Gestational Imperative

Kant said, 'Act only in accordance with that Maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.'

      This is not only a brilliant reconfiguration of the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated, but an improvement on the idea of platonic forms.

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

Not Activism But Activation

Activism is distraction. It is distraction from subterfuge, manipulation, subtle gestures and from exchanges that the shrewdest of economists always miss. Activism is not the vehicle of conspiracy as a rule, just as those conspiring to what they perceive to be their own ends are no less automatons to a large pattern of mindless drives, unseen forces and determinations embedded into the plain of unilateral immanence. Those who make it a point to beat their breasts and raise their voices are not tuned into the frequency which remains collected and calm enough to steer them the direction which most benefits its own end. 

Freed Speech

Featured in The Burning Block Issue 4

‘Free speech,' as a subject, concerns nothing more than one's propensity to act on oaths. Freely offered oaths, unkept, have caused mankind to turn to lawgivers to administer justice. Accelerate forward, and the law is not enough. One regulates the types of oaths others can utter, and soon, man is in fetters. He saves himself with the narcotic of psychology, political and identity-theory, religious dogma, insurance. One is free to speak if one is unafraid of getting a rifle-butt to one's face. One is free to speak if one is unafraid of losing one's job or incarceration.

Who is it who grants free speech? Those who control the trajectory of oaths? Surely not, for no speech is truly free in its given configuration. That speech is free which is not concerned with the outcome (karma). Speak against walls and through walls or into the open air; it makes no difference.

Freedom of speech is freedom itself. It is the freedom of association. It is the war resulting from free association, it is peace as well. It is righteousness and sin, God and Satan, and man's choice between them. Those who silence others speak freely, but in doing so incarcerate themselves. Freedom of speech is the very key to all liberation.

Who can stop the song of the soul? Even when the tongue is severed, the heart can still rejoice. One can no more stop a person from making internal oaths than one can stop an infant from defecating by simply taking its diaper away. All laws are only words. Words certainly bind, but they free as much as they bind. For everything they reveal, they hide and likewise, for everything they hide, they reveal. One hide's oneself best through speech, as if performing a spell. Everything that goes unspoken is distributed to the eyes, the muscles, the very inflection of the voice when other words are spoken.

Speech cannot be silenced. It is echoed through the halls of prisons as men and women rattle their cages. It is uttered in locker rooms out of earshot from masters. It is chanted in slogans, it is preached in truths, it is cursed in blasphemes. It is inanely delivered from the lips of crusty old men and women in congresses and parliaments and monarchies. It ornaments trivialities and it sweetens lies. It is shouted between breaths and it is traded in debate and polite conversation alike.

Who can stop free speech? Who can truly forever stop heinous things from being uttered, and who is ever in the position to consider the heinousness and the righteousness of each word? Let people come to the truth on their own, in their own time, that words are nothing, that words are all equally powerful and all, paradoxically, of no value in themselves.

Do not be silent! Let no one tell you that speech can be abused, for it then follows that someone has the secret potion, the remedy for all evil, the proper language for the proper, universal world. Let no one blaspheme nature with arbitrary distinctions. Let no one enslave you with their own repression. Be not timid in the face of violence. Be as silent as others are loud and as loud as others are silent. Do not be subject to the weakness of others, falling for the cheap tricks of intellectual conjecture. The emptiness of silence determines the path of speech, just as speech makes hallowed the silence. You are free to enslave yourself, trapped forever in your own freedom. Be a slave only to freedom itself!

The Non-Aggression Principle As Aggression

So many manners, so many ceremonial gestures have been devoted precisely to the exclusion of large groups of people. It is all the better if a swifter exclusion can be measured economically. It is no mystery that one needs not have an ounce of culture in order to have money, but then, money becomes its own singular culture. Just as socialism requires that one man care about the well-being of another to give a piece of his portion to him, a truly free market, if it is to be more than a metaphor, requires that each man not pay for some violence to be done to another man on his behalf. But wherever there exist men who want to commit violence and men who want violence done but couldn't be bothered to do it themselves, the monetization of violence will take place. 

The Origin

It is hoped, in every nation state, that some final goal or eventuation will reveal itself when the conditions are just right, thus abrogating all injustices deemed necessary along the way. It is assumed that this final eventuation will be tied, as if metaphysically, to the origin, in the manner of a religious eschatology. But how many nation states truly had such mythic events to begin them? Revolutions have long defined the internal destiny of countries that were not fortunate enough to take their own shape but were forced to conform to the new model. 

Representative Authority

Representative government is rife with characters who are stationed for little other purpose than for the sake of flattering people's feelings. The representative leader or potential leader only represents desire. Granted, the representative leader may create the desire itself, 

Public School=Public Whining

It has been said, less politely, that the difference between a Republican and a Democrat for a president is the difference between the meager choice of a red or a blue condom in prison. As for who will build the roads, libertarians have given up telling them that the free market will. Socialists have given up saying that some rotating union will. Anarchists have given up telling them that whoever wants to build them will do it themselves.

Practical questions, silly and as indicative of the state as they are, have been replaced with questions which presuppose the state without even the phantom of an alternative.

Thoughts On Freedom

1

Whether they are selling socks or toad meat, marketers are no strangers to the abstract concepts that humans want most that which cannot be sold. They know that what most humans want is freedom—but especially in America where happiness is mistaken for it.

But what does freedom mean in a world of meaningless words? Or is that just it? Is freedom merely a ‘construct?’ A ‘fabrication?’ A ‘fiction?’ No, in western society today, freedom is the

Chomsky and Foucault

upload.jpeg

Buy The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature

Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault are described in this book by Fons Elders as ‘tunnellers through a mountain working at opposite sides of the same mountain with different tools, without even knowing if they are working in each other’s direction.’ Human Nature: Justice vs. Power is the title of the debate, which originally aired on Dutch television in 1971.

The title is taken from the stance that both men arrived at (or continued to entertain) into in the late stages of their careers. To reduce it to its simplest explanation—a job that the title of the book has already prepared us for—, Chomsky tends to think that some sense of justice is responsible for human nature while Foucault tends to think that programs of power play more into human behavior. One might be tempted to pin the whole occasion down to a manifestation of an ongoing war between foundationalism and hermeneutics, Chomsky being a likely tie to the former and Foucault a likely tie to the latter.

However, nothing between these two thinkers is ever quite that simple. As Chomsky continues on insisting that certain attributes of human language and creativity stem from fundamental biological properties, we start to gather that this insistence has more to do with a scientific need to push forward with a theory in order to see if it stands or falls in some provided context. This also gives Chomsky a chance to remain optimistic about the nature of man by postulating that some notion of justice or, at least, a notion of ‘better justice’ is what drives human nature.

This also gives him the opportunity to remain fairly constant through both subjects—creativity and politics. On the subject of creativity, Foucault seems to disagree with him very little or only in small ways, while remaining suspicious of the inherent logical movement of Chomsky’s assumptions. They split on Descartes and the mind, and the nuance of this split is representative of the paradigmic relationship that these two thinkers have with the subject matter.

The subject of politics is where Foucault is at his most rigorous. When asked why he is interested in politics, the most basic answer he can provide is that it would be far stranger for someone not to be interested in politics, at which point it would be justifiable to ask, ‘Well, damit, why the hell not?’ A self proclaimed ‘Nietzschean,’ Foucault’s specialty is in the genealogies and pedigrees of certain ideas and assumptions. Through socio-linguistic turns, through the intellectual extracts of different sets of phenomena and the inter-subjective dialogue possible between them through different texts, Foucault made a career out of constantly trying to step outside of the historical contexts in which we’re thrown and creating brand new narratives in such a way that they would read as though they were things hidden since the beginning of man.

The most fundamental disagreement happens late into the debate, in the political section, in which Foucault postulates, not without hesitation as though trying to avoid an impolite subject, that the notion of ‘justice’ was created and then perpetuated by oppressed classes as a justification for economic and political power. Chomsky defends justice as being sought as a network of basic human needs like love, decency, kindness and sympathy, whereas Foucault’s view of justice, Chomsky claims, is very specific to only certain political situations and doesn’t take into account instances like two countries going to war—One is left to choose one side, which reduces the objective to a level of basic human needs and the mutual striving of the citizens to achieve it for one another as well as themselves.

