Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Ultimates, Vol. 1 & 2

Top Ten Comic Series.

Playing with alternate versions of established characters is a common past time for comic writers. Marvel has What If?, DC has Elseworlds and various other ways for a particular writer to put his own stamp on a character.

Marvel's Ultimate line is probably the most successful re-imagining of an entire world I've ever come across (The MAX line might be better, but it does not re-create the whole Marvel world). The Ultimate line has done its best to place Marvel's primary characters into a realistic world. I think they've largely succeeded in this, with a list of caveats I won't bother to discuss.

Among the Ultimate line, the best was (emphasis past tense) The Ultimates, the new version of the Avengers. I think the redesign here is a brilliant triumph, and while the plotting and art in general are great, I`m going to focus here on the redesign itself.

The Ultimates are a military unit, the member's own claims occasionally to the contrary. They were developed by the U.S. government, for the sake of the U.S. government. And really, who else would have the funds or the ability to put together a real-life superhero group?

It is this intimate connection to the powers that be that provides a great foil for the re-creation of Thor. I've never really enjoyed the character of Thor; his speech has always annoyed me. Ultimate Thor is an entirely new beast - probably the character with the most radical changes. No longer does he speak in ye olde english; it's contemporary English for him now. No longer is he high and mighty; he's leftist activist, and for this reason, has no interest in joining a group of U.S. military lackeys.

Thor has a great story line early on in the series concerning his godhood. The Ultimate world, being a place that is only just now being introduced to superheroes and mutants, has no more experience with genuine magic than our world does. So, Thor's allies are rightfully skeptical about his claims to godhood.

This really highlights a difference between the Ultimate and the old school Marvel worlds. If a character shows up in the old school marvel world and claims to be a god, well, maybe he is; there are certainly enough of them around. In the Ultimate world, however, the government agency SHIELD has a file on Thor. It appears his real name is Thorlief Golmen, and that he was a nurse who suffered a complete mental breakdown and finally managed to steal super-soldier equipment. Liar, lunatic or lord?

Another character to recieve a great revamp was the Hulk. He's a one-note character in any universe, the the Ultimate line finally took what is in my opinion the obvious route and made him all about sexual frustration. Bruce Banner is a nice guy, in the worst possible way. He elicits the worst kind of hateful pity from both characters and readers. He knows this, too, but he's too pathetic to actually express any anger about it. And so the Hulk comes out, and suddenly Hulk goes from a one-note character (smashing) to a two-note character (raping and eating). Some great humour is pulled out of the Hulk's preference for cannibalism.

Captain America, another character I've always had a distaste for, receives only a minimal revamp. He's the same old highly competent, patrotic military officer. His highlights in this series are all the times he is obviously willing to fight dirty; if kicking a guy in the balls is the way to bring him down, then Cap will do it. His hard, violent pragmatism is a nice outgrowth of his nationalism. I think the main change with Cap is character design. Gone is that ridiculous chain mail and those retarded Robin Hood boots.

Iron Man's redesign is particularly fantastic. Even as a kid, I hated designs of Iron Man that actually displayed muscles like his abs and biceps. The guy wears a suit of armor, not tights. Ultimate Tony Stark himself is still identical to the core of the pre-fascist Marvel Tony Stark (Orson Scott Card`s prattling aside), but the armor is very, very different. Now he looks like a robot, or a jet that requires a great deal of time for pre-flight preparation. The armor isn`t quite as invincible as the classic armor, either. Visually, this is certainly my favorite character. Alas, in volume three, the armor is much closer in appearance to the classic armor.

Finally, we have a pair of characters that are, classically, a complete waste of panel space. Quicksilver has always been a transparent Flash rip-off, and the Scarlett Witch`s powers are nothing other than deus ex machina waiting to happen. The Ultimates, though, pull these characters off wonderfully. How? With strong suggestions of old-blood, Imperial Family Style incest. A pair of useless characters has been transformed into a creepy, hilariously obnoxious favorite duo.

As I`ve suggested, Volume Three of the Ultimates is excreble. A shame.

How long will it be before I get to number eight on the list...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations, Americans

In which I hope that every last shred of right-wing mudslinging at Obama turns out to be true.

Let's hope he is just as buddy buddy with Weathermen, fierce critics of Israel and outright big-C Communists as the popular right insists he is.

To the extent that the wingnuts were right, is the extent to which Obama might actually live up to the hype.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency

Or, An Introduction

Back when I was first beginning to read Martin Heidegger, my first question was about the world before Dasein, or human existence. A badly formulated question, of course, and it was treated as such; I was simply told, and I quote, "You can't ask Heidegger that question."

At the time, it seemed like a complete cop-out of an answer to me. However, I did eventually come to see that the question was a bad one, and I dropped it. To ask on what day, in what year, did Dasein first "appear" makes no sense; it forces the ecstatic clearing into a vulgar conception of time. The "world," defined as the totality of that which appears, has no "origin" as such. If we are speaking about the date of the origin of matter, the proper answer is "The origin of matter can be placed at 14 Billion years ago, for humans."

I learned to re-forumulate or set aside other standard philosophical questions, such as causation. Hume's problem - that we cannot observe causation - is dissolved. If causation is not itself a phenomena, then it is a secondary issue for philosophy.

Now along comes Quentin Meillasoux, for whom none of this is satisfactory. His target is the old, pre-Kantian question of "things in themselves," apart from any appearance to humans. A startling project, one usually only attended to by people who are, not surprisingly, pre-Kantian dogmatists in their philosophy. Kant, of course, set up the dogmatic-skeptical-critical distinction. A dogmatist sees the world as a whole, without any antinomies or paradoxes. A skeptic simply claims that all stability and knowledge are fleeting. The critical stance, which is what all post-Kantians aspire for, is the attempt to declare which sorts of things can be properly known (the phenomena) and which can't be (the noumena).

Meillassoux is actually searching for a way to leave behind these distinctions; he wants the things-in-themselves without the dogmatic world that goes with them, and the critical stance without its kernal of skepticism. An ambitious fellow.

Meillassoux's style is very much argumentative, which means it is possible to engage with his concepts and movements in a way that it is very difficult to do with many other writers (Martin, I'm looking in your direction). So, that's what I'll do. It's a fun book, even if he calls me a creationist.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quentin Meillassoux: After Finitude

"But then it is as if the distinction between transcendental idealism - the idealism that is (so to speak) urbane, civilized, and reasonable - and speculative or even subjective idealism - the idealism that is wild, uncouth and rather extravagant - it is as if this distinction which we had been taught to draw - and which separates Kant from Berkeley - became blurred and dissolved in light of the fossil-matter. Confronted with the arche-fossil, every variety of idealism converges and becomes equally extraordinary - every variety of correlationism is exposed as extreme idealism, one that is incapable of admitting that what science tells us about these occurrences of matter independent of humanity effectively occurred as described by science. And our correlationist then finds himself dangerously close to contemporary creationists: those quaint believers who assert today, in accordance with a `literal`reading of the Bible, that the earth is no more than 6000 years old, and who, when confronted with the much older dates arrived at by science, reply unperturbed that God also created at the same time as the earth 6000 years ago those radioactive compounds that seem to indicate that the earth is much older than it is - in order to test the physicist`s faith. Similarly, might not the meaning of the arche-fossil be to test the philosopher`s faith in correlation, even when confronted with data which seem to point to an abyssal divide between what exists and what appears?"

Well fuck you too, Quentin.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obama, the Weathermen, and the American Left

Once again, I'm out of the country during a Federal election. This is starting to become a habit.

Much more interesting is the current American campaign. It has become increasingly nasty these last few weeks; google around for some of the videos taken outside McCain campaign events. The American popular right is slipping into insanity, and it is a great deal of fun to watch.

However, that is not the most fascinating issue. One of the common McCain campaign attacks against Barack Obama is his association with William Ayers, a former member of the Weathermen Underground. The Weathermen, these days, are simply called "terrorists" and as such lumped in with al Queda and other such criminals. Barack served on a board together with Ayers, and so the attempt has been made to tarnish him as a friend of terrorists.

The response by the American left has been to downplay the association; they point out that the link is tenuous, and that Obama himself has condemned Ayers' old radicalism.

