Wednesday, October 26, 2005

read this or

here; or here

or here (PDF) (via); or here; or here (more parenting/torture fallout (via))

or here; or here...

something for readers of Umberto Eco here (or: here)...

Update: Punctuated by such silence, this becomes a rather rude gesture of a post. In lieu of apology I'll link to some more things: the co-editor of Latino Boom says a few words; Ellis Sharp deserves a reply (and will get one); and apparently I'll be posting for The Weblog and Said the Gramophone this week if I can get my act together. Suggestions for the latter (in the form of a worthy song) more than welcome, if you've got one. I'm thinking Chris Smither. Shazam (nobody reads updated posts anyway, you bloglined slaves).

Saturday, October 22, 2005


The following is a blockquote. I did not write it. Guess my relation to it and reasons for posting as you wish:
Are there students? No doubt for themselves there are students. Students who say to themselves, we are students. But they are barely taught. The students are no students, but units of resource, and are barely taught. So too are subject areas units of resource, they barely exist. There is no Philosophy, not any more. There's no English Literature, not any more. True, there are professors of Philosophy and professors of English Literature, there are still a few people who remember how it was when there were universities, but they are coming up to retirement. There are a few professors around, but the university is keen to pension them off, to get rid of them, so the takeover can complete itself.

'The university'? I refer to what-was-a-university. What was a university and is a university no longer. They are leaving, the professors, stunned and bewildered. What happened? When did it occur? Get out, they tell themselves, and get out. Meanwhile, the new breed are taking over. I am one of them. Rat-like, desperate, looking to earn revenue, to bring money into what-was-a-university. Rat like, desperate, running along in the maze as quickly as possible and dreaming of ways to bring money into what-was-a-university.

For we have to earn money, we know that. We have to bid for money, we know that. What matters is to bid for money, to bring money in, and to swell what-was-the-university's coffers. What matters is money, is revenue, and what-was-the-university's topslice. Because the what-was-the-university has to make a little profit, there has to be a topslice. You teach to make a profit and your research must be tied to profit. Forget Philosophy, forget Literature, those are long dead.

Update: Somwhat more optimistically

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

somewhat inevitably

The popular take-down of Agamben, albeit at some length. Daniel Binswanger has clearly bothered to bone-up enough to produce what is known as journalistic pap, interspersed with the odd correct sentence, if only to lend him what is known as the aura of authority. If you recognize yourself in this intended audience, do bear in mind that you're not intended to be taken seriously. As for 'bare life' well, you know I hear it means something like this.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Beatitude: Blanchot and Death

(Following on from here...)

"I" die before being born. (Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 101)

I believe only in death, and precisely in death as impossible, for which reason I am obsessed with, curious about, and convinced of mortality. (Derrida, "Deconstructions: The Im-possible," 18)

But there is another kind of interruption, more enigmatic and more grave. It introduces the wait that measures the distance between two interlocutors--no longer a reducible, but an irreducible distance. (Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, 76)

Conversely, political speech--Blanchot refers especially to the "terrible monologues" of Hitler--often seeks to eliminate silence altogether, and so perhaps also the exigency that is an incessant dying (The Infinite Conversation, 75).

To think the way one dies: without purpose, without power, without unity, and precisely without "the way." Whence the effacement of this formulation as soon as it is thought--as soon as it is thought, that is, both on the side of thinking and of dying, in dis-equilibrium, in an excess of meaning and in excess of meaning. No sooner is it thought than it has departed; it is gone, outside.
Thinking as dying excludes the "as" of thought, in a manner such that even if we suppress this "as" by paratactic simplification and write: "to think: to die," it forms an enigma in its absence, a practically unbridgeable space. The un-relation of thinking and dying is also the form of their relation: not that thinking proceeds toward dying, proceeding thus toward its other, but not that it proceeds toward its likeness either. It is thus that "as" acquires the impetuousness of its meaning: neither like nor different, neither other nor same. (The Writing of the Disaster, 39)

Presence is only presence at a distance, and this distance is absolute--that is, irreducible; that is, infinite. (Blanchot, Friendship, 218)

Language, in its attentive and forgetful being, with its power of dissimulation that effaces every determinate meaning and even the existence of the speaker, in the gray neutrality that constitutes the essential hiding place of all being and thereby frees the space of the image - is neither truth nor time, neither eternity nor man; it is instead the always undone form of the outside. It places the origin in contact with death, or rather brings them both to light in the flash of their infinite oscillation - a momentary contact in a boundless space. The pure outside of the origin, if that is indeed what language is eager to greet, never solidifies into a penetrable and immobile positivity; and the perpetually rebegun outside of death, although carried toward the light by the essential forgetting of language, never sets the limit at which truth would finally begin to take shape. They immediately flip sides. The origin takes on the transparency of the endless; death opens interminably onto the repetition of the beginning. And what language is (not what it means, not the form in which it says what it means), what language is in its being, is that softest of voices, that nearly imperceptible retreat, that weakness deep inside and surrounding every thing and every face - what bathes the belated effort of the origin and the dawnlike erosion of death in the same neautral light, at once day and night. Orpheus's murderous forgetting, Ulysses' wait in chains, are the very being of language. (Foucault, Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside)

My speech is a warning that at this very moment death is loose in the world, that it has suddenly appeared between me, as I speak, and the being I address: it is there between us as the distance that separates us, but this distance is also what prevents us from being separated, because it contains the condition for all understanding. Death alone allows me to grasp what I want to attain; it exists in words as the only way they can have meaning. Without death, everything would sink into absurdity and nothingness. (Blanchot, The Work of Fire, 323-24)

Derrida's emphasis on radical aporia extends to "belief" in this manner: "belief" in its strongest affirmative sense requires that the thing one is believing in remain unbelievable. That is, "if one only believed in what was believable, the concept of belief itself would disappear." (In Derrida's reading, Heidegger never attempts to acknowledge sufficiently the act of belief that allows him to say "we" in the first place (Derrida, "Faith and Knowledge"). According to Derrida then, if anything would seem to require an act of true belief it would be atheism. Atheism is precisely the belief in death. Death, only ever knowable by the other, from the distance of the witness becomes, in a sense maybe, the new God.

Giving urgency and meaning to language, given to each other through the act of witnessing, death is the condition of possibility for any community, ethics or just relation toward the other. Blanchot's writing is obsessively occupied with the experience of the death of the other, which is a "limit-experience" because it exposes the subject to a certain fragility that is unavoidably at once immediate and inaccessible.

What calls me most radically into question? Not my relation to myself as finite or as the consciousness of being before death or for death, but my presence in the proximity of another who by dying removes himself definitively, to take upon myself another's death as the only death that concerns me, this is what puts me beside myself, this is the only separation that can open me, in its very impossibility, to the Openness of a community. (The Unavowable Community, 9)

The death of the Other is one of those overwhelming events which reverberate throughout L’arrêt de mort [Death Sentence], and indeed all of Blanchot’s fiction. In such events, the Other affects me, or concerns me. and at the same time escapes my scrutiny. The traditional directionality of Western thought is inverted. I am no longer able to refer the advent of the other person to my thought of that person, or to a space of figural substitution in which my fantasy is able to play freely. Instead, my thought is taken away from me, estranged, singularized, and necessitated, by the Other’s attraction. Metaphor gives way to metamorphosis. I am altered, and drawn outside of myself, in an encounter that does not even occur in the time of my own interiority but precedes the constitution of myself as someone capable ot having such an encounter. Just as my thinking is sustained by a pensée that exceeds my capacity to think it, so in its turn that pensée is generated in the violence and surprise of a happening that it is unable to adequately formulate. Just as writing is not a self-sufficient action, but is drawn into and impelled by a broader movement of compulsion, so the obsessive repetition that initiates thought is itself exceeded in a moment of contact. The impersonality and nonintentionality of passion implies, not isolation, but engagement with an Other. Before the unhappy subsistence of the “I,” there is the shock of the Other’s touch. Prior to the very constitution of my subjectivity in obsession, there is the singularity of a glance or a voice that summons me. (Shaviro, Passion and Excess, 153-154)

Through this contact--an incommunicable intimacy or touch existing, or pre-existing 'outside' of language--it is perhaps the other who is granted something like the potentially earth-and-self-shattering power of God, and precisely as she gives, by withdrawing. The indifference that normally permits communication (as well as violence) is shattered by an even greater indifference. Can this touch even really exist? And yet it does. There is a willing for it, although a willing that does not belong to anything except perhaps this willing itself. Something takes place. (The disaster...happens.)
Something beautiful takes 'place', but not because it is pure, only because it is bound up with a yearning or a willing toward a purity it knows to be impossible. Something enigmatic and yet extremely simple. Something without cure. Speaking of Mallarmé, Blanchot writes:

"If it gets finished (the tale), I shall be cured." This hope is touching in its simplicity. But the tale was not finished. Impotence--that abandon in which the work holds us and where it requires that we descend in the concern for its approach--knows no cure. That death is incurable. The absence that Mallarmé hoped to render pure is not pure. The night is not perfect, it does not welcome, it does not open. It is not the opposite of day--silence, repose, the cessation of tasks. In the night, silence is speech, and there is no repose, for there is no position. There the incessant and the uninterrupted reign--not the certainty of death achieved, but "the eternal torments of Dying." (The Space of Literature, 118-119)

Death always means: the death of the other. But death itself remains unpronounceable; we know only dying. Is then the witness in fact the one who dies? With something of a crude finger, I would like to point to a passage that should really not be pointed to in this way, without being read in the full weight (or full 'lightness') of its context. (But then again, maybe context is not so all-important after all.) It comes from a work of Blanchot's "fiction," and yet it may express things better than any theoretical argument ever could. At the same time, we are led to believe it is nothing less than an intensely personal act, almost a confession, the writing of this story, his words, writing as a witness, in a sense the closest thing to him-self that will have been possible, and so to cite it merely as support for some "theory" may be another violence toward Blanchot (or at least until several years ago, it would have been). Now it is something different again, but let us listen:

She had fallen asleep, her face wet with tears. Far from being spoiled by it, her youth seemed dazzling: only the very young and healthy can bear such a flood of tears that way; her youth made such an extraordinary impression on me that I completely forgot her illness, her awakening and the danger she was still in. A little later, however, her expression changed. Almost under my eyes, the tears had dried and the tear stains had disappeared; she became severe, and her slightly raised lips showed the contraction of her jaw and her tightly clenched teeth, and gave her a rather mean and suspicious look: her hand moved in mine to free itself, I wanted to release it, but she seized me again right away with a savage quickness in which there was nothing human. When the nurse came to talk to me--in a low voice and about nothing important--J. immediately awoke and said in a cold way, "I have my secrets with her too." She went back to sleep at once.
...As I listened without pause to her slight breathing, faced by the silence of the night, I felt extremely helpless and miserable just because of the miracle that I had brought about. Then for the first time, I had a thought that came back to me later and in the end won out. While I was still in that state of mind--it must have been about three o'clock--J. woke up without moving at all--that is, she looked at me. That look was very human: I don't mean affectionate or kind, since it was neither; but it wasn't cold or marked by the forces of this night. It seemed to understand me profoundly; that is why I found it terribly friendly, though it was at the same time terribly sad. "Well," she said, "you've made a fine mess of things." She looked at me again without smiling at all, as she might have smiled, as I afterwards hoped she had, but I think my expression did not invite a smile. Besides, that look did not last very long.
Even though her eyelids were lowered, I am convinced that from then on she lay awake; she lay awake because the danger was too great, or for some other reason; but she purposefully kept herself at the edge of consciousness, manifesting a calm, and an alertness in that calm, that was very unlike her tension of a short time before. What proved to me that she was not asleep--though she was unaware of what went on around her because something else held her interest--was that a little later she remembered what had happened nearly an hour before: the nurse, not sure whether or not she was asleep, had leaned over her and suggested she have another shot, a suggestion which she did not seem to be at all aware of. But a little later she said to the nurse, "No, no shot this evening," and repeated insistently, "No more shots." Words, which I have all the time in the world to remember now. Then she turned slightly towards the nurse and said in a tranquil tone, "Now then, take a good look at death," and pointed her finger at me. She said this in a very tranquil and almost friendly way, but without smiling. ("Death Sentence")

A sentence of death, spoken with a finger, is passed from the dying to the witness. The witness receives a death sentence, with an exchange of looks, and for a death that is not his. The affinities shared by this passage and the meditations on God that are pursued by Derrida in The Gift of Death are striking.

One hesitates to read too much. But with that worry in mind, it might just be noted that in Blanchot's story the character of the nurse (if she is a character, as well as--perhaps?--a real person) occupies an interesting position as a sort of mediator between the narrator and "J." The death worn on the witness's or narrator's face can only be seen by a third party or a second witness. In a strange way, then, the nurse is not unlike a sort of priest, mediating between a God (the narrator--death)--a God who sees in the other (J.) in secret, without himself being seen-- and J. herself. But the story also lends itself to being read in an opposite direction (and this is part of the performative ambiguity--if such a thing can be said without raising to many eyebrows at once--of the text), whereby J. is clearly the figure of God ("you've made a fine mess of things")--a God whose omniscience (seeing every secret) with regard to the narrator is a profound comfort, although one that is at once "terribly friendly" and "terribly sad."
In any case, much more might be said about this passage, and this story where every act of naming may or may not be quite deliberate. Could it have been written--and can it be read--by someone who hasn't felt these things as well? Blanchot writes of having once been convinced he was about to die, before the firing squad. He miraculously escaped, but it would seem an experience that left him forever marked by death. An "alertness in that calm"--isn't this also the "passivity" of which The Writing of the Disaster speaks at such length? A friendship without friendship, a gift without giving--these are the aporias that Derrida transforms from Blanchot's logic of the 'neuter'. In his reading of Blanchot's récit, "The Instant of My Death", Derrida elaborates:

Life can only be light from the moment that it stays dead-living while being freed, that is to say, released from itself. A life without life, an experience of lightness, an instance of “without,” a logic without logic of the “X without X,” or of the “not” or of the “except,” of the “being without being,” etc. In “A Primitive Scene,” we could read: “To live without living, like dying without death: writing returns us to these enigmatic propositions.”
The proof that we have here, with this testimony and reference to an event, the logical and textual matrix of Blanchot’s entire corpus, so to speak, is that this lightness of “without,” the thinking of the “X without X” comes to sign, consign or countersign the experience of the neuter as ne uter, neither-nor by bringing it together. This experience draws to itself and endures, in its very passion, the thinking as well as the writing of Blanchot, between literature and the right to death. Neither...nor: in this way the witness translates the untranslatable demourance....The neuter is the experience or passion of a thinking that cannot stop at either opposite without also overcoming the opposition -- neither this nor that, neither happiness nor unhappiness (Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, 88-90).

There is of course also a 'weaker' sense in which the phrase "death sentence" may be read. As precisely a sort of entirely banal prohibition against dying--a living death instead of a dying life, if you will. For example, the political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, currently serving his twenty-second (24) year in solitary confinement (and in support of whose case Derrida wrote, years ago, to then-President Bill Clinton), has been given such a "death sentence."
To presume to pronounce the other's death--is this to exercise the violence of a sovereign, as if one could ever justly assume adequate authority over whether the other lives or dies (the implication being that one had then somehow mastered one's own death); moreover to justify this power as the condition of possibility for any relation at all to the other, or indeed of any politics--such might even be the definition of injustice, mightn't? Derrida's critical reading of Carl Schmitt in The Politics of Friendship would point away from such a politics. Where Schmitt would affirm the permanent threat of war between sovereign nation-states (annihilation, even, extending without limit the exigency of the Cold War's logic of "deterrance") as the condition of the political, Derrida would rather dream of something else, and not only because he sees in Schmitt's analysis a dangerous sanctioning of a certain sanctified or legalized "killing without murder." With regard to Schmitt, Derrida writes (and it is well worth reproducing at a little length for the playful echoes of Blanchot's questions and indeed Blanchot's style that appear):

One can infer symmetrically that there is no friend without this possibility of killing which establishes a non-natural community. Not only could I enter into a relationship of friendship only with a mortal, but I could love in friendship only a mortal at least exposed to so-called violent death--that is, exposed to being killed, possibly by myself. And by myself, in lovence itself, in an essential, not an accidental manner. To love in love or friendship would always mean: I can kill you, you can kill me, we can kill ourselves. Together or one another, masculine or feminine. Therefore, in all cases, we already are (possibly, but this possibility is, precisely, real) dead for one another...Let us not forget that the political would precisely be that which thus endlessly binds or opposes the friend--enemy/enemy--friend couple in the drive or decision of death, in the putting to death or in the stake of death. We were speaking of the political enemy at the beginning of this analysis. A hypothesis, then: and what if another lovence (in friendship or in love) were bound to an affirmation of life, to the endless repetition of this affirmation, only in seeking its way (in loving its way, and this would be phileîn itself) in the step beyond the political, or beyond that political as the horizon of finitude, putting to death and putting of death. The phileîn beyond the political or another politics for loving, another politics to love, for love (à aimer)? Must one dissociate and associate together differently pólis, politeía, philía, Éros, and so forth? If a choice between these three hypotheses and these three logical chains were simply or clearly possible, we would make that choice, we would choose one immediately. In this very place.
Hence we must be patient at the crossroads and endure this undecidable triviality. Without it--and this is the thesis and the decision--no decision would be possible, nor even any friendship. There we are. In this very place? No, there.(The Politics of Friendship, 122-123)

