Tuesday, 19 June 2018
“I don’t believe in God but I miss him,” so begins Julian Barnes’s Nothing To Be Frightened Of — his book about death. He asks his brother, an Oxford philosophy professor, what he thinks of this statement without revealing it as his own. “Soppy.” is his one word response. What would your response be? Who doesn’t miss God? Perhaps those who had a strict religious upbringing are glad to be free of him, if they are. But who doesn’t long for a connection with the infinite, the unknowable, the impossible?
This stunning photograph of Simone de Beauvoir by Cartier Bresson taken in 1947 in Paris — which shows her perhaps still not quite able to believe that the war is over — is slightly related.
De Beauvoir wrote a much more interesting, authentic and far less mannered book about death called Une Mort Trés Douce (1964) which is usually translated as ‘A Very Easy Death’. This is a pity because the beautiful French word ‘douce’ actually means ‘soft’.
Her essay La Vieillesse (The Coming of Age) is about not dying. Apparently this is “a rare instance of an intellectual meditation on the decline and solitude all humans experience if they do not die before about the age of 60.” For obvious reasons, I should read it.
One day old Dutch chickens who are male do not live to 60. They die in gas chambers at the rate of 110,000 every day. That’s 45 million a year.
Friday, 15 June 2018
It is hard to believe, or maybe it isn’t, that R.Mutt’s Fountain was not in fact Marcel Duchamp’s creation but that of the Dada poet and artist, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. A letter by Duchamp to his sister, written a few days after the work was refused by the Society of Independent Artists exhibition in 1917 surfaced in the 1980s. In this letter he says Fountain was submitted by one of his female friends. Duchamp wasn’t named as the creator of the work until 1935, by André Bréton in Minotaure, and it was in the 1960s that Duchamp, then in his 70s, began to claim the work as his. This interesting article in the NRC has more (in Dutch.)
Love (De Liefde)
De Liefde was a ship built in 1698 in by the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC). On its fourth homeward voyage from the East under the command of Captain Meikens Barend De Liefde ran aground and sank off the Shetland Islands after a storm on 7 November 1711. All bar one of the 300 hands on board perished. The name of the sole survivor is unknown, and the wreck has never been found.
Saturday, 2 June 2018
Thursday, 31 May 2018
Mary Karr’s devastating Suicide’s Note : An Annual (2012) for David Foster Wallace:
I hope you’ve been taken up by Jesus
though so many decades have passed, so far apart we’d grown
between love transmogrifying into hate and those sad letters
and phone calls and your face vanishing into a noose that
today name the gods
you at the end worshipped, if any, praise being
impossible for the devoutly miserable. And screw my church who’d
roast in Hell poor suffering
bastards like you, unable to bear the masks
of their own faces. With words you sought to shape
a world alternate to the one that dared
inscribe itself so ruthlessly across your eyes, for you
could not, could never
fully refute the actual or justify the sad heft of your body, earn
your rightful space or pay for the parcels of oxygen you
inherited. More than once you asked
that I breathe into your lungs like the soprano in the opera
I loved so my ghost might inhabit you and you ingest my belief
in your otherwise-only-probable soul. I wonder does your
death feel like failure to everybody who ever
loved you as if our collective cpr stopped
too soon, the defib paddles lost charge, the corpse
punished us by never sitting up. And forgive my conviction
that every suicide’s an asshole. There is a good reason I am not
God, for I would cruelly smite the self-smitten.
I just wanted to say ha-ha, despite
your best efforts you are every second
alive in a hard-gnawing way for all who breathed you deeply in,
each set of lungs, those rosy implanted wings, pink balloons.
We sigh you out into air and watch you rise like rain.
Saturday, 26 May 2018
I slept well enough but there was a loud party somewhere close-by and because of the heat (yes I am still in Europe where it’s not even summer yet but the warmest May for 300 years - though as they only started recording the temperatures in the 1700s, it could be the warmest May in a thousand years, or forever, for all anyone knows) it wasn’t feasible to sleep with the windows closed. There was one voice, a man holding forth, in the way of someone enjoying the sound of their own voice and the attention, without any idea that perhaps they are not being as interesting as they would like to think. I’d regularly wake up to hear the voice still talking and think, someone really ought to tell the guy to shut the fuck up but it’s not me, I am not responsible. And anyway telling Dutch people to shut up would be a fool’s errand. I don’t think they would understand the concept that sometimes (more often than you might think) you really should just shut the fuck up. They talk more than anyone in the world and often what they say is of little consequence — but of course in that they are not so different from most other people in the so-called world.
