7.31.2011

Omens



You wake with a sense of foreboding — not just anxious but you sense the imminent is not good. As you make your way through your morning, things just keep going wrong — you stub your toe, run out of toilet paper, of toothpaste, you spill your coffee, bump your head (hopefully not all of these things).

Perhaps it's not something that's happening to you — you get a strange email from a friend, hear sirens roaring by, read a disturbing headline.

Of course, an omen need not be foreboding. Maybe you wake and everything falls into place. You feel optimistic, full of promise, of potential. The world yawns and brims.

What do these things mean? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps it's silly superstition. After all, how can something now foretell the future?

Well, time is not a point; it is a trajectory. The now is moving, always becoming, the past moving into a perpetual now that is always becoming the future. And this becoming, this trajectory, is in fact many trajectories, a whole series of virtual worlds intersecting (and not) — all the things you've been and done swirling through time (as time: time is not exterior to life — time is a dimension of life). This is to say, an omen is not one step within a successive series of events; it is an intersection of trajectories happening now — that same now that is itself a becoming past-becoming future-becoming now.

Things don't lead up to this moment. At least usually they don't. Time is not linear; events may be caused by something but not necessarily and even then the cause may only be local, relative. Time moves every which way — forward, backward, sideways. In fact, I'm not even sure what backward and forward even mean in this context. They can only be relative, local terms. Time is a network of moving trajectories, tubes of physio-affective flow a la Donnie Darko.

In some sense, the now is a moving node within an infinitely dense network of virtual and possible worlds. The now is a fold of time, an origami crane always being made into something else.

Time is permutation, everything always changing. Omens abound, not as signs of change but as change itself. This is not superstition; this is physics.

So of course there are omens. Of course things that happen now relate to the future. How could it be any other way?


One of Marc Lafia's multiscreen films from the series, Permutations. Time is permutation.

7.29.2011

Networks, Capitalism, Corporations, & The Promise of Local Pants

This may seem obvious to you. But I'm a bit slow witted so bear with me.

The anti-monarchy revolutions — the French Revolution, the American Revolution, etc — were bourgeois revolutions. The emerging business owners wanted a piece of the pie, a pie owned by royalty through inheritance. It seemed like a big jip that they were left out. So off with their heads!

In order to mobilize this revolution, they cast it in terms of the everyman — freedom for all, equality for all. But capitalism is not built on equality for all; it's built on exploitation: you work for me. Wealth flows upwards.

Of course, the promise of capitalism is that anyone can become the exploiter, the point of capital condensation. This sounds pretty good, even if silly. After all, the system could not work if everyone was an owner. Nevertheless.

And so culture moved from a hierarchy — a pyramid — to a network, a distributed system that flows multiple directions. This network, which is today quite prevalent, seems to hold the promise of those revolutions of yesteryear: everyone participating, all nodes equal.

But this network is not an emergent force of culture; it is not a contemporary phenomena. The network is capitalism.

Which means the network is not composed of equal nodes. Some nodes are points of concentration. This is as it should be, no doubt: the more compelling content develops a bigger audience and hence becomes a more prevalent node. No problem.

The problem is when this game, this network, gets gamed — when the rules are rigged beforehand so that certain nodes are more privileged. Enter: the corporation.

The corporation is itself a networked entity, a composite of a sort: it gathers many individuals under one name, one agency. It is only possible post-monarchy, post-pyramid.

But it becomes more than just another node in the network; it becomes hedger, game-rigger, of the flows within the network. Rather than capital and resources being able to flow every which way, the corporation ensures capital flows towards it. It is vehicle for the ready concentration of wealth and power. (How? Well, the corporation can buy up smaller businesses. This may seem like a right but it is quite strange: How can something that does not exist per se — namely, a corporation — buy anything? The rights for a corporation to buy anything came from the 14th Amendment — prior to those Supreme Court cases, a corporation was not allowed to buy things. So corporations systematically eliminate competition by either squashing it or buying it.)

So while the corporation is a product of network culture, it works against the promise of the network, the promise of equal nodes (or the equal opportunity for all nodes). And yet it continues to spout the same promise: participation for all and by all!

The Big Dupe is that the game was rigged from the get go. The revolution was always a bourgeois revolution. It was not the rise of the everyman; it was the rise of the owner who convinced the everyman that the revolution was good.

