"hyphos is the tissue and the spider’s web"

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Rachilde: “The Tooth”

In passing by chance the dining room, she saw, on a dresser, a dozen pistachio croquets, and, mechanically raising her hand up to the silver plate that supports the appetizing pyramid, she chose the driest and most glazed, with an inexplicable gluttony… since she is not a glutton. Suddenly, in crushing the pastry, she felt a hard object, a small object much harder than the pistachios, and at the same moment a vibration had run through her entire body, a strange vibration that went spiraling from her gums to her heels. What? What is this? She removes it with the tips of her two nails. How! a pebble in a croquet from the good creator! She approaches the pale green stained-glass window, behind which extends a dreamy field, all green and pale, then she examines the pebble very closely with a cold, subtle breath on her hair. It, it’s a tooth!


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Canguilhem: “Descartes and Technique”

Translator’s Preface

The following text is a partial translation of Georges Canguilhem’s “Descartes et la technique,” found in Oeuvres Còmplètes: Ècrits Philosophiques et Politiques (1926-1939), Volume 1 (Paris : Vrin, 2011), pp. 490-492. Why a partial translation, you may wonder? The fact is that this important essay, Canguilhem’s first of many engagements that take up Descartes as a philosopher of technique, has already appeared in part, but not in whole, in English.  Arthur Goldhammer’s translation of the rest of the essay (pp. 492-498 in the Oeuvres), can be found in A Vital Rationalist: Selected Writings from Georges Canguilhem, edited by Francois Delaporte (New York: Zone Books, 2000), pp. 219-226. What is left out of Goldhammer’s translation is Canguilhem’s summary of the essay and his introductory comments on Descartes’ relation to Stoicism and the mechanistic underpinnings of Cartesianism. This translation rectifies a grievous error by offering the rest of “Descartes et la technique” in English.

A final remark is necessary on a difference between the two partial translations. I have not had a chance to compare Goldhammer’s translation to the original at length, but an obvious difference from my own is in the translation of the word la technique. Goldhammer renders it as “technology,” which is an appropriate decision that finds concurrence from other translators of French philosophy (see, e.g., the translator’s introduction to Gilbert Simondon’s On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects). I have opted, instead, to translate it as “technique.” My reason is that la technique has a broader definition than that of “technology.” It can mean “technology” in the sense of an ensemble of tools or ways of doing things, but, as its cognate implies, it is more generally understood to mean “technique” in the sense of a method, style, or approach to doing something. La technique is the way of doing something or the know-how one applies when completing a task. For this reason, I believe that the concept of technology is implied in “technique” and it would be less confusing for an English reader to translate la technique as such. It is also a crucial aspect of Canguilhem’s argument that we understand la technique in this broader sense.



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Trump’s Inauguration Speech Recontextualized

Donald Trump’s inauguration speech is recontextualized with a different country and time to underscore the merit of its rhetoric:

We, the citizens of Germany, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people.

Together, we will determine the course of Germany and the world for many, many years to come. We will face challenges, we will confront hardships, but we will get the job done.

Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful to President Paul von Hindenburg and First Lady Gertrud von Hindenburg for their gracious aid throughout this transition. They have been magnificent. Thank you.

A photo from Barack Obama’s inauguration, temporarily recontextualized by Trump as his own Twitter background on January 20, 2017.

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Waldenfels’ Egocentric Reading of Rimbaud

Bernhard Waldenfels wrote Phenomenology of the Alien (Grundmotive einer Phänomenologie des Fremden) in 2006 and a translation into English was quickly made available by 2011. As the original title suggests, this work is a groundwork that lays out the basic motifs of a phenomenology that focuses specifically on the “alien” (Fremd). While the translators have rendered Fremd as “alien” according to the standards of Husserlian scholarship, it must be kept in mind that it could also mean stranger, foreign, or, at times, Other (although the translation of Fremd as Other will soon be complicated).

This work contains constant references to Waldenfels’ previous books. In the introduction, he correlates each chapter with some previous book that he has written (only one of which is available in English). The text is thus not only an outline of the basic motifs of a phenomenology of the alien, but also a survey of Waldenfels’ corpus. Given that Waldenfels is a scholar of Edmund Husserl, it is no surprise that Husserl’s name appears more frequently than any other in the book. What is surprising is that one of the other most mentioned names is that of the French poet, Arthur Rimbaud. Specifically, Waldenfels repeated refers to a line from a letter that Rimbaud wrote when he was 16. What does the gossip of a teenager have to do with transcendental phenomenological science? Waldenfels believes there is an important link and, while he may be right, he is right for the wrong reasons.


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A Very Brief Introduction to the Eugenic Paradigm

It has only been one day since Donald J. Trump was democratically elected President of the United States. Within this short time span, there has been a spike in violence against minorities that ranges in everything from graffiti of swastikas to physical altercations. This violence cannot be understood in a vacuum; it is neither new nor senseless. To understand where it came from, how it is unfolding, and potential ways to resist it, we must begin by analyzing its proper context, which one can call the “eugenic paradigm.” This article is a very brief introduction to that context. Let this be a manual, not of our misery, but of a better future.


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Derrida on Rimbaud

[Translator’s Note: The following brief letter was written by Jacques Derrida as a response to an “investigation” made by Roger Munier. It was written sometime between September 1973 and March 1974. The goal of the investigation was to determine the contemporary significance and reception of Arthur Rimbaud’s work. Fifty participants, primarily poets, were asked to reflect on six questions regarding this topic. Other notable respondents were René Char and Martin Heidegger. The questions mainly asked about the notion of silence as it existed in Rimbaud’s work and as a signifier for his departure from poetry. One in particular remarks that Rimbaud seems to be “stretched to the future,” which Derrida indirectly refers to below. Although the goal of the investigation was to tap into the “spirit of an epoch,” this letter gives a great deal of insight into why Rimbaud, a great opponent of dominant Western conceptions of subjectivity, is not directly engaged with throughout Derrida’s corpus.]

*             *             *

Dear Roger Munier,

Thank you for your gesture and your proposal. I must avow [avouer], very stupidly, that I do not know Rimbaud: reading for me [that is] almost “prehistoric.” I do not doubt the necessity of doing it or of attempting a return. Perhaps it would be shocking. Then, I must avow, most stupidly again, that I do not currently have the strength, availability, etc. Perhaps it is already there to answer you that I am closed to the FUTURE, that I do not have time for the future.

                                                                                                                               my faithful friendship.

*             *             *

Translated by Jake Nabasny.

Source: Jacques Derrida, Aujourd’hui, Rimbaud…: Enquête de Roger Munier, ed. Roger Munier (Paris: Lettres Modernes, 1976), 42.

The Life and Death of a Subject: On Dance Gavin Dance’s Instant Gratification

Who are you? What are you all about? Tell me about yourself.

In these and many other colloquial requests, what is interrogated is none other than the “self.” The self is what each one of us has, but no two are exactly alike. Your self makes you a unique individual, although the structure of selfhood is common to all. This structure is what I would call subjectivity. One has subjectivity (meaning, one is a subject) by virtue of being a unique individual (that is, having a self). While the notion of self may not be controversial in itself, its precise domain has eternally been unsettled ground.

There are those who maintain that the self is what stays constant amidst our changing experiences. For our entire lives, we harbor the same self within us through to the end. However, there are experiences that chip away at our faith in an eternal self. A common experience is looking back at ourselves as we were in the past. Who has not seen a picture from their childhood and thought: “Was that really me?” Yet the past is not the only realm in which one’s self seems precarious. The experience of the “uncanny” in the present can lead one to feel out of step with oneself. This feeling of being at odds with oneself can also occur in our anticipation of future events. The anxiety associated with an imminent break in routine can make one feel the poverty of one’s current self. Nevertheless, each self adjusts, in one way or another, to every novelty.

The occasion for these comments on subjectivity is the recent release of Instant Gratification, the latest album from Dance Gavin Dance. The album provides a timeless meditation on the manifestation and annihilation of subjectivity. The “you” referenced in many of the songs is none other than the subject’s dialogue with itself as it struggles to make sense of the world. While the lyrics are conceptually dense (contrary to what one popular critic believes), they resonate with the form and style of the instrumental sound.

Our current task is two-fold. First, we must clarify how Instant Gratification deals with selfhood and subjectivity in general. Second, we will underscore the contribution that the album makes toward a new theory of subjectivity. Given the fact that the album follows the chronological life and death of a subject, I have chosen to follow the same order from the first to the last track. The album reveals no less than the transcendental structure of subjectivity as it is grasped from the subject’s point of view.

Album Art

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Nietzsche’s Disavowalist Moment

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a spectacular event unfolded that would forever change history. God was murdered. This scandalous transgression was met with multiple reactions. For some, God’s role was transformed into the logical truths of rationalism. For others, suffering became an eternal condition that only compassion could alleviate for brief moments. A few even continued to cling to the hope that God was alive and well; they transmuted their hopeless hope into “faith.” Yet, the ultimate scandal, according to one German philologist, was that we had assassinated God.

