Archive for the ‘Barthes’ Category

Maybe writing will get you back your soul?

May 11, 2008

Otto Dix, Self Portrait of Mars, 1915

McLuhan said: “Every media work us out completely”

I’ve been (re)dragged into excessive conversations with all sorts of softwares, communicating in the inhuman medium called “machine language”, aka programming.

Observing the outside then became a function performed by the machine’s I: it’s seeing the world through a bipolar personality that operates in an acute dichotomy between zero and one, black and white, good and evil. Reality is made of procedures, modules, statements, debuggers, purifiers, validators – it’s rationality all over; it’s specialization all the way.

“SPECIALIZATION IS FOR INSECTS”²

I felt horrible, been growingly molded and worked out into the machine’s reality-tunnel, incapable of emitting any other signal but that acknowledged by “it”.

 

 

And then a Voice arrived from the Blogosphere. Hafeez asked me why I no longer write. I answered that “I can no longer write, for I have no soul”. He then replied with a vice-versa smile: “Maybe writing will get you back your soul?

I feel it’s probably the most subtle and deep answer to the “Why do I write?” question. Writing is fighting, a battle to get back your soul.

The soul, so it seems, neither needs a body nor an avatar – some corresponding words will do.

I’m not sure, but does it matter what kind of corresponding words are sent over the wire?

(Can Twittering save my soul?)

Notes:

1. It has been noted, By Roland Barthes for instance, that sometimes it is the opposite action – that of cutting off all communications – which restores and/or preserves one’ soul. Barthes interprets Rimbaud’s total silence as an act similar to Abraham’s silence – under the Kierkegaardian perspective – when told to sacrifice Isaac.

2. “SPECIALIZATION IS FOR INSECTS”: a citation from Robert Anton Wilson‘s “Prometheus Rising”, where RAW mentions the incredible diversity and versatility of the human race. We’re capable of anything as a race, and of doing many diverse things as individuals. Specialization is a plague of the modern market forces, aspiring at the creation of cost-efficient humanoids, i.e. robots. McLuhan, in war and peace in the global village says similar things.

3. Music piece from Aisha, Death In Vegas, The Contino Sessions ( a song that worth a separate post)

The Worst of Authors

July 12, 2007

“The worst of authors will say something which is to the point”. Socrates, Phaedrus

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And see also Words, jamais portés, as well as in the margins of philosophy here (comment#4).

The question, therefore, is not “What did the Author want to tell us?”, but rather “What did the Author want to hide from us?”

Words, jamais portés

May 15, 2007

When Barthes learned about the death of his friend’s loved one, he spontaneously set down to write some words of compassion. Going through his memories, his feelings, he tried to figure out which words could be helpful in the current context. Finally, he realized that whatever he felt, whatever he thought, could be and should be said in one, simple word: Condolences.

Only that writing this single word was practically impossible: his friend would certainly think him for a cold heart man, seeing his deed as an act of obligation. He might even get offended. No, “Condolences” was out of question.

Many other words appeared then, each fighting for a place on that white paper. It was then that Barthes realized his second problem: those easy coming words were too obvious, too banal, too used; a bourgeois schmaltz.

Barthes

And so he kept wandering further away from that simple, single and accurate word that had it all, in a search for some rarities – words jamais portés, at least not in this specific context consisting of Barthes, his friend and the deceased.

That, says Barthes, is the essence of Literature. Unlike what is commonly perceived, Literature does not reveal, disclose or illuminate the ineffable, that substance which no words can describe. Literature hides, erases, masks, distracts and deviates from what originally could have been said in a simple, single word.

And see also The Worst of Authors.

I give myself up to language

May 2, 2007

“I give myself up to language, anon, in a gift economy”, ecko4inc

I give myself up to language

Erasure Heads, part#2

(Click to enlarge)

Language, a reversed panopticon. In the heart of the desert one stands circled with guardian Words. Their gaze. All it needs to see them is to take one step outside yourself; the whole path lasts no longer than one step.

The Gaze of the Sign

April 24, 2007

(This post follows Gater’s role in Body/Language: Barthes-Foucault vs. Gater’s Taboo)

“The signs exist insofar as they are recognized, i.e. insofar as they are repeated”.

Through this simple definition Barthes introduces the concept of the other (used as a technique in the philosophical discourses of the past [the Greek friend, see D&G]; used as an existential condition in Buber, Barthes and others).

We’re all signs. Think about concepts. Each concept has a never ending trail of other concepts, and behind each concept there’s a human – that human who gave life to the concept in the first place; that human who revived the concept after it has long been forgotten. With every word we pronounce, and every sign we digest, it’s the history of humanity mashed between our teeth.

