More or less 25 years ago I experienced a zero-crossing. The sign of my well-being gently changed from negative to positive. My well-being in function of time is hard to measure. I do think it kind of maximized about 10 years ago. I hate to say that, being rather square, it doesn’t look likely I will avoid my second zero-crossing. Worse, I hate that it feels like it’s imminent. Here’s to hoping my polynomial has a reasonable term in the third degree.
I hate parabolic. I hope my vengeance comes in that third degree.
If you are lucky enough not to have been bored to death with polynomials of the quadratic kind when you were young enough to imagine aliens would rescue us from all that menial labor for which computers and robots were invented, you won’t mind a long sentence that promises to explain the above in more humane terms. The parabolic essence is: what goes up must come down. My family took me to a maximum but my gravity takes me down.
I hate gravity, specifically the one that I need to own up to as mine.
But more than all this, I hate being in suspense. And now for a rant. Continue reading
“One doesn’t always have to formalize: Nietzsche thought that if God existed, the I is impossible. That may be very convincing, if A commands B, B no longer is autonomous, doesn’t have subjectivity anymore, but when in the course of thinking, you don’t stay in the formal, when you think from the contents, a situation called heteronomy has a totally different meaning.” (own translation), E. Levinas, Entre Nous, Editions Grasset & Fasquelle, 1991, p.121.
I’ve been blogging on and off on this site called heteronomy. Truth be told I have never in that long time really though about the meaning of that word. Until recently that is, when I read Kant’s “Foundations of metaphysics of morals” and discovered the passage about autonomy and heteronomy. It made me think. There’s something appealing to autonomy; one would not want to do the good thing because there’s an external motivation to do it. Still, something is missing there. The misery of our own period of history has a lot do to with autonomy gone wild. It literally takes the Enlightenment to anti-humanist extremes. As a once avid reader of Kierkegaard I can but wonder whether the either/or isn’t in fact inescapable and whether I don’t have to switch over to the religious side after all. I seem to share all of the values although I’m fundamentally abhorred by the heteronomous part; obedience is not my thing, let alone the blind variant.
I am, like many, looking for a long time to avoid being caught on the horns of the either and the or. There has to be a way to derive a positive morality without relying on anything properly religious. It was no coincidence that I decided to read some more Levinas. It was a surprise though to find the above quote. It sums up the promise of another kind of heteronomy, one not based on higher powers but one based on everyday interaction with others. That surprise triggered this post.
I think Levinas has it more or less right. The problem is that I’m looking for something that is exactly right. I’m after all an analytical person close to analytic philosophy. Now – like in this excellent piece (by Martin Shuster) – there is a lot of activity trying to bridge the gaps between the two philosophical traditions, that’s still not exact enough for me. What I want is to derive Levinas’ anomalous heteronomy from the basic facts of language and – more specifically – from Davidson’s principle of charity.
This is what I have (and, pretty please, do help me along):
Remember those awkward days when your every move was dependent on being independent. Your laundry was done for you, dinner was still served and your presence at it was a sacrifice to the elders. You are ashamed now about the future you predicted for your self and that of others. You should be. It was naïve and self-centered on wishing ill on others. You had as little room for others in your heart as there was for yourself in your room.
I’m talking about the years 2015-2016. Years of stupidity that are by now mostly forgotten. Ape years paling in comparison to the big fires scarring the century before. Religion was a hot item again. Can you imagine? God was long pronounced dead. The notion of humanity was born long before His epitaph was written. But here we were: each boxed in their own room of right, sulking about the unfairness of it all.
In the end, it was all about being independent.
Yoinked from the comments at AUFS, because why not.
I saw The Hateful Eight as self-critique of Tarantino’s previous pair of movies, which were both alternative history by way of violent fantasies, the twinned Hitler-killings (and accompanying brutalization of Nazis) of Inglourious Basterds and the plantation carnage of Django Unchained.
The establishment of civilization requires that a man be hanged by the law instead of lynched by the mob. This is axiomatic to the Western (not to mention the Orestia). It’s the first scene of Deadwood, and it’s posed by “Oswaldo Mowbray” at Minnie’s.
Meeting after the Civil War on “neutral” ground, the characters are animated by fantasies and experiences that mirror the what-ifs of IB and DU. Marquis’s swath of fiery vengeance and $30,000 “head” makes him a close cousin of Django. And Tarantino doesn’t need to indulge in relativistic both-sides-do-it to show that Mannix sees his daddy’s raids as motivated by violent redemption for history’s losers as well.
The most critical violent fantasy, though, is the one that concludes the first half (coming before intermission in the Roadshow presentation). Marquis traps General Smithers in an inescapable, sexualized, racialized revenge fantasy. He stays on the right side of the law, or at least of custom, by getting the old man to raise his weapon first. But it’s a paper-thin justice.
This is mirrored in the “justice” of Marquis’s and Mannix’s final act — hanging Domergue under color of law rather than shooting her in the heat of revenge. For Domergue, there’s very little difference, and her hanging leaves the floor only slightly less wet with brains, but under the terms set out by John Ruth and explained by Mowbray, it makes all the difference. It’s achieved in the most bald of metaphors for postbellum peace: freedman and raider united to execute justice that, if not blind, is at least not motivated by any of the passions that drove the Civil War.
In the most simultaneously cynical and earnest gesture (up there with Liberty Valance‘s “Print the legend”), Tarantino lets his coalition expire while reading, admiring, and truly basking in Marquis’s fake Lincoln letter. It’s another kind of fantasy altogether: benevolent, paternal, intimate, and audaciously, inspiringly false.
This year was a lousy one. The problem with that is that it can still be much worse. So I shouldn’t complain, but I do. Let me explain. A lot of it is because of me but some of it is because of everybody else. Rarely have we seen such a regress of the public sphere.
Backwards is what we are. We are obsessed with reliving every single stupidity of the past. Most notably the origin of stupidity: that things can be engineered to an end. My generation hates gentle evolution with an impatience bordering on the insane. Shit is to be done. Muscles to be flexed. Pain to be experienced and gain to be had.
This is the result of the generation that allowed Reagan and Thatcher to redefine the world in their image. My generation. The generation of plenty, plenty people unwilling to share anything and scared shitless that once they might be outvoted by younger people, immigrants, other nations, other cultures. They claim they do everything for the next generation – as long as that generation shares a maximum number of genes with them. A generation that invented the term ‘political correctness’ to put up a wall against progressive insight (whether on economic matters, gay rights, you name it, the climate). Continue reading
I confess that against my (and the doctor’s) better judgment, I went out for work yesterday. The result was that I achieved nothing significant and extended my illness over the week-end. So now I am alone and, for the first time in many months, writing to the few who happen to wander into this page.
Hello! You’re not the only ones to feel fucked over by the present life!
I confess making that remark mainly to get your attention. Not that I particularly want it, but it seems to be the honest thing to do. I at least have to try to get your attention. I’m not in fact fucked over. Far from it. It often feels that way just because I’m unable to cope with the absence of real bad luck in my life.
Let’s just all confess to it: we try too much. The drive for success is like a butt plug making us feel uneasy all of the time. Not that I know how a butt plug feels like; as I told you, I’m not in fact fucked over. Still, there’s an anal metaphor here. Society drills us to want to pick up the soap and the only break-through that is ever achieved that way … I’ll definitely say more. Continue reading
What a rich, panoramic, mythic, ambitious, sweeping novel. I loved the stuff Pat wrote about the pageant, and his initially brief comment about Serge as observer agreed perfectly with my own sense of his perspective as the narrative heart of C.
Having finished the story weeks ago, I will focus on a couple sweeping overviews. My strongest impression is a view of its mythic structure, what I see as McCarthy’s framing of the story in two myths of the underworld: the incredible pageant of the Persephone myth at the start and the Osiris-Isis phallic resurrection story at the end, both of them leading to elaborately narrated sex acts: at the start, Sophie (OF COURSE IT IS SOPHIE, not MRS C–what would all that coded sexting amount to if it didn’t lead to the fucking behind the curtain?) and Widsun after Persephone pageant & at the end, Serge with the Egyptologist woman in the maze of Egyptian tombs, both the fuck of his life and the incident that wounds and eventually kills him. Those sex acts seem to be then joined in Serge’s cosmic deathbed hallucination of his marriage to Sophie.
So those two myths are both about the regeneration of the world via underworld journeys through the world of the dead, and sex explodes in the wake of the narration/allusion to those stories. Taken together, they frame Serge’s observer’s tour of duty through the advent of modern history, which is at the same time the hastening, inevitable decline of the British empire.
SOME KEY MOMENTS IN THIS TOUR OF DUTY:
Radio Communication. One of my favorite passages was the lengthy and beautiful narration of Serge’s listening in on radio signals from Europe and the North Atlantic. What an awesome feeling this section gives of pulsing mysterious rising life from the signals as Serge raises the frequency to take in wider and wider sweeps of signals criss-crossing chaotically but also so intersectingly, such a network of relationships emerging from this brand new technology and the connections it makes possible. Again here Serge never really seems to participate or create action, he is always looking and/or listening in.
Serge’s (failed?) Water Cure. What a strange ailment, a bowel blockage that colors the world with a shadow of blackened vision. It seems that all of the attempted prescribed treatments fail, and only Serge’s weird sex with the strange massage woman finally clears his system and his vision. (QUESTION: Serge likes to fuck from behind, is it anal sex? Not sure if that matters, but Serge never seems to fall in love with any of his partners or even contemplate marriage, so there does seem to be a marked non-fertile, non-connective quality to his sex) This section provides vivid imagery of fin-de-siecle, turn of the century decadence and impending war.
