February 2016

wild-waveI explained the ontology of the fold that I’m trying to develop to my barber today.  It went something like this:

Barber:  So what’s your talk about in Milwaukee.

Me:  Folds.

B:  Really?  What’s that all about?

Me:  I’m not really sure.  I don’t know if I can pull it off or what I’m trying to say yet.

B:  That’s cool, man.

Me:  Well take a brick.

B:  What’s that?  A brick?

Me:  Yeah, like on a house.

B:  Oh, I got ya, man.

Me:  A brick is a form of origami, like a crumpled piece of paper.

B:  Say what?

Me:  It folds the forces of the cosmos into it, invaginates them.  It folds the pressure of the other bricks about it into it, if it has lots of iron it folds the oxygen into it giving it that red color, it folds gravity and temperature in it, becoming brittle when it’s cold and molten when very hot.  Sound, light, pressures, air, all of these things are folded into it and it unfolds these things in the unique event that it is according to the structure that it has.  This conversation that we’re having, see those bricks over there on the wall?  The timber of the sound of our voices, the acoustics of this room, is an origami of our voices and those bricks.  Our voices have folded the bricks into themselves and unfolded it in a new vibration of sound.  Everything is a fold or folding, both individual and continuous with what it folds.

It might be better– I haven’t decided yet –to say that everything is a wave.  A wave is continuous with the water in which it occurs, yet distinct.  It both folds the currents of wind and water into itself and unfolds them in a rolling pattern across a plane.  It both arises from that plane but is distinct from it and changes it.  The dreams you told me about earlier are now a wave in me, folded into me, becoming something other yet remaining those dreams.

B:  [The scissors pause, stunned silence]  That’s so cool, man!  [He looks at his scissors and about the room]  It’s like everything is digesting everything else.  These walls have the past, music history [they’re covered with music posters], all these conversations and happenings folded into them.  That’s so cool, man.  Wow.

We had talked earlier about psychoanalysis and dream interpretation.  Apparently he had heard my unconscious, for I’m always thinking about food.  Everything is a wave and within those waves there are but more waves.  Not a bad start, I hope.

07b76a18f8b9e11e226e9a5c750dda4fFor about two years I barely wrote.  Indeed, during this time I barely read as well. You can even date this shift on the blog.  Prior to this shift I was writing about a blog post a day and then suddenly there was a precipitous drop where I would go days and weeks without writing anything.  To be sure, I would write posts and articles here and there, but something had changed.  Words began to look strange.  It became painful to compose sentences.  Each one was a labor.  I became obsessed with what I called “connectivity”.  I was unable to produce sentences that would generate or lead to other sentences.  I no longer had a sense of the lay of the land, of what the entire article I was writing would ultimately say or argue.  While my writing has always been riddled with omitted words, slips of the pen, and grammatical abominations, these now multiplied to an entirely new degree.

Worst of all, there was no longer any music or jazz to my writing.  In the past when I wrote I would enter a state akin to how a crystal grows where a single sentence, just the right sentence, would branch out in all directions ratifying itself, creating patterns, growing into the body of a text.  It was musical and pervaded by an intense concentration where everything about me would disappear and there was just a highway of writing stretching off into the distance.  Now that was all gone.  There was just dissonance and the road was riddled with potholes.

read on!


630Perhaps it could be said that politics is that which occurs at that precise moment that we learn to count to Two.  If this were the case, then it would follow that not everything is political.  Everything can become political, but politics is something is something that must be made to be.  When is it made to be?  When, as Badiou put it, the One becomes Two.  Politics is that which emerges when irreducible antagonism, the Real in the Lacanian sense, appears.  It is when we cease seeing ourselves aligned, as sharing the same interests, and sharing the same goals that the political comes into being. The rest of the time we just have governance.  What is governance?  It is the formation of the State.  And what is the State?  It is that set of mechanisms devoted to the erasure of the Two and the formation of the One.  In this respect, the State is not exhausted by government.  We find the State among the media, among rhetoricians that call for unity and kumbaya, and everywhere we are told we are One.  The State is devoted to the erasure of politics.

This thesis can be illustrated through reference to Zizek’s analysis of Levi-Strauss’s essay “Do Dual Organizations Exist?” in The Parallax View  When members of a particular tribe are asked to draw their village all of them draw a circle.  However, some members of the tribe, living on the periphery of the village, drew a smaller inner circle.  They discern a different structure of organization within the village.  Where those who draw a single circle discern the tribe as embodying the One where everyone’s interests are aligned and where everyone is working for the same goals which contribute to the flourishing of everyone, the second group discerns Two; the existence of hierarchy and a system of privilege.  The village is organized around the antagonism between those at the center and the periphery.  It is ineluctably fractured by the Two.

4676_ea6979872125d5acbac6068f186a0359What is interesting here, Zizek notes, is that the first group– we can refer to it as “first-politics” –cannot even discern the Two of their village.  They are completely outside what we might call “second-politics”.  Here One and Two should not be understood in cardinal terms, but rather are ordinalities:  First.  Second.  The Second is not made up of two firsts, but is itself an absolute position that differs irreducibly from the First and vice versa.  Zizek is careful to note that this is not a facile relativism where the world is this way for the firsts and that way for the seconds.  Rather, this very “difference in perspective” is the essence of the Real in the social order.  The Second is constitutively invisible to the First.  Like the famous duck-rabbit, you can either see a duck or see a rabbit, but you can never see a duck and a rabbit at once, nor can you see duck-rabbitness.  In this regard, those who decry antagonism and struggle, calling for us to all get along because, after all, we all want the same things, reveal themselves no as unifiers, but rather as First-worlders.  Their aim is to erase the Wrong or antagonism that fractures the social system.  They are engaged in acts of “One-ification” that veil the fracture at the heart of the social in the interests of those that occupy the center of the dual organization.  Perhaps the most elementary gesture of the First-worlders lies in denying that there is antagonism, in covering over antagonism, in presenting a world where there is no difference.  This, perhaps, is why politics is so difficult.  It requires surmounting all of that fog that creates the illusion of the One and addressing those that still live in the First-world and who are therefore blind to the Two.

Nightmare-PrisonThis isn’t really here nor there, but over the years I’ve found the way certain words become the exclusive province of one philosopher incredibly irritating.  Here you have a perfectly good and useful word that you need to do certain philosophical work, but because it’s come to be seen as the exclusive province of one thinker it’s more or less taken out of play unless you’re talking about that thinker.  Take a word like “process”.  What a wonderful word!  To really talk about trees you need to talk about processes because trees are more like activities than brute clods that sit there.  Trees are perpetually “treeing”.  Likewise, Levi “levis” in continuously forming himself as a subject.  I’d say the same is true of rocks as well, but that’s harder to see.  So there you are talking about processes and someone violently objects:  “but that’s not what Whitehead said!  You’re getting him all wrong!”  Of course, nowhere did you mention or reference Whitehead.  Rather, it’s just that Whitehead has come to own the word “process”.  It’s immediately assumed that if you’re speaking of processes you’re speaking of Whitehead.  However, matters should really be quite different.  Whitehead should be seen as presenting an account of process, just as philosophy has presented many accounts of experience, substance, mind, etc.  One can take that up or not.

This is something I continuously encountered with the term “object-oriented ontology”.  While I explicitly coined the term “object-oriented ontology” to distinguish positions committed to the thesis that being is composed of substances while differing from Harman’s object-oriented philosophy (OOO =/= OOP), any reference to OOO was immediately equated with Harman’s OOP.  Wherever I went I got questions presupposing that I advocated Harman’s claims and had to patiently explain that they were addressing these questions to the wrong philosopher.  I’m not sure why people got confused.  Harman and I don’t look at all alike!  For this reason I’ve increasingly tried to avoid the term “OOO” and to take care not to refer to “objects”.  “OOO” is a term more like “rationalism” or “empiricism” or “idealism” or “materialism”, not the position of a single thinker.

