Another Turn of the Screw: Nietzsche, Cioran, Land, Maldoror, Celine, Miller, Bataille…

Once again the ancient round turns its wolf-faced teeth toward home: the dark clot of blood below the breath, the rumbling in the belly, the burning eyes that seem to foretell a bone moon. I hear the kids in the streets popping fire-crackers, black-cats shading the night with bullet pops like a drive-by. My Lady’s in bed, and here I sit as usual mindful of the stupidity of the human species. I return to my old haunts: Nietzsche, Cioran, Land, Maldoror, Celine, Miller, Bataille, Ligotti, Lovecraft… wander through the desolation without repentance, unblessed and thankful only to have reached the abyss once again.

“Something serious about stupidity which, oriented differently, might multiply the stock of our masterpieces.” (E.M. Cioran: All Gall Is Divided)

Cioran’s swift viperous tongue lifts one up only to slash and burn one to pulp. Something lives inside me that is Cioran’s dark twin, a gloating demon sitting on the edge of the abyss studying the human species like some foreign entity: curious, investigative, silent; awaiting the moment when in the silence one can slowly and methodically tear down the scintillating illusions that clothe such mediocre beings in the garments of rancorous ruins.

“I thought of death, which I imagined to be similar to that walk without an object…” (Nick Land: The Thirst for Annhilation).

Nick Land is a wolfen, a were-being masking himself in the flesh of humans. His black comedy of darkness cuts down every escape, brings one to the end, holds the blade out to you and awaits your self-immolation. Land scrapes you clean, bared of every last vestige of humanity, ready for only the bare truth that will reawaken the necessity of night and chaos once again in your heart.

“If we simply called ourselves godless (to use an old expression), or unbelievers, or even immoralists, we would not think that these words came near to describing us: we are all three of them, at too advanced a stage for anyone to comprehend…” (Friedrich Nietzsche: La Gaya Scienza)

Nietzsche gave us the voice  and utterance of the anti-christ. This solitary ghost stalked Europe like a god forgotten among the brittle cracks of Victorian idiocy. Son of those great nihilists of Shakespeare and Fyodor Dostoyevsky he gave us the truth for our age: “God is Dead!”

“I use my genius to depict the delights of cruelty: delights which are not transitory or artificial; but which began with man and will end with him.” (Comte Lautreamont: Maldoror)

The secret guest of our earthly banquet. Sade’s other brother, more wicked and quicker; wittier.

“This is better than reading Vergil.” (Henry Miller: Black Spring)

“I am living at the Villa Borghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.

“Last night Boris discovered that he was lousy. I had to shave his armpits and even then the itching did not stop. How can one get lousy in a beautiful place like this? But no matter. We might never have known each other so intimately, Boris and I, had it not been for the lice.

“Boris has just given me a summary of his views. He is a weather prophet. The weather will continue bad, he says. There will be more calamities, more death, more despair. Not the slightest indication of a change anywhere. The cancer of time is eating us away. Our heroes have killed themselves, or are killing themselves. The hero, then, is not Time, but Timelessness. We must get in step, a lock step, toward the prison of death. There is no escape. The weather will not change.”  (Henry Miller: Tropic of Cancer)

Miller was the Beast incarnate, the blood of the Saints come back to haunt the living with the sexual licentiousness of a catechism born of laughter and disgust.

“It’s no use trying, we slide, we skid, we fall back into the alcohol that preserves the living and the dead, we get nowhere. It’s been proved. After all these centuries of watching our domestic animals coming into the world, laboring and dying before our eyes without anything more unusual ever happening to them either than taking up the same insipid fiasco where so many other animals had left off, we should have caught on. Endless waves of useless beings keep rising from deep down in the ages to die in front of our noses, and yet here we stay, hoping for something . . . We’re not even capable of thinking death through.” (Louis Ferdinand Céline: Journey to the End of Night)

Celine is the first machine. Death becomes acquainted with repetition’s other lover. Here is the poetry of atrocity seen with dead eyes:

“Many times in my life, and in many different places, I have found myself walking at twilight down streets lined with gently stirring trees and old silent houses. On such lulling occasions things seem firmly anchored, quietly settled and exceedingly present to the natural eye: over distant rooftops the sun abandons the scene and casts its last light upon windows, watered lawns, the edges of leaves. In this drowsy setting both great things and small achieve an intricate union, apparently leaving not the least space for anything else to intrude upon their visible domain. But other realms are always capable of making their presence felt, hovering unseen like strange cities disguised as clouds or hidden like a world of pale specters within a fog. One is besieged by orders of entity that refuse to articulate their exact nature or proper milieu. And soon those well-aligned streets reveal that they are, in fact, situated among bizarre landscapes where simple trees and houses are marvelously obscured, where everything is settled within the depths of a vast, echoing abyss. Even the infinite sky itself, across which the sun spreads its expansive light, is merely a blurry little window with a crack in it—a jagged fracture beyond which one may see, at twilight, what pervades a vacant street lined with gently stirring trees and old silent houses.” (Thomas Ligotti: Grimscribe – In the Shadow of Another World)

Ligotti is the anti-gnostic, an abyss dweller whose immanent domain is pain incarnate. (an interview)

“In  the darkness  we  sometimes  reached  out  toward one  an­ other. We would look into one another’ s  eyes, not with­ out dread;  we  were  bound  together,  but  we  no longer felt  the  slightest  hope.  At  one  turning in   the  path,  an empty space opened beneath us .  Curiously,  this  empty space,  at our feet,  was no less infinite  than a starry sky over  our heads .  Flickering in the  wind , a multitude  of little lights was  filling  the night with silent, indecipher­able  celebration .   Those  stars – those  candles – were flaming  by  the  hundred  on  the  ground :  ground  where ranks  of  lighted  graves were  massed .  We  were  fasci­nated  by  this  chasm  of  funereal  stars.”  (Georges Bataille: Blue Noon)

Bataille is the sensual saint of desperate days. The Clown whose sacred dance revealed nothing more than the true religion of the Sun.

“This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence, and squatted evilly on a rectangular block or pedestal covered with undecipherable characters. The tips of the wings touched the back edge of the block, the seat occupied the centre, whilst the long, curved claws of the doubled-up, crouching hind legs gripped the front edge and extended a quarter of the way down toward the bottom of the pedestal. The cephalopod head was bent forward, so that the ends of the facial feelers brushed the backs of huge fore paws which clasped the croucher’s elevated knees.” (H.P. Lovecraft: The Call of Cthulhu)

Lovecraft walked among the living dead and brought us the Old Ones who dream our dreams forward.

Happy New Years!

 

 

 

 

Martin Rees: Machines will Inherit the Future

Martin Rees: How soon will robots take over the world?

Let me briefly deploy an astronomical perspective and speculate about the really far future – the post-human era. There are chemical and metabolic limits to the size and processing power of organic brains. Maybe humans are close to these limits already. But there are no such constraints on silicon-based computers (still less, perhaps, quantum computers): for these, the potential for further development could be as dramatic as the evolution from monocellular organisms to humans. So, by any definition of “thinking”, the amount and intensity that’s done by organic human-type brains will, in the far future, be utterly swamped by the cerebrations of AI. Moreover, the Earth’s biosphere in which organic life has symbiotically evolved is not a constraint for advanced AI. Indeed, it is far from optimal – interplanetary and interstellar space will be the preferred arena where robotic fabricators will have the grandest scope for construction, and where non-biological “brains” may develop insights as far beyond our imaginings as string theory is for a mouse.

Abstract thinking by biological brains has underpinned the emergence of all culture and science. But this activity – spanning tens of millennia at most – will be a brief precursor to the more powerful intellects of the inorganic post-human era. So, in the far future, it won’t be the minds of humans, but those of machines, that will most fully understand the cosmos – and it will be the actions of autonomous machines that will most drastically change our world, and perhaps what lies beyond.

 

Isabelle Stengers: In Catastrophic Times

“In writing this book I am situating myself amongst those who want to be the inheritors of a history of struggles undertaken against the perpetual state of war that capitalism makes rule. It is the question of how to inherit this history today that makes me write.”
 ………….– Isabelle Stengers, In Catastrophic Times

A second quote is from Schellings Weltalter:

That primordial deed which makes a man genuinely himself precedes all individual actions; but immediately after it is put into exuberant freedom, this deed sinks into the night of unconsciousness. This is not a deed that could happen once and then stop; it is a permanent deed, a neverending deed, and consequently it can never again be brought before consciousness. For man to know of this deed, consciousness itself would have to return into nothing, into boundless freedom, and would cease to be consciousness. This deed occurs once and then immediately sinks back into the unfathomable depths; and nature acquires permanence precisely thereby. Likewise that will, posited once at the beginning and then led to the outside, must immediately sink into unconsciousness. Only in this way is a beginning possible, a beginning that does not stop being a beginning, a truly eternal beginning. For here as well, it is true that the beginning cannot know itself. That deed, once done, is done for all eternity. The decision that in some manner is truly to begin must not be brought back to consciousness; it must not be called back, because this would amount to being taken back. If, in making a decision, somebody retains the right to reexamine his choice, he will never make a beginning at all.1

Zizek commenting on this passage, says,

What we encounter here is, of course, the logic of the “vanishing mediator”: of the founding gesture of differentiation which must sink into invisibility once the difference between the vortex of “irrational” drives and the universe of logos is in place. Schelling’s fundamental move is thus not simply to ground the ontologically structured universe of logos in the horrible vortex of the Real; if we read him carefully, there is a premonition in his work that this terrifying vortex of the pre-ontological Real is itself (accessible to us only in the guise of) a fantasmatic narrative, a lure destined to detract us from the true traumatic cut, that of the abyssal act of Ent-Scheidung. (ibid.)

As I began reading Stengers latest work tonight it reminded me of so many works of late that are almost prophetic in tone, bewailing the fate of ourselves, the earth, the zone of habitable life which so precariously seems drifting toward utter collapse and extinction. And we worry over the basics of day to day living, survival, terror, political corruption, austerity, sex slavery, racism, etc. etc. …. as if splitting all our problems off into various sinkholes of activism will keep the truth at bay. Even the sciences themselves have become so politicized that the Left and Right, Progressive and Reactionary, etc. all line up their various experts defending or castigating the models that speak of global warming and the Sixth Extinction. The World of data is seems bound to mathematical ontologies that our common sense folk psychologies can neither apprehend nor share in. The algorithms that chart in minute detail the various aspects of the climatological picture along with the extreme data of our ongoing Sixth Extinction seem like narratives out of some Sci-Fi novel. We are so busy just surviving the plight of our economic lives we want to put such Sci-Fi narratives on the backburner as if it were just another fictional piece of data for the analysts, the government, the scientists to worry over. As we say here in the USA – “It’s not my job to think!” So we turn the mind off, go home to our children, wives, husbands, girlfriends, etc. and forget the truth might be just over the horizon coming at us faster than we might ever believe.

What struck me in the Schelling quote was these few sentences about making a choice, a permanent decision that once made is final, a new beginning that cannot be challenged or returned to what came before: “This deed occurs once and then immediately sinks back into the unfathomable depths; and nature acquires permanence precisely thereby. Likewise that will, posited once at the beginning and then led to the outside, must immediately sink into unconsciousness. Only in this way is a beginning possible, a beginning that does not stop being a beginning, a truly eternal beginning. For here as well, it is true that the beginning cannot know itself. That deed, once done, is done for all eternity. The decision that in some manner is truly to begin must not be brought back to consciousness; it must not be called back, because this would amount to being taken back.” Isn’t this what we’re really afraid of. Making a decision, choosing to intervene, change things, invent a beginning that will forever mark a cut in the fabric of human time? A beginning that asserts itself then forgets itself, its decision, its assertive choice; allowing it to sink into oblivion. Isn’t what we’re facing the Age of Forgetting? To get through this terrible change will we not need to forget who and what we are? Haven’t we been speaking of this over and over in all the thousands of publications on inhuman, non-human, post-human, anti-human rhetoric and philosophy for fifty years? It’s as if we keep repeating the same narrative over and over but no one is listening. Even the scholars that repeat each others work don’t believe it anymore. Not really. For them it’s just the “courage of the hopeless” as Zizek once said of the political turmoil of the refugees. We live in a time between times, a zone of transitional hyperstition, when the world turns topsy-turvy and the chaotic brew of thought and being goes south, goes down below the inhuman level of utter pain from which there will be no redemption.

Does it have to be this way we ask ourselves? Why? Is technology to blame, or is it the answer? Are we just sticking our heads in the sand, pretending it will all go away, that like T.S. Eliot’s ironic poem the world will end not with a “bang but a whimper”? Are we at the edge of nothing, an End Game? Or at the beginning, a new beginning for the planet without us? Or do we as a species still have half-life in us, a way to kick-start our lives out of this zombiefied field of death we call global capitalism? Is there a path forward, or are we doomed to repeat the age old death of culture and civilizations like Greece, Rome, and other empires of the mind? Is this humanity’s last stand? And, most of all are we going to allow our rich, our powerful, our stupid leaders to take us down that river of no return without a fight? Lie down like sheep before the juggernaut of our own ignorance and pretend the world is just a joyride in the nihilist bath of historic acid?

But how to choose a beginning? Beginnings are about precedence and priority. In this sense a beginning “goes before” or “leads the way forward”, while priority gives us the sense of the “state of being earlier” as if it were a return to the beginning of all beginnings; one that pulls together the far ends of time into the newness of this reorientation toward the momentum of time. A beginning is also a sense of place, of a situation where that which emerges forgets its origins, its source and begins, starts-up, aware of only this beginning. A beginning does not remember, but rather forgets. It is a choice and decision that allows only for something new that changes everything forever. To begin is to move forward, forgetting what lies in the past, all thought, all laws, all forms and habits.