All this network freedom — all this blogging and Facebooking and tweeting — is the oligarchy's propaganda.

And yet the network may have a structure and possibility that belies the oligarchic interest. There is a rise of decentered nodes of production — local makers of goods, of food and clothing and soaps and entertainment.

Two modes of the network, then, at work: the anti-capitalist tendency of the corporation to monopolize, to game the system, to concentrate wealth. And the tendency of the arty individual to grow his own food, make and sell beautiful pants, to serve local communities.


7.24.2011

The Experience of Making Sense

There is certainly a kind of personal, affective, and somatic experience of having an idea. As the brilliant commenters have noted — we fidget, we are disoriented, we feel taken up, overwhelmed, the idea running through our blood and bones.

But I still wonder: What is the experience of having an idea? Not as much what happens to me when I think — although that, too — but what is happening when I have this idea?

One way to think about this thinking is to think about the experience of things making sense. I love this phrase, "making sense," because we use it to mean we understand a given idea when the phrase suggests we just created the idea: we made the sense rather than recognized it.

Anyway, what is this experience? I can't escape the architectural component: things — visible and invisible, historical and immediate, personal and societal, specific and general — seem to fit together in some scheme.

I want to say they fit like a puzzle but that's not right. There are hierarchies and contingencies that a puzzle does not have; this is not a flat database of pieces but a grammatical database with all sorts of rules. When I have an idea that makes sense, I have organized bodies with a series of logics — the logics of cause and effect and of hierarchy, of course, but there are other logics, too: the logics of sensation, of the varying flows of liquids, gasses, the materiality of things, the structures of other ideas such as Leibniz's monadology or Deleuze and Guattari's planes of immanence. All these things order, organize, distribute bodies — including my own body.

All of this shows me that the logics that I find immanent are, in fact, cultural and historical. But my next thought is that these things are not opposed: immanence and history are one and the same (sometimes).

And then there is that affective, personal experience — the exhilaration, the disorientation, delirium, waves, a feeling of being at once in control and out of control: the idea is driving now!

Having an idea, then, (which is different than an idea) is an experience that takes place between me and the world, between me and history, between me and ghosts past and present and future (surely an idea extends into possible future worlds, if not into actual future worlds; in some sense, the idea makes the future as it makes sense).

So I come back to my question: What is the experience of having an idea? It is a participating in the world, lending my body to the flow of different logics, logics that are material and conceptual and historical — all of it working within architectures and speeds, within moving shapes and how they might go together.

And then — boom — the idea. We are overtaken. We are gloriously delirious. But what's happened? Do I know understand the world? Does having an idea — does making sense of things — tame the chaos? Sure, to some degree. Having an idea is like being a very strange version of Moses — making laws of the land. But very private laws that nonetheless legislate everything. Yes, an idea is akin to a law.

But as we know the best ideas forge a certain vertigo, a delirium. A legislation, then, but one that wreaks a very special kind of havoc.

Is there a kind of achievement? Yes, there are great architectural feats of ideas — Kant's three critiques, for instance, or Leibniz's monadology, or D&G's thousand plateaus.

After having had the idea — after creating this moving monument, writing this weird law — do I approach the world differently? Yes, I imagine so. And this is what makes ideas so strange: they change the way we see and they change the way we act. As we said, an idea is a kind of law.

Maybe an idea is akin to a design — the shadow of an event, the ghost that moves between visible and invisible worlds.

Or perhaps I was right at the beginning and an idea is an image, a refraction of a sort. It takes up the world and gives is not just something seen: an idea, like any great image, gives us a seeing.

7.21.2011

The Experience of an Idea

I was sitting outside enjoying an espresso when I found myself thinking a thought I've had before: all this — all this humanity with its fears and loves and desires; all this pavement and blue jeans and tequila and American Idol: all this is the great swirl of stuff continuous with the gyrations of the cosmos at every level — from solar flares and asteroid fields and black holes to viruses and cells and strands of DNA. We are not distinct from the cosmos, actors on the stage of the world. We are stuff, as viscous as lava and hard as granite and moving along and with EVERYTHING.

And then I thought of what a friend of mine might say: So what? What does thinking this do for you?

And so I considered what was happening as I thought my thought. What happens when you have an idea? I don't mean how you came up with the idea or how the idea came to you. I mean: what is the experience of actually having that idea?

