Category Archives: Chord

Chord: eyes and ears

A chord of Nietzsche quotes:

“He who sees badly sees less and less; he who listens badly hears more than has been said.”


“Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings — always darker, emptier, simpler.”


“He is a thinker: that means he knows how to make things simpler than they are.”


“He who wants to mediate between two resolute thinkers shows that he is mediocre: he has no eye for what is unique; seeing things as similar and making things the same is the sign of weak eyes.”


“Of all the arts that grow up on a particular cultural soil under particular social and political conditions, music makes its appearance last, in the autumn and deliquescence of the culture to which it belongs: at a time when the first signs and harbingers of a new spring are as a rule already perceptible; sometimes, indeed, music resounds into a new and astonished world like the language of an age that has vanished and arrives too late. … It lies in the nature of music that the fruits of its great cultural vintages grow unpalatable more quickly and are more speedily ruined than the fruits of the plastic arts, let alone those that have ripened on the tree of knowledge: for of all the products of the human artistic sense ideas are the most enduring and durable.”


Chord: golden ball

Rilke, via Gadamer:

Catch only what you’ve thrown yourself, all is
mere skill and little gain;
but when you’re suddenly the catcher of a ball
thrown by an eternal partner
with an accurate and measured swing
towards you, to your centre, in an arch
from the great bridge building of God:
why catching then becomes a power —
not yours, a world’s.


Dialogue between Michel Serres and Bruno Latour:

Michel Serres: Just as Leibniz wrote a monadology, an elementary or atomic philosophy, here is a theory of valences around atoms, a general theory of relations, like a theology in which the important thing would be angelology — a turbulent array of messengers.

Bruno Latour: Wait a minute. This is very important, but I’m lost again. You are taking up again the metaphor of scientific method, which will not completely convince me, since, on the contrary, the general impression is that the sciences are multiple substantives, a formidable proliferation of objects, whereas for you the synthesizing element…

Michel Serres: …is relations.

Bruno Latour: But, even more than relations, the types of relation.

Michel Serres: Not only the mode of relation but the way this mode of relation establishes or invents itself, virtually or physically.

Bruno Latour: Is it like comparing passes in rugby? I mean the ways of passing and not the configurations of the players?

Michel Serres: Configurations or fixed places are important when the players don’t move — just before the game begins, or when certain established positions are called for at various points in the game — scrimmages or line-outs. They begin to fluctuate as soon as the game begins, and the multiple and fluctuating ways of passing the bail are traced out.

The ball is played, and the teams place themselves in relation to it, not vice versa. As a quasi object, the ball is the true subject of the game. Tt is like a tracker of the relations in the fluctuating collectivity around il. The same analysis is valid for the individual: the clumsy person plays with the ball and makes it gravitate around himself; the mean player imagines himself to be a subject by imag- ining the ball to be an object-the sign of a bad philosopher. On the contrary, the skilled player knows that the ball plays with him or plays off him, in such a way that he gravitates around it and fluidly follows the positions it takes, but especially the relations that it spawns.

Bruno Latour: So, your synthesis would come about in the area of the passes, of movement, and not in the area of the objects?

Michel Serres: Look at how the flames dance, where they go, from whence they come, toward what emptiness they head, how they become fragmented and then join together or die out. Both fluctuating and dancing, this sheet of flame traces relations. This is an illuminating metaphor, if I may say so, for understanding what I have in view — this continuing and fragmented topological variety, which outlines crests. which can shoot high and go out in a mo- ment. The Rames trace and compose these relations.

Bruno Latour: Wait, I need to back up a minute. I thought I understood that there was in general a hermetical conception…

Michel Serres: Hermes passes and disappears; makes sense and destroys it; exposes the noise, the message, and the language; invents writing and, before it. music, translations and their obstacles. He is admittedly not a fixed preposition but, as is said nowadays about mailmen, he plays at pre?pose?, at delivery person.


