Night

•May 29, 2010 • 3 Comments

We’ve misread Genesis: there is a light prior to God’s creation of the sun. God calls forth light, of course, but only several verses later does the sun step forward into creation. And what’s more, God separates this light from darkness. Their opposition and alternation make for night and day, but again, without any notion of the sun. Is this day and this night what we understand as the alternation of sun and moon? It cannot be. Do you not see? Night is also a sun.

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Gone

•May 8, 2010 • 2 Comments

It’s really a passing thing, this. Tumbleweed. It’s one of those universes created for a single instant for the sole purpose of housing a proton drifting between realities, yet it takes on the life of its own with ardor. “Dixitque deus fiat lux et facta est lux” – it’s just that easy. This is writing for me: something out from nothing. And then it’s gone.

Shit

•April 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

“Let us at once add that, on the other hand, the fact that there was on earth an animal soul turned against itself, taking sides against itself, meant there was something so new, profound, unheard of, enigmatic, contradictory, and full of the future, that with it the picture of the earth was fundamentally changed. In fact, it required divine spectators to appreciate the dramatic performance which then began and whose conclusion is by no means yet in sight—a spectacle too fine, too wonderful, too paradoxical, to be allowed to play itself out senselessly and unobserved on some ridiculous star or other! Since then man has been included among the most unexpected and most thrillingly lucky rolls of the dice in the game played by Heraclitus’ “great child,” whether he’s called Zeus or chance.* For himself he arouses a certain interest, a tension, a hope, almost a certainty, as if something is announcing itself with him, something is preparing itself, as if the human being were not the goal but only a way, an episode, a bridge, a great promise…”

Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

1

Now I have you! Certainty stands behind me: the walls are getting smaller. I know this because the distance between the toilet and the bed is less than it was yesterday. If there were a window to this room I could use the position of the light to calculate more precisely but they’d taken even that luxury away from me. So, yes, I can’t say for sure how much they’ve moved, but I know that they did. God is benevolent, he wouldn’t deceive me. And for what? Such a small joke, the smallest in fact? They’d already taken the window, so why this? Why even this? Or what if nothing’s moved and the joke’s on me? If only they’d give me  a window I could precisely calculate the distance using the position of the light!

2

If, running as fast as you can, you inadvertently run into a wall, or any structure really, and you splatter yourself against it,  then it has changed you. For the better? Worse? You know now to watch for walls when you run, but little bits and ounces of you remain on the floor where you fell; these have learned nothing, they simply remain. So you now also know that besides the sheer sense of your running as fast as you can there is an inside to you as well. Watch for walls or you’ll splatter your delicate insides. But under and below your newfound awareness are the bits and ounces you’d originally splattered all over the floor. They’re still there.

3

Every expenditure necessarily leaves behind a wasteful remainder, whether it be sweat, heat, or a toxic cesspool. So the construction of a city should always figure into its architecture the creation of a ghetto – such an intent has never taken place. Anyone who’s strolled through a modern ghetto, say, the west side of Chicago, knows first hand of the stretches of undeveloped land, boarded-up buildings, and people slowly strolling nowhere in particular. Left behind in the global movement of capital, a movement whose triumphs produces an increasingly disproportionate remainder, the only thing that remains for the membership of waste is to ensure they don’t get out of hand, that they don’t take on a life of their own.

This last principle can be illustrated rather simply: if you shit in the middle of your kitchen, and leave it there, you shouldn’t be surprised if maggots are birthed and fungi find a habitat. This invitation extends onwards to other consumers, and upwards to their predators, until an ecosystem has situated itself around the feces you left in the kitchen. And perhaps it now becomes improper to speak of the kitchen as your kitchen, but rather as a home, a world.

This illustration also sheds light on a well-known conclusion of both Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud: that the “depth” of the human psyche is a product of an animal homo sapiens finding itself material for figuring by the exigencies of civilization; that in the movement and mechanism of the psyche, our inner turmoil, the roots of cognition, is the waste of processes unknown to that cognition. So the purpose of moral Law, the super-ego, is to ensure that this waste product take on no life of its own. Spontaneous generation is the theory of life that permits life to take root even in the lowest recesses, shit in particular. The quotation of Nietzsche which prefaces this writing could thus be understood as a revitalization of spontaneous generation, now less a strict theory of biological reproduction than the preservation of the possibility that life become whatever else without precedent.

Mouth

•April 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

“…I don’t have another life. I don’t exist as another person, somewhere else doing something else with other people. There is no other me. There is no clocking off.”

Morrisey, Interview in The Times Magazine

Whatever they may think and say about their ‘egoism’, the great majority nonetheless do nothing for their ego their whole life long: what they do is done for the phantom of their ego which has formed itself in the heads of those around them and has been communicated to them; – as a consequence they all of them dwell in a fog of impersonal, semi-personal opinions, and arbitrary, as it were poetical evaluations, the one for ever in the head of someone else, and the head of this someone else again in the heads of others; a strange world of phantasms…”

Nietzsche, Daybreak

Do I even have a voice? Have I heard myself speak? Open the mouth. It looks seedy in there. It’s Dora’s mouth. In his dream Freud looked into his patient’s mouth and glimpsed repulsion itself; the opening was disgusting. At which point, three doctors, his colleagues, storm in with clouds of babel, diagnosing her with words serious like clowns. They speak foolishness with scientific exactitude. Most times I can’t hear myself speak over the foolishness, the clowns, Zarathustra’s arch-foe, the ape-fool; I have to hear self, my speech. And it is festering and repulsive, like Dora’s mouth. Keep looking. Open the mouth.

I’m not sure whether you’ll find some programme here. I know that I’m going in. The mouth. I’ll hear something – a voice? But not my voice, nor anyone else’s for that matter. It’ll be a cacophony, a congregation of phonemes doused in holy spirit, dancing wildly out from the throat, now in front of me, passing me by, out the mouth. And what did Saint Paul have to say of those who spoke in tongues? That they “do not speak to other people, but to God; for nobody understands them since they are speaking mysteries in the spirit.” The speakers did not wait for judgment, wait for what was to come, wait for Paul even. That would’ve meant waiting for instructions, for means, a plan. There’d have been formalities, protocols, and a waiting room – yes, Christianity as waiting room. But they didn’t wait. They were going in. The mouth.

We’ll follow their lead. Speaking in tongues was a gift of the holy spirit, it shared in the same body as all the others. But it didn’t disseminate itself amongst the idiotes , rather it returned to the source, to the share, the body of Christ, God. A tautology if ever there was one. God opened his mouth and let forth, “let there be light!” And so it was, and it was good. He opened his mouth again; it was, and it was good. Now it opens again! Is this mine, God’s? It makes no difference. We’re returning to the share, festering like Dora’s, cacophonous like God’s. The mouth.

Fire

•April 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I have a very busy schedule, so I like to take some time out of my day to set myself on fire.

There is nothing but a widening gulf between writing and written, the process and its product, which is just a new process, a new dance; it’s unfortunate you showed up so late to the ball.

I enjoy the idea of being eaten alive; I smile as I’m tossed and turned through the digestive track; I cannot yet write what sensations abound at excretion. But then it’s all over, and I remain Benoît.

If I can sneak in a quick sacrifice while I’m at work, my entire day is redeemed. This is what it is to write for me: sacrifice, or useless consumption as Bataille understood it. Your reading this doesn’t prevent the fall of the blade.

Something

•April 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Etymology tells us that English “do” possess a primordial signification of placement – “to do” is to-set-in-place. This place, the space of this place, cannot exist prior to the setting or else an absolute determinism would reign and the flame of possibility would be extinguished. Instead, what is set, its setting, and the place where something is set are simultaneous: hence, to-set-in-place. Thus, doing, any doing, eternally returns us to the metaphysical question par excellence, “how does something come from nothing?”, to which our discovery of simultaneity should be replied. The void of nothing is indissolubly there together with every something in all doing;each new doing both obliterates what was prior and refounds it; time is mistaken for a linearity when it is a repetition. Eternal Return, as Bataille rightly defines it, is the terrible freedom of each and every moment, the name of their singularity.

