In 1988, Ray Kass, professor emeritus of art, Virginia Tech, invited seminal composer, philosopher, writer, and visual artist John Cage (American, 1912-1992) to paint at the Mountain Lake Workshop in Blacksburg. They began a series of experiments with watercolor pigments that resulted in 55 densely marked paper towels.
Two decades later, Cage’s pupil and friend Stephen Addiss created three sets of images that echoed the narrative of the “Ox-herding Pictures,” an illustrated parable to which Cage often referred in his discussions and writings.
Introduction and verse by 廓庵師遠 Kuoan Shiyuan [Kakuan Shien], 12th century,
translated by D. T. Suzuki (鈴木大拙貞太郎 Suzuki Daisetsu Teitarō, 1870-1966)
D. T. Suzuki’s first version:
“The Ten Oxherding Pictures,” translated by D. T. Suzuki, in Manual of Zen Buddhism, Kyoto: Eastern Buddhist Society, 1934. London: Rider & Company, 1950, New York: Grove Press, 1960. pp. 150-171.
THE TEN OXHERDING PICTURES
The author of these “Ten Oxherding Pictures” is said to be a Zen master of the Sung Dynasty known as Kaku-an Shi-en (Kuo-an Shih-yuan) belonging to the Rinzai school. He is also the author of the poems and introductory words attached to the pictures. He was not however the first who attempted to illustrate by means of pictures stages of Zen discipline, for in his general preface to the pictures he refers to another Zen master called Seikyo (Ching-chu), probably a contemporary of his, who made use of the ox to explain his Zen teaching. But in Seikyo’s case the gradual development of the Zen life was indicated by a progressive whitening of the animal, ending in the disappearance of the whole being. There were in this only five pictures, instead of ten as by Kaku-an. Kaku-an thought this was somewhat misleading because of an empty circle being made the goal of Zen discipline. Some might take mere emptiness as all important and final. Hence his improvement resulting in the “Ten Oxherding Pictures” as we have them now.
According to a commentator of Kaku-an’s Pictures, there is another series of the Oxherding Pictures by a Zen master called Jitoku Ki (Tzu-te Hui), who apparently knew of the existence of the Five Pictures by Seikyo, for Jitoku’s are six in number. The last one, No. 6, goes beyond the stage of absolute emptiness where Seikyo’s end: the poem reads:
“Even beyond the ultimate limits there extends a passageway,
Whereby he comes back among the six realms of existence;
Every worldly affair is a Buddhist work,
And wherever he goes he finds his home air;
Like a gem he stands out even in the mud,
Like pure gold he shines even in the furnace;
Along the endless road [of birth and death] he walks sufficient unto himself,
In whatever associations he is found he moves leisurely unattached.”
Jitoku’s ox grows whiter as Seikyo’s, and in this particular respect both differ from Kaku-an’s conception. In the latter there is no whitening process. In Japan Kaku-an’s Ten Pictures gained a wide circulation, and at present all the oxherding books reproduce them. The earliest one belongs I think to the fifteenth century. In China however a different edition seems to have been in vogue, one belonging to the Seikyo and Jitoku series of pictures. The author is not known. The edition containing the preface by Chu-hung, 1585, has ten pictures, each of which is preceded by Pu-ming’s poem. As to who this Pu-ming was, Chu-hung himself professes ignorance. In these pictures the ox’s colouring changes together with the oxherd’s management of him. The quaint original Chinese prints are reproduced below, and also Pu-ming’s verses translated into English.
Thus as far as I can identify there are four varieties of the Oxherding Pictures: (1) by Kaku-an, (2) by Seikyo, (3) by Jitoku, and (4) by an unknown author.
Kaku-an’s “Pictures” here reproduced are by Shubun, a Zen priest of the fifteenth century. The original pictures are preserved at Shokokuji, Kyoto. He was one of the greatest painters in black and white in the Ashikaga period.
Paintings traditionally attributed to 天章周文 Tenshō Shūbun (1414-1463), ten circular paintings mounted as a handscroll, ink and light color on paper, Muromachi period, late fifteenth century (32 × 181.5 cm), Shōkokuji temple, Kyoto
Searching for the Ox. The beast has never gone astray, and what is the use of searching for him? The reason why the oxherd is not on intimate terms with him is because the oxherd himself has violated his own inmost nature. The beast is lost, for the oxherd has himself been led out of the way through his deluding senses. His home is receding farther away from him, and byways and crossways are ever confused. Desire for gain and fear of loss burn like fire; ideas of right and wrong shoot up like a phalanx.
Alone in the wilderness, lost in the jungle, the boy is searching, searching!
