Kill The Philosopher in Your Head

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Louis Althusser’s hand

By ANNE BOYER

Althusserianism has always been a Marxism for those who prefer their class struggle as philosophy

Louis Althusser was upset about the cop in your head. Or rather, he was upset that the students on the streets in Paris ’68 told you there was one there to kill, so much so that he wanted their slogan “Kill the Cop in Your Head” damned to what he called “the Museum of the History of Masterpieces of Theoretical and Political Error.” These “anarchists,” he wrote, missed the point: It was not cops, prisons, armies, courts, and other forms of state repression that sustained capitalism. To imagine them as the enemy in your head was a mistake, for according to Althusser, “everyone knows, after all,” that in your head, “one can only have ideas.”

A philosopher might be lousy at fighting a cop on the streets, but no worries—the cop only appears to be what is standing in the way of revolution. It is the you inside you who are the enemy, trained since birth to be so. What the anarchists of ’68 should do, Althusser wrote, was give up their prejudice against the “authority of knowledge” and read Plato. They would then see that society couldn’t run on repression alone. Its real engine was “beautiful lies.” You would be better off to imagine, in place of the cop in your head, yourself in your head. What the you in your head looks like is someone propelled by society’s beautiful lies. Do you recognize yourself as yourself? Say hi. You are an “interpellated subject of ideology.”

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An Interview with Michel Gondry

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A still from Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?

By BRANDON HARRIS

New Inquiry film columnist Brandon Harris interviewed French director Michel Gondry about his new movie: Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy?: An Animated Conversation with Noam Chomsky

Brandon Harris: When did you encounter Noam Chomsky’s work?

Michel Gondry: Eight years ago, maybe more recently, but I was not very familiar with him at the time. Of course, I was taken by his political work and his views on many things but especially his views on creativity. I responded to it a lot, especially his view that creativity is something that is common to all human beings but you see a very small range of people using their creativity to make their living. I think we share that, thinking that this is a shame. Then I started to read his science work and that was very impressive.

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I’m Not A Philosopher (But I Play One in The Movies)



By BRANDON HARRIS

Slavoj Žižek in A Pervert’s Guide to Ideology | Noam Chomsky in Is the Man Who is Tall Happy?

In the first installation of his film column Aspect Ratio, Brandon Harris looks at new movies featuring philosophers Slavoj Žižek and Noam Chomsky

The movies play tricks on us. Deception is the rule, suspension of disbelief the prerequisite. Whether Charlie Chaplin or Robert Flaherty, Michael Bay, or Steve James, it doesn’t matter who you are, let alone your intentions and budget and ideology. Some claim to simply glean moments from unobstructed reality. Others blow up things that look like bridges in places that look like New York using sophisticated computer-generated imagery and vast amounts of money, sums large enough to plug the municipal deficits of rust belt cities. Both the mythical unobstructed “reality” guy and the municipal deficits lady construct moments out of these various kinds of material that are equally artificial. Forget the box of the frame; once the cut and sound are introduced, reality is what we make it.

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/// SHE GIVES HERSELF AN ULCER ///

Video: a version of Gang of Four’s “At Home He’s a Tourist.”

Let us proceed to indicate the effects of culture.

1. Our first institution in the Ideal philosophy is a hint from nature herself.

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Certain mechanical changes, a small alteration in our local position, apprizes us of a dualism. We are strangely affected by seeing the shore from a moving ship, from a balloon, or through the tints of an unusual sky. The least change in our point of view gives the whole world a pictorial air.

[At home she feels like a tourist. She fills her head with culture. She gives herself an ulcer. Why make yourself so anxious, you give yourself an ulcer?]

2. In a higher manner the poet communicates the same pleasure. By a few strokes he delineates, as on air, the sun, the mountain, the camp, the city, the hero, the maiden, not different from what we know them, but only lifted from the ground and afloat before the eye.

[Two steps forward, six steps back, six steps back, six steps back …]

3. Whilst thus the poet animates nature with his own thoughts, he differs from the philosopher only herein, that the one proposes Beauty as his main end; the other Truth.

[He fills his head with culture. He gives himself an ulcer.]

4. Intellectual science has been observed to beget invariably a doubt of the existence of matter.

[From the things they sell, to help you cover.]

5. Finally, religion and ethics, which may be fitly called the practice of ideas, or the introduction of ideas into life, have an analogous effect with all lower culture, in degrading nature and suggesting its dependence on spirit.

[She said she was ambitious, so she accepts the process.]

