Aphorisms IV

There is no compulsion to consume a particular form of media, or a piece of media. Remember this when it feels the other way – no duty to consume.

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It is slightly odd that someone’s response to a fact might be – but that’s banal, ‘that’s obvious’. How self centred! We don’t say that to teachers, or to those reminding us of things we have forgotten. This response could be translated into emotional terms as “you have underestimated me!” – well, maybe you appeared to need reminding! But then, was the statement aimed at you, if you find it obvious? Think about it.

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Philosophers have always changed the world, without realising it. Marx was wrong, to an extent. Because your interpretation will change the world, based on your philosophising, which has already changed you. People often do things for reasons, new or old, after all.

With regards to Marx, obviously this only transforms his point, which was that some philosophers have justified the world from a position of power, had provided reasons for the rich, for the abusers. Had built an intellectual parallel world whilst the chartered companies and city states expanded empires, pillaged the world. Some philosophers still do.

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The myth that is the most beautiful, the ur-myth, is that there is meaning in things, not just in us. That the clouds of mustard gas are the wings of a terrible dragon. That everything will have its own moment where its particular purpose in the world-work of things becomes evident. That the unexpected family is waiting there at the end of the road. That the loss will have its redemption.

Or maybe this myth is better phrased as – the idea that what meaning there is in things is really meaning for us. And not just a kind of mostly unparsable mess.

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Against Genius – the concept of genius has a long history. For example, in the early russian orthodox church, genius was not connected to originality – instead, the reexpression of existing tradition with great finesse was considered great, and originality would have been considered abberrant and unwanted. Of course, this within a particular community and cultus. This changed, when progress came to be connected to prowess of civilisations – those who made new things, brought new advantages, and success in business. But this had to be joined to a general cultural movement where new things became appreciated. This maybe connected with the cosmopolitan changes as cities grew. Life is faster, and business better, in cities. Newness becomes associated with the city itself, as it still is to an extent. Conservatism as a cultural movement, growing in response to this newness, had to interpret these people who changed things and brought honour to the civilisation. They ‘realised’ they must be elite, people who could see things of a different order to the masses. They were the kings of technology, spontaneously risen from lordly families to see the world in new ways, ways reserved for them. But of course, this was all ideology. ‘Geniuses’ always arose in places where education was provided them from a young age, whether by governesses, or by scholarships and schools. They lived and grew in environments conducive to their future discoveries and achievements, and had a compulsion, whether inner or outer, to work in their chosen area. Read the biography of any genius and this will likely be shown to be true. Genius was this false, noble explanation. And then it was co-opted by another group, those who wanted to explain their own failures, to justify the fact that not everyone makes unique contributions to a given field. Or to elevate their chosen biography to a special status. There are some people who just are better than you or I. That is why we need not even make an attempt. And all of this happened while humans, showing their great adaptability, in all areas, daily changed and expanded fields of science, technology, and philosophy. And lived their lives in ways they saw fit. Why not consider it genius to hold your life with friends more important than expanding slightly a field of knowledge? It may be a truer expression of the way of things. For genius just means elite. And elite means chosen. And some are chosen to help their friends live.

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I used to look at small poetry collections and think – No, I need to have all of the poet’s work, in a final form. I’ll wait to get a collected. This is a strong example of ‘metaphysics of presence’. I wanted he fullness of a work to be available, so could understand it in one moment. But that is a lot of work, and a lot of any work is unsuited to impact you. But then, it became – a collected is too much, a selected will do, with a great curator, of course. I would take example from someone to help me enter the poetry, like one key to a door with many keyholes. But now I think – I’d rather the original collections, experiencing poem sequences in the same order as they were first read, not allowing any edits or omissions. But not necessarily ‘all’. Just some.

I realised that often, placing a poem in a life or a life’s work doesn’t necessarily improve the way I read it. And I realised, that biographies are only loosely connected to the lives they represent. There is a world available in a poem, but it doesn’t have to be the real one, or interface with the real in a retrograde way. We read in order to change ourselves.

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The way that sciences of mind and technology are used to advance and reinforce empires should make it very difficult to decide whether or not to devote time to helping those areas develop. Pretty straightforwardly, in some cases, advancing knowledge will not help anyone but the army, and being in the nuclear impasse we are in, helping any state exit it would be extremely dangerous.

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Part of the joy of reading a poet in the canon is the fact that you can disown them, critique them, from a position of having bought, with time, an opinion on this thing which so many other people also have opinions of. Time reading a poet not in the canon is more personal, and more personally worthwhile, and if it has a relationship to a canonical movement, it is only negatively. As in, I want to read this poet whom few have read closely, I want to create my own mine, my own jewellery with the resulting knowledge and experience. All of this, of course, on top of the self-related experience of the poetry and the way it evokes for me in particular.

Easy, then, to see how a canon could have developed out of this othering of the working and agrarian classes, where a joy would have developed of being part of this club. But there was really little else to it. Now, the canon is democratically (not in the sense of votes, but of demos – the people) selected by this see-saw consensus action, whilst an all-inclusive anti-canon is built by individuals engaging with individual works. All of this should be free of judgement in the  social/aesthetic sense.

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Today I saw for the first time a full 3D video reproduction of a celebrity, which transplanted collated images from countless films, through a facial recognition and tracking system, and projected these onto the body of another person. And I felt immediately more conversant with those fabled people who felt that photography was unnatural, that it stole something from someone. And I felt uncomfortable. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be the subject of such a mass production. To see your outer soul, there, doing things you never did. For the first time, I felt uncomfortable about a new technology.

Doubtless, maybe, in the future, celebrities will sell their likeness, their voice, to use in films their surrogates acted in. People will have simulated sex with simulacra whose originals become recipient of vast amounts of money, due to this unrestricted access to their image. Regimes will be overthrown and backed up by videos of outrages that never happened, videos of political opponents saying things they never said. It will become, perversely, better for the leaders of other political currents to stay off camera, as far as possible. And will people feel comfortable with this? Doubtless. But then, faked photographs haven’t been a big part of political discourse – as far as I know, and at least here. [After a quick search, it seems that various places in the twentieth century had a tradition of altering photographs, and at least one fake photo impacted a senatorial vote in the U.S. I guess it’s about how it would impact the perpetrator if uncovered. It is relatively easy to uncover when the original photos are well known.] Will it be otherwise for so called deep-fakes? [I assume it will be since there is no ‘original’ as such, just a generated simulacra.]

There are so many social currents at work here it’s hard to say anything at all about technological futures. Have photos finished changing the world, even now? Undoubtedly not, 150 years is still nothing, given that agriculture hasn’t finished changing the world and that has had 13,000 years. Change, even when fast, is very slow…