity and secondary financial products. The general economic market values nonexistent stuff.

This is why existence can get on very well without it.

Let it.

That’s all we ask.

Finally, the pornography of the human condition we didn’t know we needed:


Not finally. How can there ever be any finality ever again?

the palms of the Bush dynasty reaching out to the Trump.

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day 74 – day 87 of the world winding up business

“When times are hard, like they are now, what’s the use of knowing stuff?”

— the end of Cixin Liu’s Of Ants and Dinosaurs (Trans. Elizabeth Hanlon, (London, UK: Head of Zeus, 2020), 248).

OPERATION LEGEND: “a sustained, systematic and coordinated law enforcement initiative across all federal law enforcement agencies working in conjunction with state and local law enforcement officials to fight the sudden surge of violent crime.”

MEETS

Wall of Moms

Portland

…although involuntary hospitalisation and treatment is deemed to violate an individual’s civil rights in the US, running for president would seem to meet the conditions of posing a danger either to themselves or others in order to be held for evaluation…

“Police said they have recovered 420 bodies from streets, vehicles and homes in [Bolivia’s] capital of La Paz, and in [its] biggest city, Santa Cruz, in the span of five days. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of them are believed to have had the virus.” — from here.

…winding up business:

For those who might have thought a drug to treat COVID-19 might have a value beyond measure, no. That its value is capable of measure is a measure of its value.

COVID-19 presents–and is presented by the Guardian article breaking news of the breakthrough–an unprecedented (the article says there ought to be a stronger word) opportunity … to make money.

This is not turning others suffering into profit, profiting off others’ suffering, as the soul is said to off the body, as the body is said to turn the soul’s suffering to its own profit, but a profitable speculation on turning the suffering of others around, profiting off the prospect of the positive outcome of their future health.

You can read it for yourself and make sense of what kind of breakthrough is being celebrated here.

Have you been wondering about representation? American critics have been pointing out the debt–suppressed–still owing–20th century dance in the West owes to Africa, and in America, black dancers.

This is not any kind of reciprocation, payment or token but look at Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring being prepared for a tour that with COVID-19 didn’t happen:

Evening. I have been reading about von Zemlinsky in a poem by John Ash. The first part dwells on or in this word evening in English, German and Turkish. Ash has adopted Istanbul as his home city. I wonder how he feels about the Hagia Sophia, about Erdoğan leading the first prayers–at least in the front row of bent over figures, for the camera op–since it has become a mosque and is no longer a museum. Did I imagine him wearing a mask? Erdoğan that is.

What does it mean for the Hagia Sophia to become a mosque? has it reverted to being a mosque? is this a reversion or is this progress? and if progress to what far horizon are we bound? and we might even ask so literally.

I have been following Tim Mackintosh-Smith in the footsteps of Ibn Battuta. He stops in Turkey, second leg of the journey, in three episodes [1, 2, 3]. The Hagia Sophia is a place when our documentarian visits that epitomises the interpenetration of Christianity and Islam in its architecture–high above the heads of those bowed in prayer now, are images, not so much graven as mosaic, Christian icons.

Strange to have seen that the Hagia Sophia twice in very different circumstances so recently.

Von Zemlinsky is yet to reappear. Or perhaps he has pre-appeared.

Besotted with the Alma who wed Mahler and on Mahler’s death married Gropius, of Bauhaus–of the building, incidentally we used regularly to visit of an evening in Berlin, evenings spent following the Wall in its nearby span through our neighbourhood of Kreuzberg–he, von Zemlinsky, held himself to be so ugly he could not bear the sight of himself. A dwarf. And writes Ash, how many of these giants of the Western musical canon were short: Berg towered over most of them. Stravinsky. Mahler himself. Schönberg. Von Zemlinsky, the dwarf.

Where would he have pre-appeared but in the poetry of Bolaño? where there’s always a dwarf, and a hunchback, like he inhabits a Tom Waits song.

There exist slow-acting déjà vu. Perhaps I am yet to hear von Zemlinsky’s 4th Quartet, to have tears–what does Ash say?–dashing from my eyes? Unless I … and haven’t we all imagined we would sooner or later meet this criterion … have not the heart, not the sensitivity, cannot feel, do not understand the musical language, have lost the sense of its symbolic relatability? have been rendered with the rest of these generations who are now living deaf to it? We might not be falling into hyperbole to ask whether this is not a deafness or an intellectual dwarfism, a dullness that afflicts the whole of our civilization. And what would it mean if it did?

