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Day 4

It’s a beautiful evening. The tui are sending out their last and simplest songs of the day, just a few notes.

The bellbirds in the Marlborough Sounds–that are not Sounds, neither are the fiords of Fiordland fiords–at their most improvisatory outdo tui, and are often mistaken for them, although, in taxonomy and appearance they couldn’t be more unalike: tui–black and scintillant with cardinal blue, a preacherly tuft of white at the collar; bellbird–smaller, green, with a duller blue on wings and head.

Did I tell you I saved a kakariki in Paradise?

It had flown into a post on the porch, fallen, its head at a silly angle to its body. This was where we were staying, a cabin, also, as we might say, improvisatory: the porch out of reclaimed glass louvres, the kitchen with gas hobs under a lean-to, sheltered from the wind by reclaimed windows in frames posed in a V behind the hobs, one room, windows at the foot of the double bed, double-glazed as it happens, so at night, when I lit the Little Cracker, it was like a sweat-tent, until the early hours. And the view through those windows at the foot of the bed! Up the Dart Valley, the giant on his back belching pounamu all up and onto the West Coast. The weather coming in and the light dancing on the valley over the crags.

I thought at first the little parrot to be a rubber ball I’d picked up in Mapua, where we stayed at a camping ground advertising clothes optional. A saving, in fact, being able to drop duds and change clobber without the worry of bare bottom land exile.

But then when I stooped over it I saw it’s little neck to be broken. And its wings splayed out, I tried to scoop it up. It skittered away, now dragging its wings as if these were lost of its control. Just before it disappeared under the cabin, where the rats would get it, I caught and cupped it in my hands.

Its head still at a silly angle, it eyed me. Its orange iris, wide eye. Probably stunned.

J. said drip some water on its beak to bring it around, like Opa used to do (when he rescued birds, as he used to also).

I caught some drops on my fingers and dribbled them off onto its tightly clamped parrot beak, miniature.

I don’t know what it was saying with its big orange eye and dilated black pupil, like a sunflower. It looked fucked.

I took the kakariki and placed it on the picnic table which stood some distance on the flat from the cabin. This is where we ate dinner and where I wrote in the mornings. It’s also where we ate the pancakes, bacon, maple syrup and banana J. cooked up for breakfast. Must have been a Sunday. The pancake mix came from Foxton Windmill, a wonder. The only working windmill grinding grain in the country.

It was dusk and we went inside, sat at the foot of the bed, looking out every so often at the kakariki and reading books.

We decided it had been too late for the little bird. Ought we put it on the ground? No, the rats would get it.

Its wings were out from its body. It hadn’t moved its head.

And as the light was halved, J. said: it looked around.

It had looked quickly around once, and as I turned I saw it gather itself up and fly off into the manuka.

As if it had been waiting to be sure. And as if it had been quietly gathering its reserves, checking its escape route, running over the plan. Coast clear–away.

I hadn’t wanted to photograph it in my hands in case it just died. But when I think about its eye and the brilliance of its plumage, parrot greens and blues, unlike the dull earth tones of most New Zealand birds, and their nebulous and indistinct colours, their shy colours, I think it knew: it struck me it was not timid, not a self-effacing creature.

Dark now outside. Tui quiet until tomorrow, when they start as they end the day with their simplest songs. Maybe one or two notes, answering each other over the valley. The family is watching Country Calendar.

Strange miracles. Somebody said quick to tears, my age.

Or course the kakariki probably didn’t need me to move it in order to perform the ordinary miracle of surviving its stupid accident: what kind of bird flies into a post? But perhaps it needed whatever passed between us, or we did, from its bright orange eye.

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day 3

hope for change

from this, so we have sort of drifted into another bubble and we have all

but we have not done it collectively

desperation is it?

leading many to hope from here we cannot go back there

how to be certain?

vamos lentos por que vamos lejos

or as many say: how do we go back? in 21 more days do we consider this time as no more than a break in transmission?

in order to create a break in transmission?

at the flattening of the curve will we remember ourselves?

we cannot be certain how many will want to

and how many others will recognise in their neighbours a change of heart

we’ll be all right without you

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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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go viral: or COVID 19 is not life during wartime

I’ve had time to reconsider my previous post. You might have guessed I would. After all, I was just scratching the surface… to see what might come out…

It was not what I intended to say. I had in fact wanted to suggest that the virtual amplification of the virus involves its own scratchiness, an internal irritant: think of it like a large bubble or boil, the anthroposphere. Now think of the increasing pressure, which is not that on corporate-run health and transportation infrastructures–the failures of which we are seeing, we see at once–but is built and building from the accelerated communication of misinformation and information about COVID 19, from the intensification of news, from daily iterations and narrations, and the political management, at once of both viruses, the one afflicting bodies and the one online, constantly online. Both can be said to affect bodies, but the infection pressurising what is done and seen is that from what is said, is in the constancy and insistency of what is said, of it being said. And the irritant internal to this globally resonant bubble or boil is no more immediate than the saying but is less news, is subsumed or drowned under the news, lost in sputum. It is the organic therefore virtual threat to bodies rubbing from the inside at the insides of the anthroposphere which could burst at any point… in the falldown of infrastructures is bursting… but currently at the rate of no more than a trickle, compared to the deluge of information.

