Saturday, 29 May 2004

From Blake's annotations to Reynold's Discourses

Blake: Reynolds's opinion was that Genius May be Taught, and that all Pretence to Inspiration is a Lie and a Deceit, to say the least of it. For if it is a Deceit the whole Bible is Madness. This opinion originates in the Greeks calling the Muses Daughters of Memory.

The Enquiry in England is not whether a Man has Talents and Genius! But whether he is Passive and Poetic and a Virtuous Ass, and obedient to Noblemen's Opinions in Art and Science. If he is, he is a Good Man: if Not, he must be Starved.

To: "After so much has been done by His Majesty, &c."

Blake: 3 Farthings.

To: "Raffael, it is true, had not the advantage of studying in an Academy but all Rome, and the works of Michael Angelo in particular, were to him an Academy. On the sight of the Capella Sistina, he immediately from a dry Gothick, and even insipid manner, which attends to the minute accidental discriminations of particular and individual objects, assumed that grand style of painting which improves partial representation by the general and invariable ideas of nature."

Blake: Minute Discrimination is not Accidental. All Sublimity is founded on Minute Discrimination.

I do not believe that Eafael taught Mich. Angelo, or that Mich. Ang. taught Rafael, any more than I believe that the Rose teaches the Lily how to grow, or the Apple tree teaches the Pear tree how to bear Fruit. I do not believe the tales of Anecdote when they militate against Individual Character.

To: "I would chiefly recommend that an implicit obedience to the Rules of Art, as established by the practice of the Great Masters, should be exacted from the young Students. That those Models, which have passed through the approbation of ages, should be considered by them as perfect and infallible guides; as subjects for their imitation, not their criticism."

Blake: Imitation is criticism.

(On a page on the importance of directing the studies of youth at first to what is substantially necessary for their artistic knowledge, lest they should pick up brilliant and superficial tricks early on, and not have the courage to go back afterwards, and learn essentials.)

To: "A facility in composing ... a masterly handling ... are captivating qualities to young minds."

Blake: I consider the following sentence is Supremely Insolent, for the following Reasons: — Why this Sentence should begin by the words, A Facility in composing, I cannot tell, unless it was to cast a stigma upon Real Facility in composition by assimilating it with a Pretence to and Imitation of Facility in Execution. Or are we to understand him to mean that Facility in composing is a Frivolous pursuit. A Facility in composing is the Greatest Power of Art, and Belongs to None but the Greatest Artists, the Most Minutely Discriminating and Determinate.

(To the next pages which are about the "useless industry" that makes executants of mere boys with mechanical facility, about its danger as a source of corruption and error as shewn in Foreign Academies, about frivolousness of the ambition of a student who wants to show dashing effect, not to attain exactness — and about a warning against the impetuosity of youth seeking short paths to excellence, and needing to be told that labour is the price of fame, and that however great their genius, there is no easy method for them to become painters.)

Blake: Mechanical Excellence is the only Vehicle of Genius.
This is all False and Self-Contradictory.
Execution is the Chariot of Genius.
This is all Self-Contradictory; Truth and Falsehood Jumbled Together.

To: "When we read the lives of the most eminent Painters, every page informs us that no part of their time was spent in dissipation. They pursued their studies ..."

Blake: The Lives of Painters say that Rafael Died of Dissipation. Idleness is one Thing and Dissipation is Another. He who has Nothing to Dissipate Cannot Dissipate. The Weak Man may be Virtuous Enough, but will Never be an Artist. Painters are noted for being Dissipated and Wild.

To: "When they (the old masters) conceived a subject, they first made a variety of sketches, then a finished drawing of the whole; after that a more correct drawing of every separate part, — head, hands, feet, and pieces of drapery; they then painted the picture, and after all re-touched it from the life."

Blake (after underlining): This is False.


To: "A Student is not always advancing because he is employed; he must apply his strength to that part of the art where the real difficulties lie. The Students, instead of vying with each other which shall have the readiest hand, should be taught to contend who shall have the purest and most correct outline."

Blake: Excellent.

To: "I must beg to submit to Visitors a matter of very great consequence. The students never draw exactly from the living models which they have before them drawing rather what a figure ought to be than what it appears. This obstacle has stopped the progress of many young men ... I very much doubt whether a habit of drawing correctly what we see will not give a proportionable power of drawing correctly what we imagine."

Blake: This is Admirably Said. Why does he not always allow as much.

To: "He who endeavours to copy nicely the figure before him not only acquires a habit of exactness and precision, but is continually advancing in his knowledge of the human figure."

Blake: Excellent.

Friday, 28 May 2004

From "The Case For Working With Your Hands"

By Matthew B. Crawford.

