Impensive

Material

Bodies lie. They demur. They recline and they equivocate. Any clear insistence, any indisputable inspiration, comes from the mind; the mind that animates but must also contend with base reality. As the malleable flesh fails and ages around the signals, bright and incandescent, firing between the cells of our bone houses, our agendas are perverted. Our plans are ruddied by the flush of instinct, the knee-jerk spasm that knocks the painstakingly assembled model over, to scatter its assemblage across the floor. How is it that this is how we must be, every day, until we’re not?

I know full well what I want from my day, every day. It’s not complicated. I want to pull off a double-summersault-backflip-pirouette, over lava, suspended by a ductile thread of contingent assurity. I would like to do this without fail, fall, or fracture. I would like to do it on command. Such things seem eminently possible before I climb out of bed, and burn my toast. The signal and the action are at odds; and while I feel indisputably here as my casement comes into contact with the ground, the walls, the air, I am also manifestly not here: I am wringing fireworks from failures in a zone that does not disturb the stratosphere. I am knocking the surfaces of indignity with a well-worn rap of my metaphysical knuckles. These are operations that do not leave a discernible mark. What I have to show, on the other hand, are powder burns and skinned fists. Failure— because it is always failure with the body; the body never lives up to its potential—is perfectly evident when the mind falters; but it falters because of sleep; because of hunger; because of transitional lusts that scuttle our best plans.

So, today I’m embracing the failure before it catches up with me.

edvard-munch-kvinnene-ved-skjelettet-(the-women-and-the-skeleton)

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The Call of the Interdependent Solipsist

or

Everybody’s Inside

[This is not a dispatch; it is a meditation.]

The mystery of togetherness is a frightful illusion. No mind is, or ever will be, in true communion with any other mind. You will never spontaneously experience any other human being as a second self. All Others are, at the very least, impenetrable.

The entirety of the cosmos you experience is within you. No iota of matter, no quanta of energy, no movement of bodies, no gesture of goodwill, no screw of hate, no cry for help or exaltation has ever been before you have registered or conceived it.

There are things you do not actively control, but there is nothing that you are not. The sum total of your model of the universe cohabitates and transmits within your neural network to produce that node of being which expresses itself as I. This is the embodiment of the Self. The Self is the result of a constantly shifting totality that is curious and acquisitive, and entirely devoted to expressing itself to itself.

The Self is comprised of matter and energy that, in its ceaseless toil of maintenance and self-preservation, seeks continuously to free itself from itself and observe its origin. As consciousness describes itself only in effect, never cause, the source of the I is occluded, as the I occupies the node of existence identical to that which it wishes to see. The metaphysical locality of the Self is chained to its own subjectivity and can never escape the immediate performance of the I.

The Self is a mobile node that is driven to explore only inasmuch as its integrity is not threatened. Just as the experience of the body registers need for homeostasis, the experience of the mind strives for equilibrium.

Equilibrium can ossify into stasis. As change is the only constant of time, the healthy Self must adapt to change by maintaining its integrity, but also by accepting that, though continuous in its existence, the Self’s qualities must mutate as the necessities of interacting with what it does and does not understand—but which are all nonetheless part of itself—demand new strategies to cope with the reality that it has to work with.

If the universe exists beyond the perception of the Self, its ultimate reality is inaccessible beyond the terms of the Self; but if it does not, the I must accept that the simulation of a reality comprised of one fractured and multiplicious consciousness is the only one available to it.

Whether or not Other minds exist, the I that reasons and questions is lonely, and cannot define itself without translation developed though the interaction differences. Other minds are not the I that questions. Other minds must be contended with if the I is to maintain its integrity.

The elaborate structure of what is known and experienced only develops through testing and response. The isolated I, which can never prove that any Other mind exists, must suppose that what it experiences as Others equivalent to itself are essential for its equilibrium and continued integrity. As far as can be discerned, the experience of life is cognate with consciousness. Consciousness can only be validated by similar manifestations in experience. There must be a response to the I that questions.

As the I that questions is ultimately alone, and must develop tacit assurances as to the integrity of its existence. Without any ultimate verification, it continues to sense itself, and proliferate its experience in consistent but continually transforming ways.

The only way the I, which is the only known expression of existence in totality, can reasonably conduct itself without going mad is by recognising that all manifestations of difference must be treated as intimate expressions of its holistic appraisal of the universe. If reality is composed of the Self, the I must recognise that all discord, misery, and strife which it contributes to, or condones, is grief manifested within itself, and contributes to its own loss of integrity.

The only way for the I that questions to exist ethically is to honour what it experiences at the manifestations of reality with the same respect with which it treats itself.

solitary

Notational, No. 19

There is only ,, illusion ” in art where ignorance of the bystander confuses imagination and its works with cruder processes. Truly men feel an enlargement before great or good work, an expansion but this is not, as so many believe today a ,, lie ”, a stupefaction, a kind of mesmerism, a thing to block out “ life ”, bitter to the individual, by a “ vision of beauty ”. It is a work of the imagination. It gives the feeling of completion by revealing the oneness of experience ; it rouses rather than stupefies the intelligence by demonstrating the importance of personality, by showing the individual, depressed before it, that his life is valuable — when completed by the imagination. And then only. Such work elucidates —

♦ William Carlos Williams, Spring and All

The world can expand. Life perceives and responds. Feedback is generated within and is redirected out.

Some things we experience broaden the scope of our projections. The creative response to stimulus can fuel and connote an expansive reality. The boundaries of the self stretch outward, extend upward and rootle downward, with compulsive energy when we encounter those “visions of beauty,” those moments of synthesis, when something more than what you know you know is conveyed. Imagination, that rare and impossible thing that fills in all the gaps, invents the way out of even the meanest cage, starts and whirrs its gears impatiently when we are faced with the evidence of design. We are nothing but sophisticated pattern recognition machines. The analogous spark that yokes moment to disparate moment, class to class, phenomena to its comparable repetition, illuminates our mechanisms. We see ourselves in expression, any expression that means something to us. This can be the play of atoms moved but undirected by curiosity or drive, as much as it can be the arrested manipulation of media. Nature is not art, but art might cause the same eidetic reverie that carries the sense of self beyond the confines of the body. We are composed of a oneness with everything that has translated within us: perception to pulse, experience to energy. What, that “stupefies the intelligence,” might come out of the moments between moments, when we make out directions that lead precisely nowhere? Do we learn something?

spring-and-all

Fragmentary, No. 14

In the past we have always assumed that the external world around us has represented reality, however confusing or uncertain, and that the inner world of our minds, its dreams, hopes, ambitions, represented the realm of fantasy and the imagination. These roles, it seems to me, have been reversed. The most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us is to assume that it is a complete fiction – conversely, the one small node of reality left to us is inside our own heads. Freud’s classic distinction between the latent and manifest content of the dream, between the apparent and the real, now needs to be applied to the external world of so-called reality.

♦ J. G. Ballard, 1995 Introduction to Crash

urban-sprawl

Presence

present

Expectation is a curious orientation. At its heart, it is a state that we feel entitled to. When we turn ourselves outward, grasp invisibly into the future, and take hold of something un-yet realized … there’s something that feels justified; even if it doesn’t feel realistic. What we expect from within coalesces around a core of right: from inside our subjectivity, we have grounds to dwell upon even our most modest anticipations. There is something in the future that we deserve.

Which comes as both fulfillment and desolation; a bare recognition or ultimate disappointment. Jubilation. Despair. The accumulated evidence has made us feel this way. We are led to invest in the coming moment, to foresee the end of a manifest trajectory. Life, it may be said, encourages it. Patterns emerge effortlessly, and we project.

To expect, in the true sense of the word, carries with it a bouquet consequences. The random, unforeseeable nature of even the meanest scenario means that our dreams are constantly thwarted, but also that our most reasonable projections for the future refuse to manifest faithfully. We surround ourselves in fiction with characters perfectly adapted to the whims and uncertainties of their environments. The sleuth infallibly predicts the failure of the criminal. The perspicacious leader effortlessly calls the results of a vote. The Machiavellian schemer pulls the strings of countless hangers-on. The dream of a dream realized is recapitulated over and over. We might expect that at some point our own hard-won deductions or inductions will someday work out for us.

This is a season of expectations. Despite the anti-climaxes of ambitions thwarted and dreams unrealized; relationships, presents, and events unrequited despite our unquestionable deservedness; the holiday season is a lesson in acceptance, of things as they are with all of their unexpected manifestations. The map to the future can only ever be approximate. What we see coming our way resolves as it crests the horizon. Is that what I was waiting for?

Yes. This is what you get.

A Vaulted Dream

I have been thinking about the nature of the Paris arcades as Walter Benjamin employs them, and specifically how they relate to his conception of the dream, or the construct of the dream house.

When he writes:

“Arcades are houses or passages having no outside—like the dream” [L1a,1]

he is tapping an essential quality as to what the arcades represent for him, as an accomplishment, but also as a motif, a structuring structure that contributes heavily to a huge proportion his written thought.

The dream house is simultaneously an inner and outer fabulation—it exists in the mind but also as an outer space—yet one that is enclosed by impressively constructed boundaries, beyond which there is no exterior. The formulations intellected by Benjamin, which gift the arcades a secondary existence as an all-encompassing gestalt, preclude a world that does not participate in its ordering principles.

Many of his obsessions relate to this motif. Be it architecture, artistic movements, historiography, psychology, or language, it is the achievements of human conception—either material, abstract, or both—that form the boundaries which encompass the subjects he is driven to explore. The achievement of the arcades, which, as a reality unto themselves, manmade and humanly occupied, contains all the material one needs to analyze them. The extremes of their construction, and the limits of their ontology, are for him a metonym for the edifice of human accomplishment. His preoccupation with the orienting principles of that accomplishment, as well as the minute play of the particular observed within everyday experience, concedes that there is no exterior. We are always already within the colonnades of history. Outside of the that the dialectic does not exist.

Yet this is not a constraining limitation for Benjamin. The arcades are capacious enough to encompass the effectively insurmountable repository of data that emerges within the interior of the civilized edifice. Again, the qualities of his dream house reveal what procedures are enabled within it:

“. . . as we walked on, the ghost accompanied us from inside all the houses. It passed through the walls and always remained at the same height with us. I saw this, though I was blind. The path we travel through arcades is fundamentally just such a ghost walk, on which doors give way and walls yield.” [L2,7, my emphasis]

This is a vision of the interior realm ready for exploration. The arcades do not present barriers to investigation—they influence but do not impede, and movement between zones in pursuit of an objective, some form of apprehension, is unrestrained.

The arcade is effectively the—endlessly productive—ideal world that does not impede, does not pervert, and does not arrest attempts to penetrate and intellectually contend with its existence. Situated within this kind of idyllic model, no understanding is necessarily out of reach, and it is the task of the critic to explore and record. This is the premise which orients his ambition to delineate a thinkably unthinkable concordance of what the arcades contain.

paris-arcades

Fragmentary, No. 12

confusion

What is new is not that the world lacks meaning, or has little meaning, or less than it used to have; it is that we seem to feel an explicit and intense daily need to give it meaning: to give meaning to the world, not just some village or lineage. This need to give meaning to the present, if not the past, is the price we pay for the overabundance of events corresponding to a situation we could call “supermodern” to express its essential quality: excess.

♦ Marc Augé, Non-Places

A Message

It read: “We are never alone now.”

