Thinking Time, Drinking Time: A Beginner’s Thought (3)


Enlightenment is the realization that you’ve been enlightened all along, only didn’t know it.



You, most esteemed teacher, have brought everyone who travelled along under your leadership to the point of being confronted with the choice either to become a guardian of essential things, or to work against them. [. . . .] What let your leadership become what it is, is this: the content and style of your questioning directly compel us to face final confrontations and always demand the readiness for transformation or avoidance. None of us is ever certain whether it will be given him to find the way to where the model of your work—quite inconspicuously—constantly seeks to direct him: into the tranquility [Gelassenheit] to grow ripe for the problems.

—Heidegger, address at the formal Freiburg University celebration of his mentor Edmund Husserl’s 70th birthday on April 8, 1929 (in Gesamtausgbe 16)


The same year that I discovered philosophy, I also discovered alcohol. Together, those two discoveries would determine the entire subsequent course of my life to this day. They will continue to go on determining it for however many days I have left, though their two modes of determination will differ: philosophy determining me in my continuing to do it, alcohol determining me in my continuing to not-do it.

I discovered alcohol during the same trip to Europe I took with my parents when I was fifteen, described in my preceding post. After I made that discovery, it took twenty-five years of drinking to bring me to a point of final decision, where I at last was brought to face my own inner desolation, coupled with a matching lifelong lack of awareness that I had any option. Because I finally saw clearly that I had to do something, but had no idea at all of what that “something” might be, I sought help. Then, when help did in fact turn out to be available, I received it with gratitude—which is to say I availed myself of it.

Twenty-five years of pickling myself in philosophy no less than in alcohol helped teach me by that genuine gratitude for a gift consists of nothing other than accepting and receiving the gift fully, which means taking it up and using it. That is what I did when I was finally brought to that point of decision that made me ask, genuinely ask, for help, and was offered it.

I am not a slow learner. However, the school system, in league with a number of other systems into which I was thrown at my very birth, did everything it could to block me from learning what I most needed to learn, which I learned only by choosing to receive what I was given when I was brought to that final decision point. Given such bondage, the wonder is not that it took me more than forty years to learn my lesson. Rather, the wonder is that I was ever allowed to learn it at all. That it did was ultimately thanks to the conjunction of the two gifts that were given me when I was fifteen—the gifts of philosophy and alcohol—that I was finally permitted to learn, even despite all my schooling, how actually to live my own life, rather than just enduring it, waiting for it to end.

*     *     *     *     *     *

“My control disease.” That is how psychologist J. Keith Miller, a recovered alcoholic, refers to his alcoholism in his book A Hunger for Healing (San Francisco: Harper, 1991, p. 5). It is an apt description. As I wrote in my own book Addiction and Responsibility (originally published in New York by Crossroad in 1993, now available in a print-on-demand edition from CreateSpace) when I first cited Miller’s descriptive reference, “whatever else they may be addicted [to], all addicts are addicted to ‘control.’ ” That is, as I went on to explain, they are all addicted—which by its etymology and history of usage literally means “spoken over to,” precisely in the way a slave is spoken over to an owner—the experience of feeling “in control,” or “under control,” even if (indeed, especially if) in reality they are not. Addicts are people spoken over to, and owned by, the compulsive need to experience that very feeling, the feeling that they are in or under their own control.

As I suggested already in Addiction and Responsibility, that goes a long way toward explaining the correlation researchers have found between addiction and two interrelated psychological traits: “field dependency” and “external locus of control.” Both have the status of significant risk factors for addiction. “To be field dependent,” as I then explained, “means to take one’s cues for how to behave from outside oneself, such as from the reactions of others, rather than from one’s own desires, emotions, and autonomous motivations.” As for the second trait: “To have an external locus of control means to perceive oneself as largely at the mercy of powers beyond one’s own control, rather than largely able to control one’s own destiny (an ‘internal locus of control’).”

The rates of occurrence for the two traits, field dependency and external locus of control, tend to vary proportionately. That is, they tend to rise and fall with one another. That certainly makes sense. After all, when we experience our own lives as not really our own, but at the mercy of powers beyond us (“external locus of control”), it is hardly surprising that we become especially sensitive to the cues our environment delivers to us about how we need to behave to keep on the good side of those powers (“field dependency”).

Nor is it any more surprising that the stronger those two interconnected traits grow—that is, the more one experiences one’s own life as being under external control, and therefore requiring one to be ever more vigilant for cues about how one is expected to behave if one does not want to run afoul of the powers exercising that control—the more likely it becomes that one will seek relief from the constant pressure. In other words, the more one will crave the feeling of being in and under one’s own control.

For addicts, it is precisely the practice of their addictions, whatever those addictions may be, that gives them, however fleetingly, that very feeling. So it is no wonder they get hooked!

No wonder, either, that rates of addiction continue to skyrocket in our globalized system of ever more mass-produced needs and ever more mass-produced products that falsely promise to fulfill those needs. In such a world-less world—where no one is “in control,” really—it is no surprise that we all experience such a yen to “pick up and use,” as addicts say. When learning becomes no more than schooling to consume, and teaching no more than the tooling of consumers, nothing else can be expected than that more and more students, coercively conditioned not to think, will be driven to drink instead.

