Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Comic Book Heroes

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- Walking here with my friend our talk was about doing for the sake of doing. You'd compared it to compulsive repetition, a kind of madness. Instead we should do whatever was necessary until we changed our relation to the world to a way we liked enough to stop doing things for a while and rest. She disagreed. For an artist the goal is in the process itself. What do you have to say?
- Take an example. Washing dishes. If I said I needed clean dishes to eat off of I wouldn't be doing it for its own sake.
- I enjoy washing dishes. It's a matter of attitude.
- The attitude that there is an art to it. You can wash the dishes haphazardly and not be overly concerned, if you are doing it to get clean dishes to eat off of. But if you are doing it as an art, each act of inattention will jar you with the unwanted, misarranged, unartistic results: splashes, noises, collapse of piles, etc.
- You think doing things for their own sake requires you maintain some kind of order?
- Yes. And what for?
- What for what?
- What is the order for, if what you are doing is for the sake of doing, is an end in itself?
- If you want to enjoy the process that is just what you have to do.
- Then the purpose is to enjoy the process, and the process has to be done in accord with that goal.
- But the goal of enjoyment is in the process! Why does it matter that the form what we do takes comes from outside, even if as you say it does?
- Because what we do in one aspect of life affects other aspects of life, affects life in general. Not paying attention to the order behind our actions we’re going to get into difficulties.
- If art is not for its own sake, even if we find enjoyment in the process, what is it for?
- Art produces models of finding happiness, or failing to.
- What kind of happiness?
- Being happy in not doing anything, in being in the right relation to the world for a while. The satisfaction of making art arises from knowing that in our art making we are acting in accord with the model our art is making. We are on the right road, learning how to stop doing things for a while and be in a relation to the world that is sufficient for itself.
- We shouldn’t do things for the sake of doing things, but for its own sake we should learn to do nothing. We should learn to do nothing for the sake of doing nothing.
- Yes.
- You must be kidding me.
- I’m not.
- Fine. As I said. I don't need, don't want all this theory about models and states of rest and doing. Tell me why I have to have it. What are the difficulties you threatened me with? Why doing my art for art's sake do I need to know someone's guesses why and how art works?
- There are two ways we do for the sake of doing. One is private and the artist's: by having the doing itself be satisfying. The other is public and cooperative, and involves the doing for the sake of doing working against desire's satisfaction and repressing it. The artist's way is harmless. The public way, far from it. In the book* we were talking about last time,** the one about bureaucracy, the anthropologist David Graeber asks why it tends to expand. The bureaucrats’ own attempts to reduce bureaucracy regularly result in more employees and more oversight, their trying to achieve greater efficiency results in less. The financial industry now dominating the economy was the best example of bureaucratic expansion. He explains the stupidity of bureaucracy in the class relation between master and servant, where the master makes no attempt to understand the servant, while the servant, in self-protection, must closely observe the master. He explains that blindly acting master bureaucrats applying their rules senselessly are taught to see their work as sacrifice of their own enjoyment. For a bureaucrat, if you do work because you like it you are doing something wrong, you are not working. Doing work for its own sake means you can't expect anything else from it outside of it.
- Obeying the rules is going against yourself. I hate that Freudian stupidity.
- In the third essay of the book Freud makes his appearance as Graeber analyzes the revolt against rules in comic books and comic book based movies.
- What's the bureaucratic connection?
- Failure to sacrifice yourself to work unleashes dangerous but fascinatingly attractive forces that have to be repressed for the world's safety. Comic books really seem like they are made and consumed for their own sake, to have no real application to the rest of life apart from the money they generate. Yet comic book heroes like bureaucrats enforce the rules, defend the world order. And comic book criminals reflect the bureaucrats’ desires to act outside the rules, desires amusing though they be that have to be repressed. As the comic book heroes live in their own world, so the bureaucrats live in their own world of doing for the sake of doing.
- Artists doing what they do satisfy their desires. Bureaucrats and super heroes doing what they do repress their desires. Why do they desire to repress their desire?
