[-empyre-] Les Choses

Michael Angelo Tata, PhD mtata at ipublishingllc.com
Tue Apr 21 12:22:33 EST 2009

You are making me consider my own history as giver and receiver of gifts, as it is only through personal dynamics and the everyday exchange or interrupted exchange of circulating tokens that the gift proper makes any sense: otherwise, it is only an abstraction winking at the ontic.  Sadly, I do not hear the voice of God commanding me to sacrifice the one I love beyond all love, so I may never know the pleasures of ethical transcendence—and since the pleasure of ethics proper (“duty”) eludes me, it is not clear which direction my sense of oblativity will take in or out of this discussion.  But I do know that there are things I have amassed, and lost, and disseminated, and dis-egg-inated, to use your poetic and marvelous formulation; and like the Proustian narrator who makes a monsterpiece of memory, I, too, can give and take time, I can lose it, and then discover it in the saturation of a biscuit, in the unevenness of a corner of pavement, even in the cosmic folds of a fuchsia gown whose furrows mimic the space-time geodesic and cause me to question the gravity which keeps bodies in the loops containing them.
The strangest gift I ever received: The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, given to me by a schizophrenic neighbor in my NYC flat at a Christmas party at which she was the mystery guest.  
The best gift my husband ever bestowed upon me: Swarovski crystal Dolce and Gabbana rosary beads, from the Caesar’s Palace shops, Las Vegas.
The worst gift my husband ever gave me: a white and green argyle tennis sweater from Andy’s Cheapies, NYC, which I wore to be polite, and then got photographed with Quentin Crisp out in public at an impromptu lunch at Chelsea Square, my specular atrocity for all the world to see.
Quirkiest childhood gift(s): whatever my Mom could cull together from the local gas station convenience store on Christmas Eve (a copy of GQ, lemon-lime tic-tacs, a lottery ticket).
Sweetest gift my Mom gave to me: a stainless steel whistler teapot, mailed form Connecticut to Palm Springs, and received by me after a return flight from Miami, when I ached for NYC and found all these grains of sands about me an embodiment of torture.
Suspension of the ethical: masquerading as a friend to take his SATs for him, all for the pleasures of carnality.
A duty beyond all duty: do I give a lobe of my liver to an alcoholic sister-in-law who might need it?
Refusal: not giving sperm to a desperate friend in need of children, presumably bearing  names culled from dirty French novels.
Most thoughtful gift: an envelope glutted with Burger King discount coupons, from a “slow” cousin several IQ points away from being committed, yet with a heart of gold.
A gift that fell flat: flying a friend to Sydney, only to have him break down sobbing by the waters of Darling Harbor because a certain scent of the waves brought back memories of his dead surfer brother, whose presence would not leave him for the duration of our stay.
The gift I never give: alms, since I do not feel that social obligation that is such a source of ambivalence and maladjustment for Baudelaire (“Beat Up the Poor,” “Counterfeit Money,” “The Eyes of the Poor”).
The gift I give instead: compliments (“You look great in your new trackie, Renée!”), as these seem more genuine to me than the exchange of coins for guiltlessness and exoneration.
The gift I could never use: a yearly JCPenney gift certificate from Dad, the implication being that it was immoral for me to shop elsewhere.
Useless gift: mother-of-pearl caviar spoons, useless because I never got around to buying Ossetra or Sevruga, although at the time I wrote for Petrossian Caviar.
Alright—this litany has gone on long enough, and most likely displays my indebtedness to objects in general, as counterpoint to ephemera, as ephemeral things stopping time for just an instant, one pure instant of uncanniness leaping out of time only to return me to its ferric core with a thud.  
Now to address your very salient points, especially as these connect up gifting with amitié, with just enough treachery and sabotage thrown in to make friendship the most marvelous and unnatural gift the world has ever known—or is yet to know, depending on our attitude toward humanism (Has it ever truly come to pass?  Have we surpassed it?  Can we engage it without hubris or condescension: that is, can we engage humans as humans, openness as openness?).  I will follow your numbers chronologically, taking a stroll down the flagstones you have thoughtfully laid out before me.  That I must wait a week to hear your eloquent response pains me, but when your words materialize, they will be a true gift indeed, so I will wait, suspended between a concrete now and a concretizing then which beckons to me from a distance across time and across the pond: the gift often involves suspension, deferral, the delicious agony of a privation without which the gift might become entirely superfluous and forgettable before it even has the time to be remembered.  As Deleuze says, there is no sadism or masochism without suspension: might the gift partake of this economy of pleasure and pain?  Regardless:
1.  The amoebalike capacity of capital and capitalism is absolutely fatal, making it expert at absorbing and putting to use even the critique of capital, unlike standard totalitarian systems, such as those analyzed by Arendt, which quash critique and render it a “purge-able” offense with no use-value outside of expulsion to a systemic outside.  Is capitalism total?  Totalitarian?  Can money be Mao?  As for Madoff and the trope of friendship, there is also the issue of seduction, something central to Kierkegaard’s epistemology (his identification of Socrates and Jesus as the great seducers, his little tale of “The Seducer’s Diary,” etc.).  Capital is seductive, and I imagine the friendship or “alliance” of Madoff involved the seductions of wealth, power, and a connection with someone guru-like—an “industry leader,” celebrity investor, socialite.  Someone with the “Royal Touch”—a contemporary Henry IV battling scrofula.  
2.  Yes—whether we are inside or outside capitalism, the question remains: why does our position matter so urgently?  Is there an outside to capital, an escape hatch, a golden parachute?  Going off-grid is one answer, but what would be the value of being contra-modern?  I agree with Rimbaud: “Il faut être absolument moderne…”  And I agree with absinthe: choose your wahnbildungsarbeit wisely.
3.  Mais oui: the transvaluation of value, the translation of value into worth, the worthiness of that transitioning, value as investment—cathexis as the ideal model for value, and overvalue (that overinvestment and overvaluation characterizing the love object).
4.  Both semen and eggs point to vitalism, to that rash desire of the germ cell to take its meiotic harvest and replicate: almost a viral impulse causing me to ponder the symbiotic theories of Lynn Margulis (specifically, the spirochete remnants she believes are stashed in mitotic eukaryote cells—Dazzle Gradually).  Is it time to pull Bergson into our discussion?  Bergson or Mary Shelley: either will do, since both grapple with that mystical energy which gets things going, perhaps too much.
5.  What a fantastic D&G quote: thank you for that.  Yes, the split subject, the CSO, even the Freudian ego (how funny—I spelled it “ago” just a second ago)—quite the crowd, quite the cacophony, quite the fronde.  Does the self betray the self?  Lacan’s slashed “S”, which I cannot help but read as dollar sign (USD), does indicate that, fundamentally, the self is scissiparous, divided, multiple: that poor infant gazing helplessly at the total image it can only approach as asymptote due to the “neoteny” Lacan believes to be a part of human parturition is betrayed by its uncoordination, by its discord, by the reflecting surface, even by the photon making that surface shimmer and return an imago.  Fort/da is also a response to betrayal, as is Cornelius Castoriadis’ dual constructions of a “good breast” and a “bad breast” that the infans erects in order to make sense of the oscillations of milk and milklessness that define its diurnal rhythm.  In friendship, betrayal intersects betrayal.  And yet there is hope: herein lies the paradox at the core of intersubjectivity: that these sliced up entities consumed by lack are not lackluster at all when it comes to the vibrant sharing of sensation, reflection, perception without which all would be solipsism and onanism.
As for credit and debit, we as artists and writers and “unacknowledged legislators of the world” (Percy Shelley is HLOL, yet charming in his earnestness) create cultural capital and intellectual investment that pay off within the history of consciousness, so I am thinking we accumulate at the same time that our peregrinations, videos and poems cost that ultimate commodity, time, which we spend with prodigality and abandon, or else we are not artists or poets at all, but faceless drones wandering aimlessly through a Mark Kostabi painting or down a Martin Margiela runway.
So much for now.  This chat has been dreamy and, to be honest, timely.  Looking forward to your response, and the gift of communication (the moment you and that computer screen are re-united).