I believe an idea is a kind of image — an image of the world. When I sit there thinking about the continuous swirl of life, I see the world that way, I perceive it that way. And this particular idea — this particular image, this particular perceptive experience — thrills me. My heart pounds a little harder, my adrenaline pumps and my senses seethe. The experience of having this thought is exhilarating.

Is my thought, my idea, true? Well, it bears a strange relationship to the world. From an abstract perspective, this thought is of course part of the world. But it has a stranger relationship to the world than say, a mug, which is part of the world, too. An idea entails a kind of measuring up, an act of arranging and rearranging parts — history, human bodies, scientific knowledge, literature, all of civilization, astronomy, botany, biology, desire.

In this very act of having the thought — which is the very act of arranging and re-arranging parts — I am feeling for the thought's coherence, its tenacity, and perhaps its efficacy: Does it work? Does it literally make sense? This is all to say that having an idea, a certain kind of idea, entails a truth experience: Yes! That's it!

Do all thoughts demand or involve a kind of truth experience? When I try to make sense of someone else's thought — let's choose Descartes — do I size up the cogito to the world? I suppose I do and I suppose that involves a certain truth experience. I am not saying I believe or disbelieve in the veracity of the Cartesian cogito; I am saying that when I think that thought I can see — yes, see — how the world could be that way.

The difference between me thinking Decartes' cogito and me thinking about the continuous swirl of life is that I experience them in very different ways — much as I experience Van Gogh differently than I experience Warhol.

One thing that becomes clear — sort of — is that an idea is not a structure per se but the act of structuring. It is an event — and a strange kind of event at that. It is palpable, somatic, yet invisible. It is an image that has some of its own texture but borrows most of its percepts from the world.

Of course, there are practical implications of an idea. That is, if we think there is a true self separate from the world we act differently than if we believe that the self is how it goes. Foucault shows how an entire medical-disciplinary regime turns on such thoughts.

Am I dodging the question of thoughts vs. beliefs? I don't think so; I think — I think, yes — that I am trying to understand how a thought becomes a belief. A belief is a thought for which we have a truth experience that also feels good — which makes belief an aesthetic experience of an idea.

Am I too readily conflating ideas, thoughts, and concepts? Probably. I need to keep thinking.

7.14.2011

Systems, Self, Thermodynamics, Change

On the one hand, I like to imagine that I can make my world beautiful — change my circumstances, sure, but more importantly change my mind-set. I can choose to see the world as I want. To some extent, this is certainly true.

But I don't want to misread the role of self and mind in the world — for both mind (whatever that is) and self (whatever that is) are just that: in, and of, the world.

And the world is an ever swirling set of circumstances. We see weather maps and know the flux and flow of the universe. But at the same time we imagine ourselves exempt from this flow: nature swirls while we stand strong.

But that's just silly. We swirl along with everything else. This is one thing I loved about Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life" — it makes the events of humanity, its banality and wonder, continuous with the events of the cosmos. Just as earth and universe collide and swell and dehisce and conjoin and find synergies and repulsions and parallel lines, so do we.

This "we" is not distinct from this teem; it is constitutive and constituent of the Teem of Life.

There are systems — unsystematic systems, if you will, emergent systems — of which we are a part. These include systems of weather, planets and suns, markets and capital, genetics and disease, government and digestion and harvest.

To imagine that I can will myself out of these systems is the wish of religious transcendence. But I am of this world, with this world; I am worldly and don't want to transcend. At least, I don't think I do. Transcendence seems too close to death for my liking.

And so it seems to behoove me, to behoove one, to examine and know and grapple with the systems that exceed us, to understand how the flow of capital shapes my everyday life, how the construction of roads and laws and technology shape my dreams and desires and traffic patterns. And then it behooves me to try and shift the flows I don't like, that interfere with my health and vitality. How? Fuck if I know. I try little things to alter behaviors of those around me. I work as little as possible. I write my ideas, trying to foment whatever change I can in my tiny corner of the cosmos.

But then there is me. I — and you — have to change, too. I have to be affirmative, healthy; I have to not drive like an asshole, not be a douche to my kid, not alienate my friends and lovers. I have to heed the now, this very local world, this radical particularity of circumstance in which I find myself, moment to moment, day to day.

Systemic change must happen locally — but still be systemic. That, methinks, is the trick. To not just add a flower to the sty of life but behave in such a way that realigns the terms of flow. We are, after all, constitutive of the teem; we, in our way, make the teem along with everything else. So rather than just deodorize the stench, we need to hedge the flow of shit in what we do, in our lives, every fucking day.

This is not easy. The world has momentum — tremendous momentum. I will never cease to be flabbergasted by the things people choose to discuss amongst themselves, the assumptions people make as they head out into the world. Just like the pull of planets and the flow of markets, the shit people talk about, think about, has inertia. To try and hedge this, steer it otherwise and other ways, takes a lot of work.

Perhaps it's easier when people join together to make more of a wave, more of a wall, more of a hedge, more of a force. The risk, of course, is that said joining will birth its own unpleasant inertia. But I think there is no choice — not if we, or I, want to change things.

Change is really a matter of thermodynamics.

7.10.2011

Some Things About Being Multiple

A thing is one thing that is many things. It is an assemblage point — a gathering together of diverse elements in a particular way. A rock assembles earth, bone, leaf, sun, wind, rain, footstep, ant into a particular this:


A rock assembles other things, as well — figures, memes, memories. A rock assembles foundation (as solid as a.....), stupidity (dumb as a....), and so on depending on its situation, its locale, its place in time.

What we say of a rock we can say of anything and everything, including a human being. A human being is as an assembling of flesh, blood, desire, rice noodles, rye whiskey, love, glances, bacteria, bile, phlegm, gas, ideas. The very particular way you or I assemble things is you or me (this is called one's style).



I'm not sure a rock or a person, though, is an assemblage point per se. A point sounds like it doesn't move. But rocks move. So do people. So does everything, even if very, very slowly.

As each thing moves — the rock, you, me, a cloud — it interacts with other things. Said interactions change the very make up of the rock, you, me, the cloud. To move through the world — in other words, to live (and die) — is not just to change but to constitute oneself and be constituted. This is all to say, you are not first something and then interact with the world — you are the very manner in which you interact with the world. And not just interact, but exchange — consume and emit.

It's not you are what you eat. It's: you are how you perceive.

A thing, then, is never done. You are not as much this:



as you are this:

7.07.2011

The Way of Things is Multiplicity


Consider a human body as a text. It has so many complex functions not all of which can be reduced to totally physical behavior. I am blood and liver and hair and skin and desire and anxiety and love and dreams and eyeball and nose and kidney. And I keep changing — physically and affectively — as time passes, as food passes, as I interact with the world. I am teacher, writer, husband, son, father, friend — and each of these is multiple, each of these shifts as circumstances shift. I am this thing that is many things and that keeps changing, always and necessarily.

A book, a painting, a flower, a film, a meal: each is a more or less complex amalgamation of elements working more or less in tandem. Perhaps the colors or words or tastes fuse into a greater whole; perhaps the different words, colors, tastes ricochet off each other or ignore each other or forge distinct experiences. Tequila can often enjoy a distributed flavor palette, carrying itself along distinctive taste channels on the tongue — vanilla, citrus, pepper, grass, leather, sun. Bourbon, meanwhile, tends to be unified, falling across the tongue in a consistent ooze.

But if a text is multiple, what makes it a text? Well, this all depends on the circumstance. As a thing is writ with multiple elements, it is writ with multiple internal limits. So a reader could read one particular element within a thing, making that element the thing read. For example, my body is made up of my toes, nose, eyes, blood, liver, heart, desire, loves, needs, wants, dreams, fingers, lips, tongue, taste. But I may only read one of these things, say, my big toe. In this case, my big toe is the text which is itself made of multiple things — a nail, skin, wrinkles, hairs, cuticles, shmutz. The limits of this or that thing is configured by the reading event: who is doing the reading, where, when, why, how. A foot fetishist and a doctor would make very different sense of this big toe.

This, among other things, lies at the heart of certain debates about medicine: What are the terms of a body and its dis-ease? Some claim a holistic approach, that everything from blood to memory to desire affects the health and vitality of a body. Others suggest that medicine is basically all physical: let me look at your blood under a microscope, even if I never meet you, and I can tell you what’s wrong. Different doctors operate with different limits, internal and external, of a human body.

