Berlin, 2009

Berlin, 2009
We want more voices, thoughts and languages!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Schirmacher´s Homo Generator in Saas-Fee

Wolfgang Schirmacher´s


(EGS: Saas-Fee, 20-22 August 2011)


“Life in detail as a tragic farce

(…) No one has treated this subject so thoroughly and exhaustively as Leopardi in our own day.” (On the Vanity and Suffering of Life, p. 38) – Since Schirmacher´s favorite philosopher quotes my favorite poet (who, in his turn, quoted and loved Schopenhauer), I will start here anew with the first lines of Leopardi´s Canto notturno di un pastore errante dell´Asia:

Che fai tu, luna, in ciel? dimmi, che fai,

Silenziosa luna?

What doest thou in heaven, O moon?
Say, silent moon, what doest thou?

Night Song Of A Wandering Shepherd In Asia

Hölderlin´s verse from Brot und Wein – ...Weiß ich nicht und wozu Dichter in dürftiger Zeit? – evokes thoese words not from afar. What for? Wozu? Leopardi´s answer comes a few verses below:

Questo io conosco e sento,

Che degli eterni giri,

Che dell'esser mio frale,

Qualche bene o contento

Avrà fors´altri; a me la vita è male.

_This_ I well know, and feel;

From these eternal rounds,

And from my being frail,

Others, perchance, may pleasure, profit gain;

To _me_ life is but pain.

The statement appears at the end of the third strophe. It comes as a point: a full stop after several wondering and wandering hyperboles in the heavens and heaven´s mud. The Cartesian certainty is displaced in the poet´s gesture of knowing and feeling – but embodied in the wrapping gesture of the statement. Doubt has been finally dissipated – at least in the frailest of frail poetry.

What´s the questioning voice? Can it be reduced to the weight on the other scale pan? Can one appreciate life only because of pain or death? Or – quoting Schirmacher – will “just living” balance the scale? Are we not confronting here a question (in whatever form we want to pose it) which overcomes any equilibrium – pointing to that difference which transvalues quantity into quality, living into life?

When we name life as “just” life – are we not actually addressing our own name in the living? Is not that “just” our own signature which we pose on life as a breath or a comma? If that´s the case the poetical paradox of addressing life as mere life, subtracting everything adds to it the name; and Kafka´s dis-definition of humanity is well-known: “Du kannst dich zurückhalten von den Leiden der Welt, das ist dir freigestellt und entspricht deiner Natur, aber vielleicht ist gerade dieses Zurückhalten das einzige Leid, das du vermeiden könntest.” (Zürauer Aphorismen) The fact that we don´t avoid this avoidance – that we must step back from life and question it – this is the just of our living.

Levinas posed the ethical question: “What do I have to do with justice?” – while Derrida imagined with/in him a man more just than justice would allow. If that´s the case, and the (be)just! root of justice precedes justice – like the imperative precedes the descriptive following Agamben´s lecture last night, then I would insert another just more which would differentiate the sollen from the müssen where only in the former, in the should, the addressing imperative of poetry would reside.

After all questions and imperatives share the power of addressing – of distancing the addresser from the addressee, of scattering a just, like a comma, for every life – be it Choukri´s Just Bread or Schirmacher´s Just Living.


historical brick

Thanks to Adorno´s precious and solid opinions, between 1935 and 1939, Benjamin´s Exposé on Paris not only changed title, language and ordering, but introduced the brick.

In 1935 Paris, die Hauptstadt des XIX. Jahrhunderts, we read: “For the first time in the history of architecture, an artificial building material appears: iron.” In 1939 Paris, capitale du XIXe siècle, we notice an addition: “depuis les Romains.” The text reads now: “For the first time since the Romans, a new artificial building material appears: iron.”

Between the two versions, whilst in the illuminating Schwarzwald on the 2nd of August 1935, Adorno had noticed en passant: “Reading p. 407, I would like to ask whether cast iron is really the first artificial construction material (bricks!); in general I basically feel uneasy with the word first.”

Right: “And the brick?”

Following Schirmacher´s idea of homo generator, we might add many more materials, which historically have never been considered artificial – despite their intrinsic Technik. But, as it is often the case in philosophy, it might turn out that apparently contradictory ideas resemble each other in the deepest regions of thinking.

In both 1935 and 1939 exposés, Benjamin introduces his observation on iron with the following words:

“Just as Napoleon failed to understand the functional nature of the state as an instrument of domination by the bourgeoisie, so the architects of his time failed to understand the functional nature of iron, with which the constructive principle begins its domination of architecture. These architects design supports resembling Pompeian columns, and factories that imitate residential houses, just as later the first railroad stations will assume the look of chalets.”

We might differentiate two approaches to the new construction material (be it the first artificial material, the second or just another-one): – – (1) its instrumental use for the preservation of the status quo or (2) the most intimate expression of the material itself which also coincides with the historical expression of a time. – Only in the latter case we could talk, using Schirmacher´s terms, of an artificial process of generation.

If that´s the case, every artificial process must coincide with a historical process. On the other hand, every historical process must be fully artificial, unless it degenerates in a form of preservation of the given & worn out. In this sense, no instrumentalization of any material is either artificial or historical. Historical task would rather mean to yield, passively, to the nomadic involvement in artificiality.

Why do we use pixels to re-propose old words, and computer to write texts? Are we not behaving like those who built Pompeian columns using iron, understanding more or less nothing of their new material, unable to make anything artificial with it? There is no artificial material per se, if it does not become such in a historical expression. In this sense homo generator is a time generation.


Down the Third Floor

For Deleuze, Baudrillard, Derrida (and Calvino´s cerebral hemorrahage)

Throwing himself from the third floor, he saw his shadow floating a few millimeters below his body. Or – was it his body itself, weighing him down, like a stone plunges into water, he was falling heavier than a dead body, heavier than a leaf, endlessly lighter than his memories. Actually his childish handwriting was dwindling like a pillow or a leaf under him, and he thought for a second he would plummet on it. How long does it take to fall from the third story of a renovated modern building? They say that in those few seconds all life flashes before one´s own eyes like in a film. Yet he saw only his boring neighbor watching television on the sofa, and found it quite annoying that he could just glance over the curtain at the man´s back and not see what was on. Shit, if only one could plunge from a third floor somewhat slower, it would have been possible to see what was the weather forecast like for the day after. Or the result of the football game. You might wonder, what was his business in such news, now that he would have not made it for the next day. Had he bet on the winner team, he wouldn´t have gotten his money anyway, and did it matter if it were to be sunny or raining or even a tornado wiping out the entire city, out of the continent, out of the planet, out of the galaxy the next day? Don´t think he was a selfish guy, rather the contrary: abruptly it seemed to him that death was quite a good present for anyone. If only he had thought about it before, he would have wasted less money on idiotic Birthday presents and Christmas presents and Hanukah presents and other Happy New Year bullshit presents. But – so it is: wisdom falls on you only when you are already falling. Life is a mendacious and precariously articulated long and thin piece of shit. And he couldn´t complain more than anyone else. Certainly it was not a great luck having to see his stupid neighbor as the last image of this world – but it would have been somewhat worse if he had seen instead his fourth and fortunately last wife having sex (or for that matter even having her hair done) with the neighbor on the second floor, as it happens in some movies. But not the worst at all! Let´s be honest: he was thankful that that matter of staring at one´s own entire life flashing before the eyes in the last moments was but a metropolitan legend. He wouldn´t have tolerated it once more, not even for a few seconds. Two seconds, maybe one second and some fraction more of life separated him from certain death. He was annoyed it was taking so long. He was not a bird, why was he still flying down? So he thought about Galilei and his theories, the apple and that prosopopeial matter of gravity. Who was the guy who discovered that a feather and a stone have equal speed provided there´s no air, oxygen or gas? It wouldn´t have worked now: not only there was air – filtering through his lungs with such strength – but also an unbearable smog of cars and trucks and all that shit. He wouldn´t die of passive smoke at least. He thought of his chemistry teacher. Now he got scared. He didn´t want to die with the image of his chemistry teacher in his mind. God knows if he hated that man. He would enter the class smelling like a cigar and would but talk of plutonium and mercury and all the idiocy of his students and why he became a teacher. He tried really hard to concentrate on something else; he looked at the top of his feet which were up in the air now and seemed to belong to someone else, since he had never seen his feet floating up with such a dignity – and his head down. One second longer and life would have been over. This cancer diagnosis had come in a rather unexpected moment: just a few days after he bought his new car (a comfortable white four seats Toyota that he got with a big discount thanks to the large advertisement on the hood: “Buy me now, or die!”), as soon as he was done with Philosophies for Rat and Rabbit Men, subtitle: like me and any other, which he kept on the night table for a month; finally when his eyes seemed to age full with all the rubbish of an ordinary employee life. Basically on a day like any other. To a person rather like any other. With the only difference that it was him, falling upside down – now in front of the first floor. He could smell the asphalt. Through the window he recognized his doctor. He meant to wave his hand to him to say “Good-bye” – but those who remain have a slower time, slower eyes, slower life and cannot certainly catch a glimpse of a dying person from the third floor. He meant to say “Bye” but – if he really tried – and we don´t know that – it´s doubtful that he had the time necessary for uttering the word, for the gesture. More likely he died before the word was said. If he tried to. The doctor was taking off his gown, and walked to the window with an x-ray in his hand. He thought to see something like a shadow move down and actually heard a loud thump – to which he was however accustomed because of the profession. He said to himself: “I wonder if cancer exists; it seems to me like a cotillion; the guy of the third floor, for example...” He lighted his cigarette and stared at the semi-transparent x-ray picture traversed by the fresh pale light of the dawn, like in any good movie shot.

We are dealing with a boring story here, which, like any other boring story, has got its moral. But – a bit more boring than any other – this story will also explicitly enunciate its lesson. In fact, not being as boring as other stories, there is the risk of missing the real, plain moral. But leaving boredom aside for a moment or, more pertinently, falling into it, here the moral comes (and stays – and runs away): Humans are unique animals that not only are able to diagnose death by reading the alchemy of their meanings, fortunetellers of dead-ends, but have such a blind faith in their symptomatology and scientology that fall prey to their words like hares to wolfs. Hiermit wish we long and brave life to poets, beasts of prey and dreamy strollers alike. Oh, rather than a moral – that was a prayer… Boring indeed!

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