The Digital Khora

Hiroshi Sugimoto, photography (Versailles, Louis XIV, wax figure).

“He thought of men as fallen, and likely to fall further if they did not defend the walls of civility against the armies of Dulness. He believed (and this is a doctrine valuable to satire) that moral was reflected in linguistic decay; hence his fanatical interest in the inanities of polite conversation and in slang…”
Frank Kermode on Jonathan Swift (New Statesman 2012)

“…I also had noted that psychopaths have difficulty understanding the emotional content of words that add color and interest to communication. “
Robert D. Hare (Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, 1999)

“The death drive and the repetition that it installs in the subject follow a self-satisfying course. The death drive finds a path to satisfaction or enjoyment despite — or because of — whatever obstacles the external world might erect. “
Todd McGowan (Enjoying What We Don’t Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis)

“We are, abruptly, scripturient – possessed by a violent desire to write, incessantly.”
Richard Seymour (The Twittering Machine)

Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal (or it was published) in 1729. He published it anonymously. (the full title is A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick). I was thinking of Swift already and the prescience of his satire in A Modest Proposal, when someone that very day (Molly Klein actually) sent me this

Rossana Brooks, photography.

Another death of irony moment, I guess. Swift died in 1745. Dublin has a psychiatric hospital founded in his name, and a public toilet. Actually Swift left what money he had at the end of his life to the founding of that hospital, for as he wrote “If there was ever a country in need of such an institute, it is this one”.

But it is worth reading Fynes Moryson’s Itinerary (to a dozen different lands, including Ireland) in the 17th century. Moryson was a member of parliament for Grimsby in Lincolnshire, for a while, and attended Cambridge. He took two long ten year excursions to catalogue the social and cultural state of everywhere from Bohemia to Italy to Antioch and Aleppo and France and Denmark and finally Ireland. Moryson felt mostly contempt for the Irish, but no less the English who oppressed them. And it is Moryson who suggested the English barbarians were eating the barbaric Irish’ children.

“Moryson’s remark about mouths green with grass-chewing has another highly charged subtext, embodying an old contradiction. It anticipated Swift’s mock-rhetoric in A Modest Proposal, in which the Irish are spoken of both as herds of cattle and as cannibals, and activates a famous unresolved equation in the literature of cultural or ethnic defamation. Part of the trick is to describe the victim as bestial, and then to instance cannibalism as a sign of this, even though the example of animal behaviour initially registered might not even be carnivorous, let alone cannibal. Secondly, the insinuation of cannibalism as subhuman or bestial, in a familiar rhetorical slippage, runs against an opposite perception, often used in denunciations of humans as a species: that it is humans who, in the entire animal kingdom, are alone inclined to cannibal acts. Dog don’t eat dog. The famous tag that man is a wolf to man, found in Erasmus, Rabelais and others, usually means, not that man eats man as wolf eats wolf, but that man eats man as wolf eats other animals. That wolves don’t eat each other seems to be the view of modern zoologists, as is the old perception that humans are the main eaters of their own kind, so that, running against the rhetoric which says cannibals are bestial, is an opposite tradition, that humans are worse than beasts, who don’t eat their own kind. Its most powerful early expression is Juvenal’s 15th Satire.”
Claude Rawson (London Review of Books, on Swift’s Intelligencer writings.1992)

Marian Spore Bush

Swift himself, at least in the person of Gulliver (and one should not make too much of the Gulliver as Swift meme) felt a not insignificant sympathy with the plans of the Houyhnhnms to a total elimination of the Yahoos. Rawson in a very fine book (God, Gulliver, and Genocide, 2001) notes the unsettling Nazi like rationality of the *superior* Houyhnhnms. But as Terry Eagleton has noted, both G.B.Shaw and Oscar Wilde voiced not dissimilar sentiments (even if Wilde was in theory joking, and neither Eagleton or myself probably think he was). Satire reached its pinnacle in Swift (at least Swift thought so, but he was probably right) and as Claire Bucknell wrote (London Review of Books, Jan 2017)…

“This way of looking at the world – the truth-telling, the commitment to particularity, the unswerving interest in the things most people would rather ignore – was held up by contemporary advocates as the essence of satire, and the thing it was best at. Satire scourged, exposed and illuminated: it was, depending on the metaphor you preferred, a physician’s tonic for the body politic, an extra-judicial arm of the law or, in a particularly popular image, a mirror held up to man’s conduct.”