My friend–long distance–by email–but I hope she does not mind that I name her as a friend–Aliette Guibert-Certhoux liked to say we have lost in the West a common symbolic frame of reference–we have lost the Symbolic. She includes among her own friends Guy Debord and Baudrillard.

She wrote very movingly on the death of Baudrillard he was a favourite of the nurses, the old … I was about to write roué, and, as I am lacking acute accents within easy reach, I looked up the word. We know that a roue is a wheel. What roué refers to is the wheel which would be the punishment for a debauchee, for all those litanised by the #metoos: he would be broken on a wheel.

Does this make any sense?

The wheel. The Wall of Moms. The #metoos.

I was surprised that an Australian feminist thinker could not countenance–that means face–the late Irigaray. She would only consider the early Irigaray. Not the Irigaray of the evening who wrote so strongly it is perhaps only a true understanding of sexual difference that will, that can, save us.

And Oscar Wilde? will it also save Wilde? … He enters the poem of Ash, by way of “The Birthday of the Infanta.” And this pre-appearance is so striking I have to quote what it turns up, noting first that it handles of a dwarf hunchback:

“The Dwarf mistakenly believes that the Infanta must love him, and tries to find her, passing through a garden where the flowers, sundial, and fish ridicule him, but birds and lizards do not. He finds his way inside the palace, and searches through rooms hoping to find the Infanta, but finding them all devoid of life.

“Eventually, he stumbles upon a grotesque monster that mimics his every move in one of the rooms. When the realisation comes that it was his own reflection, he knows then that the Infanta did not love him, but was laughing out of mockery, and he falls to the floor, kicking and screaming. The Infanta and the other children chance upon him and, imagining it to be another act, laugh and applaud while his flailing grows more and more weak before he stops moving altogether. When the Infanta demands more entertainment, a servant tries to rouse him, only to discover that he has died of a broken heart. Telling this to the Infanta, she speaks the last line of the story ‘For the future, let those who come to play with me have no hearts.'”

You see? It is as we feared.

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days 62-73 showing 60% at 17:17

There is nothing “most beautiful and most wonderful” about the coronavirus, to return to Darwin’s words, but it, too, is a thing of nature. We cannot wish away our connection to it.

— from LA Review of Books

We cannot wish away our connection to COVID-19. Darwin, Karl Kusserow writes, doesn’t allow us to forget the connectedness of all life and to wish away the parts we don’t like. Not that we have a right to life equal to or comparable with the virus, any virus; not that it can be claimed the virus, that viral life, because alive, mutating, reproducing, like us, is alive in the same way as us. This is not connectedness–and is as far from connectivity mediated in communication as we can go. Still our connnectedness constitutes us together. We are as connected conditions. For different forms of life.

We don’t simply depend on the same or a comparable structure of particles in aggregate. We depend as much as the virus on life being possible, on the conditions being available. They are to us and they are for the virus.

We don’t need to understand COVID-19 in its clever opportunism or admire its survival strategies. How like a body, how like a gene of our bodies, it is selfish, as Dawkins wrote, and how its wants are not so dissimilar from ours.

But the virus, this one, and the next zoonotic species-leaper, are connected to us and the climate we have and continue to disrupt, parts of the same planet we are spoiling. And this is Kusserow’s point. That image of “magnificent desolation”–the earth floating in darkness. The darkness on the face of the deep. Swirly blue marble–a kid’s thing. The darkness undivided and too deep ever to be divided.

So what did God actually do? to make such a strange bedfellow for hermself as Creation, and such a strange one for us as our virus, the one we are connected to; the one whose claim is that of a gene, a viral gene, like ours.

My note here read: what if connection in community were more like this?

How develop communities when we are in community with the agents of our destruction?

It is for the sake of everyone in the world that the slave asserts himself when he comes to the conclusion that a command has infringed on something which does not belong to him alone, but which is the common ground where all men–even the man who insults and oppresses him–have a natural community.

