monday 31 :
you couldn’t let the last day of a year like this one pass without commenting — or at least ‘i’ couldn’t.
maybe i could just say,
2018 : oh my fucking god!
but wait … didn’t i spend a good amount of time yesterday crafting an argument (partly for my punk theology phd proposal to the vrije universiteit in amsterdam) as to why the word ‘god’ is corrupt and useless and should be banned from all writing and conversations about what matters and why in fact the word ‘god’ ought never to be used under any circumstances by anyone other than scholars of the history of religion?
yes it’s still useful for exclamations! in those cases though i recommend putting ‘fucking’ in front of it to introduce a note of dissonance and to honour resistance — and so you sound more punk and less ‘dutch teenager’.
ik denk dat ik een disharmonisch intelligentieprofiel heb (dat betekent dat je in sommige dingen hoogbegaafd bent, maar in andere dingen veel minder intelligent — en in mijn geval heeeeeeeeel veel andere dingen.
saturday 29 : on the ten to the power of five hundred universes and the eleven dimensions
(dedicated to the memory of keith stott)
in this interview the legendary feminist writer and thinker bell hooks is asked why she insists on referring to ‘the imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’.
i’ve taken the liberty of appropriating and adapting a couple of lines from her explanation and weaving them into my own rant about why i insist on saying ‘the ten to the power of five hundred universes and the eleven dimensions’ which is one of the things some people find annoying in my book — one of the people who did, died this year and i want to remember him, keith stott. in particular i want to remember the way he would have waved me away with his enigmatic smile, if i’d ever got around to explaining it to him thus :
we can’t begin to understand the nature of what-is-real if we don’t appreciate its complexity, if we faill to appreciate that not only is every thing connected, but every being and thing is relational, and inter- and intra-dependent on the existence and the way of being of every other thing and being that is being and thing-ing, no matter how big or small, from the subatomic particles to the stars and the planets and the galaxies, in all of the possible universes and dimensions.
and when we think/feel/believe that in essence there are only one or two (or rather we want to believe it because we want things to be simple and we want to be able understand) when there are many — many, many, many.
we make so many mistakes in how we think/feel/believe — and how we speak. this is the tragedy of human life. one of the most fundamental and tragic mistakes of all is that we think/feel/believe that we, as individuals, as subjects (if we even recognise ourselves and each other as subjects and how many of us don’t?) as humans, as a species, as inhabitants of this planet, in ‘our’ milky way, in this particular universe in which we find ourselves now, or in which we imagine ourselves to be, matters more than any other.
and every time you say ‘one of the … ten to the power of five hundred universes and the eleven dimensions’ it makes it clear, at least in an opaque way, that you are aware, as much as you can be, of this infinite timeless complexity of all beings and things that exist and have ever existed and that will ever exist. you are thinking/feeling/believing it.
but yes, like bell hooks, “the phrase has always moved me because it doesn’t value one thing over another” — as does the phrase ‘think/feel/believe’… which i am using more and more often :)
i think keith might have liked that one better.
goodnight old friend x
there is a lot of other good stuff going on in that interview also, bell hooks speaks about ‘soul healing’ and insists on the importance of spirituality. it is so refreshing to hear a person connect the political and the spiritual — whatever that may be. (interestingly she identifies as a buddhist christian, but let me not embark now on a rant about the problem of aligning yourself with a religious tradition, let alone two.)
wednesday 26 : kerstman
mother tells me 60 years ago she asked my father to go to the store and buy some christmas decorations and he came back with 30 of these. only this one remains.
tuesday 25 : sub specie aeternitatis
And I don’t agree. I think/feel/believe that we should stop talking about god and stop calling it ‘god’ because more than half the people will run screaming out of the room when they hear the word — and/or they will say, ‘but god doesn’t exist!’ — end of conversation…
i especially liked :
Wat wel vaststaat, is onze dood. Boezemt die angst in?
Je zou eerder bang moeten zijn voor het leven, dat is pas een hachelijke toestand. (…)
Wat volgt er dan, denkt u?
Er verandert eigenlijk niets. Mijn lichaam en gedachten zijn er niet meer. Maar in een ander perspectief bezien leven we eeuwig voort. Ons bestaan is begrensd doordat we het in tijdelijkheid beleven. Maar dat is een beperkte blik: er is alleen het nu, het verleden is niet meer, de toekomst nog niet. Maar ons vermogen bewust te zijn van de realiteit van verleden en toekomst groeit. (…)
Spinoza pleitte voor een verruimd bewustzijn, om het perspectief op het bestaan vanuit de eeuwigheid te bekijken, sub specie aeternitatis. Dan is ons bestaan niet weg te nemen uit het geheel. Nu u hier tijdelijk bent, kan die realiteit nooit meer ongedaan worden gemaakt. In die zin zijn we onsterfelijk, er blijft na onze dood een stukje tijd waarin we er wel voor altijd zijn.
