Monday, December 20, 2010

Working Day (from no walking it back)

So that the acculturated Cherokee breathes
As the aforementioned men go off in open air

To be entertained, to evade the footpads
Vandals and thieves

Unclimbable steeps
A mass of white haired sheep

Their restless education
Fingers bent back to claws

As hours condensed and bred fears
In those freed yet unable to sell their freedom

Each compelled to each – to follow steam
Empowered in the fibre of a plant

A factory squares with no theory
At first utopian the second suburb

Cloaks and escapes
Made for its mall – croquet dogs

Each factory acts to consume
A miraculous mile of shops

A symphonic time-sink that ditched
And drains humanity

Unsatisfied work each night when sex
Labors to produce its spring

Winter's seasonal
Whose Friday night gains encamped

In overheated huddles
Adrift in faulty definition where farce repeats

Each word unclear as spectacle charts
The sandwiched female lungs

Disarmed by law, pirates
Repackage Jeffrey Daumer’s flesh

They embrace the false history of fine talk
But every mouse has a moral view

The most angered Author answers all things
No friend of commerce, Handicraft

Divines what's conquered
We trend toward unconditional cries or laughter

Despite protests to the contrary
Lazy enthusiasts trapped in economic circumstance

The miller's bandit after the thresh
400 years of unmastered debt

To eat the higher proportion of wages
One extorts one’s hired portion

Quick sleep in the famished sea
I worked over at Pottery Barn and perished instantly

Wedgewood’s factotum at fever’s pitch
The porcelain habit yields no place to piss

Enforced through history
Best intentions emerged in relays

Batons passed where knowledge enacts
Little machines – somatic fire drills

Let's call her princess for
A little bird one day was king

I don't know where he lives
The devil in deed a good person

God is that dog
Fought last week and lost

Lifeless haunts in the dark
No specter, no shadow, no chance

The little circle jerk of a citizen
The mini-series which fails to minister

Miseries naturally scarce
Left in short air

The cheese-man smiles as profit advanced itself
The food stuffs of the Gila monster

Stretched to include all persons
And corruption of the shameless parts

Each product seeks the powers of commerce
Forced participation in a market adequate to the new

Each mode feeds what
Sinks or swims in labor pools

Hot tubs of adulterated fact
Whose primary law demands increased production

Profit is borne out of the day's divide
That divines a hour of rest, to salt ones wound

Silence lapsed in the din of a listless ship
Yes, moments are elements of profit

But the nation needs strong warriors
Not diminished specimens of gelatinous mush

Parasites in the folds that lack all extremity
And unmediated mass of shit

Forget the story of who I was
I sold my soul

Rethinking the consumption of lost time
Let’s feed the rich or erase them

Little lords and vassals who made the pencil possible
To account our endless hours of distress

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Music has an answer

    - after Donato Mancini

What's the use dot dot dot
Information or
Manic prolusions in the click track

It was better at the back of the room
clowning or
at the front churning heads first

The moral of the story is never affective
Affect hijacked by mores equals jaded judgement
the stickiness of burnt marshmallow

I prefer the notion of a precognitive aesthetics before the ethical turn
Aesthetics are without criteria, without qualities
There is no conscience, it's before science

The subject overplays itself
Its bass line embodied in affective tone
The phono-text of mispronounced delight

Adolescents pick winners
Unhinged from feeling, cooking refried beans
With a studied inattention

Solid liquid my ass.  Poetry
is an affective machine, a machine for
generating affect

Are effects not generated to mobilize
to control interest, to condition
the audient?

Who unhands these vowels --
while A plays to the mere
form of the prehending subject

the E
would uphold the substance
of the subject

Zizek's sublime bright lines overwhelm the oblique 
As continuous teachable moments
Someone (Shaviro) said that if Derrida is the thinker of the Kantian sublime -- aka the unexplainable which somehow compels one to obsessively attempt to explain -- then perhaps Deleuze is the thinker (or tinkerer) of Kantian beauty.

Coteries against the modes of elite, yes.  Ordinary culture, yes.
Do you know Nicolas Slominski's Lexicon of Musical Invective
A demonstration of the always maligned reception of the new

And the institutionalization of taste
I recall that in Chicago the pizza no longer tastes different
It's a domino effect. An argument for the power of the dialectic

Welcome to the fast food regurgitation station
The undoing of Cap'n Crunch
Poetry is a parasite that can't escape itself

It needs to eat and be eaten
It's the bad conscience that reads and rereads
first thought lost thought

short term loss for long term gain
as one's song hooks and withers
its its it-ness - that haunting difference which remains new

word word and word word
the stultification is in fact in the explanation (Ranciere)
The symmetry was lost in my first draft

the flash memory of the irrational dude
that repository of infinite
possibility - that does in fact exist

On Whitehead's blackberry this is what makes rationality possible
if he didn't exist he would have to be invented
The contingent promise of some symmetrical math

From each according to his ability 
It's the applied symmetry of each
so I'll trade you my feckless

for your effective affect
my shit for your crow
The control of A thru the devices of E

vowels cocked and loaded
where these fumes -- 2 out of 3 doctors recommend
the mastery of promised outcomes

I removed the logo from my emotive pants - green and white chex
and insert a dagger into parts unknown
Teeny bopper heaven where the brain socializes with the body

It's your fallacy of the affective fallacy
See, it's not about belief or reason
It's a demonstration

A democracy of objects where regurgitation rocks
upon meaning's shores.  I mean in the concussion
orchestra, my misanthropocentricism pops

Singularities -- the unique and oblique assemblages we eat
that make us us.  Its the dirt we swallow
in hopes for more, I mean
I miscommunicate with myself
What did i say and when did i say it?
Elocution lessens

It's the voir dire, the bad conscience
of the communal occasion
What is the french film about overindulgence

sex + food = death?
I'm just a prude whose intentions are stewed
La Grande Bouffe, O god yes

Value is cognized  
Imagine their young ate us
A canonical genesis of the wolfing hour

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ball & Chain

Speculations on the place of labor: a ball and chain

People “will fight for their servitude as if for salvation”
       – Spinoza

It is the fault of my foot – attached to its problem
The motion away or within or beyond those bounds

The fault is in the foot – suspension before an arrow’s release
Death by 1000 touches

The fabrication of meadow:  fire makes way for flower
The weeds and grains that replenish

Until pattern and the passage of thought
A spectacle in motion – in the assemblage of ball and field

As the ball is moved forward, back, forward
It’s only money that is made

The pressure of feet – all three of them
Newton, Leibniz – those who

Game the rules I fail to grasp
Einstein’s social relation – it’s a circulation

Of patent falsity.  The exaltation of the ball as its
Market moves us

Players sway in the breezeways
To anticipate the give and go

Screens for the threshing
The powders that take me

Each value or fact – a fiction
It perishes endlessly – unless exploited

Labor divides against itself
It rearticulates force to press the rhetoric to one’s favor

While abiding application of the law
In these cubes, I do.  A credo that

Connects the dots.  I isn’t I – as it serves

One presses with the motion of body
The mind out of limbs – out of shoes

Both the early tools or late ones
The complex genesis – a collaboration in nature

To rearticulate and press
We demand the right to contradict

To turn one’s legs into machines
To constrain the hand

The ball as repository of possibility
The irrational oddity for all eyeballs

Joy makes the logic of the game
Possible – Boolean Or’s

Rowing against each officious call
Stamina limps to breathe

The limp after the contest of limbs
Stamina limps to breathe

The limp after the contest of limbs
It’s the body check I need
fire ants in a swarm

Accelerants on an adrenaline bridge –
Its a feature in the game of go that celebrates circulation

It is that which labor desires to control
Rhetoric that accelerates and burns for the quick

That secular spin
A commotion which demonstrates

The geometry of shadow boxing
And the fact that intelligence is in or with the ball

A totality or center to which one attaches everything
Labor desires to combine with or malign it

I is possessed, at least until
Use abuses use

When utility rests on laurels
Awaiting what comes or feeding

Until fact eats at fact
Use abuses as

Abuse uses its surviving use
It cohabits and brooks no pretenders

To digest what runs with or what endures
What tolerates until blind intuition meets empty thought

The commotion trademarks these distillates – it agitates
Until they hold your dreams, as solvents work their blanket majesty

As the immaterial connects and extracts thought
That's the rub -- out of feeling

One follows the vapor’s serpentine paths
Doing the right thing at the right time

Out of the glide and swoop
He who hesitates wins

Similar to the detour of music
It always returns – for:

Once you step on the tonic
You step on the tonic again

You know – let’s do something new!
It is the generic that occurs

Not a general unity
The intelligence is in the ball

Or in the body of the ball
Time to reconfigure the geometry of attention

To turn towards and notice when labor
Avoids the ball

Dear M – I signed the green card and paused
In a market where time is exchanged

At your service dear M
Under whose eyes my incapacity

Needs measure and apprise
Thus I own my own time and as such

My free lance is played there, that is
I signed the green card and entered the game

These forebears, shadows on the field
Blame and their blameless

Loiter here in the meatspace – time's abstraction
Anytime circulation attends us

Thus one works to ahead - no wrong
& ends up with dick...

Such labor figures then – such Lilliputian times
Where I publish invisibility on the causeways of

Proximate space – the scrum
Of aesthetics waits for its way

And how it waits is an ethic
In the time that is socially necessary

It awaits its mean
At each moment where the ball decides

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Against Explanation

This was a talk given this past week at the Imagining America conference, as part of a panel with Jeanne Heuving, Ted Hiebert and Doug Jarvis on “Art Within and Without the University: Affirmation and Negation.”

I’ve written a little rant rather than something about my own work.  As a poet friend of mine says: “I am the least interesting thing about me.” 

So I’ll keep these introductory remarks brief & will only introduce a new project I’m involved with called Autonomous University, which unlike its iteration in Mexico City, is almost certainly destined for failure.  The idea is to empower a situation to force participants to think and invent.

I’ll spare you the full “draft statement of purpose,” but I will read the last paragraph to give a flavor – this is part of a litany of what Autonomous University promotes.
Autonomous University promotes: Affirmation rather than endless negativity: enough of the impossible, the unpresentable, the lack, the end, the nothing, death. Enough sad scholars. We want a knowledge that speaks to the power of life.

While I’m very interested in affirmation and the notion of errant singularity, I’m trying not to be concerned with its apparent contradiction with critical negation.  That is, I think it’s okay to hold both positions.  So after Whitehead – the task at hand – might be to work to convert contradictions into contrasts.

There will be a number of unreferenced citations and/or paraphrases.  I am greatly in debt here and need to thank: Isabelle Stengers, Steven Shaviro, Jacques Ranciere, Alfred Whitehead, Immanuel Kant, Stefan Mallarme, Samuel Beckett, Gottfried Leibniz, Georges Bataille, Donato Mancini, Joel Felix and untold others.

Against Explanation

Imagine what then?  Not this consumptive choice of words.  Please don’t “buy in” – that is, not to these words, nor to a lack of imagination in the audience or in yourself.

Imagine if it were easier to learn by positive rather than negative example. 

Imagine an unfortunate noun (e.g., America) that merely mis-pronounces the news - until we're all stuck.

Rather than a Manifest Destiny which puts faith in its own presumed superior power of intelligence and will, imagine an occluded destiny. 

Imagine an adventure where you follow only what makes you think, rather what what you merely recognize.

That is, imagine giving power to the situation, to that which makes you think.

Imagine "how it is that something new happens" – which is Whitehead's question -- which Steve Shaviro in Without Criteria counterposes to Heidegger’s question: "why is there something rather than nothing.”

After Shaviro, imagine what contemporary critical thought might be like if Whitehead, rather than Heidegger, had set the agenda.

Imagine creating rather than rectifying.

Imagine discourse no longer trapped in contradictions, for example: in the irreconcilability of the affirmation of difference (or pluralism) versus critical negativity (or the dialectic).

Imagine the truths we take to be self-evident and how these have changed over time.  And how these malleable pre-supposed truths are a kind of grammar for our empirical experience – that is, the living form in or thru which experience occurs.

Imagine a grammar that has its own empirical genesis within time.  Imagine how this grammar interacts with (or blurs) the empirical, or that which can be called true or false.

Imagine how the facts of capitalism have become “so central to our understanding” that they “come to take on the form of pre-assumed grammatical statements.”  For example, a statement like: “the market is a force of nature, and will make things right in the end.”

Imagine that this blurring of the border between the grammatical and the empirical is where innovation and creation occurs, i.e., where the empirical and transcendental interact.

Imagine "truth is what is felt and not spoken."  Imagine that as Ranciere writes: truth “furnishes a rule [which] govern[s] a speaker's content, but will never be manifested in his [or her] sentences.”

Imagine seeking “the art of raving as reasonably as possible.”

Imagine how a blur of aesthetics might reclaim a place in our grammar.

Imagine "social critique as the core of any significant poetics ever."  For me this is grammatical -- a  presupposition that poetics cannot be usefully sequestered in an environment severed or protected from politics and economics.

Imagine an autonomous university -- two seemingly contradictory (or bad) ideas that together might – like aesthetic judgement – provide a tenuous place where the singular can communicate with the universal, that is, without institutionalizing itself.

Imagine as Mallarme said in 1895 that "it all comes down to Aesthetics and political economy."

Imagine education not based on a presupposition of inequality (that is, on the inequality of intelligence).

Imagine the poem – or work of art – as an affective machine. 

Imagine all the people – perhaps in an alternative Leninist [sic] moment – willing to give peace a chance.

Imagine aesthetics as prior to ethics, prior to epistemology.  An aesthetics that isn't merely anthropocentric.  A flat ontology or a democracy of objects.

Imagine safety in mumbling, not in numbers.

Imagine my disgust at this litany of imagining.

Imagine collective intelligence rather than solitary genius; immanence rather than transcendence; the beautiful rather than the sublime.

Imagine a beautiful spam poem, for example: "Undeliverable: nefarious blithe spirit"

Imagine embracing critical negativity for its exaggerations – which provoke us to think – without worrying about the dangers of totalization, since it’s impossible.

Imagine experience – or rather how we conceive of experience – as a constructive function, a real interaction that makes something new.

Imagine “negativity that cannot be put to work.”

Imagine that “there are limits to the pretension of thought.”

Imagine embracing an assemblage of moments – too complex for any simple dialectic analysis.

Imagine, with Isabelle Stengers, how you belong and are obligated and attached – to what you do and how you do it. 

Imagine decision as something that happens to you – a decision without a decision maker.

After Stengers, imagine thinking without reference to a progress linked to any (capital T) Truth; without reference to a progress that justifies its past.  “Thinking thru the middle without grounding definitions or an ideal horizon, and thinking with the surroundings.  No theory gives you the power to disentangle something from its surroundings.”

Imagine “approaching practices not as they are – but as they may become…  Imagine thinking for the world and not against it.”

Again after Stengers, imagine taking poetry (or insert your branch of the humanities here) as a practice seriously – even though it is in the process of being destroyed by Capitalism.

Imagine a three-ring circus without a center stage. 

Imagine ethics in a minor key – that refuses the center stage – not tied to any critical or deconstructive notion of enlightenment. 

Imagine the difference between Charlie Brown’s good versus bad grief.

Imagine following Leibniz’ advice ‘dic cur hic’ – to say why you chose to say this, or to do that, on this precise occasion.  

Imagine not being responsible for the limitations of your imagination.

Imagine being “responsible only for paying attention as best you can” – not abiding the power of some general (that is, illustrative, and mobilizing or unifying) reason. 

Imagine Dead Imagine – “Till all white in the whiteness the rotunda.”

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Agamben’s Gesture

In Agamben’s beautifully written “Notes on Gesture” we’re routed thru a discussion of Tourette’s Syndrome towards a description of what he calls pure mediality, gesture as a communication of a communicability.  Roger that.  “It has precisely nothing to say because what it shows is the being-in-language of human beings as pure mediality.”  Unable to display anything more than its own potential, the gesture is constrained, suspended, unable to take action. 

Agamben takes Kant’s aesthetic notion of beauty or ‘purposiveness without purpose’ to back up his notion of gesture as means without end. 

This “purposiveness without purpose” is a human assignment of intent or rather lack of intent (disinterest) from the outside.  The intuitive judgment of beauty leads to the problem of how to communicate or universalize what is uncategorizable.

For Agamben, having something like an uncategorizable intuition to communicate, an intuition that has no adequate concept, is an exclusively human problem.  He uses the figure of the gag to illustrate this, as “indicating first of all something that could be put in your mouth to hinder speech, as well as… improvisation meant to compensate for a loss of memory or inability to speak.”

The gesture “opens the sphere of ethos as the more proper sphere of that which is human.” (57)  Gesture is not produced or acted, it is something endured or supported – like being.  This is a sublime idea of human being-in-language, in effect human being trapped or captured in language.

There’s an argument that Agamben is fetishizing language or human being-in-language here (ala Heidegger).  That is, his “gesture” never engages objects in the world, it is trapped in an endless regress of anthropocentric metalanguage.  It presumes an inherent human privilege which is both unrealistic and not useful.  He does not explore or account for action or the creative process.  Unable to act, how can the politics or ethics implied here become more than “impotent wringing of hands and empty sympathizing”?

Likewise the negative definition implicit to his discussions of sovereignty, which focus on the state of exception as the key element or quality of the sovereign, does not allow for creation or immanent constituting.  It’s always after the fact, there is no explanation or allowance for emergence of anything but the exception itself.  The new is what is exceptional. 

What put me off Agamben (after a number of years "on" him) was where he explores Nietzsche’s notion of the eternal return in relation to potential.  The eternal return is what happens in the wake of actualization and is expressed by Agamben as the potential to not write.  I cannot think of a more alienating and negative constraint on the creative process, it could be an advertisement for psycho-tropics.  Instead of actualization bringing more life to life (which is Toni Negri’s optimistic formula, almost the obverse position), we get the Sisyphean limit and we're stuck endlessly pushing the rock uphill.

