Archive for April, 2013

Some thoughts on Rhetoric of Temporality

April 29, 2013

The biggest realization I’ve had in recent days has been this understanding of universal failure — this is not really as grim as it sounds — one of those situations where, in this developmental blog, we sometimes aim for mnemonic resonance, or maybe we don’t want to spend too much time developing technically accurate names. It’s basically the idea that we always tend to forget the initial shock, we tend to pursue solutions. The advantage of this is that we can speak of a development over time, via repetition I mean, rather than limit ourselves to the mechanism of a single moment.

(1st example) Paul De Man’s Rhetoric of Temporality is infamous “most photocopied essay in all of comparative literature”. It has certainly always been in the back of my mind. But only recently did I realize that it is more of an act than a discovery, the bulk of the essay is spent declaring that rhetoric doesn’t really matter.

Here’s what I mean. We must speak, as we have been speaking, about a moment of “shock” a moment of negativity. This is the shock that accompanies literature, and that literature seems to veil, and which the essay is about. A shock always brings about a pragmatic moment — but one that is always a departure from that shock, a forgetting about it, yet even still, nonetheless, about it, and remembering it — this is what we mean by “universal failure”. What Paul De Man does is give a kind of metaphysical characterization of the way in which the shock of literature is understood, the shock of the surprsing lowness of literature or poetry, the shock that, as we said, at once validates and negates us — validates us in giving us a new sense of direction, in preserving or reigniting our purpose, and negates us in that it tells us we are not “low enough”, we were not as wild as free as we think.

I had this motivation poster about 30 or so entries ago:

OK, fine, but this forgets to mention this moment of shock is also a validation, that I’m not a free spirit only in relation to someone or something that is.

Everything is dark… so dark. This recurring theme of Heart of Darkness is quite literally that — not the  darkness of the human psyche but rather a kind of visual blindness. This darkness is related to the perpetual failure principle, where our need to carry on, to find a solution that matches the shock we experience is also an attempt to avoid, or simply a failure to aknowledge, the incredible darkness of what is actually being done. If we are not wild and free, and yet the wild and free exists, if ther is some more material, lower way of life — whose gaze falls upon us (“as trenchant as an axe”) — then this being is also veiled in incredible darkness — a paradoxical lowliness without materiality, lowliness without ground.

And so Rhetoric of Temporality, though it goes to great lenghts to give a metaphysical, temporal description of the aftermath of the moment of shock, is fundamentally, of course, a description of an error. It doesn’t matter — that was, as I said, my big realization. The argument is not that rhetorical structures are linked to our experience of time, but rather, that humanity constructs various erroneous understandings of their experience in order make up for this blindness. The essay is fundamentally about this blindness, or rather, about the way in which history and literature, in a moment of error and clarity, comes to be about this darkness, veers towards it.

… I guess I’m also saying that Paul de Man is kind of asshole. Maybe in a sense he was so far ahead of his time that he had to be… I mean, I’m pretty sure he wrote those essays in order to be incomprehensible — though not technically I guess. I mean, there were always these paragraphs of rapid theoretical development that he could refer to, in courtt, in his defense, as reaching the same kind of conclusions that we are here (I’m guessing). But I don’t think he ever made this explicit, but this is something I can understand — since to outline clearly the performance would simply lead to people dismissing what he’s doing as a kind of elaborate intellectual act, so that the alternative, of coming across as a declaration of psychological face, is perhaps inevitable. I mean, if he wrote for someone like me (and my current understanding is correct), then I would have to say, you know, “well played, man, well played” — since there is really no other way that essay would have remained with me.


Kurtz, Pain, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia

April 23, 2013

This almost sounds too easy or too trivial a matter for me to put here, but one of the main draws of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is extremism. It’s about a kind of pure logicality, of following things to their inevitable conclusion. It’s also about a form of obliging that is, however, not entirely thoughtless, oddly enough, not a kind of thoughtless generosity, but rather a kind of noblesse oblige, which is itself an odd expression. Since to oblige to something, in this sense, doesn’t mean, actually, to become someone else (even though this becomes sort of Dennis’s experimental character in the later seasons), but rather, to reach for a kind of purity. The idea of noblesse oblige doesn’t actually mean peer pressure, it’s not even, “doing as a noble should do”, since the very definition of nobility is one who is self-justifying – a noble is one who sets his own standards. As I said, it is a paradox or an oxymoron, since one can only oblige oneself in a sense. This is how we should actually understand Dennis’s character, or actually all the characters, not so much self-centered as self-obliging. A weird expression… let me just include something I wrote on Facebook the other day:

OK, I get it — the entire premise of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is this, that one day, 5 grown men and women suddenly decide, a la Don Quixote, to become teenagers again, but, armed with a greater self-awareness and confidence in their reasoning, can now follow through those proclaimed logics to their conclusion — producing something that is an impossibility in the real world: a *self-consistent* teenager (just as Don Quixote is the only possibility of pure knighthood). The moments when they interact, always contemptuously and destructively, with actual teenagers (as well as actual adults) are some of the highlights, or maybe simply the show as such.