Think then how tenuous is the infrastructure supporting the flood and how unaccountable the corporations responsible for its upkeep. Bodies will fail. We take that as given. Political bodies. Bodies of knowledge, cultural and community bodies. Our own.

But the relations which are elemental to the sustenance of bodies, both social and individual: the means of distribution that we call supply chains, for some reason to these we attribute rights rather than duties: it is not the duty of those responsible for these to keep them running: their strength or weakness is displaced onto the means of symbolic distribution for safekeeping. It is delegated to the markets for goods to be distributed.

The distribution through supply chains of the elements to sustain bodies is put upon, as a right-to-provide, the means of symbolic exchange we have described to be the relations enabling communication. It is not a duty-to-provide, can’t be. (The market like the communicative sphere cannot be told, even what is true, it cannot be told.) To the communicative sphere then is given the role of public welfare. To it is granted an intransigence which is entirely illusory. It has become something like the spirit, spirit of the anthroposphere, which unlike the bodies irritant within its bubble or boil, will not, cannot fail.

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on resistance and naming the enemy

Focus-on..-diddly-do1

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courtesy of Plug In The Street

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the unassuming brilliance of novelist Enrique Vila-Matas. But this is not it, neither, that is, evidence, nor representation. On the contrary. It is exactly the non-assumption, or, the other’s assumption.

…as Nathalie Sarraute once said–writing really is an attempt to find out what we would write if we wrote.

— Enrique Vila-Matas, Mac’s Problem, Trans. Margaret Jull Costa & Sophie Hughes, (New York, NY: New Directions, 2019), 4.

It was a time when children seemed very old, and the old seemed virtually dead. My clearest memory of that preschool year…

…this Hasidic saying: “The man who thinks he can live without others is mistaken; the one who thinks others can’t live without him is even more deluded.”

— Ibid., 14.

…Macedonio, the Duchamp of literature.

For the essayist Dora Rester, writing a novel means writing the fragments of an attempt at a novel, not the whole obelisk: “The art lies in the attempt, and understanding what’s outside us by using only what we have inside us is one of the hardest emotional and intellectual tasks anyone can undertake.”

— Ibid., 40.

[OSCOPE 22]

It appears we’re only just discovering that the gentle, compassionate approach to leadership makes better business sense than that of “command and control.” Studies in brain function (carried out by such methods as functional MRI) have detected that being treated disrespectfully raises one’s blood pressure and generates stress. “It’s the sure path to depression, the second-fastest-growing condition in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization. Bosses are by definition disrespectful, even if their lack of respect doesn’t always manifest itself in barked-out orders. Leaders, on the other hand, do their best to draw out people’s talent, and for that there needs to be respect, trust and motivation,” explained the Co-Director of the Executive Education program at Deusto Business School. But I find this hard to believe. The means and methods may have changed, but actually things are even more terrifying than before, perhaps precisely because you trust those around you more and believe that things really are better, and you don’t expect to discover, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, just when you least expect it, the real truth: they don’t love you because they’ve never loved you and they’re firing you because you’re past it and because you’re always causing scenes and because you drink too much and because one day you quoted a few lines from Wallace Stevens when tension was at its highest in that emergency meeting.

— Ibid., 110-111.

But then, this is brilliant: “The means and methods may have changed, but actually things are even more terrifying than before, perhaps precisely because you trust those around you more and believe that things really are better, and you don’t expect to discover, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, just when you least expect it, the real truth: they don’t love you because they’ve never loved you and they’re [not hiring you] you because you’re past it,” &so on. (Ibid., p. 111.)

And, as if of course, so is this:

Life, seen through the lens of the most cumbersome administrative procedures, will be–as, indeed, it already is–brutally depressing, a hostile labyrinth of interminable galleries and pavilions, red-taped up to the eyeballs; endless rows of offices and millions of corridors linking together seemingly countless galleries, each with its own sinister distinguishing feature, except perhaps the remote “Chamber of Writing for the Unemployed,” where a group of clerks, in their most elegant hand, will copy out addresses and redirect undelivered mail. Duplicating texts, transcribing texts … these men and women will appear to belong to another time and will prevent that knot of galleries and pavilions from being even more depressing.

But few people, despite their constant toing and froing along those cold corridors, will know how to find that final bastion of life as it once was, that bastion that gathers together all the lost and forgotten things, all those things that are still apt–precariously so, but nonetheless apt–to remind us that there was once a time, a bygone age, in which writing moved with parameters quite different from those in which it moves today.

As I tell myself all this, I think I glimpse one of the clerks–tucked away in the most hidden corner of the remotest gallery and having finished his work–write down some words on one of the pages of a stack of one hundred and three loose sheets, which, it seems, no one has been able to bind together due to a lack of resources:

“No, I can’t. I’m done with that.”

— Ibid., 183-184. [These are Hemingway’s words, it should be noted.

[And doesn’t this scene recall the history of science, even to resembling the history of scientific advancement and progress, in the chapter of a book I was reading today–the last book, in fact, written by Oliver Sacks, collated, on his instruction, from a stack of posthumous papers? This is the chapter, of The River of Consciousness, on the scotoma, to which histories relegate those findings, discoveries, phenomenological descriptions they subsequently deem to be premature, or prescient, but that are at the time they appear, and for years, often decades after, inconsequential exceptions and untimely anomalies. Or they are uncomfortable truths, annoying particles, gritting up the smooth running of given narratives, excluded and occluded. The scotoma in Oliver Sacks’s reading is the dark recess in which is written some words on a stack of one hundred and three loose sheets … no one has been able to bind together due to a lack of resources. (Ibid., 184.)]

…for the first time, I wasn’t writing in order to rewrite, but I was going a stage further. Well, I thought, still astonished at my own prowess, you have to start somewhere. But the real surprise came when I realized that actually writing something meant finding out what it felt like to write a fictional fragment rather than a diary fragment. And it almost makes me laugh to say this, but I am, of course, going to say it anyway: it feels exactly the same in both cases. Really? Yes, the same. This only confirms that, as Nathalie Sarraute said, writing is trying to find out what we would write if we wrote. Because writing, real writing, is something we will never do.

— Ibid., 185 [Note here the echo of Blanchot, under, what I am inclined to call, the sign of the impossible, issuing out from the dark recess, the scotoma of the false histories of all progress and advancement, scientific and otherwise.

[And this, on the side of a tissue box: the brain remains a symbol so long as so-called higher level function remains a matter of representation.]

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what is theatre?

I liked Hofesh Shechter’s Grand Finale. I liked, but not so much, Ulster American, by playwright David Ireland, presented by the Traverse Theatre Company, est. 1963. A part of the few thoughts I have now the energy to jot down concerns the institutional setting, including the timer setting of these works in their performance disciplines–I want to say respective, but what I have to say is really irrespective of discipline but in respect to its institution. (I mean, the relation the discipline acts to form, on which the institution of the dance subject and on which the institution of the theatre subject relies, with an outside.) It is to do with what name lasts.

Shechter’s tribe moved a recollection of dance in 1972, when the tribal musical Hair came to Wellington. The bodies are lithe long and abandon themselves to dancing. I like dancing like this. But then brackets of the most disciplined and synchronised group work take place. It is random, arm throwing, exuberant–a kind of excess anyway–and suddenly everybody falls on the beat. Pops on the beat. Jigs break out. Parodies of dance. I realised we are dancing for our lives. But our lives are threatened by lightweight simulations of the monolithic stones at the Jewish memorial, Berlin. These are bureaucratic and managerial walls to break our heads against as well as Wailing Walls. Or otherwise bullet shot-up walls. In other words they are scenic devices, moving scenery, on trucks.

Our lives are not threatened by these simulations, but the dancers are onstage. They are hemmed in, and there is the brilliant choreography of Tom Visser’s lighting, a designer for whom the deployment and pattern of sources of light is as important in this production as the way it strikes the body, bodies, floor, monoliths, impression made on the audience or not made–a lighting philosophy in which I see my own and the faults in my own.

I feel most deeply the moments when the energy is highest and deepest and most useless and in recognition and in despite of the kind of machine the social has become.

The whole first half of the Grand Finale is build, Shechter liking his music as much as if not more than his dance world. The acoustic world refers to Jewish experience. But then there are elements from Maori Haka, it seems, from war dance, or sport dancing–rugby. No distance comes in to separate it out in its culturally specific reference, either on the Jewish line of descent or the Maori. Perhaps it’s not Maori. It looks like it. And it is clearly martial in theme. The music builds–the staccato rhythm of k-chick gunstock being set, loaded, in the set-up.

So there is a loading of symbolism. But the dancers seem to dance for themselves even when playing corpses, so many dead bodies, but the most striking those initial four women, their limbs kicked out and propelled by the movement of their partners, into unbelievable unison of movement–unbelievable for one half of the sum total of bodies having no agency in the movement.

The second half I wanted to edit: because of a scene set upstage, with a live band of acoustic musicians playing klezmer-like music, and the ten dancers the band’s audience. Yet the music is pumping out full volume from the speaker arrays. It should have all been far upstage, distant, the sound faint, emitted only by the instruments, without amplification, or even smaller, less, on the verge of disappearing.

What a loss there is in the loss of Douglas Wright! Subtleties and dynamics washed out in the techno-rave reading of Gavin Bryars’s Sinking of the Titanic, to which the dress suits and lifejacket, was it, of the live band seemed to refer.

People stood and clapped. A standing ovation. I liked the display of energy. But the dance didn’t so much run out of material or so repeat material or allow it to return and vary as erect a world of art in its own image. Even the heteronormativity and harkening back to limb-throwing-out dance could be put down to this, and the symbols showing as well: that it was young, ok, but that it did not open onto anything but what it contained in the way of relations inside itself already. Sealed off, in dance as it is. Nothing invented. The discovery of the movement of these long lithe corpses so generalised within the scope of the whole as to lose all the elements with which they might be referred outside the work.

