To Think is Always to Follow the Witch’s Flight.

Sigrun posted a quotation from Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? I’ve spent many hours thinking about this puzzling, beautiful text. Sigrun’s post sent me back this afternoon, though, in the end, it was the paragraph below that kept me company with the late afternoon sun. I love that they make a connection between thought and witchcraft, between the contemplation of the morning after and the nights that belong to Dionysus.

Thinking provokes general indifference. It is a dangerous exercise nevertheless. Indeed, it is only when the dangers become obvious that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden and barely perceptible inherent in the enterprise. Precisely because the plane of immanence is prephilosophical and does not immediately take effect with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess. We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, yet they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow the witch’s flight.

Lucretius, Origins of Philosophy as Art

Quote

I see a secret link between Lucretius, Hume, Spinoza, and Nietzsche constituted by their critique of negativity, their cultivation of joy, the hatred of interiority, the externality of forces and relations, the denunciation of power, and so on …

Gilles Deleuze
Dialogues

Art: Indispensability

Quote

The more our daily life appears standardised, stereotyped, and subject to an accelerated reproduction of objects of consumption, the more art must be injected into it in order to extract from it that little difference which plays simultaneously between other levels of repetition, and even in order to make the two extremes resonate—namely, the habitual series of consumption and the instinctual series of destruction and death.

Gilles Deleuze
Difference and Repetition

Come as you are .. to Spinoza (and Deleuze)

Deleuze is difficult, but I read his work like opaque poetry. There are good maps available for those who want to engage in what Deleuze called the “nonphilosophical understanding of philosophy.” I don’t read to understand, but understanding comes in the same rushes of lucidity that is common with enigmatic or oracular poetry.

Spinoza can also be difficult, and Deleuze on Spinoza no less so. My edition of Spinoza: Practical Philosophy is translated by Robert Hurley, who offers up this wonderful introduction which I think encapsulates what I am trying to say in this post:

[..] one doesn’t have to follow up every proposition, make every connection-the intuitive or affective reading may be more practical anyway. What if one accepted the invitation-come as you are-and read with a different attitude, which might be more like the way one attends to poetry? Then difficulty would not prevent the flashes of understanding that we anticipate in the poets that we love, difficult thought they may be. The truly extraordinary thing about Deleuze is precisely the quality of love that his philosophy expresses; it is active in everything he has written.

This quality of love is also precisely what compels me about Spinoza’s philosophy.

Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter. Some of the links to PDFs change or disappear, so if something interests you download it quickly.

Gravelly voiced William Burroughs reads from Naked Lunch: The Rube (22 minutes).

Critical Thinkers guide to Maurice Blanchot [PDF]. Blanchot’s own texts should come first, but can be a little opaque. Ullrich Haase and William Large’s introductory book is the finest secondary initiation to Blanchot. The Further Reading section is particularly superb.

Critical Thinkers Guide to Gilles Deleuze [PDF]. Clare Colebrooke is the definitive Deleuzean scholar, with at least six books devoted to Deleuze. This introductory book is the ideal introduction to Deleuzean vocabulary and concepts. As always with these little guides the Further Reading section is invaluable.

Alma Mahler

Alma Mahler

Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters [PDF] by Alma Mahler, who wrote two books. The second And the Bridge Is Love about the later years in her life is also worth seeking out. Neither are known for their accuracy, and Basil Creighton’s translation is notably idiosyncratic. They nevertheless are fascinating, but read as fiction.

Hal Foster’s (Foster edited the seminal The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture) review of Correspondence: The Foundation of the Situationist International (June 1957-60) by Guy Debord.

Margaret Atwood’s The Female Body confronts how women and men perceive the female body [PDF].

Studying the work of controversial Derrida disciple, Paul de Man, is another way to think about deconstruction and critical misreading. Literary theorist Martin McQuillan’s Critical Thinkers guide to Paul de Man [PDF] is lucid and honest. McQuillan’s Paul de Man Notebooks, an anthology from the de Man archive is due out early next year.

Plato and Aristotle, a fragment from Raphael's The School of Athens

Plato and Aristotle, a fragment from Raphael’s The School of Athens

These days I consider myself more Aristotelian than Platonist, but I’ve read Plato’s dialogues with huge interest for years, and it still stuns me how close we are to the ancients. Socrates was in many ways truly the first modern man. Trying to get hold of all Plato’s dialogues online is tedious, so this collection of all Plato’s works in a single volume [PDF] is immensely convenient.

