Aphorisms XI

A plot or storyline can be outlined in a more or less random string of images. If you want to, you just have to massage them into shape to make them seem like they were destined to appear together.


Say a french novel was published in 1954. If you are nostalgic, or a scholar, you may want to translate it in a way that expresses the 1950s in France through a kind of amalgamated 1950s english. But, If I want to really relate with the characters, as it were, I have to go all the way, and rather than travelling back in time to put myself in their positions, I bring them forward in time, putting them in our positions, or at least positions more well known to us, living as we do. Kind of like splicing a cultural form onto our culture to see the strange things that happen with its relation to the mores of our place.

If we are going to translate a book, why not really translate it? That is, change it. We need both kinds of translations, and more and different still, if we are to really translate something. To do otherwise is to fetishize language, do our best to ignore who was speaking it, or at least to try and control them by confining them to the past, or to a kind of nostalgic reverie.

Good lord, listen to me, I’ve only just  started translating. And I might be terrible at it. So ignore me, or don’t. It doesn’t matter.


Lyrical bastards can be replaced. There’s too much to read these days to worry about not reading this or that. And under the category of ‘happily unread’ we can quickly deposit all the lyrical bastards. That is, artists who are selfish bastards, relative to their contemporaries, but who might write nicely about the weather, or rabbits. I won’t name any names. You don’t need to worry too much about it. People will argue with you, but they can read who they like, you know? It’s not a principle that should be forced on anyone. Quietly reading dead authors who were also abusers doesn’t harm anyone. Obviously that all starts to change when we start naming prizes and streets after them. Or if the abuser is still alive and benefits from the sales you give them. But when it’s just about personal choice of what to read, there’s too much to get through to get bogged down in arguments.

Kate Leth put it best when she wrote – There is no abusive “genius” who could not be replaced with someone who isn’t shitty.


My friend pointed out to me that whenever I get really riled up or motivated about something, at base it often has its origin in some challenge to my self-esteem, or to some constituent element of myself. Two of my recent projects have taken this form – essentially one started when someone said – You’ll never do that, you never finish things or stick to your word. So I decided, this time, I’d finish it. Fuck you!

The other started when I heard someone claim to do something and I thought – No, that’s impossible because I can’t do it. I decided to try, or to explain, and show just how it was impossible. But of course, it wasn’t. I was thinking of it wrongly, based on a feeling of inadequacy and laziness.

This isn’t how I used to be. Before this I literally didn’t care about anything. I would rather have just played videogames. Then I found the strength of conviction about how certain things should be done, and that moral character is real and imperfect. This came through a resentment (ressentiment as a concept in Nietzsche). The strengthening of the self as against the other, the religious other in this case. Possibly a scarecrow other. Then I slowly found the positive, the creative in philosophy.

I said to them, I know myself now. I know that this happens, and it is based on elements of resentment. But I also know that I am not completely ignorant. Not all resentment is equal. Resentment on the basis of offence at honour is not an ignoble thing. If I know something, or can prove myself, it is an honourable thing to defend.

But the most important thing is this – you must not stop at resentment in these cases. You must notice it as it occurs and say, ah, I am not allowing myself here to express myself as myself, but as against the other. And you must change the project, not stop at the destruction, but make it creative. Once this has occured, you can remove the destructive, resentful element like a seed-shell out of which you just crawled and stood. It may be impossible to ever escape from it truly, but if it germinates in a creation, a production, then that’s not too bad.

On another level, it helps to investigate the other that spurs you, determine to what extent they are real and not imagined. But then, if it is productive, creative, in a positive way then what does it matter if it is real?

Like this note. I see their face now, laughing at me, saying to me – you are only angry. You are little, you are like a switch being turned on and off only by others. You are poor. And I realise it, and think honestly, is this true? And I think it out. Though I do sin, I am not damned.