Pieter Claesz (Vanitas 1628) Dutch.

Bucknell also notes that what distinguishes the best 18th century satire (Dryden, Swift, Pope, and John Gay in particular) was its use of fiction. And what she means, really, is the *voice* of the satirist. The presentation of narrative in the hands of fictional voices. But it also might mean slight exaggerations or simply an exaggerated prose. One of the reasons, if not the central reason, for the lasting significance of A Modest Proposal is the voice of the author. It is rational, restrained, even timid. It is reasonable. This voice is no longer in existence. The satire of Beyond the Fringe, or Monty Python, or god forbid Saturday Night Live, are …despite the wit and intelligence of the Dudley Cook and his pals, or John Cleese…doing something far less disruptive. In fact they are the opposite of disruptive. They are affirmative. Comedy and satire today are nearly always affirmations. They may be cruel and exclusionary but they are not deep. Now somehow this (satire, Swiftian voices, and contemporary comedy) segues to the internet and social media. Richard Seymour, late of Lenin’s Tomb (where it seems to me he peaked in his first couple years) has a useful (if not at times frustrating) book out on social media titled The Twittering Machine.

“Those who joined lynch mobs had nothing to authorize the beliefs they acted on other than someone’s say so. The more anonymous the accusations were, the more effective they were. Anonymity detaches the accusation from the accuser and any circumstances, contexts, personal histories or relationships that might give anyone a chance to evaluate or investigate it. It allows the logic of collective outrage to take over. It no longer matters, beyond a certain point, whether the individual participants are ‘really’ outraged. The accusation is outraged on their behalf. It has a life of its own: a rolling, aimless, omnidirectional wrecking ball; a voice, seemingly, without a body; a harassment without a harasser; a virtual Witchfinder General. Standards of veracity are not only inverted, but detached from the traditional notion of the person as the source of testimonial truth.”
Richard Seymour (The Twittering Machine)

Song Dynasty glazed black bowl. 960 CE.

Today the voice of reason is one very like that of the World Bank (which I have written about twice, from Moretti’s brilliant New Left Review article) or it is the profoundly vague and anodyne political speech (perfected, possibly, by Obama). Particularity is often abstracted. In much MFA prose (post Iowa Writers Workshop) there is nothing BUT the concrete — descriptions of ‘things’, but at the expense of ideas. And yet that prose is enclosed within the purview of academic fine arts programs anyway. Now, there are several books now that allege the CIA heavily influenced Paul Engle and shaped the content of IWW product. Perhaps it did. To a degree. But Flannery O’Connor came out of there as did Denis Johnson and Kurt Vonnegaut — and from people I know who were there during the cold war years the place was rife with draft dodging liberals and leftists. But like the claims that the CIA invented Abstract Expressionism, the truth is far less interesting. Yes the CIA worked to influence American culture. But it had seriously limited influence on painting and perhaps even less on prose. It did however have a profound impact on *entertainment* and it still does.

This is not to say that creative writing programs, most of which were influenced to some degree by the CIA, did not, even if half consciously, adhere to certain values and a certain clear anti communism. But then the real question is why are there creative writing MFA programs at all? Thats something Flannery O’Connor asked several times. But that is something that the CIA and U.S. government saw as a highly efficacious idea. I would say that the single biggest influence, as writers go, was Raymond Carver, and not just Carver, but Gordon Lish his editor. Lish is maybe the largest single influence in American letters since WW2.

So there is that paradox: Lish meets World Bank prose. And both now seem nearly subsumed under twitterism.

George Hugnet

“The social industry hasn’t destroyed the power of ancient written authority. What it has added is a unique synthesis of neighbourhood watch, a twenty-four-hour infotainment channel and a stock exchange. It combines the panopticon effect with hype, button-pushing, faddishness and the volatility of the financial markets.”
Richard Seymour (The Twittering Machine).