But, as I said, these observations seem almost too trivial too include on here, because it seems to relate to a kind of naturalness or unquetioning extremism that we have always tried to distance ourselves from. What makes Sunny tolerable is certainly that it there is a great deal of thinking involved on the show, by all the characters — they don’t simply put on hats, or become or pretend to be other people, but they are sort of selective in what they oblige. We are returning to that mysterious sense of self-obliging, which should really be thought of as almost as a kind of ascetic practice, I believe.

We still haven’t spoken about pain yet, but let’s talk about Kurtz first. None of these people seem to feel pain. In Kafka’s famous one-paragraph summary of Don Quixote, the knight is associated with the demonic because it is able to carry on this self-obliging without pain, with a kind of purity, while Sancho, the human, follows him along. We’ve talked about demons before, it’s a very apt concept here. This is what I want to emphasize with Kurtz too, the demonic Kurts, he was one who gave in, who obliged, who was satisified — abominable satisfactions. And Kurtz felt no pain because his death, “the horror, the horror”, should most definitely not be understood as a kind of deathbed renunciation of his ways or something. Even on his deathbed he felt like he was being robbed of something, that he deserved more — and however deluded Marlow felt this to be, he never treated it with anything more than a kind of mild annoyance — he seemed to respect the man.

This is what Heart of Darkness means, or means to me: a focused, demonic kind of asceticsm, a self-obliging that is, oddly enough, that is some paradoxical combination of asceticism and gluttony at the very same time, asceiticism and satisifaction.


Pain — let’s talk about pain… I hear in this word that line form Boy of Winander

Actually, this is very odd… there is no mention of pain in that poem. I must be remembering some other poem? In any case, pain is our response to the demonic, it is the moment when we realize that we cannot be demonic. Pain is the experience of the encounter with the demonic source. Since we can never be demonic (though we try to be) we experience this demonic intentionality as pain.

Rejection is actually not our main concern here — I mean, rejection of society.

Let’s talk about Boy of Winander for a bit, even though for some reason I misremembered this poem.

Now, this boy has not explicitly rejected society as the later Wordsworth had. Yet nonetheless, his communion with the owls is a kind of rejection, it is a way in which he can, it seems, reach out and touch at a distance, conjure, the magnificence of the natural scene about him. Nothing is explicit here, which is why this is so interesting, even though it seems to follow the motions of a mature asceticism. (Which means that the poem itself is not ascetic.)

The moment of pain — let’s just call it that — is the moment of self-recognition, the pain or the shock of self-recognition that I spoke about in the previous essay. There, I spoke about how naive and teleologic my self-awareess was — and I also spoke of the possibility of a kind of genuine engagement. I spoke about how my self-awareness had already become too seeped in grandiose concepts. All these recognitions, I believe, takes place without language in that poem, so that what’s so remarkable about that poem is how it is able to think pain without rejection, without asceiticism — it merely hints at asceticism.

The pain felt by the boy is … the pain of exclusion from something, the sense in which he no longer interacts, not because of the sublime immensity of nature but rather because of something much lower. The rocks, the trees, etc. — are barely alive.



The duality of redemption

April 19, 2013

There is a connection I want to make before I pose the pose the question of how exactly Kurtz can redeem us, and how he can be redeemed — the mutuality of all redemption.

More than racist, I think, I think a much more fair charge to Heart of Darkness is that it is misogynist. Honestly, accusing HoD of racism is one of those things that immediately makes me bristle — being indicative of far greater problems than political incorrectness. But misogyny is definitely there, all the women just seem incredibly spacey or something. Yet his precise words are “another world” — they live in another world — rather than a direct derision, which I actually believe we should take as more than mere politeness. That is, I want to truely consider the other world of the women.

… basically, we have to remember that women are not young and full of hope. Women contain that paradoxical combination of maturity and innocence. They somehow seem to know, just through mere living or something, all those scary facts or attitudes that I didn’t find out until much later, and, at the same time, to have these fairly ridiculous notions of practical possibility — that’s the argument being made (which I agree with). This is the survivor hypothesis — that they are survivors, that we are survivors.

To be a survivor means, at the same time, to seek something else and our own redemption. We are after in both senses: after something, and after — after desolation, or after boyhood, I mean, when we are independent, we know that certain things just won’t work, we have found our own self-sustaining way of living in the world. This might resemble being addicted to drugs — that we find happiness in something and that we are content with it — that’s what being “after” means, being after naivete, or rather, being after a yearning for knowledge, a yearning for change.

That’s who I am right now, for example, I obviously have many questions, many things I want to accomplish, but I am content with what I do, I no longer want to become someone else. And yet I am at the same time far from even knowing myself. This confusing state where I am somehow, at the same time, content, static, and yet wildly uncertain, when my identity is pparadoxically at the same time uncertain and yet immobile.

