Friday, 23 December 2011

Scandalon (III), or on the failure – and necessity – of iconoclasm

In the very heart of Christianity, not only a humiliated prophet but a suffering god, a wounded god which sounds like an oxymoron; not only nativity, the becoming of flesh, but also mortality, flesh in its most vulnerable unbecomingness.

Copied from

Unfortunately, I have no copyright information on this photograph; it is copied from another blog, A Buddhist Catholic, and slightly cropped to remove a thin frame. – See also artworks by Grünewald, Congdon, etc. etc.

Yet, in a polyvalent society and multicultural world, discretion in image-making should be an ethical prerequisite...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Saved for later...

Le poème moderne est d'autant moins la forme sensible de l'Idée que, bien plutôt, c'est le sensible qui se présente comme nostalgie subsistante, et impuissante, de l'idée poétique. – Alain Badiou, Petit manuel d'inesthétique (Paris: Seuil, 1998), 38.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Re-reading de Man. Difficult to keep the pace, though...

Quand on lit trop vite ou trop doucement on n'entend rien. – Pascal

This is the motto of Paul de Man's Allegories of Reading and it certainly applies to reading de Man himself, too. But I find myself enjoying the effort more than before.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


Physically upright but morally crooked – a strategic phrase to unlink a systematic chain of unwarranted or dubious connections – not a metaphor, or a pair of metaphors, but a counter-metaphor, a backward twist, reductio ad absurdum.

. . .

Yet, "physically upright" was never just "physical", pure and simple, in the first place. "Upright" was never an exclusively "physical" concept, and there is no such thing as an exclusively "physical" concept. This is not to say that "uprightness" was always already "moral", but rather that the perception of "something upright" would not take place without "theory", or "ideas" and concepts. "The visible is pregnant with the invisible" (Merleau-Ponty, positively commenting on Heidegger's refutation of the concept of metaphor).


Daß es wirklich einfache Bedeutungen gibt, lehrt das unzweifelhafte Beispiel Etwas. Das Vostellungserlebnis, das sich im Verständnis des Wortes vollzieht, ist sicherlich komponiert, die Bedeutung ist aber ohne jeden Schatten von Zusammensetzung.

– Edmund Husserl, Logische Untersuchungen. II/1: Untersuchungen zur Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis, siebte Auflage (Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1993), 296.

I am marking this passage just because I find it powerful and fascinating (as I see it, intellectual insight need not be severed from aesthetic pleasure), and a sort of condensation of Husserl's critique of psychologism.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

A note on forgiveness

[...] le prochain, mon frère, l’homme, infiniment moins autre que l’absolument autre, est, en un certain sense, plus autre que Dieu : pour obtenir son pardon le jour du Kippour, je dois au préalable obtenir qu’il s’apaise.

– Levinas, Quatre lectures talmudiques (Paris: Minuit, cop. 1968, repr. 2002), 36-37.

An approximation in English: My fellow man, my brother (yes, it is a good question to ask: why always or most often in Levinas the masculine gender, why "brother" and not "sister"?), the human being, infinitely "less other" than the absolutely other, is, in a certain sense, "more other" than God. To obtain God's forgiveness on the Day of Atonement, it is required that we are at peace with our fellow man.

Doesn't this mean that the "cultivation of intimacy" – whose preëminent figure is the intimacy with God, in prayer, for instance, or the silent negotiation with one's conscience – is always, always already interrupted by "a third party"?

Sunday, 4 September 2011

"To a green thought in a green shade"

Reading – very slowly and too absent-mindedly – Husserl's Logische Untersuchungen, the two verses that end the following stanza of Marvell's "The Garden" came to my mind, as they often do:

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness :
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find ;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas ;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green thought in a green shade.

Green is not green – the green, namely greenness, being-green, is not itself "coloured" – a Heideggerean reminder. The green of all greens is not green. Colour is colourless.

