The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Yasuzo Nojima, photography. (1931)

Yasuzo Nojima, photography. (1931)

“Faustus: ‘Stay, Mephistopheles, and tell me, what good will my soul do thy lord?”
Mephistopheles: ‘Enlarge his kingdom.'”

Christopher Marlowe

“In his book on poor cities of the South, Jeremy Seabrook chronicles the relentless calendar of disaster in Klong Toey, Bangkok’s port slum sandwiched between docks, chemical factories and expressways. In 1989 a chemical explosion poisoned hundreds of residents; two years later a chemical warehouse exploded and left 5,500 residents homeless – many of whom would later die from mysterious illnesses. Fire destroyed 63 homes in 1992, 460 homes in 1993 (also the year of another chemical explosion), and several hundred more in 1994. Thousands of other slums, including some in rich countries, have similar histories to Klong Toey. They suffer from the ‘garbage dump syndrome’: the concentration of toxic industrial activities like metal plating, dyeing, rendering, tanning, battery recycling, casting, vehicle repair, chemical manufacture, and so on, which middle classes would never tolerate in their own districts.
The world usually pays attention to such fatal admixtures of poverty and toxic industry only when they explode with mass casualties; 1984 was the annus horribilus. In February a gasoline pipeline exploded in Cubatao, Sao Paulo’s ‘Pollution Valley’, and burned more than 500 people to death in an adjacent favela. Eight months later a Pemex liquefied natural gas plant exploded like an atomic bomb in Mexico City’s San Juanico district, killing as many 2,000 poor residents (no accurate count of mortality was ever established).
Less than three weeks after the Mexico City holocaust, the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, released its infamous cloud of deadly methyl isocynate; according to a 2004 study by Amnesty International, 7,000 to 10,000 people perished immediately and another 15,000 died in subsequent years from related illnesses and cancers.”

Mike Davis
2005, Socialist Review

“Yes. As I often tell my students, the way in which you describe a problem, the language and aesthetics that you use to describe the politics of a particular problem, will absolutely effect the type of solution that resolves. { } Ontologically, they’re already guilty of being criminal whether or not they’ve actually engaged in any criminal behavior at all. I think the figure of innocence (our emphasis on and circulation of it) then obscures the fact that the counterpart to the innocent figure is the person who is guilty of a “status crime” for just being alive in Gaza, for instance.”
Mimi Thi Nguyen
in conversation with Leopold Lambert

“However, and this is an immense paradox, the great founding books of communities, the Old Testament, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Chansons de Geste, the Islandic Sagas, the Aeneid,or the African epics, were all books about exile and often
about errantry.”

Edouard Glissant

Exile in antiquity was an exile without deprivation, says Glissant. And this is because it was a voyage from a culture, rather than from a *nation*. The stigma of national identity is the child of Western imperialism, really.

“The conquered or visited peoples are
thus forced into a long and painful quest after an identity
whose first task will be opposition to the denaturing process
introduced by the conqueror. A tragic variation of a search
for identity. For more than two centuries whole populations
have had to assert their identity in opposition to the
processes of identification or annihilation triggered by these

Edouard Glissant

Sterling Ruby

Sterling Ruby

This week a dentist from Minnesota paid 55 thousand dollars to shoot a lion. The lion was not a danger to anyone, and the ensuing controversy has triggered a whole range of emotions in various communities. The truth that has been missed, in most cases, is that this cruelty is another extension of neo-colonial plunder. Zimbabwe, where poor Cecil the lion was shot, was a colony of Great Britain until 1980, and called Rhodesia. In fact Cecil is named for the blood soaked diamond magnate Cecil John Rhodes. The people of Zimbabwe, if we believe reports find it strange that their state of high unemployment, food shortages and lack of medicine failed to register, but that the shooting of a lion has brought them attention. There is also, though, wide awareness, which is communicated consistently to journalists, that trophy hunting is predicated on white elitist privilege. During the early part of the 20th century white colonizers hunted wantonly for sport, reducing the game populations significantly. Today, it is the likes of King Juan Carlos of Spain, Prince Harry of England, Donald Trump Jr, Saudi princes, and various Texas oil millionaires…and a dentist from Minnesota.

The U.S. has increased the building of military bases in Africa dramatically during Obama’s presidency. This is the so called *pivot* of the Pentagon. The reality is that the building of military bases has increased everywhere. But the resource rich continent of Africa is targeted as a crucial business property for the West.

Jacqueline Hassink, photography.

Jacqueline Hassink, photography.

The trivializing of culture throughout the West over the last forty years has had myriad effects. And it cannot really be separated from the growing authoritarian and sadistic nature of society. For this is the tactic of fascism: rhetoric substitutes for evidence. And the rhetoric is increasingly heightened and baroque, exaggerated and inserted into what are simplified, even childish, narratives.

