31 May 2013

You Are Like a Beautiful Black Hole to Me My Love

Illustration by Emma Charleston


Sometimes, the longing arises to obscenely scrutinize the naked body of one's lover; to peer and probe like a technician of desire into their cunt or anus, as if hoping to locate the hidden truth of their being.

But clinical fascination soon gives way to impatience and frustration, as one realises that for all the mystery surrounding these secret places, there is nothing to see or discover; that the only truth revealed is the nihilistic truth of the void in which all values come crashing back down to nought. 

Of course, rather than despair or grow angry at this, we might choose to celebrate the body as a site of sheer loss in which to joyfully abandon all hope, as well as deposit semen. As so often, it's simply a question of interpretation. For whilst bodily organs and orifices can serve all kinds of functions, they are revered or despised entirely depending on the disposition of the subject performing the erotic autopsy. 
 

29 May 2013

More than Just a Son and Lover



Today is the 100th anniversary of the publication of D. H. Lawrence's third and some would say greatest novel, Sons and Lovers

It was certainly highly acclaimed at the time and has long since remained popular with those readers who like to think of Lawrence first and foremost as a working-class collier's lad growing up amongst the haystacks and the Nottinghamshire coalfields and a bit smutty in every sense of the word: 'Our Bert' writing his semi-autobiographical fiction in a late nineteenth-century realist tradition, but with twentieth-century knobs on.

It's never been my favourite work (despite some fantastic scenes and passages of writing) and this is a characterization of Lawrence that I find particularly loathsome and depressing; an attempt to possess and limit and keep in place on behalf of the Bestwood mafia who continue to wield a powerful influence over Lawrence's reception. Oh, how they love to forever remind us of Lawrence's remark about the East Midlands being the country of his heart. But let them recall also how he wrote: 

"It always depresses me to come to my native district. Now I am turned forty, and have been more or less a wanderer for nearly twenty years, I feel more alien, perhaps, in my home place than anywhere else in the world. I can feel at ease in ... Rome or Paris or Munich or even London. But in Nottingham Road, Bestwood, I feel at once a devouring nostalgia and an infinite repulsion."

- [Return to Bestwood], Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton, (CUP, 2004), p. 15. 

This is the Lawrence I admire: nomadic, cosmopolitan, and refusing to belong to any class or people; refusing to be anyone's son or lover. A singular individual who is no longer their Bert - and probably never was.

27 May 2013

Suicide by Tiger (The Case of Sarah McClay)

Tipu's Tiger (Victoria and Albert Museum)

In the news at the moment is the case of zookeeper Sarah McClay, who was killed by one of the big cats in her care. 

Although the police have ruled it out, the suggestion was made (much to the anger of her family) that the young woman could have entered the animals' enclosure with the intention of ending her own life: suicide by tiger, as it has been described.

I have to say, this idea is one that greatly appeals to me: not so much in a fetishistic manner - though, for the record, I've nothing against those vorarephiles who are aroused by the thought of being eaten alive by wild animals - but simply as a method of taking one's leave from this world.

Better, surely, to die in the jaws of a magnificent beast, than beneath the steel wheels of a tube train. One might imagine that one is passing directly back into life (quite literally becoming-animal) and derive a real element of joy from that.   

On Myth

Henri Matisse: Icarus (1947)

I recently heard someone point out that the wax holding Icarus's wings together would not have melted if he flew too high, because, as a matter of fact, it gets colder at altitude not hotter.

I know this is spectacularly besides the point, because, being a myth about hubris and a young man's folly, it is not meant to be read as a scientific account of early experiments in human aviation. Having said that, I understand how the temptation to prick the bubble of myth by simply speaking the truth and pointing to amusing inaccuracies and unverifiable bits of nonsense can sometimes be difficult to resist.

And, personally, I have no time for those critics who regard the 'disenchantment' of the world by the Enlightenment as a regrettable error and call for a radical re-mythologization.

