12-28-2015

For the most part, it is impossible to tell when someone is at their worst. They wade about their days mostly unseen until something strikes out against the commonality of the world. They are rewarded and punished for these acts, often interchangeably, for it is not the act itself that matters but the level of disruption.

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The game which leaves the perimeters of its deck of cards, its chess pieces, its board, its very frame. 

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There are those who say 'life is an illusion' and despair evermore in the aftermath of this revelation, rather than mustering the energy to wallow in illusions of their own. The revelation causing them despair is only ever the beginning. 

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I would find fault only in that experimental art which sought to intentionally alienate the spectator. We come to even our most nonsensical dreams fully engaged. 

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How much are the majority of books worth aside from a few worthy scenes and pretty sentences? Some books are read as if on a search to find such passages. 

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Her look of alarm calms thieves. 

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The writer who sighs with relief when he has nothing to write. 

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He goes out to meet his every mood. 

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I am as fascinated by people who are perfectly selfish as I am by people who are legitimately afraid of themselves. If I could only manage to frighten myself, I suspect, I could fold solipsism in half. 

We most resent ourselves when suffering an injustice, for we allowed it to happen. Time only offers many purmutations of that which was not done. 

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Over and over, I read and write kind words, as if worried that yet another look will reveal their having vanished or the fact that they never existed--an event coextensive to their truth. 

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The novel will not die due to lack of readers. However, they may lose faith.

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How delighted I am that philosophy is getting swallowed up by other practices. Psychology and science have the rich topology of Greek myths. Everything else has pulled from half-myths not yet realized.

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I'm not sympathetic to someone who despises a writer from top to bottom. Writers, even unknown ones, are easy targets. Even remarks delivered to them justly seem crude. 

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There have been several pivotal moments in my life. One involved a strange way of seeing the world, a sudden envelopment in life which caused me to wade into its density with a hyper attentive devotion--time slowed down. In the passing days, this odd, anamistic sensation receded just as I began to suspect that it was the whole point of my life. I felt it was necessary to remember that sensation, as if I could still glean sustenance from it even after it was gone. The other pivotal moment in my life worked toward an opposite direction but achieved a similar effect. Everything seemed to drain of its corporeality and solidity. I stopped seeing the world as anything created by ideas and understood only the simplest truths. I sat for long moments perfectly content not to think, or at the very least, to think about not thinking. Though I don't often reside in either state of mind even when I try, the very knowledge that both states are possible because I have lived them fills me with great joy and a hope beyond my own understanding. 

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The thoughts most worth having are those which evade you the more you try to remember them. 

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The only thing Heiddegger had to offer us was a fear of symbols, masked as a problem far more dire, dressed in obscurity, and delivered through an artificial language designed to feel cozy--but cozy as a warm blanket during a scary story. 

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The world has made heresy quite difficult. 

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There is no such thing as a contemporary experience. 

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If life caused in us as much longing or fear as our best and worst dreams. 

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How different reality would look if we regarded, not first causes, but first intentions. 

 

12-20-2015

To have good memories of sadness. 

Thinking of a future death to make the present better is a death-threat to one’s self.

All thought experiments and systems acting as anecdotes to nihilism have done little beyond forming exegesis made of composite ideas replacing any Absolute, which puts reality back on an altered version of everything that is already in place. It is not a renaming of values but a same naming. An arrival to the same position but facing a different direction.

Our current oscillation from secular philosophy to post secular philosophy may be attributed to the quick frequency in which information is today distributed. What took millennia now takes decades. 

While Bataille’s philosophy of headlessness can be approximated to statelessness, there is something far more nuanced in the former. When sovereignty is severed like the top of a head and located transiently, manifesting in a variety of social exchanges, it disrupts possible repudiations of power itself, which sometimes accompany anti-statism and anarchism. The state is revealed to be only the face of a process in which abuses of power occur in smaller formulas. 

12-7-2015

For some readers, certain writers are avoided simply on account of their re-readability. Few of us have enough time to get wrapped up in writers who could very well speak to us in such a way that we are to devote our whole lives to studying them.

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For one several years into the study of philosophy, it is a subject for which they are greatly protective. Can it not speak on all other systems? Does it not contain within it the seams and borders of science, art and history? This same guardian of the truth, given a few more years, convinced that all his conclusions have contradicted one another, weary that nothing he has come up with himself is original, disappointed that the lion-like figures he once revered really are the vulgar sum of a few crude parts as their detractors figured so long ago, and having realized that most people come intuitively to or already reside within those meager truths offered up by his favored medium, he opts out of any serious consideration for philosophy's ability to save him. 

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I recede from my own perceptions. An attempt to escape hyper-reality? An attempt to find myself? It matters little, for by the time I have retreated far out into the wilderness, I have already forgotten my purpose for going out. Likewise, every submersion into the depths sees me bobbing back to the surface only to smile briefly or crack a frivolous joke before going under again. 

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I overheard two men talking about trying to find a hobby to fill their time up. And here I am trying to let go of a few of mine! 

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I once considered the majority of people to be no better than animals in a quite literal sense. They were, at their least civil, their most vulgar, their least restrained, creatures I pitied like cows in a field. As I move closer to the world, however, I grow closer to them. I see not the animal in myself, but rather, the mere human. I ask myself how many steps away I am from becoming just like them; a wide eye ever turned to a new carnival of adrenaline rushes, violent outbursts and the most reactionary satiations of every kind of addiction? My answer each time is 'not far,' and yet, I envy their having already settled into the state I had not the courage to descend to. 

We are suspicious when people tell us to stop thinking. We suspect that some other deleterious message will infiltrate our minds; some alien force will infect our intellects like a virus. However, for some minds who suffer from an excess of thought, it would be best to try and stop thinking for an interval, if possible, as a way to detox and relearn thought. But this can usually only happen, as it has since ancient times, away from people. But the intoxication of solitude can trap one there so that return is either unpreferred or impossible. And yet, to leave and go back into the world is the only way to measure the change. 

It has been a consistent mantra of the left that people are all really not so different in the end. Though I often resist the myths of the left (hardly satisfied to rest in the right either), I'm as equally often baffled at the frequency in which I hear or read an individual testimony which bares such frightening resemblance to my own. In such moments, no matter the pupil, all solipsism fades as I ask myself, 'Am I worthy of such a comrad?' 

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I much more trust the novel which oscillates between a simple prose and a baroque, ornate prose in the same book. The writer who favors the former is almost always a dogmatist. The latter is so anti-dogmatic that that within me which would hope to have a conversation with the former is automatically sublimated to the role of inferior. And all the while, the reader is going on reading as a reader does. The reader only registers how the work affects her as a whole. What is the paragraph to a reader? 

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I constantly oscillate between feeling like Rilke and Cioran. The former looked at objects until they were revealed to be meanings unto themselves. The latter looked at objects as if to puncture a hole into them, so that what little meaning they had would drain from the bottom. 

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No movement is legitimized by it's proximity to primordiality. One can go back further and further, but there comes a point when all things vanish in time, and the mineral world itself is all that is left. Even that has it's vanishing point. 

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Groups categorized strictly by pejoratives or laudatives are illusions. The former do not self identify with the category. The latter identify with it strictly out of flattery. Whether or not the categories describe an actual culture is of little importance. 

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I'm not perturbed by that thinker who has uttered some thought which I shared and which I felt made me singular in respect to it. I sigh with relief at not having to write it for the first time. 

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Originality is a conglomerate. 

