Bi-furcations of whatever sort – nature versus spirit, mind versus body, ultimate reality versus appearance, etc. – have their usage at the level of entrance into metaphysical ‘issues’ and as heuristics making it easier to investigate, discuss, and perhaps solve them, alone and together. Complication and nuance of the bifurcations, perhaps leading to zones of non-duality, come after contemplation of the basic dilemma, whereupon the either/or nature of the duality can be superseded.

Given how widespread these bi-furcation dilemmas are in human history, it is unlikely that they are just fabrications of this or that philosopher who happened to get stumped. When they receive canonical definition, for example by folks like Descartes and the mind-body problem, the drawback is that thought can then suffer from adherence to that definition as though it were an authority. Mental effort is then exerted to comprehend the canonical definition, rather than employing it for the sake of inner metaphysical discovery. Such definitions can provide coordinates to help orient in the conceptual territory, and so they can allow progress toward refutation, reformulation, and perhaps resolution of the dilemma, but only if enough time and contemplation is taken for them to become more than ‘intellectual’ exercises driven by the desire to be ‘right’.

In my experience, it is best to gain exposure to as many definitions of the dilemma as possible, both the canonical and the marginal, the obsessive and the dismissive, and to receive them all without bias, valuing whatever is unique about each model. That way contemplation avoids sticking to one specific model or definition and does not fall into the error of thinking that one specific model or conclusion – a merely external, discursive solution – will somehow resolve the issue. Rather, exposure to a multiplicity of models allows one to be experientially open to a creative transformation of the problem itself and especially its articulation. This can only happen once one feels in some way unbound from the dilemma as stated, once the original coordinates are well underway to reconfiguration. In other words, once a sort of non-discursive ‘resolution’ has been perceived or understood, through extended contemplation, thought can then freely enter back into the discourse without feeling detrimentally entangled by its many historical and conceptual referents. This is perhaps a resolution in ‘simplicity’; but it is also the grounding of thought in the non-temporal actuality that motivates the problem to begin with and which has been occluded by its contingent, imperfect articulation.

From such simplicity and grounding, a greater degree of conceptual and expressive innovation can take place; and one can do so playfully, perspicaciously, ‘indifferently’. This is not to detract from the importance of the operation, however, since those who earnestly undertake it often become innovators in the field, having transcended it enough towards actuality that they are able to play upon it differently and perhaps even rewrite the rules. It goes without saying that this ‘rewrite’ and its results are ever an invitation to future participants in the field to exert themselves similarly in the direction of inner metaphysical experience and simplicity in expressive freedom.

The emotion to such a procedure is, manifestly, joy: the pleasure of participating in the actuality of God. Such is not belabored by merely rationalist distinctions, by canonical grinding of gears, or by any need to reference tradition or gain authority from it. For now the articulation of the dilemma has gained the boldness to stand in the bifurcation without angst as a catalyst for novel future investigations. Its intention now derives not from the ‘imposition of view’, but from love: love of the contemplation and love for those who are still fruitfully animated by the bi-furcation dilemmas, those who have realized that these are necessary for the progression of speculative thought. This is the stance of a ‘loving circumstantialist’ who addresses each individual context of utterance with care, tied to none of them except to the extent that it is exactly those contexts which are to be worked with creatively, for the sake of being metaphysically unbound.

See more:
Descent to Higher Ground
Nihilism and the Absolute
Run-on Sentence

doig, peter - blotter-1993

Peter Doig, Blotter, 1993

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Agamben’s Philosophy (key points)

One of key statements of philosophy last century came through the mouth of Heidegger (though it was obviously not merely his statement): “Higher than actuality stands possibility.” The statement overturns a long-standing bias that favors of ‘what is there’, ‘what is actual’, what is present, for the sake of ‘the possible’, what ‘may be’. This bias is very much in line with common sense: generally, we value what is really there over what only might be there; what we can put our hands on over what seems mere thought and imagination. The blueprint is not as accomplished, not as real, as the completed building, etc. To say that possibility [Möglichkeit] stands higher than actuality [Wirklichkeit] marks a watershed moment where this bias – and the entire world based on it – enters into a crisis.