- Graeber suggest it might be to get out of the real world into the game-like world of doing for the sake of doing. I don't find that argument convincing. When you were growing up, did your family had a dog? One day when you came home he was acting guilty. Looking at you, looking away, looking back, whining a little. And then you saw the mess he'd made. Was he feeling guilty for being caught breaking the rules? Or was it the opposite? He knew he wasn't supposed to make a mess, he should repress his disorderly impulses. But he had done it anyway. He didn't care about the rules. His real relation to you was not about rules after all. He loved you. The guilt he felt was his confusion about both wanting to love you and not really wanting to obey the rules.
- The Freudian wants to repress his desires for the sake of rules, the dog wanted to be allowed to repress the rules for the sake of love.
- Yes. Two kinds of guilt. Rules that we've accepted are broken in both cases. One guilt is on the assumption rules are good and wanting to break them is bad. The other guilt is based on the assumption that the rules are bad, though we’ve agreed to them by force, and wanting to break them is good. In both we're confused.
- One guilt works to repress the rules for the sake of desire, The other guilt works to repress desire in the name of the rules. Is that right?
- Right. Now apply this to what was said about the bureaucrats. In their relation to the public, bureaucrats are masters, the public slaves. In this master-slave relation bureaucrats sacrifice their human nature, their natural wish to help others and solve problems. But as managers and participants in bureaucracy, in their relation to each other, they see their own rules as what should be sacrificed in the creative act of reforming them, in writing new rules and hiring more public servants. Bureaucracy is one kind of doing for the sake of doing. You didn’t want to look closer at the order inside that made it possible. Have I showed you that one variety at least of what was inside has consequences which even an artist might want to pay attention to?
- Massive bureaucracy and financial collapse.
- Bureaucracy in its relation to the public sacrifices personal desire, in its relations among itself sacrifices the rules. This is a lot of sacrifice. And where does it come from? How did sacrifice of desire, this most complex of private matters, become the foundation of the most public thing there is in life, a bureaucracy?
- Don't ask me.
- And how does guilt come in? The dog did something wrong. What wrong did the bureaucrats do?
- Does the anthropologist say in his book?
- Not directly. The answer is in his earlier book on the history of debt. Exchange in the beginning was only between enemies. Friends make gifts. When a transaction between enemies remains incomplete on one side, there is said to be a debt. Since debt originates between enemies, behind every incomplete transaction is a threat that violence will be applied to compel its completion or to punish. The debtor thinks of himself as half dead, buried in a violent relation to his enemies, unprotected by his friends; he feels as if in making the deal he has become an enemy to himself.
- Debt makes you feel guilty. But which of the two kinds of guilt?
- Both, depending on whether you think that you committed this crime against yourself by an enemy's compulsion, or that you are wrong in not wanting to pay.
- Depends whether you still believe in love, laugh at Freud's belief love is a delusion, a regression to being in the womb.
- Thoughts and practices build upon each other: from debt, to guilt; from guilt, to sacrifice; from sacrifice, to bureaucracy. Loaning people money under threat of violence creates a psychological change (guilt) which in turn supports the social structure (bureaucracy), which has nasty consequences like master-slave blindness, stupidity and constantly increasing inefficiency created in the name of efficiency.
- Bureaucrats do for the sake of doing. They practice an art for art’s sake. They sacrifice themselves, either the part that desires to go against the rules, or the part that protects the rules against desire. To bureaucrats the public is in their debt. The public has not provided the answers required until proven otherwise. The public's debt is enforced by threat of violence, establishing a relation between bureaucrat and public of master to slave. And the bureaucrat like all masters is stupid, blind to the reality of the servant’s life. Master bureaucrats, in their relation to other master bureaucrats, sacrifice the old rules and the part of themselves attached to them in the creation of new rules and bureaucratic opportunities. And all this emerges from within that doing for the sake of doing we started with.
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* The Utopia Of Rules, David Graeber
** Lies Created In Violence