December 2009


It is New Year’s Eve, so I am not going to do much thinking today.

Here are just some smarter people than I am on the New Year:

New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions. ~Mark Twain

He who breaks a resolution is a weakling;
He who makes one is a fool.
~F.M. Knowles

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man. ~Benjamin Franklin

Youth is when you’re allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve. Middle age is when you’re forced to. ~Bill Vaughn

The New Year bring with it all the old superstitions and traditions. In my family, from our Spanish grandfather, we eat 12 grapes at midnight. I also remember my father throwing out a bucket of water, and this was supposed to scare away bad spirits. A kind of baptism of the new year.

Here is a list of traditions from around the world. Enjoy the New Year everyone. I’ll be back to my fragmented thoughts soon enough.

So in searching for an image for this post, I ran into this.

While talking to a colleague/friend the other day, we were discussing how this, this analyzing and constant reading of literature, does not seem to be a “normal” job. That since this is what we do, we are attracted to people who understand why it is so hard to lose/sell/give away books. People who understand why it is we write quotes down, constantly read, constantly go back and reread favorites, constantly seek out new books and writing. And I think that this need blurs into life.

There is this understanding that we can never grasp or obtain (own) words, stories, theories, the things we read, but we feel this need to memorize the thing. I have talked about this before, I think… But the concept comes from Derrida when he talks about a need to repeat over and over a phrase, to memorize a phrase, because this makes us feel like we can own it, like it is something graspable to hold on to. I think this notion is what compels people to be sport’s fans, “patriots”, attached to one theory over another. This is why there is so much bickering and fighting, why we have jealousy, anger– this is what Buddhist talk about. Our attachments to concepts whether it be concepts we have about patriotism, identity, literature, politics, or life in general, we can’t accept having those concepts questioned.

And I think I have talked about all this before when I discussed Demillo, and I counter charges that this is passionless as a misunderstanding of the concept of detachment. You can feel passionately about something without having that something determine your mood. But none of this really matters because you already have a concept of passion, life, and how to deal with all of it, and if this goes against that concept, you are going to think that everything I have said is bullshit anyway.

The point of this was to discuss how when I am sick or depressed or heartbroken or happy or any other emotion, I can easily go to my job as a server for a chain restaurant and fake it and do my job. If I have my classes planned out and I know what it is I need to cover, I can–more or less– go into a classroom and teach something that I have gone over a million times, but if I have any one overwhelming feeling that is occupying my brain, I can’t “think” or “work.” I can’t analyze something and write about it. I can’t apply concepts and look at problems, text, philosophy in any kind of new or interesting way. All I can do when I am like this, is this. Ramble on about things.

For example, this post started off in my head as a post about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and how the book is reminding me a little of Jung and how Jung discusses the journey into the unconscious and in that journey the subject needs to confront his shadow and his anima, though this book, thus far, doesn’t seem to have those factors. I wonder if it is (I am halfway done) that these thigns are not there because of the rotten state of affiars the unconscious is in, with its ash and destruction. The Road represents an unconscious without the proper myths to order it, without the proper language and signification to identify these objects of the unconscious that need to be confronted.

But my mind now feels like McCarthy’s Road– an apocalyptic vision of things under ash, dead forest, lost highways that crazy, starving cannibals roam eating up any signs of life and imprisoning people. The question becomes: can we learn anything about ourselves if we are by ourself without an other to refelct me and show me to myself? Can one (in Jungian terms) become self-actualized if the unconscious is broken of its symbols and shadow and anima that are supposed to be there and need to be confronted?

Maybe, my brain will be working by the time i finish the second half of the book, and maybe I can get to more reading and writing once this crazy holiday season is over… And maybe, this is my most fragmented ramblings yet…

Here is a poem by Byron that always reminds me of any apocalyptic visions

The Road, especially, with its images of a world where there is no food and people turn to eating each other reminds me of this poem:

The meagre by the meagre were devour’d,
Even dogs assail’d their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famish’d men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the dropping dead
Lur’d their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answer’d not with a caress—he died.

I still want to get to the melancholy, heartbreak, present-at-hand, and all that death stuff, but as the title of this blog attest to, my thoughts are fragmented. I was reading Atunes’s What Can I do When Everything is on Fire? But after five chapters of the same repetitive prose, it got a little old.

Then the other day before work I had forgotten to bring the book so I started to read J.M. Coetzee instead, and fell in love with the book after reading the following line:

From:

I think this speaks to the previous post about the melancholy that is a longing for something that has passed and also a melancholy that you might not want the thing you desire anymore, but I forgot all my other books, which means that today I plan to finish about 100 pages of Coetzee that I have left. The book fascinates me; Coetzee does a marvelous job of interweaving the three distinct narratives, which each inform one another.

I definitely want to explore the connection between the T.S. Eliot passage from A Coctail Party:

That is the worst moment, when you feel you have lost The desires for all that was most desirable, Before you are contented with what you can desire; Before you know what is left to be desired; And you go on wishing that you could desire What desire has left behind. But you cannot understand. How could you understand what it is to feel old?

and the Coetzee quote and see how all this interrelates. Soon, I just want to get some plain, good ‘ol fashioned reading done. A reading just to read—well, kind of; I am after all, going to be writing about all of this stuff soon.

Ok, so this is just a quick note to self that will be elaborated on later:

So a friend posted this excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s “A Cocktail Party”

That is the worst moment, when you feel you have lost The desires for all that was most desirable, Before you are contented with what you can desire; Before you know what is left to be desired; And you go on wishing that you could desire What desire has left behind. But you cannot understand. How could you understand what it is to feel old?

This is what I briefly glanced at the other day looking for the information for my Lacan post the other day… I came across a discussion of “missing” (for lack of a better word), which is basically saying what this poem is saying. That my desire, my nostalgia, my melancholy for some “thing’ stems from the melancholy of not missing it anymore, of getting over it… And then I read this quote… serendipity…

I will get to this when I have had some sleep and can read the passage again carefully.

I make everything into an object of study. I am constantly in Heidegger’s present-at-hand, always scrutinizing things…

As I drove south, a certain feeling lingered over me. Everything had gone great, for the most part, but now this feeling: melancholy.

My melancholy comes and goes. As I watched Paper Heart, staring Charlyne Yi and Michael Cera, a certain melancholy struck me. The movie made me feel the on-screen’s couple’s melancholy. It was on Michael Cera’s happy face. Under his subtle jokes, which he is so good at, under his smiling happiness with a girl whose company he enjoys, the hint of melancholy was there. It is the phenomenologically same feeling after I have had leaving girls I cared for. This melancholy makes me think of Derrida in his “Rams” essay. He speaks about the melancholy (in a way):

“Mingled with the gratitude and affection that have for so long characterized this feeling. I sense, somewhat obscurely, an ageless melancholy” (135).

The melancholy is one that arises in the knowledge that after this meeting, after this dialogue I share with this person, one of us will eventually not be here anymore: “Death will no doubt have changed this melancholy—and infinitely aggravated it. Death will have sealed it. Forever” (155). Derrida goes on to explain how the melancholy is there, from the first interruption, and he explains how any dialogue is an interruption, a caesura. What happens then is that we continue an “interior dialogue” with the person… and he says a lot of stuff that basically mean that when someone close to me dies, I carry the world of the other. The memory of the other lives on in me, and I am then obligated (though I guess obligated is the wrong word; rather, how can I possibly not) carry the world of the other.

But what if the other is not gone(dead) , but rather just gone? What happens in heartbreak, or in the caesura of people separated in physical distance, not by death? Yes, Derrida says that death “changes” this melancholy (which means the melancholy is there, lingering, even before death), but I get the feeling that the melancholy is there because there is this underlying notion, this awareness, that eventually, one of you will not be there and that one of you will be left to carry the world of the other. But what happens when I don’t need to carry the world of the other who is still carrying his/her own world? What happens when the ceasura is brought about because one of the people does not want to mingle worlds, does not want to have anymore dialogue?

So when I leave an other (not dead, just leave), or when I feel a melancholy even in the midst of a wonderful moment being enjoyed with the other; I think there is a melancholy there, not of having to carry the world of the other that has passed, but in not being able to not carry the world of the other that is alive and just not here in dialogue. That is, the melancholy in Cera’s face, in having lunch with a person I cared so much for in the past (and suddenly desired her to desire me to care for her and vice versa, again), in the caesura of traveling away from dialogue with one I care for, comes in knowing that the dialogue has been interrupted.

While there is this melancholy of an interrupted dialogue, I think there is also a joy in knowing the other is not gone and that the dialogue can go on. And these feelings (melancholy and happiness) that vacillate during lunch with someone special, for instance, is one like waiting (link on waiting), it is the vacillation of Heidegger’s present-at-hand, it is the melancholy of knowing that this relationship can possibly come to an end (especially when you know for sure that it is coming to an end—that you are leaving on a plane, driving away in a car in just a couple of hours); it is a melancholy in thinking that maybe the next melancholy you feel will be the one Derrida talks about, but there is also the joy in knowing that the possibility for the dialogue to begin again is there (and here I need to really read “Rams” again, because I am sure Derrida must talk about this interruption, no?)

This is my fragment, my rough draft, my start before my caesura… I think Lacan has something to say about this too. There is an aspect of desire here that needs to be explored.

Desire, Derrida says, can never be fulfilled. Following the trace, if desire is ever fulfilled, then it is no longer desire. For something to properly be desire, it must never be reached.

Lacan talks about desire as being the desire to be desired… Also, Lacan talks about melancholy, and melancholy is the feeling not of sadness for loss, but the sadness that you will no longer desire the thing you desire, the melancholy that comes from the future possibility of getting over the thing you wanted most…

More to come soon, but it is dinner time, I don’t have my books in front of me, and I’m tired…. this is why I called this thing fragments…

I want to explore the connection between Joseph Campbell and Jacques Lacan. They both explore a symbolic (a necessarily symbolic) order that civilized society follows. I haven’t been able to formulate my thoughts yet, but I see this intermixing, and I think Campbell and Lacan can be put together with one informing the other. Campbell deals with myths, and Lacan deals with the story we tell ourselves, that are ultimately myths, too.

This is not the edition I am reading but couldn't find a picture otherwise

Campbell states that myths serve four basic functions:

1) Mystical: myths open up a mystical dimension; that is to say, behind the surface world, there is a mystical source for that world. I see this as, we see the sun rise and fall, so we come up with a mystical explanation, such as, some god is riding a chariot across the sky.

2) Cosmological: is our image of the world—how we perceive the world—which changes with from time to time (mostly because of science). The best example of this is the Copernicain revolution; we had thought the cosmos was ordered with the earth in the middle, and later we learned that it was the sun in the middle of our universe, and then later we learned that our universe isn’t even the center of the universe, etc…

3) Sociological: Myths are used to validate and maintain social order. This is seen in the mystical stories we tell ourselves, I believe. For instance, we have the story of Adam and Eve to not only describe how human beings ended up on earth, it is also a tale that tells us that we should obey a supreme being and not fall into vanity; therefore, the creation story serves the mystical purpose of explaining what is behind the surface, it also maintains order by telling us to obey the Big Other watching us.

4) Pedagogical: Myths are used for instruction, to teach society and guide individuals through life.

Myths then give society order, and, Campbell claims, that when myths break down, morals break down. Science has proven that the world is more than 6,000 years old, besides whatever Arkansas wants to say, so the power of the creation story and its functions breakdown, meaning that society breaks down, in Campbell’s words:

“With the loss of them [symbols/myths] there follows uncertainty, and with uncertainty, disequilibrium, since life, as both Nietzsche and Ibsen knew, requires life-supporting illusions; and where these have been dispelled, there is nothing secure to hold on to, no moral law, nothing firm” (Campbell 10).

But of course we need these lies (symbols—and I would argue that they are not lies in a traditional since, but rather, an opiate to help calm society. If a mad man sees an elephant in the room, that is a very real elephant to him, so could it really be termed a “lie”? I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school, and there was never a tension (not overtly) between learning about Adam and Eve and learning science proper. To say that myths (stories) are a lie, is to say that they serve no function besides merely pulling the wool over our eyes. And that might be the case for some; that is why Socrates says that, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”)

Campbell goes on to explain this how we need these lies saying:

“…lies are what the world lives on, and those who can face the challenges of a truth and build their lives to accord are finally not many, but the very few” (11).

Now Campbell goes on to say how psychology and the scientific study of where myths come from are what must be pursued, but I think Lacan is the way to go.

The functions of myth sound much like the Lacianian triad: Symbolic—imaginary—Real:

First, there is the Mystical aspect of myths, which corresponds to the Imaginary order, which is our image of the world. An example of this order is given by Zizek when he relates the triad to a game of chess: “Imaginary…namely the way in which different pieces are shaped and characterized by their names (king, queen, knight), and it is easy to envision a game in with the same rules, but with a different imaginary, in which the figures would be called ‘messenger’ or ‘runner’ or whatever (Zizek 8).

Secondly, the way we maintain social order (the Sociological) corresponds to Lacan’s Symbolic order. The Symbolic order is the rules we follow in order to play the game. The Big Other operates on this level and always watches us so that we follow the rules; just as the sociological function of myths gives us rules that we must follow.

Thirdly, Lacan’s Real corresponds to the Cosmological (the world we see that changes over time). The Real is, within this triad, everything else, such as a player’s intelligence, and forces we might have trouble foreseeing. The intrusion of reality into the triad, and one can see how we have set up a cosmological real (reality before Copernicus that saw the world as the center of the universe), but then has that “Real” change when science (the Real again intrudes), and shows us a new reality.

The Pedagogical aspect of Campbell, I believe, is the interaction (an interaction that takes place within Lacan) of the triad and the way each Lacanian aspect plays off each other.

There is something here between the breakdown of myths and the way society follows the Big Other (and I understand I am making a bit of a jump here witout explaining, but since so few people follow this and read it at all, I just need to write this all down before I forget). Myths only hold power, give society its moral grounding, in so far was society believes myths and allows myths to do so, just like the power of the Big Other:

“In spite of all its grounding power, the big Other is fragile, insubstantial, properly virtual, in the sense that its status is that of a subjective presuppostion. It exist only in so far as subjects act as if it exists.”

And later:

“…so this [big Other, and I would argue myths and symbols] substance is actual only in so far as individuals believe in it and act accordingly’ (Zizek emphasis in original 10).

I believe there is an interaction within these two thoughts that can inform each other, and I will be exploring these thoughts in my readings. I want to end this now because I just got Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, and I am excited to read it. Lacan says that the mad man, the psychopath is the one who does not follow the rules imposed by this Symbolic power of the Big Other, and Campbell says that there are mental illnesses from a loss of myths, so I want to see how this history of madness can further inform these readings of Campbell and Lacan.

Til my next fragmented thoughts come to light and intrude my thoughts like an invasion of the Real…

Post to come: on different types of melancholy, on the relation between death and heart break and how they relate to waiting and Heidegger’s present-at-hand…

I am continued to be confused, baffled, and even entertained by Antunes. The breakdown in chronological time is fascinating and reminiscent of Faulkner, and I even read a review of ‘What Can I Do’ that points out Faulkner’s obvious influence on Antunes here:

Indeed, Faulkner presides over “What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire?” as a tutelary spirit. Here, for instance, is a legendary sentence, spoken by a death- befuddled child, from “As I Lay Dying,” published in 1930: “My mother is a fish.”And here, uttered by a baffled son, is a sentence from “What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire?”: “You’ve turned into a fish, father.” Like Faulkner in his great novels of the ’30s, Antunes deploys idiot monologues, garrulous, colloquial voices, superheated atmospherics and dismembered narratives that exalt not-knowing as a prime literary excitement.

Chapter two continues in the same manner as chapter one. The reader is given a little more background, and it becomes very clear that Paulo is on heroine and, maybe, other drugs.

There is a great image of Paulo going to sit on the beach so that the ocean waves and wild horses can drown out the noise of his parents fighting, but the arguments get so loud and intense that the image of relaxing, rolling waves becomes violent: “… I was the one hurt out there by the horses and the sea” (21).

The overwhelming motif (more so than in any Joyce novel) is the inter-mixing of all the images and symbols. Memory becomes a dream becomes reality becomes madness, and one symbol goes from being one of peace to one of horror from one page to the next.

This chapter elucidates some of the narrator’s problems: he steals for drug money; he feels guilt but uses drugs to forget; he feels guilt for taking advantage of his guardians, but then dismisses his feelings because they are not his parents and then feels guilty for taking advantage of them again.

There are wonderfully lyrical passages of using drugs and its withdrawal:

heat at first, followed by cold, followed by an urge to crush myself, I don’t know what dying is like but they’re disentangling me from my body, conversations that get away from me, scarecrows in smok holding a basin up against my chest
— Vomit” (29).

Here the story of the Neighbor Dona Aurorinha is told. She had a lover she would write to, but the lover died of some desease.

There is an interesting contrast between when Paulo says that he knows how to tell time and how his narrative doesn’t follow any chronological time. It goes back to the philosophy of waiting it seems. For Paulo, time is broken, but not in the sense that he has to wait—that waiting time in which one endures and “feels” time’s slow passage. Paulo’s time is, rather, broken in that its linear-ality has been destroyed. He has no way of telling past, present, or future, and this reflects his phenomenological experience of lived time. Just as he can’t tell time (or, maybe, more accurately put, BECAUSE, he can’t “tell time” as he claims), he can’t tell experiences apart from one another, whether real, imagined, resulting from madness/sickness, or dream.

Yet, at the same time, his “time” (his experience within time) becomes an object of analysis. Something he takes apart and tries to analyze. The story, what one is reading, his depiction of events, is his attempt to analyze his situation, but he is having trouble doing so because he is so lost in “time”.

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