These limits may extend wide and far and remain nebulous. A martini glass is part of a network that includes whiskey glasses, shot glasses, pint glasses, neon signage, the Thin Man movies. The multiplicity of a thing, then, extends beyond its immediate physical boundaries; a thing contains its history and its culture. Jacques Derrida finds traces of other texts every time he reads, one text bleeding, echoing, quoting, ricocheting against other texts. (This is what has been called “intertextuality.”). The oeuvre of William Burroughs, for example, might include his “novels,” his essays, interviews, his readings of his novels, his shotgun paintings, his cut-up poems, his collaborations with Brion Gysin and Kerouac, his letters to everyone, most notably to Ginsberg. It might also include his diaries, pictures of him, all the writers and texts he references — Denton Welch, Jean Genet, Norman Mailer, Carlos Castaneda — and those he doesn’t reference but that certainly run through his writing — Rabelais, Philip K. Dick, even Nietzsche. Then again, perhaps I want to limit myself to his so-called novels (I qualify because I’m not sure what a novel is and whether the term applies to Burroughs’ books) or only his mentions of alien homosexuality or his rhythm.

A text, then, is a network of signs and effects, of gestures and affects, of moods, modes, and meanderings, of forms and functions. It is not just many things — many things that manage to cohere without unifying — but the very manner of taking up those things. A thing enjoys an internal process of differentiation that we might call its metabolism, its way of processing the world. Such is its way, a way that affords the reader multiple paths, diverse sites of entry or pick up, numerous possibilities for taking, cutting, stealing, borrowing, following.

After all, human bodies are presumably made up of the same stuff — blood, skin, organs, limbs, muscle, cells. But look around the room and see all the different ways these same elements hang together: this one slouches, this one jaunts, that one twitches. A thing is not the sum of its parts. A thing is the mode of putting all the parts together. A thing is not just visible and invisible stuff. It is temporal, as well, a four-dimensional text. A thing enjoys a style.

Reading In Between


Making sense of the world from afar — sizing up a so-called political situation, interpreting a friend's girlfriend's motives, reckoning the Coen Brothers' "A Serious Man" — is no easy task. It demands a certain generosity, an openness, an ability to make multiple elements more or less cohere without reducing or simplifying ( hopefully).

Trying to make sense of the world from within the world — from deep within the proverbial shit — well, that is even harder, if not impossible. To me — and to most — it is incredibly obvious when a girl likes a guy, when a co-worker harbors deep seated angst, when a friend's friend is being a prick. But when it's me involved — when I'm the one who likes or is liked — I become flustered, confused, as stupid and lost as any moron (and I use moron affectionately here). I am blinded by the proximity.

Let's say I rant about this or that — say, San Francisco. Well, it's obvious that at some point my critiques are not just about San Francisco but about me in San Francisco at this moment. My position is just that — a position. I am — we are — always already situated. All writing is that position articulating itself, a position that includes the writer and his environment. Which is to say, all writing — all living — takes place in between, in that murky, beautiful, complex space between self and world.

Sometimes, this in between grayness becomes so murky I can't make heads or tails of what's happening. I see the complexity — I see all the different feelings I am experiencing; I see my history; my possible futures; my desires, at times contradictory. And I see her feelings, her history, her possible futures, her often contradictory desires. And I begin to drown and, worse, flail. It is humiliating for me — aren't I too old for this shit? — and it's not pleasant for anyone involved.

Life happens in this middle. As Deleuze and Guattari say, the middle is where things pick up speed. Sometimes, I am able to go with this middle, with this speed, to make it and be made by it at the same time and it is glorious. Other times, the tides overwhelm me. So what is it that separates these two experiences? What is it I'm doing when I go well and when I go poorly?

But is that even the right question? After all, this question assumes that it is me when, in fact, it is never just me. The in between — where life happens — is made of multiple strands each with its own speed, its own intensity, its own rhythm, its own metabolism, like a Matthew Ritchie painting. So maybe I can right myself amidst these waves but the waves keep coming and maybe, just maybe, it's her or the world that keeps knocking me down.

At which point, it would seem like it's time to bail. But heeding this moment — knowing the right moment, the propitious moment, what the sophists call kairos — is precisely what's so difficult when heaving and tossing about.



Perhaps, then, Eckhart Tolle — despite his creepy face and absurd beard — is right: stop thinking about it all and just be present right now, right here, right in the middle where life teems. Let it all wash over me. Let it all come down.