Texts from On Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson & lyrics to Gang of Four’s “At Home He Feels Like a Tourist” interspersed in italics.

Love, Mystery, and Irrationality

"Sexuality is a murky realm of contradiction and ambivalence. It cannot always be understood by social models, which feminism, as an heir of nineteenth-century utilitarianism, insists on imposing on it. Mystification will always remain the disorderly companion of love and art. Eroticism *is* mystique; that is, the aura of emotion and imagination around sex. It cannot be ‘fixed’ by codes of social or moral convenience, whether from the political left or right. For nature’s fascism is greater than that of any society. There is a daemonic instability in sexual relations that we may have to accept."

- Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

"Man should stop being—or becoming—a rational animal. He should become a lunatic, risking everything for the sake of his dangerous fantasies, capable of exaltations, ready to die for all that the world has as well for what it has not."

- E. M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

"We lay on the ground and kissed. Perhaps you smile. That we only lay on the ground and kissed. You young people can lend your bodies now, play with them, give them as we could not. But remember that you have paid a price: that of a world rich in mystery and delicate emotion. It is not only species of animal that die out, but whole species of feeling. And if you are wise you will never pity the past for what it did not know, but pity yourself for what it did … In the end we were silent. You will have understood. Love is the mystery between two people, not the identity."

- John Fowles, The Magus

"Heathcliff, in Wuthering Heights, would kill everybody on earth in order to gain Cathy, but he would never think of saying that murder is reasonable or theoretically defensible. He would commit it; there his theory comes to a halt. This implies powerful love and it implies character. Since intense love is rare, such murders are uncommon, and they retain an air of waywardness. But as soon as a man, through lack of character, takes refuge in a doctrine, as soon as he makes his crime reasonable, it multiplies like Reason herself and assumes all the figures of the syllogism. It was unique like a cry; now it is universal like science. Yesterday, it was put on trial; today it is the law.”

- Albert Camus, The Rebel

"Leonardo who knew neither Latin nor Greek, and who described himself as an unlettered men (‘omo senza lettere’), loved words and fought with them, receiving many wounds. Love wounds. There is no love that does not pierce the hands and feet. No love that leaves the lover unmarked."

- Jeanette Winterson, Art & Lies

"The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed”

- T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

Moral belief as aesthetic stance

Susan Sontag believed that intellectuals should, must, take political stands. She was active in the movement against the Vietnam War. She tried, with passion and persistence, to awaken American and European consciences to the genocidal catastrophe in Bosnia. And yet I would not call Sontag a political thinker. For Sontag, politics was an arena for practicing the high moral style. It was about the individual bearing witness. It was, in another of its aspects, about the writer defending literary values, the values of civilization, when they were under siege, as they were in Sarajevo.

This is from Ellen Willis’ Three Elegies for Susan Sontag. (As you may have noticed, Sontag is a perpetual topic of interest here at TNI.)

This passage raises all sorts of questions for me about art, morals, and political action. For example: what is the difference between the “high moral style” as practiced by Sontag and the rest of politics? Is that a grittier, more pragmatic kind of realpolitik? Is one more morally correct than the other?

And: are literary values moral values? Lionel Trilling would say yes; Camille Paglia would laugh derisively, then say no. Willis’ phrase “the values of civilization” is frustratingly vague—is this civilization in the sense of culture (the arts), or society (politics/ethics)? Willis elides the difference between them, perhaps because Sontag tried to do the same later in life, when she became predominantly a fiction writer (though she still did write criticism, most notably Regarding the Pain of Others, which certainly marries artistic and moral concerns).

We can read Sontag’s turn away from criticism toward fiction as a surrender to the realization that criticism can never hold the same moral power as art, the novel being the great moral form in the Western tradition. Of course, when Sontag gave up criticism for fiction—when she fully indulged her moral preoccupations—she became largely irrelevant, culturally speaking. But isn’t striving for moral seriousness always an admirable project? In the end, it depends on your priority: aesthetics or ethics, the interesting or the good. And I’m inclined to agree with Paglia: they do at times conflict.

"Ah, you poor nut, you overeducated boob."

Goethe simply wouldn’t stop at the boundaries drawn by the inductive method. He let his imagination pass over into objects. An artist sometimes tries to see how close he can come to being a river or a star, playing at becoming one or the other—entering into the forms of the phenomena painted or described. Someone has even written of an astronomer keeping droves of stars, the cattle of his mind, in the meadows of space. The imaginative soul works in that way, and why should poetry refuse to be knowledge? For Shelley, Adonais in death became part of the loveliness he had made more lovely. So according to Goethe the blue of the sky was the theory. There was a thought in blue. The blue became blue when human vision received it. A wonderful man like my late friend Humboldt was overawed by rational orthodoxy, and because he was a poet this probably cost him his life. Isn’t it enough to be a poor naked forked creature without also being a poor naked forked spirit? Must the imagination be asked to give up its own full and free connection with the universe—the universe as Goethe spoke of it? As the living garment of God?

- Saul Bellow, Humboldt’s Gift (“Humboldt” = Delmore Schwartz)

A constellation of questions I am perpetually asking:

  • What, if any, are the limits of reason and intellect?
  • Can we reconcile the merits of a rigorous intellectual life with those of great imagination and spirit?
  • Is it better to have a great mind or a great soul? Do great artists have both? How is this related to the role of the artist and what art does?
  • What does it mean to have a great soul? Is it something we can cultivate, or a matter of innate disposition?
  • Are the profoundest reaches of the imagination beyond language?
  • Why can the greatest criticism never be as good as great art? Are critics like Lionel Trilling and Susan Sontag failures because they were not great artists?
  • What is the difference between an idea and a feeling?

Maybe I will actually try to answer some in future posts…

New: Jorge Luis Borges & Philosophy (1976 Interview)

Dennis Dutton of Arts & Letters Daily, for the first time makes available online a 1976 Interview with Jorge Luis Borges.

What’s more: he has posted the audio.

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(via)

MP-R: Would you call your work a search for a system?

Borges: No, I wouldn’t be as ambitious as all that. I would call it, well, not science fiction, but rather the fiction of philosophy, or the fiction of dreams.

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graemebooks:
“Computers” (1961), photo by Walter Sanders for Life magazine.
”If men create intelligent machines, or fantasize about them, it is either because they secretly despair of their own intelligence or because they are in danger of succumbing to the weight of a monstrous and useless intelligence which they seek to exorcize by transferring it to machines, where they can play with it and make fun of it.  By entrusting this burdensome intelligence to machines we arre released from any responsibility to knowledge, much as entrusting power to politicians allows us to disdain any aspiration of our own to power.
…
It is not for nothing that they are described as ‘virtual’, for they put thought on hold indefinitely, tying its emergence to the achievement of a complete knowledge.  The act of thinking itself is thus put off for ever.  Indeed the question of thought can no more be raised than the question of the freedom of future generations, who will pass through life as we travel through the air, strapped in their seats. These Men of Artificial Intelligence will traverse their own mental space bound hand and foot to their computers.  Immobile in front of this computer, Virtual Man makes love via the screen and gives lessons by means of the teleconference.  He is a physical - and no doubt a mental - cripple. That is the price he pays for being operational.  Just as eyeglasses and contact lenses will arguably one day evolve into implanted prostheses for a species that has lost its sight, it is similarly to be feared that artificial intelligence and the hardware that supports it will become a mental prosthesis for a species without the capacity for thought.”

- from Jean Baudrillard’s essay “Xerox and Infinity” collected in his book, The Transparency of Evil, Essays on Extereme Phenomena.

graemebooks:

“Computers” (1961), photo by Walter Sanders for Life magazine.

”If men create intelligent machines, or fantasize about them, it is either because they secretly despair of their own intelligence or because they are in danger of succumbing to the weight of a monstrous and useless intelligence which they seek to exorcize by transferring it to machines, where they can play with it and make fun of it.  By entrusting this burdensome intelligence to machines we arre released from any responsibility to knowledge, much as entrusting power to politicians allows us to disdain any aspiration of our own to power.

It is not for nothing that they are described as ‘virtual’, for they put thought on hold indefinitely, tying its emergence to the achievement of a complete knowledge.  The act of thinking itself is thus put off for ever.  Indeed the question of thought can no more be raised than the question of the freedom of future generations, who will pass through life as we travel through the air, strapped in their seats. These Men of Artificial Intelligence will traverse their own mental space bound hand and foot to their computers.  Immobile in front of this computer, Virtual Man makes love via the screen and gives lessons by means of the teleconference.  He is a physical - and no doubt a mental - cripple. That is the price he pays for being operational.  Just as eyeglasses and contact lenses will arguably one day evolve into implanted prostheses for a species that has lost its sight, it is similarly to be feared that artificial intelligence and the hardware that supports it will become a mental prosthesis for a species without the capacity for thought.”

- from Jean Baudrillard’s essay “Xerox and Infinity” collected in his book, The Transparency of Evil, Essays on Extereme Phenomena.