August 30, 2006

One Year and a Day

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I have now been doing this blog for one year and a day. In the beginning I posted quite contentiously every Monday. However, more recently I have posted only occasionally and quite often not at all. What started as a fun idea has slowly graduated into a confusing chore. More precisely, I have become quite self-conscious about the relative merits of any given post. On several occasions it has been brought to my attention that the general tone of my postings is consderably bleak. Of course, I already knew my writing was bleak but there is something very specific about the process of a blog – the assumption of a diaristic/autobiographical tone, the near-instantaneous distribution into the void, the readership of friends and acquaintances who perhaps read into these musings aspects simply never (or only barely) intended – that makes me aware of this bleakness in a different light. There is a rather famous art work by John Baldessari where he wrote “I will make no more boring art” on a chalk board over and over again, like a student kept late after class, and I suspect I should undergo a similar exercise with the phrase “I will make no more depressing art.” It is this fear of posting something too bleak and dispiriting that most often keeps me from posting: a strangely specific form of self-censorship. (If E.M. Cioran had done the same he might have written nothing.)

In the current issue of Artforum, in an article about the queer collective LTTR written by Julia Bryan-Wilson, the following passage caught my attention: “Lauren Berlant, a professor at the University of Chicago, has recently proposed that negativity and depression could be politically necessary responses to the disenfranchised character of our contemporary age. Yet during an era of real despair, a time marked by hatred of all types of difference, we also need these localized moments of pleasure and unsecured possibility, moments motored not only by passion but also a willingness to fail.” It is the first part of the quote that I originally focused on, that “negativity and depression could be politically necessary responses to the disenfranchised character of our contemporary age.” And yes, as the post-Sept 11th debacle – the ever-sharpening acuity of the proto-fascist, globalized now – continues to increase, my ability to look on the bright side of things (never my strongest suit to begin with) continues to apathetically drain away into not even the image of embers. Yet as I copied this quotation into my blue notebook the second part also seemed strangely relevant, that: “we need […] moments of pleasure and unsecured possibility, moments motored not only by passion but also a willingness to fail.” Passion and a willingness to fail, the connection between them at first seemingly slight but with further consideration it grows stronger. To enter into an endeavor in which success seems likely or guaranteed requires no passion. Only under threat of failure, only under the strictures of such risk, is ones passion required to push through the limitations and break through the fear.


[P.S. For the next year, as a small challenge to myself, I will attempt to post one passionate, engaged, non-depressing text on the first Monday of every month. This proposed year of anti-depressing texts will begin on Monday October 2nd.]



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August 14, 2006

Appetite and fear are inextricably connected...

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Appetite and fear are inextricably connected; and all creatures are endangered by the fundamental project of meeting their needs. But the human creature meets his needs, in both senses; unlike every other animal. He must meet his needs in order to survive, and over time, he will have to become acquainted, too, with what he will learn to call his needs. And what he will meet, unlike any other animal, is the exorbitance, the hubris of his appetites. Indeed the stories he will be told about his appetite – explicitly in words, and implicitly in the way his appetite is responded to by other people – is that it is, at least potentially, way in excess of any object’s capacity to satisfy. He will be told, in short, that he is by nature greedy. He will discover, whether or not this is quite his experience, that he apparently always wants more than he can have; that his appetite, the lifeline that is his nature, that is at once so intimate and so obscure to him, can in the end drive him mad. He may be sane, but his appetite is not. This is what it is to be a human being; to be, at least at the outset, too demanding.

Satisfactions are of course possible but disappointment and disillusionment are unavoidable. At best one can develop a bearable sense of one’s limitations; at worst one is driven mad. Given one’s appetite – given the ways we have inherited of describing it – one becomes realistic, or one lives in the no man’s land of the tantrum and the grudge. To talk about appetite, in other words, is to talk about whatever it is that we have to complain about.

– Adam Phillips, Going Sane, p 101-102



All the new thinking, like all the old thinking, agrees that there is something catastrophic about being a person. The catastrophe is located in various places; in our being born at all, in our being condemned to death; in our vulnerability as organisms, or in our cruel injustices as political animals; in the scarcity of our natural resources, or in our greedy depredation of them; in our Fall, or in our hubris. But all these catastrophes, one way or another, are linked to our appetites, as creatures who want, and who are driven by, what is at once necessary and missing from our lives. Our wants may be ‘constructed’ – given form by the language available in the culture – but that we want is not in doubt. It is whether our wanting has catastrophe built into it - whether our wanting is such that ruinous frustration or ruinous aggression is inevitable; or is indeed a necessity to keep wanting on the go – or whether our wanting is made unbearable only by the ways in which it is responded to, that is now in question. The language of sanity and madness provides a vocabulary for asking and answering questions about appetite.

– Adam Phillips, Going Sane, p 120-121



The sane adult is protective – and not only of children, but of himself and others – in a way that avoids covertly undermining the strengths of those who are apparently in need of protection (‘The friends of the born nurse / Are always getting worse,’ as W.H. Auden wrote). The sane adult assumes that it is possible for people to get pleasure from who they happen to be, and that part of this pleasure is bound up with versions of self-reliance that are not merely a more or less bitter denial of a need for other people. The two most dispiriting forms of modern relationship are the protection racket and the sadomasochistic contract in which, respectively, one person’s strength depends on the other person’s weakness, or one person’s pleasure depends upon the other person’s suffering. The sane person’s project is to find more appealing ways of being weak and strong; or to find alternative pleasures to the pleasures of power and of helplessness. The way most people are prone to see what they call human nature now makes even the thought of alternative forms of pleasure and excitement sound hopelessly naïve. It would be part of the sane person’s sanity to want new forms of pleasure in which neither one’s kindness nor one’s excitement are overly compromised (one emblem of this might be those gay men who experiment in coming without getting an erection). The sane person knows that being able to only be a nice person is the death of sexual excitement; and that being able to only be nasty is too isolating.

– Adam Phillips, Going Sane, p 234-235



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August 2, 2006

From such frustrations...

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From such frustrations no clear thought will come. Step back, a few steps or a few miles, start slowly, gradually discover the slight, frail moments in which it is possible to pretend it is once again possible to glimpse a few precise aspects as if for the first time. Over time resentments build, one can no longer tell the thing from its distortions. And what's more, the thing slowly becomes the distortions, envelops and integrates them: one big, tangled up, fused together mess. Do not, at first, attempt to untangle. Step back, wait, perhaps over time the taste of a pattern might emerge. And patterns, even imagined ones, so often lend clarity. Step back.



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July 25, 2006

Note From The Recent Past

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[Lisbon, July 8 2006]

"Those who have never experienced the pleasure of betrayal do not know what true pleasure is." - Jean Genet

In the most beautiful city in the world I experienced the strangest emptiness. It was normal and familliar, but so deeply and consistantly unnerving I was almost on the verge of tears. I felt like a smashed bottle someone was trying to tape back together again. And I also felt like the tape.



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June 13, 2006

We never tried to force it.

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We never tried to force it.

We understood that time was the remedy for our dilemmas, time and thought, not ingenuity or revelation.

We didn’t know what we wanted. But we knew we must remain criminal.

Our cynicism was always mixed with an almost equal dose of naiveté.



[Paris, 2006]



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June 3, 2006

My philosophy is fundamentally sad, but I’m not a sad man...

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My philosophy is fundamentally sad, but I’m not a sad man, and I don’t believe I sadden anyone else. In other words, the fact that I don’t put my philosophy into practice saves me from its evil spell, or, rather, my faith in the human race is stronger then my intellectual analysis of it; there lies the fountain of youth in which my heart is continually bathing.

– Juan de Mairena as written by Machado



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May 5, 2006

And what did it mean...

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And what did it mean that we felt no true sense of direction, that we were aimless, paralyzed, confused and at the end of the day could not really say why. That we were not criminals of action but only criminals of thought. That we hungered for something new but when we saw something new felt sure it was only the same old thing we’d seen so many times before. That in the morning we waited for evening and in the evening we waited for night. That travel sounded good but staying home sounded even better. That books were written, and re-written, and re-written again, but it was so very difficult to find anyone to actually read them. That the war most certainly continued though it was often no longer possible to read about it in the papers. What did it mean that a crime could be committed and no one could care less. Or that we would pretend to care but essentially fool no one. Profit is difficult to maintain. Sensationalism still works whether or not one can easily see through it. A vague sense of menace hangs stilted in the air. The world we wanted was a world only able to change so much.


