Thursday, September 29, 2005

Foucault and Iran

While slagging off of the political and historical naiveté of post-Heideggerian French philosophers is undoubtedly something of a still-increasing Anglo fashion (and what responsible person would ever wish to even risk being confused with the conveniently reductive excesses such as those that are content to sweep, say, Derrida tout court under the same rug as Tel Quel), a more nuanced look at the current (though again, rather predictably topical) scholarship is nevertheless required. This article from Radical Philosophy I think makes a start:
In essence, Foucault's use of the Orient poses the same problem for us as Nietzsche's: how to respond to the unconventional use of a conventional stereotype of Islam in a critique of Western modernity? Of course, in one sense the madness of Foucault's Iran has nothing to do with the kind of madness which has always been stereotypically attributed to mad mullahs and fanatical Mohammedans. Foucault's now famous interpretation of the eighteenth-century treatment of madness forces us to understand in a different way the folie he attributes to the Islamic Revolution– a folie or irrepressible energy, rather than mental derangement or delusions of grandeur. Perhaps it is irrelevant to ask how far Foucault's description of madness is an ironic pun on his own work, and how far he is playing with a familiar history of Islamic stereotypes. An ironic (and therefore charitable) reading of the madness Foucualt attributes to Iran is dependent on a familiarity with Foucault's specific use of the word, relying on a most un-Foucauldian idea of author intention in order to see the irony. To choose this path is certainly not mistaken, but when doing so two points must be borne in mind. First, in linking madness with Islam, Foucault effectively draws on an already extant store of motifs concerning Islam, even in the act of subverting them. Second, the intended audience of Foucault's article, by no means academic, undermines the sophistication of Foucault's gesture and suggests, perhaps, a more practical populism in Foucault's journalism strikingly absent in the more careful prose of Foucault's theory...

...what begins to emerge is the extent to which thinkers of posetmodernity, in their encounters with the world of Islam, appear to draw on the same European vocabulary as their predecessors. That in attempting to write about the Other, we invariably end up writing about ourselves has become in itself a cliché or Orientalist studies. What remains remarkable is the manner in which one of the principal figures responsible for deliniating and demonstrating this situation of epistemological finitude so visibly failed to escape it in his own work. (courtesy of Ali Rizvi)

More here and here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Bob Dylan has been getting a lot of attention lately, for various reasons (he has to pay for that family somehow), but let's get something straight: He is not a poet. He is a pop musician, albeit a literate one with a fascinating life story. Calling Dylan a poet places you in the same boat as that sycophant hippie reporter in "Apocalypse Now" who slobbers over the idea of Kurtz, "he's larger than life, he's a poet-warrior, man, you just don't understand." Needless to say, this boat is sinking and it's you who doesn't understand.

You are missing the lighthearted ironic undercutting that is, finally, our only chance of survival. Indeed, from what I hear (this blog is only concerned with rumors) there's enough clichéd genius-worship to go around in Scorsese's latest. I haven't seen it yet (this blog only comments on things it hasn't seen or read), but if it's true that Scorsese is doing icon-restoration work (indirectly, of course, while pretending to do precisely the opposite) then that's a shame. And shame on anyone who buys the script and starts talking about how this film redeems Dylan by placing his "childish antics" in context! Dylan suddenly needs redeeming from his performance in "Dont Look Back?" I mean fucking forget it man, if you didn't get him the first time you're not about to now. My guess is he just kind of signed off on the thing and said to Scorsese, "Go ahead; here's the stuff. I don't need it anymore." Which is great, in a way, because if one can resist the imposition of pat narratives there's a
whole lot of fascinating "stuff" he's succeeded in keeping secret, and it's only a matter of time before it surfaces anyway.

One last time: this from "Radiohead, or the Philosophy of Pop:"

All of us lovers of music, with ears tuned precisely to a certain kind of sublimity in pop, are quick to detect pretension, overstatement and cant about pop–in any attempt at a wider criticism–precisely because we feel the gap between the effectiveness of the music and impotence and superfluity of analysis. This means we don't know about our major art form what we ought to know. We don't even agree about how the interconnection of pop music and lyrics, rather than the words spoken alone, accomplishes an utterly different task of representation, more scattershot and overwhelming and much less careful and dignified than poetry–and bad critics show their ignorance when they persist in treating pop like poetry, as in the stil-growing effluence around Bob Dylan...(Mark Greif, n+1 magazine)


This is why it matters little whether Dylan was right or wrong about Hurricane Carter, or whether "Neighborhood Bully" is a racist song or not, or whether he's read Edna St. Vincent Millay. The philosophy of pop is finally something other than this (and thanks to n+1, with a healthy unacknowledged dose of Agamben, we now know what this is).

More on Dylan from Dan Green and Ellis Sharp, and nicely from Hamlet's Dreams on 60's nostalgia.

a comment

From someone named Steve at Crooked Pins:
I am more burdened by the boredom of a ‘normal’ job than I am by the burden of reading stuff that I enjoy reading-even when there is alot to read. Admittedly, I went to graduate school with the intention of learning what I wanted to learn, and not with the intention of getting a prestigious academic job.
I don’t really understand the line of complaint in this post, though. Gradute school is really divided into two groups; those that really want the prestigious academic job, and those that don’t (and you don’t necessarily know which group you are in until you are in graduate school-not before, when you apply). If you are one that wants a prestigious academic job, why are you complaining? That constant pressure to know, to politic, and conform and socialize IS the job-if you don’t like it, you’re not going to like the job you are working for either. But if you are in the second group, who doesn’t want the prestigious academic job, then the socializing crap is irrelevant to your career and irrelevant to your life (does the State Department, or a private computer firm, or a psychology clinic, care about how popular you were with the faculty of State U.?)-so why worry about it?

Incidently, the whole socialisation/culture/networking line of discussion above goes a long way to explaining how academia could be 90% of one political persuasion, doesn’t it?.

Every time I resolve to never read or link to CT again, they seem to come up with a post whose commenters and commentators, are helpful like so.

ps. Previous post citing Foucault on the beheading of theorists deleted for fear of being taken in the wrong way in certain petty contexts. This humble, petty blog now suddently aligning itself as if by its own accord with the same political interests that seem to encourage such habitual pronouncements of "humility" et cetera. Also, blockquotes without a smidgeon of original commentary or framing should probably just be avoided as a rule, don't you think? It's a brand new blog on the horizon, "folks," and it's about to get a whole lot more self-inblogged. If we are to survive this Darwinian world as apes.

John Emerson is also very helpful, but I'd seen that already.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

fuck the "reading crisis"

Plenty of barbs for the culture of half-boiled, cutely-decorated Eggs in the latest n+1:
Will people still read in 2060? As with Social Security, there are variables one just doesn't know how to project forward: fewer people read books but more want to write them, and more and more books are published.

A real debate could be had about all these things. Instead we get the "reading crisis." Under conditions of the reading crisis, everything a writer does, no matter how self-serving and reprehensible, becomes a blow in the service of literature. An arbiter of a "revolution" in reading features games, accordionists, and contests at his public events...

It is true that the economics of publishing depends now on a quest for mega-hits: but this is corporatization, not Oprah, and in either case it has nothing to do with writing...

The final, insidious manifestation of the reading crisis is the way it gives cover to the hostility to criticism. One's critics "piss in the fragile ecosystem that is the literary world" (Eggers); or they are merely "resentniks" (Foer). The real trouble of course is that if "books" are "good," as the mantra goes, you don't have to face how good or bad your book actually is. The criterion is only to "make readers." I make readers, the writer deludes himself, waving his sales report–surely these millions came into existence only for him? It no longer matters what he wrote.

And the iTunes gives out free J.K.Rowling samples, like heroin.


Excerpts don't really do this essay justice. Get yours.


The certain hostility toward non-book technologies running through this issue, part sophisticated and part intuitive. Unconfortable fence? There's no doubt armchairs can be worse, particularly when the resident has a laptop with wireless. But what was that about a "real debate"...ok, so let's have one! Inevitable proclamations to the contrary, it hasn't happened yet. Bookslut?

mardi gras

Articles, video. Those who were conspicuously not in attendance.

Update: The indispensable MaxSpeak has photos, etc. and necessary comments:
So where are the moderate and liberal luminaries? To be sure, their constituents and audiences were at the demonstration. I doubt anybody was impressed by some of the ultra rhetoric that could be heard, not so much because it was ultra, but because the thinking underlying the weak presentation was also crap. Not a few of the participating radical celebrities are spent bullets, not to say dud firecrackers.

