Images II

1. What is the scandal of thinking? If only our scientists would read Kant; if only our metaphysicians would read Gödel (Badiou); if only we could think the fact that we are not thinking (Heidegger); if only it were possible, through education, to open the American mind (Bloom, Adler); if only philosophy could move us to compassion (Rorty). Is there not a moral obligation to be intelligent (Erskine, Trilling)?

Or is not the task of thought to be done with thought—to flirt with the nothingness of thought in the heart of man, i.e., death, in the silence of nonknowledge (Bataille: “language, stubborn in refusal, is poetry, turns back on itself (against itself): this is the analogue of a suicide … Silence is the unlimited violation of the prohibition that human reason opposes to violence: it is divinity without stops, which thought alone disengaged from the contingency of myths”).

This would seem, to some, to be a retreat to the inner citadel—an evasion and, paradoxically, even a repression of existence that even the most ardent pessimist would revile. In this regard, Nietzsche’s most important teaching, if nothing else, is the lesson of courage—that all is not vanity (even if it is absurd).

2. If philosophy, then, is to transform the world, to critique the institution, to bring us to the leap, to think the possibility of freedom and revolt—what is the imperative for thought today when reflection hides its face under the mask of fascism (Bush’s Amerika), runs behind the gated walls of covenant communities, or parades its wares in the “marketplace of ideas”?

3. Metaphysics, Bergson says, is the language that dispenses with symbols. Bergson proposes an image of thought (i.e., intuition) that goes right to the heart of things. Here, Bergson finds, right down to the language of “dreaming”, an unlikely ally in Bachelard, who opposes the model of poetics (the image) to the concept (science, phenomenology, psychology).

“The cogito of thought can wander, wait, choose—the cogito of reverie is immediately attached to its objects, to its image. The shortest distance of all is the one between the imagining subject and the imagined image. … A kind of multiple cogito takes on new life in the closed world of a poem. Of course, other powers of consciousness are required to take possession of the poem’s totality. But the flash of an image already provides us with an illumination.”

[But—and here is my fundamental question—is the name of such an experience philosophy or art?]

“Suddenly an image occupies the heart of our imagining being. It seizes us, holds us. It infuses us with being … [The poet’s] being is simultaneously the being of the image and his commitment to the astonishing image. The image brings us an illustration of our wonderment. … In reverie on a simple object we experience a polyvalence of our dreaming being. A flower, a fruit, a simple familiar object suddenly insists that we think of it, that we dream in its company, that we help it to rise to the level of man’s companion [i.e., that we inhabit a world].”

And here there is yet another unlikely alliance: the law of Bachelard’s elements finds another expression in the Chinese wuxing—the phases or processes by which being is articulated (“even more than clear thought and conscious images, dreams are governed by the four fundamental elements”). We can go further: poetics is nothing else than the thinking of these images according to their immanent laws; the task of poetics is thus to break the representation of the word. Is this not also what we have in the Taoist wuwei (movement/non-movement)? Not merely the “disclosure” of a hidden Being but the very bringing into being of a becoming—is this not anything other than a thought?

“The poetic object, duly energized by a name rich in resonances, is a good conductor of the imagining psyche. For such conduction, we must call the poetic object by its name, its old name, giving it a just sonority, surrounding it with the resonances it will being to life, with the adjectives that will prolong its cadence and its temporal life … Each contemplated object, each creative name we murmur is the point of departure of a dream and of a line [a line of flight!], a creative linguistic movement.”

4. Gauchet has shown that the very possibility of reflection consists, first, in the separation of God from life and, consequently, the death of God. But to this we must add three (equivalent) corollaries: thought is singular; the essence of thought is not discourse; philosophy is not politics. And yet neither is philosophy ethics: even if one were to say that philosophy concerns the one who philosophizes, one must still ask who this “one” is (certainly not the thinker!).

5. The question or the image? Perhaps: philosophy is the opening of the question; music is the creation of the image.


A quiet exhalation of breath trembled past an ear. “Here I am”, she had said in that moment: “[it is] here [that] I am”. That is all she has ever said—in scribbles, in the sharp rending of flesh, and in the tears that refused to fall.


A friend–whom I had hoped would post a comment herself here–sent me a link to a story from the NY Times today with the following quotation from France’s Finance Minister: “France is a country that thinks … There is hardly an ideology that we haven’t turned into a theory. We have in our libraries enough to talk about for centuries to come. This is why I would like to tell you: Enough thinking, already. Roll up your sleeves.”

Can we not admit truth on both sides of this statement? On the one hand, those among us interested in French culture cannot deny their predilection for hyperlocution. On the other, is not one reason Sarkozy won the election the absurd condition of the French economy? Unemployment is out of control, and the mandatory 35-hour work week, embraced by a good number of disaffected young laborers who have no desire to work, makes no sense for either workers or for companies, for example. Is not the exhortation to work not a legitimate political agenda?

