22 December 2007

The persistence of ethics

If life is thought, even if thought is conceived in more contemporary terms such as reflection (Sartre), a fold (Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze), or self-identity (Fichte and idealism), need one be naïve to hold that the task of philosophy is essentially an ethical one? One might say here that we are still dealing with Hegel (see Marcuse’s thesis under Heidegger on the role of life in the theory of historicity in the Phenomenology), which ultimately means the persistence of Kantianism, especially insofar as the center of the Kantian system was precisely in morality. Even if our allergy to speaking of morality is the result of crude readings of Nietzsche, we need not be trapped between a choice of a return to Kantianism or fundamentalism (even though morality is arguably intrinsically theological or “religious” in the strictest sense of the word). One way in which philosophy is moral is insofar as it is metaxiological. There has already been significant work at the intersection of aesthetics and ethics; what remains is the conjunction of metaphysics. The question is not “what is the meaning of life?” but, rather, what is a life?

20 December 2007

Tentative theses on origin and history

There are at least three senses in which any possible relationship to philosophy—philosophy as a history—is “archaic”. (1) As in the non-technical use of this term, philosophy is always “catching up” to us (what has Kant say about terrorism? what has Aristotle to say about evolution?) while, at the same time, we are never adequate to it (this is more than a hermeneutical problem). There is, in other words, a disjoint between us (we philosophers) and philosophy; but it is precisely this separation that makes it possible for philosophy to be historical (while, NB, constituting histories) and for philosophy to “go on”. As someone (whom I cannot remember) once said, the history of philosophy is the history of the misreading of philosophy—e.g., Aristotle misreads Plato and Derrida misreads everybody—but virtuously so. But, then, there are times when this separation of the philosopher from philosophy is one of trauma and the problem becomes one of the recuperation of philosophy, while ultimately means a recuperation of an origin (that has been lost).

(2) This is what is at stake in Romanitas. One hesitates to call Romanitas a concept, for it is rather the field of production from which philosophical concepts emerged. It is, even more than this, the name for a cultural trauma from which, arguably, we have yet fully to recover. This trauma was a crisis (a “turning”) of identity or, one might say, of originality. This “originality” is not, however, the romantic notion of something “new” or “novel” that is “my own”—it is not the idea of finding a “unique” Roman identity in the world. The problem is not the allegedly derivative status of Roman philosophy as a poor imitation or amateurish extension of a greater and more elegant Greek philosophy. The problem of Roman originality is constructing the very name of Rome.

Arendt claims that authority did not exist in the world until the Romans took the Greeks as authoritative. But one wonders if it is really as simple as that. Virgil demonstrates just how traumatic and violent such an act of original authority can be. Although Aeneas is charged with the task of carrying the Trojan Penates to Italy, one wonders whether there is a paradoxical an-archy at the heart of the continuity of the established history. As the author of the poem, Virgil’s task is the thinking of this origin (of Rome), yet that thinking is shot through with the threat of an-archy within the very tradition commemorated by the act of the text. It is this threat that drives Aeneas into rage—he is unable peacefully, simply, to translate the Trojan gods to Italy. His act must be original.

(3) If the presocratics inititated Greek philosophy, then there is a straightforward sense in which philosophy has always been “archaic” through to the Hellenistics. Yet this is not a separate problem from that of the historical origin, for the Roman question has always been: how is it possible that we (here, now) are here at all? What is the world to which we have given birth and in which we are birthed? Augustine’s own understanding of his origin is in this way essentially Roman: I am not my own origin, yet I cannot, in thought, return to this origin in any straightforward way. This return to origin is the essential task of thinking, which simultaneously takes the form of metaphysics and history (or one might say politics)—hence Lucretius’ poetry presents the image of the primordial rain, Virgil’s poem establishes (in act) the origin that it simultaneously commemorates (a sort of “past that has never been present”), and Augustine (and Plotinus) finds the origin of Being beyond Being. But, if these are the paradoxes into which a thinking of the origin is thrown, then it would seem philosophy must always be inadequate to the task. Yet this is why philosophy constitutes a history, just as Augustine through his Confessions constitutes a life (in Deleuze’s sense) and why, in at least one aspect of our history, we have never escaped the Roman problem of originality (or what Arendt calls the crisis of authority). We have not “returned” to Rome in a new “Hellenistic Age”—of crises of cosmopolitanism, of the collapse of global empire, of neo-Stoicism, of law, etc—for we have never left it. Arendt is right in at least one respect: the problem of origin was never a problem for the Greeks, despite their cosmological speculations; the question of origin is, rather, quintessentially Roman (which is why, à la Nietzsche, the Romans, unlike the Greeks, cannot be tragic).

12 December 2007


(The following is from an e-mail sent to a colleague that attempts to make sense of Agamben’s notion of “infancy” and, more generally, the earlier works.)

At the end of Language and Death, Agamben says that the point is to conceive “of the Voice as never having been, and it no longer thinks the Voice, the unspeakable tradition. Its place is the ethos, the infantile dwelling—that is to say, without will or Voice—of man in language. This dwelling, which has the figure of a history and of a universal language that have never been and are thus no longer destined to be handed down in a grammar, is that which remains here, to be thought”. Right after this passage, Agamben mentions the Eleusinian mysteries again with respect to Hegel’s Phenomenology and says that “every beginning is, in truth, an initiation, every conditum is an abs-conditum”.

It is precisely at the moment where the disparity between what is said and what is meant opens up that Hegel introduces the Eleusinian mysteries such that the impossibility of saying what is meant becomes the very condition of possibility for the power of language to (re)present reality in/as experience. This would be the “divine nature” of language as the experience of death (negativity) according to which death is both the limit of knowledge even as this horizon is surpassed by virtue of the mystery wherein the unsayable remains at the heart of language in its universality and, more importantly, also in the sense in which the divine/universal sublates death and negativity into the experience of presence in consciousness. (This is what makes the very idea of “beginning” problematic in the Phenomenology—the “initiation” into the mysteries is a “beginning before the beginning” where the condition for the conditioned is a condition precisely by withdrawing or subtracting itself as a condition.)

In Infancy and History, infancy is described as a being-silent about its knowledge, or “standing guard” over knowledge in silence (un silenzio da custodire). Here the cue is taken from Benjamin’s analysis of the poverty of experience and the problem of recuperation the very possibility of experience. The point is not a memorialization of experience/history, which would take the form of a speech or discourse (say, of the Holocaust) or a giving voice to the invisible or disenfranchised—to bring them into the totality of history, which is to say, within a conception of experience that is still transcendental or idealist, which Agamben wants to move out of by the “linguistic turn”. In this sense, I see the idea of infancy as a critique of the Hegelian-Marxist solution to the “destruction of experience” insofar as the latter’s conception of experience is basically that articulated in paragraph eighty-six of the Phenomenology. The idea of a fundamental passivity in modernity (of “undergoing” experience without the possibility of negation or critique in thought) isn’t to be resolved by recourse to dialectical or transcendental subjectivity but rather in attention to the subject of language.

But this sub-ject “of” language is one that is displaced in the abs-conditum of language, which cannot be “handed down” in (memorializing) speech because it is that which cannot be spoken and, moreover, is forbidden to be spoken of (the initiate into the Eleusinian mysteries were forbidden to speak during the nighttime ceremonies and also of what occurred during them). As long as language continues to be thought on this basis (Voice, system/structure), then we will never experience history in a way that does not result in things like the World Wars (nihilism, violence, etc). Here infancy is the silence, the non-speaking, the without-Voice that can make experience possible.

Hence this is a non-memorialization, a being-outside of history (what “has never been”), which is related to the “whatever-being” of The Coming Community: “the antimony of the individual and universal has its origin in language. … Linguistic being is a class that both belongs and does not belong to itself … The example is characterized by the fact that it holds for all cases of the same type, and, at the same time, it is included among these. It is one singularity among others, which, however, stands for each of them and serves for all”. But the example is also this particular (singular) thing at the same time. “Exemplary is what is not defined by any property, except by being-called”, i.e., in the name. “Hence the impotent omnivalence of whatever being. … These pure singularities communicate only in the empty space of the example, without being tied by any common property, by any identity. … They are exemplars of the coming community”. This might, like Nietzsche, simply be nominalism grandly stated, but I take the point to be that experience requires the possibility of a new naming (in the “infancy” analogy, it’s the fact that it’s prior to naming that the infant is an infant, i.e., one who cannot (yet) speak). But this isn’t a naming in the sense of a singular demonstrative reference (e.g., Hegel’s “diese”), since that obviously puts us back into the problem of the Voice. But this is where I don’t know what Agamben’s positive program would look like. The idea seems to be that we will always fall back into this problem of the Voice, but the point is to look for the possibility of new articulations, of new voices or radically other voices, such that we continuously face the problem of infancy, perhaps as a new mode of critique.

The only thing I can think of that might provide a clue about this “new voice” is the quasi-mysticism in Agamben’s work on poetry. In his poetics, Agamben says that the model of knowledge he’s developing is one that “has provided the frame both for an examination of human objects transfigured by the commodity [the Benjaminian point], and for the attempt to discover, through analysis of emblematic form and the tale of the Sphinx, a model of signifying that might escape the primordial situation of signifier and signified that dominates Western reflection on the sign [recalling that infancy is also cashed in terms of structure as well as history, which ultimately seem to be equivalent]”. Yet Agamben’s analysis of poetry, as far as I can tell, seems to be something like an erotic mysticism that produces something like divine ecstasy: a “topology of joy, of the stanza through which the human spirit responds to the impossible task of appropriating what must in every case remain unappropriable”, which is nothing other than the vision of God in medieval writing such as Dante (whom Agamben analyzes).

Or, on the other hand, I don’t yet see that infancy isn’t just Nietzsche’s historia abscondita (GS 34) or the child of the third metamorphosis.

