Saturday, December 31, 2011

Barabbas, Son of the Father (In Our Age)

It was unanimous: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have the Jews calling out the name Barabbas, calling out for Barabbas's release, calling for the crucifixion of Jesus, the other Son of God the Father. But only the overly zealous author of Matthew betrays the true intentions of this political fiction: to have the upstart religion of Christianity sever all ties to the Jewish religion, for "ethical" monotheism to inflict its fatal auto-immunization, a self-sacrifice. Matthew's indiscreet supplement is the original libel.

A people intimate with blood would never call out for His blood to be on their heads and on the heads of their children. That was a curse reserved for the most detested of enemies, which is precisely how the Cult of Jesus would have the Romans understand their relationship with the Jews. But Matthew puts these words in the Jews' own mouths, attempting to absolve himself of the necessary consequences of his account.

Thursday morning prophetic dreams of false memories startled me awake twice in a matter of hours. My first nightmare consisted of the phone at my grandparents' house ringing with the call announcing the death of their youngest son. My aunts who were still living at home were sternly hushed as the television volume was lowered on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was October 31, 1965, a Sunday evening. In the second nightmare I was riding in a Jeep with my uncle, my namesake, in South Vietnam. There was a flash, a crash, an explosion, that crippled the scene in grainy Zapruder slow-motion.

The Second Vatican Council promulgated the Nostra Aetate on October 28, 1965. In effect, it was the Catholic Church's attempt to undo the damage done by Matthew's blood libel. It was a Thursday, the day my 19-year-old uncle was killed in Vietnam. It took three days for the news to reach a farm in East Texas.

I imagine my grandmother baking a vanilla cake with white coconut frosting that Halloween, the day my uncle was turning--was to have turned--twenty. Even though I was born two-and-a-half years later, some of my earliest memories were false memories of that day when some government official dialed my grandparents' telephone number to perfunctorily deliver the news that would devastate my grandparents, my family, my father, and instill in me a lifetime of false memories about that day, those events, providing material for a lifetime of nightmares. In effect, the US government rendered me and my family guilty of a crime that it itself had committed. Forty-six years and counting. I wonder how many other calls were made by other government officials that day. I wonder how many other families are haunted by events that happened long before these bedeviled individuals were born.

Perhaps in a couple more millennia some official will finally declare the end of my blood libel, the curses visited upon my family and me in the name of "freedom," "democracy," and those other phantoms and false gods. "Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless...."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cursory Notes on Phenomenology

"Intentionality" expresses the notion that all consciousness shows itself as consciousness of. Therefore, with the employment of the phenomenological method, one escapes the interiority of egoistic solipsism and instead finds that the world and the mind are correlated with one another. “Things" in the material world impress themselves upon our human perception, and phenomenology, at its most basic, traces the mediation between pure ("subjective") idealistic perception and pure ("objective") positivistic materialism. By both dismissing as well as calling into question the metaphysical assumptions of the “thing" itself, the phenomenologist seeks to describe, to give an account of the ways—the structures of intentionality—in which the “thing" presents itself, even if such presentation “includes" its co-constituted absence(s). How is it that I can and do take the back side of the refrigerator, even if I have never had the experience of seeing it (or one) and even if I lack the rational ability to deduce it?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sol Invictus



Anselm Kiefer's Sol Invictus
Kiefer is one of my favorite living artists, and I’m happy to live near Fort Worth, where many of his works are housed. I post this here not only because of my appreciation of his art but also because of the title: Sol Invictus—Latin for “invincible sun"—is the epithet for Mithra, whose birthday is celebrated on the winter solstice as part of the Zoroastrian/Persian festival Yalda.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fire in My Belly

In 1992, I bought David Wojnarowicz’s Memories That Smell Like Gasoline for $15—a hefty price at the time for someone so underemployed and lost in the world. Later, when I entered graduate school and briefly thought I would devote my life to performance art, I adapted an excerpt into—despite Fred Curchack’s vita—a co-created performance entitled The Show. I’m lucky to be able to say that working with Curchack was one of the worst experiences as an adult, particularly since he didn’t behave like one. But despite developing interests in other areas, I have maintained my love and appreciation of Wojnarowicz. I’m glad he’s in the news again and that people are hearing his name and seeing his images, hearing his voice. When I pulled out his book this morning, I found a newspaper clipping announcing his death; I had written “22 July 92" at the lower righthand corner.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Day Two

Of the days on which I may have received an email or a phone call informing me that someone somewhere (see previous map) wants to interview me based upon my stellar dossier and outstanding research program. I go into Day Three a bit more deflated, yet nevertheless excited to get another essay submitted for publication. And before the December 1 deadline. I wish I had completed that other essay I worked on over the summer and had gotten it submitted as well, but that just gives me something to pursue at a later date. And now to devote December to a massive rewrite of yet another essay to be published in a European journal early next year. (And I keep thinking about a few minor revisions I'd like to make on an essay submitted already months ago. Perhaps it's time to contact my co-editors for advice.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Map of Hope and Hard Work

Here's a map indicating most of the twenty-five positions I've applied to this autumn. It doesn't show those positions overseas (in South Africa, Egypt, and Turkey). Most of them are full-time, tenure-track openings looking for specialists in my fields: phenomenology, hermeneutics, and poststructuralism. There are a few visiting professorship and postdocs. Only three more deadlines by the end of the year.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Prostrate Before Saint Genet

I spent the day focused on work and research, and yet this day has felt like debauched decadence: I began this morning reading a chapter in the Irigaray text, and then I spent the rest of day reading various essays by Jean Genet from the collection Fragments of the Artwork, a text that for some reason has become even more difficult to access since I began looking for it a few weeks ago. It is no longer listed on the web site for the publisher or at Amazon.com. Yet I know it exists: I have a copy of it on my desk; although I did have to order it through interlibrary loan.

Here are some highlights of what I read:

§ 11 Interview with Hubert Fichte
[In criticism of Brechtian distantiation, which Genet sees as the gesture of a bourgeois capitalist.] If I smoke a cigar as a cigar smoker, if I can be defined as a cigar smoker, if I listen to Mozart's Requiem and this gesture of smoking a cigar takes precedence over that of listening to the Requiem, then it's not simply a question of distancing, but of a lack of sensibility. It's a question of lacking an ear, which means I would prefer my cigarillo to the Requiem. [Instead, in contemplation of the artwork:] I lose more and more the sense of being "myself," the sense of the "I," and become nothing but the perception of the artwork. Confronted with subversive events, my "ego" or my "self," my "social self," is on the contrary more and more filled, it is more and more inflated, and I am less and less capable, when confronted with subversive phenomena, I am less and less free for ... precisely for that sort of contemplation. [When the interviewer Hubert Fichte asks, "Contemplation absorbs your "self" to the point of destruction?" Genet responds:] Not to the point of destruction, not to the point of losing the "self" completely, because a certain moment, you notice that your leg is asleep, you come back to "yourself," but you tend toward a loss of "self" (118-9).

[T]he flag, as a sign of recognition, as an emblem around which a group is formed, has become a castrating and deadly piece of theatricality... (127).

[On his aversion to revolution.] The current situation, the current regime allows me to revolt, but a revolution would probably not allow me to revolt, that is, to revolt individually. But this regime allows me to revolt individually. I can be against it. But if there were a real revolution, I might not be able to be against it. There would be adherence, and I am not that kind of man; I am not a man of adherence, but a man of revolt. My point of view is very egotistic. I would like for the world--now pay close attention to the way I say this--I would like for the world not to change so that I can be against the world (129).

[On death sentences and something more progressive, of reducing the sovereignty of Louis XVI to nothing by, instead of beheading him, transforming him into a locksmith.] It's as beautiful because it means not exalting death, in the case of Louis XVI, but rendering derisory the idea of one man's sovereignty over others (132).

[On truth of dialog, on truth of confession.] JG: I can't say anything to anybody. To others, I can't say anything but lies. If I'm alone, I speak a bit of the truth, perhaps. If I'm with someone else, I lie. I'm somewhere else, off to the side. HF: But lies have a double truth. JG: Yes! Try to discover the truth they contain. Try to discover what I wanted to hide by saying certain things to you (151).
§ 12 Chartres Cathedral, A "Bird's-Eye" View
A country is not a fatherland [patrie] (153).

The fatherland is not a nation (155).
§ 13 "The Brothers Karamazov"
It seems to me, after this reading, that every novel or poem or painting or piece of music is an imposture if it does not destroy itself, I mean does not construct itself as a carnival duck shoot, where it is one of the heads we aim at (162).
All this--and The Thief's Journal as well as Querelle of Brest--in an effort to finally pick up (later this year perhaps) Jacques Derrida's Glas, to be able to read (only) one column--the right one--of Derrida's text. Thankfully, I still find pre-reading exhilarating.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I'll Tumble for You

I've been microblogging on Tumblr for the past few months as l'immoraliste. Usually my posts are nothing more than links for calls for papers, to conferences, and to other professional sites. I also post lots of quotes and citations from other blogs, articles, and online reports. But there are a few recent posts that are worthy of being re-posted here on my official blog.

The Inadequacy of Distance
In which I critique, by way of Blanchot, a New York Times article casually dismissing some victims of September 11 as "passive."

Fascism for the Fearful
In which I put the question of fascism and fascist rhetoric to the test. It fails, of course, but not before bringing about its own holocaust across the world. Nevertheless, I signal from the flames.

House in the Desert
In which I recount some personal history that might offer some insight into who I am.

What People Don't Understand about my Job: A Philosopher
In which I answer The Atlantic's call to revel to others (who are not philosophers) what they might not know or understand about what it is I do on a daily basis.

If you are already on Tumblr, I hope you find my little site interesting and useful.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Ruination and Salvation of Life/Writing, Part III

Foucault / Blanchot: Michel Foucault: Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside / Maurice Blanchot: Michel Foucault as I Imagine HimMaurice Blanchot’s own biography—the writing of his life—attests to the experience of life as, through, and by way of writing. We know almost nothing about the man, even when we include his and others’ writings about his life. The first sentence of his obituary in The Guardian described Blanchot as “not so much a private person” as one who, despite living to be ninety-five years old, seemed to be “perpetually absent.” Even the most basic biographical information escapes us, thwarting our efforts to know anything about Blanchot the man.

Official documents confirm two birthdays, and depending upon the source, he was born either September 22 or September 27, 1907. He rarely worked in the public eye, and (except for a street demonstration in May 1968), he never spoke in public, appeared on radio or television, overtly participated in politics, nor allowed himself to be photographed. Although living on the periphery of Parisian intellectual life, he mostly resided in isolated villages outside the capital. His writing, then, must serve as hesitant testament to biographical details, but even this avenue comes up against dead ends of information.

The Instant of My Death / Demeure: Fiction and Testimony (Meridian, Stanford, California) (English and French Edition)He labeled his books throughout his long life “posthumous” in an attempt to release the text from its ties to a living author. For Blanchot, a text cannot live as long as it remains an artifact from a lived life, a relic attesting to an “authentic” experience by a “real” blood-and-flesh person. His fiction, like much of his philosophical and ostensibly biographical work (such as The Instant of My Death), is populated by nondescript characters or personae and set within stark, unadorned situations and locales, further speaking toward or against the neutered ontology that can dissolve difference and meaning from otherwise relational—and hence ethical—life (as lived phenomenon).

And yet every bit of biographical material that surfaces indicates a rather remarkable life: befriending Emmanuel Lévinas in the mid-1920s while both were studying philosophy at the University of Strasbourg; hiding Lévinas’ wife and daughter from the National Socialists during World War II; befriending Georges Bataille in 1940 and later partnering with Bataille’s former lover Denise Rollin; escaping certain execution by a German firing squad in June 1944; and chatting with Michel Foucault during the street demonstrations of Paris in 1968.

Blanchot’s friendships had a very substantial bearing on both his philosophical and literary writings. His books were written as if they were transcriptions of conversations unmoored from any context or character study. Writing, in fact, mediated his relationships, especially his relationships with his most intimate friends. During the war, he somehow managed to help Lévinas, who was at the time in a prisoner-of-war camp for French soldiers in Germany, maintain contact with his family through letters while they were in hiding. Curiously, and although he refused to meet the man in person, he continued a “close” friendship with the poet Edmond Jabès for several decades via letters.

Blanchot’s (unwritten) life, then, was at its most basic—and its most extreme—a life of letters, mediated by the work and demand of writing, and whose written word allows for the sustaining preservation of the irreducible relation between self and other, and among writer, the written, and friend.


♦ Infinite-limited, is it you?

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Ruination and Salvation of Life/Writing, Part II

Because writing, for Blanchot, exposes all of us (authors, readers, translators, interpreters) to the impersonal anonymity of (and in) language, our task of assigning “reality” to our experience is problematized by the ethical demands of writing itself. Can we declare with any confidence that the narrator who speaks through Szymborska’s poetry, for example, is any more real than Szymborska herself? What criteria should we use to measure the degree of authenticity or veracity of one over the other?

Having never met Szymborska in person nor conversed with her face to face, how could I ever recognize the woman herself, the one who has a definite biography (born on a certain date in a specific location) even should I have in my possession a recent photograph of her and a current address? Would it not be easier, we must ask, to instead recognize the narrative voice—what often gets reduced to “literary style”—of an unknown poem as being particularly Szymborska-esque than it would be to meet the actual author without questioning her identity?

Blanchot would even go so far as to allege that writing exclusively expresses definitive reality, that the biological and biographical aspects are secondary to or derivative of the narratological (as found in the text itself). Blanchot stresses that all that we can possibly know of any author is what is (already) written about him or her. (But let's not forget that he also maintains that the text says nothing of its author.) In his “The Experience of Proust,” for example, Blanchot articulates how the narrative voice not only undoes the man Marcel Proust but also establishes his authority through the text’s (as well as the author’s) deauthorization.

The Book to Come (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics)We typically read most author’s work as running somewhat parallel to the narratives they write, acceding, in this instance, that the taste of the petite madeleine and the involuntary memory it evoked were as significant to Proust the man as they were to Marcel the narrator in the inarguably semi-autobiographical novel À la recherche du temps perdu. Yet this moment that defines Marcel’s life, Blanchot reminds us, becomes known to us solely through the narrative.

The memory is memorable because of the testament of the written word. Proust has translated any reality of the event into the textuality of his novel, and it is only by way of the novel that the event’s reality is made accessible to us here and now. The self, then, becomes externalized—exteriorized—in writing, and that writing becomes the basis of the self’s own self-knowledge.

The more removed we are from the event, the more we rely on the narrative as evidence of that event, so that the writing bears the event’s reality in a way that “pure” memory or experience cannot. Similarly, Blanchot would want to point out that the only access we have to Socrates’ critique of writing is through the written work. Socrates’ denigration of written language in the Phaedrus is known only through the medium that actually preserves the memory of that denigration.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Ruination and Salvation of Life/Writing, Part I

The myth of the origin of written language as told by Socrates in the Phaedrus: Theuth declares that written language, the materiality of the word, will make the Egyptians wiser by improving their memory. But Thamus instead insists that the technical gift of letters will, in fact, produce forgetting. When Egyptians rely solely on writing to remember, they are reminded from the outside with foreign signs and no longer trust the authentic memory emanating from within their souls. How could writing, as seen from this perspective, ever bring about an ethical relation?

It can be argued, perhaps, that it was not until Blanchot, who lived at the junction of phenomenology and poststructuralism, and within the milieu of post-World War II French philosophy, that writing finally could be accorded its inherent ethical essence, that the intrinsic ethical nature of writing could be uncovered. Is it simply that thinkers since Plato never fully examined the phenomenality of written language? Perhaps so. Approaching an answer to such a question is beyond the scope of this project. Nonetheless, we can most likely agree that Heidegger’s work on language began to set the stage for this rather late development that sought to locate ethics within writing. Heidegger’s verdict—“Die Sprache ist das Haus des Seins.” —begins to reveal not only the ethos (ή̃θος qua dwelling—das Haus—as well as ethics) of language but also—and equally important to Blanchot’s project—the da of Dasein, the thereness of human being which Blanchot, by way of Lévinas, will come to understand as the terrible il y a of non-relational, neutered ontology.

For both Lévinas and Blanchot, language serves as the only escape from neutered being. Lévinas comes to understand, at least initially, dialog and conversation (interpellation) as the site where relational metaphysics (ethics) can occur. We need to remember, however, that for Lévinas, one’s subjectivity is always already riddled with alterity. That is, I cannot (ever) be myself without the (prior and primordial) dispersion of identity across the differential field of otherness. At its most fundamental, I would never have been myself had it not been for the genetic material inherited from my parents and grandparents or for the historical exigencies that moved my family from Europe to the United States. But Blanchot goes even further: he problematizes the pharmacology of the text by putting into question the question of writing and its relational distance to and from non-subjectivist ethics.

Here I would like to explicitly move from the understanding of writing as a pharmakon that poisons—as well as cures—in order to examine more carefully the ethics of writing for Blanchot. One obvious way to make such an approach is by way of Lévinas’ work on writing and ethics, especially as found in his groundbreaking Totality and Infinity. As far as Lévinas, in this text, is concerned, writing is unethical. Only the speech act itself—interpellation—allows for the opening toward exteriority, which is Lévinas’ own formulation of how the I escapes its totalizing, narcissistic, identitarian egology.
Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (Martinus Nijhoff Philosophy Texts)
Within interpellation, the other disrupts the homology of the I, supervening within the I’s perspective that the I is a self-contained whole. In the face-to-face dialogic of Lévinasian ethics (metaphysics), the fact that dialog arises overrides any signification of the words themselves. The ethical import of conversing—the act of conversation—then, resides in the back and forth of communication and not (ever) in the content of what is said. The saying, for Lévinas, overcomes the said (or anything that can be said). The fact that there is, outside of me, another human being with whom to converse trumps any kind (of) word I may receive from him. From this view, we can see how any communicable, ethical content (of communication) is denigrated, at least at first, in Lévinas’ phenomenological approach to ethics.

So much of Lévinas’ critique of writing hinges upon his understanding of objectivity, insisting that the other always already stands in relation to the I and does not arise καθ̉ αυ̉τό. This relation functions as the foundation of ethics that one human being has with another. One, then, is never purely objective or disconnected from the other. We can see a basis for this view by thinking through the phenomenality of a so-called individual self, who is not only biologically and genetically composed of other selves but also, throughout its existence, existed as other selves.

The ethical relation is primarily the relation we human beings share and participate in within discourse. Lévinas contends, “The face speaks. The manifestation of the face is already discourse.” In this way, discourse is “an original relation with exterior being.” The other presents the fullness of himself in the fullness of his words through discourse. Lévinas thereby aligns himself with the Platonic tradition when it comes to the decidedly unethical nature of writing. Accordingly, writing merely signifies the other’s presence, disallowing ethics altogether. Lévinas goes so far as to insist that not only does writing refuse ethics but also that it establishes a traditionally unethical situation to arise:
To approach someone from works [as opposed to through discourse, by way of the saying] is to enter into his interiority as though by burglary; the other is surprised in his intimacy, where, like the personages of history, he is, to be sure, exposed, but does not express himself. Works signify their author, but indirectly, in the third person.
By referring to the injustice of entering into the otherwise inviolable interiority of the other (or even of the self) as “burglary,” Lévinas forgoes allowing writing its ethical aspect. Despite the severity of such a critique, it is upon writing’s foundation and the materiality of language itself that Blanchot is able to divulge the ethical dimension of writing. Precisely because writing has the ability to alienate the I from itself, it, too, exposes the self to exteriority, not only of language but of alterity as well. Furthermore, Blanchot disagrees with Lévinas’ initial assessment that written works signify their authors. By relegating the author into the third person, signification, representation, description all come up against language’s outside, which is where Blanchot will situate ethics in (written) language.

Emmanuel Levinas and Maurice Blanchot: Ethics and the Ambiguity of WritingThe fact that writing renders the author useless by dismissing him or her into the third person turns out to be precisely the means by which Blanchot is able to explain, indicate, and perform the ethical nature of his anti-theory of literature. Blanchot’s own attempt to employ this kind of deauthorization of both the author as well as the subject (who, in turn, becomes the object of writing) marks his writings about his most intimate interlocutors: his friends Georges Bataille and, of course, Lévinas. I do not mean here to imply that we can simply substitute the alterity of the text (in Blanchot’s work) with the alterity of the other (in Lévinas’). Such substitution and exchange is fraught with the same kind of violence imposed upon language and interpretation that we can find evidence of in the tendency to generalize and universalize (terms and experience) in order to erode and cover over difference. It is this “uneasy analogy” that William Large critiques.

Large instead argues that, for Blanchot, the narrative voice and the imaginary event of literature and writing undergirds reality itself, allowing for the externalization (in words, in the text) of the self. In writing, we do not ever merely deal with the interiority of a (Cartesian, Kantian, Freudian) subject. Writing displaces the subject, dislocates the time of the subject, and neuters subjectivity itself through the materiality of the word. For example, the I, in its lived experience, is always experienced as an engendered being, but as soon as the I is written and transcribed onto the page, neutrality—“neuteredness”—befalls it in its pervasive and persistent thereness. We see this most obviously in the employment of the neutered pronoun it when writing of the I. It is at the moment when one writes “I” that authorship and authority come undone, that the author steps outside of him- or herself.

Through the text’s materiality, selfhood finds itself expressed and described upon the page. But this exterior “selfhood,” in having nothing to say of the self, becomes other, an alter eclipsing the originary ego so much so that the “I” transcribed no longer speaks of the I who transcribes. Writing, then, phenomenologically establishes and maintains a distance between author and text, even when that text is “about” its author. Of course, we can argue that only one of those “selves” is “real,” defiantly asserting that the person who writes is “more real” than a character in a novel. But this is not how Blanchot understands the problem of writing.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Writer

The Writing of the DisasterThe writer, his biography: he died; lived and died.

The writer writes to live on. Writing to live on, her life is a kind of survival. Sur-vival: a living beyond. Beyond what? One's own death. The writer's biography, then, continues long past her anterior death, before she ever writes a word. The writer can survive only by disallowing the text written, to be written. Bereft of text, the writer lives in a terminal interruption of the work of writing. In writing's failure.

The writer's life, her biographical material, has only an "anecdotal significance." Therefore, let's begin again.

Blanchot writes that literature—or what he later simply terms writing—has two slopes. One side slopes toward typical literary interpretive strategies by way of negation. By negation Blanchot here articulates the manner in which writing, by becoming transparent, communicates a certain content of language through language. That is, for example, by employing the cat, I negate any particular cat and in its place offer a universalized cat. The presence of the idea of a thing replaces the absence of the thing itself. With this idealized cat, I transmit, re-encode, and translate communicative content that you, to some extent, are able to decipher. Ultimately, however, no cat is there: an idea about a cat has passed between us, so there has been communication and translation, but I have not handed you a domesticated, carnivorous quadrupedal mammal of the genus Felis. That cat has already slunk away out of sight.

The other slope of writing further vexes language’s power of abstraction. Literature does not merely re-present a metaphysical reality and then disappear after performing its conveyance of information. Upon the first slope, my word cat, whether spoken or written, refers to something with material reality, with metaphysical presence. Yet cat itself does not simply represent that corporeal feline; rather, it ideates the cat’s fur, tail, and whiskers, replacing its attendant body with a conceptual cat. The presence of the concept stands in for the absence of the thing. But upon this second, non-informational slope, cat exposes not only the absence of an actual cat but also the absence of its idealized concept. We translate the cat’s nonbeing not into the idea of cat but rather into an actual word that has its own weight, form, and rhythm—that is, we spell it c-a-t, we pronounce it /kæt/, and in English it rhymes with the words hat and rat. Upon this second slope of writing, there is a double absence: both the cat itself and the idea of cat have gone astray. It is as if that cat had never existed in the first place, leaving behind on the page the materiality of the word cat.

Informed, of course, by Mallarméan and symbolist poetics, which emphasize the literary effect of language over representational function—correspondence over coherence—concrete poetry asserts that typographical layout is more important than the words themselves. The importance of the impermanent presence of the written word stresses textuality over representationality. This translation of a cat and the idea of cat into cat, then, achieves literature’s désœuvrement—its inertia, uselessness, inoperability, and unworkability. For Blanchot, then, literature demands that we experience this double absence as absence, that we too allow for the essential solitude of literature to exile us altogether from the text. Our seclusion and banishment from the text as readers, interpreters, and translators, however, do not reassert, by any means, the author in a privileged position. For lost among the infinite displacements of meaning and between the double voids of literature wanders also the writer.

The text, in this way, de-authorizes even the author’s authority as an intimate expert. The author herself finds herself outside her own text: because of the work’s essential solitude, “He who writes the work is set aside; he who has written it is dismissed.” According to Blanchot’s anti-theory, we certainly can read any text as inscribed by the author’s biography. Many readers do exactly (and only) that. But my criticism of interpreters and translators who endorse these kinds of modernist and structuralist agendas do a disservice to reading in general by not allowing the text to speak any more than what they themselves are able to read into it. These stifled and stifling readings allow for only one possibility from upon only one slope of the text. If we stay put upon this first slope of literature, content with our clever, insightful, and historically as well as biographically accurate readings, we certainly have accomplished our self-congratulatory exegetical task. But that is not how Blanchot would have us phenomenologically understand our task as readers, writers, and exegetes. We still, nonetheless, must contend with our own inability to enter the emptiness at the heart of the text itself.

The facticity of the writing’s ontological truth—the fact that it is and the fact that it speaks its own being—writes off both author and reader: “The poetic word is no longer someone’s word. In it no one speaks, and what speaks is not anyone. It seems rather that the word alone declares itself.” While Freudian, formalist/structuralist, and reader response theories indeed can help open a text to our understanding, once inside—after we analyze all allusions and word play—language’s matter, the exterior shell of meaning that while containing meaning also obfuscates and disseminates the possibility of absolute knowledge, lingers. Words themselves do not disappear after providing conveyance of information from one person to another. The text ultimately remains unworkable as we confront words—devoid of both material and conceptual referents—that simply refer (back) to other words in an infinite dispersion of meaning across the doubly aporetic center of language.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Crisis of Meaning (And Yes, You Will Misunderstand)

Churches contribute to gay suicides, most Americans believe. I wonder if blaming region also somehow gives it more power or credence in the lives of those who would commit suicide. It seems Americans believe all sorts of crazy shit, so I'm not convinced that religion actually does cause gay suicide. Although I readily admit that "gay suicide" is just as despicable as "gay marriage" or "gay rights."

I guess I'm somehow perplexed at the crossroads of identity politics, empathy, and my exhaustion with the handwringing over "overly sensitive kids"* killing themselves. I also don't see how "it gets better" sloganeering does anything except feed into a false and unrealistic sense of the future. I'm a 43-year-old queer who still has no idea what "it" is and who has not yet seen evidence of anything "getting better." If anything, the recent spate of gay suicides proves just the opposite, no?

Also, I despise Dan Savage, and I find him as reprehensible as Glenn Beck and his ignorant ilk. Savage's usurpation of this issue bothers me more than the actual deaths, which is a great injustice no matter how you slice it. Eschewing therapy and other feel-good, solipsistic avenues, and at the great risk of ignorance and hatred, I wonder what other people think about this issue, about my perplexity. Is anyone else (just as) confused?

This crisis--which admittedly is only my crisis--came to a head several months ago when President Obama posted his own "it gets better" video. When I was thirteen and reading in the Arkansas newspaper at my grandparents' house about gays dying of some mysterious disease, I felt my own life slip away, as if G-d (Himself) had punched me in the belly. Even by then, I had already begun to suspect my inclinations.

It would take several years and many more deaths (approximately 21,000) before President Reagan ever muttered the word "AIDS" in public. How is it possible--in the age of the Internet and a caring and concerned President--for these children to take their lives when in my own world I managed to survive the 1980s with my own physically-abusive bullies at home and at school and without knowing another single gay person in my east Texas town (population: <1,800)?
__________
*Perhaps my problem is not knowing how to speak/write about what the problem is. When I think about who I was at that age, I think "overly sensitive kid." I don't remember a time in my teens that I wasn't crying or self-medicating to avoid crying. I'm not saying that's a problem, that's their problem, or even that I have a problem with my overly sensitive nature now. Ultimately, even while attempting to lump them under the category of "overly sensitive kids," I am still not one of them. And yet, I have no idea why I'm not, especially after years of my own self-hatred and suicidal tendencies.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Itinerary

Here is the itinerary for my upcoming and far-too-short trip to Europe. Please let me know if our paths will cross at some point.

Wed 25 May
Arrive FRA (Frankfurt am Main) 07:20AM; take train to Köln

Thurs 26-Fri 27 May
Hermeneutics and Translation Studies Conference, University of Applied Sciences in Cologne

Sat 28 May
take train to Amsterdam
Peter Hook and the Light concert, The Hague

Sun 29 May
Cage With(out) Bird concert, Amsterdam

Mon 30 May
take train to Frankfurt a.M.

Tues 31 May
Patti Smith concert, Frankfurt a.M.

Wed 1 June
Depart FRA 10:55AM

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Griga Leaf
March 19, 1994 – April 30, 2011

Pure and complete love. Rest in peace, Baby Griga.

Friday, March 25, 2011

This New Adulthood

Woke up this morning, and after reading The New York Times, I bought symphony tickets and then logged in to my IRA/investment accounts to check on the numbers and make a couple of transactions. Now I need to create the budget for April and finish a conference paper this afternoon. Shouldn't I be smoking a pipe? I'm not quite sure how to perform this new role. Good morning, middle age!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Impossibility of Possibility

When I began writing this post, my first sentence was, "My grandmother will die within the next twenty-four hours." In the time it's taken me to complete this post, I can no longer claim such prescience. Let us begin again.

My grandmother died Saturday morning: my last living grandparent, the last of that generation. It is a travesty that life is forced upon people whose lives become insufferable. My grandmother suffered for the last several weeks of her life, and I could not bear to visit her any longer. I received some small comfort--fully aware that my comfort is irrelevant--when my sister reported that my grandmother was finally receiving hospice care.

In Being and Time, Heidegger attempts to think through Dasein's being as time, as the relationship one has with her own ever-oncoming death. Authenticity arises within the appropriation of the event of one's own possibility of impossibility, of "being" when one no longer is.

Lévinas and Blanchot would want to overturn that understanding, positing instead the experience of one's death as the limit, the limen, the aporia of one's power. Death saps us of all possibility, even of the possibility to experience our own death, which remains forever beyond our grasp: in dying, we never die. Death, for these two thinkers, reveals itself as the non-relational relation, exposing human beings to our own powerlessness of possibility.

One of my earliest memories of my grandparents was of them speaking, always in the subjunctive, of visiting Hawai'i. My grandfather served in the US military and fought in the Pacific during World War II. Though blinded by shrapnel, he always talked about returning to Hawai'i to see it "after the war." I remember fantasizing as a child about being able to join them on their trip, either by plane or by ship, to those distant tropical islands. Television programs such as Love Boat and Fantasy Island only fueled my delusions of travel.

My grandfather died in 2006. I remember being only vaguely aware of how possibility had slipped away, replaced by the impossibility of returning to Hawai'i. A few days ago, however, as I confronted the imminent death of my grandmother, I was overwhelmed by the fact that we, that she, had reached the extent of power. Even should I make it to Hawai'i someday, the possibility of that trip had been erased, eradicated, destroyed. Hawai'i would be like death: never traveled to, never traversed. Something we could have only ever spoken of in the subjunctive, in the conditional, in the recession of what might be possible and the withdrawal of power itself.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Into the Past, Part II

Several months ago I signed up for an account on Ancestry.com, but I left everything but my most basic information empty knowing that I did not intend to return to this project that has haunted me for the past several years until I had completed my dissertation. A couple of days ago, I began my genealogical research with vigor, paying the $155 annual subscription fee so that I could access all their US data. Since then, I've managed to trace two branches of my family back to the Revolutionary War. One of my ancestors served as a captain under George Washington, and both he and another ancestor from a different branch served in the North Carolina militia at approximately the same time. Little did they know that their descendants would eventually marry in east Texas and become my grandparents. One branch goes back much further, past two name changes: my 16th great grandfather was born in Norfolk, England, in 1450, during the reign of King Henry VI. On the other main branch of my family, the genealogical record breaks off abruptly after a generation or two due to adoptions, multiple divorces, and general black sheepness, who probably served in no war except the ones with his family.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Into the Past, Part I

I spent a few hours the other day cleaning out my study, throwing out, shredding, and recycling various papers I've collected over the past several years in anticipation of a much larger purge during the new year. Among these sheets I kept encountering past lives, either those I actually lived or those I had at one time intended to live. There was one page on which I had written a fairly extensive business plan for a Japanese import shop, complete with name, corporate identity, a list of items to carry and services to offer. It was written after returning from my two-year stint in Japan when I had no idea how to proceed in my life career-wise. Another "business plan" I had developed a few years later was as teacher/tutor of various Slavic languages: Russian, Polish, Czech, and Ukrainian. I had several pages of a copied flyer that I had posted about town and at local universities. In a matter of three short years I had reduced my ambition from business entrepreneur to second-class teacher and part-time tutor. Thankfully, neither of these "career" paths panned out. Instead, I was to eventually (or finally) return to graduate school to complete the doctorate. Now I'm at that crossroads in my personal and professional lives that it's time to narrow my past and eventual paths down to the bare essentials. I no longer need a business plan for a Japanese import shop. I no longer need to market my language skills as a means of earning a few random bucks from poor students who mistakenly think they need to develop skills in any of my languages. It's now time to let go, to let be. Goodbye to these pasts, these past lives, these potentialities and possibilities. Hello to me and the path I've chosen and still adore.