Thursday, February 23, 2017

The practice of forgetting

I don't know if you read Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. I just started reading so I don't know what to make of it yet but so far, it created some beautiful glimmering moments for me. One of them happened to be where he was discussing the difference between digital and manual writing. That subject itself, nevertheless related to this one, deserves a whole other essay which I plan to write on the comparison he made on possibilities of digital vs. manual writing where he sided with digital, rightfully and beautifully arguing that act of writing on digital media enables one to create universes "where sharp lines in space and time do not exist" due to various abilities such as the speed, replacing words at the press of a key, deleting and recalling as opposed to the "linear" process of manual writing. Basically, he praises digital media for its ability of forgetting. Here is a beautiful passage to enjoy while making things clear.

"Repenting, I could have deleted the first draft. I left it to show how the “is” and the “ought,” accident and necessity, can co-exist on this screen. If I wanted, I could remove the offending passage from the screen but not from the memory, thereby creating an archive of my repressions while denying omnivorous Freudians and virtuosi of variant texts the pleasure of conjecture, the exercise of their occupation, their academic glory. This is better than real memory, because real memory, at the cost of much effort, learns to remember but not to forget. Diotallevi goes Sephardically mad over those palaces with grand staircases, that statue of a warrior doing something unspeakable to a defenseless woman, the corridors with hundreds of rooms, each with the depiction of a portent, and the sudden apparitions, disturbing incidents, walking mummies. To each memorable image you attach a thought, a label, a category, a piece of the cosmic furniture, syllogisms, an enormous sorites, chains of apothegms, strings of hypallages, rosters of zeugmas, dances of hysteron proteron, apophantic logoi, hierarchic stoichea, processions of equinoxes and parallaxes, herbaria, genealogies of gymnosophists— and so on, to infinity. O Raimundo, O Camillo, you had only to cast your mind back to your visions and immediately you could reconstruct the great chain of being, in love and joy, because all that was disjointed in the universe was joined in a single volume in your mind, and Proust would have made you smile. But when Diotallevi and I tried to construct an ars oblivionalis that day, we couldn’t come up with rules for forgetting. It’s impossible. It’s one thing to go in search of a lost time, chasing labile clues, like Hop-o’-My-Thumb in the woods, and quite another deliberately to misplace time refound. Hop-o’-My-Thumb always comes home, like an obsession. There is no discipline of forgetting; we are at the mercy of random natural processes, like stroke and amnesia, and such self-interventions as drugs, alcohol, or suicide. Abu, however, can perform on himself precise local suicides, temporary amnesias, painless aphasias." [Abu is the name of the digital machine and italics are mine.]

Well... this passage right here made me think firstly about my desire to write with a mechanical typewriter - why I wanted to write with a mechanical typewriter which will be another essay's topic, that is if I ever manage to write it - and of course about how one could practice forgetting...

And since I never go directly for the obvious and always revolve around the subject to discern it from its peripheries, it seemed like a good idea to try to write about the practice, or better put, the movements of forgetting since I have a lot of experience in that subject: I've - most of the time - deliberately forgotten and continue to forget many things. It's more like a habit. Or maybe I should say that I operate on whatever is attached to the thing I desire to forget.

So here it goes...

First rule of forgetting: you do not talk about... oops sorry, that was Fight Club...

Where were we? Oh yes, forgetting... so, it was close enough to Fight Club as well.

Anyway, the first rule of forgetting is not wanting to forget! (It is so deliciously paradoxical that I had to stop and enjoy the thought for a few minutes! It is moments like these that make me lose track of my own thoughts so I cannot promise much coherency from now on - as if I ever had a claim about coherency!)

So, if you want to forget, you should not want to forget. Instead, you should will to remember and face your accidents, as Eco puts it. Life is a series of accidents. In philosophy, accident is mostly understood as the things which happen to you, in other words, the events of your life. This has been a major topic in philosophy, discussed in depth since Aristotle but for our purposes here, it would be enough to define accident as experience. The object of the act of forgetting is necessarily an experience, right? An experience of some importance. Nobody would bother to forget insignificant or trivial experiences such as going to the store to buy cigarettes etc. So, what you try to forget is always something that makes you feel in a certain way, be it pain, sadness, shame or sorrow...

