the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

Archive for January, 2016

Iyer on locating loneliness

Posted by rigorousm on January 26, 2016

Lonely Places are the exceptions that prove every rule: they are ascetics, castaways, and secessionists; prisoners, anchorites, and solipsists. … Yet loneliness cuts in both directions, and there are 101 kinds of solitude.. There is the loneliness of the sociopath, the loneliness of the only child, the loneliness of the hermit and the loneliness of the widow. And as with people, so too with nations. Some are born to isolation, some have isolation thrust upon them. Each makes its own accommodation with wistfulness and eccentricity and simple, institutionalized standoffishness. [6] In the half-unnatural state of solitary confinement, Lonely Places develop tics and manias and heresies. They pine, they brood, they molder. They gather dust and data, and keep their blinds drawn round the clock. In time, their loneliness makes them stranger, and their strangeness makes them lonelier. … They grow three-inch nails, and never wash, and talk with the artificial loudness of someone always talking to himself.

— “Lonely Places” in Falling off the map: some lonely places, Pico Iyer, 1993. Pp 5-6.


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on self description

Posted by rigorousm on January 25, 2016

‘A journal isn’t about the self, but for it.’ Notebooks other the self, exoticize it.

—   “Personal Data” by Elisa Gabbert for Catapult (link)

At first, the intensity and granularity of a new informational mirror image convinces the user of his individuated coherency and stability as a subject. He is flattered by the singular beauty of his reflection (and this is why quantified self is so popular with those inspired by an X-Men reading of Atlas Shrugged). But as more data is added to the diagram that quantifies the outside world’s impact on his person – the health of the microbial biome in his gut, immediate and long-term environmental conditions, his various epidemiological contexts, and so on – the quality of everything that is ‘not him’ comes to overcome and overwhelm any notion of himself as a withdrawn and self-contained agent. The user is confronted with the existential lesson that at any point he is only the intersection of many streams.

—   “The Black Stack” by Benjamin Bratton for e-flux (link)

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be whether we find them attractive company or night. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.

—   “On Keeping a Notebook” by Joan Didion

Despite appearances to the contrary, when asked to “define my term” or pin my positions down I do experience a sudden overwhelming flood of anxiety. I don’t think this is because I can’t do so. Clearly I can. Rather, I think I have this reaction because I don’t experience my writing and thought in this way. I don’t experience my work as a fixed and stable set of positions and terms, but as a sort of territory that I’m wandering across with a great deal of uncertainty and as a terrain that’s ever shifting and undergoing modification. I feel as if I’m perpetually forgetting things, as if things are constantly shifting and slipping away, and as if everything is constantly on the verge of flying apart or exploding.

—   “Entropy and me” by Larval Subjects (linklink)

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On catfishing and loving a fake

Posted by rigorousm on January 21, 2016

A common refrain among romantic catfishees is that they’ve “never felt a connection like this before,” and of course they haven’t, because there’s nothing quite like dating an echo chamber. It’s no coincidence that most of the victims on the show are in the midst of difficult or transitional periods in their lives when they start up these online relationships — they’ve lost loved ones, been evicted or fired, fallen behind in school. These are horrible, hard things to deal with, and grief is difficult to see around. In times when life forces us to change or adapt, most of us find ourselves craving distraction and reassurance. We want to feel loved and we want to feel heard, and we want to forget why we need those things in the first place. Think about the last time you had an outsized crush on someone you barely knew. Sometimes you want to fall in love, but not with a real person, because real people are imperfect and their imperfection is a terror. They say dumb things, they work terrible hours at jobs they hate, they come from fucked-up families and watch TV shows you don’t like and fart in front of you. You need to make room for them in your own life, and sometimes you don’t have that room to spare. A real human is an anchor, but a catfish is a blank screen.

“American Loneliness,” Emma Healey for LARB.

