A Recent Insight I had (The task of distinguishing)

August 25, 2014

I had an interesting insight recently. It involved this magazine I found lying around, it was kind of like a Chinese Reader’s Digest, “DuZhe”. As I flipped through it, I mean, in an entirely cursory way — in the sense of, looking over the font, the title, a few words here and there, etc. — I was struck by the sophistication of it all. It struck me as a sense of perfection — perfection, sophitication, and awareness.

I myself had the feeling, some while ago, while reading a buddhist text in classical Chinese — for school, I mean — that there was a lack of … theology there. It seemed to full of numbers, I mean. It didn’t seem to answer all the moral questions that we would expect religious texts to answer. That earlier moment came back to me in this distilled moment I spoke of above, when I seemed to have a minor epiphany. I sensed the subtleties of the distinctions being made there — I felt the extremism of being normal, or taking the middle road — as a magazine as innocuous as the one I was holding would be presumed to take. In other words, it wasn’t the middle road of a compromise — it was the subtlety of extremism — of all the theology I was missing.

It’s hard to pick up on this most subtle moment, or the most intense moment. After all, the strength of intellect is not required for easy oppositions but precisely at the moment when when one is distinguishing something form what is most apparently close to it. Ie, the moments of greatest intellectual intensity occur in distinguishing between things that are very alike. And perhaps, as in the case of DuZhe, it is not concentrated in a psychological moment — and furthermore, these categories are not given beforehand, I mean. It is hard to fathom what exactly DuZhe is proclaiming itself as being or being not — it is not given beforehand.

Let’s actually talk about passage 57 in HoD, I mean, those general passages when Marlow is taking to the candle-maker. The effort of this passage is not to set up some dynamic of manipulator and manipulated. There is here this very similar effort at making a distinction. There are various angles one can approach this, I mean, as the two stroll hand-in-hand in a kind of grandiose, mephostelian dialogue. They both end up referring to this higher authority, with Marow claiming, somehow, to represent it. The pilgrims’s world is “fantastic”, but I don’t think it’s possible to argue that Marlow’s is any less so. And Marlow leaves the candle-maker in a puzzled state, and not really one of defeat or dejection — ie, a state where, as the saying goes, one is unsure who is trolling who. The point is that it is harder than may appear at first to draw any distinctions here in this dialogue — fantasy versus reality, work versus idleness, immediacy versus distance, honesty versus nihilism, etc..

But how, then — or should we — can we continue to insist on a difference, or continue to insist on the ‘weird holism’ that we sensed in DuZhe? I don’t think I can fully defend this claim at this moment — but I believe that the insistence on this difference has to do, ultimately, with an appeal to a kind of authority, an appeal to some unifying agent in the past. I believe that there is no real structural or “qualitative” difference that can be maintained — all such differences are deconstructible — but only a unity of reference or origin — in Kurtz.

What is the Historical Moment?

August 5, 2014

One idea I want to introduce here is that I want to ask the question not of “How did this historical come about”, but “What is the historical event (that can be associated with a moment of textual analysis)?” And let’s once again take a few somewhat arbitrarily chosen passages for Heart of Darkness as our fodder:

(44) “I shook hands with this miracle, and I learned he was the Company’s chief accountant, and that all the bookkeeping was done at this station. He had come out for a moment, he said, `to get a breath of fresh air.’ The expression sounded wonderfully odd, with its suggestion of sedentary desk-life. I wouldn’t have mentioned the fellow to you at all, only it was from his lips that I first heard the name of the man who is so indissolubly connected with the memories of that time. Moreover, I respected the fellow. Yes; I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair. His appearance was certainly that of a hairdresser’s dummy; but in the great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance. That’s backbone. His starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character. He had been out nearly three years; and, later on, I could not help asking him how he managed to sport such linen. He had just the faintest blush, and said modestly, `I’ve been teaching one of the native women about the station. It was difficult. She had a distaste for the work.’ This man had verily accomplished something. And he was devoted to his books, which were in apple-pie order.

(45) “Everything else in the station was in a muddle, — heads, things, buildings. Strings of dusty niggers with splay feet arrived and departed; a stream of manufactured goods, rubbishy cottons, beads, and brass-wire set into the depths of darkness, and in return came a precious trickle of ivory.

