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Archive for June 2009

Who Thinks Abstractly?

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Hegel’s essay can be summarized in contemporary terms with a response as pithy as his own terse statement: “the uneducated, not the educated.”

Those who think abstractly are those who believe in some kind of metaphysical common-sense: whether the universal rationality that supposedly governs market-actors’ choices or some common-sensical naturalistic “way”. This goes for the fashionable, artificial back-to-nature simplicity of new agers and their western-buddhist, -taoist and -hindu cousins.

“Be yourself” is metaphysical common-sense. The romantic appeal to feelings is metaphysical common-sense. “The invisible hand” is metaphysical common-sense. Ideology as Marx engages and critiques it is metaphysical common-sense. “The way things are” is an appeal to metaphysical common-sense. The super-ego is metaphysical common-sense as an obscene agency shaping ahead of time the contours of how our ownmost convictions even appear to us as our own.

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Written by Joe

June 30, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Notes on Lacan and Zen

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In a comment to a comment on a post at Progressive Buddhism, “Mindfulness Based Therapy and Buddhism.”

‘Buddhism, in a general sense discusses anatta and most psychologist would probably say a stronger sense of self, not weaker one may be more beneficial to the patient.’

This is also Jacques Lacan’s core departure from much post-Freudian psychoanalysis, particularly its American analog, ‘Ego Psychology,’ which taught (with much influence) that the goal of psycho-therapy is the identification of the patient with the therapist’s ‘strong ego.’ The distinction between normality and liberation beyond normality is relevant here too, because for Lacan and his students Freud’s insights pointed away from the ego, like the finger pointing at the moon. To that end, Lacan’s insistence on a ‘return to Freud,’ another more intimate and concrete engagement with Freud’s writing, is not unlike the Zen practice of sitting and returning to the breath.

Written by Joe

June 28, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Zizek’s Notes Toward A Definition of Communist Culture

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Thanks to Mariborchan, that master archiver of videos related to Zizek, Lacan and Badiou (among other things) online.

You can listen to all five classes at Backdoor Broadcasting:

“The master class analyses phenomena of modern thought and culture with the intention to discern elements of possible Communist culture. It moves at two levels: first, it interprets some cultural phenomena (from today’s architecture to classic literary works like Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Heloise) as failures to imagine or enact a Communist culture; second, it explores attempts at imagining how a Communist culture could look, from Wagner’s Ring to Kafka’s and Beckett’s short stories and contemporary science fiction novels.”

The above link is to the first class, but with side-bar links to the other four. From Verso’s UK Blog, the five main themes, which roughly correspond to the lectures, are:

1. Architecture as Ideology: the Failure of Performance-Arts Venues to construct a Communal Space
2. Narrative as an Ideological Category: Literary References in Hegel’s Phenomenology
3. The Failure of Nietzsche’s Critique of the Hegelian Narrative
4. Wagner’s Ring as a Communist narrative
5. Narrative Germs of Communism: from Kafka, Beckett, Sturgeon

Written by Joe

June 26, 2009 at 10:28 pm

A Holy Man Comes To The Deli

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From an exchange I had with Hannah:

Me: I had an encounter with who I could only call a holy man in the deli the other day, though it was something of a mixture of two separate occasions with the same guy.

[The first time], he ordered a half-sandwich from our list of prepared recipies. However, per some stupid rule, we’re not allowed to sellf half-sandwiches from that list. You have to do the ‘make it yourself’ option to get a half-sandwhich. He wanted it with our soup-and-sandwich special, which is a half-sandwhich with a cup of soup. I started to go into my script of why I can’t do it and why I think it’s still a dumb rule, but I stopped myself and just said, ‘you know what, I’ll just make it for you.’ He then wouldn’t stop applauding me, and said I was a model worker, someone who he’d hire in a heart-beat if he had the money to run his own sort of business (sandwich related or otherwise).

