Friday, July 21, 2017

Academic Work: The View from Stadium Village

Speaking at Cornell in 1982, Jacques Derrida begins and ends
“The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of Its Pupils,”
later published in Diacritics, with this question:
“Today, how can we not speak of the university?”

Derrida is responding to, and citing an essay published two years before,
also in Diacritics, by James Siegel, titled “Academic Work: The View from Cornell”
which, among many other things, articulates the coming into being of Cornell
as the removal of the university from the “reminders of death”:

“Today,” Siegel writes in 1981, “the opposition between the university and life on the one side and death on the other still stands, as we shall see.”

an opposition, like a bridge that continues to stand even when a view from it is ruined
from the bridge, confronted with the logic of the sublime, thoughts of death, Siegel thought
and also found that there is an interest “in putting suicide, suggested by the view, in relation to work.”

“The connection between work and suicide in this assumption is not that work causes death but that not being able to work does so. Not standing up to pressure, one is overwhelmed. But so long as one does work, one stands up to it, one lives.”

we see this standing opposition today but we also see more than this
we see the work the university has done in time,
in the time since Siegel wrote this essay, to lay claim to death, to produce death, political economy,
out of the difference between faculties—we see it in this university in particular
on the one side, those who fulfill the tripartite mission of the university (teaching, research, outreach) and on the other, those who make but a “vital” contribution.

it’s not the matter of this difference in ways of dying, but the fact of it.

the dream, mocked to death by the university, is still a dream
In the Reorder of Things: The University and the Pedagogies of Minority Difference, Roderick Ferguson:
“the academy is not simply an entity that socializes people into the ideologies of political economy” but “an institution that socializes state and capital into emergent articulations of difference.”

which is no longer exactly like
what in 1865 began as the work of setting “death” on the other side

death is already a figure that comes to fill in for non-existence
a figure that affirms difference in order to erase it

In 2012, Stefano Harney and Fred Moten ask in “The University and the Undercommons”: “What is the price of refusing to be either for the Universitas or for professionalization, to be critical of both, and who pays that price?”

Harney and Moten imply: labor pays the price, labor developed
in a particular way, universally, labor that occupies a stage of “self-incurred minority”
a Kantian term, pays the price, but there is more:
work as an experience of difference, of non-existence, is the price paid.

President Kaler, a couple of weeks ago: 
“I think it makes the environment a little bit more sterile in the sense that it’s more homogeneous and less individualistic. I had my last meal at the Village Wok a few weeks ago, and I had my first meal there in 1978. Those places have been an important part of our community for a long time. I hope that as the new spaces are developed … that some of those businesses can come back into that newer space and provide the same kind of food and opportunities…”

in the late blue   in the burnt out
looking for longer lines

Longing, a public art installation set in place by artists Jennifer Newsom and Tom Carruthers, a.k.a. Dream the Combine, last year. a suspended walkway, in view of the grain silos, at the north end of stadium village.

From the Artists’ Statement: “Using two inward-facing, 10′ x 15′, moveable mirrors suspended at either end of the skyway from a tensegrity supported gimbal, Longing creates a visually infinite environment that bridges toward distant horizons.”

before the sun reaches the pines
the pines are full of blue-tailed 
woodpeckers.    say there's nothing
else there and say you knew it all
along. where would you go
with everything else?

there are other ways to find stillness
and still, and yet--
a strangeness you might never wake from
persistent thoughts
and annihilation
say there's no other way
to take care of, to be taken care of
except to circle in on that

there’s bad infinity, and good—
Longing presents what is good, about infinity
how endlessness cannot be seen without illusion

how the draw cannot be explained.
from the other side     only unreal.

the dry needles hang, having fallen
in other trees as well,
and have the feeling of being after.
there's no way to turn the bad
into good. it takes something else.

the universal in ruins

by night what becomes evident is this:
you cannot go back tomorrow

there’s a small square in your head
not literally a gland but something quilted
purple steel and always shifting

a glimpse of your own non-existence
a staring into your own non-existence, indulgent,
glittery with absence, then not even that

moving up in the university
like swiftly walking down ever smoother hallways
only one thing does not recede

only one thing becomes perceptible here

that there is no talk of non-existence here, of Longing
everyone acts like it just doesn’t happen
like non-existence just doesn’t doesn’t just happen

in the high rises constructing themselves up
around campus there will be rooms in the highest floors
and floors within those rooms
where no one will ask why are we here?

