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new blog at: http://maximalignment.wordpress.com/

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toolbeing

RP Blackmur (the famous American literary critic) once said: “Reason manipulates reality in a merely administrative rather than understanding sense.” As usual, I see a pattern here. X manipulates Y in a merely administrative rather than understanding sense. So, let’s say: the self manipulates the other in a merely “administrative” rather than understanding sense. Neat, innit. Relations are based on whatever works; not some kind of access.

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instant access

caught in the pinball machine

like a fly in a bottle

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not what it’s cracked up to be,

it is pure evilution

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a needle that picks up song

from a broken record

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and we’re locked inside

drab walls of elbow rooms

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a bunch of scrambling bugs

pinned to damp cardboards

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it’s pure evilution

where there is no omelette

sans cracked eggs

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damn!

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rock breaks scissors

scissors cut paper

paper wraps rock

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get out the box

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go plop like a frog

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click the link below

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have guts, shed the shells

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commodify your assets

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solve problems sell the solutions

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take part, this is art

just get drenched in the stench

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starch helps gain weight

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toxins get stored in fat tissue

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milk thistle supports liver function

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OSMOSIS

Let’s kick this off with Adam Drucker’s (Doseone) mot: Getting open is the prime objective, it’s sort of like blacking out but with lots of light.

Doseone

This one is going to meander about the idea of osmosis and skill, yet again; about acquisition and execution, performance and flow. Which is to say, the first thing first: feedback.

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Feedback: what an apt word. Effects–like food–feed back and nourish the roots that yield them. Bootstrapping, in essence. A self-enclosed loop of (re)action.

If what we do and what we give to the world in the form of our actions and reactions don’t get fed back to us in some way, shape or form we, as mentalemotional flesh-and-blood gluttons inevitably become malnourished. If what we are is not re-flected somehow back to us then we are simply not. Feedback is the #1 nourishment of the mind. Deprived of it we are catapulted into a mode of starvation.

Generally speaking.

Think of sensory deprivation and the loss of mental coherence after a little time inside the tank. Like depriving a playful child of its toys the brain is robbed of the impulses it seeks. It’s all but hungry tentacles flailing about. A cascade without structure. There is just no way of moving forward, so to speak, without being fed back.

[Feedback, of course, spans many levels of analysis (like biodynamic and ecological scales, besides the psychological one) but let’s just stick to the general one here: the level of the everyday, the performative. The mind, that is. The embodied mind.]

Feedback is the fuel of the mind. The responses we cull (un- and sub- and sur- and plain consciously) provide the mirror in which our visage coheres into a semblance of a functioning self. Our project (of being) opens amidst the rejoinders it’s afforded. Whether I fast (in solitude buried in books and the interwebs) or feast (by going out and socializing a great deal) this is the stuff that suckles my mind.

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Exposure is a must, for sure, and its extent key. Which is to say, the greater the mind the greater the range of feedback loops and the enclosed experiential content it (structurally) opens to. And here is the message, the gospel if you like: It is openness that unlocks my powers, and it involves taking chances. Openness is always a double-edged thing. Power and vulnerability, they go hand in hand, in tandem.

Now, feedback combined with openness equals the process called learning. In short, learning is the bread and butter of the hungry mind (forever caught up in webs of feedback loops) and learning is impossible without the dialectical loop of trial and error. Basically, it is failure that provides the feedback. It’s the friction where it’s really at. Emergence is via traction. The less I try the less I am.

To translate this, for instance, into interpersonal terms think of interpersonal conflicts. Conflicts are the engines that (may) engineer (enhanced) resolutions. Without conflicts we dwell only in a drab world of meager dimensions–turgidly put. Without (self-reliance and) candidness I get stuck in the black box of narcisism where I project all my fragility into others and protect all my vulnerability from others.

Not a good place to be in, that box. We need to be willing to take the leap and dis- or at least downregard the (crippling) fears of the potential social risks involved. Because it’s as simple as that. We act and we get feedback, and thus get to be: ourselves, more and more.

Well,

to tie this all back to performance and flow let’s get back to Doseone. In an interview  this is what he says about the skill (art and craft) of freestyle rapping:

You have to be constantly spontaneous… like the first time you jump off the high dive: you don’t see anything, it’s just split seconds.. tenth time you feel like you might be able to control your body a little bit, and then there is people in the olympics who spin around, go through frickin fireholes, thread a needle and don’t make water splash.

