theory

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

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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.

Fragmentary, No. 10

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~ About stupidity . . .

From a musical game heard each week on FM and which seems “stupid” to him, he realizes this: stupidity is a hard and indivisible kernel, a primitive: no way of decomposing it scientifically (if a scientific analysis of stupidity were possible, TV would entirely collapse). What is it? A spectacle, an aesthetic fiction, perhaps a hallucination? Perhaps we want to put ourselves into the picture? It’s lovely, it takes your breath away, it’s strange; and about stupidity, I am entitled to say no more than this: that it fascinates me. Fascination is the correct feeling stupidity must inspire me with (if we reach the point of speaking the name): it grips me (it is intractable, nothing prevails over it, it takes you in an endless hand-over-hand race).

♦ Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes

A Lack of Progress

Waiting

Apathy and anticipation are both features of the void. At least, when the void is home to consciousness, an awareness positing “I am” despite an absence of purchase; in spite of the featureless lacuna that surrounds the self that has been inaugurated with experience, but which suddenly finds itself swaddled in lack: lack of stimulation; lack of motivation; lack of purpose and lack of any proposal. Yet within that absence possibility gestates. “I” can be spun out into action. “I” might question. “I” might answer an implicit query. “I” might create.

This is easier said than done when there are so few forces to impel progress. Though I don’t sit here without anything to do, there is definitely an absence of pertinence. I have prayed at the alter of the future; I have pleaded and I have bargained; and while I wait for the powers that move my world to mobilize and give form to what must eventually succeed this moment, this non-event that expands to consume days and weeks, I feel I am filled with nothing.

Of course any concept of nothing in this universe is an illusion. We are most assuredly surrounded by something, made of something, inundated with and by things both within and without. The concept of being truly alone and bereft is a conceit that comes out of frustration, boredom, and powerlessness. The feeling of nothing that can surround the self like a pure, mathematical zero, is primarily a product of waiting. When and how, questions that assuredly exist, which count as something more than nothing, gesture towards a yearning: a desire to know the formation of developments in time, to predict a future less featureless and wanting.

What is hard to remember in times where the world proffers no stick and no carrot is that motivation and actuation flow from the agency that emanates from the I that is constantly trying to know itself—the only engine that any of us can recognize implicitly; vitally. I question the nature of my own facticity during these times of lassitude. Where can you locate the locus of identity when there is so much unbounded, unremarkable stuff filling the regions of awareness? How might one find the centre? Why can I not materialize an engaging product of my various quantities, unseen but felt all akimbo in the disordered vault of my psyche? Does the knot that questions ever receive a form of definitive answer?

So much work goes into the attempt to accomplish the impossible—to observe oneself observing; to turn back upon the origin and affirm that it is real and not some solipsism. It is a yearning that works against the mechanics of the real, an attempt to corral the symbolic into the service of proving its own premise; but this statement is unprovable. Our paradox has no resolution. These collections of atoms turned upon themselves, asking what they are and how they came to be must also answer their own interrogations in such a way that they might justify their anguish. I am here as long as I am, and, no matter the circumstances, here has no rest. Out of the something that masquerades as nothing, out of the ostensible and jejune lack that threatens the awareness of self that floats unbounded and undirected, one must posit. One must assert. One must commit to a protean premise that can justify the work of experience. If action is to define the self, then each articulation of consciousness is an irrefutable stroke recorded in the void; the void that is never empty. These strokes accumulate, they cluster, and, though they may not ensure a definite margin to separate act from perception, each movement is a decision that affirms and directs life. Life is the business of sustaining an ineffable spark. Even cocooned in absence it burns, mystified by its own light.

Notational, No. 11

To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it “the way it really was.” It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up in a moment of danger. Historical materialism wishes to retain that image of the past which unexpectedly appears to man singled out by history at a moment of danger. The danger affects both the content of the tradition and its receivers. The same threat hangs over both: that of becoming a tool of the ruling classes. In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from conformism that is about to overpower it. The Messiah comes not only as the redeemer, he comes as the subduer of Antichrist. Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.

