12.31.2011

Some Things I've Learned from Booze


The world teaches.  Everything instructs — cement, soap, songs, flowers, smells, glances, books, hobos, movies, golf clubs.  Some things, like some teachers, resonate with you better, more thoroughly, more effectively.  For 30 years, give or take, booze has been a great teacher and me, I've been its less than reluctant pupil (although I've not always been open to its pedagogy). Here are some things I've learned over the years:



1. Everything has its way.  Scotch, after all, is not tequila and neither are gin.This is, of course, obvious. But I still find it profound and this seemingly simple dictum has had enormous repercussions in how and what I think. 

2. The ways of things intersect and overlap.  I love spicy, perhaps a bit mineraly, clean boozes that are a little hot, a little complex, and never sweet: St. George Terroir Gin, Fortaleza Blanco, Glenrothes single malt, Old Potrero Rye. 

3. Things have internal borders that need not unify.  The aforementioned boozes each enjoys, on its own, this fantastic array of flavors, each distinct — sun, fir, honey, black pepper. They don't have to become one.

4. Moods come and go. Over the course of one drink, you may traverse despair, elation, resignation, contemplation, each with an emphatic umph.

5. The now is historical, forwards and backwards.  Drinking lots now can feel good now — then feel very bad the next day.  Sometimes, this is ok; other times, it's not. In any case, there is a distinct correlation between this now and another now. 

6. Everything has its occasion. I like my booze. I have a drink or two most days. But I don't always want a drink — a midday beer or morning shot can be great but more often than not makes me sluggish and dumb.  


7. Some things have diminishing returns. Just because some thing makes you feel great doesn't mean you can enjoy it ceaselessly — some pleasurable things become less pleasurable when consumed in the wrong proportion or quantity.

8. Things can interact in surprising ways. Booze is one thing. Now add this or that — sex, hooch, medication, driving — and the way of booze can be synergistic, a catalyst both good and bad, to say the least.

9. What was once right is not always right.  Starting in my early teens, I drank Jim Beam. A lot of Jim Beam. Now, I can't touch the stuff.  I drink much less in general and rarely imbibe bourbon.  My body has changed, wants different things, needs different things.

10. Categories offer infinite internal diversity. Bourbon is relatively well defined — 51% corn, from Kentucky, I don't know what else.  But try Makers then Buffalo Trace then High West and you'll have three different, even if intimately related, experiences. Now take gin: other than juniper, there are no demands. Infinite variations is not only available but encouraged by the category itself.

11. Pay attention.  One drink too much, or the wrong drink, can be disastrous.  Booze has taught me to pay attention to what's happening, to how I interact with the world.


12.25.2011

Reckoning

 "Make no mistake. It's not revenge he's after. It's a reckoning." 

In Tombstone, Wyatt Earp and his brothers have a run in with the Cowboys, an organized pack of gangsters who end up killing one of Wyatt's brothers.  In the aftermath, Wyatt goes on a rampage, hunting down every Cowboy and killing him.

In one scene, he seems to overcome all possible odds through sheer will, walking into the open to shoot and kill the Cowboys who shoot at him from the safety of cover. One of Wyatt's cohorts can't believe what he's just seen. To make sense of it — to make sense of such an extreme display of will, to explain what looks like madness — this cohort says, "Well, if they were my brothers, I'd want revenge, too."

To which Doc Holliday, a man beyond good and evil, replies: "Make no mistake. It's not revenge he's after. It's a reckoning."



A reckoning can seem like revenge in that it can be read as the settling of a debt — and, as Nietzsche taught, debt is guilt and guilt is revenge.  But I think there is a more interesting way to make sense of a reckoning, the way I think Holliday means it in this instance. A reckoning is a calculating of one's position within a situation and taking the necessary steps, doing what needs to be done, not just coming to terms but settling that which needs settling.

If revenge is a confrontation with another, reckoning is a confrontation with life itself and one's place in it. Acting out of revenge exhausts one's energy — after all, he who seeks revenge spends all his energy thinking about and going after someone else.  What a waste. A reckoning, however, is a revitalization of one's energy, a shifting of alignment into a place of great fecundity, of great power.

Look at Wyatt Earp in Tombstone.  He's married to a junky he doesn't love.  He tries to be a good man, a proper man, earning money for his wife and family. But after his brother is killed by the Cowboys, it's as if he wakes up. He sheds his wife and bourgeois propriety and enters the wild — the wilds of killing, the wilds of uncertainty, the wilds of potential poverty, the wilds of love. Where he was once not just introverted but involuted, closed in on himself, he is now extroverted, exuding vitality. 

A reckoning is an inflection point, a juncture, a turning, a transformative moment that redirects one's flow of energy.  A reckoning shifts the very terms of the apparatus: it is a metabolic realignment.

The brilliant Breaking Bad is the portrait of a reckoning. When Walter White is given his diagnosis of cancer, he realizes that the very manner in which he lives is literally killing him.  He is a weak man. Nice, maybe, but he does little that fuels his health. His teaching is his only thread to life, giving him a flow to his passion, chemistry.  Otherwise, every tic, every decision, every move he makes siphons his vitality. 

He presumably begins to cook meth because he wants to leave money for his family after he's dead. But that turns out just to be a spark that ignites his reckoning, his coming into his power: the show tracks his metabolic transformation, the realigning of his energy distributions.



A reckoning is messy as it disrupts flows long established. Reckoning is painful and loud (even if silent) and sends ripples through the network as this node affects others — Wyatt's wife, Walt's family.

And it can look like revenge. But just as Wyatt does not kill the Cowboys out of revenge, Walt does not beats this asshole kid in the store out of revenge. He's not exhausting his energy: he's igniting it.  Revenge is ugly, always.  Reckoning, on the other hand, even though violent and even grotesque, is beautiful. 



12.21.2011

Knowing Things

I like booze.  I've spent dozens of years drinking different whiskeys and tequilas and, recently, gins.  In some sense, I don't know anything about them. I don't know how they're made; I'm not sure where they're made; I'm not even sure what they're always made from. 

And yet I feel, with utter confidence, that I know whiskey, that I know tequila, that I'm coming to know gin.  I know the experience I want — the experience on my tongue, in my throat and belly, the experience I want from my buzz and how I want to feel the next morning.  I love going into bars and describing exactly what I desire to the barkeep who is presumably, and hopefully, thoroughly versed in the various experiences this or that booze offers. Sometimes, they steer me well.

Now, this barkeep of course knows whiskey in a way that I do not — and in a way that I do not care to. The only reason for me to know regions and the production process and the variations of casks and different aging methods is to make the selection of the exact experience I want easier and faster.  And that sounds great. And, over the years, I've certainly acquired more knowledge that has made choosing the right booze for my mood easier.


But, frankly, I like how I know booze. I don't want to know all the genera and species, the regions and vicissitudes of aging.  I enjoy my mode of knowing that begins and ends, more or less, with my experience, an experience that is at once palpable and ethereal.  Because, really, what else matters? I can't make whiskey; I couldn't buy it wholesale at a good price. Oh, but I can drink it and I can enjoy it and I do, yes, I do. 

Am I saying that I know whiskey better than the barkeep? Does she know it better than I?  What counts as better? Is knowledge something we quantify so that one can know more or less?  Sure, sometimes, in some areas, in some circumstances.  My point, I suppose, is this: there are different ways of knowing things and there are some ways of knowing that don't involve what we usually call facts.

When I was in college, over 20 years ago, there was a renowned class, taught by a renowned scholar, on James Joyce's Ulysses. Many of my friends took the course; I did not. They had all these names for each chapter that usually referred to this or that classical reference. It was as if they'd been handed some special decoder ring and could now decipher Joyce's arcane text. And the rest of us were just ignorant.

