Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

Textabyss: Writing on an infinite plane

February 27, 2014

The textabyss is a computer project I’ve been working on: basically, an infinite sheet of paper that you can pan and zoom on, enough for holding a lifetime’s worth of prose. It is a very simple idea, and an odd mix of writeroom, personal wikis, desktop indexing, minecraft, etc.

Textabyss homepage @ Github

Youtube video

Thanks for checking it out!


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!

Who is the bigger loser?

September 27, 2013

So the question is, who is the bigger loser, me or them? (… whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows …). Or more precisely, is it better to live in the world, to live joyfully, or … to seek the truth? I mean, we’ve made a big deal out of such issues as honesty, nihilism, and play. Well, what is our, what is our high horse anyways? Maybe it is to get at what is really driviing the world, or what’s on the back of everyone’s minds, etc.. Well … I wrote this on Facebook the other day:

“Vaccination and the Age of Reason” –Vaccination is something that has saved countless lives and is one of the benefits of living in civilzation, it is one of the fruits of the age of reason. But beyond our modern conveniences and our limits there is very little that separates us from jungle tribesmen, cannibals, what have you. But is vaccination “caused” by the reason? And what really characterizes the age of reason? It is not, actually, any ideas of justice, human rights, etc., but rather, maybe, the capitalization of man’s mental *energies*, ie, in the same way that oil has reshaped the world mental energy has reshaped the world — suggesting by this term a kind of undirected, violent, inevitable force. Vaccination was discovered by someone (quite by accident, as certain anecdotes go) that had put forth immense mental energies, mental capital. There is no way to “repeat” the insight of vaccination, though we tell stories about it. This is why reason is not the driving force, because its insights cannot be “repeated” — experiments are verifiable, but there is no way “repeat” that same insight. What this means is that technical history is a history of *accidents*, it can be likened to the discovery of gold nuggets unearthed by the explosive energy of mental capital. (And I am arguing, we cannot repeatedly, methodically, discover gold nuggets — it also means that there may be some limit to how much we can unearth).

This actually raises the question of whether there are *other histories*, a history that would not be a history of accidents. And this is where the concept of mastery fits in: since mastery, as a regression to childhood, give us visions of the future not shaped by accidents but genuinely our own, unreachable yet so imminent that they are often mistaken for having happened.

I’m not sure if the whole thing needed to be included, but the basic argument here involves the thinking of a kind of mental energy — there is a critique here of reason here, the Age of Reason. The Age of Reason — bless its heart and its consequences — is nothing but “the discovery of (a finite number) of gold nuggets unearthed by the explosive energy of mental capital”. I try to argue for an energy-based account of history in order to discredit any essence of reason. So that is “them”, I mean, those who carry on — with whatever consequences, beneficial or not — with belief in the cohrenecy of their own life, of their own essence.

So yes, it’s hard to put a fine distinction, when asking the bigger loser question, on what the distinction, which we feel so strongly about, even is.  But there is a distinction isn’t there? I am not here to tear this down or to argue that there isn’t. There is. Well, and I am not here to, of course, really answer the question of who the bigger loser is. Who cares? We each have our own failures. I am penniless but I have the time to do what I want. And I have a lot of trouble getting a girlfriend, even though I am, well, not unattractive, and this is a combination of my pennilessness, isolation, and my general misogyny. Fine. But they have their own issues to deal with. There are very few of us who aren’t selling our youth for money. I mean, if I can’t stand the life they lead, if hell is other people, then on some level they can’t either, I’m sure.

So at stake in this question is really (of course) an effort to refocus on the question of who we are, now that we can no longer claim an essence, we have to get off our high horse, and yet continue to have, to feel the pull of, such diverse concepts as guilt, futurity, imminence, and so on. Indeed, the feeling is that we will be working on a history yet to be written, or a reanalysis of history. If not some thinking of the essence of history, then at least, some alternative history, a history, vaguely defined, involving these concepts. (TBC)

“Don’t get any big ideas” — I was reading, recently, someone’s blog about trying to develop a … graphical terminal emulator, I think it was. He was one of those mac programmers. I’m pretty prejudiced, I admit. I kept on reading… he tried to start a project but failed — it was an interesting effort. In the post-mortem, he complained a lot about the community and all the various software design tools that he had to work with. It was a lot of complaining. I was glad to see it fail, most because terminal emulators don’t really need a rethinking. They do need some added functionality, which was what I was googling for, but they don’t need to be rethought from the ground up. It was apparently a project that got a lot of vocal support but very little actual finger-lifting from the community. I love ther terminal, by the way, or rather, I have a different idea of what a pure terminal would be. The whole Mac mentality got to me anyways. It was like every single thing they touched was somehow a fundamentally different, beautiful, rethinking of data or something. I was sort of headed in the opposite direction, I mean, I love the sparse of text terminals. I would rather us think about ways for us to change our lives so that text would be enough. There is a lot of issues here, certainly. I don’t believe our lives are natural, I believe that a computer is not so much a way to represent our lives, which just leads to added complexity, but rather, perhaps, to simplify our lives.

