Monthly Archives: December 2012
Tim Morton is Hyperobjects (U Minnesota P, 2013), Realist Magic (OHP, 2013), The Ecological Thought (Harvard UP, 2010), Ecology without Nature (Harvard UP, 2007), seven other books and over eighty essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, food and music. He is Rita Shea Guffey Chair of English at Rice University. He blogs at Ecology without Nature.
C. Derick Varn: What do you think are the immediate practical implications for treating what we currently call “nature” as inter-related biological objects? Recently, I have seen you post that Graham Harman’s return to Heidegger was important because of the way philosophers like Derrida have used Heidegger. Why do you think this is important? A few times on your blog, you have been writing the troubles with Hegelianism in Continental. Why do you think Hegelian thinking has been so problematic?
Tim Morton: First I’ll say some things about Hegel, as Hegelianism is on my mind these days. You know how people become like their dogs? Or vice versa? Something similar happens in philosophy. This is in fact a Hegelian insight: ideas code for people to have them. Phenomenologically speaking you could say that you are attracted like a bee to honey to a certain kind of logical content of an idea. Ideas are somewhat autonomous from the person who thinks them, a little bit like the meme idea. So you are as it were a host for an idea. Different ideas select different hosts.
In my twenty-five years in the academy I’ve made some observations, totally amateur ones, about the kinds of host that ideas select for. One interesting feature seems to be that very often there is a blind spot in the person who becomes the idea-host, a blind spot that has precisely to do with the strange symbiosis between idea and idea-haver. The style of the host reveals something unconscious about the idea parasite.
So for instance, Derrideans (I am one) ca be religious control freaks (an interesting example would be the atheist side of the “radical atheism” debate).
Foucauldians can be power trippers who frequently use pathologization to control groups (discipline and punish!).
Hegelians have a tin ear for how they sound.
This last one is the key to my sense of the issues with Hegel, and this is the irony. It was Hegel who after all gave us this magnificent idea, and I think it’s a true idea, about ideas and their hosts. The very people who most fervently endorse Hegel are quite tone deaf when it comes to issues of “subject position” (in Althusserian) or “style” (in phenomenologese). They are deaf to their guy’s big discovery. I find this irony not accidental. Let me explain what I mean.
This feature—of how ideas select their hosts—is not extrinsic to philosophy, to the content of what is said. Indeed, as Hegel himself argues, quite brilliantly, it’s part and parcel of it. There is a symbiotic relationship between idea and host.
How do Hegelians sound?
If you are not a Hegelian, this is how they sound, sometimes. It is as if someone has hidden a little ball under one of three cups, and is asking you to guess which one. They already know where the ball is.
That’s the opening move. But then it goes on. There is a certain way of turning over the cups. A certain procedure must be followed, even though you are supposed not to know where the ball is. The ball hider (the Hegelian) himself (and I’m going to say “himself” as I associate this style with a certain masculinity), the ball hider also goes through the motions, like a parent with an infant: “Is it under here? Noooo….Is it under here? Noooo…aha! Here it is!”
It is as if the rules of the game are to hide the rules of the game, yet to reveal that they have been hidden. It is also as if there is a pre-programmed suspense as we build from (say) sense-certainty to the final glorious self-unfolding of the Absolute.
When I pointed this out, in particular about the introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit, I was immediately policed by a Hegelian online, in the following rather revealing terms. “He [underline he] who has made this remark has fallen at the first hurdle.” Tin ear, you see? Because he (the policeman, emphasis on man) has admitted that it is a game with a pre-programmed outcome. And that winning the game means becoming a Hegelian.
A journey with a known destination: like a Romantic piano sonata, in two ways. First you always return to home base (the tonic) no matter how much modulation happens: the adventure is to get really far out and then to return, like Shiva recognizing himself after an aeon of being everything else in the universe (to put it in provocatively orientalist terms that Hegel is allergic to). Secondly, because of equal temperament, your journey always occurs in a world of brown.
Equal temperament is the way to tune piano strings (and hence, in piano-centric modernity, all other instruments), slightly fudging the harmonic ratios between them to enable maximum journey possibilities. If you don’t do that, you end up with “wolf tones” (interesting use of a nonhuman, even threatening, “wild” animal) that sound like interference patterns between notes. Of course these wolf tones are quite lovely in their own right, but equal temperament bans them in advance in order to initiate the hide and seek journey.
The story of Western “classical” music since the advent of the Anthropocene, from Beethoven to Schoenberg to La Monte Young, has been the story of the gradual liberation of the piano from having to tell human emotional narratives in a pre-programmed sepia world. A rather object-oriented story if you like.
When you drop the human storyline, what you end up with quite quickly, in the move from Cage to Young, are drones and pure sine wave tones, whole number tuning called Just Intonation, and an emphasis on timbre (the physicality of a sound) rather than melody. What you end up with, in Hegelian, is the disturbing “narcissism” of A=A, the night in which all cows are black (both Hegelian terms as you know). What you end up with, in other words, is a moment at which the search for the Absolute has not even begun.
A=A is the nadir of “not getting it,” of “falling at the first hurdle”—or of not even trying to jump over the hurdle. Of simply sitting down and “occupying” the racetrack as it were, staging a sit in against this stupid pre-programmed race. It is labeled as “narcissism,” for instance in Žižek’s attacks on Buddhism, and I find narcissism to be the label of choice of the young Hegelians who are out in some force online at present. Hegel dismisses A=A as a parasite that finds a host in a primitive form of consciousness that he calls Buddhism.
The (wounded) narcissist tends to accuse the other of narcissism precisely insofar as he is disturbed by a loop whose echo he finds within himself. Thus while Foucauldians can be power trippers, Hegelians can be narcissistically deaf to how they sound in the ears of the other. And a symptom of this is their overuse of the term narcissistic to describe opposing views. This overuse is a symptom of the necessity of the dialectic to disavow A=A, to discover that A=A, like a little ball under a certain cup, is always already caught in the dialectic that will propel the story forwards to the self-realization of the Absolute. A=A is thus both inside and outside of Hegelian thought, a parasite that does not sit well in its Hegelian host.
What in A=A is Hegel afraid of, if we think like Freud for a moment that all philosophies are forms of paranoia, attempts to explain the world to defend against—what? A gap, a void, precisely the Kantian gap between phenomenon and thing. The basic Hegelian move against this gap is to assert that since I can think this gap, there is no gap.
OOO disturbs the Hegelian for two reasons, then. First OOO returns to the Kantian gap, as if Hegel had never mattered. The idealist solution to the Kantian gap is claimed to be false. Secondly, and this is more damaging to the Hegelian “narcissism,” the gap is located precisely in a thing, as the existence of a thing as such, without “my” (human) subject–world gap to make the thing real—or indeed anything else, since objects are ontologically prior to relations. Thus A (a thing) just is A: A=A. This “location-in-the-thing” bears an uncanny resemblance to the Hegelian discovery of its dialectic in the thing, but with a crucial difference, which is precisely that the rules of the game are not decided in advance as idealist rules that make knowing the gap more real than A=A itself.
This is the quintessence of the OOO move. To return to A=A, to occupy that position, as it were, is to have exposed Hegelianism for what it is: a pre-programmed ruse that knows in advance that A=A must be disavowed/sublated, and the exact procedures of that disavowal/sublation. It goes without saying that this is caught up in a certain resistance to anarchism, which is why I use the term occupy.
The phenomenon–thing gap is not absolutely nothing at all—it is more like what is called nothingness, a meontic nothing as Tillich says. This is the real fear of the Hegelian, which is a fear of a weird presence in and as nothingness. The phrase A=A contains something. “Equals A” is something that happens to “A,” as it were. There is a slight distortion or movement of trace within that very formula, a happening of something. (Derrida has written on this with reference to Hegel explicitly.) A=A has something of the flavor of “This sentence is false” (the Liar). A contradiction that is already present, that turns the sentence into a strange loop or spectral, plasmic entity. Again, this differs from the Hegelian contradiction in the thing, insofar as I do not know in advance that A=A is simply an opaque blindness in me to this contradiction, but rather that A=A is already contradiction, or rather a double-truth (dialetheia), both true and false simultaneously. This is what the Hegelian narrative forecloses.
A night in which all cows are black still has cows, if we take the image as hiding in plain sight something on its own face—it’s not absolutely nothing at all. There are these cows everywhere, these ungraspable cows. It’s a universe of entities—I can think them, but I cannot directly perceive them, yet they are (physically) real: the Kantian universe where there are raindrops that are raindroppy, I can think them, they are not popsicles, but I can’t access the things in themselves. Which is also the OOO universe, in an expanded sense—to get from Kant to OOO all I do is repudiate the copyright control the (human) subject has on the phenomenon–thing gap and allow it to exist everywhere. So that there is a cow–night gap, a cow horn–cow gap, a cow stomach–cow tail gap, and so on. Even an A–A gap, or a cow–cow gap.
To exist is to be ever so slightly different from yourself, which is the secret of “narcissism”—autoaffection in the end is equal to heteroaffection. The most phobic image of A=A in Hegel is a Hindu image that he takes to be an image of Buddha “in the thinking posture” (as he puts it): baby Krishna inserting a toe into his mouth and sucking it, wondering why it tastes so sweet (Krishna Narayan). Hegel calls this “withdrawal into self,” a phrase with a contemporary and uncanny resonance with OOO: to exist for OOO is indeed to be withdrawn-into-oneself (Entzug). And Buddhism is the religion of this “being-within-self” (Insichsein).
Thus anything that looks like self-pleasuring is suspect for Žižek. So it is better to have an empty ritual than one suffused with (the wrong kind of) meaning, because that would betray something “narcissistic” about that meaning. New Agers are to be roundly condemned. This assault on autoaffection has so spooked actual Buddhists that it is common to defend oneself against it: “I am a Buddhist but I’m not one of those New Age Western Buddhists.” Thus a robust defense of Buddhist against Hegelianism must start with a shameless occupying of the dreaded narcissistic position.