When I see the new mythologists standing before the world of virtual reality and information technology articulating arguments that fundamentally still rely upon the language of Romanticism, I am reminded of those agrarian idealists who at the beginning of the industrial era sought to revive values associated with the rapidly disappearing feudal past and encourage people to take up handicrafts once more.

Postmodernity enables us to do many things - including the decoupling of thought from its dead relationship to old forms of thinking - but it does not allow us to simply reterritorialize upon a model of ancient culture and society, rediscovering their narratives as our own. Ultimately, life today no longer corresponds to a mythological framework and myth has simply lost its power to shape plausible identities (unless you happen to be a religious fundamentalist of some variety or other).

Ultimately, I agree with Baudrillard here: having passed beyond both the physical and metaphysical worlds we enter into a pataphysical era - but not a new mythological age. Things today no longer have an origin, an aim, or any end; they develop neither logically nor symbolically, but chaotically and randomly.

And I agree also with Voltaire, that grand seigneur of the spirit as Nietzsche calls him, who was of the opinion that the study of myth is an occupation for blockheads.

25 May 2013

Schizoanalysis Contra Psychoanalysis



The major difference between schizoanalysis and psychoanalysis is that the latter is designed to deal with figures and images, signs and symbols, whilst remaining ignorant of the forces, flows, and units of production that the former concerns itself with. Thus, whilst schizoanalysis understands the unconscious as a factory of desire, humming with heavy machinery and entirely caught up with material and social forms of production, psychoanalysis thinks of it as the site of fantasy, myth, and dream.

Freud imagines this site as a cross between a nursery and a provincial theatre, but he can at least hear the sound of the desiring-machines in the background, even whilst maintaining an attitude of angry denial. Jung, on the other hand, mistakes the machinic rumble for the voice of God and if he breaks with Freud it is only so he can retreat into mysticism and build his own church. 

When Jung starts speaking about archetypes, he is searching for clues to what he thinks of as the fundamentally religious nature of mankind. It was never sexual anxiety and neurosis that interested him, but uncovering sacred truth. But the unconscious is no more archetypal than it is Oedipal; it doesn't symbolize any more than it imagines, expresses, or represents. Rather, it produces and invests in the real (even when the real has become increasingly artificial). 

For me, whilst taking Freud's work seriously has become problematic, even reading Jung has become impossible. It is to Freud's great credit that, despite his idealism, he continued to insist on libidinal forces and retain his atheism when colleagues all around him - including that snake in the grass, Jung - were shamefully preparing for a reconciliation with religion, so that they too might be able to remain believers and find wider public acceptance of their ideas.

And so, when all's said and done, give me psychoanalysis rather than analytical psychology. But give me schizoanalysis contra psychoanalysis, because I prefer the non-figurative and asignifying unconscious mapped out by Deleuze and Guattari (with the aid of various madmen including Nietzsche, Lawrence, Kafka and Artaud) to the mythic and all-too-human unconscious of both Freud and Jung.

However, I'm aware that D&G's machinic model of the unconscious based on desiring-production, is ultimately just as fanciful and as rooted in what Paul and Patricia Churchland term folk psychology as that invented within the work of Freud and Jung and a more revolutionary theory of mind begins only with scientific realism and neurobiology.  

24 May 2013

Fragment from an Illicit Lover's Discourse



Does the reconstruction and redistribution of races and nationalities within the pornographic imagination betray an inherent fascism? It certainly appears to reinforce tired myths and stereotypes from the ethnocentric perspective of the white male with his Aryan eye, bright blue.

However, it's arguable that in hallucinating universal history and playfully exposing the artificial character of identity, eroticism helps deconstruct those things which nazis like to believe to be true about themselves and others: i.e. those racial and national differences on which they base their imperial pride; differences that are in fact powerful cultural fictions, rather than rooted in blood and soil.

The admirable thing about genuine lovers and perverts, like Casanova, is that they are untroubled by the thought of miscegenation; what does the notion of purity ultimately mean to them? Nothing: or, at most, it exists as something only to be sullied. They instinctively resist any attempt to restrict who (or what) they may fuck; a resistance born of libertinism, not liberalism.

23 May 2013

D&G: What is Philosophy?

Image by Dick Whyte

One of the things I like about Deleuze is that he never gave up on philosophy. That is to say, he never had any problem with calling himself a philosopher and of happily subscribing to an intellectual tradition stretching back to the Stoics. 

This, by his own admission, didn't make him better than others of his generation who seemed slightly embarrassed by the title of philosopher, or felt guilty if their work too might be shown to belong to the history of Western metaphysics, but it did make him the most naive or innocent.

But what is philosophy for Deleuze? He answers this question very clearly and very beautifully in his final book written in collaboration with Félix Guattari, entitled - appropriately enough - What is Philosophy? In this text, Deleuze argues that philosophy, science, and art all have the essential task of mediating chaos and that each discipline does so in a manner specific to itself as a way of thinking and creating.

First and foremost for D&G, philosophy is neither concerned with the contemplation of ideas, or their communication; rather, it is concerned with the creation of new concepts. This is its unique role and why the philosopher might best be described not as the lover of wisdom, so much as the creator of concepts. 

This is not to deny that the sciences and arts aren't equally creative. But only philosophy creates concepts in the strictest sense of the term (as singularities or events, never as universals). In giving philosophy such a distinct history and role, D&G are not claiming any pre-eminence or privilege for their own work; they fully acknowledge that there are other equally important, equally profound ways of (non-conceptual) thinking. Science and art are not inferior modes of ideation, but they mediate chaos differently (with the latter defined not as a void of disorder, but a virtual realm of infinite possibilities).

Science, for example, in contrast to philosophy, is concerned with inventing functions that are then advanced as propositions in discursive systems to be reflected upon and communicated as such. It wants to find a way to give chaos fixed points of reference and to slow things down; to make chaos a little more predictable and, if you like, a little more human. Philosophy might like to give style to chaos (i.e. a level of consistency) via the construction of a 'plane of immanence', but it is happy to retain the speed of birth and disappearance that is proper to chaos.

Again, this is not to denigrate the work of physicists and mathematicians and D&G are at pains to stress that they find as much admirable experimentation and creation within Einstein as within Spinoza.

As for art, it takes a different approach: if philosophy is all about concepts and science all about functions and their elemental components known as functives, then art is concerned with percepts, affects, and sensations. D&G write:

"Percepts are no longer perceptions; they are independent ... of those who experience them. Affects are no longer feelings or affections; they go beyond the strength of those who undergo them. Sensations, percepts and affects are beings whose validity lies in themselves ... They could be said to exist in the absence of man because man, as he is caught in stone, on the canvas, or by words, is himself a compound of percepts and affects. The work of art being a sensation and nothing else: it exists in itself."

- Deleuze & Guattari, What is Philosophy? trans. Graham Burchell & Hugh Tomlinson, (Verso, 1994), p. 164.

Obviously the work of art is created by the artist, but it stands or falls on its own; i.e. it exceeds the life of its own creator. Further, it draws the artist (and the viewer, reader, listener) into a strange becoming - producing them as much as they produce it and giving everyone a little chaos back into their lives.

If, as we have noted, philosophy adventures into chaos via the plane of immanence and science via a plane of reference, then art constructs a plane of composition: this, for D&G, is definitional of art. But by this they refer not merely to technical composition (which could just as well be the concern of science), but an aesthetic composition concerned with sensation. Thus art, like science and philosophy, is a unique way of thinking and of opening a plane within chaos. It is obviously related to science and philosophy, but should not be thought of as an aesthetic mish-mash of these practices. D&G conclude:

"The three routes are specific, each as direct as the others, and they are distinguished by the nature of the plane and by what occupies it. Thinking is thought through concepts, or functions, or sensations and no one of these ... is better than another ... The three thoughts intersect and intertwine but without synthesis or identification."

- Ibid., pp. 198-99. 

Ultimately, we should be grateful for the gifts that they bring us: unlike religion, which has done nothing except open a great umbrella between us and reality in an attempt to protect mankind from chaos. But that's another post ...


21 May 2013

Towards a Doctrine of Non-Necessity




Whilst I'm perfectly happy for philosophers to discuss the concept of necessity (be it logical, empirical or transcendental in nature), or spend many long hours thinking through related ideas of determinism and contingency, it increasingly seems to me that many of the malicious and often murderous stupidities that confront us in this life are, for want of another word, completely unnecessary. 

Nationalism, racism, homophobia, misogyny, sectarianism and all those forms of what Nietzsche memorably termed "scabies of the heart" [GS 377] are things that we could happily do without and the absence of which would instantly make the world less ugly and unpleasant.

Hopefully it's clear that I'm not speaking here as a liberal idealist of some description. For as Nietzsche also says, one has to be "afflicted with a Gallic excess of erotic irritability" [GS 377] to dream of embracing all humanity with fraternal affection and, despite having been born in Paris, I'm simply not French enough.

So no, I do not love mankind. If anything, it's because I'm too indifferent and ultimately too uncaring to spend time hating that I'm led towards a nihilistic doctrine of non-necessity. It's insouciance and a certain cool irony that saves us from that violent rage and ressentiment that grips those who subscribe to a puffed-up politics of identity and self-assertion.    

18 May 2013

The Tears of Zena X (Written in the Style of Roland Barthes)

Photo by Peter Zelei: gettyimages.com (158635665)


The slightest tremor of emotion, whether of happiness, anger, or disappointment, always brings her to tears. For she has a particular propensity to cry and even once wrote a prize-winning letter to Cosmopolitan defending her right to weep in the workplace. 

By releasing her tears without constraint, she follows the dictates of her little body, which is a body forever at the point of liquid expansion. She enjoys the feeling of tears running gently down her face: they are comforting not only to her heart, but delightful on her tongue.

Usually, when people cry, they are addressing their tears to someone else. By weeping, they want to capture attention and perhaps bring pressure to bear upon others. Tears can thus be a sign rather than an expression of feeling. But Zena often cries for her own reassurance; to prove to herself that she is still alive. 

And sometimes, late at night, when there is no one around to witness her grief, she finds herself upset by random objects and events, including the contents of her vegetable drawer. Indeed, she recently confessed: I once looked at a carrot and cried.


17 May 2013

In Memory of Valerie Solanas



Mary Daly was right to say that anti-feminism is merely the political expression of misogyny. And doubtless the above is intended as a piece of anti-feminist polemic, although, ironically, it echoes the writings of Valerie Solanas fighting her one woman war against male power in the SCUM Manifesto.

Could it be that Pat Robertson is secretly part of the Men's Auxiliary, working diligently to undermine the credibility and authority of his own type? Sadly, probably not. 

But it's because of pricks like him that I support all women who desire to happily idle away their time in ways of their own choosing (including infidelity, infanticide, paganism, socialism, and lesbianism); women who know that sometimes you have to scream to be heard - and sometimes you just have to pull the trigger.

W.I.T.C.H.



In his reading of The Scarlet Letter Lawrence offers an interesting theory of how women like Hester Prynne become witches and fall into a state of moral and sexual corruption, or what religious people call sin.

According to Lawrence, when the female soul "recoils from its creative union with man", it becomes possessed by malevolent forces and starts to exert an invisible and insidious influence in the world. The woman herself may remain "as nice as milk" in her daily life and continue to speak only of her love for humanity, but she becomes subtly diabolic and sends out "waves of silent destruction" that undermine the spiritual authority of men and their social institutions. 

