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.
April 27, 2016
Playing in Darkness
The men on top of the hill
launched a new dirt lobby
meant to outstrip the precious,
that is, previous, tentative
by a better than three-to-one margin.
And slightly without you
horrified spectators esteem the rain input.
You would have too crude shelter
of boards circling a central meaning place.
Arrhythmia! You pant. Not by a long
chalk, crotch shot
on a bowling team, English-worthy kebabs.
Let Fido confide, or cough up. I can’t
vouch for the clientele, in lockdown mode.
They don’t want you there, aporia.
Mrs. Mulligan down the hall broached the topic
long after everyone had gone home
into the night.
The Word Brambles, You SayIn the Shadow's Light
translated by John Naughton
The word brambles, you say? Then I think of
Those boats stranded in sea-weed
That children drag on summer mornings
With cries of joy through dark pools of water.
Because in some, you see, there are traces
Of a fire that burned there at the prow of the world
–And on the blackened wood where time has left
The salt that seems a sign but vanishes,
You too shall love the shimmering water.
Brief is the flame that goes out to sea,
But when it is quenched against the wave,
The smoke is filled with iridescence.
–The word brambles is like this sinking wood.
And poetry, if we can use this word,
Is it not still, there where the star
Seemed to beckon, but only toward death,
Knowing how to love this light? To love
To open the kernel of absence in words?
translated by John Naughton
the remaining foundation
In Search of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Secluded Hut in Norway
A Short Travel Film
b. April 26, 1889
rowing from Skjolden to his house
near Skjolden, Sogneflord, Norway
Intellectual Freedom in the Age of Social Media
What makes the situation so difficult, though, is that we academics do need social media — particularly academics from marginalized groups. The intellectual community that it can create is far beyond what can be expected in even the healthiest academic department. The question is how to build that community without increasing our “exposure.”
... we should acknowledge that few academics have the skills or disposition needed to deal effectively with the general public. Even those who do should know better than to expect much intellectual nourishment from those encounters. The public square is not where any of us do our best thinking, because the intellectual life requires authentic comrades, not just whoever happens to come along. It also requires solitude, for developing ideas at length without the need to respond to questions or criticism at every step. In short, intellectual freedom entails a space of freedom from the general public, and we need to be more intentional about creating such spaces.
Continental Thought and Theory: A Journal of Intellectual Freedom
Issue 1, April 2016
Edited by Michael Grimshaw and Cindy Zeiher
Introduction: What is Intellectual Freedom Today? A Provocation
Mike Grimshaw and Cindy Zeiher
The claim of the need for intellectual freedom in world of the academic precariat is an underlying tension across all contributions. And so the potentiality of responses could go on, like a manifesto of and for this spectre, this claim, this opiate perhaps, of ‘intellectual freedom.” And yet, as the number of respondents situated in a variety of fields, demonstrates there is something, a multiplicity of ‘somethings’, that we feel need to be attempted to be articulated, critiqued, argued and advanced as to the question ‘what is intellectual freedom today?’
More so, the precise way the question can be responded to, the manners in
which it can be engaged with is itself a central question of freedom for the
intellectual, of freedom as to how to undertake the practice of the intellectual. ....
via Philosophy In A Time Of Error
In Search of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Secluded Hut
Amnesia or Transmission
Jelica Šumic Riha
The present time could then be designated as a time of amnesia, a peculiar amnesia to be sure, since we are not dealing here simply with the forgetting of some past events whose effects, to paraphrase Lacan, have stopped being written in the present conjecture. It is not merely about forgetting the forgotten. The amnesia of the amnesia is rather an anticipation of the amnesia, a readiness to forget in advance, a programmed amnesia, so to speak. Hence, for us, something is doomed to be forgotten even before it has actually taken place. This anticipated, programmed amnesia is namely the ability to wipe out not only what has happened, but to annihilate the very idea of the possibility for something to happen, in short, the ability to erase the possibility of the possible. What is crucial today, however, is not the question: how to restore the traces of the forgotten/effaced past, but rather: how to deactivate our readiness in advance to forget.
It is precisely in the present conjecture of the amnesia of the possibility of another world that the articulation of philosophy’s contemporaneity to the question of transmission has attained its central place. It is not a question, here, of merely bridging the temporal gap between the generation of the sixties and the present generation. What is at stake here is nothing less than the possibility of transmission under the circumstances of contemporary nihilism, a transmission from the “evental generation”, a generation that, in effect, experienced in the 1960s, if only for a brief moment, the possibility of a new beginning in the guise of a categorical departure from the existing state of affairs, to a properly nihilistic generation, marked, not by the event but by its absence, a generation that was literally marked by the nothing, a generation that was under the spell of the dominant ideology, according to which a new beginning that could be considered a clear-cut rupture capable of founding a new world and thus inaugurating a new time, a new historical epoch is no longer possible.
How then can the past beginning be inscribed in such a conjecture in which the gap separating the evental from the nihilistic generation seems to be ineliminable? ....