Monday, June 30, 2008

I could use $450 though.

I had a dream last night that I sold my barely working monitor to someone for $450 dollars, and then sat back and hoped that she didn't notice it was broken. Of course, I knew she would notice, so I also tried to convince myself that I wasn't really sure it was broken, and that it ought to surprise both of us (her and me) if it didn't work for her.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Look at me get all gushy

[While it will be clear that there is a particular person who inspired me to think down this path, it should also be made clear that this isn't about anyone, nor is it meant to be a chronicle of my or anyone else's experiences. "You" is meant, almost always, in a rhetorical sense, as is "me," to the extent that that is possible.]

I think the first step has to be dealing with what it means to know. I want, for present purposes, to divorce knowledge from meaning, the former being dynamic and indeterminate, the latter being negative and prescriptive. Meaning comes from a "that means," which dictates the limits of the object, presenting an end result--I'm reading Nancy's Listening, from which we might take that meaning is a result of hearing (entendre). Knowledge, as I mean the term (sorry) here, is an intimate caressing, a dynamic exploration.

(Of course, the two do not really exist separately--"as I mean the term," for example--and are both themselves each other: meaning is never so static as we mean it to be, nor does knowledge exhibit the flexibility I romantically attribute to it. But the reason I want to tease them apart is to purify knowledge--I'm looking for the logos, I suppose--and in so doing I am implicated in a search for meaning, which has already begun by trying to avoid meaning. In fact, I've considered starting this by not starting this way, since it is a bit of a track that I might not be tall enough to step out of. So I'll leave off where we are, and willfully pragmatize. Let's talk about knowing.)

The reason for separating meaning from knowledge is allow for the non-existence of divinity/fate. It is one thing to run in semantic circles and talk of chains of signifiers; nowadays it is hardly Earth-shaking to say words don't mean anything (in a concrete sense) but only point, more or less vaguely, at other words. I don't want to talk of words, but of people (even if it is, as Bloom says Stevens says, " 'a world of words to the end of it' "). I want to talk about knowing a person, and not about what a person means. And we'll return to how the former bleeds into the latter, tearing a gash. So I'll dismiss for now, strategically, that people mean anything. We're not meant for each other; no one is meant for anyone or anything. This isn't depressing; it doesn't mean there is no happiness or love, etc. Indeed, it is the opposite of depressing: no fate means freedom to love as love happens, not out of necessity or obligation, but out of love.

So whom do we know? I'm going to risk absolutes again, and say I know only one person. In touching, there is feeling on both sides. If I touch you, I feel what you feel like, but I don't feel what you feel. You react, and I feel your reaction, but I don't feel what makes you react, and I don't feel why you react. But, I do feel me feeling your reaction, and can feel how I react to your reaction and reacting. You exist on the other side of a membrane that doesn't let messages pass. The only membrane of which I can feel both sides is my own. I can feel myself feeling myself, like two lips in Irigaray's metaphor, and can become my own site of knowledge. What passes colloquially as knowing you is me getting to know myself better. You, like everything, are radically exterior, and our mutual existences comprise of mutual alienations, the negotiations of which constitute the experience of knowing oneself. In this conception, I have not moved beyond Schopenhauer's first sentences:
It then becomes clear and certain to him that he does not know a sun and an earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels an earth; that the world around him is there only as representation, in other words, only in reference to another thing, namely that which represents, and this is himself.

But then there's love. The preceding makes it impossible to talk about love. First, because it follows necessarily that even if I know what love is, I only know what it is for me. Love runs the risk of being the insufferable banality of the Universal. Indeed, even in saying "love" I recapitulate the prescriptive role of Man, explaining to you the quest upon which you're meant to embark. So I will step back from this just a bit, though will, for better or worse, retain the age-old narrative of woman/truth that will underpin most of what follows. And in this respect, maybe talking about love along side an exploration of the limits of knowing is perfectly appropriate--or at least scrupulously self-interested. Maybe I can sublimate after all; perhaps my longing for knowledge (and truth) is intimately interwoven with my longing for love, which is, for better or worse, directed toward a longing for woman. But I won't get too Freudian here. Suffice it to say that in searching for the truth about knowing, it can hardly be seen as coincidental that I must now turn to love, and that the problematic between the two orbits around knowing/loving a woman.

Let me take a moment to be more specific about what I mean by love (there it is again). Agamben says, and people grow tired of me reciting this, that we don't love for the particular: I love your eyes, your kindness, your lameness (his choice, not mine). Nor, however, do we love for the universal: this is not a story of Universal Love, etc. So while might love your flowing brown hair, or your mercurial, arresting eyes, I do not love you for those (or in spite of them). Nor would I love you for the sake of loving. Love exists in such a peculiar, particular position that it seems best suited when it eclipses the rest of the lexicon and grammar. Love. And in so being, as if isolated but of course always with a tacit context (I've been assuming a subject/object complex, but that is primarily for rhetorical simplicity; there is no reason to presume that love needs only two, or even two), love presents the fallacy of the absolutism of the membrane that prohibits inter-subjective knowledge. Love. By erasing the two-way subject/object relationship of the verb, it is no longer clear where lines are crossing, which direction the intensities are flowing. That is to say that love, by existing neither in terms of the specific nor the general, effects a re-evaluation of the limits of knowing.

Love, at the risk of being a romantic, is the condition of knowing someone else. But this is not to say that it is true that we can know someone. I would suggest that these two conditions--love and not-knowing--exist in constant tension. They are not extremes of a continuum, for to be so, we would then have to talk of degrees of love, and love would no longer be non-specific, nor non-universal: it would be both specific and universal. To say that love is the extreme of a continuum is to suggest that one love could be replaced with another, in the interest of maximizing utility. And though I have not loved much, I am sure I've never had one love that I would exchange for any other, under any circumstances. The continuum with love on the horizon universalizes a "pure" love, and at the same time assigns a specific value to the less than ideal love you might experience at any given time.

Not a continuum, but also not a dialectical tension. Love is not the negation of not-knowing. The latter condition does not pre-exist the former, nor does it cease to function when love "comes along." And most importantly, regarding the dialectic, there is no synthesis of the two opposed conditions.

It is because of the non-dialectical tension between love and not-knowing that we bleed. (I need to go to bed soon) When I love, I also still don't know--even while knowing. This still-knowing in the face of not-knowing is not to be viewed as self-delusion. That the two coexist is the condition of love: we both know and don't know each other. This constant tension is what leads to jealousy, as well as to reasons for jealousy. It can breed distrust, insecurity, and, in the opposite direction, a certain wanderlust: how do I know what I'm missing (if I don't even know what I have)?

But these are trivial matters. We will or won't work through or around cheating. What is much more grave is the gash that is torn when love and not-knowing bleed together. When loving and not-knowing become having-loved and (still) not-knowing. When the ignorance resulting from the impossibility of inter-subjective experiences shocks the system and disrupts the knowing of love. The sweet dissonance of the affair becomes the unconditioned dissonance of alienation--and not the continual alienation from one another we always feel, but a self-alienation. The love that defied not-knowing now become the not-knowing of the self, as one must now wonder how or why one thought one knew, when clearly one did not.

Of course, even as the gash bleeds, one must remember that even while one did not know, one knew.

Now I'm too sleepy to keep things straight, and will hopefully re-read this soon to see if I left anything out or got stupid :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Race and Sex

I've been a little concerned about what I've been hearing about Clinton supporters getting angry about losing, and about some of them going so far as to threaten to vote McCain. How could progressive women vote for a man who is openly anti-choice and calls his wife a cunt? Via Feministing, I've come across a great piece that helps to explain why some people are exactly that angry. And more specifically, why many of them are angry at not just the good old boys, but at the good guys too.

Here's an excerpt that particularly intrigues me:
Of course, the ease with which these kinds of stereotypes were bandied about suggests that it is women -- about to take your jobs and your college acceptance letters and your seat in the Oval Office and probably your penis! -- who are the most threatening to the established white male power structure.
Then I think back to the relative treatments of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. In this case too, much more vitriol is spewed toward the woman than the man, and like the democratic primary, race is shown to be less flammable than sex. I think this is fundamentally related to what Immortal Technique--and others, but him most recently for me--have said regarding racism and economic class. He says, in The Poverty of Philosophy, that while racism is still clearly active in America, class repression is much stronger--which is why he doesn't hate the white kid down the street, but only the politicians, et al.

