Archive for August, 2012

The Holism of Violence

August 31, 2012

Endless self-reflection can reach a dead end, even science can reach a dead end since it assumes the mind is a machine, present all at once, that contains all it’s secrets. Which is not to say I don’t believe in a mechanical universe, but self-reflection can take us only so far. So, Descartes was wrong (of course) and from self-reflection or even the science of the mind we must move on to history. That is, consider that which is really important in history, that which has led to us being who we are today, may be barely recognizable today. “All good things once wandered the world as monsters” was the Nietzschean phrase I think. And furthermore, we are not talking about chance occurrences but rather the real, as defined by, that which can have a powerful effect on us. We are defined by that which we haven’t felt yet. That which affects us strong now, pop culture, blinds us to that which can affect us, the latter being the truth of history. In other words, aesthetics is wrong because, like science and like reflection, it assumes that our present responses define who we are. This is wrong, we are defined by all possible responses, and in particularly past experiences, prehistoric experiences, we find out about ourselves in experiencing things we’ve never experienced before, because they may trigger some deeper memory — and note that in saying this we are not giving up a mechanistic universe at all, we’re not disagreeing with science, simply saying that the science of the self is incompetent. Or maybe, the mind is a machine, but one that has been hardly triggered at all by the present.

The real implication of this is that the study of the self must be an active pursuit and involve a willingness to go out on a limb — I don’t mean, here, traveling all over the world, but rather, more emphasis on the feeling of what is barely or almost there. The mind — and we may include culture too — responds powerfully and deeply to things that we may not even register consciously. Hitchcock’s word for this is “spellbound” a complete participation, the holism of entry and departure. The idea of 1984, for example, was this notion that one can come to love one’s oppressor, indicating the entirety of acculturation or assimilation.

And let’s elaborate on what we’ve been calling “violence” along these lines too. By violence, I mean something that is entirely useless to me, that does something to me rather than gives something to me. Something that does not help but rather harms me. All violence, then, is characterized by a blankness — even if this blankness is overwhelming color or complexity. So literature can be violent too, perhaps literature is violence par excellence since it refuses to be read. Yet violence can also be characterized by being spellbinding, in which case it sets off something like a violent chain reaction in the mind. I guess it should be pointed out that we are perhaps simply proposing a negative rather than a positive understanding of the world — after all, violence is universal, no interaction (with a different other) is not violence: we are used to thinking about learning from violence or learning from defeat. But here, we take the view that violence is simply some reaction in the mind. The idea that we can learn from violence — well — that’s an error, that’s basically just a  falling away from the investigation of the mind towards some notion of pragmatism in the modern day world, some dumb notion of God working in mysterious ways or something.

This idea of entirety, as suggested by the word “spellbound” (or Keats’s “thrall”), holism, will be an important one — the entire metaphysical hierarchy becomes centered around or caught around the blankness of violence. Let me just return to another personal example, our unwritten essay called “Watching out for my own kind” (call it, MOK). I have a scrap of about a few paragraphs somewhere here in my notes. But then, I ended up writing a little entry about why it won’t be written but should be written. It won’t be written because, halfway through writing it, I realized that it was impossible to make a distinction between the high (bad) and the low (good) — because in this essay I would accuse society of being blinded by technical mastery and of forgetting the sacred, which I conceive of as the pure possibility as presented by some experience. For example, we can no longer hear music because we are overwhelmed by thoughts of technical proficiency and closed off to — and this is mysterious, but comprehensible, I think — the pure possibilities of music. This is in fact a very old argument, it is one which Burke based his Inquiry into Our Notions of the Sublime and the Beautiful on. We know that, in general, we tend to appreciate things less and less as the novelty wears off. The argument here avoids the concept of novelty, of an original experience, by arguing for “purity”, which is distinguished from the “childlike” of novelty. So the MOK would concern itself with some defense of purity, some attempt to return to purity. It can never be written because, in fact, the high is influenced by the pure too, or, that we cannot talk about the pure at any length without finding that we have strayed, finding that we have taken up with a new high — this is why MOK won’t be written. But it should be written because, though we always fail, in our very failure we reorganize the entire metaphysical hierarchy, the holism, the entirety of history, so that the high points again back at the pure.

This is kind of silly, but let’s propose a reading of MOK even though it has never been written. It starts out euphorically – I should be old enough to know better, but somehow I never am, we never are — in speaking of the pure, of my own kind, defined by a kind of “genuine hope” – the keyword being “genuine”. The kind of hope here is of the utmost importance of course — we are not talking about the hope of achievement or anything like “The American Dream”, which is based upon social accomplishment or recognition, but rather a hope that seems to present itself at the very moment, a hope of a new way of being, a better way of being. This hope is of course associated with violence, and therefore with uselessness, and this is, oddly enough, something I had known long before I (hypothetically) wrote MOK. But the insistence on MOK is of a hope or a violence that is nonetheless better, for various reasons, all good. It would, for example, save the world — it would help people stop and smell the flowers — it would help people become at one with nature, and so forth.

