Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
I survived all this because I had a good time, as ever, at the psychology and literature conference where I meet old and deer friends. I get 'analyzed,' off and on the record, I get to analyze myself, and if I'm not adequately successful at that, there is always the conference paper that I can pretend was good enough. I did a memorial talk on Federman, in a Federman panel, and it was moving, because friends I trust told me it was moving. Claire Kahane, an analyst and critic was crying, Murray Schwartz, a famous Shakespearean wants me to send him the 'fabulous, fabulous' writing, and Anne-Marie Mazzega Bachelet, a singer of Schubert and critic, thought that the laughing and the crying was like music. I also flirted with Robert Silhol, an analyst, who always tells me that I'm a most beautiful thing walking on this planet, and Samir Dayal, a metaphysician of the finest kind, who went to school with the Maharajah, and who also thinks that I'm beautiful but without mercy, alas. Together these two think I'm a temptress, but I get back at them, oh, I get back at them, God only knows. But then God has mercy on us all. So, yes, I'm energized by people who make me think that I'm lucky to know them. This is reciprocal. Ah, symmetries, yet again. They are beautiful when they work.
At home, a present awaits me, good writing from my mathematician. He makes a few remarks in French, by way of getting back at all those who can't figure out what gender he is, so have a good laugh here, if you want to know more, and don't forget to also read about that Lipschitz thing here, if you want to get enlightened. Such glorious energies. Well, all the better, as there are always chores to deal with before glorious Eikesdal, which I'll hit on Friday: Student papers to pass, pianos to buy for my nephew, if I can figure out which of those synthesizers have good resonance, and paintings to mail, if I can find the appropriate boxes. Life is as it is: all is clear and all is not clear. Enjoy your summer plans.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
The question posed to the four guests—men in different professions: professor, actor, entertainer, and rapper—was this one: is it all right to fuck up a national language with such fucked up expressions? The professor, who some might think would offer a conservative answer and deem such acts of denigrating a language awful, was actually quite cool about the whole misere. At the other pole, and contrary to expectation, the actor, an Iranian born stand-up comedian, embodied the guardian of the Danish language. If you want history, you've got to keep your mother's tongue, man. And if you go to a country that's not your country of origin, you've got to learn the language, man. Well, who can argue with that? Neither the psychoanalysts, nor the historians would object.
I'm at a conference with a bunch of psychoanalysts right now, and thus I can't help thinking: what language does the mother speak? In some of the talks today, one thing emerged that was clear: the mother, prior to the child's acquisition of language, can be thought of as an original thing, and it is with this original thing that we all desire to establish or re-establish a harmonious fusion at all times. As an original thing, the mother transcends gendering, yet as the mother is also part of culture, the nourishment she provides through love and language can also be a nourishment that makes you ill. Just look at Hamlet. Man, in that play, they all die from poisoning. Now, I feel like going next door and have another session with my friend and analyst Robert Silhol, but I'm afraid of what he might say. At dinner, we parted with these words: “the next question you are going to pose to me,” Robert said, “I'm going to charge.”
The question, which partly referred to his talk on Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter, was one of language and the letters that we all find inscribed, if not within ourselves, then certainly above our heads. Language changes over time, that's certain, but what is less certain is the extent to which we acquire the ability to read these changes. That language is dynamic does not automatically imply that we can all read, which we do in a much more static and introvert way. Here's an ad hoc example of a question concerning the difference between discourse and reading: how do I read Vincent's intent to talk about language in use, when, at the outset he frames us up by implying that what he actually wants to talk about is less talk and more reading. For, if we can see the writing on the wall, can we also read it?
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Meanwhile I'm on my way to Hungary for the conference on literature and psychology. I go to this one every year, and I already anticipate some analysis with some of my best friends—for free. For as it happens, this is the only conference that gathers the best Shakespeareans, for instance, with the best analysts. Most of the older, and regular participants are both, literary critics and psychoanalysts, and some of them don't mind performing some magic on you. Meanwhile again, while the plane taxis on the runway, it gets a flat tyre, and before you know it, I'm back at the gate with this message: sorry, your next flight to Budapest is at 9.30 tonight. A flat tyre? This is a first, on a plane, but I guess it can happen to everybody. However, I don't get off the plane so quickly, and I find myself cursing. Half of the 'Budapestans' are actually bound for Beirut, and their families are large. Very large. So you can imagine the restless hordes. 'Norway, Norway, Norway in 10 days' saves my day again. For a while.
