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)

STAYING ALIVE
by Michel Houellebecq

FIRST, SUFFERING
“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)

SPARROW’S GRACE
for Edith and Nancy
(from 2008, reedited)

I.

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. Continue reading

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After-Thoughts

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

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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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Transitoriness (Freud)

Transitoriness (by Sigmund Freud)
Original German: Vergänglichkeit

Some time ago, in the company of a taciturn friend and an already reputable and well-known young poet, I took a stroll through a thriving summer landscape. The poet admired the natural beauty around us but without delighting in it himself. It disturbed him that all this beauty was doomed to pass away, that in winter it would wane; but likewise every human beauty, every lovely and noble thing humans have created or could create. Everything he otherwise would have loved and admired seemed to him devalued by the fate of transitoriness that defined them.

We know that from the plunge into decay of all that is beautiful and perfect two different mental impulses can arise. The one leads to the painful world-weariness of the poet, the other to a rebellion against the purported fact. No, it is impossible that all the glories of nature and art, of our sensory world and the world outside, should really dissolve into nothing. It would be too senseless, too blasphemous to believe it. They must in some way be able to persist, to bear all destructive influences.

By itself this requirement of eternity is too obviously a result of our own wishful life for it to lay claim to a reality-value. And also the painful can be true. I could neither make up my mind to challenge the transience of all things, nor force an exception for the beautiful and perfect. But I did challenge the pessimistic poet, that the transience of beautiful things brings about a loss in their value.

On the contrary, an increase in value! Transcience-value is a rareness-value in time [Der Vergänglichkeitswert ist ein Seltenheitswert in der Zeit]. Limitation in the possibility of their enjoyment elevates their preciousness. I declared it incomprehensible that the thought of the transience of beautiful things should thereby spoil our delight in them. As for the beauty of nature, it comes again after every destruction through winter into the next year, and this recurrence may in relation to our lifespan be deemed an eternal one. The beauty of the human body and face we see within our own lives forever wane, but this short-livedness adds to it an extra charm. When there is a flower that blooms for one single night only, the blossom does not for that reason appear to us less splendid. That the beauty and perfection of artworks and intellectual achievements should be devalued by their temporal constraint, I am just as little able to accept. A time may come when the pictures and statues we admire today disintegrate, or a race of men succeeds us for whom the work of our poets and thinkers is no longer understood, or even a geological epoch in which all that is living on earth has fallen silent; the value of all this beauty and perfection will be determined only by its meaning for our own emotional lives, does not need to outlive it, and is therefore independent of absolute duration. Continue reading

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SEA’S WEIGHT (poems)

Please follow this link to access my poetry chapbook: Sea’s Weight by Timothy Lavenz.

All poems composed and copyrighted by Timothy Lavenz, 2018. Please share, reprint, or graffiti these poems in the world however you see fit.

My thanks go to many friends who have supported and encouraged me in my poetic efforts. The chapbook is a ‘trial run’. My intention behind distributing it is to receive as much feedback about them as I can. I am therefore open to comments, objections, problems, questions, of any sort, that anyone may have, including ‘strangers’. The comment section on this blog is a suitable place for that; or if you are in contact with me at other virtual addresses (Facebook, etc.) I am of course reachable there as well.

Thank you again for reading. May the bottle cast in sea’s weight reach heart-shore.

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