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Showing posts from December 13, 2020

A ticklish situtation: me and clever Hans

  “A well regarded psychologist once wrote down the proposition: ... for the animals are not capable of smiling and laughing.” – Robert Musil, Can a horse laugh? When I was a kid, I was subject to a peculiar syndrome. Kids all laugh, of course – or at least this is true in the normal course of events, social and neurological. And I laughed, too. But unlike most of my friends, I was sometimes truly overcome by laughter. A joke, or something that I found funny, if nobody else did, would sometimes set off an almost epileptic series of laughs. I would begin to choke on laughing, and then that I was laughing and choking would itself seem funny. Soon I was panting between laughs, crying, walking around, rolling on the floor. I could not stop myself. Every time I did, every time I was able to make myself pause, something would happen – my parents or my friends would say something, or I would, fatally, think something – and I’d be off again. This didn’t happen all of the time, thank God, but

A few kind words about pretension

  Is there anything to be said for pretension? Simon During’s thumbnail review of Lisa Robertson’s Baudelaire Fractal used the word pretentious, and then semi-takes it back: “Because it’s not only pretentious, it’s jaunty too which undercuts the abstract flim flam. ” (see on Facebook ) There is nothing more damning, in money culture, than pretension. Just as there was nothing more damning, in the culture of the nobility, than the Pretender – claiming an inherited office to which one has no bloodtie. Pretend comes from the Latin world for stretch – to stretch before, to hold something out. “Stretching”, here, is cutely caught up in an Americanism – the stretcher. To tell a stretcher is to exaggerate, or even lie. It is a word I associate with Mark Twain – there’s a sort of unconscious etymological narrative in Huckleberry Finn that makes the stretcher a fundamental part of the tale, which includes a Pretender – a false claimant to the French throne. A flim flam man. When examining

santa monica, 2009: for leandra

  Out of lunch we made a nest The wine, the salad,   the cigs at the end And lined it with the bleeding rests Of our talked down, forked over, knifed over friends   You and I, Leandra: behind you the   sea Huffed and puffed crawled back and forth On the beach where the pelicans pee And the kids get their skin’s worth   Of sunlight – its so Muscle beach here. We laughed like witches, immune, apart From anyone’s poisonous batch of tears From anyone’s slushy and broken heart. -Karen Chamisso            

Letter from Paris

  This plague winter, I walk out into the streets of Paris under the semi-permanent concrete of clouds, my mask in place, my glasses steaming up from my warm breath, and I distinctly feel, under my feet, something slippery, something creaking. There’s something precarious, something about the sidewalks, the spotty traffic, the masked pedestrians that have a slightly demoralized look. The closed up windows of the restaurants, the yawning awnings of the cafes, all the sidewalk tables gone, the measured influx of customers in the shops that are open, shops sporting, as jauntily as they can, the marks of the Christmas season – reminiscent not so much of the usual commercial bacchanal as of a retirement home stirring up the ashes of nostalgia. Something. Paris reminds me right now of some scarred old dreadnought heading out into cold and enemy infested seas. This is all my illusion, but illusion with a respectable geneology – for one of the staples of modernity is the image of Paris in ruin

Kant on boredom and play - a note for the late capitalist peon

    “... men demand activities, even such that include a certain element of coercion mixed in them. Just as false is the idea that if Adam and Eve had remained in Paradise, they would have done nothing but sat together and sung arcadian songs and observed the beauty of nature. Boredom would certainly have martyred them as well as it does other men in similar positions.” - Immanuel Kant's    The Metaphysics of Morals, my translation Boredom in the Metaphysics of Morals appears as a theme and a term (Langeweile) in the context of ‘play’ – and notably, playing cards. In a more extended consideration of the sources of playing in the lectures collected in   the Philosophical Anthropology essays, Kant   elaborates on the hookup of Eden, work, play, and boredom – for it turns out that, in circumstances where our needs are abundantly satisfied, boredom comes into play as the motive pushing us to work or to certain forms of play. It complicates an old equation that posits lack, or need,