Monday, October 31, 2011
The kind of boredom that Heidegger discusses that is relevant here is when you actually enjoy your time out among the crowd, but when you come back home you realize that you were actually bored. The key is that you were having a good time. The easiest example I can think of is the alcoholic that realizes one day that he's wasted the last ten years of his life - that he was in fact fighting boredom the whole time. (This is an ontological claim - not a moral claim. That's fundamental to my argument.)
And so coming back from New York a while ago I was reading The Atlantic and the article was about my generation - I'm 30- suffering from a weird, in my opinion terrifying, kind of depression. The issue was that they had none of the classic causes. These were people who had happy childhoods, good jobs, little debt and so forth. But they felt empty. The article more or less argued that the problem was in fact psychological - my generation was trained to have self-esteem and feel good about themselves no matter what. Basically they were taught that they had a metaphysical center that was worthwhile no matter what they did or didn't accomplish.
It seems then, that my generation is revealing the terror of the breakdown of the self. I mean on one hand the deconstruction of the classical idea of "self" that took place with people like Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida and so forth was inevitable. But even if we are not a coherently-self-contained entity, we are still singular. I live my life; I die my death. And nothing makes one feel more like a self than being bored or sad or depressed. Happiness seems to be shared in a way loneliness never is.
Okay so the logical place to place blame is on the very device I'm using right now. According to Hubert Dreyfus' book "On the Internet" people who spend large amounts of time online claim to feel lonelier.
Recently while teaching two chapters from Dreyfus book to my technology and society class I had a rather scary realization. I had been more-or-less joking that my terms of discourse were "interesting" and "pleasurable." I would no longer judge things morally or even involve myself with those conversations. I would seek out that which is interesting or that which is pleasurable. I guess what most would call a hedonist - though that word doesn't seem correct exactly.
And then Dreyfus brings up Kierkegaard and his spheres or existence: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious. My choice of terms placed me neatly and without question in the aesthetic sphere. And the issue that Dreyfus points out, correctly, is that it necessarily leads to boredom. In fact as I understand the spheres, they all lead to boredom until one throws oneself into a project - and becomes that which he is.
This sounds wonderful. I love Kierkegaard and he's without question my favorite religious thinker. But there are a couple issues with the way Dreyfus deploys him - at least I think there are. One is that the technological framework that a child grows up in today might make his or her project to be one which jumps from here to there and back. What if that just starts feeling normal? Does this mean we're all bored and despairing. And worse then that in ways that we can't articulate or are basically unaware of?
See I just don't know. I know that a certain group of my friends that I talk to are incredibly smart and not happier because of it. We have discussed this for years, but the effects seem to be becoming more obvious.
Since I started with Heidegger, I'll pull a Heideggerian move and quote Holderlin: in the danger, there too lies the saving grace. The internet will be where we locate the solution. Where else can it come from? So how do we use things like Facebook without turning it into a glorified Hallmark? Can the internet, or better yet, how can the internet lead to the kind of total commitment that Kierkegaard believes is required for living a meaningful life?
So why is boredom good? Well, as I see it it's the mood that reveals these problems. In fact, it's the only mood that does. So if we can be sensitive to this particular kind of boredom - a rather profound boredom - we at least have a start - a way to start examining this problem, which feels huge, at least to me, at 2 in the morning.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Okay so when I was an undergraduate I began by being a Music Major, but after a year and a half I got burned out. And I wasn't willing to give up the guitar or my love of music. So what I gave up was being a music major. Up to that point the only philosopher I had read, at least in any serious way, was Nietzsche, and upon reflection I didn't really understand what they hell I was reading.
So there I was, looking through the catalog of classes and I nothing looked remotely interesting until I got to the Philosophy and Religion major. At this time Appalachian had combined two rather different disciplines into one - which could have worked except that the programs didn't connect. The sense I had - which is just a sense - is that the philosophy professors secretly thought they were smarter and the religious professors secretly thought they were doing real scholarship.
Anyhow, so during my tenure in this department I got to meet Orus Barker - who was so influential on the way I think that if I'm honest I don't know where his voice stops and mine starts. In his Social Issues and Ethics class one day he made a distinction between Ethical and Moral - two words we tend to use interchangeably.
However, the point he was showing was that they aren't the same word and the difference is actually monumental, if taken seriously. "Ethic" comes from the Greek "ethos." "Moral" comes from the word "mores." Now the latter means "social norm," something that is acceptable in a particular society. These tend to take the forms of rules - or what is called in philosophy deontology. So moral means a rule-based system that governs all places within the social world in a similar fashion. Morals do not deal with difference. In fact what they do is try to eliminate the idea of difference - the particular.
Ethics, however, if thought about as a derivative of "ethos," do almost the opposite. "Ethos" means "to dwell." Dwelling is ambiguous. It basically means to stay with something for a while. This means both a persons dwelling and the way a person dwells, ruminates, thinks.
In one of my religious studies class we read The Poisonwood Bible and what happened in the book - to drastically reduce plot - is that a preacher from Georgia (I think) went to Africa to preach and convert. He believed he could take his values and apply them anywhere. He was moral. Well this turned out badly. My essay on the book was that while he was Moral he wasn't Ethical - he couldn't dwell. He couldn't understand the particular. And because of this he brought about lots of death.
The Greeks have this beautiful term: kairos. Kairos means "at the appropriate time." We don't have a word like this and we should. (We should also have a second-person familiar like they have in Spanish. The south does - we have Y'all.") This word is all about "ethos." It's not rule-based; it's particular.
If one dwells poetically one learns to think. Morality does not think. It formulates. This is why Bentham's utilitarianism is referred to as a "moral calculus."
Okay so what does this have to do with the last post on homosexuality? Well here's what I think. Only a person who lives with a rule-based, non-exceptional set of morals can ever hold positions like "It's wrong for this person I don't know to engage in behaviors I don't which cause harm to nobody." If a person dwells poetically, which means embracing multiplicities, the idea that everyone should be one way just doesn't arise - at least I can't see how it would.
So do we need morality? Well, I guess. I mean The Law is based off of morality (a non-situated set of rules) and most of the problems with the law arise because of this. But I'm actually okay with it just being universally illegal to murder or to rape or to copy and resell the films of Michael Bay. But I'm not sure this is a victory for "morality." I mean what space can a person dwell poetically in where it would be acceptable to commit any of the crimes previously mentioned? And if we really examine The Law, if it was purely about morality there wouldn't even be lawyers. Lawyers exist in part because actions are situational with particular circumstances. For example, we allow for murder if it's in self-defense. So, it's actually incorrect of me to suggest that I'm okay with murder being universally wrong.
What we need is to learn to dwell. We need to have a sensitive mindfulness towards the world and the beings that dwell with us. We need to understand that a heterogeneity is better than a replication of self.
More than that though here's what is so wonderful about Kairos and Ethos: they contain within them the possibility of surprise, invention, the new. Morality can only repeat - it cannot create. It is about limits, not about possibilities.
So yes, I am saying stop being moral. Dwell in the muck. It's dirty, but it's exciting.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Okay so an argument we've all heard: who you want a fuck is something you choose.
Let's talk about what a choice is. A choice is something that could go either A or B with basically no coercion. I could eat at McDonald's or Burger King. That's a choice.
Okay, so the argument goes that being straight or gay is a choice - one of them tends to make God happier apparently - but that's not even what I'm worried about. I don't trade Biblical passages in these kinds of arguments. No point.
