Sunday, June 27, 2010

The power of cover

Wired Magazine 1 votes Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band the Best Album Art of All Time:
The Beatles' influential 1967 record Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band blew minds wide open. The Grammy-winning cover was created by art champion and director Robert Fraser, and married the work of designers Peter Blake and Jann Haworth with more than 70 artists, writers, thinkers and figures influential to The Beatles. The Beatles themselves appeared alongside simulations of themselves, a nod to the death of Hard Day's Night–fueled Beatlemania. The cover, which included cutouts for mustaches and badges, eventually warranted its own legend for disciples who just love to Geek The Beatles. The whole epochal art project proved about 100 times more expensive than any cover made before. Its influence has been immeasurable.
Ok, that's that. But you cannot take away the force of Iron Maiden's Number of the Beast. Admittedly, Heavy Metal has been construed by some as "an arena of gender, where spectacular gladiators compete to register and affect ideas of masculinity and sexuality," 2 but TNOTB rightly deserves "hell" for delivering its poetic-satanico-political message during Ronald Reagan's conservative reign.  

"Run to the Hills" is my second favorite cut of the album (after the album's title song) with Maiden's trademark galloping rhythm underscoring the images of warriors on horseback:
White man came across the sea
he brought us pain and misery.
He killed our tribes
he killed our creep
He took our game for his own need.
We fought him hard
we fought him well
Out on the plains we gave him hell.
Satan has good company! Milton received similar criticism for his (political?) portrayal of the Lord of Darkness in Paradise Lost.3
In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
Stood like a tow'r; his form had yet not lost
All her original brightness, nor appear'd
Less than Archangel ruin'd, and th' excess
Of glory obscur'd: as when the sun new-ris'n
Looks through the horizontal misty air
Shorn of his beams, or from behind the moon
In dim eclipse disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs. Dark'n'd so, yet shone
Above them all th' Archangel; but his face
Deep scars of thunder had intrench'd. ( PL 1.589-601)
1Wired does not explain what criteria was used for this selection. 2Jeffrey Jensen writes: "... there are also adolescent girls whose sensation-seeking tendencies are high enough for heavy metal music to appeal to them. Furthermore, the alienation that draws so many of the boys to heavy metal also exists among some girls, and they, too, find an ideological home in the subculture of heavy metal." See Metal Heads: Heavy Metal Music and Adolescent Alienation (Westview, 1996) p. 139.  3 See Walter S. H. Lim's John Milton Radical Politics, and Biblical Republicanism (University of Delaware Press, 2006). One understands Milton's Paradise Lost better through Lim's careful analysis. In a sense, the trials of Adam serve to unfold Satan's radical political platform (my take, not necessarily Lim's), which explains Milton's coded ambivalence between good and evil.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tuna's End

Don't miss this article by Paul Greenberg in the NYTimes Magazine, about the fate of the bluefin tuna:
[...] appetites continued to outstrip supply. Global seafood consumption has increased consistently to the point where we now remove more wild fish and shellfish from the oceans every year than the weight of the human population of China. This latest surge has taken us past the Age of Cod and landed us squarely in the Age of Tuna. Fishing has expanded over the continental shelves into the international no-man’s territory known as the high seas — the ocean territory that begins outside of national “exclusive economic zones,” or E.E.Z.’s, usually 200 nautical miles out from a country’s coast, and continues until it hits the E.E.Z. of another country. The high seas are owned by no one and governed by largely feeble multinational agreements.
Greenberg ends his piece with a sad, solemn warning:
Perhaps people will never come to feel about a tuna the way they have come to feel about whales. Whales are, after all, mammals: they have large brains; they nurse their young and breed slowly. All of that ensconces them in a kind of empathic cocoon, the warmth of which even the warmest-blooded tuna may never occupy. But what we can perhaps be persuaded to feel, viscerally, is that industrial fishing as it is practiced today against the bluefin and indeed against all the world’s great fish, the very tigers and lions of our era, is an act unbefitting our sentience. An act as pointless, small-minded and shortsighted as launching a harpoon into the flank of a whale. 

focus on greece

On the Greek situation @ Scurvy Tunes:
"Across Europe, the governing technocrats of parties in power have responded to the new phase of meltdown (the so-called sovereign debt crisis) with neoliberal reflexes conditioned by three decades of there-is-no-alternative orthodoxy."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Open Mind

The heavy old man in his bed at night
Hears the Coyote singing in the back meadow.
All the years he ranched and mined and logged.
A Catholic.
A native Californian.

