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Heidegger’s Voice Mail

September 22nd, 2004 by Bolibuckness

Music: Tori Amos: Scarlet’s Walk

I’m at the computer, again, composing lecture notes for tomorrow. I hate this last to the minute stuff. Cal, my tutor, even cut the catechism session short today because I seemed hasty. Anyhow, haste or not, I’m taking a break. Sort of. Here’s an epigram that I like:

What prompted the project was the surprise that I experienced when I read the interview in which Heidegger was asked to describe the nature of his relationship with National Socialism, and he said he didn’t really have a relationship, all he did was take a call from the SA storm trooper. . . . Heidegger certainly is a redneck in many ways and highly problematic as mortals go, but what interested me was this response, which is a very compelling response and non-response at once. If I had been the thinker of the call and had made the call on technology, warning that we live under its dominion in yet undecipherable ways, then I would clearly be codifying my response. I thought he was providing an access code to a truer reading. I went after it.
–Avital Ronell, interview with Diane Davis

. . . or, fantasies of Avital Ronell dispelled. I decided I needed to read the Heidegger Ronell kept riffing on, and suddenly, The Telephone Book has become, well, readable. It still resists me, this noisy text, but the key was the call, “What Calls for Thinking,” two introductory lectures given by Heidegger and collected in the Basic Writings edited by David Farrell Krell. Heidegger riffs on the meaning of “called thought” in a German wordplay that doesn’t quite translate I suspect: What do we name thought, and what kind of thought is hailed (called thought). This latter kind of thought, thinking that is called upon or called for, is the truth of telephonics (and tele-phonies, such as myself): whatever ever it is, it emplaces me, makes me beholden, and we are thrown into the stupidity, ignorance, and sort of abandoned, risky, potentially dangerous posture of answering. This would be, I guess, answerability Bakhtin? I don’t know with any certainty, but the words on the line do.

I’ve decided, then, to lecture a bit on Heidegger and the Ronell with the exemplar of the obscene phone call. The film, Black Christmas, an overlooked gem from the 1970s when manipulated recorded voices was all the rage in horror films (a project begun with The Exorcist and the backwards speech of Pazuzu, the Dung God whom the Priests mistake as THE accuser). In any event, if you’ve seen this film, you’ll know the source of my disappointment and the glory of the film: the cause for the strangeness of the multi-voiced phone calls from within are never explained. After the first phone call from “the moaner” in the film, one of the sorority sisters asks, “that can’t be just one person, can it?” Another retorts, “sure, it’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.” Well, there you are, the risk of hospitality and heeding the call (to conscience, to the Other): you may get someone threatening to kill you–or worse, Legion.

More Fantasies About Avital Ronell

September 22nd, 2004 by Bolibuckness

“As a provisional object–for we have yet to define it in its finitude–the telephone is at once lesser and greater than itself.”
–Avital Ronell, The Telephone Book

I stumbled across, or rather, was recommeneded Avial Ronell’s The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech, because I mentioned to an e-colleague I was writing a book on speech as a ghost. But of course you’ve found Ronell’s book helpful, he said. I thought he meant Dictations, a book on Goethe, haunted writing, and the author-as-function. I have read parts of that, but I had trouble getting snared by the problematic. No, he meant The Telephone Book, with pages oblong and difficult to copy, and text deliberatley splattered and squeezed and arranged in resistant ways–that is, ways resistant to reading. This tome is hard to keep open in your lap because of its irritating binding, too.

I suppose I am pleased, like a reader online who said Ronell’s text resists him so much that he has fantasies about her–aided by the fact that in the public eye she always appears wearing something “severe” (that would be black). I found her appearance in the new documentary about her friend and mentor, Derria, charming. All three of us, men, two doubles of themselves as someone “like” me struggling with a text that says “no,” me, as someone who can presumably understand this material in a way that is teachable, get hot over smart women in severe clothing (but here, in pastels). Another PP, the father, mentoring brother, once said of a lost opportunity: “you don’t need to be associated with all those self-important theorists wearking black clothes.”

So, in a moment of (masculinist) reflection, I need to ask why my longing to be called by someone like her is a longing at all (and why I identify my attraction to the objet a of SEVERITY). This is not merely a simply double-standarding of the author: women writing difficult prose are too transgressive. Rather, this is a question: “What is a father?”

