Archive

Books

Approaches to What? 

Georges Perec

(Perec, G. (1973) Species of Spaces and Other Pieces. Penguin, pp. 205-7)

Perec Visage

What speaks to us, seemingly, is always the big event, the untoward, the extra-ordinary: the front-page splash, the banner headlines. Railway trains only begin to exist when they are derailed, and the more passengers that are killed, the more the trains exist. Aeroplanes achieve existence only when they are hijacked. The one and only destiny of motor-cars is to drive into plane trees. Fifty-two weekends a year, fifty-two casualty lists: so many dead and all the better for the news media if the figures keep going up! Behind the event there is a scandal, a fissure, a danger, as if life reveals itself only by way of the spectacular, as if what speaks, what is significant, is always abnormal: natural cataclysms or social upheavals, social unrest, political scandals.

In our haste to measure the historic, significant and revelatory, let’s not leave aside the essential: the truly intolerable, the truly inadmissible. What is scandalous isn’t the pit explosion, it’s working in coalmines. ‘Social problems’ aren’t ‘a matter of concern’ when there’s a strike, they are intolerable twenty-four hours out of twenty-four, three hundred and sixty-five days a year.

Tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, tower blocks that collapse, forest fires, tunnels that cave in, the Drugstore de Champs-Elysées burns down. Awful! Terrible! Monstrous! Scandalous! But where’s the scandal? The true scandal? Has the newspaper told us everything except: not to worry, as you can see life exists, with its ups and downs, things happen, as you can see.
The daily newspapers talk of everything except the daily. The papers annoy me, they teach me nothing. What they recount doesn’t concern me, doesn’t ask me questions and doesn’t answer the questions I ask or would like to ask. What’s really going on, what we’re experiencing, the rest, all the rest, where is it? How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?

To question the habitual. But that’s just it, we’re habituated to it. We don’t question it, it doesn’t question us, it doesn’t seem to pose a problem, we live it without thinking, as if it carried within it neither question nor answers, as if it weren’t the bearer of any information. This is not longer even conditioning, it’s anaesthesia. We sleep through our lives in a dreamless sleep. But where is our life? Where is our body? Where is our space?

How are we to speak of these ‘common things’, how to track them down rather, how to flush them out, wrest them from the dross in which they remain mired, how to give them a meaning, a tongue, to let them, finally, speak of what is, of what we are. What’s needed perhaps is finally to found our own anthropology, one that will speak about us, will look in ourselves for what for so long we’ve been pillaging from others. Not the exotic anymore, but the endotic.

To question what seems so much a matter of course that we’ve forgotten its origins. To rediscover something of the astonishment that Jules Verne or his readers may have felt faced with an apparatus capable of reproducing and transporting sounds. For the astonishment existed, along with thousands of others, and it’s they which have moulded us.

What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, we open doors, we go down staircases, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed in order to sleep. How? Why? Where? When? Why?
Describe your street. Describe another street. Compare.
Make an inventory of you pockets, of your bag.

Ask yourself about the provenance, the use, what will become of each of the objects you take out.
Question your tea spoons.
What is there under your wallpaper?
How many movements does it take to dial a phone number?
Why don’t you find cigarettes in grocery stores? Why not?

It matters little to me that these questions should be fragmentary, barely indicative of a method, at most of a project. It matters a lot to me that they should seem trivial and futile: that’s exactly what makes them just as essential, if not more so, as all the other questions by which we’ve tried in vain to lay hold on our truth.”

///

Perec 01

From: Paul Finn on Georges Perec at www.wemadethis.co.uk/

///

On an Ungrounded Earth, by Ben Woodard

20130613-214516.jpg

On an Ungrounded Earth, by Ben Woodard. Brooklyn, New York: Punctum Books. 118 pages. $12.00, paper. PDF

In a 2011 interview conducted by Bookfriendzy, when asked about why he started his multi-disciplinary journal Collapse, Robin Mackay said (and I’m doing my best to transcribe here), “There were a number of problems that it was designed to address, one of which is the problem of where philosophy can exist outside of the academic environment—because of certain constraints of the academic environment—and the way in which the discipline of philosophy is conducted and constrained, and the conviction that philosophy happens everywhere, not just in philosophy departments.”

It might sound obvious—and a little silly—to think about it that way but the idea of philosophy being created and consumed outside of academia is a relatively recent innovation. Collapse is merely one of several increasingly visible venues publishing philosophical thought outside “philosophy departments,” many of which have hefty presences on the web. Certainly towering figures such as Nick Land, whose writings span a huge variety of subjects, and Quentin Meillassoux, whose landmark 2006 text, After Finitude, helped usher in a new era of “modern” philosophy, have had a major influence over a new generation of thinkers, writers and artists looking to construct arguments without, as Mackay put it, constraints.

As philosophy has moved away from outmoded schools and systems of thought, it’s now acceptable—if not outwardly fashionable—for writers to include examples of both “high” and “low” culture to illustrate and support their points. This leads us to Ben Woodard’s absolutely astounding On an Unground Earth, in which Woodard samples from a dizzying array of literature and media, all primarily centered around the disciplines of philosophy, science-fiction and horror. (Here’s a brief list of references: Deleuze and Guattari, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Reza Negarestani, Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Dune, Tremors, Star Trek, Star Wars, The Matrix series, The Technodrome from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gears of War, Doom 3 and Dead Space—among many, many others.)

The subtitle of On an Ungrounded Earth is “Toward a New Geophilosophy.” As the back cover copy states, “In far too much continental philosophy, the Earth is a cold, dead place enlivened only by human thought—either as a thing to be exploited, or as an object of nostalgia.” One of Woodard’s contemporaries, Eugene Thacker, has written that there are three ways of interpreting the world as we know it: 1) the world-for-us, or the world in which we live; 2) the world-in-itself, or the inaccessible world which we then turn into the world-for us; and 3) the world-without-us, or the spectral and speculative world. In these terms then, Woodard’s Ungrounded Earth seeks to explore the relationship between human consciousness and the world-without-us.

Arranged in five sections—and despite its relatively brief page count—the text of On an Ungrounded Earth covers quite a bit of…well, ground. Abyssal and external “ungroundings,” giant worms, the panic of burial, the “dimensions” of hell, volcanic orifices—these are only a few of the topics explored. Because this is philosophy, and so much of the text builds off of ideas and concepts introduced in earlier passages, it’s difficult to pull any excerpts without disrupting Woodard’s meticulous terminology and contextualized language. Suffice it to say, that language is approachable and articulate. I wouldn’t exactly go so far as to call it accessible, but it’s certainly very readable. Overall, an excellent balance is struck between introducing new ideas, analyzing those ideas and explaining how everything relates back to the core idea of the book.

Part of that core is a deeply rooted fascination with the idea of philosophy itself, of “philosophically experiencing” the earth as we have come to understand it. On an Ungrounded Earth is one of an increasing number of texts that might be best described as speculative realism. Characterized by strong undercurrents of “anti-correlationism,” or, an outright rejection to Kant’s idea that we are limited to the correlation between thinking and being, speculative-realist texts are enjoying a good amount of attention in times of ecological imbalance and chaotic world trends. In 2013, a lot of us have spent the majority of our lives with the Internet. We have a constant supply of too much information—the anxiety of a shrinking world. We’ve long-ago accepted the idea of the universe expanding, seen a hundred movies depicting the destruction of our planet and helplessly witnessed the major religions of the world clash with one another again and again. Perhaps this is it. Perhaps whatever meaning there is to be found isn’t contained in the world-for-us. Perhaps, Woodard urges, the meaning we seek is right under our very feet—and has been for quite some time.

***

David Peak’s most recent book, Glowing in the Dark, was released by Aqueous Books in October, 2012. He is co-founder of Blue Square Press, an imprint of Mud Luscious Press, and lives in New York City.

///

%d bloggers like this: