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Archive for May, 2010

An apology has to be the beginning. I learn, again and again, that I have no right to speak.  It is not made explicit, not usually brought to light, but the country where I have to live in is the nation of “Verboten!”, which means “Prohibited!”, and I say nation with reservations, of society I would not even speak anymore, my country having long stopped being a society, or, in other words, it has become a first, the first post-social or post-societal society. Now the Verbot, the prohibition I speak of, is  not a Denkverbot, a prohibition of thought (specified or unspecified), for not even the special citizens of Verboten who work in line of governing (aka constraining ) our speech and writ with judging whether or not they adhere to the Gepflogenheiten (conventionalizations),  are not so deluded as to think for themselves…… that they can stop anybody from thinking. But they have learned that they can stop people from daring to say things aloud or publish them. The Verbot I speak of is the Sprechverbot (I dare my English-native-speaker friends to try and pronounce this. Resistance is futile: Pronounce this!) . A Sprechverbot, prohibited speech, is a sinister thing in my line of work, which is scholarship. It is a clever thing. It renders speech perilous, in so far as it poses before each and every scholarly speech act  the question “How dare you?” or “Who allowed you to speak!”.  It is, of course, a question of “who authorized you!”.  (This is why the ability to think creates so much sadness! I needed only one reason not ten, George Steiner, to have become a sad, sad man. How come you can still laugh? A secret, tell me, at peril, but please do.) But being authorized means, here and at the same time, to have authority. It is a bit of an autopoietic process, an uroboros, and if looked at as a system, lets call it the higher education and research support system of the country called Verboten that produces its authorized speakers and bestows upon them authority, through many trials that defer to the speaker the power to signify “conformity”, then this system is full of incest. (Did I just say that out loud!) The problem with people who practice incest is a two-fold one: a) When caught, first, they always seem to claim and insist that they have every right, that they are right, they defend themselves mightily, yet inwardly – and, of course, when we confront them, we sense their weakness and insecurity, and, thus, know very well that their defense, their insistence on superior rights is an effort to cover up, deflect, and not have to chance and stay in comfortability of the easy downward spiral – inwardly, they know that they are on shaky grounds, going down a terrible road. Secondly, and this is why incest is such a bad thing, it leads to genetic degeneration in the long run. There are royal lines of dukes and kings in modern history who inbred over generations and what came out of it, we all know very well from reading our history books: A bunch of morons. (Of course I can say that, for I am, myself, an idiot. A Deleuzean idiot, but, nonetheless, an idiot. Although what is the difference between the idiot and the psychopomp, Gilles D., but the abscence of repetition?) So when you have obtained the authority to be allowed to speak in the country of Verboten, you have come dangerously close to being a degenerate moron by then. Dukes and kings of their little fiefdoms they may have become, and in their “correctional minds” criticism of any kind must be quelled, for those who do not have the noble blood of speaker-authority and dare speak must be made silent, by execution (pardon me, exclusion), of course, just like in the good old times. And with little ado, as scholars, we find ourselves quickly back in the dark ages. So I must apologize for my speech perilous, but I dare. I dare speak on behalf of those who sit in the dark, hungry and unemployed. I speak on behalf of those who are the true craftsmen of scholarship and science, and who really want to do the work of purpose, to quench hunger and to have something ready-to-hand to actually do some work with. Therefore, I will speak about cheese, I will speak about tools, I will speak about the light of candles. Have I already lit a candle, shining a light out of my Shakespearean ass, pardon, out of my apology? ( A little reminder for those who think me vulgar, or will argue that my vulgarity signifies my lack of authority: The ass’s head was taken from the clown, another version of the idiot, by Oberon.)

Let me begin with cheese, or immanent criticism, or the Frankfurt School – the first one, of Adorno and the rich boy Horkheimer, and not the second one that is more Mr.Schmidt and consorts and not so much Habermas who always did his own thing, which is good on paper, but not always practiced as preached,  see in that tragedy of a song my fellow kynic Sloterdijk must sing in solo when he would deserve a choir, and nor do I mean the third generation or forth generation. Cheese is, thankfully, not yet verboten, although it has come to be an agent of Verboten with generation three and four of the Frankfurters. But that is another story. So, what is it about cheese? Who makes cheese? And who puts the holes into cheese? Cheese and immanent criticism have a few things in common. They do what they do from the inside. There are different types of cheeses, regular, blue and green cheese. So we have bacteria that make cheese and fungus that makes cheese blue (blue as in blue of color, blue of mood). So am I saying that Adorno had the blues, Horkheimer was a bacterium and Critical Theory just a fungus? But, of course. Aren’t we all but merely sad microorganisms? The sadness of man (and woman) is that s/he is but the micro of the cosmos in microcosm, for all his (her) wish to be the center of the cosmos, s/he fails to see that s/he is a world, a planet, a solar system of his (her) own and while the sky is full diamonds, a diamond’s still a diamond. Thus, immanent criticism and the making of cheese are similar things. From the inside it creates, from the inside it devours. Immanent Criticism takes from the cheese that is scholarship and it can add to it, too. However, there is a danger. For there is hubris and there is despair. Adorno and Horkheimer, in their despair, which they, alas, had good reason to have, given the times they lived in, saw the totality of ideology create a veil of ignorance (not the Rawlsian kind), and the brewing of a generation of half-wits (half -literates, half-educated, Halbgebildete), which is of course same as saying a de-generation. Thus, they figured, hey, let’s put some fungus (message) in a cheese (bottle), and see what happens a few decades or so down the road. If the fungus grows, it should one day explode the bottle (aka make for a tasty Tortellini with Gorgonzola sauce). That was the blue-cheese message of Adorno and Horkheimer. Go(o)d thinking – in (Freudo-Marx)Hegelian Absolutes. Only a small problem here: There is the “good” micro-organisms, that make the cheese go tasty, put holes in it, give it the blues. But there is the bad ones, too. If left alone for too long, the cheese gets a different kind of color, growing a different kind of patina, it gets pretty mouldy and makes you sick.  Respectively, you need to learn about cheese to be able to tell good cheese from rotten cheese, and you need to see it in the light to be able to tell you anything. Moreover, you need some tools to cut it up bite-size, if you really want to eat it or look at what’s inside (holes or no holes).  As good as cheese may taste and as much as it may still your hunger, it should not really explode, nor should too much be cut away in the making  (if all you have is holes, what do you have but thin air?), nor should too much be added for then it’s only mould you got. To eat your cheese in time, you need the right tool ready-at-hand.

A tool-maker, weapons-manufacturer, and many other nice things that he called himself, Michel Foucault created more than a fair share of tools. More than the regular toolbox can hold, I guess. Perhaps that is why people in the nation of Verboten do not like him too much or claim that Foucault cannot be understood or completely misinterpret Foucault by selecting  one tool or the other declaring it the key to his work, and ending up in misusing or abusing the tool in question. Sorry, but you do not hammer a nail into a wall with a micro-screwdriver, and you don’t fix a pipe by drilling holes into it and declaring it a cheese for it has holes while dirty water is spilling  all over the place. Not that you are not meant to try the tools to learn to use them. But that includes the idea of failure, and in the country of Verboten, failure is not allowed. Failure is forever, eternal, you fail once you are done, lost access to authority. You cannot even speak of failure, may not include the possibility of failure in your projects. The country of Verboten thrives on the phantasm of absolute control, and actually has done so since the mid-1800s. Therefore, speech must be controlled in the country of Verboten, for speech which is not controlled, which is, respectively, not authorized, is a speech perilous, perilously close to failure, even worse, perilously close to expose failure, the failure of control. For reality, messy and vague as it is, cannot be controlled, which is why “good” scholarship and science would openly account for the possibilities of messiness and of failure. But in “authorized” science, this cannot be.  This is why “authorized” science constrains you to the use of only authorized tools. No danger of leaky pipes, or if there are, then they are authorized leaky pipes or leaks we do not speak of and ignore the spill. However, a “good” craftsman and his “good” tool-maker know that the tool must fit the purpose, and in reality, you cannot make the purpose fit the tool. However, in the darkness, how can you see the purpose and craft a tool? Sitting in the darkness, you can only use the tools you have already been authorized to carry on your belt. Whether they fit the purposes you stumble over in the dark, well, that is another matter, but then where is all that spill coming from that creates an atmosphere so damp that there is mold all around us making our cheese go bad?

Me, well, I am a maker of candles. Candles are volatile and fragile things, specifically when lit. They are at peril of being blown out by the wind, a mere breeze may be enough. And yet a candle’s light is warm and natural. A natural philosopher’s light, worse even, a romantic’s light. But should we not be in romance with our nature? Indeed, among the authorities some argue to just flip the switch, there is electric light. But is there electricity in this cave (did you know that some of the best cheeses ripen in caves)? And even if there was, handling your misappropriations of tools so foolishly, with all the spill, if you cut a cord (cut a chord in the harmony of the choir that is the scholarly community), will not the flipping of the switch electrocute us all?  And once you are lost in the dark, well, go find your switch to begin with. Without hubris only a little pathos, I dare say in my speech perilous, I am a maker of candles.  With the candle lit, the “authorized” can find their damn switch and, first, look for spill and cables cut, the tool-maker can built his tools and fit them to purpose, and, hungry, we can see if the cheese is still good and eat. This is pathetic, indeed, the candle is pathetic, which is why it is not in hubris when I speak without authority. I know that candles are volatile and that they only last for so long, they are not eternal. But they serve their purpose, which is to shed a little light.

Only one last thing remains: Where is Prometheus who dares at the utmost peril to bring the fire for us to light the candle? I must, as I have said, apologize, for daring as I am, and though it is at greatest peril that I speak, Prometheus I am not.

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The next project I will probably be doing is the effort to prove that the hypothesis is true that the minute between 6.46pm and 6.47 pm on Dec. 16, 1879 when an American exchange student talked to Emil Kraepelin changed absolutely nothing for the German “discovering” schizophrenia, and that we know what he had for dinner in exactly that instant, though I must be careful not to include whether dinner was salted enough for that would already be too much one is allowed to do.

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