In terms of calculating and promoting Obama's electability, this is the politically "necessary" response. The actions of the Weathermen are simply too far outside the realm of public acceptability for any association with them to be politically viable.

Even more than this, it shows just how far behind we have left the glory days of the left. The Weathermen were certainly extremists and radicals in their day, but they were a part of the discussion. The left's strategy of defending Obama by attempting to erase the Weathermen is an indication that any concept of radical leftism is now excluded from the discussion, by both left and right. What we are left with is the fashionable liberal humanism, whose only resource is to shriek about "choice."

So who were the Weathermen? Old school revolutionary bomb throwers. They were the extreme end of the upheavels of the 1960s; dedicated to the violent overthrow of the United States Government, they bombed banks and police stations. They organized riots (in rich neighborhoods) and even a few jailbreaks. They engaged in armed robberies. They fought for civil rights, allying themselves with the Black Panthers and worked against the war in Vietnam. In short, they represented one of the few points in American political history when a handful of people stood up and refused to play by the rules.

In the early 1960s, a grouped called the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was founded, based upon the non-violent model of the civil rights movement. Near the end of the '60s, internal disputes (whose dynamics very much mirred religious schisms; every community of believers faces this pitfall) tore the group apart. The Weathermen kind of staged a coup; they took over the SDS apparatus and went national. A very messy period that produced all sorts of acrimony and resentment.

From there, they took off. They attempted to form essentially military communities, disciplined and regimented. This in itself is fairly fascinating; rarely do North Americans attempt any sort of true discipline (outside the actual military, of course).

The left was always ambivilant about them. Even the Black Panthers eventually disowned them. They found themselves alone and in crisis; after several years on the run, living in ramshackle conditions, the group fell apart.

Their main insistence was that any passivity at all was itself a violence; all the failings and violence of capitalism could only exist when the people participated in it, actively or passively.

They had all sorts of failings. Their attempts at sexual liberation seemed to mostly fail in misery and tears. They considered monogamy to a primary building block of the social order. In this, they agree with current conservatives arguing against gay marriage. Whoever is correct, the Weathermen met many problems surrounding their sexual project. Another failing is the occasional element of misplaced rhetoric; at least one member publically called the U.S. the "most violence nation in history."

So I really just want to say two things in this post: first, the left needs to remember the Weathermen. Their utter willingness to sacrifice everything for an Idea is all but absent these days. Secondly, it is an utter shame that the link between Obama and Ayers isn't stronger.

Watch the Weather Underground documentary at Google Video.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The More Things Change: The New Philosophical Stylistics

Once upon a time, Rene Descartes insisted that truth consisted in clear and distinct ideas. This is pretty intuitive; a true statement is a true statement. It corresponds with some state of affairs in the world.

Then the 19th century happened. Herr Hegel found isolated concepts to be useless; Herr Nietzsche began to speak of mobile armies of metaphors and a multiple subject. Ideas were no longer so clear and distinct. The critique of identity was underway; Hegel found negativity to be the engine of change, while Nietzsche insisted that only becoming had being, and being was becoming.

Ok, let's make this clear and distinct. Take your average logical syllogism:

A = B
B = C
A = C

See all those cute little signs of equality in there? Step three of a syllogism confirms the identity of all three elements. That's pretty useful in daily life. Except what does it tell you? Nothing new. A = C. Whoopy. Dialectics offers a way of introducing something new; B negates A, producing C (technically, C is the truth of A). As I said above, negativity is the engine that produces something new, allowing us to move beyond the logical syllogism. Just... take my word for it.

The twentieth century ran with that. And this is the important thing: when you leave behind identity and the syllogism, how do you write? In dense, complicated prose that attempts to allow pure difference, or negativity, or multiplicity (take your pick of terms) to diffuse into your writing. This makes for some wildly difficult texts. This attempt at having one's writing style actually enact one's ontological concepts is the reason lurking behind the reputation of "postmodern" philosophy's total impenetrability. Let's take Richard Dawkins' own example of "postmodern nonsense," a quote from Felix Guattari:

"We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on the author, and this multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive character of their expansion: all these dimensions remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticized previously."

It is fairly rare to find "clear" arguments or statements in a lot of contemporary philosophy, because most ontology since Hegel (or historically since Kant's critiques of finite reason) simply does not allow for logical statements which depend upon unthought-out conceptions of identity.

But the times, they are a-changing. We are just now beginning to see what appears to be a return to the old school style of arguments and logic. The two most notable examples are Alain Badiou and his former student, Quentin Meillassoux. Their writing certainly resembles old-school philosophy - the synthesis of emperical facts and syllogisms.

Does this mean that the byzantine writings of the 20th century are now being repudiated? That we need to return to the classical argumentation style of everyone from Aristotle to Hume? Let's not be so hasty.

To rephrase what I've already said, the texts of the 20th century were so difficult because they were trying to present that which is by defition is un-presented - pure difference or multiplicity. Alain Badiou has by no means given up on this project; he has simply shifted the focus. It is Badiou's startling (and frustrating and scary) thesis that true ontology is performed only with math.

It's scary, because he is basically telling philosophy departments around the world, "you know that project you've been devoting your life to? Forget it... it's the guys in the math department that are doing the serious ontological work."

He is a philosopher himself, of course. Exactly what role he offers philosophy is unconnected to my point here. What I want to say is that because Badiou places pure multiplicity in the realm of mathematics, it is now possible to use identity in meta-ontological works once again. Reading Badiou's work is like reading a text from the 18th century; he offers clear axioms, then logically works out their implications.

I think such a shift was inevitable. The Marxist streak of much the the philosophical world has always required serious philosophical thought to support it, and Deconstruction and Schizoanalysis have not necessarily proven themselves as adequate tools of emancipation. Which is of course not a criticism of either; I am merely locating an empirical impetus for the shift in writing styles.

Clear writing is back... now we all just have to learn trans-finite set theory in order to actually do ontology. Yeah, right, that'll happen.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

I Blame the Patriarchy

I'm going to start doing a series of blog commentaries, as well has spring cleaning of my blog roll. I think blogs are fairly valuable things for offering insight into the popular versions of left and right ideas out there today; sure, Slavoj Zizek might be the cutting edge; but Amanda Marcotte is closer to the ground.

The commentaries will run in alphabetical order, so the first on the list is I Blame the Patriarchy (IPB). This is one of two feminist blogs on my list; I actually read others, such as Feministe, but Feministe is part of a trio of big feminist blogs along with Pandagon and Feministing. The three of them have many of the same concerns and many of the same perspectives. I'm not looking for a bloated blog roll, so I've simply linked to Pandagon, it being my favourite of the three.

IBP, on the other hand, has a flavour all its own. Inspired by the classic American feminist polemic The Dialectic of Sex (which strangely enough contains no dialectics), writer Twisty Faster persistently makes a case that world culture - not just western culture, or American culture, but world culture, is based on the oppression of women as a group. One of her mottos is "men hate you."

Most feminist blogs are based on the insistence that the task of feminism is incomplete, that all the of the implications have yet to be drawn out. They are concerned with shifting the status quo, or defending the parts of it that have been affected by feminism (ie Roe). IBP, however, goes much farther; Twisty wants to change everything. This, in itself, is fairly interesting. It sets her apart from a huge proportion of the feminist blogosphere, as well. Other feminist blogs spend a lot of time debating whether porn and blow jobs can be feminist activities; Twisty insists they are just variations on sexual oppression.

This post is fairly typical. The argument is that women are set up as non-human, and that femininity is about accepting this inhumanity in order to appease males. It is arguments like this that I tend to think of as "good enough for practice, but not good enough in theory." Specifics aside, this leaves me sympathetic to her project, but in disagreement on issues I consider fundamental.

I certainly don't have a problem with insisting there is an antagonism at the root of human life. Twisty insists that the root antagonism is that of sexual oppression; I'm convinced that it revolves around class. This, along with my admittedly slowly eroding suspicion of gendered concepts, is why I cannot call myself a feminist in any meaningful sense. Though maybe what Zizek has said about Marxism and Christianity is true of myself and radical feminism - we're on the same side of the barricades.

Blood Meridian

I had to admit something about fiction: I'm not a very rigorous reader. I'll sit down and hash out a philosophy book closely and carefully, working as hard as I can at it, but not so with fiction. So while I love reading something monstrous by Heidegger, I'm not sure I'll ever get around to reading Beckett.

