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. The 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 an anticipated revelation for these things again. Nor the gasp of connection and release that flies out from a compression that has made new beginnings possible.

This so often feels like what lies at the end of what I find when I contemplate the terrible renunciation of freedom that comes from existing in a world that—so often—feels like the product of solitary limits. Of boundaries. Of facts organized around principles that assert that most of what 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.

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 a lot of the time these beg a denial from something deep and steadfast within. When something is not possible, when something is asserted in our world and we are forced to contend with that thing, and that thing amounts to being a being, which we must grapple with—but maybe do not accept no matter how reasonable or graceful it might be to do so—”no” is sometimes the only sane thing to say about it. The matter of articulating the rejection of a fact that makes everything harder. What do you want to say, without deception, when your options, defined by matter, 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 matter, but at its most fundamental, it does not hear—it only moves.

Notational, No. 22

Isn’t electricity a mysterious thing? Wasn’t it Benjamin Franklin who tied a key to a kite? We live in such a mysterious universe, don’t we? Some people say that science clears up all the mysteries for us. In my opinion it only creates more!

✧ Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie

Amanda’s frivolous banter not only insinuates but also declaims a persistent reality, one that springs tenaciously from a devision of knowledges that springs from a modern bias. The conviction that comprehension and control of nature is a kind of revelation which remains unrelated to the understanding of human life, especially as it unfolds in day-to-day routines, obscures our imbrication with the very forces which have threatened us, and forced us to adapt, whinge, and pray to be delivered from for most of our frenetic history. To be sure electromagnetism is mysterious, as all action at a distance is mysterious; as light is mysterious, and the energy which drives all the motors of action. More, the mysteries of our universe do not collapse in the face of modelling and control, but multiply, and present new questions to replace the ones predictably answered. As a flippant toss of phrase isn’t what she’s saying eerily apropos? To point out that there is an outside and an inside to human experience—that the world continues to threaten and bamboozle us despite our research and inventions—is an indisputable truism; but is it not also something that genuinely needs to be contended with, not just when the lights burn out, but when we feel complacent and at ease with the idea of a “safely” manufactured environment, even though there is nothing to mediate between any bit of matter or energy, anywhere, that is not natural. Mystery remains nature’s default.


Notational, No. 21

There is no such thing . . . as unstylised—’direct’, ‘pure’, ‘objective’—sensation, perception, conceptualization, description or knowledge. A thought style is a disposition not merely to think or speak of a collective who share a given thought style, certain entities, categories, and connections will be especially salient and ready-to-hand and others less noticeable or invisible. These perceptual-conceptual dispositions are not ‘biases’, a term that suggests disabling distortions of otherwise clear or direct perceptions. Rather, and precisely because of how they constrain cognition, such dispositions enable what we call facts to be known, what we call reality to be brought forth and experienced.

✧ Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Scandalous Knowledge: Science, Truth and the Human

One can perhaps say a number of things about style, especially within the contexts of thought. Something that conveys an attitude as well as an orientation toward the world, style is projected as much as it is assumed. Style is performative; and any performance is a risk, as all performances incubate the possibility of failure. There is risk at the heart of adopting or developing any style, as the implications are that style leaves an impression. Style makes a psychic mark—it leaves a trace of its occurrence, of its experience. To encounter a style is to encounter something recognisable, even if it is not understood. That way, or this way, methods of connecting discreet elements into configurations that work together to impress is the foundation of a style. A style bears and references a kind of unity.

But a style is not complete. In the sense of a congruence lacking a sense of finality, style might be reproduced; style might be common or rare; stay might be recondite or facile, but it is unbounded. It may also be replayed, with variation, again and again. Unnoticed if it is lacking or ubiquitous, sometimes alarming or enraging if it is alien, a minimum of style might register, but a surfeit threatens to lose its distinction and transition from style to standard.

What makes identifying thought styles so difficult is that they are only encountered as such during rare periods of a person’s life: transitional times; traumatic times; times when we are marshalled by forces that compel or propel us to defend, adapt, or displace. Generally, the frequency we experience them becomes more and more uncommon as we age. As we shift less, learn less, habituate our tastes and the range of our adventures less, so too does the scope of styles we might appreciate or adopt diminish. Intrinsically, style becomes a signature, a calling card, and an extension of one’s own expression to the world at large. Extrinsically, a style arrays with others not of its kind as a spectrum of codes, to which are attached affects and responses equally personal from each to everyone else.

Style may be the hallmark of any organized human exercise, material or immaterial; but it is not an expendable feature of our reality, as the many realities that orbit and overlap throughout our lives define our place and our experience. To think a certain way may seem anything from honorable, to transgressive, to abominable, but the human enterprise is composed of a heterogeneity that permeates all conception and expression from our centre out to the barely coalescing fringes of our species’ margins.

Texture with 3D rendering abstract fractal îrange pattern

Notational, No. 20

And so in the late twentieth century the imperial cycle of the last century in some way replicates itself, although today there are really no big empty spaces, no expanding frontiers, no exciting new settlements to establish. We live in one global environment with a huge number of ecological, economic, social, and political pressures tearing at its only dimly perceived, basically uninterpreted and uncomprehended fabric. Anyone with even a vague consciousness of this whole is alarmed at how such remorselessly selfish and narrow interests—patriotism, chauvinism, ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds—can in fact lead to mass destructiveness. The world simply cannot afford this many more times.

♦ Edward Said, “Two Visions in Heart of Darkness

The populist dramatics presently unfolding, spreading out, and blanketing large swaths of the earth’s restless surface are part of the fabric that Said qualified as not just “basically uninterpreted” but also “uncomprehended.” I would add that the interwoven thread counts of ecology, economy, society, and politics also exist as a fabric uninterrupted: for the accumulated fibres of our invention have seamlessly stitched up every square millimetre of real estate, solid or psychic, spatial or virtual, from point to point to point. There is nothing raw, open, uncatalogued, or uncovered in the sense that would have existed for that plucky imperialist surveyor out at the vanguard of “civilization.” The map doesn’t drop off at some point. The tapestry of record covers all continents and states of matter, but it doesn’t exist with any satisfactory kind of explanatory notes. When almost anyone can know that everywhere in the world exists in unquestionable reification, and that you can’t fire a cannon anywhere without wiping out a village, you begin to realize that we are all part of the weave, and that its constantly evolving design is simply beyond any of us to contend with definitively. And yet, just as the illusion of the frontier of human conquest has dwindled from overtly national consciousnesses of patriotic narratives (for now), capitalist minds attuned to handicap everywhere remain constantly on the look-out to press their advantage on any number of fronts. Colonization remains a presaged and imperative force, and constantly on the move into spaces not empty, not unknown, but only provisionally unexploited. It is the lack of comprehension that allows for the reemergence and reassertion of mythologies reductive enough to claim that the human fabric is patchy, in need of radical repair, and not just inequivalent but also of unequal quality, stitch to stitch.

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?


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

Notational, No. 17

We do not know what the dragon means, just as we do not know the meaning of the universe, but there is something in the image of the dragon that is congenial to man’s imagination, and thus the dragon arises in many latitudes and ages. It is, one might say, a necessary monster, not some ephemeral and casual creature like the chimæra or the catoblepas.

♦ Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Imaginary Beings

In conversation with a friend a few weeks ago, we began to speak of the impulse to be seduced by the suggestion of a master code lying just below the surface of all the information constantly generating, and already generated, out of the interminable human project. When you look at the sheer volume of the manifest content in existence—details recorded, interpretations disseminated, queries logged, hypotheses enumerated, conclusions inscribed—it is no wonder that our inclination is to try and mobilize everything in our field of view into a comprehensible, interrelated structure. We are particularly suited to such projects. The human mind is, above all else, a preturnaturally adept pattern recognition machine, often to the point of fault.

The Theory of Everything remains the holy grail of the physical sciences: a master rubric to unite all other suppositions within a grand paradigm, capable of drafting every natural structure legibly and in totality; and this is an accepted, if improbable (perhaps impossible), goal. This is not to say that the human sciences have not taken aim at detailing complete systems to account for the sum of experience—they most certainly have—but the results are often transparently reductive once analyzed. Every armchair philosopher can usually pinpoint the limitations of any supposedly comprehensive explanation of reality in short order. The beautiful and theoretically immeasurable variations of human expression are bounded by very real limitations, but are, in fact, effectively infinite. For example, the number of possible games of chess exceed the number of particles in the known universe. This staggering fact gives a very real sense of perspective on the potential productivity of human ingenuity.