The death of God, according to Friedrich Nietzsche, meant the complete loss of any absolute or universal meaning to life. Contemporary morality and science attempted to mend this void. While Nietzsche offers innovative critiques of moralists (e.g. Kant) and the scientific method, his most venomous rejoinders are directed toward pessimists such as Arthur Schopenhauer. According to Nietzsche, pessimism essentially throws in the towel when confronted with the void of a meaningless existence. It accepts suffering as the eternal condition of life. If the pessimist does not kill herself, she only continues to live for momentary, compassionate acts that unite humans in their shared suffering. Against the pessimist’s resignation and the scientist’s self-certain rationalism, Nietzsche promotes a “gay science” whose task is to tarry with the suffering of existence in order to discover increasingly powerful moments of joy.

In The Gay Science, details of this new science are interspersed with attacks on ancient and modern attempts to escape pessimism (e.g. art, Greek tragedy, Wagnerian opera, religion). The culmination of these guerilla-style interventions is the fourth and final chapter titled “St. Januarius.” (In the second edition, a preface and fifth chapter were added to the book.)  In this chapter Nietzsche turns away from criticism and focuses in on his positive philosophy. It opens with the inauguration of a new year and a new type of person: “I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse the accusers. Let looking away be my only negation! And, all in all and on the whole: some day I want only to be a Yes-sayer!” The Yes-sayer becomes the pinnacle of affirmation; she is the person who resists pessimistic resignation to suffering and creates the new values required for a joyful life. Read the rest of this entry »

Heriberto Yépez: “The Post-Borderzone”


What is a border? Is it the imaginary line that divides two countries? Perhaps, it is the width of an object obstructing free passage between two territories. Yet, a border implicates other spaces. At the U.S.-Mexico border, a long line of cars stretches perpendicularly to the border. Attendants at the border refer to it as la línea, the line. In this way, the border is stretched out and its points are multiplied along a two-dimensional surface. The border is really a zone of its own, a transfronterizo or borderzone.

In “Lo post-transfronterizo,” Heriberto Yépez probes deeper into the question concerning the nature of the border. In his investigation, he unravels the popular mythologies that have come to explain the borderzone and the socio-cultural practices that give rise to “border culture.” Yépez’s essay interests us not only for its unique and timely revelations, but also because the borderzone is a territory outside of territory proper, a terra incognita. It is that space which is neither one nor the other, neither North American nor Mexican, and certainly not both. How to approach this space without falling victim to the common mythological trappings (e.g. postmodern “hybridization” of culture) is a strategy we have sought out in various other milieux; this tendency toward the outside is undoubtedly part of the configuration known here as disavowal. For this reason, we offer the following translation of “The Post-Borderzone.”

Translator’s note: I have chosen to translate transfronterizo as “borderzone” when used as a substantive (but as “trans-border” when used as an adjective). “Borderzone,” as the reader will find, has the conceptual benefit of highlighting what Yépez believes is at stake in the transfronterizo. Additionally, I have bolded phrases that appear in English in the original text.

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Sia: Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Other, Becoming-Imperceptible

On May 19, 2014, Sia Furler performed her song, “Chandelier,” on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” It has been said that the performance was a recreation of the music video, complete with a replica of the set. Even the dancer, Maddie Ziegler, is represented as imitating Sia’s appearance. It is quiet easy to understand this relationship to be analogical. Ziegler performs in place of Sia because Sia does not wish to be a public figure. However, to establish a correspondence between Zeigler and Sia, there must already be a difference in identity between the two people. Contrary to the imitation interpretation, Sia’s performance suggests a challenge to the presupposition of fixed identities. Our current task is to understand this challenge and its implications.

This task will play out in three acts. In the first, we will look at how Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari critique imitation in their concept becoming-animal. They provide us with philosophical and scientific reasons for believing that difference precedes identity, thus making imitation secondary to the more primordial processes of becoming. The second act magnifies the role of Ziegler in the performance. Continuing on the theme of becoming-animal, we will link Ziegler’s role to Arthur Rimbaud’s doctrine of the seer. Ziegler does more than interpret Sia’s song in dance; she reinvents it. Finally, the closing act unveils the affirmation at the core of becoming-animal and Rimbaudian becoming-other. We argue that it signifies more than the rejection of identity and its law of resemblance or imitation. To this end, we graft Hakim Bey’s logic of disappearance onto Sia’s theatrics. Ultimately, we seek to prove that the wig fashioned after Sia’s hairstyle is an invitation to become other than oneself within a general economy of alterity. Read the rest of this entry »