February 12, 2016
"The Garden in Winter"
1893 - 1977
The Detail makes the Tragedyvia Ballerinas Dance with Machine Guns
The Detail makes the Tragedy. No atrocious Tale possible without the frail crack in the wall that surrounds the unspeakable. Othello is contained in a handkerchief. This Handkerchief turns anyone who touches it into a monster. The Detail is this seepage and this handkerchief, which hides-shows, gives on the scene impossible to behold. The Detail is the representative and representation of the act of mutation that turns people like you and me into the monsters of Tales. The Detail is a visual shibboleth, dreadful to behold. Whoever sets eyes on it will never again be the same. Generally, when you enter the Tale for the first time, you pass over the Detail without noticing it. It gets lost among the host of signs. It was only many years later I noticed the Detail that gives us access to ‘‘The Metamorphosis’’ (‘‘Die Verwandlung’’) though it is perfectly obvious in the entryway where it vegetates and stinks, the eternal cadaver posted as a warning to the reader. But as it doesn’t call out or moan or squeak the avid visitor sweeps indifferently past the prophetic vignette and throws himself into the front room from which he doesn’t emerge alive. If only you’d read the warning Nothing wouldn’t have happened. But by definition the Detail hides what it shows. You can always look at the engraving Gregor Samsa cut out and deliberately framed in gilt on page one of the Tale, but it just so happens you still don’t see it you never will. The law of Details, how to think of its tricks? It hits you in the eye.
That engraving is a picture of the future.
Why do we always take the roads to madness? But for my mother who goes straight I have always gone zigzag.
[From Manhattan: Letters from Prehistory]
R. S. Thomas
1913 - 2000
I emerge from the mind’s
cave into the worse darkness
outside, where things pass and
the Lord is in none of them.
I have heard the still, small voice
and it was that of the bacteria
demolishing my cosmos. I
have lingered too long on
this threshold, but where can I go?
To look back is to lose the soul
I was leading upwards towards
the light. To look forward? Ah,
what balance is needed at
the edges of such an abyss.
I am alone on the surface
of a turning planet. What
to do but, like Michelangelo’s
Adam, put my hand
out into unknown space,
hoping for the reciprocating touch?
Strandpromenade in Scheveningen
b. February 12, 1884
After Jerichovia flowerville
R. S. Thomas
There is an aggression of fact
to be resisted successfully
only in verse, that fights language
with its own tools. Smile, poet,
among the ruins of a vocabulary
you blew your trumpet against.
It was a conscript army; your words,
every one of them, are volunteers.
Crash Culture: Panic Shock, Semantic Apocalypse, and our Posthuman Future
The machine gazes into the mirror, an abyss within an abyss. The eye that stares, stares back in a closed circuit – a feed-back loop contorted to the torsion of a solipsistic dance. Caught in the vacuum endgame of performativity rather than knowledge, each lost image moves in a circular void tempting it toward existence; else in utter disgust, an exit from this dark world of virtual multiplicity. Following the trajectory of ideas immanent to the register of thought unbound each image rides the time-wave of a falling arc into history, where human and machine gaze into each other’s eye discovering in the twisted lands of the twenty-first century a latent transport into oblivion._______________________
Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We follow the gaze of their gaze through its manifold electronic incarnations like blip scores in a self-replicating image-feed for lost memes. Lost among our memetic images, our thoughts blank and emptied of their former glory, we ponder the inane vision of our bodies become immaterial objects – pixel pigments of another Order: the symbolon of an alien cult from the future displayed on the screen of our inexistence. All that remains is to chart the cartography of a hidden image; emptied of its meaning, we follow the nihilist gaze of dissident powers, extreme dispotifs accelerating us toward the extreme convergence of human history onto the Semantic Apocalypse.
As a God Might Be
Three Visions of Technological Progress
The Brain Electric: The Dramatic High-Tech Race to Merge Man and Machine
Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots
The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Inquiry into Human Freedom
There are two kinds of technology critics. On one side are the determinists, who see the history of technology as one of inexorable progress, advancing according to its own Darwinian logic—the wheel, the steam engine, the autonomous car—while humans remain its hapless passengers. It is a fatalistic vision, one even the Luddite can find bewitching. “We do not ride upon the railroad,” Thoreau said, watching the locomotive barrel through his forest retreat. “It rides upon us.” On the opposite side of the tracks lie the social constructivists. They want to know where the train came from, and also, why a train? Why not something else? Constructivists insist that the development of technology is an open process, capable of different outcomes; they are curious about the social and economic forces that shape each invention._______________________
Nowhere is this debate more urgent than on the question of artificial intelligence. Determinists believe all roads lead to the Singularity, a glorious merger between man and machine. Constructivists aren’t so sure: it depends on who’s writing the code. In some sense, the debate about intelligent machines has become a hologram of mortal outcomes—a utopia from one perspective, an apocalypse from another. Conversations about technology are almost always conversations about history. What’s at stake is the trajectory of modernity. Is it marching upward, plunging downward, or bending back on itself? Three new books reckon with this question through the lens of emerging technologies. Taken collectively, they offer a medley of the recurring, and often conflicting, narratives about technology and progress.
Journey on the Fish
RetroDada begins with disgust. Once again the world gets its war on. While some cities are attacked by bombers, others are strafed by art fairs. This time there’s no Switzerland of neutrality where refugees might cool their heels, as now the whole globe itself overheats. The insomnia of reason breeds monsters.
But before we can take two steps forward, let’s take one leap back. Back a whole century. Back to the first of the world wars to be numbered; back to the birth of Dada disgust. Back to that great refusal of what the century was to become. Why shouldn’t a .gif run backwards as well as forwards? Its RetroDada time! In principle RetroDada is against manifestoes, but it is also also against principles. So here goes nothing.
The world is full of mistakes, but the worst is the art that got made. Art gives us Dante’s Inferno as styled by interior decorators. RetroDada aims to please neither at art nor anti-art, as nobody should serve masters. We will put an end to spectacle and replace it with convulsive laughter from continent to continent. It’s shit after all, but from now on we mean to shit in different colors.
Psychoanalysis is itself the disease. It makes the bourgeois self seem interesting. Ethics produces atrophy like every plague produced by intelligence. Theory merely guides us in a round-about way to the prejudice we had in the first place. What we need are works that are tender and precise and forever beyond understanding. There is a lot of negative work to be done.
February 11, 2016
ottawater / 12
Ottawa’s annual pdf poetry journal
edited by rob mclennan
The twelfth issue features new writing by Sylvia Adams, Susan J. Atkinson, John Barton, Frances Boyle, Stephen Brockwell, Carellin Brooks, Sara Cassidy, George Elliott Clarke, Anita Dolman, nina jane drystek, Claire Farley, Mark Frutkin, jesslyn gagno, Shoshannah Ganz, Jenna Jarvis, Ben Ladouceur, Sneha Madhavan-Reese, Karen Massey, Robin McLachlen, Colin Morton, Peter Norman, Julia Polyck-O'Neill, Roland Prevost, Tim Mook Sang, Lesley Strutt, D.S. Stymeist, Anne Marie Todkill, Deanna Young and Changming Yuan. Artwork by: Alysha Farling, Anna Griffiths, Anna J. Eyler, Erin Robertson, Gail Bourgeois, Jeff McIntyre, Nichola Feldman-Kiss, Patrice Stanley, Sarah Dobbin, Susan Roston, and Verbal.
You don’t know the people inside your head,
are vaguely aware of them writing
feverishly through the night,
like the shoemaker’s elves fashioning, repairing.
You stand by sometimes watching, sometimes
listening transfixed as they read their diffident poems
or talk about their mothers, how this one’s
a nervous driver, that one has started dying
her hair, hoping to hide her age.
It takes you years to realize these nocturnal scriveners
wear many earnest faces all of them the same,
are constantly starting over, walk on the graves
of others, leaving tight little bundles of words
no longer needed, shaping what’s left into poems
weak and unpalatable as hospital custard
or once in a happenstance bearing the badge
of jaw-dropping inspiration. No matter:
last night’s flotsam and jetsam not worth
scooping up into your morning latte.
“Indian Encampment, after Blakelock”
Space Jew, or, Walter Benjamin Among the Stars
Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft
The growth of modern astronomy broke the enchantments of astrology, and on this reckoning Jantar Mantar (as viewed by our counterfactual Benjamin) might seem like a snapshot taken before the separation. Benjamin spoke, in elegiac terms, of the way we lost wonder’s trance, knowing all too well that from the perspective of the Enlightenment it had been good to wake up — sapere aude, “have the courage to use your own reason,” as Kant had said, and conquer unmündigkeit or “immaturity” — but Benjamin was more mindful of what “telescoping reason” had done to our rapport with the heavens. Benjamin’s question would likely have been, what are we to do with the ruins of wonder? Have we the time to build anything from them?