Part of this must have something to do with a lack of experience. After having read a half dozen or so of the major works of philosophy, I now have a feel for structure, for the movement of text. I see Nietzsche in a whole new light these days; when I first began reading, all I saw was the polemical fireworks.

Maybe all I've ever needed with fiction was someone to introduce me to the more serious stuff, to give me a running start at it. Cormac McCarthy has certainly built himself a reputation, garnering high praise from the likes of the canon's most fearsome defender, Harold Bloom. Maybe McCarthy's vaguely Nietzschean fireworks will be a path into "literature" for me.

So, Blood Meridian. The tale tracks a group of roughnecks along the Texas/Mexico border as they gather and sell Indian scalps. Make no mistake, this books reputation for violence is well earned; the posse rampages across the landscape, slaughtering even those they are working for.

The ostensible protagonist is simply known as the kid. The story begins with him, but soon enough he fades into the background, largely being replaced by the judge. If you've read the book or seen the movie No Country, then you have a small hint of who the judge is in Anton Chigurh - a force of nature. The characters do not repeat each other, however; Chigurh is more of an unthinking force of nature, while the judge outright revels in evil.

My praise for the book: there are several passages that were so extraordinarily fine, so evocative, that I couldn't help but compare them to some passages in Lord of the Rings. These passages appeared on a fairly regular basis, as well. Instead of blathering on, I'll offer a few of them up.

Here, the group is camped in a rocky desert area. The judge, who is all things to all men, has been examining some of the rocks in the area. Punctuation is intact, just so's you know. McCarthy has his own way of ordering the world.

"In the afternoon he sat in the compound breaking ore samples with a hammer, the feldspar rich in red oxide of cooper and native nuggets in whose organic lobations he purported to read news of the earth's origins, holding an extemporary lecture in geology to a small gathering who nodded and spat. A few would quote him scripture to confound his ordering up of eons out of the ancient chaos and other apostate supposings. The judge smiled.

Books lie, he said.

God don't lie.

No, said the judge. He does not. And these are his words.

He held up a chunk of rock.

He speaks in stones and trees, the bones of things.

The squatters in their rags nodded amount themselves and where soon reckoning him correct, this man of learning, in all his speculations, and this the judge encouraged until they were right new proselytes of the new order whereupon he laughed at them for fools."

The bones of things? Ordering up of eons? So, so good. This is the judge at work: he nothing is true unless he says it is, nothing is allowed to exist without his permission.

My other favourite passage takes place as the group is hunted by a band of Indians. The group here is out of ammunition and food; they are chased like dogs. They encounter the judge, and he offers them salvation by showing them how to make explosive powder. Just before this, the group marches across particularily rugged ground.

"The malpais. It was a maze. Ye'd run out upon a little promontory and ye'd be balked by the steep crevasses, you wouldnt dare to jump them. Sharp black glass the edges and sharp the flinty rocks below. We led the horses with ever care and still they were bleedin about their hooves. Our boots was cut to pieces. Clamberin over those old caved and rimpled plates you could see well enough how things had gone in that place, rocks melted and set up all wrinkled like a pudding, the earth stove through to the molten core of her. Where for aught any man knows the locality of hell. For the earth is a globe in the void and truth there's no up nor down to it and there's men in this company besides myself seen little cloven hoofprints in the stone clever as a little doe in her going but what little doe ever trod molten rock? I'd not go behind scripture but it may be that there has been sinners so notorious evil that the fires coughed em up again and I could well see in the long ago how it was devils with their pitchforks had traversed that fiery vomit for to salage back those souls that had by misadventure been spewed up from their damnation onto the outer shelves of the world. Aye. It's a notion, no more. But someplace in the scheme of things of things this world must touch the other. And something put them little hooflet markings in the lava flow for I seen them there myself."

No sics there, you understand. It is passages like these where the utter uncanniness of McCarthy's world shines through. I must admit, I shivered when I read this; this single paragraph matches anything I've read elsewhere for horror.

It is a terribly rich book. Ultra violence mixed with uncanny magical realism mixed with wonderful turns of phrase. What with the The Road move coming out, this one will probably be next. We'll see.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

That Future Just Keeps Coming

So I'm off to Asia again. I haven't been blogging for various reasons, but hopefully those will go away now.

I've decided to see if I can build a readership. As an experiment. I'm going to sell out and do a few things I swore I'd never do - for example, criticize people. That's how the blogosphere goes 'round and 'round, right? That's how you get the trackbacks.

Two other plans. I *will* finish off that comic series. I'm also going to blog about Alain Badiou's Being and Event, when I get around to reading it. Perhaps one chapter ("meditations," scream the purists!) a week, skipping the math chapters, 'cause transfinite set theory hurts.

For cute stories and updates on Korea, see Facebook.

Monday, August 04, 2008


Back in October of 2005, I posted a quote from Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Inexplicably, I said "rest in peace." I don't know why I thought he was dead. I was wrong. But now I'm right. Nowadays, I might have endless problems with his perspective, but it still must be said: rest in peace.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Thieves! Thieving thieves!

My laptop has been stolen. I'm online now changing passwords, even though I know they'll have formatted the computer first chance.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

I'm A Barbie Girl, In A Barbie World

"Let us note in passing that in none of these discourses we are analyzing here does the moment of death give room for one to take into account sexual difference; as if, as it would be tempting to imagine, sexual difference does not count in the face of death. Sexual difference would be a being-up-until-death."

- The Gift of Death by Jacques Derrida

This quote was brought up near the end of a recent class, and we ended up discussing what was going on here. The general consensus seemed to be that Derrida was basically saying "In all these ways of talking about death, we're not bringing up gender - but we could."

Well, ok... I guess. Once that discussion wound down, I said that every time gendered language comes up, I am hopelessly confused. I simply don't see how a concept could be gendered. As if there was a male temporality, and then a female temporality. A male finitude, and a female finitude.

My confusion basically comes down to this. I understand that various contingent factors affect the possibilities that are closest to me as a man. A women will have other possibilities lying closest to her. But this is all contingent; aside from anatomy, there is nothing about me as me that is essentially "masculine." Sure, there are situations in which I have to take up a masculine position - a certain amount of aggression and confidence is required to get a woman to look twice at you - but this is all contingent, unessential. It does not touch on my own, personal existence.

And I think most of my comrades would agree with me. I have a few friends that are very concerned with gender and whatnot; they've done Women's Studies, they march in Pride Parades, etc. They'll be the first to insist on the contingency of gender. At least, I think they would.

If gender is entirely contingent, then it seems to me that concepts - specifically structures of existence - must be gender neutral. I would insist that my own ecstatic temporalizing is no different from a woman's.

So this is what I said in class. Unfortunately, the discussion was derailed a bit. It was pointed out that that exact words I used were "How can temporality be gendered? What would a female temporality look like?" My friend then correctly pointed out that I was using "male" as a default baseline; it was the unspoken assumption. When I wanted to ask about a different temporality, I immediately jumped to the feminine.

Well, ok, but so what? That still doesn't mean that temporality is gendered. A little bit of reflexivity on my part will excise that sort of prejudice for the next time.

I just don't understand how a concept can be gendered, without relying on some sort of essential gender. As if there was an essential masculinity, and so things could be essentially masculine, rather than just being viewed as masculine by a culture. It just strikes me as a bullshit idea. Concepts are gender neutral.

I suppose this might come back to my own antipathy to gender discourses in general. First, because I think gender is so contingent that it is beneath serious thought. Secondly, I don't understand the value of a political project based around gender. Feminism, for one. Maybe I'm too much of an economic reductionist, but I see the suffering of women as almost always being based in material circumstances - circumstances that the men around them fundamentally share. And no, I'm not saying "what about the men??"

As an example of my apathy, last year the UWO student newspaper published a April 1st spoof issue that became notorious. In one article, a satire of the Vagina Monologues, a group of walking, talking vaginas were protesting something or another. A police officer, "polishing his night stick," took one into an alley to "teach her a lesson."

Ok, rape jokes suck. But this became an epic struggle on campus.

I don't know. The 20th century saw striking miners face down military units. Civil rights workers faced down Jim Crow's fire hoses and attack dogs, and cut his head off. Mid 20th feminism finally forced Liberal Democracy to honour its promises to women. Are we really so comfortable that our greatest enemy is now that trivial little rag The Gazette? It seems to me this is what gender based politics in our time and place has been reduced to.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ethical Disruptions, Part 1: The Issue at Hand

There tend to be two elements of the common sense idea of ethics and morality. The first boils down to "what must I do, and what do I deserve to expect from other people?" In other words, the question of morality is about choosing between possibilities. Doing X is good, while doing Y is bad.

The second element is that of justification. There is a persistent search for some way to justify moral judgments and acts. Probably the most common justification has been the afterlife; be "good" or you'll suffer punishment after death. Other common justifications involve human solidarity, or God's holiness and authority.

So the standard moral discourse asks, what should we do, and why should we do it?

Between the 19th and 20th centuries, these questions ceased to be serious philosophical themes. The first question is dismissed as instrumental thought - ie, the insistence on making pure thought "practical" and "useful," as if thinking were nothing other than a factory for producing goods and services. The second question - why should we act in such and such a way? - is dismissed as slavish and repetitive. Acting because of another being's power is the very definition of passivity.

The old categories of ethics and morality have fallen into disrepute. Yet, the 20th century demanded a response from those that lived it, and the 21st century demands a response from us. Viciousness and exploitation were, and are, rampant. If the shining beacon of morality is discarded, than do all conceptions of justice, courage, wisdom and truth follow closely behind?

We must hope not. Alain Badiou, writing decades after the "death" of philosophy was declared, has said that the world (not God, not philosophers - the world) is telling philosophy to get up and walk. We must say the same to ethics.

And yet, we cannot pretend that Nietzsche did not write. We can't go back to the old way of doing things. New concepts must be created. I think the thinkers of the 20th century - and now those of the 21st - have had a common ethical project, and I think this project can be summed up in terms of the disruption of the totality. The disruption - and remaking - of the world. From Heidegger's call of conscience, to Levinas's encounter with the Other, to Lacan's traumatic encounter with the real, to Badiou's fidelity to the event - the common thread is the traumatic disruption of everyday life.

Ethics is coming back, and it will have no truck with humanism (reach your inner potential!) or liberalism (choose what you like, just don't hurt anyone else!) or theology (bow!).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Infinity Gauntlet

Back in 1991, I was fairly new to comics. I was dabbling in the X-Men, especially the Jim Lee series that began later the same year. I basically just like awesome fights and Rob Liefield's giant boobs were as yet uninteresting to me.

So one day, on the strength of the awesome cover, I bought #3 of 6. I put together the basic story line: The villain Thanos had pieced together all six infinity gems, which granted him unlimited power. Thanos was all but God. The point of all this was for Thanos to win the love of embodied Death. In #2, he snapped his fingers and killed exactly half of the life in the universe as an offering to his love. That was unbearably dramatic for my 11 year old mind.

The real action didn't really begin until #4, though. The most powerful of the heroes - roughly 30 of them - that weren't raptured in #2 descended upon Thanos en masse. What resulted was a vicious slaughter, a level of violence I had never come across in comics before. Because I didn't realize that comics basically cheat concerning death, and so none of the deaths would be permanent, this also was unbearably dramatic.

At the time, the art hit the spot for me. I would have been too young to appreciate any fancy. Everything was crisp, clean and bright. Some characters, such as the Silver Surfer, have been through several artistic iterations; the two most common begin the Greek godlike, perfectly sculpted body, the other being a thinner, slightly more melancholic version. IG wisely used the much flasher Greek god version.

So anyways, the heros and Thanos get down to business. He handily wipes out most of the heroes, but has a little bit of help from his girlfriend that he created ex-nihilo.

Let's look at some of the best images. As I said, I had been reading the X-Men, and Cyclops was my favourite character. I identified with him for whatever nerdy reason. Cyclops was one of the few heroes to get one over on Thanos; Cyclops poured his force beams onto Thanos, then switched them off at an opportune time; Thanos lost his balance and fell flat on his face. Ha!

Thanos's retaliation:

Yeah, that's right, he suffocates Cyclops to death. Christ, that scared me. Seeing my favourite character choke to death like that trigged two of my old phobias - claustrophobia and lack of oxygen. I was really hoping Captain America would succeed in his rescue attempt, but I still felt the terrible inevitability of it all.

There was one other X-Man involved in this attack. Back in the day, when Wolverine wasn't everywhere and thus still had a little mystique, this page was a truly fist pumping affair:

He stabs Thanos right in the chest, and the bastard smiles. Come on, try to imagine seeing this as an 11 year old. Anyways, I was always a little bit disappointed with Wolverine's death: his bones turned to rubber.

So I mentioned Thanos's ex nihilo girlfriend. Meet her hand:

All that red stuff on the end of the rock? That's what's left of Spider-Man's face.

Also, she collected an official Ironman souvenir:
That would be his head. Which she tore off. I'll bet that won't happen to Robert Downey Jr.

So all the heroes fall, save Captain America. I have no great love for this character. I think his costume is stupid. I also think jingoism is stupid. But clearly, this is regular universe Cap's greatest moment:

The silent walk up. The square jaw. The smoking body of Quasar providing some much needed colour to the scene.

Ah, the lost cause. It doesn't get much more romantic than this. Cap is the perfect character to deliver this line.

All through this series, a character named Adam Warlock has been in the background, leading the war against Thanos. Warlock is a brilliant schemer, an old nemesis of Thanos. He's willing the role the dice and play for the whole pot; this entire battle has been nothing other than a lead up to this moment:

The Silver Surfer swoops in and attempts to steal the gauntlet from Thanos. He fails.

See what I said about the Surfer's Greek god body? It's visually pleasing, but these days strikes me as a bit generic. I've actually come to prefer the more streamlined version.

So what happens to Cap? He's the last one left alive. He stands definately in front of a virtual God. What grand martyr's death awaits him?

NO LOOK BITCH SLAP. Presumably this shatter Cap's skull.

Anyways, plot stuff happens and Thanos loses the gauntlet. The scene I'm going to point out here beccomes a pivotal point for Thanos's character. He remains a complete jerk, but he becomes something of an anti-hero. Only in Annihilation does he truly return to his villainous ways, and even then he has a limit.

Hmm... the text is a bit too small. This is Warlock pointing out to Thanos that in the end, he constantly sabotages himself. It's a nice little nod the Thanos's unconscious. With this knowledge in hand, Thanos helps Warlock return all things to the status quo.

Fun stuff. The sequels, Infinity War and Infinity Crusade, weren't quite as cool but I still really enjoyed them.

Up next: The Ultimates!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Top 10 Comic Series

So not long after discovering bit torrents, I discovered that one could download comics this way. I hadn't read comics for several years, but having any number of free comics right at my finger tips was just too much temptation. I had read in various sources about comics like The Invisibles and Preacher, and maybe a year before the Constantine movie came out, so I had read the Hellblazer TP Son of Man, which was ace.

I downloaded a ton of comics while I was in Korea from the amazing site Alas, the copyright monkeys (may their souls rot in hell) have shut Demonoid down, and comics are now far less accessible on the web. So I've actually resorted to *gasp* buying some comics. Which kinda sucks, since the comic store I live next to never orders enough copies of anything.

I recently had the idea to do reviews of my ten favourite comic series. I mean this to be quite broad; you'll see what I mean below.

This is my basic list, which is subject to change. Over the next few weeks I'll write out proper reviews, complete with images.

10. Infinity Gauntlet - I think this was the first truly great in-continuity crossover. I was too young to understand how comics worked at the time, so the slaughter of the heroes in #4 was pretty traumatic to me.

9. The Ultimates, Vol. 1 & 2 - The Avengers re-interpreted as a paramilitary unit. Thor is a leftist hippie, and the Hulk is STRAIGHT. Volume 3 seems to be intentionally destroying any coolness the Ultimates once had, but the first two Volumes are easily the second best non-regular Marvel universe stories I've ever read. The best is #7 on this list.

8. Scott Pilgrim - "See, I've grazed you!" "How appropriate, you fight like a cow!" I've only read the first two volumes, but I will definately track down the rest. Draw in a vaguely manga style by a London, Ontario native, Scott Pilgrim is hilarious and cool, and his life is precious. Status: awesome.

7. Garth Ennis' run on The Punisher. From the hilarious Welcome Back Frank in which Frank drop kicks an armless, legless old woman* into a burning house to the infuriatingly brutal darkness of The Slavers, Ennis has a serious triumph on his hands.

6. Annihilation - The finest mainstream, in-continuity comic story, ever. Hands down. Not even the sequel Conquest has topped it so far. Annihilation gathered up obscure, second rate characters from the wider Marvel universe and dropped them into a hopeless battle against a seemingly infinitely large military force. The broad collection of genres and themes all mixed into this series make it a truly excellent work.

5. Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits - Another Garth Ennis story. Is there a pattern here? John Constantine finds himself dying of cancer, visits old friends, makes new ones, drinks great beer, and scams the lords of hell. Good times.

4. Preacher - Jessie Custard used to be the Lord's servant -now he's the Lord's worst enemy. A 66 issue run of booze, sex and violence. A wicked sense of humour. Probably the funniest R-rated comic you'll ever read.

3. Naussica of the Valley of Wind - A sprawling, epic story from Hayao Miyazaki, the anime genius. I have to admit that Naussica is probably the most magnetic comic character I've ever come across. Charismatic and invincible. In the hands of any other writer, such a perfect character would be facile; Miyazaki manages to create a wonderful hero. If the conclusion of this series doesn't make you want to dance, you have no soul.

2. The Invisibles - Grant Morrison's 5 year long sigil. An impossibly cool collection of ontological terrorists, trannie witches, and kung-fu fighters. The Matrix stole all its best ideas from this series.

1. Ichi The Killer - A spot of the 'ol ultra violence. A sadomasochistic Yakuza rampages through the city looking for his missing boss, a boss that has already been sliced up the the masochistic Ichi. Brilliant art, and a great meditation on love and hope. The best comic series I've ever read. There is love in this violence.

*Don't worry, she totally deserved it.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Certainty: Like the Welfare State

My argument here is that there are going to be 2 kinds of certainty. The first is the banal kind, the sort that we move in every day. Things like the immediate presence of physical objects, or a certainty about a social rule - I am certain I can exchange the appropriate amount of money for the goods I want. In other words, the kind of certainty that no one philosophizes about (except as part of a larger hypothetical) because it is so banal and obvious.

It is the kind of certainty that the world demands from us. Even the most ardent skeptic is certain he has to jump out of the way of the oncoming truck. The world demands that we believe particular things, or we will suffer death, humiliation, or foolishly wasted time.

The idea that the world demands this certainty from us is key to my argument here. We can't question these basic certainties; the problem of whether or not to accept them is taken out of our hands. Individual desires have nothing to do with them.

The problem comes when one wants everything in life to be certain in this way. There are some things that we must make decisions to believe, some things that we must take responsibility for. In other words, there are matters that we must judge rather than discover.

Isn't this precisely what most moral or apologetic reasoning is about? The attempt to find in the world something that will take the judgments out of our hands?

Take moral reasoning. I think the vast majority of ethical thought is about wanting the world to be a place that makes our moral judgments for us. Every time a moral situation comes up, we'd like the situation to tell us what we must do. We want our world to be like a platoon Sergeant barking out orders at us.

So, we find positive laws from theological sources, or from evolutionary psychology, or from "objective self interest."

The point of all that is to avoid making a moral judgment and to do something much simpler: make a moral discovery.

And apologetic reasoning? It's the same thing, isn't it? Rather than making a judgment about God, or a making a wager, one hunts for "reasons," "justifications," and "warrants" that will make the judgment for us. We want to discover that, goodness me, we must believe in God! We have no choice! "Reason" demands it! Or, we must follow this law! "Morality" demands it!

So how is this like the welfare state? It's an abdication of responsibility. Rather than standing behind one's moral judgments or theological wagers, we expect the world to do it for us. We expect the world to give us what we "need" rather than throwing the dice and making a choice. The state gives us the goods we "need" rather than us achieving them for ourselves.

It is those choices that create the second kind of certainty. It is a retroactive certainty; you can't see how the dice will fall until you throw them. Once you make the choice, you walk down the path, and the second kind of certainty will come of its own accord.

I'm not saying that we should believe or do things without reasons; I'm saying that we can't pretend that we can live lives devoid of significant choice because all the answers are ready made for us. Plenty of people do pretend this, especially in politics - what else is the meaning of "Let's not challenge liberal democracy and capitalism, because every attempt to do so has ended in tears"?

I want to make it clear that nothing in this post is about making deductions from these certainties; I'm not Descartes talking about his cogito.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gayzing Into My Crystal Ball...

In this recent post, I argued that Christians were no longer capable of making direct moral judgments about homosexuals. In a follow up post, I said that the emerging orthodox position of not demanding immediate change was a concealed demand for absolute change, which would be a symptom of the inability to make direct judgments.

In the comment thread from the first post, Dan presented an alternate reading of the verses that are usually used to show homosexuality is a sin. He suggests that these verses need to be read in particular cultural contexts, and shows that the condemnations contained therein are not condemnations of homosexuality as such but rather a very specific expression of homosexuality. This reading allows for practicing Christians to engage in monogamous homosexual relationships.

I find Dan's reading to be convincing, and what's more, I expect it will eventually be the standard reading through every denomination (including Pentecostals and Calvinists). Christians no longer make direct judgments about gays, and sooner or later, they will latch onto the fact that there are good, solid, scholarly, biblical reasons why they don't need to. Such a shift seems inevitable to me, even if it takes a whole generation.

It's not about losing theological ground to culture, or getting caught up in postmodern relativism. It's about recognizing that the verses about homosexuality can be read in a variety of ways, and the time for reading them in one way has past. The time for reading in a new way has come.

50 Years from now, people will look back at the fight against gay marriage with the same bemused sense of superiority that we have when we look back at every struggle of the 20th century.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Failure to Think Abortion

I find myself increasingly frustrating with my own opinion on abortion. I just can't seem to develop a robust, directly stated opinion on the matter. The only way I can think about the subject is basically an equivocation; both/and. I consider that a pretty major failing.

First, I guess, the pro-choice side of my both/and problem. It has become an increasingly common pro-choice argument that pro-lifers are not so much concerned with the issue of homicide and the life of the fetus as they are with controlling sexuality, specifically women's sexuality.

I find this to be a fairly compelling argument. Pro-lifers will insist they believe that the fetus is a person, and that abortion is murder. The problem is, pro-lifers simply don't act as if they live under a regime with a higher civilian body count then Stalinist Russia. Stalin was responsible for 40 million dead Russians; the U.S. alone has had 48 million abortions over a slightly longer time period. There should be constant horror and outrage; how can daily life continue as usual for someone that believes they live in the bloodiest society in history?

But there isn't. The outrage over abortion is no greater than the usual moral outrage over, say, homosexuality.

The other piece of the argument is all the empirical data that feminist blogs collect concerning the activities of pro-life groups; persistent interference with contraception, persistent moral condemnations of (usually female) sexual activity, etc. Or the constant insistence on "responsibility," which is just an extension of the double standard and whore/madonna split women have always had to deal with. If you'd like to see these discussions, visit Pandagon - there's a link on the side of the page.

So anyways, I'm convinced that concern over women's sexuality is the excessive real of the pro-life movement. By excessive real, I mean the ideas and concepts that show through the cracks in the surface (in a previous post, when I say that "hate the sin..." is really "just following orders," I'm pointing out another example of the excessive real).

Because of this, I think pro-choicers are correct when they say the pro-lifers don't so much care about the life of the fetus, but when and for whom a woman opens her legs. And so I consider the pro-life groups to be basically insidious. The forces of domination, as it were.

It needs to be stressed that that this excessive real, this obscene, disavowed underside, is built into the pro-life position. It can't be chased away by logical syllogisms and a body of correct facts. The explicit pro-life position, that of the rejection of murdering babies, is sustained by and dependant upon this underside. It is this underside that allows pro-lifers to go about their day without being overwhelmed by the horror of living in a Stalinist regime; the underside is what provides the distance from horror so one's life can function.

Of course, that isn't the end of the issue. Just because the pro-life position carries with it an obscene underside, doesn't mean pro-choicers are let off the hook when it comes to thinking the homicide issue. Just because your opponent is incapable of being completely forthright doesn't mean you can ignore his explicit position.

In our culture, in our particular place and time, any claim that abortion is murder will carry with it the obscene underside of the domination of women. I know this won't seem like a satisfying statement, but I think it is true. All the valid logic and correct facts in the world won't change it. But for the sake of completeness...

Empirical data will never be able to settle the issue of the fetus' legal status. There is no scientific test for personhood. No body of data can tell you when the fetus becomes a person, and so is entitled to protection under the law.

Any time chosen, from conception to the third trimester to birth, is going to be arbitrary. Sure, empirical data can be interpreted to support some of these positions over others, but empirical data will always leave room for dissent among reasonable people.

The cautious position, which I favor but can't argue forcefully for, would be that conception confers legal personhood. The problem is, "cautious" is not a serious endorsement of a political or ethical position. And "cautious" does not mean "less arbitrary."

None of that erases the importance of grappling with the question, "is abortion murder?" It is the great failing of the pro-choice side that they refuse to do so. They've found out the obscene underside of the pro-life movement, and they think this makes their argument for them. It doesn't.

In the end, my pro-life sympathies are based on something I find compelling, but intellectually weak. I think there could come a day in which a pro-life position can be directly articulated, without the obscene underside. If that day comes, then the primary pro-choice arguments will dissolve (not proven illogical or incorrect, but will simply dissolve into the winds of history) and the abortion issue will be settled. On that day, we'll all wake up, and our hands will be covered in blood, and that blood will never wash off.

The problem is, I refuse to submit the present to the judgment of history. The preceding paragraph, while compelling, is simply unacceptable by any rigid intellectual standard. We live and move and have our being in the present; some pseudo-messianic future cannot help us in the present.

So this is my problem. I have both pro-choice and pro-life sympathies. That isn't acceptable; sitting on the fence is a cop out. I just have no idea how to resolve this. Sometimes I think that learning to do a proper dialectical analysis would solve this problem for me, but dialectics is a game for the big boys. It is hard to do without just being facile, or just making a more sophisticated equivocation.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

House, MD and Risk

My favourite show on network tv is House. It’s a popular enough show that I assume anyone reading this already knows the premise: Greg House is the head of a medical team that deals with the cases that baffle everyone else. He’s a medical Sherlock Holmes – almost literally; references to the Sherlock Holmes stories abound in the series.

The series is remarkable in a particular way – it illustrates one of the big debates in social theory today. The first side of this debate is represented by the German philosopher Jurgen Habermas. His position is basically in support of the standard liberal democratic attitude: 2 opposing sides in an argument sit down and have a rational discussion. Person A presents his case, and person B presents his. Either A or B is expected to present a more rational, fact based case, and so their position is selected to act upon.

The other side of this social theory debate is represented by folks like Zizek and Alain Badiou. In a nut shell, their position is that rational, fact based thought does not always lead to a clear course of action. Whether through insufficient data or through some constitutive limitation of the situation, there must come a point at which the rational discussion ends and a decision is made. A risk must be taken, perhaps in defiance of the standard democratic expectation of majority rule or individual choice.

House consistently finds himself between these two positions. In every episode, he and his team write down a list of the patient’s symptoms. Often, the team is split as to what the diagnosis should be. The doctors on his team are obviously intelligent, and at least one of them is every bit as excellent a doctor as House himself is. That’d be Foreman, for those who watch the show. The other two members of the team are Cameron (who just happens to be played by the hottest woman on tv) and Chase.

The patient is always, of course, in imminent peril. They’ll die in 24 hours if House’s team doesn’t come up with the answer. Often the symptoms conflict with one another; symptoms 1 & 2 suggest diagnoses X, but symptom 3 seems to rule out X and suggests diagnoses Y.

House stands by and occasionally interjects while Foreman, Cameron and Chase debate the possibilities. Foreman insists the diagnosis is X, while Cameron and Chase insist on Y. Eventually House stops the discussion and orders them to treat the patient for a wholly other diagnosis, Z. What follows is a replay of a famous anecdote from one of GWF Hegel’s lectures: Foreman (standing in for one of Hegel’s students) says the facts don’t fit Z, and House basically says “So much the worse for the facts.”

So they treat for Z. Sometimes House is right, and the patient is cured. Sometimes House is wrong, and the patient develops a whole new problem.

Sometimes the doctors find themselves in a situation where diagnosis X seems correct, but the lab test to confirm it will take 48 hours, whereas the patient only has 24 hours to live. If X is the wrong diagnosis, the treatment will kill the patient almost immediately. I think part of the reason House is such an admired character (despite his abrasive personality) is that he is capable of making a firm decision to treat. He says to forget the test and just administer the treatment; how many of the rest of us would hem and haw and fritter away the patient’s life trying to discover new and more reassuring facts?

So my suggestion is that decisions always come down to something like this. Take any ethical dilemma you please; you’ll often find yourself in a situation in which the facts don’t produce a clear answer. It is the same with politics; the situation rarely tells you what must be done. Sooner or later, an authoritative decision must be made. The rational, democratic discussion must end, and action must take place.

Being & Time II, Part 4: Being Towards Death and Vulgar Time

Part 3

When Da-sein is being ahead of itself in such a way that it is being towards its ownmost possibility - which is death - the possibility of being free for authentic existentiell possibilities is opened up. The anticipation of death provides a resoluteness that drives off every trivial possibility; this resoluteness that exists in the moment – rather than some kind of isolated present – is Da-sein’s ability to be free for authentic existentiell possibilities, as opposed to the possibilities that Da-sein just finds lying around in the public realm.

Attunement and falling prey, as temporal, correspond to having-been and making-present. Attunement can either be retrieve, or forgotteness, which is the vulgar past. Falling prey temporalizes as making-present or the Moment, and understanding temporalizes as awaiting or anticipation, corresponding to the vulgar future. The three are a unity; they interpenetrate each other as an ecstatic unity. For example, attunement temporalizes as the “past,” but still temporalizes itself as a future that makes present.

The anticipation of death and the resolute projection upon authentic existentiell possibilities is known as anticipatory resoluteness. This is how Heidegger brings together the ontic and the ontological, the existential and the existentiell, authentic temporality meeting authentic possibilities. I’ve heard it argued that this is analogous to Kant’s schematism, in which Kant brings together intuition and the categories.

Since the possibility of Da-sein’s being-a-whole lies in anticipatory resoluteness, this resoluteness must have a temporal structure. It is being towards Da-sein’s ownmost possibility. This is a coming-toward-itself which is the “primordial phenomena of the future.” This is not a point that could be described as somehow spatially distant, or a potential that is “not yet” actual, but rather Da-sein’s ability to come towards itself. (BT 299)

Anticipatory resoluteness also understands Da-sein as guilty, as being thrown and not mastering its ground. This is what will be known vulgarly as the past. Da-sein, understanding itself as thrown, is how Da-sein can be “in the way that it already always was.” This is Da-sein’s “having been.” There is a unity here with coming-towards; only because Da-sein has been can it come towards itself futurally – “authentically futural, Da-sein is authentically having-been.” (BT 299) By anticipating death, we see ourselves as already having been and able to act in the moment.

I’m going to go over one more topic and make 2 points about it – vulgar time, which is basically the linear time of common sense that we all know and love. The origin of vulgar time lies in Da-sein’s average, everyday inauthenticity. The common concepts of future, present and past represent genuine phenomena, but it is a derivative one. Because temporality is not an aggregate of nows, these nows cannot be said to stretch into infinity. If time is finite, then what do we do with the time that apparently continues? Heidegger is not denying that “time goes on,” he is saying that the belief in a time that moves out of the indefinite past and into the indefinite future is the result of a vulgar notion of time. Commonly, time is seen as infinite, but this conception is really only possible on the basis of temporalizing finitude. (BT 304)

In section 66, Heidegger lays the ground of what will become the datability of time. In an average, everyday way, care is about taking care of things. When using things, Da-sein uses time. In other to use time, it must be datable and calculable. (BT 306) In this way, innerworldly beings are encountered in time; their temporal quality is “within-timeness.” There is a critique of Bergson here that I’ll just mention – this within-timeness is an actual phenomena, not an externalization of a qualitative time into space. I have nothing to say about that, but someone else might.