Speaker

•February 2, 2010 • 9 Comments

An ancient tradition declares that the possession of a speaking voice separates one from the beasts. Though this dictum points to a commonality amongst all speakers, all speakers do not speak the same. Indeed, the ancient Greeks, from whom this thought is inherited, looked down upon their neighbors as adults to foolish children: “Their speech… more a bark than words; all I hear is ‘bar bar bar’,” says the Athenian of antiquity. And though we continue to discriminate against foreign tongues even today, the ancient Greek context bears an important distinction. Emphasis in Ancient Greek, unlike this English you read and repeat in your head, came from pitch rather than stress, so that to our modern ears it would effect that ‘sing-song’ character most resembling Cantonese. Ancient Greek was like a song; all the Greeks heard from the coarse, stressful tongues of their neighbors was “bar bar bar.” And so, though far enough from the beasts to qualify as men, the foreigner was regarded slightly below the civilized status of the native Hellene.

How could Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul, not have inherited this tradition, being a Hellenic Jew raised in the diaspora of a major center of Greek learning and culture? His share in this heirloom of his Greek neighbors is evinced in his first epistle to the congregation in Corinth. On the one hand, speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift, a manifestation of the holy spirit, and so shares in an equality amongst all gifts in so far as all emanate from the same body, that of God. But on the other, speaking in tongues is, well, unintelligible; “[…]those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people, but to God; for nobody understands them since they are speaking mysteries in the spirit.”1 The speaker of tongues speaks, but in an ecstatic language foreign to all intelligibility, a language that only God understands; ergo, speaking in tongues will be allowed in congregation but only if there is someone to interpret. So significant is this decision on the part of Paul that the Patristic age, the time of the erection of Christian orthodoxy that will follow two hundred years later, will only faintly know of the practice of glossolalia. The rest is history.2
Translation into local vernacular was a crucial element of early Christianity’s success; the good news must be intelligible. Yet lurking in the shadows was glossolalia, the ecstatic tongue understood by God. Neither the bare vocalizations of need belonging to animals, or a lower form of speech as designated by ethnic prejudice, nor the intelligibility of speech as such, glossolalia presents an interesting enigma in the ethico-theological considerations of Christianity made all the more intriguing by Paul’s refutation of it:

Now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I speak to you in some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? It is the same way with lifeless instruments that produce sound, such as the flute or the harp. If they do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is being played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves; if in a tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different kinds of sound in the world, and nothing is without sound. If then I do not know the meaning of a sound, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church. Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive.

How Greek of Paul to align intelligible speech with mind, knowledge, and productivity! And the edification of the church as well! It is no wonder that it is to early Christianity that the reformers looked to in translating the Bible into the local vernaculars of Europe rather than permit its confinement to archaic Latin. But what does it say when spirit, the very kernel of faith, points to futility (no project, like the expansion of a  church, can be built upon it), singularity (it is a language belonging to no community, not even a Christian one), and a danger to the church itself (and there is no other reason Paul directs his concern towards it), and yet arguably be the most intimate gift of God?
The crux of the matter is that intelligibility, meaning according to Paul, is marked by distinguishable sound, and so mind, and so productivity. If “nothing is without sound” then spirit, in refusing intelligibility in it’s barest manifestation, the gift of speaking in tongues, the very address of God itself, is on the side of everything rather than certain things. This would be a supplemental dimension of Christian universality if not for the antagonism between mind and spirit Paul establishes. Instead what is revealed to us is the decision between a life of ekstasis and a life of intelligibility, and the two are never reconcilable: the indifference of ekstasis annihilates3 intelligibility; intelligibility can only relate to ekstasis as superiority4.
The speaker, by virtue of the gift of a speaking voice, is distinguished from the beasts, but who says speech must refer to a particular, intelligible language? What is speech itself? Perhaps this is the true mystery, of the spirit even, whose answer thus far has only been in the ecstatic language of the speaker of tongues.

notes

1 1 Cor 14:2. All citations belong to the NRSV translation of the New Testament.

2 I’m not at all interested in discussing the revival of this practice in the Pentecostal movement. Moreover any  connection to what is discussed in 1 Corinthians would have had to endure nearly two millenia of obscurity.

3 What does it mean that ecstasis “annihilates” at all, for surely it cannot be the case that it destroys anything or makes anything impossible (remember that it is marked by futility)? ‘Annihilate’ may even be the wrong word to use here. Perhaps ‘displaces’ would’ve been more appropriate, but I prefer the force of ‘annihilation’.

4 Intelligible speech, and the community that gathers around it, neccessarily subjugates what is discards to the nether realm of nonsense. Minority is inevitable.