“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, June 19, 2010

More Kierkegaardian notes - for Mr. T.

I’m going to range a bit in these notes.

A. the real paradise

In a footnote to the Concept of Anxiety, Kierkegaard references a theory propounded by F. Baader about the Fall – namely, that the Fall must be seen under the category of temptation. Baader is one of those German thinkers who toil up the back staircase to the Castle, unlike Hegel, and thus is praised for his “usual authority and vigor” – and yet here, Kierkegaard can’t go the extra step with him: “Baader seems to me to have neglected some intermediate elements. To pass from innocence to error by nothing other than the concept of temptation risks giving God, in his relation to man, almost the role of the experimenter, and in this way neglects the intermediary, psychological observation, for after all, the intermediary is concupiscentia.” [Translation from the French translation]

There is, here, an echo – a repetition interrupted. Kierkegaard’s scenario, again and again, consists of two men and one girl. The game is played in two moves, which are allotted to the two men: the first man observes the other man and woman – as Constantin Constantius observes the young man in Repetition. Eve is erased rather quickly in the Concept of Anguish – whereas, for Constantius, the young girl is a kind of “bait” for the young man. In the latter scenario, the young man “falls” for the young woman – in the scenario of the Fall, Adam falls, in a sense, for desire itself. The point for the experimenters is not to elicit a response from the girl, but from the man.

The second move in the game is allotted to the young man – or to Adam, although Adam does not write letters. The young man views the girl under two contrary impulses: to love her, or to flee from her – the latter being, indeed, the essence of the former. The young man in Repetition does not annul the girl – as Eve is erased in the story of the Fall – but he substitutes, for annuling her, fleeing from her. He does not, however, fall into Constantius’ experiment. Remember, Constantius proposes the course of fleeing her by deceiving her into thinking that he – the young man – is actually a libertine. Constantius even finds another girl – a working girl, of course, a shop girl, in a boutique – a milieu Kierkegaard must have known about. Indeed, his mother was, in a way, a shop girl. This erased Eve was supposed to be a decoy upon which the young lover was to – leave no mark. But Constantius’ plan was fouled by the young man’s sudden departure.

So much for a scenario that seems – suddenly – to have appeared, with God as Constantius, at the very beginning of human history, and that keeps lacing itself into and out of Kierkegaard’s works, .

However, this footnote, and the first part of The Concept of Anguish, should also revive in the reader – or at least revives in the not so indefatigable writer of these lines – a memory of the very beginning of this thread. It was a post about Kant, from Kant’s lecture on Anthropology, which I threw in as a curve ball from the left field bleachers – and yes, I scatter my references like iron filings and hope to god that some magnet, some theme, will reveal the rose bloom in the field of force –in this case, the field that consists of the culture of happiness. I am operating with the biggest magnets.

Here, again, is the quotation from Kant.

“The question of whether Heaven and not been more provident in caring for us by providing us with everything so that we didn’t have to work is certainly to be answered no; from men demand activities (Geschaefte), even such that include a certain element of coercion mixed in them. Just as false is the idea that if Adam and Eve had remained in Paradise, they would have done nothing but sat together and sung arcadian songs and observed the beauty of nature. Boredom would certainly have martyred them as well as it does other men in similar positions.”

C. The notes for the reply to Heiberg.

They always come in pairs. Sainte Beuve and Baudelaire. Heiberg and Kierkegaard. Wagner and Nietzsche. Goethe and Kleist. Snake eyes. One’s special, one’s irreplaceable misunderstander.

When JL Heiberg published his review of Repetition, Kierkegaard, naturally sharp-eyed about his own work, noticed that Heiberg most likely didn’t read past page 40 – oh, one gets sensitive about these things after you publish a bit, you read not simply with your eyes, but with your nervous system! – and that his remarks about repetition were almost heaven sent – the purest platitudinous fool’s gold from the bourgeois heart. As for instance in this passage:

“Repetition that is not mediated through subjectivity into something higher than itself is boring and devoid of spirit.” And this: “The author, who was merely seeking repetition, should not have repeated his journey to Berlin. On the other hand, the repetition of reading a book… can heighten and in a way surpass the first impression, because one thereby immerses oneself more deeply in the object and appropriates it more inwardly.” [From Soren Kierkegaard: Social and political philosophy, 92]

However, although Kierkegaard replied in his papers, he never published the reply in his lifetime. Luckily, the Hong translation of Repetition includes the whole lot.

I will fasten upon one passage.

First, one has to note that the entire reply is traversed by an irritation that amounts to the thought underneath the thought. It is not unimportant, this irritation – no, it is highly characteristic of the aliens to the happiness culture. That alienation is the result of a process – of a long discipline in creating in oneself a perpetually thinking sensitivity, something contrary to the long discipline in dulling the senses that is the circulation worker’s way of getting through the day. Kierkegaard was never a clerk, but he was the son of a man who started out as a clerk, and he has the soul of a clerk who casts everything off – who allows himself, like Bartleby, to experience time running out. Time running out is the special province of clerks.

