Month: April 2013

The limits of happily-ever-afterThe limits of happily-ever-after

“Even if those generations of men to come should care to hand down, in succession from father to son, the glory of each one of us; yet, still, owing to the deluges and conflagrations of the earth, which must happen periodically, we cannot acquire a lasting, much less an eternal renown. What does it matter that mention should be made of you by those who shall be born hereafter, when there was none among those who were born before you?” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, “The Dream of Scipio” (trans. Pearman)

Face-down in a shallow graveFace-down in a shallow grave

“Once the Author is gone, the claim to ‘decipher’ a text becomes quite useless. To give an Author to a text is to impose upon that text a stop clause, to furnish it with a final signification, to close the writing. This conception perfectly suits criticism, which can then take as its major task the discovery of the Author (or his hypostases: society, history, the psyche, freedom) beneath the work: once the Author is discovered, the text is ‘explained’:  the critic has conquered; hence it is scarcely surprising not only that, historically, the reign of the Author should also have been that of the Critic, but that criticism (even ‘new criticism’) should be overthrown along with the Author. In a multiple writing, indeed, everything is to be distinguished, but nothing deciphered; structure can be followed, ‘threaded’ (like a stocking that has run) in all its recurrences and all its stages, but there is no underlying ground; the space of the writing is to be traversed, not penetrated: writing ceaselessly posits meaning but always in order to evaporate it: it proceeds to a systematic exemption of meaning. Thus literature (it would be better, henceforth, to say writing), by refusing to assign to the text (and to the world as text) a ‘secret’: that is, an ultimate meaning, liberates an activity which we might call counter-theological, properly revolutionary, for to refuse to arrest meaning is finally to refuse God and his hypostases, reason, science, the law.” – Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author” (trans. Richard Howard)

Burn the witches, probablyBurn the witches, probably

“The American brand of anti-urban, anti-immigration, anti-college sentiment is a populist strain that runs throughout American history: it’s Jefferson versus Madison. Ruralism versus urbanism, self-sufficiency versus government planning, these are rhetorical tropes trotted out by politicians at every election. No secret police enforces either of them: they are the warp and woof of our national fabric. There is no telling what a third party committed to the rural rhetoric might do if it ever got into power, but at this point it’s just how we roll.” – Andrei Codrescu (interviewed by Josh Cook in Bookslut)

Turning the ego trickTurning the ego trick

“There is an Ego Trick, but it is not that the self doesn’t exist, only that it is not what we generally assume it to be. Perhaps the simplest analogy is with a cloud. From a distance it looks like an object with fairly clear edges, but the closer you get to it, the more indistinct it becomes. Get really close and you can see it’s just a collection of water droplets. Does this mean clouds don’t exist? Of course not, it just means they are not chunks of cotton wool. The self is like a cloud that not only looks like a single object from the outside, but feels like one from the inside too. Knowing the truth doesn’t change the way it either looks or feels, and nor does it conjure it out of existence. It simply makes us recognize that at root each of us is an ever-changing flux, not a never-changing core. The solidity of the self is an illusion; the self itself is not. The Ego Trick is not to persuade us that we exist when we do not, but to make us believe we are more substantial and enduring than we really are.” – Julian Baggini, The Ego Trick

The peaceable kingdomThe peaceable kingdom

“We lose the subject of animals when we move out of childhood. In childhood animals are all around us, and then we throw them out. In childhood they’re everywhere, the stuff of our stories and our art and our songs, of our clothes and blankets, of toys and games. Then in adulthood they’re distant symbols or objects. They’re rudely ejected from our domain. They’re frivolous or infantile, suddenly. They’re what we eat or maybe pets. Sometimes they’re what we kill. But this makes no sense. This impoverishes our imaginations. When we turn away from animals as though they’re only childish things, we make our world colder and more narrow. We rob ourselves of beauty and understanding. We rob ourselves of the capacity for empathy.” – Lydia Millet (interviewed by Morten Hoi Jensen in Bookforum)