At this very moment of conviction there is a dual realization, as we have said – (1) that I or the people I hang out with have somehow become exclusive, have begun judging on memory and a priori standards rather than, say, “with the heart”, and (2) that nonetheless, despite our corruption, we are still, and have always been speaking about that original form of violence. Thus, the emphasis here is on the holism (the “entire metaphysical hierarchy”) of the world disturbed by this violence.

Something similar actually occurs in La Belle Dame Sans Merci (LBD). A few weeks ago I realized that LBD was in fact about success and not about failure. After all, this knight has indeed discovered the purity he hoped to discover, and he is, you know, more knight than ever. For example, when Don Quixote, after a series of enormous failures, takes on the title of “The Knight of the Woeful Countenance”, this is a title of success. But Keats himself could not have written a poem about this knight, especially not the Keats of This Living Hand – or rather, he could not but must have finished (rather than abandoned) LBD, as we say above.

LBD is certainly about a kind of thrall, thrall suggesting someone who is entirely caught up in something. It’s kind of interesting that the very people who accuse the knight of being in thrall are in fact one of the elements of that holism: the oddly juxtaposed ghosts of kings, the king who gives an order, or the king who receives the reward — the king who teaches or lays down the law, or the king for whom one fights — ie, either the beginning or the end — in fact, both kings and ghosts are figures of the simultaneity of beginning and end. And the word thrall itself suggests either the unhealthy obsession of the knight with the moment or the thrall of the entirety of this poem and its context — the ballad. After all, the questioning, the answering, the singing, the listening of the ballad are all, well, already known. For example the speaker, when he asks, “O What can ail thee, knight at arms?” is not really asking (nor is it “rhetorical”) because he already knows.

The effort here is basically not to distinguish the pure from the impure but rather to reorganize the entirety of  history — the entirety of the ballad  ——- TBC

Q1: If the poem is characterized by the ambivalence of survival, what measures does Keats takes to “readjust” history to refocus the pure?

Q2: Are these measures in fact related to the way in which the mind “responds deeply to things we may not even register consciously” as important, spoken of in the beginning?



The History of Violence

August 30, 2012

Many have tried to write a history of violence, in particularly Nietzsche, who realized that weakness was a form of violence too. I am certainly thinking about Nietzsche whenever I write in the last few days … he has never let me down; some of his most bold and outrageous claims, commonly viewed as material that one has to overlook in order to reach his real insights – the are the last I’ve understood.

We will eventually want to talk about guilt and violence, I want to propose that I had made the error of fowarding an experiential rather than conceptual notion of guilt. And we will want to talk about violence and a kind of “universal bad conscience” of an era. But before that I want to proceed more anecdotally.

I’m always thinking about the Chinese, myself and the Chinese. There is most definitely a form of violence to the Chinese, which may be compared to Nietzsche’s “Christianity”, ie, in the sense that it’s not an outright, in your face violence. I’ve only recently understood the extraordinary violence of *my mother*! My mother and my father, and many of my relatives. It’s not even motherly guilt, it is flat out violence — of I don’t want to make it sound like I was abused or anything, but only recently did I realize the malice behind parential aid, made even more malicious by the fact that they won’t admit to it. As I drove home today I had visions of ancestor worship and ancient China, and of the overpowering, crushing, form of gift wrapped violence there.

And of course, this is related to my own attitude towards life, my own inheritance of the above, which can basically be understood as “hatred of exclusivity”, hatred of mastery — technics versus the sacred, the corrupt versus the sacred, as I said in the last entry. Well, I’ve thought about this, I’ve thought enough about this inheritance to make it my own, and this has gained enough subtlety and conceptual complexity that — that I can be fairly called a real human being — rather than raw unreflected stupidity and violence. But yes, there is a raw violence there — everything can be talked over, nothing is private, everything is social. I’ve pretty much stopped talking to the Chinese. If this sounds harsh, let me just say that the Chinese are one of the last major “peoples” I’ve come to hate (in the correct way, not simply because they’re annoying). There are moments when I want to scream, now what the fuck are you doing? I’ve already spoken of my fantasies of violently assaulting my (Chinese) roommate, I now realize that I had misanalyzed it. That look on his face — the way he wanted to drag out all the insights that I’ve fought so hard for, that I’ve meditated so long over — and *rape them*, well, yes, I believe I would be fully justified in breaking a few of the lesser bones.

But there are of course certain insights to be had from such raw stupidity, things you wouldn’t recognize otherwise. I’m not kidding, this fellow, PhD and everything, probably has an IQ of about 85. It feels like a goddamn step back in time, say 500 years or so, that’s for sure. If this was 1500 AD in China, I feel like he’d be the one in charge. Much like Faulkner’s Emily, there is the feeling of “historical revenge” at work here.

… I had long known about violence but I had not considered writing a history of it — I started this blog with talk, after all, about the *history of love*. I had long simply dismissed violence as, well, to my shame, as a kind of sin. For example, I had long known that love was far more dangerous than hate precisely because self-love is the root of all violence. After all, what does hate ever accomplish? Maybe I put a bullet through my brother’s head, or maybe I assault my spouse or my roommate. On the grand scheme of things these things are abnormalities and matter very little. But the massive systemic oppression, the enormous projets, the great wars, the genocides, well, you need some devilish spirit behind all that, and all that is founded upon self-love (not the romantic love of “a history of love”, which is really much more closely related to the opposite of violence, guilt) — and isn’t that really what “gets things done” in history?

So basicaly, my error in two posts ago, in “the Violence of blankness”, was the attempt to separate one form of violence from another and to valorize a form of “guilt-violence”. But in fact violence and guilt cannot be so easily linked — it is not, for example, Christianity, even if Christianity emphasized guilt or sin. Nor is it the Chinese for the same reason. Those things, though they involve guilt, are violence in its purity. There is no violence of blankness which I realized later — but there is guilt. The previous essay still feels fresh (and correct) to me — the emphasis there was on the separation of violence and guilt into two moments. There, we talked about writing a work of self-love, a work called “Watching out for my own kind” that would be a kind of manifesto for *my kind*. That essay would never get written — instead, we spoke about how art involves overcoming a fundamental failure — this failure that would be the subtle transformation of a work of (self-love) or violence into a work of guilt, a work of, well, a violence towards violence, a violence of blankness, of sorts.

That is, the important thing is that we will not be talking about simply another sort of violence (which may indeed be the flow of history on a grand scale) but rather a violence against violence —



“Watching out for my own kind” (A proposed essay)

August 29, 2012

I really like the last post, and planned for several days to write a follow up or an elaboration of it. Earlier today, I recognized an error: I proposed in that last entry, basically, this notion of a “truth-violence drive”, the violence of blankness, where truth was beneficial (rather than poisonous) to only a certain kinds of people, so that truth was biologically relative but also absolute. My error was not realizing, basically, that the high goes hand in hand with the low. I already knew that the “certain kinds of people” we we’re talking about would not be defined by any conventional border. But we were wrong in believing that we could make an absolute separation between a violence that comes from exclusivity and mastery and a violence that comes from the sacred (“blankness”).

Let me be rephrase all this since what I’m talking about is not at all abstract. I learned some time ago to trust my own gut feelings, not because I’m always right but rather because the path that they led down benefitted me more – ie, in the sense that they were more interesting, more painful, led to more insights. I like to think that I used to be a lot softer and kinder than I am now, but these same gut feelings actually leads me towards a hatred of exclusivity, if that makes sense – ie, me being self-centered meant despising exclusivity. Obviously there are a few conceptual reversals and rereversals here that are may not all that interesting in the end. But the basic distinction we were talking about, the one that in the last entry I felt uneasy making precisely because it was so clear and so well defined, was this distinction between technical mastery and spiritual mastery. Technical mastery, I said, was admiration primarily for the master, it was admiration for the results or the *ends*. But on the other hand, the sacred does not at all depend on the ends, but it depends on what seems possible with the means we have. In fact, are we not talking here about morality *as such* (ends and means), isn’t the sacred, by definition, superior to the technical (so long as red blood runs through one’s veins, so the saying goes)?

But something interesting happened today: first of all, earlier today I realized that the distinction between the high (bad, technical) and the low could not occur between people but always occured together. This is not to say that this distinction is reversible – it is still very real, but they always occur together because of some fundamental human limitation. We can never experience the sacred *as such*, but we only understand the sacred in terms of what it does, it terms of what it has accomplished. The sacred cannot, in fact, be recorded in history, only the high is ever recorded – but the sacred is what is “locked away” in history. Whenever one writes, one writes about the low, but it is always doomed to be misunderstood, initially, as the high. But it is precisely the task of the reader to recover this core of the low, this core of the sacred.

In other words: It is *sufficient* to think about the entirety of a moment, the high and the low, the promise of other words and the promise of hard work, without trying to search for a pure experience of some absolute encounter with the sacred – in fact, it doesn’t exist. The high always points to the low, to the sacred: corruption has some truth at the heart, and as historicans we are perhaps privleged (or maybe, decadent) in that our task is not so much to defeat corruption as it is to link it to truth (which, in being a creative labor rather than simply analytic effort, saves us from absolute decadence). In other words, we shouldn’t *overpursue* the sacred.

But – as I was saying – the interesting thing that happened today was that I went from realizing the error of a project – something that should have doomed the project – to nonetheless continuing on this project despite the error – and this only occurs because the project, built on bad foundations, has become more self-consciously “literary”. (Incidentaly, Paul De Man made the same claim about Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy.):

That is — I went to work yesterday, which usually means, no matter how hard I try, that my writing is held at a standstill. So today, on my day off, I awoke with with fond memories of the last entry which I had reflected over on-and-off during my two days at work (but never with any great focus). I thought about writing an elaboration or an extension of it: “Watching out for my own kind”. But upon further reflection, I realized the error of the distinction — not that the distinction was invalid but that it could never occur in the purity we were looking for. But, paradoxically enough, this meant that I should in fact finish that project (but with a more cunning sort of approach) precisely because in that writing, in that effort of distinction, we could perhaps catch a glimpse of the pure sacred.