The swelling waters, the far-away mountains, and the unending path;
Exhausted and in despair, he knows not where to go,
He only hears the evening cicadas singing in the maple-woods.
Seeing the Traces. By the aid of the sutras and by inquiring into the doctrines, he has come to understand something, he has found the traces. He now knows that vessels, however varied, are all of gold, and that the objective world is a reflection of the Self. Yet, he is unable to distinguish what is good from what is not, his mind is still confused as to truth and falsehood. As he has not yet entered the gate, he is provisionally said to have noticed the traces.
By the stream and under the trees, scattered are the traces of the lost;
The sweet-scented grasses are growing thick–did he find the way?
However remote over the hills and far away the beast may wander,
His nose reaches the heavens and none can conceal it.
Seeing the Ox. The boy finds the way by the sound he hears; he sees thereby into the origin of things, and all his senses are in harmonious order. In all his activities, it is manifestly present. It is like the salt in water and the glue in colour. [It is there though not distinguishable as an individual entity.] When the eye is properly directed, he will find that it is no other than himself,
On a yonder branch perches a nightingale cheerfully singing;
The sun is warm, and a soothing breeze blows, on the bank the willows are green;
The ox is there all by himself, nowhere is he to hide himself;
The splendid head decorated with stately horns what painter can reproduce him?
Catching the Ox. Long lost in the wilderness, the boy has at last found the ox and his hands are on him. But, owing to the overwhelming pressure of the outside world, the ox is hard to keep under control. He constantly longs for the old sweet-scented field. The wild nature is still unruly, and altogether refuses to be broken. If the oxherd wishes to see the ox completely in harmony with himself, he has surely to use the whip freely.
With the energy of his whole being, the boy has at last taken hold of the ox:
But how wild his will, how ungovernable his power!
At times he struts up a plateau,
When lo! he is lost again in a misty unpenetrable mountain-pass.
Herding the Ox. When a thought moves, another follows, and then another-an endless train of thoughts is thus awakened. Through enlightenment all this turns into truth; but falsehood asserts itself when confusion prevails. Things oppress us not because of an objective world, but because of a self-deceiving mind. Do not let the nose-string loose, hold it tight, and allow no vacillation.
The boy is not to separate himself with his whip and tether,
Lest the animal should wander away into a world of defilements;
When the ox is properly tended to, he will grow pure and docile;
Without a chain, nothing binding, he will by himself follow the oxherd.
Coming Home on the Ox’s Back. The struggle is over; the man is no more concerned with gain and loss. He hums a rustic tune of the woodman, he sings simple songs of the village-boy. Saddling himself on the ox’s back, his eyes are fixed on things not of the earth, earthy. Even if he is called, he will not turn his head; however enticed he will no more be kept back.
Riding on the animal, he leisurely wends his way home:
Enveloped in the evening mist, how tunefully the flute vanishes away!
Singing a ditty, beating time, his heart is filled with a joy indescribable!
That he is now one of those who know, need it be told?
The Ox Forgotten, Leaving the Man Alone. The dharmas are one and the ox is symbolic. When you know that what you need is not the snare or set-net but the hare or fish, it is like gold separated from the dross, it is like the moon rising out of the clouds. The one ray of light serene and penetrating shines even before days of creation.
Riding on the animal, he is at last back in his home,
Where lo! the ox is no more; the man alone sits serenely.
Though the red sun is high up in the sky, he is still quietly dreaming,
Under a straw-thatched roof are his whip and rope idly lying.
The Ox and the Man Both Gone out of Sight. All confusion is set aside, and serenity alone prevails; even the idea of holiness does not obtain. He does not linger about where the Buddha is, and as to where there is no Buddha he speedily passes by. When there exists no form of dualism, even a thousand-eyed one fails to detect a loop-hole. A holiness before which birds offer flowers is but a farce.
All is empty-the whip, the rope, the man, and the ox:
Who can ever survey the vastness of heaven?
Over the furnace burning ablaze, not a flake of snow can fall:
When this state of things obtains, manifest is the spirit of the ancient master.
Returning to the Origin, Back to the Source. From the very beginning, pure and immaculate, the man has never been affected by defilement. He watches the growth of things, while himself abiding in the immovable serenity of nonassertion. He does not identify himself with the maya-like transformations [that are going on about him], nor has he any use of himself [which is artificiality]. The waters are blue, the mountains are green; sitting alone, he observes things undergoing changes.
To return to the Origin, to be back at the Source–already a false step this!
Far better it is to stay at home, blind and deaf, and without much ado;
Sitting in the hut, he takes no cognisance of things outside,
Behold the streams flowing-whither nobody knows; and the flowers vividly red-for whom are they?
Entering the City with Bliss-bestowing Hands. His thatched cottage gate is closed, and even the wisest know him not. No glimpses of his inner life are to be caught; for he goes on his own way without following the steps of the ancient sages. Carrying a gourd he goes out into the market, leaning against a staff he comes home. He is found in company with wine-bibbers and butchers, he and they are all converted into Buddhas.
Bare-chested and bare-footed, he comes out into the market-place;
Daubed with mud and ashes, how broadly he smiles!
There is no need for the miraculous power of the gods,
For he touches, and lo! the dead trees are in full bloom.
[1. Symbol of emptiness (sunyata).
2. No extra property he has, for he knows that the desire to possess is the curse of human life.]
U predgovoru Nyogen Senzakija i Paul Repsa u prvom izdanju njihovog prevoda Kakuanovih ‘Deset bikova’ stoji:
Bik je večni princip života, on predstavlja istinu na delu. Deset bikova opisuju postupne korake ka ostvarenju čovekove istinske prirode.
Njihov redosled jednako je važan danas kao što je bio u vreme kada ga je Kakuan (1100-1200) razvio iz ranijih radova i pomoću njega načinio svoje crteže bikova. Vekovima posle njega, mi nastojimo da ostvarimo slično delo kako bismo biku ulili novu snagu.
Razumevanje stvaralačkog načela prevazilazi vreme i prostor. Deset bikova su više od poezije, više od crteža. Oni su otkrovenje duhovnog razvoja o čemu govori i svaka druga biblija ljudskog iskustva. Stoga neka i sam čitalac, umetnuvši se na kineske patrijarhe, otkrije tragove svog skrivenog sopstva i, upravljajući štapom svoje svrhe i vinskim krčagom istinske želje, prosvetli druge.
Na pašnjaku ovog sveta, bez predaha razgrćem visoku travu u potrazi za bikom.
Dok gazim po obalama bezimenih reka, i gubim se na isprepletanim stazama dalekih planina,
Snaga me izdaje i klonuo sam, ne mogu naći bika.
Samo noću čujem pesmu zrikavaca u šumi.
Tumačenje: Bik se izgubio. Kakva je nužda tragati za njim? Samo zbog odvojenosti od svoje istinske prirode, ne uspevam da ga pronađem. Pometen čulima izgubio sam čak i njegove tragove. Daleko od kuće, vidim mnoga raskršća, ali ne znam koji je put pravi. Pohlepa i strah, dobro i zlo, pomućuju me.
Na obali reke pod drvećem, otkrivam tragove!
Čak i u mirisnoj travi vidim njegove otiske.
Ima ih i u dubinama dalekih gora.
Ovi tragovi ne daju se više sakriti,
isto kao ni nos čoveka koji gleda u nebo.
Tumačenje: Pošto sam razumeo učenje, jasno vidim tragove bika. Zatim saznajem da su, kao što su mnoga oruđa napravljena od jedne vrste metala, i milijarde stvorenja satkane od tkanine sopstva. Ukoliko ne razlučujem, kako ću razabrati istinu od neistine? Još nisam prošao kroz kapiju, ali uočavam put.
Čujem pesmu slavuja.
Sunce je izgrejalo, vetar pirka, zelene se vrbe duž obale,
Ovde se bik ne može sakriti!
Koji umetnik će naslikati tu blistavu glavu,
te silne rogove?
Tumačenje: Kada se začuje glas, čovek može da oseti odakle dopire. Kada se svih šest čula stope, prolazi se kroz kapiju. Gdegod da uđe, vidi bikovu glavu! Ovo jedinstvo je poput soli u vodi, poput boje u tkanju. Ni najmanja stvar nije odvojena od sopstva.
Uz veliku borbu, ščepao sam ga.
Njegova ogromna volja i snaga su neiscrpni.
Sad juriša na udaljenu visoravan visoko iznad oblaka i pare,
Sad tumara nedokučivom dubokom jarugom.
Tumačenje: On je dugo prebivao u šumi, ali sam ga danas ulovio! Zanesenost okolinom ga odvlači u pogrešnom pravcu. Žudeći za sočnijom travom, luta sve dalje. Njegov um je još uvek jogunast i razuzdan. Ako želim da ga zauzdam, moraću da pucnem bičem
Bič i uže su neophodni,
U suprotnom će mi uteći niz neku prašnjavu ulicu.
Kada se valjano izvežba, postaje prirodno krotak.
Tada, i bez užeta, svome gospodaru služi.
