INSPIRED BY A COMMON VISION THAT PHILOSOPHY MUST HAVE A REAL SHOCK VALUE to remain significant in a time long due for collapse, this writer, Jeff, and Jayson set out on an unpopular course of turning theory to its feet. And we literally had to rely on our feet for some unscheduled legwork and ascent in the entire course of Holy Week (2015). It was not the kind of ascent, nonetheless, that slips quite easily into the dreamy frame of religious mysticism. Far from it even as we had to mark the culminating physical efforts by raking through shamanistic caves – the usual refuge of mystics during Lent – in the hinterlands of the Visayas region.
Talking of struggle with theory, we do not wish however to succeed. To those who have been well trained to defend a more technical sense of forcing the experience of wonder to rationalize the necessity of moneyed discipline, especially in high-paying academes, it is plain stupidity to ever attempt to humble theory, let alone truly humanize it. Better if theory is elevated to an object of worship while the closest thing to the common humanization of the discipline is by magnifying its proximity to the sense of the human who can turn every kind of mystery into the ‘a prioris’ of the mind but defanged of its more immediate proximity to a genealogical sense of horror, or the alien, if not evil (which is what is truly close to the human).
All this has come down to a curious sense of humanity in the wake of Kant’s famous critiques, later challenged by Nietzsche’s untimely gospel. Unfortunately, no one understood Nietzsche who would rather have a human by his side, or humanization flanking his angst-ridden abomination of the faint-hearted, expressing the real essence of wasting away. Far from Nietzsche’s mad vision, contemporary humanization now affords those who actually believe that a secret from the heavenly estate of theory is safely tucked away in the thick pages of their credentials the tag of ‘being critical,’ not without the profitable effect of turning Nietzsche into an academic jargon.
But behind the academic pretension of mastery of quotable concepts that philosophy has come down to these days; behind the celebration of the paradoxicality of the human in tortuous ways conceivable, the affectation of being in the know, of being most emphatically critical, lies as yet the possibility of hollowing out a space for self-interrogation, and hopefully a strong-willed heart to resist being sacrificed to the metrics of money. By that I mean not to freely choose to be poor. Thing is I am poor enough to desire it.
A more preferable vision of the human, if I may say, one who really wastes away rather joyfully, came along and insisted itself on this project which I’m quite perverse enough to introduce to my research team. This vision went along well with us, fortunately, including that dreadful fantasy to celebrate the poverty that prearranges a curious kind of bacchanalia driven to dissipation, misuse, and squandering, which is a true mark of conceit. As far back, they turned out to be more perverse than I am already by agreeing with the project that is short of funding.
Let us situate this vision of the human within the context of phenomenological science. In phenomenology, questions of ‘self’, for instance, are marked out as questions within the space of the pre-attentive, that initial vision which notwithstanding the many or so claims about it being untouched by the formalism of concepts, its autonomy from the rigor of plotted life, is way too caught up in the order of the intellect as to be guaranteed of an epiphany, that passage from ignorance to enlightenment. It doesn’t matter whether enlightenment is another way of putting ignorance in a new light, say, it becomes ethical; the point is to maximize the hermeneutic circle which affords a lover of paradox, someone who believes his life is not going to fritter away in graceless dissipation of passion, to not become human in the truest and cruelest sense of the word. By making philosophy a way of life; by securing one’s life against its mad vitality, its propensity for excess, naked horror, promiscuity, license, etc. one can die happily, peacefully. It is in this sense that philosophy becomes an indemnity against death, or its equivalent in the many ways, either bizarre or reckless, of losing one’s way into its vicinity, which always comes with a trick; its real antipathy towards death is recast as a hero’s right to die, or the entire question of dying in a certain honourable way, no different from the kind of aversion therapy practiced in many asylums.
But how about a form of self-interrogation completely devoid of defences or the warranty of a telos?
Here, I think of its magical propinquity to a shaman’s ritual, without cognitive pretences; a quasi-Bataillean form of obsessive-compulsive repetition. Talking to a lone tour guide of Lamanok Island where my team rendezvoused with the preternatural spirits, young and old, guarding the vicinity littered with caves, a moment of realization came up. This old man who barely finished elementary school talked like a philosopher. And he did it in the same manner most academic philosophers would trick their audience in order to lose count of the ‘trembling strokes’ of human expectations, to parody Nietzsche.
Not that I refuse to believe in the conflicting versions of the tour guide’s twisted narratives regarding the origin of the place, its social history, the otherworldly apparition of bizarre land creatures, rivalling the likes of Chulthu, some as ham-fisted as clueless monkeys falling over the branches of trees, this time daring to equal the chic uncouthness of Ballard’s. Far from it; with the tour guide displaying the correctness of the correlation between the intellectual and the witch doctor, superstition and philosophy serve a common goal – amusement. This is the reason why Borges, the intellectual writer, would be too smart for Heidegger, the witch doctor who did not like to amuse. Notwithstanding, the unequal relation would not hold for long. Both writer and thinker had brief romantic and intellectual coquetry with fascism, restoring Levi-Strauss’ spot-on complementarity between the two figures. Unlucky me, these half-blood humans happen to be some of my favourites.