The Violence of Blankness

August 27, 2012

There is a surprisingly subtle distinction I want to make — we feel very uncomfortable making such distinctions since they may not have any real significance — but this one feels both significant and surprisingly refined: the distinction between the expert and the sacred. These are two different ways of being excluded from something. In the former case, we aspire to be someone we are not yet, while in the latter case, we are suddenly reminded of what we are doing. Thus, we are talking about two forms of being self-conscious: in the former case, we are met with our own inadequacy, in the latter case, with our own hypocrisy. In one case we go up, in the other, we go down.

.. in the last post I proclaimed the universality of violence, which is something I still stand behind — and here, we are really drawing a distinction between two forms of violence, what feels like an overly refined distinction. Violence, to me, is basically something that is intended to put a stop to something, something that’s intended to be useless. So this may be a kind of silly definition at first, but, for example, “red herrings” would be a form of violence — to do something simply to confuse someone or lead them astray. Last night, I posted on Facebook — I like posting on Facebook — “Only recently have I realized that everyone who’s not like me is (semi-consciously) trying to harm me — and I have become a happier and more well adjusted individual as a result.”

— I don’t want to totally water down what this word violence suggests — I confess I am not all that violent a person, I mean physically, much to my embarrassment. The happiness of recognizing a world of violence is a combination of not caring, of the idea of “taking care of my own kind”, and maybe even a kind of brotherhood, a universal peace of violence, a brotherhood of violence. So maybe I am watering it down too much. Violence is a kind of intentional disruption, it is basically doing something to purposely lead the other astray. It is messing someone up, it’s doing something that may be historically interesting but which is utterly useless to the person. It’s doing something to the other person, an action that is well defined precisely by the fact that it can’t be defined precisely to them.

More and more I am becoming convinced of the importance of this distinction — because there is a difference, I feel, between merely confusing someone and doing something, well, more definite … we will get to this. At the heart of these claims about “violence” is the conviction that humans cannot help one another, or that there is a gloriously simple model of human behavior — people engage with each other only via violence, like a blank wall to another person, and anything beyond that is, well, being played, being a victim, like anthropologists by tribesmen. But the difference here seems precisely to be the difference between a blank wall and a mesmerizing wall, between a wall that mesmerizes with richness or mesmerizes with blankness. The former seems somehow more “truthful”, more primitive, more active — and at least there is the feeling that they are “our kind”. The former seems more powerful, more historically radical — as we said, we are talking here about taking care of “our own kind”. (I have in my notes, that perhaps the very concern for historical significance has been a red herring for us, since we are really concerned, not with any abstract measure of significance, but with writing our history.)

TBC: The violence of blankness, con’t

Radical Relativism in “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”

August 26, 2012

What if historical change were the result of connections rather than of new developments? That is, we’re always tempted to speak of a “new” concept, for example, those non-fiction bestsellers with titles like, “How computers have changed our minds”, or something along those lines. Which is not to say they are wrong, but —

— Incidentally, it’s okay to hate. Recently, I’ve decided people are self-centered and often out to hurt you. Even those who disavow selfishness, of course, are — well, perhaps some of the worst of the lot. People different from you never have your best interest at heart, only their own. I haven’t left the house in days, it feels like. This sounds like an interjection but it will be related, something we will return to —

So, which is not to say that they are wrong, but they are not like us and they do not have our best interest at heart. Those books, while possibly helpful to those like themselves, are geared towards our harm, even if they are faintly conscious of it.

But the idea I want to propose is something that I feel like we had been moving towards, the idea of two moments in memory becoming linked, or becoming somewhat inscrutably altered, and this link or this alteration (which I feel is really related to the simultaneity of those moments) is the historical development that we’re interested in. We had been talking for a long time, for example, about the simultaneity of guilt of bequeathal, of life and death, and so on. Well, except we phrased it as the image of history, while here we are interested in merely the link between these moments. And always, we were at least on the verge of saying — that this link is not merely conceptual, that there is something bringing these things together. And I feel like this is precisely what is so difficult for others to see, because they understand it as morality or some sort of social code.

Let’s talk about La Belle Dame Sans Merci — with the emphasis now on the sans merci. That poem is about that most mysterious of phenomena, which is guilt or displacement, the feeling that I am “intruding onto sacred ground”. Guilt itself is a temporal phenomena, well, temporal or spatial, in the sense that it is the feeling of being related to some moment in the past — either in my own memories, memories of youth perhaps, or earlier in history, something outside of my reach but which I can also sense.

… of course the question arises, especially considering my interjection, of whether La Belle Dame has the knight’s best interest at heart. The answer is certainly no, and the knight seems to be the only one who doesn’t want to aknowledge this. Not that we are proposing an absolute relativism here, I mean, we are actually “on her side” — but we are no longer so interested in questions of nihilism or various life-conduct reflections.

Guilt itself is, then, something like two moments compacted into one. We will also eventually want to talk about the other complement of this moment, which could either be the dream of the day after. The scene that’s played out is considerably more violent, however, then the knight imagines. The emphasis on sexuality, to me, seems to heighten this violence — not love, not sharing some special moment, but sex, which is something far more ambivalent.

