absence makes the heart

“Naming the ‘things that are absent’ is breaking the spell of the things that are; moreover, it is the ingression of a different order of things into the established one — ‘le commencement d’un monde.’

For the expression of this other order, which is transcendence within the one world, the poetic language depends on the transcendent elements in ordinary language. However, the total mobilization of all media for the defense of the established reality has coordinated the means of expression to the point where communication of transcending contents becomes technically impossible.

The spectre that has haunted the artistic consciousness since Mallarme — the impossibility of speaking a nonreified language, of communicating the negative — has ceased to be a spectre. It has materialized.”

— Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man



ambivalence, flirting games, translating, seeing you seeing me

Gayatri Spivak commenting on and quoting J.M. Coetzee:

“It is this particular ambivalence in poems that seems exciting for this translator to access, as she makes the mistake of thinking the named subject is she. Thus the ambivalence seems to offer a codicil to that bit in Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians that she had so liked: how does the other see me? Identity’s last secret. Coetzee describes the Magistrate describing his deciphering effort thus:

‘So I continue to swoop and circle around the irreducible figure of the girl, casting one net of meaning after another over her… What doe she see? The protecting wings of a guardian albatross  or the black shape of a coward crow afraid to strike when its prey yet breathes?’ ”

(An Aesthetic Education In The Era of Globalization, page 273)

2017 ASPECT Conference Call for Papers

My doctoral program has released the call for papers for its annual conference — see below:


Across disciplinary boundaries, the 2017 ASPECT graduate conference seeks to address articulations of aesthetics, politics, and ethics within contested temporalities. Graduate students of any level and irrespective of disciplinary affiliation are encouraged to submit abstracts of approximately 300 words based on papers that engage topics related to artistic, aesthetic, social, political, philosophical, cultural, theoretical, ethical, and critical concerns. Trajectories of inquiry may include theoretical, critical, empirical, policy-oriented, and performative explorations of the conference theme. Particularly, we invite papers that engage issues of interdisciplinarity.

Possible paper topics may include but are not limited to: the body and politics; critical approaches to technology and aesthetics; ecological and environmental issues; gender and sexuality; geopolitics and international relations; identity politics; time and the city; marginalized knowledges; moral and political philosophy; new materialities; writing and history; postcolonialism; post-Marxism and ideology; race; religion and secularity; critical security studies; and violence and representation.


Confirmed Plenary Speaker:

Dr. Michael J. Shapiro, University of Hawaii, Manoa

Abstracts of 300 words are due by Friday, December 2, 2016. We are using the OCS system which will require you to create an account and upload your abstract to this website.

For more information, email aspect@vt.edu.



“Magic is bloody untruth, but in it domination is not yet disclaimed by transforming itself into a pure truth underlying the world which it enslaves. The magician imitates demons; to frighten or placate them he makes intimidating or appeasing gestures. Although his task was impersonation he did not claim to be made in the image of the invisible power, as does civilized man, whose modest hunting ground then shrinks to the unified cosmos, in which nothing exists but prey. Only when made in such an image does man attain the identity of the self which cannot be lost in identification with the other but takes possession of itself once and for all as an impenetrable mask.” (Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment)

“Whatever is profound loves masks; what is most profound even hates image and parable. Might not nothing less than the opposite , be the proper disguise for the shame of a god? A questionable question: it would be odd if some mystic had not risked something to that effect in his mind…A man whose sense of shame has some profundity encounters his destinies and delicate decisions, too, on paths which few ever reach and of whose mere existence his closest intimates must not know: his mortal danger is concealed from their eyes, and so is his regained sureness of life. Such a concealed man who instinctively needs speech for silence and for burial in silence and who is inexhaustible in his evasion of communication, wants and sees to it that a mask of him roams in his place through the hearts and heads of his friends. And supposing he did not want it, he would still realize some day that in spite of that a mask of him is there – and that this is well. Every profound spirit needs a mask: even more, around every profound spirit a mask is growing continually, owing to the constantly false, namely shallow , interpretation of every word, every step, every sign of life he gives.” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil)

Image of girl removing her own face

(image by Aldous Massie)

endless, nameless

Thinking a lot about the lack of endings, of resolution and closure in digital worlds. There are the infinite scrolls and timelines of social media, of course, but also the punishing productivity norms of web development. Lots of beginnings and few endings, except in the case of unambiguous failure —a breakup, a parting with a particular platform (like that thing I wrote about Platform Death a while back), a project that simply runs into the ground.