No doubt what then began for the young man was the torment of injustice. No more ecstasy; the feeling that he was only living because, even in the eyes of the Russians, he belonged to a noble class.
This was war: life for some, for others, the cruelty of assassination.
There remained, however, at the moment when the shooting was no longer but to come, the feeling of lightness that I would not know how to translate: freed from life? the infinite opening up? Neither happiness, nor unhappiness. Nor the absence of fear and perhaps already the step beyond. I know, I imagine that this unanalyzable feeling changed what there remained for him of existence. As if death outside of him could only henceforth collide with the death in him. "I am alive." "No, you are dead." ("The Instant of My Death", 7-9)

This lightness neither frees nor relieves of anything; it is neither a salvation through freedom nor an opening to the infinite because this passion is without freedom and this death without death is a confirmation of finitude. Yet here is a more affirmative response, if not a more positive and more assured one...We could appeal to all of Blanchot's texts on the neuter here--the neither-nor that is beyond all dialectic, of course, but also beyond the negative grammar that the word neuter, ne uter, seems to indicate. The neuter is the experience or passion of a thinking that cannot stop at either opposite without also overcoming the opposition--neither this nor that, neither happiness nor unhappiness. (Demeure: Fiction and Testimony)

Taking issue with the formula often attributed to Kafka--"Write to be able to die--Die to be able to write"--Blanchot in "The Work and Death's Space" responds:

At first glance, the preoccupation of the writer who writes in order to be able to die is an affront to common sense. It would seem we can be sure of at least one event: it will come without any approach on our part, without our bestirring ourselves at all; yes, it will come. That is true, but at the same time it is not true, and indeed quite possibly it lacks truth altogether. At least it does not have the kind of truth which we feel in the world, which is the measure of our action and of our presence in the world. What makes me disappear from the world cannot find its guarantee there; and thus, in a way, having no guarantee, it is not certain. This explains why no one is linked to death by real certitude. No one is sure of dying. No one doubts death, but no one can think of certain death except doubtfully, the brittleness of the unsure. It is as in order to think authentically upon the certainty of death, we had to let thought sink into doubt and inauthenticity, or yet again as if when we strive to think on death, more than our brain--the very substance and truth of thought itself--were bound to crumble. This in itself indicates that if men in general do not thing about death, if they avoid confronting it, it is doubtless in order to flee death and hide from it, but this escape is possible only because death itself is perpetual flight before death, and because it is the deep of dissimulation. Thus to hide from it is in a certain way to hide in it. (The Space of Literature, 95)

In the "brittleness of the unsure," thought finds its necessity. The real is fragile, and this is precisely what makes it real. However, the real has already been forgotten, and then remembered. Following in the steps of Nietzsche, and perhaps even skipping a mountain peak every now and then (though we could argue about whether he reaches the clouds), Blanchot emphasizes that memory is always a function of forgetting.
Impossible necessary death; why do these words--and the experience to which they refer (the inexperience)--escape comprehension? Why this collision of mutually exclusive terms? Why efface them by considering them as a fiction peculiar to some particular author? It is only natural. Thought cannot welcome that which it bears within itself and which sustains it, except by forgetting. (The Writing of the Disaster, 67)

However, returning to the phrase: “Prevented from dying by death itself." One way of approaching this enigmatic statement might run more or less like this: if death as such is only knowable or realizable through the experience of watching the other die--of witnessing the other in their absolute mortality from a perspective and necessary distance that they themselves will never know--then this “death” is also in some sense a pronouncement of immortality, signifying the impossibility of one's own death.
But in another sense (and there are many--Derrida has quipped in Demeure that “years could be spent on this sentence alone”--which is most convincing coming from him, but in any case), if one thinks this sentence with a different emphasis, one placed not unlike invisible quotes on “dying” rather than on death, then, again, the aporia might be said to be placed on dying. In this sense, one’s need for a kind of dying--an infinite dying, in fact--would be violently abridged by the imposition: death. (In a sense it is the same everyday imposition of calling someone by their name, which is at once to reference a time when such a call cannot be answered, but only the name itself will echo.)
In other words, it is essential to be able to die without in fact dying, to die without death--otherwise the ethical demand of death is not addressed, and "death" becomes only a kind of epithet or slogan hurled at the living. One can never be through responding to the dead, or rather to the demand placed by the enigma of their disappearance. Just how one remains faithful to this infinite demand (and what being "faithful" might mean) without, as Freud once said, being “unconsciously afraid of the dead and because of this hidden awe...often led to speak in overpraising term," is not a simple question (Lacoue-Labarthe, "The Echo of the Subject," 158). Freud, for one, might suggest that it is also a question of shame.

It is a question whose tone has been uniquely and permanently altered by the events of the second World War. It may be a question of an “ethics without redemption,” but, paradoxically, also one of lightness, and perhaps, above all, of friendship.

To be truly responsible, in the strongest possible sense of this word--a word that is so important in linking Blanchot and Derrida, and in a manner that may finally open beyond either one of them--requires a negotiation of the aporia of dying. Dying is at bottom an impossible contradiction that can never be resolved with any finality, through the mantric or numbing false comfort of any formula, program or prescription--there is in fact no “at bottom” at all.

The "I" that is responsible for others, the I bereft of selfhood, is sheer fragility, through and through on trial. This I without any identity is responsible for him to whom he can give no response; this I must answer in an interrogation where no question is put; he is a question directed to others from whom no answer can be expected either. The Other does not answer. (The Writing of the Disaster, 119)

The inessentiality and necessity of dying, for any ethics (as essentiality necessarily devoid of essence), can only be approached by first acknowledging the impossibility of doing so. (Which is not, of course, what anybody likes to hear, and it may be only too easy to underestimate the power of this dislike.) But then as soon as one chooses an approach--a decision that is always in some sense "mad"--so Derrida follows Kierkegaard--one is constantly in danger of letting one’s style seduce and subsume the meaning or obscure the stakes of one’s intervention. In fact there is no avoiding this obscurity, but only degrees of patience.
If in fact every interpretation cannot help but transform what it interprets, then one is still responsible for how one goes about transforming, deforming, and reforming, even if the result is always failure. There might be a kind of relief in this, if it were not also the greatest burden in the world: how to fail responsibly and in failing, disappear (or nearly disappear)...with style (but not into style). To fail so that in failing, there is still genuine risk.

"Prevented from dying by death itself." This sentence plays on the many readings made possible depending on which language--general or restricted, weak or strong--is heard, and when. In the end, every reading might amount to much the same point. But there might also be a kind of violence in reducing the enigmatic quality or multiplying expressiveness of such a phrase to a single point, because the inability of language to express the full weight of such a point is also part of the point. That is, to dismiss such phrases as mere "word play" is to miss hearing the serious tone of the game--one refusing to be excused from aporia and contradiction.

The phrase, “prevented from dying by death itself” must finally be read in the light of the camps--where "light" is not a 'lightness' at all; it is perhaps a blinding glare, a "night without darkness," or a day without dawn.

"Prevented from dying by death itself." Is this not the self-sacrificial "leap" that is required of 'belief'?

Yes, let us remember the earliest Hegel. He too, even prior to his "early" philosophy, considered that the two deaths were indissociable, and that only the act of confronting death--not merely of facing it or of exposing oneself to its danger (which is the distinguishing feature of heroic courage), but of entering into its space, of undergoing it as infinite death and also as mere death, "natural death"--could found the sovereignty of masterhood: the mind and its prerogatives. The result was perhaps, absurdly, that the experience which initiates the movement of the dialectic--the experience which none experiences, the experience of death--stopped it right away, and that the entire subsequent process retained a sort of memory of this halt, as if of an aporia which always had still to be accounted for. (The Writing of the Disaster, 68)

See also, not unrelatedly...

love of blogs

Charlotte Street:
Equally, there are philosophers, thinkers, whose ideas do not, so to speak, bear repeating. To study Walter Benjamin’s Theses is one thing; to turn them on the present, to re-open what the book of canonisation has closed (but without mentioning Benjamin, without the dutiful nod), to take him at his word rather than simply ‘editing and annotating’ his words, this would have the scholars calling the police.

The accusation against Zizek (see comments thread here) is that this citation of Santner is somewhat disingenuous. Luther Blisset links to the actual Santner piece (2003, I think) which, it turns out, cites Zizek’s own Welcome to the Desert of the Real (2002) as support for his argument. It would appear then that Zizek is citing as an authority/source someone who is citing as a source/authority Zizek himself. John Holbo refers to this referential circle as a ‘Munchausen’ tactic. Zizek has used Santner as a “sock puppet” another commenter states, and adds with obvious glee that this is the “killer” point against Zizek, and a suitable cue to “dismiss” him as a “clown”. Draw your own conclusions. Of course, those who are interested in Zizek are perfectly capable of recognising the lazy or ‘clownish’ elements, without seizing on these as convenient escape clauses...

(Recall that Trilling is complimenting Forster for his liberal imagination; it brings to mind a joke of Terry Eagleton's that Carl once quoted to me—I hope I remember it correctly: The liberal imagines that there will still be chocolate-chip cookies in a thousand years.)