Steven M. Press, writing about Victor Klemperer’s memoirs of Nazi propaganda techniques:

“According to Klemperer (1946), Nazi rhetoric exhibits a clear will to the superlative. Whether in its statement of numerical figures, its citation of German devotion, or its portrayal of a foreign threat, this language seeks continually to heighten for audiences the significance of National Socialism’s movement. In so doing it enacts a party ideology that would transcend the politics of other nations, acting instead in a setting more essential and grand than any other in Western civilization. To achieve this effect, propagandists like Goebbels attach prefixes of size to those nouns which describe the German situation. Mundane political campaigns and days are rendered “Grossoffensive” [great-offensives] and “Grosskampftage” [great days of struggle] respectively;
military actions of small consequence are depicted as “Vernichtungsschlachten” [annihilationbattles]; and “Juden und Bolschewisten” [Jews and Bolsheviks], entities whose ranks do not in the least outnumber Germans, are transformed into massive “Weltfeinde” [World-enemies]. Most insidious is this last maneuver, Klemperer (1946) notes, as it seeks to magnify for a German audience the purported threat represented by a Jewish or Bolshevik enemy–that is, inasmuch as it uses and reiterates a prefix like “Welt” [world-] that it may turn diverse minorities into the unified, hegemonic group which Nazi ideology recognizes them to be.”

Harry Holland

Harry Holland

and then a bit later:

“Among the lingual techniques that Klemperer (1946) identifies as intrinsic to National Socialism is a
perverse use of quotation. Whereas quotations in writing ordinarily relay to readers an exact statement from a source, they serve for authors of the Third Reich a distinctly other function: one in which the authors, by placing a word or phrase in quotation marks without any documentation, ironically deride those to whom that word or phrase is attributed. In this manner do party
propagandists deem Roosevelt and Churchill “Staatsmaenner” [statesmen], Einstein a “Forscher” [researcher], and Soviet officers “rote” [red] Offiziere. Such a verbal device for irony is, of course, neither new nor confined to the era of fascist politics. But what distinguishes its role in Nazi language is that it appears far more than do regular quotations, and that it frequently
passes mere mocking to produce for German audiences a fundamental destabilization of the quoted
object and its meaning.”

Lorenzo Viani

Lorenzo Viani

The Klemperer books were brought to my attention by a reader of this blog. They are, I think, essential material. For this is the language of VICE and the rest of pop media today, as well, in slightly altered form, that of the U.S. government. And, of course, Madison Avenue. Today, though, the pervasive presence of irony in all discourse makes for a realm or register that goes deeper, that operates on an almost primordial level. The more obvious propaganda techniques; things such using ‘fanatic’ in sentences with Islam, but ‘extremist’ with anything Christian. There are countless examples. The racist register includes the reflexive use of *strongman* to describe anyone from a Latin American country, or central Asian these days, or ‘banana republic’ (now somewhat exchanged for ‘failed state’), though there are subtle refinements within all these grammatical mechanisms (such as ‘developing world’, etc.). Such terms, closely examined, fall apart quickly. Or military metaphors for everything; war on drugs, war on poverty, or customers as targets, and of course this has crept even further into terms like invasive plants, or bio security. But my point here is that at the deepest level, there is a coercive aesthetic for containing thought, which becomes complicit at the very deepest, most foundational strata of mental activity.

The pathologizing of everything is, obviously, an aspect of Capitalist thinking and propaganda. However, I suspect as a sort of side bar note, that the military metaphor in medicine is the most pernicious aspect of propaganda. One of the problems (and this relates to some what I write below) is that military jargon and metaphor in medicine promotes the idea of an ideal fortress called Health. That health is the normal, the standard, the thing everyone starts with and then spends years defending, and counter attacking, etc. I remember the point at which people with cancer were suddenly all *fighting*. Then all of them became *heroic*. And this promotion of heroism is another by-product of military thinking. Of course this medical militarism goes back, at least, to the early 17th century (in England of course). The flip side is the use of medical metaphors as propaganda (crime as a virus, the infestation of Jews and Bolsheviks, etc). I suspect, and I don’t know, that thinking of illness as a friend is far more useful and therapuetic. Just a guess.

In Western thought, the idea of dreaming is relatively pathologized. It is more medical than mystical. In Vedanta, the dream state is, is the second tier, as it were, followed by sleep, by what Sankara calls the *witness subject* (Raphael tr.). This becomes very close to Orphic Greek revelations, and to the Pre Socratics. For deep sleep is beyond our dreams, out of reach of that knower of knowledge. The irony that Klemperer and Goebbels utilized, now saturates discourse.

“Dreams await us in a country we can’t get tickets to.”
Helene Cixous

Alejandro Chaskeilberg, photography. "Suriname".

Alejandro Chaskeilberg, photography. “Suriname”.

