I’ll be reading a paper called “Meditations in an Emergency: On the Deletion of My MP3 Collection” on Tuesday, March 5 at the Lake Forest Literary Festival at Lake Forest College, outside of Chicago. Thanks to my pal Davis Schneiderman, who I’m working with on a new edition of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s collage manual The Third Mind, for the invite. The festival will also feature the awesome work of Cecilia Corrigan and Lisa Robertson.
I’ll be giving a talk at the School for Visual Arts in Manhattan on Sept. 27th at 7 p.m. The talk will go into some of my recent work on vibrational ontology and what I call the politics of vibration, through an examination of some recent music videos, mostly by members of LA hiphop crew Odd Future. Almost certainly including this one:
Mostly, we don’t think of music as a particular type or culture of vibration. I argue that hiphop, being a profound meditation on and mobilization of sound, is keenly aware of the dangers of pleasures of vibration, and that in different ways, artists like Azealia Banks, Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt are making decisions about what a human relation to vibration could be. If you’re in the city, come down and listen ….
Creative Capital/The Warhol Foundation just posted the audio of my keynote talk at the their Arts Writers convening in Philadelphia last August. They asked me to speak about drugs and creativity, and this gave me an opportunity to revisit the work I’d done on drugs and the arts in my book The Roads of Excess: A History of Writers and Drugs in the early 2000s.
As you can hear on the audio recording, mostly my argument was that the heroic age of literary and artistic experimentation with drugs is over, even if many of the questions provoked by the existence of psychoactive substances remain unanswered. You can see it in Vancouver based artist Jeremy Shaw’s fascinating installation piece, DMT from 2004, where the gap between the noumenal quality of the experience and the banality of the images of those perhaps under the influence or their narratives is a vast one. Whatever the quality of the experience, it is basically unrepresentable, and thus beyond the sphere of art. Contrast this if you like with someone like Henri Michaux’s attempts in the 1950s and 1960s to write and draw under the influence of mescaline.
In place of this kind of art, the most interesting drug cultural artefacts have been TV shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire and Weeds. But there’s little attempt to represent drug experiences in those shows, and all the excitement and drama comes from the fact that drugs are an economic and legal proposition. It’s almost as though people now get high on business or the law, the way they used to on drugs. I find that an amazing and troubling proposition. In the talk, I looked at some of Ryan Trecartin’s recent video pieces, which are strikingly psychedelic, but whose psychedelia mimics and amplifies the self-distorting fx of corporate training videos and reality TV, and is without reference to drugs.
Talk of drugs and economy brought me back to research I’m currently doing on William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s collage manual, The Third Mind, and Burroughs’ still unassimilated argument that the broader lesson of drug addiction is that we almost always build our reality pictures based on what he calls “the algebra of need”. And that need can be and is manufactured — this corresponding to what Zizek and others today call ideology.
For me this opens up an interesting way of thinking about the contemporary impasse of the arts, whether writing or visual arts or for that matter music. If the presentation of reality itself happens mostly through the manufacture and manipulation of need, what can art be, other than one more form of participation in the manufacture of our need for certain kinds of reality picture? Is it a question of distinguishing between false needs and real ones? Or do “real needs” become the primary site of ideological capture … i.e. the thing that you submit to believing. Conversely, would an art that refused any discourse of need have any meaning or function whatsoever? Do we need to have needs, even beyond the biological imperatives that seem so fundamental? David Levi-Strauss asked me: why “need” and not “desire”? It was a really good question … maybe this is a very 2012 answer but it seems very difficult to think about desire today without also thinking about what limits or structures desire. It unsettles me to think about need and I think that’s a good thing.
I’ll be giving a talk in London at the Middlesex U. Philosophy Department on Tuesday, March 1. Details here. This is one of the most progressive philosophy departments around and it’s a real honor to speak there, even more so since the department is under threat of being shut down and the site of a major struggle between faculty/students/supporters worldwide and the administration. I’ll be discussing some of my post-IPOC ideas about Buddhism and what the meaning of the word practice is, within Buddhism, but also more broadly in contemporary life. More specifically I’ll be reading the work of French philosopher Alain Badiou from a Buddhist perspective, which if you know Badiou’s post-Maoist, rigorously materialist philosophy at all, might sound like a highly improbable thing to do. The work involves rethinking Buddhism (or at least my own relation to Buddhism) as much as rethinking Badiou. I’ll save the details, which involve German Marxists Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin, Tibetan modernist Gedun Choephel, Chairman Mao, Cantor’s set theory amongst others, for the talk.
I participated in a very interesting panel at the Modern Language Association meeting in Los Angeles last weekend. Three of us, Tim Morton, author of Ecology Without Nature, Eric Cazdyn, author of the soon to be published The Already Dead, and I, discussing the relation between Buddhist practice and critical theory. All of us are responding in different ways to Slavoj Zizek’s comments over the last decade concerning Buddhism. Eric explored the relationship between psychoanalytic cure, Marxist utopia and Buddhist enlightenment. Tim looked at what he calls Buddhaphobia, and read Zizek against some of Lacan’s comments on Buddhism made after his trip to Japan in the early 1960s. I explored a series of moments in modern Tibetan Buddhist history and literature in an attempt to show the ways in which Alain Badiou’s thought resonates with the history and practice of Buddhism. You can listen to the audio of the talks here.