Another key statement of modern thought came through the mouth of Rimbaud: “Je est un autre,” I is an other. I view this as the motto for all the efforts to rethink individuality, subjectivity, selfhood, and so on, that have since been undertaken. It stands for how the self is not self-sufficient, not a being closed in on itself, not a substance; how it is in relation, at risk, constituted by forces beyond its conscious power; how perhaps the individual “is not” at all, is possibility, potentiality (and so on).

So, Agamben comes in highly situated within a philosophical and poetic tradition that he is very ambitiously trying to respond to in the entirety of its concerns. Among others, two of the primary axes of concern are “possibility is higher than actuality” and “the I is other” (taken to the extreme of “autrement qu’etre”). These two great over-turning and philosophically ‘revolutionary’ statements force a crisis to occur (as much as they register a crisis long prepared) in Western thought/society. Agamben’s big ambition is to bring these crises to bear on all the fundamental areas of Western thought – ontology, law, judgment, art, language, politics. With an eye to many others who also tried to deal with these consequences, he brings many threads together into a weave that is “uniquely his own.” I can only highly a few concepts: Continue reading

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For the Love of Thought

Confusion in contemporary discourse about thinking: we ‘think too much’. Inclination to turn off the mind, escape. Importance of distinguishing distraction from meditation, annihilation of mind from clarification of mind. Krishnamurti: cessation of imagistic thought leads to awakening of intelligence. Not exactly ‘wisdom’. Definitely not in the style of soundbite, meme leading to cliché. Though perhaps all this useable for living a life, getting on. But not necessarily a life that thinks; thus not what it potentially could be.

Spontaneous reaction against intellectualism, abstraction, conceptualization, and so on. But the latter confused with expert discourse, specialists working for university or industry, ‘big word’ people talking down to ‘ordinary’ people. Fault of intellectuals is their inability to listen and speak the other’s language. Also fault of education, teaching to tests and ‘right answers’, less to critical, emotional, creative thinking and development of powers of expression.

In fact, a general prohibition on thinking reigns. Primarily in the mode of distraction, divertissement, idle talk. Desires produced to divert. Satisfaction of those desires become imperative. But no desire for truth. However, everyone has that desire, as is clear whenever there’s an opening for thoughtful conversation. The opening often closes quickly, due to discomfort, unless there’s trust and spaciousness. Unclear what to ‘do’ with thought, since it often asks question for which no ready-made answer exists. And perhaps no ready-made question.

Questioning often stops, or is satisfied, by prevailing interpretation. Often one that is endorsed by establishment, institution, party, Church. This produces homogeneity in thought, staleness. Expression takes on a mechanical nature. It becomes predictable and steady, which is what the anxious mind seeks. However, it is only a temporary respite. Anxiety returns wherever the clear action of thought has not pierced it. Anxiety, sometimes manifest as boredom, is the sign of what must be pushed through. Badiou:

All courage amounts to passing through there where previously it was not visible that anyone could find a passage… Ethical courage amounts to the force to traverse anxiety, since this means nothing else but the capacity to consider oneself null.

Desire for ‘truth’, when it exists today, however, usually orients around wish to know the facts. Less common: truth as active production of knowledges that did not formerly exist and that do not reach closure. Such production takes place in a “void,” can be unbearable. Thought bears with the strength of questions no authority can satisfactorily answer. Thus its anguish of ‘no answer’. Also is freedom, possibility. Facts are important, but the love of thought cannot content itself with them. Thinking exceeds the sphere of what is. Thought “means” nothing yet. It reaches into the Not-Yet and “learns to live.”

December 4, 2018

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Staying Alive (Michel Houellebecq)

by Michel Houellebecq

“The universe screams. The concrete shows the violence with which it was hit like a wall. The concrete cries. The grass groans under the animal teeth: And Man? What can we say of man?”

The world is a suffering spread out, on display. At its origin, there is: a knot of suffering. All existence is an expansion and a crushing. All things suffer, until they are. The nothing vibrates with suffering, until it arrives at being: in an abject paroxysm.

Beings diversify and complexify themselves, without losing their primary nature. At a certain level of consciousness, the cry becomes manifest [se produit]. Poetry is derived from this. Articulated language, as well.

The first poetic procedure consists in going back to the origin. Namely: to suffering.

The modes of suffering are important; they are not essential. All suffering is good; any suffering is useful; all pain bears its fruits; every misery is a universe. Continue reading

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Sparrow’s Grace (poem)

for Edith and Nancy
(from 2008, reedited)


They’ve got me roped by my little hand.
They’re leading me through the big warehouse.
They’re slipping my hand in a white loop.
They’re tethering me to everyone in a line.
They’re walking me across the cold concrete,
slipping my hand in a white loop.

They’re calling to end Gilbertville, Iowa.
They’re ending Captain Crunch and cushion forts.
They’re telling me Grandma’s just died.
They’re talking to my mother about it first.
They’re keeping them both from me now,
talking to my mother first.

They’re confusing fields with dreams.
They’ve got me by the hand with the white rope.
They’re slipping Grandma out of her white bed.
They’re slipping my hand in a white loop.
They’re showing me what it’s like to be choked,
slipping Grandma out of the white bed.

They’ve bought me a trinket Model-T truck.
They’ve bought me this plastic change-holder.
They’ve left me alone in the hallway.
They’re keeping my hands tied with rope.
They’ve done me some kind of favor,
keeping my hands looped alone.

They’re driving me home on the yellow bus.
They’re keeping me from talking to my mom.
They’re making her feel it’s all her fault.
They’re scared because we aren’t crying.
They know we began the day rough, and they’re
very scared we aren’t crying.


They’re telling me Grandma’s just died.
They’re scared because we aren’t all crying.
They’re keeping my hands in the loop.
They’ve got me tied up with white rope.
They’re confusing fields with dreams,
scared because we aren’t crying.

They’re leaving me in the new cornfield.
They’re thinking it’s really a field-trip.
They’re trying to keep me from nightmares.
They’re dressed in flat orange suits.
They’re glaring their eyes black like cameras,
thinking it’s really a field-trip.

They’re telling me Grandma’s dead.
They’re telling me Grandma’s just died.
They’re already forgetting her fake teeth.
They’re stealing her from her white bed.
They’re telling me Grandma’s just died,
stealing her from the white bed.

No more soft painting, no eagles.
No more hiding cockroaches.
There’s birds of starvation in her feeders now.
No way back to Waterloo.
There’s a leaky memory of sorrow,
hovering over her white bed.

They’re going to divvy up Grandma.
They’re going to keep recipies and paintings.
They’re going to throw out the white bed.
They’re going to cry and sell the house.
They’re looking at me, asking what I want,
going to divvy up Grandma.

No more soft painting, no eagles.
They’re telling me Grandma’s just died.
They’re already forgetting her fake teeth.
They’re leaving me in the new cornfield.
They’re wondering why I’m not crying,
going to divvy up Grandma.


I felt the worse for my mother. She’d gone
with Grandma to Branson to listen to music and
cross the country roads in between. They’d taken
an old bus to get there. But Grandma got sick
through all of it. Grandma was Mom’s mother-
in-law, so guilt began piling on over the years
like black to cancer. In years, we all would have it.

I felt the worse for my mother. Grandma got ill
half way through the trip and she couldn’t help
but think it was her fault. How did she dare
bring the raining in so close? The way you’ll stand
over-looking a tornado storm wondering how
you could be so kind to everyone but yourself.

I felt the worse for my mother. Breast cancer
had come to Grandma in the past. Her last sleep
came peacefully—a scene she’d painted many times
around me. She knew the white canvas beneath
colors never stopped being white. It only looked
changed. But it was very hard to change it back.

I felt the worse for my mother. She didn’t want
any of Grandma’s things. Her parents were dead
before her son was born. I wonder if she knew
she would be going soon, too, back to the white
space between. I wonder if that little boy knew
that someday every color would change back.

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A silent, meditative word is a word rich in after-thoughts but which minimizes its degree of getting caught in merely discursive formations.

A unilateral understanding of the relation between silence and thought-languages* allows a use of the latter which both radically “deprioritizes” words and maximizes its potential to convey peace. The function of speech now becomes armistice; it loses all necessity of arguing in a combative sense. Rather, it “argues” affectively against the reign of argument as debate and division. Instead, there is honesty and exposure, a touch across one another that communicates, first, a shared spirit of vulnerable humanity, and second, a taste and appreciation of this as a sort of oneness or non-division, plainly put, of actual meeting: encounter.