Helen Frankenthaler, A Green Thought in a Green Shade (1981)

An abstract expressionism that seeks for the essence of colour – say, green, the green of green, the green-ness of green – is therefore a splendid failure.

Emphasis on "splendid".

* * *

A green thought must inhabit – take repose in – a green shade, "withdraw into its happiness" there, and acknowledge its constitutive différance.

* * *

Every green thought that takes repose in a green shade, every representation of "green", is an allegory of "green".

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Bad Taste?

Photo by Dave Branfield / Brewdog

See the article "It's 55 percent and wrapped in roadkill, is this the world's most 'shocking' beer?" ( for more information about the image. A quote:

The decision to wrap the bottle in a dead animal was taken to indicate how special the beer was, blending brewing, taxidermy and "art."

– – –*

I wouldn't mind being turned into a coffee pot warmer after my death, but nobody asked the squirrel. I have mixed feelings about this kind of recycling: I think respecting a dead body is not completely irrational, and it doesn't seem to me that the brewery actually pays respect to the poor beasts (whether they manage to indicate the specialty of the "beer" with this gimmick is another question).

It's all the same shit these days. It's all raw matter, indifferent when it's dead. But in a sustainable culture, even shit deserves respect: fæces will be recycled as compost and thereby turned into "humanure", a soil amendment – earth to earth – and not just flushed away with precious fresh water.

* I will update this post later, since there's a lot to say about "materialist" indifference.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Said an agnostic to an atheist...

Call my disposition faith and I will call yours blasphemy.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

An aknowledged illusion

L'homme est l'être qui ne peut sortir de soi, qui ne connaît les autres qu'en soi, et, en disant le contraire, ment.
Man is the creature that cannot emerge from himself, that knows his fellows only in himself; when he asserts the contrary, he is lying.*

Paradoxically or not, acknowledging this quasi-solipsistic principle is a prerequisite of an ethical relation to other people, other minds, hearts and bodies. Another paradox is that we can learn to acknowledge this truth – about a lie – through fiction, itself a sort of lie. Literature constitutes the type of lying that, while pretending to penetrate the surface of another man's being, or while, explicitly or implicitly, manifesting different variations of this theme of penetration (or non-penetration), also maintains its status as a "lie" of sorts, an illusion "conscious" of itself (this "consciousness" is not "someone's" consciousness, and thus not really a consciousness in the first place; it can also be a manifestation in spite of itself, "ultra-subjective").

* Marcel Proust, Albertine disparue (Paris: Gallimard, 1999), 34. Trans. C.K. Scott-Moncrieff.

Monday, 18 July 2011

"Beschneide das Wort"

Circumcision, brit milah, at once both incision and excision: a sign, symbol, sumbolon, token of participation, a letter avant la lettre, a word drawn (like you draw blood, and not only “like”) from an infant.

(A marginal note to the chapter on "The Tropic of Circumcision".)

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Freedom to be ambiguous

"Taking centre stage is Superman with his distinctive red cape and blue suit. To the left is Santa Claus and to the right Ronald McDonald, the mascot of the fast-food giant McDonalds, and the Joker also makes an appearance." – Emily Allen, Daily Mail Online Tues. 21 June, 2011

The article does not mention the fact that the "red flag" carried by the soldiers has been turned into Stars and Stripes. A "liberation" replaced by another "liberation"...

I guess many people would "read" in(to) this graffiti a celebration of the freedom to go to MacDonald's. I would rather "read" in(to) it a celebration of another freedom: the freedom to be ambiguous. Not political and economic "liberation", that is, but an artistic liberation – more constitutive for democracy than the introduction of "free" market economy, as I see it.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

"Love Will Tear Us Apart"*

To compose a collage of sorts, a note for later elaboration, I will take two very valuable quotes from J. Hillis Miller's excellent book, On Literature. The first concerns J.L. Austin's speech act theory, primarily as regards its implications for literature understood as "performative" (112):

