Sunday, October 19, 2014

Auerbach's Cellar

A king there was once reigning,
Who had a goodly flea,
Him loved he without feigning,
As his own son were he!
His tailor then he summon'd,
The tailor to him goes:
Now measure me the youngster
For jerkin and for hose!

In satin and in velvet,
Behold the yonker dressed;
Bedizen'd o'er with ribbons,
A cross upon his breast.
Prime minister they made him,
He wore a star of state;
And all his poor relations
Were courtiers, rich and great.

The gentlemen and ladies
At court were sore distressed;
The queen and all her maidens
Were bitten by the pest,
And yet they dared not scratch them,
Or chase the fleas away.
If we are bit, we catch them,
And crack without delay.
-Goethe, "Faust"

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Proposal for the Establishment of Liberal Lazarettos

A lazaretto or lazaret is a quarantine station for maritime travellers. Lazarets can be ships permanently at anchor, isolated islands, or mainland buildings. Until 1908, lazarets were also used for disinfecting postal items, usually by fumigation. A leper colony administered by a Christian religious order was often called a lazar house, after the parable of Lazarus the beggar.
Otherwise, it would be impossible to contain the bull.

[19] "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.
[20] At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores
[21] and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

[22] "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried.
[23] In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.
[24] So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'

[25] "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.
[26] And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'

[27] "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, [28] for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'

[29] "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'

[30] " 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'

[31] "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "
Luke 16:19-31

Détournement du Jour...