Tumačenje: Kada se jedna misao rodi, druga misao je sledi. Kada prva misao izroni iz prosvetljenja, sve koje je slede su istinite. A kada utone u obmanu, čovek sve pretvara u laž. Obmana ne nastaje iz objektivnog, ona je posledica ličnog opažanja. Čvrsto drži bika za brnjicu i ne dozvoli sebi ni tračak sumnje.
Uzjahao sam bika, polako se vraćam kući.
Zvuk moje svirale odzvanja kroz veče.
Udarajući takt zanosnoj melodiji,
upravljam beskrajnim ritmom.
Ko god čuje ovu pesmu pridružiće mi se.
Tumačenje: Borba je okončana; dobitak i gubitak postali su isto. Pevam šumarevu pesmu i sviram dečje melodije. Jašući bika, osmatram oblake. Čak i kada bi me neko pozvao da se vratim, nastavio bih dalje.
Jašući bika, stižem kući.
Miran sam. I bik može da počine.
Zora rudi. Blaženo spokojan,
U svojoj slamnatoj kolibi, odbacio sam bič i uže.
Tumačenje: Sve je jedan zakon, ne dva. Za nas je bik samo privremeni subjekat. To je kao odnos zeca i klopke, ribe i mreže. To je kao zlato i ruda, ili mesec koji se probija kroz oblake. Jedan zrak čiste svetlosti na putovanju kroz beskraj.
Bič, uže, čovek i bik – sve uranja u Ništa.
Ovo nebo je toliko bezmerno
da u njemu nikakav glas ne ostavlja traga.
Zar može snežna pahulja da opstane u ognju?
Ovde su tragovi patrijarha.
Tumačenje: Osrednjost je ostala za mnom. U umu nema ograničenja. Ne tražim ja stanje prosvetljenja. Niti se zadržavam tamo gde prosvetljenja nema. Pošto ne boravim ni u jednom stanju, oči me ne mogu videti. Da mi i stotine ptica pospu stazu cvećem, takva slava bi me ostavila ravnodušnim.
Isuviše koraka je načinjeno u povratku korenu i izvoru.
Bolje je od početka biti slep i gluv!
Boraveći u svom istinskom domu,
ne hajem za spoljašnje –
Reka i dalje mirno teče, a cveće je crveno.
Tumačenje: Od samog početka istina je čista. Postojan u tišini, posmatram spajanje i razdvajanje oblika. Ko nije vezan za “oblike” nema potrebe da se “menja”. Voda je smaragdna, planina modra, a ja vidim ono što se stvara i što se rastvara.
Bosonog i razdrljen, vratio sam se u svet.
Odeća mi je pohabana i prašnjava,
a ja sam vazda blažen.
Ne koristim čarolije da produžim život;
A sada preda mnom drveće olistava.
Tumačenje: Unutar moje kapije, hiljadu mudraca me ne zna. Lepota mog vrta nije vidljiva. Zašto bi neko tragao za stopama patrijarha? Idem na pijacu sa bocom vina, a vraćam se kući sa štapom. Obiđem vinski podrum i pijacu, i svako koga pogledam postaje prosvetljen.
Three in the morning. I realize this second, then this one, then the next: I draw up the balance sheet for each minute. And why all this? Because I was born. It is a special type of sleeplessness that produces the indictment of birth.
No one has lived so close to his skeleton as i have lived to mine: from which results an endless dialogue and certain truths which I manage neither to accept nor to reject.
I forgive X everything because of his obsolete smile.
It is easier to get on with vices than with virtues. The vices, accommodating by nature, help each other, are full of mutual indulgence, whereas the jealous virtues combat and annihilate each other, showing in everything their incompatibility and their intolerance.
He who hates himself is not humble.
In certain men, everything, absolutely everything, derives from physiology: their body is their mind, their mind is their body.
Time, fertile in resources, more inventive and more charitable then we think, possesses a remarkable capacity to help us out, to afford us at any hour of the day some new humiliation.
I have always sought out landscapes that preceded God. Whence my weakness for Chaos.
I have decided not to oppose anyone ever again, since I have noticed that I always end by resembling my latest enemy.
For a long while I have lived with the notion that I was the most normal being that ever existed. This notion gave me the taste, even the passion for being unproductive: what was the use of being prized in a world inhabited by madmen, a world mired in mania and stupidity? For whom was one to bother, and to what end? It remains to be seen if I have quite freed myself from this certitude, salvation in the absolute, ruin in the immediate.
Write books only if you are going to say in them the things you would never dare confide to anyone.
We say: he has no talent, only tone. But tone is precisely what cannot be invented — we’re born with it. Tone is an inherited grace, the privilege some of us have of making our organic pulsations felt — tone is more than talent, it is its essence.