— Camus

the big nudes

if we can delay one day

On the virtues and aporia of economics:

In the meantime, the reduction of a society and culture to dependence on mathematical abstraction has infantalised a grown-up civilization and is well on the way to destroying it. Civilizations self-destruct anyway, but it is reasonable to ask whether they have done so before with such enthusiasm, in obedience to such an acutely absurd superstition, while claiming with such insistence that they were beyond being seduced by the irrational promises of religion. Every civilization has had its irrational but reassuring myth. Previous civilizations have used their culture to sing about it and tell stories about it. Ours has used its mathematics to prove it.

Yet, when this relatively short-lived market-society is gone, we will miss its essential simplicity, its price mechanism, its self-stabilising properties, its impersonal exchange, the comforts it delivers to many and the freedoms it underwrites. Its failure will be destructive.

— David Fleming, Surviving the Future: Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy, Ed. Shaun Chamberlin, 2016, from the epilogue.

Roberto Bolaño warns of the dangers of picking up and reading Osvaldo Lamborghini with bare eyes. He also attributes to Lamborghini a third but secret strain running through contemporary Argentinean literature, from the writer Bolaño calls his literary executor, César Aira.

Lamborghini, writes Aira , “insisted that all of the great novels were run through with a slight melody, a little jingle.” He has earlier remarked on Lamborghini’s fascination for a single line in Dickens’s David Copperfield which makes the rest of this work redundant.

David accompanies his maid Peggotty to feed the chickens. She throws the grain and the hens peck. “But the boy is looking at the freckled arms of the woman and he marvels that they don’t prefer to peck there.”

Aira writes, “That passage enchanted him.”

Aira, who, Bolaño writes, takes up the secret third strain running through Argentinian literature commencing with Lamborghini, invokes Leibniz to explain this monadic aspect of Lamborghini’s writing, of expressing the whole universe in microcosm.

He writes, “I remember, incidentally, Osvaldo had a method for writing when, for some reason, “he couldn’t write”: it consisted of writing one small, unremarkable phrase, and then another, and then another, until he had filled a number of pages. Some of his best texts (like “La mañana”) are written that way; and it is conceivable that everything may have been written that way.”

Bolaño has several times saved my life. Reading his Unknown University led to this work: a kind of record.

I had just finished my PhD. I thought I was doing what I should be doing. In the academy, but not of the academy, since also engaged in artistic research, I thought I had proven myself. Both as a teacher–I taught through the years I was working on my doctorate–and as a scholar-practitioner. But…

And just the other day I picked up his essays, Between Parentheses. His work returns me to the fact of the value of literature. Of course it’s religious but not ass-kissing. And sometimes Kundera will do, with his emphasis on humour and the irony the regime can’t stand. And with his reminder of how easily we sink into moralising, moralising by proxy, decreeing on behalf of … Phoebe Bridgers’s screaming has just now interrupted my thought

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days 31-39

My copy of Alejandro Zambra’s Not to Read in its white card cover blue inside embossed with the logo of Fitzcarraldo Press, having taken as long as it does to push a ferryboat over a mountain, has arrived. The day of our return from Rotorua.

Its translator says about writing: “We write to multiply ourselves.”

Its writer, on the other hand, Alejandro Zambra, in another, a beautiful book written about being a secondary character, against the notion the author is (ever? always?) a primary character, Ways of Going Home, says about writing:

“To read is to cover one’s face …

“To read is to cover one’s face. And to write is to show it.”

Faces might be understood in the fullest sense Levinas then his translator, Lingis, gives: an absolute imperative to which we respond because we must, for which we are responsible.

Faces call on us to respond. With all sorts of ruses, cupidity, nudity–eyes rolling in viscosity, entirely as exposed as uncovered genitalia; entirely as penetrating as the genital (and other, neuroliberal, for example) penetralia.

J. went running in Rotorua. A good place I have discovered is a place where water comes out of the ground hot.

In this period following the COVID-19 call not to let aerosol spit loose, not to be promiscuous in our gazes or exchanges, face to face, she found the ones she encountered while running on the path through the redwoods would set their faces and not meet her eye. She remembered, as I do, as we do, the New Zealand of threat: and she speculated that we still do not meet each others’ eyes because we might want to beat each other up.

Well, this is true. You don’t meet my eye on the street if you think you are being confronted with the threat of violence.