....and the New Lettrism
Pathetic I The flourishing of bursts of energy dies beyond us. All delirium is expansive. All impulses escape stereotyping. Still I An intimate experience maintains curious specifics. Pathetic II Discharges are transmitted by notions. What a difference between our fluctuations and the brutality of words. Transitions always arise between feeling and speech. Still II The word is the first stereotype. Pathetic III What a difference between the organism and the sources. Notions - what an inherited dictionary. Tarzan learns in his father's book to call tigers cats. Naming the Unknown by the Forever. Still III The translated word does not express. Pathetic IV The rigidity of forms impedes their transmission. These words are so heavy that the flow fails to carry them. Temperaments die before arriving at the goal (firing blanks). No word is capable of carrying the impulses one wants to send with it. Still IV WORDS allow psychic alterations to disappear. Speech resists effervescence. Notions require expansion to equivalent formulas. WORDS Fracture our rhythm. by their Assassinate sensitivity. mechanism, Thoughtlessly uniform fossilization, tortured inspiration. stability Twist tensions. and aging Reveal poetic exaltations as useless. Create politeness. Invent diplomats. Promote the use of analogies Substitute for true emissions. Pathetic V If one economizes on the riches of the soul, one dries up the left-over along with the words. Still V Prevent the flow from molding itself on the cosmos. Form species in sentiments. WORDS Destroy sinuosities. Result from the need to determine things. Help the elderly remember by forcing the young to forget. Pathetic VI Every victory of the young has been a victory over words. Every victory over words has been a fresh, young victory. Still VI Summarize without knowing how to receive. It is the tyranny of the simple over the long-winded. WORDS Discern too concretely to leave room for the mind. Forget the true measures of expression: suggestions. Let infrarealities disappear. Sift without restoring. Pathetic VII One learns words as one learns good manners. Without words and manners it is impossible to appear in society. It is by making progress in words that one makes progress socially. Still VII Kill fleeting evocations. Slow down short-cuts and approximations. SPEECH Is always vice-versa for not being identical. Eliminates solitary individuals who would like to rejoin society. Forces men who would like to say "Otherwise" to say "Thus." Introduces stuttering. Pathetic VIII The carpentry of the word built to last forever obliges men to construct according to patterns, like children. There is no appreciation of value in a word. Still VIII Words are the great levellers. Pathetic IX Notions limit opening onto depths by merely standing ajar. Still IX Words are family garments. Poets enlarge words every year. Words already have been mended so much they are in stitches. Pathetic X People think it is impossible to break words. Still X Unique feelings are so unique that they can not be popularized. Feelings without words in the dictionary disappear. Pathetic XI Every year thousands of feelings disappear for lack of a concrete form. Still XI Feelings demand living space. How remarkable the poet's disheartened absorption in words. Things and nothings to communicate become daily more imperious. Pathetic XII Efforts at destruction witness to the need to rebuild. Still XII How long will people hold out in the shrunken domain of words? Pathetic XIII The poet suffers indirectly: Words remain the work of the poet, his existence, his job. B Innovation I Destruction of WORDS for LETTERS ISIDORE ISOU Believes in the potential elevation beyond WORDS; wants the development of transmissions where nothing is lost in the process; offers a verb equal to a shock. By the overload of expansion the forms leap up by themselves. ISIDORE ISOU Begins the destruction of words for letters. ISIDORE ISOU Wants letters to pull in among themselves all desires. ISIDORE ISOU Makes people stop using foregone conclusions, words. ISIDORE ISOU Shows another way out between WORDS and RENUNCIATION: LETTERS. He will create emotions against language, for the pleasure of the tongue. It consists of teaching that letters have a destination other than words. ISOU Will unmake words into their letters. Each poet will integrate everything into Everything Everything must be revealed by letters. POETRY CAN NO LONGER BE REMADE. ISIDORE ISOU IS STARTING A NEW VEIN OF LYRICISM. Anyone who can not leave words behind can stay back with them! C Innovation II: The Order of Letters This does not mean destroying words for other words. Nor forging notions to specify their nuances. Nor mixing terms to make them hold more meaning. But it does mean TAKING ALL LETTERS AS A WHOLE; UNFOLDING BEFORE DAZZLED SPECTATORS MARVELS CREATED FROM LETTERS (DEBRIS FROM THE DESTRUCTION); CREATING AN ARCHITECTURE OF LETTRIC RHYTHMS; ACCUMULATING FLUCTUATING LETTERS IN A PRECISE FRAME; ELABORATING SPLENDIDLY THE CUSTOMARY COOING; COAGULATING THE CRUMBS OF LETTERS FOR A REAL MEAL; RESUSCITATING THE JUMBLE IN A DENSER ORDER; MAKING UNDERSTANDABLE AND TANGIBLE THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE AND VAGUE; CONCRETIZING SILENCE; WRITING THE NOTHINGNESS. It is the role of the poet to advance toward subversive sources. the obligation of the poet to advance in the black and burdened depths of the unknown. the craft of the poet to open one more treasure-room door for the common man. There will be a poet's message in new signs. The ordering of letters is called: LETTERISM. It is not a poetic school, but a solitary attitude. AT THIS MOMENT: LETTERISM = ISIDORE ISOU. Isou is awaiting his successors in poetry! (Do they already exist somewhere, ready to burst forth into history through books?) EXCUSES FOR WORDS INTRODUCED INTO LITERATURE There are things which are existent only in the strength of their name. there are others which exist, but lacking a name are unacknowledged. Every idea needs a calling card to make itself known. Ideas are known by the name of their creator. It is more objective to name them after themselves. LETTERISM IS AN IDEA THAT WILL BE LAMENTED BY ITS REPUTATION Letterics is a material that can always be demonstrated. Letterics seeds already existing: NONSENSE WORDS; WORDS WITH HIDDEN MEANINGS IN THEIR LETTERS; ONOMATOPOEIAS. If this material existed before, it didn't have a name to recognize it by. Letterics works will be those made entirely out of this element, but with suitable rules and genres! The word exists and has the right to perpetuate itself. ISOU IS CALLING ATTENTION TO ITS EXISTENCE. It is up to the Letterist to develop Letterism. Letterism is offering a DIFFERENT poetry. LETTERISM imposes a NEW POETRY. THE LETTERIC AVALANCHE IS ANNOUNCED. 1942.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sedentary Thoughts Upon a Nomadic Life

If European society at large is applying an exclusionary logic to certain groups, it is only encouraging the retention and expansion of a sedentary identity formation in these groups. A rise in reactionary politics should come as no surprise.

The May 2014 European elections yet again raised the issue of migration in the EU, sparking heated political debates. Interestingly, discussions revolved not merely around how migration should be managed, but about the very state and nature of the Union. Migration has become one of the foremost issues, perhaps the central point bar the economy, in the discussion about the viability of the European Union itself.

It is quite telling that the idea of nationality and population movement across borders is so enmeshed with the idea of the EU itself. Paradoxically, the members of the European Union are born out of the tradition of the sovereign nation state, while the EU as an entity rests on principles that challenge that tradition. The very idea of the European Union is thus one that necessitates quite a drastic rethinking of a number of givens regarding nationality, citizenship and borders. Despite a political programme that has initiated widespread demographic changes, such a rethinking has been quite neglected on a social, cultural and philosophical level. The backlash against the Union itself is to a large extent, I believe, due to this neglect, and the resulting mismatch between the idea and reality of what it means to live in Europe today.

As Rosi Braidotti points out in her work on the EU, the political and practical reality of living in the European Union is one that challenges the traditional notions of national belonging, both due to the direction the political union is taking and due to global trends. We inhabit a world where a simple relationship to the place we live in no longer exists, not either for ourselves or for our neighbours. We are exposed daily to people that cross national boundaries, defy language barriers and unsettle cultural traditions. In order to fully inhabit this world, we need to shift our own sense of identity, according to Braidotti. However, such a shift is not without its perils. As she argues in “The Becoming Minoritarian of Europe” in Deleuze and the Contemporary World, “Fear, anxiety and nostalgia are clear examples of the negative emotions involved in the project of detaching ourselves from familiar forms of identity. Achieving a post-national sense of European identity requires the dis-identification from established, nation-bound points of reference.”

Braidotti suggests that the European Union is theoretically aligned with a strain of twentieth century continental philosophy of deconstruction that aims to undo the “grand narratives” of traditional ideas of the self and identity. It is thus the perfect laboratory for the thinking up of a new “nomadic subject”. Such a subject is one that embraces the demographic changes entailed in living in the European Union today, and “actively constructs itself in a complex and internally contradictory set of social relations”.

In her theorizing of this idea, Braidotti draws on one of the big names of continental philosophy, Gilles Deleuze. It is useful to examine Deleuze’s work in order to fully explore what the term ‘nomadic’ means in this context, and how this idea can help us in the task of becoming these new, complex subjects.

Deleuze and Guattari in their seminal work A Thousand Plateaus, differentiate between ‘migrants’ and ‘nomads’. These are not discrete and distinct entities but represent two poles of a spectrum that informs all of Deleuze’s work. It is a spectrum which Deleuze, in particular in his work with Guattari, uses to describe everything from political systems to psychology, with the aid of a range of different terms. What Deleuze and Guattari call the molar, major, macropolitical, or territorialized is that which is determined, ordered, categorized and clearly differentiated. In contrast, the molecular, minor, micropolitical or deterritorialized is that which is free, unlimited, chaotic and unspecified.

‘Sedentary’ and ‘nomadic' are the respective terms engaged by Deleuze and Guattari to consider the use of space and people’s relationship to the land they inhabit. The sedentary and nomadic orders of land distribution can be illustrated by imagining two satellite images, one of agricultural land and one of a desert.

Under the sedentary order, exemplified by the image of agricultural land, distinct parcels of land are distributed to determined groups of people. Areas of land are divided and demarcated, in order that the ownership of the land is clear. Any movement across sedentary land is defined by borders and boundaries: as you move from one distinct place to another, from field A to field B, roads and walls determine the route you have to take.

In contrast, under the nomadic order, exemplified by the image of the desert, a number of people are scattered across an expanse of land, without clear borders or exclusive ownership. The route from point A to point B is not determined in the same way as under the sedentary order. Rather, stopping places are subordinated to the journey itself: meeting places, encampments, watering holes instead of fields, cities, castles.

The nomadic is thus an inverse of the sedentary model: land is not distributed to people, rather people are distributed on the land. However, the nomadic also implies a profound difference in the relationship to the place that one occupies at any given time. Under the sedentary model people belong in a place, and a piece of land belongs to a people. The default relation to place is, as the name implies, a static one. Movement is what happens in between residing in specific places. There is thus a difference between those who stay in one place and those who do not. Those who move under the sedentary order are different from the norm, engaged in an activity that is exceptional and expected to have a finite duration. They are called migrants, in order to differentiate them from those who do not move.

In contrast, the nomadic distribution is in itself undertaken through movement. This means that travelling is the default mode of relating to space. Some people may well stay in one place for a long time, or even forever. However, their relationship to the place they occupy is always intermediate, or secondary to the principle of movement. They do not become defined by place, and do not differ in their relation to the land from those around them who do travel. Under the nomadic order everyone is a nomad, whether they move or not.

