Sunday, October 11, 2015

Money Wisdom #383

" Language has never been more perfectly distinguished from mind, never more intimately bound to Eros, than by Kraus in the observation 'The more closely you look at a word the more distantly it looks back.' "

Walter Benjamin One Way Street - Karl Kraus (Verso) [1930-1931] (1997) p.284

Friday, October 9, 2015

Money Wisdom #382

" Any serious exploration of occult, surrealistic, phantasmagoric gifts and phenomena presupposes a dialectical intertwinement to which a romantic turn of mind is impervious. For histrionic or fanatical stress on the mysterious side of the mysterious takes us no further; we penetrate the mysterious only to the the degree that we recognize it in the everyday world, by virtue of a dialectical optic that perceives the everyday as impenetrable, the impenetrable as everyday. The most passionate investigation of telepathic phenomena, for example, will not teach us half as much about reading (which is an eminently telepathic process), as the profane illumination of reading about the telepathic phenomena. And the most passionate investigation of the hashish trance will not teach us half as much about thinking (which is entirely narcotic), as the profane illumination of thinking about the hashish trance. The reader, the thinker, the loiterer, the flâneur, are types of illuminati just as much as the opium eater, the dreamer, the ecstatic. And more profane. Not to mention that most terrible drug - ourselves - which we take in solitude. "

Walter Benjamin One Way Street - Surrealism (Verso) [1929] (1997) p.237

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Money Wisdom #381

" The trance abated when I crossed the Cannebière and at last turned the corner to have a final ice cream at the little Café des Cours Belsunce. It was not far from the first café of the evening, in which, suddenly, the amorous joy dispensed by the contemplation of some fringes blown by the wind had convinced me that the hashish had begun its work. And when I recall this state I should like to believe that hashish persuades nature to permit us - for less egoistic purposes - that squandering of our own existence that we know in love. For if, when we love, our existence runs through nature's fingers like golden coins that she cannot hold and lets fall to purchase new birth thereby, she now throws us, without hoping or expecting anything, in ample handfuls to existence. "

Walter Benjamin One Way Street - Hashish in Marseilles (Verso) [1928] (1997) p.222

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Money Wisdom #380

" But over there, on the other quay, stretches the mountain range of 'souvenirs', the mineral hereafter of sea shells. Seismic forces have thrown up this massif of paste jewellery, shell limestone and enamel, where inkpots, steamers, anchors, mercury columns, and sirens commingle. The pressure of a thousand atmospheres under which this world of imagery writhes, rears, piles up, is the same force that is tested in the hard hands of seamen, after long voyages, on the thighs and breasts of women, and the lust that, on the shell-covered caskets, presses from the mineral world a read or blue velvet heart to be pierced with needles and brooches, is the same that sends tremors through these streets on paydays. "

Walter Benjamin One Way Street (Verso Edition) [1928] (1997) p.212

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Money Wisdom #379

"When the consciousness of the latent presence of violence in a legal institution disappears, the institution falls into decay. In our time parliaments provide an example of this. They offer the familiar, woeful spectacle because they have not remained conscious of the revolutionary forces to which they owe their existence."