That certain feeling attached to the experience indicates the forcefulness or power of your experience, in other words the problematic nature of it. That means it has a power. A potential waiting to be created to transform you, and once you become a new person, that is, once you change your plane of operation, the accident you wanted to forget ceases to be itself as well.

These powerful experiences are real questions, and being real questions, they don't have an answer. What is a real question? I feel like it is the creator of a particular truth. Truth, even the emphasis is on the particular, never wants you to give an answer to it. It pulls or pushes you to believe or not believe it. You are kind of helpless on that plane, at the mercy of a certain arrangement of forces. So, you have to jump on another plane where you will meet the light coming from the crack the question created. There always is a crack. And actually you use that crack like a pole to jump onto another plane. Trying to forget won't help because you will be under its power, entangled in its mesh, it will force you to do something until you do something. You can choose to repress it, and by doing so stay within that force zone but that's how various disturbances originate on various parts of your body and not only in your mind.

Anyway, you have to want to change your plane rather than wanting to forget; that is to arrange yourself differently, to change your patterns... You can start with really small and concrete things as well, like literally arranging your home differently even if its imaginary. Let me give you an example:

A few weeks ago, I was trying to forget some pain and in such a state that I didn't want to do anything. I didn't want to work, to read, to watch movies, to go out, to talk to people. I mean nothing... I was constantly procrastinating in front of the computer, telling myself that I will work at some point while surfing on the online shopping websites meaninglessly since I wasn't buying anything. Days went on like this. At the end I had arranged a virtual new home, existing only in the shopping lists of the websites. At some point I asked myself, "What the hell am I doing?!" This looked so meaningless, so null. But it wasn't so... I actually had transformed the apartment where I work and live, basically spend most of my time, and it didn't need to be real. I needed a new perspective so my procrastination was showing me the way. What I was reaching for was not only different furniture, different arrangements but a different life. I came to this conclusion by tracing myself, and asking on the way, "What could this mean? What does it do for me that I feel better having this couch here and this table there only in my mind? Hell, it wouldn't make any difference even if they were here." But believe me, your mind is much like a home, arranged in a certain way that enables you to do certain things, like sitting comfortably where you get sunlight or being stuck and uncomfortable under bad illumination. Changing such a small thing as illumination enables you to do different things with things illuminated. A painful memory could be made something creative this way, if you follow the pain through its path of origination which seems to me to be basically the crack of the question.

Or if you are one of those people feeding on sorrow, you probably would want to forget good feelings such as vigor, passion, and joy... but if you are one of those people, I am sorry to have wasted your time. You could have instead opened another bottle of an alcoholic drink of your preference full of melancholia and continued to feel pity for yourself...

On the other hand, you could be trying to forget an event which, at the time, gave you pleasure but now became a source of pain since you are no longer able to experience it. Well, pardon me, but this would only show your limited understanding of that event, your restricted ability to recreate and feed on that pleasure. The movement to make in this situation should be searching the ways to make that event or experience productive for it to be a source of ever more pleasure.

So jump off that plane. I know it's easier said than done. But once you manage to do it once or twice, you'll see it's more of a matter of athletics - much like pole vault really - rather than a conscious effort - not that I know anything about conscious efforts... It's quite true though that it cannot be really taught. You have to do it yourself to learn. At the end you might even make it a habit like me but I don't really recommend that. Because then it kind of becomes impossible to stay on one plane for long. You just want to jump! Plus, since we are living organisms, we cannot really be as precise as Abu in our local suicides. One of these days I may perform my last jump...well, nobody said it was safe, but it's fun and it's the least I can do. For now.

P.S. This is an old post which I wrote exactly one year ago today apparently and never finished until today. It's what jumping does to you: you have trouble completing things. Ah but I finished Foucault's Pendulum. Books, I always follow to the end. And I am still jumping and not completely dead yet.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Yours sincerely, Ubik.

I always had this idea: being smart necessarily involves some kind of happiness. I don't know where I got this idea despite the contradiction it created with my very first memories - maybe I was Spinoza in another lifetime, who knows... I remember being four or five years old, and trying to tell the adults around me the vastness of the universe and how little we are compared to this immense thing about which we know close to nothing. I remember them being surprised, not because of the immensity of the universe but because I was stating this very normal fact everyone can actually figure out for themselves. So as for my own experience, being smart involved a painful boredom from the stupidity of humans. They never even came close to be stupefied before this weird universe together. That was all I asked: to be baffled together.

