July 2008

One should never read a single book at a time. In the act of reading multiple texts, aleatory encounters between texts are produced like sparks arcing across two separated wires. There is no method here. Where and when such a spark will leap is not subject to calculation or prediction. Rather, such sparks are purely a product of chance. And, of course, it is necessary to add the caveat that it is impossible to read a single book at a time. As Freud famously observed in his allegory of the Roman city, and Bergson in his cone of memory, the past co-exists with the present, such that any act of reading is necessarily saturated with all the previous texts one has encountered. Yet even here the points at which texts touch one another, the point at which virtual texts and actual text touch in singularities, is entirely aleatory and without calculation. It is always an event. Perhaps there must be an Idea, Problem, or Multiplicity at work– in Deleuze’s sense of the word: a problematic field –that presides over the genesis of such relations. The principles of auto-synthesis are murky.

Of late my bedtime reading has consisted of Francois Cusset’s French Theory: How Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States. This is a dreary, vaguely reactionary, depressing book that chronicles the way in which American appropriations of French thought ended up in a sort of identity politics, where questions of how to form a unified politics (in many respect Badiou’s question) fell apart. and political action came to be conceived in terms of cultural decoding (cultural criticism), all the while ignoring material and economic infrastructures underlying these semiotic formations. Here, for example, the act of revealing the ideological subtext of a film or the act of dressing like a punk becomes a subversive act in and of itself, despite the fact that economic structures nonetheless remain the same.

As some might have noticed, I haven’t been posting much lately. In part this is because I taught during the first summer session. In part this is because I have committed to four articles and a presentation by September (fortunately one is complete and two others are well on their way). In part I’ve simply been bereft of ideas. As an old friend of mine used to say, my “belief-mechanism” has been failing of late… Which is to say my ability to be convinced of the importance of what I do has been significantly failing in recent months (this pertains more to academic writing than teaching). Basically I’m going through one of those periods where I’m feeling as if my academic work, our academic work, is so much intellectual masturbation. In the States, at least, there is not a sufficient relationship between academic world and the concrete world of concrete political contestation. Articles are addressed to other academics– indeed in a jargon often inaccessible to those on behalf it often claims to speak and espousing concerns often remote from the immediate antagonisms dealt with by these groups –speaking in the name of others without sufficiently creating a space in which they might speak (here Ranciere says it all in The Ignorant School Master). In short, many American theorists in the Continental tradition necessarily advocate a form of “Academic Reaganomics” where somehow ideas are supposed to “trickle down”. Yet of course they never seem to do so. Moreover, questions are often posed in terms of the “act” or the “event”, imagining wholesale transformations of situations without sufficiently asking questions about the conditions under which which change is possible. Put in terms of information theory, questions of message reception are woefully underdeveloped and are not even on the radar of many theorists. Angelic theories of rupture, event, and act, in turn, cultivate forms of Hegelian subjectivity akin to the “beautiful soul”, where the theorist decries the crassness of the social world and its inability to heroically engage in the act (i.e., we get a sort of disguised narcissism where one gets to feel superior to the social field one critiques without ever encountering the risk of real engagement).

Like I said, dark thoughts. Hopefully these dark feelings have more to do with nice Summer days and are not a permanent state of affairs. Of course, if these dark thoughts aren’t simply the product of sunny Summer days, then, in Lacanian terms, I’ve actually made progress as they express the discovery (for me), of a lack in the Other, indicating the possibility of separation and a place where my desire might come to exist.

At any rate, to cope with this despair I’ve become an Epicurean (when one loses faith in grand ideological causes they revert to the pursuit of pleasure) and have therefore been doing a good deal of cooking. Below is a recipe I invented for “existential enchiladas”, parts of which also make an amazing chicken salad for picnics. The recipe has a number of steps but is well worth the effort. Special props to anyone who is capable of reading this as a chain of associations or a formation of the unconscious.

Existential Dirty Chicken

2 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
Olive Oil
Some variant of cooking spray such as Pam
Mexican Chili Powder
Chipotle Chili Pepper
Sweet Paprika
Garlic Powder
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper

Brush chicken with olive oil. Lightly dust one side of chicken with chili powder, chili pepper, paprika, cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Spray lightly with cooking spray to set seasonings. Brush grill with vegetable oil or grape seed oil. Grill on medium high heat, turning occasionally, until done. (This chicken is good for a meal in and of itself… Especially if served with black beans and a nice mango salsa).

Existential Enchilada Sauce

2 TBSP Grape Seed Oil
2 TBSP Flour
2 TBSP Ancho Chili Powder
1 TBSP Mexican Chili Powder
1/4 TSP Chipotle Chili Pepper
1 1/2 TBSP Ground Cumin
1 (8- Ounce) Can Tomato Sauce
1 (14- Ounce) Can Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Garlic Powder

Heat oil in medium saucepan; stir in flower and ancho and mexican chili powder. Cook for one minute. Add remaining ingredients bring to a boil; simmer about 10 minutes.

Existential Enchiladas

(Makes about twelve enchiladas)

2 1/2 Cups Enchilada Sauce, divided
2 Cups Shredded Cooked Chicken
1 Cup Black Beans, rinsed and drained
3 – 4 Green Onions, thinly sliced
1/2 Cup shredded Chedder, divided
1/2 Cup shredded Monterey Jack divided
1/4 Cup Sour Cream plus more for garnish
1 4-ounce can diced green chiles
1/4 Cup chopped fresh Cilantro, plus more for garnish
14 Flour tortillas, 6-inch size (preferably fresh)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit

In a medium bowl, mix together the chicken, black beans, green onions, chedder and monterey jack chees, sour cream, chiles, and cilantro. (If making chicken salad, stop here). Stir in 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce; stir until well blended. Set aside. Spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Poor a small amount of enchilada sauce over the bottom of the pan to lightly coat. Spread 2 heaping spoonfuls of the chicken mixture just off center of each tortilla and roll into loose cylinders. Place the enchiladas, seam side down, side by side in the prepared dish. Pour remaining sauce over, top with cheeses. Bake until bubbling and lightly browned, 15 – 20 minutes.

Garnish with sour cream, sliced green onions and chopped cilantro. Serve with homemade guacamole, pico de gallo, and Negro Modelo with a slice of lime

These enchiladas are guaranteed to make existential angst slightly more tolerable… Of course, as I contemplate them I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the absurdity of the in-itself, by its sheer contingency, suddenly finding myself filled with nausea. Another sip of beer.

The new issue of The Symptom is now available from Lacan.com. There are a number of interesting articles here. I especially recommend Miller’s “Extimacy”.