The desert

I keep seeing the words. Heat, space, stillness, distance. They’ve become visual states of mind. I’m not sure what that means. I keep seeing figures in isolation, I see past physical dimension into the feelings that these words engender, feelings that deepen over time. That’s the other word, time.

I drove and looked. He stayed at the house, sitting on the creaky deck in a band of shade, reading. I hiked into palm washes and up unmarked trails, always water, carrying water everywhere, always a hat, wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a neckerchief, and I stood on promontories in punishing sun, stood and looked. The desert was outside my range, it was an alien being, it was science fiction, both saturating and remote, and I had to force myself to believe I was here (19-20).

There were no mornings or afternoons. It was one seamless day, every day, until the sun began to arc and fade, mountains emerging from their silhouettes. This is when we sat and watched in silence (36).

from Don DeLillo Point Omega

Passion

Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer. – Mark Z. Danielewski

Reading novels

“Reading novels – serious novels, anyhow – is an experience limited to a very small percentage of the so-called enlightened public. Increasingly, it’s going to be a pursuit for those who seek unusual experiences, moral fetishists perhaps, people of heightened imagination, the troubled pursuers of the ambiguous self.” Jerzy Kosinski

Neurobiological Gods

God(s) evolved as one of our brain functions in the same sense that vision evolved as a means of processing stimuli arising from photons stimulating neural tissue. That is, god(s) are located within the brain where, we propose, their evolved function nudges us toward Darwinian ends. This “god function” is neither trivial nor dysfunctional. Instead, it is integral to the effective functioning of the human brain as an organ shaped by natural selection (282).

Rather, we would say that religion arises from an “itch” that we “scratch” during religious practices, just as sex-drives generate a wide range of behaviors and cultural practices that are related to sex, many of which have little to do with actual reproduction. [. . .] we see religious experience as about as valid or useful as erotica. It too concerns and stimulates an important function, one that is part of the behavioral substratum underlying evolutionarily appropriate human conduct. Like erotica, religion may become extreme or dysfunctional in some cases. Also like erotica, there is some variation in religious practice, not all of it worthy of either condemnation or praise.

Religious experience is not divine in origin. Instead, it is an evolved part of the human way of life, one that is abrogated or dismissed only at some peril. Gods are real, and important. But they are neither transcendental nor all-powerful, and their origins are decidedly material. These gods no more deserve our worship or awe than our livers do, though the liver really is a pretty impressive organ. (287).

from Michael R. Rose and John P. Phelan “Gods Inside,” 50 Voices of Disbelief. Why We Are Atheists, edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schüklenk

Now Reading/Just Read

Gillian Rose Visual Methodologies
Louis Althusser On Ideology
Emma Bull War for the Oaks
Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space
Russell Blackford and Udo Schüklenk 50 Voices of Disbelief. Why We Are Atheists

Ghosts

Laws of nature are human inventions, like ghosts. Laws of logic, of mathematics are also human inventions, like ghosts. The whole blessed thing is a human invention, including the idea that it isn’t a human invention. The world has no existence whatsoever outside the human imagination. It’s all a ghost, and in antiquity was so recognized as a ghost, the whole blessed world we live in. It’s run by ghosts. We see what we see because these ghosts show it to us, ghosts of Moses and Christ and the Buddha, and Plato, and Descartes, and Rousseau and Jefferson and Lincoln, on and on and on. Isaac Newton is a very good ghost. One of the best. Your common sense is nothing more than the voices of thousands and thousands of these ghosts from the past. Ghosts and more ghosts. Ghosts trying to find their place among the living (42).

Robert M. Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Jean-Luc Nancy

“Between story and truth”
Jean-Luc Nancy

One day, the gods retreated. On their own, they retreated from their divinity, that is to say, from their presence. What remains of their presence is what remains of all presence when it absents itself: what remains is what one can say about it. What can be said about it is what remains when one can no longer address it: neither speak to it, nor touch it, nor see it, nor give it a present.

(One might even say that the gods retreated because one no longer gives a present to their presence: no more sacrifice, no more oblation, except by way of custom or imitation. One has other things to do: write, for example, calculate, do business, legislate. Deprived of presents, presence has retreated.)

