Archive for January, 2013

Thinking, Order, and Finitude

January 29, 2013

Here is kind of a neat logical puzzle. We have several pieces here:

1) The idea that the world is ruined, but that we may never know it, since we can only see order
2) The idea of “contextual but not profound”, the idea of some *event* of the text. Keep a few things in mind: this is not the event of reading, it is the event after reading, when the text has become just a memory, but not the memory of ideas, but still, the memory of the text in its materiality. In a sense, this can only happen when the world has already been ruined to some extent.
3) The main question, then, is whether there is an order here, ie, the order between materialism and the content of thinking.
4) But here is where thinking, finitude, and order come in. We cannot possibly be seeking order, that is almost violating a kind of categorical imperatve. But nonetheless, in the absence of order, there is a thinking that we can understand. What’s so surprising here is that thinking involves an individual effort, there is no methodical way to arrive at this understanding of thinking. SO the fact is that we can discover an order, but only for each individual case! Or, perhaps even more, we place an order there, so that there is perhaps no difference between thinking and intervention.
5) This game, the above “game” is the consequence of our finitude.

Well… that is probably lesss clear than the numbers there seem to suggest, but I feel it very strongly in my mind. The main peices there is this “materialism of the text”, which we call “contextuality without profundity”, the “memory of a materiality (rather than of “ideas” or even “intentions”)”, the other elements are things that we are perhaps used to, if we are used to philosophical “positioning”: finitude and the order-thinking problem: order is related to science, thinking is almost an antagonistic principle, to philosophy.

I posted in Facebook today something which may illuminate this relationship further: “There is no fundamental order to thinking, not because of subjectivity, a lack of logical laws, subconscious influences, or mystical insight, but rather because of the undecidablity of reference, which turns in discrete intervals like a toothed gear.” This gets at the sense of “discreteness” of thinking, which is something we are used to — that thinking progresses, it seems, by particular shifts that appear to be insights into the reference — but that’s actually merely how it manifests itself! In actuality, the moment of understanding comes intutively and randomly, for all practical purposes, and yet, at the same time, there is a kind of fundamental motivation there, for us.

Perhaps Walter Benjamin thought it best in that notion of the “chess puppet”: “A story is told of a automaton who could play a winning game of chess. Actually, a dwarf, who was an expert chess player, guided the machine by means of a system of strings. There is a historical analog to this machine. The puppet called historical materialism can win all of time, but only if it enlists the aid of theology, which is wizened and must keep out of sight.” Here, there is the reference to thinking as a series of “discrete movements”, and this notion of the undecidability between thinking and intervening. Theology we equate with our fundamental conviction of the ruin. But the key thing to keep in mind here is contextuality without profundity and this materilistic memory of the text in the world of ruin.

*

TBC: Conrad in Africa

Rigor Regression

January 20, 2013

Now, we always seek  intervention, interevention is like a fundamental human or probably sentient trait. I am not sure if it si related to power. But in any case, we all want to do something — or even if we don’t, then there is still the question of what would you do. So intervention is a fascinating question — it feels very fundamental.

I just realized that intervention is unvaoidable, in a sense, what we’ve been calling “targetting” is unavoidable as well. But there is a sense of a regression in intervention. Now, … tropically, I mean, clarifying my intentions by referring to some big book of philosophical tropes, we are thinkig about a regression of rigor as the way in which intellectualism and the prehistoric seem to converge or proceed in the same direction. I wondered if philosophers weren “professionally non-pragmatic”…

But rigor — we spoke about rigor, that is only the first degree of regression. I mean, in the ordinary world, we feel things to be at hand, and we feel that we are able to use them. Rigor is a kind of regression, it speaks of our preference for a kind of targetting, our seeking of a precisely targetted point. In fact, in a later essay I pointed out that we were really about rigor, which means we were seeking that targetting, which seems yet another layer of regression. We seek that which would give us a singleness of purpose, which is itself a seeking. The infinite loop of interventional demands.

I’ve been reading the Heart of Darkness still, and the strategy of “random points of entry” works great — I have the book as a text file — it’s about 3600 lines long, so jumping to a random line, and starting to read from there is what I’ve been doing. The premise of that book is quite cool. Everything is in ruins, and this ruins leads to a kind of regression — I mean, being in ruins means that one can no longer target, one can no longer behave correctly, and one begins to fall down the bottomless (well… I’m being grandiose here) well of targetting.

Certain scenes stand out and seem to make sense, let me just give them as a kind of “glossary”:

“Cipher” — Conrad thought that the book he found was annotated in cipher — it was actually Russian. But the idea is that cipher speaks of the possibility of breaking that code, it conceives of a point of targetting and intervention.

“The City of Darkness” — This is in like the final line of the book, when the fellows on the boat look upstream and see how the river seems to lead into a city of immense darkness. They are talking, then, about a city of ruins, a city where one can no longer intervene, or where intervention takes place in darkness: a breakdown that leads to a regression.