For Heidegger, all datable time is public time and lies on top of primordial temporality. The public “orients” itself towards this time, “so that it must somehow be available for everyone.” (BT 378) Time can be taken care of in terms of events and innworldly beings, but this occurs in a horizon of “time-reckoning,” which always involves astronomical and calendrical time. The essence of taking care of time is not about measuring quantities or assigning numbers to periods of time. Measured time arises because of thrownness; primordially, temporality is Da-sein reckoning with time. (BT 378)

Public time always presupposes the structure of “then” and “when.” When the term ends, it is time to hand in essays. This public “then” is the structure of significance, which is part of understanding and interpretation, so “it constitutes the worldliness of the world.” (BT 380) This “time for” is what Heidegger will call world time. World time is not an inner worldly being, of course, but rather the condition of such. World time is presupposed when we use clocks, when we calculate and measure time. By saying what I’ve said, I’ve tried to point out how there is an authentic temporality that underlies our common notions of time, and all our calculation of it.

By way of conclusion, I’ve tried to summarize how both Da-sein’s a priori, existential structures and datable public time become meaningful and intelligible only on the basis of an underlying, unifying temporality.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Being & Time II, Part 3: Enter The (Temporal) Dragon

Part 2

In the third chapter of Division II, Heidegger will reach the idea that temporality, as the ontological meaning of care, is the unifying element of Da-sein. Everything I’ve just said has a temporal meaning; consider the projecting forward of understanding. “Meaning” is the horizon upon which something is intelligible as the thing that it is. Temporality is the horizon upon which care becomes intelligible. (BT 298) So what I’ll do now is bring out the temporality of what I’ve just spoken about.

With temporality, Heidegger describes the totality of Da-sein: “ahead-of-itself-already-being-in (a world) as together-with (beings encountered within the world.” (BT 300) None of this is about being earlier or later; all three work together to reveal themselves as the “ekstaticon par excellence” an ecstatic unity of temporality. (BT 302) It is not a sequence moving from now to another now, not an aggregate of the ecstasies. While the future is the primary ecstasy, all three move within one another. This “unified phenomena of the future that makes present in the process of having-been” is temporality. It is a unified structure that cannot be divided into a series of moments. It also cannot be seen as a path upon which historical events trod.

Heidegger will present the ecstasies as authentic or inauthentic. The structural elements of being-in-the-world are understanding, attunement and falling prey. Each of these elements temporalizes as a different ecstasy. Understanding is the projection towards a possibility; it discloses potentiality so that Da-sein knows what is going on.

We are always, in fact, projecting into possibilities. Da-sein always understands itself in terms of projects that it projects into. Because Da-sein projects forward, it is always ahead of itself. Ontologically speaking, Da-sein is always not yet. Primordially, Da-sein exists from the future. There is always something outstanding. What is outstanding is death. Death is Da-sein’s ownmost, not to be bypassed possibility, and it is unrelated to anything in the referential totality. It is not a logical possibility in the world. It is what is always outstanding for Da-sein. The anticipation of death is the authentic future, while the understanding that comes towards itself only in terms of the world taken care of is an awaiting that makes present. (BT 310)

Rather than an awaiting that makes present, authentic anticipation discloses a present that is held in authentic temporality called the moment. The moment is not another “now” that appears in a series of nows, but rather it is a part of the ecstatic unity of temporality. The moment temporalizes itself out of an authentic future, which is part of the “ecstatic unity [to which] a corresponding having-been must belong.” (BT 311) In this authentic moment, Da-sein brings itself forth to its ownmost potentiality, and this is called retrieve.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Head Scarves: Damned if They Do, Damned if They Don't

A while back, the French government wandered into a minefield when it tried to ban Islamic headscarves. Now, a Turkish lawyer is fighting a similar ban: she wants the right to choose whether or not to wear the scarf.

I'm not really interested in writing about the awesomeness of liberal choice ideology, or multiculturalism. I insist that the Islamic head scarf is a symbol of oppression; it falls under the category of "Islamic douchebaggery." One can't "choose" to accept a symbol of oppression; in the 1960s, some southern blacks actually resisted desegregation. It would be easy to say "it's their choice!" but it isn't possible to make a "choice" to tear up one's ethical dignity.

So I disagree with the women that fight to keep wearing their headscarves. But I can't agree with the ban on them, either. When you say to someone "Do X and liberate yourself," they are perfectly justified in responding "Don't tell me what to do, you crusading liberal white male!"

These women are trapped between a rock and a hard place. If they wear the scarves, they are playing into the vile patriarchal structures of their culture. If they remove the hard scarves, then they are submitting themselves to a wholly other patriarchal structure, the one that wants to save them from themselves.

The only thing to do is to completely drop the head scarf issue. Ignore it. What needs to be attacked is the underlying problem, that of the oppression of women in Islamic countries. And on this, I am on the same page as Fatma Benli, the lawyer fighting the scarf ban. She says,

“I could tell you about domestic violence, about honor killings, about the parts of the criminal code that discriminate against women,” she said, ticking off her areas of expertise in rapid-fire sentences. “But we can’t move on to those issues.

“The head scarf is where we are stuck.”

So the head scarf bans need to go, but so do the repeated refrains of "choice!"

Being & Time II, Part 2: The They's Understanding and Care

Da-sein is dispersed into the they and thrown into possibilities. The they has its own modes of understanding and interpretation. These are idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity.

Discourse shares what is disclosed - but the mark of idle talk is that it does not go back to the original disclosure. It is discourse that only offers the most average, leveled down understanding. It’s almost like speaking for the sake of speaking; it has no relation to the being being spoken of. Because idle talk offers a leveled down understanding, it can understand everything.

Curiosity corresponds to sight as a mode of disclosing. Just like idle talk understands everything, curiosity sees everything. Ambiguity has the same sort of thing going on. Ambiguity is what “everyone knows.” It knows what everyone else thinks and feels. These three elements sound very much like common sense.

Idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity constitute the entanglement of Da-sein. This is how Da-sein is in the world, initially and for the most part. Da-sein is fallen prey into the world. It’s an absorption in the they. This entanglement is the inauthenticity of Da-sein. This entanglement is Da-sein not being itself. Heidegger says Da-sein is “tempted” into falling prey; it confuses Da-sein into thinking all of its possibilities are open to it, when in fact they are leveled.

It is important to note that Da-sein be falling prey only because it is concerned, understanding, attuned being in the world.

Now, Being in the world is a structure that is primordial and constantly whole. Until now, the structure’s moments have all been discussed individually. Understanding, attunement, disclosure, etc. But how is the totality of the structural whole to be described? What unites everything that’s been said so far?

Care. Care is the unity of the structural totality of Da-sein BitW. Care is actually BitW as such. This isn’t the same as wishing, urging, watching, etc; these things are founded on care. But what discloses care as fundamental? What is Da-sein’s fundamental attunement?

Angst. Angst is what provides the basis for grasping the totality of Da-sein. Remember the description of fear? Fear is fear of something. One can find this desk fearsome. It’s something present, something in the world. What distinguishes Angst from fear is that angst does not have an object. Angst is anxious over nothing. Literally, the nothing. Nothing definite, nothing present. Angst is anxious about being in the world as such. It is in fact angst that individualizes Da-sein; it does not create an isolated subject, it merely brings Da-sein back before itself out of the they. The world loses its significance, and Da-sein is brought back before itself out of dispersion in the they.

The basis of the structural totality of Da-sein, care lies “before” every attitude and position of Da-sein. Care is the a-priori condition of both theory and praxis. Political and social action are only possible for a being that is unified by care.

So the unity of Da-sein lies in the fact that it is concerned in its being about that being. BitW itself is care. Being with things is taking care of them and being with the Mitda-sein of others is concern. Being concerned about its being, Da-sein is always being ahead of itself, projecting forward into possibilities.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Implicit Demands

Or, "Another Criticism of a Christian stance on Sin."

In Slavoj Zizek's narcissistic adventure of a documentary Zizek!, there is a clip of him on the American talkshow Nightline. He's plugging his new book, and offers a glimpse into the spirit of the book.