Let me be a bit more clear about my mounting selfishness. Before, we were interested in “truth” — and I’m not saying that we deny that truth exists — but there certainly something like a “truth drive”. Truth does not help people, and this poem here is something like an encounter with truth, which is always the truth about myself, ie, the truth of my own nothingness. This is not to promote a holier than thou attitude, it’s not that one has reached some higher plane of existence with the knowledge of one’s own nothingness. Rather, it’s an elevation of this moment of dislocatedness, and this selfishness comes across as a total unconcern, or maybe even satisfaction, in what she has done. We are not, then, talking about relativism — we did use the word “truth drive” after all — it’s not a matter of one culture and another, but rather a matter of relishing this power of this dislocatedness.

We should be talking about selfishness here. As the poem emphasizes there is no future for the knight, ie, not so much that he is doomed unto death as that there is nothing for him to do with this memory, this memory does not benefit him because he is of a different sort of creature. The feeling is that one person’s sustenance is another’s poison (these are themes that occur within the poem itself). This is a sort of radical relativism that I am not usually prone to espousing, I am usually making claims that everyone is the same — but we make this poison/sustenance claim at the very same time we insist on (the absoluteness) of the truth drive. We are talking about the difference between the truth drive and (metaphorical) physiology or the biology of the life of the knight. Even if the knight were to recuperate and incorporate this memory into his experience — as he is already beginning to do ( — ie, “and sure enough in language strange she said ‘I love thee true'” –) this incoporation will have to be a forgetting (cf, “morality, social code”, above) if he is to continue living. In biological terms, this moment comes as an absolute destruction, a point that one cannot pass.

TBC: The ghosts of kings, materialism, Keats’s earlier emphasis on “life”, “promise”

The Image of History

August 22, 2012

I have here in my notes, “History doesn’t spread like the plague, it rises like the sun.” In other words, the last entry on guilt and inheritance is wrong, since inheritance is a plague-like model of history. There are a few other equivalent things I’ve written in my notes:

1) We only reach awareness after it’s all over.
2) Life and death (or dying) are reversible.

The idea here is that both inheritance and guilt, which we experience as discrete moments, happen to us at once. Or, they are related like “fate” (or, less mysteriously, like law) in the sense that the specific form of guilt and of inheritance, or the path from guilt to bequeathal takes on a certain form molded by the “sun” of history. In other words, the young and the old should be thought of as the various figures of history, rather than the young being the cause of the old.

The idea is pretty simple, I might be over-complicating things a bit. The last essay on “the plague” is really still quite useful, but we simply have to keep in mind that things proceed in order, such as the order of guilt and inheritance, because they “fall into place”, they “precipitate” rather than because the former causes the latter.


The “image of history” is a paradoxical phrase, the image is immediate while history is not. But this is what I think of as the practical consequences of what we speak of above. Now, there’s long been the vague feeling, regarding the work of philosophy, that philosophers should be “metaphysicians” or “phenomeonologists” or even, as some have said, “engineers”. These words express a similar idea, the idea of the “creativity” of philosophy, perhaps in giving the image of history — in that, without philosophy, what we do or see or think is far too definite, but philosophy is that which, well, seems to give an alternative picture of what is going on. But these words are also insufficient in that it appears as though the image is an ends in itself — and this is related to the expression, “Philosophy is not here to help you!” This is, incidentally, the usual error in most book reports — the “reader response” error, the idea that the book is written for me, for my appreciation.

The image, then, is not the goal of philosophy, the goal is not to give the metaphysical image of an era. But rather, the image is always of guilt and inheritance, I am thinking of something like the shield of Achilles, the image of history is of the spread of the plague, from birth to death. And organizing this image, as Kurtz tells us, who, before his death, seemed to see the entirety of the world — is “the horror, the horror”, the dark sun of history.


Less mysteriously, our practical task is to attempt to unify bequeathal and guilt by thinking about the common heart that they share, and not as one is caused by the other. TBC

“Only Guilt is Inheritable”

August 21, 2012

The relationship between guilt and inheritance is something we’re sort of aware of. They are two ways of transmission: guilt is transmitted, say, from the mother, and that which is transmitted is then bequeathed, sort of like property. So, in and out: like the wheel of history (the up and down rotation) or the spread of a virus, mother and father, etc.

One inherits — this is something we understand only vaguely — “something“. Inheritance is not the inheritance of “values”, moral values — that would be “teaching”. As the cliche goes, “college teaches us how to think” — teaching is a kind of preparedness — one is taught a set of values or methods and then is thrown into the world. Teachers don’t care about you — they want to see you succeed perhaps but not how — so maybe teaching is opposed to inheritance as one is concerned with the ends and the other the means or perhaps the totality. One cannot inherit, strictly speaking, a school of thought, since, as we know, children born with a silver spoon grow up with none of the spirit. One must inherit the spirit, which is neither values nor property — neither the idealistic nor material trappings. So these vague feelings about the paradoxical (a)materiality of guilt and inheritance will be our concern here, we will be to try to crystallize the thoughts here.

Guilt is the paradoxical combination of identity and displacement: one is displaced by someone who is “more myself than I am”. So, 1, guilt always involves the other and 2, guilt always arrives as a kind of shock. In the midst of believing I am who I am — boyish innocence — one suddenly reaches a moment of identity with the other — the other is in some sense just like me (“existential isomorphism” I called it). At that moment of radical identity however I am torn from myself, I am no longer who I claim to be. Guilt, then, is guilt over intruding into sacred ground.

