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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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day 38

Who wins from the complete re-orientation to data as standard of value for the global economy? who, in the completion of this process I wrote about in the previous post?

As is perfectly expectable but quite unbelievable for a philosopher not a pulp fiction writer–but perhaps he himself would contest contesting or policing the distinction–Žižek’s COVID-19 book is out. I remember Welcome to the Desert of the Real, after the 2001 attacks, taking up Baudrillard, who had taken up Deleuze and Guattari’s formula, what would be called a meme today, writing 9/11 never happened. (D & G: ’68 never happened.) “But Pandemic!: Covid-19 Shakes the World is thin on humour. ” writes Yohann Koshy for the Guardian. And thin on this kind of scalpel-sharp kind of humour, this oyster-shucking humour–the kind that flipping back and forth, puts the oyster back in isolation, violently extracts it. Puts it back in.

It is left to something or someone called Medium (Julio Vincent Gambuto) syndicating to the Milwaukee Independent to say it never did: “A carless Los Angeles has clear blue skies as pollution has simply stopped. In a quiet New York, you can hear the birds chirp in the middle of Madison Avenue. Coyotes have been spotted on the Golden Gate Bridge.” Welcome to the deserted real of post-Chernobyl-like re-wilding.

J. walking on the northern ridges above the Hauraki Gulf, looking down on the bays, saw the seas begin to boil, saw flights of birds a thousand, two thousand of them, descend from the hills and skies. Black shadows had corralled kingfish and kahawai as effectively as a net. The orca ringfenced the bigger fish and schools of smaller fish they were and continued to poach on. The boiling seas extended from bay to bay.

She crossed to the southern side of the island, again patches of calm water began to agitate. A guy chucked in a line, lost his hook. Tried again. Lost the hook again. The fish too big. A third time, he pulled in kahawai 2 foot long.

Žižek’s book says wait for the recession. It repeats Adbusters, who call it 1929 come again. They call for Occupy 2 in response. And for those able to give to foodbanks. They end, Let the bosses know, if they fuck us, we multiply.

Who wins from the migration of media–of total human cultural media, of what we might call the apex predators of human cultural mediation–online?

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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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enjoy your resurrection, day 17, into day 18

Once resurrected then what?

And what bits will be and which won’t?

What will society lose? the weakest and most vulnerable?

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

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

Of course there is the external society.

Of course there is the external body.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are asked to cut them off.

resurrected, what will that do?

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

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

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

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

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

can we take refuge in the thought we were forced to

cut them off?

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

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

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

And this:

And:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this must be the worst.

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

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

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

And then, think of the numbers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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