Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
The Antichrist (2009) – Lars Von Trier
Having watched Antichrist last night and thought it was excellent (and not at all like an “art house fart” as one critic commented. True, the black and white image saturated by the non-diegetic operatic soundtrack does have a slight taste of art house cliché about it, but, as Deleaze says, every artist approaches the canvass already virtually filled with cliché and has to break with it on their own terms.), I would give a quick post to a certian juxtraposotion that sprang to mind during the viewing.
After listening to some John D. Caputo lectures on this book and around issues of negative and radical theology in general, I’m quite looking forward to getting stuck into this theology vs materialism battle in the next few days. According to Caputo, Zizek’s use of Meister Eckhart is a bit shady as he never quotes from primary sources, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he does like from Eckhart, especially as my run-ins with Eckhart a few years ago left me with my view of Christianity totally blown apart. This was reinforced by Caputo’s Mystical Element in Heidegger’s Thought was one of the first secondary sources on Heidegger I read and probably one of the best written.
Yes, I haven’t posted for a long time and this, for me, is like I’m starting from scratch but without the rigmarole of setting up a new site. As Badiou is so fond of quoting from Beckett “Try again. Fail again. Fail better“. I thought, to get myself off the mark once again, that I should explain a little about the title of my blog.
To avoid the void is to ignore the void that founds the ground of ones existence. The void, to put it in Badiouian terms (a philosopher whose concepts I’m becoming ever more accustomed to thinking through), is that which is not counted in the state of any situation, yet founds the presentation of that state. Although when I first thought of ‘Avoidingthevoid’ I wasn’t thinking specifically of Badiou, but was in fact referring to an absolutely pointless coupon that gets spat out by the QuickTicket machine at most British railway stations. It is the excremental excess of, what must be, a software problem that would be too difficult/time consuming/unprofitable to fix. Having in my hand this ticket and laughing manically for a few moments, I envisioned a closet existentialist NetworkRail computer engineer insisting that to fix the problem would require a complete overhaul of the system (while deviously rubbing her hands with the thought of thousands of commuters everyday presented with a slab of existential irony). The commuter, the archetypal purveyor of the average-everyday, is the avoider of the void par excellence: my fantasy mythical commuter determines and over determines their life-world everyday through clockwork repetition and habit. The expectation is that is seamless continuity, or at least expected dis-continuity (this is the British railway network we’re talking about here, after all) and as such the world of engagement is that of normalized relation and anticipation. The smooth movement from A-B is filled with the contingencies of the day, but only as they prove to be variations of figures within a formalized and structural norm. The commuter does not dare look for the exception, does not dare be perturbed by the odd ranting nutter, a delay due to a ‘fatality on the track at Clapham Junction’ or the ‘miserable’ British weather. No, they plod on through these things to reach their destination, unimpressed by the distractions of the day. Avoiding the void is the everyday act of a routinized nature and it is with a hint of irony that I called the blog ‘avoidingthevoid’, not as a description of the task of this blogger, but the activity I would try to be avoiding.
Recently I was fortunate enough to have participated in something that gave me a shock to thought, a true deterritorialization and experience of the velocity of flux (to put it in sexy Deleuzian terms). Take a look at this book if you’re curious HERE The result of this was not a kind of Heideggerian authentic resolute being-towards-death ‘F5 refresh’ style re-orientation, but a glimpse at just how withdrawn the average-everyday is from this encounter with the unnameable: it is the unnameable that proves the singularity of the truth. Now, as the days role on, I’m finding it a more pressing need to try and provoke myself into approaching this site once again, but through what at first feel seems the impotent medium of language.
To articulate something means to bring into joint the out of joint. Linguist expression is the articulation of an analysis (which means to break up). The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that to say anything is an act of bravery and to say something new is an act of revolution. In this sense, I agree wholeheartedly with the ruminations of the object-oriented philosophers (specifically Harman) when they talk about overdetermined objects as those ‘elemental’ things we must build with, use and abuse in order to create a new style, a new level of the world or in Badiouian terms, a new Truth.
I’m sure Harman would not agree on lumping him in with Badiou, but like I said before, I’m finding Badiou’s concepts quite fecund at the moment, especially to understand recent (pseudo) political activity of the election. I’m trying to reconcile Laruelle’s comments about Badiou as a modern and not a contemporary philosopher (defined through the Decision of his mathematical ontology), with Badiou’s politics and my own social discontents. This reconciliation does involve OOP, although I feel it to be more relative to Bryant’s OOO than Harman’s, for as a truly ‘realistic’ contemporary political trajectory to be thought. It is for this reason that I’m starting to blog again, as blogging is by its nature a public display of ones creative juices there is the necessity of exposure that is both confessional and communal. In this sense, blogging is the contemporary retrieval of the art of confession for the post-panoptically enmeshed subject: if your going to be watched then you might as well make it interesting, try and dissolve some of those overdetermined elemental objects that construct the everyday. This is not to reveal any hidden essence or to fetishize difference in-itself, but to not be sutured to a fidelity of a simulacrum that avoids the void for the sake of a closed particularity of an abstract set (i.e, don’t live a lie).