The same feeling of not belonging, of futility, wherever I go: I pretend interest in what matters nothing to me, I bestir myself mechanically or out of charity, without ever being caught up, without ever being somewhere. What attracts me is somewhere else, and I don’t know what that elsewhere is.
My vision of the future is so exact that if I had children, I should strangle them here and now.
In a metropolis as in a hamlet, what we still love best is to watch the fall of one of our kind.
A disease is ours only from the moment we are told its name, the moment when the rope is put around our neck. . . .
The ideal being? An angel ravaged by humor.
Indispensable condition for spiritual fulfillment: to have always placed the wrong bet.
We have convictions only if we have studied nothing thoroughly.
I do nothing, granted. But I see the hours pass — which is better than trying to fill them.
No need to elaborate works – merely say something that can be murmured in the ear of a drunkard or a dying man.
There is a god at the outset, if not at the end, of every joy.
True contact between beings is established only by mute presence, by apparent non-communication, by that mysterious and wordless exchange which resembles inward prayer.
In the deepest part of yourself, aspire to be as dispossessed, as lamentable as God.
What I know at sixty, I knew as well at twenty. Forty years of a long, a superfluous, labor of verification.
Even in childhood I watched the hours flow, independent of any reference, any action, any event, the disjunction of time from what was not itself, its autonomous existence, its special status, its empire, its tyranny. I remember clearly that afternoon when, for the first time, confronting the empty universe, I was no more than a passage of moments reluctant to go on playing their proper parts. Time was coming unstuck from being — at my expense.
If death had only negative aspects, dying would be an unmanageable action.
Everything exists; nothing exists. Either formula affords a like serenity. The man of anxiety, to his misfortune, remains between them, trembling and perplexed, forever at the mercy of a nuance, incapable of gaining a foothold in the security of being or in the absence of being.
“In this our life” — to be in life: suddenly I am struck by the strangeness of such an expression, as if it applied to no one.
Whenever I flag and feel sorry for my brain, I am carried away by an irresistible desire toproclaim. That is the moment I realize the paltry depths out of which rise reformers, prophets, and saviors.
As the years pass, the number of those we can communicate with diminishes. When there is no longer anyone to talk to, at last we will be as we were before stooping to a name.
Some have misfortunes; others, obsessions. Which are worse off?
Thought is never innocent, for it is pitiless, it is aggressive, it helps us burst our bonds. Were we to suppress what is evil and even demonic in thought, we should have to renounce the very concept of deliverance.
It is not my beginnings, it is the beginning that matters to me. If I bump into my birth, into a minor obsession, it is because I cannot grapple with the first moment of time. Every individual discomfort leads back, ultimately, to a cosmogonic discomfort, each of our sensation, by which Being crept out of somewhere. . . .
There was a time when time did not yet exist. . . . The rejection of birth is nothing but the nostalgia for this time before time.
In major perplexities, try to live as if history were done with and to react like a monster riddled by serenity.
Amid anxiety and distress, sudden calm at the thought of the foetus one has been.
Endlessly to refer to a world where nothing yet stooped to occurrence, where you anticipated consciousness without desiring it, where, wallowing in the virtual, you rejoiced in the null plenitude of a self anterior to selfhood. . . .
Not to have been born, merely musing on that — what happiness, what freedom, what space!
There is a kind of knowledge that strips whatever you do of weight and scope: for such knowledge, everything is without basis except itself. Pure to the point of abhorring even the notion of an object, it translates that extreme science according to which doing or not doing something comes down to the same thing and is accompanied by an equally extreme satisfaction: that of being able to rehearse, each time, the discovery that any gesture performed is not worth defending, that nothing is enhanced by the merest vestige of substance, that “reality” falls within the province of lunacy. Such knowledge deserves to be called posthumous: it functions as if the knower were alive and not alive, a being and the memory of a being. “It’s already in the past,” he says about all that he achieves, even as he achieves it, thereby forever destitute of the present.
If we could see ourselves as others see us, we would vanish on the spot.
When I happen to be busy, I never give a moment’s thought to the “meaning” of anything, particularly of whatever it is I am doing. A proof that the secret of everything is in the action and not in abstention, that fatal cause of consciousness.
To stretch out in a field, to smell the earth and tell yourself it is the end as well as the hope of our dejections, that it would be futile to search for anything better to rest on, to dissolve into. . . .
This craving to revise our enthusiasms, to change idols, to pray elsewhere . . .
Only God has the privilege of abandoning us. Men can only drop us.
This very second has vanished forever, lost in the anonymous mass of the irrevocable. It will never return. I suffer from this, and I do not. Everything is unique — and insignificant.
Self-knowledge — the bitterest knowledge of all and also the kind we cultivate least: what is the use of catching ourselves out, morning to night, in the act of illusion, pitilessly tracing each act back to its root, and losing case after case before our own tribunal?
Once we appeal to our most intimate selves, once we begin to labor and to produce, we lay claim to gifts, we become unconscious of our own gaps. No one is in a position to admit that what comes out of his own depths might be worthless. “Self-knowledge”? A contradiction in terms.
At the climax of failure, at the moment when shame is about to do us in, suddenly we are swept away by a frenzy of pride which lasts only long enough to drain us, to leave us without energy, to lower, with our powers, the intensity of our shame.
More than once I have managed to leave my room, for if I had stayed there I could not be sure of being able to resist some sudden resolution. The street is more reassuring, you think less about yourself there, there everything weakens and wilts, beginning with your own confusion.
He detested objective truths, the burden of argument, sustained reasoning. He disliked demonstrating, he wanted to convince no one. Others are a dialectician’s invention.
The mind that puts everything in question reaches, after a thousand interrogations, an almost total inertia, a situation which the inert, in fact, know from the start, by instinct. For what is inertia but a congenital perplexity?
Having lived in fear of being surprised by the worst, I have tried in every circumstance to a get a head start, flinging myself into misfortune long before it occurred.
Imaginary pains are by far the most real we suffer, since we feel a constant need for them and invent them because there is no way of doing without them.
O to have been born before man!
The most effective way to avoid dejection, motivated or gratuitous, is to take a dictionary, preferably of a language you scarcely know, and to look up word after word in it, making sure that they are the kind you will never use. . . .
As long as you live on this side of the terrible, you will find words to express it; once you know it from inside, you will no longer find a single one.
To realize, in rage and desolation alike, that nature, as Bossuet says, will not long grant us “this morsel of matter she lends.” — This morsel of matter: by dint of pondering it we reach peace, though a peace it would be better never to have known.
Paradox is not suited to burials, nor to weddings or births, in fact. Sinister — or grotesque — events require commonplaces; the terrible, like the painful, accommodates only the cliche.
The Aztecs were right to believe the gods must be appeased, to offer them human blood every day in order to keep the universe from sinking back into chaos.
We long since ceased to believe in the gods, and we no longer offer them sacrifices. Yet the world is still here. No doubt. Only we no longer have the good luck to know why it does not collapse on the spot.
Think about those who haven’t long to live, who know that everything is over and done with, except the time in which the thought of their end unrolls. Deal with that time. Write for thegladiators. . . .
Moral disintegration when we spend time in a place that is too beautiful: the self dissolves upon contact with paradise. No doubt it was to avoid this danger that the first man made the choice he did.
We had nothing to say to one another, and while I was manufacturing my phrases I felt that the earth was falling through space and that I was falling with it at a speed that made me dizzy.
Years and years to waken from that sleep in which the others loll; then years and years to escape that awakening . . .
A task to be done, something I have undertaken out of necessity or choice: no sooner have I started in than everything seems important, everything attracts me, except that.
Erosion of our being by our infirmities: the resulting void is filled by the presence of consciousness, what am I saying? — that void is consciousness itself.
The substance of a work is the impossible — what we have not been able to attain, what could not be given to us: the sum of all the things which were refused us.
Gogol, in hopes of a “regeneration,” journeys to Nazareth and discovers he is as bored there as “in a Russian railroad station” — this is what happens to us all when we look outside ourselves for what can exist only inside.
Kill yourself because you are what you are, yes, but not because all humanity would spit in your face!
Why fear the nothing in store for us when it is no different from the nothing which preceded us: this argument of the Ancients against the fear of death is unacceptable as consolation. Before, we had the luck not to exist; now we exist, and it is this particle of existence, hence of misfortune, which dreads death. Particle is not the word, since each of us prefers himself to the universe, at any rate considers himself equal to it.
When we discern the unreality of everything, we ourselves become unreal, we begin to survive ourselves, however powerful our vitality, however imperious our instincts. But they are no longer anything but false instincts, and false vitality.
If you are doomed to devour yourself, nothing can keep you from it: a trifle will impel you as much as a tragedy. Resign yourself to erosion at all times: your fate wills it so.
To live is to lose ground.
To think that so many have succeeded in dying.
Impossible not to resent those who write us overwhelming letters.
In a remote province in India, everything was explained by dreams, and what is more important, dreams were used to cure diseases as well. It was according to dreams that business was conducted and matters of life and death decided. Until the English came. Since then, one native said, “We no longer dream.”