It is very difficult, I believe, to integrate our dream-life with the narratives provided by mass culture. What I mean is that the highly reductive world view, the *real* as it is reproduced constantly by media and government, allows for no penetration by the deeper (sic) sources of our moral selves. Those levels of personal creative imagination that includes this process of mimesis, are suffocated before they can start. Narrative is, as in the case of Cecil the Lion, mystified and simplified. The story becomes a *Green* issue, the story becomes ONLY about a lion. Emphasis on endangered species, etc. And this serves to move the story away from the system, and from history, and toward an ecological reform story. Race is removed. Imperialism is removed.

And I suspect there are endless triggers that set off emotional spasms which serve to diffuse tensions, and hold attention at the level of unreflective immediacy. A kind of lock down of self interrogation. The empathy for witnessing cruelty is blocked. In its place resentment. Kimani Grey is, ahead of time, only a name, an image in a larger canvas that has signposts identifying threat and guilt and deserved punishment. I think most white Americans are encouraged by media to cling to their sense of privilege, and to react to nearly everything as a potential threat. The idea that this lion, and his hours of suffering, are a pre-fabricated story from Disney. Cecil becomes Bambi’s mom. Or a story about ecology. People, Africans, are mostly removed. The reality of a blighted colonial landscape in which a people struggle to come up and out of their submersion in the terrible legacy of plunder and deceit, is invisible. The poor in general are never heroic. And such framing also moves the story away from the sheer horror of the killing of this lion by crossbow. The suffering, the gratuitous cruelty of this dentist, and others like him. Suffering is always obscured in propaganda.

And there is a complimentary phenomenon here, having to do with how information is delegated. The academic web sources and their blocking of readers for almost any theoretical paper, from architecture (the worst offenders, actually) to photography and texts on same, or poetry even, or music or fine arts. Unless you PAY, and often not even then, if you don’t belong to a University. This is the containment of knowledge and information. Propaganda contains the real story, corrals it, and releases only neutered versions. The University is now a sort of intellectual crime cartel. Omerta a collective bureaucratic principle, today. Even academics that I admire greatly, are prone to not rocking the University boat. But secrecy is a huge aspect of all modern life. Nobody knows where electrical cables run, or water pipes, and there are secret codes to mark these places for initiates (utility company workers, etc). Now this is nearly comical, and not without justification, but the point is that secrecy is reinforced as acceptable on a daily basis. (by the by, if you’ve noticed more green markings on sidewalks and streets and on the sides of buildings, it is because green indicates communication cables. Blue is water, yellow gas, and so on.) But I digress…

Edmund Clark, photography.

Edmund Clark, photography.

The evaluation and processing of one’s own history is projected onto this same canvas. Or *into* this same landscape, for it is one in which mini-movies of the self start and are quickly interrupted. For interruption is now the primary experience. The individual has a more acute sense of the interruption, than of that which was interrupted. The subject’s sense of self is one *in* interruption, all the time. Today, as Trevor Paglen and the late Harun Farocki both noted not too long ago, there is a new tier of images made by machines to be read by other machines (as Paglen lists: “From quality control systems in manufacturing to Automated License Plate Readers (ALPR) throughout cities, and from retail motion tracking systems in supermarkets and malls to automated pattern-recognition systems in military drones…”) but which are effective in only very limited ways. This is the magical thinking of western techo nerds, but regardless of the efficacy, these operational images are part of the narrative of interruption. They are the illegible visual interstices of daily life in the metropolis. There is a mosaic of illegibility that goes around us all the time. Bar code readings, CCTV images that are time stamped taken every fourth second, or tenth second, or once every two minutes. These are increasingly familiar images. Familiar but illegible. I remember when I lived in Bangkok for a while, the alphabet for Thai resembles Sanskrit a bit, and after a while it was familiar to me, though I had no idea what words meant. If daydreaming I would semi consciously invert these strange letters so as to try to force them to become an English alphabet. But I recognized them as I might hieroglyphics. Marcel Detienne (to return to that idea of a tier beyond sleep) notes that in Simonides of Ceos (born 557 BC) there signaled a shift, a move away from strictly religious expression … — “the deliberate effort to reflect on the nature of poetry”. Simonides was also the first professional poet. Paid by the poem if we believe the sources. Simonides noted that there was an artifical aspect to poetics, and it coincided with the first signatures by artists on the base of their sculptures. The artist was now the middle man, in a sense, between artwork and message. But what matters here is that Simonides was the first break with an earlier mystical tradition. This marked the beginning of a downgrading (Detienne’s word) of *Alatheia*. It was step one in the professionalization of the artist, the secularizing of *aletheia* (poetic truth…to be reductive), and the loss of over-determination in story and poem. This goes back also to what I quoted from Glissant. The great books of exile are stories of suffering and searching, but they are more than that.