The leadership void is gigantic.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

a blockquote blog about chatting, still powerless, nothing new; or, why do long titles always suck? (there are enough DFW's in DFW already)

It's been said before on blogs, and will be said again, but here it is in print (well copied from the freshly-inked pages of the singularly worthy n+1 #3)...François Cusset on the EU Referendum vote in France:
I'd call it the paradox of the chatroom society: a post-industrial, post-social universe where general anomie and new technological devices have promoted and at the same time terminally devalued dialogue. "Dialogue" is not the ultimate existential commodity; entering into it offers one's only chance to have sex, it supplies the moral justification for the herds of pollsters and market analysts hungry for your opinion on anything, and it cloaks politics in a performative construction of the "general will." Yet dialogue has changed from a key element of socialization to the familiar companion of a billion lonely lives. Think of chat as the end of dialogue, or on-demand dialogue as the end of social life. The chatroom society, where you meet and work and purchase and negotiate through (mostly online) dialogue, may well be "more" democratic than Athens's agora or the free meetings of 1960s student movements, as far as numbers are concerned, but it only proves that democracy is now just the noise drowning out the stead hum of real power. "Democracy" confiscates democracy in the very process of pretending to pass it on, offering it as an individual fetish to each single voter (or chatter, or consumer) the better to hide that it's all being decided elsewhere. No matter how we voted on May 29, the pluto-technocrats were going to have their way with our countries. You can always chat forever, since dialogue is no longer what power is about. Habermas still promotes the "ethics of discussion," but all we have is the spectacle of it. In the chatroom society, where you'll be famous for fifteen minutes and then will chat online the rest of the time, you still have the annoyance of being with others–as soon as you step out into a nervous crowd after two hours of these surrogate dreams on the monitor. Which recalls an old existentialist experience: you stare at someone in the train to the point of feeling you are that person, and then wake up from this fantasy hating both the upset Other, now raising his eyebrows, and your cowardly self, lost in confused apologies. You explain: I wish I were you–not for your objective qualities, stupid!–just to not have to face you or even look at you any longer.

François Cusset (one certain to crustate on the wishlist, there, or flipped through some tired afternoon, there)

Open City

From an interview with Maud (the only blogger, yet alone megalomaniac "lit-blogger," with 500+ posts on the main page so that it takes forever to load), back in January:
Is preference given to graduates of MFA programs?

Yes. We also ask for SAT scores, a self portrait in pencil, a copy of a postcard someone once sent you, and a recommendation from teachers at the elementary and junior high school level, and if you can't find one that remembers you even for a bad recommendation, we're just not interested.

I have no idea what any of this means.


Posts I've written scribbled:

Penguins: Hopping Across the Frozen Bathos


Truman Show

Blanchot Blogging

London, London


A bit ponderous as scribbles go, but there they are. For all eternity to mock. So much for not conforming to get any tattoos.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


We saw the Manhatten Short Film Festival finalists last night. Intense conversation in the cold parking lot afterwards (paying for it now, going to sleep in shivers, waking up in sweat). Tonight to finish Herzog's "Aguirre–Wrath of God" and Fassbinder's "Katzelmacher," though I doubt my eyes will stay open.

I voted enthusiastically for "Hibernation." This may have been because it made me cry. Or perhaps only for the simple beauty of something heartfelt, after so many oh-so-desperately-trying-to-be-clever (or what is worse, didactic) shorts, that did it. Many of them were about trauma (often the trauma inflicted by the genre itself), but only "Hibernation" was really about the process of mourning.

Monday, September 19, 2005

from Zibaldone

As translated by Italo Calvino:
the light of the sun or the moon, seen in a place from which they are invisible and one cannot discern the source of the light; a place only partly illuminated by such light; the reflection of such light, and the various material effects derived from it; the penetration of such light into places where it becomes uncertain and obstructed, and is not easily made out, as through a cane brake, in a wood, through half-closed shutters, etc., etc.; the same light in a place, object, etc., where it does not enter and strike directly, reflected and diffused by some other place or object, etc., where it does strike; in a passageway seen from inside or outside, and similarly in a loggia, etc., places where the light mingles, etc., etc., with the shadows, as under a portico, in a high, overhanging loggia, among rocks and gullies, in a valley, on hills seen the shady side so that their crests are gilded; the reflection produced, for example, by a colored pane of glass on those objects on which the rays passing through that glass are reflected; all those objects, in a word, that by means of various materials and minimal circumstances comes to our sigh, hearing, etc., in a way that is uncertain, indistinct, imperfect, incomplete, or out of the ordinary.

–Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone di pensieri, 2 vols., ed. Francesco Flora (Milan: Mondadori, 1937), I.1145, 1150, 1123-25.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Italo Calvino, 1923-1985

That would be a timely post by MetaFilter on Italo Calvino.

Reproduced from two of the six (exquisite, prescient) essays in Six Memos for the Next Millennium (Vintage, 1988). The following words are Italo Calvino's, as he searched after Mallarmé's crystal:
It sometimes seems to me that a pestilence has struck the human race in its most distinctive faculty–that is, the use of words. It is a plague afflicting language, revealing itself as a loss of cognition and immediacy, an automatism that tends to level out all expression into the most generic, anonymous, and abstract formulas, to dilute meanings, to blunt the edge of expressiveness, extinguishing the spark that shoots out from the collision of words and new circumstances.

At this point, I don't wish to dwell on the possible sources of this epidemic, whether they are to be sought in politics, ideology, bureaucratic uniformity, the monotomy of the mass media, or the way the schools dispense the culture of the mediocre. What interests me are the possibilities of health. Literature, and perhaps literature alone, can create the antibodies to fight this plague in language.

I would like to add that it is not just language that seems to have been struck by this pestilence...

But maybe this lack of substance is not to be found in images or in language alone, but in the world itself. This plague strikes also at the lives of people and the history of nations. It makes all histories formless, random, confused, with neither beginning nor end. My discomfort arises from the loss of form that I notice in life, which I try to oppose with the only weapon I can think of–the idea of literature.

Therefore I can even use negative terms to define the values I am setting out to defend. It remains to be seen whether by using equally convincing arguments one cannot defend the contrary thesis. For example, Giacomo Leopardi maintained that the more vague and imprecise language is, the more poetic it becomes. I might mention in passing that as far as I know Italian is the only language in which the word vago (vague) also means "lovely, attractive." Starting out from the original meaning of "wandering," the word vago still carries an idea of a movement and mutability, which in Italian is associated both with uncertainty and indefiniteness and with gracefulness and pleasure...

[goes on to examine Leopardi's Zibaldone for "proof"]

So this is what Leopardi asks of us, that we may savor the beauty of the vague and indefinite! What he requires is a highly exact and meticulous attention to the composition of each image, to the minute definition of details, to the choice of objects, to the lighting and the atmosphere, all in order to attain the desired degree of vagueness. Therefore Leopardi, whom I had chosen as the ideal oppenent of my argument in favor of exactitude, turns out to be a decisive witness in its favor.....The poet of vagueness can only be the poet of exactitude, who is able to grasp the subtlest sensations with eyes and ears and quick, unerring hands...


Sometimes I try to concentrate on the story I would like to write, and I realize that what interests me is something else entirely or, rather, not anything precise but everything that does not fit in with what I ought to write–the relationship between a given argument and all its possible variants and alternatives, everything that can happen in time and space. This is a devouring and destructive obession, which is enough to render writing impossible. In order to combat it, I try to limit the field of what I have to say, divide it into still more limited fields, then subdivide these again, and so on and on. Then another kind of vertigo seizes me, that of the detail of the detail of the detail, and I am drown into the infinitesimal, the infinitely small, just as I was previously lost in the infinitely vast...


The Great Khan tried to concentrate on the game: but now it was the game's reason that eluded him. The end of every game is a gain or a loss: but of what? What were the real stakes? At checkmate, beneath the foot of the king, knocked aside by the winner's hand, nothingness remains: a black square, or a white one. By disembodying his conquests to reduce them to the essential, Kublai had arrived at the extreme operation: the definitive conquest, of which the empire's multiform treasures were only illusory envelopes; it was reduced to a sqaure of planed wood.

Then Marco Polo spoke
: "Your chessboard, sire, is inlaid with two woods: ebony and maple. The square on which your enlightened gaze is fixed was cut from the ring of a trunk that grew in a year of drought: you see how its fibers are arranged? Here a barely hinted knot can be made out: a bud tried to burgeon on a premature spring day, but the night's frost forced it to desist."

Until then the Great Khan had not realized that the foreigner knew how to express himself fluently in his language, but it was not this fluency that amazed him.

"Here is a thicker pore: perhaps it was a larvum's nest; not a woodworm, because, once born, it would have begun to dig, but a caterpillar that gnawed the leaves and was the cause of the tree's being chosen for chopping down...This edge was scored by the wood carver with his gouge so that it would adhere to the next square, more protruding..."

The quantity of things that could be read in a little piece of smooth and empty wood overwhelmed Kublai; Polo was already talking about ebody forests, about rafts laden with logs that come down the rivers, of docks, of women at the windows...* ("Exactitude")

* Invisible Cities, translated by William Weaver (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974), pp. 131-132

Often for Calvino, it all seems to come back to women at the windows...