Then the only hope left is that such students may finally drink enough that their drinking itself will become their greatest teacher, driving them to a final decision point. Finding themselves at last at that point, they really have to choice, in one sense. Either they choose to go ahead and choose—that is, to enter into the tranquility wherein they can sooner or later come to perceive and then to do whatever they must, each in each one’s own situation, to take back ownership over their own lives, and then to maintain it, day by day. Or else they just turn away again, refusing to choose at all, instead just heading back into oblivion, “blotting out the consciousness of [their] intolerable situation as best [they] can,” to use a formulation from Alcoholics Anonymous, AA’s “Big Book.”



For it does not admit of exposition like other branches of knowledge; but after much converse about the matter itself and a life lived together, suddenly a light, as it were, is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another, and thereafter sustains itself.

—Plato, 7th Letter (341 c-d)


Art in the technological world stands at a point of decision it has never faced before.

—Heidegger, “Art and Technology” (in Gesamtausgabe 76)

The first step in making a decision is coming to the realization that we have one to make. The more crucial the decision, the longer does the process of coming to such realization take. But however long it takes, the realization becomes fully clear only when the options themselves, between which we have to decide, have finally come to be clearly marked out before us. What exactly our options are has to be made clear to us. Only then are we truly at the decision point, where we must go one way or another. Then, at last, we are finally left with no choice but to choose, or to pull the blanket of oblivion back over our heads. Either we choose to choose, which means we go ahead to take up and do whatever it is that has been put before us to take up and do at that point. Or else we simply relinquish our own choice, and draw back, perhaps with a deep sense of relief, into the oblivion from which we had just emerged to come to that decision point in the first place.

Those who are brought to such final decision points in their lives are confronted, in fact, with the choice either to gain that life itself, accepting full ownership of their own singular lives, “owning up” to them, or to dis-own their own lives—and thereby lose them. Then, however much they might gain by refusing to choose to own up to their own lives—all the money, fame, or other forms the Biblical forty pieces of silver might take for them, even if they gain the whole world—they will truly have profited themselves nothing.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Capitalism [. . .] is the first socio-economic order which de-totalizes meaning: there is no global “capitalist worldview,” no “capitalist civilization” proper: the fundamental lesson of globalization is precisely that capitalism can accommodate itself to all civilizations, from Christian to Hindu or Buddhist, from West to East. Capitalism’s global dimension can only be formulated at the level of truth-without-meaning, as the “real” of the global market mechanism. This is why the famous Porto Allegre motto “Another world is possible!” is too simplistic; it fails to register that right now we already live less and less within what can be called a world, so that the task is no longer just to replace the old one with a new one, but . . . what? The first indications are given in art.

—Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (London & New York: Verso, 2010, p. 365)

What most impressed me about Boots Riley and The Coup when I attended their Shadowbox concert at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) in San Francisco in the summer of 2014 was how they created a space where they and others, including not only other musical and non-musical performance groups but also the audience, could come together as a single co-creative community, as it were. Above all, whatever else it created, the very coming together of such a diverse bunch of people created their very co-creative community itself. There was nothing really in common to all those participating, except for this, that they all did participate, and thereby built a community together.

To explain that a bit more fully:

As I wrote in this blog at the time (in a post I called, with intentional redundancy, “The Après-Coup After The Coup,” part of an episodic post-series entitled “Pulling Out of the Traffic,” namely, the traffic in trauma) one good way of describing The Coup is as “a group of musicians that goes out of its way, whenever and wherever it performs, to share the spotlight, whose shine its presence generates, with other, lesser-known, more ‘local’ groups.” As I went on to note: “Rather than laying claim to all the glory for itself, The Coup would seem to glory in sharing the glory with others.” Thus, I wrote, one vitally important way The Coup establishes its own uniqueness is by actively being “a group that builds up groups,” builds up groups—including itself—by joining together with others in one united yet richly diverse performance community.

It was not only fellow musical performance groups that The Coup invited to perform with and beside them. Rather, what could rightly be called the “co-performers” for that evening—each of whose participation Boots Riley and The Coup publicly recognized and honored—included a puppet troupe and a comedian, as well as the visual artist who created the striking wall-murals that surrounded the shared space for performers and audience, and the production designer. What is more, as I wrote in my post, the others whom The Coup welcomed into the community they opened up “also included all the members of the audience who attended the two sold-out premier performances on August 16.” All the members of that audience themselves literally “played along” by their participation. Each audience member was granted the space, not just physically but emotionally and socially, to participate in her or his own way. Most did so, as I wrote in that earlier post, “by dancing, hopping, jumping, writhing, gyrating, hand-lifting, gesticulating, waving, noise-making, and in other ways noticeably moving around physically.” However, those like me, “who just stood there pretty much immobile,” were no less “co-performers” of the community as a whole.  With each and every one of us taking part in her or his own way, all alone together, we all helped build what, “at least for that few hours, [was] a richly diverse community of our own.” All alone together, we co-created what I called in my post a “communizing space,” that is, “a space, an opening, where community c[ould]—and in one manner or another actually d[id]—occur.”

In what passes for a world today, for a civilization, the only way that anyone—artists most definitely included, but also all of us in their audiences—can survive at all, is by selling what they do or are for money. That’s just the way our world-less world works. But there is selling yourself, and then there is selling yourself out. The two are not the same, however difficult it may sometimes be to learn the difference.

Those who are truly graced are those who along their way encounter a teacher to let them learn how not to sell themselves out, even when they are forced into selling themselves. When that happens, it is quite a coup! After such a coup, all that remains—but it is everything—is to remain in the truth that has just struck.



Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another. And they want that world as a first step. Where they go from there is not so certain, and the attempt to foresee it in detail only confuses the issue.

—George Orwell, “Can Socialists Be Happy?” (1943), in All Art Is Propaganda


When tranquility toward things and openness toward mystery awaken in us, then we may find ourselves going along a way that leads to a new land and soil. The creation of lasting works could send down new roots into such soil.

—Heidegger, “Gelassenheit” (in GA 16)

Those lucky enough to encounter true teachers are eventually led to the point where they have no other choice but one. Either they open themselves to receive the gift that is offered to them there, entering into the serenity necessary to address essential things. Or they refuse that gift, and retreat into oblivion, drawing it back over themselves like children drawings blankets over their heads in order not to see or be seen.

If students whose teachers have brought them to that point fail that test, it is not their teachers’ fault. But if at that point such students honor their teachers by choosing to choose, rather than just abdicating all responsibility, then they may find themselves, like Abram becoming Abraham, going along a way that eventually leads to the Promised Land. Along the way they will encounter obstacles. In one fashion or another, they will have to wrestle with angels, as it were, just as Jacob did to become Israel (“He Who Struggles With God”). If they persevere in the journey, however, they will win the prize, as St. Paul assures them in one of his letters. They will find a new land and a new home, where they can at last settle down and begin to build—and thus art in the fullest sense will happen again.

So in the end it all comes down to just this: whether those students choose to start along the way their teachers have led them to, and then persevere in their journey along that way, one step at a time, day after day. It will do such students no good to huddle together at the parting point to which their teachers have led them—huddle together trying to imagine what the land at the end of the way will look like, or how they are to grapple with the difficulties they may encounter along their way. Such shilly-shallying is just one way of retreating back into oblivion. It is nothing but a security blanket to cling to in order to soothe oneself, like Linus in Peanuts—just another of all the childish things that, to rely on St. Paul’s teaching again, we must put aside when we grow up.

Nor is getting underway to a land where a new world might be built a matter of trying to plan the route, or trying to take charge of the means of conveyance. Trying to plan a route makes sense only when one knows in advance where one is going; but that is just what one does not know, when one starts off for an altogether new world. The example of Columbus and the still unremembered genocides his plans for journeying to India unleashed should be warning enough against such presumptuous planning. Similarly, to take charge of the vehicle that is taking us to somewhere, we know not where, presupposes at least minimal clarity about just what constitutes that vehicle. What looks like what will convey us to our unknown destination may turn out to be no transportation device at all, but just some useless widget being pushed on us for some huckster’s easy profit. If we don’t know where we’re going, we also don’t know what will take us there.

    *    *      *    *     *

When Viktor thought about just how the new theory had come to him, he was struck by something quite unexpected. There appeared to be absolutely no logical connection between the theory and the experiments. The tracks he was following suddenly broke off. He couldn’t understand what path he had taken. Previously he had always thought that theories arose from experience and were engendered by it. Contradictions between an existing theory and new experimental results naturally led to a new, broader theory. But it had all happened quite differently. Viktor was sure of this. He had succeeded at a time when he was in no way attempting to connect theory with experimental data, or vice versa. The new theory was not derived from experience. Viktor could see this quite clearly. It had arisen in absolute freedom; it had sprung from his own head. [. . .] The theory had sprung from the free play of thought. It was this free play of thought –which seemed quite detached from the world of experience –that had made it possible to explain the wealth of experimental data, both old and new. The experiments had been merely a jolt that had forced him to start thinking. They had not determined the content of his thoughts. All this was quite extraordinary . . .

–Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate (trans. Robert Chandler, New York Review Books, 2006, pp. 347-348)

If, when we are brought to a final decision point, we are not to avoid our responsibility by wasting our time speculating about where we’re going, planning the route, or getting our cars or other conveyances ready to roll, then just what is to be done? In fact, by just asking that question—at least if that is really what we are doing, and not just stalling for time by pretending to be asking, or maybe just back-sassing—we are already doing it. Really to ask a question is to give up the illusion of already knowing the answer, and to give up the sense of control that comes from such an illusion. It is to become, instead, open to learning, ready to be taught—already underway.

Thinking itself is not planning. Nor is it the manipulation of representations or symbols. It is not a compulsive drive to become secure. It does not aim at establishing any order, nor serve any will to dominion and control. It is not an extension of business as usual by other means. It is not a regular weekday practice.

Thinking is a sabbatical practice, the fruit of rest and not of restlessness. It begins only after we are set free to go home, to a place not of business but of tranquility, of serenity rather than drivenness.

