Montaigne on introspection

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If no one reads me,

have I wasted my time, entertaining myself for so many idle hours with such useful and agreeable thoughts? … I have no more made my book than my book has made me — a book consubstantial with its author …

Have I wasted my time by taking stock of myself so continually, so carefully? For those who go over themselves only in their minds and occasionally in speech do not penetrate to essentials in their examination as does a man who makes that his study, his work, and his trade, who binds himself to keep an enduring account, with all his faith, with all his strength.

Indeed, the most delightful pleasures are digested inwardly, avoid leaving any traces, and avoid the sight not only of the public but of any other person.

— Michel de Montaigne

Muñoz Molina on the novel

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The novel subjects itself to its own limits and at the same time opens itself up to an exploration of depths that are within and without (the writer) and that only (the writer) was meant to discover. You’re writing even when you don’t write. Narrative imagination does not feed on what is invented; It feeds on the past. Every minor or trivial event that one experiences or discovers in the course of an investigation can be valuable or even decisive for the novel, occupying a minimal but precise place within it, like an uneven cobblestone …

… The novel has developed on its own with the unlimited richness of reality and the blank spaces I haven’t been tempted to fill, spaces in the shadows that cannot be illuminated …

…The novel is what I write and also the room where I work. The novel is the fine-point pen that ran out of ink one day when I wrote for five or six hours without stopping and filled an entire notebook. The novel is made with everything I know and everything I don’t know, and with the sensation of groping my way through this story but never finding a precise narrative outline.

— Antonio Muñoz Molina, Like a Fading Shadow. Translated by Camilo A. Ramirez. Published by Editorial Planeta, S.A., 2014. Translation copyright 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

amateurs

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For several years I kept my eyes open. I moved through the visual realm. Now the light is dim, the will is weak. The cabin freezes, for I don’t hoist myself up for firewood. All the birdsong has gone. The world beyond my door is grand, sublime, but silent—frozen, smothered in snow. At night, the moon and stars provide more light than needed to navigate the empty world, to stomp through drifts of un-shoveled snow to the wood pile. Wolves watch me from afar, their eyes like pointed stars in the shadows. It must be a dream, I think. All of this: the night, the cold, the wolves, this life—

*

A: Your license and registration, please.

B: …

A: Your license and registration, sir.

B: …

A: Can you hear me, sir?

B: …

A: Sir?

B: …

A: (mutters into radio device)

*

You’ll catch me singing in the shower, sad songs. A shower is expiation, catharsis. A shower is amenable to tears.

*

A: Will there be anything else for you, sir? (smiling)

B: No, thank you.

A: Would you like to try any dessert? (smiling, wiping table)

B: No. (smiling, shaking head)

A: How about one of our delicious smoothies? (smiling, wiping table)

B: No.

A: They’re 30% off right n— (smiling)

B: No, thank you. (smiling, forced)

A: Okay, if you need anything else— (smiling)

B: …

A: … (smiling)

*

“The hour of death comes sometimes with agitation and suffering, and sometimes with resignation or even in sleep. Some people report, from near-death experiences, that they see a great light. However, there is no great light, other than in the minds of some of the dying. According to certain conjectures, they perceive such a light because the brain is starved of oxygen, or because there is stimulation, as life wanes, of the temporal lobe, as if the body, on the very verge, were to play a final trick on us.

“Regardless of whether death is resisted or accepted, its aftermath follows a regular course. The body is now a corpse. It becomes first rigid, then bloated. It soon rots, stinks, and begins to be devoured by vermin and bacteria, unless it is promptly burned. From having been revered, the body turns into an object of revulsion.” — Roberto Mangabeira Unger, The Religion of the Future

*

A: What type of writing do you do?

B: All kinds.

A: Do you get paid for it?

B: Some of it.

A: So, would you say you are a professional or an amateur?

B: … Both.

A: I used to write poetry when I was a kid.

B: …

A: And a little in college.

B: … (nodding)

A: … (blushing)

B: What do you like to read?

A: I don’t really read. I wish I did. Don’t have time.

B: … (nodding)

A: Wish I did.

B: … (nodding)

A: Don’t have time.

B: … (nodding)

*

“Amateurs uphold ideas that oppose professional authority. They express concerns professionals don’t consider, don’t care about, often won’t acknowledge. An amateur is more likely to be someone who rocks the boat. He or she isn’t on anybody’s payroll and never will be. To that degree, an intellectual ought to be an amateur.” —  Andy Merrifield, The Amateur

*

Mid-afternoon, when the day is hottest, that’s when I want to burrow deep into the cool earth and wait out the sun. The sun allergy affects both good and bad days, as well as days in-between. The sun is the primary source of life-giving energy on this planet. It is also a menace to all creatures in seasons of extreme heat. For me it is a daily curse, and summers are damnation. I am most free and comfortable once the sun has set. I wave at other night creatures on my crepuscular walks. I sing at the moon. Man and creature both scuttle from my approach.

