2.03.2011

Some of My Favorite Concepts, pt. 1

Some of these are taken from a book I co-wrote with Marc Lafia, many years ago, for the Walker Arts Center. Here's a link to the whole book >>

Plenum
Full — not too much, not to little: just the right amount. Those who believe the world is a plenum do not feel there is such thing as a vacuum, as nothing. The world as plenum is a world that brims but does not exceed itself: there is something everywhere. See: Leibniz, "The Monadology."

Cliname
n Lucretius says that as the particles of the world fall, they move just so, according to their...clinamen. That is, their tendency, their predilection, their way of going.

Kairos
The moment of opportunity; the propitious moment — the moment Michael Jordan cuts to the basket; the moment the gunslinger pulls his piece from his holster; the moment you reach in for a kiss. Kairos is mysterious, an amalgamation of forces coalescing into a now! that seeks action, that asks for your participation. It comes, and goes, and it is best to heed it lest it not come again.

Irony
Not to be mistaken for nihilism, detachment, camp, kitsch, or humor. Irony holds two opposed positions at the same time: I am this and I am not-this. Effacing the surface to dwell in the depths, an infinite soul forever exceeding the finitude of language, of categories, of appearance. Irony creeps around the back of the world — or mercilessly upends it — so as to point to the infinite. In the same gesture, Socrates affirms and effaces himself and his interlocutors, gesturing not to nothing but to infinity.

Humor
An odd meeting, the world folded so as to align itself at odd angles: now for something completely different. If irony moves vertically, humor moves laterally, slipping and sliding and folding and pleating, the origamistic joy of folding. Burroughs' laugh as he cuts-up, the surrealist with a smile. A whimsical delight of gathering, pleating, assembling. Manipulating the familiar. Humor always offers another way out, a secret passage, a line of flight. It puts a whole new spin on things.

Taste
A kind of know-how, a productive filter, a sieve, a sensor, a tongue licking the world for the tasty spots. The lay of the tongue is unique, the first step in a singular trajectory of distribution, before the digestive system kicks in, sending this here and that there, before the world becomes oxygen, protein, shit, an idea. Taste doesn't just sense salt, sweet, sour, etc., but proportion, balance, position. Good taste weighs, assesses, senses relationships. It's a decision making function situated between conscious and unconscious (taste is not predicated on reason but neither does it necessarily follow the inclinations of the id), mind and body, reflection and immediacy. Taste discerns, selects, based on a metabolic calculus.

Tact
Like taste, tact is a kind of know-how. But unlike taste, tact is not concerned with the user's bodily system per se but with other bodies. Tact is a political function, negotiating and distributing bodies and experiences outside of this body. William Burroughs says that the only man he ever respected was Brion Gysin: Gysin was a master of tact. He was perceptive, discerning: he knew when to say what to whom. He knew the proper mode of address, not because he'd memorized a code and knew when to say "Sir" or "Madam" but because he was able to navigate new and unique circumstances. He knew what the situation beckoned; he negotiated kairos impeccably. Tact does not rely on extrinsic codes or behavior. Rather, tact makes the right decision on-the-go. As Gysin writes, "What are we here for? We're here to go!"

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