The theatre piece Ulster American is even more curiously contained in this regard. (I recall some notes I made about the Christchurch shooting: that the Muslim congregations are as ungeneralisable–to the city, the nation–as its perpetrator is unindividualisable–to the lone crazy, seeing as how he represents, as a terrorist, a political cause or interest, that of the extreme Right Wing, from the support of which our own political representatives are chary about cutting themselves off entirely.)

It concerns a script of honesty and integrity and one that says and does what theatre must say and do now and for all time: this script and the nature of its (theatrical) truth is, inside the work, fought over and contested by the American ego, the directorial ego, the ego of another–that is the ego of the writer, a woman. A nice way to get around the master text’s authorship.

Like Grand Finale its appeal is reflecting on–like the critics it holds up inside itself to all the old lines of fire–theatredance and rather than presenting it being seen to represent it.

(The link to the previous thought in parenthesis reposes in the playing out of a de- or anti-particularisation, generalisation, of artistic statement at the same time as an individualisation of artistic intent is set forth too: more obvious in Ulster American since the script’s very particular reference to Northern Ireland, Britishness, Fenianism, Sectarianism, and the Protestant-Catholic, British-Irish divide, is that contested by the egos as the one to generalise to universal human experience.)

It has to offer many words.

I liked seeing it at a matinee with a group in the audience who were sight-impaired. I took the cue and shut my eyes, partly because I was sick of the sight of the set by Becky Minto and the costumes, and the mugging to the audience of Robert Jack and the general state of affairs where the performer waits for his performance or hers to take affect, for the audience to laugh or take a sharp inbreath, or do the things, the dance of theatre. A dance with the audience, perhaps. But here the stimulus-response. While dealing, need it be said, with important and timely contemporary issues. But while dealing with them, by way of the script inside the play, in general.

That is: the discussion of the script around which the action revolves includes head-nodding eye-winking to the notion that theatre ought to be about the particular to reach a general, no, not consensus, as here, but application. A relevance. (But application and relevance are as soiled concepts today as signification. And the nod and wink is also to this fact, a matter of metaphysical, not desire, but irony.)

The world explored by Ulster American is theatre. Just as the world assumed by Grand Finale is dance. And, the delight of the audience at the former is more saddening than that at the latter. The words make a difference.

(I noticed recently several words that have dropped from common use: propaganda and didactic. They have become so common as not to need to be named. )

But there is something else here too. Not just ecce dance ecce theatre. Ecce festival. Not just the egoism of one form against that of another.

Both productions are energised by a kind of cynicism. It is what I find most moving in Grand Finale–the irrecuperable excess, in a kind of exchange beyond symbolic exchange, money, death, sex, and so on, with the sacred. Giving without any chance of return. In Ulster American, it is sheer exchange: language tokens for others. Performances attuned to the expectations, and recognising in them their reasons as well as their conditions, of the audience. A managerial complement. No.

More than this. Neither work wanted to give thought to what is outside it.

What is outside the timely contemporary issues of fake news and honesty and identity and rape culture and accelerated and exaggerated violence of social experience of Ulster American is not another point of view. And it is not from another point of view that it can be asserted. What is outside of these bodies hurtling through the scenography of Grand Finale, if not against its soft-prop moveable monoliths, however timely and contemporary its allusions to the musical traditions Islam and Israel share, and the guns and the bodies, and the status of these bodies as bodies in their muted migrant costumes, is not the actual events of these past two weeks, not an actual and indubitable outside.

It is the thought which specifies itself in its inside–as a point of view–by passing by way of the outside. It leaves theatre behind. It leaves dance behind.

Yet one ought to hesitate over the word ‘thought’ since it has been so denied and paraded before others to be the desirable term of exchange–that is, in the old days. Nobody should give it a single moment’s consideration in the era of outsourcing informational intelligence, these days. What good will that get you? No.

Let’s not talk about thought, and constrain ourselves to what this does and and what that does. Television does not seek consensus; it is driven by consensus. And advertising. Online content provision puts consensus, even a step before its proven drivenness, and so circles back to what is almost poetry. Just as loss-making companies can launch with untenable values on the financial market.

Theatre, what is that? And if it were to do something, what would it be?

In its marketplace, in the marketplace that stands in its stead, yes, festivalisation, as a way to make it, personal survival and the bottomline, always. Hidingplaces, like academic ones, sure. Covering its loss of institutional status–where it talks to power at the level of power–a way of talking, that’s all. A way of talking that bears no relation to the way it talks and represents itself to the conditions and powers which make it possible. Ok, but this growing identification with the managerial strata that want to kill it, not out of any ill will, but because it is irrelevant, only encloses it further in terms which it cannot articulate. For having all of language, it lacks a language.


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Tamsin Shaw on “The New Military-Industrial Complex of Big Data Psy-Ops”

Reading Shaw’s article in the New York Review of Books I reach a point where the question seems to be begged. This is not the same as raising questions.