I read the book the summer after college and loved it — well, most of it. Not being a classicist, I missed the Homeric allusions. I am sure I missed hundreds of other allusions.  On the other hand, I didn't miss anything at all.  There are moments in that book that resonated and resounded in my very cells — and still do. And there are moments that passed me right by. I left the book feeling like I knew it just as I wanted to know it.


I am woefully ignorant of fauna. But when I was 16 and tripping on my first ever hit of acid in the Fall of 1986 and the leaves had vacated their trees leaving my lush little town to sit beneath these branches that were anything but bare, I came to know trees with a certain intensity, a certain intimacy. With nothing to mask their fine and endless articulations, the trees spoke to me. Alternately wise, witty, buffoonish, and deadpan, we conversed. The conversation lasts to this very day — not as intensely but as one might converse with any old friend.

I have plenty of friends who know trees better than I do — and better in every possible sense.  They know the facts and they know the articulation of which I speak and they know so much more. I have a friend who would strip naked in the winter and head into the woods of the Pennsylvania Poconos and make a shelter with these trees.  In a very real way, he made — and makes — love to the trees and to fauna of all sorts. 

What is it to know something? Consider all these different ways of knowing trees: a child who loves climbing them; someone with allergies; a botanist; an environmentalist; a 16 year old stoner Jew on acid; a gardener.

I want to say that to know something, to really know it and not just know of it, is to go with it.  To know, then, is not to know about something but to know with something, to be moved with that thing.

Anyone can look up facts on Wikipedia. And those facts can be great and may be necessary (or not). But to know something is to go with that thing. And there are so many ways of going with, so many ways of knowing.  

12.15.2011

The Deed, and Nothing But


Consider seeing. Is seeing active or passive? Do you see the coffee mug? Or does the coffee mug, in a sense, project itself into you — into your head, into your body, the very vision of it filling you just as the coffee itself does as you drink it? Do you come to the world? Or does the world come to you? Or is this a false dichotomy? Is it that we come together, we become together, we are both stuffs of this world and we go and interact as any stuffs in the world go — colliding, harmonizing, snuggling? 

Vision — all perception — is neither active nor passive, is both active and passive.

The place of perspective, of reading, is the middle, between here and there, between you and me. It happens in what we call the middle voice. The middle voice is difficult to speak, at least in English. English has subjects of sentences that stand separate from their actions — the verbs — which in turn act upon objects. “I kiss you”: in this simple construction there is a distinct I, a distinct kiss, and a distinct you. There is an implied, and obligatory, distinction between who I am and the actions I take, as if there were an I that stands apart from the world, that comes before, or outside, action — as if there were a kiss that did not involve me and you.

In some sense, all there is is kissing — there is no I, no kiss, no you, just this cooperative event (hopefully!) of me, kiss, desire, love, you.

In On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche writes that when we say “lightning strikes,” we are being redundant. Of course lightning strikes. What is lightning if it doesn’t strike? Lightning is that which strikes; it is striking, always and already. Take away the striking and you have nothing. When we say “lightning strikes,” we put a doer behind the deed when, for Nietzsche, all there is is the deed. Nietzsche argues that one of the great moves made by the slaves was to posit a subject behind the action who could be held eternally responsible for his actions — the bird of prey becomes guilty for eating the little lamb, as if the bird had a choice, as if the bird were not always and already a bird that preys. The invention of this doer is the invention of Judeo-Christian morality and its arsenal of ego, morality, guilt, and judgment.

Our grammar rests on such a subject who is distinct from both his actions and the world. And so here we posit a middle voice, a way to speak that is neither active nor passive. In English, this demands that we make language perform in such a way that the distinctions between doer, deed, and object are intertwined. We have to make language enmesh and touch and palpate.

12.08.2011

Words

I never cease to be amazed by the magic of words — these contrived scrawls, these guttural mutterings that somehow conjure, entice, explain, seduce, confound, convey, reveal. Well, I suppose sometimes I do cease to be amazed but that's only because I'm not paying any attention, am distracted by the obnoxious din of my own blabbering brain.

One of my favorite philosophers of language is Maurice Merleau-Ponty (a melodious name I do enjoy saying — it's somehow perverse and exquisitely so): "...language never says anything; it invents a series of gestures which between them present differences clear enough for the conduct of language to the degree that it repeats itself, recovers and affirms itself, and purveys to us the palpable flows and contours of a universe of meaning." 

I love that: "language never says anything."  To think than language is a vehicle that carries our ideas, our facts, our messages is not just to reduce language but to miss it all together.  A word does not stand in for something, for a real thing that exists elsewhere. A word is real, too.  

Take any word, say, dog. The word dog does not stand in for the idea of dog or even for the asshole dogs who bark incessantly in my backyard. The word dog, the idea of dog, every dog I've ever known, the smell of dog, my faint dog allergy, my cynophobia, the movie Cujo, chien, mut, wolf: all these terms, and more, form a network.  They exist in various and complex relations with each other (these relationships can be considered tropes — but that's another topic).  

A word is a body — and a strange body at that.  It's visible, in some sense, but its visible components do not convey very much.  It is invisible, as well, drenched in affect, memory, and meaning. But its invisible components would be nothing without its visible ones, its marks and sounds. 

A word, then, is this incredible assemblage point that is also a condensation point.  After all, words are so pithy. Melodious. Cloying. Flabbergast. This. Hi. Foment. Singe. Fecund. So much in so little, each an entire world (pace Lohren Green). 

And I love the different shapes they make — they can flow so softly, so gently, then turn on a dime and fuck your face, hard and angular before becoming knotted clumsy stumble. Think of Nabokov, then Bukowski, then Garcia Marquez, then Celine, then Ashbery....all these constellations, all these possible configurations, all these ways of distributing emotion, mood, affect, meaning.

We reach for a word, says Merleau-Ponty, as we reach for an itch. Language is not a tool we use. It's an element we prehend just as we prehend air and food.  A word has a body, a density, a weight, an inclination.  A word is a strange fluttering (or not) creature that houses an entire cosmos, suspended (or not) in the ether. When we declare or proclaim or inscribe, we enter its world.  And then, it some sense, it speaks us.

But language, while insidiously coercive, is rarely so dictatorial.  Words move with us, go with us. In fact, William Burroughs says they're a virus and humans, their host. There is a creepy aspect to this but there is also something beautiful, a symbiosis, a giving and taking — even if it's a relation rife with tension. We all know this tension — so-called writers all the more: we wrestle words and they wrestle back.

And then, sometimes, you find a beautiful rhythm with them — you reach, they reach back, they offer themselves to you and you offer yourself back, receptive to their fluttering, a mutual generosity, an intertwining of bodies human and linguistic. Oh, these are glorious moments, profoundly erotic, a making love — yes, love — with words, surfing the undulations of this strange body we call language.  

Take a Peek

Apropos of nothing, for those more philosophically minded among you, check out this podcast — smart, thorough, excited: http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/

And, well, they linked to my podcast on Bergson, too: http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2011/12/06/daniel-coffeen-on-bergsons-matter-and-memory/.

12.07.2011

Examples and Repetition

We use examples all the time. But what is the logic of an example?

Well, an example is an instance of something — a something that is presumably bigger or broader such a concept, genre, ideology, or idea.  This model of exemplarity is hierarchical as the master term determines the identity of the particular.

Here’s an example of an example: “The books of William Burroughs are postmodern.” In this case, the oddity and tics and particularity of Burroughs are explained by, and reduced to, a meta-category: the postmodern. One could, on the other hand, say that his books are not postmodern, in which case, Burroughs is defined in a negative relationship to a category — which is to say, not defined at all. Or one could take another example of postmodernity — say, Thomas Pynchon — and talk about how Burroughs’ paranoia differs from Pynchon’s in that Burroughs is not paranoid at all: to him, the world is at war hence one had better keep a good lookout. In any case, in this model of the example, a particular thing is in a relationship with a category either as an instantiation, a rebel, or a modifier: Burroughs is postmodern; Burroughs is not postmodern; Burroughs shifts the terms of postmodernity.  

This model of exemplarity takes all sorts of forms such as ideology critique in which we read something in light of a predefined “cultural” or “ideological” category such as gender, race, sexuality, Marxism, psychoanalysis. This is a common assignment in college classes as Freudian readings of Vertigo, feminist critiques of Deep Throat, and Marxist analyses of The Wire abound. 

What matters in this model of the example is the category as the difference of Burroughs is minimized or wiped away.  This is a way of domesticating knowledge, of taming ideas that might tear at familiar and comforting categories.  Because, in this model, the categories themselves remain unquestioned, assumed as givens rather than tossed into the fray with all the other muck. And the difference of this or that is ignored.

Now, I could say that there is no such thing as a category and that all there is is difference, particulars ad infinitum. And, to some extent, this is no doubt true (but in a different way for different folks). But it seems to me that things do coalesce, that difference does not mark isolation but a relationship. The question is: how can we speak about such points of assemblage without falling into the hierarchy of exemplarity?

Repetition. With repetition, each thing recasts all the others in its various networks, including the categories.  Every chair is both the idea of chair and the instance of chair: it is both Chair and chair, chair again and anew, chair recast, reconfigured, recategorized.  Occasionally, a chair takes leave of chair all together and becomes something else — a couch, a table, a cat's house.  With repetition, there is no up or down, no firm vertical axis on which a hierarchy could establish itself.  

With repetition, each thing is the center of its category (and of its world).  Each thing is both category and instantiation.  Each thing is an example of itself.  And this is how I like to read the world — examples, nothing but examples, examples all the way up and all the way down, everything an example of itself — a world of pure exemplarity.  


11.26.2011

Moods

My favorite quote from Emerson, and one of my favorite quotes in general, is: "Our moods do not believe in each other." What's amazing about this is it undoes the sanctity, the unity, of the self: if my moods are absolute, then I am wholly different depending on said mood.

We all know this experience. We get a little depressed, or a lot depressed, and everything looks like a huge pile of shit. When we picture every possible path to the future, each leads to a pile of shit, or death, or both.  And there is no consoling that will deter us: we know that life is a pile of shit.  Other times, we feel like everything will turn up roses: we feel smart and powerful and sexy and it's as if the world were our oyster there to be shucked and sucked. 

Of course, there are any number of moods that are less extreme — confusion, anxiety, reasonableness, and so on.  But the point is: each feels as though it were right.  Even if one mood acknowledges that another mood exists, that other mood becomes, well, just a mood. And this present state becomes the truth, the way things really are.

Now, is there a mood of moods? A mood that knows that life is mooded? What might such a thing look like? And doesn't it just beg the same epistemological dilemma:  Isn't the mood of moods just another mood with no privileged access to the real way of things?

I want to say that Buddhism tries to establish such a mood of moods but the result is no mood fluctuation at all — to the enlightened Buddhist, all is a steady hum.  No manic highs, no manic lows: just a state of perpetual contentment.  Which, I have to say, sounds pretty good. Sometimes.  Sometimes it just sounds creepy and nihilistic, a kind of avoidance of the flux of life.

I had a roommate in college who decided that a diet of liquid acid, and little else, was a wise thing. After a few weeks, he became pronouncedly manic, convinced that he was the smartest, most gifted human being alive (and that the FBI was following him and bugging the walls). He was sure of it.  I mostly wanted to punch him in the face. Why? Well, because he was fucking annoying but also because he refused to recognize that he was in a mood.  But of course there is also a genius to mania, a willingness to commit absolutely to a mood. And not just any mood but a manic mood (Buddhists commit to one mood — a subdued, even if enthralled, mood).

I reach for a mechanism that allows me to navigate the flux of moods: irony.  With irony, I can articulate the state I'm in while recognizing that whatever I'm saying is full of its own kind of shit. Irony doesn't take any thing that seriously because it knows that everything is flux, everything gives way to change — so to be adamant is to be foolish, to be ironic is to be wise.  (I realize irony is often thought of as cold or nihilistic but it can also be warm, understanding, and profoundly resonant.)

When I was younger, I would commit — submit — to a mood more readily. I'd get carried away. And it was beautiful. These daze, I am less prone to get so enmeshed in one mood, this flux replaced by a more or less boring, more or less bourgeois, sense of propriety.  Even when I get lit on this or that, my mood is tempered: I know I'm just buzzed and that it, too, will pass. My irony prevails over my adamance. 

Sometimes, this feels like wisdom.  Sometimes, it feels like weakness.  It depends on my mood.

11.24.2011

The Way of the Way

Things have a way. This gin, for instance, is dry, spicy, rich — it doesn't want to be a martini. But it does want things that I don't know how to satisfy. So I keep it simple until I know more: two smaller ice cubes (more, and the flavor dissipates; less, and it's too astringent for my palate). But I was at this bar the other night where my bartender was doing all sorts of things with this gin.  She knows the way of this gin, just as any chef or bartender knows the way of her ingredients: how each interacts with heat, tongue, pressure, bitters, and so on.

I love learning the way of a booze.  Gin is new to me so I am trying to figure out how it can go — how much can I drink; how quickly; in what forms; and when. Tequila, I know pretty well.  I can navigate blancos, reposados, anejos across a range of brands and regions. I generally know how it will hit my tongue, affect my mood, my digestion, my sleep.  This is not a scienfitic knowledge; whatever I've learned about what tequila, technically, I learned from Wikipedia long after I'd learned the way of tequila.

The way to know a way is not to know its physical make up but how it makes its way in the world.  When it comes to ways, experience takes precedence over facts — two different kinds of knowledge.  Now, facts are good, too.  Sometimes, facts are great: tequila, distilled in the old stills, needs no starter — it kickstarts itself.  I love that.  And it helps me to know the way of tequila.  But to know the way of tequila, I began with experience, with what it did to me.

This is not to disparage other ways of knowing tequila — or knowing anything. I mean, my knowldge will not empower me to make tequila.  It's just to point out that everything has a way and the way to know a way is to begin with experience.

Gin, I don't really know. I'm in the process of learning its way which, in many ways, is the most exciting time in the life of knowing something, like the early stage of a love affair: danger and ecstasy loom around every corner. 

Everything has a way — chair, pen, pad, screen, song, nose, follicle, person, food, idea, shoe, sheet, window, whisper, stair, orgasm, lip, belly, breast, dream, kiss. Every chair is different from every other chair and every kiss is different from every other kiss.  And yet there is something about a chair and something about a kiss and this something is many things and it changes and it includes the spine and lust and reverie and ass and the abstraction of how all those things can be. 

This is what's strange about a way.  It's always particular — this kiss, this chair — and general: kisses and chairs.  I think this is what I love most about the way of ways: it takes everything. It's so generous.  Got a fact? Great! Got a story? Fantastic! Got a theory? Let's hear it.  All of these things make the way of this or that.

A way is never done — there is always unpredictability. But this unpredictability is not utterly without pattern or stipulation.  Each thing tends to be unpredictable in the fashion distinct to it.  A gin, for instance, is not all of a sudden going to be a whiskey, even it may partake of the way of whiskey every now and again (Ransom Old Tom? a little? maybe not).

A way is a differential equation: infinite, yes, but infinite in this way. 

Think of the job a baseball shortstop has: he has to make sense of the way of a ball.  He never knows exactly how the ball is going to go off the bat.  But he knows the range of speeds, the range of motion, the kinds of ricochets it can take, the trajectories of line drives. But each line drive, every ricochet, is different within that general range.  And then, once in a while, that range adjusts and the shortstop learns something new about the way of the ball.

The way of something is historical and contemporary, particular and general.  The way of the way brings me great pleasure.

11.23.2011

Experience


"Inner experience responds to the necessity in which I find myself — human existence with me — of challenging everything (of putting everything into question) without permissable rest." — Georges Bataille, Inner Experience

After all the years of writing and thinking about events, reading and studying and writing about 20th century philosophy and phenomenology, I finally have my first glimpse into the profound oddity of what we might call experience.   It was picking up Bataille's Inner Experience that set off this revelation — a revelation of confusion, not understanding. Which, in many ways, is the best kind of revelation: suddenly, I am aware of what I didn't know I didn't know. It's like a whole new world yawning before me whose laws and language and ways await me.

So I am going to try and use this virtual venue to articulate experience to see if I can make it any clearer to myself.

I can say that an experience is what happens to me.  But that's not right at all.  Say, for instance, that I am at a Cornelius concert.  The music, the lights, the crowd: that might be what's happening to me. And yet that says nothing about my experience.

My experience is what I live through in the act of watching the concert, a living through that is at once physical and affective: my ears, my whole body in fact, vibrates; my affective state ebbs and flows — excitement, wonder, delight, annoyance, anxiety, love; my heart rate speeds and slows with said flows and vibrations.

But of course my experience is not those things either, as if the experience could be parsed into component parts.  The experience is something else.  Can I say it's the way all those different elements conspire, work together like an engine that  produces....what?  Me?

Experience, alas, eludes and exceeds all categories.  It tears knowledge asunder without thinking twice. Experience is a surge, a plane of excitation that animates and inspires and destroys and creates, all at the same time.

Try and picture to yourself what your experience is right now. Not all the things happening around you; not all the things happening to you; but what you are experiencing this very moment.  Where do you see this taking place?  In your head? Your belly? Your nerves? What is it you see when you try to isolate experience from everything else?

Bataille talks about "inner experience" but this inside is not your soul or your self. "Inner," in this case, distinguishes experience from the outer events that surround you. This "inner experience" is mystical — which is why Bataille is interested in religious experiences, in ecstatic states.

Now, needless to say, experience is wound up with the world, bound up with the stuff of the earth — weather and pixels and friends and pornography and work and and and.  And the way each of us experiences is determined, more or less, by the complex algorithms that we are — our bodies and histories and knowledge all working in metabolic conjunction.

But the experience is not reducible to any of these things. Experience is not me in that experience breaks the ego, breaks the self: the self as experience is not a self at all but a perpetually unbound this. The thing I call my self may be constituted by experience and experience may be constituted, in part, by my self (experience is constituted by all sorts of things including plants, animals, planets, dreams, films). But my self and my experience are not the same thing at all.

Experience breaks, bleeds, exceeds the self. The psychedelic experience makes this all too clear: we speak with trees, converse with the cosmos, see and understand and live through a connection between and among all things that could not possibly allow for something as ludicrous, as localized, as a self.

I feel like I've been blinded by the endless distractions of ego and society and such: my mind swirls with thoughts of laundry and bills and sports and television and fellatio and so on and so forth. Which is to say, I am distracted from experience. Of course, in all of these things experience wields its beautiful and unwieldy head — a beautiful pass, the surge of the erotic, the tiny death of the orgasm: these give us a glimmer of the plane of experience.

What happens if we — if I, if you — make experience the focal point?  How would our lives change? Rather than trying to keep experience at bay, in its place, might we seek to amplify it? So rather than contentment or riches we sought the diverse kinds of ecstatic states? So rather than clinging to our egos and all that supports them, we sought out the destruction of our egos?

11.11.2011

A Good Conversation

A conversation is different than a discussion. A discussion is everyone talking about something — "Jane Eyre" or the latest Spoon LP or whether balding men really ought to shave the whole thing or not. 

But a converation is a beast of another sort. A conversation is a relentless back and forth in ever different rhythms — one party holding the floor, followed by a brief interlude, only to surge forth again; then, later, a rapid pitter patter of banter, each urging the other one in a frenetic frenzy of excitement or understanding or revelation; and so it goes, shifting registers, rhythms, tones, and topics. 

A conversation demands great generosity.  On the one hand, it demands the generosity of listening. And perhaps not just of listening but of assuming that the other person is saying something of value, something worth listening to. 

I will admit that most of the time, I am listening to other people — not friends, mind you, not persons vetted by experience — with a bit of hesitation, with imminent or silent judgment or assessment but in any case not with pure openness and generosity.  I don't assume they'll say something interesting; on the contrary, I assume they'll say something familiar, boring, cliched.

Now, I may be right and perhaps that is often the case.  Still, a good conversation demands generosity, demands that each party assume the best of the other. (The beginnings of conversations — say, at a party — are tenuous affairs, each sniffing out the other for signs of value, signs of a good conversational partner.  I tend to use a few different techniques to suss out whether this or that person will give me the conversational goods.  Probably, I just come off — or I am — obnoxious and the other person can't wait to flee.)

But the conversation demands another kind of generosity, too. It demands the generosity of your own lively intellect, your willingness not just to listen to this other person but to take what they give you and move it into new territory.  It's not just a matter of listening but of giving — and giving wholly of yourself.

A conversation is what Deleuze and Guattari might call a bloc of becoming: together, the conversationalists move each other and, in so doing, create something new, a wave of the world emerging through the magic of their mutual generosity.  It's as if the two — conversations are difficult enough between two people; add more and things get exponentially more complex — the two conversing become like a multiheaded beast — not fused but still sharing a common body: the body of the conversation.

A good conversation demands a certain strength — the strength to feel comfortable with someone else; the strength to remain in and of oneself even while being so intent on another; the strength to enter strange, new realms without getting lost.  It demands that peculiar posture of poise, leaning neither too far in nor too far back but standing strong while always ready for what may come next.

It is erotic, yes.  And musical. It is as physical as it is intellectual, even if seeming to involve only words (as if there such a thing as "only words"). 

Oh, man, a good conversation is a rare and beautiful thing.

11.08.2011

The Society of Individuals

I love this phrase — it's what I named my would-be think tank when I was 22: The Society of Individuals.  Twenty years later and I still cling to, and seek to elucidate, what such a society might be.

In my last apartment here in San Francisco, I'd occasionally get a note slipped under my door, asking me to participate in the neighborhood group.  I recoiled at such a prospect — partly for aesthetic reasons (I feared great tedium) and partly out of fear: I always imagine that I'm the one that will get run out of town by the barrio posse.

OK, you can call this paranoia.  And no doubt it is.  But it speaks to my greater issue with groups of any sort.  Any time there is bonding around a common issue, it invites interrogation and condemnation for those who differ. 

Take fans of a sport team.  I, for one, like sports — at least some sports.  But I'm not a fan of being a fan. It just seems strange to me: I want my team to win!  But what makes it your team?  And isn't a good game better than your team winning?

I've learned the hard way that this is not a popular position. Which is to say, I've learned not to watch 49er games in a bar.  Jesus! The violence of that community is palpable, seething, imminent.  The night the Giants won the world series, I was sure I'd get my ass kicked for not giving the right high-5 to a drunkenly deranged stranger. 

My point is this: I imagine a different kind of community, one that is not united in sameness but which agrees to enjoy difference.  I like having a neighborhood; I lived in the same neighborhood for 20 years and enjoyed the company of barristas, bar keeps, shop owners, and locals.  But what I enjoyed is not that we are all the same. What I enjoyed is how different everyone is, all the quirks and oddities, the tics and predilections. 

A society of individuals is a communality built on difference.  Now, that may seem oxymoronic but it's not.  It only seems that way because of the overwhelming prejudice for the sentimentality of agreement and unity.  A society of individuals is a group of people who relish the fact that we are not the same, that we don't always agree, that we are different

Nietzsche says he only wants those who sit atop their own peak — not those who sit at his feet on the same mountain peak.  This is how I imagine the society of individuals: each on his or her own peak, strong enough to bear the winds and solitude. 