Just by letting go and letting ourselves be drawn at last into a place of serenity, we become thoughtful, which is already to begin to think. Then, wherever we are, it is 3 o’clock, and school is over. Now at last, it is time to think. That’s all.

Today, all alone together, we need to find a serene place where we can  start to think. Only then might we find the way to a new land and soil, where art might again send down roots and flourish among us so that we all—artists and audiences alike—might once again build a world together. We cannot know in advance where thinking will eventually lead us. We can only find out by beginning to think.

Just think!




Lyotard, Heidegger, the Jews, and “the jews”–#3


Below is the third and final entry from my philosophical journal addressing Jean-Francois Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”. After beginning to reread Lyotard’s book in January of this year, other things intervened, such that I did not return to it for two months–hence the date below, slightly more than two months after the entry I posted here just two days ago.

After concluding my remarks on my rereading of Lyotard’s book, in the entry below I go on to consider a critique of his thought about trauma and representation by fellow French philosopher Jacques Rancière.  What I say below is by no means my final word on Jacques Rancière’s critique, but it shows the extent to which, at the date of the entry, I had been able to think through some of the important issues he raises.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

For the last day or two I’ve gone back to Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”, which I started reading back in January, reading through the first of the two parts of the book, “the jews,” before putting  it down to go on to other things that needed my attention.  Well, now I’ve gone back and reread “the jews” yet again, then went on to “Heidegger,” the second part of the book.

In going again through the first half of the book called “the jews,” I hit upon a couple of additional passages worth noting down in this journal–additional to what I put down back in January.  Here they are:

P. 10:  “Here [in the case of the Holocaust] to fight against forgetting means to fight to remember that  one  forgets as soon as one believes, draws conclusions, and holds for  certain.  It means to fight against forgetting the precariousness of what has been established, of the reestablished past; it is a fight for the sickness whose recovery is simulated.”  Thus, for trauma as for addiction, genuine recovery is the refusal of any pretense of recovery, which is to say the refusal of any claim to be cured.  In terms of the injunction “never forget,” it is precisely to refuse to countenance the idea that it is possible to remember, in the sense of “remembering” being equated with keeping a memento or memorial, in general a representation, present before one.

Then, from section 6, two passages, the first on p.19:

Whatever the invoked sense [of primal trauma, as it were–e.g., Freud’s “primal scene”] might be, in the night of  time, of the individual or of the species, this scene that has not taken place, that has not had a stage, that has not even been, because it is not representable [Note how, here, he clearly qualifies what he is saying:  If to be = to be represented, vorgestellt, then trauma cannot “be”] but which is, and is ex-, and will remain it whatever representations, qualifications one might make of it, with which one might endow it; this event ek-sists inside, in-sisting, as what exceeds every imaginative, conceptual, rational sequence.

Then, next page (20):

It follows that psychoanalysis, the search for lost time, can only be interminable, like literature and like true history (i.e., the one that is not historicism but anamnesis):  the kind of  history that does not forget that forgetting is not a breakdown of memory but the immemorial always “present” but never here-now, always torn apart in the time of consciousness, of chronology, between a too early and a too late–the too early of a first blow to the apparatus that it does not feel, and the too late of a second blow where something intolerable is felt.  A soul struck without striking a blow.

Now, on to the second part of the book, “Heidegger.”

P, 51-52 (first two pages of 2nd part), invoking “another urgency,” namely, one other than that manufactured by “the politics of publishing” [at play in “the Heidegger affair”–the agitation over Heidegger’s Nazi connections that was especially disruptive in French intellectual circles in the 1980s]:

Thought can be “urgent”; indeed, this urgency is essential to its being.  One is urged or pressured to think because something, an event, happens before one is able to think it. This event is not the “sensational.”  Under the guise of the sensational, it is forgotten [as 9/11 was forgotten precisely in and under the immediate, even simultaneous, sensationalization of it].  In any case, the event does not “present” itself, it will have happened:  thought finds itself seized and dispossessed by it according to its possibility as regards the indeterminate; it realizes its lack of preparedness for what will have come about, it understands its state of infancy.  The Heidegger affair will have come to our thought in such a way; it will have found it unprepared despite denials on both sides.  The urgency to investigate it when it is prescribed by the publishing powers is a way of precipitating its closure or classification.  In claiming that thought is unprepared for the affair I am eager to maintain its urgency and its pressure, to leave it open to the most patient questioning.

In effect, then, “the Heidegger affair” is a trauma for thought/philosophy.  What is more, isn’t that “historical” trauma traumatic for thought precisely because it crystallizes–becomes a site [for the striking of]–the “structural” trauma that births thought itself in the first place, thought itself as always traumatically structured?  And, ultimately, isn’t the urge and urgency that first calls thought forth–isn’t that the urge and urgency to think trauma?