The figure of light is a prominent one, it mostly means the “present”, or the original event, idea, the event where the understanding is equated with its happening. I’m also reminded of an earlier passage (13): “What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea — something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. .
. .” The idea is that which we are separated from. The dressmaker’s dummy — let’s call him that — certainly occupies a complex logic here: he is a kind of insistence, a kind of undeniability. Yet in a kind of weird twist all these figures can themselves be pushed into the past — so that the dummy becomes, paradoxically enough, a reminder of the possibility that understanding coincides with eventness. 

The next passage (45) is also worth mentioning, it is more typically Marlowian. There is a sort of long list, where we often get the impression that Marlow is sort of talking in order to cover up something — a weird Marlowian kind of exotic violence — the violence of darkness, but perhaps also of conviction. (We spoke of the “demonic” Marlow in the previous essay, I believe.) But there are also, of course, traces of other voices here. Kurtz’s voice always haunts the entire text. What is Kurtz, formally speaking, in terms of light and darkness? He can certainly be linked to the “previous trickle of ivory”. An incredily small and almost insignificant quantity, he is what everyone seems to seek, or what everyone is after, in both the senses of desire and time. Kurtz and Marlow are sometimes indistinguishable, as is here, where it becomes difficult to tell what exactly the temporality of this passage is. Or rather, more accurately, the chesspeices are there, it is a matter of waiting for them to be played, in order to form a configuration. The temporality , the intentions, of these passages are highly uncertain.

Let’s also touch briefly on the notion of dedication, which is how Conrad chose to end his book: “His last words were — your name!”. This dedication is, on the one hand, yet another complex reference, but more interestingly, it is also a way in which Marlow differentiates himself from Kurtz: for Marlow had not “stepped over the edge”. Marlow’s influence is more thoughtful, and has more to do with writing, with naming. I see Marlow as the philosophical component, I guess.

So there are all these different threads, all these different figures — voices — but I don’t want to settle on this notion of a ‘tapestry’, rather, I want to think, again, of this notion of maybe a kind of “chess game”. The point here isn’t to totally map out the infinite possibilities, but rather to the admittedly complex configuration that best crystallizes into the historical question: a matter of historiography rather than merely the explaining of history.

For this moment of crystallization — is precisely the moment when one can simultaneously (1) read closely (as opposed to see clearly), ie, understanding with pathos or conviction the action undertanken in a moment of darkness, after a moment of light, and (or the various complications of this, such as via dedication), or (2) understand this configuration as a historical power or moment — organized by the central, and yet oddly unimportant point of light

The point of light, the moment, the trauma — its role is odd here. We are speaking here, again, not of a tapestry, but rather of a configuration of voices that seems to go back to a common moment, Each voice seems to reference both each other and some prior moment of light. But what may be even more important are these figures of darkness that assert themselves in this configuration — so emptied out!

 

 

 

Attitude in Heart of Darkness

August 3, 2014

Let’s just analyze a passage, chosen fairly randomly, from Heart of Darkness:

(HoD 39) “I avoided a vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the slope, the purpose of which I found it impossible to divine. It wasn’t a quarry or a sandpit, anyhow. It was just a hole. It might have been connected with the philanthropic desire of giving the criminals something to do. I don’t know. Then I nearly fell into a very narrow ravine, almost no more than a scar in the hillside. I discovered that a lot of imported drainage-pipes for the settlement had been tumbled in there. There wasn’t one that was not broken. It was a wanton smash-up. At last I got under the trees. My purpose was to stroll into the shade for a moment; but no sooner within than it seemed to me I had stepped into a gloomy circle of some Inferno. The rapids were near, and an uninterrupted, uniform, headlong, rushing noise filled the mournful stillness of the grove, where not a breath stirred, not a leaf moved, with a mysterious sound — as though the tearing pace of the launched earth had suddenly become audible.

I want to focus on this notion of Marlow’s “attitude”.

You know I have been lately having a resurfence of ‘confidence’, I mean, that I am going to read clsely this passage, as you wil see, but I now no longer regard it as a trivial activity. We will be reading too closely and seeming to pursue trivial questions, but they in fact won’t be trivial.

