3 Tales

  1. The puddle gathering outside the room wherein all our hopes and dreams and books and excellent carpets are gathered,

    It just keeps knocking, weeping, it says it just wants to sell us some biscuits, some fine biscuits for consumption with breakfast teas of any nationality, just to give us something to crust our whiskers,

    But I don’t trust it one bit, – puddles are nasty, lying, sneaky layabouts with no get up and go.

    Besides, I am not hungry right now.
    Breakfast was a monster.

  2. The marketplace of entropies always has fewer stalls than would be optimal for efficient accumulation of remuneration, public access for all deserving desires, healthy gaps, etc., etc., the variety is lacking, and always has been. Some shadowy voices clamor for a public control of the marketplace, but to place these stalls, so very empty, under the weight of the grand Center, well, it mightn’t go well. There’s a bubble, see, and if it were visible, then everyone would see it.
  3. I ate a thinking machine at the age of twelve. It gave me power over time, space, imagination, living creatures w/o recourse to holes in the ground, rooted things living or otherwise, the big rocks, innovation, tethers, straps of all kinds, the sun, safety, and any other miscellaneous organized entities not included in the previous categories.

    It pretended to dissolve itself in my bile, stomach juices, and so on, as a natural extrusive object suddenly finding itself intrusive would tend to do, but my decision making and observational processes cause it such irritation (“a job done poorly is a job done not at all”) that it has never been able to consistently and formally withdraw its coöperation with my desires for any meaningful length of time.

    I cannot say my life has been easier since that moment of consumption, however. The conduits are larger, always, yes, growing, but the frustrations grow concomitantly. Technology (theoretically, that is) should ease frustrations, should allow for an experience of broadening horizons, of doors opening, of escape from cramped boudoirs, as it were.

    But my experience since that young age has been one of exiting the door of the cramped boudoir of my childlike limitations only to discover a larger – but no less cramped! – boudoir directly outside. This phenomenon, with grueling regularity of repetition, has shown no sign of abating; I have not yet found the final door which would allow for access to some privileged realm of open privacy. I weary of ever finding it. I could eat the world, and do, but will never successfully consume its walls.

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Sonnet

Once upon a many fingered season,
Full of coal and groaning tide,
The last land went amess. There was no reason
For this mess, except to hide

The dullness and the lethargy w/in
Its hallowed halls and hollowed hives –
Where minds grew dull and dreams turned flat and thin
And never changed their dreamers’ lives.

O, the shame of machinated hands!,
Which cannot but trace o’er the oldest tracks
Of sheepish, stump-eyed, pig-led bands
Of dogmatists and cataracts.

The globing sphere of technocrated steel
Has been corrupted full; –
We are a-wheel’

Thoughts on Deleuze and heroes

I’ve always found the tics and jumps of the prose stylistics in the collaborations of the writers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari somewhat irritating, with their tendency to waver off their already intentionally hazy paths and maps, with their habit of throwing off references with little to no explication of their relevance (“and of course you understand how this relates to Melville…”). There are real moments of joy and philosophy in them, but I generally think of this style of punctuation as the thicket in the way of those meatier aspects.

That said, I have just finished Logic of Sense, a book written just by Deleuze, and its concluding paragraph unites so much of what I find confusing about his collaborations with Guattari in a way that I just totally love. It’s quite dense and confusing even with the preceding 247 pages, but it’s truly worth reading as one of the best moments of prose poetry in any philosophical work I’ve ever read, moving from the densest threshing of disjunctions into syntheses, through the obscene humor of the Stoic/Zen/Carrolian hero, into a beautiful grin of a shrug at inevitable sagging of those heroics when the event meets the daily world. It is so hard to be a hero for more than a moment. Han-Shan wept daily at the top of Cold Mountain, even after he’d found his ‘one idea’, a failure of the pure stoic. Robespierre worked himself to total bodily collapse, leaving his movements prey to reaction. Hannibal could never (will never) quite pull away from Will Graham. Even in this year of the centenary of the Russian revolution, so few of us truly stand faithful to the blinding flares of egalitarian justice that shine from that sequence. I certainly don’t.

Deleuze, and the stoic heroes he traces in this endlessly fascinating text, are not the model needed in this political moment (perhaps the first failing being their analyses of the character of the Little Girl, Alice, in terms not far from those of Humber Humbert) they are not the proper guiding lights to keep us on the tracks, BUT – they are heroes nonetheless.

Apologies for the excessive gesticulation, here’s the passage:

“The univocity of sense grasps language in its complete system, as the total expresser of a unique expressed – the event. The values of humor are distinguished from those of irony: humor is the art of surfaces and of the complex relation between the two surfaces. Beginning with one excessive equivocation, humor constructs all univocity; beginning with the properly sexual equivocation which ends all equivocity, humor releases a desexualized Univocity – a speculative univocity of Being and language – the entire secondary organization in one word. It is necessary to imagine someone, one-third Stoic, one-third Zen, and one-third Carroll: with one hand, he masturbates in an excessive gesture, with the other, he writes in the sand the magic words of the pure event open to the univocal: “Mind – I believe – is Essence – Ent – Abstract -that is – an Accident – which we – that is to say – I meant – .” Thus, he makes the energy of sexuality pass into the pure asexual, without, however, ceasing to ask “What is a little girl?” – even if this question must be replaced with the problem of a work of art yet to come, which alone would give an answer. See, for example, Bloom on the beach….Equivocity, analogy, and eminence will no doubt recover their rights with the tertiary order, in the denotations, significations, and manifestations of everyday language submitted to the rules of good sense and common sense. As we then consider the perpetual entwining which constitutes the logic of sense, it seems that this final ordering recovers the voice of the heights of the primary process, but also that the secondary organization at the surface recovers something of the most profound noises, blocks, and elements for the Univocity of sense – a brief instant for a poem without figures. What can the work of art do but follow again the path which goes from noise to the voice, from voice to speech, and from speech to the verb, constructing this Musik für ein Hause, in order always to recover the independence of sounds and to fix the thunderbolt of the univocal. This event is, of course, quickly covered over by everyday banality or, on the contrary, by the sufferings of madness.”
(Logic of Sense, Deleuze, trans. Boundas, 248-9)

Hamlet Act III, Scene i

In this video, the beginning of a new project of mine, I recite a speech from Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. Fans of my other modes of self-gurgitation may know that I am deeply, perhaps unreasonably ambivalent about this play and Shakespeare in general. But while that is true, I certainly find these words joyously moving to recite.

Another note: I have attempted to learn the general ORIGINAL ACCENT of these words, as near as I can come, and I hope it does not get in the way. It can be jarring to hear Shakespeare’s pentameters outside of the tones and rhythms of the RSC, but it’s good to push them closer toward an authenticity of deliver, however inauthentic it may seem to the first ears.

I hope you enjoy!

Economy of Thought, such as it is

There are thoughts that live in the minds of any given thinker in the world today (American, white, Daniel, perfectly general), the reasonable thoughts, the general thoughts, the common-sensical. Clean them up with a bit of bite and a reasonably mean-spirited bonne-mot against any and all anti-Hobbesian or two and you can live in a tower of money and pulp. Such is the case of any professional ethicist, political philosopher, opinion writer, or prosecuting attorney you might come across. It is a decent life, but it will come to nothing.

There are other thoughts, dustier thoughts, locked-away thoughts, those existing above (abstract, transcendental, critical) and behind (historical) the world of common-sense. To devote one’s life to these thoughts without looking outside is to live the ideal of the academic quadrant. It is a cramped life, filled to bursting with stability, but while there may or may not be joy, it will come to nothing.

There remain the thoughts of abstracted, critical, brutal engagement with the reasonable thoughts of the everyday world. These have the chance to ruin every well laid plan and every common sense. This life will be hard, and there are no guarantees of joy or hope or anything at all, it is the only path that leaves a meaningful possibility of any detritus being left behind when you have disappeared; it is the only possibility of passing beyond the laws of economical life.

Communism is the Middle Ground

translated by me from Der Kommunismus ist das Mittlere, by Bertolt Brecht (http://www.nrhz.de/flyer/beitrag.php?id=10146)

To call for a revolution against all presently existing orders
Seems terrible.
But this present existence has no order.

To take refuge in violence
Seems evil.
But there, where violence is practiced every day,
It’s nothing special.