Yesterday I had an interesting sort of mental experience, it consists of two parts. At first, as I was sitting there, writing in my notebook, it dawned on me, “suddenly”, with a shock, just how bad and sloppy my models of thinking, intellectual development, etc., were. I put “suddenly” in quotes here because this was not a kind of insight at the beginning of things but rather something that occured in the midst of a few days of lethargy … I mean, sort of like a particular implication or instantiation that is the analogue the a more general shift in attitude. Namely, I feel, the shift from being before a discovery to being after, in the sense above: perhaps it was simply the realization that I tended to still organize my models of the mind around some sort of “acheivement”, some ends — it was still a fundamentally teleologic model, which contributed to what I perceived, in that vision, as a shocking bit of naivete.

… because we are survivors, in the mind, too, I mean, our thinking is a combination of self-assurance and uncertainty. I want to find the truth but I want to find it in my own way. We seek our goals and solutions at the very same time that we seek a validation or redemption of our mental methods. So, it was not really that my mental models were too “metpahorical”, but rather that they were too teleologic — so that, upon reflection, what I was really seeking was merely a way to conceive of this sort of wandering or this sense of … groping about, mentally. I feel this to be related to what we called the “time bubble” in the previous entry, and also, it reminds me of that Keatsian line, from Ode to a Nightingale — “I cannot see what flowers are at my feet….”

I am still not quite sure if this is exactly a right connection… but, continuing on with the story, hours later, when trying to flesh out some ideas, I found myself going back to the terms that I had rejected earlier as naive, perhaps, again, because the problem wasn’t metaphor but rather teleology. I wish I had some good examples, but those concepts seemed to make a lot of sense, understood not as something focused around a discovery yet to arrive but rather as a way of living on. I will have examples shortly, when I’m less tired, but the point is that the reverse side of those naive concepts is the awareness of one’s own life, as related to the two senses of the word “after”.

Anyways, to tie the ends together, the point of all this is that redemption is perhaps precisely the process of dealing with this duality, the duality of being “after”: and this is something that Conrad recognized in women as well.

1) How does Kurtz redeem / the mutuality of redemption
2) The duality of the Intended’s reaching out after the river, as a seeking and a “pose”, a moment of self-expression

The Temporal Bubble

April 16, 2013

I want to revisit an old idea, which is this idea of human a kind of human creativity underlying our sense of reality — I think I called it a “tautology”. But here, I want to subject that idea of development to the condition, basically the condition of “sustained labor”: I want to think about, not the overturning of a niave “work-centric” view of the world, but rather the way in which work, and all that it entails, can be sustained. What I envision here is a kind of “temporal bubble”.

I mean, it’s not all that elaborate an idea. Basically, it derives from the notion of how work must overcome certain moments of disturbance and desolation, and yet remain work. I have a nuanced understanding of “work”, I have in mind, something that is “immediate” in some sense, that is “tangible”, metaphorically, that is not structural or cultural, that does not ask us to wait in order to find out. It is something that requires us to do something, some activity that we may have to follow or oblige. The opposite of work is not laziness or inactivity, but rather, a kind of non-immediacy, a showmanship maybe, nihilism, and so forth. So it’s defined in a very general sense. We are always drifting back and forth between engagement and non-engagement, and the temporal bubble is the way in which we can remain engaged while taking into account this non-engagement.

As an example, let’s reconsider relativity. The story we told last time, last entry, is incomplete, because it does not adequately explain the “recovery” that relativity makes. That is, it is indeed true that relativity, I believe, includes a moment of terrible doubt, a kind of sublime moment when causality is entirely thrown into question. I mean, it feels as though, for example, light can anticipate the measurer, that light has a mind of its own, and reacts differently according to how it’s measured. Measurement, or physical activity in general, ceases to take place in a “straightfoward” world, straightfoward in some relative sense. But it also recovers, in particular by introducing the idea of a “frame of reference”. I think that the frame of reference is sort of like a “bubble”. It is a momentary lapse in time, a bubble when causality is suspended. Physical activities still take place, within this bubble, but one has to consider the totality of the bubble, and adjust accordingly. It is a kind of “limited holism”, rather than an absolute one, that allows work to mostly carry on.

… now, all this could be relative, I mean, not in the sense of “relativistic” but rather in the sense that we do not have any absolute things in mind when using words like, “straightfoward”, “causality”, “suspension”, “bubble”, “holism”, and so on. That is, it is indeed true that nothing is immediate, and that all work requires, presumes, a holstic picture of the world, and that we never experience time linearly. But despite aknowledging this, we still want to make use of the above words because we are talking about a bubble relative to some established view of the world.

