thigein & conatus

days 40-50 – or, walking in circles

Doug McEachern, says his bio, in the book I have in my hand, left school wanting to be a writer. The book I have in my hand evidence he succeeded.

Having left school, he was caught up in the ’60s. The bio puts it that he was “led astray by the political urgency of the campaigns against the Vietnam War and conscription.” This was in Australia.

It gives some indication of what is to follow, Stardust and Golden–the name of the book I have in my hand.

The author then enjoyed a long and “successful” academic career, where is not stated, before leaving university tenure for South Australia “to become a writer.”

This, his first novel, might give us a clue: Stardust and Golden is published by The University of Western Australia, 2018.

It returns us to the 1960s–

Several days of persistent heat forced forward memories of life before all-pervasive air conditioning.

–runs the first line of the novel, making redundant all of the foregoing.

We might recall the opening line of Anthony Burgess’s Earthly Powers: It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.

And we might consider there is no common measure.

Or we might consider the 1 million planets Raymond Ruyer invokes to demonstrate “that the power of chance is very limited”:

“Consider 1 million planets, each inhabited by 2 billion humans. Each of these humans (106 x 2 x 109) during 1 billion years, tosses every day a die forty thousand times (in one thousand series of forty), that is, practically does nothing else. Approximately how many times would a series of forty sixes arise?” The impression is that such a series will be produced at least some of the time. We can wager 19 against 1 that it will be produced, because (106 x 2 x 109) x (109 x 365 x 103) is still 20 times smaller than 640. Because the duration of life on earth is approximately 2 billion years, it is easy to see why it is extravagant to attribute to chance alone the formation of a nervous system, a circulatory system, the eye or the internal ear, whose ordered complexity has no common measure with the arrangement of a series of forty sixes.

— Raymond Ruyer, Neofinalism, Trans. Alyosha Edlebi, (Minneapolis, MI: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 163. (Note: original work published in French in 1952.)

From the puffline of Graham Swift’s Booker Prize winning Here We Are the phrase–

pulls back the curtain on the human condition.

The removal of the statue of Hamilton in Hamilton, Morgan Godfrey writes, augurs in a new age: …”and after him every statue celebrating the men who made the empire. It’s 2020, after all, and postcolonialism is giving way to decolonisation.”

There are then in his article for the Guardian some nice turns of phrase with “the tragics” and “the nostalgics” used to call out the empire defenders. That is defenders of the misbegetting of colonial monumentation in the present time of decolonisation.

Morgan Godfrey ends with, “The only way to acknowledge the history they made–invading the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, and Taranaki–and the society they’re responsible for–where Maori are on the wrong side of every statistic, from incarceration to joblessness–is to tear it all down.”

There are many wears of tearing it all down.

Consider the work of Nicola Samorì:

– from the Cannibal Trail series, 2017, oil on copper, detail
– from the Malafonte series, black Carrara marble, 2018

Donna Tartt recently described the process of writing a novel as like “painting a large mural with a brush the size of an eyelash”. My own favourite–

writes Edward Docx, also for the Guardian

is that it’s like trying to fill a swimming pool with a syringe. Or, in a different mood, that writing a novel is like trying to hold a vast and intricate maths equation in your head that seeks to represent reality and through which you are trying to lead people without them ever getting wind that said equation is, in fact, impossible to solve or that, actually, it might not represent reality at all.

Docx, a writer, is introducing his review of Daniel Alarcón’s novel, At Night We Walk in Circles, which, he writes, makes gains (walking in circles?) on the side of the equation, while losing on the side of “immediacy, intimacy and involvement.”

Docx, the writer, answers the question, what we might call the ontological question, on his personal website, of the meaning of the writer’s existence, by writing that being a writer means “to give precise and enduring expression to the human experience”.

Alarcón is not found to have failed in this regard. But the assumption that immediacy, intimacy and involvement are what is being calculated in the above equation is not given as part of the equation.

Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream makes me think of two other perfect short novels, or novellas, Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami, and The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima.

I just noticed that the puffline on the front of Alexandro Zambra’s novel Documents is Daniel Alarcón’s.

On page 51 of Documents, Zambra writes this suggestive phrase–

I sometimes think, from this suspiciously stable place that is the present

From this–the same?–suspiciously stable place that is the present, I think–

the poem

is much better

now you

are looking at it.

