My usual stuff
Black Star (see below for link and lyrics) is one of those distinctively British tender love songs -- where one shows the lover the greatest tenderness at her very moment of departure. If you want to hear something somewhat trivial and clever I've thought about: Black Star, which concerns walking in on the lover cheating, is related to the Hollie's video, "The Air that I Breathe", which is about the same thing (and with the same reaction, basically) -- which happens to be the song that Radiohead borrowed the chords to "Creep" from -- which just so happens, again, to about tenderness at departure ("She's running out the door .. she's running out, run, run...")
I keep on using the word tender: another way to say this is that the other is infantilized. This is the same infantilization of the common term of endearment, "baby" -- someone who is pure and innocent, who does not know any better, and who needs our /protection/ rather than /defense/. The difference between the two is the difference between the /maternal/ and the /paternal/, so that saying "baby" always has this /maternal/ vibe. Black Star is about the word "baby" without ever saying it, consider the maternalism in that wonderful first line: "Well, what am I to do?", sung in that lilting and condescending sort of voice that a mother uses to chide her wayward child: "I come home from work and now look at what you've done -- what am I to do? Have you thought about that?"
The second thing we should note about this song is the emphasis on /deception/ and /false teachers/: "I know what they've been teaching you, how they've /mislead/ (not corrupted) you." And then the chorus itself is an effort to /anticipate/ what the lover says: I know the black stars that they've been teaching you, the fallen skies that they've told you....
The word black star, fallen sky, incidentally, is loaded with two meanings: it refers at once to the /epic/ and the /childish/. Consider that, for example, black start and fallen sky could remind one of lyrics heard in a heavy metal band, or of the overemotional talk of epic psychobabble. But at the very same time, they refer to the star of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and the falling sky of Chicken Little. The scene here, then, is that of the baby being mislead by a third party, and the mother attempting to remind the baby of something.
Let's talk a bit about rock music and fairy tales, as evoked by this word, "Black Star". The former is claims to bring presence and knowledge, the latter insists on a kind of purity -- for perhaps the most frequently recurring mistake in fairy tales is hubris, of thinking that you know. The good sister is pure and is rewarded, the bad sister thinks she knows and is punished -- ie, the relationship between purity and innocence (of not presuming that one knows).
Black Star, then, seems to be about music and of how it can mislead, and how it fills us with false knowledge. Which brings us to the biggest problem faced by mothers: that they want to teach us not to listen to (those other) teachers -- mothers are paranoid. And this is the same problem, it seems, in Black Star, which is a song about how we shouldn't listen to songs, because of their tendency to mislead us -- not so much with lies -- but by allowing us think we know.
Our question seems to be -- does Black Star have anything to say, or is it simply stuck at this contradiction? Of course, the answer is, yes, or I wouldn't be writing here right now. But it's somewhat difficult to understand what Black Star has to say, because there are some subtle things going on there.
Let's think for a moment, about the precision of the critique that Black Star is trying to make. It seems to critique a kind of grand and epic way of thinking ("Go ahead, blame it on your black star, I know all about it") while at the same time returning to the nursery rhyme, to maternalism, to the lilting voice of the lullaby. You could call it a highly conservative song, in a way, as it attempts to evoke earlier forms of voice and lyric. It does this as it tells the loved one to slow down -- to not leave, to not to commit. The leap to knowledge (knowledge of all of these things that are both scientific and mystical -- black stars, fallen skies, satellites) is equated with the rash decision to leave.
Against the /break/ (break-up) or /crisis/ that knowledge seems to effect, Black Star performs a return. Perhaps the mother suggests precisely the opposite of crisis, which can itself, in some ways, be just as intense as crisis. Probably the opposition between /trauma/ and /crisis/.
What, after all, does the singer offer? This is certainly, in terms of strategy, the absolute worse thing you can do in such a situation, isn't it? Everyone knows that winning back a girl is a matter a making an even bigger crisis -- of promising more and more, of pretending that you're over her, and so on. Girls want a manly (paternalistic) man, or something. But the return to the mother is not merely more of the same, but it is a dizzying sort of thing. It is to slow down, it is to come to grips with death rather than life. What I mean is, while crisis is related to the desire to do more, to live life to the fullest (with another partner for example -- to see the world) the return to the mother is an effort to come to grips with death and with the limits of what one can do, with the /meaning of life/, if you will.
We begin to recognize, then, the sense of /responsibility/ that the song seems to evoke -- "What am I to do -- have you thought of me?". But, more than interpersonal responsibility, we are talking about a responsibility to /life/.