Kaler from the president’s office, on the top floor of Morrill Hall: “But, at the end of the day … they become an attractive nuisance. We have urban explorers that think climbing the fences and going into those buildings is a good past time. I don’t want to own a grain elevator that somebody died in. I think the best thing to be done for several reasons is to take them down.”

A good past time.
So it’s really this: if you don’t want to own a grain elevator
that somebody has died in, take it down.
take down a grain elevator that somebody has died in so that you don’t have to own it. take it down and build a 27-story studio-to-luxury apartment complex that no one will ever think to fall from. that no one will ever want to die in. that non-existence will never be thought in.

espresso exposé, village wok, bun mi sandwiches: goodbye.
in the shadow of the grave silo
you are something that stands by
an attractive nuisance bought and sold in the heights of another high.

Somebody has died here too.

I don’t want to own a university that somebody has had the thought of death in.
let death, let non-existence never be a thought.

slow dying is the university in ruins
but non-existence, the ontological state of the university precedes this dying

Derrida in “The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of Its Pupils”: “From now on, so long as it has the means, a military budget can invest in anything at all, in view of deferred profits: “basic” scientific theory, the humanities, literary theory and philosophy.”

but maybe not non-existence.
if non-existence is a kind of infinite regress, a totality not so much full
as empty of everything, the total environment of real abstraction,
it’s this that both the investment and its logic cheapens.

dividing & deferring, the logic of profits:

Kaler, on the use of University money to pay half a million dollars in legal fees to demonstrate the difference between professors and professionals: “The legal fees are not coming from tuition and state money. The legal fees were paid from an account that contains those monies. It’s a little bit like a checkbook. You write a check and then you reconcile where the funds should come from. Tuition or state money will not be used for those legal fees. They are paid from other sources of revenue for the institution…. You reconcile each item in the account as you review to close the books and then you assign money from an appropriate source to pay the appropriate bill.”
who pays the price? those who experience non-existence in the eyes of the university.

Students who called for the University of Minnesota to: 1) Treat College Education as a Public Good 2) Grant Immediate Free Tuition for American Indian Students 3) Demand President Kaler's Immediate Resignation 4) Divest from Black Rock Investment Portfolio.

When Roderick Ferguson writes, “Contrary to the idea that the lower faculties internalize the elements of a preexistent and fully formed state, the lower faculties internalize the interests of government only after they have articulated those interests for the state and its constituents,” he gets to the reason why the half million dollars spent by the university to enforce the division of faculties is not about labor, or the power of labor (although, parenthetically, it’s also about this) but about work.

the point of the division is to diminish regulative experience—experiences of difference, of work, of non-existence—that articulate interests “for the state and its constituents,” experience that is the experience of what Moten and Harney call the “self-incurred minority” and that they list as follows:

"Maroon communities of composition teachers, mentorless graduate students, adjunct Marxist historians, out or queer management professors, state college ethnic studies departments, closed-down film programs, visa-expired Yemeni student newspaper editors, historically black college sociologists, and feminist engineers."

the point of the university—whose transparency, the transparency on view in yet another skyway on campus, has become/has always been unbearable— the point of the division is to diminish regulative experiences of work that refuse an experience of identity over difference and to reduce such experiences to an identity that is manageable.

deciding what gets to be a piece and what gets to be a side
versus either being a piece and how
or being a side and how is the undertaking of academic work inside Longing

still, then what? an array
of what is inaudible and nothing else

no one wants to call that being
being in the middle of it all
and the end of every branch--
that's where things get hairy,
tiny leaves uniformly displayed before
become furled, multiply inexplicably
take on shapes not otherwise seen,
further back. it oozes, trickles, seeps,
before it flows. but even in 
receding, the lines have already 
been lost, the pines' daybreak 
gives glimpse. but who would
take those moments     you'd have to be
crazy to take those moments
because you'd have to take them
as if they were all that's there.
as if they were all there.

before internalizing interest, before being invested in, the experience of this regulative act
is an impossibility, according to the Kantian system, as it is, according to the university.

It is something that does not exist.