Now with this in mind — a related issue, I mean, to ‘confidence’ — one of the things that we often get stuck at, when reading a text, is, well, is the insight of a work. We understand the work to0 well. Now this understanding seems to have the advantage of vaulting us towards grander, philosophical questions. You know, just scanning the above, there are a lot of hot-button words here. Hole: that could certainly mean something. How about criminal? Let me relate an anecdote — you know, I am somewht embarassed by how many good anecdotes I am getting from my interactions with this one fellow, embarassed because I see him as incredibly misguided. Anyways, we were talking about Bartleby and I gave my argument about … well, I don’t think I wrote it down here, it was about Bartleby and the mark of writing. That’s not important, what I want to get at is that this fellow was so hung up on the phrase “I would prefer not to”, focusing too much on this word “would” as a “deferal”. Obviously those are ‘hot-button’ words. I sense a kind of annoyance welling up in me even as I recount this. Most of all there was the feeling of him trying to teach me something, as if I clung too tenciously to rosary beads or something, and he was bravely out there with zero assumptions or something. But, that’s not actually the point either, the point is that it is obviously highly limiting to read hot button words — which means, more generally, it is sort of a bad thing to read too closely, to agree too much with it — hopefully you see the reading I am trying to avoid here.

So, “close but not too close”. Towards this end we have to resort to an older and seeminglyoutdated practice, ie, humanism, understanding, and intention a person — Marlow, in this case. I actually have a draft here about the “demon”, Marlow. We sometimes forget that he is demonic simply because he sounds like such a sensible person, but it is there. I mean, here is someone with zero attachment to family, land, status, the future, etc. The point is we must remember not to get too close to Marlow, there is something inhuman about this person.

(The point here isn’t, of course, “accuracy” — ie, to have a somehow a ‘more accurate’ reading of this text. Yet this is what it sounds like, isn’t it? But as I said I am “confident” here, confident that this line of thinking will allow us to arrive at greater stakes. I don’t want to go over them here, at the moment — I can, but I don’t want to right now, for the sake of focus — so bear with me for awhile longer!)

So let’s just revisit HoD 39, which I have chosen somewhat at random, I mean, based on certain heuristics. There is a lot of talk about being ‘apalled’ but Marlow is not apalled in retelling it, I mean. Nor should we take the obvious route of saying that he is trying to instill us with a kind of abstract uncertainty. There is something highly intentional here. The attitude is, oddly enough — in contrast to the content — one of work or methodical progression — something is being done here, by the demon Marlow. As with Bartleby we can speculate that this work is driven by an earlier moment of trauma, or perhaps “absolute clarity” — conveniently enough, the events in the story. But actually — and this may seem obvious — not the events in this very passage. For one thing, we can remember that Marlow said something to the effect that: “I honestly don’t want to bore you with personal details, but in order to talk about Kurtz, I will have to tell you how I got there, and my experiences.” Kurts seemd to “throw a kind of light” onto the whole affair, that was nonetheless “not very clear”. Basically, I’m just saying that the events in this passage don’t directly influence the work that is being done in writing it, but rather, seem to reference some other event.

We can say the same thing about Marlow, as we did about that demon Bartleby — the sense of industriousness is there but it is hard for us to relate to. But we can almost relate to it — as so many have, to Kurtz, I mean. We are sort of like goldfish, I mean — or, we are like what Marlow said about that old man who believed there is life on Mars — we are capable of conviction even if we don’t know the heart of the matter. In fact, the anecdote I gave about the annoying fellow and Bartleby certainly serves to illustrate this. I was annoyed at him, in particular at his industriousness, at how he is trying to teach me. I remember another component of our discussion now: I told him, moments earlier, that the watchwords for my understanding of Bartleby was “Epic storytelling, exotic violence.” Hopefully you know me well enough to know that I despise being interesting just for the hell of it, but nonetheless — the violence, the work, has to be exotic. It has to be an interesting, and unusual kind of work, and what annoyed me was just how banal the work he was doing was — teaching, demystifying — despite whatever exotic concepts he had taken up. I used to say: “The most pernicious power is convincing the strong that they are weak.”

So my point is that we can understand labour with a kind of clarity even if we do not understand the trauma. In this case, the labour appears with a clarity despite the fact that the past event, upon which it is based, is bracketed off, bracketed off sufficently, I mean — I don’t know, with sufficient carefulness so that it doesn’t overshadow the labour, I don’t know. We will basically be doing the same thing that the fellow in my story is doing — talking about something without knowing the details of its very heart, but of course there are also many differences, including our awareness of this. (The common experienece of reading is certainly that the book alternates between being close by and distant. The closer we draw to the book the more we can read it, but getting too close and our endeavor becomes merely teaching. At the correct distance we can, it seems, understand the demonic labour which is the true heart of the issue. This may seem like metaphorical grandiosity but I mean — I am confident, I have become confident, that this is basically how great historical events come about. In the last essay we talked about transmissibility in history, and it can be said that here we are paying closer attention to how this transmission takes place.)

… All the above still felt too much like an introduction. But let’s actually say a few things about this passage. The cocentration on holes, and on digging is interesting, and highly concrete. It is the pratctice of placing marks on the ground. This is an allegory for work that occurs after the event. It is interesting, I mean — vaguely misguided, but also startlingly concrete. There is something undeniable about a hole, like there is about a punch to the face. But Marlow also associates this with “accounting” — holes can be enumerated, I mean, it is work undeniably done — and with the “philanthropic desire of giving the criminals something to do”. The ravine is yet another mark, but in this case its intention is uncertain, as does the word “scar”, which suggests another kind of ambivalence.

The central issue of this passage seems to be the connection made between the apparent industriousness of the written or spoken mark — the undeniable work of Marlow — and the uncertainty of the marks on the ground — these wholes, scars, ravines, etc. To further complicate the matter these holes were presumably dug by the natives themselves in a Bartlebyesque sort of manner, I suppose. There is work here but there is also the signature — a demon, or of various demons — both Marlow and Kurtz, I mean, we have not yet gotten to their differences.

The most important thing here, which is a question that we cannot fully answer with a single passage, is the relationship between the past and the “present”, I mean, the labour being done. The relationship that will allow us to reach, not so much a moment of clarity, but rather, at least, of conviction. Marlow detected a note of pathos to the sounds of the natives, but that is not the direction we will want to pursue here. The attitude here is one of industrious progression, a la Bartleby, rather than pathos, lingering, and stillness. Yet this may soon give way to other voices.. (TBC)

 

Bartleby and Inheritance

August 1, 2014

OK, so Bartleby is about passing on something, from Bartleby to the lawyer or to the reader.

Passing on becomes a problem only when we consider the question of “guaranteeing”: Ie, how can a mourner be sure that he is mourning the right thing? He can’t be, which means 2 things:

(1) Mourning is only half the process: well, it is writing, and the other half is reading

(2) The matter is not the object of trnasmission but rather the transmissible. It is not, in other words, a matter of the specific violence that I (eg, Bartleby) have faced, but rather, any trauma which is capable of being transmitted.

Bartleby can only, in a sense, transcend the human limitation of forgetting what he mourns, and can reach a kind of absolute objectivity, even, only because he transmits the transmissible, and because of our participation.

Let’s just go all the way here! Let’s consider transmission in the most concrete of senses, social transmission, transmitting a person, or an event, transmitting some moment.

… Now, what is the original event? Even though we sense it may not matter that much, we still have to consider this problem. The original event is basically the humanity of Bartleby. It is the … multiplication of life, the building of a society — but for our purposes the society needn’t be actually built, I mean, it need not be fact. I guess you can compare this to the origin of dead letters. The original event is some moment of trauma, some notion that Bartelby is onto something: well, he is perhaps a christlike figure? Somehing about individualism?

We will have to think about the the entire world that seems to spring into existence about Bartleby, about his insight (which will remain unspecified). “There must be clerks,” was how Conrad put it, there must be people who sort of make all this real. The fact of living, for Bartleby, is how this original event becomes manifested.

I guess Bartleby himself can be considered a clerk, one wo copies legal documents, who sort of lends a kind of — well, I called it “epicness” — but perhaps even objectivity to all this. “The difference between good and bad literature,” I used to say, “is the epic story in good literature is in the subtext.” So I called it “epic” there, but we might as well call it “ojectivity”, the objectivity of an imagined clerk working for some mysterious organization, in the weird facticity of remaining alive. … the nonchalance of a clerk that is epic in precisely the banality with which he treats this remarkable affair.

Bartelby is basically the limit, the logical limit of Melville’s own performative enterprise. With Bartleby the story we are talking about an epci subtext. But with Bartleby the person we are talking about someone for whom the content has entirely been subsumed by the … “subtext”, so that it does not matter (but it matters a great deal!) whatever documents he may copy. The text is so thoroughly fagmented — and do not think, in this case, a new “phenomenal” understanding of reading, maybe we should rather say “ironized”, err, become ironic — that *each word* matters. Think of Bartleby as writing an absolute glossary. So epic and liminal as to be mundane.