That sensibility, the neighborhood watch sensibility, runs deep in American society. The love of vigilantes is at an all time high today. But this sense of involvement and purpose, however virtual and spurious, is part of a larger quality of anxiety. In a society in which fewer jobs exist, in which unionizing is nearly dead, and community has been reduced to near zero; the longing for meaningful action is gigantic. The *Greta* phenomenon is part of this (more on that below) and so is the victim’s rights movement which has spawned a variety of secondary psychological effects. The desire to punish is acute in the average (sic) American. I suspect the only reason more people are not snitched on is that there is a counter force present in a growing fear of the police. Even hardline law and order types have grown to fear the police, which is testament to just how out of control are the domestic police departments of the U.S.

Louise Sartor

“The violence of positivity does not deprive, it saturates; it does not exclude, it exhausts. ”
Byung-Chul Han (The Burnout Society)

I have always been intrigued with how repetition was such an integral part of theatre. Memorization, rehearsal, and then performance…of the same play, night after night. Brando couldn’t do it. His emotional investment was too great. He had no regulator, no governor for sustaining what he was doing. A stand in for Kim Hunter once said in an interview that the night she got to play *Stella* she was stunned at Brando’s performance. In the famous scene…the “Steeellllaaaaa …” scene she wrote how she looked down from the top of the stairs and saw this man weeping convulsively. She thought, well, this won’t last. Nobody can access that level of pain night after night. But repetition is intrinsic to playwriting and to theatre. The speaking aloud of memorized lines is always going to be ritualistic.

And over the years with having watched literally a hundred actors (more, actually, several hundred) working at learning their lines, it has come to seem to me a very profound part of what makes theatre. Beckett knew this, and extended the idea to a near totality as he directed actors to act and sit a certain way even when the audience couldn’t see them, when they were off stage. I know several actors who would weep openly and deeply as soon as they stepped off stage. There is a deep emotion in in real theatre, and some of the emotion is tied into memorization. Over and over and over. A compulsive repetition of speech. And the long monologue is not necessarily the most difficult to memorize. Pinter can be very hard to memorize. Those fragments, those odd pauses…the silences that must be memorized, too. But I want to talk a bit more about repetition per se here.

Pieter Hugo, photography.

“It is there, as Lacan remarks in his thesis on aggressivity as ‘intended aggression,’ that ‘the analytic experience allows us to feel the pressure of intention,’ while the symptoms – hesitations, evasions, parapraxes, the improvised or calculated deceits, sullen breakings off, remorse, returns, excesses of renewed commitment, and then again the vacillations, the turning off or against, ‘recriminations, reproaches, phantasmic fears, emotional reactions of anger, attempts at intimidation’ – might constitute a repertoire familiar in the course of rehearsal, especially to the director whose own pressures of intention may be arduous to the point of cruelty.”
Herbert Blau (Rehearsing the Impossible)

Rehearsal is not practice. One, say, musicians, practice their entire lives. Dancers do, too, for much shorter performance lives. But rehearsal is practice within the shadow of a coming event, an event before an audience. The closer one gets to the event the more compulsive is the memorization. And the more urgent.

“Guy Rosolato suggests that the infant may experience in the exercise of its voice a sense of sonorous omnipotence, the power to exercise its will through sound which perhaps corresponds to what Freud called the stage of magical thinking, or ‘omnipotence of thoughts’. The voice, writes Rosolato, ‘is the body’s greatest power of emanation’.”
Steven Connor (Violence, Ventriloquism, and the Vocalic Body)

Ping Tan

Now the writing part, the playwriting part, is connected to all of the above. From the notes on Swift to the twittering machine. The loss of voice is profound today. People speak without any voice. Its eerie, its uncanny. And then of course they write without a voice. Here are a couple quotes from Gordon Lish. And much as I may not want to admit it, what he says is disquietingly close to what I have said when teaching playwriting.

“In the old days, I called it a khora. An innate melody that some psychoanalysts would claim issues out of the melody of our name, or whatever affectionate name we might be given by our parents. Early in life, we have established within us a certain brief musical jotting. This is what is elaborated if we spread ourselves out into acts of writing. It can be seen in the writing of others, but I believe that it can also be consciously elicited. In order to do so, you must understand that you’re safest when you’re at your most honest – which I would be quick to justify my own scribbling as being. In my writing, I’m psychopathically engaged with the phonemic; the smallest spicule of the construct is a concern to me. At the same time, I try to give way to a speech which has its origin somewhere well beyond my understanding. It is as if something interior is determined to speak.”
Gordon Lish (Interview with David Winters, Critical Quarterly).

