In the spirit of the disconnected ramble that was the previous rant, I write now on a certain synchronicity of mind. An acausal connectivity principle that flirts with Hume’s associationism before swiftly dropping back into the philosophical equivalent of Bosch’s hell. Yes, thought is an odd thing that one rarely contemplates in a spirit of problem solving, more likely our pronouncements on thought are closer to platitudes than real beliefs. Without doing a Woody Allen and “looking inside the soul of the guy sat next to me”, I can only base my thoughts on contemplation in personal experience, or more rightly experiences; my personal idea associations bearing no resemblance to linearity in either their content, my consciousness of them, or the time of their occurrence.
Contemplation itself can hardly be called a singular event – cut to a cartoon image of chin-rubbing, brow-furrowing, straining to turn on a floating lightbulb. No, much of our thought is unconscious; this is why it’s best to take breaks during periods of complex mental work. The action of “sleeping on it” is often when the great connection is made and the bridge into comprehension and understanding is quickly burned behind you, making you feel as if the problem was simple all along.
In laying our solutions over problems, in the manner of early Deleuze, we constitute the problems themselves via their solutions. Causality is projected backwards and “thought patterns” are formed. An expert on trees wouldn’t have become an expert on roots and then worked his way up to leaves. As more knowledge is added, it lays itself over previous knowledge, obscuring our memory of the chance accumulations that are inherent in learning and replacing them with a causal, linear narrative.
Yet these “patterns”, as selections made through judgements of meaning-value, must surely occur throughout all thought then, not simply education? In Vonnegut’s masterpiece Slaughterhouse 5, a scene in which three Germans stare, slack-jawed, out across the annihilated city of Dresden gives Billy Pilgrim, the main character, the uncanny sensation of there being something missing. Many years later, on the day of his marriage, he hears a trio of barbershop singers whose song is retroactively placed in the mouths of the three Germans, completing the image. The acausal connectivity of thought is here traced via meaning-value again, yet arbitrarily, between decades. The fragments of the past that unite with the future are the essence of these patterns (be they conscious or not), and their meaning-value is embedded in the sensation of recurrence.
Marcus Aurelius describes the existence of all times in one moment, Nietzsche the finite universe that must “eternally return” in its vastness, Deleuze’s “Aion” places all pasts and futures in the present – all these theorists effectively do the same thing; posit meaning as the circular time of recurrence. I suffer from a similar mental tick, although rather than philosophise, I tend to distrust it. You see, when I remember past events, regardless of their importance or when they occurred, I keep experiencing the sense of having done them before I did them. Something I experienced for the first time (something I could never have previously experienced before) is remembered as being a repetition. The feeling is that of déjà vu – except it isn’t so at the time, only afterwards in memory.
As I said, I refuse to be Woody Allen, so here I will intrepidly utilise my subjective mental obscurities to suggest to you, my lovely invisible reader, that the sensation of recurrence is the Deleuzean double present (Aion-Chronos), hotwired by chance. Our thought becomes like our face when we see it from an odd angle in a photograph; the mirror-face that we carry as the image of ourselves is presented from a new angle, a photo-face that occurs simultaneously with the mirror-face without changing or destroying it, despite its difference (its difference being that it is exactly the same). The seamless process of problem-solution “patterns” is confused, split and doubled, revealing products of the mind’s fractal workings in a self-contained recurrence. Recurrence is not repetition, but a meaning-connection/selection essentially acausal.
This is the reason that thought, in itself, doesn’t make “thinkers”. “e=mc2” could have been daydreamed by a shoeshine boy in 1840s London, “to be or not to be” may be a throwaway comment made in 700 years time when all fiction has been long eradicated, none of it matters. Thought itself doesn’t matter, neither its content nor its action; it only functions as true meaning on a cultural level, on a level of fame, hegemony, threats and bargaining. In such a way does Bernard K. Smith (“that’s Smith with an “I”) lament his greatest ideas being stolen, taken into the past and made by others, in the excellent youtube series/channel Church of Blow.