So obviously, I had to doubt that idea. Could being smart necessarily involve sadness instead? Of course, it kind of involves some degree of happiness down to a certain level. Spinoza is all about this. You get better and better as your understanding increases. However, as you dig deeper, layer after layer, you come to this weird layer. Philip K. Dick calls it "irrationality as the fundamental stratum of universe." It is deeply saddening. There is a very delicate balance there. That stratum is where it all happens and it is so indifferent that it hurts. You have to constantly keep yourself interested with the life side of the scales rather than the death side to stay alive.

It is kind of true, then, that being smart - and alive - involves both a saddening and a very forceful will not to be sad. It involves a constant search for something that can, in a way, be used for the life side of the scale. As a very smart person, I think Philip K. Dick felt this to his bones. He dived into the waters of sincerity - which is a term I kind of use for that fundamental stratum of irrationality as the basis of life - and although he was deeply saddened, he never gave up on what he managed to take with him from there. That was Ubik. Maybe a little more explanation is needed here.

The book "Ubik" is not really the best literary work but something happens there. Something I still can't really figure out but I feel it's important and something I am sure Dick himself didn't really understand. His intelligence was a felt one, generally just very confusing. The general plot is... well, I can't tell the whole book here. Let's just say there are some people doing some things. Ah, and there is this half-life thing going on where people continue to sort of live on after death. Living people can communicate with them for a prolonged but again limited period. The interesting thing is that you see this thing called Ubik everywhere. It appears in cheap ads at first such as "Instant Ubik has all the fresh flavor of just-brewed drip coffee. Your husband will say, Christ, Sally, I used to think your coffee was only so-so, but now, wow! Safe when taken as directed." There are many of these but they always end with something like "use only as directed." At some point, things start to degenerate, to rot, to get old and people use Ubik to heal things. I mean, time starts to rewind and if I remember right, it only goes as far back as 1930s.

(For the wonderful visual:

Why am I telling all this? Because, well, I was thinking about the significance of Ubik for me and I had written this piece on Deleuze&Guattari, Ubik and resistance a few years ago. There, I had argued that Ubik was the "dark precursor" of the resistance against capitalism. But it occurred to me that I wasn't really catching the point unless I considered time as something inter-subjective. I was thinking too abstractly. Sometimes I can't see what's in front of me because of this tendency. Anyway, everything is in-between of things, worlds, people... So, the three syntheses of time go really good with the three syntheses in the Anti-Oedipus. Here, connective synthesis goes parallel with the synthesis of the lived present (now). Disjunctive synthesis goes parallel with the synthesis of the past: there is a difference between chronological past and the past-that-never-was which is the difference between the production of recording and the record surface which is body without organs. And conjunctive synthesis with the synthesis of future.

Now, this is the production of life and of time. This is the process. The result is a nomadic subject, existing only as intensities, intense feelings. the relation between intensities. This subject can only exist as someone else, something else than itself. How does this relate with PKD and Ubik? Well, how did he come up with Ubik? What is it exactly? Something so very trashy but nevertheless healing life only when used as directed which means, too obvious for me, it is a style. It is a friendly whisper to sooth you while you're rotting in half-life, it is a "reality support" to prevent you becoming a zombie or a vampire. It is like an undercurrent even below the irrational and irreal stratum, through which you relate to others who dug deeper and deeper, who didn't stop at nothingness, who didn't surrender to nihilism, who kept on loving life and other people even when those other people were killing them with their self-destructive tendencies. It's just like he writes in Valis: "She will not allow herself to be healed because she does not understand that she is sick. This illness and madness pervades us and makes us idiots living in private, unreal worlds."  This is the madness. And this is making death weigh heavier than life at that layer where life needs some support. Here is another quote from Valis:
"All creation is a language and nothing but a language, which for some inexplicable reason we can't read outside and can't hear inside. So I say, we have become idiots. Something has happened to our intelligence. My reasoning is this: arrangement of parts of the Brain is a language. We are parts of the Brain; therefore we are language. Why, then, do we not know this? We do not even know what we are, let alone what the outer reality is of which we are parts. The origin of the word "idiot" is the word "private." Each of us has become private, and no longer shares the common thought of the Brain, except at a subliminal level. Thus our real life and purpose are conducted below our threshold of consciousness."