I’m not sure how interesting Apple would be for our history, for example, for our purposes. It doesn’t really confront guilt. I would rather think about open source or something. I’ve been working on a very simple and small scale … text editor enhancement recently, hopefully I’ll have a chance to throw it up in a few weeks on this blog. But my experience there was that, well, I congratulated myself on not having any more big ideas. In the end I had very little to say about the whole software design experience. I spent a lot of time looking up documentation, and as always the logic of the underlying system can never really be fully documented. It was very messy, a lot of trial and error. It was almost like a research project. A lot of the work involved grouping conditionals into forms that I could deal with and maintain, I mean, attempting to categorize all the exceptions — and the feature set changed along the way. The feature set had to be coherent, too, I mean, it had to seem consistent even as it was stressed by the requirement of maintainable code, a very minor sort of feedback loop here. I was proud of myself for not having learned anything through this whole process. I wondered if this amounted the regression of mastery — the regression to a kind of childlike state, where the task becomes, the wrestling with exceptions, where nothing is so structured. (TBC)

The Consequences of Mastery

September 24, 2013

I want to write a hardcore philosophical essay right now, I mean, rhetorically. It is also going to be short, maybe. I say this because I feel like I am dealing with a priori consequences, or with results that flow from the concepts themselves.

Well, without giving a formal introduction, I mean, without laying out the stakes beforehand, let’s consider the question, “what is mastery?” I have been thinking over this for a few days now… I feel we can start with some banalities: namely, that mastery involves a non-concern with technics. So I distinguish it from nerdiness. … I just wrote this on facebook:

Mastery (of something) resembles spaciness / vapidity because it is not nerdy (it doesn’t concern itself with technical details), ie, a master sounds like a fool with the added aspect of being competent at technics nonetheless. It *does* resemble being nonchalantly good at something, but not because such technics provides a form of transcendance, ie, not from depths of experience. Mastery, then, may be not only superficially but also essentially a regression in attitude towards an earlier stage. We can maybe sum up all this by simply pointing out that a master, perhaps like a child (or certain childlike moments) is fundamentally interested in intentionality, choice, other living beings, and not objects or facts (I mean, with regards to the domain of mastery, not in a general ‘zen’ sense.).

So, I think we can say that we have moments of mastery, or mastery is not so much who we are as some way of seeing the world. … OK, so let that be our introduction.

Isn’t mastery a surveying? Yes, but it is at once a surverying, of the field, and of our past, and it is a way of continuing to live, which means, that it is still concerned with intentionality, or with the future. The master is concerned with history but not with a technical or intellectual history… and perhaps not with a history at all, in the traditional sense. The idea that mastery is a regression feels important to me, I mean, that it is a *non-technical* attitude, despite being deeply involved in some discipline. This is important because the consequences are quite nice, it means that we can deal with almost everything at all in a non-technical way, say, math, physics, as long as we restrict ourselves to mastery.

This is what I am so excited about — that mastery, the full understanding of anything, is non-technical (I mean, we will still have to be familiar with technical details) — it is not so different from the frightened apprentice except for the following important difference (the master shares more with the novice than with the journeyman): to the novice everything is a promise of future self-overcoming, everything is leading towards the future. But perhaps — and this is a big hope, a big perhaps — with mastery we can … manifest, or introduce into the system, these intentionalities or these futurities.

TBC: Examples; Relativity and Mastery

The History of Math / Dedicated to the one I love

September 17, 2013

The last words he pronounced were — your name. (Heart of Darkness)

There is are some complex things dealing with time. Well, let’s begin by talking about the Heart of Darkness, which ends with this lie about dedicating one’s life to a loved one. This whole whole section seems to be about the past and the future. Kurtz is the future, but he is also the past — he is dead and gone. Something so powerful as to be imminent — so real was this future that it was mistaken for having already happened.

That’s just it — the imminence of the future, the mode of imminence. I feel like this is familiar ground, but the whole oint here is semi-imminent, as we approach familiar ground with better tools maybe. And also, the women — for some reason the women has control over this imminence, despite having, of course, never set foot in Africa. But for her this imminence was as real as a river, or a window, as in the final scene. “Mathematics is profoundly feminine” I have here in my notes — which is a kind of a provocative formula that points at where we want to go.

The real question here is the imminence of math, or the mode of imminence. Again, I am not sure if the above quotation is right, but at least it does raise questions, ie, if it is wrong, then it is wrong in the right direction, I feel. Math, too, seems to be a future that has already happened, in the above sense. Well, there is a third concern here: that we do not know what math is. This is important to point out since all math does is talk about itself, it seems, but we cannot trust it, at least, not in the first, declarative, descriptive sense. The history of math has yet to be brought to light. We may have to talk about a psychological history of math, or about eras that we haven’t even understood yet, who knows. This is certainly an exciting venture though.