For Lyotard, “the jews” is just the name of that trauma, the trauma that calls forth thought, to be thought.  And what of the thought of such thought?  P. 84:

This thought has never told anything but stories of unpayable debt, transmitted little narratives, droll and disastrous, telling of the insolvency of the indebted soul.  Where the Other has given credence without the command to believe, who promised without anyone ever asking anything, the Other who awaits its due.  There is no need to wait for or believe in this Other.  The Other waits and extends credit.  One is not acquitted of its patience or its impatience by counteroffereings, sacrifices, representations, and philosophical elaborations.  It is enough to tell and retell that you believe you are acquitting yourself and that you are not.  Thus one remembers (and this  must suffice) that one never stops forgeting what must not be forgotten, and that one is not quit either just because one does not forget the debt. . . . It is this, then, . . . that Nazism has tried to definitively forget:  the debt, the difference between good and evil.  It had tried to unchain the soul from this  obligation, to tear up the note of credit, to render debt-free forever.  And this unchaining is evil itself.

Like the debt we owe to the dead (if it is not the very same debt), the debt to God/the Other is in principle unpayable; and it is  the very endeavor to pay off this debt that compunds it most.

Pp. 93-94 (last page of the book):

[T]he debt that is our only lot–the lot of forgetting neither that there is the Forgotten nor what horrors the spirit is capable of in its headlong madness to make us forget the fact.  “Our” lot?  Whose lot?  It is the lot of this nonpeople of survivors, Jews and non-Jews, called here “the jews,” whose Being-together depends not on the  authenticity of any primary roots but on that singular debt of interminable anamnesis.

The (non-)people or (non-)community of all those who have nothing in common save that each is alone in his/her own unpayable debt.

Also, I just recently read Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image, translated by Gregory Elliott (London and New York:  Verso, 2007–Fr. orig. 2003).  The last chapter (#5), “Are Some Things Unrepresentable?” is, in large part, a critique of Lyotard’s Heidegger and “the jews”.  I’ll begin with the summary with which he [Rancière] ends his essay, and therewith the whole book.  Pp. 136-137:

I shall conclude briefly with my opening question.  Some things are unrepresentable as a function of the conditions to which a subject of representation must submit if it is to be part of a determinate regime of art, a specific regime of the relations between exhibition and signification. . . . This set of conditions exclusively defines the representative regime in art. . . . If there are things which are unrepresentable, they can be located in this regime.  In our regime–the aesthetic [as opposed to the representative] regime in art–this notion has no determinable content,  other than the pure notion of discrepancy with  the representative regime.  It expresses the absence of a stable relationship between exhibition and signification.  But this maladjustment tends towards more representation, not less. . . .

Anti-representative art is constitutively an art without unrepresentable things.  There are no longer any inherent limits to representation, to its possibilities.  This boundlessness also means that there is no longer a language form which is appropriate to a subject, whatever it might be.  This lack of appropriateness runs counter both to credence in a language peculiar to art and to the affirmation of the irreducible singularity of certain events. . . . I have tried to show that this exaggeration itself merely perfects the system of rationalization it claims to denounce. . . . In order to assert an unrepresentability in art that is commensurate with an unthinkability of the event, the latter must itself have been rendered entirely thinkable, entirely neccary according to thought.  The logic of unrepresentability can only be sustained by a hyperbole that ends up destroying it.

With that general summary laying out what he is arguing overall, I’ll now go back to flesh it out a bit at a few places.

P. 126:  “There is no appropriate language for wintessing.  Where testimony has to express the experience of the inhuman, it naturally finds an already constituted language of becoming-inhuman, of an identity between human sentiments and non-human movements.”  He then gives a (very good) analysis of Lanzmann’s Shoah in terms of just how it makes use of such already available cinematic language to accomplish its tasks.  On the basis of that analysis of a prime example, he  then concludes (p. 129):  “Nothing is unrepresentable as a property of the event.”  I’m not sure whoever said it was, really.  And, anyway, it all depends on what one means by “the event” here.  If one means simple “datable occurrence,” then “event” itself is cut down to representational size, in effect, before one even begins.  At any rate, he continues:

There are simply choices.  The choice for the present as against historicization; the  decision to represent an accounting of the means, the materiality of the process, as opposed to the representation of causes.  The causes that render the event resistant to any explanation by a principle of sufficient reason, be it fictional or documentary, must be left on hold.

. . . And Lanzmann’s investigation is part of a cinemtaic tradition that has established its pedigree.  This is the tradition that counter-poses to the light thrown on the blinding of Oedipus the simultaneously solved and unresolved mystery of Rosebud, which is the “reason” for Kane’s madness, the revelation at the end of the investigation, beyond investigation, of the nullity of the “cause”. . . . A form of investigation that reconstructs the materiality of an event while  leaving its cause on hold, proves suitable to the extraordinary character of the Holocaust without being specific to  it.  Here again the  appropriate form is also an inappropriate form.  In and of itself the event neither prescribes nor proscribes any artistic means.  And it does not impose any duty on art to represent, or not to represent, in some particular way.

I’m not quite sure what to make of his critique.  On its own terms, his analysis is illuminating, I think.  But as a critique of views such as Lyotard’s,  it seems to me basically to fail.  It passes Lyotard by, as it were.  What it attacks is not what Lyotard is saying, so far as I can see.  For instance, Lyotard himself says that something such as the Holocaust can be more effectively erased by being represented than by being simply denied.  Well, that makes sense only insofar as one can represent the Holocaust.  But his point is that trauma disrupts and disconnects the very business of “representation,” undercutting its claim to any sort of mastery, as it were.