I want to give a few other examples… examples I feel are of the utmost importance here. Because I feel there to be a kind of blur of logic here, when dealing with this issue. Speaking personally, I have wrestled with this idea for quite some hours now, and I feel it to be more resistant, in some way — a cause of ENORMOUS DIFFICULTY. I look back and consider, as naive, any possibility of straightfowardly “applying” this idea. I find it hard to develop because the things that we end up with, the stability of the finality of our reality — we are not dealing with that. But rather, we’re dealing with a kind of obliging — a kind of effort to sustain. I have in mind, when I say “obliging”, the way in which Conrad says that Kurtz obliges — gives in, surrenders, etc., to the forces of darkness. And this, to me, is the story of Kurtz — one who wanted to keep on working no matter what, one who refused to ive into the desolation of the jungle and the disarray of the colony — all the pretense. It makes sense that his final words, on his deathbed, were not — you know, a renunciation, a plattitude — so that death was not really even an “event” for Kurtz, ie, there was no renunciation, no deathbed conversion — but rather, a continued, willful “rebellion”, Conrad called it — a final utterance of negation, tautology, and creation — “he had something to say, he said it” — and also, I would like to add, work. There is kind of a blur that surrounds this situation, as it is held suspended between work and … holism, or desolation.

Ex 2: My humility: I think that the key thing we realize with Kurtz is that he does not ever learn anything in the course of the story, that whatever he learned happend beforehand in the way in which he obliges, gives into, these “abominable satsifactions” or something that Marlow keeps on talking about. The same thing happens with the Intended, and with Marlow’s aunt — he emphasizes how the latter always seemed to have a ready answer for everything ‘– ”But the worker is worth his hire!’ she chirped back.” So we are talking about a case where everything is already set, where the relativistic insight already happened……

How is the temporal bubble HELD UP?????


So/aLu/vaTION (Theory of Relativity)

April 12, 2013

I want to offer a provocation for the theory of relativity here, I imagine it will almost sound too contrived, as we basically play a mapping game with the concepts we have been using, and also I want to ask the question of what knowledge could be if we are declaring a circular model.

This is how the mapping will take place: basically, phyisics is the ability to focus on the world, it is the rejection of all that isn’t physics for the ability to “work” with the world. The “shoulders of giants” metaphor, I think, may therefore be quite bad, since it, well, suggests a social journey rather than an inidividualistic one, and it furthermore suggests that the field of human knowledge is too vast or complex. Rather, we here emphasize the active, individualistic role of phyiscs, which we “map” onto Marlow’s pragmatism in the desolation of the jungle.

The theory of relativity is the moment of inversion in our “spiral” metaphor. If physics provides for the possibility of a definite, ordered experience, where measuring is this “simple” act that seems to produce results — we associate it with Marlow’s pragmatism — then the theory of relativity is a kind of undeniable aftermath to the world of pragmatic measuring. One can no longer declare a simple causal chain of observation, measurement, result. And let’s also remark on salvation here — I have here in my notes, “Sa/oLva/uTION” — just because it’s a kind of cool observation that “solution” and “salvation” are such similar words. I remarked last time that Marlow’s pragmatism was a salvation rather than a solution — meaning, that it was not intended to solve the complex problems of the colonies, but rather, to provide a sense of self, to save oneself, to provide the possibility of committing to something definite. This is the case for physics, too, and the scientific model of the world, which is basically salvational — which is why having engineers as political leaders is not necessarily a good idea. A salvation can be a solution only if one insists that everyone thinks the same way I do, that the commitment to science as a practice or discipline can help society, which is definitely not a given — I mean, it’s very wrong. In any case, the claim here is that physics provides a way to work, a salvation via work, and not a solution to all our questions.

So the idea is that the theory of relativity, with its emphasis on the act of measuring, really seems to question man’s location in these salvational, linear, causational processes. Of course this is not explicit, it is definitely a part of phyisics, which is why the figure of the spiral (rather than the “circle”) comes up: suggesting a return to another point with a difference. The theory of relativity is not, in fact, a return to the state of desolation before physics, nor is it regressive move that destroys the “misconceptions” of physics. Thus, the question of knowledge comes up: what do we come to know, with relativity?

Perhaps we come to know something about … “ourselves” … well, about what it means to be “human” in a sense. All this time, indeed, we have been focusing on the … “non-lazy”, on activities that are “human powered” — we emphasized, for example, the concrete social factors (eg, “slave”) that drove these interactions. The suggestion is that knowledge can only knowledge of the search for knowledge, but that this doesn’t make it any less useful.

Well — that is the preliminary proposal. The theory of relativity is “not given”, I mean, we are not simply saying that all those who try are doomed to fail. Like Marlow on the river, it is about more than the human — it is about a kind of “encounter”. It is indeed a radical revisiting of classical physics, it is — if one looks at it at a certain angle — an “inversion”, but this inversion does not itself flow along a definite path (as we misleadingly suggest with the spiral metaphor, actually) rather — I have in my mind, a mental picture, the movement towards relativity as a kind of “reordering”, a “flocking”, in the way that a school of fish will scatter when disturbed but then realign themselves, somewhat randomly, when the threat disappears.