And from "Visibility:"
We may distinguish between two types of imaginative process: the one that starts with the word and arrives at the visual image, and the one that starts with the visual image and arrives at its verbal expression. The first process is the one that normally occurs when we read. For example, we read a scene in a novel or the report of some event in a newspaper and, according to the greater or lesser effectiveness of the text, we are brought to witness the scene as if it were taking place before our eyes, or at least to witness certain fragments or details of the scene that are singled out.

In the cinema the image we see on the screen has also passed through the stage of the written text, has then been "visualized" in the mind of the director, then physically reconstructed on the set, and finally fixed in the frames of the film itself. A film is therefore the outcome of a succession of phases, both material and otherwise, in the course of which the images acquire form. During this process, the "mental cinema" of the imagination has a function no less important than that of the actual creation of the sequences as they will be recorded by the camera and then put together on the moviola. This mental cinema is always at work in each one of us, and it always has been, even before the invention of the cinema. Nor does it ever stop projecting images before our mind's eye... ("Visibility")

Please repeatedly direct

your desires for "blogging evolved," "disturbing, very freaky horoscopes," "true kindness" and "divine sparks" to the google ads box on the right, all ignoble proceeds to benefit the Matt-to-drink-a-decent-cup-of-coffee-and-contemplate-the-horrible-career-decision-that-
is-grad-school fund.

a playlist or three

Is always a nice thing to share. As usual, culled largely from the peerless mp3 blog, Said the Gramophone:
• Dance Me To The End Of Love 6:12 Leonard Cohen More Best Of
• O D O O (Edit Version) 6:56 Fela Kuti Fela Kuti - The Black President
• 02_el paso refinery flames 5:32 Yellow Jacket Avenger Disc 4
• You Know More Than I Know 3:36 John Cale Fear
• Track 02 4:19 Wandering Eyes
• Ecstasy 4:25 Lou Reed Ecstasy
• 17moonlighter prizefighter 2:21 Yellow Jacket Avenger Disc 3
• The Well 7:00 Smog A River Ain't Too Much to Love
• Cochon Cochon 3:39 Menlo Park Menlo Park Mud bath
• Where did our love Go? 4:52 Yellow Jacket Avenger Apr. 03.
• Post-Soviet Melancholia, Part IV 2:22 (
• Busload Of Faith 4:50 Lou Reed New York
• Track 06 2:37 Mystery Torch Song (
• Trouble's Back In Town 2:13 The Wilburn Brothers 2005 Oxford American CD
• 03_vines 3:26 Yellow Jacket Avenger Disc 2
• Bum Like You 3:42 Robyn Robyn album
• Jullåten 2004 2:29 Suburban Kids With Biblical Names #2
• Coffee and Pastries 2:31 The Galactic Heroes Pop till you drop!
• Track 05 2:03 How Can I Love You, If You Won't Lie Down

I forget who sings the last track, but it has a great line: "Time is a game/ only children play well// How can I love you/ if you won't lie down?"

• I Feel Like The Mother of the World 3:09 Smog A River Ain't Too Much to Love
• Smog 2005-08-08 t04 7:17
• The Heel 3:08 June Carter Cash Keep On The Sunny Side
• Since K Got Over Me 3:52 The Clientele Strange Geometry
• Symphonique #6 (Good For Goodie) 2:45 Moondog 2005 Oxford American CD
• If the River Was Whiskey 3:07 Charlie Poole w The No. Car. Ramblers White Country Blues 1926-1938 - Disc 1
• Marble Index Hymn - 8/8/2005, 5810 kHz (0155 UTC) 2:18 Family Radio Int'l
• it's always there 3:36 Metic, the The Metic Acapella
• Jewish Comedy Music - 8/8/2005, 9345 kHz (0007 UTC) 3:03 Kol Israel (
• Greek Song #1 (8/3/2005, 9420 kHz, 0236 UTC) 2:22 Foni Tis Helladas (
• Somewhere I Know There is Nothing 4:14 Chad VanGaalen Infiniheart
• Pet Politics / in my head 3:58 Pet Politics färdiga låtar
• Minnie the Moocher 3:34 Cab Calloway And His Cotton Club Orchestra
• Experience in E (excerpt) 4:22 Cannonball Adderley Quintet & Orchestra Experience in E - Tensity - Dialogues
• Love One Another 3:59 Mandrill We Are One
• Slang Teacher 3:17 Wide Boy Awake Rvng Prsnts Mx4: Crazy Rhythms (Mike Simonetti and Dan Selzer)
• Juliette 3:30 Little Feat Dixie Chicken

And finally:
• The Sporting Life 4:38 Decemberists Picaresque
• Lillian 3:03 Hangnail Phillips & Bullette Wit's End
• Wade in the water 4:02 Eva Cassidy Songbird
• Sunken Waltz 2:27 Calexico A Feast of Wire
• peruividia 2:37 need new body where's black ben?
• Poor People 2:10 Alan Price O Lucky Man
• Lady Came from Baltimore 1:49 Tim Hardin Courtesy Will Sheff
• Red Balloon 2:34 Tim Hardin Courtesy Will Sheff
• Eulogy to Lenny Bruce 6:19 Tim Hardin Tim Hardin 3 Courtesy Will Sheff
• Smog_Look_Now 3:24 Smog Look Now album
• I Feel Like The Mother of the World 3:09 Smog A River Ain't Too Much to Love
Smog 2005-08-08 t04 7:17
• Barcelona 5:24 Will Oldham A Short Tale Of Beauty/Madness/Greed
• Broken Hoof 4:03 General Miggs 6 Songs
• They Searched My Car 2:15 Numbers Add Up Perfectly Bookended Body
• Adrienne 5:33 Turquoise The Gore of the Summer
• Bullet Proof Nothing 2:59 Simply Saucer Cyborgs Revisited
• The Onion Domes of Tallahassee 5:06 Childballads Dried Bee Necklace
• Four-Alarm Fire In Lovers’ Lane 4:39 The Virgin-Whore Complex Stay Away From My Mother
• Memories Of Places We've Never Been 4:09 Faunts High Expectations / Low Results

Thanks btw to the bloggers who've encouraged me to go more 'popish', especially when the Chris Smither, Chet Baker, Caetano Veloso, L. Cohen, etc. becomes too despairing. Even though, you know, it's still a certain kind of tears that are the most hopeful thing in all the world.

Happy Birthday Leonard

Friday, September 16, 2005

further animalia, this time without pictures

Berger again:
What distinguished man from animals was the human capacity for symbolic thought, the capacity which was inseperable from the development of langauge in which words were not mere signals, but signifiers of something other than themselves. Yet the first symbols were animals. What distinguishes men from animals was born of their relationship with them.

The Iliad is one of the earliest texts available to us, and in it the use of metaphor still reveals the proximity of man and animal, the proximity from which metaphor itself arose...

This seems an important point, regarding the proximity of metaphor with the animal at its birth. There also seems a danger inherent to any too-quick recourse to origins, whether etymologic or anthropologic (or some combination thereof). A danger, naturally, of naturalizing away or foreclosing prematurely on the future, and which extends beyond the mere hubris of anthropomorphism. But is it hubris merely? Perhaps our love/hate relationship with anthropomorphism is itself a kind of naturalizing shield, once again endlessly thematizing something we would rather not look at too closely. Berger notes:
Anthropomorphism was the residue of the continuous use of animal metaphor. In the last two centuries, animals have gradually disappeared. Today we live with them. And in this new solitude, anthropomorphism makes us doubly uneasy.

Are we uneasy precisely because to be reminded of our differences (such as through exaggerated projections of sameness–the gambling farm animals at the table) is also in a sense to conjure this originary proximity, and vice versa? The fact remains that there is no pure division, despite what Descartes maybe wished to believe, and despite the numerous ways in which the world of culture and commerce still reflects to some degree a Cartesian worldview, albeit one now largely metastasized and soulless.
The decisive theoretical break came with Descartes. Descartes internalised, within man, the dualism implicit in the human relation to animals. In dividing absolutely body from soul, he bequeathed the body to the laws of physics and mechanics, and, since animals were soulless, the animal was reduced to the model of a machine.

The consequences of Descartes's break followed only slowly. A century later, the great zoologist Buffon [sic], although accepting and using the model of the machine in order to classify animals and their capacities, nevertheless displays a tenderness towards animals which temporarily reinstates them as companions. This tenderness is half envious.

What man has to do in order to transcend the animal, to transcend the mechanical within himself, and what his unique spirituality leads to, is often anguish. And so, by comparison and despite the model of the machine, the animal seems to him to enjoy a kind of innocence. The animal has been emptied of experience and secrets, and this new invented "innocence" begins to provoke in man a kind of nostalgia. For the first time, animals are placed in a receding past.

So far so good. The roots of our projection are laid bare; having diagnosed ourselves as part machines, we look back to "the animal" for a kind of redemption, somewhat jealous and bitter. Perhaps we would even like to punish the animal not a little bit, for our sins. Hence the anthropological machine, in which we inadvertently trap ourselves, and misread both the human and the animal most miserably.