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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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day 52 – 55: our demands

… we have just discussed it. And together, as a team or nation or society or whatever the hell it is, we can do it! We can beat this normality back into the slimy hole from which it has once again begun to slither. Or the right off the barren promontory from which it has once again begun announcing itself. Like those poles with loudspeakers on them announcing the party line. We can hack it down, we can Hone Heke axe it down because the flag should not be a loudspeaker.

All that needs to happen… perhaps I should put it in bullet points, talking points, Trump decision points, that he prefers above facts … but it is no more than a suggestion. A necessary one.

All that needs to happen is that you and I and yours and mine, that we tell the government 2 things:

  1. government is about taking over permanent control of those controls that control the economy–including taking power over them from off the so-called automated mechanisms and systems of the market: such automatic systems were anyway installed sometime, their operation managed and maintained, by actual people, so can be suspended;
  2. we are going into lockdown on an annual basis. We are appropriating social isolation. We, the people. Whether bosses and managers and businesses and so on like it or not, every year, for a period not shorter than 4 weeks, we do not go to work, to school, and so on, except to engage in essential industries: we need food, and obviously, from our experiences this year, toilet paper and some other basic goods (and wine, or sake, or vodka, beer, marijuana, and other legal highs), and we need access to medical facilities for the vulnerable, and the vulnerable equally need our care, and the little errands we might run for them which make all the difference in our communities. And then we choose a date… And we do it.

This is better than the occupy movement, if you think about it.

But you want to know if the good will of banks and lending institutions and landlords and service providers for electricity and gas and water and telephone and internet connection will be there in the absence of a pandemic, like COVID-19?

We must insist that the government insists that it is.

Be kind, we say, to the planet and to our social and psychic ecologies, for the well-being of our hearts and spirits and minds and what is wrongly called psychological well-being, as if it were treatable (no, it simply exists under conditions which are less internal to human bodies and brains than social, under whatever (economic) conditions are those of society), so also for the social ecology, which term we today must use in preference to the more usual economy–for obvious reasons.

As for the planetary well-being, this should also be obvious. 8% reduction in carbon emissions. Each year until at least the end of the century. 2100.

80 years. 80 lockdowns x 4 weeks–or longer if you like? why not extend for six?

Not quite the sabbatical principle–but that’s OK.

We can. We can beat this thing. This capitalism. This normality. This planetary degradation. This human and species extinction.

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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 45, 46, 47, 48, 49 a plethora of performative pamphleteers

If you’re anything like me which there is no reason to suppose to be the case you are being subjected to a plethora of performative pamphleteers.

You know which there is every reason to suppose the .ppt effect or the .pptx effect–not unlike the QR-code effect in being that of technology supposed to be dead and buried but now everywhere–: information presented as slides, landscape format documents, sometimes with graphic ’embellishment’–a colourfield brightening up the margin, a wavy line in orange, or other ornamental excrescence; and declarative statements in bullet points, usually passive but for that no less aggressive, paggro, as they say.

  • Bang: social distancing is to be observed
  • Bang: gloves are to be worn
  • Bang: hands are to be removed regularly and dipped in preserving fluid
  • Bang: this is the bullet point the point of the bullet pointy or hollow rubber and bouncy eyegouging and … just a warning. OR is it?

punctuation is to be used sparingly not to mess up the graphic effect

  • Bang

David Byrne used powerpoint as an artistic medium for his 2001 work called ENVISIONING EMOTIONAL EPISTEMOLOGICAL INFORMATION

it was not ironic. But prescient.

Although the product of an effect, what effect do they have, these informative presentations?

Is it, as David Byrne’s work suggests, an artistic one?

What do they do? They do not so much apply to a situation–say, for example, the return to work–aka the opening of the economy[!]–augured by NZ’s decreasing its level of alert–becoming less alert?–to the Level 2–as declare for one. And if that state of affairs did not exist before–as Level 2 did not for Level 3–they produce it.

In fact these patronising and pretentious powerpoint presentation style pamphlets or documents envisioning emotional epistemological information produce the states of affairs to which they apply.

They are therefore performative.