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That unread book whose very presence in your bag causes you to delay it by reading ten others. 

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The need for individuals was not as strong with a smaller population. 

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Most philosophy books end with aphorisms which make sense of all the previous text. Aphorisms, in isolation, save paper and time. 

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How anxious I get when I run the risk of someone seeing me as a means to an end! 

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How quickly I trick myself into those ideas which are folly to me! But I am convinced that they are only tricks because they are folly. That which is beneficial to me in some way, regardless of what intellectual slights of hand were needed to arrive there, cannot possibly qualify in my mind as a trick. 

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Intoxication with chemicals heightens and exalts certain senses. Intoxication with existence exalts life through lowered expectations. 

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The man who pretends he's never heard of anything, in order to test the knowledge of the other. 

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When one becomes bored by the physical beauty of other people. 

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I can't help but admire in Kleist his complete inability to cope with anything. It matters little that others could have suffered as much as him. What matters is that he believed they couldn't have. He was impervious to the self-defeating therapy of pity for others and the style by which he died deligitimized anyone who could claim to suffer as much as him and continue living. 

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Nihilism is the triumph of preference over obligation. 

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Smell arouses the strongest sensation of freedom. 

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Political correctness is the theft that keeps on stealing. It kills cultures long before any remotely foreseeable genocide. 

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It is, perhaps, a mistake to say that the universe itself has no meaning since it contains all meaning. 

10-10-2015

 

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He was loved despite his style. 

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Man has made himself divine, but he has yet to fortify his cathedral with the demons and gargoyles necessary to keep his secrets safe from evil.  

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To revolt against modernity, the right and the left have fallen prey to a similar narrative: That their position is the most approximate to primordiality, and the opposing side is a recent, historical invention. Right and left have, in disparate ways, inverted the Enlightenment not

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Whenever I need to categorize someone or can't seem to find a proper box to put someone in, I spend time among people in my genera 

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How often does one today hear someone decrying an entire mindset with the coextensive ultimatum not far behind that, 'If you hold such and such an opinion, don't contact me anymore.' Today, we argue to avoid arguments.  

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My aversion to democracy may have something to do with my inability to locate fringe movements. I admit that it is entirely personal, as most aversions to democracy are at the end of the day. I simply desire too wide a variety of conversation, friends even.  

10-4-2015

What task awaits one that is so defining that one could end it all as soon as it was carried out, as Michelstaedter did? 

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What if we were to treat people we've seen before and on whom we've eavesdropped in the same manner that we treat celebrities out in public?  

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There are moments when I have just awoken from a deep sleep that everything in life seems clearest to me and unhindered by precepts, prejudices and abstractions--Clarity's proximity to dreaming.  

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Strive to be the sort of writer one reads guiltily in small bursts in between some other hefty tome one reads in order to get it over with.  

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Write several books at once. Read several books at once. Read and write what you like, as though death were no object.  

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There exist writers of maxims who are merely clever at reversals. Rather than writing half truths, they write half thoughts and let the reader do the rest.  

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A novelist wishing to write like the masters may fail to create a legitimate piece of art, though the world may come to be more like the world of the old master because of him.  

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Every time I give up on a book, a distinct twinge of pride swells within me.  

 

 

10-3-2015

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Every time I grow weary that perhaps I do not have enough friends, I tap into social media and am immediately dissuaded from attaining any more. 

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It is considered suspicious today to be frank. There is always the suspicion that, if someone is too honest, something is hidden in that very honesty.  

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A president promising that he'll do what he can to tighten gun control laws after every school shooting much reminds me of a husband promising that he'll do the dishes next time.  

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There are those who get a special thrill out of wallowing in filth and remaining unbathed for extended periods of time. For an even fewer number, the very struggle and discomfort of life produces a similar thrill. 

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One who is capable of coming up with an easily chantable slogan must not waste his time writing aphorisms. The aphorism differs from the slogan in that the aphorism is familiar without being common, while the slogan is almost certainly a justification of bad conscience.  

5/26/2015

A prodigy is one who seems to have started learning before he was born.

The ultimate misfortune of a novelist’s work: that a review of it by a writer a reader rather admires is the most enjoyment that anyone will get out of it.

Taking time to grow on you or old before it even began?

When the things which characterize either ‘the left’ or ‘the right’ come to embody only what you yourself despise.

An artist with a multitude of constraints applied to the vision of his final work has few constraints where his actual method of arriving there is concerned.

A study of ‘The Great American Novel’ as a history of sophomore efforts.

That ‘consciousness reveals itself as a language’ is only a clever inversion of ‘language reveals consciousness’ insofar as we can agree that they are to be separated on a causal chain. Some have been tempted to do away with one or the other and replace it with ‘muscle movement.’ To whom do we leave it to say which of the two should be replaced?

There are clever racists who drop biology from their attack in favor of an interpretation of race as ‘cultural inheritance’ in order to make their case, who then pick biology back up in order to criticize those who disagree with them for being ‘politically correct.’

A political ideology obsessed by self-identifying with scapegoats as a means of justifying their position are, inevitably, in danger of elimination at the hands of those who still find scapegoats a necessary feature when forming an identity.

Provincial literature as guilt of western homogenization.

Cultivating a sense of personal style is no different than the composition of a poem with many disparate constraints.

Only one who is capable of letting his anger cool can allow himself the luxury of vengeance, thus converting it into a true act of character.

Religion is a doormat for the ‘leading intellectuals’ of culture incapable of seeking worthy opponents.

One might think that because western religions and secular political parties alike have similar emancipatory projects—and thus, similar theologies—they would both be disqualified from criticizing one another for epistemological reasons. At least Christianity has the decency to believe that Satan is responsible for the other party’s evil.

Anarchy is only feared where it is seen as being comprised of the empire’s exiles.

To criticize those who take a tragic view of history as imposing human conditions onto organic processes is like asking a civilized woman to give up her child to a feral existence among wolves.

A criminal sentence determined by the amount of time it takes the criminal to swim back to shore, having been dropped at a great distance into the ocean.

The reading habits of a university student prohibited from telling his fellows what books he is reading in his spare time.

That I look worse in a photograph than I do in the mirror—A critique of technology or the reflection?

On his worst day, he reserves for himself his greatest pleasures as a means of coping—A utilitarian’s Buddhism.

‘I can tell the difference between prose written on laptop and prose written by hand,’ says one.

‘I can tell the difference between prose written by a timid hand and a steady hand,’ says another.

And yet another still says, ‘I can tell the difference between a piece of writing by a writer and that by a writer being written.’

A misanthropist is someone who needs an excuse to hate women as much as he hates men.

Misanthropy is only the result of one’s inability to say ‘no.’

 

 

Thoughts On a Certain 'Human Type'

How many ‘higher human types’ have been cultivated by thinkers in order to illustrate their ideas? There seems to be no real beginning to this phenomenon and the modern examples are far too numerous: Ubermensch, Over-soul, Genius, the Absolute Individual, the Hero, the Ironist, the Knight of Faith, the Egoist…

What likens them all is their relationship to the future of one thought-system or another which has not had a chance to reach its final conclusions. It is an especially ingenious position in those cases where the thinker’s ‘higher human type’ cannot possibly exist in the world yet, thus freeing us from the lofty position of judging the thinker’s life for signs of his failing initiation into this said type.

I would not too quickly dismiss these phantoms of the future on the grounds that they are romantic or because they fulfill some great psychological and aesthetic needs (all too often, impoverished intellectual masochists perform precisely this inversion). I would even venture to say that these types can be terrific ways of symbolizing the accretive values of a thinker in a direct, passionate way without hypostasizing mere psychological needs into entire metaphysical systems as it is with most empiricists.

