Category Archives: Personal Life
“I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say. Then I thought, ‘I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I wanted to say’; but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to.” — Mary Ruefle, “On Secrets” in Madness, Rack and Honey
When I changed jobs and began to focus more on teaching than research, and the chapter of Platypus Affiliated in Seoul went into hiatus when my compatriots and I both left the city, my blogging was pretty disaffected. I flirted and at one point even announced that I was killing this blog after almost four years of using it. Personally, I met my current partner and moved with her to a new city, and politically the fresh wounds of the flaming out of the promise of Occupy left me feeling like there wasn’t that much I needed to say. I wanted to write my poems, to do more research on my own time, and to travel around Asia. Who has time to write cultural reviews and politics on some obtuse notion of “the left” when increasingly I didn’t think was really all that coherent.
Slowly, I realized I wanted to continue the engagement, but I didn’t just want to write it all myself. I wanted a few people to bounce ideas off of and to work as a sort of brain-storming collective blog: I wanted something to challenge myself out of the doldrums that I have gotten politically. So I started asking writers who challenged me–in style, in ideas, in politics–aboard. I did want a common set of backgrounds so that engagement would be fruitful, but I did not want people to agree with me. I did not want to “host the conversation” either as other, better people already do just that, but to put in an semi-formal way a mission to get a more developed critique of liberal capitalist modernity out there, and to push my self out of my boredom.
At the same time, Douglas Lain and I started talking about “Pop the Left”–a show about how to lose friends and alienate people while asking the question: “What could a sense of socialist freedom be? What could actually develop something to oppose capitalist modernity without being a rehash or an idealized conservatism”–but we know that a podcast or a blog won’t do that. It was just to get us to ask the questions to ourselves: what can be done, now, that so much has been born and destroyed? What could even start a opposition culture? We aren’t trying to form a new party, or even a new platform.
So in expanding the writers here at the (Dis)Loyal Opposition: we hope we can see the new questions emerge, and maybe start see how men and women can make start to change the material conditions of their existence. In order words, this is the challenge me to write something to which I want to listen.
“I believe that while philosophy may well terminate in definitions, it cannot start out from them; and that, in order to understand, to have knowledge of, the content of philosophical
concepts themselves – and not simply from the point of view of an external history of ideas or of philosophy – it is necessary to know how concepts have come into being, and what they mean in terms of their origins, their historical dimension.” – Adorno
“Philosophy” is often he pathology of the way people justify their identity, but when it is not, it generally ends with questions and genealogies and logics, not pat answers. Generally, however, as Marx, Nietzsche, and Adorno understood and as many other non-German thinkers have also understood but not did have the press to articulate, philosophy is the product of the material development of history mixed with the social development of people. In other ways, people have a condition or position and need to come up with a justification, and then there we go. I would not go so far as to say it was always just a justification as the epiphenomena it produces actually justify all sorts of developments from technology to science (through meta-justifications that do themselves clarify).
Philosophy too then is as Badiou defines it: a way of mediating between truth processes. But this is only in the ideal, and the ideal, sadly, is only rarely the real. In the end, our rubric cannot be the formalized definition, but it’s opposite: The informal question and genealogy.
That said, it is important to look at the historical development of a philosophical position or a political position for what it obscures as much as it what it says. One should also question one’s motives for doing it.
The separation of agitprop from a political philosophy, the slogan from a coherent political stance, the ideology from the meme, and the hard answer from the easy one may be something I take up for wrong reasons. Un-reasoned positions can’t be reasoned out of, and positions which reinforce identity doubly so. That itself may be a problematic form of distinction. Yet, if no one says anything, the easy answers keep getting pushed. I think I am going to have a cup of tea and read a book then.
The easy answers confirm our identity; they reduce cognitive dissonance, they allow things to go unchanged.
So much of what I see on the “left” or the right or the center–the reduction of things, the recitation of statistics without context, the half formed views of nation states as being one thing or the other, is the easy answer. No, I realize that these ideological positions aren’t equally guilty, but the tendencies to view philosophy as a handmaiden to politics and for politics to be about identity or its obfuscation.
Sometimes I think a lot of what passes for progressive ideas is a conspiracy to make fascism look good. No, I don’t actually believe that, but damn, it’s easy to see how bad ideas bring worse ideas to life. Fascism, here, is not right-wing ideas alone or totalitarianism, or discipline, or any such notion: fascism here being the willingness to combine all sorts of ideological predisposition to maintain an identity, despite the fact it is legitimately falling away. (This definition is actually also incomplete, but it fits for here).