04 December 2007

A question about method (Reflections while reading The Modernist Papers)

1. Either: form. The oldest (western) tradition in speaking of form holds that it is either the principle or product of determination. “Indeterminate form” or “formlessness” (i.e., matter) already contains a (teleological) reference to form. The genius (genie, demiruge, creator, poet) is the one who imposes form (Plato, gnosticism, Genesis, etc). In the romantic version of this thesis (up to and including Hegel), this means the sensuous unity of form and content in the aesthetic consciousness (whether this unity is prior to the work or not is irrelevant). Alternatively, the baroque and classical ideals of form were constitutive of art, and art is nothing other than a thus “purely intentional object”. None of this prevents us from speaking of a “natural history” or “social production” of form, for these kinds of notions are predicated on an idea of form either as morphe or eidos, which ultimately manifests in a geometric conception of lines (whether in painting, music, dance, and so on) and their morphology (the line is thus conceived as a limit—viz., it is not included in the content that it makes possible). Boulez helpfully reminds us that, conceived thus, it is more proper to speak of form as the structuring of local structures (i.e., content). One sees this in nature in, e.g., biological rhythms, equilibria in dissipative structures, fractal geometry, etc.

2. Or: per-form. It is a convenient accident of our language that we cannot use “perform” as a noun (instead we must say “performance”). All form is per-form; all form is performed (mutual implication of work and nature, work and subject, subject and nature). This may be equivalent to what Deleuze calls "consistency".

3. Method. The creation of new forms (e.g., serialism), then, is co-extensive and simultaneous with the variations in their matter to which these new forms give rise (something like a “hermeneutic circle” of form or the “circle of the origin”). Modernism is not, for example, the attempt to give expression to “new ways of being-in-the-world hitherto inconceivable in human experience”. The “crisis of representation” in modernity (Simmel, Adorno, Jameson) is more than either an abstract formalism (according to which all content is flattened or reduced into the bidimensionality of the plane) or a Hegelian materialism (according to which the crisis in form results from the disaffection and dislocation of the subject in the world such that either artistic form becomes the enslavement of the subject to instrumental totality or the highest expression of an individuality stripped to its barest contingency—the nothingness at the heart of its being that is the essence of human freedom [Sartre]). The crisis of representation is the reflective moment in art where form folds back onto itself toward the form of the form (the limit case in Plato, for example), even if the form of the form is itself the product of reflection.

Yet it was not only Lyotard who thus wondered how we can say that there is anything called “post-modernism” if constitutive of modernism itself is the “rewriting” of modernity. This is not, primarily, a historical question but a methodological one: how is it that the content of the form is “dialectically presupposed” in the form of the content (ideology)? Jameson gives the name of “Utopia” to precisely this dialectical movement according to which form and content refuse to be identified with each other into either a purely abstract formalism or the totality of self-referential content (both of which are equivalent to communism in political terms). But it seems that the persistence of the Absolute in this case consists in its consistent absence, deferral, or subtraction (which is not to say a negation). Does this not point the way to the futurity of per-form(ance) instead of the presence of form? The question is: what is the temporality of form? Is the choice always that between dialectics and history on the one hand and anarchy and ana-chrony on the other?

02 December 2007

Some more notes on the line

1. For pianists there is no more vexing question than how to play Chopin; this question is all the more problematic given the current vogue of postmodernism according to which such questions are no longer appropriate (or, at least, the problems are different when wondering how to play Stockhausen's Klavierstücken). Chopin is perhaps the last among his era (with the exception of Medtner who was reactionary in precisely this regard) for whom this question is relevant precisely because of his use of the classical line (whose textures are transformed in romanticism proper--as Idil Biret has said, there are, without qualification, no two sound worlds farther apart than Chopin and Liszt, who are both classified as so-called "romantics").

Perhaps the greatest injustice done to Chopin is the propensity to listen to him as a "romantic", in either the technical or popular sense of that word. There is nothing in Chopin that permits of anything that even suggests sentimentality. Rachmaninoff has been criticized for not "wearing his heart on his sleeve" when playing Chopin (specifically in reference to his playing of the Bbm sonata), as if he were a sterile, anaesthetic Brendel. Rachmaninoff and Hofmann were perhaps the last of those rare minds with both the technical facility and intellect to manifest the subtleties of Chopin's lines (too often playing Chopin becomes an obligation to be tossed off by those whose technical prowess are better whetted by transcriptions and Alkan).

2. Brahms reportedly fell asleep while listening to Liszt perform the latter's own Bm sonata. One wonders by what right he did so. Tchaikovsky had said of Brahms' music that it was merely "cold academism"; even aside from torturing the fingers on the keyboard, there is no better epithet to describe Brahms' lines than Tchaikovsky's. Merely look at the "great" Fm sonata or any of the piano trios.

3. One to watch: Vadim Chaimovich.

30 November 2007

Some notes on the line

Can anything be retained from Formalism? Art is not thinking in “images”, Shklovsky says (“image”, of course, in the usual sense of “picture” or “representation”). The rhythms of a work of art form not a special but a general economy of sensation according to which the sedimented history of significations (including that which comprises the movements of our very bodies in the viscera) that inform our experience are exploded. “Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony”, Shklovsky proclaims. But this is not simply ‘die Sache selbst’, for it is not the stone that is stony. Neither, however, is this simply the taking of an “aesthetic attitude”. The general economy of the artwork cares neither for the art object nor for our emotions. The rhythms bi-, di-, and intersected in a work of art open onto a new time that is neither constituted by the subject nor contained in the formalism of the text itself. The success of a work of art here is not the coherence of the “image” it presents (its narrative, its portrait or representation, its theme, etc). The work (of a work) of art is, in a word, a genesis (a unique affect, perhaps an “evental” affect).

One need not travel too late in the twentieth century to see these moments at work in music. Among the masters of the line in this later period are the later Corigliano and Dutilleux. But one can also hear similar moments—although rarely—in Rachmaninoff (in some of the preludes at a few measures in the sonatas), in Godowsky (particularly the left-hand study on Chopin’s 10/6 (No. 13) and, in the same spirit, Hamelin’s “triple etude”, although these moments occur precisely because of the co-presence of their companion pieces), and in Medtner at his best. In this last case, see, e.g., the ingenious closing three bars of the Gm sonata where we have come full circle, yet the origin had been displaced from the very beginning. We enter on the fifth, yet it is precisely that interval that is displaced not only by the immediate statement of the main theme but also in the line in which it is developed, ending in those final three chords wherein there is inversion without variation. Repetition: but infinitely productive within the interval that, ostensibly, is the most perfect.Yet as Medtner reminds us, the system of temperament only disguises the Pythagorean Comma: the productivity of a system is nothing but the exploitation of this opening.

25 November 2007

Some more orientations

5. Instead of ambiguity and difference, philosophy needs to come to terms with tension (roughly equivalent to what Deleuze calls "tendency") and singularity: not exactly the tension of the ancient Greeks (that which simultaneously pulls apart and holds together [Heraclitus' bow]) but the generalization of error, which is manifested in at-tension (Hanslick, Bergson, and Kerszberg) to the temporality of (in-tentional) objects.

6. Modernity exhibits a pathological fear of the future--hence the wild success of game theory. What philosophy needs is the ability to articulate a new futurity, what Bergson calls "novelty" and Badiou calls the "event".

21 November 2007

Images V

Philosophy and art have this homology: they do not exist "for" anything. The creation of philosophy (insofar as in philosophy we inhabit a new image of thought) and art are creations of new existences, new futures. There is no teleology of philosophy: the image is what Arendt called a "miracle" or what others are calling "events". What art makes possible, what it inspires, and what it causes are all irrelevant to the artist or the philosopher: this is the "intentional fallacy".

Really to renounce teleology, however, requires a rigorous conception of "creation" (Bergson, Deleuze, Badiou).

18 November 2007

Another ideology of philosophy

In the early 1980s, Nozick presented a speculative talk at Trinity College on why intellectuals tend to oppose capitalism. Without making any sociological claims, Nozick proposed that it was specifically the character of formal schooling (particularly that phenomenon according to which we say that graduates go “into the real world” insofar as their academic existence is precisely not “real”) that fosters an “anti-capitalist animus” in intellectuals who find that the rate of exchange for their currency is lamentably poor in the “real world”.

We can extend and refine this particular insight to philosophy not in its opposition to capitalism—which, of course, is also prevalent among many philosophers (Continental, at least)—but to certain features of its practice as an institution.*

*By “institution” I mean what Max Fisch meant in his 1956 presidential address to the western division of the APA. This text deserves much more attention than it has ever received, particularly insofar as he proposes a conception of philosophy as the critic of institutions. Approximately, an “institution” for Fisch is any structure that conditions some determinate (or conscious) activity.

I’ve met not a few psychologists who began study in their discipline not only to help others but also to help themselves. The same is true for philosophy. Can we not question whether philosophy begins in “wonder”? True, Plato and Aristotle both said this, but Plato also wondered whether there might not be a more original trauma at the heart of philosophy. Heidegger says you don’t theorize about the hammer until it breaks. When this happens you are forced to stop, and this interruption is a sort of wonder—what is happening? So too there is an aporia that compels Socrates to philosophize and there is a trauma that gives birth to philosophy in Plato (i.e., the execution of Socrates). In all these cases, the moment of wonder, of perplexity, is a moment of violent disbelief, perhaps even anger (I was, after all, trying to hammer something when the hammer breaks). I am forced to stop before I can go on.

Two more examples: (1) Marx had said that philosophy up to Hegel had made knowledge about the world actual. But this knowledge was insufficient insofar as the world it revealed was intolerable. Thus, the real task of philosophy was to change the world. (2) In the “sublime” world of global capital, what other experience is possible for the individual aside from the question “is it happening” (both Simmel and Gauguin would agree and the latter, like Lyotard, will not use a question mark).

For whatever reason, if it is the case that philosophy has a traumatic origin, then there would seem to be two possible responses. The first is extraordinarily pervasive: philosophy is therapy. Hadot, Nehamas, and Nussbaum are among the most vocal proponents of this view, which unfortunately requires more space than time currently permits. So too I want to assert that this conception is directly related, sometimes even causally so, to the current state of affairs in which, for all that, philosophers are certainly an unhappy lot (Nozick and Rorty are among some notable exceptions; so too, perhaps, even Nehamas), which is not aided (rather, probably exacerbated) by the operation of institutions according to which it is the philosopher’s job (quite literally in many cases) to be “against” something, to show why so-and-so has a stupid reading of so-and-so, to write something disagreeing with everyone else so to have somebody care about one’s work (whether the powers that be that grant tenure or the very colleagues that one at the same time demonstrates to be unequal to the task of so caring).

Alternative response: the point is not refutation. The point is to listen to a philosopher—“you must allow the philosopher to speak to you”, Deleuze once told his students. Better: the philosopher speaks in preludes and refrains. The philosopher engages in what Deleuze has called the creation of concepts or what I have suggested is the creation of images. Although Bachelard has done much to indicate the possibility of such a poetics, insofar as I am committed to the creativity of thought I remain a faithful Bergsonian.

17 November 2007


One of the bourgeois virtues of a global, cosmopolitan liberal democracy is “tolerance”. Entire university departments have been created directly from this ideology under the name of “cultural studies”. It is not apparent, however, that either this particular division of critical theory or popular opinion has yet learned the lesson that our contemporaries in feminism, queer theory, or race theory have learned, which is that the proper response to the idealization of culture (the “affirmative character of culture”) is not to level any distinctions whatever (viz. what Seabrook calls “nobrow” culture).

It is a common critique of “tolerance” that too easily it devolves into a vapid relativism that has difficulties dealing with problems of “radical evil”. At bottom, however, what this critique illustrates is the distinction between a merely “open” (“democratic”) mind--which is as closed as the fascist mind, except less overtly so (which is naïve at best and deluded at worst)--and an active mind.

We need not look to juridical discourses for examples of the former: they are found in the most mundane of situations, including in a phrase uttered at least once in any cocktail or courtship conversation: “I like all kinds of music”.

The existence of this sentence is proof positive that the compositional theory of language is either blatantly wrong or manifestly correct. Analyzing the components of this sentence results in something at least akin to nonsense while, ipso facto, the emptiness of each of the components yields a sentence that manages to function in conversation.

“All”. This is not an innocent equivocation. Either this word is to be taken strictly, in which case one does away with judgment altogether, or this word means something like “many”, which is naïve in either an egocentric (the only kinds of music that exist are the ones I’ve heard) or provincial (my local radio station really does play a “variety” of music, or I can find variety among the many radio stations on satellite radio) sense.

“Kinds”. Similarly, either the word “kind” tends to mean something like “because I like Beethoven’s Ninth I am therefore justified in saying I like ‘classical music’” or one then needs criteria for distinguishing between “good” and “bad” classical music.

“Music”. It needs hardly to be said that what counts for music here is either so for romantic reasons or for some reductively materialist reason (I can enjoy the erhu because I can “feel” it).

“Like”. Perhaps the best explanation of this term consists in its use in the sentiment “I don’t like music that needs to be explained to me”.

“I”. This is, of course, the I of preferences, of taste, of feelings. This is the I who has the right to an opinion, who is free to like or dislike the things that subjectively happen to please my individual palate, the I with a “view from nowhere” precisely because it is located in me.

Unfortunately, no further general critiques are possible, so allow two common (related) examples. First—about which little more needs to be added to the standard ideological critique—there is the opinion that I simply like whatever I happen to like. Music is what “speaks to me”, to which I can “identify”, something “with a good beat”, something that is “beautiful” and “speaks to the soul”, something “common to all humanity” such that the attempt to distinguish between Bolet’s and Arrau’s Chopin ruins the ability “just to enjoy” music.

Second, there is the opinion that music is a “universal language”, that the content of music is expressive of “human spirituality” such that there is a common space between any two people in music. So let us take two people and place them in dialogue.

A: “You’re a composer and you’re writing a sonata? Get real. Write something you like. Don’t try to do stuff that has been done a million times before. Write something fun! Go wild! How about flute and drums, or piano and clapping. Something that at least hasn’t been done as much. The great thing about Cage is that he tried something he wanted to do and he was original and new. As a young composer you should look at new music being written onw. Check out Arvo Part [sic], look at eastern composers, look at Astor Piazzolla. Be lyrical and beautiful but be real and yourself. Do not imitate. I am just like you. I like the same stuff you like: Mahler, Bruckner, Prokoviev, Stravinski, Shosatakovich, etc. Rachmaninoff is [sic] a very good sense of melody. Balakirev sort of silly piano mania [sic]. Brahms too tangled up in all studdy [sic] material. If you want to learn something about composition, check out Vivaldi! Don’t pass too much judgment. Study, study, study. The new ism of our age is spirtualism! You are talking to a twenty-first century composer! What we look to express in our sound is GOD and the spirit, sort of back to BACH but in a very different way. Get over form, darling! Form is not about music form is the preoccupation of little minds and critiques [sic]! I am not talking about form! Content defines form not the other way around! CONTENT! Spiritualism is a new perspective to the window of the arts. It allows us to look at everything in a new way. It is much bigger than deconstruction, romanticism, etc. It encompasses so much. It bridges Vivaldi, Bach, and Sacrlati [sic] with Glass, Part [sic], and Prokofiev. That is the art of this age, so learn about it. It is like giant [sic] waking up! It is majestic! It is awesome! The more simple [sic] the closer to GOD, that is what spiritualism is all about, like a crystal, like a snowflake, like a touch, a kiss, a tear. The only requirement is honesty, and see the romantics where [sic] not honest, they were bull shitters! Be honest, create from your heart. When the seventeen year old Chopin composed, he could not lie, but when the thirty-six year old Scriabin was pretending to be a philosopher that he wasn’t, he was waisting [sic] notes! When you grow older, you will learn to love Mozart. Mozart is the Christ of music! Keep writing and don’t mind all I told you. Love a lot, sing a lot, play a lot, cry and laugh a lot. And stop thinking about music. Just listen to your heart!”

B: Boulez, Salonen, or even Pärt—take your pick.

(The text for “A” is actually a transcription of an online “conversation” I had with someone whose name I have since forgotten after he discovered I was a musician. That I was a musician and at the time working on a couple pieces was the only information he had before launching into this text. In this transcription, I have simply omitted my occasional attempts at interlocution between some of these sentences since, apparently, they were unnecessary. The only other bit omitted from this “conversation” was a diatribe after I mentioned Scriabin, who was the only composer I actually named. I have also changed every “u” to “you” and so forth.)

Just what kind of space do A and B have in common?

Or, to take a less pernicious example, what common space is shared by a Broadway singer and a DJ?

Put simply: there is no such thing as “music” except nominally, and then only in a minimal sense. Ingarden was close to realizing this point when he spoke of the ontology of the work of art. There is only the creation of singularities. One can generalize this example: there is no such thing called “Beethoven’s Ninth”. There is only each performance of that work (which would, of course, include that performance in the mind of the composer had the work never been played by an orchestra), which we could call “Beethoven’s Ninth (1)”, “Beethoven’s Ninth (2)”, ... , “Beethoven’s Ninth (n)”. But this sequence is divergent—there 'is' no “Beethoven’s Ninth”.

The eclectic thus performs not only an ideological act of fetishization and reification but also an ontological reification. It is the eclectic who, in the name of supporting the creation of music, endorses anything that happens to be called “music”—by voting on American Idol, by pirating underground music on the Internet, and so on—while, precisely by so doing, undermining the very possibility for the real creation of music (one can say this either materially or ontologically).

23 October 2007


Habermas: "... a progressively rationalized lifeworld is both uncoupled from and made dependent on increasingly complex, formally organized domains of action, like the economy and the state administration. This dependency, resulting from the mediatization of the lifeworld by system imperatives, assumes the socio-pathological form of an internal colonization when critical disequilibria in material reproduction--that is, systemic crises amenable to systems-theoretical analysis--can be avoided only at the cost of disturbances in the symbolic reproduction of the lifeworld--that is, of "subjectively" experienced identity-threatening crises or pathologies." (Dump the functionalism, and one gets either Horkheimer, Marcuse, or Deleuze.)

Example: On 4 October, a pair of Wal-Mart employees in Ohio exchanged marriage vows in the lawn and garden section of their store "amid the retailer's flowers, shrubs, and lawn chairs", so reported the news story.


If there is any indication that the concept of surrealism has lost its world-historical significance, it is in the habitual application of this term to any fantastic intermingling of the mystic, representation, and the narrative of disaffected everydayness. No surrealist—nor for that matter a true Camusesque existentialist—could weep at the absurdity of 'a wild sheep chase'. The existentialist, rather, would laugh, which is precisely what never occurs, what is excluded, from this kind of pursuit—the pursuit of nothing other than the weakness of one’s own spirit that remains opaque even as one struggles desperately never to surrender finitude for world-historical meaning. Time, rather, “is surely passing” for yet another—one wonders why we need more—alienated soul who can neither lose himself in everydayness—in a world of universal anonymity—nor transcend this everydayness through the standard retreat (“spirit quest”) into the inwardness of heaven (“the wind’s private thoroughfare”). All that is left is the trace of a melancholy catharsis that would be nostalgic were it not for the fact it has no object when one's culture itself has been interrupted by war.

19 October 2007

Images IV

(This is a spinoff from a work in progress.)

The primordial rain is Lucretius’ central image. “It is raining”, Lucretius says. The impersonal “it” of this expression is not quite like the silence of Cage for whom silence is filled with the rush of sound that is my presence to myself. This is the “it” of a positivity without presence, without concept—of that indefinable space between the raindrops that fall with a muted clamor not into the earth but into the ocean where it is not a question of limit or nourishment but, rather, the conjoining of infinity to infinity.

