February 2000 journal
"...humans bear within themselves the
mark of the inhuman, [...] their spirit contains at its very center the
wound of non-spirit, non-human chaos atrociously consigned to its own being
capable of everything."
another morning of waking and feeling screwed into the world at an oblique
angle, all the settings off-kilter and in need of being re-configured. Just
a slight glaze of 'wrongness' about everything, most prominently the pain
shooting through his neck, prompting an early arrival to consciousness.
He felt like a magician some days with a rigged stack of cards, a stack
that was transparent also, a stack composed of the moments of one's life,
the rigged nature of the deck occasionally throwing into visibility somewhere
down the stack a particular scene of a face, an incident or a landscape
or a comment...almost as if the whole of the environment had become a mnemonic
theater of memory for him, radio songs, cicadas, stretches of road, the
light at the end of the day, everything becoming a synaptic trigger. He
supposed that he had rigged the deck, apparently just in the process of
'shuffling' and 'dealing' (that is, just being alive) since he surely didn't
remember having consciously done so. Looked at in a certain way, the whole
process of 'dealing' felt slightly ominous since it meant that the share
of 'fate' engaged in by the magician is much higher than even the magician
is willing to admit and that even as he is dealing a stacked deck to the
audience, he also is being dealt a stacked hand. And any attempt to alter
the rigging is only just an 'attempt', just like some new-fangled quantum
encryption scheme whereby an attempt by a third party to 'view' the message,
alerts the prime sender receiver circuit, changing the message. He wasn't
sure if there was any moral (much less 'morality,' and there probably wasn't
one without the other) 'behind' this whole card game of encrypted and revealed
moments. Like some Wittgensteinian paradigm there did seem to be discrete
and defined games along the way (well, maybe there wasn't even a 'way',
which implies a path, which implies in this schema anyway, a higher 'game')
which had their rules of play which were fairly rigid. Some apparently had
more play in them than others. But of course being able to make such observations
didn't obviate the necessity to play the games...it did make it more painful
however. It made him think that the two prime ways of dealing with such
an observation (and there were gradations of course) were reclusiveness
or arrogance. They both had their virtues he supposed but as a strategy
for 'success' the latter was certainly preferable. and seemed to be more
a part of any evolutionary struggle--assuming there was such a thing anymore.
But he also realized that seeing the 'necessity' for something and being
able to Do it were two entirely different items.
My father was killed in a car accident last Saturday. The funeral is over
and done with. and here I sit just staring at this screen. I really don't
have anything else to say right now. I can hardly even believe that I am
typing these words that mean what they purport to mean...what is it to mean
ANYthing in the face of death??!! Can the fact that we just live, that we
slog through everyday world stuff, can that be heroic? I see now that it
can be. in fact it may be the only bit of true heroism given to most of
us. even so...it's pretty thin gruel. and putting this up here is the thinnest
of the thin. there is just no air here. how can we possibly survive......
For a while before my father's death he seemed scared of everything, though
there was no ostensible reason for fear--a lower middle suburban neighborhood,
mostly older folks, very quiet. He even went around the basement windows
trying to nail up boards over some of the windows, constantly checking that
doors were locked at night. (and night...he was always moving around upstairs
at night, checking on things I suppose, rummaging through drawers, the same
cluttered drawers with the same flotsam of the last thirty years: pencils,
paper clips, used pens, unusable innards of forgotten pieces of some sort
of household equipment, rubber bands, erasers, boxes of staples thirty years
old, an array of debris collected over twenty or thirty years of accumulation
of everydayness...maybe trying to rearrange the past in some more acceptable
fashion as his memory faded, maybe just trying trying to hold onto a bit
of the past, the imprints of time passing, like some sea creature moving
into and out of its shell, convoluting it along the way, making it simultaneously
a home and something uncannily MORE than a home, some sort of signpost pointing
to space even deeper, darker, more hidden...something that can only be (half)
seen after its abode has been abandoned and begins to drift into the depths--"Supreme
visibility requires the deepest darkness" as some medieval philosopher
wrote. It's almost as if he had a premonition of the thing at the end of
time coming for him. (There is an End of Time for everyone right? It's not
just an eschatological, chiliastic effect of disgruntled revolutionaries
who couldn't get their way two thousand years ago. Do you get it? EVERYONE
HAS AN END OF TIME!! But...it's not really possible to know that is it dear
reader?) Perhaps it's the case that some people see, feel the presence of
that end in some inchoate way, that it has a personified aspect even that
can't, really, be spoken of but only gestured toward in some silent, unspoken
way: attempting to bolt the windows, tireless but weary pacing at three
in the morning, the shuffling over my head as I sit gazing bleary eyed at
my screen in the basement.
