attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: meaning

Do you suffer?

My other page. Catastrophic Edge, is now being used as a kind of library of things I find interesting and/or informative around the issue of work.Work (or specifically anti-work) was the root of my politicisation, and while vuknerability is a key political concept around these parts the issue of work is one that is still keenly felt.

On vulnerability, Corey Robin has a good article at the Jacobin on the political distribution of vulnerability- something I intend to write on in the near future. Here is an extract from Robin’s essay, that echoes Foucault’s contention that ‘society must be defended’:

Returning to the language of fear, we can say that in the state of nature, the fear of death or bodily destruction entitles us to do anything we think might protect us from real or sincerely perceived dangers (as the defenders of George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, essentially claim). Under the sovereign, however, that fear does not so entitle us — unless, again, we, as individuals, are immediately and incontrovertibly threatened. Once we agree to submit to the sovereign, he becomes the decider of our fears: he determines whether or not we have reason to be afraid, and he determines what must be done to protect us from the objects of our fear.

Hobbes’s argument has three implications that are relevant to contemporary politics. The first is that it is not necessarily a widespread fear of foreign or domestic threats — real or imagined — that compels the state to abridge civil liberties. When the government takes measures for the sake of security, it is not simply translating the people’s fear of danger into a repressive act of state. Instead, the government makes a choice: to focus on some threats and not others, and to take certain actions (but not others) to counter those threats. Merely think of the attention — and money, staff, countermeasures, and air time — the US government has lavished upon terrorism as opposed to automobile accidents or climate change, even in the wake of Katrina, Sandy, and a host of other life-threatening weather events.

Even though this power to define the objects of public fear suggests that danger or harm is whatever the state says it is, Hobbes did believe that there were real dangers that threatened a people. The sovereign had every reason to make the proper determination of what truly threatened the people and to act only upon those determinations. The sovereign’s interest in his own security dovetailed with the people’s interest in theirs. So long as the people were, or at least felt, secure, they would obey the sovereign; so long as they obeyed the sovereign, he would be secure.


Avital Ronnell on Meaning and Nonmeaning

“There is nothing outside the text”

Through the lenses of biosemiotics, “semiosis” (as conceived by Peirce) is implicitly re-defined as that which is “meaningful”, “relevant” or “significant” to any living “thing” in terms of its survival in its particular environment or more accurately, it’s “Umwelt”. It is a central tenet of the overall biosemiotics approach that, to understand life, natural meaning can not be ignored. From this, it is but a short step to the conclusion that, as Gregory Bateson clearly saw, it is essential that the concept of mind can not be exclusively identified with a human mind. Mind is thus seen by biosemiotics as extensively perfused through out nature and not a property exclusive to human beings

In this regard, biosemiotics emphasises meaning and suggests that, inline with some current work in embodied/embedded cognitive science, it is grounded in a living organising’s embodied semiosis. Meaning is derived through biological signs. The basic forms of these biological signs are those exchanged between the organism and its environment, its Umwelt, It is argued that, as a fundamental principle, living things (from cells to organisms) are not purely mechanical processes, but rather, messages to be read and interpreted. Thus consider DNA which can be read, indeed is read, as message-bearing signs transmitted (via RNA) to protein for replication to occur.

From the Underrated philosophy blog. Here.


It’s heady stuff, the sheer power of the natural–of theoretical knowledge. Given our incompetencies, it is perhaps inevitable that many will want to lay claim to it. It seems clear that as soon as people begin asserting that ‘social constructivism is a naturalism’ the concept has been stretched more than my sexy underwear. In his curious, ‘gotcha’ followup, [Levi] Bryant [Larval Subjects] introduces the crucial criterion of naturalism: Everything is natural. But this is meaningless if ‘natural’ is a barrel-wide thong, so let’s stipulate another criterion: Naturalism entails openness to the possibility that intentionality is illusory. If you cannot bring yourself to believe that this is a real, empirical possibility, then you are a transcendentalist plain and simple, one of those kids who dresses cool, but slips away as soon as some jock cracks the Jack.

Because the empirical possibility that intentionality is a kind of cognitive mirage, that meaning is merely an ‘informatic blur,’ is very real. Naturalism has to be as open as science is open to be naturalism. There’s no reason to assume that evolution did not saddle us with a profoundly deceptive self-understanding. We are need-to-know, and given the steep metabolic requirements of the brain, not to mention the structural infelicities incumbent upon any self-tracking information system, it is certainly possible, perhaps even probable, that we are fundamentally deceived about our own nature, that the counterintuitive gymnastics of the quantum has us as a qualitative counterpart. In naturalism, meaning is an open question, one that scientific research, not theoretical confabulation, will answer.

– R. Scott Bakker, over at The Three Pound Brain. Here,

Work and meaning

Whoever asks about the content, meaning, and goal of his or her job, will go crazy or becomes a disruptive element in the social machinery designed to function as an end-in-itself. “Homo faber”, once full of conceit as to his craft and trade, a type of human who took seriously what he did in a parochial way, has become as old-fashioned as a mechanical typewriter. The treadmill has to run at all cost, and “that’s all there is to it”. Advertising departments and armies of entertainers, company psychologists, image advisors and drug dealers are responsible for creating meaning. Where there is continual babble about motivation and creativity, there is not a trace left of either of them – save self-deception. This is why talents such as autosuggestion, self-projection and competence simulation rank among the most important virtues of managers and skilled workers, media stars and accountants, teachers and parking lot guards.

Krisis Group, Manifesto against labour.

The mechanism of anchoring also serves from early childhood; parents, home, the street become matters of course to the child and give it a sense of assurance. This sphere of experience is the first, and perhaps the happiest, protection against the cosmos that we ever get to know in life, a fact that doubtless also explains the much debated ‘infantile bonding;’ the question of whether that is sexually tainted too is unimportant here. When the child later discovers that those fixed points are as ‘arbitrary’ and ‘ephemeral’ as any others, it has a crisis of confusion and anxiety and promptly looks around for another anchoring. “In Autumn, I will attend middle school.” If the substitution somehow fails, then the crisis may take a fatal course, or else what I will call an anchoring spasm occurs: One clings to the dead values, concealing as well as possible from oneself and others the fact that they are unworkable, that one is spiritually insolvent. The result is lasting insecurity, ‘feelings of inferiority,’ over-compensation, restlessness. Insofar as this state falls into certain categories, it is made subject to psychoanalytic treatment, which aims to complete the transition to new anchorings.

Zapfee, The Last Messiah.

All that is solid melts into air. Let this first of all mean that the capitalist world is a constant innervation, the ceaseless production of Spasm.


In a previous post I made a slip of the tongue. I wrote that Cosmos is absurd. What I had meant to write was that Cosmos (the assemblage of all that exists; the material set of all sets, if you like) is ambivalent.

Cosmos is ambivalent. This ambivalence is a feature of all our meaning production, or of our consciousness that our meanings are produced and therefore that they seem to lack any foundations; it is a feature of the ontological Illusion, the way in which even as Cosmos presents itself it does so only by remaining occluded; ambivalence is a feature of all things, in all times, in all places. It is the abyss that gives itself concretely as things, including ourselves.

Ambivalence is the name for the sense that Cosmos- or world as we call our experience of it- refuses to be pinned down to any particular ontological system. Ambivalence is what marks the impossibility of systematic philosophy and also the partial truth that is found in all systematic thought. Ambivalence is thus both ontological condition and epistemological concept. It is, therefore, like a fragment; complete unto itself but denying any possibility to ever being finally finished.

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.