  • to put it into perspective, by Fabio Gironi (which I have helpfully reformatted to bulletpoints to aid informativability and so on):
  • It is obviously a medical science crisis, straining our current-best understanding of viral behavior.
  • It is a healthcare crisis, which should lead us to reconsider the political and economic attention we’ve so far given to our national healthcare systems, particularly for what it pertains to the care of the elderly.
  • It is an economic crisis, an unprecedented stop of the global productive machinery the effects of which nobody can completely predict, and once again questioning the sustainability of global capitalism.
  • It is a social crisis, highlighting the gaps that divide social classes in terms of access to healthcare and personal freedoms.
  • It is a psychological crisis, forcing millions of people worldwide to be locked in their houses and in their heads, shouldering the burden of a crippling anxiety about the future (or perhaps even fighting alone their own demons and pre-existing mental illnesses) as well as isolating children, for whom frequent social (and physical) interaction is a condition for a healthy development.
  • It is a technological crisis, demonstrating how many countries’ data communication infrastructure is far from ready to offer internet access to everyone, something that now as never before in history is being perceived as a basic need, on par with access to electricity and running water.
  • It is a logistical crisis, for both the spread of the virus and the consequent lockdown have highlighted the problems that accompany the constant movement of goods and people across the globe.
  • It is a political crisis (both at the national and at a global level) since the governments of most countries have proven unable to offer a convincing, effective, and unitary response to the crisis, almost invariably failing to quickly adopt containment measures, and since it is putting to a hard test political and economic international agreements, ill-equipped to truly face a global emergency.
  • It is a democratic crisis, since the current lockdown status quo raises questions about if and to what extent democratic countries have the right to curtail personal freedoms in the name of public health (or indeed if a democracy is at all able to deal with the problem), and since the state of forced captivity in which many are living is causing the emergence of selfish, illiberal and intolerant sentiments.
  • It is an educational crisis, for our school and university system was never designed around the remote delivery of knowledge, and both teachers and students are struggling to adapt to the constraints they have to deal with.
  • It is (the symptom of) an environmental crisis, where the emergence and spread of these new viral strains is facilitated by the unconstrained anthropic modification of animal environments. … there is essentially no domain of human activity that wasn’t (or will not be) touched by the consequence of this global viral outbreak.
  • [and just to be clear Fabio Gironi wrote these crisis-descriptions, I did not; he did not know how much more effectively they might be presented as bulletpoints, I did; although I did not go all the way and choose a slide format, landscape, that you might click through and so be thought to be engaging or activating the information herein presented; despite that neither your engagement nor your activation make any difference to the performance–it’s like participation in the old days. A pretence. Prescient.]

I have always thought sincerity to be the enemy of art. There is some distance between the humour of a great critic and the grim nit-picking sincerity of a minor one–and it resides in the grimness, the sincerity, the humourlessness. And this finding is backed up by Milan Kundera in Encounter. A friend contests the validity of works by a novelist who maintains his apolitical stance in the face of Communist occupation.

Hrabal is, the friend says, a collaborator. Kundera comes back at him: but his humour is the opposite of the regime which afflicts us, like a virus, with its grim certainties. Think of the pleasure a single one of his novels gives to people. (He published several under the regime; his apoliticism even though it could not be coopted to its cause was thought not to be a threat to it.) Think of the world without them!

So perhaps the threat to the sincere is the enjoyment people get from the insincere? And we must proceed here, as the great Raymond Ruyer says when approaching the notion consciousness is generalised over scales of self-survey rather than over species of animal including the human, with the greatest delicacy. Because comedy is sometimes sincerity at its worst, grimmest and most defensive. (NZ news is now dominated by comedian presenters.)

What then differentiates humour from humourlessness? What makes it decisive in the face of a regime like the Communist one?

Unfortunately we have the added complication of political correctness to deal with. But also the grimness and sincerity in the struggle to have identities recognised which fall outside the square, the straight, the white and the world as it is.

The millions who don’t fit in, as the brilliant Manifesto of Julian Rosefeldt has it. Remarkable for its humour. Brilliant also for dealing with artistic manifestos in this way, performatively, in a time when performativity itself is pursued with such grim seriousness. J.L. Austinesque.

But how to square this with the notion of the anaesthetic theatre–or music or painting or architecture–that does nothing to challenge existing values? That has a laugh.

Hence the delicacy.

Is every dystopia, when done right, quite apart from pushing out from the now to speculate on a worst possible scenario, not also very funny?

And is it not so because it does not take off from now but from a caricature arrive at the ridiculous?

And is it not not speculative–also such a grim category–but Rabelaisian? I seem to remember that Rabelais in English translation was placed in the same manger as that in which and from which English philosophy was swaddled and sprang. That is in that it was not better but already back in the seventeenth century, with Thomas Urquhart, already Pythonesque? or Jam-like in the age of Chris Morris? Possibly the one thing English philosophy ever had going for it. Until infected with the virus of analytical sincerity. Positivistically chaste, sober, correct and… grim.

Maori language is currently supported in the same spirit by public institutions in NZ. That is the support of Te Reo such as it is has a purism about it, a chastity, sobriety and correctness which have nothing to do with a language.

Humour is always on the side–language is–philosophy–and art are–of the mistake.

Preeminently, mistaken identity. The humour that is not one. The language that is not one. The philosophy that is not one. The art which is not. The ethics of an anti-ethics, of Vila-Matas‘s refusal! and Busi‘s No!

More prescience [bulletpointed for ease of understanding let it slipdown with the well-lubricated ease of a spoonful-of-honey, or if too phlegmy think of a greased pig slipping quickly between your legs, whoops!, before you knew it]:

  • Even before
    • social media,
    • dating apps,
    • smart devices and
    • highly personalized forms of media streaming,
  • one can think of the
    • modern,
    • Western,
    • affluent social subject
  • as a distinct center of
    • self-management, for whom
    • the rest of the world
    • – including others – appears as so much
    • data to be managed. [Claire Colebrook]

The question is how much of this inanity can one put up with? before saying no. Before announcing an antiethics. Before calling it quits. Before quitting it and calling it.

All this would have benefited from being in slides. Like those TED talks have. Like any pitch worth its pitch–or is that pith?–has. (And isn’t it strange that academics now do this, like tech-app-designer-webbed-fingered persons seeking confirmation and money from the so-called angels?)

I set up square white world not to be. (And was assisted by K. at Version, thanks K. You will note that K. too is taking the art route.)

I already knew irony not to be the sort of fancy trick it was claimed to be. It was again David Byrne whom I first heard say

  • no more irony

So how about sarcasm? as the lowest form of wit

how about it? and cliché as the lowest form of critique

  • now we have ironic sorts of currency, like
    • Bitcoin

Of course, on an industrial scale–and scaling is key–irony becomes cynicism–as long as someone’s doing well out of it.

Can one ever do anything as sincere as saying no?

I’d given K. (another K.) an early epic to read: on a visit to her room she said she had read it, and, handing it back she added

  • Do you really feel like that?
    • Is it really how you feel?

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day 44

I’m dreaming of a theatre. Another one. This one’s doing Howard Barker’s The Last Supper, so it’s called Theatre for Breakfast. But it could equally be called, as Barker called his own theatre, ‘theatre of infection.’

I have been writing that there’s only one thing worse than catastrophe, the avoidance of catastrophe.

The avoidance does not itself constitute the catastrophe. It performs the wrong reversal. It is not a question of Think how bad it could have been! but one of reversing the threat or inverting it: How good is it!

Today at the beach two young women stood at the edge of the sea, where it sank into the sand, and one of them threw her arms up in the air and sang out: I feel so free! then both acknowledged without the demands on their time of the social or work, they had been released. They were free.

It was a beautiful day. The beach pushed right against the horizon like a knife. (Which makes one think of another Barker play, The Wounded Knife.)

What would it take to puncture that blue? associated by some with death.

To be free of the demands of work and the social, How good is it!

It is not what we have avoided but that we have encountered.

Thank your gods. But Barker abjures us to rise to them. To become unforgivable. To rise to the occasion of delivering ourselves up to whatever it is. Even our own fiction.

A fiction is preferred. Preferable. And unforgivable.

Theatre for Breakfast performs bearpit style. A central circle where the audience hurls an actor or two, or in Barker’s case, many–he expressed hatred for the economies of writing for reduced (human) resources early on. Austerity of theatres or dances for one performer, or socalled performance art. Austerity avoiding catastrophe: imagine: no art!

But art, How good is it!

So the audience hurls the actors in onto a surface of sawdust or sand to soak up whatever bodily fluids come out of them–usually just spit. But what is unforgivable? And sweat, of course. They are sweating like slaves, and panting and eager like gladiators. And hot and well-greased. And blooded like prey. (Which is the name of a book by Herbert Blau, a friend, rest in peace, or do as you will, How good is it!)

Dirty. Will it make any sense, this time, you ask? having not seen Minus Theatre, or heard about it, and heard that it was better heard about than seen.