I did not know the individual who said this to me. We had only exchanged fragments of sentences, which had confirmed that we were both in bed. In another time, in another life altogether, if these words were directed at you by anyone, in any context, alarm bells would sound. The associations of someone implicating you in a kind of coordinate pact, a theoretical superimposition of localities, wed together forever—even the dearest friend, the closest lover, the parent or child who wishes to establish a communion that transcends the limitations of space, time, and individuality—on some level this ignites a panicked, knee-jerk objection from the (not entirely) subconscious:

What do you mean “we” and “never”? I have things to do alone; and I frequently want to be. You can shove off with any sort of idyllic, timeless conjunction! I am quite certain that solitude is part of the deal. The mass of particles that collectively assert that I am me, and that me is an I, is never going to be superimposed and integrated with a yours—you can stay over there. I don’t want you beneath my skin—and I certainly don’t need you lurking about all the time. I need space to do my secret dance, with only the cold, impassive universe of things to stand sentinel around me.

But then I realized he wasn’t addressing me individually. He was articulating a reality that our culture is enmeshed in: the constant access to conversation; the conduits open to other minds perpetually ready to receive.

I really haven’t misplaced my phone in months.

Being together and being in contact have become two radically different things. States of existence that once needed specific circumstances to be true have become unmoored from the foundations of physical position. Wandering intimacies are constantly an option. If you don’t want to disconnect from other minds, from the semiotic telepathy of text and tone, you are, practically, free to make that choice. Within the boundaries of a wired and wireless society, sleep is the only place you need go where you are actually unreachable—at least until the alarm, or the beep, or the bell, or the hum reaches in and fishes you out of unconsciousness before plugging you back into the network.

I suppose many people live like this now. The individual on the other side of the profile I had said “hello” to was stating a fact of life as it stands for millions of people. This was not the earnest assertion of an unhinged mind, desperate to establish an inseparable metaphysical partnership; it was someone who has acquiesced to the forceful suggestion that if you turn it off you’re really tuning out of reality as we know it.

I am unreasonably glad that some part of me remains analog.

when-two-become-one

Notational, No. 18

I really believe that brotherhood is what makes a man human. If I owe God a human life, this is where I fall down. “Man liveth not by Self alone but in his brother’s face. . . . Each shall behold the Eternal Father and love and joy abound.” When the preachers of dread tell you that others only distract you from metaphysical freedom then you must turn away from them. The real and essential question is one of our employment by other human beings and their employment by us. Without this true employment you never dread death, you cultivate it. And consciousness when it doesn’t clearly understand what to live for, what to die for, can only abuse and ridicule itself.

♦ Saul Bellow, Herzog

The body is not a solitary fact. The system of interrelated organs that pulse and prompt action, which motivates reciprocal engagement, is only distinguished through interrelation of an external order. Other bodies are necessary for our own identities to be. This reality asserts itself from any direction you might approach to validate your own facticity. We are generated out of relationships. Think of the vast heritage of meetings that have occurred to beget each individual now present on the surface of the earth. And the continuity of our somatic heritage is reproduced in the vital need for contact and communication between bodies, in order to assert the singularity of the human self. We need each other as much as we have needed our ancestors.

There is another body that needs to be considered when an individual contemplates the extensions and limits of its own awareness. It is constructed of a virtual anatomy that has come into being through the genesis, transmission, and reception of what has been assessed as culture. Multiply coded, inter-relatable, ever changing, and fiercely compelling, it has grown out of that primal activity of naming things as well as their actions. The corpus of culture inhabits the activities that have accrued (and are accruing) between us. It transcends the limits of any solitary person, any one that exists or has existed. Each mind is the product of many minds.

We may only depart for regions unknown from the shores of collective achievement. Freedom requires a community to, in fact, be a state of being. Eschew the multitude! Fly to the metaphysical hinterlands of self-discovery! Climb the mountain and dig yourself into the summit! Cultivate the transcendent spiral of a featureless infinity! It denies the work that goes into making this radical undertaking significant. We are, none of us, self-corroborating entities. Each must send messages to each if there is to be a dialogue to emulate in the mind. A body that does not articulate and contend with other bodies has nothing to articulate or contend to itself.

herzog letter

An Old Derridian Exercise

Let me trace an origin. “Trace” is a privileged word. As a verb it is how I am opening this piece and using it to set an intention and a process. The word denotes a nuanced spectrum of definitions, and these definitions superimpose upon one another to produce what then becomes complex. Possible readings proliferate. Exploring some of the more provocative connections that are inhered within trace, and by tracing that trace as an action of writing—as it unfolds and complicates itself through elaboration—will render something complete but unfinished.