— But the premise of the Heart of Darkness is that there are all these scenes of people confronting this regression, this ruin, in different ways. They all look towards the same thing, basically. It’s like that movie, The Seventh Seal, where each of the characters confront death, as if in an allegory: some approach it stoically, others back away, the punch line was that there was one who welcomed it. The same thing can be said of the Heart of Darkness, where each person deals with the loss of … targets .. in different ways. The brickmaker starts networking. The manager forms this sort of dark alliance with the jungle. Kurtz… I’m not sure .. he seems to become it or to merge with it. The women reach out for it. And Marlow keeps his sanity by focusing on the mechanics.

What lies at the bottom of this plunge into darkness — this seeking of seeking of seeking of …?

A Semi-Organized Essay on Heart of Darkness

January 16, 2013

I was talking the other day with a freind about Silence of the Lambs, and I dropped by insanity argument as a way to understand Hannibal Lector. Actually, I’ve realized since then that insanity isn’t quite necessary: this I thought a big realization at the time though I haven’t blogged about it. Insanity suggests a quantitative difference between those who pursue rigor and those who do not — such as Hannibal Lector, who is positioned in the movie to be this absolutely amoral character (who does not pursue any line of rigor) and yet is a sharp reader of human desire. But there is no qualitiative difference because of the aboutness principle: we never have an encounter with rigor, we are onlay aware of being about rigor. Note that an “encounter with rigor” is already “removed” in a sense, since rigor is something that one vaguely senses, “ruleness without rule”, some “other”, etc.. So to say, “to have an encounter with rigor” is already using “encounter” metaphorically, but even that is too definite, w have encounters about rigor.

What this means is that one need not postulate insanity, since everyone is already hovering about — and in a sense, since all our actions are thinkings before they are pursuits, we can never be wrong — even if we can mistarget. But outside of targetting, we have, instead — what we eluded in “The Return of Creativity” — what we whimsically termed “thinflaction” — the creation of a new virtual world, which involves the oneness of thinking, reflection, and action. This is what I would imagine the unwritten blog entry would have been about.

Let’s move on to Heart of Darkness. The biggest difference between HoD and the texts that we’ve been used to examining is that in HoD the author is Marlow, for the most part — ie, rather than in Bartleby, where the author is probably Bartleby.

The book is mostly about Marlow, actually — it’s not really about Africa. Marlow never really steps onshore — and he never really gets involved in Kurtz’s project or schemes, nor, on the other hand, a la Avatar or Dances with Wolves — does he involve himself much with the Africans. (The “-ject” of project means, to throw — to take aim — related to “targetting” above.) All the while he is aware of things happening on his periphery — things which he inevitably regards as being about what he is fascinated with. So, for example, whenever he encounters the Africans, he understands them as being enthralled by something too, he “sympathizes with them” I guess. When he speaks of drums that sound out in the night whose meaning is indiscernable, whose significance may even be like that of “bells in a Christian country”, then the point seems to be that he is saying he doesn’t understand, or it’s mysterious, or that Africans have their own culture, but what he’s really doing is suggesting that they are after the same thing as he is. This may be correct or incorrect, but in a sense it doesn’t matter — not only in the sense that what matters is that “makes sense” — but also in the sense that this is the way in which “aboutness” works — it could either be a personal feeling of rigor, or it could be communal, what matters is that we see many things about. And furthermore, consider that this is Conrad’s basic “action” in the book — his “thinflaction” — to bring forth, to establish a virtuality about — the heart of darkenss — rather than more humanistic elements (which we called “mistargetting”.) What this means is that — as with any virtuality — it doesn’t really matter those positions exist or not, they will be represented if it gains power. This is, again, getting at the sense that it doesn’t really matter whether Marlow is correct or not in his assessment of the Africans.

… let me remark here that we should divorce ourselves from the yearning for a more scientific historiography — the primary question for us in the evolution of language, for example, is how language and culture codevelops — and to understand this, one necessarily has to resort to the type of thinking here, that is the essential question, the begged question, and not the construction systemic models.

—–

Let’s get to out semi-organized chat on HoD. I mean, I am not writing this as I read, I have a few notes I’m working on, but I certainly don’t have a fixed conclusion right now. I haven’t the read the book in a few years, so a rereading is certainly in order. Right now, I have the full text of the book from project Gutenberg on my smartphone, and I am mostly reading random passages. I’m actually reading it VIM, so what I do is I type in “40%” and that brings me to a random part in the book. I think that we tend to overemphasize the beginnings and the endings when we read books.

So 40% of Heart of Darkness is a scene where Marlow is leeping on the steamboat and overhears the manager and his uncle talking. The misanthropy is quite intense for Marlow, he really can’t stand these people — white people, I mean. I can relate to that, I hate most Chinese people — I mean, you know, your “usual” Chinese — a great deal — to the point where I sometimes can’t even maintain civility. There is this line where he says, “all the donkey died in a week, but I’m not sure what happened to the less valuable animals” — regarding the El Dorado exploration company manned by the manager’s uncle, and I get the impression he means it (I mean, when he says, “less valuable”).

