Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Empty Room

One year ago, I started to write because I wanted to have something to show as my work and apply with it to a PhD at the EGS. I started with a piece on Bolaño’s Rat Police; I tried to argue that it’s perfect. I still think so. It named this blog, and was my disguise during a year. I went to the search the killer, armed only with my teeth, and I found blood and coldness; and a winter in Europe which almost took my life –nobody said it was going to be easy. Next Saturday, I go to London pursuing a dream: talk with the people who still thinks that thought is important. A stage is closed and the future waits for me. I dunno what I will find, as I didn’t know where I was going when I took over this difficult and sometimes lonely work of playing with words, looking for those eternal truths which are for us to create. I wrote, and I am still alive. I wrote, and my words brought me close, so fucking close, to people I love.

Today, I leave again. And to close the circle, or rather to continue with conversation which never ends, I write on Bolaño once again, this time as whole. The text is messy and angry, and written in the urgency of a present which flies away faster than what I can grasp. It’s not complete; years of patient re-reading are necessary to establish all the points I want to make. The conclusions, though, are in my opinion roughly right. Thanks to all of you, unknown readers, bearers of that otherness which keeps me living, trying, writing —in a word, loving.

The Empty Room, an essay on Roberto Bolaño.


Every young latin-american poet loves Bolaño; the question resides then on why is Bolaño so big. Up to now, there is no rational explanation of Bolaño’s work, this essay presents a possible answer. In order to understand Bolaño, we must harness Badiou’s notions of Event and Subject, and explain how, under this logic, Bolaño’s work qualifies as an event in the world of literature.

We love Bolaño. We desire him. We would like to give him a child, if we were able to give birth to something besides our stupid selves. We are worthless, sterile, old. We are dying and we are “un montón de maricones de mierda”. We don’t have the balls to face it, to face him, to look at his sick face and recognize the truth he touched with his life and work: that the only life worth living is the life of poets. We are such a bunch of pussies that we close the book and never answer to the question: What’s behind the window?

I was born in Chile. In a house surrounded by shit, as Parra said. I passed from a teenager who badly spoke Spanish and used to read poetry in the bus to a 27 years old PhD student living in Europe, with a nice salary, speaking (badly) three languages, and an understanding of the world which I would like it to be common: I understand from quantum field theory to Badiou’s writing and everything in between. What I mean is that I understand the world. And that I’m angry. And that the material conditions which saw me grow, which made me, are not so different from the ones that saw Bolaño grow, and which —this is our bet— are necessary to understand Europe. Why? Because we relate in a certain different way to what for you, Europe, is reality.

So, this is me, S. Someone who wants to embrace B and understand what the fuck was he talking about.

Let’s begin.

Bolaño’s greatness resides on his formalization of what I will call the latin american subjectivity. With his works, he managed to put into words what a real subject must endure in order to live a worthy life. That was not easy task.

Contrary to the critic, which always needs of a given order to criticize, Bolaño’s work creates, out of the ruins of our world, the New. And what is this? Precisely a life which lives for an idea. What Bolaño does is to exemplify in literature what Badiou will tell us in philosophy. He tells us that there is a future, Mexico 2666, a graveyard.

On the following, we sketch the main lines of argumentation which make up the case for Bolaño. A complete study is for others (or myself) to complete; a careful reading of the poems, face to face with the savage detectives, confirms many of the ideas here explained.

The Savage Detectives —this is our hipotesys— is the narrativization of an event, the story of a body of truth.

Formally, the novel is divided in three parts. The first (Mexicans lost in Mexico 1975) and last (The deserts of Sonora 1976) parts in the form of a diary, and the middle part (The Savage Detectives 1976-1996) in the form of interviews to people who, in one way or another, had contact with Belano and Lima. This division of the book resonates with the three lines of the Cesarea’s poem and the three windows which Garcia Madero draws at the end of the novel; the logical conclusion is then, that these three texts are three representations of a certain real, and that we must read them in a Levi-Straussean way. This real is the real of a dream; a dream that we are given to hear during the night in which Belano and Lima ask Amadeo Salvatierra about the roundabouts of Cesarea Tinajero, a night of mezcal and poetry, a night which lasts twenty years. (The interviews with Salvatierra are the only ones that don’t respect the chronological order of the text: during the whole middle part of the novel, we are brought back once and again to the night where the savage detectives saw for the first time the poem of Cesarea.)

A fact which cannot but strike the eye —and which nevertheless is constantly overlooked by Bolaño’s critic and readers— is that the existence of Cesarea tinajero and Garcia Madero is not part of the diegetic reality of the middle part of the book: Cesarea only appears in the interviews of Salvatierra —an old drunkard poet; she doesn’t exist for the rest of the world. Neither Garcia Madero, who is abscent untill the last interview of the book, where his existence is expressly negated by the only academic specialist on infrarealism. Consequently, it seems logic for us to conclude that the first and the third part of the book are fictitious while the second part correspond to a realistic story. Even more, one can even put forward the idea that Garcia Madero is nothing but an alter ego of Belano and Lima; a young poet whose sexual skills and knowledge of classical poetry are far from normal.

The final move to understand The Savage Detectives as the narrativization of an event, is to relate the temporal structure of the text with the structure of Cesarea’s poem and Garcia Madero’s drawings. The book, as we said, is divided in three temporal periods: 1975, 1976-1996, 1976. This has to be read in two ways: first, that the past can only be understood from the point of view of the future; it is only when we know what’s the end of the story of Belano and Lima that we can read what was the event which started the twenty years trip –the encounter with Cesarea Tinajero in the desert and the consequent killing of two men; second, that the structure of Cesarea’s poem and Garcia Madero’s drawings has to be altered and the proper order is: first, the straight line, then the broken line, then the sinusoidal line —and the same with the drawings: the star on the window, the broken line of the frame, the empty frame. What is the broken line? The broken frame? The encounter with Cesarea in the desert the firsts days of 1976? An event; an event which clears the table so the New can occur; and event that gets rid of the positive content of a world which seems to be in calm but which is violent as hell.

Here then we arrive to our first thesis: The Savage Detectives is the story of a body of truth —whose organs are Belano and Lima— which remains faithful to the event of poetry, while the rest of the world either forgets it or negates it. The joke is perfect: in order to tell the story of a faithful subject, Bolaño needs to make others talk about him, in a movement which makes him the one who can speak for the others; since he is the only one who is really alive and it is in his world where all the others live, in one way or another.

What Bolaño tell us with his Savage Detectives is this: you must live for an idea.

The formalization of what an event is from a literary point of view is in itself an event on the world of literature; Bolaño was aware of this. We think this is enough to put Bolaño amongst the great writers of the world. Nevertheless, he not only did that. He kept writing. We must do the same.

2666 is not only a novel, it’s a world. In order to properly tell the story —a story about murders in the desert, but which includes the lives and loves of four literature academics; an almost mad chilean professor of philosophy and his daughter; a black journalist drowned in the chaos of Santa Teresa; and finally, Archimboldi, who amongst other things incarnate Benjamin’s “there has never been a document of culture, which is not simultaneously one of barbarism”— Bolaño will go as far as poetizing reality: the air of the desert is charged with blood. And in that movement, we are caught, so our own world will become poetic once again; the same gesture which Homer already accomplished. This poetization of reality is what open the door —or rather the window— which conduces to the empty room: we ignore where it is, and if its occupants are alive or death, or if it is occupied at all. But we know it is somewhere; that would explain a lot of things.

Besides the four procedures of truth which Badiou names (Love, Art, Science and Politics) there is the fifth, which we ignore. The new humanity will bring it forth. Bolaño saw that room where I is an other, and told us to go there, even if we die in the attempt. Leaving everything behind again, trowing ourselves into the roads.

Time is out of joint, and it’s for us to continue what others before us have started.

We, the savage readers.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Un saison chez Lacan

Translation by me, with the invaluable help of Nico, Willy and Fela.

One is that which one desires.
But we have no idea of what is desired. None of us chose this desire — whose composition we don’t know, although we suffer it as the most singular trait of our “I” — to inhabit us. It is “written”. It precedes us. We enter in its field by the way of language.
Even before birth we are destined, for better or for worse, to become one day its steward.
Hence the problem.
Because the desire that structures us is not ours. It is, through language, desire of the Other, desire of a desiring Other.
So, beings of desire, our destiny is accessible only to the lack-of-being.
When I was five, I used to paint. At fourteen, I dreamed of growing old. Being old was going to be very pleasant for me. The passing of each day would bring me closer to total mastery, that enigmatic instant in which the creators of genius finally access the intensity of pure colour to penetrate, on the edge of death, the absolute heart of its vibration.
When I was twenty-five, one evening in November, between the turmoil of phone calls, the staccato from the Remington and cigarettes’ mist, by a fulminating separation, I suddenly became a self-spectator and I “saw” myself with the cigarette on my lips, an appalling mountain of papers on my desk and a telephone at each ear in order to hear, without listening, the persons whose identities I ignored. A question drilled me: “Where was I?”
In a news paper office. To do what? The so-called “chroniques parisiennes.”
What a nonsense, I was a painter. What the heck was going on?
The unconscious doesn’t write itself in a straight line.
My father, to enrich what he used to call my “cultural background” (that which prevents the advance when one moves), dreamed for me a universal knowledge.
One morning, he told me this weird sentence:
“Maybe you should learn stenography.”
“Why? I’m a painter.”
“One never knows. If one day you want to become a journalist...”
Our conversation only lasted ten seconds. I forgot it completely. Fifteen years later it came back to me when the secret desire of my father, through me — he becoming an other as well — was already accomplished.
This was the fatum of the Greeks, to live in the reality of the Other’s unconscious. His discourse. In Delfos, between men and gods, in the name of Apollos, the Phytia was a mere transmitter. But the oracles she transmitted, supposedly after her stay in Olympus, were no more than a word coming back to its emitter. Since then my trajectory became so foreseeable that when I was seventeen I obtained my first pay publishing drawings in a news paper. In such a way it was elaborated the provisional synthesis of two antinomic desires, painting and journalism: by way of compromise, drawing + news papers.
But ruptures are more exigent.
To comply with my unconscious aims, soon I ended up making Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet say the contrary of what they actually said. The young poet asks: “How to be sure that I am a poet?” Reply: “If you are deprived of poetry, will you die?” “No.” “Then — Rilke concludes — you do not deserve to be a poet.”
Exactly what I believed to have read. I swear for my life, I transferred the dialog into a vital interrogation: “If you are deprived of painting, will you die?
Ashamed, I gave the same answer: no.
And like that, I decreed myself not worthy of being a painter: my colours then became words.
My brushes a Smith Corona.
Twenty years later I read again the Letters: no traces of what I assumed to have found. In the epistolary fiction of Rilke — answers to imagined questions — I imagined, for my own use, a dialogue which does not exist. Error’s function in the subconscious field: to live the discourse of the Other, I went as far as to invent a fake cause to conceal my own aspirations.
Three weeks after my first visit to rue de Lillle, I met the Fatty in the swimming pool. I was so absorbed with myself that I almost forgot about his existence. Since the day he remitted me to the trio Clavreul-Perrier-Lacan, he had had no news from me.
“Where were you?”
“I started an analysis.”
“With whom?”
“With Lacan.”
He looked at me incredulously.
“Has he accepted you?”
“What’s extraordinary about that?”
He shook his head perplexedly.
“I thought he didn’t accept people anymore.”
“You have some nerve! Who gave me his phone number?”
His amazement amazed me. Not because I thought I had received a favor — the price of the sessions certainly had to do with the matter — but because it seemed normal to me that a practitioner accepted any patient. I had not yet heard of Lacan’s reputation, neither that his time was not extensible. I was eager to tell the Fatty about our first sessions.
Immediately I noticed his reluctance. Why did he try to deviate the conversation? Suddenly, when because of him I was in the heart of the matter, he feigned disinterest. Without even giving me time to ask for a reason, arguing an urgent meeting, he mumbled a few excuses and left.
That Monday, I saw Lacan again and, in my view, there was a subtle change in his attitude. I was not able to define what it was at that moment. In fact, I didn’t want to inquire further. Lacan was always friendly, attentive, warm. Maybe his silences were a bit longer? Indifferently, they transformed our dialogue into a monologue: I talked. Intoxicated by my own words, I redoubled their flow to avoid any interruption.
At that time, I still hadn’t learned to listen.
Later, I was going to beg for a wink of acceptance, a grimace of disapproval.
It is nevertheless remarkable, that despite me being too busy hearing myself to be able to listen to my own words, certain of his interventions were engraved in my memory. There are a few studies on the parrots’ brain. It’s only known that they can repeat just the signifier, in other words, that they can “repeat” the sounds. I shared with them their acoustic gift. But, as them, I did not have the privilege of, starting from sounds, having access to the signifier, that is, to its meaning [sense].
It was hardly my tenth session when Lacan afforded himself a phrase out of my reach, precisely because he knew that I was not able to understand it. As usual, I should have been in some big metaphysical drift when I sharply fell into a question where the statement addressed more me than him, and made me silent once I posed it:
“Does the soul exist?”
At best, I was waiting for a smile.
Instead I deserved a reply:
“The psyche, is the fracture, and that fracture, the tribute we pay because we are speaking beings.”
I had not yet arrived to the algorithms, nor to the metonymy, nor to the mathemes — Algorithms? Mathemes? Metonymy? — but I confusedly perceived that behind this formulation an enigma was hidden.
Sadly, I lacked the clues to decipher it.
Of which fracture was he talking? What relation between a tribute and language? And how come the notion of “a being of language” implied as a corollary the notion of “tribute”?
A tribute to pay what? Which debt? Which guilt?
I pondered the sentence suspiciously, without making special efforts to retain it.
If I can cite it after so long, it is maybe because it foreboded the density of sense that certainly would be revealed to me when I would be able to decipher it — so faith binds us to the one who is “supposed to know”.
In fact, it contained various main themes of Lacanian elaboration: the line that forever separates signifier and significant; the relation of that cleavage to the unconscious “structured as a language”; spliting of the subject already divided in search of a transcendence which makes him erect, against all odds, the statues of his gods and invent a soul for himself.
One gladly refrains from evoking one’s own faults.
But how to silence the “innocence” of my debut concerning the analysis?
The alphabet has twenty-six letters. Yet to know it, it’s necessary not to ignore the existence of the alphabet itself.
Without knowing, I perceived the first effects in the form of an immense shadow, unknown, the shadow of the letter “A”.
It’s like that. Why not say it?
Thereafter I discovered that every displacement on a field of knowledge implies as its preamble a difficult confession of its flaws.
“See you tomorrow”, said Lacan.
“I cannot”
He raised an eyebrow.
“I have no money”, I added.
“See you tomorrow”, he repeated, opening me the door.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Open letter to Europe

