Unavowable Cinema

When it’s distinguished from Hollywood entertainment, then the cinema becomes a distinctly French conception. The further development of this legacy depends on archival connections with discourse and arts. Taking the cinema as a mnemotechnical equipment connects it with the philosophies of Henri Bergson, and particularly the idea of an involuntary memory. This move can be fatal for discourse because it prioritizes intuition and denies reason the authority to guide the discussion thematically. This aporia between reason and intuition provides the beating heart of the unavowable cinema. 

The unavowable cinema is a community of spectators with a shared ambivalence. They are ambivalent towards the relations of images to texts, which is to say that they suffer a failure of representation. Their narratives and explanations are only tentative and conjectural. Together they behold projections which trigger reveries that drift in every direction, and the community is always lost in the flows of intuition. Their attention is especially drawn to the thresholds of representation where fleeting connections gesture at providential patterns. Perception becomes playful around these limits where it dances between the modes of intention.

This community was founded by Gilles Deleuze when he denounced the cinema as a catholic institution. This meant it was an economy in the medieval sense, where communities are bound through the ritual enactment of sacrificial trauma. That sacrifice has become the flickering of representation.  

The operation of the sacraments was outlined by Heidegger. Beyond the limits where subjectivity disintegrates there lies the realm of affect. This is the dimension of boredom, fatigue, vertigo, nausea, suffering. These troubling experiences cannot be denied, because they are the ground of subjectivity. The ancient mysteries of the church provide conventions for the grounding of subjectivity in affect. They promote an attunement to affect so that it can be converted into subjective feelings such as emotions.  

The cinema is a modern sacrament which provides an attunement. This is to say that it provides the “ambience” which interested Eric Rohmer, and which gives art movies the reputation for being boring. But the source of this ambience cannot be located within the projections on the screen. The cinematic economy hinges on the hosting which mediates the attunements of the audience. That is the process where spectators are oriented through the course of a mise-en-scene which draws the outer borders of a cinematic experience.

The cinematic experience begins with a subliminal orientation, which involves the dialectic of intuition and reason. The apparatus is charged with sacramental powers through this dialectic of conflicting hosts. The enlightenment is a tradition where communities are hosted by Knowledge, whereas romanticism follows the Hobbesian custom of the rustic host who enthralls the guests with Myth. This dialectic charges the audience with a transference which drives the sacramental movements. 

The pair enlightened/romantic belongs to a series with other pairs like civilized/barbarian and progressive/regressive. These ethnic codes receive generic sense through the convergence of global media. They interact with further pairs like catholic/jew, clergy/harlot and sedentary/migrant. The cinema pushes these relations to reversal, where material affects are converted into symbolic emotions. This is to say that the unavowable cinema obliquely stages a transcendental exchange through a performance of the old dialectic of logos and mythos.

This sacramental exchange requires the affected participation of the audience in the ambivalent mode of the masquerade. The projections on the screen are masks for the spectators. This allows the audience to experiment with the limits of subjectivity. Layers of deceptions can transfer the affects through relays that alienate them from subjectivity. For example, the Jew’s lament for the destruction of their temple could become an excuse for their otherwise scandalous love of the desert. The cinematic experience dances between someone and anyone. The materiality of film washes away semantics, leaving the empty formal conditions of the symbolic blowing around in the wind of instinct.  

Now for some narrative.  A caravan rolls recklessly through the night, crucifying concepts in its wheels. The vehicle is doomed to strike a deadly gaze that objects to that liberty of migration. The delusion of mobility left a dark double that awaited them as a destiny. Their asceticism proved to be a mere pretense. Their agency was derived from a hapless pact that came due leaving them abject.

The cinematic kenosis purifies the desert of subjective transcendence. Emptying projections on the screen of content opens the immanent chance for some unforeseen and rarified sense. This ontological exorcism expunges the graven impurities such as index and concept. Impurity here designates the reliance on an imaginary other – a good/evil super-egoic double. The audience learns the intuition of an immanent neutrality through traversing the contours of its emptiness.

Ascetics are cursed in the genre of the unavowable, where they embody the very impurity they deny.  This dramatic transitivity makes the compass spin. Oriental asceticism gets implicated with the pathologies of occidental development. The monk’s reputation for wisdom is tarnished when they appear aligned with economic austerity, especially when such alignment bears the marks of a destiny. This drama sweeps through the unconscious dimensions of reified power, interrupting the developmental gaze and leaving a wilder and more abstract desert in its wake. Cinematic assembly converts sovereign transcendence to schematic immanence.   

The audience are bemused by these disturbances of the unconscious. The deconstruction of developmental time disrupts the customary gestalts of perception. The evil of transcendence loses its facial mooring and wanders through the desert of meaningless projections. This failure of customary entertainment has implications for political-economy. Speaking in the manner of 18th century aesthetics, the wandering of attention becomes assimilated to the ambience of nature.  Sedentary/nomad, actors/audience. 

Sedentary youths are preparing to travel. They cross frontiers seeking opportunities for the trading of perspectives and experiences. But their aspirations are disappointed when their experiences are nullified. The ubiquity of markets reduces them to pedestrian merchandise. Their mobility was doomed like the caravan in the first scene. They dreamed of a singular travel that would be recognized as unrecognized, but they were recognized unprepared in turn by wicked others. This failure of experience stirs the desire for an experience beyond the recognition of a sedentary community.

Sedentary societies are sensitive to movement, perhaps because they feel their stasis is a deficiency, or because they fear disruptive invasions by foreigners. They are ambivalent towards movement, which alternately becomes a transgression, a privilege, or a pity. This is to say that the mention of travel triggers an affected hermeneutic of the sojourn, where the sedentary gaze struggles to register movement within its symbolic coordinates. As the Chinese proverb says, “high hangs the Qin mirror”. Movement is nervously arrested in value-schemas of subjective power. This reduces movement to ambivalent clichés – polarized correlations of text and image – that reverse between exaltation and pogrom. 

This term pogrom might seem overblown, but cinema draws its power from the limits of dramatic possibility (see Artaud). Characters embody extremes which aren’t enacted. This prepares a stage where ethnicity personifies a hushed pogrom against the entropy of difference which is the mysterious movement of nature.  

Some of the greatest moments of cinema stage the compulsions of capitalist society. Aesthetic judgments hinge on the audience’s relay between subjection and non-subjection to those compulsions. This heuristic proceeds within a mode of spectator criticism. From a position of extimacy, along the thresholds of figuration, the audience discovers the spiritual masochism of development. They discover the irresistible mechanisms of dialectical compulsion where culture negates itself. This discovery leaves an impression that moves freedom elsewhere, into the wilder frontiers of a natural resistance. The discovery of developmental masochism drives a flight of degentrification. 

This is to say that the cinematic experience involves a quest for natural movement. The sense of this word “natural” is playful, because it designates the dance of forces around the thresholds of the outside. Reified nature is the superego, but unreified nature is the return of an old kind of chance. 

What we call “natural movement” is the interplay between technology and ancient customs. For instance, the direction of the ancient Chinese script gradually Latinized until its rightward movement assumed the normativity it has today. But this modern typological convention sometimes goes unobserved. Sometimes there are regressions where characters descend downwards on wall-scrolls or sneak leftwards over temples and tea houses. The return of nature is manifest in the atavism of ancient customs which are obstinate in their resistance to technology.  

The violence of development drives minorities into oblivion, but then the ensuing vacuum of boredom attracts their ghostly return. The tedium of majority fuels the tourist’s desire for the drama of the mystical child and the playful utopia of chance. The tourist desires something beyond the screen, which is distant in both space and time, while also perhaps more intimate than the flesh. They desire an object which they feel was eliminated by technology, while in fact it is only technology which makes the fantasy of that object possible. The ancient rhythm is generated by its own absence.   

Walter Benjamin’s endorsement of a new barbarism anticipates the present alignment of that ontological wound called the digital with that proletarian technology called china. The cinema is learning to project the sinodigital as a natural persona. It consists in signatures of the technological contortions of instinct.   

When Chinese officials tout the development of their “culture industry”, the words of Adorno return in the synthetic speech of technology. The images of automated culture appear with the smoothness of cosmic flow. There has been a resolution of disjunctions that were associated with neoliberalism. This natural repose resolves some hypocrisies of the superstructure through an equivocal rapport between the popular, the proletarian, and the agrarian. This involves an affirmation of migration between the rural and the urban, and a solidarity with the popular that transcends class distinctions. As this new synthesis becomes hegemonic, the suggestion of any alternative becomes a shameful class pretention. This is all to say that the sinodigital achieves a dramatic naturalization of technology.  

At the center of this technoculture remains a vacuous economic subjectivity which cinema treats allegorically. The cinema attempts to extricate spectatorship by presenting economic subjugation as an objective system of relations. Projected images might depict some rusty carnival rides placed beside a shopping mall as a distraction to disburden shoppers of youngsters. The experience of life reduced to a resistance to physiology. Work as tension in antithesis to relaxation.  

The residues of physiology mark the return of Thanatos, and art summons Eros to meet this return. There is an uncomfortable ambivalence towards the antithesis of work, a morbid fear of relaxation. This might be a fear of the unknown, of the loss of industrial coordinates. And there is the fear of relaxation lest a greater burden befalls. If they relieve themselves too quickly or too thoroughly, then their load could be increased, like Aesop’s donkey who intentionally slips, or the grasshopper who didn’t prepare for winter. The sword of Damocles as an anal-hygienic fear for the Medusan residue of god’s death. If this superego is too powerful, then work degenerates into an antithesis of anxiety, like paddling against the ceaseless current of abjection. This workaholism features throughout modernity, while the sinodigital brings it to a pitch that forces resolution.   

Authentic intention is scarce under technological conditions, yet there is an obsession with maintaining its semblance. The demand for a semblance of purpose is doubtlessly a cause of crime. Cinema abolishes the possibility of intention by trafficking relentlessly in its images. Any mirror identifications are essentially ironic. There are ironic relations with images of mechanical behavior, like the characters in Playtime (1968) by Jacques Tati. That irony provides the spectators with relief from economic subjugation. This irony is repeated with each wave of mechanical subjugation. It began with Chaplin’s satire of the assembly line and follows the course of mechanization. The aesthetic critique of this humor becomes a political flash-point. Why do audiences laugh at the mechanical movements?  Is it the Hobbesian laughter at the inferiority of the other? Or is it the Bergsonian laughter at man confused with machine? Or is it Bataille’s laugh of nature itself?

The Chinese solutions to the libidinal conflicts of modernity are schematized according to cinematic genres. There are comedies about dubious business practices following the stories by Laoshe, where the rural family is sanctified as a bastion of moral integrity. The reckless malpractices of business are set in contrast with the eternal fidelity of the family. This comedy relieves the audience of the pressures of economic subjugation by reducing business practices to an absurdity. This is a Bergsonian comedy, where economic man appears as a ridiculous machine without regard for the family which is a natural superego. This opens a delicate question about what ironies might arise around the rural family, and that sensitive issue defines a politics of spectatorship.

New perceptual liberties are explored in the fluctuations where no stable gestalt has formed. Let us provide an inventory of movements around the thresholds of subjective figuration. There are alternations between attention and distraction. There are returns to embodiment which might be triggered by bodily or environmental disturbances. There is the sense of relations among the audience, which is especially important for certain genres like comedy. There is the wandering of attention between figures and background. There is the alternation of attention between texts and images. Mirror identifications and emotional bonds are established and broken. There are discoveries. There are surprises. There are deeper reveries and trains of involuntary memory. There are reflections on artistic techniques. Where the burdens of subjectivity are removed, cinema provides an opportunity to rediscover the natural spontaneity of perception.

The fragment is the token of cultural pathology.  These are borderline objects on the threshold of representation. This object gives itself performatively in its incompleteness, which triggers an obsessive fantasy which pursues something else. This is an obsessive pursuit of synechdotal or metonymic sense – the part that provides a taste of something better. The fragment is treated as a piece of a puzzle, and so the subject wants the next piece. This line is symptomatic of the fetishistic breakdown of patriarchy, where there is an obstinate commitment to a dysfunctional textuality. Through the evolution of representation, fragmentation gives way to the smooth transitions of the hieroglyph.

Natural movements are animated hieroglyphs that carry the one to the other, which is to say the text to the image, the ancestor to the descendant, and the domestic to the foreign. These movements are dramatic reveries which only arise where relations are imperiled. The movements swirl from antiquity through presence into the future. There is no question of providing examples, but only of drifting along between language and perception.        

In Chinese history, declining dynasties were said to have lost the “mandate of nature”, which was embodied as a jade seal. Nature was physically reified into this object which embodied the superego as the basis for representation. Dynastic transition was conceived as a failure of reification, since this mandate was not possessed. During the intervals between regimes, there were struggles over the possession of the mandate. Those intervals feature scenes of fragmentation and symbolic displacements such that representation gives way to masquerade.

A problem arises concerning the ontology of the dynastic interval. According to the standard historiography, the empty symbolic position remains intact during these intervals, and there is just a matter of it being unoccupied. The empty throne is waiting for a new ruler to take his seat. The new dynasty will assume a position that was waiting for them.  But beyond this emptiness of representation, would be a more radical chaos where even the possibility of representation had no place. Then there is no throne or heraldic conventions by which a new dynasty would be identified with any preexisting tradition. In that situation, the aspiring dynasty would have to invent an original symbolic mandate, as opposed to just seizing an existing one. That more radical origin is what we call the unavowable. And such an emptiness corresponds with the prohibition on the forging of graven texts and images.

The hermeneutics of censorship moves the veil of Isis. Though this is overlooked where censorship is derided as an absolute injustice. Among western liberals there prevails a promiscuous zealotry which insists on the right to say and show everything. In contrast to this hapless progressivism, it is possible to view censorship as a sign of nature, as it indicates the proximity where representation is jeopardized by its exposure to its abgrund. Where authorities are bothered to control the media, that implies that speech still carries the ancient powers of liberty which threaten to overturn economic subjectivity. This converts censorship into a dangerous sign of the millennium. 

The millennium would be the absolving of the cultural superego, which is the way that representation displaces nature and death. Representation cannot accommodate these ideas, and this creates a kind of insomnia where natural death wanders around the thresholds of culture. The millennial return of nature requires a higher order of representation that could accommodate the unavowable. The unavowable cinema would be a reinvention of the ancient mysteries that facilitates this augmentation of representation.  

Insomnia is a symptom of an excess of enlightenment, which is like an insistence that everything can be represented. Where the enlightened attempts to decipher every hieroglyph, the romantic conceals them beneath myths. Enlightenment is regressive like a dog digging up bones, whereas the romantic certifies the sleep of death with the idea of the unavowable. Where the excess of light becomes deadly, the darkness provides a soothing balm. Their distribution is a matter of taste.     

Representation becomes immanent as it reposes on the unavowable. This is where representation evolves to a higher order by reflecting itself.  This means that it registers its abgrund as an equivocation between orders of negativity. This negativity is the unholy trinity where trauma and the secrecy of crime are emblematized in an aesthetic form. The form of the unavowable is the fragment as a rigorous symbol of absence. This symbol of the unavailable is implied in most genres of literature like eroticism, mystery, fantasy, horror, and adventure.

There exists a type of person known as the “china watcher” who is an expert on the sinister machinations of that communist government. They provide commentary so the public might know what to expect in the future. The china watcher is a kind of vigilante or partisan who spreads the virus of cold war subjectivity. I want to suggest that the framing of this practice is critical and should be approached as an aestheticization. This gossip might be akin to those Chinoiseries that were popular ceramic ornaments in Rococo interiors. Such an embellishment would raise this punditry to an exercise of taste. It would repurpose China journalism as an aesthetic material. This move has avowedly orientalist implications, which concerns the Babylonian aesthetic of harlotry. 

An oriental gaze operates at the level of geopolitics. This brings us to the ethics of modesty and the dueling of honorific gestures. Pride becomes a dangerous liability when it gets caught as the object of envy.  Guests are manipulated through flattery and sensitized to the judgments of the host. This is not so much insincerity as the ambivalence of a reversable idealization. Everyone is juggling the same batch of hot potatoes. The powers of the unavowable can be marshalled for the exorcism of these evil organs.

The unavowable provides a representational bulwark against ethnic identity. Its powers can suspend representation in irony, but this can remain a secret among spectators. This becomes critical as the course of development renders ethnic distinction increasingly tenuous.  The codes of the neoliberal era are wearing thin. The sense of cultural essence becomes incoherent as China ascends to hegemony, and the ensuing disorientation can resolve only when a new historical orientation gains traction in the unavowable.

The term “Chinese” is taking on a distinct sense, where it refers not to any timeless cultural essence, but rather to the vanguard of industry.  It becomes the name for an historical fashion such as Hellenistic or the Baroque. It’s another layer in the sedimented phases of civilization. These layers are crystalline in that they follow the intricacies of established patterns, so that mature epochs manifest the signatures of their predecessors. 

One distinctly Chinese tendency is the proliferation of awards and contests. For example, the institution of the Chinese national exam was established as a global model during the French revolution. The performance prize permeates education with its meritocratic ordinances. The evolution of the contest turns around historical models such as spelling bees and art salons. There is a politics of how the contest is organized, and what values the awards represent.   

One of the markets emerging in China is foreigner evaluation, where the award-winning foreigners give speeches at galas hosted by officials. These spectacular events move from city to city as trade machines overflowing with gifts and light. At each node the circus is repeated in the same mechanical manner. Prestigious venues are filled with meritorious individuals of all ethnicities. The audience is assembled before a screen which reflects the value of the local industries. The performance culminates with the ceremonial signing of industrial contracts between public officials and local entrepreneurs. Then there are tours of facilities and scenic locations. 

This ceremony performs a contemporary social exchange. There is mimicry of neoliberal capitalism with touches of irony that step beyond its impasses. The ceremonial meeting of private and public attains a new degree of immanence. This ritual encoding of capitalism allows for a systematic momentum that makes the American approach seem haphazard. The absolute alignment of the private with the public allows for a cultish pomp, whereas such alignment could be scandalous for western neoliberalism.  The extension of this ceremonial immanence defines a contemporary politics.

Last autumn a partnership was announced between AT&T and Huawei, but the deal was cancelled by regulators before it could be formalized in Los Vegas. In ethnographic terms, we might say that some elders found the marriage inappropriate. China watchers speculated that the deal was unbalanced because Huawei would provide both phones and infrastructure, whereas AT&T were just going to package the services for American customers. This is to say that the industrial base was threatening the hegemony of the superstructure. The superstructure has been blind to the counter-hegemonies which are emerging within its base. The cold war remains a viable heuristic for understanding this scenario. The west was blinded by their premature declaration of victory, and arrogantly assumed the servility of the former adversaries. This surprise return has the form of an Aesop-fabulation – the bourgeois rabbit was over-confident, and now the proletarian tortoise is set to win.   

By the late 1990’s, Huawei was already doing serious damage to western economies. Its first major kill was a Canadian telecom company called Nortel, which was that country’s national flagship brand for the information age. That was a major defeat that the Canadian economy has never recovered from.  But the media in that country blamed the catastrophe on executive malpractice, perhaps because it would have been too shameful to admit that the company was obliterated by a Chinese firm.  So, for years the Canadian public never heard that name Huawei, which means “Chinese Action” while also playing on the Daoist “No Action”. 

Then the company flashed up in the international media with the ongoing Meng Wanzhou episode that began in December. That financial officer of Huawei has a poetic name. Meng is the family name of the ancient philosopher Mencius, and her given name has the dramatic meaning “night boat”. On her way to attend a G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, she was captured while changing planes in Vancouver. There were conflicting reports over whether she was arrested or detained, and who the officers were. No charges have been laid. An American court has filed an extradition order. Meanwhile she is under house arrest in her Vancouver mansion. 

Unleashing the dramatic potential of this event requires some imputation of ambivalence. The immediate background is an elite marriage that may require some blood sacrifice. It’s well known in anthropology that certain ceremonies require a spectacle of passion. Once we enter this dramaturgical mode, then the identity of those who ordered the arrest becomes less important.

According to the format of a cold war spy-novel, Ms. Meng would have known about her impending arrest when she boarded the plane. This would be part of a ritual refiguration of china into the role of a hegemon. This ceremony touches the sensitive abgrund at the original emergence of the nation. Near the end of the 19th century, a fracture opened in the Manchu imperial dynasty, and the Chinese ethnicity was reborn as an anti-Manchu movement. During that period reports circulated of iconic Chinese getting arrested abroad, such as Sun Yat-Sen’s arrest in England, the arrest of Wu Zhihui in Japan, and the incarceration of Zhang Taiyan by the English in Shanghai. This is a kind of passion play that we might call a neobaroque traurspiel.

The dynastic interval is origin of symbolic subjectivity. That is where symbolic orders emerge from the drama of nature. Cinematic reverie is drawn to that dimension. This is a precarious drama of perception without subjective coordinates. New figures can emerge from that liberty.  But natural perception is only possible if the spell of reification can be broken. The transcendence of nature must be abolished. The passage to this immanence is through the historical intervals in representation. So this becomes a mandate for an unavowable cinema: to project the natural history of representation.

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Commercial Realism

According to the argumentative customs of academia, reality is only worth discussing where there is substantiation through proofs. To academicize is to seek positive confirmation through agreement among the community. Such values would seem to render discussions of the radically singular faux pas. The epistemological, Habermasian bias assumes ideals of professional communication, where intellectual expression is intended to convince the other. This assumed striving for agreement reflects a sensibility which is promotional, democratic and scientific. This ethos is an entrenched and persistent legacy of liberal capitalism – that habit of the bourgeois public sphere.

Psychoanalysts have conceived desire as an alienation from our own words which is abolished by the imaginary agreement of an other. Then another speaks through us, and our desire depends on deferring recognition of the speaker and the meaning of the words. Desire then implies an aestheticization of speech that leaves us bewildered by how our words are not really ours, and it’s that uncertainty which draws the horizon of an nonscientific realism. A realism that seeks no proof, but rather gasps and stutters, gesturing mutely in the hysterical uncertainty beyond expression. Yet this thought is not skeptical because it’s posessed by an ambivalent beleif. This ambivalence is reflected in the indecision between form and time.

Commercial realism is neither epistemological nor ontological. This is what we call a political spirituality that doesn’t seek validation or consistency but rather molecular participation. This gets carried away with coexistence in the circuitry of things. This orientation is not necessarily promiscuous, because it can just as easily be prejudiced. This radical ambivalence can be incapacitating. Much of the ensuing problematic turns on the selection of modes of participation where this incapacitation can be temporarily overcome.

This use of the term “commercial” is loaded in a Nietzschean sense where a political realism turns on a concept of power. The essence of reality here is conceived as a contest between forces over the determination of sense. This is to say that reality concerns the chances regarding which forces might appropriate bodies and things into their associated discourses. Commercial realism is a partisan spirituality in that it takes sides in a struggle over the bestowal of sense. It aligns with a commercial ideal of assemblage. Next we shall perform some mise-en-scene to introduce the background for this historical struggle.

Capitalism has been targeted by various polemics over recent centuries. It is accused of injustices against something supposedly more deserving, which can be a community, nature, environment, tradition, workers, culture, life, minorities or aesthetics. Since these struggles have failed to prevent capital’s ongoing development, we might accept that it has a certain invincibility. This was proven by the experience of history. And since capitalism cannot be opposed from the outside, the wager of commercial realism is to divided against itself.

The capitalist system is constituted by a trinity of incongruent dimensions: the financial, the industrial and the commercial. The operations of capitalist power involve obfuscations where these conceal and substitute for each other. The expansion of consumer choice is prostituted as a pretext for financial and industrial machinations. And there is the assertion of the equality and inseparability of the trinity, such that the dollars which buy financial derivatives are equated with those which buy bubble gum.

The commercial is a remainder that is left through the subtraction of the financial and industrial from capitalism. So, we propose to tear apart this trinitarian alliance by composing a partisan image of the market from a commercial perspective. A commercial image of the market – not an empirical image, but one that is transcendental – to break the spell of industrial finance. A transcendental contamination, a dirty spirituality of ambivalent flesh.

Commerce is a crack on the margin of the capitalist trinity, a breaking away from it’s symbolic integrity. This is like Kant’s third antimony, where the unpredictably of human freedom sends the catagories of technoscience whirling into the abyss. In Borromean terms, we would say the structure is exposed to its abgrund at the margin of the imaginary-real. Where industry and finance relate on the symbolic father-son axis, the commercial ghost is the dynamic third that forges and erodes that paternal relation into fluidity. This amounts to a eucharistic praxis. Drawing on the ancient Catholic mass – its spirituality, figurations, drives and affectations – where oral intensities can be marshalled against the logic of industrial finance.

Commerce gets refigured as the circulation of sacred wafers that bring us into a circuit of transcendental… prostitution. A transgressive commercial disposition of a population blurs the distinction between buying and selling, working and consuming. Commerce implies a decadent aesthetics. Commercial destiny is a decision about how to die by the mysterious gift of work – a dialectical enigma at the apex of liberal sovereignty.

Industrial finance imposes paternal conditions of necessity on commerce. This imposes what psychoanalysts call the “existence of the Other”, such that commercial behavior proceeds under the spell of an imaginary das Man, who is a conflation of customers, bosses, invertors, neighbors, spouses… While it may be the case that we are necessarily chosen by the Other, or that the ecstasy of communication is contingent on the Other’s choice, there is also the inverse chance that the Other might be chosen by us. This is how we interpret the ancient custom of ascetic withdrawal into the desert: as a search for another Other. This is a mystical rite where the chooser is chosen in turn.

This search for another Other isn’t a search for an anti-thesis to the Other. This is to say that the concept of commerce implies some invariance or normativity. Commercial realism must bear the burden of some minimum of patrrnal responsibility. Perhaps we could name that invariance by saying that commerce is essentially American, and that there is no possibility of discovering some anti-American commerce. The problem is not to invent another commerce, but to possess the concept as it already exists. And so, the only option is to discover another America which may or may not be called China.

This line of thought responds to an elementary problem concerning the gauging of powers and the drawing of battle lines. Capitalism must be set into conflict with itself – it cannot be opposed from outside. The problem of the immanence of war concerns how the new phases of the cold war are getting initiated. This term “cold war” names a singular partitioning of the social, or the dominions of alterity. This implies an enigmatic modality, which is a medium that carries racial traces.

Commercial orgies such as Christ-mass proceed in an automated fashion under the spell of industrial finance. The traditional priest-function in the mass has been redistributed among celebrities, officials, experts, coaches, managers, journalists, critics, family, teachers, judges, and accountants whose gestures guide passages into the ecstasy of commerce.

Perhaps the problem is to discover another Christ-mass which is no longer subordinated to industrial finance. This wouldn’t necessarily be a festival held on December 25th, but rather some event that can replace that festival. Such a commerce is the mysterious breaching or sublimation of an imaginary body without conceptual identity. This death involves a blurring between the affects and movements of various crowd formations such as festivals, political parties, aesthetic vanguards, spectator crowds, audiences, bands, circus troupes, comraderies, collegialities, nations, unions, and professional organizations. Elias Canetti described this virtual modality.

The liberation of commerce from industrial finance is never ultimately achieved once and for all. The commercial spirit must remain always trapped within the body of the commodity as it is cast by industry and finance. This endless exile defines what we call the secular age oriented between the limits of the “two comings”. An ultimately liberated commercial ecstasy would be the death-points at the alpha and omega of this history – the garden of eden and the final judgment. But within the limits of the saeculum, commerce shall always remain partially bound to the commodity form of industrial finance. This secularism implies a dialectical ambivalence or perversion which is essential because industrial finance provides commercial spirituality with a vital inertia and gravity of material incorporation. Without the weight of the commodity, commerce would vaporize into the cosmos.

This value-contradiction has the form of a Chinese dialectic, such that the good here depends on the bad. The commercial good is the intensive energy of a virtual spirituality. But that intensity can only exist on the condition that it is alienated within the bad extension of industrial finance. Without that alienation (that secularity), the commercial intensity would dissipate into the cosmos. Gilles Deleuze was suspicious of this sort of mortal dialectics, though he was not dismissive. This dialectic risks becoming obsessive, and so it should remain in the background.

This dialectical confusion of life and death reinterprets a certain Christian hypocrisy. Christianity has been denounced for exalting the “eternal life” (which is eternal death) over the “temporal life”. But commercial realism can salvage something from this dubious metaphysics, such that spirituality is treated as an intensity of death which survives only within the alienating ordeal of life. Secularism then is a paradoxical commitment to this vital alienation. A minimal tribute must be paid to the evil life-deity of industrial finance. Only through such tribute is the commerce of death afforded.

A certain conventional sensibility assumes that life requires the undergoing of some death. This is the idea that living well requires dying a bit, such as work and sacrifice. This is the idea that some things must die in order that the quality of some lives be increased. Commercial realism reverses this exchange, so that the good we pursue is identified as death, and for the sake of that good-death we are required to endure a painful and unfortunate ordeal which is called life.

This takes up ancient humanistic traditions and converts them to thanatology. It reconsolidates an spiritual legacy that runs between communion, communism, and commodity. This idea of spiritual commerce then is appropriated as a ancient custom which has been highjacked by industrial finance. The liberation of commerce requires connecting it with its antique spirituality. Commerce has been captured into economic ideologies of growth, optimization and efficiency. It has been caught between the logic of the engineer (the one-armed captain of industrial technology), and the financier (the one-eyed captain of activist accounting). Between these strata, populations are yoked, intimidated, stigmatized, scapegoated, stereotyped… eucharistic wafers of commerce are deployed as lures in elaborate traps of pain and pleasure. Industrial finance imposes models onto commerce, such that only limited forms of participation can be entertained, such as was the case with catholic mass.

This rejects the liberal and Marxist assumption that the commodity represents stored potential of labor or value, whether use-value or even exchange-value. From the perspective of commercial realism, the commodity rather appears as a shard of sacred death, which is to say that it’s a breach in the fabric of symbolic exchange. Industrial finance insists that this death has equivalence with work, or with other commodities, whereas commercial realism denies any such equivalence. Commercial spirituality then is a death that has nothing to do with work, or any sort of exchange.

This suspension of value representation was the aesthetic experience of 19th century realism, where the work of art was able to displace the commodity. That was the realism of the avantgarde: a taste that denies the need for exchange. Art has since been re-commodified and subordinated again to industrial finance. But commercial realism takes this commodification for granted and adopts a dialectic that assumes the necessary subordination of commercial spirituality to industrial finance. The commodity is treated as the damned body of the spirit, the extension in which spiritual intensities undergo their essential alienation.

This restores the classical motif of the master-slave dialectic. When Nietzsche mentions the “Masters of the Earth”, that can be interpreted as a reference to industrial finance, whereas commercial spirituality is cast as a Christian slavery under this master’s yolk. This relationship is not openly antagonistic. The slave does not launch any open revolt against the master. And neither do they entertain the prospect of a “consumer democracy” which the master promotes as a lure of industrial finance. Subversion becomes discrete. The commercial slave embraces death as an ancient tradition of spiritual commerce. They live at the degree zero which Lukacs referred to as a “low vitality” realism. The vitalist master on the other hand is burdened with the responsibility for the life of business, and absorbed into the frenzy of unlimited accumulation, growth, and competition.

This realist partisanship of low-vitality commerce is considered unfashionable and even despicable. It obviously contrasts with a prevailing vitalist ethos of industrial finance. And it also contrasts with the scientific realisms which are common these days. Against the trend of rationalist and formalist realisms, we propose a classical, intuitionist realism that would synthesize the legacies of Bergson, Lukacs and Nietzsche. This would compose an image of reality around an oral relation with a little shard of worthless infinity that betrays life for the sake of nothing that can be named.

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Chinese Anarchy

Chinese anarchism is a remarkable feature of global modernity which can open some exquisite geohistorical dimensions. Yet aside from the works of Peter Zarrow, there isn’t much literature on this topic in English. It is little appreciated how anarchist thinking is an essential pillar of Chinese national ideology. Several of the founding fathers, whose names are memorized by schoolchildren, are recognized academically as anarchists by scholars in the west. These figures could have been erased from the textbooks, and perhaps their names remain because of how their charismatic auras are still valued by the state propaganda. Some of their books are still in print, though current editions have likely been “renovated” – i.e. edited to conform with official ideology. While their works might be available, their actual words might have been effaced. Hunting for early editions becomes an exquisite pastime.

The Chinese are exceptional for how they have remained an historical people, which is to say that they still identify as “a people”, in the sense of the old Germanic national romance. They have preserved a 19th century interpolation better than other countries, which puts them in closer proximity to the spirituality of the french revolution. Where national romance has become antiquated through most of the liberal west, or else it has become an exclusive genre of the far right, the contemporary Chinese indulge in mainsteam and liberal renditions of this fantasy. The thesis I want to suggest here is that anarchism provides a repressed foundation which plays an essential role in the production of their Sittlichkeit or Weltangshuang.

The prospect of reunifying the mainland and Taiwan gets charged with an apocalyptic aura. There is an eschatology of overcoming the fracture between communism and capitalism, the great split of the cold war. That requires an identification between the two sides: between the republic and the people’s republic. Anarchism stirs in that interstice as a vanishing mediator. At the spiritual origin of the modern Chinese state there are a council of anarchist princes, who are sometimes called the “elders of the republic” (Zarrow).

This is admittedly admittedly quite fabulous – the distinction between facts and fabulations becomes uncertain. As already mentioned, original editions are scarce, and any historians could be aligned with institutional agendas. Even an anarchist like Peter Zarrow can be suspicious. So, there is the ongoing problem about historiographical continuity between different accounts, and this requires vigilance towards ideological coordinates. But this should not insight paranoia. What’s interesting rather is how a speculative anarchist abgrund of the Chinese national romance might be susceptible to aesthetic abstraction.

The small city in Jiangxi where I worked last year had two universities, one of which claims to have been founded by Mao’s early associate Li Lisan. The available literature suggests that he was an anarchist. I’ve never seen the term applied to him, but his biography fits a certain mold. He was apparently expelled from France for political reasons after world war one. He established the original cell of what became known as the “Jiangxi Soviet”, though he seems to have been working on the model of the Paris Commune (according to Harvard historian Elizabeth Perry, 2012). No one in China that I’ve met was familiar with his politics, but I’ve discussed this topic with a dean from that university in Jiangxi. These days the school is preparing to hold commemorative events for the centennial founding of the Jiangxi Soviet, and the dean is attempting to arranging Chinese translations of some studies about him from English.

For all I know, any historians might be working for the CIA, and might be producing sheer fabrications. And even if they are naive, their work could be implicated in plots she has no idea about. It’s in this dimension where reality gets so murky that psychoanalysis, and I suggest aesthetics, becomes an essential resource. The broader possibility I want to suggest here is that perhaps the entire Chinese “race” is an anarchist fantasy, and the authoritarian tendencies of the current regime are diversions that makes that fantasy possible.

Perhaps the most important date in Chinese history is May fourth, 1919. The May Fourth Movement was an intellectual vanguard and student revolt against the injustices of the Versailles Treaty. That event is commemorated annually as Youth Day, though that isn’t a full-blown national holiday. All the iconic leaders of May Fourth exhibit anarchist tendencies. Some were disciples of the American educator John Dewey, who was lecturing in China when the movement erupted. Nietzsche and Kropotkin were also in the doctrinal mix of that movement, which became the model for Chinese student activism, such as the cultural revolution. And coincidentally, May Fourth was already following earlier models of student activism that it received through the “hundred days reform” of the 1890s, where the scent of Charles Fourier was already in the air.
It’s not so much political ideology that’s interesting here, but rather the more immediate material of racial ideology. The aesthetics of the flesh ultimately concerns the metaphysics of race, and the wager I’m suggesting is that Chinese racial ideology can be over-coded with the symbols of an anarchist spirituality. Card-carrying anarchists like Wu Zhihui were among the most ardent and influential fabulators of the Han people, the cohort who invented chineseness as the ancestry of the republic. We might say that the phantasmatic constitution of china is sensitive to hermeneutic decisions regarding the symbolic identity of anarchy. Though any political consequences of this should be carefully deferred.
What I am suggesting here isn’t a political agenda, but rather an initiative geared towards the production of specific aesthetic and commercial effects. This ultimately concerns the definition of education within the global service markets. The political here is a fantasy of the future that drives education – i.e. the romantic fantasy of patriotic students. The fantasy of May Fourth, and of a utopian future. This leads towards a reinterpretation of Xi Jinping’s China Dream and the idea of constitutional spirituality (宪法精神). This can only be approached from an abstract angle.

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Taiwan’s East Coast

(this was a public lecture given at Beijing Normal University in Zhuhai, on Wednesday October 17th, 2018. The audience were mostly undergrad non-English majors, so the language is basic)

Travel is getting more popular these days, with people moving around more than ever before. We could say the tourism industry is booming. Great amounts of money are being made from travelers. Governments want to attract visitors, so they are building roads, railways, and airports. Companies are building resorts, restaurants, and golf courses. There are so many advertisements. It seems every place is inviting us to spend our money there.

But many people are still unable to travel. I mean there are people who want to travel but can’t. Maybe they don’t have the time, because they have too many responsibilities. Maybe they need to work or look after family members. There are many people who simply can’t afford it. Or maybe it’s difficult for them to get visas and passports.

In Jiangxi province people often asked me, “where have you travelled?”. They wanted a list of the places that I went to. And if I told them, then they were usually impressed. They thought that I’d travelled lots of places. But I do not feel that I have travelled to so many places. Maybe these people think that, because they only went to Hunan, which they pronounce as “Fulan”.

Some parents in Jiangxi even asked me to take their children travelling in other countries. They thought I was an expert traveler. They wanted to pay me as a tour guide for their kids. That was an interesting idea, but I didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of their children. Maybe someday I will try that.

Now I’ll tell you a secret. For adventure, you don’t need to go far. You don’t need to go to famous places. Maybe you don’t even need to move. You can travel with books, photographs, films, conversations… travel in your mind, in your imagination. If you can do that, then you are lucky. Then you don’t have to spend money, and you can go to the most amazing places.

The poet Bernardo Soares once wrote, “Travel is only necessary for those with weak imagination.”

fernando-pessoa-ii

These days, people are in the habit of spending money to get what they want. I’ve met parents who brought their children travelling to Egypt, Australia, Ireland… but after all those travels, their children are still the same as their classmates who never left their hometown. It seems the travelling doesn’t change them. Many don’t remember anything interesting about the places they went. If you ask them, they will tell you what everyone knows about the places they went. Maybe it’s not my business to judge, but it seems they didn’t have adventure. Maybe they travelled in their body travelled, but not their mind. Maybe they didn’t have much experience. They went far, but everything was planned. Their guide told them where to go. They went to the same places that other tour groups went. They returned with photos, and some souvenirs. But perhaps they didn’t discover anything.

What I want to say here is that travelling is becoming more predictable. People pay money and get what they want, but there is little experience. To have experience, there must be…. surprise. And for that maybe we don’t need to spend money.

This word “adventure” is related to the word “event”. A true event is something you can’t expect, and so it’s always a surprise. You discover something that you didn’t know before. Your world becomes different. Your world becomes bigger. And going on an adventure should change you. Maybe you are uncomfortable sometimes. Experience is always a little bit dangerous. Just like the 险 in 冒险 is also in 危险, the “per” in experience is also in peril (岌). After having an experience you are no longer the same person.

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The word adventure has very special meaning in European culture. It’s a romantic idea. Like in a romantic story where a knight goes on an adventure to save a princess from an evil dragon. And where does he go? Which direction does he go? He goes to the east, to the orient. And tonight we are going to the east…. of Taiwan.

I hope that we can travel tonight. Not with our bodies, but with our minds. I can only hope, because it’s not easy. Real adventure is not leisure, It’s not entertainment. And it depends on chance, so adventure is hard to plan. You can’t predict where it will happen. There is no guarantee that an adventure will happen.

There are chances for adventure where you might not expect. These days there are great chances for adventure in translation. When you visit new places, you hear names you don’t understand, and you see things you didn’t expect. We are surprised by something unknown. We search for words we can use to talk about it. The “tra” of travel is also the “tra” of translation.

2. Keelung

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Let’s begin in Keelung, in the north-east corner of taiwan. Enclosed on three sides by mountains, this place is a busy sea port. In the harbor are ships loading and unloading cargo. This city has been a trading port for centuries, and today it’s the second busiest port on the island.

In English this town is called Keelung. This name is a transliteration from a Minnan name that sounds more like “gaylang” (给狼). But in Mandarin it is called 基隆 (jilong). So, here are three names for this busy port, and yet still there are more names. The different names for a place are like different faces which can show us different sides of the place.

In the days of the Qing Dynasty, this town was called 鸡笼 (jeelong, chicken cage). Some say that was because the mountains are shaped like bird cages. But others say it was the name of the tribe who lived there, and who are called the Kat’lan.

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Just south of Keelung, the land juts out to a point in the ocean. The tip of that point is the most easterly place on the island of Taiwan. There’s a lighthouse. The light inside shines brightly at night. When boats traveling at night get near the shore, that is dangerous, because they might crash into the rocks. So, the light shows them where the shore is, so they don’t get too close.