Hannah: lol

i’d applaud you too

Me: A couple weeks later, he came back again, and was chatting up me and my partner. The prior incident kind of came up again, and quickly turned into a conversation about how the management don’t manage properly (i.e. they do it top-down). I can’t remember exactly how he put it, which unfortunately was what I thought was so significant about it, but he said something to the effect of ‘you know how I know when God is talking to me? He doesn’t talk down, but talks up.’ That struck me as absolutely brilliant, and reminded me of something Peter O’Toole said (‘When did I realize I was God? Well, I was praying and I suddenly realized I was talking to myself’). It’s also the basic philosophy I have toward social organization, especially in terms of ‘the work-place.’

This is why I think 1 Kings 3:16-28, the story about Solomon solving a dispute between two women arguing over a baby, is so important.

God’s will does not descend down through Solomon to the women in dispute, but arises from the true mother herself* – i.e. the one who would give up her baby, as well as her utterly vital status in the community as a mother (she was otherwise a prostitute, an under-classling), her life essentially, rather than have it cut in half per Solomon’s judgement).

There is a lesson about collective (political) action in this story, which the holy man brought together for me by connecting it to the way the deli was ran. The key is to view all these characters as actors in a network, and not mere individuals (you are starting to get through to me Levi). My experience in the deli has re-enforced by faith in communism, of collective self-management. The injection of the privative relation, the one which the false mother maintains both towards the child and Solomon’s judgement, that disrupts the flow of this process, is experienced coming from above.

It is not hard to make the leap from this to saying that Capitalism is self-managing, but this self-management is a kind done in bad faith, again as represented by the false mother, who exercises her selfishness by way of Solomon’s (external) judgement. What I am talking about is the self-management of the “You have heard it said … but” sort. Jesus is, after all, speaking within the Jewish tradition, while simultaneous breaking (from) it.

You have heard it said that you may only order half-sandwiches from the make-your-own menu, but…

*I do not know why Adam Kotsko doesn’t get this reading. What he calls “the common-sense reading” I associate with the abstract “common-sense” of “the uneducated” in Hegel’s “Who Thinks Abstractly?”

Written by Joe

June 20, 2009 at 9:43 am

The Fear of Error is the Error Itself; or, There is No Ignorance nor Ending of Ignorance.

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The word of God is not a proposition over and against us, but a word used in conversation with us. This is the difference between how the true and false mothers of 1 Kings 3:16-28 respond to Solomon. The false mother treats Solomon’s words as a proposition, and can only in return repeat them – revealing their impotence and unsatisfactoriness. The true mother, however, actually responds to Solomon, engages and contradicts him: in short, enters a dialogue with him. The nature of truth is not propositional, which is the basic pre-supposition to a correspondence view of truth, but dialogical – where dialogue is not an exchange of propositions, but an engagement with both what is and isn’t there/said/true.

God talks to us where we are not; therefore, we are where God is not talking. Where we are not? In sacred objects/practices that reflect our own emptiness. The mistake that all art, philosophy and religion critiques is the fear of error in-itself. The error in-itself? It does not exist, in the sense that in The Heart Sutra “there is no ignorance and no ending of ignorance.”

Written by Joe

June 20, 2009 at 9:00 am

The Ones Who Stayed and the Ones Who Went

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Omelas, as it exists with the suffering child, is utopia from the perspective of the false mother of 1 Kings 3:16-28.

The one who walk away from Omelas pretend to give up on Utopia as an index of the importance of that for the sake of which they left (hint hint: their own True Selves (an update to Hegel’s ‘Beautiful Soul’). They do not really give up on utopia though. Their counter- or anti-belief is their very bad faith in that society. Those who would really give up on Omelas, on Utopia, are those who stay to free the child or otherwise ameliorate the situation. They are, to paraphrase Zizek, the atheists who can truly believe. That is to say, call the bluff of the only law in this society: that it all goes away when that child is freed. (Begin to think here of ‘the child-like empress’ of The Neverending Story as a prisoner of fantasia.) The Law says exactly what will happen, so why not take it at its word? You want to let go of Utopia, but are still stuck on the idea? Then stay and engage it — watch it go away; watch it go no where.

