on a train from 부산 to 대구, mar 16, 10:34pm:
sudden realization: the necessity of decisions, the necessity of clear directionality, etc. at some point the answer is to pursue directionality itself, not for the sake of an endgoal necessarily. today on a train heading to a boat heading to a bus, I find that I have suddenly made two decisions: one about another nascent being's future existence, another about my own self-definition. things clicking, churning, manifesting into being.
narita -> shinagawa -> kyoto -> shin-osaka -> okayama -> chayamachi -> uno -> naoshima (miyanoura) -> naoshima (honmura) -> naoshima (miyanoura) -> uno -> chayamachi -> okayama -> hiroshima (station) -> hiroshima (genbaku dome) -> hiroshima (station) -> kokura -> yahata -> kokura -> hakata (station) -> hakata (tenjin) -> hakata ferry terminal -> busan (port) -> busan (yeongdo) -> busan (station) -> kyungsan -> daegu -> busan (airport) -> narita -> tokyo (ueno) -> .... -> tokyo (ueno) -> narita -> nyc (jfk) -> nyc (brooklyn, dean st)
I like this, these trains, the texture of pure transit distilled into a small little flask, heated and dispensed into small little cups, sipped calmly on a small bar on the second floor of a building next to a narrow little stream. movement, movement, the reading of signs, the understanding of maps, lines, symbols. which way is true north? where am I now? you are here, that is there, and if that map says this, then it means I must walk this way, right? right. re-navigation, re-orientation, positioning. walking. looking at things. looking at things that catches one's eye. small details that pop out and make themselves known, little artifacts of infrastructure unconsciously (or not-deliberately) embodying the lived experience of a place.
there is no 'essence' here, but rather just performed being, actively created this-ness, the presence of existence.
foucault's guilt of demarcation, definition, clarity, distinction seems to me to be rooted in a kind of anguish - the lens of power relations, production, domination, warring, all this seems, at least right now, to be a non-sequitur, or at least a very specific defined lens. right now calmness, slowness, and deliberateness seem to me to arise out of rituals, gestures, repeated acts that are done because they are done, because they have happened before, or even better yet, because in the act of performing an action or a ritual, the implied future repetition of the ritual renders the present act into an already historical action. simply put, because you will do X in the future, the X you are doing now is already soaked with a kind of fixity, presence, permanence.
to continue about this foucauldian guilt - is not any and every decision a kind of 'closing off' of the world, according to this view? this perpetual carving out of the world, slicings into two, here and there, this and that? are there not other ways of seeing things that prevent the scope of the world and the field of action to be a plane of paper? einstein's bouncy stretchy space-time 'net' and the unbounded space of activity that both foucault, ranciere, and numerous others carve into these discrete shapes (tangrams shapes, island cut-outs, divisions, distributions) seem to originate from similar renderings of the world as a field, two-dimensional and to be split, stretched.
in deciding to drink tea, chai tea bag, a bit of milk, every day, I engage in a ritual. the train-travel ceremony has its play of route map, ticket, gate, map, wait, walk, enter, seat, sit, watch, stand, gather, exit. rituals or gestures or these circular ceremonial movements are not quite negations of actions, not the negative anguish of "I can not do anything but these actions; everything outside the bounds of these actions are forbidden". rather it feels like, at the moment (and at the moment everything about me right now is to decide to feel rather than to necessarily strictly only-intellectually conceptualize) that ceremony and ritual generates a joyous mode of creation and establishment that falls neither into the trap of distinction, separation, demarcation, elimination, but generation, specification, elaboration, positive affirmation.
how do I explain? it is kind of like the idea of a desire path, or an informal trail, where constant movement and constant usage itself creates an existence. in the case of a desire path, the existence of the path coincides with the negation of grass, so it's kind of an unfortunate metaphor. perhaps maybe it's like the smoothness of an old wooden banister, or the dip and sag in the midst of stone steps, or a garden that is watered daily, or the smoothness of eroded rocks by the beach. a pair of shoes that fit your feet perfectly after being worn for thousands of hours in the sun, rain, snow, grass, concrete, wood, etc. or maybe it is like a bi-weekly reading group that meets, and meets, and meets, and in the process have created communities, strong senses of belonging, the dearness and love and intimacy and closeness of friends who you respect and care for quite deeply.