But I did to my weary bones like the lack of pretence of the lone tour guide of the Anda caves. He served for us a model of turning theory to its feet. His amusing stories, especially, the legend of Mang Kanor (which I really hadn’t the slightest idea what it was all about) pierced me in my entirely unguarded moment, enrapt in his clueless mumbling, yet all in mechanical memory.
For all we know, he is in a sort of a trance-like repetition, a mimicry of the many instances of his ‘self’ uttering the same exact lines to any tourist entering his domain who would also contribute to his experience of alterity. Deleuze and Guattari refer to this allusive experience of becoming-other or becoming-intense as comparable to sorcery in which becomings amount to “feelings of an unknown Nature,” more generally called “affects.” In the same manner, one can emphasize here the correlation between sorcerer and writer or speaker. As Deleuze and Guattari put it: “If the writer is a sorcerer, it is because writing is a becoming.”
I am here reminded of Simon Critchley’s admiration for Wallace Stevens. Quoting the poet’s words, Critchley writes of the correlation between truth and fiction:
The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe it willingly.
In another collection of poems, Stevens describes this concept of ‘final belief’ vis-à-vis the fear of judgement day as that which opposes all forms of “[resisting] past apocalypse,” the resistance in question is that it “wants nothing from the sea … smears out mad mountains.” Back at the hotel where we stayed for few days in Bohol and before we hit a remote island in Cebu, the traces of one of the worst earthquakes to date were still visible through cracks in the walls, pavements realigned to new contours upheaved by the abyssal; around the neighborhood, alertness formed a united front between peoples and things, natural or manmade. A sort of metaphysical caution is complemented by the repainting of street signs, markers, etc. in the sense that the imperfect coating would remind of a past apocalypse. The coating superficially instils order and discipline only to remind the neighborhood that a new apocalypse is looming for which this able network of things, objects and persons might have been well preparing to sustain and accommodate. Save for irreversible natural facelifts, a nightmare for construction engineering and landscape surgery, everything touched by the abyssal, rocked out of complacency, is left to the care of aesthetic recovery.
Meanwhile, the united front between peoples and things already opposes the first-person perspective so dear to philosophy – in Stevens’ words, the perspective of the actor as a “metaphysician” who “in the dark” likes to twang his “instrument… that gives” the kind of sounds “passing through sudden rightnesses/Containing the mind below which it cannot descend/Beyond which it has no will to rise.
The actor, the metaphysician, the philosopher – these first-person figures are the types of persons who would “sit still in the theatre, in the ruin, as if nothing had happened.”
All throughout the expedition (we tried covering pre-selected sites in the islands of Bohol and Cebu), Michel Serres was a worthy companion, well, at least on my end. Jeff was a paper-and-pencil guy, Jayson with his cell phone camera capturing the apocalypse. What I captured from Serres was quite in tune with Lent:
…[Unlike] our brother animals, delivered over – fangs, claws and beaks – to Darwinian laws, mankind has protected the weak instead of killing them, since, standing, it was itself exposing its weaknesses, especially its pregnant female. This latter leads me to think that, in the quadrupedal position, her genitalia are displayed from behind, while that of the male are concealed below his belly; when both stand up, everything is reversed, the male displays what the female hides.
We stayed at a remote island (Bantayan Island) in Cebu enjoying the waves; due to the combined sensation of hunger and the inability of the mind to rise above the occasion, the shore appeared to me like a useless pizza. Approaching the midday of the Black Friday, food was scarce; the only store that offered something of use to me gave me my last pack of cigarettes. Smoking away as I was reviewing my notes of the expedition as far back as the first day we landed in Bohol, a middle-aged woman approached us with her dried goods (fish) for sale.
Anchovies! I was reminded of a swarm and a lady born of Taurus. For whatever reason, I was inspired to write back at the place one would scarcely call a cottage: partly accomplished previous to the expedition, a fantasy, a vision, an image-script of what was to come shortly after a supernatural rendezvous with tall mangroves, shamanistic caves, daddy longlegs and townsfolk talking in Visayan dialect, words and names birth ‘a world’ into existence—
Apple on a side table,
Stoic at every glance:
Hungry at length,
He reached for his phone.
Back in the islands:
With mouths to feed
Anchovies rival her expectation:
If on a holy week a wheel turned
And nothing moved with it,
They say all the good fish
Would land on a wrong table.
Thus, they prayed: ‘Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour…’
She went for her nightdress.
The project is part ethnography and part philosophical reflection on the importance of the arts in the time of the anthropocene – arguably the stage of planetary life when humans and nonhumans are starting to make peace for the last moment, but like Nietzsche’s death of God, the peace of all peace, all traces of virulent peace-makings cast a long shadow over humankind, for the time being assuming sovereign dominion over creation. As far back, several attempts in theory, the poststructuralists come to mind, hinted at this coming of end times, a new kind of apocalypse in the collapse of the real in the sense that “we feed on forms whose finalities have disappeared,” albeit, giving free rein to fantasy. But contrary to the gloomy picture presented by Baudrillard, we have barely just begun exploring the untried, which is to become the apocalypse, to become the crisis itself.