Oh, and one more thing: isn’t it true that all metaphysics can do is point in a certain direction, to point at something? nd if so, doesn’t the history of math consist merely of moments that point at something? Yet these moments must each be examined individually?

Now, by the “femininity of math”, I don’t merely mean, the creative feminine. This is a benefit of us returning to the same question with more maturity — I mean, that it’s easy to be misled here, to forget what we meant, and to dismiss it later as error. We are not referring merely to the playfulness of math, since that is simply being who one is, and is not a future that is imminent. It does not relate to guilt, for example, or to the future yet to come, which we identified in the previous blog as the uncanny.  But, on the other hand, it is not something other than what math already is. Again, this feels like some moment of maturity to me, I mean, the necessity of thinking such a delicate topic. It is the moment, not strictly outside of math, a moment when imminence and femininity intersect. That’s another thing about the feminine — that they seem more real.

(Sometimes I am troubled by the question of whether what we talk about is exists at all, ie, whether math isn’t merely the sum of technical exigencies. But I am comforted by … various reflections, not limited to the “categorical imperative” of criticism, the existence of parallel histories, etc..)

So what I’m saying here is that the only kind of reflection that matters, in math, are those that seem to determine our future, but that is subtle enough to not merely be a fantasy. But still feminine — that is the whole nature of the feminine. “They are out of it”, says Conrad, but at the same time, they are not fantasy. It is not obvious whether something is one or the other, whether something is fantastic, technical, or of literary interest, it is hard to tell the interesting from the uninteresting in history.

========== END OF INTRODUCTION ==========

Let’s talk about the zero, the historical development of the zero. Now math functioned long before the zero, and it functions long after. The zero is certainly ingrained into math at this point, it has become one symbol among many other symbols. Now, I don’t really want to speak of the zero as merely a symbol, I don’t really want to associate with the rise of algebra or something, I mean. Rather, it is associated with a very specific sort of purity in math — I mean here specifically to dismiss the assumed distinction between the pure and the pragmatic, the notion of “mathematical autism”, for example. In a sense we are saying that everything is the same, that we are cut off from “our own” origin, that we work with ideas that are dead and gone. “I arrived in a city that always made me think of a whited sepulchur” (Heart of Darkness).

It is hard to imagine that moment. It is perhaps a profound transformation. It was at once anti-materialistic and materialistic. It faced great resistance for it’s amaterialism, but at the same time it seems undenaible with its play uon guilt, which we associated with the uncanny in the previous entry on Futurama. The uncanny causes metaphysical transformations, which may be, as we said above, pointers, or not stable in themselves (and rather only as an orbit). The phenomenality of the uncanny cannot be discounted but it slowly builds up until it becomes this imminence we speak of.


Futurama’s “A Game of Tones”

September 11, 2013

I like Futurama, but I don’t consider it really worth extended reflection, so that when we talk about our interest in The Game of Tones (from this latest season) it is in the sense that it is an unusual episode and in many ways quite unlike the rest of the show.

Now, I don’t want to go too deeply into the Lynchian influences, it is a great episode to watch from that angle, it reminds me of Twin Peaks… it actually also reminds me of being high.. and there is a sense that you aren’t really watching Futurama so much as you are a dream of Futurama, the way in which dreams seem to bring out the uncanny in the familiar, or how something in a dream often feels like a parody of that which you are remembering.

And then there is that sense of impending doom, which perhaps should be taken simply as an impending future (no pun intended) a future yet to arrive (rather than as death or destruction). There is a UFO approaching earth that emits a sequence of four tones that will literally blow up planets — but at the same time the show itself, also, as we allude to above, seems to be coming apart at the seams. “The impending future”  is not the extrapolated progression of day-to-day life — but it is very close… maybe we should even characterize it as a kind of gravity or something, in the sense of, that towards which the present is drawn, but which never arrives, a kind of orbit — ie, a spatial rather than a temporal metaphor.

The concept of “the future”, for me, is a way of getting over a kind of impasse, the impasse of descriptivism. I mean, perhaps the only way to understand the present is to understand such a future — some things about the world can’t be understood descriptively. The only way to understand the truth is to lie about it or to participate in this lie. (Cf, eg, the final scene of Heart of Darkness). This impending futurity is a kind of holism, it is something that cannot be understood aesthetically or as some kind of political “negation”…

As I said, we shouldn’t take the ‘doom’ too literally, but rather to think of it as a kind of blasting or exploding — a show “coming apart at the seams” we said. So that what impends is not absolute doom but rather the future, but the future that never arrives, or a future that we may have to pretend has already arrived — think, eg, Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Perhaps all psychoses have some connection to the future.

What is the future of Futurama (again, no pun intended)? It is an emptying out, it has a lot to do with the “conventions” of that show. The show is very concerned with math and a kind of systemic humor, the system of the crew — but the satisfaction with systemics can only take place if we are too content with the stability of everything around us. I mean, think about, for example, the kind of thinking required to become a mathematician — and I don’t even mean that one has to first be well-fed … doesn’t the initial, childhood interest assume a contentment with things as stable objects, as atomic elements of a system? So it is precisely this sense of stability that is being questeioned here — and this questioning, or rather this explosion, comes about via a kind of … dreamlike sensation, a kind of self-parody. I mean, the world that the crew explores is strange and terrifying, it is unlike the futurama we are used to. Even nature in that show typically exhibits the usual human qualities. But here they are caught in something way over their head (and the ending comes only because the show has to be aired, ie, it doesn’t reflect at all where the show was headed) — which is a kind of … vicious self-understanding. I mean, the way in which actions repeated over and over again seem to lose meaning — self-parody we said. But these elements can’t be understood in this way as descriptive, aesthetic, or rhetorical elements, but rather seem to take hold of our society precisely via their status as the future, whether we embrace it or not.

The future is the breakdown of the system and the coming fascination with the signifier. TBC

The Final Scene of the Heart of Darkness (Progress Report)

September 4, 2013

Well — boss — there are a few things I’m thinking about: the final scene of the heart of darkenss, the theory of relativity, and the Amazonian tribesmen. Yes, I feel they are all linked somehow, going through these things peice by peice is not opitmal and we may get trapped in talking too fast, knowing too much, thinking we’ve accomplished something, but I also feel it’s really the only way I can make progress at this point.

(1) The final scene of Heart of Darkness — I have in my notes here that this final scene seems to answer all the questions. It is, indeed, a scene of lying, which is something that Marlow isn’t really comfortable with. But maybe it’s about time that we got our our discomfort with nihilism — nihilism is okay, and some forms of hihilism are more okaythan others. I mean, there is the sense in which, if you’ve ever expereinced this, women have a way of evoking things, they seem to make things real — that’s part of it. There is also the way in which this scene seems to provide a solution to another problem. I mean, consider that, well, consider a few elements: (a) The jungle (b) Kurtz, stability, emptying out (c) Reading too well (d) Historiography.

Now, the jungle is something that seems to disrupt, it is sort of like a kind of overwhelming nature, we feel so small in the jungle, if we are able to feel that. It is interesting that it is precisely at this time of crisis, or at this moment, that Kurtz makes his appearance — so that, for example, what is so surprising about the Russian is just how oblvious he is to the general chaos around him. In the midst of a time of great dispiritedness, Kurtz provides a kind of stability. Kurtz is not the jungle, nor is he a return to cynicism, but he is a kind of cynicism or a kind of nihilism that survives — a lie that we believe in sincerely. I used to give the example of “historical speculation”, such as for the Mormons — however ridiculous the Mormon doctrine may be, for example, however much in bad faith they carry on their lives, the aspect of sincriety to them is the way in which they have taken out a lottery ticket for the future, the way in which they believe they are on the verge of some kind of arising truth. As a consequence of this those caught up in such a moment are often notoriously bad — we must not trust them — at explaining their actual motivations.

The final two terms are linked as well, I mean, (c) and (d). We must not read too well, I mean, there is a moment when we believe that the book is simply agreeing with us. But this suggests the impossible problem of always reading the book anew. As a solution to this problem I want to suggest this notion of ‘historiography’: of understanding a point i nhistory, which is the moment when Kurtz arises in the jungle which is also the final scene of the Heart of Darkness. That scene is all about defining what occurred at a partciular point in history, under specific conditions — and maybe there is an ineffability there too, and certainly a kind of nihilism (which is what makes Marlow so uncomfortable) — assomething that is evoked in the final stanza of Boy of Winander, when the speaker pauses in silence, for a good half-hour, unable to recover that moment, despite having just written it down quite vividely. That poem is sort of about that very same situation in a sense, I mean, the second half of that poem is very easy to overlook.

So that this is how we should understand Heart of Darkness as well, I mean, as a historical thesis, about a moment in the past, something we can barely see, or almost see, or see only with a woman that sort of makes us content with nihilism.