In what we have agreed to call “civilization,” there resides, undeniably, a diabolic principle man has become conscious of too late, when it was no longer possible to remedy it.
Lucidity without the corrective of ambition leads to stagnation. It is essential that the one sustain the other, that the one combat the other without winning, for a work, for a life to be possible.
We cannot forgive those we have praised to the skies, we are impatient to break with them, to snap the most delicate chain of all: the chain of admiration . . . , not out of insolence, but out of aspiration to find our bearings, to be free, to be . . . ourselves. Which we manage only by an act of injustice.
The problem of responsibility would have a meaning only if we had been consulted before our birth and had consented to be precisely who we are.
The energy and virulence of my taedium vitae continue to astound me. So much vigor in a disease so decrepit! To this paradox I owe my present incapacity to choose my final hour.
Children turn, and must turn, against their parents, and the parents can do nothing about it, for they are subject to a law which decrees the relations among all the living: i.e., that each engenders his own enemy.
In a Gnostic work of the second century of our era, we read: “The prayer of a melancholy man will never have the strength to rise unto God.” . . . Since man prays only in despondency, we may deduce that no prayer has ever reached its destination.
He was above all others, and had had nothing to do with it: he had simply forgotten to desire. . . .
No one exclaims he is feeling well and that he is free, yet this is what all who know this double blessing should do. Nothing condemns us more than our incapacity to shout our good luck.
To have failed in everything, always, out of a love of discouragement!
The sole means of protecting your solitude is to offend everyone, beginning with those you love.
A book is a postponed suicide.
Say what we will, death is the best thing nature has found to please everyone. With each of us, everything vanishes, everything stops forever. What an advantage, what an abuse! Without the least effort on our part, we own the universe, we drag it into our own disappearance. No doubt about it, dying is immoral. . . .
— E. M. Cioran
(The Trouble with Being Born)
A couple of years ago, I started thinking about how so often when classical composers write a piece of music, they are trying to tell you something that they are proud of and like about themselves. Here’s this big gushing melody, see how emotional I am. Or, here’s this abstract hard-to-figure-out piece, see how complicated I am, see my really big brain. I am more noble, more sensitive, I am so happy. The composer really believes he or she is exemplary in this or that area. It’s interesting, but it’s not very humble. So I thought, What would it be like if composers based pieces on what they thought was wrong with them? Like, here’s a piece that shows you how miserable I am. Or, here’s a piece that shows you what a liar I am, what a cheater I am. I wanted to make a piece that was about something disreputable. It’s a hard line to cross. You have to work against all your training. You are not taught to find the dirty seams in music. You are not taught to be low-down, clumsy, sly and underhanded. In ”cheating, lying, stealing,” although phrased in a comic way, I am trying to look at something dark. There is a swagger, but it is not trustworthy. In fact, the instruction in the score for how to play it says: Ominous funk.
Today’s society is no longer Foucault’s disciplinary world of hospitals, madhouses, prisons, barracks, and factories. It has long been replaced by another regime, namely a society of fitness studios, office towers, banks, airports, shopping malls, and genetic laboratories. Twenty-first-century society is no longer a disciplinary society, but rather an achievement society [Leistungsgesellschaft]. Also, its inhabitants are no longer “obedience-subjects” but “achievement-subjects.” They are entrepreneurs of themselves. The walls of disciplinary institutions, which separate the normal from the abnormal, have come to seem archaic. Foucault’s analysis of power cannot account for the psychic and topological changes that occurred as disciplinary society transformed into achievement society. Nor does the commonly employed concept of “control society” do justice to this change. It still contains too much negativity.
Disciplinary society is a society of negativity. It is defined by the negativity of prohibition. The negative modal verb that governs it is May Not. By the same token, the negativity of compulsion adheres to Should. Achievement society, more and more, is in the process of discarding negativity. Increasing deregulation is abolishing it.
Unlimited Can is the positive modal verb of achievement society. Its plural form—the affirmation, “Yes, we can”—epitomizes achievement society’s positive orientation. Prohibitions, commandments, and the law are replaced by projects, initiatives, and motivation. Disciplinary society is still governed by no. Its negativity produces madmen and criminals. In contrast, achievement society creates depressives and losers.