Are you a philosopher, then?, I ask W. No, he's not a philosopher he says. For a start, he doesn't know any maths. For a start, the pair of us know nothing about maths. What about that book about maths, I ask him, that's on your shelves. And indeed, there it is, the book on maths, on the shelves. He doesn't get very far, says W., just as he never gets very far with his ancient Greek.

The first half of the film argues fairly unambiguously and persuasively and even with a kind of passion that the action genre is the product of the sadistic imagination of sadistic, avaricious appropriators. That in this sense it is deeply anti-humanity. Then the action unwinds inevitably toward the 'But' to this Yes, its excuse, its forgiveness; the genre is in the end the giver of life, that which alone can nullify death, can infallibly punish the wicked and monstrously evil and reward the brave and good, the place of redemption and moral certainty for the rôle, the tabula rasa, that is humanity.

The Last Action Hero can't decide about action films, but it's indecision is its own theme and mode of production. It leans toward action films on several axes - of narrative, style, generic value-ordering - and strongly against them on the built-in 'values' liberal-interpretive plane. The film demonstrates, as if at a trade show for genres, the ideological flexibility of the action genre by having the narrative enact its othering and condemnation (in the inner, and fascist, fiction) and recuperation and redemption (in the outer, and liberal one) simultaneously.

A more thoroughly liberal gesture is unimaginable.

Friday, October 14, 2005


A great big wooden beam, stuck in the eye of the liberals. Ellis Sharp has all you need to know. For this to be a "litblog" I suppose I'll need "the author photo" here.

Update: also Kpunk.

More on eye beams from uncyclopedia (via) (this entry also cute).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

blogging from Rome

Is Marco Roth. On the n+1 blog.

Analytic Philosophy and the Holocaust

Dylan Trigg has a post deserving of a comments box. Or maybe this is a bad idea. In any case, I hope he doesn't mind.

A passage from Derrida, Resistances of Psychoanalysis

Let me be quite clear about this: my intention here is not at all to accuse or criticize Foucault, to say, for example, that he was wrong to confine Freud himself (in general) or psychoanalysis itself (in general) to this role and place; on the subject of Freud or psychoanalysis themselves and in general, I have in this form and place almost nothing to say or think, except perhaps that Foucault has some good arguments and that others would have some pretty good ones as well to oppose to his. It is also not my intention, however it may seem, to suggest that Foucault contradicts himself when he so firmly places the same Freud (in general) or the same psychoanalysis (in general) sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other of the dividing line, and always on the side of the Evil Genius – who is found sometimes on the side of madness, sometimes on the side of its exclusion-reappropriation, on the side of its confinement to the outside or the inside, with or without asylum walls. The contradiction is no doubt in the things themselves, so to speak. And we are in the region where the wrong (the being-wrong or the doing-someone-wrong) would want to be more than ever on the side of a certain reason, on the side of what is called raison garder – that is, on the side of keeping one's cool, keeping one's head – on the side, precisely, where one is right [a raison], and where being right [avoir raison] is to win out over or prove someone wrong [avoir raison de], with a violence whose subtlety, whose hyperdialectic and hyperchiasmatic resources, cannot be completely formalized, that is, can no longer be dominated by a metalanguage. Which means that we are always caught in the knots that are woven, before us and beyond us, by this powerful – all too powerful – logic. The history of reason embedded in all these turbulent idioms (to prove someone wrong [donner tort] or to prove them right [donner raison], to be right [avoir raison], to be wrong [avoir tort], to win out over [avoir raison de], to do someone wrong [faire tort], and so on) is also the history of madness that Foucault wished to recount to us. The fact that he was caught up, caught up even before setting out, in the snares of this logic – which he sometimes thematizes as having to do with a "system of contradictions" and "antinomies" whose "coherence" remains "hidden" – cannot be reduced to a fault or wrong on his part (F, p. 624). This does not mean, however, that we, without ever finding him to be radically wrong or at fault, have to subscribe a priori to all his statements. One would be able to master this entire problematic, assuming this were possible, only after having satisfactorily answer a few questions, questions as innocent as What is reason?, for example, or, more narrowly, What is the principle of reason? What does it mean to be right [avoir raison]? What does it mean to be right or to prove someone right [avoir ou donner raison]? To be wrong, to prove someone wrong, or to do them wrong [avoir, donner ou fair tort]? You will forgive me here, I hope, for leaving these enigmas as they are.

4. The "Stroke of Genius": A Tireless Fort/Da

I will restrict myself to a modest and more accessible question. The distribution of statements, as it appears to be set out before us, should lead us to think two apparently incompatible things: the book entitled The History of Madness, like the history of madness itself, is and is not the same age as Freudian psychoanalysis. The project of this book thus does and does not belong to the age of psychoanalysis....(Derrida, "To Do Justice to Freud" in Resistances of Psychoanalysis)

(Would it be so extraordinarily presumptuous to insist: Begin here, or don't begin at all?)

Or you could begin here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

a word on blogs

You know, I'm very happy with my life. And with the development and further stepping of my plans. Very little of either makes it onto this blog (well hopefully some of the happiness does, every now and then), and that is how it should be. But for those who would express concern, that this record presents an ambiguous and less than perfect trace: Thank you for that concern. But really, you do not know much of anything about me. Blogging is only a luxury, and a supplement. Those who would confuse it with their professional prospects or ego are reaching for a higher standard, and good luck to them in ever reaching it. For sure, it does not take much to be a TV personality of higher quality than what is on TV these days (with a few, rather thoroughly-blogged, exceptions). Which is not to say that blogging isn't wonderful, or on occasion even superior to various institutional scenes of "higher learning." Or that I'd trade the friendships I have made this way for anything. Here's a song (via here) just for the kind-hearted philanthropists and would-be tutors of the blog. No much substantial posting for the next short while, but by all means check back in a week, if you like.

Update: I liked this post by Michael Bérubé. And this one by Franz Kafka. And well, this one by Jared, all very much.

Anyone have an answer to the Bérubé question about French blogging scene? I read Maquerelle du Vrai (and Robin's translations) and the Blanchot blog (the good one, the one organized by Nancy et al.), sometimes Anaximandrake and there used to be a few philo-related others, but whether they are representative of anything (and speaking as an Amuhrkun) I couldn't say. One commenter links to this interesting article, from which I quote:
The anxiety, though, is in fact not new. The contemporary university could be said, again with little exaggeration, to be structured along the paranoid logics laid down by these anxieties: how is knowledge to be produced out of the infinite archive? Where is the proper place of knowledge production? Is there a way of teaching, of passing it on? Universities have insisted on “universities” as the answer. This is, in part, what it means to professionalize, and certainly what it means to create bureaucracies to manage the production of knowledge. I want to suggest, however, that the anxiety about blogs is, in part, a goading realization that the answer is, if not wrong, at least inadequate. It is the contention of this essay that blogs are a vibrant space of knowledge production, certainly outside of those protocols, such as peer review, that universities have come to use to “ensure” the standards of knowledge, but not outside of standards as such, as is often claimed. Blogging shares with peer review an insistence that knowledge production is a communal effort. It is an effort that depends on and creates an audience, or as I will discuss shortly, a public...I should be explicit here that I think that the word “public” in my discussion does not describe some static, unitary collection of persons. Public is the on-going, unfolding history of readers—and within the ready and fluent power of the net and blog-tools, reader-writers—who come to interact with the blog.

Monday, October 10, 2005

side of things, without argument

All day (courtesy of).


Great jazz takes place by chance. The musician is always listening for this chance. She knows what it means to listen, because she has learned. But she forgets herself. Her listening forgets itself, and greatness takes place by chance, always just to the side of things. Saying this is nothing. It's a swindle.

Great jazz is listening always just to the side of itself. If flowers can be broken, then melodies are also great to the degree that they are broken. This is a fact. Not wilted or decaying, but like ice cubes broken. Not merely melting. Great jazz is broken, and somewhere maybe inside itself it is also frozen. But great jazz is also a great pursuit.

(Dylan; the moment you try to do more than always begin, you fail.) Who is the musician? She is marked by her nonrelation to herself. To the other in herself, she is bound. A nonrelation that can only ever come from intense relation, from thorough self-knowledge even and from dedicated study, but knowledge and self-study that has nothing to do with this intensity, when it comes. It is a lightness. She cannot control when it comes, and it never comes the same way twice. But when it comes, "she" or "it" is in that moment marked. Marked by something like the peculiar "abeyance" mentioned by Artaud.

Great jazz cannot be too perfect. It cannot be too technical, or too classical. It must ceaselessly allow for the possibility of its own failure, and not put on delicate airs. But neither can it presume to be wholly present to itself, and this is yes, a paradox. It cannot fail to acknowledge some speaking room for restless silence, though silence is never pure. Albeit that silence never quite succeeds in speaking or manifesting itself in the assurance of one voice. The pretense to purity is the death of silence.