“Through the entirely Western notion of civilization the experience of a society is summed up, in order to project it immediately into an evolution, most often an expansion as weIl. When one says civilization, the immediate implication is a will to civilize. This idea is linked to the passion to impose civilization on the Other.”
Edouard Glissant

Out of exile came a new urge for self-definition, one cast in the shadow of voyages of *discovery*. The individual was only so in relation to movement, trade, and conquest.

Simonides though, in an earlier stage, sought to analyse the sacred. But he did so as a means to manipulate. The poet was no longer a seer, but technician.

Malerie Marder, photography.

Malerie Marder, photography.

“Most of the time we desire what we are told to desire.”
Kaja Silverman

The loss of dreams in contemporary culture feels acute. Detienne sees Simonides as anticipating what he calls the two major developments in human speech. To simplify, Simonides prefigured the Sophists. The artist became something closer to the statesman. Ambiguity became a rhetorical device. Illusion was trickery. Speech was predominant and the orator was the specialist in rhetorical techne. Discourse was, says Detienne, an instrument, but not one directed to the knowing of reality. Plato (in regard to the Sophists) wrote that “nobody cares for the truth…but for that which is convincing.” In a sense, memory was employed for argument. In the 6th century there arose an opposition to the Sophists, the philosopher/religious sects that were outside of political life. The philosopher sects saw that ‘to remember’ was to enter the realm of the Gods. But this was an attentive memory. That truth was in deep sleep, not only in dreams. There is an ecstatic element in this geography of myth; it is the setting of the magi and of the specialists of the soul. They desired a poetics of permanence, outside of the transitory illusions of political life. The emergence of Parmenides signaled something of a third path, in a sense. The language of the magus wedded to a certain logic of the material world. Parmenidies is the philosopher of Being. But it is the study of speech and its relation to reality. The search for the true and the deceptive. Detienne spends much time dissecting the Greek verb esti (to be). And it is the center of Parmenides’ thought, as well as a return to the Orphic prophets. There is enormous emphasis on the idea of ‘speaking the truth’. Parmenides returned the philosopher to the polis, to society. The monastery, the periphery, was abandoned. Detienne marks this as the first philosophy of dialogue.

"Riace Bronze Statue" (460 BC), discovered 1972. Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia

“Riace Bronze Statue” (460 BC), discovered 1972. Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia

Now this is important, to some degree anyway, for it marks out some of the principles expressed in Greek Tragedy. And the Dionysian energy of revelation. Detienne and Vernant represent a profound reconsideration of Hellenic interpretation, one that they saw mystified by Western classicists, and later by Heidegger. It is true that Heidegger contributed real insight into the Pre-Socratic fragments, but did just as much to purely invent etymological systems in the service of his philosophical agenda. Detienne called him the only real innovator in Greek hermeneutics in the 20th century, but also the great mystifier). That aside, the key elements in early Greek thinking revolve around the idea of memory and oblivion. The discovery of the ‘gold tablets at Magna Graecia’ were key to the revising of Orphic hermeneutics. But the Greek verb meaning ‘to be’ is now almost universally mystified because of Heidegger’s Being and Time. To use the word Being smacks of fascist Aryan fetishes, little huts in the woods, old leather shoes, etc. Still, while the verb may not have been the heart of ancient Greek metaphysics (per Heidegger), it is certainly an important element in that transition that led into 4th century Greek thought and art.

There is a good deal to be said, in another post I hope, about Greek Tragedy, the myth of Artemis, and the use of masks, but for here, I will return to the idea of exile, today’s colonial narrative, the figure of the stranger. For all of this seems relevant in how to tweeze apart the effects of mass culture on a population who read, who even read images, and who no longer, effectively, speak.

Mino Argento

Mino Argento

One of the things I have sensed over forty years, or most of my adult life, is that stories are no longer elements of how the people organize the world, or how the individual matures and develops his own moral and ethical geography. The bourgeois novel has now stopped having any relevance. And theatre has for the most part become an art form of the periphery. 95% of the narratives the populace consume are manufactured by Hollywood and the giant communication corporations. That means the fingerprints of the Pentagon, Madison Avenue, and corporate telecoms are really all over these products. The press voice is one of research fellows, think tank associate researchers, Imperial messengers (as Belen Fernandez described Tom Freidman), and Ivy league affluent white careerists. I no longer feel the sense of deep disturbing wonder that I felt when I would go to a book store. There are virtually no real book stores left today and just as few real writers of theatre or fiction or film. And the form truncates the potential that might be there. The political is certainly shaped by this loss of deep authorship. The flagship papers in the U.S. are now so horridly written that it defies conventional analysis. I cannot believe what passes the editors, the fragment sentences, the lack of cohesion, and the outright misuse of words. Not once a while, but all the time. Constantly. And this is because, finally, nobody reads as they once did. The reading is more like scanning. Its done as part of the daily series of multi task moments, and its digested the same way.