Let’s return briefly to Heart of Darkness… Marlow finds salvation in work, on the river, but becomes disturbed at many points when he comes face to face with a possibility, an otherness, and perhaps one’s own injustice, in Kurtz and the Intended. Ie, (1) possibility — the possibility that there is sitting in the jungle some halfway reasonable human being, or some fellow devoted to work, progress, and pragmatism, in the middle of the jungle. (2) Otherness — the recognition of an alternative arrangement. For Marlow, there is no longer the effort of a precise remapping of the self to the other, from one school of fish to another, but he acknowledges the possibility that they “were human, like you or me” (actually, in this phrase, speaking of the Africans) — “human” here in the sense of “human-powered”, hopeful, intentional, non-lazy, etc.. Regarding women, he always states that they “live in another world”, regarding Kurtz, he says that he has “blasted free from this earth” (or something to that effect). (3) My own injustice — this is simply the recognition that there is a holism to my pragmaticism, my salvation, which is basically insight or maybe the driving conviction of the theory of relativity — that I am of another world, too, perhaps. This is the sort of self-knowledge that Marlow comes to recognize.

With relativity, the otherness becomes the act of “measuring”, to whatever ends. Physics, then, is not fundamentally some set of methods, ideas, principles, etc., but rather — the set of activities that take place about measuring. This is not quite “experimentation” nor even objectivity, since measuring is always towards some ends, for some purpose — as with salvation, it is a necessary error, the first necessary and incorrect step in the spiral. With the recognition of measuring, relativity can then make claims about the holism of measuring that severely disrupts the causational chains both in the world being measured and in the very process of measuring.

The Office, Jungle Edition

April 11, 2013

I’m always wondering if today might be the day — whether, years from now, 4/10/13 will be something I look back on, wether 410 will be my lucky number, wether I will always take 4/10 off, etc.. That’s the condition in which I live, I guess — I’m always wating for that final breakthrough.

It’s gonna be a glorious day (Radiohead’s Lucky, one of my favorite songs)

I feel like I understood Heart of Darkness for the first time when I remarked, on Facebook, that HoD was “basically a grimmer version of The Office“. I finally realized how much it read like a Polish book, for example, I mean, from what I know of Eastern Europe — mostly through NHL superstars, I confess — the concern with work, a kind of vague annoyance, the kind of fraternity of work, a kind of unassuming discussion. It is very much a book about Marlow / Conrad, and about the how he finds himself. For the longest time I as reading it as if it could be understood as a revelation of truth independent of the author. Or maybe the book always both — as we perhaps implied in “The Inward Spiral”, always hovers in between these two.

— tangentially, I’m definitely more a fan of the foregin players than the Americans or the Canadians, they seem more like normal people. The Rangers just traded my two favorite players, Anismov and Gaborik, to the Blue Jackets, so I guess I’m a Blue Jackets fan now too — I’m really hoping they make the playoffs, though that’s somwhat unlikely. With the way they act it’s sometimes hard to believe that they make millions and that it’s just another day at the office. They definitely, I think, play up their role as entertainers or as these people living the dream, caught in moments of joy, etc. — Ovechkin is know is known for that I know. I imagine soccer to be very similar. This is how I play hockey too, it’s one of those semi-conscious things — I tend to overemote, emphasize teamwork, etc. — I’m like a clown in the rink, you know, with my exaggerations.

But Heart of Darkness is very much a book about Marlow, about his search for salvation or rmaybe self-awareness. It is indeed true that this seems to “narrow” the scope of our project but we’ve always suspected that talking in a grandiose way about the world as such was mere pretension or naivete. I realized years ago not to listen to liberals because in truth the problems of the world are a sum of personality problems.  And we have long yearned for that state where one can talk about the world by talking about literature, talking about the human within his finitude. Of course, we are still talking about the world — we are always double checking whether what we say applied to “all sentience”.  I have here scrawled in my notes, “FOLLOW YOUR NOSE”, reminding myself that the theoretical concepts we’ve developed apply in a pretty straightfoward way to HoD.]

The basic story here is very simple, Marlow joins a venture that he does not strongly believe in, and as a result finds hi identity in work, and becomes at times even a trickster figure. I have in my notes three examples of Marlow’s dedication to work: (1) Talk to, (2) Cryptography, and (3) Lie. In #3, for example, he plays a kind of trickster figure, leading somebody on, letting him believe that he was a representative of “the new generation” especially sent over from Europe to save the colony. The great pleasure he takes in this moment has to do with his ability to accomplish something apparently definite or concrete. #2 refers to the notes, scrawled in the margin of a book he found — he thought they were code but it was really Russian. The idea of “code” being something that one could eventually decipher, something that, again, on could work with. And, lastly, #1, his desire to “talk to” Kurtz suggests a kind of pragmatic problem solving.

Regarding the depths — the contrast to this superficiality of work, in which Marlow finds salvation — it is flat and perhaps dumb. There are a few examples of this depths, the flatness of the jungle, which always seems to “look at” Marlow, the “wall” or the “door” that is the manager’s countenance, etc., as well as maybe the depths of human stupidity. Throughout all this, Marlow emphasizes work not as a solution to these problems but rather as the possibility of salvation — Marlow is dedicated to pragmatism without being a pragmatist, then — his pragmatism is intensely spiritual — “Eastern European”, I said above.