Meditative words leave us indeed with after-thoughts, but they are not primarily cognitive, or the cognitive experiences here a halt or suspension which can be uncomfortable for it—and this often leads us to seek words to explain or understand it prematurely. This effort is not detrimental, but it does suggest that we are then feeling the force of language’s incapacity to encapsulate what the meditative word, the gentle voice, communicates to us affectively. It remains a mystery, but we have difficulty staying open to it.

Dwelling with these after-thoughts, allowing them to be absorbed underneath the discursive-cognitive level, is at any rate possible. Doing so often leads to quite surprising outcomes when one finally does speak and respond, almost as if the longer one dwells in this way the more likely one is to later replicate a similar mode. We see here how these after-thoughts, brewed in silence, can lead to a “discourse” that neutralizes discord and proliferates peace. Silence is held internal to itself by the unilational structure it obeys and by its intentional restraint from over-thinking.

In the end, we are led to an affective experience that isn’t before but rather after thought and that is therefore capable of mastering language “from above” as a tool for communication without fixating on significations produced at the semantic and hermeneutic level. The meditative word thus inspires no struggle to decipher, no quarrel over interpretations or the meanings of words, since there is no attachment to them; nothing of the affective experience of after-thinking depends or relies on the powers of the logos and its assertions per se (and it is well-recorded how any fixation there leads to the vain, unhelpful wars of religions and philosophies).

One realizes here that what matters is neither seriousness, wisdom, nor profundity, but the spirit of openness in the utterance, or more, the degree of generic listening-potential encoded or made manifest in it, including as an example. How does it listen to (its own) silence? How does it listen to the other’s words and silences? How does it give itself and why? When all these considerations are rooted in silence—in the unagitated mind, in a voice whose strength is quiet—there is no conceivable limit to the amount of “adorable” words that can be produced: Each word will remain at rest in a potentiality that already resides within the listener, who is always at its source and so can always open to its beauty, independently of erudition, skill with reason, or whichever other criteria might impose a hierarchy. It is a speech of which anyone who listens meditatively is capable.

*The unilateral relation between silence and thought-language means that, in the last instance, there is a one-directional influence or “causality” from silence to speech. In this model, silence causes speech but speech doesn’t cause silence, no more than speech wraps around to define, determine or influence silence. Silence is then left its purity, its freedom from speech, but without denying that it can be related (unilated) to it. The practical goal here would be to let this unilateral relation prevail throughout the discourse, against or despite the intentionality of any one given speaker. This is where my words are no longer mine, where I speak from the end of my speech, from where I am dead and only a silent language speaks. But we must focus on what is important here: you can kill a man, you can silence his voice, but you cannot kill silence. You cannot stop its—nearly immediate— return after all the glories and follies of humanity. To do justice by this return, this final destiny of speech in silence, is the purpose of the meditative word. It cannot help but inform an ethics of restraint.

—October 16, 2017

Image: Samuel Bak, Time has Come to a Stop, 1965

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Creative Absurdity (Houellebecq)

[Translation of “L’absurdité créatrice”*, p. 71-81 in Michel Houellebecq, Interventions 2: traces (Paris, Flammarion: 2009), by Timothy Lavenz (2019)]

Structure of Poetic Language satisfies the criteria of seriousness for the university; this is not necessarily a criticism. John Cohen observes that in relation to prosaic, ordinary language, which serves to transmit information, poetry allows for considerable deviations. It repeatedly employs irrelevant attributes (“blank dusks,” Mallarme; “black scents,” Rimbaud).  It does not resist the pleasure of stating the obvious (“Don’t tear it up with your two white hands,” Verlaine; the prosaic mind snickers: would she have three?). It does not back down from a certain incoherence (“Ruth wondered and Booz dreamed; the grass was black,” Hugo; two juxtaposed notations, Cohen points out, whose logical unity one perceives with difficulty). It basks with delight in redundancy, prohibited in prose under the name of repetition; an extreme case would be Garcia Lorca’s poem, “Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias,” where the words cinco de la tarde return thirty times in the first fifty-two lines. Continue reading

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