Well, we need not reach that absolute state, I mean. And we wonder — I mean, as in the introduction — whether such an absolute state is even possible, I mean, how much it would make sense for someone to always “have their eye”  on the origin in that way (it isn’t) — or basically, I mean, it is impossible to maintain sucha  gloassary in such a way without reestablishing coherence once again, and reestablishing grammar, content, structure, etc. And so the real issue, I believe, is thinking about the … particular vibe of Bartleby, and how this vibe is reflected in the attentiveness of the text to certain words: TO BE CONTINUED IN THE NEXT PART

Textabyss: Writing on an infinite plane

February 27, 2014

The textabyss is a computer project I’ve been working on: basically, an infinite sheet of paper that you can pan and zoom on, enough for holding a lifetime’s worth of prose. It is a very simple idea, and an odd mix of writeroom, personal wikis, desktop indexing, minecraft, etc.

Textabyss homepage @ Github

Youtube video

Thanks for checking it out!

A Splurge on Melancholy and Politics (Heart of Darkness)

December 6, 2013

Children and teens can be annoying yes but there is also the sense that they are too unformed, or too easy. There is a lot that is too easy, too intricate, too networked … and there are, I think, whole theories on all this, on how impermanent our judgments are. But I have certain thoughts now that border on sentimentalism, or on nostalgia, dedication — things that I’m honestly not quite comfortable with. I am not an altruistic person, and I don’t believe that children are magic creatuers that should be raised in a bubble. In fact, my general attitude towards that whole attitude is generally accusatory and full of bitterness. But nontheless I find myself drawn to a new understanding of power that may seem sentimental at first — and which I would like to move beyond: power as a kind of collective lying.

The insight, which is perhaps incomplete, hinges on the fact that there are no manipulators and manipulatees, but rather, only manipulaters, who manipulate themselves, or rather, who are manipulated by the logic of manipulating, if that makes sense. Who are manipulated by the logic of hope, but not, therefore, desperate in a direct sense. Kafka had a phrase, “There is hope, but not for us”, which sees at first to be a kind of blank cynicism but I believe that this is what he is referring to.

Let’s consider the final passage of Heart of Darkness. Well, throughout the book Marlow somehow finds himself compelled to life for Kurtz, for some reason. But I think the end is sort of the climax. What fasinates me about this sort of model is just how conscious it is, how consciously this sort of manipulation takes place. It is a very interesting series of lines, very mysterious but also very specific. He lies to her in the end but the whole feeling is, oddly enough, that the was somehow forced, by her, or perhaps other things, into manipulating her.

There is the issue of Kurtz’s memory. It is certainly not as vivd as hers — but that is what is intersting here, as we talk about memories that fade. Here, we are not merely talking about desperation or conviction in the face of a fading memory but rather a kind of indirect memory — she made me see. A memory, while being my own, is somehow … for her — can we even say, brought to life by her? Not quite, I don’t think — there is just the hint of insincerity here which reeks, to me, of nihilism or sentimentalism. Marlow has addressed this sort of discomfort, something to the effect of, “you know, I really hate lying, not because I’m better than all of you but because there is the feeling of death there, like biting into a rotten fruit” — and yet the story contains many instances of him lying on various levels. Yet it is not quite insincere, I don’t think — but what Marlow vividly recalls is not that time — and perhaps not even his own experience, but rather her experienceher understanding of Kurtz. And who knows if even her understanding is original.

Now of course we should address the fact that Marlow heard the leaves whisper, “the horror, the horror”, and saw, in the glass pane of the door, Kurtz staring back at him. There are two possibilites — there is, first of all, the notion that Kurtz himself was able to obtain power, not via manipulation, but rather, indeed, as we have been saying, manipulating the manipulator. Is it that he himself espouses, I mean, with his … exuberance, or with his shock and awe — prelapsarian times? (Indeed, the world of Heart of Darkenss is one of disarray, a postlapsarian one.) Or is it that he refers to those times, somehow, without really espousing it, or maybe both? The second possibility, oddly enough, is this notion that the voice of Kurtz is actually a genuine memory of that time and place — the way in which even that past, perhaps, seems to transform to a time somehow worth saving. But the origins are nowhere.

(Short) Essays without an Introduction: Heart of Darkness, first passages

December 3, 2013

Literature is the evocation of a time and place, it is memory, but not necessarily, perhaps, a time and place that you were physically at. But “real” memories are a pretension anyways, as many of us have come to realize. This thesis greatly simplifies how we read literature — although, indeed, it’s based on assumptions about truth, philosphy, etc. that are outside of the scope of this essay — I mean, it assumes certain sophisticated, and not naive, notions of why we need literature, it assumes a non-constructive model of philosphy and really behavior in general.

Now there seems, at first, to be a difference between literature and an actual place, as that which is evoked in the beginning of Heart of Darkness: the river. The effort there, in the beginning, by the narrator — I mean, where he sits on a yatch and reminesces about the history of exploration — should not be understood as sentimental. There is indeed the sense that it is really a far better understanding of exploration than more materialistic ones. But it does seem to differ from literature, I mean, this much is obvious, literature being words on paper and the historical memory being, perhaps, a kind of recurrence of some attitude, ie, in the sense of asking, you know, how many men in history have passed through this sea-reach.

Although, on a second analaysis, perhaps literature is the same way. It is not the communication of content. You know, so much must be known beforehand, so much must be shared, before any communication takes place — and communication is really just reference to things we already know, typically. Ie, communication is a way of activating elements in a shared memory — it requires familiarity. The space of familiarity I call the neighborhood — a suprisingly deep and central concept in philosophy, perhaps the concept of philosophy. Philosophy is not primarily the application of rules and reason but rather that yearning for an understanding of knowledge and our experience, most of it at least, as localized rather than universal. But memory lies at the border of familiar, in the (un)familiar, I mean, neither and both familiar and unfamiliar. With literature, too, what we do may resemble a kind of placid staring — as we await the clues that would offer us some pivotal insight into memory. This awaiting will bring us to the metaphysics of time and space.

 

Notes without Introduction on Heart of Darkness

October 27, 2013

(P1-P3) A meditative state, a moment of stillness or halting (as that which characterizes philosophical rather than ciritcal thought — an attempt to halt the progress of knowledge).

(P4) Again, a state of beginning or halting, the first step. Mentions of archeticture and bones. Later on, Marlow will talk about the sea reach as the launching point, the first step, of great projects — ushering in the question of the way in which progress is conceived, but in a perhaps retrospective sense. The temporality here is complex: at the end of the era of exploration, Marlow then looks back to the very beginning. This is the same way that Cartesian meditation occurs, well, of course. One is already familiar with thinking and its movements before looking back to the first step. But then this first step is a moment of looking foward, or rather, of halting before movement. And finally, the entire book then looks back, I mean, in the realm of personal experience, on the act of meditation — an act which itself, despite being a return to the step (to the first step, or to every step) seems so much like the beginnings of something. Philosophy is something that comes after but that derives its imaginative power from attempting to reach back to the before.

(P6) The question here really is how the river can be related to something as complicated or massive as the general trends of exploration. Are we talking about actual origins or the retrospective origin we speak of above? I am reminded of Flaubert’s effort with Madame Bovary, which I finally realized was political and not in the ‘feminist sense’. To go back to a life already lived, and to reorganize its details, while leaving the superficial appearances intact. Here the effort is perhaps much the same: to go back to the age of exploration, to put the past in services of an arising power.

(P8) A provocation — is Marlow about to offer a synopsis of his argument?

(P11) The description of those who enter into the darkness, and those who are saved by ‘efficiency’, or maybe pragmatism, is still an introductory offer. The darkness is not really a single thing, but it is an acceptance into meditation or a state of longing. It emphasizes that meditation is fundamentally waiting for something.

(P18) I mean, what is the spirit of exploration anyways? Is it a chance to work at something, or to get at the roots of something — maybe the origins of trade, or the origins of all that talk? I mean, Marlow did not really go out there with an high and noble ideas. I think of it as a chance to do an honest day’s work or something like that: sort of like what I’m doing with this book. Perhaps Madame Bovary can be compared to the Heart of Darkness in that the latter is a retrospective rethinking of Marlow’s life as meditation. (And note that that suffices to think about power, it is not necessary to explicitly consider how the past influences the choices of the present.) The question then arises: what is Marlow meditating on?

(P21) Origin of Trade — In a partial response, so far, we have an understanding of this notion of getting into the heart of the company, the origin of ivory and trade, but there is also, of course, the attempt to get at the cause of this mystery, such as that of Fresleven.
This suggestion is actually quite fascinating, since it suggests an organization built up around the idea — and not ‘sentimental pretense’ of something occuring at the origin — the origin of wealth, or the origin of trade, of exploration, cultural contact, and so on — some sort of transformation of the cities, for example, that takes place elsewhere. Rather than seeing, say, London as a launching point or the origin, we could perhaps see London as orbiting or fascinated by this origin — which is, oddly enough, perhaps well understood despite its mystery (cf, the final scene with the Intended). Basically, this is a way to think beyond cartesian meditation.

(P25) Women and the Power of the Past — The description of the two fates, the women dressed in black — very interesting, as this seems to suggest that, as above, when we say that it “suffices to think about the past”, that the woman have a hand in the transformation of this into power: the two secretaries, the introducer, and concrete workers of this powr.

(P27) The doctor passage really sort of reminds me that nothing should be taken for granted here, and that everything should be significance. Ie, there is no need to red in value judgments here at all. One feels that one can almost vaguely make out what the doctor is getting at here. There is a richness to this scene, is what I’m saying.

(P29 — halt) Summary: This has given me really quite a lot to think about. Conrad seems to offer a very real analysis of the project of exploration and the role of meditation / philosphy on that project!

The Dangers of Meditation

October 23, 2013

I had been thinking for some time now of what I now realize can be called “Cartesian meditation”, I mean, the sort of meditation that Descartes performs in “Meditations on First Philosophy” — I mean, a kind of highly concrete introspection, involving the inner eye, looking inwards, and so on. People who read Descartes, or whatever, today, may be … lured in by the clarity and simplicity of such practices, and also by a subtle sort of condescension, by escapism. It would be nice to make money in that way, by lying, I mean, and by leading a kind of innocent existence. But there is seriousness there that we may miss, I here accuse people of not reading Descartes seriously enough, especially those who enjoy him or think they understand him. Cartesian meditation, like all meditation, is a very real way, a mode of thinking that we have to respond to, of responding to the world — not so much at it’s essence, but at it’s step — before we take the first step, the first of many steps. I am not talking here about the foundations metaphor — “before we start constructing edifices we have to lay the groundwork” — but rather about steps, walking, movement — meditation is to the step as the critique is to the groundwork.

The basic thesis of Heart of Darkness involves the dangers of meditation. What’s so interesting about Kurtz is the sincerity of all those around him, he doesn’t promise power, fame, etc. so much as truth, as a kind of meditative truth. Marlow is inexplicably drawn towards him and inexplicably finds himself defending him — one of the central questions of the book — why? Why if Kurtz is not worth the life of the foreman lost to get to him, for example? But in order to think about this form of meditation we may will have to think beyond cartesian meditation.

… one thing troubles me highly, which is that meditation, unlike ideology, is true … it’s true in some sense. We have for the longest time been blissfully equating thinking with peace, with progress, and so on. Even for the critique, we have been equating that with self-questioning, doubt, all good things. I had a talk with someone today and I found myself, despite my best efforts, falling back to such banalities. How many times, for example, have I said that love, and not hate, is the justification for most violence? (Hate associated with guilt, doubt, and so on…) And I have quite a few drafts in my computer regarding Nietzsche’s On Truth and Lie, which is at once – true, I mean, I have thought about that work in relation to what feels like basic, preliminary insights — and at the same time, specific, powerful.

There is a kind of … historical theory, I guess, in Heart of Darkness, where history is seen not as the struggle between good and evil but rather the struggle between … light and darkness, maybe. Light here symbolizes knowledge, clarity, self-interest, and so forth — it is associated with reason, communication, and nihilism. (And sometimes with death and bone.) In a sense, anything goes, everything has an exchange value, but we are kept from each other’s throats by the careful balancing of self-interest. I mean, not the balane between self and other but the balance of conflicting self interest. I am not against light, I live, it feels like, in a world of light. When I sometimes stumble into darkness I feel the need to lash out and defend myself against these goddamn idiots who think they are so much cooler or more soulful than me and cannot recognize how common interest works. I hate you too, but let’s just keep it to our interests, shall we? I think I have plenty of these moments in previous entries.

The darkness on the other hand is associated with … yes, meditation, but not cartesian meditation, but rather, the feeling of a kind of significance, the feeling of the step. Well, that is the entire effort here: how do we go beyond cartesian meditation? I have a few drafts where I talk about Pandorum, which is a recent sci-fi movie. Well… the movie is not important, the point is that, whenever we take interest in anything, we find that it is due to a kind of weird fascination rather than any kind of satisfaction of desires, aesthetic pleasure, and so on. I took interest in Pandorum because it dealt with a kind of space sickness, a kind of insanity in the depths of space. Well, it also tied heavily to Heart of Darkness, Lord of the Flies, and various questions about restraint. But what fascinated me definitely had something to do with the “step”, with the supernatural .. the subconsciousness. I mean, if you think about it, the supernatural is a kind of underlying questioning, the question of the daily course of events, of the step by step.