Dear Europe,

I write this in my flat in Hengelo, a small town in the Netherlands, the sunday after I learnt that Denmark decided to restore the passport checking in its borders with Germany and Sweden. I write this because today, someone else is fucking up my dreams: I had a dream of Europe which took me out the horrible Chile in which I was born, and brought me here after 8 years of study and once I proved I was smart enough to be accepted on (a PhD on) this country, since the fact of being a human being —born equal and free, as your human rights say— was not enough reason to let me live here.

I write because I have no other means to express my discontent; I cannot vote —despite of being totally eligible to pay taxes— and my visa obliges me to not to protest, otherwise I become a danger to society and they can kick me out (I should never forget my place —I am an immigrant here). I write because this little black marks on a white screen are the crumbles I found on the sleepless nights where books, and the dreams that those books talked about, were the only friends I had. I write, because as Luther, I cannot do otherwise.

My dream of Europe was of a place where you could simply walk into another country and where, up to a certain extent, one was part of an Idea bigger than your nation, disregard of the language you speak and the color of your skin. An Europe which gave me the dreams and doubts of Descartes, the sexual difference embedded in Kant’s antinomies, the letters of van Gogh to his brother Leo and his paintings: faces which talked of death and sorrow, of churches without exits or entrances, of crows flying away at the sound of the gun that will take his life; an Europe of poets —poetes maudits— and a multiplicity of languages: the french of Rimbaud and Cendars resonating on my teenager head; the English and the German of Wittgenstein whose books my faculty deemed necessary to hold and save for me to read uncountable times, understanding nothing, thinking to understand it all; the Spanish that was inflicted on me by Chilean poets who tried talking back to Europe from a burning house in the middle of the desert. An Europe of Berlin’s walls and ovens where Jews were burned; of colonial invasions and American genocides in the name of a God I never came to meet. An Europe of hope, where not only what is low in humanity could flourish, but also its angelical side (in the words of Cioran whose sadness graved them on my brain): “Ce n’est pas la connaissance qui nous rapproche de saints, mais le reveil de larmes qui dorment a plus profond de nous-mêmes.” (It is not knowledge which bring us close to saints, but the awakening of the tears that sleep in the most deep of ourselves.) “Le Paradis gémit au fond de la conscience, tandis que la mémoire pleure. Et c’est ainsi, qu’on songe au senses métaphysique de larmes et à la vie comme le déroulement d’un regret.” (The Paradise groans in the deeps of our consciousness, while memory cries. And so, we dream of a metaphysical meaning of tears and of life as the unfolding of a regret.)