Maybe there is a glimpse, sometimes, when listening to great jazz, of something like that peculiar 'resistance/desistance' (Lacoue-labarthe) and fort/da (Derrida) marking the shadow of an 'outside' or an 'open' (Blanchot, Agamben). Maybe this is nonesense, and just wishful riffing. Certainly anyone who brings up Blanchot in relation to jazz deserves the ridicule they will get.

But why this word, "peculiar," with all its enigmatic rhetorical weight? Does this word indict itself? Peculiar is not a word to use lightly. Is it because what makes jazz great seems to belong only to a realm of complete irrelevance? Maybe great jazz may be described as a kind of sober irrelevance, not unlike a sober boredom. I'm afraid you will have to decide for yourself.

A drummer makes for a unique leader. He is only so useful as his ability to recognize the call, call out in turn and further drive the song. It remains up to the others, to large degree, to have something to say. This is where the pianist especially comes in. After watching the blind Art Tatum (was it?) leave the stage, Kerouac pointed to the empty stool and said to Neal: "God's chair."

The greatness of the speaking that takes place is finally indifferent to itself. It is marked, perhaps, by a sort of ruthless, but also subject-less, melancholy (one entirely other, if this is possible, than its merely sentimental or self-indulgent cousin, but nevertheless born of a futile quest, a quest already ended). Such melancholy (for lack of a better word) or patience, such uncomfortable dwelling in (non)relation is what distinguishes the truly great performances of Roy Haynes, Thelonious Monk, and Art Tatum, Miles Davis, Danilo Perez, Coltrane and yes, even the elder Ellis Marsalis) and of course Chet Baker, from the likes of such smug, self-appointed genre historians as Wynton Marsalis (whose judgement Ken Burns, big presumptuous nerd, so unfortunately worships and canonizes). The former belongs to the category of greatness, or poetry, madness, literariness, art (or whatever one wishes to call it); the latter to mere proficiency.

When the storm knocked the power out on Roy Haynes the other night, he kept playing anyway (after asking for some cognac). There followed a brief comical interlude, the audience suddendly more visible than the stage, during which the quartet passed around a flask with the aid of flashlights, and people shouted the occasional request.

"Well, we were going to do a ballad anyway...(shit, here I am still speaking into the mike...)"

"Well I've been performing for 60 years, and I've never done a gig this way. And I'm not even high."

We were wedged in the balcony of an old theatre, itself packed to the brim with a crowd of several hundred. The stage itself was dark, but the sound travelled just fine. The saxophonist became more of a person, suddenly forced to address the whole space instead of just the microphone. They played blind. Still, at one point, it was either going to be an extraordinary concert or it wasn't, and unfortunately it wasn't (even though they took my request for "Green Chimneys" – not that I was the only one). And not that Roy Haynes, at age 80 and going strong, is ever less than a humble wonder to behold, in any case. The man is a living museum of competing rhythms and broken melodies. I'm glad he's still doing his thing, (and couldn't possibly be more jealous of those playing with him). It would be remiss if I didn't recommend:

The latter especially is..indispensable.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

"Asses are made to bear, and so are you"

Scott Eric Kaufman (the "Eric" is silent) has posted his little ditty on Foucault just about everywhere now. Surely there is something that can be said about it. And when I figure out what that something is, you can damn well bet I'll say it.

philosophy of pop, cont.

Following on from previous discussions of Bob Dylan, "pop" and privacy here: a conversation in Slate (Stephen Metcalf corresponds with Michael Kimmelman, chief art critic for The New York Times and author of The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa:

For a very brief while, I was a political speechwriter. At the beginning of every political speech is a brief panegyric known in the trade as "the suck-up." Ours is an odd format, with one of us (er, me) addressing a set of public letters to a writer (er, you) about his newly published book, The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa, and if nothing else it requires a suck-up. You've made my job blessedly unawkward, though, by writing a terrific book—really and truly, a thoughtful, unpretentious, funny, pop (in the best sense of the word) monograph (in the best sense, etc.) about the delightfully vexatious relationship between art and life. I have to admit, I cringed a little at the subtitle (the title I unreservedly like) as it reminded me of all the grim and condescending middlebrow vade mecums recently published, touting the Oprah-esque therapies available in the Great Works. But this book is both so immediately companionable and so nuanced that my fears were quickly banished, and what followed was a pleasure from beginning to end.


Am I right in thinking that the subtext for the book is an open question of your own about how to assume the proper attitude toward art as a critic? Those dangers being: humorlessness, pedantry, in-group preciousness? When someone like me looks at art, he also sees implied behind the canvas or installation a complex economy of competing egos and interests, and sometimes decides to check out of the whole affair. To put it bluntly, as the chief critic for the New York Times, aren't these your Scylla and Charybdis: a philistine majority culture that "knows what it likes"—i.e., Thomas Kinkade—and a hyper-refined minority culture, made up of absurdly fastidious palates? How do you find room to turn people on to the Good, when you have provincial distrust on one hand, and cosmopolitan ego-jockeying on the other? Was this book an answer to that dilemma at all? As I read it, in The Accidental Masterpiece you were saying our own lives, as we actually live them, help arbitrate our tastes and keep them from becoming either too vulgar or too precious. And to conclude: I liked hearing the voice of my own distrust, especially directed at someone as gigantic in egoistical proportion as Donald Judd, echoed by none other than Clement Greenberg, who claimed Judd trafficked in little more than "aimless surprise." Isn't that an apt description of everything bad about the art world these days?



I like this political speechwriting format that you've clearly perfected. I could really get used to the suck-up.


I suppose (forgive me for this bit of pedantry) the problem is a spillover from Marcel Duchamp's urinal. It was a short step from his urinal to the bottle of Paris air that Duchamp called a sculpture, after which Yves Klein invited Parisians to the opening of an exhibition at which there was nothing to see. If there was no difference between Duchamp's urinal and an ordinary urinal (plumbing aside) and an art show could consist of nothing, then art no longer necessarily resided in the thing itself but in those who interpreted the thing. Meaning it resided in what you aptly call the in-group. This by definition created an out-group, a majority, whose alienation greases the exclusionary system. The art market depends on this—the spectacle of rich people paying obscene amounts for somebody else's underpants or similar objects of dubious art providing compensatory dollops of black comedy.

Even so, I've found that good art is, by its nature, generous. It's about opening our eyes—about encouraging people to look more closely at what's around them (this was Klein's point). Art is too important and interesting to be left to the art world. This is why I am frequently attracted, as you are, to serious obsessives, often of a more private temperament, who, if not always divorced from cheap fame and passing fads, are at least legally separated from them. They throw themselves into their work, for its own sake, and are willing to fail.

Or, in another vein (why doesn't Mark Greif get himself a blog?), consider this Agambenian thought from Ken Rufo:

Blogging is at this point a somewhat battered and banal example of what many see as a more pernicious confession and collection of information that removes from the individual the power to resist authoritarian impulses (be they governmental or corporate), which at least theoretically rely upon information control and knowledge over and interpellation of their targetted subjects. And the many who see this aren't wrong, necessarily. But it occurs to me that the concern might well be alleviated if we followed Lanier's suggestion or parallel loss: that nullifying some of the force of any "right to privacy" means also nullifying that force for all sorts of actors that claim a privilege via it, from the individual citizen to the corporation to the government. If we had as much information and (and this is a hugely crucial componenet) information-processing as did these larger and more complex organizations, it may be that privacy would turn out to no longer be a necessary check on the authoritarian principle...The Internet, complete with Web 2.0, is not going to get any more private any time soon, but it may force us to rethink community, and to rethink the "essence" of belonging, in such a way that we may code a digital scene in which the secret is freed from the presupposition of community. Perhaps a religious intonation isn't really necessary if, with the distrubuted agency of smart mobs and creative commons communities, the data sphere (and the law) become properly public, which is to say, open.

One wonders if there isn't something of a third way between these two arguments (Mark's and Ken's) about privacy, or if they really aren't agreeing despite appearances. Cultivating an inner self, somewhat in the manner of Bob Dylan, is perhaps not about constructing a vain fortress of solitude against a hostile (much less disguisedly authoritarian) enemy (that is the myth, enforced by such stories as him walking down the opposite side of the street from his family), so much as about the relentless carving of an impossible solitude out of the myth, or negotiating the myth with all the seriousness that a ruthless solitude – to make as if such a thing were possible – would have demanded. Maybe it is this sense of privacy, apart from its juridical or legal meaning, neither technophoric nor -phobic that is not incompatible with Abamben's vision of The Coming Community.

Which is to suggest another form of solitude, maybe one that (yes) hasn't even arrived yet, and somewhat contra Zizek:
So, when we are bombarded by claims that in our post-ideological cynical era nobody believes in the proclaimed ideals, when we encounter a person who claims he is cured of any beliefs, accepting social reality the way it really is, one should always counter such claims with the question: OK, but where is the fetish which enables you to (pretend to) accept reality "the way it is"? "Western Buddhism" is such a fetish: it enables you to fully participate in the frantic pace of the capitalist game, while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it, that you are well aware how worthless this spectacle is - what really matters to you is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always withdraw.