Well, that final scene is all about reliving a moment in the past that did not crystallize until the present, I mean, until that moment of visiting the Intended. When it does crystallize it seems a moment of reliving the past, a moment when “all games are emptied out” but no longer by the jungle. One has forgotten by that point the devstation of the jungle, so that all that’s left from that experience seems to be Kurtz, for some odd reason. When we look back on the past we like to reember a specific moment of negation, something that is impossible with the jungle itself. There is a sense perhaps that a specific negation is the only way we have, the only way we can stabilize the past, or maybe something that we always seek. (TBC)

(2) Let’s talk a bit about relativity. There is a sense that the cards were stacked from the beginning with regard to such a theory, which oppurtunized on the empirical discovery that the speed of light was constant — I mean, in the sense that every disruption to our intution will resolve itself in a certain way. The argument above is that the women are facillitators to the way in which we control our past, the way in which we understand the past as a kind of specific moment of negation (Kurtz) rather than as a general kind of disruption. Applied to relativity, this principle suggests that the function of physics is to — not so much incorporate external elements into an established system, but rather — the attempt to reach this moment of negation or of emptying out. I mean, certainly physics can be considered a kind of game too, math and physics can be considered a kind of game. You can publish hundereds of perfectly correct papers and there is still the sense that something may be missing, and the question is what the particular form of this negation could be, if it does not derive (of course not) from the introspective correction of errors.
For relativity, the specific form of negation involves the identification of a moment of “pure representation” (which is itself a “nihlistic” moment, as we said — yet the cards are stacked, somehow, in favor of this.) It is a clearer image of the world that becomes, well, secular. “The multitude of secular trees looking patiently after this grimy fragment of another world” (the steamer) — from the Heart of Darkness. Secularism is the emptying out or the vacating of “games” of particular nihilistic circuits, of illusions that are carried on only so far as they are useful, of fitter happier, of the colusion of metaphor and formula. Secularism, the secular vision, is precisely that which no longer allows for metaphor. I just said a bunch of stuff really fast, but I am actually not bullshitting. I mean, the idea is that there is some absolute vision that no longer allows for the convinient switch between metaphoric, pragmatic vision, a short moment when the world ceases to be populated by metaphors.

The Noble Savage (by Chagnon)

September 1, 2013

I think I’ve mostly reached a point where books are “stimulating” rather than life-altering, and that’s good — the idea that another reaffirms or provokes us rather than opposes us or forces us to question ourselves. The account of the Amazonian tribesmen in “The Noble Savage” mostly affirmed what I already suspected — that they were pretty much exactly like us — I mean, in their deceit, self-alienation, hypocrisy, and so on — there but for the grace of police stations and butcher shops go I, so Conrad would say … but it also offered a tantalizing way to reconceive of my own project. The biggest thing, the most conspicuous thing absent from “The Noble Savage” is an account of guilt. The book’s overt political project, leftism bashing, is mostly agreeable to me, but it verges on preaching to the choir. You know there comes a point when you should probably ignore about 90% of intellectuals as not really worth talking to and not really worth the task of serious critique either. Hmm. Well I pause here because — I had originally intended to say that the interesting link that the book afforded me was the link between guilt and violence, between the private and the social. Guilt is a highly personal thing, it is that vague notion of self-awareness that is, basically, what makes leftist intellectuals so unbearable, and what makes, indeed, the natives themselves so unbearable. Those goddamn happy natives. Is it the task, then, of the missionaries or of modern man, to bring guilt to the primitive man, as has been the story in so many cases? In fact, no, because guilt is already the organizing principle of that culture, in the form of violence. (And it is this endemic nature of violence of guilt that makes me pause above.)

There are two things I want to talk about here — (1) a personal anecdote and (2) the Conradian expression, “city of death”.

(1) The most annoying thing about people, and what so irks me about them, is how loud they are, how they always have something to say. They always ahve something to say because they live in a bubble where everything is already figured out — they and their sentimentalism. I must speak of sentimentalism here. Sentimentalism is absolutely not the sort of guilt I refer to here — it is actually simply the inverse but equivalent of that jabbering happiness (you might think about the Apollonian and the Dionysian here). I mean, let’s not make the error of believing that those jabbering idiots are somehow naive. They aren’t naive — they are aware of all those darker forces there too. But they believe that the essentially human is that which occupies that bubble. The sentimental is simply the state of man taken away from that bubble. But guilt is a new world founded on something other than that bubble — we will get to this later.

I react badly to this attitude, I mean, now that I reflect back on it in this context, my behavior makes more sense. I remember that my aunt from China visited me a few months ago, to see the US and such. She was definitely one of my favorite people growing up but as I spent more time with her she began to wear on me. Her fascination with cultures and rituals annoyed me, and it annoyed me how… generously she viewed people. Now, mind, I am aware of that people do things for money, and so is she, I mean, that people are “truely” motivated by greed, selfishness and so on. But even that is still part and parcel of the sentimental attitude — it simply views the “ideal” state of the man as, again, that which is essential, and perhaps even more valuable because of its ephemerality.

