Saturday, February 22, 2014

To the Power of Zero

The herd instinct, then--a power that has now become sovereign — is
something totally different from the instinct of an aristocratic
society: and the value of the units determines the significance of the
sum. --Our entire sociology simply does not know any other instinct than
that of the herd, i. e., that of the sum of zeroes--where every zero has
"egual rights," where it is virtuous to be zero.-
- Nietzsche, "Will to Power" (#53)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Moving in Place

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.”
― Jack Kerouac, "On the Road"

Thursday, February 13, 2014


Dear God I believe
Even in moments of doubt
Help my unbelief
- Forrest Hainline

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tempus Fugit!

"The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it."
- Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Oddyseus Responding to Syrens

From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then- in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life- was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.
- Edgar Allan Poe, "Alone"

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Discerning Truth in Islam

However, a good argument for Muhammad's basic sincerity is that he himself was the first to doubt radically the divine nature of his visions, dismissing them as hallucinatory signs of madness or as cases of demonic possession. His first revelation occurred during his Ramadan retreat outside Mecca: he saw the archangel Gabriel, calling upon him to "Recite!" (Qara, whence Qar'an) Muhammad thought that he was going mad, and since he didn't want to spend the rest of his life as Mecca's village idiot, preferring death to disgrace, he decided to throw himself from a high rock. But then the vision repeated itself: he heard a voice from above saying: "O Muhammad! Thou art the apostle of God and I am Gabriel." But even this voice did not reassure him, so he slowly returned to his house and, in deep despair, asked Khadija, his first wife (as well as the first believer in him): "Wrap me in a blanket, wrap me in a blanket." She wrapped him up, and Muhammad told her what had happened to him: "My life is in danger." Khadija dutifully solaced him.

When, during the following visions of the archangel Gabriel, Muhammad's doubts persisted, Khadija asked him to notify her when his visitor returned, so that they could verify whether it really was Gabriel or an ordinary demon. So, the next time Muhammad said to Khadija: "This is Gabriel who has just come to me." Khadija replied: "Get up and sit by my left thigh." Muhammad did so, and she said: "Can you see him?" "Yes." "Then turn round and sit on my right thigh." He did so, and she said: "Can you see him?" When he said that he could, Khadija asked him to move and sit on her lap, and, after disclosing her form and casting aside her veil, asked again: "Can you see him?" And he replied: "No." She then comforted him: "Rejoice and be of good heart, he is an angel and not a Satan." (There is a further version of this story which, in the final test, Khadija not only revealed herself, but made Muhammad "come inside her shift" [penetrate her sexually], and thereupon Gabriel departed. The underlying assumption is that, an angel would politely withdraw from the scene). Only after Khadija had provided him with this proof of the genuineness of his meeting with Gabriel was Muhammad cured of his doubts and able to embark upon his career as God's spokesman.


And this brings us back to the function of the veil in Islam: What if the true scandal this veil endeavors to obsfucate is not the feminine body hidden beneath it, but the inexistence of the feminine? What if, consequently, the ultimate function of the veil is precisely to sustain the illusion that there is something, the substantial Thing, behind the veil? If, following Nietzsche's equation of truth and woman, we transpose the feminine veil into the veil which conceals the ultimate Truth, the true stakes of the Muslim veil become clearer. Woman is a threat because she stands for the "undecidability" of truth, for a succession of veils beneath which there is no ultimate hidden core; by veiling her, we create the illusion that there is, beneath the veil, the feminine Truth -- the horrible truth of the feminine as lie and deception, of course. Therein resides the concealed scandal of Islam: only a woman, the very embodiment of the indiscernibility of truth and lie, can guarantee Truth. For this reason, she has to remain veiled.
-Slavoj Zizek, "God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse"

Monday, February 3, 2014

Virtue and Revolution

In a study on aspects of everyday life (4), Trotsky argues that the worker is trapped between vodka, the church, and the cinema. Though he sees all three as narcotics which harm the proletariat, he sets the cinema apart from the other two. Compared to going to a tavern and drinking oneself into a stupor, or attending church where the same drama is perpetually performed out of habit and monotonous ritual, Trotsky prefers the cinema, whose role is entirely different. Encountering the silver screen provides a theatricality of greater grip than that provided by the church, which seduces with a thousand years of stage experience. The cinema clothes itself in a more valuable garb than the vestments of the church and its hierarchy is more varied -- it amuses, educates, and makes a powerful impression. Trotsky says that the cinema quashes every desire for religion, that it is the best way to counter tavern and church. He suggests that the cinema should be secured as an instrument for control of the working class. In other words, Trotsky feels seductive spectacle to be essential to revolutionary discourse and practice.

(4) Originally published in Pravda July 12, 1923
Zizek and Gunjevic, "God in Pain, "Inversions of Apocalypse"