Sunday, June 17, 2012

important things: ethics

A friend of mine sent me the above video several days ago, and I cannot recommend it enough to all of you. Singer has a way about him--approachable and pragmatic, reflecting on the ivory tower rather than looking down from it. I am ashamed to say that I have not yet read any of his books--in point of fact, my first exposure to him was via the excellent film by Astra Taylor, Examined Life. I find him (as I hope you will too) to be refreshingly sane and compassionate. Although my present reading list is filled with more Hegel and Hegelians than you or I could shake a stick at, I plan on finding some time for Singer. In the meantime, do take a look at his website.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Recently, I had occasion to revisit some of my notes from the last days of my time in Des Moines. Weeks ago, a rainy Saturday found me reading Baudrillard's The Spirit of Terrorism. In looking over my notes, the following passage jumped out at me. Baudrillard writes:

"In the traditional order, there is still the possibility of giving something back to God to nature, or to whatever it might be, in the form of the sacrifice. This is what ensures the symbolic equilibrium between living beings and things. Today we no longer have anyone to whom we may give back, to whom we may repay the symbolic debt - and that is the curse of our culture. It is not that giving is impossible in this culture, but that the counter-gift is impossible, since all the paths of sacrifice have been neutralized and defused." [1]

He follows this by stating that "there inevitably comes a response in the form of a negative countertransference, a violent abreaction to this captive life, to this protected existence, to this saturation of existence. This reversion takes the form either of open violence (terrorism is a part of this) or of the impotent denial characteristic of our modernity, of self-hatred and remorse - all negative passions that are the debased form of the impossible counter-gift." [2]

It is this idea of actual and symbolic self-immolation in response to saturation and secular sameness has particular resonance for me. Baudrillard is right on the proverbial money. It is cousin to the abundance of choice: when we can choose to watch/see/read/be anything, our human experience is troubled, gray, removed and dissociated. Like a apathetic adolescent splitting flesh or reveling in nutritional deprivation, lacking relief our global body seeks self-destruction. Indeed, corporeal (individual or societal) manipulation is the last recourse of the desperate. In asserting power over life in the form of death--symbolic, actual, total--the originating agent (be it person, organization, or government) rescinds Christian dogma and centuries of cultural conditioning. Death alone is our mode of access to singularity; the willful appropriation of such phenomenological profundity is not only imbued congruent gravitas, but also with awesome, hyperbolic, and symbolic force.

Baudrillard writes: "Here then, it is all about death, not only the violent irruption of death in real time - 'live', so to speak - but the irruption of a death which is far more than real: a death which is symbolic and sacrificial - that is to say, the absolute, irrevocable event." [3]

It is a good read. As always, Baudrillard is a little bit of a downer, but like DFW, he knows. And that is inspiring.

1. Baudrillard, Jean. 2002. The spirit of terrorism and requiem for the Twin Towers. London: Verso. 102
2. Ibid. 102-103
3. Ibid. 17

Thursday, June 14, 2012

re-embodiment and the ipad?

Recently, I have been using an iPad in place of my plucky technological companion, the aptly named "tiny computer." While I finger through postings for the perfect job, I can't help but think about Deleuze (naturally), Peirce, and mediated experience. Of course, this is my default reaction whenever I find myself immersed in screens, widgets, and websites. However, substituting the iPad for the clackity-clack of the keyboard and the clickety-click of the mouse has indeed created a different--dare I say--more human, Internet experience. It occurred to me while I chatted with a friend. It is true, over the past year I have grown to hate instant messaging more and more with each passing day. But. On the iPad, it doesn't seem quite so bad. Yes, the screen name still stands in for the body. Yes, through the utilization of technology for intimate communication, one still subtly advocates for impoverished relationships. Yes, we're still fooling ourselves into thinking that the instant message in its immediacy is somehow an adequate substitute for embodied conversation. But. The symbolism of touch is powerful. Touch reminds us of our humanity, of that which makes us, as Dissanakaye would say, Homo Aestheticus. We are evolutionarily predisposed to touch, to make and to make contact. Thus the touch screen restores a modicum of our humanity.

 These things are important to think about, certainly. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: we need to be cognizant of the increasing technological presence in our lives, our families, our relationships. A wise man once said that media technology is an extension of man. Were he alive today, this wise man would be shocked, even horrified, to see the actualization of his prophetic message. What is truly fascinating is that as we dissociate from the body, we approach it's absolute simulation. Consider the Internet. First, we we have email: an electronic letter with similar (although undoubtably accelerated) temporal qualities as its material progenitor. The email is succeeded by the instant message--accelerated and deformalized, a nascent substitute for speech. Programs like Skype and its Google equivalent allow for the digitization of the voice and a two-dimensional simulation of the face. What comes next is the total simulation of the body. From my perspective, that is pretty terrifying and will require an awareness, that even now, is lacking.

But. For now, for right now, I recognize the value of the tablet.

Friday, June 1, 2012

remember shumsky?

Recently, a dear friend to CMM and New Music@Drake reminded me of the great Oscar Shumsky. I hope you will share in my delight over this recording of Shumsky and Gould:

If you like this (and really, why wouldn't you), there is a great collection of Shumsky on YouTube.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

back to the jest

After taking a little break from David Foster Wallace's magnum opus, I was happy to revisit it in recent weeks. It is, like the title cartridge, dangerously compelling. The text is sensual and honest, and for me, a testament to fin-de-siecle hypercorporeality. As disconcerting as the Jest often is, it is also deeply comforting and equally inspiring. David Foster Wallace knew: he saw what was happening and had the courage to write it down. Certainly, it is not for the faint of heart, but it is a near-perfect articulation of the moment: prophetic hyperbole written with staggering virtuosity, heart-wrenching clarity, and the poignant essence of our corporeal reality. Like the best art, it is about being human--being both frail and extraordinary; touched by ineffable and necessary suffering.

"It's a kind of emotional novocaine, this form of depression, and while it's not overtly painful its deadness is disconcerting...Kate Gompert's always thought of this anhedonic state as a kind of radical abstracting of everything, a hollowing out of stuff that used to have affective content. Terms the undepressed toss around and take for granted as full and fleshy--happiness, joie de vivre, preference, love--are stripped to their skeletons and reduced to abstract ideas. They have, as it were, denotation but not connotation. The anhedonic can still speak about happiness and meaning et al., but she has become incapable of feeling anything in them, or of believing them to exist as anything more than concepts. Everything becomes a map of the world. An anhedonic can navigate, but has no location." [1]

1. Wallace, David Foster. 1996. Infinite jest: a novel. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. (692-693)