“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, June 30, 2012

metaphysics of paper 2

...The heavy mouth, the portable clay – it is here that I want to plant land, survey, plant some stakes.
The first stake has to do with the various motions that are in play in inscribing the tablet. The first motion is that of the sign itself, which is entirely the act of a gesture. Of course, the very fact that the gesture is immobilized in the sign signals the potential divide between the sign and the gesture – once the trace is standardized, the gesture recedes before the tool itself: the printing press is prefigured in Enmerkar’s act. Perhaps it is a mark of that mechanical future that Enmerkar does not consult the gods before creating his magic object, if we think of the gods in opposition to tools. There are mythical hints of this in the Eastern Mediterranean myths concerning the human rebellions against the gods. Still, Enmerkar does not act in conscious rebellion against the goddess Inanna, his protector: he simply responds to a particular human incapacity, a heavy jaw.
That first motion is echoed in the second motion, which is the material in which the figure is written. The text is always inscribed on something – some substratum, some hyperkeimenon. This is the orginal sublimated object – it gives itself to its own substitution by existing, on that day, in the moment of inscription, as the inscribed thing. And its movement is subordinate to the figures that are inscribed upon it – they exist above it, so to speak. They fly, like cherubim and seraphim, like bugs and Gods, and land. The substratum travels, too, but dumbly, materially – its flight is to the flight of the figures as the flight  of a thrown pebble is to the flight of a bird. However, the doubleness of its mobility is essentially like that of the figures. As a standardized object, it is immobile enough to bear the inscription. But as a limited object in space,  it also can be sent. And it is here that it intervenes in the social logic of writing – it is here that its sublimation is, and always will be, imperfect. For if the written couldn’t be sent, then the object itself would have a heavy mouth. In limit cases – of heavy blocks – writing and the object slow down. In the imagination, this slowing down has to do with a superhuman memory, or a monument. The block, the marble or granite of the monument bears the fall of the figure into the imperial realm of “eternity”, outlasting the human generations just as the tablet can circulate outside of the community. The flight of the day is frozen into the date of the monument. 
The second stake is in the trick, or trope, the turn, the trope, the magical transformation of object to beast, sound to sense, mark to meaning. Why is this a trick or a trap, however? It will take civilizations of nostalgia to answer that question, but the question seems to be posed, or coiled at least, in the story. The transformation of sound – which can cause a mouth to get heavy – into sense is paralleled by the transformation of the mark into meaning, but going in this direction, we leave behind the hyperkeimenon, we forget it. In the story, the Lord of Aratta is tricked into surrendering by taking the tablet in his hand – it is the tablet itself that has the magical meaning. This trick  is reversed in a more common fairy tale, that of the fatal sealed letter. A prince or troublemaker is given a sealed message to carry to a king. The message states that the king should murder the messanger. Here, the trick is the script, and the matter it must be written on is the veil. Matter eclipses itself – one of its tricks.