The true test of all this is to do it without the need for justification by the other. Of course, secrecy could be considered a way of hiding, of never facing up to the other, and therefore preserving yourself. But it is not secret. It is simply not broadcast. It doesn’t matter that you do not move me, that you do ‘not not’ move me. The created is the value.


Isn’t the most strange nihilism this – that the only way to win everything is to be nothing. It embraces nothing through overvaluing everything.


All aphorisms should come with a warning: Note to self


To be moved to anger or by anger can feel like a failure. Anger does not think, but is it damned by that?


We only killed the King once. But They killed us many times.


Be careful that your library shows you not just who you are, but who you want to be, and who you think you should be.


It’s okay not to want to read a book because the paper is not right, or the weight is too much. Just so, it’s okay not to read a book because you dislike the author, as a person.


There is a subtle fallacy that holds about photography – that it is an unmediated representation of what it represents. But consider – the depth of field, what is in and out of focus, the alignments of spectrum to representation of colour, the format of the film, the distortions of the lens, the intention or accident of capturing a particular moment, what is in or out of focus, more obviously to us now we have composition, and doctoring. And on top of this there’s the subtler point that without the human eye, our ability to interpret the flat plane as a space, the photograph, like any represention, gets nowhere. It often occurs as an illusion of a space we could go into, and see the meaning in it as meaning for us. Also, there are the boundaries of recorded detail, the amount of detail lost. The smallest length in a photograph is the distance between the neighbours of a pixel, or of a constitutive element of the medium. A fibre, or a plate fragment. But we don’t listen to this limit, we bring with us the up and down, the behind the camera, and we give more detail from ourselves. Of course a photograph preserves in fidelity the relations between a set of shapes and angles which are interpreted as its subject matter, depending on how they transform etc. But this is only a matter of degree; paintings, and technical drawings were similar. A photograph creates a ‘falseness’ in us just as much as a painting, but differently to a sculpture, as a sculpture is the thing itself, more often. But then so can photographs be.

A photograph can be as false as a sentence, and more false insofar as it projects an aura of empiricism.


What is this thing, wanting to talk to someone? I reach for my phone without a question, photo in mind, like my life needs expressing, needs someone to hear it spoken. Or I give the present of a moment – but why this moment, why that person? Is it someone who has a particular relation to the expression of my experience?


The more representation, the more overload, the more blankness, or panic before sleep. The less representation, the more peace, the easier my head rests.


The human world starts to make a lot more sense once you realise that the voice didn’t grow up for speaking, but largely for comfort, bonding and territoriality.


People are vectors in cultural fields. It’s only by virtue of this that they have cultural properties. And there are edges to cultural fields, which can be crossed, or skirted along, and cultural fields overlap and have massively fuzzy edges.

They matter insofar as the cultural field gives this feeling to vectors moving within it. But there are greater, less defined fields of culture called aesthetic, ethical, universal etc.


If you think Sherrie Levine‘s photographs after various modernist photographs are worthless, or at least find something strange about why we should think them interesting or deserving of praise, then you should also find a problem in the fact that businesses and institutions get remuneration for acts and objects accomplished by others, long after the death of those others, with no newness added, just for access. I love them precisely for stirring these thoughts in me. You should especially find it odd that the pure activity, made possible by having the ability or means to produce something, gives you honour in the form of money, and is backed up by legal power. Why is copyright extendable? Why is it tradeable? It has nothing to do with what is good for the art, for the artist, or the enjoyer. It is rent seeking. Why are videos with millions of views taken down from YouTube for sampling songs that next to no one ever listens to anymore? This isn’t good for production. Why do we enforce monopolies in the realm of ideas whilst (supposedly) trying to break them up or limit them in the real? Why can’t I write and publish the next Harry potter book, or produce a Star Wars film, given the vast economic power already accrued to those they belong to? Why should I need an entire legally defined franchise and vast purchasing power to have that right? People still write them of course, in fan fic, and they can be fantastic. But why shouldn’t those people be allowed to widen the scope of these works, and be rewarded for it, in a democratic fashion? There seems to me to be no good reason.

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