People who have given great, objective consideration to these categories of a ‘higher human type’ will probably come to conclusions similar to that which I just illustrated above. However, the provocative imagery associated with these figures and the intensity of the prose in which they find their home may find casual readers stuck in the realm of elitism and fetishism. Since the potential for error is so great, it might be worth asking in constantly renewed ways: just what do these ‘higher human types’ represent? Why must someone who does not quite exist embody these representations? Is there a locatable common characteristic in most of these modern types which will help us think of them in ways that are actually relevant to our lives today?

 

Whether one finds it hard to disentangle the Ubermensch from the Nazi’s image of the master race, or to disentangle God from the land-hungry Yahweh, there comes a time when the values which these names represent must be dealt with. Some thoughts must be thought through in order that they do not think us through. In the past, it has been easy enough for some to dismiss subjects altogether. A scientist gets around the inception of the universe by saying that the universe doesn’t actually exist. A thinker gets around Kant’s categorical imperative through a great frenzy of subjectivism that claims all perception is an illusion anyway. We live in an age when the idea of truth itself has disabled most people thinking in casual modes from being able to make a decision.

 

The weak features of the ‘higher human type’ are often as follows—A tendency to presuppose the merits of this type in his description. Certain values are simply held to ‘belong’ to a higher type without any moral laboratory of their testing save history, at best. They have a tendency to become a projection of the reader’s whims as well, over time embodying principals that belong, less to the writer’s intentions, and more to a university department or a political party’s vision. Artists are the quickest to assimilate the features of the ‘higher type’ which they’ve only read about, without thinking through to the final conclusions of this ideal. It emulates the worst of that which belongs to religion: frenzy, fetishism of messiah figures, love of power in itself with no project in mind.

The strong features of the ‘higher human type’—At the very least, the return of empowering historical images, thus leading toward ‘life-affirming,’ anti-nihilistic attitudes to assimilate. The ability to re-interpret historical situations in terms of future goals. A means of striving for transcendence by creating temporal goals.

 

Otto Weininger’s case is a well covered subject. Much has been said about his problematic views on women. This does not, however, rob value from his views of the ‘genius.’ His ‘genius’ is distinguished from that which would, in the cases of other thinkers, belong to a ‘higher human type.’ Where others have seen it fit to place the likes of Napoleon and Alexander among the ‘higher human type,’ Weininger argues that most politicians may be great leaders, but that they do not qualify as men of genius. A genius is someone incapable of untruth. A great politician and a great genius may very well possess the same ability to ascertain great patterns in the universe and be good at many things, but the great politician is great on account of his ability to lie much and lie well. Nietzsche’s Ubermensch is a terrific over-simplification of a higher human type, for all who possess great will and self-composure to carry out that will belong to it. Julia’s Evola’s ‘Absolute Individual’ only allows room for something like the Ubermensch with a transcendent shift of polarities within the individual. The Ubermensch and Emerson’s Over-soul, on the other hand, are not traits which one is either born with or without, as is the case of Weininger’s ‘genius.’ They are something that one can strive for within oneself, even if that striving results in great failure. This could bring us back to one of Weininger’s great flaws—his using his ‘genius’ merely to make a case for his categorical theories of the sexes, rather than differentiating a type that might be in any way achieved, but such was not the aim of his philosophy. Yet, in representing the type of the ‘genius,’ he said something interesting about the nature of genius which had, too often in the past, been dismissed with flowery speech and poetic flights of fancy, and that was this: the genius being someone who both possessed the best memory and used it to its highest function.

 

While Julius Evola concluded that something like the Ubermensch could only be possible after an inner shifting of polarities in a person already possessing its potential qualities, Gianni Vattimo reformulated the Ubermensch as being an ‘autonomous interpreter.’ This served his Heideggerian, anti-metaphysical tendency towards hermeneutics. Its anti-metaphysicality, however, does not make it entirely opposite of Julius Evola’s deliberately metaphysically grounded view. They are merely different versions of a similar end. But with this said, the two versions of the same idea announce themselves in different ways. While Evola’s ‘Absolute Individual’ must awaken tendencies that already exist inside of him, Vattimo’s ‘autonomous interpreter’ can only exist in a society of autonomous interpretation, thus making it not so special. Gianni Vattimo then abolishes the ‘higher human type’ altogether as an ideal embodied in the age of modernity. Evola, on the other hand, cannot afford this luxury, since he distrusts modernity. His ‘Absolute Individual’ is not subsumed into the society around him though he does exist within it. Evola is one of the few who have anything to say about a ‘higher human type’ who invites those who feel some affinity with his version to consider that path in strictly personal terms.

 

The ‘higher human type,’ though it is not often admitted, appeals to those who are currently disconcerted by or who have overcome their disconcertion over the trials that come with their own sense of uncompromising individuality (whether real or imagined). It is the shadowy quarter of aesthetic thought which appeals to artists and those who crave powerful sensations.

 

These ‘higher types’ have often been popular among fascistic, national socialist groups who subscribe to hierarchal views of race. This is not to say that the writings in which one finds these ‘higher types’ were written without race in mind, necessarily. In the case of Nietzsche, Weininger and Evola, race is deliberately discussed in terms of these higher types, though in the case of the last two especially, race is determined more by culturally contingent features rather than genetic (or at least, the genetics are a contingent feature perpetuated with the culture determining their breeding). Many have thrown out these ‘higher types’ on the grounds that they are racially elitist when in fact many of the writers intended to write about them in a way that transcends race, though the subject of race is often so knotty and nuanced where they do occur in these writings that the most ignorant racists and anti-racists fall into the trap of accepting them and appropriating them into some racial, political message in the case of the first group, or throwing it all out together in the case of the second group. While it is important not to ignore the race factor entirely, focusing solely on it misses the point.

 

What does it mean to us when Evola tells us, at once, that the word ‘race’ denotes something entirely spiritual rather than genetic, when he then goes on to describe features of a ‘type’ that can only be born or ‘bred into’ someone? It says only that he would like to have it both ways: he would like to, on the one hand, exclude paupers and inferiors from belonging to his elite club and on the other, he would like for someone to recognize those features within himself, thus recognize the signature by which he knows that he belongs to this special club, but without the violent accountability of science to perform some genetic test. This is precisely the kind of problem that caused Nietzsche to speak of the Ubermensch in strictly futuristic terms. Not only did it add a prophetic flavor to his re-introduction of the eternal return into western philosophy, but it prevented anyone from thinking they had arrived as the Ubermensch. One could not ask oneself if he qualified as such, but only wait for the arrival of this figure. Of course, fascistic groups who fed off of high romantic imagery and methods of thinking requiring acts of violent correspondence, an Ubermensch could be muscle-armed into the present, just as many other political goals were.

 

Many poets have kept their politics and their art separate for want of a way to synthesize the two. It takes someone willing to assume responsibility for his message being misinterpreted only to be re-appropriated later who is capable of synthesizing the two. We have largely trained thinkers to steer away from those thoughts which perform this synthesis. By ‘we’ I mean, the academy, the popular culture, the mediums that benefit from certain messages with porous communicative characters. But can we call people who are readily steered away from such inclinations ‘thinkers?’ Perhaps there is room for this ‘higher human type’ to emerge through new guises which do not require self-deception and which cannot be claimed by those who wish only to inaugurate the most radical of ideas of others unto themselves for the sake of political frenzy. 

