July 20th, 2008

Notes on Notes on Notes

The notes I take in books have become increasingly minimal over the past two decades. I blame technological change. Because I stopped writing directly in books around 1990 or so, whatever I inscribe must fit onto something I affix to the page. Originally, I used the classic yellow Post-It notes, often to great excess. I have one copy of Moby Dick that I notated so overzealously that the pages are almost impossible to separate. Then I discovered tape flags, another fine 3M product. I liked the fact that they didn't tear or detach easily. And I welcomed the discipline of compressing my commentary onto the transparent portion of the notes, which has the added virtue of assuring that the referent is clear, since my text refers to the portion of text it adjoins. Now, however, those large tape flags have become an endangered species and I have been forced to switch to the narrower sort, which cost a lot less but only provide enough room to write two or three words.

Sometimes I will pick up one of my older books, the sort festooned with Post-Its, and, in the effort to read it with fresh eyes, remove my commentary. I'm doing that with my first copy of Pierre Bourdieu's Distinction right now, which is filled with examples of what I was thinking about in 1993. Because I don't want to lose the labor that went into those Post-Its, I am transcribing them for posterity. It's an exhausting undertaking, but one that I would feel terrible to forsake. And at least there's the promise of a document at the end, however cryptic without the text it refers to, that can be used to transport myself back in time. Here are some Post-It notes I logged back in 2002, which date from around the same time as the ones I made on Distinction:
From Brian Wallis, editor, Art After Modernism: Rethinking Representation (Boston: David Godine, 1984)

[ALL NOTES ON POST-ITS UNLESS OTHERWISE INDICATED]

1) Robert Hughes, “The Rise of Andy Warhol” (45-57)

[NOTES COME FROM PREPARATIONS FOR BAD SUBJECTS “WIRED?” PIECE FROM ISSUE #10, FALL 1993]
• 49m: Note equation of Warhol and a TV, mention of his “mysterious circuitry”
• 52t: “Roughly silkscreened, full of slips” like “sleazy color of TV”
• 53t: I’m offended by the dis of (German) Marxists, but actually I’d have to agree in a way (since that’s the substance of my critique)
• 55t "Bleeding out a good deal of information from the image by reducing it to monochrome , and then printing it over a fudgy background of decorative color, applied with a wide, loaded brush to give the impression of verve” -- no relation to background
2 Frederic Jameson, “Progress versus Utopia; or Can We Imagine the Future” (239-252)

[NOTE MUST COME FROM BERLIN: SYMPHONY OF A GREAT CITY PAPER PREPARATION, CIRCA FALL 1992 OR SPRING 1993]
• 240t (Two adjoining tape flags w/o comment, perhaps added later than 1993): The paragraph in question concerns the equivalent to the “master fantasy” of progress
• 245t: Key to Benjamin on Moscow = Visiting new city, land makes us see things, ‘slip’ on the suddenly impermeable materiality of ‘daily’ existence (water into ice). Sci-Fi (244) and Raymond Chandler (245) similarly make present (in manner of all good art? -- Russian Formalists) ‘strange’, make it, therefore, ‘appear’
3) Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power” (417-432)