Whatchoo lookin at?

or, then you answer, and:

Come ere n say that!

In this NZ, reading a book is not hiding or saving face, it is exposing it to:

fuckin poof!

Reading? clearly an elitist white colonial pastime.

(It’s always intriguing to know what translates poof to the female equivalent. Lezzie it ain’t. Doesn’t contain the requisite threat of violence.

(fuckin bitch! perhaps. But this is more likely to be preceded by a short interchange in which presumptions to intellectualism are invoked and questioned.

(fucking bitch! Think you’re smart! & so on.)

J. had been worrying, running on, worried, about the averted gazes and looks of the women she passed. Turned a corner, then, at the beginning of a track leading uphill she had intended to take at a walk, she saw a group of patch-wearing men. And she decided to take the uphill track at a run.

But what were they doing there amongst these giant trees? They were of course walking. Not on bikes. They were walking in the trees.

And how can anyone amongst the redwoods not be affected by them?

Lingis writes of the sequoia in the way that they face us with an imperative too. We take it on ourselves to breath in to our cores and to pull ourselves up from the depths of ourselves upright. We learn not rigidity but the reaching up of our uprightness from them. We stand straighter and breathe deeper from them. And we discern in them the deepness of life into which they plunge and from which they soar upwards. Their solidity. Not their stolidity. Their airiness, their breath and rootedness. Not their territorial uprootedness. Not the threat they experience of that territorial rootedness being challenged.

So there are challenges to the colonial experience of Maori here. The redwood is an import. The plantation of redwoods here at the edge of Kaingaroa forestry is a colonial imposition on the landscape.

Driving through this landscape, from Auckland to Matamata to Tirau to Rotorua the “home of Maoridom” as a sign by the Blue and Green Lakes put it, how can anyone escape from the sense of a colonial imposition that has razed the forests, impregnated the land with foreign grasses, and, in autumn, with trees which colourfully lose their leaves? Land for which the use is farming and the economic advancement of populations in a global marketplace for primary produce?

Striking vacant land, you ask, seeing no meat or milk producing occupancy of animals, you ask, What’s the use?

Then these gangmembers in the redwoods, as J. said, aren’t they enjoying the trees? Isn’t this good for them and for us?

I didn’t need to think too long about this theme we, because we grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, have often revisited–of the threat of violence every look may contain–to say:

But it is their exposure that is in these eyes. They feel exposed.

And probably more now since COVID-19. They are exposed to a threat of invisible violence. They are also socially exposed: someone may be judging them as to how well they follow the rules, social-distancing, self-isolating, uniting against the virus.

We feel and have felt so vulnerable in this country, that we do or do not choose to expose ourselves.

That we hide as if from the threat of violence. But strangely the cultural order tends to be maintained that we do not expose ourselves in writing or film-making or dancing or theatre-making or composing music or poetry and do not write books to expose ourselves and do not appreciate those who do. As if we ourselves were being exposed.

Then, by the same wariness of local censure and fear of the threat of violence, we still now look to cultural production–to even the production which is that of our own culture–to put us on the world stage, to take us to a global audience, which exposure we will not experience as our own, personal exposure but claim as national pride.

So we are proud of ‘Jacinda’ and of our efforts in the world and we look to the ways in which we may capitalise on our success in fighting COVID-19–and we find culturally we are succeeding, inviting Avatar here, getting Benee airplay, without the least exposure of the facts.

And isn’t it good to be exposed in this way?

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days 23 – 30: the week since

Talk–always hard to know how cheap–how dear–usually, Oh

Dear

–there is talk of the coming recession–“like none in our lifetime” (whose? a strange shared lifetime?)–and of the autocracies evolving from draconian measures adopted under exceptional and unprecedented circumstances.

I don’t think this is the danger.

It is at once sillier. And finds its niche (whose? a strange shared niche?) in the devolution of public powers.

The danger is not an evolution but a kind of by-kill or by-product or friendly fire effect from states of emergency having been declared and prompting more or less sensible public policy-making.

The danger is localised autocracies.

Devolved ones.

Not centralised ones.

Maybe even networked ones.

After all, is Trump really the danger?

