Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

May time devour you more slowly next year! ;)

The Dialectic

SAMPSON

A dog of the house of Montague moves me.

GREGORY

To move is to stir; and to be valiant is to stand:
therefore, if thou art moved, thou runn'st away.

SAMPSON

A dog of that house shall move me to stand: I will
take the wall of any man or maid of Montague's.

GREGORY

That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes
to the wall.

SAMPSON

True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels,
are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push
Montague's men from the wall, and thrust his maids
to the wall.

GREGORY

The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.

SAMPSON

'Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I
have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the
maids, and cut off their heads.

GREGORY

The heads of the maids?

SAMPSON

Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads;
take it in what sense thou wilt.

GREGORY

They must take it in sense that feel it.
- William Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet" (Act I, Sc I)

Monday, December 29, 2014

500 Miles Later...

The snow has gone, melted away,
The air is fresh and sweet.
Bundle up, it's still a cold day
And off, our friends to meet.

Shaking off the winter blues,
It's time for a nature hike.
To visit and catch up with the news
Shared with friends we like.

We're out of shape and we start out slow.
It's supposed to be fun, after all.
So follow the creek, a trail we know,
That leads us up to the Falls.

Cameras are out and clicking away
As the water cascades down.
This time of year it's a powerful spray
With such a roaring sound.

In winter the water rushes on
So powerful, we're filled with delight.
By summer the same creek is almost gone.
Not nearly as an inspiring sight.

So the first walk of the new year
We'll start out nice and slow
But to each other we'll make it clear
The next one will be a 'real hike' you know.
-- Francine Roberts, "First Hike of the Year"

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014

On the Ptolemization of the Modern Epoch

When a discipline is in crisis, attempts are made to change or supplement its theses within the terms of its basic framework - a procedure one might call 'Ptolemization' (since when data poured in which clashed with Ptolemy's earth-centered astronomy, his partisans introduced additional complications to account for the anomalies). But the true 'Copernican' revolution takes place when, instead of just adding complications and changing minor premises, the basic framework itself undergoes a transformation. So, when we are dealing with a self-professed 'scientific revolution', the question to ask is always: is this truly a Copernican revolution, or merely the Ptolemization of the old paradigm?
-Slavoj Zizek, "The Sublime Object of Ideology"

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Baltimore Christmas Traditions

Merry Christmas from the Farmer's Letters! And may you always get crabs for Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Gripped by the Christmas Shopping Blues

I woke up this morning
It is Christmas Eve
I had not been shopping ...
I needed a reprieve

I have a list all made up
Of things I have to get
The major problem seems to be
I aint been shopping yet ..

I have a list all made up
Of things I have to get
The major problem seems to be
I aint been shopping yet ..


A gift card for the postman
And for the milkman too
I realize it aint perfect
but it will have to do

a lipstick for my sister
An Ipod for mon frere
a headscarf for my mother
And a sweater for mon pere ....

a lipstick for my sister
An Ipod for mon frere
a headscarf for my mother
And a sweater for mon pere ....
-------------

Bridge

Don't forget the turkey
Don't forget the lime
Dont forget the stuffing
And don't forget the wine

Put brandy in the pudding
Lights upon the tree
Hang the garland on the door
And don't you forget me

------------

I think I got it figured
I if I rush I'll be okay
so grab the list and out the door
Oh Darn, I'll need a sleigh

Last night while I was sleeping
We got 2 foot of snow
My car is buried in a drift
So shopping's a no go

Last night while I was sleeping
We got 2 foot of snow
My car is buried in a drift
So shopping's a no go

I realize this is hopeless
What am I gonna do?
I'm a Christmas shopping failure
It makes me very blue

So I'm gonna drink some eggnog
Lace it with some Rye
While staring at the snow- drift
I'll hang my head and cry

So I'm gonna drink some eggnog
Lace it with some Rye
While staring at the snow- drift
'll hang my head and cry

12 bar Guitar solo

I realize this is hopeless
I can never live it down
I'm a Christmas shopping failure
Nothing but a sad old clown

My last hope is the Man in Red
On his Christmas sleigh
I'm hoping he will bail me out
And help to save the day

My last hope is the Man in Red
On his Christmas sleigh
I'm hoping he will bail me out
And help to save the day

I woke up this morning
It is Christmas Eve
I have not been shopping ...
and now there's no reprieve

I have a list all made up
Of things I have to get
The major problem seems to be
I aint been shopping yet ..

I have a list all made up
Of things I have to get
The major problem seems to be
I aint been shopping yet ..

Monday, December 22, 2014

Ptolemaic Sciences

Youth of delight! come hither
And see the opening morn,
Image of Truth new-born.
Doubt is fled, and clouds of reason,
Dark disputes and artful teazing.
Folly is an endless maze;
Tangled roots perplex her ways;
How many have fallen there!
They stumble all night over bones of the dead;
And feel—they know not what but care;
And wish to lead others, when they should be led.
- William Blake, "The Voice of the Ancient Bard"

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Inside Baseball from the Outside

There is another unexpected parallel with the situation before the outbreak of World War I: In the last months, media continuously warn us about the threat of the World War III.

Towards the end of September, after declaring war on ISIS, President Obama gave an interview to “60 Minutes” in which he tried to explain the rules of U.S. engagement: “When trouble comes up anywhere in the world, they don't call Beijing, they don't call Moscow. They call us. … That's always the case. America leads. We are the indispensable nation.”

This also holds for environmental and humanitarian disasters: “When there's a typhoon in the Philippines, take a look at who's helping the Philippines deal with that situation. When there's an earthquake in Haiti, take a look at who's leading the charge and making sure Haiti can rebuild. That's how we roll. And that's what makes this America.”

In October, however, Obama himself made a call to Tehran, sending a secret letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in which he suggested a broader rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran based on their shared interest in combating Islamic State militants.

When the news of the letter reached the public, U.S. Republicans denounced it as a gesture of weakness that can only strengthen Iran’s arrogant view of the U.S. as a superpower in decline. That’s how the United States rolls: Acting alone in a multi-centric world, they increasingly gain wars and lose the peace, doing the dirty work for others—for China and Russia, who have their own problems with Islamists, and even for Iran—the final result of the U.S. invasion of Iraq was to deliver the country to the political control of Iran. (The U.S. got caught in just such a situation in Afghanistan when their help to the fighters against the Soviet occupations gave birth to the Taliban.)

The ultimate source of these problems is the changed role of the U.S. in global economy. An economic cycle is coming to an end, a cycle that began in the early 1970s with the birth of what Yanis Varoufakis calls the “global minotaur,” the monstrous engine that ran the world economy from the early 1980s to 2008. The late 1960s and the early 1970s were not just the times of oil crisis and stagflation; Nixon’s decision to abandon the gold standard for the U.S. dollar was the sign of a much more radical shift in the basic functioning of the capitalist system. By the end of the 1960s, the U.S. economy was no longer able to continue the recycling of its surpluses to Europe and Asia: Those surpluses had turned into deficits. In 1971, the U.S. government responded to this decline with an audacious strategic move: Instead of tackling the nation’s burgeoning deficits, it decided to do the opposite, to boost deficits. And who would pay for them? The rest of the world! How?

By means of a permanent transfer of capital that rushed ceaselessly across the two great oceans to finance America’s deficits: The United States has to suck up a half-billion dollars daily to pay for its consumption and is, as such, the universal Keynesian consumer who keeps the global economy running. This influx relies on a complex economic mechanism: The United States is “trusted” as the safe and stable center, so that all others, from the oil-producing Arab countries to Western Europe to Japan, and now even China, invest their surplus profits in the United States. Since this “trust” is primarily ideological and military, not economic, the problem for the United States is how to justify its imperial role—it needs a permanent state of war, offering itself as the universal protector of all other “normal”—as opposed to “rogue”—states.

However, even before it fully established itself, this world system based on the primacy of the U.S. dollar as the universal currency is breaking down and is being replaced by … what? This is what the ongoing tensions are about. The “American century” is over and we are witnessing the gradual formation of multiple centers of global capitalism: the United States, Europe, China, maybe Latin America, each of them standing for capitalism with a specific twist: the United States for neoliberal capitalism; Europe for what remains of the welfare state; China for authoritarian capitalism; Latin America for populist capitalism. The old and new superpowers are testing each other, trying to impose their own version of global rules, experimenting with them through proxies, which, of course, are other small nations and states.

The present situation thus bears an uncanny resemblance to the situation around 1900 when the hegemony of the British empire was questioned by new rising powers, especially Germany, which wanted its piece of the colonial cake. The Balkans were one of the sites of their confrontation. Today, the role of the British empire is played by the United States. The new rising superpowers are Russia and China, and the Balkans are the Middle East. It is the same old battle for geopolitical influence. The United States is not alone in its imperial stirrings; Moscow also hears calls from Georgia, from Ukraine; maybe it will start hearing voices from the Baltic states …

There is another unexpected parallel with the situation before the outbreak of World War I: In the last months, media continuously warn us about the threat of the World War III. Headlines like “The Russian Air Force's Super Weapon: Beware the PAK-FA Stealth Fighter” or “Russia Is Ready for Shooting War, Will Likely Win Looming Nuclear Showdown with U.S.” abound. At least once a week, Putin makes a statement seen as a provocation to the West, and a notable Western statesman or NATO figure warns against Russian imperialist ambitions. Russia expresses concerns about being contained by NATO, while Russia’s neighbors fear Russian invasion. And on it goes. The very worried tone of these warnings seems to heighten the tension—exactly as in the decades before 1914. And in both cases, the same superstitious mechanism is at work, as if talking about it will prevent it from happening. We know about the danger, but we don’t believe it can really happen—and that’s why it can happen. That is to say, even if we don’t really believe it can happen, we are all getting ready for it—and these actual preparations, largely ignored by the big media, are mostly reported in marginal media. From the Centre for Research on Globalization’s blog:
America is on a war footing. While a World War Three Scenario has been on the drawing board of the Pentagon for more than 10 years, military action against Russia is now contemplated at an ‘operational level.’ We are not dealing with a ‘Cold War.’ None of the safeguards of the Cold War era prevail. The adoption of a major piece of legislation by the U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 4, 2014 (H.R. 758) would provide (pending a vote in the Senate) a de facto green light to the U.S. president and commander in chief to initiate—without congressional approval—a process of military confrontation with Russia. Global security is at stake. This historic vote—which potentially could affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people worldwide—has received virtually no media coverage. A total media blackout prevails. On December 3, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation announced the inauguration of a new military-political entity which would take over in the case of war. Russia is launching a new national defense facility, which is meant to monitor threats to national security in peacetime, but would take control of the entire country in case of war.
To further complicate matters, the competing new and old superpowers are joined by a third factor: the radicalized fundamentalist movements in the Third World, which oppose all of the superpowers but are prone to make strategic pacts with some of them. No wonder our predicament is getting more and more obscure. Who is who in the ongoing conflicts? How to choose between Assad and ISIS in Syria? Between ISIS and Iran? Such obscurity—not to mention the rise of drones and other arms that promise a clean, high-tech war without casualties (on our side)—gives a boost to military spending and makes the prospect of war more appealing.

If the basic underlying axiom of the Cold War was the axiom of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), the axiom of today's War on Terror seems to be the opposite one, that of NUTS (Nuclear Utilization Target Selection), i.e., the idea that, by means of a surgical strike, you can destroy the enemy’s nuclear capacities, while your anti-missile shield protects you from a counter-strike. More precisely, the United States acts as if it continues to trust the MAD logic in its relations with Russia and China, while it is tempted to practice NUTS with Iran and North Korea. The paradoxical mechanism of MAD inverts the logic of the “self-fulfilling prophecy” into the “self-stultifying intention”: The very fact that each side can be sure that, in the case it decides to launch a nuclear attack on the other side, the other side will respond with full destructive force, guarantees that no side will start a war. The logic of NUTS is, on the contrary, that the enemy can be forced to disarm if it is assured that we can strike at him without risking a counter-attack. The very fact that two directly contradictory strategies are mobilized simultaneously by the same superpower bears witness to the phantasmagoric character of this entire reasoning.