But anyways, enough background, there are a few things that are interesting here:

1) the idea of Marlow, lying on steamboat, half-awake, overhearing the manager and his uncle talking, and catching bits and peices of it.
2) The moment when the manager’s uncle — the uncle for short — gestures his “flipper of an arm” towards the wilderness — which causes Marlow to leap up, as if expecting a response from the jungle.

The whole scene becomes rather ridiculous, as there are maybe 4 layers of nested quotes, as the narrator quotes Marlow quoting the manager quoting Kurtz, for example. My point is simply that there is something going on — everyone has to resort to quotes, exact repetitions for some reason. This gets at the sense of “aboutness”, the mere sense, but the question is, we should think, the particular sense of aboutness. Or rather, because that is a dead end, the intentional virtual action of Marlow — or whatever we choose to call the author agent — which we called “thinflaction”.

One of the interesting consequences of the narrator and the author being the same person (as opposed to the case in Bartleby) is that the text itself becomes this moment of thinking. The conversation that the manager and the uncle have is about particular things, but the action of the book here is to divert this. I don’t want to talk about the aesthetic elements here (I mean, how the artist uses artistic license to alter our attitude towards, say, the manager’s mindset), but rather I want to think conceptually. I mean, there is very little alteration of “facts”, we would like to believe, this thinking is the agent’s distortion and conceptualization of these moments.

In the middle of an immense jungle, there is a kind of dark prayer, a dark liason, between the manager, whose sole source of power and authority, apparently, derives from the fact that his health is charmed — he simply doesn’t get sick — and the jungle itself, some kind of God of death or something. For example, he doesn’t have to actually kill Kurtz — he simply has to wait until Kurtz dies from exposure.

The scene is about this moment when Marlow fully expected the jungle to answer back, he leaps up, turns towards the jungle, and unwittingly exposes himself when the uncle gestures towards it and utters “trust to this”. One expects the jungle to do certain things — namely, to crush the plans of men. It is yet another case of somone seeing something in the jungle, in the same way that, from the beginning, the jungle was understood to be a source of profit. This is not what we are used to thinking of as “rigor” — we tend to think of rigor as a kind of critical, reflective moment. But the jungle like the river, here, becomes a means of concrete action or action at a distance. One resides, or goes into the jungle, but not as home, but rather as a means of accomplishing something or getting somewhere.

But on the other hand, one never has an encounter with the jungle, which means, the jungle is not really the jungle. {Mistargetting, Insight and Blindnes, Virtualty ????} TBC

Insane Virtualities (Rose for Emily)

January 15, 2013

Yes, unfortunately, this will be another theoretical essay, but perhaps we’ll get sidetracked and come up with a few good examples.

Last time, we spoke about “the return of creativity”. (Remember that rigor is still our fundamental problem.) We begrudgingly admit now that certain types of creativity are OK — but only because one need not be driven in pursuit of rigor.

This is in fact related to virtuality — as all creativity is related to virtual action — “thinflaction” I called it: the oneness of thinking, reflection, and rigor.

But there is still this fundamental inconceivability (which is what I mean by, “unfortunately theoretical” above) — how is to possible, pragmatically, for a creativity to exist that is about rigor, yet does not pursue it? Can we really treat this rigor as a real thing?

This is when I thought about insanity, or rather, “doing first” perhaps. As we talk about rigor, honesty itself is a curse, is it not? This is perhaps akin to the problem of “trying to forget something” — because, however much we say about the “human condition” — ie, that what we feel to be necessary is never grounded in necessity — or the “dizzying freedom” of rigor — it is at the same time something seemingly impossible to get away from. The only possiblity here is *insanity* — which is a lot more rational than we might think! Calculated insanity — I also said, “machine” — perhaps some kind of progressive, foward device — mechanism without rigidity, to throw out a Kantian-sounding formula — that will help us resist the lure of rigor.

There is a paradoxical sort of problem here isn’t there? It’s, I believe, what Kafka was talking about in “Silence of the Sirens” — which is, remember, about Odysseus’s success — a kind of unthinkable, brilliant, cunning stupidity or insanity. The end of the story goes: “But there is one further possiblity, but this would involve a level cunning that is all but unthinkable…” (misquoted).

Basically, the paradox here is that we humans, if we act based on reason, honesty, responsibilty (“rigor”) — are doomed to fail, doomed to mistake the non-necessary for the necessary. There seems to be no way around this fact — I was on the verge, for example, of speculating whether we could get perhaps get around the tyranny of rigor, that nonnecessary necessity (which is not a Kantian-sounding formula — “arbitrariness”), our doomed fate, by making the distinction between past and future, ie, between looking as rigor as something in the past rather than in the future. But no, it’s not that easy — and this is why we have to think about insanity — well, insanity, creativity, and virtuality.

