attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: existence

Cioran, again

The Art of Avoiding Sainthood

Learn to consider:
delusions as virtues; sadness as elegance; fear as pretext; love as forgetfulness; detachment as luxury; man as memory; life as a swing; suffering as an exercise; death as plenitude, as a goal; existence as a “piece of cake.”

-from The Book of Delusions.


Hospital Road, walking home.

“Life is neither good or evil, but only a place for good and evil.”
– Marcus Aurelius.

Sometimes, very occasionally these days,
I feel as though I were an aristocrat whose title,
unpronounceable and subtle, was bestowed by no Authority.
On days like this I think of Stephen Pearl Andrews story,
that one called The Dinner Party, and I wonder about
Utopias based on children’s games, and about how
arriving an hour late to work or accidentally destroying Washington,
Beijing, New Delhi, or Tehran would make so little impact
on anything that actually mattered. Lives would be lost I suppose but,
and don’t think me callous, in those moments –

those moments when I feel the spontaneous descendent
of some pacifist military caste whose existence comes from nowhere –
in those moments of relaxed vertigo I am lulled into blissful indifference
by the notion that all lives are lost long before they breathe first breaths.

You’re on the outskirts of the city while I’m thinking this.
Here there are fields of an experimental type, a farm for researching…
what do can you research on a farm? And you’re walking along an empty road,
occasional cars pass as if trying not to wake a sleeping child.
The Sun is high. The air is pleasant. You don’t care much for anything
but it isn’t that you don’t care. It is something between these things that that word,
Indifference, can’t quite paint.

You think about Place, recalling fragments of the places
you have called home. Where is that now? Does it have dimension, extension,
and is it really a solid state mass? Yes, you’re sure it is
but the question of for how long tongues the lobes of your ears.
It’s a pleasing feeling and you close your eyes as you walk.

In the kitchen while you drank cheap coffee and talked uselessly,
after cleaning away the evidence of he body’s dis-integration from the brain,
you find yourself discussing possible Theologies; the futurity of a God
yet to come, and who may have already died.
The man behind the newspaper, glasses coming off as he looks up
from behind the headlines and the pictures, he leans over slightly and gives a prayer:
‘One day biotechnology will make all this redundant
and we’ll live like children whose bodies are toys to be picked up
and thrown merrily away’. You shudder at the thought,
you want to scream a mountainous jagged No
but instead just sip more coffee.

Later, in the small room where the dying huddle to fix their gazeless eyes
on some invisible repeat, you will take out a scrap of paper
and with the pen you stole from someone you’ve forgotten you will write these words:

Should I crumble and wither and shit myself all day,
with cups of tea being offered regardless of the absence of any thirst
except one that can’t be named or quenched,
don’t straighten my tie or comb my hair when visitors come,
or call me by my preferred name. When my eyes receive data and no magic,

when my ears hear only raw and  indistinct sounds,
give me a little dignity of the truer type, recognise and honour my descent,
my return to the simple animality I never knew
and make temples out of my unprovoked and pointless tears.

Sometimes you feel like nothing that doesn’t happen
on the scale of the cosmic is entirely irrelevant,
as if only the burning of stars and the orbits of gas giants,
the cradling nebulas giving birth to still massless galaxies, are the only moments
that Time really ever records. And sometimes you feel like
it is right that those who tend the dying, who provide their last comforts
and try to entertain their last slivers of hope, should have murder in their hearts.
And then I remember that I can’t even tie my own shoes,

that I’ve never before bathed another human being,
that I’ve never even once felt the heart beat of a tiny broken winged bird.
I remember that all the places I’ve called home are entangled
in a thousand other things, a thousand lost lives, a thousand unredeemed dreams.
I remember the vision of fists and soft faces and how it broke my tiny heart
a thousand nights in a thousand ways.
What is the Cost Principle of a black hole, the Labour Principle of a fledgling star?
Is this an element, a symbol, a fact, or a sign?

Everything is happening so fast, I’m not sure where I am;
ecstatic, you take off your uniform and sit on the steps of the square
outside the theatre. You have pressing concerns, things that must be done,
but you can’t help wonder if the sky was meant to be
and whether tranquillity’s allure was always a fraud. You are waiting
until you see her again, waiting with these light and frivolous thoughts,
skimmed like stones onto the surface of volcanic lake.

What am I trying to say?

You wait in the sunshine reading a book and deliberately,
but without working up a sweat, throw off pretensions to knowledge
or to truth. A swelling in the void, a skin irritation on the universe,
you mouth to yourself that any man who tries to convince another
of some Vital truth does so because he himself doesn’t and can’t believe;
missionaries produce the believers they wish themselves to be.
While you sit there waiting, feeling as vague and reluctant as
a summer cloud, you are convinced of the beauty and necessity
of everything and there is nothing you do not believe.

I feel like I could abolish obituaries, devour all places
and leave them intact.
I will form a new religion from this simple mantra:

I cannot even tie my own shoelaces.


tomorrow among the dying,
the thought tightens,
those lost in a thoughtless place.
A definite repulsion at such a way
of only barely living, yes of course…

…but also a curious sense of envy;
these men returning slowly
to an existence before Thinking.


As an adolescent- perhaps 16- I had a thought, maybe the only thought I have ever truly had: I have seen all the constituents of existence life has to offer, all that remains is their differing arrangement. There are nights and whole days when I dwell inside the radical disappointment of this statement- when it seems impossible for any nook to allow pretence that life is worth the living.

a painting

A life is a vitality proper not to any individual but to ‘pure immanence,’ or that protean swarm that is not actual though it is real:
– Jane Bennett, Vibrant matter: a political ecology of things

Absorbed by a digital image of the canvas, I can’t tear away an particular uncertainty. A scene by some water; a river, a bridge, houses in the background, a full and bursting bush in the fore. Everything is luminous with ripe colour, almost manic in an abundant sense of life. With it all also a serenity that an agitate mind must employ opiates to know, either this or that strange exhaustion that follows nights of mutated chronotypical existing. I here the lyrics of a song: I’m going upstairs now to turn my mind off. A street viewed from the perpendicular, as if I- I assume I would be alone- were viewing it before the final approach, having stopped on some parallel bridge to take in the view and breath an air so clean and crisp that my lungs would shriek at such an alien exposure.

Yet there are no people in this scene. No lovers on the bridge and no retired agricultural workers hanging from their balconies. There are not even hanging baskets on the stucco walls. No one lives here. It is a beautiful and desolate scene. I am reminded of a lost friend, once thought of as a comrade when such aspirations could be retained.

There is only the uncertainty; is it something in the image, the artist or something in the one who observes it? An empty faith that this image conjures up a vague nostalgia. It represents the vibrant existence, the vitality and confidence, of organic and synthetic life . It is a vibrancy lost to consciousness, one that no human being could experience for more than a fading moment. It lacks the shadow and the ash of reality and therefore fails any criteria of realism. I doubt the artist cares or sought such a vulgar way of seeing.

It is a seduction and a tease, an invitation and a closure or denial; here is the urgent life you so desire and which is foreclosed to you after the advent of knowledge, after contact with the truth. It is the life we dream for ourselves in fresh spring mornings spent in parks or in a new lover’s beds. It is the lost. The impossible.

This painting is a wish; ephemeral as all our hopes, and just as distant. Simulataneously, I have no doubt it is also the poor human apperception of a wonderful nonhuman joy. The writer and the artist share this in common; the impossible project of standing outside their own mind. Here is an ecology of divorce and connection, an intimacy that is still separated by the intractable layers of humanity. As I sit here looking into it, unable to populate it with more figures who might live like me- not wanting to complicate it with such fragile systems– I realise why I cannot look away. I am afraid. The superfluity of things, all things, myself included, is overwhelming, petrifying and brutal.