Bernard Stiegler quotes Katherine Hayles on what she called *hyperattention* (as opposed to ‘deep attention’, which is, as an example, reading Tolstoy, or watching King Lear); which she defines as characterized…“by rapid oscillation among different tasks, in the flux of multiple sources of information, in search of a heightened level of stimulation, and having a weak tolerance for boredom…”.

The desire for MORE stimulation corresponds to ADD diagnoses, and ADHD. If biologists are right about the plasticity of the child’s brain, then media and multi tasking have accelerated the stages that maturation of ego and super ego pass through. This is too complex for here though I will note that Stiegler sees the society of electronic media and increasing state surveillance as connected to an enormous de-individualizing and loss of psychological integration in areas associated with memory.

Hans Op De Beek

Hans Op De Beek

One of Lacan’s insights as he revised Freud, was to work in large verbal units rather than single sentences or words. He sensed something of the spectacle that would appropriate langauge. So *discourse*, *parole*, *signifieds* rather than deconstructing sentences. It allowed for the analysis of, and almost rediscovery of, the underworld relationship between language and the unconscious. The large units privileged the idea of analyzing fields of meaning. Human speech is, in contemporary society, a way to NOT hear the mimetic narration, and more acutely, to not hear the unconscious (Lacan of course saw the unconscious structured as a language). It is interesting to speculate at how early humans spoke. The intent of their speech, and of their dialogues or discourse. In a small dark world of caves and nomadism, was there the same demand for repression? Or was it closer to the how the psychotic of today fails to differentiate these layers, and whose grasp of wholeness wasn’t a detriment in such a universe.

Benjamin wrote that man’s primordial language (ursprache) was one with mimesis, of naming and creating and gesture. And this is a world without aesthetic judgement, and perhaps without any judgement, for judgement implies a kind of capture, or attempt to subsume.

“Immediacy in the communication of abstraction came into being at the same time as judgement, when, in the Fall, man abandoned immediacy in the communication of the concrete – that is name – and fell into the abyss of the mediateness of all communication…”
Walter Benjamin

For Benjamin, the Garden of Eden was the world of tautology. The apple represented judgement. Law.

Now, there seems to be a new whole new wave of behaviorism surfacing right now (see Alex Pentland’s new book Social Physics). Some of this is the new techno nerd savant who sees the universe as a lot of software. In fact this feels a lot like a necessary adjustment, a rationalization, to what is in fact a culture that has stopped speaking.

Valerie Belin, photography.

Valerie Belin, photography.

The psychotic, according to Lacan, is alone in a world without human relationships. The ‘Other’ is (per Ellie Ragland-Sullivan) is a’ haunted memory code’. If the Greek Orphic magus saw speech (dialogue, really) as a way to reveal those archaic traces and images that reside in oblivion (deep sleep) then the psychotic’s speech today is (often) a bypassing a unified set of relationships to the ego (to a unified ego).

“By seeking a diagnostic label, in other words, what is sought is an extant descriptive category by which painful experience—an unknown quantity—can be rendered psychiatrically explicable. It is the seeking out of something which is unknown; however, the individual’s conception of what it is that is unknown is delimited by the nature of the question asked.”
Oisín Murphy-Hall

The loss of speech in a sense corresponds to a rise in bureaucratic thinking. Not only is the subject an object for social control, but the subject’s feelings are treated in terms of categories, and through all this a tacit validation for not speaking, and for perhaps not thinking — or at least thinking only instrumentally. Detienne and Vernant both wrote extensively on the Greek notions of speech and its ambiguous relationship to truth for the Greeks. The Greeks of Parmenides time, *Aletheia* was the concept employed to bridge two systems of thought; that which followed the logic of contradiction, and that the logic of ambiguity. The reconciliation of these systems, one which favored the law of non-contradiction, was the result of new social relations predicated upon legal definitions.

Jan Van Imschoot

Jan Van Imschoot

Dreams make use of various narrative techniques in Lacan’s view; pariphrasis, ellipsis, digression, etc. Early humans developed symbols in unison with gesture, and speech. Drawing on cave walls was a kind of exercising of experimental alphabets. Ferenczi said “pure intelligence is in principle madness.” There is no way to overstate the control systems at work, simultaneously often, that limit both behavior, but more, restrict the imagination. The imagination expresses itself, largely, today, in texts meant to be read. Speech is neither privileged, as a form of revelation, nor is it something to which anyone listens. Speech is immediately transferred into another medium, an optical one, as a text to be scanned as bar codes are scanned.

The instrumentalizing of thought, the need for non-contradiction in speech, these phases in historical evolution were passed on to ideas about text; and in metaphor and metonymy, and in seeing how words evinced no escape — no meta language escape hatch. Egyptians would replace organs, at times, during mummification, with objects that had the name of the missing organ or body part. Husserl pointed out that when silently talking to myself (something closely related to mimesis) the silent speaker leaves off all indication, for that speaker knows exactly what he or she means to say in this silent dialogue with itself. If this is true, then meaningful speech is always dialogue, or panlogue. This feels correct because my belief has always been that theatre cannot exist with only one character, even if that character is speaking before an audience. Speaking aloud, the cornerstone of theatre, is the origin of meaning, then. If Tragedy is revealing the present, the present is actually the act of granting meaning to words. And the act of granting is speaking *to* another. It is interesting that the audience is not really the *other*. The audience are worshipers and the actors are placed closer to God.

Brion Gyson, and the Dreamachine.

Brion Gyson, and the Dreamachine.

Peter Fenves, in his very good book on Benjamin, writes; “…the specific meaning of any given speech lies in the interval between the *spiritual essense* and the *linguistic essence* of the speaking thing…”For the early Greek philosopher-shamans, that spiritual essence was found in dreams and that secret state of oblivion. Benjamin believed that there was nothing, no event, that does not partake of language. Now Lacan saw the ‘letter’ as the first literal cell in Desire, and Benjamin is suggesting, really, that the spiritual essence of everything is language. However one parses out all this my point is that contemporary society in the West is without real speech. It is only speech that instantly becomes non speech. I am reminded of that joke; ‘if a man says something in the forest and nobody hears it, is he still wrong’?

Theatre is so primary an art form because it replicates psychic birth — every single play. In Kafka’s parable The Silence of the Sirens, Ulysses realizes the Siren’s are silent, but pretends to hear them.

“With the clean separation of science and poetry, the division of labor it had already helped to effect was extended to language. For science the word is a sign: as sound, image, and word proper it is distributed among the different arts, and is not permitted (permitted) to reconstitute itself by their addition, by synaesthesia, or in the composition of the Gesamtkunstwerk. As a system of signs, language is required to resign itself to calculation in order to know nature, and must discard the claim to be like her.”
Adorno and Horkheimer

Jikta Hanzlova, photography.

Jikta Hanzlova, photography.

There is a creeping feeling, today, that the world of computers and algorithms is returning language to a dumb state. There are new interstices forming out of cognitive distances between technology and Nature.

In Tom Allen’s excellent introduction to Adorno’s aesthetics, he writes…

“The appearance of natural beauty is always ex negativo – that is, imageless – and its experience is not one of enjoyment, but one of visceral, somatic suffering. In other words, natural beauty appears only in its obverse: in the work of art as sheer artifice. It honours the promise held by natural beauty by breaking it. This, I believe to be Adorno’s central claim: that the Bilderverbot (prohibition on images) is the cipher of a negative utopia.”

Miya Ando

Miya Ando

Mute, and blind, and silent. Beckett’s vision of a post modern mental landscape is found in Endgame. Or James Kelman’s novel How Late it Was, How Late. The artist today must express something of a breaking of the artiface of the beautiful, the emotionally satisfying, the ‘moving’. I often wonder if the preponderance of comedy shows on TV is not an expression of flight from the possibility of recognizing one’s own deaf (death) mute status? The best painting today is found in artists who do not represent, say, blindness, but whose work IS blind. (subject for future post).

“The total subjective elaboration of art as a nonconceptual language is the only figure, at the contemporary stage of rationality, in which something like the divine language of creation is reflected, qualified by the paradox that what is reflected is also blocked.”

“The inscrutable, abstract subsumption of life by finance seems to have become a matter of everyday experience, the anxious perception of causalities and constraints beyond our understanding and response. This state of affairs can only be intensified by hyped and hectic news of the ‘algorithmic revolution’ which has made it possible for automated high-frequency trading (HFT) to rapidly corner 77% of the volume of transactions on the UK market and 73% of the US market, by some estimates.{ } As processing power and speed gain paramount significance, the customs, networks and hierarchies that governed market-making on the trading pit are increasingly shifted to the search for competitive advantage at the level of the fixed capital of finance: the data centres that provide co-location for companies wishing to reduce to zero their distance from the matching engines linking buy and sell orders, the fibre-optic cables laid through the Allegheny mountains to shave 3 milliseconds off the speed of a transaction between New York and Chicago, at a cost of a 100 million per millisecond. In a financial domain whose operations are difficult to qualify as anything but ‘unproductive’ we nevertheless encounter, in hypertrophic guise, the lineaments of a Marxian general intellect in which the social brain of science turns human labour into an appendage tasked with oversight (in the case of the ‘flash crash’, to those responsible for pushing the button or pulling the plug). The ‘algorithmic revolution’ could thus also be seen as a phase-shift in the organic composition of finance, curiously a domain that had fiercely resisted the depersonalisation and deskilling of labour like few others.”
Alberto Toscano

Eamonn Doyle, photography.

Eamonn Doyle, photography.

