Commercial Realism

Realism might be defined minimally as the search for encounters with something independent from ourselves.  In that sense perhaps everyone is a realist. And where the desire for the absolutely other is singular, then realism  becomes esoteric or secretive. 

Realist intellect tends to unfold along three dimensions, which are the political, the scientific or the aesthetic.  But what we’re calling ‘commercial realism’ would proceed along a fourth dimension which is the spiritual.  

According to the argumentative temperaments of academia, reality is only worth discussing where it is substantiated through proofs. To academicize is to seek positive confirmation through agreement among the community of scholars. This assumes ideal images of professional communication, where expression is intended to convince the other. This striving for agreement reflects a sensibility which is promotional, democratic and scientific.

Psychoanalysts have suggested that desire is an alienation from our own words which is abolished by the imaginary agreement of the other. Another speaks through us, and our desire depends on deferring decisions about the identity of the speaker and the meaning of the words. Desire is this bewildered by how our words are not really ours, and that uncertainty draws the horizon of what is perhaps the most unacademic realism.  A realism that seeks no proof, but rather gasps in the hysterical uncertainty before expression. 

Commercial realism is neither epistemological nor ontological, but rather what we might call a political spirituality and an aesthetics. This treats realism as an opening to coexistence, and a praxis which seeks participation in the ecstatic circuitry of images, bodies, things, and money. This orientation is not necessarily promiscuous, because it can just as easily be prejudiced. 

The term “commercial” here is politically loaded in a somewhat Nietzschean sense. Political realism of course turns on the concept of power. The essence of reality here is conceived as a contest between forces over the determination of sense. Thus reality concerns the chances that 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.  So next there will be some mise-en-scene to introduce the background for an historical struggle.  

Capitalism has been targeted by a wide range of polemics over recent centuries. It is frequently accused of injustices against something supposedly better, which might 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. If capitalism cannot be opposed from the outside, then perhaps it should instead be divided against itself.  

The capitalist system is composed of incongruent dimensions, the most notable being the financial, the industrial and the commercial. The operations of capitalist power often involve obfuscations where these conceal each other.  The expansion of consumer choice is often used as a pretext for financial and industrial machinations.  And there is the constant assumption of the equality and inseparability of this trinity, such that the dollars which buy financial derivatives are equated with those which buy bubble gum.   

Commercial realism would attack this trinitarian alliance by composing an image of the market from a commercial perspective. A commercial image of the market – not simply an empirical image, but one that is transcendental – might break the spell of the industrial finance. This would amount to what we might call a eucharistic praxis.  Drawing on the ancient legacy of the Catholic mass – its spirituality, figurations, and affectations – can generate violent oral intensities which can be turned against the logic of industrial finance.  

Commerce can be refigured as the circulation of sacred wafers that bring us into the ecstasy of transcendental prostitution. The commercial disposition of a population is a destiny which blurs the distinction between buying and selling, working and consuming. Commerce is understood as a spirituality which is inherent in the aesthetics of tastes, sensitivities, figurations, profiles, or atmospheres.  Commercial destiny is a decision about how to die by the mysterious gift of work. 

Industrial finance imposes conditions of necessity on commerce. This imposes something like what psychoanalysts call the “existence of the Other”, such that commercial behavior proceeds under the spell of an imaginary They.  While it may be the case that we are inevitably 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 also be chosen. This is how we interpret the ancient custom of ascetic withdrawal into the desert: as a search for another Other.  

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 degree of invariance.  Perhaps we could say 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. 

The line of thought responds to an elementary problem concerning the gaging of powers and the drawing of battle lines. Capitalism must be set into conflict with itself – it cannot be opposed from outside. The problem concerns how a new phase of the cold war might proceed. The failure of leftism has been its puritanical insistence on justice, and once that idealism is abandoned then the problem of where to compromise with injustice becomes pressing. 

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 images guide the passages into commercial ecstasy. 

