Sunday, August 26, 2007

L’Origine du Mundane

I’m interested in describing strange and frightening convergence – frightening because of the power to induce ennui – the terrible feeling that nothing matters or is important, nothing is worth the trouble, that the pleasure of the world can never satisfactorily compensate the pain of the world, that one can’t live contentedly within the world without being a zombie, or live vigorously within the world without courting psychosis.

It can’t be an obvious place to start, but I’ll start there anyway: with the convergence occurring at the top of a woman’s legs.

I’m starting here and at this point, abruptly, but not so abrupt as it may seem: I think it is ridiculous that we speak of desire without ever speaking of any specific object of desire…And I think that as specific objects of desire go, a woman is as good an object as it gets.

It’s already profoundly culpable to speak of woman as an object- but hey, it is also the literal truth of the matter...The literal state of our state.

The object of desire is an object…But this object of desire, this intense object of desire, can’t, as object, produce desire. As object, it gives way to ennui.There’s no way it can swallow all desire, either. What crazy curvatures of space, time, and matter will flow through this wormhole? Hardly any at all.

Image: Bruno Bisang.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Here and Now in Never-Never Land

"Alas! there comes the time when man will no longer launch the arrow of his longing beyond man-- and the string of his bow will have unlearned to whizz!" -- Nietzsche

I will do something new, but in fitting with the mold of all things beautiful; I will create, but in fitting with the expectations of the masters of creativity; I will explore, according to a master plan; I will live, as living is done.

I will boldly and proudly display a naked body clothed with the cuts and implants of the best plastic surgeon; I am not ashamed of the imperfections of the flesh now that these have been removed from the flesh by laser surgery.

I will venture forth into the battleground of the marketplace where I will hunt and will conquer with my plastic spear encoded with zebra digits of the Serengetti -- that very expensive l'il boutique on Rodeo Drive.

I am my ideal, and now what am I?

Am I hidden or exposed?
Am I open, or am I closed?
Do I seize or do defer?
Am I the same, or do differ?

" What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?" so asks the last woman and blinks.

If shopping is not holy, woman is nothing but an antic clay.

Image: Erwin Olaf.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Century after Century of Puked Beauty

"In each human heart terror survives
The ravin it has gorged: the loftiest fear
All that they would disdain to think were true:
Hypocrisy and custom make their minds
The fanes of many a worship, now outworn.
They dare not devise good for man's estate,
And yet they know not that they do not dare."

Shelley, Prometheus Unbound

Can art survive the knowledge that art isn’t inspired, (engendered by the breath of a deity,) while never ceasing to acknowledge that any art worthy of the name requires an absolute conviction?

One is well aware of imperfection and impotence, and after the glorious certainty of early childhood has passed, one looks with dreary sadness at the mismatch of what one has made and what one had hoped to make, what one has made of oneself, and what one had hoped to make of oneself.

One also gets kind of used to the experience of this mismatch...It's tolerable. I fall short of my self-set mark, but so do most others.

I compare myself favorably to some, so what's to be concerned about? I'll get along...We'll all get along. This isn't a dire situation, even if it is peculiarly and anxiously nagging.

One can learn to live with and manage one’s sorrowful shortcomings – one can adapt, continue to edify oneself, and become satisfied with increments of improvement.

Strategies of amelioration, not transformation... If to ameliorate was as far we could go, I do not believe we could ever speak of such a thing as human creativity.

If "terror survives the ravin it has gorged" (psychic strategies of amelioration fail to eliminate fear or to create boldness) and the "loftiest fear is of all that they would disdain to think were true" (idealism succeeds in casting psychic shadows but fails to create an ideal reality), one is left with a wager or a dare as a creative option. No dare, no creation? Do we dare? Do we know that we do not dare? Why isn't it more obvious to us, one way or the other?

What is the nature of the dare?

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Kant expressed this fear,

"…then nothingness (immorality) with gaping maw would drink the whole realm of (moral) beings like a drop of water." - quoted in The Dialectic of Enlightenment on page 67.

What Kant fears isn’t a charging rhinoceros, an exploding bomb, a sickness, or death in the usual sense. He’s afraid of some sort of spiritual disaster – some sort of spiritual collapse which will engulf the very power to be moral.