Yesterday was not an easy day. I was severely underslept and headachy. There was an intense conversation over breakfast. Part of becoming a new version of ‘myself’ is trying to work out the extent to which I am responsible, for the world, for myself, for others, for how someone else feels. Also, and I am inclined to think of this as separate from the feeling of being responsible although it is often conflated with it at least in my mind, is wanting the other to be happy. And trying to arrange things so that someone is happy as well as ‘protecting’ them from what might make them unhappy. This is exhausting for me and disempowering for them. Welcome to the fucking patriarchy. These deep structures are working in what I previously thought of as ‘me’. They were laid bare as part of a current process of psychic archeology and I am dismayed to find them there. I had thought of my ‘self’ as more reconstructed.
I say ‘new me’ because I am not sure I am the same ‘person’ but neither am I sure that ‘i’ deserve this moniker. I feel more like I don’t exist at all. I feel like ‘i’ am nothing more than disparate fragments without the right, nor the inclination I should add, to exist as an entity. It is an unusual feeling, neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but it has come about through a traumatic process which is ongoing and part of which is an intense questioning both from without and within of what ‘i’ am and how ‘i’ am being-in-the-world, and acting in it — a scrupulous examination of every fibre, material and immaterial, every atom and sub-atomic particle that, is or was, ‘me’.
I loved someone once who often told me she felt like she didn’t exist. The psychiatrists she’d been seeing on and off for 20 years thought this was a serious problem, a symptom of a personality disorder, depression, psychosis, schizophrenia — you name it, she was diagnosed with it. And at various times she was unable to work because she didn’t feel she had the right to exist which makes it difficult to do anything. I don’t know why she wanted to be with me but she had a small child and she was all alone in the world. Maybe I gave her the impression that I could make her happy.
The trying-to-make-someone-happy didn’t start with her. I was the child of an unhappy mother who had been betrayed by my father. I am sure millions of people the world over find themselves in this predicament as children but of course everyone’s own experience is completely unique. I felt responsible for her happiness (and her unhappiness) but what my mother needed was not to be alone in the world with the sole responsibility for a child and the child can try but only fail to assuage this loneliness. Experiencing such profound failure as a small child is not something I would recommend to anyone.
Luckily for me, my mother didn’t make me feel like I shouldn’t exist and that it would be better if I didn’t. It was not until about year and a half ago, on a night train somewhere in the middle of Europe, I made a number of journeys on trains at night at this time, just before they stopped running them, I would have been on the way to … Rome? no wait … it was Warsaw — that I experienced something which I’ll call, for the want of better words, a spontaneous positive disintegration of the ego and right now I am again experiencing something like that but it’s more of a non-spontaneous negative disintegration of the ego. Although it is kind of liberating too — or there is a degree of optimism that it may prove to be — it is not at all like my experience on the train which was weirdly ecstatic. It was as if something dropped away, fell off what I cannot call ‘me’, can only describe as this something that was ‘there’, more or less, but only for as long as I was speaking/thinking about it and really to say that it was a ‘thing’ is not accurate either. There was no centre with a concern for itself, for the maintenance of itself, it was as if the ‘i’ was no longer centred in ‘this’ — this body, this mind, it was as if it was dispersed or distributed in the world, or in the universe, there was a little bit of this ‘i’ in everything, in the train carriage, in the rails, in the air, in the surface on which the body lay, in the trees in the forests through which the train sped, there was no clear distinction between ‘my’ body and the train carriage.
It had some dream-like qualities, but I was wide awake and there was also something of a psychedelic experience about it, although I have not taken any kind of drug for many years. If you read accounts of the use of psychedelics the disintegration of the ego is not an common experience. For example here is a recent one from Michael Pollan:
“The sovereign ego, with all its armaments and fears, its backward-looking resentments and forward-looking worries, was simply no more, and there was no one left to mourn its passing. And yet something had succeeded it: this bare, disembodied awareness, which gazed upon the scene of the self’s dissolution with benign indifference. I was present to reality but as something other than my usual self. And although there was no self left to feel, exactly, there was a feeling tone, and that was calm, unburdened, content. There was life after the death of the ego.” (link)
The body kept very still because it was aware somehow that this was a most unusual experience and movement might disturb it but since I was in the top bunk of a compartment with six, what they call ‘couchettes’, there was hardly any room to move in any case. Two Germans in the bottom couchettes were talking quietly but incessantly and laughing occasionally. If they had been in another one of the ten to the power of 500 universes they wouldn’t have been farther away. The feeling that I didn’t exist lasted for hours and for days, and in the weeks afterwards I felt like a completely different person with a different relationship to the world and everything in it.