The ones who walk away from Omelas have a bad faith in the Law, like the false mother had a bad faith in the Law qua Solomon’s judgement. Perhaps Joshu, walking out on Nansen with his sandals on his head, is one of ones who walk away from Omelas? The monks were scared shitless of Nansen, not because he was going to cut into the cat, but into their True Selves. Joshu would have turned Nansen’s sword on him and saved the cat, but he couldn’t because Nansen already killed it, sanctifying it in the process. Nansen’s mistake — that he kills the cat as a means for destroying the monks’ clinging (to their own True Selves) — is the false mother’s mistake too. Is Joshu critiquing Nansen’s bad faith, or merely repeating it? The suggestion that Joshu would take Nansen’s sword and enforce the same edict suggests that Joshu is repeating Nansen. Is this a case where an action is only fully realized when it fails and is repeated, where truth is attained through a misrecognition?

Did he really threaten their True Selves? If we take Omelas as a kind of True Self or Beautiful Soul, and the suffering of the child as a fundamental condition of the Beautiful Soul, letting the child in its suffering remain means letting the Beautiful Soul remain. In other words, without the child in its state of suffering, the Beautiful Souls become guilty – they lose their innocence.

This happens to the little girl in William Blake’s The Book of Thel. She is aware of the decay and transience inherent to her paradise, which in a Buddhist view is to say she is aware of dukkha or unsatisfactoriness in paradise. She makes to leave the paradise, but is confronted the sound of what I believe is her own voice and the Worm’s voice, and they are not-two. She is one of those children who flees back into Omelas in tears at the site of the suffering child, though ultimately to confirm their dwelling in Omelas and the suffering of the child. Is this what Nietzsche meant by affirming life?

Those who leave Omelas, or think they do, are to it as the little girl is to the Worm. She essentializes it as a weakling and inferior. Those who leave Omelas are reactionaries not revolutionaries. They are more libertarian than anarchist. The anarchist (i.e. the mature socialist revolutionary) throws away or at least lets go of it utopia for the sake of the child, against the usual drooz of how socialists want to sub-ordinate the individual to the collective. One for All and All for One.

The ones who walk away from Omelas give up on Omelas as the false mother gives up on the child, treating him like a piece of property that can be divided to resolve the conflict. It is still a place on a war-map, the place they left in rebellion, ever solidifying their resolve with every step they take going away from IT. Like Badiou said, we need a peace that is beyond the war and not merely it’s lazy hand. We need Omelasians more than Omelas.

Written by Joe

June 15, 2009 at 11:22 pm

Posted in Lit Crit, Politics, Practice

Leaping Clear of the Many of the One

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In another conversation with Jon, I broach the subject of polyamory.

Me: I wonder how many polyamorist are open not only to their partners having other partners, but to having partners who only have them (the polyamorist) as their partner.

Jon: ??

Me: Do you know what polyamory is?

Jon: yup

Me: Recent interest in polyamory in the wake of my breakup. Josh and I had a lengthy conversation about it, which I reproduced on my blog.

Jon: ahh

Me: I go back and forth between which I am comfortable with, and it has slowly dawned on me that polyamory taken to its logical, ethical ends is not about having multiple partners or just one.

I think people approach it this way, and they get caught in the same game of possessiveness that is usually the exact thing polys claim to avoid.

Jon: agreed

Me: This way being: either monogamy or not, either one person or many – no in between.

From Dogen’s “Genjo-koan,” or “Actualizing the Fundamental Point.”

The buddha way is, basically, leaping clear of the many of the one; thus there are birth and death, delusion and realization, sentient beings and buddhas.

Yet in attachment blossoms fall, and in aversion weeds spread.

To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion. That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.

“The One” what? A possible answer is the ideal couple. The ideal couple is the mOther and child, who form the ideal-ego. Their unity is a torn one, and their independence really a co-dependence. “The many of the one” would thus be the world qua imaginary identifications, the world of drifting clouds: in a word, fantasy. Does this mean that Dogen anticipated Lacan’s “traversing the fantasy” and Freud’s “working through”?

Written by Joe

June 13, 2009 at 9:59 pm

Posted in Buddhism, Fantasy, Lacan, Love, Zen