Friday, October 07, 2005

in praise of traces

From Nicholas Rombes, "The Rebirth of the Author" (courtesy of the blogosphere's greatest friend, who turns five yesterday):
Perhaps it was all a mistake, a terrible act of misreading. Rather than a serious deconstruction of the author concept, perhaps Barthes's essay "The Death of the Author" was ironic, a close relative of Pop Art. After all, while "The Death of the Author" achieved its widest circulation in the U.S. in its 1977 version in Image - Music - Text, it is perhaps lesser known that the essay had appeared previously in English in the Fall-Winter 1967 issue of the avant-garde magazine Aspen: "each issue came in a customized box filled with booklets, phonograph recordings, posters, postcards" and even a Super-8 film.[1] Contributors included Andy Warhol, John Cage, Yoko Ono, Hans Richter, Susan Sontag, and others. Barthes's essay -- translated by Richard Howard -- appeared in a double issue (the Minimalism issue) which explored "conceptual art, minimalist art, and postmodern critical theory."[2] 1967-68: a serious time shaken by violence and protest, yes, but also a time of great experimentation and humor and absurdity. The pleasure of death; jouissance that has been lost as career academics used Barthes's essay, stripping it out of its playful dimensions, its at once urgent and resigned manifesto-like quality.

The problem, now, is easy to see. Whereas Barthes (and others including Horkheimer and Adorno, Andrew Sarris, Marshall McLuhan, Robert Ray, Pauline Kael, Susan Sontag, Lester Bangs, Dick Hebdige, Antonin Artaud, Richard Hell) offered theories in language that was playful, slippery, aphoristic, and often poetic, the academics who subsequently applied their theories often did so in prose that was deadly dry, pedantic, serious, stripped of the slippages and humor that made readers want to believe. While scores of academics over the years have gloomfully attacked Andrew Sarris's Americanized auteur theory (first published in Film Culture in 1962 as "Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962"), they did so by turning their backs on the lively, self-deprecating qualities of his prose, as evident in lines like "What is a bad director, but a director who has made many bad films?" [3] or in lines where he directly addresses the reader, such as "Dare I come out and say what I think it to be is an élan of the soul?" [4] Such moments of excess style stand in stark contrast to the deadly serious, rationalist rhetoric that has infected so much writing in the humanities as the aesthetic dimensions of academic writing -- especially in North America -- have been ignored for decades as a surplus with no value. If, as Craig Saper has noted, "[I]n the academy, auteurism was considered passé at best" [5] in the wake of poststructuralism, then in erasing the very personality of their own writing style film scholars and theorists demoted themselves to a level of invisibility and even obsolescence. Generations of graduate students trained to strip all traces of bourgeois personality from their prose awake now to find that they have no audience for their ideas, because their ideas have no expressive confidence.

And yet, there is a gradual return to the pleasures of the text, not as something to be studied merely, but performed. (read more)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Latino Boom

Good news for literature. The recently released Latino Boom (now with its very own website!) is a unique and unprecedented anthology of Latino fiction, poetry, short stories and drama, and by all accounts an essential volume for any teacher in the complex and growing field. Or for that matter just any lover of literature. Anyway I've had the chance to read through a good portion of it, and it really is very good.

From the preface:
Latino Boom presents some of the best Latino Literature from the past 20 years. As the first anthology of its kind to supplement its selections with contextual background materials, it also maintians a holistic approach that distinguishes it...Based on our own firsthand experience as teachers...this work has been tested where it counts most...
Indeed, I can vouch for this, as one of the editors is my brother.
By maintaining this focus on recent writings, dating from 1985 to the present, we have been able to concentrate upon works in four major genre–the short story, poetry, drama, and the essay–and include selections our students have often found most enjoyable and fascinating. Yet we want to emphasize the fact that this anthology presents only the tail end of a long tradition of writing by Latinos, one that stretches back to the European conquest of the Americas in the early 1500s, and much of it written in Spanish.

Beyond the need to limit the scope of the book, we have chosen to concentrate on the modern period because it offers some of the richest literary achievements that have substantially changed the landscape of Latino writing. After all, it was not until the late 1980s and early 1990s that the labels themselves–Hispanic American literature and Latino literature–came into common use. All over the United States, prolific young Latino writers are reinventing the literary landscape. The explosion of South American literary works in the 1970s and 1980s–a period referred to as the "Latin American Literary Boom"–is now mirrored in the U.S. Latino literature.

Focusing on contemporary works also allows us to broaden the book's range to include Latino authors who have been underrepresented in anthologies and other collections, namely women and other less–well-known writers from a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. With an eye toward looking at works in their entirety, we have avoided excerpts from longer fiction such as novels. There are a few exceptions to this general guideline, however: Sandra Benítez's "Fulgencio Llanos: El Fotógrafo," and–it could be argued–Edgardo Vega Yunqué's "The Barbosa Express" are both stories and individual chapters in genre-bending novels composed of a series of connected short stories.

It's got a lovely cover, doesn't it?

In very short, the anthology renders a complex period bravely accessible, while steering admirably clear, in its conception, of such things as over-simplification and easy polemic. The approach is deeply pedagogical and literary, with careful outlines of various schools of reception, and detailed engagement with such questions as revolve today around narrative and autobiography, just to name a few. There is throughout a very native, deeply polyglot sense for this literature's often hybrid, heterogeneous origins and currents. As such, it is also a collection with a very real social conscience, and obviously unafraid to grapple with issues of cultural and historical context (there are wonderful, detailed maps and admirably unflinching, politically objective timelines detailing various U.S. invasions throughout the years, and so on). Needless to say, however, the literary is nowhere sacrificed purely to questions of mere politics. All in all, a highly original, and admirably-contextualized compilation. Clearly an indispensable volume not only for teachers, but for anyone concerned for the future of literature in the 21st century. There will no doubt be much more to come (provided, of course, we are to survive, to some day read about it, and in places other than the NYTBR.).

nb. Might I also direct your attention to some very wonderful scans, perhaps of related interest: A Nation of Poets: Writings from the Poetry Workshops of Nicaragua (courtesy of Mark Woods).

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

further genre

New Continental Philosophy blog posits a simple distinction:
Whereas most Anglophone philosophers take their point of departure from the liberal-communitarian debate or the perennial questions in political philosophy, Continental philosophers tend to focus their attention on understanding the conditions that prepare the way for the emergence of authoritarian regimes and attempt to articulate a political philosophy that can address these conditions. One obvious reason for this disparity is that that many Continental philosophers experienced the emergence of totalitarian and fascist regimes in a way that Anglophone philosophers did not...I bet that if more Anglophone philosophers read more Continental political philosophy, they'd be more worried about the threats of authoritarianism to mass democracies.

Less interestingly, the author wonders about
a strong moral anti-theory current in contemporary Continental philosophy that stems from the anti-humanism in much of the tradition that could be a place for some comparative work between Anglophone and Continental philosophy.

Against Theory, After Theory, PC Wars, Theory's Empire....dear Reader, what can it all possibly mean? Surely we can't possibly wait until next decade when Theory's Apocalipsia is published to find out! The antitheory argument is in truth all about the proper redemption of Morality, you see. That is all we need, a gutteral 'return to the religious' shouted from every turret, nuance be damned, and the symptomatic status of proliferating new-age freaks be relegated to irrelevant "context," which as we all know be the obnoxious domain of those uninterested in reading. Figured roughly, I'd say that somewhere in the ballpark between two and four anthologies a decade should be enough to ensure that Derrida remains largely unread for at least the next 70 years, if we are to survive that long. In the meantime, let's by all means continue to ridicule the Ghost Dancers and other relics of a the hipster age, just like that photo of the second woman in "Broken Flowers" which she now finds so embarrassing (albeit for reasons she does not begin to fathom to herself).

As her revoltingly smug husband brings it out, to show and ridicule and thus confirm to himself the very rightness of his steril "pre-fab housing" existence, we are left with a simple question. Without this photo, what would happen to the husband, and to them? Would their worldview collapse? Would it shimmer and dissolve? Would they perhaps suddenly see their sterilized and windswept, eco-dome fabrication for the very nightmare that it is?

This photograph is the object petit a. It is the haunting remnant of a previous life, as well as the exception the relation to which proves the rule of their symbolic order. But the woman trembles and is embarrassed for a specific reason. For in the photo, she is unmistakably alive. Or rather, she sees the captured, frozen image of her previous self – a radiant, smiling, iconographic hippie self, not yet sealed and enshrined against the world.