Shaw raises questions around the ethics of dual-use research: research that has a potential military application as well as an application in civil society. She cites Martin Seligman’s research into “learned helplessness”, electrocuting dogs into a state of obliviousness to repeated shocks, and the psychological theories of depression and resilience that came from it. She cites the positive psychology movement Seligman founded and its research into love–and resilience, and other positive personality traits. She cites the turn funding took, under Seligman’s initiative, after 11 September 2001, to diversity research as a counter to the tendency to contract and magnify diverse viewpoints into the single worldview of extremism. She cites the boost given this strain of research, ostensibly concerned with human well-being, by the datasets available from social media–the Big Data enabled by machine surveillance.

Shaw also cites the net benefit of research with a potential for and with real high human cost–hence net in cost-benefit terms, that undertaken into tumours and the effects on the human body of radioactivity in military weapons, with its payoff in cancer treatments. The same sort of net benefit can be seen from research into diseases caused by military-grade bio-agents, in the manufacture of weaponised viruses, which she cites.

Citing these reversals and their reversals, from resilience under psychological torture, to resilience as a personal survival technique, from biological weapons to techniques of resisting infectious disease, from love technique, to love technique, and back, Shaw shows there is an assumption at work about the capacity of humans for rational thought: “a great deal of contemporary behavioral science aims to exploit our irrationalities rather than overcome them.” The dual-use research concerned with technologies of behavioural modification, persuasion, influence or nudging, assumes a constituency available to be so directed, controlled, even to their benefit, and manipulated. It assumes, for our erstwhile democracies, a nonrational constituency–the community of those who do not know better; the community of those who do not know at all.

The question-begging comes down to this notion of the individual rational agent, the responsible voter, as a presumption of the democratic setup and as being presupposed by the positive ethical field of political democracy. (It need not be pointed out that economics, as the science, pseudoscience, developed under the auspices of such as the Chicago School, support the assumption of nonrational choice, but is that economics then anti-democratic?)

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NEOLIBERALISM – a dialogue UK & ST, Jan – Feb 2019


1.

UK: So what is neoliberalism, if not a radical incarnation of cultural hegemony—in that it intrinsically misrepresents (via a delusively benignant reframing) all modes of civilizing engagement and every mode of civilizing effect? The strange descendant of Aynian objectivism and Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism, neoliberalism is a creature that has shifted its unseemly shape beyond radical economic ultra-orthodoxy, seeping into, until permeating, the entire cultural landscape and the whole of society. In essence, this radical incarnation seeks a hegemony founded on deculturization, in that it implicitly negates all true forms of culture that are not commensurate with its paradigms of individualist supremacy and such supremacy’s necessarily incidental cultural adornments.

ST: that neoliberalism reframes “all modes of civilizing engagement and every mode of civilizing effect”;

that its “its paradigms [are] of individualist supremacy”.

Do neoliberals delude themselves that their efforts are towards civil society? Or more bluntly that they are benign?

The question concerns how neoliberals view themselves and what is the point of view of neoliberalism. We can agree that this point of view reframes civilization, as process and form of life. But it does not do so by misrepresenting civilization. Neoliberalism, first of all, is not a doctrine, and less an ideology; even less a political one, and not at all a framing or reframing of whatever is supposed to pre-exist it. It is a strategy of representation, not misrepresentation; and it is not self-deluding, or delusive. It acts strategically, speaks strategy, deals in the real world strategically, through eschewing the kind of Grand Narratives on which our modernism relied, including that one about the supremacy of the individual. In this neoliberalism has going for it a kind of slippery postmodernism, and a decidedly anti-representationalist slant. However, it is strategically deployed.

2.

UK: The self-imagery of neoliberalism is an endemic artfulness that is belied by its extreme simplisticness and its intrinsic incapacity relative to all paradox. This includes its incapacity relative to the paradox of so-called civilization or the civilizing impulse that is perpetually indicated or perceived as “progress.” To the extent that the manifestation of whatever has been dubbed civilization has been accounted “successful”, it has always been predicated upon hegemony, rationalism and doubt (or the ambiguous certainties heralded as “progress” itself).

Paradoxically—without effacing hegemony, rationalism and doubt—much of civilization-making activity has really been rooted in verifiable humanizing processes and outcomes, in respect of the creation and promotion of civic spaces and institutions, education, the arts and so forth;

ST: that civilization is based on “hegemony, rationalism and doubt” as well as “humanizing processes” we might call civic, including civic (civilizing) spaces and institutions.

This triad of hegemony, rationalism and doubt appeals to the Cartesian cogito. I find myself asking as readily what civilization is? as what is neoliberalism? Isthis the right duality? Has not civilization, in the face of human guilt and shame in the Shoah, got a bad name? (Let alone representation (after Adorno).) Let us remember that the founding event of neoliberalism is in 1947, Hayek’s convening of the Mont Pelerin Society, still very active—still very active in New Zealand, both in political and business circles. That is directly after the war, a new dawn dawned. Red-faced, not at all. Red-handed and red-fingered, perhaps.

3.

UK: As with traditional (but ambiguous) civilization-makers, neoliberals, too, harbor a quasi-religious (if passionately de-collectivizing) conviction around a notion of “progress.” But in contrast to the paradox of so-called civilization’s efforts at humanization combined with hegemony, neoliberalism, is—by the nature of its very contempt for all human nuance in which felicity is perforce inextricable from vulnerability—an active, summary negation of all verifiable humanizing processes, even those processes which have been obligated to coexist with forms of hegemony.

