Monday, September 28, 2009

The Pound Era Continues

"...they're not covering what the people should know. They're covering what the elite want us to know—the elite, private, Federal Reserve banking system, that [has run] this country since 1913 ..." (Luke Rudkowski, 03:58ff)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A House in the Country

"Even if a thinker remains in oblivion of the Ereignis, even if he does not think the giving itself, still it may be that the gift of presence has been bestowed upon him in a primal and original (anfänglich) way. And so the question is whether there might not be in Thomas' doctrine of esse something of this same pristine essence of Being as presencing." (John D. Caputo, Heidegger and Aquinas, p. 186)

I suppose a German translation of the "pristine essence of Being as presencing" might be "das ursprüngliche Wesen des Sein als Anwesen".

I'm coming around to the idea that "presence" must be reserved to render "Anwesen". All that's left for "Dasein", then, seems to be "existence". But it still seems plausible to me that "Anwesen" is almost another word for "Dasein". It does, after all, denote "the pristine essence of Being". Anwesen is not exactly Dasein, but it summarizes the existential conditions of human being. Not incidentally, it also means "a country estate".

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Anwesen n. (genitive Anwesens, plural Anwesen): property (piece of land with an owner).

Saturday, September 19, 2009


What Dasein is to philosophy, what duende is to poetry: _____ is to wine.

Topos Eidon

"Rewriting Aristotle's topos eidon, Heidegger calls human being 'the place of meaning', the Da of Sein: Dasein." (The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, p. 354)

Compare what Jonathan Mayhew says about Lorca: "What is the duende, in fact, but a peculiarly Spanish version of the genius loci or "spirit of the place"? (Apocryphal Lorca, p. 180)

Bring them together. Dasein is "the place of meaning"; duende is "the spirit of the place". Presence and spirit. Duende is to poetry what Dasein is to philosophy. What it is all about. In fact, Dasein is the "object" of philosophy just as duende is the "subject" of poetry. The scare quotes are altogether necessary since Dasein fundamentally resists objectification, just as the duende is not, properly speaking, subjective. There is talk of a theme.

Both terms are also, because they are left untranslated, the source of a particularly kind of affectation about philosophy and poetry. A romanticism. A way of cultivating the "spirit" of the art without actually "getting into it", a way of playing at it without actually being there. Kitsch, as Jonathan puts it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Wrong Word?

I ran the idea that "Dasein" should be translated as "presence" in Being and Time past one of the PhD students at our department. He's a very close reader of Heidegger and insisted that "presence" is simply the wrong word for our particularly human way of being (which was the sort of being Heidegger was denoting with the word). I said that a meaningless word (in English) was surely even worse. So we went at it for a while. A very good discussion.

Now, one thing to keep in mind is that, if Heidegger is right, then the word "presence" has become increasingly less apt as the primordial name for (today's) human being. When was the last time you met someone (a "human being") who was, you know, "all there". Someone whose way of "being around" was best described as "present"? But, surely, I think to myself, that's true of "Dasein" as well. Heidegger's whole point is that we're not as authentically "there" as we could be. So it's perfectly fine to use "the wrong word". The idea is to recover the meaning of "presence" for human being.

One suggestion (promoted, I'm told, by Thomas Sheehan) is that Dasein means not so much "being there" as "being open". Well, that's a perfectly good sense of "presence". To be truly present is to be open to what is going on around one. It is to be "in the open", "in the clearing", etc. So I still say "presence" is a great word for Dasein, the subject (to pun a little) of Heidegger's book.

It is important to me to keep reading Being and Time as a book about what it means to be, in that peculiar human way that we are. I like the idea that that makes it a book about presence. I think it is mainly people who read Being and Time as a book about what Heidegger was thinking around 1927 that insist on calling its subject "Dasein". They may as well call it Marty (which would be a fun translation actually).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Being and Terror

"There can be variations in the constitutive items of the full phenomenon of fear."

What a fantastic sentence! It appears in Being and Time (H. 142) and is followed up, later in the same paragraph, with the following very topical qualification: "And where that which threatens is laden with dread, and is at the same time encountered with the suddenness of the alarming, then fear becomes terror."

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Presence and Ecstacy

As I've been saying, Jonathan Mayhew's take on Lorca's duende has given me a new way into Heidegger's analytic of Dasein. I'm reading Being and Time with fresh eyes, the scales having fallen from them if you will.

One problem, as I've already noted, with the idea of rendering Dasein simply as "presence" is that it makes the important distinction between existence (Existenz) and presence-at-hand (Vorhandenheit) seem less sharp. Dasein, after all, was supposed to be the entity that has existence, not mere presence-at-hand. The solution, it seems to me, is to render Vorhanden as "extant". This gives us a nice distinction between presence and extance, with the important notion of "the ecstases" (H. 329f.) to cover the distance between them.

