November 29, 2007
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Nate over at what in the hell… has just written a fantastic response to my conference talk from last week. He summarises the key points of my talk (which would have been much more interesting to hear, I think, if I had a similar skill with expression) and asks all sorts of questions that I have no time to answer today, but that I will try to pick up as soon as I can, because I’d far rather talk about those issues, than do what I need to do today. En route, he comes up with much more evocative terms for what I discuss than I do (my favourite has to be the “bigger-coathook” descriptor for how projects like Habermas’ approach immanent critique). And he acronymises me!! Into something that sounds like some new kind of internet relay chat!!
I’ll respond over here, unfortunately probably not until the weekend, given that I have a major deadline I absolutely must meet tomorrow. But go read Nate’s post first (and Nate, when I do answer, do you mind if I reproduce some of your post over here, and intersperse responses? As I suspect that’ll be easier to follow…).
November 28, 2007
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Wildly Parenthetical has posted an evocative brief reflection, taking up initially from a comment about writing, from Phaedrus, but leading to a set of questions about memory – and the relational possibilities for forms of subjectivity:
Memory is thus presented as authentic, self-sufficient and almost a way of investing the thought within oneself rather than in an elsewhere place. The self-contained subject must not permit thought to pass to elsewhere, and certainly must not allow the thought to circulate to another, much less another inanimate object—pen, paper, ink upon page, pixels on screen—before returning for it will never be the same… and nor will you.
Never let there be another to show you who you are, to let you be who you are; heaven forbid. And if there is such another, destroy him, destroy her, burn the paper, smash the liquid crystal, until there is nothing but you left, you and a lonely, isolated knowledge. As if no other form of relation were ever possible…!
My associations on reading this – which may significantly overliteralise Wildly’s intent in writing it – went immediately to the ways in which my “own” work has been influenced in profound ways by my connections and contacts with others. I’ve so often been struck by the disjoint between the notion of academic production as an “original” and “individual” effort, and my experience of “my” work as always refracting interactions with others, perpetually deflected by the shock of interaction. So much of my current writing is shaped by the problems that condense and crystallise only from dialogue, the dislocated insights made possible by sliding into perspectives of whose existence I would never have learned, except through others. I view intellectual work – not as necessarily collective, in the sense of a consciously-shared joint project (although it might under certain circumstances be that, as well) – but as transcendent of individuals who generate, not a lonely, isolated knowledge, but a unique refraction of a shared experience that each can only partially and incompletely express.
November 22, 2007
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Too tired to post anything substantive tonight. I’ve posted the conference talk to the Modernities: Radicalism, Reflexivity, Realities conference below the fold, for the curious.
A few folks at the conference also asked where they could find the background material that lies behind the reading of Marx hinted at in the conference paper. In case anyone drops by, the back posts on the first chapter of Capital are listed immediately below (although I’m in the process of consolidating all this into something shorter and a bit more linear than in the think-out-loud material posted to the blog thus far):
Fragment on Textual Strategy in Capital
Reflections on the “Greatest Difficulty”
Nature and Society
Value and Abstract Labour as Real Abstractions
An Aside on the Fetish
Human Labour in the Abstract
An Aside on the Category of Capital
Value and Its Form – from Deduction to Dialectic
Subjects, Objects and Things In Between
Not Knowing Where to Have It
Relativism, Absolutes, and the Present as History
The Universal as Particular
Many thanks to folks who showed up to lend their support when I was presenting. For folks who weren’t there, but have been reading the blog regularly, I’m not certain that the materials below the fold will add much you haven’t seen. In some ways, I find conference talks more limited than the blog – the writing feels much less nuanced, even though it is probably a bit better organised than most of what I typically write here… Note that what I say at the event is never quite identical to what I write beforehand; in this case, though, it’s likely to be fairly close… Read more of this post
November 21, 2007
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So my Delegate Survival Kit has finally arrived. Sadly, its contents are disappointingly mundane: how to get from the airport to the conference, how to forage in and around Hobart (much mention of food, but not a single mention of coffee – I am deeply suspicious about the implications of this omission…). One provision did attract my attention, though:
If you’re legitimately lost or late we’ll find you. A “lost soul’s” rescue mobile number will be included in the Conference Booklet. Midnight or “Wee-Small-Hours” revellers excepted.
“Legitimately” lost? As opposed to all you bludgers out there feigning lostness when you’re really just too cheap to pay for a cab? (And, evidently, as opposed to those who are simply too blindingly drunk to find a cab – although, in that case, I suspect the use of the “rescue mobile number” might also prove a bit of a challenge…)
I note a certain tension in the document between this apparent lack of sympathy for late night revellers, and the all caps promise that, even though the conference dinner will end at 9:30, “THERE ARE PLENTY OF PLACES TO KICK-ON LATER!” Perhaps by that point, one is not supposed to care if one ends up lost…
November 20, 2007
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The programme and venue information for the Modernities: Radicalism, Reflexivity, Realities conference has finally been posted online. The event will be held at the Graduate Centre at Melbourne University (which, I am told, is in the Gryphon Gallery, 1888 Grattan St. Carlton, near the corner of Grattan and Swanston), on Thursday and Friday this week. The conference programme is available here.
