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."
Giorgio Agamben

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 gardening.

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 is.
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 same time.
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 Startrek actually).
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?