Monday, 13 July 2015

Rain drops - from a fiction in progress

There were two signals that i took, that i take, to be premonitory of death. One is little spots of rain on my face and hands, even which i'm indoors, or when the sun is shining. Now and then i feel them, little needle points of cool rain. The other, the other signal, is racing shadows in the corner of vision., small shadows like a bird darting for cover, like a scuttling insect. I try to catch it with a stare and its gone.

 I remember my father ceasing to have weetabix for breakfast and developeing a taste for grapefruit. Not longer after that he died. There was a funny taste in his weetabix , and even though he tried a different packet it was still there, it had been infected with a new taste that he found unpalatable. It made him switch to grapefruit, which he'd never eaten before. suddenly he liked grapefruit and found weetabix infected with a werird taste. This is how death reveals itself, in tiny insidious changes, little holes in the fabric until suddenly one day the whole thing disintegrates. The software of our experience has been corrupted. In dreams there is often something similiar. Everything seems normal but a tiny detail is wrong. The newspaper on the table has your face on the front cover. Your wife is drinking orange juice but her hair is on fire. These are the cracks through which Death will enter. And mine, i feel, will enter through raindrops and shadows.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

John Berger on Deleuze

Berger lent me a wonderful handmade maquette of Bento's Sketchbook, his only copy, prior to its publication. So Bento's Sketchbook became a fascinating glimpse of Berger's Sketchbook, of his annotated prose, of his crossings-out, of his finger-smudged drawings. If Berger was trying to access Spinoza's workshop, as well as the mind behind those propositions and demonstrations, now I could enter Berger's own workshop, see the private gleam of his unpolished diamonds [..] In one of a series of lengthy telephone conversations, Berger told me that his reading of Spinoza had been greatly influenced by Deleuze's, whom Berger "admires enormously". He even gives his friends the double CD a haute voix of Deleuze's Spinoza: immortalitie et eternite, recordings of the famed Spinoza class the late philosopher gave at the University of Paris VIII. "What a teacher!" Berger said of Deleuze.
Andy Merrifield, John Berger.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Samuel Beckett's House, Roussillon

 Here are some pictures of the house near Roussillon where Beckett lived in the Second World War, having fled Paris. I visited it last week (it's currently for sale). It's a 5 minute walk from the centre of Roussillon.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Assemblages of Desire

In his L'Abécédaire interview, Deleuze is asked about his concept of desire. He says that, in short, desire is never for a single object. I always desire an assemblage. Not just the coffee, but the cafe facing the street, the notebook on the table, the clink of cups, the steam from the machine, the image of myself sat in the cafe writing, constellated doubtless with other images  - of other writers, sat in cafes; a way of life, bohemia. Desire is creative, in constructing these assemblages, in moving from object to object, spinning its web, weaving its world, blossoming and expanding. To say I desire a coffee is a metonym: it is to desire all of these things, and it's to desire a certain self, a certain world.

But I thought of this as I was reading the paper this morning, and saw an advert for haagen dazs ice cream. Black and white, a couple (of course) snuggled in a duvet eating the product. And the tag line: "Your heart knows when it's real, so do your taste buds". And in smaller letters at the bottom of the page: "Nothing is better than real". Certainly, advertisers are in agreement with Deleuze in the sense that they present us with assemblages: we are invited to desire not just the ice-cream, but the lazy Sunday morning, the ubiquitous ideal of The Couple - the measure of all things in much popular culture, the post-coital haze, indulgence (the indulgence of staying in bed and the 'indulgence' of a pot of ice cream are referred through one another), the elegance and sophistication vaguely connoted by black and white phtography, and so on...  Our gaze is immediately deflected through the ice cream onto all these other things, so that the ice cream is only a sign and promise of these other things. In turn, this series of things only makes sense within the bigger language of advertsing, to which any individual advert must plug in.

What advertising does is to confiscate for itself the creativity of desire, and to offer it back to us as a ready-made, as manufactured assemblage which it then invites us to consume. This locking down of desire into ready-made significances is, in fact, the opposite of desire.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Dexter and Jouissance

 The premise of Dexter is an improbable one. The eponymous main character works for the Miami police department, but is also a 'serial killer', rutualistically murdering criminals who have escaped the justice system. What's more remarkable is that as a viewer we identify with Dexter. We are not so much sickened and horrified by his activities, as we doubtless would be in reality; rather is he the object of our investment and compassion. There are at least a couple of reasons for this, and these tell us something about how fictional worlds operate.

In a fictional world, I argue, we clearly don't respond to a phenomenon as we would in the real world.  We are more likely to see it in terms of the metaphorical or general category that it sketches or stands for. Thus, in the real world we would always be horrified by someone who, while leading an ostensible 'normal' life, was also a habitual killer, who derived enjoyment from his activities. In Dexter, this horror has been suspended.  Dexter's murderous noctural activity has become in effect just 'his thing', his particular form of idiosyncratic enjoyment which he cannot relinquish, like book collecting, or motorbikes. Killing is Dexter's jouissance.

By Jouissance is meant a specific form of enjoyment. Not enjoyment as we might speak of enjoying a glass of wine, for example, where we can point to positive qualities which account for our enjoyment - fruityness, dryness and so on. Jouissance is something more compulsive, stupid and unaccountable. The idea is that in fact all of us have these idiotic knots of enjoyment, perverse and idiosyncratic, that we are not finally able to share with others. As such these knots bar our full inclusion within the human community. In extreme cases, they can eclipse the rest of our life, as Zizek puts it:
 Someone can be happily married, with a good job and many friends, fully satisfied with his life, and yet absolutely hooked on some specific formation ("sinthome") of jouissance, ready to put everything at risk rather than renounce that (drugs, tobacco, drink..) [..] It is only in this "sinthome" that the subject encounters the density of his being - when he is deprived of it, his universe is empty.
Jouissance in this sense is always anti-social, and there is always a tension between it and the laws of the symbolic community, the norms and rules of social enjoyment. In so far as these last consitute the 'human community' as we experience it, none of us are entirely human.

This, finally, is the story of Dexter: one individual's slow and gradual 'becoming human'. And his ritualised killings are, first and foremost, that which separates him from the human community. When we first encounter him, he can feel almost nothing. He mimics the rules of human interaction. But at crucial intervals, emotion breaks through - he is able to acheive sexual intimacy, love of family, and so it goes on. The overarching story is that of the crises and shifts through which Dexter moves towards 'humanity'. But this gradual induction into the human community is the journey of the human subject itself - initially detached from the human community, proceeding by imitation and awkward adaptation, feeling that there is something that cannot be communicated to others, attached to its peculiar enjoyments.

Ingeniously, Dexter turns the extremely pathological  - the serial killer - into a figure for the human as such.We are all pathological subjects trying to become human, perversely clinging on to our jouissance. AS such, we are on DEexter's side.

Monday, 1 December 2014


And the Father’s ‘syntax’, the idiosyncratic way that he had disturbed and reinvented the world, would live on in one sense only briefly, in the fenced garden, the memories of M., his Mother, his Sister, his Uncle, in the anecdotes told to him at the funeral, when a man from his Father’s work, from twenty years ago, had approached him and said “I don’t need to ask who you are, you’re obviously the son.” No one had been around to translate into language that peculiar form of life. It didn’t matter. For his Father, in creating and then re-tracing the lines, the signature of his character, the paths and waterways of his nature, had placed, in the great ledger of Being, an unannulable proof. His life would always be, eternally, one of the possible lives, something which, even if no-one remembered it would be memorable, even if no-one remembered it would not have been sunk with death’s sudden flood.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A Hesitation Before Birth

  A theatre director who has to create everything from scratch, he even has to father the actors. A visitor is denied admittance on the grounds that the director is engaged in important theatre business. What is it? He is changing the nappies on a future actor.
 The idea of someone who before he can begin, first has to make himself: someone who is stuck in the lumber-room of preparation.
 .......In the Great Account of my life,it is still reckoned as if my life were first beginning tomorrow,and in the meantime it is all over with me.
In Kafka, there is a kind of induction into the world, a 'primal baptism' which somehow he has missed, and this oversight, this failure to assume full existence, is irreversible and ongoing. "Still unborn and compelled to walk the streets." Or, famously, "My life is a hesitation before birth".

There are other writers who are similarly, creatures of the anteroom, waiting behind the door, inhabiting a kind of pre-life. There is, for example, something very similar thing in Schulz:

There are things that cannot ever occur with any precision. ... They are merely trying to occur, they are checking whether the ground of reality can carry them. And they quickly withdraw, fearing to lose their integrity in the frailty of realisation.

 There is a kind of writing that prefers the limbo of the unfulfilled, the incomplete, the antechamber of existence. Beckett seems to fall into this category. In Texts for Nothing, for instance, there are many formulations like this:  "Where would I go if I could go," "Leave, I was going to say leave all that.." In the latter, we think we are looking at an enjoinder - Leave! - venture forth (or/and 'jettison, reject'), but only for a fraction of a second. It's immediately recuped as a merely quoted word, as an unfulfilled intention. The French Comment C'est contains both 'Commence!' and 'How it is', as if the command to begin is at once countermanded by resignation ('that's just the way things are'). We are with him in the anteroom of unfulfilled intentions, of things that have failed to come into being, grown sick and bodiless.

We are dealing with an aesthetic of failure, in which the very inability to acheive embodiment is embodied in a text.