Sunday, April 17, 2011


This is my final prezi presentation. After doing much research and thinking in the middle voice, I decided to connect blackwater, Mountain Top Removal, Asheville and, finally, radiation (the final slide) which finally shows that despite the change of name and mission, Blackwater (as well as Massey Energy) still will follow the ontology of the accident.

The "punctum" that hit me harder than ANYTHING I have done in this class so far is the Massey Energy icon/logo of an M with fire atop it. This basically set off the rest of my thinking and was a crucial 'accident'/'coincidence' (or perhaps a series of fatal occurences--as Baudrillard would put it) for my accident. Once I realized I could superimpose this logo on my alma mater's Logo--I knew that the conduction was fatal. I also realize that this was my way I could visually use the personal anecdote (or, primal scene as Ulmer puts it in Internet Invention) but without making it a narrative--in this one doctored image:

I knew that THIS is what 'sent' me this accident--this is what 'explains me' and explains us as a collective. The necessity of the destruction of the mountains for energy (symbolized by the fire above the M).

Finally, another thing that I 'surprised myself" with is how similar my Museum of Accidents was to Virilio's. It was only AFTER I started labeling my slides with dates that I realized this was using Virilio as Ta(i)le probably more than Kovitz. I remembered that I pointed out in the first band how essential this aspect of Virilio was--the date distances us from the event.

Finally, I realized I could frame the entire presentation in terms of "cleaning the name".  I then tried to think of what I could use for the epigraph and I remember Derrida's essay/book Sauf le Nom. I started searching pretty randomly through the essay via googlebooks (kind of using--if you will--MINING--the text like an Oulipian Dictionary) and found a passage about "naming God." This stung my memory hard as I remembered that one of the people from Massey Energy called the sludge spill "an act of God." I knew I had the epigraph.

Ultimately, what this blogpost is trying to say--in coffee-addled, empty-stomach words and phrases--is that conduction and the CATTt method WORKED for me--sending me in all different directions and finally crystallizing around the idea of "cleaning" as a philosophical metaphor.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

More on the potential of my tropes.

I have three potential scientifically derived tropes. The first is "overburden," which is defined as:  "the material that lies above an area of economic or scientific interest in mining and archaeology; most commonly the rock, soil and ecosystem that lies above a coal seam or ore body. It is also known as 'waste' or 'spoil'. Overburden is distinct from tailings, the material that remains after economically valuable components have been extracted from the generally finely milled ore."

Overburden refers to the rock/soil that lies above coal seam or ore body and this is usually considered 'waste', but since this is usually not toxic, it can be used to fill in destroyed parts (though I doubt that it usually is). The 'abstraction' (or tenor) I've been playing around with is something having to do with these geological abstractions of Baudrillard, Deleuze, and Foucault. Foucault's archaeology (and Deleuze's reading of it) has really indicated a sort of 'geological' turn in contemporary continental thought. Where does the overburden fit in with Foucault's mapping of discursive relations?

I would like to suggest that the "overburden" is a metaphor/vehicle to show the non-discursive relations of power--the 'forces' (to use Deleuze's term) that cannot be discursively recognized. This 'overburden' of non-discursive relations makes us miss the groundlessness of our thought (the lack of origins, the lack of foundation) that Baudrillard points to in Fatal Strategies (and I realize I keep coming back to this passage):

"For at bottom (!) the ground never existed, only a cracked epidermis; nor were there any depths, which we now know are in fusion. Seisms tell us as much; they are a requiem for the infrastructure. We are not longer waiting for the stars or heavens, but for the subterranean gods who threaten us with a collapse into emptiness" (Baudrillard 40).

Like the earthquake of philosophy (the 'solicitation' or 'shaking' as Derrida would put it), mountain top removal disturbs the earth to reveal that the surface cannot be penetrated without producing waste--waste that needs to be taken into account.

The second option for my scientifically derived trope is "middling": Low density material is clean coal whereas high density material is reject (rock). The intermediate density material is called middlings."

So low density material is clean coal (the coal that produces slurry) whereas the dense material is reject waste (which may relate to overburden??) and the intermediate density material is 'middling'. This reminds me of all of the various philosophies that tell us that we should find the "mean" in life (in the West--Aristotle; in the East: Buddhism). The "middle" path. By typing the word "middling" into wikipedia, it redirected me to the 'mediocrity principle":

"The mediocrity principle is the notion in philosophy of science that there is nothing special about humans or the Earth. It is a Copernican principle, used either as a heuristic about Earth's position or as a philosophical statement about the place of humanity."

--This conduction is problematic, as i'm not sure that I want to argue that 'middling' is a vehicle to explain the indifference of humanity (though this seems to be the trend in Object-Oriented-Ontology, Consequentialism, and Posthumanism). Technics, on the other hand, seems to maintain a kind of privileging of the human as particularly able to participate in the ontology of technology. if this is the case, then 'middling'--this 'mean' is really mean because we are the ones that make decisions and are responsible--even if we are taking the side of the object.

Finally, as I explored the methods of coal washing I came across some interesting language. "Gravity separation methods" are the methods of separating the "wheat from the chaff". This is different for different densities of material. I think the metaphor of "density" is an interesting metaphor to explore for ontology--it seems to me that it may relate to Deleuze's reading of Bergson's "intensity."

The 'dense medium process' reminds me of something like a hurricane (florida). Also this creates a bridge to a trope Ulmer has mentioned repeatedly (but of which I am less familiar than I should be): Pound's Vortex.

"Dense medium gravity separation methods use a material such as magnetite to form a medium denser than water to assist in separation.

A cyclone is a conical vessel in which coal along with finely ground magnetite (media) is pumped tangentially to a tapered inlet and short cylindrical section followed by a conical section where the separation takes place. The higher sp. gr. fractions being subject to greater centrifugal forces pull away from the central core and descend downwards towards the apex along the wall of cyclone body and pass out as rejects/middlings. The lighter particles are caught in an upward stream and pass out as clean coal through the cyclone overflow outlet via the vortex finder."

However, this doesn't seem to be the process that produces coal slurry. Rather, this process is a 'dewatering' of the coal. Strangely, this 'dewatering' is actually done by adding 'thickeners' to the coal:

"Water is removed from tailings to recycle water. Filters, centrifuges and thickeners are used in this part of the process. The blackwater which is produced as a by-product is typically placed in a coal slurry impoundment."

"The thickened slurry, also called thickener underflow, is pumped out of the bottom of the thickener. In the case of product coal, further dewatering is usually required before shipment. Thickened tailings can be pumped to a tailings dam, combined with larger sized rejects for disposal (co-disposal), or dewatered further before disposal."

If you will allow me a Modernist poetic association:

Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road
The road winding above among the mountains
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water we should stop and drink
Amongst he rock one cannot stop or think [. . .]

If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
and also water
And water
A spring [. . .]

But there is no water

--From T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland"

Here we see that adding thickener and cleaning coal involves sucking the water out of the coal--here we see that we are creating the Wasteland--the infertile wasteland where nothing grows. Prezi is my wasteland:

"A heap of broken images, where the sun beats"

Where "these fragments I have shorn against my ruins" reside.

Land after Mountain Top Removal--A vertiable Wasteland

Monday, April 4, 2011

First attempts at "science" words for tropes


"The washability characteristics of a coal reserve are provided by obtaining liberation data on the raw coal. Liberation refers to the amount of physical breakage required to separate material of different material densities. Low density material is clean coal whereas high density material is reject (rock). The intermediate density material is called middlings." --(

Synonyms: unexceptional, mediocre, average, run-of-the-mill, common

Antonyms: exceptional, extraordinary


"Overburden is the material that lies above an area of economic or scientific interest in mining and archaeology; most commonly the rock, soil and ecosystem that lies above a coal seam or ore body. It is also known as 'waste' or 'spoil'. Overburden is distinct from tailings, the material that remains after economically valuable components have been extracted from the generally finely milled ore. Overburden is removed during surface mining, but is typically not contaminated with toxic components and may be used to restore an exhausted mining site to a semblance of its appearance before mining began.[1] Overburden may also be used as a term to describe all soil and ancillary material above the bedrock horizon in a given area.
A related term is interburden, meaning material that lies between two areas of economic interest, such as the material separating coal seams within strata.[2][3]
By analogy, overburden is also used to describe the soil and other material that lies above a specific geologic feature, such as a buried astrobleme." --

"Overburden,‥a term used by geologists and engineers in several different senses. By some it is used to designate material of any nature, consolidated or unconsolidated, that overlies a deposit of useful materials, ores, or coal, especially those deposits that are mined from the surface by open cuts. As employed by others overburden designates only loose soil, sand, gravel, etc., that lies above the bedrock." --OED

Civil Engineering sense: " A more detailed soil investigation of the upper 50 ft or so of the overburden‥showed that the allowable bearing capacity was only about 200 to 300 psf, much too low for the proposed bridge foundations." --OED

["The bridge gathers to itself in its own way earth and sky, divinity and mortals" --Heidegger, "Building, Dwelling, Thinking 

"Thus the bridge does not first come to a location and stand in it; rather, a location comes into existence only by virtue of the bridge" --Heidegger, "Building, Dwelling, Thinking" ]

Mining. As a mass noun: overlying rock, clay, etc., which has to be removed in quarrying or mining in order to reach the deposit worked. Also as a count noun: a layer of such material. --OED

 1994    Daily Tel. 24 Mar. 25/8   What gets between the miners and the gold are millions of tons of overburden which has to be removed before they can get at the final few thousand tons of pay dirt. --OED



Warhol, Duchamp, and Futurism

 "We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath ... a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace." --Futurist Manifesto

"We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman."--Futurist Manifesto

"Futurism strives to imagine its own brand of celibate creation" --Christian Bok

"Check that vehicle stops within required distance and does not pull, grab or swerve."
--UF Vehicle Inspection Form

"In opposition to the vertigo of acceleration, Duchamp proposed a vertigo of delay" --Octavio Paz

"Warhol’s art [Death and Disasters] will convey the range, power and empathy underlying his transformation of these commonplace catastrophes. Finally, one can sense in this art an underlying human compassion that transcends Warhol’s public affect of studied neutrality."

--Walter Hopps, foreword to Andy Warhol: Death and Disaster, p. 9 (

"Well you signed up for a car crash/When you signed up with me"

--"Bodybag," The Films

 A car crash harnesses elements of eroticism, aggression, desire, speed, drama, kinesthetic factors, the stylizing of motion, consumer goods, status -- all these in one event. I myself see the car crash as a tremendous sexual event really: a liberation of human and machine libido (if there is such a thing).   --J.G. Ballard

"Marinetti plays a game of chicken to see which artist, which driver, first loses the nerve to enact a collision between two different categories that can convey a poetic trope" --Christian Bok

Sunday, April 3, 2011

its still a narrative. . .but i'm trying

Prezi experiment:

Prezi experiments

So I've been dicking around with Prezi for my courses, and I was thinking about John's observation about the importance of conceit. For years, teachers have been creating conceits to couch their lessons within and I came up with one for Titles, Introductions, and Conclusions. The power of Prezi is that it allows you to use images to literally frame your ideas. While this might not be quite what we had in mind, since its not entirely independent.

Taile instruction

1. If Bok is correct that "revolution must paradoxically partake of the very discursive strategies that it opposes in order to be revolution" and if we are creating a "report" on our accident which will function as a "parody," then it follows that we should quote the *official* discourse of a report on our accident (or one of the particular instances). For me, its the Martin County Coal Slurry spill report:

Like Kovitz, I propose that we have to juxtapose this discourse with the discourses we find in our CATTt--(particularly Baudrillard, Kovitz, Callois, etc.). I think that Bok and baudrillard need to "talk to one another" within our presentation (as Kovitz does with Fourier, and at one point, people are commenting on Robert Moses' statement about building things). This will (in the Russian Formalist sense) defamiliarize and re-contextualize the 'report' so that we can make it mean something else entirely.

Ta(i)le Instruction 2

Obtain not only photographs, but descriptions and drawings of relevant material for your accident. Show its ideal dimensions--its plans, its blueprint.

Figure 66 shows a crawler crane with a drag-line attachment. A drag-line consists of a sliding bucket that is dragged along the ground or sea-bottom for dredging.'

The drag-line used to be the standard form of near-shore dredging until the hydraulic excavator (a far smaller machine that is more compact to transport over long distances) made its appearance.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pataphysics--Initial thoughts

"Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun"

--John Donne

I found this book interesting and frustrating at the same time. I will
gripe more about the particulars maybe tomorrow, but this email is
supposed to be as productive as possible.

Response to Becca:

Although suggestive, I'm not sure the four "stages" can be mapped onto
the tropes. I think essentially Bok is creating a very very short
re-hash of standard literary history in terms of pataphysics. He
references Foucault['s "Prose of the World" chapter in The Order of
Things and one can tell that he follows this kind of "episteme" way of
looking at history. What Bok somewhat pretentiously calls
"cyberogranismic phase," which sounds remarkably like "the postmodern"
or even the "posthuman" I think is talking about our 'current moment'.
Becca I think raised a great question as to how we are supposed to
respond to this situation. My guess aligns with John's that pataphysics
allows, as Bok put it, "the conceit to regain its status as a device of
poetic wisdom" (19).

