Musings on Writing

In lieu of posting multiple smaller entries, I’ve decided to gather on one page some of the miscellaneous musings on writing that I’ve written in the last few years. These are all very occasional pieces, sometimes quite divergent in argument and aim. None of them are really what you would call “practical,” but hopefully they offer fruit for meditation nonetheless. I’ll try to update this page when new material on the topic is produced. Note that at the bottom I’ve collected links to other writings on this site which deal more or less directly with the question of writing. Thanks for reading.

Writing is like giving birth: we cannot help making the supreme effort. But this applies to our actions in the same way. I need have no fear of not making the supreme effort―provided only that I am honest with myself and that I pay attention. ―Simone Weil

I. An Idiot for Miracles (March 21, 2017)

Writing is like spreading out into nothingness a clear, invisible, paint-like substance that upon contact with meter cools immediately, coagulating into a softbound clay image that foils meaning, or a thought-marble that harbors the bounteous silhouette of a dream. At this resistant block, you have no choice but to chisel, for it is raw and rough and an idiot for miracles. But with every stroke of your hammer, every chunk of material discarded, the strings of a cello glimmer out into the foreground, and the light vibrations so seduce you into passage that you must halt everything and paint what you hear.

II. Scripts of the Possible (September 20, 2013)

The one who writes is not he, but the one who dreams. The truth of it’s not his, but the truth of those who dream with him. Writing’s not written from the position of an actual being, but from the position of being’s possibility―the possibility of dreaming and speaking in anyone. It’s not someone’s, but anybody’s. Such is why the one who writes is never “one,” but many. Which is why anyone might hear him. No voice, no language is possible without this intermingling of the multiple in the same. And if these dreams mean anything, it’s because some multiple one dreams in them. To read them is for that multitude to be read. Singularity comes from this: that inside our words, inside our being, others are given a chance to dream and be also―to dream up their own possibility, their own speech.

Always more than ourselves, we’re equal only to the dream of we all―to this possibility of “all,” the possibility of saying “we.” Thinking’s heart beats only for this, and it’s how we dream this “we” that defines our uniqueness, makes each of us an absolute. To carry this dream―of being, of being ourselves, of being us―to the threshold of consciousness, where we touch one another without being fused, without exhausting our possibility in anything actual: this is what the dreaming writer will have always tried to do. This is what the dreaming multitude will have always been dreaming up in you.

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The Just Share

One can perhaps share two sorts of things: things that have just recently come to your attention and things that you’ve carried with you for a long time. Unless an informative description is attached, the recipient may not be able to tell which of the two it is: if what they’re seeing is new to the sender, too, or if they haven’t suddenly been given access to the contents of a mysterious crypt. Objects have a curious way of swallowing up vast stretches of time and space and labor and attention into neat, anonymous capsules. So one writes the date and occasion on the back of the photograph, puts one’s name on a storage box, specifying: caution, valuables, breakable. But even these notes are indifferent to whomever is unacquainted with the references. Everyone needs a storyteller to contextualize the thing, to communicate the experience it means, or at least to set the established facts in motion and unfold an interpretation that is relevant. To avoid the standard mush, an activity of selection and molding is necessary. Otherwise, the object stays wrapped up in itself, mute and distant; and the sharer disappears behind the thing shared, abandoning it naked to the world’s icy clutch.

With your average post on social media, of course, everything tends to the cool and self-explanatory. Thoughtful touches are rarely contributed, at least not until one amasses a community of users around one who are similarly dedicated to transforming the social media space into one of just sharing. Otherwise, it often seems like the very purpose of the apparatus is to purge such touches from the polis or to scare away those who might risk them. But it would be a mistake to blame digital culture alone for this. It is tough to add thoughtful touches in any social setting, overloaded as they are with codes of dominant language and behavior. It is not even easy in the comforts of one’s own home or among friends. Even with lovers there can be disconnects, reluctances, great incommunicables. How does one ever know what to share and when? Even when the words are blurted out, the intimate detail confessed, the reception is often disappointing. We note in the other an uninquisitiveness, disinterest, distraction, or a simple inability to relate. Ambivalence can even wipe away our desire to be exposed raw, to attain lacerating communication and shaken out of normalcy. Everywhere just sharing encounters reasons to get discouraged: no one responds, people respond superficially, detailed responses get forgotten; there is much fatigue but no progress; no one learns anything, the crux of the matter is never fully conveyed; and so many gaps remain, so many petty assertions infect intersubjective space, so much misplaced superiority and ingratiating waste, so much reactive selfishness. The result is that sharing itself, and the hopes we place in it, degrade. Afraid of rejection or incomprehension, we forget our boldness and consent to a hushed mode that is safe but alone, while the mind rages.

Alas, it takes time and attention to find the justice in this affair and continue with it despite its many perils. As Bataille once said, giving voice to the void encountered in the trials of human communication: “Experience itself had torn me to shreds and my inability to respond finished tearing them.” Even the semblance of transparency is forbidden. Nothing shall diminish the earnestness of the divulgence. But no one who has not begun the long journey of experimenting with this “inability to respond” knows to what extent it prevails over every furtive success. The impossibility inherent here is the foundation for the most creative sendings and the most earnest receptions, in a word: of loyalty. For justice to be had in sharing, the enigma of what is shared demands its rights. The mystery demands to remain. Children know this and delight in the mysticism of sharing, absorbed in the  wonders that attend them. What if adulthood was the art of childhood regained, made excellent? What would that do to our serious discourse on the world? In any case, there must be an ethic to “posting,” lest the social sphere devolve into a quasi-automatic circulation of impersonal information, a sphere from which all sensitive souls are driven to the margins, ostracized and ignored. There must be something like a “just share” that does not imply the sacrifice of the soul, that strives to make no false or careless move, no rash or crude opinion, that does not weigh the evidence of the world or try to measure up to its cleverness, but exposes itself, at the limit of what it can recognize and formulate, to a community of strangers―the first best hope of a redemption that will ultimately hinge on their ability to be examples of “just sharing” for each other.

These remarks in mind, let’s turn to the two types initially mentioned: things that bespeak the new find, which could potentially enter the chest of treasures, and those that signify an everlasting acquisition, which at each new encounter reaffirm their relevance for our life.

Attached to the first is the excitement of discovery and the need to proclaim it. Social beings that we are, we cannot separate our enlightenment from that of others, so we are sure that whatever strikes us will surely strike someone else, too. One broadcasts out the song, quote, news, or image in hopes that it will catch on as suddenly and unexpectedly elsewhere as it did for us. Our surprise must be shared, for we have faith that it will be a surprise for others; in sharing, our own surprise is fulfilled. This is perhaps at the root of our love for teaching and spreading knowledge: it is only when we send back out what we have received that we ourselves fully receive it. Thus the urgency of the first type, which strives partially for our own wholeness, partially for the wholeness of the social whole. Our reasoning goes like this: whatever we have learned is something others should learn for themselves too, whatever has inspired us could also inspire them, and it is our duty to solicit their attention (or concern, indignation, curiosity, etc.) for the sake of universal interest and its edification. Aiding us here are the revelations themselves, which are by nature contagious. Their seductions overflow the limitations of past knowledge with the force of evidence, charm or truth. The sharer adheres passionately to revelation’s logic of bloom, like a child’s first musings on the growth of plants. One’s aim here, at least, is to make it possible for anyone else to be embraced by the beauty, not just of the revelation, but of transmission itself, too, a source of joy in sociality, in the release of thought and emotion and spirit into new materials, which is essential to the expansion of a rich human culture―for without the chance of crossing paths, no one would ever travel.

But then there are the things that haunt us. Far from beckoning us to chase them, it is they that chase us, even invisibly. They recur because they can never leave us: poems, videos, songs, quotations, anecdotes, persons whose spirit or mode are so deeply ingrained into our unconscious that one can never tell where they stop and our conscious thinking begins. These subcutaneous relics support the unspoken principles of our behavior and creativity. They accompany us, aide us, but also blind us, lead us astray. Thus is formed our irreplaceable singularity: after the fact, in dealing with these indelible marks, scars, tattoos of a life. We cherish them with a fatal attraction, knowing that the depth of our affection for them will die with us; and that only they, our partner in mad descent, know the heights to which we have carried each other. With them we shared nights in quiet wonder, giving thanks for them in solitude, alone with the universe yet linked up with it eternally through this object, that word, this memory or sound. At the same time, we are not always so meditative and often lack the time to reflect deliberately upon these fellow travelers. We forget them even though they remain unforgettable, having left their trace in all our words and actions in a way we could never articulate to ourselves or to anyone else. About these things, one does not hold long discourses except with great difficulty, with a mixture of mortal bitterness and endless gratitude. For we know these things, as much as they stick with us, are also lost irretrievably, for they have always already been thoroughly incorporated into the dreamscape that is our being or spirit―which, for better or worse, withdraws in the end from all obvious or immediate sociality.

