da da da
November 27, 2011, 7:20 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , ,

Dada was a movement that wanted to be free, real, outrageous and idiotic.  The tendency of the day was bourgeois and entrenched, and to achieve their goals in this stifling milieu the group of artists and reactionaries determined to oppose a wide range of things including:  rationality, banality, armies and militarism, nationalism, brokers, personal identification and nostalgia.

I think we are in a similar place – bourgeois and entrenched – and that the dadist prescriptions from almost a hundred years ago are appropriate again for our time.

Following are some of the precepts of dada direct from the mouths of group members:

Intelligent man is now a standard type, but the thing we are short of is the idiotic.  Dada is using all its strength to establish the idiotic everywhere.

Tristan Tzara, 1915

We wanted to bring forward a new kind of human being, free from the tyranny of rationality, of banality, of generals, fatherlands, nations, art dealers, microbes, residence permits and the past.  To outrage public opinion was our basic principle.

Hans Richter, Dadaist painter

People think they can explain rationally, by means of thought, what they write. But it’s very relative. Thought is a fine thing for philosophy, but it’s relative. Psychoanalysis is a dangerous disease, it deadens man’s anti-real inclinations and systemizes the bourgeoisie.

Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto


Filip Dujardin fictions
November 20, 2011, 9:05 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , ,

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Filip Dujardin photography

my toy!
November 20, 2011, 6:17 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

When you’re a kid property is power.  When you’re two feet tall and can barely walk, authority is a desirable commodity.  It’s important to let a child maintain control over what is theirs because, really, it’s all he has as a very small person in a very big world.

This makes me wonder about grown up people and their relationship to property.  Are people who are very possessive of their property, and their personal space, exhibiting a prolonged adolescence or even childishness?

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vaughts practical character reader
November 20, 2011, 3:49 pm
Filed under: unseen world | Tags:

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illustrations from Vaught’s Practical Character Reader

work and home intertwined

Capitalism is on trial.  In its most virulent form it seems to be failing entire classes of people in many corners of the world.  There is an awakening of masses of people from North Africa to Europe and North America to how a dogmatic form of capitalism has insidiously and systematically undermined their ability to make for themselves dignified and fruitful lives.

For those of you so inclined, the passage below is a damning list of the effects of capitalism.  But it’s much more than just a list.  It makes the argument that capitalism has made us profoundly passive in our personal and social lives, and that this translates into an inability to demand basic freedoms in our shared economic lives. Continue reading

absolutely unnoticed

“Have you ever been delighted in?”  a counsellor once asked me, and I knew right away that I had.  My ex girlfriend had that rare human ability to delight in another person and I felt in spades.  It was a pure, innocent, abandoned love.  I’m lucky to have felt it; it hasn’t happened since; and there’s the off chance I may feel it again some day.  But I’m not holding my breath:  as I’m sure you are aware, to be delighted in is a rare gift.

Have you ever felt invisible?  That’s an experience we can all relate to.  It’s on the opposite end of the scale from being delighted in.  Where being delighted in floods us with a sense of worth and fulfillment, being ignored empties us out and leaves us cold and isolated.  Delight inspires and being unnoticed ‘cuts us dead.’  Given the option between inspiration – life – and being cut to death, choose life:  delight in someone and in turn let yourself be delighted in.

Here is a description of what it means to be unnoticed:

No more fiendish punishment could be devised, were such a thing physically possible, than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed by all the members thereof.  If no one turned around when we entered, answered when we spoke, or minded what we did, but if every person we met ‘cut us dead,’ and acted as if we were non-existent things, a kind of rage and impotent despair would before long well up in us, from which the cruellest bodily torture would be relief.

William James, The Principles of Psychology, Boston, 1890

governed by idiocy and prejudice
November 14, 2011, 4:04 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

In our recent economic downturn, people say that there is a culling happening, that the brightest and the best are being retained in their companies while the dubious and slovenly are let go.  They say that this is a good thing, as the fit become fitter and human progress is assured.  No one really says what happens to all the people that slip through the cracks:  trampled underfoot perhaps, but anyway out of sight out of mind.

This version of who sinks and who swims doesn’t fully square with my experience.  I have found that, at least sometimes, the loyal and boring tend to rise quickly and entrench, while the smart get restless and make waves and are let go, or get bored and leave of their own accord.

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a short history of the wolf
November 13, 2011, 3:05 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , ,

finding pleasure
November 5, 2011, 6:07 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

Sometimes we think pleasure is narcissism.  I’m sure we may not in our day to day lives, but the din of the popular culture pushes getting mine and getting more.

Pleasure has been neatly tied to money.  In Philip Larkin’s poem, money becomes a man – an understated incarnational event – that chastises him for not living his life:  Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me: / “Why do you let me lie here wastefully? / I am all you never had of goods and sex. / You could get them still by writing a few cheques.”  Clearly this poet is not convinced that pleasure should be quite so tied to acquisition and consumption.

There are of course other more hopeful routes to finding pleasure.  Here is one written by a disciple of the stoic Lucretius.  For him pleasure is found in a restrained, measured life; the diametric opposite of a life of narcissism and consumption.  He adds that pleasure comes from taking risk, making friends and helping people.

Here is his path:

[It is impossible to live pleasureably] without living prudently and honourably and justly, and also without living courageously and temperately and magnanimously, and without making friends, and without being philanthropic.

Lucretius’ disciple

Stephen Geenblatt, The Answer Man, The New Yorker

to unprotect ourselves for the sake of bigness and of love

Summoning up a whirlwind of illogic, Margaret Thatcher once said, “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.”  That was the beginning of the end of the idea of society in contemporary western life.  This new idea has run its course for the better part of two generations.  It has had enormous impact on our lives and our politics.  There are evidences of it in everything from personal attitudes to public policies.

I can think of numerous examples of how the idea that society, or a commitment to the public good, is essential to having a good life has ebbed away.  On a personal level, the incidence of competition and lack of empathy among friends and colleagues is higher and harsher than it used to – and needs to – be.  Professional jealousy and character assassination at work particularly, as people angle to get ahead, are commonly accepted, where I don’t think they used to be as much.   Continue reading