And the Coyotes howl in his
Eightieth year.
He will call the Government
Who uses iron leg-traps on Coyotes,
My sons will lose this
Music they have just started
To love.

The ex acid-heads from the cities
Converted to Guru or Swami,
Do penance with shiny
Dopey eyes, and quit eating meat.
In the forests of North America,
The land of Coyote-and Eagle,
They dream of India, of forever blissful sexless highs.
And sleep in oil-heated
Geodesic domes, that
Were stuck like warts
In the woods.

The Call of the Wild.-- Gary Snyder (1973).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

do your work, then step back

The Tao doesn't take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
The Master doesn't take sides;
she welcomes both saints and sinners.- Tao Te Ching

Thomas Bayrle, Maxwell Kaffee, Oil on canvas (1967).

Alfredo Triff

Let's talk about this void which calls forth the fullness, the coexistence of Tao in both subject and object, essence and appearance. Imagine a situation, which shows itself as something not complete, an event that demands our involvement, yet, the situation appears imperfect, out of joint. Chto delat?

I take Thomas Bayrle Maxwell Kaffee as a metaphor for the nausea that implacably pursues Roquentin in La Nausée, a weird paradox of one and the many that we find again in Kenyan artist Ingrid Mwuangi's If:

The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things. (vers. 42)1

Ingrid Mwuangi, If, digital c-prints mounted on aluminum (2001).

The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities. (vers. 4)

According to the Tao Te Ching, our will to fix things can paradoxically take us into unexpected detours. Let me explain: I don't see my will as being impeded by anything other than my desire to act. But in the big realm of overall causation, I'm not alone. My will is "differential," i.e., one amongst hundreds of millions of other intersecting wills. Seldom I stop to ponder my volition as a very small fraction of an overall sum of (unknown) wills, not only in the here and now, plus the already existing chain/reactions which precede my time/space.

How to see my will vis-a-vis this higher order of will/differentials? What's the relative limit between my doing and my doing too much? And viceversa, how much of our lives simply end up -unknowingly- "happening" to us?
Ray Bradbury, A Sound of Thunder, edition of Collier's magazine (June 1952).

Just as in Bradbury's A Sounf of Thunder,2 imagine how much of our planet's future is -and is not- in our hands right now.

The Tao is like a bellows:
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you understand. ( vers. 5)

On the positive side, think of serendipity in science, randomness in quantum mechanics and aleatorism in music! 3

Marco Fusinato, Mass Black Implosion, ink on archival facsimile of score (2007).

On the negative side, think of Black Swans, Popper's historicist fallacy, chaos theory and uneventful events. Which brings us back to the mismatch of essence/appearance. Of course, the question that we need to answer is how can we "tell" the difference? 

Look, and it can't be seen.
Listen, and it can't be heard.
Reach, and it can't be grasped. (vers. 14)

The answer to the problem is not that simple because there is no single unequivocal course of action. It's at this point that jazz can help. When musicians improvise, they are also part of a center of energy given by the whole ensemble. If one sees it synchronically (as if you could make a slice in the music sequence) the musicians seem to solo, if one sees it diachronically, it plays as a perfectly fit sequence. The success of the solo depends precisely of this give-and-take between part and whole and vice-versa. This is known as "groove," the sort of Tao of jazz.4 Miles Davis' So What illustrates the point eloquently:

As in jazz, Taoism is perspectival, i.e., there can be different solutions to a given problem.This doesn't mean that all solutions are the same. Just as there are good and bad improvisations, there are good and bad solutions to a given problem.

Tao can have multiple interpretations. Why? It's part of the our conceptual constructivism. Think of this question: Is the Big Dipper made by Nature? Philosopher Nelson Goodman thinks not. For Goodman, "a constellation" is a "version," i.e., a construction that picks these stars from others. The same with "star," a version that "picks" (configures) stars from other celestial bodies.5

Lecia Dole-Recio, Untitled, paper, vellum, tape and gouache (2003).

Goodman explains:
Truth of statements,rightness of descriptions, representations, exemplifications, expressions,... is primarily a matter of fit, fit to what is referred to in one way, or other renderings, or modes and manners of organization.6

In our quest/struggle with Reality, we keep building construction upon construction (human endeavor in science, politics and the arts, reflects this dynamic). What comes first in Ochoa's Collapsed? Hint: The concrete wall is the future event of the aggregate of rock, sand and water. You see the cause, then you see the effect, but never at once. Art does the trick! 

Ruben Ochoa, Collapsed, Concrete, steel, burlap, wood, dirt (2009).

At some point we discussed the apparent riddle of the Tao Te Ching, which brings forth the idea "speaking/not speaking" in Zen, which we'll go into detail next week. The Chuang Tzu helps: "If Tao is made clear (by words), it is not Tao. If words are argumentative, they do not reach the point."
In classical Chinese, the character bian (dispute) is the synonym of another bian (discriminate), because the former contains the meaning of the latter. The character bian (discriminate) also has a synonym, which, structurally consisting of "half" and "knife," meaning both to decide (to judge) and to divide (to cut into half). Dispute, as such, implies using language to discriminate, to divide. Whenever there is a dispute, something is left unseen. Wherever there is division, something is left undivided. Every right (shi) and wrong (fei), a fixed binary division, conceals something. Something else is being covered up by every seeing of something. This covering up, has no secure ground, not only because one thing and its other are mutually dependent -or mutually conditioned-, but also because it is always possible to shift the angles from which one looks at them.7
Then, we discussed an important and often glossed over element in Taoism: humor. Let's come back to it. Chuang Tzu counsels:

"The general idea is to show the happy excursion, the enjoyment in the way of inaction and self-enjoyment." (Chuang Tzu, A Happy Excursion)

No one fits this metaphor better than a child. We must try to bring back our lost innocence and sense of wonderment. There is something to be said for a child's natural ability to take in the world without prejudice.

Brian Chippendale, Ninja and Maggot Series, (2006).

Unfortunately, growing up means repressing this ability so that the adult becomes an entrenchment of hardened stereotypes. Meanwhile, our ability for enjoyment gets regimented and instrumentalized.

"Having fun" -as we usually use the word nowadays- carries this sense of being entertained, which in our post-Capitalist society is exactly the opposite of true fun, the equivalent of forfeiting our curiosity by domesticating ourselves into vacuous, purposeless compliance.

Against this disposition we must present Tao's flexible, contrarian (even comical) side:

 Teruhiko Yumura This is Ja, for Flamingo Studio

Tao's flexibility avoids the pitfalls of intellectual constipation:
Proud beyond measure,
you come to your knees:
Do enough without vieing,
Be living, not dying.