Thus it is, continues Lawrence, that our forefathers were not altogether fools in their fear of witchcraft and the burning of witches not altogether unjustified.   
 
What do I think of this curious contribution to sexual politics? Not much. It's obviously untenable and hateful in its misogyny. One is reminded of the televangelist Pat Robertson, who also claims that women who desire autonomy and independence are intent on practicing witchcraft, smashing capitalism and becoming lesbians. 

The only difference is that Lawrence recognises that evil is as necessary as goodness and that we ultimately need witchcraft as a power of malevolence in order to destroy "a rotten, false humanity" that wallows in its own idealism and phallocratic stupidity.   

Note: for quotes from DHL see Studies in Classic American Literature, CUP, 2003, pp. 89 and 93.

15 May 2013

On Taking Flight



Scott Fitzgerald was right about at least one thing: a clean break is something you can never return from as it effectively abolishes the past. And to flee, I would suggest, is to endeavour to make a break of this kind; to leap like a demon from one world into another.

Unfortunately, a lot of people don't seem to understand this idea very well and so fail to value it very highly. They mistakenly believe, as Deleuze points out, that fleeing is a cowardly avoidance of commitments and responsibilities, or marks some sort of retreat into a fantasy life. 

But nothing could be further from the truth and, ultimately, nothing is more active than flight. Furthermore, despite what the good people say, it also takes courage to paint your wagon rather than accept the comforts of home. 

It should be understood, however, that nothing I have just written necessitates travelling to faraway lands, or even having to move: lines of flight involve journeys in intensity and, if you know how, you can run even when standing still.

There's simply no point in heading for a tropical paradise if you are going to be yourself when you get there. And yet leaving your job, your car, and even your friends and family behind, is far easier than abandoning one's own precious ego and losing or escaping from the face.        

On the Figure of the Prostitute



In the news this week: LinkedIn has banned prostitutes from its network. Whether one approves or disapproves of this move, there is I suppose a certain irony in it. 

For not only is prostitution the oldest profession, but it is a logical consequence of the free market and of phallocratic society (i.e. the world as it is presently ordered). Thus prostitutes are what society has made them; the same society that openly enjoys and exploits their services, even as it continues to deny them and force them to exist at the margins in a semi-illicit and permanently twilight world. 

In short, such women are often shamefully mistreated by the same men who screw us all in the name of the global economy. Quite frankly, I would rather consort with prostitutes than with bankers, politicians, or those who own and control the corporate media.

11 May 2013

On Therianthropes and Furverts



If we ignore the genetic possibilities that are beginning to present themselves, we are left with only two options in our quest to transplant man back into nature and become-animal. 

The first is to experiment with the molecular bestiality outlined in the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari which is conducted at the level of forces rather than form, but which is nevertheless a real procedure which has nothing to do with fantasy (even if it's very often tied to literature).

The second, is to continue at the molar level to investigate possibilities of animal transformation subscribed to by those for whom metamorphosis is crucial. For many pagans, for example, this idea is central within the magical world of shamanic religious practise; whilst for many fetishists, costumed pet-play is a popular niche activity within the erotic arena. 

If, in the former realm the sexual element is sometimes played down in order that the spiritual aspect can be emphasized, nevertheless in both these worlds we find people who like to dress up and imitate animal behaviour, often in a heavily stylized and ritualistic manner.

Whatever we might think of this acting out, the key is it seems to enable participants to temporarily escape from the confines of their humanity - and, indeed, their underwear; metamorphosis seems to be a sweaty and somewhat uncomfortable process that invariably involves the violent discarding of clothes at some point.

To transform into an animal is thus not only liberating in that it allows one to live momentarily without bad conscience and to do things that are normally forbidden or frowned upon, but it promises also an altered state of being. Thus some therianthropes take animal transformation very seriously indeed, insisting that they genuinely possess the spirit or soul of an animal and that shape-shifting is far more than a type of role-play.

For me, I have to say, it all gets a bit much. And if, on the one hand, I admire the courage and mania of those who travel to the very limit of what it is to be human and defiantly declare themselves to be beasts, on the other hand I can do without the asceticism and judgemental snobbery of those therianthropes who regard other members of the furry community as frivolous sexual deviants lacking in respect for the animals they like to dress up as. 

When push comes to shove, I'd sooner hang about with those individuals content to make animal noises in the bedroom, rather than those who howl at the moon. That is to say, I prefer those with zoosexual tastes rather than occult leanings; furverts rather than therianthropes. 

10 May 2013

Proposition 7

Wovon man nicht spechen kann, 
darüber muß man schweigen 
 
Many years ago, when I used to be harangued on a weekly basis at a pub in Chiswick by an ardent  Wittgensteinian, I used to believe that the aphoristic-sounding proposition 7 of the Tractatus was profoundly true. If any logical tautology came close to the beauty of poetry, this was surely it.

But now I feel very differently and I view proposition 7 as a religious prohibition which is no more subtle than a hand placed over the mouth. Wittgenstein attempted not only to close his own work with this line, but shut down any further philosophical investigation into the manifest 'mystery' of the world. 

In other words, like Kant before him, Wittgenstein sought to preserve a space for faith. As Ray Brassier argues, his attempt to identify and enforce the limits of language and knowledge is ultimately nothing more than a thinly veiled exaltation of mystico-religious illumination over conceptual rationality.

Like Heidegger, that other great crypto-theologian of twentieth century philosophy, Wittgenstein makes so much unthinkable, unspeakable, unquestionable, and hence unanswerable - except to those who receive divine inspiration in such matters - that we can read proposition 7 as no more than a succinct rephrasing of something found in an ancient Hebrew text, the Wisdom of Sirach:  

Do not seek knowledge of the sublime; do not look into things that are hidden from you and are not of your concern; pay heed only to that which is taught unto you by the law-givers.  
- Sirach 3: 21-2 
 

9 May 2013

The Human Body Does Not Exist


Chelsea Charms (2009) 

I have been thinking again of Marc Quinn's sculptures of individuals who have magnificently transformed their flesh, their sex, and their humanity via techniques including plastic surgery, hormone treatment, and cosmetic enhancement (tattooing, piercing, skin bleaching, etc). 

If fascinating and rather beautiful as neo-classical objects - particularly those worked in marble of Thomas Beatie and Chelsea Charms - they nevertheless fail to amaze as much as the real bodies upon which they're based. Ultimately, those who have turned themselves into living works of art have little need for statues to be erected in their honour.
That said, Quinn's work nevertheless succeeds in obliging the viewer to consider important questions not simply to do with biology, gender, and sexual artifice, but also celebrity and race: the Michael Jackson pieces, for example, remind us that he was the first truly transracial as well as transsexual superstar - "better able even than Christ to reign over the world and reconcile its contradictions", as Baudrillard put it.

Perhaps understandably, Quinn was keen at the time of his exhibition (SS 2010) that it not be thought of as simply a postmodern freak show. But surely it was the physical abnormality and inherent queerness of his subjects that prompted Quinn to ask them to pose in the first place and Catman, Dennis Avner, now sadly deceased, happily worked within this tradition as a performer.

For me, the only illegitimate response came from those who insisted that the point of Quinn's exhibition was to show that, despite everything, we're all the same under the skin

7 May 2013

Why I Love the Photography of Sally Mann

Sally Mann: WR Pa 53, (2001)

I recently heard the photographer Vee Speers described as a Sally Mann for the digital age. To be honest, I'm not quite sure I know what this means. But what I do know is that whilst the former has produced some very striking and beautiful images, not least of all those of children contained in the series entitled The Birthday Party, her work lacks the outrageously disturbing and provocative character of Sally Mann's. 

