It's hard to believe Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle was first published in the 60s. Consider the world we live in today: a world of social mediIt's hard to believe Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle was first published in the 60s. Consider the world we live in today: a world of social media, where the mediated space is on equal footing with our lived experience. In fact, the virtual seems positioned to entirely replace the material in the course of history, a point at which we can truly say would be the end of history. More anecdotally, (and prosaically), it has been somewhat disturbing to me of late that the few times I've left my Facebook account, many people have ceased contact. When I returned, caving into what has increasingly felt like a Stockholm Syndrome like situations, the refrain was "I'm happy you're back, now we can talk to you again." The virtual is increasingly the world in which we exist in, socially. What then is the fleshy present? The mechanism of mediation is increasingly the "lived world." To the extent that necessity is socially dreamed, the dream becomes necessity. The spectacle is the nightmare of imprisoned modern society which ultimately expresses nothing more than its desire to sleep. The spectacle is the guardian of sleep. Couched in the sort of "pomo speak" that seems to be less in vogue these days, it's not likely to be a top seller anytime soon. The tone almost strikes one as the bullet points read off through a bullhorn at a rally by a chain-smoking Frenchman with a megaphone. There are countless ways that we can critique, interrogate, and ultimately narrate technology. Whether it is our salvation or damnation is almost a literary conceit. But that makes this particular critique no less lucid, or downright prescient.
Next up I'm going to start looking into how Situationism influenced Debord's work. And dig back at the anarchist primitive movement that was fire-bombed in Philadelphia. I'll report back what thoughts seem worth sharing.
Years of meditating and reading books on philosophy, psychology, years of lucid dreams and night terrors, do not make a person unique. But it is singuYears of meditating and reading books on philosophy, psychology, years of lucid dreams and night terrors, do not make a person unique. But it is singularly unique to find what feels like your own thoughts reflected back at you when you didn't pen them. As I read The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, I had a strange feeling, as if Deja vu and vertigo had somehow been blended together. Had I read this before, if I hadn't written it?
Yet that disturbing familiarity regards an utterly useless process. Reading or writing about philosophy has long had a negative connotation in the United States, thanks to a long anti-intellectual culture in some corners. But here the useless, and indeed the negative, have an absolutely finality that have nothing to do with anti-intellectualism. This is ontological uselessness, the nightmare of being.
Ligotti's core thesis — the self as we know it is a contrivance of evolution, self consciousness an accident. To be deceived into thinking we are a self, that's the situation we find ourselves in, without hope of reprieve or reprisal. Of course, he isn't the first pessimist to set pen to paper, but he is the first to do so starkly, with such uncompromising clarity, without back pedaling or that ultimate cop out, the happy ending, "it was all a dream."
There is a certain intentional irony here, as indeed our waking lives are a type of dream, and the self we grant some sense of ultimate reality is nothing other than a character in that dream. But to the extent anything is real, that dream character's suffering is legitimate.
Our choice as he sees it is simple — self deception, or insanity. He shows us the basis of horror, rooted not in the supernatural beyond, but much closer to home. It stares back at us in the mirror. The supernatural in a sense gives us a glimpse of our own uncanny ghoulishness, without requiring identification with the absolute truth of the matter. We can close the book, and shake off that chill, for after all, it was just a story.
But this is not merely a thought experiment. It isn't satirical hyperbole, like A Modest Proposal. There is no hope or happy ending to soften the blow. Because the game of life is all fixed anyway, it couldn't matter less if you deceive yourself and write this book off as pessimistic belly aching. Whatever it takes to get you through another day, and prop up the illusion that you are a self in the first place.
Although some may argue about what constitutes "serious philosophy" — as Ligotti himself says, he eschews the circuitous argumentation that generally grants a work that unapproachable aura of seriousness — I would argue that this book belongs within any introductory study of nihilism and even post-modernism. To do so I'd like to demonstrate what I mean. Those purely interested in The Conspiracy Against The Human Race may as well stop here, but I believe this claim demands a little context and backtracking. You'll forgive me if I need to broaden the scope to come back to task.
Post modernism and nihilism both are subjects of derision. So many people wave off, dismiss it, or make fun of it, because what? Reason "can't" merely delineate the contours of our prison cell? Our psychology "can't" be the determining factor in our philosophical theories? The world as we know it "can't" just be the product of our narratives about it?
Suffice it to say, I'm not convinced. And neither is Ligotti. According to him, these dismissals are rooted in an underlying fear of pessimism. Even further, that fear may cover up the very existential terror that these theories hope to lay bare, even if it will quickly become clear to any ‘student’ that the effort itself is probably entirely counter-productive.
Another barrier is a sort of pop-cultural understanding of nihilism that throws most people off the scent. For this I need to turn to Vattimo, in a passage of The End of Modernity where he more or less paraphrases Nietzsche, "The project of nihilism is to unmask all systems of reason as systems of persuasion, and to show that logic — the very basis of metaphysical thought -- is in fact a kind of rhetoric. All thought that pretends to discover truth is but an expression of the will to power ... of those making the truth-claims over those being addressed by them; in particular, the disinterested, scientific, rational search for the objective, neutral truth of a proposition is an illusion produced by metaphysical thought for its own benefit."
I would actually specify here that it is the narrative doing this, and it is in the process of making narrative ("sense ") from " pure" data / research that this comes about. It's not that there is no objective world or neutral facts, it's that humans are incapable of direct interaction. Everything is mediated. And mediation is where myth/narrative is king. Lyotard defined postmodernism as “skepticism toward all meta-narratives,” and this bookends all these points on the subject, by saying, in essence, that it recognizes we only understand the world through narratives, and it demands we be skeptical of them all.
(My own little mea culpa: this is what I've dedicated like 10 years of work/research to, so I guess you could say I've got some skin in the game.)
The critique of logic that is perhaps most damning comes from Wittgenstein's commentary and later disavowal of his own Tractatus, and how it kind of turned the tables on logical positivism. There is a terrific accounting of that in "Wittgenstein's Vienna," possibly one of my favorite works of philosophical history.
More prosaically, it was the project of Enlightenment Reason that postulates "progress", which underlies all our technology (see Heidegger's essays on tech, such as “The Questions Concerning Technology,” which are even more damning in hindsight of where we are now), technology is the proverbial case in point of pure logic, at least in itself as a matter of engineering. If not so much how we interact with it, which remains more or less sociological and psychological, logic playing much less of a role in that engagement.
So, we might say nihilism is inherently skeptical of Enlightenment Reason as a project, of progress as a given — and in this regards there's some overlap with many stated postmodern "projects" (objectives). All are critical of logic as an end in itself, especially as a cultural project, and in this regard Conspiracy fits in quite well. There’s much to be found on this subject in Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, though he'll also wander off topic and rant about jazz music. But he has some good points, despite all that.
These projects are not themselves outside of time, which is maybe one of the ironies of post-modernism as a term. This is the subject of many lengthy works, but in short, nihilism and postmodernism both got much of their manna from the second world war, though the first had really already set that in motion-- the massive projects that had promised an idealized Utopian future brought instead war, death, genocide, and then after, the process of man being turned into machine. So the apparent obsession with critique and even, as some have claimed, pessimism within nihilistic and post-modernist philosophies comes as much from the lives of those that created it as any other philosophy. Again, we come to know and interact with the world only through the meditation of our narratives, and much recent neurological research backs this up. Ligotti deals with this directly, without getting sidetracked in “philosophical quibbling,” and indeed this work stands shoulder to shoulder with other works of this nature. But it seeks to one up them all — because they, and indeed this work as well, are ultimately nothing more than sublimation. Conspiracy will show us the truth, but only by dint of demonstrating that it doesn’t actually matter.
My own issue with much postmodern theory, especially the most pessimistic like Ligotti, is it's much easier to tear down an idea than build a new one. Years of working with this sort of material have left me essentially skeptical of everything, including my own memories. The cost of absolute honesty is ultimately paralysis. Only by having faith in the things we can't know, even in blatant fictions, can we take any action. This too he predicts. But he insists we must distance ourselves with denials or false narratives. There seems little room for Kierkegaardian leaps of faith. Getting out of bed is an act of faith. And, given all the things that might happen, possibly a stupid one. But I still take it.
And that's the only place where we might take some issue with Ligotti’s certainty, one may even call it faith, in futility. And that human, all too human trait is curiosity.
I grant nearly every single premise in Conspiracy, but at the end of day sheer curiosity at what lies behind the next rock keeps us going. This fits into his schema well enough as a form of sublimation, or perhaps mere distraction from the existential truth that we are puppets dancing at the call of some invisible master. Picture Sisyphus happy? Perhaps not. But we can imagine him wandering off to the horizon, just to see what happens next. The only certainty — death — does not undermine the great wealth of uncertainties life gives us along the way.
