Friedrich Nietzsche established the “declaring things dead” form, when—after trying about 400 other aphorisms in The Gay Science—he struck gold with “God is dead” in 1882. Fifty percent hyperbole, 50 percent trolling. Well played, Nietzsche.

From "Declaring Things Dead is Dead" Via Slate. 

Existentialists were pioneers of trolling. 

What we do on social media platforms is often analyzed as a performance or construction of the self. On this view, what we are doing is giving shape to our identity. What we “Like” is the projected identity, or better yet, the perception and affirmation of that identity by others. This, of course, does not exhaust what is done with social media, but it is an important and pervasive element.

When we think about social media as a field for the construction and enactment of identities, we tend to think of it as the projection, authentic or inauthentic, of a fixed reality. But perhaps we would do well to consider the possibility that identity on social networks is not so much being performed as it is being sought, that behind the identity-work on social media platforms there is an inchoate and fluid reality seeking to take shape by expending itself.

From "What do I like when i like on Facebook?"

That is, our consumption, especially of information, is a mode of production. The general intellect is the sum of all that information circulation.

Google, then, is the reification of the general intellect. It manages to take human curiosity and turn it into capital.

The consequences of that are profound. Our curiosity is no longer a sign of our leisure; it’s an enormously important economic factor. To a degree this has always been true. Our willingness to pay attention to things is at the root of consumer demand. But it is now far more productive of informational goods in and of itself, thanks to ubiquitous online surveillance and data-storage capabilities. Much of the way we express our human curiosity can now be recorded and fed into algorithms and plotted on graphs of connections to generate more information, stimulate more curiosity, produce more demand. That’s why, as Gibson points out, Google’s Eric Schmidt claimed that people “want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.” Google doesn’t end lines of inquiry; it gives users momentum. The point of Google is to try to keep you Googling.

From "Google and the Production of Curiosity"

RE: On Beauty, Which Really Does Not Have to Be Dull

Although I agree with Nitsuh Abebe's observation that ideas aren't always sounds and sounds may sometimes be ideas, I'd like to suggest that there is a third option as well: sounds can create contemplative spaces for ideas (revolutionary ones or otherwise). In short, there is some kind of alternative, third space between ideas and sounds that can be created or afforded by beautiful or pleasant music. 

"Most music lovers carry around some shred of a very powerful myth that says the opposite, that pleasant music can never really be where the meaningful ideas are.” This sentence in Abede’s post really struck me as a strange observation. Perhaps I run in very limited circles but I’ve never known anyone to say anything close to the statement above. Defining what constitutes pleasant music might be useful. For example, I find Burial's music incredibly pleasant but someone may find Skrillex's music more pleasant to listen to instead. The stylistic difference between Burial and Skrillex is massive but I think it boils down to restraint versus excess. I assume pleasant music for Adebe is music that demonstrates some kind of restraint or almost minimalistic quality, as his examples of Cocteau Twins, The Mountain Goats and The Chap generally suggest.  But it remains an assumption until he defines “pleasant” for readers. 

I favor music that demonstrates restraint. For me, restraint typically, but not always, suggests a higher level of sophistication, thought and attentiveness by the producer or songwriter. Subtraction and absence can create interesting spaces for communication, affect, and contemplation. Conversely, excess tends to obliterate those spaces in almost an imperialist, colonial like fashion: excess (i.e., over production) can result in kind of hand-holding between the artists and the listener, as if to say that everything is important so that nothing is actually important.

Saying more with less is hard. Saying something interesting and thoughtful with less is an art. That being said, there are times where I react to all of the minimalist, restrained music I listen to and actively seek out something more maximalist in its approach. If anything, this is exactly why I love Florence and the Machine.  A song like “Cosmic Love” is so massive, so epic and grand that it borders on obscenity. And in a way, it is obscene because it is so big. It’s brave in its boldness, in its willingness to be grand because it knows it has to be: an Aphex Twin style piano ballad would be kind of a let down for a song about love that’s as massive as the goddamn cosmos. And yet, the excess affords some breathing room for you, the listener, to consider your own thoughts on ‘cosmic love’ or at least appreciate Flo’s magnificent pipes.  So maybe this means I am more of a hypocrite than biased. Or both. 

Those who have read my blog for awhile know that I have a real love and deep appreciation for Foucault’s essay "Of Other Spaces." He discusses (and defines) heterotopias as place-less spaces that engender alternative modes of being or knowledge production. They allow for re-imagination which may or may not be political in nature. Lately I’ve been thinking about how music can act as a heterotopia in Foucault’s framework, especially as it relates to the music I write. On some level, music as a contemplative space is a bit self-evident insofar as people often discuss their personal relationship to a song or music in terms of evocation (e.g., “this song makes me feel x” or “I think about y differently because of this band”). But usually that kind of contemplation has its roots in something personal and emotional and often in relation to universal experiences of love or grief. Restraint in music creates enough breathing room for this level of contemplation because there is less competition between sounds, beats, ideas and feelings. You can hear yourself think and feel.

A few years ago, I went through a phase where I started combining my love of critical theory with the art I made. I tried to use the art I made as a way of explicitly explaining the theory through the medium of fine art in almost a pedagogical sense. Part of it was an exploration of how to resituate theory and part of it was about making theory accessible in different ways. Sometimes this was successful and sometimes it was not. Now I find myself wanting to do the same thing with music. While I won’t go into the project too much, I’ve started working on something that begins to scratch at the surface of this a bit. 

A few months ago I wrote a post-dub song that sampled Zizek discussing the nature of love, which a few folks seemed to appreciate. As a result of that experiment, I ended up connected with another critical theory and electronic music loving producer based in Paris. Over the past 6 or so weeks, we’ve been ‘remixing’ Zizek’s Occupy Wall Street speech. The process has been really fantastic on a lot of levels. Our project initially started as an attempt to turn the speech into a protest jam for the club kids and evolved into something more like sound art. We realized that as much as we wanted to create something dance oriented, the ideas Zizek was communicating were being lost to the dance music. So it became about, I think, creating music that created space for both Zizek’s ideas to be resituated but also creating something like a heterotopia for the listener. 

We’re in the process of wrapping up the mix, creating cover art, etc for the track. We’re also drafting a statement about it and deciding on what kind of political life we’d like it to have. I can’t say if I think it’s successful or not because on some level I don’t think that it’s my place to make that call. But maybe, just maybe, the end product will be a solid effort to articulate that space between politics, ideas, beauty and sounds. 

Note: This is a link to the completed Zizek remix

The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, vir- tual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the utopia of the mirror. But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Startingfrom this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am.

Foucault, “Of Other Spaces”

I’ve read this passage so many times in the last few days that I’ve basically committed it to memory. This is as close as I’ll ever get to saying that reading Foucault feels like a giant philosophical hug. But there is hope in this essay.

Eulogy For a Friend, or A Note About Suicide

A high school friend of mine committed suicide this weekend. He hanged himself in one of UChicago’s research buildings. We hadn’t been close in the last few years and I found out through a mutual friend’s Facebook status update. John was important to me in a way I can’t fully articulate. But I am going to try to anyway because I am upset and feel this is necessary, this public articulation of sadness. I can’t cry anymore, so I must write as if to document the feeling before it disappears altogether. But also, because this is grief and grief does not have to be well-put or logical.

John was one of my closest friends in high school. Probably my closest friend. I had many acquaintances but few friends, few people I wanted to be around when things got complicated. We were the weirdos, the ones who didn’t fit in. This had everything do with us being gay, but we didn’t know it at the time. We had an inkling we were different. But because we were close and spent all of our time together, everyone thought we were a couple, so they spared us some harassment. He was my prom date and a fantastic date he was. He went through great pains to find a shirt the same color of red that my hair was dyed at the time, a deep shade of crimson. He was the only one who laughed at my “one of you will betray me” joke while I broke bread at dinner before the dance. And because we weren’t actually a couple, we could dance as terribly and crazily as we wanted. He exposed me to the worst of hip-hop and I tried to get him to like punk. On this front, we both failed each other.