Michael Angelo Tata, PhD  347.776.1931-USA


Date: Sat, 18 Apr 2009 11:44:29 +0100
From: cinziacremona at googlemail.com
To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 53, Issue 15

Oh I do admire the qualities of certain systems ... absorbing, reappropriating, exploiting happen on all sides of an argument.

I would like to question some assumptions ... 

1. We are so used to thinking about 'capital' as 'money'. There are other capitals, values, systems of exchange. I do like the way you highlight the thread of friendship in the Madoff affair. Were his social skills, his capacity to befriend, his first resource? Now that this narrative has come to a dramatic denouement, it is harder to think how else those resources could have been invested, and what returns they could have matured. Friendship produces other values, which sometimes translate into money and sometimes translate into less quantifiable values. Some of the resources that can be accessed because of friendship need not be bought! And this goes on all around us, but it is not part of the big capitalist narrative - it does not translate into money - which makes it harder to include it into the equation. I wonder if the critique of capitalism is not always struggling to catch up when it is too late. In commenting on the commercialisation of everything 'green', we should also comment on those who invested in the environment when there was no hope of monetary return. Some will have generated money on top of other things. Does this mean that capitalism has appropriated environmentalim completely?

2. If capitalism was not so over encompassing, would we want to find alternatives? Personally, I think one is never 'outside' anything. I also think that 'pre-' (add to your taste: -capitalist, -linguistic, -subjective, etc) ways of being are lovely philosophical fables. Let's ask ourselves the ultimate naive question: WHY do we want to be free from capitalism? What do we mean? What do we think we would be like if we were? 

3. Questions of value ... Good point, what if my gift is refused? I might get it wrong ... I might be offering you something that is of great value to me, but means nothing to you. Isn't this the foundation of the wastefulness of Potlach generosity? Reciprocity (competition too?) can be based on quantity or on shared values. That's where capitalism's quantifiable and interchangeable currencies make things easier. Investing in difference might mean taking the trouble to evaluate what is of value to you specifically. And taking responsibility for offering the wrong gift ... Do we really all value the same things? Are you really exploiting me if I want your friendship instead of your money in exchange for a service or a commodity? 

4. I wonder how you would translate the phallic function into female terms: an orgasm that doesn't even produce seed? Isn't shedding an egg a month a life of dissemination without harvest? (dis-egg-ation ...) Investment in sheer desire for living?

5. Your very beautiful point about credit says a lot about interwoven systems of value, singularity and multiplicity. Without friendships, Madoff would have not accumulated money. Does this mean his friendship was not true? Or was it also counterfeit? Does necessarily one exclude the other? Deleuze and Guattari open 'A Thousand Plateaus' with "... since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd." I also wonder if betrayal is not part of friendship from the very beginning, at least in Derrida. He seems to depict a set of obligations that will inevitably be disappointed. He also delves in Nietzsche's parallel invocation: 'oh my enemy ...'.

By the way I am living, do I create more debt or credit? In what proportion? "What is do be done?"

I'll have to leave the conversation here, as I'll be away from computers for a week. I look forward to reading you reply(ies) on my return. It has been very nurturing. Thank you.

Visions in the Nunnery
22 to 31 May 2009

Message: 2
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 2009 01:37:39 -0700
From: "Michael Angelo Tata, PhD" <mtata at ipublishingllc.com>
Subject: [-empyre-] The Temporality of Friendship
To: Soft Skinned Space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Message-ID: <BLU143-W17F35C5E42F68541041F86A27A0 at phx.gbl>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="windows-1252"


You are lovely to respond so directly and poetically to our lively t?te-?-t?te about giftliness and its conditions of possibility/impossibility.  I am especially happy you have pulled The Politics of Friendship into the action: from a ludic perspective, it is the ideal move, since it supplements the general discussion of gifts and gifting in The Gift of Death and Given Time with an account of what provides the ground or occasion for the non-exchange exchange of the gift: le m?nage.  For when we examine the very concrete problem of the recent Wall Street misappropriation of funds, the ethics of friendship?Derrida?s famous n+2?comes immediately into play.  For example, so many describe Bernie Madoff as ?a friend,? and his infidelity to the rich and famous he courted before his fall infuses the debate surrounding his financial dishonesty with an anger not entirely rooted in money, capital, investment, or return.

The dissymetry of a Contretemps is particularly incisive, and for me calls to mind the radical ontological disproportion between an individual and an Other without which there would be no possibility of either a gift, a Gift-gift (the gift that discloses its poisonous content beneath the beautiful sensuous form), or, paramountly, that most extreme form of the cadeau, the gift of death.  Via Dissemination, the true gift does not return, as the giver does not expect remuneration, compensation or adequation, and the recipient immediately forgets that any gift was ever given, it never dawning on him or her to return anything: like meaning, the gift dissipates, physically as well as mnemonically, and the phallic function finds itself surprisingly dissipative, spreading its seeds without being able to harvest any growth, shoot or sprig that might result.  Is amiti? similarly dissipative, since clearly it must depart from the simple exchangism that at best produces an economy, at wo
 rst a chrematistics (system of commerce)?  If friendship, or the relation between an autre and an autre, exists as historical liaison, it must transcend the simple quid-pro-quo of commercial enterprise.  As for le contretemps proper, to which time or ?temps? does it run counter?  What exactly is the time of friendship?  How do we measure it, endure it, make use of it?

Since ultimately the Gift manifests itself as waste and prodigality, paradigms of reception for that waste become imperative.  How do we receive this excrescence, this too-much-ness, this excess that is of a piece with the sublime: does it overwhelm us, do we feel the need to reciprocate, at the same time that we realize reciprocation is impossible and, in effect, undesirable?  What happens if, like God in the famous Abraham/Isaac fable central to Kierkegaard?s thought and Derrida?s appropriation of that thought, our gift-beyond-all-gifts is (shock!) refused?  Can the Gift, with all its metaphysical overindulgence, be accepted, or must it always fold back upon (rapporter) the giver through the magnanimous of refusal?  At some level, investment and the gift connect up, if we think of the capital which gets stored in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and hedge funds as some sort of gift-object: but are these gifts?  Or are they pre-gifts, the real gift being the unreal returns these
 investments are able, under ideal circumstances, to produce?  Or perhaps Wall Street is the antithesis of giftliness, since it is the gift which both sets economy in motion at the same time that it interrupts the circularity of exchangism, and hence cannot be something Wall Street produces.