This is the strength of Barker: one of his first unforgivable acts–beyond unforgivable in NZ–to declare his theatre elitist. But not then to let the elite get away with it. And equally not let the culturally underprivileged or underprovided get away with it either. This is just the setup. Anyway, the elitism Barker is talking about isn’t privilege as such. It’s not about money. It’s about the elitism to which art makes its appeal–not as a beggar or chugger, charity case: but the intellectual elite to whom moral challenge is as essential as air; but this necessity is really everybody’s, says Barker, only not everyone will come to theatre because of the material setup.

But is it just the material setup? Isn’t it that theatre to many is by its nature inaccessible? Not lack of access–which funding bodies always want to be reassured is being provided–but aversion.

We can say all we like it’s a matter of education or being excluded because our stories are not the ones being told. But is it both? Or is it the former? necessitating an investigation into education. Or is it the latter? necessitating the re-education of those who might be doing the excluding.

The broader question is Who really wants to be morally challenged?

Isn’t this the last thing we want? Don’t we need art, theatre the way we need drugs, alcohol, to escape too much reality?

Can a taste for one’s values being thrown into a crucible or a bearpit be developed? Barker seems to think it can and that this is the necessity of theatre.

Then, aren’t we too used to having our values simply thrown away?

Or a more extreme way of saying this: aren’t we simply used to and don’t we more enjoy our degradation? … And isn’t this the similarity between art, theatre and drugs, alcohol supported by art-as-entertainment or escapism?

And for degradation we can easily swap in numbing or the more proper word anaesthetic.

I recall in one of the many filmic portraits of him one in which Oscar Wilde made the following essential distinction: some drink to forget; I, on the other hand, drink to prolong the moment.

pause

… good wine of necessity is wine no matter what its quality that acts to prolong the moment …

… in some cases so good it engenders states of clairvoyance …

Tonight we watch Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy with Daniel London’s eyebrows and Will Oldham’s legs (really, quite incongruously), Yo La Tengo’s understated score and an extraordinary song using the word congregation to mean something like popular will: we are sometimes with the congregation; sometimes it is against us. Watch out when the congregation is against us. [Please let me know if you know what, who done it.]

I want to make 100 movies in New Zealand where nothing happens.

It would take 100 to get the message across–to turn around the “cinema of unease” by which NZ cinema is and has been damned to be a thing without its shell twitching every time it’s poked with a sharpened stick.

Electrodes attached to it never able to relax in its skin.

Skin off salt rub.

100 movies in which nothing happens. A woman at the lip of the sea says I feel free. A cinema free of the congregation so free of the necessity to jab it with home truths and watch it jump.

This cinema would then be the opposite of Barker’s theatre. All it would say is chill out people! It’s OK! Stop trying so fucking hard!

Then I feel as though I am in a desert again among the deliberate acts of ugliness and abomination that compose our indigenous architectural landscapes, our relentless uneasy culture and its treasure trove of icons.

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What we are witnessing is the complete re-orientation of the global economy away from the petro-dollar to the data economy: days 34-37

I cannot reconstruct how I have got here, but I can tell you where I have got. You are probably not interested–who is? who has the time to be?–in the journey anyway. The conclusion will be bare. Just a bare line hanging without the scaffold of support.

What we are witnessing is the complete re-orientation of the global economy away from the petro-dollar to the data economy. We are seeing the completion of a process of re-orientation begun during the global crisis which had its inaugural moment with the bombing of the Twin Towers. At this time it became politically expedient to empower tech companies in the collection of data.

Data, farming it, harvesting it, owning it, selling it, mining for it, drilling into it, has become a more profitable industry than the oil industry. The data-dollar has outstripped the petro-dollar. The crashing in value of the petro-dollar and the crisis of oversupply in the energy market brought about by government-imposed lockdowns and the closing of national borders, particularly as it has affected the aviation industry, have leveraged the end of an era. COVID-19 marks the completion of a global re-orientation to the data-economy begun in pre-existing conditions of fear. Now the fear is of physical contact, digital contact is the solution.

It is as a spokesperson for a local social service writes, a contact-less digital solution, that without irony will be the complete solution to the contact tracing it is necessary to conduct. Asking our people to sign-in on a paper register and keep a diary of their movements can only go so far.

Social workers and educators move to online provision of services, often speaking to gains in efficiency and efficacy. Click and collect apps move the smallest transactions online, and whole stores migrate: New Hope is the name of the local dump shop, salvaging what people have thrown out for re-sale; it has now an online presence and offers click and collect, but not yet a proprietary app.