Revolutionary Attitudes - 2

Many systems of thought have sought to extract meaning from life itself. The very fact that life could have ‘meaning,’ or that it is worth saying that it might have meaning, presupposes that there is a chance it may have no meaning (as if there could ever be a point by which we would be able to determine that it is discursively impossible to extract more meaning from life), which then presupposes that ‘nothingness,’ or perhaps, the non activity of matter is the likely original ‘intent’ of the universe. It is also a mistake to apply a word like ‘mistake’ to the inception of matter, the universe or life itself, since this word is often used by secular parties wishing to combat the theistic view that an anthropomorphic personality is responsible for a sole creative act. The grammar of the word ‘mistake’ in their argument still assigns an anthropomorphic nature and a sense of responsibility to the order of things which could only be a ‘mistake’ if some other ‘preferable,’ ‘more likely’ or ‘natural’ set of contingencies had already been revealed to us. Those who hold the scientific/materialistic mindset are just as ludicrous for identifying a lack of meaning in the order of things as those whom they mock for identifying meaning in them.

It has never been enough, however, for secular or religious parties to identify meaning within the small, contingent realm in which their ideas find themselves at home. The existential crisis is always renewed, whether aesthetically or through a rephrasing of the original question through the perspective of different values. Even if he believes it, the Christian might wonder why his sins were in need of remission in the first place. The Muslim might wonder why an absent Muhammad is so adamant about acquiring the driest land in the world. The Marxist might wonder if a true utopia is ever truly possible through the constant manipulation of woolly nature. The fascist may have trouble locating true human sovereignty once economic factors begin to betray the power in which he invests. All of these parties require a large, totalizing belief in order to perpetuate the set of circumstances which protect those espousing these views—it’s cyclical.

The existential crisis, in its crudest form (and funny enough, in its most popular form) is the one that removes all value but the value of the individual. Since one’s individual moral values have already been thrown out in the declared ‘lack of meaning’ of all other values, the individual is left only with sensation itself as a guiding light (everyone’s sensation is different but it is supposed that everyone has them—the only totalizing factor that the individual is allowed when all other value is taken from them). For one experiencing this loss of value concerning all other descriptions of life, he must create his own meaning—his own project. It cannot be a totalizing one since it does not necessarily come from the ‘outside.’ Since the personal meaning comes from ‘within,’ it must regard all other totalizing values that, at one time, were considered ‘transcendent,’ such as ‘unabliable rights’ and ‘liberty’ as those which one may only fight for so long as it is guaranteed that the real investment is a completely personal one.

While the surrealists and the existentialists have some differences, they are related in their violent, totalizing attitudes toward all other totalizing attitudes. Even that which might well be considered a ‘law of nature’ is deliberately leapt over (if not blatantly ignored) in order for the achievement of a revolutionary action on a small, everyday scale. Breton’s group could enjoy the cafes and all the luxuries that come in small doses during allotted leisure times in a consumerist society because their protest, no matter the size or the degree of violence of their actions, were not aimed with any finality at specific entities (even though specific entities did often suffer their violence). Their actions were made up of a set of subversive rituals that could not exist without the rituals of the realm into which they were thrown. It was necessary for them to move through society like a cold, unexpected water, walking on the same streets, using their money the same way. Their revolution was truly the revolution of the everyday, beating Vaneigem by thirty odd years.

French intellectual groups in the twentieth century kept hooking onto these totalizations of individual freedom that were sometimes all too similar in execution even if their mechanisms for arriving at their ways of life were different. They certainly couldn’t have all been under the delusion that their groups would last forever or that generations of newcomers would somehow be inaugurated and replace each member. But they did all hope for revolution of some kind, and revolution itself is the hope that the aberration will come to be the rule.

Thought experiments can be very stimulating ways of committing oneself to revolutions of the every day without becoming too invested in an ideology to the point where one’s intellect has been compromised. They’re usually less costly as thought experiments don’t ask for money in exchange for eternal happiness or momentary pleasure.

The totalizing thought experiments have already taken place. As I said before, Carlo Michelstaedter’s living with the constant collapse of the next moment and nearness of death in mind is not so original, as it is the anxious formula of all existentially concerned minds. Perhaps it would be preferable, rather, to consider a series of temporary projects in order to extract meaning from different phases of life, rather than trying to create totalizing meanings that alienate all sensations that might be considered aberrant or not in keeping with one party’s contingent  goals. 

Strike

 

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome as a method of worker’s strike.

The ultimate conceit of all Utopias—that that which sustains and keeps it providential must always occur under the same exact circumstances. Could there ever exist a political policy that holds the very experimental, rupturing nature of revolution at the center of its value?

A phone company that texts people the aphorisms of La Rouchefoucault to make up for every social media update.

He learned a new language and moved to a new country in order to keep from excessive use of the word ‘like.’

When the idea of ‘sweat money’ is just as taboo as ‘blood money.’

What if we were allowed to make a game of sense itself?

‘Taking one for the team’ is only appropriate to games. As for parties, suggesting that one ‘take one for the team’ shows just how far their activity has come from the game that it should be.

It is a mistake to say that we do not think enough about or prepare for death. Death will take care of itself. What we need to prepare for are all of those things which inspired our idea of death here in this life—falling out with friends, canceled relationships, ending assignments, the collapse of states, the end of harvest. O how many afterlifes there are!

Lost and destroyed documents—the poverty of culture.

Never do now what can, with good conscience, be put off until death.

To make it a crime to sleep in public during the day—there is no greater tyranny than restlessness.

To have good memories of sadness.

Thinking of a future death to make the present better is a death-threat to one’s self. 

Revolutionary Attitudes - 1

‘If people approach you and wish to discuss things with you, spit in their faces.’  So reads one sentence in Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life. This occurs at the end of one chapter in an almost uncharacteristic frenzy, as if Vaneigem had suddenly become possessed by Jacques Vache, that phantom spirit forever hanging over the surrealists.

Georges Bataille mentions in a note found in his On Nietzsche that he is appalled at the idea of having to explain himself. This master of a philosophy of ‘headlessness’ far surpassed simply calling the bluff of ideas like ‘progress’ and ‘project,’ but was willing to squander (another favorite Bataille word) any expressive affinity with those ideas. It was in this sense that freedom was, for him, not simply a sensation (as it may well amount to being in the case of many other thinkers concerned with the idea of freedom), but a new project unlike any imposed from the outside—one that has less to do with the freeing of immediate pleasures than it does with acquainting oneself with great anguish in order to achieve one’s true desires.

In the case of Vaneigem’s work, we encounter a more immediate, theoretical continuation of what was taking place within surrealism. Breton’s gang was content to keep their ideals semi-hidden—While they might have explained themselves (Breton’s manifestos) now and again, the explanation itself was an act within the movement, almost pushing away all definitive answers in protest of organization in favor of absolute freedom; ‘psychic autonomy,’ in other words. What Vaneigem has in common with surrealism, from the vantage point of his respective collective of choice, The Situationist International, is an unabashed concern for freedom. While the surrealists spent more time at least affecting revolutionary gestures if not committing themselves to revolutionary gestures of the every day, Vaneigem is concerned with a politicization of that freedom, so that the proletariat might have access to its features, thus making The State dissolve in favor of something in which a society of creators might spring up. In Vaneigem’s work, though it is hinted at, suggested, talked around and talked up, there’s no real clear idea or suggestion as to how this might happen, and yet, perhaps he didn’t feel he needed to spell it out. After all, no one can write a guidebook for revolution, but only some strong statements of encouragement to the revolutionary spirit. That’s precisely what The Revolution of Everyday Life is—a work of encouragement.