Serge’s Observer Role in War. Serge’s unconnected drift through life and even mass death continues in his tour of duty as a pilot and observer in the British air corps of World War I. Not surprisingly, he ends up not flying a plane or killing anyone or operating weaponry himself, but instead surveys the battlefield from above and provides complex coded coordinates for artillery fire from elsewhere. Serge is so disconnected–all around him, the entire squadron is cycling through pilot after pilot, all of them killed either in training and practice or in the field of war (there is the funniest line of the novel for me where Serge wonders whether the war couldn’t simply allow its fighters in training to be killed one by one in accidents rather than involving enemy combatants actually shooting each other)–and yet Serge makes no friends feels no grief no fear no trauma. He is sky high on cocaine while he flies and does his job. Even in the rather splendid narration of his own plane’s getting shot from the sky, when he ends up crashed grounded and captured–nothing seems to affect him very much. He seems like a dead person, almost a ghost walking through history. His prisoner of war days involve little more dramatic than masturbation in the tunnel they are digging.
Serge’s Drug Days in London. Serge gets involved with an actress and with heroin in London. Perhaps his most aggressive intervention in the world happens when he cleverly wrecks the phony medium’s spiritualist performance. I suppose the spiritualist he ruins is another interesting variation on the theme of afterlife in C. But why does he take such an active role in that particular situation, when everywhere else he is so passive? That is weird. Again, he seems to drift along, get carried along through the drug dens and back stages and his architecture training in London–no connections, no friends, no love, no marriage, no children. Just sex and heroin.
Serge’s Journeys through Egypt. Whether it’s documenting sabotaged radio communication stations that seem already to have been documented, writing reports that no one seems to care about, learning arcana about Alexandria, catching stray impressions of Egyptian rebellion against British imperialism (the killed diplomat lying in the street with blood and spilled milk), being schooled in the world of intelligence and counter-intelligence, everybody watching each other and no one knowing or being able to tell the truth, traveling up the Nile to scout out pylon locations for future radio towers, or digging around in archeology excavations he has no real part of–Serge continues to the end without a relationship, mildly interested in something now and then, seducing a woman here and there, but never actually doing anything, always just seeing what is going on around him.
Serge’s deathbed hallucination. I have to listen to this climactic section again. It was pretty strange.
What does this mythic framing of declining empire and burgeoning history mean? Is Serge’s sleepwalk through incredibly frenetic, massively violent wars and spies and radio signals and historical change somehow a tour of the modern world as underworld, as a land of the dead that is somehow going to generate life again? In Serge’s world, nothing really works, nothing seems really to happen, nothing takes hold of him–the empire is just playing out a kind of after-life. I will leave this post with this big question: is the decline of the British empire and its peculiar deadness supposed to be a prelude to some new life? The fact that the story ends with a hallucination about an incestuous cosmic marriage between a suicide (Sophie) and a walking dead person (Serge) seems dark, seems like a dead end, although the narration is wild and colorful. What kind of comment on history is this? Why narrate the turn of the previous century, and what relevance does that have?
ALSO: WHY IS THIS NOVEL CALLED “C”? C Latin for 100, century? C for Carrefax? C as “see” for Serge’s observer role?
I did not get through every post from earlier this month and I apologize if some of these questions have been addressed. I will be coming back to the website in the next day or two. I look forward to your responses. Love you guys! What a treat to get some fresh tastes of Deep Springs intellectual excitement and dialogue.
I dreamt I checked The Weblog and saw that Adam had turned it into a cooking blog. The most recent post was about making a recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook. The recipe was extremely simple, and appeared to consist of pan-frying four tiny chicken cutlets. The end.
If there’s an -ist that applies to me it’s pensivist. Maybe I should go cold turkey on thinking. I confess that the strategy of doing it moderately doesn’t feel like the winning strategy. And what is a strategy if it is not winning. Isn’t it all about winning? It is. It is. It is. Therefore I am. Whether I like it or not. Nobody asked me. Except myself. Precisely nobody, that is.
I’m reading Finnegans Wake. I confess to ambivalence about it. It’s great but makes me feel little. What is the point?, is that the point? It is a snake; it is; it is; it is. But I was bitten long before. Now I’m just rattled. Ha. The beauty of it is: it is self-contained. I read it without trying to understand.
But let me think about the eternal recurrence of the eternal recurrence. I hate it but confess to loving those who seem to love it, or, at least, who love those who love those who seem to love it. The thing is that those who seem to love it are those who break the cycle and, methinks, Finnegans Wake breaks the cycle.
I’ve been a slouch on the first book, but I promise to step it up for Tom McCarty’s C, coming to summer book club at The Weblog soon.