This is a link to the audio recording for my presentation on:
Weird Realism and aesthetics as first philosophy
I won’t upload the paper itself, but I’m working on a long post concerning art, aesthetics and OOP which should be up in the next few weeks. As I’m working a lot and occupied with a tonne of reading (rather than writing), it may have to wait until I’ve digested some really important sources (such as Ortega y Gasset, Danto, Adorno, and some art history) that should help with the aforementioned article.
At a Nietzsche conference in Oxford last year, I heard an inspiring paper presented by Dr Gudrun von Tevenar. She gave an eerily penetrating and dark profile of the feeling of ‘ekel’ as a kind of lost instinct. In translation, this is something like nausea and disgust, but apparently, in the German, it has a more shocking gravity and meaning which doesn’t resonate in the English translation. The use of this nauseating-disgust (ekel) at all things ugly and unclean allows for a turning away, to avoid contact. However, ekel is more of an instinctive judgment mechanism than a psycho-physical problem. This reaction, according to Nietzsche, was the original form of moral judgement for physical, ethical and mental health. Much in the same way dogs sniff each other in a mode of semi-formal etiquette. It is a close examination which still keeps the other at a distance.
For Nietzsche, intellectual ekel is needed if we are to learn to stretch distances between that which is clean and unclean, a free-spirit from the herd and the strong from the weak. After 2000 years of slave morality we have been taught to lose this ordering mechanism, this visceral affection that acts as a barometer for what is ‘good’.Nietzsche wants to affirm life but only through relearning what it means to live and seeking out the affirming while condemning that which is against life. Nietzsche advises we need to relearn to judge the wholesomeness of people much like we judge the wholesomeness of fruit. For Nietzsche ‘the “entrails” of every soul are physiologically perceived by him… ‘smelled’.
Once this has be re-learned, Nietzsche wrote that redemption from ekel comes from keeping a distance, where one must drink from the well not poisoned by the unclean and try to keep good company and solitude. However, withdrawal from others by escaping it in a kind of ascetic purity is not affirming life. Tevnar made a final comment about Zarathustra going back down to the people once he had overcome the ekel that had previously hounded him, once he had laughed a powerful laugh of affirmation, the fearless laugh of someone who dances over the abyss, the ‘laughter of height’ and not of the herd.
To philosophize is to turn towards the ekel that causes the pulse to quicken, for ground to become figure and to be estranged within the world again. As Heidegger said, it is easy for one to occupy oneself with ‘philosophy’, hence he favoured the term ‘thinking’, as a pre-philosophical move against the Platonic representational lichtung [clearing]. I have too readily engaged myself in ‘philosophy’ and not ‘thinking’ and thus need to begin again to examine the world not through the distant and stoic mind of the ‘philosopher’ who stands by and watches the world go by, but to face the ekel of a non-representational world. Ekel is not Sartrean nausea or Heideggerian angst, but a non-representational manner of approaching objects afresh each time. Zarathustra’s affirmative laughter is the non-categorical behaviour that dissolves those habitual responses that guide us to endlessly repeat the same elemental abstractions to the detriment of our lived experiences. Ekel is an instinct to to let the anxiety of change and change open new worlds.
“Nothing contains the sound of one hand clapping, the hole in the doughnut, the sound of a tree falling in the forest when no one is there to hear it, the incident no one talks about.” So says the selling tag line for this special gift. It continues “What’s the perfect gift to give to those who have everything?” Nothing! No, not nothing as in nothing at all, but a gift object called ‘nothing’ which essentially paper and plastic packaged up as if to present a small something but instead there is nothing inside. In many ways I find this hilarious. If someone presented this to me on Christmas day, I would consider it the perfect gift (“wow, thanks, so you were listening during those long Heideggerian diatribes!!”). I always say I don’t want anything, and as a budding philosopher, quasi-Heideggerian, it provokes delicious philosophical questions – which is exactly what I want on a snow smothered Christmas morning. However, as an example of the logic of late capitalist consumer novelty, it is horribly revealing.
The object itself has prestige value as being a ‘quirky’ unique object of mild amusement and ultimately as a presentable ornament. Just as a blow-glass dolphin isn’t particularly practical, it is non the less, an ornament for someone’s enjoyment. It has an aesthetic appeal that Dolphin lovers can’t resist, bringing a little bit of dolphin cuteness into their lives. But, the gift of ‘nothing’, while not being particularly cute, for fills the same ornamental function and more. A glass-blown dolphin is a banal gift, yet ‘nothing’ isn’t. Why? It is a perversion in many ways. First, in this age of recycling and environmental concern, it seems to be a particularly brutal waste of materials. But I would argue, it’s value lies in the fact that it is ‘nothing’ and not something at all. How many robot dinosaurs will be given to overexcited kids on Christmas morning only to have been smashed into small pieces in some brutal act of mindless destruction? I myself may have done this countless times as a youngster (“play nicely Michael!” “No!” [smash] . Ah, good times). The use value is marginal in a gift, it is the symbolic value that is essential. Derridian notions of ‘the gift’ aside, it must be noted that it beautifully presents us with the logic of late capitalism, something that was probably known by the university educated people who were (more than likely) sniggering away while they designed this product.
As Fredrick Jameson notes in Postmodernism, or The Cultural logic of Late Capitalism, “aesthetic production today has become integrated into commodity production generally: the frantic economic urgency of producing fresh waves of ever novel-seeming goods (from clothing to airplanes)”. The place of our gift of ‘nothing’ takes the logic of novelty to its obviously conclusion – to give nothing is still to give something, as in postmodernity there is nothing but simulacra swirling around empty centers. This object has the effect of not only showing the vacuous nature of the gift, but more importantly, the imperative of gift giving that dominates the event of collective consumer ejaculation that is Christmas. To give ‘nothing’ is the literal giving of a presence and absence at the core of every gift. But more than this, in contrast to a precious glass-blown dolphin, this gift could only work at this time (late capitalism) as it demonstrates the tyranny of the symbolic over the material, the empty gesture over substantiality, of uselessness over the useful, the vacuous over the voluptuous. The fact that this product exists means there is at least some desire for such things (I’m not saying they’re going to be a smash hit this Christmas) and thus shows that as an aspect of excessive production and the imperative for novelty seems to have reached its logical limit in this absurd pretense of a gift.
What does it mean to insure ones life? To place a commercial figure in which ones relatives are compensated for a lost other, a lost other who’s otherness is generally an essential part of their being. There are two moments in this puzzle; there is the one who is no more and there are those who ‘benefit’ from the firsts absence. Ontologically speaking, life insurance opens up a structure of presence and absence within the overarching ideology of ‘commercial exchange’. Consequently the reverse must occur; within the relation of presence/absence a structure of ‘commercial exchange’ is enforced. Because this necessarily ‘capitalist’ procedure presents nothing new in the way of a ‘Marxist’ critique, I will examine its relation to certain other ideas with a pre-supposed sympathy for such a critique. I will therefore restrain from undergoing an ontological critique of Marxism and instead assume the licence to dither between philosophies, however inconsistent such a dithering may be.
David Suzuki’s book The Sacred Balance, is a fairly basic overview of environmental issues explained at about the level of High school science and New Age spiritual mythology. It is rich in statistical tables and analysis that charts the changes in the earth’s biodiversity, the origins, expansion and complexity of the universe and the multitude of ways that human beings are polluting, damaging and destroying habitats on land and marine life. It intersperses this with several myth stories of creation, with particular focus on the Homeric myth of Gaia, Mother earth and Father time and quotes from the Bible scriptures and Eastern texts. There is a running theme of animosity towards technologies that promote wasteful polluting practices. While he also pleas for a reconsideration of values against the excesses of global capitalist consumerism in favour of a ‘think global act local’ approach to ‘organic’ green living. This coincides with the equation of the ‘singing spirit of nature’ with poetry and the beauty of Romanticism against the horror of science. The obligatory swipe at Descartes and the Cartesian ‘grip on the West’ is present here, too. I find it incredible ironic that the book charts out the fluctuating changes in the formation of the universe and the evolution of types of cells which transmogrified the atmosphere to support new exotic formations of organisms, such as eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells, yet insists on the idea that there is a ‘sacred balance’ at the heart of ‘Mother nature’. After 300 pages of explaining the contingency of life and the precariousness of existence, why conclude that nature is in balance? What is nature if it is something that can be balanced? Where does this fantasy of balance come from and why does it persist?
The nexus for the argument for balance comes down to two central theoretical misunderstandings: 1) evolutionary theory 2) reading the ‘relative” stability of ecosystems as a necessity. Firstly, Suzuki’s reading of evolution seems to follow a common misreading of evolutionary theory when explaining the responses within ecosystems to the introduction of new organisms and mutations. He suggests:
a kind of biological warfare is constantly waged between predator and prey, host and parasite, as each species jockeys for an upper hand. Mutations or new gene combinations conferring an advantage for one species are soon matched by countering response in the other species to restore the balance” (p.200).
Organisms do not respond to other species to restore ‘balance’. Each organism works tirelessly within the contingent conditions of its environment in order to sustain itself. Evolution is a theory of change mutation, not of a teleological correcting mechanism that sustains the delicate balance of nature. For time a cell divides the process of mitosis introduces genetic variation and the possibility of mutation. The effects of these mutations can take many generation to emerge. Successful species are those which are lucky enough to sustain mutations that benefit the survival of the species. The traits and properties of the mutations can promote the chances of successful procreation for the mutated organism, which will then multiply the number of organisms with this mutation.
Balance is an illusion derived from the finite time of any human observation of an ecosystem. Balance between species is not something that should be seen in isolation but as part of larger geological and meteorological patterns which provide rhythms of rainfall, temperature changes and soil nutrient conditionals. If ecosystems give the impression of balance then geology certainly shouldn’t. As evidence from plate tectonics suggest, the Himalayas was once under water and home to thriving aquatic organisms. The geological changes occurring slowly over millions of years change the possibilities of organisms, which can spread to new area as land connects up. Or can become cut off from the main land and so become isolated ecosystems, such as the Galapagos islands. Volcanic ocean activity can create new Islands which become inhabited and then deserted by opportunistic birds drop seeds onto these fresh fertile soils which then attracts new creatures of all kinds. There is no balance here, only opportunism.
Before human beings occupied the earth, eco-systems big and small were destroyed, displaced and lost forever due to the contingencies of object systems which extend beyond the interests of living organisms. This is why it makes no sense to suggest that human beings should live in balance with nature, when ‘nature’, through extreme weather, droughts, asteroid devastation, tectonic plate collisions and submersions, provide anything but ‘balanced’ systems. What is obvious is that the illusion of balance is due to an observed ‘relative’ consistency in certain climatic and geographic areas, which, given a finite amount of time, appears not to be going through damaging convulsions of change, but instead, support extremely complex networks of species. Suzuki interprets this as a principle of biodiversity, which is part of an automatic process of balancing environmental conditions. Suzuki, who quotes the work of James Lovelock, testifies to the harmonizing effect of Gaia against contingent perturbations. Yet from what I can conclude, if his thesis is correct, then the global balance of properties which sustains the diversity of life does so to provide the optimum conditions for “a kind of biological warfare” at the level of each organisms trying to get the upper hand. It appears that a return to nature, for Susziki, is more attuned to a Hobbesian notion of the state of nature, above any notion of a harmonious global environment.
What are the solutions Suzuki suggests for us? He has ten suggestions on page 303, that range from ‘Buy a fuel efficient, low polluting car’ to ‘eat meat free meals once a week’. Earlier in the book he admits to owning all the mod-cons of modern living (microwave, washing machine, etc) not to mention promoting the publishing industry through book authorship (and thus the contributing to the destruction of woodlands and the huge amounts of energy required to power the industry itself, with all its energy consuming sectors), but he seems to think that he will be able to look his children in the eye and say “I did my best” because his father taught him “that I am what I do, not what I say”. This is classic fetishist disavowal, the believing of another words over what you see, clearly under the gaze of the Father (whose words are repeated by Suzuki as a maxim to follow, which resonate ironically throughout this work as a ‘saying’ not a ‘doing’). There is clearly a strange gap between his understanding of global environmental and evolutionary change, and how these mechanisms supposedly create a balance. The idea of a balance is a fantasy projected onto a pre-human world of organic creation. A naturalization of nature is not a nature of balance but a recognition of a nature of contingent hyper-chaos of storms and doldrums. Suzuki provides plenty of condemning evidence as to the scale of environmental damage and the rate of species extinction, but this is not a condemnation of man putting nature out of joint: Nature was already out of joint with it self, we just haven’t been around long enough to notice.
This is not a criticism aimed only at Suzuki, but the whole environmentalist mentality that relies on a mythological belief in balance and the utopian vision of living in harmony with nature achievable through the adoption of greener consumer practices. It seems that these suggestions are totally impotent and insincere if the solution relies on the ‘natural checks and balances of Gaia’ to control and order a limited production of pollutants and greenhouse gases of green capitalism together with the movement into gentle pastoral poetry.
The problem comes from a confused notion of nature and the natural. I will address this in part 2, which will look at the work of Bruno Latour, Heidegger, Zizek and object-oriented philosophy.