 "A man who knows he is a fool is not a great fool," advises Chuang Tzu. Later, this "fool" becomes an important character in Zen. I'd like to warn, however, of unproblematically going for enjoyment, not only because to begin with, the Capitalist imperative "enjoy yourself" can castrate the feeling, but because, as Sarah Kay points out, enjoyment can be a double-edge sword: "enjoy-meant," and the meaning displaces being.8 Said differently, the desire ends up killing the feeling. I think this is what philosopher Simon Critchley has in mind when he cites a telling passage from Beckett's Watt:
The bitter the hollow and -haw, haw!- the mirthless. The bitter laugh laughs at that which is not good, it is the ethics laugh. The hollow laugh laughs at that which is not true, it is the intellectual laugh. Not good! Not true! Well, well. But the mirthless laugh is the dianoetic laugh, down the snout - haw!- so. It is the laugh of laughs, the risus purus, the laugh laughing at the laugh, the beholding, the saluting of the highest joke, in a word the laugh that laughs -silence please- at that which is unhappy. 9
Critchely suggests that risus purus may function as a therapy to demystify some of the most (resilient and) negative attitudes of our political sphere: anal retentiveness, social hostility, violence and self-importance.
1 Taken from Tao Te Ching, translated by S. Mitchell2 In his short story A Sound of Thunder, Ray Bradbury imagines the impact of the so-called butterfly effect:
Maybe Time can't be changed by us. Or maybe it can be changed only in little subtle ways. A dead mouse here makes an insect imbalance there, a population disproportion later, a bad harvest further on, a depression, mass starvation, and finally, a change in social temperament in far-flung countries. Something much more subtle, like that. Perhaps only a soft breath, a whisper, a hair, pollen on the air, such a slight, slight change that unless you looked close you wouldn't see it. Who knows? Who really can say he knows? We don’t know. We’re guessing. But until we do know for certain whether our messing around in Time can make a big roar or a little rustle in history, we’re being careful.
3 Serendipity is the finding of something valuable without its being specifically sought. In general, activities and skills that can function in parallel may interact in unplanned and unforeseen ways. Professor Jeffrey McKee argues that some of the most important forces of human evolution (the roles of which have been largely neglected) are chance, coincidence, and chaos. According to McKee one cannot understand how humans evolved without taking these three factors into account. See, The riddled chain: Chance, coincidence, and chaos in human evolution (Rutgers University Press, 2000). 4"When jazz is really grooving -whether it's a solo pianist, a quartet, or a big band -there is indeed an unmistakable feeling of buoyancy and lift (...) relaxed intensity is the key." Johnny King, What Jazz Is: An Insider's Guide to Understanding and Listening to Jazz (Walker: 1997) p. 24. 5 Hilary Putnam, Renewing Philosophy, (Cambridge, 1992), p. 115. 6Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, (Hackett Publishing, 1978).  7 See, Youru Wang, Linguistic Strategies in Daoist Chuang-Tzu and Zen Buddhism: The Other Way of Speaking (Routledge, 2003), p. 98.  8Sarah Kay, Zizek: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge, 2003), p. 162. Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding, (Verso, 2007), p. 82.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

This town is nothing more than an immense script, a perpetual motion picture made up of childhood signals and faked phantasms

Thus perhaps at stake has always been the murderous capacity of images: murderers of the real; murderers of their own model as the Byzantine icons could murder the divine identity. To this murderous capacity is opposed the dialectical capacity of representations as a visible and intelligible mediation of the real. All of Western faith and good faith was engaged in this wager on representation: that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning, that a sign could exchange for meaning and that something could guarantee this exchange: God, of course. But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say, reduced to the signs which attest his existence? Then the whole system becomes weightless; it is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum: not unreal, but a simulacrum, never again exchanging for what is real, but exchanging in itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.-- Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations.

"Pangu Transforms His Body," Yuanqi lun

Pangu died and transformed his body.
His breath became the wind and the clouds.
His voice became the thunder.
His left eye was the sun.
His right eye was the moon.
His four limbs changed to be the four compass points.
His five limbs became the five sacred mountains.
His blood and body fluids turned into streams and rivers.
His muscles and sinews became solid earth.
His flesh became arable land.
His hair turned into stars.
His body hair turned into grass and trees.
His teeth and bones were transformed into gold and minerals.
His marrow changed into pearls and jade.
His sweat was the rain and the moisture of the land.
The germs in his body were carried off by the wind.
They became the mass of the people.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Jesus and Mary Chain: Darklands

The world is here some ages late,
And stagnant as a marish:
I thank my stars it is my fate
To have a country parish.-- John Davidson, "A Ballad in Blank Verse," (1894).

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Traversing State Terror and the Politics of Fear

Gene Ray in Scurvy Tunes:
Rescuing reorganization, then: the shared search for a social logic that breaks with domination and refutes its miserable history. Capital accumulation and commodified life have failed us, basically, if not exactly, as Marx predicted. However, the mirroring dominations of “actually existing socialism” are not to be repeated, either: the techno-bureaucracies of centralized Stalinist states were a false-passage, a lure, a counter-revolutionary capture and strangulation of radical desire – not nearly radical enough in the refusal of domination. That, too, is for mourning, part of our legacy and burden.
Ray suggests a difficult -possible- course ahead:
There will be no miraculous delivery, no automatic progress, no easy and instantaneous reconciliation bestowed as a gift, from above. There will be only what we ourselves are able to do, together, with patience, compassion, resilience and resolve – against the relations and processes that convert our own activity into the forces that dominate us and are producing, day by day, our common ruin.
What's next?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Eco-Yogaddhist Manifesto

Alfredo Triff 

Nature has priority.1 It's here first and sustains everything.