Psychoanalytic Filiations, an essay by Austrian psychologist Ernst Falzeder reviews the psychoanalytic family tree, and traces back the leading concepts to the Hungarian Sándor Ferenczi and the Viennese Otto Rosenfeld (Rank).

Towards the end of this piece of film, Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller are together on screen, a rare occasion:

Simple Existence

Clément Rosset

Clément Rosset

This morning I’ve rummaged around the internet for information about philosopher Clément Rosset, whose philosophy seems to share certain characteristics of the Epicureans, Pierre Bourdieu and Gilles Deleuze. It seems that Joyful Cruelty: toward a philosophy of the real, the book I’d like to read is not in print in English translation. A passage from that book has a Deleuzean flavour to it (not that I am deeply read in Deleuze. Yet).

As evidence for his claim that “simple existence is in itself a source of rejoicing,” Rosset points to the importance people assign to recounting accurately the past events of their lives: “The smaller one’s investment in what was happening in the past when one was participating in the events, the more one now refuses to hear that artichokes were served that day when in fact one remembers excellent asparagus. . . . This fastidious character of remembrance can only be interpreted as the mark of recognition. . . . with respect to existence as such, of the inherent interest of all existence whatever it may be. . . .”

This reminds me of a passage I scribbled in my notebook (I’ll try and find the interview for tweeting and linking here in another post) from a 1988 interview with Deleuze:

Signs imply ways of living, possibilities of existence, they are the symptoms of an overflowing [jaillissante] or exhausted [épuisée] life. But an artist cannot be content with an exhausted life, nor with a personal life. One does not write with one’s ego, one’s memory, and one’s illnesses. In the act of writing there’s an attempt to make life something more than personal, to liberate life from what imprisons it. . . . There is a profound link between signs, the event, life, and vitalism. It is the power of nonorganic life, that which can be found in a line of a drawing, a line of writing, a line of music. It is organisms that die, not life. There is no work of art that does not indicate an opening for life, a path between the cracks. Everything I have written has been vitalistic, at least I hope so, and constitutes a theory of signs and the event.

If you are able to enlighten me in any way about Clément Rosset’s work I’d be appreciative.

Thought Control and Cynicism

It’s one of those glorious early spring days that England enacts so well. I have sat in the garden, drinking black tea, and reading Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception. I’ve been preoccupied with this text for the past three years or so. This is the fourth time I’ve read this chapter of the book Dialectic of Enlightenment, which I’ve yet to read from cover to cover.

This particular chapter performs Morpheus’s red pill in The Matrix. “You take the red pill,” he says to Neo, “and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Jason Barker extends the same metaphor to his film Marx Reloaded, where Leon Trotsky, playing Morpheus, offers the choice of blue or red pill to Karl Marx as Neo.

Adorno and Horkheimer’s text is not without inadequacies. It is important to recall the socioeconomic context. Written in the early 1940s by two ethnically Jewish, German émigrés in the aftermath of the war, the dourness of their moral outrage is to be expected. In short (and I recommend you read the essay), Horkheimer and Adorno’s essay is trying to reawaken people from the mind-dulling consequences of the modern culture industry, an argument even more relevant today than in the 1940s.

Importantly, Adorno and Horkenheimer’s essay is not an attack on consumers but on the producers of banal, repetitive cultural goods – films, books, music, magazines – calibrated to obviate the necessity of mental effort and independent thought. The result is a passive audience caught up in a loop of endless consumption. For what end? Horkheimer and Adorno argue that this “entertainment” distracts us from the dehumanizing nature of most forms of modern work, and engenders a cynicism that deadens our political will to overcome a decadent and exploitative socioeconomic system.

Why do its consumers lap up the banal nonsense offered as art and entertainment? Instead of objecting they fetishize it. Witness the mindlessness of today’s fixation on celebrity. It would come as no surprise to Horkheimer and Adorno that a supposedly enlightened society has returned to the fetish. The brilliant part of their argument is that it is precisely the repeated exposure to forms of entertainment (they pick the American film industry) that repeatedly excite and manipulate the senses to deaden them (Deleuze, if I understand correctly, also writes of the dulling effect of “bare repetition”). Consumers are enrolled in their own pacification.

There is so much more I could ramble on about from this essay. The last point that I wish to extract from Adorno and Horkheimer’s essay is about cynicism, which like many “advanced” moderns is an attitude I once bore with pride, believing it an appropriate ethical choice. Horkheimer and Adorno demystify and denounce this cynicism, itself a manipulated effect of the culture industry:

In this age of universal publicity any invocation of an ideal appears suspect to us. We have learned how to identify abstract concepts as sales propaganda. Language based entirely on truth simply arouses impatience to get on with the business deal it is probably advancing.

Horkheimer and Adorno close their essay, noting that rampant cynicism about popular culture and commodification does not obstruct its consumption. Consumers acknowledge its manipulative intent and yet take part, which is the systematic “beauty” of the cultural model. But the cynicism that is engendered supports complacency, reducing expectations of the state, of media, of business, and diminishes political will to mobilise against injustices. As Horkheimer and Adorno saw only too well in the years leading up to this essay, cynicism-induced complacency plays into the hands of right-wing agendas.

(Images: a fragment from Ingres’s Oedipe et le sphinx, a screen grab from Marx Reloaded and Adorno and Horkheimer.)

Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter.

From the Gallery of Lost Art, Lucian Freud's painting (stolen) of Francis Bacon.

From the Gallery of Lost Art, Lucian Freud’s painting (stolen) of Francis Bacon.

The Tate’s Lost Art Blog.

The Society of Authors list 50 outstanding translations from the last 50 years.

Marjorie Perloff’s essay Hugh Kenner and the Invention of Modernism.

In this scheme of things, Kenner’s bête noire was, not surprisingly, Bloomsbury. For him, the Bloomsburies were not Modernists but late or post-Victorians whose innovations—including the rejection of conventional plot and characterization—masked perfectly traditional English values.

A Guardian guide to Arvo Pärt’s (one of my favourite composers) music.

From Love Dog, Masha Tupitsyn’s superb film blog: Faces #3 (Charlotte Rampling). “Charlotte Rampling’s face did not express or show anything until it had lived through at least 50 years”.

Courtesy of Biblioklept, Guide for New Readers of Stendhal’s Charterhouse by Italo Calvino (Collected in Why Read the Classics?).

Brief reviews of Chantal Akerman’s films.

AV Club interview with Chantal Akerman.

Spectacularly intimate: a MUBI Notebook interview with Claire Denis.

From the Bookslut archives: A Soul Turned Inside Out: Clarice Lispector, Hélène Cixous, and L’Écriture Féminine.

Adam Palay: An Interview with Richard Powers.



Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter.

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, film for the modern world: http://bit.ly/PcTXpZ

From Kafka to Sebald – essays on narrative form in modernist fiction: http://t.co/jJTPALWh

Maurice Blanchot and Fragmentary Writing by Leslie Hill – Preview: http://t.co/Qdjli4NO

Judith Butler – On Never Having Learned How to Live: http://bit.ly/VhrwJP

“Deleuze always insists on grasping the virtual , as it were ‘behind’ the actual.” http://bit.ly/Rd93b9

The HTMLGiant Beginner’s Guide to Deleuze: http://bit.ly/PgNudD

Frederic Jameson on Realism and Utopia in The Wire: http://awe.sm/n71Th

Fascinating piece on memory by Jenny Diski: http://awe.sm/o71JJ

Glenn Gould Explains the Genius of Johann Sebastian Bach: http://bit.ly/PEToVK

Roberto Calasso interviewed by Lila Azam Zanganeh: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6168/the-art-of-fiction-no-217-roberto-calasso

“Books are sublimely visceral, emotionally evocative objects that constitute a perfect delivery system.” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444868204578064483923017090.html

Remarkable colour photos from inside Nazi-occupied Poland, 1939-1940: http://t.co/n4R1Tjdy

God’s Angry Man — Werner Herzog (Full Documentary):http://bit.ly/RdqkB5

Aldous Huxley’s Most Beautiful, LSD-Assisted Death: A Letter from His Widow: http://bit.ly/PDZdTc

The story behind Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover: http://thecreatorsproject.com/blog/the-story-behind-joy-divisions-iconic-iunknown-pleasuresi-album-cover

Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter.

The HTMLGiant Beginner’s Guide to Deleuze.

The TLS try to classify the ‘unclassifiable’ Clarice Lispector.

English translations of all 12 journals of the Situationists.

Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror, Essay on Abjection.

Martha Nussbaum: How to write about poverty.

Joan Bamberger: “The myth of matriarchy is but the tool used to keep woman bound to her place.”

George Orwell: Politics and the English Language.

Tarkovsky’s Stalker and the surprising physical reality of this world as he sees it.

The ideal way to read Marx’s Kapital is with David Harvey.

One of my favourite Desert Island Discs with writer Al Alvarez (friend of Plath and Hughes).

Julia Kristeva’s essay – A Freudian Approach: The Pre-religious Need To Believe.

The first ten Penguin books – Treasures of the Bodleian.