The fact that he has the Button in his manbag, as Stewart Lee writes, that a sociopathic narcissist can unleash worldwide atomic conflagration on a Twit-whim, a Twhim, a Twheem, spells trouble. But it’s the kind of trouble we know how to get ourselves out of because we’ve got ourselves into it before. Or, rather, because we have, out of familiarity, a kind of habit of stupidity–out of the bad habit of being human–, we don’t. We sit and watch spectacular stupidity engulf the world like an atomic conflagration we are a hair’s breadth from.

The political danger if we really want to talk–and face the bill of talk–about autocracy is that the government at the local level, that councils arrogate to themselves powers they have not known before.

Our own mayor in Auckland earns a lot. But Stephen Town earns just under $700,000. Along with 7 other staff of Auckland Council who earn over the Prime Minister’s $471,000 (B.C. – before COVID-19); while 48 Council employees earn more than Mayor Phil Goff’s $296,000–it is alleged here.

These guys–six of the 7 earning close to what Stephen Town does are men–are clearly oligarchs already. (Same source.)

The annual rate of pay above which Auckland Council staff have been asked to take pay cuts voluntarily is $100,000. It has neither yet been advised who has volunteered–although we know the Rt. Hon. Ardern has–nor by what amount to have their pay docked. And who can doubt that it will be on the front pages of our popular presses and bruited widely on Council websites and through the Social Media Council employs staff to manage?

Some social services are being asked to take contact tracing data from the public which uses them. They are being asked by the Ministry of Health of New Zealand to ask of their users, members, patrons (but never customers) contact information. This information the Ministry undertakes to destroy within 60 days. However, responsible for the forms staff fill out to supply this data is Council … and herein again a wheel turning … without the gears necessarily meshing … because the ones responsible for putting together the forms to extract the data from the users, members, patrons, civilian population are not the ones who are responsible to that population. What are then the responsible ones being paid to take responsibility for?

What does Stephen Town and other CEOs in the staff oligarchy actually do? I see him smiling a lot. And I saw a funny picture with some grinning partner to his device in the foreground that made it look like he is a dwarf. Which is not in itself funny. But under the circumstances is.

The forms gathering data being made out by its service providers for Council include a privacy policy that is Council’s. The usual we can as we see fit … The problem arises that the we is not the Ministry of Health of central government but that of local government.

Is central government the third party to local government? as per the privacy policy’s sharing with third parties in the provision of Council services?

But this logic of devolution of responsibility goes further: paradigm shifts in budget spending are not in and on principle transferred from central to local government.

If the Council wants austerity to reign–and cover its deficit–and keep on paying its staff-oligarchy it will have it.

If this is not the paradigm of the NZ Treasury … the reality is the autocratic possibility of local government devolved through the services it pays the money to, the money that doesn’t reach the people or the city.

Of course from a business perspective the high salaries of Council CEOs are justified. It’s just it is no longer the paradigm of the Ardern government to conduct this kind of salary pissing contest.

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day 50, 51

but who’s counting?

The return to work. The return to normality.

Well, let’s not. It is as we have known for some time.

Franco “Bifo” Berardi writes, is worth quoting at length, because so good:

…we will never be able to return to normality ever again. Normality is what made the planetary organism so fragile and paved the way for the pandemic, to begin with.

Even before the pandemic exploded, the word “extinction” had begun to appear on the century horizon. Even before the pandemic, the year 2019 had shown an impressive crescendo of environmental and social collapses that culminated in November with New Delhi’s unbreathable nightmare and Australia’s terrifying fires.

The millions of kids who marched through the streets in many cities on March 15th, 2019 demanding to stop the death machine, have now reached the core and the climate change dynamics have been for the first time interrupted.

If we simply pretend to return to “normal” we might have to face violence, totalitarianism, massacres, and the extinction of the human race before the end of the century.

Normality must not return.

We won’t have to ask ourselves what is good for the stock market, or for the economy of debt and profit. Finance has gone to hell, we don’t want to hear about it anymore. We will have to ask ourselves what is really useful. The word “useful” must be the alpha and omega of production, technology and activity.

I realize that I am saying things bigger than myself, but we must prepare ourselves to face huge choices. When the story ends, if you want to be ready you need to start thinking about what’s useful, and how you can produce it without destroying the environment and the human body.

from here

This is perhaps the reason I am still counting the days.