The second concerns a very basic ethical principle – "basic" in the sense of both very simple and utterly important – that has crucial implications for reading literature:

Miller makes no explicit connection between these two passages belonging to subsequent chapters dealing with more or less distinct issues. However, I would like to suggest one.
What do we say – what do I say, what do you say – when we say "I love you"? I just heard someone telling about her youth in the eighties, as a "goth" or, in other words, as part of a generation that was both "neoromantic" and "postmodern", and about the ironic consciousness that was an integral part of that identity. The way of saying – or avoiding to say – "I love you", ironically distantiated by adding clauses like "as a poet would say", would be a telling example of "postmodern language consciousness". It would be easy to dismiss such a word-play, if not only as a childish pose, then at least as refusal to commit oneself – to commit oneself to "anything", since "I love you" is just a sort of extreme example of a phrase that should mean everything but has been completely worn away in its promiscuous usage by all kinds of industries – but perhaps this token of "neoromantic" irony implies a deeper motivation?
Perhaps the phrase "I love you" does not (just) express an affect, and perhaps responding "I love you" does not mean that we share the affect, that I "know exactly" what you mean by the phrase, and feel the same way too? As a matter of fact, neither you or I can know exactly what the other feels, or feel exactly the same "thing"; an affect cannot be shared "exactly", or even if we somehow could "participate" in the "same" affect, we could not know this participation.
Perhaps we could think of the phrase "I love you" in a different way, then? Not (just) as expressing and sharing an affect, but otherwise?

* The title of this note comes from Joy Division, of course.

Why philosophy?

Thinking is not just an activity, but a passion – a passion for that which is and remains to be thought.

Philosophy, as passion, is not – perhaps not – essentially mastery, but a vulnerability.

* * *

You could replace "philosophy", above, with "philology" – see Werner Hamacher's and Thomas Schestag's recent "theses" on philology – and, perhaps, "thinking" with "reading" and "thought" with "read" (that which "is and remains to be read" is "something" that certainly "is and remains to be thought", but some people might pretend that "that which is and remains to be thought" is not always something "to be read").

I am re-reading Octavio Paz's Children of the Mire, and the following in it:

Critical passion: excessive, impassioned love of criticism and its precise devices for disconstructions,* but also criticism in love with its object, ...

* "Disconstructions": I don't have the Spanish original at hand (while, on the other hand, the English translation is rather an English version, constituting Paz's Norton Lectures of 1972), but it would by no means be far-fetched to read "deconstructions", provided that we forget, for a moment, that deconstruction is not a device, let alone a set of "deconstructions" as a set of "devices".

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Virginia Woolf: "Words fail me"


…Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations. They have been out and about, on people's lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today – that they are stored with other meanings, with other memories, and they have contracted so many famous marriages in the past. The splendid word "incarnadine," for example – who can use that without remembering "multitudinous seas"? In the old days, of course, when English was a new language, writers could invent new words and use them. Nowadays it is easy enough to invent new words – they spring to the lips whenever we see a new sight or feel a new sensation – but we cannot use them because the English language is old. You cannot use a brand new word in an old language because of the very obvious yet always mysterious fact that a word is not a single and separate entity, but part of other words. Indeed it is not a word until it is part of a sentence. Words belong to each other, although, of course, only a great poet knows that the word "incarnadine" belongs to "multitudinous seas." To combine new words with old words is fatal to the constitution of the sentence. In order to use new words properly you would have to invent a whole new language; and that, though no doubt we shall come to it, is not at the moment our business. Our business is to see what we can do with the old English language as it is. How can we combine the old words in new orders so that they survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth? That is the question.

And the person who could answer that question would deserve whatever crown of glory the world has to offer. Think what it would mean if you could teach, or if you could learn the art of writing. Why, every book, every newspaper you'd pick up, would tell the truth, or create beauty. But there is, it would appear, some obstacle in the way, some hindrance to the teaching of words. For though at this moment at least a hundred professors are lecturing on the literature of the past, at least a thousand critics are reviewing the literature of the present, and hundreds upon hundreds of young men and women are passing examinations in English literature with the utmost credit, still – do we write better, do we read better than we read and wrote four hundred years ago when we were un-lectured, un-criticized, untaught? Is our modern Georgian literature a patch on the Elizabethan? Well, where then are we to lay the blame? Not on our professors; not on our reviewers; not on our writers; but on words. It is words that are to blame. They are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most un-teachable of all things. Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind. Look once more at the dictionary. There beyond a doubt lie plays more splendid than Antony and Cleopatra; poems lovelier than the Ode to a Nightingale; novels beside which Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield are the crude bunglings of amateurs. It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, ranging hither and thither, falling in love, and mating together. It is true that they are much less bound by ceremony and convention than we are. Royal words mate with commoners. English words marry French words, German words, Indian words, Negro words, if they have a fancy. Indeed, the less we enquire into the past of our dear Mother English the better it will be for that lady's reputation. For she has gone a-roving, a-roving fair maid.

Thus to lay down any laws for such irreclaimable vagabonds is worse than useless. A few trifling rules of grammar and spelling is all the constraint we can put on them. All we can say about them, as we peer at them over the edge of that deep, dark and only fitfully illuminated cavern in which they live – the mind – all we can say about them is that they seem to like people to think before they use them, and to feel before they use them, but to think and feel not about them, but about something different. They are highly sensitive, easily made self-conscious. They do not like to have their purity or their impurity discussed. If you start a Society for Pure English, they will show their resentment by starting another for impure English – hence the unnatural violence of much modern speech; it is a protest against the puritans. They are highly democratic, too; they believe that one word is as good as another; uneducated words are as good as educated words, uncultivated words as good as cultivated words, there are no ranks or titles in their society. Nor do they like being lifted out on the point of a pen and examined separately. They hang together, in sentences, paragraphs, sometimes for whole pages at a time. They hate being useful; they hate making money; they hate being lectured about in public. In short, they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is their nature to change.

Perhaps that is their most striking peculiarity – their need of change. It is because the truth they try to catch is many-sided, and they convey it by being many-sided, flashing first this way, then that. Thus they mean one thing to one person, another thing to another person; they are unintelligible to one generation, plain as a pikestaff to the next. And it is because of this complexity, this power to mean different things to different people, that they survive. Perhaps then one reason why we have no great poet, novelist or critic writing today is that we refuse to allow words their liberty. We pin them down to one meaning, their useful meaning, the meaning which makes us catch the train, the meaning which makes us pass the examination…

Copied from Star Stuff lest the transcript should perish (i.e. in case the page or blog is deleted).

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Scandalon II (another note on typology)

If we can offer our sympathetic imagination even the faintest idea of Abraham's despair, the idea of typology might imply that God's despair is "prefigured" in Abraham's – Abraham's imaginable, unimaginable despair. God's despair: Father's as well as Son's – "Eli Eli lama sabachthani?" – in one person; a figure of utter abandon, a moment of God's most desperate solitude, as the Son of Man – and God – at the same time.

Scandalon (a note on "typology")

I am trying to think about the most extreme of all typologies:* the relation between Abraham's sacrifice and its "antitype" – or, in other words – the sacrifice of Isaac and its "antitype".

I came across a "scandalon" that is, I believe, radically different from the consequence of José Saramago's great novel The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The scandalon I ended up contemplating resembles, as an extreme scandalon, many others in the Bible, both Old and New Testament; episodes that show God himself showing hesitation, remorse, or other strangely – or perhaps just apparently – "human" characteristics, episodes that Jacques Derrida singled out in several of his writings dealing with, for example, the relation between religion and "the origin of literature".