They’re not better before it, eitherThey’re not better before it, either

“Must everything we do satisfy someone else before it’s worthwhile?  Is everything we do because we enjoy it selfish and useless?  Primary school, secondary school, university, they’ve got the first twenty-four years of our lives numbered off for us and to get into the year above we’ve got to pass an exam.  Everything is done to please the examiner, never for fun.  The one pleasure they allow is anticipation: ‘Things will be better after the exam.’  It’s a lie.  Things are never better after the exam.” – Alasdair Gray, Lanark (emphasis in original)

Truth outsTruth outs

“Criticism – in order to be anything at all – needs its noisemakers and vulgarians as well as its noble and refined types. The People Who Get It Wrong, paradoxically, are as necessary to the enterprise as the People Who Get It Right. Criticism is an ongoing negotiation between truth and error, and sometimes, by an irritating yet ultimately productive dialectic, error is for a while in the ascendant.” – Terry Castle, “Pipe Down Back There!”

You’ve got his numberYou’ve got his number

“From an early age I only wanted to deal with what I was sure of, and like all thinkers I soon came to distrust what could only be seen and touched.  The majority believe that floors, ceilings, each other’s bodies, the sun, etc., are the surest things in the world, but soon after going to school I saw that everything was untrustworthy when compared with numbers.  Take the simplest kind of number, a telephone number, 339-6286 for example.  It exists outside us for we find it in a directory, but we can carry it in our heads precisely as it is, for the number and our idea of it are identical.  Compared with his phone number our closest friend is shifty and treacherous.” – Alasdair Gray, Lanark

Attention surfeit disorderAttention surfeit disorder

“Living in an attention economy means dealing with not only a scarcity of time to consume information (and people as information) but also a scarcity of empathy. Attention deficits become double-sided; we don’t have enough to focus on what’s important, and we don’t receive enough to feel solid. Intimate communication becomes inefficient as its cheap, token abundance makes it less effective. All of it fails to convince; it all raises more questions of trust rather than answers.” – Rob Horning, “Living in Microfame”

Breaking through the matrixBreaking through the matrix

“Social media can make the feeling of belonging seem like an alienated accomplishment measurable in discrete amounts of individualized attention. But belonging is also a matter of fleeting, spontaneous empathy, moments of presence in which we’re not just watching and tracking others but experiencing an underlying mutuality.” – Rob Horning, “Living in Microfame”

Planet of incarcerated whoresPlanet of incarcerated whores

“Social media, as well as the pervasiveness of cameras and other surveillance apparatuses, have the potential to persecute anyone as though they are an undeserving celebrity due for a takedown. In a world where motion-sensitive cameras lie in wait to transmit images of your walking down the street in real time to online observers for judgment, where facial- recognition technology can durably attach all the insults to your name, where privacy is increasingly interpreted as secrecy and the mere procedures of exposing anyone are seen as blows against power, we are all subject to unexpected and unwanted scrutiny. Yet at the same time, in a social environment that’s increasingly congested by transparency and competing and unceasing claims for recognition, we must clamor for the attention we do want and find ingenious (if not exploitive) ways to get it. Not only are we all under surveillance but we are compelled to then justify why we’re being watched. This stems from social media’s seemingly objective measures of individual reputation and influence (Klout is merely the most egregious of these), which we ‘deserve’ by being active online — turning our thoughts, opinions, friends, and relations into useful marketing data. Social media provide the infrastructure for the economic mobilization of the personality, in which our efforts to ‘be ourselves’ must confirm themselves by being demonstratively productive.” – Rob Horning, “Living in Microfame”

The commodification of the transcendentThe commodification of the transcendent

“My definition of art is very straightforward: Art is what is sold as art, and that’s it. When someone buys something, believing he or she is buying art, then it is art. If you pay for something because you think it’s art, you’re basically creating art: the buyer creates art, not the artist. This is what’s going on in the art world, although they won’t tell you that—they don’t believe in art, but they do believe in selling art.” – Slovenian Damien Hirst (interviewed by Jesse Darling in “Being Damien Hirst” (emphases in the original)