*

Let’s try to talk about an example, or at least start developing — one that’s been sitting in the back of my mind — Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily. As with Bartleby, we realize that the stand-in for the author is Emily and not the narrator. Her whole life is a kind of thinking isn’t it? Faulkner has said about women that “a girl of 14 is already bored of what a man approaches with fear and apprehension” — misquoted. The idea with Emily is that she got old fast — much like what Flaubert said about Felicite in “A Simple Heart”. She was blonde, thin, but not beautiful, under the shadow of an overprotective father, she seemed to already know what the world had in store.

So she gets out and murders Homer Baron, her first lover. She then does something with his corpse. And from then on she never left her house. I used to make a big deal out of the ending scene, which is a kind of like a “fuck y’all” to the townspeople, but we really shouldn’t. What she does occurs in a virtual world, and not along the channels of communication of this world.

A kind of calculated insanity, which is not at all easy. I mean, to “know the world”, as Emily does, means also to know the pardox of the world: of nonnecessary necessity, which means the inevitable failure of a pure heart. This is the statement from which one can begin a critical rereading of Hardy’s Tess of D’Ubervilles: A Pure Woman. What does it mean to be a pure woman, or to have a pure heart? If Tess succeeds — which is open to question — how is that bound up with knowledge and insanity?

I mean, Homer Baron — either the man (the man’s man) or the bard — is perhaps this figure of rigor, at least related to rigor, or perhaps power-rigor. She murders him and then spends her life, so we would believe, around him, or around that act. The house comes to is a house now for the wedding, we are to assume, of her and Homer Baron, who is dead.

Marriage is indeed an interesting thing — it is a way of thinking about the house. A marriage founded upon, supposedly, intimacy and love — an institution that has many parallels with power-rigor…

TBC

The Return of Creativity

January 12, 2013

This sounds bad, but I’ve only recently, I mean, in the last few hours or so, decided that creativity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I am a self-declared “conservative” — among other self-declared things — and this is mostly because of my beef against creativity. However, this isn’t a delayed insight into the wonder of childhood innocence or anything — because there are many solid — albeit somewhat obvious — reasons for hating creativity, which we we won’t get into here (for the sake of brevity). The reason why creativity isn’t all bad actually has to do with our realization that creativity can in fact function independently of what we’ve been calling “rigor”.

This is a startling thing, it is the possibility of the the undeconstructible and has profound consequences for reading. … There is a kind of complex matrix of terms that we’ve only recently realized could function independently: creativity, honesty, and rigor. Something can be creative, rigorous, and honest — this is the normal condition. Creative, rigorous, and dishonest is nihilism. Creative, non-rigorous, and honest — that’s where we want to go, and this is the possiblity of art constructing these “infernal machines”.

The entire motivation here actually involves Bartleby, asking what Bartleby is doing. We established, in the last note, that Bartleby is not about a rigor, or a particular rigor, or, equivalently, that Bartleby and not the lawyer is a stand-in for Melville. (We contrasted Melville and Hardy, in this regard.) We realized that Bartleby comes into our world, aware of there being rigor there but perhaps — we thought — dumb to it or unable to feel it. (This is probably incorrect, in a second anaylsis.) We spoke of him as a traveler from the future — we said, “foreign yet not foreign” — we wondered just what he was doing — was he collecting data? Categorizing? Intervening in things?

The answer is in fact very simple: he is creating something (the infernal machine, I want to say, eventually). What is so striking to me is just how simple this answer is, something that had eluded us because we were so “anti-liberal” and because we were so repulsed, or bitter towards society and it’s lies, false promises, etc.. It did not occur to us that one can be bitterly creative, or that creativity could be divorced from rigor (which really is the only genuine possibility of creativity — “untimely” artists, like Bartleby — time travelers, (non)foreign, etc.)

… Incidentally, another way I had been approaching this conclusion is via my consideration of  the “dizzying freedom of rigor” — rigor, I said, in a sort of Kantian formulation — is ruleness without rule, the lamentable human condition is that that which we feel to be necessary is never grounded in necessity. This is because creativity and rigor can in fact be independent forces — but only if, paradoxically enough, one is aware of the pitfalls, of the usual link between these two terms — only via a kind of active effort. In other words, utopias can exist!

This is how we can envision Bartleby, too — as a Utopianist — as someone who, paradoxically enough, believes in the power of pure, absolute creativity — without rigor. Or rather — the link between the two is perhaps not complete independence — but rather, they cross over at a single point: either a point of intersection or a point of tangency. The odd thing here is that what we called normalcy — the alignment of rigor and creativity — is related in the very same way — this is why rigor involves a “dizzying freedom” — even normalcy touches upon rigor at just a point before heading off towards power, towards society, life,  and so on. Having touched upon rigor, the normal goes on to interweave with the powers of history — leading to events and phenomena which are mostly outside our scope, or only of secondary concern — the power dynamics of history, the gatherings and dispersals, the phase shifts, the “physics” of power in history.

