May 06, 2016
Le navire perdu
d. May 5, 1952
The Lost World
Born: May 6, 1914
I. Children's Arms
On my way home I pass a cameraman
On a platform on the bumper of a car
Inside which, rolling and plunging, a comedian
Is working; on one white lot I see a star
Stumble to her igloo through the howling gale
Of the wind machines. On Melrose a dinosaur
And pterodactyl, with their immense pale
Papier-mâché smiles, look over the fence
Of The Lost World.
Whispering to myself the tale
These shout—done with my schoolwork, I commence
My real life: my arsenal, my workshop
Opens, and in impotent omnipotence
I put on the helmet and the breastplate Pop
Cut out and soldered for me. Here is the shield
I sawed from beaver board and painted; here on top
The bow that only Odysseus can wield
And eleven vermilion-ringed, goose-feathered arrows.
(The twelfth was broken on the battlefield
When, searching among snap beans and potatoes,
I stepped on it.) Some dry weeds, a dead cane
Are my spears. The knife on the bureau's
My throwing-knife; the small unpainted biplane
Without wheels—that so often, helped by human hands,
Has taken off from, landed on, the counterpane—
Is my Spad.
O dead list, that misunderstands
And laughs at and lies about the new live wild
Loves it lists! that sets upright, in the sands
Of age in which nothing grows, where all our friends are old,
A few dried leaves marked THIS IS THE GREENWOOD—
O arms that arm, for a child's wars, the child!
And yet they are good, if anything is good,
Against his enemies . . . Across the seas
At the bottom of the world, where Childhood
Sits on its desert island with Achilles
And Pitamakan, the White Blackfoot:
In the black auditorium, my heart at ease,
I watch the furred castaways (the seniors put
A play on every spring) tame their wild beasts,
Erect their tree house.
The Story of Napalm
Greg Bem reviews Don Mee Choi, Hardly War
Perhaps in many ways the entire book is about the experience of the Photograph . . . as the daughter of the Operator living inside the Camera with Spectrum, with History. Everything and everyone inside the Camera are mad. They also enact their wish, the wish to return to the world.
It is difficult to talk about war. And yet many humans do. But how we do it and for how long is another question. Especially with relationships to information today, and relationships to time, I am thinking of fragments. Thinking of spliced conceptions. Thinking of history and those who came before, dealt with war before, and our relationship to those people, to how they interpret and process, and what we owe them. Those people, those we know closest. Family, friends, our allies, or our enemies. But different eras have different meanings. So is there coherence? What provides the link between what was spoken then, lived then, and what is spoken now, lived now? War within the world, but also war within worlds. War within language. The transcendence through language, but the overlap of meaning. Mutations and morphing utility of language, and its evocation and condemnation and control of identity. Whose identity? Whose existence? Whose soul, individual and collective? The tracings of the individual through artefact or ephemera. The ability to parse and discover through historical object, through stable or unstable essence of history and memory. The process of learning, and loving and exploring through memories. The tricky wonder of art, and of words.
Don Mee Choi’s Hardly War is a book about all of these themes and problems in existing within humanity. It’s a book of process as much as it is a book of witness. As intent on uprooting a beauty of family and love as it is allowing the space for risking an approach toward the chilling effects of our brutal world, the book serves as an undertaking, as an exploration most humans cannot fathom, do not allow themselves the chance to take.
Walking Man in the Meadow
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
b. May 6, 1880
Springing the Trap of Repression from the Inside: Lacan’s Marcuse
Marcuse worked hard in Eros and Civilization to show that a liberated Eros would subsume the death instinct, taking it up into Life, exorcizing Death, as it were, of its sting, bringing forth nonviolent aesthetic equivalents to war.