Of course things are not so simple. And perhaps a genuine diagnosis is by no means a simple condemnation, or for that matter a diagnosis merely. The scene, as a work of art, also describes, and Jarmusch, or rather the film itself (the distinction is important) in fact witholds judgement brilliantly, which is precisely what makes the film great, or literary. The scene itself is indifferent to all this psychoanalytic implication, or rather the film cultivates a distance by framing the scene (distilled to this awkward gesture with the photo (a brutal gesture, a revealing boast, all wrong--enshrining a failure to communicate with pride and will, refusing to hear itself), her shame, his indifference, the scene's even greater indifference) as itself in a sense iconographic. The camera is content to witness an event, a precise moment of failure between people, and then move on to something else, without succombing to the temptations of excessive, destructive commentary, so often these days cutesy or ponderously didactic or both at once --the decorative buffer and sentimental icing and the inevitable watering down and misguided belief in the possibility of conjuring away the essential dread: such narrative as commentary is the devil himself. Not only because it is vain, but as it pretends to forget that the scene itself is a commentary on its own failure. The scene must fail. The good scene knows this. That is the beginning.

But to prolong for a moment this commentary: In a manner, this woman is certainly caged, for to the husband (or so he tells himself) the photo is something known--namely, the idea opposed to which he perpetually defines himself (and at the same time his mark on her--recall that his pathetic and transparent claim to her is currently under threat due to the appearance of this stranger from a former life). But on some level the husband is torn. He brandishes the photograph so often precisely because it represents something (her previous life) which he cannot master.

It's a familiar enough gesture. Millions of viewers will undoubtedly not fail to recognize it as their own, nor that grotesque abstraction of a hippie icon, that which in a sense he both worships and profanes. And so the fetish becomes a sort of altar or victim to be sacrificed, to be continually retreived from the bedroom, repeatedly pulled from the drawer and brought before the guests in order that they may share a collective smirk (this, it would seem, is the husband's very idea of community). And like clockwork she never fails to blush, "Oh please, honey. Do put it away now."

It is a delicious, tragic scene, economic and authentic, whereby through the largely silent and uncomfortable presence of a third person or Simmilian stranger (Murray, natually enough), with whom the camera, and our gaze, identifies, Jarmusch allows two quietly desperate characters, themselves highly emblematic of a certain American culture, to unravel themselves completely and concisely...without of course fully realizing it. Just as we could never fully realize the truth of this scene, no matter how many hundreds of brilliant and accurate pages of commentary be written.


And now for something completely different:
Lego Matt Matt!

Obviously, I tried to make him look as European as possible. I can't believe they don't allow beards, or at least pseudo-beards, however. And so the self-inblogged fun briefly continues; kind thanks to Jodi.


A real toss-up between the woods and Italy, but the woods prevailed. (And yeah, the eyes get to me as well.)

As for politics, from now on this space will only blog about things no less than five months after they happen. For instance, here's an oldy but goodie from The Guardian, all puns intended:
Again last week, during the uprising in Falluja, Bremer became very annoyed with the insurgents, led, he alleged, by Sheikh Moqtada al-Sadr. On Tuesday last week I turned on the television to see Bremer angrily protesting that Sadr "basically tried to take control of the country". In an attempt to apply Bremer's "devastating intellect" to that sentence, I would define "the country" as Iraq, Sadr as a man who lives in that country, and Bremer, a career diplomat who lives in the US, as a man who not only tried but succeeded in taking over Iraq by force of arms without recourse to the people there (or even the United Nations).

What advice can we offer Bremer and his fellow imperialists, who keep denouncing Iraqi resistance to the invasion and occupation of their country for the violence and duplicity that they themselves regularly deploy? The mote and beam story appears twice in the New Testament, and each time the advice is spot on: "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote in thy brother's eye."

Imagine if only Bremer had been clever enough to preempt this sort of embarrassment, oh, perhaps by first accusing those who would make such simple points as being themselves hopelessly obsolete, oblivious and hypocritical. Wouldn't that be something to behold! Oh wait.


Some new items of genuine interest, courtesy of RSB here, including this:
The highest aspiration of the revolutionary, it has been argued, is to be put out of business altogether. That is, the aim of a radical politics is to eradicate the very conditions that necessitate its emergence, and thereby dissolve the exceptional nature of its own stance. From this perspective, the contemporary fascination and nostalgia for the SI might be seen, ironically, as symptomatic of the ultimate failure of their enterprise.

Hell, any paper with the word, "symptomatic" in the first three sentences always gets my vote.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Will the dedicated reader in Rio, Brazil, kindly give us a few words by way of introduction? We won't bite.
Surely the weather is better there than in Moscow? Right now in Vermont it is crisp, yet beautiful; we expect the hillsides to peacefully explode at any moment.

do you think he'll come?

Every once in a while the blog must point to places outside the blog, to which its owner, for better or worse, has recently wandered off and perhaps temporarily stood staring. This would be one of those times.

Update: Jodi Dean does it better. Also, The Decline, which everyone should read, has a question.

Update final: Someone give this man a bubble bath and back massage er, firm handshake and cigar.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

some/times I feel//like the mother of the world

Bill Murray plays himself. Jarmusch the master of lighthearted nausea, does his thing with the weight of time (beyond bored), brilliantly in at least one scene (it's obvious). The women get progressively less friendly. As a somewhat counter-intuitive result, he begins to care. The last 15 minutes of the film once again gave new meaning to the Will Oldham Bill Callahan song, "I Feel Like the Mother of the World" (or in this case, father).

Last but not least, the title is a very good title.

More thoughts on what makes the genre of the "boring art film" (BOF) great at Long Pauses and Long Sunday.

song and dance man redux

In the context of a fascinating apology to the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee for making a speech upon accepting the Tom Paine award wherein he compared himself to Lee Harvey Oswald and attacked bald politicians for being bald, and bourgeois Negroes for wearing suits on the platform at the Great March on Washington, and generally pissed on liberalism.

from Bob Dylan

(Sent to the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee
after he received the Tom Paine Award at the
Bill of Rights dinner on December 13, 1963.)

to anybody it may concern...
mr lamont?
countless faces I do not know
an all fighters for good things that I can not see

when I speak of bald heads, I mean bald minds
when I speak of the seashore, I mean the restin shore
I dont know why I mentioned either of them

my life runs in a series of moods
in private an in personal ways, sometimes,
I, myself, can change the mood I'm in t the
mood I'd like t be in. when I walked thru the
doors of the americana hotel, I needed to change
my mood... for reasons inside myself.

I am a restless soul
perhaps wretched

it is hard to hear someone you dont know, say
"this is what he meant t say" about something
you just said

for no one can say what I meant t say
absolutely no one
at times I even cant
that was one of those times

my life is lived out daily in the places I feel
most confortable in. these places are places where
I am unknown an unstared at. I perform rarely, an
when I do, there is a constant commotion burnin
at my body an at my mind because of the attention
aimed at me. instincts fight my emotions an fears
fight my instincts...

I do not claim t be smart by the standards set up
I dont even claim to be normal by the standards
set up
an I do not claim to know any kind of truth

but like an artist who puts his painting (after
he's painted it) in front of thousands of unknown
eyes, I also put my song there that way
(after I've made it)
it is as easy an as simple as that

I can not speak. I can not talk
I can only write an I can only sing
perhaps I should've sung a song
but that wouldn't a been right either
for I was given an award not to sing
but rather on what I have sung

no what I should've said was
"thank you very much ladies an gentlemen"
yes that is what I should've said
but unfortunatly... I didn't
an I didn't because I did not know

I thought something else was expected of me
other than just sayin "thank you"
an I did not know what it was
it is a fierce heavy feeling
thinkin something is expected of you
but you dont know what exactly it is...
it brings forth a wierd form of guilt

I should've remembered
"I am BOB DYLAN an I dont have t speak
I dont have t say nothin if I dont wanna"
I didn't remember

I constantly asked myself while eatin supper
"what should I say? what should I tell 'm?
everybody else is gonna tell 'm something"
but I could not answer myself
I even asked someone who was sittin nex t me
an he couldn't tell me neither. my mind blew
up an needless t say I had t get it back in its
rightful shape (whatever that might be) an so
I escaped from the big room... only t hear my
name being shouted an the words "git in here
git in here" overlappin with the findin of my
hand being pulled across hundreds of tables
with the lights turned on strong... guidin me
back t where I tried t escape from
"what should I say? what should I say?"
over an over again
oh God, I'd a given anything not t be there
"shut the lights off at least"
people were coughin an my head was poundin
an the sounds of mumble jumble sank deep in
my skull from all sides of the room
until I tore everything loose from my mind
an said "just be honest, dylan, just be honest"

an so I found myself in front of the plank
like I found myself once in the path of a car
an I jumped...
jumped with all my bloody might
just tryin t get out a the way
but first screamin one last song

when I spoke of Lee Oswald, I was speakin of the times
I was not speakin of his deed if it was his deed.
the deed speaks for itself
but I am sick
so sick
at hearin "we all share the blame" for every
church bombing, gun battle, mine disaster,
poverty explosion, an president killing that
comes about.
it is so easy t say "we" an bow our heads together
I must say "I" alone an bow my head alone
for it is I alone who is livin my life
I have beloved companions but they do not
eat nor sleep for me
an even they must say "I"
yes if there's violence in the times then
there must be violence in me
I am not a perfect mute.
I hear the thunder an I cant avoid hearin it
once this is straight between us, it's then an
only then that we can say "we" an really mean
it... an go on from there t do something about