(* i hacked this around a little bit — as is my wont.)
monday 24 : het kleine geluk
I both love and loathe columns in newspapers but I often admire the people that write them (provided they don’t have too much hair and too many teeth and are not too boorishly opinionated as many of them are because … well doesn’t everyone now have to be?) especially when they have to deliver a column every day. Of course you’d write several columns on one day and then have a few days off, but you’d want to have a few in stock.
Derwent May’s Nature Notes in The Times (hidden deep in the Comments section in The Daily Universal Register… so quaint!) are often a treat, and sadly for him are also the source of the occasional half-baked plagiarised ‘poem’ from my pen but mostly appropriating his words, rearranged. Since the demise of Arnon Grunberg’s Voetnoot, which I also had a go at when the newspaper invited readers to do so (was mine the only one that was not published?!) the often delightful Paulien Cornelisse recently became a regular in De Volkskrant. Like Grunberg’s columns they are a bit hit-and-miss and only 150 words. What can you do in 150 words? Not that much. Unless you’re A.L.Snijders it might actually be more onerous to come up with 150 than 300 words every day.
I don’t usually read Het Parool. It’s a very Amsterdam-centric newspaper and I live in a hicktown called Geldermalsen, only 20 minutes from Utrecht by train and another 20 from there to Amsterdam but it’s still the provinces. You might as well live in Lapland. It’s quite right wing and parochial (Ajax dit … Ajax dat) and it looks and feels a bit like the awful Algemeen Dagblad.
You can also learn something useful, like where to get the best patat friet in Amsterdam and that you can sit down in the café opposite to eat them and have a glass of beer. Gewoon bier, of course.
But almost every day Het Parool has a gem in it : Het Kleine Geluk (literally ‘the small happiness’ but perhaps best translated as ‘little joys’ ?), the daily musings of an old bloke called Guus Luijters, best known in the Netherlands for his children’s books. Luijters doesn’t seem to have too many problems delivering 300 words each day. His sometimes droll, sometimes moving, often melancholic and/or nostalgic, but never indulgent Proustian-like meanderings about strolling around the streets of old Amsterdam have been coming more or less every day since at least 1-5-17 and when you scroll down to the bottom of the page more just keep appearing…
Perhaps this is the only way in which newspapers have improved in the digital age : you can easily put more than 120,000 words on a single newspaper page — and Dutch words, as they are in this case, can be very long.
sunday 22 : i don’t write theology, i write stories.
Apparently Hannah Arendt wrote somewhere : “I don’t write philosophy, I write stories.” which is much better than saying ‘I am not a philosopher but a political theorist’, as she does in a mesmerising one hour long German TV interview (Zur Person) from 1964 (here on YouTube in its entirety with somewhat rudimentary English subtitles). But I am unable to find a proper reference for the former statement. It doesn’t matter. It made me want to say, as part of my fledgling punk theology manifesto : I don’t write theology, I write stories.
And : I write to understand — which is among the many interesting things Arendt says in her immaculate German (verstehen Sie?) during the interview.
And she smokes a lot of cigarettes.
friday 21: everything has to be possible
i don’t just say : everything is possible — which is what i used to say when my home was in the art school but then they closed the art school (actually they did something even worse : they turned it into a school of “creative industries”) — now i say : everything has to be possible… and now i don’t have a home.
this is not a rational statement, but neither is it irrational. you might call it a-rational or, i would prefer, post-rational. no philosophy department in their right mind would offer a home to someone who makes this sort of statement which is a statement of belief, faith even, not a product of sound reasoning or logic — but might there be a home for me in a department of theology…?
i would have to come with a caveat : i would be a punk theologist.
wednesday 19 :
i am a feral snow goose
flying freely with my flock
about the inner hebrides.
tuesday 18 : a spiritual crisis
He is right. It is a spiritual crisis, and maybe we should not be afraid of naming it as such. He being former environmental activist Paul Kingsnorth, subject of an less than satisfying documentary by VPRO’s Tegenlicht on Dutch TV. He used to chain himself to bulldozers but now he’s married to an ex-psychologist and they dropped a couple of sprogs. Queue interminable footage of him and his missus, backlit, playing happy families somewhere in the west of Ireland, chopping wood, working in his vege patch. Aubergines? Really? Maybe climate change is not so bad after all. Oh wait…
But then there is an astonishing moment where the interviewer asks, for no apparent reason (although I heard Kingsnorth slip in the word ‘spiritual’ once already): Do you think there is a spiritual crisis? And he does the classic, I-would-never-use-the-word-spiritual-in-public-oops-I-just-did move. And then he says, yes. And I am like, oh actually when you put the word ‘spiritual’ and ‘crisis’ together you’ve got a Thing — which is useful. And then he asks whether anything is sacred anymore?