Often, Foucault, eager to escape essentialist trappings, always comes back to the subject of power as a means to clarify, though he does seem to rest there much the way Nietzsche did. However Foucault does deserve credit for defining Power along more complex lines than the Nietzschean idea of power as ‘the sensation of having overcome,’ or the force by which every set of phenomena can be reduced—‘will to power.’ Foucault takes it further by saying that power is not simply a way of measuring the ways in which the strong constrain the weak but that it can also be manifested through one culture’s influence of educational tools and medical practices. This turns Foucault around from what some have been tempted to call a pessimistic reading in favor of a  cooperative project that coincides with that of Chomsky’s—to work on a more livable world for all.

The debate only takes up about a third of the book. It’s followed up by another great interview with Chomsky alone, in which he discusses American policy, Vietnam, McCarthyism, the crimes of the FBI and the climate of counter culture and how various revolutions developed. There’s one long and one short essay by Foucault and in them, he sets out on a mission to map, with vague hope, a better political future while on the other hand deconstructing basic terms and ideas like ‘justice,’ ‘man of justice,’ ‘shepherd,’ and ‘lawgiver.’

Though no real conclusion is reached between them (as one might expect), it is an interesting look at a very important project for humanity, even if the means to get there are a bit hazy.

Conversations With James Joyce

upload.jpeg

Buy Conversations With James Joyce

The foreword to this edition of the book is determined to, at once, paint its author as a genius worthy of Joyce’s friendship and to divulge to us the most sensational instances of their meeting before we even get a chance to read about it ourselves.

Forgiving the clumsy beginning, we’re then introduced to a token of this particular genre whose most remarkable predecessor—and, surely, a direct model was Conversations with Goethe. Like Eckermann’s Goethe book, Arthur Power’s book is autobiographical in structure but slight on the ‘auto’ at just the instant when the star-artist arrives on the scene of our narrator’s life. At this point, minimal narration segues into a lot of lit-talk.

Though the forward by David Norris suggests that Mr. Powers is humbly portraying a younger, bohemian, ‘romantically-inclined’ version of himself in the shadow of a great genius, one can’t help but think that perhaps Mr. Powers thought, in fact, that he was the one best equipped to match wits with the great Joyce. After all, we’re only warned in the beginning by Powers, ‘My point of view has changed and coincides more with his, but such was it then, and as such I have left it.’ As close to Joyce’s mind as Powers’ mind might have become later, Powers never gives the reader any direct indication that he later disavowed his hatred of Ulysses. He preferred Joyce’s previous works which he thought were more ‘romantic’: Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Joyce’s frequent defenses give us some of the most personal insights into the heart of one of the most important books of the twentieth century. Of the work of his latter period, he says,

The important thing is not what we write, but how we write, and in my opinion the modern writer must be an adventurer above all, willing to take every risk, and be prepared to founder in his effort if need be. In other words we must write dangerously: everything is inclined to flux and change nowadays and modern literature, to be valid, must express that flux. InUlysses I tried to express the multiple variations which make up the social life of a city—its degradations and its exaltations. In other words, what we want to avoid is the classical, with its rigid structure and its emotional limitations. The mediaeval, in my opinion, had greater emotional fecundity than classicism, which is the art of the gentleman, and is now as out-of-date as gentlemen are, classicism in which the scents are only sweet, but I have preferred other smells.

And we get plenty of other smells. Not many other novels before or after Ulysses feature a prominent scene with its main character on the john.

Arthur’s experiences with Joyce are set almost entirely in his living room. Much of Joyce’s lifestyle is hardly surprising to read about. He hated all things bohemian. He didn’t like to go to parties and he didn’t feel comfortable around people.

His wit and black humor are reserved for one-on-one conversations (specifically with Powers in this case) as in one instant where Joyce tells the story of a late acquaintance. He was a fellow Irishman named Tuohy, who became jealous and antagonistic when Joyce became an international celebrity. He once annoyed Joyce by mock-clapping when he entered a room. When Joyce learned that Tuohy had committed suicide in America, Power’s tells us that Joyce ‘showed no emotion.’

