the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

Archive for November, 2011

nin on collective consciousness

Posted by rigorousm on November 30, 2011


At such times we are overwhelmed by a collective joy. We feel like shouting, demonstrating in the street. A joy you share with the whole world is almost too great for one human being. One is stunned before catastrophe, one is stunned by happiness, by peace, by the knowledge of millions of people free from pain and death.


— Diaries of Anais Nin, Vol. 3, August 1944.


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Bataille, Wallace on fear

Posted by rigorousm on November 20, 2011

Today I would like to offer this principle explanation of a state I am just getting over: I am afraid. I never felt obliged to reveal this truth. My steps are each time more clearly those of a sick man, or at least a man out of breath, exhausted. It is fear that carries me– or horror– of what is at play in the totality of thought.

God is terrifying unless identified with reason– Pascal, Kierkegaard. But if he is no longer the same thing as reason, I stand before the absence of God. And as this absence fuses with the last aspect of the world– which has no longer anything utilitarian, nor anything to do with future retribution or punishment– the question still remains:

…fear… yes, fear that only the boundlessness of thought can touch… fear, yes, but fear of what…?

The reply fills the universe, fills the universe within me:

… obviously the fear of NOTHING.

Clearly, if what frightens me in this world is not bound by reason, I must tremble. I must tremble if the possibility of play no longer attracts me.

— George Bataille, Le Coupable

And it is this, I think, that makes Kafka’s wit inaccessible to children whom our culture has trained to see jokes as entertainment and entertainment as reassurance. [2] It’s not that students don’t “get” Kafka’s humor but that we’ve taught them to see humor as something you get — the same way we’ve taught them that a self is something you just have. No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke — that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home. It’s hard to put into words up at the blackboard, believe me. You can tell them that maybe it’s good they don’t “get” Kafka. You can ask them to imagine his art as a kind of door. To envision us readers coming up and pounding on this door, pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it, we don’t know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and pushing and kicking, etc. That, finally, the door opens…and it opens outward: we’ve been inside what we wanted all along. _Das ist komisch_.
[2] There are probably whole Johns Hopkins U. Press books to be written on the particular lallating function humor serves at this point in the U.S. psyche. Nonetheless, a crude but concise way to put the whole thing is that our present culture is, both developmentally and historically, “adolescent.” Since adolescence is pretty much acknowledged to be the single most stressful and frightening period of human development — the stage when the adulthood we claim to crave begins to present itself as a real and narrowing system of responsibilities and limitations [2a] — it’s not difficult to see why we as a culture are so susceptible to art and entertainment whose primary function is to “escape.” Jokes are a kind of art, and since most of us Americans come to art essentially to forget ourselves — to pretend for a while that we’re not mice and all walls are parallel and the cat can be outrun — it’s no accident that we’re going to see “A Little Fable” as not all that funny, in fact as maybe being the exact sort of downer-type death-and-taxes thing for which “real” humor serves as a respite.

[2a] You think it’s a coincidence that it’s in college that most Americans do their most serious falling-down drinking and drugging and reckless driving and rampant fucking and mindless general Dionysian-type reveling? It’s not. They’re adolescents, and they’re terrified, and they’re dealing with their terror in a distinctively American way. Those naked boys hanging upside down out of their frat-house’s windows on Friday night are simply trying to get a few hours’ escape from the stuff that any decent college has forced them to think about all week.

–David Foster Wallace, Laughing with Kafka

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west on violence

Posted by rigorousm on November 20, 2011

With the return of self-consciousness, he knew that only violence could make him supple.

-N West, Miss Lonelyhearts

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Herr on belief

Posted by rigorousm on November 17, 2011

Well, good lucky, the Vietnam verbal tic…. It came out dry and distant, I knew he didn’t care one way or the other, maybe I admired his detachment. It was as though people couldn’t stop themselves from saying it, even when they actually meant to express the opposite wish, like, “Die, motherfucker.” Usually it was only an uninhabited passage of dead language, sometimes it came out five times in a sentence, like punctuation, often it was spoken flat side up to telegraph the belief that there wasn’t any way out; tough shit, sin loi, smack it, good luck. Sometimes, though, it was said with such feeling and tenderness that it could crack your mask, that much love where there was so much war. Me too, every day, compulsively, good luck: to friends in the press corps goign out on operations, to grunts I’d meet at firebases and airstrips, to the wounded, the dead and all the Vietnamese I ever saw getting fucked over by us and each other, less often but most passionately to myself, and though I meant it every time I said it, it was meaningless. It was like telling someone going out in a storm not to get any on him, it was the same as saying, “Gee, I hope you don’t get killed or wounded or see anything that drives you insane.” You could make all the ritual moves, carry your lucky piece, wear your magic jungle hat, kiss your thumb smooth as stones under running water, the Inscrutable Immutable was still out there, and you kept on or not at its pitiless discretion. All you could say that wasn’t fundamentally lame was something like, “He who bites it this day is safe from the next,” and that was exactly what nobody wanted to hear.”

— Michael Herr, Dispatches, pp 55-56.

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ranciere on work

Posted by rigorousm on November 13, 2011

“Work is not and never will be glorious. The hole into which the worker sinks is not and never will be but the vain work of taking earth from here to place it there… a worthless task whose only price is the universal equivalent, the everyday gold that is exchanged for bread. This is the ordinary cycle of daily descent into a tomb, from which, for simple survival, one is reborn each day. It is the cycle of production and reproduction, of births lapsing into anonymity, into a repetition aping a simple eternity…; in short, everything that is encapsulated in the very name proletarian, and that strikes with derision any rituals designed for the consecration of work.”

— Ranciere, Mallarme: Politics of the Siren p 32.

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bllard on melancholic vacations

Posted by rigorousm on November 7, 2011

Fragmentation. For Tallis, this period in the apartment was a time of increasing fragmentation. A pointless vacation had led him by some kind of negative logic to the small resort on the sand bar. In his faded cotton suit he had sat for hours at the tables of closed cafes, but already his memories of the beach had faded. The adjacent apartment block screened the high wall of the dunes. The young woman slept for most of the day and the apartment was silent, the white volumes of the rooms extending themselves around him. Above all, the whiteness of the walls obsessed him.


False Space and Time of the Apartment. These planes found their rectilinear equivalent in the apartment. The right angles between the walls and ceiling were footholds in a valid system of time, unlike the suffocating dome of the planetarium expressing its infinity of symmetrical boredom. He watched Karen Novotny walk through the rooms, relating the movements of her thighs and hips to the architectonics of floor and ceiling. This cool-limbed young woman was a modulus; by multiplying her into the space and time of the apartment he would obtain a valid unite of existence.

Suite Mentale. Conversely, Karen Novotny found in Tallis a visible expression of her own mood of abstraction, that growing entropy which had begun to occupy her life in the deserted beach resort since the season’s end. She had been conscious for some days of an increasing sense of disembodiment, as if her limbs and musculature merely established the residential context of her body. She cooked for Tallis, and washed his suit. Over the ironing board she watched his tall figure interlocking with the dimensions and angles of the apartment. Later, the sexual act between them was a dual communion between themselves and theĀ  continuum of time and space which they occupied.


— J G Ballard, “You: Coma: Marilyn Monroe,” The Atrocity Exhibition

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