As I say, I’m just not yet sure what to do with Rancière’s discussion here.

Klaus Theweleit and the Fantasies of Fascist Males, #8


Today is the last in my series of posts on Klaus Theweleit’s two-volume work, Male Fantasies.  The entry below is one I first wrote in my philosophical journal on the date indicated.  It is the only entry on Theweleit’s second volume.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies, Volume 2, Male Bodies: Psychoanalyzing the White Terror, translated by Erica Carter and Chris Turner (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1989), p. 189:

Fascism’s most significant achievement was to organize the resurrection and rebirth of dead life in the masses [cf. Santner on the  “animated undead”]. . . . In the contemporary context, dead life can hardly be called a rarity; and its resurrections remains an important politicalprocess, perhaps the most important political process of all.  the task  of the nonfascist, however, is not to organize dead life, but to release it from its bonds, to intensify, accelerate, and transform it into a multiplicity whose best quality is that it cannot be organized as fascism, nor in any way assembled in blocks of human totality-machines, knitted into interlocking networks of order; a multiplicity that will not fit into the slot of power-hungry bodies of party formations, that refuses to function as the liver or the little finger of institutions and rulers, but instead holds the promise of a lived life that must not scream endlessly for rebirth.

A bit reminiscent [forgive the anachronism] of Hart and Negri on the notion of “multitude,” but, more importantly, of Santner.  Yet is the “nonfascist” move he calls for any longer “political” at all?  Certainly not, if Schmitt [is accepted] on the essence of the political being the division of  enemies from friends.

A few pages later (on p. 192), he has some insights that apply to addiction, though he does not so apply apply them (my italics in what follows)

War is a function of the body of these men. . . . In war, the man appears not only naked,  but stripped of skin; he seems to lose his body armor, so that everything enters directly into the interior of his body, or flows from it.  He is out of control and seems permitted to be so.

But at the same time, he is all arms, speeding bullet, steel enclosure.  He wears a coat of steel that seems to take the place of his missing skin.  He is collected, directed toward one strict goal:  in this sense he is controlled in the extreme.

Klaus Theweleit and the Fantasies of Fascist Males, #5


Below is another entry in my series on Klaus Theweleit’s two-volume Male Fantasies, with the date I originally wrote it in my philosophical journal.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Theweleit, p. 257 (in favor of flows and the “mechanical,” à la Deleuze and Guattari):

The negativization of the “mechanical” in the bourgeois vernacular [in the preceding paragraph he has just written that “an artificial division, or actual opposition, of humans and machines holds sway within the realms of [capitalist] production.  The responsibility for that surely doesn’t lie in the machines, but with those who finance them, who have planned and built them in a way that allows the principles of antiproduction [that is, of death] to be introduced into production.”] and in bourgeois thinking in general, corresponds, therefore, to the negativization of the machine in the capitalist production process [where it is made to serve not flow, but the stoppage and fragmentation of flow, as emblematically occurs in the assembly line].  thus a new relation becomes evident:  the hostility between worker and machine, set up by the capitalist, is identical to the hostility the bourgeois ego reserves for the productive force of its own unconscious.  This hostility is dictated by the social compulsion to become an “ego” of  that type, in order to remain bourgeois.  The bourgeoisie’s fear of having to become “workers,” should they cease to meet the social demand of their class, can thus be seen to spring from the bourgeois ego’s fear of coming in contact with its unconscious, of being condemned “to the machines.”

Thus, in contrast to  such up-tight [insistence on] being “in control,” the unleashing of the flow ([which is experienced negativizingly as] “flood” [and] so feared yet obsessed about in fascism of whatever stripe) that we can find in alcohol, drugs, sex, etc., [helps account for] the lure of addiction.  More importantly, [it helps account for] the promise that lies at the heart of addiction itself, when it finally self-escalates into breakdown, and the collapse of all ego/hardness/ constraint in total surrender of openness to the (divine?) flow.  “Where danger is, there lies also what saves.”

Theweleit continues (p. 258):

The formulation of the later Freud, “Where id was, there ego shall be,” can thus be seen as a program for  eliminating the machinic and the flowing from the productions of the  human unconscious:  shutting down and draining . . . like the draining of the Zuider Zee [which Freud himself uses as a comparison here].  The person capable of being described by the ego/id/superego topography would in this case be conceived as a dry grave, the final resting place of streams and desiring-machines.  This ties in with an assumption . . . that the concrete form of the struggle against the flowing-machinic productive forces of the unconscious has been (and still is) a battle against women, against female sexuality [which is made to equal “flow” and “flood”:  menstruation, paradigmatically].

He then does a quick tour of world literature to show how often (how recurrently, mechanically, I might add–in Theweleit’s own spirit, I judge) flood  and flow and spurting and jetting and the like are sung praises to.  P. 260:

It is the desire for a life free from lack [i.e., for a free-flowing fullness of spewing life itself]–or writing extravagantly in the knowledge of abundance (as Bataille would say)–that writers from different societies and regions arrive at such similar ideas when trying to describe states, or expectations, of happiness.  They are rooted in a feeling they must all have felt of the actual experience of nonlack in the streaming of pleasure through their own bodies.

