Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Physiology of Music

Recently, I noticed that it had been a long time since I had seriously listened to music—or listened to serious music, if you will. When I do put something on, it's as background for cooking or cleaning, for which I normally use jazz and pop respectively.

This week, I've been putting classical music on in the mornings after the family leaves for work and school. Yesterday it was Shostakovich, today it's Bach. Tomorrow it'll be Haydn. By 9:00 I'm ready to work. Frankly, it's been a long time since I've been truly ready for work. This is helping. It's an aspect of living that I have been neglecting.

Music may be lower on Maslow's hierarchy of needs than we sometimes assume. Perhaps it is true that, for a musician, playing is work done towards self-actualization, just as a writer must write to be himmerherself. But to not even listen to serious music for extended periods of time is like not drinking water, or being exposed to sunlight, or having sex. It's a physiological need.

* * *

Let me take this opportunity to lament the fact that we are at present squandering the youth of our young people in poorly structured undergraduate programs situated on more or less debauched campuses. If these same young people spent an hour every morning listening to serious music, then an hour or two writing intelligent prose, then two or three hours in class or, better, in seminars, then a few hours in the evening reading serious literature, punctuated of course by the charms and furies of social life (while eating, while playing, and yes before sleeping) their minds would become something to behold. Something altogether more useful to the species than what we are bilding these days.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Tension in the Clearing

Intuitions and institutions are what I call "the media of immediacy". They are that through which things are given to us and people are taken with stuff immediately.

Lately I've been reading Heidegger's "The Turning". I was struck by this sentence, for obvious reasons:

When the turning comes to pass in the danger, this can happen only without mediation. (TQCTaOE, p. 44)

I think my pangrammaticisms may have a contribution to make in identifying the site of the turning. Or rather, Heidegger has already done that by calling it "the clearing", but there is more to it than Being merely "coming to light". It is also, as he emphasizes, a taking in hand. Though he is himself aware of it, I think Heidegger, like Kant, favors intuition and does not draw institution explicitly into his analytic. We must supplement the clearing with a tension no less immediate.

So "the turning" is more precisely a poetical turn (a strophe) that is philosophically marked (a remark). Its nature is best understood as the confrontation of our intuitions with our institutions, the immediacy of knowledge and the immediacy of power, the tension between our beliefs and our desires, experienced immediately. There is a tension in the clearing.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Utopian Thoughts

We can easily imagine a physician who is good at curing an illness that he also happens to know how to prevent.

Now, suppose the cure involves an elaborate and costly procedure and he can therefore make a good living curing (sufficiently wealthy) people. But suppose also that prevention requires only the distribution of a few simple guidelines for living well, i.e., that there is no money to be made in preventing the disease. Everyone could follow these guidelines, and anyone (regardless of income) could therefore avoid the disease, i.e., could permanently avoid the need for the cure.

One must, in my opinion, judge a society (or any social organization) based on its ability to encourage the discovery and dissemination of the preventative strategy in this case and discourage the physician from keeping that knowledge to himself.

We must imagine that his motives and morals are entirely normal, if not quite noble. That is, he may have a family to think of, and an uncertain future to save up for. If sharing the secret means choosing a life of poverty, most of us would grant that he is, at least, in a difficult situation. Sure, safe in our ignorance of such simple panaceas ourselves, we can demand that in this fictional example the doctor must share what he knows and suffer the consequences. The alternative, after all, is simply to shift that burden onto the poor man who cannot afford the cure, or even the rich one who must suffer its inconvenience.

But the doctor's children should suffer also? It's complicated, is all I'm saying.

This is why a just and good society would take this kind of situation as an obvious one, and would establish conditions under which neither his curative power nor his preventative wisdom become the basis of his wealth, status and security. This sounds a lot like socialism, I'll grant. That is, I'm imagining that we could let everyone live in the same comfort or discomfort, and let greater comfort come only to those who can devise ways of raising the general standard.

But lest anyone think I am talking about "redistribution", consider the simple fact that our laws today privilege those who accumulate wealth, i.e., encourage hoarding (both intellectual and material). All we need is to stop protecting the right to hold obscene amounts of property (and patents). Entrepreneurs, then, would simply not be protected artificially against the erosion of their advantage, normally acquired by some momentary combination of an inconspicuous draw on the collective genius of the species, a little cunning, and great deal of luck. (No, if you've accumulated 250 million dollars, sir, you didn't build that! No amount of hard work can reasonably account for your advantage.)