We took American Sign Language together, worked at these ridiculous PGA golf outings in Dearborn to make extra money for band camp, and were in a terrible emo band together. He drummed, which was hilarious because he couldn’t drum at all. And his cover of “Smells like Teen Spirit” was deafening, but every time I hear that song I think of John. During one of our high school talent show performances, we came out and performed an absolutely horrid version of Erykah Badu’s “Bag Lady.” I had never heard the song before him and now won’t ever be able to hear it because of him. A class trip to teach social studies to students in a small frontier-esque town nestled in the Cascade mountains would have been a nightmare without him. We were each other’s beards. I loved him because he reminded me that I wasn’t alone and I think on some level the same was true for him. I loved him for his willingness to be nothing less than who he was. Any fondness I have toward my high school years, I owed to him. 

We talked periodically during our college years. I remember when he came out to me over lunch one day. I simply said, “I know and I am too.” We just sat there, relieved. Coming out can sometimes just be a confirmation of the obvious. But in that moment, we confirmed, I think, what we were to one another in high school. But as happens in life, we grew apart. I never loved or respected him less. I assumed that, for the time being, we didn’t have a place in each other’s lives. You grow up, go figure yourself out, and maybe grow apart. We shared a mutual friend, a friend through whom I learned of John’s adventures and successes. John was brilliant and I had no doubt he would become a famous scientist. I looked forward to seeing his magnificent self on something like The Colbert Report, waxing hilariously but intelligently about climate change and evolution, rocking an incredible, bedazzled Louis Vution man clutch. I looked forward to saying I knew him when we were in a shit emo band together, when he wore anime t-shirts and pretended to drum by violently beating on toms. 

Now, without the fame, I just knew him and am deeply saddened by his loss. Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to have know him. Just last week he sent me a note asking for advice about transitioning from the academy to agency life. He seemed upbeat, albeit burnt out, but looking for options. I didn’t respond immediately because I wanted to craft a thoughtful response to a serious question; I wanted to give him the advice that I wish someone had given me. Now it’s too late. Now his note sits in my Facebook inbox, dated five days before he decided to give it up. It’s arrogant of me to think that a prompt response would have made a difference. But were there other unanswered notes? In aggregate, would it have made a difference? Maybe that’s a point in itself: in aggregate we matter to one another, we impact one another?  I don’t know but I am cursing myself all the same. 

So now I am staring at my bookshelf, waiting for some dead philosopher to come and help me find solace, understanding in John’s decision. It seems all too easy to say that suicide is a selfish act, a permanent response to a temporary state of being. I believe in human agency. I believe that as actors we have the right to determine the course of our lives, the terms with which we will act, love and ultimately leave our lives. I see suicide as an extension of this agency. I suppose that on some level I think we are fundamentally selfish creatures. But herein lies a great irony, that in as much as we can  be selfish about our decision to live or not live, we too are selfish in our desire to force a desire for life onto to those we love. Almost as if to say, if you can’t live for yourself, live for me. That the act of living for another may help you find a reason to live for yourself when despair is all you see. Whereas some might be inclined to turn this into a moral quandary, I’d rather leave the point at the level of irony. Moral debate or not, someone that meant something to me is now gone and a discussion of morality will not change that very real fact.

I want to believe that whatever suffering John was feeling has been alleviated. But it’s the aftermath of your search for grace (maybe?) that is the hard part, John. It’s erasure. It’s dissonance. We have your Facebook page, now a public grieving post, a central point of collective remembering. But everything seems so inane now: posts about falafel sandwiches and crappy christmas songs on Spotify in between a digital stream of grief. So now I’ll turn to a passage in Adorno’s Minima Moralia that helped me get through the hell of graduate school, that helped me find hope on days when I thought it was impossible. Each time I read this passage, I realize that I don’t fully understand the entirety of what Adorno is saying in it. Still, I find comfort in it and think I get closer to comprehension after each reading:

The only philosophy which would still be accountable in the face of despair, would be the attempt to consider all things, as they would be portrayed from the standpoint of redemption. Cognition has no other light than that which shines from redemption out upon the world; all else exhausts itself in post-construction and remains a piece of technics. Perspectives must be produced which set the world beside itself, alienated from itself, revealing its cracks and fissures, as needy and distorted as it will one day lay there in the messianic light. To win such perspectives without caprice or violence, wholly by the feel for objects, this alone is what thinking is all about. It is the simplest of all things, because the condition irrefutably call for such cognitions, indeed because completed negativity, once it comes fully into view, shoots [zusammenschiesst] into the mirror-writing of its opposite. But it is also that which is totally impossible, because it presupposes a standpoint at a remove, were it even the tiniest bit, from the bane [Bannkreis] of the existent; meanwhile every possible cognition must not only be wrested from that which is, in order to be binding, but for that very reason is stricken with the same distortedness and neediness which it intends to escape. The more passionately thought seals itself off from its conditional being for the sake of what is unconditional, the more unconsciously, and thereby catastrophically, it falls into the world. It must comprehend even its own impossibility for the sake of possibility. In relation to the demand thereby imposed on it, the question concerning the reality or non-reality of redemption is however almost inconsequential.

‘Friendship is a comic art’, Gilles Deleuze says somewhere. ‘There are few people in the world with whom one can say insignificant things. You can only speak of trifles with very good friends’. W. and Lars certainly speak of trifles, of trivialities, of petty things that are undeserving of serious attention. But this insignificance makes up their friendship. It is part of its joy.

British Philosophy Professor Lars Lyer discussing his new novel, Spurious

Another gem from the interview:

At a certain time of life – with your PhD and several articles, and perhaps a couple of books in hand – it’s time to deliver in the philosophical world; time to produce your own ideas and intervene meaningfully in contemporary thought. But what happens when this is impossible for you – and you find equally impossible the life of a commentator, producing endless introductions to the thought of others?

You might blame your shortcomings on the pressures of work, on the administrative tasks that play a huge role in British academia, on busy family life, on a lack of research leave, and so on, but in the end, you’ve failed in terms of the ambition which drew you towards ‘continental’ ideas in the first place. You’ve failed the ideas which drew you to philosophy.

It is a sense of this failure that characterises W. and Lars in the novel. They’ve disappointed themselves, but they still go on – or, at least, W. does – attempting to think, attempting do something with the ideas that mesmerise them.”

Via Fullstop Magazine

From Adorno to Benjamin: Philosophical Penpals!



Sometime ago, after reading the series of letters between Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, I felt inspired to seek out other philosophically inclined people in order to create a penpal program. The idea was simple: create a program for people to connect on the basis of ideas or personal philosophies and use handwritten letters as the medium of communication. Consider the program a celebration of the handwritten letter as art and a return to patience and contemplation.

I admit I was surprised by the number of people who responded to that original post. I apologize for failing to follow through with my idea sooner. After some thinking and tinkering, I created a tumblr for the penpal project, The Philosophical Penpals Project

Here’s how the website (and the program) works:

1. Use the submit feature of the blog to create a profile. Indicate who or what shapes what your thinking and what kinds of questions or ideas you want to think/write about. 

2. Scroll through the posts or use the tag cloud to view potential penpals. If you find someone you would like to correspond with, contact them directly via the information they’ve provided in their profile. This website is a catalyst for your correspondence not a moderator. 

3. Write about any question or philosophical idea you wish. Use the letter as an opportunity to develop or work out any ideas or questions you have about the world around you. The rules and topics of your correspondence are up to you and your penpal.

4. All responses or exchanges must be in the form of a handwritten letters.

 5. Optional: Help create an archive of inquiry by sharing your letters (through scans or photos) via the submit feature of the blog.

Zizek- “Love: Assume the mistake and go to the end.” 

Can someone explain the appeal of Alain De Botton to me? I find him utterly boring and his philosophical explanations of everything a bit too simplistic. I admit I haven’t read any of his work, but his tweets and videos like the one in the link above are enough to turn me off of his books. To take a truly critical perspective on the world around you is to take an extremely radical position, no? There’s something almost too comfortable in the philosophical position De Botton takes in his work/commentary. But maybe I’m biased because I tend to agree with most things Zizek has to say. 

Throw traditional dating rules out the window. They say you’re not supposed to talk about religion or politics on the first date, or the second date, or really any date until you’re already sold on the person. This makes no sense to a philosopher. Not only is it impotant to us that we’re able to have a rational, thoughtful discussion on such topics (again, you don’t have to agree with us, just be able to talk about it!) but it’s also kinda boring to spend dinners and drinks staring at each other and talking about our upbringing and our five year plan and whatever else you’re supposed to talk about on first dates. (I mean, you know, still care about that stuff, but let me talk about the death penalty or agnosticism or foreign relations if it comes up. Which you should probably hope it does.)

This. Like all of it. 

Wanted: Philosophical Penpals

Last night I finished reading the letters between Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. I won’t go into the content of the letters because that kind of analysis would require a completely different kind of post. Instead I want to briefly call out the more affective qualities of the correspondences, namely the amount of respect these two had for one another.

While delivering critical blow after critical blow of Benjamin’s work, Adorno still managed to maintain his respect for Walter. There is a kind of loving care, an empathic integrity in Adorno’s feedback. Both were equally vulnerable, critically acute and entirely admired by the other. The correspondences are really eloquent missives between two equals who are perceived as such and perceive each other as such. They take each other seriously but do so with empathy, integrity and grace.

As I read the letters, I found myself wishing I had a fellow philosopher or two to write letters to. Not emails, but hand written letters about the state of the world and humanity. Ridiculous, I know. I find the exigency in the writing of Adorno and Benjamin so inspiring, it’s almost as if they cannot contain the excitement and intensity of their ideas. They needed to be set free. And the anticipation of waiting for a response, a period of meaningful contemplation. Email is no comparison.

And then it occurred to me that I should seek out philosophical penpals. Instead of writing to each other about our individual lives, we’ll write to each other about what we think of the world and people in it. Surely our individual lives will be a catalyst for but not the focal point of the letters. We’ll cultivate a network of missive writing millennials who want to think and develop themselves as philosophers and engaged intellectuals. 

So if this sounds interesting to you, send me a message on Tumblr. Realistically I can only handle writing to handful of people, but depending on the number of responses, I can connect people as well. 

BBC’s five minute interview with the popular philosopher, Alain de Botton. De Botton waxes philosophical about how reading and writing are a response to anxiety, why his children will never read a book and the importance of thinkers and ideas in society.

The live-stream experience of Facebook is tragic, beautiful and painful. Sartre wrote about the impossiblity of communication between beings. And that is exactly what is now immediately visible at every moment, with our every post and status update: the desire of living things to discover their analogue, their double, anything that will vibrate and resonate to their own special frequency.

But however much there are forces in society trying to make us all similar (language, culture, shared entertainments and rites), our radical difference still stands out: we are all, as Bergson and then Deleuze would have it, shoots of creation, always springing forth into being and constantly being reconfigured; similarity is only found on the surface of things. So Facebook is the real time enactment of a human impulse: individual beings, strangers to each other, each in the impossible quest for a double.

Each of us is a planet, a baroque monster made up of a thousand points of experience assembled into a unique and transitory thing. We are not just seeking our second half, but really a double—whoever or whatever will resonate with the sutures that define us—each of us a unique Frankenstein pursuing the fantasy of a bride. In the face of the disappearingly miniscule chance of finding anyone like yourself, your Facebook stream is a testament to the wasted effort in discovering this monstrous brother.

Luis de Miranda - Facebook is the message inside humanity’s envelope (via hautepop)

This is a beautifully written article about Facebook’s cultural significance in our (human) society.

For tenderness between people is nothing other than awareness of the possibility of relations without purpose, a solace still glimpsed by those embroiled in purposes; a legacy of old privileges promising a privilege-free condition.

Theodor Adorno Minima Moralia, p. 41

Oh, Teddy, you’re such a romantic.