This was already the approach of the ancients, the ancient Greeks, for instance, in their many uses of the notion of apeiron:
Being without direction it cannot be crossed, is impassable, but at the same time, for those who find themselves in this place which in a sense is the opposite of organised space there is no way of ever escaping from it.
The caves, the main roads we were thrown onto, as were the pebbles by the tense waves of the Pacific cluttering the shores with their sandy bareback teasing the sun; the ascent and descent on rocky terrains; the witticism of ordinary people we met; the naked fisherman with his bulging belly and popping genitals leisurely taking a bath by the shore; our driver tour guide who took us into an unforgettable lesson in history; the proverbial Visayan beauties ensnared by the paper and pencil guy; the flight stewardesses whose hospitality could have redirected our flight somewhere beyond ‘Moves Like Jagger,’ etc., these were all aleatory encounters that locked us away from the world we knew back in the metropolis.
If imagination projects us out beyond ourselves while memory takes us back behind ourselves, place subtends and enfolds us, lying perpetually under and around us.
And it would continue to lock us away as we barely had time and resources to explore the areas we in fact planned in advance to set foot on, all with the help of Google maps. We were caught up in unforeseen encounters that threatened to overwhelm the design of the project; and as it was when God is dead, design washed away on the face of the earth, on the tracks leading to a shaman’s cave, or the vicinity of the ruins of an old colonial church humbled by Deleuze’s “transcendental volcanism.” Through all other similar encounters throwing us into a brief but important confrontation with the Schellingian abyss, this dark prophetic word, a crisis awakened. That crisis was strong enough to question the confidence of reason, the assurance of a plan. Without saying, the effect of sorcery seeped into the details.
We never had the chance to interview the singular inspiration behind this project, the artist Oscar Villamiel. His art installation Wild Weeds (Mga Damong Ligaw) was all we could have of his artistic ingenuity, but above all, his ecological sensibility that reaches a dimension, a place, space or topos no speculative thought can accomplish.
As I put it elsewhere, like a writer setting out on an “idiolect … unattested anywhere else in antiquity,” forcing speech to let a thousand memories set in, art compels a canvas – in the case of Villamiel’s, a rented space – to accommodate the last few days of God’s creation. It is always the case that a creation like a work of art can only get a glimpse of everything it lost.
Art thus stands in close proximity to extinction. It may be the destiny of art to mimic nature but only what is discontinuous to it, what it should lose in exchange for an idiolect, perhaps, an image as in a painting. It may be the painter’s canvas, or a rented space for a miniature landscape draining away into the impermanent. And yet it faces him, the artist for what he has done. He might have wanted an audience if only to deflect the look in his eye, to distribute his sin. In the same manner his audience will look for his unattested ambiguity where words are redirected to a canvas, whereby a second tale comes into view – a community of sinners participating in the virility of sin.
Virgilio A. Rivas
This is the preface for the last issue (my last) of the Mabini Review that I’m editing.
I’m off to Zarathustra’s cave, in a manner of speaking.
See Brian Massumi (ed.), A Shock to Thought: Expressions After Deleuze and Guattari (London and New York: Routledge, 2002).
See Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008).
See Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic, By way of clarification and supplement to my last book Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Douglas Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).
See Mikhail Bahktin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, trans. by Caryl Emerson (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 253.
See Georges Bataille, Eroticism: Death and Sensuality, trans. Mary Dalwood (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986).
See Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, 4.
See H.P.Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels of Terror, (London, Panther Books, 1970).
See J. G. Ballard, Unlimited Dream Company (London: Flamingo, 2000).
See Roland Barthes, “Authors and Writers,” in A Barthes Reader, edited Susan Sontag (New York: Hill and Wang, 1994), 185-193.
See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (London: Athlone Press, 1996), 240.
Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 240.
See Simon Critchley, Things Merely Are: Philosophy in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens (London and New York: Routledge, 2005).
Quoted by Critchley; Ibid., 58.
See Malcolm Woodland, Wallace Stevens and the Apocalyptic Mode (Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2005), 4.
Critchley, Things Merely Are, 34.
Michel Serres, Variations on the Body, trans. Randolph Burks (Minneapolis: Univocal 2011), p. 20.
See Nick Land, Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (London and New York, 1992).
See Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant (London: SAGE Publications, 1993), 2
See Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre. Vernant, Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, trans. J. Lloyd (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1991), 294.
See Edward Casey, Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), xviii.
See Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 202.
See F. W. J. Schelling, Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom, trans. J. Love and J. Schmidt (New York: State University of New York Press, 2006), 19.
Allen Dwight Callahan, “The Language of the Apocalypse,” The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 88 4 (October 1995): 458.