In a note at the bottom of the page to this passage, he mentions that he gives a few more citations of praise for flow and flood in the appendix.  So I turned to that, and found him using precisely the appeal to the longing for free flow and  flood to explain the attraction of Nazism/fascism even for the workers!  Then, however, he adds this crucial qualifying explanation (p. 432):

Fine, except for one thing:  all of that affirmation is theatrical; it never gets beyond representation [still the sovereignty of the image!], the illusion of production. . . . Fascist masses may portray their desire for deliverance from the social double bind, for lives that are not inevitably entrapping, but not their desire for full stomachs.  The success of fascism demonstrates that masses who become fascist suffer more from their internal states of being than from hunger or unemployment.  Fascism teaches us that under certain circumstances, human beings imprisoned within themselves, within body armor and social constraints, would rather break out than fill their stomachs; and that their politics may consist in organizing that escape, rather than an economic order that promises future full  stomachs for  life.  [But, I’d add, that never even intends to fulfill that promise, any more than fascism  (or addiction) ever finally delivers on its promise to free life to flow freely].  The utopia of fascism is an edenic freedom from responsibility.

I’d add that only when responsibility is itself deadened into bourgeois, passionless “doing one’s duty” will freedom appear as freedom from responsibility,as it does in all fascist and/or capitalist societies–despite and against the rhetoric of those societies.  So the flow keeps getting blocked again.  In contrast, full freedom of free flow coincides with accepting of responsibility.

What he says here bears comparison with both Lacoue-Labarthe on the fiction of the political and the aestheticization of politics in fascism, and Badiou on the obfuscating “fascist subject.”

All of it also points to this, I’d suggest:  The “truth” of fascism (of Auschwitz) is fully freely flowing life.  That is, the response to fascism, the response it calls for and forth from us, is to tear down the walls (to undistort what Reagan so distorted at Berlin) that block fully free flow:  dismantle capitalism and bourgeois society entirely, since fascism now stands in the light as inseparably interconnected with capitalism itself (at least as conjoined with “patriarchy”–though his remarks here seem to me to undercut that very distinction, just as they, by the way, resurrect another, namely, the distinction between real or true, and apparent or false).

The way to “remember Jerusalem” (the truth that goes by that name) is not to  found a new Israeli state but is, rather (and as Rosenzweig for one suggests), to remain in, and embrace, dispersion (to stay in the Diaspora).

Theweleit on pages 263-264 gives an interesting study of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde story.  In Theweleit’s reading Hyde is/represents the free flow of life/desire, which Jekyll dams up.  Jekyll is the man bound and constrained by social repression of free flowing life:  Jekyll  is the ego.  And, of course, Hyde, the id, must in the end die!  Yet the death that Hyde himself represents would be, in truth, life–in relation to the “animated undeadness” ([Erik] Santner’s term) of Jekyll.

This reading seems to me to fit with my own reading of addiction as the binding of the otherwise disruptive (or at least uncontrolled) power that lies in the potential addict,  a power disruptive of the state.  That is–my idea is–that the state-system engenders addiction as a way of disabling those otherwise dangerous (to the state) elements that threaten it; and the addict in recovery, by finally getting free of the bonds of  addiction, actually comes free and open to genuine dismissal and inactivation of the power of the state.  (Hence,  for example, my liking for the image of [heroin addict Mark] Renton free to walk among us, at the end of [Scottish novelist Irvine Welch’s novel] Trainspotting [of which Renton is the fictional narrator].)

Trauma, Resilience, and the Sovereignty of the Representational Image


The following is the last entry–under the date I originally wrote it last summer in my philosophical journal–concerning various contributions to the collection The Unbroken Soul (H. Parens, H. Blum, and S. Akhtar, eds., Lanham, MD:  Jason Aronson, 2008).


Monday, July 21, 2008

Steven M. Southwick, Faith Ozbay, and  Linda C. Mates (all M.D.s), “Psychological and Biological Factors Associated with Resilience” (in The Unbroken Soul), p. 138:  “Developing animals that are forced to  confront overwhelming and uncontrollable, stressors that they cannot master tend to display an exaggerated or sensitized sympathetic nervous system and/or hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal response to stressors as adults.  In contrast, developing animals exposed to mild to moderate stessors that are under their control and that they they can master tend to  become stress inoculated with a reduced overall response to future stressors.”

Compare my thesis that addiction rates in populations vary [inversely] with experienced effective agency for members of [those populations].  [That is, the higher the addiction rate in a given population, the less will be the individual sense of effective agency among members of that population, and the greater the individual sense of  agency in a given population, the lower will be the addiction rate in that same population.]


Susan C. Adelman (Ph.D.), “From Trauma to Resilience” (Unbroken Soul), p. 158:  “. . . [P]rofound enough traumata may actually cause the hippocampal dysfunction so that at the moment of trauma no memory develops that could later be consciously accessible.  In severe trauma, that is, the full facts of what actually happened may not ever be available [to conscious cognition, at least–representation].  In these situations, the clinician and patient need to work together to observe the contexts of fear and their associations as a way into regaining some knowledge of the trauma.  With these pieces, rather than with  a full memory that cannot be recovered because it does not exist, the patient has the option of reconstructing a story that is meaningful to him or here.  This may be the best available strategy for moving the somatic reactions to the more flexible, symbolically encoded higher cortical regions.”

