“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

Thursday, November 01, 2012

sympathy for Marcel's Pa

Sympathy for Marcel’s father

We know the story, which is the story of why the story always shatters, never self-organizes, never closes on itself, never is the story. Marcel, an anxious child, can only truly calm his pacing heart and asthmatic and insomniac spasms by being kissed by Mama before bedtime. Of course, the real milk and honey would be Mama spending the whole night on a cot besides him as he sleeps. But the fly in the milk and honey is Papa, who operates as a ‘suppressor’, or so the Scientologists say (knowledge I have garnered from the tres disappointing sketch of Tom Cruise in last month’s Vanity Fair), and frowns at the codlings. Last night, advocating for the wee little pea to remain on his little foam wee little pea ship, instead of being borne by A. as we watched the first episode of Homeland that we had just downloaded, I had a flash of sympathy for Marcel’s pa. Surely he was thinking that Marcel would be much better off if he didn’t get milk and honey every time. And maybe Marcel would have toughened up – maybe, if his father had prevailed, he would have grown up to introduce the noir detective into France, writing sentences like: ‘And then I hit him with the butt end of the pistol. He seemed to want to protest, but with the scarf stuffed in his mouth, his words weren’t too clear to me.” --- instead of, well, choose your own favorite oceanic outpouring.
So it goes. Us father’s mean well.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

King Test

When I was in elementary school, I liked tests. There I was, a little ace, with my little Guiness Book of Records, my Funk n Wagnels Encyclopedia, the entertaining smart boy on the street. In High School, I stopped liking tests – partly cause I no longer aced them. In fact, I sank to the norm or below. And perhaps because I was no longer so good at them, I took a more level view of them. The longer I looked, the more it seemed to me that tests had to be on their way out in the age of nuclear power and space flight. They were so primitive. They were as bad an instrument for measuring learning as a spoon is for eating spaghetti. What you learned, what you know, is imbricated with what others know –it is social to the very core. And yet, the test was individuated and individuating from the get go. The only people who really understood this fact about learning, it seemed to me, were the cheaters – who, at least, exchanged answers with each other. But of course cheating is ultimately parasitic upon testing. No, I felt, tests had to go.
Later on I began to think that the problem was that tests had been displaced from the plane of experience to the plane of cognition. In experience, the test is essential. The self must be put, or must put itself, in a thousand alien circumstances in order to know itself – in order to unfold itself. Ultimately, the self has a plastic, flexible capability, an imaginative potential, that comes out when it is really tested. Unfortunately, the rule of cognitive tests has made it harder and harder to afford experiential ones. In the richest society in history, the U.S., it is now imperative to cut short the Wanderjahre and find a job with insurance, so that you can pay back the student loan. Life has been visibly diminished.
In France, which is as exam-ocentric as ancient China, the test form is everywhere – especially in childrearing. Our little nouveau-ne, Adam, had to pass his numbers – on weight – before we could leave the hospital, and the sage femme that visits us has said rather menacing things whenever we told her that Adam didn’t seem to be eating as much as he should. Poor tyke is a finicky eater, like his Pa. So yesterday, when Antonia took him to the clinic and it turned out that he had been secretly gaining weight – indeed, he passed the weight test 30 grams to spare!- we wept with joy. At the same time, it felt like already we are  tracking him on the path that leads to the “bac” – and he hasn’t even gotten the visual apparatus in order, yet! Meanwhile, from the States, all I hear is parents complaining that their kids are underperforming the tests, which means that they won’t make the grade for the scholarships, which means that they will have to go to community college and then be stuck in some hamburger-flipping job at Mickey Dees the rest of their life.
The test regime is now a brainless monster, with tentacles in every heart. Yet, surely Rousseau was right in Emile – good childrearing is about using your hands, imagining, dawdling over the immediate data of nature (if you can find it).

Sunday, October 28, 2012

two childrearing books

As every alert parent knows, there are two essential child rearing books – Doctor Spock, in the most revised edition, and Gilles Deleuze’s Logique du Sens. Jonie Mitchell’s lines come to mind: “papa gave me the sugar/ momma showed me the deeper meaning.” Such is the case here. We use Spock to gain ersatz certainty in response to various problems that pop up in the schedule of duties (eat sleep poop radiate an adorable aura that touches every heavenly orb) that have been impose on baby – and we use Deleuze to understand why, after a lifetime of ironies and distancing techniques, we find ourselves spontaneously cooing chou chou and petit lapin to our bundle of joy. It is a world of diminutives, a real microverse, and we are just realizing the extent of our contract with Wonderland – which is where the L.d.S comes in to describe its extent and limits.The Logique was presided over by the spirit of Lewis Carroll, while Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is governed by the harsher spirit of Artaud. Lewis Carroll gives us the sugar, Deleuze notes, while Artaud gives us the deeper meaning. In his asylum in Rodez, Artaud tried to translate Jabberwocky – and in that moment emerged something that was less a crossroads than a car crash. For though Carroll’s made up language and Artaud’s schizo talk, which had infected his poems since the breakdown of 1938, might seem similar, in fact they repulsed each other.
Artaud intensely disliked Jabberwocky. Deleuze explains why – and in so doing the Deleuze reader gets a sense of the fact that  the malentendu between Artaud and Carroll stnds at the center of Deleuze’s philosophy. Deleuze quotes Artaud’s letter about Jabberwocky, which for me, now, defines the difference between parenthood and the perpetual bachelorhood of philosophy:

“I don’t like either the languages of the surface, exuding happy leisure time and intellectual successes; the former rests on the anus, but without putting in the soul or the heart. The anus is always terror.”

The anus in the microverse of the diminutives is less terror than clockwork, a mechanism for measuring the new born’s absorption of milk, as well as a mess you clean up without really thinking too much about it after a while. You don’t change diapers in fear and trembling.

Myself, I’ve long been on the fear and trembling side, and now I’m on the other. It is a relief to change diapers for once. And it makes the petit lapin happy, too!