What is unique about neoliberalism—and where neoliberalism goes arguably further than the most wretched of collectivized totalitarian ideologies—is that (unlike fascism and bolshevism) it proactively anathematizes community, and therefore society, and therefore humanity itself. Neoliberalism militantly glorifies the market; above all, it glorifies virile economic autonomy and self-exalting individualism as the ostensible uttermost expressions of human existence. And it is inherently contemptuous of all expressions of human life and community that do not fulfill this paradigm;

ST: that neoliberalism “proactively anathematizes community, and therefore society, and therefore humanity itself. It militantly glorifies the market and, above all, it glorifies virile economic autonomy and self-exalting individualism as the ostensible uttermost expressions of human existence. And it is inherently contemptuous of all expressions of human life and community that do not fulfill this paradigm”.

We can agree here but not on the existence of a paradigm—and not on the issue of virility. We can agree on the contempt in which Hayek and his followers hold humanity—as they have colonised every level of human undertaking. Again, it is not the expressions of human life and community with which neoliberal strategies concern themselves. Rather it is with expressing these and producing in them images drawn from a new brain. This new brain belongs to the markets; and, like the mind imagines the brain, the delusion is at this level: that there is a brain, that there exist a market, is a work of the mind and of the men and women who deal in markets and their creation, their representation at the political level.

4.

UK: To neoliberal eyes, humanity, alas, really does exist, and does so in its unfulfilled guise: quotidian, dependent, plodding, seemingly oblivious to the expansively independent and dynamically self-assured opportunities and obligations of its agency. And of course, in the neoliberal mind, there are all too many institutions that embody and perpetuate this selfsame disgraceful, inert mediocrity.

Hence, what neoliberals conceive as being incumbent upon themselves is a sustained effort or visionary crusade to confront and undermine and resolve the embarrassment that is humanity itself. The confrontation thus pursued is the righteous animation of its virtuous contempt. The expression of that contempt is the intrinsically fanciful empowerment of citizens in every context through a unique form of infantalization that presumes to treat human beings as dependent, misguided and undisciplined children—and in the same breath compulsively wean them off every expectation of a nurturing or protective environment, or even one based on that most unruly and suspect of all human frailties: solidarity (as opposed to narcistic co-admiration or the self-satisfied collusion of the powerful with likeminded agents).

ST: that “what neoliberals conceive as being incumbent upon themselves is a sustained effort or visionary crusade to confront and undermine and resolve the embarrassment that is humanity itself.”

We do agree but the counter-image must also be given its place, of a source of and strategy for the redemption of a shamed, a very guilty, and a no doubt embarrassed humanity. It imagines a humanity embarrassed to resolve that embarrassment by means not found in humanity—or in civilization. These means can broadly be termed artificial intelligence or the automated—and automations of the—marketplace.

5.

UK: It is the intention of neoliberal philosophy to treat all who labor in organizations of any kind, public or private, and all of those members of society who are dependent in any form, as the suboptimal specimens that they appear to be, by dint of their non-incarnation of virtuously prodigious invulnerable independence. Since there is no real hope that the vast majority will improve on these virtuous terms—or ever seriously fulfill the righteous prescription of neo-liberal sensibility—the majority must, at the very least, for its own sake, be informed by an unsparing program of applied disillusionment, in which the consequences of non-improvement are in its face perpetually and, if necessary, forever. It is, after all, not the fault of those who know better, that the majority choose to remain as children, oblivious to, or resistant of, virtuously self-surpassing ambition.

ST: that neoliberalism prescribes ceaseless self-improvement, ceaseless because in vain.

Here we are dealing with human affects. But these too are not to be thought through and decided upon by human agents. Self-improvement of course summons up the idea of the subject who is an entrepreneur of the self, on social media, say. Social media are already a kind of automatic, automated marketplace in which social affects and human affects can be decided.

Self-improvement is not prescribed by neoliberals, because, we agree, the human cannot be improved upon, except by the nonhuman. Humanity enters a self-improvement loop because nonhuman values prevail; and perhaps if I am better, affirm better, do better, think better and smarter, I will get a better deal out of an automatic, automated world.

6.

UK: Exalting in the vanity of power as idealized human autonomy, neoliberals are unique in extolling their warped notion of freedom. There is, upon this earth, and in human history altogether, potentially no expression of base authoritarianism more insidious—or insipid!—in its hypocrisy than hegemonic pseudo-libertarianism; the latter being perhaps the crux of what neoliberalism is altogether.

As an inherently loveless creed, neoliberalism is also an inherently empty one. Situated, seated, unconsciously in that blithe emptiness is pervasive existential dread. In neoliberal sensibility, the flight from dread is perused through the morbid festivity of presumptive aspiration in which the individual is pretentiously immortalized, while the collective is ceremoniously penalized and punished;

ST: that the crux of neoliberalism may be a “pseudo-liberatarianism”, in which the individual is offered freedom at the expense of the collective.

