Friday, 3 November 2017

I am like a partridge!

What do you think of Taoism? How do works like the Tao Te Ching relate to nihilist communism, if at all?
Thank you for your interesting question. I guess the short response would be to bounce it back to you: how would you ‘relate’ them? Would the relation be reciprocal, profound or merely expropriative? After all, a formal possibility is not sufficient justification for its own realisation. Then, we might ask ourselves, what harm might result from bringing different forms together? And, to what extent can any ‘relation’ occur except abstractly between items in a shopping basket? Even so, despite such conversation killing reservations, I am interested in combinations of ideas, if such combinations are ‘sufficiently’ interesting! But of course, ideas may only relate upon the terrain of their possible relation, and most often in our world this terrain is delineated by the bookshelves made possible through the integration of the academy’s niche specialisms with market forces. Upon such shelves, both Nihcom and the Tao Te Ching may be filed under ‘esoterica’ or more narrowly, ‘the esoterica of fatalistic laughter’. But I think all this is a rather unsatisfactory response so I would like to give a more expansive answer. 

In considering your question, we immediately encounter the problem of ‘orientalism’ (by which we might take to mean the inappropriate affirmation of fragments broken from subjugated cultures) as this co-mingles with the legitimate desire for discourse with the alien. Your question finds me balancing on the polished edge of ambivalence. On the one hand, I am drawn to the esoteric as it is captured on terms other than its own and displayed within all too familiar contexts. On the other hand, I implicitly accept the boundary set upon other cultural interiors from which I am forever excluded. In life, for example, I am only interested in reading translated poetry... that is to say, I respond most to poets that are not reducible to an authentic voice but who’s message arrives as  percolated through the filters of ‘Chinese Whispers’ and mistranslations. 

I have no time for representations of the ‘authentic’, nor for ‘cultures’ as such, which systematically expel those who are supposedly represented. It is my taste for the processed and artificial (whatever is polished by many hands) that I take to be ‘genuine’ or true (that which is thrown together and combined by a system of abstract evaluation). Perhaps Pierre Menard would be my favourite author. 

And on similar lines, I very much enjoy the Taoist poet Li Po as his works appear in Pound (who assigns to him a voice of restrained melancholy, as if in anticipation of the readers who will encounter his world through his poems and nowhere else) and in JP Seaton (who translates him as a proto-beat poet). In one register, translation (after Beer’s axiom: ‘variety absorbs variety’) is the very definition of resilience. In another register, translation is evidence of the latest extinction event, of the great decoding catastrophe of globalism, where that which is translated is reduced to an ever finer gravel of the exchanges ground down by abstract equivalence. 

I can never hope to ‘relate’ to Li Po, nor to know his purpose. The immense distance between his perception of the world and my own, a distance bridged only by the translations of his words, is the only passable route into the contemplation of the mystery that bears his name. Seaton’s translation of the insouciant poem, ‘Answering the Master of the Buddhist Association of Hu-Chou, Who Has Enquired about “this Po Fellow”’ could have been written by Raoul Vaneigem. And that would be my point of entry into a general consideration of the Taoist register: the standpoint of insubordinate laughter before the throbbing cosmos and its simultaneous contracting and expanding of all relatable things. 

If Taoism is a religion, it appears as the religion of the Kulaks and NCOs, and articulates the eternal corporal’s hard-earned wry fatalism before the competing inhumanities of Buddhism and Confucianism. Wouldn’t the Good Soldier Ċ vejk and Sergeant Bilko belong to the ranks of Taoism’s ‘virtuous pagans’ (perhaps they might even count amongst its ‘nine worthies’)? Maybe Catch 22 would be a good fit as one of its later texts. As a way of living within bureaucratic and despotic regimes, and preserving a sense of both irreverence and ‘the old ways’ (and thereby ‘keeping a sense of perspective’) before the vaulting absurdities of the official religions, Taoism as it appears to us, seems both plausible and attractive in the way that Jazz and Surrealism (stripped of the concomitant sectarianism and treachery ) appealed to Eastern European dissidents.

On the other hand, as I said, I was ambivalent about what Taoism could possibly mean to me beyond a decorative illustration of my non-conformity (which itself is another iteration of protestant schismatics).Within the frame of the question, ‘what would Taoism gain from my interest in it?’ it could seem right to refuse to embrace certain insights of Taoism, if in doing so, we may contribute from the outside, to the defence of the integrity of its lifeworld - if this defence were possible, Taosim would then become inaccessible to me. Alien forms, as alien forms, are crucial to the formation and good health of all autonomous instantiations of consciousness. ‘Not going there’ is the most appropriate response to the life-world of the other. 

