Archive for October, 2013

Notes without Introduction on Heart of Darkness

October 27, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dangers of Meditation

October 23, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

TBC

Junji Ito

October 3, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TBC, for real!