I still remember the last little talk I had before she left. She knew about my condition, I mean, my sorry employment, and advised me to change directions in life or something along those lines. That really irked me — I felt like she viewed my condition far too sentimentally, as I was someone stoically living in solitude outside of that bubble and that all I wanted was to get back in, to be accepted. I did something quite consciously in response, I blamed her. I mean, obviously, not for ruining my life or anything, but for not really listening to me. I questioned her about what I just said. I tried to make her feel guilty about something. It didn’t “work”, but thinking about it now, my behavior does sort of make sense.

What I did could be considered a form of “violence” I guess. Violence is the attempt here to make someone see — namely, to aknowledge an intention that was strictly outside of the bubble of sentimentalism, but which was nonetheless still human. That last chat, and that sudden shift in strategy, that sudden performance of mine, was sort of an act of desperation. As Conrad said, I may have been happy with leaving them confused. Well, let me be precise, my basic strategy was to stop talking to her and instead to quiz her on what I was saying. She couldn’t really respond, of course, not many people can. What annoyed me was how I was drawn into that “jabber” I spoke about above. This sort of reminds me of a Keats poem:

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That though wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience calmed — see here it is —
I hold it towards you.

I believe this poem was basically Keats’s last words, and here, too, we see the kind of absolute selfishness, but of a self that has — not so much died — but transformed into icy death. The “warm grasping” is exchanged for a kind of haunting which may be related to the “endemic” role of “violence” that I spoke of above.

But I mean, for my aunt, just to finish up that chat, there was a moment when I was “not myself” you could say, but not, on the other hand, simply a kind of happy savage. It was a moment when I tried to channel something else. My points were not all that important, but what I desperately wanted to do was make the point that I wasnot merely talking, merely “jabbering”, not merely something to be warmly embraced. There are a few ways to think about my performance. Maybe this involved the evoking of a kind of holistic intentionality that was sort of embedded in the word itself, the precision of the meaning there. I wanted to make her feel like aintruder perhaps, upon such a realm. This is not, in fact, in the final analysis, perhaps, merely the persuasion towards truely listening to another — since — well, I have this expression, “technicolor sunshine”. I wrote earlier, on Facebook, that “Insight less resembles a portal and more a chesspeices”. Here, insight and sunshine both metaphorize the same sort of thing, but sunsahine connotes an era that lasts, the time of sunshine or the time of daylight. A sunshine of technics, a time when a certain mode of insight dominates — and not merely a time that is reached by stepping through the portal of understanding.

(2) I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited sepulcher. (Heart of Darkness)


Let’s actually return to the violence of the savages, and in particular, to the metaphysical understanding of this violence. Here at this point we will have to, actually, cease paying attention to their own explanations, which are often notoriously bad, notoriously pragmatic. If we were to believe them we would indeed be forced to reach the conclusion that the history of civilization were nothing but the history of criminality in triumph. The way in which violence escapes their apparent control involves the metaphysical stakes of violence which establishes it as some independent element, a life of its own….

Honesty, I have nothing in this regard… I need to read the book a bit more.

The Heart of Darkness Hypothesis

August 27, 2013

*Don’t click on the links here, I’m not sure how to get rid of them

Unfortunately in the last entry we were mostly concerned with a kind of theoretical development, but here I just want to elaborate on how this all applies to Heart of Darkness and on the argument being made in that book. The danger of theoretical development is really that we sometimes risk diluting the specificity of our insights. Heart of Darkness is about, well, a fascination with Kurtz, which is a singular insight, or a series of singular insights. But there is a corresponding “dreamlike sensation” that is the cause of this singular insight. Because Kurtz and the dreamlike sensation are in some sense the same thing. Kurtz is something that “doesn’t really exist”.

I just wrote on facebook, “There is no such thing as beginning and end because insights are less like doorways and more like chesspeices.”

I had an essay about painting a few days ago — which is probably not really all that correct now that I think about it, but I do want to talk about it. I basically spoke of an irreversible process in the development of painting. There is a moment, such as expressed in Boy of WInander, where we can no longer, for some reason, go back to the past, when the past becomes too much of a play. Yet the trick here — we have confronted this moment countless times before — is to let this moment retain its original mystery. “Melancholy” is applicable here — it is at once a commitment to someone specific — I mean, I relate it to heartbreak — yet at the same time an inability to go back, a loss of interest in the world at large.

… I always have in the back of my mind that Radiohead line, from Fog, “How did you go back, did you go back?”

So I think that the error, or a kind of impasse that I encountered here, when I thought about painting, was to attept to descriptively describe such a moment — I attributed it to a kind of emptying out the world. I mean, that’s why I became stuck, because I saw it as a formal shift within painting. But this is understandable, since we want to, eventually, make grandiose connections here, as regards to this moment.