Yes, this was Hayek’s theme. The crux, however, is still to outsource those mechanisms by which such freedom is secured for the individual—to the marketplace and the economic instruments of a neoliberal political economy.

7.

UK: Sartre said that the people must be brought into the temple of enlightenment through the lavatory. The neoliberal take on this is that the people must be brought into the temple of enlightenment through the over-exerted order-fulfillment mass warehouse of bewilderment.

In neoliberal praxis the inducement of bewilderment in all guises, situations, and sites of controlled interaction is a creative strategy for in seeking the correction or redemption of the embarrassment that is humanity itself. What neoliberals require is a milieu compulsorily festive bewilderment as a vindication of their own superior effacement of the void.

This pseudo-heroism seeks the acquirement of all others through the allegiance induced by purposive bewilderment. Thus neoliberalism appears among humanity in the guise of an elemental expression of pervasive lechery. Those who are lecherous and powerful believe that anything desired may be acquired as a matter of course and inherent right. What neoliberalism desires is all humanity and yet neoliberalism is contemptuous of humanity itself. The latter is not paradox but the inherent self-contradiction of power that is most base.

ST: that neoliberalism “in seeking the correction or redemption of the embarrassment that is humanity itself” bewilders, desiring humanity, contemptuous of humanity.

That it bewilders even the best minds is bewildering. It may have to do with a strategic deployment of agendas and no unified theory or code, with doing what is necessary when it is necessary, for the good of that which will secure for the individual the greatest freedom. Hence—the paradoxes, around populism and militarism, Bolsonaro, May and Trump, Trudeau and Ardern.

8.

UK: The praxis that effaces neoliberalism is one that is inherent to a domain of wisdom that has always contested hegemonic egoism, ever resisted its claims, and ever insisted upon the prior authority of a truth-process that is visibly grounded in authentic, verifiable human priorities. Though urgently requiring of pervasively assertive (but inherently non-aggressive) transmission in the localized and globalized spheres of society, that wisdom is not itself a political program, but a protean domain of esoteric elements that appear in every context or province of culture. Ever in a state of defiant and paradoxical co-existence with every form of cultural egoity, those elements make up a great tradition or complex (but unitary) foundation of integral praxis, or non-exploitable, non-exploiting, integrality-focused, intrinsically full-humanizing practice and process.

ST: that neoliberalism is effaced in a “a protean domain of esoteric elements that appear in every context or province of culture.”

Culture was the first place neoliberals gathered with anything like decisive force in NZ. Murray Edmund talks of the “man from Treasury” and his forecast for a fully monetized cultural politic and economy. That is, culture was the first place after Treasury to come under neoliberal influence, as a trial-ground, a field of experiment for its strategies.

9.

UK: As with all forms of totalitarianism, the praxis of neoliberalism entails insistent, invasive, propagandized modes of delusive benignity: simulating cheer and hope, appropriating everything that is potentially useful under the guise of a pretentiously engaged pseudo-magnanimity, and, of course, acting out the smiling assassin routine in neutralizing any threat.

Hence neoliberalism is a highly methodical system but the ethos of that system is one of inexorable vacuity. Unlike collectivized forms of totalitarianism, neoliberalism is strikingly impoverished in its myth-making capacity or its ability to tell clear and plausible stories. Deprived of inspirational myth, neoliberalism relies on the obfuscation of narratives through the infantalization of them. Hence, any agent or any group that tells clear or plausible stories is a threat. Any authentic narrative provides an affirmation of self-existing human truths that, by their very nature, cannot be appropriated by any system or program of ideologized dehumanization.

ST: that neoliberalism is a praxis of “appropriating everything that is potentially useful” and of “neutralizing any threat”, and, as such “methodical”.

Also: “neoliberalism is strikingly impoverished in its myth-making capacity or its ability to tell clear and plausible stories.”

What are the stories but the most plausible ones? The mythmaking ones? Yes, and the icon-making ones? They are the famous “stories in our own words”.

Except that they are not stories in our own words, ever, are they.

Methodical? Methodological perhaps. Again, it is a question of capturing the representation in the act of its preparation and production. Methodology is presumed by method; and, once more, it is a nonunifiable and only strategically existent discourse and discourses of method which is attributable to neoliberals, many of whom do not even identify themselves being such. This is some more meat for the idea that neoliberalism is presumed by representation—in culture and in the processes of humanising and civilization.

10.

UK: It is the case that any true cultural process that is manifestly artful in its submission to human need, whether artistically defined, whether politically emphasized, whether grounded in what is called the sacred, whether founded upon any integrity at all of any means and character and insight, is, by virtue of its very underlying nature, impervious to the neoliberal ethos altogether.

It is not that such means entail resistance; much less do they stoop to benevolent mitigation. Rather, it is the case that such processes, such means, entail the radical exclusion of neoliberalism and its paradigms via the propagation of full-humanness, or the transmission of hope in the verifiable language of full-humanness itself: a language that neoliberalism can never appropriate.

ST: that there may be imperviousness to the neoliberal ethos by way of its “radical exclusion” in a language.