The tree in the garden of Eden is judgement, is the breaking down of *Alatheia*, it’s the Sophists call to convincing, and manipulation. The sleep of oblivion is that of pure intelligence, pure tautology, and it is silent and blind. Paradise cannot be woken.

“Sin is a natural-historical image of the capitalist mode of production itself. Her body is her own fixed capital which, against her will, houses the variable capital of hell that dies and returns hourly in an eternal process.”
Tom Allen

Desire, and loss. If one cannot sense that the object of desire is always lost, then one can never break out of the circular repetitions of neurosis. In the teachings of Vimalakirti, the *jewel* of the Mahayana Sutras, written, it is guessed, around fifth century B.C. Robert Thurman’s translation is from the Tibetan translation. In the story of the the consolation of the invalid (which I think might be among my favorite pieces of writing)…there occurs this dialogue:

Manjusri…Householder, why is your house empty? Why have you no servants?
Vimalakirti…Manjusri, all buddha-fields are also empty.
Manjusri…What makes them empty?
Vimalakirti…They are empty because of emptiness.
Manjusri….What is empty about them?
Vimalakirti…Constructions are empty, because of emptiness.
Manjusri… Can emptiness be conceptually constructed?
Vimalakirti…Even that concept is itself empty, and emptiness cannot construct emptiness.

Tommaso Cassai Masaccio.  1425.

Tommaso Cassai Masaccio. 1425.

The compulsive repetitions of neurosis are structurally the same as the compulsive acceleration of the circulation of capital. As the mass neurosis of mankind becomes obsessed with not only more accumulation, but the desire to accumulate *faster*. Technology which shaves micro seconds, nano seconds off computation, is the object of desire. Mass culture today no longer is capable of writing narratives of genuine loss, of melancholia, or even of real desire. For modern art, and perhaps for any and all art, all creative actions, something must be externalized that takes place internally. Not just internally, but it must externalize that which is hidden and secret.

“This history of idealised forms leaves no room for poetry to breathe: juridical forms, the value form, the commodity form, poetry must fracture these, speaking the silent mechanism, the history within the machine, under whose dominion this transformation came to pass.”
Jacob Bard-Rosenberg

The killing of a lion this week ratified the disappearance of humanness. Death is not a competition. The necrophiliac, the cannibal, the suicide, the lynch mob; these are the faces of the hunter. The hunter is the face of the manipulating Capitalist. A society that has suffered a soul death, a loss of sleep and dreaming. A fear of all that is hidden and secret. Where everything is a war.


  1. “One of the things I have sensed over forty years, or most of my adult life, is that stories are no longer elements of how the people organize the world, or how the individual matures and develops his own moral and ethical geography”

    What!? Are you sure about this…? Maybe people don’t know how to express that they organize their world narratively…. or maybe they don’t want to admit it…. Maybe they’re embarrassed to admit that they have a story aspect to their experience of the world. I don’t know, all I know is that I absolutely organize my life as a story, although, I wouldn’t call it “organizing.” I guess I would say that I ‘understand’ my life narratively. Meaning, value, curiosity, significance, and the ability to make connections between all sorts of things are, I think, all aspects which are directly derived from the fact that I understand my life narratively… In other words, the story form of my life allows me to gain access to these other things. I suspect that even emotions are partially derived from the fact that I understand my life narratively.

    I think narrativizing one’s life can be dangerous too though. I think it can blind one to certain facts. Narratives can be a convenient structure for allowing one to protect oneself or isolate oneself from the world or multiple truths that make up a given experience of reality. I suspect some life narratives are defensive mechanisms. I mean, I guess the question is: am I the author of my narrative, or is my narrative the author of me? And if it is both, as I suspect it is, then does an awareness of this co-authorship protect me from becoming terribly blind and closed-minded to the multipicitous realities and narratives (of past peoples’, of other peoples’, etc.) that also co-author my ‘becoming’ life story?

    Am I at all connected to what you are saying, or am I way off in another realm here…?

    And you’ve mentioned before the difficulty of access to certain academic journals and texts. Why exactly do you think that is? It makes little sense to me. If I published a paper, I certainly wouldn’t want it only to be accessed by people with several degrees or a lot of money. How dull. I would be honoured if the people wanted to read what I had written. And I think it would help me to learn what needed to be written next. Knowledge is a dialogue. Do you really think the gate-keepers of academia take public access as a serious threat? I’m not sure about this… I kind of think that rules are kept up because nobody bothers too much with thinking about why they exist in the first place. And bureaucracy makes everything much harder to change.