But here's what should hit hard. If sexuality is a choice, and choice is not the same as orientation, but rather on par with something like my lunch time eating decision, then here's what occurs. It means - I mean it just follows by common logic - that all straight people would just as soon fuck a man as a woman. And the ONLY reason they don't is because they choose not to do it. But they are half-gay. So if it's a choice, what Herman Cain, and every other person that's ever said this is saying, is that they're half-gay. Now, I'm fine with them being half-gay, four-fifths gay or totally (this would be 9-10 tenths gay, I think) gay. But something tells me they wouldn't be okay with this. So if being Gay is a choice, not an orientation that is what follows logically.
Here's what makes me sad - and I hope I'm not absolutely guilty of this. Being white during the Civil Rights march wasn't very difficult. You got to be moral and your difference was obvious. Everyone knew that the white people were, well, white people.
Now I can't prove this - I have no data- but I sense that one thing that's hurting the gay-rights movement is that straight people have some sort of deep-rooted fear that if they protested people would think that they were gay. Now I don't want to paint this too broadly - I mean I'm a straight guy (does it complicate my whole argument that I just said that?) who's writing this essay. And I know lots of other straight guys who would join.
There seems to be something with this particular issue that ultimately reveals all of Americas patriarchal nonsense - all of the John-Wayne-killing Indians model for masculinity. (and I like John Wayne.) My classic joke, which I know I'm stealing, is that anyone dumb enough to join the institutions of marriage or military should be allowed. But that's a joke. I don't mean it - I want a cheap laugh. What I want is for us to stop being able to say things like "I know nobody agrees with me and that all evidence points the other way and I really don't know what I'm talking about but I believe this stupid thing." Would anybody tolerate that kind of logic from their doctor? their lawyer? Someone call Zevon: we need Lawyers, Guns and Money to get us out of this.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
This movement makes me proud. I am not the left-wing guy who constantly feels ashamed of America - I think those attitudes are reductionist. I'm usually in disagreement with power, however.
Okay so I think a way to get into this conversation is to talk about the narratives that I see forming and to talk about what I think in response. The most common critique that I think is coming from people I'd define as sensible is that they need to articulate themselves more clearly. They need something akin to a manifesto.
I disagree. I think what this movement should do first is grow. What is happening now that's so wonderful to me is two-fold. First, the movement is an honest-to-god rhizomic network. It is not a top down structure. This movement is networked. The beauty of the network is that it can celebrate difference. Lots of movements cannot tolerate difference. Right now the political Right in America has a really tough time with difference. And it's not just the Right. The Left (these terms are problematic, I know) often just fractures itself off into mini groups - the environmental left, the animal rights left, the anti-corporate left, and so forth. But when a group is networked in this way - the first time I've seen it in my life - they can embrace and thrive off of difference. This is something to celebrate.
So the second reason why I think it's helpful to stay networked - at least for a while - has to do with the difference between anxiety and fear. Fear is always directed at an object. I am afraid of this Monster, but if he'd go away, my fear would leave. However, anxiety does not work that way. Anxiety is not directed towards anything in particular. But what is happening now is that the Corporate Structure that is being critiqued (which is not the same as being anti-every-single-business ever) is feeling anxious. They don't know how to stop it. Why? Because it's not clear what would stop it. If there were a clear set of demands, it might end, or be co-opted by some group like the Unions or the Dems or Moveon (all groups that I don't particularly care for in one way or the other.) Building this movement this way is more powerful.
The other critiques I'm hearing I think are just misreadings. I've heard people point out that the protesters use corporate items. Yes. No shit. They breathe and shit too. That can only come from someone who doesn't understand capitalism at all and is neck-deep in false-consciousness. Which is when you pretend that sewage station smells like flowers.
Also people want to say these guys are anti-business. No. They are anti these particular business practices. If you reduce everything down to a simple statement, you eliminate the particulars and since everything is a particular, this is beyond problematic.
