Notational, No. 23

But Hamlet does not like matter. He wants it to melt, resolve into a dew—even the matter of spirits should do so—and yet that dew is matter too. He likes nothing, absence, zero, vacancy, all of which “Nature” abhors and her Law forbids—as we still believe. The word “O,” newly ambiguous with the importation of “𝚘” from Arab mathematics, is uttered more in Hamlet than in any play but Othello. And Hamlet says “no” more than any character in Shakespeare. This hatred of matter on Hamlet’s part is shocking: it measures the greatest imaginable despair. For even the dead are matter. (Is this what generates a ghost in place of the corpse of his father?)

✧ Mary Baine Campbell,Shakespeare and Modern Science”

Matter is the remnants of a bright occasion stashed in the basement. Bits and pieces of something so promising and full of unfettered expectation have been packed up and sealed into crates, boxes that are only moved by the forces of necessity. From one end of a darkened chasm to the other: rearranged perhaps, reorganized, recombined; but still, there will never be tinsel in the hot furnace of any anticipated revelation for these tired things again. Nor a gasp to accompany any connection and release that might fire out from a sudden compression so intimate that it has made new beginnings possible.

This often feels like what I suspect lies at the end of what I return to so often: the terrible renunciation of the illusion of freedom that comes from existing in a world defined by limits, but motivated by a spurious injunction to imagine a life absolutely unfettered. By boundaries. By facts, organized around principles, that say: most of what we think we know is composed of space. That being is lonely in the sense that nothing is really in contact. That we cannot be anywhere doing anything at any moment. Space and time are coincidences that determine where, when, and how we can go next. But there is so little of either available from the start.

Hamlet says “no” so much because he voices the denial that begs to be vocalized when you encounter a hard “no” yourself. Or a “yes” that means “no” when you hear it. Assertions and negations are flying about us all the time; and these answers that ring in the ear beg to be denied from something deep and steadfast within. When something is not possible, when something is asserted in the world and we are forced to contend with it; and that thing amounts to being a being, which we can’t avoid—and maybe do not accept no matter how reasonable or graceful it might be to do—”no” is sometimes the only sane thing to say. The matter of articulating the rejection of matter, or some matter, makes everything that much harder. What do you want to say, without deception or equivocation, when the options are worse or worst?

We are confined. These atoms do not prevaricate the way we would like them to. We are packed up. You can say “no” to any matter, but at its most fundamental, it does not hear—it only moves.

Fragmentary, No. 29

In one of my favorites of your drawings, two Popsicles are talking to each other. One accuses, “You’re more interested in fantasy than reality.” The other responds, “I’m interested in the reality of my fantasy.” Both Popsicles are melting off their sticks.

✧ Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts

Fragmentary, No. 28

This reciprocal determination operates elsewhere as well, although by other means and with other aims. It involves a double displacement, which renders a concept plausible or true by pointing to an error and, at the same time, by enforcing belief in something real through a denunciation of the false. The assumption is made that what is not held to be false must be real. Thus, for example, in the past, arguments against ‘false’ gods were used to induce belief in a true God. The process repeats itself today in contemporary historiography: by demonstrating the presence of errors, discourse must pass off as ‘real’ whatever is placed in opposition to the errors. Even though this is logically questionable, it works, and it fools people. Consequently, fiction is deported to the land of the unreal, but the discourse that is armed with the technical ‘know-how’ to discern errors is given the supplementary privilege of prepresenting something ‘real.’ Debates about the reliability of literature as opposed to history illustrate this division.

✧ Michel de Certeau, “History: Science and Fiction”

A Retrospect of Prospective

As I was trying to write about the past, I decided that I’d rather rework something I’d written about the future, in the past; but that’s something especially relevant this time of year. Maybe it’s tradition. Read it here.

Lemonade?

And one of the miners made a speech about capitalism using the analogy that “it’s like, say, a man gives you a lemon tree . . . “ (I think he was possibly Australian—but evidently, living in New Zealand.)