Agamben’s mediality is a suspension of action.  It celebrates the gag that prevents us from speaking and would suppress a deeper investigation of the real or a mapping of how things actually interact.  To risk repeating myself: no explanation of social or economic networks here.  Can you hear me now?  Yes, and it’s disappointing that the exploration doesn’t go beyond this being in language, this mere communicability.

Cinematic Gesture

Agamben also argues that cinema is primarily gestural rather than a matter of images.  This seems counter-intuitive, since cinema is in fact constructed of images, actual sequences of 35mm film projected upon a screen.  Cinema involves incredibly complex assemblages of both human and non-human materials, making use of tools like cameras, microphones, computers &c which each have long histories of development. 

The discounting of Deleuze’s cinematic-image would also deny the affective image.  But the audience for cinema certainly can and does have intense experiences.  So do audiences for music and romance novels.

Agamben writes beautifully and I have found his prose very seductive.  But I want more than a pure mediality that gets lost in its own potential.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pedagogical Error: Autonomous U

This is a talk on pedagogy given on March 13th in Olympia, WA to David Wolach’s students at Evergreen State College.

Epigraph for the talk is a software error that occurred this week. Not easily debugged -- and the user couldn’t tell me what action led to the poetry:

Error: The object invoked has disconnected from its clients.

To begin I’ll read from a draft statement from about seven years ago, a project I was working on with Diana George and Nic Veroli of the Seattle Research Institute (“SRI”). SRI published a couple of interesting anthologies of writing, including Politics without the State; and Experimental Theology.

It’s a project called Autonomous University – or alternatively University in Exile. Unfortunately it failed to launch – the energy or timing wasn’t quite right. And shortly after this, SRI stopped doing things after Nic and then Diana left Seattle.

For me, it is still a good idea. It still needs to happen, though maybe with a different name. Last week in Mexico City at Colegio de San Ildefonso, I stumbled upon a plaque that said in effect that this beautiful building with many art galleries and Orozco murals was part of the National Autonomous University – founded in 1910 -- probably an attempt to be autonomous from the Roman Catholic church. It’s now about 7 or 8 times as big as University of Washington with more than 200K students.


The Autonomous University is a university without professors. It's an alternative institution for intellectual, political, and aesthetic reflection. Research inquiries at the Autonomous University usually begin as moderated discussion groups or reading groups focused on a particular problematic. These groups may aim for a public presentation of their results in public roundtables, dialogues, lectures, books, pamphlets, and/or

artistic works.

The Autonomous University ("AU") does not grant degrees or certificates, and never will. The Autonomous University has deserted the degree-granting institution, with its careerism, its bureaucratically defined disciplines, its publish-or-perish mode of production. Nor is the Autonomous University a place for the usual practical instruction or hobby instruction or edutainment of the hobbyist. The AU wants to give you a hammer with which to think, not a pillow.

The Autonomous University promotes:

Experimentation: the point is not to master a body of knowledge, but to pose new questions. Connections rather than maps, concepts rather than doctrines.

Collective production: not solitary genius but collective intelligence. What is produced is not always a book, an essay, or a lecture. The groups primarily produce reflection, a kind of fluid yet focused discourse that is hopefully as unpredictable as it is exciting. A moderator or moderators keep the group focused, but all members are fully active in determining the direction of thought.

New assemblages, both social and textual: what can a text do, what machines are operating in it? What kind of things can a group become, what can it invent when set in motion in this context? Ideas, too, are material things.

Immanence rather than transcendence: the European/American university course is founded on a master or a father. Without this transcendent founding figure, we're free to form a band or bands, a series of groupuscules, a fluid and changing crowd.

Affirmation rather than endless negativity: enough of the impossible, the unpresentable, the lack, the end, the nothing, death. Enough sad scholars. We want a knowledge that speaks to the power of life.

Constituent power/communism: Above all, Autonomous University is committed to collective self-activity in the broadest possible sense. AU is collective activity in motion.

Autonomous University opposes all the foundational institutions, including its own institutionalization. of capitalism: private property, racial hierarchy, patriarchy, prisons, states, armies, and Autonomous markets can all go to hell.

Someone wisely said that you shouldn’t allow school to interfere with education – in finding our own way. To paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead, what’s of interest is creation not rectification. Becoming – rather than some refinement of being.

Perhaps the statement reads a bit too much like a manifesto, but it still largely agrees with me. To a certain extent there’s an idealism behind it that might have had something to do with its failure to launch. My perception – perhaps wrong – was that there were political preconceptions about the form which the research groups would take, or perhaps the issue was merely differences of opinion regarding which communities to reach out to – for seeding the initial groups.