What ends up happening, inevtiably, is that even this pragmatism becomes invaded. Instead of pragmatism being this little circle of light that one can disappear into, a place where one can be oneself and complain about the outside world, the light itself becomes dark this notion of hints of light, flashes of brilliance, and this is Kurtz and the Intended. The story is that of a self-discovery via work and negation that encounters this moment of unexpected sociality.

Next: The spontaneous arising of The Intended


The Inward Spiral

April 8, 2013

The way that Heart of Darkness presents Kurtz and the Intended — one has to make a few circles to get there. What I mean is, both are obviously figures of hope or salvation, in fact, both are figures that Marlow, oddly enough, wants to believe in — his “own choice of demons”, I think he said, despite the way in which he seems so dismissive of everything else. I think that there is a good reason for this. We had, lately, been talkig about the master / slave, we said that the slave is in a state of “absolute rejection”, rejection not only “tradition” (and thus, leading to the formation of the self), but even more, rejecting even the means by which this formation takes place. This can perhaps be equated to what Conrad calls “desolation”, which is the sense of the inhuman, the grand, that something inhuman (thus, not “tradition”) is at the root of all this.

But this leads to a problem, which is the problem of “living on” — a problem that we’ve struggled with for a long time: we must live on, we can’t simply live in rejection. Thus, I emphasized a few days ago a moment of tautology, which involved not only in the (masterly) “individuation” but also in the slave-like vision — the latter which remains undefined. However, I ran into unavoidable difficulties when thinking about how this latter, which must take place, could take place, without falling bacfk to mere “creativity”, to simply another form of individuation.

This is the problem that Conrad confronts when thinking about the Intended, it involves yet another inversion — namely, Marlow can’t, by himself, manifest a new, “tautological” reality, but rather relies on the vision of another — which becomes a trip back into society — via the woman. Before discussing this in detail, let’s return briefly to my last essay on “math”, which was necessarily unfinished (or maybe, finished in the sense that it dramatically confronts a problem). That essay attempted to establish two aspects about the development of modern math, first, that there is an “initial” understanding that then becomes merely technical, an “aberration”, that there is a fundamental difference between establishing, initating, or creating, versus sustaining, the latter which is merely “humanism”. The second aspect, however, is this necessarily unfinished attempt to return to this initial moment. It remains unfinished because it understands math as based on a rejection, but could not account for yet another inversion in this inward spiral, one of acceptance. … in other words, the earliest notions of math requires not only master and slave but also slave and messiah — or, equivalently, in Heart of Darkness, this equates to the rejectional movement of master and slave, a thematics of work, to man and woman, a sudden shift to the “romantic”, however unwillingly. Tghe original understanding of math, that initial flash, involves not, then, the lonely individual but rather one who looks towards the messiah.

Let’s actually talk about this situation as it plays out in HoD. The woman is “in another world”, yet she is “not young”, she has know “the depths of suffering” — this corresponds to the process of individuation of rejection. But then she has all these foolish notions of Kurtz that Marlow is forced to sit through. There is in fact a rather absolute divide between her and Marlow, the implication here is that she profoundly affects Marlow despite herself. This is not actually out of pity, though that word is dropped, but rather, because Marlow sees in her the possibility of purity, something that he can’t manifest by himself, ie, out of pure creaitivity. The flash at the beginning of things always involves a relationship to another. (Consider some further instances of this inversion — namely, the last words, “your name”, and the frame narrative device.)

Next: The flash

Purity and Aberration

April 7, 2013

The story I want to tell here isn’t all that difficult. It speaks of an initial insight, or an initital moment of purity governed by what I want to call the equivalence hypothesis. The equivalence hypothesis is the says, basically, that there is no development “beyond” the initial, tautological understanding: that an intital tautology / rejection is equal to the “familiar” understanding, the profound, deep, undertanding or the state of being “within”. It is basically the hypothesis or the principle that there is nothing “deep” or experiential about our understanding of something, that there is no difference between an “external” tautological understanding and an “internal” familiar one.

I don’t want to be overly conceptual, but we can see, even thinking generally, how the equivlance hypothesis is equivalent to the distinction between purity and aberration we want to make here. The purity, the state of purity, is the “initial” tautological understanding, while “aberration” is what we remember of it, it may be associated with the return of factors of “experience”, etc, the renewed distinction between inner and outer.