However Berger then claims that "eventually, Descartes's model was surpassed:"
In the first stages of the industrial revolution, animals were used as machines. As also were children. [Well, perhaps they had no "human rights" as such, but were they really thought of as machines pure and simple?] Later, in the so-called post-industrial societies, they are treated as raw material. Animals required for food are processed like manufactured commodities....

This reduction of the animal, which has a theoretical as well as economic history, is part of the same process as that by which men have been reduced to isolated productive and consuming units. Indeed, during this period an approach to animals often prefigured an approach to man. The mechanical view of the animal's work capacity was later applied to that of workers. F.W. Taylor who developed "Taylorish" of time-motion studies and "scientific" management of industry proposed that work must be "so stupid" and so phlegmatic that he (the worker) "more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ok than any other type." Nearly all modern techniques of social conditioning were first established with animal experiments...Today behaviourists like Skinner imprison the very concept of man within the limits of what they conclude from their artificial tests with animals. [Again, my emphasis]

So if the Cartesian model has been "surpassed," it is perhaps only inasmuch as its immediate material consequences have thrived and spread, to stain the whole terrain; the menace of the mechanical analogy has not failed to extend itself to humans, and in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways it is now the content of our experiences and secrets, in addition to our very bodies, that is increasingly under threat. Biopolitics, as they say.

And how do we––"we" the petty bourgeois poised to inheret the earth––cope with this situation? Well, we "complete" our identities with pets:
In the past, families of all classes kept domestic animals because they served a useful purpose...The practice of keeping animals regardless of their usefulness...[as] a modern innovation, and, on the social scale on which it exists today, is unique. It is part of that universal but personal withdrawal into the private small family unit, decorated or furnished with mementoes from the outside world, which is such a distinguishing feature of consumer societies.

The small family living unit lacks space, earth, other animals, seasons, natural temperatures, and so on. The pet is either sterilised or sexually isolated, extremely limited in its exercise, deprived of almost all other animal contact, and fed with artificial foods. This is the material process which lies behind the truism that pets come to resemble their masters or mistresses. They are creatures of their owner's way of life.

Equally important is the way the average owner regards his pet. (Children are, briefly, somewhat different.) The pet completes him, offering responses to aspects of his character which would otherwise remain unconfirmed. He can be to his pet what he is not to anybody or anything else. Furthermore, the pet can be conditioned to react as though it, too, recognizes this. THe pet offers its owner a mirror to a part that is otherwise never reflected. But, since in this relationship the autonomy of both parties has been lost (the owner has become the-special-man-he-is-only-to-his-pet, and the animal has become dependent on its owner for every physical need), the parallelism of their separate lives has been destroyed. (About Looking)

Berger has been blowing a little hard here and he backs off for a minute to resume contact with the original subject, namely: language:
The cultural marginalisation of animals is, of course, a more complex process than their physical marginalisation. The animals of the mind cannot be so easily dispersed. Sayings, dreams, games, stories, superstitions, the language itself, recall them. The animals of the mind, instead of being dispersed, have been co-opted into other categories so that the category animal has lost its central importance. Mostly they have been co-opted into the family and into the spectacle...

The animals transformed into spectacle have disappeared in another way. In the windows of bookshops at Christmas, a third of the volumes on display are animal picture books. Baby owls or giraffes, the camera fixes them in a domain which, although entirely visible to the camera, will never be entered by the spectator. All animals appear like fish seen through the plate glass of an aquarium.

Berger goes on to describe how this spectacle is both technical and ideological. Technical, because the quick camera shutter captures the animal in a frozen moment otherwise inaccessible, or "invisible" to us. Ideological because it is always the animals that are observed: "The fact that they can observe us has lost all significance." (Indeed, anyone who's spent any real time with a dog or a cat knows what sensitive observers they are.)

The absinthian irony is that we are also subjects to this spectacle, perhaps even inescapably so. Our language is the very act of domestification. To even say, "I speak" is madness, to domesticate. We are fish behind the glass, in collective cages of our own forgetting. In dutifully confusing the spectacle for reality, partly because of its economic and social power, and partly for its illusion of archival permanence, we resign ourselves to performing the role of 'fish,' something which is not, in the end, at all true to the fishly. Animals nevertheless represent a chance for humanity, and not only to re-think the position of this glass but also in our relations. But if and only if the horizon of both these concepts, 'animal' and 'human' is understood to lie outside of their ceaseless and circular Disneyfication. That the non-human is not simply the animal, nor vice versa. That the concept of "human rights" might very well one day extend to animals as well. Most of all, that it is not the "emptying" of experience and secrets that makes for "innocence" but rather their very existence, that which gives "innocence" any meaning at all. (Without secrets, there can be no innocence as such; the word itself would cease to signify.)

I confess that this entire post (and congratulations if you've endured this far) has been the working up to a loose question about Agamben. Specifically, whether he retains a certain proto-Catholic or latently Cartesian disposition. Here is the passage in question, one, I dare say, where he is once again wishing to side with a certain Blanchot and against a certain Derrida. (Why hasn't anybody written about these tensions explicitly yet? Derrida's final texts remain so full of discreet points of difference, and pleas to so many thinkers––my guess is that most of them won't even be noticed much less commented on for years. Though of course that is precisely what Agamben is doing here, (on page 92), and in likewise discreet manner, in which case it is worth noting that Derrida responds back again in Acts of Religion and elsewhere, but then again these are only the antics of philistine theorists so you needn't worry about it all that much). Agamben:
Insofar as the animal knows neither beings nor nonbeings, neither open nore closed, it is outside of being; it is outside in an exteriority more external than any open, and inside in an intimacy more internal than any closedness. To let the animal be would then mean: to let it be outside of being. The zone of nonknowledge–or of a-knowledge–that is at issue here is beyond both knowing and not knowing, beyond both disconcealing and concealing, beyond both being and the nothing. But what is thus left to be outside of being is not thereby negated or taken away; it is not, for this reason, inexistent. It is an existing, real thing that has gone beyond the difference between being and beings.
However, it is not here a question of trying to trace the no longer human or animal contours of a new creation that would run the risk of being equally as mythological as the other. As we have seen, in our culture man has always been the result of a simultaneous division and articulation of the animal and the human, in which one of the two terms of the operation was also what was at stake in it. To render inoperative the machine that governs our conception of man will therefore mean no longer to seek new–more effective or more authentic–articulations, but rather to show the central emptiness, the hiatus that–within man–separates man and animal, and to risk ourselves in this emptiness: the suspension of the suspension, Shabbat of both animal and man.

And if one day, according to a now-classic image, the "face in the sand" that the sciences of man have formed on the shore of our history should finally be erased, what will appear in its place will not be a new mandylion or "Veronica" of a regained humanity or animality. The righteous with animal heads in the miniature in the Ambrosian do no represent a new declension of the man-animal relation so much as a figure of "great ignorance" which lets both of them be outside of being, saved precisely in their being unsavable. Perhaps there is still a way in which living beings can sit at the messianic banquet of the righteous without taking on a historical task and without setting the anthropological machine into action. Once again, the solution of the mysterium coniunctionis by which the human has been produced passes through an unprecedented inquiry into the practico-political mystery of separation. (The Open, Trans. Keven Attell, 2004)

(For more comments on this post see LS)

Thursday, September 15, 2005


* Mark Thwaite reviews Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee (Update: with more fine essays by Lars Iyer featured on ReadySteadyBook here).

* Steve remains the only literary blogger out there

* Read Douglass Kellner's forward to May '68 in France: Dynamics and Consequences

* The LitBlog Co-op suggests its second Read This! title...

* More on academic blogging here and with unintentional parody here. Update: And join the necessary bloggers' rebuttal to Ivan Tribble (know-nothing pathetic masochist previously ridiculed here and everywhere).

* CNN's obnoxious State of Emergency banner is best understood by Baudrillard (and Agamben, of course).

* AVW on the dangers of being too aware: namely, despair.

* From here:

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

battle of the egos

Listen/watch live here or here. Update: Link to mp3 archive and more commentary here (transcript "exclusive" on some Hitch-friendly site here.)

The Juan Cole (he who "changes his mind just about every week") article just mentioned may be found here. See also this.

Hitchens is debating the peanut gallery, talking about their "mummies." But he's no court jester.

Amy asks, "Christopher, after you changed your views, do you feel like the media was more friendly to you?"


Oh god, it's over.

Wait, it was already over.

Christopher's gone for his drink ("If you want to talk to me any further, you'll need a receit.") After leaning that direction for a good three-quarters of an hour. Who can blame him after Galloway refuses to engage with any of his arguments. Sorry, "arguments."

The vain one looks on and tries to decide whether his vanity has suffered any, whether he was maybe too kind. Hard to KO a bumbling hollow man.

There sure are some asshole kids in New York though. The references to the Cause of Socialism flew over their heads like so much Rabelais.

