Thursday, July 20, 2017

Art Break

Pablo Picasso, "Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas)" (1901)
The cause of Picasso’s stylistic transformation is well documented. The suicide of his close friend Casagemas in 1901 deeply affected him, and he began to move towards a more reflective account of human existence. Paintings such as Absinthe Drinker (1901) explore the relationship between innocence and experience, purity and corruption. These themes found their expression in his large-scale Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas – 1901). The secular altar piece dominates the second room and depicts Casagemas ascending to heaven on a white stallion, surrounded by naked prostitutes, playful children, mourners and a Madonna and child. It is testament to Picasso’s genius that this piece, which challenged the conventions of religious art in the twentieth century, was produced when the artist was only 19 years old. The painting suggests the ambition and radical vision that Picasso was to invest into his work. It was this challenging and restless youthful energy that Picasso never lost...

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Post-Modern Slide into Totalitarianism

Dominance merges with Communality...and then encroaches upon Reciprocity to prevent formation of any Social Distance or Alienation.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Light in Babylon

(Speak)
Of sand and secrets
Fountain

Which is revealed among the sands
The fall of my youth
The outgoing
Dancing in the wind
Colors
And voices
Born from the desert
Even if the sky is white
Will rise
I will not sit or rest
My lips would not dry

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ah, Life 2.0!

"The destructive character lives from the feeling, not that life is worth living, but that suicide is not worth the trouble."
--Walter Benjamin
---
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
that Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; aye, there's the rub,
for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
must give us pause. There's the respect
that makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
the Oppressor's wrong, the proud man's Contumely, [F: poor]
the pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay, [F: disprized]
the insolence of Office, and the spurns
that patient merit of the unworthy takes,
when he himself might his Quietus make
with a bare Bodkin? Who would Fardels bear, [F: these Fardels]
to grunt and sweat under a weary life,
but that the dread of something after death,
the undiscovered country, from whose bourn
no traveller returns, puzzles the will,
and makes us rather bear those ills we have,
than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
and thus the native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment, [F: pith]
with this regard their Currents turn awry, [F: away]
And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia? Nymph, in thy Orisons
Be all my sins remember'd
--William Shakespeare, "Hamlet"

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

On We Go!

The Fear of SIlence

I have not heard silence
more than in music

the hollow of a bell
the harmony of a singer
the puncturing of a drum

excavates a sanctuary
inside my skull, there I capture
strains of music that belong
to a realm without sound
desert where silence performs for silence

when I no longer have thirst
I will be able to stay there
a symphony of deafness will congregate
I will hear nothing
but the absence of myself
- Author Unknown

Monday, July 10, 2017

On Slavoj Zizek's "Violence"

The philosopher Slavoj Zizek enjoys a good joke. Here's one of my favourites: two men, having had a drink or two, go to the theatre, where they become thoroughly bored with the play. One feels a pressing need to urinate, so he tells his friend to mind his seat while he goes to find a toilet. "I think I saw one down the corridor outside," says his friend. The man wanders down the corridor, but finds no WC. Wandering further, he walks through a door and sees a plant pot. After copiously urinating into it, he returns to his seat. His friend says, "What a pity! You missed the best part. Some fellow just came on the stage and pissed in that plant pot."

This gag perfectly describes the argument of Zizek's new book on violence. Drunkenly watching the boring spectacle of the world stage, we might feel an overwhelming need to follow the call of nature somewhere discreet. Yet, in our bladder-straining self-interest, we lose sight of the objective reality of the play and our implication in its action. We are oblivious to the fact that we are pissing on stage for the world to see.

So it is with violence. Our subjective outrage at the facts of violence – a suicide bombing, a terrorist attack, the assassination of a political figure – blinds us to the objective violence of the world, a violence where we are perpetrators and not just innocent bystanders. All we see are apparently inexplicable acts that disturb the supposed peace of everyday life. We consistently overlook the objective or what Zizek calls "systemic" violence, endemic to our socio-economic order.

The main ambition of this book is to bring together subjective violence with the objective violence that is its underside and precondition. "Systemic violence is thus something like the notorious 'dark matter' of physics," Zizek writes: invisible to naked eye. Zizek offers a rather cool and at times cruel analysis of the varieties of objective violence. He asks tolerant multicultural Western liberals to suspend our outraged responses to acts of violence and turn instead to the real substance of the global situation. In order to understand violence, we need some good old-fashioned dispassionate materialist critique.

At the heart of Zizek's book is an argument about ideology that has been a powerful, constant feature of his work since he burst onto the intellectual scene in the late 1980s. Far from existing in some post-ideological world at the end of history where all problems can be diagnosed with neo-liberal economics and self-serving assertions of human rights, ideology completely structures our lived reality. This ideology might be subjectively invisible, but it is objectively real. Each of us is onstage, pissing in that plant pot. The great ideological illusion of the present is that there is no time to reflect and we have to act now. Zizek asks us to step back from the false urgency of the present with its multiple injunctions to intervene like good humanitarians.

His diagnosis of this ideology is quite delightful, producing counter-intuitive analyses that overturn what passes for common sense. Zizek rages against the reduction of love to masturbatory self-interest, the multiple hypocrisies of the Israel/Palestine conflict and the supposed liberal philanthropy of Bill Gates and George Soros. There is a fascinating analysis of the scenes of torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which display, Zizek rightly contends, nothing more than the obscene underside of American culture.

But whither all this dialectical brio? Ay, there's the rub. Zizek concludes with an apology for what he calls, following Walter Benjamin, "divine violence". The latter is understood theoretically as "the heroic assumption of the solitude of the sovereign decision". Practically, Zizek illustrates this with the Jacobin violence of Robespierre in France in the 1790s and the invasion of the dispossessed, a decade or so ago, descending from the slum favelas in Rio de Janeiro to disturb the peace of bourgeois neighbourhoods. But, in a final twist, Zizek counsels us to do nothing in the face of the objective, systemic violence of the world. We should "just sit and wait" and have the courage to do nothing: "Sometimes, doing nothing is the most violent thing to do".

True enough, but what can this possibly mean? At the core of Zizek's relentless, indeed manic, production of books, articles and lectures is a fantasy, I think: what psychoanalysts would call an obsessional fantasy. On the one hand, the only authentic stance to take in dark times is to do nothing, to refuse all commitment, to be paralysed like Melville's Bartleby, the true hero of this book and others by Zizek. On the other hand, Zizek dreams of a divine violence, a cataclysmic, purifying violence of the sovereign ethical deed, something like that of Sophocles' Antigone.

But Shakespearean tragedy is a more illuminating guide here than its ancient Greek predecessor. For Zizek is a Slovenian Hamlet, utterly paralysed but dreaming of an avenging violent act for which, finally, he lacks the courage. In short, behind its shimmering inversions, Zizek's work leaves us in a fearful and fateful deadlock: the only thing to do is to do nothing. We should just sit and wait. As the great Dane says, "Readiness is all". But the truth is that Zizek is never ready. His work lingers in endless postponement and over-production. He ridicules others' attempts at thinking about commitment, resistance and action (we have crossed swords recently) while doing nothing himself. What sustains his work is a dream of divine violence, cruelty and force. I hope that one day his dreams come true.