Posts Tagged ‘death’

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?

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The Futility of My Life

September 5, 2012

My third favorite word in the English language is “error”. This word suggests (1) a precise encounter with another or the past and (2) the correcting of that moment. This is almost like a moment of rewriting history. There are many ways to encounter the past, error suggests a very “precise” encounter. One avoids romanticizing or alienating oneself but rather sees in the earlier moment almost a repetition of the current one, to the extent that one can almost speak with the past. There is then an incredible optimism to this word, “error” — the ability to reconnect with and change the past. The ability to speak about one’s own errors — not sins, failings, lapses in judgment, etc., is a point of great pride for many. There is nothing paradoxical, really, about the expression “inevitable errors”.

… I have the feeling that anyone who understands what this word suggests will use it at every opportunity, and with pride, because it is linked to clarity, it is a point of pride or pretension. It’s certainly a point that is over-dramatized in this blog.

It is incredibly hard, I feel, if you’re really attentive to this sort of thing, to have an encounter with the past, a few minutes ago, an hour ago, years ago — the actual stretch of time doesn’t matter a great deal. What’s important that one has an image of the past. As a personal example, the method that I’ve settled on for thinking is built up around this, I use a smartphone (a droid 3) and write everything down. I tell people I’ve written about 20,000 pages but this is number is really misleading because I write whenever I think, so that every hour or so of thinking I have about 2 or 3 pages. But I write in complete sentences, I don’t really “take notes” or use abbreviations — and this is because, so the feeling is, that only the complete sentence can capture that moment of thinking. If I were to go back and read something I’ve written (I almost never do), then I have to try to capture the moment, what seemed only tangentially related back then or of minor importance could be of the central point upon rereading — and this is not because we get out of the past whatever we need, but because of the nature of  at the true image of the past.

But error also suggests some kind of goal oriented activity, the attempt to readjust my life towards that goal. But I abandon everything I write. The most exciting moments are moments when I am able to talk to my past or when I am able to interact with images of the past, but I can never save the past because I can never save myself.

The only difference between aid and violence is failure. Error suggests the possibility of aiding someone, of helping the world in a far more useful (lowly is the word we’ve been using) way then ever imagined. The word “error”, we said, was a point of pride or pretension, but one based on being able to help others (or oneself). This is related to our claim with Kant that the conventional conception of materialism and idealism was in fact “backwards”, that it was idealism, and not materialism, that was always the more precise, more careful, more analytic, more “humble”, etc. — or rather, we should probably be saying “critical” rather than “idealism”, as in “critical philosophy”. But what if error cannot help? What if this word error, as we had been suspecting all along, was violent?

(In a sense we are dealing “only with definitions” here, since if we are to assume the universality of violence than nothing ever helps. The concept of error might make us better writers, or writers more like myself, but it does so only via a kind of destruction — and is that really even “help”? If something can “build a community” and make people happy, is that even help?)

This sounds pretentious, well, it is pretentious, but we are basically talking about our death bed. It’s not even that we’re dying penniless or anything, but really — well, there’s a bitterness towards the world — like we said with Kant, we may not really like the world all that much, and we are certainly not content with being remembered for merely being minor help here and there. Because we’ve never reached our goal and that we have is a collection of errors or attempts. But in our final moments of vanity, our life is reconcieved as the violence of error, where these moments of error are not really “corrections” but rather something done to the world.

TBC — The materiality of error

Kant on his deathbed

September 3, 2012

Kant should not be understood as ‘transcendental’: really, throughout history, ‘ideas’ have been an attempt to get at the very low, to get beyond the pretension of those who claim that they are dealing with real things in the world.

If Kant’s effort is therefore not really atypical (but rather the way it has always happened), what’s really interesting is his emphasis on non-violence or his attempt to deal with the world ‘as it is’ rather than explicitly seek to change it. Yet I think there is certainly an implicit radicalism to Kant.