I mean, this is why the “animal sophistication” argument is so important. I’m subscribed to a science blog and every week or so there is some new study that reveals how calculating and pragmatic animals can be. And this really makes one pause and wonder — behavior can’t be encoded genetically — and we can’t even relate it to a kind of ritual or habit (or even — what is ritual, after all, but supported by a kind of calculating, speculative rationality) — which really means that animals are thinking. This is the recurrent lesson here, it seems to me. I once tried to write some essays about the elaborte behavior of the jewel wasp and it seems to me that, in the end, all those efforts failed because there is undeniably a kind of thinking there.

By “thinking”, I am claiming more than, that concepts or at least equivalence classes are our (and the animal’s) basic access to reality. I am actually saying that there is some way in which animals behave as calculating entities, that they sort of understand these equivalence classes as concepts, as something that can be manipulated. Manipulation is very different from merely saying that equivlence classes are our access to reality — it is something that, for example, Star Trek isn’t even able to ascribe to Vulcans.

… as I was saying, the animal sophstication argument is important because we no longer want to argue for systemic shifts in the perception of reality — since we are asserting a continuity between all sentience — but rather we want to ask about the influence of specific insights. A few days ago I wrote about Spelunky and that is really, for me, the takeaway there — that there is a sweet spot, a Spelunkian sweet spot which we must remembe about our understanding, a sweet spot so easy to simply go past and forget. If there is a continuity in sentient intelligence then the real questions of origins is the way in which these insights take hold of us, as in Spelunky, and lead to this dreamlike state or the singular insight.

Now, returning to Heart of Darkness … well, for painting, the real occurence is not formal shift — rather, the formal shift is the specific insight and not the dreamlike sensation. Basically we have the general notion of painting progressing towards a kind of … “representationalism”. With perspectival painting, the vanishing point, or with still lifes, etc., there is a kind of loss of interest (cf, Boy of Winander) in the games that we play with painting, within painting. The whole thing seems kind of artificial. Now this is not to say that there is an end to mysticicsm. But there is, I believe, a kind of formal shift that recurs throughout various different genres: it can be thought of as a movement towards the pun, towards a kind of more abstract mysticism perhaps. Let me just paste here a segment from that draft:

Consider, for example, the development of painting: the time of relgious painting is now past. I mostly have in mind, and this is sort of an idiosyncratic link, something like Bosch, his elaborate paintings of hell, but there are plenty of other paintings that would function as well. There is a certain point, past the middle ages or something, when painting ceased to be allegorical, or allegorical in so direct a way. This seems to me like a vague loss of interest in the symbolic, which is not to say that paintings became representational, or that symbols ceased to exist. But rather, their role is now more indirect. As a kind of banal example, when we look at a more modern painting, like, say, a bowl of fruit, it would be missing the point to ask whether the apple is, say, supposed to represent sin or something, as the apple from the tree of knowledge. But nonetheless fruit continues to be a heavily symbolic element — I mean, why fruit? It is stationary, it has many colors — well, these sound like pragmatic considerations, but really they aren’t, since the question becomes why we are interested in things that are stationary or colorful, and the answer is that we have for some reason become concerned with the very moment of seeing — holding in abeyance the question of specific theories of seeing. Is seeing, for example, necessarily a ‘moment’ — can we be occupied with seeing? It really isn’t, but that’s part of the story that the bowl of fruit tells us. Is there a pure moment of seeing, some moment of aesthetic pleasure, some abstract understanding of color and form? Again, no, but these are part of the elaborate myth of the still-life, or at least one understanding, a kind of mythical background that isn’t really any less elaborate or populated than Bosch’s painting of hell, perhaps.

There is an eventness, a kind of violent singular eventness, a point of no return, to painting, but the nature of this movement is not really formal, though we tend to think of it as such. We are caught up in formal movements, we take on new ways of life, new behaviors, we become avante garde or something, but by that point we have forgotten about that initial insight, maybe we have lost it, or maybe we have internalized the trappings so much that it has become inevitable for all the wrong reasons. I mean, it is a weakness of we humans that we cling to some notion of an irreversible overcoming.

For Heart of Darkness we are concerned with the singular occurence of Kurtz and the dreamlike sensation of, perhaps, the jungle. In the final scene Marlow speaks of the trees that whisper, the “horror, the horror” and remarks:

Never see him! I saw him clearly enough then. I shall see this eloquent phantom as long as I live, and I shall see her too, a tragic and familiar Shade, resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also, and bedecked with powerless charms, stretching bare brown arms over the glitter of the infernal stream, the stream of darkness.


The Kurtz Problem in Heart of Darkness

August 21, 2013

Kurtz is actually quite an interesting postulate by Conrad. It raises the question of the realtionship between evil — or at least “badness”, or evil in a comic book villian sense — and truth. Well, there is another form of “evil” in the book which is a kind of nihilism, the accepted criminality of the manager. This seems actually relevant in history, as, so the story goes, most efforts to overthrow a stagnant or criminal (ie, where criminality is accepted) system often end up themselves being an abuse of power.