On one level, continuity holds in the paradigm shift from disciplinary society to achievement society. Clearly, the drive to maximize production inhabits the social unconscious. Beyond a certain point of productivity, disciplinary technology—or, alternately, the negative scheme of prohibition—hits a limit. To heighten productivity, the paradigm of disciplination is replaced by the paradigm of achievement, or, in other words, by the positive scheme of Can; after a certain level of productivity obtains, the negativity of prohibition impedes further expansion. The positivity of Can is much more efficient than the negativity of Should. Therefore, the social unconscious switches from Should to Can. The achievement-subject is faster and more productive than the obedience-subject. However, the Can does not revoke the Should. The obedience-subject remains disciplined. It has now completed the disciplinary stage. Can increases the level of productivity, which is the aim of disciplinary technology, that is, the imperative of Should. Where increasing productivity is concerned, no break exists between Should and Can; continuity prevails.Alain Ehrenberg locates depression in the transition from
Alain Ehrenberg locates depression in the transition from disciplinary society to achievement society:
Depression began its ascent when the disciplinary model for behavion, the rules of authority and observance of taboos that gave social classes as well as both sexes a specific destiny, broke against norms that invited us to undertake personal initiative by enjoining us to be ourselves…. The depressed individual is unable to measure up; he is tired of having to become himself.
Problematically, however, Ehrenberg considers depression only from the perspective of the economy of the self: the social imperative only to belong to oneself makes one depressive. For Ehrenberg, depression is the pathological expression of the late-modern human being’s failure to become himself. Yet depression also follows from impoverished attachment [Bindungsarmut], which is a characteristic of the increasing fragmentation and atomization of life in society. Ehrenberg lends no attention to this aspect of depression. He also overlooks the systemic violence inhabiting achievement society which provokes psychic infarctions. It is not the imperative only to belong to oneself, but the pressure to achieve that causes exhaustive depression. Seen in this light, burnout syndrome does not express the exhausted self so much as the exhausted, burnt-out soul. According to Ehrenberg, depression spreads when the commandments and prohibitions of disciplinary society yield to self-responsibility and initiative. In reality it is not the excess of responsibility and initiative that makes one sick, but the imperative to achieve: the new commandment of late-modern labor society Ehrenberg wrongly equates the human type of the present day with Nietzsche’s “sovereign man”:
Nietzsche’s sovereign man, his own man, was becoming a mass phenomenon: there was nothing above him that could tell him who he ought to be because he was the sole owner of himself.
In fact, Nietzsche would say that that human type in the process of becoming reality en masse is no sovereign superman but “the last man,” who does nothing but work. The new human type, standing exposed to excessive positivity without any defense, lacks all sovereignty. The depressive human being is an animal laborans that exploits itself—and it does so voluntarily, without external constraints. It is predator and prey at once. The self in the strong sense of the word, still represents an immunological category. However, depression eludes all immunological schemes. It erupts at the moment when the achievement-subject is no longer able to be able [nicht mehr können kann]. First and foremost, depression is creative fatigue and exhausted ability [Schaffens- und Könnensmüdigkeit].
The complaint of the depressive individual, “Nothing is possible,” can only occur in a society that thinks, “Nothing is impossible.” No-longer-being-able-to-be-able leads to destructive self-reproach and auto-aggression. The achievement-subject finds itself fighting with itself. The depressive has been wounded by internalized war. Depression is the sickness of a society that suffers from excessive positivity. It reflects a humanity waging war on itself.
The achievement-subject stands free from any external instance of domination [Herrschaftsinstanz] forcing it to work, much less exploiting it. It is lord and master of itself. Thus, it is subject to no one—or, as the case may be, only to itself. It differs from the obedience-subject on this score. However, the disappearance of domination does not entail freedom. Instead, it makes freedom and constraint coincide. Thus, the achievement -subject gives itself over to compulsive freedom—that is, to the free constraint of maximizing achievement. Excess work and performance escalate into auto-exploitation. This is more efficient than allo-exploitation, for the feeling of freedom attends it. The exploiter is simultaneously the exploited. Perpetrator and victim can no longer be distinguished. Such self-referentiality produces a paradoxical freedom that abruptly switches over into violence because of the compulsive structures dwelling within it. The psychic indispositions of achievement society are pathological manifestations of such a paradoxical freedom.
Byung-Chul Han, The Burnout Society
“…art must must carry man’s craving for the ideal, must be an expression of his reaching out towards it; that art must give man hope and faith. And the more hopeless the world in the artist’s version, the more clearly perhaps must we see the ideal that stands in opposition – otherwise life becomes impossible! Art symbolises the meaning of our existence.”
― Andrei Tarkovsky,
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a human being is never what he is but the self he seeks
a human being is never what he is but the self he seeks
a human being is never what he is but the self he seeks
I could afford to be good, kind, generous, loyal and so forth, since I was free of envy. Envy was the one thing I was never a victim of.