Categories
Philosophy Quotes

“We’re the ones you cannot touch because we are too near.”

Let the record show that the American Dream is so many nightmares that some Americans dream of death for comfort; and what are we doing to make it better? The profiles that paint this man’s life as some kind of literary fairy tale marred only by the political climate, are lies. Gay and Black and famous and beautiful and walking over the edge every day, James Baldwin longed to leave this world as much as he worked to save it from evils like race prejudice, homophobia, capitalism and imperialism—let the myth of the jovial cultural servant die at last, that he may live.

Preface to James Baldwin’s Unwritten Suicide Note

Content warning for suicide. This article is powerful.

(Photograph by Allen Warren.)

Categories
Internets Uncategorized

Busy Twitter Day

I made a tweet that made its way into a Twitter Moment. This actually went okay, because I muted the thread after 10 retweets. I think people mostly understood what it was saying, even if it was borrowed from Tumblr.

Categories
Books

MACK Photography Books

This publisher does something I haven’t seen before: they show most of the book. You can read it. You can look at most of the pictures. The value of a book of photography comes from the physicality, the quality of the print, the presence of the artifact in the hand. Flipping through blurry non-retina images is not the same. But it does let potential buyers shop as they would in a bookstore. I like it.

This one stood out:

Majoli’s photographs result from his own performance. Entering a situation, he and his assistants slowly go about setting up a camera and lights. This activity is a kind of spectacle in itself, observed by those who will eventually be photographed. Majoli begins to shoot, offering no direction to the people before his camera. This might happen over twenty minutes. It might be an hour or so.


Perhaps the people adjust their actions in anticipation of the image to come. Perhaps they refine their gestures in self-consciousness. Perhaps they do not. The representation of drama and the drama of representation become one. The camera flash is instantaneous and much stronger than daylight. But all this light plunges the world into night, or moonlight. The world appears as an illuminated stage. Everything seems to be happening at the end of the day. Just when the world should be sleeping, it offers a heightened performance of itself.

MACK – Alex Majoli’s Scene
Categories
Curriculum Philosophy

Werner Bonefeld: On Class and the State of Money and Law

This lecture goes into the early philosophy of neoliberalism and how it was used to shape European fiscal policy. I normally don’t like these lectures where the speaker reads something almost prepared word for word, but in this case it works pretty well. (Also, it’s kind of weird that Werner Bonefeld doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry.)

Categories
Digital Art

Default Filename TV

Default Filename TV showcases YouTube videos with default filenames. They really do share a certain vibe. Default filenames are a kind of shibboleth for digital honesty. As the author pointed out, this has the added benefit of jamming your YouTube recommendations.

Categories
Quotes

“It is certainly a bumptious one”

We struggle to be just. For we cannot help feel at least a sympathetic pain before the sheer labor, discipline and patient craftsmanship that went to making this mountain of words. But the words keep shouting us down. In the end that tone dominates. But it should be its own antidote, warning us that anything it shouts is best taken with the usual reservations with which we might sip a patent medicine. Some may like the flavor. In any case, the brew is probably without lasting ill effects. But it is not a cure for anything. Nor would we, ordinarily, place much confidence in the diagnosis of a doctor who supposes that the Hippocratic Oath is a kind of curse.

Whittaker Chambers 1957 Review of Ayn Rand

This is good. While of the evaluative phrases are sexist (e.g, “shrill”), this review cuts to the quick of her project. Thanks to Phil Christman for sharing it.

As a teenager I read a lot of Ayn Rand’s work. I agree with The Relentless Picnic’s diagnosis that she appeals, like Strauss’ neoconservatism, to the kind of person: “You feel inferior, told you should be equal, but your emotional response says ‘I’m superior.'” [at 21m 25s]. That was me around that time, dripping in unrecognized privilege. It took a lot of exposure to a lot of different ideas from a lot of different people to bring the recognition.

Categories
Books Reviews

Books in Brief: The Nocilla Trilogy

Get the books.

The Nocilla trilogy is strange. It feels familiar in the way the internet does. The first two books are told in a similar style: they present about a page of text in the third person about a person struggling with their relationship to something or someone—typically something, manifested through their relationship with someone. I can’t claim to understand them in any overarching or systematic way. They seem like they present a vision of our relationship to allegory and metaphor while playing in a space that feels similar to 2666, in the sense that if we can’t have a coherent narrative or present a singular story we all rally behind we can still have something. It builds on that, even though the author admits to never having read it, though there is a character who airs out his theorems on clotheslines much like a character in Bolaño’s novel airs out a geometry book on a clothesline. We spend time in both books thinking about what this means to the character and to us as readers, and I’m not really sure we get super far in a way I can set down definitively, though the experience is interesting, if not enlightening.

The last book, Nocilla Lab, is where things change. The form changes suddenly: the first part is a single 64-page sentence. I liked this part a lot, though it was challenging to read because the style of the previous books remained: nearly but not quite verse, but set in prose. I won’t spoil the rest of the book, but it plays with form and representation and metaphor in a way few pieces of media do.