Notes from Streeck

“Capitalism has always been an improbable social formation, full of conflicts and contradictions, therefore permanently unstable and in flux, and highly conditional on historically contingent and precarious supportive as well as constraining events and institutions.”[1]

“The tensions and contradictions within the capitalist political-economic configuration make for an ever-present possibility of structural breakdown and social crisis.”[2]

“In fact, the history of modern capitalism can be written as a succession of crises that capitalism survived only at the price of deep transformations of its economic and social institutions, saving it from bankruptcy in unforeseeable and often unintended ways…The fact that capitalism has until now managed to outlive all predictions of its impending death need not mean that it will forever be able to do so; […] we cannot rule out the possibility that, next time, whatever cavalry capitalism may require for its security may fail to show up.”[3]

“Why should capitalism, whatever its deficiencies, be in crisis at all if it no longer has any opposition worthy of the name? When Communism imploded in 1989, this was widely viewed as capitalism’s final triumph.”[4]

“My answer is that having no opposition may be more of a liability for capitalism than an asset. Social systems thrive on internal heterogeneity, on a pluralism of organizing principles protecting them from dedicating themselves entirely to a single purpose, crowding out other goals that must also be attended to if the system is to be sustainable.”[5]

“Capitalism without opposition is left to its own devices, which do not include self-restraint…We are already in a position to observe capitalism passing away as a result of having destroyed its opposition—dying, as it were, from an overdose of itself.”[6]

On oligarchic redistribution and the outcome of the economic crisis of 2008: “The possibility as provided by a global capital market of rescuing yourself and your family by exiting together with your possessions offers the strongest possible temptation for the rich to move into endgame mode—cash in, burn bridges, and leave nothing behind but scorched earth.”[7]

“German philosopher Max Weber (1864-1920) drew a sharp line between capitalism and greed, pointing to what he believed were its origins in the religious tradition of Protestantism. According to Weber, greed had existed everywhere, and at all times; not only was it NOT distinctive of capitalism, it was even apt to subvert it. Capitalism was based NOT on a desire to get rich on self-discipline, methodical effort, responsible stewardship, sober devotion to a calling, and to a rational organization of life…Weber’s ethical vindication of capitalism now seems to apply to an altogether different world. Finance is an “industry’ where innovation is hard to distinguish from rule-bending or rule-breaking; where the payoffs from semi-legal and illegal activities are particularly high; where the gradient in expertise and pay between firms and regulatory authorities is extreme; where the revolving doors between the two offer unending possibilities for subtle and not-so-subtle corruption.”[8]

“The Weberian attempt to prevent it from being confounded with greed has finally failed, as it has more than ever become synonymous with corruption.”[9]

“The capitalist system is at present stricken with at least five worsening disorders for which no cure is at hand: declining growth, oligarchy, starvation of the public sphere, corruption, and international anarchy. What is to be expected, based on capitalism’s recent historical record, is a long and painful period of cumulative decay, intensifying frictions, fragility and uncertainty, and a steady succession of ‘normal accidents’ quite possibly on the scale of the global breakdown of the 1930s.”[10]

§

[1] Streeck, Wolfgang: How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System. Verso Books, London, 2016: 1.

[2] 2

[3] 4

[4] 59

[5] 60

[6] 65

[7] 69

[8] 70

[9] 71

[10] 72

from Critchley

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Notes from Simon Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance:

“The philosophical task set by Nietzsche and followed by many others in the continental tradition is how to respond to nihilism, or better, how to resist nihilism. Philosophical activity, by which I mean the free movement of thought and critical reflection, is defined by militant resistance to nihilism. That is, philosophy is defined by the thinking through of the fact that the basis of meaning has become meaningless. Our values are meaningless and require a Nietzschean ‘trans-valuation.’”[1]

“The human being has a reflective attitude towards its experiences and towards itself. This is why human beings are eccentric, because they live beyond limits set for them by nature by taking up a distance from their immediate experience. In living outside itself in its reflective activity, the human being achieves a break with nature.”[2]

“Ours is a universe where human relations have been reduced to naked self-interest, to unfeeling hard cash, and where all social life is guided by one imperative: conscience-less free trade; a life of open, unashamed, direct, and brutal exploitation.”[3]

“Some wrote in the 1970s that capitalism was over. On the contrary, capitalism under the guise of globalization is spreading its tentacles to every corner of the earth. If someone found a way of overcoming capitalism, then some corporation would doubtless buy the copyright and distribution rights.”[4]

“Politics is not rare or seldom, and to adopt such a position is defeatist. Politics is now and many. The massive structural dislocations of our times can invite pessimism, but they also invite militancy and optimism, an invitation for our capacity of political invention and imagination, an invitation for our ethical commitment and political resistance.”[5]

“No revolution will be generated out of systemic or structural laws. We are on our own and what we do is what we must do for ourselves. Politics requires subjective invention, imagination and endurance, not to mention tenacity and cunning. No ontology or eschatological philosophy is going to do it for us.”[6]

Critchley, Simon. Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance. Verso, London, 2012.

[1] 2

[2] 86

[3] 96

[4] 98

[5] 131

[6] 132

Notes from the overground

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[Madrid diametrically opposed to Berlin and Budapest, floral, still, you have your desolate and rotten neighborhoods, drugs, shit, disgrace, but the temperament is different in Madrid. Why is that? How far is the danger in days, in kilometers? Madrid, city of thieves, Madrid, city of whores. Madrid, the constant ever-changing putrid stench, how I love you. You’re like the bitch I let run wild at the back of the house. She’d wander home some nights after days of abandon with the carcass of another dog she’d killed. She’d lie with it near the house in whatever darkness remained and then take it back out to the fields, burying it, I assumed, at dawn. I wonder why she treated those carcasses that way, like kin, and I wonder why I wonder it. Men have no sanction here. Thirty thousand years ain’t shit next to four and a half billion…]