Mimmo Rotella

And allow me a second quote. I have never turned away a student. Of course I never really taught writing at the University level. Or rather I did, at the Polish National Film School, but that was screenwriting and that is something entirely different.

“At Columbia, I remember the class went from fifteen to 120 students. I said, ‘I’m not keeping anybody out. Anyone who wants it can come. It won’t mean more work for me, since I’m not going to read every word they write.’ Having been an editor, I had gotten to believe that I could merely look at the work, look at the first page, and within instants know if it required further investigation. This may be insanity in the extreme, but I had the view of myself that this was my gift. That I could see, from the configuration of the first page, whether it was worth going further.”
Gordon Lish (ibid)

I don’t think that’s a gift. Its simply something any serious teacher or writer can do and does. At Padua Irene Fornes and Mednick both did it. Its not cruel, its actually extremely kind. Few people have talent. I believe talent is a thing — no amount of hard work, in the end, can make you good. As Bob Fosse said, ‘I can make you better, but I can’t make you good”. But the point here is that that interior self, that buried voice, is there…usually. Not always. But just being there is obviously not enough. I think today people have perhaps lost that interiority very early. Its part of the sense of alienation and loneliness, actually. It is partly the result of the absent caregiver, the missing face of the mother who is looking at her smart phone, or father, and both parents talk to each other far less. The child does not hear conversation to nearly the same degree as it did in the early 20th century or 19th century. Or 18th. Or 17th. You get the idea. But what the young child does hear is the recorded voice. If Lish is right (and I think he is) the child now has a computer generated khora.

Juan Davila

“And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.”
Luke 1:38

As an aside, the Khora is mentioned in Plato, and plays a significant role in Neo-Platonic belief. And in early Christian thinking. And if I’m not mistaken, Khora plays a small role in the Alan Sokal hoax saga because it is in Plato’s Timaeus. Anyway, in this context its simply that notion (psychoanalytically) of psychic space in which early differentiation takes place. The first separation (which is always also a returning to) is from the Mother. And this is also (in neoplatonism and elsewhere…like Caputo or early with Meister Ekhart) an interval in breathing. And for theatre that is relevant. I have said that Aeschylus is one inhalation, and Sophocles an inhalation and an exhalation, and finally with Euripides we come to extended breathing.

This brings up social media and the habituations (or addictions perhaps) of internet usage. The best book on addiction is Marc Lewis’…

“Each rewarding experience builds its own network of synapses in and around the striatum (and OFC), and those networks continue to draw dopamine from its reservoir in the midbrain. That’s true of Paris, romance, football, and heroin. As we anticipate and live through these experiences, each network of synapses is strengthened and refined, so the uptake of dopamine gets more selective as rewards are identified and habits established. Prefrontal control is not usually studied when it comes to travel arrangements and football, but we know from the laboratory and from real life that attractive goals frequently override self-restraint.”
Marc Lewis (The Biology of Desire)

Natacha de Mahieu, photography (Far western China)

And what Lewis has discovered (he is a medical doctor and former addict) is that repetition is the springboard, in a sense, for addiction. Repetition, a motivated action associated with desire. This squashes the ‘addiction as a disease’ model (which is long overdue) and suggests that all this brain research (which Lewis covers in his book) is useful, but not explanatory. Once the action is repeated enough there is brain change — the very popular term neuroplasticity. The brain changes when we learn. Addiction is learned, in one sense. The addict loses some of that plasticity after enough repetitions. Now, social media addiction, or smart phone addiction, or screen addiction, whatever one wants to call it, is learnt, too. The brain changes. And soon and certainly over prolonged periods, those changes become ossified. They stagnate. That is one critical aspect of the screen damage scenario. And there is an attendant muscle memory that is learned (along with carpet tunnel syndrome).