Yet we make sense of the patterns that emerge form our activity, just as we do from the movements of the universe. Theories abound and facts continue to be detailed in our repositories of knowledge. Information exists, and if you mobilize that fact in a certain way, it is evident that everything that comprises human experience is, quite essentially, information. Contending with this actuality meaningfully is something that everyone has to do, sooner or later.

It is evident, if you take pause and survey the transmissions that connect our lives in a vast and complex web, that we are all attempting to wrestle with this dilemma. If we are not formulating then we are trying to learn strategies to deal with the cosmos of data that churns about us, carrying us along as we wonder endlessly where it is that we are going.

It takes a heroic sort of bravery to acknowledge that we are, each of us, motes in the currents of history, and that totality is, in fact, beyond the comprehension of any individual mind. As beings of recognizable finitude, contingent and impermanent, the Absolute remains unimaginable by definition; but this radical state of mortality does not console, nor does it imply any comprehensive or potent type of universal agency.


What does the dragon mean? It has appeared, seemingly independently, in multiple cultures, across multiple points of recorded time. To suppose that some master force generates this primeval icon with purpose and significance is to tap into the source of mystery. To know how and why this monster guards its horde throughout history is to decode a piece of the puzzle, to reveal part of the mechanism of an intelligent design. To suppose that there is a comprehensible secret waiting to be uncovered musters a terrible sort of hubris: one that might create the illusion of mastery over the morass of cultural manifestations, but one that constrains the possibility of perceiving the awesome beauty of a pointless synchronicity.

Looking into the treasured and constantly evolving network of human expression to be amazed and inspired is an approach diametrically opposed to the jaded adjudication of the conspiracy theorist. Teleological narratives, and neatly sewn up summations, that account for every admissible iota of detail presume a world bounded by limitations that offer no egress, and foreclose the possibly of surprise; which is the precursor of delight. Any answer that does not harbour within it the seeds of another question is a terminus. The pride that comes from reaching the end is also the surety that there is nothing left worth exploring, and that there are no longer any frontiers left to exceed.

Notational, No. 16

The elements are now reversed. It is no longer the end of time and of the world which will show retrospectively that men were mad not to have been prepared for them; it is the tide of madness, its secret invasion, that shows that the world is near its final catastrophe; it is man’s insanity that invokes and makes necessary the world’s end.

♦ Michel Foucault, Madness & Civilization

Foucault perceived this turn at the dawn of the Renaissance, at the moment of transition, coming out of the Medieval into a nascent modernity. This discerned change of perspective, that the engines of apocalypse might drive from within rather than without, is a movement toward the agency of a collective human character: we are not beset by madness, we generate it, and it is threatening to undo us. What about the passage strikes as prescient is that it was written in 1965, the dead centre of a time in the West when the politically aware began to feel the human environment bristle with the will to change in the face of institutional power, and activism became an activity that defined a generation. I wonder if there was an old Medieval attitude present but obscured by student demonstration and a collective cry of outrage—that the crush of humanity was at the mercy of an agenda and a timetable decreed from on high, and that there was nothing to do but rage and plead for a more equanimous rule. The turn that runs through the collective consciousness 50 years later feels as if it has aped the inversion of the dawn of the modern. The responsibility for the end of the known world resides in our own conscience now, solidly rests on the shoulders of each individual member of a society that may have uttered a cry of outrage at a contemporary state of affairs, but complacently—and madly; in a way utterly insane—has done nothing to meaningfully affect change either in personal or mass action. We know it is crazy to do nothing, to let the elite drive the engines of decision, to make no meaningful attempt to curb individual lifestyles to slow the disintegration of global ecosystems, to allow systems of power and privilege to disenfranchise and suppress the descendants of victims of imperial conquest; we seem to know on some level that our own madness is leading to cataclysm and an outright dissolution of the known.

Notational, No. 15

Foucault saw psychoanalysis as an essentially sinister moment in the exercise of power in Western history. While psychoanalysis can certainly be shown to have served a massive power strategy of normativizing subjectivity, its very effectiveness in that inglorious role could be said to depend on the accuracy of the psychic profile it has drawn. The language of psychoanalysis has both served and demystified strategies designed to control human subjects. Its invaluable function has been to provide what seems to me a transhistoric account, at least for Western culture, of psychic mechanisms assumed and exploited by strategies of power. Its analytic and classificatory approach to the mind lends itself to both a disciplinary and liberating intentionality. If psychoanalysis has designed a mental map that can guide projects of political mastery, that very same map gives us the terms of a reverse discourse (an aspect of power exercises that interested Foucault very much) that can be used to resist projects of subjection.