The materiality of guilt is, thus, the moment when my own actions feel foreign to me, either that what I do seems to take on some sanctity that I was unaware of or that what I do becomes a intrusion into the sacred. This is different from merely feeling excluded, because in that case, one has not yet entered into some way of life, and in contrast, guilt involves myself. The promise never questions the self but only who one would like to be.

So bequeathal is not, actually, bequeathing something I already have, but it, too, has to do with the sacred — one can only bequeath the sacred, which is something that I myself cannot even touch. Bequeathal is actually sort of like teaching. But, again, we can’t be talking about “success training”, because bequeathal is, oddly enough, like the bequeathing of a piece of intellectual property, immobile land or sacred land — yet, “property” that, oddly enough, I cannot own, and no one can own.


This is the hardest part, but let’s try to attach something specific to what we’re talking about. Guilt and inheritance are universal, so the problem is not so much discovering an instance that will validate our theory — that’s not hard — but rather of discovering a example significant enough.

Let me just give a very summary reading of La Belle Dame. Both these concepts figure heavily into this poem. One can only bequeath guilt, or, a bequeathal is genuine only if it is based on guilt. The poem is the bequeathal (all art is bequeathal, and in this sense arrives to us from beyond the grave). At the same time, the sense of guilt plays very heavily into the “innocence” of the day before — the paradoxical combination of foreignness (cf, “promise”) and love (as identity). The two moments, the belle dame and the ghosts of kings or the ghosts of fathers, the lover and the father are the two aspects of the same historical phenomenon we are speaking of here, which is the persistence of the negational in history — ie, both guilt and inheritance, despite the apparent positivity of the latter, are negational, ie, they ‘negate us’ in an oddly passive sense. The argument here all along is that the negational is really the only thing that is “positive” — ie, our schools, thoughts, beliefs, etc. are not positive — ie, not inheritable.

In fact, this element of guilt has been present even in Keats’s earlier, more prospective poems, such as Ode to Grecian Urn — the one about beauty being truth and truth beauty. In these poems Keats wrote as an outsider, the moment of identity that he reached was imaginative rather than romantic. But even there, one reaches for more ethereal visions of beauty precisely because one is motivated by the other, unspoken, but far more intimate identity of guilt. We are talking, of course, about the great artists that Keats emulated, but since Keats did no technical research (really out of faith rather than scorn in their accomplishments) these figures remained shadowy. He saw their influence in the possibilities of poetry itself, ie, his own experience with poetry was a series of encounters with ghosts…




Where I went astray

August 17, 2012

This is really perhaps one of the hardest things to realize, the way in which we ourselves have gone astray, our own nihilism or pretension. And this is because persistence itself in something, no matter how refined and careful, leads inevitably to nihilism. This is because we can merely follow the forms in persistence, while what defines the essence of history is, oddly enough, precisely its mode of negation, the way in which it attacks persistence. (Which, yes, is itself a kind of persistence, “an era”, but this is not a contradiction (merely a semantic issue) since we are talking about two kinds of persistence — the persistence of appearances and the real persistence of negation.) The effort here, however, will be to consider this as a real historical force rather than simply a bit of moral masochism. Some concepts:

1) The trickster — the trickster is the one who makes us aware of our own nihilism. Whenever two cultures collide there is always a trickster experience. We are always a more dogmatic or dumb than we think, assuming we are are honest in this encounter and not merely defensive. The trickster is different from the rogue, I mean, as I use these words — the former is oriented towards “attack”, “aggression” (in a convoluted and strangely non-aggressive way) while the latter is oriented towards self-interest. This might make sense, the original title of this blog was “No more rogues”.

2) Feminism — This is a real story about an instance when I’ve gone astray. I distinctly remember now, suddenly, something I said about a month ago — well, let me just quote myself, since I Ctrl-F’d my notes:

Feminism, understood as the one-to-one mapping of our own existential condition (bitterness and euphoria) onto the female life (that is, it is not a new way to look at things), is, I discovered with surprise, enough to explain that most mysterious aspect of world history, the creation of the subconsciousness. (Madame Bovary as mapping.)

The idea here is that feminism is a “one-to-one mapping” (“isomorphism” as I use it here) and not “a new perspective”. This seems almost methodical, since the traditional way of understanding women tends to exoticize them, ie, it tends to emphasize how they are different, mystical, in either a good or a bad way. But this is actually not quite methodical since the awareness of the moments of mapping do not come methodically (so the emphasis is on “existential” — I’m not saying that we are all human because we all bleed or require food) but rather randomly via insight. “The creation of the subconscious” is probably what I call the “mode of negation of a historical era” here.

I went astray in that my understanding of isomorphism and love quickly departed from this original understanding. — it became “monolithic”, it emphasized the self’s ability to relate via art or love. This last essay on professionalism, too, emphasized the self’s experience of the essential difficulty of inheritance.