A natural ecosystem of innovation would emerge.

To be sure, the sorts of innovations that would be come of this would be quite different than we see today. We would, for example, innovate new social forms rather than new medicines for difficult personalities. We would calmly prevent social ills rather than scrambling to cure them.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Chops vs. Smile

A couple of posts at my other blog are worth bringing together for poetico-philosophical purposes. Consider the difference between our admiration for a person's "chops" and a person's "smile". In the case of the former, we appreciate the hours and hours of training that formed the "facility" of the performer. In the latter case, however, we are not impressed with training, in fact, we assume that the smile is the natural result of years and years of pleasant company, pleasantly entertained. A smile manifests a disposition. Chops reveal an apparatus.

Norman Mailer, Wyndham Lewis and Universal Imbecility

I quoted this in my previous post because of the tenuous connection between "goods" and the "desire for new commodity":

It is likely that the survival of capitalism is no longer possible without the creation in the consumer of a series of psychically disruptive needs which circle about such wants and emotions as the desire for excessive security, the alleviation of guilt, the lust for comfort and new commodity, and the consequent allegiance to the vast lie about the essential health of the State and the economy, an elaborated fiction whose bewildering interplay of real and false detail must devil the mass into a progressively more imperfect apperception of reality and thus drive them closer to apathy, psychosis, and violence. Nineteenth-century capitalism exhausted the life of millions of workers; twentieth-century capitalism can well end by destroying the mind of civilized man. (Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself, p. 355-6)

That was written in 1958 or 59. This morning I happened to be reading Wyndam Lewis's The Art of Being Ruled, from 1926:

There is today a new reality; it is its first appearance in terrestrial life—the fact of political world-control. Today this may be said to be in existence, and tomorrow it will be still more of a fact. Neither can it be hidden—short of destroying everybody's sense of reality altogether. People could no doubt be persuaded that they did not see the sun and the moon: but the effort to assimilate this gigantic lie would destroy their brains altogether, and universal imbecility would ensue. (TAoBR, p. 367)

I hope we can agree that there is a striking affinity between these two statements. It is, perhaps, important to recall that "in 1927, Philo Farnsworth made the world's first working television system", i.e., Lewis was writing in ignorance of something that Mailer knew very well. Universal imbecility, we might say, did ensue. And twentieth-century capitalism did, I'm afraid, destroy the mind of civilized man.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Truths and Goods?

Is that all I meant? Is a particular instantiation of justice, i.e., "the good", simply "a good", like a particular instantiation of truth is "a truth"?

Capitalism has done much to convert our sense of the Good into a taste for goods. And it would not be wrong to say that something similar has happened to our appreciation of Truth.

We think of justice, now, as merely a fair price for goods and services. What, I wonder, of truths and __________s?

* * *

"It is likely that the survival of capitalism is no longer possible without the creation in the consumer of a series of psychically disruptive needs which circle about such wants and emotions as the desire for excessive security, the alleviation of guilt, the lust for comfort and new commodity, and the consequent allegiance to the vast lie about the essential health of the State and the economy, an elaborated fiction whose bewildering interplay of real and false detail must devil the mass into a progressively more imperfect apperception of reality and thus drive them closer to apathy, psychosis, and violence. Nineteenth-century capitalism exhausted the life of millions of workers; twentieth-century capitalism can well end by destroying the mind of civilized man." (Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself, p. 355-6)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


"The arts," said Ezra Pound, "provide data for ethics" ("The Serious Artist", LE, p. 46). He also says they are sciences "just as chemistry is a science" (p. 42). At a time when science was more likely to be taken seriously than poetry, and scientists had not yet lost their minds ("The scientists are in terror/ and the European mind stops," Canto CXV, ca. 1962), one can understand his rhetoric. As the foundation of aesthetics today, it is inadequate, imprecise.

The sciences are grounded in the procedures by which they generate "data"; this is called method. Method determines what is "given" to a particular field of study, and this material is then studied so as to represent the "facts" and subsume them under a theory of the regularities that obtain among them.

Philosophy is an art. Its task is to move backward from the general regularities (theory) to the represented facts (results) to the objects as they are given (data) and bring to presence, i.e., present, "the thing" before it has become an object. The thing, that is, to whatever extent it is possible, as it is "in itself".

