Aphorisms XVII

The poetry of the relations between concepts, images, ideas, is as reliable a place to find something beautiful, as is the poetry of sounds. And there is also the poetry of the breakdown of either.

I guess poetry here is an aesthetic category, like the presence of the pleasantly unexpected, or counterpoint.


What an exclamation mark means fluctuates for me – it is sometimes a bit like a raised eyebrow, sometimes like an exasperated sigh, or like a surprised child pointing at something cool! It’s amazing how uncodified it is, in terms of sense. The question mark is similar. It doesn’t always expect a response, if it expects anything? Maybe this vagueness is present for all punctuation… We have needed more punctuation for a long time, and /s and various emojis are fulfilling those functions where the lack is felt.


Nationalism destroys the nation via atrophy. Or rather it is an atrophied series of ideas turning back on the society in the nation to consume it. I guess this happens also under the sign of patriotism. No true lover of a nation could be a nationalist. By that I mean that the nation of nationalism is a fabrication, and the real nation something quite different (Duh.)

The nation state should not be an aesthetic concept. It should be functional, and organic, organised around justice. Aesthetics is the realm of taste and political community isn’t about taste, it’s about ethic and morality, about democracy, rule by the demos. Not rule by the people, considered as an aesthetic concept. Us who wave flags and love Ma’am the queen, and America. I mean, ‘the people’ is a propaganda concept anyway, but the aesthetic version of it is cursed.

Or maybe, like a cheerleader, the job of patriotism is never to portray the team well, just to get them going. Well, on that measure it fails too – but it doesn’t need to succeed for everyone, so long as it succeeds for a useful chunk of the population that lets the ones who feel nothing using power keep it.


All writers should unite in boycotting or striking from publications that use A.I. to write articles. Not that the resulting articles are all that impressive yet, and the result can probably only ever be schematic and played out, given the algorithmic nature of the thing, always reworking the old never making the new. That said, some columns under the name of renowned opinion writers are done by organic algorithm already, just an algorithm in the head that got them hired, or one handed down from the editorial.


Making a city in Minecraft has something to it like Tibetan monks creating a mandala. Maybe you can reach nirvana with the help of friends building in Minecraft. And then afterwards you can load if full of TNT and blow it up, learning a lesson of acceptance.


My hairdresser once said to me – wouldn’t it be great if we still had the British Empire. I said ‘hmm…’ And I think now, assuming they knew what it took to hold the empire, isn’t this essentially an admission of a sadistic impulse. I should probably not let this person near my neck with open blades… Of course, they had no real idea.


Naming is not violent, so long as we know names are descriptive and develop. They needn’t nail down, but can gesture through curtains of cultural rain. Names can change. Don’t worry about it. But violence can come from naming if you don’t listen to those who may with justice name their own.


Aesthetics should be stripped from all political projects. But is aesthetic politics already too ingrained in political culture to remove it without great trouble? Does politics necessarily have this aesthetic side, beyond bureaucracy and justice? I hope not.

To see what I mean, imagine the line of flagpoles at the UN, but each flag is blank. Does such a thing make sense?


I have to fight constantly against the tendency to think whether something is the right thing to think, in roughly the same sense as whether a dress is the right dress to wear. It can be hard to distinguish this from knowing an idea to be plausible.


The aphorism is probably the genre where you can be the most extravagantly ignorant of what the reader actually wants. Maybe you’re trying to drop depth charges, but some tiny fraction of them has the proper impact, and destroy an ancient mine that’s hung in the gloom for too long. Maybe it was already defunct, maybe it saves a lost ship from some trouble. Maybe it misses its target completely. And when I say you, I mean I.


Because living as a poet means structuring your life around enunciations, the work of a poet is a kind of pure cultural work. Unacknowledged legislators and all that.


All mistakes that remain are therefore my own – writing without an editor is like trying to cross a busy road without a crossing. I’m much more likely to get sideswiped by an unexpected point or to set off at the wrong time to a chorus of horns.

The disclaimer that you get in works of non-fiction that ‘the blame for all remaining mistakes can be laid at my feet’ is a bit performatively disingenuous. It says in its presence – listen, if there’s something wrong, all these bastards read it and still didn’t notice!


In the late twentieth century a British paper published a letter trying to deny a French philosopher an honorary accolade. The writers were making a stand against nonsense. (As Lee Braver said, it is quite an impressive repulsion indeed, that needs no exposure to that which repulses it…) Who wrote this letter? It is part of the old philosophy of conservatism that things should be simple, that nothing is disturbed, essentially. It says, complexity is terrible, and besides, when you remove that complexity, everything is banal. Of course what is banal and what needs emphasising is where the problem of conservatism has its heart. Because it emphasises tradition (the banal) whilst hating change and disturbance (the interesting.) They said that what we know culturally, we know clearly and forever, and that we know why we know it. But that philosopher, Jacques Derrida was just another in a long line of people showing us this is not so.

