What’s happening now…and why I’m not writing much – reading, teaching, librarying, parenting…
Report: Beginning from the Endless End: A Community of Thinking: The Experience of the European Graduate School
“the center of thought is that which does not let itself be thought”
– Maurice Blanchot
Perhaps a community.
A community “risking a fragile resilience” (Philip Beesley).
“Distinguishing the indistinguishable.” “Compatible Incompatibilities.” “The Origin is Empty.” “The path to truth is truth itself.” “More than 1, less than 2.” We are always with without.
I feel rich, calm, a sense of belonging. And loss. In my second year of a PhD program at the European Graduate School, nestled far and away in the Swiss Alps, in the canton of Saas-Fee. It is June, it is chilly, high, quiet, separate. Far from the searing plains of Kansas. Far from my employment, my partner, my children. Far from domestic duties and sustaining (endless) chores. Removed, set apart, drawn up to the mountains, the rivers, the snow. Another language, an other culture, a situation of difference.
Mladen Dolar, following many great others, tells us we must “slow our temporality.” That we can “only do philosophy if we pretend to have all the time in the world.” How could this be done within the everyday?
It feels monastic almost. 30-40 humans from all over the world gathered to hear, speak, inquire and reflect. Many silences. All impassioned by the above – the difficult work, accidental work, error-filled work of “distinguishing the indistinguishable” finding “compatible incompatibilities,” facing the “empty origins,” and setting onto the path that has no end, in the risk of a “bad infinity” – of selecting or creating or imagining impossible tasks and eternally postponing them, finding no conclusions, resolutions, foundations – everything put into question, everything problematized, intervened – “the truth is mediation, a passage.” The happening, the process, of thinking. So we believe. And so we gather. With eminent leaders, guides, mentors (for example, this session: Slavoj Zizek, Helene Cixous, Philip Beesley, Christopher Fynsk, Mladen Dolar, Jean-Luc Nancy, Keller Easterling, Chris Kraus, Alenka Zupancic, Benjamin Bratton, Werner Hamacher, Anne Carson…and more…). We hear from them, we question, we think with them, think FOR other thought drawn toward us (Hegel, Aristotle, Plato, Heidegger, Foucault, Lacan, Freud, Deleuze, Blanchot, Spinoza, Holderlin, Goya, Beckett, and on…). What lives, what continues in our seemingly endless end. What might in-form and unsettle us, what might disturb and enliven us, how we might change-in-relation, again and again and again…
To “take all the time in the world” for 30 days. To read closely. To be overwhelmed. To exhaust. To end again and again, to fail in hopes to fail better. To “start in a bad way, in order to arrive in the good.” The process and problems. Our “selves” in becoming, the one and the two and the many – always with lack. Negativity, absence. “Nothing is identical to itself.” The “greatest order and disorder exist as one.” “Constancy is slipperiness and change.” How do we dwell there and evince. How do we act to find out? There is always the other, another, a lack that we seek. That is nothing, just lack. Drives and desires and neuroses. The community of thinkers.
Some of us question “what is wrong with us?” Why a surplus enjoyment of troubling existence? Why identities founded on nothing? “Philosophy always arrives too late” (Hegel). We can only begin at the ends. Against nothing. Yet toward. And it is here I feel valued. Here recognized. Here is a home. I belong. In a timelessness of knowing in time. An everywhere of nobodies anywhere. Senses replete with mountains and rain. Clear air and short breaths. An absence of tasks. Singular tasks. Monumental tasks (for me). That need all of the time in the world. Are all of the time of the “world”. Senseless letters. Turbulent being. In media res – in the middle of things – when outside already inside, inside where something’s always left out.
My collegiate journals from decades ago are riddled in their margins with: “to be the writer of loss,” “to be the philosopher of grey,” “to compose absence.” A longing for empty origins since thinking began. Repetition.
I walk for the body to process. I dream of sharp thorns in my feet, of lost items, of absence and language and two shades of grey. Rain comes through the clouds in the fog. “The end is in the beginning, and yet you go on,” “My mistakes are my life,” – Samuel Beckett. And so, and yet, I go on. Intensively, demandingly, having “nothing to write, having no means to write it, and being forced by an extreme necessity to keep writing.” – Maurice Blanchot.
I miss those I hold nearest. And I love them – how indecipherable the term – further description annuls it. To say the unsaid or unsayable. I am confused and elated. Inspired and exhausted. Drawn forward through despair. And I love this experiencing. It belongs.