This is a brilliant illustration, intimating among other things crucial spatiotemporal aspects of these dynamics. Dose continues: “Such would be a good analogy for what it’s like to get good at getting open which is the main objective. On the way there you suck invariably and it’s inevitable. I was horrible when I started. You kind of have to enjoy falling”..in order to get out of your stiffness and into the embodiment of your individual style, to paraphrase his conclusion.

12100_originalCompare this to Al Pacino’s similarly insightful remarks about good acting, which I transcribed from his conversation with James Lipton inside the actor’s studio: “What you are trying to do is to get yourself out of the way all the time and when you are very successful at something it is when you do that the most.” This is the gist of it. Like blacking out but with lots of light, or, in my formulation: flying by way of falling. Pacino then goes on to say:

that’s what I mean about osmosis: you go into a thing and you just try to get as much stuff into you […] so that you get further and further away from the words and into the behaviour and the stuff that is there; and it comes into you and it seeps into your unconscious and it finds a way, hopefully, when it connects, it finds a way out and it can lead to all kinds of interesting moments.

Again, “sort of like blacking out but with lots of light [where] all the words seem to fall in place.” That’s, Pacino adds,

how you learn, and that’s how you massage that instrument. Then you just keep doing it; and you fall down. You get up; you go this way, you go that way. You’re unhappy with yourself. You think that you are the worst actor that’s ever lived… It’s like Lee Strasberg used to say: you learn the most from your failures. You just do. So, the idea is to just do it all. You want to keep inventing. You want to keep not knowing.

To keep inventing and not knowing.. sounds like a great new years resolution indeed.

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To sum up, briefly: practice makes perfect, provided it calls forth feedback that we then capitalize upon and utilize for our betterment. By way of falling we learn to fly.

The inevitable Beckett passage pops in at this point of course: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Happy new year!

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art opens the mind to its shared and spectral nature

The actor Dustin Hoffman once said that “in acting you try to admit to more than the lesser crime, you want to get down to the deeper crimes of yourself.” Here is what he comments on this inside the actor’s studio:

acting or any art is doing what you are incapable of doing in regular life. I mean we are flawed. That’s the name of the species: we are flawed. We are flawed, flawed, flawed. We are human. If we sit on a radiator and it’s hot we jump off of it. Well, if we sit on something that’s hot or we touch something that’s hot about ourselves that we don’t like on a deep level, not even consciously, we get off of it. We don’t want to know those demons in ourselves, those things about ourselves. And when you are working it’s a way of somehow shaking hands with the devil, I guess.

Art as a chelator, or rather, as an agent of catalysis… Nice lines, these. Why? Because it reminds us of the inherent–ly fundamental and fundamentally inherent–hypocrisy that structures our psyche. The extent to which externalization and reification of (unpleasant) stuff is instant and automatic. The fact that I am but a set of buffers. That my inner self  hides behind its various forms of projections and denials from moment to moment. Or something like that. Evil is within. This is the source of creativity. This is the humanity that we share.

Another craftsman from another niche of culture: William Gass, the writer, says the same thing about a certain form of writing. How so? Well, some texts, well-wrought enough texts, beguile the senses and expose the duplicitous nature of these senses. Some texts, in other words, engineer a felt sense of shared humanity/mind by bringing forth a space of interiority, of intimacy. Here is what he says about his (fascism-ridden) tome the Tunnel, for instance:

I am deliberately taking on a subject that is highly charged—none more so, really—and one which has a lot of referential meaning. The challenge is to disarm that subject, to tame it, to make it purr… Once I get the reader captured in the book, I really want to do things to him. Still, I can entice him in like a whore. And I hope to write about certain kinds of objectionable attitudes and feelings in such a way that the reader will accept them, will have them, while he’s reading. In that sense the book is a progressive indictment of the reader. If it works.

There is a technique to this, Gass says. And art, in essence, is an experimentation with such techniques. Understandably, as a literary guy, Gass talks a lot about rhetoric.