But, on the other hand, Lagarde has certainly created a false dichotomy–that there is something between thinking and labor, even if, as many have pointed out, thinking is labor.

The NY Times story is here:

Introductions, Collecting

Hello. This is my first post since mk was gracious enough to allow me to contribute.

A few loosely connected thoughts on collecting…

Walter Benjamin writes in “Unpacking my Library” that the true mark of an inveterate book collector is the failure to read those books that she collects. One does not purchase a book with the intention of reading it… rather the collector seeks to save the book as an object, to care for it and protect it, for “the true freedom of all books is on his shelves.” By collecting, one gives the book a new life, one redeems and renews the weary object: “to renew the old world — that is the collector’s deepest desire when he is driven to acquire new things.”

Though I understand and share this collector’s streak, I unfortunately do not have the fiscal resources to hunt down the rare books and records of my dreams (i am not fanatical enough to go hungry for records). Yet today, while packing up my library (i am in the middle of moving) i was struck by a collector’s remorse — perhaps a guilt — seemingly absent in Benjamin. After picking up a copy of Being and Time, I was overwhelmed with memories of the books I had read in college, books whose thoughts seem so distant and buried in the past to me now. When will I ever have the time to reread Heidegger when there are so many other books to read now, so many other philosophers and artists and musicians to discover? Unfortunately, the absorption of philosophy and art is not akin to collecting… when is it one is truly finished with a thinker on the level of Heidegger? When can one lock up his corpus in one’s memory as in a glass case, content that his thought is secure from the passage of time?

One of my greatest anxieties as a student has always been that there is too much still to read, too much left to be discovered. Clearly, this can be a blessing, the thought that one will never exhaust the storehouse of history and culture — the wonders truly never cease — yet it is also overwhelming and frightening; when can one finally rest, comfortable that one finally “cultured,” “educated” or, at the very least conversant? Now I am starting to worry more about the endless list of things i have forgotten, relics of culture and thought indeed safe and sound on my shelves, quantitatively and objectively there in my collection, yet never again to be recalled in thought.

Tori, the Storyteller (a la maniere de Benjamin)

When, under the systematic destruction of experience in the name of prosperity and democracy (the very definition of fascism), the storyteller raises her voice to speak to those for whom experience cannot be represented—because it cannot be recollected, because “history” no longer has a meaning—she must speak of those experiences that neither she nor her listeners “have ever had and possibly never will” (“Tori”). If we are living under a regime of distorted communication, then what we need are not true stories, nor even impossible stories, but stories that are fictional, i.e., that give a voice not to those who “need” a voice because they are oppressed, bound, or invisible (this assumes a presence prior to the voice) but that sing from elsewhere (“Isabel”). If wisdom is no longer the gift of the storyteller, then the voice of the storyteller must disappear behind the story. Who, then, speaks to us? “What is it that is really haunting us?” Not the shades of forgotten children, but personae that bring themselves into existence by nothing other than their call for us to listen and hear what they have to say. This is the difference between the storyteller and the “beekeeper”: the storyteller becomes yet another fiction (“Tori”), effacing her own voice under the “secret spell” of her song.


1. Deleuze wants the creation of concepts, like the ritornello. Perhaps (also/instead) what we need is the creation of images, like the prélude. Why the prelude? Like the rhapsody, the prelude was once a miscellaneous archetype that freed the composer from the autocratic laws of structure and architecture (the only difference between the prelude and the rhapsody is contextual). These laws determined, a priori, two sets of relations: the internal relations of sound within the piece and the experience of the listener. It is true that, as Boulez points out, the former relation is left intact in the prelude; reconfiguring this relation would require someone like a Cixous. But, consider: some of Chopin’s most evocative moments occur in his preludes when he either releases the linearity characteristic of most of his music or his lines converge into something more like a Rachmaninovian tableau. Unlike, say, a sonata, a prelude is not a narrative; the listener is thus always led to go on—the prelude always signifies beyond itself (pre-lude). Often a prelude leaves us asking “what next?” or “is that it?” (perhaps Bach presents a special problem here). Sometimes one gets a prelude to a larger narrative (say in Gershwin); other times the prelude is simply a prelude. But the question “to what?” must never be lost. The closest equivalent to a prelude is an aphorism that, as Dienstag has recently reminded us, is the form par excellence to communicate the discontinuity that is thought itself (Adorno, Derrida, Bergson). If there is a difference between an aphorism and a prelude, I would say it is this: the aphorism is a statement; the prelude is a question (another image!).

2. Adler in the 80s wrote a series of books such as “How to Speak/How to Listen” and “How to Read a Book”. These are, unfortunately, outdated and, paradoxically equally unfortunately, little read today. What perhaps is needed desperately today, in a climate of total technologism (particularly in education), in both philosophy and art, is the book “How to Listen/How to Read” (admittedly, I have yet to read Nancy’s book on listening). By “listen”, in addition to music, I intend things like “seeing” a painting or “experiencing” a space: if philosophy has been dominated by the “hegemony of vision”, perhaps it is time to assert the rights of hearing; in other words, if vision and touch are indicators of space, equally so hearing.