—I am not surprised, he said. He nearly made me want to commit suicide too.

Unlike Conversations with Goethe, which is made up of warm, congenial insights into many subjects between friends, Conversations with James Joyce is made up almost entirely of literary arguments. It is impressive that Powers was able to honestly capture (to the best of his memory) the biting, sarcastic quips that Joyce reserved for the former’s favorite writers.

After pages of Joyce tearing apart the beloveds of western literature, it is refreshing to hear how much he appreciates Proust. In this book, however, Joyce’s appreciation of an artist is often traded for Power’s dislike of the same. ‘You should give him more patience,’ he tells Powers, ‘…certainly no one has taken modern psychology so far, or to such a fine point.’

When Powers asks if Joyce is interested in Dostoyevsky, he replies, ‘Of course.’ Dostoyevsky, in fact, earns a brief but high place of praise in this book, probably higher than most other names mentioned.

He is the man more than any other who has created modern prose, and intensified it to its present-day pitch. It was his explosive power which shattered the Victorian novel with its simpering maidens and ordered commonplaces; books which were without imagination or violence.

The book ends abruptly on an unfortunate and sad, yet totally puzzling note—a rift in their friendship. What’s puzzling about this rift is that it is not only vague—having grown in the soil of Joyce’s ‘ill humour’ which came about one night over a meal—but that seems to rest almost entirely on a gross misinterpretation of a statement that Joyce made to lighten the mood.

When Joyce tells Powers about the birth of his grandson, Powers, ‘not being a family man who dotes on children,’ and who was ‘feeling very bitter at that time about the world in general,’ replies to Joyce with a passive, inconsiderate, ‘Is that all?’ When Joyce replies, heatedly, with, ‘It is the most important thing there is,’ Powers, rather than taking it to mean that family is incredibly important to Joyce, speculates to himself,

‘the most important thing there is’ meant that another Joyce had been born into the world. Even to this day, I am still in doubt, for Joyce’s estimation of merit would on occasion suddenly flare up to a point of madness.'

‘I cannot see what’s so important,’ Powers replies shamelessly. ‘It is something which happens to everyone, everywhere, all the time.’

The fact that Powers qualifies this callous statement by mentioning his not being a family man, by his irritation at Joyce’s alleged self-perception, and also by his unspoken agreement with Beckett of the world that ‘It had gone on long enough,’ leads one to assume that, inevitably, Powers was of the mind that his own position and attitude was justified. What would seem to be his apparent inability to read the situation years later, or at least, to see how it would appear to the common reader on paper, strikes this reader as a comical emotional blind spot.

The personal comedy gives way to sadness, however, as Powers rushes through their subsequent, brief meetings before Joyce’s death, which he hears about over the telephone. Thus, the book concludes,

It had not ended, but had lessened as so many friendships lessen when distance puts its cold hand between them, damped as they are by circumstances and time, and by differences of personality. A personality can fuse with another personality for a time, but when that time is over we gradually re-enter the Solitude of ourselves. Then all that remains is the memory of the fire which once warmed us both, and it is fragments of that memory which I have tried to reconstruct.

This memory reconstruction, this fragment, this already brief friendship, is the closest thing we have to discovering Joyce the man. But such is surely as Joyce would have preferred it: that he left behind, not traces of his life, but only his work.

 

Mimetic Warfare

Rene Girard saw mimetic rivalry as the constant theme of man's downfall throughout history. A devout Catholic, though not necessarily a biblical literalist, he would have equated it, perhaps metaphorically, with the work of Satan. Men mirror the desires of other men and take what they have away from them to have it for themselves. 

Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

Henderson The Rain King

Henderson the Rain King is a perfect example of why Saul Bellow is perhaps the most serious of comedic writers. His love of language flows through our restless, yearning narrator, Eugene Henderson, an aristocrat dissatisfied with life and forever chasing a voice inside of him screaming, ‘I want! I want! I want!’