Can there be an experience of this image? This is the metaxiological question. Lucretius presents us with a conception of poetry that is nothing less than the imagination of matter (à la Bachelard): matter cleaved from form—a pure matter, an-archic matter, power, dunamis, tendency. But this presents a problem, for thought cannot admit of a material imagination thus separated from formal being, for such an imagination is by definition infinite, liquid, without principle or measure.

Thus we begin, as always, in sensation, that is, in aesthetics. The verticality of rain effaces location. On the one hand, the rain violates the law of the elements: it is a downward motion that does not move to the center. We cannot experience the downwardness of the falling rain, for a face turned upward is already immersed in the rain—it is all around—and no index permits a "there" (a Da-sein). There is only a “here”—I am here!—but it is not the rain that is around me. There is no outside because the rain is in me insofar as I am in the rain. The rain that falls on my skin does not merely entreat entry, but I become “soaked to the bone”. There is no inside; there is no location. If it is the rain that falls, it is I who rise—taking to the sky, to reverie. The rain lifts us from the earth, away from the center.

But is this not to imply a direction (to move away from the center)? Rather, the (primordial) rain “returns” us to the origin insofar as the center is not originary. But neither can we properly speak of an “original” rain. The primordial rain is infinite: it is the image that has taken the place of God—not the masculine creator but the feminine genetrix. There is no thinking of images, just as there is no thinking of God (Dante, Paradiso XXXIII). What the medievals had called the beatific vision can now be called material imagination. The image does not come from elsewhere, through the rays of emanation, from the outside. This form of absolute transcendence is, of course, impossible; but is not, too, the imagination of matter?

The imagination of matter requires a propaedeutic. Several candidates have been previously proposed for thinking: aporiai, contradiction and dialectic, epoche, reflection, etc. Lucretius proposes “attention”; similarly, perhaps what we need to expect is not clarity of vision but, rather, we need to learn how to listen.

Images III

In the middle of an astonishing text (and no less remarkable because it is particularly damaging to my recent defense of Deleuze), a friend wrote the following:

“… The evental function here separates us from the sterile transcendental illusion, and from the need to desire destruction.

If meaning or the possibility of experience require contrast, then with what would we contrast the real except the impossible? God or the impossible par excellence serves the most vital function not just for elucidating existence (philosophically) but for experiencing existence. This is not something that “belongs” to philosophy as a therapeutic interval, and gets discarded in a return to life. This is philosophy’s belonging to life, as its meaning. The meaning of existence is still meaning, though the meaning of meaning is existence.”

(Full text posted on 18 October at the link to the right.)

Indulge me an oblique approach: Every image, Nancy says, is sacred. But this can equally be said of the concept insofar as religion is the attempt—in good or bad faith—to form a bond with what is separated, absolutely other, unnameable, unpronounceable. Hence, I propose two exemplary religious images: (1) the Tetragrammaton. So inviolable was this word (Word) to the ancient Hebrews that it was soon lost and now exists only in the memory of a few Qaballic mystics. And (2) the Om. Man does not speak the Word; either one articulates the sound of a Brahman mantra or utters, simply, “Mu”. The Word is not the ordering vessel of the world (logos spermatikos). The Word does not “divide being” (Cratylus). Neither does the Word divide us “from” being (or even bring us “to” being). In the Maitrayaniya Upanishad, for example, we read: “There are two [!] Absolutes, Sound and Silence … Inundated by the Absolute-that-is-Sound, one arrives in the Absolute-that-is-Silence”.

The danger of these images, as we know, is that on their basis religion becomes the surest path to the death drive, one species of which is the frenetic and ascetic quest for mystic intuition of “ineffable experiences” into immortality. Neither, however, can we oppose (rational) philosophy to religion if for no other reason that, as the same friend who said the above has observed, it is a mistake to confuse the death of God with the end of history. Philosophy, rather, since the time of the presocratics has always been (i.e., is originally) religious.

This origin of philosophy is not, as those such as Freud and Jaspers have suggested, a primitive feeling of the divine within us nor its mistaken call. The origin, deconstruction tells us, is always double. The identity, the in-itself, of the origin immanently implies a reference to itself (qua origin and not to another division of itself) from which productivity and expression emerge as world, as logic, and as subject. Religion is thus immanent to philosophy itself insofar as this origin is unnameable (or “dark”, as Desmond would say) from the point of view of its world. Religious thought occurs neither in the space of mediations nor immersed in the darkness of the origin but, rather, in the space between these.

The conceptions of thought as edifying or therapeutic are extraordinarily varied and might even include some whom we might initially not want to cast in these terms (in addition to the assorted conservatisms around like Nussbaum, Hadot, Strauss, et al). One is Marx insofar as the function of philosophy is demystification of ideology (seeing through ‘distorted communication’, etc) for the sake of the material construction of free humanity. Another is Kierkegaard insofar as the function of thought is to negate totalization and edify the soul against skepticism by the construction of ideal structures for linguistic and cognitive reduction for the sake of an abstract existence (that thus requires the supplement of Christian faith to prevent a lapse into full-fledged nihilism).

In both cases—and their possible source of redemption—one sees a curious intermingling of the aesthetic and the religious that fails to live up to its promise. The one implants us by the feet and the hands into the earth and tells us that no height, no ecstasy is forbidden. The aesthetic here is what Nietzsche and Deleuze would call the affirmation and the immanence of life: not an affirmation of being because being is purely this power, this conatus essendi. Nietzsche’s/Zarathustra’s naïveté, however, consists in the doubling of this affirmation: the child’s affirmation of the affirmation. And yet this is not quite an excess. The master of excess reminds us that one only finds a real excess—that is, the explosion of an essence that pierces the sky, the limit of existence—in naked eroticism, in death.

Death is sunken into the earth, into the rhythms of nature and, thus, into life itself, just as the light of the sun pierces the earth’s skin. One often forgets the subterranean forces of decomposition and generation. But this immanentism of death forbids any commerce with any beyond of being, since all being refers either only to itself or to its conatus essendi, its will to power.

But power cannot be its own justification: the affirmation must be affirmed. This used to be the work of God (Aquinas, Leibniz, etc), particularly insofar as Being and the Good were identified (and evil consisted of a simple privation of being—Derrida, among others, has demonstrated the political consequences of such an error); and then by the autarkic moral consciousness (Kant et al). This remains the problem of religion today between fact and meaning. We cannot be done with religion (partial response to Gauchet) because the sacred, the unnameable, the impossible is the real, as Lacan as said. The real is that which is in-existent, that which is excluded from thought by thought itself, the invisible of the visible. God is unnameable precisely because he is everywhere and nowhere. (This is, of course, more than the impossibility of contradiction (NB: contradiction is one species of impossibility) and less than either a Hegelian dialectic or a leap to an other logic [logos].) The real is on neither side of the double origin; the duality of the origin (of the Absolute) is impossible—the two sides must be rigorously separated, which means that the double function of the origin cannot be limited.

What experience (taken in all of its philosophical senses) requires, thus, is not religious faith but religious thought in its perennial task: the thinking of the infinite.

14 October 2007



Harvard just inaugurated a new president. I am less interested in her gender than in her resistance to farces like No Child Left Behind and other symptoms of the instrumentalization that is continuing to erode education. Quoting DuBois, Faust (I hope I am not the only one who finds the name highly ironic) said: "Education is not to make men carpenters so much as to make carpenters men". To hear these words from a figure in education administration is nothing less than a miracle.

Despite several serious reservations, I have always maintained that more people need to read Adler, who said in 1939: "the basic problems of education are normative. This means, positively, that they are problems in moral and politiacl philosophy; and, negatively, that they cannot, they have not and never will be, solved by the methods of empirical science, by what is called educational research." The temptation to read the instrumentalization of education as being symptomatic of "our times" is too easy. So too a crude Marxist reading that would say the instrumentalization of education (Head Start, NCLB, etc) is relevant for the working class who require technical degrees such that only elite schools like Harvard can afford (literally) to worry about "liberal education". Neither of these can be the full story, even if both are true. The origins of this problem are (at least to my mind) well-documented in the history of American education; the more pressing problem is political--i.e., why the persistence of this problem, and what is to be done (when it has infiltrated even places like philosophy)?

13 October 2007


1. An ideology of philosophy. A fellow academic responded to an article on philosophy (http://chronicle.com/temp/reprint.php?id=mlhxjx9y84d00ct2jxthph91zm9dcdtz) by accusing this writer and others like him of demonstrating to the outside world that the university is “full of arrogant, useless assholes. Philosophers nowadays REALLY need to be smacked off their high horses”. (Michael Collins made the same point about the university in general in hackneyed tirades in his most recent nove. Unfortunately, while Collins is right about what he says, a novel is a poor soapbox and one cannot but get the impression it is the result of a disgruntled B student in literature.)

This article concerned the popularity and (alleged) success of books such as those published by Open Court attempting to bridge philosophy and popular culture (e.g., The Simpsons and Philosophy). Such projects are caught in a double bind.

On the one hand, as the article’s author says, the contributors to these volumes “tend to be fans of the particular show or band [being written about], and they are writing for other fans who may sense the intellectual dimension but not fully grasp it”. Philosophy, it is said, thus has the ability to reveal “deep meanings” through “sophisticated interpretations” for the New Yorker intellectual. Long time series editor Bill Irwin has hoped that these kinds of “accessible” books about philosophy will bring people to philosophy proper.

Philosophy, therefore, is something to which people need to be brought—to be “better democratic citizens” who can “think critically”—or just “better thinkers” because thinking without philosophy is slovenly. Philosophy’s pretension is that it has something unique to say to which people should pay attention if they want to know how to think properly and not be deluded by themselves. Philosophy thus “needs to be knocked off its high horse”.

On the other hand, if philosophers do not make the attempt to be “accessible” so their profession can become palatable topics of cocktail conversation, philosophy is accused of being “irrelevant”, “impractical”, or simply elitist; once again, therefore, philosophy “needs to be knocked off its high horse”.

For the record, I cannot resist mentioning that the contributors to the Open Court series are not always philosophers (and when they are, rather mediocre ones at that) and include writers from my colleague’s own discipline. Even if one generalizes the problem to the university as a whole, however (one wonders why this accusation is unique to philosophers and also to, say, literary theorists or any of the humanities), the question remains the same: what is the nature of this double bind of “professional thinking”?

Consider a story (which I may not get exactly right) about Derrida. Having sat through a roundtable about justice, when the discussion moved to him, he burst forth with a diatribe, asserting that instead of sitting in the room talking theory, everyone in the room should march to the prison down the street where an innocent man was being held. Or recall Rousseau’s indignation at the moral philosopher who sits in his armchair looking down at the atrocities in the street.

On the one hand, the partisans of moral and political action (over and above grand theorizing) are obviously caught in a manifest performative contradiction—one which should have been known to literary theory for quite some time (i.e., saying one doesn’t have a theory for practice is itself a theory). For myself, I see no other solution to the failure of recognizing a contradiction than Aristotle’s.

On the other hand, philosophy can no longer be content either with Enlightenment foundationalism nor with a blithely naïve pragmatism (for which someone like Rorty, for example, has been soundly disciplined by his colleagues in Europe). It’s most pressing institutional concern is to re-evaluate its relation to its interlocutors.

2. The ideology of philosophers. Philosophers learn techniques for argument. The layman is under the thrall of common sense, of opinion, of ideology. The bigot, the fascist, has a “closed mind”. The intellectual has an “open mind”. The philosopher has an “active mind”—an open mind that is at the same time “critical”. The fascist refuses to change his mind—his belief is his belief and he has a right to his beliefs, damnit. The philosopher goes one better: the philosopher, so every introductory handbook says, is the one who can “justify” his beliefs … which is precisely why the philosopher is least apt to change his beliefs. The philosopher has an earned right to his beliefs, and it is the philosopher (the philosopher-king) who then, through his generosity and liberality, grants the fascist the right to his own beliefs in the name of “toleration”.

26 September 2007

Some orientations

1. The thinking of singularity. The old metaphysics consisted of a thinking of the infinite, which took the name of God—i.e., what Heidegger called onto-theology and Marion the “theological destitution of metaphysics”. In France, Bergson’s “introduction” to metaphysics consisted of a rejection of this tradition not, as some would say, into a preoccupation with conceptions of difference, but into a thinking of singularity (without negation and, of course, without death). The problem for (metaphysical) thinking today remains this thinking of singularity (which Lévinas gives the name of infinity, but in this he is just as much a “philosopher of the event” as Deleuze and Badiou). But as the preeminent thinkers of singularity have warned us, this thinking is perhaps not best described by the term “metaphysics” and “concept”, for the singular is precisely that which cannot be grasped. The singular is presented, rather, in an image (something like what Deleuze calls the “image of thought”).

As a corollary: the hegemony of vision from Plato (the “solar eye”) to Husserl (in intentional analysis) is the hegemony of the concept over affect. What is needed is to assert the rights of listening and of sound.

2. Discourse is inherently ideological. As a corollary, “discourse ethics” is a contradiction in terms.

3. To avoid the conflation of politics to democracy (or, equivalently, to fascism), the proper marriage is not that between politics and ontology but politics and aesthetics (neither the politicization of the aesthetic nor the aestheticization of the political but the production of images at their point of intersection). One presupposes, of course, the necessity of radical politics just as in the thinking of singularity one presupposes the necessity of radical alterity.

4. The fundamental error of analytic philosophy is the conflation of ontology and logic; the fundamental error of continental philosophy is the conflation of science and technology.

10 September 2007

Useless information

(Again, I had hoped that the friend who sent me this article and some comments would post here, but apparently my powers of persuasion require an upgrade. I raise here what I take to be her major points with an extension of my own.)

Like much of the work done in sociology, one needs to proceed with care. One is probably advised, for example, to separate Glassner’s thesis of the “culture of fear” from its connection with the power elite. In so doing, what is left is a useful rubric for understanding the generalized fear (pre-dating 9/11, which probably contributed to the subsequent depolitization of discourse under the Bush administration) disseminated by and through information systems (or what is usually, fairly imprecisely, termed “the media”).

This article is no exception, since only two responses are possible given the information provided; these two responses, however, while practically different, are theoretically equivalent. On the one hand, since the article only names one additive, one can react with a generalized suspicion of food additives and proceed to the nearest Whole Foods to look for organic labels. On the other hand, one can for the same reason ignore the information altogether and eat all the soda, chips, and candy one wants.

In both cases, what is taken for granted is a naïve conception of what “healthy food” is or, better, what the relationship between food and health is. Instead, one doctor (from MGH, no less) is quoted worrying about whether the clinical significance of increased hyperactivity outweighs concerns of social ostracism if children don’t eat the same foods as their peers. Aside from being too stupid for rebuttal, one wonders what this doctor would say to the schools who have already eliminated vending machines and junk food from their buildings in favor of juice, fruit, and vegetables after finding that these latter foods improve students’ energy and focus.

Or, perhaps we need further to separate the “social” aspect of these kinds of questions from the “science”. That this study found that some food additives raise hyperactivity already begs certain questions and, in so doing, masks certain presuppositions in the discourse concerning health. Suppose, as an intelligent skeptic ought, someone faults the method of the study or a particularly belligerent rival performs a counter-study. Nothing in the business of conducting studies provides a measure for theoretical judgment. So much is banal. But what is not as easy to see is the active work of ideology that bloats practical judgment at the expense of theoretical judgment. Taking studies such as this one seriously requires a certain frame of intelligibility according to which the important issues are things like assuming “hyperactivity” is a coherent category, that the relevant focus group is children, and so on.

06 September 2007

Panagia: the poetics of politics

Why the image? Panagia has also answered this question, though perhaps less emphatically as one might like (for one, Panagia explicitly avoids the term “the musical” in favor of “the poetic”). In proposing a poetics of political thinking, Panagia has taken important (though early) first steps, faithful to the spirit of Rancière, in the diachronous (or what Desmond would call the metaxological; or what could even be called metaxiological) thinking of aesthetics and politics. But the insight expressed by Panagia’s method is not simply the value of aesthetics for politics and political thinking (although the reading of Rawls given therein, for example, is second perhaps only to MacAdam’s deconstruction of the original position) but the development of a poetics of thinking that preserves the (not just formal) distinction between ontology and logic and the refusal to reduce ethics to either (a poetics of political thinking is, rather, an account of the ethics of representation).

In other terms: the image is what, in representation, exceeds the subject. But of course this is unhelpful because everything exceeds the subject. It is something like, in the Lyotardian-Kantian sublime, the experience of this excess. Or, succinctly, the image is precisely what Bergson said it was (no one else has managed to say it better): the universe is simply an ensemble of images.

26 August 2007


In the final volume of the Poetics of Social Forms, Jameson has again (as if we were not convinced previously) demonstrated that there is apparently nothing he has not read and, more importantly, nothing he could not fail to illumine. AF is more than the application of the critical functions previously developed to a particular genre, as certain reviewers (friendly as they may be) would have us believe. AF is itself a certain poetics, just as the genre it treats constitutes a certain poetics.

In speaking of Friedman, I take one key insight from AF (while doing some neglect to the critical method developed therein): that utopianism is not the goal of SF (science fiction) narrative but is a function of it. Is this not precisely what is revealed at the end of Friedman's Coldfire triology? In the human encounter with the fae--with the unconscious power of life, of production, of immanence--Friedman posits the encounter with nihilism and presents a startling alternative to Zarathustra in Tarrant: the redeemed Messiah, the tragic Christ who brings God to man but in so doing debars himself from ever seeing His face. When the patriarch of the Church unites humanity under the sign of the Go(o)d--thus foreclosing the possibility of magic--he does so precisely by giving birth to the modern man--the divided psyche (Freud), the sovereign separated from nature (Comte or any number of others), the Ulysses bound to the mast (Adorno): Erna becomes the Earth from which the colonists had left.

And here the narrative ends. Utopia is signified by the absence of any détente or dénouement but in the smile "at the dawn of a new world".

This new world is not a project (Heidegger) or a program (Saint-Simon, Fourier, etc). Friedman indicates nothing other than possibility itself--but a possibility marked by the burden of guilt (sacrifice), responsibility (the withdrawal of God), and freedom.

02 August 2007

Tragedy II

We are all looking for a good time. Life is too short and there is no day but today (time flies, time dies). If we are all born into sin, then redemption can only consist in the denial of sin by taking the sin of someone else’s failures onto my own soul—into me, eating of this bread, swallowing your pride. But always someone else—not “you” but “that one”, another one … no one.

“Don’t hate me for my beauty!” How can I give you a mile when all I have is an inch, caught between me and you, between me and myself? If I wanted to show you my nakedness, I wouldn’t wear fishnet. “Look! LOOK AT ME … and let me disappear.”

01 August 2007


1. Courage must always manifest in the face of violence. In particular, courage is predicated on self-violence, in death (the extreme possibility), in the willing of death. (This is, however, different from suicide, for suicide cannot be a willing.) Courage, real courage, is more common and, thus, more demanding than perhaps we always want to acknowledge. At the risk of falling into the jargon of authenticity, there is courage in every faithful act—in the greeting, in the glance, in the smile, in the departure.

2. In courage the distinction between morality and ethics is blurred: there cannot be a distinction between the care of the self and the recognition of the other, for example (not because these two things are conflated, but because they are presented under two aspects of this phenomenon).

3. Courage is also an artistic virtue (which in some sense is also an intellectual virtue, I suppose). Artistic courage opposes every utterance like “I want to be famous” (which in academia manifests in wanting an “–ian” attached to one’s name), for nothing could be more disastrous for an artist.

At first, this seems like a strange thing to say. What, for example, is more lamentable than the fate of “forgotten” artists (like Thalberg or Méhul) who are being valiantly “recovered”, now that we are getting bored with Liszt and Beethoven? Would not their art have been better served with fame?

Fame, of course, is recognition, and nothing is more ruinous for art than recognition (the shortest path to ideology). What art requires, instead, is repetition. Hence the term “recovery” is not quite right, for there is nothing more asinine than the “rediscovery” of third-rate art simply because it is an alternative to the exhaustion of the classics. (But, of course, a classic that is exhausted is not a classic.)

The real tragedy is for an artist to disappear. But in this case there is a special problem and forms the very limit of art: if an artist disappears, then we (here, now) can never know that he has. (Hence, to eulogize or elegize this artist would require the construction of a fiction.) This possibility of disappearing is, in short, the very definition of artistic courage.

3a. This explains why the artist cannot care for fame. Along the same examples I’ve been using, this is why Alkan more than Liszt is the artist par excellence (and why, among his more limited output, there is more uniform quality in Alkan’s work than in Liszt’s). And yet, what was Alkan’s fate?

25 July 2007

Images II

1. What is the scandal of thinking? If only our scientists would read Kant; if only our metaphysicians would read Gödel (Badiou); if only we could think the fact that we are not thinking (Heidegger); if only it were possible, through education, to open the American mind (Bloom, Adler); if only philosophy could move us to compassion (Rorty). Is there not a moral obligation to be intelligent (Erskine, Trilling)?

Or is not the task of thought to be done with thought—to flirt with the nothingness of thought in the heart of man, i.e., death, in the silence of nonknowledge (Bataille: “language, stubborn in refusal, is poetry, turns back on itself (against itself): this is the analogue of a suicide … Silence is the unlimited violation of the prohibition that human reason opposes to violence: it is divinity without stops, which thought alone disengaged from the contingency of myths”).

This would seem, to some, to be a retreat to the inner citadel—an evasion and, paradoxically, even a repression of existence that even the most ardent pessimist would revile. In this regard, Nietzsche’s most important teaching, if nothing else, is the lesson of courage—that all is not vanity (even if it is absurd).

2. If philosophy, then, is to transform the world, to critique the institution, to bring us to the leap, to think the possibility of freedom and revolt—what is the imperative for thought today when reflection hides its face under the mask of fascism (Bush’s Amerika), runs behind the gated walls of covenant communities, or parades its wares in the “marketplace of ideas”?

3. Metaphysics, Bergson says, is the language that dispenses with symbols. Bergson proposes an image of thought (i.e., intuition) that goes right to the heart of things. Here, Bergson finds, right down to the language of “dreaming”, an unlikely ally in Bachelard, who opposes the model of poetics (the image) to the concept (science, phenomenology, psychology).

“The cogito of thought can wander, wait, choose—the cogito of reverie is immediately attached to its objects, to its image. The shortest distance of all is the one between the imagining subject and the imagined image. … A kind of multiple cogito takes on new life in the closed world of a poem. Of course, other powers of consciousness are required to take possession of the poem’s totality. But the flash of an image already provides us with an illumination.”

[But—and here is my fundamental question—is the name of such an experience philosophy or art?]

“Suddenly an image occupies the heart of our imagining being. It seizes us, holds us. It infuses us with being … [The poet’s] being is simultaneously the being of the image and his commitment to the astonishing image. The image brings us an illustration of our wonderment. … In reverie on a simple object we experience a polyvalence of our dreaming being. A flower, a fruit, a simple familiar object suddenly insists that we think of it, that we dream in its company, that we help it to rise to the level of man’s companion [i.e., that we inhabit a world].”

And here there is yet another unlikely alliance: the law of Bachelard’s elements finds another expression in the Chinese wuxing—the phases or processes by which being is articulated (“even more than clear thought and conscious images, dreams are governed by the four fundamental elements”). We can go further: poetics is nothing else than the thinking of these images according to their immanent laws; the task of poetics is thus to break the representation of the word. Is this not also what we have in the Taoist wuwei (movement/non-movement)? Not merely the “disclosure” of a hidden Being but the very bringing into being of a becoming—is this not anything other than a thought?

“The poetic object, duly energized by a name rich in resonances, is a good conductor of the imagining psyche. For such conduction, we must call the poetic object by its name, its old name, giving it a just sonority, surrounding it with the resonances it will being to life, with the adjectives that will prolong its cadence and its temporal life … Each contemplated object, each creative name we murmur is the point of departure of a dream and of a line [a line of flight!], a creative linguistic movement.”

4. Gauchet has shown that the very possibility of reflection consists, first, in the separation of God from life and, consequently, the death of God. But to this we must add three (equivalent) corollaries: thought is singular; the essence of thought is not discourse; philosophy is not politics. And yet neither is philosophy ethics: even if one were to say that philosophy concerns the one who philosophizes, one must still ask who this “one” is (certainly not the thinker!).

5. The question or the image? Perhaps: philosophy is the opening of the question; music is the creation of the image.

24 July 2007


A quiet exhalation of breath trembled past an ear. “Here I am”, she had said in that moment: “[it is] here [that] I am”. That is all she has ever said—in scribbles, in the sharp rending of flesh, and in the tears that refused to fall.

22 July 2007


A friend--whom I had hoped would post a comment herself here--sent me a link to a story from the NY Times today with the following quotation from France's Finance Minister: "France is a country that thinks ... There is hardly an ideology that we haven’t turned into a theory. We have in our libraries enough to talk about for centuries to come. This is why I would like to tell you: Enough thinking, already. Roll up your sleeves."

Can we not admit truth on both sides of this statement? On the one hand, those among us interested in French culture cannot deny their predilection for hyperlocution. On the other, is not one reason Sarkozy won the election the absurd condition of the French economy? Unemployment is out of control, and the mandatory 35-hour work week, embraced by a good number of disaffected young laborers who have no desire to work, makes no sense for either workers or for companies, for example. Is not the exhortation to work not a legitimate political agenda?

But, on the other hand, Lagarde has certainly created a false dichotomy--that there is something between thinking and labor, even if, as many have pointed out, thinking is labor.

The NY Times story is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/22/world/europe/22france.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5070&en=2e712e5d4c6891ec&ex=1185768000&emc=eta1

21 July 2007

Introductions, Collecting

Hello. This is my first post since mk was gracious enough to allow me to contribute.

A few loosely connected thoughts on collecting...

Walter Benjamin writes in "Unpacking my Library" that the true mark of an inveterate book collector is the failure to read those books that she collects. One does not purchase a book with the intention of reading it... rather the collector seeks to save the book as an object, to care for it and protect it, for "the true freedom of all books is on his shelves." By collecting, one gives the book a new life, one redeems and renews the weary object: "to renew the old world -- that is the collector's deepest desire when he is driven to acquire new things."

Though I understand and share this collector's streak, I unfortunately do not have the fiscal resources to hunt down the rare books and records of my dreams (i am not fanatical enough to go hungry for records). Yet today, while packing up my library (i am in the middle of moving) i was struck by a collector's remorse -- perhaps a guilt -- seemingly absent in Benjamin. After picking up a copy of Being and Time, I was overwhelmed with memories of the books I had read in college, books whose thoughts seem so distant and buried in the past to me now. When will I ever have the time to reread Heidegger when there are so many other books to read now, so many other philosophers and artists and musicians to discover? Unfortunately, the absorption of philosophy and art is not akin to collecting... when is it one is truly finished with a thinker on the level of Heidegger? When can one lock up his corpus in one's memory as in a glass case, content that his thought is secure from the passage of time?

One of my greatest anxieties as a student has always been that there is too much still to read, too much left to be discovered. Clearly, this can be a blessing, the thought that one will never exhaust the storehouse of history and culture -- the wonders truly never cease -- yet it is also overwhelming and frightening; when can one finally rest, comfortable that one finally "cultured," "educated" or, at the very least conversant? Now I am starting to worry more about the endless list of things i have forgotten, relics of culture and thought indeed safe and sound on my shelves, quantitatively and objectively there in my collection, yet never again to be recalled in thought.

13 July 2007

Tori, the Storyteller (a la maniere de Benjamin)

When, under the systematic destruction of experience in the name of prosperity and democracy (the very definition of fascism), the storyteller raises her voice to speak to those for whom experience cannot be represented—because it cannot be recollected, because “history” no longer has a meaning—she must speak of those experiences that neither she nor her listeners “have ever had and possibly never will” (“Tori”). If we are living under a regime of distorted communication, then what we need are not true stories, nor even impossible stories, but stories that are fictional, i.e., that give a voice not to those who “need” a voice because they are oppressed, bound, or invisible (this assumes a presence prior to the voice) but that sing from elsewhere (“Isabel”). If wisdom is no longer the gift of the storyteller, then the voice of the storyteller must disappear behind the story. Who, then, speaks to us? “What is it that is really haunting us?” Not the shades of forgotten children, but personae that bring themselves into existence by nothing other than their call for us to listen and hear what they have to say. This is the difference between the storyteller and the “beekeeper”: the storyteller becomes yet another fiction (“Tori”), effacing her own voice under the “secret spell” of her song.

09 July 2007


1. Deleuze wants the creation of concepts, like the ritornello. Perhaps (also/instead) what we need is the creation of images, like the prélude. Why the prelude? Like the rhapsody, the prelude was once a miscellaneous archetype that freed the composer from the autocratic laws of structure and architecture (the only difference between the prelude and the rhapsody is contextual). These laws determined, a priori, two sets of relations: the internal relations of sound within the piece and the experience of the listener. It is true that, as Boulez points out, the former relation is left intact in the prelude; reconfiguring this relation would require someone like a Cixous. But, consider: some of Chopin’s most evocative moments occur in his preludes when he either releases the linearity characteristic of most of his music or his lines converge into something more like a Rachmaninovian tableau. Unlike, say, a sonata, a prelude is not a narrative; the listener is thus always led to go on—the prelude always signifies beyond itself (pre-lude). Often a prelude leaves us asking “what next?” or “is that it?” (perhaps Bach presents a special problem here). Sometimes one gets a prelude to a larger narrative (say in Gershwin); other times the prelude is simply a prelude. But the question “to what?” must never be lost. The closest equivalent to a prelude is an aphorism that, as Dienstag has recently reminded us, is the form par excellence to communicate the discontinuity that is thought itself (Adorno, Derrida, Bergson). If there is a difference between an aphorism and a prelude, I would say it is this: the aphorism is a statement; the prelude is a question (another image!).