*

TBC: The Infernal Engine, Bartleby as Utopianist

Melville’s Thinking in Bartleby

January 12, 2013

This sounds like simply the shuffling of identities, but consider: that Melville is represented by Bartleby rather than the lawyer. This means basically that Bartleby is not about rigor, that Melville isn’t writing about, say, something other, in the way that people write about a saintly woman or something. (I always think of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles.) Yes — Bartleby is the author figure: what does this mean?

I wrote yesterday on facebook that my brilliant insight of the day was that Bartleby and The Sixth Sense tell the same story — the idea being — spoiler alert if you’ve been in a coma and don’t know the twist ending — that we are the dead. He has no respect for property because he doesn’t regard us — err, the occupants of Wall Street — as the rightful or original owners. Bartleby is like a traveler from the future — our society has nothing really to offer him, but at the same time, he is fascinated with the dead.

The biggest implication of all this is that Bartleby is not about a particular rigor. If the lawyer were a standin for the author then indeed the book would, apparently, be about rigor, be about some difficult to place sense of responsibity or reflective insight. But since Bartleby is the author figure here the story is a thinking of rigor, about a rigor that has passed. The last line sort of expresses this: “Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!” — well… actually it’s quite confusing in the context of this essay if we were to analyze it too closely. But the idea is that one seems to have a comprehensive view of humanity and its struggles, and the way that it relies on these facilitators — such as the letter — in the course of their lives.

The project, then, concerns Bartleby’s thinking, which is also Melville’s thinking. Bartleby comes to occupy the law offices like a museum… the rest of this essay will be much more unplanned as we think about the strange motivations of the author figure.

Bartleby is a visitor, he wanders a strange land, or rather an uncanny land — foreign yet not foreign. Bartleby is like that figure at the second paragraph of Wordsworth’s Boy of Winander poem. He is cut off entirely from the bustle, which means he is dull and insensate, but he at the same time also regards Wall Street as dead. So he is sort of a privileged observer. Of course, his observations are actually thinkings which can only be decoded via his actinos — not only Bartleby, but Melville, whose actions in writing in fact parallel those of Bartleby.

A few days ago I hypothesized that Bartleby’s attitude towards “us” is primarily one of “unification”… TBC

Bartleby and Haunting

January 11, 2013

Rigor, basically, is ‘ruleness without rules’ — that’s what we mean by ‘critical’ too
the above sounds like a Kantian formula …
there is a similar formula, ‘necessity without being necessary’ — but I actually, somewhat confusingly, use this to refer to the way in which ruleness without rules is also without necessity or ground
It is the human condition that that which we *feel* to be necesary (rigor) is itself not grounded in rules, is not necessary

We spoke about avoiding ‘religiosity’ in the last entry, but I’m not all that sure now if that is all that important
… we ponder this as we think about Bartleby, who cannot be reduced to a teacher, to a natural force
But, in a preliminary way, we consider him to be a *thinking* — but not, mind you, of the lawyer, but rather of the ‘land’
Land in quotes because the land may also include those who work on the land — but we will get to that below
(so, in particular, it is not a ‘critique’, not a teaching, not ‘religious’)

The ‘dead letters office’ is a vital clue, the idea is that that is the only place Bartleby ever works at
The difference between ‘life’ and ‘death’ is … something we will have to address, but in general — while being wary of religiosity — Bartleby seems to be allied with ‘death’ … *reading* seems allied with death — while the lawyer with life
In any case, the two are not opposites

So what happens in the law offices, not only with Bartleby in fact but with the other clerks as well, is that — it is as though they were all working right on top of one another
Doing their own things — almost unrelated to one another — I mean, how much do any of them have in common?
Maybe Bartleby can come across as a critique of property — but while keeping in mind that Bartleby is not occupying some kind of natural, outdoorsy place, but rather, the law offices — which he thinks of as belonging to nobody
I had a chat about the Great Gatsby the other day and — perhaps all these books are starting to blur together — and I haven’t read GG in a long time either — but from what I remember, that whole book seems to be about people walking in a kind of haunted world
Gatsby occupies this enormous place, he occupies this alien personality … so it is as though they were moving amongst the dead
And this is Bartleby too — he occupies the law offices as if the proper owners had vacated long ago
This occupation is actually part of his *thinking* of the law offices

Let’s go back to this notion of ‘land’ — what is the land here?
Well, many people work on some common land, despite the managerial structure — the office
But Conrad spoke of a ‘city of death’ — and this feels like the Great Gatsby too — everyone carries on, whether they are scrivners or lawyers, but without really knowing what they do
So that they seem always to be haunted by the dead, so that the dead, more than living systemic connections determines the world, or that we are determined or located by our relation to the dead
I feel this to be related to what we called above ‘the human condition’: the fact that what we feel to be necessary (rigor) is never attached to nature, never grounded in necessity
I called this in my notes the ‘dizzying freedom of rigor’
And this is basically because rigor is always related to ‘the dead’

Well … let’s actually backtrack a bit here
We were actually talking about the land, about Bartleby’s occupying of this land as if property could not exist (because the true owners are long gone).
And about Bartleby’s occupation as a *thinking* of this ‘land’
A land that is, in fact, haunted by the living, and that involves the living as dead
I mean, the distinction is blurred here, between the living, the dead, and the land
The land itself is not only the text of the legal documents but also the entire office
As well as the people there who carry on there — Nippers, Turkey, Ginger, the Lawyer, Bartleby
Is Bartleby, then, talking with the dead? Not so much transcendental pretension as calculated interaction?
Or should we account for the political or interventional aspects of Bartleby — either on behalf of the dead, in a place where the distinction between life and death are not certain?