My fantasy about Walter Benjamin standing at Jantar Mantar involves a speculation about what a dead writer and critic might have thought about a site he never saw: what if astronomy and astrology were still allies, still lovers, my fictional Benjamin asks. What if the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment had not severed causation and meaning, the contingency of the universe and our sense of its purposefulness? My fantasy comes from a small but intriguing corner of the lively culture industry surrounding Benjamin: counterfactual fantasies about Benjamin successfully escaping Europe are a very real micro-genre. The expansive sweep of Benjaminiana includes Laurie Anderson’s 1989 album Strange Angels, dedicated to Benjamin and referencing his well-known description of the “Angel of History”; Jewlia Eisenberg’s 2001 album Trilectic, which tells the story of his 1927 trip to Moscow and his relationship with the Communist Party member Ana Lacis; and Charles Bernstein and Brian Ferneyhough’s opera Shadowtime, which is “counterfactual” in the sense that it starts with Benjamin’s suicide and then follows him, as if he were Odysseus or Dante, into the underworld. Very often, the Benjamin industry seems to be fueled by his charisma (his posthumous charisma; the living Benjamin seems not to have possessed that attribute in much abundance) as a weird combination of intellectual wunderkind and schlemiel loser.
While brushing aside counterfactuals as “unhistorical shit” or “parlor games” has become habitual for most professional historians, others take them seriously as means by which to expose causation. Still, other historians see counterfactual thinking as present in all historical thinking, whether made explicit or not. Counterfactuals are not, whatever their detractors think, pure leaps into fantasy. They are the renegotiation of empirical data — and yet they obviously flirt with an abandonment of the real, and with flights into fantasy. And beyond their task of illuminating causal relationships among historical developments, counterfactual questions have a kind of hermeneutic power, exposing the logics by which we read historical events, and exposing as well our attachment to different types of determinism.
If counterfactuals open our eyes to contingency, contingency in turn has the potential to disenchant. In many cases, a counterfactual glance at the sweep of human events would reveal no constellations, no signals, just noise, static, wave clutter. No grand unified theory, no ultimately rational emergent world-spirit, just particles, blood, and dust. Benjamin was against patterns, too, or against the search for certain specific historical ones. The myth that events are part of a larger story called “progress” was, for Benjamin, the hallmark of “bourgeois” history. He suggested that a more enlightened and free world (a world that was, among other things, socialist) would instead perceive the virtue of each moment, would daydream in terms of the immediate lived experience of hours, minutes, and seconds, rather than stringing events together over the centuries to make sense of it all. Still, if Benjamin was a Marxist, his Marxism was as selective as his Judaism, stripping away the teleology that still ran through Marx’s own thought, the sense that the logic of history would see our chains fall to our feet. Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” is, in part, an argument for the recuperation of the potential latent in each moment of time, and against subsuming them within a larger progress-narrative; while one reading of Benjamin quite rightly emphasizes his “dialectics at a standstill,” there is another way to read his resistance to historicism: like formal counterfactualists, Benjamin was interested in restoring a sense of contingency to our understanding of the past.
"Portrait Of A Dream"
Spinoza Redux and Other Transpositions of the Posthuman Subject (Rosie Braidoti)
Zachary Braiterman looks at Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics
–The ethical project is identified as “nomadic ethics” and “an ethics of sustainability,” with clear reference to the idea of nomadism in Deleuze and to the idea of conatus in Spinoza. The critical project is posed against tradition, which is mostly presented in terms of encrusted habit, toxicity, and authority.. Chapter 1 is meant to establish a posthuman ethics, whose main conceptual concerns are not rights, i.e. subjective rights or the rights of a human subject, but rather power-relations, capacity, and alterity. The transposition intended here is a shift in scale from the anthropocentric models to ones based upon more complex environments and material embodiments. The ethical is established as that limit beyond which human subjects are unable to sustain themselves in life. Therein lies the critique of late capitalism as an unsustainable economic and political system. What concerns the author as “ethical” is the self-formation of the inter-dependent body embedded in nature and with others.