The whole point of PKD is love. That's what he means by empathy, by agape, by eros, that which keeps us together and thus alive in the face of constant death and destruction and dissipation. He didn't want this to be his occupation. Nobody wants such a life of struggle. This cannot be a conscious effort. He just did what he had to do to endure life with what he had. He was just desperately smart. As he says himself, "He wasn't just theory-mongering for the sake of it; he was trying to figure out what the fuck had happened to him," all the while constructing universes to try to find a way out of this madness.

"How do you construct a universe that doesn't fall apart in two days?" Well, by diving into the existing universe. By diving into sincerity to connect to the world. By becoming a machine entangled with the fabric of the world. Sincerity - one cannot be sincere, it is like an atmosphere, it cannot be used as an adjective, and I know I should elaborate on that concept in another post - is always at the very beginning. It enables one to be at the very beginning, it is a kind of timeless primordial experience. Honesty which is very disturbingly confused with sincerity, comes only later, when there is a later. When it's already too late. When one no longer can become a machine with the world but with the connection broken, can only observe the world from the outside as a dead lump of meat at the very best.

Anyway... So, I wanted to say that Deleuze&Guattari are revolutionary academics with their conscious effort to show a way out for health but PKD is not less of a revolutionary in his own confused and desperate way. He named Ubik for the rest of us through his own experiences. I can go on for pages on how he deconstructs the production of recording for the benefit of the recording surface, on how his paranoia enables him to decode and detach himself, on how he envisions an inclusive and nonrestrictive society where he reattaches himself to others, on how he so accurately speculates and fictionalizes philosophy, on how he enables his reader to go along this mind boggling journey, on how wonderful was that little Sci-Fi society of 1940s and 1950s before it was cool...

But for the purposes of this little post what's important is only this: how does Ubik heal life? Well, it is Logos, it's the force of life on that irrational stratum, it is our weapon against destruction, death and nothingness. It truly belongs to us in this vast universe. It's our power to create. Yes, maybe it's the "dark precursor" of life against death. It is how forces of life communicate with each other and create together. It is that book through which a self-educated and desperately smart man continues to communicate with the people who can receive the signals. The people who have a will to heal life which is an impossible task to begin with.

By the way, I am not a Dick-head - it's how fans of PKD call themselves - because being a fan of somebody or something just doesn't belong to my constitution. I just love some people very much and like to praise them. I feel this is the only way I can resist all this stupid shit going on in the world, and not especially now. It has always been stupid. I am just trying to make more of what I love. Just getting some reality support and thus joy from Ubik right now... I will always be on the side of desperate nevertheless joyful intelligence.

Last words from PKD:
"I think Dr. Willis McNelly at the California State University at Fullerton put it best when he said that the true protagonist of an sf story or novel is an idea and not a person. If it is good sf the idea is new, it is stimulating, and, probably most important of all, it sets off a chain-reaction of ramification-ideas in the mind of the reader; it so-to-speak unlocks the reader's mind so that that mind, like the author's, begins to create. Thus sf is creative and it inspires creativity, which mainstream fiction by-and-large does not do. We who read sf (I am speaking as a reader now, not a writer) read it because we love to experience this chain-reaction of ideas being set off in our minds by something we read, something with a new idea in it; hence the very best science fiction ultimately winds up being a collaboration between author and reader, in which both create -- and enjoy doing it: joy is the essential and final ingredient of science fiction, the joy of discovery of newness." (in a letter) May 14,1981

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

There is a Law, there is an Arm, there is a Hand!

There are species of people: monkeys, penguins, rabbits, cats, wolves, anteaters, pandas, dung beetles... - ah, dung beetles are lovely! They remind me of Sisyphus with their painstaking labor just rolling shit and trying to push it just a little further...

