[-empyre-] Magma

davin heckman davinheckman at gmail.com
Tue Apr 14 03:21:23 EST 2009

Thank you Michael for pushing my a little further.

> As per your reflections, I am left to inquire if you identify the symbolic
> as either matter or energy, as well as where we locate it with relation to
> mc2 and e and their equation.   I think of how Derrida identifies tobacco as
> the symbol of the symbolic: in his poetics of tobacco, it is the smoke and
> ash of tobacco which inaugurate a series of questions about the materiality
> of the symbolic in general, how it, too, seems to evanesce at the touch,
> leaving almost no trace or residue (except for the “gift of lung cancer,”
> but that is another issue).

I think there might be something wrong with my previous ramblings on
money....  in the sense that difference is "real" and that it does
need to be accounted for.  The question I have is if the informational
aspects of capital, the place where investors make money without
adding any matter or energy to the equation, are a legitimately valued
measure of difference or it they are an artificial measure of
difference.  Of course, on one level, it is all artifice.  But a sign
is true if, in its artifice, it allows someone the sufficient
information to affect change in the real world.

As a sidenote on blowing smoke: Another way to think about tobacco is
by reading Pound's Nicotine, in which Pound talks about "smoke" as a
metaphor for magic, which is, in turn, a metaphor for language.  This
piece (but if you don't like Pound, there are many other poets who
write along these lines) on the one hand, moves us towards an
understanding of the sign that is arbitrary, but on the other hand,
juxtaposes it with the will of the poet...  Another way to look at it
might be through John Cayley's works <http://www.shadoof.net/>, which
deal more explicitly with arbitrary signs, material displacements, and
temporal mismatches...  It might be worth reading Cayley's work as a
companion piece to Pound's.  It is much more squarely focused on the
arbitrary and ephemeral nature of language, but at the same time, the
pieces work in that the place of the will of the poet, they have (at
least to me) the odd effect of juxtaposing this with the will of the
reader.  On the other hand, Cayley's work is very well conceived, so
it would be a mistake to suggest that it is not also very willfully
created on the part of the poet.    Perhaps the thing that I like
about art is that even deliberate aesthetic moves which try to
introduce chance into works and erase intention...  and deliberate
critical moves which try to proclaim absolute critical authority by
way of the many "deaths" (or authors, books, philosophies, etc) we
celebrate...  the artist doesn't just disappear.  The artist might not
"work" in the way that we thought or expected, but it doesn't make the
work of art any less significant (to me).

> There is most definitely a perverse holism to our economy, and politics:
> bomb/rebuild, push/pull (the schizoid moment).  Since my expertise is more
> pop-cultural, I turn to the case of Britney Spears, and how the press drove
> her into having a nervous breakdown so that she could confirm their
> clairvoyance and omniscience by having a nervous breakdown, which then
> necessitated continual coverage of her nervous breakdown, as well as a
> “comeback” only possible after she broke down and reconstituted herself: in
> short, an entire cascade of effects and counter-effects in- and outside of
> her career.
> As for credit and value: is it really slippage in the sign itself—i.e., a
> disengagement of signifier and signified—that produces the relativity of
> value?  Is the dematerialization of money a semiotic crisis, as much as it
> is an economic one?  And how do we relate these conjoined crises to Joseph’s
> initial observation that academic cultures and Wall Street finances are of a
> piece?  Once again, those Junk Bond Salesman of Camille Paglia appear.  I
> think we need to push this issue a little further, as it is a highly
> productive direction facilitating a discussion of economy, creativity and
> artifice.  Does money still exist?  Clearly it does, but does it feel like
> it exists from the perspective of the global everyday?  Everything distances
> me from it: colorful plastic cards, the beeps of a cash register indicating
> that it is time to enter my digits, even my signature itself, which on so
> many occasions is my only connection to money proper.  Will money ever
> re-materialize?  And what other disappearances or disengagements has this
> dematerialization produced?  Is everything fiat?  Anthropologically
> speaking, is fiat an advance, the mark of a socius that has had the proper
> time to “cook”?