Deleuze also expressed a fear which seems very similar,

“What distressed us was that in renouncing judgment we had the impression of depriving ourselves of any means of assessing the differences between existing beings, between modes of existence, as if from now on everything were equally
valid.” – Gilles Deleuze, Critique and Clinique, page 168.

What Deleuze feared wasn’t a charging rhinoceros, either.

Kant’s fear remains open-ended, and it appears to me as if Kant was ultimately forced to deal with his unacceptable open-ended fear by placing morality as a “given” of his system—a way by which he let himself off the hook of demonstrating the rationality of morality.

For Kant, there had to be morality as a given, OR ELSE…Something unthinkably horrible would happen...

Deleuze’s fear is expressed in the past tense…The distress is over, it is not ongoing...He is speaking of something which used to distress him. He appears to believe as if he (or he and his colleagues) had found a way to renounce judgment without losing the ability to assess the differences between existing beings, between modes of existence, and without falling into the condition of viewing everything as equally valid.

This last part, “the condition of viewing everything as equally valid” is something like a heat death of the universe – it’s the dry death of thought and movement…A permanent eclipse of all value. It's as horrible as nothingness with gaping maw drinking the whole realm of beings like a drop of water.

Deleuze is no longer afraid of what scared Kant to death.( No, not to death, but into a philosophical position which must have been an ongoing source of anxiety for Kant-- and that's nearly worse than death.) Unless Deleuze is delusional, this remedy of Kant’s fear is big, big news – an epochal event. It’s an event of Sapere Aude, and we EU’ers need to take notice.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Few Words on Baudelaire

I’m interested in the idea, expressed by Sartre, that Baudelaire was afraid of himself and always wanted to be somewhere he wasn’t, always wanted to be something he wasn’t.

I suppose this interest appears tangential to the active thematics of the Enlightenment Underground, but if so please remember Foucault's use of Baudelaire in his essay “What is Enlightenment?” where Baudelaire is used as a kind of paradigm of modernity.

Foucault’s discussion of Baudelaire echoes Sartre’s. I think Foucault would say that Baudelaire does fear himself and does always want to be where he is not. Foucault says,

“His transfiguration does not entail an annulling of reality, but a difficult interplay between the truth of what is real and the exercise of freedom; “natural” things become “ more than natural,” “beautiful things become “ more than beautiful,” and individual objects appear “ endowed with an impulsive life like the soul of [their] creator.” For the attitude of modernity, the high value of the present is indissociable from a desperate eagerness to imagine it, to imagine it otherwise than it is, and to transform it not by destroying it but by gasping it in what it is. Baudelairean modernity is an exercise in which extreme attention to what is real is confronted with the practice of a liberty that simultaneously respects this reality and violates it.”

A little later, Foucault adds this,

“ This ironic heroization of the present, this transfiguring play of freedom with reality, this ascetic elaboration of the self—Baudelaire does not imagine that these have any place in society itself, or in the body politic. They can only be produced in another, a different place, which Baudelaire calls art.”

This can be interpreted as Baudelaire not wanting to be where he is. Foucault also says,

“The deliberate attitude of modernity is tied to an indispensable asceticism. To be modern is not to accept oneself as one is in the flux of the passing moments; it is to take oneself as object of a complex and difficult elaboration: what Baudelaire, in the vocabulary of his day, calls dandysme. Here I shall not recall in detail the well-known passages on ‘vulgar, earthy, vile nature”; on man’s indispensable revolt against himself; on the ‘doctrine of elegance’ which imposes ‘upon its ambitious and humble disciples’ a discipline more despotic than the most terrible religions; the pages, finally, on the asceticism of the dandy who makes of his body, his behavior, his feelings and passions, his very existence, a work of art. Modern man, for Baudelaire, is not the man who goes off to discover himself, his secrets and his hidden truth; he is the man who tries to invent himself.This modernity does not 'liberate man in his own being'; it compels him to face the task of producing himself.”

