Mastery of Non-Mastery in the Age of Meltdown

30 Oct 2021 02:15 - 11 May 2024 01:04
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    • Every so often I randomly stumble on a book or author that is simply just way out there, at least, relative to my ordinary ways of thinking. Books that I am barely qualified to read, let alone understand and internalize. Books that seem sui generis, not really about any particular field of study, but somehow about themselves and hence about the fundamental nature of being itself. A few years ago it was Peter Sloterdijk's You Must Change Your Life, which I'm still trying to write something about. Before that, I suppose Finite and Infinite Games might also be in this category. Maybe High Weirdness as well.
    • These books are uncategorizable yet seem to have something in common, which is paradoxical of course. They all address (or try to name) something fundamental, and they all thrive on paradox and irony and a certain kind of self-awareness; that is, they are texts that are partially about themselves, and have a certain kind of agency that is independent of the author. They have the nature of spells or workings; you feel that these books are not just conveying knowledge, they seek to cause a certain ineffable kind of transformation in the reader.
    • Like, there is a \(me_{before}\) and a \(me_{after}\), and the \(me_{after}\) isn't quite able to recall what it was like being someone who didn't have this particular idea-complex as part of his machinery.
      • (eg they are like drugs, an adventure with a real danger to them. You give something up and get something in return, but you can't know what that is beforehand.
    • There is an element of pretentiousness in my attraction to such texts. The good kind, the kind that means I am aspiring to something by this method, which might be another "shamanic trope" for the catalog (see below).

    • This year it was Michael Taussig's Mastery of Non-Mastery in the Age of Meltdown. Taussig is something of an eclectic figure in general, an anthropologist who often presents as more of a poet-shaman than an academic, and this book is very much more like poetry than scholarship.
      • He writes a lot on the "magic of the state", roughly how power and governance is necessarily rooted in human propensity for ritual and the complex relationship with the sacred. I've touched on this area myself (eg Omniorthogonal: The Sacred State)
    • Looks like the phrase had its genesis in a very interesting report he did from Rojava on the anarchist and feminist qualities of the Kurdish fighters he hung out with there, including many female guerilla fighters. In the Middle East, more than most places, women have been relegated to a second-place status, associated with darkness and taboos, but under the peculiar conditions there, they have flipped this around and adopted a kind of reactive feminism:
      • All guerrilla armies, hidden in forests and mountains and the jungle of the cities of the Middle East, exist physically but not spiritually outside of society and are thus endowed with great auratic potential (with which the epithet “terrorist” unwittingly connives). But here in Kurdistan that aura is augmented with sexual characteristics that stem from the negative magical power long associated with women under patriarchy as “the second sex”... The genius move, the alchemical move, is to flip this from a negative to a positive, while retaining the negative as a threatening, hidden power (that becomes overt with the gun and grenade). Now patriarchy trembles, so to speak, as the demon it has created rises from the ashes and ISIS fears more than anything else to be killed by a woman.
    • What is MNM?

      • Probably it's best understood as a deadpan subversive semi-joke like 'Pataphysics or slack. In which case I am being kind of dull-witted in trying to pin it down with precise definitions.
      • Some kind of mimetic inversion, a technique for revolution and sabotage, and for building a new order to replace the dying old one.
      • MNM is Bigger than Jesus
        • fireflies re-emerge in force, as not so much the sign of the Messiah but of something even more wonderful, namely the mastery of non-mastery. Voilá! (p98)
      • "the skilled revelation of skilled concealment"
        • (he repeats this a lot, and I have to confess I have no fucking clue what it means)
        • Some kind of trickster-artist thing. Think Orson Welles especially F for Fake. The only way to convey truth is through lies.
      • "not so much transgression as its mimetic confrontation" (p30)
      • a re-enchantment involving the "metamorphic sublime" and "a dark surrealism", dependent on "a specialized or, if you prefer, eccentric vocabulary made up of what I call “shamanic tropes,” such as “the skilled revelation of skilled concealment,” “knowing what not to know,” “the bodily unconscious,” “magic hour,” and of course the lead dancer itself, “mastery of non-mastery.” (p34)
        • That is quite a catalog. "Knowing what not to know" seems almost Minskian.
      • "a shamanic conjuring with the bodily unconscious, a variant of which is called “proprioception” whereby without you knowing it, your body unthinkingly adjusts to space." (p133)
      • "that MNM dance that is surely not only a concept (heaven forbid!) but a fiery flaming thing, coiling and uncoiling? After all, even a concept needs flesh and blood, its mimetic counterpart"
      • Androgynous or gender-bending in some way "I am mindful not only of the Anthropocene but of the Androgyne as the figure of the mastery of non-mastery that parries and taunts the quintessentially masculine domination of nature and the binaries of gender logic on which such domination is based" (p182)
      • Non-dominance:
        • If thereby we see mimesis as gift exchange, we also see how mimesis dissolves persons into that which is exchanged in metamorphic back-and-forth reciprocities of personhood... It is a game we play continuously. We call it life. Yet that life depends upon the intricacies and intimacies of that “soulful hybridity,” on whether it be motivated by the magic of dominance or by something even more complex summed up as the mastery of non-mastery. (p125)
      • A shamanic conjuring involving the body, the unconscious, and the perception and inhabiting of space
        • Mastery of non-mastery is a shamanic conjuring with the bodily unconscious, a variant of which is called “proprioception” whereby without you knowing it, your body unthinkingly adjusts to space. It is as if you are actually part of the rooms and hallways, open skies and fields, streets and subway tunnels you pass through.
    • Notes on the actual book

      • Riffing on Walter Benjamin s work on mimesis.
      • A nice factoring of "smoke and mirrors" into mimesis (mirror) and the obscure and irritating distortions (smoke).
      • Trobriand Cricket
      • Mimesis, dark surrealism, virality, animacy – he links all these, he's trying to get at something happening in the world, some aspect of contemporary experience.
      • Playfulness. The Pinter play about the master and servant.
        • Here the servant triumphs over the master and does so in a decidedly MNM way. It is a triumph in which master and servant transform their relationship into one of incongruous equals in a never-ending homosexual, or at least homoerotic, debauchery, mocking each other and playing games like children or drunks at each other’s expense. It is as if all the demons of servitude, its guile, deceit, suffering, humiliation, and self-immolation, have surfaced and exploded in hallucinatory, play...The theater they construct and keep on constructing seems as if it will wind on forever, just as the mastery of non-mastery keeps unwinding the many layers of paradox by which it is constituted and by which it is energized, hence the sex and play. (p21)
      • the theatrical element of power
      • Prisoners of codes evolved in pre-meltdown time, we are locked into the normal, not its exception. But then how do you invent a new cultural form geared towards the exception as the rule?
        Perhaps a sneaky reference to 'Pataphysics ? More likely Carl Schmitt who is referenced later.
        ... Is the problem, therefore, not the need for a new culture—a “culture of catastrophe”—but the need for something like the mastery of non-mastery that doubles back on itself, so to speak, a twisting logic that meets at least halfway the exception as the rule?
      • Interesting take on Erving Goffman. I never thought of Goffman as cynical before, but I guess his picture of people as sort of bleakly computing their status and maneuvering to control it is a pretty dark picture of social life.
        • The devastatingly original, not to mention often cynical, microsociology of Erving Goffman is based exactly on this theater. Goffman takes this to such lengths that at times his mode of exposition—his very grammar—implodes as each phrase redoubles the cynicism of the one before, thus creating pervasive mistrust of itself as well as of the world referenced. In other words, the mode of exposition bears a mimetic relationship to its content as well as displaying the outer limits of where such cynicism leads, throttling language in excesses of dissimulating fervor. (p46)
      • Sigh I'm late to the animism party which is already stale.
        • The flood of green books, freshly minted journals, essays, research grants, talk shows, films, fellowships, political campaigns, and endless conferences on the Anthropocene, animism, life, vibrant matter, and the “ontological turn,” so on and so forth, amount to a renaissance in planetary self-awareness, even if couched in crabby secular language. (p56)
      • This recalled Annihilation, the book not the movie which left out this key aspect.
        • By nature-language I refer not so much to language about nature as to language that appears to insinuate itself into nature and vice versa through a bewildering multitude of projections and reference points.
      • I kind of love where this is pointing, the agency or aliveness of concepts:
        • Maybe even dance a little, that MNM dance that is surely not only a concept (heaven forbid!) but a fiery flaming thing, coiling and uncoiling? After all, even a concept needs flesh and blood, its mimetic counterpart, what Fredric Jameson in his remarks on mimesis once called “the micro-narrative element of the sentence itself.”
    • Compare with Technic and Magic. I feel like both of these very deep books were pointing at almost the same thing, call it "re-enchantment" for lack of a better term. Both attempts to almost work a spell, to bring something very specific into being. If so, for me personally, Taussig does a much better job. TandM seemed ponderous, technic seemed so all pervasive that it was almost impossible to imagine escape from it – something of gnostic despair. MNM is more, no, fuck that, we have the tools to undermine domination at our fingertips.
      • To be fair to TandM I don't think I really absorbed the second half of the book, and should maybe reread.