Category Archives: philosophical ramblings

Anti-Œdipus as Self Help-Guide

Solutions for Post-Modern Living is an excellent blog. I came upon it by way of its owner’s last.fm account, a fine collection of musical choices, not unlike my own. Anyway, he posted a bit of text by Foucault written for the introduction to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Œdipus, a work that I have been content to merely know of rather than read. Foucault seems to do an excellent job of summarizing the entire work however, imagining it as a kind of self-help book, revealing what is for him a rather uncharacteristic, and perhaps merely unintentional, sense of humor:

The art of living counter to all forms of fascism, whether already present or impending, caries with it a certain number of essential principles which I would summarize as follows if I were to make this great book into a manual or guide to every day life:

* Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia.
* Develop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization.
* Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western though has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.
* Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of desire to reality (and not its retreat into forms of representation) that possesses revolutionary force.
* Do not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action.
* Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize” by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualization.
* Do not become enamored of power.

(Michel Foucault, Preface to Anti-Œdipus)

A few things

I saw a girl at the gym yesterday. On the front side of her shirt:

God is dead.
— Nietzsche

And on the back:

Nietzsche is dead.
— God

I didn’t know what to think. Of course I did anyway, but I’d wish I’d asked her what it meant to her.

On another note, I like some of the graffiti scrawled on the walls of the study rooms in Raushenbush. I found this particularly affecting:

I forget that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character and that therefore what one does in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetops.
–Oscar Wilde

Today begins the long haul.

Bicycles, Whiteness, Cigarettes

Look. At this. I see things like this, and I realize that massive sums of money are of little consolation. The best things in life are usually affordable. Maybe that’s a terribly ignorant (arrogant?) statement and revealing of my white, middle-class privilege.

I’ve been thinking about race of late. (That’s always true.) But it seems to me that whiteness is whatever everything else isn’t. When I look at a site like Stuff White People Like, I get a little upset at their attempts to ascribe middle-class triviality and self-absorption to white culture. I’m not sure why.

My intuition tells me that I have good reason, that this facade of critical, self-deprecation is little more than a cover for self-indulgent fawning. There’s an acknowledgment and a tacit acceptance of the notion that America’s class structure favors whites. It’s not obvious, but I doubt that the site appeals to any people of color unless they are forced to deal with what they perceive as the social conventions of the bourgeoisie, and that they see themselves as something else.

I think what bothers me the most is that the site functions as a corrective measure against the only good thing that whiteness has to offer, that is, it’s malleability. As far as I can tell, the more people appropriate middle-class values and achieve material wealth, the less ‘whiteness’ will be conflated with bourgeois culture. For any person of color who happens to like old school hip hop, they will suddenly feel the inadequacy of inauthenticity that so often demarcates white culture, even though the beat or a message in the music might truly speak to them, they’ll be pressured out of listening to that music because it essentially amounts to them being ‘white.’ In this way I think SWPL functions to maintain the color lines of other races as well. Also If someone reads about how only white people love coffee, they will have to think to themselves that these white people actually are ridiculously self-absorbed, to the extent that they think their excessive consumption of caffeine is in any way unique and therefore something funny. Things that aren’t true aren’t generally funny. You’d have to have your head stuck up your ass not to realize how popular the drink is just about everywhere on the planet.

Of course the site’s entire premise, be it tongue in check or not, is that there is something essential and categorical about race, so maybe I shouldn’t be particularly surprised by any of this. Still, I can’t stand it. I think it totally undermines the notion that there is such thing as class (which I believe) and that it imputes, in an ideal environment or system, some sort of meaning about a person (which I also believe). Somebody has to get exploited… right?

On another note, I can’t fucking stand living with people who smoke cigarettes. There’re two closed doors between me and them and this shit is still driving me crazy.