Lacan begins and ends otherwise. Very early in life human being is constitutively divided, “split.” Language, culture, the insistence of the Other, bite into the being: a traumatic cut, a rip in being, experienced as an Intensity unbearably, painfully pleasurable. This is the first human experience. Lacan calls it “Jouissance”, a term which is untranslated in all English, Spanish, etc. versions of his work. The cut opens an abyss, an experience of loss of an unattainable object, a missing object which was never actually there, because before the cut there was no relationality, no subject, no object. The object of human desire is lost-as-such.
Psychoanalysis explores the continent of fantasy. The flora and fauna of fantasy represent the endeavour to obscure the abyss, to mend (or as Lacanians say to “suture”) the rip in being, primarily by means of identification of the being with images of self as perfect or perfectible, whether by conforming or refusing to conform, or both, but always in the eye of the Other. Adorno, Derrida, Gregory Bateson, Alfred Korzybski and others have diagnosed humanity’s pathology as “identity thinking.” From Lacan we learn the fantasy work of identification with images of perfection (and damnation) is prior to all identity thinking.
The fantasies are played out as human “reality,” sexual, cultural, and political, a reality far from the intolerable traumatic Real, yet often dangerously, painfully and deliciously close. What is insistently at work is the ambivalent attraction/terror of regression, the slide to what Lacan’s friend Bataille called “expenditure,” wasting the self, bursting its boundaries whether by self-immolation or self-expansion, especially in war. Bataille: “The desire to be consumed for no reason other than desire itself: to burn.” What Bataille’s disciple Nick Land calls “the thirst for annihilation.”
On Cuban Time: New Writing from the Island
Words without Borders May 2016
Cuban time moves to its own complex rhythms. It most certainly does not stand still. But neither does it sweep forward like a Swiss watch—though a pricey shop in Old Havana will be happy to sell you a Cuervo y Sobrinos, designed by a family-owned company founded in Havana in 1882 and manufactured to the highest specifications in Switzerland today. As the stories in this issue of Words without Borders show, Cuban time moves in many directions simultaneously, leapfrogging and plodding, at once groundbreaking and nostalgic, the present moment eternally stretched almost to breaking in a cosmic tug-of-war between past and future.
The Bleeding Hands of Castaways
Erick J. Mota
Translated from Spanish by Esther Allen
I’d always tell you that for some strange reason I was destined to be a dream. A wave slowly lapping at a rock without detaching a single grain of sand for any future beach. A light, finite rain that barely dampens the earth, no umbrella required.
But you’re a space man, and you needed to build me a bar on an asteroid. A bar with old beer barrels and the perfect acoustics for my voice. You promised you’d even serve a screwdriver with a real screw at the bottom of the glass. At first I laughed at your wild ideas, watching the way you looked at me with your Tuareg eyes. Then, as you explained about gravity conditioners and old USB victrolas that could be had for a song on the inter-orbital black markets and asteroids abandoned to their fate, I sometimes began to see myself in the place you were dreaming up for me. Sometimes, when I was alone, I’d see myself singing with you under the soft lights that you said would be a perfect match for my eyes, singing I’m gonna switch off the light, and think about you, and let my imagination dream . . .
In the Forest
the architecture of crisis
Over the past decade, this contemplation of ruins and abandonment – in the shadow of the necrotic half death which the advancement of Late Capitalism reproduces – has seen a new industry of ruin contemplation emerge. For the former Soviet eastern bloc, Owen Hatherley caustically refers to a genre of expensive coffee table books featuring “Totally Cool Abandoned Soviet Architecture”. Blogs – Abandoned Berlin, abandoned London, abandoned places. Online photo essays and Facebook groups provide expansive records and, often, explorer’s tips, for desktop archaeologists to purr and fascinate over. Hospitals, parking lots, former Olympic parks, football stadia, hotels, resorts and schools. It represents an immense and mortal infrastructure of decaying buildings which are celebrated first and foremost for the degree of their “coolness”, the weirdness of their function, the extent of their desolation. As Lyons argues, the “allure” of these ruins – including Sydney’s Magic Kingdom and the German Spreepark – are captured by “urban explorers”, creating a tendril of connection to the idea of risk, of arriving into an unknown “heart of darkness”. Richard B. Woodward is more caustic, still – to him, so-called “ruin porn” is little more than “immature” and “gawky”.
