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Notes On Culture

“The maximum in intensity lies behind us; the minimum in passion and intellectual inspiration lie before us.”

– Jean Baudrillard

“We are all hostages of this new order, and all terrorists, too. Suddenly, everything becomes political, everything is sexual, everything must have its history, its identity, and its destination, everything has significance, and interpretations are available, instantly, for anything, anywhere.”

– William Bogard

Transparency: the death of mystery, of what’s secret

“[An unlimited operational project has been perpetrated on the world] whereby everything becomes real, everything becomes visible and transparent, everything is ‘liberated,’ everything comes to fruition and has a meaning (whereas it is in the nature of meaning that not everything has it).

“Whereby there is no longer anything on which there is nothing to say.”  

– Jean Baudrillard [1]

In simulation, there is no time for despair, no space for nostalgia

“In Baudrillard’s bestiary, the interiority and self-enclosure of simulation erupt in a general terrorism of appearances. We are all hostages of this new order, and all terrorists, too. Suddenly, everything becomes political, everything is sexual, everything must have its history, its identity, and its destination, everything has significance,  and interpretations are available, instantly, for anything, anywhere (instant analysis). Simulation absorbs its environment in a pure abstraction. It is an ‘abstract machine’ (Deleuze) that envelops the object in its repetition and launches it into orbit. It is the ultimate diversion, a mode of distraction that dissolves any space of negativity or reflection. We become lost in it, aliens. It produces just the opposite effect of despair; rather, an ecstatic experience of instantaneousness and presence (telepresence), or the vertigo generated by a false sense of motion, of standing on the edge of an abyss or void that is in appearance a plenitude. In simulation, there is no time for despair, no space for nostalgia, because simulation is the cancellation of distance, space, and ultimately (linear, historical) time itself, and the substitution of simulated distances, simulated times, etc., the immediacy or embrasure of a pure, encompassing ‘experience’.”

– William Bogard [2]

Humans have lost their prestige

In the last thirty years there has been an enormous fall in the prestige-value of the human subject. With the easy circulation of roles and vocations in the mass society, with no attainment save that of wealth enjoying the status of exclusivity anymore – everyone now an author, everyone possessing a college degree, everyone a marketable brand – the shine of human achievement has grown dim. In a diffuse and pluralized world there is no longer a spotlight or center stage, and thus no mechanism left to free the subject from the demystifying effects of quotidian flux.

But in the same span the appeal of the object has grown exponentially. Phones, tablets, the wearable Internet, also electric cars, blown-up screens, commercially available drones – all create fascination and seem larger and better than the mere subject. Individuals grow old, wrinkly, move a step slower, lose their drive to produce and create. The object, by contrast, can be updated, revised, spun off, or simply discarded. In the ever newer and improved object one can find amusement or distraction; the long-winding road of human association, by contrast, leads inevitably to misunderstanding, distrust, estrangement, pique.

The object is younger and shinier, it has more utility value than mass-man and mass-woman . And soon it will do much more than compute, calculate, and distract.

Nearly everything the subject is capable of, or has accomplished, history has already told us. The writing, talking animal composing novels and poems, the subject in its umpteen roles (as ruler and conqueror, lover and mistress, prophet and cassandra, rebel and moralist) has played itself out. Perhaps it needs to die already. Perhaps from the standpoint of a disinterested cosmic intelligence the cultural floor needs to be swept clean, now and for good.  – Tim Ruggiero

Word of Advice

“A few years ago a man who was compiling a book entitled Success wrote and asked me to contribute a statement on how I got to be a success. I replied indignantly that I was not able to consider myself a success in any terms that had a meaning to me. I swore I had spent my life strenuously avoiding success. If it so happened that I had once written a best seller, this was a pure accident, due to inattention and naivete, and I would take very good care never to do the same again. If I had a message to my contemporaries, I said, it was surely this: Be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success. I heard no more from him, and I am not aware that my reply was published with the other testimonials.”

– Thomas Merton [3]

Refusal To Go Along

What if no one or nothing were worth saving anymore? What if the path to truth lay in absconding from society, in refusing to be “someone,” to play a part, strike a pose, sell or consume, to click on anything or even to speak out?

A negative volition, or velleity: the sense that life can no longer be consummated through the established social channels; that the world as it exists inhibits meaningful experiences rather than produces them.

One might argue that there is a moral responsibility to participate in social life, to be seen and heard and say one’s piece even if the prospects for change are slim to none. Even if one’s contributions are ignored or drowned out.

But what if participation meant feeding a cultural apparatus that created voids rather than filled them, that neutralized the population rather than enlivened it, that created an atmosphere not of lively civic engagement but one of indifference and social isolation?

Then engagement, even if it fell under the heading of “dissent,” would be a snare – sustenance to a beast that needed to be starved rather than fattened, denied rather than emboldened.

The social system today has been so arranged that abstention carries a severe ontological price: if one takes flight from the world of technics, of virtual reality, of electronic media, then where can vitality be found? Alongside whom would one’s destiny unfold? By what standards or norms would the choice of exodus be governed?  – Tim Ruggiero

(September 22, 2016)

Notes

1. Jean Baudrillard, The Intelligence of Evil Or The Lucidity Pact (Oxford/New York: Berg, 2005), p. 17.

2. William Bogard, “Baudrillard, Time, and the End,” in Baudrillard: A Critical Reader, ed. Douglas Kellner (London: Blackwell, 1994), p. 317.

3. From The Pocket Thomas Merton, edited by Robert Inchausti (Boston & London: New Seeds, 2015), pp. 46-47.



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