It is precisely the inability to read that frustrates both the teacher of philosophy and the Continental insofar as s/he fights the ideologies of discourse, persuasion, and philosophy itself (i.e., reading Quine, held as an exemplar of clear academic writing by the MLA, is but one technique of reading; reading Bataille is another). Analogously, aside from Barenboim’s recent precipitous remarks about the experience of sound, noise, and music in contemporary culture, it is the inability to listen that threatens not only the quality but the very existence of art. To take one example, Listisa and Kocsis (in their Rachmaninoff), and Hamelin (in Alkan) are often criticized for losing melodies for the sake of speed. And yet—all three have revealed sonorous aspects of various pieces hitherto unknown precisely because of the reconfiguration they effected by changing that one modality of sound. The error, in short, is an analytic conception of sound: that sound can be analyzed into its components of pitch, rhythm, volume, timbre, tempo, and so on; this is also the error that thinks music can be analyzed into melody and harmony (or, better, that thinks “melody” has any significant meaning at all; “melody” needs to be replaced by the “line”, one species of which is Schönberg’s “row”).

Early thoughts (6 JUL 2007)

“Unable to precede myself, to exceed myself, or to cross the distance” Marion says, “I can neither think nor perform the formula ‘I love myself’”. The erotic reduction makes narcissism impossible. The subject is always split by the excess of its desire. Is not, then, the other from elsewhere—the flesh that is there, caressing the flesh that is here, my flesh, and that lust always wants to tear—the precise meaning of a supplement—a supplement beyond (and prior to) need, to which “there is no relation”?

Yet: not only is narcissism impossible—it must be forbidden, which is precisely why Freud (rather, the Freud-Lacan complex) places the myth of Narcissus in the absent heart of libido wherein it is precisely narcissism that reveals the non-coincidence of the ego. The price that the ego must pay for itself is nothing other than guilt. But, of course, guilt is not always pathological. Guilt is simply the “original” condition of the human being.

The ideology of persuasion; or: Gaps (after Adorno) (6 JUL 2007)

“The injunction to practice intellectual honesty usually amounts to a sabotage of thought. … This demand not only invokes the liberal fiction of the universal communicability of each and every thought and so inhibits their objectively appropriate expression, but is also wrong itself as a principle of representation. For the value of a thought is measured by its distance from the continuity of the familiar [the Whole].” (Minima Moralia) Knowledge, Adorno continues, proceeds from what he calls experience, but what in other terms might be called the machine of desire—of beliefs, inclinations, lacerations, joys, and love.

The existence of discursive and logical structures is not teleological. The purpose of these structures is not consensus (Einverstandes)—not even Rawls’ “overlapping consensus”, which itself is a symptom of the problem to which Lévinas draws us: democracy cannot be totality or homology. Democracy, radical democracy, is instead dissensus (Näsström). Rawls wants to preserve plurality; better: we must create multiplicity. Discourse is multivalence. “Discourse” is not the communication of ideas but is nothing other than the life of ideas (Mill). What, ultimately, we need is to be attuned not to the “pleasure of the text” (Barthes) but to the life of a text.

The myth of the everyday (1 JUL 2007)

Can there be a writing that speaks to/about the everyday? Does this not presuppose a certain ideology of the everyday or, worse, of generic communication? Perhaps this is the error of structuralism: meaning is not combinatory, compositional, or generative. Meaning is not a function of the historicity of language but is in the effect of the saying: of each saying. There is both a unique saying amidst the history of the said. What we have is multiple worlds/spaces of articulation.

But: the “ethics” of discourse thus becomes nothing other than violence or the imposition of a state.

Fragments IIa (2 JUL 2007)

1. Can philosophy “communicate” with others? The question is badly put. The point is not for philosophy to “teach” or “communicate” anything to, e.g., science. Philosophy does not “inform” or even “critique” science. Philosophy opens science. Yet is not philosophy also a deductive, axiomatic structure (i.e., a totality)? Can philosophy thus open itself? Is this not the ethical imperative of reflection (as a colleague of mine says)? Has not this reflection and this opening onto thinking (the thinking of the infinite) been at the heart of philosophy since Socrates? Socratic philosophy has never been, primarily, about “critiquing” or “negating” or even “changing” the world. Philosophy has always been positive, creative of new worlds, other worlds (“otherworldly resonances”).

2. If philosophy is the presentation of what happens or what does not happen, the relevant difference between philosophy and art is that art is precisely irrelevant to what does or does not happen.

3. If I say “Plato” should be treated as a big text composed of his (individual) texts, and thus that Platonic philosophy is fidelity to his concepts—this is a descriptive-normative conception of philosophy. A philosophy that treats the text otherwise can certainly do so, but is this not a naïve philosophy, since the former is the condition of possibility for the latter (naïve) philosophy?

And yet, we face again the problem of the limit: naïveté can never be revealed to itself.