Continuation, then, is more of a habit in life; a tendency rather than its true being. The narratives that we construct, verifiable or not, are only what I previously described as islands of “Laputan meaning” for the reason that such is the way the human mind works. Synchronicity of mind, its endless collisions of thought, this is the nature of possible worlds now that Godfrey has popped his clogs
Perhaps it would be fitting to end with a note on the Lamed Wufniks. These are the 36 great individuals whose influence on the human race is paramount at this time. They tend to have little power, they never know of each other, and we will never hear of them, not until the far future, if ever at all. In all likelihood, they don’t know that they are one themselves. I doubt that I’m one of them, but perhaps you are, my beautiful imaginary follower? If so, could you put in a good word for me to the future? Much obliged.
Standing on the edge of a liberal government, we find ourselves within range of a terrible danger: thought. Clegg’s political policy is that of my literature, a politened and tightened “transcendence of the fuckers”. Winning arguments by approaching them from unworkable positions, exploding dualistic debates with well-placed erroneousness, in short, all the imagination that makes literary theory both thoroughly enjoyable and generally irrelevant. In such a spirit I would approach the legalisation of drugs.
Yes, I refuse to stoop to facts. Drugs like marijuana and ecstasy are obviously less damaging than alcohol or tobacco. It’s obviously better to treat drug addicts and give them access to healthcare than it is to arrest them. All the scientists that quit government drug think-tanks are reduced to curiosity pieces by the media, and why? Because everybody who’s put any thought into it at all knows that legalisation of all narcotics, and their resulting regulation, is the safest, simplest and most economically sound option available if we really are fighting a “war on drugs”. They’ve tried social experiments of the sort in Portugal that prove it – similarly proving that proof isn’t what’s needed.
The cultural influence of drugs is perhaps where the paranoia of legislation begins. The fear of perceived madness terrifies the traditionalists away from ever taking drugs, whilst the drug experiences of others become influenced by such fears in response. Sex and drugs and rock and roll – physical, chemical releases channelled through morality and vague notions of freedom and liberty. Boiled down to its purest, the historical cultural aversion to legalisation is simply habit. The “fabric of society” that Cameron is unwisely centring his campaign on is essentially this notion of habit in extremis where a change in something like drug law, or anything else really, would pull society apart in a fury of mangled associations and confused anarchy.
There is much philosophical discussion about a possible “fabric of society”. Bion’s pioneering work on group psychology revolves around the certain intra-personal “atmosphere” that group experiences create. However, once the object and the subject become secondary, we find ourselves in the Dionysian field, the Birth of Tragedy that Nietzsche so mystically describes. Indeed, Reich’s three levels of social being and Jung’s theory of archetypes and the collective unconscious, to name some other attempts at dealing with intra-personal atmosphere, are equally mystical in tone. Perhaps this is why Deleuze’s “field of immanence”, which unites this psychological interest with transcendental philosophies from Kant to Spinoza, could never fully work itself out without the aid of academic interpreters.
Yet to stick with Deleuze, the “fabric of society” that exists outside hysterical conservative patriotism could only be described as a socio-economic rhizome. “You have messed with the fabric of the universe!” the main character of Network is told after disrupting a business deal. Indeed, I was hoping, if only out of a nihilistic drive towards interesting narratives, that Cameron would sell himself on a “new conservatism”, an Ayn Rand commodity-fetishism that was dreamed in the 80s but never actualised to the level that it has the potential to become now. “The world is a floating net of change, lines shifting parallels, crackling and bubbling waves of ideas and power that we surf across, devoid of reality…” Was it too much to ask of him?
Either way, at the bottom of all politics is a wilful neglect for the Lacanian notion of phantasy. No politician could admit their ignorance as to what “society” is – that’s why we get Cameron meeting black homosexual firemen in Scotland whose values are mysteriously similar to his own, it is why Brown feels the need to “get real” about spurring on a nuclear apocalypse, it’s why Clegg ends each speech by promising change and hope and all the rest of those meaningless terms. The general election is the panic-buying of politics: everyone knows that there’s no reason to panic, but suspects that others will panic, creating an actual need for you to panic, so you panic secure in the notion that you aren’t really panicking, just being rational about other’s irrationality. Nobody really believes what’s written in the papers, those mindless hordes that do are just your own insecurities projected onto a national scale.
But then what would I know? I certainly couldn’t stop this unfocused rant from careering out of control. I who believe in socialist state support socially with anarchistic libertarianism in law, liberal toleration for beliefs mixed with the atheistic desire to destroy all organised religion, psychogeography and the nonexistence of the Self… at heart I believe in nothing. The world is 10% science, 10% art and 90% joke. So of course I’d support legalisation of drugs, from where I’m sitting it makes perfect sense.
I apologise, my fair imaginary reader, for the downward turn in quality of these blogs at the moment. Well, perhaps the quality isn’t lacking, my genius being as it is and all, yet the imaginative drive behind them seems to be lacking. I’m writing a lot more on the short story front, expanding the Jerusalem Artichoke project by 5 characters a day, but still my mind is drawn to the events of my personal life which are so unspeakably dull that I couldn’t possibly bear to mention them somewhere such as this blog. Nevertheless, consider this an apology for a mind unfocused. A lapse of stoicism…
It does strike up an interesting question though, as to what is the ideal situation in which to cultivate mental productions. For me it’s summarised by the lifestyles of the great Enlightenment thinkers. One must firstly have access to a certain level of financial stability, from which the possibility of sedentary life emerges and then, presumably, have access to a broad network of intellectuals with which to argue and, in spite of yourself, actually learn from. But then this is similarly the culture that Voltaire famously said needed religion in order to put up with its constant indigestion. Living on a diet of meat, beer, pastry and endless gravy would certainly cripple me; although hopefully only in the hilarious style of Matt Bramble in Smollett’s The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker.
Nietzsche (who may in fact be the real supplier of the Voltaire quote above; his having written on the same subject has gotten me a little confused…) often talked of his “sick health”, a “healthy sickness”. His need of the perfect climate, company and diet in order to think. Saying that, an aphorism a day isn’t exactly what my northern family would call “hard graft”. The idea that one must be sick in order to be creative is an interesting one though. In Earthly Powers Burgess writes of a young poet who assumes a phlegmatic constitution in order to resemble Keats… a curious parallel of the “rock star” lifestyle if ever there was one.
For me, the later Romantic poets are a lot like the late period Romans in this capacity. Works like Byron’s Don Juan or any of Shelley’s tiringly majestic masterpieces fill me with the same sense of distanced appreciation that I get from Petronious or Seneca, despite them being almost incomparable stylistically. I’m drawn to stoicism the same way that I’m drawn to hedonism. Both seem to be a way of seeing the Self as an Other so that the Self can engage in its own annihilation. It’s deeply solipsistic, borderline ascetic, and no doubt connected to some spiritual drive; for these reasons it also makes you an incredibly unpleasant person to be around.
Speaking of Stoicism, I’m currently reading into its philosophical development post-Plato in the hope of developing my quasi-Deleuzian idea of the Reading Event, and I’m coming up against a few troublesome walls. The fundamental stoic principle reduces Cause and Effect into State of Affairs and Events; the Effects come from the causes but aren’t “caused” by them. The Event of a war is distinct from the State of Affairs surrounding physical mutilation of children. The two may be linked, yet war is never killing and killing is never war, they cannot be linked under the same ground. Now this principle comes rather close to the McHalean version of postmodernism, it comes close to the genealogical morals of Nietzsche, but strangely it doesn’t come that close to the modern conception of Stoicism.