To me, the idea is to foster collective thought – to demonstrate how collective thinking can make a difference – how we can become other than we are. Encouraging the risk - the unique risk that each participant has to bring into the collective “meeting & mutation.”

Today, I’d say that the functional purpose of AU would be to empower a situation that forces participants to think and invent -- that is, it’s not about empowering the participants, rather to empower the situation. Simply put, AU’s function would be to provide an external structure, a venue for presentations, deadline, introductions etc that would induce collective thought and action.

As the last line of the statement says “Autonomous markets can all go to hell.” So it was clear that the A-word cuts both ways and has some problematic implications.

While in fact autonomy is the goal of creation, i.e., to create something that has a life of its own (in Greek it means “having its own laws”), once autonomy occurs, this initial event of constituting is difficult to keep from stultifying into hardened rules and norms.

And this “new living thing” can’t really be completely autonomous. It is always part of an ecology, upon which it depends.

The University or universal is all one, and in that sense impractical -- how can a problem matter for everyone? Universal notions usually do everything to destroy anything that challenges their authority. It sets up a world view or model, in the faith that the Truth will set us free -- while it denies the validity of other theories and practices outside its own practice or discipline. Constituting rules is ok -- but these harden into stolid rules and norms.

I lot of my remarks are influenced by Isabelle Stengers, who I’ve been reading lately, and how her ideas about an ecology of practices relate to these pedagogical questions.

Stengers is against the capital-T Truth I just mentioned. She says: “what is true is what succeeds in producing a communication between diverging parties -- without anything in common being discovered or advanced.”

Stengers has a reputation of a philosopher of science (having worked with Ilya Prigogine - a Nobel prize winning physicist/chemical engineer). She lives in Belgium, and was influenced by Deleuze and Guattari, and more recently Whitehead, on whom she’s written a massive book that has not yet been translated into English.

One key to ecological thinking is that coherence is not logical -- it is eco-logical, always in relation to its environs. “We are not alone in the world,” says Stengers. Thus we can never be fully autonomous. The new creation is a sort of hinge picture -- it has its own life and is in and of the world. I should note that “coherence” was really Whitehead’s problem. He was trying to find coherence in the incoherent so-called “modern” world.

Here’s an overview of a symposium on Stengers from something that happened in Australia in 2003. Probably written by Brian Massumi, another wonderful philosopher, whose book Parables of the Virtual is well worth reading.

Bruno Latour has argued that the world is populated by “hybrid objects” [-- objects] at the hinge between nature and culture. Rather than policing that old humanist divide [ie, between human culture and nature], re-purifying those tired generalities, [Latour] suggests fashioning concepts and pragmatic procedures respectful of the singularity of each such intersection [that is, respectful of these hybrid individuals -- not negatively criticizing or tearing down] -- understood as a collective form of life…

Isabelle Stengers takes this perspective a step further, suggesting that there is a politics of respect for collective forms of life: a political ecology based on an ethics of intersection. Its concern would not be to judge or to discipline but to foster and to challenge. To foster the maximum expression of each form’s singularity; and to challenge that expression to expose itself to others, accepting the risk of being fundamentally changed by the encounter. Meeting and mutation.

Mutual, asymmetrical capture, guaranteeing nothing, authorizing nothing, incapable of being stabilized by any manner of constraint, and by which both sides are subjected to the “frightening” test of the third term: “We are not alone in the world.” -Stengers

The third term, between one and each other: cohabitation; relation. A political ecology would be a social technology of belonging, assuming coexistence and co-becoming as the habitat of practices…

OK so I’m going to eventually get to how this connects or doesn’t connect to my own writing practice. I want to find things that make me think, or that intensify my capacity to affect or be affected. To figure out how I’m attached and obligated to the practice of writing and whatever else it is that I do.

A couple more things from Stengers directly on pedagogy. She says that wars are pedagogical operations – enforcing peace. Teaching how to behave. Teaching an ethos.

She talks about thought as a collective stammering. Thinking is never divorced from feeling. Thinking and feeling require each other – there has to be a lure, a bit of romance. If one knows what one thinks, there might be a problem. If you know your opinions, do you own them or do they own you.

I figure it’s much better to be forming opinions rather than to simply have them.

We have to remember to acknowledge that feeling is the basis of experience. Aesthetics precedes ethics. What is it to not know what you think? Maybe that’s a process that can’t be too fast. We need to learn to hesitate.

If after Stengers, the goal is to “wake us from our torpor” -- to begin to experience and take small steps, then to adopt Whiteheadian terms, one needs an appetite towards a difference. This would be the germ of free imagination.

Question: what’s the difference between continuity and creation?

The political implication that pulls me to this question is trying to imagine how capitalism could end. For this to occur, it would need to become other than it is, that is it’s clearly mastered continuity, and seems to thrive on antagonism, almost obsessively in need of opposition to feed itself.

It seems impossible to imagine anything "crushing" or "smashing" capitalism -- short of an apocalypse. In a poem that I’ll read, Diseconomy of Scale, I was thinking about how it can fall under it’s own massive weight. But as we’ve recently seen, the notion of “too big to fail” was invented to prevent this.

For real change to occur -- becoming other -- there needs to be an exposure, a risk. And one hopes for an event -- a meeting where mutation may occur.

There are different theories of how change happens. Some have more of an appetite for self-preservation or continuity than others. [This follows a discussion in Steve Shaviro’s brilliant Without Criteria.]

1. Autopoiesis. Like automatic writing or a kind of a self-replicating mindless virus.

2. Conatus. This is Spinoza’s idea of striving to persist in being– equilibrium is what must be maintained. “Each thing in so far that it is itself, endeavors to persist…” This striving is the essence, the basic principle of conatus.

In the realm of continuity, innovation can only occur when one is absolutely compelled. It’s like the US Congress. One affects and is affected, a dual or doubled movement. For both Nietzsche and Spinoza, power is the capacity to be affected and to affect.

Perhaps the problem is how to imagine a self-organization that is not self-preservative, self-reproductive, that is not merely emerging?

‘Becoming other’ more closely resembles:

3. Individuation. Gilbert Simonden’s notion of a continual reconstitution via actualization of potentials.

4. Concrescence. Whiteheads notion where an entity constitutes itself as something new -- re-combining elements from pre-existing entities.

Yet another tangential perspective on these differences relates to a basic problem of philosophy. How to explain the existence of mind or mentality or inwardness, without which we would have no inner experience? Why this is important is that it is close to the notion of the autonomous life, at least human life. Must life that is self-constituting, that makes its own laws, have an element of mentality?

If you reject the Cartesian mind/body split as I do (I think they’re co-extensive), and if you don’t accept a divine explanation, then you’re looking for a realist one.

Shaviro outlines three possible realist (and secular) ways to address the issue

a) Eliminativist position. There is no free will -- it's all in the neuropaths. It’s a pure autopoiesis. We’re just automatons living under the illusion that we’re making decisions. The free will that we think we have is an illusion.

b) Emergent explanation – where we look for asymmetrical surprises. Shit does happen, doesn't it? This is clearly the normative position. And it is interesting and provocative that this self-organizing ideal is so important to both neo-liberal capitalism and left wing political activists, including anarchists.

c) Pan-Psychism. This involves the idea that all living things are mental (in part). It’s not anthropocentric. All living things have a mental pole and a physical pole. Against the eliminativists, it insists that mental objects are real. Against the emergent position, “mentality doesn’t just come into being out of nothing; it is always already there, no matter where you look.”

This mentality is a feature – not a bug that inadvertently emerged. Mentality is transhistoric. And it is co-extensive with physicality -- not separate. Mentality is decisional in the way that bacteria make decisions -- that is, way below the threshold of cognition or consciousness. There is a vast realm of feeling that we do not and cannot understand.

Sorry if that’s gone far a field. Without tying this into any neat conclusions, I’ll abruptly return to how poetry might be discussed vis-à-vis Stenger’s notion of ecology of practices.

Poetry seems like the obverse of science.

Science demands answers that can be detached from human interests -- that are not artifacts of the experimental apparatus. But poetry demands answers that are attached to human interests. That is, poetry is attached to human interests and its practitioners attempt to create alluring artifacts.

I recently wront a bit about an essay of Robert Kelly’s where he talks about listening out loud to his own incomprehensibility -- as a definition of poetry. “The incomprehensible is the only thing that makes sense. That is, it creates sense -- the sense of something happening to you as you read.” This is sort of the poetic muse. Kelly says provocatively: “Most poets are too smart to believe in their own intelligence.”

This is very seductive to me.

But about a week ago I found a short statement of Stengers that suggests that maybe it’s not going nearly far enough.

"It is much more comfortable to produce deep, beautiful meditations about an author not being an author of what he or she writes than reaching this point of nonstyle when you simply affirm that writing is not a spontaneous activity of human goodwill but puts the writer in debt to what makes him or her write." (Stengers, Last Enigmatic Message, 64)

One can easily imagine someone repurposing this for a manifesto for conceptual poetry and/or flarf. I’m afraid most poetry may not be up to this point of non-style.

