Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Immortality

But Love desires the beautiful; and then arises the question, What does he desire of the beautiful? He desires, of course, the possession of the beautiful;—but what is given by that? For the beautiful let us substitute the good, and we have no difficulty in seeing the possession of the good to be happiness, and Love to be the desire of happiness, although the meaning of the word has been too often confined to one kind of love. And Love desires not only the good, but the everlasting possession of the good. Why then is there all this flutter and excitement about love? Because all men and women at a certain age are desirous of bringing to the birth. And love is not of beauty only, but of birth in beauty; this is the principle of immortality in a mortal creature. When beauty approaches, then the conceiving power is benign and diffuse; when foulness, she is averted and morose.
- Benjamin Jowett, "Summary of Plato's 'Symposium'"

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Moving Mountains

....a cynical mind won't help you through the night
and it can't hold you up when you're too tired to fight

Microgravity with Viscous Fluids

Big whorls have little whorls
That feed on their velocity,
And little whorls have lesser whorls
And so on to viscosity.
-- Lewis F Richardson

---

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite 'em;
And so proceed ad infinitum.
-- Jonathan Swift

Monday, December 22, 2014

Non-Edible Metaphors

Sub conservatione formae specificae salva anima.

- RAYMOND LULLY.
I AM come of a race noted for vigor of fancy and ardor of passion. Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence-whether much that is glorious-whether all that is profound-does not spring from disease of thought-from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in awakening, to find that they have been upon the verge of the great secret. In snatches, they learn something of the wisdom which is of good, and more of the mere knowledge which is of evil. They penetrate, however, rudderless or compassless into the vast ocean of the "light ineffable," and again, like the adventures of the Nubian geographer, "agressi sunt mare tenebrarum, quid in eo esset exploraturi."

We will say, then, that I am mad. I grant, at least, that there are two distinct conditions of my mental existence-the condition of a lucid reason, not to be disputed, and belonging to the memory of events forming the first epoch of my life-and a condition of shadow and doubt, appertaining to the present, and to the recollection of what constitutes the second great era of my being. Therefore, what I shall tell of the earlier period, believe; and to what I may relate of the later time, give only such credit as may seem due, or doubt it altogether, or, if doubt it ye cannot, then play unto its riddle the Oedipus.

She whom I loved in youth, and of whom I now pen calmly and distinctly these remembrances, was the sole daughter of the only sister of my mother long departed. Eleonora was the name of my cousin. We had always dwelled together, beneath a tropical sun, in the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass. No unguided footstep ever came upon that vale; for it lay away up among a range of giant hills that hung beetling around about it, shutting out the sunlight from its sweetest recesses. No path was trodden in its vicinity; and, to reach our happy home, there was need of putting back, with force, the foliage of many thousands of forest trees, and of crushing to death the glories of many millions of fragrant flowers. Thus it was that we lived all alone, knowing nothing of the world without the valley-I, and my cousin, and her mother.

From the dim regions beyond the mountains at the upper end of our encircled domain, there crept out a narrow and deep river, brighter than all save the eyes of Eleonora; and, winding stealthily about in mazy courses, it passed away, at length, through a shadowy gorge, among hills still dimmer than those whence it had issued. We called it the "River of Silence"; for there seemed to be a hushing influence in its flow. No murmur arose from its bed, and so gently it wandered along, that the pearly pebbles upon which we loved to gaze, far down within its bosom, stirred not at all, but lay in a motionless content, each in its own old station, shining on gloriously forever.

The margin of the river, and of the many dazzling rivulets that glided through devious ways into its channel, as well as the spaces that extended from the margins away down into the depths of the streams until they reached the bed of pebbles at the bottom,-these spots, not less than the whole surface of the valley, from the river to the mountains that girdled it in, were carpeted all by a soft green grass, thick, short, perfectly even, and vanilla-perfumed, but so besprinkled throughout with the yellow buttercup, the white daisy, the purple violet, and the ruby-red asphodel, that its exceeding beauty spoke to our hearts in loud tones, of the love and of the glory of God.

And, here and there, in groves about this grass, like wildernesses of dreams, sprang up fantastic trees, whose tall slender stems stood not upright, but slanted gracefully toward the light that peered at noon-day into the centre of the valley. Their mark was speckled with the vivid alternate splendor of ebony and silver, and was smoother than all save the cheeks of Eleonora; so that, but for the brilliant green of the huge leaves that spread from their summits in long, tremulous lines, dallying with the Zephyrs, one might have fancied them giant serpents of Syria doing homage to their sovereign the Sun.

Hand in hand about this valley, for fifteen years, roamed I with Eleonora before Love entered within our hearts. It was one evening at the close of the third lustrum of her life, and of the fourth of my own, that we sat, locked in each other's embrace, beneath the serpent-like trees, and looked down within the water of the River of Silence at our images therein. We spoke no words during the rest of that sweet day, and our words even upon the morrow were tremulous and few. We had drawn the God Eros from that wave, and now we felt that he had enkindled within us the fiery souls of our forefathers. The passions which had for centuries distinguished our race, came thronging with the fancies for which they had been equally noted, and together breathed a delirious bliss over the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass. A change fell upon all things. Strange, brilliant flowers, star-shaped, burn out upon the trees where no flowers had been known before. The tints of the green carpet deepened; and when, one by one, the white daisies shrank away, there sprang up in place of them, ten by ten of the ruby-red asphodel. And life arose in our paths; for the tall flamingo, hitherto unseen, with all gay glowing birds, flaunted his scarlet plumage before us. The golden and silver fish haunted the river, out of the bosom of which issued, little by little, a murmur that swelled, at length, into a lulling melody more divine than that of the harp of Aeolus-sweeter than all save the voice of Eleonora. And now, too, a voluminous cloud, which we had long watched in the regions of Hesper, floated out thence, all gorgeous in crimson and gold, and settling in peace above us, sank, day by day, lower and lower, until its edges rested upon the tops of the mountains, turning all their dimness into magnificence, and shutting us up, as if forever, within a magic prison-house of grandeur and of glory.

The loveliness of Eleonora was that of the Seraphim; but she was a maiden artless and innocent as the brief life she had led among the flowers. No guile disguised the fervor of love which animated her heart, and she examined with me its inmost recesses as we walked together in the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass, and discoursed of the mighty changes which had lately taken place therein.

At length, having spoken one day, in tears, of the last sad change which must befall Humanity, she thenceforward dwelt only upon this one sorrowful theme, interweaving it into all our converse, as, in the songs of the bard of Schiraz, the same images are found occurring, again and again, in every impressive variation of phrase.

She had seen that the finger of Death was upon her bosom-that, like the ephemeron, she had been made perfect in loveliness only to die; but the terrors of the grave to her lay solely in a consideration which she revealed to me, one evening at twilight, by the banks of the River of Silence. She grieved to think that, having entombed her in the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass, I would quit forever its happy recesses, transferring the love which now was so passionately her own to some maiden of the outer and everyday world. And, then and there, I threw myself hurriedly at the feet of Eleonora, and offered up a vow, to herself and to Heaven, that I would never bind myself in marriage to any daughter of Earth-that I would in no manner prove recreant to her dear memory, or to the memory of the devout affection with which she had blessed me. And I called the Mighty Ruler of the Universe to witness the pious solemnity of my vow. And the curse which I invoked of Him and of her, a saint in Helusion should I prove traitorous to that promise, involved a penalty the exceeding great horror of which will not permit me to make record of it here. And the bright eyes of Eleonora grew brighter at my words; and she sighed as if a deadly burthen had been taken from her breast; and she trembled and very bitterly wept; but she made acceptance of the vow, (for what was she but a child?) and it made easy to her the bed of her death. And she said to me, not many days afterward, tranquilly dying, that, because of what I had done for the comfort of her spirit she would watch over me in that spirit when departed, and, if so it were permitted her return to me visibly in the watches of the night; but, if this thing were, indeed, beyond the power of the souls in Paradise, that she would, at least, give me frequent indications of her presence, sighing upon me in the evening winds, or filling the air which I breathed with perfume from the censers of the angels. And, with these words upon her lips, she yielded up her innocent life, putting an end to the first epoch of my own.

Thus far I have faithfully said. But as I pass the barrier in Times path, formed by the death of my beloved, and proceed with the second era of my existence, I feel that a shadow gathers over my brain, and I mistrust the perfect sanity of the record. But let me on. Years dragged themselves along heavily, and still I dwelled within the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass; but a second change had come upon all things. The star-shaped flowers shrank into the stems of the trees, and appeared no more. The tints of the green carpet faded; and, one by one, the ruby-red asphodels withered away; and there sprang up, in place of them, ten by ten, dark, eye-like violets, that writhed uneasily and were ever encumbered with dew. And Life departed from our paths; for the tall flamingo flaunted no longer his scarlet plumage before us, but flew sadly from the vale into the hills, with all the gay glowing birds that had arrived in his company. And the golden and silver fish swam down through the gorge at the lower end of our domain and bedecked the sweet river never again. And the lulling melody that had been softer than the wind-harp of Aeolus, and more divine than all save the voice of Eleonora, it died little by little away, in murmurs growing lower and lower, until the stream returned, at length, utterly, into the solemnity of its original silence. And then, lastly, the voluminous cloud uprose, and, abandoning the tops of the mountains to the dimness of old, fell back into the regions of Hesper, and took away all its manifold golden and gorgeous glories from the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass.

Yet the promises of Eleonora were not forgotten; for I heard the sounds of the swinging of the censers of the angels; and streams of a holy perfume floated ever and ever about the valley; and at lone hours, when my heart beat heavily, the winds that bathed my brow came unto me laden with soft sighs; and indistinct murmurs filled often the night air, and once-oh, but once only! I was awakened from a slumber, like the slumber of death, by the pressing of spiritual lips upon my own.

But the void within my heart refused, even thus, to be filled. I longed for the love which had before filled it to overflowing. At length the valley pained me through its memories of Eleonora, and I left it for ever for the vanities and the turbulent triumphs of the world.

I found myself within a strange city, where all things might have served to blot from recollection the sweet dreams I had dreamed so long in the Valley of the Many-Colored Grass. The pomps and pageantries of a stately court, and the mad clangor of arms, and the radiant loveliness of women, bewildered and intoxicated my brain. But as yet my soul had proved true to its vows, and the indications of the presence of Eleonora were still given me in the silent hours of the night. Suddenly these manifestations they ceased, and the world grew dark before mine eyes, and I stood aghast at the burning thoughts which possessed, at the terrible temptations which beset me; for there came from some far, far distant and unknown land, into the gay court of the king I served, a maiden to whose beauty my whole recreant heart yielded at once-at whose footstool I bowed down without a struggle, in the most ardent, in the most abject worship of love. What, indeed, was my passion for the young girl of the valley in comparison with the fervor, and the delirium, and the spirit-lifting ecstasy of adoration with which I poured out my whole soul in tears at the feet of the ethereal Ermengarde?-Oh, bright was the seraph Ermengarde! and in that knowledge I had room for none other.-Oh, divine was the angel Ermengarde! and as I looked down into the depths of her memorial eyes, I thought only of them-and of her.

I wedded;-nor dreaded the curse I had invoked; and its bitterness was not visited upon me. And once-but once again in the silence of the night; there came through my lattice the soft sighs which had forsaken me; and they modelled themselves into familiar and sweet voice, saying:

"Sleep in peace!-for the Spirit of Love reigneth and ruleth, and, in taking to thy passionate heart her who is Ermengarde, thou art absolved, for reasons which shall be made known to thee in Heaven, of thy vows unto Eleonora."
- E.A. Poe, "Eleonora" (1850)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Practice Makes Perfect

Give all to love;
Obey thy heart;
Friends, kindred, days,
Estate, good fame,
Plans, credit, and the muse;
Nothing refuse.

'Tis a brave master,
Let it have scope,
Follow it utterly,
Hope beyond hope;
High and more high,
It dives into noon,
With wing unspent,
Untold intent;
But 'tis a god,
Knows its own path,
And the outlets of the sky.
'Tis not for the mean,
It requireth courage stout,
Souls above doubt,
Valor unbending;
Such 'twill reward,
They shall return
More than they were,
And ever ascending.

Leave all for love;—
Yet, hear me, yet,
One word more thy heart behoved,
One pulse more of firm endeavor,
Keep thee to-day,
To-morrow, for ever,
Free as an Arab
Of thy beloved.
Cling with life to the maid;
But when the surprise,
Vague shadow of surmise,
Flits across her bosom young
Of a joy apart from thee,
Free be she, fancy-free,
Do not thou detain a hem,
Nor the palest rose she flung
From her summer diadem.

Though thou loved her as thyself,
As a self of purer clay,
Tho' her parting dims the day,
Stealing grace from all alive,
Heartily know,
When half-gods go,
The gods arrive.
-Emerson, "Give All to Love"

Friday, December 12, 2014

Default Positions

The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough.
- Ezra Pound, "In a Station of the Metro"

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Letting Love In...

The discourse of victimisation is almost the predominant discourse today. You can be a victim of the environment, of smoking, of sexual harassment. I find this reduction of the subject to a victim sad. In what sense? There is an extremely narcissistic notion of personality here. And, indeed, an intolerant one, insofar as what it means is that we can no longer tolerate violent encounters with others - and these encounters are always violent.

Let me briefly address sexual harassment for a moment. Of course I am opposed to it, but let's be frank. Say I am passionately attached, in love, or whatever, to another human being and I declare my love, my passion for him or her. There is always something shocking, violent in it. This may sound like a joke, but it isn't - you cannot do the game of erotic seduction in politically correct terms. There is a moment of violence, when you say: 'I love you, I want you.' In no way can you bypass this violent aspect. So I even think that the fear of sexual harassment in a way includes this aspect, a fear of a too violent, too open encounter with another human being.

Another thing that bothers me about this multiculturalism is when people ask me: 'How can you be sure that you are not a racist?' My answer is that there is only one way. If I can exchange insults, brutal jokes, dirty jokes, with a member of a different race and we both know it's not meant in a racist way. If, on the other hand, we play this politically correct game - 'Oh, I respect you, how interesting your customs are' - this is inverted racism, and it is disgusting.

In the Yugoslav army where we were all of mixed nationalities, how did I become friends with Albanians? When we started to exchange obscenities, sexual innuendo, jokes. This is why this politically correct respect is just, as Freud put it, zielgehemmt. You still have the aggression towards the other.

For me there is one measure of true love: you can insult the other. Like in that horrible German comedy film from 1943 where Marika Röck treats her fiancé very brutally. This fiancé is a rich, important person, so her father asks her why are you treating him like that. And she gives the right answer. She says: 'But I love him, and since I love him, I can do with him whatever I want.' That's the truth of it. If there is true love, you can say horrible things and anything goes.

When multiculturalists tell you to respect the others, I always have this uncanny association that this is dangerously close to how we treat our children: the idea that we should respect them, even when we know that what they believe is not true. We should not destroy their illusions. No, I think that others deserve better - not to be treated like children.
― Slavoj Žižek, “The one measure of true love is: you can insult the other

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Floating Your Boat

As a bathtub lined with white porcelain,
When the hot water gives out or goes tepid,
So is the slow cooling of our chivalrous passion,
O my much praised but-not-altogether-satisfactory lady.
Ezra Pound, "The Bath Tub"

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

One Impression in a Search for Forever

The light became her grace and dwelt among
Blind eyes and shadows that are formed as men;
Lo, how the light doth melt us into song:

The broken sunlight for a healm she beareth
Who hath my heart in jurisdiction.
In wild-wood never fawn nor fallow fareth
So silent light; no gossamer is spun
So delicate as she is, when the sun
Drives the clear emeralds from the bended grasses
Lest they should parch too swiftly, where she passes.
-Ezra Pound, "Ballatetta"

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Flattering Your Audience...

Conference by Slavoj Žižek at the Faculty of Fine Arts University of Porto (11/22/2014)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Prokofjev's First Violin Sonata (Op. 80)

It is thus not simply that substantial reality disappears in the interplay of appearances; what rather happens in this shift is that the very irreducibility of the appearance to its substantial support, its "autonomy" with regard to it, engenders a Thing of its own, the true "real Thing". And, perhaps, this "Thing", the struggle to render it, is the proper "object" of art. In his memoirs, Dmitri Shostakovich dismissed Sergei Prokofjev, his great competitor, as refusing to take historical horrors seriously, always playing "wise guy". However, to name just one supreme example, Prokofjev's first violin sonata (op. 80) clearly demonstrates the obverse of Prokofjev's (in)famous "irony":

Throughout its four movements (...) one senses a powerful undertow of struggle. Yet it is not the struggle of a work against something outside itself, but rather the struggle of something within the work, unmanifested, trying desperately to break out, and constantly finding its emergence "blocked" by the existing, outward form and language of the piece. This blocking of"something within" (...) has to do with the frustration of a desire for cathartic release into some supremely positive state of being, where meaning-musical and supra-musical-is transparent, un-ironizable: in short, a domain of spiritual "purity".(2)

It is here that Prokofjev pays the price for his ironic stance, and it is such passages that bear witness to his artistic integrity: far from signaling any kind of vain intellectual superiority, this ironic stance is just the falsely-bright obverse of the failure of Prokofjev's constant struggle to bring the "Thing from Inner Space" (the "something within") out. The superficial »playfulness« of some of Prokofjev's works (like his popular first symphony) merely signals, in a negative way, the fact that Prokofjev is the ultimate anti-Mozart, a kind of Beethoven whose "titanic struggle" ended in disaster: if Mozart was THE supreme musical genius, perhaps the last composer with whom the musical Thing transposed itself into musical notes in a spontaneous flow, and if in Beethoven, a piece only achieved its definitive Form after a long heroic struggle with the musical material, Prokofjev's greatest pieces are monuments to the defeat of this struggle. What, then, IS this "thing from inner space", insofar as it stands for Truth as agency? The famous "stolen boat" episode from Wordsworth's Prelude provides the precise coordinates of its emergence:
- Slavoj Zizek "Burned by The Thing"

Monday, November 24, 2014

Learning to Listen with Your Eyes

Pizarnik is arguably THE poet of subtraction, of minimal difference: the difference between nothing and something, between silence and a fragmented voice. The primordial fact is not Silence (waiting to be broken by the divine Word), but Noise, the confused murmur of the Real in which there is not yet any distinction between figure and its background. The first creative act is therefore to create silence-it is not that silence is broken, but that silence itself breaks, interrupts, the continuous murmur of the Real, thus opening up a clearing in which words can be spoken. There is no speech proper without this background of silence: as Heidegger already knew, all speech answers the "sound of silence". Hard work is needed to create silence, to encircle its place in the same way that a vase creates its central void. This is how death drive and sublimation are strictly correlative: death drive has first to erase the murmur of the Real and thus open up the space for sublime formations. With regard to poetry, this difference is not between poems, but between poem(s) and the song which, of course, has to remain unsung, unspoken, since it is the song of silence.

It is here that the visual dimension enters; recall Nietzsche's complaint in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Prologue, 5): "Must one smash their ears before they learn to listen with their eyes"? Is this complaint about the difficulty of teaching people how to listen not ambiguous? Does it mean that it is difficult to learn to listen with one's eyes, or that it is simply difficult to learn to truly listen? In other words, if we follow Wagner's Tristan (who, while dying, shouts: "I see her /Isolde's/ voice"!) and accept, as one of the definitions of modern art, that one has to listen to it with eyes, does this mean that one can truly hear (hear the silence, the silent Message-Thing covered up by the chatter of words) only with one's eyes? Is, consequently, modern painting (as it is indicated already by Munch's "Scream") not a "sound of silence", the visual rendering of the point at which words break down? And, incidentally, this is also how the critique of ideology (whose Platonic origins one should unabashedly admit) functions: it endeavors to smash our ears (hypnotized by the ideology's siren song) so that we can start to hear with our eyes (in the mode of theoria).
- Slavoj Zizek, "Burned by the Thing"

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Corporate Obsolescence

The tractor factory once
aproned in streetside grass
inspired long city blocks with
hum and bricked-in shiny glass.
It was given to tootings and
merry gliffs of steam,
and swarmed as the shifts shifted.

Now jolting past
in the bad years
from the hot streetcar windows, see:
old railroad grit, strawed weeds,
boarded-up windows - some
slant-broken in to shadow.
Nobody walks along that stretch.

People live near, across and up
in the streets that somehow show
too the hard times.

There they are! people.
Outside a flase-bright 'Bowlerama':
crammed almost on the gritty sidewalk is
some 'sidewalk-cafe' - furniture
(without parasols); they hoist
tinned drinks from a Coinamatic.
How jaunty, how
almost persuasive.

The streetcar colours are as
glittering-fake as their
cafe's. Neither
quite get us there.
- Margaret Avison, "Corporate Obsolescence: A Sad Poem in a Sad Summer"

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Misidentified Causes

Hollis Brown
He lived on the outside of town
Hollis Brown
He lived on the outside of town
With his wife and five children
And his cabin brokin' down.

You looked for work and money
And you walked a rugged mile
You looked for work and money
And you walked a rugged mile
Your children are so hungry
That they don't know how to smile.

Your baby's eyes look crazy
They're a-tuggin' at your sleeve
Your baby's eyes look crazy
They're a-tuggin' at your sleeve
You walk the floor and wonder why
With every breath you breathe.

The rats have got your flour
Bad blood it got your mare
The rats have got your flour
Bad blood it got your mare
If there's anyone that knows
Is there anyone that cares ?

You prayed to the Lord above
Oh please send you a friend
You prayed to the Lord above
Oh please send you a friend
Your empty pocket tell you
That you ain't a-got no friend.

Your babies are crying louder now
It's pounding on your brain
Your babies are crying louder now
It's pounding on your brain
Your wife's screams are stabbin' you
Like the dirty drivin' rain.

Your grass is turning black
There's no water in your well
Your grass is turning black
There's no water in your well
Your spent your last lone dollar
On seven shotgun shells.

Way out in the wilderness
A cold coyote calls
Way out in the wilderness
A cold coyote calls
Your eyes fix on the shortgun
That's hangin' on the wall.

Your brain is a-bleedin'
And your legs can't seem to stand
Your brain is a-bleedin'
And your legs can't seem to stand
Your eyes fix on the shortgun
That you're holdin' in your hand.

There's seven breezes a-blowin'
All around the cabin door
There's seven breezes a-blowin'
All around the cabin door
Seven shots ring out
Like the ocean's pounding roar.

There's seven people dead
Out on a south Dakota farm
There's seven people dead
Out on a south Dakota farm
Somewhere in the distance
There's seven new people born.
- Bob Dylan, "Ballad Of Hollis Brown"

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thoughts of Home

What does a hangman think about
When he goes home at night from work?
When he sits down with his wife and
Children for a cup of coffee and a
Plate of ham and eggs, do they ask
Him if it was a good day's work
And everything went well or do they
Stay off some topics and kill about
The weather, baseball, politics
And the comic strips in the papers
And the movies? Do they look at his
Hands when he reaches for the coffee
Or the ham and eggs? If the little
Ones say, Daddy, play horse, here's
A rope--does he answer like a joke:
I seen enough rope for today?
Or does his face light up like a
Bonfire of joy and does he say:
It's a good and dandy world we live
'In. And if a white face moon looks
In through a window where a baby girl
Sleeps and the moon-gleams mix with
Baby ears and baby hair--the hangman--
How does he act then? It must be easy
For him. Anything is easy for a hangman,
I guess.
- Carl Sandburg, "The Hangman at Home"

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Seizing Kairos, and then Relaxing your Grip!

a time taken
to breathe
undetermined
re-evaluate the world
take stock of thoughts
and reassess them
allow the soul to rest
the heart to sleep
and the mind to be free
time has it own value
time is limitless
and it will be taken
to breathe
Matthew Holloway, "Sabbatical"

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Subcutaneous Iron Skies

WEBSTER was much possessed by death
And saw the skull beneath the skin;
And breastless creatures under ground
Leaned backward with a lipless grin.

Daffodil bulbs instead of balls
Stared from the sockets of the eyes!
He knew that thought clings round dead limbs
Tightening its lusts and luxuries.

Donne, I suppose, was such another
Who found no substitute for sense;
To seize and clutch and penetrate,
Expert beyond experience,

He knew the anguish of the marrow
The ague of the skeleton;
No contact possible to flesh
Allayed the fever of the bone.
. . . . . . . .
Grishkin is nice: her Russian eye
Is underlined for emphasis;
Uncorseted, her friendly bust
Gives promise of pneumatic bliss.

The couched Brazilian jaguar
Compels the scampering marmoset
With subtle effluence of cat;
Grishkin has a maisonette;

The sleek Brazilian jaguar
Does not in its arboreal gloom
Distil so rank a feline smell
As Grishkin in a drawing-room.