And today, Denmark —the country where my imagination puts Hamlet, and his “Oh cursed spite, that ever I was born...”— destroys my dreams and makes me want to cry, to go back (but go back where?), to emigrate to Mars and work there in the construction a livable world. That which twenty years of common work made possible —a unified Europe, an example for the world— today the fear of the Other makes it unimaginable. The only other whom we can accept, it seems to me, is the dead other; someone who cannot harass us and whom we cannot harass. All of this because of fear.

As long as you keep watching TV, waiting for the next iPad, repeating the senseless ritual of studying, working, marrying and dying in the same world which saw you grow, my dreams will keep on dying; and so will I. Today, I want to kill myself; for the world in which I live flees from what so many women and men gave theirs lives for.

Someone will come, you tell to yourself, and will make things again as they used to be; someone will stop the anti-muslin hatred before it’s too late. But you are wrong; no one will come, we are alone on this. And we know pretty well where this is going: maybe the ovens won’t be in Auschwitz; or we won’t use ovens but the desert of Libya instead; and the devil word will not be “Jew” but “immigrant.” Keep the immigrants out so we can continue with our sacred life devoted to develop ourselves, our small garden, to our small problems and dreams —paint the living room red maybe, what kind of car I want next? I should lose those five pounds for summer— and live like if they do not matter, because they don’t.

Cannot you see Europe? You are destroying yourself; sooner than later a new wall will emerge, like the one in Mexico or in Palestine, if we don’t start now to work for a new future. Just like another America, afraid and fat, Europe walks directly into the abyss. You say “muslim terrorist,” I say “catholic terrorist,” “jewish terrorist,” “social democrat terrorist,” “Berlusconi and Sarkozy terrorists,” “Twente fan terrorist.” All of you who participate of this danse macabre which is today’s world, are guilty of mass murder; the history will judge us guilty.

Your duty was to keep our dreams alive, to tell us that there was a small chance for things to be different; that the market is not everything; that there is something as humanity which is worth fight for; that the 2000 years of philosophy are not just words typed by blind monkeys in a madhouse, but the only means we humans —disregarding sex, color, number of legs or arms— have to understand this big joke that we call world. And you failed, once again. You forgot your own dreams, your own values, your hopes and your certainties; you gave it all for a big TV in the living room and the lack of civil war on your streets; for the dreadful security of what is known, the desolate calmness of the same. You sent your factories to China and then complained about them polluting the only world in which we live, so you could eat biological fruits with a clean consciousness. You, every one of you who forgot what life was supposed to be —a constant struggle for liberation, for equality, for a fraternal solidarity between men— are guilty of destroying my dreams. What you don’t realize is that you are not able to dream anymore, that you are a continent without dreams; you need me to dream your future, you need the other to dream of you.

If we lost you, Europe, we will have lost humanity. Please don’t let that happen; not because my life is in danger, but because these are also your dreams, your hopes, your future. And they are fading away in silence.

Sebastian Gonzalez
PhD Student

University of Twente, Netherlands
CTW (Horstring)
P.O. Box 217
7500AE Enschede

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Badiou's What is Philosophy?

" Alain Badiou, French philosopher and author, lectures on the nature and essence of philosophy. In this lecture, Alain Badiou asks the question: 'what is philosophy'. He begins with three concrete problems, namely: philosophy and language, philosophy and duty, and dialectical versus analytic philosophy. In Part I, of 'What is Philosophy', Badiou focuses on the problem of language, the difference between philosophical, reactive and conservative dispositions, duty, desire, subjective transformation, reflexivity, knowledge, closure and openness, and the difference between dialectic and analytic philosophy. Public lecture for the students and faculty of the European Graduate School EGS Media and Communication department program Saas-Fee Switzerland Europe 2010 Alain Badiou. "

The lecture has two parts (of 1:30 and 1:00 hr), and due to the bad sound quality and Badiou's Franglish, I decided to (partially, work in progress) transcribe in hope that is helpful to someone besides me. His views regarding time are extremely interesting and I dunno where else he has written about this.

Badiou’s transcription:

The world of philosophy does not exist. Precisely, philosophy is useful because the world of philosophy is not exactly the world as it is. But something that it is between the world as it is and the world as it must be, the world as we desire.

The second question which is a consequence: what is exactly the question of language [...] the precise question in which language philosophy exits. Today there are two options: philosophy exits in the dominant language of globalization, philosophy accepts the world of today, and accepts the language of globalization. [...] But philosophy cannot do only that, the creative possibility is to inscribe in the multitude of languages, it cannot be reduced to a particular language, then it cannot be universal.

There is a temptation of the being to speak german —poor german being of Heidegger. This is again against the universality of humanity. Philosophy for me is not possible if we don’t recognize something as humanity as such. Humanity as such is pure multiplicity. There is something like generic humanity, not reducible to its immanent differences.

If you say that philosophy speaks only one language, you can do that in two ways: not because being speaks english —poor being— but because it’s a necessity of today’s world.

Philosophy is not a business. Is philosophy today able to be an exception? We cannot be reduced to the idea of speaking only one language. We must go beyond this opposition [of speaking the language of business on the one hand, and enclosing ourselves on our own private language on the other]. This is the most important contradiction of the world today: the universality of choice and the particularity of culture.

And it is a philosophical question that we must be conscious of, that when we thought ourselves a new possibility, this is part of the general problem of a new possibility; and this is why philosophy is simultaneously purely individual and completely universal. It is purely individual because it is not political philosophy —we do not create a philosophical party—[...] is the possibility of a new desire of somebody [...] a new individual desire of the world as such.

[The conservative position] is the end of history, the end of philosophy [...] because it's the end of the idea of creation, it is also the end of artistic creation; it is the end of scientific creation because science becomes a slave of technology and business; it is the end of love as a creative position of existence as such, it is the end of all these ruptures and creatives ruptures in the human existence, and so it's a horrible position. The only point which is the norm of the conservative position is security; the dialectical position is also the acceptance of some risk. (We cannot hope for absolute security in love, [...] and the same thing in artistic experimentations: when you want to create something new, you can not desire absolute security, no failure, only success —it is absurd.) 

Corruption of young people is to learn that security is not the truth desire of humanity; and to propose the dialectical vision where we assume the risk, the chance, uncertainty, and the desire of all this. And not the desire of sameness, the identity, the continuation —which is dominant position today.

We have to use in another manner all the past, not to repeat [...] but to interpret it in the light of the future. The present of philosophy is the interpretation of the past for the future. We can have the same future, you and me; and if we can create a community it is because we can have this point in common, which is in the world as it is, the possibility of a new future. And it is a very strong idea, the unity of humanity from the point of view of the future is a necessity.

If you have a dream of a community beyond the differences; and the existence of a genetical humanity that respects the difference, is clear that this community from the point of view of the future is necessary.

And this is why philosophy is important, because it is a paradigm of all that; in philosophy all the past is with us, and all the past is with us because we can have a future by the means of a new interpretation of this past. Then if all that is true, when I talk to you is not only the transmission but a new interpretation of the past.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


For Felipe Foncea,
who dreams of scientists and snow.

It is clear that we are on a post postmodern time, enough is to read again Lyotard’s La Condition Postmoderne to realize that it says nothing new. Marx was wrong with his 11th thesis, and all the postmodern philosophers fell into the tramp: the relation to language games changed while the empirical reality that those games were trying to interpret was left unchanged (in the best places, worsened everywhere else). Even more, since the Borromean knot of Capital-Nation-State —which corresponds to Lacan’s Real, Symbolic and Imaginary— is supported by the subjective recognition on the triad individuals-discourse-institutions, and since they create each other in a dance that one could easily describe as macabre, interpret the world always meant to change it —something Marx was blind to. (If we follow this line of thought, we understand why psychoanalysis has political consequences: when the subject is devoid of a positive content, the relation towards discourses and institutions —nation and the state— changes dramatically.) This is why to politicize love works against the Borromean knot; this is why knowledge is the only commodity which is in itself revolutionary.

The problem of the new. Derrida touches upon it at the beginning of De la Gramatologie, a foundational text if there was one on the second half of the 20th century: “The future can only be anticipated in the form of an absolute danger. It is that which breaks absolutely with constituted normality and can only be proclaimed, presented, as a sort of monstrosity.” (Derrida, in his europeaness, is not able to see that one should add to this an “or as a joke,” as Cesar Aira made us realize with his excellent short story Cecil Taylor; the New is a monstrous joke: Mozart, Bacon or Bolaño could be a good example of this.) The new, for be the new, needs to be the Other; the absolute other who comes without me being able to foresee her. And here is again where love is important. For her to appear as the always present and constitutive lack in myself, it is necessary for me to develop the most genial inventiveness to —not invent but— receive, out of undeserved grace, an other who is not called or expected. The arrival of the new and the arrival of the loved one share the same formal procedure of monstrous (and ridiculous) apparition, hence that love colors all the other procedures of truth (see Parallax View, p. 406). Science, art and politics can be seen as procedures of truth where the lack —injustice, ignorance, the old— is affirmed on its negative existence, to use the Hegelian formulation regarding love; in this tarrying with the negative is where subjects bring into being what was not, accomplishing the magical act of creation. Here Karatani almost overlaps with Derrida: “The veritable others whom we cannot anticipate are the ones who live in the future. Or, more accurately, the future is truly the future only insofar as it is of the other; the future we can anticipate is not the veritable future.” (Karatani, Transcritique p. 100) Derrida presents a more clear formulation on his documentary:

In general, I try to distinguish between what one calls the future and “l’avenir.” The future is that which —tomorrow, later, next century— will be. There’s a future which is predictable, programmed, scheduled, foreseeable. But there is a future, l’avenir (to come) which refers to someone who comes whose arrival is totally unexpected. For me, that is the real future. That which is totally unpredictable. The Other who comes without my being able to anticipate their arrival. So if there is a real future beyond this other known future, it’s l’avenir in that it’s the coming of the Other when I am completely unable to foresee their arrival.

Back to the Borromean knot. A fully transcendental critic must delineate the boundaries that shape our cognition at the same time from the three aforementioned domains: as individuals, as part of a (national) discourse and as members of institutions. My point is that this can be accomplished by a simultaneous critic of the three domains from where humans must be defined: at the biological level as living beings; at the linguistic level as symbolic beings; and at the social level as beings whose principal function is to exchange (love, commodities, thoughts, etc.). The aim of the critic is, of course, the distanciation of the subject from the three jails that have him prisoner: individuality (to buy what I want), nationality (to fight immigrants I do not like) and citizenship (to punish whom I wish). A successful distanciation from them would imply a radical change on reality; this is our hope and our bet. On the contrary, if it is not done, we obtain what Adorno recognized as the contemporary types,

those in whom any Ego is absent; consequently they do not act unconsciously in the proper meaning of this term, but simply mirror objective features. Together, they participate in this senseless ritual, following the compulsive rhythm of repetition[...] (cited on Zizek’s Metastases p. 19)

This senseless repetition of the same, is life at its worst....

Think outside the knot. Negate today the existence of the individual —the positive content that makes us human, that in ourselves which is really ourselves, independent of what we do in the world— is regarded as nonsense; Badiou’s definition of democratic materialism should be supplemented then as “there is nothing but [individual] bodies and languages.” On the contrary, institutions and nations are presented as mere fictions, fictions which have, of course, a positive existence; it is only the New Age obscurantism who tries to negate this. Take the case of punishment, as Wittgenstein noted (on his Lectures and Conversation on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief p.50):

“Why do we punish criminals? Is it for a desire of revenge? Is it to prevent the repetition of the crime?” And so on. The truth is that there is no one reason. There is the institution of punishing criminals. Different people support this for different reasons, and for different reasons in different cases and at different times. Some people support it out of a desire for revenge, some perhaps out of a desire of justice, some out to prevent the repetition of the crime, and so on. And so punishments are carried out. (Our emphasis.)

The institution of punishment, then, is independent of the subjective involvement of a people; it appears as an objective entity consubstantial to (the symbolic network that makes possible) a person’s identity. The same argument works with nation, so in the best romantic style, it is impossible for an individual to attain universality bypassing (the particular) national identity.

The relation between the particular and the Universal. As Karatani properly points out, for Kant the problem of antinomies was not a merely academic work; it concerned his most intimate struggle, the struggle for meaning that dwells in the core of every real subjectivity. (For real subjects, the world as such is unheimlich, they live in order to make it a proper place to live; I think, of course, of Socrates and Wittgenstein here, amongst others.) In this precise sense, then, one can say that there is an objective way of loving, and it is the one that makes the particular part of the Universal. The senseless repetition of objective features —go on a date, buy a house, make some children— are consequently false, since they do not comply with the objective definition of love: for love to be real it most be Universal, and —it goes without saying— the only form under which the Universal appears is as the New. (This definition of love, of course, changes with each real couple; or to put it in a slightly different way, love retroactively becomes what always already was with each love event.) To put it on more individual terms, one is a person not when one realizes one's own idiosyncrasy —enjoy your life, as they command— but rather when one acts as a human tout court, as a subject. It is for this reason that Kant touches the truth and changes humanity; human subjectivity is not the same after Kant —the same goes for the Copernican turn and all the other events on world’s History, they are always associated to a singular name. Reality as such is modified because an individual, a subject, could not do otherwise. Then, when Zizek says that

we should risk the hypothesis that this is what changes with the Kantian revolution: in the pre-Kantian universe, humans were simply humans, beings of reason, fighting the excesses of animal lusts and divine madness, while only with Kant and German Idealism is the excess to be fought absolutely immanent, the very core of subjectivity itself. (Parallax View p. 22)

We should read it quite literally, and understand this as the proverbial grain of sand that makes the pile: a posteriori, one can say that it was Kant who (magically) changed the core of human subjectivity in one strike and forever. He could accomplish this due to the vital character that his thought has for him, a life-or-death matter; being absolutely particular, Kant was universal; and as such, he changed the world.

To conclude, it is only through this distanciation —from the individual, discourses and institutions— that one can attempt a public use of reason. Reality works making unimaginable today what yesterday used to be possible; our work is to imagine what now is impossible but which tomorrow will be necessary. This is possible only by the public use of reason, a reason that considers the Other, the absolute other from l’avenir, the other who comes and whom I love; this is the only way to approach the Truth, an objective but engaged truth that will never be where we are, since we always arrive too late, making our search endless: wo es war, soll ich werden. We own it to them —to the others who shall— to change the world, as other did before us. The future will be Utopia —Tokio 5,345 AD, for example— or it won’t be.

Photo by Lost in Japan

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Europe's not dead

I was talking today with my brother who invited me for dinner at his place. He's on charge for the creation of a new mine here on Chile for Teck, a Canadian company. It will take six years from now to have it working.

Then I thought on my PhD: four years working —supposedly— eight hours a day in order to write four papers of around ten pages each.

Then, of course, I thought on our work: to change the world. And I understood that this is precisely what Parra means by "we are on the prehistory of poetry." We have only two options: or History is over and neoliberalism is here to stay; or History is not over, we are on the prehistory of humanity, and if we do not work daily for the continuos creation of a new Humanity we are pretty much fucked up. And it will take years and years.

Ok, then History is not over, let's agree on that. What does this mean? In the first place, that in the best Lacanian logic, "there is nothing for which I am not responsible." Formally, if we comply with the modern doxa and enjoy our life without questioning the status quo, we are as guilty as the guys who didn't care about slaves 200 years ago, about the jews that were burned 80 years ago, or the one million guys from rwanda who were killed on a month 15 years ago.

And what is to be done then? What we have always done: fight for more freedom, for more rights, for more equality; even if we are conscious that those words are empty now. Imagine that otherwise is possible, that the impossible can happen, that things change and that they change for better. And to do that in Europe.

The best that Europe has ever gave to humanity is the idea of democracy, of enlightenment, the sapere aude. The best Europe has are the ideas worth fighting and dying for. Our task is to imagine otherwise, conscious of the historical nature of our thought and of the crime that entails not to do it.

(Fuck them and their anti-colonialist logic: if it wasn't for the enciclopedia that it was on my house and that I read every day for years when I was a kid, I would be certainly death, or worst, working eight to six on a job I hate and married to a wife I do not talk to.)

(Fuck them and their "reality is like that." I tell you, as someone who has spent ten years trying to understand this joke —from quantum physics to neuroscience to philosophy— that they are wrong, that no one knows, and that in 2000 years of thought we have advanced very very little. We are on the prehistory of thought.)

(In fact, fuck them tout court.)

I came to this conclusion watching a lecture by Etienne Balibar and realizing about the fact that only 500 people have seen it in half a year. (That is, one on every 100,000 internet users, just to give you an idea.) As a professor used to say on my university days in Chile: "The truth is not hidden, but buried on a big pile of shit." Our duty today, then, is take the crap out and put some truth on the table. Against the senseless and serialized repetition of the same that our lives become more and more everyday we must learn, learn and learn.

Starting today, then, I will add links for lectures, podcasts and texts I found interesting for me to read, watch, listen and share. The first one is of course the aforementioned Balibar's talk, which lasts one hour and talks about the end of Europe. I seriously think that is a crime that so few people have watched it, hence this rattle today.

Here is the video, and this is one of the final memorable quotes of the lecture: "It is always on the side of the poor where there is money to be harvest for the rich; even if the poor have no money, only debts."

Photo of Lisbon by Southbites.