Syzygy and Conceit

I agree with John that we need to look at syzygy and the idea of
conceits. Bok is attuned to Eliot and the Modernist's obsession with
the "metaphysical" poets, the most famous one being John Donne (see the
epigraph). The importance of syzygy I think comes from its mocking of
dualisms and holisms, which ends up producing laughter and pleasure
(jouissance). The equation of this with not this is not a "truth" of
the world--revealing that really all is One, but

"The absurdity of such extremes and their equation is laughable---but
this laughter is itself what negates dualism and affirms syzygy--a
joyful wisdom" (Bok 42).

Also, it seems that the conditions of syzgy are similar to the
conditions of our scholarship and academia: "differing from every other
thing in a system that values the norm of difference [syzygy] serves
the will to confuse" (40). We want to confuse things and mix things up,
but not in order to create a synthesis, but to laugh at the
psuedo-synthesis that we have created--to take pleasure in this act.

I think this gives us the right idea. What I want to call attention to
in Bok is the concept of "measure," as Ulmer was pretty insistent that
we were trying to find a "measure" for the accident. The idea of
"Ethernity" seems to frame the pataphysician as a type of demiurge, and
it seems that Prezi may be just the medium to do this:

"Ethernity is a state of maximum entropy--a nullified condition whose
potential goes unmeasured, unobserved, its eigenstate corresponding to
'the perplexity of man outside time and space, who has lost his
measuring rod and his tuning fork. Like the Maxwell Demon, the
pataphysician intervenes in such a void [. . .] sorting its randomly
distributed atoms into narrowly constructed forms--creating, in this
case, a spectroscape whose maesurements cause a fiat lux ex nihilio"
(Bok 35).

We are the pataphysician that must arrange the elements in the void of
Prezi. However, the difference is we cannot create something from
nothing--we have to have material to work with in order to place it
into the Prezi. Perhaps our own situation on the net has realized some
sort of material limits (measures) of what we can do and make--the free
reign of imagination and association is, as we have reminded ourselves
with our 'human need' we identified tied to embodiment. I have not read
Jarry, but I imagine that issue is that we don't get as much of the
limitations--the fact is that even our Prezi space is 'limited' despite
its visual rhetoric of infinity. In the network and in the EmerAgency
we are not solipsistic, perspectival pataphysicians, but a collective
subject which we are trying to undergo, experience, and ultimately

(Side note: As I was reading Pataphysics, I was frustrated and yet
intrigued by Bok's appropriation of scientific terminology and his
reduction of the values of science as well as his narrow reading of
Nietzsche as a "perspectivist." The "research" he did, with its breadth
but lack of depth read like a parody of theoretical discourse, except
that Bok doesn't seem to be aware of it in his prose. He goes about the
project seriously AS IF this is the way it is--maybe the joke's on me.
I suppose I could read his insertion of terms (without deciding he will
define them--assuming his audience is familiar with such things) as a
performance of the concept of clinamen--akin to disrupting the flow of
words with a tipo).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Angela Carter's Nights and the Circus in Conversation with Callois

Ludic Clowns, Grotesque Masks

According to Callois, Ludus cannot connect to ilinx, our primary mode of game because ludus can only be used to discipline the effects of ilinx—to reign it in, so to speak. This concept of ludus as a disciplining mechanism has allowed me to finally address an issue I’ve had with Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. The circus seems like it would be a liberating place and, indeed, it is in this novel compared to other locations. However,  the circus is a separate, detached realm (or at least pretends to be) that is structured by real political forces: The Imperialist Circus it’s called—run by a guy who looks kind of like Uncle Sam. The circus is a symbol for American Imperialism as well as the freedom that it brings. Contrast these two passages:
“Surely I can rely on a fellow Amurrican to see the glory of it! All nations united in the great Ludic Game under the banner of Liberty itself” (Carter 102)

“When Walser first put on his make-up, he looked in the mirror and did not recognize himself [. . .] he felt the beginnings of a vertiginous sense of freedom [. . .] Walser’s very self , as he had known it, departed from him, he experienced the freedom that lies behind the mask, within dissimulation, the freedom to juggle with being, and, indeed, with the language which is vital to our being, that lies at the heart of burlesque” (103)

Perhaps this feeling is closer to mimicry and ilinx than that “ludic” game of the circus.  Callois argues that ludus is related more with agon and alea and that it disciplines acting and the theater into an art. Carter connects the circus to alea by describing the circus ring in terms of Fortune:
“the circus ring turns into that durably metaphoric, uroboric snaked with its tail in its moutsh, wheel that turns full circle, the wheel whose end is its beginning, the wheel of fortune, the potter’s wheel on which our clay is formed, the wheel of life on which we all are broken” (107).