Intimately and inextricably linked to movement, both figurative and literal, the first entry under “trace” in the OED defines it as “[t]o take one’s course, make one’s way; to proceed, pass, go, travel, tread.” As I trace, I “go.” The word is thus implicated in the progression of a journey, one without reference to genesis or telos, but instead simply a functional activity of “proceeding,” or “making one’s way.” This sense of the word dates to the formative years of the modern English language itself, 1400 CE, and it forms a core, a kernel of denotation. The word is inscribed with the connotations of taking action and progressing towards an uncertain outcome; but other permutations are quickly overlaid like a semitransparent tissue and further refine its meaning.

When we encounter trace’s second OED definition, it is more lighthearted: “[t]o pace or step in dancing; to tread a measure; to dance.” This is a different set of implications altogether, though not incompatible with the first. There is suddenly an element of grace included in the word: a co-ordination; choreography. To trace is not simply to travel, but can also be a kind of movement with its mind on form, on the intricacies of “treading” some way that is recognized as premeditated—a “dance” implies repetition; gestures that might be predicted and anticipated. Here we are introduced to the idea that to trace is not to perform an act that is entirely original, but that to do so might actually be to imitate or to copy.

trace

So when we are told that to trace is also “to follow, pursue (instructions, example, etc.)” this elaboration can be read in such a way as to amplify the word again. Tracing may not be original in the sense that some source precedes the activity, some kind of a plan or a demonstration, but there is nothing to say that this “following” has ever been done before. To trace could conceivably be to be first, a kind of originary emulation or performance of something that has previously only existed as an outlined boundary, a stricture which has been delineated but never honoured; or a path never followed once blazed. To trace might very well to be to take the first step towards the production of a tradition or a rule, just as easily as it could be enacting a repetition that is tried and true; an action that contains no surprise or uncertainty, a rote presentation of the established.

But by tracing you might yet reverse the direction of your action. Rather than being derived from you might be driven or drawn towards. Yet, another meaning of the word is “[t]o discover, find out, or ascertain by investigation; to find out step by step; to search out.” Tracing becomes the activity of the sleuth, of the inspector, of the scholar; it is a peering into things, a discernment based on evidence. It remains a kind of following, a dogging of hints or what might be derived as instructions, but there is novelty there, for nearby is an implication in this understanding of the word that denotes that the knowledge gleaned, though always there to be “discovered,” was either forgotten or unarticulated before. To trace, in this sense, is to enact a revelation by increments. As I trace this trace the whole of the project becomes more fully described.

The OED recognises that there has been an element of ambiguity within the word’s origin from the outset. The dictionary’s entry on the etymology of “trace” says that “[t]he primary meaning of the verb was apparently ‘to proceed in a line, course, or track,’” but this was by no means absolutely clear as “[t]he early sense-development in Old French and Middle English,” the identified linguistic sources for the modern English word itself, “is not very clear, and some of the senses attach themselves immediately to trace [the noun] in its sense of ‘mark left by anything moving, footprint’, itself a derivative of the [verb] in its earlier senses.” This close interchange between “trace” as a verb and “trace” as a noun remains, which makes it so much more evocative in writing when that duality can be exploited. “We must begin wherever we are and the thought of the trace,” writes Derrida, “has already taught us that it was impossible to justify a point of departure absolutely.” He, quite rightly, questions the implications of what he means by employing this bifurcated word, apparently naming a thing; but does he entirely exclude the action? Or are he and I counting on an inherent polyvalence to evoke a plurality of action and intent, or objective and process? The answers lie in the outline of the word.