There are numerous positions within post-Hegelian Western philosophy that can be used in this deployment. For instance, consider Zarathustra’s “Love your neighbor as yourselves, but first be such as love yourselves,” which sounds like it comes straight out of a Buddhist manual on what is called maitri, or even “worse,” from a self-help book. Then there is Derrida:
Narcissism! There is not narcissism and non-narcissism; there are narcissisms that are more or less comprehensive, generous, open, extended. What is called non-narcissism is in general but the economy of a much more welcoming, hospitable narcissism, one that is much more open to the experience of the other as other. I believe that without a movement of narcissistic reappropriation, the relation to the other would be absolutedly destroyed, it would be destroyed in advance. (“There Is No One Narcissism”)
A fear of nothingness that is precisely the fear of an uncanny presence, a presence that is the starting position of Hegelianism itself, A=A. A presence that is me but I disavow it, “destroy [it] in advance” (Derrida). There is something homophobic about Hegel’s deployment of the image of Krishna sucking his toe. He goes on to deplore the fact that lamas (Tibetan incarnate teachers) are brought up in a feminine passive way. It is as if what is being warded off is that phobic sequence popular in nineteenth century sexology and diet: narcissism >> masturbation >> excess energy >> more masturbation >> homosexuality. This is why Cornflakes was invented. Young boys who eat too much meat are prone to an excess of psychic energy which results in this pathologized narcissistic loop.
I object to Hegelians because they think I am a narcissistic cocksucker, and because they claim this is bad, and because they claim that they are not. The ecological project—namely the transition to a genuinely post-modern age—depends very much on our admission that we are all narcissistic cocksuckers.
This helps me to answer the other questions. Let’s consider Harman’s turn to Heidegger in spite of, or around, or underneath (or whatever) Derrida. That has to do on the one hand with the idea that nothingness is not just a feature of sentences. And it also has to do with an intimacy with objects, an intimacy that Heidegger calls the “ready-to-hand.” Here I will simply quote the wing mirror of your car, which is an object-oriented ontologist: “OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.” It is this closeness that makes them impossible to grasp, an intimacy, not a distance, a distance that must only be a feature of some kind of aestheticizing technology of framing. For Heidegger, this distancing is already at work in Plato’s Idea, but for OOO, it is also in pre-Socratic materialisms that seek to reduce the inherent inconsistency of things by positing some kind of thing (such as measurement for Protagoras or the flux for Heraclitus) as more real than other things.
Since here we reach a terminus of Western philosophy, it isn’t surprising that Harman has reached out to nonwestern ones such as are found in Islam and Buddhism. Foucault: “it is the end of the era of Western philosophy. Thus if philosophy of the future exists, it must be born outside of Europe or equally born in consequence of meetings and impacts between Europe and non-Europe.” This is in marked contrast with Laruelle, who without reflection repeats the basic Hegelian gesture of recounting the history of philosophy as the story of (white) Western philosophy.
I see the OOO intimacy with nothingness—the ungraspability of the thing—as part of a transition through and under nihilism, which Heidegger started, and which deconstruction continues, and which I believe OOO begins to complete. The post-modern ecological age is an age that will have transitioned through nihilism. My objection to eliminative forms of realism is not that they are nihilistic, but that they are not nihilistic enough. They are not nihilistic enough because they disavow the intimacy of things, an intimacy that is not based on constant presence (metaphysics of presence) but that is precisely ungraspable as such.
Now I can answer the first question. I take ecology to be the thinking and practice of this intimacy, the intimacy your car tells you about on a regular basis. Nature is an “object in mirror,” as it were, that is taken to be over yonder, underneath me, in my cells or in my atoms, “over there” in the wilderness. To riff on the wing mirror statement, Nature appears to be “as far as away as it appears” to the human.
Nature is in this sense the opposite of ecology, and it is not accidental that the modern concept Nature is born at the inception of the Anthropocene, as a kind of “schizophrenic defense” against the actual direct intervention in Earth’s crust by humans. A fantasy that prevents us from seeing how we are always caught in things, even as (and ironically especially when) we feel as if we have achieved escape velocity from them, like Oedipus fleeing his supposed Corinthian father.
I distrust biographical studies that soak in too much psychographic subtlety, as much as, that other egregious genre, biographical fiction- as though there were a difference between their performative horizons: both paint the object in the biases of the subject who vanishes under his narration, gesticulating strategically with the objects of analysis, when the narrative demands it independently of the objects’ self narrative. We are all subject to violence, who live, as someone somewhere is, always-already; what is a possibility once, after all, is a necessity for ever. The more idiomatic and transparent the narrative of a witness to violence greater the risk of the contamination of deeds by intentions, things by thought not mediated by the singularity of experiential being; in the self-subsistent sufferings of others there is seldom room for the others who are spoken of: they await their subjectivation by external description. There are only insular narratives because only one may speak before any meaning is negotiated; the lone subject of experience, already a partisan to her reactive, first-hand knowledge is, paradoxically, the only one who can tell what it is that is her conditional being. Biography must of necessity betray these commitments to fidelity if it must defray the cost of an audience’s total ignorance by paying for their enlightenment the great sacrifice of happenstance objectivity in the currency of personal impressions.