And this is where the frontline is: in compassionate examples and moral justifications. New Hope re-sells to benefit local initiatives. Social services take down names and personal details, aiding contact tracing, for the good of the society. The greater good has once again entered common parlance.

The farming of personal data from apps is for the greater good. For COVID-19 and for the complete re-orientation of the global economy. The complete solution.

He doesn’t like information,” the official said. “He likes decision points.”

I add this fragment as the most complete explanation for the otherwise incomprehensible statements of the POTUS.

I add the following fragment as ammunition for the frontline.

I went back to Milan Kundera for his view on kitsch, about the cruelty sentimentality and mawkishness cover over, and recalled how Kundera listened to Varèse and Xenakis, finding, especially in the latter, consolation. He asks himself why? Why, when he could be listening to Smetana? and recapitulating in its patriotism his nostalgia for homeland and for collective belonging.

He writes, equally brutally, perhaps, to the brutality he describes, and again, forgive me quoting at length:

“Despite Stravinsky’s denial that music expresses feeling, the naive listener cannot see it any other way. That is music’s curse, its mindless aspect. All it takes is a violinist playing the three long opening notes of a largo, and a sensitive listener will sigh, “Ah, how beautiful!” In those three notes that set off the emotional response, there is nothing, no invention, no creation, nothing at all: it’s the most ridiculous “sentimentality hoax.” But no one is proof against that perception of music, or against the foolish sigh it stirs.

“European music is founded on the artificial sound of a note and of a scale; in this it is the opposite of the objective sound of the world. Since its beginnings, Western music is bound, by an insurmountable convention, to the need to express subjectivity. It stands against the harsh sound of the outside world just as the sensitive soul stands against the insensibility of the universe.

“But the moment could come (in the life of a man or of a civilization) when sentiment (previously considered a force that makes man more human and relieves the coldness of his reason) is abruptly revealed as the “superstructure of brutality,” ever present in hatred, in vengeance, in the fervor of bloody victories. At that time I came to see music as the deafening noise of the emotions, whereas the world of noises in Xenakis’s works became beauty; beauty washed clean of affective filth, stripped of sentimental barbarity.”

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day 33

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

work is the saddest passion it will never be done

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

good wine

good food

good conversation

good sex

good art

good politics

good religion,

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

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

and the virtuous things that are without number

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day 29, 30 & 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The market is the market’s to shut down!

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

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

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

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

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on the amputation of infected members of society, III, day 20

I wrote that poverty is like a disease. But that it is one much easier to contain than COVID-19.

Although the same technologies are in practice engaged in containing it. These technologies include education and “contact tracing.” Among others: Rt. Hon. Ardern pointed to story-telling, a technique so venerable noone would dare question its morality. Story-telling can be shown to work in its absence, because if we can’t tell a story about how the disease came to be present–attributing it to credible causes–we must isolate, contain, but not necessarily treat, whoever has it.

You don’t have to get at a disease’s causes to know who is infected. They may be those whose narrative doesn’t fit. Imagine a terrorist who has no cause! It’s like an infection the transmission of which you cannot trace.

This is why “contact tracing” is included in the technologies of containment.

But overnight I began to doubt that poverty is like a disease, or that the comparison can reasonably be made between disease and poverty, especially during these “unprecedented times.”

Education is held up as some kind of cure for poverty. Story-telling might be. But does contact tracing apply?

I returned to thinking about my original inspiration in Gloria Kim’s use in a post to the <<empyre>> listserv of the term phantom touch. She used it to refer to the experience summoned through association–watching a movie where people are in physical contact–of feeling the touch of another, like a spectral caress. Not one’s own phantom limb but an other’s against one’s own.

If we are the virus, as the meme goes, who is this other, whose limb touch’s one’s own?

They are a member we, the virus, have cut off. But whose touch we still remember. It is recalled to us watching a movie, perhaps, the sensation of that touch.

As you saw from my previous post, this led to an association being made with society, to a society that, in Thatcher’s phrase, does not exist.

And so I asked if society were not itself a dead limb or a dying or dangerously infected one finally lopped off.

This led me to poverty. And to the question of our acceptance of society’s nonexistence reaching its conclusion in self isolation. We might say it reaches this conclusion by way of social distancing, familiar to anyone who has used a cellphone, now being a rule.

Social distancing is not quite a law. But seems in some places to be enforceable.

