Wednesday, 30 May 2018

On Fun

Should what we researchers and artists in a university context do - research, art, artistic research, teaching and studying – be fun? Can it be fun? Should it be fun in the sense that one enjoys what one does, and does what one enjoys? And even more, can it be fun in the sense of being humorous and funny? When we want to be serious, professional and ambitious about what we do?

In his The Birth of Tragedy Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that the Greeks invented tragedy when they were young, strong and brave: “a pessimism of strength? An intellectual inclination for what in existence is hard, dreadful, evil, problematic, emerging from what is healthy, from overflowing well being, from living existence to the full?” (Nietzsche, 1886 foreword) And then moved over to comedy in their old age and weakness which makes Greek comedy to be about “(t)he instantaneous, the witty, the foolish, the capricious—these are its loftiest divinities … it is the serenity of the slave, who has no idea how to take responsibility for anything difficult, how to strive for anything great, how to value anything in the past or future higher than the present.” (Nietzsche, Chapter 11) In sum: tragedy is for the young and strong, the old and weak can only take fun. Tragedy is grand and noble, comedy is common and lazy. Serious and fun are in an inherent contradiction and will not mix.

Allow me to turn to a source seriously considering what it means to live with an inherent contradiction that by necessity is mixed in continuation. In reference to the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft and its institution of ‘sorting’ students into four famous Houses (Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, Slytherin) according to fundamental characteristics of the students (see The Harry Potter Lexicon: Hogwarts Houses), Alanna Bennet wrote on those “complex” persons who will not easily fit into just one House in her article 17 Signs You're A True Ravenpuff listing things like:

“1. Your brain is always fighting between the earnest and the critical.
2. As a result, other people sometimes have a hard time telling when you're being earnest vs. when you're being sarcastic or wry.
6. Blending the highbrow with the lowbrow is your jam — it's just automatically what your brain does.
7. You're constantly torn between voicing your opinion and not stepping on anyone else's toes.
10.You can't help but jump in on debates.
11. It frustrates you when people aren't willing to debate pros and cons.
12. And when people aren't willing to traverse through the nuances of every situation.
13. But you have a hard time letting go of a debate until people understand.
15. You have a rock solid work ethic, but only for the things you're really passionate about. This can become a pain in the ass while in required classes.
16. Finding a career/path you're genuinely passionate about was of upmost importance to you because you knew how much energy one you weren't into would drain you.
17. You're constantly contradicting yourself, your opinions, and rethinking your place in the world.” (Bennet)

Now the last items might be seen to refer to weakness and laziness, being prepared to exert effort only on things one enjoys or choosing a career path that would not drain one’s energy. But I take this to be more if one could paraphrase Nietzsche, of a kind of “laziness of strength” – since the listed characteristics also imply a will to commit to and a passion for the kind of tasks one really cares for. A true Ravenpuff seems to be driven to do what they enjoy and enjoy what they do, but not to avoid effort or refuse being serious, to the contrary. Added qualities include being constantly strung between seriousness and irony; again not in order to avoid getting to the bottom of serious issues but precisely to consider the ins and outs of every issue to the point of driving everybody else to desperation.

Can something be a joke and serious? I’ll take up some space to insert a work/ presentation/ discussion of mine on “The Geometry of the Multitude”, which faithfully followed classic Euclidean format of how to prove a theorem = claim:

Clearly this is a joke – since “reductio ad absurdum” does not exactly function the way I’m using it. It is meant to prove a statement by showing that if it is not accepted this will lead to absurdity (or disprove a statement by showing it leads to absurdity). Absurdity, also, does not mean simply funny but having to accept simultaneously two facts that cancel each other. I’m using a serious format and serious terms but in a humorous way. Nevertheless, I’m quite serious about the statement I’m making: the paradigmatic space of multitude is a wormhole. The specifications for wormholes come from mathematical theories on wormholes, but my definition derives from social theory: “Instead of the dichotomy of the known place and unknown surrounding world, my argument is that the global postfordist society is characterized by wormholes, possibilities of jumping from one reality to another. It is made up of the space of unknown punctured by sudden familiar spaces, networks of interaction and action that are nor constructed on geographical proximity.” (Rajanti, 79) Even more to the point with regard to ‘fun’, part of my definition implies that these wormholes will elude traditional empirical research methods. We cannot understand this new paradigmatic space by looking at the ‘end-products’: buildings and the spaces between them. The focus and thus the methods must follow those everyday practices that leave no visible traces yet form the reality, give voice to the silent and unexpressed. The research and the discourse must make way for people to change their mind-sets, not just add information or evidence. (Rajanti, 82 – 83) And, as Bennet’s 4. sign states: “You find yourself very attracted to fandom, where dedication and overthinking are both welcomed and encouraged. (Bennet)”

In fact, what’s in a joke? Let us turn to Paolo Virno’s short but poignant essay on Wit and Innovation. Where Freud seems to agree with the youthful Nietzsche that sense of humor is a sign of thrifty psychic economy (and possibly covering up for something that needs hiding), Virno, as the title suggests, connects wit to humankind’s ability to creativity and change. Virno does depart from a confessedly narrow definition of creativity: “the forms of verbal thought that allow for change in one's behaviour in an emergency situation”. This not to restrict creativity in the verbal sphere or arts, but to refrain from a tautological definition where creativity is a general human property that explains human nature.

For Virno wit is “the diagram of creative action”, meaning creative action in miniature form. Wit is tightly connected to “praxis in the public sphere”, to practical reason (fronesis) i.e. the virtue of action itself, not its end-product. The eminent function of wit is to “exhibit the transformability of all linguistic games”. Wit is first of all connected to the praxis of “how to apply a rule to a particular case”; and wit demonstrates that every application of a rule contains already its exception. Witisthe meticulous application of a rule ending in a paradox or absurdity.

Wit also consists of an argumentative fallacy – contained in the application of a rule. And in fact, wit makes visible the point where the fallacy ceases to be a fallacy, where it can no longer be considered a mere mistake, but where it reveals something that was not previously visible. “It follows that only under these circumstances and in these conditions the ‘fallacy’ becomes an indispensable source of innovation.” (Virno)

Can it be all fun? Can one only do what one enjoys and can everything be a joke? But of course not. Not because of necessary recourse to ethics of guilt and retribution, because of any fundamental need for the ennobling function of human suffering. Merely because if you never try to follow a rule and/or apply it, if you do not know a rule, you cannot run into its exception. You cannot be tickled by confronting one fact with another that does not fit unless you have an idea of those facts. You cannot make rules crumble by using them if they’re not part of your praxis.

Indeed, one might point out to youthful Nietzsche that age may not only bring weakness and sloth, but a reserve of rules and facts unavoidably clashing, that will strongly lean towards the witty. Nietzsche after all is his own contradiction in adjecto, his writings becoming all the more unrelentingly and brutally witty towards the end - and even if you insist Ecce Homo to be the product of a deranged mind (I don’t), nobody has ever claimed that for Zarahustra or The Will to Power. Thus the not lofty ending to this essay reads: even if we cannot only have fun, of course doing what we do must be fun, hopefully also to others than ourselves. If we don’t enjoy it and if we are not tickled by it, why the heck would anybody else be bothered about it? Remember, for Virno wit is inherently connected to praxis not in private but in public sphere.


Alanna Bennet: 17 Signs You're A True Ravenpuff

The Harry Potter Lexicon: Hogwarts Houses

Friedrich Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy, online source

Taina Rajanti: Wormholes as a new spatial paradigm: Social Production of Space in Postfordist Society and the Art of Studying it. Sociologisk Årbok 2008

Paolo Virno: Wit and Innovation.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Tourist

I have the feeling there is a short thriller-like story with this title. Where the tourist obviously turns out to be something more menacing than previously thought.

In fact, “the tourist” is a negative figure. This short lecture asks, why?

The tourist is a paradox. It goes in search of an authentic experience or goal, but its[1] very arrival and presence transforms whatever it touches into a performance of the authentic. Inherently the tourist can never reach its goal.

The tourist travels and is defined by its journeying. But all journeying people are not tourists. Nomads are not tourists, they are fundamentally on the move, the movement is defining and primary. The tourist departs, to return. The nomad does not depart or return. Nor are conquerors or settlers tourists, they depart but their return is complementary.