Communism is not the most radical proposal,
Of which only the smallest part can be made real, but rather
Before it is completely, utterly made real,
There is no situation which
(Except for the truly heartless) would be bearable.

Communism is really the very least demand
The obvious next step, the middle ground, the reasonable.
Whoever places themselves against it isn’t a dissident,
But rather a diffident, selfish, unthinking little rodent,
An enemy of the human race

Terrible
Evil
Heartless

Especially
Wanting the most radical proposal, to make even the smallest part of it real,
All of humanity would charge into the grave.

 

Ethical living cannot change the world

I found this article (https://www.currentaffairs.org/2017/03/its-basically-just-immoral-to-be-rich) in Current Affairs incredibly useful to my thinking about the relation between ethics and politics. It is unhelpfully stuck within a model of politics that focuses on individual ethical relationships, but it makes the failures of that model exceptionally clear.
It is making a case not unrelated to Robespierre’s argument against providing a trial against Louis XVI, and in favor of just executing him for the crime of being a king, tout court. The ethical fault of Louis in 1789, to the extent that is worth calling it such a thing, is that he continued to occupy the position of kingship, a position that he could not or would not willingly abdicate from, and which could not be completely destroyed unless the royal line were extirpated. It did not matter if he were a good king or a bad king or even an indifferent king. His personal ethical crime, such as it was, was being the ultimate force in an unacceptably coercive and inegalitarian system.
Smith’s article posits an unceasing sequence of decisions not to give the money away:
“The central point, however, is this: it is not justifiable to retain vast wealth. This is because that wealth has the potential to help people who are suffering, and by not helping them you are letting them suffer. It does not make a difference whether you earned the vast wealth. The point is that you have it. And whether or not we should raise the tax rates, or cap CEO pay, or rearrange the economic system, we should all be able to acknowledge, before we discuss anything else, that it is immoral to be rich. That much is clear.”
I am extremely sympathetic to this argument and agree with much of it, but it leads to questions that are pretty damning:
1. Maybe most people can be convinced that a billionaire is committing this kind of constant sequence of crimes against the masses of the poor, but Smith wants to say that anybody hoarding wealth is an ethically bad person, billionaires, millionaires, everyone. But does this include my own desire to have two months of savings in the bank to deal with calamitous events? What if I only have 100000 dollars? This argument that the hoarding of wealth is an immoral action by specific individuals leads to a conception of money as an original sin, common to all human beings, but one that is uniquely common in the upper classes. Now, perhaps that’s an argument worth making, but it gets closer into essentialist understandings of various segments of the population having political views that are unchangeable and not particularly situational. We can agree that there is no relevant distinction between the Good Capitalist and the Bad Capitalist, but then it sounds like we’re making systematic or political claims, not ethical ones. Smith addresses this point somewhat, but only at the level of policy (presenting a maximum accrual of funds limit as a policy to strive for), but this isn’t particularly helpful in getting past this concept of money as sin on an individual level. Smith explicitly states that “the central point I want to make here is that the moral duty becomes greater the more wealth you have.” Perhaps this moral framework will be helpful in getting support for a bill, but it isn’t tied into a broader political ideology that would give this argument a thrust beyond the emotive feeling of the ethical failure.
2. Very relatedly, what is the lived experience of being immensely wealthy? Is it a constant ability to do whatever one wants? What anxieties are felt? How much of one’s income is immediately usable, and how much is tied up in systems uncontrolled by the capitalist? How much needs to be retained to provide responses to and deterrents against the threatening actions of their competitors? This is not to say that the life of a capitalist is hard or harder than the life of a poor person, but simply to point out again that thinking about politics as a game between individuals, as a sequence of ethical, rational decisions, is to give the entire game away.
As socialists, we should not accept the model that if the bad actors were taken away, the system would be fine. Blaming all owners of capital as opposed to just The Bad Ones is a great step. It’s still necessary to move from there to saying that the problem is capitalism, the system in which everyone, rich and poor alike, is compelled to act in their rational, econometric self-interest, because if they don’t, they will lose everything the market tells them has value.
Ethics is a great system of thought for personal relationships, for figuring out who should clean the bathroom, for how to help a friend in pain. It’s utterly useless for determining how a society should change to promote the well-being of all the people living in it.