I don’t do blogs, posts, or tweets, these graffiti on the world’s most popular virtual walls. However harsh this sounds, this is not a criticism of bloggers, posters, or tweeters. This is simply an admission of being incapable of impromptu ideas, uninhibited theories, clever proposals, spontaneous reactions, and witty retorts. I’m always hopelessly behind the pace of life, continually in need of further reflection before making a statement. As soon as an issue is worth blogging, posting, or tweeting about, it very quickly ceases to be blog, post, or tweet worthy. So I capitulate to the pace of life, endlessly postponing the entry until it loses its relevance. But I am not dead yet, so in the defiance of the inevitable, I give here a Log of ideas and reflections intermixed with some news. Please leave a comment if these scattered thoughts or news resonate in you.
One of the most cryptic of Heidegger’s terms is what he calls, as part of the Fourfold (das Geviert), the gods. In this Log entry, my aim is not to provide a history of this term in Heidegger’s corpus, contextualise it within his ontology, pitch explanations against each other, or explain it in relation to the Fourfold overall, but to simply highlight the importance of the gods when thinking the various crises we face today. Why should we rethink the term gods today? Why might it be urgent to give ourselves time to rethink this problematic expression? The reason I don’t want to explain the gods or debate the kinds of Heideggerianisms that read the Fourfold with the only aim to yet again explain it (often erroneously), judge it (unnecessarily), or even discard it (without understanding it) is because I explore this topic in some lengths not only in already published essays (see “Time Unshackled” and “Between Earth and Sky”), but also in a forthcoming publication, Curating as Ethics. My intention here is simply to underscore the importance of looking at this odd term, which, as is well known, Heidegger borrows from Hölderlin. Heidegger’s gods are crucial if we want to extricate ourselves from the contemporary predicaments that we face and I will explain later on what I mean by this. So why the gods today?
Globalised contemporary life constitutes a new kind of desert, a new totalitarianism. It stands for the withering away of everything between us. The fact that we live in a desert is not new. Nietzsche already intimates as much in his own reading of life in the nineteenth century, but it is Hannah Arendt who gives us the most incisive interpretation of this phenomenon. Contrary to Nietzsche, Arendt doesn’t believe the desert is in ourselves, that we all suffer from some inner void, an empty malaise that can only be remedied by turning ourselves into uber-men. For Arendt, the desert is a terrible force that coerces us into the most barren social landscape and this even if we live in the densest of urban environments. The crucial aspect of Arendt’s point is the fact that there is not one thing—government, corporation—that creates this desert amongst us. There is no centralised or dictatorial centre of power that coerces us into the desert. The desert stems from the multitude itself. In other words, we create it for ourselves, we are the totalitarian regime, albeit one diffracted to infinity.
A Few Unruly Thoughts
This essay was written for Simon Streather’s exhibition Night Paintings at The Cello Factory, London (October 2018).
Simon Streather’s new paintings look like rare objects, either time-worn watercolours or perhaps old stained documents. Or maybe they are made to evoke fragments of ancient scrolls that can only be shown on parchment paper. Perhaps there is a reference to archives here, I’m not sure. In any case, there is obviously an inherent fragility to them.
I see them not reproduced online or in a book, but in a gallery setting, hung on the wall. I note that the paintings have no frame, and yet I also note that the hand-made sheets of papers on which they rest constitute some sort of framing device. There is a frame, but strangely the frame isn’t there. Maybe the walls or the gallery space itself constitute the frame. In any case, the parameters of the frame are unclear.
It is a well-known fact that death, being outside of all linguistic referent, cannot be represented; language is indeed utterly incapable of addressing death properly speaking. But is this always the case? Can we imagine a way of conceiving death without at the same time bumping into the limitations of language? To address this old issue, I have chosen, for this Log entry, a few key points in the work of the formidable Russian philosopher Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov [1828-1903]. This choice of author is obviously purely arbitrary, except for the crucial fact that, as I will endeavor to argue, Fedorov manages in his work to apprehend the event of death without exposing the threshold and limits of language. This Log entry should obviously only be interpreted as a small exegesis on the interface language/death in relation to Fedorov’s work—needing more work, of course!—and not as an attempt to sum up the entire sweep of his immensely varied, rich, but often contradictory philosophical and religious speculations.
Besides seeking the universal in the parochial, William Carlos Williams’s collection of poems Spring and All is also an attempt to capture what appears to be immediately available to experience. As he writes: “…the thing [the reader] never knows and never dares to know is what he is at the exact moment that he is. And this moment is the only thing in which I am at all interested.” The method used by Williams to capture this moment and share it with his readers is not to mediate things, but to pin things down immediately as he observes them. This method, which should obviously not be seen as a descriptive form of automatic writing, is an attempt to create a new type of poetry that is no longer mimetic, symbolic, or metaphoric, but generates reality. One illustration of this is the well-known fact that Williams wrote his poem in a few minutes with the aim of producing “new forms as additions to nature” so that his words express those objects in nature, almost speak for them. Spring and All makes this abundantly clear: the leitmotif recurs repeatedly; words refine, clarify, and intensify “that eternal moment in which we alone live…”