In a paper I wrote for an Art of the Novel course I argue (without the knowledge of the meaning of ludus) that Carter’s novel portrays the clowns of the circus in terms of what Bakhtin calls the Romantic Grotesque rather than the renaissance grotesque he finds in Rabelais. Carter is well aware that festival is only a temporary reversal and reprieve—we cannot live in it forever.  I cite from my own paper:
            “Drawing from the narrator’s explanation, Magali Cornier Michael argues that the clowns’ “freedom to choose the self they wish to become undermines the Western concept of an essential self or soul that exists prior to socialization. The political potential of a concept of the self as constructed rather than essential is great, since it allows for the creation of new versions of the self” (Michael 196).  However, Michael ignores the catch to self-creation. Buffo explains to Walser, “once the choice is made [of a certain face, identity] I am condemned, therefore, to be ‘Buffo’ in perpetuity, Buffo forever” (Carter 122). Grik even describes most clown faces as already fixed Platonic ideas: “the faces exist of themselves in a disembodied somewhere, waiting for the clown who will wear them, who will bring them to life” (122). Indeed, Buffo makes it clear to Walser that he must accept his new identity as constitutive of his subjectivity: “You must know what you have become, young man, how the word defines you, now you have opted to lose your wits in the profession of the clown” (120). The word, the new name, and the mask all define the limits of Walser’s agency.
Therefore, the clown’s mask fixes Walser’s being rather than allowing him to juggle with it. This fixed quality, argues Rory Turner, shows that the clowns are a Romantic rather than Rabelasian grotesque: “The romantic grotesque consists in much the same imagery as the grotesque, but the imagery is presented in a fashion that loses the regenerating capacity of the grotesque” (Turner 49). Whereas the carnival mask is liberating, the Romantic mask mirrors the new bodily canon defines definite individuals rather than connecting him or her to universal human characteristics. Bakhtin writes, “[i]n the new bodily canon the leading role is attributed to the individually characteristic and expressive parts of the body: the head, face, eyes, lips, to the muscular system, and to the place of the body in the external world” (Rabelais 321)” (Riley 4-5).

The disguise is “ludic” because it doesn’t have any effect in the real world—it is, as Callois writes, “a makeshift device to allay boredom while we await something preferable” (Callois 31). The clowns’ actions in the circus, no matter their regenerative power within the ring, cannot change the fact that they are part of the Imperial Circus with Liberty at the head of its Ludic Game. It is as if our American values of Liberty and Freedom are distractive signifiers for true civic participation!  

Indeed, we find this very recognition of the emptying out of the sacred in contemporary manifestations of the spirit of carnival (which combines ilinx and mimicry). Callois writes that the mask “necessarily lsoes its power of metamorphosis in a society freed from bondage to the mimicry-ilinx combination” (128). It loses its power of metamorphosis because it becomes affixed to a particular individual as we saw in the above quotation from Bakhtin’s book. The body becomes closed, static, individual, and sterile rather than open, fluid, grotesque, general, and fertile.
 The mask becomes a means of hiding and liberation from external social constraints rather than a means of metamorphosis from childhood to adulthood in the general narrative of sacred life and societies. The mask affixes identity rather than allows one to “juggle with being” as Walser read his make-up at first. Instead of a temporary overturning of the social order, our contemporary “mask”—the uniform—transforms the individual into a powerful, anonymous authority. Anonymity is not related to joy and celebration but to the evasion of taking personal responsibility for actions.

Let us look now to two characters in the ‘circus’ discussed by Callois. I will place his observations in dialogue with the chief clown of Carter’s circus—Buffo the clown. Callois knows, like Carter, that the circus is a “closed and rigorous” universe such that the circus cannot really be considered play but, he thinks, two activities can be associated with ilinx and mimicry. Buffo the clown King realizes that the clown’s ‘work’ is not play. I wrote in the earlier paper:
“Not only the clowns in the circus, but for every performer, this “play” is forced and, we know, “nothing is more boring than being forced to play” (109). Buffo is aware of this paradoxical way of life: “we know we are mere hirelings hard at work and yet those who hire us see us as beings perpetually at play [. . .] so there is always an abyss between their notion of our work as play, and ours, of their leisure as our labour” (119)” (Riley 7).

But Callois seems to maintain that the chief clown’s grotesque imitation, ending in catastrophe plays out a sort of sacred mythology. Buffo plays out this mythology, but instead of sticking to playing out the illusory ritual of sacrifice, he goes mad and really murders someone on stage. This is a break in the ‘pretend’ that cannot intrude upon the circus’ closed world.