Monday, January 28, 2008

The Blue Meanies Take Paris

James H. Johnson argues that the revolutionary politics of the Terror fostered a musical style that was conservative and reactionary. Here he talks about polyphony:

[T]he cultural climate of Jacobinism worked against polyphony, for polyphony implied a divided social body. Dramatically, it signified protagonists at cross purposes; experientially, it made transparency between stage and spectator difficult; and musically, it promoted dangerously personal experience. In short, polyphony was the musical equivalent of dissent.

(Listening in Paris, pp. 152-154)

Perhaps the relation between personal experience and music seems obvious, but I will probe it just a bit. How would polyphony in particular promote a personal experience of music? Is it actually animus towards the personal that drives the suppression of polyphony? The political forces that would stomp out plurality would also stomp out personal liberty and in extreme though not genuinely rare cases they would stomp out music as well. Should we let the people who would stomp out music tell us what music means, or even provide the vaguest outline of what constitutes a musical experience?

The suppression of music ranks among the most vicious forms of the challenge to pluralism for which there is no easy rejoinder, no unambiguous defense. The champion of liberty must concede that one is free to hate music, to express one's hatred of music and to persuade others to hate music even while denying that one is a person, or, more commonly, that a human being must be thought of as an entity endowed with personal liberty. I sense there is more at stake in the suppression of music than any particular variety of political liberty, though I am not quite imagining a musical experience absent a political liberty.

Do I have to be precisely at liberty to even think that there must be something more than liberty? That is, is it liberty that affords me something more than itself?

Liberty without music is worthless to me. I can even say that music is liberating. Music gives liberty as much as it is born in liberty and for this reason liberty appears to me to be polymorphous. There are as many forms of liberty as there are forms. (I might be sliding away from a view that liberties exist as such.) In addition there are transformative liberties, metamorphoses, monstruations and kaleidiations of liberty.

Is personal experience the domain of the transformative par excellence? (I don't know that this is true, but I will not fear to think it.)

In all likelihood personal experience doesn't need to be promoted. Johsnon has shown that the dominant aesthetic during the reign of the Jacobins heard music as something that promoted feelings, or, perhaps, elicited feelings. I imagine a danger arising from a diffuse feeling that the feeling touches the personal, but maybe that would have been beside the point. The transition from the elicited to the illicit may have to do with an atmospheric hostility towards feelings; on the other hand the stomping out of feelings may be an unintended casualty of an aggression against free representations of liberty–I'd even say relatively free representations of liberty, because unlike Nancy I don't know what absolute freedom would mean in this context. I don't know that feelings elicited by music, created or sounded by music, are themselves absolute feelings or have any contact with an absolute freedom or a domain of the absolutely personal. At the same time, I don't deny the existence of the feeling or the personal or the free. Perhaps the Jacobins correctly surmised the polymorphousness of liberty, and, given a certain dogma about representation, the injuction (the enjoinment, which would be at the same time a disjunction) against polyphony took shape as if by necessity. And the most dangerous liberty of all would be the transformative.

Questions for a later date: is the formless transformative? Is the transformative necessarily formless or of the formless?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:45 AM. 4 comments

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


The country is the corner of earth that one is attached to, by which one is held;as a son or daughter of the earth–which we all are–one can only be from one corner or another; one cannot be from the entire earth

–Jean-Luc Nancy, "Uncanny Representation," in The Ground of the Image, p. 53

The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.

–Michel Foucault, Of Other Spaces

Je veux, pour composer chastement mes églogues,
Coucher auprès du ciel, comme les astrologues

–Charles Baudelaire, Paysage

Eclogue is a word in English but ecologue is not yet a word, though I am sure you will know what the latter means. Could it be something bucolic?!? Well, it's difficult to avoid romanticizing the traveller (I'm mindful of qualms about travels), the exile, the wanderer, the pirate. Piracy! But no pirate roves today. Today I'll take the wanderer as my figure, the ribbon of enunciation of the ecologue. The ecologue is the discourse of the son or daughter of Earth who, if not from the entire planet, is not entirely from this or that corner of Earth. The Volkswagen, the Ford, the Dreamliner, the Backpack: All heterotopias. We live in an age of superfluent heterotopias, which proabably says something about the market value of ordinary places, Earth's ordinary corners. I'm wary of nostalgia so I'll tread carefully here.

Paysage resembles passage. I speak an ancient language, a fact which Nancy brings home to me. I can't quite say where my home really is. I've felt estranged from places I once called homes. To say that one inhabits language is misleading unless one can speak of the heterotopology of the itinerary or of the pure roam. (The pure roam follows no paths, though it might come across a path now and then, might ramble along a path the way a path rambles along a stream, for instance. It's akin to the perigrination.) In addition to being ancient, language also has a transmigural quality. (Transmigural or transmigurational aren't quite words, but I'm pretty sure you'll be able to suss out a meaning and maybe see why I said neither transmogrifying nor transmigratory). Language displays a superfluity/superfluency of the mutation, the perversion, the corruption, the away. Why does away get such a bad rap? Does language have anxieties about losing its places? Is it uncomfortable with its heterotopology, its passage through the mouths of the wanderers?

So we return to the ecologue's ribbon of enunciation. Today we will leave the potatoes to their moist revery and uncurl up against the dome and the words we speak will be voluptuous. What corner of Earth is voluptuous? (The away corner–is it only in language that the corner and the away can intersect? What are the corners of the mouth?)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:53 AM. 5 comments

Monday, January 21, 2008


If I talk about chopping garlic, empathy and the ontology of flesh there may well be a subtext. Perhaps this counts as subtext: Kenyans hacked to death with machetes, reports Michelle Faul.

One man staggered past with blood streaming from the stump of his arm, which had been cut off with a machete. The arm was taken by a group of youths and placed on top of a pile of stones barricading an alleyway.

The maimed man, Peter Kyalo, arrived later at Kenyatta Hospital. He said he was warned on Saturday night by Luo friends he might be targeted because he is a Kamba, the same tribe as the vice president, a former presidential candidate who joined Kibaki's government this month.

In a separate incident, around 50 people attacked welder Dominic Owour, a 23-year-old Luo, and tried to cut off both his hands at the forearm, Owour said.

Both men said police watching the attacks did not intervene.

On the NewsHour last week I saw some footage of a man being hacked to death with a machete. He was running down an alleyway, trying to escape his assailant. I felt as if it could of been me running, my flesh hacked open by a machete. Nothing I saw would make me say that the person taking the footage intervened. A skeptical mindset will disbelieve the faintest whiff of nonintervention. Can I talk to you about my nightmares without intervening in some way? Perhaps intervention is the whole point of talking about one's dreams. I don't know. To be honest with you, I can imagine hacking somebody else's flesh with a machete. I can imagine watching such an attack and doing nothing to intervene–in the "comfort" of my living room that may be both the easiest and the hardest thing to imagine. I will tell you that my immediate response upon witnessing a machete attack on television was to empathize with the victim of the attack, and I ask you to accept that as true enough, as something that can be discussed without discussing the interventions that bring it to our attention. Yet since we are talking, perhaps we can talk about interventions.

I wouldn't know how to begin to go about intervening in Kenyan politics. One hopes one's friends are safe. Heads of state issue appeals, as they must. Who can disagree with an appeal for peace? Yet to what avail? The philosophical question to ask may be this: To what does one makes an appeal? A common humanity? A sense of empathy? Perhaps it would be better to ask: To whom does one appeal? A person immersed in whats, no doubt. Well, who wants to live in horror? Who has no guiding sense of empathy? Sometimes I feel as if my whole existence has been an exercise in learning to savor disillusionment.

If I now make an appeal on behalf of all living things, am I telling you my dreams or am I making an intervention? Does the mindset that would regard these as mutually exclusive mislead us? Because I care about you I will never tell you that life is easy, though I may on occasion play with a message–subject it to substitutions, reversals, inversions–to make it easier to digest.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:01 PM. 2 comments

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Empire of Music

On May 29, 1789, professors of the Conservatoire de Musique gave a concert for a pair of Asian elephants, Hanz and Marguerite. The concert was part of a scientific experiment intended to determine whether music stirred the passions of listeners in a natural state.

The experiment was a success. The swift and direct effect of music upon sensitive listeners uncorrupted by the monarchy was confirmed. A rough correlation between particular types of music and specific response could now be made. Most important, the passionate impact of military music, just as the Greeks had chronicled, now seemed indubitable. The central lesson of the experiment was just what Ginguené had said earlier in the decade: music acts most strongly when listeners respond most naturally. The report offered a lofty conclusion: "Such is the empire of music over all beings endowed with life and with sensitivity, that men may make use of it. . .to civilize themselves and regulate their morals."

(James H. Johsnon, Listening in Paris, p. 131)

Johnson touches on without answering the questions "What is music?" and "What is listening?" The latter question suggests how Johnson would go about answering the former. The question "How is collective experience possible?" also arises from his work. These are all good questions. Johnson's work has forced me to acknowledge my own prejudices regarding music, to realize that my thoughts about music are culturally, historically shaped. My prejudices about music are also personally shaped to such an extent that I notice that nobody really shares exactly my views of what music is or what it means.

I spent some time this morning listening to Dr. Chandrakant Sardeshmukh's cd, Celebration. "Happiness Forever: Raga Hemant" is in 16, so it was good to work out to–I do all my exercizes in reps of 16; 32 of these, 48 of those, 64 of the other, 96, 128, 192....–though perhaps not as good for working out as the Ohio Players. My counting was a bit of a distraction. Is this an unnatural way to listen to "Happiness Forever"? Well, is there a natural way to listen to "Happiness Forever"? It was a live recording but the audience was silent until the very end when they all burst into applause. That was nice, I thought. Would I want to call that unnatural? Dr. Sardeshmukh links to the following video clip on Youtube, make of it what you will:

I'll add a thought. Is it the case that there's one activity called "listening" that people pursue in various ways, with varying intensity, with varying degrees of attentiveness; or is "listening" in fact a label for diverse activities that would be given different names were our common language more precise. If one follows the latter path, what must one say about music? Oh, and since I'm at it, what does the phrase "aesthetic imperialism" suggest to you?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 2:36 PM. 3 comments

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Every Movement Unmasks Us

Merleau-Ponty describes Descartes' Cogito ergo sum as the "Open Sesame!" of fundamental thought. Fundamental, Merleau-Ponty says, "because it is not borne by anything, but not fundamental as if with it one reached a foundation upon which one ought to base oneself and stay. As a matter of principle, fundamental thought is bottomless. It is, if you wish, an abyss" (Signs, "Introduction," p. 21). The never stand still of the self corresponds to a never stand still of being. Merleau-Ponty asserts that "the world and Being hold together only in movement; it is only in this way that all things can be together" (p. 22). Should we want all things to be together? Is there an incestuous impulse beneath Merleau-Ponty's chiasma of the flesh, or beneath the discussion of Being in general? What role do boundaries play in Thinking? The role of dramaturge? Does the never stand still have its Open Sesame in stillness, its point zero, as Kojima might suggest it must have; is there a chiasmus of the never stand still?

Let's spend a moment with the idea of the abyss. The abyss, Merleau-Ponty assures us, is not nothing. Here is some context:

Now as before, philosophy begins with a "What is thinking?" and is absorbed in the question to begin with. No instruments or organs here. It is a pure "It seems to me that." He whom all things appear before cannot be hidden from himself. He appears to himself first of all. He is this appearance of self to self. He springs forth from nothing; no thing and no one can stop him from being himself, or help him. He always was, he is everywhere, he is king on his desert island.