I only want to cavort with such people — those who hold forth with their idiosyncratic beliefs about life and love and goats and gin; those who spend weeks naked in the woods, building their own shelters and tracking mountain lions while covered in mule piss; those who make insane, beautiful films that emerge from the interaction with the camera, and who contemplate love at the same time; those who write poetical dictionaries and text books on atmospherics because it seems so, well, obvious; those who write avant normal pop songs in their basements at night, weaving together Led Zeppelin, The Cure, and Thelonious Monk.  I want those who follow strange, uncharted paths and have no shame about it.

My politics is dedicated to creating such a society. 

10.26.2011

The Intimacies of the Urban


Paris je t'aime Tuileries by Narfouette

Life in a city is permeated with peculiar, oft overlooked, intimacies with strangers. Take windows.  As you walk through the city, you may casually glance up and see someone on the phone, a father playing with his kid, a family eating dinner, everyone everywhere watching tv.  You might see someone wanking his willy but he's probably doing that so you can see so that doesn't really count.

But it's not just windows.  This intimacy is everywhere, all the time.  You can smell your neighbors' cooking, are privy to their parties, their taste in music, when they wake and when they sleep and when they go out. 

In Species of Spaces, Georges Perec has a great thing on apartments: you're eating your dinner and right on the other side of the wall is someone else's bathroom. Or mere feet from where you sleep, a stranger is sleeping, as well, your two heads almost touching.  If you think about it too much, it will freak your shit out. 

When we go to the bathroom at work, in restaurants and bars, in train stations and airports, we piss, shit, pretty ourselves, change clothes, groom our nose hairs as strangers come and go inches away.

In elevators, we spend time in an incredibly small space — with strangers and their smells and ticks!  Which is a little odd!

On streets and subways and buses, we are inundated with the private selves of strangers — those hangdog faces, those looks of exhaustion or interest or exuberance or malaise. Now think of all the conversations we hear all day every day about god knows what.

For the most part, we pass through these streets with one ear and one eye, if that. We have to let this teem pass us by, even if bits here and there ricochet into our consciousness.  I find it's usually the hilarious rantings of the insane that penetrate the veil.  The mad don't know the rules of space, of sound, and so their private worlds collide into ours with more vigor.  (I can still hear the old grey haired white dude, shirtless, ranting in the West Philly streets: "I'm gonna raise an army of lesbians and take over McDonalds!")

Sometimes, you catch someone looking at you longer than they're supposed to and with a bit more interest than is prescribed.  It's always a poignant, if understated, moment when your eyes meet and the other person looks away. The speed of the encounter is everything — did they hold your gaze for a moment or did they look immediately away?

As a little boy living in Manhattan, my mother always told me not to make eye contact with strangers. Crazy things happen when strangers lock eyes; it can have the most powerful effect, tearing down protocol and inviting sudden intimacy: violence, sex, laughter, understanding. 

When you think about all the lives that intersect us with surprising intimacy, it is overwhelming. It is an incredible skill we've all learned, this tuning in and out (mostly out), this ability to be ourselves within the impossible density of other people's lives.

I used to do my laundry at this laundromat on the corner.  I'd sit outside on a bench as my clothes tumbled. A young woman — 20-something — lived in the apartment across the way. As I'd sit there, she'd saunter back and forth in less and less clothes until she was naked. This is not an uncommon phenomenon in the city, even if quite beautiful. But what was truly beautiful was when we'd see each other face to face, on the street or even in the laundromat, exchanging not even a glance but sharing this very strange kind of intimacy.

Sometimes, it's distance that affords a certain kind of closeness.

From a one angle, it may seem sad as if we're ignoring each other, turning a blind eye to humanity.  But it's not sad. On the contrary, it's amazing and beautiful: to be able to live amidst such a swarm of humanity, taking in snippets here and there, all without being swept away.

10.24.2011

What's an Image?


[an exerpt from a much longer thingamajig]


An image is not an image of. Or, rather, it is also an image of. 

An image, like a word, is a way of going, of taking up the world — a face, a sunset, light, sadness, love, ambivalence, things — and assembling them just so. Like a word, an image selects, inflects, arranges, and prioritizes. This is not to say that an image is not intimately enmeshed with the thing in the picture. Of course it is. A picture of me is a picture of me. But it is not solely a picture of me. It is another me, another thing in the world, another way of going. The image of me is simultaneously a reading of me and its own thing. 

An image is not a re-presentation. It is a repetition. An image of me is me again and anew. Neither the image of me nor this me is the real one. Or, rather, we are both real but in different ways. Obviously, an image of me is not covered under the same legal jurisdiction that I am: tear the picture of me in two and you will not be arrested for assault (but you may for damage to property). An image circulates in its own network of economies — legal, financial, interpretive. This network intersects the network that is me. Together, we inflect each other more or less depending on the node within the network, the junctures of the diverse economies. 

In any case, I am suggesting than an image is not a derivation or a supplement of the real. In the logic of repetition, there is no original, no master term: we are always already supplemental. Or, to put it more affirmatively, everything is a point of origin, everything is the center of its world — just as it is a periphery in another word. All the terms are repetitions that inflect each other. Isn’t this the way of fame — that the relentless image making of a person changes that person?

An image, like any thing, is a multiplicity, a more or less elaborate network of affects, effects, speeds, intensities. It is a metabolic engine. A camera doesn’t as much capture the world as it does digest it and reassemble it. An image maker, then, does not make a picture of the world. He proliferates the world, making more and more of it. 


10.23.2011

Passionate Indifference


"Passionate indifference" is a phrase I've been passionate about for a while now.  It came to me first after first watching Pulp Fiction.  Here is a film that is cold, that seems to enjoy a casual brutality.  We may  feel for John Travolta but he gets shot, as an aside, while taking a shit. Uma Thurman takes a syringe to the heart. "Flock of Seagulls" is shot mid conversation.

And yet the film itself is absolutely passionate — every scene brims not with pathos but with vim, with verve, with vigor. It has a certain indifference to the plight of this or that character and an indifference to our identification.  The film gives us something else: the passion of film making, the passion of the event, the passion of a humanity that is not mired in bathos but in the very flow of the world — or at least of the moving image.

The best of nature shows and nature commentators speak with passionate indifference. Nature, after all, is neither kind nor brutal: it just is.  There is such intense drama — the large cat taking down a gazelle, hungry polar bears bearing the burden of an infinite winter, flora fighting for survival. And yet nature is absolutely, mercilessly, indifferent.  We can hear this in the voice of the great nature documentaries we know so well thanks to PBS.

And we see it in the great new book by Matthew Deren, "A Forgotten Wilderness: Nature's Hidden Relationships in West Central Idaho." You can see this passionate indifference in the sub-title: the hidden relationships.  For this is what Deren finds: a world that brims with ever-shifting relationships between animals, weather, insects, flora, man.  There is no good or bad.

The ancient Native Americans, Deren tells us, came to the New World, found it over run with large beasts — mammoths and saber tooth tigers — and slaughtered them all in a matter of a thousand years or so. This, in turn, gave way to different environment where food was to be found in more elusive forms of deer and plants.  Which, in turn, gave way to a culture of humility and interconnectedness.

Now, this is a beautiful argument. And one we are tempted to judge, to read through a moral lens. But Deren doesn't do that: to him, it — nature — and a nature that includes man — is simply, or not so simply, an ever shifting set of relationships.  These may not always be obvious unless you know how to look. His book teaches us to see everything — the berries and birds and beasts — with passionate indifference, with an unbounded love and respect but utterly free of moral judgement, of bathos, of cloying human sentimentality.

There is a certain coldness that is, in fact, sizzling hot.  It is cold to the insularity of humanity and its self-absorbed sense of self. This perspective grasps the bigger picture: man as one beast amidst the beasts, amidst the fray.  And as our gaze takes in these "hidden relationships" that teem, we experience a surge, a vitality, a passion — a passion that is indifferent to the bullshit and utterly alive to life. 

10.09.2011

A Relationship with the Infinite

When I was a kid, I was overwhelmed by the concept of infinity.  I'd lie in bed at night, in the dark, and try to picture the infinity of space, each limit in my mind giving way giving way giving way until I achieved a kind of vertigo and my skinny little body would tremble as if in orgasm, a conceptual tantra.  It was exquisite.

And it was the beginning of my conscious relationship to the infinite. 

What is the infinite?  It is the understanding — an understanding that is an experience, that is lived through — that this life is necessary, that there is no other life, that everything that happens resounds infinitely precisely because it happened, because there is no other way: there is nothing else but this. And this necessity makes every moment constitutive of the universe — everything you do, think, say, feel makes the world in this absolutely distinct way.  Everything you do, think, say feel resounds infinitely.

Of course, we often think of the infinite as out there — like my younger self discovering the infinite in space. It is no doubt easier to experience the infinite without the distractions of what seems finite — traffic, jobs, pissing, eating, cleaning, what am I gonna do Saturday night, does Sally love me, my parents are insane, etc.  So monks recuse themselves from the everyday and meditate day and night with the infinite.Kierkegaard called this "infinite resignation": one gives in totally to the infinite, putting aside the "distractions" of sex, of the right restaurant, of job, of car maintenance. 

But for Kierkegaard, the trick is not to live in the infinite alone but to live at once in the finite and the infinite — to move into the infinite and back with each step (he call this person the Knight of Faith — see Fear and Trembling, a truly fantastic little book).

Nietzsche may serve us better.  In "The Gay Science," he gives us a test, what he calls "the greatest weight": an angel — or daemon — comes to you and says: Everything that has ever happened and will happen to you — every thought, meal, pain, action — has happened an infinite number of times and will happen an infinite number of times.  How do you respond? Are you crushed by its weight? Or liberated by the call of necessity?

This is to say, for Nietzsche, our lives — what we do here and now — are absolutely necessary. Fate and chance are the same thing. We are what we do; the universe is what happens (ontology gives way to becoming).  When one lives as if this were so, as if every moment were necessarily perfect because there is no other way for that moment to be, then one is living in the finite infinitely. 

Experiencing this kind of joy, having this profound knowledge of one's necessity, is difficult to maintain day in and day out.  We get distracted by the humdrum, by the quotidian demands, by our neuroses and anxieties — what if, what if, what if, if only, if only, if only.  When one says "what if" and "if only," then one no longer sees life as necessary but as contingent, as finite. 

It's not easy to let go of the what ifs and if onlies.  It is an on going job — well, at least for me it is. 

And all I ask of those around me — my friends, my lovers, my family — is that they at least try to live infinitely, that they have a relationship with the infinite, that at least at some point in their lives they've experienced the necessity of this life, that they've lived through that trembling, that joy — and that that experience is something they actively seek and foster.

10.03.2011

#OccupyWallStreet and the Question of Change

One of the dominant critiques of #OWS is that it has no clear demands.  And yet, as many in the movement have claimed, that is precisely the point.

Revolution is not the goal. We don't want to turn all the way around and find ourselves right back where we started.  We need to take a line of flight, go somewhere else entirely, like Bugs Bunny being chased by Elmer Fudd.  He doesn't run; he shifts the conversation.

And this, I believe, is what #OWS wants: a fundamental change of structure and of behavior.  They don't oppose; they multiply.

And this means radical openness, different voices and perspectives. This means moving beyond ideology and its implicit violence, its us vs. them dichotomies, its righteousness.  Righteousness is unseemly in every way.

And so a new way of coalescing.  A way that does not have one, fixed agenda but has multiple agendas or no agenda at all.  This is a performative protest, practicing what it professes.

Is that enough?  Well, of course not. A bunch of people sitting in the streets stirring up shit and talking in round tables is not the end state. It's the beginning state.  And it's an essential element — collective, non-ideological discussion fueled by passion, anger, frustration, need, and desire.

Individually, a lot of changes need to be made.  People need to refuse to work 60, 70, 80 hour weeks without proper compensation.  People need to stop shopping at convenient behemoths and support local business.  People need to stop driving like they're the only one on the road.

We have to claim dignity and civility on an individual basis.

But there are enormous, powerful structures in place that need to change, as well.  The flow of capital needs to be re-engineered.  Right now, the game is rigged by a coalition of government and police that enforces these flows, ensuring the capital flows towards the top of global corporations. 

This is not about liberation. That is a red herring. This is about the structural engineering of capital flow.

And so change must begin with dismantling the privilege and power afforded corporations.  This means:

  • Taking away personhood from corporations.  While this cannot happen overnight, it would be nice to have some economists begin mapping out how to do this without triggering a complete economic collapse.
  • As incorporating is a privilege and not a right — a privilege granted by the government, which presumably is by the people —  put certain mandates on corporations that re-engineer the flow of capital.  Now, it all flows up.  So mandate that it must flow down, too: profit sharing with all employees.  Don't like that rule? Don't incorporate.

What else?

9.30.2011

Liberalism is Capitalism, or What is Freedom?

The liberal state — the birth of the people, of "freedom," of fraternity — came with the beheading of the king.  And who did this beheading? The bourgeoisie: they wanted a piece of the pie.  So the end of hierarchy which kept wealth for itself came at the hands of the bourgeoisie who wanted some of that wealth.  The liberal revolutions of the 18th century, then, were essentially capitalist revolutions.

Liberalism and capitalism have always been the same thing.  Consider all the so-called liberation movements.  What are they about? They are about creating consumers.

The most devastating fact that I learned in the documentary, The Corporation, was that the rise of corporation came out of the 14th Amendment, which nominally granted citizenship and property rights to blacks.  But the overwhelming majority of cases heard under this 14th Amendment were corporations — previously recognized as persons — arguing for the right to do business, to own property.

Do you understand what I'm saying?  The exact moment of the so-called liberation of slaves is the exact moment of the rise of a new kind of economic slavery.  The Civil War was not about the inhumanity of slavery.  It was about the inefficiency of slavery.  Because a slave, besides costing money to house and feed, is not a consumer.

Now, I do not mean to downplay the cruelty of slavery.  I am, by no means, arguing for slavery.  I am just pointing out that the language of the "humane" happens to coincide, one to one, with the demands of capitalism. 

Take feminism. I know it is a word that means a lot of different things. But I think we can agree: something called feminism argued for, and won, the right for women to work.  Again: the liberal cause of liberation coincides, one to one, with the demands of capitalism — not just for labor but for empowered consumers. Which is to say, women may always have been consumers but now they have their own money to spend even more, consume even more.

Why is it that both sides of the American political spectrum — which is actually quite narrow — celebrated the so-called Arab Spring?  Doesn't that make anyone suspicious?  It's because the liberal cause of liberation and the capitalist demand for more labor and, even more, consumers are exactly the same demands.

Am I saying that I am against such liberation — of slaves, of women, of the Arabic states?  Of course not.  But I am saying: What is liberation?  What do we mean? What do we actually want from this life?  What we call freedom actually means the freedom to consume.  But consumption, today, has come to demand a kind of slavery.

I see all the folks lined up every morning to get on their bus to Google, to Genentech, to Apple, to Yahoo.  They are bussed in, fed, then bussed home to a condo or apartment that eats up most of their salary. The rest of their earnings go towards buying cars and and shopping at Whole Foods.  And then their paychecks run out so they use credit cards.  Which now means they are indebted and must work just to pay off the thugs at Chase. (When the mob does this, it's criminal.)

What makes this new kind of labor so great for capitalism is this infinitely fast circuit of production and consumption: we pay you to buy our shit. Which means we make all our money back and then some.

And you think you're free.

9.26.2011

The Terms of the Discussion

Entering into a conversation with someone you don't know is a complex process.  You size them up: How do they make sense of things? And how will I figure out how the fuck they make sense of things?

The insidious thing about the news — about public discourse — is it plays an enormous role in how we make sense of other people.

To wit, I find myself, more often than I would like, in conversations where people casually make use of the words "Democrat" and "Republican" as if these were meaningful in and of themselves.  Which, to me, they aren't. And then I find myself thinking : "Hmn, this person makes sense of things according to terms that seem to be prefabricated."

I will admit that I have a prejudice for those who make up their own terms. Or at least use terms I've never heard of. (Yes, I ended in a preposition. Which is just fine with me, thank you.)  I wish I could enter into all conversations assuming that all parties involved were interested in exposing, and rewriting, the assumptions of the conversation.  I wish the terms of discourse were part of the discourse.

It's very difficult — for me, at least — to navigate the social when this is not the case.  I never know how to respond when people so knowingly make use of terms like Republican.  Do I just nod along? Do I ask them what they mean (that seems like a disastrous route)? Do I change the conversation (yes!)?

I remember years ago there was some new Star Trek series and the big news was that the captain was a woman. This was deemed revolutionary, at least in some small way. And no doubt it was.  But I kept thinking: Why a woman? Or a man? Or an African American? Why not an ironist? Now that's an underrepresented population!

If we collectively embraced the will to individual terms of discussion; if we all agreed to put aside the newspapers that speak as if there were mass agreement — and in so doing, create it; if we all agreed that thinking and speaking differently were a good thing; well, then, I think this life would be a lot more enjoyable.  At least for ironists like me. 

9.18.2011

The Right Place

I walked into a party last night where, tangentially, I knew only one person.  It was one of these new lofts in San Francisco — modern and cool, it seems, but like an LA hotel that's trying too hard.

Just walking down the block to the front door of the complex threw me off — these too tall buildings forging a claustrophobic tunnel nestled next to the freeway.  I immediately felt uncomfortable. The architects and planners had done a poor job; they had only focused on building their lofts, stuffing them with people, and skipping out. It seemed quite obvious that no one considered the space.

As I walked into the loft, the party, I found that people were huddled at the pass into the space. Which I found incredibly disconcerting — the space above (it's a loft after all) encroached while the far wall of the living space seemed oddly close.  The flow was stilted, awkward, uncomfortable. 

I am used to San Francisco living spaces, the way flats and apartments distribute space. So when I walk in a new place, even though I can't see the whole space, I can imagine it. But walking in this new loft, I had no idea how the space worked: the off-screen loomed heavy on me. It was like being in a Lynch film, that disconcerting feeling of not knowing how things connect, how space connects. Think about that for a moment: being inside, in a living space, and not knowing how the space connects with itself, where it goes, how it goes. It's creepy.

I excused myself from the entree greetings and sought a better place to be, a space that felt welcoming, open, ripe with opportunity but still a local home of a sort.  In a relative sense, I sought what Carlos Castaneda calls a site of power.

When Don Juan walks Carlos into the chaparral and stops to talk, he asks Carlos to pick the right spot to sit. You can't sit anywhere. Different sites are, well, different. And hence have difference affects, different effects, are different nodes within the flow. A site can be an eddy, and abyss, an embrace, a conduit, a trap. 

We all know this to some degree.  We like certain seats in a movie theater; we return to the same seats in a classroom or train; we arrange our living spaces just so.  What is that determines our choices? And what happens when we pay attention to such things at every moment?

I believe there is an assumption that place doesn't matter — not really.  After all, we are people! We are sovereign over space! It's absurd to think that space dictates my mood! I dictate my mood!

But it turns out we are part of world. We go with the world. And space is such a fundamental component of that.  Whether it's walking down the street, sitting on a couch, in a restaurant, in a park, it matters where we are.  If you sit somewhere and it feels bad, move for fuck's sake.

The world is an ever fluctuating flow of affects and energies, pollens and powers. Just think how much shit flows through this world and has flowed for thousands of millennia, how much ill feeling, disease of every sort, ugly, menacing forces. You don't want to get caught in an ill constituted trajectory.

So next time you're at a party and things don't feel right, move. 

9.16.2011

Marriage, Infinity, & the Everyday

I got married young for my class and generation — 27.  At the time, I was terribly enamored of Kierkegaard (I still am but, alas, with some broader understanding). And so I imagined — nay, I believed — that to marry was to make an internal movement towards the infinite and back again.

What I mean is that, for starters, it didn't really matter who I was marrying.  I know that sounds callous but that's not how I mean it. What I mean is that the movement into marriage — for my 27 year old self — was not a movement to another person per se but an agreement with another person to have the relationship detour through the infinite.  The finitude of this or that person was irrelevant.  From a purely practical perspective, most of the women I've dated were more or less the same — smart, cute, funny, educated, sexual.  I could have married any one of them.

Except that I was not yet ready to make the internal move I had to make — that is, to the infinite and back.  When I was, I married the woman standing in front of me.  This is not to say I didn't love her.  On the contrary, I was totally in love — and propelled to make that movement, that impossible movement.  The act, however, had little to do with her and everything to do with me, with my existential fortitude. 

What do I mean about moving through the infinite? When dating, we find ourselves enmeshed in the everyday, in the utter, aching banality of life — eating and shitting and sleeping and cleaning and working. This is not say there is not joy in the everyday. But to exist in the finitude of the everyday is, well, soul crushing (to me, at least).  And so when a problem arises — you can't stand the way the other sleeps or smells or chews or talks to your friends — you have a real problem.

Now refract that relationship through the infinite.  Are you going to remain angry over such things forever?  Well, no. The everyday banality of this or that complaint compared to the infinite is nothing. And so rather than leaving, you stay. You overcome that complaint.

This is to say, you move from the finite — the way she chews — to the infinite and then back again. And suddenly her chewing is not so annoying. In fact, you can barely hear it over the exquisite hum of the infinite.

Move forward 14 years and I am no longer married.  How, then, do I stand towards that movement I made?  Did I forgo infinity?

I don't think so. I believe I've redistributed the relationship between the finite and the infinite.  I want everyday to be exquisite. And if not exquisite then at least bullshit free. This no doubt demands a certain refraction through the infinite, a certain understanding that traffic or an asshole at work or a shitty date or an upset stomach are little compared to the infinity of the cosmos.  On the other hand, I've embraced a radical practicality: I want to do the things I want to do, here and now, in this finite world.  And this means I don't want to be married anymore.

I still firmly believe that marriage is an act one makes — with another person, of course — but it is finally a private act, an internal movement.  There is no such thing as "I just can't find the right person — I guess I'm unlucky." That's horseshit. If you really want to get married, then you have to make that impossible but actual internal movement.

But you don't have to get married. There are other ways of distributing love, sex, finitude and infinity.  I'll get back to you when I know more about them. 


9.11.2011

Seeing Concepts Seeing


An image is a strange thing.

It is something we see, sure. There it is! Look at that image!

But it is not just an object, not just something that is seen. An image is a seeing, as well, a way of perceiving the world. So when I look at, say, a painting of Van Gogh's sunflower, I'm not just seeing a sunflower; I'm not just seeing Van Gogh's painting: I am seeing this way of seeing a sunflower.

When I look at those insane sunflowers, I am suddenly privy to an entire style of making sense of the world. I am seeing a metabolism at work, the way sunflowers and light and paint and canvas went in a system — let's call that system Van Gogh — and came out the other side.