And nobody ever asks, “why?”. Why were they abandoned, and how?
Our representation of these buildings is important. To a large extent, the work of 18th c. painters and traveling Englishmen shaped how we receive the classical past of Rome. The narrative is always of Rome’s “fall”, rather than its centuries of continuity and development, or of the people who lived after it. The fall of the empire was not an act of depopulation – it was not an apocalypse. As a past, it is compressed and erased to suit aesthetic tastes of what the past should “be” and should look like. Its collapse is credited to little more than the fact that it was its “time” to collapse. The folly of empires and emperors. Edward Gibbon is still leaning over us, wagging his thick-set fingers. For those Romans who still had the “bad” taste to live among or around the ruins, to whom the baths of Caracalla were likely a nuisance, the English painters happily painted them out of the picture. They were too – “real”. Not “authentic”. I find the same problem with Lyon’s insistence that ruin aesthetics are salvaged by their offering of a travel to “the future within the present”, as if they can serve only as a warning. The implication is that the “ruin” is beyond hope, and its causes are unstoppable.
And so, this practice of “looking” is not a neutral activity, and aesthetics are not disconnected from real effects and worlds.
Naturalism and Metaphors. Towards a Rortian Pragmatist Aesthetics [pdf]
Effective metaphors make us see things in a different light. Yet, metaphors do not have
to be assumed to possess cognitive content to achieve this. Rorty elaborates the naturalistic
account of the cognitive value of metaphor with the distinction between causes of beliefs
and reasons for beliefs. Metaphors are for him similar to other “unfamiliar noises” we en-
counter in that their functioning cannot be fully predicted by our present means and they
cannot be assigned determinate content by our present cognitive resources. For this reason
metaphors cannot serve as reasons for beliefs. This, however, does not deprive metaphors
of cognitive significance, for their lack of cognitive content does not imply that they could
not have a causal role in shaping our beliefs and desires. Good metaphors make us attend to
novel aspects in our environment and they can, thus, make us change our beliefs. This,
however, does not mean that the metaphor expresses the novel belief we come to hold as a
result of the cognitions the metaphor causes in us. From a naturalistic perspective, it is in
other words a mistake to think that a metaphor’s capacity to reveal new aspects in one’s
surroundings is based on its conveying information that we come to acquire as a result of
grasping the meaning of the metaphor. As Davidson himself explains, “joke or
dream or metaphor can, like a picture or a bump on the head, make us appreciate some fact
– but not by standing for, or expressing the fact”.
Though Rorty does not develop his view of metaphors as one of the central means for
enhancing the feeling of solidarity in relation to Davidson’s naturalistic account that explic-
itly, the picture of the engagement with a metaphor that view implies reveals the full sig-
nificance metaphors may have in furthering the social values central to Rorty’s liberalism.
The engagement with a metaphor structurally overlaps in some significant respects with the
sensitivity and alertness to contextual detail Rorty finds central to the enhancement of soli-
darity. Metaphors stir the same kind of mental powers that are also at the heart of the con-
struction of solidarity, and thus metaphors become important devices for developing those
capacities required in the enhancement of solidarity. There is no common set of rules or
axioms with the help of which it could be possible to spell out what the capacity to feel
solidarity with one’s neighbours in every possible situation requires. Similarly, it is impos-
sible to give a definite list of how the similarities a given metaphor can cause us to see
should be understood and the effect the metaphor may have on our beliefs and desires. As
in the case of solidarity, all one can do with respect to metaphors is to stay imaginatively
alert. In this respect, it is understandable why Rorty thinks that the question “How do meta-
phors work?” is in fact in no substantial sense different from such questions as ‘What is the
nature of the unexpected?” or “How do surprises work?”