Contrast the experience of being a middle manager. This is a stock figure of ridicule, but the sociologist Robert Jackall spent years inhabiting the world of corporate managers, conducting interviews, and he poignantly describes the “moral maze” they feel trapped in. Like the mechanic, the manager faces the possibility of disaster at any time. But in his case these disasters feel arbitrary; they are typically a result of corporate restructurings, not of physics. A manager has to make many decisions for which he is accountable. Unlike an entrepreneur with his own business, however, his decisions can be reversed at any time by someone higher up the food chain (and there is always someone higher up the food chain). It’s important for your career that these reversals not look like defeats, and more generally you have to spend a lot of time managing what others think of you. Survival depends on a crucial insight: you can’t back down from an argument that you initially made in straightforward language, with moral conviction, without seeming to lose your integrity. So managers learn the art of provisional thinking and feeling, expressed in corporate doublespeak, and cultivate a lack of commitment to their own actions. Nothing is set in concrete the way it is when you are, for example, pouring concrete.

Wednesday, 26 May 2004

Thursday, 20 May 2004

From Ian Hamilton Finlay

In conversation with Nagy Rashwan.

I really wanted to write concrete poetry but I didn’t know what it was — I had never heard of it.

Saturday, 15 May 2004

From "Traditional and Critical Theory"

By Max Horkheimer.

The internal difficulties in the supreme concepts of Kantian philosophy, especially the ego of transcendental subjectivity, pure or original apperception, and consciousness-in-itself, show the depth and honesty of his thinking. The two-sidedness of these Kantian concepts, that is, their supreme unity and purposefulness, on the one hand, and their obscurity, unknownness, and impenetrability, on the other, reflects exactly the contradiction-filled form of human activity in the modern period. The collaboration of men in society is the mode of existence which reason urges upon them, and so they do apply their powers and thus confirm their own rationality. But at the same time their work and its results are alienated from them, and the whole process with all its waste of work-power and human life, and with its war and all its senseless wretchedness, seems to be an unchangeable force of nature, a fate beyond man's control.

Wednesday, 12 May 2004

From "Negative Dialectics"

By Theodor Adorno.


How objects can be unlocked by their constellaiton is to be learned not so much from philosophy, which took no interest in the matter, as from important scientific investigations. The scientific accomplishment often ran ahead of its philosophical comprehension, ahead of scientivism. And we certainly need not start out from a work's own content, in line with such metaphysical inquiried as Benjamin's "Origin of German Tragedy" which take the very concept of truth for a constellation [...] We must go back to a scholar of so positivistic a bent as Max Weber, who did -- quite in the sense of subjectivist epistemology -- understand "ideal types" as aids in approaching the object, devoid of any inherent substantiality and capable of being reliquefied at will. But as in all nominalism, however insignificant it may consider its concepts, some of the nature of the thing will come through and extend beyond the benefit to our thinking practice -- not the least of our motivations for criticizing an unreflected nominalism! -- so are Weber's material works far more object-directed than the South-West German methodology would lead us to expect.

Actually the concept is sufficient reason for the thing [...] insofar as the exploration of a social object, at least, is falsified if confined to dependencies within its domain, to dependencies that have established the object, and if its determination by the totality is ignored. Without the supraordinated concept, those dependencies conceal the most real among them, the dependence on society; and this dependence is not to be adequately compensated by the individual res which the concept covers. Yet it appears through the individual alone, and thus the concept in turn is transformed in specific cognition. When Weber, in his treatise on Protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism, raised the question of defining capitalism, he -- in contrast with current scientific practice -- was as well aware of the difficulty of defining historical concepts as previously only philosophers had been: Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche. He explicitly rejected the delimiting procedure of definition, the adherence to the scheme genus proximum, differentia specifica [...] and asked instead that sociological concepts be "gradually composed" from "individual parts to be taken from historic realit. The place of definitive conceptual comprehension cannot, therefore, be the beginning of the inquiry, only the end."

[...] Whether such a definition is always necessary at the end -- or whether, even without a formal definitory result, what Weber calls "composing" can be equal to his epistemological goal -- remains unsettled. Definitions are not the be-all and end-all of cognition, as popular scientivism holds; but neither are they to be banished. A thinking whose course made us incapable of definition, unable even for moments to have a succinct language represent the thing, would be as sterile, probably, as a thinking gorged with verbal definitions. More essential, however, is that to which Weber gives the name of "composing," a name which orthodox scientists would find unacceptable. He is indeed looking only at the subjective side, at cognitive procedure; but the "compositions" in question are apt to follow similar rules as their analogue, the musical compositions. These are subjectively produced, but they work only here the subjective production is submerged in them. The subjectively created context -- the "constellation" -- becomes readable as sign of an objectivity: of thte spiritual substance.

What resembles writing in such constellations is the conversion into objectivity, by way of language, of what has been subjectively thought and assembled. This element is not one of Max Weber's themes, but even a procedure as indebted as his is to the traditional ideal and theory of science does not lack it. The most mature of his works seem at times to suffer from a glut of verbal definitions borrowed from jurisprudence, but a close look will show that these are more than definitions. They are not mere conceptual fixations. Rather, by gathering concepts round the central one that is sought, they attempt to express what that concept aimms at, not to circumscribe it to operative ends. The concept of capitalism, for instance, which is so crucial in every respect is emphatically set off by Weber from such isolated and subjective categories as acquisitiveness or the profit motive -- in a manner similar to Marx's, by the way. In capitalism, says Weber, the oft-cited profit motive must take its bearings from the principle of lucrativity and from the market chances,; it must utilize the calculation of capial and interest; organized in the form of free labor, with household and business expenses separated, capitalism necessitates bookkeeping and a rationalistic legal system in line with its pervasive governing principle of rationality at large.

The completeness of this list remains in doubt. We have to ask, in particular, whether Weber's stress on rationality, his disregarding of the class relation that reproduces itself by way of the barter of equivalents, will not as a mere method equate capitalism too much with its "spirit" -- although that barter and its problematics would certainly be unthinkable without rationality. But the capitalist system's increasingly integrative trend, the fact that its elements entwine into a more and more total context of functions, is precisely what makes the old question about the cause -- as opposed to the constellation -- more and more precarious. We need no epistemological critique to make us pursue constellations; the search for them mis forced upon us by the real course of history. In Weber's case the constellations take the place of systematics, which one liked to tax him with lacking, and this is what proves his thinking to be a third possibility beyond the alternative of positivism and idealism.

From "Negative Dialectics"

By Theodor Adorno.

We can no more reduce dialectics to reification than we can reduce it to any other isolated category, however polemical. The cause of human suffering, meanwhile, will be glossed over rather than denounced in the lament about reification. The trouble is with the conditions that condemn mankind to impotence and apathy and would yet be changeable by human action; it is not primarily with people and with ethe way conditions appear to people. Considering the possibility of total disaster, reification is an epiphenomenon, and even more so is the alienation coupled with reification, the subjective state of consciousness that corresponds to it. Alienation is reproduced by anxiety; consciousness -- reified in the already constituted society -- is not the constituens of anxiety. If a man looks upon thingness as radical evil, if he would like to dynamize all entity into pure actuality, he tends to be hostile to otherness, to the alien thing that has lent its name to alienation, and not in vain. He tends to that nondientity which would be the deliverance, not of consciousness alone, but of reconciled mankind. Absolute dynamics, on the other hand, would be that absolute action whose violent satisfaction lies in itself, the action in which nonidentity is abused as mere occasion.

Monday, 10 May 2004

From "It's the Spork Valley All-Stars"

By Chris Goode.

For fifteen years I cut the clothes
off young offenders who wouldn't consent to be
strip-searched. Daily I checked their rectums for
contraband, swabbed their intimate mouthparts
for traces of DNA. All this
without one syllable of thanks, despite
these interventions being strictly speaking
without my remit as a dance instructor.
On a Tuesday morning when the crows were high,
and the milk was fresh from the cow, and all
was serene and buxom and bountiful,
I died of the Traveling Wilburys.

Clouds the colour of buttermilk. Watercress
grass and indistinct bluebirds and no
sweat and a load of stuff that I think was
Muji, maybe. But something was calling me
back. A voice, a thread. A hunch. Not
yet, it said. Not yet.

So I wasn’t dead. But the next day, just my
luck, I died again, of a sudden clap.
And the day after that it was yellow adrenal
vanity. Then it was princess lesions.
Penitent bargepole. Humpty the Huggable
Cod. I died of everything I thought of.
I wonder if I’ll die of the planks. Oh I have. Oh,
something’s calling me back. I died
of widdershins limb. I died of the creeping
vague. I died of the lark in the clear
air. I died of kerching. I died of the plopsy.

I died and I died, I died and died
and I died and I died and died.
And my dog died. And I died and I died
and I died and I died, and my wife was poorly.
Dying at last, I died, and the following
morning, parting the curtains and smelling
the Bovril, I found my life and my appetites
quite restored, and went for a brisk
emphatic stroll, and died twice. And I died
and died, and I grieved for my dog, who I think
I’ve already mentioned had died, and I too
died, and my wife was vomiting, vomiting.
I, poor sap, could barely keep up
with my deaths, it was so repetitious, I died
and I died, God’s knob, I was bored. I hiccupped
and died. And my wife ascended to doggy
heaven, all covered in sick and marrow,
though she was not quite dead, but by this time
we were all way past caring.

