Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Money Wisdom #384

"In the electric age, when our central nervous system is technologically extended to involve us in the whole of mankind and to incorporate the whole of mankind in us, we necessarily participate, in depth, in the consequences of our every action."

Marshall McLuhan Understanding Media (1964) p.4-5

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