Aphorisms XVIII

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius – The Borges story offers quite a neat allegory for the post-truth/propaganda situation. The fake encyclopedia begins as an experiment – can we create a world in detail without the usual connections between material reality and the conceptual scheme? Can we jettison praxis altogether and have its opposite occur? In that world, the concepts begin to cause things to happen, simply by being made. The markers of this are objects that propagate themselves, but slightly changed, exaggerating some aspect – conspiracy objects. Then the completed encyclopedia begins to disturb reality – reality as a scheme begins to collapse due to the overstrong influence of the unreal.

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Surrealism – a choice cocktail of disparate realities.

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Decisionism, the worst political philosophy of all. – ‘Since you’ve taken so long to decide which way to go along the coastal path, I’ve grasped the levers of power and made the sovereign and unimpeachable decision. We’re going off the cliff.’

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We’ve seen a change in the social phenomenology in real time – now, after the lockdown and pandemic, me and my friends have noticed the following: we see people sitting near on the TV, we see people being close, and in crowds, and we see it as wrong, as other. We draw in, physically. We see the closeness as threatening, as disconcerting.

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To see how useless the structure of language is just of itself, imagine how stumped it would make an alien species to come across even a complete multivolume dictionary and grammar floating through the nether. Without being able to see us using the language, they would know roughly the relational structure of something, and would still have nothing to go on with regards what it actually is to us, which words were important, and unimportant. Its embedded structure. They would have frequency, relation and order, but no significance, no meaning, here meaning being just the way the language works in context, what we claim for it as a language, what we want for it as a language. I guess this is a similar point to the age old thought that you can’t have a ‘complete’ dictionary, because you already need to know how some words work in order to access the others.

A dictionary is like a literal frame or manual to help you position or pinpoint the stones in the already existing and shifting house of language, whether they be new or already there. It isn’t the ‘truest form of a language’. It’s just a tool, and like tools, you can prefer one to another. But that doesn’t imply that one is better than the other.

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To be intelligent is to know that if things had gone differently, you could have ended up stupid.

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When people ask – are we tired of democracy? We should say: we haven’t yet tried democracy. They might say, you’re splitting hairs. But we haven’t even started yet. There is so much left to be tried, so many possible reforms to be implemented in the democratic process based on solid knowledge of how it works in practice, that to think we are done with democracy as vote counting, based on about 100 years of marginal process after quasi-universal suffrage was introduced into a centuries old system, in a country (Britain) where power has been so centralised by successive administrations, who actively gerrymander and vote down reform, is to rather mislocate the site of the problem.

Imagine – if our democracy increased the satisfaction of the generalised wants of the people in the society rather than satisfying the wants of an increasingly defined and unfortunately affluent fragment of them. Imagine if we were finally allowed to defund the military to fund infrastructure, and collect curiously absent corporation tax to fund social housing, support for which policies has been overwhelming for a long time. We aren’t tired of democracy – we’re sick of its constant deferral.

The obviousness of this makes me question the motives of people who claim the death of democracy. Especially in our illustrious country which still has a house of lords, of all things. So, give us a second house done by sortition, which then votes for its own leading cabinet out of its members. A house selected by proportional representation on a countrywide vote. A representational house where political parties are disallowed. A house where the cabinet is decided not by which party won the most seats, but by random selection from the elected representatives. A house of representatives of city councils. Any of these would be more democratic than a house of ancient seats for peers. But will we try something new before certain interests in the country decide for us that we are done with democracy? As those who think they know better, have visions of a future where they structure the demos against their wills, according to an exclusive utopia.

And that’s not even to begin expanding the conception of what democracy can mean in a wider sense – the decentralising of budget and decision making back to local councils, for example, which would deal one of the most egregiously anti-democratic moves I know of.

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Doubt used to be a real physical act, where the punishment was sometimes capital. Maybe this is where the idea that doubting something intellectually remains a material act, came from.

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Funes the Memorious – Borges’ insight here is that what kind of memory a being has will determine what it considers to be metaphysics, or whether it considers metaphysics necessary. If everything were felt to be eternally present in memory, the unease of forgetting might never prompt us to extend beings into the future by calling them instantiations of the metaphysical phrases.

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There is a tendency in a kind of analytic frame of mind to call certain phrases ‘literal nonsense’. But often this rests on the ignorance of the poetic or descriptive use to which words are being put. In Howl’s Moving Castle, there is the phrase ‘far too tall for its height’. I am told this phrase is literal nonsense. But it describes well the feeling of a building seeming much taller than it is, of it towering over us. Often, the accusation of nonsense or the disapproving tut comes from a refusal to acknowledge that words have been used in different senses within the same sentence. “But that’s just flashy nonsense.” No. Are we being serious about language here or not? If we are, we must admit all the different possibilities in a phrase.

Of course, there are more difficult sentences like the Chomskyesque ‘colourless green ideas sleep furiously’. It is a fun intellectual game to try and figure out a way to make the so called nonsense sentence make sense, by using the context to determine it (of course it’s only a game.)

The ideas are happily living in their intellectual world, congregating upon the fields of Elysium, and the crowd of ideas belonging to the shades of green are particularly happy. Unfortunately, green is a colour despised by painters due to its fickleness, and from time to time this dislike begins to seep into the intellectual world. When this happens, the green ideas begin to lose their colour, becoming see through! Now, they become very angry when this happens, and toss and turn mumbling curses in their sleep. During those unhappy times, the colourless green ideas sleep furiously.

And, a square circle looks like a square from one angle, but casts a circular shadow due to the lighting. A circular square is a circular gathering place in a city, with a few benches, and a round fountain in the middle.

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Many cultural anxieties expressed as victories and defeats are just one generation lamenting change. A particular historical shift, from left to right, starting in the eighties, and the capitulation of many figures who lived for that world, is expressed as an eternal victory, the defeat of socialism, the end of the cold war. But it is becoming more obvious now that it was only a historical moment. The opposite could be said, of course, for the generation coming of age, or back from the war and voting in 45 to 51 (where Labour increased its vote share and total vote count but lost the election.) You could have been justified then, in saying – of course, people get more left wing with age.

The same goes for the death of literature. The loss of economic elite control over the book, is expressed as the death of writing. But more of us write, and write more, and read and read more, than ever. To hold these things, you have to ignore the rest of the world, and focus on the cultural narrative in your own backyard, projecting the personal as world historic.

It is in fact possible to be a socialist, play videogames, stream TV, and love literary fiction, and become absorbed by the written word. But this is all obvious (to me, having lived the life I’ve lived.)

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Violence is always beneath the surface, only waiting for the right conditions to escape. Now replace the word ‘violence’ with ‘love’ and you’re just as correct. It just shows the importance of conditions. This framing relies on the anthropocentric, linguo/logocentric, idea of a difference between essence and accident.

There are only tendencies of different strengths, and no metaphysical true self. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the ‘true self’ is an ethical or moral or authenticity concept, not a metaphysical one, or if it is this latter, its a symptom of someone’s worldview. Of course the material self is real, and true, and is embodied. But the body is not identity, identity is a series of tendencies in a connectonomic text.

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Given the range of uses a word is put to organically, which verges onto the patches of other words, the translation of a word can sometimes come definitely into a patch that rests outside of any dictionary.

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A certain base level of cliché is like the oil that gets the engine of the story going smoothly. But you can easily put too much in, and clammy or particularly gunky stuff and the whole thing will seize up. Same goes for going without it.

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The mind body problem was partly a symptom of the fact that the brain is kind of mostly clustered in one spot. People find it elsewhere in the body, but it’s mostly clustered in this one spot, so that must mean it’s a different thing. Identity is a cut, with a knife. We can cut out the brain, so the mind must come out too.