When I spoke of Negroes
I was speakin of my Negro friends
from harlem
an Jackson
selma an birmingham
atlanta pittsburg, an all points east
west, north, south an wherever else they
might happen t be.
in rat filled rooms
an dirt land farms
schools, dimestores, factories
pool halls an street corners
the ones that dont own ties
but know proudly they dont have to
not one little bit
they dont have t be like they naturally aint
t get what they naturally own no more 'n anybody
else does
it only gets things complicated
an leads people into thinkin the wrong things
black skin is black skin
It cant be covered by clothes an made t seem
acceptable, well liked an respectable...
t teach that or t think that just tends the
flames of another monster myth...
it is naked black skin an nothin else
if a Negro has t wear a tie t be a Negro
then I must cut off all ties with who he has
t do it for.
I do not know why I wanted t say this that
perhaps it was just one of the many things
in my mind
born from the confusion of my times

when I spoke about the people that went t Cuba
I was speakin of the free right t travel
I am not afraid t see things
I challenge seein things
I am insulted t the depths of my soul
when someone I dont know commands that I
cant see this an gives me mysterious reasons
why I'll get hurt if I do see it... tellin me
at the same time about goodness an badness in
people that again I dont know...
I've been told about people all my life
about niggers, kikes, wops, bohunks, spicks, chinks,
an I been told how they eat, dress, walk, talk,
steal, rob, an kill but nobody tells me how any
of 'm feels... nobody tells me how any of 'm cries
or laughs or kisses. I'm fed up with most newspapers,
radios, tv an movies an the like t tell me. I want
now t see an know for myself...
an I accepted that award for all others like me
who want t see for themselves... an who dont want
that God-given right taken away
stolen away
or snuck out from beneath them
yes a travel ban in the south would protect
Americans more, I'm sure, than the one t Cuba
but in all honesty I would want t crash that
one too
do you understand?
do you really understand?
I mean I want t see. I want t see all I can
everyplace there is t see it
my life carries eyes
an they're there for one reason
the reason t see thru them

my country is the Minnesota-North Dakota territory
that's where I was born an learned how t walk an
it's where I was raised an went t school... my
youth was spent wildly among the snowy hills an
sky blue lakes, willow fields an abandoned open
pit mines. contrary t rumors, I am very proud of
where I'm from an also of the many blood streams that
run in my roots. but I would not be doing what
I'm doing today if I hadn't come t New York. I was
given my direction from new york. I was fed in
new york. I was beaten down by new york an I was
picked up by new york. I was made t keep going on
by new york. I'm speakin now of the people I've met
who were strugglin for their lives an other peoples'
lives in the thirties an forties an the fifties
an I look t their times
I reach out t their times
an, in a sense, am jealous of their times
t think I have no use for "old" people is a betrayin thought
those that know me know otherwise
those that dont, probably're baffled
like a friend of mine, jack elliott, who says he
was reborn in Oklahoma, I say I was reborn in
New York...
there is no age limit stuck on it
an no one is more conscious of it than I

yes it is a fierce feeling, knowin something you
dont know about's expected of you. but it's worse
if you blindly try t follow with explodin words
(for that's all they can do is explode)
an the explodin words're misunderstood
I've heard I was misunderstood

I do not apologize for myself nor my fears
I do not apologize for any statement which led
some t believe "oh my God! I think he's the one
that really shot the president"

I am a writer an a singer of the words I write
I am no speaker nor any politician
an my songs speak for me because I write them
in the confinement of my own mind an have t cope
with no one except my own self. I dont have t face
anyone with them until long after they're done

no I do not apologize for being me nor any part of me

but I can return what is rightfully yours at any
given time. I have stared at it for a long while
now. it is a beautiful award. there is a kindness
t Mr Paine's face an there is almost a sadness in
his smile. his trials show thru his eyes. I know
really not much about him but somehow I would like
t sing for him. there is a gentleness t his way.
yes thru all my flounderin wildness, I am, when it
comes down to it, very proud that you have given this
t me. I would hang it high, an let my friends see in
it what I see, but I also would give it back if
you wish. There is no sense in keepin it if you've
made a mistake in givin it. for it means more'n any
store bought thing an it'd only be cheatin t keep it

also I did not know that the dinner was a donation
dinner. I did not know you were gonna ask anyone
for money. an I understand you lost money on the
masterful way I expressed myself... then I am in debt t you
not a money debt but rather a moral debt
if you'd a sold me something, then it'd be a money debt
but you sold nothin, so it is a moral debt
an moral debts're worse 'n money debts
for they have t be paid back in whatever is missin
an in this case, it's money

please send me my bill
an I shall pay it
no matter what the sum
I have a hatred of debts an want t be even in
the best way I can
you needn't think about this, for money means
very little t me

so then

I'll return once again t the road

I cant tell you why other people write, but I
write in order to keep from going insane.
my head, I expect'd turn inside out if my hands
were t leave me.

but I hardly ever talk about why I write. an I
scarcely ever think about it. the thought of it is
too alarmin

an I never ever talk about why I speak
but that's because I never do it. this is the
first time I am talkin about it... an I pray
the last
the thought of doing it again is too scary

ha! it's a scary world
but only once in a while huh?

I love you all up there an the ones I dont love,
it's only because I do not know them an have not
seen them... God it's so hard hatin. it's so
tiresome... an after hatin something to death,
it's never worth the bother an trouble

out! out! brief candle
life's but an open window
an I must jump back thru it now

see yuh
respectfully an unrespectfully

(sgd) bob dylan

Saturday, October 01, 2005

saturday 4:50am

In her dream we are looking for an apartment

I've told you, it's all set
all the rooms are nice

but for some reason she goes back to take a closer look

And see, there, something is wrong

the walls are left unfinished

they are sanded and patched, blotted with primer, but not painted

furthermore there is scaffolding, inside the building

in the living room

What's the problem, they ask

well maybe if it was finished, she says

it is finished, they reply

she decides to see another room

yes, this one

is large and beautiful and expansive, everything seems perfect

the air is remarkably clear as

she feels a warm mist and looks up

and she sees that it has no ceiling

there is just sky there, misting down

well, and what if it rains, she asks

i'm going to get wet

saturday 4:30am

in dreams we are briefly mortal.

song and dance man

My but how far we've come. Thankfully, the point was never to question the blindingly obvious, such as that artists like Bob Dylan have shared a life-long, entirely healthy suspicion of the status-soaked preenings of pedigreed psuedo-intellectuals (sometimes, especially today, known as "liberals"). The point was to move beyond an analysis of convenient labels and biographical arguments (or even personal anecdotes) about authorial intention to look more carefully at how an artist's work–in this case a distinctively hybrid American blend of folk and rock genres (perhaps equal parts getting by and getting free?), functioned in its unique manifestation of literary distance, but also as cultural re-sponse or 'pop,' if such a philosophy of pop may be finally understood. The point being that there may in fact be profound implications for such things as a 'politics of community' and other such fancy-pants phraseology, and that an analysis of this is not necessarily something to, as if by default, fear, although a healthy dose of distrust remains essential, a distrust always negotiated from within, an ownmost interiority–nobody is asking you to sacrifice that–because that inner tension is precisely the point of any true beginning after all.

Bob Dylan is about solitude, about preserving an inner space indifferent to what makes it great, about staying in that realm of always beginning again.

You can see a closed space at the heart of many of Radiohead's songs. To draw out one of their own images, it may be something like a glass house. You live continuously in the glare of inspection and with the threat of intrusion. The attempt to cast stones at an outer world of enemies would shatter your own shelter. So you settle for the protection of this house, with watchers on the outside, as a place you can still live, a way to preserve the vestige of closure–a barrier, however glassy and fragile, against the outside. In English terms, a glass house is also a glasshouse, which we can call a greenhouse. It is the artificial construction that allows botanical life to thrive in winter.

Radiohead's songs suggest that you should erect a barrier, even of repeated minimal words, or the assertion of a "we," to protect yourself–and then there proves to be a place in each song to which you, too, can't be admitted, because the singer has something within him closed to interference, just as every one of us does, or should. We'll all have to find the last dwellings within ourselves that are closed to intrusion, and begin from there. The politics of the next age, if we are to survive, will be a politics of the re-creation of privacy (Mark Greif, from the same article as before)

I think the same applies to Dylan, or rather Dylan's art (the distinction remains important), and call it poetics if you must. Or, put another way: Radiohead is in a sense an example of the theory of/from Dylan today.