She [seems to be] equating memory with representational memory, against her own recognition, in fact, that there are multiple “memory systems” in the brain.  Trauma exceeds the sovereignty of the image:  It is not subject to that sovereignty any longer.  To use a formulation paraphrased from [contemporary French phenomenological philosopher Jean Louis] Chrétien, trauma is what is unforgettable precisely because it cannot be remembered representationally.  Like the Heraclitean sun, one cannot hide from it, because it never sets.


According to Adelman (p. 195), “psychoanalytic theory has delineated two theories of  trauma.  One is the ‘unbearable situation’ model and a second, the ‘unacceptable impulse model.'”  (She cites Henry Krystal [see my post before last, for some reflections on Krystal’s contribution to The Unbroken Soul], “Trauma and affects,” in Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 33, 81-116.)  [But insofar as the threatened emergence into awareness of an “unacceptable impulse” itself constitutes an “unbearable situation,” there may really be only one underlying model at issue here, in my judgment.  Nevertheless, the modulation between the “unbearable” something-or-other coming, or seeming to come, “from without,” and its coming, or seeming to come, “from within,” as an “impulse,” is worth attention.]

Trauma, Addiction, Resilience and the Like


My philosophical journal from last summer continues with entries on the essays collected in The Unbroken Soul (H. Parens, H. Blum, and S. Akhtar, eds., Lanham, MD:  Jason Aronson, 2008)  In the entry below, with the date of original writing, I begin with a response to something I happened also to read in the New York Times that same day, pertaining to addiction.  Then I return to The Unbroken Soul, above all to a valuable contribution by Henri Parens, one of the editors of the collection and himself a survivor of a concentration camp in Vichy France.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

The cover-story of the New York Times Magazine for, today:  “Me and My Girls,” by David Carr, the Times’ media columnist, on his years as “a drug dealer and crack addict” who (in 1989) “found that becoming a parent [of twin girls to a crack-addict mother who lost custody to him eventually] can save your life” (as the blurb on the Magazine’ s cover says).  P. 34, in response to the idea that drugs changed him:  “But drugs, it seems to me, do not conjure demons; they reveal them.”

Applies to all  trauma, at least within limits I have yet to get wholly clear about–not just addiction, which I increasingly see as linked to/rooted in trauma.


Ira Brenner, “On Genocidal Persecution and Resilience,” in The Unbroken Soul, pp. 80-81:  “Like resilient sapling trees that have had to grow at unusual angles in order to bypass obstructions to sunlight, those who at a young age endured genocidal persecution have followed their own turning and twisting paths in order to grow.  From chronic psychosomatic disturbances in the very young to characterological disturbances in the older ones, many have bypassed certain developmental tasks but have nevertheless functioned well unless illness, loss, or old age set in.  In addition, their survivor ordeals are indelibly imprinted in their psyches and may repeat themselves in symbolic or in actual scenarios until they die.”

The will to recover:  the making good of the evil.


The Unbroken Soul, Henri Parens (camp survivor in Vichy France), “An Autobiographical Study of Resilience:  Healing from the Holocaust,” p. 87:  “Can we adjudge everything that grows vigorously to be resilient [e.g., even rank weeds]?”

Also, same page to the following one (pp.87-88):  Primo Levi’s “characterological depression, biographically proposed by Carole Angier (2002) to be of pre-Holocaust origin, which continued [here he has a note, which I’ll get to below] after the Holocaust may have led him to suicide.”  The note he gives [to this passage] (on p.115) is confirmed by my own experience that, when my life is at its worst, my physical health is [often] at its best–or, more directly, by my experience last year when, during my recovery [in hospital and then in rehab] from my [serious] bike accident [on the kind of bike one pedals], I found my allergies and, more pointedly, my seborrhea, to let up, leaving me to focus on my broken bones:  “Remarkable and yet to be explained, according to Janet Maslin, who reviewed Carole Angier’s biography of Prima Levi (New York Times, Thursday, June 13, 2002), Angier believes ‘that Primo Levi was depressed before and after Auschwitz, but not in it.'”  Parens goes on to  cite as well how camp “inmates tended not to develop common colds (despite exposure to severe weather conditions), nor common ailments:  rather, many died of typhoid and of starvation.”  On Levi’s depression, my often made observation that my superego [tends to] let up on me by not making me [somehow act out judgment against myself] so much when my life [is] going poorly strikes a truth, I think, insofar as depression, addiction, etc., have dimensions of self-punishment built in. 

Parens, p. 103:  “For me as well as for others, healing from the Holocaust has left painful scars, but it has also led to much good. . . . Both give evidence of resilience since scars too are evidence of healing.”


Page 108, Parens quotes a second time (the first is at the beginning of his essay, on p. 88) a line from Primo Levi’s Survival at Auschwitz (1947/1996, p. 142):  “The comrade of all my peaceful moments . . . –the pain of remembering . . . attacks me like a dog the moment my conscience comes out of the gloom.”  Does this testify more to his survivor guilt, or to the twisting of it by, and in service of, his depression?