Usually people on the left, Steinbeck said this well, claim that the problem is that Americans think one day they're going to be rich and therefore do not enjoy critiquing the rich. I think Steinbeck said something like we don't have poor, we just have temporarily embarrassed millionaires. Maybe. My hunch is that it's much more complicated than that. It's not a conspiracy theory to point out that the rich own the means of dissemination. I mean I've given the Tea Party a hard time, but I honestly didn't disagree with their complaints at first. But then they got co-opted. No, you aren't mad at Banks. You are mad at the government. This is a false dichotomy. It's the same fucking institution. Call it a corporatocracy or something such as that.
This goes far beyond left and right - in fact those terms are part of the discourse that keeps most people off of the streets and yelling at their television. I'm proud of all those guys and girls. We were happy when the Arabs rose up this Spring and Summer. Let's be happy when we do it. All systems of power wish to serve power. It's as true here as it is in Russia. Let's stop being surprised by that. If we're still surprised by that.
Monday, October 17, 2011
So many of my friends, my self included, have a disease. We want to use each other aurally. Aural sex. This occurs most often on trips and you know it's about to occur when you see the procurement of an I-POD. Usually this scenario is when all my hypocrisy reveals itself. I love being fascist about music; I rarely like someone else doing the same. (There are about 3 exceptions to this.)
But the biggest exception ever was Mark, my great Jazz-duet partner, who gave me a greatest hits of Tom Waits he made for me about 10 years ago. Immediately it was the best thing I'd ever heard. It remains as such.
And so I'm listening to Waits' new album that he's streaming. It's wonderful. The two best concerts I've ever been to were both Tom Waits. One in Memphis and one in Birmingham. He makes most seem lazy - a sentiment I expressed to my buddy who accompanied me to Birmingham. Though I think it was a slightly more emphatic version of that statement: He makes everyone seem lazy. Probably not literally true, but it damn sure was the truth walking out of the Birmingham theater. I'm pretty sure that weekend was something Tom Waits would have been proud of.
So why Tom? Well, it feels like there's a million reasons. Waits is the greatest at stretching the edges of a genre - he's always got a pulley system in his tool box. He's usually called "weird" by my friends who don't get my love for this guy. But the thing is, he's not really that weird. He's not doing atonal music. He's a manipulator of the cliche.
The great point that must be mentioned about Waits is that his voice is an instrument the way an electric guitar is an instrument - it is a plethora of possibilities. Most singers don't think of their voice that way. In any given song Waits can use two or three vocal approaches. And at the same time there's a thread that runs from Closing Time to Bad As Me that contains several different, large-scale vocal mutations. When my friends say they don't like, say, his voice from Real Gone, I play Closing Time or The Heart of Saturday Night and the surprise is always apparent.
Okay - but there's more. That's the thing, you can't sum it up. But I love how Waits always creates a place out of objects. He doesn't simply talk about "I" and "babe" and "love." He shows you what these people look like: "Charlie I'm pregnant, living on 9th street, right above that dirty bookstore on Euclid avenue." That's not a lyric - it's a world.
I remember Jim Jarmusch, another favorite dude of mine, used two songs from Rain Dogs to bookend his film Down By Law. Jarmusch said the same thing after he let the audience hear this line: "He bought a second-hand Nova from a Cuban-Chinese, dyed his hair in the bathroom of a Texaco." Now that's a fucking lyric.
The man is a creator of worlds - he is Lewis and Clark: explorer and cartographer of the strange. But he's also a romantic: "With her charcoal eyes and Monroe hips."
Have I made the argument that he's the most interesting artist of the second half of the 20th century? Yes. Do I really believe in things like "most" and "best?" Probably not. Will I make the argument again? Damn right.
Here are a couple of examples of recent roadside entertainments: "Young Interiors." Now I believe this was some kind of interior decorating shop and I'm assuming "young" is meant to indicate that they do work that is hip. However, the sign just seems dirty to me. And what's hilarious is that it completely transforms my understanding of what an "interior decorator" might be.