So, stuck in Kastrup—it could be worse, believe me—what does a smart woman do? I go straight for the Georg Jensen jewelry store, and I'm intent on buying the necklace in the “Infinity” series. I've had my eye on it for some time now. And there we go again: I get stuck once more, this time behind a Japanese who can't make up her mind as to whether she wants the Infinity herself or the Moebius. She goes for the Moebius, and I exhale with relief. Imagine if everyone wanted the bloody Infinity. That would make me feel so common. And I can't tolerate the idea of infinity devaluing, even though, as I try to control my anger, I astonish myself with Cantor's story. Again. He started it. Devaluing infinity. I mean, imagine that! What are the odds? That someone not only thinks it but also proves it, that there are more infinities, not just one? And that some are more infinite than others?
Oh, this thought added to my Norway mantra, 'Norway, Norway, Norway in 10 days', begins to make me feel not only good again, but also quite special. I buy the pendant and realize that it has an incredible smoothness. Yes, I was right to get it, I tell myself, while rubbing its surface very vigorously and while also moving towards another favorite store, Illum, to boing-boing the Hoptimists—another good cure for the angered. I decide that although I'll make it to the final destination at 2 am tomorrow, I can actually stay pretty calm. Boing-boing, I go. I can even pretend that I don't notice that although cultures are different and thus we need to show some tolerance for the ones we don't like or understand, I don't get bothered by the fact that I really do believe, right now, that I must be the only person left on the planet with commonsense.
This realization started in fact already on the plane, when some major-time anorectic, who was having a major-time anxiety and attention-craving attack, tried to convince me that it would be better for me to change seats with her, and thus relinquish my aisle seat for the window. I took a good look at her, and there it was: the flash, the psychoanalyst in full vigor reading accurately through unreasonable demands, and consequently saying: I don't think so. Yes, of course, as always, and in spite of being right, a reversing thought also occurred, namely that the plane got a flat tyre as a way of punishing me for my lack of understanding. But then again, here I am, 11 hours later, with Infinity hanging around my neck, and being so sure of everything. More sure than ever. I'll think of the sure thing that is more sure than the initial sure thing later—just like Cantor—in Norway. In Hungary, I'll stick with the fried duck livers. Yummy.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Saturday, June 19, 2010
With the family topic out of the way, there were two other things that we always talk about: math and relationships. On men and women, he said: “It's all about sex, but when you have an opinion about this, you're of course always right.” I was beginning to feel really good, as I was sucking on the lobster and listening to such words of recognition. Between the sounds and the juices, I managed to mumble something: “with the interesting...,” and he picked up: “doing it with an interesting woman is bad, the worst that can befall you.” I took a sip of the Chianti Classico Reserva and I asked him: “what did you read when you were 12?” “The Three Musketeers,” he said quickly, “and if you also want to know, my first major erection was when I read Queen Margot.” Oh, my, how I liked the sound of that, for I have a theory. In your forties, you don't return to the books that anguished your existential soul at 17 (for me it was Herman Hesse's The Glass Bead Game). No, you return to the ones that you read at 12. And this return, more often than not, informs your relationships when you grow older. For instance, your whole apparatus for what you expect of others in terms of courtesy will be filtered through your perception of the codes of honor, sex, and other such things that are formulated in these works. As far as I'm concerned, I was even more pleasantly surprised to learn that it was not for nothing that I've kept referring to my friend as mon chevalier herr lektor in the past. Once more, the ineffable proved to keep ambiguity in check.
Then math. He gave me a copy of his breakthrough article that I commented on not long ago in a previous post, and we made another deal at his suggestion: we are going to write something together, but it will be a kind that will surprise. Now, deals with view to surprising are the best, and my sense of anticipation already took a turn for a beautiful path. We parted with a renewed sense of what living in the continuum really means. Here's a beautiful mantra: The expectation of the operator K b tilde on the state psi can be expressed with the help of the magnetic phase, which at its turn can be decomposed in a coherent state integral. This is a beautiful identity, involving the integral kernel of the heat semi-group associated with an apparently unrelated continuous Schroedinger operator. Yes, Herr Lektor D'Artagnan and I, Oueen Margot, will write together a properly surreal thing, befitting all those who live their lives according to Athos, Porthos and Aramis.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Thursday, June 17, 2010
In the second installment of Controversy, Vincent F. Hendricks talks to four men about religion and the state. They all embody states and non-states, thoughts and non-thoughts, and some clothes in between. I, for one, had a hard time focussing on the guests - a Lutheran priest, a catholic old man and former member of the Board of Ethics, a director of a Danish free school, and an atheist - as the camera kept cutting to pretty ladies in the front-row behind them, and who were flashing their checkered shirts, thus matching the one the host was wearing. “Ah, symmetries,” I thought to myself. The ones prone to observing them, will always see them all over the place. But, “no matter,” as Beckett used to say, we don't always have to be so attentive to goddamned everything, or disturbed by petty things.
The topic was the function of the Danish national religion, which is Lutheran, and which is still part of the state. Should Denmark keep its tradition and have religion and the state together - a tradition which, as was pointed out by the very sober and sound sounding catholic, has also been part of the constitution and is thus hard to change - or should religion and the state, each go their merry way?
Religion was thus discussed mainly from a political and economical point of view, insofar as what was stressed was the fact that prioritizing the state religion over the other some 116 religions in Denmark is not a sign of equality, as these other religions do not have access to the pockets of the individuals and their monthly tax as the Lutheran church does. For it is a fact in Denmark that everyone becomes automatically a member of the church at birth, and remains so, unless people later elect to either officially drop out or join other religions. In principle, however, it bothers the Lutheran church little if a person is a member of several orders. Money talks.
What makes people religious was not discussed, but the fact that it may be problematic to wear muslim or Jewish attire in official capacity while under Danish laws was discussed. So again, in anno domini 2010, it ain't anymore about the church and the state but about the church and fashion. So now that I think of it some more, the presence of fashionable women in the front row at a debate show about religion may not seem so far off the mark, after all. As I'm also sure that some would swear by the fashion God.
So, yes, what was the outcome? There wasn't any, unless we valorize incongruity. And we do, for as much as religion was discussed in its relation to tradition, culture and symbol, thus emphasizing a collective memory that we all share – basically we like to be Christians, Jews, or Muslims, because it makes us feel safe – references to the relation of the ineffable, and divine power to politics were absent all together. Ah, the poets knew it, of course, that such things are on retreat, when they formulated this type of incongruity, between man, memory, and God, ever so eloquently. A favorite of mine, Edmond Jabès once said: “God despises memory, he travels.” Unless one insists, like I do, on the mystery of the unspeakable, of “that which happened,” and which mediates between the courage to look inwards, at ourselves, and the flight through religious thought towards the outward realm of traces where language operates.
Thus an example: At 6.30 pm today I zipped at the office. I took the path by the lake and the field outside the university, as I like to see the swans and the goats floating and roaming. Two men with big guns passed me by, and I said to myself: oh, my, the big bad boys are out playing. One of them looked at me intently, but I was busy with my own imagination. Half an hour later I came home to find just about every neighbor hanging out of their balconies over the gelander. Oh, my, that was some vision, and I instantly saw myself as a catholic priest making the sign of the cross onto everyone. You don't get so many chances, so you can imagine what my head was going through. I started laughing, when I saw the police around. One of them asked me to let him in. I did, and then asked: “what's going on?” He said that someone saw people with guns around. Before I got to say, “me too,” he was up the stairs in a flight.
In thinking religious thoughts, there's only one question that is relevant: where does the limit go? This is what I had in mind while almost touching the Kalashnikovs on my walking tour. Now I can't help thinking about the closeness to limits that we all must experience. One minute you're here and the next you're gone, one minute you're almost there, and the next, ah well, there's is no 'next,' as you fall into oblivion faster than you can think. Meanwhile, we see what we want to see, and this is very much related to the perennial religious dilemma: is existence a question of being or one of vision? Why is the thought of seeing a judge wearing a priest's gown so disturbing? And why does it interfere with my thoughts of the promise of eternal life?
I'll take this question up with my mathematician friend tomorrow, for he was the one I was thinking of when this thought befell me: it's a good thing the wackos didn't start shooting, as I have a rendez-vous with a man who promised to demonstrate 3 theorems for me at 5.30 pm sharp, in front of the City Hall in Copenhagen. So how could I possibly die before that? Indeed, there must be angels up there, guardians of the baptism in numbers.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Vincent is back on TV, and so is the full arsenal of signs and sites: his height, his shirt, his interjections. At the end of the day, you tell yourself: you've got to love this man for his consistency. The new series of 8 installments, Controversy, takes issue with some existential concepts, ranging from greed to values, language, religion, identity, and so on. This time Vincent hosts 4 different people for every show, who all represent different layers and social class in Denmark. None are politicians. This is good, as we are tired of schmucks.
The first installment tackles the problem of greed, and the invited debaters range from singer and producer to directors of think tanks, and investment companies. Greed is approached from different angles, and as always, it is clear from he outset that there is a problem with definition. What is greed? No definitions are given other than through association. And the premise for greed is different for each of the speakers. Greed is seen both as a deadly sin but also as ambition, success, and excess. Greed is always bad, one of the speakers says and brings in the example of the film Wall Street. It is also bad when the Danish Royal House accepts money from sponsors even though they have enough money. Another suggests that greed is good. “Just look at Niels Bohr,” he goes, “he was driven by greed, and the desire to know more, and that's why he invented all that he did.”
While opinions were divided, and I went from ha, ha to OMG, I have to say that I liked the best the contribution given by the singer-song writer Remee. He used his own example of what happens when one has too much money and then loses it. Remee suggested that if greed is ever good, then it is when it teaches you to be humble and consequently to be generous. Knowing how to be generous is a gift, he claimed, and I couldn't agree more. At the end of the day, I said to myself that it goes to show that the poets, however good or bad they may be, are still the ones who can be more reflective, analytical, interesting, and genuine in their public statements than the 'professionals'. Remee complied with Democritus's injunction: “one should tell the truth not speak at length” which made me think of the way greed is defined in the Upanishad as a form of appropriating and as a form which estranges us from the thought of infinity. We read these lines in chapter 5 of The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: “Greed is ingrained in everyone's mind. It is not merely the trader, the miser, or the shopkeeper who is greedy. Greed can take a very subtle form. A desire to keep everything is a form of greed [...] Greed is another expression of our finitude.” Indeed, greed is to be kept in check by charity. One should hope, then, that more will start listening to the bards and perhaps follow their example.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
At the closing banquet at the NAES conference, and in the middle of the tunes of Brazilian music played by the Swinging Arctic Band, I see the organizer, Anthony Johnson, and a most dear friend as well, walking into the circle with his violin. He plays a prelude, a Bach fantasia, and I'm the only one who notices the shift—the others present were busy socializing with food and drinks. I go to him instantly, throw myself at his large corpus, and kiss him loudly. “I played that for you, my dear, you see,” he said, and I nodded. A few weeks ago in Helsinki, someone asked me how many times I've been to Finland by now, and I said that I was happy to report that I had lost count. In Oulu this week, if there was something I also had lost count to, it was how many times I've hugged Anthony during the day. People were beginning to wonder. But I know what I know. Anthony is a rare genius who has a photographic memory, who read everything about paleontology between the age of 4 and 12, and went on to write a dissertation at Oxford about roundness. Anthony creates circles, and his love of some people and some things is boundless. I'm always invited at his home, and round things always happen. Between playing several instruments—Anthony can play them all—he showed me his latest academic productions. And he always hurries to open his books to dedications and epigraphs, as he knows I like those. One of his articles is dedicated to me, and another has this line in it as an epigraph: “This living hand—I hold it towards you”. It was the second time in two days that I'd experienced Keats's poem being mentioned, and in two contexts completely independent of each other. I tell myself that such a coincidence is due to the roundness of Oulu. Try saying Oulu. In Oulu the mouth is a living labyrinth, held open constantly towards the other. In Oulu you find things. Like the time when Anthony's good friend and neighbor, the musician and composer Markus Lampela, found his house for him one day. Anthony said to him: “a house next to you my friend, but of course, one has to say yes.” He moved in the same day with a few books, a few bottles of champagne, and a few musical instruments. The taxi driver said that that was the easiest move he had ever experienced. I would also like to live next to Markus, who once played Bach on uilleann pipes with the Finnish symphony orchestra. Markus turned to me and said: “do you want me to put a sauna for you?” It was one o'clock at night, and I was ready to lose my shadow, as one does in that special moment called the blue hour, when all the animals go quiet because they wonder where theirs have gone, and the smell of summer flowers is the strongest. I didn't need a sauna. There was enough heat emanating from special, round people around.