We can compare the selfishness and the intense maternalism of Black Star to Keat's "This Living Hand" (see footnote). In both cases, there is a shrill, mother-like appeal to responsibility -- which can remind us of the Mother in Psycho, as well. As we think about responsibility, we must remember life can never be judged based on it's usefulness. This is, it seems, precisely the error of the loved one, who attempts to make decisions based on /what a way of life has to offer/ -- and thus, the attempt by the singer to nullify and bitterly reject that knowledge.
Another way to say this is that life is not teleological -- while it does, surprisingly, have an intention -- which is to say, it does talk to us. I cannot offer you satisfying knowledge (even if this is cynical knowledge, of black stars), but I do insist that you understand /me/. Like the mother -- I cannot offer you anything, but how can you leave me behind?
This, then, is the logic of Black Star which, like the nursery rhyme, offers nothing, offers no knowledge. (Recall that the nursery rhyme is always about purity, and therefore, one can never learn anything from a nursery rhyme -- one can only remember it and dwell on it.) But at the very same time, it insists that it be understood. Understanding without knowledge -- which is the only correct way, it seems, to approach what we call "life". If there is a certain epic or tragic character about this song, it has to do with the evocation of a simple life lived in the midst of the chaos of the /world/. A song, then, that somehow tells us about the life and the world by teaching us nothing.
BLACK STAR (Radiohead)
I come home from work and you're still standing in your dressing gown - well
what am I to do?
I see all the things around your hair
and what they've been teaching you.
What are we coming to?
What are we gonna do?
Blame it on your black star,
Blame it on your fallen sky,
Blame it on the satellite
that beams me home.
THIS LIVING HAND (Keats)
This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.
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I mostly want to talk about the idea of a return to the original /scene/. We know that conservativism involves a return, usually from a flight outwards -- a return home. But what would it mean to return to an original /scene/?
There are a few questions that I like to pose to ... liberals, let's say. Multiculturalism, sure, but could you really conceive of any other ideal of governance besides democracy? Can you really conceive of any other fundamental right besides those outlined in the bill of rights? I would sometimes push this further, and ask -- to those that understand it -- whether there could be any other possible other philosophy of life than Christianity.
But I am not really a conservative, I am an rhetorical conservative, I say -- I don't celebrate my limitations. The story I am telling is one of a reaching out and then a returning: one reaches out to other cultures and other ways of life, and then, faced with the above questions, returns in a moment of "sobriety", which all too often results in a kind of self-validation. The conclusion is either that democracy, human rights, and Christianity is the most thoughtful and interesting philosophy, or that the intelligent people in other cultures are basically saying the same thing. (See, for example, South Park's "Super Best Friends" episode.) So conservative speaks basically about a "return".
But I'm not really a conservative, since ... since I don't seek validation or celebration. I used to call this, "walking backwards", or walking in the opposite direction that one speaks in. I'm quite familiar, of course, with these conservative arguments, I can recite them, but I am doing so only in order to find a weakness in them perhaps, or in order to reach their most radical implications.
There are many ways to think about this, one of which may involve the /descent/ that is necessary for all Christianity. The reason why the missionary is so important is that one descends from theological concept towards those who do not understand/accept them. Here, it's not so much that theology is a theoretical guide for missionary work, but rather, that the missionary work is a test of those concepts. The first thing that the missionary has to wonder is whether religion (rather than food, clothing, shelter, arms, etc.) can help them at all, whether it can help the world at all. It's basically a test of faith, but not in the sense of temptation, rather in the sense of one's own self-worth -- ie, one is no longer so sure that religion is even relevant. The experience of the missionary is probably that, in hoping to teach others, one finds that one needs religion most, not in order to "give the strength" to teach, but rather that one finds oneself turning increasingly towards more pragmatic measures (such as good works). Here, then, we can conceive of doctrine as undergoing a transformation -- rather than being merely prescriptive, it comes at the moment of an original scene, a scene where faith is still yet to come.
We should speak, then, of the difference between a /home/ and an /original scene/, as the difference between the conservative and what I call here the "rhetorically conservative", myself (and many others, of course). The conservatives seek only a home, where they can find community, celebration, and validation. But the philosopher seeks -- a historical truth, let's say -- the /scene/ of history, beyond merely the ideas of history, as if ideas arose ex nihilo. The difference is extraordinarily important -- while the conservative assumes a shelter or a home, while he assumes the holism of the idea, the ... rhetorically conservative is interested, as above, in that moment of exposure. The latter gives up the shelter of the idea in order to think about the moment of historical truth.
