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Wednesday, May 03, 2017

PART 3 PIRSIG'S ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE

This is a comment reply to Psybertron Asks

Alterity is a philosophical conceptual construct by Jean Baudrillard. When one experiences a near death experience and survives, the two "selves" continue on a parallel path that gradually continues parting/continuing to diverge through life. The film Another Earth with Britt Marling is a perfect illustration of what Baudrillard means http://moviesandfilm.blogspot.com/2011/09/review-another-earth-at-moxie-in.html  This corresponds to Pirsig's Phaedrus who is electro shocked into alterity as another person as if just being born with no memory before this new moment. 

Irreversibility is Baudrillard's great contribution to philosophy. To fully understand his work one must understand he is Nietzschean in blood and bone. Pirsig never mentions Nietzsche once, yet he breathes through this novel. As of course do Foucault and Baudrillard. It is rare than a Foucauldian thinker moves into Baudrillard (Ayn Rand does but is misread by her disciples). Pirsig is so clear with his continuing binary that he cannot come to terms with easily at all. He is not aware of how Baudrillard has separated the Symbolic Order from the Order of Production (Pirsig's classic and romantic methods of thinking/ reasoning). But there it is, clear as day, the two orders that are separate, the territory and the map as Borges calls it. Or as Jesus does when he overturns the tables of the money changers in the temple, separating the sacred from the worldly. (I am not using profane as that concept has different resonances I don't want to get into.)Two parallel orders that comprise the world. This conceptual construct can be read through Plato of course also, the REAL and the shadows in the cave. The Order of Production is IRREVERSIBLE. From this capitalism metastasizes like cancer cells (Marx). The Symbolic Order is REVERSIBLE and these terms are Baudrillard's great contribution according to Simon Critchley. If you want examples I have blogged many of them so ask if you want more on this and I will link you. DeLillo is especially perceptive on this in Cosmopolis. 

But these two terms are philosophical constructs. In Fountainhead we see Gail Wynand is unable to reverse The Banner as it has become firmly planted in the Order of Production. He cannot use it to turn Roark into a hero, a true artist, because Toohey has taken control in homeopathic doses, substituting the territory of journalism into the map of propagandizing. What is left for him finally is to destroy The Banner completely. And that is Nietzsche, excess is required to end what must be stopped so that it implodes. 

Pirsig's excess on his road journey is also in the Symbolic Order and the Order of Production. The physical trip on the motorcycle and the "trip" in his mind as he pieces his lost fragments of his lost self knitting them together with his present self, his present Alterity. Of course it can be read through the interpretation of Freud's thinking, or even Jung's, but I prefer to stay with Foucault and Baudrillard and not take the swampy, sinking path into interpretation from which it will be impossible to get out of and will force Pirsig back into the Dialectic which he has so brilliantly led us to escape from.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

PART 2 REREADING PIRSIG'S ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE

The Sutherlands accompany Pirsig in the beginning part of this road trip from Minnesota to California. Their differences lead to explanations of Pirsig's dichotomy of understanding in people. He divides human understanding into two kinds - classical understanding and romantic understanding. 

At this point in his story Pirsig is still thinking inside the Dominating Discourse of the classical Hegelian dialectic. He has not yet met the unknown Foucault head on in his thinking. He is still linear, continuous, progressive, historical.

A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself. A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate experience.

He will continue to expand on these definitions. The romantic is emotional, the NOW so prevalent in the 60's, the moment, the intuitive, the gut instinct. It is based on FEELINGS!

The classic is formal, logical, it accumulates past knowledge and information, it is reasonable.

Now we move to 1993 and the work of Jean Baudrillard in France with his Symbolic Exchange and Death.
A Monumental work in continental Philosophy
There is no doubt Baudrillard was pondering all this at the time Pirsig was, but he will not publish it fully until 1991-3. Baudrillard has been influenced by Foucault and now thinks genealogically saying it is really the only way to think. It is certainly the most powerful, decisive, analytical way to think and has become the DISCOURSE now by those who are the original thinkers in Continental Philosophy at this time. Pirsig is not yet there though he is following his solitary journey without anyone with whom he can discuss all that he is thinking. 

Baudrillard's great contribution to our understanding is his eliciting of the TWO ORDERS in our world. The Symbolic Order and the Order of Production. These are parallel orders co-existing. The Map and the Territory, encroaching more and more into the Symbolic Order.

Pirsig will introduce his former self named Phaedrus and bring us to another Baudrillardian conceptual frame, that of Alterity. A personal life continues until and if Destiny intervenes with DEATH. An EVENT in which the individual experiences their "almost death" leads to a splitting, the concept of alterity and the individual continues living as the same and also as other now. The two selves increasingly deviate apart from their former self and the present self. Pirsig introduces us to his former self named Phaedrus who was given shock therapy until all his philosophical thinking was wiped out, burned away. But their are shreds, fragments that tweak Pirsig's memory as he continues on his road journey and we will find out this journey has old places to be revisited in its agenda. Neither Foucault nor Baudrillard escaped unscathed from this thinking either BTW. It was their great good fortune that others were on this path with them while the entrenched academic powers fought them and continue to do so now in a much weakened position. One wonders that without the internet if all this European thought might not have fallen into the folds of archival history in our time in the US which despises it so.

Returning to the two modes of understanding - the Classical mode is in the Order of Production. It is cumulative, logical, reasonable and is part of the Dominating Discourse. It's primary attribute is its irreversibility. Capitalism resides in this order. The Romantic mode is in the Symbolic Order - emotional, intuitive, creative, changeable, and its primary attribute is its reversibility. These are the two great concepts Baudrillard has given us to understand the world we now live in. 

It is clear that Pirsig sees all this in his original way. He comes to it on his road trip. While Foucault labors in the archives with yellowed, torn, hardly legible old papers, Pirsig is coming to it at a slightly later time from Foucault who begins publishing in 1960 with Madness and Civilization, The Birth of the Clinic, The Order of Things and most importantly The Archaeology of Knowledge. 



This is what Pirsig is doing as he flies on his cycle through mountains, down into valleys of green and then desert, along rivers, through small towns staying the same through changing times. A wild ride paralleled by quiet, intense, arduous digging in libraries.

And Pirsig digs deeper than Foucault through his madness, risking it all once more.

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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