One of the most ambitious schemes for a Japanese philosophy – where nothing by that name had existed before – was emerging at Hayashi’s own institution in 1943, just when he was forcibly removed from it. The great project of Kitarō Nishida, a seasoned Zen practitioner and the founder of what became the ‘Kyoto School’ of philosophy at Kyoto Imperial University, was to do what many Zen Buddhists insisted was impossible: to describe the picture of reality revealed in meditation.
Nishida sought to reverse the key premise of Western philosophy, writing not about ‘being’ or ‘what is’, but instead about ‘nothingness’. His was not the relative nothingness of non-being – the world of the gone-away, the not-yet or the might-be. He meant absolute nothingness: an unfathomable ‘place’ or horizon upon which both being and non-being arise.
To help students make sense of this idea, Nishida liked to draw a cluster of small circles on the lecture-hall board. This is how people usually see the world, he would say: a collection of objects, and judgments about those objects. Take a simple sentence: ‘The flower is yellow.’ We tend to focus on the flower, reinforcing in the process the idea that objects are somehow primary. But what if we turn it around, focusing instead on the quality of yellowness? What if we say to ourselves ‘the flower isyellow’, and allow ourselves to become perceptually engrossed in that yellowness? Something interesting happens: our concern with the ‘is-ness’ of the flower, and also the is-ness of ourselves, begins to recede. By making ‘yellowness’ the subject of our investigation – trying to complete the sentence ‘Yellowness is…’ – we end up thinking not in terms of substance, but in terms of place. The question isn’t so much ‘What is yellowness?’ as ‘Where is yellowness?’ Against what broader backdrop does ‘yellowness’ emerge?
For Nishida, the answer was a special sort of consciousness: not first-person reflection, where consciousness is the possession of an individual, but rather a consciousness that possesses people. It becomes less true to say that ‘an individual has experiences’ than that ‘experience has individuals’.
But if consciousness is the horizon beyond ‘yellow’, what is the further horizon? Where is consciousness? Nishida drew a dotted, all-encompassing line on the board. This, he said, is ‘absolute nothingness’, producing and interpenetrating every other plane of reality. Absolute nothingness is God. And God is absolute nothingness.
One wonders how many students filed out of Nishida’s lecture hall thinking: ‘A-ha! Now I get it!’ They could surely be forgiven for trying to understand absolute nothingness the same way we understand most things: by making it into an object of thought, placing ourselves outside it and perusing it from all angles. Yet a nothingness to which you could do this would not be absolute: it would just be one among that cluster of small circles on the board.
Nishida probably wouldn’t have minded such doomed attempts at understanding. ‘Absolute nothingness’, after all, is not an idea to be grasped: it is a provocation, a literal insult to the intelligence. It was already de rigueur in the Zen circles of Nishida’s day to scoff at the limited reach of conceptual knowing, treasuring instead the koan, the meditation cushion and the knowing look. But Nishida and his colleagues in the Kyoto School preferred not to write it off until it had been tested to the limits – tested, one might say, to destruction. ‘Absolute nothingness’ had the potential to perform that function. It promised to bring about the realisation that the idea of knowledge ‘from the outside’ must largely be a fiction.
Here I tend to think of the idea of moral literacy as put forward by Barbara Herman. Her analogy is that our capacity for reading is merely latent when we begin to learn to read, but through practice and instruction we get better and better at it to a point that not only do others not need to read to us, but we become more and more responsible for increasingly sophisticated interpretations of what we read. Her view is that our moral capacities work something like this and this is how we become more moral and are also susceptible to being held responsible for what we do, for lapses in judgment. Thus, the kind of perfectionism I advocate is, analogously, a very rigorous literacy program – one wherein Americans better learn to not only rationally understand but affectively sympathize with the racial harms they are complicit in bringing to bear. This does require a more sophisticated moral apparatus; I will reserve my despair if ever I become convinced that we are not all equally possessed of the requisite apparatus.
3:AM: Your starting point for working out a theory of justice is to presuppose that if you’re black then you’re not part of society as democracy supposes isn’t it? Is this what you mean when you discuss ‘lonely citizens’ and shame?
CL: A theory of justice appropriate for race has one central obligation and that is to bridge the gap between abstract notions of the good, the right, fairness, etc. and the lived experience of race, the way history and power converge on the being and the fabric of reality of blacks in America. There are many kinds of injustices in the world and racial injustice certainly isn’t the only one to be marked by asymmetries of power. However, it has a singular place in American history – racial domination made America what we know it to be today. What is the nature of this thing we refer to as America? Well, it has at least a few discernible and significant attributes. One is that it is a liberal democracy – that is, it is regulated by a form of governance that takes the freedom and liberty of its citizens to widely participate in politics to be fundamental; this feature is itself underwritten by a deeper normatively inflected commitment which is to treat persons in a certain way – as possessing autonomy and having the station of equal standing among peers in the social and political scheme. Another is that it is a liberal democracy founded in the course of practicing racial domination. My position here is not unique in the history of (black) thought – to found a nation’s constitution and develop its institutions in this manner settles early lessons about which persons are supposed to be the legitimate beneficiaries of the constitution and institutions. A beautiful thing about a democratic government is that it can be made to change, but the nature of change required to address racial inequality have historically left not only scars but present-day battlegrounds of difference rooted in resentment on both sides of the racial divide, whites’ sense of being threatened by change, and insecurity of a many kinds for all involved. A democracy’s struggles largely constitute not only its history but its culture which itself teaches a variety of lessons to those constantly learning how to be citizens and how to assess other citizens. The bases for both these lessons and our apparatus for judgment is thus fraught with serious problems that affect the content of those lessons and our practices of judgment.
Finally, America is a liberal democracy that, despite that description and despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, continues to be a functioning and quite vibrant site not only of common indicators of racial inequality (income, wealth, resources, employment) but of racial marginalization (segregation, the reproduction of disparaging racial stereotypes in our popular media) as well as racial oppression (disproportionate jailing and the devaluation of black life by the institutions of criminal justice whether it be by disproportionate application of the death penalty or unpunished acts of violence against blacks by police). So we have to ask ourselves: just what kind of ‘liberal democracy’ is marked by a strain of deep and disrespectful injustice that is contrary to the very idea of liberal democracy? My answer is: One that doesn’t merely marginalize but one that explicitly and implicitly rejects the humanity of black Americans. So it is more than not being part of American society. It is deeper. It is not being seen fully as the kind of thing that can vie for membership in American society – a human being. So here, the question of loneliness is not itself as central as the diminished value of black humanity.
I noted the slippage between the standards and principles entailed by the form of governance we describe as liberal democracy on the one hand, while on the other, the consistent demeaning and unjust treatment of black Americans. The very notion of slippage between the principles to which we subscribe and the reasoning, attitudes, and actions we take up provides the grounds for shame. That we might or ought to feel shame in any instance is not in itself in the ordinary course of things always a reason to raise questions of justice. When as a parent we affirm the virtue of generosity towards our children but act meanly on an occasion, this seems appropriately remedied by a genuine apology and show of affection. So the question here is, what, for me, raises the question of justice in the case under consideration – racial inequality? This is the role I set for character.
3:AM: Can you explain what you mean when you say that you think the USA suffers from bad character? How does it help explain systematic racial inequality?
CL: The idea of character has not typically been deployed in contemporary theories of justice and this has been so for a fairly straightforward reason. Theories of justice have mostly been concerned with distributive justice (the division of goods that are the product of a scheme of ongoing cooperation) and the role of institutional design in achieving distributive justice. Apart from the general and prior commitments of ideal theory, this focus tilts us away from certain ideas central to our ethical traditions, among them virtue and character. This has a bit to do with what some would claim is a category mistake in applying these ideas to institutions in addition to or instead of persons – philosophers do not tend to think of virtues like kindness or bravery applying to institutions, and in some instances that hesitation is justified. But this also has to do with what one has to go in for in mobilizing these ideas. If you seek to work out an approach to institutional design that is a fit for a certain conception of distributive justice then what you will really be attentive to will be matters of fairness, procedure, and properly structured deliberation. If you turn towards ideas like character, then you have to extend the theory, if it can be so extended, into an analysis of history and political development and an interpretation of our social landscape. But this will not be interesting if you think you can theorize fairness prior to politics and history, or if you are concerned that these particulars are sufficiently myriad to systematically organize for the purposes of prescriptive arguments.
And this is how the idea of character helps explain racial inequality. I might identify at least two approaches to that idea. One says that character has to do with the complex of habits and principles we possess and affirm and the way we develop, fail to develop, apply, fail to apply those principles and habits appropriately given the relationship we are addressing at a given point. Another, (attributable to Joan Didion) equates character with moral nerve – standing by our convictions and denying opportunities to regret our actions because doing so is on a par with rejecting our earlier selves – the self that made the decision we wish we might not have made. Now, I don’t agree with this idea of regret in its particulars since I don’t think regret amounts to rejecting our earlier selves, but there really is something to the idea of moral nerve that is to the point here: a failure to abide by the principle undergirding the form of government we endorse and ostensibly practice is not itself a failure or moral nerve – that can just be moral error. However, when that error – to put it mildly – persists for a few centuries without thorough and (consistently) sincere address, that is a failure or moral nerve. To overcome that failure, we also need to keep in view the first approach to character having to do with habits, virtues, and moral learning. When we observe the persistence, range, and depth of racial injustice, we are not talking merely about blacks not getting one good or another, we are talking about a polity unable to bring into right relationship the duties of democratic citizenship with the moral obligation to respect other persons as persons. This, I have argued, is fundamental to justice because without that relationship coming to bear, nothing else can effectively be done.
Thinking provokes general indifference. It is a dangerous exercise nevertheless. Indeed, it is only when the dangers become obvious that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden and barely perceptible inherent in the enterprise. Precisely because the plane of immanence is prephilosophical and does not immediately take effect with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess. We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, yet they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow the witch’s flight.
The link that Deleuze and Guattari make between thinking and witchcraft takes us out of the self-contained territories of philosophy practiced as a solipsistic discipline. Witchcraft is little understood, uncanny and disturbing, it makes us wary and inspires mistrust. It puts us “on the lookout”, as Deleuze calls this state in his ABC Primer (A as in “Animal”), which is already a sorcerous state, a state that Deleuze finds more appropriate to philosophy than the conventional idea of “wonder”. Witchcraft has to do with transformation and flight, with powers and demonic forces, going against Nature as we ordinarily understand it.
“Thinking provokes general indifference”. In general, people are “indifferent” to thought. This indifference is the opposite of being on the lookout. People are blind to what is outside their stereotypes, they cannot recognize thought if it is not sanctioned by academic diplomas and status. In Deleuze’s sense of “recognition”, they only recognize officially structured and sanctioned thought. Yet thought as the object of recognition has little to do with thought as the subject of witchcraft. People are blind, but they are also uncomfortable about the “wrong” sort of thought, they may dip into it a little, but they don’t take it seriously.
We see this every day with our blogs. As noetic bloggers we practice witchcraft twice over, because writing and maintaining a blog is a magical practice too. Given all the work it takes to write, the “recognition” we may get from time to time is small recompense indeed. I practice blogging not out of narcissism, nor even to communicate, I do it because I can’t stop, just as I can’t stop reading, I’m constantly trying to transform myself and my thinking.
It is often said that people are indifferent to the dreams of others, that only the dreamer finds the story he is recounting of any interest; I have always been perplexed, even shocked, by such received wisdom. I usually find people’s dreams very interesting, even the seemingly banal ones where nothing strange or untoward happens. I like Deleuze and Guattari’s association of dreams and philosophy, for I find dreams very philosophical, and Deleuze’s philosophy very oniric. I used to (30 years ago!) express this by saying that Deleuze’s philosophical style incarnates a constant “pulsation between the conscious and the unconscious”, but though I still agree with the thought I find the vocabulary too academically “recognizable”.
People are indifferent to others’ thoughts, just as they are indifferent to an other’s dreams. Until some danger crops up, and their attitude changes. If the danger is to them, they panic and run, or at least give a wide berth. If the danger is to the dreamer or the thinker, people may find an unhealthy interest in observing al that from afar. But it is not the recognizable, “obvious”, dangers that count, recognition is for the indifferent. The dangers, the risks, are in the experimentation, the doing of things outside correct thought that are tied to getting one thinking. If you are not on the lookout you will perceive nothing: “they often remain hidden and barely perceptible”. Hidden in plain sight, if you are willing to use the eyes of the mind.
"Since he had been thinking about poets, it was easy to remember all of those who had denounced the solitude of man among his fellows, the comedy of greetings, the “excuse me” when people met on the stairs, the seat that is given to women on the subway, the brotherhood observed in politics and sports. Only a biological and sexual optimism is capable of covering up the isolation of some, no matter what John Donne might have felt about it. Contacts made in action in tribes in work in bed on the ballfield were contacts between branches and leaves which reached out and caressed each other from tree to tree while the trunks stood there disdainfully and irreconcilably parallel. “Underneath it all we could be what we are on the surface,” Oliveira thought, “but we would have to live in a different way. And what does it mean to live in a different way? Maybe to live absurdly in order to do away with the absurd, to dive into one’s self with such force that the leap will end up in the arms of someone else. Yes, maybe love, but that otherness lasts only as long as a woman lasts, and besides only as everything concerns that woman. Basically there is no such thing as otherness, maybe just that pleasant thing called togetherness. Of course, that is something …” Love, an ontologizing ceremony, a giver of being. And that is why he was thinking only now of what he should have thought about in the beginning: without the possession of self, there was no possession of otherness, and who could really possess himself? Who had come back from himself, from that absolute solitude which meant not even being in one’s own company, having to go to the movies or to a whorehouse or to friends’ houses or to get involved in a time-consuming profession or in marriage so that at least one could be alone-along-with-all-the-others? That’s how, paradoxically, solitude would lead to the heights of sociability, to the great illusion of the company of others, to the solitary man in a maze of mirrors and echoes. But people like him and so many others (or those who reject themselves but know themselves close up) got into the worst paradox, the one of reaching the border of otherness perhaps and not being able to cross over. That true otherness made up of delicate contacts, marvelous adjustments with the world, could not be attained from just one point; the outstretched hand had to find response in another hand stretched out from the beyond, from the other part." — Julio Cortázar — from Hopscotch trans. Gregory Rabassa
You might think the only reason to care about how fast your state’s Internet speed is so you can know how fast your YouTube videos load, but it turns out that states with faster speeds actually do better on standardized tests.
The numbers—first crunched by the Internet provider comparison site HSI—show a distinct trend between faster Internet and higher ACT test scores. On the high end, Massachusetts scores big with an average Internet speed of 13.1Mbps, and an average ACT test score of 24.1. Mississippi, on the other hand, has an average speed of just 7.6Mbps and an average score of 18.9.
In between those two states, the other 48 fall in a positive correlation that, while not perfect, is quite undeniable. According to HSI's Edwin Ivanauskas, the correlation is stronger than that between household income and test scores, which have long been considered to be firmly connected to each other. The ACT scores were gathered from ACT.org, which has the official rankings and averages for the 2013 test, and the speed ratings were taken from Internet analytics firm Akamai’s latest report.
To be absolutely sure the numbers weren’t skewed in HSI’s original comparison, we compared the ratings used from Akamai’s report with others around the Web, including Ookla's Net Index, which draws from speed tests run by individuals. While not an exact match, the trends between states hold up across the board, with state’s always falling within five-or-so spots of their listing on Akamai’s report.
So it would appear that yes, states with higher Internet speeds have higher test scores, but what exactly does that mean? Well, it’s hard to say. It’s a bit of a “chicken and the egg” scenario, and at the moment it’s impossible to tell if better Internet means it’s easier for students to learn—and thereby elevating average intelligence—or if states with more intelligent people, or even just more people who need to be online for work purpose (the middle of America has fewer metro areas and more farming) simply have a greater demand for higher Internet speeds.
Whatever the case, the higher your state’s speed, the better, and not just because it lets you browse more cute cat videos than the rest of the United States.
One of the most common criticisms of ambient/experimental music is that it is easy to do and (much like criticisms people make about abstract modern art) anyone can do it. And, to a degree, this is true. Nor do I have a problem with that. Everyone should be free to make music and music should be free to everyone (and I’m not talking about downloading here—that’s a subject for another essay). Whether that music should be made available as a commodity (whether art should even be considered a commodity—yet another essay) and publicly disseminated is another question. This kind of music is easy to do and with the advances in technology over the last few decades it is easier than ever to produce and release music into the world. And that ease has certainly resulted in an over-saturation—and arguably the homogenization or devaluation of music—but, like many things that are easy to do well enough, it is difficult and requires skill/talent/creativity/whatever to make exceptional ambient/experimental music. And while this difference between passable and exceptional might not be immediately apparent to the casual listener, it does exist—there is such a difference. And that difference should be pretty obvious to anyone willing to listen carefully and treat this sound as more than just another auditory signal in our already rather noisy modern lives.
This may well smack of elitism and egoism (and possibly self-righteousness), but I have been working in this musical genre for over a decade and feel that I am capable of making more than just passable ambient music. Of course, I have no illusions that everything I produce is exceptional—but I don’t, contrary to some negative opinion, release absolutely everything I record—and some musical projects I work on more diligently, rigorously, than others, depending on the nature of that specific project. And it has also taken me some several years to reach this point of confidence in my own abilities.
When I first began making ambient, drone-based (for the moniker ‘drone’ as a genre label is rather inaccurate) music in the mid-to-late 1990s, I was experimenting with sound. Dissatisfied with pop and rock music, I was teaching myself a new methodology of music, taking inspiration more from ‘post-modern’ musicians like Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth, and Caspar Brötzmann, and less from ambient pioneers like Brian Eno or Robert Fripp (whom a lot of people assume were influential to me—but I’ve never really listened to Fripp, Eno a little, yes, but not much) who, to my ears, are more about electronic/technological innovation/manipulation and less about re-inventing performance techniques of already existing technology (i.e. the electric guitar). This time period coincided with the rise of the internet and home recording possibilities, which allowed for the expansion of an underground music community that had previously been fairly disconnected. With it came the rise of micro cdr labels, which allowed musicians like myself, previously toiling in obscurity in their bedrooms, to release their musical experiments in sound in a relatively easy and inexpensive way and actually have other people hear them (and creating music in a vacuum is contrary to the nature of music—music demands to be shared).
At the time, when physical and/or digital distribution for underground music was not as developed, I chose to work with a plethora of micro-labels around the world in order that their respective fanbases and networks might hear my work. And I could, of course, have given the different labels the same album and flogged that single work in order to create a name for myself. But I found that idea unappealing and, given the nature of the music—exploratory, experimental—counterintuitive to what I wanted to achieve. I needed to keep recording, keep experimenting, in order to evolve and establish my own musical voice and, as such, I developed a pattern of prolificacy which has stuck until this day. Even if, now, today, I have established an artistic reputation and don’t necessarily need to be as prolific as I once was (and I’m not, I don’t think—I’ve just diversified [and, hopefully, evolved], with other projects, other goals), there is still that emotional resonance which music has for me…
In other words, while I may need to read or write to maintain my intellectual health, I need to create and listen to music to maintain my emotional health. Whether you feel compelled to keep up with my musical output is your choice, of course—but you needn’t feel compelled to hear or own everything I produce (though maybe consumerism is the last vestige of free will)—although I do like to think there is enough difference and variation between my various releases to keep things interesting—and I thank those of you who keep listening for participating in my emotional well-being (and hopefully your own, too!).
Though brief (a mere 133 pages) and lightly annotated, 24/7 is the capstone of Crary’s archeology of the spectacle and arguably the most significant of the lot. It’s informed by the erudition of one of the most thorough and original researchers at work today. The vast bodies of knowledge Crary seamlessly weaves together in 24/7 is reminiscent of the work of Michel Foucault, but without the gnarly, headache-inducing sentence structure. It’s marked by a moral passion that fuels Crary’s polemic and underscores what’s at stake, specifically the future of the human being in both the physical and emotional sense. Plus, it’s eminently readable, eschewing the critical theory gobbledygook of the tribe of radical art historians he’s most closely associated with, the so-called October group that includes Rosalind Krauss,Hal Foster, and Benjamin H.D. Buchloh. (Those folks have done and continue to do important work in their fields, but the need for cultural critique these days is simply too dire to be locked away in the ivory tower.)
In the round-the-clock world of twenty-first century global capitalism, our only relief is sleep, and as Crary notes, even that is coming under attack. 24/7 starts with a report on research being undertaken by the US military to extend the amount of time combat soldiers and other personnel can go without sleep, seeking to extend it from days to weeks. Given that military innovations usually make their way into broader aspects of everyday life — air travel, the Internet, GPS, over-the-counter medications, all manner of consumer electronics, recreational assault weapons — there is every reason to believe, as Crary asserts, that the sleepless soldier is the prototype of the sleepless worker/consumer. “Sleep is an uncompromising interruption of the theft of time from us by capitalism,” Crary writes. The endless here and now of 24/7 proposes to harvest surplus value not from only our bodies but from our psyches, rendering us little more than real-life Matrixpod-humans.
Crary doesn’t discuss it in 24/7, but an early iteration of this process can be discerned in the first part of the twentieth century when the techniques of mass manufacturing greatly reduced the amount of time needed to produce goods and services. In Time and Money: The Making of Consumer Culture, historian Gary Cross details the conscious policies adopted by the government and industry in the 1920s and 1930s to encourage material consumption, and along with it increased profit, instead of allowing spiritual respite. The commodity fetish, to use an old-fashioned term, became the mechanism by which capitalism increasingly inserted itself into everyday life, replacing personal relationships and local cultural practices with cold market logic mediated by consumer goods, proffering more stuff in lieu of more time.
A watershed moment Crary does address is the introduction of broadcast television after the Second World War. Following Raymond Williams ‘s 1974 study Television: Technology and Cultural Form, Crary recognizes the way in which TV was inserted into everyday life as a soft mode of social control. Through what Williams terms its “planned flow,” television organized the daily routine from morning commuting information and weather reports to midday newsbreak to evening entertainment, culminating in nightly sign off, all the while promoting the ostensible benefits of a mass industrial consumer utopia. In the 1950s and 1960s, television was a relatively stable system, drawing an increasingly suburban and decentralized population into a homogenized national imaginary. The advent of cable TV and programmable VCRs in the 1970s offered the opportunity for time shifting and what McKenzie Wark in his new book terms the “disintegrating spectacle,” the way in which control has become atomized and diffused yet more difficult to circumvent. This is represented today by such technologies as social media, wireless communications, and the Internet.