–If there’s a telos to this book, it is in “becoming imperceptible,” by which Braidoti means no more and no less than the a future orientation and redemption from the past, becoming one with the common life of nature (zoe), merging into the environment. Understood here is a floating awareness, a radical and qualitative shift in perspective that comes when one abandons the self as a fixed social identity. At its heart “becoming imperceptible” is for Braidotit a coming to terms with death on good terms, in which the good, the ultimate ethical good is a self-styled death that overcomes the tension between eros and death. Allowing the organism to die on its own terms, to allow silence to wash over the subject at its end, the longing for death, for non-life at the heart of human subjectivity. Braidoti calls this the experience of eternity in time. Readers of Jewish philosophy will recognize this temporal and existential figure in Jewish philosophy, whereas Braidoti insists that this not a Christian or otherworldly figuration. Not unmoored entirely from “religion,” she calls it a “post-secular spirituality,” “redefined as a topology of affects”.
via -synthetic zero
A Conversation on Li Shangyin:
translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts
Rush, rustling of the East Wind, a fine rain arrives
Beyond the Lotus Pool, is a delicate thunder
Golden Toad bites the lock, burning perfume enters
Jade Tiger weights the cord above the water well, circling
Young Secretary Han: glimpsed by Lady Jia though curtains, briefly
Talented King Wei: bequeathed Princess Fu’s pillow, only afterward
Spring Heart, refrain from competing with flowers in effusion
One measure of longing, one measure of ash
Chloe Garcia Roberts & Guangchen Chen
GC: A kind of hurting experience gets polished and decorated, which I think is indeed very Baroque—in other words, suffering becomes the object of decoration and aesthetic appreciation.
Now we finally see this poem wonderfully rendered into English. This is no small achievement. It’s quite a journey—from a purely visual experience of the Chinese characters to a word-to-word translation, to an elegant recreation of the original in a very different language. Can you tell me a bit about the process? Did your experience of Li Shangyin’s vision develop following a similar pattern?
CGR: I am always struck by the reverberation that Li Shangyin uses in his work. The images and the symbols in each poem reverberate against themselves and each other like notes, together they create a chord, which is the cord. (Cord: A “thread” which runs through and unites the parts of anything. –OED) He captures not just the components but the music that they make together, a harmony of disparate parts that I impossibly try to strive for in translating the work.
I begin of course by reading the poem. Reading it over and over again until the words coalesce into several different readings or understandings of the text. I do this so I can cast the net of the translation as widely as possible so as to catch as much of the implied meaning which resides behind the written words, the references, the wordplay etc. This is not to say that all of this multi-dimensionality can ultimately make it into the translation, only that I want to hold it in my head when creating the new incarnation, as superstitiously I believe that knowing these fine contours of the work can help me rebuild them in a balanced way in the new poem.
I then work on tracing the structure of the poem, finding the load-bearing words, the words that create the borders of the poems, the words that work in tandem with others, locating the images versus the symbols, the stories and images that are known, the stories and images that remain a mystery. Once I have taken everything apart and laid it out in front of me in notes and thought I then begin the process of putting it back together again, in English.
February 10, 2016
Nature is What Hurts
Review of Timothy Morton's Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World
The posthumanist turn in recent theory and cultural studies continues apace. Posthumanism, briefly, is in general the effort to challenge and even displace the vestiges of anthropocentrism that persist within the conceptual regimes of the human sciences. In this, it follows a series of sustained and by now familiar decenterings of certain privileged subject positions: the postcolonial decentering of a certain Western subjectivity, or the queer decentering of a certain heteronormative subjectivity, for instance. Posthumanism wishes to go further, however, and seeks to decenter the human as such, principally by exploring the complex web of connections and correspondences that obtain between both human and non-human life forms and between the human and our increasingly multiform and complex technological apparatuses - to imagine then a kind of seamless continuum of earthly being, with no point on the continuum to be seen as ethically or epistemologically privileged in any way._______________________
A certain upping of the conceptual stakes can be observed in the recent posthumanist theorizing that is indebted philosophically to those trends variously known as speculative realism or object-oriented ontology, two basic elements of which might be isolated for our purposes here. The first is captured in what philosopher Quentin Meillassoux calls ancestrality, the radical temporal disjunction and distention evidenced by things such as ancient rocks or the fossil record, which body forth realities and processes that radically transcend the operative evolutionary timeframe of human consciousness. The second element entails the attribution to nonhuman objects, and matter more generally, of a kind of generative power, thus evoking a “nature-culture continuum,” as Rosi Braidotti calls it. This is in contrast to the essentially inert, mute aspect that western idealism (an epithet that appears to characterize, for some posthumanists, the whole of western thinking as such) is typically understood to ascribe to matter. Taken together, these postulates partially define the growing field that Mark McGurl has recently labelled, in a nice phrase, “cultural geology.” These are the discourses of cultural study that have begun to borrow heavily from the physical sciences, especially cosmology, evolutionary biology, and chaos theory, in order to enframe the productions of human consciousness and human culture in an ever widening set of temporalities and physical processes - “deep time,” as it’s sometimes called, stretching back now thousands, now millions of years, radically re-inscribing our now rather puny seeming endeavors against a much vaster horizon, and challenging philosophy to stop being a “sop to the pathetic twinge of human self esteem” (xi), as Ray Brassier acerbically puts it.
Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World offers an interesting recent intervention in this context, particularly for those of us who come at cultural theory from a more materialist and dialectical perspective, as this last was an important aspect of Morton’s own approach before his apparent embrace of the object-oriented ontology of Graham Harman and others in this new book.
Philosophers As Bureaucrats Of Sadism
... it’s certainly not a task for us to imagine–sadistically–those cases that count, like the worst form of arm-chair philosophizing, a point I also had in mind when torture came up during the late Bush years in the classroom and students wanted to hash out various 24-style scenarios. Why spend our time in classes in such joint fantasies? Some will suggest that this then means that we will allow the lines to be blurred, we won’t distinguish–abstractly, mind you–between what is torture and what isn’t, and so on. But as philosophers, this only has the affect of making us bureaucrats of that violence, like those Bush-era (and no doubt, also Obama-era) attorneys parsing out in Kafkaesque ways all manner of horrors. We are not here to quantify pain, adjudicate this level of horror and no more, etc. Rather I always return the question: why precisely does that abstraction interest us, rather than dealing with the very specific example at issue? Why a need to measure how much horror a hypothetical Arendt would permit–here and no more? These moments end up as creative lessons in irresponsibility–not the reverse, a point I hope follows a bit from the above. If this means that leaves me out of many “applied ethics” or “political” discussions, then so be it.
via —synthetic zero
The Crusade Against Multiple Regression Analysis
A Conversation With Richard Nisbett
A huge range of science projects are done with multiple regression analysis. The results are often somewhere between meaningless and quite damaging.
I find that my fellow social psychologists, the very smartest ones, will do these silly multiple regression studies, showing, for example, that the more basketball team members touch each other the better the record of wins.
I hope that in the future, if I’m successful in communicating with people about this, there’ll be a kind of upfront warning in New York Times articles: These data are based on multiple regression analysis. This would be a sign that you probably shouldn’t read the article because you’re quite likely to get non-information or misinformation.
Knowing that the technique is terribly flawed and asking yourself—which you shouldn’t have to do because you ought to be told by the journalist what generated these data—if the study is subject to self-selection effects or confounded variable effects, and if it is, you should probably ignore them. What I most want to do is blow the whistle on this and stop scientists from doing this kind of thing. As I say, many of the very best social psychologists don’t understand this point.
Imagining a Poetry That We Might Find:
Conversation with Jerome Rothenberg and David Antin
Jake Marmer's introduction
“We were...desiring poetry, imagining a poetry that we might find – for which there was no strong evidence available,” says David Antin, reflecting on his college days, as he and Jerome Rothenberg sit with me in David’s dining room, in San Diego, around a tape recorder and a big French press. Desiring and imagining poetry – how different that is from merely writing, or reading, or even experimenting! Imagining and desiring: might that help shed some light on the incredible array of original, personal, deeply compelling poetic forms these titans of American poetry have invented, restored, and modified? As Antin points out in this interview: “I found a way to regard the poem itself as creating its own genre… We were looking for ways to overrun the tradition.”_______________________
To overrun the tradition, however, is also to extend back into the ancient past and retrieve, to recognize that which may not have been thought of as poetry. That impulse, as Jerome put it, “came out of the feeling that certain things were missing for us… Why is this not poetry? Why can it not be poetry, even great poetry? What keeps us from seeing it in those terms?... When I plunged into Technicians of the Sacred it was with desire for things to come with me and surprise me – and they did.” Note, this isn’t merely about finding new poetry, but more poignantly, recognizing within ourselves, that which prevents us from experiencing certain discourses as poetic. Is it a political barrier? Philosophical? Ritualistic? What’s at stake, as Rothenberg put it in the preface to Technicians of the Sacred, is “a life lived at the level of poetry.”