Here is where faith comes into play.  And it really is too bad that
our modern vocabulary sees faith in dialectical terms, as the
counterpoint to reason.  Signs are always different...  spatially
and/or temporally....  from the thing that they point to.  They put
something there, when nothing is there.  But we craft narratives and
understand causality through signs.  This is the great source of
anxiety which Heidegger references in his discussion of the
Unheimlich, that being itself reveals the anxiety of nothingness.
Logic, myth, and ethics all rely upon this to get their work done.
Maybe consciousness might exist outside of this, but it is hard to
imagine what that would be.  Money is one of these signifiers.  I
think the crisis of signification is not "dematerialization" of money
or other signs.  The crisis is when systems of representation are
taken for reality, and we assume this stance which delegitimates the
value of the "false" representations.  Hence, the market "knows"
better than any individual.  The market can be "hurt" by people.  The
consequence of this thinking is that if the market is a real subject
(whose subjectivity is more relevant than even our own), then it
surely must be treated better than the false sovereigns that would
preserve to govern us.  Money is more real than morality.  It is more
real than art.  It is more real than your feelings.  It is more real
than anything.  And so all other considerations get placed in a
subservient role.

This is the real meaning of "investment".

Now, I am not going to simply say that nothing means nothing, so
there's no point in believing anything.  Because clearly this is the
goal of philosophy, to look at these various systems of representation
and try to figure out which of these systems ought to frame the

In my mind, the primary ethical consideration is the preservation of
life, at the most basic animal level.  In addition to this, I think it
is important to preserve consciousness.  I realize this is
narcissistic.  And, of course there is plenty of room in here to argue
about whether consciousness is individual or social, etc.  I cannot
really answer these questions without just making the same old dumb
historical assumptions...  I think it's awesome to be alive, and I
want to preserve this life in myself, and wherever else I recognize
it.  From here, I can say, "Well, capitalism is OK up until it
interferes with my ethics."

> Lastly, to use the Lacanian vocabulary, is “patriarchy” a quilting point, or
> point de caption?  In other words, does it link together otherwise
> dispersed, unrelated or abstract terms in a grand gesture of meaninglessness
> disguising itself as meaningfulness (again, the problem of a counterfeit,
> double or simulacrum emerges)?  Here hegemony might enter the fray, as well
> as the work of Laclau and Mouffe (as well as their roots in a Leibnizian
> tradition of reflection on the nature of contingency)

A good question.  I think patriarchy can be abstracted to the point of
meaningless...  my partner once had a teacher fault her for writing
"like a man," I guess because she is meticulous, uses lots of
citations, and is very systematic in her thinking.  Of course, I took
exception to this.  There have been historically specific points at
which women's writing was considered inferior to male writing,
particularly because women were denied access to many of the same
"public" venues and resources in which scholarship is created and
consumed....  but to hang on to this critique seems counterproductive
unless it is sufficiently particularized.  So, I guess all signs at
some point have to be quilting points...  but I would not say that
this is meaningless.  But, the more expansively the particular sign
communicates...  the greater the difference it spans....  the more
meaningless it is in a sense (otherwise it would be obvious).  To
bring it back to "writing like a man," the particular point of
criticism is, in my mind, meaningless.  But, precisely because it is
apparently meaningless, it is eminently meaningful as a heuristic.
Being told one "write's like a man," if it unleashes questions about
how this could be so, it becomes more meaningful than it would need to
be had it not been articulated.

To bring this back to finance.  I don't know what this can tell us.
On the one hand, "Neoliberalism," as a general signifier for
everything in this age of Neoliberal bullshit does provide occasion to
wonder just what it is that makes it so.  But, on the other hand, if
the term sort of recedes into just plain noise....  then maybe we
don't think about it.  I do think this has been the case with many of
the assumptions of capitalism.  We have a hard time thinking about a
world without money.  A world without it might seem like a world
without spirits did in a previous age.  How would we live?  What would
we do?  Would people work?  In the past, people worked under the lash,
and a world without such coercion was considered dangerous and
immoral.  People have also worked for kings, and imagined life without
the sovereign to be impossible and doomed to decadence. On the other
hand, millions of people play video games simply to satisfy various

Well...  I need to go grade a ton of papers.



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