The ‘migrant’, then, is someone who moves across and according to a sedentary model of distribution of land. He or she is different from the non-migrant, who stays put in their respective territory. A ‘nomad’ on the other hand is anyone that lives in an area where the population is distributed according to the nomadic principle, whether he or she is actually moving anywhere or not. Being a nomad is a matter of relating to space and land in an entirely different way than either the migrant or the non-migrant. This is precisely why it is an idea that is useful for debates about migration in Europe.

The way Deleuze and Guattari use the word ‘nomadic’ is related to the peculiar way they deliberately unpick the etymology of the word. They trace the word back to the ancient Greek nemo or ‘I distribute’, which is the root of nomás, meaning “roaming, roving, wandering (to find pastures for flocks or herds)” and thus a precursor to the modern word ‘nomad’ and indicative of the way Deleuze and Guattari use the term in their work.

However, nemo is also the root of the ancient Greek nomós. Here Deleuze and Guattari start playing with meanings. On the one hand, nomós refers to the action of distribution or allotment, and is commonly translated as ‘law’ or ‘custom’. In this form, the term is usually opposed to physis or nature, which is without laws or rules. On the other hand, the term nómos refers to the physical result of distribution and can be translated as ‘pasture’, but also as ‘district’ or ‘province’, which Deleuze and Guattari directly oppose to the ancient Greek polis or ‘city’.

With this somewhat liberal wordplay Deleuze and Guattari indicate two things. Firstly, that the nomadic, as a method of distribution, is not somehow a more ‘natural’ or ‘primitive’ relation to the land as is often implied in the modern use of the word nomadic. Secondly, the nomadic is to Deleuze and Guattari an alternative system of land distribution to that of the static city with its fortifications: “The nomos is the consistency of a fuzzy aggregate: it is in this sense that it stands in opposition to the law or the polis, as the backcountry, a mountainside, or the vague expanse around a city.”[1]

The ancient Greek idea of the polis is at the foundation of a long tradition of sedentary distribution and determination, culminating in the nineteenth century European nation state. It is also an example of a way of thinking very much connected with western Europe: that of reason and science. At its heart lies a logic that comes from the ancient Greeks of the polis. The syllogism, the polis and the nation state share a logical essence: belonging and non-belonging. The classic syllogism is: All humans are mortal. – Socrates is human. – Therefore, Socrates is mortal. This famous statement dealing with the certainty of death, lends its indisputable truth value to the syllogic form itself. However, the form is as much about a sedentary distribution as it is about truth: All Thebans are drunks. – Laius is a Theban. – Therefore, Laius is a drunk. Or, two thousand years later: All Romanians are thieves. – Bogdan is a Romanian. – Therefore, Bogdan is a thief.

Rosi Braidotti makes the connection between this long tradition of western thought, the idea of nationhood and the idea of Europe itself. The sedentary, us-and-them logic has been at the heart of European identity for centuries, reaching its heyday during imperialist times (Only Europe is civilized. – Africa is not European. – Therefore, Africa needs civilizing). It is the logic behind the idea of the nation state as well as the idea of Europeanness as such. The European Union, however, Braidotti argues, is a departure from this very logic, following the twentieth century shift in continental thought: Europe as a “postnationalist project […] rejects the idea of Europe as a world power driven by a form of universalism that has implied the exclusion and consumption of others”. In consequence, the idea of the European Union “no longer coincides with European identity, but rather constitutes a rupture from it and a transformation”.[2]

In Deleuze and Guattari’s terms, then, the old idea of European identity, based on belonging and exclusion to sovereign nation states operates a sedentary distribution. The European Union, however, is a move towards a nomadic distribution, and thus profoundly changes the relationship between the people and the space they occupy. Crucially, the change from a sedentary to nomadic order affects the subjectivity and identity not only of those who move, but of all the inhabitants of an area. This is what makes it such a difficult shift for society as a whole. It is particularly difficult for those who have been in an established, sedentary position for a long time. However, it is a change that is absolutely crucial if the European project is to succeed in its present form.

So, what does becoming a “nomadic subject” entail? As we saw above, Braidotti speaks of the complexity and contradictory nature of such an identity formation. Deleuze and Guattari describe the nómos, the expanse outside the city, as “vague” and “the consistency of a fuzzy aggregate”. Again, in their own idiosyncratic way, Deleuze and Guattari are hinting at an alternative to the syllogistic logic of belonging and non-belonging: fuzzy logic.