(image via)

The entire hot-air affair seemed to boil down to anti-climactic shadow-boxing:

The entire world agrees with me now. "This issues are already ajudged"


"I doubt he'll remember, but when you're committed to a cause [i.e. the perversion of Trotskyism into Neo-conism] you're committed win or lose. Otherwise, what do you tell someone when they ask you why you changed your opinion...'Well because Michael Moore said so'?"

Blowhard, even Francis Fukuyama has now abandoned your "cause."

Update: A more thorough live-blogging account here (courtesy of lenin).

One thing that stood out for me as well, in addition to the glaring lack of original substance or nuance of any kind, was the obvious hot-botton hostility with which New Yorkers of either stripe respond to the politicizing of the Saudi terrorist attacks. The Sharpener writes:
But mostly, they hurled insults at one another. Insults poured in a vertiginous torrent. There was enough hatred, yes, real hatred, between these two men to keep a small civil war going for several decades.

Hitchens started by accusing Galloway of ’slobbering’. Slobbering then over Saddam. Now slobbering over Assad of Syria. Slobbering over every loathsome dictator he came across (although, disappointingly, he didn’t accuse him of slobbering over Slobodan..).

For Galloway, Hitchens had performed a feat never before seen in the natural world: he had undergone a ‘metamorphosis from a butterfly back into a slug’ and was now wallowing in his own slime. People like Hitchens, he said, are ready to fight ‘to the last drop of other people’s blood’.

The audience loved it. Or, rather, the audience loved hating the speaker they were opposed to. From where I was sitting, it seemed the audience was reasonably evenly divided, with perhaps a small advantage to Galloway. It frequently got rowdy. It frequently got profane. It frequently was great fun.

Things threatened to turn ugly when Galloway described the attacks of 11 September 2001 as coming from ‘a swamp of hatred created by us’. Shouts of ‘how dare you!’, ‘go home!’ and worse echoed across the hall. When Hitchens replied by evoking the memory of the 9/11 dead in his favour, he was subjected to a similar barrage of audience invective. New Yorkers, it’s quite clear, do not take kindly to having the events of four years ago used to score cheap political points, whichever side they’re on.

And worse...yeah, I believe it was "fuck you," followed by a growly "shut the fuck up!" to be precise. Lovely.

To which Hitchens kept cutely responding, "Remember, you're on the telly," forgetting that aside from "telly" being a hopelessly quaint and comical word in our language, for Americans this just amounts to saying, "bring it on."

But anyway, Galloway's monotone bluster allows this man to sound the very voice of reason. And that's a real fucking shame.

Finally, our special correspondent writes:
I'm swamped at work and don't have time to give you
the promised post-mortem. My apologies. All I can say
is that I found both characters unsavory and felt
gross afterward. RB

Update final: Since Galloway didn't exactly rise to the challenge of defending himself from being smeared with the convenient label of "anti-American," how about remembering a post or two that succinctly address the issue.

See also the extensive Wikipedia entry on the subject.

It seems clear that this is both a propaganda term and a reality. A propaganda term when right-wingers use it, and a reality when describing the effects of right-wingers (and of privatizing, sychophantic conglomerate centrists) on the international scene.

Penguins: Hopping Across the Frozen Bathos

I've scribbled a new post for Long Sunday

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

asshole issues preview taunts

Beware the Payola Drunk. A friend planning to attend promises to send along a post-mortem.

For more now, see lenin.


Scott McLemee reviews the new documentary Zizek! You heard it here first.
An excerpt:
Early in the documentary — and again at the end — he denounces the fascination with him as an individual, insisting that the only thing that matters is his theoretical work. He gives a list of what he regards as his four really important books: The Sublime Object of Ideology, For They Know Not What They Do, The Ticklish Subject, and a work now in progress that he has provisionally titled The Parallax View (a.k.a. the sequel to Ticklish).

There is a clear hint that his other and more popular books are negligible by contrast; he speaks of wanting to kill his doppelganger, the wild-and-crazy guy known for obscene jokes and pop-culture

“And yet,” as Taylor notes, “Žižek, despite his frustrations, continues to put on a good show, albeit one quite different in demeanor from Lacan’s.” That is what makes the final images of Žižek! so interesting.

I don’t want to give the surprise ending away. Suffice it to say that it involves a spiral staircase...

According to the clip, uhh, there has never been so much unavowed "belief" in the air as there is today, as evidenced by Derrida's (or what in Z's mind is perhaps all the same, Judith Butler's) inability to say anything without extensive parenthesis and quotation marks. Personally I think the EGS students may be getting ripped off, but what do I know. More about this on Long Sunday soon, where they even speak German.

I love you

But wait: this stage of the Two is not a being of the Two, which would suppose three. This stage of the Two is a work, a process. It only exists as a track through the situation, under the supposition that there are Two. The Two is the hypothetical operator, the operator of an aleatory enquiry, of such a work or such a track.

This to-come [ad-venue] of the supposition of a Two is originally evental. The event is the perilous supplement to the situation what we call an encounter. Properly understood, the event-encounter occurs only in the form of its disappearance or eclipse. It is fixed only by a nomination, and this nomination is a declaration, the declaration of love. The name which declares is drawn from the void of the site from which the encounter draws the bit-of-being [per d'etre] of its supplementation.

What is the void invoked here by the declaration of love? It is a void, the unknown [in-su] of the disjunction. The declaration of love puts into circulation in the situation a vocable drawn from the null interval that disjoins the positions man and woman. "I love you," brings together two prouns "I" and "you," that cannot be brought together as soon as they are returned to the disjunction. The declaration nominally fixes the encounter as having for its being the void of the disjunction. The Two who amorously operate is properly the name of the disjunct apprehended in its disjunction.

Love is interminable fidelity to the first nomination. It is a material procedure which reevaluates the totality of experience, traversing the entiire situation bit by bit, according to its connection or its disconnection to the nominal supposition of the Two.

-Badiou, "What is Love?"

[Last night we saw Frida again, though for all the alleged emphasis on period integrity, Julie Taymor apparently preferred a Salma Hayek sans armpit hair. This in particular bothered S. (I liked what she did with Titus, though no amount of Senecan brutality can contest with Campell Scott as Hamlet.) Slowly, in any case, I am trying to make some sense of Badiou.]

So in seeking to leave behind the transcendental third term or superaddressee (nadadresat)––(though perhaps not entirely the 'loophole'?)––Badiou ends up sounding not unlike either Barthes in A Lover's Discourse or Derrida (when he discusses, say, loving "the who" instead of merely "the what" in Amy Kofman's film).

Two irreducible singularities cannot love, yet understood as such they are also the very condition of possibility for 'love,' be this word understood in its strongest, im-possible, perhaps aporetic sense. "I love you" is a declaration crossing an abyss, as if founded on disjunction, as if also a little mad. But mad precisely inasmuch as it remains "dim." Moreover there is a difference between the first declaration and its subsequent repetition. Barthes:
je t'aime/I-love-you

The figure refers not to the declaration of love, to the avowal. But to the repeated utterance of the love cry... Once the first avowal has been made, "I love you" has no meaning whatever; it merely repeats in an enigmatic mode—so blank does it appear—the old message... The situations in which I say I-love-you cannot be classified: I-love-you is irrepressible and unforeseeable... I-love-you belongs neither to the realm of linguistics nor in that of the proferring of I-love-you, desire is neither repressed (as in what is uttered) nor recognized (where we did not expect it: as in the uttering itself), but simply: released, as an orgasm. Orgasm is not spoken, but it speaks and it says I-love-you… This formula responds to no ritual; the situations in which I say I-love-you cannot be classified.

I am Crazy.

It frequently occurs to the amorous subject that he is or is going mad... I am mad to be in love. I am not mad to be able to say so; I double my image: insane in my own eyes (I know my delirium), simply unreasonable in the eyes of someone else, to whom I quite sanely describe my madness: conscious of this madness, sustaining a discourse upon it... Love drives me nearly mad, but I not communicate with the supernatural, there is nothing of the sacred within me; my madness, a mere irrationality, is dim, even invisible; besides it is entirely recuperated by the culture: it frightens no one.

After the initial avowal, "I love you" is meaningless. Or rather, it demands and refuses to wait for a certain response, immediate and yet sincere. But what is the nature of this response? A necessary affirmation, each repetition carrying within itself the promise of a double "yes,yes." But also the inadequacy of "I love you too," said with a gentle smile, sometimes almost apologetically, as if the second repetition was never performing quite the same ammount or quality of work, so much as acknowledging a risk, a void; the pretense of co-signature.

David Wills:
If love is to be distinguished from friendship, he maintains that it will be in terms of the question of reciprocity. As a result, "I love you" is spoken into a type of void, performed as a promise or prayer to which one cannot expect an answer. We might therefore imagine it turned around to the extent of being uttered from behind, so that even were one to proffer a response, even a symmetrical "I love you (too)," it would also be spoken into a type of emptiness in front of one.