This sounds cynical, but this would mean that a great deal of Kant’s power comes from a deep cultural (I’m thinking of philosophy, not German) familiarity, which is what makes his (apparent) non-violence or conservativism all the more striking and perhaps his most notable stylistic feature.

Let me relate an anecdote, I’ve gone through that phase when thinking felt like a hammer. It gave me a sense of power, the way in which I can denaturalize everything through concepts.  Concepts weren’t there to describe the world but rather they seemed to destroy whatever they described. In a sense, one can only bring the unnatural, the wrong, the human (and not truth) into light, whatever patterns one found were really like impasses, mechanisms for rediscovering the same thing repeatedly. I’ve been kicked out of reading circles before for being too critical (in both senses of the word), for emphasizing that literature was there to aid in self-reflection and not to discover new worlds.  Literature is medium par excellence for identifying errors — as is (over?)
dramatized in this blog — the closer one reads the more one realizes that one is not what doing one claims. To formulate this more paradoxically, the closer one reads, the more deeply one understands the human, the farther away the human deviates from the material.

The paradox of literature is that, on the one hand, it’s a stage for judgment (like, say, a ballet recital), the more experienced on is, the closer, more dramatically, and more accurately one reads. But one draws closer to the ‘material’ of the dance only by bringing the dance farther away from the ‘material’ that she hopes to reach (ie, some essence of dance, some spirit of the age, etc.).  But on the other hand, the *performance itself* is in a sense the very ‘material basis’ of the dance, but in the sense that it is what establishes the hopes that the dance has and the entire culture of the dance.  This is a vague formulation, but we will return to this point in the conclusion since we’re really talking here about the way in which close reading will eventually reveal how the dancer is in fact ‘right’.

So here, Kant takes the opposite stance (but the same approach) in the sense that he does not really criticize the dance (‘with a hammer’) but rather, in a sense, almost panders to it or celebrates it, his conclusion is not that the dance has failed but that the very order which the dancer seeks organizes the dance – that hope organizes the dance if you will.  The significant destructive violence of Kant is combined withan unwillingness to destroy the particular practice but in the process the underlying mechanisms are transformed almost beyond recognition.

So Kant (of course we’re talking about the Kant that we are familiar with, ‘Kant’ being used here almost like an adjective) never makes the second argument (the ‘on the other hand’) that we talk about above, where the dance is ‘right’ because the dance is reflexively about one’s failure, about how one’s hopes are ordered by the medium of dance (and therefore ‘wrong’ about the original effort to reach some more naive goal). Kant recognizes the naivete or the destructibility of the original goal but makes the argument that, since it is so, since there is truth to the present if you will, there *must be* some underlying structure that organizes everything in this manner. It’s like a proof by contradiction with the final line torn off.

But, as we remarked somewhat cynically in the beginning, Kant’s success probably had a lot to do with his deep familiarity with the ‘culture of philosophy’. We argued that every attempt to ‘go down low’ is really an *anti*-material or dematerializing effort. Kant’s critique of the culture of philosophy would then have to be ‘deeply familiar’ because it relies on a close (but surprisingly non-destructive, at least in the usual sense) analysis of philosophical culture.

Kant on his deathbed would have to be well aware of this cynical attitude towards his life. On the other hand, philosophers, so the saying goes, can’t die happy knowing their life hadn’t been in vain – but in a glorious way, not in the cynical way we describe above. I mean, a better way to put this is that some can’t die happy unless they knew that their life had been *violence* rather than useful to the world, this itself is a point of pride or vanity.

But this violence cannot simply be conceived of as countless technical manipulations (‘cynicism’), but rather — well, success almost doesn’t matter at this point. What matters was that one was able to endure and to persist — the lonely dance — and this is possible only because one, personally, saw the possibility of the *medium* of literature. That is, if Kant, on his death bed was forced to critique his own life or the holistic violence of his own life, then —

1) the dancer would have to be conceived of as dealing with ‘dark figures’
2) Kant and ‘carried’