And by “truth”, I mean a kind of reflective awareness, and more generally, some sense of understanding, some moment of being cut off from the past. There was something genuine about Kurtz which could not be reduced to shock and awe or simply the promise, the promise of another way of life, of power, and so on. I suppose that Heart of Darkenss could be about a kind of rock-and-hard-place situation in revolutionary history but at least there is the implication that Kurtz is somehow more closely allied with truth or a kind of truth movement. Well, when we think about truth we usually think of some kind of revelational process, but this is not the model I want to go after here. Rather I want to emphasize the “critical” nature of truth, of truth as negation. Most startling of all I want to consider truth as a kind of power over reality. Well, preliminary formulas may not be all that useful here, so let’s try another approach.

The basic oopposition I want to argue here is between the oneness of truth and the manyness of, not so much lie, but stagnation. Earlier we thought about stagnation or error as associated with a pursuit of promise, an exoticism, of other lands, and so on. That is, error is associated with the belief that the manyness of human concepts, or human distinctions, is in fact an essential manyness. This leads to a kind of stagnation in flourishing, which may be the paradox of the “golden age” — that the time of the production of countless distinctions is also a time of error. There are two things I want to talk about in this context, “allegory” and “nihlism”.

“Allegory” — Now the basic function of art of any form (this term being used very vaguely) is actually, not representation or simulation, but as a commentary on the nature of our interaction with art. For example, all video games are allegorizations of the compex activity of memorization, reaction, strategy, and decision-making, usually towards “humanism” or the established of a stable identity — within *many* other identities. And a book, as another example, is an allegory of reading. Being able to read a book, and not consider it “all that”, I mean, to consider it a mundane and natural activity, is a consequence of the book being a kind of commentary on our the mental activity of reading — and this, too, gets towards the notion of manyness of identity, and so forth. There are, for example, many genres of books, all of which are supported by an allegorization that maintains the stability of the essential manyness of such experiences.

“Nihilism” — Well, there is an attitude that simply dismisses this manyness, such as, for example, as a way to make money. This is attitude of Hollywood who churns out all these blockbusters that “tick the right boxes” and so on. Yet this attitude, really, doesn’t deny the essential manyness of such an experience, it is simply considers this manyness pyschologically.

The oneness of truth sounds almost like a scientific insight, but it is really, and this was my big insight yesterday, requires our own effort, ie, is a matter of insistence and participation. I don’t want to say, “contrivance”, as there is a kind of honesty to the insistence on oneness. And furthermore, this oneness is not a kind of overall awareness but rather precisely linked to the ability to *see* some agent. It may be associated with a kind of *loss of interest* in the manyness, a kind of melancholy even.

Let me relate a kind of personal example. I’ve recently been playing a video game called Spelunky. This game is quite fascinating in a very subtle sort of way, which is why it has been the source of some very interesting reviews — one reviewer speculated that it would be a great way to teach his (hypothetical daughter) about the ways of reality. (And why not a son? I wonder.) What’s so interesting about the game is that there is a kind of trickery involved — it looks and plays like a very standard platformer but it contains many elements that are all but impossible to react to but which can, on the other hand, be overcome with very simple methods once we are aware of them. The game requires either inhuman amounts of concentration and awareness or a kind of extrordinary patience that we normally aren’t used to maintaining for something so trivial. One reviewer said something to the effect that the lesson of the game is, “Don’t be a hero”. The most successful way for an ordinary human to play the game might be in the most cowardly manner possible, ie, In short, 1 or 2 second bursts of activity, followed by an assessment of all the risks, including any introduced by one’s own errors. One has to respond to the most apparently harmless missteps in a very serious way.

But this game is very interesting, and the language of the reviewers — and it is all but pointless to give a technical, descriptive account of the game — reveals an understanding of the allegorical stakes involved. Heroism, cowardice, father, daughter, teaching, etc. are all very interesting wasy to respond to a game that, superficially, is about going into a cave and collecting treasure. (Of course, in some way, all these elements can be found in the game itself, but as puns — and this would be the first step towards an allegorical understandign of Spelunky.) On the one hand, these elements point towards a new holism of gameplay, a new genre of games. But on the other hand, there is a kind of “sweet spot” to stop before one reaches such a point, which is the moment of, well, the greatest evocation of truth in the above sense. The game seems antagonistic to our efforts to construct an identity, one among many, in the world, it realizes the way, for example, video games tend to encourage the etablishing of the self in the world of an essential manyness and seems actively to hinder that process. More than one review have related — however meaningfully — the game to a kind of “father”, to a kind of stern and arbitrary one, one would imagine (– and is it necessarily one who has the best interests of the player at heart?). That sweet spot is that moment when the game becomes either a commentary on the very construction of the manyness of our identity, or, and maybe this is something equivalent in some sense, a fascinating and antagonistic agent of disruption.