What we find in the Clinton/Obama race is the flip side of this. A black man running for president is not threatening to the sophisticated chauvinist because it does nearly nothing to change the precedent of oppression as it exists. With Obama's primary victory we can now say race won't keep black men out of political position, and we can simultaneously ignore the very real economic barriers that continue to prevent most African-Americans from even leaving the ghetto, much less aspiring to any position of power. In short, Obama is not threatening because he doesn't represent--Darstellung--the black man that racism fears. Electing him will not empower those black people that racists fear because it will not upset the economic imbalance that structures racism. We might say that racism is benefiting from a well-ingrained paradox: electing Obama would be declared historic, because he represents an disempowered minority; but electing Obama is not threatening--and in terms of "progress" might not really be so historic--because he doesn't represent a disempowered minority.

Clinton is quite a different story, because of the structural differences between sexism and racism. Women as a class (?) are oppressed not by economic fiat but by social convention. Women are not born to poorer families then are men, and don't grow up in more dangerous neighborhoods (excepting of course that, because of the epidemic of sexual violence, nearly all neighborhoods are more dangerous for women). The only thing that stands in the way of a woman and the presidency is sexism. Of course it's harder for women to land extremely high-paying jobs--to appease non-feminists, this could be toned down to "less likely"--and such jobs make running for office much easier to do, if for no other reason than the increase in assets and connections, but the restricted access to such a market too is a result of sexism, not economic class. So racism always acts in tandem with structural economic oppression, but sexism does not (I am finessing away, in unforgivable fashion, overlaps of sexism and racism). As a consequence, electing a woman would do a great deal to undermine the institution of sexism; it would alter precedent and preference, which are the only things keeping women from the highest office. Thus electing Clinton is threatening to chauvinism in a way that electing Obama is not. Electing Clinton--or any woman, but I am inclined to say any white woman--would, in a very real way, upset the position reserved for women as a support and background, rather than as a leader. And it would do so in relation to every bi-sexual encounter, where the only thing ensuring the subordinance of the woman is the precedent that she is by nature subordinate. In that respect, voting for Clinton--policies aside--would have done much more to upset white male dominance than voting for Obama can do. Policies aside.

What we have to hold on to is that another woman will come along, and that she'll actually be progressive. Clinton is a point of ambivalence for me. I want to vote for a woman, because sexism is habitual in ways that racism is not (because of the above), but Clinton demonstrated an impressive capacity to do things that made her completely unvoteforable. The two things that spring to mind are the "gas tax holiday" and her habit of calling Obama "elite" and dismissing things she didn't like as "elite opinion." (I'm irritated about anti-elitism and about conflating "elitism" and "elite." Doesn't elite just mean better? How can that be a bad thing?) Why did she have to be such a bad candidate? And will I ever be able to sort out her bad positions from the devil-mask painted for her by the sexist media?

I want to be sure, before I go, that it's clear that I'm not arguing that sexism is better or worse than racism, or that it's easier or more important to combat one or the other. Both are rancid cancers that we will all die with, and I don't mean to make the abolishionist mistake of putting one struggle ahead of the other. But exploring why the Man flamed Clinton in ways that He didn't flame Obama is important, especially since we all hope to go through this again very soon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


It is a clear night tonight, and the city lights are bright.  The underbellies of the streams of jet exhaust are white against blue, and they carry with them the despair of unknowable distance and space.  Glancing north means knowing there is too much for me to ever matter.

All this is dreadfully banal.  What was fun about tonight is feeling this cliché turn around on itself so swiftly, as I remembered that that much space is a good thing.  Finite sets are as oppressive as infinite.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify even your ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science, has shown e this pregnant little fact. Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo ! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable.
--George Eliot, Middlemarch, 182.

Maybe what I like best about this is that it applies equally to religion as it does to science, but does not dismiss either in their essence.  Further, it cautions against all those who position themselves more moderately in the science/religion spectrum--though a linear ordering of disparate approaches replicates the same mistake against which we are warned.   We might read it as a critique of methodology, rather than ideology, though I would be reluctant to separate the two so cleanly.  Indeed, in many ways, particularly symbolism, Eliot prefigures Irigaray here, by suggesting that it is the light of reason--of the subject's gaze--that privileges certain ordered readings of the world while marginalizing others; in short, the light lets us ignore what Rorty calls "feminine messes."