Cetology

Captain Valentine Barnard, Drawing of a Bowhead or Right Whale and a Sperm Whale, c 1810

"I feel a bit like a sperm whale that breaks the surface of the water, makes a little splash, and lets you believe, makes you believe, or want to believe, that down there where it can’t be seen, down there where it is neither seen nor monitored by anyone, it is following a deep, coherent, and premeditated journey."

Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France

"I love all men who dive. Any fish can swim near the surface, but it takes a great whale to go down stairs five miles or more…Thought-divers have been diving and coming up again with bloodshot eyes since the world began."

From the letters of Herman Melville, 1849

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95. In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue."

Karl Marx, 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

"Oh, don’t lecture!" protested Goldmund.  "it wasn’t a trifling disobedience that weighed on my conscience.  It was something else. It was that girl. I can’t describe the sensation to you.  It was a feeling that if I gave into the enticement, if I merely reached out to touch the girl, I’d never be able to turn back, that sin would swallow me like the maw of hell and not give me up never.  That it would be the end of every beautiful dream, of all virtue, of all love of God and good."

Narcissus nodded, deep in thought.

"Love of God," he said slowly, searching for words, "is not always the same as love of good.  I wish it were that simple. We know what is good, it is written in the Commandments.  But God is not contained only in the Commandments, you know; they are only an infinitesimal part of Him.  A man may abide by the Commandments and be far from God."

"What is repeated is the repeater, the imitator, the representative, in the absence, as it happens, of the thing itself, which appear to reedit, and without psychic or mnesic animation, without the living tension of dialectics.  Writing would indeed be the signifier’s capacity to repeat itself by itself, mechanically, without a living soul to sustain or attend to it in its repetition, that is to say, without the truth’s presenting itself anywhere."

Derrida, Plato’s Pharmacy in Disseminations

"The story goes that the cicadas used to be human beings who loved before the birth of the Muses.  When the Muses were  born and song was created for the first time, some of the people of that time were so overwhelmed with the pleasure of singing that they forgot to eat or drink; so they died without even realizing it.  It is from them that the race of cicadas came into being; and, as a gift from the Muses, they have no need of nourishment once they are born.  Instead, they immediately burst into song, without food or drink, until it is time for them to die.  And after they die, they go to the Muses and tell each one of them which mortals have honored her."

Plato, Phaedrus 259b-c

"To dream: to know a foreign (alien) language and yet not to understand it…to discover certain unsuspected positions of the subject in utterance…in a word, to descend the untranslatable…how can we imagine a verb which is simultaneously without subject, without attribute, and yet transitive, such as for instance an act of knowledge without knowing subject and without known object?  Yet it is this imagination which is required of us faced with the Hindu dhyana, origin of the Chinese ch’an and the Japanese zen…How did you deal with the language? Subtext: How did you satisfy that vital need of communication or more precisely, an ideological assertion maksed by the interrogation there is no communication except in speech.  Now it happens that in this country (Japan) the empire of signifiers is so immense, so in excess of speech…”

A grazing of Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs

"Sudden a sheet of sparrows falls from the sky and settle in the trees. So many the trees seem to sprout birds, not leaves at all.  Lina points.  We never shape the world she says.  The world shapes us."

Toni Morrison, A Mercy

"Indeed, no working model of the functioning of language, the nature of communication or of the speech act, and the dynamics of formal and stylistic change is conceivable which does not imply a whole philosophy of history."

Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious

"I came," she said, "hoping you could talk me out of a fantasy."

"Cherish it!" cried Hilarius, fiercely.  "What else do any of you have? Hold it tightly by its little tentacle, don’t let the Freudians coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you.  Whatever it is, hold it dear, for when you lost it you go over by that much to the others.  You begin to cease to be."

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 

"A German police battalion arrived at the shtetl of Sudilkov, in the Ukraine. The policeman led several hundred people to a bomb crater outside the town and shot them. The victims fell into the crater. A woman, unharmed, climbed out and sat on the edge crying. A soldier shot her, she fell back in. It was August 21, 1941."

Nicholson Baker, Human Smoke

"To offer critique is to interrupt and contravene law-preserving power, to withdraw one’s compliance from the law, to occupy a provisional criminality that fails to preserve the law and thus undertakes its destruction.  That Benjamin’s essay [The Critique of Violence] ends so abruptly might be understood as a kind of sudden ending, the very operation of critique on the model of a destruction and upheaval that contravenes teleological time.

Imagine, if you can, that Apollo and Artemis tell their mother to get a grip and refuse to obey her command, or that the military, refusing to break up a strike, effectively goes on strike itself, lays down its weapons, opens the borders, refuses to man or close the checkpoints, all its members relieved of the guilt that keeps obedience and state violence in place, prompted rather to withhold their action by memory and anticipation of too much sorrow and grief, and this—in the name of the living.”

Judith Butler on Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence” in Political Theologies

“‘And have you read all these?’ Anatole France is said to have been asked by an admirer of his library.  ’Not one-tenth of them.  I don’t supposed you use your Sevres china every day?’”

Walter Benjamin, Unpacking my Library

In this short RSA Animate, Slavoj Zizek investigates the ethics of charity.

Omar Khadr changes his plea to guilty on October 28, 2010.  On the stand before the military commission he apologized to the widow of the sergeant he allegedly killed and he admitted his guilt. “My biggest dream is to get out of this place” and experience the  “wonders and beauties of life that I haven’t experienced before.”  For having to compromise, to read an apology scripted by your captors and your torturers, I issue my own apology here to Omar.  I’m  sorry we could not have found some kind of justice for you.  In they very least, you’re going home.  I pray that after the violence, the horror and the atrocity, wonder and beauty are still out there for you, Omar.

Omar Khadr changes his plea to guilty on October 28, 2010.  On the stand before the military commission he apologized to the widow of the sergeant he allegedly killed and he admitted his guilt. “My biggest dream is to get out of this place” and experience the “wonders and beauties of life that I haven’t experienced before.”  For having to compromise, to read an apology scripted by your captors and your torturers, I issue my own apology here to Omar.  I’m  sorry we could not have found some kind of justice for you.  In they very least, you’re going home.  I pray that after the violence, the horror and the atrocity, wonder and beauty are still out there for you, Omar.

It is quite justly said of [Atget] that he photographed [deserted streets of Paris] like scenes of crime…With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance.  They demand a specific kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them.  They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way.
Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

It is quite justly said of [Atget] that he photographed [deserted streets of Paris] like scenes of crime…With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance.  They demand a specific kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them.  They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way.

Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction