And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus

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!


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?