You also make me wonder about examples of contemporary potlatch.  Is a show like My Super Sweet Sixteen an exhibition of a potlatch economy?  Perhaps the US war in Iraq and Afghanistan is potlatch-y.  Clearly, American and, to some degree, European societies are wasteful, but does this waste involve that critical dimension of the potlatch, nobility?  Is the Green Revolution, with all its advertising machinery?everything from green bottles of Windex-like substances which in theory will not poison that new fetish, ?the environment,? to Oprah-endorsed burlap grocery sacks which, although inconvenient from a cosmopolitan standpoint, keep plastic bags from accumulating in New Jersey landfills?an attempt to manage an ecological potlatch?  In and through the potlatch, we destroy the precious for many reasons: to demonstrate the fact that these objects are ours and ours alone to destroy, to lord our ownership of these objects over our peers, who presumably own comparable objects, and
 , finally, to specularize generosity.  I think of all those cathode ray beams shooting re-runs of I Love Lucy and Bullwinkle into space, where alien SETI cultures intercept our junk, presumably to marvel at our commitment to the trivial.

If friendship is an investment, it must involve all that Derrida means by a term like ?credit.?  For Derrida, even literature is credit-based, in terms of our faith in the veracity of the narrator, the fidelity of the narrator?s narration with respect to the particular memory which both substantiates and supports it, and in terms of our own credence with respect to the ability of a porous and aporetic language to grab hold of the world and its multifarious objects with some degree of accuracy, one clear enough to ensure a praxis of living.  As for the credit without which there would be no friendship or acquaintanceship, and especially not a literature, a contemporary mutation within the sphere of human relations arises: how are we to invest in that new tabloid creature, the Frenemy (for example, Paris Hilton/Nicole Ritchie)?  In Baudelaire?s prose poem Counterfeit Money from the collection Paris Spleen, friendship borders many things: dissimulation, philanthropic display, so
 cial obligation and, most critically, the truthfulness of truth, which at all moments in time might slip into the masquerade of the counterfeit.  Here, the n+2, or, as Derrida terms it, the l??tre-deux-?-parler, experiences the crisis of the simulacrum: in a sense, the two comprising the friendship pair in Baudelaire?s poem are frenemies from the get-go, their amity cemented by competition and conflict revealed through the politeness of sublimated pleasantries and the luxurious expenditure of tobacco (for anthropologists, a highly symbolic and meaningful gift not so much exchanged as exhausted through immolation).

Generally speaking, aren?t we all ?Captives of Capitalism??  The problem of capital is that it expertly absorbs the critique of capital: in some sense, it even orchestrates that critique, setting up a false dichotomy so that we might feel some pleasure at resolving the pseudo-antinomy.  Unlike totalitarianism, which persecutes its opponents, capitalism invites antagonism, if only because the general agonistics at its core generates more capital; even in the wake of the current housing calamity, there is money to be made with the ?Loan Mod? racket, for example.  For me, the vital question is: is there an exterior to capital?  True, there are parasitic responses to capital, like Freeganism, Voluntary Simplicitism, or squatting, but none of these achieve freedom from capital, their motivating force, express cause and raison d??tre.  It seems like the only way to break through capital is via terror, but even this insidious tactic gives capital new terrain to dominate after the de
 ad are counted, collected and interred: for example, the rebuilding of Baghdad after the US bombs it as a response to 9/11, or the capital invested in the new World Trade Center monument.

Investing in difference, as you so elegantly phrase it, is a key strategy to the operation of capital, which astutely realizes that even similarity must be marketed as dissimilarity.  Truth be told, neither ?difference? nor ?diff?rance? are inimical to capital: they are essential to its functioning, which is based almost entirely on variation, variegation and novelty.  To resurrect Debord: the essence of contemporary capital is diffusion, as opposed to that of totalitarianism, which is concentration (think: Warhol?s Mao series, versus the ?official? images of Mao decorating Communist China).  Life may very well be a Benetton commercial.  I mean, look at us: a fab British New Media artist conversing with an equally fab American poet about the nature of difference and its role in sustaining and accumulating capital.  I think of the ad campaign for design house Moschino: ?Consenting member of the fashion system.?  Becoming aware of our complicities and capitalizing upon them may
 be the highest form of rebellion: I say this without irony, sarcasm, or regret.

Ciao for now!

Windows Live™: Keep your life in sync.
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