"God Says Thou Shalt Not Kill." This sign had a picture of a rather large fetus. Well it was large for a fetus, or possibly small for a child depending on your stance on abortion. Anyhow, the sign is pretty obvious in its intentions. But what brought me joy is that this sign occurs right when one enters Fayeteville, NC, which is the home of Fort Bragg, which is part of the Giant Organized Death-Dealing establishment. So yeah, this is basic-level irony on one hand, but on the other hand it reveals a fissure in whose life is thought to be sacred and whose life is ready, on-hand for sacrifice.
Finally, my favorite - on the deservedly defunct Ham's billboard - the Ham's has been closed for many months - the sign reads "Friday Night Walrus." The possibilities here seem pretty limitless. I feel like it must be the first time those three words have ever been put in that order. I've also decided that Friday Night Walrus could be a pretty solid name for an indie rock band.
The joy of interpretation - it don't cost nothing. Enjoy.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
So okay - it's stupid male, drunken fun. And that is what it is. But after reading my post I started thinking about it. And what I started to think about is that there's really a deconstructive move here. The quotation is all about origin - the quotation is always connected to logos.
(Logos in this discourse means a central term that grants all other terms around it meaning. God is a logos, in Marx money is a logos, in Freud the subconsciousness is a logos.)
Okay so why does it grant power to our discourse - what we would probably call "ethos" to our students - to quote somebody older? I mean I do this. You do this. But why do we do this. Why can't my words be enough? Why do I have to enter a "conversation."
Here's what I want to say - even though I use the conversation metaphor in class - academia is not interested in conversations, at least not what I think of as conversations.
Responding to a person I don't know who wrote an essay is not the same as having a conversation. Why do academics accept this metaphor so easily? Hell, I did. At times I still do.
Okay let's make a point. Quotations are about ethos deferred. But why is that so important. Can I only be an intellectual because I can quote Heidegger? Oh and I can, lord knows I can, talk Heidegger.
Here's a bigger point: do quotations assume a singular original subjective human that has been more than complicated in recent discourse. Death of the something?
And in terms of conversation as academic metaphor, let's admit that what's so great about face-to-face-what-I-think-of-when-I-say conversations is that they are fast - always capable of the hard right turn. They are not planned or methodical. Academic essays are.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Thomas Edison - "that's some ol bullshit."
Frank my plumber - "that's some ol bullshit."
Nelson Mandela - "that's some ol bullshit."
Mother Teresa - "that's some ol bullshit."
Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt - "that's some ol bullshit."
Some dude from the store - "that's some old bullshit."
Some other guy named Steve, I think - "that's some ol bullshit."
Abraham upon God telling him to kill his son - "fuck, that IS some ol bullshit."
Jesus after repeatedly being fooled by a guy doing 3-card monte - "that's some ol bullshit."
Me, this one time, when somebody said something I didn't care for - "man, that's some ol bullshit."
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Graduate School : The Interplay of The Scato-Patho Modes of Becoming What Always-Already Was
Read classics. Know Shakespeare. He’s important. Especially the one’s you’ve never read. Those are the ones to read. Read Faulkner and Joyce and Beckett and Joyce again. Learn to quote, just a few passages. Sound smart. Too canonical. Read Faulkner and Joyce and Beckett and Joyce again but then also read all the people who are not Faulkner and Joyce and Beckett and Joyce again. Look for things. Someone’s getting the shaft. Make a note. Be indignant.
Stop reading classics. Read essays. Essays prove things. Must sound smart. Learn phrases. Say “It creates the conditions for its own becoming.” Nobody knows what the fuck that means. Learn to nod and agree when you don’t know what the fuck something means. Sound smart. Read Shakespeare. He’s important. Especially the one’s you’ve never read.
Derridian, Foucauldian, Deleuzean, Nietzschian. Have a good last name. Good last names are important.
Embrace the colon. Titles need colons. People need colons too. Read essays. Especially ones with colons.