To not seek the self, its secrets and hidden truths might seen as a form of fearing oneself. To wish to transfigure oneself might be an extreme form of hating what one is. It might be seen as a way of negating oneself entirely.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

We Use Ourselves to Feed Our Lovable Remorse

“Enlightenment is mythical fear radicalized.”(DoE)

“Enlightenment, understood in the widest sense as the advance of thought, has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear and installing them as masters.”(DoE)

Maggot: “I want to take off my mask(s) and leave them off.”

Father Gilliam: “Remote, no answer…” [This is an incoherent response.]

Maggot: “What’s more, I want to take off your mask(s).”

Father Gilliam: “Remote, no answer…” [This is an incoherent response.]

Maggot: “What’s more, once I take off your mask(s) I will require you to keep them off…I will require that no one dare to perceive you as if you still had them on.”

Father Gilliam: “Remote, no answer…” [This is an incoherent response.]

Maggot: “What’s more, once I take off your mask(s) I will require you to keep them off…I will require that no one dare to conceive you as if you still had them on.”

Father Gilliam: “Remote, no answer…” [This is an incoherent response.]

Maggot: “Without my masks, I will stand naked and proud before all the world, my towering authenticity majestically present for all to see. Without your masks, which I will take off for you, the same will be true for you.”

Father Gilliam: “Remote, no answer…” [This is an incoherent response.]

Maggot: “Our wearing of masks has obviously been in opposition to both our authenticity and our autonomy, Father Gilliam. I didn’t originally set out to wear masks—that’s obvious. I was playing around with them, having fun, and then one of them stuck to my face…I realized that I wasn’t at play any longer – I was no longer a child I was no longer at school — I was at work and my mask was my work and I couldn’t go to work without my mask. At work I could not take it off any more than I could parade in my office naked. Funny, though, that the mask I wear at work, the one pasted to my face, is the one which shows me standing naked and proud before all the world, my towering authenticity and autonomy majestically present for all to see.”

Father Gilliam: “Remote, no answer…” [This is an incoherent response.]

Maggot: “Oh yes…I have rejected the binaristic categories of work and play and that has made all of the difference. Oh yes. And I have learned that history is necessity. History wears no masks or even if it does, it must. If it must, then the mask it wears isn’t a mask. The mask we must wear is our duty and our duty is something other than a mask (somehow.)”

Father Gilliam: “Remote, no answer…” [This is an incoherent response.]

Maggot: “Thanks oh thanks Father Gilliam. Once again you’ve provided me with wonderful answers. In other words, thanks for consenting to remove your masks.”

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Stupidity, delusion, stinginess and vice
Occupy our thoughts and overtax our force;
We use ourselves to feed our lovable remorse
Like beggars use their skin as pasturage for lice.

Our sins are obstinate;repentances are vain;
Yet with forgiveness, at a great expense, bestowed,
Lighthearted once again we walk the filthy road;
Our vile tears, we believe, have washed away the stain.

In a cocoon of evil, the Satan Trismegist
Provides an easeful rest for the enchanted self,
And all the precious struts and fibers of resolve
Are vaporized before that cunning alchemist.

However we may move, the Devil tugs the string!
We find alluring charm in loathsome bagatelle,
And each day we descend one steep step nearer Hell;
We walk, unhorrified, through smoke and smut that stink.

Like some poor debauchee who kisses, licks, and chews
The martyrized, old breast of any ancient whore,
In passing we indulge ourselves in furtive sport
And squeeze it like a shriveled orange for its juice.

Packed in and multiplying like a million worms,
A mob of drunken Demons riots in our brains,
And, even as we breathe, a silent Death profanes
Our lungs with tiny streams of undetected germs.

If rape and deadly poison, daggers and the flame
Have not embroidered some diverting scenery
Upon the boring canvas of our destiny,
The slackness of our souls, alas! must be to blame!

And yet-amidst the jackal, panther and bitch-hound,
The ape, the scorpion, the vulture and the serpent,
Monsters screaming, squirming, yelping, growling, rampant--
In our menagerie of vices can be found

One beast more hideous, more evil, more unclean!
Though he makes no great cry, no great display of trouble,
He'd eagerly demolish everything to rubble,
Gulp down the entire world in one convulsive yawn;

It is Ennui--within his eye false teardrops gather,
While dreams of scaffolds crowd his hookah's smoke and smell.
Reader, you know this fastidious monster well,
--Hypocrite,reader,--My duplicate,--My brother!