Not that I don’t have one now and then…

Defining Post-Modernism

Ever since around middle-school when precociousness set in and a few John Cage texts fell into my lap, I’ve always struggled with my working definition of post-modernism. Back then I didn’t want to betray my lack of comprehension with straight-forward questions: what is it? Though when I did explicitly ask the answer sailed over my head. The best clue until recently came from my sexology/cultural studies teacher L. Lewis who told me that “the existentialists passed the ball to the post-modernists.” Phenomenology and existentialism hold a lot of currency in my intellectual Rolodex of ideas and I can see how their efforts to reduce and locate this event in space-time ultimately crash into the wall of Sisyphean ‘to-be-or-not-to-be’ angst. Thus post-modernism.

But I think I’ve broaden my understanding to include a more satisfying and illuminating range of ideas. I’m reading this text called Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture and it’s made me realize that post-modernism is about a new level of process-orientation-awareness. The pre-modern era, in the mythology of Kant and the Enlightened, is little child, lacking self-awareness. Modernism is realizing agency and taking an active role in the processes and patterns that human beings come to see as describing their behavior; in a way, self-awareness. Post-modernism, then, is becoming aware of and affecting the patterns and processes describing our way of becoming aware of and affecting the patterns and processes describing our behavior. I see a parallel in mathematics and physics in the idea of rates. The mind in the pre-modern era is about inertia, matter; in the modern era the focus shifts to constant speeds, velocity; and in the post-modern era it is about acceleration, or speed at which speed changes, the rates of rates of change.

It’s easy to see why so much of the literature comes off as convoluted and abstruse. It’s weird, highly referential way of seeing things, but it is a higher level of reality inasmuch as it’s a valid and logical representation of things, grounded ultimately in common-sense facts about the world. When I read this kind of high-minded literature I get sucked up into the myriad junctures of ideas at levels of abstraction at which I’m not used to thinking about things. All this language is a network of patterns extending human knowledge outwards, all of it constructed from base kernels of logic that seem innocent and unprovocative enough and yet you can blow them out to seemingly meaningless, irrelevant levels of discourse and the whole thing, the patterns of language, still maintain structural integrity.

It’s inspiring and somehow way more empowering than I had assumed to think of things on this level. The undercurrent of anti-intellectualism in this culture runs deep. I don’t know when I become affected by it. Thinking about my backyard in terms of process makes obvious what my top gardening priorities should be. This approach makes even more sense in music. I guess I wasn’t heavily influenced by the dogma of theory until recently, but I realize what a flawed paradigm it is in that it limits the motivic range of music to something unduly formal. Music takes on new meanings all the time! It’s deeply involved in and influenced by its environment! I should embrace the flexibility of meaning in music given context by looking to anticipate any and all environments into music. My next artistic priority: music with sophisticated mobility.

What is art, music?

Art in its most primitive state is a simple imitation of nature. But it quickly becomes imitation of nature in the wider sense of this idea, that is, not merely imitation of outer but also of inner nature. In other words, art does not then represent merely the objects or the occasions that make impressions, but above all these impressions themselves, ultimately without reference to their What, When, and How. Inference of the original, external object is here perhaps of only secondary importance due to its lack of immediacy. In its most advanced state, art is exclusively concerned with the representation of inner nature. Here its aim is just the imitation of impressions, which have now combined, through association with one another and with other sense impressions, to form new complexes and new motives, new stimulil. At this state, inference of the external stimulus is almost certain to be inadequate. At all stages the imitation of the model, of the impression, or of the complex of impressions is only relatively faithful. This is true, on the one hand, because of the limits of out abilities; on the other, because, whether we are conscious of it or not, the material [the medium] in which the imitation is presented differs from the material or materials of the stimulus, so that, for example, visual or tactile sensations might be represented in the material of auditory sensations.
–Arnold Schoenberg, Theory of Harmony, p. 18

Wow. If there’s one thing that never fails to satisfy me in the extreme, it’s the succinct, concise technical writing of an expert. To read someone summarize an activity into which I endlessly pour myself is as mystifying as it is illuminating.