And even the Abstract Entities
Circumambulate her charm;
But our lot crawls between dry ribs
To keep our metaphysics warm
T.S. Eliot, "Whispers of Immortality"

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Meandering Nomads

A nomad (Greek: νομάς, nomas, plural νομάδες, nomades; meaning one roaming about for pasture, pastoral tribe) is a member of a community of people who live in different locations, moving from one place to another. Among the various ways Nomads relate to their environment, one can distinguish the hunter-gatherer, the pastoral nomad owning livestock, or the "modern" peripatetic nomad. As of 1995, there were an estimated 30–40 million nomads in the world.
I wonder how an Air Force brat would be classified...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Quarantine Ordeals

THOUGH all the fates should prove unkind,
Leave not your native land behind.
The ship, becalmed, at length stands still;
The steed must rest beneath the hill;
But swiftly still our fortunes pace
To find us out in every place.

The vessel, though her masts be firm,
Beneath her copper bears a worm;
Around the cape, across the line,
Till fields of ice her course confine;
It matters not how smooth the breeze,
How shallow or how deep the seas,
Whether she bears Manilla twine,
Or in her hold Madeira wine,
Or China teas, or Spanish hides,
In port or quarantine she rides;
Far from New England's blustering shore,
New England's worm her hulk shall bore,
And sink her in the Indian seas,
Twine, wine, and hides, and China teas.
- Henry David Thoreau, "Through all the Fates"

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Queen's Pawn to Queen's Eighth

For some minutes Alice stood without speaking, looking out in all directions over the country—and a most curious country it was. There were a number of tiny little brooks running straight across it from side to side, and the ground between was divided up into squares by a number of little green hedges, that reached from brook to brook.

'I declare it's marked out just like a large chessboard!' Alice said at last. 'There ought to be some men moving about somewhere—and so there are!' She added in a tone of delight, and her heart began to beat quick with excitement as she went on. 'It's a great huge game of chess that's being played—all over the world—if this IS the world at all, you know. Oh, what fun it is! How I WISH I was one of them! I wouldn't mind being a Pawn, if only I might join—though of course I should LIKE to be a Queen, best.'

She glanced rather shyly at the real Queen as she said this, but her companion only smiled pleasantly, and said, 'That's easily managed. You can be the White Queen's Pawn, if you like, as Lily's too young to play; and you're in the Second Square to begin with: when you get to the Eighth Square you'll be a Queen—' Just at this moment, somehow or other, they began to run.
1. Alice meets R.Q. - R.Q. to K.R's 4th
2. Alice through Q's 3d (by railway) to Q's 4th Tweedledum and Tweedledee - W.Q. to Q.B's 4th (after shawl)
3 Alice meets W.Q. (with shawl) - W.Q. to Q.B's 5th (becomes sheep)
4 Alice to Q's 5th (shop, river, shop) - W.Q. to K.B's 8th (leaves egg on shelf)
5 Alice to Q's 6th (Humpty Dumpty) - W.Q. to Q.B's 8th (flying from R. Kt.)
6 Alice to Q's 7th (forest) - R.Kt. to K's 2nd (ch.)
7 W.Kt. takes R.Kt. - W.Kt. to K.B's 5th
8 Alice to Q's 8th (coronation) - R.Q. to K's sq. (examination)
9 Alice becomes Queen - Queens castle
10 Alice castles (feast) - W.Q. to Q.R's 6th (soup)
11 Alice takes R.Q. & wins
- Lewis Carroll, "Through the Looking Glass" (Chess Moves)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Spotlight Avoidance

All art is exorcism. I paint dreams and visions too; the dreams and visions of my time. Painting is the effort to produce order; order in yourself. There is much chaos in me, much chaos in our time
- Otto Dix
Otto Dix, "Deadly Sins/aka - Seven Cardinal Sins" (1933)

After Adolf Hitler seized power in 1933, Dix was dismissed from his teaching job in Dresden. He then produced The Seven Deadly Sins, an oil-on-tempera painting in which, to disguise the politically critical nature of its themes, Dix took an allegorical turn. In this picture, he depicted Hitler in the role of Envy, riding on the back of Avarice. (The artist did not paint in Hitler’s famous moustache until after World War II)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spilled Blood

Through the strait pass of suffering—
The Martyrs—even—trod.
Their feet—upon Temptations—
Their faces—upon God—

A stately—shriven—Company—
Con vulsion—playing round—
Harmless—as streaks of Meteor—
Upon a Planet's Bond—

Their faith—the everlasting troth—
Their Expectation—fair—
The Needle—to the North Degree—
Wades—so—thro' polar Air!
- Emily Dickinson, "Through the strait pass of suffering"

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Four Horsemen

1 And I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came four chariots out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass.
2 In the first chariot were red horses; and in the second chariot black horses;
3 And in the third chariot white horses; and in the fourth chariot grisled and bay horses.
4 Then I answered and said unto the angel that talked with me, What are these, my lord?
5 And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth.
6 The black horses which are therein go forth into the north country; and the white go forth after them; and the grisled go forth toward the south country.
7 And the bay went forth, and sought to go that they might walk to and fro through the earth: and he said, Get you hence, walk to and fro through the earth. So they walked to and fro through the earth.
8 Then cried he upon me, and spake unto me, saying, Behold, these that go toward the north country have quieted my spirit in the north country.
- Zechariah 6

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Visions of la Vita Nuova

Beyond the sphere that circles most widely
passes the sigh that issues from my heart:
new intelligence, that Love
weeping instills within it, drives it upwards.
When it is near where it desires,
it sees a lady, who receives honour,
and is a light, that by its splendour
the pilgrim spirit can gaze upon her.
Seeing her such, when it says so to me,
I do not understand, it speaks so subtly
to the grieving heart, which makes it speak.
I know it speaks of that gentle one,
since it often mentions Beatrice,
so that I know it truly, ladies dear to me.
- Dante Alighieri, "La Vita Nuova, XLI"

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ennui

Tea leaves thwart those who court catastrophe,
designing futures where nothing will occur:
cross the gypsy’s palm and yawning she
will still predict no perils left to conquer.
Jeopardy is jejune now: naïve knight
finds ogres out-of-date and dragons unheard
of, while blasé princesses indict
tilts at terror as downright absurd.

The beast in Jamesian grove will never jump,
compelling hero’s dull career to crisis;
and when insouciant angels play God’s trump,
while bored arena crowds for once look eager,
hoping toward havoc, neither pleas nor prizes
shall coax from doom’s blank door lady or tiger.
Sylvia Plath, "Ennui"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Insult, then Give it the Lie

Go, soul, the body's guest,
Upon a thankless arrant;
Fear not to touch the best;
The truth shall be thy warrant:
Go, since I needs must die,
And give the world the lie.

Say to the court it glows
And shines like rotten wood,
Say to the church it shows
What's good, and doth no good:
If church and court reply,
Then give them both the lie.

Tell potentates, they live
Acting, by others' action;
Not lov'd unless they give;
Not strong, but by affection.
If potentates reply,
Give potentates the lie.

Tell men of high condition,
That manage the estate,
Their purpose is ambition;
Their practice only hate.
And if they once reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell them that brave it most,
They beg for more by spending,
Who in their greatest cost
Like nothing but commending.
And if they make reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell zeal it wants devotion;
Tell love it is but lust;
Tell time it meets but motion;
Tell flesh it is but dust:
And wish them not reply,
For thou must give the lie.

Tell age it daily wasteth;
Tell honour how it alters;
Tell beauty how she blasteth;
Tell favour how it falters:
And as they shall reply,
Give every one the lie.

Tell wit how much it wrangles
In tickle points of niceness;
Tell wisdom she entangles
Herself in over-wiseness:
And when they do reply,
Straight give them both the lie.

Tell physic of her boldness;
Tell skill it is prevention;
Tell charity of coldness;
Tell law it is contention:
And as they do reply,
So give them still the lie.

Tell fortune of her blindness;
Tell nature of decay;
Tell friendship of unkindness;
Tell justice of delay:
And if they will reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell arts they have no soundness,
But vary by esteeming;
Tell schools they want profoundness,
And stand too much on seeming.
If arts and schools reply,
Give arts and schools the lie.

Tell faith it's fled the city;
Tell how the country erreth;
Tell manhood, shakes off pity;
Tell virtue, least preferreth.
And if they do reply,
Spare not to give the lie.

So when thou hast, as I
Commanded thee, done blabbing;
Because to give the lie
Deserves no less than stabbing:
Stab at thee, he that will,
No stab thy soul can kill!
—Sir Walter Raleigh, "The Lie"

"Give the lie" - to show that something is not true

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Upon the Broken Pillar

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan
The proper study of Mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A Being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his mind and body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err;
Whether he thinks to little, or too much;
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus'd;
Still by himself, abus'd or disabus'd;
Created half to rise and half to fall;
Great Lord of all things, yet a prey to all,
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl'd;
The glory, jest and riddle of the world.
A. Pope, "The Riddle of the World"

The Broken Column House at Désert de Retz (1993) - Photo by Michael Kenna.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Man from Another Place...and BOB!

Through the darkness of future past
The magician longs to see.
One chants out between two worlds
Fire walk with me.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Calculating Your Social Worth

Johnson's word 'merit' is carefully chosen. The claim of merit is that it exists outside of the social context in which its' worth to other people may be determined; the OED's oldest sense of the word is 'The quality [...] of being entitled to reward from God.' The merit of a work of poetry, in this traditional view, is therefore separate from and discontinuous with its' social worth or economic value; Milton would have been truly entitled to more or less esteem if Paradise Lost had sold 10,000 copies or 10 copies in the first two years.
The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary British and Irish Poetry
---
Nothing speaks grief so well as to speak nothing
-Crasham.

There is a pang that spurns all soothing cares:
The pang the mourner feels. It matters not
If worldly goods and social worth be there,
Refinement and the cultivated man.
The case they meet not. Strong but tender cords
That link the heart to heart, the soul to soul,
Are rudely snapt; and this by Hand that gives
And takes at pleasure. When His rod afflicts,
And He the trembling soul wrings from the lump
Of vanquished clay, and dark and desolate
The scene, nor tears nor moans nor magic wand
Can change the stern, the final dread decree .
In vain our sympathetic nature weeps ;
And all that we can say or do is vain:
Dead silence is by far the better part.
The heart that still survives is struck as with
The hand of death. In moans and tears it may
Relief obtain, but comfort none; no more
Than can the pulseless heart for which it sighs.
The rupture far too deep for aught but balm
That comes from God direct, 'Tis He alone
Can soothe our woe; and He can soothe it well.
Who thus can wound, the pain can well allay;
And time, in power to heal, stands next to Him.
His instrument is time, and this He wields
For wisest purposes. And time, old time
Eternal is, except so far as He
Shall cut it short. And time shall bear away
Our woes, our pains, our sufferings, our name,
Our memory -- all, as on a gentle, sweet,
Delicious stream, to dark oblivion.
And as we thus glide on, the pangs we felt
We feel them less and less. The wounds are healed
To rigid scars; and all by kindly means
Which God vouchsafes and sends to our relief.
Forever more adored His holy name!
-Levi Bishop, "Teuchsa Grondie A Legendary Poem- The Funeral"

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Aesthetics of Symmetry

SOCRATES: He knows that any want of measure and symmetry in any mixture whatever must always of necessity be fatal, both to the elements and to the mixture, which is then not a mixture, but only a confused medley which brings confusion on the possessor of it.

PROTARCHUS: Most true.

SOCRATES: And now the power of the good has retired into the region of the beautiful; for measure and symmetry are beauty and virtue all the world over.

PROTARCHUS: True.

SOCRATES: Also we said that truth was to form an element in the mixture.

PROTARCHUS: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Then, if we are not able to hunt the good with one idea only, with three we may catch our prey; Beauty, Symmetry, Truth are the three, and these taken together we may regard as the single cause of the mixture, and the mixture as being good by reason of the infusion of them.

PROTARCHUS: Quite right.
- Plato, "Philebus"

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Minotaur Musings

Sorely needed because, for the umpteenth
time since landing a job as line-cook
at the Holiday Inn, those damn horns of his
have been a problem. It’s the pots
that hang overhead; he keeps punching
holes in them, Management is pissed.
The Minotaur sits on an empty pickle bucket
blowing smoke through bullish nostrils.
He lows. He laments. He can’t remember
whether the Stuffed Flounder gets béchamel
or hollandaise. Moreover, the heat chafes.
About that time he spies her coming
down the ally, that new waitress the whole
kitchen is talking about. He almost gives her
the once-over but can’t get past her breasts.
The Minotaur is a tit man. —I’m a tit man—
he mouths to the Fry Cook. —What’s that mean;
You’re a tit man?— they ask. The Minotaur
can’t answer. He sits indignant, a convicted
it man, picking at the dried gravy
stain on his apron. Feigning indifference
he nearly misses the miracle beneathing her,
this apparition in slinky black.
But as she hoofs her way up the back
steps he can’t help but notice those fine shanks.
And what offers them up is not the sensible pump,
is not the stiletto heel, is nothing less
than cloven —Things are looking up— he thinks.
- Steven Sherrill, "The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break"

h/t - Progressive Eruptions and Freethinke

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thymos

There is something profoundly strange about Peter Sloterdijk's attempt to assert - as the solution to what one is tempted to call the "antinomies of the Welfare State" - an "ethics of gift" over against mere egotistic market exchange. His proposal brings us unexpectedly close to what can only be called the Communist vision.

Sloterdijk is guided by the elementary lesson of dialectics: sometimes, the opposition between maintaining the old and changing things does not cover the entire field - in other words, sometimes the only way to retaining the old is by change things radically. So, if today one wants to save the core of the Welfare State, one should abandon any nostalgia for twentieth-century Social Democracy.

What Sloterdijk proposes is a kind of new cultural revolution, a radical psycho-social shift based on the insight that, today, the exploited productive strata is no longer the working class, but the (upper-)middle class: they are the true "givers" whose heavy taxation finances the education, health and general well-being of the majority. In order to achieve this change, one should leave behind statism, this absolutist remainder which has strangely survived in our democratic era: the idea, surprisingly strong even among the traditional left, that the State has the unquestionable right to tax its citizens, to determine and seize through legal coercion, if necessary, part of their product.

It is not that citizens give part of their income to the State - they are treated as if they are a priori indebted to the State. This attitude is sustained by a misanthropic premise strongest among the very left which otherwise preaches solidarity: that people are basically egotists, they have to be forced to contribute something to the common good, and it is only the State which, by means of its coercive legal apparatus, can do the job of ensuring the necessary solidarity and redistribution.

According to Sloterdijk, the ultimate cause of this strange social perversion is the disturbed balance between eros and thymos, between the erotic-possessive drive to amass things and the drive (predominant in premodern societies) to pride and generosity, to that mode of gift-giving which brings honour and respect. The way to reestablish this balance is to give full recognition to thymos: to treat those that produce wealth, not as a group which is a priori under suspicion for refusing to pay its debt to society, but as the true givers whose contribution should be fully recognized, so that they can be proud of their generosity.

According to Sloterdijk, the first step is the shift from the proletariat to the voluntariat: instead of taxing the rich excessively, one should give them the (legal) right to decide voluntarily what part of their wealth they will donate to common welfare. To begin with, one should, of course, not radically lower taxes, but open up at least a small domain in which the freedom is given to givers to decide how much and for what they will donate - such a beginning, modest as it is, would gradually change the entire ethics on which social cohesion is based.

But do we not here get caught in the old paradox of freely choosing what we are already obliged to do? That is to say, is it not that the freedom of choice accorded to the "voluntariat" of "achievers" is a false freedom that relies on a forced choice? If society is to function normally, the "achievers" are free to choose (to give money to society or not) only if they make the right choice (to give)?