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Line break in poetry is obviously important, seen by the fact that you might have a very different emotional reaction to a piece if, rather than seeing it in a paragraphless block of text, you saw it placed one word in the centre of each page. The rhythm of the eye on the page is affected by the concrete time difference in milliseconds it takes to get from one line’s end to the beginning of another. And the rhythm of the thought and sentence are often highlighted, or brushed over, depending on the spacing of the words. This given, it takes the form of a purely cultural (ideological) reaction to say that cutting the lines of a text is somehow a null activity. Sometimes it’s result can be null, when the breaks in lines aren’t used to highlight anything, or seem unthinking (regardless of whatever thought went into it), but even a randomly line broken poem might be interesting by the way it approaches its subject, or form.

But then, the only people I’ve seen holding such a view have been a few on internet review sites, so I’m assuming it isn’t very widespread or representative. It’s not that it’s a bad thing to have a taste for good old paragraphs, or good old syllabics, or good old metric verse. It’s just the arrogance to say ah, but if it’s not this, it is null. And then of course it’s a cultural chauvinism.

I remember reading older poetry when I was younger, and I just couldn’t get past the fact that every line was capitalised! It was like being hit by the closing door after every single line. But now I’ve learned to ignore it, or at least live with it as a custom, I look through it (like a peculiarly shaped window) to the content which it essentially structures.

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Culture does not feel pain.

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When you think about posting a comment, just hold that thought close, and later put it somewhere where no one will ever read it, like on a blog of aphorisms

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In fiction, realism is now the fantasy of being real people™

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There is something very odd about the assertion that someone is pointing out something obvious – I find it endlessly interesting as I always keep coming back to it. It could hide a difference in emphasis i.e. translated it would sometimes read ‘I don’t think you should focus on this’. Well so much the worse for you!

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We write for ourselves and for each other. As dead authors were writing also for the dead, we shouldn’t feel bad about ignoring them. Of course, they may have spoken about issues that bear on the living, and so if you are interested in those issues, that is a fine reason to care. But in general, if you should leave the dead to bury the dead, you shouldn’t feel bad about it.

I mean I read historic authors all the time. I think that the reason I continue to bring this up is the bad feelings that come with it, given the undead or zombie aspect of our culture, where death can seem a kind of asset. Anything I can offer to counter that I would consider well given.

It’s bound up with a revenant whiggish idea, that we need to imbibe the entire of history before we can make any progress. Learn the lessons of past generations – as if we can’t really see what is happening around us without first coming to the same contingent conclusions that brought it about. But no, thank god, we can just take up things where they stand and draw our own conclusions.

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The interactions of empires in fantasy are wars between castles in the sky, representing ideas, or general explorations of how ideas interact in a trope centric way. They do not need to be realistic, obviously. In the way that fights in fairy tales don’t need to be particularly concrete for the fairy tale to help you commemorate conceptually your life as you see it.

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Someone who strongly believes they are winning an argument should never be let off lightly.

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I sometimes think that the more someone insists on the failure of poetry, the more of a symptom it is of either a) their own perceived failure in poetry – seen by them, or by others, or b) their failure to perceive what poetry is and what it can hope to do.

They may hope for too much from it. But there is a more deflationary account of poetry. Not that it is special and will blow you away, like some people seem to expect it to, but that, like painting or sculpture, it records interesting form and content relations for your perusal and the stuff that blows you away will be rare. We don’t expect every painting we see to strip our flesh and bare our gleaming soul right in the gallery space. And this is just one aspect of the deflationary account.

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Symptoms of never having properly engaged with what you’re talking about – I don’t like poetry, it’s all kinda bad isn’t it? I don’t like restaurants, they’re all kinda bad aren’t they? I don’t like TV, it’s all kinda bad isn’t it? I don’t like films, they’re all kinda bad aren’t they? I don’t like paintings, they’re all kinda bad aren’t they? I don’t like books, they’re all kinda bad aren’t they? I don’t like politics, its all a load of rubbish isn’t it? I can’t read history, it’s all really boring isn’t it? I don’t like music, it’s all kinda crap isn’t it?

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I sometimes feel unproductive even after having spent a lot of time thinking and reading. But it is productive to continue to sculpt your connectome, design your mind.

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