Monday, June 20, 2005

A Seat at the Cool Kids' Table; or, The Event

Cool kid Gaunilo has invited me to the blog meme table. My intermittent posting and half-baked didacticism has finally paid off.

1. How many books have I ever owned?

Yikes. If "lots" qualifies, I'll go with that. Otherwise, I'd put a conservative estimate at around 500. My travel library (those books that go with me from apartment to apartment) is around 200. A pretty stupid amount of books, given that my average stay at an apartment is just under a year, but, like a lot of people doing this particular "4 questions," the following type of thought pops into my head when packing: "What if I wake up at 5 one morning and need to find out what Adorno thinks about hermeneutics? Gosh, I don't think I can afford not to take Negative Dialectics." Of course, I have no idea what Adorno thinks about hermeunitics because that impulse has never struck me. But it might.

2. Last book I bought:

If by "bought" we substitute "swiped from a friend," then it would be the Bible. Funny, it was never part of my travel library.

3. Last book I read:

I'm almost done with three (like Gaunilo, I read books together): Zizek's Organs without Bodies; Foucault's Order of Things; and Ricouer's Oneself as Another. There's quite a bit of cool resonance between them, as all of them deal pretty heavily with the ontology of the Event. Inasmuch as an action exists, it has some strange existence, cuz you can't just reach out and touch an Event in the same way one can touch a table. This problematic is interesting to me for two reasons: when I was younger, I used to wonder how it was that people developed the language of verbs. With "table," it seems pretty easy: here's the "table", there's the table, and voila: you got yerself a stable sign. With verbs, though, it's as if the action exhausts itself in its own self-positing; the touching of the table is over as soon as it occurs. Finding the referent, then, seems like catching light in a bottle (metaphors? not my strong suit).

This self-exhaustion dovetails with my mild OCD: after I lock my door, I usually have to unlock it and relock it several times, because the locking exhausts itself and now is gone. The only way to be absolutely positive the door is locked is to unlock it and lock it again. And so this elaborate ritual goes in the morning.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me:

Baudrillard's Cool Memories. It's short, eminently readable, and is suffused with an ethic of resignation. It's very epigrammatic, so there's no narrative per se, but one gets the impression that his wife or a girlfriend has just left him (or vice versa), and this book, nominally a travel memoir, is the working-through of that gap or interstice as he flies from place to place. Because of the almost-aphoristic style, the text hints at a rich emotional terrain, so that the experience of the book is, as it were, interstitial. Like the narrator, the experience of the book exists as an in-between space, and is in transit between the text and an imaginary toward which the text points. Accordingly, much of the book is written in the present progressive, with the Events exhausting themselves at their moments of self-positing. As bombastic and pretentious as Baudrillard's academic texts are, this is a truly subtle and beautiful work. For better or worse, the way Baudrillard writes this book is the way I think (yeah, my love letters have theses.....and footnotes).

Heidegger's Being and Time. It's jam-packed with everything (I shoulda been a blurb writer, clearly), and was the fount of every major (continental) school of philosophy. This is one of those books that I do wake up at 5 am to peruse.

Sartre's Being and Nothingness. Why? Because it's right. About everything. Philosophy proper can stop after Sartre.

Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being. It's a great novel, and, more autobiographically, it showed me that philosophy isn't just a series of dry propositions whose truth value is tested: philosophy means something, and is uniquely capable of teasing out the significance of things. I've found that philosophy provides the best vocabularies and methods for articulating the weirdness and beauty of the world (I know, my Constructivist Club Card is at risk, what with the positing of a language-independent emotional world and all, but a reconciliation of the two is outside the scope of this post - to redeem myself, perhaps the above should be amended to say that philosophy provides the best way of worldmaking).

Y'all it: Bill Wallo; Nick; Sara Jane; bls.