You don’t exist, was the first thing I said to the audience in Kraków — but I don’t think that’s what they wanted to hear. Who wants to be told they don’t exist?
Monday, 21 May 2018
Thursday, 17 May 2018
Last night from the window of what used to be my room the sky looked kinda (not really) like this cloud study from 1856 by Jean-Baptiste Gustave Le Gray.
Saturday, 12 May 2018
Vaak kom ik Louis Tas tegen, de naam dan, want hij overleed in 2011. Hij was een psychotherapeut/psychiater uit Amsterdam die een dagboek schreef in Bergen Belsen onder de naam Loden Vogel.
Vanmorgen was hij er weer en wel met het idee van schaamte, dat mij deze dagen met regelmaat overvalt. Waarom wil ik hier niet zeggen maar voor Tas was schaamte ‘het gevoel dat een ander jou waardeloos vindt, en dat hij daarin nog gelijk heeft ook’.
Dat is me nogal wat!
In de therapieën van Tas, die zich weer baseerde op de ideeën van Helen B. Lewis, was schaamte altijd een belangrijk onderwerp — volgens hem ondervond het gros van zijn patiënten in hun leven een ‘obstakel’ dat met schaamte samenhing, in welke vorm ook.
Tas’ eigen fascinatie met schaamte kwam voort uit de zwijgzaamheid van zijn Joodse familieleden over hun verleden. Volgens Tas was die zwijgzaamheid een gevolg van schaamte. Joden die het concentratiekamp overleefden, schaamden zich omdat ze zo slecht waren behandeld, zich zo slecht líéten behandelen, zei hij in een interview tegen Marja Pruis van De Groene Amsterdammer: ‘Het besef te behoren tot een groep die straffeloos kon worden vernederd en mishandeld, was schaamte verwekkend.’
In ditzelfde interview uit 1999, vertelde Louis Tas ‘dat hij naar aanleiding van een verzoek van een Duitse uitgever die een bloemlezing samenstelde van fragmenten van dagboeken uit concentratiekampen, wat biografische gegevens op papier zette. In het Engels, hetgeen een prettige afstand schiep en hem ineens veel méér deed opschrijven. Toen hij het weer in het Nederlands omzette, werd het moeilijker.’
Ikzelf heb dit ook maar dan omgekeerd. But that is by the by.
Ken je Louis Tas?
Wat denk je van schaamte? Heb je er last van? Zou dit te maken kunnen hebben met het probleem van de ‘mistake’?
Ik hoop dat het gesprek van gisteren nut had.
Friday, 4 May 2018
That interesting interview Simon Critchley did with Jonny Gordon-Farleigh for Stir Magazine (Spring 2012) when Faith of the Faithless came out seems to have disappeared from the internets. Lucky I saved the text!
Wednesday, 2 May 2018
Now featuring a sixty year old teenage spaceship.
Thank you Bill, always.
Sunday, 29 April 2018
There are innumerable abominations adorning the walls of hotel rooms in this miserable world so I liked what David Shrigley said when he was asked: What is not art? :
The difficult thing about answering any question about what is or isn’t art is that even before you’ve finished making the statement as to what art is or what art isn’t, you think of an exception, a contradiction to what you’ve just said. You realise you’re wrong even before you’ve finished saying it. But, just for the sake of argument: stuff that’s in hotel rooms. Authorless, inkjet prints on canvas, you have to say that isn’t really art. It just looks like art but it isn’t art.
Tip for any interior designers working for hotels : Empty walls are awesome. Perfect for the rest that people are obviously in need of after a long journey or whatever it is they’re there doing.
A good Shrigley on the wall wouldn’t be bad either though. Imagine opening the door of your hotel room and seeing this :
And this one by the lifts:
Saturday, 28 April 2018
There are generally two, radically different ways to relate to the world: objective and subjective. Objectivity is an orientation towards reality based on abstracting away, in various degrees, from subjective experience, and from individual points of view. A subjective orientation, on the other hand, is based on an atunement to the inner experience of feeling, sensing, thinking and valuing that unfolds in our day-to-day living.