How to stop our slide into this vortex? The first step is to leave behind all the pseudo-rational talk about “strategic risks” that we are required to assume. We must also jettison the notion of historical time as a linear process of evolution in which, at each moment, we have to choose between different courses of action. It is not just a question of avoiding risks and making the right choices within the global situation, the true threat resides in the situation in its entirety, in our “fate”—if we continue to “roll” the way we do now, we are doomed, no matter how carefully we proceed. We have to accept the threat as our fate. So the solution is not to be very careful and avoid risky acts—in acting like this, we fully participate in the logic which leads to catastrophe. The solution is to fully become aware of the explosive set of interconnections that makes the entire situation dangerous. Once we do this, we should embark on the long and difficult work of changing the coordinates of the entire situation. Nothing less will do.

In a weird precursor to President Obama’s “that’s how we roll,” when the passengers of the United Airlines Flight 93 attacked the hijackers on 9/11, the last audible words of Todd Beamer, one of them, were: “Are you guys ready? Let's roll.” That’s how we all roll, so let’s roll, we may say—and bring down not only a plane, but our entire planet.
-Slavoj Zizek, "How the United States Rolls: It’s lonely being the global policeman"

Saturday, December 13, 2014

G - Bb - A - D

...and a decrepit handful of trees.
—Aleksandr Pushkin

And I matured in peace born of command,
in the nursery of the infant century,
and the voice of man was never dear to me,
but the breeze’s voice—that I could understand.
The burdock and the nettle I preferred,
but best of all the silver willow tree.
Its weeping limbs fanned my unrest with dreams;
it lived here all my life, obligingly.
I have outlived it now, and with surprise.
There stands the stump; with foreign voices other
willows converse, beneath our, beneath those skies,
and I am hushed, as if I’d lost a brother.
-Anna Akhamatova, "Willow" (Transl by Jennifer Reeser)

MockingJay Tweets

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Before they were Hungry

Down in the valley, the valley so low
Hang your head over, hear the wind blow
Hear the wind blow, dear, hear the wind blow;
Hang your head over, hear the wind blow.
Roses love sunshine, violets love dew,
Angels in Heaven know I love you,
Know I love you, dear, know I love you,
Angels in Heaven know I love you.
If you don't love me, love whom you please,
Throw your arms 'round me, give my heart ease,
Give my heart ease, dear, give my heart ease,
Throw your arms 'round me, give my heart ease.
Build me a castle, forty feet high;
So I can see her as she rides by,
As she rides by, dear, as she rides by,
So I can see her as she rides by.
Write me a letter,'Send it by mail,
Send it in care of Birmingham Jail,
Birmingham Jail, love, Birmingham Jail,
Send it in care of Birmingham Jail
"The Valley Song"
You were praised, my books,
because I had just come from the country;
I was twenty years behind the times
so you found an audience ready.
I do not disown you,
do not you disown your progeny.

Here they stand without quaint devices,
Here they are with nothing archaic about them.
Observe the irritation in general:

‘Is this’ they say, 'the nonsense
that we expect of poets?’
'Where is the Picturesque ?'
‘Where is the vertigo of emotion?'
‘No! his first work was the best.’
'Poor Dear! he has lost his illusions.’

Go, little naked and impudent songs,
Go with a light foot!
(Or with two light feet, if it please you!)
Go and dance shamelessly!
Go with an impertinent frolic!

Greet the grave and the stodgy,
Salute them with your thumbs at your noses.

Here are your bells and confetti.
Go! rejuvenate things!
Rejuvenate even 'The Spectator.’
Go! and make cat calls!
Dance and make people blush,
Dance the dance of the phallus
and tell anecdotes of Cybele!
Speak of the indecorous conduct of the Gods!
(Tell it to Mr. Strachey)

Ruffle the skirts of prudes,
speak of their knees and ankles.
But, above all, go to practical people
go! jangle their door-bells!
Say that you do no work
and that you will live forever.
Ezra Pound, "Saluation the Second"

Friday, December 5, 2014

Variety and Limit

So-shu dreamed,
And having dreamed that he was a bird, a bee, and a butterfly,
He was uncertain why he should try to feel like anything else,

Hence his contentment.
- Ezra Pound, "Ancient Wisdom, Rather Cosmic"

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ascendance

The tree has entered my hands,
The sap has ascended my arms,
The tree has grown in my breast -
Downward,
The branches grow out of me, like arms.

Tree you are,
Moss you are,
You are violets with wind above them.
A child - so high - you are,
And all this is folly to the world.
- Ezra Pound, "A Girl"

Monday, November 24, 2014

Scribing the Next Grand Narrative

The Gunfighter from Eric Kissack on Vimeo.

One summer evening (led by her /Nature/) I found
A little boat tied to a willow tree
Within a rocky cave, its usual home.
Straight I unloosed her chain, and stepping in
Pushed from the shore. It was an act of stealth
And troubled pleasure, nor without the voice
Of mountain-echoes did my boat move on;
Leaving behind her still, on either side,
Small circles glittering idly in the moon,
until they melted all into one track
Of sparkling light. But now, like one who rows,
Proud of his skill, to reach a chosen point
With an unswerving line, I fixed my view
Upon the summit of a craggy ridge,
The horizon's utmost boundary; far above
Was nothing but the stars and the grey sky.
She was an elfin pinnace; lustily
I dipped my oars into the silent lake,
And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
Went heaving through the water like a swan;
When, from behind that craggy steep till then
The horizon's bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head. I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature the grim shape
Towered up between me and the stars, and still,
For so it seemed, with purpose of its own
And measured motion like a living thing,
Strode after me. With trembling oars I turned,
And through the silent water stole my way
Back to the covert of the willow tree;
There in her mooring-place I left my bark,
And through the meadows homeward went, in grave
And serious mood; but after I had seen
That spectacle, for many days, my brain
Worked with a dim and undetermined sense
Of unknown modes of being; o'er my thoughts
There hung a darkness, call it solitude
Or blank desertion. No familiar shapes
Remained, no pleasant images of trees,
Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields;
But huge and mighty forms, that do not live
Like living men, moved slowly through the mind
By day, and were a trouble to my dreams
- Wordsworth, "Prelude"
In the traditional metaphysical approach, art is about (beautiful) appearances, and science is about reality beneath appearances. However, today's sciences focus more and more on the weird domain of autonomized appearances, of phenomenal processes deprived of any substantial support; no wonder, then, that, in a symmetrical counter-movement, modern art is more and more focused on the Real Thing. Is not the most succinct definition of modern art that it is art "beyond the pleasure principle"? One is supposed to enjoy the traditional art, it is expected to generate aesthetic pleasure, in contrast to modern art causing displeasure-modern art by definition hurts. In this precise sense, modern art is sublime: it causes pleasure-in-pain, it produces its effect through its own failure, insofar as it refers to the impossible Things(1). In contrast to it, beauty, harmonious balance, seems more and more the domain of sciences: already Einstein's relativity theory, this paradigm of modern science, was praised for its simple elegance-no wonder that the title of Brian Greene's best-selling introduction to string theory is The Elegant Universe (Greene 2000).
- Slavoj Zizek "Burned by The Thing"