Social distancing might reasonably be said to mean distancing oneself from society just as self isolation means isolating oneself from it, cutting oneself off, or, in the phrase phantom touch, cutting the other off and cutting off other members of society.

If society does not exist, we are not members of society. We belong to communities. The Christchurch Shooter, you recall, was labelled one who did not belong. He did not belong in our community, said Rt. Hon. Ardern.

Years ago I remember being in New Caledonia, where I was billeted by a French family, in a beautiful white house on a hill.

One day, after breakfast, I remember I went out to explore the garden, which, because unfenced, seemed to me to be vast. It extended all the way down the hill, and in a gully I discovered a series of corrugated-iron-clad sheds or shacks, backing onto the hill.

I knew garden sheds from home, so thinking them unoccupied–I had seen smoke coming out of the chimney of one of them, but had dismissed this as a sign of habitation–the French family was all up in the house, anyway–I went around to the front. A whole Kanak family was there, three adults and several children.

I didn’t immediately recognise any of them because they were not wearing their uniforms. But then, after being spoken to severely by the man, one of the women came out, and I saw she was the French family’s maid. She was wearing a striped T-shirt, a brightly coloured skirt and had a saffron yellow scarf holding her hair back. The man was the gardener.

He wore dirty shorts and a short-sleeve collared shirt open to his waist. He had a stick or a poker and was poking the flames of a small fire with loose blackened rocks around it and a billy on a tripod above it in which something seemed to be cooking. Seafood maybe. It actually smelt really good.

The French family’s maid had served breakfast not so long ago, and she and I had chatted. I found her French easy to understand and she had been friendly. The French family were quite severe and opinionated when it came to French-New Caledonian affairs: they felt like they were treated as second-class citizens. But I remember the French Mum saying she went to Paris every year shopping.

The French family’s maid first tried to shoo me off. She told me I shouldn’t be there. But seeing that I didn’t understand, she started to smile and began to treat my being there as quite funny. She attempted to share the joke with the man, but he was not having it. He told her–I understood from his gestures–to get me away.

Now the woman who was the maid came right out and ushered me around the corner from where the kitchen was set up under the lean-to, and where these people obviously lived. And I went with her. I realised I had invaded their privacy and I felt guilty for that. But it was impossible to explain that in my country we have garden sheds but that people do not live in them.

This is the story tracing my contact with the infection of Kanak poverty. I could have had the experience in New Zealand. But I doubt the contrast would have been as great as that between the French family, all in white, in a white house, the son, slightly older than I was, I remember wore the whitest plimsolls I have ever seen, and the black family at the bottom of the garden.

I think I must’ve mentioned something to the French Mum, since she was more approachable than the Dad, behind his French newspaper, because I remember her face changing, her countenance as they say darkening. Do I really remember thinking she regarded me with suspicion from that point on, as something of a traitor, of class or of race?

Was the Club Méditerranée at Anse Vata really just being built when I was there? I seem to remember the French Dad pointing it out from the convertible he picked me up in to show off the coastline. I also remember delicious minty drinks being served on a magnesium white deck overlooking a deep blue swimming pool right on that coast, at the home of friends’ of the French family. I have tried to find out what that drink was ever since.

Lingis writes of the contagion of misery.

You might think it presumptuous or importunate to talk of poverty, misery and suffering as if they were transmissable diseases. That it does those who are afflicted out of something that is theirs and cannot be claimed be another not so afflicted.

But to see someone who is poor, who is suffering, who lives in misery or who is just miserable, is to catch something. It is to catch on to feelings that have no certainty, that leave one with no certainty of what to do or of what to feel. Guilt? Remorse? Sympathy?

Isn’t the meaning of society to see and to know there are people living at the bottom of the hill? to know how they live. Isn’t for a society to want to improve the conditions of those, not so one can feel good about oneself but good about the society one lives in? And isn’t it also to have mixed feelings, uncertain compassion, as Lingis writes? To not know what to feel. To know only that one has been called on to feel.

To not know how to act but to know one has been called on to act.

With the amputation of others in self isolation, with social distancing, we grow neglectful.

Our preexisting negligence or our inexcusable ignorance sees an opportunity. (As Rt. Hon. Ardern states with regard to the loss of 200 jobs in NZME, it is due to a preexisting condition.)

Worse than this, there can be no more solidarity with the poor, those in need, with problems, with the problems which define society; with the amputation of society, they are placed out sight, and like ghosts and phantoms, they become invisible.

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