We’re all signs, and hence our existence is dependent on recognition and repetition – repeated recognition by other signs.

If God is the first Word and words are signs, then God needs repeated recognition just the same. This can probably explains why we, the other signs, have been originally created, and in his own image.

Sometimes, we like to create our own recognition signs – we can then play and replay them again and again – an endlessly repeating loop of recognition.

“I like to do it with my friends; sometimes we videotape it, then we watch it…”.

This is a cry for meaning – a desperate need for recognition. For whatever reason, a new sign is created for this purpose: a videotape in which the original sign is captured. Then, the original sign plays and replays the secondary sign, the videotape, gaining through this repetition the so wanted existential recognition.

But then, something else happens. While watching the secondary sign affirming our existence, we do it again. This time, the original sign is the one affirming and recognizing the existence of the secondary sign.

This is the potlatch: one affirms our existence and we reaffirm back his/her own existence, in a looped process that can potentially persist for a while. The more this process continues, the more respectful and ‘full of life’ the two signs become.

Only, the inhuman sign not only cannot become ‘more full of life’, but it is found to have very strange effects, when used as an affirming sign: the potlatch is canceled!

Here’s an example: you’re giving your friend a present. Your friend is very happy. She then wants to repay you for making her happy and so she gives you back a present: only, it is the same present you gave her in the first place. Evidently, this will not make you happy, for by that act, your friend has canceled your act. It is a canceling exchange, because it’s an echo.

Whatever echoes, mirrors, cannot be considered as an existential affirmation and recognition. Whatever echoes cannot be used as a potlatch, for the echo cancels the potlatch. Gater’s video should be seen as a cry for a meaningful existence. But the inhuman videotape gives no salvation: it’s a static dancing.

There’s no replacement for the human gaze.

The Gaze of the Sign

Body/Language: Barthes-Foucault vs. Gater’s Taboo

April 16, 2007

Body/Language

Remixed by Methods & Black Squares 

 

Click to play:

[Barthes]
Parler, et à plus forte raison discourir, ce n’est pas communiquer, comme on le répète trop souvent, c’est assujettir.

[Foucault]
À ce lieu là, dès que j’ai les yeux ouverts, je ne peux plus échapper.

[Barthes]
La langue, comme performance de tous langages, n’est ni réactionnaire ni progressiste, elle est tout simplement fasciste.

[Gater]
We do it every weekend,
I like to do it with my friends
Sometimes we videotape it,
Then we watch it and do it again.

[Barthes]
Fasciste

Fasciste

Les signes n’existent que pour autant qu’ils sont reconnus, c’est-à-dire pour autant qu’ils se répètent.

Qu’ils se répètent.

[Foucault]
Mon corps topie impitoyable.

[Barthes]
Malheureusement le langage humain est sans extérieur, c’est un huis clos.

Répète!

[Gater]
Some people don’t understand what we do,
They say its Saturday they go to the club,
They say it’s no fun, but we don’t care,
We sit here and we do it.

We do it every weekend,
I like to do it with my friends,
Sometimes we videotape it,
Then we watch it and do it again.

[Barthes]
Répète!

En chaque signe dort ce monstre, un stéréotype. Je ne puis jamais parler qu’en ramassant, en quelque sorte, ce qui traîne dans la langue.

En chaque signe dort ce monstre, un stéréotype.

En chaque signe dort ce monstre, un stéréotype.

[Foucault]
Tous les matins, même présence, même blessure. Sous mes yeux se dessine une inévitable image qu’impose le miroir, visage maigre, épaules voûtées, regard myope, plus de cheveux, vraiment pas beau.

[Gater]
Some people don’t understand what we do…

[Barthes]
Répète!

[Foucault]
Mon corps c’est le lieu sans recours auquel je suis condamné.

[Barthes]
C’est un huis clos.

Fasciste.

[And see The Gaze of the Sign – a follow up on Gater’s role in this remix]

Erasure Heads, part#1

April 13, 2007

eh.jpg

Writing under erasure, Painting under erasure, Being under erasure – this is not a humble take on life. Rather, this is what some consider to be the only way to fight back, from within, from under the skin. Fooling the system; but also, fooling around with the system. “Tricher la langue; tricher avec la langue”, Barthes.

Questions to which answers are not the right answer

April 7, 2007

In an interview titled “Les Choses signifient-elles quelque chose?” (1962) Barthes gave, en passant, an interesting definition of literature as the art of presenting questions, not answers, nor solutions.

These literary questions, says Barthes, are powerful, disturbing and long-lasting. More importantly, it is only literature that can ask this kind of long-lasting questions. Kafka and Balzac, adds Barthes, have become canonic because they have left us with such long-lasting and disturbing questions.

Rephrasing Barthes: Literature produces and presents questions to which answers are not the right answer.

roland_barthes.jpg

We’re habituated to input-output production lines: question-in, answer-out; problem-in, solution-out. But some questions and some problems are simply different. So what is the “right answer” to those long-lasting literary questions? How should we refer to them?

Probably, living the question, in each and every Time Capsule, is what we should do?

I think that these informal observations can be used to clarify the way a group of French philosophers, such as Lyotard, Foucault, Deleuze and, of course, Barthes, understand the relation between literature and philosophy. After all, what has been described so far is commonly perceived as the realm of Philosophy, and yet Barthes ignores Philosophy altogether, charging Literature with the burden of asking those questions, insisting that it is the only place where such questions can (be asked? live? survive?).

My feeling is that western philosophers have never considered philosophy as the art of presenting long-lasting questions. Rather they have used questions as a pretext, an excuse, a platform for their… answers, for their irrefutable ontological or epistemological solutions, constructs and architectures.

In fact, it is western philosophers who have tried, along centuries, to kill, eradicate and annihilate those disturbing questions. Too often they have resurrected some murdered questions but only to try and kill those poor bastards once more. The dead body of metaphysics is an example. So the Problem of Philosophy, if by philosophy we mean those long-lasting questions, is that Philosophy refuses to die!

Lyotard et al. think that indeed some questions must die – but that their execution should be carried out by Science, not Philosophy. Other questions, on the other hand, must live – that was the role of Philosophy – to give birth and a living place for this kind of questions – but Philosophy has fallen from grace.

Long-lasting questions live now only in Literature.

(and see also Lyotard: against input-output philosophy)

Foucault’s Fault

March 27, 2007

I had a conversation recently with a sociology professor who doesn’t like Foucault. “Clearly”, claimed the professor, “Foucault was reusing Weber’s theories, to name just one evident theft, never mentioning Weber as a source, pretending to be original”.

This is a well-known accusation against Foucault: “C’est un simulateur qui ne peut s’appuyer sur aucun texte sacré, et qui ne cite guère les grands philosophes”, is among a long list of “Against Foucault” with which Deleuze opens his book “Foucault”.

Michel Foucault

Forget Foucault; let’s deal with the underlying question: does an Author have the right to keep his sources private?

Journalists, who see themselves obliged to reveal and tell the truth, fight for their right to keep their sources private. And philosophers – can they reveal the truth without disclosing their sources?

Since the Author is Dead (or rather, has been dead since the very beginning (or rather, has existed only as a fiction, as a function)), then why bother quoting at all? No one is the Author of an idea.

What about using known concepts – is that as good as quoting? In “Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?” Deleuze & Guattari describe philosophy as the art of creating concepts (“la philosophie est l’art de former, d’inventer, de fabriquer des concepts”), and that a philosopher is recognized by the concepts she has created. Indeed, philosophical concepts are easily exchangeable with the philosophers who coined them: Idea, Cogito, Monad, Noumenon, Dasein, and Rhizome easily resurrect their dead authors.

But don’t get confused by this romantic description of the philosophical work: if someone is recognized as a philosopher only by the new concepts that he has introduced into the philosophical discourse [D&G], and if new and original are nothing but an illusion [Barthes], then philosophy is not the art of creating concepts but rather the art of rebranding preexisting concepts. The philosopher doesn’t have much choice but to refurbish and rebrand old concepts and present them as original ones.

This is a tough situation: if you don’t quote you are accused of plagiarism and of the hubris of being original; if you quote (explicitly – by referring to philosophers; implicitly – by reusing known concepts) you’re accused of not being original, hence – not a philosopher. The game is, therefore, to quote all along your thesis until that point where you bring up your own rebranded (yet necessarily preexisting) concept – that which you present and pretend to be your own.

Foucault, probably, refused to play this political Homo Academicus game. After all, it is not the concept that matters, but rather how it is told, to whom, and when. Nevertheless, Foucault acknowledged the rules of the game by tagging his work Fiction. He embraced the position of an outsider, accepting being labeled as a non-philosopher, non-historian, non-sociologist. A Fiction writer is free from disclosing his sources; moreover, he is free to refer to any known figure while asserting a clear disconnect between the signifier and the signified, between the Kant in his story and the Kant we all know.

The DJ of the Self; The Genealogy of the Mashup

February 21, 2007

Michel Foucault sees all humans as a mashup of what has always existed, and the great human endeavor being the rediscovery, then the analysis of those tracks from which we have become the remix that we are. It’s only when one is in front of and confronted with those rediscovered tracks, that s/he can start being the DJ of his/her own Self. The praxis herewith described is called the Genealogy of the Mashup.

Mashed

Mashed is a mis en abîme, a recursion of mashups, an explicit work of Genealogy, presenting fourteen Vs. kind of tracks (The Doors vs. Blondie; Iggy Pop vs. Peggy Lee..).

The first layer in our genealogical process is that which we see first: “Mashed” the CD, and the assertion “This is a collection” which is an overt awareness to the impossibility of being original – content-wise; “these 14 tracks of which I am made of are not mine”, thus spoke the 1st layer.

The 2nd layer, any of the fourteen tracks, is again a special kind of a remix, i.e a remix with a sense of History, each track bearing a Vs. kind of title, explicitly stating its genealogy – “I consist of these two voices in the minute of their meeting”. And you can experience the magic of the remix, the phantasmagoric world of the unoriginal for yourself: you can hear The Doors – they are there, fully present, and you can hear Blondie, and you can hear a third voice, that omnipresent voice which reappears only in the minute of their meeting: the voice of the dead author.

Of course, nothing is sacred; from those rediscovered voices, only the poetic moments have been remixed into the 2nd layer, the meeting layer. And that’s the work each DJ should be doing on his/her self.

On the 3rd layer there’s this rediscovered, separated track, or the leftovers of what used to be a glamorous song by The Doors: Riders on the Storm. We know today that the genealogy goes further into the past, till the dawn of mankind. Riders on the Storm belongs to the history of implicit mashups. There’s a work of genealogy to do here too.

Mashups are poetics. If you need another proof, please help yourself with Cathrine Vs. ?.

deneuve70.jpg

Catherine Deneuve (Photograph by Douglas Kirkland)

 

Philosophy in Four Hands

February 18, 2007

p4h.JPG

Click image to see full size

Four philosophers, four realities, four hands.

Philosophy in Four Hands

Plato playing “Form”
Aristotle playing “Matter”
Roland Barthes playing “Text”
Michel Foucault playing “Power”

The Death of the Author; the Birth of the Voice

February 10, 2007

In my post DJ Spooky’s Remix Simulacrum I questioned the concept of an “authentic voice” in general, and the concept of a “remix” in particular:

“Given that the human history of ideas, progress, art, etc. is the history of remix, i.e. the unexpected association of different, seemingly unrelated memes, should “remix” be classified as an authentic voice or an unauthentic one?”

That post ended with only questions. I might have now a sort of an answer, which will be based on literary criticism, specifically on Roland Barthes “The Death of the Author”, as well as on our memory, or rather on our capacity to… forget.

In “The Death of the Author” (1967) Barthes states that “the writer can only imitate a gesture forever anterior, never original”. Any text, therefore, be it an “original” or a “remix” is deemed to be the reincarnation of older texts. Let’s forget, than, the illusion of authenticity [, or of truth, or of reality etc.] – there’s no such thing.

Here’s an excerpt from Barthes:

“We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture. Like Bouvard and Pecuchet, those eternal copyists, both sublime and comical and whose profound absurdity precisely designates the truth of writing, the writer can only imitate a gesture forever anterior, never original”.

barthes.jpg

Yet I’d like to suggest a distinction between the authenticity of the text and the authenticity of the voice (leaving aside concepts of author, writer, speaker etc.). Indeed, the text is essentially unauthentic; the author is being dead, and the reader is, righteously, the new meaning-provider. Yet from all this destruction, I think that something new is born: the voice.

The Voice

Barthes continues the above quoted text with what can be understood as a minor observation on his part, but a one that I think is key to understanding the essence and the role of the authentic voice – that which tells an essentially unauthentic story:

“his [the writer, the dead author, the layman speaker] only power is to combine the different kinds of writing, to oppose some by others, so as never to sustain himself by just one of them”.

I’d like to interpret this last sentence as suggesting that authentic voices are those associating old texts in a certain way in a certain time for a certain society. And even if the last sentence from Barthes doesn’t say that, I’d still like to stick to this idea, and to maintain that this role of the authentic voice is of an extreme importance.

The authentic voice is that which reminds us of old, forgotten texts. What I’ll say now is not original, but it’s important: the past contains many answers for us, mostly in the form of unanswered questions (yes, I noticed the paradox). Faulkner has this saying that the past is never dead and that it is not even past. This insight, I think, is critical for our survival, for our progress. The right old question [or text in its broadest meaning] brought up in the right moment in the right context can change things. What Barthes cannot take from the dead author is his choice of the texts and of the moment and context of their reincarnation.

In other words, the role of the authentic voice is to bring up, to remind, in a certain point in time, some old texts so that the “reader” will start his/her process of creating meaning – actual, relevant meaning – around them. The authentic voice is the catalyst, the trigger of the whole process.

Remember (for future use): a society that cannot forget is a society that cannot remember.