On the Nursing home: Google spell-check corrects ‘Korsakoff’s’ as ‘God-forsaken’

Korsakoff’s syndrome (also called Korsakoff’s dementia, Korsakov’s syndrome, Korsakoff’s psychosis, or amnesic-confabulatory syndrome) is a neurological disorder caused by the lack of thiamine (vitamin B1) in the brain. Its onset is linked to chronic alcohol abuse and/or severe malnutrition. The syndrome is named after Sergei Korsakoff, the neuropsychiatrist who popularized the theory.

humanity cannot be exacerbated, but only aborted
Nick Land, The thirst for annihilation

Maybe it would be better if we abandoned even the word ‘life’ and spoke only of existence.

What function the nursing home? Obviously, it is a place for the elderly- nay, ‘older adult’- to be cared for when bathtubs might as well be Alpine expeditions and the mind is a kind of soggy porridge on an eternal cold morning in which coins have no names and the front door is a barricade against senseless things. Except everyone who isn’t terminally thick knows that that is bullshit. The ideal expression of a nursing home is the image of asylum, it’s last operating domain, where granddad can have the dignity of having his shit cleaned off him by saintly men and women who pay no attention to his sad, wilted cock.

We all know the truth about it. None of us wants to end up ‘in one of those places’. The underpaid and surly staff hate their jobs and turn up hungover, still pissed or coming down off the weekend before. Your body or your brain has given up. Your an image of the horror of mortality, far more terrifying than a corpse (which at least has a certain abject glamour). You eat by a schedule, looking forward to meals you’d never prepare yourself, wake and sleep by a schedule, often being dressed at 5am before being told to go back to sleep, and appear as the tragic star of news headlines or TV shows that streak sensations of neglect. You haven’t a name any more, at least not one even muttered in public. Forget about desire and probably even your memories of your best fucks have gone. It isn’t right but it’s the state of things, and when was that ever right?

No. The nursing home serves a more obvious function. The frail elderly, the ‘elderly mentally infirm’- a term still widely in operation- are sequestered away from a youthful gaze and left to rot. Therapies exist, and recreation, but with this number of staff off sick and the holidays a few weeks away? Out of sight we let our old people die by silent, unobserved degrees; catheterised for crucifixion. Like Foucault’s prison the nursing home is a panopticon in which the old will be old, hence why so many go in relatively able, suffer decline and then suddenly die. A man who is healthy might drown in accumulated fluid. A woman might be so impacted with shit that she can’t bear the strain. Walk around an elderly medical ward, witness the psychometric testing designed to index deficits exclusively, the Addenbrook’s allowing the professional to chart your landing trajectory while you absent mindedly pilot yourself toward the grave.

The obsession with youth breeds this kind of thing. The body as key representation, resource, mode of exchange; the principle of Life our last remaining perversion of virtue. Life is the name of an excess to life that the living can only name without ever knowing. We might experience living but there are no lives, only attempts at living. Exhaustion implies not so much a chiasmic phenomenology but a visceral vitalism. Is it coincidence that the last term is seeing a resurgence at a time when life as such is in question? But not simply an obsession with youth, an obsession that goes deeper than advertising and cosmetics (although held aloft by these), deeper than a prosthetic industry (isn’t all industry aiming at and itself prosthesis?), deeper than the charting and re-charting of the genetic cartographies heralded by the genome project, stem-cell research, cloning, all the biotechnologies. Life is what escapes us or what we hope escapes. Bodies become ever more malleable as they become more understood. More receptive to fundamental alterations far beyond sun tans and psychotropics. But we still don’t know what it is to be a live, to be a life.

But don’t get upset about it. It’s not all doom and gloom. We’re young yet. And look how the old mount up. We have to put them somewhere out the way where their bodies can be successfully managed until death finally frees us from them. Such a burden! And let’s not visit to often because they always stink of piss and we’d only have to face up to our own destiny. Know one fears death only the failure of the body and the strange familiarity on those erased faces. Occasionally one will lash out, a Korsakoff’s patient, displaying a flash of life we can only begrudgingly admire or shake our head over muttering how its such a shame, she used to be such and such…the implication being these are those who are not alive, not a life. They do not count in the scheme of things, as if things could or would scheme in some certain way.