in this context the question of action is not the negation of a limitless field, since to believe in the initial concept of a limitless field of action that one demarcates awau is to already believe in a zone of conceptual freedom that one closes off: the epistemological analogue to a hobbesian 'state of nature' where freedom and lawlessness are one and the same, where it is only through an agreement, convenant, that we restrict ourselves to agreed-upon actions and call them laws. and this I utterly disagree with. this agamben-ian distinction between bare life and political life, or arendt's public vs private existence, cannot help but strongly argues against the sentiment that these things are all founded upon the primacy of the zero state that is then inevitably sullied with the act of decision. within this framework any kind of decision is thus a closing-off of the world, and whether or not the decision itself is interesting/fruitful/productive/good, there is a kind of underlying emotional anguish behind the idea of 'cutting off' or 'closing away' an avenue of action. banishing entire swaths of possibilities away, supposedly.
and now, on this trip now, I feel that I can see clearly how dangerous and sinister and horrible this approach is, the anguish of decision, the idealization of a pure untouched field, the negative (negating) qualities of any kind of action, a desire to not impose. the action thus created arises out of ignorant conviction, or hyper-careful self-awareness, or simply a kind of emotional non-relevance, the utopia/anguish/play triad that foucault defines as the three modes of 'relevance to a history' that he charts out for the relationship of a text to its discourse. bad, bad, bad bad bad bad bad bad bad.
and what's the alternative? well, who knows for sure. an alternative, one of many:
instead of conceiving of the nation-state as the origin of a covenant that inscribes the boundaries of acceptable action upon a field, perhaps the organization/community/government is the concretization/fixing of already-existing traditions, agreements, 'ways-of-being'. these 'ways-of-being' fundamentally arise out of the negotiation between people's processes. the unspoken agreement is the constitutional element, 'the way things are done' already existed before the presence of laws, governments, organizations. this is not a fetishizing of tradition or continuity. more like: 'the way things are done' is defined in performance; it is what it has been; there is no 'essence' here but the active self-creation of the present. 'the way things are done' is defined in relaton to action, and past actions. and thus it is when a community feels like the 'ways things are done' need to be fixed and universalized, with a unified language with clear consequences, the law is born, and thus is born the organization that enforces this law, and thus is born all the other accessories and accoutrements of laws: disciplinary beings, organizational structure, etc. etc. etc.
and there is no 'bare life' and 'political life'; there is not even a polis and a private home; it is all actually perhaps borne out of a more miasmatic swirling mass of flows, since the primal distinction is not actually a distinction but a gradient. what is the difference between a shared preference and a common habit and a communal pattern and a communal tradition and a societal guideline and an ethical expectation and an unspoken rule and a LAW? only degrees of intensity, I think actually, these things all existing on a continuum without any sharp inflection points at which X becomes this rather than that. '
the field of activity is less of a flat field that is cut into pieces, but more like a dense wrinkled bunched-up tablecloth that creates valleys and peaks and zones and mesas and plains. there is no such thing as a demarcation here, really, because it is all demarcation, it is all distinction, it is all a series of continually changing and reformulating clusters and formulations and topographical modulations that create a series of zones and shapes and forms. do you see? there is no anguish of the cut, simply because there is no such thing as a cut. it is all a cut / there are no cuts. the myth of the cut is the myth of the isolated action, the singular gesture that can be seen independently. instead all there is is a series of perpetually interconnected actions and events defined in relation to each other, so that any action will always have ripples in the world. action in this context is a re-bunching of the table-cloth, perhaps, which is perpetually a re-bunching and a de-bunching for different part of the tablecloth.
this is not to say the act of "demarcation"/re-bunching does not contain political implications for visibility, silence, awareness, states of being subaltern. the ethical expectation and the societal norm bring with it other forms of exclusion and imposition onto the being. but rather to say - the question of 'how things are done' is always about being communal together, about negotiating what I want and what I cannot have because perhaps you want something else, and then thus about continually reshaping the boundaries of what I am and why I am what I am, and thus what I do want in the world.
do I want this? and if so, how are the way things are done? and if that then, what are the implicit ways things work, and how are the wrinkles created, and in what way do certain events happen? all events, no structures, performances, not essences. no demarcations, but rather continual reformulations.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
sylvia plath, the bell jar
here's to going forth, to new forms of action.