Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Catching Glimpses of One's Self in the Chamber

Exposure is at the heart of one of the most prevalent myths or nightmares of the corridor, that involving the hotel guest who ventures out of his or her room wearing risible or negligible nightwear, only to have the door slam behind them, leaving them marooned in shame and terror. Jean-Paul Sartre makes the corridor central to his allegory of the operations of human power and shame in one of the most memorable passages from his Being and Nothingness (1943). Imagine, he says, somebody on their knees, peeping through a keyhole, into a hotel bedroom. The voyeur has all the privileges of invisibility. Because their whole being is absorbed in the act of looking, and because they seem to be utterly quarantined from the visual scene on which they are so intent, they are pure subjects, who seem to have absolute dominion of the world. All of a sudden the voyeur hears a footstep in the corridor. Instantly, and without even having to raise his eyes, the voyeur sees himself as a voyeur, an object in somebody else’s field of vision. For Sartre, the hotel corridor is a radically and dangerously reversible space.

Perhaps the point is that corridors are not really places, at all. They are vectors, hesitations, zones of passage, architectural prepositions.

Dealin' w/Bad *ss MoFo's

Cyrnus, this city is in travail, and I fear she may give birth to a corrector of our evil pride; for though these her citizens are still discreet, their guides are heading for much mischief.
- Theognis of Megara (39-42)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sowing the Seeds of Universal Love

"I love you all" acquires the level of actual existence ONLY if "there is at least one whom I hate"- a thesis abundantly confirmed by the fact that universal love for humanity has always lead to brutal hatred of the (actually existing) exception, of the enemies of humanity. This hatred of the exception is the "truth" of universal love, in contrast to true love which can only emerge not of a universal hatred, but of universal indifference: I am indifferent towards All, the totality of the universe, and as such, I actually love YOU, the individual who stands out this indifferent background. Love and hatred are thus not symmetrical: love emerges out of universal indifference, while hatred emerges out of universal love.
Slavoj Zizek, "Living in the End Times"

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Just a Part of the Spectacle Society

Sex Won the Cold War

If thou shouldst challenge me, Academus, to sing a pretty song, and a lad of fair beauty were to stand for our prize in a contest of our art, thou wouldst learn how much better mules be than asses.
- Theognis of Megara (993-996)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Mad Hatter Rag

...does anyone beat your heart for you
does anyone live your life for you
do you cast a vote — plea for intercession
do you hasten your death by forgetting

do you close your eyes and believe
what others say you see.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Ich weiß nicht was soll es bedeuten
Daß ich so traurig bin;
Ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten,
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn.
- Heinrich Heine (1823)

I cannot divine what it meaneth,
This haunting nameless pain:
A tale of the bygone ages
Keeps brooding through my brain.
- translation: Mark Twain (1880)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Above the Misty Veil

May the great wide brazen sky fall upon me —that dread of earthborn men —if I aid not such as love me, and become not a pain and great grief unto such as hate.
- Theognis of Megara (869-872)

The Russians are Coming... our way?

Be it mine to possess some of my enemies' goods myself and to give thereof much also to my friends to possess.
- Theognis of Megara (561-562)

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Let us give our hearts to merriment while yet pleasant acts bring some joy. For splendid youth passeth quickly as a thought, nor swifter is the speed of the horses which carry a king so furiously to the labour of the lance, delighting in the level wheatland.
- Theognis of Megara (983-988)

Friday, January 6, 2012

An Epistemology Suitable for Intellectually Honest Atheists

I will refer you to a witness who is worthy of credit; that witness shall be the God of Delphi—he will tell you about my wisdom, if I have any, and of what sort it is. You must have known Chaerephon; he was early a friend of mine, and also a friend of yours, for he shared in the recent exile of the people, and returned with you. Well, Chaerephon, as you know, was very impetuous in all his doings, and he went to Delphi and boldly asked the oracle to tell him whether—as I was saying, I must beg you not to interrupt—he asked the oracle to tell him whether anyone was wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered, that there was no man wiser. Chaerephon is dead himself; but his brother, who is in court, will confirm the truth of what I am saying.

Why do I mention this? Because I am going to explain to you why I have such an evil name. When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god mean? and what is the interpretation of his riddle? for I know that I have no wisdom, small or great. What then can he mean when he says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god, and cannot lie; that would be against his nature. After long consideration, I thought of a method of trying the question. I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I should say to him, 'Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said that I was the wisest.' Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed him—his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination—and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and still wiser by himself; and thereupon I tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is,—for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him. Then I went to another who had still higher pretensions to wisdom, and my conclusion was exactly the same. Whereupon I made another enemy of him, and of many others besides him.

Then I went to one man after another, being not unconscious of the enmity which I provoked, and I lamented and feared this: but necessity was laid upon me,—the word of God, I thought, ought to be considered first. And I said to myself, Go I must to all who appear to know, and find out the meaning of the oracle. And I swear to you, Athenians, by the dog I swear!—for I must tell you the truth—the result of my mission was just this: I found that the men most in repute were all but the most foolish; and that others less esteemed were really wiser and better. I will tell you the tale of my wanderings and of the 'Herculean' labours, as I may call them, which I endured only to find at last the oracle irrefutable. After the politicians, I went to the poets; tragic, dithyrambic, and all sorts. And there, I said to myself, you will be instantly detected; now you will find out that you are more ignorant than they are. Accordingly, I took them some of the most elaborate passages in their own writings, and asked what was the meaning of them—thinking that they would teach me something. Will you believe me? I am almost ashamed to confess the truth, but I must say that there is hardly a person present who would not have talked better about their poetry than they did themselves. Then I knew that not by wisdom do poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them. The poets appeared to me to be much in the same case; and I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise. So I departed, conceiving myself to be superior to them for the same reason that I was superior to the politicians.

At last I went to the artisans. I was conscious that I knew nothing at all, as I may say, and I was sure that they knew many fine things; and here I was not mistaken, for they did know many things of which I was ignorant, and in this they certainly were wiser than I was. But I observed that even the good artisans fell into the same error as the poets;—because they were good workmen they thought that they also knew all sorts of high matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their wisdom; and therefore I asked myself on behalf of the oracle, whether I would like to be as I was, neither having their knowledge nor their ignorance, or like them in both; and I made answer to myself and to the oracle that I was better off as I was.

This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind, and has given occasion also to many calumnies. And I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration, as if he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. And so I go about the world, obedient to the god, and search and make enquiry into the wisdom of any one, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise; and my occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own, but I am in utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god.

There is another thing:—young men of the richer classes, who have not much to do, come about me of their own accord; they like to hear the pretenders examined, and they often imitate me, and proceed to examine others; there are plenty of persons, as they quickly discover, who think that they know something, but really know little or nothing; and then those who are examined by them instead of being angry with themselves are angry with me: This confounded Socrates, they say; this villainous misleader of youth!—and then if somebody asks them, Why, what evil does he practise or teach? they do not know, and cannot tell; but in order that they may not appear to be at a loss, they repeat the ready-made charges which are used against all philosophers about teaching things up in the clouds and under the earth, and having no gods, and making the worse appear the better cause; for they do not like to confess that their pretence of knowledge has been detected—which is the truth; and as they are numerous and ambitious and energetic, and are drawn up in battle array and have persuasive tongues, they have filled your ears with their loud and inveterate calumnies. And this is the reason why my three accusers, Meletus and Anytus and Lycon, have set upon me; Meletus, who has a quarrel with me on behalf of the poets; Anytus, on behalf of the craftsmen and politicians; Lycon, on behalf of the rhetoricians: and as I said at the beginning, I cannot expect to get rid of such a mass of calumny all in a moment. And this, O men of Athens, is the truth and the whole truth; I have concealed nothing, I have dissembled nothing. And yet, I know that my plainness of speech makes them hate me, and what is their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth?—Hence has arisen the prejudice against me; and this is the reason of it, as you will find out either in this or in any future enquiry.
- Plato, "Apology"

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


I would have no man my friend with lips only, but also in deed; he must serve me willingly both with hands and with possessions; nor must he soothe my heart with words beside the mixing-bowl, but show himself a good man by act, if so he may.
- Theognis of Megara (979-982)

Monday, January 2, 2012

For Amanda

Surely there's risk in every sort of business, nor know we at the beginning of a matter where we shall come to shore; nay, sometimes he that striveth to be of good repute falleth unawares into ruin great and sore, whereas for the doer of good God maketh good hap in all things, to be his deliverance from folly.
- Theognis of Megara (585-590)