To share from out of the mystery of our own crypts such things, then, is to share a secret no one else will ever know. It is to accept the silent, confessional foundation of our own truth, lodged as it is in a million irretrievable corners of our history. One lacks entirely the exuberance of the proselytizing mode, for the only urgency here is the urgency of eternity. The goal is no longer to reveal a truth or spark interest, but to testify to something beyond fact or fiction. Put more strongly, one would like to resurrect a body, to let be seen the “ashes of our vital praxis,” from which something like our spirit would rise. What it bears is the melancholic certainty that there will be no direct contagion here, nothing “viral,” nothing that captivates any great mass all at once. The importance of one’s life-long bearing of this thing, too, will never be replicated; at best, someone else will incorporate it anew, but now in a way so unique to them that the experiences remain incomparable. It does not catch on, but carries us up. It does not extend unless it merges with us and brings us with it. It says that, between us and it, there was no distance, that we and it remain inseparable. To share such a thing is to share our entire creature, to grant a lens into our widest scope. Our heart looks at its heart, and its heart looks at ours. The other who stands in these crosswinds, receiving what is shared, is a stranger―not a voyeur, since the true drama is concealed to vision, nor a danger, since what rises is indestructible, but a friend, we could say: someone who will be caught up in our body, which they let free. For if they choose to stand there, we know that they are already being lifted up with our heart into a common one. We know then that there is no longer I, nor you, nor we, but just this Thing in love: the just share, rising, shining, unperishable.

―March 20, 2017

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False Scares

Usually what annoys us about a horror movie is the stupidity of the humans involved. A dreadful curiosity lures them to discover an Evil that paralyzes their reason and leads them into ill-advised, desperate, frenzied action. Many plots could be averted, and the story ended, if only they had left the thing, whatever it is, alone, and not given it any attention―except that, in most cases, Evil doesn’t leave them that option, but haunts, invades, seduces them into contact or imposes it. They climb the stairs looking for the source of that strange screeching noise, they cannot avert their gaze from the mirror that tricks them into killing themselves, they cannot leave unresearched the anomalous substance that threatens to invade them. Or they simply miss the clues, the discovery comes too late, and before they know it they are in Evil’s hands. We smack our foreheads with frustration as the character makes the exact wrong move and, as they should have been able to predict, gets their head sliced clean off.

Our annoyance is a way of asking, How could they be so stupid? They had it coming! But here one rightly objects that, were you faced with the real threat of a slashing, you too would probably not act so rationally. Suspension of disbelief will reach out to accept any monster, but we are not as patient with the monstrosity of human unreason. This shows to what extent we expect people faced with Evil to act as if the Evil did not affect them, as if its power ought to be bracketed and overcome through heroic action and the best strategic choice. Our concern as viewers is perhaps not even primarily that the character survive (it is perhaps rare that a horror movie genuinely endears us to them, though the best ones do; and then it becomes more of a psychological thriller), but that the characters fight for their survival in a convincing way and do nothing too irrational to jeopardize it. Whereas, when it comes to the Evil, we expect irrationality and do not begrudge it when it exploits human stupidity―although, admittedly, we are less impressed by an Evil whose task is made easy by humans than an Evil that overpowers even its greatest defenses.

The trouble is that, on the one hand, we want to discover the Evil and see it in action in all the gruesome detail, we want to see it express its power; on the other, we want humans to deal with Evil intelligently, even if ultimately it doesn’t make a difference. By this criterion, it should be no surprise that a professional is often introduced into the mix to supplement the dire scenario with a little hope. A psychologist, an exorcist, a detective, a paranormal export, or even a kind of militant―perhaps on a divine mission, perhaps not―who can pursue the Evil “from outside” or “from above,” i.e., rationally. In the capacity of expert or leader, they differ from the common person who is usually overwhelmed with fear and fails to handle the crisis adequately. This reflects our desire to see the Evil understood and conquered, even if in the most hopeless, fruitless and doomed manner. But above all, not to behave entirely stupidly.

The professional, part of the plagued party, is the one who can maintain an ideal of rational distance, unless it is spiritual (often modeled on the battle between Christ and demonic forces). This is a viewing distance that allows a gain in clarity, even if the action to follow requires improvisation, risk, life-endangerment, etc. The professional, as a narrative device, works so well because through the film it doubles, guides and mimics the action of the viewer (though we as observers from a different world maintain the “uppermost” position, the most rational and “unafraid”). Submitted to the horror scene but fighting for the minimal distance of an investigation―sometimes driven by an rather crazy curiosity, a type of obsessed determination―, they make decision about values, about what to save and leave behind, about why the Evil is worth confronting and what a meaningful response to it might be (if there are any).

Now, it doesn’t have to be a professional per se, but there is always a sort of becoming-investigator or becoming-scientist at play in a good character when he or she is confronted with an unimaginable horror. I believe this bears witness to a general human tendency, something probably to be admired no matter how haphazard and abortive its campaigns. Generally speaking, whenever this element of knowing is lacking, the story is limited to the hysteria of characters whose stakes are personal, familial, or perhaps even ‘humanitarian’, but chaotic because undirected and overly passional. These ‘pathological’ influences are what the professional is supposedly able, their heart racing, to suspend; and we know their investigatory stance is often tested directly by the Evil itself. Indeed, the one with a removed, sober perspective is often the one destined to get most caught up in the combat, or whose full entanglement with it is finally revealed to them as the cipher of their destiny. Those characters are weakest who show little more than “rage” and who fall quickly in their desperate attempts to fight Evil directly. This, incidentally, even leads us to doubt the strength, gravity, or believability of that particular Evil―as if any Evil that didn’t call for an increase in knowledge in its challenger wasn’t worth hearing about  (meaning it feels like a waste of time to watch that movie)

The terrible attraction of the great horror film is an Evil that we cannot not want to know about, even if it is in the end unstoppable, or stoppable only for a time. But that Evil be unstoppable is, also in the end, unacceptable for humanity. We can see in the horror genre a dynamic allegory for our condition as beings endowed with knowledge of good and evil who, nonetheless, do not do the good we want to do, and do do the evil we do not want to do. Barring the notion that we are innately evil at heart―to which there is much counter-evidence in religion, art, philosophy, and politics, and daily life―we know and over time have progressed in knowing that Evil forces, within and without, can be seen and overcome. But time has brought the fall of religion as our moral measuring stick. Its full replacement by juridical and governmental apparatuses, which ensure a minimum of “freedom” but fail on countless other levels, not answering the question of Evil but controlling Evil by force and punishing its occurrence, has unleashed an era of the conflicts of values, between every different class and sort of person. We have witnessed just to what degree humans can persecute and kill each other, beyond all imaginable boundaries or rules of engagement. Our times are characterized by the obligation to pass through evil in a raw, naked, horrifying way, not only collectively but personally―to stare into the abyss, as Nietzsche put it, and he warned us to be careful that an abyss does not stare back. Very often, an abyss does stare back; but perhaps this is the moment of selection, the moment of progress in knowledge. We understand now that the entire question is reflected in our inner mirror and plays out in the struggle of our soul.

Not only military and intelligence experts, politicians, priests and other leaders, but we too are called to be experts in the ways of handling Evil in our own confrontation with the world’s horrors and those buried deep in our minds and hearts. We too feel the pressure of the professional to stand back and appraise, investigate and put together, if only to stay sane and ward off hopelessness. So we invent countless strategies of interpreting, preventing, redirecting, and explaining Evil. And yet, with each murder or mass shooting or bombing, Evil confirms its overwhelming character, its apparent unstoppability. Often we are reduced to tears like a family caught in a broom closet while the villain lurks outside. And yet we do not give in. We fight our way out at risk of life and limb, sacrificing everything if it means the Evil will be understood and conquered. Even if our direct goal is to save those closest to us, the implications of our deeds is almost metaphysical. We prove the value of hope and knowledge, their participation and ours in the Good.

The horror movie perhaps reflects this struggle between fear and overcoming, giving us a jolting image to prompt our reflections and to take stock of the falsity or “artificiality,” as Rex Styzens puts it, of the special effects that produce terror. But I don’t want to give the impression that I mean all scares are false. My point is philosophical in nature, emphasizing the need to recognize the falsity and illusion of Evil where it would try to drown us in its confusion and paralyze us. Of course, however artificial the means and motives of fear, however base, misleading, and obdurate it is, in the real world it produces real violence, injury and death; and it perpetuates itself through thought-images like a virus, duplicating its wrath in new spheres. Perhaps horror movies teach us something here, perhaps not. Representation works for the cognitive response, but the affective runs into deeper spaces and complexities, harder to understand and express. While movies can conjure these elements of emotion as well, nothing compares to a real-life situation of horror. I share with Rex a “mute admiration” for those who survive it. I wish for them a life of recovery from their traumas and protection from the abreaction into evil behaviors themselves.

I won’t say more on these matters of Evil in society, except to voice a hunch: In the long run, the best way to address it is to assume the fullness of our confrontation with Evil in the deepest recesses of ourselves; to question our own habits and views down to the most granular detail; and to exorcise all the demons that possess us―the automatic reactions, narrow desires and minor violences that generate an atmosphere of combat, vengeance, jealousy and covetousness in society. The point is to see where we are doing violence and what we can do about it. My hope is only that we learn how to brave evil in our own spheres however we can, inside and out, to root it out―which is very difficult in itself, especially if we take the investigation sincerely into all our thoughts and habits.

Once it is accepted that each of us is called to become a professional in the matter of Evil (whether or not it is “supernatural”), it can no longer be a matter of a straightforward moral education or prescriptions. Nothing outside of us can guide us all the way here, for gaining lived knowledge is essential. Sometimes this means more than observing and reflecting. We feel and incarnate evil feelings in ourselves, feeling them fully so as to examine them and to stop acting upon them; in the process we gain compassion for those who do, since we see how we are complicit in their exercise. As we know, it is often by befriending the threatening source that we gain our understanding of it and are able to help it out of its confusion, liberate it from the suffering it so clearly has. This is the hopeful vision advanced by the courageous humanity sometimes displayed in horror movies. One wonders if it isn’t Evil that is most scared by the Evil in them; and perhaps they remain Evil because they cannot or refuse not to know anything about it, preferring to remain vicious, unfeeling, and brutal in spite of everything, ignoring feedback and the need to observe, reflect, and release. Whatever their situation, the horror movie shows that it is humans who are in the best position to enter that practice or profession.

Evil in the movies is obviously not always like a wound in need of healing. As in the real world, it is often portrayed as fundamentally senseless and chaotic, even if it exhibits a high strategic intelligence for attaining its rabid aims. But even here we notice how the Evil thing is subject to its own cravenness and insanity, the baseness of its drives and attacks. It is not clear, in many cases, how a knowing and careful influence is supposed to overcome the fear it generates. The possibility that we will die―by approaching it or just as a random victim―is never alleviated. But knowledge and perspective still helps us survive, even when these cannot penetrate the hard shell of brutality, idiocy and inconscience that shields Evil from its inevitable contact with the Other, with a beyond of division and mutual devourment. For it is always by a false understanding of our intimacy and intrication with the Other that we devolve into separateness and disconnection. What we do know is that this devolution leads to horror, which should be enough to accept the call.

Since I’m writing this on Halloween, let me close with a story. One year, probably 2009, I decided to wear for the occasion a hideous mask misshapen like an alien and bleeding from cuts like a slasher victim. I put something under the left shoulder of the woodsman flannel I wore to give the appearance of a hump. Though not elaborate in construction, I was able continually to jump-start any of my friends who looked my way not expecting to see this face. Even to wear it casually in the room unnerved. It quickly became an exciting, powerful game for me. That evening, after partying a bit, we decided to go out to the bars. What grabbed a hold of me then was strange and memorable. I could not step out into the street―the Ped Mall of Iowa Cit, where hundreds of other students in outfits gathered―without staggering and playing the part. But immediately the game escalated. I started lumbering hunched through the lines of crowds waiting to enter bars and bantering, growling in a very low voice and loudly, breathing with great disturbance. Through the eye holes in my mask, I could tell that many around me, especially some females, were made very uncomfortable at my presence. Looks and glares, some fascinated but many disapproving, met my menacing poses. I felt I had actually become suspicious and threatening in some of their eyes. But I kept on with it for at least an hour, until I found myself wandering alone in an alley, still committed to the Evil acting-out―until something snapped and I “woke up,” stood up straight, took off the mask, chuckled and started walking normally, inside very disturbed at how I had gotten there, how I could take the delusional image so far.

Perhaps Evil is a little like this. Worn like a costume for some purpose―and this can begin in innocent inconscience, however twisted it later becomes―it gives us a feeling of power and control. It brings us attention, however horrified and disgusted. And it is full of passionate abandon, a sort of trance-activity, unreflective, uninhibited, aggressive, free and pleasurable. But inside it is terrifying. Perhaps Halloween is about inhabiting the Evil figure from the inside, playing it out for a night to neutralize its attraction over us. Yet there are probably costumes we wear daily that could be discarded. These are the costumes of our own fear, false scares that hold us bound to scary images. No doubt it is not easy to snap out of the trance of violence, divisiveness and aggression, but there are certainly opportunities to try. The calmness of the expert is not at odds with a quick jump into courageous, decisive action. If anything is certain about them, it is that they have seen what Evil has in it and know what it takes to take it down or to transform it. Their fear need not be absolute; it doesn’t need to control the response, for it is only relative to a gap in our perspective, in our acknowledgement of what we know about Evil’s extent. This doesn’t make it any easier to handle, its vanquishing any quicker. Nothing guarantees success and the professional remains in the dark about much. But in seeking to overcome, dispelling ignorance with knowledge, we prove that the scare must be held false, and that Evil need not win when it is possible for humans to understand it.

―Halloween, 2016 and 17

Note related posts:
Unspeakable ― on the pain of the event, written during Sandy Hook
Boredom & Terror ― on the “wish for explosive pain”
The Law’s Curse ― on forgiveness
Thinking the Gift of Death ― review of Fernando’s The Suicide Bomber

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One-Streaming

The key discovery is that the “steam of consciousness” is outside, without there being any “outside” anywhere.

It never exactly reflects back upon itself or shapes up into a conscious being. It never folds over itself or doubles up. If it can appear as historical, it is only because the stream can recognize itself through the very same power that undoes, underdetermines and unbinds it—by a sort of “return” to the stream, which is more like the Turn of the stream itself in its indefinite restlessness—or rather, in the stream’s remaining with itself the Same, despite whatever is made to ripple in the it, the stream’s “turning itself (in).”

That the stream of consciousness is in its turning “outside” every object or position of consciousness (whatever might be observed to be floating along the current) can lead to the well-intentioned illusion that it is actually language or some other ephemeral or incorporeal material—not a constituted language made of definitions and grammars, but the primordial soup of thought, made of infinitely divisible and reshapeable sounds and letters and senses—as well as numbers and their relations (quantum and geometrical)—or perhaps of ghosts and spirits, evil and benevolent, but above all in-visible forces—or finally of things themselves, of pure reality-matter, however it could be conceived.

But whether we call it consciousness or language or materiality, all we can know is that every access to it (if it be an “it” at all, which is doubtful given the fundamental instability and “non-objectivizability” of the stream) is common, generic. No one ever owned an ounce of it for themselves; and every splash they made there was sent instantly elsewhere. The history of the stream can be viewed fruitfully as a karmic chain, or as unconscious traces, or as structured in an astral field or in a cosmic hologram—all these metaphors (or simply “phors”: carryings without distance, without any exterior space of passage or transfer) express the “immanence” of the stream (to) itself—meaning that we are each entirely submerged or pre-(e)merged, so much so that there is no “we” but this quantum of expression: One-stream that flowed from no source (because never leaving itself, because it is nothing but the flow of the generic Same, source of “no one” as generic Turn)―a wave that ever laps and never lapses and ever goes: “oceanic transindividuality.”

What is lived experience itself—whether we call them memories or moments or anticipations—how could we describe it if not in this way: as essentially ripples in the stream of the One or even as the wave (of) One-stream “itself”? Generic waves, not added, not accumulated, never subtracted, never folded, but simply superposed and superposed without our action or effort: instantaneous “participation” of every lived wave in the generic stream—which now needn’t be seen as conscious or unconscious, linguistic or beyond language, because it is simply lived and that is sufficient: without any need of predication or definition, because “accessed” only as quantic faith in the stream.

The key discovery is that we are indivisibly “in” this “outside”—so much so that this (out)side is nothing-but-in-One. Thus the ease of access for thinking to the undivided essence (of) the stream. With our vision thus in-verted, with the distance that would separate us from it reduced to an objective appearance not at all of the essence of the Real, we see there is no “side” that is not “in(side)”; and that the One-stream, by the simplicity of its radical immanence, by its unilateral essence, comes one time each time prior to “what is”―prior to any determination that could be made of the stream.

Thus the joy of splashing, of entering each time for the first time into this flow we’ll never leave―the peace of consciousness seeing itself in-One-streaming.

—May 24, 2017

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Against Multiplicity

One of the benefits of studying philosophy is to discover in detail, and in all their ramifications, the “logic” behind certain ideas that, in the real world, are widespread but dispersed, and thus partial, incoherent. Sometimes one even finds a philosopher who can serve as a sort of direct ‘representative’, on the level of ideas, of what millions of people think and do in a more confused, or a less systematically explicit way; by reading that philosopher, one can better understand what sort of ideas or ideologies are running through the heads of those people. A tendency which is scattered all over in tiny fragments―and which often reigns unconsciously, unquestioned―is neatly condensed in the doctrine of the one philosopher. That makes it easier to grapple with, not just because one can now see it “all at once,” but also because it can be brought into conversation with other ideas from other philosophers, who are inevitably representative of others. (To be clear, philosophers do not represent the people who hold these similiar ideas, but rather the idea’s mechanism, its virtual operating kernel, its abstract state or basic processing unit, which is most susceptible to modification and repurposing―as well as abuse and laziness in its handling―and thus most likely to crop up anywhere, in guises the philosopher-representative helps us learn how to detect.)

The political left has been under the sway of “multiplicity” for many years. The idea stems from a simple, egalitarian intuition, which hates domination and loves level playing fields. There should be no (or less) vertical structures, no ugly leaders at the top of hierarchies telling people how to live their lives, since this would automatically be authoritarian and repressive. There should instead be an infinite number of horizontal relations, connections, and correspondences: to each participant in the social, their own user profile. Likewise, different groups should respect each other’s differences―and perhaps keep their distance―, with no single group prevailing over any other. All should be equal, meaning we should listen to everyone and “love them for who they are.” This leads to the notion of a “we” that is a kind of shattered togetherness of the many: an ensemble of disparate entities without any sort of unity being imposed on them and without any imperative to commingle. Every piece of this multiple is to be left to its own freely-chosen existence, and its rights to do so are to be defended and bolstered if need be. Above all, there is never to be a “One”; and so whenever liberals invoke the One, they mean the One of pure multiplicity, the One of never-ending difference.

In 1976, two philosophers published a book that advances a similar notion. They titled it A Thousand Plateaus and it has earned a great deal of fame over the years, as has the idea of desiring machines and “rhizomes” it advances. The latter was an especially profound conceptual invention, an early attempt to think the burgeoning network of identities and fluidities which we now know quite well as our world and whose structures are decentralized, distributed, and nodal. A figure drawn from biology, the rhizome is set in opposition to the tree: instead of the arborescent arrangement of deep roots, solid trunk, and layered branches, which represent a unified center or system (the One), the rhizome refers to organisms like mushrooms and potatoes, which shoot their roots to the side, create anterior bulbs in any direction, and often form vast horizontal networks underneath the earth without any “center” anywhere and without any overarching system or plan for proliferation (the multiple). The essential thing here is that, “any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be.” The directive is thus to rupture, prolong, connect, relay, conjugate; everything may and shall come into contact in the general circulation; if any link is broken, the rhizome starts up again on an old line; it operates immediately in the heterogeneous, at multiple entryway points; the rhizome is an intersection of flat multiplicities, consolidated nowhere but virtually everywhere. Continue reading

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CULLET (art-archive)

CULLET is an online art archive that I have been curating since 2014. It can be accessed at: https://www.facebook.com/Cullet-580481965368250/. This article will share a bit about the idea behind this archive and Cullet’s evolution. The reader is encouraged to visit the “Album” section on the Cullet Facebook page and see what is going on. The following is little more than a supplement, a glance back and ahead.

I initially conceived of Cullet as an archive of “archive fever,” to develop an idea from Jacques Derrida that was one of my main inspirations along the way. Such an archive would try to include not only straightforward texts about archiving and the archive, but texts that expressed the *desire to archive presencing* as such–the drive to save and remember qua prosthesis, not just anything, but the eruption of existence itself, the instant of coming into being. How to archive the miracle of occurrence itself? I tried to find texts that could stand alone, torn from their context, and yet exhaled unto their final period a complete world. But they should also contain and present a “theory” of the archive unto themselves, that is their own: a stand-alone statement about the entire outlook of the Cullet project. In this way, Cullet would articulate a theoretical statement about archiving, only exclusively through the materials. I would then pair those texts with other already-complete worlds: paintings that resonated or problematized or commented upon the texts somehow. Together, these pairs were meant to be small bundles of compact creative energy, waiting to unfurl and explode in the minds and eyes of viewers.

After nearly four years as of this writing, there are about 300 of these pairings. Slower work than I imagined, to be sure, it took some time to get a feel for the direction I wanted to take the project. I have taken care to try and elevate the inspirational-quote-with-a-cool-picture-online to the level of an “artwork.” I realize this is a bit comical, but I sought to achieve it by having a relatively clear, philosophically motivated and backed concept; a rigorous although essentially intuition-based selection process regarding the raw materials (inevitably guided by my own aesthetics); and a logic of collage that avoided the arbitrary and kept ever in sight its core desire to “archive presencing” (the immomental). Of course, countless other themes relating to memory, time, energy, creativity and life got included and interwoven in this way, but in my mind the same imagination leap, the same seek for existent novelty was always at stake: “the” novelty of existence in its each-time-unique jaillisement, Hölderlin’s das Reinentsprungenes.

The process for creating a “cullet” almost invariably begins with a text that I find, often during occasions when I purposely sit down with a stack of random books (some of which I’ve never opened or read in full before) and flip through them looking for paragraphs and passages that catch my eye, which in this moment is on high-alert for complete worlds, for detachable morsels of thought that are seeking a new space to unfold into, one with more freedom. This activity I affectionately call “culling.” Once texts are found, I then go to the painting archive on my computer and phone (3,000 to date) and try to find a “match.” It is a bit like trying to find the words a good visual spouse or vice versa; after all, it being an archive, they’re going to have to live together for quite a while. Sometimes, of course, no match is found, or the text proves faulty. Numerous extractions lie dormant and single, like all the paintings waiting their mating moment. Often this process requires going online to find new images, which sparks off its own new searches and discoveries.

The Cullet project is motivated mostly by the pleasure I gain from these “heat seeking” missions. Every find is in principle random, which makes a successful pairing (I admit there aren’t so many) all the more precious. But despite the lightness of the production phase, up to now I have remained rather “purist” about the aesthetic of presentation, treating the wall a gallery space. Something about the project led me to be very careful and modest, out of respect for the materials – and for the immomental itself. While I do enjoy this very clean, art-book look, it has inhibited Cullet from its other original purpose, which preceded the whole idea of making the pairs: namely, to assemble and share raw materials for creative inspiration for others, any other. Continue reading

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Little Works

I find it sad that our large projects, dedicated as they are to what interests us most, can wind up being so burdensome. They can even lead us to hate our topic, not because there’s anything inherently bad or boring about it (in fact it probably fascinates us), but because we’ve been forced to filter it through the form of the “project,” with all its chapter headings and footnotes, its obligatory narrations and objective stances, up to the very serious and studied tone that, for all its worth, places strong limits on expressivity and inventiveness.

When fascination is forced into formal presentation, a tastelessness almost inevitably seems to ensue. We feel obliged to exaggerate and deceive, to dress up our insights for the board of directors whose judgment will decide our fate. Paranoia about our own competence grows with every step, since we feel we have to be our own most ruthless evaluator to succeed. So the proportions of the thing swell profusely, uncontrollably. We feel obliged to take account of whatever we’re taking into account, why so and why not, and then what else. We behave like a sorting agent on a mental assembly line, picking which of our thoughts is worth entry and which door they should be shuffled through. Staring down section after section, edit after edit, we’re led to a point of saturation and exhaustion―and in some cases total stupidity. Everything blurs together and one stops being sure what difference it all makes. Which amounts to saying one would give anything for it all to just be finished. Of course, that’s not possible, since deep down it matters to you very much that you get it right, sometimes even in spite of yourself. What do you care about, after all? Haven’t you decided to do this with your life? And other such thoughts on the brink of starting a fire with the shreds…

Now, on the opposite side of the spectrum, there are those pieces that come in suddenness, with no strings or deadlines attached. They don’t need to stretch out into a “project,” and so they come much more naturally to the mind―even if, like many things destined to be small, they’re often left unattended or discredited as lesser. Like a poem we jot on the back of a random piece of paper, they are little escapes, flashes of clarity, guilty pleasures relative to the law of the official document we constantly have to “back up” lest we lose everything we’ve done. But for the moment’s thought, there is no loss, because its element is already without much expectation. It approximates the free gift made in leisure, rather than the costly product pressed by labor. Perhaps that is why we switch off and engage social media for distractions: they bring us a real-time distance from what we’re doing, so that our eyes don’t keep spinning in the frame of a project at risk of becoming dreadfully insular. There is something refreshingly simple about the “immateriality” of what gets traded online, virtually. It keeps one light. Nothing has to last for more than a day or so, sometimes even less. Everything is flexibly passed on or passed over. The format may be unserious, but what goes on on it doesn’t have to be. It signals, in a sense, the expansion of the “anecdotal” realm of thought: those little stories researchers sometimes look to as the key to the larger project, that little tidbit or rumored quote that somehow illuminates the whole with a light that, being so average, escaped notice or wasn’t considered.

Seen in light of what takes place anecdotally in this way and its regular importance and depth for those who engage it with heart, it is the project that starts to seem meaningless and distracting. It forces one to remember it’s all already happen; there is no future space in which some larger thought will be revealed. Everything ultimately has no more or less grandeur than a virtual post. Far from being an excuse to not work, it is to see these minor pieces as no less worthy of development than the larger projects. It is to see the complicity between the anecdotal and the “monumental”―perhaps even to live a life in which daily life and eternal life are inseparable.

Capability grows honest through the little works. And who knows? Perhaps if we took all these minimal exchanges with the same seriousness as big projects, we wouldn’t need to fixate on them anymore? Either that or it would make them all the more dear to us―and less burdensome.

―April 20, 2017

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