Bartleby and the Non-Particularity Problem

January 9, 2013

The lawyer is really quite an interesting character in Bartleby
. He is “preeminently safe”, but I don’t actually think, on second analysis, that he is entirely cynical
. He stands at the nexus of letters, in the same way that Bartleby once did, and with some measure of authority
. What we’ve been interested in was the way in which … rigor is “materialized”
. Rigor should not be understood as a holistic vision or a kind of epiphany, but rather, it is in some way hollow, not predetermined
… In fact, what we called “power-rigor”, which was the way in which rigor discovers it’s manifestation in tradition, can be further generalied
— namely, to include these mediums of transport, the letter, these material mediums of accomplishing things
. I mean, most generally, what is most … “private”, what is most “rigorous”, possibility, honesty, etc. — we’ve long known that it wasn’t “systemic”, but rather “external”
. We’ve thought, for example, about “heliotropic rigor”
. But the most general understanding of this is actually this “oppurtunism” of rigor, this emptiness of rigor.

Regarding the lawyer, what interests me is the way in which he is not dishonest, despite his safety, etc.
. in fact, we’ve already remarked how the lawyer is a kind of gambit by Melville
— I remember what they said about Madame Bovary, which applies here as well: something to the effect of, “think about the most boring, non-romantic, dull subject — adultery…”
. in a similar vein, the lawyer is this safe, dull, non-romantic person, who, nonetheless, is not merely someone we can brush aside as being evil, heartless, profiteering, nihilistic, etc. — or, most relevently, dishonest
. So, as we were saying, the lawyer stands at a kind of nexus of letters — the documents that handles are many — many like the countless letters that would arrive at a post office
. And he meets Bartleby, his kindred spirit — and our discussion above, about the emptiness of rigor, can really be reformulated simply as: that we will always meet someone that challenges us in a very intimate way, that we are forced to respond to
— so that the real question here is, what kind of otherness are we here speaking of?

At the end of the last essay, we ended up talking about the non-particularity of Bartleby
. this actually arises from our own attempt to understand the particularity of rigor
. We declared, first of all, that we weren’t really interested in the relationship between form and technics
. But rather interested in the relationship between rigor and “transport“, these materialistic paths open to us — and that is really a parallel question
. So that the project of reading would really be the attempt to answer the question of how particularly rigor appears before us or is influenced by these mediums
. But, in the above, we noted that “rigor” was mostly inevitable
. and furthermore, we realize that the movement from the lawyer to his double, Bartleby, does not, in fact, the movement from absence of rigor to presence of rigor
— it’s not that simple! — the lawyer is not exactly condemnable
. rather, it’s a movement from one form of rigor to another — from a living letters office to a dead letters office perhaps
. or, and this is what seems most striking to me — from the many to the one, from the particular to the non-particular

This reminds me also of the Faulkner story Was
. Which was about this hunting … game, basically, initiated by the two old McCaslin males, almost as a kind of tradition
. a tradition which is not, again, condemnable, which is not really dishonest, and which really does seem to involve rigor
. And in the hunting stories, too, there is always this emphasis, perhaps, on a kind of “bravery”, or at least, on a kind of “otherness” that one has to confront or always be aware of in order to be a man, if you will
. And so, in the midst of this tradition is Toney’s Turl, …

TBC: Bartleby’s Non-particular Rigor

Bartleby, a discursive discussion

January 8, 2013

Last entry, we talked about the river as an example of a supplement or facilitator that then becomes some way — appearing to each of us differently — of materializing our desires, without, of course, consumating them
. The paradox here is that of a “somewhat material” or “somewhat real” … something like a promise
. With Bartleby, the lawyer is this really pragmatic fellow, and it appears that our view of Bartleby — as “noble” — would not really be what so disarms the lawyer
. The lawyer is pragmatic but not, actually, all that loathsome — he represents a kind of ‘critical pragmatism’ which sounds almost oxymoronic
. So that it’s quite remarkable that Bartleby appears even in this context

We said that Bartleby wasn’t the river — though he has seen the river
. The river could be, perhaps, the letters — the post office, like Marlow sitting at the sea-reach of the Thames, is a kind of nexus of traffic
. The dead letters office, which appears in a supplement to the story — the letters themselves, as the physical manifestation of desire, the intersection of desire and action