One effective teaching method is the bail-tail trick: you take some set of ideas the student is inclined to accept rather uncritically, and then you steadily pull the consequences out like a magician who begins pulling silk out of his fist and ends with lengths of intestine. By pitting the reasoning processes which the student has been conditioned to follow against his emotional bias, you can either overthrow his intellectual hold on an idea or make him look at his feelings about what led him to say yes to this and no to that. I want to get the reader to say yes to Kohler, although Kohler is a monster. That means that every reader in that moment has admitted to monstrouness.

Which happens indeed; sort of, kind of. And it happens in any form of art; ideally. As I give myself over to the guidance of art and its guiles–mainly melodious in the case of literature–I do something that I am incapable of doing in regular life: I shake hands with the devil inside. In the abstract, art is something that uses certain forms of constraints in order to effect certain forms of openness. I enter into a relationship that is based on intimacy rather than understanding. And that’s the thing: evil is defenseless against openness.

This is the gist of Timothy Morton’s message according to which “we need art that does not make people think, but rather that walks them through an inner space that is hard to traverse.”

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homo effectus in a nutshell

Admittedly, I am all over the place in my previous post. There is a red thread, though, running through it. The invariant member of a family resemblance.

In essence, the idea is this: picking up a particular craft and relentlessly cultivating it gets more and more fun as time goes by simply because of the ecstatic moments that it affords.

Skills of expression liberate our individuality—our style of being—by way of getting us into certain states beyond that individuality; paradoxically. We participate in something that is bigger or deeper or older or whatever than anything we could ever attain without the art of craft.. -ful living, that is.

We get caught up in something  that comes—as if—from the future. And this is where, in effect, we catch up with the more mysterious facets of our real selves. This is where, to get a bit more purple, we face the withdrawing depthlessness that is breathing through our facelessness.

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homo effectus

Actors (inside the studio) talk a lot about (magic) moments on the set which are, let’s say, a kind of falling that feels like flying. They describe these moments as a sudden switch in mode or a shift in plane, of being, behaving. Roughly put, it is the (crippling) mode of deliberation and conscious elaboration (or control) giving way or space for a free-flowing, electrified and electrifying performance that self-assembles itself out of rich subconscious and environmental resources.

Though not on a set, Robin Williams in his interview inside the actor’s studio enacts something very interesting from the beginning. He starts embodying characters and characteristics, all sorts of stereotypes and slogans, one after the other, in an associative stream and frenzy of playful bricolage. He is pure zaniness in action. Towards the end he even reflects on this by saying that what he is doing is probably an exploration of the boundaries, basically, just for the fun of it.

Indeed, as soon as he takes the initial farcical leap he seems immediately intoxicated by the reinforcing feedback that he gets. Approval feeds confidence, and his style (of being and behaving) just spirals out of confining control. Energy is dis-inhibited. Williams is flying as he is falling.

Of course, there are cycles of slackening and recesses as well. The fangs withdraw from time to time and at once an impending sense of exhaustion haunts the game that’s been tacitly played all along. But then an errant spark inflames it all up again. Hilarity ensues. What we witness here is an occasional fall-back, a lull of sanity (of controlled conversation) that intersperses a barrage of daring farcical advances. In fact, Williams and the audience form a single dynamical system that is robust enough to withstand the fragility that manifests itself in its periodic lulls…but this is a tangent.

Now, any kind of performance is a skill, and as a skill it requires a lot of prior foundational practice. Only those individuals can let creatively go of themselves who absorbed a lot, a whole lotta stuff beforehand. As Gregory Bateson observes:  “intoxication does not increase skill—at best it may release skill previously acquired[;] [w]ithout skill is no art.”

After the necessary amount of exposure performance is basically a matter of trust (thrust, in effect) and daring on the part of the performer. I wonder though (and I am shifting levels of abstraction here): is the on the part of the performer bit redundant in the previous sentence?

Yeah, like doing what I’m doing now; this, here: writing. Good writing is a matter of skill. (I am a rookie (enough to (be droll and) start a sentence with a parenthesis) but I feel that) the more I write and read the more creatively I can shuffle the stuff that I absorb and harbor. Absorb and harbor.

The way the cookie crumbles, crudely: impressions cultivate my expressions and expressions cultivate the range of my impressions. The suite of shticks that I harbor (as subconscious resource ready to be deployed) is the sediment of the stuff that I absorb by dint of the shticks I already harbor… another tangent. (To do with framing.)