These days I find myself ever increasingly trembling before language.  Lacan liked to say that we’re “cuckold by language”.  At least, that’s what he said in Seminar V, The Formations of the Unconscious.  We think we’re using language, but really we get swept in language in ways that exceed our intentions.  Language speaks us, rather than us speaking language.  I’ve always been rather fond of meme theory for this reason, despite the fact that it’s nearly universally loathed.  The core thesis of meme theory is that memes devise strategies to get themselves replicated or copied, that memes have rather furtive ends that are not necessarily the ends that we wish to put them to.  We get infected by them.  This is how it is with language.  Language takes on a life of its own and speaks beyond us even as we are speaking and writing.

Whitehead-224x300An unpleasant question I encounter everywhere I go is why I’m where I’m at.  Why am I at a two year school where I largely teach first and second year courses?  After all, I’ve written three books and published four, written numerous articles, had some small amount of influence both in academia and outside it, and have been fortunate to speak all over the world.  Everywhere I go I have to explain myself, or maybe I just feel I need to explain myself.  I feel as if I’m either asked to apologize or that I feel I need to apologize, that I need to explain who and what I am.  Such is one of the sad things about academia:  I either am dismissed for where I am or am attributed far more prestige and power than I have.

What can I say?  In the last couple of years I’ve been approached for a number of positions– I didn’t apply for them at the outset –and asked to interview.  Most recently I was approached for a full tenure professor position in a discipline that’s not my own in a rather prestigious department.  It was an honor.  I don’t think I interviewed well but, that aside, I also think they made the right decision.  I just wasn’t that sort of scholar.  It stung a bit, sure.  I also think I just don’t interview well.  I need to talk to people.  I close up in the face of impassive faces, of mirrors without reflections.  Still, and maybe I’m rationalizing, I’m just not sure this position would have been good or right for me.

I’m very proud of the institution where I am.  I think Collin is something special as far as two year schools go.  We have internationally recognized programs in a variety of fields.  We’re genuinely devoted to academics and scholarship.  This is a good place to be.  I’ll never forget when I first came here, when driving home every afternoon tears would streak my face as I crested a hill and saw the plains and the wide open sky with its blue clouds and sun setting.  I would crank up the music and hit the accelerator.  I was alive even as my voice felt dry and croaked from teaching all day long.  The road was before me.  I had survived academia and I was in a good place, a place that respected scholarship and thought.

If I’m speaking selfishly and in terms of my desire (Lacan says not to give way on your desire), I think this is where I belong.  I love the classroom.  I adore the classroom.  I thrive in the classroom.  I dance; I sing; I perform.

I was not a good student in my younger years.  I even failed a year of high school.  I was always elsewhere, distracted.  I thought education was a conspiracy.  Then, around fourteen or fifteen, I discovered philosophy and the world changed.  To me teaching feels like a conspiracy between students and educators against that far darker conspiracy.  I like instilling my students with the idea that there might be some value to education beyond submission or assimilation.  I like filling them with a hole, with questions, with wonder and joy in exploring.  I like being the educator that I needed and yearned for– and I had some great ones –at certain very dark periods of my life.  I like the endless discussion that happens from semester to semester and how it always surprises me.  I grow depressed when I’m not in the classroom.

But, if in addition to the song of the classroom that Collin has made possible for me (what a gift and kindness), it has above all given me absolute academic freedom.  I don’t think that The Democracy of Objects or Onto-Cartography would have ever been possible, that I would have had the courage for them, had I not been here.  Here I am authorized to range over everything regardless of whether it’s in my discipline, whether it be biology, physics, sociology, ethnography, history, mathematics, or literature.  I am given the freedom to explore, well, freely.  That is an amazing and wonderful thing for which I am eternally grateful.  This place has given me the freedom for folly.  I’m not sure it gets better than that, and I’m not sure there’s a better life than this.