. Which sort of reminds one of the way in which the aunt of Marlow reaches out and acivates this network, the one that secures Marlow his position
. the dead letters office is interesting, in that it reminds us that the letter is in a sense the “most real we can get”, the closest we can get into reality — the materialization of our desires, the material shell of rigor
. But let’s talk, also, of the law offices
. As pragmatic as the lawyer is, this pragmatism is founded upon the materiality of the written document I guess, really, another sort of letter …
. The letter as something that accomplishes these abstract goals, a facilitator
. We’re not actually making the argument that the means of reaching the desire, the facilitators, determines the desire
. But actually, we are attempting to make an argument here about rigor — I mean, the desires, profit etc., don’t exist
. But nontheless, rigor as a possibility presents itself — and what we call “power-rigor” is simply the obervation that this possibility is not simply an escape from society but rather a reaching out towards, a taking up of, earlier things, of social power even
. And here, with Bartleby, we actually encounter a further thinking of what rigor is —
… or even when Conrad did not entire exclude the tax-collectors (ie those who seek profit) from feeling the call of the river
— well namely, the idea of this ultra-pragmatic, non-romantic lawyer, who nonetheless has this vision of Bartleby

So this lawyer figure is an attempt by Melville to differentiate rigor from, not so much art, as conventional art, romanticism understood conventionally
. Bartleby is sort of like a vision for the lawyer — not that he is imaginary, but certainly, the two shared a bond
, and Bartleby points actually sort of points towards this … river/rigor… rivgor
… the first thing we should consider is the wall — Bartleby is always looking at walls
. sometimes out of the window, but a window that is separated from the adjascent building by maybe 10 feet or so, and so a window which looks out towards a brick wall, black with age
. when Bartleby dies he faces this wall, which Melville described as “Egyptian” …
… to be honest, this figure of the wall is more provocative than conclusive right now

The other thing that is always associated with Bartleby are, of course, the legal documents themselves
— which are, really, just a subclass of letters
. in a sense, it seems as almost all written documents are types of letters, including novels
. even if the novel isn’t addressed to anyone in particular — it still seems a missive sent out to communicate something
… we can probably give a few examples of documents which aren’t letters? Are, for example, checks letters? Or maybe certificates of authenticity? Or legal treaties?
. It is indeed interesting that the lawyer emphasizes how he was of the sort who “never appeared before a jury”, who never wanted to acheive anything “great”, like a Clarence Darrow or something, never wandered outside of his comfort zone, who was content to make a comfortable living drawing up these necessary but watertight legal documents with inheritances, transfers of property, etc.
. Not appearing before a jury is indeed interesting — because it reminds us of Bartleby himself, who refused to read anythng he had written — even if this reading did not, as it would to a jury, communicate anything
. and this cynicism of this lawyer towards his own trade — we perhaps shouldn’t view him as, as he claims, simply an “preimminently safe man” — he seems more cynical than safe, and probably one who was in fact most responsive to Bartleby, his personal demon
(which reminds us of what Kafka said about Don Quixote — something to the effect of, “having imbibed a great number of books of chivalry, Sancho Panza becamed haunted by the demon Don Quixote, who escaped, but because Sancho felt a personal responsibility, followed this demon closely, and with him wandered the countryside, learning a great number of edifying lessons to the end of his days.”)
. I always think that Cervantes would be delighted at hearing this Kafka interpretation
. Also, what would Melville think about Bartleby being Kafka’s demon Don Quixote?

“Prefer” is certainly an interesting word, it is almost always uttered by Bartleby
. it is something that uniquely identifies Bartleby, it is a word that comes to characterize the particular position of Bartleby
. It is, for example, an indication of class even, of the ability to make decisions, of freedom, and so on
. but at the same time it is something that steps beyond this context — it, as a word, is something, like “nobility”, that seems to speak of the specificity of this rigor but at the same time starts appearing everywhere
. This speaks of a more general sort of difficulty as we attempt to understand Bartleby — that he is, in his own words, “not particular”
!! RIgor is something specific, we are not talking about the relationship between form and technics — but rather, about the relationship between rigor and this materialistic “puppetmaster”
. So that, on the one hand, we are really trying to localize Bartleby, and trying to understand the specificity of this appearance — Bartleby as, perhaps, this very figure of rigor
. And when we spoke of power-rigor, our emphasis was that, in rigor, we always discover something that was already there
. I think what happens here is that Bartleby comes to sort of pollute this history, or to pollute this power
. I mean, what does “prefer” really indicate, traditionally? Opinion? Freedom? Individuality? What is it associated with?
. But my point is, I think, that there is a kind of tension here — between understanding the specificity of Bartleby and the way in which Bartleby is actively involved in, at least, taking over certain things, occupying certain places
… the tension here is between the task of reading something specific, the specificity of a rigor that appeals to me
— and isn’t this the beginnings of society, of power, of carrying on, the carrying on of power?
— and the way in which Bartleby is not particular, in which he seeps out, such as via this word “prefer” (ie, in the sense that the other people in the office start using it)
— so that this seeping out seems precisely an attempt to defeat, perhaps, power-rigor?