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, or notYour mission, should you decide to accept it, or not

“Every new generation of artists is faced with the task of originating new forms of work that fall outside the margins of established commodity. In other words, to create work that  is uncommodifiable, though it will not remain so for long. This is the cycle, the dance, the lie at the heart of the avant-garde, and everyone knows it. As the art market sets crunchily to work figuring out how to sell the unsaleable, the best or cutest or savviest of the new generation are called to join in the carousel or production line, churning out their visionary, uncommodifiable commodities, which have acquired in the meantime a price tag in accordance to their very resistance to commodity status, their rareness, their avant-gardiness. Avant-garde simply means as yet unsold (though we’re working on it); ‘outsider’ art denotes that-for-which-we-can-see-no-buyer.” – Jesse Darling, “Being Damien Hirst”

The power of maybeThe power of maybe

“The ‘scientific’ life itself has much to do with maybes, and human life at large has everything to do with them. So far as man stands for anything, and is productive or originative at all, his entire vital function may be said to have to deal with maybes. Not a victory is gained, not a deed of faithfulness or courage is done, except upon a maybe; not a service, not a sally of generosity, not a scientific exploration or experiment or text-book, that may not be a mistake. It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true. Suppose, for instance, that you are climbing a mountain, and have  worked yourself into a position from which the only escape is by a terrible leap. Have faith that you can successfully make it, and your feet are nerved to its accomplishment. But mistrust yourself, and think of all the sweet things you have heard the scientists say of maybes, and you will hesitate so long that, at last, all unstrung and trembling, and launching yourself in a moment of despair, you roll in the abyss. In such a case (and it belongs to an enormous class), the part of wisdom as well as of courage is to believe what is in the line of your needs, for only by such belief is the need fulfilled. Refuse to believe, and you shall indeed be right, for you shall irretrievably perish. But believe, and again you shall be right, for you shall save yourself. You make one or the other of two possible universes true by your trust or mistrust–both universes having been only maybes, in this particular, before you contributed your act.” – William James, “Is Life Worth Living?” (emphases in original)

Blind yourself with science!Blind yourself with science!

“Is it not sheer dogmatic folly to say that our inner interests can have no real connection with the forces that the hidden world may contain? In other cases divinations based on inner interests have proved prophetic enough. Take science itself! Without an imperious inner demand on our part for ideal logical and mathematical harmonies, we should never have attained to proving that such harmonies be hidden between all the chinks and interstices of the crude natural world. Hardly a law has been established in science, hardly a fact ascertained, which was not first sought after, often with sweat and blood, to gratify an inner need. Whence such needs come from we do not know; we find them in us, and biological psychology so far only classes them with Darwin’s ‘accidental variations.’ But the inner need of believing that this world of nature is a sign of something more spiritual and eternal than itself is just as strong and authoritative in those who feel it, as the inner need of uniform laws of causation ever can be in a professionally scientific head. The toil of many generations has proved the latter need prophetic. Why may not the former one be prophetic, too? And if needs of ours outrun the visible universe, why may not that be a sign that an invisible universe is there? What, in short, has authority to debar us from trusting our religious demands? Science as such assuredly has no authority, for she can only say what is, not what is not; and the agnostic ‘thou shalt not believe without coercive sensible evidence’ is simply an expression (free to any one to make) of private personal appetite for evidence of a certain peculiar kind.” – William James, “Is Life Worth Living?” (emphases in original)

Those were the daysThose were the days

“There were times when Leibnitzes with their heads buried in monstrous wigs could compose Theodicies, and when stall-fed officials of an established church could prove by the valves in the heart and the round ligament of the hip-joint the existence of a ‘Moral and Intelligent Contriver of the World.’  But those times are past.” – William James, “Is Life Worth Living?”