Monday, March 31, 2014

As Featured on NPR This am

Future Islands are a synthpop band based in Baltimore, Maryland, signed to 4AD. The band is composed of Gerrit Welmers (keyboards and programming), William Cashion (bass, acoustic and electric guitars), and Samuel T. Herring (words and vocals). Future Islands formed in January of 2006 in Greenville, North Carolina.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Phatic Expressions

In linguistics, a phatic expression is one whose only function is to perform a social task, as opposed to conveying information.

For example: "You're welcome" is not intended to convey the message that the hearer is welcome; it is a phatic response to being thanked, which in turn is a phatic whose function is to acknowledge the receipt of a benefit.

Similarly, the question "how are you?" is usually an automatic component of a social encounter. Although there are times when "how are you?" is asked in a sincere, concerned manner and does in fact anticipate a detailed response regarding the respondent's present state, this needs to be pragmatically inferred from context and intonation.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

We Need to Pass the (Healthcare) Bill So that You Can Find Out What's in it...

The latter's utter contempt for the majority found expression in a curious but significant detail; even the Irish representative in Brussels publicly acknowledged that he had not read the text of the Lisbon Treaty. In other words, voters were being offered a text which they were effectively not expected to know -- they were supposed to trust blindly in the expertise of the Brussels elite. This tragicomedy of the European Constitution thus increasingly resembles the situation in Franz Kafka's short story, "The Problem of Our Laws," about a country in which the laws are not generally known, since they are kept secret by the small group of nobles who rule the population -- the people are governed by laws of which they are ignorant (and, here, more than ever, the metaphysical presupposition of the rule of law -- ignorance is no excuse, one is guilty in the eyes of the law even if one did not know the law -- holds). In such a situation, the very existence of the laws is at most a matter of presumption -- some decide that the laws they are trying to unravel may not even exist. The conclusion to be drawn from the story is this: since no subject knows the laws, since all are compelled to trust the interpretation of the laws proposed by the nobility, then in effect, if any law exists,it can only be whatever the nobles decide it is, for the sole visible and indubitable law imposed upon us is the will of the nobility. This is how the gap between law and power (extra-legal violence which sustains the rule of law) is (and has to be) inscribed into the legal edifice itself: as the unknowability at the heart of the law itself. Power cannot assert itself directly as naked violence: in order to function as power proper, it has to be sustained by the mystical aura of the law, so that, when it violates (what appears to the subject as) its own explicit regulations, this violation is grounded in the mystical abyss of the unknowable/ invisible Law.

Therein resides the lesson in the way the Brussels bureaucracy -- our "nobility" -- reacted to the Irish "No": Kafka's story describes not a pre-modern order of obscure authoritarianism, but the very core of the modern legal order. This is increasingly what our politics, with its "free democratic choices," is becoming: we are quite literally required to vote on (that is, confirm) complex texts which are beyond our reach. What Europe truly needs, on the contrary, is a short programmatic constitution clearly stating the principles of what "Europe" stands for as against other predominant social models (US neoliberalism, "Asian values" capitalism, and so on), perhaps --why not?-- on the model of the US constitution.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Living in the End Times"

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Grey Scales

In many of the cases reported by Oliver Sacks in his "Musicophilia," the patient haunted by compulsive music finds a great release when he learns that his hallucinations are caused by an organic brain lesion or some other kind of physical malfunctioning, not by psychological madness -- in this way, the patient no longer has to feel subjectively responsible for his own hallucinations, they become just a meaningless objective fact. Is there not, however, also a possible escape from some traumatic truth at work in this release? Sacks reports on the case of David Mamlok, an old Jewish immigrant from Germany who was haunted by musical hallucinations:
When I asked Mr. Manlok what his internal music was like, he exclaimed, angrily, that it was "tonal" and "corny." I found this choice of adjectives intriguing and asked him why he used them. His wife, he explained, was a composer of atonal music, and his own tastes were for Shoenberg and other atonal masters, though he was fond of classical and, especially, chamber music, too. But the music he hallucinated was nothing like this. It started, he said, with a German Christmas song (he immediately hummed this) and then other Christmas songs and lullabies: these were followed by marches, especially the Nazi marchings songs he had heard growing up in Hamburg in the 1930s. These songs were particularly distressing, for he was Jewish and had lived in terror of the Hitlerjungend, the belligerent gangs who had roamed the streets looking for Jews.
Did the organic stimulus here not re-awaken old traumas of obscene religio-political kitsch? Although Sacks is aware of how organically caused disturbances like musical hallucinations get invested with meaning (why these songs and not others?), nonetheless all too often the immediate reference to organic causes tends to obliterate the repressed traumatic dimension.

In the new form of subjectivity (autistic, indifferent, deprived of affective engagement), the old personality is not "sublated" or replaced by a contemporary formation, but thoroughly destroyed - destruction itself acquires a form, becomes a (relatively stable) "form of life" -- what we have is not simply the absence of form, but the form of (the) absence (of the erasure of the previous personality). More precisely, the new form is less a form of life than a form of death -- not an expression of the Freudian death drive, but, more differently, the death of the drive.

As Deleuze pointed out in "Difference and Repetition," death is always double: the Freudian death drive means that the subject wants to die, but to die in its own way, according to its own inner path, not as a result of an external accident. There is always a gap between the two, between the death drive as "transcendental" tendency and the contingent accident which kills me. Suicide is a desperate (and ultimately failed) attempt to bring the two dimensions together. There is a nice scene in a Hollywood horror movie in which a desperate young woman, alone in her bedroom, is about to kill herself when suddenly the horrible creature attacking the city breaks into the room and attacks her -- the woman then fights back desperately, since although she wanted to die, this was not the death she wanted.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Living in the End Times"

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Penis normalis, zwei mal taeglich!" - Freud

A glimpse into a world without a Master Signifier...
They were given the choice between becoming kings or the courriers of kings. in the manner of children, they all wanted to be courrier; as a result, there are only courriers. They gallop through the world shouting to each other messages that, since there are no kings, have become meaningless. Gladly, they would put an end to their miserable existence, but they dare not, because of their oaths of service.
(from Kafka, "Courriers") - Slavoj Zizek, "Living in the End Times"

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Lacanian Sublime

According to Lacan, fantasy is the ultimate support of our “sense of reality.“ The Real is the hidden ”traumatic underside of our existence or sense of reality, whose disturbing effects are felt in strange and unexpected places: the Lacanian Sublime.
The object from below by GERARD WAJCMAN

In 1960, for Lacan, the elevation of the object constitutes the act of sublimation.1 In 1970, the rise of the object seems to take us back to another matter, as the general rise of the object in society. In fact, the indication of a new potential rise of the object unveils a new class of sublimation. In ten years there was a shift from sublimation’s traditional and aristocratic view, the cathartic power of beauty in the hands of some chosen souls, to a GSS, a generalized social sublimation, an industrial, anonymous, desacralized sublimation, where the emptiness of the Thing is drowned under the deluge of the object series.

This demands an examination of the nuance between the object’s elevation and its rise. To integrate Duchamp’s hypothesis that any object can serve, the thought of its elevation maintains Lacan along the lines of Freud’s transcendent view of sublimation. That is, sublimation supposes, implicates and summons the highest and unattainable ideals. It elevates to the highest level. While, the rise, can be perfectly considered from below, from very low, as in the rise of waters. In one case the highest level is reached, whereas in the other, one wades through.

For example, nobody will ever say that Christ rises: He elevates. "the time has already come in which the Son of Man ascends up to glory." [John, 12, 23] And to the elevation of the Passion of Crucifixion, the elevation of the sublime Ascension will follow - the Virgin’s Assumption will be an angelically assisted Ascension. This kind of elevation describes a sublimation in the sense of asceticism, the distillation of matter vaporized in spirit or, and at the heart of our Platonic cavern, the route from darkness to light. In Lacanian, sublime elevation takes the real to the symbolic. But when one measures the religious weight of the idea of elevation- well beyond the erection image – in our region, there is some suspicion that all idea of elevation is more or less perfumed with Christian essence, and that Freudian sublimation does not escape more than alpinism. So, for Lacan, the rise gives the object its material weight again and brings it back to the field of terrestrial gravity. The rise carries no object’s passion, no asceticism, no Metaphysical flight, no sacralization. The rise of the object is a fork-lift truck assisted Ascension. A crucial feature takes shape here: the object is equal to itself from below upwards. It is not an object that dematerializes. It remains exactly as it is: a product, a waste. The secret is that it simply changes levels. This new kind of sublimation consists of putting dirt in the suitable place, [to echo Lord Palmerston’s quotation mentioned by Freud in "Character and Anal Erotism": dirt is matter in a wrong place ]. Nevertheless, it remains that Lacan himself sent that object off to the summit. It could be regarded as an invitation to raise the eyes to the sky. But it is just about a social summit . That is to say, when the term summit names elevation’s highest degree, there is nothing that forbids to place the social summit at the level of the supermarket’s top shelves. Sublime elevation was supposed to organize "the inaccessibility of the object as object of jouissance” ; the object’s social rise puts it within reach in the shop windows display of all the world stores. In Prague’s springtime, when Lacan announces a human faced sublimation, hyper-modern time sublimation – one immediately hears: the supermarket. This concerns two things. One: the rise of the object really describes its fall. The sublime Parnassus’ wheel is sent to the bazaar, to fatally finish in the rubbish dump. Therefore, it is urgent to forget the Pseudo Longin, Kant with Freud, to give sublimation its modern definition. It is what Lacan does in 1972: as “the highest point of what lies below”. The time for the sublime from below has come. Everything is upside down at the time of the king-object. Two: the rise of the object is a sober way to name the Tsunami of commodities. And in this flood of objects, there is one which gains all its weight, it can be called the O.L.* [object-that-is-lacking]. When society is in consonance with satiety, dissatisfaction becomes a Bataillien’s luxury.