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Living Alberich's Curse?

“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.”
― Ludwig van Beethoven

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fatal Flashbacks

She sat with fear in her eyes
Contemplating the upturned cup
She said "Do not be sad, my son
You are destined to fall in love"
My son, Who sacrifices himself for his beloved,
Is a martyr

For long have I studied fortune-telling
But never have I read a cup similar to yours
For long have I studied fortune-telling
But never have I seen sorrows similar to yours
You are predestined to sail forever
Sail-less, on the sea of love
Your life is forever destined
To be a book of tears
And be imprisoned
Between water and fire

But despite all its pains,
Despite the sadness
That is with us day and night
Despite the wind
The rainy weather
And the cyclone
It is love, my son
That will be forever the best of fates

There is a woman in your life, my son
Her eyes are so beautiful
Glory to God
Her mouth and her laughter
Are full of roses and melodies
And her gypsy and crazy love of life
Travels the world
The woman you love
May be your whole world
But your sky will be rain-filled
Your road blocked, blocked, my son
Your beloved, my son, is sleeping
In a guarded palace
He who approaches her garden wall
Who enters her room
And who proposes to her
Or tries to unite her plaits
Will cause her to be lost, my son…lost

You will seek her everywhere, my son
You will ask the waves of the sea about her
You will ask the shores of the seas
You will travel the oceans
And your tears will flow like a river
And at the close of your life
You will find that since your beloved
Has no land, no home, no address
You have been pursuing only a trace of smoke
How difficult it is, my son
To love a woman
Who has neither land, nor home
- Nizar Qabbani, "The Fortune Teller"

Friday, November 14, 2014

Keepin' it Simple

Simplicity

It opens, the gate to the garden
with the docility of a page
that frequent devotion questions
and inside, my gaze
has no need to fix on objects
that already exist, exact, in memory.
I know the customs and souls
and that dialect of allusions
that every human gathering goes weaving.
I've no need to speak
nor claim false privilege;
they know me well who surround me here,
know well my afflictions and weakness.
This is to reach the highest thing,
that Heaven perhaps will grant us:
not admiration or victory
but simply to be accepted
as part of an undeniable Reality,
like stones and trees
-Jorge Luis Borges

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cardinal Wisdom

SOCRATES: But then, my dear friend, if a man knew all good and evil, and how they are, and have been, and will be produced, would he not be perfect, and wanting in no virtue, whether justice, or temperance, or holiness? He would possess them all, and he would know which were dangers and which were not, and guard against them whether they were supernatural or natural; and he would provide the good, as he would know how to deal both with gods or men.

NICIAS: I think, Socrates, that there is a great deal of truth in what you say.

SOCRATES: But then, Nicias, courage, according to this new definition of yours, instead of being a part of virtue only, will be all virtue?

NICIAS: It would seem so.

SOCRATES: But we were saying that courage is one of the parts of virtue?

NICIAS: Yes, that was what we were saying.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Voters on Election Day

let's trade places you and I
and see what it like from the other side
would I want you as much if you were me
and if I were you would I yearn to be free

would you tread time like water waiting for me
would I rush through my day so your words I could see
would I check my phone the way that you do
to see if a text or an email came through

and would you sit at a screen and search for the words
that scatter like seeds left out for the birds
and try to pick out the ones that are real
the ones when combined that show how I feel

and would you start over and over again
giving thanks for a keyboard instead of a pen
thinking how trees must be glad that I write on a screen
and not on scrap paper tossed out by the ream

at the end of the day when we came face to face
would I be just like you with your poise and your grace
and would you be sat there trying for cool
while feeling inside like a kid still in school

I'm assuming of course that were different inside
yet both going about working out how to hide
the truth of the feelings we're longing to share
the breadth and the depth of just how much we care

so if we traded places and I became you
could I do the things that I ask you to do
and if you became me could you easily wait
or would you, like me, be afraid of "too late"
A Thomas Hawkins, "trading places"

Sunday, November 2, 2014

November Night

I marked when the weather changed,
And the panes began to quake,
And the winds rose up and ranged,
That night, lying half-awake.

Dead leaves blew into my room,
And alighted upon my bed,
And a tree declared to the gloom
Its sorrow that they were shed.

One leaf of them touched my hand,
And I thought that it was you
There stood as you used to stand,
And saying at last you knew!
- Thomas Hardy "A Night in November"

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Inner Sanctums

She was a gordian shape of dazzling hue,
Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue;
Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard,
Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barr’d;
And full of silver moons, that, as she breathed,
Dissolv’d, or brighter shone, or interwreathed
Their lustres with the gloomier tapestries—
So rainbow-sided, touch’d with miseries,
She seem’d, at once, some penanced lady elf,
Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self.
Upon her crest she wore a wannish fire
Sprinkled with stars, like Ariadne’s tiar:
Her head was serpent, but ah, bitter-sweet!
She had a woman’s mouth with all its pearls complete:
And for her eyes: what could such eyes do there
But weep, and weep, that they were born so fair?
As Proserpine still weeps for her Sicilian air.
Her throat was serpent, but the words she spake
Came, as through bubbling honey, for Love’s sake,
And thus; while Hermes on his pinions lay,
Like a stoop’d falcon ere he takes his prey.
- John Keats, "Lamia" (excerpt)

Today's "New" Communism

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fantasy vs Reality

In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of "world history"—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.

