January 28, 2011

I settled my bill rather than become the first against the wall.

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A very strange mention of my book on the Business News Network Blog:


True story. I dropped the daughter off at dance class last night and, at my wife’s suggestion, set out for a “nice little wine bar just north of the school” she had enjoyed once with a famous classical pianist friend some years ago (that’s right, I said pianist). I knew I had the right place when the fedora-wearing guy next to me dropped a well-thumbed copy of Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia on the bar. Latin-inspired jazz played quietly and the barmaid told my drinking companion about a terrific novel she was reading about two people who were falling in love as they attended meetings to discuss the death of the “left.” I would have asked her the title but would have been revealed as an eavesdropper. Another man entered, ordered a beer and sat down in a care-worn chair, back to the wall, flipped open the New Yorker and appeared to focus on an article, not the cartoons. A woman with a beret walked in and was greeted by one and all. She ordered a glass of red wine. The air was bristling with intent. Thankfully I had changed out of my suit earlier and into a plaid flannel shirt. I recalled that this was Andy Bell’s neighbourhood, but the thought gave me no comfort at all. I was about to order another when I noticed the older gentleman on my left was reading something called Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed. I settled my bill rather than become the first against the wall. “Unrest Spreading” hollers the Wall Street Journal this morning. You got that right. Cairo today, Cabbagetown tomorrow. You heard it here first.

- Martin Cej



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January 24, 2011

Wood...

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Wood is the fire that has not yet learned to burn.



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January 23, 2011

...

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The baby says to the demon I am receiving telepathy from the fire, the fire is telling me that it is not just wood that has been chopped and burned, it is the future of the wood that does not yet know how to burn.



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...

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The secret lives of rapacious assholes.



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January 20, 2011

The forms of modern art are due solely to this self-imposed ascetic creation of taboos, restrictions and reductions.

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Modern art is often characterized as a series of broken taboos, as a constant expansion of the possibility of making art. In fact, the situation is precisely the reverse. New taboos and new reductions were constantly being introduced in modern art. For no obvious reason, artists imposed on themselves the obligation to use only abstract geometric figures, or only ready-mades, or only words. The forms of modern art are due solely to this self-imposed ascetic creation of taboos, restrictions and reductions. This example demonstrates that newness arises not from expansion but rather from reduction, from a new mode of asceticism.

- Boris Groys, The Communist Postscript



(At first I found this convincing, but upon further reflection I think the phrase “for no obvious reason” is simply incorrect. Artists imposed such restrictions on themselves because the alternatives – figuration, landscape, sculpting stone, etc. – felt painfully old-fashioned, out-of-date. And to be old-fashioned was the road to mediocrity and artistic death.)



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January 15, 2011

The sales potential of this critique is therefore potentially infinite.

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As it currently functions in the West, critical discourse thus proves to be astonishingly homogeneous. It is always the same things being criticized with the same arguments. The only difference consists in that the right tends to apply this critique to the non-West (communism and now Islam are principally criticized as ideologies that oppress the body and sexuality), while the left conversely practices this same critique as a self-critique of the West – and, from the middle, the same critique is applied in both directions, as a fair-minded ‘both… and also…’, albeit in moderated form.

The astounding and historically unparalleled homogeneity of Western critical discourse, which never changes its components but merely alters its direction now and then, certainly cannot be explained solely by the ideological pressure imposed on the Western public sphere during the Cold War period. Instead, this homogeneity can be attributed principally to the fact that critical discourse in the West circulates primarily as a commodity on the media market. It is a standardized and sophistical mode of speech available for employment by any political strategy whatsoever. After all, where is the body not suppressed? Where are people not traumatized? Where is the subject who is not seized by contradictory desires? Where is the human not threatened by the machine? The answer is that this is the case everywhere. The sales potential of this critique is therefore potentially infinite.

- Boris Groys, The Communist Postscript



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January 14, 2011

The history of philosophy can be represented as a collection of iconic paradoxes.

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Throughout its entire history philosophy has constantly tried to discover or invent new paradoxes in order to gain the upper hand over one-sided scientific discourse. The history of philosophy can be represented as a collection of iconic paradoxes, in which each radiates its own evidence without contradicting each other. That is why the so-called theories of philosophy can coexist peacefully – so-called because they are not in fact theories at all – whereas scientific theories are in competition with one another. The will to paradox already played a decisive role when Descartes provided Western philosophy with a new foundation: thinking subjectivity was understood by Descartes to be the location and medium of doubt. With regard to self-contradictory opinions with which the listening or reading philosopher is constantly confronted, the Cartesian epoché means nothing other than the decision to live in paradox, to endure paradox, for the decision to suspend all opinions is logically just as paradoxical as the decision to affirm or to reject all opinions. The effulgence of evidence emanating from this paradox alone makes Descartes’ apparently coherent and methodologically correct expositions plausible – for on closer examination, the formal-logical evidence being presented is quite problematic. The evidence of the Cartesian method is borrowed evidence, borrowed from the paradox that this method takes as its point of departure.

- Boris Groys, The Communist Postscript



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January 11, 2011

A compromise is a paradox that is paid not to reveal itself to be a paradox.

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Sophistical speech appears to be coherent only because it is one-sided, because it is cut off from the whole, and because it obscures its paradoxical relationship to the whole of language. The sophist continues to deliver his plea for a particular position even though he knows there is much to be said at the same time for the opposing position. In endeavouring to lend his utterance coherence and consistency, the sophist employs in his speech only those arguments that strengthen the position he represents, passing over all possible opposing arguments in silence. The sophist thereby replaces the whole of language with the whole of capital. The most important rule of formal logic, which all coherently constructed speech professes to follow, is terium non datur. This terium, however, which is excluded from coherently organized language, becomes money – and, as the obscure core of language, begins to rule over it both externally and internally, transforming it into a commodity. The conflict of positions, each of which represents a distinct, private, one-sided and particular interest in a coherent and consistent manner, leads ultimately to compromise. Compromise is indispensable in such arguments because it alone can bring peace between the conflicting parties, and thus preserve the unity of the whole society. Compromise simultaneously accepts and endorses two opposing assertions. A and not-A, and in consequence its form is actually that of a paradox. But in contrast to the paradox, compromise is formulated in the medium of money, not in the medium of language. In other words, compromise involves financially compensating both the advocates of A and the advocates of not-A for accepting the truth of the opposing position. The sophists, who have argued in favour of both sides, receive financial compensation in just this way. It could be said, therefore, that when paradox is replaced by compromise, power over the whole passes from language to money. A compromise is a paradox that is paid not to reveal itself to be a paradox.

- Boris Groys, The Communist Postscript



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January 9, 2011

A paradox that conceals its paradoxical nature becomes a commodity.

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Whenever Socrates diagnoses an internal contradiction in a speaker, he immediately disqualifies that speech a non-evident, exposing the speaker as unfit for the just exercise of state power. Socrates’ questions break through the smooth, glittering surfaces of sophistical speech and uncover its contradictory, paradoxical core. It emerges that such speech only superficially appears to be well-knit and coherent. In its internal logical structure, however, it is obscure and dark because it is paradoxical. Hence, such speech cannot serve as a manifestation of clear and evident thinking but is good only as a commodity in the marketplace of ideas. The principle reproach directed against the sophists is that they compose their speeches solely for the sake of payment. This allows for an initial definition to be given for the functioning of paradox: a paradox that conceals its paradoxical nature becomes a commodity.

- Boris Groys, The Communist Postscript



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January 7, 2011

From The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons

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About Fr. Rolfe's lost novel Don Renato, or An Ideal Content, A.J.A. Symons writes:

No writer ever set himself a more difficult task. He, or rather Dom Gheraldo in his entries, tells a story: he reveals by slow and feline touches the character of the priest from within; and at the same time he attempts to give an English equivalent for the verbal mix-up of the pretended original. And in all this he succeeds, though in retaining Dom Gheraldo's macaronics he almost makes the book unreadable. Fortunately, he provides a glossary, so that it is possible to understand, without a headache, the exact meaning that he meant to extract from such constructions or compounds or rarities as argute, deaurate, investite, lucktifick, excandescence, galbanate, lecertose, insulsity, hestern, macilent, effrenate, dicaculous, pavonine, and torose. Even so, Don Renato is not a book to read at a sitting, but rather one to be dipped into at odd hours when the mind can be stimulated by puzzles in verbal ingenuity.


About his own life, writing back to a friend who accuses him of selfishness, Fr. Rolfe writes:

Selfish? Yes, selfish. The selfishness of a square peg in a round hole.






More about The Quest for Corvo here.



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January 3, 2011

It goes without saying that plot-oriented prose still exists and will continue to exist, but it has been consigned to the attic.

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I speak in a voice grown horse from silence and feuilletons. I’ll begin with a piece that has been lying around for a long time.

The way you assemble a film by attaching to the beginning either a piece of exposed negative or a strip from another film.

I am attaching a piece of theoretical work. The way a soldier crossing a stream holds his rifle high.

It will be completely dry. Dry as a cough.

During the eighteenth century, and at the beginning of the nineteenth, to tell an anecdote meant to relate an interesting fact about something.

For instance, to relate that the Krupp factory is currently building a diesel engine with 2,000 horsepower in one cylinder would have been, from the viewpoint of that time, an anecdote. An anecdotal story, from the viewpoint of that time, was also a story consisting of separate facts tenuously connected. There were even such things as philosophical anecdotes.

Wit – the unexpected denouement, for instance – had no place in the anecdote of that time. Now we describe an anecdote as a short novella with a denouement. From our viewpoint, to ask after hearing an anecdote, “But what happened next?” is an absurdity, but then that is the viewpoint of our time.

In the old days, one anecdotal fact was normally followed by another. In the old anecdote, one responded above all to the attractiveness of the fact, to the material, whereas in the modern anecdote we respond mainly to the structure.

This conflict – or, rather, the alternation – of perception from one aspect of a work to another – can be traced easily.

I have no desire to be witty.

I have no desire to construct a plot.

I am going to write about things and thought.

To compile quotations.

The time has changed course once again and the word “anecdote,” once applied to a witty story, will soon be defined in terms of the various facts being printed in the this-and-that columns of the newspapers. Each separate moment of a play is becoming a separate, self-contained entity. Structure is usually missing. When it does creep into a piece of work, it is promptly killed; moreover the crime goes unnoticed by the public. And the crime is pointless: the victim is already dead. The interest in the adventure novel which we are now witnessing does not contradict the thought just expressed. What we have in the adventure novel is a type of “stringing” in which there is no orientation toward the connecting thread.

At the present time, we perceive memoirs as literature; we respond to them as something esthetic.

This is clearly not due to interest in the revolution, because people are avid to read even memoirs having nothing to do with the revolutionary epoch.

It goes without saying that plot-oriented prose still exists and will continue to exist, but it has been consigned to the attic.

- Viktor Shklovsky, Third Factory, 1926



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