I also think of Derren Brown. The way his hypnotic prowess, by his own account, built up over time, gradually. The better he got at it, the more confident and therefore even more better he got. God bless the bliss of the positive feedback loop. Assuredly, self-assurance plays the lion’s share in hypnosis. How? Well, for one, con-fidence (a totally appropriate pun in this context) calls forth the conditions of the possibility of its own reinforcement by allowing an ecstatic interpersonal engagement. Fueled by rapport a single dynamical system emerges… once again a tangent.

By way of an even more far-fetched parallel let me sketch a flimsy sketch of the “skill” of resentment. If someone swallows a lot, of affront and whatnot, it is a kind of exposure that sediments as one comments on those felt hurts in the privacy of perpetual self-talk. And thus resentment is gradually building up, until one day…all dreck breaks loose. Just like that. Dregs of un(der)expressed impressions build up inside that at one point culminate in an electrified and electrifying outburst of ecstatic confrontation. We have all experienced these electrified and electrifying moments in our life. These are important steps that offer the opportunity for the development of our relationships. But more to the point, unrestrained confrontations like these  are a kind of mindless ecstasy that liberates the self from its narcissistic constraints. Everything rolls, in a free-wheeling, say, bricolage of grudge.

Admittedly, this may sound an analogy that’s a tad overstretched but I think there are some parallels in the specifics of these dynamics. Family resemblance for sure.

But then, nothing in particular is going on in this blogpost—apart, again, from random bricolage. Am I just riffing? Well… I guess, I am practicing (textual-conceptual performance). And surely, it gives me pleasure as playfulness gives pleasure to Robin Williams. It is a general rule, after all: once one starts to get the hang of a particular skill, performing it becomes, in effect, an auto-erotic exercise of sorts. Yes, like writing this very post. Too bad it’s not at least funny, right? 😉

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homo haesitatus

Instead of wearing glasses a much better strategy to alleviate blurry vision is to do EYE exercises. Allegedly. Although, ‘exercise’ is a tricky word here since improvement of eyesight is all about relaxation. For the most part.

According to some the problem basically stems from the strain and tension in the muscles around the eyes (squeezing them out of shape) while others think it has to do with a decreased flexibility of the muscles controlling the eye-lenses. Some even say that vision blurs as a result of holding back our natural voyeuristic (and more general inquisitive) impulses.

Indeed, it may not be that far-fetched to claim that some(times) diseases develop (that is, functions get blurry) because we hold back (or hold in) stuff or we hold on to something lost, when, in other words, all semblance of spontaneity is chronically curbed.

If this assessment holds any water, well, then EYE exercises are crucial for initiating the process of healing. Briefly, EYE stands for Engage-Yield-Express, the basic recipe for dis-inhibition. Engaging, yielding and expressing relentlessly, turning and turning in a widening gyre, as a way of reclaiming spontaneity.

Which makes one ponder. The same way as good vision implies sharpness health could be understood as a kind of sharpness. Where does that leave the psychologically fuzziest and most blurred and hesitating creatures on Earth? Could they be the sickest?

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keep it bouncin’

Problems arise because we sentence ourselves to misery as we desperately cling to the periodic: to subjugation, subordination, (and hopefully to) parataxis and endless internal punctuation: unwilling to accept the fact of the stem: that no matter how eloquently we articulate, new sentences break us up, and no matter how desperately we pursue the apposite, newer sentences keep blasting us apart, and no matter how loudly we chant, with eyes turned inward and indexfingers earward: against the flow of ever newer sentences we are hapless, -ly miserable. Either excessively expectant or heavily hesitant, or both, we’d rather have everything turn on our commas, dashes, brackets, colons and semicolons or other forms of short-term suspension: the ceaseless interjection that is meant to keep us grounded, against the always already of the next sentences of our lives: the sentences that are already unfolding and always abruptly descending, always descending and already bluntly unfolding, into the succeeding pieces, into the succeeding sentences… and paragraphs.. and pages.. and chapters.. and whatnot..

This is how we dwell in resentment, for instance, against self or other or circumstance, making, practically, an indecipherable botch of the text of our prosaic lives. Alas.

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Judit’s spectral scenes


a rose is a noise in a void

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presence grows, mopping up

the ghostly drops, falling

from ghastly cumuli of the future

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existence is tautological:

spread like jam, it is flat

’cause no thing is because

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as the awareness of interiority expands the sense of inferiority dwindles

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