contingency


Every bourgeois is a little playwright, who invents different subjects and who, instead of situating suitable characters on the level of his own intelligence, like chrysalises on chairs, tries to find causes or objects … to give weight to his plot, a talking and self-defining story.

Every spectator is a plotter, if he tries to explain a word (to know!) From his padded refuge of serpentine complications, he allows his instinct to be manipulated…. To be plain: The amusement of redbellies in the mills of empty skulls….

I appreciate an old work for its novelty. It is only contrast that links us to the past….

On the one hand there is a [present] world tottering in its flight, linked to the resounding tinkle of the infernal gamut; on the other hand, there are: the new men. Uncouth, galloping, riding astride on hiccups.

– Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto 1918“.

I thought of a labyrinth of labyrinths, of one sinuous spreading labyrinth that would encompass the past and the future and in some way involve the stars. Absorbed in these illusory images, I forgot my destiny of one pursued. I felt myself to be, for an unknown period of time, an abstract perceiver of the world. The vague, living countryside, the moon, the remains of the day worked on me, as well as the slope of the road which eliminated any possibility of weariness. The afternoon was intimate, infinite. The road descended and forked among the now confused meadows. A high-pitched, almost syllabic music approached and receded in the shifting of the wind, dimmed by leaves and distance. I thought that a man can be an enemy of other men, of the moments of other men, but not of a country: not of fireflies, words, gardens, streams of water, sunsets.

– Jorge Luis Borges. “The Garden of Forking Paths.” Trans. Donald A. Yates. In Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings. New York: New Directions, 1964, p. 23.

… as individuals they lived by an entirely different calculus. They have household, auto, and health insurance for protection against vastly smaller risks at an infinitesimally smaller scale, and most did not dismiss health warnings from their doctors as a liberal plot. When it is merely the future of the Earth, however, they have been willing to risk irrevocable and irreversible changes.

– David W. Orr. Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 4-5.

It makes sense … to reconsider nostalgia not as blindness but as sightfulness, which completes the modern experience of time with its insistent perception of disaster and its empathy to strangers stranded in the present.

Peter Fritzsche. “Specters of History: On Nostalgia, Exile, and Modernity.” The American Historical Review 106, no. 5 (2001): 1592.

… the human being has inevitably, a futuristic constitution; that is to say, he lives primarily in the future and for the future…. man is a being of two aspects: on the one hand, he is what he really is; on the other, he has ideas of himself which coincide more or less with his authentic reality. Evidently, our ideas, preferences, desires cannot annul our true being, but they can complicate and modify it. The ancient and the modern are both concerned about the future but the former submits the future to a past regime, whereas we grant more autonomy to the future, to the new as such. This antagonism, not in being, but in preferring, justifies us qualifying the modern as a futurist and the ancient as an archaiser…. Already at the end of the XIVth Century stress was beginning to be laid on modernity, precisely in those questions which most keenly interested the period, and one hears, for example, of devotio moderna, a kind of vanguard of “mystical theology.”

– José Ortega y Gasset. Revolt of the Masses. New York: W.W. Norton, 1993: 173.

Why is ending the silence on Hegel and Haiti important? Given Hegel’s ultimate concession to slavery’s continuance–moreover, given the fact that Hegel’s philosophy of history has provided for two centuries a justification for the most complacent forms of Eurocentrism (Hegel was perhaps always a cultural racist if not a biological one)–why is it of more than arcane interest to retrieve from oblivion this fragment of history, the truth of which has managed to slip away from us? There are many possible answers, but one is surely the potential for rescuing the idea of universal human history from the uses to which white domination has put it. If the historical facts about freedom can be ripped out of the narratives told by the victors and salvaged for our own time, then the project of universal freedom does not need to be discarded but, rather, redeemed and reconstituted on a different basis. Hegel’s moment of clarity of thought would need to be juxtaposed to that of others at the time: Toussaint-Louverture, Wordsworth, the Abbe Gregoire, even Dessalines. For all his brutality and revenge against whites, Dessalines saw the realities of European racism most clearly. Even more, Hegel’s moment would need to be juxtaposed to the moments of clarity in action: the French soldiers sent by Napoleon to the colony who, upon hearing these former slaves singing the “Marseillaise,” wondered aloud if they were not fighting on the wrong side; the Polish regiment under Leclerc’s command who disobeyed orders and refused to drown six hundred captured Saint-Domiguans. There are many examples of such clarity, and they belong to no side, no one group exclusively. What if every time that the consciousness of individuals surpassed the confines of present constellations of power in perceiving the concrete meaning of freedom, this were valued as a moment, however transitory, of the realization of absolute spirit? What other silences would need to be broken? What undisciplined stories would be told?

– Susan Buck-Morss. “Hegel and Haiti.” Critical Inquiry 26, no. 4 (2000): 864-65.

A new vaccine is being marketed, a new job description is offered, a new political movement is being created, a new planetary system is discovered, a new law is voted, a new catastrophe occurs. In each instance, we have to reshuffle our conceptions of what was associated together because the previous definition has been made somewhat irrelevant. We are no longer sure about what “we” means; we seem to be bound by “ties” that don’t look like regular social ties.

Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 6.

Let us compare the screen on which a film unfolds with the canvas of a painting. The painting invites the spectator to contemplation; before it the spectator can abandon himself to his associations. Before the movie frame he cannot do so. No sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it is aready changed. It cannot be arrested. . . .  The spectator’s process of association in view of these images is indeed interrupted by their constant sudden, change. This constitutes the shock effect of the film, which like all shocks, should be cushioned by heightened presence of mind.

– Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” [1936] in Illuminations: Walter Benjamin Essays and Reflections (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968), p. 238.

The form of centrality which, as a form, is empty, calls for a content and attracts and concentrates particular objects. By becoming a locus of action, of a sequence of opeations, this form acquires a functional reality. Around the centre a structure of (mental and/or social) space is now organized, a structure that is always of the moment, contributing, along with form and function, to a practice.

The notion of centrality replaces the notion of totality, repositioning it, and rendering it dialectical. Any centrality, once established, is destined to suffer dispersal, to dissolve or to explode from the effects of saturation, attrition, outside aggressions, and so on. This means that the ‘real’ can never become completely fixed, that it is constantly in a state of mobilization. It also means that the general figure (that of the centre and of ‘decentring’) is in play which leaves room for both repetition and difference, for both time and juxtaposition.

– Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (1974). Donald Nicholson-Smith, trans. (Oxford: 1991), p. 399.

Don’t be one or multiple, be multiplicities! Run lines, never plot a point! Speed turns the point into the line! Be quick, even when standing still! Line of chance, line of hips, line of flight. Don’t bring out the General in you! Don’t have ideas, just have an idea (Godard). Have short-term ideas. Make maps, not photos or drawings. Be the Pink Panther and your loves will be like the wasp and the orchid, the cat and the baboon. . . .  The middle is by no means an average; on the contrary, it is where things pick up speed. Between things does not designate a localizable relation going from one thing to the other and back again, but a perpendicular direction, a transversal movement that sweeps one and the other away, a stream without beginning or end that undermines its banks and picks up speed in the middle.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, “Introduction: Rhizome” in A Thousand Plateaus (1980) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 25.

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