On Jenny Diski
Justin E.H. Smith
...“[. . .] we are what we are. It’s not possible (or attractive) to be better than we are simply by morally withdrawing from the mess.” So this is life, and this, it was starting to dawn on me, is philosophy. It is a bloody mess, and it is wrapped up, of necessity, with death.
In a stunning testimony written for the Swedish Göteborgs-Posten in 2013, the year before her diagnosis, Jenny invokes the bleak wisdom of Beckett’s line, “Birth was the death of him.” She wonders with Nabokov why we do not worry about the infinite abyss a parte ante, before we were born. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Why should the one that follows this temporary interruption of nothingness be any worse? Well, the thing about it is that now we’ve wallowed in the mess of life, and only slowly, in the process of what is called “maturing,” come to feel the way death looms over all of it. Thomas Bernhard had said that death makes everything, notably all this spilling of words, “ridiculous” (Es ist alles lächerlich, wenn man an den Tod denkt), but for Jenny the death-horizon was, if not exactly something to rejoice about, at least an existential condition that had its own consolation. It demanded that one not waste one’s life in boredom, nor get too distracted by, nor place too much hope in, sex, drugs, long walks, or anything else that “palls, eventually,” but instead that one must respond to death in writing, by being a writer.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
May 04, 2016
Returning Boat on a Spring River
(May 10, 1899 - April 2, 1983)
living words: ‘all hues in his controlling’
Words conjure. Crack a novel or poem at random and most will have a tiny shout about the outdoors. Even in JR, William Gaddis’ novel of 98% dialogue, nature bursts into the rooms where the speakers speak: “Sunlight, pocketed in a cloud spilled suddenly broken across the floor through the leaves of the trees outside.” One can’t keep it out and nature can’t keep away—it is the leveler of literature: Just want to make sure you know I’m still here, it says, and we say, Just want to make sure you are still there. With this understanding we live, banking on the picture of the earth to always be in its place. Is this a happy arrangement?
I turn to Wallace Stevens and the last canto of the Auroras of Autumn for help:
An unhappy people in a happy world—
What are we that a poet can take three of the most used words in English and mix and match them in such easily understandable and memorable lines of verse? We have to be magic, and why I read is to feel who we are, to apprise myself of the distinguished enterprise of being.
Read, rabbi, the phases of this difference.
An unhappy people in an unhappy world—
Here are too many mirrors for misery.
A happy people in an unhappy world—
It cannot be.
This is me—the child trying to be father to the man—who has read Ulysses but has not made a son, who has been under Lowry’s Volcano but never under a car to understand its underbelly or twist on an oil filter to save money while hording the bragging rights, so my love could speak of her man. I continue reading—I am adding and addled by those ideas, those bristling feelings enjambed in sentences and lines of verse, but is this filler for what is truly desired?
The Amassing Harmony:
Wallace Stevens and the Life of the Imagination
Peter Marshall reviews Paul Mariani, The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens
Every biographer must make an Icarian flight between facts and commentary, between objective distance and personal involvement with their subject. The art of turning the events, testimonies and records of a life into a narrative arch is not without a touch of fiction: Some imagination is needed to bring a sense of life to the person found on paper. Lacking this touch, Mariani’s biography leaves Stevens hidden in its pages.
Appropriate enough. Throughout his poetry, Stevens maintains a veiled presence, thickly disguised, elusive to us as he was to himself. The substance of who he was, like the nature of the reality in which he lived, is shaken by the uncanny transformations that run through so many of his poems. Stevens left faint fingerprints on his work, and occasionally, in the mere outlines of a memory, he is seen returning to youthful moments of self-creation, immersed in a freedom that has faded into a myth of the self:
It is an illusion that we were ever alive
Lived in the houses of mothers, arranged ourselves
By our own motions in a freedom of air.