Walter Benjamin One Way Street (Verso) ([1921], 1997) p.142

Friday, October 2, 2015

Money Wisdom #378


If one had to expound the doctrine of antiquity with the utmost brevity while standing on one leg, as did Hillel that of the Jews, it could only be in this sentence: 'They alone shall possess the earth who live from the powers of the cosmos.' Nothing distinguishes the ancient from the modern man so much as the former's absorption in a cosmic experience scarcely known to later periods. Its waning is marked by the flowering of astronomy at the beginning of the modern age. Kepler, Copernicus and Tycho Brahe were certainly not driven by scientific impulses alone. All the same, the exclusive emphasis on an optical connection to the universe, to which astronomy very quickly led, contained a portent of what was to come. The ancients' intercourse with the cosmos had been different: the ecstatic trance. For it is in this experience alone that we gain certain knowledge of what is nearest to us and what is remotest to us, and never of one without the other. This means however that man can be in ecstatic contact with the cosmos only communally. It is the dangerous error of modern man to regard this experience as unimportant and avoidable, and to consign it to the individual as the poetic rapture of starry nights. It is not; its hour strikes again and again, and then neither nations nor generations can escape it, as was made terribly clear by the last war, which was an attempt at a new and unprecedented commingling with the cosmic powers. Human multitudes, gases, electrical forces were hurled into the open country, high-frequency currents coursed through the landscape, new constellations arose in the sky, aerial space and ocean depths thundered with propellers, and everywhere sacrificial shafts were dug into Mother Earth. This immense wooing of the cosmos was enacted for the first time on a planetary scale, that is, in the spirit of technology. But who would trust a cane wielder who proclaimed the mastery of children by adults to be the purpose of education? Is not education above all the indispensable ordering of the relationship between generations and therefore mastery, if we are to use this term, of that relationship and not of children? And likewise technology is not the mastery of nature but of the relation between nature and man. Men as a species completed their development thousands of years ago, but mankind as a species is just beginning his. In technology a physis is being organized through which mankind's contact with the cosmos takes a new and different form from that which it had in nations and families. One need recall only the experience of velocities by virtue of which mankind is now preparing to embark on incalculable journeys into the interior of time, to encounter there rhythms from which the sick shall draw strength as they did earlier on high mountains or at Southern seas. The 'Lunaparks' are a prefiguration of sanatoria. The paroxysm of genuine cosmic experience is not tied to that tiny fragment of nature that we are accustomed to call 'Nature'. In the nights of annihilation of the last war the frame of mankind was shaken by a feeling that resembled the bliss of the epileptic. And the revolts that followed it were the first attempt of mankind to bring the new body under its control. The power of the proletariat is the measure of its convalescence. If it is not gripped to the very marrow by the discipline of power, no pacifist polemics will save it. Living substance conquers the frenzy of destruction only in the ecstasy of procreation. "

Walter Benjamin One Way Street (Verso Edition) [1925-6] (1997) p.103-104

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review of Stranger Than We Can Imagine by John Higgs

This review appears here on and here (update when it appears) on If it puts the omph in your omphalos, please do pop over there and click the like button.

An Exquisitely Crafted Perspective on the C20th

The scale and scope of what Higgs presents us with in this book is belied by its easy reading.

It reminded me a little of Bill Bryson's 'A Short History of Nearly Everything' in that Higgs's writing manages to combine breadth and depth without being heavy or obtuse. Key to this, is his choice of motif. As well as the recurrent theme of perspectivism (or what readers of Higgs's brilliant KLF book might prefer to call multiple-model agnosticism), the motif of 'the omphalos' acts for the book as it did in the ancient world, as the 'axis mundi' (or, centre of the world). Higgs's history of the C20th revolves around several often interrelated and seemingly solid and concrete ideas; certainties of science, belief, social order, and culture which bedrocked our conception of the world at particular points in the C20th. As the narrative seamlessly morphs from the destruction of one omphalos to the creation of another, the reader perceives a sense of a movement between certainty and uncertainty, order and chaos. That perception of movement acts to challenge the polarizing dynamic of dualism so inherent to our Western thought. This appreciation of the meaning of the movement itself, rather than a blinkered and functional view of where the movement takes us, also serves to help Higgs avoid the awful phrase that I most dread seeing in any historical treatment of the currents of thought, science and culture ; 'We now know'.

That Higgs considers his subjects contextually, with an empathy for the contemporary perspectives - and because of his tacit challenge to dualism - any quibbles one has with him, over the details and points of focus of his historical gaze, tend fizzle out. With such a huge landscape to map out, there are bound to be moments where his perspective will not coincide with your own [for me it was his general treatment of Money and the specific chapter on Sex]. But that your own and Higgs's ideas differ, does not make them incompatible within the larger framework. This isn't to say that anything goes. The reader still gets a sense of who Higgs is, what he believes, and a feeling for his moral compass, his sense of humour and his humanity. But rather, it says that our models of the world are always and necessarily limited. Some are better than others, of course. The real danger lies though, in straitjacketing ourselves within one particular set of ideas, rather than in those ideas being right or wrong. Over time, it seems pretty likely that actually they will be regarded as wrong at some point.

Fans of Higgs's KLF book, and those persuaded to the book by Alan Moore's endorsement, might wonder quite how much magical thinking permeates it. The only overt passage that springs to mind is very near the end where Higgs applies a concept from Alchemy to explain some ideas about reductionism and holism, and how it is that the isolating drive to individualism can conclude in its counterpoint - the creation of a network society. I think though, the influences of Chaos Magic and Robert Anton Wilson run throughout the book all the same. By not being laid bare within the body of the text they are perhaps, presented in their best light - that is, hidden in the shadows. I think this is actually helpful for general reader. The exigencies of offering an overt explanation of magical thinking would've created too much dissonance, especially for readers with a bent towards materialism and techno-scientific explanations of reality. And I expect, there will be many such readers. Higgs explanations of relativity, chaos theory and in particular his brilliant metaphor for quantum mechanics (the imagined media reaction to Vladimir Putin punching a kangaroo) will really appeal to this audience. But I also expect those alternative ways of thinking that have influenced Higgs himself, will take seed quietly within the mind of every reader.

In a way, this book is a bit like an Adam Curtis documentary - but whereas Curtis has sounds and pictures to get across more complex ideas than are expressed in his simple narrative, Higgs somehow manages to do that trick with words only and still made it read easy. It's a truly impressive book. And I can't think of anyone I know who wouldn't thoroughly enjoy it.

Money Wisdom #377

" Beyond doubt : a secret connection exists between the measure of goods and the measure of life, which is to say, between money and time. The more trivial the content of a lifetime, the more fragmented, multifarious, and disparate are its moments, while the grand period characterizes a superior existence. Very aptly, Lichtenberg suggests that time whiled away should be seen as smaller, rather than shorter, and he also observes: 'a few dozen million minutes make up a life of forty-five years, and something more.' When a currency is in use a few million units of which are insignificant, life will have to be counted in seconds, rather than years, if it is to appear a respectable sum. And it will be frittered away like a bundle of bank notes: Austria cannot break the habit of thinking in Florins. "

Walter Benjamin One Way Street (Verso Edition) (1997) p.96

Money Wisdom #376

" Nothing is poorer than a truth expressed as it was thought. Committed to writing in such a case, it is not even a bad photograph. And truth refuses (like a child or a woman who does not love us), facing the lens of the writing while we crouch under the black cloth, to keep still and look amiable. Truth wants to be startled abruptly, at one stroke, from her self-immersion, whether by uproar, music or cries for help. Who could count the alarm signals with which the inner world of the true writer is equipped? And to 'write' is nothing other than to set them jangling. Then the sweet odalisque rises with a start, snatches whatever first comes to hand in the mêlée of her boudoir, our cranium, wraps it around her and flees us, almost unrecognizable, to other other people. But how well-constituted she must be, how healthily built, to step in such manner among them, contorted, rattled, and yet victorious, captivating. "

Walter Benjamin One Way Street (Verso Edition) (1997) p.95

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Money Wisdom #375

"Work on good prose has three steps: a musical stage when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, and a textile one when it is woven."

Walter Benjamin One Way Street (Verso Edition) (1997) p.61

Money Wisdom #374

"He who loves is attached not only to the 'faults' of the beloved, not only to the whims and weaknesses of a woman. Wrinkles in the face, moles, shabby clothes, and a lopsided walk bind him more lastingly and relentlessly than any beauty. This has long been known. And why? If the theory is correct that a feeling is not located in the head, that we sentiently experience a window, a cloud, a tree not in our brains but, rather, in the place we see it, then we are, in looking at our beloved, too, outside ourselves. But in a torment of tension and ravishment. Our feeling, dazzled, flutters like a flock of birds in the woman's radiance. And as birds seek refuge in the leafy recesses of a tree, feelings escape into the shaded wrinkles, the awkward movements and inconspicuous blemishes of the body we love, where they can lie low in safety. And no passer-by would guess that it is just here, in what is defective and censurable, that the fleeting darts of adoration nestle."

