Some rescued texts

These are rough, old, and occasional fragments but something of them might still be rescued.

“Otherworld”. What if life were not a dream? Cypher’s fantasy in The Matrix of then returning to sleep would have to be recognized precisely for what it is and we would have to take responsibility for our frivolity. Cypher makes his deal with the Agents indulging in pleasures he “knows aren’t real”, which he cannot but help enjoy. Such is the nature of all enjoyment having tasted of reality. What if life were not a dream? We would be freed of the burden to will ourselves to exist … but at what cost?

The recession has taught us to mortgage our enjoyment with apologies and excuses; but this has been no new lesson to those for whom enjoyment comes at the cost of blending in with a crowd that simultaneously constricts the opportunities for expression even as it adopts those models as its own. […] It is always possible to purchase a moment of anonymity and steal into the dream where everything is ok.

But what if existence were not enough—to be in the same world as music, tattoos, soccer, and ATVs—because the world rebels against justice, just as enjoyment is blind to suffering. Laughter and passion are antithetical (not that we have any trouble living in contradictions): the former requires oblivion while the latter forgets nothing even as it turns its back on existence for the brilliance of the future. Yet for us—we who would succumb to the temptation to exist—a future world does not need to be dreamt but demanded.

“Uncommon” [for J]: 1. The old cliché claims that there is a fine line between madness and genius. In fact, there is no such line. In both cases we are confronted with the one who by definition cannot be recognized by those to whom s/he must speak. Who are the paradigmatic cases of such madness? The one who preaches heliocentrism, who complains of dropsy and buries himself in manure, who advertises the virtues of tar-water, who gets locked in the attic, who dresses only in white, who collapses at the sight of a flogged horse, the ones who suffer aphasia and synaesthesia. These are the ones who shape our world precisely by being excluded from it, just as the acceptable forms of behavior and psychic life are defined by what is not permitted outside the sanitoriums and hospitals (what is not written in the DSM).

We cannot aspire either to madness or genius. Some, however, between madness and genius, are fortunate (or cursed) to be faced with a choice: whether to be seen or whether to remain invisible. Whereas solitude is a necessary consequence of either madness or genius, it can also precede either as their condition.

We might try, however, to distinguish madness from genius by recognition, i.e., objectively, since both are marked by the “inner conviction” that s/he is absolutely alone in the world or that s/he is the first to have arrived (this is, in other words, the ostensive difference between “greatness” and “delusion”). But this difference is only apparent, on the one hand, for to whom must one appear as a genius other than precisely to those who, if they really understood what was being said, would be no different than the one who is to stand apart? The one who stands apart is precisely the one who is not understood, else s/he would simply be saying everyone already knows.

On the other hand, the real mark of inner conviction is not (self-)certainty but a constant disbelief—the refusal to believe that things really are as they are, that what is obvious remains invisible or unspoken, that injustice is acceptable. Sometimes this manifests as the opposite of certainty: as doubt or the feeling that nothing is quite right, that a word is out of place or a line is too oblique, that “I really am different”.

By definition the mad cannot be the one who names himself and is able to exclude madness from the method of radical doubt. Ironically it is the madman who cannot be accused of solipsism. But who, then, is the one who names the madman or the genius? Who are the ones who must “take notice”? […] Who are the ones who did not have ears to hear?

2. […] Identify, be counted, be viewed—the spectacle and the charlatan.

Or: Do. Laugh. Adjoin. What are the forces that you can release? Instead of wondering “to whom can I be seen?” the real question is: what are the possibilities that I can see? In this harmony, in this image, in this phrase, this spiral, this vertigo, in you? What is the life we can construct from the fragments we have been given—the fragments of this body, this identity, this world?

Appeals and incriminations

1. The primrose path. The split between philosophy and science has rendered philosophy vulnerable to two equivalent and damning accusations disguised as genuine questions: “what are the facts of the matter?” or “what is your ontology?” When, for example, cognitive and neuropsychology are busy re-creating the Kantian picture of cognition (including the opacity of the transcendental ego) or when sociology agrees with Aristotle’s insight into what we now call “crowdsourcing”, it seems that science has given philosophy empirical verification. Against the consequent threat of redundancy, philosophy (particularly in its idealist and crypto-idealist varieties) has generally responded with some doctrine of method: “philosophy provides an account of what a fact is in the first place”. Of course, we should be wary of any such tendency toward absolute idealism ever since witnessing the misfortunes of a system that attempts to deduce being from the idea. But an ethical idealism is equally problematic that insists on the role of philosophy in arbitrating between facts and values (which are, by definition, outside the domain of ontology): such a solution simply reduces philosophy to literature and makes it possible to speak of “my” and “your” philosophy since, after all, if values are not facts there is no other court of appeal than my “yes”.

1a. The discourse bubble. Values, of course, are discursive (as Nietzsche insisted against the metaphysicians). “We must reflect and discuss our values.” But to whom do we speak? Confronted with the towering black obelisk of technology, for example, philosophy quarantines itself in a mode of discourse that appeals to Aristotle and Heidegger instead of Lanier. The objection to such discursive naïveté (at best and bad faith at worst) is not that of simply lacking reference to a “real” world outside discourse but, rather, that a discourse that intends only itself is self-defeating.

2. Whither the moral world? Is it possible to be moral in an immoral world? We face here an inverted image of the doctrine of original sin. Bourgeois ideology refuses, for example, to decide between the “right” of a chemist to create a better non-smearing lipstick and the creation of HIV medication. The democratic paradox is that we must at once affirm the separation of ethical injunctions from political right while at the same time recognizing that it is this very distinction that creates the very immoral world from which we must impose on ourselves the choice to be moral.

2a. Discourse and praxis. Philosophy faces a similar paradox. Faced with the separation of philosophy and politics (which Marx famously wanted to overcome), philosophy both recognizes and refuses its task in the face of injustice. Philosophy has its responsibility and capacity to incite us to the recognition of injustice—including the fact that its current existence in academic institutions is predicated on unjust socioeconomic practices—but it will not be by researching what passages of Hobbes Leibniz was reading in what years (although, in fairness, such research is arguably not philosophy at all but its decadent imposter).