Today I found this passage in The Transparency Society, where Byung Chul Han is specifically talking about the Internet:

“Conclusion in the strict sense is possible only within narration. In a denarrativized, deritualized world, the ending only amounts to a breaking-off that gives pain and unsettles (der schmerz und verstört). Only in the frame of narration can the ending appear as completion. Without a narrative quality, an ending is always absolute loss, absolute lack.”  (page 31)

In the real world happy endings do exist, but of course they exist as the function of a story that preceded them, one with elements that, through some discernible logic, moves to the satisfying conclusion. A narrative.

Probably the Internet we have now is denarrativized to the point where we can’t happily finalize the engagements we get pulled into therein. Of course that’s the point; it’s a product that needs to keep selling itself to you; it just creeps me out when I think about all the extraneous afterlives-of-things it’s encouraged.

spirituality and surveillance

Turns out, a lot of people have been thinking, writing, and preaching (!) about the connections between spirituality and surveillance for some time now.

I found a podcast of a sermon given by Unitarian Universalist Reverend M. Lara Hoke a few years ago. She’s asking people of faith to use their belief system as the basis for questioning government surveillance.

Aside from her ministry work, Hoke is a former government agent and current member of Veterans For Peace (which is an awesome nonprofit). Good stuff in this sermon:

“For those of us who believe in God, there are far more sophisticated theologies than ‘God is watching, so act right.’  And for those of us who want to be good citizens and good human beings, there are more sophisticated and important reasons to act morally than the knowledge that we are under surveillance. I don’t know if it’s in our best interest to act as if though God were there, but I do know that it’s in our best interest to not let our government get away with playing God.” 

But you should really listen to the whole thing.

make america online again

My fifth hotel in ten days — three in Virginia, one in New York City, one in North Carolina. These nights have been punctuated by stays at my parents’ house in New York and my apartment in Asheville, NC, whose lease expired on the thirty-first of July.

Current location is Christiansburg, Virginia, not too far from the place I’ll be moving into next week. Most of my earthly possessions are in a six by ten foot enclosure in a storage facility in the mountainous outer regions of this town fifteen minutes or so from the Affordable Corporate Suites. I have two TVs, two computers and two stringed instruments with me. One plastic suitcase full of cotton clothing. I’m alone.

This week I’ll be trying to finish up writing that I surely won’t have time for during the school year, organize the final leg of this migration (which involves moving my stuff from Christiansburg to the nearby town of Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech and yours truly for the next four years), and relish the remains of summer (which means something to me, unlike most of my friends, because unlike them I’m still in school).

Here are some of the best things I’ve read recently:

Surveillance, Spectacle and the Panoptic State — one of the more interesting results from a quick search for “spirituality and surveillance.” I’ve been thinking a lot about the connections between the two since HOPE …

Our Fairytales, Ourselves: Storytelling From East To West — good for fans of:  Joseph Campbell, Haruki Murakami, Hayao Miyazaki, aesthetic wonder, aesthetics as ethics, aesthetic solutions. Maybe not good for: die-hard Hero’s Journey adherents; fans of Curious George, Disney Movies or Jane Austen.

Drone Feminism: When Feminists Get A Drone  — did you know Sheryl Sandberg consulted for The Marines?

I also want to tell everybody how much I like Harold Budd’s The White Arcades. Pretty close to what music from an astral plane would sound like, even more so than the Incredible String Band’s Astral Plane Theme (which is also worth a listen).

If I do what I’m supposed to be doing, a more interesting post is forthcoming.