♦ Leo Bersani, “The Power of Evil and the Power of Love”

Psychoanalysis emerged from a taxonomic effort that assumed the quantifiable existence of a psychic norm that could be studied as a referential model. Freud surmised that the heterosexual male psyche was the ur-consciousness from which society and culture emerged. It was thus an effort contiguous with the medicalization of the human being, the human being of course being a white man engaged with the direction of his own corner of the universe, however big or small that was, and the process of cataloguing and symptomatizing the aberrants of that being (which included everyone else) was indeed part of a larger process that aimed, consciously or not, at bringing the mental arena into the realm of regulation, diagnosis, and control. This is what a good Foucauldian might see when looking at the formative structures of psychological “exploration.”

Yet a radical decentering also emerged. Psychoanalysis’ central model may have been myopic, but the continued reading and rereading of Freud that has gone on for over a hundred years now has produced a cornucopia of insight, much of which has continued to inform and provoke the assumptions tacitly made about the nature and operation of the human mind. Theories simplified and enshrined as little more than knee-jerk sitcom punchlines in contemporary culture, under closer scrutiny actually disclose a tenacious relevancy when a reader with a little imagination goes back and investigates what exactly was written about the way one individual can come to know another, and in turn come to know about him or herself. The paths Freud cleared were (and are) openly navigable for all manner of quests directed toward self-awareness—and most are quite heterogeneously applicable. The perception that psychoanalysis attempts to produce a master narrative for the race, one that can churn out adequate and reductive assessments of an individual’s nature, and then prescribe adjustments so that that individual might better assimilate to the conditions of the status quo, has more to do with a conflation of the goals of what is now psychiatry and what has become analysis than the content of Freudian methods and perspectives.

By all accounts (some of which are psychoanalytic) subjection emerges from multiple points of origin, but the essential unit of its process is a Self aware of its own limitations, and oftentimes confused. The products of the project of making sense of what it is that we are, how and why we struggle to make meaning in a vast and complex system of interrelations, can and have been used in the service of power. But that which enables our compliance to arbitrary norms can also help us distinguish how they are norms, plural, and that our fundamental commonalities contain within their enumeration unquantifiable opportunities for othering as well as coming to terms with the reality that we are also all individuals, constantly attempting to create our own mould, even as we are shaped by it, so that we might fit into this world.


Notational, No. 14

When the real is no longer what it was, nostalgia assumes its full meaning. There is a plethora of myths of origin and of signs of reality—a plethora of truth, of secondary objectivity, and authenticity. Escalation of the true, of lived experience, resurrection of the figurative where the object and substance have disappeared. Panic-stricken production of the real and of the referential, parallel to and greater than the panic of material production: this is how simulation appears in the phase that concerns us—a strategy of the real, of the neoreal and the hyperreal that everywhere is the double of a strategy of deterrence.

♦ Jean Baudrillard, “The Precession of Simulacra”

There is an essence of nostalgia that haunts even the most immediate experience in this vast projection, what constitutes reality. Even as it is happening, life calls out for its own recall; to the moment that we are self-consciously viewing in the moment; to the experience directly analogous to a mediated representation; and the proof is we are not satisfied. We mourn the lost event. It announces a hollow promise, and there is doubt even in the heart of it—if it has a heart—a suspicion that what we have is not true, that we are divorced from, and sold on, a facsimile.

A great panic infuses the search for authenticity that drives a modern lifestyle. We seem to know that what we are up to is superimposed onto the surface of something real, an unmediated interaction that thrums with unknown pleasures and traumas, sealed away by corporate projects of standard production, of expiation engineering, the commodification of the genteel. But Baudrillard wonders if there really is something that actually remains below the simulated. We have perhaps gone too far beyond the originary creation that spawned our faculties of projection. We long for the return of the real every time we are told that we get it, and it feels like a cheap, marketed mediation between what you identify as yourself and the overwrought narratives that bombard that identity. How is life supposed to happen in the hyperreal?