With Kurtz, too, there is this notion of the –

TBC

Junji Ito

October 3, 2013

I’ve been reading the collected works of Junji Ito lately. It’s very iteresting stuff — it feels like it’s all the same, which is probably a good thing. Billed as a horror comic, except It’s not really all that horrifying, and in the very last volume he does a rewriting of Frankenstein, mostly true to the original Mary Shelley version, which is quite interesting, since I hadn’t noticed before just how Itoian that book was. My favorite webcomic gunshow actually references Ito … a few times, I think. I think he’s fairly well know around the internet.

I have been thinking over a sense of freedom — the freedom of the mastery. I don’t think I drew out this final sense of mastery — I know I keep returning to it. I mean, anything goes. We are not fundamentally, our intellects, are not fundamentally determined by technics. … I had not thought about the most radical consequences of the desolution of the borders between disciplines, the most radical consequences of not taking people at their word — the most radical consequences of Socraticism, let’s say.

CRP — which sounds sort of like CPR — I use to stand for, the “complex recent past”. It’s an idea of the thinking of history, what are we going to do with this incredible freedom? Well, we did talk about this notion of selfishness. Of looking out for myself, my kind. With so much freedom, such a task , well, we can do it unapologetically. The Complex Recent Past is our way of avoiding phenomenality, it’s a way of abusing this freedom. We have an experience, logically, in the complex recent past, and then, maybe, we experience it. This is the sort of power or freedom I feel.

Anyways, let’s talk a bit about Ito. I was happy that I did not draw any of the usual conclusions, any of the Freudian conclusions. It was definitely interesting — it was not horrifying. I did not even want to read it as some Japanese audience, that I couldn’t understand — rather, I don’t think anyone really felt it, or, alternatively, that no one really felt horror, that the fascination with horror isn’t aesthetic. The characters are stupid of course, but maybe that is part of the dreamlike sense of claustrophobia or helplessness.

I am a lot racist than I’ve ever been, really. Which doesn’t mean that I respect differences but rather than I believe all people are the same. So, again, for Ito, there is no privileged audience. Nor do I want to go the route of saying that there is some kind of art of the future. I think that there is a lot — me included — exoticism when it comes to this guy. So, rather, I want to apply this principle of CRP, of the complicated recent past, which, recall, synergizes with that sense of absolute freedom.

There is definitely something very interesting about the drawn image. I think I read one of the critics say that it was a character wasn’t beautiful so much as she was a symbol of beauty. When I read it, I confess, I tend to skim it — not even because I disrespect it or anything, but merely because it feels like it suffices. That’s what’s interesting about comic books I guess. I mean, I know the translation is bad, that there is nothing really to be understood in the word bubbles. I could probably read the entire work in Japanese (I don’t know Japanese) and have much the same effect. The dialogue is very banal, which may mean that it was translated badly, or it may mean it was intentionally banal — which is a real possibility, I’m not sure. Anyways, I tend to skim it. Not all comic books, but these ones are sort of like IV’s into the brain. A sequence of mostly identical, repeated images, combined — it is very interesting.

Now, I have not forgotten about truth, or historical significance. I mean, yes, selfishness, but there is also the need to talk about historical significance, that is probably the main purpose here. Now, my theory of history, or of interesting history, is that history is determined by the CRP, which is an odd sort of hypothesis. I mean, it is one step removed from simple aesthetics — it is indeed undeniable that aesthetics, pain and pleasure, correspondence, etc., itself has a history to be written. Say, the history of pain and pleasure. But that is perhaps not so interesting. A history of CRP is one step away from aesthetics and — importantly, not merely exoticism, ie, not merely, as we said above, in anticipation of an ideal Japanese audience. It is a history where the basic cause is what just happened. And a major reason why CRP is so important is because it ties in so closely to mastery, to the freedom of mastery. (And as a reminder — let me remark that we are not above lying, cheating, fronting, when it comes to mastery!)

In other words, Junji Ito’s has a historical theory — it is at once a theory of history, and a model of the CRP, the two are not the same. (The former depends on the latter.) Now when we think of the CRP for Ito we think of … something that is very different, certainly, form someone like R. Crumb of Jim Woodring. He is highly aware of how repetitive his comics are.

TBC, for real!


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