Ethics of Tenacity

Outside it is almost too hot too move. Luckily my folks have insulation in the roof, which makes inside bearable. I am sitting here at the computer with the soft roughness of my t-shirt weighing upon my sun burnt shoulders. I’ve got burnt on my epic walks travailing the suburban Perth countryside. I’ve had a lot of time to think while I’ve been in Perth. My big walks have been for exercise but they have also been something of a mind clearer. Some relief, but I am also relentless, so something of a burden. My mind is probably just as fatigued and sun burnt as my body, and my thoughts also weigh upon my shoulders.

Open, public space is weird here. There is so much of it. Drivers drive like tourists, even though they are locals, because there is so much space and the rhythms of traffic seem anestheticised. Yet, there is a paranoid grasp for position within the space, by pedestrians and drivers, like the people of Perth are scared it might somehow all be taken away. The irony is that in cities like Sydney, where there actually isn’t much space, inhabitants quickly learn how to negotiate with strangers far more successfully. The question of space, and I mean beyond geographical space, and how to live with space ethically is a problem of realising that freedom (to move, to live, to be who you want to be) is enabled by constraints. I have been thinking about what constraints I have in my life that enable me.

Maarinke has a wonderful post up on her tumblr blog. She has been incredibly tenacious in her process of unpicking the web of relations between her and the world and assessing them. Most of the time it has been with patience and care, at least for as long as I have been on the scene to witness it.

Speaking with her about all the things in her post is a great challenge for me, and I mean that in an objective, intellectual sense. I have been lucky enough to be basically self-trained in some of the main concepts and philosophies of post-structuralism and for me it isn’t some professional pursuit. I live and breathe and act with a strong ethical commitment derived from all my favourite dead Frenchmen. What is this ethics?

Following Deleuze, it is an ethics of being worthy of the events that befall us. Events are not happenings that happen to things. It is within events that things are formed.When a tree greens, the event ‘to green’ is independent of the tree and in part makes the tree what it is, but it is an event that is repeated in different ways throughout the natural world. Yet, following Derrida (and to a certain extent Deleuze), when we start to enfold the world into us, just as we let the world envelope us in turn, our perspective on events plays an important part in understanding what I would call their majestic grace.

Our lives are a tapestry of events that we will only ever partially grasp. To shift perspective, a task which is normally exceptionally difficult, requires an extreme force of will to let go of those elements and relations in the world that grip us in an immediate and intimate sense and experience the serene tranquility of floating above and beside events. Maarinke’s process of self-reflexivity has been impressive to witness as she has been and continues to be tenacious in her pursuit of such tranquility. It means going to war against the world and against one’s self in the most patient and caring way imaginable.

Deleuze called this process counter-effectualisation. For him events were surface effects of the mixture of bodies and the passions of bodies. Bodies here means every entity in the broadest possible sense. To counter-effect the passage of an event means grasping the singularity of these bodies and their passions in a different way. The simplest way to explain this in the context I am talking about is in the example of the advice about arguing with one’s loved ones. Some people say you should always resolve arguments before going to bed. Other people say you should sleep on it. In both cases there is a relation between urgency and patience determined by one’s proximity to the event of the argument and the event of the argument placed in a much broader context, perhaps of a life or lives or a life shared together in a relationship. The point is that this homely advice attempts to get people to realise that they need a different perspective on the passage of events.

The post-structuralist philosophies that I enjoy and read provide conceptual tools for allowing you to do this in a radical way. We exist in a baroque architecture of events, like a haphazard set of networks seemingly without order or reason. We are part of events that we can trace from the past. Past lovers, past friendships and past responsibilities are all present, still, now, in the way they grasp us sometimes in their wonderful, but often in their terrible holds. We are sometimes doomed to repeat the way we process the world following the causal relations of our actions born of these past events. In this way we repeat the events in different ways with new people and new relationships. All this sounds horrifyingly nihilistic, doesn’t it? Ha! This is not the end of the story, however.

We are not automatons programmed by past events, or we might be, but we have the capacity, through self-reflexive practices, to change the programming of our subconscious even though we may not know what that programming is. The simplest way to do this is to imagine a different future, a future that is made up of events that begin here, now. You want a relationship in the future? That relationship has already started. We have not yet been programmed by future events even though they may appear to be on a continual differentially repeated line with the past. We can intervene in our repetitions. Work to create new events that enable us to affirm who we want to be and who we want to be with.