Perhaps my trouble with Stoicism, my lapse that resulted in this blog, is rather the revenge of causality. As I wander the countryside, considering the age of trees, the tracks of previous generations, bizarre chemical chance… the State of Affairs is severed almost via an act of self-hypnotism. Sketching some of the varying elements that make up multiplicities both captures them in conjecture and releases them in unknowables. It’s a fast track to understanding, albeit a tenuous one. But then Events appear, romance and responsibilities, and the emotions that I refuse ownership of under any name but “chemicals” or “guts” all start to dance…
I put it to you, my imaginary buddy, that peace, homely calm, stability, eudemonia, all these and many more are only forms of self-hypnotism. The common attributes of passion are given as those of madness, of unpredictability and chaos, but for all that they’re still universal. The wise men, the thinkers, they are the ones who are mad, if madness is taken to be something that goes against nature, or the status quo. It’s the “love affair with knowledge”. It’s the “there goes another novel”. It’s watching the slow minutes that you used to take such joy in filling all shrivel up and drop off. In the words of Captain Beefheart, “Someone’s had too much to think”… Roll on uni, bring me back the lines of the dead that I may prostrate myself at their festive altars…
Another late blog I’m afraid. Seems I’m to use my one blog’sworth of credit to buy your patience, my dear nonexistent follower. Never fear though, the reasons are good ones that are well epigrammated by MacNeice,
Shelley and jazz and lieder and love and hymn-tunes And day returns too soon, We’ll get drunk among the roses In the valley of the moon…
I’ve had that in my head for many a day now, along with numerous Tom Waits songs and nagging memories of appointments. In the continued spirit of said, I’m going to talk today of booze.
Wine has a long history of cultural representation; its importance as a cultural artefact probably outdates writing itself. In fact, the aura of wine is such that it is considered by some an art in itself. Beer and spirits have their moments, but they never quite reach the inherent respect people have for wine. Indeed, the invention of glass, a technological success on a par with the wheel, can be seen in terms of a reaction to the power of wine. Yet the inherent majesty of wine doesn’t seem to lie in its own qualities. Baudelaire’s wine poems from The Flowers of Evil, for example, are some of his most tedious.
The Flaubert’s Parrot paradox also returns when we consider Homer’s wine, or Virgil’s. Ulysses seems to have an infinite supply as he voyages the world and he’s more than willing to pour most of it in the sea for his tormentor Neptune. But is it the wine that we drink today? “Wine” from the Ulster cycle to the Three Kingdoms certainly wouldn’t be. Perhaps Horace’s wine would be closer – his Ode that references the drunken marriage brawl of the Lapiths and Centaurs makes an excellent case for the need to drink in a pleasant environment. Although, later again, Rabelais makes an even better case for gorging oneself into a scatological nightmare
In fact, the relationship between alcohol and the situation of its consumption is perhaps the place we should be looking for its special cultural aura. The little known writer Rene Daumal uses the alcohol itself as a mental journey through A Night of Serious Drinking. His implication is that where “philosophy teaches how man thinks he thinks, drinking shows what he really thinks”. It’s an interesting thought, but one that not even he can sustain throughout the text.
The Leary-esque belief in intoxication bringing wisdom through alternate thought-perspectives is visible in the great alcoholic writers, however. Almost the entire oeuvre of Charles Bukowski is a celebration of drunken superiority through scepticism. From walking the streets in shorts during his time at the Post Office to the most elegant of parties in Hollywood, Chinaski remains the solipsistic barometer of “what’s classy and what aint”. In fact, the highest accolade that Bukowski pays to fellow writer Burroughs when Chinaski meets him in Women is simply leaving him alone. Drinking may not be the opposite of philosophy because of its physical clarity then, but rather because where philosophy is the Self becoming Universal, drinking is the Universe becoming the Self.
F.Scott Fitzgerald, boozer extraordinaire, can be seen to unite the two qualities of alcohol-situation and alcohol-self through his mastery of the extravagant party scene – a recurring set piece throughout all of his works. The flashing images of dancers, champagne, fights and romance capture both the intoxicated mind and its chaotic reality when acted out en masse. Deleuze put this effect down to the hardening of the alcoholic mind, the need to break memories into distinct portions that take on excessive meaning; the very mind of a writer in fact. Yet similarly it’s an appreciation of pathos, a kind of modern version of Kierkegaard’s Sickness unto Death. The link between drinking and death is far closer than that between sex and death (although perhaps the link between sex and drinking is the closest of all…).
Overall, drinking is a Dionysian function par excellence. Its ceremony is ritualistic, not biologic like, say, the ceremony of junk in Burroughs. As a consequence, descriptions of drunken physicality are created best literarily (from Ovid’s Metamorphoses through to “this one time, we were so wasted right…”) through descriptions of circumstances, conversations, fights, etc. It’s a cultural trend that may explain the difference between alcohol’s legality compared to the illegality of far less dangerous drugs. One day I’m going to blog about legalisation of narcotics, but for now I’ll leave you with the fine words of goodly Panurge,
“By God, this is the wine of Beaune, and the best that I ever tasted, and may a hundred and six devils run away with me if it isn’t! How grand it would be to have a neck six foot long, so as to taste it longer!”
What is the point in this odd bracket-word of “love”? It’s a valuable commodity, but only in its blandest depiction as an objective set of clichés. Hollywood could save a lot of money by only making one “rom-com” and then digitally replacing the stars’ faces every few months, I don’t think the minor variations in storyline would be missed. Similarly, I don’t think a popular love song has ever been written about an actual person. In fact, if one has then I feel rather sorry for that featureless object of reheated second-hand platitudes…
One way of interpreting this could be the capitalistic need to meet every audience’s demands: the lowest common denominator argument. If this was truly the case though, why would one of my favourite “love stories” be Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby when I find the character types portrayed in it really quite repellent and certainly don’t “empathise” with them at all? No, I imagine it probably comes back to the “courtly love” angle. The love of Petrarch that is readily applied to any woman willing to go along with it. Phantasmic descriptions of characteristics that no individual actually has, but is only seen to have by another – delicate, innocent, motherly, whatever…
It’s no wonder that popular love songs are as clichéd musically as they are lyrically. The bowel-rumbling major-minor sequences with hyperbolic key changes barely hiding the metronomic not-quite-a-rhythm. It is less music than an audio assault, an emotional response trigger pre-programmed by innumerable moments of movie pathos, the overwhelming effect of which is, to me, claustrophobic disgust. The pure self-centredness of the whole thing, its courtly quality, is reinforced only through its very loudness. It’s not hard to see Don Quixote mixed up in it all, bellowing unspecific love to the fair Dulcinea.
There’s a reason then, other than it just being obvious, why blues has always survived as a superior musical style. If the emotional Dionysianism of music has to be inherently self-centred, blues’ self-pitying lyrical themes are a perfect match. At the core of blues stories (far more varied and individual than love stories) is a kernel of inexpressible sorrow that only the wordlessness of music can come close to. Blues music unites people through a form of mutual masochism; a triumphal joy at the expense of the rest of the world.
It’s for this reason that I similarly find Venus in Furs to be one of the most interesting love stories out there. Sacher-Masoch’s own portrayal of masochism is, perhaps ironically, perhaps not, the perfect anti-masochist text. The sexual object that initially fulfils the role of dominatrix ends up as a sadist; the illusion of the dominatrix’s power is actually fulfilled, leaving the masochist actually powerless, a position completely opposed to their desires. To be powerless, the masochist must always be the one in control, just like Petrarch’s weeping lovers – but then his Venus in Furs acts for herself… Laura starts to speak. Of course, as soon as The Loved One speaks, the Real intrudes and horror ensues; but does it need to?
In writing The World’s Wife, Carol Ann Duffy “gives a voice” to forgotten women back throughout history; the point being that it is her voice, of course. The silent woman cannot be made to speak after she is dead… or atleast not without some rather macabre ventriloquist schtick anyway. The trick was all in her subjectivity, her Self. Yet the connection, like music, exists out in the Dionysian wilderness between subject and object. It’s in this sense in which the core of human relationships, of any kind, is deeply schizophrenic at its core… its decentred core of jagged, inexplicable fragments…