The goal of the tourist journey is a hallowed goal (though never reached). In fact, pilgrims are the first tourists. They depart to visit a holy and renowned place and return with a prestigious experience and emblems as proofs of their journey.

The pilgrim is a noble figure, but already subject to criticism and popular ridicule. And when the pilgrimages secularize and the amount of pilgrims grow, we finally have our paradoxal, menacing and vulgar figure of the tourist. The tourist is not an individual, but a mass. It is menacing and it is vulgar precisely because it is mass-scale. The tourist evokes the same horrors as the mob, but in the comical register. Everything that the tourist touches becomes ridiculous and a little trite, because its touch robs everything of its local, particular, individual, specific, unique characteristics.

The tourist is all that we resent in the ordinary: everybody does it, except I who am unique.

Short intervention written for Words & Spaces Studio "Scholart" 28.4.2017

[1] I will use this neutral term to avoid messy use of more inclusive references.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Le Città nascoste 3,14

Le città nascoste 3,14

Otaniemi è una città che risulta urbana solo dall’ interno. Fuori sembra una collezione di edifici di mattoni rossi sparsi tra gli alberi e cespuglie. Soltanto dentro le case si trovano spazi pubblici, folle e movimento, incontri aleatori, luoghi memorabili e le loro dèi. Gli abitanti di Otaniemi da maggior parte non vivono li, ma altrove. Otaniemi per loro en uno spazio di passato, di ricordi e sogni, paure ed amori; oppure una presenza temporanea, una parte della loro vita che non ha niente a fare con realta quotidiana. Per questa non cambia mai nulla, anche se si construiscono altre case di mattoni rossi. Qualunque che volesse una dimora diversa, semplicemente va via, portando soltanto i ricordi con se.

Hidden cities 3,14

Otaniemi is a city that is urban only at the interior. Without it looks like a collection of red brick buildings dispersed among trees and bushes. Only inside the houses can you find public spaces, crowds and movement, random encounters, memorable places and their gods. Most of the inhabitants of Otaniemi don’t live in the city, but somewhere else. For them Otaniemi is a space of the past, of memories and dreams, fears and loves; or a transitory presence, a part of their lives that has nothing to do with everyday reality. Because of this nothing ever changes, even if more red brick buildings are constructed. Anybody who wants a different dwelling simply goes away, taking with them only the memories.

Kätketyt kaupungit 3,14

Otaniemi on kaupunki joka on urbaani vain sisätiloissa. Ulkoapäin se näyttää punatiilisten talojen kokoelmalta, joka on siroteltu puiden ja pensaiden keskelle. Vain talojen sisällä on julkisia tiloja, ihmisjoukkoja ja liikettä, satunnaisia kohtaamisia, ikimuistoisia paikkoja ja niiden jumalia. Otaniemen asukkaista suurin osa ei asu Otaniemessä, vaan muualla. Otaniemi on heille menneisyyden tila, muistojen ja unelmien, pelkojen ja rakkauksien tila; tai tilapäinen olotila, osa heidän elämäänsä jolla ei ole mitään tekemistä jokapäiväisen todellisuuden kanssa. Tämän vuoksi mikään ei koskaan muutu, vaikka rakennettaisiin uusia punatiilisiä taloja. Se joka haluaa muunlaisen asuinpaikan yksinkertaisesti lähtee tiehensä, vieden mukanaan vain muistonsa.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Lost Forever in Middle-Earth

I wrote this essay because invited by my dear DA friend Sarajean to write on "why re-read" and especially why one re-reads Tolkien/ the Hobbit. She collected a wealth of memorable essays which went to prove once again the worlds literature opens for people and the strength it gives them. And how across oceans and cultures it unites them.

I was the book-devouring kind of kid, I’d read EVERYTHING. To breath is to read. I’m lost without a book. If I have a book, I am afraid of nothing. Books to me were/are not words on paper but worlds, where I and my friends – or enemies – dwell.

When I was a teen-ager, my mother introduced me to Tolkien and Middle-Earth, like to so many other books and worlds before and after that. Just now I checked with her, and she agrees she must have gotten first just The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings later, when it came out. We feel we must have read The Hobbit first – for otherwise it would have left a paler memory, fading before the weight of the epic saga. One would have paid more attention to details that will matter more later in The Rings, like Gollum, like the Necromancer, and the music of the dwarves or the door on the mountain would not have made the kind of impression they did.

Because The Hobbit is undoubtedly a homely and comfortable tale, written for children and people who delight in everything childish. Good meals make important landmarks, as do the loads of good advice and educational glimpses into far-off countries and people. One can hear Kipling mutter “best beloved” and see the Fab Five camp with their cans of tongue and pine-apple next door to jolly spies and criminals. Knowing that Tolkien created his world and its dark and deep history long before writing “The Hobbit”, one can only wonder how he managed to see it all from the comfortable and cheerful view-point of Bilbo Baggins so perfectly – the tale never gets wiser than the one who is telling it (and that is not to claim Bilbo isn’t wise, just that his perspective has its natural good-natured limitations – peppered with a dash of Tookish poetry, of course!).

And this surely is an important element of the magic of The Hobbit. One hears the strange music played by the dwarves – I swear I can hear the music, wild and dark and passionate – sounding in the unlikely surroundings of Bilbo’s comfortable and respectable hole, all the wilder, darker and more passionate for that. All things horrible like goblins or trolls or evil spiders remain kind of everyday-horrible with only a hinted dark depth – all things amazing and wonderful like elves or precious stones or magical powers retain a mystery but appear as accessible. Bilbo, that is Tolkien, manages to enlighten everyday with magic and make magic seem something to be enjoyed – every day. Something near at hand.

All of which tells why I read and loved and love The Hobbit; but surely it does not explain why I keep re-reading it? Well, I’m not so sure. I have always read books the same way: I have to know how the story ends. So I read first enough into the story to get an idea what it is all about – then I go and see how it ends. Yes, that’s what I always do. And for every sub-story in a thicker book I do the same. Thus I read books both from the beginning towards the end – and from the end towards the beginning. If the book is worth it, I will also read it all through.

Which means, from the beginning it does not matter the least if I have already read the book, if I know what will happen. Every book I take up I potentially take up with the intention of never stopping to read it. Which means, if I like it, I am committed to it for the rest of my life, for the reasons that made me read it in the first place.

Of course re-reading is never the same. Sometimes I skip entire parts of books. In the Hobbit, I confess I mostly get bored in Mirkwood. Maybe I have wood-elves in my ancestors – but I just cannot see woods as so scary and dark and dreary places. Practically every time I also discover something new, something I did not see before, or, something I saw differently. I change, so the story changes. But no matter what, I always take care to read the beginning from the first smoke-ring to Bilbo running off to adventure and burglary without a handkerchief, hat or money, and the end from Thorin’s last words to him, child of the kindly West, to Bilbo sighing and seeing the road that goes ever on. Every time it seems to me I see deep into something fundamental in life and am touched to my marrow, and all the times of my years are one, despite of the changes.

Then The Lord of the Rings came out and of course my mother bought it the first thing, and life has never been the same. It took me two and a half days to read it, all bound in one paperback volume. I read till I dropped and then woke up with the book, took it to school with me and read through every lesson I dared. I never knew I knew most of it by heart until a decade later it was translated into Finnish and smoke began to rise off my ears and nostrils for every wrongly translated nuance and flavor. (I hankered after learning English half my childhood to be able to wade through my mother’s books, first detective stories and later the fantasy and sci-fi, all in English. When eleven, after just the first lesson at school, I started. Eventually I even began to understand what I was reading. So, Tolkien I read in English, long before it was translated into Finnish.) The Lord of the Rings is a book I do not re-read, for I have never left it – I just turn a page and return and wander again in this world that will always be a fundamental part of me.

Ps: I know Middle-Earth is just the Eastern corner of the World – but I would not go West and leave it, Valinor seems like a paradise where no real hurt nor joy has any meaning. Despite all the heroic tragedy it is built on. I’d rather salt my joy with earthly loss. Middle-Earth forever for me.