“When do you have the time to pick the lemons? Before or after they are any good? Because having the time available to pick them when they’re ripe—not too hard, and not too pulpy—is not very likely. And what are you going to do with those lemons? Do you think you can turn those lemons into profit or prestige? Not very likely. You don’t have access to the lemon market, which is owned by the man who gave you the tree!”

. . .

It was a good speech. There were slides.

Fragmentary, No. 27

Looks like what drives me crazy
Don’t have no effect on you—
But I’m gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.

✧ Langston Hughes, “Evil”

Fragmentary, No. 26

Lecturing in Japan
Stephen Hawking was asked
not to mention that the universe

had a beginning
(and so likely an end)
because it would affect

the stockmarket.
Speculation aside,
we all need a prehistory.

According to Freud,
we do nothing but repeat it.
Beginnings are special

because most of them are fake.
The new person you become
with that first sip of wine

was already there.

✧ Anne Carson, “i wish i were two dogs then i could play with me”

Acheronta movebo*

(A Short Essay)

*“Do not disturb what is at rest or settled”

Moving targets are hard to account for. Anything busy—operational—energized—mobile, brings with it the acute awareness of change working its way from one moment to the next. This results in the immeasurable. This makes any account quite literally unaccountable. If one really is to know, one must look at something finished, something spent.

Ostensibly, the study of literature is the study of objects at rest: words inert; sentences fixed; editions complete and seldom revised. One reflexively thinks of books as shelved quietly in cases, set behind doors fastened against the damp and against the elements; dust accumulating at an invisible pace—evidence of the motionless sleep that accrues volumes of time around the volumes of history. Novelty occurs when a book is sprung. When one is released the archives of the world expand by the iota of a thousand words recombined to say something slightly different than all of those words have said before; but, once that’s done, the novelty is relegated to the archive of history—history which, as we all know, is written and so remains, unchanging.

Sitting in a library would seem to be a quiet sort of respite from the hurly-burly, from the frantic momentum of all the cosmopolitan disasters consuming the world at the pace of seconds subdivided to the power of 21. Each zeptosecond contains a trillion neutrinos’ passage through the Earth’s disaster. Billions of trillions more will pass beyond the scope of my entire life before I read thirty pages of Gertrude Stein. It’s a quiet, still life, no?

It is a quaint thought, and thought is at the root of it. The hurly-burly I am caught up in regards all the regarding, the reading that assumes the shape of words worked out long before I came along but still move the world as much as they move me since they have been and were put down to make a point, and that point is traveling. Now they act as actors, driving as many minds as can reach them. This is a frenetic life of repose—the work of the mind at odds with the lassitude of the body that cramps and whines in tics and pains that come from a stationary rush toward the end. It may not be a good idea to disturb the thing or the person at rest or settled, but I know that I don’t fall into this category of stationary, motionless. The torpor of a library’s resident is cosmetic. I have been disturbed for years, from the beginning—always already plying at the crannies of the real with restless symbolic notions—and I am at a loss to describe what has stopped. These things called books make for dangerous bedfellows. We are bound together under well-established covers, but insecure from one night to the next.

It’s a quiet life; except there is no quiet, and there is no rest. The soundless noise of history is not settled. Pages turn and so do we, from facing to following to walking away with our backs turned obstinately. Every old book, a new book. Every long sit, a scandal. Every age recorded, a cataclysm from the settled volumes of the past.

Fragmentary, No. 25

The moderns confused products with processes. They believed that the production of bureaucratic rationalization presupposed rational bureaucrats; that the production of universal science depended on universalist scientists; that the production of effective technologies led to the effectiveness of engineers; that the production of abstraction was itself abstract; that the production of formalism was itself formal. We might just as well say that a refinery produces oil in a refined manner, or that a dairy produces butter in a butterly way! The words ‘science’, ‘technology’, ‘organization’, ‘economy’, ‘abstraction’, ‘formalism’, and ‘universality’ designate many real effects that we must indeed respect and for which we have to account. But in no case do they designate the causes of these same effects. These words are good nouns, but they make lousy adjectives and terrible adverbs. Science does not produce itself scientifically any more than technology produces itself technologically or economy economically.

✧ Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern