Sunday, 30 September 2007

Badiou's ethics of truth

The problem with an ethics of fidelity (Badiou's truth) is that fidelity itself becomes the point of it--that 'remaining true' becomes more important than acting in this way or that way. In other words, loyalty tends to trump judgment. The British soldiers who undertook the distasteful work of slaughtering Indians in 1857, or the Germans who slaughtered Jews in the 1940s, were being true to their duty; a woman who stays with an abusive husband is 'being true to him' or 'to love'; a woman who submits to genital mutilation is 'being true' to her culture and identity. This sort of loyalty is obviously wrongheaded; but it's hard to see, in Badiou's scheme, how to challenge it. Badiou's ethics posits Bill Sikes's dog as the model for 'how to act'.

Saturday, 29 September 2007


'He went public' -- as if publicity were a place ...

Friday, 28 September 2007

Love your neighbour

Love your neighbour as yourself is a carte blanche for the self-hateful and parasuicidal to maim and kill those around them ... the very people, of course, who (under various degrees of self-repression and self-awareness) make up most of the world's secret police forces, private armies, unofficial and official mafias.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Six six-word stories

Your eyes are lovely. With wasabi.

‘The sky’s falling!’ ‘Don’t be stu—’

One of these words is poisoned.

A headless man? How last-century!

The one law of robotics. Kill!

The French for six is cease.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

On hypocrisy

“What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.” Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (1963), ch. 2 .

But, as Freud points out in Civilisation and its Discontents, hypocrisy is correlative with civilisation; all of us who live in the polis are hypocrites in this sense. It’s as if Arendt has lighted upon her own formulation of the idea of original sin

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

'It's not enough ...'

To say 'it's not enough to be in love' is to call into question concepts of sufficiency (and satiety), not concepts of love ...

Monday, 24 September 2007


Medieval mementi mori represented death and physical corruption as a process of dessication: a turning into dust, ‘ashes to ashes’, ‘from dust you art and to dust you shall return’ and so on. But modern life sees bodily matter (witness ten thousand horror flicks, and the expert special-effect representation of the abjection of decay) as a wet thing. The flesh, dry and clean, has become our flesh, sodden and rotten and revolting.

I wonder if this isn't a symptom of a broader cultural evolution, a shift from discourses of dryness to ones of wetness. Smoking goes out of fashion and drinking comes in; we go from dystopic future-visions of desert landscapes and dried-out ruined city husks to dystopic future-visions of devastating flood.

What gives? Don't we feel dry anymore? Have our whistles been too thoroughly wetted?

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Strong Truth

'Truth is fragile', Adorno says in the Negative Dialectics (its temporality makes it so, he thinks). But implicit in the observation is a desire that things were otherwise, a yearning for truth to be strong. Why, though? Why should strength be the criterion? (Why not usefulness? helpfulness? beauty?) What if the strength we wish truth to possess belongs not to warrior who will fight our corner, but a monster who will devour us? Say, for the sake of example, the truth is that our existences are contemptible and irrelevant, that death is the end, that nothing matters, that love does not prevail and goodness counts for nothing--if that truth were strong enough, it would crush us utterly. Be thankful, then, that such a truth is weaker than our capacity to imagine a better state of affairs.

Saturday, 22 September 2007


'To be able to speak the langauge of birds!' Ah! To be able to talk of--worms ... to be able to scare others from one's territory and to attract a mate. To coo over eggs. To squawk with fright. But wait, I already have a language in which I am able to do all that. It is called English.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Pont poem

The river is parched.
The water has rolled itself up
Into a great many round boulders

As a roomful of vapour distils
Into droplets on the glass.

The bridge arches its many eyebrows in surprise.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

The size of childhood

Adults misunderstand the experience of childhood. We inevitably think of it as a smaller time, a comfortable restriction, hemmed about by family and schools, rules and play; a model-existence; a jewel mode of living. Smaller bodies, smaller anxieties. But of course the child's perspective is nothing so manageable--it looms, terrifying and huge and open-ended ...

Wednesday, 19 September 2007


The trees drop their leaves, and the wind mocks them by blowing them right back up again.

The year says 'there is no time.' Something that radiates from the clockwork centre of the year, and I have always assumed that 'there is no time' doesn't mean 'there's no such thing as time.' But then again--(then? again?)

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Write what you know

Write what you know, they say. But how can you know what you know until you write it?

Monday, 17 September 2007


When Agamben talks about homo sacer (in interviews and such) he often reverts to the figure of the prisoner. If the state of exception is the determining socio-political environment for homo sacer, then prisons are the clearest manifestation of the state of exception. So, for example, he says: “we can no longer differentiate between what is private and what public … both sides of the classical opposition appear to be losing their reality. And the detention camp at Guantánamo is the locus par excellence of this impossibility. The state of exception consists, not least, in the neutralization of this distinction. ”

Andonis Tsonis says:

A most striking space where we can locate this phenomenon is the prison camp. Inside the prison camp, law and punishment, zoe [ie Agamben's 'biological life'] and bios [political life], and exclusion and inclusion indeed enter a zone of indistinction. The prison camp is that tangible space where law has everywhere suspended itself in favour of the exception.

But there’s something peculiar about this. The economics of it is all screwy. The comparison between the Nazi death camps and Guantánamo, whilst manifesting an attractive polemical thrust, is inexact: the death camps were, mostly, labour camps, where prisoners were worked—to death, some of them, or until such time as they could be murdered. This work was economically productive for the oppressive regime. Prisons in the US or UK, on the other hand, are unproductive and enormously expensive—it costs less to send a boy to Eton for a year than to hold a man in custody in a UK prison. If prisoners truly existed in a state of exception, wouldn’t the power that holds them make the most of their imprisonment, on its own terms? Force them to labour, or else simply exterminate them to keep their costs down? In fact, if somebody dies in prison it costs the government much more, in time and money, than it does if (say) a homeless person freezes to death, unnoticed, in the street.

The answer, I suspect, is that labour itself has undergone a paradigm shift. The Nazi Death Camps were, whilst they operated, kept secret; but the whole point of Guantánamo is display. The only reason we don't have a 24-webcam feed from the camp is that, by invoking the rubric of secrecy, the powers-that-be understand that they act to increase interest in the place. Nevertheless, its inmates work for the US government as performers, acting out for the world’s gaze (whether approving or—much more commonly—outraged) US power, as a deterrent, and US carelessness of world opinion, as a signifier of strength. But that's not exceptional; that's vanilla flavour alpha-male social interaction. That's the norm.

Sunday, 16 September 2007


It is easy to mistake self-repression for sensuality.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Saccharine and blindness

Sometimes, without giving up your committment to civilisation, 'sweetness and light' is the very opposite of what you want ...

Friday, 14 September 2007

We are not travelling

We think we are travelling out there, boldly going to a final frontier; actually we are always returning home, and the final frontiers are those which defines our existences (birth, death, and the process of conceptualisation in-between) rather than any external architecture of the universe. Stories tend to tell us things about ourselves; why else would we be interested in them?

Thursday, 13 September 2007


There are bound to be people who will talk about 'the problem of race', in the same way that people might, say, talk of 'the problem of phlogiston'.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The world

The world is simple. Behind the world is not simple.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Conceptual Breakthrough

I shall still you, motionless as stone in sheerest wonder,
I shall beat upon your mind, and break it all in sunder.

Monday, 10 September 2007


Daniel Dennett puts it nicely when he says that ‘the chief beauty of the Darwinian theory is its elimination of Mind from the account of biological origins.’ We could take this further, and explore the extent to which aesthetics as a whole, and particularly the apprehension of the beautiful, depends upon the extent to which mind in this sense can be eliminated ...