Morning Mist In Spring
Asymptote Spring 2016
An excerpt of Marie Silkeberg’s The Cities
Translated from the Swedish by Marie Silkeberg and Kelsi Vanada
a test of the heart. the membranes. could come in the morning. sleep. a measure of freedom. somewhere dogs bark. in the night. anxiety like a contraction. dizziness in the body. a state of shock. kicks. kicks. against fetal membranes. the streetlight-lit greenery. horned owl in the awakening city. searching gaze. over the facades. boulevards. all the cars. among lilacs and chestnuts. pollution. bullet holes in house walls. no wind in the night. homeless dogs. a flock. beyond sight. earthquake. Vrancea. six point five on the Richter scale she says. the replica. I stood in the doorway. the house swayed. all the concrete. books fell from the shelf. porcelain. the piano she says. like a black monster slowly moving across the floor. the last books fell. the body’s sensors. the hair stood up on my neck. in that moment I could have strangled someone she says. out of terror. I knew I could kill. in winter morning stillness. a flashing string of images. understandings. in the borderland. beyond the border. Stalin square. famine victims. a black dog in darkening mist. the unlit city. in haze. trembling exhaust light. the voice that speaks. has spoken. about birthing. across continents. pazhalsta. woman and child. at the crossing. the baby was all-the-way silent. cried silently. in reluctant light. the white room. I shudder every time I hear it she says. the tragedy of being a human being. after being a woman. Ukrainian. doubling in the labyrinth. to enter the darkness. change places. be left behind. become one of them. unable to be re-translated. at the very threshold of the station. birth. second birth. to feel the unexperienced. the squinting glance. the double. to embrace. life. death. winter-shadow. black or white magic. each reconstruction a loss. an erasure of erasure. it began to happen in my own life she says. Andrea’s Slope. acacias. agile and burning. fire smoke in December chill. gray military coats displayed on the fence. a line of men raking leaves on the hillside. reluctant dawn light. white church. white patterned synthetic curtains. stillness over the cobblestone streets. silent subway tunnels. despite the many people. breath like a cloud over her frozen fingers. pork fat. the taste. the smell. a strange perfume in the orange soap. revenge. torture. transition period. no end of history. no end of geography she says. archipelago in a bleeding sunset. during landing. with incredible speed. the sun sinks at the brink
American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial
(May 22, 1930 – April 30, 2016)
Geopolitics of Hibernation
Berlin Biennale For Contemporary Art
How might we conceive a world where climate changes fast, and history moves slow? As it turns out, this has happened before, at least on a local scale. There have been minor blips in climate in particular geographical regions that have happened quickly, but the results are not good. The range of climate conditions under which historical forms of social organization can persist turns out to be fairly narrow. It’s likely that the kinds of social disorganization that we are already seeing in many parts of the world—along the aridity line, for example—will only spread and accelerate.
For those of us used to a comfortable life in the over-developed world, one could imagine two kinds of response to this. One would be to wake up and get on with changing our social organization into something both flexible enough to deal with unpredictable change, and that does not worsen the heating of the planet by adding yet more carbon to the atmosphere. The other responses is to go back to sleep, build a big wall, hide behind it, and send out the armed drones to attack anyone who says otherwise. As much as one might want to see the former response take hold, the latter seems to be the dominant one.
“The Geopolitics of Hibernation” was the title of an essay published by the Situationist International back in 1962. They were thinking of fallout shelters as the characteristic architecture of the time and saw these bunker forms as extruded from an insane military-industrial rationality—one that posits living a suburban life underground, with TV dinners and a washing machine, when everything above had been reduced to radioactive rubble.
Whether or not so-called “peak oil” has arrived turns out to be a complicated question which still divides the experts. In any case, there’s still oil to be had, taking us well past the point where the climate is beyond repair. But what other resources are reaching their peak? The Anthropocene is not just about one potential constraint to the endless expansion of commodified production. Perhaps we have also hit “peak phosphorous” and will have to think again about how to fertilize industrial crops.
A rather large chunk of the periodic table is involved in making contemporary technologies, and some of those elements are getting harder and harder to find in readily extractable forms. There is no doubt that the best minds of the military industrial complex have studied all this carefully. Who knows what wars they have pre-planned to secure ongoing access to chemistry.