But it's not just that I'm seeing this metabolism as if it were at a distance: I am experiencing that world view, literally seeing the world that way. Suddenly, I am Laura Mars and my eyes are Van Gogh's.

Now, I want to say that a concept is an image in this sense: it is not just something we see but is itself a seeing. This seeing is part of me, no doubt, but like the eyes in Laura Mars' face, this concept travels between people. As it goes, it literally remakes the world, redistributes it, makes sense of it anew according to its logics.

We make concepts much in the way we make any image such as a painting or photograph. We gather elements together and assemble them just so. This is to say, then, that concepts don't come prefrabricated; they need to be made (most do; some come prefab as cliches, just as images often come as cliches, too).

9.08.2011

Becoming Inhuman

We — me, you, everyone we see and know — are enmeshed in various and diverse networks. Or, rather, we are at once enmeshed and constituted by these networks — social, temporal, planetary, biological, affective, traffic.

By which I mean that we are quite literally made up of all these things — not just our genitilia but our notions of genitilia; not just our bodies but the networks that make it and run through it, from blood and nerves to air and food; not just the environment but all the elaborate and ever-changing dynamics of the weather and the sun (everyday I drive from the fog to the sun and back and with each transition, I am transformed); not just our jobs but the global flows of capital and technology.

But if you look at movies and TV, we certainly privilege one network over others: the network we call civilization. That is, other people. I, for one, used to be quite taken with the human condition — with character studies and portraits, with human history, with how people operate.

And while this is of course important — I feel silly having to say that — I now like to explore how I'm made up of the non-human. The weather, for instance, or the taste of tequila or the stature of a cactus or the poise of a tulip; the swell of an ocean or the tumult of a hurricane; the expanse of the sky, the tilt of a dog's curiosity, the wit of a ginkgo tree (take a good look at gingkos: they can be quite hilarious). This is to say, I see myself in things other than humans.

I do not mean to sound misanthropic. Clearly, my relationship to humanity is privileged. But I find a tremendous liberty as well as wealth of information from positioning humanity as just another network. So rather than my self being intersubjective, it becomes interobjective — or something to that effect.

Or perhaps we can call this identity chiasmatic: I am wound up with the world just as it is wound up with me. And so it is never self-identical at all. It is always marbled. Such, in fact, are the very conditions of perception: in seeing the world, I become (with) the world.

And so while I no doubt come to constitute myself in my relations with others, I'd like to expland this others to include the entire cosmos, visible and invisible.

9.04.2011

Feeling Real

Let's assume this: the self is not just multiple but in a state of perpetual flux (we all fluctuate with greater or lesser intensity and speed).

And this: the self is not hermetic but is always and already constituted by "external" forces — the self is run through with networks that exceed you and me — gender, class, race, sexuality, looks (place in what Michel Houellebecq calls the sexual hierarchy — I fucking love that), and so on.

This is all to say that there is no one self, no one mode of being, of we can say: "That! That's the real me. All that other stuff? Not so much." It is all you — or me, as the case may be. When I'm home alone surfing pantyhose porn? That's me. When I'm drooling and muttering as I sleep? Me. When I'm nervous and blushing and stammering as I try to flirt? Me, too. When I'm being a jealous, passive aggressive asshole? Hate to say it but, yep, that's me. When, despite being 41 years old, I'm a petulant prick when around my parents? C'est moi.

And yet there are times when we feel — in ourselves and in others — that we're being real (or know we're being phony). But what does real and phony mean here? After all, everything we do is real. And everything we do is who we are. So what makes doing one thing real and another not?

Well, as we assumed from the start, there is no fixed point by which to judge the realness of our being. We can't size up this self along the measuring rod of the real self. Everything is in motion; every state is just another state — the so-called measuring rod, too.

I want to say, then, that this state of feeling real (or not) is the result of a certain aesthetic reaction to a state of resonance. This is to say, the great teem of my being — we are a complex of systems digestive, emotional, coronary, affective, nervous and so on — this network of networks can sometimes harmonize in such a way that there is a kind of order (but a strange and precarious order).

Kant says that the beautiful is a state of perpetual agitation of the faculties — we cannot understand per se, cannot put the experience in the a conceptual bucket — but in such a way that there is discretion and proportion. When discretion and proportion are torn asunder, we enter what Kant calls the sublime. Ah, but the Kantian beautiful is, well beautiful: a state of flux that enjoys some kind of limit and proportion. I love that.

And that, I believe, is what I'm suggesting about this feeling of being real — it is a kind of pleasing resonance in which our complex of systems are working together to create precisely this state.

This makes the act of feeling real a) an aesthetic experience; and b) an act of systems maintenance.

But it's not an act of trying to maintain one state (which I sometimes fear is the Buddhist goal: to always have one state. But I don't know fuck all about Buddhism so forget I said that). This state of feeling real may, later, feel like it was phony. So this "real" state is not one state but is itself different states at different times (and that themselves are internally variegated).

8.30.2011

A Network Life: On Marc Lafia's "Hi How Are You Guest 10497"

At first, it seems she's alone. Indeed, we rarely see anyone else — at least in the flesh. She lives alone in a small Manhattan studio. There is basically no dialogue as she doesn't seem to interact with anyone at all.

And yet she is always interacting. We may not see her interlocutors, they may not be present as flesh, but that doesn't make them any less real.

This is a network life. In her solitude, she remains connected — however ethereally, however precariously — to the world around her. Only the world around her is more often than not a telepresence.

What we witness is a different way of going in the world, a different kind of identity, a different kind of social contract. As the title of the film suggests, traditional identification has gone away. She is without name and interacts with anonymous guests known only by their number or avatar.

There is no doubt a great loneliness here. But to reduce her to lonely is to miss so much of what's happening. Because as users of Chatroulette discover, once the meta-narrative of identity disappears — once we stop naming ourselves, stop declaring our social status, our taste, our social tethers such as work and education — we discover something else. Face to face — or screen to screen — with a stranger, free of all meta-discourse that would prefigure the interaction, we discover incredible intimacy. All there is this encounter, these desires, this moment. Within the presumed mediation of the screen, we discover the immediacy of the encounter.

This is not to say that the network life is a life of singular immediacy. It is, after all, a network; it is multiple. And so we see her try to navigate this multiplicity, this teem of possibility, these different ways of going.

And, in particular, the ways of women-going or woman-becoming. As she makes her way through these chatrooms — some are more explicitly sexual — we see her encounter the breadth of possibilities of how to go as a woman, as a sexual woman, in the network. Just as the internet brings us the near-infinite breadth of consumer goods, it brings us the near-infinite breadth of identities. Look at all these modes of becoming woman! Look at all these modes of the erotic!

When we see her dress and leave the house, it is in a man's tuxedo. With her short hair and almost boyish body — although feminine through and through — we are witness to a certain twilight of fixed gender, a place of becoming where labels will not stick hard or fast.

The gaze that would fix her as woman-object has been multiplied. If John Berger finds woman nude in the fixed point of the Renaissance gaze, Lafia finds her naked, criss-crossed with thousands of gazes. Indeed, the film performs this: we see her seeing herself be seen, the film's camera often behind her computer which itself both camera and screen. The gaze has been proliferated and, with it, identity.

One thing that makes this film so powerful, so intimate, is that we get the sense that there is no crew, no cameraman leering, no boom ogling. She is filming herself. And in this seemingly simple act, she has already multiplied herself, made herself something that is seen. But not as an object. This is not a voyeuristic film. We are not invading her privacy. She is not nude; she is naked.

Because this is a network life, a place where identity is always and already expressive, always and already enmeshed in the world, in the web of becoming-selves, in the endless criss-cross of gazes and exchanges.

The camera, then, does not excavate. It does not mediate. It proliferates and connects.