Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky: The Concept as Hero

“Yes, remember this, my friend: if there is one more book on the library shelf, that is because there is one less person in life. If I must choose between the shelf and the world, then I prefer the world.”

– Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

There are some writers who come to one in late life like the memories of old comrades, deceptive yet resilient, leading one into the great outdoors rather than deeper into the labyrinths of the mind. These writers might be termed literary matterphiles. A type of being who confronts Kant and Shakespeare, yet escapes the metaphysical delusions of the one, while embracing the bittersweet valences of the other.

Sigizmund Dominikovich Krzhizhanovsky is such a poet of our despair, yet more than a poet, he is the understated literary master of works no one in the West ever heard of till now. Born into a Polish-speaking Catholic family near Kiev in 1887. He died in his adopted city of Moscow in 1950, largely unpublished and unperformed. Over a period of twenty-five years, while working in editorial offices and freelancing at various jobs (lecturer in the Acting Studio of the Moscow Chamber Theater, proofreader for the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, research assistant for radio broadcasts, translator and stage adaptor), he wrote a dozen plays, provocative essays on Shakespeare and on the philosophy of theater, and some hundred and fifty experimental prose works ranging in length from novellas to one-paragraph miniatures, usually organized in cycles. Krzhizhanovsky’s hero.

Of late I’ve been reading his work The Letter Killers Club, whose hero everywhere is the idea or concept (mysl’, zamysel) trapped in the brain. His recurring plot: how to release an inner thought into the great outdoors of existence at the right time with enough nourishment so it will survive, make contact, explore —without being freighted down or fused with anything else. This idea needs space to test itself and must remain separate from what surrounds it. Traps and obstacles to this process exist both inside the brain and beyond it, but they are more metaphysical than political.

Continue reading

YA Dystopian Novels: Strange Tales of Youth

Of late I’ve entered the ranks of those who enjoy the YA Dystopian Novel. They offer strange new worlds for our dystopic reflections on love, politics, philosophy, society, media, etc. It seems that such fiction, written for teenagers, is becoming a wide-spread social phenomena and drifting into the academic world as well. Several years ago I began noticing works by writers such a Cory Doctorow whose fictions typify some of the best philosophical interplay of social criticism and dystopic reflection in the troposphere. His current novel, Homeland, features the ‘war of terror’ as permanent emergency:

A couple of years ago, it occurred to me that the emergency had become permanent. Declaring war on an abstract noun like “terror” meant that we would forever be on a war footing, where any dissent was characterized as treason, where justice was rough and unaccountable, where the relationship of the state to its citizens would grow ever more militarized.

Dystopia has become one of the most popular teenage genres. This sudden rise in YA Dystopian literature has gained as much criticism as praise. Reactionary conservatives within the neo-liberal world seen in these decadent fictions of dystopic mayhem a form of post-modern relativism and nihilism. While radical critics see the emancipatory visions of a post-capitalist vision of theory and praxis working its self out in the young minds of those who will inherit the wastelands of neoliberalist collapse. Young adults are the future leaders of the world and books that are written for them always have a specific purpose. YA Dystopian literature’s purpose is to teach teenagers about the real world by using young protagonists. These books are very didactic; their message depends on the real world truth that the author wants to teach. Because of this dependence on the author’s purpose, this genre changes a lot to keep up with the times. Yet, for all their didacticism what we discover in them is not a message to be learned so much as the possibility of a new mode of life, one beyond our present neo-liberal world of nightmare visions and re-visioning of collapse, waste, and dispersement into voidic voids economic slavery by a corporate socialism turned fascist. In these youthful expenditures of excess we learn how to transgress the frozen modes of this neo-liberal delusion and begin formulating other desires, other adjacent modes of life, a ‘vertigo of immanence’ that can at last give us hope of real change

Continue reading

Fredric Jameson: The Utopic/Dystopic Imagination

A true opposite of utopia would be a society that is either completely unplanned or is planned to be deliberately terrifying and awful. Dystopia, typically invoked, is neither of these things; rather, it is a utopia that has gone wrong, or a utopia that functions only for a particular segment of society.1

Fredric Jameson in a provocative essay Utopia as Method, or the Uses of the Future asks us “How can a place be a method?” Most of the time we think of utopia as a place, or a separate non-place in the sense of a secondary world with its own sociocultural milieu. But what if such a place that is no-place formed the dialectical union of opposites we call utopia/dystopia? What if this non-place were the outcome of the failure of the myth of progress? With the failure of modernity and its supposed utopic teleology and the myth of progress we are now within such a non-place, a place between times, a moment of pure difference in which neither the positive nor negative forces hold sway, but the balance between the forces of life and the forces of death vie for our future. As Jameson notes:

As far as space is concerned, the rich are withdrawing ever more urgently into their gated communities and their fortified enclosures; the middle classes are tirelessly engaged in covering the last vestiges of nature with acres of identical development homes; and the poor, pouring in from the former countryside, swell the makeshift outskirts with a population explosion so irrepressible that in a few years none of the ten largest cities on the globe will include the familiar first-world metropolises any longer. (ibid.)

Mike Smith in Planet of Slums situates the utopic/dystopic conclaves within the superstructure of our Megalopolises. He offers us an advanced state of the late-capitalist hyperworld in 3-D vision, where slums like slime molds infiltrate the fabric of our very lives, and even the elite live lives like truant children who have just escaped from the hinterlands of some Lovecraftian nightmare zone leaving the rest of us to cannibal horrors unimagined by science-fiction or gothic troubadours. The cities of the future, rather than being made out of glass and steel as envisioned by earlier generations of urbanists, are instead largely constructed out of crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks, and scrap wood. Instead of cities of light soaring toward heaven, much of the twenty-first-century urban world squats in squalor, surrounded by pollution, excrement, and decay. Indeed, the one billion city-dwellers who inhabit postmodern slums might well look back with envy at the ruins of the sturdy mud homes of Catal Hayuk in Anatolia, erected at the very dawn of city life nine thousand years ago.2

Continue reading

Stanislaw Lem: Liberal Utopics as the Last Commodity – Being Inc., Redivivus

Innumerable stories bear witness to the fact that the desire for precisely such freely given emotions gnaws at mighty rulers and men of wealth; in fairy tales he who is able to buy or use force to obtain anything, having the means for this, abandons his exceptional position so that in disguise— like Harun al Rashid, who went as a beggar— he may find human genuineness, since privilege shuts it out like an impenetrable wall.

– Stanislaw Lem, A Perfect Vacuum

In this latter day of commodity travel one can buy almost anything: swim with whale sharks in Donsal in the Philippines, travel to Germany and become a race car driver (Nuerburgring), run the bulls in Tamil Nadu, India, try Heli-skiiing in the Chugach Mountains in Alaska, tow surfing the jaw break in Peahi, Maui, bike across the Sahara, ice climb in the Canadian Rockies, sandboard in Cerrano Blanco, Peru, or finally, take a private cruise into space, the last frontier of personal experience. Has experience itself become the final commodity?

So, then, the one area that has not yet been turned into a commodity is the unarranged substance of everyday life, intimate as well as official, private as well as public, with the result that each and every one of us is exposed continually to those small reversals, ridiculings, disappointments, animosities, to the snubs that can never be paid back, to the unforeseen; in short, exposed— within the scope of our personal lot— to a state of affairs that is intolerable, in the highest degree deserving a change; and this change for the better will be initiated by the great new industry of life services. (A Perfect Vacuum, Stanislaw Lem)

A society in which one can buy— with an advertising campaign— the post of president, or a herd of albino elephants painted with little flowers, or a bevy of beauties, or youth through hormones, such a society ought to be able to put to rights the human condition. The qualm that immediately surfaces— that such purchased forms of life, being unauthentic, will quickly betray their falseness when placed alongside the surrounding authenticity of events— that qualm is dictated by a naïveté totally lacking in imagination. When all children are conceived in the test tube, when then no sexual act has as its consequence, once natural, procreation, there disappears the difference between the normal and the aberrant in sex, seeing as no physical intimacy serves any purpose but that of pleasure. And where every life finds itself under the solicitous eye of powerful service enterprises, there disappears the difference between authentic events and those secretly arranged. The distinction between natural and synthetic in adventures, successes, failures, ceases to exist when one can no longer tell what is taking place by pure accident, and what by accident paid for in advance.

Continue reading

Rosi Braidotti: Nomadic Ethics and Subjectivity

The notion of the non-human, in-human, or post-human emerges as the defining trait of nomadic ethical subjectivity.

– Rosi Braidotti, Nomadic ethics

Bruno Latour once argued that the modernist distinction between nature and culture never existed.1 He claimed we must rework our thinking about such distinctions as to conceive of a “Parliament of Things” wherein natural phenomena, social phenomena and the discourse about them are not seen as separate objects to be studied by specialists, but as hybrids made and scrutinized by the public interaction of people, things and concepts (ibid. 142-145).