The human community as a totality of relations thrives where the products of certain groups remain beyond the apprehension of other groups - the cosmic scale of all that cannot be grasped is the condition for every particular apprehension of a line, a shade, a timbre. The perceptible, and knowable, fragments of the cosmos both comfort us at the level in which we must live, and provide a clue to everything unrecognised as it  flows past, and escapes us. 

For this reason, it seems right to me that Taoism remains alien: terrifying, absolute, cosmic. Cozy Taoism, familiar, domesticated, epigrammatic; Taoism reduced to a use-value in the jingling grab-bag of spiritualism and management-speak, and worse still as an expropriated, not too irrational, good religion, in the service of Western science, becomes just another trophy, a record, of the barbarous advance of representation and exchange. 

Before I finish here, I should make it clear that I am not an adherent of Nihilist Communism which is just one product of the ‘Dupont’ project. I am much more a ‘Dupontist’ (a collective identity like that of Luther Blissett) than I am a nihilist communist, or any sort of communist. Perhaps it would be better to consider Dupontism, which is a buffoonish literary sensibility (a boxing glove’s tragicomic reaching to cherry blossom), to Taoism than ‘Nihilist Communism’. And to the extent that I am a Dupontist, and I am one till the day I die; to the extent I have tattooed upon my soul, I did nothing, the worm did everything; to the extent I am a negative wayist; to the extent I have taken the path of fatality and thus refused that of resentment; to the extent that I deny allegiance to single principles, and seek instead to amplify multiple descriptions, and I do (4-ever); to those extents, I am attempting, in response to your request, to perform the relation you have asked about.

If we were to consider, the possibility of a Taoist ‘politics’, perhaps it would involve the discovery of communicating channels between enemy positions; and similarly, perhaps it would uncover incoherences within its own programmatic positions. In practice, this might invite the exploration, for example, of not-fascism (or non-fascism) as an alternative, self-regulating structure to the co-dependent implications of ‘anti-fascism’. In any case, I have been invented within my own Taoism: the axiomatic pathways which constitute the fragile homeostasis of 1950’s cybernetics. For me, the question of autopoietic viability hangs like cigarette smoke at opening time in the era of spit and sawdust: both tangible and abolished; retrieved and frozen; remote and eternal; ephemeral and lost; broken and broken; simple and simple; escaped from and escaped to. To that end, I would like to present as a sort of gift in response to your question, a parable of the ‘way’ or the ‘path’ which I have been thinking about and ‘translating’ for a while. We could call it the path of bird and gardener. 

Have you, as you were working in the garden, found some sort of companionship in the visits of a bird that is ready to overcome its shrinking nature to explore for grubs and worms the turned earth about your feet? And have you noticed how the bird approaches you boldly and decisively but leaves you in panic and sounding its alarm call? Have you ever considered why, for this bird companion, that boldness should precede trepidation? After all, we are more familiar with narratives in which courage is achieved through the overcoming of an original timidity... protagonists fear first, and only after a series of ordeals, are they capable of sticking courage to the sticking place. Courage is experience by desensitisation; innocence appears ‘naturally’ as aversion. But the bird arrives on the handle of your garden fork in bold innocence and achieves a state of sensitisation only through experience. Or rather, that is how we might turn the narrative on its head (‘the reversal of terms in the terms of reversal’). 

The reality is more alien, less narratable, inhuman. The bird is the corporeal locus of, amongst others, two vast, separate, and incompatible, operating systems. Each system binds energy to the set of behaviours necessary to the synthetic coherence of the bird’s outline. Where the first, the hunger-system, predominates, the bird is triggered to produce behaviours in accord with hunger. In the programme, or state, of hunger, the bird damps down other sets of behaviours so as to fully inhabit the hunger set. Within each set of behaviours it becomes the embodiment of a single principle. But it cannot always inhabit the same system: at the threshold of its satiation, it is released from hunger and then immediately occupied by another programme. Suddenly, your bird familiar seems to wake, startled by your proximity. It is seized hold of by an apparatus of fear responses, and hurtles away from you loudly issuing its alarm call. Where hunger damped down its wariness of you, satiation energises the excessive response of full panic. Perhaps of greater interest are the non-behaviours, the trances and glitches, that appear at the threshold between distinct behavioural systems. And right at the end here, another door knob revelation, we might then consider consciousness to be the outcome of multiple exclusive behaviour systems overlaying each other and running both concurrently and against each other.