But does this mean it is non-existent? Siegel talks of the “interest in the view,” which signals an investment in the view “precisely for being the place of death, the place where death can be safely located, because that place is not ‘here’ in the university.” But what is put here, what is it that comes “before” this articulation of interest in the view of death? Siegel, in an ambiguous phrase several lines later: “notions of absence arising within work.”

To which, we could just ask, why? we can see why it is this from which profits are derived, and see how escape in the form of a sublime view, a glance out a window, across a bridge, is already a way that the university “socializes state and capital into emergent articulations of difference.” It oozes, trickles, seeps, before it flows, Césaire said of the “barbarism” of colonialism becoming Nazism—once the engulfment happens, it’s as if it becomes impossible to see the countless ways in which “emergent articulations of difference” were deployed—and not just the “countless ways,” but even worse: that they were deployed at all. Not raising the question of non-existence converges here with covering tracks. Academic work that takes up the regress, the illusive infinity, the non-existence of the page upon which work is done, the work of writing, of thinking, may or may not think about itself as destructive, but that it’s self-destructive, it seems, we can be pretty sure—in its gesture of not turning away from the “notions of absence” that arise within it.

When were you growing up? Couldn’t that always
be the question no one ever gets asked? And then someone does
and it’s as if it had always been there for the asking.

Just as
someone somewhere
swallows things whole,
suffocates, comes up for air,
keeps seeing what
is there to see, even seeing too much,
where there's too much to see.


Sunday, September 11, 2016


Sometimes the things held are so tiny, it's easy to forget
that there's a smallness of relation you're also holding.
you lose one idea to keep another.


almost daily, it seems all of it could disappear
I can't find the way into the way I want to see things, now.


The university in ruins/visited by
over-abundance, the redundancy


oh, so, really? you wait to be told something you don't know.
and yet everything is something you don't know. every minute
that passes, a tidbit of once what was thought
disappears. next door, everything appears so generally that the edge
also seems immaterial, as in, non-constative.


if there's a trend responsible for the demise of the university already in ruins,
it social constructivism, its dispensing with the thought of the regulative.


what kind of risk is a silence that doesn't appear to risk anything? doesn't appear to risk
least of all its breaking from that ground of over-abundance/the spoiled, the in ruins?


risking that silence is grounds to not be admitted, with one's flocculated words,
from out of hiding. and knowing you might never find what you're looking for,
and that no one there might find it either. still, you risk this, even if some people might ask why
you find yourself without answer


a little bit, save refrain, for thought.
in scope, in scale, scapes not returning.


if you can't tell the size of what you're looking at, hold it up to something/
hold it up against something. sometimes what you're holding is so tiny,
not even this helps, not even this tells you anything. magnification does nothing.


even syntax is misleading, though at first, it seems it could hold/
could hold whatever there is. but there, too, indeterminacy turns to overdetermination,
and it's gone. and you are just where you were all along.

Friday, September 2, 2016

as in, parts

"The exchange from part to whole generates wholes that turn out to be only parts."
--Paul de Man, "Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant"

In Adorno's writing on damaged life, guilt—the “context of guilt” [Schuldzusammenhang]—is understood as constitutive of postwar society.[1] This phrase, which he uses in the lectures on Metaphysics, noting that “all culture shares the guilt of society [alle Kultur am Schuldzusammenhang der Gesellschaft teilhat]” (153), is key to thinking about how experiences of guilt becomes rewritten according to a model of complicity that functions as the predominant mode of figuring postwar European subjectivity. Even if it is the case that all culture shares in the “context of guilt,” by which Adorno refers to the inextricability of culture and barbarism, there is yet another question here, of how the European subject comes to know this inextricability, which is also a matter of how guilt is experienced. Adorno figures this as a problem of practical knowledge rather than aesthetic experience; insofar as they can be seen via the aesthetic problem of representation, artistic works share this problem of being imbricated in a barbarism they also seek to rise above. In Adorno’s description, culture’s “taking part” in society’s “context of guilt” phrases the latter as given and the former as acting upon it, the latter as a “crime,” and the former as a crime of the second order, of complice. The more colloquial phrasing Adorno uses through these lectures and his lectures on moral philosophy, about how to live a good life in a bad world, is a translation of this scenario. What kind of “good life” one might lead is not a problem Adorno or theorists of compicity take up, rather, the problem is dealing with the apparent necessity of dissolving the terms of the relation of inextricability—a problem for practical knowledge, echoed in aesthetic works. But if culture and society relate to one another through these logics of consumption and sustenance, which may—though do not necessarily need to—lead to an understanding of the social “context [Zusammenhang],” terms of extricability are also equally evident. Although they often get parsed as impossible “in reality”—in the sense that, we could say, it is impossible to isolate one’s psychic reality from social reality, and so forth (even though the obverse, that social reality can be imagined as separate from psychic reality, is often not just possible, but the dominant explanation)—such relations of extricability make it possible to think about how compelling the imagination of oneself as part rather than limit is. In their social untenability, such relations make it possible to think about spaces and cultural experiences that open under what might be called the aesthetic problem of sublimation, in which the relief afforded by state change, as in being able to make this distinction between part and limit, is not available, for one reason or another, including that defenses come to been seen as entirely necessary. The aesthetic problem of sublimation pertains to the illusiveness of the representation’s mediating determination about the kinds of state changes that go into the constitution of a dynamic that becomes construed as necessary, as between culture and barbarism, addressing the extent to which the achievement of the aesthetic is a negotiation of the availability of a perspective as part in contrast to as limit of the Zusammenhang of society. The problem of sublimation acknowledges a constraint on one’s ability to negotiate this perspective, as when the bad world described by Adorno seems not just bad, but as W.R.D Fairbairn might say, “unconditionally bad”—in other words, perhaps not “there” at all. In such a world, the terms and concrete conditions of the “guilt context” of society are apparently so diffuse and vast that everything seems to be a part; poetic modes that point out minute distinctions between sustenance and destruction challenge the idea that what can be used to explain them is actually there. If culture is not just a part of the guilt context of society but one of its limits, part of its task—which Adorno also recognizes and to which he assigns the task of art—is to resist the totalizing context of guilt. Left off, however, is the experience of culture as the expression of this limit, an experience of guilt that is extricable to the extent that it is non-utile. For it is preferable to think of what one “cannot do” when one imagines oneself as a part of the good world, and this is the perspective that complicity always produces; this is what it means, in Adorno’s world, to live (or not) the “good life.” It is preferable, only when one glimpses the alternative, ideas about forms of inaction that are not enough in a bad world—for here, where everything is dissatisfying and/or absent, what can possibly be enough? Only in this scape does asserting what is given assume a certain risk, as also it takes place in relation to what is lost; only here does it mean something to say that there is a there, there.