Anyway, there are as many species as the number of people, and one person is already many species, we can't enumerate them all. So a more fundamental categorization would be, for me, poets and others whatever their species may be. Poets do not necessarily write poetry though. Actually it is something rare for someone to be a poet and to write poetry at the same time. I have a poet friend who has never really written poetry and works in a bottling factory, for example. Poets are the ones starting from breaks, cracks, who see and feel the constant shifting of planes of existence, who kind of surf on the waves of existence without really belonging to any of these, without settling down, not really taking anything seriously enough to plant roots because they know, feel that it's all going to end. The end is always already happening. Poets signal that but always cheerfully because, really, there is nothing else to do in the face of such constant change and destruction than to laugh, and maybe to create more signs to be found by others to guide them in turn, to create their own signs...

So is Leonard Cohen, and he is one of the rare poets who also wrote poetry. Someone said that he was the last anti-hero and it made me feel sick to my stomach. This understanding, for me, is as wrong and warped as it can be. What is an anti-hero, anyway? Is he a loser? Is he someone that stands in the way of the hero? Is he aware that he is an anti-hero? Is his opposition a conscious effort? Or is he just an asshole, destroying things without building anything? The idea of anti-hero never really made sense to me but I feel the tastelessness of it even for the very fact that it assumes a plane where heroes and anti-heroes reside. Settled in there comfortably. Sure, Leonard might have passed from there, might have produced signs pointing there but that would be all. He would be just passing by...

Anyway, the day he died, I was actually reaching for Back to Methuselah, a book of Bernard Shaw, to help me once more with, well, everything. There are a certain number of things I constantly go back to read, to feel. That means these things still have something to offer, they are still producing signs for me, or for the Hand to grope to make its way in the world.

So I reached for Bernard Shaw for him to heal my belief in the world which is basically a belief in a Hand. In this funny and smart book, two guys talk about how the lifespan of humans should be increased to create a better civilization and how this is actually possible if only people wanted, desired, felt the need to live longer. It's basically an argument for creative evolution. But what is funny is that both of these men who argue for this die while a guy who was there totally coincidentally continues to live as we see in the next scene set 150 years later. He didn't understand what happened to him when he just wasn't dying when it was reasonably his time. So beautiful and funny.

What this entails for me is that there is this force, these forces, just creating things, paving different roads and this has nothing to do with knowing or understanding or being conscious. Unconscious workings of life...guided by desire...

There is a Law, there is an Arm, there is a Hand.

In a very different way though.

Sometimes I do outrageous things, things that don't make sense at all at that time, things that are not functional, even counter-intuitive for my survival, things that will most probably crash me, cause me to dissolve...

When I do these things I feel like I am plotting against myself and I feel a Hand. Not the Law or the Arm though. I wonder about them, wonder if they exist but I know there is definitely a Hand there, very much palpable. So I pass to the side of paranoia from the usual schizophrenic plane I dwell in but I do so to wonder about what's happening, to follow where this Hand is trying to take me. That paranoia, it's not like there is some grand scheme. Now Werner Herzog talks in his enchanting way that says even more than his words: "The universe is indifferent to our constructions of grands schemes" - of course it is, Werner... But we are not indifferent. Werner, sure, is not indifferent. Life is not indifferent. For there to be life, there must be a reaching out to light, water, food... There must be an interest for light and water and minerals etc. for a plant to grow, for instance. Or there must be a pathetic Grizzly Man for Werner to make a film on.

So when I do these outrageous things I do them happily, really. Not even happily but unconsciously. I don't decide, I just reach out. And by now I learned that even though nothing makes sense at that point in time, a time will come for me to feed on the very thing that destroyed me: to make sense. Because I had to reach out to that thing to make the very transformation which is the wonder of making sense.

So... there is a Hand, for sure in these lyrics for me:
"I left everybody but I never went straight, I don't claim to be guilty but I do understand. [...] Now my heart's like a blister from doing what I do. [...] I'm going to miss you forever tho' it's not what I planned. [...] Now the deal has been dirty since dirty began. I'm not asking for mercy, not from the man. You just don't ask for mercy while you're still on the stand."

Sure, these lyrics may be talking about something else entirely. But I don't care. And such is the beauty of the lyrics as well: they give off signals beyond themselves. It's not important that we are not on the same page with the lyrics. What's important is that these lyrics have opened some pages before me, whatever those may be.

I don't have a will to know what they really mean... I have a will to dance and to witness the creation of new connections guided by the rhythm of that Hand. I am sure there will emerge something to enlarge my playground, at the very least.

One must dance to the rhythm of all those invisible but forceful Hands...