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Monthly Archives: October 2008

Silent Hill Nurses

The Body as Negotiation and Horror

Halloween is coming, and much looked forward to, time for a rumination on the mechanics of flesh (and horror), amid questions of salvation and social critique.

[click here to be able to view clip fullscreen]

What is it that is so engaging about this terrific horror scene? My suspicion is that it is the articulate collaspe the erotic into the horrific. These manikin’d figures perform a rhythmically spasmed ideal of the female body as autonomous machine, but one that is imagined to be inert until stimulated. They are faceless, breasted, high-heeled, and jerk with a movement somewhere between impulse and gearing. And it is their powderiness, moths that captivates us (like their day counterparts, don’t touch their wings). They have a dusted eternity about them, like statuettes put into a tomb, awaiting the next life for a king; the expression of desire that is not vital, not succulent, not verdant, but thin, spare, starved…like crysallis-paper. And their very stiffness expresses their phallic nomen, though they move like dancers, affected, against their anatomy, strung between a marionette wire and gravity, and tugged forward only by the light.

They are nurses, those uniformed, regulated images of maternal instinct, put into office. Condensations of nurture and erotic formulized power, here gone bad. Ever at their station, they are like tin soldiers to serve a moral war, atuned to battle. The growing political and economic freedoms of women in the world become anamorphically projected, down across these canal “types”, so as to create a kind of “astral body” for those concrete freedoms, one that can move through our imaginations, communally. (Some would say that this subverts, attempts to domesticate, enphantasize the real power, but that would be to lose the dimensionality of powers…minds act.)

And the protagonist of Silent Hill is a woman in a woman’s space. The lone substantive male figure is Triangle-head, the demon, who mutely can only disrobe or stab, or verminify with incredible violence. But this violence is lunar, it cycles through. His head is consubstantially strapped-on, castrated or chastity endowed. He already is a feminine expression. The Law, and the Father is locked outside. She, the mother who in the film is not a mother, or, only a mother-IN-law, must negotiate this bend of nurses, this last stage of female fantasy condensations. In fine mythic proportion, she has gone into the underworld with a lone tool, a magic lamp, a beam of consciousness. But natural laws do not function equally well down here. The light of the eyes certainly illumines, but it attracts (how many women have faced this, fundamentally). It shines and ensnares. Her spectral dopplegangers, the full-figure expressions of her imaginary transport become homocidally activated by her strong beam. They cluster and jerk, showing her their ways.

The stillness of their bodies, frozen in postures unreal for any human thing, it is their human form, their mockery and simultaneous paragonical perfection of female beauty that is so horrifying when they lurch into erotic-mechanical animation.  Response to their movement is to be petrified in horror, bearing still and breathless witness to their writhing bodies as they parade toward their desire – the light, you, the holder of the light.  And the light shuts off, and the bodies seize into stillness once more, shuttering in final violent spasms as they come to rest in even more contorted postures than before.  She is like them; in our nightmares we cling and long for the light to save us from our fear and we are petrified without it.  But she is more clever and her desire is stronger, for she can move without light, she can walk among and indeed walk like her fear.  It is in that darkness that they are pacified, without desire, and in this darkness the protagonist can move toward her desire, pulling and winding her  frame - blind like they are - through the maze of inanimate bodies. 

Paradoxically, she must shut off her magical implement, the darkness producer that it is. She must become one of them, a near-frozen articulation that can only feel, sense…proximately. She, a gear, must pass through those gears, without turning them. And their recursive ethic, their imbricated network, when she brushes too close, sets the whole desiring-machine into production. The slashes come in wide arcs, woman on woman. Model bodies mechanicize, and necks open up into mouths. The scalpel, the most discerning instrument, the sharpest refinement of perception, the critical tool, flies. But what is produced in this imaginary space is not death, it is a vortex-work of living, intense lines of red, until the “subjects” can huddle about the light again, like toddlers.

What is one to make of this gauntlet? A woman devoted to her duty as a mother (to an adopted child) must penetrate the fictive space of female power images, the automaton sources of gendered capacity. These images are not just projections of real relations, but are real relations in their own right, I suspect. That is why they terrify. Progress sometimes includes the faceless.

One might say that the mother here must negotiate the Field of Being, the historically determined imaginary manifestations of her real power, as real, and just do so as a Body. 


[The above is written with the help of my, of course, horrific wife]

Sarah Silverman’s Subversive Loyalty to the Pledge

I found comedian Sarah Silverman’s “solution” to the church/state inclusion of the phrase “one nation, under God…” in the pledge of allegiance both hilarious and penetrating. (It is located at the 3:45 minute mark in the above clip.) Someone like Zizek finds in this quotational subversion a deeper entrenchment of belief, a disquieted distancing of oneself in the ultimate power of words. He, no slouch in the realm of humor, talks about the distancing, postmodern lover who comically says to his beloved, “As the poet says, ‘I love you’”. Silverman here seems to be doing something more I think. Because her act falls within the very formalized text of an oath, she is using the quotation powers of truth to draw attention to the very act of pledging. Think of the further consequences if the word “nation” were air-quoted, or “stands”. Soon we would have evacuated the entire act of any content. It then becomes mere staging, a circulation, which carries its own substance. (What of air-quoting the entire act?) A distance is opened up between the ennunciation and the form expressed, a distance that can be then further politicized.

I think this is related to the so called “disquotational property” of truth. Famously, “The sentence ‘Snow is white’ is true” is thought to be the equivalent of simply claiming “Snow is white” (Tarski, etc.); with truth, one can simply take the quotes off. Yet when we place a phrase or sentence in quotes, we isolate it, not in terms of truth (which remains indeterminate), but in terms expression. We allow it its social autonomy, while exercizing protest, decentering its enunciation. This an the interesting thing about Sarah Silverman’s subversion. It suspends the expressional qualities of the phrase “under God” while preserving its possibility of truth. Further though, Sarah’s potest occurs in the form a joke told on television, and not simply performed in context. As such, it becomes a kind of prescrition, instead of a proscription. Of interest as well is that this suspension is accomplished bodily, yet with near-linguistic precision (she is not merely making a face while saying the phrase). She selects out the phrase with a bodily performance (now grown common) of a typographic mark. In a sense, she inscribes her body with scriptive importance. She is bodily adjunct to the meaning of here words.

Sarah Silverman and Golda Mier

If we striked the phrase, instead of Sarahized it, would this be as subversive? Or if we merely mouthed it? Does God intrude upon the speaker of the Pledge interpellating her, (as Althusser would have it), no matter what? Has Sarah succeeded in renouncing or even denouncing the Divinity of America’s origins? Or is Sarah really saying something akin to a line attributed to former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Mier, when answering the question of whether she believed in God: “I believe in the Jewish people, and they  believe in God” (paraphrased here).

Collapse and Emergency

These two words bear close watching. My wife today pointed out to me how odd the word “emergency” was. It caused me to check: OED says, from the late Latin, emergentia. An emergency, ultimately from emergere, “to come forth, come out, to rise up… is what we hear it be if we listen to it, an emergence (curious that an orginal, now rare meaning in English pertained to how bodies would float to the surface of water).

Given this, “collapse” also came to mind. I recalled how habituated heretics were fatefully convicted of being in a state of relapsus, as Campanella was. Falling back. Collapse though is from collaps- the past participle stem of collabi, to fall together. The “co-”, the coming together is what I think should not be lost. The root, Lapus, they tell us is the perfect past participle of labor, “to move gently along a smooth surface, to fall, slide; to slide, slip, or glide down, to fall down, to sink”.

Emergence and sliding together.

We confuse (fuse together). We consider collapses to be emergencies, and often emergenices to signal collapses. When examining each, perhaps best attention is paid to just what is emerging, and what is sliding together, and further and more subtly, how sliding-together is a kind of emergence, and visa versa.

So Sophocles speaks of Time:

Everything, oh lengthy & unmetered Chronos

Produces, the unseen even as the revealed gets concealed.

Nothing is unexpected/hopeless…

Ajax, lines 646-648

And need we remind that “crisis” is from the Greek κρίσις; it is a “turning point”, a trial’s judgment, a discernment, a choice, an election. How the world is a composition of crisises, difference that makes a difference, and perhaps nothing more than such.


The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affect and Triangulation Part IV of IV

[Finally posted, the meta-epistemic (is that what we call it?) conclusion of my engagement of Witttgenstein via Davidson and then Spinoza, (and back again). This final part is continued from Part III; and here is part I and part II]


I would like to end with a rather obvious example of a mental predicate attribution which by no means “should” be made, in the proper sense: that made upon a specific painting, (in this case by Medieval theologian Nicholas de Cusa). Taking up Wittgenstein’s thought about how it is that we might even get the idea a stone would have feeling, one might ask: However would we get the idea that a piece of wood, covered with pigmented oils has perceptions, sees things? Indeed, there is no “resembles (behaves like)” (PI §281) which would under Wittgenstein’s description would allow us to feel comfortable in saying that the painting thinks and feels. At the very most, it simply looks like us. But when interpretation is understood to be affective triangulation, the propriety of mental predicate attribution shifts its center. Instead of looking to justify attributions, one only experiences their effect, as they make the world a more sensible place. This is what Nicholas de Cusa writes of an icon of Christ that he encountered in a monastery:

In this [icon's] painted face I see an image of Infinity. For the gaze is not confined to an object or a place, and so it is infinite. For it is turned as much toward one beholder of the face as toward another. And although in itself the gaze of this face is infinite, nevertheless it seems to be limited by any given onlooker. For it looks so fixedly upon whoever looks unto it that it seems to look only upon him and not upon anything else (“The Vision of God”, chapter 15) 

De Cusa is finding in looking at an iconographic image of Christ that his entire sense of the world and himself is changed. The deictic nature of its gaze, and the circumstances of its viewing inform. For instance, he experiences that there is even a changeability in the image, a way that it seems to pass in and out of shadow, something that for him reports back upon his own subjective state:

Your icon’s gaze seems to be changed and that Your countenance seems to be changed because I am changed, You seem to me as if You were a shadow which follows the changing of the one who is walking. But because I am a living shadow and You are the Truth, I judge from the changing of the shadow that the Truth is changed. Therefore, O my God, You are shadow in such way that You are Truth; You are the image of me and of each one in such way that You are Exemplar (ibid)

Here we have encountered a core experience of intersubjectivity and triangulation, the re-consideration of one’s own condition, but broadcast upon an inanimate thing. Surely many would claim that such an imagination on the behalf of a believer is a piece of fanciful dreaming, and has little to do with “reality”. But I suggest that de Cusa is experiencing something more fundamental, and profound. Profound, not in the religious sense, but profound in the epistemic sense. He is triangulating to the world, an objective world, within the parameters of reality itself.

He is seeing the face as it presents itself, in paint, as a kind of testament, and our two questions appear: How must the world be in order to have such a face, such an expression, for one’s own. In this way, de Cusa’s own affective experience of himself is changed into that which such a one with a face would have. He mirrors that face. The fixity of the Christ face attests to a fixity in the world, a surety of God, which for de Cusa becomes objective. And it results in a certain fixity in his own condition, to which his experience of mutability is contrasted. As well, de Cusa experiences the Christ face as looking at him, and reflecting how he, de Cusa, must be. De Cusa, as a thing in the world, becomes also the “truth” to which the pictured face is responding. And lastly one must assume that de Cusa knows that this painting is a real painting in the world, one that was produced by a human painter, and so the questions of triangulation can be replayed: How must the world be so that a painter would be able to paint such a painting? And what must a painter experience, so as to paint such a thing. Again, and again, at every level, the triangulation sews together a truth of existence.


The point here is not to prove a religiosity, for the very same triangulating experience can be undergone in viewing another subject matter, in fact one which would objectify an atheist condition in which there was no God, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” might do. The point is that the power of triangulation is so pervasive, and so illuminating, so constitutive of both our sense of ourselves and of the world, that mental predicate attribution cannot be restricted to any one level of description. Rather, attributions of belief all rely upon a more principled affective understanding of the world itself, as we are invited to imagine ourselves as others experiencing the world, a fundamental operation of understanding the world as a real and objective thing. It is not similarity of “behavior”, nor even the linguistic capacity to attest to an understanding of belief and mistake, which illumines our knowledge of the states of others, but rather, a pre-condition for any attribution, is the affective imagination of other things to be like us, and we like them. And this comes, as Wittgenstein says, “if not without justification”, with right.

It is within this affective/causal field that we as living beings thrive and communicate with each other and the world. The causal nature of belief seems best described as the realm of the interpersonal as it is subsumed within the entire fabric of a world’s understanding, the dimension of comment upon that world, such that it and us become inseparable. If anything, this study in contrast between Wittgenstein and Davidson, is meant to show how each thinker shines productive light upon the other, in particular, in fields where neither focused their energies of inquiry. Wittgenstein brings to Davidson’s rationalism of belief, a contextuality of communication that extends beyond that of language itself, his thought containing the possibilities of communications that defy easy reduction. Words like “simulation” or “intension” illuminate the world. And Davidson places Wittgenstein’s powerful rule-following language pictures within a greater conceptual framework, one in which even mental predicates are conceived under the umbrella of causality. Brought together, what presents itself is a consummate thought of informing causation, one in which our ways of talking about ourselves and the world express more primary, physical, and necessary determinations. We become, epistemically and affectively, embodied, interconnected creatures of knowledge.



Appendex: A schema of Triangulation, understood as an aesthetic theory

Works Cited


Augustine of Hippo. The City of God against the Pagans. Trans. R. W. Dyson. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

–. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. Trans. Albert Cook Outler. 3rd Edition Series. Dover Publications, 2002.

Damasio, Antonio. Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. Orlando: Hardcourt Books, 2003.

Davidson Donald. “Three Varieties of Knowledge”. Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Nicholas of Cusa. “The Vision of God”. Trans. Jasper Hopkins. Minneapolis: Arthur J. Banning Press, 1985. Retrieved May 7, 2007, from:

Quine, Willard van Ormand. Word and Object. Cambridge, Massachusetts: M. I. T. Press, 1960.

Spinoza, Baruch. The Collected Works of Spinoza, volume 1. Trans. Edwin Curley. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. The Blue and Brown Books. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958.

 –. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. Elizabeth Anscombe. 3rd Edition, Hardback. Cornwall: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004.



Fly in the Ointment

“There is a fly in the ointment”

Philosophy at times is an ointment designed to catch flies. And in catching them, hopefully provide something of the unguent that heals wounds.

Flocks of Economic Richness

Cain Returns to Abel

As we hear, now in this time of economic shift and “crisis”, that our economy of the West is no longer a manufacture’s economy, but rather an “information” economy, or a “service” economy, it comes to the fore that the place America and its homologous European West has taken in the world economy is of one huge Affect Pool: that is the highly structured (polyvalent) and affinity-ridden potentiality of feelings and experiences, for their own sake, a veritable living dream-factory, composed of bodily possibles.

It is an interesting shift. The First World regularly had been characterized as using the Third as its industrial base, its ever expanding source of cheaper and cheaper labor, a labor extracted through the restriction of human and civil rights, organized by brutal political forms, feeding “us” what is “needed”, something to churn the maelstrom of capital growth at its periphery. Perhaps there is something to this. But the ideology of freedom runs in tensioned parallel to the freedoms of economic, capitalized growth. And in worlds other than the so-called First, the problematic of newly constructed “consumer” cogitos ever tugs at these two strands. Thus as the collapse of speculations, and complex leveragings of debt – debt spread so thin so as to become hopefully like dew to evaporate each morning, only to rise into a unexpected weather-storm of force, to ripple in so many butterfly wing flaps, at a distance – we come to see that the affect-rich West, the West that dreams for its professoin, works at the service of emerging markets. Instead of First, Second and Third worlds, there are emerging markets which feed off of the Affect Pools of the West. And China invests Westward, upon its domesticated flocks.

The study of affect and imagination is perhaps most needed.

Evidence toward the nature of Spinoza’s Lathe(s)

Writing an email today to an interested party I found myself running over the evidence that Spinoza used either a hand driven lens-grinding lathe, or one of the springpole variety, such as the Hevelius lathe (Selenographia, 1647). It seemed best to briefly summarize them hear, as though the evidence is scant, it is not non-existent. I have already written briefly on these two lathes here: Spinoza’s Grinding Lathe: An Extended Hypothesis ; Spinoza’s “Spring Pole” Lathe: Experience to Metaphysics and Back

1. The auction of Spinoza’s estate held nine months after his death (4 Nov 1677), accounts for more than one “mill” (mollens). If such mollens are taken to be grinding lathes, it shows that he had more than one, likely for more than one purpose (telescope/microscope; grinding/polishing). It is also very possible that the estate had already lost a number of its items by the time of the auction.

2. Spinoza is generally assumed to have been tubercular. While in remission the disease may not inhibit the stenuousness of activity, when manifest any grinding lathe that would greatly reduce exertion would seem almost necessary. A springpole lathe frees the hands, and allows the larger leg muscles to bear the burden.

3. There is some evidence that Spinoza did work on larger telescope objective lenses, ones that would require heavier iron grinding forms, less conducive to a hand-driven lathe. For instance, Huygens writes his brother in reference to calculations Spinoza had done for a 40 ft. lens (in collaboration with J. Hudde), and ten years after Spinoza’s death, Constantijn Huygens writes of using a 42 ft. Spinoza grinding/polishing form (I have not checked the primary source on this yet, OC IX p. 732) which worked so well that he did not have to lift the lens from the glass to check it for blemishes even after an hour straight of use (suggesting a fixed-glass, hands free devise).

4.Christiaan Huygens at several points in his letters to his brother refers to Spinoza’s championing of small spherical lenses for microscopes. If these are not unground spherical bead-drop lenses, then these would be the kind that required very precise grinding and polishing. One can certainly imagine that hand-driven grinding lathes would be more suitable for this kind of work.

This rough sketch seems to suggest a combination of grinding and polishing lathes were used. Spinoza in his criticism of Huygens’ semi-automated grinding lathes, and artisan concern for basic tried techniques, does strongly advise that whatever Spinoza’s lathe designs, they were of a simple, efficient design. He did not appreciate speculative mechanical experimentation, at least not for its own sake. One imagines that his springpole- and/or hand- lathe was of a tried and true fundamental design, though from Huygens’s comments on Spinoza’s polishing techniques, it does appear that he possessed distinctive techniques which were either discovered by himself as a inventive craftsman, or were from a source not commonly available to others.

Davidson’s “Three Varieties of Knowledge”

Here is an on-line copy of Donald Davidson’s remarkable 1991 essay “Three Varieties of Knowledge”. As far as contemporary philosophical essays go, it is perhaps the finest, far-reaching essay in my memory. In terms of style it employs a jargon-free, clear language approach reminiscent of Wittgenstein’s straightforward  problem solving (without the hypnotic aphoristic gloss over of aporias). In terms of content, here is a Davidson’s powerful concept of Triangulation, and the application of the Principle of Charity in the context of Wittgenstein’s Private Language Argument. Here is the rational, yet still historically contingent process of growing knowledge, guided by communal relations. I find there to be much of Spinoza in this, and a nexus point between both Continnetal and Analytic Schools. I urge you to read this elegant, modest and yet resounding essay. I have the distinct impression that despite the 18 intervening years, philosophy has not caught up with the full consequences of Davidson’s subsuming argument.

page: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. [click on each photo there to enlarge]

At this point, this important essay is not easy to find, but is published in Subjective, Intersubjective and Objective, an excellent collection. This, and The Essential Davidson  would give you a great proportion of his bridge-building thought.

I apologize for the messy margin notes, and underlines as I didn’t imagine that others would be reading this copy, but I feel that this is an important essay, significant enough to post here for those just coming in touch with its arguments and view of the world. If you want some sense of the kinds of arguments that stem from this essay, look to my The Trick of Dogs: Etiologic, Affection and Triangulation.

Spinoza: “Breathing in Reverse”

Israeli born Artist and Poet Joseph Semah organized a Feburary 23, 2008 simultaneous reading of Spinoza’s “Tractatus theologico-politicus” in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin (read by Joseph himself, Paul Groot, Muhammed Sabet):

The effect is jarring, yet subtly pragmatic and altering. Immediately one is confronted by Babel, and is problematically juxtaposed between the myth of that great, unfinished edifice and the edifice of Spinoza’s works (how unfinished, the Political Treatise  left off just where democracy was beginning, and ironically, just as Spinoza established the inequality of the sexes based on experience and historical evidence). One is struck by the simplicity of the event, the way that the bodies gravitate towards each other, almost with an atomic attraction or an animal antagonism. Like a molecule, they hold each other’s texts. One is aware of the impossible grinning or gritting of the words across to each other, and how Spinoza fought hard to keep his TTP from being translated and published in Dutch (so much against the strong, ideal strides taken towards the demystification of language by Spinoza’s friends the Koerbagh brothers, one of which who lost his life). Latin, the mitigator, the citizen-maker of 17th century European intellectualism, here is swallowed up by the two (?) languages of the holyland. Where is one to get their footing?

But there is simplicity here. I am interested in the causal, imaginary paths to Spinoza’s truths, and not only the propositional ones. The event determines us think, feel and see: Three people are gathered. There is a camera that floats; and then a network of Youtube users. Can we believe, “Where there are two or three gathered in my name”? What is that effect? Spinoza tells us “experience can determine our mind to think…of certain essences of things” (Ep. 10). Are we directed to the essence of Spinoza? To the essence of the TTP? Are issues of peace (implied) issues of translation?

I find the presence of the Latin text most problematic. And the presence of the bodies harmonious. We reach across centuries and exhume the text, and then gather in a gallery to encant it. Spinoza talks against himself, and I am enthralled.

KV: Every particular corporeal thing [lichaamelijk ding] is nothing other than a certain ratio [zeekere proportie] of motion and rest.

How are we to read the “ratio” of these three bodies, and the “ratio” of these three languages (the compositions of the peoples enabled by their speaking)? What happens when more-adequate ideas, more joyous ideas are clothed in three historical social forms? Which of these manifestations, the Latin, the Arabic and the Hebrew is more liberating? And how is read, the single body of these bodies and languages in concert, then folded into the electronically related whole that is you and I?


[Video at first found here at Stan Verdult's Spinoza website]

A Look Back for a Moment, The Hole of Spinoza’s Vision

Right now I’m busy composing my Cabinet article, a result of this width of research I have done. Part of this process is looking back at my various conclusive essays to see where I have gotten. There is one that really struck me as a signficant reduction of the kinds of philosophical conclusions that can be drawn from my study of Spinoza’s optical endeavours, in particular pointing out how deeply he diverged from Descartes who preceded him. I repost it here for anyone else’s pleasure, for I read it again this morning and was really moved by its import (sometimes it is like that, one forgets what one wrote):

here: “The Hole at the Center of Vision”

Comments are of course appreciated



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