This biography of the marginalised bar dancers of Bombay, now Mumbai, commits to this pious legerdemain a respectable dedication, spanning five years of first hand research that bespeaks at least a taste for reactive induction on part of Sonia Faleiro. The recreated chatter of pimping parents in cahoots with the police, the salesmanship of wayward fathers selling seal pack virginal daughters to lecherous rural lords and the rapes of mothers by sons are coloured with the verbalisations of the subjects’ idiomatic hinglish legitimising the objective gaze as it penetrates non-existent moral standards native to the participants of this sordid real life drama. The bootiful Leela and her scabrous escapades in the badlands of rapine, exploitation and repression are followed through with the hawk-eye of a respectable South Mumbai authoress. Already, the idea is romantic: how much more romance in the tracing, mapping and pointing out of the jagged lines that make up the lives of whores and eunuchs who survive despite all. Mentored by the rapscallion Gregory David Roberts of Shantaram fame, and feted by social butterfly and imbecile Shobha Dé, Faleiro’s taste for what reviles her is exemplary and her panache in sublating the shit and gruel of the assorted misfortunes into an artistic exercise is nothing but noticeable.
The shaggy book, no mean feat for a mere two hundred and eighteen pager, is garrulous with the vacillations, evasions and gossip of the main sufferer Leela and her comrades in the bijness of copulation without exploring any of the larger social tendencies which ground the institution of prostitution as it has come to be repudiated by forces larger than the ambitious politician she passes verdict on- an opportunistic chief minister of Maharashtra, who took umbrage at the possibility of moral corruption of society was not responsible for the Indian notions of purity which predated him and allowed a culture of lundchoos [cocksucking] whores and dirty hijras [eunuchs] punished for their mere existence. As though these cocksuckers were driven to their exploitation by a passion for seminal virtues and their obverse vices, regulated by the ritual and lore of Indian culture; dire necessity as a factor is focussed on, to Faleiro’s credit, but her analysis of the cultural patina which envelopes the flesh of the matter is conspicuous by its absence. She is carried away in embodying the petulant whore and her bitter sweet resentment against her family, cops, men, society and her eunuch friend by dissecting their dialect.
The end impression I gathered from the book was that of a shaggy-dog passing itself off as an academic undertaking but lacking the bite of the former and professing a studiousness that barks shy of the analytical depth of the latter. It is a book to be read in two hours and consigned to forgetfulness, a specimen of what is going wrong with allegedly academic works of biographical intent.
My Rating: 1 ½
Faleiro, Sonia. Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars. New Delhi, India: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books. 2010. Print.
Yesterday was Adorno’s birthday [peace be upon him!]. And, while it remains enduringly fashionable among left-wing types to dismiss Adorno, and no less The Frankfurt School, in a single remonstrating gesture, it also remains a verifiable fact that few bother to engage him from beyond the miasma of elitism, essentialism and arrogance which our spectacular age has mounted on his diagnoses of culture. The general response to his work bespeaks a fear of raising the patina of intellectualism over praxis, of alienating popular culture, of subverting reasoned criticism to shirk the unconscionable biddings of political immediatisms where art has lost its frame of coherence and has become yet another product for popular consumption- a respite with sound and fury but no signification- yet such was never Adorno’s own project.
Among his copious folios of work there is one particular stream in which his thought permeated the very heart of the matter, and though he may have fallen off his hobby horse now and then into the pits of assumption and error, his reconnoitering remains exemplary in its scope, perspicacity and endurance. His critique of the nexus between artistic expression and the cultural trends that it capitulates to is damning and remains all too painfully pertinent; when we admit to ourselves and others that music means no more than entertainment, which may be as it may, do we really escape the indictment of abandoning the task of our own escape from the strictures of oppressive culture? It is highly suspect. Among the basic axioms of his procedure, Adorno gave special place to the unique recursive structure of thought applied to thought, one expects no less from a dialectician: he posited that a deep dissatisfaction with one’s culture presumed an immersion worth the name into its substance. Only those who partake of its products, paradoxically, are allowed the luxury to see in it the detritus of their conscience, the dregs of their resistance waylaid by the trite melodies of popular dance music and as they are struck petrific by the entrancing thaumaturgy of film. Today, were he around, he would most probably be goaded into citing himself- Simon Critchley calls self-citation an act of narcissism, but I digress- and pronounce upon us our dishonest evasion of our predicament. It is not that merely our desires are stifled by the culture that enables us our habituated libertinage but even their symptoms are effaced by the apparatus of “…a lavish display of light air and hygiene…[produced] by the gleaming transparency of rationalised big business…” (Adorno 2005, p. 58).