Kierkegaard didn’t publish these notes, as I say, because … well, as any author knows, to go back and explain your text is to kill it and then offer yourself as the chief mourner at its wake. And the old rule applies: the corpse bleeds in the presence of the murderer. Similarly, the text leaks its meaning at the wake. All the parts, so carefully put together, begin to decompose. And yet – perhaps – this is the thought that strikes the author just as he begins to mourn– perhaps this is what it was built for! It is that thought which turns mourning into style, and a particular kind of style – feverish, hectic, crisis-ridden.

In any case, we will put that image aside and go to the passage, which begins:

“When applied in the sphere of individual freedom, the concept of repetition has a history – in as much as freedom passes through several stages in order to attain itself.” Heiberg, insisting on the dialectical, will get it.

The stages are three.

(a) “Freedom is first qualified as desire – being in desire. What it now fears is repetition, for it seems as though repetition has a magic power to keep freedom captive once it has tricked it into its power.”

This stage echoes Adam’s plight – yes, the Fall is behind it all, with erased Eve in train. When error, or sin, leaps into the world, it takes the form of desire. But of a particular desire – one that does not feel the spiky press of need in its back. Rather, it feels the press of no need at all in its back. In short, it feels the first intimations of boredom. This open up an entirely unexpected hole in the homogenous surface of whatever paradise (Divine or artificial) is at hand. In this sense, boredom and freedom are twins, conceived at the same time.

And need one be reminded of capitalist Europe, with its great Mordspiel of commodities and its new organization of labor into more and more specialized routines? Upon which the circulation laborer sits, endlessly billing.

The second stage, too, seems to point to the Adamic narrative. “b. Freedom qualified as sagacity. Repetition is assumed to exist, but freedom’s task in sagacity is to continually gain a new aspect of repetition. People who in freedom do not stand in any higher relation to the idea usually embellish this viewpoint as the highest wisdom.” Here, repetition takes us back to the experiment, and its strange links with temptation and seduction. Yet Kierkegaard had a strong desire to couple the sage with the buffoon – or to, at least, understand how the pair had so strangely gotten uncoupled. And remember, too, that the buffoon is linked, originally, in Moliere’s play, with Don Giovanni. Kierkegaard did not like the play, but he did understand I think that Don Juan is, by a process of transformations, present in Doctor Faust.

And this is enough for this post. I’ll put the second part up tonight.

“But since freedom qualified as sagacity is only finitely qualified, repetition must appear again, namely, repetition of the trickery by which sagacity wants to fool repetition and make it into something else. Sagacity despairs.”

The oppositional point of view, the alien in the artificial paradise, in as much as it accepts the mantle of the sage, has signed its concession already, made itself available for plug-n-play in the institution. When Kierkegaard constructs the series temptation-seduction-experiment, it finishes with the comedy routine, an exploding cigar, a bucket of paint thrown in the public’s face (as Ruskin said of Whistler), or the hectic style of… well, Constantine Constantius. And Edgar Allen Poe’s narrators, and DeQuincey’s Opium Addict. In modernity, the buffoonish decision to make comedy into a routine, to make irony into a repetition, is made in separation from the institutionalization of sagacity. While the dialogue between sage and buffoon which once constituted the two poles of philosophy has dissolved into two separate trajectories, still, each feels the call of the other. Each feels, somehow, the trivialization that attends their split destinies.

Bringing us to the third stage.

(c) “Now freedom breaks forth in its highest form, in which it is qualified in relation to itself. Here everything is reversed, and the very opposite of the first standpoint appears. Now freedom’s supreme interest is precisely to bring about repetition and its only fear is that variation would have the power to disturb its eternal nature. Here emerges the issue: is repetition possible? Freedom itself is now the repetition.”

And here – here, mark ye, our return to the Stoic reference we see later in Deleuze:

‘If it were the case that freedom in the individuality related to the surrounding world could be so immersed, so to speak, in the result that it cannot take itself back again (repeat itself), then everything is lost. Consequently, what freedom fears here is not repetition but variation; what it wants is not variation but repetition. If this will to repeat is stoicism, then it contradicts itself and thereby ends in destroying itself in order to affirm repetition in that way, which is the same as throwing a thing away in order to hide it more securely. When stoicism has stepped aside, only the religious movement remains as the true expression for repetition.”

Through a glass darkly, this is the credo of absolute reaction, thundering against the happiness culture and its awful inability to sacrifice. Underground channels connect our aliens. For surely there is, here, a formal similarity with the moment of revolution, stirring the old corpse that lay buried under bourgeois society, the revolution that made it, that old buried thing – which may not be a corpse at all, but an ardent tunneler, the old mole. Oddly, in the semiosphere of infinite variation, the driving motif is nostalgia for the freedom buried at your feet.