2. Adler in the 80s wrote a series of books such as “How to Speak/How to Listen” and “How to Read a Book”. These are, unfortunately, outdated and, paradoxically equally unfortunately, little read today. What perhaps is needed desperately today, in a climate of total technologism (particularly in education), in both philosophy and art, is the book “How to Listen/How to Read” (admittedly, I have yet to read Nancy’s book on listening). By “listen”, in addition to music, I intend things like “seeing” a painting or “experiencing” a space: if philosophy has been dominated by the “hegemony of vision”, perhaps it is time to assert the rights of hearing; in other words, if vision and touch are indicators of space, equally so hearing.

It is precisely the inability to read that frustrates both the teacher of philosophy and the Continental insofar as s/he fights the ideologies of discourse, persuasion, and philosophy itself (i.e., reading Quine, held as an exemplar of clear academic writing by the MLA, is but one technique of reading; reading Bataille is another). Analogously, aside from Barenboim’s recent precipitous remarks about the experience of sound, noise, and music in contemporary culture, it is the inability to listen that threatens not only the quality but the very existence of art. To take one example, Listisa and Kocsis (in their Rachmaninoff), and Hamelin (in Alkan) are often criticized for losing melodies for the sake of speed. And yet—all three have revealed sonorous aspects of various pieces hitherto unknown precisely because of the reconfiguration they effected by changing that one modality of sound. The error, in short, is an analytic conception of sound: that sound can be analyzed into its components of pitch, rhythm, volume, timbre, tempo, and so on; this is also the error that thinks music can be analyzed into melody and harmony (or, better, that thinks “melody” has any significant meaning at all; “melody” needs to be replaced by the “line”, one species of which is Schönberg’s “row”).

07 July 2007

Early thoughts (6 JUL 2007)

“Unable to precede myself, to exceed myself, or to cross the distance” Marion says, “I can neither think nor perform the formula ‘I love myself’”. The erotic reduction makes narcissism impossible. The subject is always split by the excess of its desire. Is not, then, the other from elsewhere—the flesh that is there, caressing the flesh that is here, my flesh, and that lust always wants to tear—the precise meaning of a supplement—a supplement beyond (and prior to) need, to which “there is no relation”?

Yet: not only is narcissism impossible—it must be forbidden, which is precisely why Freud (rather, the Freud-Lacan complex) places the myth of Narcissus in the absent heart of libido wherein it is precisely narcissism that reveals the non-coincidence of the ego. The price that the ego must pay for itself is nothing other than guilt. But, of course, guilt is not always pathological. Guilt is simply the “original” condition of the human being.

The ideology of persuasion; or: Gaps (after Adorno) (6 JUL 2007)

“The injunction to practice intellectual honesty usually amounts to a sabotage of thought. … This demand not only invokes the liberal fiction of the universal communicability of each and every thought and so inhibits their objectively appropriate expression, but is also wrong itself as a principle of representation. For the value of a thought is measured by its distance from the continuity of the familiar [the Whole].” (Minima Moralia) Knowledge, Adorno continues, proceeds from what he calls experience, but what in other terms might be called the machine of desire—of beliefs, inclinations, lacerations, joys, and love.

The existence of discursive and logical structures is not teleological. The purpose of these structures is not consensus (Einverstandes)—not even Rawls’ “overlapping consensus”, which itself is a symptom of the problem to which Lévinas draws us: democracy cannot be totality or homology. Democracy, radical democracy, is instead dissensus (Näsström). Rawls wants to preserve plurality; better: we must create multiplicity. Discourse is multivalence. “Discourse” is not the communication of ideas but is nothing other than the life of ideas (Mill). What, ultimately, we need is to be attuned not to the “pleasure of the text” (Barthes) but to the life of a text.

Fragments IIa (2 JUL 2007)

1. Can philosophy “communicate” with others? The question is badly put. The point is not for philosophy to “teach” or “communicate” anything to, e.g., science. Philosophy does not “inform” or even “critique” science. Philosophy opens science. Yet is not philosophy also a deductive, axiomatic structure (i.e., a totality)? Can philosophy thus open itself? Is this not the ethical imperative of reflection (as a colleague of mine says)? Has not this reflection and this opening onto thinking (the thinking of the infinite) been at the heart of philosophy since Socrates? Socratic philosophy has never been, primarily, about “critiquing” or “negating” or even “changing” the world. Philosophy has always been positive, creative of new worlds, other worlds (“otherworldly resonances”).

2. If philosophy is the presentation of what happens or what does not happen, the relevant difference between philosophy and art is that art is precisely irrelevant to what does or does not happen.

3. If I say “Plato” should be treated as a big text composed of his (individual) texts, and thus that Platonic philosophy is fidelity to his concepts—this is a descriptive-normative conception of philosophy. A philosophy that treats the text otherwise can certainly do so, but is this not a naïve philosophy, since the former is the condition of possibility for the latter (naïve) philosophy?

And yet, we face again the problem of the limit: naïveté can never be revealed to itself.

The myth of the everyday (1 JUL 2007)

Can there be a writing that speaks to/about the everyday? Does this not presuppose a certain ideology of the everyday or, worse, of generic communication? Perhaps this is the error of structuralism: meaning is not combinatory, compositional, or generative. Meaning is not a function of the historicity of language but is in the effect of the saying: of each saying. There is both a unique saying amidst the history of the said. What we have is multiple worlds/spaces of articulation.

But: the “ethics” of discourse thus becomes nothing other than violence or the imposition of a state.

Social space (23 JUN 2007)

Functionalism can’t be right—people, talent, and power fall through the cracks all the time (so too Bauman has traced humanity’s “wasted lives”). And yet we can describe the “complexity of cooperation” and map at least one dimension of social space.

Fragments II (22 JUN 2007)

1. Towards a definition of philosophy: The measure of a philosophy is its explanatory power. We ask, for example, if an ethics is either descriptive or possible in experience. Or: philosophy is precisely a critique of experience, in which case it is still theoretical—Adorno’s philosophy must show what is not the case (mimesis). Art, on the other hand, is what is able to be other without being theoretical. Philosophy is always theoretical, even when it is otherwise.

So, perhaps, the definition of philosophy is always posterior. Philosophy is constituted by its effect and not its intention. All definitions, descriptions, objects, subjects, and identities, for example, are effects. What we have is an ontology (both the method and the content) of events.

2. Negation is a zero-sum game. Difference, on the other hand, is “positive” in the sense of a non-zero result. But already there is a conceptual problem...

Crises (10 JUN 2007)

1. The ideology of philosophy: The philosopher, it is said, is one who can simply “sit and think” about philosophical (read: human) problems—i.e., logic and reason are universally, essentially human. Is this not the hidden metaphysics of post-metaphysics that implicates not only the legislating subject of the Enlightenment but also, unfortunately, the counter-Enlightenment (Hobbes, Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau)?

2. Yet we can only counter (oppose) something within a genus (Aristotle). Therefore, can one be willing to relinquish the name of philosophy? What else, then, does one do? Theory? Critique? The question is not only, a la Deleuze, what is the image of thought, but what is the name of thought?

3. What is most severely and desperately lacking today, if we are ever to move beyond a metaphysics (of the essence) of man, is a philosophy of nature.

4. The fundamental tension: Taoist silence (Tao) and mind (yi). It is not a matter of choosing between them but in the difference between them without hypostasizing this difference into an essence. What is a philosophy of nothingness (wu-wei)?

Two propositions (1 JUN 2007)

1. There are no genera. There are only generic procedures.
2. Closure is necessary for reflection.

Boredom (29 MAY 2007)

The “discourse” of boredom is the management of boredom (Adorno on “free time”, normalization, and ideology). Discursive practices conceal boredom, even while boredom is experienced.

There is also a discourse on boredom—how useless! What is this discourse? Is it not assimilated into the discourse of boredom (who would participate in a discourse on boredom)? Either: the discourse of boredom suppresses or marginalizes the discourse on boredom; or: the discourse of boredom preempts the discourse on boredom (what happens to the discourse on boredom when in the vice of the discourse of boredom?) or, in other words, the discourse on boredom fails to become a discursive practice—the discourse on boredom cannot simply be an “understanding” or “reflection” on boredom.

Or: perhaps boredom is not a condition on which we can reflect or a problem to be solved (optimism). Boredom is also a possibility (pessimism).

Mystery and Separation (18 FEB 2007)

Butler has recently made much of the opacity of the self to self. But just as importantly, there is a mystery of the other. One fundamental principle of psychoanalysis is precisely that we cannot understand the other. We may seek to understand by analogy, semiotically, etc, but we are never “in agreement” with the other. We must, so to speak, “let the other be”, even if psychoanalysis is an interaction—the analyst enters into the other and, as physicists know, any measurement results in a change in the measured object. But there is a forbidden, untouchable place. I can never coincide with the other.

Fragments I (24 NOV 2005; edited 6 JUL 2007)

1. These new "unbelievable" graphics are certainly not mimetic in the sense that the goal is no longer to emulate an indistinguishable reality but, rather, to create a hyper-reality that is more real than the world through which our feet must tread. What does this mean for perception? for experience?

2. What offends most about so-called "displays of manhood" is not their vulgarity but the intolerable amateurism. Similarly, people often think they're being rebellious without knowing they are contributing to the very system they think they reject. In this the Frankfurt School was absolutely right—false consciousness.