Rosi Braidotti offers us a reading of Deleuze as neo-Vitalist, a neo-Spinozist whose ethics is activated by a specific subjectivity and mode of ontological life (zoe). She defends Deleuze against the post-Hedeggerians (Foucault, Derrida, Agamben, etc.) saying that he espouses the generative force of Zoê and a culture of affirmation rather than negation:

Life is not an a priori that gets individuated in single instances, but it is immanent to and thus coincides with its multiple material actualizations. … Deleuze’s immanence … locates the affirmation in the exteriority, the cruel, messy, outside-ness of Life itself.2 (172)

Braidotti argues that the Liberal Subject is no longer viable, the called for in this post-liberal era are new modes of ethical behavior.  Beyond the liberal universalistic and individual core lies the realm of an ethics of forces, desires, and values that act as “empowering modes of becoming”, rather than the moralistic framework of established protocols and sets of rules and guidelines for behavior (173). That there are certain prerequisites and preconditions for such move is without doubt and Braidtotti situates her stance within a framework that entails a new understanding of subjectivity. She follows Deleuze in affirming Life as central, but this vital force is defined within the older Greek notion of zoe – Zoê (from ancient Greek ζωή, meaning spiritual life, in contrast to Bios, meaning bological life): as a vital force that is non-human, impersonal, generative, trans-individual, post-anthropocentric, and post-finitude dimension of subjectivity (173-174).

Continue reading

Gilles Deleuze: What is immanence?

“What is immanence? A life… No one has described what a life is better than Charles Dickens, if we take the indefinite article as an index of the transcendental. A disreputable man, a rogue, held in contempt by everyone, is found as he lies dying. Suddenly, those taking care of him manifest an eagerness, respect, even love, for this slightest sign of life. Everybody bustles about to save him, to the point where, in his deepest coma, this wicked man himself senses something soft and sweet penetrating him. But to the degree that he comes back to life, his saviors turn colder, and he becomes once again mean and crude. Between his life and his death, there is a moment that is only that of a life playing with death. The life of the individual gives way to an impersonal and yet singular life that releases a pure event freed from the accidents of internal and external life, that is, from the subjectivity and objectivity of what happens: a “Homo tantum” with whom everyone empathizes and who attains a sort of beatitude. It is a haecceity no longer of individuation but of singularization: a life of pure immanence, neutral, beyond good and evil, for it was only the subject that incarnated it in the midst of things that made it good or bad. The life of such individuality fades away in favor of the singular life immanent to a man who no longer has a name, though he can be mistaken for no other. A singular essence, a life…”

– Deleuze, from Immanence: A Life…

François Laruelle: Radical Immanence and the Non-Philosopher

“In any case, non-philosophy did not invent ‘the real, or the One, or man (every philosopher can take some credit for the latter), or even the idea of a ‘radical immanence (there is Michel Henry and perhaps others as well –Maine de Biran? Marx? [Deleuze]). On the other hand, non-philosophy exists because it invented the true characteristics of the latter, because it took the requirements of radicality seriously and distinguished between the radical and the absolute.”

“Ultimately, I see non-philosophers in several different ways. I see them, inevitably, as subjects of the university, as is required by worldly life, but above all as related to three fundamental human types. They are related to the analyst and the political militant, obviously, since non-philosophy is close to psychoanalysis and Marxism –it transforms the subject by transforming instances of philosophy. But they are also related to what I would call the ‘spiritual type –which it is imperative not to confuse with ‘spiritualist. The spiritual are not spiritualists. They are the great destroyers of the forces of philosophy and the state, which band together in the name of order and conformity. The spiritual haunt the margins of philosophy, gnosticism, mysticism, and even of institutional religion and politics. The spiritual are not just abstract, quietist mystics; they are for the world. This is why a quiet discipline is not sufficient, because man is implicated in the world as the presupposed that determines it. Thus, non-philosophy is also related to gnosticism and science-fiction; it answers their fundamental question –which is not at all philosophy’s primary concern–: “Should humanity be saved? And how?” And it is also close to spiritual revolutionaries such as Müntzer and certain mystics who skirted heresy. When all is said and done, is non-philosophy anything other than the chance for an effective utopia? Let me begin in traditional terms: what is the essence, what are the possibilities of non-philosophy? From the outset, it originated from four concerns that were coupled two by two; and hence from dualities.”

– François Laruelle, from A New Presentation of Non-Philosophy