Well, this should end in an anecdote. Levin, Kierkegaard’s ‘secretary”, has given us a record of his last years. Levin evidently found Kierkegaard a trial, but – at the same time – a most moochable man. His memoir sounds like something out of Dostoevsky’s The Devils.

“Once I ate at his house every day for five weeks. Merely providing nourishment for his hungry spirit was also a source of unending bother. Every day we had soup, frightfully strong, then fish and a piece of melon, accompanied by a glass of fine sherry: then the coffee was brought in: two silver pots, two cream pitchers and a bag of sugar which was filled up every day. Then he opened a cupboard in which he had at least fifty sets of cups and saucers, but only one of each sort, and said, well, which cup and saucer do you want today?” It was of no consequence, but there was no way around it; I had to choose a set. When I said which one I would take, he asked, “Why?” One always had to explain why, and then at long last we would be finished and get our cups. (He also had an astonishing number of walking sticks).”

Levin, of course, knew where this was all leading to:

“He inherited the house and ninety-eight thousand rixdollars from his father. At his death nearly everything had been spent: he had gradually consumed his fortune.”

So many walking sticks! Such fine coffee! Mes gages! Mes gages!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

salle des crises

It was the stoics who first concerned themselves with the logical implication of the event – that is, they were concerned with the seeming disjunction between the realm of the quantitative and the qualitative, which were what they were left with after Aristotle’s syllogisms. The classical example is the heap of sand. There is no one grain of sand that ‘crowns’ the heap, – it does not emerge as a thing to be analyzed quantitatively, its structure opening up, its covering – dermis, hide - transparent, to our pullulating pluses and minuses.

Of course, these are the issues that became famous, again, in the eighties and nineties with chaos and then complexity theory. But the event is the secret rail that many a fumbling soul has squeezed in the dark, going up the back stairs in the Castle. Lichtenberg, somewhere, remarks that the proportion of the corpuscle of light to the eye was similar to the proportion between the Meditteranean and a leaf that has fallen into it – and just as the corpuscle contributes, in its infinite smallness, to the face of the beloved or to any of our visual images, the leaf, for all we know, may create a disturbance in the water that effects the waves coming in on the China coast. Once we have dispensed with the usual metrics of the quantitative, we’ve entered a realm in which what is small and what is large, judged by effect, can’t be predetermined by our biases. We must wipe the impressions on the slate of the mind clean.

Deleuze’s chapter on the problematic begins with the stoic theme of the event – the ideal event. Deleuze, from the beginning, had been influenced by Emile Bréhier’s reconstruction of stoic logic, from which he drew upon to sketch out the nature of the event, one of the great themes in the whole of Deleuze’s work. He is drawn to events like addiction, schizophrenia, revolution – events in which the perspectives given us by addition and subtraction are unsatisfactory, insufficient, and morally degrading.

The event, then, for Deleuze consists of singularities that escape the domain of the quantitative – and yet have a distinct insistence in the world. These he calls ‘singularities”. He quotes Peguy about singularities in history – crises, critical points – and nears, in his language, the kind of talk that the complexity school, in the eighties, adopted as their own:

Péguy saw profoundly that history and the event were inseparable from such and such singular points: “there are critical points of the event as there are critical points of temperature, points of fusion, of congealing, of boiling, of condensation; of coagulation, of crystallization; and there are even, in the event, those states of superfusion that do not precipitate out, which don’t crystallize, which are only determined by the introduction of a fragment of the future event…” And Péguy knew how to invent an entire language, among the most pathological and aesthetic that one could dream of, for telling how a singularity is prolonged in a line of ordinary points, but also takes itself up into another singularity, redistributes itself in another set (the two repetitions, the bad and the good, that which enchains and that which saves).”

I should point out, here, that crisis was not only a term of art in early modern medicine, but – among the Mesmerists – became the supreme event, the moment when the cure of animal magnetism produced its convulsive or deranging effects on the body of the patient. Though I have yet to find any commenter remark upon the connection between Kierkegaard’s use of ‘experiment’, and its connection with seduction and temptation (which I will try to get back to later), there is a certain invisible ink, here. I smell it. I taste it. I am a great licker of pages. Crisis, is, of course, one of the great Kierkegaardian terms.

To return to Deleuze – while other philosophers have clung to the secret rail, Deleuze – and this is the thrill of reading him – seems to switch on a light. One that nobody has bothered to switch on before. In the midst of a sometimes puzzling language, taken from anywhere – having no problem with mismatching vernaculars if that is what it takes – Deleuze explains the seemingly chaotic nature of the event by putting it, ideally, under the reign of another temporal order – Aion. It is in that order that the problematic comes out of its shell, so to speak – no longer is it a subjective difficulty, but it is the horizon of the event itself.