But a month ago, this proposal was very different (ie, and right rather than wrong). It proposed that we can only understand world history by mapping our own existential condition (which includes art, love, professinoalism) to another. (And perhaps all we’ve done in the interim is further develop our “map”, but this seems almost like busywork.) This mapping is not, as I thought, the discovery of — from the last entry — “the discovery of someone just like us, even if they are our opposites” — but rather the moment when we are blasted out of ourselves, the moment we realize our own nihilism from the position of another who is just like us and is able to have an emptying out effect on us for precisely this reason — someone who is more ourselves than we are, in a sense.


Let me actually talk about another real-life story, which was a conversation I had with my aunt. The basic trajectory here will be “follow your nose”, ie, the attempt to talk about how aunt displaces me via this isomorphic theory — with my aunt as the trickster. The conversation really concerned, well, discourse itself, and the proper role of indulgence. In Chinese, the word “liaotian”, literally, to speak about everything under heaven, refers to the discursive, indulgent, way of talking that, maddeningly enough, insists on the persistence of differences.

This I feel is relevent — there was this one time when I was getting to know my roommate, who was Chinese — and, let me just be frank, an absolute idiot. Anyways, I spent a lot of hours talking to this guy because I talking aids me (it is, after all, the source material for this very essay) and because I thought he was listening. Only after a long time did I realize that not only did he not understand all the most critical terms I was using, he thought we were “liaotian”-ing, ie, as opposed to attempting some kind of intellectual work, of developing points, of self-understanding, of changing the opinions of the other, and so on. This was enormously unsettling to me and I absolutely bristled when this dawned on me. To this day I have violent fantasies of viciously beating this fellow, I mean, to the brink of death, so he would know what pain was, so he would know that in this world that differences between words mattered and that not knowing this could lead to enormous pain. I’m pretty convinced that this is a relatively common experience.

The word “difference” is obviously very, well, difficult here — but we don’t actually want to spend to much time on this word, which appears probably like 10 or 20 times (counting synonymns) in this essay, and particularly in the above to passages. I, in the above dramas, insist that there is no difference between people (that discourse should be aimed at the resolution of differences), but insist on the differences between words. I insist on the differences between words or expressions but on the non-difference of ideas. Liaotian insists on the differences between people but, on some other level, on no difference at all which I — I thought — led to a total lack of engagement or listening. But that’s not really where we want to go there — I mean, we don’t want to go into some universal examination of the concept of difference — what’s interesting is precisely where the differences are thought to lie.

Obviously talking to my aunt was a different experience — for one, she is not an absolute idiot. For another thing, she had something to say, I mean, she was an active participant in this convsersation about discourse, about where exactly there were or weren’t differences in humans. (So that liaotian seems like a consequence of this model of the human.)

I had gone astray — but how? This is not a question of moral self-reflection (as it was above, in the feminism example) but rather the question of her power to displace me. She understood full well the role I was playing, the moral high-ground I was taking (I was) and insisted that there was something vacuous about the high ground, something that I couldn’t see in my effort to insist on some realism of ideas — the distinction or the definedness of ideas. I insisted that ideas were distinct, the difference between yes and no, but in fact this distinction was merely a performance — even a chance to make money, to make my way in the world, ie, merely something interesting — that could not answer to the strange ways in which underlying  motivations helped people shape ideas, and which liaotian was adapted for.

TBC: More on liaotian

Art and Professionalism

August 15, 2012

I think I’ve made an error in thinking about art as something on the “fringe”. The problem with both art and, earlier, love, is that they are too “geometric”, art is associated with fragmentation and love with isomorphism. The hope here is to think about professionalism, which is something, in fact, I will argue, quite similar to love and art, but is more grounded, ie, historically specific (so that I think that, while I’ve made errors, the development here is still progressive.)

Here are a bunch of stuff from my notes that say mostly the same thing:

“Art is nothing but an initiation into a way of life.”
“Art seeks to pass on an inheritance”
“Most people don’t realize that art seeks above all to be understood and not misunderstood.” (Ie, in opposition to the notion that art can be interpreted whimsically based on one’s perspective.)
“Benjamin wrote for the Jews.”
“We are old school materialists.” (Ie, the emphasis on work, historically grounded, etc.)

Our basic error with art was that we were still simply giving a description of it (“geometric”), or, we understood its superficial forms and distortions without understanding the underlying history, specificity, seriousness, etc.. So in my notes, I was heading towards a more grounded, “serious”, more “selfish” notion of art — and therefore solidifying the link between art and success in society, the fringe with the heart if you will. I think this was an implication all along here (or perhaps something I forgot) — our understanding of love for example, as “isomorphism”, is emphatically selfish and not altruistic — we love someone who is just like us, even if “existential isomorphism” means that they are our “opposite”.


