me hut journal april 2003  

April 7
As i was laying on the couch gazing distractedly at book titles, I thought how many of them I would like to read again...but how difficult that is in many ways. They can't be read again in the same way, they can only be studied (unless my brain has softened irremediably). The seemed like melons to me, scooping away at the sweet flesh, moving to another spot and then coming back and digging right down to the rind, and sometimes all the way through to the outside (where I often hope to get with books but am always disappointed) -- which is exactly where I started. Except now I have a stomach ache and a vague sense of unease.

april 8
The slow rust of everyday life seems to be speeding up almost imperceptibly because of the war. Modernism is ALWAYS about explosions / explosiveness /catastrophe/disaster, oit's the very nature of western, technological modernity. And it extends all the way from top to bottom and back up to the top again, a tightly imbricated system that seems impossible to get out of. As the economy keeps sliding southward, the everyday pressures on people to keep up become more and more glaring....but I think that and then I realize that there are many many folks who seem to be just cruising along in the fast lane, oblivious of the rest of us down in the boiler room. In Atlanta there are more and more very large houses being built, more and more SUVs on the road --- who are these people, where are they coming from, and more to the point where the hell are they getting all the money to pay for 300, 000 dollar lofts and 35 k SUVs??!! I'm so out of it I guess that I'll grant there is a whole other structure of economics where people have good jobs that they go to everyday and that they get paid good money for. At this point there is no way I could get anything other than a menial job, maybe paying slightly above minimal wage, enough to pay for an apt. (maybe) but that's about it.

The conversation with LE this morning left me feeling terrible...and begins to clock in with the stuff with LG. It's all i can do to keep my own nose barely above the waterline, much less anyone else's. I guess I could give up everything here, go out and work 3 jobs and that would be the end of it. That's not going to happen though. If 'right livelihood' means anything, and I'm convinced it does, it doesn't mean reacting like that. I've worked for years on what I'm give everything up now would be equivalent to some sort of suicide. I've got where I am (which is absolutely nowhere) the hard way...frankly I don't know how to proceed next. There's not much further down I can go, economically. Everybody else seems to be buying SUVs, houses....

April 8
I went to see the movie, The Core. It's basically a fifties style sci-fi flick done up in a little rouge and lipstick, lots of nonsensical science--reminded me of that Raquel Welch movie where they shrink a team and put them inside a human body...also a few scenes like those great ones inside the planet in The Forbidden Planet. And of course what would a b-science fiction movie be without some scenes in the desert. i always loved those old jack Arnold b/w flicks from the fifties: the Monolith Monsters (would love to see that one again, never see it in rental stores) and of course Creature From the Black Lagoon. The movie had some goofball stuff about the core of the earth stopping its rotation and hence all manner of, need I say, apocalyptic things begin to happen ... until the lone scientist is found in the desert who has a device/machine/vehicle which will allow them to go to the core and start it moving again. One could make much of the title, the core, i suppose if one weren't so tired. After all, a movie this goofy (but great fun I must admit) has to have SOME metaphysical redeeming features about it since the science itself is so off. What better thing to go wrong with human life and civilization than--the very core, of course, the heart, the center, that invisible but potent force which controls all events up above in a, dare I say it, uncanny fashion, spukhafte fernwirkungen (spooky action at a distance). And certainly a small intrepid band has to put things right again. ..when it comes right down to it, generally the way the West thinks of itself in relation to history, progress, etc. Anyway, nice enjoyable of escapism in the spirit (but not tongue in check so) of some of those early b/w and color flicks. must sleep now.

doing a little installation tomorrow based on a sura from the Koran.

April 10
here is the quote from the Koran I'm using followed by the quote from M. Blanchot that will be used:

The Tearing
Sura 82
The Qur'an

When the sky is torn
When the stars are scattered
When the seas are poured forth
When the tombs are burst open
Then a soul will know what it has given
And what it has held back
Oh, O, human being
What has deceived you about your generous Lord
Who created you and shaped you and made
You right
In whatever form he willed for you, set you But no, Rather. You deny the reckoning
That over you they are keeping watch
Ennobled beings, writing down
Knowing what it is you do
The pure of heart will be in bliss
The hard of heart will be in blazing fire the day of reckoning, burning there --
they will not evade that day
What can tell you of the day of reckoning Again, what can tell you of the day of reckoning A day no soul has a say for another
and the decision is at that with God
Prophetic speech announces an impossible future, or makes the future it announces, because it announces it, something impossible, a future one would not know how to live and that must upset all the sure givens of existence.

If prophetic speech is mixed, however, with the fracas of history and the violence of its movement, if it makes the prophet a historical character charged with a heavy temporal weight, it seems that it's essentially linked to a momentary interruption of history, to history become an instant of impossibility of history, a voice where catastrophe hesitates to turn into salvation, where in the fall already the ascension and return begin.Maurice Blanchot
I don’t know why ‘I’ve become so fascinated by prophetic discourse and the messianic. Some who would know me better than I know myself (but who could that be?) would say that it’s the slow slumerous rising of debris from my rawboned Baptist mississppi background, all those cover-alled dispensationalists just in from the fields for Wednesday prayer meeting. It’s true that i attended a lot of that coarse grained apocalypticism. But I would contend that it has always lurked in the crevices of American society in one way or another, sublimated into various machineries of joy and optimism. Our age (perhaps more than others, perhaps the same, perhaps less--the fogginess of vision only reinforces my point) works to obscure and obstruct any view of the historical placement of where we are. On teh other hand, let me completely reverse myself and entertain the possibility that the ‘smoke of battle’ of history in fact REVEALS a great deal that would hitherto lie dormant, the introduction of stresses and fractures and emergencies clarifying a great many things --but at a great cost. But then isn’t that the meaning of the apocalyptic, the unveiling of truths at great costs? I can think of at least forms of such an apocalyptic: some sort of final turn into the mechanical and .... some sort of turn completely away from such. Both equally impossible eh?

The prophet is always at a remove from the society and culture he/she is in, no matter how much comfort there seems to be (for some) in the culture. The prophet is attuned the marginalia, the remaindered, that which is left behind as it is connected to that-which-has-yet-to-be-achieved. But of course the horrible yoke for the prophet is no doubt as Blanchot has it -- the impossibility of it all, but the shear impossibility of it’s vision seeming only to quicken it’s urgency, releasing the messianic almost as an inevitable outcome of such visions, the passionate attachment to the impossible.

I think many artists think of themselves as defrocked prophets, prophets without portfolio. But perhaps it’s a prophecy in the service of nihilism and I don’t necessarily mean that disparagingly e.g., Benjamin’s Destructive Character.

current reading: FUNDAMENTALISM AND THE STRUGGLE FOR THE TEMPLE MOUNT, still working on the book by Eagleton on Tragedy, and I just picked up the first voume in a used book store of THE PROPHETS by Heschel (already had the second volume). The Blanchot quote comes from a new Blanchot collection I read in the bookstore esp the chapter on prophetic speech.

april 16
a miserable cold, making me depressed..everything seems more blank and stupid than usual me especially. What's the point.

April 18

trying to finish up my cold. haven’t been outside much mainly because of spring rains all week. It’s easy to forget about the overwhelming fecundity of nature when you live in a city, where it is contained by paving it over, with maybe a corner or a strip of greenery for effect here and there. But give the organic an inch for any length of time untended and there will be trouble mounting up exponentially.
I think some folks are under the misapprehension that ‘working with nature’ means letting your yard go or not having any interaction at all with it, just let it happen. I’m not a primitivist though. From the primitivist point of view I suppose any sort of handling or treatment is wrong. (I differentiate here between shear laziness and taking a principled pov -- although in reality it may be hard to draw any kind of line between them).

I spend a lot of time looking over lists of old book, new books, even non existent books. I have a particular affinity for book lists of yet-to-be-published books; there’s something delicious about the potential there and also maybe the fact that nobody else has them yet. I’ve alwasy been disturbed to go into bookstores and see a volume that I’ve been interested in and have considered to be fairly obscure and then to go back in the next week and its gone! It happened most recently with the book on Gnostic religion by Hans Jonas and a big thick book on the theology of Paul. Disturbing and exhilarating at the same time.

It’s almost like a disease, this perusal of other thoughts, a thickening jam, a tightening web of scholars ideas of so and so or this and that. To what end I can’t tell. It’s like every sqare inch of the previous world has to be turned over again and again, the past kept in an agitation of affect and effect, continually working over it like red wriggler worms in a pile of mulch, bringing the bottom to the top and the top to the bottom, unceasing aeration even of that which has just been aerated.
One certainly gets lost in the undertow sometimes of previous writers thoughts on previous writers thoughts, on items that have been mulled over an apparent infinity of times; looking, perhaps, for that one fine sliver of unpossessed thought or unclaimed (textual) experience that can be high lighted in a slightly different way. I guess it’s understandable why academics do it; they get paid for it. I have yet to figure out why I do it. Obviously one’s identity (er, I mean my identity, me, robert) is tied into it in some way. And at this late date to let it all slip away would be like...would be like losing part of my brain, even if it is only exercised in this very narrow crevasse. But there is also, for me, the sense of a greater adventure, that of being part of a vast transtemporal community of minds that have passed and left sometimes enigmatic residues reflecting where they were, both in a narrow sense and in the much larger sense of a reflection of their times. There is certainly not the sense (at least not any more) of trying to ‘figure everything out’ as a friend once accused me. After awhile ‘books’ and ‘ideas’ are simply something that one does. If anyone has any hope for, well, redemption or truth or, at this point, even a job, she would be better served by having a stiff drink or two and then walking home after the bar has closed.

I saw a car commercial the other day on TV that was striking. A man is walking down the sidewalk and drops something. as he bends down to pick up his object, he places his hand on the car. All of a sudden he has visions of the car careening thorough all sorts of activities, swooshing here and there. He abruptly yanks his hand off the car, with a mystified look on his face. The only acceptable visions that we are allowed to have together are those which concern the adventures of the commodity. Movies are only one step up from such ecstatic visioning of the product. The release of products accompanying each special effects extravaganza is no doubt calculated to cause internal replay of the video...the movie continues on in some fashion even after one leaves the theater. Perhaps it's the same with all such events except that rather than molding the plasticity of the material world, we ourselves, our psyches are likewise molded. the line between plasticities has indeed narrowed considerably. These events project not only only darkened screens but onto materials and psychologies and no doubt in circumspect but very real circumlocutions, onto the political as well.