The point is called 三貂角 (san-diao-jiao). Maybe we could translate this name as Three Ferrets’ Corner? Maybe there is a story about three little animals who lived in that lighthouse…

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Nono, of course not. It’s not that kind of name. The meaning is not in the characters, but in the sound. These characters shouldn’t be translated. Instead, the sound should be transliterated. The name is Spanish. The were Spanish here around 1600, when their empire was the greatest on all the earth. They named this place after a monk who they called San Diego. San-Diao-Jiao.

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The word “San” in Spanish sounds just like three in Chinese, but it means “saint” (圣人). In those days, the Spanish empire went all around the world. And everywhere they went, they named places after their 圣人: San Diego, San Francisco, San Antonio…. and Keelung was called San Salvador. Salvador means “savior” (救主).

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Keelung was already a port city used by the Spanish four hundred years ago. Maybe it was already a port city before they arrived. The Spanish traded with the tribes who lived there, who were called the Kav’lan people. They were trading for gold. And there were gold mines in that area. I wonder who mined the gold?

6Spanish Gold

The old name for Taiwan is Isla Formosa, which is Portuguese for beautiful island. The great empires of Spain and Portugal were closely connected. They were in India, Japan, the Philippians, and Macao… but they never came into the rest of China. They tried and tried, but for a long time the Ming wouldn’t let them. They could only stay in Macao. The famous Spanish leader Francis Xavier dreamed of entering China, but he never succeeded. He died trying to enter Guangzhou, while waiting on an island here in the Pearl River Delta (珠江三角).

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America is the most influential country in the world today, and before it was England. Everywhere today we find English and American culture. But, before England and America it was Spain and Portugal. There was a time in the middle of the 1500’s when the power started to shift. Then England was just starting to become important globally – they were an “upstart” we might call them. When the Spanish started to respect this new world empire, then the king of Spain married the Queen of England. This coin depicts the marriage of King Philip of Spain and Queen Mary of England in 1554.

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That marriage was a turning point in history from Spanish to England. And that has lots to do with culture. Then the culture of Spain poured into England, and then English culture began. After that, then the English writers began, like William Shakespeare and John Donne. They learned their culture from the Spanish. Someone once even said that William Shakespeare’s family was Spanish.

So, this name 三貂角 surprised us and sent us on a little adventure through history. It helped us rediscover how the centers of power move around the world. The power went from Spain and Portugal, to England and Holland, to America. And today, people everywhere are asking, is China becoming the next world power? Maybe it’s better not to have strong opinions.

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Driving south, the spectacular coastal scenery begins. There are so many shades of blue. Near the shore, where the sea’s a little greenish, that is turquoise. And further out, where the water is deeper and almost grey, that is called slate. And the light blue of the sky is azure.

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Yilan is the triangular plain in the north east. To appreciate the scenery it’s better to drive, but you can also ride a train or fly to the main cities.

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The open sea is dangerous, especially when the tides are strong. Tides go up and down. When the waves are strong you can get pulled under or pulled out. But it’s safe for swimming in this tidal park, where there are calm pools. These pools are made from volcanic rocks. The hot red lava poured into the sea, and made these little pools when it hardened.

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Driving along the shore we can see an island called Turtle Mountain (乌龟山). It’s the only active volcano around Taiwan. They call it Turtle Mountain because the rocks are shaped like a turtle. People once lived on that island, but the government moved them off about 40 years ago. They said life was too difficult there, and so now no one is permitted to live on the island. Now it’s a marine park, a place for seeing ocean creatures. There is a kind of crab that lives only in this volcano.

Tourists take boats to see dolphins and whales, especially humpback and sperm whales. But nature tourism is a sensitive topic these days. There are complaints that whales and other animals are getting hurt by too many tourists. So, the government is making restrictions on how many people can go to the island and how close the boats can get to the whales. Sometimes these areas are closed for a few months, to let the plants and animals recover.

As we drive along the coast, we can see Turtle Mountain for a long time. This is because the Yilan coast-line is curved, and so we drive around the island. We can see the island from different angles. The shape of the island changes as our perspective moves around the curved shore line. Some say that as you move around the coast, the turtle turns its head (龟山转头). When you look at something from a different perspective then it can appear differently.

Yilan includes more islands further out, and among those are the contested Diaoyu Islands. Those islands are often in the news, but I’ve never understood what that conflict is about. Sometimes I wonder why those islands have become so important. Is there something valuable around there like oil maybe? Or are they a strategical military position? Or do they have some historical significance, like a symbol? If we change the name of the island, if we call it 钓鱼, or we call it Senkaku in Japanese, then maybe those names have different meanings. Who can translate 钓鱼 into Japanese? Who can translate Senkagu into Chinese?

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Further down the coast, we discover this strange building which locals call 八角瞭望台. in English that could be the “Octagonal Lookout”. The strange building is deserted. There is no information about this in English or Chinese. Was it made in the Japanese days or the Guomindang Days? According to the name of the building, this was a lookout. But I wonder what they were looking for. Was it built for soldiers to look out for their enemies? Or was it just for looking at the sea?

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Toucheng has buildings from the Qing Dynasty. The Qing restricted the movement of people around Taiwan. They started moving people into Toucheng during the days of emperor Qianlong, while the coast further down south in Hualien and Taidong was still forbidden. Down there only lived the “raw” people, the tribes who were not governed by the Manchus.

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When Shen Baozhen introduced Ziqiang 自强 (the Qing modernization project) in Taiwan, that was when Chinese started moving further down the east coast into Hualian… and that is where we are going next.

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Taroko gorge was made by the Liwu River, which cuts through the stone of the mountains. A gorge is a kind of valley that is steep and narrow. The river cuts through the mountains in three counties – Taichung, Nantou, and Hualien – and then it flows into the ocean. A park was created by Japanese in 1937.

Taroko is sometimes called the “marble gorge” because the stone walls include a lot of marble. Marble is important in European culture, because it was the material of choice for the ancient sculptors and architects of Rome and Greece, and it is still popular today. The old European artists loved marble because of how the light penetrates the rock, which made their sculptures look alive. Famous sculptures like the Venus of Milo are made of marble.

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Marble in European culture is like jade in Chinese culture. They are important materials for making art work. And interestingly, there is also jade in Taroko gorge. It’s a special kind of jade that they sell in markets in Hualien city.

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Due to the low population, there are few major roads in the east of Taiwan. Someone once said that Chinse people prefer to live between mountains and water. So, I wonder why so few people live in the east of Taiwan. The three eastern counties contain only around one million people or five percent of Taiwan’s population. Maybe the flat plains in the west for farming. And most of the people migrated from Fujian, so they may have just stayed on the west coast where they arrived.

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We pass villages between the mountains and the sea. Many Christians are living along the coast, and we see churches and Christian cemeteries. Here is a church in Hualian city. Notice how the characters are written leftwards like on an old Chinese temple.

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A special kind of curry is sold in Hualian. The flavor is distinct from other curries like Indian, Thai, or Malay curries. After dinner it’s time to rest for the night at a B&B, since we’ve had such an adventure. I say never dream when you sleep, because then waking life is a dream.

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The Japanese buildings in Hualian City are easy to recognize by their distinct style. There’s an old Japanese army base called 松园别管. This was a building for high ranking soldiers or officers. When American planes bombed this city during WW2, the officers hid underground in a bunker behind the building.

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Now the building has been turned into an art gallery. They show the work of a local artist who is called 盧俊翰 (Lu Junhao). Maybe the traditional character of his family name is difficult for some people to read, so we can rewrite his name in the simplified way as 卢俊翰. He works in advertising in Taipei, and his artwork was originally just a hobby. But recently his images are appearing in magazines and galleries.

Lu specializes in painting the Hualian coast. He calls his work 再现风景, which could be translated as “scenery reproduction”. I would call him a “regional artist” because he specializes in painting the Hualien environment. There have been regional artists at many times and places. The area where I grew up in Canada also had regional painters, they are called the group of Seven.

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As we drive further south in Hualien we discover some dairy farms.

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Milk is sold all around Taiwan, but milk-cows are rarely seen because most of them are in Ruisui Township (瑞穗镇) in the south of Hualien. And since most Taiwanese have never seen these animals before, there is a dairy farm set up for tourists to visit. It’s a place where people can see the cows and enjoy some milk products. Crowds of people come here.

Milk-cows never lived in the wild, and so you could say they aren’t natural animals. Humans bred the milk cow to make it like that. Traditional Chinese farmers don’t keep these animals. They use 牛 for ploughing fields, and in English those are called oxen. Cows are not work-animals, but rather a source of meat and milk. But recently, Chinese have started to keep milk-cows.

When I moved to Jiangxi three years ago, there was almost no real milk. If you wanted real milk then you had to go to Changsha. But in just the last two years real milk has become available everywhere in China. And if there is milk, then there must be milk-cows somewhere. And I would like to know: where are those cows?

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This photograph was taken at a farm for tourists in Ruisui. This boy is watching cows through binoculars. He went to the farm with his family to learn about these animals. This picture reminds me of paintings by Normal Rockwell. Like the painting below of a red-haired girl learning about these animals. The man is teaching her to measure the size of a little cow.

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Milk-cows started arriving recently in Taiwan. Someone must have brought them from another country. Did they bring them in a plane? No, I don’t think so. They must have brought them on a ship. Just imagine those cows going all the way across the ocean. They brought them because the Taiwanese are starting to drink milk. They didn’t bring them here to look at them. But the boy in the picture is discovering these animals.

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There are different styles of farming in the east of Taiwan. This lady is from a Paiwan tribe. She grows a grain called Red Quinoa. The people in village probably grew that for a long time. And for a long time, probably few people outside her village cared about what she was growing. But recently, there is more interest in this grain. Some farmers like her are even getting rich. A few years ago, Quinoa became a fashionable food in the cities of Europe and North America. First, white quinoa from South America became popular. But these days red quinoa is becoming fashionable, and so the Paiwan farmers can charge higher prices for their crops.

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As we come into Taidong County here there is an island called 三仙台, and for the English name we just use a transliteration (San Xian Tai). The island is close to the shore, and there is a walking bridge. A wooden pathway goes around the island, and if you want you can climb up to the peak in the middle.

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Li Tieguai is one of the three immortals of this island. He’s a dirty old man. We might say his appearance is “shabby”. Laozi once taught him to control himself by building a woman out of wood that Tieguai could never touch. He’s famous for his charity.