Reading Being and Time in this light also makes it clear that the English "Dasein" offers the reader a sort of misplaced concreteness. "How are we," asks Heidegger, "supposed set our sights toward this entity, Dasein, both as something accessible to us and as something to be understood and interpreted" (H. 15). Compare: "How are we supposed set our sights toward this entity, presence, both as something accessible to us and as something to be understood and interpreted". In the standard translation it is all too easy to let "Dasein" name a mere "thing" (an"entity", after all); this is much harder when we use a word like "presence" ("existence" would have a similar effect). How, indeed, does presence become an "entity", a "thing", an "object" of inquiry? It is (or at least may be) precisely that tension that constitutes our ecstatic-horizonal being.


All belief is, fundamentally, a belief in limits, just as all desire is, ultimately, a desire for freedom.

Limits are to space as freedom is to time. Beliefs are to desire as limits are to freedom.

Wisdom knows the limits of knowledge. Love masters the freedom of power.

Love & Wisdom

Wisdom is to our concepts as love is to our emotions.
All desire is, ultimately, a desire for freedom. All belief is, fundamentally, a belief in ______.

(Hint: Freedom is to time as ______ is to space.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Charlie Sheen is Cool

"But here's something I really don't understand: when did it become uncool to ask questions? When did questioners become imbeciles? Who gets to hand out the tinfoil hats? When did it become cool to believe what we're told? In the words of Mr Hicks, did I miss a meeting? When did so many of the cynics and sceptics, so many of the sharpest brains I know (hello Charlie Brooker!) think that the cool thing to do is mock the questioners, and defend the party line. How stratospherically uncool is that? You want to know who's cool? Gareth is cool, Mohsin in the pink shirt is cool, the girl in the pink pants is cool. Charlie Sheen is cool, Julianne Moore is cool, Dario Fo is cool. And today, perhaps for the first time in my life, I'm cool too." (Charlie Skelton)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Kitsch

In Apocryphal Lorca, Jonathan Mayhew argues that "the American duende [is] a reduction of Lorca's complexity into an easily digested concept. The duende, shocking to say, is the form taken by Lorquian kitsch." I feel exactly that way about Heidegger's Dasein.

An interesting thought occured to me while reading one of Jonathan's seminar papers. Wittgenstein's key concepts "language game" and "form of life" are standardly translated, i.e., they are known by those English labels, not "Sprachspiel" or "Lebensform". This may have saved Wittgenstein's concepts from being reduced to kitsch.

"Dasein" and "Ereignis" are, of course, standardly left untranslated in Heidegger.

Heidegger's rich understanding of what we might otherwise have called "presence" and "event" remain largely unavailable to English readers, and whatever does reach us is mired in (inexorably romantic) German idealism, simply because his followers refuse to translate him. It would have been very hard, I grant, to translate "Dasein" as "presence" in every instance in Being and Time, but I think understanding what he meant requires that we try. In fact, I suspect that the whole "postmodern" critique of "the metaphysics of presence" lacks a great deal of background in the "analytic of Dasein", which could be read, precisely, as the analytic of presence.

One difficulty lies in the fact that Heidegger does actually use the notion of "presence" separately. He uses the German word "Anwesenheit". Another lies in the standard translation of "Vorhandenheit" as "presence-at-hand". I think these problems are surmountable. The question here is whether it would have been possible to apply Heidegger's insights to experiences that are already named in the English language, rather than using German terms or inventing quasi-English ones.

Kitsch here arises in the insinuation that only Germans can really understand the truth of "man's ownmost being". Similarly, Lorca's duende, when used in translation (and itself left untranslated), grants a strange priority to Andalusian experience. Heidegger, and, it seems, Lorca, had considerably less local, less "provincial", ambitions when they raised the issue.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Desire Unleashed

Power seeks justice as knowledge seeks truth. (Yes, their "arcs" may be "long", as the President might say.) Likewise, the highest emotion is love; it is the emotion towards which all other emotions tend or from which they flee. It is, if you will, the "master emotion". Love is the (ideal) tyrant of our emotional lives. Our intensity is beholden to our love. I don't think that's controversial.

It occurs to me that, in a similar way, desire seeks freedom. The basic desire, we might say ... pause to note the fearsome axis of symmetry that this esablishes with the highest emotion ... the basic desire is the desire to be free. The anarchist's watchword "Desire Unleashed!" is therefore, as it arguably should be, a pleonasm. To be unleashed is exactly what desire wants.

I think this goes a long way toward clarifying the interrelations of emotion and desire and, therefore, the working machinery of a good many poems. We can, for example, note that desire and emotion (freedom and love) can very easily enter into oppositional relations.

Now, if pangrammaticism is right, there must be a corresponding "philosophical" apparatus.

Love is to our emotions as ________ is to our concepts.
Freedom is to desire as ________ is to belief.
Our clarity is beholden to our ________.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

In Support of Van Jones

Camus said somewhere that one must, in the end, side with the humiliated. Here goes... You don't have to be a Washington insider to think it is possible that the hijackers had a bit of help on the inside to pull off 9/11. But perhaps you have to be a Washington insider to declare that idea "absurd".

Is it possible that Wall Street has a "man" or two inside the Treasury Department?
Is it possible that the drug cartels "own" some corner (or at least one or another agent) of the DEA?
Is it possible, indeed, that the CIA has a mole rumaging around in al Qaeda's back yard?

Of course it is.

When something really bad happens, and when the authorities that are charged with protecting the population fail to do so, is it really so far-fetched to go looking for someone "inside" the system to share part of the blame? Blaming al Qaeda alone for the effects of 9/11 is a bit like blaming only Mother Nature for the effects of Katrina.

Van Jones was just asking reasonable questions. He was standing shoulder to shoulder with at least forty people who lost their loved ones that day. And if David Corn had helped Americans to understand the reasonableness of those questions back when they were being raised, rather than ridiculing a whole class of questions by emphasizing their most speculative (or, if you will, "tantalizing") variants, Van Jones would not have been so vulnerable today.

We have the names of nineteen individuals that David Corn thinks were "evil" enough, "ballsy" enough, and "competent" enough to pull it off. Expanding the list of suspects to include a few that happen to have American citizenship, security clearance and ... perhaps, perhaps, perhaps ... official titles is not at all unreasonable. I, of course, am in no position to suggest any names or speculate about what they might have been able to do for the bad guys. But it is puzzling that the received view of what happened on 9/11 so confidently rules out the possibility. An investigation has not even been deemed necessary.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Kooks and Poets

"Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?" (Allen Ginsberg, "America")

Reading Allen Verbatim the other day (I'm getting increasingly obsessed by the War on Drugs), a likeness between Ginsberg and Pound struck me. It's probably pretty straighforward imitation of the master but, like Pound, Allen had the "low down" on the U.S. government. Pound believed that America had effectively passed into the hands of the "usury racket" in 1913, when the Federal Reserve was established. Ginsberg believed that the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 (AV, p. 40ff.) was the beginning of a federal drug racket.

There are lots of parallels and the argument has been made to connect the two rackets, tying both to the military-industrial complex or, more broadly, the media-intelligence-military-industrial complex. One person who has made this connection is Peter Dale Scott (AV, p. 71), a poet. He has argued that the CIA and other agencies have an enormous stake in the global drug economy. One figure I've heard, independently, is that something like 260 billion dollars of drug money are laundered through Wall Street every year. If drugs were legal this infusion of cash would dry up, which would cause a financial catastrophe.

Scott studies something he calls "deep politics". It is what goes on under the surface of official history and causes things like the JFK assassination and, yes, 9/11. It is interesting to me that some poets feel compelled to dismiss "the official narrative" so radically. Ginsberg's rhetorical question about Time Magazine and the emotional life of America is very telling.

Consider: how close is the fit between, say, the covers of Time Magazine, week after week, and the consensus of mainstream historians. Could a "history of the twentieth century" not be pretty straightforwardly illustrated by the covers of Time? And isn't that actually a bit too neat and tidy? Wouldn't we expect historians to uncover some "deeper" truths about history that would expose those "illustrations" as just so much propaganda? What would a history of the twentieth century that took its cue, not from Time, but from (just for the sake of argument) the poetry of Pound and Ginsberg, look like? What facts would it attempt to uncover? One thing seems sure: it'd be pretty kooky.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Foreign and Domestic: The Blog Post

Watch "Foreign and Domestic: The Movie"

"I read, some days past, that the man who ordered the erection of the almost infinite wall of China was that first Emperor, Shih Huang Ti, who also decreed that all books prior to him be burned. That these two vast operations—the five to six hundred leagues of stone opposing the barbarians, the rigorous abolition of history, that is, of the past—should originate in one person and be in some way his attributes inexplicably satisfied and, at the same time, disturbed me." (Borges, "The Wall and the Books")

This post is not meant to be anti-American. The relevant Danish policies, in their necessarily minor way, are subject to the same criticism (Denmark is a member of the Coalition of the Willing, after all). Most Western countries, in fact, practice some version of the injustices that are lately outraging me.

The empire is defined, on its frontier, by the War on Terror, principally (or perhaps just most openly) in Iraq and Afghanistan. The existence of "evil doers" is cited to justify the invasion of entire countries, the total subversion of their civil societies. Men and children are gunned down in the street from the sky in broad daylight. "This is Bushmaster Seven, roger. Engage."

The empire is defined, in its cities, by the War on Drugs. Marijuana is illegal, its possession a crime. In the name of this war, the state can search the homes of citizens, break down doors, disrupt families, and coerce citizens into the dangerous position of "informants". Parents and children are roused out of bed in the dead of night and their dogs are shot. "Columbia Police. Search warrant!"

Neither the arrest of an individual for the possession of a joint nor the bombing of a whole population for "harbouring" a criminal is just. The empire, however, claims the right to prosecute these "just" wars. No decent state would do such things.