[-empyre-] Introductory post (Alan Sondheim)

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Mon Nov 3 16:19:13 EST 2014

(The beginning guests will be announced shortly)

The topic for this month:

ISIS, Absolute Terror, Performance

Our initial precis:

The world seems to be descending into chaos of a qualitatively
different dis/order, one characterized by terror, massacre,
absolutism. Things are increasingly out of control, and this
chaos is a kind of ground-work itself - nothing beyond a
scorched earth policy, but more of the same. What might be a
cultural or artistic response to this? How does one deal with
this psychologically, when every day brings new horrors? Even
traditional analyses seem to dissolve in the absolute terror
that seems to be daily increasing.

We are moderating a month-long investigation on Empyre into the
dilemma this dis/order poses. We will ask a variety of people to
be discussants in what, hopefully, will be a very open
conversation. The debate will invite the empyre community to a
deep and uncomfortable analysis of abject violence, pain,
performance, and ideology [taking further the October 2012
debate on Pain, Suffering, and Death in the Virtual], looking at
the ambivalences of terror, incomprehensible emotions, and our
own complicity in the production of 'common sense' around

The format this month will be slightly different; participants
will be announced on an organic basis, and we hope that many of
the subscribers will chime in. We are all facing the anguish of
political situations that seem out of control. We are interested
in topics such as, How does one deal with anguish personally?
How can anguish be expressed culturally? Can such expressions
make a difference at all? We have all read political analyses of
the causes of this descent; here, we're interested in the
cultural and personal responses to it.

ISIS, Absolute Terror, Performance

Lyric poetry begins, not end, with Auschwitz; the very violence
and terror produced by slaughter places the statement under
erasure. But lyric, poetics, poesis, are among other things
subversions of language, the recognition of a linguistic weight
that bypasses the syntactic, caresses the abject. So that one
might drive poetics through the force of terrified flesh, one
might find language springing there, just as unutterable pain
may be surrounded by the cacophony of elegy and mourning.

Lyric poetry begins with nothing; poetics scrapes away at
lateral fluency, undercuts the corporate, only to die in the
advertising slogan. But Auschwitz is a borderland of time, where
end and annihilation are imminent, imminant, and I keep think of
this in relation to absolute terror, wailing postulations
against the wall that also disappear. Absolute terror, the
performative of beheadings, genocides, and crucifixions, signs
the performative of the end-time itself. It is not a question of
the inerrancy of the text leading the torturers on; it's the
errancy of any text in the face of decapitation; every world is
ultimately unutterable.

It's the unutterability of the world that founds anguish, that
tears momentarily at the soul and body under erasure. It this
which I've been wrestling with for years, only momentarily
handed off to ISIS and this and other geopolitics. How does one
live within the knowledge of annihilation? How does one produce
within such, in response to such? What is the conceivable
meaning of such production? Is meaning itself obliterated to
such an extent that even suicide becomes a useless act?


We have guests for this round, several each week for four weeks.
But we need your input, as many people as possible. I'm on a
number of email lists concerned with cultural workers, cultural
production, cultural politics, geo-politics; ISIS and terror
rarely come up for discussion or as a subject for production,
and when they do, things often tend towards the usual leftist
analysis (for which there is also BBC and Al Jazeera, which I
recommend). But here, we want less political analysis or
politics for that matter, and more, a form of personal/cultural
testimony that is rarely written. What of anguish? What of
inconceivable torture? What of a planet tending wildly towards
overpopulation, extinctions, local wars, starvations, all
producing despair, breakdown, anomie? In other words - how does
one sleep at night?

So in a sense, this is about the dark night of the soul without
god, without recourse. And the very absence of discussion in
general, about the interiority of absolute violence, opens the
subject up here, on Empyre (given the subject, an ironic title!)
- please contribute!

Thanks to Renate and everyone -

- Alan Sondheim

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