Resource wars are no new thing. They are a defining feature of the history of geopolitics. But perhaps the resource wars of the Anthropocene have some new features. For one thing, there’s no frontier left, there’s no outside. We no longer live in an open system where resources can be drawn in from without and waste chaos dumped back out again to some hinterland. The Anthropocene is about living in a closed system, where there is no longer an “environment” against which the social can seal itself. There’s no separate place for a bunker any more.
The so-called “refugee crisis” is really a sign both that the climate wars have started, and that there is no place to hibernate from them that can endure for all that long. The contested category of “refugee” implies that there is a refuge, and soon there may be none. The proximate cause of the millions streaming over the borders and trying to enter Europe or the United States or Australia may stem from complex political, imperial, and military forces, but underneath all of that is rising climate instability, which is already pushing various kinds of social organization past the point where they can adapt.
via Deterritorial Investigations Unit_______________________
May 02, 2016
b. May 2, 1904
Child of ManOTOLITHS issue forty-one
from the Journals and Letters
of Ralph Waldo Emerson
That night, I went out into the dark
And saw a glimmering star, and heard a frog.
A new scene, a new experience,
The tableau startlingly unique, and temporary.
In spite of all we do, every moment
Forms and disintegrates and in its place
A new occurrence surfaces, its minutiae
An infinite array of specifics and variants.
Each remnant, each shattered piece,
Is precisely replaced, until they reassume
Their fractured fallen positions,
Threadbare hours we manage to salvage
From the calendar’s pitiless thresher.
southern autumn, 2016
edited by Mark Young
Camus and the Aesthetics of Stone
The world is not good enough and we can't do much about it. Soldiering on is the best we can do.
When in such a mood I like to consult Camus. No, I'm not masochistic, or at least I don't think so. The Camus that inspires me is not the fist shaking Camus of The Rebel or the dubious, Stoic-tinged Camus of the Myth of Sisyphus. There is another side to Camus that gets far too little attention. In an early essay, Nuptials at Tipasa, he writes:
The breeze is cool and the sky blue. I love this life with abandon and wish to speak of it boldly: it makes me proud of my human condition. Yet people have often told me: there's nothing to be proud of. Yes, there is: this sun, this sea, my heart leaping with youth, the salt taste of my body and this vast landscape in which tenderness and glory merge in blue and yellow. It is to conquer this that I need my strength and my resources. Everything here leaves me in tact, I surrender nothing of myself, and don no mask: learning patiently and arduously how to live is enough for me, well worth all their arts of living.
In the face of a world unresponsive to human values, despair is ruled out, for ensconced within Camus' numbing litany of all-too-human failure are lovely passages in which pure sensuous enjoyment lifts the spirit and provides justification even in life's trying moments. This is the lyrical Camus extolling what he sometimes calls the "Mediterranean life" where the live-in-moment vitality of sensory experience is a repository of meaning infusing life with significance in the absence of transcendental certification, even in the face of inevitable loss.
Intuitively, Camus' idea that meaning is to be found in the everyday rendered alluring by our willingness to see its beauty is appealing. The problem is I have never found an argument in Camus' work that links the Stoic-like absurd hero with the happy hedonist. How could something as seemingly trivial as the sun and sea provide meaning in the face of the absurd?
There’s this feeling I get on the subway, when I reach a breakpoint in a book I’m reading, and I realize a whole chapter has just passed right through me without sticking, like my mind has secreted a Teflon coating._______________________
I feel it when I browse my lists, day after day: Goodreads reviews of unremembered books, an Amazon wish list built on abandoned preoccupations, an infinite archive of vaguely interesting thinkpieces in Pocket, an RSS feed reaching into the stars.
I feel it when I look up, blinking, from two hours on Wikipedia and TVTropes.org, and I can’t even remember what curiosity led me into that labyrinth of distraction.
At these moments, I feel a subtle loss of equilibrium that marks a paradigm shift, a sea change in the way knowledge moves and settles around me. I feel our datasphere starting to overheat, and I feel myself fading away.