Beginnings are much like contracts in that they are artificial constructs that forge new relations, new laws, new forms of life. Zizek will tell us that the “greatest power of our mind is not to see more, but to see less in a correct way, to reduce reality to its notional determinations— only such “blindness” generates the insight into what things really are.” 2 Stengers tells us that “what has made us a danger to the planet, ready to recognize illusions everywhere, is the way that emancipation has come to coincide with the struggle against human illusions.”3 Maybe this is our greatest enemy: our own historical memory, the long heritage of exceptionalism in religion and philosophy that has invented a mythic narrative of cosmic proportions with humanity at its center. We think of ourselves as immortal and heroic, even exceptional creatures of some god or history, when in fact we are blind to the blindness of our own ignorance, the darkness of our own three-pound brain’s ancient roots in the cold seas of ancient oceans. Isn’t this the great lie we must overcome? Hasn’t the combination of non-human, anti-human, inhuman, posthuman thought for the past fifty years taught us that humanity is not the center of anything, that all our gods are but the inventions of our ancient forbears, stories and poetry to guide us in the night of nights. Isn’t it high time we finally let loose of our past, our philosophies, our religions, our ideological blinkers? Yes, even what we think we know about reality is but an ideological construct, a lie we’ve all come to believe in, support, die for; a reality that seems to be scattered around us, falling into decay, into ruins as the barbarous truth of our own fated inability to know who and what we are comes back to haunt us. Isn’t it this inhuman-nonhuman core within us that seems on the verge of escaping our traps, our fictions, and releasing its truth into our world.

As Stengers recites:

It is barbarism that is today sadly predictable. But the test here is once again to abandon with neither nostalgia nor disenchantment the epic style and its grand narrative of emancipation, in which Man learns to think by himself, without needing any artificial prostheses any longer. This grand narrative has poisoned us, not because it would have lured us with the illusory prospect of human emancipation, but because it has given a debased version of this emancipation, one marked by a scorn for those peoples and civilizations that our categories judged well before we undertook to bring them, with their consent or by force, our enlightenment. Do we not recognize ourselves in their rituals, their beliefs, their fetishes, these artificial prostheses that we have been able to free ourselves from? (pp. 144-145)

The real barbarians are not the refugees in our midst, rather they are the men and women wandering Fifth Avenue, Wall Street, the grand and illusionary global cities of pleasure, fun and profit. The barbarians at the gate are those oligarchs and their sycophantic minions in government and business, traveling the world’s fast lanes, the archons of capital and finance, oil and diamonds, corporate and private Moghuls who squander the true human capital of our world without a thought about what debt must be paid for such excess. And it will be paid, one way or the other. Yet, most of all the real barbarian is us: we who look on complaining, but doing nothing to change things. We who get up everyday in the same cess-pool and convince ourselves this is life, that it will be alright; we have to think about our families, our children, they come first… etc. All lies, sweet lies to convince ourselves that the night of nights come at us out of the future is just another Sci-Fi horror film.

Yet, as we edge closer and closer to the no-return zone we are beginning to realize anxiously that maybe, just maybe these scientists aren’t mad at all, that maybe the truth we so willingly forget is that we are not exceptional, that there is no God out there beyond the dark night coming back to save us from ourselves; that the Lone Ranger isn’t going to save the day; that Tonto want be around to make us laugh at the silliness of this jokester hero, that the truth is human kind – like the 99% of all other species that ever existed have already gone extinct, will too… will we sit on the edge of time’s last desert bewailing the way of things, or will we wake up before it’s too late (or is it already too late?). Maybe like Thomas Pynchon’s lonely watchers of film screens of reality we believe it is just a grand narrative that we will escape, just a collapsing world of rolling film flicking by us on the light-show of some dilapidated theater where we sit idly by hoping beyond hope its all happening to someone else… but as the world bursts into flame and we become radiant in the gleaming firestorm that spark within us before the creation of all time suddenly realizes, too late… that yes, we had our chance, and allowed ourselves to fall asleep in a cold world theater believing it was all a sweet dream, when in fact and truth it was just the opposite: it was the only ever life we ever had, and now it’s gone, gone forever….

The rhythmic clapping resonates inside these walls, which are hard and glossy as coal: Come-on! Start-the-show! Come-on! Start-the-show! The screen is a dim page spread before us, white and silent. The film has broken, or a projector bulb has burned out. It was difficult even for us, old fans who’ve always been at the movies (haven’t we?) to tell which before the darkness swept in. The last image was too immediate for any eye to register. It may have been a human figure, dreaming of an early evening in each great capital luminous enough to tell him he will never die, coming outside to wish on the first star. But it was not a star, it was falling, a bright angel of death. And in the darkening and awful expanse of screen something has kept on, a film we have not learned to see . . . it is now a closeup of the face, a face we all know—

And it is just here, just at this dark and silent frame, that the pointed tip of the Rocket, falling nearly a mile per second, absolutely and forever without sound, reaches its last unmeasurable gap above the roof of this old theatre, the last delta-t.

There is time, if you need the comfort, to touch the person next to you, or to reach between your own cold legs . . . or, if song must find you, here’s one They never taught anyone to sing, a hymn by William Slothrop, centuries forgotten and out of print, sung to a simple and pleasant air of the period. Follow the bouncing ball:

There is a Hand to turn the time,
Though thy Glass today be run,
Till the Light that hath brought the
Towers low Find the last poor Pret’rite one . . .
Till the Riders sleep by ev’ry road,
All through our crippl’d Zone,
With a face on ev’ry mountainside,
And a Soul in ev’ry stone. . .

Now everybody—

 from  Thomas Pynchon,  Gravity’s Rainbow

  1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 6378-6386). Norton. Kindle Edition.
  2. ibid. (Kindle Locations 6488-6490).
  3. Isabelle Stengers. In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism. Open Humanities Press (September 1, 2015)

 

Badiou as Anti-Humanist: Daily Quote

I think that, ever since Plato, philosophy has been faced with the inhuman, and that it is there that its vocation lies. Each time that philosophy confines itself to humanity as it has been historically constituted and defined, it diminishes itself, and in the end suppresses itself. It suppresses itself because its only use becomes that of conserving, spreading and consolidating the established model of humanity.

[…]

The greatness of Kant is not at all to be found in his having proposed a theory of the limits of reason, a theory of the human limits of reason. The greatness of Kant is to have [given us back] the idea of an excess of humanity with regard to itself, which is given in particular in the infinite character of practical reason. … [And to have discovered in us] a capacity for the infinite, that is a capacity for the inhuman which is ultimately what philosophy is concerned with?

[Today philosophy must find] the connection between universality and singularity, on the one hand, and the other the necessity of overcoming humanism…

from Philosophy in the Present. Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek Polity; 1 edition (December 14, 2009)

 

 

Alain Badiou: The Philosophical Situation

1967b

Philosophy is first and foremost this: the invention of new problems.
…….– Alain Badiou, Philosophy in the Present

Badiou asks: What is a situation that is really a situation for philosophy, a situation for philosophical thought? 1

I term situation any presented multiplicity. Granted the effectiveness of the presentation, a situation is the place of taking-place, whatever the terms of the multiplicity in question. Every situation admits its own particular operator of the count-as-one. This is the most general definition of a structure; it is what prescribes, for a presented multiple, the regime of its count-as-one. (p. 24 Being and Event)

We know from our reading of the first meditation in Being and Event that the inaugural decision is simply that ‘the one is not’  (23) .  There is no One,  no self-sustaining unity in being, but only the count-as-one, the non-self-sufficient operation of unification. There  is  no unity-in-itself,  because  every unity is  a unity  of something, something that differs from the operation of unification. This decision is no less fundamental for Badiou ‘s philosophy than  his well-known equation of mathematics  with  ontology,  and  their  metaontological  meanings  are deeply entangled; any attempt to isolate one from the other would mutilate the sense that Badiou gives its twin. (Frank Ruda, BD, p. 237)

Badiou will outline three examples of a ‘philosophical situation’ as event, exception, and transformation of Life. The first from Plato’s Gorgias where Socrates and Callicles present their ideas not in dialogue but in conflict and confrontation; one might say in agon. The point for Plato was to illustrate to forms of thought that were incommensurable within a discussion of the relations between two terms devoid of any relation. As Badiou suggests “what becomes clear to any reader of the text is not that one interlocutor will convince the other, but that there will be a victor and a vanquished” (p. 14). The point of the agon is to set up two competing thoughts allowing only for a complete and utter defeat of one or the other, which in the eyes of the young men who witness the scene is shown the force of argument and persuasion in bringing about the winning victory in the agon’s struggle. The point of this agon Badiou tells us,

“The sole task of philosophy is to show that we must choose. We must choose between these two types of thought. We must decide whether we want to be on the side of Socrates or on the side of Callicles. In this example, philosophy confronts thinking as choice, thinking as decision. Its proper task is to elucidate choice. So that we can say the following: a philosophical situation consists in the moment when a choice is elucidated. A choice of existence or a choice of thought.” (Page 15).

Badiou’s second example pits the Roman General Marcellus against Archimedes. Marcellus has heard of this renowned mathematician and wishes to meet him, so sends a soldier to fetch him. The soldier arrives and demands Archimedes drop everything and come meet his General. Archimedes looks on blandly and continues to work on a mathematical problem he is demonstrating to some pupils. The soldier once again confronts the old man and demands he stop what he’s doing and come to meet his General. Archimedes without looking up says he’ll come just as soon as he’s finished with his demonstration. The soldier by name exasperated at the insubordination of this Greek fool that he takes out his sword and slays him. Badiou will describe this as a philosophical situation, explaining it this way,

Why is this a philosophical situation? Because it shows that between the right of the state and creative thought, especially the pure ontological thought embodied in mathematics, there is no common measure, no real discussion. In the end, power is violence, while the only constraints creative thought recognizes are its own immanent rules. When it comes to the law of his thought, Archimedes remains outside of the action of power. The temporality proper to the demonstration cannot integrate the urgent summons of military victors. That is why violence is eventually wrought, testifying that there is no common measure and no common chronology between the power of one side and the truths of the other. Truths as creation. (Page 16).

If one remembers the notion of measure in Old French mesure “limit, boundary; quantity, dimension; occasion, time” (12c), one discovers in this thread of a common measure as a philosophical measure a boundary or limit concepts with both a notion of quantified and temporal forms implied. The point being that at the boundary marker separating power on one side and truth(s) on the other there can be no breaching the gap between them, only a difficult struggle and act of force as violence. The creation of truths is not an action, but a form of thought carried out under terms other than violence and action.

So for Badiou philosophy must reflect upon and think a distance without measure, or a distance whose measure philosophy itself must invent. “First definition of the philosophical situation: clarify the choice, the decision. Second definition of the philosophical situation: clarify the distance between power and truths. (p. 17)”

In his final example Badiou will use his notions of truth-procedures or the conditions of philosophy, specifically relating of love and art in this instance (i.e., science, art, politics, and love). He’ll compare a film by Mizoguchi, entitled The Crucified Lovers, where two lover’s are condemned by the State to a horrible death. As Badiou remarks on the last images of the film “the film’s thought, embodied in the infinitely nuanced black and white of the faces, has nothing to do with the romantic idea of the fusion of love and death. These ‘crucified loves’ never desired to die. The shot says the very opposite: love is what resists death.(p. 18).” The second is of a conference wherein Deleuze quoting Malraux, once said that art is what resists death. Well, in these magnificent shots, Mizoguchi’s art not only resists death but leads us to think that love too resists death. This creates a complicity between love and art – one which in a sense we’ve always known about. (p. 18)

Badiou will remind us that what is incommensurable in this event is the ‘smile’ of the lover’s doomed before the law of life and state: “Why? Because in it we once again encounter something incommensurable, a relation without relation. Between the event of love (the turning upside down of existence) and the ordinary rules of live (the laws of the city, the laws of marriage) there is no common measure. What will philosophy tell us then? It will tell s that ‘we must think the event’. We must think the exception. We must know what we have to say about what is not ordinary. We must think the transformation of life. (p. 18-19)

Here one realizes three musts immanent to the philosophical situation: think the event, think the exception, and think the transformation of life.

For Badiou , an ‘event’ in the proper sense is that which occurs unpredictably, has the potential to effect a momentous change in some given situation, state of knowledge, or state of affairs, and – above all – has consequences such as require unswerving fidelity or a fixed resolve to carry them through on the part of those who acknowledge its binding force.2 To understand the ‘exception’ one must first explicate Badiou’s core concept of subtraction, which Frank Ruda describes this way,

“An understanding o f philosophy as subtractive implies that all its most crucial categories need to be conceived of in a subtractive way, including the most central one, namely truth. This is where a proper systematic elaboration of subtraction can begin. For, from the viewpoint of philosophy , truth can in the first instance be characterised in a simple and somewhat abstract manner as something that is irreducible t o , or logi­cally uninferrable from, knowledge. To say that philosophy has to ‘sub­tract Truth from the labyrinth o f meaning’ ( CS 1 3 ) , means that it must insist on the distinction between the truth and meaning, truth and sense, truth and opinion and, first and foremost, between truth and knowledge. If there are truths, they are irreducible to knowledge; this fundamental claim is a subtractive claim and it necessitates that philosophy cease to identify truth with any of the above categories . Were it not to do so , truth would be posited as objectively knowable and thus would not stand in a consequential relation to an unforeseeable event.” (BD, p. 330)

For Badiou an immanent exception is just another name for an event, from whose trace consequences arise… For Badiou , philosophy is subtractive because it implies an act of insisting on the impossible possibility of immanent exceptions from which truths can emerge. (BD, p. 337) Philosophy is the link between three types of situation: the link between choice, distance and the exception. (PP, p. 19). Badiou reminds us that the most profound philosophical concepts tell us something like this: ‘If you want your life to have some meaning, you must accept the event, you must remain at a distance from power, and you must be firm in your decision.’ This is the story that philosophy is always telling us, under many different guises: to be in the exception, in the sense of the event, to keep one’s distance from power, and to accept the consequences of a decision, however remote and difficult they may prove. Understood in this way, and only in this way, philosophy really is that which helps existence to be changed. (PP, pp. 19-20)

 

    1. Philosophy in the Present. Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek Polity; 1 edition (December 14, 2009)
    2. The Badiou Dictionary. Steven Corcoran. Edinburgh University Press; 1 edition (August 1, 2015)

Alain Badiou: Against the Sophists

aphaiae

“Just  as  Plato  wrote  the  Gorgias and Protagoras for the major  sophists , we  should write the  Nietzsche and  the  Wittgenstein. And,  for  the  minor sophists,  the  Vattimo and  the  Rorty.  Neither more  nor less  polemical,  neither  more  nor  less  respectful.”
…….– Alain Badiou, Wittgenstein’s Antiphilosophy 

  Began reading Badiou’s Being and Event past couple of days. Following Descartes use of meditations Badiou will divide his into thirty-seven. In Old French meditacion is defined as “thought, reflection, study” along with the Greek, Latin, German, and other uses and definitions we see its use in philosophy as part of that contemplative tradition that seeks to clarify and enlighten. Along with Badiou’s own work (i.e., his Manifestos’, Conditions, Theory of the Subject, etc.) I’ve put Christopher Norris’s commentary Badiou’s ‘Being and Event’: A Reader’s Guide along with The Badiou Dictionary, Ed Pluth’s Badiou: A Philosophy of the New, and Peter Hallward’s Badiou: A Subject To Truth on my study table. Several study guides and in depth works on Cantor’s and Cohen’s mathematical work on Set Theoretic.

I almost feel like I’m going to war. It’s true. Sometimes when one is embarked on a work of such depth as Badiou’s two-part Being and Event and Logics of Worlds one should be aware of one’s own limitations. One is the obvious inability on my part to read Badiou in the original. Even though I do have both works in French and several dictionaries and grammars I still feel inadequate to the task of translation. But we work on it with the usual cross-reference of good English translations. One of the great things about the French language as against English is its precision and clarity. Whereas English in polyglot and prone to pun and ambiguity (i.e., read Seven Types of Ambiguity by William Empson), the French language is based on a stringent and circumspect, almost modest enforcement of the use of metonymic over metaphoric tropes. Of course many linguists dispute this, too. French having just as many expressive and hyperbolic or multivalent words within its vocabulary as English. Either way working with both the original and translations I’ll be slowly absorbed in Badiou’s works for a while so that many upcoming posts may reflect certain aspects of his work.

One can feel the excitement of Badiou as he tackles this project of ontology. His sentences are lucid and rigorous. I’ll save a commentary on the first meditation for another time, but will mention two statements that intrigued me already: first, he posits that being is structureless (i.e., ‘there is no structure of being’ p. 28); and, second, ontology is the theory of inconsistent multiplicity as such.1 Badiou attests that his main enemy is the Sophists of our age, those who perform the task of reducing truth to language games. His book on Wittgenstein is probably the one to read to get the complete diagnosis of this age-old dilemma, and why Badiou’s return to Plato is so prevalent with his installation of truth-procedures, conditions, and the empty form of Truth against what he terms the ‘democratic materialism’ of our day.

The Greek word sophistēs, formed from the noun sophia, ‘wisdom’ or ‘learning’, has the general sense ‘one who exercises wisdom or learning’. As sophia could designate specific types of expertise as well as general sagacity in the conduct of life and the higher kinds of insight associated with seers and poets, the word originally meant ‘sage’ or ‘expert’. In the course of the fifth century BCE the term, while retaining its original unspecific sense, came in addition to be applied specifically to a new type of intellectuals, professional educators who toured the Greek world offering instruction in a wide range of subjects, with particular emphasis on skill in public speaking and the successful conduct of life. It is important to emphasize the individualistic character of the sophistic profession; its practitioners belonged to no organization, shared no common body of beliefs and founded no schools, either in the sense of academic institutions or in that of bodies of individuals committed to the promulgation of specific doctrines.2

That’s enough for now… I’ll take up Badiou’s thoughts on Sophism in his Wittgenstein’s Antiphilosophy in a future installment. The important aspect is Badiou’s stance on truth(s) against the relativism and nihilism of the antiphilosophers who reduce conceptuality to semantics rather than metaphysics.  

 

  1. Being and Event. Alain Badiou. trans. Oliver Feltham. (Continuum, 2012)
  2. Taylor, C.C.W. and Lee, Mi-Kyoung, “The Sophists“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

 


 

A Short History of Phenomenology

Edmund_Husserl_1900

Phenomenology, as the movement inaugurated by Edmund Husserl (1859– 1938), is now a century old. Although the great precursor is Franz Brentano it would be Husserl in the Introduction to the Second Volume of the First Edition of his Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations, 1900– 1901), when, in discussing the need for a wide-ranging theory of knowledge, he speaks of “the phenomenology of the experiences of thinking and knowing”.1 So phenomenology was first and foremost in the tradition of those German Idealists concerned with epistemology or a theory of knowledge and how we know, consciousness and the structure of consciousness. As Husserl states it:

This phenomenology, like the more inclusive pure phenomenology of experiences in general, has, as its exclusive concern, experiences intuitively seizable and analysable in the pure generality of their essence, not experiences empirically perceived and treated as real facts, as experiences of human or animal experients in the phenomenal world that we posit as an empirical fact. This phenomenology must bring to pure expression, must describe in terms of their essential concepts and their governing formulae of essence, the essences which directly make themselves known in intuition, and the connections which have their roots purely in such essences. Each such statement of essence is an a priori statement in the highest sense of the word. (LI, Intro. § 1, p. 249; Hua XIX/ 1 6)

In the above one sees a reaction against empirical and naturalist description and forms of experience and knowledge as the hallmark, along with the turn toward the Kantian intuitionism and expressionism of concepts of essence and essentiality, and the a priori deduction over empirical observation.

Husserl’s philosophy is a latter strain of Transcendental Idealism in the tradition of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. In fact for Husserl phenomenology is foremost an a priori transcendental science of pure consciousness as such.2 Husserl saw his as a grand pedagogical mission, with himself as the Moses of a new Transcendental science leading his flock toward the new subjectivity. As Dermot tells us Husserl thought phenomenological practice required a radical shift in viewpoint, a suspension or bracketing of the everyday natural attitude and all ‘world-positing’ intentional acts which assumed the existence of the world, until the practitioner is led back into the domain of pure transcendental subjectivity. Without this leading back, this reduction, genuine phenomenological insight would be impossible in Husserl’s eyes; at best it would be no more than a naturalistic psychology of consciousness, which treated consciousness as just “a little tag-end of the world”. (Dermot, p. 2)

Although Husserl was influential very few would follow him down the path of reduction, perceiving Husserl’s intuitionism as a resurgence of Kant’s idealism so that in later years he often quipped that he was a “leader without followers”. Martin Heidegger along with Levinas, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Derrida would all deviate and provide varying heretical turns away from their Master in the years to follow. (Dermot, p. 3) Franz Brentano was the forerunner and it was Brentano’s contribution, namely his rediscovery of the intentional structure of consciousness and his project of scientific description of consciousness that became the cornerstone of the phenomenological method. (Dermot, pp. 3-4)

Intentionality is usually defined as the directedness of the mind toward something other than itself. My desire for a coca cola is directed at the cold bottle of viscous liquid in front of me. Much of consciousness is intentional, my conscious experiences are usually directed at something. However, conscious experiences typically have a phenomenal character: there is something it is like for me to see the deep drifts of snow and to feel the breath of a frosty wind scraping over my feet, and to smell the crisp snowy-breeze. An important question to answer concerning the relationship between intentionality and consciousness is whether all conscious states are intentional? Another question concerns the explanatory priority of intentionality and phenomenal character: Can phenomenal character be explained in terms of intentionality? Or is it the case that intentionality should be understood in terms of phenomenology? Philosophers from the analytic, phenomenological, and naturalistic traditions have all made important contributions to our understanding of intentionality and consciousness.

One of the contemporary debates is that phenomenology and its intentionalism no longer provide descriptions for our current understanding of Mind or the natural order. The very notion of intentionality have come under scrutiny in the neurosciences along with such notions as free-will and our affective relations. There is also various trends in philosophy toward new approaches to the old dilemma of Kant’s noumenon which was never resolves. Phenomenology addresses only consciousness and the intuition and leaves all aspects of the ontic and ontology to bound to finitude and the limits of reason and appearance. Whatever is outside the phenomenal domain is not phenomenology’s concern. So various philosophies have arisen against this from dialectical materialism, new materialisms, speculative realisms, new realisms, flat ontologies, Object-Oriented philosophy etc., all promoting alternatives to a now depleted tradition of phenomenology.

Of course there were many other strong currents in philosophy prominent at the outset of the twentieth century, alongside, for example, Neo-Kantianism in its various schools (e.g. Rickert, Natorp, Cassirer, Windelband, Lotze), idealism (Green, Bradley, McTaggart), logicism (Frege, Russell), hermeneutics (Dilthey, Bultmann), pragmatism (Dewey, Peirce, James), Lebensphilosophie (Bergson, Simmel), Existenz philosophy (Kierkegaard and Nietzsche), as well as the empiricism of Hume’s followers (e.g. J. S. Mill), and the positivism and empirio-criticism of Comte, Mach, Avinarius, and, somewhat later, of the Vienna Circle. Each having various other traditions that will not concern us here.

Ultimately phenomenology was a philosophy that claimed above all to be a radical way of doing philosophy, a practice rather than a system. Phenomenology is best understood as a radical, anti-traditional style of philosophising, which emphasises the attempt to get to the truth of matters, to describe phenomena, in the broadest sense as whatever appears in the manner in which it appears, that is as it manifests itself to consciousness, to the experiencer. As such, phenomenology’s first step is to seek to avoid all misconstructions and impositions placed on experience in advance, whether these are drawn from religious or cultural traditions, from everyday common sense, or, indeed, from science itself. Explanations are not to be imposed before the phenomena have been understood from within. (Dermot, p. 4)

This sense of intuitively apprehending phenomena from within, of revealing the core of what appears as it appears in the presence of a specific individual consciousness without imposing any extraneous thought or concept upon the object in question, this was the heart of phenomenology. As Dermot relates it phenomenology was seen as reviving our living contact with reality, and as being remote from the arid and academic discussion of philosophical problems found in nineteenth-century philosophy, for example in the Neo-Kantian tradition. (Dermot, p. 5) The point here is that phenomenologists believed above all they could gain a direct apprehension and description of things as they are through intuition. It’s against this that most of our current philosophies of indirect apprehension of the Real struggle.

  1. J. N. Findlay, Logical Investigations, 2 vols (New York: Humanities Press, 1970), Vol. 1, p. 249.
  2. Moran, Dermot (2002-06-01). Introduction to Phenomenology (p. 2). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

 

Reading List update: The New Realism

1082078749

Marcus Gabriel’s Why the World Does Not Exist and Maurizio Ferraris’s  Introduction to New Realism. As a sideline I’ve been keeping track of the various philosophies that one might term After Postmodernism. Ever since Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude we’ve seen a influx of differing approaches toward moving philosophy past Kant and his inner turn toward an anti-realist world-view that has captivated philosophy, the arts, and sciences for two hundred years. In the middle of the last century just after WWII a great rupture or divide between European philosophers who developed with and against the work of Husserl and Heidegger – what we term the Continental philosophies; and, those who followed Frege, Wittgenstein and others into the Analytic Turn in philosophy have warred without dialogue. The Postmoderns were what we quaintly term the Linguistic Turn (i.e, deconstruction, post-structuralism, modish nihilisms, etc.) In recent years we’ve seen tentative steps to instigate a dialogue between these various divides, etc. – one can think of Alain Badiou’s project Being and Event and Logics of Worlds. Along with the anti-philosophy of Lacan, the non-philosophy of Laurelle and many other experiments in thought a new wave of philosophers has arisen bringing variations on Objects, Materialism, Realism, etc. all returning to various forms of either radical epistemology or ontology. Speculative realism, New Materialism, Dialectical Materialsm, OOO, returns to German Idealism… all are on the plate.

Badiou in his own short history of modern and postmodern philosophies saw – at least in French philosophy, two main threads arising respectively out of Bergson’s vitalist creative tradition – a philosophy of Life; and, out of Brunchvicg’s mathematical idealism – a philosophy of Concept. The philosophy of life ending in the postmodern turn of Derrida and Deleuze, while the philosophy of concept ending in Lacan, Althusser, and Badiou himself. Badiou like most French philosophers is insular and speak only of and to French traditions, and yet believed that it was the influence of the German philosophers Husserl and Heidegger after WWII that were one aspect of many of the changes in the postmodern turn. We can see our ages turn toward realism as a battle against phenomenology and intentionalism, rather than as realists against anti-realists as in Braver. (see Badiou, The Adventure of French Philosophy)

There seems to be little agreement among any of the various participants which is a good thing. One could say that philosophy is at war with itself, which means the castle of dogma is in ruins and the anarchy of thinkers well and alive. Beyond all this is philosophy’s age old battle to regain its former glory as arbiter of reality that in the past few hundred years has slowly eroded in the face of scientific endeavor. The sciences at once pragmatic and a praxis, as well as method and program could care less about philosophy or its problems. And, of course this irks the hell out of philosophers. Many in the sciences and even the official arbiters of academic excellence and what Badiou terms, derisively “democratic materialism” are beginning to see philosophy itself as just one more of those regions of thought ready for the dustbin of history, to be placed in the archives along with the arts and letters tribes of the former humanities. A fierce battle is underway across the academic world over such reconfigurations and allotments of – you guessed it: capital, money, allocated resources. The bankers and funders of academia who are guided by worldly and economic shareholders are seeking profit and gain, not the pure and absolute benefit of cultural artifacts.

Only time will tell if philosophy can align itself to the worldly worlds of capital, or whether they will be marginalized like others aspects of the humanities. For now we seek out the last remaining lights shining in this dimming sea of doubt and economic indifference.

Of course not being a capitalist nor an academic its all mute to me, but philosophy whether as Badiou hopes allows the philosopher to move back into its role of philosophe, combining the various truth-procedures and conditions of philosophy (i.e., sciences, art, love, and politics) into a form worthy of the ancient heritage or not one imagines a new literature being born out of its embers. (p. xii “To create a new style of philosophical exposition, and so to compete with literature; essentially, to reinvent in contemporary terms the eighteenth-century figure of the philosopher-writer.” The Adventure of French Philosophy)

Note Added: Reading Gabriel’s introduction we come across this:

Consequently, the world would be the domain in which there exist not only all things and facts which occur without us, but also all the things and facts which occur only with us. For ultimately it should be the domain that comprises everything – life, the universe, and everything else.

Still, to be precise, this all-inclusive being, the world, does not exist and cannot exist. With this main thesis, not only should the illusion that there is a world, to which humanity quite obstinately adheres, be destroyed, but at the same time I wish to use this in order to win positive knowledge from it. For I claim not only that the world does not exist but also that everything exists except the world.1

What is he saying? Simply that the ‘world’ is a concept not an actual being-in-the-world, but rather a concept that relates everything without us and with us; and, yet, he argues that it is not objective like a moon or planet, something out there in reality, it does not exist in existence. What he is trying to demolish here is the notion of a world-view, of a concept of totality that encompasses life, the universe, and everything we can think or not think, etc. It’s this notion of Cosmos, of a unified whole or cosmic vision of oneness and totality that he’s trying to say does not exist nor can it exist. Such a notion is part of the trend in philosophy toward a concept of incompleteness and non-closure, of openness to everything which exists but cannot be reduced to any singular concept of human knowledge. In Badiou there is no one-All, in Zizek and Lacan no big Other… one could go on. We remember scientists in the last century seeking a Theory of Everything. It’s against such a enclosed theoretical and descriptive reduction to natural or mathematic languages of reality as a codified and known whole that the new realism seems to be antagonistic. In fact, he’ll say as much later in the introduction:

There is simply no rule or world formula that describes everything. (p. 11)

So that the pursuit of a Theory of Everything that many scientists have hoped for is according to Gabriel and many current philosophers an erroneous and wrong-headed pursuit that will not and cannot ever be attained.

  1. Gabriel, Markus (2015-07-06). Why the World Does Not Exist (p. 9). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

A Short History of Skepticism

thPO3BEVG8

Many will remember from school that our modern sciences arose out of natural philosophy, experimentation and its conflicts with the dogmatic rationalism of the Church. Against certain knowledge these early and tentative steps into scientific forms of knowledge started with a particular mode of doubt and uncertainty in regards to received or traditional dogmatic views onto reality and the empirical. In the fifteenth century our knowledge of the ancient philosophers would get a boost with the rediscovery of both the metaphysical materialism of Lucretius’s poem On the Order of Things, and the rediscover of the writings of the ancient skeptics by way of Sextus Empiricus.

Academic Skepticism

This combination of metaphysical materialism and a revitalization of ancient skeptical thought would inform the age’s scientific and philosophical reflections from about 1450-1710 and beyond. I’ve treated of Lucretius’s poem in other posts, but have not explored as much on the side of skepticism (skepticism) and its influence upon our modernity. In ancient times skepticism was first born as a reaction against certain forms of sophistic and rhetorical dogmatism from within none other than Plato’s Academy. The academic strain of skepticism began with the writings of Arcesilas, c. 315–241 B.C.E., and Carneades, c. 213–129 B.C.E., who worked out a series of arguments, directed primarily against the knowledge claims of the Stoic philosophers, to show that nothing could be known.1 We know of these philosophers primarily from the writings of Cicero, Diogenes Laertius, and Saint Augustine.

The academic skeptics started with the Socratic maxim “All I know is that I know nothing.” This sense that knowledge is uncertain, that those who teach that truth can be known and that its knowledge formulated and described in propositions, both positive and meaningful, are to be mistrusted. In fact the Academics formulated a series of difficulties to show that the information we gain by means of our senses may be unreliable, that we cannot be certain that our reasoning is reliable, and that we possess no guaranteed criterion or standard for determining which of our judgments is true or false. (Popkin) This sense of there being no reliable criterion upon which to found or ground our knowledge and judgments is the cornerstone of the academic skeptic’s mode of inquiry. For these Academic sceptics nothing is certain. The best information we can gain is only probable and is to be judged according to probabilities. Hence Carneades developed a type of verification theory and a type of probabilism that is somewhat similar to the theory of scientific “knowledge” of present-day pragmatists and positivists. (ibid.)

We all remember Einstein’s quip “God does not play with dice!” in castigating his protégés in Quantum Theory when Heisenberg developed his Uncertainty Principle.  Of course it is more restrictive in its judgments than the ancient skeptics notions on uncertainty of knowledge, etc. In deed the uncertainty principle (for position and momentum) states that one cannot assign exact simultaneous values to the position and momentum of a physical system. So what we get is this quantified paradox that the knowledge of the state of a system cannot be mathematically reduced to its position and momentum which is required of us to know the state of the system with any certainty. Therefore all calculations will remain probable rather than exact. Is modern quantum theory based on a form of skepticism? Einstein seemed to think so, and held to his own classical and dogmatic theories to the end. We’ll come back to this in another post.

Pyrrhoian Movement

Pyrrho of Elis, c. 360–275 B.C.E., and his student Timon, c. 315–225 B.C.E. would bring about another revolution in skeptical thought of his era. Against the academics he was not primarily interested in knowledge or uncertainty per se, not interested into our modes of inquiry or that we cannot know with certainty anything at all. No. Rather his was primarily an ethical stance against unhappiness, and the skepticism arising from his thought was both therapeutic and experimental in the sense that it provided a viable philosophy of action against knowledge. As Popkin tells us Pyrrhonism, as a theoretical formulation of scepticism, is attributed to Aenesidemus, c. 100–40 B.C.E. The Pyrrhonists considered that both the dogmatists and the Academics asserted too much, one group saying “Something can be known,” the other saying “Nothing can be known.” Instead, the Pyrrhonians proposed to suspend judgment on all questions on which there seemed to be conflicting evidence, including the question whether or not something could be known. (ibid.) The key to this form of skepticism was the suspension of judgment itself. The Pyrrhonist, then, lived undogmatically, following his natural inclinations, the appearances he is aware of, and the laws and customs of his society, without ever committing himself to any judgment about them.(ibid.)

A sense of quietude and forbearance regarding knowledge and its conditions prevailed in this form of skepticism more concerned with the ethic of therapeutic expulsion or quailing of unhappiness. Yet, for all that it would inform later scientific thought with a sense of limits, boundaries, and doubts concerning our mind’s constructions or experiences of the known world. This would lead to a withdrawal from sensory input and to a greater reliance on our apparatuses: math, instruments, etc. to approach aspects of reality that the senses seemed to foreclose in error. Abstraction is a term we need to break down (from Online Etymology Dictionary):

late 14c., originally in grammar (of nouns), from Latin abstractus “drawn away,” past participle of abstrahere “to drag away, detach, pull away, divert;” also figuratively, from ab(s)- “away” (see ab-) + trahere “draw” (see tract (n.1)).

Meaning “withdrawn or separated from material objects or practical matters” is from mid-15c. That of “difficult to understand, abstruse” is from c. 1400.

That skepticism would lead or draw us away from our reliance on the error prone realms of empirical evidence, even as it used the empirical is one of the quandaries of the sciences that have over time become more and more reliant on mathematical and statistical probabilism, instrumental reason, apparatuses; and, at the same time developing the abstract constructions of mathematical or functional diagrammatic models rather than empirical evidence per se to build up its knowledge of the external universe and of our neuroanatomy is part of this skeptical inheritance. Our computers are mathematical construction kits that build worlds abstracted out and withdrawn from our empirical minds and bodies that effectuate algorithms and procedures that produce knowledge separated out from human disposition and capacity. Computers are the harbingers of an Inhuman turn and revolution occurring that is sweeping away the human-centric and centrifugal systems of knowledge and meaning that have for two thousand years constrained thought.

We’ve become more and more reliant on these external tools of knowledge creation while withdrawing from the finite and empirical seat of reason we once believed unconquerable. Now that no one human mind can internalize the vast storehouse of knowledge, information, and opinion (doxa) concerning the world and its inhabitants we’ve begun to divest ourselves of this extraneous and superficial task, and have begun seeking new ways to combine, compose, and reduce the vast amount of data/information being accumulated to some form of manageable and reliant form of knowledge. It is skeptical forms of doubt and uncertainty that have led us to question the very foundations of the human and our views of the universe and reality. This subtraction and eliminative move is also beginning to reveal other paths toward a skeptical realignment of what it means to be human, one that is based on scientific endeavors rather than on the formidable inheritance of philosophy or religious systems of knowledge. We’re living in a time when philosophy and religion are not so much vanishing as they are irrelevant to the work and task at hand. The sciences, not philosophy or religion are going to provide us answers to the questions concerning climate change, disease, hunger, desertification, volcanic activity, weather patterns; and, even the question of who and what we are that are being tackled head-on in the neurosciences, along with the external investment in space exploration, artificial intelligence, robotics, etc.. Ours is an age of the Sciences, not philosophy or religion. The world economic investment in the sciences is at a premium in almost every global region. The World Data Bank tracks such things: here. But that is another tale…

I’ll take up its modern defenders and detractors in another post down the way…

  1. Popkin, Richard H. (2003-02-21). The History of Scepticism: From Savonarola to Bayle . Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Love’s Lost Kingdom

a-sun

The bronze-edged sun’s amber fires screamed twilight
as skyfall traced the beauty of day’s end;

and you, who lured me to the ocean’s edge,
stood there on the bridge of light,

golden hair streaming in the western breeze:
shadows falling silently over this belated scene,

where we like mythic voyagers portrayed
this natural postcard; our minds

taking in the worlds of sun and shade,
the fevered motion of this painted desert

of the sky: heart’s dark thought, subtending;
where time like some forgotten museum director,

his passion spent, his intellect forging hermetic mysteries
brought us to this present choice: an infinite sea

of moments: past, present, and future – glances
in-between the rupture and its allocation;

events in movement: a happening so dire
and eloquent, lover’s crossing the ocean’s depths

could appear amiss; yet, as this history of love’s sorrows
shows, we’ve come this far, and in walking the path

from birth to death as lover’s do;
all our desperate choices chosen for us

as lover’s know and will; bringing us
to such bitter resolutions of the heart’s mind

in jest and arrogance, that leaping now
below the scimitar of nightfall wakes us,

just before the wicked stars who gaze on all
imprison us, and we who knew the consequences

of our actions, enter this ancient tryst – ending
in strife and wonder, fallen into his secret maze,

where the erotic lord bids us bide our sentence
among these earthly ruins in Love’s lost kingdom.

 


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

Winter’s Market

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Storia illustrate by Vultureşti ©

Is she selling olives or jam? Imagine:
the cool day brings happiness,
the comfort of boxes and glasses and all these Knick-knacks;
her husband is late, she waits and waits and waits…

….other vendors stand around, customers milling about;
her toes snug against the cold; the leaves in the bare trees
seemingly thinking about Spring, the call of owls;
the blue piercing her with such truth she forgets the air
is a memory of vacancy; the wind a promise of breath,
of children being born even as she inhales:
new life emerging everywhere under a December sun.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Land of the Free

detroit urban regrowth3

yes, this is the land of the free, free to die
on some back street in Detroit, Michigan

(Circa. 2015); black, unloved, alone, desperate –
bereft of all hope, lost among city ruins; knowing

the asphalt god of alcohol want save you; cocaine
is just another word for escape; knowing failure

is not an option, you attempt existence; less to live
among its scattered remnants than to expunge

its desecrated environs: exit its promises, become
one of its lesser appendages;  knowing this life

is no life of freedom at all, but a farcical reminder,
a parable of blindness and derision, of hell

in a pool of doubt one was once taught; but unlike
the mythic demons out-of-joint from some Good Book,

these come up and kick you in the teeth, strip you naked,
take from you even the little you do not have: offer nothing

in return but a cardboard box to crumple in and forget
the world is freedom’s last haven and heaven, a joke

land of the free; and, you; you are its forgotten citizen,
the unfree; excluded from the little justice of this country’s

remaining truth; a victim not so much of neglect as of
the ministrations of reactive politics absolving all its crimes.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Bertolt Brecht added to Reading List (2016)

  1. Bertolt Brecht – The Complete Plays – I’ve been putting off rereading Brecht for years, but as I begin reading Badiou with his views on inaestheticism and the classical, didactic, and romantic operations and classifications we know – along with Walter Benjamin that Brecht is a formidable influence on Badiou’s didacticism and epic view onto art in its relation to philosophy. In some ways a return to Brecht and the German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger might be a good contrast.

In one of Benjamin’s journal entries we hear him describe Brecht, saying,

For several years they have been subsumed, now under one key concept, now under another, so that non-Aristotelian logic, behaviourist theory, the new encyclopedia and the critique of ideas have, in turn, stood at the centre of his preoccupations. At present these various pursuits are converging upon the idea of a philosophical didactic poem. (Here “they” is: “the thoughts which occurred to him within the scope of epic theatre”)

Benjamin: Whilst becoming more closely concerned with the problems and methods of the proletarian class struggle, he has increasingly doubted the satirical and especially the ironic attitude as such. But to confuse these doubts, which are mostly of a practical nature, with
other, more profound ones would be to misunderstand them. The doubts at a deeper level concern the artistic and playful element in art, and above all those elements which, partially and occasionally, make art refractory to reason.

Badiou: For Brecht, art produces no truth, but is instead an elucidation – based on the supposition that the true exists – of the conditions for a courage of truth (p. 6, Inaestheticism)

This sense of having the courage of truth, of elucidating the conditions and milieu within which a truth arises in time in dramatic tension is at the heart of his play on Galileo.  Truths are not situated in some Platonic mirror land beyond, but arise immanently in time through appearance as appearance (i.e., they are dialectic and have a history, temporal and formidable, concrete universal truth rather than some absolute situated beyond time or timeless). Between an epic and didactic drama and poetry Brecht tried to resolve tensions within his vision. Whether he succeeded or not is worthy of study, for it is this combination of the materialist dialectic applied to artistic creation and splendor that allowed him to educe and educate a generation into a vision at once egalitarian and bent on building a life worth living on our planet.

As Benjamin would note:

Brecht’s heroic efforts to legitimize art vis-à-vis reason have again and again referred him to the parable in which artistic mastery is proved by the fact that, in the end, all the artistic elements of a work cancel each other out. And it is precisely these efforts, connected with this parable, which are at present coming out in a more radical form in the idea of the didactic poem. In the course of the conversation I tried to explain to Brecht that such a poem would not have to seek approval from a bourgeois public but from a proletarian one, which, presumably, would find its criteria less in Brecht’s earlier, partly bourgeois-oriented work than in the dogmatic and theoretical content of the didactic poem itself. ‘If this didactic poem succeeds in enlisting the authority of marxism on its behalf,’ I told him, ‘then your earlier work is not likely to weaken that authority.’ (1934—27 September Dragør)

 

I believe that it is just here in this return to the epic form, at once parable and didactic, that a new art needs to emerge in our own time. For too long we’ve been under the tutelage of those like Harold Bloom who enforce a ever deepening turn inward in a now defunct romanticism that seems to have ended in such poets as John Ashbery under the auspices of twilight and evening land belatedness. Instead of this nihilism we need a return to other modes of being and artistic excellence. Brecht is one of those lights, one that stood for the proletariat against the elite purveyors of an art of sycophancy. An alliance of poetry, drama, and philosophy once again might emerge in dialogue and partnership in our age.

We’ve known for years that the playful ironizing of postmodern thought led into a quagmire of an ultra-nihilism from which there was to be no return, but rather the duplicitous involutions of a play-of-(intra)textuallity without end; a no man’s land of blindness and insight; a world where the knots of mind and text collaborated to turn humans away from reality into the cesspool of the imaginary. Now its time to resolve this chimera into the fantastic beast it always was: a philosophy of zero, of apathy and depressive realism; a world of democratic liberal materialism that has failed us utterly.

What Badiou, Zizek, and other materialist dialectics offer is the truth between bodies and languages, an epic vision that can educate us once again into the environs of our own truths. We’re all in this together, but time to put off the blindfolds, take off the gloves and fight for something worthy of what remains human and alive.

A Short History of the Insanity

The Philosopher stood at the podium,
coffee mug ready, eye-glasses steaming;
the overhead sliding into view; strangeness and images,
darkness and light sifting being and event, saying:

“The question of the Subject is our subject;
factions choose body or idea, life or concept;
dialectical wisdom dictates we waver in-between:
cracks and gaps, and other impossible tracks
keep shifting us in an interminable process of duration,
until that vital center awakens, and we disperse
into a multiplicity inexpressible; taking a quirky turn
toward the Real that brings us round the circle
interminable, the twisted ground of zero’s wound,
where we find the petit objet a – our lost anxiety, revealed;
till the logics of worlds multiply, spinning wildly
mazing round the whirling plenum of the galaxy
till time and space, you and I, move along the swerving
curve that ends our struggle in this comic void of insanity.”

One member of the audience stood up and clapped;
the monotony of one hand moving in the void, insistent
and resistant to the remissive allocation of these speculative ironies.

The Philosopher nodded graciously as if insanity were a comedy
that only bodies and languages could distinguish from a farce;
till the subtraction of a fatal flaw in things opened up a truth,
then he sipped his coffee, wiped his glasses, and vacated the void.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Philosopher of one Leg

philosopher-s-lamp-1936(1)

Standing there on one leg,
he ponders the sanity of his age:

Deliberating on the affairs of men,
he seeks an answer from the wind:

Retroactive to the goat he milks,
he sees the situation obvious: too many geeks:

Networks abounding to the fallacy of the modern mind;
writing machines carrying on the simple task of life:

He contemplates the mole upon his nose;
the craftiness of logic to calculate his knobby toes:

At night he goes home to his wife;
knowing what she knows is much the better life.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Bodies & Languages

surreal-photography-by-sarolta-ban_8

The subject does not want the situation to be
annihilated. It will sacrifice its concept to it.
…….– Alain Badiou

Somewhere between my body
and the page a truth is born;
situated here or abroad,
the unfathomed guest resolves itself to a point.

Both universal and concrete,
the thing emerges, abstractly
suffering the consequences of the void:
a terrible fate for such a comic wonder as a smile.

Yet, do not mistake the subject for a fool,
she’s no riddler of the snow;
the condition of her truth bestows
only a validity of mercy for one who truly knows and loves.

The guardians of culture are now sequestered,
requiring ten years of grueling study: geometry’s
constancy forging mind aligned with time,
till it knows the difference between the logic of a democrat and a toad.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

The Paradise of Love

343d-mermaid-syndrom-M

She was of the things she loved most amazed
by the soft and billowy folds, the white-plumed
rush of feathers blown black and gold,

thrown down round the splashing surf,
tempest-bound most gathering, searching
among seas hermetic cloisters for her lost haven;

tempted by the woof and weave, the lavender plea
of days sunk in the laving’s of deep sea-beds;
undulating winds, carved thrones of thunderheads,

tempting growth of her whispering cove of years
spent loosing that which all love knows and despises:
blinded by the lust of an arabesque of intricate invention:

of flesh, so cloying and innocent of that secretive
adolescent charm, wandering white sands
cascading plumage glow-borne to extreme need, star

dallying nights of foam and spray, blessed weavings;
by the waves silver tribute of her midnight refractions
scattering desperate moods; each grafting of silent tally,

labors of a heart’s dark entropic design; transparency
revealing all, the hidden life of ancient stars,
a testing of all we have been and are bringing us

to her golden sanctuary below the greenest sea,
her pale-fire eyes still charming all: life’s magic shadow-show
consummation’s prize within Love’s wounded paradise.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

Ananke’s Wisdom

Milky Way above Crater Lake, Oregon

This is the season of decisions and revisions,
estimations of the yearly forfeiture of love and death;
a time to think on sounds so bleak, tragedy

repeats itself not as private theater,
but as the sense of sound, stubborn and forlorn;
and when you watch your lover lean into the snow,

remember the golden moon that crosses lonely on the shore
(closer to your breath than mind); for here at the time of changes
everything turns to music, and the earth itself tingles

and clamors incessantly; after your dismayed heart
leaps for joy below this cold December’s stars, where
dark and light dance before the turning wheel of time,

you begin to sing of her for whom this deep song
is but a remembrancing; a dark ward and admonition
against those triune sisters who bare Ananke’s wisdom.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Note: Ananke, Mother of the Fates – The personification of inevitability, compulsion and necessity she was seen as the most powerful dictator of all fate and circumstance in ancient Greece which meant that mortals, as well as the Gods, respected her and paid homage. Considered as the mother of the Fates according to one version, she is the only one to have control over their decisions. Emerson and Frost of the Conduct of Life essays and poetry developed the great counter-sublime of necessity and the fate of things in the cosmos under necessity…

Wei Chi: Transition to Order Incomplete

Almost forty-six years ago I began studying martial arts, which is both mimetic praxis and guided didacticism of master/pupil; yet, with the truth that the pupil becomes only the master of herself rather than enslaved to the form within which she moves. She moves in the way of things, is guided by change rather than stasis. She lives timelessly in time to the movement of process without return. Between the diamond body and the void she seeks the path of wind and stability, change and order. The river flows, the mountain appears; in-between (in)existence.

During the formative process of learning both the outward forms and the inner consistency of this traditional way I began reading texts on Taoism, Confucianism, and other ancient texts of that vast referential world of Chinese Culture. I still have my old tattered copy of Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching or Book of Changes. Other newer versions more accurate are now available, but I’ll rely on his for the moment since it is more familiar and available. No need to go into the divinatory aspects of this ancient book, which has been covered by all those obscurantists seeking some quick path into the future for profit or fun. This book was never intended for such purposes. The Book of Changes was always more about the transformation both within and without as being one and the same flowing into and out of Being, Time and Event.

thLOWF1M6K

Image of Wei Chi / Before Completion

Instead the obvious parallel is to our own current age of unrest and transition which is as yet incomplete and chaotic. The Hexagram Wei Chi indicates a time when the transition from disorder to order is not yet completed. The change is indeed prepared for, since all the lines in the upper trigram are in relation to those in the lower. However, they are not yet in their places. While the preceding hexagram offers an analogy to autumn, which forms the transition from summer to winter, this hexagram presents a parallel to spring, which leads out of winter’s stagnation into the fruitful time of summer. With this hopeful outlook the Book of Changes come to its close.

In the commentaries provided by Wilhelm and others we learn several fascinating things about transition, incompleteness, and chaos. The conditions are difficult for such an undertaking as ours during this transitional process. The task is great and full of responsibility. It is nothing less than that of leading the world out of confusion back to order. But it is a task that promises success, because there is a goal that can unite the forces now tending in different directions. At first, however, one must move warily, like an old fox walking over ice. The caution of a fox walking over ice is proverbial in China. His ears are constantly alert to the cracking of the ice, as he carefully and circumspectly searches out the safest spots. A young fox who as yet has not acquired this caution goes ahead boldly, and it may happen that he falls in and gets his tail wet when he is almost across the water. Then of course his effort has been all in vain. Accordingly, in times ‘before completion,’ deliberation and caution are the prerequisites of success.

The image above of Wei Chi that we see is of Fire over Water: image of the condition before transition. Thus the superior man is careful in the differentiation of things so that each finds its place.

Image Commentary from Wilhelm

When fire, which by nature flames upward, is above, and water, which flows downward, is below, their effects take opposite directions and remain unrelated. If we wish to achieve an effect, we must first investigate the nature of the forces in question and ascertain their proper place. If we can bring these forces to bear in the right place, they will have the desired effect and completion will be achieved. But in order to handle external forces properly, we must above all arrive at the correct standpoint ourselves, for only from this vantage can we work correctly.

In our time we see the external sciences moving into the extremities of the macro and micro aspects of the Universe. We also see the notion of the human: Nature, Life, Culture, Civilization, Economics, Art, etc. all moving into knowledges that will make or break our world. The so called posthumanist move toward transformation, metamorphosis, AI Intelligence, Robotics, Genetics, Nanotechnologies, etc. are all manifestations of this move toward completion of a process begun two-thousand years ago with Greece and Levant cultural matrix. Until the 19th Century the cultures of China, India, Africa and other continents had little impact on this vision at least for the West. Now they do. And we should learn from them.

As Wilhelm correctly observes we need a corrected standpoint, a new framework of reference that moves us beyond all our traditional linguistic, social, cultural, and parochial philosophic and religious ideologies and knowledge systems. We need a more universal linguistic and cultural milieu that brings the best of all cultures into alignment without sacrificing the one to the other. This means exiting or subtracting our subjectivations from any singular sociocultural matrix and opening ourselves up to the conditions of truth beyond such parochialism.

As we learn from the commentary.

Six at the beginning means: He gets his tail in the water. Humiliating.

In times of disorder there is a temptation to advance oneself as rapidly as possible in order to accomplish something tangible. But this enthusiasm leads only to failure and humiliation if the time for achievement has not yet arrived. In such time it is wise to spare ourselves the opprobrium of failure by holding back.

Our global capitalist cultural hegemony has tried to push the limits of earth to the point of collapse in its overreach to bring about a change of the cultural and global forces. It has tried to impose its hegemony upon the planetary culture and in so doing has brought neither transformation nor metamorphosis, but rather war, strife, and chaos which leads to death and destruction.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 38 – K’uei / Opposition. This line rushes in where angels fear to tread and gets trodden on. Bad luck! Be more careful and you won’t be so embarrassed. Legge seems to say that this line merely attempts what it can’t do rather than fail through haste “Its subject attempts to be doing, but finds cause to regret his course.” The result is hexagram 38, Opposition, that implies this line will face resistance to its activities because “…people live in opposition and estrangement they cannot carry out a great undertaking in common; their points of view diverge too widely.” To be successful consider why people would resist you at all.

This is the age old battle of alienation against which the peoples of the earth struggle against those who would seek to rule over others by way of force or economics. Resistance is the path out of such imposition.

Nine in the second place means: He brakes his wheels. Perseverance brings good fortune.

Here again the time to act has not yet come. But the patience needed is not that of idle waiting without thought of the morrow. Kept up indefinitely, this would not lead to any success. Instead, an individual must develop in himself the strength that will enable him to go forward. He must have a vehicle, as it were, to effect the crossing. But he must for the time being use the brakes. Patience in the highest sense means putting brakes on strength. Therefore he must not fall asleep and lose sight of the goal. If he remains strong and steadfast in his resolve, all goes well in the end.

Accelerationism or the notion of bringing the forces of economics, science, culture, etc. to a pitch of tension that would explode the current limits of planetary civilization is shown in this hexagram to be fatal. This is not the time to let the forces accelerate beyond recall, or be unleashed to the point of disaster. Instead patience and strength of insight and wisdom are called for. One must persevere in one’s path, remain strong and steadfast in one’s resolve then all will become known.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 35 – Chin / Progress. Forethought and patient planning foretells ultimate success but acting at the right time is key. This line knows now is not the right time. He will act when success is possible. Legge’s version of this line predicts a good outcome because it “…is able to repress himself, and keep back his carriage from advancing and there is good fortune.” The resultant hexagram 35, Progress, shows a rapid and easily achieved success is on the cards. The delayed start produces a good end.

Acting at the right time is key. This in ancient times was known as Kairos: the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment). The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a time lapse, a moment of indeterminate time in which everything happens. Kairos is a concept of happening, movement. It portrays the courage to act and be heroic in one’s resolve to see things through the course of decision. Ours is an age when humans no longer trust themselves to act or to make decisions that will alter the destiny of things and themselves. Yet, underneath it all they know what must be done, but they do not act on that knowledge. The suffer themselves and let the external forces rule them like ancient necessity rather than taking the bull-by-the-horns and running with it. We must act at the opportune time. Progress is a faulty promise, and if let loose does not produce change but rather its opposite. One sometimes must apply the brakes, seek out that thought from the other ends of time and advance on its axiomatic truths.

Six in the third place means: Before completion, attack brings misfortune. It furthers one to cross the great water.

The time of transition has arrived, but one lacks the strength to complete the transition. If one should attempt to force it, disaster would result, because collapse would then be unavoidable. What is to be done? A new situation must be created; one must engage the energies of able helpers and in this fellowship take the decisive step across the great water. Then completion will become possible.

We must all act together in this planetary transformation; otherwise chaos, war, and destruction will ensue. We will need the wisdom of all nations acting in consort to end this period of chaotic indecision. It will not be easy. No one said it would be. We will have to make hard decisions and act on them, have the courage of our acts and a heroism to carry them out even if they on the surface seem utterly inhuman and horrendous. This will be an age of struggle and birth, not a peach filled age of decadence and indecisiveness. The age of bourgeoisie is at an end, the liberal traditions that spawned such an age are over now. Now begins the final movement in a world transformation the likes of which have only been dreamed of by poets and prophets. We are there.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 50 – Ting / The Caldron. This line is not prepared for its adventure and so should stay at home. There will be trouble if it does sail forth. Prepare, act then success. The explanation in Legge’s version is “…with the state of things not yet remedied, advancing on which will lead to evil.” The resultant hexagram 50, The Caldron indicates that notwithstanding the bad start, ultimate success will be achieved. “Supreme good fortune. Success.”

We are entering the Cauldron which will be a trial by fire in which we will have to make difficult decisions concerning the fate and course of nations. No one ever said it would be easy. It will not. Yet, if we persevere we will attain completion.

Nine in the fourth place means: Perseverance brings good fortune. Remorse disappears. Shock, thus to discipline the Devil’s Country. For three years, great realms are rewarded.

Now it is the time of struggle. The transition must be completed. We must make ourselves strong in resolution; this brings good fortune. All misgivings that might arise in such grave times of struggle must be silenced. It is a question of a fierce battle to break and to discipline the Devil’s Country, the forces of decadence. But the struggle also has its reward. Now is the time to lay the foundations of power and mastery for the future.

Strangely Nietzschean tones here. And truly we are in such a transition out of decadent indecisiveness and artistic, cultural, and political malfeasance and decay. Leaderless the world totters on the edge of total chaos and war even as I write these words. With refugees, migrants, the collapse of nations, ISIS, a world in turmoil, African genocide: all the known and unknown conflicts that seem to be leading us further into war. Climate change: debates on Left and Right not withstanding, is apparent; whether of human or natural cause or concern, we are in a sixth age of extinction. Resist if you can, but it is having an impact if you will or no. Now is the time of change and transformation, the time of Kairos and the opportunity to act on what little knowledge we have. Otherwise we go to our doom.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 4 – Meng / Youthful Folly. This line has embarked on its great adventure. Be aware that this adventure will take time and effort to bring to fruition but the rewards should be great indeed if success is gained. Legge’s version of this line “…shows its subject by firm correctness obtaining good fortune.” The outcome shown by hexagram 4, Youthful Folly, suggests that this line will need more than a little good advice to bring his activities to a successful end. “One may succeed in spite of it (youthful folly), provided one finds an experienced teacher and has the right attitude toward him.”

Six in the fifth place means: Perseverance brings good fortune. No remorse. The light of the superior man is true. Good fortune.

The victory has been won. The power of steadfastness has not been routed. Everything has gone well. All misgivings have been overcome. Success has justified the deed. The light of a superior personality shines forth anew and makes its influence felt among men who have faith in it and rally around it. The new time has arrived, and with it good fortune. And just as the sun shines forth in redoubled beauty after rain, or as a forest grows more freshly green from charred ruins after a fire, so the new era appears all the more glorious by contrast with the misery of the old.

Unlike the above idealism we have yet to win a victory. We are the children of doubt and indecision, leaderless and without a referential framework to bring cohesion and sanity to the nations of the world. It must arise from all nations and with one voice before such things are possible. We can no longer look to saviors or messiahs in the wilderness to redeem us from ourselves. No. That was the old way of children lost. Now we must accept the responsibility for our own decisions without leaning of symbolic or religious/philosophical metaphysical beings to save us. Now is the time for humans to act together in consort, not as collective mindless beings; but, rather as the singular and incisive, creative and innovative creatures we are: a multiplicity at once singular and multitude across the invariance of the world.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 6 – Sung / Conflict. This line gains the victory and enjoys the spoils thereof. Legge is equally complimentary about this line “…shows its subject by firm correctness obtaining good fortune, and having no occasion for repentance. We see in him the brightness of a superior man, and the possession of sincerity. There will be good fortune.” Yet the outcome is shown in hexagram 6, Conflict, is an augury of ongoing strife with no good end. “Conflict develops when one feels himself to be in the right and runs into opposition…a cautious halt halfway brings good fortune. Going through to the end brings misfortune.” This is clear, the long term outlook is grim despite the initial success.

One must know balance. The superior being does not insist on its egoist right to things. It puts a line across its goals and says just there at the border of my wants and needs I meet you and accept you rights to what we both share and need of life and earth. We meet as equals, but not as master and slave; not as victims, but as brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, lovers, friends, and shepherds of our desires, our passions.

Nine at the top means: There is drinking of wine in genuine confidence. No blame. But if one wets his head he loses it in truth.

Before completion, at the dawning of the new time, friends foregather in an atmosphere of mutual trust, and the time of waiting is passed in conviviality. Since the new era is hard on the threshold, there is no blame in this. But one must be careful in all this to keep within proper bounds. If in his exuberance a man gets drunk, he forfeits the favorableness of the situation through his intemperance.

Once again a culture of earth, of festival and joyous heroism. Not the heroism of male power to war, but of partnership to bring about the best in each and every citizen. Conflict is nature, yet it need not be the war of all against all. The creative strain brings change in our current passional nature to alter and be of an othering not known among us before. Something new and strange is coming.

Changing only this line creates Hexagram 40 – Hsieh / Deliverance. Celebration of success with friends is a good thing that helps bind groups of individuals together. Do not take celebration to extremes lest one alienate ones friends with bad behaviour. Legge also warn us not to go to far “If, on the contrary, he will go on to exert his powers, and play with the peril of the situation, the issue will be bad.” The outcome shown by hexagram 40, Deliverance indicates that even if we do overindulge in celebratory activities “…the superior man pardons mistakes and forgives misdeeds.” This is always good advice.

If we make it through this difficult time we must learn to forgive and forget. There can be no other way. To let the wounds that have festered in our hearts against power must come to and end, be healed once and for all. Otherwise we are doomed.

Yet, as we know the Book of Changes is never closed or completed, but is always moving back again into its opposite or completion. Which means that Wei Chi returns us to beginnings, to  Chi Chi / After Completion:

The transition from the old to the new time is already accomplished. In principle, everything stands systematized, and it si only in regard to details that success is still to be achieved. In respect to this, however, we must be careful to maintain the right attitude. Everything proceeds as if of its own accord, and this can all too easily tempt us to relax and let thing take their course without troubling over details. Such indifference is the root of all evil. Symptoms of decay are bound to be the result. Here we have the rule indicating the usual course of history. But this rule is not an inescapable law. He who understands it is in position to avoid its effects by dint of unremitting perseverance and caution.

The billions of dollars being spent on the giant Hadron Colliders in various places is part of that project to reorder our world toward a greater systematization of our knowledge of the Cosmos. The Cosmos was an invention not of the Greeks alone, yet they gave us the word we now have and it originally conveyed a sense of  “order, good order, orderly arrangement,” otherwise known as harmony from the verb kosmein meant generally “to dispose, prepare,” but especially “to order and arrange (troops for battle), to set (an army) in array;” also “to establish (a government or regime);” “to deck, adorn, equip, dress” (especially of women). Thus kosmos had an important secondary sense of “ornaments of a woman’s dress, decoration” (compare kosmokomes “dressing the hair”) as well as “the universe, the world.” In other words we need our fictions of the universe to give our lives beauty and the excess of that allure that keeps desire churning. Science without art and curiosity is dead in the water, a victim of its systematic accumulation of data without the creative capacity to turn it to power and change. The universe will remain incomplete till the moment of its death. After its completion something strange ends and begins.


*Note: These came from the Ichingfortune.com’s I Ching reading system which provides a summarized version of the Richard Wilhelm translation of the I Ching hexagrams and their moving lines. To see the fuller and more complete hexagram translations we have provided links to the individual hexagrams.

Night Duty

iraq_troops03-14-2006b

A cigarette dangling from his lips,
he listened to life pass him by:
TV playing repeats, crime shows,
rolling credits; cops get their man;
kids in the next room, hollering

about some cartoon jackal twisting
its carcass across the noon-day sun;
his wife laying next to him, white-washed,
her eyes blank as a fragged bone-moon,
sipping vodka neat, cracked bottle

slipping round her thin fleshed breasts;
her unkempt hair blanched and stringy
falling down below the rat’s nest
clumped bangs of her natty
unwashed hair; outside an ambulance

sirens blazing; dogs splaying, braying,
keeping music to the night’s
brash howls; and, he sitting there
thinking to himself life must be
going on elsewhere; beyond here.

He polished the gun all shiny,
the one he’d brought back
from that war; put the bullets
back in one by one, got up
off the unmade bed, thought

about his wife and kids, maybe
giving each a kiss; but knew
it didn’t matter now, nothing did;
they were as dead as he; he stepped out
of the apartment, walked to the edge

of the balcony, watched
traffic four stories below,
thought about all those dead
he’d left in Iraq, his friends
and mates, comrades, men

who did not deserve their fate,
all finding in that devil land
a terrible price, answering
that strange call, a patriot’s life,
such lies we live;  and, now,

just like all those fallen soldiers
who fought and died so hard,
who still wander through his mind
each night accusing him of life,
flicked the cigarette butt against the night.

He laughed. Picked up that gun,
pulled the trigger…

At the funeral a man in a uniform
gave his wife the American flag.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

Partial Reading List for 2016

a-night-in-the-library-1920x1200

Drawing up my list for 2016 of books I’ve been putting off for too long. For the first few months I’ll shift between philosophy and poetry. Guided more and more by materialist dialectics of late I’m working through both the mathematical idealist and vitalist mystic traditions that lead up to Badiou, Zizek, Deleuze and other contemporary currents. In materialist dialectics we start with bodies and languages, and the exception between of truth. More and more the new forms of materialism as against the older metaphysical or naturalist substantialism (i.e., substantive formalism or extensiveness; dualist metaphysics) the new forms are productive of an insubstantial or inclusive appreciation of incorporeals: truth and languages being part of this materialist dialectic. It’s taken me a while to wrap my head around much of the thought concerning this new view onto materialism, ontology, etc. For years I was a typical bedrock metaphysical materialist in line with Democritus, Stoics, Epicurus/Lucretian thought up through the whole history of what is now termed democratic materialism (i.e., naturalist and scientific forms). It took some time over the past few years for my mind to change and see other possibilities.

One of my issues with Zizek is that he practices a form of dialectical materialism that I agree with in principle, but that he himself is almost too verbose and inchoate, unclarified and ambiguous in clarifying in his writings. One would like an editor to take his two recent books and apply a scalpel. He can be long winded and abstruse to the point that one loses the thread of what he is conveying. He needs compression and less verbiage. He writes as he talks which is not always a good thing. Prose unlike speech needs a stylistic grace which Zizek lacks. He is to put it mildly a ‘bull-in-the-proverbial-china-closet’ philosopher, clearing the room of everything but his own self-reflecting nothingness.

Badiou on the other hand is almost too stringent and correct in his writing. The intensity and condensed rhetoric is bound to both analytic and continental schools that appear to act as strong influences and superegos over his shoulder as he writes. It’s as if he knows the tradition within which he is writing too well. One would like him to forget a little and say it with less iron locks set down over his discourse. Yet, he has things to say that need to be said.

With Deleuze and the vitalist tradition arising from Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Canguilhem, Foucault, Simondan, etc., along with the addition of my readings in Nick Land and others I keep one foot in the life-worlds of force, biology, quantum mechanics, etc. One cannot have the one tradition without the other. The only enemy of both is Idealism, although not Ideas.

I’ll add more on science, poets, novels, history, sociology, etc. at a future time. I think when one draws up a reading list it’s not set in iron but rather a reminder of one’s path, a way into one’s own house…

Philosophy

  1. Alain Badiou: The Complete Being and Event (Being and Event I and II) : I’ve put these two works off for a while, dabbled at chapters here and there; yet, have not done a systematic (mis)reading – so this is my point of contact for Jan/Feb
  2. Slavoj Zizek: Early works – the Quartet of Essential Zizek (Sublime Ideology of the Object, The Plague of Fantasies, The Ticklish Subject, and The Fragile Absolute)
  3. Gilles Deleuze: The Logic of Sense, Difference and Repetition
  4. I’m leaving out many of the commentaries, subsidiary works on the above philosophers that will become a part of the process of reading. I seem to float around 5 – 6 books during the daily grind or reading and writing, meditating and exercise, etc. Keeping the body in movement, walking and thinking… I’ve always agreed with Nietzsche in the sense that one does one’s best thinking while walking. I keep a note pad and a small hand-held recorder on me, and music…
  5. Chinese Confucianism, New and Old Forms; along with Taoist and poetic texts ancient and modern. Communism seems to be subsiding in China in favor of a return to the Greater Tradition of Confucius with both normative and political overtones.  We see its influence even in Western Philosophy of Brandom, Negarestani, Brassier and other philosophers. It parallels in some ways the Stoic philosophers of Greece and Rome in its realist turn in politics and governing. One would be amiss to turn a blind eye to the practical return of these ancient and powerful normative visions. They are making a come back. Traditionalists everywhere are seeking paths forward, and not all are reactionary or bound to older politics of the progressive sphere. Change has other ways and means.

Poetry

  1. Work of  Anna Akhmatova, Paul Celan, Yannis Ritsos,  Nazim Hikmet, Bertolt Brecht, Cesar Vellejo, Pablo Neruda; Anne Carson, Henri Cole, Charles Bernstein, Yusef Komunyakaa, Christian Bök…

Novels

  1. Herman Broch – Death of Vergil
  2. Lawrence Durell – The Avignon Quintet
  3. David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas
  4. Karl Ove Knausgaard – My Struggle: Book 1

Drama

  1. Bertholt Brecht – The Complete Plays – I’ve been putting off rereading Brecht for years, but as I begin reading Badiou with his views on inaestheticism and the classical, didactic, and romantic operations and classifications we know – along with Walter Benjamin that Brecht is a formidable influence on Badiou’s didacticism and epic view onto art in its relation to philosophy. In some ways a return to Brecht and the German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger might be a good contrast.

In one of Benjamin’s journal entries we hear him describe Brecht, saying,

For several years they have been subsumed, now under one key concept, now under another, so that non-Aristotelian logic, behaviourist theory, the new encyclopedia and the critique of ideas have, in turn, stood at the centre of his preoccupations. At present these various pursuits are converging upon the idea of a philosophical didactic poem. (Here “they” is: “the thoughts which occurred to him within the scope of epic theatre”)

Benjamin: Whilst becoming more closely concerned with the problems and methods of the proletarian class struggle, he has increasingly doubted the satirical and especially the ironic attitude as such. But to confuse these doubts, which are mostly of a practical nature, with
other, more profound ones would be to misunderstand them. The doubts at a deeper level concern the artistic and playful element in art, and above all those elements which, partially and occasionally, make art refractory to reason.

Badiou: For Brecht, art produces no truth, but is instead an elucidation – based on the supposition that the true exists – of the conditions for a courage of truth (p. 6, Inaestheticism)

This sense of having the courage of the truth, of elucidating the conditions and milieu within which a truth arises in time in dramatic tension is at the heart of his play on Galileo.  Truths are not situated in some Platonic mirror land beyond, but arise immanently in time through appearance as appearance (i.e., they are dialectic and have a history, temporal and formidable, concrete universal truth rather than some absolute situated beyond time or timeless).

 

 

 

 

 

The Democratic Ghost Machine

human-vs-robot-08

Bodies will have to pay for their excess of languages.
….– Alain Badiou, Logics of Worlds

I believe in the body.
I believe in the diversity of languages.
I believe in democracy.

So speaks the man of commerce.

Life still vibrates under the hood of his eye.
Life is the name he hangs against the sky.
Life goes down the street against his cold and lonely heart.

Reduced to the bare minimum
of his naked certainty
he seeks equality in a zoo.

Under the auspices of trivial masters
he hibernates in a law of One
till feigning light he becomes Two.

He will pay for these excesses:
the exception of truths requires it.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

Echo Chambers of Time

mydarkesthour

The Gnostic’s made bid
to play old Plato’s game –
a cave of shadows; a scroll

upon a wall of cosmos,
a god to build a garden,
a serpent to feed

upon a bloody tree;
wisdom’s keep
against the day of judgment,

a temptation to forget and be:
all-seeing, all-knowing –
a comic relief, modes of laughter

and decay, hoof prints
on the sands of pandemonium;
tidings of an ancient curse:

an alien’s glance, a stranger’s
tale of darkness and the light;
a cast of thousands, war and strife;

a foreigner, agent of the disgruntled
minions (city sleeker’s, bandit-
profiteers, wall-street buffoons,

thieves and yes-men
of this economic zoo),
whose lives shine not, yet break

against the solitudes
of cosmic night;
such are the wonders

of the aberrant mind,
keening’s of a mythical time;
the labors of titans

and gods, fools and vagabonds;
the weeping and searing
of a god gone blind and cruel;

the hollow record
of the human animal,
stripped down bare,

shriven of his poetry
and truth, his wandering history
through a galactic vacuum,

seeking answer to this emptiness:
kenotic gleams echoing silently
against the mindlessness of things.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Childhood’s End: A Modern Allegory

ChildhoodsEnd_gallery_102Recap_01

Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End is a fable for our time, an allegory that aligns and comingles our secular and religious traditions and deceptions, our hopes and fears, our illusive dream of utopia and peace, and the darker truths that such peace always comes with a price. The price of utopia is total control, a peace without freedom; a world governed by total awareness and transparency. No where to hide, only total acceptance of superior strength and technology. In this fable alien peace comes at the price of human enslavement without power or change, a sterile peace without honor or dignity only the neoliberal vision of a surveillance world where the masters hold all the keys to the future.

I don’t have time to go over every detail, so will just highlight my impressions of SciFi Channels remake of this classic science fiction novel, which I’ve watched over the past three nights. What struck me most was its adaptation of a secular allegory inclusive of both a posthuman evolution and religious disenchantment bringing with it a modern update of the ancient Gnostic mythos.

The Gnostics of Alexandria were the heirs of both Platonic allegory and Jewish myths and sayings. They developed an exegesis of the Genesis books or scrolls of the ancient biblical texts presenting the God of Genesis as the Evil One incarnate and the Serpent in the Garden as a prefiguration of Christ-as-Savior. So in the SyFy adaptation of Clarke’s famed novel the vision of Kerellen becomes the gnostic vision of the serpent in the garden returning to awaken the children from their sleep in time. But this time there will be no salvation for humanity, for the parents, but only of the children who will become alien, become other, transformed into something godlike and empowered with abilities and dispositions unheard of on planet earth before or since. But as we will see the portrayal of the gnostic mythos in the movie is more of a parody than an enactment of its themes.

In the beginning we are presented with the alien arrival of city size spacecraft that hover over all the major cities of the known world. An alien being, Karellen, Overlord and Supervisor, presents himself as the messenger and benefactor of human kind’s golden age; and is presented not as a strange and unusual personage, but rather as resembling in uncanny detail a creature out of our religious myths and nightmares, the Devil incarnate. Yet, he is not revealed all at once, but rather veils himself using a human messenger and prophet to deliver his good news. Kerellen’s soothing voice and presence disarms both national defense systems and the populace. The aliens have the ability to ground all flight, to disarm those who do violent acts with weapons, bend time or slow it down, etc.  Ricky  (the Blue-collar prophet) is summoned to meet with the Supervisor on his vessel, and is brought to a memory machine where he is provided a safe haven and a glimpse of his now dead lover. Ricky troubled by her suicide deals with his past and present lover all while listening and arguing with Kerellen over the future of humanity.

But even as the earth is transformed into an enforced paradise under the auspices of the Overlords we discover not is all well, and that many humans are not happy with this enforced peace. A Freedom League is formed by a media Moghul, Wainwright with millions of disgruntled dissidents wanting the aliens to abandon planet earth. In a scene that shows the world beyond doubt the power of the aliens to quell all forms of violence we see Rick, the golden-boy prophet kidnapped by Wainwright’s organization and taken into a deep underground enclave where he is offered a chance to renounce Kerellen and join them. Instead he refuses and is summarily to be executed on world-wide television. But just as the hired assassins shoot to kill the aliens step in and stop time and motion in this area allowing the world to see Kerellen’s power over violence. Ricky escapes and is returned to his home.

I want go over each episode here. One can see it on SyFy.com. What did interest me was its incorporation of two facets of a secular allegory: the religious disenchantment conveyed throughout the series as it provided the clichéd secular liberal stance against religion, and especially Christianity; and, at the same time of the posthuman evolution of humanity into some form of inhuman metamorphosis or transcendence. Several stories, families, and sequences of events and struggles is portrayed over the three-part series. Around the religious theme of disenchantment is the character of Paretta, a young woman whose mother committed suicide after losing her faith when the aliens arrived instead of God. The story surrounding Paretta is one of a slow progress from faith to despair as if the writers had purposely chose to use this character to portray the secular liberal vision of Enlightenment disenchantment into atheistic despair. (I’ll leave it there, and come back at some time and expand on this.)

The second theme of the posthuman transformation takes us into the Gnostic mythos. The Overlords homeworld is the site of – shall we say, God or Overmind? One of the side stories is the slow decay and actual closing off of scientific, cultural, artistic, and other forms of curiosity and inquiry. Two realms are created on the planet, the realm of cities where humans can still be creative and enjoy all the old ways – freezones outside the control of the aliens. But with a price, in this freezones the aliens provide no assistance, no medical cures, no help whatsoever. While in the areas controlled by the aliens humans are without disease, hunger, strife, etc. The typical clichéd allegory of 19th Century utopian bliss, etc. A throwback to agrarian golden ages. But to cut to the chase nothing really matters where you live for the truth is simple: humans as a species, and earth as its home are in their last stages of existence. Humans will go the way of dinosaurs, extinct. So the aliens as part of the Overminds grand plan are going under a unique and singular transformation in their evolution, and the children they are giving birth to in this last generation will become their bright successors becoming other or more-than-human. Ultimately after the Overlord has saved the remnants of every other species providing an arc or safety net on their Homeworld where a menagerie is being constructed to house all insect and animal, plant and other forms of life, only humans will vanish, go extinct along with their planet, earth.

We learn that the Overlords are carrying out the plan of what they call the Overmind, and that they have done this over and over on many planets before earth. The Overlords who look like devils are both impersonal and without unique personalities, as if they represented the ancient Archons – or star powers of the ancient gnositcs. And the Overmind reminds one not so much of God as it does the demiurge, a blind and almost artificial intelligence that seems to carry out its initiatives in an impersonal and inhuman form that lacks all meaning and context. One of the side character, the “boy genius” Milo Rodricks, who throughout the series represents scientific and creative curiosity finds a way through his girlfriend to go to the aliens homeworld and is offered a linkage to the Overmind. He seems to realize that the Overmind is more a machine than some God out of mythology. Even the alien archons tell him that they are mere servants of this impersonal power, that they long ago had run the gamut of their own evolution and come to the end of their own abilities to advance further on the evolutionary scale. They know they are but minor servants and bit players in a cosmic scheme they neither control nor even benefit from in any significant manner. In fact they envy the children that are our successors. For it is the children of these last humans that will evolve into something greater than anything the universe has ever known or might they tell Milo. This plays into the whole transcendence theme that has been with us for millennia, so that the Platonic tradition with its roots in Shamanism; along with the Jewish Christian motif of end times and human transformation play out in our posthuman ideologies and mythologies of gnostic metamorphosis.

Ultimately its a fable about the extinction of earth and humanity, a tale about ends and beginnings; about the death of one species and the rise of its successor, about the truth of life in the universe as presented in the neoliberal secular vision of cosmic horror. The Overlords are that force beyond human control, the inhuman truth of power that does not need us, and seeks nothing but to attain its own goals whether we are a part of those goals are not. A power that will lie and manipulate to secure its own mission. It’s about humans will-to-believe in something greater, and the despair when those beliefs are stripped of their poetry and mythic significance and reduced to the bare truth of pure unjustified power.

The Overlords like the archons or daemons of ancient gnosticsm are that impersonal force of things that is neutral and without or beyond moral persuasion or dictate. They are the carriers only of the necessity of the Overmind’s (Demiurges) plan, the messengers and enforces of the dictates of the blind algorithms running the system of the world, time and space. Yet, unlike Gnosticism there is no ultimate revelation, no contact with the alien one outside time and space; only the confrontation with the machinic Overmind that is at once impersonal and oblivious to our human struggles, wants, and needs; our feelings, and our secret desires. The Overlords and the Overmind are the pure truth of Necessity in all its deadly imposture without mercy or justice, just the goal of its own impenetrable plan.

At the end of the movie the children of earth who have been born during this stage of the plan have awakened to certain powers and dispositions toward one specific young girl, Jennifer. She seems to be not a savior figure, but more of a first-born of the next stage in our evolution. She is the manifestation of some aspect of the Overmind become incarnate, but unlike the messiah figure of Jesus or Buddha she does not come baring a message for the parents. Her message is for the other children alone. Communication among these young ones is total and telepathic, without boundaries of space or time. She seems to draw her power directly from the earth toward the end which ultimately transforms her into something else even as earth is destroyed. It’s as if she were the Gnostic Sophia incarnated to weave a new path forward. Of course in the old myths of gnostics Sophia was the mother and bride of the Demiurge. In this instance the Overmind. Even as the earth is dying the last human, Riki descends to earth to witness and communicate to the Overlords what he sees and feels. He leaves one last request, that something be saved out of all that humanity once was. The Overlords save a symphony (? need to discover this score?) which they leave in the vastation left after earth explodes and Jennifer is transformed beyond. The Overlord Kelleren tells his subordinate: “Leave the music as a reminder to those who may come across this emptiness.”

That’s all I have time for now… I’ll need to come back, polish this up, add in more details and observations at some future time.

 

 

House of Love & Curses

housoflove

She sat there on the fire-pitched
roof looking back at me,
her thoughts as mine
despondent as the day is long.

Hour on hour she watched the moon,
intrepid to desire, the sallow sea below
stiffening to her bleak eyes; slip-
page of a world to night composed.

Could she have known, troubling
those black stars above, it would come to this;
a moment shriven, street-plumbed:
craving all she could give or be?

If any doubt the truth of it, cast a dark eye
upon these cursed lays, hear the bittern’s cry;
for she will not speak of it; nor in her separate
dream bring mention to the alter of her mind.

She lays before me now, bitter and accursed;
thinking what may come, will come; knowing
that even if this broken testament of love is lost,
cast down;  she’ll ply her tokens to a wheel of fortune.

What now of her sordid histories, erotic therapy?
Who lives among these pealed dreams,
the labors of an hour, spent
wandering on shores the mind forgets?

If I could bring her back again,
brink-wise to this voice, what splendor
found in utterance so pure and clear,
would find her ancient haughtiness dispelled?

So bright and full of music, her freedom
would once again meet mine, absolved
of temptation; her subtle mind’s inbreathings
gathering wit sharpened and unswept by strife.

Her bones all twisted now and weak,
her thoughts the things of minor transport;
yet, at times love’s sobriety still quickens her,
and in that absent smile she deftly summons me:

our House of Love we built so long ago,
when rivers young and bold strove
against our youthful bodies slow presumption;
we, even we, who discovered the alphabet of love

sparked wondrous occasion at such fierceness
and embattled knowledge: our duplicitous ways,
heart’s gifted by so desperate a choice, broke
steadfast wisdom against such cruelty and remorse;

that time, the maker’s curse, once brought us down
and with his lie made of us this object of derision:
a solitary voice among the multitudes, speaking
plainly of all that was and will be, the living worlds

before us, awakening; till time and mind,
and all the ancient despicable things
once again show forth their spark
of light to those who in the darkest secrecy

of their lives behold that which is always present,
never fading: the living waters that delivered us
to the earthly paradise of love, till we who see,
once again rise up, know and be, as we are, immortal.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Last Troubadour

light-1

You are the last of your tribe,
the one who will bring it to an end;
this broken ring of the failed and lonely,
where nothing is and nothing remains.

Are you happy now that the deed is done?
Did it bring you what you thought it would?
Have you pondered the repercussions,
the secret judgments of your songs?

What else could have been done in such a time?
Maybe it was always too late for those like us?
She’s gone for whom our songs were meant, these
fragments left in flames beyond regret or sorrow.

Do not look away from this poverty, seek it out,
know it for what you are and have always been;
this changing thing, hollow and without substance,
a mere vacancy without thought, a perceiving thing.

Keep to that which gives you sustenance,
those thoughts from the other end of time,
where paradise is not a childhood myth,
and you are neither king nor victim, but a maker.

If you were expecting things to be different, now
you know the truth: the pure condition of love;
and wisdom is but this darkness unveiled in you:
a tale of failure and complicity: to know and be.

You stand there now alone and naked, stubborn
like a diamond encased in cruelty and pain; unyielding
and indifferent to the flames of desire burning you down
till you realize there is nothing left to do but sing, sing again.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Logics of Worlds

black-and-white-dark-music-photography-surreal-Favim_com-442663

I place heroism on the side of discipline, the only weapon both of the True and of peoples, against power and wealth, against the insignificance and dissipation of the mind.
….– Alain Badiou, Logics of Worlds

Maybe we were always swerving
ruinously by way of silence
far removed, restless and cruel,

absorbed only in that which breaks all thought;
the mirthless discipline of change and law,
set beside loss and gain, the deadly bane:

counting belated remembrances that stay us now
as then against the happenstance of daily pain;
or would you have me follow you into this hell,

dashing each and every thought against
its opposite; contrariwise conflicting all
to waken in the fluctuations of the void –

a calligraphy of sound, sparking us to know
the knowledge of darkness in non-knowing;
and, if such wisdom as is brokered now

among such seekers as yourself, this point
of nonsense touching sense (the self-
reflecting nothingness at its final terminus),

what then: how bring us out of this caustic age,
where indecision masks itself as decision’s face;
and the children of light go blank upon the screen,

the cinematic gleams departing like a faded scene;
the theater darkening to midnight’s mind:
the bladed stars of eyes hollowing out till sight

(the miraculous guest) begins to see at last, and see what is;
and those who know are gone among the flattening logics
of worlds subtracted from their core events, awakening

here to the only ever life we ever had to live, this visible
darkness where true life is present, now and in-between;
as we are, among them, always in their fleeting intensities:

each gathering her redress against these vanishings of day or night;
remain or be as the lost and lonely ghosts of time, costing nothing less
than everything; their dispositions: squandered, broken, unredeemed?

                                       * * *

 


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Contemporary Poets: Christian Bök

bokz

I’m trying to treat poetry itself as a kind of “skunkworks” of literature, a kind of top-secret research facility, where we can reverse-engineer the alien technology of language itself. I believe that poetry must think of itself as kind of R&D, setting out to foment new discoveries or create new inventions.
……– Christian Bök

This is the opening salvo in a new series of posts on contemporary poets. It want be so much critical as exploratory, since I’ve as yet not read in depth many of the poets I’ll be assaying. Spotlighting the various experiments ongoing within current poetic work. Even a base awareness that such poets exist and are thriving might help others on to benefit from other fellow laborers in the craft.

I chose a look at Christian Bök because of his alliance with many of the current trends in other forms of art, philosophy, and the sciences. From what I’ve read so far of his work I see it contemporaneous with much of the work being done in the realms of speculative realism, as well as forms of new materialism. With its emphasis on sound blocks and artificial intelligence, the digital and the compositional it seems to be moving in the experimental region of the avant-garde at the forefront of our moment.

“We are perhaps the first generation of poets who can reasonably expect to write poems for a machinic audience…” says Christian Bök in his essay When Cyborgs Versify.1 He tells us that as he began writing The Cyborg Opera he began to wonder how a “poetic cyborg of the future might grow to find its own voice amid the welter of our cacophonic technology” (p. 129). He admitted to Charles Bernstein, another contemporary poet, of a certain elitism in his poetic stance, saying,

Very few people are actually willing to make the kind of commitment that’s often required to be immersed within this kind of literature, especially since there are very few material rewards for such dedication. (see On Being Stubborn)

With his roots in Dada Bök’s appellation as a sound poet run deep and have become a staple of his oeuvre. Eunoia is his best known work providing a glimpse into his univocalics, each chapter being restricted to a single vowel, missing four of the five vowels. As Darren Wershler-Henry would say of this work in his review Eunoia: The Patriarch And Incest that  Bök’s poem is “a triumph over the revolution of the human condition”:

Eunoia was not so much written by Bok as belched forth in a fit of sublime inspiration. Eunoia‘s incorporation of sensuality is in keeping with its Modernist point-of-view. As pure allegory, Eunoia was assailed for such statements; this reasoning differs radically from traditional theories of the mid 19th century renaissance of Ottoman literature.

Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial languages for two television shows: Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict and Peter Benchley’s Amazon. Bök has also earned many accolades for his virtuoso performances of sound poetry (particularly the Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters). His conceptual artworks (which include books built out of Rubik’s cubes and Lego bricks) have appeared at the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York City as part of the exhibit Poetry Plastique. Bök is currently a Professor of English at the University of Calgary.2

Marjorie Perloff and Craig Dworkinbreak in their introduction to The Sound of Poetry / The Poetry of Sound will reiterate Samuel Jonson’s admonishment that lyrical poetry once accompanied the lyre, a musical instrument; and, that the “irreducible denominator of all lyric poetry must, therefore comprise those elements which it shares with music… it retains structural or melodic origins, and this factor serves as the categorical principle of poetic lyricism” (p. 7). Yet, we might also remember Austin Warren, who once told us that a theory of poetry worth while “falls neither into didacticism nor into its opposite heresies, imagism and echolalia. The real ‘purity’ of poetry—to speak in terms at once paradoxical and generic—is to be constantly and richly impure: neither philosophy, nor psychology, nor imagery, nor music alone, but a significant tension between all of them.”3 This sense of tension or conflict between things whether human or not is at the heart of many aspects of our current thought, which seeks to stay with those breaks, gaps, and cracks between the Real and reality without confusing the one for the other; and, realizing that above all, its our failure to grasp or understand things, to reduce them to some monocular sameness, that gives us that dynamic and dialectical restlessness we need to create and invent our futures while keeping them open and incomplete.

Bök in an interview on Wave Composition with Stephen Ross speaks of his latest work The Xenotext: Book 1, saying,

I’ve written a short poem, and then through a process of encipherment, I’ve translated it into a sequence of genetic nucleotides, which I’ve manufactured at a laboratory, and then, with the assistance of my scientific collaborators, I’m going to implant this gene into the genome of an extremophile bacterium called Deinococcus radiodurans. I’ve written this poem in such a way that, when translated into this genetic sequence, my text actually causes the organism to interpret it as a set of meaningful, genetic instructions for producing a protein, which, according to my original, chemical cipher, is itself yet another meaningful poem.

This mixture of poetry, science, experiment, operation, sound, empirical investigation all seem appropriate in a world where speculations around the disappearance of the natural and Nature have become clichés, while the artificial and the inhuman have taken on a more ominous tone in both science and art. If bacteria can replicate and produce poetry, what next? Speaking of his teaching he once asked his students “to name their favorite, canonical work of poetry about the moon landing—and of course, they can’t, because it hasn’t yet been written; but, if the ancient Greeks had built a trireme and rowed it to the moon, you can bet that there would’ve been a 12-volume epic about such a grandiose adventure. I’m just surprised that, despite the fact that the 20th Century has seen intercontinental battles and extraterrestrial voyages that would rival the fantasies found in our epic works of classical literature, poets don’t seem willing to address the discourses of these cultural activities….”. Bök unlike many poets has moved from a historical to a futuristic vision, one that might parallel our science fictional constructions:

I think that, right now, very few of us know how to be “poets of the future.”

Works by Christian Bök:

  1. Crystallography (1999)
  2. ‘Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science (2001)
  3. Ground Works: Avant-Garde for Thee (2003)
  4. Eunoia (2005)
  5. The Xenotext (Book 1). Coach House Books (2015)
  6. UBU Web offerings
  7. PennSound offerings

 

  1. Marjorie Perloff and Craig Dworkinbreak. The Sound of Poetry / The Poetry of Sound. University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2009)
  2. Christian Bök. Poetry Foundation Biography and Bio and Notes
  3. Austin Warren. Rage for Order: Essays in Criticism (1948)

 

Outside Utopia

vlcsnap-10016987

Sometimes I can almost open the door
outside utopia

where people of earth
waiting in silence gather

for the moment to begin
no matter the color of their skin

the grasp of their dogma
(their clever retorts

against eternity
or infinity) when they

may one day come together
break bread in communal accord

in simplicity of speech
their eyes no longer wary

seeing the other as she is
in dignity

sharing without anger
or remorse

in the covenant of things
without reaching after the impossible

thought beyond
which a child’s voice lifts up her song

then I woke up here without you
empty and bereft as this earthly paradise:


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

Old Man in the Dark

light-in-the-dark

An old man sat in the dark. He carried within himself a spark. He’d hidden it away for years and years. People would come to him and ask: “Why do you live in the dark?” He just smiled. Some say it was his need to be secretive. Others that he was a bad man who loved the darkness. Still others that he was hiding treasures from the world. He knew better. Nothing could be hidden in the dark. Nothing. He knew that it was only in the dark that one could truly see. Seeing was an art. It was the art of darkness, the art that allowed that which is unseen its chance to appear in the mind within the mind. Only here in the dark could the mind be relieved of its sad burden and mystery. Only here could the spark light up the true darkness of the mind.

An old man felt the dark within the dark light up, and he was happy.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.