What one can say of the absenting presence is always one of the two things: its truth, or its story (histoire). Of course, it could even be its true story. But because the presence has fled, it is no longer certain that any story about it can be absolutely true: for, no presence will be able to attest it.

Thus what remains is straightaway divided into two parts: story and truth. The one and the other have the same origin and are related to the same thing: the same presence which has retreated. Its retreat is thus manifested as the line that separates the two, the story and the truth.

One calls mythos the narrative of the divine actions and the passions, among which there are always those which concern the world and its working, man and his fate. Mythos signifies the saying about something, by which one can make known the thing, the situation: in Latin, the narratio of something refers to the knowledge about it. When the gods have retreated, their story can no longer be simply true, nor their truth be simply narrated. There is absence of the presence which would testify to the existence of what is narrated, as well as to the veracity of the words that narrate.

There is absence of the body of gods. Osiris remains dismembered, the great Pan is dead. There is absence of the true body which would pronounce its own truth: its statue spattered with the blood of the victims, permeated by the incense vapours, or even the sacred wood within which one can hear the murmur of the spring into which pours forth a subterranean presence.

This speaking body is missing. What remains is what we can say of it — and the said (le dit) has become incorporeal, like the void, like space and like time. These are the four forms of the incorporeal, that is, the interval in which some bodies can be found, but which is never one body. The interval is ever being opened up and divided. The said is no longer given, attached to the divine body, as prayer on its lips: it is detached from self, it becomes distended, logos.

Truth and narration are separated thus. Their separation is marked by the same line which shows forth in the retreat of the gods. The body of the gods is what remains between the two: there it remains as its own absence. It remains there as the body painted, figured, and narrated: but there is no longer the body as the sacred body.

Between literature and philosophy there is lack of this entwinement, this embracing, this sacred mingling of man with God, that is to say, with animal, with plant, with lightning, and with the rock. The separation between them is indeed that of untwining, unclasping. The mingling that is thus unmingled is divided by the sharpest of blades: but the cut itself forever shows the effects of the entanglement. Between the two, there is something that cannot be disentangled.

Truth and narration are separated in such a manner that it is their separation that installs them as one and the other. Without the separation, there would be neither truth nor narration: there would be the divine body.

Not only is narration susceptible to or suspected of lacking in truth, but it is deprived of it by principle, being deprived of the body present as its own enunciation, its own exposition.

This deprivation is at the same time the deprivation of truth, and truth in principle is receding. It is in retreat, it cannot be figured, it cannot be narrated. Truth becomes a vanishing point which is anamorphosed into a question mark. Truth becomes: “what is truth?” Surmounting the question, and moreover, being delivered from it, remains the vanishing point, the infinite perspective of what from now on will be called logos.

Narration exhibits the figures: it is constituted as figurality in general, that is to say, the sketch of the contours by which a body is distinguished and becomes body in the first place. But a sketch about which it is doubtful if the body that it outlines is real. The narrative sketch reveals a manifestation of the body, regarding which it is not certain if it would be identical to a manifested body. Or rather, it is certain that it is not so: by figuring it, the narration declares it absent. It is the same sketch which created God itself — the priest as the head of jackal, or the drops of resin on the side of a tree — and which from now on is its figure. But this representation is devoid of self: the divine body is lacking in there.

The perspective of truth thus regards this lack as the site of what it desires just as well, but whose lack it is devoted to revealing. By revealing the lack — the figure itself, the imitation, the representation, the allegory, the mythology, literature — it speaks the truth about it: that it is a lack, that it is false (error, illusion, lie, deceit). In speaking this truth, it however speaks only half the truth: it lacks presence beyond the figure, or within the figure itself. But the discourse of truth claims that this presence is beyond being. This discourse itself proceeds until this beyond, where it perishes in an excessive light, the dazzle in which every possible figure disappears.