[Berlin, 2006]



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April 9, 2006

As is generally known, the figure of the art critic...

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As is generally known, the figure of the art critic emerges at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, alongside the gradual rise of a broad, democratic public. At that time, he was certainly not regarded as a representative of the art world but strictly as an outside observer whose function was to judge and criticize works of art in the name of the public exactly as would any other well-educated observer with the time and literary facility: good taste was seen as the expression of an aesthetic “common sense.” The art critic’s judgement should be incorruptible, i.e. bear no obligation to the artist. For a critic to give up his distance meant being corrupted by the art world and neglecting his professional responsibilities: this demand for disinterested art criticism in the name of the public sphere is the assertion of Kant’s third critique, the first aesthetic treatise of modernity.

The judicial ideal, however, was betrayed by the art criticism of the historical avant-garde. The art of the avant-garde consciously withdrew itself from the judgement of the public. It did not address the public as it was but instead spoke to a new humanity as it should – or at least could – be. The art of the avant-garde presupposed a different, new humanity for its reception – one that would be able to grasp the hidden meaning of pure colour and form (Kandinsky), to subject its imagination and even its daily life to the strict laws of geometry (Malevich, Mondrian, the Constructivists, Bauhaus), to recognize a urinal as a work of art (Duchamp). The avant-garde thus introduced a rupture in society not reducible to any previously existing social differences.

The new, artificial difference is the true artwork of the avant-garde. Now it is not the observer who judges the artwork, but the artwork that judges – and often condemns – it’s public. This strategy has often been called elitist, but it suggests an elite equally open to anyone in so far as it excludes everyone to the same degree. To be chosen doesn’t automatically mean dominance, even mastery. Every individual is free to place himself, against the rest of the public, on the side of the artwork – to number himself among those constituting the new humanity. Several art critics of the historical avant-garde did just that. In place of the critic in the name of society arose social critique in the name of art: the artwork doesn’t form the object of judgement but is instead taken as the point of departure for a critique aimed at society and the world.

The art critic of today inherited the older public office along with the avant-garde betrayal of this office. The paradoxical task of judging art in the name of the public while criticizing society in the name of art opens a deep rift within the discourse of contemporary criticism. And one can read today’s discourse as an attempt to bridge, or at least conceal, this divide. For example, there is the critic’s demand that art thematize existing social differences and position itself against the illusion of cultural homogeneity. That certainly sounds very avant-garde, but what one forgets is that the avant-garde didn’t thematize already-existing differences but introduced previously nonexistent ones. The public was equally bewildered in the face of Malevich’s Suprematism or that of Duchamp’s Dadaism, and it is this generalized nonunderstanding – bewilderment regardless of class, race, or gender – that is actually the democratic moment of the various avant-garde projects.

– Boris Groys



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April 2, 2006

I am currently reading Secret Publicity by Netherlands art critic Sven Lutticken...

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I am currently reading Secret Publicity by Netherlands art critic Sven Lutticken. There are many relevant quotes but here are one or two from his essay on performance:

"The conclusion from this can only be that performance art has never been a real threat to the spectacle: its integration into spectacle as media performance comes as no surprise. Yet if performance artists were to radicalize the anti-production tradition, if they were to really roll up their sleeves and take the fight against reproduction seriously - couldn't this result in a form of performance that was incompatible with capitalism? This line of reasoning rests on the assumption that 'the media' are virtually identical with advanced capitalism. Yet following Guy Debord, one can argue that the spectacular character of the capitalist economy is not primarily located in media like film, photography and video, but in commodity fetishism: commodities seem to maintain whimsical 'social' relations due to their exchange value. In the process the commodities become images, hieroglyphic representations of the relations in human society. This primary spectacle of commodities-become-images is thus the prevailing social condition, which is reflected in 'the media' in the form of a secondary spectacle of images-become-commodities, which reinforces the primary spectacle. To get rid of the society of the spectacle, it is hence not enough to get rid of 'the media'; the whole of society must be revolutionized."

[...]