This is just the first in a series of problems with Sloterdijk's proposal - problems that are not those identified by the (expected) leftist outcry:
Who, in our societies, really are the givers (achievers)? Let us not forget that the 2008 financial crisis was caused by the rich givers/achievers, and the "ordinary people" financed the state to bail them out. (The exemplary instance here is Bernard Madoff, who first stole billions and then played the giver donating millions to charities.)
Getting rich does not happen in a space outside the state and community, but is - as a rule - a violent process of appropriation which casts doubt on the right of the rich giver to own what he then generously gives.
Sloterdijk's opposition of possessive eros and generous thymos is all too simplistic: is authentic erotic love not giving at its purest? Just recall Juliet's famous lines: "My bounty is as boundless as the sea, / My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite." And is thymos also not destructive? One should always bear in mind that envy (resentment) is a category of thymos, intervening in the domain of eros, thereby distorting "normal" egotism - that is, making what the other has (and I don't have) more important than what I have.
More generally, the basic reproach to Sloterdijk should be: why does he assert generosity only within the constraints of capitalism, which is the order of possessive eros and competition par excellence? Within these constraints, every generosity is a priori reduced to the obverse of brutal possessiveness - a benevolent Dr Jekyll to the capitalist Mr Hyde. Recall the first model of generosity mentioned by Sloterdijk: Carnegie, the man of steel with a heart of gold, as they say. He first used Pinkerton detective agents and a private army to crush workers' resistance, and then displayed generosity by way of (partially) giving back what had been seized. Even in the instance of Bill Gates, how can one forget his brutal tactics to crush competitors and gain monopoly? The key question is thus: is there no place for generosity outside the capitalist frame? Is each and every such project a case of sentimental moralist ideology?
We often hear that the Communist vision relies on dangerous idealization of human beings, attributing to them a kind of "natural goodness" which is simply alien to our egotistical nature. However, in his bestselling Drive, Daniel Pink refers to a body of research in the behavioural sciences which suggests that sometimes, at least, external incentives (money reward) can be counterproductive: optimal performance comes when people find intrinsic meaning in their work. Incentives might be useful in getting people to accomplish boring routine work; but with more intellectually demanding tasks, the success of individuals and organizations increasingly depends on being nimble and innovative, so there is more and more need for people to find intrinsic value in their work.

Pink identifies three elements underlying such intrinsic motivation: autonomy, the ability to choose what and how tasks are completed; mastery, the process of becoming adept at an activity; and purpose, the desire to improve the world. Here is the report on a study carried out by MIT:
"They took a whole group of students and they gave them a set of challenges. Things like memorizing strings of digits solving word puzzles, other kinds of spatial puzzles even physical tasks like throwing a ball through a hoop. To incentivize their performance they gave them 3 levels of rewards: if you did pretty well, you got a small monetary reward; if you did medium well, you got a medium monetary reward; if you did really well, if you were one of the top performers you got a large cash prize. Here's what they found out. As long as the task involved only mechanical skill bonuses worked as they would be expected the higher the pay, the better their performance. But once the task calls for even rudimentary cognitive skill a larger reward led to poorer performance. How can that possibly be? This conclusion seems contrary to what a lot of us learned in economics which is that the higher the reward, the better the performance. And they're saying that once you get above rudimentary cognitive skill it's the other way around which seems like the idea that these rewards don't work that way seems vaguely Left-Wing and Socialist, doesn't it? It's this kind of weird Socialist conspiracy. For those of you who have these conspiracy theories I want to point out the notoriously left-wing socialist group that financed the research: The Federal Reserve Bank. Maybe that 50 dollars or 60 dollars prize isn't sufficiently motivating for an MIT student - so they went to Madurai in rural India, where 50 or 60 dollars is a significant sum of money. They replicated the experiment in India and what happened was that the people offered the medium reward did no better than the people offered the small reward but this time around, the people offered the top reward they did worst of all: higher incentives led to worse performance. This experiment has been replicated over and over and over again by psychologists, by sociologists and by economists: for simple, straight-forward tasks, those kinds of incentives work, but when the task requires some conceptual, creative thinking those kind of motivators demonstrably don't work. The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table. Pay people enough, so they are not thinking about money and they're thinking about the work. You get a bunch of people who are doing highly skilled work but they're willing to do it for free and volunteer their time 20, sometimes 30 hours a week; and what they create, they give it away, rather than sell it. Why are these people, many of whom are technically sophisticated highly skilled people who have jobs, doing equally, if not more, technically sophisticated work not for their employer, but for someone else for free! That's a strange economic behavior."
This "strange behaviour" is, in fact, that of a Communist who follows Marx's well-known motto: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" - this is the only "ethics of gift" that has any authentic utopian dimension.

So-called "postmodern" capitalism is, of course, notoriously adept at exploiting these elements for its own profitability - not to mention the fact that, behind every "postmodern" company granting its employees the space for "creative" achievement, there is the anonymous spectre of old-fashioned working-class exploitation. The icon of today's creative capitalism is Apple - but what would Apple be without Foxconn, the Taiwanese company owning large factories in China where hundreds of thousands labour in atrocious conditions to assemble iPads and iPods?

We should never forget that the shadowy obverse of the postmodern "creative" centre in the Sillicon Valley (where a few thousand researchers test new ideas) is the militarized barracks in China, plagued by a string of suicides by its workers as the result of their unbearable work conditions (long hours, low pay, high pressure). After the eleventh worker jumped to his death, the company introduced a series of measures: compelling workers to sign contracts promising not to kill themselves, to report fellow workers who look depressed, to go to psychiatric institutions if their mental health deteriorates, and so on. To add insult to injury, Foxconn started to put up safety nets around the buildings of its vast factory.

No wonder that Terry Gou, the chairman of Hon Hai (the parent company of Foxconn), referred to his employees as animals at an end-of-the-year party, adding that "to manage one million animals gives me a headache." Gou added that he wants to learn from Chin Shih-chien, the director of Taipei Zoo, exactly how animals should be "managed." He even invited the zoo director to speak at Hon Hai's annual review meeting, asking all of his general managers to listen carefully to the lecture so that they could learn how to manage "the animals that work for them."

But whatever the problems with such experiments, they definitely demonstrate that there is nothing "natural" about capitalist competition and profit-maximization: above a certain level of satisfying the basic survival needs, people tend to behave in what one cannot but call a Communist way, giving to society according to their abilities, not according to the financial remuneration they receive.

And this brings us back to Sloterdijk, who celebrates donations of rich capitalists as a display of "neo-aristocratic pride." Should we not counter Sloterdijk's proposal with what Alain Badiou once referred to as "proletarian aristocratism"? It is no wonder that, in literature, one of the recurring themes is that of anti-bourgeois aristocrats who finally understand that the only way for them to keep alive the core of their pride is to join the other side - the true counterpoint to the bourgeois conceit.
- Slavoj Zizek, "We Don't Want the Charity of Rich Capitalists"

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Seek and Ye Shall Find

seeker of truth

follow no path
all paths lead where

truth is here
e.e. cummings

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Reacting to New Social Conventions

“The fear of appearances is the first symptom of impotence.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, "Crime and Punishment"
I just don't believe that when people are being unjustly oppressed that they should let someone else set rules for them by which they can come out from under that oppression.
- Malcolm X

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Who'll Stop the Reign?

This is a brave night to cool a courtezan.
I'll speak a prophecy ere I go:
When priests are more in word than matter;
When brewers mar their malt with water;
When nobles are their tailors' tutors;
No heretics burn'd, but wenches' suitors;
When every case in law is right;
No squire in debt, nor no poor knight;
When slanders do not live in tongues;
Nor cutpurses come not to throngs;
When usurers tell their gold i' the field;
And bawds and whores do churches build;
Then shall the realm of Albion
Come to great confusion:
Then comes the time, who lives to see't,
That going shall be used with feet.
This prophecy Merlin shall make; for I live before his time.
-Shakespeare's fool, "King Lear"

Sunday, August 24, 2014

To Catch a Falling Angel

Born with the face of Gods
Alas, I knew this not when I was born.
The faces of mortals appeared heavenly
Mimicking them, I wore a mask.
The world liked my mask so much,
That I made masks for every occasion.
Neither joy nor sorrow did the world see in me,
All they saw was what I wanted them to see.
But all costume parties are good,
Only when you know the end This charade has its price to pay,
And the price of society is,
Being alone in the crowd.

I seeked for someone
To whom I can show my true form.
And I did find an angelic lass.
Alas, I was now a fallen angel.
Instead of clearing my conscience,
I caught an angel, wearing sheep’s fur.
At the peak of triumph,
Yet desperate for salvation,
I tried in haste to throw my masks away.
Alas, it was too little too late.
My angel knew me by my masks,
And to my horror, I did not know,
What I truly looked like.