Glimpse of Lightness : Venice Biennale 2015
Marco Maggi – “Drawing Machine” – Uruguay Pavilion, Venice 2015
How does art “happen”? What is a work of art in an age of reproduction? Who, where, what, and how are we in relation to composition, construction, collage, creation, craft… encountering “art” as a strange “zone of indistinction”, an “undecidable”, perhaps an interference, or intervention – at the renowned Venice Biennale 2015? What lightness might we glimpse in such immersion, inundation, veritable floundering and bewilderment among “works of art” – the touted greats within the most prestigious cultural institution in the world.
In a deep cleft of Agamben and Heidegger, physical and mental exhaustion, a set of European Graduate School students (which gratefully included myself) set out to engage “art” in the context of the famed Venice Biennale Exposition, assigned to look for “glimpses of lightness” – something “having little weight…alleviating…demonstrating ease or agility…mirth, levity…and a graceful slenderness” OR – “lit brightly, illuminated, illuminating”. The day began hefty and hot with prospects of 89 national participations, 44 collateral events in the Giardina della Biennale plus an additional “more than 136 artists from 53 countries” at the Arsenale. We set out.
The 2015 Biennale was filled with many ambiguous / ambivalent / open works that, depending on the perspective of the observer, might be engaged with levity, mirth and playfulness or burdened by art-extraneous political, moral and conceptual communiqués and paraphernalia. I found myself wondering if art was happening in such a context – a deluge and glut of politics, morality and economy. I began looking at things curious if messages could be untangled, read past and through, passed by: emotional, commercial, personal, national, site-specific – querying – “what here is ‘being raised, set forth, set up’? (Heidegger). ARTing: can we come to art through artists and artworks and exhibitions?
Considering art as Riss – rift – an outline, sketch, drawing and marking setting into relief a “moment” or “space,” a new relation hard to distinguish, perhaps undecidable, opportunities of encounter with encountering-itself, being – itself – being, in relation to. A passage. Something beyond good and evil (ethics); beyond division, calculation and measure of perception (subject/object, this/that, here/there) (ontology); beyond narcissism (me/you, us/them, him/her) (epistemology); beyond laws and institutions and individuality (ours/theirs, who/what, when/where) and so on… Toward activation – activity + occurrence, an awareness, a-tension at/of/with/in NOW? [ultimate zone of indistinction and undecidability]. Play? Lightness? Resisting the urge to pronounce, proclaim, propose; swerving past strife, through strife – holding open? – Art…as Being…an open question? Some undoing in its doing, some common toggling call to a present, re-present, encounter? Are we able to tear up a world in an activity of mending, assembling and combining it (rift)? To set up a world in an activity of revealing (veiling/unveiling) as a poet might do (oscillating signs) with a semiotic semantic, ex-hibit-ing, exposing, en-light-ening – making lines instead of following them, opening spaces rather than closing, becoming in difference to became? I wondered what might result if we scrambled the sites/sights on some randomizing algorithm of names/nations/pavilions or scrambled the labels and ‘statements’ according to same. To undo in order to Art.
So what rends? What can tear through the amalgams and overlays we bring to each encounter with one another, with the world? What might cause a rift to occur in my own perceptions, predispositions, cares, concerns, propensities? Where do the potentialities lie? What will bring me to the open? Below are a few works I encountered in the heat and dust and exhaustion of 2015’s 56th La Biennale di Venezia that re-oriented me, turned me into at least two sides of a chasm, illuminated a seeing-space, a being-space for me – provided me with glimpses of lightness.
“Blind Spot.” The first work that woke me, intervened, destabilized and shifted my course was Blind Spot by Mykola Ridnyi (Ukraine) located in the Arsenale. Working from the ophthalmologic analysis of scotomas – areas of partial alterations or degenerated acuity in our normal fields of vision that are surrounded by normative and well-preserved views. We all have them, aspects we never see clearly – biologically, culturally, psychologically and personally. Scotoma is not a condition to be overcome, but to be aware of. As I engaged the Biennale, I recognized that artists, nations, participants and audiences all live their existences with “Blind Spots.” The effortful work to account for them only serves to expose further areas where “things disappear on us.” Accompanied by C-prints painted with various exemplars of scotomic affect, Ridnyi’s installation ripped an awareness into me that opened my emotional reactivity to nation-state pavilions and exhibits, artists compromises to culture and fame, my own dear lack of self-critique and clear-sightedness, and the ever open question of how and what we engage in our being-alive, relating, and “reading”/”seeing” the world.