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I kind of have a short fuse in certain situations. This is not meant to be a confession of a fault or something, obviously. I /like/ contemptuous people, and these outbursts are how we identify one another, a mark of authenticity -- so long as these short fuses aren't reactive, due to emotional problems, or because of a wounded ego. This is not to say aggressive, or meant to intimidate. Far from it, a usual reason that people lose their cool can probably be attributed a fairly calculated effort to make the situation as awkward as possible, so that one would never have to talk with the person ever again. Rather than say, time and time again, "I don't want to hear any more of that idiocy", it's usually far more effective to simply cause a scene so that person will stop bothering you.
So I'm basically arguing that losing your cool is basically a proactive gesture. It is based on a broad awareness of the situation. We associate anger of this sort with both prescience and loss of control -- a moment of careful calculation and violence. But we should not think here of the psychopath, in thinking of the word, calculating. We have to keep both these things in mind, prescience and violence, and not sway towards one more than the other. The violence is necessary too -- what this violence means is that this return is sudden and /unexpected/. It's as if we suddenly had a vision of eternity, of something happening over and over again stretching as far back in either direction as the eye can see.
We're reminded here of Nietzsche's eternal recurrence: "What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more' ... Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.'"
Perhaps losing one's cool was not fundamentally directed at another person, but rather a response to this demon who offers this proposition in the, surprisingly, "loneliest loneliness" -- the gnashing of teeth. There is that sense, in that moment, of a kind of growling annoyance. But Nietzsche here gives another possibility: "Never have I heard anything more divine". We must emphasize the mystical nature of this moment, so that we are not talking about work or manipulation, as in the case of the psychopath. That is, there has to be a "sudden image", or a demon "stealing" into the "loneliest loneliness". There is no real hope at this moment, but there is merely a gesture -- as if all we can hope to do is to mark this moment, or these returns, that cannot be controlled.
We need not think this vision too psychologically. There is no real vision in this performance or a moment of violence. We only act as though we had seen something. But this seems to be enough, as if, that very gesturing towards were the highest possible task in a world of eternal recurrence -- as if the very recognition of this thing that we perform we see were enough, so that we would no longer be so caught up in a world that was so complacent about it's own progress.
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Transcendence and Mediation -- A point that may be hard to recognize is that flight, jubilation, etc. is typically /not/ associated with transcendence, while pessimism, reservedness, fastidiousness, etc., is. What appears to be the most transcendent is not, while what appears to be careful, reserved study and practice, often is.
The Problem of Evil -- I was talking to a friend today about the old problem of evil, which is basic way to think about transcendence. The problem of evil asks: if God is perfect, then why is there evil? The answer is that evil is a part of a transcendental plan. This is an entirely theological point until one recognizes that one can enter, piecemeal, into God's plan. For example, when Newton discovered the perfection of the cosmos, and postulated the God as watchmaker idea, then he is taking a step into God's plan. Thus, God's plan is not entirely beyond our reach, but we can make minor expansions of our territory.
Thus, we realize that transcendence includes not only the idea of a transcendental thing, but also a way of approach -- in other words, progress. The movement of progress is, furthermore, is /abrupt/ -- like Newton's sudden vision of perfection. What's interesting about these few notions is that, although one can arrive at them from an old theological problem, they in fact appear everywhere today -- whenever we hear mention of progress together with illumination, or lightning, as abrupt illumination.
The Master and the Genius -- The idea of mediation may be something we are not used to ... I told my friend today that the difference between God and Christ is the difference between ... well, father and son, but also the difference between the /master/ and the /genius/. Except I tried to be clever, I said, "Kung-Fu master" and "Mozart". God is roguish -- I know I overuse this word, but it's true -- he works in "mysterious ways". Jesus, however, does not. You are supposed to understand Jesus. There is nothing "mysterious" about Mozart, either -- in fact, literature, in general, is not roguish -- but there is something, oh how can we put this ... transcendental? about Mozart. Well, we can't use that word, transcendental, but he takes us on a flight, there is something exuberant about Mozart -- but he takes us on a flight precisely because he is not transcendental, but rather because he moves us, he does something right here. I think people have said that Mozart was sensual, or have been endlessly pointing out the ... sensuality, I suppose? ... of Jesus. But this flight is precisely his non-transcendentality ... the here and now, somehow. But not /immediate/, as we might expect of the "sensual" -- but emphatically /mediate/ -- but something very paradoxical, like touching the mediate, immediately.
The Fetish (in sex and law) -- There is this idea that one can have an unhealthy fixation with one's mother, such as serial killers do in Hollywood movies. On the other hand, one would not describe an attraction to the "motherly" as unhealthy -- but one can even joke about it (such as, the MILF). It's okay to be obsessed with mothers, as long as one does not become fixated on one's own mother. The fetish would then be thought of as an abnormality that could perhaps be overcome or cured by ... some recognition that one is in fact not attracted to the signs themselves, but rather to what the signs mean. For example, if one's mother had red hair, and one should not be fixated on the redheads, but rather on something more general, what the red hair suggests.
But the difficulty of this cure lies in the strange specificity even of one is after truly after. That is, it would be simple enough if the cure were simply the movement from the sign to the referent. But what if there is something weird about the referent itself? I think, yesterday, I was talking to a friend about a similar structure in law, where we were talking about an "original arbitrariness" to law. The problem of law could be conceived of as something very similar to the sexual fixation, or the fetish. That is, it is a loss of contact with the original intention, which has something to do with the human. The law is there, let's just say for now, to protect human freedoms. But when it fetishizes the human, then only certain particular, arbitrary traits (such as, say, whiteness) are considered human.
But what if there were an arbitrariness to the original intention, to our understanding of the human itself? A possibility to consider: is it possible that the human at the origin of law is itself a fetish? In other words, that it is impossible to think about the human, in general, but only the human in particular, and that the human only "represents", somehow, something even more fundamental?
But let's return to the question of the mediator. The question is general enough so that we can understand this either in terms of the law or in terms of the fetish. The fetish, it turns out, is not a kind of "narrowing" that could be cured by understanding the referent. But rather, it's persistence, it's continual returns, has to do with the fact that the referent that one's friends, or maybe oneself, or the doctor, propose does not get at the true referent. Well -- it's possible that one can never get at the true referent, so that the fetish can never even be sexually satisfied. But the return comes like the "I would prefer not to" of Bartleby -- a "No, not that", again and again. In other words, the person with the fetish is perfectly aware that it's a sign for something else, the problem is that we do not know what that something else is.
In terms of law, we can consider the relationship between the law and the constitution. The constitution is the outline of the original intention of the law. The problem would be, that the human as defined in the constitution is ... strange. And I'm not talking merely about the restriction to white males. But the human is fetishized to begin with. There was this recent controversy over the attempt by the Texas Board of Education to "rewrite history" in order to emphasize the Christian roots of this country. Obviously, you know, we could say that this is dogmatic and provincial, but the article I read was actually pretty astute in pointing out that -- yes, they are basically right, the textual evidence is on their side. Many leading historians without a Christian agenda would say, yes, the constitution was certainly written with certain Christian values there, and that these values could be uncovered with a careful reading.
Well, this is not surprising, consider the people who wrote the constitution -- even if they were self-declared atheists or theists. The actual liberal stance, depressingly perhaps, would have to move away from the actual texts of history. This is actually a big problem with liberal politics, which is, that it seems as though they have to abandon the texts of history, and look towards science and towards experts -- since science would say, you know, of course the nation was founded upon -- arms, trade, nature, innovation, etc. etc.. This has actually been a trend of late: in my own school, when I was a senior there, they began making the incoming freshmen read "Guns Germs and Steel" (about exactly what it sounds like) as part of a writing seminar -- basically, a interpretation of the founding of this country that could avoid the important texts of the era.
Maybe this is fine, but, at the same time -- it's rather disheartening, since the incoming freshman would have to learn about an era without access to arguably the greatest thinkers of that era. I think people have long recognized that the task of reclaiming of historical documents would be an incredibly difficult one -- it would have to go /beyond/ the triumphant conservative dominance of the texts. But this can start with the recognition that, when we are talking about the Christian founding of this nation, Christianity itself is merely a /fetish/, for something else. In other words, the text is a mediator, just as the fetish is a mediator -- but this mediator is also absolute. It is not so easy to understand exactly what the mediator is "about". The absoluteness of the fetish, then, is precisely the problem we face above, in thinking about the messiah and the genius.
The One and the Many -- In thinking about the mediator, we always have to think about the question of the one and the many. (TBC)
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Mar 25, 2010 [11:49]
Mar 25, 2010 [11:49] updated
Let's talk about the master and the disciple, a relationship that seems archaic in this day and age, the scientific age. We should first distinguish it from /schooling/, which we tend to forget is a modern phenomenon that overevaluates competition, learning by doing, experimentation, creativity, and so forth. We forget that what used to be known as schooling has traditionally emphasized the authority of the master, under the notion that, while competition can make you king of the hill, you still need someone to point you towards the mountain.
Incidentally, one of my defining characteristics is that I, and many others like me, have always sought out the master-apprenticeship relationship, which is why we do so well with almost no companions, no equals -- for friendship pales in comparison. This avoidance of competition, even this natural inclination to appear as /weak as possible/ is not, then, merely a matter of hypocrisy.
Our consideration of schooling leads to the more general case of the difference between teaching and /research/: the purpose of schooling is to teach research. By research, I don't really mean the literal connotation of looking through databases, but rather, something like "lab work", "experimentation". Research is the work of science. Our tentative purpose here is not so much the critique of research, which is obviously very valuable to society, as the defending of apprenticeship. It needs defending because it seems archaic, backwards, or contrary to independent thought. For example, it would seem that looking towards, say, the Bible for guidance, rather towards research, could lead only to dogmatism.
Well, let's look at the difference between /teaching/ and /research/. Anyone who believes themselves to be in possession of a rare, even pessimistic truth, can never be depressed. This is because /all truth is teachable/. There is nothing about truth that would ever indicate it is individual or private, while it is possible, of course, that truth be ineffable or difficult to communicate directly. This difficulty of communication is why the master is often a roguish figure, especially in Kung Fu movies (like Karate Kid). The idea is that the only way to give proper guidance is to at first misguide, or mislead. Thus, the idea is that the Karate master didn't really care about getting his fences painted, but it was the only possible course of guidance. As another example, the same structure is said to exist in Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy, where he has revealed in letters that the only way to guide the people towards questioning or irony is by leading them astray and making them uncomfortable with a purposely over-romantic (or, in the book, "Dionysian") work.
In thinking about the master, we should be thinking about the writer in general, or even the genius, in general. For example, we think of Mozart, as a musical genius, we don't really think of him as a master or a teacher, but he really is. He was not merely a good entertainer, but had something to say. When we insist that Mozart was a master, we are saying that /we do not know him yet/. We think we can hear, say, the 7th piano concerto and get the full effect already, and then, later, move on, believing ourselves to have heard it before. The key concept in this erroneous attitude, of Mozart as entertainer, is /novelty/. Novelty speaks not only of the loss of the original effect, but also of the possible absorption. Ie, there is this notion that we have /grown desensitized/ -- but see here this word, "grown", which always implies an absorption, a having already understood, even a personal crisis (as in the idea of pain causing growth).
It would seem, then, that to insist on the master is to insist on /difficult thinking/, rather than something already understood. This very same opposition characterizes the difference between schooling, where there are classes that one "passes", with credits earned, various accomplishments, etc. -- like experience points in a video game -- to apprenticeship, where one /always stands in the shadow of the master/, even after the master is dead, in which case one is haunted by his ghost.
But at the same time, it's still possible for this oh-so-difficult truth to come out. Even as we always stand in the shadow of the master, even as we are haunted by ghosts, it's still nonetheless possible, perhaps, for this truth to come forth. Should truth be obvious? Should it illuminate our world? If it is the nature of scientific truth to be verifiable, is it then the nature of philosophical truth to be difficult? If so, then philosophy can never do without a master; even the most accomplished philosophers of an age would have to concentrate their efforts on /reading/.
Philosophical truth is always difficult, it exists right on the very edge of comprehensibility. We can think about, here, the position of the genius. The genius is aware that he is a genius, ie, he is aware of what people seem to expect of him. The genius is aware of what he can accomplish, who he can be. In that case, then, we might say that the genius "overcompensates". But, at the very same time, he really is a genius, that is, he is genuinely clever -- he is able to say all these things that evoke a new world. That is, I am saying that the genius is not merely a good performer, it's not simply that he does precisely what people expect of him. But there is also something genuinely evocative about what he says. In other words, we need to think both the social self-awareness of the genius (as in the Nietzschean molding of his personality) and the ... genuine thinking of the genius, which we said earlier, is often mistaken for music or entertainment. Music illuminates our world briefly and then disappears, and we are caught in mourning. But the thinking of the genius remains and haunts us, it does not illuminate the world but it still seems to come forth.
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