Was I always the devil?
Or could I have been an angel?
Maybe this is what they call,
The fall of angels.
- Samraj, "The Mask of Mortals" (Under the Cool Blue Sky Blog)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Habitus

Repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change something in the mind which contemplates it. Hume’s famous thesis takes us to the heart of a problem: since it implies, in principle, a perfect independence on the part of each presentation, how can repetition change something in the case of the repeated element? The rule of discontinuity or instantaneity in repetition tells us that one instance does not appear unless the other has disappeared– hence the status of matter as mens momentanea. However, given that repetition disappears even as it occurs, how can we say ‘the second’, ‘the third’ and ‘it is the same’? It has no in-itself. On the other hand, it does not change something in the mind which contemplates it. This is the essence of the modification. Hume takes as an example the repetition of the cases of the type AB, AB, AB, A… . Each case of objective sequence AB is independent of the others. The repetition (although we cannot yet properly speak of repetition) changes nothing in the object or the state of affairs AB. On the other hand, a change is produced in the mind which contemplates: a difference, something new in the mind. Whenever A appears, I expect the appearance of B.
- Deleuze, "Difference and Repetition"

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Love - Hate Limbos

And limbo stick is the silence in front of me
limbo

limbo
limbo like me
limbo
limbo like me

long dark night is the silence in front of me
limbo
limbo like me

stick hit sound
and the ship like it ready

stick hit sound
and the dark still steady

limbo
limbo like me

long dark deck and the water surrounding me
long dark deck and the silence is over me

limbo
limbo like me

stick is the whip
and the dark deck is slavery

stick is the whip
and the dark deck is slavery

limbo
limbo like me

drum stick knock
and the darkness is over me

knees spread wide
and the water is hiding

limbo
limbo like me

knees spread wide
and the dark ground is under me

down
down
down
and the drummer is calling me

limbo
limbo like me

sun coming up
and the drummers are praising me

out of the dark
and the dumb god are raising me

up
up
up

and the music is saving me

hot
slow
step

on the burning ground.
Edward Kamau Brathwaite, "Limbo"

Monday, August 18, 2014

Remembering the Talented Marvin Gaye

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
- Maya Angelou

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Who was Hugo Ball?

Hugo Ball was born in Pirmasens, German Empire, and was raised in a middle-class Catholic family. He studied sociology and philosophy at the universities of Munich and Heidelberg (1906–1907). In 1910, he moved to Berlin in order to become an actor and collaborated with Max Reinhardt. At the beginning of the First World War he tried joining the army as a volunteer, but was denied enlistment for medical issues. After witnessing the invasion of Belgium, he was disillusioned saying: "The war is founded on a glaring mistake, men have been confused with machines". Considered a traitor in his country, he crossed the frontier with his wife and settled in Zürich. Here, Ball continued his interest in anarchism, and in Bakunin in particular; he also worked on the book of Bakunin translations, which never got published. Although interested in anarchist philosophy, he nonetheless rejected it for its militant aspects, and viewed it as only a means to his personal goal of enlightenment.

In 1916, Hugo Ball created the Dada Manifesto, making a political statement about his views on the terrible state of society and acknowledging his dislike for philosophies in the past claiming to possess the ultimate Truth. The same year as the Manifesto, in 1916, Ball wrote his poem "Karawane," which is a poem consisting of nonsensical words. The meaning however resides in its meaninglessness, reflecting the chief principle behind Dadaism. Some of his other best known works include the poem collection 7 schizophrene Sonette, the drama Die Nase des Michelangelo, a memoir of the Zürich period Flight Out of Time: A Dada Diary, and a biography of Hermann Hesse, entitled Hermann Hesse. Sein Leben und sein Werk (1927).
As co-founder of the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich, he led the Dada movement in Zürich, and is one of the people credited with naming the movement "Dada", by allegedly choosing the word at random from a dictionary. He was married to Emmy Hennings, another member of Dada.

His involvement with the Dada movement lasted approximately two years. He then worked for a short period as a journalist, for Freie Zeitung in Bern. After returning to Catholicism in July 1920, Ball retired to the canton of Ticino where he lived a religious and relatively poor life. He died in Sant'Abbondio, Switzerland of stomach cancer on September 14, 1927.

His poem "Gadji beri bimba" was later adapted to the song "I Zimbra" on the 1979 Talking Heads album Fear of Music; he received a writing credit for the song on the track listing. A voice-cut-up collage of his poem "Karawane" by German artist Kommissar Hjuler, member of Boris Lurie's NO!Art Movement, was released as LP at Greek label Shamanic Trance in 2010.
from Wikipedia

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sleeplessness

Thin are the night-skirts left behind
By daybreak hours that onward creep,
And thin, alas! the shred of sleep
That wavers with the spirit's wind:
But in half-dreams that shift and roll
And still remember and forget,
My soul this hour has drawn your soul
A little nearer yet.

Our lives, most dear, are never near,
Our thoughts are never far apart,
Though all that draws us heart to heart
Seems fainter now and now more clear.
To-night Love claims his full control,
And with desire and with regret
My soul this hour has drawn your soul
A little nearer yet.

Is there a home where heavy earth
Melts to bright air that breathes no pain,
Where water leaves no thirst again
And springing fire is Love's new birth?
If faith long bound to one true goal
May there at length its hope beget,
My soul that hour shall draw your soul
For ever nearer yet.
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "Insomnia"

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dialing for Dali Dollars

There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.
- Salvador Dali

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Planking through Life

So now the changed year's turning wheel returns
And as a girl sails balanced in the wind,
And now before and now again behind
Stoops as it swoops, with cheek that laughs and burns,—
So Spring comes merry towards me now, but earns
No answering smile from me, whose life is twin'd
With the dead boughs that winter still must bind,
And whom to-day the Spring no more concerns.

Behold, this crocus is a withering flame;
This snowdrop, snow; this apple-blossom's part
To breed the fruit that breeds the serpent's art.
Nay, for these Spring-flowers, turn thy face from them,
Nor gaze till on the year's last lily-stem
The white cup shrivels round the golden heart.
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "Barren Spring"

Monday, August 4, 2014

Orbitting Debris

Satellite the labour of love
Beneath the coverings of the sky above
Shall I watch and wait in wonder
Beside the sounds of echoed thunder

Watching twilight in the night
Lonely beacon of the light
Whisper softly passing by
Beneath the sky of tearful cries

And like the sands of fallen crumbs
One by one I count the sums
I have yearned beside the thunder
Heavy hands have held me under

Booked before our preservation
Shall it be the last generation
No sooner is it said and done
And like the fables overcome

Sum, not in that which is and was
Nor burden thee with noble cause
On hollowed ground, among solid turf
I have found my place, and here I serve
- Darryn John Murphy, "Satellite"

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Anti-Episcopalian Forms

Puritans were blocked from changing the established church from within, and were severely restricted in England by laws controlling the practice of religion. Their beliefs, however, were transported by the emigration of congregations to the Netherlands (and later to New England), and by evangelical clergy to Ireland (and later into Wales), and were spread into lay society and parts of the educational system, particularly certain colleges of the University of Cambridge. They took on distinctive beliefs about clerical dress and in opposition to the episcopal system, particularly after the 1619 conclusions of the Synod of Dort they were resisted by the English bishops. They largely adopted Sabbatarianism in the 17th century, and were influenced by millennialism.
from Wikipedia

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Life's Engine

"I want"—it pleaded—All its life—
I want—was chief it said
When Skill entreated it—the last—
And when so newly dead—

I could not deem it late—to hear
That single—steadfast sigh—
The lips had placed as with a "Please"
Toward Eternity—
- Emily Dickinson

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sublimation

HERMES - Well then, bear my warning in memory and do not blame your fortune when you are caught in the toils of calamity; nor ever say that it was Zeus who cast you into suffering unforeseen. Not so, but blame yourselves. For well forewarned, and not suddenly or secretly shall you be entangled in the inextricable net of calamity by reason of your folly.
[Exit Hermes.]

PROMETHEUS - Indeed, now it has passed from word to deed—the earth rocks, the echoing thunder-peal from the depths rolls roaring past me; the fiery wreathed lightning-flashes flare forth, and whirlwinds toss the swirling dust; the blasts of all the winds leap forth and set in hostile array their embattled strife; the sky is confounded with the deep. Behold, this stormy turmoil advances against me visibly, sent by Zeus to frighten me. O holy mother mine, O you firmament that revolves the common light of all, you see the wrongs I suffer!

