Friday, 31 May 2013

Random thoughts on What/ Watt

A few random reflections (lunch hour) on the word What as they might be relevant to the homonymic Watt, hopefully as a prelude to other posts..

* “Deleuze associates representation with the question ‘what is it?’, and this question implies an answer in the form, “it is x”. This structure is the basic structure of judgement: the attribution of a predicate to a subject." We might say "What is Watt?" and answer "Watt is a novel". In this sense, judgement subsumes the particular under the generic, places it in a template, snips away the rough edges. But asking the question also opens the door to the vacancy of such categories.

* “What?” registers a delay between sound and sense. I heard that you were saying but not the actual words. Or a delay, a judder, between the actual words and their implication, their significance (“What the hell did you just say?!”)  A consternation or bewilderment that the actual words could yield so outlandish a meaning. 

* A modern idiom, a staple of sitcoms and light comedy is “What just happened?” A sequence of actions has departed from the accepted repertoire. Something has occurred, but the what is missing, the name for that something hasn’t quite been found.

* “What?” pronounced with sufficient force and incredulity is not just a question but an exclamation and response to whatever has, however momentarily, punched a hole in the available spectrum of sense. But also a demand: that whatever has happened give an account of itself to the judgement of Sense. 

* "What!" is used to deflect an interrogative look – both an aggressive counter punch and a declaration of innocence.(But also a court of judgement: "be accountable to me for your look"). 

* If "What is it?" demands that we subsume the particular under the general, the scholastic concept "Whatness" is a way of naming whatever is irreducibly particular about a thing, that which is surpus to general categories.

Thursday, 30 May 2013


As a child M. had been perplexed by the idea, half explained to him,  that the brain sends 'signals' to the limbs to make them move. For in his head he would issue a command, “Move arm!”, and yet the arm remained stationary. And when his arm did move it seemed to him that no command had been issued, or that the command and the movement were one and the same. He was forced to assume that the brain sent silent instructions without him knowing, instructions which happened without words, which meant that there was a kind of second person inside him operating the machinery.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Not I

Just seen a remarkable production of Beckett's Not I at the Royal Court with Lisa Dwan as Mouth, with Q&A afterwards. Audience member asks LD if its a problem that the mouth speaks of being 60 or 70 years old whereas she isn't and doesn't sound like an old woman. Lisa Dawn replies that it's not a problem, partly because she doesn't feel like a woman exactly, more 'like a creature', or (after prompting by James Knowlson) 'a machine'. Interesting answer I thought.

Brief BBC clip about the performance here

Thursday, 23 May 2013

M. in Soho

A dog, with a small triangular head, entered the cafe, accompanied by its owner. The owner ordered a latte and waited outside, leaving the dog behind. The dog closed its eyes and shuddered. It walked over to M. and sniffed his leg. M. commited to his notebook this unremarkable event. 

Fifteen years ago M. had lived in Soho, above a vegetarian restaurant on Greek Street, in a small bedsit, next to the mysterious Beatrice. Sometimes he would go round to Beatrice’s flat, and drink and talk until the morning sun told them it was time for bed. She was visited by strange men with names like Luton Tony and South End Mick, or a genial baby faced ex-con called Bob, half Ray Winston half Jean Genet, a copy of La Rochefoucauld in his pocket and a sack of improbable anecdotes. 

Faces that time threw up and snatched away. What had happened to Luton Tony or Bob, M. Wondered, or indeed to that earlier version of himself, inexplicable boozy and sociable, returning home after teaching with a stash of Belgian beer, playing chess or meeting people at Cafe Amato?

The vegetarian restaurant was no longer there, and it seemed also that the M. who had lived above it then was stranded in the past, unreachable, another being, animated or defined by different habits. He, by contrast, was marooned in the present with no access to his past.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A Short (true) Oxford Tale

The memory of Oxford could only be revived, M. thought, by going to Oxford. And so he got the bus one weekend. He visited the converted public house in Jericho where he had once lived, rapt in study. Near the house was a delicatessen called Nellies, and almost every day he would pop in there for baklava or coffee, and chat briefly with the proprietor, 'Mr Nellie', as M. named him, who was, they said, from Iran or somewhere, and was always effortlessly happy and content, so it seemed. And sometimes, when M. was snowed under with work, he would stroll past this humble shop and see it warmly lit and familiar, and think how lovely it would be to lead the life of such a shopkeeper, sat reading on quiet days, or engaging customers in idle conversation. At times, it served as a dream that M. could, at will, pull out of a drawer, a dream of comfort and secure existence, ensconced in one's own little fiefdom, a dream thrown up and made appealing only in relation to the then instability and uncertainty of life, the burdens of work and laborious days leading who knows where. And so today, this little wish-image, swam towards him again: the yellow light in the window of the deli glimpsed in passing on a winter's night, the reassuring rhythms of Mr Nellie's comfortable life, the joys of ownership. Like that inexplicable feeling one has, sometimes, passing a house at night and seeing through the window, what cannot appear but as some utterly desirable domestic scene, some place of inviolable refuge and contentment, like those house windows found only on Christmas cards. 
He wondered what had happened to Nellies. He went there and at first though he had the wrong corner for there was no sign of any shop, Nellies or other, until the realised that the shop front had been torn down and reconstructed as a house. Someone lived there. And what of Mr Nellie, he wondered. Had he gone back to Iran? He would never know, or so he thought. For the following day M. headed down to Port Meadow, to sit by the river and smell the smells that would tell him what he used to feel and think. And the images that entered his retina, the small untidy cottage on the far shore, were like emissaries from a former self, bearing the images that had once comprised his soul. And so he headed back to the town, woozy with the past like a pollen heavy bee, up the dirt track and back into Jericho. But walking toward him the other way was, to his disbelief, Mr Nellie, happy arm in arm with a younger woman, chatting and smiling, not winnowed with years as M. had expected but seemingly intact with only minor modifications to the external vessel, and this was evidence, if any were needed, of the unpredictable eddies and backflows, the stagnant pools of time, that exist always alongside its more devastating floods.
An extract from Fredric Jameson's forthcoming book, The Antinomies of Realism