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Night falls as we approach Taidong City. The rain starts falling hard and we’re hungry. Japanese food is popular in Taiwan, and there are surprising little places along the coast that can be cozy. They are built with lots of wood, and the atmosphere is warm and comforting. The food and service are outstanding.

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The mountains behind Taidong City are covered in blooming daylilies (黄花菜). Lilies are a diverse group of plants, and it includes hundreds of very different flowers. Some lilies float on the water like lotuses, so it’s easy to confuse these two kinds of flowers. These similar flowers are symbols in Europe and China. The lotus is an emblem (徽记) of the buddha, and it’s an ornamental figure (装饰的画像) in Chinese design, and in the designs from other Asian countries. Lilies symbolize love, innocence, and many other things. When I see lilies I think of France, because the French people in Canada use the fleur-de-lis as their flag. Many places and groups use the lily as their symbol.

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Chinese sometimes eat lilies. For one thing, they eat the bulbs. Someone said that lily bulbs taste like potatoes, but I’ve never tried them. And in Taiwan daylily flowers are boiled in a soup. People visit the mountains around Taidong in the summer to go walking through the fields of day lilies. And there are restaurants run by the local tribe, where they serve dishes with the flowers.

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At the Taidong Cultural Center there is a labyrinth. The labyrinth is a symbol in Western culture. It represents difficult situations, or we could say adventure. The original labyrinth was built on the island of Crete. King Minos hired the architect named Daedalus to build it. Inside there was a bull that was called the Minitour. A bull is a male cow. Heroes came from far away, and bravely went into the labyrinth to fight the monster. In Spanish countries today there are still the heroic men who fight with bulls.

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These days bulls are a symbol of stock markets. They represent the power of companies to make money. When stock-values are rising, they call that a “bull market”. Outside the stock market in the Futian district of Shenzhen there is this statue of two bulls.

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Tonight, we’ve explored Taiwan’s east coast from some unique perspectives. Every traveler can discover their own perspectives on the places they explore. Everyone can discover different aspects of a place. This means they must make their own translations, and find names that are suitable for them. As the Portuguese poet Bernardo Soares wrote, “In this world we’re all travelers on the same ship. We have set sail from one unknown port, and we are on our way to another equally foreign to us. We should treat each other, therefore, with the friendliness owed to fellow travelers.”

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Horticultural Aesthetics

Poetry is a secret political sap which is only suffered. Being an absolute possessor, such power can never be possessed. The Hellenized Jews called their political suffering the Mysteries, and in those ceremonial dramas they may have chosen the destiny of man. The influence of those “chose people” – their gesture of identifying themselves as the chosen ones – spread throughout the ancient world thousands of years ago. They taught humanity a secret suffering of destiny. Or maybe they didn’t. This is just a story. This is the story of the chosen people who discovered a secret suffering. Telling this story is the choice of fatal vines through which suffering flows.

The world integrates culturally through narratives and figurations. This planetary puzzle gets assembled and disassembled by overlaying the contours of myth. This integration is only ever very limited. There are always a holey landscape which is only a hodge-podge of fleeting appearances – Darstellung – which is always on the verge disintegration.

“The culture of the Hellenized Jews was already introduced into the ancient Han Dynasty of China.” This statement is merely a fabulation. We collect some shards of pottery, and pretend that it was once an impossible whole. This poetic constellation circulates the sap of a planetary culture.

The interweaving of China with Europe provides a great aesthetic problem. There was the French Jesuit style of the 1700’s called Chinoiseries, which was an intoxicating infusion of oriental blood related to the Rococo style. There was an instance where Robespierre invoked Confucius as a patron of the national examination. Hence his portrait hangs today in the Confucius temple in Beijing.

Nihilism is the failure of fabulation, where the sap of poetry doesn’t flow. The academic obsession with facts and values spreads the drought of nihilism. These days, nomothetic spirits are often concealed behind their compliments.

Nihilism insists on a pure and unproblematic goodness. It demands positivity, peace, prosperity, truth, happiness, health, cleanliness, purity, beauty, gentleness, softness, warmth, roundness…. and conversely it rejects war, poverty, falsity, sadness, sickness, dirt, impurity, ugliness, meanness, hardness, coldness and squareness. Nihilists make conceptual cuts to separate what they want from what they don’t want. This is how they separate facts from falsehoods, reality from fantasy. They purify the good by excluding the bad. But values are static and mechanical, and they are implicated with an unquestioned industrial rationale.

One may respond to this one-sidedness with a dialectic which holds opposites together. But this implies nothing particularly Hegelian or even European. What we suggest here is more akin to Chinese philosophy: that peace comes from war, that wealth comes from poverty, that happiness comes from sadness… this Chinese dialectic was introduced into Europe centuries ago. Maybe it was introduced by Leibniz when he corresponded with the French Jesuits in the court of emperor Kangxi. Leibniz and Hegel provide competing translations of the Yijing. Puruing this line does not require more scholarly expositions of what they wrote, but rather decisions about how Chinese can be rendered through their respective thought styles. It’s about which hybridizations can flourish under contemporary circumstances.

Assuming east and west are aspects of the same thing renders their separation unthinkable. Their undulations reverberate back into prehistory. 出口转内销. This ground remains to be fabulated. This requires obscure courses of translation which are only tangential to anything passable as scholarly research. The circulation must proceed along ancient routes. But this is a functional antiquity as opposed to a factual antiquity. And even on the level of simple facts, who even knows where those caravans traded and where those ships sailed? And who could say for sure if they were Arabs or Iberians? The course of translation is hidden in the dirt of poetry.

Nihilists reach for the flowers but reject the dirt, and so their rootless petals quickly wilt.

A planetary dialectics cultivates deep roots which produce fruit for millennia. Though the roots can only go so deep as the soil, which never continues far beneath the surface. Nihilists are obsessed with what grows above the surface, or else they want to seize the center of the earth. But the sap of antiquity flows through the subsoil.

The invisible veins of ancient culture wind errantly around the earth just beneath the surface. Scholars may study this meandering. They may disclose the political powers that move this world. These are the abstract forms of relationships. This spirituality of art can never be rendered as an economy of exchange. At noontide the two become one and the laws are written anew: “they come like lightening…. without pretext or reason… instinctive givers of form…. that is how states are born on this earth”.

Horticultural artists plough the channels for sap-flow, so the powers of suffering can bud and bloom. The colors above the surface – green, red, blue, yellow – express powers which emerge from the roots. Changes in colors can correspond with particularities of root-growth.

Nihilistic colors are clichés or advertisements. Like blue for boys, and pink for girls. These rootless colors are synthetically produced to manipulate customers. They are insufficiently grounded in suffering. Green is the color of environmental nihilists. Entire palettes must be abolished and mixed again more painfully.

Vibrant surface colors are expressions of hidden darkness. Everyone knows that roots are black or brown. The name “terror” can designate that dark power. This power related to that thymodic disquiet which the ancient Greeks called the furies.

Modern gardening began when the French people (aka le patrie) abolished the purple of the Bourbon monarchs. The Patrie performed its heroic actions starting in 1789. They attacked the Bastille and set the prisoners free. They declared the universal Rights of Man and something they called a “Republic”. The women marched on the palace at Versailles. But, after those brave acts were accomplished, the Bourbon rulership of the country was restored again. It seemed the revolution had failed, and the king was returning to power. It seemed that the rights of man were lost forever, and there would never be a republic on this earth. But then the hero Robespierre saved the revolution. Just when everyone thought the Rights of Man were lost, Robespierre and St. Just invoked the Terror. He used the Guillotine to cut off the heads of the old rulers. And so, the Republic and the Rights of Man were saved by the Terror. They were saved when Robespierre cut off those heads of the Bourbon. And today all the countries in this world are “republics” which come from the darkness of the Terror. The Spirit of Man survived because the Terror destroyed the power of the old kings. The darkness of the Terror can be seen in the painting called Death of Marat in the gapping blackness above the body of the dying martyr.

The drama of the modern world is called the Mystery of the Terror. The Black Terror flows beneath the surface, but then it emerges on the banners of the armies of color. First, there was the “Republican Terror” in France and America which was red and blue. And then soon those were the colors of the United Kingdom. That was a bourgeois expression of the Suffering of Man.

But the bourgeoisie were eager to betray the Spirit of Man, and so the Terror leaked away and became the Plague of Black Anarchy. The anarchists of Germany, Russia and Spain returned Terror to its true darkness. They waged war against the bourgeois republics in the name of a Sacred Community of Man. The anarchists were enemies of the bourgeoisie, but they were also enemies of the old kings who the bourgeoisie had corrupted. When the Russian king fell in October 1917, black flags were carried to St. Petersburg. Black Flags of Anarchy marched in Russia!

Russia was intoxicated with the Spirit of Man. Socialism took red from bourgeoisie, but not the blue. Socialist Russia was draped in red-gold, but that red flower was nourished by the black roots of suffering. For the old Russia was destroyed by anarchist militias.

At the end of the Qing dynasty, Chinese intelligentsia were carrying black flags in Tokyo and Paris. Anarchist spirits were flowing into China from exiles abroad. The black of anarchy was opposed to the yellow of the Qing. The first Chinese republic emerged 1911 draped in the red and blue of the bourgeoisie. But again, the deeper power of all the republics always comes from the flash of black lightening, the true color of the Spirit of Terror. For example, the elders of the Kuomintang Party carried the black flags of anarchy. Those bands of anarchist mandarins include figures such as 蔡元培, 李石曾 and 吴稚晖. Those dark precursors of Chinese republicanism are seldom mentioned today.

The bourgeois Chinese republic was exiled in the late 1940s as the red armies of socialism pushed out the blue of the bourgeoisie and founded a socialist republic. And by the 1960’s, the Spirit of Man was alive in Shanghai in red and gold.

Then the armies of the world split between the red-blue of the bourgeois west and the red-gold of the socialist east. This great “cold war” continues until today, though an important shift occurred with the bourgeois victories around 1989. That victory did not end the cold war (as some have mistakenly assumed) but rather shifted it into a dramatic mode. The cold war has become an abstract spiritual conflict which is the secret cypher of a planetary culture.

Where green has been the color of republican Islam, black became associated with Islamic terror after the bourgeois victories of 1989. Islamic terror emerged due to the machinations of the bourgeoisie who used Islamic mercenary armies (Mamluks, Mujahideen) as weaponry against socialism in the cold war. As socialism declined, those Islamic militias found themselves unemployed, and turned against the bourgeoisie who had originally sponsored them. Also, there is reason to suspect that the bourgeoisie might prefer to struggle with the black of Islamic jihadis as opposed to the black of anarchist terror.

This concludes a brief synopsis of contemporary horticultural aesthetics. The fauna in this terrible garden are red-blue (bourgeois), red-gold (socialist), green (republican Islam) and black (anarchist terror, Islamic terror). These colors and sides may change without notice. But the essential question remains: does the sap flow deeply enough in the soil of suffering? Or are these the fake flowers of rootless nihilism? Market-driven changes in horticultural fashion may periodically bring new distributions of color and figure to the gardening of institutions.

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Mood Play

The anthropologist Paul Rabinow distinguishes the moods of irony, tragedy, pathos, and comedy. This fourfold schema is a bit of a riddle. This can account for what happens at the limits of industrial society where mere consumerism gives way to aesthetic experience. Where industrial subjects are represented according to the logic of enjoyment, at some limit that logic decays into the impurities of aesthetic taste. The spell of interest breaks on the reef of the sublime.

The universal enjoyment of industrial man is an imaginary generic affect presumably pursued by everyone of his society. An unconscious equivalence is made between enjoyment and finance so that capital ultimately represents this imaginary affect. But at the aesthetic limit of his society, that coveted capital-enjoyment complicates into the folds of minoritarian affectation. Where capital-enjoyment provides a transcendental schematic of subjectivity, that disintegrates into a more dynamic and immanent disposition. Mood play lies beyond the break down in the general equivalence of capital and enjoment. These are not simply moods which are felt, but also feelings delegated to others, and mood differentials that alternate in dynamic distributions. They are fluctuating mood-sets which are posited reflexively according to fuzzy economic principles. These abstract distributions are never settled and proceed according to cosmological or geohistorical codes.

There are elementary problems concerning the causation and experience of moods. Logical explanations about why moods are felt have a certain fallibility. There might be obvious reasons for a mood, such as a sadness felt at the news of a death, or delight at some victory. But Spinoza’s geometrical rationalization of affects raises questions about the modality of experience. If we assume that affectations can be rationally explained, then we should consider the degrees of abstraction and complexity that such reasoning would entail.

Simple observable patterns, where some identifiable emotion is consistently felt in some identifiable situation, are susceptible to a Humean criticism because they might be adduced to arbitrary customs and habits. There are incentives for the rational administration of feelings according to inherited canons of subjective logic. Perhaps our feelings are generated according to socio-cultural scripts, where we respond affectively to a situation according to what would seem natural. Ideologies of feeling are programmed according to traditions of humanism, naturalism, moralism, and rationalism. Thus, we aspire to feel good about what is good in a Spinozist sense of vital power.

Such a Spinozism becomes trivial “positive thinking” when applied to individual subjects of industrial society. This “power principle” is much like the Freudian pleasure principle that orients subjectivity in its pursuit of benefits. Industrial populations would subject themselves to an idea of the positivity of power, where they pursue power-pleasure as an ideal attainable through financial means. Rational behavior would proceed according to value calculations, where subjects are pursuing opportunities for enjoyments on affective markets.

Mood play happens at the limit where these industrial calculations break down. There the logic of transactions is complicated so that it’s longer an individual shopping for enjoyments, but rather mysterious folds of correlated affectations. This end of enjoyment-shopping is a drastic event because it implies the demise of industrial subjectivity.

Robert Pfaller writes about the perversities of “delegated enjoyment”, where subjects indulge in imaginary enjoyments which implicate other “subjects-supposed-to-enjoy”. But the term “mood play” is intended to suggest something that goes beyond any sort of enjoyment. Enjoyment would refer strictly to the social experience of industrial subjects. Jouissance is a juridical term for enjoyment as the bourgeois possession of property. Delegated enjoyment would be at the limit where bourgeois subjectivity begins to deteriorate, where the coupling of enjoyment and capital frays, whereas mood play is at a further degree of decadence which implies another kind of subjectivity altogether.

The subject of mood-play is distinguished from an industrial subject of enjoyment, though it still implies principles of power-pleasure. The power principle leads this subject through mood plays, which are fluctuations in the dynamic differentials of affective disposition.

Tragic moods are an experience of the passion of wisdom. This is a contemplation of the finitude of life caught within institutional contradictions. This transcendental reverie is foreign to industrial sensibility, which reduces tragedy to another flavor of enjoyment that appears as shameful pathos if it fails to adhere to schemas of consumption. Resisting the industrial effacement of tragedy requires restoring its essential connection with irony, comedy and pathos.

Tragedy is the philosophical mood. It binds subjectivity into institutional contradictions providing it with durable symbolic coordinates on which it meditates. The time of thought requires these anchors that keep it from spontaneously vaporizing. Tragedy provides subjectivity with viscosity which prevents it from dissipating. The tragic subject is rent by symbolic contradictions, and the suffering of those wounds is an archaic spirituality that Nietzsche contrasted with the nihilism of Christianity and enlightened modernity. Without its tragic wounds, subjectivity would be too mercurial for philosophy. The durability of the tragic wound provides a ballast that anchors irony, comedy and pathos.

Subjectivity is affected by symbolic lack, and these moods are alternate attunements or contextualizations of that lack. This brings us to a morphological proximity between mood and mode. Any scene might affect different subjects with different moods. The mood is a contingency of the virtual/actual which reflects both ontological constitution and symbolic positioning. This ontological constitution might entail cosmology, geohistory or worldview.

Subjects can be affected at different modalities of accident/essence and necessity/contingency. At one extreme, a subject is gripped by its mood which possesses it as an irresistible spirit. In this case we would say that the mood was real, in that it befalls the subject with a necessity that leaves no room for subjective agency in the selection of moods. At the other extreme, a subject might experience its mood as a contingent choice that could be varied at a whim. The contingency of this choice implies that the subject has reposed in the virtual. This implies that it subject can navigate between alternate courses of actualizations. Though of course there are limits to this potential regarding what moods might be actualized under any conditions. Repose means this actual/virtual modality of mood has been liberated from the possible/real.

Virtual subjectivity disposes itself affectively according to aesthetic taste. This power is limited by conditions of subjective integrity, such as structure, economy, consistency or continuity. The subject must reserve enough power in order that this choice can be made. Tasteful moods imply symbolic continuities. This integrity of the relation between affects and symbols is itself tragic, in that it’s the obstinacy of the tragic hero in their fatal symbolic attachments (i.e. Antigone must bury her brother). This reinterprets the definition of the overman: “with history nature gave itself the task of producing a creature capable a promise.” The promise or the oath is a tragic bind, like a dead hand clutching the symbol eternally. This grasp tightens as subjects are hystericized by the uncertainties of mortal existence.

Tragic moods retain subjectivity within finite symbolic coordinates. There’s economy where the anchoring of tragedy affords the ephemeral play of the other moods. Classical comedy emerged in proximity to tragedy, though modernity tends to efface this origin. Modernity overlooks the economic dependency of other moods on the tragic. This is why mood gets tethered to the real/possible. Restoring the aesthetic complementarity of moods is a “division of suffering”, which contrasts with the division of labor in industrial subjectivity, allows a modal autonomy of mood.

Whereas the industrial subject is defined by how it works and consumes, the virtual subject is defined by how it suffers its moods. Tragic suffering is where the subject is trapped in contradictions that have agonizing duration. These contradictions disfigure, so that the trapped subject is like an unspeakable wound. The manifestation of this wound is something obscene or appalling, so it’s an affective anchor that often remains hidden. It anchors the symbolic because it cannot be symbolized. A scene of presence might imply an underground anchoring in the tragic, though only certain subjects are aware of this anchoring.

Moods are aspects of the symbolic wound which can be distinguished by their contexts. Whereas tragedy implies profound, transcendental duration, the other moods can be instantaneous. These are dimensions of a scene such that perhaps full presence would require all of them. They are like the flavors required for cooking a satisfying dish, or a set filters that combine to give an image its full color-spectrum. The problem is to fuse them in tasteful proportions.

Like Christianity, industrial subjectivity is estranged from tragedy, but this estrangement is a matter of perspective. The tragic has continued underground, though industrial subjects are not aware of this. They may relate to tragedy negatively, through disavowal, repression or foreclosure. They are often attuned to comedies and ironies and sensitized to the scandalous shame of pathos. They reduce tragedy to the merely pathetic shame of symbolic inadequacy. It is reduced to an embarrassing lack of narratives, values, identities, signatures, figures, codes, grades, degrees, qualities, virtues, ancestry, memberships, assets, properties, credits, positions and documents. But the suffering of this lack is somehow essential to the industrial subject who is eternally an imposter. To avoid the abjection of pathos it converts this fraudulence into comedy and irony. But a restoration of tragedy could make this conversion less awkward because tragedy provides traditional symbols for the lack of symbols.

The link between tragedy and technology has been highlighted by various authors such as Jos de Mul. The hubris of technological modernity marches relentlessly towards disasters. These are not simply intentional disasters, but they are fated by the flaws which afflict industrial subjectivity. While industrial subjectivity lacks an appreciation for tragedy, its behavior follows the pattern of tragic heroism. Just like the heroes of classical tragedy, the industrial subject is blind to his own tragic predicament. So even the lack of appreciation for tragedy can be considered classical. So it would seem that the taste for tragedy lies beyond the limits of industrial subjectivity. This would be the taste for a developmental tragedy of war and environmental crises. Developing this taste requires not prematurely sliding into irony and comedy, and not taking flight from pathos, but sustaining a painstaking metabolization of this panoramic condition in its inescapable fatality.

Also, it requires suspending any moral judgements of the industrial subject’s behavior, which is the tendency of Christian humanism. So, our suggestion here imply an amor fati that will be unpalatable for leftists who are committed to certain modes of political intervention. But perhaps the crises of industrial society might be solved through aesthetic means where political means have proven ineffective. Perhaps the ptoblems of industrial society require not a change of intention, but a change of attunement.

The tragic is distinguished from the merely pathetic by its symbolic implications. The tragic fate is freely chosen by the subject from some perspective. But the subject is originally caught in a larger symbolic net, and so it is a forced choice between a limited set of fatal contingencies.

Because industrial man cannot appreciate tragedy, he is only able to represent his symbolic lack comically, ironically, or pathetically. This explains why his deficit of representation is so dicey, like a hot potato, or a bee in his bonnet. Tragedy was a customary art for metabolizing lack. This problem of surplus/lack gets highlighted by Lacanians, and they have associated this problem with Hegel’s discussion of the “unemployed rabble”. Deleuze theorized the doubling of a “placeless thing” and a “thingless place”, and then with Guatarri he discussed the doubling of a surplus of code and a surplus of libidinal flux. This perpetual sense of lack drives industrial man into the school, the workforce, the battlefield, and the shopping mall. This is a quest for substitutions that compensate for his symbolic inadequacy. He seeks another property, another machine, another body, another profile. The disquiet of a dislication between cause and position poses a dramaturgical problem: how to form an audience to appreciate the tragedy of this performance? This can be taken up as the problem for a discourse poetics…

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Adventure Language

The Greek ‘symbolon’ was an object used in economic transactions. It’s two halves were broken apart and reunited when the terms of a contract were completed. Following this model, the term symbolism then refers to the intricate fitting of contours that perfectly match, and following romanticism this is the fitting of the subject into the world.

But there is great problem surrounding this fitting of the subject into the world. The problem is that Kantianism inherited a Christian subject who pursues an ethical ideal through gradual purification. This assumes a narrative continuity and identity of the subject before and after it finds its fit in the world. But this model conflicts with the classical model of the symbol as a perfect fit that could never be achieved by a subject that was gradually hewn into consistency with the world.

Kantianism never overcomes the alienation of negativity. This endless tedium is what Heidegger called “being in the world”, which is like being in exile or in the desert. The preposition “in” implies a disjunction, an accidental relation, where unprepared being is thrown into random circumstances. This is the dreary fate where subjectivity is suffered as an existential angst that occasionally subsides when there are little bursts of pleasure or meaning. In this discomfiture there is a yearning for something else, and that desire sets into motion an adventure of language.

Deleuze conceives symbolic castration as a threshold where this existential tedium would terminate. That would be a point for the emergence of an entirely new form of subjectivity which has no continuity or identity with anything preexisting. Because the world undergoes tremendous changes in its ontological structure, only a newly created subject could be consistent with its contours and form an intricately “symbolic relation” with the world. This relation would be a “being for the world” as opposed to Heidegger’s dissolute “being in the world”.

Obsolete subjects fade away as their contours lose consistency with the world. This might sound cruel, but we don’t have to put so much stake in subjectivity. It was Kantianism that placed so much emphasis on subjects, and they are not taken that seriously in Deleuzian thinking. Subjectivity becomes like costuming or roles that can be switched. It is a way of taking up positions within forms of conceptuality and figuration. Beyond the formalities of worldly subjection there is the jouissance of Thanatos, the restless infancy of drive that infinitely persists.

Symbolic subjectivity is generated through adventures which discover abstract patterns emerging in the world. Subjects emerge through heraldic crossings of the thresholds of symbolic cities. These migrations can be excruciatingly painful, much like the indignities that are experienced by refugees. There are detentions and rejections. There are interrogations that pry into humiliating personal secrets. One is surrounded by desperate and dangerous refugees. The liminal realm of the sans papier provides an abstract model for the preworld of the presubjective. The adventure of language takes place in this dimension where the symbolic crystal is incubating.

This is a dimension of vestibular experience where one learns to anticipate the turning of the world. This is the experience of a dynamism which is presymbolic, though nothing can guarantee that the delivery of subjectivity will succeed. There is an ontopolitical dynamism, which is an oscillation between contrasting ontologies. These are the sort of contrasts discovered by structural anthropology, where neighboring groups distinguish themselves from each other by elemental variations. But the structural relation in question here is the political one between the regime and the opposition. Oppositional ontologies grow like crystals that interfere with the hegemonic order. Where a regime adopts some terms (i.e. universal equality), the opposition asserts some inversion (i.e. particular hierarchy). The adventure of language is a kind of romance where the inversion of the hegemonic ontology is pushed across some threshold where it forms an adequate complementarity, so that the symbolic regime is overturned and a new epoch is inaugurated.

Post-Kantian institutional ideology has a unique reliance on language, such that language gets defined by the way it is conceived politically. Language education is a customary initiation into a national community, and the idea of how language works provides a model for institutional relationships. A political conception of language embodies the idea of sovereignty as a material manifestation of power. Debates over the conception of language have followed political contours, most notably the recurrent debates between the liberalism of Chomskian linguistic universalism versus the romantic nationalism of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

This liberal subjectivity has been reborn many times in a series going back at least to Cromwell if not further. The last wave of rebirth has its source in 1989, and that subjective formation has lost most of its energy. The question is whether another liberal subject in this series will be reborn, or whether we shall commerce another epoch with a different form of subjectivity. Perhaps we are moving towards a threshold where a new subject form would emerge as an inversion of this linguistic subjectivity.

The Lacanian theory of symbolic castration involves the internalization of “the name of the father”. That symbol was supposed to provide some fundamental integrity for the psyche, and it allowed for the possibility of language in general. But Deleuze questions whether Lacan was not perhaps an ideologue of the Kantian epoch, and whether his symbolic castration was not too closely bound up with a linguistic subject.

Alenka Zupancic’s book “What is Sex?” articulates language and sex as two aspects of the same enigmatic thing. Drawing on Laplanche, she discusses the threshold between the “drives of children” and the “instincts of adults”. The drives of children are described as unnatural and idiosyncratic, whereas the instincts of adults are natural and orderly. Perhaps this arrangement of concepts suggests an original subject form. This way of treating symbolic castration as a passage into nature restructures the circuitry of ideology, such that a new pattern of connections emerges between the discourses of Rousseau, Kant, Sade, and Freud. The placing of natural harmony at the end of history suggests a millennial configuration. Natural instinct would always be there in potential, ready to operate in its proper way, but something has to happen in order for it to come into effect, like the opening of the seventh seal. So what we are calling the adventure of language would be a quest to reinitiate the order of nature. This would mean discovering how nature could work again under the contemporary conditions.

Symbolic castration relates to the Freudian idea of unifying the drives. It was this unification of the drives that brought Deleuze to his interest in Stoicism. The Stoic virtue could perform a transition of things language. This virtue withdrew from both activity and passivity into the potentiality of an amor fati that accepts the world as is. Where nature has been lost in the inherent corruption of the world, this virtue would open a new source of nature within the worldly conditions. A question arises here about whether the function of language in this spiritual conversion is essential or accidental. Our sacramental ideology of language might be only a parochial fixation of European oral culture which sanctified the mouth as a site of transubstantiation. Perhaps an inversion of Kantian ideology would relocate this transubstantiation around the anus.

This could make a strange inversion of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Language would be understood to perform a universal function, which is a transmutation of matter into spirit, but that function might also be performed otherwise without the need for what we call language. Or we could say that the sacramental operation that language performs isn’t essentially linguistic. And if the efficacy of language in this sacramental operation were to decline, then this spiritualization might have to be performed through non linguistic means. Perhaps language may be losing its sacramental efficacy as technology exposes imagistic and numerical materiality. The sacramental efficacy of language would be declining because of the expansion of the knowledge into the material beyond the linguistically expressible.

This opens a horizon for adventures into the technosocial that would seek a new sacramental form of the subject. But such an adventure wouldn’t have to materialize as anything radical. This is a spiritualization that breaks with inherited forms of language. This requires that those inherited forms get mixed-up, so there are structural reversals in the customary patterning of language. This reversal can proceed like a wave that moves through ontology, grammar and into the conventions of communication and social exchange.

This might begin from a linguistic analysis of the world “adventure”. This word is usually a noun, which designate something episodic, which is etymologically close to “advent”, which is not far from “event”. It sometimes becomes an adjective when used in an expression such as “adventure travel”. It isn’t commonly used as a verb in English, but there is the verb cognate “venture”. This latter word is associated today with business, as it is used as an adjective in “venture capital”. By moving around this constellation, we are taking adventure itself on a bit of an adventure.

This kind of language play was enjoyed by humanities professors at American universities towards the end of the twentieth century. Such deconstructive play has been performed in a spirit of abandon, which means that it is not assumed to have any function or purpose. Perhaps it is just play for the sake of play, which is performed because it is fun or pleasant. Performance is likes other arts that may be practiced infinitely without any goal other than perhaps the satisfaction of taste. But if this kind of play is associated with the thought of Georges Bataille, then it might have a political function in the advent of a new form of sovereignty.

Improvisation can be assigned a political purpose which is the origination of heraldry. This is a distinct kind of operation which may be performed by a subject, while more importantly it generates a new subject as its result. Slavoj Zizek often mentions the story of Baron von Munchausen, who pulled himself up from the swamp “by his own bootstraps”. These days the expression “bootstrapping” is used as a verb for what entrepreneurs do during the early stages of a start-up, when they are trying to establish a new business but don’t have investment from venture capitalists. They would typically sacrifice the normality of their lifestyle for the sake of the fledgling enterprise, moving somewhere with low costs like Latin America or South-East Asia, and performing diverse tasks themselves until they can afford to hire employees.

The adventure of language would be a political bootstrapping distinguished from this industrial bootstrapping of entrepreneurs, but also from the entrepreneurial activism of populist movement-builders associated with oppositional politics. it would seem that new world has come into existence objectively, and the new conditions have been described, but its form has not yet been transposed into a subjective register. The mere objective existence of the world does not imply any politics, which is to say that there is no politics today which corresponds symbolically with this world. The subject of this contemporary world is still in its presubjective phase of bootstrapping itself, and the success of that actualization could inaugurate a new political epoch.

Where Jacques Lacan discussed the materiality of the signifier, the adventure of language would begin where the signifier becomes animated as a spirit. This kind of event is figured in literature by Pygmalion and Don Giovanni, but also in a another way by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The concept of language itself would start to move. There would be a movement in the way language is implicated with power – in the conception of linguistic borders, in language education, and in linguistic theories. All of these movements would be driven by a transition in the ontology of language. It would seem that Kantianism – as an institutional form of logical categories – used language to subjugate the spiritual in the material. The noumenal was exiled to the workhouse of conceptuality where it served the empty ends of humanism.

Let me conclude with an anecdote about the origins of Kantian institutions. The Meiji restoration of Japan in the late 1800s was an historical turning point, where the developmental subject of the enlightenment was translated into East Asian institutions for the first time. The biographers of the Meiji emperor have highlighted a minor event which may have precipitated this translation. The young emperor was in a boat practicing calligraphy with his tutor, who made some praises of his cursive style. It’s been suggested that at that moment the seeds of a new subjective form were planted.

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