[Amid thunder and lightning Prometheus vanishes from sight; and with him disappear the daughters of Oceanus.]
- Aeschylus, "Prometheus Bound"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pining for the Fjords

Une immense espérance a traversé la terre
Une immense espérance a traversé ma peur

[Immense hope crossed the land]
[Immense hope crossed my fear]

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Soul of Promethean Man

Titan! to whose immortal eyes
The sufferings of mortality,
Seen in their sad reality,
Were not as things that gods despise;
What was thy pity's recompense?
A silent suffering, and intense;
The rock, the vulture, and the chain,
All that the proud can feel of pain,
The agony they do not show,
The suffocating sense of woe,
Which speaks but in its loneliness,
And then is jealous lest the sky
Should have a listener, nor will sigh
Until its voice is echoless.

Titan! to thee the strife was given
Between the suffering and the will,
Which torture where they cannot kill;
And the inexorable Heaven,
And the deaf tyranny of Fate,
The ruling principle of Hate,
Which for its pleasure doth create
The things it may annihilate,
Refus'd thee even the boon to die:
The wretched gift Eternity
Was thine—and thou hast borne it well.
All that the Thunderer wrung from thee
Was but the menace which flung back
On him the torments of thy rack;
The fate thou didst so well foresee,
But would not to appease him tell;
And in thy Silence was his Sentence,
And in his Soul a vain repentance,
And evil dread so ill dissembled,
That in his hand the lightnings trembled.

Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,
To render with thy precepts less
The sum of human wretchedness,
And strengthen Man with his own mind;
But baffled as thou wert from high,
Still in thy patient energy,
In the endurance, and repulse
Of thine impenetrable Spirit,
Which Earth and Heaven could not convulse,
A mighty lesson we inherit:
Thou art a symbol and a sign
To Mortals of their fate and force;
Like thee, Man is in part divine,
A troubled stream from a pure source;
And Man in portions can foresee
His own funereal destiny;
His wretchedness, and his resistance,
And his sad unallied existence:
To which his Spirit may oppose
Itself—and equal to all woes,
And a firm will, and a deep sense,
Which even in torture can descry
Its own concenter'd recompense,
Triumphant where it dares defy,
And making Death a Victory.
- Lord Byron, "Prometheus"

...or is it, Prometheus von Smith!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Casting Off

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone;
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
But has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
Sigh, it is lost on the air;
The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
Be sad, and you lose them all,—
There are none to decline your nectared wine,
But alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
Fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
But no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a large and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain.
-Ella Wheeler Wilcox, "Solitude"

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Undermining (Unmasking) the "Noble Lie" and "Founding Mythology"

"The story goes that Zeus, Poseidon and Athena were arguing about who could make something truly good. Zeus made the most excellent of all animals, man, while Athena made a house for people to live in, and, when it was his turn, Poseidon made a bull. Momos (Complaint) was selected to judge the competition, for he was still living among the gods at that time. Given that Momos was inclined to dislike them all, he immediately started to criticize the bull for not having eyes under his horns to let him take aim when he gored something; he criticized man for not having been given a window into his heart so that his neighbour could see what he was planning; and he criticized the house because it had not been made with iron wheels at its base, which would have made it possible for the owners of the house to move it from place to place when they went travelling."
- Aesop, "Fables" (C6th B.C.)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Change

My young son asks me: Must I learn mathematics?
What is the use, I feel like saying. That two pieces
Of bread are more than one's about all you'll end up with.
My young son asks me: Must I learn French?
What is the use, I feel like saying. This State's collapsing.
And if you just rub your belly with your hand and
Groan, you'll be understood with little trouble.
My young son asks me: Must I learn history?
What is the use, I feel like saying. Learn to stick
Your head in the earth, and maybe you'll still survive.

Yes, learn mathematics, I tell him.
Learn your French, learn your history!
- Bertolt Brecht

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Where is the Modern Flamen Dialis

In ancient Roman religion, a flamen was a priest assigned to one of fifteen deities with official cults during the Roman Republic. The most important three were the flamines maiores (or "major priests"), who served the three chief Roman gods of the Archaic Triad. The remaining twelve were the flamines minores ("lesser priests"). Two of the minores cultivated deities whose names are now unknown; among the others are deities about whom little is known other than the name. During the Imperial era, the cult of a deified emperor (divus) also had a flamen.

The fifteen Republican flamens were part of the Pontifical College which administered state-sponsored religion. When the office of flamen was vacant, a pontifex could serve as a temporary replacement, although only the Pontifex Maximus is known to have substituted for the Flamen Dialis.

The official costume of a flamen, of great antiquity, was a hat called an apex and a heavy woolen cloak called a laena. The laena was a double-thick wool cloak with a fringed edge, and was worn over the flamen's toga with a clasp holding it around his throat. The apex was a leather skull-cap with a chin-strap and a point of olive wood on its top, like a spindle, with a little fluff of wool at the base of the spindle.
- Wikipedia

Never mind. I see him now!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ode to a Troll's Troll

Some say that all trolls deal in charms
That are likely to do good folk harm
But mine never do
For they smile the day through
And greet me with wide open arms

Friday, June 20, 2014

Be Careful of Getting What You're Wishing For

...the pervert's universe is the universe of pure symbolic order, of the signifier's game running its course, unencumbered by the Real of human finitude.

---

And, back to sexual difference, I am tempted to risk the hypothesis that, perhaps, the same logic of zero-institution should be applied not only to the unity of a society, but also to its antagonistic split: what if sexual difference is ultimately a kind of zero-institution of the social split of the humankind, the naturalized minimal zero-difference, a split that, prior to signalling any determinate social difference, signals this difference as such? The struggle for hegemony is then, again, the struggle for how this zero-difference will be overdetermined by other particular social differences. It is against this background that one should read an important, although usually overlooked, feature of Lacan's schema of the signifier: Lacan replaces the standard Saussurean scheme (above the bar the word "arbre," and beneath it the drawing of a tree) with, above the bar, two words one along the other, "homme" and "femme," and, beneath the bar, two identical drawings of a door. In order to emphasize the differential character of the signifier, Lacan first replaces Saussure's single scheme with a signifier's couple, with the opposition man/woman, with the sexual difference; but the true surprise resides in the fact that, at the level of the imaginary referent, THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE (we do not get some graphic index of the sexual difference, the simplified drawing of a man and a woman, as is usually the case in most of today's restrooms, but THE SAME door reproduced twice). Is it possible to state in clearer terms that sexual difference does not designate any biological opposition grounded in "real" properties, but a purely symbolic opposition to which nothing corresponds in the designated objects — nothing but the Real of some undefined X which cannot ever be captured by the image of the signified?
-Slavoj Zizek, "The Matrix, or Two Sides of Perversion"
In Chapter 5 of the "The Ticklish Subject" Zizek writes "Why Perversion is Not Subversion." By referring to Freud and Lacan, he states that "hysteria and perversion - not perversion - offer a way into the Unconscious." Zizek says that hysteria is much more threatening to the hegemony (247) and provokes the "Master ambiguously" and that it includes doubts and questions. Whereas perversion is socially constructed (247) and undermines the Master’s position (247). It is just an “Acting out” – an "Ersatzhandlung," if you will.

One of Zizek's political examples to prove his point is national identity – e.g. Anti-colonialist national liberation movements: These movements, he claims, were only possible through the introduction of the “Nation” as a concept by the Western colonizers. While in pre-colonial times these communities had a self-enclosed ethnic awareness, now after oppression/colonization they urge to create an own nation-state and discriminate from other ethnicities. Strictly speaking, this would not be an hysteric action, it is the pervert's action, it is provoking the master (colonizer). In fact it can only happen because of the master.

This is an example that perversion is not subversion, since the “Anti-colonialist national liberation” movement does not offer an entry into the unconscious, it does not "change" things in the deeper level. The national identity is a (necessary) side-effect of colonialism.

By using the psychoanalytic definitions of hysteria and perversion, Žižek enters his political criticism of other theorists. He uses his argument to question political theories of power. At the end, he does not offer a concrete solution, but has established himself in the hysteric position, I believe. He is the one posing questions! And by criticizing other "masters," or "wannabe master narratives of theoreticians" he is not being a pervert, since he does not take the opposite position, but questions them and displays their weaknesses. He provokes "the master ambiguously." And by master, I am referring to prevailing theoreticians of late 20th century. Žižek is the hysteric "threatening the hegemony."
Source: Slavoj Zizek. "The Ticklish Subject." London and New York: Verso, 2000: (247-257).

The Position of the "Analyst" is not one of Pervert v. Hysteric, but one of University v. Analyst Discourse. The University, however, serves the Master. The Analyst, his "hysterical" subject.