I still vividly recall the shock of seeing a retrospective of Mann's work three years ago at the Photographer's Gallery in London, entitled The Family and the Land. This, her first solo show in the UK, included pictures from Immediate Family (naked children), Deep South (naked vegetation), and What Remains (naked corpses). 

The strange, elementary worlds of childhood, landscape and violent decomposition were all brilliantly captured by Mann using antique cameras and techniques so that the images retained their full and often gruesome black and white immediacy. In this sense - and only in this sense - her work might be branded obscene. For there is nothing teasing or titillating in her work; the pictures don't ask to be read erotically any more than they need to be located within some kind of reductive moral context.

Having said that, it's true that the distance of the spectator's gaze is often abolished as in pornography. But Mann is at her very best when the bodies on display are presented in close-up and there is a total collusion and confusion of elements; when faces quite literally become landscapes, as in the untitled but classified picture WR Pa 53, (2001).

It's been said by those who dislike her work, that Mann's photographs ultimately fail to communicate anything and make no positive contribution to society. And it's true that, if anything, they contaminate and corrupt our world of adult human order. I for one didn't come away from the exhibition feeling that I'd learnt anything about the 'innocence of childhood' or the 'beauty of the swamps' - thank God!

Critics who continue to insist on their right to uplift and enlightenment from art, do so because they don't know what else to say and mistakenly believe that banality is better than an open confession of paralysis in the face of something genuinely shocking.

It is, we might conclude, the virulent anti-humanism of Sally Mann's work that accords it greater potency than anything so far produced by Speers. Only Mann has dared to show us the full horror of the human face as lunar surface to be mapped, rather than kissed. And only Mann reminds us not only that little girls have vaginas, but that the vagina itself is nothing other than a freshly dug grave. 

5 May 2013

The Big Rock Candy Mountains

 

I have always been strongly attracted to what we might refer to as the hobo ethic, most beautifully set out in the songs of Harry McClintock or, as he was popularly known, Haywire Mac.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1928) is primarily a bum's vision of an earthly paradise, but its appeal is wide and extensive. For what it offers is not simply a glimpse of a far away and imaginary land full of wonders, but what Deleuze terms an immanent utopia. That is to say, one that exists now/here, rather than nowhere; constituted in the bonds of love and laughter that tie us to other people.

The song thus affirms a radically fraternal politics that Whitman also sings of in his Leaves of Grass and which Lawrence calls a 'democracy of touch'. Such a model exists beyond liberalism, tied as it is to capital and the ownership of property, and it involves more than a sugar-topped apple pie humanism - even if it does have something distinctly American about it. 

It is also very much a queer model of democracy: one that is not, as I have indicated, anticipated as some kind of future historical development won through revolutionary struggle or social reform. The democracy of touch is, rather, fucked into existence between comrades and lovers - just as the flower is fucked into being between earth and sky; born, that is to say, of a new economy of bodies and their pleasures.

Anyway, I'll see you all this coming fall in the Big Rock Candy Mountains ...

4 May 2013

The Hour of the Star


To think is to confine yourself to a 
single thought that one day stands 
still like a star in the world's sky.


And what is this single thought? 

Arguably, it's the thought of death: death is the single thought of philosophy. And it's the single thought also of Clarice Lispector's great work, A hora da estrela, to which this Heideggerian verse could very fittingly serve as an epigraph. 

The hour of the star is the hour of death. And although Macabéa doesn't choose death (she certainly never contemplates suicide), death nevertheless chooses her and is present throughout the story. When she is killed at the end of the novel, it is something towards which she and we, as readers, are long prepared.

The Hour of the Star also happens to be Lispector's final work; published in 1977, the year of her death. It is thus a profound meditation upon her own mortality and that plunge into the void which is death. It is not easy to think death honestly and courageously; to make of death something uniquely one's own rather than belonging to the world of biological fact and universal extinction. 