But the first truth can only be a half-truth. It opens upon something different. There would be nothing if there were not that abyss of self. But an abyss is not nothing; it has environs and edges. One always thinks of something; about, according to, in the light of something; with regard to, in contact with something. Even the action of thinking is caught up in the push and shove of being. I cannot think of identically the same thing for more than an instant. The opening is in principle immediately filled, as if lived only in a nascent state.

(p. 14)

Thinking takes place in contact–is this a half-truth? What sort of contact? Merleau-Ponty, in an almost Jamesian masculine voice, speaks of the push and shove of being. The masculine persona can only ever be half the story–and not even that. Who will speak for the caress of being? Who will speak for the soft contours of the abyss?

It seems to me that thinking is not an abyss, but is urgently in contact with the abyss. Yet what does thinking know of contact? Who taught it to touch? Has thinking always known contact and only been taught to forget, only learned to remember? Con-tact, the dictionary assures us, is mutual. It is the state or condition of touching, of two bodies touching each other. Can there be contact without boundaries? If I recognize the paper of my copy of Signs as flesh, what boundary is there between this flesh and my flesh? The book is the flesh of whose world?

The urgency of thinking is this: not to be borne but to be in contact with the abyss. I dream I walk on air and every step is a wonder. It is a recurring dream, as I may have mentioned before, yet still every step is a wonder. Merleau-Ponty struggles with repetition as anybody who thinks urgently must, although perhaps he imagines his struggle is with the identical. Can he for an instant think of identically the same thing? For an instant? For an instant? The instant is always at the back of thinking, the opening of the never stand still–Look, you're gliding over the abyss! The instant is not the vertical, though it has its leanings. It will not be repeated.

I receive these words as prophecy:

To make of language a means or a code for thought is to break it. When we do so we prohibit ourselves from understanding the depth to which words sound within us–from understanding that we have a need, a passion, for speaking and must (as soon as we think) speak to ourselves; that words have power to arouse thoughts and implant henceforth inalienable dimensions of thought; and that they put responses on our lips we did not know we were capable of, teaching us, Sartre says, our own thought.

(p. 17)

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posted by Fido the Yak at 11:29 AM. 0 comments

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


A scene from the film Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle:

Kumar: How were Katie Holmes' tits?

Goldstein: You know the Holocaust?

Kumar: Yeah?

Goldstein: Picture the opposite of that!

Kumar: Nice!

This is, if one turns it around as one must, a voyeuristic image of the camps produced by a voyeuristic culture. It might also fairly be called juvenile. If the opposite of juvenile is mature–words like "experienced" and "wise" also spring to mind, perhaps unfairly–what is the opposite of voyeuristic?

Jean-Luc Nancy, the French philosopher, wants us to think of the Shoah as "an ultimate crisis of representation" ("Forbidden Representation," in The Ground of the Image, p. 34). He presents us with a particular understanding of representation (or rather two entwined ways of understanding representation). He notes that, "The re- of the representation is not repetitive but intensive (to be more precise, the intitially iterative value of the prefix re- in Latinate languages is often transformed into an intensive or, as one says, 'frequentive' value)" (p. 35). I'm sure I'll be returning to this idea at a later time. Here I'll just paraphrase Nancy's argument about what representation is not: it is not the repetition of a thing, or the reintroduction of a thing in a context that differs from its original context; it is not recontextualization. He says that it is essentially the "presentation of an open absence within the given itself" (p. 33). He continues:

Representation is not a simulacrum; it is not the replacement of the original thing–in fact, it has nothing to do with a thing. It is the presentation of what does not amount to a presence, given and completed (or given completed), or it is the bringing to presence of an intelligible reality (or form) by the formal mediation of a sensory reality. The two ways of understanding it do not exactly coincide with each other, neither in the divisions they afford nor in their intimate entanglement. Nonetheless, they must be taken together, and the one taken against the other, in order to think the dispute, or the secret, of "representation."

(ibidem, Nancy's emphasis)

Nancy's description of Nazism utilizes some familiar tropes, including the representation of the Aryan body.

The figure of the "Aryan" is the very principle of this [Nazi] vision; it entails nothing less than the presentation of man regenerated as super-man. I propose that we call this regime "super-representation" to emphasize that it is not simply a matter of representing triumphant humanity as a type (as is also the case, in the same era, with Stalinist art). Rather, what is involved here is the (re)presentation of a type that is itself a (re)presentative, not of a function like the hammer and sickle, but of a nature or an essence (the Aryan body). It is in this body that the presence of a self-creating humanity would truly consist (a humanity that is, in this sense, divine, but with no separation of the divine, that is, with no "sanctity"). The Aryan body is an idea identical to a presence, or it is the presence of an idea without remainder: precisely what the West has, for centuries, thought of as the idol. In the terms employed by Hitler, moreover, it is called "idealism": the idealism of the founder of civilization (Kulturbegründer), whose supreme virtue is that he gives himself over to the service of the community upon which he has bestowed "the civilizing spirit." "The Aryan alone can be considered as the representative [Vertreter] of the race of the founders of civilization." "Civilization," here, has no other meaning than the conformity of a world to its representation. The Aryan is the representative of representation, absolutely, and it is in this precise sense that I propose the term "super-representation."

(pp. 38-39, my bold)

Why aren't representation, idolatry, iconograhy or propaganda adequate to describe Nazi imagery? The inadequacy of these terms follows from Nancy's casting of Western civilization. If Western civilization is a representation its excess can only be superrepresentation, and excess is one of the tropes one uses to talk about Nazism, especially if one is a French intellectual writing in the last twenty-five years. (Kristeva showed us an example of this, to give just one name.) But I'm using shorthand, which means I may well end up putting my foot in my mouth. Nancy actually calls the West an event and a configuration. He says it's a "configuration whose history is rushing toward its completion before us, having already undergone the total crisis that beset the order of representation" (p. 35). Is there a question here of a world conforming to its representations? (I'm aware of playing on two senses of "its," and also pointing "its" in different directions, i.e at the West, at its iconography, and at Nancy the iconographer– how many ways are there for a representation to belong to a world?)

