Thursday, August 30, 2007

"Reading Arendt in Caracas"

I'll admit I probably should be more suspicious of Hugo Chavez than am. It's just so rare to hear a politican even mention let alone advocate against poverty and for socialized anything these days it's difficult not to forgive him his, um, cult of personality, machismo characteristics. "Anti-chavistas" are even more deserving of suspicion, in my estimation. So when I came across this article by Arendt's biographer, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, in The Nation, I was uncertain what to expect. The clash would be, to my mind, that liberalist admiration/appropriation for Arendt's political philosophy-- in Venezualan politics-- would make me sad in that it would force me to acknowledge, as it made present--an unresolvable conflict between my post-Marxist leanings and my admiration for Arendt's philosophy.

Actually, the essay is a pretty good balancing act, which of course could be just another way of perpetuating a false objectivity--"fair and balanced"-- in the service of cowardice, but I also think Young-Bruehl is trying to see "both sides" in a way that would make Arendt proud.

I found this anecdote to be amusing/illuminating: "On the day of my arrival at Simon Bolivar University, El Presidente discoursed on TV for an interminable half-hour on Antonio Gramsci before turning to a mixture of grandiose self-reference and policy wonkese."

Check out how that "interminable half-hour" is a little slap for American audiences and politicians. And she manages to criticize Chavez too with the "grandiose self reference." Nice.

But I do have to say-- can you imagine George Bush, or, fuck, Hillary Clinton even mentioning Antonio Gramsci? I'd take grandiose self-refernece for a dollop of Gramsci any day.

Well, maybe...

What Young-Bruehl manages to suggest is that Arendt's vision of--and insistence on-- the political realm is broader than any sense we now have of sclerotic two-party democracies, which merely serve to uphold (and cover over) economic injustices. At least the way I read Young-Bruehl, there's a possibility that the folks that brought her to Caracas (the anti-chavista , pro-Arendt factions) didn't get the response (or the support) from an Arendtian that they expected. But then, neither did the pro-chavistas.

I love it when everyone walks away partly unsatisfied.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Lord of the Rings (of Boredom)

I tried to watch Lord of The Rings the other night since it was on cable and I never managed to see it in theaters. I really really was just impossible to sit through. I did find this lass to be very yummy, tho (no idea who the actress or the character is).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

An Academic Travesty

I''m both glad and horrified that I happened to come across Mark Scroggins's blog post on Norman Finkelstein's tenure denial. I wasn't familar with either the tenure issue or Finkelstein's scholarly work. (Well, at least not *that* Norman Finkelstein , as Scroggins mentions, tho I'm a fan of the *other* Finkelstein.) DePaul Finkelstein's work, as far as I can tell, is so in line with things I've been thinking about/drawn towards I'm a bit shocked--in a good way. I'm going to leave the tenure issue aside. For now, I simply want to post an excerpt from Finkelstein's memorial article on Raul Hilberg in order to point out (really, to remember for myself) two issues he mentions which have become very important to my sense of how one thinks of the Holocaust: 1) the concept of the assembly-line operation that set in motion the destruction of the Jews was developed by Hilberg and 2) the stark, careful (scholarly?) language Hilberg used to describe his subject contributes to the intensity of its meaning at the same time that it points to its banal facticity, and this to my mind aligns with Reznikoff's "ethics" of representation which works as a method by blurring the line between historiography and poetics:

"Hilberg's reputation for mastery of the primary sources was such that my former coauthor (and an authority in her own right on the Nazi holocaust) Ruth Bettina Birn feared their first meeting: no mortal being, she thought, could have stored so many Nuremberg Tribunal documents in his brain. The magnitude of Hilberg's achievement is hard to appreciate today because the scholarly breakthrough has passed into commonplace. His sequential-chronological account of the steps pressing ineluctably from the Nazi definition of Jews to their expropriation, massacre, deportation and assembly-line extermination has been assimilated into the infrastructure of all subsequent scholarship.

Stylistically Hilberg's study might be said to be the opposite of current Holocaust fare: short on adjectives and adverbs such that when he reaches for one it packs unusual intensity. Apart from professional discipline his dry-as-dust rendering was perhaps also meant to capture the desiccated esprit of the bureaucratic - dare I say banal? - process through which millions of Jews were shoved along to their deaths

Friday, August 24, 2007

Lightning Bolt - The Power Of Salad And Milkshakes

I can't believe this whole doc is on Youtube. How awesome!

Wolf Eyes at Analog Shock

Ah, the good ole' days.... and Nate w/ short hair.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Required reading

Part 1 of two fantastic posts from Ghost in the Wire on Baudrillard and Heidegger. My only beef being the idea that the Lacanian "Real" is somehow equatable or can merely be translated as "reality. That seems not at all right, or at least needs more explication. But whatever, it's a very clarifying read.

Queer Arts

The David Wojnarowicz page at is great.