'Everything in the world began with a yes', says the narrator of the work. That is to say, with an affirmation. And that includes death. For the same promiscuity of molecules which gave rise to life also gives birth to death and knowing how to die means also knowing how to live. If you have never lived, then you can never truly die: merely break down like a machine. Thus it isn't nihilism to affirm our own mortality, but, on the contrary, an anti-nihilism; the active negation of the idealism which would deny life and refuse death. 

Macabéa is representative of the millions of young girls to be found like her living in poverty, working a dead-end job, unwashed, uneducated and uncared for. But she is also a singular creature and, in death, she paradoxically comes into her own being at last; she is the star whose hour has arrived.

She might be empty-headed, but she has a strong inner-life and, without knowing it, Macabéa spends most of her time meditating on nothingness whilst listening to Radio Clock count away the minutes. Almost, she might be said to embody the fatal secret of the void; she is a black hole, hardly existing in human terms, as well as a tiny sun.

And so, when lying by the roadside with her eyes turned towards the gutter and the blades of grass that grow near the drain down which her blood trickles away, Macabéa thinks to herself: 'Today is the dawn of my existence: I am born.'

People gather around and whilst they do nothing to help the poor girl, they are finally obliged to acknowledge her presence in the world. It is a scene strangely reminiscent of one in Dickens, much loved by Deleuze, wherein someone held in contempt by society is found on the verge of death; for a brief moment their life takes on singular import.

"As she lay there, she felt the warmth of supreme happiness ... There was even a suggestion of sensuality ... Macabéa's expression betrayed a grimace of desire", writes Lispector, thereby overtly eroticizing the moment of death. For in death, Macabéa surrenders not just her life, but her virginity. Death fucks her into full being as well as non-being and it is an experience she finds "as pleasurable, tender, horrifying, chilling and penetrating as love".

She manages to speak one final sentence. In a clear and distinct voice, Macabéa says: As for the future. It is not understood by any of the onlookers present. But we know, of course, as readers of Heidegger, precisely what this means.


[Note: quotations taken from The Hour of the Star, trans. Giovanni Pontiero, Carcenet Press, 1992.]

2 May 2013

How Even Sade Becomes Boring

Marquis de Sade by Delphine Lebourgeois   


Sade asks of his readers precisely what he asked of his countrymen: one more effort in order to achieve an unprecedented level of freedom. His work is thus a call for permanent revolution and self-overcoming. And, arguably, within the mad dialogue that he constructed between love and death, Sade not only made good his own escape from captivity, but opened up a line of flight for us all. 

However, as Foucault points out, in a sense Sade doesn't go far enough and he remains at last a transitional figure shaped by the Age of Reason, even as he points a way beyond it. Thus whilst he succeeded in introducing the frenzy of desire into a world dominated by law and order and made evil attractive to us, he remained trapped within certain conventions of thought.

So it is that Sade's pornographic fantasies of crime and cruelty begin to bore us and we ask of his texts what Lawrence once asked of all those works that forever turn on an ideal of transgression: 'If we can only palpitate to murder, suicide, and rape in their various degrees, however are we going to live?'  

1 May 2013

May Day


It's May Day. And I'm feeling a little miserable and irritable (a bit menstrual, as Z would say).

For one thing, I've started to resent the fact that a pagan spring festival has become mixed up with Marxism and transformed into an international day of labour; the maypole being replaced as it were by a giant clocking-in machine.

In an age of universal wage slavery, there's no dignity in paid work and the red flag is just another symbol of tyranny. I would advise those who can avoid or postpone employment that they do so for as long as possible and keep moving from place to place in a headless and homeless manner. 

In the end, there is nothing to do but flee and seek out new lands and strange regions; departing from every gate and refusing to belong to any job, country, creed, political party, or trade union, exercising a decisive will not to be governed or bossed about.