Anorexia is prepared to be the symptom of a world that is dreamt of as a horn of plenty, where hunger seems to be the scourge of another era. Nothingness is a value in rise. In the time of jouisance on all levels, it is necessary to lie in wait for an hysteric’s sublimation,
in their search of a missing and unsatisfactory object. Finally, collections could be the art of our time - the culture of the object-that-is-lacking* in the universal market of civilization.

*O.M. - Objet-qui-Manque, in the original

1. J. Lacan, The Seminar, Book VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-1960. (U.K Routeledge, 1992), p112
2. "Radiophonie", Scilicet, 2/3, p. 66, (French text)
3. English in the original
4. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, p. 203
5. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar, Book XX, Encore, 1972-1973. Trans. Bruce Fink. (N.Y. Norton, 1998), p. 13
6. English in the original

Translated by Susana Tillet

Ontologicial Angst

There once was a man who said 'God

Must think it exceedingly odd

If he finds that this tree
Continues to be

When there's no one about in the Quad.'

Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd:

I am always about in the Quad.

And that's why the tree
Will continue to be

Since observed by yours faithfully, God

Friday, March 7, 2014

My Lost Boys - Where the Wild Things Are - Blog Wars

Half the morning's gone.
Coming down the hills
A strong and strapping wolf
Bit half the morning off
And in his heart it went
Up to the hills, to the wilds.
Every thing wept afterwards.
Up there in the hills, in the wilds
With wolves round a fire there is fun
The morn feeds itself to the flames
Not letting it die down.
- Radovan Karadzic

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Experiencing Any Strange Feelings Lately?

Pol. Then what, in your opinion, is rhetoric?

Soc. A thing which, as I was lately reading in a book of yours, you say that you have made an art.

Pol. What thing?

Soc. I should say a sort of experience.

Pol. Does rhetoric seem to you to be an experience?

Soc. That is my view, but you may be of another mind.

Pol. An experience in what?

Soc. An experience in producing a sort of delight and gratification.

Pol. And if able to gratify others, must not rhetoric be a fine thing?

Soc. What are you saying, Polus? Why do you ask me whether rhetoric is a fine thing or not, when I have not as yet told you what rhetoric is?

Pol. Did I not hear you say that rhetoric was a sort of experience?

Soc. Will you, who are so desirous to gratify others, afford a slight gratification to me?

Pol. I will.

Soc. Will you ask me, what sort of an art is cookery?

Pol. What sort of an art is cookery?

Soc. Not an art at all, Polus.

Pol. What then?

Soc. I should say an experience.

Pol. In what? I wish that you would explain to me.

Soc. An experience in producing a sort of delight and gratification, Polus.

Pol. Then are cookery and rhetoric the same?

Soc. No, they are only different parts of the same profession.
- Plato, "Gorgias"

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Which World Would You Prefer, Ethical or Romantic?

In stale blank verse a subject stale
I send per post my Nightingale;
And like an honest bard, dear Wordsworth,
You'll tell me what you think, my Bird's worth.
My own opinion's briefly this--
His bill he opens not amiss;
And when he has sung a stave or so,
His breast, & some small space below,
So throbs & swells, that you might swear
No vulgar music's working there.
So far, so good; but then, 'od rot him!
There's something falls off at his bottom.
Yet, sure, no wonder it should breed,
That my Bird's Tail's a tail indeed
And makes it's own inglorious harmony
Æolio crepitû, non carmine.
- Samuel Coleridge