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Sunday, April 23, 2017

REREADING PIRSIG'S ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE


Rereading this 1974 blockbuster novel of its time is an astonishing experience. Pirsig has gone his solitary way through all of Continental Philosophy of his time and beyond without referring to Foucault, Baudrillard, Zizek, Lacan, walking along in their footsteps without knowing of their existence. He arrives at the same conclusions and consequences by a parallel path not an identical one. And he digs even deeper than Foucault, something I had never expected from anyone.

Pirsig is grounding his thought concretely by alternating between motorcycle maintenance, a journey on his motorcycle with his young adolescent son across the midwest and north of the US to California. While Foucault is digging in dusty old archives, tattered and yellowed papers, Pirsig is whizzing through mountainous landscapes, desert valleys, campgrounds and highways as he pieces fragments of his alterity and continued musings of his past and present thinking.

He begins with the perception of landscape through an automobile's windows and the difference as it surrounds one on a motorcycle. The car frames the scene - turning it into the screen - as it changes, displaying what the frame frames. The motorcycle puts you in the landscape making you a part of it, not an observer of it. The scene through the auto window is a simulacrum, the surround on the motorcycle is the REAL. And this is the thought of Jean Baudrillard. 

Is Baudrillard a Simulacrum here?

The great danger of our time felt by Pirsig and articulated by Baudrillard. The loss of the REAL and the worship of the Simulacrum. The Hunger Games. Panem and the Districts. The REAL and the SCREEN.

Reading through McLuhan the motorcycle is the MEDIUM and the MESSAGE is invisible. Or the GROUND is invisible. The auto is the MEDIUM and the MESSAGE is different. The GROUND is now the inside of the car which is invisible as one looks out the window at the passing screen. Pirsig has lifted the curtain of invisibility so we now see the once invisible MESSAGE of the cycle and the auto. He has waved the magic wand, Dorothy has clicked her red heels three times and she is in Oz then back to the canvas of Kansas again. Has Baudrillard or McLuhan ever been so clearly understood before?

This is what is troubling him all through his journey. Small patches of lawn a plastic faking of open green spaces, plastic toys of artificial style to deceive. None of this is escaping his eyes as he sees through the cultural faking that passes for authenticity by those who cannot see or recognize QUALITY.

Read it again and go with him again on the wild trip you once breathlessly accompanied him on. There is much more I have to say about this wondrous journey of his.

END of PART ONE

Friday, January 13, 2017

Reading Dashiell Hammett Through Foucault/Foucault Through Hammet


With a wonderful introduction by Lillian Hellman
Hellman's introduction may add some facts Hammett's fans may not have known. He did not want these stories published in his lifetime and I sort of see why. But I am so grateful they have been collected and edited for us to read. I didn't read all of them. But each one I did read has an original charm and integrity of its own.

The Scorched Face is drastically dated for us. Women from well to do families in San Francisco have gone missing, been murdered, blackmailed and have committed suicide for threatened exposure of photographs taken during an hallucinatory orgy. Now almost laughable as they might have been deliberately posed and posted online for instant celebrity for something they would have died for not so very long ago. All we can do is shake our heads in wonder at this world we live in.

Corkscrew introduces us to Hammett's detective voice.What is startling is that the villains are really villains and the good ones display an integrity that seems to have disappeared completely from our present life on any plane of action.That quality of character portrayed in fiction had some semblance in life in the Real World. Certainly Hammett himself conducted his life in this fashion and paid the price for it. For me who invariably reads everything with a Foucauldian default setting my reading zeroed in on three genealogies:


  1. Illegal Immigrants - Not yet a major problem but simply their smuggling in as a way to make the big bucks. This is an interesting beginning as it is just beginning to make its Foucauldian CUT with capitalism in the GRID of power/knowledge already meshed with capitalism and normality. Not yet has illegal immigration become the huge source of cheap labor that it will be very soon - in this story we are still a ways from WWII. So for an alert Foucauldian perception we perceive an early CUT into the genealogy of smuggled humans for profit that will be so fraught with political outrage in our time. One can see how fast immigration has moved into problematization for us.
  2. The second CUT that jumped out at me was the sale of military weaponry. I already knew about its sale to American Indians, colonists, French and English during the settling of this country. But in thinking, contemplating it I began wondering at what point in history did the selling of military weaponry to both sides become natural and then institutionalized. Surely knights in armor has their beautiful suits of armor made by artisans, craftsmen, with great pride. Not mass produced for that was still to come.So I am not sure where that CUT of Foucault's entered our world but still it was around the time of this story, just before militarized weaponry would become a huge assembly line factory produced commodity of killing and money.
  3. The third CUT is "the banning" of these weapons. The new deputy sheriff in town rules that all guns get parked while in the bar. The sheriff has to enforce this ban. Open carry or concealed guns are the custom but the sheriff decides to change the custom. As always when customs get challenged people get angry. And this initial CUT in the genealogy of open/concealed carry appears innocently simple. It will become open warfare before 80 years. Yes time moves fast these days.
The EFFECTS that seem so charming and rather innocent in this story 
have resonances far beyond villains who brandish 
guns and bullets in a murderous way contrasted with
using these weapons carefully and intelligently.
So once upon a time they were so used
and now it doesn't seem so possible anymore confronted with
huge numbers of people who don't.

But their use has become so natural so institutionalized
that taking them away amounts to a loss of freedom.
Guns have become an ideology of freedom
an icon of freedom.

Are we just swamping around in ideology here as we fight about guns?


TULIP is a beginning of a novel/an unfinished novel. But is it really unfinished? We are treated to a mature Dashiell Hammett we haven't seen before in his stories. It is fiction that is true, without lies, in the way that non-fiction rarely is. Without lies I mean. A man trying to be as clear as possible. It feels very much like Faulkner. And Hemingway. And if only Hammett had not been so assaulted by the machine of capital, which he hated, we would have had him longer, and America would have had another truly great writer. For in TULIP you read the beginning of his greatness that was curtailed by illness and McCarthy's persecution.  And that's a good thing to know.

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