The guiding principle is ahimsa. Non-violence translated into ecology, i.e, the interdependence of human and non-human life.  

Why not necessarily a "political" manifesto?  The political sphere is hostage of top-down, government-to-governed mechanisms, which depends on peoples' negotiations and conflicting interests.2 We don't need to wait for top/down policies to change the status quo. As real actors close to regional nodes of action, we can acquire the know-how to build connections and mobilize public opinion to challenge institutional anomie and social alienation.

* From the bottom ---> up: The transformation is individual, but it doesn't stop there. We are ONE: There is no emancipation without activism.3

* The aporia of human anthropocentric emancipation: We need to see non-human life under a different optic. Seeing and reaching beyond. The Greeks of ancient times didn't realize that non-Greeks were persons. American plantation owners in the late-18th Century didn't realize that blacks were not inferior brutes. The majority of Americans don't realize that non-human animals are more than just foodstuff.  

We have an obligation to treat animals with dignity.4 Animal farming in America needs to be regulated and transformed.

* The aporia of pollution vs. development: Blaming corporations in order to feel safely excluded from the pollution cycle (OR feeding the very thing we try to prevent). We are the world's worst polluters! 5

The move towards eco-conservation is a social imperative. Let's fight to stop deforestation, to protect sea life from extinction (due to overfishing), ensuring ecological diversity for future generations.

* The aporia of technology vs. emancipation: What makes us human is a result of our cultural evolution: language, rituals, arts and technology. Yet, our anthropocentric-based culture is leading us to a dead end. Let's move from an anthropocentric to a bio-centric culture!6

We must learn to curb and manage our waste: Reusing, regiving, donating, recycling! The present corporate-driven/production-intensive food paradigm needs to be turned upside down, from fast food ----> slow food. 7 Let's switch our eating habits and bring back food sacralization as potlucks, food festivals, etc. Let's turn environmental degradation and human exploitation into eco-erotics!8

* The aporia of development vs. under-development9: Our post-Capitalist global society is craft-deprived. Globalization has outsourced our manufacturing and trade/skills base. Let's get back to cooking, arts and crafts, organic horticulture,10 etc. We should balance our individualism with communitarianism!

Let's change our cities, fighting urban decay with environmental sustainability, changing ugliness into beauty. Urban crime can be fought with urban farming!

Let's become eco-Romantics!,11 engaging in heritage conservation, infrastructure efficiency, "Social Access,"12 mass transit, regional integration, human scale, and institutional integrity.

Let's transform our neighborhoods by building sustainable structures, limiting urban sprawl, reducing car dependence, promoting pedestrian friendly urbanism, etc.13

We have to change our approach to design.

What to do? 

1 Aristotle's naturalism can be seen as a forerunner of eco-thics, as expressed by his dictum that Nature "does nothing in vain." John Clearly, Aristotle and the Many Senses of Priority, (Southern Illinois University Press, 1988) p. 60. 2 We don't have to choose one-or-the-other, between markets (Welfare Capitalism) or governments, as instruments of emancipation (Communism, planned-economy Socialism). Nor is there need to eliminate markets, trade, private ownership, the welfare state, or the institution of the corporation. What we need to do is bring about new strategies and practices for each of these institutions appropriate to a balance between prosperity and conservation. This task belongs neither to corporations nor to states: They are incapable of questioning the legitimacy on which their present institutional form is based. Citizens, not big-money interests, are the ones to set the terms of the economic and political agenda.This is the force of emergence: Millions of people joining voluntary movements, discovering that the good life is more fulfilling than the endless cycle of accumulation and consumption. Professor Steven Buechler makes a similar (hopeful) point: "Movements can be crucial switching stations in the direction of history (...)  vital free spaces that promote democratization and restore a meaningful public sphere." See Steven M. Buechler, Social Movements in Advanced Capitalism: The Political Economy and Cultural Construction of Social Activism (Oxford University Press: 2000) p. 214.  Enacting Niyama at the social level can bring about a life of material sufficiency with cultural, intellectual, and spiritual abundance in balance with the environment. By osmosis, the social level can bring about needed changes in the political sphere. 3 One's embeddedness in a particular context: job, household/family, or community can lead one to recognize a problem, learn about community needs, and find a way to make life better through new -or reconfigured- social linkages.  4According to philosopher Tom Regan, animals have "inherent value" as subjects-of-a-life, and cannot be regarded as a means to an end. See, Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, (University of California Berkeley, 2005) p. 245. 5The United States has 4.2% of the world's population and produces 24% of the world's C02 emissions. 6One must be careful not to write off culture, as if humans have fallen from paradise straight into some artificial exile of civilization. This is where the ancient Greeks can help. They understood that us humans are not completely "natural" but rather the site of a collision of nature and culture, which uniquely defines us. See Bruce Thornton, Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge (ISI Books, 1999) p. 96.  7 "Slow food" goes against the received notion that cheap food = good food. Carlo Petrini, the man behind this movement defends the "unpolitical" idea that cheap food is really expensive, bad food, when compared with good, clean, carefully harvested food. He is right. In his book, Petrini advocates the idea of "gusto" (taste) and diversity. There is a correlation between slow food and health, which makes slow food more enjoyable. The locus for this revolucion is la osteria, a place where one can find "traditional cuisine run as a family business with simple service, welcoming atmosphere, good wine and moderate prices." See Carlo Petrini, Slow Food, the Case for Taste (Columbia University Press, 2003) p. 51-58. "Cheap food" is a Capitalist ploy to misrepresent real capital allocation and profit in the name of "abundance," hiding government subsidies for monoculture and intensive production which end up as profit for Big Business in food and energy. Take for instance American corn policies: We subsidize corn while (protect Monsanto's right to sell it to farmers as genetically modified seed). Coincidentally, corn is the foodstuff staple for raising cattle in the US (funded by whom?) and an energy commodity. Wonder why such a labor-intensive commodity such as meat is so cheap? Corn is heavily fertilized — both with chemicals like nitrogen and with subsidies from Washington. Over the past decade, the Federal Government has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop — at least until corn ethanol skewed the market — artificially low. That's your Big Mac @ McDonald's, a $5 meal bargain, with 1,400 calories (more than half the daily recommended requirement for adults). 8 I thank my friend Gene Ray from Scurvy Tunes, for his suggestion. I'd like to spin his idea of eco/erotics as an embodied striving for well-being that connects us with the animal and non-animal other (life). The opposite of eco/erotics is eros gone astray, a perversion of Nishkam Karma. A desire in the form of a will-to-control that aims to secure itself by mastering all around it. Ridden with anxiety, this eros reduces other to self. In fact, there are examples of such versions in modern times: Certain "peak" historic moments, when factors motivating nations and individuals, such as the desires for profit, security, and hegemony got transformed militaristic erotics. 9 It turns out that the mantra of "emancipated" Communist development in Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean throughout the 1960's-1980's consisted in mimicking the Capitalist "anthropocentric development" model: 1- constant growth, 2- domination of nature, 3- industrialization and technologization of production and society at the expense of environmental degradation, abandonment of agriculture (land reform in this case meant very little, since arbitrary and exploitative prices were set by the bureaucrats, not by the farmers), massive migration to the cities, urban unemployment and loss of crafts skills. The deterioration of nature brought by these mistaken policies, was invoked by the communist  bureaucracies as a step in the right direction for the attainment of development. 10 Who would think of pursuing horticultural studies in Miami, now, when the expected move of disenfranchised farmers is from the rural areas to the city? Precisely! This overall migration has to do with the switch from farmer-produced to corporate-produced agriculture. How can one reverse it? By encouraging simple living. Diversifying instead of homogenizing food consumption; by making good, simple food (not gourmet food) a desired commodity, so that corporations are forced to alter their mode of production. Surely, one must be watchful of corporation's good intentions! It's all about awareness: As we become more educated in our food habits, there is gradual a move from agriculture into crafted horticulture. Are people ready for it? After the subprime mortgage crisis, the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, and BP's gulf disaster, the answer is yes. 11 The new eco-Romantic is committed to ecological flourishing, but she is neither anti-technology, nor naive in her political expectations about Messianic utopias. The traditional Romantic lived in a paradox he was blind to. (H)e deprecated technology from his studio in the industrial-brought comfort of the pre-Modern city. We must see the good and bad in technology. The Industrial Revolution cannot be simply undone (the remedy would be worst than the disease). It needs to be transformed. Technology can serve us in using the ecosystem resources more efficiently. On the other hand, there is a strong historical relationship between growth in economic output and growing human demands on the earth's finite ecosystem. We've pushed since 1950's the human burden on the planet's regenerative systems, its soils, air, water, fisheries, and forestry systems beyond what the planet can sustain. Anthropocentric "development" is not the answer. Pushing for economic growth beyond the planet's sustainable limits accelerates the rate of breakdown of the whole. It also intensifies the competition between rich and poor for the earth's remaining output of life-sustaining resources. 12An interesting example is the structural plan of Thimphu, capital of Bhutan. From the idea of the Tashichho Dzong, Bhutan's sacred urban asset, the plan proposes to reclaim the public domain through a series of steps, limiting the access of the automobile, mass transit, the enhancing of environmental zones, opening paths, heritage conservation and shelter programme (at some point the plan debates the issue of cheap labor from India, which creates a problem and displaces the labor forces from Bhutan, which goes to show that even this small landlocked country is grappling with global issues.  13 See  "Miami's Urban Mess."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

ººforking¬ ¬pathsºº

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, (1960).

In emptiness there is no form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness; No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind; No sight-organ element, and so forth, until we come to: No mind-consciousness element; There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so forth, until we come to: there is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path. There is no cognition, no attainment and non-attainment.-- Paramita Hridaya Sutra

Alfredo Triff

An essential ingredient in becoming is the many: one or whole, part, relation. In Buddhist philosophy there are no wholes: only parts. Similarly, there is no progression to an actuality. The Buddhist moment does not progress toward realization.

Tom Friedman, Big Bang, (Glitter and mixed media on paper, 2008).

It harks back to Nagarjuna's doctrine of Sunyata, a crucial concept in Buddhist philosophy. Imagine a universe of correlations, whereby everything is connected. Whatever "is" at any moment of space-time, consists of conditions or relationships, and these, too, are dependently co-originated:  

"The 'originating dependently' we call 'emptiness.' " "Emptiness is dependent co-origination."

Sunyata does not mean absolute lack, but rather a positive meaning of being, the Ultimate Source of all reality. Lama Govinda interprets the principle:
"śūnyatā is not a negative property, but a state of freedom from impediments and limitations, a state of spontaneous receptivity, in which we open ourselves to the all-inclusive reality of a higher dimension. Here we realize the Śūnyatā, which forms the central concept of the Prajñā-pāramitā Sūtra. Far from being the expression of a nihilistic philosophy which denies all reality, it is the logical consequence of the anātman doctrine of non-substantiality. Śūnyatā is the emptiness of all conceptual designations and at the same time the recognition of a higher, incommensurable and indefinable reality, which can be experienced only in the state of perfect enlightenment."*
What does it mean to say that reality is ultimately and intimately relational? Sunyata can be seen as the reverse of Pratitya Samutpada, the Buddhist law of dependent co-origination. There is no self-subsisting, isolated phenomena. Reality is relation(ship), always in flux, always becoming.

Ghada Amer, Anne, (Acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas, 2004).

Reality is always digested, interpreted, quantified, apprehended. The common sense, everyday perception of things is one amongst many other constructions or versions of the world. What happens is that we "normally" understand the world as made up of distinct, self-subsisting substances, and hence we are able to put things in rational order according to various rules or laws. So, while Sunyata -negatively- means that nothing has a sufficient basis of its being in itself, Pratitya Samutpada means -positively- that one event is dependent on others.