Of course, this is philosophy understood as essentially an epistemological and ontological affair. My argument is that philosophy should not concern itself with ethics. That should be left to poetry.

Politics is grounded in the procedures that generate "capta"; this is called mandate. Mandate determines what is "taken" in a particular policy domain, and this society is then ordered [in a sense suggesting both "commanded" and "organized"] so as to represent acts, subtended by a practice of regulation.

Poetry is the art that brings to presence the "people" (whether as "a person" or "a people", i.e., lyrically or epically) that political mandates capture, i.e., represent. This is poetry understood as the basis of ethics (not, as Pound says, also being imprecise, the basis of psychology and metaphysics, though what he means, I'm sure I believe).

The arts, when they are poetic, provide the capta of ethics. They show us how we are "taken" with experience. They do not merely enthrall. They show us how we are enthralled. In a profound sense, this is what it means when a poet tells us "how he feels". Not, you will notice, what he feels, or even who he is, but how the feeling gets done. How it feels to be governed. What Wyndham Lewis called "the art of being ruled".

Philosophy is an art in the sense that it also does not tell us what there is, but how it is. "How it stands with being," as Heidegger put it. How things can be objects. Philosophy does not, however, provide data for ethics. Poetry does that. That's the sense in which it makes us feel better. I.e., it teaches us to have more precise emotions.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Insistence and Inspiration

Propositions don't exist, said Deleuze, they insist (DR, p. 156). Things, of course, exist, even "as such" if you want, but the truth is something we must insist upon.

Proposals, likewise, don't expire. They inspire. People, of course, expire, but justice is something we must inspire to.

Let us keep in mind that propositions articulate facts, facts are the state of things ("what is the case"), and things exist. Proposals articulate acts, acts are domain of people, and people expire.

A concern: there is properly speaking no difference between a fact obtaining, i.e., being the case, and a proposition being true. It's the same articulation (the logic of the proposition just is the logic of the fact). Can that also be said of acts and justice? "Properly speaking there is no difference between carrying out an act, i.e., its execution, and a proposal being just. It's the same articulation (the pathos of the proposal just is the pathos the act.)" I'll leave that question open.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What Empire Sounds like When It Is Pretending to Think Seriously About Itself ("from a progressive point of view")

"...from my progressive point of view this doesn't seem to be a very challenging value tradeoff..."

I may comment on this later. But this doesn't really require comment. I think 1:39 offers a "nuff said" moment.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Truth and Justice

The pangrammatical supplement of truth is justice. Justice is to power as truth is to knowledge. Philosophers engage with the nature of truth; poets engage with the culture of justice.

In philosophy, we call that which can be true or false a "proposition". When someone uses a proposition directly, i.e., states it as a fact, we call this an assertion.

I recommend we call that which can be just or unjust a "proposal". When someone uses a proposal directly, i.e., states it as an act, we call this an injunction.

Sentences are the outward form of propositions when they (the sentences) express "truths", individual truth-nesses.

This raises a terminological issue. When are sentences the outward form of proposals? Is there such a thing as a individual "justice", as there almost certainly are individual "truths"? I can assert something rightly, stating a truth. Can I enjoin something rightly, stating a "justice", an individual just-ness?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Advertising, for example,

does not seduce. It is too cynical for that. Nor does satire contradict, owing to its humor.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Humor and Cynicism

It works like this: at degree zero of humor, you have the possibility of pure contradiction. That is, contradiction is for people who have no sense of humor. Likewise, at degree zero of cynicism, you have the possibility of pure seduction. That is, seduction is for people who lack cynicism.

Don't try to understand all that too quickly. Remember there are only degrees of humor and cynicism (degree zero does not exist). No contradiction is perfect. Nor is any given seduction.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Problem, Seduction, Solution

Last week, I posed a riddle:

Wittgenstein said that "the civil status of a contradiction" constitutes the philosophical problem. Deleuze and Guattari said there are no contradictions, "only degrees of humor." I have said that the poet's problem is "the civil status of seduction". But what if there are no seductions? Only degrees of...