In classical set theory the membership of a set is determined in a bivalent fashion. You are either a member of a set or you are not. By contrast, fuzzy set theory allows a gradual and partial membership of a set. You can be a little bit of this and some portion of that. This logic enables the complexity of a nomadic identity. A nomadic relationship to the place one inhabits is one that is shifting, multiple and overlapping. The place one finds oneself in, short or long term, does not determine one’s identity. Neither, however, is one indifferent to or unaffected by one’s place.

Braidotti stresses the importance of awareness of and responsibility for one’s location and its partiality.[3] I read ‘partiality’ here both in the sense of fragmentary and the sense of bias. A nomadic subject’s location is always partial, always fuzzy, but crucially it is never static or exclusive. “The life of the nomad is the intermezzo” as Deleuze and Guattari proclaim.[4]

A nomadic European Union is one where there are neither migrants nor permanent inhabitants. Everyone’s relationship to place is contingent, and able to shift, admit overlaps and even contradictions, engendered both by the movement of the subject itself and the movement of others around it.

Crucially, as Braidotti suggests, Europe is an experiment in post-national citizenship on a global scale. The shift to thinking of nomads instead of migrants may begin intra-Europe, but needs to extend to an extra-European population movement. Building a ‘Fortress Europe’ accessible only to those within would simply reiterate a sedentary logic on a larger scale, and would be as much of a failure of the European project as a dissolution of the Union.

To return to the practical situation facing us in the European Union following the 2014 elections, it is clear that although the political reality has moved us all towards the nomadic way of inhabiting the place in which we live, a large part of the population is still thinking in a sedentary way. Braidotti argues that what “we are lacking is a social imaginary that adequately reflects the social realities we already experience of a postnationalist sense of European identity”. But such a sense of identity, “requires extra effort in order to come into being, as it raises the question of how to change deeply embedded habits of our imagination.”[5]

One inadequate social imaginary

The question remains how such an adequate social imaginary is brought into being. While the possible answers are doubtless many, I want to conclude by observing an inadequate social imaginary, one that hinders the transition to a nomadic subjectivity for those for whom it is the most difficult task: those who have long been used to determine, and have had determined by others, their identity in a sedentary fashion.

It has been observed again and again that the reactionary politics that emerged in the recent election have tended to take root in indigenous working-class communities, not least in Great Britain with the rise of UKIP.[6] This is in itself indicative of a social imaginary that categorizes a certain set of people in a determined way, part of an us-and-them logic. In fact, the discourse that identifies the white working class as responsible for the increase in xenophobic politics is part of the same discourse that on the one hand labels immigrants benefit tourists and on the other labels the working class poor as benefits cheats.

Such a discourse is one that perpetuates a sedentary logic, and one that still permeates our media today. A Europe-wide study of six working-class communities by the Open Society Foundation, while acknowledging anti-immigration sentiment in these populations, stressed a willingness to negotiate differences with newcomers and examples of integration. Interestingly the study made the following observation:

“Different communities across Europe that we spoke to felt they are being blamed for their own marginalization. Blame has been shifted to individuals as wider social and economic factors are often downplayed. This is certainly true of media portrayals in the UK, and it also applies in the Netherlands—where the ‘antisocial television’ genre focuses on poor Dutch families with behavioral or social problems—and Germany. This creates powerful stereotypes that can reinforce a community’s sense of exclusion.”[7]

This clearly indicates a problem with the social imaginary of Europe. If society at large is applying an exclusionary logic to certain groups, it is only encouraging the retention and expansion of a sedentary identity formation in these groups. A rise in reactionary politics should come as no surprise.

This kind of social imaginary is directly counterproductive to the project of the European Union and needs to be addressed. Media producers, often elite, and media consumers from all strata of society are responsible for creating a social imaginary that reflects and enables nomadic thinking rather than a sedentary one. Only by means of a collective effort to create representations adequate to the European Union that we already inhabit, can the sense of fear, anxiety and loss of identity that a move from a sedentary to a nomadic relationship to place entails be counteracted. This effort may yet prove crucial to the project of the European Union as whole.
-Eva Aldea, "Nomads and Migrants: Deleuze, Braidotti and the European Union in 2014"