I would refer to this extreme scandalon by the words God's suffering or the "passion" of God; but it is not only the Son's passion. If we take the typology "seriously enough" (Kierkegaard would probably detest the assumption that there can be an "enough" in this "case"), we cannot overrule the suffering of the Father – a moment of mad suffering, a mad passion, incomprehensible, impossible.

The mystics say that God's drunkenness is infinitely more sober than human sobriety, and that God's folly is infinitely wiser than human wisdom.

I am probably not the first to have thought – or tried to think – along these lines, about this most extreme of all typologies. In any case, I am not a theologian, but rather one of the so-called "free thinkers", one who tries to commit his freedom to think the unthinkable. An agnostic of sorts, I guess. (I'm not sure if I could call myself an "atheist", because the atheists that I know would probably refuse to even think about such a theme as "God's suffering". Some of them might even deny that Saramago, for example, is a real atheist.)

P.S. This blog post probably just reveals a shameful lack of erudition, but I'll expose myself to this threat. Please comment.


* The ellipsis is intentional: I would not say "the most extreme case", "the most extreme example", for example. It is not just an "example" among others.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Eichendorff: "Dichterlos"

Rearranging bookshelves at home, I grasped a volume by Joseph von Eichendorff and opened it at random – this is what the aleatory gesture brought before my eyes:


Für alle muß vor Freuden
Mein treues Herze glühn,
Für alle muß ich leiden,
Für alle muß ich blühn,
Und wenn die Blüten Früchte haben,
Da haben sie mich längst begraben.

Could not find a translation... but will edit this post later and add one, in case I find one. If you know one or have one, feel free to comment.

In any case – can we avoid the pun? A poet's lot – fate, destiny, Dichterlos – is, or will be, a world without the poet, dichterlos. A poet's lot is a poem, eine eine-für-alle-Allegorie, poetless.

A poet's time is out of joint (los).

* * *

"Dichterlos" was set to music by Othmar Schoeck (Elegie Op. 36/23).

Sunday, 13 February 2011

"I don't know what I want but I know how to get it"


... Don't you know that you can count me out – in ...

I got a very prompt and apt comment to the previous (scroll down, if you will – or try to live & read without the illusion of "linearity") post in Facebook, and would like to add my friend Gary's comment as such, with my own reply, in the form of a screenshot – *click* to view it full-size –

You say you want a revolution...

But on a second thought – see my previous post, "Street Fighting Dressman[n]" – maybe we "liberal democrats"* should just cherish the fact that no single political tendency can harness truly "popular music"! Neither the left, nor the right. Popular music is "democratic" to the point of utter disobedience and disloyalty – and maybe we should just affirm that? Maybe we should just affirm the fact that "Street Fighting Man" and "Sympathy for the Devil" remain the songs that cause goose bumps, even when we smirk at their commercial application? Maybe we should even affirm the scribbling of "Rock the Casbah" on the side of a bomb meant to – well, "rock" the casbah – you do know how the soldiers scream "let's rock'n'roll" when they go out to kill?

"I know it's only rock & roll, but I like it" – and hate it – and...

* "Liberal democrats"? What was I thinking? — I tend to describe my political position as "red, gold and green", "gold" being — not money, wealth or capital, but — an ingredient of what I would call aesthetico-ethical dis-engagement...

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Street Fighting Dressman*

»In one of the campfire scenes late in the 2007 documentary Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, a Granada friend states that Strummer wept when he heard that the phrase "Rock the Casbah" was written on an American bomb that was to be detonated on Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War« (Wikipedia, "Rock the Casbah").

Little room left for revolution in rock & roll. A form of music that can be appropriated, violently or not, by the most conservative circles, often for political and/or commercial ends.

Yet, maybe there remains hope for a revolution that makes room for rock & roll and Joe Strummer's tears – pop music is, anyway, popular music, the people's music, even if avant garde aficionado's like me tend to prefer forms that are more inappropriable – inappropriable, not by the masses, but by the conservative elite.

Can't help but love the song. To the brink of weeping, myself.

* For the title of this post, see this ad.