Zarathustra had a goal; he threw his ball: now you, my friends, are the heirs of my goal; to you I throw my golden ball. More than anything, I like to see you, my friends, throwing the golden ball. And so I still linger a little on the earth: forgive me for that.

Thanksgiving chord: gifts and gratitude

I was looking through the gratitude quotes in my wiki and saw this:

Nobility and gratitude. — A noble soul will be happy to feel itself bound in gratitude and will not try anxiously to avoid the occasions when it may be so bound; it will likewise be at ease later in expressing gratitude; while cruder souls resist being bound in any way, or are later excessive and much too eager in expressing their gratitude.

My own experience confirms this. Easy gratitude seems to correspond with personalities I admire, where an incapacity to accept, acknowledge or reciprocate generosity tends to occur in personalities that I would call petty.

‘Tis better to give than receive? The degree to which it is better might be inversely proportional to the size of one’s soul.

This passage also reminded me of a passage from Mary Douglas’s foreword to Marcel Mauss’s The Gift (which I really, really need to finish):

Charity is meant to be a free gift, a voluntary, unrequited surrender of resources. Though we laud charity as a Christian virtue we know that it wounds. I worked for some years in a charitable foundation that annually was required to give away large sums as the condition of tax exemption. Newcomers to the office quickly learnt that the recipient does not like the giver, however cheerful he be. This book explains the lack of gratitude by saying that the foundations should not confuse their donations with gifts. It is not merely that there are no free gifts in a particular place, Melanesia or Chicago for instance; it is that the whole idea of a free gift is based on a misunderstanding. There should not be any free gifts. What is wrong with the so-called free gift is the donor’s intention to be exempt from return gifts coming from the recipient. Refusing requital puts the act of giving outside any mutual ties. Once given, the free gift entails no further claims from the recipient. … A gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction.

What is interesting to me about this, especially in connection with the notion of nobility, is that nobles, in the literal sense, gained their power socially. They knew how to make alliances of mutual obligation. It might be the case that generosity and willingness to accept, acknowledge and reciprocate generosity is the instinct that creates and preserves social power. People with instinctive generosity understand how to transcend their mere individuality and to invest in the social beings that sustain individuality.

More “selfish” people try to figure out how to maximize their own individual freedom by evading mutual obligation both by refusing gifts and by suppressing the belief that anything has been given to them and its consequence gratitude.

Gift-giving and gift-receiving has different significance depending on the person with whom the exchange occurs. The noble gift exchange feels like a mutual investment in a relationship where the petty gift exchange feels like a transfer of property between individuals.

(Having written this, I had to go into my wiki and link the Gratitude and the Gift-giving virtue themes. Both virtues seem to connect with the capacity for understanding and participating in relationships. This is why gift-exchange is central in my book, The Ten Thousand Everythings.)



Thread chord

A passage from Latour’s latest book, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, reminded me of another from Calvino’s Invisible Cities.


In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, or authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain. From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.

They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away.

Thus, when travelling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of the abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.


 From this point on, observers no longer find themselves facing a world that is full, continuous, without interstices, accessible to disinterested knowledge endowed with the mysterious capacity to go “everywhere” through thought. By taking apart the amalgam of res ratiocinans, we have become able to discern the narrow conduits of the production of equipped and rectified knowledge as so many slender veins that are added to other conduits and conducts along which, for example, existents can run the risk of existing. These networks are more numerous than those of references, but they are no less localizable, narrow, limited in their kind, and, too, a sketch of their features — this is the essential point — reveals as many empty places as peaks and troughs. The stubborn determination of things to keep on existing does not saturate this landscape any more than knowledge could.

Chord: substance abuse


It was very difficult for him to sleep. To sleep is to be abstracted from the world; Funes, on his back in his cot, in the shadows, imagined every crevice and every moulding of the various houses which surrounded him. … Toward the east, in a section which was not yet cut into blocks of homes, there were some new unknown houses. Funes imagined them black, compact, made of a single obscurity; he would turn his face in this direction in order to sleep.


