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.