And here I will pause for a yawning parenthesis, to write something about Repetition and freedom for the next post.

Monday, June 14, 2010

the ninth series: the problematic

There is a passage in Nordentoff’s book, Kierkegaard's Psychology, written in the 1940s, that assures readers that when Kierkegaard writes of experimental psychology, he was not speaking of "the rat cages of the laboratory". This is very true; but it is also, from the perspective of a materialist intellectual history, sadly insufficient. That is, the transposition of a contemporary sense of experimental psychology to Kierkegaard’s texts doesn’t really explain Kierkegaard’s relation to the experiments of his own day – the experiments of Baird, the coiner of the word hypnosis – or the experiments Baird references in his chapter on “Nervous Sleep” (beautiful phrase) that were performed by the royal commission in 1783 to evaluate Mesmer, and that were repeated in 1838 to evaluate the cures of animal magnetism. This is too bad – as Jacqueline Corroy has pointed out in an article on the history of experiment in psychology, there was, from the beginning, a large allowance made in psychology for trickery – for deceiving the ‘subjects’. And since Kierkegaard’s own great psychological experiment with regard to Regina Olson involved deception – one would like to know what, exactly, Kierkegaard could have known of psychology.

Yet, in this post I am going to do something that might pick up that same wild anachronistic strain in interpretation – that is, I am going to use a chapter in Deleuze’s Logic of Sense to make some sense of the image of the experiment, and its relation to the world of made experience that characterized the increasingly industrialized capitalism of the West in the 19th century. The artificial paradise, as I call it, boosting Baudelaire’s title.

So how do I justify this? It seems to me that the encounters staged by philosophy occur on a different level than those staged by, say, psychology. This is not to say that they are, ultimately, independent of context, but they are freer within contexts, they have a greater range. Of course, philosophers think they have the freest range, in which they are much like those chickens whose thighs and breasts are wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam for your discerning shopper – they mistake free range for immortality. They never do know what hit them. But then again, does any of us?

The ninth “series”/chapters in the Logic of Sense is called: of the problematic. Oddly, Goethe’s essay about the experiment doesn’t say very much about problems. It is, rather, as if the scientist, falling out of the natural attitude, is solely concerned with the kind of observation that takes him out of himself, into the world of phenomena, where what a thing is, and how it connects to the totality of what is, does not present itself to him as a problem.

However, where the problem is located plays a similar role in Deleuze’s chapter as where repetition is located played in Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard made notes for a reply to Heiberg, who reviewed Repetition and condescended to point out a few of the author’s mistakes: most notably, that repetition “belongs to the world of natural phenomena, and it is a mistake to transfer it to the world of spirit.” (286) Kierkegaard was irked; on his reading of Heiberg, this distinction isn’t even honored by the critic. On the other side, the problem, as Deleuze points out, has often been said to be a mental construct: “… a long habit of thought which makes us consider the problematic as a subjective category of our knowledge, an empirical moment which only marks the imperfection of our progress (demarche), the sad necessity we lay under to not know in advance, and which disappears in the knowledge we obtain. However the problem is buried by the solution, it nevertheless subsists in the idea which relates it to its conditions, and which organizes the genesis of the solution themselves. Without that idea the solutions wouldn’t make any sense. The problematic is at the same time an objective category of knowledge and a genre of perfectly objective being. « Problématique » qualifies precisely ideal objectivities. Kant was without doubt the first to make of the problematic not a temporary incertitude, but the proper object of the idea, and thus as well an indispensable horizon for everything that eventuates or appears.”

This notion has been extremely liberating for me – in that it is not the unconscious of history I want to blindly fondle, but the problems, the obscurely felt problematic. This confusion about where in the famous ontological divide the problem, or repetition, should be put is not the only reason, however, that I find Deleuze’s chapter pertinent to Kierkegaard.

Get better, Infinite Thought

One of our favorite bloggers, Infinite Thought, is infinitely sick from various medieval maladies that we didn't think still existed. But who knows about Wiltshire? Thurber, of course, had an aunt who contracted Dutch Elm disease and wilted to death - so you can never tell what is waiting to get you!

Anyway, we are posting five songs for Nina's health:

1. Bored - Deftones. Which must be how she is feeling, between bouts of deathgrip pain.

2. Biggie and Lil Kim. Another. I was going to put a Tatu song here, but ... I couldn't find one that worked. Whereas this dialogue is in its own way... What it is.

3. Kapital - Trubetskoy. A cheer you up Marx-y song, what could be better?

4. London Hates You - the Kills

5. And naturally - Here comes sickness - Mud Honey. Which used to go together with intoxication and cars for me - but not any more! I listen to it very quietly and soberly.