Our complicity with contemporaneous conditions makes us culpable for its failings, for the slippages of desire and damage incurred by acceding to the despots’ machinery of causeless effects. If indeed art were produced in vacua there would be no need for its justification but only since we are swarmed by it in a reciprocal configuration of desire versus desire we owe more than wrung hands to its integral form. It behooves us to draw strength from this involvement “…to dismiss it” in so far as it fails to arouse our sympathetic epiphany, our rising beyond the material conditions of the commoditised world to reclaim the tenacity of despoiled, alienated and thereby mystified desire. “What is true of the instinctual life is no less true of the intellectual: the painter or composer forbidding himself as trite this or that combination of colours or chords, the writer wincing at banal or pedantic verbal configurations, reacts so violently because layers of himself are drawn to them. Repudiation of the present cultural morass presupposes sufficient involvement in it to feel it itching in one’s finger-tips…” (Adorno 2005, § 8. p. 29).
The import of his critical project would not have us wash our hands off art’s lifeblood at the scarce font of immediatisms accommodating the brutality of indifferent social systems. The mystical and poetical flourishes most contemporary artists employ to exonerate themselves from the duty of explaining their motivation only serves as a foil for the abject regression of the artistic self, which has miscarried all artistic intent before it can strive to redeem itself by its own toil. The artistic subject removed from ipseity at home in his milieu, thrown into the being of the market system which homogenises all in the currency of its one-all, has become a blight to the possibility of a conscience that has power to elevate art above human conditions and, so in due inversion, the possibility of also man’s elevation above the artefacts of [a]historical conditioning. “… [Herein] lies music’s [indeed, all arts’?] theological aspect. What music [art] says is a proposition at once distinct and concealed. Its idea is the form (Gestalt) of the name of God. It is demythologised prayer, freed from the magic of making anything happen, the human attempt, futile, as always, to name the name itself, not to communicate meanings” (Adorno 2002, p. 114).
The logic of the day, which makes so much of its clarity, has naively adopted this perverted notion of everyday speech. Vague expression permits the hearer to imagine whatever suits him and what he already thinks in any case. Rigorous formulation demands unequivocal comprehension, conceptual effort, to which people are deliberately disencouraged, and imposes on them in advance of any content a suspension of all received opinions, and thus an isolation that they violently resist (Adorno § 64, p. 101).
So, briefly, why read Adorno today? Because, it is imperative to act against the reactionaries, though they be ourselves. If we say too much has happened that has incontestably altered the course of art and its equation with consumption, thought and its relation to things are we not merely begging more reasons for surrendering to the beast that is already astride us? Read Adorno because, precisely because, he angers you with his obstinacy, his clinging to a hopeful differentiation from the abject form of alterity imposed upon popular consciousness. To fight the abstractions which generalise the self, artistic and otherwise, Adorno’s critical apparatus remains a worthy weapon, -though it sometimes is a knife all blade- what hurt is spared the self which cannot define art but can seek out a hadron’s theotechny? Wherein rests the aura of artistic inspiration; wherein the magic of its immaculate conception; wherein the titanic moment of its articulation and production through the very engines from which we derive our existence, let us inquire therein of the precise psychical automatisms that move us thusly to procure for its occult, atemporal archaeology the produce of our bodily culture, our arts. If our art is all sensuousness and corporeality what then is the mystery of its immaculate inspiration, how can we rest assured in the rejection of all inquiry and criticism of its material epigenesis? To do so is dishonesty shown home, in ourselves, in a world where selcouth artistic essences threaten the very existence of the thing itself; the world where art is two birds in a bush and we are left with age-old platitudes in our hand, kneeling before the disembodied flash which animates it with a cataclysm. In the end, to mystify the moment of our deepest impulses with the rhetoric of romance or respectable forgetfulness is to disavow the pompous claim history lays upon our culture: justify yourself despite your existence. Why must rational consciousness coil itself like an illusion, effacing its discernable origins, if it comes ascendant on Dickinson’s nimble winged hope? The emancipatory potential of art lies in the understanding of its brutal prehistory and natal experience, which must be unearthed and come to terms with on its own terms; thought, in order to be made intelligible and not mystical or sophistically narcissistic, must break free its jaw from its own tail. Adorno invites us, despite the neutralising haze of our critical conscience that settles itself on his work, to recreate the topology of desire and study the imbrications and scarifications lathed upon it as so many warts only so we may excise them now, though it is too late. For, we are moving in the circle of unreason so long as we attribute to some divine preordainment the subordination of art to both commerce and magic, the repression of self to the bad infinity of the body which speculates about the end of history. The end of history situates itself in our aeon, and we must resist becoming anachronisms in this inauthentic becoming. Else, why art at all?
Theodor Adorno. Trans. Gillespie, S. Ed. Leppert, R. “Music, Language and Composition (1956)”. Essays on Music: Theodore W. Adorno. USA: University of California, 2002. Print.
Theodor Adorno. Trans. Jephcott, E., F., N. Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life. UK: Verso, 2005. Print.
Indian Naturalism: An Emic View
The naturalistic bent of contemporary Indian thought is a product of the materialistic philosophy of Lokāyatas or Carvākas from the Nāstika School, and, it is also, as is claimed by the movement, in contiguity with the ethos of European Enlightenment (Quack, J., 2011, p. 9). The Lokāyata is described, traditionally, with its origins being in heretical opposition to Vedic thought, as a technique of critique which did not propose a negation as logical refutation; its modus operandi, being the generation of inevitable absurdities [nigraha-sthāna] in an “…argument by adopting false and puzzling analogies [jāti]…”, is vitandā which can be translated into an oxymoronic appellation, in its substantive form, as illogical logic (Dasgupta, S., 2007, p.512).
There is here an ambivalence lieu of the oppositional tendency of the epistemic systems between the Hindus and the Buddhists as it can aid a more holistic comprehension of the metaphysical chasm between the two religions, as for the latter there is no distinction between tricky argumentation and correct argumentation. Although Buddhists do not accept distinction between modes of argumentation the do distinguish between arguments that provoke virtue and those that abet vice, yet what is illogical logic for rationalistic Hindus [upholders of Lokāyata, in terms of soteriological historiography] may be called logical in the Buddhist view (Ibid 2007). May one not say, then in the heretical and solemn timbre of the Lokāyata, an argument is an argument is an argument?
“All is impure; all is not impure; the crow is white, the crane is black; and for this reason or for that” says the Lokāyata, or the book of unbelievers (Ibid 2007, p. 515).
The popularity of this vein of sophistry was associated in public consciousness with science, and there was an entire discipline which concerned itself with the study of this modality of argumentation (Ibid 2007). This, contrarianism at the heart of Hindu hermeneutics, is sometimes taken as reason to propose that the truth of idealist Hindu philosophy can be attained sola scriptura (Ibid 2007) — by definition, cutting off the role of the hermeneutic subject, or interpreting authority as extraneous and even a priori nihilistic. The distinction “…between the natural and the supernatural…”, says Quack (2011), “is…extremely complex and treacherous” (p. 10); contemporary Hinduism would, however, by and large, treat of the naturalistic materialist position as atheism (Ibid 2011). This blanket term of atheist would also be used to describe rationalists who try to broach the question by adopting a syncretic view, inclusive of humanism, scepticism, ethical attitudes (Ibid 2011).
This blog-post is a continuation of an ongoing series on Indian Aesthetics…
Dasgupta, Surendranath (2007) A History of Indian Philosophy: Volume III. India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Quack, Johannes (2011) Disenchanting India: Organized Rationalism and Criticism of Religion in India: Organized Rationalism and Criticism of Religion in India. USA: Oxford University Press.
Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. is an author, editor, and poet, who general works within the horror fiction, noir fiction / hardboiled, and dark fantasy genres. He lives in Germany.
C. Derick Varn: You recently edited A Season in Carcosa and have written many, many prose poems and short stories based on the The King In Yellow, what specifically about Chamber’s four tales gets to you so profoundly?
Joe Pulver: Before I encountered Chambers as a teen, Bloch and Poe set me up for madness, madness, and madness, and what’s behind the mask. Montessor and the narrator in “A Tell-tale Heart” (‘smiling faces sometimes pretend’), and Jack the Ripper must have appeared normal to those around them. Norman Bates, Ed Gein, these monsters are among us and they look and act just like we do, or nearly so. That’s scary as hell to me. So Chambers comes along and taps the 16-year-old kid on the shoulder with his masks and madness and it bites deep. Add, the madness comes from the KIY play itself. The power of words to transform your reality, can anything be more appealing than that? Not to me.
Next add the mystery of Carcosa. Is it a true alternate reality? And there’s the mystery in the play. We get bits and pieces, clues, but what’s really going on? Now we have elements that are not resolved and they cling to us and we are compelled think about them. That’s what hooked me so deep, or the largest chunk.
C.D.V.: You have also stated in many places that you see the The King in Yellow as entirely outside of the Cthulhu Mythos. What specifically do you see separating Carcosa out?
J.P.: HPL tipped his hat to Chambers by including mentions of the King in Yellow and the pallid mask, etc., in a text or two, but he never concretely wove them into the Mythos he was slowly creating. Robert M. Price makes a good case for HPL and his use in “The Whisperer in Darkness”, but taking Chambers work in that direction holds no appeal for me. When Derlerth came along and incorporated Chambers creations wholesale into the Mythos he had in mind, I completely turned away.
The Mythos is too-well defined and I want my Carcosa and KIY to remain mysterious. And Derleth wants the work of Chambers to be just another item for inclusion, a mere twig in the nest, or a moon circling the Mythos, not a thing/sun unto itself. As part of that whole, the KIY loses a great deal of its allure, and is lessened for this reader. Bottom line, Chambers creations are about FELT and wondered about, not explanation.
C.D.V.: What do you make of Chamber’s own intertextual relationship with Ambrose Bierce?
J.P.: If intertextuality is ‘in the eye of the beholder’, and to me, it is, Bierce, in “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” and “Haïta the Sheppard”, is the keystone of Chambers creation. The dead city of Carcosa, immortal but dead, becomes a dim and melancholy alternate reality and would not have been born in the work of RWC without Bierce’s fingerposts. And Bierce’s ghost narrator becomes a character (in Chambers’ hands contaminated and transformed by the Yellow Sign, or by reading or viewing the cancerous play) trapped in deliriums of nihil and ennui, haunting beauty, and eerie torments, and thus is doomed to enter the ‘dim’ realm of Carcosa and become, dim and thin, a ghost as well.