In Blade Runner the character of Roy says “I’ve seen things people wouldn’t believe.”  That’s been my life.  I’ve seen extraordinary students.  I’ve had, and do have, graduate students from the Americas to India.  I’ve fought passionate fights about theory and philosophy.  I’ve been privileged to travel the country and the world, learning from others and dialoguing with them.  I’ve seen new movements in theory and politics arise and played some small role in them.  This seems like a good life to me.  I hope to eventually reach the point where I can stop apologizing for my existence or feeling like I have to apologize or explain it.


sartreThere’s an anecdote about Sartre where, upon hearing about phenomenology and how it allowed you to philosophize about something as humble as a coffee cup, the blood drained from his face and he immediately left the party to seek out the work of Husserl.  It seems to me that this is the philosophical dream:  for anything, whether it be the ontology of critters, frittatas, the sonic powers of a concert hall, a chair, or a cup of coffee to become worthy of thought.  Absolute philosophy would be a state where every event that transpires, everything that happens your way and surprises, but also the most mundane and crass, becomes an opportunity for thought.  From the sublime to the crass, there would be something to think, to conceptualize.  Everything would thereby be imbued with an aura of significance, of the riddle.  You would become like Alice where the most ordinary things become the most perplexing.

In this regard, I recall the shock and fascination of Zizek in graduate school.  I had read Derrida, Blanchot, Deleuze, and Lacan.  They spoke of the sublime, of the great.  Mallarme.  Kafka.  Bacon.  Joyce.  Great things, beautiful things.  What made Zizek so astounding was that he spoke of crass things, philistine things, mundane things and filled them with philosophical significance.  Suddenly a bad film, or merely a pop-culture film became the key to unlocking the most subtle dialectical points in Hegel.  Angel Heart, a guilty pleasure perhaps, became the key to the secret of unlocking Lacan and Derrida.  I saw a saccharine, trite film like Pleasantville in the theater and cried because despite its insipidness, its use of images were expressive of Spinoza and Deleuze’s account of immanence as a vector of emancipation.  I could now watch an emotionally manipulative film like Saving Private Ryan and discern the ideology behind it.  AI and Eyes Wide Shut became repetitions of Aeschylus.  The ordinary guilty pleasure took on significance and became signs to be interpreted.  The entire world glowed with an aura.  Happy days.  I dreamt of Zizek’s work.

And then along came Badiou.  His message was different than that of Lacan’s, Zizek’s, or Deleuze’s.  In a world filled with pragmatism, with resignation, he said “keep going; be real, demand the impossible.”  He denied the wisdom of the pragmatic, of what is possible, in the name of committed struggle even where it seems impossible.  He said “create the possible for it has not yet arrived and must be imagined and fought for to be possible.”  And that too was another aura of thought that freed me of hermeneutics and semiotics, of tracing things back to a ground that rendered them possible, recognizing that occasionally the real happens in the form of the unprecedented.  The philosophize about an orange and to imbue the orange with significance beyond itself, to trace all of its threads and folds, that is my philosophical dream.

stiller_zoolander1Recently a friend of mine confessed that he is one corny, cheesy, sentimental son of a bitch.  Try as he might, he said, he cannot pull of that jaded, cynical, sardonic “too cool for school” thing that so many of his friends have down to a science.  It seems to me that the “too cool for school” (hereafter TCFS) phenomenon is pervasive throughout the field of radical politics and those branches of the humanities particularly oriented towards the project of critique.  Everywhere we encounter a sort of cynicism and haste to dismiss any affirmative claim, any proposal, and any claim that something is the case.  Those that are TCFS find a dirty secret behind everything.  Every enunciation is said to harbor something shameful and the winning gesture consists in showing that anywhere an affirmative claim is made, there is some sort of moral guilt or culpability.

Vampire-StudyLong ago Mark K-Punk referred to such people as “grey vampire”.  Vampires, of course, suck blood, the force of life.  Grey vampires are particularly fearsome because they are like smoke.  Mark Fisher referred to it as “the sneer from nowhere”.  The grey vampire masters everywhere because he never commits himself to anything.  He sneers from nowhere so he’s like smoke.  The ultimate Bro.  Whenever you attempt to get hold of them they slip away, all the while sucking your blood.  The grey vampire’s great advantage lies in being nowhere, all the better to be everywhere.  Occupying no position of their own, they can all the better function as the superego.  Everywhere they strive to demoralize, to instill guilt, to fill others with inexpiable debt.  Their sharp teeth strive to inflict one of two wounds, and often both together.

read on!


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