And let us not forget Felix Gonzalez-Torres...
At one time I had some of these blue candies--taken from a pile at the Corcoran in DC (I believe), along with a few big sheets of white paper with gold lettering. Unfortunately, I ate the candy and somehow lost the sheets of paper, which I had intended on framing and hanging in my house. I suppose that's all as it should be; I just wish I could remember what they said.

Sophie Calle / French Pavilion / 52nd Venice Biennale 2007

I Heart Sophie Calle

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Poetry and Contingency"

From and essay by Michael Palmer:

"Kant thought he was honoring art when among the predicates of beauty he emphasized and gave prominence to those which established the honor of knowledge: impersonality and universality. This is not the place to inquire whether this was essentially a mistake; all I wish to underline is that Kant, like all philosophers, instead of envisaging the aesthetic problem from the point of view of the artist (the creator), considered art and the beautiful purely from that of the “spectator,” and unconsciously introduced the “spectator” into the concept “beautiful.” It would not have been so bad if this “spectator” had at least been sufficiently familiar to the philosophers of beauty - namely as a great personal fact and experience, as an abundance of vivid authentic experiences, desires, surprises, and delights in the realm of the beautiful! But I fear that the reverse has always been the case; and so they have offered us, from the beginning, definitions in which, as in Kant’s famous definition of the beautiful, a lack of any refined first-hand experience reposes in the shape of a fat worm of error. “That is beautiful,” said Kant, “which gives us pleasure without interest.” Without interest! Compare with this definition one framed by a genuine “spectator” and artist - Stendhal, who once called the beautiful une promesse de bonheur. At any rate he rejected and repudiated the one point about the aesthetic condition which Kant had stressed: le d√©sinteressement. Who is right, Kant or Stendhal?"

Read the rest...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jacques Tati - PLAYTIME

A favorite scene from a favorite movie.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Medieval Memoria

I feel like if I go far enough into theories of memory I will come out on some other shore having truly understood something. But there's no end to memory....

Despite the title of this post, I can't claim any knowledge of medieval memory. But as I was reading Mary Carruthers's and Frances Yates's selections in Theories of Memory: A Reader (eds. Michael Rossignton and Anne Whitehead) I found an interesting link to my argument (or, more like, a more coherent and informed sense of some feeble idea I've been struggling to articulate) on Reznikoff's long poem Holocaust and the issue of memory. The introduction to Carruthers explains: "The early medieval Memoria informed a conception of reading as 'tropological'; this is reading which turns 'the text onto and into one's self'. Originality and imagination are of less value than a good memory, which enables a reader to internalise another's work. The reader has to 'digest' what they are reading, placing it so securely in their memory that they effectively become its 'new author'. Whereas we consider such assimilation unethical, an example of 'plagiarism' or the theft of intellectual property, in the monasteries of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, it was conceived rather as an ethical dialogue between memories, the sharing and preservation of communal wisdom" (23).

It would be interesting to see the ways in which 'tropological memory' plays out in Reznikoff, (something which I will (or hope to) explore further in a bit) especially as it might be seen as both a device that constructed the work and as a reading practice that brings the experience of the text into proximity. What I find interesting in terms of the idea of proximity is that there's a sense when one reads Holocaust that it is too close--it gets under ones skin in a way that precludes, in fact, making it ones own. Yet I think, for Reznikoff, his approach to the archival works he was condensing, selecting, transforming, entailed a process or method that allowed him to keep memory in proper proximity, while at the same time conveying to the reader its affective and cognitive resonance. This all connects in my mind to the phenomenological approach of Paul Ricoeur in his text Memory, History, Forgetting, where the "duty of memory" approaches its most significant ethical task, i.e., justice. For Ricoeur, the question of the proper use of memory is directly related to its necessary application in the field of justice, for, despite all of the uses and abuses it gives rise to, it is in the field or arena of justice that the individual memory transforms itself into a collective task, or, more precisely, a task performed for the sake of both the individual and the collective. [Of course, mention of the term 'use and abuse' reminds one of Nietzsche's essay "On the Use and Abuse of History for Life," which Ricoeur does mention, but since I don't have the text here with me I can't accurately describe the significance of Nietzsche's essay on Ricoeur's analysis of the abuses of memory as they pertain to the duty of memory and justice. More on that later as well.]

The issue of distance and proximity in relation to a traumatic text, a text which may, either during its construction (for the author), or as a finished product, (for the reader) be experienced as at least somewhat traumatizing seems to require what we might call a tropological method' or approach. This method would 'digest' its subject carefully, selectively, 'ruminating' for neither too long nor for too short a time. Yet there seems to be a difficulty here in terms of balance. The issue of 'managing' and 'organizing' the relation between self and other in terms of this tropological approach seems to mean that 'turning the text into oneself', i.e., memorizing a text until it 'becomes' a part of one's own psyche and memory would 'subectivize' the text into oblivion. Perhaps for the medievalist, since this incorporation was managed through certain techniques, this 'taking into oneself'' is a form of transformation whose goal is a kind of strict accuracy. For instance, the medieval Quintillian recommended re-reading, copying out, annotation and recitation, which were all thought of as proceses of rumination and digestion but whose intention or goal is a level of accurcy and fedility to the text. This is, in effect a kind of incorporation (the Host as the body of Christ, trans-substantiation, etc) which might more accurately be said to transform the reader into the text rather than the other way around. Or at least, one might say that there is a kinship or relation established with the text that, through proper mnemonic techniques, turns the text into a kind of 'second nature' for the reader or memorizer in such a way that the text's meaning and the readers's own moral understanding of the world now unconsciously inform one another.

This in turn points to the ways in which the tropological approach to texts is fundamentally a rhetorical exegesis that ascribes to them a moral dimension. That is the tropological method, as a proper form of incorporation (memorization) not only finds the moral dimension in an analysis of the text, it also implies that there is a moral dimension to the act of memorization itself. What I find intriguing about this "turn" is that there are two necessary components to this transformative incorporation as a moral or ethical act. What I'll call 1) a proper proximity, and, 2) forgetting, which is an inevitable component of this incorporation.

OK, more tomorrow. (Unless I forget!)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Quote for the day

"Be free my friends. One for all and all for me, and me for you, and three for five, and six for a quarter" --Groucho Marx in "The Cocoanuts"

Monday, August 13, 2007


St Francis: So I think: it's a failure to realize. How much more dangerous to remain in a "light-hearted" state of mind than to focus on negative possibilities.

The Buddha: A sick power struggle.

St Francis: What he doesn't know. A punishment by an outside that turns back around to bite him in the ass. Therefore there is guilt. And no outside.

The Buddha: Lack of guilt is a false innocence. A domesticity.

St Francis: Sacrifice. Demands. Denial. Coffee cups and soup spoons. Trips to the market. Walking in the city. Closed doors. Phone calls. Works of literature performed as abstract revenge, which paradoxically hold the inevitability of disaster in permanent abeyance.

The Buddha: A revenge fantasy. A lie. Fictional subjectivities collapse into one another's violent desires. But there is only one writer of fiction. Or rather, oneness expands and implodes into a multiplicity of fictions. The writer selves?

St Francis: There are 2 ways of looking at things: realistically and phantasmatically. Yet they are not opposed.

The Buddha: Like structure and non-structure?

St Francis: A structure of opposites, if it is composed of opposing structural possibilities, collapses into profusion. There can be more than one nothing. More than one mise-en-abyme.

The Buddha: OK, The Buddha and St Francis of Assisi face off. A small, stone lion guards over the showdown, obliquely. St Francis occupies one side of a miniaturized diptych-- gold-painted, weathered, medeival. "Lord make me an instrument of Thy Peace." The Buddha stares into the gap between, while the stooped, haloed Saint pronounces a permanent blessing over what looks to be a pile of rocks, but might actually be a gathering of small animals. A cloaked, flattened figure to his (no, the observer's) left looks on. Cloaked figure vs. carved stone lion. We always need, and thus create, observers for our own delusional scenarios.

St Francis: I, on the other hand, have always been envious of "creative types." I can't stand it when people turn their pain into art. I mean, who do they think they are?

The Buddha: Manipulation is the worst form of flattery. Aphorisms are confining.

St Francis: Even to himself?

The Buddha: Yes.

St Francis: I can never decide if generosity is selfish or not. But I am suspicious by nature, so I leave this open to doubt. If one is never sure of another's motives?

The Buddha: In my opinion, the good is outweighed by the bad. Of course, people often mistake this for pessimism, but it's really just an eternal theme, and, therefore, a doubt is an opening. If you understood me, you'd focus on my positive characteristics. So far, only one person has figured this out, though it proved to be too much of an effort.

St Francis: How many people feel their name doesn't suit them?

The Buddha: I don't want to "include history."

St Francis: The longer I sit here the more I can feel myself contract and expand. The ideals of surrealism have always attracted me more than the results and I have a hard time noticing tense shifts, so when I find myself in a pleasurable flow state, it's already too late.

The Buddha: The world is not that insufficient. Recalcitrants. Cats. Ashtray. Words are not objects; they're barely even words.

St Francis: I'm not trying to: include, erase, describe or depict. There's no hope for: understanding, resolution, or reasurance. Narrative has never been my strong suit. I do not long for: beauty, clarity, or enlightement. "No hugging. No learning." I have never liked nor understood the word "joy." The issue of gender is something I often discuss and deploy as a weapon, but it's really a non-starter.

The Buddha: A mere stop-gap for lonelines? A tone of contention? I see the uselessness. The thought of licking his ass turns me on. I rarely. Delight. Dysmorphia.

St Francis: The lower the object the higher I feel, that's why we called it "The Tundra."

The Buddha: Narrative vs. Prose?

St Francis: So I turned it up and drove fast, holding my breath down the long, endless road that ran alongside a pasture of stone and iron, all the while staring straight ahead and gripping the wheel, and at the same time noticing, or rather feeling, a peripheral presence, until it all fused into one.