Friday, June 29, 2012

metaphysics of paper 1

Every kind of paper is purchased by the "waste-men." One of these dealers said to me: "I've often in my time 'cleared out' a lawyer's office. I've bought old briefs, and other law papers, and 'forms' that weren't the regular forms then, and any d——d thing they had in my line. You'll excuse me, sir, but I couldn't help thinking what a lot of misery was caused, perhaps, by the cwts. of waste I've bought at such places. If my father hadn't got mixed up with law he wouldn't have been ruined, and his children wouldn't have had such a hard fight of it; so I hate law. All that happened when I was a child, and I never understood the rights or the wrongs of it, and don't like to think of people that's so foolish. I gave 1 1/2 d. a pound for all I bought at the lawyers, and done pretty well with it, but very likely that's the only good turn such paper ever did any one—unless it were the lawyers themselves." –Henry Mayhew, Of the street buyers of waste (paper), London Labour
Men no sooner discovered the discovered the admirable art of communicating their ideas by way of figures than it was necessary to chose the material for defining those characters. – Encyclopedie, entry under Papeterie
From the grammatological point of view, few sentences could sum up the logocentric ideology better than this one from Diderot’s  Encyclopedie. It is a history in two steps:  in one of which the “figures” are discovered, and in the other of which they find a substrate, a material upon which they could assume their secondary, visible existence. In this story, the material is already substituted –its existence is laid out under the sign of substitution - or of supplementation, or of sublimation. The true mark, the idea, exists before its fall into the world of paper – or papyrus, or clay tables, or vellum. 
In a Sumerian story, the invention of writing and the material for defining the characters are put in a closer narrative proximity – one in which that matter exists in a series of symbolically important materials that form the basis of what Jean Jacques Glassner calls a “duel”. The ur-form of the story is a competition between two magicians, one of whom transforms common objects into living beings, the other one of whom transforms common objects into superior living beings that eat the first magicians tricks – a stone becomes a snake, for instance, while the leaf of a tree becomes an eagle that eats the snake. A similar story of the duel of matter is told of Enmerkar, the ruler of a powerful state, and the Lord of Aratta, a distant state that Enmerkar wishes to gain tribute. Enmerkar sends messangers threatening Arrata. The first messenger threatens to have the goddess Inanna drown the city. The Lord of Aratta sent back a refusal, and a challenge: could Enmerkar send grain to the city in nets rather than sacks? Enmerkar does so, sending grains that sprout and provide a layer over the holes in the nets. The second time, Enmerkar sends his scepter, and the third time a garment. The forth time Enmerkar does something completely new, and without consulting the gods: he takes a lump of clay and he wrote upon it. The duel, here, comes to an end with the Lord of Aratta having to take hold of the clay tablet in order to read it. As in a children’s game, by touching the object, the Lord of Aratta signals his submission.
But this moment is less the conclusion of a magical  duel than the first unintended result of the letter – for Enmerkar was not originally intending to send a letter. Here’s how the passage is translated by Fabienne Huber Vulliet:
“His speech was substantial,and its contents extensive. The messenger, whose mouth was heavy, was not able to repeat it. Because the messenger, whose mouth was tired,was not able to repeat it, the lord of Kulaba patted some clay and wrote the message as if on a tablet. Formerly, the writing of messages on clay was not established. Now, under the sun and on that day, it was indeed so. The lord of Kulaba inscribed the massage like a tablet. It was just like that.”
The message and the clay, here, come together in a narrative about tricky objects – about metamorphosis – that is enfolded in another narrative about imperial power. From the point of view of the author of the lord of Kulaba, the signs and the tablet are two sides of one dated event (Now, under the sun and on that day…). There is a triangle here between the figures, the tablet, and the time – for that day is, in a sense, signed and becomes that day, the object of an act of deixis.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Disaster in the zona: hard times a-comin'

How dumb are the economic policies our master’s have loaded on our back? This dumb:

“…the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has downwardly revised potential economic output for 2017 by 6.6 percent since the start of the recession. This may seem trivial, but for a $15 trillion economy, this dip reflects roughly $1.3 trillion in lost future income in a single year, on top of years of cumulative forgone income (already at roughly $3 trillion and counting). The level of potential output projected for 2017 before the recession is now expected to be reached between 2019 and 2020—representing roughly two-and-a-half years of forgone potential income.” – Andrew Fieldhouse
That forgone potential income will not be coming out of the pockets of the plutocrats. If  in the next four years we face another slump, the only group that will get bailed out will be the fat cats, just as the only group bailed out in 2008-2009 were the bankers, boiler room conmen, hedgefunders and offshore men who got the Fed’s Instaloan cure. So we have a rough estimate, at least, of the next step down by the American middle class. They can stare at it, or they can stare at the glassy screen of their tv and pretend that the instruments haven’t flashed the disaster sign.  I think of this as sort of the Dixiefication of the U.S. – every space will eventually look like S.C., with the rich in the stratosphere and the rest happy to get catfish.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The corner stone of the wealth of nations

Marx congratulated Malthus (whose work he otherwise disparaged) for understanding that Smith’s more sophisticated division between productive and unproductive labour was the foundation stone of The Wealth of Nations. The metaphor of the foundation stone is important, here – Say, as Marx knew, had claimed that it was the stone that the builders could reject – although Say did not frame it in that biblical way. Marx, who had a great pool of references whirling in his unconscious, probably fixed on this – he did like troping the biblical Zitat.
But why was it so essential, in Marx’s view? I think it is because the distinction allows one to see that capitalism generates, internally, a socially defined class structure that cannot be separated from its economically defined activity. It is a class structure that is different in kind from the status structures before it, even as the forms of distinction characterizing those status structures heralded the new system, one where the great binary, the spheres of production and circulation, allowed something that seemed impossible in the Malthusian world: untrammeled growth. And thus the great wheel of fortune would be broken. Like Prospero’s gear:
I'le breake my staffe,
Bury it certaine fadomes in the earth,
And deeper then did euer Plummet sound
Ile drowne my booke –
So too would the ancien regime bury itself.
But if the class system of capitalism has done with the former unproductive class, the aristocracy, and industrializes agriculture, thus chasing away the peasant and his moeurs, the dualism of class does not necessarily seem like a dualism. This is largely due to the fact that the sphere of circulation in which the circulation worker moves does not form a homogeneous opposition to production: the workers within it are not capitalists per se. 
In fact, the capitalist remove from nature and from production is accomplished under the cover of the circulation worker, who becomes, increasingly, the ideal character type of modernity.