3. Is it possible that the moral duty of the artist requires a withdrawal? If the masses can only be parasitic on art—if the system that makes the dissemination of art possible is precisely what is enslaving art (i.e., the networks of capital, industry management, etc)—then the artist is required to withdraw into silence and sacrifice the existence of art—let it be destroyed by the amateurs and opium peddlers—so that it must be created again. (The Chinese masters, under the threat of Communism, let their art die, for example.)

Ellis (8 NOV 2005)

After trying to come to terms with Ellis' oeuvre, I've finally decided that it's too moralistic, despite flashes of brilliance. If Ellis had chosen a style more suited to the expose, his prose might have not pressed too far across the boundary into pornography. What is so frustrating about him is not the point he is trying to get across but that his style is not adequate to the task at hand—he needs, in short, to read his Adorno. Note, then, I am not at odds with the object of Ellis' moralism—just his moralism. One cannot, after the avant-garde, shock anymore, but unfortunately this seems not to be Ellis' point.

Two unresolved questions (20 OCT 2005)

1. What cannot be doubted after recent developments in narrative theory and moral philosophy is that practices require ethical commitment. In other words, human conduct is an essentially ethical affair, not only in the intersubjective or political sense, but in one's fidelity to oneself. Practices (performing music, skateboarding, reading, gardening, even having friendships) require historical awareness. But what remains to be accounted for is that practices also require passion.

2. I tried to give an account of the so-called "history of philosophy" recently. Things got complicated around Descartes, but things just exploded after Kant and I had to give it up when the idea that part of philosophy's definition involves questioning that very definition (or: philosophy is critique) becomes inescapable. I'm not so sure that such a definition uniquely signifies philosophy (why not art, for example), but perhaps that is not the right criterion. Why must a definition pick something out uniquely? Philosophy, as we well know, has no utility. This was a mistake in philosophy of language, too: that a definition or language use required that words signify uniquely. So too in metaphysics: we can no longer assume the =x or =1.

Donde habite el olvido (8 OCT 2005; edited 6 JUL 2007)

I had to steal the title for this post from a poem by Cernuda. That poem, however, is ineluctably romantic. What prompted this post is most certainly not.

I wonder when I see a young person sitting or walking with the mp3 headphones in their ears where they go once those headphones are on. My students would do this all the time. It's not like putting their heads down and closing their eyes. Closing one's eyes abrogates space in one way. Music does so in quite another. If architecture is the art of the re-organization not just of space but also our experience of space, if arts like painting are a re-creation of one's basic spatiality, then why can music not be the same thing? The architectonics of music, it seems to me, are analogous to the architecture of buildings—where the latter redistribute space according to touch and sight, music reconstructs spatiality itself (inner space and outer space) through the architecture of sound. Music is, essentially, a sonic experience and not, as many would have us believe, an affective one. This is also why music has been throughout the ages preeminently religious (chants, singing bowls, etc).

À la Nabakov (8 OCT 2005)

1. I had wanted to write a piece along the lines of 'the author is always a fiction'. I realized today that it's rather unnecessary—it's something we should know anyway from reading Homer, Lao Tzu, or any number of other fictitious authors.

2. If there is a salient difference between Danielewski and Nabakov, it is simply that Danielewski makes Nabakov speak to Nietzsche—and the result is terrifying. I once said that Danielewski "borrowed" Nabakov; I think this was the right word to use—the two are colla voce.

3. Kinbote thinks he can write himself into existence by inserting himself into a work of art a la commentator/interpreter. Do we not all think the same thing? (Actually, Danielewski's editor is much more amateur and, therefore, much more apropos.)

4. The pale fire is, really, memory itself. We exist only in/as memory. There is nothing moral or even beautiful about it—these categories simply do not apply.

Amateurism (6 OCT 2005)

There are those babbling voices that like to protest the barbarities of our gargantuan (yet invisible) world of concrete and capital. Entire genres of music have been born from the cries of those giving birth to that world. But these are those who fail to understand that it is only the priest or the king who can stand and speak of what is forbidden—for it is hidden precisely from those who would proclaim it.

Kozol (30 SEPT 2005)

With yet another book published recently, Jonathan Kozol continues to fight a noble battle despite the fact his voice tends to be lost amidst the unintelligible clamor of school boards and parents who still believe that what they are doing is educating the youth of this country. The question one should be asking, however, is whether or not Kozol is barking up the right tree.

Kozol's answer to the problem he attacks is money. But as we all know, money makes people complacent. The question Kozol has never bothered to ask is whether or not the education he thinks the rich kids are getting is necessarily a good one. Of course, it is certainly better than the education the poor kids are(n't) getting, but at best Kozol's solution is the lesser of two evils.

There are a few reviews on Amazon.com that raise objections along similar lines: i.e., we ought to wonder whether money is the essential or even a primary factor instead of, say, families and communities or, what is more accurate from a theoretical perspective, the way we think about the very idea of education.

The question is not simply why Johnny can't read, why Johnny can't think, or why Johnny can't dissent (this last is from Thomas Frank). The real question of education is why Johnny can't live.

Malediction (28 SEPT 2005; edited 6 JUL 2007)

I just realized today while passing by a TV playing Fox News' "O'Reilly Factor" that I hate syndication. At first I thought I just hated Bill O'Reilly, who cannot be accused of being an impartial analyst and is probably the perfect exemplar of petit-bourgeois intellectual philistinism.

I cannot think of anything more offensive to the idea of democracy than the syndication of people like O'Reilly (not to mention Pat Robertson—about whom a friend of mine recently wrote a relevant blog—and those of his ilk) who provide their syncophants with the crudest verbal ammunition to assail every habit of active thinking that has been a part of our ideology since the 17th century.

People like Chomsky in political science and Glassner in sociology have done work in trying to demonstrate that the media is anything but what it likes to say it is. What to my mind is more interesting is work done in the intersection of Hegelian critical philosophy and (post)structuralism that goes under the name "cultural studies". But whatever perspective from which one chooses to criticize the media, it is not enough to say things like "don't believe everything the liberal/conservative media tells you". Nor is it even enough, in the spirit of historians like Ohmann, to ask how the current situation came about. The question we really should be asking is: what conditions made it possible for our current situation to be the way it is and, subsequently, what conditions might make it possible for things to be otherwise? If the German theorists are right, those revolutionary conditions are today impossible, not because the condition of democracy is discourse, but precisely because syndication is so effective at propagating the ideology of discourse.

Three quick thoughts (25 SEPT 2005)

1. Bumper stickers are inherently fascist.

2. Althusser argued that ideology interpellates compulsorily. Structuralists like Judith Williamson ran with this and argued that advertisements—as one form of ideology—interpellate compulsorily. This is also the case with things like music. In fact, if Althusser got anything right, it is that interpellation constitutes an unresolved ethical problem facing anyone who gets out of bed in the morning.

3. I just listened again to Ashkenazy's recording of the Prokofiev concerti with Previn and the LSO. Although the percussiveness of Prokofiev's music is about the only thing well-suited to Ashkenazy's otherwise heavy hands, both he and Previn are too Romantic to pull off the jagged edges of Prokofiev's modernism. Or is the fault with Prokofiev?

Presence Silence Event (8 SEPT 2005)

The painter Newman says that his paintings "make the viewer present". So too Deleuze tries to theorize a kind of cinema that makes the viewer constitute itself as a subject actively without merely being "given" in the sequence of images.

Part of my problem with composing music—and why I do so little of it—is that music faces a similar problem. The music of people like Berg and Stravinsky make the listener pay attention, certainly, but it has been noted that it's difficult to listen to modern music without having a theory about it (Schoenberg had to write a lot of treatises about music while he was composing). Adorno thought that was this was great thing because music then would not pacify consciousness but jar it into the recognition that everything else does. Unfortunately we're all familiar with the aporias into which Adorno and modernism were led.

Perhaps with music what is needed is not to make the listener present, but to make the listener disappear. Tibetan singing bowls do this; Boulez in a different way, I think, is on the right track.

A guilty conscience (4 SEPT 2005)

Like the blind monster of industry I sat with my back against the mountain. The ancients have long said the mountain unites the earth and sky and withstands even the erosion of time's shores. Yet the master who understands the ways of the universe can move the mountain with the tip of his finger.

To hell, we have said, with enlightenment--settle instead for conquest. It is not enough for moles with dynamite to object to snow-covered peaks … May the mountain be tested! The shoulders of Atlas drip with the blood of sacrifice and patiently we are borne. But how much longer until that silent arm will bear us no longer?

Tragedy I (1 SEPT 2005; edited 5 JUL 2007)

There is a political message in Inferno XXIV: "Now you must cast aside your laziness / ... / ... for he who rests on down / or under covers cannot come to fame; / and he who spends his life without renown / leaves such a vestige of himself on earth / as smoke bequeaths to air or foam to water". But this "renown", as Hegel showed us, is only the reciprocal recognition of one's love in the world. One loves the world by becoming its mirror (I wonder if the converse is true). That the intrepid wanderer refers himself to the Christ is well-known; this is why Dante's Christianity prefigured Hegel by 500 years.

Dante’s “io sol uno” becomes, in Montaigne, “je le recite [l’homme]”. Montaigne describes a man and not, as Rousseau, of man. Thus the innocent naïveté of Montaigne vis-à-vis the totalitarian naivete of Rousseau. "If the world finds fault with me for speaking too much of myself," Montaigne says, "I find fault with the world for not even thinking of itself!" What could be farther from the modernity that has come to us in the guise of bourgeois liberal democracy? Mimesis is mandatory because we are never ‘outside’ the world. Auerbach was on to something here; so too was Nietzsche who asked whether he could show us this world—this “zoological monstrosity” as Jameson says—in his mirror. But as we know, it was Nietzsche's own shadow that drove him to madness. ... And perhaps that is the fate of any truly ethical engagement with the world.

A friend of mine likes to say she is “broken”, as if this were an insight. We “pull ourselves together” every morning. We do it better or worse, but we must do it constantly. There are times we “lose ourselves”, but is not psychic activity nothing else than the assemblage of an identity in fragments? There is, as Bergson points out, only memory.