"In recent years it has become more and more obvious that the spectacle has taken a 'performative turn'. Typical of the neo-liberal performance culture is the TV programme in which a mediagenic entrepreneur like Donald Trump selects a new appointee from candidates who must perform themselves in a way that will win them a highly-paid job. The spectacle of the Situationists, which involved a distinction between a dreamlike theatre of commodities and the passive consumer, has been succeeded by a participatory, performative spectacle. Thus we have entered a phase that the Situationists themselves failed to forsee: in spite of the fact that commodities need not be objects, immaterial commodities such as services were somewhat neglected by Marxist theory, including that of SI, and the transformation of anonymous services into personalized performances is a development that was not seen or forseen by the Situationists.

The primary immaterial commodity in Marxist theory was labour power: a statistical average of the amount of labour needed to produce a certain industrial commodity, which is responsible for the exchange value of goods (contrary to the fetishist illusion that they obtain value through mutual relations). In principle, this theory of labour power can also be applied to many services that do not depend on a performer. Services too are commoodities in which labour has been invested, and in most cases the worker will be paid a wage that represents an abstraction - the amount of labour normally needed to do the job. Today, however, it seems increasingly difficult to base the value of goods on this statistical average - plus the surplus value, which the employer pockets. In the contemporary economy, value has spun completely out of control. A trendy cup of coffee may cost a small fortune because it represents an 'experience', a top manager can take home an absurdly inflated bonus because he is a unique performer: he sells a habitus with capabilities and personal qualities that are supposedly unique. The value of such performers and their performances can no longer be measured in abstract labour power. If object-commodities become images in classical spectacle, in the performative spectacle the service too turns into an image. Of course, this does not mean that the other, anonymous service jobs no longer exist, but increasingly the performative colonizes labour: even in jobs where wages are standardized (and low), the worker is expected to put his or her unique charms and qualities into the job if he or she wants to keep it. As anonymous services become performances, even abstract labour power has to be enacted in a personalized way by individual performers. This turns not only performance into a commodity, but ultimately the performer as well."

[...]

"The loose way in which contemporary critics and theorists use the notion of the performative owes much of its charm to the magical, animistic suggestion it imparts. In a culture of the performative imperative, the notion of performativity (or at least its sound-bite version) suggests a world that is infinitely malleable. If everything is performative, everything is open to influence and transformation. Performative language becomes the thinking person's magic: if contemporary society often seems to correspond to the grim picture Adorno painted of modernity as irrational and constraining as the most primitive stages of civilization, the performative alleviates this by reenacting the over-estimation of the mind's power which authors such as Tylor, Frazer and Freud considered to be typical for the earliest stages of civilization: magic as an oneric attempt at controlling a hostile environment. The transformation of the performative into magic is signalled by the refusal to investigate the conditions under which an action or speech act may be truly performative; it is nicer to dream of being a heroic performer like Beuys, than to acknowledge that one is an actor is someone else's spectacle. The first step towards preventing the further degeneration of performativity discourse into sham progressiveness is to acknowledge the conditions of the performative spectacle, which also means acknowledging that Tino Sehgal is not that radically different from Matthew Barney, or Donald Trump."



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March 26, 2006

I feel that man should not have thrown himself into this amazing adventure that is history...

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"I feel that man should not have thrown himself into this amazing adventure that is history. Everything that he does turns against him because he wasn’t made to do something, he was made solely to look and to live as the animals and the trees do."

– E.M. Cioran


"I fear the animals regard man as a creature of their own kind which has in a highly dangerous fashion lost its healthy animal reason – as the mad animal, as the laughing animal, as the weeping animal, as the unhappy animal."

– Friedrich Nietzsche



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March 20, 2006

Every impulse of renovation, at the very moment when it approaches its goal...

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"Every impulse of renovation, at the very moment when it approaches its goal, when it realizes itself through the State, creeps towards the automatism of the old institutions and assumes the face of tradition. As it defines and confirms itself, it loses energy, and this is also true of ideas: the more formulated and explicit they are, the more their efficacy diminishes. A distinct idea is an idea without a future. Beyond their virtual status, thought and action degrade and annul themselves: one ends up as system, the other as power: two forms of sterility and failure. Though we can endlessly debate the destiny of revolutions, political or otherwise, a single feature is common to them all, a single certainty: the disappointment they generate in all who have believed in them with some fervor."

– E.M. Cioran



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March 5, 2006

Nicholas Mosley quote

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"I think I must always have had the feeling (as apart from conscious idea) that words were things that, if one was to do anything worth-while with them, would be very difficult. I suppose one of the key things here might be that I stammered – when young, stammered badly – I often forget about this now, because although I still stammer a bit it's almost completely stopped worrying me. But it was hell as a child: and I suppose it put me into an odd relationship with words. They could not just be trotted out, that is: they had to be worked on. But more than this – Deep in a stammerer's psyche I think there is an unconscious outrage at the way that people use words – at the way that one is expected to use words – there is a pretence that one is using them for communication, whereas in fact people are protecting themselves, attacking others, etc., etc.; and they will not admit this. And the stammerer feels something of this (however unconscious) and in himself goes into confusion."

– Nicholas Mosley



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February 26, 2006

Murau's Tabu

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A few hours ago I got back from the Goethe Institute where I watched the silent film Tabu by FW Murau with live piano accompaniment. I went to the screening alone, thinking that perhaps a short break from working on this screenplay might help me re-focus. But then I ran into a few old friends at the screening who invited me out for dinner afterwards. I politely declined, saying I had to rush home and get back to work on the screenplay, and now I'm home and staring at the computer screen, not really making any progress, wishing I had gone for dinner before re-entering this struggle between my artistic temperament and my desire to have more discipline.

Tabu is such a beautiful film, so simple and cruel and sad. I'd sort of like to read a 'post-colonial studies' critique of it's racial politics but I will not procrastinate working on the screenplay further by searching the internet for just such a document. There's a moment near the end of Tabu where the male lead is swimming and swimming, trying to catch up with his lover who is being taken away by boat to be sacrificed to the gods, and he finally catches up with the boat and grabs the rope and the villain (not really the villain, more the village elder) calmly cuts the rope without even so much as looking down at it and the male lead keeps swimming but he can't catch up to the boat a second time and soon he gets tired and drowns. Murau is so good at those utterly precise images of otherworldly cruelty.

Working on this screenplay, full of witty dialog and more dialog, is such a stark contrast with the poetic silence of Tabu. Limitations really do add something.



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February 20, 2006

Some comedians

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Some comedians are actually funny while others are not. Would it be correct to say the comedians who are not funny are actually not comedians? It would not be correct. Both the funny and unfunny comedians still fall within the larger category of comedian.

Let us then take the hypothetical situation of a comedian who was trying not to be funny. Could such a comedian still be said to be a comedian?

[Unfinished]



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February 12, 2006

On Double Consciousness

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Simply giving people ‘the information’ will not suffice, for it is a central characteristic of the modern world that we are able to live in a state of highly advanced ‘double consciousness.’ For example, you know driving a car contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer but, for a whole variety of reasons (convenience, status, because everyone else does it and therefore it seems normal, etc.) you continue to drive regardless. Some degree of such double consciousness is an absolute necessity if one is to survive in the contemporary world, undermining it completely is simply not an option. However, how do we open up a dialogue with this mental reality, can discussing it forthrightly be one way of re-opening questions which currently seem closed?



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February 6, 2006

Ideologues Want It Desperately

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Fucking right wing scuzzballs simply want it more badly then the rest of us, aren’t plagued by the same doubts, the same suspicions of power, don’t anticipate the desperate hangover backlash that inevitably follows each new success, believe in their ends absolutely (perhaps only as an overcompensation for a neurotic insecurity which is equally absolute) and, this being the case, will continuously find ways of gaining power at all costs.

Here on the other side we’re all just a little bit nervous, not sure which next move is most likely to give the desired result and which next move is most likely to just completely fucking backfire. This puts us at a clear disadvantage. And just like the classic T-shirts: ‘Drummers Do It With Rhythm’, ‘Truckers Do It While… (I don’t know… while driving trucks I suppose.)’, ‘Environmentalists Do It Without Polluting’; future Salvation Army T-shirt racks will feature faded ‘Ideogolues Want It Desperately’ logos but (and this is only a fear) I suspect the scuzzballs will sadly not fade away as well.



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