We agree here in the specific cases of institutional cultures and their ability to represent their own claims as states of exception. These claims are ontological as much as political. They invoke logics of noncapture, insofar as they are produced independently of the claims of a neoliberal political economy—and do not secede to it, or believe it is possible strategy-wise to outsmart it.

The example always springing to mind is the financialisation of ecological claims by the Greens in Germany, 1980s. This finds its continuation in the carbon markets endorsed by the Greens in NZ, 2000s.

11.

UK: All authentic cultural processes contain the impulse of full-humanization; as such, all such processes repudiate, and do not reward, the submission to what is base, or the embracement of whatever is mediocrely conformist. Unlike neoliberalism however, the confrontation with mediocrity entailed by such processes is dynamically sensitive to human development and relentlessly supportive of the conditions of real human flourishing. As such, all verifiably truth-bearing processes specifically repudiate the fallacy of productive docility and the vacuous exaltation of elites upon which neoliberal sensibility depends.

It is the case that the latter radicalizes everything through a delusive benignity that turns out to be perpetual emptiness and dread. By contrast, all true cultural praxis is tending to radicalize everything in the “opposite direction”: with open eyes, infusing every context with homely truths, and extending the possibilities of human agency in meaningfully co-supportive, truth-bearing terms. As such, all true cultural praxis proactively sublimes the vicious vulgarity that the neoliberal creed can never escape.

As such, all true cultural praxis has nothing whatsoever to do with benevolent mitigation of the dominant pseudo-narrative that is neoliberalism itself. It is, rather, the assertion of a perpetual originality, and the radically heart-sympathetic and explicitly life-sustaining effacement of mediocrity in any context. Its narratives cannot be acquired, for those narratives are intelligible only to those who are like-hearted.

ST: that neoliberalism is against something true: “with open eyes, infusing every context with homely truths, and extending the possibilities of human agency in meaningfully co-supportive, truth-bearing terms.”

Neoliberalism’s strategic attitude to truth, to what is true, need only be cited here—where the representative notion is of all opinion being untrue and fake news until submitted to the collectivisation of the media and means of representation in the marketplace—which has come to stand for the media. (One might say that such collectivisation of mass opinion amounts to a claim against any notional supremacy of (the) individual, as being anywhere near the basis and ground of neoliberal hegemony. This collective voice amounts, one might say, to populism as such. So is unbewildering.)

12.

UK: The inexorable vacuity and intrinsic lovelessness of the neoliberal creed is its one true liability. The recognition of that liability, and the militant effacement of it, is integral to a needful conscious program, to be embraced by every individual and collective of good will, in respect of a localized and globalized process that manifests real civilization.

The only recourse now is one whereby protean full-humanizing cultural processes are in conscious, networked collusion in a relentless civilization-making and perpetually civilization-affirming global movement: one that overcomes the characteristic ambiguities of organized human society that incorporate or necessarily ground themselves in hegemony, rationalism and doubt (or the ambiguous certainties heralded as “progress.”)

Such a movement is one to be founded on sacred reason instead of presumptive rationality. Yet it is not necessarily reflective of a singular sensibility or pragmatic impulse. Such a movement is implacably egalitarian, and yet is paradoxically elitist in its reliance upon the integrity and virtuosity of unique agents. As such, a global movement can flourish, trans-ideologically, in the guise of constructively or creatively polarized sensibilities, as reflected in the esoteric egalitarianism of Rudolf Steiner that was contemporaneous with the esoteric elitism of Stefan George. In this illustrative example, the twain does not meet and is not even required to do so. Inevitably, Steiner and George deliberated in their own way, feeling from their respective points of view toward a paradigm of civilization that was grounded in visionary but essentially pragmatic full-humanness.

ST: that neoliberalism is against real civilization.

Civilization had run its course, as Heiner Müller recognised, at least in Europe, by 1945. Adorno too: hereafter barbarism. But Hayek, and Popper too, and I would guess Rudolf Steiner, with his esotoricism of flowers and the genitals we are, belong to the same tradition—of real civilization. The fact that it is a tradition, even when not civilization, or real or false in any meaningful understanding of the terms, points forward and back too, back to Nietzsche, forward to the French who rediscovered in him the genealogist par excellence of the European condition. (I reach here for a Japanese beer in a beautiful blue glass.) Destroy: the timeline back to its founding event, which is the founding event of its point of view, of its subjectivity—and of the opinion which henceforth will not be submitted to the vagaries and vicissitudes of the marketplace but be submitting every other opinion, point of view and subjective position to them, to it. Destroy: knowing what has been made can be unmade, what is done is able to be undone. We have to find out how it was done. This goes for the delusiveness of the Left’s benignancy as for the new Hayekian liberal agenda’s delusiveness about its own. Then affirm, praise, celebrate and exalt what you create—as your own creation and as the production of what you would have desired.

The age of the supremacy of the individual has passed; we have entered into the age of its freely given and voluntary denial: we avow collective will, above the self, as it is represented in the automatic brain of the marketplace and its political economy. It does not matter if politics of power has been displaced by that of personal survival and the bottom line.

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