There is an Indian story — at least I heard it as an Indian story — about an Englishman who, having been told that the world rested on a platform which rested on the back of an elephant which rested in turn on the back of a turtle, asked… what did the turtle rest on? Another turtle. And that turtle? “Ah, Sahib, after that it is turtles all the way down.”


Every instance of continuity is achieved through a discontinuity, a hiatus; every leap across a discontinuity represents a risk taken that may succeed or fail; there are thus felicity and infelicity conditions proper to each mode; the result of this passage, of this more or less successful leap, is a flow, a network, a movement, a wake left behind that will make it possible to define a particular form of existence, and, consequently, particular beings. … [T]he grasp of existents according to the mode of reproduction is not limited to lines of force [“inert matter”] and lineages [“life”]; it concerns everything that maintains itself: languages, bodies, ideas, and of course institutions. The price to pay for the discovery of such a hiatus is not as great as it appears, if we are willing to consider the alternative: we would have to posit a substance lying behind or beneath them to explain their subsistence. We would certainly not gain in intelligibility, since the enigma would simply be pushed one step further: we would have to find out what lies beneath that substance itself and, from one aporia to another, through an infinite regression that is well known in the history of philosophy, we would end up in Substance alone, in short, the exact opposite of the place we had wanted to reach. It is more economical, more rational, more logical, simpler, more elegant — if less obvious in the early phases owing to our (bad) habits of thought — to say that subsistence always pays for itself in alteration, precisely for want of the possibility of being backed up by a substance. The landscape discovered in this way seems surprising at first glance, but it has the immense advantage of being freed from any ultraworld — substance — without loss of continuity in being — subsistence. There is nothing beneath, nothing behind or above. No transcendence but the hiatus of reproduction.


Whence things have their origin,
Thence also their destruction happens,
According to necessity;
For they give to each other justice and recompense
For their injustice
In conformity with the ordinance of Time.

Payment due

There’s nothing at all wrong with the strong dominating the weak, as long as: 1) the strong compensate the weak, and pay for the freedom they’ve taken with comfort, order and irresponsibility and 2) leave the weak room to strengthen and buy back their freedom by taking on anxiety, mess and responsibility.

What if this exchange is not honored? Nothing but the natural consequences: the worst of all worlds: pervasive disloyalty, overall weakness, general disorder and universal anxiety.


If a power structure is a sound one, there’s as much in it for the weakest as for the strongest. There’s a distinctive chord of satisfaction at every stratum.

Chord: mind over matter

Some quotes on the theme of divorce of mind and matter:


Arthur Eddington:

I am standing on the threshold about to enter a room. It is a complicated business. In the first place I must shove against an atmosphere pressing with a force of fourteen pounds on every square inch of my body. I must make sure of landing on a plank travelling at twenty miles a second round the sun — a fraction of a second too early or too late, the plank would be miles away. I must do this whilst hanging from a round planet head outward into space, and with a wind of aether blowing at no one knows how many miles a second through every interstice of my body. The plank has no solidity of substance. To step on it is like stepping on a swarm of flies. Shall I not slip through? No, if I make the venture one of the flies hits me and gives a boost up again; I fall again and am knocked upwards by another fly; and so on. I may hope that the net result will be that I remain about steady; but if unfortunately I should slip through the floor or be boosted too violently up to the ceiling, the occurrence would be, not a violation of the laws of Nature, but a rare coincidence. Verily, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a scientific man to pass through a door. And whether the door be barn door or church door it might be wiser that he should consent to be an ordinary man and walk in rather than wait till all the difficulties involved in a really scientific ingress are resolved.


Hannah Arendt:

…While world alienation determined the course and the development of modern society, earth alienation became and has remained the hallmark of modern science. Under the sign of earth alienation, every science, not only physical and natural science, so radically changed its innermost content that one may doubt whether prior to the modern age anything like science existed at all. This is perhaps clearest in the development of the new science’s most important mental instrument, the devices of modern algebra, by which mathematics “succeeded in freeing itself from the shackles of spatiality,” that is, from geometry, which, as the name indicates, depends on terrestrial measures and measurements. Modern mathematics freed man from the shackles of earth-bound experience and his power of cognition from the shackles of finitude.

The decisive point here is not that men at the beginning of the modern age still believed with Plato in the mathematical structure of the universe nor that, one generation later, they believed with Descartes that certain knowledge is possible only where the mind plays with its own forms and formulas. What is decisive is the entirely un-Platonic subjection of geometry to algebraic treatment, which discloses the modern ideal of reducing terrestrial sense data and movements to mathematical symbols. … Yet even more significant than this possibility — to reckon with entities which could not be “seen” by the eye of the mind — was the fact that the new mental instrument, in this respect even newer and more significant than all the scientific tools it helped to devise, opened the way for an altogether novel mode of meeting and approaching nature in the experiment. In the experiment man realized his newly won freedom from the shackles of earth-bound experience; instead of observing natural phenomena as they were given to him, he placed nature under the conditions of his own mind, that is, under conditions won from a universal, astrophysical viewpoint, a cosmic standpoint outside nature itself.

…With the rise of modernity, mathematics does not simply enlarge its content or reach out into the infinite to become applicable to the immensity of an infinite and infinitely growing, expanding universe, but ceases to be concerned with appearances at all. It is no longer the beginning of philosophy, of the “science” of Being in its true appearance, but becomes instead the science of the structure of the human mind.


Jorge Luis Borges:

Like all men of the Library, I have travelled in my youth: I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues; now that my eyes can hardly decipher what I write, I am preparing to die just a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born. Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing; my grave will be the fathomless air; my body will sink endlessly and decay and dissolve in the wind generated by the fall, which is infinite.

Chord: Nietzsche’s practical metaphysics

The circle must be closed. — He who has followed a philosophy or a species of thought to the end of its course and then around the end will grasp from his inner experience why the masters and teachers who came afterwards turned away from it, often with an expression of deprecation. For, though the circle has to be circumscribed, the individual, even the greatest, sits firmly on his point of the periphery with an inexorable expression of obstinacy, as though the circle ought never to be closed.


Doubt as sin. — Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned!


A few rungs down. — One level of education, itself a very high one, has been reached when man gets beyond superstitious and religious concepts and fears and, for example, no longer believes in the heavenly angels or original sin, and has stopped talking about the soul’s salvation. Once he is at this level of liberation, he must still make a last intense effort to overcome metaphysics. Then, however, a retrograde movement is necessary: he must understand both the historical and the psychological justification in metaphysical ideas. He must recognize how mankind’s greatest advancement came from them and how, if one did not take this retrograde step, one would rob himself of mankind’s finest accomplishments to date.

With regard to philosophical metaphysics, I now see a number of people who have arrived at the negative goal (that all positive metaphysics is an error), but only a few who climb back down a few rungs. For one should look out over the last rung of the ladder, but not want to stand on it. Those who are most enlightened can go only as far as to free themselves of metaphysics and look back on it with superiority, while here, as in the hippodrome, it is necessary to take a turn at the end of the track.


One should not be deceived: great spirits are skeptics… Strength, freedom which is born of the strength and overstrength of the spirit, proves itself by skepticism. Men of conviction are not worthy of the least consideration in fundamental questions of value and disvalue. Convictions are prisons. Such men do not look far enough, they do not look beneath themselves: but to be permitted to join in the discussion of value and disvalue, one must see five hundred convictions beneath oneself — behind oneself … A spirit who wants great things, who also wants the means to them, is necessarily a skeptic. Freedom from all kinds of convictions, to be able to see freely, is part of strength … Great passion, the ground and the power of his existence, even more enlightened, even more despotic than he is himself, employs his whole intellect; it makes him unhesitating; it gives him courage even for unholy means; under certain circumstances it does not begrudge him convictions. Conviction as a means: many things are attained only by means of a conviction. Great passion uses and uses up convictions, it does not succumb to them — it knows itself sovereign…