In my short essay on Joyce I tried to deal only with the word 'yes' as it was...performed, so to speak, in Ulysses; and I tried to show how all the paradoxes which are linked to this question of the 'yes'...this has to do with the fact that deconstruction is a 'yes', is linked, is an affirmation. When I say 'yes' - as you know, 'yes' is the last word in Ulysses - when I say 'yes' to the other in the form of a promise or an agreement or an oath, the 'yes' must be absolutely inaugural. In relation to the theme today, inauguration is a 'yes', I say 'yes' as a starting point, nothing precedes the yes, the yes is the moment of the institution, the origin; it's absolutely originary. But when you say 'yes', if you don't imply that the moment after that you will have to confirm the 'yes' by a second 'yes' - when I say 'yes', I immediately say 'yes, yes' - I commit myself to confirm my commitment in the next second, and tomorrow and after tomorrow and so on, which means that the 'yes' immediately duplicates itself, doubles itself. You cannot say 'yes' without saying 'yes, yes', which implies memory in the promise; I promise to keep the memory of the first yes and when you, in a wedding for instance, in a performative, in a promise, when you say 'yes, I agree, I will' you imply, 'I will say 'I will' tomorrow and I will confirm my promise', otherwise there is no promise. Which means that the 'yes' keeps in advance the memory of its own beginning. That's the way it's a different word. If tomorrow you don't confirm that you have founded today your program you will not have any relation to it.

Tomorrow, perhaps next year, perhaps twenty years from now we will - if today there has been any inauguration; we don't know yet, we don't know, we can't today, where I am speaking... who knows? So 'yes' has to be repeated, and immediately, immediately it implies what I call 'iterability', it implies the repetition of itself. Which is a threat, which is threatening at the same time because the second yes may be simply a parody or a record or mechanical repetition; it may say 'yes, yes' like a parrot, which means that the technical reproduction of the originary 'yes' is from the beginning threatening to the living origin of the 'yes', which means that the 'yes' is hounded by its own ghost, its own mechanical ghost, from the beginning. Which means that the second 'yes' will have to reinaugurate, to reinvent the first one. If tomorrow you don't reinvent today's inauguration... it will have been dead. Every day the inauguration has to be reinvented. So that's one thing.

to be updated...

Monday, September 12, 2005

world of hype

John quotes a bit of Lennon (yes, that one) from an interview in 1970 (cited in The Vintage Book of [Commodified] Dissent):

What do you think the effect of the Beatles was on the history of Britain?

I don't know about the history. The people who are in control and in power and the class system and the whole bullshit bourgeois scene is exactly the same except there is a lot of middle-class kids with long hair walking around London in trendy clothes and Kenneth Tynan's making a fortune out of the word 'fuck'. But apart from that, nothing happened except that we're all dressed up. The same bastards are in control, the same people are runnin' everything, it's exactly the same. They hyped the kids and the generation.

We've grown up a little, all of us, and there has been a change and we are a bit freer and all that, but it's the same game, nothing's really changed. They're doing exactly the same things, selling arms to South Africa, killing blacks on the street, people are living in fucking poverty with rats crawling over them, it's the same. It just makes you puke. And I woke up to that, too. The dream is over. It's just the same only I'm thirty and a lot of people have got long hair, that's all.

But lo! The dream lingers on, only this time in the form of a world-weary conservatism. You know what they say about dreams that were always already re-runs.

bare life?

zee crazy French, in a Whitmanesque moment "for art's sake"


fun ironies for you while they continue laughing all the way to the bank

plenty more fun photos here, via Wonkette, but you knew that already.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

in preparation for G.O.D.

The bitingly ironic Kotsko, on banning the words "sacrifice" and "sacred" from politico-speak entirely:
Human life is "sacred." Not that humans have rights and obligations -- no, that's not what we say. That would imply a social order arising out of the collaboration of rational adults. That would imply that we might actually get to pick what "cause," if any, we want to embrace -- and if we just want to have Weimar forever, or the "happy 90s" forever, then that's an acceptable option. We might get to talk about a project, about creating something -- rather than jumping straight to this idea of "sacrifice," almost like we want a "sacrifice" for its own sake, or for the sake of appeasing the hungry gods. If we "sacrifice," then the great god America will bless us. Or look at those who are constantly hoping that this latest catastrophe will be a "wake-up call" -- to what? And who's calling?

This obsession with the negative, with destruction, with giving something up -- it's a poison. It's of a piece with the philosophy of governance that our entire political class has embraced -- cut spending, cut taxes, cut, cut, cut. Then the native goodness of the American people will have a chance to flourish! Then no one will have a moral free pass -- no, change will happen from the bottom up, when people spontaneously, individually move their precious, sacred, personally responsible bodies into the right places. They'll just know, intuitively, what to do -- if only we get rid of this dreadful bureaucracy, this dreadful educational indoctrination, this dreadful civilization.

Friday, September 09, 2005

How sweet to be an idiot



On Benjamin from Nikil Saval:
In Shadowtime’s very last scene, the entire stage set—props, curtains, everything—is turned backwards, the lighting turned from low spotlights to harsh, blinding fluorescence. “Wake up,” it says. “That things simply go on as they are is the catastrophe.”

Yes but not until the last scene? Surely the reversals and exposures of the avant-garde in themselves are no longer enough.

Update: A bit more promising from one of the editors of n+1 here.

Update the Second: Or from some rag in NY here, (complete with pictures of the whole gang) (hat tip please to The Decline):
At a time when older forms of media are supposedly being swallowed up by newer ones, the impulse to start the kind of magazine Partisan Review was in the late 1930's or The Paris Review was in the 50's might look contrarian, even reactionary. If you are an overeducated (or at least a semi-overeducated) youngish person with a sleep disorder and a surfeit of opinions, the thing to do, after all, is to start a blog. There are no printing costs, no mailing lists, and the medium offers instant membership in a welcoming herd of independent minds who will put you in their links columns if you put them in yours. Blogs embody and perpetuate a discourse based on speed, topicality, cleverness and contention - all qualities very much ascendant in American media culture these days. To start a little magazine, then - to commit yourself to making an immutable, finite set of perfect-bound pages that will appear, typos and all, every month or two, or six, or whenever, even if you are also, and of necessity, maintaining an affiliated Web site, to say nothing of holding down a day job or sweating over a dissertation - is, at least in part, to lodge a protest against the tyranny of timeliness. It is to opt for slowness, for rumination, for patience and for length. It is to defend the possibility of seriousness against the glibness and superficiality of the age - and also, of course, against other magazines.

For those of you who like to write, or at least drink beer in the city:
Dear Subscribers,

Issue three will ship from Michigan on Monday, arrive at headquarters
on Thursday, and we will have a big party on Saturday the 17th, in New

Our space has sort of fallen through, but we have a great rock band,
Oakley Hall, and we know where to buy beer, and we'll think of
something--so, in short, next Saturday, and the details are

Please come and bring your friends.

--The Editors

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Theory, fragments

A thought that stands outside subjectivity, setting its limits as though from without, articulating its end, making its dispersion shine forth, taking in only its invincible absence; and that at the same time stands at the threshold of all positivity, not in order to grasp its foundation or justification but in order to regain the space of its unfolding, the void serving as its site, the distance in which it is constituted and into which its immediate certainties slip the moment they are glimpsed--a thought that, in relation to the interiority of our philosophical reflection and the positivity of our knowledge, constitutes what in a word we might call “the thought from the outside.” (Foucault, Maurice Blanchot: The Thought From Outside, 16)

What might be the implications of the word, "désoeuvrement" for a conception of "theory?" No longer belonging to production or completion, worklessness is a movement of fragment, interruption and risk--"unavowable."

These names, areas of dislocation, the four winds of spirit's absence, breath from nowhere--the names of thought, when it lets itself come undone and, by writing, fragment. Outside. Neutral. Disaster. Return. Surely these names form no system. In their abruptness, like proper names designating no one, they slid outside all possible meaning without this slide's meaning anything--it leaves only a sliding half-gleam that clarifies nothing, not even the outside, whose frontier is nowhere indicated. These names, in a devastating field, ravaged by the absence which has preceded them...(stones petrified by the endlessness of their fall and forming the walls of an abyss)--seem remainders, each one, of an other language, both disappeared and never yet pronounced, a language we cannot even attempt to restore without reintroducing these names back into the world, or exalting them to some higher world of which, in their external, clandestine solitude, they could only be the irregular interruption, the invisible retreat. (Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 58)

There might be some justice in claiming that Blanchot is not an original thinker; he does not introduce any authentic philosophical or theoretical concepts that might be said to be his own. Rather the terms that are "his" inasmuch as they are associated with his name--words such as worklessness (désouevrement), the neuter (le neutre), the outside (le dehors) or disaster (désastre), remain fragmentary without forming any foundational stability for any system. They exist as if belonging to a language already past or yet to come. Rather than a politics of despair, however, the disaster articulates a politics of promise. The above passage sounds very much like Heidegger. But it is important to recognize that such "interruption" do not begin to constitute any "higher world" any more than does "retreat." Theory of literature? Theory from literature? Literature of theory? If theory, like God, is dead--then might death be not only of God but also of theory?