Associations with bodies aside (or rather, I think on some uber-genius level that is the point: the telephone reminds of of an ontological split), she makes a strained analogy between the telephone and the unconscious, since the telephone as mechanical/technology is always already “on the side of death” as a prothesis, like the PP (“pleasure principle,” part-object, penis, Freud), and through its passing through we are reminded of a place where we cannot go (the navel)–the chord disappears into the wall. But I do want to read this like I read some of Joyce; it is at once deathly serious and simultaneouly an obscene phone call. The phone is the referentless object at some level, after all: now mobile as an accessory that you are important.

So my problem is that I have assigned this text for others to read, and I do not know what it is saying beyond the obvious self/alterity problematic. No shall I pretend to undestand what is at stake–other than deconstruction and subject of her lastest book, Stupidity.

No one likes to feel stupid. Then again, I’ve learned that coming to terms with “not quite getting it” is the only way to be a happy academic. At least, it’s the only way to be an academic that is not always so “severe” (even if I do admit my own wardrobe is monochromatic). On the other hand, I worry about the kind of anti-intellectualism that greets difficult prose and thought as well. That sort of thing will not too. It’s always about finding the middle, isn’t it?

Maranatha

September 19th, 2004 by Bolibuckness

Music: Tiga: “Hot in Herre”

Ivan was pretty terrible east of us, but he spared us the spectacle of Atlantis; this had the effect of duding-out on the lot of us who have learned to “party” at the mere whiff of apocalypse. I do not wish natural disaster on anyone, most especially myself, but the general social air is one of shrugging disappointment: without impending doom, there seems less of an incentive to “party.” The so-called “Hurricane Parties” were much less festive this year—mine was even called off.

I suppose we could have a “taxes” party, but April seems so far away. Halloween, then. Yes, Traumarama II awaits.

(bad) hair, mechanical bulls, anti-freeze, and ivan

September 12th, 2004 by Bolibuckness

Music: Icon of Coil: Machines Are Us

The conference was interesting.

I regret to report that A Flock of Seagulls played at the House of Blues on Saturday night, and that I was there. The band managed to hold out for the “I Ran” encore for over an hour by subjecting us to various random songs from their impressive oeuvre. We had fun; the band mistook that for a canonizing impulse. We were only laughing, but they seemed pleased just the same. It was a win-win situation of beaming. I suppose.

Afterward, a member of our party rode a mechanical bull, and then we headed to the Whirling Dervish, the place to be scene. I tried to hit on someone one, if I recall correctly, but she was more interested in Jen. The other eligibles hovering around were all Roger’s ex-girlfriends, or skinny reeds obviously into blow. I think if I get some tattoos I could be somewhat competitive, at least in bars for the black-clad and almost jobless, but I don’t put things in my nose, well, nothing other than my fingers, and usually then when only trying to liberate a fugitive.

Someone’s dog is barking loudly outside. It is a high-pitched bark, and it is incessant. I dream of anti-freeze.

Much work to be completed this week. The seminar is moving along, and I think I will have a pretty good idea of the book I want to write come December. There are grumblings the class is more formal and less “open” than the last seminar, which bums me out, but then again, one feels much more comfortable speaking when there are eight pairs of eyes on you. There are seventeen in this one, so I think folks feel less inclined to share. My pretentious ass rambling on in defense of this or that binary probably doesn’t help.

Ivan the hurricane seems headed to the gulf. On that note, I think I need a beer.

Space Age Love Song

September 10th, 2004 by Bolibuckness

Music: Trashcan Sinatras: Weightlifting

Well, I have just finished winnowing my paper for delivery tomorrow morning at the Louisiana Communcation Association Conference in New Orleans. I’m curious about this conference (which was put together by a recent LSU grad and friend of mine)–about what to expect. I hear it’s casual but I’m confused about what that means (tie or no tie? jacket?). In my paper I added mention of William S. Burrough’s story about the “man who taught his asshole how to talk.” Surely those who haunt the quarter will not be offended by scat, right?

It’s all about the Symbolic, in the END.