Not far beyond “Blind Spot” resided Ricardo Brey’s “Every life is a fire (2009-ongoing,.” intricate, redolent boxes opening out in glass cases – the layers, complex details and labyrinthine qualities of our coagulating, webbing construction of idiosyncratic interpretations of the world. “The box is our head,” he notes, “the box is the cave… is the attic… is the memory and the world.” The boxes are an attempt to represent the intensifications of internal modes and their relationships in spatial terms; and what results is a “hermeneutics of the soul” that creates “a topography of the mind.” Articulated like a labyrinth or mandala, Brey considers the box-mind compound the “most metaphysical project” he has attempted, nothing less than “a workshop to produce the invisible” or “the countless” that is also “the way out and the jail.” The attempt to articulate the inarticulable, visualize the unseen, expose blind spots through elaborate archiving and representation and obsessive care and attention also ripped into my own desperate strivings for self-awareness, knowledge and authenticity.
And finally, yet in retrospect to my Biennale’d day, an early return…Marco Maggi’s Global Myopia (Pencil + Paper) (Uruguay Pavilion) and, particularly, his piece at the entrance to the show: “Drawing Machine (nine possible starting points)” (image above). Options. Beginnings. Openings. In what direction will the “drawing” move? From what emphases and characteristics? What intricacies of our histories and culture, memories and desires, experiences and imaginations will direct the ensuing mark of us in relation to our world, ourselves, our perception, one another? Maggi reports, powerfully, that “ the only subject of Global Myopia is drawing.” Lines begun – a movement, a glance, a word, a new distinction. Rifts and rendings, gaps and site-specificities, we inscribe – blindly, collectively, collaboratively, actively and in elaborate idiosyncratic ways both laden and illuminating – glimpses of lightness outlining our crossings, traversals and conduct through All the World’s Futures.
Agamben, G. (1993). The coming community. Minneapolis : Minneapolis :
Agamben, G. (1998). Homo sacer. Sovereign power and bare life. Stanford, Calif. : Stanford, Calif. :
Agamben, G. (1999a). Potentialities : collected essays in philosophy. Stanford, Calif. : Stanford, Calif. :
Agamben, G. (1999b). The man without content. Stanford, Calif. : Stanford University Press, 1999.
Agamben, G. (2004). The open man and animal. Stanford, Calif. : Stanford, Calif. :
Blind spot – Mykola Ridnyi. (2015). Retrieved August 30, 2015, from http://www.mykolaridnyi.com/works/blind-spot
Every life is a fire. (2015). Retrieved August 30, 2015, from http://www.ricardobrey.com/every-life-is-a-fire.html
Every life is a fire. (n.d.). Retrieved August 30, 2015, from http://www.ricardobrey.com/every-life-is-a-fire.html
Heidegger, M., & Heidegger, M. (1977). Basic writings from Being and time (1927) to The task of thinking (1964) (1st ed). New York: Harper & Row.
Heimo Zobernig at the Austrian Pavilion, Venice Biennale / MOUSSE CONTEMPORARY ART MAGAZINE. (2015, May 13). Retrieved August 30, 2015, from http://moussemagazine.it/zobernig-austrian-venice-2015/
La Biennale di Venezia – Biennale Arte 2015: All The World’s Futures. (2015). Retrieved August 30, 2015, from http://www.labiennale.org/en/art/news/05-03.html
La Biennale di Venezia – History of the Venice Biennale. (2015). Retrieved August 30, 2015, from http://www.labiennale.org/en/biennale/history/
La Biennale di Venezia – Home. (2015). Retrieved August 30, 2015, from http://www.labiennale.org/en/Home.html
lightness, n.1. (2015). OED Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://www.oed.com.proxy.wichita.edu/view/Entry/108230
lightness, n.2. (2015). OED Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://www.oed.com.proxy.wichita.edu/view/Entry/108231
Welcome. (2015). Retrieved August 30, 2015, from http://www.marcomaggi.org/welcome/
 (Agamben, 1993, 1999a, 1999b)
 (“La Biennale di Venezia – History of the Venice Biennale,” 2015)
 (“lightness, n.1,” 2015)
 (“lightness, n.2,” 2015)
 (“La Biennale di Venezia – Biennale Arte 2015: All The World’s Futures,” 2015)
 (Heidegger & Heidegger, 1977)
 (“Blind spot – Mykola Ridnyi,” 2015)
 (“Blind spot – Mykola Ridnyi,” 2015)
 (“Welcome,” 2015)
 (“Every life is a fire,” 2015)
 (“Welcome,” 2015)
 (“La Biennale di Venezia – Biennale Arte 2015: All The World’s Futures,” 2015)
The rigor of this program (for me) puts me in 9-10 hours of seminar/symposium per day, 7 days / week, and therefore very little time to process, do self-selected-readings, even journal. At the same time, the strange reality that introduces – of an intensity and exhaustion I truly have never encountered (save perhaps in parenting and certain periods of intimate relation) – presses (prods?) me to adapt, alter, re-think. So, in order to survive, when moments arise for me to work with a pen and blank pages, I am going to post them as a record, as much for myself forward, as for a witnessing from any of you. As you can see, a certain blitzing of the brain/body incurs that confuses or disorients. So this will be a kind of journal / personal notation space for myself (needing witnessed) until time passes and (I hope!) the plenitude of this experience seeps in, along.