Bifo ends with the question he says is the question the revolution must begin with: who decides what happens next?

If we let the powers that be, if we let be the powers that be, we are letting the political managers continue in the delusion they are taking temporary control–let us stress this: if we let the powers that be be, they, governments, will continue in the delusion their takeover of the controls governing economies from nation to nation across the globe to be a temporary one, pending the return to force, the resumption of normal mechanisms for economic governance and management.

We know these normal mechanisms to be markets and their governors, monopoly producers and financial institutions and ratings agencies (that is those rating economic performance for entire countries). (And by producers we should understand also those in the business of harvesting data, our data.)

Can we afford for governments to step back from economic control? Or ought we not be saying this is what governments ought to be doing?

And the proof they ought to be is that they can.

How extraordinary that governments have become the alternative to capitalism. But then who could really accept that capitalism and democracy are compatible, or able to be said in the same breath or phrase: Capitalist Democracy is like saying Cainist Abelism, or Abelist Cainism.

So the revolution is the renationalisation of national economies?

Normality must not return.

Instead of returning to work tomorrow, I am waiting for the results of my first COVID-19 test. I took the test yesterday.

I took the test because I went to a day of preparation for the public performance of my official role, as a representative of a social (civic) service, with a catch in my throat. Not a metaphorical one. Although the metaphor is appropriate.

And upon asking whether I ought to be amongst my colleagues, with respiratory symptoms–albeit of the lowest order, the matter was put to their vote.

I left in great uncertainty. Which the test entirely rid me of.

Even if I test negative, under NZ’s current status of a Level 2 Alert, those with respiratory symptoms should stay home.

It is extraordinary for governments to provide an alternative that is less devastating to humanity or the earth and its forms of life than free market capitalism simply by taking over the controls of national economies.

It is equally extraordinary at a much reduced scale that even a social (civic) service, such as my employer, should pursue the uncertainty which would allow it to return to business as usual.

The uncertainty now, 50, 51 days in from the announcement of lockdown in NZ, pertains to the difference between following the rules, which are social, voluntary, soft, and abiding by the law, set by the legislature–under a state of emergency as it would be under normality–that is the principle of democratic government: that is the principle that a democracy makes, imposes and imposes as enforceable, its own laws.

So I have misled you but not entirely.

I have misled you on the order of the instructional manuals masquerading as information, which come in powerpoint format, in facile slides with tasteless ornaments, sad graphic interventions, off the shelf.

(I remember in the 1980s the word for what was cheap or a bargain in the BDR–a country which like the DDR no longer exists–was democratisch. What was cheap, even if nasty, was called democratic.)

I have misled you because their voice is not declarative: they are not stating a case. The voice is imperative.

  • wash your hands
  • stand well back from the toilet
  • wipe the lid
  • lower it
  • raise it
  • sit on it
  • take 20 minutes to warm it up (COVID-19 hates warmth)

The imperatives they voice apply to the state of affairs which they do not articulate, let alone declare for, but which they assume.

Do these documents–these instructions in conduct, or what is called where I work, behaviours, in order to differentiate them from a code or discipline (itself assumed)–then produce the states of affairs to which they apply?

Yes.

It is like religious instruction–in fact has an element in this country of religiosity to it for the adoption of karakia, prayers that are the lipservice to honouring Treaty obligations through the adaptation to managerial ends by public institutions of Te Reo, Maori language.

It is like a discipline. But like the law of COVID-19 management that dare not speak its name, but chooses to go by a rule–a monastic rule. But like the government that dare not take on the command of the economy–even in the face of a pandemic! and the normality of the ongoing state of emergency that human society is in now. It is a voluntary discipline which has become one and the same thing as personal decision.

Who decides on normality these days?

I am also reminded of a scene in which Foucault, in Philip Horvitz’s account, remonstrates against the terrible and absurd fact that after all the freedoms won by gays, with AIDs it has been willing to give away to the experts the right to have the pleasure of sleeping with whom one pleases how one pleases.

The danger, is not the disease!, it is in renouncing desire that the danger lies.

(The need for a discourse of renunciation then is taken up in the document of instruction: the one it is imperative to read… before your return to work.

(It explains how to wash your hands,

(and how to go to the toilet.)

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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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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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