Sunday, March 22, 2009

Armond White Profile

from the new york magazine, an excellent profile of the nutty film critic Armond White.

Heidegger on Mood

There is a very interesting discussion of moods in Being and Time. Interesting specially because it is quite different from what we generally think of when we think about moods. In so far as I understood what I read, Heidegger says that mood is not just a cognitive or psychological concept but something much more fundamental ("ontological"). He further says that there is nothing like not being in any mood. If we are in the world we are "always already in the mood."

"Both the undisturbed equanimity and the inhibited discontent of everyday heedfulness, the way we slide over from one to another or slip into bad moods, are by no means nothing ontologically although these phenomena remain unnoticed as what is supposedly the most indifferent and fleeting in Da-sein."

He also uses another word "attunement" for mood which probably makes it easier to understand what he really means. It is through moods that Dasein (that is us) attunes itself with the world. So the lack of mood which we experience in our banal everyday life is exactly what is required to deal with the banalities of life. The mood of angst and intense boredom on the other hand reveal to us our own existence in the world. The banal everyday mood is actually a flight away from the intensity one feels when one is in these moods. Then there is something like "public mood" too, which is again a flight away from authenticity.

We generally try to separate mood from thought, assuming that being in a mood will cloud the way we see and think of the world but as Heidegger says, it is only through moods that we are affected by the world. Unless we are in a mood we will not be affected by anything, nothing will matter. So if you are thinking about the world you have to think through a mood. So I guess scientists have their moods, mathematicians have theirs and philosophers (at least the existential ones) and poets of course have angst.

Keeping with the tone of the rest of the book Heidegger doesn't offer any prescriptions (of how we can be in more control of mood swings) but I guess heightened self-awareness (and the same of people around oneself) of moods will be of some help in this.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Desperate Reader

Another excerpt from The Savage Detectives. I think I am a cool-headed reader but I definitely prefer literature of desperation, books "full of sharp instruments" much more than books which are "carefully thought-out" or "technically perfect"....

Joaquim Font, El Reposo Mental Health Clinic, Camino Deserto de los Leones, on the outskirts of Mexico City DF, January 1977

There are books for when you're bored. Plenty of them. There are books for when you're calm. The best kind, in my opinion. There are also books for when you are sad. And then there're books for when you are happy. There are books for when you're thirsty for knowledge. And there are books for when you're desperate. The latter are the kind of books Ulises Lima and Belano wanted to write. A serious mistake, as we'll soon see. Let's take, for example, an average reader, a cool-headed, mature, educated man leading a more or less healthy life. A man who buys books and literary magazines. So there you have him. This man can read things that are written for when you're calm, but he can also read any other kind of book with a critical eye, dispassionately, without absurd or regrettable complicity. That's how I see it. I hope I'm not offending anyone. Now let's take the desperate reader, who is presumably the audience for the literature of desperation. What do we see? First: the reader is an adolescent or an immature adult, insecure, all nerves. He's the kind of fucking idiot (pardon my language) who committed suicide after reading Werther. Second: he's a limited reader. Why limited? That's easy: because he can only read the literature of desperation, or books for the desperate, which amounts to the same thing, the kind of person or freak who's unable to read all the way through In Search of Lost Time, for example, or The Magic Mountain ( a paradigm of calm, serene, complete literature, in my humble opinion), or for that matter, Les Miserables or War and Peace. Am I making myself clear? Good. So I talked to them, told them, warned them, alerted them to the dangers they were facing. It was like talking to a wall. Furthermore: desperate readers are like the California gold mines. Sooner or late they're exhausted! Why? It's obvious! One can't live one's whole life in desperation. In the end body rebels, the pain becomes unbearable, lucidity gushes out in great cold spurts. The desperate reader (and especially the desperate poetry reader, who is insufferable, believe me) ends up turning away from books. Inevitably he ends up becoming just plain desperate. Or he's cured! And then as part of the regenerative process, he returns slowly - as if wrapped in swaddling clothes, as if under a rain of dissolved sedatives - he returns, as I was saying, to a literature written for cool, serene readers, with their heads set firmly on their shoulders. This is what's called (by me, if nobody else) the passage from adolescence to adulthood. And by that I don't mean that once someone has become a cool-headed reader he no longer reads books written for desperate readers. Of course he reads them! Especially if they're good or decent or recommended by a friend. But ultimately, they bore him! Ultimately that literature of resentment, full of sharp instruments and lynched messiahs, doesn't pierce his heart the way a calm page, a carefully thought-out page, a technically perfect does. I told them so. I warned them. I showed them the technically perfect page. I alerted them to the dangers. Don't exhaust the vein! Humility! Seek oneself, lose oneself in strange lands! But with a guiding line, with bread crumbs or white pebbles! And yet I was mad, driven mad by them, by my daughters, by Laura Damian, and so they didn't listen.

"steady drip of intellectual menses"

A truly eye-popping phrase which cracked me up!

A short extract from "The Savage Detectives", this is one of the narrators talking about a poet's manifesto for "Mexican Actualist Avant-garde"(!) More when I am done with the book...

"I exert all the young poets, painters, and sculptors of Mexico, those who have yet to be tainted by the coffered gold of government sinecures, those who have yet to be corrupted by the crooked praise of official criticism and the applause of a crass and concupiscent public , those who have yet to lick the plates of the culinary celebrations of Enrique Gonzalez martinez , I exert all of them to make art with the steady drip of their intellectual menses. All those of good faith, all those who haven't crumbled in the sad, mephitic efflorescence of our nationalist media with its stink of pulquerias and the dying embers of fried food, all are exerted in the name of Mexican actualist avant-garde to come and fight alongside us in the resplendent ranks of the decouvert..."

the narrator says that "exert" might be a printer's error and wonders if he really meant exhort!