Nancy brings a great erudition to the question of how one describes the Nazi camps. I can't match his erudition at this time, nor can I pretend to offer much in the way of a critique. I have qualms, and I will share those with you. I question what erudition accomplishes in this case. I question Nancy's strong stand against allowing for the ineffable (the "idolatorous mysticism of the 'ineffable,'" he says), and I suspect that his writing on the topic has actually scored a point for the other team. Possibly, I wonder, Nancy has misnamed the ineffable as "absence" (or absense). I don't know. There may be something to say here about female nudity in the movies and superrepresentation, but I'm not going to be the one to say it–what I have are qualms, and I'd like to talk about having qualms.

Is the qualm mystical? Is to speak of qualms to reject philosophy? Frequently a person who has qualms will keep her thoughts to herself. My inner voice warns me, Fido, just because you have a qualm doesn't mean you have something to say. Don't upset people for no good reason. Don't upset yourself. I may and probably will upset myself–after all, these are my qualms. Now here I am talking about the qualm itself and my question is, What is the proper attitude to take towards the qualm? Is it good to eliminate qualms? Can they be interrogated without seeking to dispel them, to somehow resolve them as if they were logical contradictions?

There is some uncertainty about the etymology of the word qualm, an ambiguity about the word itself. In one sense, the sense that I initially had in mind, qualm is related to an early modern German word qualm meaning "swoon, faint, half-conscious or unconscious state" (that's according to the OED). The half-conscious intrigues me. My qualms about representions of Nazi Europe's death camps may be only half-conscious, which is not to say that they aren't meaningful or can't be (half-)said. My qualms themselves may be a psychic indication of halving and its remainder. They may themselves be halved. Qualm is probably related to a Danish or Swedish word kvalm meaning "nausea, sickness, or indisposition." Is indisposition like a bad hexis? It's striking that there would be a word that implied feeling intensely an indisposition. The implication is there in a meaning that comes out of the word in later centuries, "pang" or "distress." To be qualmed is to suffer. (Ethically then it would seem that the proper course of action when confronted with a qualm is to do away with it because it causes suffering. More on that in a moment.) There is another, obsolete word qualm that goes back to Old English (and Old High German). The Old English cwealm meant, in part, "torment, pain, injury." The Old Saxon qualm meant death of a violent nature, and the Old High German qualm meant "torment, torture, (rare) downfall, perishing." The obsolete qualm meant violent death or murder. It also meant "general or widespread death or mortality; pestilence, plague," and, in an extended sense "calamity" or "disaster." Qualm appeared in the compounds qualm-stow, a place of execution, and qualm-house, "a house of torture; a prison, esp. one for those condemned to death" (Incidentally, the sequel to Harold and Kumar go to White Castle will be titled Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay).

Sometimes I feel like the world interrogates me. Language interrogates me. How do I feel about the existence of qualm houses? How do I feel about qualms? Blasé? (A word of uncertain etymology, btw.) No, that might imply that at some time in the past I actually found qualms enjoyable. How familiar am I, personally, with qualms? I say I feel them, but my feelings are half-conscious. If you said to me, "Fido, here is your chance to escape your qualms, leave them behind, be free," why on earth wouldn't I follow your lead? I am drawn to my qualms and they to me, half-drawn, half-dead, half-qualms. What is half of a violent death? The other half of a violent death? What is half a binary opposition?

It would be wise to know what saying does. Before even speaking of the ineffable, it would be wise to know what saying is and what it does. I don't even know who is saying this, and surely who is saying must figure into what saying does. I feel there must be something ineffable because I can't say it, whoever I is. Have I said too much to count myself among even the half-wise? Here is the ethical problem: there are worse things than qualms. And philosophy may yet offer worse alternatives to the ineffable.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:00 AM. 0 comments

Friday, January 11, 2008

Against Bodies

The Logic of Sense reads like a polemic against bodies. This is clearly evident in the way Deleuze addresses one of my favorite questions: how is language possible? He asks whether bodies would be able to ground language and he answers, "When sounds fall back on (se rabattent sur) bodies and become the actions and passions of mixed bodies, they are no more than the bearers of agonized nonsense" (p. 134). Bodies are schematically or paradigmatically "down" in Deleuze's thought; the body can only be reached by descent, and depth or the depths can substitute for anything that occurs in the body or between bodies. For language to descend to the body can only mean that violence is done to it; the body has no creative power, but only the power to destroy. The idea that language is an intelligent extension of the body must be rejected by Deleuze. In his view it is the "world of incorporeal effects or surface effects which makes language possible" (p. 166). Bodies and sense, depths and surfaces are mutually exclusive. Mixing only pertains to bodies. To even think that language might have several conditions of possibility is to bring the question of language down to the level of the body where it is splintered, where it can only be noise and passionate nonsense.

So Deleuze views language as incorporeal. How exactly is he defining language? He says language is a "system of propositions" (p. 167). This is a rather arboreal view. Let's see that in a little context:

The most general operation of sense is this: it brings that which expresses it into existence; and from that point on, as pure inherence, it brings itself to exist within that which expresses it. It rests therefore with the Aion, as the milieu of surface effects or events, to trace a frontier between things and propostitions; and the Aion traces it with its entire straight line [the labyrinth of the straight line, the eternal return: it's all here]. Without it, sounds would fall back on bodies, and propositions themselves would not be "possible." Language is rendered possible by the frontier which separates it from things and from bodies (including those which speak).

(p. 166)


[T]he straight line which extends simultaneously in two directions traces the frontier between bodies and language, states of affairs and propositions. Language, or the system of propositions, would not exist without this frontier which renders it possible.

(p. 167)

Deleuze says that events make language possible. In making this argument he is greatly concerned to persuade us that the ground cannot resemble what it grounds. He says, "Language is rendered possible by that which distinguishes it. What separates sounds from bodies makes sounds into the elements of a language" (p. 186). Or, again, "What renders language possible is that which separates sounds from bodies and organizes them into propositions, freeing them for the expressive function" (p. 181). This is not a poet's sensibility, which is somewhat ironic because there is a poetic quality to some of Deleuze's thinking, about the Aion for instance. Perhaps we might leave it at that. However I will reach this one conclusion: in the wake of Deleuze (and given the sentiments of the Deleuzians) the body and each and every one of its entailments must be philosophically defended.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:56 AM. 8 comments

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Beau Monde

"Ideally I would have been born in the Rococo Era":

James H. Johnson's prose reminds me of why I enjoy reading histories:

These were the years of sensibility in France, when to feel at all was to feel passionately, and to show it in public de rigueur. Tears, sanglots, crises, palpitations, bouleversements, convulsions and frissons of every sort agitated hearts in the 1770s (often with uncanny regularity, as with one acquaintance of Mme de Genlis who managed to have a fainting spell from an excess of sensibility twice weekly, just after guests had arrived for her salon). To open the soul to delicious sentiments was for these cultivated aristocrats the meaning of Rousseau's challenge to live simply and honestly, and Gluck more than any other composer encouraged precisely this.

(Listening in Paris, p. 65)

As for Johnson's argument (commenting on an argument as it unfolds is de rigueur–no, really!) he has shown that the sensibility of Parisian opera goers in the 1770's differed from the sensibility of Parisian opera goers in the 1740's, if indifference can be called a sensibility. This difference in sensibilities is a curious fact. What sort of phenomenon is a dominant sensibility that it can be so easily overthrown, without anybody losing their head? What is the power of social dominance in general? I've already indicated my feeling that with regard to music in particular a dominant taste never covers everything, never applies to everybody in every situtation. Johnson takes the position that before a way of hearing could be fully experienced (what is a less than full experience, btw?) it must be thinkable (p. 41). With that as a premise, and a sufficiently stringent definition of thought, one could blot out much of human history, or, conversely, break it down into narratable pieces. How much life takes place outside the beau monde? I feel that I have journeyed through many beaux mondes, so I am extremely hesitent to allow that the beau monde covers all of life. Have I ever been a place where the beau monde had absolutely no reach? Well, there are always memories of adolescence. Is a history of social dominance essentially adolescent? Perhaps aesthetics is predominantly adolescent. Adolescent as the subject of the beau monde may be, as with Coppola's Marie Antoinette, a terror waits on the horizon, and terror has its serious defenders. Just because one needn't lose one's head doesn't mean one won't. We'll see how Johnson navigates those waters in a later post.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:59 AM. 0 comments

Monday, January 07, 2008



Nancy speaks of the force of the image, a force that is "a unity woven from a sensory diversity" ("Image and Violence," in The Ground of the Image, p. 22). I don't believe this jibes with the immobility of the image Nancy posits in "The Image–the Distinct." It seems closer to my initial feeling about the dynamism of the imagination. Anyway, here Nancy speaks of the force of the image and its relation to forms:

Under this force, forms too deform or transform themselves. The image is always under a dynamic or energetic metamorphosis. It begins before forms, and goes beyond them. All painting, even the most naturalistic, is this kind of metamorphic force. Force deforms (and so, therefore, does passion); it carries away forms, in a spurt that tends to dissolve or exceed them. The monstrous showing or monstration spurts out in monstruation.*

*The word monstruation comes from Mehdi Belhaj Kacem: "Communication is the attempt to restore, through the repetition of some sign, the intensity of an affect to which this sign is connected, but phenomenally this repetition must fail: there would be no affect without this perpetual failure, without the incessant monstruation of signs in the Heraclitian flux that is perceptuality." See his Esthétique du chaos (Auch: Tristam, 2000)

(ibidem, and page 142, note 10, emphases in original, my bold)

To see the violence Nancy sees in the image requires acknowledging a kind of violence without violation. I'm not sure that I can ultimately accept such a broad definition of violence, though I won't close the book on it. (It's curious that intellectuals would feel that their truths are violent. I'm keeping my eye on those intellectuals.) That leaves us with a discussion of the force of the image and the question of forms or, especially, deformation. Is it right to call this force of the image deforming? If the force of the image is truly metamorphic it might seem that it must do violence to forms. Does the image's being the other of forms ("The Image–the Distinct," p. 3) mean that it does violence to forms? I'm not sure of this. I doubt that the imagination makes a study of the forms left in its wake. The consciousness that would see the imagination as destructive of forms must be retrospective or reflective, and I would be cautious about the assimilation of such a consciousness to the imagination. Do forms and imagination share the same consciousness at all? This is a difficult question.

Can there be a metamorphosis prior to forms? I'm wondering if Nancy hasn't misidentified the force of the image. Perhaps form itself introduces violence into the imagination, or the expectation that form creates and which cannot be fulfilled manifests itself as a kind of violence. The force of imagination itself however, were we to allow it to flow without imposing forms upon it, may not be violent. It may not violate forms because forms and the force of imagination don't really touch on each other, and it's really only a belief in forms that misleads us into thinking that they should be in contact. Monstruation then would represent a distorted view of what happens in the imagination, a view from inside the form, from the inside of a repetition destined to failure, a view from outside the image. But I am not sure of this line of thinking. I have to seriously consider Nancy's suggestion that the image has no inside (ibidem p. 11). Wouldn't it follow that the image has no outside?

Let's take up the idea that the imagination touches upon forms. To reiterate, if the force of the image is prior to forms what is the sense in calling it metamorphic? What would be the problem with regarding the imaginataion as morphogenetic? (Is the force of the image not being violent a problem?) If the force of the imagination is indeed prior to the emergence of form would it be prior to the existence of a morphogenetic field? (Could the imagination be just such a field?) By the time a mnemic entity can survey it the morphogenetic field is littered with broken and ruined forms. Who destroyed them? Who created them? Who can remember whence the forms came? How could the imagination be capable of anamnesis?

If monstruation has an other it is kaleideation. Kaleideation also speaks to the failure of repetition, yet it keeps going. The kaleidoscope is its symbol, its instrument and its perspective–how odd. Can we avoid being spectators of our imaginations? The deformations of kaleideation are invisible to us, if they ever in fact take place. Nonetheless, the kaleidoscope gives us a sense of being able to witness the imagination's metamorphic force. Collisions without horrific consequences? It seems that now I'm only looking at the metamorphic force of the imagination with one eye. Where did I put that other eye?

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Repeatable Fragments

Cavarero provides some texture to the idea of plurality:

Biographies and autobiographies, before being textual sites of a refined and professional hemerneutics, are life-stories narrated as a written text. For as much as they are necessarily constructed according to diverse standards, or according to the epoch or the tastes of the times, they nonetheless tell the story of a narratable self whose identity–unique and unrepeatable–is what we seek in the pages of the text. It is this identity, which may be rendered as a fragmentary or multiple segmentation of the self, which would deny its unity. [Those commas don't seem right to me.] Our thesis, once more, is that the etymological root that the terms uniqueness [unicità] and unity [unità] share does not flatten them out into a homogeneous substance, but rather renders them signs of an existence whose life-story is different from all others precisely because it is constitutively interwoven with many others.

(Narratives, p. 71, Cavarero's emphasis, my bold)

What should we make of this association of uniqueness with unrepeatability? What does it mean to say that only the what is subject to repetititon (if it exists), that the who is exempt? What else would the who be exempt from?

The ambiguity of these questions regarding the persistence of identity lies in fact in the confusion of the status of the who with the what. The what–that is, the qualities, the character, the roles, the outlooks of the self–changes and is inevitably multiple and may be judged or reinterpreted in many ways. The who, on the other hand–as the uniqueness of the self in her concrete and insubstitutable existence–persists in continual self-exhibition, consisting in nothing else but this exposure, which cannot be transcended

(pp. 72-73, Cavarero's emphasis, my bold)

The space of appearance, which must mean in this context the space of co-appearance, is not then a space of transcendence. Does transcendence belong only to that which can repeat itself? How would that even be possible? If this is an anti-intellectual attitude, what's at stake? That is, whose intellects are exposed?

One could indeed maliciously suspect that the whole affair about the centrality of the text, which reduces the existence of the living to a status of extra-textuality, depends on the well-known tendency of intellectuals to represent the world in their likeness and image. This is, of course, an ancient vice. It originates, perhaps, with Parmenides–the first professional thinker–who declares that 'being and thinking are the same.' The 'I think, therefore I am' of Descartes, and the 'all that is real is rational' of Hegelian memory, echo h im through the millenia. After which, in more recent times, the subject fades away–but not the sacredness of the intellectual work, which, for centuries, has claimed to put it into the world. On the contrary, such intellectual work, tirelessly speculating upon itself, decides that the very same speculators are a fictitious product of the speculating game. With a rather democratic gesture, the text thus consumes everyone's existence–philosphers and housewives, heroes and poets, characters and authors–in a single mouthful.

(p. 76, Cavarero's emphasis)

Caverero is most brilliant when she is critical. I wouldn't idealize, and I wouldn't suspect her of idealizing, plurality. Here she is critical of a notion of the totality of an existent or a self:

Fragile and contingent–and already marked at birth by a unity that makes of herself first a promise, and then a desire–the narratable self is an exposed uniqueness that awaits her narration. The text of this narration, far from producing all the reality of the self, is nothing but the marginal consequence, or symptom, that follows that desire.

(p. 86, Cavarero's emphasis)

The existent, which is insubstitutable for the duration of his/her life-span, is never an all–although it is born into the promise of the one. Still less does he/she find in death 'an adequate base for establishing in what sense the totatilty of Being-there can be talked about.' Only a perspective that is obsessively focused on death can in fact read existence in terms of totality. Even the posthumous horizon that characterizes the motive of many autobiographical writings supports this obsession.

Precisely because of htis irremediable exposure to others, uniqueness–although it speaks the desiring language of the one–rejects, at the root, the synthesis of the all. The en kai pan, the One and All, belong to the doctrine of Parmenides, not to the design of a life traced by human footsteps on the terrain of unforeseeability and contingency. Fragile and exposed, the existent belongs to a world-scene where interaction with other existents is unforeseeable and potentially infinite. As in The Arabian Nights, the stories intersect with each other. Never isolated in the chimerical, total completion of its sense, one cannot be there without the other.

The narratable self thus re-enters into what we could call a relational ethic of contingency; or rather, an ethic founded on the altruistic ontology of the human existent as finite. Already exposed within the interactive scene that Arendt calls 'political,' there lies at the center of the narrative scene a who which–far from enclosing herself within the pride of a self-referential ego meant to last forever–gathers the in-born matrix of an expositive and relational existence. She wants and gives, receives and offers, here and now, an unrepeatable story in the form of a tale.

(p. 87, Cavarero's emphasis, my bold)

(Snark: Cavarero has exposed herself as a pleonasmist; so much for unrepeatability.) The challenging thought here (for me, of course) is to not align the infinite with repetition. Can one repeat one's way to infinity? If infinity is a place, perhaps you are already there, at your relations, or your relationality. Far be it from me to contemplate your finitude. When I consider my own existence, and what finitude means for me, I am not confident that infinite relationality has it all sewn up. All sewn up. Well, is this really my problem, thinking that the who (my dear sweet who) can be a totality? Do you see where my thought veers, always at odds? Caverero won't let me get me comfortable with an estrangement from myself. She says:

The altruism of uniqueness has thus the additional merit of avoiding that 'rhetoric of alterity,' which the philosophical discourse of the twentieth century seems to adore. 'The Other' or 'the other,' capital or lower-case, often gets invoked by contemporary philosophers as a proof of their good intentions with respect to the individualistic spirit of the times. Whether it is the alterity that invades the self, rendering him nomadic and fragmented, or the alterity that lures the self more subtly with his embrace, these others never have the distinct and unrepeatable face of each human in so far as he is simply another. Intolerant, as usual, of many elementary givens of existence–a large part of contemporary philosophy disdains the ontological status that binds the reality of the self to the (well, yes, empirical) material presence of someone other.

As we never tire of repeating, the ontological status of reciprocal appearance [comparizione] belongs to the existents–distinct and plural, each one for and with another–of a living context like life [ahem]. Continuing to live as a unique existent, here and now, in flesh and bone, this and not another, the who therefore avoids both the usual language of ethics and of politics. Constitutively altruistic, rather than by choice, the ethics and politics of uniqueness indeed speak a language that does not know general names. They tend, moreover, to coincide in the relational character of the very same scene–where the other who interacts, watches and recounts is the inassimilable, the insubstitutable, the unrepeatable. She is a unique existence that no categorization or collective identity can fully contain. She is the you [tu] that comes before the we [noi], before the plural you [voi] and before the they [loro].

(p. 90, Cavarero's emphasis)

Perhaps we could talk about a revolutionary you. I don't know. I feel we're still at an awkward stage in our relationship where I don't know how to talk about your finitude–if you have one. If you asked me to tell you your story, I would put an ending on it. Can that be what you want? (At the risk of repeating myself, I should mention that Cavarero is about as different from Tengelyi as one could imagine; when I feel something other within my experience, as in the case of letting my imagination flow, which I don't regard as psychopathological, I don't know why I wouldn't want to talk about that using a rhetoric of alterity, though, naturally, I wouldn't confuse my imagination with you, gentle soul.)

At last I'd like to look at Cavarero's critique of individualism because she says something quite intriquing and I hope she means it. (I simply must say in passing a word about Cavarero's rhetorical strategy. She's attempting to preempt a criticism of her philosophy as being individualistic. Well, she provides a few good reasons why we shouldn't want to think individualistically. I must say, however, that I haven't yet read a genuine defense of individualism. I must sort of take it on faith then that people believe in such a reprehensible doctrine–in which case I'm sure they have their reasons.)

As the elementary lexicon of democracy demonstrates, individuality is indeed a repeatable, atomized, serial paradigm. Each individual, in an of himself, is as valid for one as he is for any other; he is equal because he is equivalent [ahem]. Uniqueness, on the other hand, ends up rendering useless both the concept of repetition and the principle of generalization that nourishes the individualist theory. Uniqueness is an absolute difference, which, as Arendt never tires of arguing, changes the very notion of politics.

(p. 89, Cavarero's emphasis, my bold)

Let me be so bold as to ask you, Why should you want to repeat yourself? Why should you want to generalize? Maybe you would repeat yourself or generalize to make yourself understood? I doubt, if I may, that you would want to be repeated or generalized by me or anybody else. Anyway, that's a tricky proposition. Why is it tricky to repeat another and not to repeat oneself, to be repeated by another and not to be repeated by oneself? (Sometimes I feel that everything having to do with others is tricky.) I offer you the thought that you shouldn't want to repeat yourself because you really don't know yourself that well. See? You are trickier than you know.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 4:31 PM. 4 comments

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Obama Wins Iowa Caucuses

Obama wins Iowa

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posted by Fido the Yak at 7:33 PM. 0 comments

Sucklings of the Muses

Some maintained that it was bad form to stay for the entire opera. The young dandy Almair in La Morlière's Angola, described as a "scrupulous observer of etiquette [bienséance]," claims that there is "nothing so indecent as staying to the end" of an opera. The practice was apparently common enough for the Mercure to mention it disapprovingly: it was a "disgrace," the paper wrote, for women to leave during the last acts of Atys and Roland. Others held a prejudice against listening too intently to the music. A traveler to Paris who was quick to grasp the dynamics of behavior at the Opéra wrote with some derision that the only spectators who listened to the music were "several clerics, several shopkeepers, several schoolboys, sucklings of the muses and soldiers just returning from or about to leave for a tour of duty." And a young nobleman explained to his guest that listening to the music with focused attention was "bourgeois." "There is nothing so damnable," he went on, "as listening to a work like a street merchant or some provincial just off the boat."

For these spectators, attentiveness was a social faux pas, as the Mercure observed: spectators who attempted to listen to a work before judging it, the paper claimed, were regarded by the rest as "creatures from another world." Circulating, conversing, arriving late, and leaving early were an accepted part of eighteenth-century musical experience, grudgingly tolerated by some and positively encouraged by others. "We listen at most to two or three pieces consecrated by fashion," as a character in Angola declares, "and at the end we excessively praise or thoroughly damn the whole work."

