Archive for the ‘Lyotard’ Category

A fantasy to hide our flesh

July 22, 2007

This post is about eating Knowledge and the creation of the first System. It discusses the moment in history in which man created the first, provisory sign, and that other moment which came right after.

Provisory Sign

“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed”, Genesis, 2, 25.

[6 verses later]

“she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;

One minute before, one minute after, and in between – the moment of revelation, produced through a method that even Hume couldn’t have but approved – and here they are, Adam & Eve, digesting the naked, shameful truth – the body.

Their eyes wide open, Adam and Eve realize that this truth is too painful to watch, maybe too banal, for sure too concrete. And so they create, on the spot, in the same verse, in the same time capsule – the first sign.

and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

This first sign, however, was too fragile. The fig leaves were sensible to the blowing winds, to brusque movements, and so most of the time they were failing to hide the flesh, to cover up on the naked truth. The sign was too unstable, the referent being visible here and there.

Borrowing from Lyotard (The Postmodern Explained: Correspondence, 1982-1985), this instability of the sign evoked fear and trembling: the exposure of the referent and the failure to fixate the referencing sign, which is the other, creates a problem of identity. If the other’s identity is not fixed, neither is mine. It is the ability to rapidly identify and decipher the meaning of the sign – not its referent, which should be hidden for good – but the meaning arising from its contextual, structural entourage – that assists in the creation of self-consciousness, and of identity. The more rapid and stable this process of exchanging and recognizing signs is, the more stable are the effects of realism, the more solid is the Fantasy of the Real.

Surprisingly, this floating point of identity bothered God and made him react by providing Adam & Eve with some practical knowledge, that is – how to design and fabricate stable signs.

“Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them”.

No, God didn’t provide us humans with light, or fire; nor did he provide us with arrows or scrolls. The only practical thing God has provided us with was the Fashion System, Le Système de la mode, an empire of signs: a fantasy to hide our flesh.

stop the fashion system, february, 1990

Franco Moschino, Stop the fashion system, february, 1990

“When I become death” according to Levinas

July 3, 2007

Emmanuel Levinas’ La Mort et Le Temps (English translation in God, Death and Time) opens with a reading of Heidegger´s Sein und Zeit, a reading that evolves around the themes of the carnival, the essence of time, the nature of death, the type of questions to which answers are not the right answer, and finally – literature as a masking process (rather than a revealing one).

[But maybe I’m wrong. It could well be that Levinas says nothing of the above themes, and that it is my own philosophical delusions, the consequences of my posts here on Foucault, Lyotard, Barthes, Deleuze, and Burroughs.]

Emmanuel Levinas

The Carnival.

The carnival represents the absolute assimilation of a human being with the role assigned to him/her by the system. Yet by this assimilation the human being ceases to be a human being, for being a human is to continuously question “Being”, i.e. to be a critical being towards Being, constantly reassessing the possibilities of an always changing existence. This is when Levinas uses the term ek-sistence – existing from the outside (and it is also where the two reasons of the first Emmanuel – K. – are fully present).

The critical spectator stands behind the curtain, looking inside the theater, considering her options on stage. This cannot be done while on stage, while wearing the mask of the carnival.

And yet. “Behind the curtain there is nothing to see… nor beneath it”, says Deleuze, following Foucault. The critical being is therefore not to be imagined out of stage; s/he is not to be imagined as a passive spectator. Rather, the critical being is assimilated into the system’s role, while continuously challenging that role. Indeed, says Deleuze, behind the curtain there is nothing to see, “but it was all the more important each time to describe the curtain”. So we are in the carnival, but we don’t play wholeheartedly. We’re aware of the play, and we improvise whenever we see fit.

The Question.

The question of being is a question to which answers are not the right answer, the first trait of Being, being the mark of that Question. Barthes maintains that those questions of Being can only live within Literature, but he also maintains that Literature is a carnivalesque mask. The only way to cope with these contradictions is to follow Foucault’s advise: “We have to move beyond the outside-inside alternative; we have to be at the frontiers. Criticism indeed consists of analyzing and reflecting upon limits.” (What is Enlightenment).

Cain: marked by the Question of Abel’s death – a bookmark on Cain’s Time axis.

Time.

Time, explains Levinas, is the Other. The infinite time is the antipode of the finite human, the Other remaining necessarily out of our reach. Time, therefore, represents all possible Otherness.

Time is the Other. What a strange sentence. The Rhizome of the nomadic others is a Rhizome of Time Capsules.

Ich und Du.

The Other, through his facial movements conveys a message to the spectator, who is consequently responsible for processing the message, and of providing an answer. We can therefore say that Communication creates responsibility which, in turn, creates individuality: “I” is responsible for this and that person, because there are communication links between us.

We’ll see next that communication is a mask; like literature it does not reveal [things from behind the curtain], but rather conceals [the true essence of being]. Facial movements are answers. But Being is being a Question.

What does the nomadic Rhizome mask? What does Time mask? Is Time the Curtain?

As for Death.

When I become death

As for Death – death needs time for what it kills to grow in. Death needs the Other, just like “I” needs it. But why does Death need Time?

Think of Death as a bookmark, engraving a point on our time axis. This point, says Levinas, opens a gate to a communication-free world – the end of exchanging answers. Finally, we, the dead, can realize our human potential of being a pure question. The cover story of our life, the Literature told by our face, by our facial movements is finally completed. The End.

When we become death, death is the seed from which we grow – the seed of the pure Question.

Trading Time in InterZone

June 23, 2007

 

You hit Interzone with that grey anonymously ill-intentioned look all writers have.

“You crazy or something walk around alone? Me good guide. What you want Meester?”

“Well uh, I would like to write a bestseller that would be a good book, a book about real people and places…”

The Guide stopped me. “That’s enough Mister. I don’t want to read your stinking book. That’s a job for the White Reader.” The guide’s face was a grey screen, hustler faces moved across it. “Your case is difficult frankly. If we put it through channels they will want a big piece in advance. Now I happen to know the best continuity man in the industry, only handles boys he likes. He’ll want a piece of you too but he’s willing to take it on spec.”

“The Name is Burroughs”, from The adding machine by WS Burroughs.

Burroughs, Interzone

The writer comes to Interzone looking for something that will help him create a world for his book, something that can be arranged by the Continuity Man. Interzone is not a normal place, and neither is that something wanted by the writer. Such deals smell Faust.

So what is it that the Continuity Man can offer?

Maybe it is this alien, yellowish parchment of continuous time on top of which the writer can engrave his space-less story?

In Condition for a postmodern Time travel I have offered an interpretation of a Lyotard’s paragraph, depicting stories as parallel worlds that have different time axis – not only because the story’s time does not correspond with our time axis, but also because it is architected differently, the time of the story being space-less and continuous, making the story incompatible with the process of memorization and accumulation [of facts], a feature that turns the story into a world whose relevance is always the pragmatic present.

[It’s strange how Lyotard can explain Burroughs’ Interzones and Continuity Men, and how all these posts eventually encounter each other…]

And see “When I become death” according to Levinas for more on Time.

Condition for a postmodern Time travel

June 17, 2007

I don’t think we want to live in a never ending carnival – that place where we all put masks on our faces and play the carnival’s roles; that place where the distinction between real and fantasy disappears; that place where reflection and auto-reflection are irrelevant; where the eye of the beholder is cut out; that place having its own, peculiar Time span; that place where we become signs.

Maybe Baudrillard thought that we have entered into a carnival and that then a lock-down has occurred, leaving us trapped inside, our masks on, for good.

Carnival

Distribute in space, order in time – that’s the rule by which Control operates, and this operation, explains Lyotard in the Postmodern Condition, uses time as a parchment, continually engraving the memory of the things and their whereabouts on time. Control needs time, for time is the paper on top of which Control memorizes its territory, its subordinates.

There are, though, endless places where Control is helpless, where its engraving operation on time is blocked. Actually, I should rephrase and say that there’s only one place where Control operates and that is the everyday’s world – that which is the subject matter of science. But there are endless worlds in which Control malfunctions, in which it has no foot in the door. These are the worlds of the stories; the world of the carnival.

These worlds, written on invisible parchments, are architected to be forgotten. Memory cannot nail them down, says Lyotard, for they are having a unique distribution in space – a compact, condensed distribution that leaves no spaces between the things of those worlds. And memory needs space in time – a space for writing down orientation instructions, location coordinates, inventory lists and so forth. Yet, the space in the story’s world is fully occupied. One cannot order things in time, for there’s no time left in the story’s world.

Hurry up, than, for there’s no time. Go to the carnival – lose control; read a book – lose control; hear a podcast – lose control.

No matter which story the carnival tells – the story is always anchored in the present. The past and the future – these are scientific concerns; stories don’t bother with time. They are hosted inside a time capsule – a time machine.

If you want jumps in hyper-space; if you want to move along parallel worlds – all you need to do is to skip from one book to another. Place each book exactly near the other book, leaving no space between the two, thus making sure Control is incapable of writing on time.