[NOTES COME FROM PREPARATIONS FOR BAD SUBJECTS “WIRED?” PIECE FROM ISSUE #10, FALL 1993]
• 419t, Paragraph #3: Props to Frankfurt School
• 419t Paragraph #4: How Foucault is different: local analysis of different fields, i.e. where Frankfurt School totalized /was general, he’ll not be
• 420t, Paragraph #3: A privileging of ‘immediate’ struggles seems to be at work here -- i.e. not looking for the ‘chief enemy’ (like ‘capitalism’) but immediate enemies… though there are problems w/this for me, obviously, I do see benefits to learning what ‘immediate enemies’ are
• 420t, Paragraph #3: No ‘final’ liberation, ‘revolution’ -- ‘anarchistic struggles’ (Foucault seems to be privileging them, aiding my point about him and anarchism)
• 420m, Paragraph #4: Don’t see things being so utopian -- see our Bad Subjects critique of a certain kind of multiculturalism
• 421m: Foucault invokes Renaissance -- chatting with Greenblatt???
• 421b: State’s power is “both an individualizing and a totalizing form of power”
• 424t, Paragraph #2: Task might now be to refuse ‘who we are’ -- refusing totalization/individualization double-bind
• 424m, Paragraph #4: ‘Prefer not’ = shades of Bartleby in this refusal (paragraph #2)?! (‘Tho it’s a different article!)
• 424m, Paragraph #4: Not questioning nature of power -- I agree, but does Foucault question his own -- electrical -- metaphorics of power?
• 425t: ‘Power’ relations can’t be reduced merely to “relationships of communication” [SUPPLEMENTARY NOTE, 2002: Habermas is the target here, as indicated by the footnote] -- “power relations have a specific nature”
• 426b, Last Two Paragraphs: A Marxist kind of move -- instead of reifying Power “itself”, he states that power is always relational AND “not simply a relationship between partners (i.e. not equal)
• 427t, Paragraph #2: Civilized power hides itself (ME: like beauty in a white noise-drenched post-punk song?) -- power in ‘DRAG’ (Anno’s contribution) -- distinction between power and violence… Power is a set of “actions upon other actions”
• 427b: Re: electrical -- ‘conduct’
• 428t, Paragraph #2: “Power is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free” -- “In this game freedom may well appear as the condition of the exercise of power” -- At “heart” of power relations are “the relationships of the will and the intransigence of freedom”
• 428-9 [A stand-alone Pooh note stuck in these pages]: P.429 and earlier, A.A.M. -- Could Foucault’s ‘intransigence’/’intransitivity’ of freedom be linked to that which alters, distorts the flow of power through itself?? -- Freedom in ‘failure’
• 429b, Last Paragraph: Re: ‘differentiations’ -- “Every relationship of power puts into operation differentiations which are at the same time its conditions and results -- vgl. making of ‘distinctions’ a la Bourdieu (I’m thinking of alternative music here)
• 431b: “It would not be possible for power relations to exist without points of insubordination which, by definition, are means of escape”
• 432: Power relations vs. adversarial relations -- citizens vs. enemies, sort of… Last paragraph is weak
The "Wired?" piece I mentioned in my transcription -- here offered in the Courier version included in a Nettime collection -- was one of my most successful pieces for Bad Subjects, though it has not aged as well as others. I was reading Michel Foucault as a theorist of networked existence, even though he wasn't overtly addressing the concerns of cybernetics. That stuff was in the air for much of the post-World War II era, though, as famous passages in the work of Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida attest. I suppose my implicit argument was that Foucault was mindful of the discourse they invoke, even though he shied away from its terminology. After all, he had a tendency to shy away from most of the dominant intellectual language of his day, as his relation to Marxism indicates. Oh, and I should mention, in light of that "Wired?" piece, that it's funny to remember when a "wireless" experience implied a vacation from computer technology, rather than its deeper penetration of everyday life. These days, "wireless" means you owe them something, to paraphrase a poem that has been running through my head lately.

April 18th, 2008

I don't usually remember my dreams unless I'm getting more sleep than usual. And I'm bad about recording the ones I do remember. I just stumbled upon an entry from a few months ago, though, that I must have written immediately after waking up or, to be more precise, in that state when one is up without being fully conscious. I had no memory of writing this, but can remember the dream it documents with great clarity now that I've read what I wrote:
My super-detailed dream: I'm in a dense conifer forest. I want to say redwood, but it could also be from somewhere further north, with Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce. As I typed that last sentence, though, I got a flash of the color of redwood. Maybe it's just the pine needles. But I'm thinking redwood. Anyway, I'm on the edge of the grove, which seems to be, if not crowded, then certainly with a good number of people in it. Like Muir Woods, perhaps. I look up and there are a bunch of people way high up in a tree. I don't see a platform, though I imagine that there is one. Curious about what the people are doing, I stare up. They seem to be strapping someone in. A young man. It looks like he's going to bungee jump. It seems foolhardy. Still, I look. I raise my camera and set it to the "movie" setting. As he begins his jump, I try to press record but there's a slight delay before the commencing of filming. I've lost the beginning, but get it going in time for the end. The camera angle shifts as I pivot to track his fall, he's going to go right over top of me, perilously close. And then he hits the ground, hard. The cord was too long. Is he dead? It seems likely. I look around, but no one seems to have noticed.
Indeed, I recall the dream so well now that I know my record of it was cut short for some reason. Maybe someone else woke up, depriving me of the focus I needed to finish the entry. Anyway, as the dream continued, I realized that the man who had jumped to his apparent death was still alive, though ambiguously so. Eventually, a crowd did gather around his non-corpse, but its members seemed absurdly relaxed given the circumstances. The light through the trees, bright there at the edge of the forest, gave everything a golden glow of "Whatever, dude." I suppressed my outrage at the lack of visceral response to the injured man's plight. That's when I was woken out of the dream.