So we can go on swimming and laughing and running and smoking and drinking and filling ourselves up with all those delicious chemicals. We can day-dream endlessly about that one day or about a retirement spent in the countryside or on the coast. We dream up children and grandchildren imagining they will recognise us as like them. As always, we’re engaged in a great labour of delusion- man’s original prosthesis.

The nursing home is our promise to ourselves that we are not those old people and never will be. What dignity in starving slowly to death? In batteries of futile chemo-and-radiotherapies? The nursing home is a place we might visit or that we might work in and so we might domesticate old age and the failed body, we might hide the facts from our brave representations. It is a cage for our anxieties to come to life in, populated by euphemistically called ‘residents’. The elderly in their stagnant homes reassure us that life is knowable, manageable, open for domestication, that we possess it or relate to it in any significant way. That it is ours.

I’m struck by the word ‘resident”s dual meaning: On the one hand a patient in a long stay facility and on the other a medic in their postgrad training. I propose a new way of looking away from the elderly, being every bit as prone to the protective arrogance of my species as it finds itself in this society and at this time. The elderly in the ‘Home’ are really at home. They are in training. They have graduated from struggling to live a life, to be a life, to know of what life consists. They are readying and being readied to abandon ‘Life’ itself and to enact an absolute negation, however involuntarily. Passing from the domain of Life into in-existence, dispersing their material components to be reintegrated, cannibalised, by other parts of the existent. To return to…(it doesn’t) matter.

But that is all too romantic, buying into the same bullshit nostalgia for youth that the we assemble from the disavowal of our old age and, what’s more, from the old age of the universe itself; further back than that, from its ancestrality, it’s completely impersonal brute existence that has nothing whatsoever with our desire to narrate ourselves to the centre of every fucking thing. Returning to Foucault’s prison, the nursing home might be the truest representation of our relationships, our philosophies, our politics. We exist in the disavowed knowledge of our Exhaustion. We are, each one of us, dissolution. Our love is vanishing. Our hope, such as it is, is premised on the certainty of our total disappearance. We are delirious when we talk about Life; eventually everything decays, everything erodes, everything collapses and is swept away, imploding inward on itself. Totally God-forsaken, we remain enthralled to our biotic presence, unable to remove ourselves from the scene.

Representational relations

Listening to R. talk about her research. The narratives of psychiatric acute ward patients. The transcription process as interpretation, as translation. Nothing is stable here. The layers of distance accumulated. First the bioneurological representation of the world to a mind; the affective and cognitive schemas representing the ways of responding and conceptualising this; the representation of all this ‘experience’ into a narrative form, full of breaks and distortions, discontinuities and false ascriptions, occurences and agents.

We transmit ourselves through inherited words and ideas, attempting to assemble non-linear lives when “We live in quantified non-linear terms – we switch on television sets, switch them off half an hour later, speak on the telephone, read magazines, dream and so forth. We don’t live our lives in linear terms in the sense that the Victorians did”[1].

Finally we have the representation assmebled in the mind of the other to whom all this snatched sense is relayed, which carries with itself all these material-linguistic constraints. This node in the communicative whitenoise must also have within itself an adequate theory of mind, it must be convinced that the thing to which it listens is at least something like itself. Even then the thinking flesh has to represent itself to itself as something capable of listening actively, intentionally and with empathy; it must represent itself as a ‘Self’.

We are not scientists with one another, we don’t mine each other for the certainty of contact except (perhaps) in eliptical forms and we rightly prefer the aesthetic and emotional collisions for those of fact and measure. But still it remains evident, this distance between us that no number of interactions can exhaust, no matter how increasingly unavoidable and intimate, contingent and more impersonal they become. These processes that go unnoticed moment to moment. What do we touch of each other directly, what does anything touch of any other in a direct manner?