This feeling is part of a grand constellation of perturbations and effects, but for me, myself — the facet that reflects in my own life — it’s the feeling that I’m losing my purchase in the world of ideas. There’s so much to know… a whole universe expanding exponentially from the singularity of my free time and attention span… and simultaneously and paradoxically, it feels like knowing per se is losing its coherence. On any passing fascination, the amount of reading available and expected approaches infinity, and in inverse proportion, the amount of information I can absorb dwindles to zero. Between wanting to read a text, and having forgotten it, my connection with the content itself is compressed into nothingness.
Fifty shades of open
Jeffrey Pomerantz, Robin Peek
First Monday Volume 21, Number 5
Open source. Open access. Open society. Open knowledge. Open government. Even open food. The word “open” has been applied to a wide variety of words to create new terms, some of which make sense, and some not so much. This essay disambiguates the many meanings of the word “open” as it is used in a wide range of contexts.
Christopher Tayler reviews Zero K by Don DeLillo
One constant throughout these risk-filled spirit voyages has been DeLillo’s superbly take-it-or-leave-it posture towards the laity. ‘The writer leads, he doesn’t follow,’ he wrote in a letter to Jonathan Franzen in 1995. ‘The dynamic lives in the writer’s mind, not in the size of the audience. And if the social novel lives, but only barely, surviving in the cracks and ruts of the culture, maybe it will be taken more seriously … A reduced context but a more intense one.’ These are the words of a writer near the peak of his renown reassuring a fretful colleague, but they’re clearly marked by DeLillo’s time as a cultish, solitary figure in the 1970s, when intensity of context allowed him to thrive. There was a mainstream then and his place was outside it, a ‘child of Godard and Coca-Cola’, as the narrator of Americana (1971) calls himself, working up his vision with the singlemindedness of Ballard or the young Cronenberg. His high ambitions didn’t mean it wasn’t OK to dabble in thrillers and sports and science fiction, and to be funny as well as apprehensive about the image-addled world he saw coming into being. At the same time, he was free to trade in pure vibe, in ‘memory chains and waking dreams and every kind of mindlife’, and to manipulate large themes from a distance by writing about eloquent characters with a propensity to be dazzled by, as one of them puts it, ‘the neon of an idea’.
April 29, 2016
b. April 29, 1931
Walking in Literary Shoes:
Franz Kafka and Robert Walser on Walking, and the Horrors of Modernity
Jeffrey A. Bernstein
What do we do when we walk? What happens to us? Do we walk in order to get somewhere? Do we walk to get our bodies moving? Our minds? Do we walk to form an image and identity of ourselves (one thinks of Thoreau’s pronouncement “tis a great art to saunter”)? Do we walk to figure out problems? Or to escape from them? And what about missed walks? Are they happenstance? On purpose? Are they symptoms? When we ask the question concerning what we do when we write about walking, the problems only multiply. For here, the question is one of using the image or action of ‘walking’ as a moment of reflection, or an optic, in order to communicate something else. This holds equally for writing about the inability to walk as it does for writing about walking.
It cannot simply be a matter of holding that Kafka was symptomatic (to which his autobiographical writings surely attest) while Walser was insane (despite the fact that, when not moving from hotel to hotel as temporary residence, he spent the last 2-3 decades of his life in psychiatric hospitals). This reductive mistake would be analogous to suggesting that their respective texts were simply talking about walks (or even actually taking walks) rather than using walking as a lens through which readers are given to understand something. Instead, I wish to pursue the distinction between symptom and madness—what Freud calls ‘neurosis’ and ‘psychosis’—as narrative strategies by which Kafka and Walser are attempting to show us something. For Kafka and Walser, the literary trope of ‘walking’ presents itself in both a neurotic (i.e., symptomatically stuck) and psychotic (i.e., disavowing) manner. And despite the fact that these two authors are generally understood to have shied away from political or historical concerns (Walser even more so than Kafka), I want to argue that the access which they grant us to the political and historical time period in which they wrote lies in the different uses that they make of this trope.
WalkQueen Mob's Tea House
There is room
In the Ouse
All one has
To do is
Take it take
A step just
One at first
The mud will
Hold wet stones
Will glue thick
Soles all Ouse
Has to do
Is rise not
All at once
Black mass just
Part for whole
None at rest
All one has
To do is
Walk on wet
Soles take steps
Rise walk walk
As if healed
Reach touch one’s
Own bones the
Still warm stones
Sewn in the
Ouse will make
Room for all
Translated from German by Kenneth Northcott
THERE IS A CONSTANT tug-of-war going on between all the possibilities of human thought and all the possibilities of a human mind's sensitivity, and between all the possibilities of human character. _______________________
Whereas, before Karrer went mad, I used to go walking with Oehler only on Wednesdays, now I go walking--now that Karrer has gone mad--with Oehler on Monday as well. Because Karrer used to go walking with me on Monday, you go walking on Monday with me as well, now that Karrer no longer goes walking with me on Monday, says Oehler, after Karrer had gone mad and had immediately gone into Steinhof. And without hesitation I said to Oehler, good, let's go walking on Monday as well.
If we do something, we think about what we are doing until we are forced to say that it is something nasty, something low, something outrageous, what we are doing is something terribly hopeless and that what we are doing is in the nature of things obviously false. Thus every day becomes hell for us whether we like it or not, and what we think will, if we think about it, if we have the requisite coolness of intellect and acuity of intellect, always become something nasty, something low and superfluous which will depress us in the most shattering manner for the whole of our lives. For, everything that is thought is superfluous. Nature does not need thought, says Oehler, only human pride incessantly thinks into nature its thinking. What must thoroughly depress us is the fact that through this outrageous thinking into a nature which is, in the nature of things, fully immunized against this thinking, we enter into an even greater depression than that in which we already are.
the sitting room
Why Spinoza still matters
At a time of religious zealotry, Spinoza’s fearless defence of intellectual freedom is more timely than ever
... Spinoza’s contemporaries, René Descartes and Gottfried Leibniz, made enormously important and influential contributions to the rise of modern philosophy and science, but you won’t find many committed Cartesians or Leibnizians around today. The Spinozists, however, walk among us. They are non-academic devotees who form Spinoza societies and study groups, who gather to read him in public libraries and in synagogues and Jewish community centres. Hundreds of people, of various political and religious persuasions, will turn out for a day of lectures on Spinoza, whether or not they have ever read him. There have been novels, poems, sculptures, paintings, even plays and operas devoted to Spinoza. This is all a very good thing.
Spinoza’s views on God, religion and society have lost none of their relevance. At a time when Americans seem willing to bargain away their freedoms for security, when politicians talk of banning people of a certain faith from our shores, and when religious zealotry exercises greater influence on matters of law and public policy, Spinoza’s philosophy – especially his defence of democracy, liberty, secularity and toleration – has never been more timely. In his distress over the deteriorating political situation in the Dutch Republic, and despite the personal danger he faced, Spinoza did not hesitate to boldly defend the radical Enlightenment values that he, along with many of his compatriots, held dear. In Spinoza we can find inspiration for resistance to oppressive authority and a role model for intellectual opposition to those who, through the encouragement of irrational beliefs and the maintenance of ignorance, try to get citizens to act contrary to their own best interests.
Primrose Hill Summer Sunshine
Antin's 'Notes for an Ultimate Prosody' Revisited
presented by Jerome Rothenberg
Most discussions of prosody begin and end with metrics, but the contribution of meter to the sound structure of all poetry that was neither sung nor intended for musical
accompaniment, when it has been at all specific, has been trivial. Yet because most writers on prosody would probably dispute this, and since some recent poets have worked out sound structures on the basis of implicit defects in metrical theory, it's probably worth taking a look at the metrical background.