Desire of writing, writing of desire. Desire of knowledge, knowledge of desire. Let us not believe that we have said anything at all with these reversals. Desire, writing, do not remain in place, but pass one over the other: these are not plays on words, for desire is always the desire of dying, not a wish...Dying desire, desire to die, we live these together--not that they coincide--in the obscurity of the interim. (The Writing of the Disaster, 42)

What might it mean for "theory" to no longer be a system. The truth in theory would be the restless movement of its own disappearance--theory ceaselessly leaning or turning toward an anticipation of those moments when theory is undone and no longer relevant, or at least altered in some irrevocable way. Would theory then be more (and less) than just a yearning for moments that never quite arrive, or have always already past? What does seem clear is that both Blanchot's and Derrida's projects open onto a new kind of space for the conception of both theory and community--one that cannot fail to reference a movement beyond or "outside" of itself that serves as its only law of (de)constitution; a belonging to nothing but belonging itself. Theory must learn to forget theory, or rather to acknowledge impute to an always foundational forgetfulness a new breath of will.

Theories are necessary (the theories of language, for example): necessary and useless. Reason works in order to wear itself out, by organizing itself into systems, seeking a positive knowledge where it can posit itself, pose and repose and at the same time convey itself to an extremity which forms a stop and closure. We must pass by way of this knowledge and forget it...Forgetfulness is a practice...The theoretical battle, even if it is waged against some form of violence, is always the violence of an incomprehension; let us not be stopped short by the partial, simplifying, reductive character of comprehension itself. This partialness is characteristic of the theoretical: "with hammer blows," Nietzsche said. But this hammering is not only the clash of arms. (Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 75-76)

Is there any sense in which Blanchot's "disaster" can be read as "theory," even if the meaning of "the disaster" can only be ceaselessly approached as inadequate (and excessive) description--or even as multiple, heterogeneous, and ultimately inaccessible in itself? What if, using Blanchot’s words, theory could be said to "unwork" itself, from a place radically "outside" its own being--"theory" as a "worklessness" (déseouvrement) without present or presence. In other words, perhaps theory really has no need for theory. Perhaps there is no "need" at all, at least not one that could ever be said to belong properly to anything--"theory," for instance. Theory is inadequate, exhausted from the beginning. And yet no step is possible without theory. Isn't theory also in some sense motivated by its own insufficiency, by the fact that no theory by itself can exhaust the meaning of, for example, a poem, or a work of 'literature'? Is "theory" always reactive--a reaction to something (but not something) that can only be described, perhaps by words such as "silent murmuring" or "tacit intensity" (Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 43)?

In any case, Blanchot's project is of course not a positive science portending to isolate its "object" of attention. Even his most didactic passages resist such temptation from the beginning, working back against themselves and into themselves until something that may have always been present only in absence emerges.

Despite the volume and difficulty of Blanchot's work, a recurrent movement of thought, albeit with some risk, can be traced throughout. Blanchot, no more than Heidegger, does not attempt to write about language. Language is rather, as it were, doubled back upon itself to let speak, not a discourse about anything, but the 'essence' of language itself--though it must be added that 'inessentiality' is the most prominent trait of this 'essence'. (Clark, 66-67)

Similarly, it may not be possible to write "about" Blanchot if one wishes to remain faithful to his thought, however difficult this may be--or rather precisely as this remains what is most difficult. After all, there may be only a relatively small number of people who can be said to have succeeded in reading Blanchot faithfully. Which is perhaps to say: attempted to read his silences, without portending to expose their secrets but rather by disclosing certain secrets, opening them up--in another language made possible. That is, by affirming his thought in a movement of extreme risk that does not merely repeat it but remains most close even while it honors distance and even turns away.

If Blanchot’s “theory” is obsessed with its own infinite inadequacy, yet unable to abandon responding to a certain enigmatic promise--perhaps a promise, in some brutal and never-to-be-realized sense, of freedom, of a will to knowledge, of death and of love--it does so in a manner that cannot ever be reduced to formulas, psychoanalytic or otherwise, that would still depend upon a conception of the subject as sovereign, or even as sovereignly divided.
Perhaps a writer cannot ever be approached psychoanalytically, unless she is approached as a subject and not as a writer. Even then, as always, there would still be the necessity for risk, even for a kind of daily sacrifice in a very existentialist sense. As Blanchot mentions in a parenthesis--although one that might not be entirely lacking in a certain (perhaps well-earned?) defensiveness:

According to psychoanalytic vocabulary (which, I believe, only those who practice psychoanalysis can use--only those, that is, for whom analysis is a risk, an extreme danger, a daily test--for otherwise it is only the convenient language of an established culture)...(The Writing of the Disaster, 67)

This resistance to psychoanalytic language is, again, one Blanchot might be said to share with Derrida, for precisely this reason.

Appearing several times in The Writing of the Disaster, the word "theory" is often invoked derisively:

Knowledge becomes finer and lighter only at the outer edges, when truth no longer constitutes the principle to which it must finally submit...In the knowledge which must always free itself from knowledge, there is none prior; nor does this knowledge succeed itself, and there is thus no presence of knowledge either. Do not apply knowledge; do not repeat it. Enough of theory which wields and organizes knowledge. Here space opens to “fictive theory,” and theory, through fiction, comes into danger of dying. You theoreticians, know that you are mortal, and that theory is already death in you. Know this, be acquainted with your companion. Perhaps it is true that “without theorizing, you would never take a step forward,” but this step is one more step toward the abyss of truth. Thence rises the silent murmuring, the tacit intensity.
When the domination of truth ceases--that is, when the reference to the true-false dichotomy (and to the union of the two) no longer holds sway, not even as the task of a language yet to come--then knowledge continues to seek itself and to seek to inscribe itself, but in an other space where there is no longer any direction. When knowledge is no longer a knowledge of truth, it is then that knowledge starts: a knowledge that burns thought, like the knowledge of infinite patience. (The Writing of the Disaster, 42-43)

The unique ignorance or forgetting of 'fiction' disrupts the systemic blindness of theory, revitalizing a movement always in danger of becoming merely dogmatic or complacently repetitive; fiction is the condition of possibility for an unworking of knowledge that might be nothing less than the beginnings of true (non)knowledge. Fiction--or rather the act of writing itself--introduces into theory an element of "bad conscience."

It is one of the duties of our time to expose the writer to a sort of preliminary shame. He has to have a bad conscience, he has to feel at fault before he does anything. As soon as he starts to write, he hears himself joyfully exclaim: Well, now you are lost. Should I stop, then? No, if you stop, you are lost." Thus speaks the devil, who also spoke to Goethe and made him that impersonal being, as soon as his life beyond himself began, powerless to fail because this supreme power had been taken from him. The force of the devil is that very different instances speak in his voice, so that one never knows what "You are lost" means. Sometimes is is the world, the world of daily life, the necessity of action, the law of work, the anxiety of people, the search for necessities. To speak when the world is perishing can awaken in the speaker only the suspicion of his own frivolity, the desire, at least, to bring himself closer, by his words, to the gravity of the moment by uttering useless, true, and simple words. "You are lost" means: "You speak without necessity, to distract you from necessity; vain speech, fatuous and guilty; speech of luxury and indigence." "So I should stop!" "No, if you stop, you are lost." (Blanchot, The Book to Come, 32)

Might "Fictive theory" then also be perceived as something close to poetry, if poetry is understood, in its relation to philosophy, as a certain form of anarchy?

Blanchot's thought seems to be this: there is poetry after Auschwitz, and also philosophy, but it is no longer possible for these things to go on in good conscience. Of course poetry (since Plato's time a discourse of survival) is interminable, incessant; that is, thinking of poetry in terms of its place in the history of philosophy, Blanchot has always understood it (as he has understood everything else, perhaps himself as well) in bad conscience. Bad conscience, just to summarize, is internal to the exigency of writing. The question is whether philosophy could ever respond to this exigency, becoming, in effect, anarchic ("without intentions, without aims, without the protective mask of the character of beholding itself in the mirror of the world, reassured and posing. Without name, without situation, without titles.") This question is Blanchot's provocation, or perhaps his gift, to philosophy. (Bruns, Maurice Blanchot and the Refusal of Philosophy, 264-265)

Blanchot's thought, in its indebtedness to Heidegger, still may resist Heidegger's conception of a pure originary moment of language or Being as pre-ontological 'Dasein.' And so Blanchot might in fact be a "theorist" after all, if theory is understood as ultimately providing ground that ultimately is neither stable, nor ever unstable in quite the same way.
Such phrases may risk a numbing circularity--is Blanchot a theorist only if "theory" means "his theory?" Or when "disaster" can be approached as "theory?"--and this is undoubtedly only part of the problem in approaching Blanchot at all, especially under the pretense of having something to say. (Or, even worse, assuming an ability to say it all--to encapsulate what Blanchot has made one feel by reducing it to a petty manipulation of another's words, another’s capability within language, willing itself in relation to an ‘outside’ that will forever have been...disastrous.)

n.b.: This post is responding in some form to others elsewhere.