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Birds poem

Boards, blue-feathery
vegetative plumage, the sugar
beach and blue seagrass and

these top-heavy saurian fowl,
the glitchers, the oil-eyed,
polyphonic song and sunflames

like stalks, these possess
the finesse to leave it all behind.
That authenticated quotation

about migrating birds, the
stork in heaven knoweth
the time of their coming

is not, that’s to, not it, aw,
at all, awe, aw, stalk-legs, and
zipper-feathers adhering each

to each and sand-coloured timber
shaped and planed to curves
fitted together as the set.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Dreams I Can't Make Sense Of

Striking that it is usually so hard to make sense of dreams, given that they are, so we are told, the means by which the brain sorts through and generally makes sense of the multifarious events of the day. As if the process of making sense of reality necessarily involves the translation of that reality into opacity and confusion.

Friday, 7 September 2007

The lightning strike

And the crooked neon path it tracks from up to down bristles with wires of light spoking in every direction. And you realise that lightning does not, it truth, look like a zigzag; that it looks more like a vast shining snowflake. Some snowfall, this. Some charged and cataclysmic snowfall.

Thursday, 6 September 2007


One way of reading the modern world is to see in it an enormous expansion of Freud's taboo--as a contemporary category, and as the root-term behind a range of items of discourse absolutely central to the modern world: pollution in its presentday environmental sense; transgression, particularly the legal and sexual transgressions that occupy the media so hugely; and totem, which is to say icon--commodity--celebrity. Indeed, it could be argued that science, rather than reducing the power of taboo by dispersing the cloud of unknowing that surrounds its magical rationale, has actually reinforced taboo. Science has shown us that we are indeed surrounded by invisible (strictly, microscopic) forces and agencies, viruses, germs, poisons, toxins, as well as many other invisible (strictly, psychological) occasions for stress, trauma and so on ... all these are gifted a reality that was by definition lacking from the earlier 'magical' or 'influencing' taboo objects. By 'by definition' I mean two things: one the obvious point that taboo previously was a symbolic rather than real action (there's nothing really wrong with eating pork, or with handling a dead body, although there may be something symbolically wrong with these things). But I also mean that, being magical, taboo formerly depended upon a degree of lack of clarity in its operation. That's changed now. There's reason, now, in the category of the taboo. That's an alarming thing.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Contents Page for an Imaginary Collection of Poems

The Strength of an Arm
Two Poems ('Rust on Guitar Strings', 'Specks of Hope on my Heart')
Escape by Tunnelling, Escape by Catapult
Chanting the Syllable ‘Oh’
The Word, ‘When’
Unoriginal Sin
Over I
Anagrams of Lovers Names
A Fable from Aesop
Over II
Over III
Hurrying Out the Library Doors
Points of Comparison: Books and Birds
The Wise Eschew The Path of Wisdom
In the Index, Right Column
Fictitious Cleanness
Author's Note

Tuesday, 4 September 2007


Chldren: nature's usury upon the investment of life, bless 'em.

Monday, 3 September 2007


Is it that we are tangled up in the roots? Or in the branches?

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Avoiding angst

Let's say that the way to deal with ontological despair, with the mind-crushing inevitability of our personal and species extinctions, with the meaninglessnesses of existence, with the echoing horror and so forth, is simply not to think about it all too much. To put our mental energies into displacement activities; to let our eyes defocus just a bit and orient ourselves by the blur. Of course thinking too much is almost a three word definition of philosophy--pity the philosopher who thinks too little! But this does result, I suppose, in at the very least a professional conflict of interests.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Safari Park poem

The bears with humps of fur on their backs,
and canny, doggish faces peering
from the hoodies of their own bulk.

The thalidomide penguins.
The hippos flattening their fat
to beds of grey pondlily.

The earthenware rhino that could
have stood artist's model to Durer,
folded plates of skin, tentacular upper lip.

The elephant, trunk down, five-legged,
ears like gill flaps
an arse like baggy grey jodhpurs.

Peacocks with tail-feather eyes, like
no other kind of eye in nature
for size, or colour, or lidlessness, or shape.

Half-size fibre-glass models of lions
in the savanna would express a similar
ratio of unreality to the real

as these live animals in these false paddocks.