The lust after silence is a remnant of the philosophical desire for superiority, excellence, elevation, and purity — poetry is its material machine, its ideal reflection.
But Baudelaire’s desire, learning from Poe, was different: a literature that would paint modern life in all its crowdiness, without animosity or resentful critique à la Nietzsche. An embrace of the disconcerting flux of bodies is not at odds with a sensibility for the rare, which silence symbolizes and never fails to recall, but that appears jeopardized in a noise-filled world. This thesis was however disproven by Cage, who affirmed silence to the extreme, but this time through the refutation of its possibility: zen for New York City like a flower of evil for Paris. These advancements, however elitist they seem, are undoubtedly developments in the direction of a Marxian fusion of theory and the masses — against a Mallarmean verse of the void and a Malerian tragedy of tones, though not without sharing a few traits. Ennui and play, within the frame of no escape from the city: these are the terms for a liberation of aesthetics from its philosophical overdetermination by silence.
But they are not yet the sparrow in the cafe, who fascinates us with his graceful swoops, his clever pecks and steals. His naturalness, so expected yet so photogenic, announces a miracle to us: he is as comfortable here as he is in the woods, and no doubt does not make the differentiation. His presence punctuates our planned afternoons, accompanies our downtime — or, for those whose feathers ruffle easily, he is a nuisance to be shooed away, an unwelcome guest who does not belong at our tables. The attitude of aristocratic thinkers toward the new generic thought is simliar: curious, tiny, and constantly in flight, it is at first tolerated, mostly because it is so cute, until it starts snatching crumbs and interrupting the conversation, whereupon it annoys and annoys even more as it so easily hides away; thus it provokes surveillance, ruining the meal even when absent.
Meanwhile, children go on chasing after it, not to catch it but to befriend it and learn about the shifting movements of its head. St. Francis was not by accident an early herald of the generic: he realized a simplicity of immanence that not even the transcendence of Christ could complicate. This loving preacher to birds understood a silence that the enlightened elitists cannot help but transform into the sublime presence of a void. In the name of purification and peace, they hang a sign telling the birds they aren’t allowed here, and erect a million walls, debate a thousand problems, just to avoid a confrontation with the generic. They return always to their spiritual journeys and flights, unable to see the simple elevations dancing before them.
The fusion of theory and the masses requires a practice as clever as the sparrow in the cafe and thus equally capable of capturing the childlike attention of any human. The old idea of aesthetic excellence should be displaced in this direction. It is absurd to imagine birds erecting a nest to wow humans, but their murmurations, their unisonical flights and formations, impress us without them having to know a thing about it. We too must invent new knowledges, and make them dance to a new use that ‘impresses’ without reflection or recognition, without oeuvre, with only the working itself — but this time a lived work, as simple as the birds’, who do not scrounge for crumbs but play a game with finding them. Our crumbs are all the knowledges, thoughts, and events that strike us as we move through the crowds and libraries, here understood in their radical equality, their equal useability, for generic thought.
Like the sages of old, we too know how to be quiet, but it is not the quiet of withdrawal or rarification; it is the quiet of the bird’s wing, transporting a tiny body from rafter to floor and back, from table to open sky. Excellence remains here, but it is no longer the aesthetic replacement of the banal, that ‘monotony’ from whch we seek refuge in vain. For the birds, nothing is monotonous about the city: one time each time, they peek and peep, each time in a different corner, for a different crumb. They never return upon the same place, but fly their patterns in a novelty of immanence with the grace of a knowledge they are without knowing it.
Generic thought, too, knows this, without learning it — and look, it has already hopped on to someplace else.
Absolutely beautiful!! I loved the manifesto-like quality especially of the paragraph going from “The fusion of theory and the masses requires a practice…”, but I generally react strongly towards anything that sounds like manifesto or utopian.
There is something very intrigant about writing about those issues that you managed beautfully I think. It is that tightrope between avoiding the narcisstism of the manic grandiose, while still reaching for an utopian vision. Writing becomes transformative practice exactly because the only way of writing about the utopian without sounding like a megalomanic prick is by infusing your text with a countering dose of humility.
In my writing practicte I feel the pull towards a certain Rumi-like quality. Authentic philosophy not marked by superior cleverness (though that too at times) but even more by a kind of undeniable emotional purity. A poetic style totally devoid of any combativeness but all-conquering powerful.
Thanks Felix, glad you liked the post.
I did not mean to write a manifesto, but it’s nice that it can be taken that way. I was literally just sitting in a cafe, noticing all the different reactions that people had to the birds flying around inside. Some were astounded and couldn’t believe it, although I observe this often in the city. Some were annoyed, others fascinated, etc. The connection is a bit flimsy for now, I admit, but it reminded me of the notion of the ‘generic’ that has been developed by Laruelle, Badiou, and Agamben, and which I think represents the ‘future’ of thought and politics (to put it quickly).
Thanks again for your comment.
Hey, and thanks again for your writing. Your blog seems to me an underappreciated treasure cove. A lot of it resonates very much with me. I will be reading through the archives and surely leave a few comments here and there.
It does not surprise me to see the names you named, I also feel that this emergent philosophy is the closest to something I could identfy with. Although my own attraction comes less from the specifics what Badiou or Laruelle write, but more from the small yet incredibly potent movement, the blogs and people and discussion that seems to gather around those names.
I often wonder whether the people in this movement are indeed so inspired or impressed by those great philosophers or if they serve more as campfires in the dark, mainly serving as gathering places for people who already had a certain disposition from the beginning.
My own central motto would be ‘pluralism’, I don’t yet have a handle on what is really meant with this ‘generic’, but I will be reading to your key materials first and am curious on how you explain it. Maybe that will make something click.
From Artxell Knaphni, “Time Flies: from, Self, World, and Writing” : http://visionfiction.theotechne.com/WordPress/?p=1117
“Generic thought” is a new concept for me. Your images are a delight.
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