Today I found an hour to scribble, and here is how it goes. Drained, depleted, dissolute-feeling, I translated the first week into an expression around a too-much that exhausts, an overwhelm that empties.
(click title to view)
Uncannily (as many happenings this first week) – the evening’s lecture concluded with a translating of Maurice Blanchot – to the effect of: “we will maintain plenitude in (or unto) the nothing.”
Prologue: I do not know what I am about to write.
In less than one week I will be in Saas-Fee, Switzerland in the midst of a thousand novel things. I am going as a participant in the European Graduate School’s PhD in Philosophy, Art & Critical Thought program, studying with 15 or so others, guided by Simon Critchley, Giorgio Agamben, Christopher Fynsk, Boris Groys, and Luc Tuymans, et. al.
For weeks now, any spare moment has loomed like this:
working my way through the bulk of Agamben’s corpus, Heidegger, Hegel, Kojeve, Derrida, Brecht, Benjamin, Nietzsche, Deleuze & Guattari, Spinoza, and columns of secondary literature. I do not know what to expect. I expect small seminars of conversation and dialogue, led by persons tattooed on my arms – persons I “assume”? “understand”? are paid to think – employment I would SO love to land – to experience & think, inquire & think, research & think, & report. Perhaps? So we’ll gather for 6 to 9 hours a day (or more) – discuss principal thoughts/texts/events of human thought-about human thought-about human being-experience…and…?
Walk in the mountains – Nietzsche claimed his thoughts would only be possible up here. Sleep. Read. Think. I really don’t know.
It’s been the first time in my life (I can remember) in which the hours of reading I’ve poured into this have actually eventuated in headaches. Distinguishing terminologies and concepts. Following trails of thought. Engaging them. Responding to them. Add to the above William James, A.N. Whitehead, Eugene Gendlin, Mikhail Bakhtin, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Steven Shaviro, Brian Massumi, Gilbert Simondon – my own favorite philosophical corpus – to construct conversations, critiques, and alternate points of view through. To think-through-with. And still with thousands of pages to go.
Here the classrooms and buildings. Mountains and trees. Novel, novel, novel. The minds I’ll encounter. Novel. From all over the world, perspectives, perceptions, reflections, opinions, resources, references, practices, habits…novel.
And mostly (always?) I still simply want to write.
As my mindbody gestates and swells with new jargon and lingo, concepts and theories, voices and styles, there are many moments of cluster, confusion, conjoining and merger. Thoughts disarrayed. Set loose from their sources and synapted to knots and knobs of my own kernels of thought & experience. A pregnant field. A chaos. I will need to walk. Need to sleep. i lose my bearings.
Language. Other moments it feels everyone is considering the same things in different voices. The same ‘truths’ in variant language-games. The same purposes. Not always. But those hunting and haunting human experience – with that strange zeal and compulsion, near-desperation of finding-something-out, making-sense, questing meaningful presence…from diverse times and cultures, languages and histories, feelings and vocabularies…
I sense similarities, ties. Tangles and diversions.
“the chief error in philosophy is overstatement”
-Alfred North Whitehead-
WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
is what I have written at the beginning of my notebook for the journey. What are you talking about & how? written just underneath. Wittgenstein. Whitehead. Bakhtin. James. What we experience together alters everything we bring. When we dialogue occasions occur, events happen. When we encounter and meet. Interaction. Action and process take place, differentiated, by Other.
From another pile: Knausgaard, Mary Ruefle, William Bronk, Wallace Stevens. Ivan Vladislavic, Ben Marcus, David Foster Wallace, Joshua Cohen. In my readings – Valery, Rilke, Holderlin. Blanchot, Kafka, Beckett.
Voices. Styles. Experiences. Occasions.
Interpretations. Experiences. Thoughts. Language.
What I expect is that “something is doing.” Activity is going-on. We/I will be being-with and being-in. There will be convergence, dissonance, emergence and change.
It will be a variant “me” coming “home.”
(live webcam of area)
To the mountains then. To think. To learn. To live. To be-with and be-in.