But we are obviously not happy with this as simply a kind of dead end, I mean, meant to accomplish something precise and understandable
. ie, that’s the problem with saying that something is “ineffable” — that it becomes ineffable in a particular way
. we should really go back to the original problem: the question of the relationship between rigor, tradition, and power — which is really a question about history
. well, not exactly history as it is given, but rather, … TBC

The River, an Impromptu Discussion

January 7, 2013

. The last thing we wrote was about power-rigor
…. this idea that our most intimate, most personal and most honest moments are at least parly encounters with the past
. Not purely encouners with the past, but rather in the sense tha the past is how we think about these moments
. Basically, I feel like this discovery is perhaps more practical than anything — it gives us a way of investigating history, I mean
. The history of rigor always involves the transformation of preexisting elements rather than the development of new elements, new “spaces”
.
. Let’s actually talk a bit about historical processes in general, about how rigor arises
. And although I want to focus on Bartleby, … well, let’s be discursive as always I guess
. the historical process I’m inerested in is the means by which a supplement becomes an essence via rigor
. For example writing — let’s return to that topic, the evolution of langauge
. In a sense we’ve given up on this topic
. Whenever we revisit this topic we’re always surprised by just how amazing animals are
. What interests us is not the development of technical abilities but rather how writing transforms society — and the codevelopment of language and society
…. err, I’ve been very sloppy in the above — let’s actually talk about language as “speech”
— or rather, is it speech? Or has language always been associated with “the symbol”, and thus, with writing?
— can there be audial symbols?
. Well, in any case, I hypothesized long ago that language, symbolic communication, was a lot like a virus
. in that it subtly transforms society in order to ensure its own survival, without really caring about how exactly it is used (eg, communication, memory, records, evidence, etc.)
. And this actually fits in very well with what we’ve spoken of above, “power-rigor”, and subtle transformations
. I said above that “in a sense, we’ve given up on this topic” — we spoke above about the investigation of a cultural codevelopment rather than a pure neural formation
. Which also means, in fact, that we are talking, not about traceable systemic changes, but rather about the functioning of a “single point” — I mean, the functioning of of rigor …
. Because, without this dusicussion, we would really be talking abou the history of technics, of language as a tool — and not adhering to this “virus principle”
.
. Let’s speak, discursively, about how this “virus principle” may work
Heart of Darkness actually has a good example, about waterways, rivers —
. Waterways are a means of facilitating transportation, and in tha sense they are supplemental
. But on the other hand, the river becomes a possibility of rigor
. well this is the suggestion when Marlow talks about the women, not only the two women (the intended and Kurtz’s African mistress) but also the party who gathers around for that storytelling session
. the women, I mean, who hold out their hands or who look out over the river, the “infernal river”, “the river of darkness”
. he also spoke about the entire endeaver of colonization — and not really entirely in condemnation
. I mean, the river, exploration, was a miserable existence — and I’m not talking about he abstract glory of adventure and discovery either
. he spoke of “tax collectors” or Romans who came out to “mend their fortunes” — so certainly, those who went out there went out there to make a profit
(He also spoke, incidentally, about the poet who glorifed the entire enterprise wbut would not go out there — “I am not such a fool as I look, quoth Plato to his disciples” was the quote)
. So I am not suggesting that the river was this entirely idealistic thing — not even for the women — it rather seemed to offer us all that we desire, I mean, it appears differently to each of us
… “all that we desire” — not in the sense of, the consumation of our desires, but rather, in the sense that it offers us some promise, the perfect promise to all of our desires
… it offers the possibility of our desires manifesting I guess? It offers a certain concreteness to our desires
… As a kind of personal example, this is sort of my experience with love and happiness
— and maybe with all love — I mean, the standard trope of love is that we start losing interest in everything else, everything else becomes merely “play” or something
— and there is a sense that in love we experience happiness, and the value of happiness, for the first time
. Maybe a philosophical toy problem concering happiness is, whether happiness in a pill would be genuine happiness
… I’m rambing, but with love, it feels as though, for the first time, that we come to desire happiness, to want happiness, and to cease thinking about / dismissing happiness as a psychological event.
.
. But — where were we? — I think we were talking about the way the river becomes the possibility of realizing or manifesting our desires — something different for each of this
. This is like rigor too, isn’t it? Love is certainly related to rigor — the river becomes associated with something very real, even though it is itself not real, but it seems real because it seems to offer an oppurtunity or a possibility of something happening
.
. Let’s actually talk a bit about Bartleby
. Bartleby himself is the “river” isn’t he? Well — not quite —
. He is a sort of a puzzle to be solved — maybe he has seen the river, or understands the river — I think that’s the idea
. The mark is the river — langauge is the river too — I mean, it seems to mirror all of our desires: it is the gate by which the messiah enters

TBC!!

.