The Communication Workers’ strike was entering
its fifteenth day, and the oceans boiled in their cups.

Sunday, 9 May 2004

From "One-Dimensional Man"

By Herbert Marcuse.

Is it still necessary to denounce the ideology of the "managerial revolution?" Capitalist production proceeds through the investment of private capital for the private extraction and appropriation of surplus value, and capital is a social instrument for the domination of man by man. The essential features of this process are in no way altered by the spread of stock-holding, the separation of ownership from management, etc.

Saturday, 8 May 2004

From "A Fragment on Government"

By Jeremy Bentham.

36. As to the Original Contract, by turns embraced and ridiculed by our Author, a few pages, perhaps, may not be ill bestowed in endeavouring to come to a precise notion about its reality and use. The stress laid on it formerly, and still, perhaps, by some, is such as renders it an object not undeserving of attention. I was in hopes, however, till I observed the notice taken of it by our author, that this chimera had been effectually demolished by Mr HUME. I think we hear not so much of it now as formerly. The indestructible prerogatives of mankind have no need to be supported upon the sandy foundation of a fiction.

37. With respect to this, and other fictions, there was once a time, perhaps, when they had their use. With instruments of this temper, I will not deny but that some political work may have been done, and that useful work, which, under the then circumstances of things, could hardly have been done with any other. But the season of Fiction is now over: insomuch, that what formerly might have been tolerated and countenanced under that name, would, if now attempted to be set on foot, be censured and stigmatized under the harsher appellations of incroachment or imposture. To attempt to introduce any new one, would be now a crime: for which reason there is much danger, without any use, in vaunting and propagating such as have been introduced already. In point of political discernment, the universal spread of learning has raised mankind in a manner to a level with each other, in comparison of what they have been in any former time: nor is any man now so far elevated above his fellows, as that he should be indulged in the dangerous licence of cheating them for their good.


13. I now put an end to the tedious and intricate war of words that has subsisted, in a more particular manner during the course of these two last chapters: a logomachy, wearisome enough, perhaps, and insipid to the reader, but beyond description laborious and irksome to the writer. What remedy? Had there been sense, I should have attached myself to the sense: finding nothing but words; to the words I was to attach myself, or to nothing. Had the doctrine been but false, the task of exposing it would have been comparatively an easy one: but it was what is worse, unmeaning, and thence it came to require all these pains which I have been here bestowing on it: to what profit let the reader judge.

Friday, 7 May 2004

From "Late Capitalism or Industrial Society?"

By Theodor Adorno.

A dialectical theory of society concerns itself with structural laws, which condition the facts, in which it manifests itself and from which it is modified. By structural laws we mean tendencies, which more or less stringently follow the historical constitution of the total system. The Marxist models for this were the law of value, the law of accumulation, the law of economic crisis. Dialectical theory did not intend to turn structures into ordered schematas, which could be applied to sociological findings as completely, continually and non-contradictorily as possible; nor systemizations, but rather the procedures and data of scientific cognition of the already-organized system of society. Such a theory ought least of all to withhold facts from itself, to twist them around according to a thema probandum.


The fetishism of the facts corresponds to one of the objective laws. Dialectics, which has had its fill of the painful experience of such hegemony, does not hegemonize in turn, but criticizes this just as much as the appearance that the individuated and the concrete already determine the course of the world hic et nunc. It’s very likely that, under the spell of the latter, the individuated and the concrete do not even exist yet. Through the word pluralism, utopia is suppressed as if it were already here; it serves as consolation.

That is why however dialectical theory, which critically reflects on itself, may not for its part install itself domestic-style in the medium of the generality. Its intention is precisely to break out of this medium. It too is not immune before the false division of reflective thinking and empirical research. [...] Reified consciousness does not end where the concept of reification has a place of honor.

Wednesday, 5 May 2004

From "Paradise & method"

By Bruce Andrews.

The political dimension of writing isn't just based on the idea of challenging specific problems or mobilizing specific groups to challenge specific problems; it's based on the notion of a systemic grasp -- not of language described as a fixed system but of language as a kind of agenda or system of capabilities and uses.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004

From "Adorno: A Critical Introduction"

By Simon Jarvis.

When thinking comes to halt with an abstract appeal to history, or society, or "socio-historical material specificity", or any other form of givenness, it might as well stop with God.

Saturday, 1 May 2004

From "Adorno: A Critical Introduction"

By Simon Jarvis.

For Adorno dialectic is thought's repeated experience of its inability finally to identify what is non-identical to it. So far from being an experience which is only made possible by "the identity of identity and non-identity", as Adorno's imaginary [Hegelian] objector protests, this in an experience which is only made possible by the non-identity of identity and non-identity [...]