Carlo Michelstaedter, had he access to Revolution of Everyday Life, might not have been so quick to refer to it as a work of persuasion, in keeping with his idea of persuasion as he saw it in his book, Persuasion and Rhetoric. The reason you might guess this is that, while Vageinem intuitionally approaches a seductive subject, he works his way toward it from a rhetorical place that pretends to be the starting point.

Michelstaedter’s sole work, while quite different in temperament than Vageinem’s work, often comes to and repeats a similar conclusion—that we are slaves to a life in which death is constantly weighing upon our shoulders and that the solution is to live ones life without shackles. Here comes the often used solution and summit of most existentially concerned philosophies—They both offered, as solution, that you should live every moment as though it is your last.

What does this mean realistically then, after the person who suggests this now over-used anecdotal platitude rolls his eyes when you suggest to him that if you did, in fact, know you only had one day to live, you would spend the day saying goodbye to loved ones and cutting your losses, rather than trying to cross a few items off of some ludicrous bucket list?

Comedian Doug Stanhope riffed on this popular suggestion by saying that he does, in fact, live every day as though it’s his last, which means that he spends everyday watching television and drinking.

It seems that, often, what is implied is a sense of one’s place in the realm of being. Living ‘every moment as though it is your last’ has something to do with one responding to one’s ‘thrownness’ into the realm of being, as Heidegger would put it.

Perhaps it is time that we develop new existential solutions for living a proper life rather than committing ourselves to self-imposed death threats. 

Bless the Man Who Dies Alone

The philosopher who also writes novels is dangerous to himself and to others in that he always knows how to talk his compositional errors into virtues.

The second generation of writers to employ interior monologue was more justified in using it than the first. Without that example given to them by the first, they wouldn’t have known how people thought.

The well-read man is freed from the heavy burden of original ideas.

His diary entrees are divided into parts and acts, written in rhyme and meter—the guilty-pleasure of the avant-gardist.

One can measure what the university deems a ‘classic work’ by just what addictions the professors indulged in during the previous five semesters.

— him.

There is nothing more shameful than a private man forced to explain why he is so private, and yet, it is the very last thing about which it is possible for him to remain private.

A woman enticed men by telling them that she was naked underneath her clothing.

Marginality is all that wealth can afford.

He read a book of aphorisms and checked the cover to see if his name was on it.

Create borders to prevent the spreading of plagues, you say? No. Create borders to blame others for the spreading of plagues.

His mind was as weak as his immune system. He was always coming down with ideas.

The Reformation was a hole in the middle of a Renaissance donut.

He spoke in third person because he did not believe in me.

‘To set foot in every country.’—Desire of the dreamer.

‘To never set foot in another country.’—The dreamer’s proposition for the military of every country.

A hope for the future—That the borders of countries would become as arbitrary as the borders of continents are nonexistent.

The Godlike nature of children—they kill all of their toy dinosaurs off by the end of their play session.

An American comedian is someone who interviews people who perform stand-up comedy.

A critique of sincerity—I would not ask of a piece of art what I could not rightly ask of a diary entree.

 

 

 

 

Vulgar Curiosities

I was once an open person. Just about everyone knew or had access to the personal information I would never dream of giving away now. For instance, people knew my name. Not only did they know my name but they knew what I looked like. If that wasn’t enough, they knew who my peers were, who my family was and who my friends were. They knew where I’d been, what I was doing and where I lived, also the places I’d lived in the past up to that point. Now, I am no longer open. I have retreated into myself. If someone greets me, wishes to shake my hand and know a few things about me, I might venture to tell them my name. Oh yes, they may see traces of me here and there, which one with a truly vulgar curiosity will inevitably find. However, there is very little else one can know by my name alone. All one can gather of me after having learnt my name are scraps. People will ask me now, ‘How come I know nothing of your passions?’ ‘How come I know nothing of your tastes in music, film and art?’ ‘How come I don’t know your sexual orientation?’ ‘How come I don’t know whether or not you have a spouse, a significant other, a fiancé, a mistress, a civil or platonic union?’ ‘How come I don’t know on what street you live?’

Never mind that the actual root questions that would allow satiation to these curiosities were not addressed. How often does the quiet person fall casualty to the silence of a group of people who have suddenly run out of things to say when someone turns the attention of every person in the room to the quiet person and says, ‘Why are you so quiet?’ Questions that should not be asked need be answered. Such questions are indictments of a character that don’t have any relationship to anything one could call ‘conversation.’ A question that implies both its premise and its answer and the premise of its answer are meant to call the party being asked into a state in which they are forced to begin explaining their actions, only to realize in the midst of the explanation that everyone understands the answer despite the tremor of voice and the wanting articulation. There are few things more shameful than one having to explain oneself for not having explained oneself adequately enough unprompted. Asking someone ‘Why are you so private?’ is as pointless as asking a stutterer to explain, using nothing but words that start with the letter P, when his stuttering problem started, why he thinks it started and what he proposes to do to fix it. The very act of privacy—for privacy is as much of an act as inaction—is at once a war against shamelessness and an act of surrender to the privacy of others. One with vulgar curiosities about the lives of others will mistake their own need for privacy, which one then feels guilty for feeling a need, as a sense of secrecy. That information to which other people feel entitled, when undisclosed, becomes a sense of shame in one who would just as soon sneak up a tree to peak into the window of someone else to discover things they want to discover. There is always the fear that they are not treating the world fairly.

Lack of privacy used to be counted as one of the primary features of totalitarianism, whereas our lack of privacy is the new socialism. When we can’t find a sense of fairness on the political sector, we are obligated to find it amongst one another, and through what few tool’s we’ve been given. One of the tool’s graciously given to us was supplied by one Mark Zuckerberg. Through his social media tool, we’re able to wear a blue uniform in the cyber world that none of us would dream of wearing in the real world. Through Facebook, the paucity of one’s tastes may finally find relief in this social uniformity in which even the most particular may fall through those few porous places that leave us with only a fleeting sense of a personality. Even that which makes up a true personality is cleansed of so much eccentricity (save that which is of the socially acceptable kind), stripped of so much certainty concerning taste, propped up with so much quaintness and cuteness and encouraged into so much shameless self-promotion—for everything from the paltriest of ‘deep’ thoughts to the most boring art—that any inclination that one might have to be or say something truly original is trumped out quickly, like a mild infection by white blood cells, by all of the other ‘individuals’ who have decided to conglomerate for the purpose of societal harmony. The individual: Someone whose eccentricities are protected by their uniformity. It is a misconception that disharmony threatens those comfortable with their uniformity; it threatens those able to keep their individuality within easily testable perimeters. In order to keep our individuality in check, we must agree that certain deviations in the social uniformity to which we adhere beyond the perimeters of our individuality must be thought and acted out in complete silence, otherwise that little bit of eccentricity which we are actually ‘allowed’ will be compromised.

In the midst of the social media cloud, this medium by which everyone can promiscuously court every exhibitionistic drive within them all while pretending that responses and attentions are not needed, to what do we fall prey? Pictures of food? Three-paragraph political diatribes; occasional all-caps? Selfies? It is all a bit more sinister than the trivialities. They may drive us to make check boxes in the ‘delete’ section of our friends lists or prompt us to ‘unfollow’ someone’s feed, but the trivial hiccups that keep creeping up in culture are no great threat compared to the wholesale divvying up of information as a commodity, which we are then told we must ‘sell.’ The algorithms favor popular comments and this is what one sees at the top of the newsfeed. What does this amount to? Those who actually have an item to sell must popularize it and then compete with a popular statement that may have nothing to do with selling at all. The new socialism! All information is treated exactly the same, whether it be a proposed business transaction or the collegiate gripes of failed twenty-something romance.

The world of self-promotion is an enticing venture. How tempting to think that the elimination of my personal life may give me the attention needed to sell a product in order to fund my private life! Traffic, on the web, amounts to potential sales. Who is Erica Albright? I wrote an essay last year on the fact that she doesn’t exist. One theme of the essay was that people were plugging her name into internet searches to see if David Fincher’s film, The Social Network, had created a phantom or if there really was some old blog buried in the sands of time called ‘Zuckonit’ in which Mark Zuckerberg criticized Albright’s breasts and social class in one fell, drunken swoop with a few clicks of his billion-dollar fingers. My website then received daily traffic due to people’s curiosity about Erica Albright, a curiosity which was one of the sole themes of the essay!

One can see how the act of following the ‘trending’ articles of any given search engine—which bloggers, salesmen and politicians then use to attach to the information they wish to push—turns providers of internet content into parasites. ‘Cultural relevance’ is a numbers game; a matter of algorithms, repeatedly stressed points and compromises in taste. The market is free as long as information is considered free. It is no wonder that the mediators of Facebook have implemented a program that keeps track of deleted characters within potential comment posts under the pretense that the information will be given to parties performing a psychological study as to why people self-censor. It is curious that someone on the Facebook team thought that the public would find a ‘study on self-censorship’ a much nobler endeavor than all-out surveillance. If this proposed study is truly the motivation for their keeping track of character deletions, it is certainly costing someone a lot of money. It is very telling of our society that a study would be of such importance. What does this say but that slowness of thought is a curiosity to marketers and, God forbid, politicians? God forbid that when expressing oneself, one would actually think about what one is saying! God forbid someone would compromise the investment of a marketer’s sale. God forbid someone would take a few nights before enlisting in the military. God forbid someone would desist from sharing an opinion. God forbid one would pull one’s finger from the trigger to get a better look at the target, or perhaps, to lay the weapon down altogether!

One must forgive my curiosities for not having anything to sell. My curiosities may be just as vulgar as the next man’s and I may have just as much to sell but I would like to keep my curiosity and my business endeavors separate. In doing this, I don’t have to surrender my curiosities to that true demon which is the root of all of our wars, violence and strife—an answer.

 

Pop Music

Yes, Pop is easy. Most of us don’t find much trouble trying to place the decade of a Pop song. The high-energy ‘Tooty Fruity’ format belongs to the 1950s. The slowed down, tambourine-heavy, neo-pastoral flower-power folk song belongs to the 1960s. The echoey, arena rock accompanied by cowbells and occasional church-organ synth belongs to the 1970s. The ultra synth, ultra English belongs to the 1980s. In the 1990s come grunge, alternative post-punk (its stylistic grandfather ‘punk’ never making it to the mainstream), the golden years of rap, and so many hybrids that it seems impossible to tease their origins apart anymore. Pop might be easy to place but does this make it suck?

Some people thought the hybridization of tone in Wagner cumbersome even if it appealed to the masses, while Beethoven is accepted as above reproach. Some people think that Justin Broadrick’s Napalm Death was just noise while his later band Godflesh were an innovative artistic force.

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but chances are the beauty you see aligns itself with a group-taste you cannot escape no matter how much you try. Most people will pay lip service at the alter of nonconformity by saying that ‘Pop sucks.’ But if most people are saying that, then who is buying it? Who is listening to the radio? Who is downloading the MP3s and giving Pop a high Spotify rating?

Can we say that Pop sucks with sincerity? It’s not a style, after all, is it? ‘Pop’ describes ‘popular music,’ so it is all relative, right?

That’s what the record companies want you to think. They would like you to think that they simply contain some antenna that tells them when someone has talent, when we all know in our hearts that they simply follow and act as parasites off of societal trends. In other words, by the time something has reached the pop mainstream, it has usually already died in the underground or, more often than not, on the streets that created its underground—and that’s only concerning pop at it’s best. Pop at its worst is a childish cannibalization by record companies of talented artists whom they think they can manipulate into aligning with some marketable image that often has little to do with the culture until it is introduced to it.

Granted, sometimes pop gets it right. The Beatles were what Pop music needed for that time. They not only responded to repetitive societal themes, but they found new ways to surreptitiously incorporate sensitive yet known themes into catchy, easy-to-grasp ditties that humanized what had once been demonized, as was the case with ‘Daytripper.’ And that’s only their ‘Pop.’ That says nothing about their latter, experimental work.

Make no mistake: Pop is a style. But it is a style that renews itself with each moment on that which is most easily translatable to the masses. This is why you hear hyper synth-laden  club songs at 7:00 a.m. on the way to work—they want to remind you that alcohol, molly and ecstasy are waiting for you in the hours you’re willing to seek them in between the 45-hour a week job you work to pay the bills. They want to remind you that the mating ritual is the only ritual that matters, and that you need to continue working hard to earn the rights to achieve the circumstances surrounding that ritual, even though the mating ritual is what society unknowingly has as its foundation, pre-dating the work you are wasting your time believing is valuable to natural, human experience.

Does Pop suck? I can’t answer that for you. You will like what you like. But if one thinks that something sucks, whether it be pop or the sincerest of the sincere (and let’s face it, ‘sincerity’ in art is so popular now that it means less than it ever has), one should be ready to defend one’s reasons for thinking so.

One example: It has become popular today to lambast Nickleback. I suspect that this newfound, unprecedented hatred is due to the fact that a sources of popular culture-carp (usually in popular media and the internet) have finally caught on to what those with taste discovered a very long time ago: that Nickleback is simply bad music. Of course the masses will catch on and start reviling Nickleback now that they are no longer relevant to the mainstream and, thus, not a threat. Culture-carp outlets are perpetually behind, just as the record-labels are behind concerning trends.

Forget easy targets. Would you allow yourself to think that, God forbid, The Beatles or Tchaikovsky might suck? I find no cultivated opinion offensive. Arguments are important. They’re what keep the world turning. But if you’re using the same exact language and phrases, thus espousing the same tradition and beliefs as the last person, you’re compromised before the message exits your lips. You’re merely depositing a meme into the air for the next person to pick up and perpetuate the status quo.

‘Pop’ is not just a musical category. It is whatever is the easiest to say through the most easily distributable medium. Like I tried to say before, the easiest thing to say is not always a bad or silly message. Sometimes it comes at the right time when the soil of culture has been tilled for the message. This happens more often in music.

Surprisingly, literature is often worse off than music, even though music is usually the easy, ready-target. Music is only a ready target because, today, songs are shorter and, therefore, easier to judge. In literature, we’re often spoonfed yesteryear’s biases and yestercentury’s disputed and decentralized popular maxims. Yestercentury’s geniuses might have arrived at and gotten over the Enlightenment and the Neo-Copernican revolution while today’s masses are just beginning to swallow the fossilized platitudes of mediocre cultural commentators like David Foster Wallace and Christopher Hitchens. Books are longer, and therefore, more important. It often helps if the writer/commentator/polemicist is a swift public figure; it gives everything they say an air of authority granted by precious little else than Almighty Style.

There are people in this world who think it is suspect to trust anything that is popular. The trailblazers resent tradition, the equilibriumists resent the trailblazers and the traditionalists resent the equilibriumists. Those who want the old way back are ‘reactionaries’ and those who are always looking for something new are ‘fashionists’ and those who try to find a balance are always ‘reletavists.’ Meanwhile, traditionalists can’t seem to understand that ‘relativist’ is only a pejorative if you are not a relativist. Equilibriumists, communists, anarchists and everything anti-aristocracy can’t seem to understand that their own wish to step outside of the narrative of history is itself a new ‘fashion.’

Unfortunately, the only way ‘out’ is ‘through.’ If societal trends don’t produce first-rate art, one can’t be too surprised. It is partly the fault of the record producers who, in paying attention to trends, ignore great quality, thus denying the mass distribution of better art. This is merely a marketing problem. Those who care about good art should not worry about it too much. In a time when art has become a commodity like candles or sugar, one must not forget to seek out good art, rather than expecting it to come to a store near you. We are not exactly living in the midst of a renaissance, but that’s not to say that a lot of quality cannot rise from the soil of our time. If you care about good art seek it or create it. Do not worry about how popular it is. Leave popularity to itself. 

 

Life After 'Like.'

Sit in a public place and listen to the twenty-somethings at a table near you. Count the filler words. We all have them no matter how many times we were told growing up that the job interview format is allergic to ‘ums’ and ‘uhs,’ , as are most situations that require our public speech or social performance. But there is another filler people of my generation are especially susceptible to, and that is ‘like.’ Unlike ‘um’ or ‘uh,’ ‘like’ is used not only as a means of comparison, not only as means of lightening the weight of a subject before it is introduced into conversation, but it also acts as its own punctuation (whose rules I will not try to determine here).

Some people are only moderate ‘like’ sayers until they get a few drinks in them. Some say it relentlessly. Some people, usually of previous generations, are able to go on a little bit longer, littering their conversation with their own fillers, which might consist of the phrase, ‘you know?’ or ‘you see?’ or ‘you see what I’m saying?’

The peculiar distinction between these fillers and ‘like’ is that they all suggest a desire to be understood, whereas ‘like’ seems to represent a constant insecurity about what is being communicated, without regard to whether or not the other person actually, at any point, understands (and usually when the listener foresees the meaning long before the meaning is actually arrived at).

I’ve always meant to be aware of what I’m saying and to clean my speech of unnecessary words, but a few days ago is when I actually had something akin to a spiritual experience with language. I heard a girl talking to her friend over coffee, struggling through ‘likes,’ the likes of which I’d seldom heard. There were ‘likes’ that had commas both before and after, it seemed. There were ‘likes’ that helped modify other ‘likes.’ There were ‘likes’ that needed turning hands and wheeling fingers to get their points across. There were ‘likes’ that might have been their own alien sentences with ellipses before and after. I could feel the ‘likes’ stealing the heat from her coffee. I could feel the ‘likes’ robbing her of moments she would never get back, all because she felt the need to explain herself with insufficient speech. The sad thing was, had it not been for the ‘likes,’ nothing she said sounded particularly stupid or unthoughtful. It occurred to me that no one else in the world really talks this way. Nevertheless, we North Americans press on through conversations that are killed by non-words before they ever even have the chance to get off the ground.

I set out to stop using the word where it isn’t appropriate. I’ve already failed. It’s a battle. I’ll not be entering any 12-step programs but will resolve myself to shrugging.

Not only do I think it’s important to emit the word from conversation for the sake of cleanliness, but I think speech patterns riddled with fillers are both representative of the thoughts that carry them while reciprocating that inability to articulate back into the brain. In other words, speech peppered continually with the word ‘like’ not only indicates one’s inability to think, but it trains one not to think.

Filler words can be caught like any virus, just like an idea, concept or a habit. By speaking to others in a way that doesn’t require thought, we teach others how to stop thinking. By composing our speech to not only an adequate level but a noble level, we train ourselves to be noble and provide an example for others.

Life after ‘like’ is not only a life after filler words—a life after ‘ums’ ‘uhs’ and ‘you knows’—but it’s also a life that seeks form and unity of expression. 

Blurred Lines - 3

In my last two posts I brought up several works that might appeal to fiction and nonfiction sensibilities at once. I already mentioned The Ruin of Kasch, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, the works of Henry Miller and The Sorrows of Young Werther.

I’ll take this space to list a few others if people are curious to read them and have this particular taste for the kind of blurred lines of which I speak:

 

Forty-Nine Steps by Roberto Calasso

Like The Ruin of Kasch and La Folie de Baudelaire, the book starts with a few central reference points and then pulls its own sort of heterodox narrative out of history. With this book, the special points of return are Karl Kraus, Walter Benjamin and Max Stirner.

 

Little Wilson and Big God by Anthony Burgess

Highly lyrical for an autobiography. Is it embellishment? Did Jack Wilson really have flings with grown women at the age of 11 and 12? Did his father really find him gurgling in his crib, freshly born just after his mother and sister died of Spanish Flu? Does it matter? It’s all told in such high style that it’s author makes his own life sound like Catch-22.

 

Atlas by William T. Vollmann

100 short stories split up into 2 sections of 50. Each story is numbered and has some palindromic relationship with the story corresponding to it on the opposite end of the book. It features stories that are embellished, real, and totally fictional, but I’ll leave that for you to make the distinction.

 

Either/Or by Soren Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard is a peculiar case. Through use of what he would come to call ‘indirect communication,’ he used characters to develop his never very systematic philosophy. Either/Or was his stylistic debut, published under a pseudonym (one of many) as he said things he didn’t believe, things he almost believed, and things he did believe through a dozen voices, whether it be the alternating aphorisms of the first section, the long essay on Mozart and Don Juan, the ‘Diary of a Seducer’ or the concluding ‘sermon.’

 

Radio Free Albemuth by Philip K. Dick

Published posthumously and containing elements of his later work, this one probably fits into the category I’ve been discussing for disconcerting reasons. Dick believed fictions and doubted facts—at least, this seems to be the case. The book is narrated by Dick himself as America acquires a Hitleresque president who launches the country into a nightmare of paranoia and work camps. But one of Dick’s friends seems to be receiving messages from a source beyond the stars to guide them.

 

The Letters of Rainier Maria Rilke

I emphasize the word ‘blurred’ for this one, for his letters often have a similar appeal to his one novel. Both offer reflections purchased only with great time and much patience. To read Rilke’s letters is not only to put oneself in the face of frightening truths, but to be challenged to follow your own conclusions. 

Blurred Lines - Matters of Fiction and Nonfiction - 2

Sometimes the distinctions within one piece of text are clearer in intention than others, and we might find ourselves reading something that would count as a hybrid between Fiction and Nonfiction. We’re not talking about alternate history per se. We’re talking about a text that alternates between what is believed to be real by the wider society and what is completely intended as artificial. Some books do a good job of cluing the reader in on when the book is committing the crime of fiction and when it is eliciting an act of truth. Others intersperse so many different kinds of genres in such short space that the reader feels she is forced to stand back and look at the whole as though it were a completely unique genre to itself.

Roberto Calasso is one such writer. Even though the blurbs on the back of The Ruin of Kasch will tell people right up front what is happening in the book, the reader is forced to experience a page in which every piece of text is broken up the same way. The aphorisms don’t look any different from the fictive paragraph about Goethe’s birthday, nor does this look any different from the anecdotes and mini essays on art, culture, numbers, Marxism and sacrifice. Such books cause wars in bookstores concerning where they belong on the shelves. Because a large portion of Kasch deals with Tallyrand, many bookstores categorized it with French History. The blurbs within claim it as a novel in disguise. It is probably better to go with its author’s description of it when he was interviewed by The Paris Review—that it was, simply, a ‘narrative.’

Just as Kasch used Tallyrand as its rhetorical launch-pad, Callasso’s La Folie de Baudelaire uses the poet of its title. The book’s being put in the poetry section of the bookstore is misleading. The book is not necessarily about poetry, but about the very subject of modernity and how Baudelaire’s thought acted as its template. Just as artful and narrative as it is theoretical, we smell the streets of Paris and feel the sheets in the brothels and we hear the chatter in cafes and see the windows blinking on and off at night, all while Baudelaire haunts some place among it all, acting as a double agent between God and Satan.

Embellishments of real life, like Henry Miller’s writings, might serve to interest a reader looking for something with a narrative resembling fiction but which launches into all kinds of philosophical abstractions, anecdotes and asides. Some of the works of Geoff Dyer alternate quite clearly between fiction and nonfiction, as do the works of William Vollmann, especially in his book Atlas.

The works that interest me most now are those which seem to contain an unironic internal narrative rupture. I say unironic because the works in question are a little older and woollier, when the novel form wasn’t quite as rigid or bound by as many aesthetic laws as it seems to be today. One work that comes to mind is The Sorrows of Young Werther. The tormented main character’s personal diaries meet a friend’s removed account, so that we can logically witness the tragic end. While one could argue that this sort of unconscious use of narrative rupture is manipulative—merely a means to tug on the reader’s heartstrings—I would argue that more recent works of ‘experimental’ fiction, often lumped in as ‘postmodern,’ employ many of these same techniques but for reasons that compromise the internal integrity of the text. Whether a Robert Coover or a John Barth tries to play metafictional games with the readers to teach them about the act of reading by simply reminding them that they are reading, or whether a David Foster Wallace tries to invert these very tactics for some lofty moral purpose by using almost identical narrative ruptures, we are dealing with a kind of fiction that seeks to arrive at some point outside of itself—that tries to transcend itself. But to what purpose?

We may fall endlessly back into arguments between art-for-art’s sake and art that is socially utilitarian, but nothing can convince me that Nabokov’s Pale Fire is not the summit of this sort of narrative gamesmanship that his American academician successors aped every chance they had. Yet at the same time, in Pale Fire, when I read John Shade’s poem, I don’t feel as though I am being tricked into thinking outside of the book. When I read Charles Kinbote’s forward and commentary on that poem which comprise the novel, I feel invited back to a different, personalized interpretation of that poem to serve a narrative rupture—though perhaps ‘rupture’ is not the best word, for it is more like a sort of narrative flowering. Pale Fire does not talk down to the reader and it does not wink or offer transcendence if only you would recognize that it is a fake product. It works off of its own energy and locates all of its meaning only in the world of the book.

Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge probably has more in common with the works of Henry Miller, Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski than fans of any of them would care to admit. I name them all together for, with the exception of Henry Miller, they all wrote highly fictionalized accounts of their own lives using distinct alter-egos. Rilke’s narrator, however close to Rilke he might be, is not Rilke. The highly transient, listless Rilke was always embellishing his distant blood link to a reputable aristocracy, as though believing himself to be a lost prince from some older world (a real life Charles Kinbote?) while his Brigge is able to tell us precisely who his relatives are and just how distant he is from them. On a much simpler level, Rilke’s Notebooks is a novel narrated by a struggling writer, as are the others mentioned above. But in this book, few are the adventures and episodes of this struggling writer as would happen in a Factotum or a Post Office. Rather, in this book, Brigge can develop some of his most frightening conclusions about the world where the real life Rilke might have only flirted with them in his poems and more so in his letters. It is Brigge who concludes his accounts with his final, lonely views on love by turning the tale of The Prodigal Son inside out—that it was the son who needed to forgive his family for loving him.

If Henry Miller developed an alter-ego, he didn’t bother to change that alter-ego’s name. Rather, he changed the name of his second wife and a few of his friends. God knows how much of it was real; given the way that his books are filled with passages in which friends, acquaintances and lovers compare him to Jesus, speak incessantly about his genius and pretty much seem addicted to his personality altogether, I would suspect, precious little.

If only as a nice break, I’m drawn to books that follow the sort of path laid out by the works listed above. They are fictions that do not seem like fictions and real events that couldn’t possibly be real. 

Related Posts:

Silent Interviews with Samuel R. Delany

The Sorrows of Young Werther

 

 

Blurred Lines - Matters of Fiction and Nonfiction - 1

Everyone has an idea about the way a bookstore should be arranged in a perfect world. To some, we would be better off if there was only one fiction genre, to be called ‘Fiction.’ That would probably work, though I’m loathe to imagine what it would be like if those customers were ever correct in the grammar of their questions who came into the bookstore of my employment asking, ‘Where is the nonfiction section?’

There is a brand of novelist who detests the distinction between a Western novel and a Science Fiction novel to such a degree that one would think he was battling something he considered tantamount to racism. This brand of impartiality is usually espoused by writers of fiction embarrassed by the very corners of the bookstore to which their publishers have cast them or by writers who, due to contract or mere niche, are unable to easily switch genres in mid-career, causing them much professional resentment. Once in a while, an intellectual like Samuel Delany comes along with a direct interest in and rigorous dedication to the problem of genre and just what makes it what it is. The summit of Delany’s discourse on genre goes something like this: Genres, though they cannot be said to have no basis, are over-determined. Genre is not so much a way of writing as it is a way of reading.

In other words, when one enters a bookstore and opens a book titled Nova by a Samuel R. Delany and sees that its cover art portrays planets, stars and spaceships, one can put a safe bet that concurrent imagery will be featured, at least in part, in the text lying behind the binding. But for over-determined reasons, if the reader is familiar at all with the tradition or simply in touch with the way that markets cater to expectations, he knows that the book is not going to be a book set in space but which quickly isolates itself to a room in which nothing but Jane Austen types of plots and resolutions take place over tea and dances. He knows that the drama will somehow involve the characters in a spaceship, headed toward one of those planets and various technological, cultural, and biological malfunctions. The existence of the genre—and its marketability—depend on this kind of faith that the reader will approach the text with a set of presuppositions that will tell her what kind of attention to give the text.

This is just the same with different kinds of texts lumped together rather clumsily as ‘Nonfiction.’ The difference is that writers of Nonfiction are less willing to admit it. All but the shrewdest of biographers of Marilyn Monroe are doomed to deny that the very word ‘biography’ doesn’t automatically denote a sense of truth concerning the life of their subject and that their account is just as susceptible to the lies and prejudices of the great many people by whom information about the subject came about. Even less are those but the shrewdest of biographers willing to admit that their own tacit prejudices and presuppositions about the subject’s life may have seeped through the text.

If one portrayer of one subject can marginalize the story to such a localized degree, imagine what an entire tradition of thought, what an entire culture can do to history itself. Thus, we arrive in the section of the bookstore that deals with Art Criticism, World War Two, History of the Romani People, Mythology, or any number of sections formed out of genres. We approach these texts with faith that the authors conveyed this information in such a way that the narrative does not compromise the actual events (dates, places, births and deaths). If we were to believe—or if we were told—that the narrative compromised these things, we would be dealing with fiction.