He brings up two versions of the standard situation of a father telling his son that since it is Sunday, they are going to visit grandmother, a ritual the son finds painfully boring. In the first story, the father is a Stalinist. He is direct and insistent; "you are coming to visit your grandmother; you have no choice." In the second story, the father is more "loving" and "permissive." He says, "Listen, you don't have to visit your grandmother. But she loves you very much, and I know you love her."

So what's the difference? The first father is telling his son what he has to do. The second father is also telling the son what he has to do, but he is tacking on an implicit demand: "you have to enjoy doing this." Surely that is the far more insidious demand; the first father demands an action, the second father demands submission.

I'd wonder if something similar is going on with well meaning Christians and homosexuals. When a Christian tells a homosexual that they may first recieve God's love, and alter their behavior "when the time comes," it's basically saying "change, and enjoy changing."

There's an idea that I think is fairly common in our society: that one's own individual conscience is where one finds their freedom. That in order to be free, you must be able to follow your conscience and do what you believe is right. External rule systems are crushing and totalitarian. I think this maps onto a common articulation of grace and law; grace opens up room for all those things that are "permissible, but not necessarily beneficial" while the law brings impossible demands and so death.

But what if it is the other way around? What if it is individual conscience, and that common articulation of grace, that is in fact the most crushing and totalitarian?

(As an aside, I wouldn't say the type of grace I'm speaking of is the only kind)

What if the infinite demand for perfection does not come from the external law, but is something we internalize, basically saying that we must enjoy trying to fulfill that infinite demand? "God's grace will forgive you. . . (you're a jerk for taking advantage of it, though)" The seemingly gentle and loving offer of permanant support and forgiveness is a sneaky attempt to get someone to enjoy being under the law, or in other words, to get them to internalize the law that brings death.

So when one says to a sinner "recieve God's love and grace, and change when the time is right," doesn't the sentence continue silently, ". . . but if you love God, the change will come quickly"? This a far cry from "Go now, and sin no more" which silently continues ". . . because if you do, I'll kick your ass."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Slouching Towards Division II: Recapitulating Being-In

I've already presented a summary of the first half of Martin Heidegger's Being and Time; you can see a link to it on the side bar. Last semester I had to present on Division II to a class that I was certain hadn't read B&T, so I tried to set up Division II with some discussion of Division I. This next series is, you guessed it, that presentation. I'll just include it under the Being and Time label.

What I’ll do with this presentation is go over some material from Division I, setting up terms, and then move to Division II, re-reading those terms temporally.

So last week we already discussed how Da-sein is the entity that we must inquire into in order to ask after the meaning of being. This is because it already has something like an understanding of being, a pre-ontological understanding of being. This understanding is a way of being; this isn’t a question of epistemology. We understand the “is” without being able to conceptually define it. This is what makes Da-sein different from other beings - we are concerned in our being about being. Da-sein is related to existence understandingly; the structures by which we do this are existential structures. You might hear echos of Kant’s a-priori transcendental structures here.

Da-sein understands itself in terms of existence, as well. It understands itself through possibilities that come to it through various means; these are existentiell possibilities. These are the possibilities we understand ourselves through; it is an existentiell possibility to be a student.

Rephrased, existentiells are our projects. The stuff we do. They are ontic characteristics specific to Da-sein. Existentials, on the other hand, are what you might think of as our ontological side; the way(s) in which we exist understandingly. One example is mood, attunement.

Da-sein’s relation to itself is mediated by its relation to the world, but this is not to suggest that being-in stands between a present world and a present subject. Being-in is a unified phenomena. It is disclosure; a clearing, an illumination. There are three aspects to being-in as such: attunement, understanding and discourse. These are not three aspects that are separate things; they are equiprimordial. There are the interiority of each other.

Now, Attunement is Heidegger’s ontological term for what would ontically be “mood.” It’s how you’re doing. Attunement is what makes things matter. It discloses things in a particular way. In being in a mood, Da-sein is disclosed as that being which it is.

The primary discovery of the world is also through attunement — not the senses. It is because the senses belong ontologically to an attuned being that they can be “touched.” Heidegger himself will suggest a comparison with Kant’s intuitions; we do not have spacial or temporal intuitions because we have the five sense. Kant’s intuitions are, if this can be said, a non-sensual form of sensibility.

Heidegger’s big example of attunement is fear. There are three aspects to fear. The first is “what” one is afraid of - it is a thing of whatever sort. A spider, a disease, a ghost. A fearsome thing. The second aspect is “fearing” itself; this clarifies what is fearsome. And why are we afraid? Because we are concerned in our being for our being. Only a being concerned with its own being can be afraid. What about animals? I have no clue. What marks fear as attunement is that it discloses things in their ability to threaten.

The second element of being in is understanding. Like I’ve already said, Da-sein exists understandingly. Understanding is what discloses our possibilities as possibilities. This is not a cognitive process of making choices; it isn’t choosing between being a lawyer or doctor when you grow up. It discloses those possibilities in the first place. It’s also not an empty set of logical possibilities; we are always already in a possibility. We are always, in fact, projecting into possibilities.

Now, understanding always has its own possibilities. Understanding has the possibility of understanding itself - this is interpretation. Interpretation is understanding’s self-understanding.

Interpretation is also the actualization of possibilities that understanding discloses. Da-sein projects onto possibilities, then interprets itself as these possibilities. What is interpreted, what has been explicitly understood, always has the structure of something as something. A table is explicitly understood as a table.

Interpretation has a threefold structure: fore-having, fore-seeing and fore-conception. These, again, are all bound up with each other.

The fore-having is the referential totality; it is the interpretation operating within that totality of reference which itself has already been understood. When something is understood but still veiled, still unclear, still implicit, it becomes explicit through an act of appropriation - the fore-seeing. The fore-having reveals what is to be understood, the fore-seeing works specifically upon what is to be understood. This interpretation is already decided upon by a definite conceptuality - this is the fore-conception.

The interpretation of something as something is grounded in fore-having, fore-seeing and fore-conception. This is a circle, but it is not a vicious circle to be avoided; the trick is to enter the circle in the right way; this is why Heidegger had that whole discussion of the structure of the question at the beginning of the book.

The final aspect of being in is discourse. This isn’t language - it is the ontological condition of language. That which is disclosed by attunement and understanding is articulated by discourse. Discourse is a shared event; the listener understands the speaker because they are articulating meaning that is already there. Spoken disclosure is to share what is disclosed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Excessive Religion, Part 10: Conclusion

Part 9

Fidelity, by traversing fantasy, places no expectations on the fulfillment of desire; it is a purely libidinal drive that pushes one ceaselessly and without concern for project. The movement to inner experience is not to “emerge from project through project” but rather to emerge from individual libidinal economy to the global, general economy. Such a movement is akin to a series of streams flowing into a raging river, than breaking off again into tributaries. The moment of the festival is not a matter for repetition in memory; it is only ever a future possibility that drives one forward. Bataille gives the reason for this when he says that The translation of an experience into a communicable form does not betray the experience, and is in fact necessary - but it changes the experience from the peak of a libidinal flow to a matter of discourse. As a “past event,” inner experience is irreducibly different. One is part of a libidinal movement, the other is discourse. Inner experience, in terms of festival and sacrifice, require the discourse of a community to be enacted, but discourse is only ever the tool of libido.

Memory and discourse are also vital for any attempt to transmit inner experience, however both of these are dependant on time. In common conditions, the metonymic movement of desire pushes one into the future; however, according to Bataille, inner experience is “time unhinged.” An experience in which time is unhinged denies the temporal cause/effect relationship, and so does not produce knowledge. Inner experiences from the “past” produce nothing and affect nothing, because of this denial of cause and effect. These experiences rely on the discourse of a community and the desire of the subject to lay the ground, but discourse and desire can only ever move into the future and allow the summit to appear of its own accord. We reach out to the future through desire, touch upon a singularly excessive experience, than immediately move on to reach out for another future, another singular experience.

Religion is not only the search for a lost intimacy, it is the experience of desire. It is not merely a matter of unfulfilled desire, but rather of striving forward, and in doing so, experiencing joy and the glow of the object of desire. One strives forward to touch this object; what Bataille calls “common time” or “secular time” is a period of anticipation, promise, and action. The sacred appears as moment, and then the anticipation begins anew. From this anticipation flows affirmation and joy, whether the anticipation has the character of faith or fidelity.

Edit: Double post corrected!