There are parts I don’t like. I don’t like how most of the characters are men, how there’s a kind of universality to the phallocentrism of all the narratives, even the ones about women. I don’t like how in one case, a character offers a terrible description of a fat woman after she chides him for smoking in a non-smoking area. (The author loves cigarettes more than almost anything. This comes through clearly in every book.) This character offers a page of beautiful description and metaphor and inference about how terrible this woman is, how she embodies all that is bad in humanity, &c but does not turn his critical lens on himself and both what he was doing to prompt the rebuke and what his own behavior means in the context of what he’s discussing. Perhaps that’s kind of the point. It’s a good writer that can make me continue to read a book after I loathe parts of a character.

These books are absolutely worth your time.

Categories
Books Reviews

Books in Brief: Kafka on the Shore

Get the book.

Kafka on the Shore was one of those books I fought with until about three-quarters of the way through, when the wind was at my back and we started sailing and everything was smooth and beautiful. I started reading it on the recommendation of some friends online, who thankfully didn’t tell me anything about it, other than that if I wanted something light and liked magical realism, I should read it, or if I wanted something dark and moody, I should read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. So I chose light.

“Magical Realism” is a frustrating category to slot something into, because it’s never clear what that means in the context of the book. Does that mean that our grip on inductive inference and causality slips a little bit and has some slack to flap around in the wind? Or does it mean that descriptions of things are to be taken more as metaphor and less as objective truth? Or does it mean the author has given up on creating a fully cohesive and linear narrative and is throwing scenes and descriptions and people at the page to try to communicate something they couldn’t communicate otherwise. (As a wise reader once said, Tolstoy had some ideas and tried to explain them to his neighbors, who didn’t understand, so he went off and wrote a book about a lady and train safety to say what he couldn’t say directly.)

Kafka on the Shore falls into the last category here, I think. But that was only apparent after reading most of the book. In the beginning I was frustrated by the protagonist Kafka and his teenage logic and over-reliance on values of toughness, strength, and solitude. I think that was just good writing, rather than some seepage from the author through the page. That relationship continued through most of the book, where someone or something would bubble up and I would get frustrated with their description, or what they said, or how they described something else. (I still think describing Price playing in the background as “like a mollusk in your head” is either a translation error or an artifact of the kind of popular literati writing between 1995–2005.)

Perhaps the first three-quarters of the book are the setup I needed to get in the headspace where the last quarter could do its work, where it does become a world of loose categories and concepts, of nonlinear time, of impressions and scattered paint. If this book makes sense in a way that can be written down and described linearly then I missed that. But I don’t think that’s an important part of the experience of reading it.

All of the following was written before I read the last quarter. It’s still relevant, but I like the book more and have warm and gentle feelings with it. There are still some ambiguities, and some expressions in the face of death and change that I disagree with, or think maybe are against my experiences and lessons with those things, but I liked the book and will more readily some of his other work.

It’s a confusing book. There are rapes abound, but it’s all washed up in this person being a representation of this memory, or maybe not, or whatever, and it’s a big psychosexual mess. In one sense that makes it exciting as a kind of vague representational poem, so I like it for that, but on the other hand, this lady rapes this kid, this kid rapes this other woman in a dream, but it’s real(?), there’s cat murder, but maybe it was metaphorical, or not, and there are embodied concepts that show up as people and act in the world. It’s not a consistent book but it’s not supposed to be. It’s interesting. Some of the descriptions, though, are really… bad. It’s a kind of writing that flourished between 1995 and 2005, and came in the tail-end of that trend: “Prince sings on, like some mollusk in your head.” I don’t understand Kafka’s why, why he’s doing most of the things he’s doing in the book. I very much like the “discussions” with the boy named Crow, and the turn from first-person to second-person in some places. (Nightvale’s The Story of You is one of the better things written this decade.) All in all I enjoyed it and it certainly evoked a reaction in me throughout, where I was talking to the book, asking it what the fuck was going on, expressing disappointment in this or that character, asking the author why this was happening after that happened. That’s a good sign, even if the book didn’t sign to me like a chorus of angels like Moby Dick or Swann’s Way. What I don’t like is the ambiguity between the author-as-character and the author and the character. Kafka’s written as this kind of old soul but is still a petulant little kid. There’s almost no discussion of masculinity or the toxicity present in Kafka’s actions as a man. That’s frustrating, but perhaps it’s an expectation of me and the time we’re in and the place I am in my life, where I look back at myself at that age and think mostly about what an utter fuck I was as a result of those expectations.

Me, rambling before finishing it.
Categories
Curriculum Quotes

“To My Fellow White Others”

The need to unpack our power and privilege in moments of pain and hurt is counterintuitive to most of us. We rightly want to sit in the pain of being targeted. But holding our own pain cannot come at the expense of obscuring the machinations of power that keep us safe even as we are Othered. And when we inevitably turn to the legal system for redress for our pain, we must there too recognize how we are serving a system that is designed to benefit us as white people. 

To My Fellow White Others” by Chase Strangio

This is required reading. This will be in history books.

Categories
Books Reviews

A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros

This is another entry in what I’ve come to think of as “Craig Mod books,” reflections on walking and what that activity does to thought through the body. I initially read Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust on his recommendation from that essay and loved it. It treated walking as something with a history, with many purposes in time and in different cultures, and treated those purposes with respect and a genuine criticality that reflected the impossibility of covering as broad a concept as “walking” in a book only a couple hundred pages long.