I remember asking you in Rome, what is sacred to you? and you asked, why is it useful for me to know what is sacred to me and I said, because that is your connection with the Impossible — that is via Caputo and Derrida if there are any theologians out there.
And if we speak in terms of the Impossible you don’t have to resort to using words like ‘above’ as Kingsnorth does which is a hangover from theism. And then he does the thing that I don’t like which is to argue that you need to be in a subject position to ‘get’ the complexity of the world. He doesn’t say ‘universum’ because he is not Dutch, but he doesn’t say universe either which means the same thing. And he doesn’t say the ten to the power of five hundred universes and the eleven dimensions either — which takes a long time to say, it doesn’t roll of the tongue like ‘god’ does but which is infinitely preferable.
It seems to me like I’ve been arguing various versions of this for seven long years now : It is not about discovering a new subject position. It is not that we have ‘lost’ the ability to submit to something which has power over us. Post-theism, I would argue, is not about that. And it is not only about a connection with something bigger, it is also about a connection with something which is much, much smaller than ‘me’. It is both bigger … oh so much bigger … and smaller … oh so much smaller … than ‘me’. It is above AND below … inside AND outside. It is you AND me.
Am I being annoying yet? If I am ranty today, it’s because tomorrow I have what remains of my teeth ripped out1and I just submitted the first draft of a proposal to do a PhD in punk theology, oh Lord.
It seems there are a lot of subs out there looking for a new Master. I am not one of them. Also : I am not a Master looking for subs. Just so as you know. As you were.
Thanks to Bee for alerting me to this episode of Tegenlicht.
on a different but possibly related topic : 2018 was the year of fake vulnerability (in Dutch).
sunday 16 :
saturday 15 : what do you want for christmas?
friday 14 :
wednesday 12 : the audiobook
i’ve been recording an audio version of my book (in a proper recording studio with a real engineer, not just reading it aloud and recording it on my phone :p). i am looking for volunteers who would be prepared to listen to the rough version of the recording to spot gremlins… please let me know if you’ve got 7 hours to spare in the next week or so… your reward will be a free copy of the finished audiobook!
some people’s brains are quite mind boggling and what especially boggles my mind is how unboggled their minds are. nick bostrom is a person in which such a brain exists. he is a professor at oxford and director of the future of humanity institute. his vulnerable world paper-in-progress (which this column — in dutch — by maxim februari alerted me to) is … well … quite something.
on his website bostrom says that the thread running through his work is “crucial considerations”.
“A crucial consideration is an idea or argument that might plausibly reveal the need for not just some minor course adjustment in our endeavours but a major change of direction or priority. If we have overlooked even just one such crucial consideration, then all our best efforts might be for naught — or they might make things worse. It could therefore be very valuable to unearth an overlooked crucial consideration. Where might one find a crucial consideration? Places to explore might include such issues and possibilities as existential risks, the simulation argument, human enhancement, infinite utilities, anthropic reasoning, information hazards, new techniques for solving social coordination problems, and the future of machine intelligence. It might also be relevant to inquire into moral philosophy, decision theory, normative uncertainty, game theory, epistemology, theology, and philosophy of mind — and, if one is looking for crucial considerations pertaining to one’s own decision-making, to reflect on one’s own values.”
if you tell me what your crucial consideration is i’ll tell you mine.
tuesday 11 :
There is new voice on the train’s PA system announcing the upcoming stations. It sounds quite astonished that we are ever going to arrive anywhere — or that we are even on a train.
monday 10 :
i am a black-tailed godwit
feeding in deep water
mostly out of sight
below the surface.
saturday 8 :
Elke nacht schiet je wakker
Of er even iets was of nog is.
Een bosuil zoekt hevig zijn vriend.
Je liefste droomt van vroeger elders later.
Er was een arm die sliep en dat niet wilde.
— Janita Monna
friday 7 : goodbye pete shelley (1955—2018)
Asked what punk is, he said : “You’re not pretending to be something you are not. You are just what you are. Punk is an art of action. It’s about deciding to do something and then going out and doing it.”
thursday 6 :
like small birds
on icy mornings
trying to live.
wednesday 5 : cabbage
tuesday 4 : custom diamond eye
yes! it’s a new saftmasheen triplet.
- custom concern — modest mouse
- diamond mine — hopalong
- eyepennies — sparklehorse (with pj harvey)
monday 3 : haunted
In a late interview Maurice Sendak recalls how his father attended his bar mitzvah on the same day that he heard his entire family had been killed in the concentration camps. Even as a very old man, Sendak remained haunted by the memory of his father’s “vivid, livid face” as the crowd sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”