Let’s consider La Belle Dame Sans Merci — and Keats is certainly a very strategic choice when thinking about art and professionalism, since he was neither one nor the other, one could say. Our basic effort here is actually the attempt to characterize the difficulty of inheritance. Keats was “liberal” enough not to ever attempt a descriptive text on mannerisms or something (which is actually a legitimate effort, at least) so that all of his poems were written “with excitement” — ie, he considered who his being, his professional or inheritable being, as someone who is “at work” in the midst of something. But this, too, may be naive, this, too, may run into the same problem as the (more widely acknowledged as naive) descriptive method above, precisely because it does not take into account the difficulties of inheritance and the specificity of his own labor. That is, there is the sense that Keats’s “ideological” concerns (ie, the difference between liberal and conservative), oftentimes, prevented him from understanding the inheritance was not merely the task of presenting the miseducation by the other side, but that there were essential problems here. (These essential problems are, basically, nihilism and (self-)exoticism — and we will attempt to relate these two things to our concerns below.) In other words, the engagement in the contemporary world gives a “structural” view of the self that never arrives at materialistic understanding of the historical self. Ie, it’s like the error of thinking about nature as an escape from the rat race.

Now, with LBD, there are many figures who insist on their specificity, including Keats himself. The basic movement here, we will argue, is the that of a “shrinking down” of the core of the inheritable, as we move from a descriptive or dramatic understanding of the self (ie, that we spoke of above) to a more “pure” understanding of the self. Our earlier of art as “purification” of love, the min-maxing of art, is very similar — the attempt to understand “what it is I (or “one”) really does / can do”.

… TBC: The Core of The Inheritable

What Little Art Does

August 11, 2012

We want to argue here that art does much (is historically important) by doing very little. We will be talking about something like the “maximum of the minimum” that art does. And of course, we will want to give some relevance to this discussion by addressing “why art?”

By “art”, I really just have the conventional notion in mind, ie, what we go to museums to see (and not more romantic or “motivational” definitions). We are talking about something that is known to have a very limited effect and also, so one would presume, a highly limited effect, ie, a “transcendental” or a “theoretical effect”. Honestly speaking, we don’t expect art to “move the soul”, not in the way that music or film does — yet nonetheless it does something. Yet isn’t there the sense that art a museum is something like “pure art”, in that it, in its minimalism, gets at the most basic — and I am being vague here — action of art, without “over-reading”? This is the intuition that I want to develop here. So this is why we want to think about “art” in this precise sense: our intuition is that art forms the basis, as a kind of pure disturbance, for the kind of figural “isomorphisms” that we’ve been talking about.

Just to provide another impression of what I want to talk about, I have a few drafts (I mean, scraps, they won’t ever be finished) in front of me, one of which is called “History of Confusion”, ie, as opposed to the “History of Love” which had been our concern for the past month or so. This confusion is not the confusion before the onset of clarity with the figures and with isomorphism, but rather the confusion that is always alongside figures, either before or after, the essential confusion of figures. In other words, confusion as event  — and this is a big deal, to me, if only judging by the metric of just how many earlier ideas (a whole month) it seems to overturn.


We do not, however, want to start anew in this transition from history of love to a history of confusion, but rather, many of the older concepts continue to remain useful — in particular this notion of “exploding an equivalence class”, which we associate with “preference”. In fact, we sense that Keats’s La Belle Dame is headed precisely in this direction: starting with a “history of love”, with the Belle Dame, we move towards events which are in some sense “identical” but also somehow emptier or more hollowed out, perhaps more alien, yet somehow still “the same”.

Now, it’s not really that, with the history of confusion, we are moving towards more “abstract” accomplishments. If anything, the events, in this movement, are drawing farther and farther away until they become either barely or almost graspable. The feeling is that, with love, we are talking about events that have existence only because they are associated with, well, the world, with what could have been, with psychology, and so on. So that love itself feels surprisingly full even though though at the heart of love lies art — I’m saying that the fullness of art is a distraction, at least to us — it distracts us from the real forces of history.

Of course, we are not saying that art is at the “essence” of love — it’s not a matter of pealing back the layers. If we say that art is the purity of love then we are not saying that it’s possible to arrive at art through some methodical process of purification. It’s almost the opposite, we are saying that love is always disturbed by or troubled by a purity that it cannot turn down, or that love may always lead towards art. Another consideration — in contrast to love that has always been around, art would be something like the specificity of love.

Maybe this makes some sense too, yet another draft I have before me is called “Banal explosions”, ie, “Banal crises”, the banality (rather than the excitement, the highly personal nature of) radical shifts, dis- and re-connects, and so on.


The starting point is love — love, as we know, is related to (1) a kind of fragmentation (ie, the point-by-point of isomorphism) and (2) the idea of preference. Preference itself is a blasting open of equivalence classes, it is the insight into the other alongside the realization that I can be undercut — so that, basically, I cease falling back to my established categories with the knowledge that I myself am categorizable and that certain notions undercut these categories(Our tone here is, indeed, blase, we are talking about “banal crises”.)

We are talking about something like the geometric transformations of love. It’s not, of course, the case that love is essentially geometric. Purity is perhaps a deceptive word to use when we say, “art is the purity of love”, and this is because love always comes before purity, the impure comes before the pure. And we shouldn’t attempt here, either, to categorize all these geometric movemetns either. Because what’s really interesting here is not the geometric exchange but rather something like the “downward” movement of purity, which is something like the limits of the human, the limits of that which can powerfully affect us. And this is something like a min-maxing here: the farthest that we can go and still feel — that’s the point we’re after.


Actually, let’s not stray too far — we are talking about something very precise here, namely, the exchange of concepts, what Paul De Man called the “banal play of the signifier”. TBC