[But I don’t like losing control; I don’t want to stay in the carnival. I’ll have to give up than.]

For more on Time and books see Trading Time in InterZone

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)

Textual Landing Fields – Edgar Allen’s PoeTic

February 14, 2007

I was happy and surprised to reread Poe’s The Poetic Principle, for I unexpectedly met there, right on the first page, some recently acquired friends, namely the 2nd and the 3rd, paragraphs.

Two paragraphs, 20 lines, that few words, and still – the impact is that of a tactical nuke.

Lyotard, Foucault, Derrida – to name just the recent French figures – were, I feel, regulars over this textual place. I’m talking about the revulsion of the epic, “the best epic under the sun, is a nullity: – and this is precisely the fact”, says Poe. But this concluding sentence does not, in any manner, preclude epic oeuvres. Rather, it’s the reader who should slice and dice the oeuvre: “Follow the Poetic Principle”.

The reader may rely on the author’s suggested division – like chapters, numbering, or any other structural indices (starting, as Poe suggests, from Paradise Lost Book II); or the author’s thematic division – here I am reading Foucault, who is always suggesting several possible starting points to his essays (at least those I’ve read) by constructing as many in-world landing fields (“Wait… wait! Time, a landing field”, but that’s another borrowed poem already).

“Minor Poems”: If there’s something I’ve noticed, although Tabula Rasa, while reading Foucault, is his lovely insistence on adding the minor tag to almost everything. A precaution, I thought; a necessity, I reckon now. So when Foucault starts his formidable lecture of Kant’s Was ist Aufklärung by stating “a minor text, perhaps” [3rd paragraph…] – well, that’s a great sign of admiration and respect.

I’ll make it short, than:

Lyotard: my previous post on Lyotard’s modern/post-modern should be placed in a dialogue with PoeTic.

Foucault: finding the PoeTic principle in the epic which is our life is what makes a human a human. (and see Foucault’s “What is Enlightenment?”)

And finally – blogging – the author deconstructs his own epic.

poetic2.JPG

Lyotard: Against Input/Output Philosophy

February 1, 2007

I was listening this morning to a fragmented lecture by JF Lyotard on post-modernism. I liked what I heard, although I’m not convinced that I understood anything. Yet using my right to freely interpret, here is my understanding of this fragment, which elusively explains what’s post-modernism through an observation of what has happened to philosophy and what is the role of story telling in our culture.

lyotard.jpg

Since Kant, Philosophy has gradually lost its status as a meta-science, a science that provides the knowledge-of-the-self for all other sciences, and even – defines all other sciences. From this omniscient perspective, Philosophy has crashed down.

Why did it crash?

Lyotard doesn’t explain, but I could understand, and I might be just as wrong here, that Philosophy crashed because rational, linear discourse is always limited. Plato, Descartes, Spinoza and many others, always got to the point where they needed another medium in order to proceed.

What is this other medium?

Rising up again, the Philosophy returned to what has preceded it and to what has been its subject of negation and fighting for a thousand years – the stories, the legends, the myths. I’m not talking about their content, but rather about their form, the story telling as an explanatory medium.
The story telling, le recit, was that tool used when all other tools have failed. And so, post-Kant continental philosophy has started to develop a new brand of Philosophers, who excelled not [or not only] in mathematics, science and analytics, but rather in… story telling. And stories themselves have been repositioned as containers of philosophical value. And all this is Modernism.

So what is post-modernism?

Clearly, this modern phenomenon met the resistance of the utilitarian philosophers, implicitly labeled by Lyotrard as the Input/Output philosophers who, like any other cost-oriented scientists, are measuring philosophical narratives by their outcome: this is what went in, this is what came out – did we gain something out of it?
Those I/O philosophers, says Lyotard, can find themselves and did find themselves helping out hideous regimes to justify their acts, and its because of that, I think, that Lyotard defines post-modernism as a preference for short stories and limited narratives over never-ending epical narratives, which tend to provide a total framework.

Foucault, audaciously defined his writings as fiction, stating that his books are “experience books, as opposed to truth books or demonstration books”. And in his essay “What is Enlightenment?” he speaks about his preference to short fiction. Naturally, I’m doing an analogy here, but you will be able to see it in the following excerpt:

[…] the historical ontology of ourselves must turn away from all projects that claim to be global or radical. In fact we know from experience that the claim to escape from the system of contemporary reality so as to produce the overall programs of another society, of another way of thinking, another culture, another vision of the world, has led only to the return of the most dangerous traditions

(and see also Questions to which answers are not the right answer)