One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life. It is human, rather, and only its owner and producer gives it such importance, as if the world pivoted around it. But if we could communicate with the mosquito, then we would learn that he floats through the air with the same self-importance, feeling within itself the flying center of the world. There is nothing in nature so despicable or insignificant that it cannot immediately be blown up like a bag by a slight breath of this power of knowledge; and just as every porter wants an admirer, the proudest human being, the philosopher, thinks that he sees on the eyes of the universe telescopically focused from all sides on his actions and thoughts.

It is strange that this should be the effect of the intellect, for after all it was given only as an aid to the most unfortunate, most delicate, most evanescent beings in order to hold them for a minute in existence, from which otherwise, without this gift, they would have every reason to flee as quickly as Lessing's son. [In a famous letter to Johann Joachim Eschenburg (December 31, 1778), Lessing relates the death of his infant son, who "understood the world so well that he left it at the first opportunity."] That haughtiness which goes with knowledge and feeling, which shrouds the eyes and senses of man in a blinding fog, therefore deceives him about the value of existence by carrying in itself the most flattering evaluation of knowledge itself. Its most universal effect is deception; but even its most particular effects have something of the same character.

The intellect, as a means for the preservation of the individual, unfolds its chief powers in simulation; for this is the means by which the weaker, less robust individuals preserve themselves, since they are denied the chance of waging the struggle for existence with horns or the fangs of beasts of prey. In man this art of simulation reaches its peak: here deception, flattering, lying and cheating, talking behind the back, posing, living in borrowed splendor, being masked, the disguise of convention, acting a role before others and before oneself—in short, the constant fluttering around the single flame of vanity is so much the rule and the law that almost nothing is more incomprehensible than how an honest and pure urge for truth could make its appearance among men. They are deeply immersed in illusions and dream images; their eye glides only over the surface of things and sees "forms"; their feeling nowhere lead into truth, but contents itself with the reception of stimuli, playing, as it were, a game of blindman's buff on the backs of things. Moreover, man permits himself to be lied to at night, his life long, when he dreams, and his moral sense never even tries to prevent this—although men have been said to have overcome snoring by sheer will power.
-Frederich Nietzsche, "On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense"

Monday, October 27, 2014

Post-Modern Democracy

Let’s say that you are a small child and one Sunday afternoon you have to do the boring duty of visiting your old senile grandmother. If you have a good old–fashioned authoritarian father, what will he tell you? "I don’t care how you feel, just go there and behave properly. Do your duty." A modern permissive totalitarian father will tell you something else: "You know how much your grandmother would love to see you. But do go and visit her only if you really want to." Now every idiot knows the catch. Beneath the appearance of this free choice there is an even more oppressive order. You seem to have a choice, but there is no choice, because the order is not only you must visit your grandmother, you must even enjoy it. If you don’t believe me, just try to say "I have a choice, I will not do it." I promise your father will say "What did your grandmother ever do to you? Don’t you know how she loves you? How could you do this to her?" That’s superego. On the other hand, we have the opposite paradox of the pleasure itself whose pursuit turns into duty. In a permissive society, subjects experience the need to have a good time, to really enjoy themselves, as a kind of duty, and consequently feel guilty for failing to be happy. The concept of the superego designates precisely this mysterious overlapping in which the command to enjoy overlaps with the duty to enjoy yourself. Maybe we can in this way distinguish the totalitarian from the liberal–permissive superego. In both cases, the message is "You may enjoy, but because you may, you must". In both cases you pay a price for this permission. In permissive liberalism, the "you may" of freely inventing yourself is paid for when you get caught in the cobweb of prohibitions concerning the well’being of yourself and your neighbors. We can do whatever we want today, hedonism and so on, but the result is that we have at the daily level so many prohibitions so as not to prevent others from enjoying. You are constantly told what to eat and drink, no fat, no smoking, safe sex, prohibition to enjoy the other, prohibition of sexual harassment, and so on, life is totally regulated. In an exactly symmetrical way, in totalitarianism the official message is "You should obey."
- Slavoj Zizek, "The SuperEgo and the Act" (1999)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A New Vox Baltimericana!

Beat up little seagull
On a marble stair
Tryin' to find the ocean
Lookin' everywhere

Hard times in the city
In a hard town by the sea
Ain't nowhere to run to
There ain't nothin' here for free

Hooker on the corner
Waitin' for a train
Drunk lyin' on the sidewalk
Sleepin' in the rain

And they hide their faces
And they hide their eyes
'Cause the city's dyin'
And they don't know why

Oh Baltimore
Man it's hard just to live
Oh, Baltimore
Man, it's hard just to life, just to live

Get my sister Sandy
And my little brother Ray
Buy a big old wagon
To haul us all away

Live out in the country
Where the mountain's high
Never comin' back here
'Til the day I die

Oh, Baltimore
Man, it's hard just to live
Oh, Baltimore
Man, it's hard just to live, just to live
- Randy Newman, "Baltimore"

Abandoning Ideology

...only the pain is entirely self-inflicted

Ezekial 36:26

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"

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Surplus Jouissance, Anyone?

Now, that we have reduced the mechanism of humoristic pleasure to a formula analogous to the formula of comic pleasure and of wit, we are at the end of our task. It has seemed to us that the pleasure of wit originates from an economy of expenditure in inhibition, of the comic from an economy of expenditure in thought, and of humor from an economy of expenditure in feeling. All three activities of our psychic apparatus derive pleasure from economy. They all strive to bring back from the psychic activity a pleasure which has really been lost in the development of this activity. For the euphoria which we are thus striving to obtain is nothing but the state of a bygone time in which we were wont to defray our psychic work with slight expenditure. It is the state of our childhood in which we did not know the comic, were incapable of wit, and did not need humor to make us happy. - Sigmund Freud, "Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious" (1916)

The death drive is the name given to that constant desire in the subject to break through the pleasure principle towards the Thing and a certain excess jouissance; thus jouissance is "the path towards death".

Insofar as the drives are attempts to break through the pleasure principle in search of jouissance, every drive is a death drive
- Jacques Lacan, "The Seminar, Book XVII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis" (1959-60)

On the "Intelligence" in Bourgeois Heroism

In the very olden time there lived a semi-barbaric king, whose ideas, though somewhat polished and sharpened by the progressiveness of distant Latin neighbors, were still large, florid, and untrammeled, as became the half of him which was barbaric. He was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts. He was greatly given to self-communing, and, when he and himself agreed upon anything, the thing was done. When every member of his domestic and political systems moved smoothly in its appointed course, his nature was bland and genial; but, whenever there was a little hitch, and some of his orbs got out of their orbits, he was blander and more genial still, for nothing pleased him so much as to make the crooked straight and crush down uneven places.

Among the borrowed notions by which his barbarism had become semified was that of the public arena, in which, by exhibitions of manly and beastly valor, the minds of his subjects were refined and cultured.

But even here the exuberant and barbaric fancy asserted itself. The arena of the king was built, not to give the people an opportunity of hearing the rhapsodies of dying gladiators, nor to enable them to view the inevitable conclusion of a conflict between religious opinions and hungry jaws, but for purposes far better adapted to widen and develop the mental energies of the people. This vast amphitheater, with its encircling galleries, its mysterious vaults, and its unseen passages, was an agent of poetic justice, in which crime was punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance.

When a subject was accused of a crime of sufficient importance to interest the king, public notice was given that on an appointed day the fate of the accused person would be decided in the king's arena, a structure which well deserved its name, for, although its form and plan were borrowed from afar, its purpose emanated solely from the brain of this man, who, every barleycorn a king, knew no tradition to which he owed more allegiance than pleased his fancy, and who ingrafted on every adopted form of human thought and action the rich growth of his barbaric idealism.

When all the people had assembled in the galleries, and the king, surrounded by his court, sat high up on his throne of royal state on one side of the arena, he gave a signal, a door beneath him opened, and the accused subject stepped out into the amphitheater. Directly opposite him, on the other side of the enclosed space, were two doors, exactly alike and side by side. It was the duty and the privilege of the person on trial to walk directly to these doors and open one of them. He could open either door he pleased; he was subject to no guidance or influence but that of the aforementioned impartial and incorruptible chance. If he opened the one, there came out of it a hungry tiger, the fiercest and most cruel that could be procured, which immediately sprang upon him and tore him to pieces as a punishment for his guilt. The moment that the case of the criminal was thus decided, doleful iron bells were clanged, great wails went up from the hired mourners posted on the outer rim of the arena, and the vast audience, with bowed heads and downcast hearts, wended slowly their homeward way, mourning greatly that one so young and fair, or so old and respected, should have merited so dire a fate.

But, if the accused person opened the other door, there came forth from it a lady, the most suitable to his years and station that his majesty could select among his fair subjects, and to this lady he was immediately married, as a reward of his innocence. It mattered not that he might already possess a wife and family, or that his affections might be engaged upon an object of his own selection; the king allowed no such subordinate arrangements to interfere with his great scheme of retribution and reward. The exercises, as in the other instance, took place immediately, and in the arena. Another door opened beneath the king, and a priest, followed by a band of choristers, and dancing maidens blowing joyous airs on golden horns and treading an epithalamic measure, advanced to where the pair stood, side by side, and the wedding was promptly and cheerily solemnized. Then the gay brass bells rang forth their merry peals, the people shouted glad hurrahs, and the innocent man, preceded by children strewing flowers on his path, led his bride to his home.

This was the king's semi-barbaric method of administering justice. Its perfect fairness is obvious. The criminal could not know out of which door would come the lady; he opened either he pleased, without having the slightest idea whether, in the next instant, he was to be devoured or married. On some occasions the tiger came out of one door, and on some out of the other. The decisions of this tribunal were not only fair, they were positively determinate: the accused person was instantly punished if he found himself guilty, and, if innocent, he was rewarded on the spot, whether he liked it or not. There was no escape from the judgments of the king's arena.

The institution was a very popular one. When the people gathered together on one of the great trial days, they never knew whether they were to witness a bloody slaughter or a hilarious wedding. This element of uncertainty lent an interest to the occasion which it could not otherwise have attained. Thus, the masses were entertained and pleased, and the thinking part of the community could bring no charge of unfairness against this plan, for did not the accused person have the whole matter in his own hands?

This semi-barbaric king had a daughter as blooming as his most florid fancies, and with a soul as fervent and imperious as his own. As is usual in such cases, she was the apple of his eye, and was loved by him above all humanity. Among his courtiers was a young man of that fineness of blood and lowness of station common to the conventional heroes of romance who love royal maidens. This royal maiden was well satisfied with her lover, for he was handsome and brave to a degree unsurpassed in all this kingdom, and she loved him with an ardor that had enough of barbarism in it to make it exceedingly warm and strong. This love affair moved on happily for many months, until one day the king happened to discover its existence. He did not hesitate nor waver in regard to his duty in the premises. The youth was immediately cast into prison, and a day was appointed for his trial in the king's arena. This, of course, was an especially important occasion, and his majesty, as well as all the people, was greatly interested in the workings and development of this trial. Never before had such a case occurred; never before had a subject dared to love the daughter of the king. In after years such things became commonplace enough, but then they were in no slight degree novel and startling.

The tiger-cages of the kingdom were searched for the most savage and relentless beasts, from which the fiercest monster might be selected for the arena; and the ranks of maiden youth and beauty throughout the land were carefully surveyed by competent judges in order that the young man might have a fitting bride in case fate did not determine for him a different destiny. Of course, everybody knew that the deed with which the accused was charged had been done. He had loved the princess, and neither he, she, nor any one else, thought of denying the fact; but the king would not think of allowing any fact of this kind to interfere with the workings of the tribunal, in which he took such great delight and satisfaction. No matter how the affair turned out, the youth would be disposed of, and the king would take an aesthetic pleasure in watching the course of events, which would determine whether or not the young man had done wrong in allowing himself to love the princess.

The appointed day arrived. From far and near the people gathered, and thronged the great galleries of the arena, and crowds, unable to gain admittance, massed themselves against its outside walls. The king and his court were in their places, opposite the twin doors, those fateful portals, so terrible in their similarity.

All was ready. The signal was given. A door beneath the royal party opened, and the lover of the princess walked into the arena. Tall, beautiful, fair, his appearance was greeted with a low hum of admiration and anxiety. Half the audience had not known so grand a youth had lived among them. No wonder the princess loved him! What a terrible thing for him to be there!

As the youth advanced into the arena he turned, as the custom was, to bow to the king, but he did not think at all of that royal personage. His eyes were fixed upon the princess, who sat to the right of her father. Had it not been for the moiety of barbarism in her nature it is probable that lady would not have been there, but her intense and fervid soul would not allow her to be absent on an occasion in which she was so terribly interested. From the moment that the decree had gone forth that her lover should decide his fate in the king's arena, she had thought of nothing, night or day, but this great event and the various subjects connected with it. Possessed of more power, influence, and force of character than any one who had ever before been interested in such a case, she had done what no other person had done - she had possessed herself of the secret of the doors. She knew in which of the two rooms, that lay behind those doors, stood the cage of the tiger, with its open front, and in which waited the lady. Through these thick doors, heavily curtained with skins on the inside, it was impossible that any noise or suggestion should come from within to the person who should approach to raise the latch of one of them. But gold, and the power of a woman's will, had brought the secret to the princess.

And not only did she know in which room stood the lady ready to emerge, all blushing and radiant, should her door be opened, but she knew who the lady was. It was one of the fairest and loveliest of the damsels of the court who had been selected as the reward of the accused youth, should he be proved innocent of the crime of aspiring to one so far above him; and the princess hated her. Often had she seen, or imagined that she had seen, this fair creature throwing glances of admiration upon the person of her lover, and sometimes she thought these glances were perceived, and even returned. Now and then she had seen them talking together; it was but for a moment or two, but much can be said in a brief space; it may have been on most unimportant topics, but how could she know that? The girl was lovely, but she had dared to raise her eyes to the loved one of the princess; and, with all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her through long lines of wholly barbaric ancestors, she hated the woman who blushed and trembled behind that silent door.

When her lover turned and looked at her, and his eye met hers as she sat there, paler and whiter than any one in the vast ocean of anxious faces about her, he saw, by that power of quick perception which is given to those whose souls are one, that she knew behind which door crouched the tiger, and behind which stood the lady. He had expected her to know it. He understood her nature, and his soul was assured that she would never rest until she had made plain to herself this thing, hidden to all other lookers-on, even to the king. The only hope for the youth in which there was any element of certainty was based upon the success of the princess in discovering this mystery; and the moment he looked upon her, he saw she had succeeded, as in his soul he knew she would succeed.

Then it was that his quick and anxious glance asked the question: "Which?" It was as plain to her as if he shouted it from where he stood. There was not an instant to be lost. The question was asked in a flash; it must be answered in another.

Her right arm lay on the cushioned parapet before her. She raised her hand, and made a slight, quick movement toward the right. No one but her lover saw her. Every eye but his was fixed on the man in the arena.

He turned, and with a firm and rapid step he walked across the empty space. Every heart stopped beating, every breath was held, every eye was fixed immovably upon that man. Without the slightest hesitation, he went to the door on the right, and opened it.

Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady ?

The more we reflect upon this question, the harder it is to answer. It involves a study of the human heart which leads us through devious mazes of passion, out of which it is difficult to find our way. Think of it, fair reader, not as if the decision of the question depended upon yourself, but upon that hot-blooded, semi-barbaric princess, her soul at a white heat beneath the combined fires of despair and jealousy. She had lost him, but who should have him?

How often, in her waking hours and in her dreams, had she started in wild horror, and covered her face with her hands as she thought of her lover opening the door on the other side of which waited the cruel fangs of the tiger!

But how much oftener had she seen him at the other door! How in her grievous reveries had she gnashed her teeth, and torn her hair, when she saw his start of rapturous delight as he opened the door of the lady! How her soul had burned in agony when she had seen him rush to meet that woman, with her flushing cheek and sparkling eye of triumph; when she had seen him lead her forth, his whole frame kindled with the joy of recovered life; when she had heard the glad shouts from the multitude, and the wild ringing of the happy bells; when she had seen the priest, with his joyous followers, advance to the couple, and make them man and wife before her very eyes; and when she had seen them walk away together upon their path of flowers, followed by the tremendous shouts of the hilarious multitude, in which her one despairing shriek was lost and drowned!

Would it not be better for him to die at once, and go to wait for her in the blessed regions of semi-barbaric futurity?

And yet, that awful tiger, those shrieks, that blood!

Her decision had been indicated in an instant, but it had been made after days and nights of anguished deliberation. She had known she would be asked, she had decided what she would answer, and, without the slightest hesitation, she had moved her hand to the right.

The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to presume to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door - the lady, or the tiger?
- Frank Stockton, "The Lady or the Tiger?"
Beauty rides on a lion. Beauty rests on necessities. The line of beauty is the result of perfect economy. The cell of the bee is built at that angle which gives the most strength with the least wax; the bone or the quill of the bird gives the most alar strength, with the least weight. "It is the purgation of superfluities," said Michel Angelo. There is not a particle to spare in natural structures. There is a compelling reason in the uses of the plant, for every novelty of color or form: and our art saves material, by more skilful arrangement, and reaches beauty by taking every superfluous ounce that can be spared from a wall, and keeping all its strength in the poetry of columns. In rhetoric, this art of omission is a chief secret of power, and, in general, it is proof of high culture, to say the greatest matters in the simplest way.
- Emerson, "Conduct of Life" (Beauty)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

It Doesn't Get Any Better than This!

Within liberal ideology, MAXIMIZING FUTURE FREEDOM OF ACTION = INTELLIGENCE

from Nicrap's blog:
Truth OR Appearance of Truth?

What passes for “virtue” in our own bourgeois household: There ought to be at least more than one dish on the table during meals — one preferably a curry — so the hand could “turn” and didn’t have to return to one place again and again (or as my mother sometimes puts it now: “until your father was alive, there were always served two dishes; only now do we sometimes have just one.”) 2. At all times there ought to be a surplus of essential household items. It is a sign of "want" to have to rush to the market each time a thing is needed (as when a guest arrives and there are no refreshments.) 3. When visiting someone else’s house one must never go empty-handed but should always carry some eatable (but never a pack of biscuits.) And what is considered “vulgar” (especially for women): to go about the daytime wearing only a nightgown.

(People from my own part of the land will easily recognize these “truths” in these expressions:
हाथ पल्टुड़ लिजी दूइ साग तो हूँड़ चैनी; खाली हाथ कसी जां, के ना के तो लीजाण भै; कोई ऐ गे कोई नह गे। बड़ भल लागूं। भीतरपन चीज़ तो हूँड़ चान।)
Maximizing options, Nicrap?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Healing the Hegelian Wound

For Hegel, spirit is the wound of nature, it derails every natural balance, but it is at the same time spirit itself which heals its own wound. This Hegelian insight will be developed in its philosophical, theological, and political implications: why is the Fall a happy occurrence? How does permissiveness turn into oppression? Why does only the most brutal capitalist alienation open up the possibility for freedom?
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In the tradition of Kabbalah, this primordial wound appears in the guise of »broken vessel.« According to the so-called Lurianic Kabbalah (named after Isaac Luria (1534–1572), Ein Sof created the world in order to understand itself better. Because it was infinite, Ein Sof was also formless and without purpose — it existed as pure energy. Ein Sof therefore resolved to create something with both form and purpose — human beings. Because Ein Sof‘s energy had filled up the entire universe previous to the creation of human beings, Ein Sof‘s first action had to be tsimtsum, ―withdrawal.‖ In order to make room for creation, Ein Sof had to first create a void inside itself, a space in which to make yesh (something) from ayin (nothing). However, as Ein Sof attempted to fill the vessel it had created with its light, catastrophe struck, the light was too intense to be contained within the vessel and the vessel shattered. The breaking of the vessel destroyed the ordered universe that Ein Sof had begun to create: tiny pieces of the vessel, like shards of glass, scattered and brought chaos to the universe. When the shards of the vessel began to fall, they brought with them sparks of Ein Sof‘s light; together, the shards and the sparks fell into what would become material reality, or the human world. In place of a harmonious world, human beings entered a broken world filled with »husks,« scattered sparks of divine light. Every human being is required to liberate the sparks of light from these husks through righteous study of Kabbalah - only when all the sparks are freed will Ein Sof become whole again, ushering in the perfect world that Ein Sof designed at the moment of creation.

What this implies is that Ein Sof is not an all-knowing God but a dependent God that needs human beings to restore it to wholeness. That is why God is a becoming, not a being: as the world develops, sparks are liberated, people are born, and Ein Sof evolves to become more and more true to itself. The creation of the world is thus an act of God‘s self-sacrifice: a disaster, a catastrophic descent into chaos - the world and human beings form not according to God‘s perfect plan, but as a result of destruction. Yet because human beings can liberate the sparks from the material world and help to restore God, the universe becomes filled with good deeds and the hope for redemption. – How, then, should we change this myth in order to provide its materialist version? The »materialist« solution seems obvious: there never was any vessel, no breaking, the universe is just a contingent collection of fragments we can tinker with to produce new assemblages... What gets lost in this solution is the immanent antagonism/tension/blockage (the barred/impeded Whileness) which underlies and sets in motion the movement of fragmentation. The consequences of such an approach were spelled out by Walter Benjamin who, in his early essay "The Task of the Translator," used the Lurianic notion of the broken vessel to discern the inner working of the process of translation:
―Just as fragments of a vessel, in order to be articulated together, must follow one another in the smallest detail but need not resemble one another, so, instead of making itself similar to the meaning of the original, the translation must rather, lovingly and in detail, in its own language, form itself according to the way of signifying [Art des Meinens] of the original, to make both recognizable as the broken parts of a greater language, just as fragments are the broken parts of a vessel.
The movement described here by Benjamin is a kind of transposition of metaphor into metonymy: instead of conceiving translation as a metaphoric substitute of the original, as something that should render as faithfully as possible the meaning of the original, both original and its translation are posited as belonging to the same level, parts of the same field (in the same way that Claude Levi-Strauss claimed that the main interpretations of the Oedipus myth are themselves new versions of the myth). The gap that, in the traditional view, separates the original from its (always imperfect) translation is thus transposed back into the original itself: the original itself is already the fragment of a broken vessel, so that the goal of the translation is not to achieve fidelity to the original but to supplement the original, to treat the original a broken fragment of the »broken vessel« and to produce another fragment which will not imitate the original but will fit it as one fragment of a broken Whole may fit another. What this means is that a good translation destroys the myth of the original's organic Wholeness, it renders this Wholeness visible as a fake. One can even say that, far from being an attempt to restore the broken vessel, translation is the very act of breaking: once the translation sets in, the original organic Vessel appears as a fragment that has to be supplemented - breaking the vessel IS its opening to its restoration.

In the domain of telling stories, a gesture homologous to translation would have been a change in the plot of the original narrative which makes us think ―it is only now that we really understand what the story is about.‖ This is how we should approach numerous recent attempts to stage some classical opera by not only transposing its action into a different (most often contemporary) era, but also by changing some basic facts of the narrative itself. There is no a priori abstract criterion which would allow us to judge the success or failure: each such intervention is a risky act and must be judged by its own immanent standards. Such experiments often ridiculously misfire - however, not always, and there is no way to tell it in advance, so one has to take the risk. Only one thing is sure: the only way to be faithful to a classic work is to take such as risk – avoiding it, sticking to the traditional letter, is the safest way to betray the spirit of the classic. In other words, the only way to keep a classical work alive is to treat it as ―open, pointing towards the future, or, to use the metaphor evoked by Walter Benjamin, to act as if the classic work is a film for which the appropriate chemical liquid to develop it was invented only later, so that it is only today that we can get the full picture.
Slavoj Zizek, "The Wound..."Getting Stuck"