I am much more excited about seeing the original line-up of A Flock of Seagulls LIVE AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES Saturday night! AFOS “best of” was one of the first cassettes I purchased as a young person discovering all sorts of things (not necessarily sexuality, but certainly new hair-styles, as well as Olivia Newton John and Hall & Oats). Me, Shaun, a very cool new grad Ben, and Meredith-the-badass-Lawyer-Wanna-Be are meeting up with some folks there–Jess and Linda–and then afterward wandering deeper along Decatur, getting our learn on for “sensuous knowledge.” I’ll be giving Jen the MASTERPIERCER a buzz after the show for a hook up (Jenn works at the Rings of Desire, which I like to refer to as the “holes of desire,” personally). Jen has the most amazing tatoos ever–my favorites by far. I’ll try to photograph them this weekend and post them here.

Anyhoo, I’ve not gone out on the town in a while, so this little “conference” trip is overdue. We start slogging again on Monday. Ho-hum.

On the Romance of Listlessness, or, On Lying

September 8th, 2004 by Bolibuckness

Current Music: Elbow: Cast of Thousands

I was just about to write on the irony of my 9:30 p.m.-lethargy and my sitting at a screen when I realized I was half through an Elbow song, “I’ve Got Your Number,” and that its lazy, ambling cynicism works much better to express it. The song has this jazzy, bass-heavy beat with light, twinkling vibes and guitar work, and the song just ambles along. But the lyrics are accusatory, and about three mintues in there is the BLARE from an organ, staccato-like. BLAAAAAARRRRRR da-da-da-da-do-do go the keys, in a sort of violently forced harmony. That perfect ambivalence. It’s accusatory. The listener is implicated, there is a guilt. But then the lyric goes toward the end, “You’ve got my number.” Well, there you are. Nice ending.

I’ve been reading Levinas to make sense of Derrida on hospitality, or rather, reading lots of secondary sources on Levinas to make sense of Levinas to make sense of Derrida. As far as I “get it” so far, the ethical–realm of self and other–is “haunted” by the realm of the political (justice), and vice-versa. This haunting always implies a thirdness (a la Peirce, only it’s the socius itself). If it were simply a matter of me and you, Levinas says, then there would be no problem. But once there is a me and you a third is always already implicated–the world–in the “face of the other,” bringing with it the law and the rest.

Well, my language certainly is not as accurate as the philosophers who like to throw around terms like “the face” in a very particular way. But as best I gather, the analogy is my listening to the Elbow song, they got each other’s number, and I’m here to adjudicate the whole matter.

This doesn’t translate well, necessarily, for the project at hand: what is the practical import of haunting in respect to disappearance–particularly that of the state-sponsored variety? Avery Gordon is on the brain, and her insistance that our ethical task with ghosts is to make room for justice–Benjaminian remembrance. I suppose the triangulation here is US, the GHOSTS, and the social between us, the space of memory. Well, this is the whole point of all ghost stories, Freud on the uncanny, and hysterics in general: when we forget or repress the social/superstructural/field of power animating bodies there can be no justice.

I admit I’m not certain how to lay this all out–how to get it–at least outside of an aesthetic or purely philosophical sense (my problem with Derrida to begin with). Perhaps I am foolish to even make the gesture that I somehow “get it.” After all, someone has my number.

My intellectual problem mirrors the social one, I guess. I say I am listless, but here I sit with the compass, to encircle my associations and circumscribe the . . . oops, the catechism is leaking out of me. Which reminds me of a good joke; so, a farmer and his goat walk into a bar . . . .

I should really get to bed. I hate it that I am a morning person. It is so much more sexy, more romantic, to be a night owl. I could pretend (if I smoked), I could hoot. But someone’s always got my number, the missing third and second to this monologue. It reminds me of Tracy’s monologue last night: She laid spread-eagle, on the cold, black floor, and made a bed. Staring at the ceiling with a microphone in her left hand, she proceeded to spill the contents of a late night fretting over what her performance would be the next day. It was hilarious, and sleepily serious, and brilliant.

And I worry I will be doing the same thing here, in 10 minutes. But without the outlet. Or microphone.

Last night at one o’clock someone was beating on the side of my house. It scared me. Took an hour and a half to get back to sleep.

Oh, I hope that don’t happen again. Creeps.

Defixiones

September 6th, 2004 by Bolibuckness

Music: Depeche Mode: “Dream On”

“DEFIXIONES refers to the warnings engraved in lead which were placed on the graves of the dead in Greece, Asia Minor, and elswhere in the Middle East. They cautioned against moving or desecrating the corpses under threat of extreme harm.”

–Liner notes to Galas’ Defixiones: Will and Testament: Orders from the Dead

Thursday the haunting seminar was somewhat frigid, which was to be expected I guess (the lecture was on hysteria and hysterics; upending gender always begs its re-inscription in very palpable ways; I get stuck in here, you know?). Everyone in the class is wicked smart and crucial to the beast we have become; even so, our size conjures images of Hobbes’ Leviathan, our own girth chilling speech. I suspect as we go deeper we will get chattier (that is, I will shut-up more), and the “social contract” of civility will gradually erode into an erotics of proximty, of disclousre–but still at a safe “academic” distance.

The distance is as regretable as it is necessary; those among us who resist “selling-out” simply burn-out in the end.

At least my own personal investment is working itself out in terms of the themes of the book I want to write. I work ahead of the class only by a few days; it seems like my concern is increasingly and unavoidably Derridian (a figure I had hoped to avoid; he haunts all of this literature). Gender is a central issue; it would seem justice, too, follows in its wake. I worry about the themes of the book, which are getting as large as the class and, I worry, threaten to explode the tidy text into an unwieldy, evocative exercise in intellectual diarrhea (a la Avital Ronell’s The Telephone Book). I’m not smart enough to write like that; I must have definite, concrete objects upon which to meditate.

The objects thus far: for the opening, I have gender, and a favorite film of mine, Mulholland Drive; I have the “spectral voices of nine-eleven” as an object–and that chapter is finished; I want to do canned laughter/the “laff box,” and the answering machine. Finally, I wanted to look at popular music experimentation in voice. I mentioned earlier Burrough’s tape “cut-ups,” which work nicely. So, too, does the backwards-masking stuff. Speech in reverse.

I recently picked up Diamanda Galas’ new double-album, Will and Testament. I’ve listened to it twice now, and think that the project (combined with her 1990 Plague Mass) might provide me with a language for what I’m getting at with the haunting of voice. Galas has made a career out of manipulating her voice in performance; what she is able to do with her bodily expression is nothing other than the uncanny. The new album was commissioned to “unearth,” in a sort of Benjaminian historiography of “blasting,” the Armenian, Assyrian, and Anatolian and Pontic Greek genocides between 1914-1923, which I admit I hadn’t know about until reading the insert. The album is dreadful, beautiful in places, striking that uneasy abjection of sublimity: at once monstrous and divine. It marks an aural counterpart, in a way, to Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Whereas the latter deifies atrocity, Galas exposes it for what it really is: horrible. Well, I slide; it’s ambivalent.

In this melancholic key, I should admit I also screened Exorcist: The Beginning this weekend. Although I appreciated the attempt to wed the following three films (and its well-taken attempt to explain the relation between The Exorcist and Exorcist II: The Heretic), the film was dreadful. Genocide, again, was the theme (seems to be this weekend in info-tainment), as the subjection of native Africans is compared to Jewish annihilation in facile juxtaposition. The center of this unfortunate mediation is Father Merrin who, of course, is a resurrected white dude (who happens to be rearing a small black boy). Unquestionably, this film was conceived in the aftermath of 9/11, when “W” was ventriloquizing Gerson’s “evil” tropicopia.

I suppose this sounds so very morbid; I guess it is more of an exercise in pretentiousness (as is typical of only children and their ilk). Things are not bad here; things are looking up. That’s when mourning made good on it–the object removed returns with a vengence, disguised as something less familiar.

It was such a lonely week without my computer (which died and took a week resurrecting), which I rely on to feel connected to the “world” lately. Whether that’s simply pathetic or a reality for far too many of us, I’m not sure. At the very least, graphical interface is my telephony. Now, just how phony is that?

. . . and then there is politics, something to get mournful about, undoutedly. When your “great white hope” looks like Lurch, well, as my mentor was fond of saying, “there you are.”