Flusser and Kafka: Bureaucratic Theology

Just finished reading Flusser’s essay on Kafka for a class I’ll teach next Thursday. I specially like Flusser’s idea of a God who not only loathes his creation, but also dislikes himself. How weird is the idea of a divine being who just sits impassive in his celestial office, lazily contemplating the daily tragedies of this sublunar world? Well, it’s not very different from the god of the gnostics (the so-called “theos agnostos”), with the particularity that Kafka’s deity is not only indifferent to mankind, but also despises it. If Lovecraft had a God it would certainly be like Kafka’s, like mighty Chtulhu sleeping through the ages while an unsuspecting humanity goes about its business. There are, however, those who eagerly wait for Chtulhu’s awakening and their impeding doom. Yes, there is something strangely attractive about the idea of a sudden apocalypse, about the end of our senseless suffering. Michel Houellebecq sees this very clearly when he states that, notwithstanding the absolute horror of Lovecraft’s universe and the abominations that awaits us behind every door, his literature exerts a strange and irresistible allure on us. For Flusser, we are still waiting for Kafka, because its readership is yet to be born. But – who knows? – it’s always possible that some of his authentic readers and interpreters are already walking around this earth. If that’s the case, then Kafka’s particular Stimmung can certainly be felt, even if only in minute doses…

Lovecraft: la disyunción en el Ser

Another magnificent book by Argentinian philosopher Fabián Ludueña. Lovecraft is once again claimed by philosophy – what is rapidly becoming a trend – as the writer who poses the most cogent questions for contemporary thought. Ludueña’s erudition and depth are impressive. He suggests that Lovecraft’s contribution rests on his construction of myth, but a myth devoid of any commitment to the human species, a sort of non-anthropic concept of the myth. The multiverse engendered by Lovecraft is ruled by a disjunctive principle located in the very core of Being. The writer of Providence develops a notion of subjectivity that prescinds embodiment in any determined physical substance and creates a thinking of radical outsideness. A brilliant work of philosophy and literary criticism.

An archaeology of theoretical thought

Siegfried Zielinski urges us to seek the new in the old. I wonder if that theoretical principle could be applied to theory itself. What if we were to read past authors and ideas always under a new and different light? We could go even further and promote a continuous refashioning of the past by means of different imaginative exercises. An archive is not necessarily a repository of dead words and deeds. The archaeologist possesses the mystical power to resuscitate what was thought to be lifeless. Therein lies perhaps one of the main reasons for my interested in the past. Also, I have to admit that I’m usually much more interested in stories about failures and flops than tales of success. A monumental flop within the sphere of theoretical thought may indicate that an idea was prematurely born or shaped within an intellectual context that didn’t do it justice. I believe that’s the case with many of the obscure characters that draw my attention. Not coincidentally, I tend to evaluate their ideas under a framework that is never solely epistemological, but also aesthetic. Take, for instance, the obscure Fritz Mauthner. Reading the excellent work by Elizabeth Bredeck (Metaphors of Knowledge: Language and Thought in Mauthner’s Critique), I speculate wether Mauthner’s notion of Zufallsgeschichte (history of contingencies) can shed interesting light on some (media)archaeological principles. This history of contingencies teaches us that “what history lacks is as important as what it yields” (p. 42). The fact that the Zufallsgeschichte is not grounded on any divine or natural predetermination prevents the establishment of any generalization. History always “remains limited to particulars” (43) and also bound to human interest. Instead of being “true”, it must be useful. In Mauthner’s view, our knowledge of the world has a “metaphoric” dimension, since it is always mediated by language and its categories. One could say that knowledge is always, in a way, “aesthetic”. In a time when anthropocentric perspectives of the universe were still quite current, Mauthner endeavored a critique of the anthropocentric character of words such as “law”, “purpose” or “necessity”, which should be dismissed as linguistic illusions altogether. After writing this very brief and incomplete report, I read again a fortuitous passage in Bredeck’s book – which I had of course already forgotten – and smile: “Mauthner serves as a lens through which we can get a new perspective on issues in contemporary theory, while contemporary theory helps shed new light on the complexities of Mauthner’s own thought” (p. 29).

Some small repercussions of our Symposium

Graham posted this in his blog. He is in São Paulo and we’ll meet him tomorrow. Glad he liked the restaurant I recommended.  Also, Steven posted the abstract for his talk in Rio here. Today we took Siegfried Zielinski to the Moreira Salles Institute. He is quite taken by the beautiful natural landscapes of Rio. Adalberto, Siegfried and I had a nice conversation on Flusser and his book “A History of the Devil”.  A delightful Sunday, indeed.

Work in Progress (from my paper for the international Symposium “The Secret Life of Objects”)

“the question is not wether the presentation of a ‘Stimmung’ is truthful or not, but rather wether it touches (berührt) the observer or not”. We’re no longer dealing with clearly verifiable determinations of truth or falsehood. With his typically circular, enigmatic and inconclusive style, Flusser never delivers a theory for the interpretation of gestures, but rather a reading procedure that is not quantifiable or translatable in the order of discourse (at least in terms of scientific discourse). “The ‘Gestimmtheit’ liberates the ‘Stimmungen’ from their original contexts and turns them into aesthetic phenomena. They become ‘artificial’” (V.F.). That’s why we can say that the ‘Gestimmtheit’ isn’t an epistemological or ethical issue, but rather an aesthetic one. What one needs in order to be able to ‘read’ it is an inclination, a subjective attitude that has less to do with the determination of a clear meaning than with a certain disposition for experiencing sensations…