The non neuroscience analysis here has more to do with the human relationship to repetition. And Lewis notes this as well. And, the loss of a cultural narrative. The global breakdown of community, acute in the West is not accidental, of course. This is the planned breaking down of community by those who control the system. The elite class has made it policy to disrupt communities and communality, and then by extension to erase cultural narrative and cultural memory. The appeal of social media is as a stand-in for real community in one sense, and it is designed specifically and consciously to force compulsive repetitions and hence addiction.

Eshunna statuettes, Iraq 2700 BCE.

“If death has a language it will not be our language. Tragedy anticipates the language of death, both in the speech and the shock of the speech. How could it fail to shock? It utters what has not been uttered. It steals utterance from death.”
Howard Barker (Death, The One, and The Art of Theatre)

“One thing that these tendencies have in common, though, is that they all show a decline in sociality. Other data confirms this. Analysis of American post-Millennials by psychologist Jean Twenge finds that they are far less likely than their predecessors to go out, go on dates or have sex. This is one of the reasons for the plummeting teen pregnancy rate. The trend, she says, is strongly correlated with the ubiquity of smartphones prevalent since 2011–12. Cigarettes and alcohol, like the proverbial coffee, have been used as props for social interaction. It is no accident, says the psychoanalyst Darian Leader, that as soon as we abandoned cigarettes, the mobile phone appeared in our hands – as though we can’t face one another without some sort of medium. But the smartphone is not a prop for social interaction. It is an escape route, a way to connect with someone who isn’t there; or is only there as a written trace, a ghost in the machine.”
Richard Seymour.(ibid)

In place of speech there are digital surrogates. One interesting note Seymour makes has to do with B.F. Skinner and the ascension of behaviorism. And no surprise that the U.S. military and CIA helped fund much of the research for operant conditioning. Skinner himself has not really anti communist so much as obsessively concerned with fixing American society by way of dispelling the illusions of free will. His sci fi book Walden Two suggests a society not all that far from Technocracy (see Howard Scott) and much of the eugenics movement. Its stunning just how far reaching is the template conceived by eugenics pioneers and implemented most prominently by National Socialism. The idea of a high priest class of techno experts designing a system to hierarchically segregate classes and instill a willing conformity in the inferior masses is somehow also mirrored in the rise of social media. An algorithmically conditioned culture of robotic workers overseen by an techno overlords (the ruling class…which of course do fuck all except oversee the overseers). As Seymour notes…“Sure enough, behaviourist ideas have gained traction. Having lost ground in psychology, they filtered into neuroscience, which was taking an aggressively reductive turn. By the early 1990s, brain scientists had come to believe that mental states could be explained by the physical structure of the brain, which in turn could be explained by genetics and environment. ”

This is reflected in how mainstream psychology treats addiction, in fact.

Philipp Lohofener, photography.

“As we go about our daily lives, we leave behind virtual breadcrumbs—digital records of the people we call, the places we go, the things we eat and the products we buy. These breadcrumbs tell a more accurate story of our lives than anything we choose to reveal about ourselves.… Digital breadcrumbs… record our behavior as it actually happened.”
Alex Pentland (The Data Driven Society, Scientific American)

Pentland is the high priest out of MIT and later Google and a variety of other surveillance capitalist entprises, sees the world as Skinner might have. But worse. For Pentland and others like him the compulisve coerced repetitions of internet addiction (or habituation) defines who someone is at their core.

“Pentland begins the report by announcing the institutional bona fides of thiswork: “Drawing on a unique, multi-year collaboration with the heads of majorIT, wireless, hardware, health, and financial firms, as well as the heads ofAmerican, EU, and other regulatory organizations, and a variety of NGOs [afootnote here indicates the World Economic Forum], I describe the potential for pervasive and mobile sensing and computing over the next decade.…” From there, his reasoning leaps across a range of inferences to stitch together a crucial rationale for a totalistic society constructed, sustained, and directed by instrumentarian power.”
Shoshana Zuboff (The Age of Surveillance Capitalism)

Jennifer Guidi

The instrumentalized universe of what Zuboff calls surveillance capitalism is also a deeply contracted universe in which, increasingly, people are only digital footprints. Its the rise of a new kind of faux individuality — and its reflected, too, in climate discourse where one’s individual carbon footprint is meant somehow to have the same meaning as ones human existence. The sense of tragedy that Howard Barker noted (in a wonderful and neglected book) links back to Lish and the khora idea. For breath is the beginning of theatre and theatre is the beginning of social existence. Theatre is the most direct expression of the human mind, so I think anyway. And as full of shit as Gordon Lish is about a lot of stuff, he was a great teacher. And great teachers can be full of shit, that’s not important. And he said something else in a different interview…

“Wrong again. God gave man speech to give him the means to get himself lost. Whereas you stay on track, you run smack into death.”
Gordon Lish (interview, 3AM Magazine 2017)

Great teachers — of writing or theatre anyway, of text, put students in touch with a possibility for madness, I guess it is. It is inspiring to know that one can access that interiority in which each of us is mad. One can call it the Dionysiac energy And that is the tragic loss today. And all teachers should talk about death. There are several generations of screen addled youth who cannot get to that place. The mechanically mediated Khora. It is difficult amid the twittering machine and various platforms of surveillance and data mining, amid a society that would rather stare at a screen than at people, to accept the lacerating loneliness of such a state. This is dystopia. A society where that early developmental space has been stunted or blocked. There are plenty of people who have not been afflicted, though. But finding radical teachers is ever more difficult.


“The algorithms don’t really understand you, but there is power in numbers, especially in large numbers. If a lot of other people who like the foods you like were also more easily put off by pictures of a candidate portrayed in a pink border instead of a blue one, then you probably will be too, and no one needs to know why. Statistics are reliable, but only as idiot demons.”
Jaron Lanier (Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now)

Lanier worked for Atari and was a primary creator of virtual reality. The key thing here is touched upon a few pages later….again from Lanier…“In the bigger picture, in which people must do more than conform in order for our species to thrive, behaviorism is an inadequate way to think about society. ”

The thing is, the tendencies that social media have perfected were already in place. Someone would have invented the Skinner box if Skinner hadn’t. There is a clear force trajectory in Capitalism that trends that way. Here again, the Dialectic of Enlightenment is very useful. The Enlightenment was a necessary corrective. It was just that it didn’t really quite correct things the way people thought.

“Enlightenment, understood in the widest sense as the advance of thought, has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters. Yet the wholly enlightened earth is radiant with triumphant calamity. Enlightenment’s programs was the disenchantment of the world. It wanted to dispel myths, to overthrow fantasy with knowledge.”
Horkheimer & Adorno (Dialectic of Enlightenment)

Within Enlightenment the myth, the primitivism, continued on. And it is worth considering, maybe in another post, the mechanisms by which *othering* seemed to be encouraged by this false progress, that hatred or fear of the *other* was also jealousy of the other. And this seems rather significant in terms of social media. Peter Thompson, in The Guardian of all places, in a piece on Walter Benjamin, wrote…” hatred of the other (in this case Jews, but it can be any other group) is actually a way to mask jealousy of what they have, not in terms of wealth, but in their identifiable collective traditions and apparent social cohesion, which they maintain while the “host” nation rots away around them.” Because social media is so acutely narcissistic, but also a source of strange guilt, resentments seem amplified. I say guilt because a platform such as facebook is geared to encourage people to present idealized portraits of themselves. And yet the user knows this is not true. In Freud symbolism is the expression of that which is unknown, but is actually unconsciously known. And here it is worth pondering the difference between hidden and secret.

Komoku-ten, Japan 1185, detail.

“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.”
Jonathan Swift (A Modest Proposal)

“The word is now a virus. The flu virus may have once been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.”
William Burroughs (The Ticket that Exploded)

I keep coming back to the representation of demons and angry gods and gargoyles in ancient sculpture and painting. Everywhere there was that reminder of the monster that lurks inside us. It has been externalized to a large degree. The face of the demons in ancient Hindu or Buddhist art, or the gargoyles in Gothic cathedrals, these all felt more intimately connected to the viewer. To the congregation — but perhaps in ways it is difficult for contemporary society to process fully. It is healthy to be in touch with our inner monster. It is not healthy to create ones out in the world. Part of social media and internet use is the constant noise. Even if you silence your phone the noise remains.

Valentin Carron (Kunsthalle Zurich)

The disenchantment of society culminates in the digital platforms of social media. Now there had to be a willing audience for this new media. Many resisted and have continued to do so. Many more eagerly submitted. And the loss of the voice of heterogeneity remains.

Roger Foster in his book on Adorno (The Recovery of Experience) wrote … “The instrumentalized nature that suffers under disenchantment is confined to a “speechless accusation,” bereft of language.” This was a theme for John Dewey, oddly, too. Now Adorno’s ideas (in Negative Dialectics) lead to the a recognition of the outer limits of instrumental thinking. And, a recovery of this confrontation with the limits as itself an experience. But nothing takes us out of instrumental thinking. The speechlessness Habermas complained of is found in the surplus of writing, a writing void of meaning. We cannot say what we mean.

Adorno thought that something important was revealed to us in the *striving* to say something. And for this he is accused, rightly I guess, of being messianic. But I am coming to think the messianic may be the key to the secrets of lost speech. That early interval (the Khora for Lish) is what is found in artistic resistance. It is breath.

Ingmar Alge

“An industry that monetizes ‘time on device’ is a chronophage of a different order, with the tick of the clock replaced by the click of keys or the tap of thumbs on screen. A social machine that organizes and measures our scarce attention, assigning a numerical value to every scroll, pause, keystroke and click. A near-death experience, measuring out its approach by the second.”
Richard Seymour (ibid)

Repetition is always a close encounter with death. That is part of the ambivalence in rehearsal or memorization or even performance. As Foster notes, recovery of experience is a recovery of spiritual experience in an age in which it has been lost. The inverse image of reconciliation.

“Media/police rumors acquire instantly — or at worst after three or four repetitions — the indisputable status of age-old historical evidence. By the legendary authority of the spectacle of the day, odd characters eliminated in silence can reappear as ctive survivors, whose return can always be conjured up or computed, and proved by the mere say-so of specialists. They exist somewhere between the Acheron and the Lethe, these dead whom the spectacle has not properly buried, supposedly slumbering while awaiting the summons which will awake them all: home is the pirate, home from the sea, and the terrorist home from the hill; home, too, the thief who no longer needs to steal.”
Guy Debord (Comments on Society of the Spectacle)

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  1. Fred Dewey says:

    a wonderful piece, and so apropos of this cyburban net/matrix/maelstrom we seem to be rapidly falling into. please, give us more on ways to resist this! you suggest it, in art, in theater, but one yearns to hear more!

  2. Hi John,

    you say above: “But nothing takes us out of instrumental thinking”–and I take it that you don’t mean absolutely ‘nothing’, but ‘nothing’ as offered by our mainstream culture or dominant mode of thinking. I do know and have experienced and practiced acts that have taken me and others out of instrumental thinking. I wonder if one reason it is hard to speak about this is because the dominant narrative (enlightenment) form is through measurement and evidence-based forms of speaking–these very forms of narrative construct assuming instrumentality as a necessity for comprehending reality and even having a thought.

    @ Fred….

    Resistance? That is simple, though not easy. Follow your heart. I believe I’ve got to think of what I truly want and fucking go and get it. Trouble is, when asked what we truly desire a lot of us don’t know, and if we prob that a little further, we’re at risk of realizing that we’re not living our desires but we’re living out the desires of someone else. And that makes me pretty angry when I notice I have been a servant to someone else and not myself. There’s anger there and then there is also other stuff like shame and guilt and despair along with grief and often determination to change. And change is possible

    @ John,

    speaking of change… reminds me of addiction. Growing up in grade school I remember being taught: Don’t do drugs. They are bad for you. They CHANGE your cognitive functioning, your emotions, your perceptions, your behaviour… From my own observation and careful study of addictive behaviours in myself in tandem with studying the I Ching (the ancient Chinese text: The Book of Changes), I see this mantra I grew up with as being quite wrong-headed. Addictions don’t change you, they keep you the same. Therein lies the danger of addiction and the illusion of it: sameness. Change might be uncomfortable but it is real and happening and when we can’t perceive it and respect it and live by it / with it / AS it, then I would suggest, we don’t really live.

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