Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"Shots Rang Out" an appalling American euphemism for


...and “rang”: a gunshot is so not a bell.

Remember the Gulf War reporting? “I can hear the sound of tracer fire around me.” =


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tim Morton's Coffee

Someone sent me this and naturally I smiled.

Morton and Harman in Attempt Magazine

I'm saying some things about our current agricultural-logical-ontological crisis.

A Simple Way to Determine the Correct Recommended Daily Amount of Sugar in a Product

Soft drink companies are resisting FDA plans to put the percentage of the recommended daily amount of sugar on products, as opposed to grams per serving (the gram being a unit Joe Average USA has no clue about). For the sake of reference, one can of Coca Cola contains 130% of that amount, I believe.

But I think there's an easier way to determine this amount. It's simple. The recommended daily amount should be:

That amount which, on live TV, the CEO of the soft drink (or other) company is prepared to consume in a single sitting.

“Coca Cola can be part of a balanced daily diet.” [actual quotation by actual big person during London Olympics, sponsored by Coca Cola]

“Fantastic. Okay. Here are eight cans of cola. Drink them.”

“Well...perhaps we shouldn't get carried away here.”

“Oh, okay. Seven. Drink seven.”


“Fair enough. Six. Go on. Drink.”


Fuck Faces

So, some Hollywood celebrity has said that her motto is “Don't be an arrogant fuckface,” and the In-a-Hysterical-Huff Post has described it as the best life advice ever given.

I noticed last week that commenters on another article seemed happy to label those with whom they had some dislike or disagreement fuckbags.

But what are these things, and why are they bad? A fuck face might be quite nice, or funny: just look at Pasolini's Decameron. And a fuckbag? Is it a scrotum? A bag of sex toys? What? And why are those bad?

Or are we saying Bare life animated corpse that I'd like to violate? (Very bad in context, since fuckbag was being used against a now common and notably sexist meme.)

Wanker and other derogatory terms I understand--there seems to be a clear referent. But that's not the only reason to prefer them. This isn't an elegy for a mythical lost age where we said what we meant and meant what we said. It's more about how the new insult is a double-wide turbo charged truck in comparison to the older one, which now seems like a cheap old bicycle.

These new blends of insult approach word salad, but not enough. There is some minimal reference, and therein lies the aggression. This isn't about the free play of the signifier, but its opposite, the coercive mashup of little bits of reference, demeaning the whole notion of faces and fucking, and bags etc, not to mention sounds and words.

These features are symptoms of a terrible, narcissistic aggression, fueled by the mirror shades that are the affordances of online subjectivity.

Astounding how easy and viral these terms are--the whole game is to be--what?--not disinhibited, maybe repressively desublimated (thanks Frankfurt school!) enough to use them. Interestingly, I wonder whether the celebrity and her audience would have felt less comfortable saying wanker.

Speech is energy and energy, obviously, can be used as a weapon. But who is being attacked by fuckface? It's as if language, let alone sexuality, let alone the user of the term, is tearing itself/herself apart in the act of flipping the bird in another random act of online superhighway (as Clinton used to say) road rage.

Saying Don't be an arrogant fuckface is being an arrogant fuckface. And hearing it in a TV studio without wincing. And publishing a Huffing and Puffington piece about it.

This is much more dire than some older guy lamenting people's lack of manners. This is lamenting people's lack of pleasure, its gentle pulsation, its tendrils. Lack of pleasure regarding sexuality and language, two interrelated phenomena.

Fuckface is a pleasure defoliant. The Napalm of insults. It strips the entire forest, the communication dimension in which the speaker herself or himself also resides. Nothing left to salvage.

It's sort of like channeling Schopenhauerian will. In Schopenhauer's world, if you eat me, that is will eating itself. The world of what he calls representation (incarnation, physicality, enactment) that disguises this snarling loop is left in tatters. The new insults are arc lights of cynical reason.

My mum, a psychoanalyst, is really disturbed by the way the internet seems to want to allow everyone to play at having not a mental illness but a personality disorder, something far more intense and chronic and basic than acute misery.

I think we need to have another look at what Žižek was writing in the later 90s, when he kept on and on making the point that the transition to what he was calling virtual reality needed to be noted and analyzed. Something is happening, he was arguing, and we won't even be able to see in such a way as to notice that something is happening, a few years into virtual reality.

