Progress Report

Well — boss — I actually have two drafts over the course of the last few days, one on painting, and another on a theory of history. I feel they are both pretty good but don’t feel complete in themselves — but I feel like they still give me something to think about. But here, I want to explore the consequences of what I call the “origins question error”, OQE let’s call it for short, and hopefully we will get a chance to talk about some historical applications of this principle.

Because I say so

Recently, and also in my drafts — well, let me just tell you about the draft on a theory of history I just wrote. The whole idea was that there was a kind of euphoria of freedom for the historian when he realizes that we are disconnected from our origins, for example, that our current society is not the one where language arose. I mean, this is the basic flaw of conservativism, and really of living in the world: that we cannot understand ourselves in this way. We cannot understand who we are by thinking about who we are at the present — and this in itself is a kind of historical paradox, but also, as we said, a sense of freedom for the speculative historian.

Now Conrad famously said of Heart of Darkness that he wanted to “make you see“. This phrase has taken on a new meaning to me — well, consider that the above sense of euphoria gives way to a kind of stress, the stress of having to say “because I say so”. The OQE has far reaching consequences — it doesn’t merely say that the present is not the source of our origin, more, it seems to render all explanations of what something *is* suspect (since really, when we ask what something is we often mean, “what is its origin?). That is, it is not merely an appeal to look further back in history, but to the need for the *speculative*: for making connections where no causal chain exists — it is in some sense a critique of *all* causal chains.

Well, to be more specific, it puts a limitation on our ability to decode the origins of our ideas. We have ideas *about things* at present, and it would be an error to believe that those things that we have ideas about are the *cause* of those ideas. I’m not actually saying that we should look to psychology for fundamental causes, but I’m saying that we could have ideas about things that don’t exist. Let me develop this by way of an anecdote:

Last night, on facebook, one of my friends was raising a ruckus about how we shouldn’t be so caught up in the Miley Cyrus VMA (Video music awards) scandal — I guess she had this really slutty dance or something — not when there are diseases and wars, etc.. Well, she didn’t say this, but she quoted an important sounding blog that did. For some reason this issue fascinated me, and I wrote, in response:

I’m a not all that stoic with the news — I’m not sure if this is cynical. If it interests me personally than I read it, if not, then I tend to ignore it. Sometimes the logics for pop cultural events are pretty intricate, while on the other hand there’s only so much you can say about wars and disease. I’ve decided that something interests you because of its complexity rather than because it panders to “baser instincts”. So, I honestly think if you really like porn it’s probably because you find it interesting or logically complex. The potential for self-transformation isn’t perhaps to force yourself to be concerned about the big issues, to force yourself to take interest in boring things, but rather to work out why you find it interesting, or to opportunize on moments for thinking.

For me, this exchange gets at this the precise sense in which the origins of our ideas are a mystery. I am not saying that we need to look at fundamental psychological forces, but rather, that there is a mystery to how we respond to things, a kind of fascination — tha we don’t respond to things “as they are”, but when they seem to take on some other significance. So, in this case — I mean, let me just say that I didn’t find Miley Cyrus’s dance all that interesting, I didn’t even bother looking it up, mostly because I don’t find it the least bit arousing — but I do make the argument that it is the fascinating and mysterious things that we find important, and that to force ourselves to concern ourselves with the bigger world may be passing up oppurtunities for insight. I mean, I would even argue that the war in the Middle East (which the article brought up as an example for being more important) may perhaps be understood — or at least, new insights gained, indirectly, via Miley Cyrus and the intricate sort of moral outrage that arises there.

I mean, speaking personally, I *was* inexplicably interested in the Zimmerman trial — but there are problems there as well. I mean, the problem with the Zimmerman trial is that everything is pre- or overdeterimined — it is about, basically, an incredibly fast escalation, towards the decision, probably on both sides, that the other person needed to die. This escalation was caused by a series of gestures, clothing choices, words, fragments and so on — which is fine, by the way. I’m not saying we need to slow down and understand who people REALLY are, since I’m not all that interested in what we’d find there due to my misanthropy. I was obviously pro-Zimmerman, but mostly — or rather, in a large part — because I saw one set of actions as being beneficial to society, or at least to me and my kind. At stake was a battle over the future, in a sense. But this is the error, the error of “conservativism”, of believing that the present world holds the origins to (and the keys for preserving) who we are, or, more compactly — that we are not who we are at present. The paradox is that such a gut reaction is, on the one hand, an error of conservativism and overdetermination, but on the other hand a seeing of things that *aren’t present* — at once error and potential insight.

This is why “make you see”, which is a further transformation of my formula “because I say so”, is so fascinating: because it speaks of seeing things that aren’t present perhaps at the very moment when we are so caught up in the present. This is a running theme of Heart of Darkess, perhaps the instance that comes most readily to mind is that moment when Marlow decides to throw his shoes overboard for no real reason. This is actually a recurring theme in the entire book, where people tend “overreact” to things — to react to something else in the logics of the present. So, the entire story regarding our attitude towards origins is that, from the euphoria of the freedom to historically speculate, we move to the stress of having to say, “because I say so”, and finally to the hope, in “making you see”, that there are nonetheless moments when we may come into contact with origins — specifically, those moments of reacting to things which aren’t really there.

Sophisticated Animals

A short word on animals and thinking. There is this whole notion that langauge fundamentally changes who we are, or that there is some fundamental difference between how humans and animals think. I don’t think this is actually true, I think that generalization, concepts, objects, etc. are an aspect of perception (or at least, sentient perception) as such, and not specific to humans. This gives us, on the one hand,  a kind of sweeping understanding of the world, and on the other hand, an attentiveness to particular moments. That is, on the one hand, I don’t think that we need to “forget who we are” in order to understand other cultures — that jhh                                                               jhpb, for example, we need to forget concepts of good and evil, self and other, criminality, lying, joking, and especially, *rational calculation* in order to understand another culture. Numerous behavorial studies have shown that there is a kind of rational, even numeric, calculation implicit in the behavior of animals. And much of the error of our understanding other cultures — which is basically the “Star Trek Error”, let’s call it. I mean, there, alien races were seen as somehow more noble, more honorable, etc. Both the Klingons and the Vulcans are somehow *incapable of crime* as Kirk is. Kirk is a kind of noble rascal. But this actually applies fairly generally to our understanding of all cultures — and maybe we have already overcome this bit of naivete — that somehow only “advanced” intelligences are capable of lying and crime. There is some saying that goes that “only humans kill for pleasure” or something but this is obviously not true.

But, as we were saying, on the other hand, despite this sweeping understanding of history, extending back perhaps even before civilization, as at least partly a history of crime, it also gives us a way to deal with specific historical arisings — namely, as reactions, perhaps even rational and calculating, to things or even objects that don’t exist.
Limitations of Painting
zeros, undeniable arisings, origins of language


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