The reason I feel that way about a lot of what passes for “progressive thought” is that it often ahistorical and also abiological. Neo-keynesian focus in the 1933 through 1955 and Keynesian spending, ignoring the leveling and rebuilding of Europe in the process and the decline in real profits of the 1970s. ’-isms’ (able-ism, capitalism, sexism) and ‘archies’ (patriarchy, corporatocracy) are spoken about as if they were anamorphous enemies that have been constant throughout time without any improvement or context. These -isms and -archies are rooted in the very real, very lived experience, but as they are spoken about in this way, the realness seems to fall away into mere projection. This is a projection of value that looks inherently unknown and can make conservatism or other forms of ideological positions that are actually not in the interest of many of the oppressed (as individuals or as a class) seem more natural and more contextual. Luckily, in the US, conservatism in the popular parlance seems to have gone insane, but many liberals, leftists, and otherwise take a false sense of security from that and other demographic facts without realizing that they themselves could easily be becoming the sane version of the status quo.
Badiou would inform us of the truth process here in seeing bad politics and our need to cut away. So the formalist and genealogist meet again.
So I’ll end with a chuck of Gravity’s Rainbow and let you, gentle and intellectual reader that I hope that you are, see the relevance as I saw it today:
But the rocket has to be many things, it must answer to a number of different shapes in the dreams of those who touch it – in combat, in tunnel, on paper – it must survive heresies shining, unconfoundable . . . and heretics there will be: Gnostics who have been taken in a rush of wind and fire to chambers of the Rocket-throne . . . Kabbalists who study the Rocket as Torah, letter by letter – rivets, burner cup and brass rose, its text is theirs to permute and combine into new revelations, always unfolding . . . Manicheans who see two Rockets, good and evil, who speak together in the sacred idiolalia of the Primal Twins (some say their names are Enzian and Blicero) of a good Rocket to take us to the stars, an evil Rocket for the World’s suicide, the two perpetually in struggle. Gravity’s Rainbow (727)
Dear Blog readers:
I have been traveling across both the US and Asia, and have finally come back home to Jeonju in South Korea. I have been in Western US, particularly around Berkeley, where I was amused to see fliers for Bob Avakian books in an Irish pub. I also spent time in Beijing, which is strange: the international airport sells both Disney plastic crap right by cheap copies of “Sayings of Chairman Mao” although the sayings that I read definitely seemed to be stripped of a lot of communist contact in the political economic sense and seemed mostly about struggle and nationalism. How bizarre the state capitalism of the PRC can get is yet to be seen. The smog there, however, is as bad as one reads in the liberal media. Visibility was minimal once you got on level with the city.
I have a nice winter holiday with my partner’s family and recorded an episode of the podcast I do with Douglas Lain: Pop the Left. I will get this in a minute.
While the transition to a multiple author blog has not gone as prolix as I would have hoped, I’d like to thank Cain Pinto for keeping up. For those of you who don’t know: I am working on a podcast called “Pop the Left” with the direction and editing of Douglas Lain as well as the cynicism of Nicholas Pell. The goal of Pop the Left is further a positive vision of Marxian thought through looking critically at what is going on the various strains of “the left.” This time we discussed Chomsky and the failures of sectarian Marxism and the reason for a certain type of liberal anarchism popularity.
Also I will be commenting on Nietzsche again, but I hope that you read my friend and comrade, Ross, writings on the left’s anti-Nietzschean turn. Ross picks up on some of the discussion on this blog about Anti-Nietzsche as well as naivete Foucaultian readings of Nietzsche as well as complete anti-Nietzschean readings which seem to miss a lot of key points as well as misunderstand what major goals of socialism actually should and could be. Hopefully, Ross and I will be commenting more on this here, but I suggest you read his four recent posts.
Lastly, I have listened to two videos by Andrew Kliman which I think are interesting in the way they break down some things: I will be returning to some of Dr. Kliman’s key points, but I do think his re-grounding on the statistics on a careful and empirical view that takes in complicated pictures is generally needed in a community whose view of political economy can become vulgarly simplistic. Even if you wish to refute Dr. Kliman, one must actually parse the statistics closely. Marxist economics needs to be enable to fully compete with the other models in order to be able to truly offer an alternative.
Happy New Year. There are many interviews to come. Hopefully more from our other new authors as well.
Today, I sat in front a small gaggle of Korean students, each more studious than the ones I remember from my earlier days as teacher in Georgia, and watched them try to decode “Politics and the English Language” by Orwell. The essay seems archaic now, although the Marxiod cant I speak about has been in my life recently, but the other “degenerations” of which Orwell speaks seem so common place now that the human is almost lost on us, and definitely lost on those whose knowledge of English is, at best, fluent in only daily speech.
What struck me was that Orwell seemed only too correct about the direction of political jargon: the meaningless phrases, the bizarre and clumsy grasping for the Latinate to substitute for an air of the scientific, the softening of the euhemerism, and the braying dishonesty of it all. Yet something else struck me: an anthropologist, whose name has left me, said “language was designed to hide communication.”
Indeed, my students know my body language, without special attention, will betray my truths: be those students from Georgia, South Korea, or Germany. The fundamental facet of most languages is that they enable dishonesty in and of themselves. The reflection of the sign and of the signified—the various systemic syntaxes and semiotic games—they miss the fundamental beauty of the language game; it has nothing to do with truth, but perhaps cohesion.
This doesn’t take away the danger of jargon mongering. The words which Orwell already saw so emptied of meaning that they could only be used dishonestly: freedom, equity, the various ramble of class classifications, progress, degeneration, and so on. These prime virtues, without the rooting in a concrete context, are not even lies.
So I stared at my students awhile and thought about the ways I had tortured language. I am a poet: I torture language knowingly, breaking it into more rhythmic form, adding the necessary metaphors and overlays, and reassembling the day. Plato kicked us out of the Republic, but mostly out of jealousy. So the bewitchment of the language games we play, the reification games which make our thoughts both thinkable and empty, are my stock and trade.
But even the good “honest” plain English which Orwell lamented the slow decline of was rooted in the fundamental shielding of language. Big Brother or no big brother, the game is not about truth.
I am unsure if the river cranes lie, although, even if they could, they do not do so with the symbolic toolbox with which we have developed.
Yet another thought comes to mind, as I type this in the common room of a faculty apartment drinking a cheap German important beer—South Koreans sadly seemed to learn to make beer from Americans and thus have the thin-water “pilsner”, made with mostly with rice grain that one can find in most American mass market swills. I am listening to some music from a decade ago, and I am reminded of how un-semiotic music can be. It is representative but in a way which is not entirely tied to any sign, and, as I listen, I remember a car fire.
The summer after 9-11, M. and I were driving to see his family in Atlanta. The 1992 Mercury he was in started a plume of gray-black smoke from the undercarriage, and in a traffic re-direction on the interstate, passer-bys started honking at us in the consistent and annoying hum that only almost made cars seem smug. The radiator was noticeably overheating, but being an hour from any city or a pay phone, we kept on.
As the smoke whipped the sides of the Mercury, we noticed he was wearing a “Burning Airliners” t-shirt: a band almost forgotten now which had the unfortunate name after 9-11. I had been inspired by the band name to write a poem, somewhat problematically entitled “Burning Airliners Remind Me of Patriotism,” which became unintentionally a painfully obvious joke. We started laughing about this when we realized the car was on fire and our smoke had its heat.
We coasted the car into a parking lot and waited for M.’s family to pick up us from a pizza parlor in the strip-mall which I doubt survived the last American economic downturn. The music brought it back to me, but it also brought back this conversation from the same trip:
“You knew something like that was going to happen?” M. stared into the road waiting for traffic to pick up.
“I suppose I guessed.” I stared off.
“That night, you watched two girls make out on your couch watching a movie about DeSade as you waited to hear from your girlfriend.” M. slightly sucked spit out of his mouth as some math rock band came on the c.d. player.
“Yeah. You did too.”
“Did it surprise you?”
“No. I figured some dumb fuck flew into a building by mistake. Then I just shrugged. Thought maybe some militia man like in Atlanta a few years ago. Things are going to change. We’re heard that shit for a long time.”
“Yeah. I was afraid. I figured a pretentious movie, maybe some sex, and beer would take the edge off. It felt like the end of something.”
“I suppose it did. I was scared shitless for S.” I said¸ letting my guard down. She was in Eerie, PA, but Johnstown was her home and a plane had gone down near it. When I married S., we would visit it as a defining moment: trinkets and memorial plagues lining a gate in an empty field surrounded by the white bars of birch trees.
“So why’d you watch them?”
“Because they were both crying earlier that day, I guess. C.’s father is in Mexico and stuck outside of the border. L. is just numb. Tension, I guess.”
Then there was no words between us, a crescendo of Miles Davis on the mixed c.d. came across the car. Soon the radiator would be on fire, and we would have other things to talk about. Burning Airlines and all.
I was no stranger to tragedy or stress, but the collective mourning inspired hedonism as a way of coping with tears. Words failed me. Watching two friends kiss each other to avoid being afraid and being invited to watch as a voyeuristic distraction was as close to mourning as I could get. The word games couldn’t hide that about me or about the anxieties of the five students we were rid that day. My future ex-wife being away across the country, and I had a fictionalized account of DeSade keeping me company.
As I write this, there are no birds outside the window here in Jeonju. I am over a decade and an ocean away from those events. I may be in the world of Orwell’s double speak, and I learned more about double speak in the years since those days. But what about false insistences of action? What about double-praxis?
I still can’t tell if this bird flies.
I periodically disabuse myself of a kind of writing that is more interesting to me, and generally hid it in poetry on the left hand and dense, grammatically botched philosophical reflections on the right. Being an intensely personal and guarded man about a few things, and yet quite open about things which most people would hide in shame. Perhaps I have a certain disconnection—a hint of the autistic glare, the mad boundaries of the diasporado, which I am increasingly.
In short, for most things, I find myself—despite or even perhaps because of my own self-absorption—a bad subject.
So if you’ll forgive the indulgence, the past two years have been a world wind to ride me across the ocean, watching the shards of economies and opinions which, frankly, left me with the notion that I am not alone in being a bad subject. Since the 1970s, there has been the never-ending boomer and Gen-X prattle about the fragmentation of the society and subjects. In a way, this may be an illusion of communication: we record so much of our thoughts that there is no revision to make unity or coherence.
What the old American fascist, Ezra Pound, called a will to order is perhaps a will to value itself, and the flood of expression, in its twitter debris and Facebook flotsam, makes necessary revision towards cohesion impossible, or at the very least, impractical without the artifice showing like poorly formed rafters. In this sense, the narratives of our life, produced in milliseconds after experience itself but even in the instance is still almost immediately reflection, is also the jumbled half-created flotsam that gives birth to man and woman it’s very duck-faced iphone image is the same just the jumbled Demiurgic urge that has always been at the root of the way we construct and see ourselves, despite the imperatives of biologic and cultural being.
But where is the concrete here? The order of abstraction is just superimposition (Superstition), the order of the rock, the demarcated concrete abstraction, may be superimposed upon, but if I throw it at your face you’ll know it, and I’ll probably need to clean the blood from the floor.
I was walking down the Osan River outside of Yongin-shi, I noticed what looked to be kingfisher on the water and a few cranes. The air smelled of spring and raw sewage, although it was likely just plants down the way from the mountains. Living outside Seoul in a time of “river renewal” led to a lot of sporadic and unfortunate wafting off the thinning fresh water outlets. Recently divorced and expatriated, chewed up and spit out from three years of the working in as a non-union teacher in an area filled with the normal racial tensions, good ol’ boys, obesity, and diabetes I came to expect from living in the exurban South Eastern US, I couldn’t take my mind off of the bird. In the strange high-rises which perforate the even the outskirts of farmland in Korea, I had noticed the birds through the yellow dusted air.
“Every thought derives from a thwarted sensation” says another philosopher of near fascist pedigree, E. M. Cioran. In the wing of bird, I thought back to Marx’s writing on species-being, on the animal without alienated impulses, and for a moment I allowed myself that romantic notion. Only for a moment though. A second thought came to my mind, a paraphrase of Nietzsche on mercy: “if you cannot help a bird fly, help it fall faster.” Then I thought of my ex-wife.
I suppose it is clear why I wasn’t married anymore.
The thwarted sensation at hand was recognition of something like freedom. I had broken with my past, broken with the onus of trying to save poor Southern kids from Walmart hotdogs and poverty from day labor, broken from a woman who should have just been amongst my bestfriends, and broken with the conventions of America.
Notice, however, the thwarted sensation led to a thought that was thwarted. I could have as easily watched kingfishers in Georgia. My cell phone, a colleague was asking me to join him for lunch, and perhaps mid-afternoon rice wine. One of the advantages of no longer driving a car was that after wine became a much common occurrence in life.
“What we want is not freedom but its appearance. It is for these simulacra that man has always striven. And since freedom, as has bene said, is not more than a sensation, what difference is there between being free and believing ourselves free?” says Coiran.
The naïve realization from birds: I wanted the romantic narrative, and I knew it’s a lie. To help a bird fly or fall, one must know what the bird truly is and what direction the wind is blowing.
So we begin.