Much of Kierkegaard’s philosophy is a warning against the tendency — greatly accelerated in modern times — to take an increasingly objective, abstract perspective on the world. While the paradigm example of this is science, it is most problematic when applied to one’s own life and existence. To identify life with its abstractions is, in Kierkegaard’s view, a dangerous but all too common error.
I haven’t seen Son of Saul (yet) but this article by Katalin Balog about the film in The Stone offers a seriously clear and concise introduction to the thread that runs through Kierkegaard’s thinking about the subjective and the objective.
Thursday, 26 April 2018
5:48am : There was one long block of sleep, perhaps not quite long enough, where a magic pencil slowly and methodically writes and re-writes series of ones and zeros on top of all the magnetic tracks and into all the fields of my consciousness. And the brain loops which had plagued me the previous night and all of yesterday were slowly erased one by one. Ah oblivion… my gratitude is immense. I feel like I may have recovered at least some of my sanity.
The fact is that there is currently a critical emergency in my personal life and it has come at the same time as I am thinking through what it means to offer solace or consolation to an other, perhaps some direction if they are looking for direction, and/or a connection, should that be required, to something outside ourselves, something bigger than ourselves - and trying to articulate what it might mean to think of one’s approach to this work as post-theist and post-secular, as well as of course, posthumanist.
In the process I chanced upon this weird little article in the NYT Style Magazine from 2017 (which I’d bookmarked before I started studying theology) about what it can mean to make music. 1
I am not really a fan of expensive fashionable clothes (oh you hadn’t noticed?) nor of Leonard Cohen and especially not of his apotheosis, but Cohen’s answer to a question about what inspired the lyric of a song where he sing-speaks, “Hineni, hineni, I’m ready my Lord.” contains a useful idea of being ready when a critical emergency becomes articulate.
Hineni — הנני : “Here I am” is a Hebrew word that appears in the Old Testament. It is said by Moses and Abraham and Isaiah when God appears to ask something of each of them. It’s a declaration not of location but of disposition, of willingness.
“I don’t really know the genesis, the origin. That ‘hineni,’ that declaration of readiness no matter what the outcome, that’s a part of everyone’s soul. We all are motivated by deep impulses and deep appetites to serve, even though we may not be able to locate that which we are willing to serve. So, this is just a part of my nature, and I think everybody else’s nature, to offer oneself at the critical moment when the emergency becomes articulate. It’s only when the emergency becomes articulate that we can locate that willingness to serve.”
This is of critical importance but there are two serious problems with some of the language and the concepts being used. Firstly, I love soul but I don’t believe in a ‘soul’ or in (a) ‘nature’. I don’t believe I or anyone else ‘has a nature’ or a ‘soul’. Second, ‘serve’ is such a loaded word. It cannot be used in a post-theist/post-secular approach because the concept has been corrupted by power, exploitation, servitude. But it becomes more interesting when you think of it in terms of a willingness to do what must be done, as part of an ethics, as part of listening, not to a god or gods but to what the world is asking from you. Perhaps we could speak in terms of ‘care’.
And it does not come from ‘inside us’ or ‘from our depths’ nor does it ‘rise from below’ - I think part of a post-theist/post-secular approach is to resist essentialism and the idea of an authentic core or some mysterious deeper level of our being. It is not quite the opposite (I think we should be wary too of binaries) but quite different - it is about making connections, it is about relations, relationality, inter and intra-dependencies and entanglements. Being ready for the critical emergency which is to come, is coming, is now.
Here I am.
Here. I. Am.
But that was a different song.
This is what I am doing now instead of updating my page/s on the social media platform that makes people with no ethics very rich. Hardly anyone will read this but it’s there for anyone that wants it. No friend request necessary. I haven’t deleted my account on ‘that’ social media platform so I can still be found but I don’t post or comment or like posts anymore. (I don’t run the app except on an obscure machine that I never use, so I can occasionally respond to messages and friend requests with a friendly message explaining why I don’t use the platform anymore.) So see you around. I still love you! And please say hello or let me know what are doing using any of the methods here. So. Now I feel a little better. At least I’m not providing content for an immoral enterprise. Aiding and abetting one less, anyways. That’s something… Now to get off WhatsApp! Also I’m still on Twitter, for now @johklab
The Tom Waits part is fun. The captions under all the pictures of him read ‘Waits in his own clothes.’ I imagine them saying ‘Here Tom, put on this $4,750 Bottega Veneta jacket,’ and he is like, ‘yeah nah. If you want to catch songs you gotta start thinking like one, and making yourself an interesting place for them to land like birds or insects.’↩