The installation downtown is over and done with, lots of smoke and mirrors--both
the people and the installation. Why does everything carry a vague aura
of dissatisfaction, even when, apparently anyway, the thing is successful?
For one thing, nothing ever comes of it, of things, of doing 'stuff' --
what it is I expect to come from the doing I don't know. Certainly not money,
I long ago gave up that possibility. Notoriety? Um. well, it seems to be
necessary to get some things done, a demographic, because nobody seems to
listen to you otherwise. Maybe that's why I'm confused by the response to
DROMOS installation .... never really getting any response to the things
I do and then it almost seems too much. The odd thing is that it makes me
question the worth of the installation slightly -- which is stupid, some
remnant of some kind of false avant guardism from the TInnitus days, i.e.,
if it doesn't turn people off it's not really DOING anything -- as if there
is anything to be done.
Apropos of that, I'm reading a new book by Agamben (Remnants of Auschwitz:
the witness and the archive), and in the introduction he has this statement:
"One of the lessons of Auschwitz is that it is infinitely harder to
grasp the mind of an ordinary person than to understand the mind of a Spinoza
or Dante." Yes, I'm beginning to see that. It is the most common denominator
of reality that is hardest to see, to come to grips with, than the most
extraordinary, especially when it comes to the 'banality of evil'. Like
the glasses perched on one's nose, the 'ordinary' filters everything and
is itself seldom filtered.
Traditionally, it was the role of education to show one the pair of glasses.
Of course many scholars believe that the educational ALSO had its 'ordinary'
that it continually filtered everything through (for example, white male
judeochristian European). At least one value of a 'deconstructive environment'
is that it shows this hand-over-hand construction of reality. well, yes,
enough to cause a great deal of despair in many people---and maybe even
prompting a return to 'traditional' anchors and 'commonalty'---after all,
what does it get you to make the realization that everyone is continually
treading water in an ocean with no bottom? It only means that everyone is
always on the lookout for a lifeboat...no matter how tyrannical the captain
or malevolent the current occupants.
The death of a parent has this first terrifying glimpse: one begins to see
the faint outlines of the Great Wheel, always turning but now becoming visible.
Almost all of life and culture is devoted to obscuring the passage of the
Great Vehicle, whose wheels slowly but surely grind us down, into particulate
matter, dust, then green again, turning always turning. We do the best we
can to obscure the trails, to hide the ruts. Or perhaps it should be put
this way: we come by the obscurity 'naturally'. We try thinking of the impossibility
of Nothing without any regard to the necessity of impossibility -- of all
kinds I suppose not just that of death. Thinking too long on it, I enter
a great gray zone, nothing but confusion, passing shoals of ideas, bright
shimmering and warm in the distance but always separate. Like some Medusa's
head, how seductive they are, always promising more than, at the very last
instant, they can manage to summon or commit: Eternal Life, Joy, Happiness,
Time, Death, Life, Birth...the Past, the Future. And that doesn't even include
the more abstract, geometric Big Things. Some chain of syllogism, neologism
at the very least, that I want to pull me by the nose to somewhere else.
I can never make it work though. Maybe I don't try hard enough. The pragmatic
Calvinist would say that nothing really resides there anyway so get back
to work and stop staring at the wall, day dreaming. well...there's always
His life lately just seemed like a series of collisions of emotional detritus,
always trying to clean up the party which has just been over--but sans party.