Let me give an example, our experience with math — the entirety of the experience I mean, from intitial exposure, to fascination with rigor, to disillusionment, to the social aspects, to myths of great mathematicians, to metaphysical questions, to models of the brain, and so on. I find it remarkable, now, how long and how pervasive my misconception of math has been. What’s remarkable is that one can be “good at” math while holding serious misconceptions. But this may be because being good at math becomes much like being good at any technical or semi-technical activity. Our initial understanding (“initial” here, simply meaning, our first, and not in the “initial-purity” sense I spoke of above) of math is an aberration, it understands math much like any other thing. One finds it hard to distinguish between, for example, math, athletics, religion, etc., except superficially. We may even be aware of this, which is why we fall into “humanism”, as if the human underlies all these activities. “The human” seems to be the persistent error for the young, who are always discovering that superficial differences melt away into a common human — and not being aware that this is because their understanding is fundamentally an aberant, that it is a misunderstanding. The young are not pure.

But what is purity, in math, what is the original, or perhaps, both the original and the final understanding — the specificity? It is, I want to say, a combination what I want to call (1) absolute negation and (2) a kind of living on. This is not fundamentally different from what I proposed a few weeks ago in “Bartleby’s Tautology”, or, it is simply saying that we reject and affirm at the same time, and that the affirmation is in fact “tautological” — so that it is not really a choice (where what we affirm is a positive alternative to what we reject.) But the word “pure” has an interesting .. valence, or brings to mind an interesting picture, thought not reallyall that definite. It seems to underly everything we think about, including “Bartleby’s Tautology”. I don’t want to get too personal here, but it strikes me, as I skim that essay, that the understanding of the situation there was too general, it doesn’t say enough. It wants to equate purity with negation and tautology, but it doesn’t, and instead, leaves open the possibilty of creativity, allowing the old notion of the human to sneak back, eventually. Logically speaking, that essay is really about the creative, it is the self-creation at the moment of negation. But that is only logically, it is almost as though a genuine understanding of that essay necessarily requires the idea of the pure, and of a more intense form of rejection.

The pure is an understanding of universal sentience — all intelligence, including animals, aliens, etc., must have some understanding of the pure. But precisely because of this, the pure can never be confused with the rigorous — the pure is not a consequence of rigor, but it is anterior to rigor — so much so that our later (“intitial”, in the sense of, “novice”) understanding of rigor is aberrational.

But what is math, if not technics? It involves a kind of absolute negation in our dealing with numbers…

The slave’s rejection

April 4, 2013

I want actually to continue developing the last entry, the awkwardly named ‘Negative Transport’… the basic argument there was that, since we are all negative, the real question is what kind of negativity — and our goal here is not, in fact, a taxonomy of negativity, but rather oddly enough, an attempt to write a history of some particular kind of negativity, the slave negativity.

‘What’s the difference?’, I find myself asking. Our project hovers between *explanation* and *redemption*: and, thinking generally and vaguely about this project, I find myself perhaps having to *insist* on things. I’m bothered by a conflict of interest here… I *don’t* want to think about the interaction of all negativity, since negativity is simply a consequence of … ‘thinking’. To clariy — thinking is not a neurological activity but a behavorial one. Thinking, then, is simply our living in the world. But it turns out that this living is not the interaction between subject and object, being and world, etc., but rather, agent and things that *don’t exist* — that is the combination of negativity and tautology that occur at a very early, very fundamental way, ie, before conceptual, linguistic ‘thinking’ (in the conventional sense).

In Heart of Darkness, Marlow called the imperial project a ‘fantastic invasion’, among other things — he spoke of all the scheming and backbiting of all the agents in the station. So this I take to be that general sense of negativity: ‘fantastic’, living in a parallel world, involving things that don’t exist. But there is also some form of negativity that Conrad seems oddly commited to — obviously, Conrad himself is living in a world just as fantastic — as are the natives, even though they are often described as ‘natural’, ‘belonging there’, etc.

As in the last entry, the claim here is the paradoxical ‘more negative’, emphasized in the master-slave relationship. Since everyone is negative — and this means, remember, forming themselves in a moment of rejection, so that creativity *is* understanding — we must insist on something further. Let me suggest what this could be.

… and again, let me reiterate that I feel a ‘conflict of interest’ here, a kind of “cheating” historiography — since we have control of both what ‘events’ are and what causes those events. At any time, we can argue that an event as ‘noninteresting’ or ‘nonimportant’ if it doesn’t accord with our mode of rejection. In other words, we won’t be writing an explanation of a priori events, but the events will change as we see fit, though it will always *seem* like these events are determined a priori — since we will also have to argue for the *significance* of what we talk about. (Ie, our rejection of an event from history will have to seem objective.) This may be a consequence of having to ‘stop early’, ie, we are fundamentally ‘idealists’, we are interested, not in a vivid, final picture of a fantastic world, but in the historical significance even of an incomplete world. We will be ‘stopping early’ in our understanding, we won’t be trying to understand anything precisely.

Last entry, I made the argument that general negativity was ‘not negative enough’ since, though it rejects the apparent order of things, the system, it is still the master of language, which it views as ‘transport’: a vessel for my own ideas, etc. Now, a consequence of thinking being non-neural is (1) the ‘alongside’ effect, and (2) recklessness. Both are aspects of ‘slave’ negation.

For example, as I write right now, I am, it seems, putting down into written letters my inner voice. But actually, I realized yesterday, that writing merely occurs ‘alongside’ the inner dialogue — the ‘correspondence’ between the two is not necessary. So, for example, I could perhaps write only the interesting bits, or maybe I could be drawing while I think. But, to carry this a step further, even this *inner voice* occurs alongside … “thinking” — this is a bit more difficult to conceive. Perhaps this is the model of poetry, or rhetoric. Perhaps my inner voice is not the honest expression of ideas but rather merely a babble.

The inner voice, I want to emphasize, occurs alongside ‘thinking’, in the non-neural, retrospective sense. The paradox — we’ve gone over this before — is that this thinking is at once holistic, ‘ret-conned’ (to use a comic book term — to retroactively provide continuation to a story) into history, and a ‘real’ element of our world, as real as everything else out there. Today, we tend to equate the two, but this division, I believe, is precisely what slave negation is based on.

So there is a kind of ‘recklessness’ to writing, and this is detectable in HoD, it in fact forms the defining element of negation for Conrad.

TBC — examples! I don’t have any yet

Negativity and Transport

April 3, 2013

I only recently realized that everyone is negative, everyone rejects the world. Even those fully embedded in it have some sort of secret world — so, a la American Psycho, business men are “really” serial killers or something. This is something I’ve known for a long time, but somehow I never made the connection — for example, I knew for a long time that what absolutely infuriated me about a few black coworkers I had in my last job was how they thought they were “more real” than I was. It was a pretty shitty job filled with idiots, certainly. Anyways, I didn’t make the obvious connection that that sort of attitude is fundamentally negative, based on a rejection of the “normal”, “fake” world which they must have somehow lumped me in, as if other races couldn’t understand their suffering or the black experience or something. This is a really annoying trait of a lot of blacks — they believe that … umm, “white people” — asians are probably thought much the same way — are somehow more “positive”, more “gung-ho”, “fake” or something.

But as a consequence it would then come down to a question of what kind of rejection. This is an important next step to take, since it takes us beyond philosophical abstraction and towards historical analysis. For we know that a fundamentally negative tautology is the basis of our identity and is in fact, for our purposes, the original cause. (This is actually a big insight for me: that we locate the cause in social strutures, which at first seems simply to beg the question — and what about the cause of those structures? But it is senseless to ask the latter question — the answer is simply, “many things”. What’s interesting are the claims we can make about truth, it satisfies, at once, our desire in finding an important original cause, but also, our distrust or even hatred of pretensions to objectivity and our desire to view the world as being “human” — in the sense if “all too human” and not “gloriously human”.)

I have an interesting proposal for a kind if more negative, another step we have to take. Let’s actually talk about that phrase, “I think therefore I am”, which we talked about a few entries ago in “Bartleby’s Wall”. I went back and skimmed that entry and it is still pretty good, however, there are two things I want to point out: (1) “Language is never mystical” and (2) “the in between”.

Basically, (1) was the realization that it would absolutely be wrong to view language as arising from the “mystifying” of sound, how sound, for example, to dogs, had a definite meaning, whereas, to humans (and this would enable language) sound had a kind of mystical quality, it meant “nothing”. I think I wrote once that language was only possible when sound began to mean “nothing”. The mystical view towards language is rejected because it is entirely too teleologic– ie, it assumes language beforehand. So this insight has been, since then, further developed into the “master / slave” culture.

The second thing, “the in between”, was an attempt to understand Bartleby as trying to locate a second subconscious that would not merely be teleolgoci. And I hypothesized, in that entry, that Bartleby is interested in the strange space “on the way too” or “in between” teleologic moments. This is something that I now disagree with, or want to reexamine.

Regarding “I think” and “I observe myself thinking”, the phenomena is actually, always, that we follow alongside … thinking, what we view as thinking. So there are, indeed, always two separate moments. The first moment occurs “automatically” and this is the moment that we follow alongside. So that the subconscious, for Barlteby, isn’t the one that is “in between”, in whatever weird sense, but rather, the one that — and this agent always exists — that follows alongside what is really the superficial trappings of thinking.

For example, I become more and more aware, personally, that writing is separate from thinking, that I think while I write. I am now addicted to an Android game called “Super Hexagon”, and I actually get a lot of thinking done there, too, as my mind wanders during the automatic motions of that game. But that is exactly what I mean by “while” — I think while I write in … pretty much … the same way that I think while I play a video game.

This is the moment of “greater” negativity that we seek. The tautological construction of the self in a moment of negation leaves unexamined the agent who performs this tautology. This agent is somehow who is, in a sense, the “master” of his environment. In the terms of Heart of Darkness — if the seaman rejects life on land, then he has yet to reject the sea. The subconscious that we speak of is merely that which occurs alongside — what turns out ot be the “physical”  — activity of writing, or of thinking-writing — the master’s pretension to writing. I put “physical” in quotes because we are talking not only of the act of the hand on the pen or the vocal chords but all that one presumes to do — manupulate ideas, move people, etc.