(James H. Johnson, Listening in Paris: A Cultural History (University of California Press, 1995), p. 31)

A peculiar effect of Johnson's brand of cultural history is that the experiences at the opera of sucklings of the muses and others on the sidelines of the business of the aristocracy don't really count as musical experiences. They have no meaning. Musical meaning, Johnson says, "resides in the particular moment of reception, one shaped by dominant aesthetic and social expectations that are themselves historically structured" (p. 2). He denies that there are as many Don Giovannis as there have been listeners. He holds that there is absolutely zero meaning outside of a horizon of expectations which is socially defined and cannot be understood as belonging to individuals (p. 3). Johnson' analysis, then, produces the curious effect that an Eighteenth-Century aristocrat who doesn't listen to an opera has a musical experience while attendees who do listen do not have meaningful musical experiences. Of course, we recieve Johnson's work amid dominant aesthetic and social expectations that are themselves historically structured. (How then should I interepret signs of conflict in his account, the possibility of other readings of the same material?) One dominant expectation greeting Johnson's work may be that sucklings of the muses have no meaningful experiences, no horizons worth exploring, no history that needs to be told. Yet if I didn't suspect Johnson of harboring a secret affection for the sucklings of the muses I would read no further–and I intent to read further. I've already decided that Listening in Paris is quite an engaging book.

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Rapport with the Image

As a consequence of Nancy's materialism of the image–which may be a biopolitical materialism, for what it's worth, but is still a materialism of the image in the tradition of the Epicureans#150;the question of transcendence will need to be rethought. The theme of touching in Nancy's thought has, it seems, been leading in this direction, away from transcendence, away from ecstasy though not from jouissance. The idea of touch is balanced by the idea of withdrawal–but I may not need to delve into that. In any case I see an opportunity here to question what transcendence means, and whether it can finally be surpassed by more subtle thinking.

As I was saying, the image according to Nancy is always material ("The Image–The Distinct," in The Ground of the Image, pp. 12). Nancy finds that the image concerns sameness, but it is an other sameness than the sameness of the concept and of language. Is this imagistic sameness a material sameness? (I am sure it's a coexistential sameness; we will have to decide if that means it is of the material.) He says, to quote him at length:

The thing as image is thus distinct from its being-there in the sense of the Vorhanden, its simple presence in the homogeneity of the world and in the linking together of natural or technological operations. Its distinction is the dissimilarity that inhabits resemblance, that agitates it and troubles it with a pressure of spacing and of passion. What is distinct in being-there is being-image: it is not here but over there, in the distance, in a distance that is called "absence" (by which one often wants to characterize the image) only in a very hasty manner. The absence of the imaged subject is nothing other than an intense presence, receding into itself, gathering itself together in its intensity. Resemblance gathers together in force and gathers itself as a force of the same–the same differing in itself from itself: hence the enjoyment [jouissance] we take in it. We touch on the same and on this power that affirms this: I am indeed what I am, and I am this well beyond or well on this side of what I am for you, for your aims and your manipulations. We touch on the intensity of this withdrawal or this excess. Thus mimesis encompasses methexis, a participation or a contagion through which the image seizes us.

(p. 9)

(Since Nancy is obviously reading Sartre, I'll note, for those keeping score, that Nancy appears to agree with Sartre on the immobility of the image, though he finds that images do in fact have worlds, a world being defined here as "an indefinite totality of meaning" (p. 5)). The image seizes us. It touches us, which means that we touch it. As long as we hold it up for consideration we are in the image, but without passing into the image (p. 7). I'm going to quote Nancy at length again, keeping in mind that the thing to look for is an alternative to the idea of transcendence:

But the distinction of the image–while it greatly resembles sacrifice–is not properly sacrificial. It does not legitimize and it does not transgress: it crosses the distance of the withdrawal even while maintaining it through its mark as an image. Or rather: through the mark that it is, it establishes simultaneously a withdrawal and a passage that, however, does not pass. The essence of such a crossing lies in its not establishing a continuity: it does not suppress the distinction. It maintains it while also making contact: shock, confrontation, tête-à-tête, or embrace. It is less a transport than a rapport, or relation. The distinct bounds toward the indistinct and leaps into it, but it is not interlinked with it. The image offers itself to me, but it offers itself as an image (once again there is ambivalence: only an image / a true image. . .). An intimacy is thus exposed to me: exposed, but for what it is, with its force that is dense and tight, not relaxed, reserved, not readily given. Sacrifice effects an assumption, a lifting and a sublation of the profane into the sacred: the image, on the contrary, is given in an opening that indissociably forms its presence and its separation.

(p. 3, Nancy's emphases, my bold)

Nancy doesn't say as much and perhaps wouldn't want to; I do and I will: the relationship between the free and the given is not one of transcendence but one of rapport. Well, I've been sidetracked. I am not thinking the distinct quite the way Nancy would have me think it. Indeed, on the contrary, I am drawn to the vague. I might want to align the image with the vague, and on the other side I wouldn't even speak of an indefinite totality of meaning because "totality" is too precise a word–obviously then I'm in danger of totally losing the meaning of the distinct, and that may in turn jeopardize my ability to think the vague. Nevertheless, I am intrigued by this notion of rapport. To offer rapport as a designation for the operation of the image is to suggest that our relations to other people structurate our psychic lives. (You might reasonably say that Nancy's rapport has nothing to do with structuration; I think the choice of words matters, and this is what the choice of "rapport" suggests to me.) At a basic level we treat "psychic" phenomena as persons. Nancy's materialism of the image, according to my reading, notably thematizes intimacy. His is a materialism, rarest of all, in which the intimate matters. In this intimate setting what does distinction mean? What does sameness mean? Does it have a personal meaning? Do we have a rapport with the same that is other than the same of representation? Would the inquiry into a rapport with the same address the question of the meaning of the same, or would it lead away from meaning? Speaking of the image, Nancy says it is "the other of forms. It is the intimate and its passion, distinct from all representation" (p. 3). On the other hand Nancy speaks of the image as a jouissance of meaning (p. 13). The meaning of the same, then, with regard to the image and its sameness that is not the sameness of language or concepts, would then be bound up with the passions, which are to be regarded as material, as mixed up in the material. Rather than thinking the passions as forces that must be transcended, they must be thought as forces that touch. They open up rapports. Does this describe anything like reality? Any reality that transcendence fails to capture? I would like to think so, but I will have to continue to bounce the idea off Nancy (and you, dear reader, should you choose to add your two cents).

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