I note with some amusement that the conference organisers have evidently been resistant to updating the title and abstract for my presentation, which was originally intended to address certain themes in Benjamin and Marx (as the programme currently indicates). I’ve since refocussed the talk entirely on Marx, and on a slightly different aspect of Marx than I had originally intended, with only the most gestural reference to Benjamin, and with some additional definitional material and background information about how this fits into an overarching project… This shift happened when I realised that what I had originally intended to present, required quite a lot of prior background for comprehensibility – and that the presentation of this background would itself be difficult within the time constraints of this conference. The updated title was meant to have been “The Phenomenology of Capital: Practising Subjects, Objects and Things in Between” – regular readers of this blog can likely guess what the abstract would have said… ;-P Since I do intend to present the updated version (I hadn’t realised, actually, that the conference organisers intended to overlook the request to update the title and abstract), we’ll hope neither the organisers, nor anyone else in attendance, is too annoyed by this shift…
I will put the talk on the blog after the event – I have a tendency to keep tinkering with these things until the moment I deliver them (as well as a tendency to depart the text fairly quickly into speaking, so there’s often a somewhat random relationship between what I write, and what I say…). I very much doubt this presentation will cover any ground not already familiar to folks who have been reading the blog over the past few months. The point of this presentation is, essentially, to engage in a “cryptic looks” test: I want to see how confused people seem, when I try to deliver a 15-minute version of what I’m trying to do with Marx. The notion is that this will help me figure out how difficult my summer’s writing is going to be… Or convince me that I’ve made a terrible mistake deciding to write on this topic at all… One or the other…
Perhaps I’ll see some of you on Thursday…
November 19, 2007
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The other day, I received an out-of-the-blue apology from a friend. This deeply confused me, as I had no idea what had given them the impression they needed to apologise. I eventually worked out that they had passed by me on the street, said something to me, and I had walked past without acknowledging them – and that they had interpreted this as a deliberate act, and then tried to work out what they might have done, to cause me to treat them so badly.
This morning, I have had three separate people finally manage to attract my attention while I was working in a coffee shop. Two were able to do so only by grabbing my shoulder and shaking me. The third had to tolerate my staring at them blankly for several seconds while I tried to remember who they were (which, in context, was quite a ridiculous thing for me to need to do).
The moral of these little anecdotes is: I am spending an enormous amount of my time at the moment in another world entirely. My body may in fact be wandering aimlessly down the street, or enjoying a cup of coffee, or doing whatever it is that bodies do when their Cartesian counterpart has drifted away, but I am, unfortunately, utterly and completely oblivious to pretty much everything going on around me at the moment because, whether or not I physically look like I am writing or revising, I am writing or revising. I might look like I’m staring directly at you on the street, but all that I am actually seeing are awkward turns of phrase that I want to correct. I might appear to be smiling at you in a coffee shop, but what I am actually doing is grimacing at painful holes in my own logic… At the moment, my gaze is directed almost entirely inwardly, and I am much more than oblivious to whatever else is going on around…
At some point – hopefully soon – some of this writing will start spilling out here again. The kind of writing I am doing at the moment, involves a lot of recasting of earlier sections as later ones fall into form. Since much of what I’m recasting has already gone up on the blog in various forms, it seems at best impolite to inflict very rough interim redrafts on readers here. So I’ll wait until I have something like a complete rough redraft, and then toss the whole thing up for feedback prior to the next round of revision.
Back to oblivion now…
November 4, 2007
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Nate over at what in the hell… manages to capture pretty much every critique I’ve ever written of another theorist, in a post on immanent contradictions within musical forms:
…most of my favorite songs have a pretty despairing content lyrically. It’s part of that sensibility I like of being trapped as opposed to lost. At the same time, the music isn’t actually conveying “give up.” The content of the lyrics tends to convey that, but that same content has no explanation for why the song was written. That is, if the lyrical content told the whole story, the song would never have been written or performed. What I like about this, is that performance of a song like that conveys something that the lyrics don’t. The performance says something more than “give up,” it says “we keep on keeping on.” The “we” is important. The despairing sensibility in the words as written is usually an individual sentiment, whereas the performance involves one or more singers alongside multiple instruments and (in live performance, where music is best) a bunch of interactions with the audience which can make or break the quality of the performance. That conveys less of an idea and more of a feeling that there’s more than dead ends, that circumstances which can provoke despair can be pushed on through.
Nate goes on to suggest that perhaps the performance of such an experience is more important – more powerful – than its explicit lyrical expression could ever be:
For some reason the performance of that feeling is more powerful than the straightforward statement of that idea, I think because in moments of despair the problem is often less one of right ideas than it is of conviction in those ideas. Ideas can be (probably always are) a part of despair and its alternatives, but ideas aren’t always a sound answer, and it’s the non-idea or extra-idea parts of music that I think help to get the bits that need more than or other than just ideas.
Here we might part company a bit – although I’m open to the possibility that Nate might be right about this: I understand my work as an experiment predicated on the hope that we might become much more powerful, if we can also somehow learn to express and understand the potentials we collectively enact.
Incidentally, for those who haven’t yet seen, Nate has committed to writing a post a day this month, with an average target length of 500 words per post, as a blogging variant of National Novel Writing Month. So check in regularly to see what he does with this…