Archive for March, 2010

Accelerating…

March 31, 2010

“So the DAY of general relativity is no longer the day created by the cycle, the revolution, of the sun, but rather a day of phototonic resolution, an astrophysical revelation that will, finally, allow a generalized readability of different durations — the visibility of time — just the way ocular accommodation or the focusing of a high-resolution lens enhances the crispness of a shot, a snapshot…

This is the impetus behind today’s race for high energies, the building of gigantic accelerators, like the collider ring twenty-seven kilometers in circumference, built by the Centre européen de recherche nucléaire (CERN), in Geneva; or the new proposal, put forward by certain physicists, anxious about the way experiment lags behind theory, to build a particle accelerator right round the Earth and to build an even vaster one in satellite space — just to enhance the brightness of the speed of light even further. This would mean the dawn of a subliminal day, bearing no relationship to the race of the Sun from sunrise to sunset; the coming of a sort of durationless duration, of an ‘intensive’ time likely to supplant the extensive time of History, once and for all this time.

Following the atomic disintegration of the space of matter which, with nuclear proliferation, has landed us today in the critical situation we are all familiar with, the phototonic disintegration of the time of light seems to be upon us thanks to great colliders. And this disintegration will shortly entail a considerable cultural and political mutation, whereby depth of time will win out over the old depth of field inherited from the perspective space of the Quattrocento. The term ‘transparency’ won’t then so much cover the appearance of objects made visible in the instant of looking, as appearances instantly transmitted at a distance. Whence the proposed notion of the TRANS-APPEARANCE of ‘real time’ intended to revive the notion of the TRANSPARENCY of ‘real space’, with the live transmission of images of things now compensating for the former appearance of air and water, and even the glass in the lens of our telescopes or ‘photographic’ cameras.

It’s not hard to see that the implosion of real time today more or less completely conditions our exchanges and our various activities, as well as our perception of the world.

This amounts to a veritable TELESCOPIC CRASH and it heralds other interactive catastrophes; an economic crash, certainly, but especially some disaster in social communication, with repeat divorces largely affecting INTERSUBJECTIVITY between people, between individuals, since the more the speed of information increases, the more control tends to grow, the all-pervasiveness and all-seeingness of such control aiming to turn our much-touted CYBERNETICS into a substitute for the human environment, into our natural habitat, our ‘New World’.”

Paul Virilio, The University of Disaster, trans. Julie Rose (Cambridge: Polity, 2010), 55-6.

Skulls

March 29, 2010

Piece from a thoughtful exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Visceral Bodies.

“The Game”

March 26, 2010

Setting:
Earth, 2010; Huge megacorporations in cooperation with authoritarian governments control a docile, vain and hedonistic populace through overt power and subtle, insidious machinations. War is widespread and good for business, misunderstanding and hatred are universal, and environmental and social breakdown are proceeding apace.

Players:
Billionaires, industrialists, culture mavens, corrupt politicians, Fundamentalist radicals, devout atheists, corporate lawyers, Russian nethackers, pseudo-intellectuals, misguided idealists, occultists and New Agers, angry street people, vapid celebs, buffed millionaire athletes, environmentalists, disgruntled academics, Zionists, Scientologists, UFO cultists and YOU!

Object of the Game:
None

Rules:
None

Game Play:
Escapism, self-delusion and fun!

Turns:
It’s not yours yet…

Platforms Supported:
What ya got?

Price:
More costly than you can possibly imagine.

Mystic

March 20, 2010

Dying Bees in My Backyard

March 12, 2010

Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time. This story from the Vancouver Sun reports that colony collapse disorder has struck here on Vancouver Island, with a loss of perhaps 90% of the local commercial bee colonies. This makes me buzzing mad. The culprit seems to be immune deficiencies brought on by pesticides, which makes the bees prone to parasites, like mites.

If it can happen to the bees, why not us?

What is Not Philosophy?

March 8, 2010

Following seems an ideal dialectic response to a recent post here. A transcript of Zizek a few years ago, it highlights his quick, biting wit — you can almost hear him saying all this:

“…I will now speak a little more briefly. I want to conclude with a remark about the possible role of philosophy in our society. There is a whole series of false philosophical positions: neo-Kantian state philosophy, postmodern neo-Sophism and so forth. The worst is the external moralization of philosophy, the logic of which is roughly the following: ‘I am a philosopher, and as such I devise great metaphysical systems; I am also however a good human and am concerned about all the disaster in the world. We must struggle against this disaster…’ Derrida is weakest at that point when, in the middle of his book Spectres of Marx, he becomes entirely unphilosophical and lists the disasters in this world in ten points. Unbelievable! I didn’t believe my eyes as I read that; but there they were, ten points; and they attested to an extreme lack of thought: unemployment and dropouts without money in our cities; drug cartels; the domination of the media monopolies and so forth. As if he wanted to give the impression of being not merely a great philosopher but also a warm-hearted person. Excuse me, but here I can think of only a relatively fatal comparison: at the end of works of popular literature there is usually a short description of the author — and in order to valorize their curriculum a little, one adds something like: ‘she currently lives in the South of France, surrounded by many cats and dedicated to painting…’ That is more or less the level we’re dealing with. It almost prompts me therefore to add something mischievous to my next books: ‘In his private life he tortures dogs and kills spiders’, simply in order to push this custom ad absurdum. But I want to go on: if we philosophers are asked for our opinion, often all one wants in truth is that we introduce ourselves. Our knowledge is then a type of vague reference that gives an authority to our opinions. It is just as if one asked a great author what he likes to eat, and he answers that Italian cooking is better than Chinese cooking. We should therefore only concern ourselves with what is inherent to philosophy.”

Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, Philosophy in the Present, trans. Peter Thomas and Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity, 2009), pp. 65-7.

On Being (Sad)

March 4, 2010

Melancholia. In ancient medical systems rooted in the humors, the melancholic personality type was associated with black bile.

Interesting that. Particularly in light of a recent piece in the New York Times Magazine discussing the upside of being down. Jonah Lehrer’s argument, based on contemporary research in evolutionary psychology, suggests affinities between depression and the ruminating, focused qualities of good writing (and thinking).

A curious word – “ruminate”, from the Latin “chewed over” (hence the cud-chewing ruminants). There is a link here between ruminating and the dark secretions and deliberative digestive irregularities assumed in the melancholic.

I’ve been thinking about (ruminating on) this for a couple of days. Digesting the implications. Depressives do that. Obsess on tiny particulate morsels of thought or idea. Contemplate, in a vein tinged with dark ichor, the mysteries of being. We cast off the world (or, like me, live on the very edge of it) and yet cannot let go. Our thought, marred by gray and pathologic monotony, stays fixed. This in contrast to the flittering, Twittering social realm of the attention deprived; living in a culture dominated by particular and peccant hedonistic pleasures; and little beeping shiny things. Everywhere…

To the melancholy these are but mild distractions – taking away from the opportunity for self-pitying, navel-gazing indulgence. But is that all there is to it? Does depression merely isolate, alienate and eliminate – without purpose?

Perhaps not. For “in the quiet and still air of delightful studies” and reflection comes insight. A depth only achieved, unsurprisingly, from looking deep within. The melancholy process of what Keats called “turning an Intelligence into a Soul”. The alchemists Paracelsus and van Helmont (and other early modern medical men besides) saw an aspect of “depth” in the central anatomical importance of the archeus. The “archée” or “arch”, entrenched in the core of the body. The archée operated through the vehicle of subaltern entities, exercising power through what van Helmont called ferments (“ferment”). There is a fascinating association here with the stomach and epigastric region, conceived as the center of the archeus complex. One physician called this the “phrénique du diaphragme.” In l’Idée de l’homme physique et moral (1755), Louis La Caze laid out an idea of the “general external organ,” a sensible construct made up of skin and nerves connected in a vitalistic triumvirate with the brain and epigastric region. La Caze saw stimulation of the senses as an essential aspect of health; a balance of sensory input and the avoidance of excess was key. This reminds of Michel de Montaigne’s famous refrain “moderation in everything, even moderation.”

Closely synonymous with the “sensitive” soul, the archeus had a unique role, a historical antecedent to vitalism and, along with the vital principle, frequently invoked by physicians in the mid-19th century. The etymology of the word “arc” – a trajectory that spans the space between two points – establishes the importance of this fundamental concept. Thus the digestive, epigastric region was allied to the soul. And too much black bile meant a dark, black soul.

The archeus takes on a more mysterious countenance when we think of “contemporary” melancholia. For us, depression is usually viewed as a mental state – a mental illness. But is it only a matter of mind and brain? More serotonin, that magical elixir promoting positivity, is secreted in the stomach (GI tract) than the brain. Truly then sadness is more a state of being than of mind.

Not surprising Sartre described his melancholy existential angst as nausea – “la nausée”. More than sickness, a sour stomach, Sartre’s nausea was a generalized sense of “ill-being”, dis-ease, captured in the anguished, aimless mental meanderings of a solitary historian; a vital vertigo. Too close for comfort, that is.

Clearly there is something all the brain doctors have missed in their focus on the source of focus – the ventro-lateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC). Sadly lacking in their mechanical, reductionist paradigm is any room for “gut-feelings” about the “gut-wrenching” effects of depression. Sometimes pioneering research is just old wine in new bottles; a fermentation of “ferment”. We eclipse the medical wisdoms of the ages too easily for the latest diagnosis or drug, forgetting the diathesis of not so long ago.

Maybe, when darker moments of bilious despair strike us, this is something to “chew on” – think about – giving pause and prompting rumination.

(N.B. Sadly, this post was originally submitted to (and rejected by) 3Quarks Daily. It’s likely my last for a while, as I turn my focus to academic writing and reassembling the shattered remains of life and soul).


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