The problem is to discover another Christ-mass which is no longer subordinated to industrial finance.  This isn’t necessarily a festival that would be held on December 25th, but rather some event that can appropriate the spiritual position of that festival. Commerce is the mysterious breaching or sublimation of the imaginary body, a dangerous participation without conceptual identity. This kind of death is 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.

The liberation of commerce from industrial finance is never ultimately achieved once and for all. The commercial spirit must remain 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, which is situated 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. But within the limits of the saeculum, commerce shall always remain partially subordinated to industrial finance. This secularism is perverse and dialectical because industrial finance provides this commercial spirituality with the vital inertia and gravity of material incorporation.       

This implies a value-contradiction with 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 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 custom whose duration goes back to ancient times, and which has been recently 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 intimidated, stigmatized, scapegoated, stereotyped… and 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 labor, whether use-value or even exchange-value. From the perspective of commercial realism, the commodity rather appears as a shard of sacred death. Industrial finance insists that this death has some equivalence with work, or with other commodities, whereas commercial realism suspends 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.  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 brings a distinct coloration to the classical motifs 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 does it entertain the prospect of a “consumer democracy” which the master promotes as a lure of industrial finance.  The subversion can be sophisticated and 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 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 might be considered unfashionable and even despicable. It obviously contrasts with a prevailing vitalist ethos. 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 forsakes life. This approach might be dismissed for being impractical, dangerous, and lazy. Though in fact it is none of these.  

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Chinese Anarchy

The obscurity of Chinese anarchism is a remarkable facet of our present circumstances, for this topic provides a gateway into an especially marvellous dimension of geohistory. Aside from a few books by Peter Zarrow there isn’t much literature on this in English. But it turns out that anarchist thinking is an essential pillar of Chinese national ideology, though it rarely gets identified as such. Several of the founding fathers, whose names are memorized by schoolchildren, are recognized academically as anarchists by scholars in the west. These figures would have likely been erased from the textbooks, but their charismatic auras are still valued by the state religion. Some of their books are available, though current editions have likely been “renovated” – i.e. edited to conform with official ideology. While their books might be widely read, their actual words are obscure. Hunting for early editions becomes an exquisite pastime.

The Chinese are remarkable for how they have remained an historical people. This is to say that they still identify themselves as “a people” according to the old Germanic national romance. They have preserved that 19th century symbolic interpolation better than other countries. Where national romance has become antiquated in the liberal west, or else it has become an exclusive genre of the far right, the contemporary Chinese are able to indulge in liberal renditions of this fantasy. And anarchism provides a repressed foundation which plays an essential role in the production of their Sittlichkeit.

The prospect of reunifying the mainland and Taiwan is surrounded 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 appears as a vanishing mediator. At the spiritual origin of the modern Chinese state are seated a council of anarchist princes – the “elders of the republic”. This is all admittedly terribly fabulous, which is to say that 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 historian 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. And nor is it a call for rigorous historical research. What’s interesting rather is how the 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 them 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 the mold. He was apparently expelled from France for political reasons. 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. An historian at Harvard has published a study that deals with this in some detail. No one in China that I’ve met was familiar with that study, but I’ve been discussing it with a dean from the university in Jiangxi. Now that school is preparing to hold commemorative events for the centennial founding of the Jiangxi Soviet, and the dean is attempting to arranging a Chinese translation of the book.

For all I know, the Harvard historian might be working for the CIA, and the volume she wrote might be filled with sheer fabrications. And her work could be implicated in plots she has no idea about. It’s in this dimension where reality gets so murky that psychoanalysis becomes an essential resource. Perhaps the Chinese “race” is an anarchist fantasy, and the authoritarian tendencies 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)

Travel is getting more popular these days. People are 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.”


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.


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


Let’s begin our trip in the northeast corner of the island, in the city of Keelung. 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 in Taiwan.

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.


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 whole island of Taiwan. There’s a lighthouse. The light inside shines brightly. 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…


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.


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).


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


Further down the coast, we discover this strange building. The locals call it the 八角瞭望台, which in English 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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 his charity.


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.


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 always 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.


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.


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.


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.


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 the secret sap of political relations.  No one ever “has“ that power, which can only be suffered.  The Hellenized Jews called their political suffering the Mysteries. In those ceremonial dramas they chose the destiny of man. The influence of those “chose people” 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 is a planetary puzzle that 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 is not a fact, but rather 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 our age with 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 is a quest for goodness, which it assumes as an unproblematic concept.  This is the quest for positivity, peace, prosperity, truth, happiness, health, cleanliness, purity, beauty, gentleness, softness, warmth, roundness…. and conversely it’s the avoidance of war, poverty, falsity, sadness, sickness, dirt, impurity, ugliness, meanness, hardness, coldness and squareness. Nihilists make facile 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 flowers but reject the dirt, and so their rootless leaves and 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 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 enjoyment decays into the impurities of aesthetic taste. 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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Drunken Discourse

The eyes and mouth are too slow for this virtual world, and so we seek a quicker soul. The poetry of suffering has no time for discussion, proofs or debates. There is only time to get on the fake wig and scribble some aphorisms before the next port.

Descartes and Rousseau are getting intoxicated on the Chinese enlightenment. The trauma of the French Revolution transposes into the termination of the Qing Dynasty.

Discourse succumbs to intoxication in the dialectic of prescription and description. This duel of aristocracy and science evacuates the discursive soul until only naked monads and empty categories remain.

Sober anthropologists reduced the group to the real and the possible, but then the drunken Elias Canetti initiated a spirit journey into the actual and virtual.

Blanchot quotes Confucius: “measure and means are the extremes of man”. This extreme middle belongs to a family of paradoxes, where the exceptional coincides with the unexceptional. Probability depends on context, such that the likelihood of an event’s occurrence changes depending on the virtual frame in which it would occur.

The eternal return generates the excess of the virtual over the actual. This is the vague expectation of homeostasis. That excess of the virtual can be metabolized as desire. But if that metabolism fails, then the excess leaks into the possible and destabilizes reality. This is the abjection of pure consciousness. The mandarin ethic would absolutize the virtual as a sublime other separated from subjective reality.

The inside of discourse is meaning, but the outside is repetition. Children are intoxicated each night by the same story.

Sober sociolinguists purify the conceptual, moving from territorial “dialects” to abstract “sociolects”. This abstraction goes from discourse to statistics. But poetry competes with numbers for that vacant seat of discourse.

Progressive theories include images as discourse, but can’t gauge when that acid will kick in.

The repeatability of discourse depends on the morbidity of inert matter.

The distinction of spirit and matter is an ontology based in the trauma of ancient customs. Sobriety disavows this duplicity.

Sober discourse is material, whereas drunk discourse is spiritual.

Sober discourse is founded in the drunk discourse it denies.

Ecology is a tragedy where the mystery of nature is abolished by empty science. Yet Zeus plans the return of Persephone.

Discourse gets intoxicated as sober context gives way to the mystery of the unconscious.

Sobriety is the introjection of habits into being, whereas intoxication is their projection into having. Prose is oral, poetry is anal. Poetry is the (bourgeois) corruption of sense such as witt.

Sobriety is troubled by the emptiness of abstract values like appropriateness and function. The disquiet of the universal is the seed of intoxication.

Sober Kantians reduced actualization to history, fixing movement within realistic horizons of subjective intention. But mandarins are intoxicated by the swell of unactualized contemplations so that pure relational potential becomes the axis around which the juggernaut of actualization revolves.

Nations don’t provide interpretive contexts, but rather unconsciousness that intoxicates populations. And such collective unconsciousness is not Jungian archetypes but rather physical continua where bodies are positioned in dynamic patterns. Having unconsciousness requires having a lifestyle that follows national contours.

Abjection is the loss of unconsciousness which reduces populations to shameful squirming. This sick sobering fixates on sensitive concepts such as gender, race, generation, class, citizenship, employment, marital status and vital state. Unconsciousness is an ambient sexing that energizes consciousness, while these sensitive concepts are like short-circuits that discharge the unconscious libido.

It’s a common mistake to assume that drunkenness is exceptional, or that it requires outward display of eccentricity. False drunkenness is performed for commercial promotion, while authentic virtual excesses withdraw into perspectival nuances.

Sober discourse gets caught in obsessional borderline disorders where it judicates conceptually. It vainly seeks drunkenness out of frustration, and ends up acting boorishly. Alcoholism is the failure of intoxication.

Gentrification implies the refinement of discourse which increases semiotic density and consistency. The higher efficiency of logic reduces chances for intoxication which then requires more planning. Hence the disdain for scholars.

Drunken mandarins are anchored in the idea of the virtual, whereas commoners cling to contexts and scales where they find life-meaning. Envious commoners impose parochial sobriety on mandarins by reducing the virtual to transcendental subjectivism.

The nihilistic ideology of communication over-values sober discourse. Obsessive rationalism results in a teetering between ascetic industrialism and hedonistic consumerism. Yet mandarins cannot dismiss this pathological imbalance, because intoxication doesn’t separate from sicknesses and addictions.

Absolute mediation reposes in auto-recoiling of the mysteries, which is the shifting fulcrum of the mandarin’s heart.

Nighttime figures the turbulence where the rotational center is lost, and propriety gives way to disquiet. The traumatic exile of contemplation strains spirituality into development. A superior center gradually materializes in the cracks of the crumbling interpolation.

The night is the intoxicating blood of the day.

The night comes like a knock on the door. Whose there? It’s Margaret Thatcher with Jacques Lacan. They confirm that there’s no relation, and so you are indeed living in Ballard’s High Rise.

The secret of discourse is the nocturnal confusion of health and sickness. The daylight conceals their confusion, which means that it suspends their deconstruction. Sober Kantians elected the world-spirit as the great context that could provide a stopping-point that would prevent deconstruction reaching the confusion of the poles of value. But a drunken discourse returns as a dirge to announce the Weltgeist’s wake.

The capitalist obsession with accumulation generates oscillations of lack and excess. Left Hegelians remain sensitive to the antiquity of these oscillations. They continue a traditional vigil around the sinking mast of context.

Context prevents the unravelling of discourse by denying the mysterious “unknown knowns” that might sex us.

The unconscious or sexuality is charged by erasing the empirical determination of sensitive terms like race, class, gender, and age.

Superior intoxications are indistinguishable from sobriety. This is fortunate, because etiquette often demands sobriety.

Confucius said the friendship of mandarins is clear like water, but the friendship of commoners is sweet like honey. The border between them is a difference in the ontology of borders. Mandarins generate a proliferation of virtual borders which are mercurial and may vanish in an instant, whereas commoners imagine themselves subjected to real borders which are imposed on them.

Kant made subjectivity into an absolute and empty formalism which became the throne for the Geist and the Genius. But the night is falling on the Kantian epoch as subjectivity turns to quicksilver.

Spirituality isn’t simply opposed to matter, but it’s rather the bifurcation of matter into contemplation.

Sober discourse converts meaninglessness repetition into the communitarian currency of meaning, whereas drunken discourse is the repetition of mysterious desire.

George Bataille strolled along the beach like a sketchy Thai monk. He could hear the shrieks of a nameless Boxer getting tortured by a Manchu, but like Odysseus was he bound fast. Bataille was untempted by three pedagogical ideals. First, he was unaffected by the student debt of a thousand cuts. Second, he was unaffected by opium-dealing missionaries. Third, he was even unaffected when the Versailles treaty triggered the Cultural Revolution. As the

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