Charles Baudelaire, translated by William H. Crosby

Lamb Scrims

I don’t think there’s much value in pointing out the hypocrisy of the lambs – that counts for very little and it’s not what I am working toward. I am also not interested in providing a rationalizing justification for violence, my own or any other, although I do think that this line of thought bears upon an evaluation of “violence” (and “terrorism.”)

There’s something else here which I can’t spit out…It’s an inquiry into the nature of thought, what thinking is…It has to do with the unconscious and something I don’t understand about the unconscious—I have only thought I understood.

I think it’s funny how commonplace the idea of the unconscious has become for me…Yes, I’ve come to think of it as a boring idea. It’s not boring. The unconscious is not tame, and it cannot be tamed. I think this line of inquiry comes down to creating strategies for living with the damned predatory, wild animal. I may be re-inventing the wheel here, but for me this suddenly is exciting.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Lamb Screens

I feel a need to make a reconnection between what is emerging here with the important points which were originally made regarding multiplicity as it related to understanding “desiring one’s own repression.”

The key idea I originally wanted to develop (or is the word explore or is it refute or is it create, I don’t know,) was that the monism of will-to-power as conceived by Nietzsche is crucial to the formation of a kind of pluralism which is meaty, tough, and powerful—a pluralism which may open out a few politically pragmatic options within the peculiarly insipid and simultaneously disastrous phantasm-thoughts with which we as a species and a society confront our peculiarly insipid and simultaneously disastrous reality. In other words, I wanted to develop the specific monism of Nietzsche’s will-to-power as the only monism which makes Deleuze-Guattari’s famous and yet utterly bosh MONISM=PLURALISM formula from A Thousand Plateaus something more than the short circuit of everything else they say in that book.

In order to understand the concept I think MONISM=PLURALISM indicates in the way I want it understood, we CANNOT think that there are innocent and placid little lambs cavorting in a pasture, enjoying in “sedate contentment” (as Orla put it,) something we’d be accurate to call LIFE, however unfortunately threatened by some other creature we’d call a predatory animal, an evil species which threatened this happiness of the lambs. We must understand that the predatory animals and the lambs are both embodiments of will-to-power – giving the lamb and the predatory animal this sharing of will-to-power doesn’t reduce the lamb and the predatory animal to the same, however…This is actually the pre-condition for understanding their difference and beginning to conceive different strategies for their deadlock.

I’m going to limit myself in this post to just making this reminder.

Maybe as a kind of aside I can reinforce this reminder by noting that several years ago we had the heinous murder of approximately 3,500 US citizens followed by a righteous crusade for freedom and democracy and human rights which has succeeded in murdering a million or more foreign citizens; even though I cannot argue that this murder of a million or more foreign citizens has not cast some kind of shadow upon the innocence of the intentions of the lambs who have mounted the righteous crusade, I can say that it doesn’t deter them and whatever shadow is cast literally does not in their eyes stain that golden fleece they collectively wear, nor can it, and that this wearing of an indelible golden fleece is not incidental to the situation, nor is it mere illusion for them…The lambs do rape, poison, set fires, knife the back…Their “ideals” serving to make all of that strangely timorous at the same time it is starkly horrendous.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Autonomy and Morality

To rape boldly is still to rape, and to rape is immoral, whether boldly or not. Similarly, to affirm an act cannot change it from an immoral act to a moral one. To affirm an act may affect it aesthetically, even though it seems grotesque and horrific in the case of rape even to suggest such a thing, but it cannot affect it ethically. Baudelaire has drawn the harshest possible line by affirming bold rape, and I suppose he’s done that for a good reason – but what is it?

Nietzsche seems at times to morally condemn ressentiment…If he was actually offering a moral condemnation of ressentiment, this would be exceedingly odd. He does not morally condemn the most atrocious acts – among an enormous world-encompassing collection of atrocious acts ressentiment seems so mild, surely tolerable, especially in comparison to so many others. Why would ressentiment be singled out as if it were the most reprehensible of actions, more reprehensible than murder, rape?

Orla recently quoted Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra,

“I will speak unto them of the most contemptible thing: that, however, is THE LAST MAN!"

The LAST MAN is definitely not a bold man. But is the LAST MAN truly to be reckoned the most contemptible thing? Is not a rapist, an arson, a poisoner, or a Jack-the-Ripper, or a Mack-the-Knife, not obviously much more contemptible? The LAST MAN is obviously a bore, but is he contemptible? Just how sad is it to be a bore, and in what possible sense is to be boring the worst? An aesthetic sense?

To hell with the aesthetic!

However, I don't believe Baudelaire or Nietsche's ideas are intended to have very much to do with the aesthetic, to be intended to provide an aesthetic critique, a critique of the ethical from the point of view of the aesthetic.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Autonomy and Immediacy

There are a few words I need to say, and I'll be saying them poorly, so brace.

"... If rape or arson, poison, or the knife
Has wove no pleasing patterns in the stuff
Of this drab canvas we accept as life—
It is because we are not bold enough!"
--Charles Baudelaire, from the preface of "The Flowers of Evil"


Nice, indeed. And just what everyone wants to hear. But you've got to admit -- it's amazingly shocking even after one hundred and sixty years, and that's something in itself. Was Baudelaire really a dandy?

We wanted boldness, and so we said, "Sapere aude," but of course we all understood something nice and tidy and civilized would be inherent in the boldness we wanted, or we'd put what we wanted (our "pleasant" touches) into or over all conceptions of boldness we'd choose to toy with, just as we'd sling a slip cover over any ugly couch...We'd put nicety in the form of an "academic" treatment over boldness even if every real indication we perceived ruled against just such nicety and tideity and civility in any real boldness we might find until any boldness we touched wouldn't be boldness and wouldn't even resemble boldness much after our work was done.

Kant had said that people failed to overthrow their self-incurred tutelage because of cowardice.

Kant also said this,

"..then nothingness(immorality) with gaping maw would drink the whole realm of (moral) beings like a drop of water." - as quoted in "The Dialectic of Enlightenment" on page 67.

which may be more comprehendable if I give the more complete DoE context of the quote,

" The theories are logical and hard while the moral philosophies are propagandistic and sentimental, even when rigorous in tone, or else the moral the moral philosophies are acts of violence performed in the awareness that morality is nondeducible, like Kant's recourse to treating moral forces as facts. His attempt to derive the duty of mutual respect from a law of reason, although more cautious than any other such undertaking in Western philosophy, has no support within the Critique. It is the usual endeavor of bourgeois thought to ground the respect without which civilization cannot exist on somethingother than material interest--an attempt more sublime and paradoxical than any that went before, but just as ephemeral. The citizen who renounced a profit out of the KKantian motive of respect for the mere form of the law would not be enlightened but superstitious-- a fool. The root of Kantian optimism, according to which moral actions are reasonable even when base ones are likely to prosper, is a horror of relapsing into barbarism. If--Kant writes in response to Haller--one of these great moral forces, reciprocal love and respect, were to collapse,"then nothingness(immorality) with gaping maw would drink the whole realm of (moral) beings like a drop of water." -- Embibed 'em, page 67.

I've ached to speak of Kant-Sade for the longest time, but I've held off...out of fear of boldness....the formulation of a Kant-Sade is just as savage as the Baudelaire I quoted above; hats off to Lacan ( and to Adorno and Horkheimer, who say what I take to be basically the same thing,) for performing that piece of wet work.

Have I ached to speak of my own sadism, perhaps stemming from the same source as Kant's -- some weird line where cowardice isn't perceived as cowardice, but as some absolutely necessary caution, prudence? No, I think not. But I'm going to take a stab at it now.

Kant's cowardice is evident in various places in his work.

The question I want to ask is whether or not there are some time(s) or place(s) where cowardice is transformed in such a way that it is warranted, and if so, where and when. Do we at these times and places, wherever and whenever, simply drop the ambitions to autonomy because at those crucial points the quest for autonomy is in dangerous and deadly opposition to civilization?

"No one must be hungry or cold. Anyone failing to comply goes to a concentration camp."- joke from Nazi Germany, quoted in DoE.

Or is cowardice never warranted, always in and of itself poisoning, the entry and beginning point of what makes any action despicable, horrible, barren, sad-passioned?