When some people (scholars and the military) had the internet, it was some kind of freedom pleasure space.

Now that “everyone” has it, it's become an authoritarian aggression space.

When did that flip occur? It's interesting to think about, because it involves the paradox of the heap (the Sorites paradox). Was there a more or less precisely defined transition moment between these two states, and roughly how many people were online for it to have occurred?

Let alone why. We have no idea why--apart from the fact that samsara is aggression, or that people aren't yet ready even for consumerism, let alone more futuristic forms of pleasure. It's the angry agricultural God who yells fuckface at his creation, which is a reflection of his face. The psychotic who-is-killing-whom snarl: faces that fuck, death to faces, fuck as kill, faces of pleasure as ugly insults.

And the parallel transition from wanker et al. to fuckbag et al, alliterative messes insidiously less significant than shouting some truly a-signifying wash of consonants. (Again, this isn't a war against the signifier in the name of the good old referential days that I'm trying to mount here.)

The culture of fuckface is funny if you can see how caught people are in finding the fastest, most efficient aggression mode. Unfortunately, you have to be pretty contemplative to have slowed down enough to appreciate how funny it is. And it's funny in a desperate way, like watching puppets fry themselves alive. Live human auto-sacrifice. Yahweh tearing his face off.

Post-Maoist Orientalism

The idea that the Chinese Communist Party knew exactly what it was doing, in a parallel universe of power that was equal to the “West” yet mysterious, has just been fantastically demystified in an all that is solid melts into air sort of a way (Marx's Macbeth quotation re: capitalism).

This idea has been exposed for what it is, a kind of contemporary orientalism hard wired into stock market algorithms.

A quick trip to the Tibetan Autonomous Region would disabuse most people of the idea that what is going on is a sophisticated, “brilliant” manipulation of capitalist rules. In the TAR nineteen year old soldiers with guns man (underline man) checkpoints in the middle of nowhere while political prisoners dig roads with their bare hands, supervised by more soldiers with guns.

And crumbling half-built buildings and obvious all-pervasive misery should convince you that China can somehow suddenly change towards a consumer-driven economy where people desiring things and being able to obtain them, with money (what money?) corrects the current crisis.

But then, no one bothered to look, let alone ask the Tibetans. If you live there or visit there (and are not a Han Chinese settler) you are supposedly a happy idiot like the Amish, or you want to be one, aka a “Western Buddhist.”

Traditional orientalist is about mysteriously “other” power-knowledge and “exotic” pleasure. But pleasure and knowledge are precisely what is missing in this new orientalism. It looks like one really might have to pass through the pleasure aspect of capitalism to get somewhere else.

Monday, August 24, 2015

First Day of Class


Here Comes the German Translation of Ecology without Nature

I hear from Harvard that it will be early next year. So glad this is happening.

Ready to be a Decomponaut Yet?

Want to join me and Jae Rhim Lee? Here's a reason why:

Some of them are the most powerful figures in our industry, people who can call up Barack Obama about the dangers of nanotechnology, and Obama has to say “Michelle, I need to take this.”
“Barack, it is three o'clock in the morning."
“I know, but this guy is scared of sentient artificial intelligence and he's a huge contributor.”
And then Obama just has to sit there and listen to this shit.

Because we all know that 3000 years from now, everyone will be gagging to see Ray Kurzweil.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Brit in Texas Observing the North

Prefatory note to English people: a state is not a county. A state is what the UK would look like if there were a United States of Europe. Vermont is Belgium, maybe, California is Poland (hahaha, I know, it doesn't work!).

And the size confuses a lot of Europeans. Two colleagues who visited me in Boulder, CO were like “Maybe this morning we could drive to visit the Grand Canyon?” And I'm like “Sure, you will need a day and two planes to get there, see you in a week!”

So, again, just to be incredibly clear. A state is a country-sized entity in a federation. You can fit at least two Britains into Colorado and the Texans are sizeist for a reason. It takes seven hours to drive at top speed from San Francisco to Los Angeles. And SF is in the middle of CA. And so on.


I think I can see pretty accurately, having not been brought up here, and having lived in several parts of the USA (NYC, NJ, CA, CO, TX). In other words, you can't accuse me of native prejudice or whatever, you guys from MA (yes I'm looking at you mostly) who are so...hmm, what is the best phrase, maybe jaw-droppingly rude sums it up?

So, here's an example. I'm having breakfast at my hotel. I'm doing this lecture in Canada. There's an architect from Boston and two scholars from Australia. The architect is pointing at my breakfast and looking at the Australians with a “hey this is hilarious” grin on his or her face, saying “That's a really Southern breakfast. I mean, it's really Gulf Coast. It's really Texan.”

What was the breakfast?

Eggs benedict, hash browns and some toast, with some spinach and baked beans.

I could have sworn I'd eaten that in New York City a few times. Even in Boston, if I recall, the last time I talked at Harvard. And now, apparently, far northern Canada.

The Australians were mortified. The Bostonian didn't notice. After a while I raised my head and looked at them like “Wow, this sucks a bit doesn't it, and we're all quite embarrassed.”

Quick question: Who in that group is coarse, rude, ignorant, with not great manners? And totally blind to all that, to boot? And not only that--assuming that others are the coarse ones?

The East Coast attitude to Cali was interesting. Mildly tolerant exoticization, sometimes tending towards romantic yearning. But with a slightly supercilious “You know they're all just baked out of their minds over there” kind of vibe.

That's far far nicer than what happens to people from my new hood. It's like being a Scot in England. You are seen as a synecdoche of this place and culture, and you have to explain yourself and account for it all the time. Even if you're English. From England. Which abolished slavery decades before the USA.

A perfectly snobbish writer for The New Yorker lost it and couldn't talk to me, had to walk away quickly, when he found out I was a very happy endowed chair at Rice, Houston, Texas and had no intention of moving back to a place where you have to be making $4m to be someone.

But the East Coast can be strangely backwards, compared to the Europe it apes. I remember the looks my mum and my stepdad (who is black, from Grenada) got walking down Fifth Avenue. I mean, these were looks of total horror. From the (synecdochically) winners on the right side of the Civil War.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Real Cost of Coal

I think you'll agree that the visual says it all.

The Trouble with Tara Thangkas

This is me with my Tibetan Buddhist hat on. I've been working with Green Tara since 1997, blimey, that's about eighteen years! Anyway, it's very difficult to find a good painting of her. It's strange, because you can easily find very beautiful White Tara paintings. And really fierce female yidams such as Vajrayogini are also often awesomely done.

But there's something about Green Tara. I think, hypothesis here, it has to do with the still patriarchal structure of Tibetan monasticism, in which the paintings are done. The painters are male. I think maybe it's easy to paint a really peaceful female Buddha--White Tara is all about healing. And maybe it's easy to paint an obviously really wrathful one such as Vajrayogini.

But a powerful deity who is all about fearlessness and also bestows the siddhis--psychic and all kinds of other types of paranormal power--hmmm....also the fact that Green Tara is weirdly liminal, like she's a little bit outside official Buddhism, some teachers won't give you the transmission for her, and so on. There is this underground Green Tara network, for sure...

It all adds up to a bit of a threat to (axial age, agricultural religion) patriarchy, doesn't it? I'm not casting aspersions on the deities or even on the monks. But it seems intuitive that it would be easy either to paint -- oh dear this is going to come out wrong if you are a Tibetan Buddhist, apologies in advance -- a virgin or a whore, those patriarchal constructs, than to paint a strong female with powers that transcend your institution. Yes?

Sorry, this could sound just awful. I don't mean it to be. I just found the best best best Tara painting, and I've been looking for them for almost 20 years. I have a good one on my wall, the best I could find, from Kathmandu. But this one, wow. I'm talking to the artist and I'll let you know if and when I get a copy.'s a really, really ecological one!

Friday, August 21, 2015

The UK Political and Media Establishment Is Getting So Bunched It would Be Funny if it Wasn't Sad

Analyze the following sentence:

“If you are voting for the first time in an election, or for the first time in a while, you must be a fake voter.”

Now imagine how it would sound if a US candidate for President claimed that fake voters were signing up in droves just to vote for...Obama.

(And of course, this is what did happen.)