In Bierce’s “Haïta the Sheppard” we have Hastur as a name and the idea of life as a pasture doomed to “change to silence and decay”. Again, our narrator is doomed and sentenced to silence and decay as well.
Atop this base, RWC blends in Poe, the influence of the French Decadents, and to a degree, the disquieting transfigurations of the Symbolists, to build his haunted and eerie reality.
C.D.V.: In my mind, I find you to be a very poetic, almost lyric writer. What poetry particularly moves you and do you think writers of weird tales would do well to read more poetry?
J.P.: Depending on mood, all kinds, but generally free verse, post-modern, and hybrid work. Alice Fulton, Larissa Szporluk, and Susan Stewart are among my long list of favorites. My gods are E. E. Cummings and Lamantia. I also have a rather large interest in 20th Century French poetry. On my poetry shelves there are two poetic bibles – E. E. Cummings Complete Poems 1904-1962 (edited by George Firmage) and World Poetry (edited by Washburn, Major, and Fadiman; Norton 1998).
All writers should be reading poetry, it’s a significant, if not fundamental, instrument in a writer’s toolbox, and yes, for all the obvious reasons, weird fiction writers would do well to read as much poetry as they can get their paws on. Look at the work of Theodora Goss, Ann K. Schwader, and Catherynne Valente (to name but a few!), and you’ll see what poetry can bring to the page in the hands of a gifted writer.
C.D.V.: What do you think of Fulton’s fractal politics? Do you think that idea of mutation is applicable to genre fiction?
J.P.: I have read an article or two on the subject, but haven’t read Fulton’s book, so I can’t comment in depth. When it comes to examinations of the whys and turns of aesthetics and academic investigation, I’m a bumpkin – in part, by choice.
I’m one who loves the magic trick, but doesn’t want to know how it’s done. I don’t watch the “how they made the film” bonus features on DVDs, as I’m afraid too “much behind the scenes” will spoil the work itself for me. Parts of that come from being a poor student, and parts from Jack Kirby. Some would say Kirby’s work is not humanly correct, and that may be accurate in one sense, but its FELT is perfect and as a vehicle for storytelling (in its own universe) it doesn’t need to be explained or dissected. For me, everything the reader needs in on the page. I want to “know” as much as I need to understand the work, but I don’t want to take it apart and see the guts.
Genre fiction has been mutating for a long time, perhaps since day one, and as the lines blur and the barriers crumble, I hope we can leave behind the tags and put-downs and let all fiction be what it is, fiction.
C.D.V.: What do you make of the recent attempt by writer’s like Michael Chabon to make genre fiction more accessible?
J.P.: “Entertainment . . . means junk.” Those who slap us w/ that can go jam a hot poker up their backsides. Last I heard, folks like Willie the Bard and Beckett (and let’s add that LOLITA tome, or Steppenwolf—or Moby-dick) have had some lasting entertainment value. Lots of entertainment in Twain, Hugo, London, and Shelly’s Frankenstein. Simple fact is, good fiction/work is good fiction/work, and bad is bad. And some form of POP up-in-it does not demean it either.
We don’t need Chabon to save us. Look at Kiernan, or any one of a number of writers—many who have been around for years—decades, tagging them as this or that is wrong, if not criminal. CRK’s The Red Tree is a great piece of “Literature” and it’s through the power and magic of works like hers that the barriers will collapse. 100 years from now these critical put downs—that’s a red-headed stepchild, will not be worth a rat’s backend. Just look at Cisco!
Tags are handy for bookstores, libraries, and critics, not to judge the merit of a work!! !
C.D.V.: Do you think the weird tale has any necessary philosophical implications?
J.P.: Necessary? No more or less than any other stripe of fiction.
C.D.V.: What do you think are common traps for those who work with pre-established cannons like the Lovecraftian mythos?
J.P.: Top of the pops, to me, are –
Primarily, not thinking outside the box and spitting out more of the same. If you want to, or need to, use the contents of the box, repackage it, do something adventuresome with it—that’s why you have a voice. Having a new idea that fits the menu is great, and I’m all for it, but perhaps it might be better served on different dinnerware, say something “you” crafted?
Trying to write “just” like the source writer is another. Could be a gas if you nail it, once.
A canon can be a crutch; tons of fun, but a crutch that can limit or hobble your range of mobility nonetheless. You walk in the shoes of someone else for too long you might forget who “you” are. Readers, or at least this one, want ideas, craft, and VOICE—yours. I already know HPL’s, what’s yours?
Look at the masters, say, Kiernan, and Barron, and Cisco, to name but a few in the current sea of mighty talent, see how (and what) they create from canonical source material when they use it. There are a lot of miles left on HPL, and Frankenstein, and maybe even vampires, but that’s up to your vision and talent to do it right.
C.D.V.: What do you see as the philosophical concerns that are most important in your own writing?