One concept is implied in the statement of the other. Substance, for example would be dependent only on itself, thus excluding both Sunyata as well as Pratitya Samutpada. Therefore, Buddhism doesn't recognize recognizes substance.

The distinction comes from a passage in the catuṣkoṭi of the Mādhyamikas:
a- It is not the case that x is ϕ.
b- It is not the case that x is not-ϕ.
c- It is not the case that x is both ϕ and not-ϕ.
d- It is not the case that x is neither ϕ nor not-ϕ

It seems very complicated, but one can see it as twotruths: Are you warp-yarn or weft- yarn?

 Kaisa Puhakka charts the stylized reification process as such:

"We are typically not aware of ourselves as taking something (P) as real. Rather, its reality 'takes us,' or already has us in its spell as soon as we become aware of its identity (P). Furthermore, it's impossible to take something (P) to be real without, at least momentarily, ignoring or denying that which it is not (not-P). Thus the act of taking something as 'real' necessarily involves some degree of unconsciousness or lack of awareness. This is true even in the simple act of perception when we see a figure that we become aware of as 'something.' In Gestalt psychology, for each figure perceived, there is a background of which we remain relatively unaware. Now, extend this dynamic to text-analysis or speech acts. In hermeneutics, for every text we understand there is a context we miss. With every figure noticed or reality affirmed, there is, inevitably, unawareness. Is this how a spell works?"**

French philosopher Alain Badiou presents his ontology surprisingly close to Buddhism. For Badiou, 1- Being has no latent structure of its own. 2- Being's multiplicity is irreducible to any totality. 3- Ontology is a theory of the void, which is why "the infinite" is a void. It cannot be reduced to a unity. To think of Being means to posit oneself as as "warp" or "waft" (or both?).

Between uncontrolled chaos and absolute disorder, Mehretu conveys a fractal order:  

Julie Mehretu, Dispersion (Ink and acrylic on canvas, 2002).

What drives this "thirst" for being? Let's see it this way: An entity is reproduced through a replication of its states. Each moment comprising a state of the entity. A complete entity can only be the result of an imaginative reconstruction over a series of states. Schramm presents it as in-between of place and no/place: 

Felix Schramm, Misfit (2005-06) @ SFMoMA

The sequence of the replications is linked together in the mind through the rapid succession of similar moments. This gives the continuity of experience and the appearance of persistence. In Martin Oppel's Untitled, the gravity-defying totem-like sculpture becomes a cipher for legion (one in the many).  

Martin Oppel, Untitled (Strata Fiction C, 2008).

Satkari Mookerjee writes that the arrow in its flight "is not one but many arrows successively appearing in the horizon, which give rise to the illusion of a persistent entity owing to continuity of similar entities." 

At this point, Jorge Luis Borges can lend us a hand:
"The Garden of Forking Paths is an enormous riddle, or parable, whose theme is time; this recondite cause prohibits its mention. To omit a word always, to resort to inept metaphors and obvious periphrases, is perhaps the most emphatic way of stressing it. That is the tortuous method preferred, in each of the meanderings of his indefatigable novel, by the oblique Ts'ui Pên. I have compared hundreds of manuscripts, I have corrected the errors that the negligence of the copyists has introduced, I have guessed the plan of this chaos, I have re-established -I believe I have re-established- the primordial organization, I have translated the entire work: it is clear to me that not once does he employ the word 'time.' The explanation is obvious: The Garden of Forking Paths is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as Ts'ui Pên conceived it. In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time. We do not exist in the majority of these times; in some you exist, and not I; in others I, and not you; in others, both of us. In the present one, which a favorable fate has granted me, you have arrived at my house; in another, while crossing the garden, you found me dead; in still another, I utter these same words, but I am a mistake, a ghost."
*Lama Anagarika Govinda, Creative Meditation and Multi-Dimensional Consciousness, pp. 10-11.** Kaisa Puhakka, Puhakka, Kaisa (2003). "Awakening from the Spell of Reality: Lessons from Nāgārjuna' within," in Encountering Buddhism: Western Psychology and Buddhist Teachings (State University of New York Press, 2003), p. 134, 145.