Remember the beginning?


Update: crooks, crooks, crooks, crooks, etc.

Bloggity Bloggy Blog, Sir, Can I Please Have a Job?

Alphonse and John say it well. As does Jodi. There is a part of me that wonders sometimes about the wisdom of leaving a record such as this, whether it will risk standing in for the more serious work of writing, and for that which he would like to devote his deepest care (and eventually, perhaps, someday in some way be known). There are moments when he tells himself he will delete it all, possibly as soon as tomorrow, and in order to begin for real. But then isn't this just another vein of vanity? Blogging is a distraction, yes, but one that refuses to permit you to forget it is a distraction.

As I've said before, the thought is comforting that this is a blog (a fitting word that sounds just like the burp of "book"), something other than the ideal of putting pen to paper or publishing per se, as part of a deathly serious oeuvre (or plucking with that patient, mechanical integrity of the typewriter). And while it hopefully reflects something of the worklessness of an Open Text, and engages implicitly with the very question of (re)reading, of economies of interest in the digital future to-come, something in the distinction between blog and book is still worth retaining. Those who feel threatened by blogging, who would prefer their employee not to have any broadcast voice, fundamentally misunderstand the medium. Blogging is not publishing; blogging is, ideally, the refusal of the market-driven drivel by perfusion of drivel, and the putting of the written word and the value of the binded book back in its proper place. Good books are those worth holding, to be absorbed between the physical turning of paper pages, to be revisited for the pencil notes scrawled in the mildewy margins. To give off scent of dust and mildew, library aura from which they come: Time. This is not fetishism merely. Everything belongs on a blog.

Umberto Eco, writing in 1996:
Books will remain indispensable not only for literature, but for any circumstance in which one needs to

read carefully, not only to receive information but also to speculate and to reflect about it. To read a

computer screen is not the same as to read a book. Think to the process of learning a new computer

program. Usually the program is able to display on the screen all the instructions you need. But usually

the users who want to learn the program either print the instructions and read them as if they were in

book form, or they buy a printed manual (let me underevaluate the fact that presently all the computer's

Helps are clearly written by irresponsible and tautological idiots, while commercial handbooks are

written by smart people). It is possible to conceive of a visual program that explains very well how to

print and bind a book, but in order to get instructions on how to write (or how to use) a computer

program, we need a printed handbook.

After having spent no more than 12 hours at a computer console, my eyes are like two tennis balls, and

I feel the need of sitting comfortably down in an armchair and reading a newspaper, and maybe a good

poem. I think that computers are diffusing a new form of literacy but are incapable of satisfying all the

intellectual needs they are stimulating.

In my hours of optimism I dream of a computer generation which, compelled to read a computer

screen, gets acquainted with reading, but at a certain moment feels unsatisfied and looks for a different,

more relaxed and differently-committing form of reading...

We are marching towards a more liberated society in which free creativity will co-exist

with textual interpretation. I like this. But we must not say that we have substituted a old

thing with another one. We have both, thanks God. TV zapping is a kind of activity which

has nothing to do with watching a movie. A hypertextual device that allows us to invent

new texts has nothing to do with our ability to interpret pre-existing texts.

There is still another confusion between and about two different questions: (a) will

computers made books obsolete? and (b) will computers make written and printed

material obsolete?

Let us suppose that computers will make books to disappear. This would not mean the

disappearance of printed material.

The computer creates new modes of production and diffusion of printed documents. In

order to re-read a text, and to correct it properly, if it is not simply a short letter, one needs

to print it, then to re-read it, then to correct it at the computer and to reprint it again. I do

not think that one is able to write a text of hundreds of pages and to correct it without

printing it at least once.

We have seen that - if by chance one hoped that computers, and specially word processors,

would have contributed to save trees - that was a wishful thinking. Computers encourage

the production of printed material. We can think of a culture in which there will be no

books, and people will go around with tons and tons of unbound sheets of paper. This

will be pretty difficult, and will pose a new problem for libraries.

People desire to communicate with each other. In ancient communities they did it orally; in

a more complex society they tried to do it by printing. Most of the books which are

displayed in a bookstore should be defined as products of Vanity Presses, even if they are

published by a university press. But with computer technology we are entering a new

Samisdazt Era. People can communicate directly without the mediation of publishing

houses. Lot of people do not want to publish, they simply want to communicate each

other. Today they do it by E-mail or Internet, will result in being a great advantage for

books, books' civilization and books' market. Look at a bookstore. There are too many

books. I receive too many books every week. If the computer network will succeed in

reducing the quantity of published books, it would be a paramount cultural improvement...

Until now I have tried to show that the arrival of new technological devices does not

necessarily made previous device obsolete. The car is goes faster than the bicycle, but cars

have not rendered bicycles obsolete and no new technological improvement can make a

bicycle better than it was before. The idea that a new technology abolishes a previous role

is too much simplistic. After the invention of Daguerre painters did not feel obliged to

serve any longer as craftsmen obliged to reproduce reality such as we believe to see it. But

it does not mean that Daguerre's invention only encouraged abstract painting. There is a

whole tradition in modern painting that could not exist without the photographic model,

think for instance of hyper-realism. Reality is seen by the painter's eye through the

photographic eye.

Certainly the advent of cinema or of comic strips has made literature free from certain

narrative tasks it traditionally had to perform. But if there is something like post-modern

literature, it exists just because it has been largely influenced by comic strips or cinema.

For the same reason today I do not need any longer a heavy portrait painted by a modest

artist and I can send my sweetheart a glossy and faithful photograph, but such a change

in the social functions of painting has not made painting obsolete, except that today painted

portraits do not fulfill the same practical function of portraying a person (which can be

done better and less expensively by a photograph), but of celebrating important

personalities, so that the command, the purchasing and the exhibition of such portraits

acquire aristocratic connotations.

This means that in the history if culture it has never happened that something has simply

killed something else. Something has profoundly changed something else.

I have quoted McLuhan, according to which the Visual Galaxy had substituted the

Gutenberg Galaxy. We have seen that few decades later this was no longer true.

McLuhan stated that we are living in a new electronic Global Village. We are certainly

living in a new electronic community, which is global enough, but this is not a Village -

if by village one means a human settlement where people are directly interacting each other.

The real problems of an electronic community are the following: (1) Solitude. The new

citizen of this new community is free to invent new texts, to cancel the traditional notion

of authorship, to delete the traditional divisions between author and reader, but the risk is

that - being in touch with the entire world by means of a galactic network - one feels

alone.... (2) Excess of information and inability to choose and to discriminate. I am used

to saying that certainly the Sunday NYT is the kind of newspaper where you can find

everything fit to print. Its 500 hundred pages tell you everything you need to know about

the events of the past week and the ideas for the new one. However, a single week is not

enough to read the whole Sunday NYT. Is there a difference between a newspaper which

says everything you cannot read, and a newspaper which says nothing, is there a difference

between NYT and Pravda?

Notwithstanding this, the NYT reader can still distinguish between the book review, the

pages devoted to the tv programs, the Real Estate supplement, and so on. The user of

Internet has not the same skill. We are today unable to discriminate, at least at first glance,

between a reliable source and a mad one. We need a new form of critical competence, an

as yet unknown art of selection and decimation of information, in short, a new wisdom.

We need a new kind of educational training.

Let me say that in this perspective books will still have a paramount function. As well as

you need a printed handbook in order to surf on Internet, so we will need new printed

manuals in order to cope critically with the World Wide Web.

Let me conclude with a praise of the finite and limited world that books provide us.

Suppose you are reading Tolstoj's War and Peace: you are desperately wishing that

Natasha will not accept the courtship of that miserable scoundrel who is Anatolij; you

desperately wish that that marvellous person who is prince Andrej will not die, and that

he and Natasha could live together happy forever. If you had War and Peace in a

hypertextual and interactive CD-rom you could rewrite your own story, according to

your desires, you could invent innumerable War and Peaces, where Pierre Besuchov

succeeds in killing Napoleon or, according to your penchants, Napoleon definitely defeats

General Kutusov.

Alas, with a book you cannot. You are obliged to accept the laws of Fate, and to realise

that you cannot change Destiny. A hypertextual and interactive novel allows us to practice

freedom and creativity, and I hope that such a kind of inventive activity will be practised

in the schools of the future. But the written War and Peace does not confront us with the

unlimited possibilities of Freedom, but with the severe law of Necessity. In order to be

free persons we also need to learn this lesson about Life and Death, and only books can

still provide us with such a wisdom.