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On the trap of anxious love

Posted by rigorousm on January 21, 2016

One of social anxiety’s cruelest side effects is how thoroughly and instantly it turns you into a narcissist. A lot of people think you need an excess of self-regard to be self-obsessed, but as any experienced overthinker will tell you, all it really takes to become completely absorbed in your own inner world is the staticky rush of adrenaline that comes of truly fucking up a conversation. In these moments, the full force of your attention swivels inward; everything else in the world dissolves until all you can see is you, your flaws and inadequacies and failures lit up like a marquee.

This kind of anxiety is one part of a more complex trap. You can’t really be alive without wanting to be loved, and you can’t really love someone else without empathy, and you can’t really be empathetic without figuring out some practical way to mediate the messy, overwhelming and completely legitimate fear that maybe no one in the world will ever love you. If you want to connect with other people, you have to learn to drag your attention away from yourself and focus it on someone else — but the sheer force of your desire for that kind of connection, if left unchecked, has the power to swallow your attention and erase your capacity for empathy before you ever get the chance to try.

Often we describe people who don’t know how to hide their desire for love and approval as desperate or pathetic. That revulsion has a lot to do with how close to home it hits to see someone grasping for love with the same desperation we’ve painstakingly learned to conceal.

In terms of pure outcome, being loved for who you are is pretty much the same thing as becoming a whole new person. In both cases you’re allowed, for a moment, some reprieve from the exhausting task of being yourself; in the former because you’re finally safe, and in the latter because you’re finally free.

The only real way to untangle yourself from yourself, to quiet the dull roar of desire and fear and longing in the background of your thoughts and actions, is to broker some truce with your attention that lets you focus it on the people around you instead.

‘Missed Connections: How to Tell if “Nathan For You” Is For You’ by Emma Healey for LARB.

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tolaas on false self-perception and smell

Posted by rigorousm on January 7, 2016

Here’s a quote by [Sissel Tolaas]: ‘SoftWear: If you can measure that of which you speak and express it in numbers, you know something of your subject, but if you cannot measure it, your knowledge is meagre and unsatisfactory.’

[ST] So measuring smell is a way of getting information about certain things. In this project it was about getting information about people’s self-image and self-perception, and what role smell might play in this. I asked inhabitants of Montpellier in the South of France… to bring their favourite garments that they had been wearing for a period of time. The garments were analysed by me for their content of smells. A lot of people came saying things like, ‘It’s no problem. I wear Chanel No. 5. I am safe….’ And this is exactly what I wanted to find out and comment on. I said, ‘Listen, we communicate smell in our society through perfume. But smell is much more complex; you gather molecules wherever you move.’ … I wanted to show what happens when you move around and how much information I can get out of you just by sitting here and smelling you.     After having analysed 350 garments, I turned the clothes inside out, removed all the labels and replaced them with a label with the contents of all the smells I could track on each garment. … People were so upset. … Most people didn’t want them back. They said, ‘If this is how I smell, then no way. This coat is over for me.’ One woman was even so upset, she tried to sue Chanel.       She said, ‘I have been wearing Chanel No. 5 all my life and if this is how I smell, then Chanel doesn’t camouflage that I have a dog, that I love sushi… No way am I ever going to wear Chanel No. 5 ever again; they promised me something else.’

[MK] Here the label reads: ‘SoftWear: Prada Coat Made in 1994. Dark Green Wool. Worn 32 Times. Travelled to Tokyo, New York, Bergen, Nuke, Johannesburg and Berlin. Contains 12% Chanel Number 5; 2% Dog Shit, German Shepherd; 5% Soy Sauce…’

[ST] And much more…

[MK] And things that people generally want to cover up, like 30% sweat, or dog shit or Background Jil Sander aftershave on your Prada coat.

[ST] You know, the aftershave she tried to cover up with perfume, because she didn’t want her husband to know she was having an affair… I asked her, ‘What kind of aftershave does your husband wear?’ And she said, ‘No, he never wears any. How come you smell Background Jil Sander?’ And I said, ‘Okay… no comment.’ It makes a human being much interesting, doesn’t it? [MK] Well, it reveals everything they try to hide or that they think they don’t carry with them when they present themselves because people can’t see it.

MonoKultur special on Sissel Tolaas, pp27-29.

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