They said his work was nonsense (this corresponds to the bit that they hadn’t read) and where it wasn’t nonsense it was simple stuff made falsely complex. Isn’t it strange that the philosophy that most loves the banal would use the banal as an insult? Generously you might think it’s because the banal was being hidden behind complexity. When you should just come right out and say it! There are of course less generous reasons I can think of.

Never forget that when conservatism was formulated, we were thought to be god’s favourite minor imperial angel, replete with an endlessly fruitful world at more or less the centre of the universe, if not the physical one, at least the conceptual one. Deny that, and rather than the repose of fake traditions going back for all recorded time, you get an unsettling of beings going back forever. The conservative objection against postmodernism was an objection against a style or a lifestyle, a disturbance, an undermining of the ubiquity of the Anglo-american imperial style of philosophy, and had nothing to do with the validity of arguments. That wasn’t the point.


How self centred are we? – we use the words ‘we, us, humankind, you, they’ all to mean – I. How other centred are we? We use the words ‘we, us, humankind, I…


The practice of thinking philosophical problems can be very similar to a meditative practice, a spiritual practice. Instead of bringing ourselves into one’s body, one brings oneself into one’s concepts, ones connectome, and stays with them, teasing them, allowing them to show themselves to us (always relative to the concrete world). Or staying with the thought in a text, allowing it to rewrite the words in our heads, to shape and blur. It is almost definitely a spiritual practice. This is only if we realise that, like meditation, there is no finishing with it, only steps along the endless way.


Basic is what those who are insecure about their authenticity call those who seem more at ease about it.


In the phrase ‘lose your mind’, mind is roughly analogous to structure.


To half-doubt the world – The neurosis that hobbles (nags at?) a certain kind of philosopher is the need to be able to trust the world not to betray us. To find a certainty. But we should realise that betrayal is not the end, doesn’t damn all that came before it. Generally we need a good reason not to trust something. “Something’s off…” for example. The problem of other minds and the problem of the existence of the ‘external world’ are both psychological neuroses rather than philosophical problems (or manifest thusly). The ‘something’s off…’ is a personal issue or a social issue. What is the ‘something’s off…’ of the world? That’s a kind of a big question. Some notes:

1 – For other minds, that is, the issue of the full fruitfulness and reality of the other person, to think that x(me) and x°(other) are similar in every material way, but one does not have a key feature the other has, is paranoiac or conspiracy thinking. A postulated inaccessibility or remoteness is not inexistence. The ‘something’s off’ of the other is the lie, mistrust, the blank eyes, the difference in mores. But there is nothing there that is ontological. (Or rather, if there is, it means ontology is social…)

2 – You cannot use the world or dialogical acts within the world, to doubt the world, on pain of contradiction. What is doubt? Does it have conceptual content? Or is it mistrust written down. Mistrust of the world is understandable, because people sometimes lie to us, things sometimes surprise us. But again, that’s not a conceptual problem with the world. This is all perhaps repeating half-remembered things I read of Wittgenstein.

3 – The history of words and bodies – You use the words to doubt the world. You need the phrases to have meanings so you can profess scepticism. But where did the meanings come from? Where did you come from? You have to say – this is all a fiction of some sort built coincidentally, specifically to supervene on the actual conceptual structure of reality, so I may doubt it. You are saying – the conceptual world is real, and simultaneously saying – this real instantiation of it, my life, is not real. So you are holding that the concrete world is not the source of your concepts – but this is also conspiracy thinking. Because where else could they have come from? Some other world, somewhat like this one – but how could this leave you free of doubt? Doubt is worldly. To properly doubt the world, one would have to fall apart, and non-trust your own mind and its concepts and logic. You have to deny the history that made you. But that is to deny you, not just the history. This is the storied (Zen Buddhist?) position of our essential unreality. But, they might say, your words are affected by this too – and it becomes clearer that what you are really doubting is the ability of words to capture the world. But that’s not an ontological feature of the world we live in.

4 – Johnson literally refutes Berkeley by kicking the stone. It isn’t just a funny little anecdote. He could have refuted it more thoroughly by kicking the stone through Berkeley’s study window on a rainy day. Or kicking it at Berkeley’s head.

Maybe all this is obvious, but I had to get it out of my system. Refinishing a first year philosophy essay.

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