Walter Benjamin One Way Street (Verso Edition) (1997) p.52

Money Wisdom #373

"The power of a country road is different when one is walking along it from when one is flying over it by airplane. In the same way the power of a text is different when it is read to when it is copied out. The airplane passenger sees only how the road pushes through the landscape, how it unfolds according to the same laws as the terrain surrounding it. Only he who walks the road on foot learns the power it commands, and of how, from the very scenery that for the flier is only the unfurled plain, it calls forth distances, belvederes, clearings, prospects at each of its turns like a commander deploying soldiers at a front. Only the copied text thus commands the soul of him who is occupied with it, whereas the mere reader never discovers the new aspects of his inner self that are opened up by the text, that road cut through the interior jungle forever closing behind it: because the reader follows the movement of his mind in the free flight of day-dreaming, whereas the copier submits it to command."

Walter Benjamin One Way Street (Verso Edition) (1997) p.50

Money Wisdom #372

"First sketched in 1923, [A Tour of German Inflation] condensed Benjamin's reactions to the economic misery of the time, and the degradation of social and personal experience that accompanied it. The material crisis of the German intelligentsia evoked here was to be one of the most constant themes of this journalistic interventions, recurring again and again in his book reviews of the later twenties. The political conclusions he drew from it were now intransigently radical. Where he had written with contemplative resignation in the early draft of 1923: 'But no-one may ever make peace with poverty when it falls like a gigantic shadow upon his countrymen and his house. Then he must be alert to every humiliation done to him and so discipline himself so that his suffering becomes no longer the downhill road of hate but the rising path of prayer', he now reversed the terms of the same passage, to read: 'so discipline himself so that his suffering no longer becomes the downhill road of grief, but the rising path of revolt'. The change can stand as the motto of his political radicalization."

Publisher's Note in Walter Benjamin One Way Street (Verso Edition) (1997) p.34

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

My Offer to Those That Would Burn

I sense the winds of change. Two things, apparently unrelated but part of the same movement.

In these past few days my tips have gone up at work. My colleagues have noticed the same thing. You get more tips if you deliver to certain areas. It's not necessarily related to wealth. Essex is the best county, the London SW's the best area. But this increase has been across the board. It's a temporal variation rather than a spatial one. It's like it's Christmas. In fact, I've taken more in tips these last two days than I did over the whole of Christmas and New Year 2013.

The other thing, perhaps a bit more certain that my reading of the tipping runes, is that online some beautiful children of the future - reaching out as forward tastes begin to enter them - have been talking to me about money burning.

Anyway, ever the optimist, I take these events to mean that a time of waste and sacrifice is approaching. We might be picking up a wave of resonance from the Big Burn back on 23/08/1994. It's unconsciously directing us toward offering up our currency for no reward. This, my friends, is a crack in the logic of capitalism.

My offer to you then, is that I'll help you burn your money.

What this help consists of is tricky to specify. I can talk beforehand with you about how you're going to perform your burning, and about when to burn. If you want me present (and I really hope you do), I'll travel to you at my own expense. If you feel comfortable to do so, I can recite a mantra with you and suggest words that you might say yourself at the moment of burning. You might be surprised how compelled you feel to say something meaningful when you burn. If you like, I can bring with me some items that will help set the scene - a burning bowl, a beeswax candle, the Staff for the casting of a circle. I can't guarantee that I can also burn. That will depend. The right time for your burning, might not coincide with the right time for my burning. So much depends upon one's situation - not only in the literal sense of whether one has money to burn, but also in how the world and its events fits around each individual's burning. I give you my solemn word that I will respect your right to privacy. I'm an advocate for money burning, but I promise not to say anything about your burning without your permission. I won't pester you for your permission either.

I'm not for a second saying that you need me at your money burning. You don't. But what I have learned from my own burnings is that if you pay attention to the circumstances of the ritual and the ritual itself, the intensity of the experience is amplified. This amplification also occurs when others are involved as both witnesses and/or participants. I really want to develop these ideas with you, so that together we can find a form of ritual that helps us understand - and fully experience - what it means to burn money. An intellectual understanding of destroying currency is just the visible light in a wide spectrum of money burning radiation.

When the founder of Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers, was found dead in February 2013, there was a note beside his bed. Its thought to have been a title idea for a song, or part of a lyric. It said;

"You can't shine if you don't burn."