One of the best graphic novels I've ever read. It's subtle, psychological without deferring to rote symbol, like the real faded images of a memory thaOne of the best graphic novels I've ever read. It's subtle, psychological without deferring to rote symbol, like the real faded images of a memory that you had. But they're someone else's. ...more
I'm about halfway through at the moment. This is incredibly well researched and should be required reading on the subject. There are a few issues I woI'm about halfway through at the moment. This is incredibly well researched and should be required reading on the subject. There are a few issues I would raise that very well could be seen as the mere result of the book being 20 years out of date -- such as the ongoing subtext that 'war PTSD' is a man's affliction while domestic abuse is the woman's version of the same -- although on the one hand it is made clear that these are often the same underlying issue, that is after all the premise of the book, that narrative is then re-affirmed through the wording and organization of the book to follow. Further, PTSD is hardly relegated to the experience of war, (just as people's reaction to trauma can't be meted out, ranked, or understood in a quantitative way. The very same experience may traumatize one person for life, without ample treatment and even possibly with it, while another person may not be effected at all.) This also is stated fairly clearly, but then, at least thusfar, not fully developed as something more or less independent of gender.
I'll likely update this review when I've finished. ...more
I find the lack of works cited somewhat problematic, but as all history of this sort is narrative anyhow (and narrative is functionally fictive), it'sI find the lack of works cited somewhat problematic, but as all history of this sort is narrative anyhow (and narrative is functionally fictive), it's only a matter of providing a passage toward how your own narratives were formed. The writing is very clear and engaging for material of this sort, and the underlying thesis--of the correlation between American and Russian imperialism--is well explored and I think spot on.
Absolutely hilarious how many reviewers here seem to be offended at the idea of America being imperialist. (It's also oligarchic). But I guess some delusions die hard....more
It was an interesting coincidence that the publisher for "The Hope We Seek" offered an ARC right around the time when my general research was leadingIt was an interesting coincidence that the publisher for "The Hope We Seek" offered an ARC right around the time when my general research was leading me back to the history and myth of the American West. This book fits very soundly within the current, as it is essentially an exploration of those symbols--mining, in some sense, for an American myth, rather than gold.
The prose is at its best when it describes the land itself as an outpouring of the human spirit; at times the craft actually reaches the sublime that the author is clearly reaching for throughout. However, the flip side of this is that at times it feels as though we aren't so much coming along on the journey as watching someone else's religious experience from afar. That goes a way toward saying that my experience of the book is that it isn't nearly as gripping or even interesting as it is good -- and this raises a big question for me of what "good" even means, in this context.
But that question will have to wait for another day. I applaud the effort invested in plumbing the shared psychological history of hope and loss which represents not only the best and worst of the West, but also all of our own personal journeys. That it doesn't seem to speak to the heart as much as it seeks, however earnest the effort seems, is the only flaw in what might otherwise be a five star effort.
David Mack is one of the very few artist/authors that whenever I write about them it comes out almost fanboyish. The reason should be plain enough forDavid Mack is one of the very few artist/authors that whenever I write about them it comes out almost fanboyish. The reason should be plain enough for anyone who has put in the energy to explore his work: it's really top rate, original (although you can certainly see many influences, nothing creative occurs in a vacuum), and you can see real humanity in all of it-- beauty, fragility, etc. Also, there are artists that you encounter or work with that are incredibly talented but make you feel a sort of despair towards your own work. I remember after reading Lolita (Nabokov) I wondered why I bother with prose at all. David's work, on the other hand, is generally inspirational. It asks you to dig a little deeper and find your voice. Which is really one of the greatest gifts an artist can give.
In a sense, this book is about running. In another sense, it's covertly about writing. (Especially novel writing, which is a beast I'm personally moreIn a sense, this book is about running. In another sense, it's covertly about writing. (Especially novel writing, which is a beast I'm personally more acquainted with than the running part.) In another sense, it's not really a book about either.
The truth is, I don't much care for running and I still enjoyed it. So that's something. ...more
this was my least favorite Murakami book thus far. that's not to say that it's a bad novel...I suppose I saw no reason that the content demanded suchthis was my least favorite Murakami book thus far. that's not to say that it's a bad novel...I suppose I saw no reason that the content demanded such girth, and I was also soured by experiencing it via audio book and not much liking the narrator. I may give it another try after colorless tsukuru......more
I'd say this is one of the most useful guides on the subject I've encountered -- because it isn't a guide. With a few minor exceptions, it isn't someI'd say this is one of the most useful guides on the subject I've encountered -- because it isn't a guide. With a few minor exceptions, it isn't some cutesy list of do's and dont's, because those things quite simply don't exist.
Every author, and every text, has its own demands, and the goal of writing (in the production stage anyway) is to satisfy those specific demands.
But to satisfy them you must first identify them, and in this is one of the greatest challenges. What IS "good" or "bad" writing? Everyone thinks they have a handle on that question, certainly every writer, and yet if you ask ten people you'll likely get eight different answers.
However "it's all a matter of opinion, maaan" gets you nowhere if you are faced with the task of editing. (Or writing, which is between five and nine 10ths editorial, depending on the writer.)
Susan Bell gets these subtleties. As such, she can't give you a single or simple answer, no one can. But we still have a practice that we can undergo to get, somehow, closer to the 'truth' in answering that question.
Of course, if you're a published author, don't be afraid if you suddenly have the urge to burn half your past work. I know I did. As she frequently implies, the relationship between editor and writer can be mirrored within ourselves, as the surety of writing is constantly doing battle with the slash, burn and re-planting of editorial....more
Though dated in several ways, this book nevertheless should be an absolute must-read for all people as they pass through their early 20s. It was a cenThough dated in several ways, this book nevertheless should be an absolute must-read for all people as they pass through their early 20s. It was a central book in a class taught at my college, and I could see its influence in the people in that class then, and afterwards. It is quite simply the beginning of a long process: becoming ones self, on ones own terms. It is not final, nor do I think Bob intended it to be any other way.
It was also one of the things that convinced me that I needed to have Join My Cult! published with New Falcon, though that's likely neither here nor there for you, aside from the fact that it is likely to help you start to discover your own way, no matter how difficult that path may be. ...more
It is somewhat of a surprise to me, but this may be one of my favorite works of philosophy. The reason why is simple: Wittgenstein's Vienna studies thIt is somewhat of a surprise to me, but this may be one of my favorite works of philosophy. The reason why is simple: Wittgenstein's Vienna studies the thought of a particular individual not just on its apparent ground, but also, and possibly more fundamentally, within the context of the culture and history in which it arose. This is something that should be done with many of the thinkers and artists of days past, but Wittgenstein in particular almost demands this treatment.
The proof of this is given in how much he has been misunderstood.
Let me give an example:
"A whole generation of disciples was able to take Wittgenstein as a positivist, because he has something of enormous importance in common with the positivists: he draws the line between what we can speak about and what we must remain silent about just as they do. The difference is only that they have nothing to be silent about. Positivism holds--and this is the essence--that what we can speak about is all that matters in life. Wittgenstein passionately believes that all that really matters in human life is precisely what, in his view, we must remain silent about!" - Paul Engelmann.
I think it has more to do with my stance than some great intellect or anything that my initial reading of the Tractatus -- which in detail I barely understood upon first reading -- is in fact what Wittgenstein had intended, and precisely what many smarter and more famous individuals than myself had completely misunderstood. The last section of the book, which people like Russell though was a sort of throwaway addendum, is in fact the very heart of the matter. And W's later work (touched on in the posthumous Discourses) is not so much a departure from his earlier thought as a clarification about language, which does throw a serious curveball in regard to the demarcation between that-which-can-be-spoken and that-which-must-be-passed-over-in-silence.
The Tractutus, in other words, is essentially not a work on logic and language, but rather a work on ethics/value/meaning. This thesis is presented very well in Janik and Toulmin's book, and their methodology is such that it wound up being one of the central books in our first investigation of myth, "The Immanence of Myth." (Weaponized.) ...more
When I was a philosophy major undergrad, I wrote several essays, and ultimately my senior thesis, on a premise that is here much more elegantly presenWhen I was a philosophy major undergrad, I wrote several essays, and ultimately my senior thesis, on a premise that is here much more elegantly presented by Stephen Hawking as Model-Dependent Realism. He obviously understands the underlying scientific models better than I do or ever will, though his snide comment that "philosophy is dead" is somewhat ironic considering that this book is essentially a piece of populist scientific philosophy. The most pressing issues for philosophy have changed in the places where the academy isn't still navel gazing, or stuck in Heidegger's lederhosen.
Anyway, enough about that. To the book. My point is that this book doesn't present anything especially new for those of us who have already filled our heads with Berkeley, Hume, Feynman, Einstein, and so on. But that doesn't mean that it isn't worth reading. To the contrary, it is one of the most elegant presentations of the intersection of science and philosophy meant for the public that I've yet encountered. Again with the irony of "philosophy is dead." (Wittgenstein made a similar pronouncement in the wake of his Tractatus. That was published ~1921.)
I highly suggest reading this book because elegance is, as Hawking states, one of the highest values for a theory aside from conforming with observation. I also suggest it because model-dependent realism is a more subtle, more accurate interpretation of relativism that should be burned into the minds of everyone that wishes to work in the sciences, or humanities for that matter. It is not a conclusion or an end point, but rather the starting point from which we can avoid a great deal of wasted effort and ink.