I realized that Americana now seems a little worn down and even a bit alien to me after living in Asia, officially, two years. I don’t blog on my life here much and the blog may be on haitus for a few weeks as I move to a new job in Jeonju city, working for a high school and university there. I will also be visiting Japan, so posting my be sporadic, and this is why it has been sporadic. Anyway, I am beginning a new interview series on writing and ethics, and adding to the marginalia on skeptical thinking.
So when I while they may be a few more posts, if the hiatus is more than a few days, but sure to check in because I have some stuff gearing up for August.
Some self-reflection in light of the Yeon Deung Hoe Festival and my exhaustion over reification, plus my fiancee.
“Why don’t you blog more about this?” my girlfriend asks as another lantern rolls out of the plaza near Insadong neighborhood in Seoul.
“You mean commenting on flying Buddhas with weird television screens going down the center of a parade in Seoul?”
“My readers have come to expect an impersonal obtuseness and a reliance of strange readings of Hegel that makes one seem hip.”
“To say ‘seems hip’ means you’re not, love.”
This was the first bit that started this reflection after seeing the fifth or sixth traditional Korean drum dance at Hoehyang Hanmadang. I avoid writing that way because there is some small solace in an impenetrable writing style and an insistence on absolute consistency over time. But there is a limit to that sort of thing when you realize that many of your readers are reifying concepts in a way that makes you wonder if you are doing it too: if you wonder this, it is probably too late. So when I talk about liberals or the left or regression, I realize that language is obfuscating and alienating. It’s part of a “discourse community” that frankly most people could not give two flying fucks about.
It also artificially lowers my own interests which are about left politics, but also the philosophy of science, ontology, epistemology, Buddhist and Confucian Studies, and poetry. While watching the lotus lantern parade, I kept thinking about objects, subjects, and the strange history of Korean and Japanese Buddhism. I kept them about how much I enjoyed a Subway sandwich after not eating them much for almost two years, and about how beautiful Korean started to sound to me, and how close Japanese sounds to it. I kept thinking about endless discussions about history and regression in which history is treated as a ontological force, like a good, which is both human and not. I kept thinking about all the reification of the idea of the left, which, like the reificaiton of religious concepts, becomes both emptier of cognitive and more full of intuitive content over time.
All these axioms can become exhausting, so I am trying to shift gears: To focus on my daily life and its context, the objects of philosophy and the limits to philosophy. More about religion and other cultural elements, and maybe less obscurity and more humor from my daily life.
You can thank a lantern of Buddha and my lovely fiancee for a reminder than even those of who spend time in highly abstract places need to be more rooted in daily life.
For that, I thank her, and move on to other notions: So coming up are more reflections on life here, more interviews in both politics and outside of it: An interview series on the Skeptic’s Movement and the Philosophy of science, a interview series on continental philosophy outside of Hegel, and an an interview series on various religious lefts as well as other things.
Also, a poem for you to enjoy, an excellent one by Gwendolyn Brooks, called “kitchenette building,” which despite it simplicity, one can feel the soft, almost dialectical build-up, of the tension between the humanizing of hope and the abstraction of dreams leading to despair. The simple rhythms build in a way that causes you to miss how much is pasting between the simpler shifts of pronouns and abstractions, which almost seem to dance between symbolic and non-symbolic uses.
People who read my short stories and, more likely since more of it is in print, my poetry, or even editorials I have written, are generally surprised by the strange idiosyncratic density to way I use language in polemic and philosophical writing. Often technical in a odd way, favoring very specific uses of the word, and privileging the technical to the everyday, but in a non-analytic way, which can be infuriating. I, like a strange macrobrew made from bitters, pumpkin, and ashes of Hegelian philosophers, can be an acquired taste in this form. I know it limits my readership, and often, pisses people off. You know, fine grain distinctions that I assume are sort of obvious really aren’t obvious. It’s my fault that I can’t seem to communicate without really subtle caveats, but I can’t. It is frustrating, however, to get accused of holding opinions you don’t hold: I get read as a post-modernist, anti-science, scientistic, conservative, liberal, moralistic, immoralistic.
I think everyday language, however, is often more obscure than the difficult to parse language I use here. My poetry is dense, but in a different way: one that involves expressionistic juxtaposition and odd imagery. I suppose using convoluted syntax, and somewhat arcane, technical language is a bad habit I picked up from continental philosophy, but in also, in a perverse way, ensures that when people understand me, they actually understand me. What is frustrating though is that the assumption of understanding can’t be made most of the time.
I suppose understanding is always a relative affair.