Email me. Don't leave it. Do it now.

Monday, August 10, 2015

(Nearly) First View of Museum Des Geldes I & II

These catalogues arrived a month apart. I hadn't realized there were two of them and so initially ordered the wrong one. They're quite expensive costing around £30 each especially when, like me, one can't speak or read German. I made this 'first view' video with the intention of sticking it at the end of an essay I'm writing. But writing-wise things have taken a different turn so I'm not going to use it like that.

I didn't want to waste it, though. I know watching it would have been useful to me before I spent my £60. Plus, I'm keen to make a bit more use of video etc on my blog. And the 'first view' thing has worked for me as a viewer on some of the weird music I like, so this serves a bit of an experiment to see if it works for obscure foreign language art-money catalogues.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Rear Cover of Museum Of Money I Dusseldorf 1978 & my translation

Vom Opferritual bis zur Tauschwirtschaft
Vom Labyrinth bis zur Börse
vom Altar bis zum Bankschalter
Von der Grabkammer bis zum Safe
Von der Kaurischnecke bis zur Scheckkarte
Vom Schlachtfest bis zum Sparschwein
Von der Großen Mutter bis zur Emanzipation der Frau
Von der Höhle bis zum Museum
Vom fetisch bis zum Kunstwerk

From Sacrificial Ritual to the Exchange Economy
From Labyrinth to Stock Market
From the Altar to the Bank Counter
From the Tomb to the Safe
From Cowrie Shell to Bank Card
From Ceremonial Slaughter to Piggy Bank
From the Great Mother to the Emancipation of Women
From the Cave to the Museum
From Fetish to Artwork

Rear Cover of Museum Des Geldes I Dusseldorf 1978

Monday, July 27, 2015

Money Wisdom #372

"The most praiseworthy way of acquiring books is by writing them, Benjamin remarks in 'Unpacking My Library'. And the best way to understand them is also to enter their space: one never really understands a book unless one copies it, he says in One-Way Street, as one never understands a landscape from an airplane but only by walking through it."

 from Susan Sontag's Introduction to the Verso edition of
Walter Benjamin One-Way Street (1979) p.21

Friday, July 24, 2015

Measure for Measure at the Globe and my problem with Shakespeare sorted

This is not a review proper.

In part, I'm writing simply because I haven't posted for a while. I've been trying to write a piece. Saying 'I think it's nearly there' or, 'I'll post it soon' seems to be the kiss of death for my writing, so I won't say anything more.

But also I just want to tell you how wonderful and brilliant my evening at the Globe was last night. My first time there, and my first time seeing Measure for Measure. In fact, a little secret - I had no real idea about the story line in Measure for Measure at all. Obviously, I knew a few of the themes. And I've mentioned on twitter that I've bought Marc Shell's The End of Kinship: 'Measure for Measure,' Incest and the Ideal of Universal Siblinghood. I wanted to see the play, then read the book. It maybe a month or two before I can do that, but I so enjoyed the play - I got lost in it so deeply, as many of the audience seemed to - that I'm not too worried that my memory of it will fade. Mark Shell's book will keep while I do other things.

Honestly though, the Globe. If you haven't, then do.

At school I had a couple of English teachers for English A level. One was a wonderful, rather effette and posh chap who was in love with William Blake. I have a vivid memory of him reading Chaucer and saying the word cunte in front of a shocked class. He manage to bring the words to life. No mean feat when teaching a group of disinterested and hormonally exuberant seventeen year olds.

My other English teacher was a cunt. Mr Heft was a nasty old nonce who ended up in prison for his abusive ways. He sent a letter home to my parents on my last day of school ever - just before my exams - saying that he wasn't responsible for my result because I hadn't turned up for his lessons in the final term. I think what had hacked him off most was that I turned up for everyone of the other teacher's lessons. Unfortunately, Heft did Shakespeare with us. Consequently, I've found it difficult to connect with the Bard ever since.

His modus operandi was to spend the term dissecting the text of a play word by word. He didn't believe you could understand what the play was about unless you knew precisely what every word meant. So we never got to appreciate any play as a whole - from memory I think we did Othello & The Winter's Tale. We didn't get to discuss the themes and ideas that the play explored. We just had to know what was said and by whom. It was Shakespeare by rote. We did actually go to see Othello at the Old Vic, but the possibility of me enjoying the play was already destroyed by then.

Well, I think last night finally exorcised that ghost. I have enjoyed a little bit of Shakespeare - last year I watched the 2004 film of the Merchant of Venice - but that doesn't really compare to the immersive and magical experience that the Globe gave me. And I'm so glad I didn't read up on Measure for Measure before seeing it. Going in cold really gave the two fingers to Heft. I didn't understand every word - I didn't hear every word come to that (there's no amplification) - but it didn't matter. The play was written to be seen rather than read and dissected in a classroom. And so my mind is alight with it and consequently I'm looking forward to reading Marc Shell's critical analysis of even more.

Shakespeare won in the end.

[I don't really need to forgive Heft. To me he was just a nasty teacher who scared the shit out of me as a 12 year old. When I was a bit older - 17 & 18 - I just thought him a bitter man for whom life had been hard. He was of the generation for whom the harsh realities of WWII had been formative and resonated with him in his teaching career. But that doesn't excuse the fact that he was a terrible bully at times. I witnessed both verbal and physical abuse for which today, he would have lost his job in an instant. And obviously, he was far far worse to some poor kids who attended his boxing club. There was a bit of me that wanted to provoke him when I was older. I wanted him to try and hit me so that I could retaliate. But he didn't. After one particular row I had with him where he described my entire cohort as 'pigs living in filth' I decided the best thing I could do was just not turn up to his classes. He died in 2010.]

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Money Wisdom #371

"...every human being must be an artist...

If we want to achieve a different society where the principle of money operates equitably, if we want to abolish the power money has developed over people historically, and position money in relationship to freedom, equality and fraternity - in other words develop a functional view of the three great strata or spheres of social forces: the spiritual life, the rights life, and the economic life - then we must elaborate a concept of culture and a concept of art where every person must be a artist in this realm of social sculpture or social art or social architecture - never mind what terms you use. Once people have developed these imaginative concepts... ...having drawn them from their own thinking forces, their recognition and knowledge, but also their feelings and willpower - from the moment they have them, people will also understand that they really are the sovereigns of a state-like whole, and that it is they who formulate the economic laws which will allow money to be freed from its present characteristics, from the power it exerts because - and by saying this I'm already making a statement about money - it has evolved in the economic context as part of economic life and is now a commodity. They will recognize then that they can free money from being a commodity and that it must become a regulating factor in the rights domain. People will increasingly see that money today is a commodity, in other words an economic value - I'm trying to say something tangible about money here - that it is an economic value and that we have to reach a stage where it must become a necessary potential, must act as a rights document for all the creative processes of human work..."

Joseph Beuys What is Money (Meyer & Rappman) (2009 trans 2010) p.16-17

Friday, June 26, 2015

Money Wisdom #370

"...the notion of sex brought about a fundamental reversal; it made it possible to invert the representation of the relationships of power to sexuality, causing the later to appear, not in its essential and positive relation to power, but as being rooted in a specific and irreducible urgency which power tries as best it can to dominate; thus the idea of 'sex' makes it possible to evade what gives 'power' its power; it enables one to conceive power solely as law and taboo. Sex - that agency which appears to dominate us and that secret which seems to underlie all that we are, that point which enthralls us through the the [sic] power it manifests and the meaning it conceals, and which we ask to reveal what we are and to free us from what defines us - is doubtless but an ideal point made necessary by the deployment of sexuality and its operation. We must not make the mistake of thinking that sex is an autonomous agency which secondarily produces manifold effects of sexuality over the entire length of its surface of contact with power. On the contrary, sex is the most speculative, most ideal, and most internal element in a deployment of sexuality organized by power in its grip on bodies and their materiality, their forces, energies, sensations and pleasures."

Michael Foucault The Will to Knowledge - The History of Sexuality: 1 (1976 [tr 1978, ed 1998]) p.155

Money Wisdom #369

"Is 'sex' really the anchorage point that supports the manifestations of sexuality, or is it not rather a complex idea that was formed inside the deployment of sexuality?"

Michael Foucault The Will to Knowledge - The History of Sexuality: 1 (1976 [tr 1978, ed 1998]) p.152

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Money Wisdom #368

"The history of the deployment of sexuality, as it has evolved since the classical age, can serve as an archaeology of psychoanalysis. We have seen in fact that psychoanalysis plays several roles at once in this deployment: it is a mechanism for attaching sexuality to the system of alliance; it assumes an adversary position with respect to the theory of degenerescence; it functions as a differentiating factor in the general technology of sex. Around it the great requirement of confession that had taken form so long ago assumed the new meaning of an injunction to lift psychical repression. The task of truth was now linked to the challenging of taboos."

Michael Foucault The Will to Knowledge - The History of Sexuality: 1 (1976 [tr 1978, ed 1998]) p.130

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Note on Foucault

Disclaimer: I've read 123 pages into The History of Sexuality Vol 1. That's about it for my reading of original Foucault. Obviously, I've read what other folks have to say about Foucault's thought. For example, specifically on money he features in Nigel Dodd's work, over on Lord Keynes' blog Foucault has recently been subject to a character assassination. I also read Elly Tams' Scribbling On Foucault's Walls in 2013 which imagines what would have happen if Foucault had a daughter (its available as a pdf). Elly's work delves more deeply into sex.

Mention philosophy and sex this always pops into my head - perhaps indicating that Elly was on track with her emphasis on the sexual - the sex lives of philosophers and its importance by a cheeky Derrida

So, anyway I'm about as far from an authority on Foucault as you can get. It's taken me a while to get to him. Basically my path to him (and Derrida) has been Freud>Norman O Brown>Bataille>. 

In this note, I just want to mention something that's been bugging me as I read. 

I picked up the three volume set of The History of Sexuality in the LSE Waterstones back in 1999. My head was full of Freud at the time. When pursuing the books, I noticed Foucault was questioning notions of repression, so I returned the books to the bookshelf and kept my credit card in my wallet. I take it as significant that I can so clearly remember doing so. When Sally did her Gender Studies degree she ended up studying a bit of Foucault so the three volume set appeared on the bookshelves at home, popping up like a bad penny. So the actual set of books has, in its physical form, acted out the return of the repressed ! (Jung would not be surprised). And this leads me to my criticism (misunderstanding?) of Foucault.

Perhaps because I was taught about Freud by Chris Badcock for whom the return of the repressed was a hugely important feature - in his book The Psychoanalysis of Culture he tried to construct a broad history of civilization based this principle - I'm quite sensitive about how 'repression' is presented. I've been a little obsessed by Hayek's complete misunderstanding of Freud and repression. I can also remember having a twitter conversation with Elly & someone else (name escapes me) - the suggestion was that repression buries things deeply in our unconscious and our task is to uncover that which is repressed. Both Elly and myself said that this isn't quite right. I've tried to think about a better metaphor for repression over the years - rather than the common 'burying' one.

It's not great - but I prefer to think of repression as like pushing down a ball under water. You have to expend energy all the time to stop it rising to the surface. When finally your mind wonders or when you get an itch you must scratch, the ball slips from your hands and pops up in a different place to where it started. My feeling is that Foucault sometimes slips into a more static idea of repression. He is rightly critical that casting history as a gradual lessening of repression (which is the general theme of The History of Sexuality) is a misguided way to view the past - but I'm not sure that this was really the way that Freud saw it. Even Norman O Brown - whose whole project is about achieving 'psychoanalytical consciousness' - doesn't really frame repression in this way. I think the key is thinking about the relationship between time and mind..... and the possibility that repression is constitutive of our experience of time passing (or I'd say, of time itself).

I completely accept that I simply might not have read enough Foucault (or maybe I'm getting him wrong). And I am enjoying him. Although, I really want him to tell me what power is..... I want him to explain where it is in the metaphysical landscape. 

[I'm also very glad that I read Bataille first. Foucault tends to throw in reference to the economy and the general economy without giving much away in the text. Having a bit of Bataille in my head has definitely helped give those references some context]