Make sure you have a long works cited page. Lots of good last names. Lots of colons. Show everyone that you have read Derrida and Foucault and Deleuze and Nietzsche. Or at least checked them out of the library. It’s okay if you didn’t read it all. Who has time? Time is confusing, especially in Faulkner and Joyce and Beckett and Joyce again. Time is everything. Being and Time. Nobody knows what the fuck that means. Be sure to nod.
If nobody nods when you talk it’s because they do not understand you. You are brilliant. You say smart things. You write titles with colons. You have read your Shakespeare. Even the ones nobody reads. Those are the ones to read.
Monday, October 3, 2011
The argument for Breaking Bad being better ended up being built, mostly I think, on what Dexter is not doing creatively. Essentially the argument was that since Dexter is concerned mostly with Dexter, the plot is often subjugated to that point, and hence is often neglected. I basically agree with this. However, I love Dexter, mostly because it's entertaining and I love Bautista - I mean he's the guy I want to sit next to at my local bar - and there is no higher compliment.
Okay, so this conversation led me to thinking about repetition, mostly because I'm trying to get through Deleuze's book on difference and repetition, titled exactly that. Now, I'm starting to have a weird relationship with Deleuze - I'm intrigued, seduced, but confused. So I've started what I described as my "Philosopher as Adhesive Tape" project with him. Can I use my readings of him to make sense of the world - can I "practice" Deleuze. Now the goal of course is that through application will come understanding. So here's my application of Deleuze for the day. (Coffeen if you're reading this, I need you to tell me where I fuck up.)
Okay, so let's not compare Dexter to Breaking Bad, but instead to The Wire. So they both use repetition as a trope - as my bass player would say "That's their shit." But they use repetition in drastically different ways.
Dexter repeats from an origin. Dexter has not only a beginning but a genuine origin - he's operating in the superhero genre. This suggests we can interpret his behaviors as coming from a single point. So what becomes interesting in Dexter is the hope that the point of origin will lose hold, i.e., that his Dark Passenger will cease to be his indestructible signifier. What we desire from Dexter is the postmodern - we want his signifier to stop pointing to a signfied, but instead to point beyond itself, which will mean in practical terms that Dexter can live a life that is not determined by one attribute - in the language of Deleuze he can be Rhizomic and not arborescent.
Now compare that to The Wire. In The Wire repetition is key to the show. In fact, the show's ending makes no sense unless you've already understood the argument the show is making in terms of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same. David Simon says, brilliantly, that the show is Greek and the God's are the Institutions. Nobody Fucks With The Jesus.
So the end of The Wire is the beginning. The show seems so weird because it's not the psychological dramatic piece that shows one person rising above his circumstances. This show is ABOUT the circumstances - it's pre-Sophoclean drama.
Okay so what? Well here's my simple point: The Wire's repetition does not come from an origin - in fact there is no origin. There is only repetition in The Wire. So contrasted with Dexter or damn near any other show it becomes unique and pretty fucking brilliant. Most shows repeat from a center - faux Jazz - the belief that the Tune is stable, is an origin, can be redistributed. However, The Wire, and no accident that the same guy made Treme (with many others, obviously), understands that The Tune is up for grabs too. Listen to Joe Pass and Neils Henning Orsted Peterson cover Charlie Parker's Yardbird Suite. All of a sudden the melody is up for grabs too - repetition- repetition within the play. Something like that - it's all difference.
The introduction is about violence and routines. Dexter cooks breakfast and makes coffee, flosses, dresses and leaves. What's interesting about this is how the normal starts to look abnormal. The food all becomes flesh - and the flesh (the egg, the ham, hell, the coffee grinds) is consumed. Breakfast is an act of violence. Then Dexter flosses and we see this as yet another violent act in the morning ritual. Finally, Dexter puts on a t-shirt and just for a second it covers his face, ostensibly cutting off oxygen.
The violence of making breakfast, of simply getting ready for the day, is something I rarely think about. Dexter is suggesting that by the time one leaves for work one has already acted like a monster. Time to stare at Francis Bacon paintings.