For all this, here we are together- in this form then that- but never finally alone except in dying. Even death offers us the negative image of a community, an inexistence-with. For all this we speak and assemble coherent messages from time to time. It’s a terrible miracle. From this, the indispensibility- against recent fashion- of representation, no matter how perturbed it can be.

[1]. JG Ballard


Why so many invective accusations lobbied at facts? Facts are alleged to obscure truth, pretenders at neutrality whose sole function is to exact the operation of power, lifeless forms that appear mute and dead before the enigmatic forces of imagination, desire and seduction. Let’s admit it; facts have little weight against these things and they never do ‘speak for themselves’, a life lived factually without the slightest hint of passion or inclination would be more sterile than the most moribund days passed sitting behind desks. It is not a question of an existence one without the other. Rather, the fact is terrifying in its tenacity. It will outlast you. It speaks of a time prior to your birth, prior still to the emergence of the possibility of your or anyone else’s birth, prior even to the generation of Life. The fact speaks also of the time when you and beings like you, when particular beings of the kind we’re concerned with, will no longer be possible. For those still attached to existence, especially those who think qua the correlation that this world is somehow of their mutual creation, this can only but appear as the utmost horror. Who of us isn’t still in this camp? Still wedded to existence- to “Life”.


Obscurity is better. What is it to be remembered? To go on existing even when existence has finished with you.


A lamp is on above the tank. Inside, a terrapin is swimming. It moves its rocks around to bask and then it moves them back so it can swim. It swims in filth, the owner neglecting to change the water. When it eats it eats blood worms, ripping frozen cubes apart and spreading a cloud of red flesh through the water’s brown. A UV lamp glares above it; an ever-present artificial sun.

The fraud of writing. The lie of speaking through other people’s words. What is left to tell speak of? Rearrange the ideas, spin them round, make them dance like strip club girls. Today I was in the cafe with D. We played chess and discussed the women we are seeing, all the time talking about ourselves by proxy. I am sick of words. I want to fall silent. I want to evaporate and join the steam that rises from my cup. I want to be someone else’s pawn.

If I must speak, let the language be as uncomplicated as a child’s. This is good and this is not good. I do not like it. I do not want it. I am empty. Sometimes I feel like crying because what I have read is so beautiful. Sometimes I sit listening to your problems and I want to get up and leave without explanation. Wouldn’t a true friend understand that?

Instead we dance around each other. Even in our proximal and sheer confessions. It’s the glow of a thing burning up in the atmosphere that we see and touch and hear. I palpate you as a falling star; which is to say, I palpate you like a burning lump of rock, alien to me and falling, threatening either to disappear before contacting my inner surfaces or destroying everything I am on impact.

And what am I? The fraud of writing, the lie of speaking through one’s own words. Can’t we hold each other by the throat and admit that when we’re making dinner we’re tempted to drive the knife through one another’s chests.

Across the room someone is sitting silently. Bardo Pond fills the silence between us. I feel in retreat, defeated. She talks about someone she knows practising law out of the hospital on the edge of the city. She laughs a forced laugh. I laugh a false laugh. We go back to silence. The tapping of my fingers against the keyboard. The rattle of the metal stool beneath her weight. The planet dies a little more. Someone of no importance is dying. Someone of no importance is being born. I want to sleep. It is a hue in here. An abstract sentiment. A vague and bloodless passion. The terror of everything hangs limp. Happiness is wounded. It’s all catastrophe. I don’t want it to end unless everything ends all at once. I want it to overflow with beauty, to proliferate disfigurements. I want concrete poured on people. I want the shimmering obliqueness of these regressions painted across the sky in tepid colour. I want to hear the Void

I am aware that I want to cry. I want to cry impossible tears. I want to mourn existence. My lungs churn with tar and guilt. Let’s turn off the lamp above us. This is good and this is bad. This is as it should be. This isn’t a sadness.