J.P.: Never stopped to think about it. Off the top of my head –
1) What is death, the ‘black vast’? Why do we look and what do we learn/discover/see if we do and live to tell the tale?
2) Truth. Who owns it? Is it good for us? Is there any in a mouthful of lies?
3) Is there a possibility of transformation and/or salvation in this dance? All you need is love—really? Will it give you wings or be a net when you’re on the heights of despair?
4) Are we up against chance and our own necessity, or fate? Are we pawns, captains, or merely grains of sand, swept and raked by forces beyond our understanding.
C.D.V.: I have read that you try to approach each story almost as a poem as in it is self-contained and its voice must modulate greatly from one individual work to another. Do you find that maintaining such a varied voice requires any special attention? Do you have to fight slipping into a consistent voice?
J.P.: For the most part, yes, every text is its own self-contained work and each one tells me what its voice is. Perhaps the best example of this might be, I have 3 tales that feature Pulver and Dylan as characters out wandering the world, yet the voice in each text is different. In the triptych we see the pair in different eras, settings (the American desert, Carcosa, etc.). To my mind these are chapters, completely separate events, yet part of one life cycle.
When you get up tomorrow you’ll shower and put on new clothes—perhaps they’re a new style, you’re you, but you might look different, maybe act differently due to any number of reasons, so my characters get a new voice for each new event, journey. Your mom dies, your heart’s lexicon changes, expands, you grow up in a one-horse dorp and move to NYC to attend college, you get adjusted/remade/added to. Same core you, but remade/remodeled. Same in my work, they change, their voice changes.
The voices come easy. Most often, the first sentence (or the last, I often begin w/ the last sentence or paragraph), or the character’s name tells me everything I need to know. After that, it’s just me up on the bridge with my horn, typing as fast as I can with two fingers, hoping I get it all down before I lose it.
C.D.V.: You have been publishing actively for well over a decade now, but you have only finished two novels. Are you particularly attracted to the short form? What does short form work demand of you?
J.P.: I’ve drifted where the cards carried me. There would have been more novels had things played out in a different manner. I worked on two novels (one featuring Ziggy Stardust as the main character and one featuring Spawn) while trying to obtain permission, but they were scraped when I knocked on locked doors. Tossed out two more (80, 90 pages in) as I lost interest in the ideas.
In the beginning I had little interest in the short form. Reading DUNE, LOTR, Moby-Dick, and Gormengast, at 13/14 or so, made me long for fat books, rich worlds with lots of characters, and at a younger age, MARVEL Comics helped to instill this with their long/continuing storylines and interwoven universe. I viewed things like Conan, John Carter, Leiber’s Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser, Vance’s Dying Earth, Holmes, as episodic chapters of a whole. I was also hooked on Doc Savage, SF, and crime novels back then, so novels (and series that I read as if they were novels) became my go to pleasures.
There were certainly short works I loved—some as vital as any thing I’ve ever read (Chambers’ “The Yellow Sign”, Bloch’s “A Toy for Juliette”, Poe’s “ACoA”), but I was a dog hunting new novels and shorts were just quick pit stops.
When my first novel came out and received a less than friendly review or two I stopped writing for two+ years. A few friends kept pushing, gently, until I returned. A couple of the reviews said the novel was at least 50 pages to long and I should learn to “shut up”. So when I came back to writing, I wrote short, thinking, hoping the darts might be softer.
As I continued to write short, my writing opened up (due in part to my friendship with Cisco and his influence) and a few things from my early reading became important to me. Poetry, not just what it says, but how it says it visually, and Jack Kirby (and to a slightly lesser degree, Last Exit To Brooklyn and Cohen’s Beautiful Losers). All use the page as a canvas for their style of storytelling and I began to look at the page in the same manner. As I can’t use color and I’m not an artist, the page’s “white space”, fonts, and punctuation, must speak for the tools I lack. With some luck, even a simple text like the following, gains an underlying tension due to its use of the page as a canvas.
The howling sun, far from this place with no hope for tomorrow, running with things that fear what the cold moon brings.
Captain Jack sits on his front porch. Shotgun on his lap.
Coffee gone cold.
Waiting for The Thing That Sails On Tears.
The Black Goat.
Sat there every night this summer. Staring at the blackness. Listening to the sound of the empty road.
A yard without children’s toys.
The withered dreams gone, over some rainbow.
Captain Jack didn’t follow.
His wife followed the lullaby into a dream. Something soft and quiet he hoped. Tried to tell himself.
Tried to penetrate it, like it was a year or a river.
Three years of nights. Centuries of days. No sleep. No solitude. Rain and winter and dust were his bread.
Tried to get under the skin of that stone.
The look in his eye said he wasn’t convincing.
What the character wants to say, and how the text I’m writing wants to speak/unwind/stroll on the page are the only demands I listen to these days.
I should also say, after having 3 collections of short works released, and one in the oven for 2013, I’ve grown very fond the short form as a way to express things/ideas/tales I don’t believe would translate into a novel-length work.
C.D.V.: Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?
J.P.: Thanks for asking me to do this, Derick. It was fun.