Adorno’s concern with the adequation of culture to society leads to his 1955 essay “Guilt and Defense,” a qualitative summary of the findings of the Frankfurt School’s Gruppenexperiment, which surveyed Germans about conflicts present in accepting responsibility for Nazism. Adorno describes an “intermediate layer” of “transsubjective elements” that he imagines as a “subjective social-psychological disposition” (52) that spans social and psychological, ultimately explaining how it would be possible for individuals to take responsibility for their part in the context of guilt. If the “transsubjective” means to point to one’s implication in social institutions and discourses, it can be seen as a solution that also holds in place a certain dynamic between guilt and complicity, and maintains a set of assumptions about part/whole relations, more generally. Adorno describes this dynamic in the following way:
Instead, it is most often a matter of trying to reconcile one’s own excessive identification with the collective to which one belongs with the knowledge of the crime: one denies or minimizes this knowledge so that one does not lose the possibility of identifying with the collective to which one belongs, which is the only thing that psychologically allows countless people to overcome the unbearable feeling of their own powerlessness. (53)
Here, Adorno positions the “unbearable feeling of…powerlessness” as that against which a certain tension between identification with a collective and knowledge of a crime defends. As Adorno argues, “identifying with the collective to which one belongs” is preferable to feeling powerless in committing a crime, and this amounts to the difference between living in a conditionally bad versus an unconditionally bad world, a world, which Fairbairn describes as a world ruled by god versus one ruled by the devil.[2] Denial or minimization is read as a defense that allows for identification and the feeling of belonging, and that ultimately protects people from experiencing the “unbearable feeling of their own powerlessness.” This dynamic of complicity, in which such a denial or minimization of knowledge secures a feeling of belonging, has the secondary but perhaps more significant function of holding away an experience of guilt that might come upon one as the feeling of this powerlessness. While we can glimpse, from Adorno’s perspective, the threat posed to the coherence of society by this guilt or powerlessness, we can also see that in his work, the maintenance of the dialectic, including the dialectic of civilization and barbarism—another iteration of the dynamic between the “possibility of identifying with a collective” and “knowledge of the crime”—serves a conservative function, in still protecting the idea of civilization [Kultur] against a more damaging idea about the guilt of society.[3] If the transsubjective refers to these relations of complicity that are secured within the dialectic, the experience of guilt, as a feeling unprotected from this badness, is a nonsubjective registration of the environment of destructiveness. One way of thinking about the contrast in modes I am trying to articulate might be to think about experiences of guilt as the loss of a registration of what is “whole” or total about society—it might be to indicate a realm of experiences in which one’s idea of oneself and others follows more closely a model of relations between part objects than between subject and objects. Experiencing relations as between part objects might be another way of thinking about not being able to afford the relief offered by state change—state changes that pertain to the shifting of attachment and investment (of instinct, for Freud), as for example, involved in experiencing oneself as part of society, or as belonging to it, rather than as a limit. The experience of European subjectivity in the postwar articulates the aesthetic problem of sublimation; there is no insight into or knowledge of destructiveness that can be used to negotiate the relation between one’s part and one’s limit, between one’s experience as a human [menschliches] subject and one’s experience as a metaphysical [metaphysiches] subject. Paul de Man’s reading of Kant’s location of aesthetic judgment as the mediation of pure reason and practical reason pushes in the direction of thinking about conditions that maintain the irreconcilability of these experiences. While it becomes clear that for certain subjects this means the re-entrenchment of an impossible politics of reparation, which counts on establishing not just lyric works but the artwork as a vehicle for change, what is far less clear is what is desirable about situations of imperceptible state change, or when what is desired is the obscuring of change. In much the same way, it’s always clear what sublimation, in its traditional sense as the shifting of instinctual energy from sexual to non-sexual, makes representable, though it’s far less clear what theories of sublimation have to say about how the logic of change governs ideas of the scapes that (part) objects find themselves in.

[1] In his lectures on Metaphysics, Adorno uses the phrase in this way: “all culture shares the guilt of society [alle Kultur am Schuldzusammenhang der Gesellschaft teilhat]” (153).
[2] See W.R.D. Fairbairn, “The Return and Repression of Bad Objects,” page 66-67.
[3] Consider Michael Rothberg’s distinction between guilt and complicity, for example, which I disagree with, in Multidirectional Memory: “The concept of complicity offers a way of thinking about the iterations of the face that neither transcends race and racism, nor subsumes all of the figures into identical subject positions as racist perpetrators. The rhetoric of complicity suggests both a form of binding and a degree of distance: to be complicit is to be responsible (bound to certain events, processes, or people),” but it is not identical to begin guilty. Complicity suggests an ethical binding distinct from legal guilt…[t]o be complicit, as opposed to being guilty, implies at least a minimal distance from the center of events” (250).”

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

softly dying world

soft death the dying that is what
takes place between one moment and another
between the dark times and the postwar

a moment in which it is impossible to think
either of these as not being there
so that dark times and postwar
merge and nothing else emerges
even though there is something else there
where we are

there where
in this domesticated swell
the land—because what is not
clips forward
paces itself out
over all the years

in Minnesota, anywhere,
people look away
from the sides of the road
these minor escarpments
their dearthed insides
and wild overflower
falling forever

in the what is not at all rare
in the enabling to fall
think about how softly the whole thing
takes place, has taken place
the falling off
the falling into
the falling away

the fall out

the falling without
feeling the falling forever

Thursday, July 14, 2016

July 3, 2016

ecotonal innards

flattened squirrels

it's not that hot but
everyone says it is

minnesota, good city

all kind of withdrawal
sigh your little sigh

what else, but without end, to feel--
you might as well stop

the bad world, the one we live in:
no one sees it as such. sigh your
little sigh. the neighborhood blasts

how could they not be? how could they be anything other than
the blasts this week in Dhaka, Istanbul, Baghdad

coming home to roost?

living at the poles, it's possible to feel
you've no part in them, in any of it, except all of it

if you take words in your mouth, they'll likely come back up again
as ether

thistle troves rarefied--

anyone who lives after
may also mistake the airs

of this midsummer flowering
(sentient nostalgia, what else?)

for the descent of cluster flies