♦ Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”

The ideal process of researching, and then articulating, the past continues to absorb even the most popularized mind—we do not need to look so far for proof of that—the silver screen never closes its bright window on the past; but the “danger” is all too apparent in the warped perspectives we find on offer. To say nothing of the agendas that populate “official” printed histories, or “definitive” academic accounts of an era, the slow evacuation of difficult to assimilate data from the public record, especially where infotainment is concerned—and disseminated so freely through our commercial media—this should worry us all. As the facts are slaved to current political dynamics, as painstakingly acquired historical knowledges are reduced to sound bytes easily absorbed and edited into a cumulative, teleological narrative of coherent progress, we are unwittingly abdicating rigour from our understanding of what precedes the current moment—a moment that is complex enough, troubling enough, to demand a multifaceted approach to contend with its complexities and, ideally, contribute to our search for a way forward. History should raise questions about the present, and vice versa. In reality answers are in short supply.

The sterilization of the past we are witnessing may not be conspiratorial, a program designed to stultify our potential for progress, but it is collusion of a most insidious order. The same non-localized authority that compels us to participate in structures and systems of exchange that we feel little kinship for is at work in the effacement of the past; but an eternal now where we are constantly in the process of affirming, and then acquiring, what we want is no substitution for a holistic appreciation for all the things that we know, but do not know that we know for certain.

Notational, No. 7

But you know how shameless I am in the presence of anything that calls itself an idea. The idea is time. Living in the future. Look at those numbers running. Money makes time. It used to be the other way around. Clock time accelerated the rise of capitalism. People stopped thinking about eternity. They began to concentrate on hours, measurable hours, man hours, using labour more efficiently.

♦ Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis

“Shameless” is a good call. I think many of us lose our sense of propriety when it comes jumping at the chance to inhabit tomorrow; to exploit the concept; to make the best of the continuum purportedly so soon available to us. It is the fact of life that coaxes us forward. The merciless exigencies of capital force a certain speed: the spectre of falling behind is always haunting us, the fear of missing the boat. Harvesting every screed of the moment, spending it “efficiently,” becomes our conscience, a relentless task-master seeking to circumscribe our actions even as it drives us to comply. To make the best of our present, it sometimes feels like we must accept the judgement of an unremitting and disembodied third-person, one constituted by an inanimate mechanism that we use to interface with the shape of our lives. Unabashedly we focus on a prize that can never, definitively, materialize. We can only remain current by projecting into the future.

Notational, No. 5

And remembering is not a replay of a string of  moments, but an enlivening and reconfiguring of past and future that is larger than any individual. Remembering and re-cognizing do not take care of, or satisfy, or in any other way reduce one’s responsibilities; rather, like all intra-actions, they extend the entanglements and responsibilities of which one is a part. The past is never finished. It cannot be wrapped up like a package, or a scrapbook, or an acknowledgment; we never leave it and it never leaves us behind.

♦ Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway

Quite the affirmation of the constant proliferation of connection, the inextricable mutuality that accrues around every action of a living being, as we continue to perceive, record, and relive our places in reality. Perpetually subject to the folding and superimposing of perspective, of ideological filters and schema, we might as well embrace it thankfully—as an inspiring mystery rather than an overwhelming insight of practical infinity; we are always in it; there is always another connection to explore.

Notational, No. 4

Axiom 1: People are different from each other.

It is astonishing how few respectable conceptual tools we have for dealing with this self-evident fact. A tiny number of inconceivably coarse axes of categorization have been painstakingly inscribed in current critical and political thought: gender, race, class, nationality, sexual orientation are pretty much the available distinctions. They, with the associated demonstrations of the mechanisms by which they are constructed and reproduced, are indispensible, and they may indeed override all or some other forms of difference and similarity. But the sister or brother, the best friend, the classmate, the parent, the child, the lover, the ex-: our families, loves, and enmities alike, not to mention the strange relations of our work, play, and activism, prove that even people who share all or most of our own positionings along these crude axes may still be different enough from us, and from each other, to seem like all but different species.

♦ Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet

To surmise this passage differently: we are all strange. This strangeness substantiates the membranes that surround us and characterize us, our permeable boundaries, as we integrate with one another in the diurnal churn. It is an almost flippant categorization at this point, levelled and attached to nearly everyone and anyone, in an almost universally co-operative but fervently individualistic environment of aggregated bodies. It is tossed out as itself or as a synonym: “You’re strange;” “he’s weird;” “my family’s dysfunctional;” “those people are odd;” “I don’t get her.” We exist in an ocean of surplus and disparity, and despite the stable, recognizable elements of code we all carry around within ourselves, that marks us as walking equivalents—and despite our ability to integrate, albeit in exploitative, unequal, discriminatory, and hierarchical networks and patterned distributions—we remain alien to one another. The “coarse axes” available do not describe categorizations of truly meaningful detail. They are approximations dishearteningly broad. “Do not reduce me to an archaic signifier!” is the war cry in an age where personal identities are being continually mined and panned for any gleam of coherence; where forging demographic badges to pin to a virtual avatar is a full time occupation. We resist this infringement on the finer classifications we chose and nurture for ourselves. We lose sleep over being digitized and rendered as a mark in a column that ignores all the tables of data that reflect our choices, our biases, our investments, and our characters. Doesn’t it take work to learn those things about another human being? Don’t we have to search and strive for the common ground that we might share with the others we find ourselves enmeshed with? Is genuine translation not the hardest part of any interaction for us all?

Fixed Borders

Yesterday Judith Butler was in town. A room bursting with bodies helped underscore the topic of her lecture, Public Assembly and Plural Action. And there we were, assembling: people were crowded on the mezzanine, crouched on the radiators by the windows, standing in an attentive throng at the back. The vaulted ceilings and tall stained glass windows did nothing to disguise that there were pressures within the confines of the hall. Spatial concerns; fire code violations; but also those pressures produced by psychic human concerns. There were tensions. There were individuals heavily invested in being there, and not everyone could be accommodated. Butler attracts a multitude. It is quite a feat, writing and being read across so many disciplinary boundaries, in and out of the academy. There were undoubtedly a number of unspoken agendas circulating and invisibly pressuring each other amongst the crowd; but we all surrendered to plural action. We all made nice, right up until the end.

My companion and I had secured some uncomfortable wooden chairs right in the center of the assembly. In spite of her protests of disbelief, I prevailed upon my friend and got us there 75 minutes early. For, despite harboring genuine anticipation, I was not excited enough to warrant standing at the back of a crowded room for hours just to hear the professor in person. I wanted to attend—not haunt—the event. In the end we were well situated, even if our chairs did inexorably deaden our backsides.

“We the people,” Butler intoned in the early phrases of her address, to frame the discourse of her paper; and these words, so freighted and resonant south of the border, have their own undeniable currency abroad. Their rallying premise, as a point of genesis rather than a jingoist mantra, undeniably has the capacity to stir something positive, especially in those who believe that individual people can coalesce around a core of collective well being. I certainly believe we have that capacity. I invest in that premise with all the devotion of a sweetheart. I would carve hearts around the letters of an ideal democracy on the boards of bridges, into the trunks of trees.

Butler’s “we the people” constitutes a performative, one that is enacted even when the gathering of individuals is not entirely physical, or not entirely or explicitly idealistically cognate. It happens through its very collectivity, in the identification of a larger body, with or without a clearly articulated agenda; simply as a fact, as a thing; and it is possible that that this thing has a sovereignty that presupposes the sovereignty of the state. Perhaps, in fact, it must.

I came away boiling with thoughts of plural action, articulating across the world, across temporal boundaries, in and out of spaces sanctioned for the purpose, in and out of public. How do these mobilizations happen? What are their boundaries? Where does inclusivity and exclusivity occur? How does a collective initiate the move from figurative to actual change? And in this age of intense visualization, how do we imagine the legitimizing forums that provide the stage for meaningful gatherings? Do they have a component of broadcast media, is that necessary to be taken seriously, or does collective action supersede these modern, virtual arenas?

Butler remains provocative, 25 years out of the gate.