The solution is: cynicism. Cynicism is to power as humor is to knowledge. I had offered this entry at Etymology Online as a hint. Notice that the "province" of humor is "human nature". The stated province of cynicism is "morals", which we might rephrase as "human culture" (culture is nature's pangrammatical supplement). Also, humor aims at "discovery". We can rephrase the aim of cynicism as decision, i.e., cynicism is the mood towards which all decision making tends: it simplifies the moral situation to make my act possible. That is, it offers "self-justification". Humor's audience is "the sympathetic", but knowledge of course needs to push against our sympathies. That's its critical edge. The critical edge of cynicism, meanwhile, is set at the throat of respectability, which so often causes us to forget the name of action.

Finally, we can adjust the chart's sense of the "methods" of humor and cynicism in both directions. On the one hand, negotiation is to power as observation is to knowledge. If contradictions dissolve in a series of more or less humorous observations, seduction ceases to be seduction as it approaches negotiation. On the other hand, an observation is a way of registering concealment, just as cynicism is the "exposure of nakedness". An observation will only ever capture an appearance, but it is an observation (and not merely an impression) because it senses that this is an appearance of something concealed.

It's not perfect, but we do what we can. Deleuze and Guattari said, "In truth, there are never contradictions, apparent or real, but only degrees of humour" (Anti-Oedipus, p. 68). We can now add: Justly, there are never seductions, superficial or ideal, but only degrees of cynicism. The Pangrammaticon is a machine for making aphorisms.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

As a matter of fact...

"We have nothing against you as a people," it is often said; "our argument is with your leaders." Well, I actually think we can have a beef with the American people after the current election, and Conor Friedersdorf has made it very clear why.

Consider the fact that the vast majority of American voters will vote for either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama in November. This means they will not choose a president who intends to cease hostilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but will, instead, continue to do whatever serves "US interests in the region". That means that the drone war (which Romney does not disapprove of, as far as I can tell) will continue. Terrorizing thousands of ordinary people. Also, nothing very serious is going to get done about America's financial oligarchy, which will continue to dominate world finance and, as a consequence, come between the anxious mother and her ability to feed her hungry child all over the planet.

Meanwhile, other candidates, like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, have stepped up. They would do something about the military and financial violence that the US does in the world.

But the "issues" that will determine the choice between Obama and Romney have to do mainly with ensuring continued access to entitlements for Americans (simplifying somewhat, the question is on what end of the income scale the entitlements will be maintained or expanded.) That is, "it's about the economy, stupid," i.e., the American economy. It's about whether or not Americans have jobs, not whether or not America will continue to fight its wars.

Most of all, it's about preserving the lifestyle and privileges of the middle class, as well as a few (given the harsh realities elsewhere in the world) rather exotic "rights". In addition to worrying about how to continue to live lives of unprecedented comfort, we have here a nation that is enormously conflicted about, say, gay marriage. At the same time, it appears to be of virtually one mind about bombing civilians in foreign countries. (The key question seems to be: should it be at all apologetic about it? Not, should it stop?) As an outside observer, might one recommend first discussing the question of who you are going to kill, and thereafter taking up the question of who you're going to allow to marry? It would just seem to indicate a saner scale of values.

(Needless to say, if the productive capacity of America stopped being expended in wars to enrich the already rich, the lifestyles of the great majority of Americans would be just fine. Unless of course we buy the premise that America's lifestyle depends on the spoils of war. In which case America really needs to make do with less, don't you think?)

This is really what I think Friedersdorf is trying to get us to understand. The moral questions about sexuality, race and abortion will take a great deal of discussion, as it already has, over many generations. For the people who are currently at the front of America's wars on drugs and terror, there are, I think, more pressing concerns. A truly great nation would put the question of who it is afflicting on its frontier well ahead of the question how it might get a bit more comfortable in the homeland.

UPDATE: This BloggingHeads conversation gets to the core of it at around 61 minute mark.

CF: "Some progressives put insufficient value on the lives and rights of muslims."

MC: "I'm a progressive...I think the surge is indefensible [because a thousand Americans have died] … but I will vote for Obama because when I weigh that issue against the 30 million Americans who have health care, that's more important to me."

My point in this post, and my previous one, is that progressives believe that the benefits that Americans derive from their health care system is more important than the damage that their warfare system causes non-Americans. (It's a "gotcha" moment, I know, but, especially given the context, it is really embarrassing for Cohen that he emphasizes that the problem with the surge lies in the amount of american lives lost. After the 66:00 minute mark, Cohen becomes simply unhinged. He's trying to win an argument and forgets what he's saying. Roughly speaking, we find him saying that you can weigh 1,000 foreign killings against 150,000 domestic savings, but not 1,000 domestics killings against those same savings. At 75:05 Friedersdorf masterfully sharpens this point and holds Cohen to it.)

My view is that they should stop killing people at the frontier, and only then think about how to redistribute the peace dividend at home. There is a vast moral difference between not providing health care to someone and making war on their homes and villages. You can't just go ahead and do both and then "weigh" the pros and cons.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Cudos to Conor Friedersdorf!

In his widely discussed piece on why he won't vote for Obama, Conor Friedersdorf makes a really important contribution to consciousness raising in the Empire. (I have to talk about the Empire, here, because I'm not an American citizen but insist on considering myself an imperial subject, one with only very indirect access to representation. I'm a Dane.) I want neither Romney nor Obama to be president from 2013 forward and would, yes, very much prefer Gary Johnson. Like many others, I did very definitely prefer Obama over McCain, and very, very definitely Obama-Biden over McCain-Palin. In truth, my "deal", which I did of course expect to be broken, was that Obama would end, not just the occupation of Iraq, but the War on Terror. That is, I hoped he would admit that the policy of fighting terrorism with a military machine was simply wrong. Morally wrong. Insanely wrong.

I hoped also he would do the same for the War on Drugs. Both of these wars, which are central to the administration of imperial power today, are "deal-breakers" for me. And they are such horrors for this planet and its people that one president that is, within the limits of current presidential power, not working to end them is morally indistinguishable from another president that is not working to end them.

These are not so much "imperialist wars" as wars of imperial administration. Fighting the wars achieves no strategic objective. There is no end-game for them. They are simply ideological cover for a great deal of highly militarized police work, that is, for the state's interference in the lives of millions of people, foreign and domestic. This interference is not just a nuisance, though it is that for most, it is (as Friedersdorf notes) also very violent for some. It is an oppressive use of force.

So I'm not impressed with Robert Wright's response. Frankly, I don't think a presidential election ever gives the American people a choice between an ordinary imperialist and a monstrous one. These days, it gives Americans a boring alternative between two ways of fighting the wars on drugs and terror, both of which are nonsense in theory, and immoral in practice. The entire apparatus of the state serves these two wars. (I will leave aside the role of the wars in the administration of the financial system. And vice versa.)

In short, I think Wright's "consequentialism" is a way of scaring people into voting for empire rather than against it. I didn't read Friedersdorf's thought experiment as an occasion to compare Pretend Racist Obama to Possibly Insane Romney and therefore testing consequentialism in principle. What Friedersdorf was doing was remind Obama supporters that they ignore, say, the drone war, in way that they would (he presumes) not ignore evidence of Obama's anti-hispanic sentiment. Wright is basically saying that he doesn't have "deal breakers".

My "vote" (a sentiment only, given my citizenship) will always go to the candidate who offers the best hope of rolling back the menace of drugs and terror, which is to say, the candidate that is most likely to call off the insane wars against these really, relatively harmless aspects of life in a complex world. I'm with the emperor who calls off the pursuit of threats the pursuit of which itself coverts them into menacing horrors, and turns us into those horrors ourselves.

In 2008, I decided Obama was the best hope. Not because his policies were better than, say, Ron Paul's, but because he was clearly electable, and Paul was not. Today, neither of the two electable candidates offer me hope. And I refuse to be frightened into approving of empire with the threat of a slightly more violent empire than the one I live under today. To vote for Obama out of fear of Romney is no better than to vote for McCain out of fear of Osama.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Courage and Curiosity

In his short story "Lance", Nabokov invokes "the man of imagination and science, whose courage is infinite because his curiosity surpasses his courage." From this I have constructed a pangrammatical formula: Curiosity is to knowledge as courage is to power. Now, wisdom is a knowing that transcends all knowledge just as a love is mastery that overcomes all power. So love takes infinite courage just as wisdom takes infinite curiosity. Or rather, genuine love exposes all courage as self-delusion and vanity.

This, I think, is how Kate Bush can tell us that when "the hounds of love" come for us we will confess that we have always been cowards. It is also why the sage appears so sublimely disinterested. It is not that the lover really is a coward; rather, courage has become irrelevant. It is not that sage is not curious; his curiosity has simply been taken to the limit.

(All this will soon lead us to a solution to my most recent riddle.)