He realized there was something wrong with that view but it was often difficult
to discern exactly what the problem was. Other than the obvious debris that
There always seemed to be much larger 'creatures' moving underneath the
surface, occasionally, lightly brushing his leg, bare intimations of 'activities'
(even calling them activities seemed to presume too much--for that matter,
even using the descriptor 'them' -- or it or what ever -- seemed questionable).
And while the emotional flotsam was distracting (from what??! what is there
other than an emotional life? woundn't (sic) that begin to approach a 'machinic
life', a command post with nothing much of consequence to command other
than ordering bits and pieces of matter around, a continual poking with
a technical stick? I'm reading a new book by Agamben called FRAGMENTS OF
AUSCHWITZ: WITNESS AND ARCHIVE and it is fascinating and terrifying at the
It's very easy to see how it fits into his previous book, HOMO SACER with
its idea of bare life. The terrifying aspect is his contention that the
'camp' has escaped from its national socialist confines and now roams the
world at large. I was talking to a friend of mine last night before going
to a club and he described to me (conversation had nothing to do with any
of this) going to a mall recently, standing above the crowds watching them
shuffle along in a somewhat tranced out state. I'm still struck by the similarity
with the evacuated humans known as the muselmanner in the camps, those who
were neither alive nor dead. Of course it would be going entirely too far
to equate mall browsers with those who have given up all hope of any sort
and have entered a vegetable state. Or would it?
The ethical questions of raising such a contention I guess are enormous.
HOWEVER. Agamben maintains that the camp commandants themselves became muselmanner,
given over completely, unthinking to a machine of destruction, that even
with their fat lifestyle they had become evacuated. well, the problems here
become enormous and opens onto a territory so vast as to intimidate beyond
recovery any attempt to discuss it with pragmatic personalities -- preset
machinery defaults fall into place immediately, leaving all sides feeling
queasy and violated.
For some reason I keep thinking about this passage from the Agamben book.
Maybe because just before I read it I was browsing the cable channels and
came across a preacher who was describing the physical dimension of the
New Jerusalem come the New Heaven and New Earth. According to the rev, it
is a square which would reach from California to Maine and to the tip of
Florida -- or some such -- and then of course that same dimension skyward
since it would be a huge square block which would house some 20 trillion
souls...what kind of space requirements a resurrected soul might have he
didn't go into.
anyway...I'm not making fun, I'm just fascinated with the precision and
the `architecture' of such a thing (reminds me of the Borg habitat from
Here is the quote from Remnants of Auschwitz which I'm haunted by:
"In 1937, during a secret meeting, Hitler formulates an extreme biopolitical
concept for the first time, one well worth considering. Referring to Central-Western
Europe, he claims to need a volkloser Raum, a space empty of people. How
is one to understand this singular expression? It is not simply a matter
of something like a desert, a geographical space empty of inhabitants (the
region to which he referred was densely populated by different peoples and
nationalities). Hitler's `peopleless space' instead designates a fundamental
biopolitical intensity, an intensity that can persist in every space and
through which peoples pass into populations and populations pass into Muselmanner.
Volkloser Raum, in other words, names the driving force of the camp understood
as a biopolitcal machine that, once established in a determinate geographical
space, transforms it into an absolute biopolitical space, both Lebensraum
and Todesraum, in which human life transcends every assignable bipolitical
identity. Death, at this point, is a simple epiphenomena." p 86
He had determined that a simple flip of a personal pronoun -- from `I' to
`he' was sufficient sometimes to get away. Never far enough, but sometimes
just far enough to peer slightly around the corners of himself. Perhaps
that was a conceit though, some desperation borne of panic. Some times the
panic of just finding the necessity to breathe.
But no matter. He thought that gradually the whole species could get their
two cents in with that same concomitant worth.
Was the New Jerusalem coming...or that `peopleless space' of Hitler? How
would we be able to tell the difference?