Elsewhere Stengers says that what makes us human is NOT ours. What makes us human is the relation we are able to entertain with something that is not our creation. That’s a speculative definition of the human v non-human distinction. Stengers asks what the role of the non-human is in politics. This is also an interesting question for poetry.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

R Kelly’s Heimlich Maneuver

Robert Kelly’s home page proposes that poetry is equal to “listening out loud.”  Recording the language in our head by pronouncing it or inscribing it.  This does not equal thinking.

“Most poets are too smart to believe in their own intelligence.” 

The resulting “lucid incomprehensibility” is the poet’s muse.  “The incomprehensible is the only thing that makes sense. That is, it creates sense -- the sense of something happening to you as you read.”

I might amend the optimism about most poets not believing in their own intelligence by inserting the word: “good.”

But what I find provocative here relates to what I’ve been trying to work out in poetics.  What is it that gives a poet a sense of belonging to her practice of poetry? And more basically, what is it that obligates a poet to think? 

A confrontation with the incomprehensible can indeed make one think, or create sense.  If we can acknowledge that thinking is never separate from feeling, which per Whitehead is the basis for all experience, than the use of the word “sense” or the process of making sense is inherent to thinking.

Here are two short bits from “Beauty Lies in the Eye” by Steve Shaviro that relate to the difference between the beautiful and the sublime:

29. As McMahon puts it, "the beautiful obliges us to think (its singularity poses a problem), without there being any concept for thought to settle on."

23. Kant also expresses this paradox as follows. The Beautiful leads to aesthetic Ideas, intuitions for which there are no adequate concepts. Whereas the Sublime leads to rational Ideas, concepts for which there are no adequate intuitions.

So it is the singularity recorded through the poet that can make us think.  Kelly’s homepage suggests that this singularity is essential to a poetic practice.  That is, poetry must include intuitions for which there is no adequate concept. 

One could easily write a book about how (so-called, often for good reasons) innovative poetry has had healthy doses of this beautiful singularity disorder.  And how, obversely mainstream or popular [double sic] poetics have been dominated by poets who are more likely to believe in their own intelligence.

I should leave this alone, but I’ll throw in one more proposition that I need to work through that is consonant with Kelly’s text, for which I am very grateful.

The proposition is that a poem is a record of the decisions that happen to a poet.  This only makes sense if you understand “decision” in the way that Whitehead uses it, where decisions are what happen to us and various other biological organisms.  Decisions make cognition possible, not the other way around.  “We don’t make decisions because we are free and responsible; rather we are free and responsible because – and precisely to the extent that – we make decisions.”  [Shaviro, Without Criteria, page 94]

p.s. Apologies for the image and the headline, which may be in bad taste: a pathetic leap from the idea of “home page” to the German word.  It did occur to me that the rap artist R Kelly uses the word “spit” more frequently than the Bard professor, who quite possibly was an early influence on the Beasty Boys.  In fact, it’s me that needs some sort of Heimlich maneuver to get myself to post more frequently on this blog.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Charles Bernstein, Sophist

Cross posted from Matt Brigg's Seattle Local Reading Blog.  The Bernstein reading at the Henry Art Gallery is Thursday at 7p.  Free admission.
Nothing can contain the empty stare that ricochets
haphazardly against any purpose.

Both comedic and political, Charles Bernstein’s work embraces a slapstick economy of words that questions the very things writers hold most dear. I’ve always thought that the title of his book The Sophist effectively names the provocative place in which he finds himself. Like the sophists, he is an educator who hopes to address all citizens, not just those citizens of the so-called poetry world. Like the sophists, it’s speaking and thinking well that matters. There is no universal (or consistent) truth in his poetics. Of course this sort of position opens him to endless attacks.

Charlie Altieri, who lived in Seattle for a long time teaching at UW, once referred to Bernstein’s work as an “errant singularity.” While that might sound like a beautiful compliment, Altieri meant that Bernstein’s poetry would prove to be unteachable, and thus was limited.

A true performer, Bernstein wants to implode stodgy ideals by providing an experience to the listener/reader that will cause her to think. He quite often succeeds. Even those whom (quaintly) want to expel him from the city will find themselves provoked.

Bernstein is really an ambassador for poetry, as well as a prolific poet and scholar. He’s been instrumental in the creation of the electronic poetry archive and pennsound. He tirelessly works to generate enthusiasm for what poetry can become.

Don’t miss him. This is the first time he's been here since an appearance at Bumbershoot something like 15 years ago.