Between the figure and the dazzlement remains the absent body of God. What remains is a singular body of absence, which is approached from every side by narration and the perspective of truth. The former describes the shape of the body, and the latter inscribes its excavation. Between what is described and what is inscribed, there is only writing (l’écrit), the interminable graph engraved on the lead of a seal affixed on the site of the retreat. The scene is played around an empty tomb, a hollow mummy, a portrait resembling no one: around a body henceforth displayed and declared as “body”, that is to say, as absent outside.

But it is a scene, and it is played very effectively. It is a scene simultaneously of mourning and of desire: philosophy and literature, each in mourning and each in desire of the other, but each competing with the other in the accomplishment of the mourning and the desire.

If mourning is what prevails, and is shut up in ceaseless dereliction, the one or the other sinks into melancholy, with a lump in the throat over the lost body. But the latter (the lost body) is as well, the image one has of the other: philosophy is choked by its own impossibility as literature — for, literature is its own impossibility — or it is even the reverse.

Sometimes it is literature which conducts the mourning that philosophy endures or denies. Sometimes it is philosophy which sustains the absence that literature fakes. But the gesture of one can also be the fact of the other. There can even be a philosophical poem which is spent up in the desire of the other: Zarathustra concludes by exclaiming: “Do I then strive after happiness? I strive after my work.” And there may be a thought, tied irreligiously to its verses addressed to Venus, which concludes thus its convulsively written, red-hued song of nature:

Upon the pyres erected for others,

With a loud uproar the men placed their own kinsfolk

Applied the torches, engaged in bloody struggles,

Rather than abandon the bodies.2

Do not abandon the bodies, even if the work is to be shunned. Such is the task. Do not abandon the bodies of gods without wanting to call back their presence. Do not abandon the service of truth nor that of the figure, without however, filling up with meaning the gap that separates the two. Do not abandon the world, which becomes always more world, more under the spell of absence, more in interval, incorporeal, without saturating it with signification, revelation, proclamation or apocalypse. The absence of gods is the condition for both literature and philosophy to be in. It is the in-between which legitimates the one and the other, both of which are irreversibly atheological. But they both have the responsibility of taking care of the in-between: of guarding its open body, and of allowing it the possibility of this opening.

Translated from the French by Franson Manjali

1. The original French essay ‘Entre deux’ first appeared in Magazine Littéraire, No. 392, November 2000. The translator has benefited from consultations with Wolf Feuerhahn and Pascale Rabault.

2. These are the concluding lines of Lucretius’s Latin poem De natura rerum (On the Nature of Things).

Beauty in the eye

“The beauty of Mars exists in the human mind,” he said in that dry factual tone, and everyone stared at him amazed. “Without the human presence it is just a collection of atoms, no different than any other random speck of matter in the universe. It’s we who understand it, and we who give it meaning. All our centuries of looking up at the night sky and watching it wander through the stars. All those nights of watching it through the telescopes, looking at a tiny disk trying to see canals in the albedo changes. All those dumb sci-fi novels with their monsters and maidens and dying civilizations. And all the scientists who studied the data, or got us here. That’s what makes Mars beautiful. Not the basalt and the oxides.” He paused to look around at them all. Nadia gulped; it was strange in the extreme to hear these words come out of the mouth of Sax Russell, in the same dry tone that he would use to analyze a graph. Too strange!

“Now that we are here,” he went on, “it isn’t enough to just hide under ten meters of soil and study the rock. That’s science, yes, and needed science too. But science is more than that. Science is part of a larger human enterprise, and that enterprise includes going to the stars, adapting to other planets, adapting them to us. Science is creation. The lack of life here, and the lack of any finding in fifty years of the SETI program, indicates that life is rare, and intelligent life even rarer. And yet the whole meaning of the universe, its beauty, is contained in the consciousness of intelligent life. We are the consciousness of the universe, and our job is to spread that around, to go look at things, to live everywhere we can. It’s too dangerous to keep the consciousness of the universe on only one planet, it could be wiped out. And so now we’re on two, three if you count the moon. And we can change this one to make it safer to live on. Changing it won’t destroy it. Reading its past might get harder, but the beauty of it won’t go away. If there are lakes, or forests, or glaciers, how does that diminish Mars’s beauty? I don’t think it does. I think it only enhances it. It adds life, the most beautiful system
of all. But nothing life can do will bring Tharsis down, or fill Marineris. Mars will always remain Mars, different from Earth, colder and wilder. But it can be Mars and ours at the same time. And it will be. There is this about the human mind: if it can be done, it will be done. We can transform Mars and build it like you would build a cathedral, as a monument to humanity and the universe both. We can do it, so we will do it. So—” he held up a palm, as if satisfied that the analysis had been supported by the data in the graph—as if he had examined the periodic table, and found that it still held true—”we might as well start.”
(Kim Stanley Robinson Red Mars 178)

Krzysztof Varga on Lost

Full text in Polish here.

Heavy Rain

My polemic with the review in Technopolis/Polityka.

Science fiction as revolution

It is possible then to think about SF not in the bourgeois terms of the novel, but as an experimental science. The object of study is not the ideological reproduction of SF, but a philosophical self-reflection upon these conditions of ideological reproduction. To read is to discover the absolute difference a novel has from its own ideological form, to the degree that it overcomes its own implication in bourgeois structures of generic reproduction.

Consequently, Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which imagines a human species without a sex drive, can be taken as a concrete, scientific suggestion to engineer a human society that is not warped by libidinal investments. In looking to the limits of a world of ideological reproduction, Le Guin engineers that shock and disgust of actual difference, and its possibility in the science of genetics. Reading Le Guin as a proposition of actual difference brings the experience of reading closer to us, without the distorting effects of interpretation and ideas of mediation. Althusser’s critique of ideology creates opportunities for discovering the experimental science that SF has in common with revolutionary consciousness. For Althusser, such science is the self-consciousness of capitalism, and enables a thinking of the conditions by which capitalism produces ideology. In Le Guin’s novel, for instance, the figuration of a world without sex reveals the ideology of a sexed world. This is revolutionary because, as that which eludes ideology, this world without sex does not repeat that which has gone before, but inhabits the contemporary moment of creation. In this, Althusser looks to the absolute difference that escapes historical repetition, that creates the consciousness that is of itself revolutionary. SF is, as a genre, a structure of ideological reproduction, but it also fosters a critical and revolutionary consciousness of absolute difference.

Darren Jorgensen “Towards a Revolutionary Science Fiction: Althusser’s Critique of Historicity,” 205.

Life-with

I bring you life-with. It’s more than love. Love’s a hard, sad, dirty word, a cold word, an old word. It says too much and it promises too little. I bring you something much bigger than love. If you’re alive, you’re alive. If you’re alive-with, then you know the other life is there too—both of you, any of you, all of you. Don’t do anything. Don’t grab, don’t clench, don’t possess. Just be. That’s the weapon. (Cordwainer Smith “The Dead Lady of Clown Town”)

Brendan Perry – Utopia

I feel greater than the sum of all my parts
A domestic beast with a hairy heart
Trapped within a walled suburbia

I found my taste is somewhat underground
Between the shadows and the cracks
I’m building my Utopia

I need to break free from all that binds
That makes me old before my time
In this world of dystopia
My love is like a bright, guiding light
Shining in the darkness of the night
The star of my Utopia

In the motion of the sea, in the air that we breathe
Can you feel me?
In the stars and in the trees, in the song of the bees
Can you hear me?

Caged, golden memories
Time has come to show your true feelings
I know it’s the only way to be
When the same old feelings come over me

I feel greater than the sum of all my parts
A space jockey from a distant star
Marooned upon dystopia
I found my taste is somewhat underground
Between the shadows and the cracks
I’m building my utopia

In the motion of the sea, in the air that we breathe
Can you feel me?
In the stars and in the trees, in the song of the bees
Can you hear me?

Literary forms that fed into sf

Literary forms that helped create the preconditions for the appearance of science fiction as a singular phenomenon in the late 19th century:

* utopian fictions
* fairy tales
* classical myths
* earthly paradises
* folk stories about cockaigne
* extraordinary voyages
* millenarian fantasies
* philosophical dialogues
* technological blueprints
* political manifestos and satires
* inventor stories
* historical novels
* gothic fictions

Anamorphosis

[Anamorphosis] is a philosophy of false reality, or, more precisely, a poetics of alternative realities. An anamorphic image posits the coded presence of an almost unimaginable reality that momentarily obtrudes on ideologically constituted reality, thereby rendering it arbitrary, ontologically inconsistent [. . .] The effect of anamorphosis, philosophically speaking, is therefore that of extreme relativisation. Anamorphic perspective radically subjectifies the act of seeing, and so exposes the fact that linear perspective, dependent on the notion that there is one, motionless point from which the subject can adequately perceive the object, is far from objective. [. . .] It demonstrates that the dominant perception of reality is not natural but cultural; and this, potentially, is politically enabling, because it reveals that reality can be altered.

Matthew Beaumont “Anamorphic Estrangements of Science Fiction”

Szaniec wilcząt

artykuł w Technopolis/Polityce

Image and Portrait Making in Islam

Unfortunately, the stance of Islam on this issue has been grossly misunderstood. It is not true that Islam prohibits pictures and portraits in the absolute sense. Only pictures which cultivate sentiments of worship in people are prohibited. The bases of this view point are presented below:

By collecting and analyzing all the Ahadith on portrait and image making, the complete picture which emerges is that a particular category of pictures and portraits had acquired the status of idols and were worshipped. They were regarded as deities by the people of Arabia. As such, they used to consider them alive and capable of granting them their wishes. They used to bow down before them in adoration. Even in the Ka`bah, as a study of its history reveals, besides numerous idols, there were many sacred pictures drawn on its walls. Consequently, there is mention of the fact that the portraits of Abraham (sws) and Ismail (sws) were sketched on its walls. Moreover, A`isha (rta) has narrated some Ahadith in which it is stated that the portraits of Maryam (rta) and Jesus (sws) were suspended on the walls of churches and people used to bow to them.

In the light of these details, the prohibition of portraits can easily be understood: only portraits which possess religious sanctity and lead people into worshipping them are prohibited. Pictures, photographs and image-making, it is clear, is not condemned because of any intrinsic evil in them, but because they contribute to the polytheistic tendencies of people. The Qur’an regards monotheism as the fundamental article of faith, and the Prophet (sws) considered it his duty to eliminate any traces of polytheism in the society; therefore, he ordered for the elimination of portraits and images which had assumed the status of gods. Consequently, if these Ahadith are carefully studied, the words which cannot be missed are `such pictures.. ‘ and `these pictures…’, which point only to a certain type of portraits and not to all forms. In this regard, another Hadith often quoted in support of their total and unconditional prohibition, I am afraid, has not been interpreted correctly. The words of the Prophet (sws) as quoted in the Sahih of Bukhari are:

Creators of images shall be chastised and asked to inject life in them and they shall be unable to do so. (Kitab al-Libas)

These words actually point to what has been stated earlier. People used to regard these images as living beings and as such used to invoke their help. The Hadith warns such people and says that those who believe that these images are living creatures and will save them on the Day of Judgement from the wrath of the Almighty, shall actually be asked to inject life in them on that Day to redeem them of their punishment. This demand, of course, will only be meant to add insult to injury.

It is therefore evident that the prohibition of pictures pertains to a specific form. If the art of image making and sculpturing does not cultivate the sentiments of worship towards something, then it is certainly not disallowed. Islam has no objection against photographs, which, today, have become a social need as well in the form of identity cards, passports, etc, whether they are made by a still camera or a video camera. Similarly, pictures of one’s relatives and family bear no label of prohibition.

Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory

Pt. I, Ch. 2, “L.A. Noir and Forgetting”

“there are noir and apocalyptic scenarios that continually repeat in literature, film and the visual arts from Los Angeles. By the mid sixties, they take on an increasingly disengaged spirit, like a nightmare one watches through the windshield of a car” (81).

Pt. V, Ch. 12, “Suburban Noir and Cyberspace”

“in the chain of exurban extension, cyberspace is the next suburb. The best guided tour of suburban cyberspace is probably by architect and critic William J. Mitchell …. how ‘asynchronous’ it will be … with ‘fragmented subjects who exist as collections of aliases and agents.’ He could have been describing the imaginary L.A. freeway circa 1970” (298).

Norman M. Klein, The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory (London and New York: Verso, 1997)

Being an editor

“I Re-wrote Those Motherfuckers From Scratch”
Posted by Marc Bousquet on 01/05/10 at 03:26 PM

Bérubé How many submissions did you receive for The Institution of Literature?
Williams 385, not counting the nine essays you submitted, eight of which sucked, if you don’t mind my saying so.
Bérubé Not at all. I totally respect your opinion when it comes to essays of mine that suck.
Williams Well, they did. As did many of the 65 essays I accepted, 38 of which I had to rewrite.
Lyon That sounds like a lot.
Williams Yeah. I take editing seriously.
Bérubé Well, how much rewriting did you do? We’re talking line edits, right?
Williams Fuck no. I rewrote those motherfuckers from scratch.
Bérubé Really? What did their authors say about that?
Williams I didn’t ask them. Why?
Bérubé Well, because most of the time, when editors make substantial changes to a manuscript, they run them by the authors, that’s why.
Williams Fuck that. If I ran things by people, do you know long it would take me to produce an issue?
Bérubé No, how long?
Williams Too fucking long, that’s how long. There’s no way I have time to send editorial suggestions back to people who’ll only sit on them for four or five months and then get back to me with a bunch of bullshit complaints about what I’ve cut. Besides, do you think that guys like Leitch and Kumar give a shit either way? It’s not like they’re going to notice. Hell, I stuck three paragraphs from the Grundrisse into your first essay and you didn’t say a fucking word.
Bérubé Wait, wait. That whole bit about how “the question of the relation between this production-determining distribution, and production, belongs evidently within production itself”? That wasn’t mine?

–excerpted from Michael Bérubé and Janet Lyon, The Early Years: An Interview with Jeffrey J. Williams

Lektura obowiazkowa

My contribution to the ongoing discussion “O co toczy sie gra” in Dziennika/Kultura. PDF here. Polish only

Post-genomic fiction

He wants to live long enough to witness a news, post-genomic fiction. one that grasps the interpenetrating loops of inheritance and upbringing so tangled that every cause is some other cause’s effect. One that, through a kind of collaborative writing, shakes free of the prejudices of any individual maker. For now, fiction remains at best a scattershot mood-regulating concoction – a powerful if erratic cocktail like Ritalin for ADHD, or benzodiazepines for the sociophobe. In time, like every other human creation , it will be replaced by better, more precise molecular fine-tuning. (Generosity 230)

Brave New World

“You’re going to make us all happy. Is that the plan?”

His eyebrows crumple and his lips sour. She’s hurt him, at least as much as he’s capable of being hurt by anyone. He shrugs off her mockery. “A little more capable of being well in the world. But not if you don’t want it, of course.”

“You folks have finally found the formula for soma. Damn.”

He breathes out a long-suffering sigh and leans against her car. “First, I really do hope that Aldous Huxley is burning in the pain-ennobling hell of his choice. That book is one of the most dangerous, hope-impeding, ideological rants ever written. Just because the author is stunted by some virtuous vision of embattled humanity, the rest of the race is supposed to keep suffering for all time?” (178)

(Richard Powers Generosity. An Enhancement)

ARC d’X

Will I see you again? he wanted to ask. But he was afraid of ruining everything.

He left the circle, and after waiting a long time caught a bus on the road back into the city proper. Whatever I do now, he said to himself on the bus, staring out the window at the volcano in the distance, I cannot do for her. I cannot assume she’ll be mine. I must act on the assumption she’ll never be mine, that it will never be less impossible than it all seems at this moment. I must act on the assumption that I’ll never see her again, except for a passing moment in the street or the Market, and that love has been left hanging in the black space of a small room, and in the light, with a husband and a child, she’ll feel very different tomorrow., if she doesn’t already. Therefore, what I do now ultimately has nothing to do with her. It has to do with the life I’ve been living. It has to do with the man I’ve been and who I am now, without her, and what my life is now, without her.

He went home and left his wife.