I saw another car commercial with an eery theme but for the life of me I can’t remember what it was. There does seem to be trend toward a certain mysticism of the material, paens to some sort of ultimate control of the world even extending the car into other dimensions to make that control and speed happen. To some degree I suppose that has always been the case. I can remember the old Chevy commercials where there was a close shot of the car and a woman and then the shot pulls away to reveal that both are perched on a totally inaccessible mesa in the southwest.
I’ve started reading a new issue of Boundary 2, a theory journal with this one devoted to The Arcades Project of Walter Benjamin. The most striking article for me so far is the first one by Samuel Weber. I’ve always been an admirer of his thinking on Benjamin and this article helps to confirm that feeling. The title of the article is "Streets, Squares, Theaters". After starting with a general statement of principal, that Benjamin was all about the generalized readability of the city (specifically Paris in the nineteenth century), and the consequences of that (that is, readability implies also an unreadable condition which always cohabits, which would mean that the ‘language of the event’ would not necessarily make the move from a condition of particularity to a more generalizable condition.

Weber then goes on to discuss Benjamin’s use of the term ‘Schwelle,’ which apparently is usually translated as ‘threshold’ but which is different from ‘limit’ or ‘border’. Weber moves to the term ‘swelling’ as a being caught up in a movement, a tension, a becoming over-extended, such that "a ‘swelling’ is thus always more and less that what it appears, a distended res intensa." (I’m reminded also of Agamben’s recent meditations and lectures on the concept of threshold.)
Then, moving into a brief discussion of allegory as ALSO the potential of naming something other than what it seems, at first sight, to represent, Weber gets to the heart of his argument and what I find most fascinating about the thesis. The three arenas of streets, squares, and theaters have an apparent recursive viability to them that acts to haunt the city. Even when areas are torn down they apparently can resurrect in other areas of the city, and that besides naming as an aid to the survivibility, there is also a ‘theatricality’ somehow involved. "Benjamin....strongly suggests that the power of the city to resist the passage of time and space relates as muc to theatricality as to language. And this power in turn is related tothe particular ability of the stage to survive its own demise, as it were. Far a stage is a place that can e destroyed, displaces, dislocated, but it still can reappear elsewhere with what is apparently an irresistable force." Somehow there are zones that swell with archaic content, disgorging itself into the city scape, through the use of names that act as paleonyms apparently, the naming itself bringing forth a certain non-localized haunting that can manifest as the thing; but also as a theatricality, as a liminal zone extension that swells into place. (Weber doesn’t go there but one is inevitable led into he erotics of such manifestations...)
The whole thesis reminds me of a piece that Artaud wrote on the ancient Mexican landscape blossoming into current times, carrying embedded messages somehow across the gulf of time and into and possessing hapless travelers. It is also like the Situationists comment that the beach always lays under the city street.

It is no doubt that ‘something else’ that is worrisome to some folks, since there is an unpredictability and potential uncontrollability to certain events. And also, for many postmoderns perhaps (although Weber does his best to modify it into the particular) an irresistable ‘placedness’ that speaks far too much to the mythological, to a sort of Heideggerean earthness, that allies several traditions that would seem to be enemies. (How interesting then a fact that I found out for the first time in one of these articles --how could that be possible given all the bios read of WB??!!---that Benjamin’s first idea for a habilitationscrift topic was...the same as Heidegger’s!)
But for me it is that ‘something else’ (which, granted, doesn’t seem to be of the structure of modernity -- another problem for many and the point where charges of ‘fascism’ can start to flow) which is fascinating.

As chance and synchronicity would have it, the afternoon of the morning when I read the Weber article, I chanced into a remaindered bookstore and found a book setting out on a stack dealing with the secret architecture laying under ‘official’ Washington, D.C.: zodiacs, masons, the perennial tradition, etc --- again, an example of that swelling, of ‘time stepping onto the stage’ (reminds me also of the work of John Mitchel). WB represents a very tender....threshold where what has come to be castigated as the ‘new age’ and the very latest and highest of contemporary theory meet, a meeting place also of the ‘Jewish’ and the ‘German’, the negative with the positive dialectic. And for that matter, the left hand path and the right hand way.
another synchronistic event: I happened to see the movie ‘Identity’ the other day. In one of the key scenes at the beginning of the movie a road is flooded and can’t be passed (in the movie the impassable flooded road definitely acts as a skandalon ( ) which sets in effect a chain of events leading to discovery as well as questions and instabilities of various sorts concerning identity. The synchronistic part is that when I came out of the theater, the temperature had dropped 20 degrees and it was pouring rain. I got on the expressway to get into town only to go about a mile and traffic completely blocked up and a large overhead sign notified traffic that the expressway was flooded and traffic should get off at the first available exit!



robert cheatham