    The university library that I clean at is open to the public–although the librarian assistant I was talking to made it sound like an exception. I should also ask him how open this “open access” is, i.e. does the public have privileges to accessing resources from other universities that professors and students can access on interlibrary loan? Would you mind sending me an example of something that you want to access but can’t? I want to see if I can access it as a “public” researcher at this university library…

  2. John Steppling says:

    Ok…well, first, I dont think you are typical, as narrativizing goes. Second, of course some are dangerous and defensive. But Id argue if you aren’t making a narrative out of experience, what are you doing? And third….academic journals; I think that firstly the pay wall phenomenon is there for obvious reasons on the one hand, to defray costs….however minimal (and how much exactly does it cost to curate an academic journal archive online???). But its more than that, clearly. Its a reflexive idea of exclusivity and a way to reinforce hierarchies of privilege. The University is founded on an exclusionary principle. When the US created state schools, some going back to the late 18th century (University of north carolina for one) the idea was to lower tuition costs, and also this linked with western expansion and the land grant acts. And I know some state systems (oregon state i know) are open access. But mostly you cannot access the information at universities. And more, those privately funded and operated archives are impossible to access without University affiliation. And some you pay anyway. I find it curious that small journals have pay walls….because is this supposed to be a business, then? If so its a lousy business idea. The costs for maintaining a web site are very low. And not very difficult really. So I find that just confusing honestly. And when left journals do this, I find that appalling. WHY do you not want people to read your material (as you ask)? Universities as a matter of principle are about restriction. You cannot use their libraries without a student ID. Why is this? Is this what, in theory, the student is paying for? To keep non students out? And then given that this stuff is mostly electronically catalogued now, it seems contradictory to the idea of education. I wont publish at places that are not open access. Which means I dont publish at a lot of places. If you want an example, try Jstor.

  3. First off, I am not currently a student, and haven’t been for two years. When I was a student, even then there were still online journals that I did not have access to if my university did not subscribe to them (never had a problem accessing JSTOR though).

    As for JSTOR for the public… I can currently access JSTOR as an employee…I am a part-time custodian at a university, and have not been a student here in the past. (An instance of working-class access to the ivory tower…someone’s got to clean the toilets up there after all, and you can hardly expect the professors to do it…).
    Anyway, I looked up what the public can access at the library and it turns out, they can’t access quite as much as the students or the custodians. As a public browser I cannot access the ejournals from my home computer, but I CAN have access to them if I go to the university library and obtain a guest access card. However, the library website tells me that “some journals will not allow walk-in users to access their materials” (I suspect JSTOR is one of them…what snobs!).
    In the past though, when I have not been a student (or a custodian!), I have not had any scruples about getting another student to access some of this stuff for me. All it takes is getting to know some people. Whatever, if the establishment doesn’t want to give me access by their rules (money, titles), I still know how to do things the way of the olden days… talk to friends, acquaintances, be open about my research and people will help me out if they think it’s interesting work… Because when it comes down to it, my research is always for more than just me.
    Now I suppose if one is doing some research which seems like an obvious threat to the establishment, one has got to be a lot more careful about who one talks to in order to gain access… But I’m no wikileaker so have not run into this sort of trouble. This sentiment ties into your notions of the surveillance state…

    Now back to life narratives…
    You say: “Second, of course some are dangerous and defensive. But Id argue if you aren’t making a narrative out of experience, what are you doing?”

    Okay….point taken…yes.
    But how awful to not make narrative out of experience! I don’t know… what ARE you doing then? Being dead? Being killed? Consuming? –But even these things can become part of the narrative, though it might be a tragic one…

    And good for you for only publishing at places with open access. Otherwise, work risks becoming stale and irrelevant. It is a different kind of risk to expose one’s ideas to a range of people from different walks of life. Living knowledge requires dialogue (I mean this is a broad sense, not just, for example, me commenting on your post). Truth isn’t acquired from the stamp of a publisher, truth is approached through the test of dialogue. I suspect that like-minded folks create like-minded dialogue, not much to test there…

  4. It has been confirmed. You cannot access JSTOR on a “walk-in” pass. This is a JSTOR stipulation, not our library rules. When I asked the library assistant why he thought JSTOR had such limited access for the public, this was his answer: “It’s because it was a rule make years and years ago and it isn’t relevant anymore and no one has bothered to change it. It’s a stupid rule. It makes no sense.”
    He’s got a point though. How many people in this city are walking into the library and asking for JSTOR articles? Maybe none. If there was more open demand, I think things might change. It seems to me that bureaucracy, the compartmentalization of work into narrow job descriptions, and the diffusion of power within the institution which limits an individual from taking initiative and acting decisively (people are given no responsibility)… these are all practical reasons why access is so restricted (think Marx and alienation…).
    I mean, sure, some journals may be academically elitist, but this guy made a good point and I see it all the time in the kinds of jobs I’ve done in the past: people are disconnected from the products they produce and serve. People don’t know why they are doing the work they are doing, and they don’t understand the impact it has, or they feel helpless to change anything because the system is too big, too much paperwork, too many hoops, etc. I suspect that most people just aren’t invested in the “soul” of what they do (can consumerism have a soul?).

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