23 Scenes From The Surface*


Two men meet on the street; they shake hands with their right hands, exchange a package with their left.  After a few words they depart.



The first time I saw it was the first time I spent the night.  It was surprisingly uniform in shape, like a small pink worm that ran from the center of her sternum, to just below her clavicle before cutting a stark right-angled turn towards the indentation of soft flesh just down and to the left of her right shoulder.


I find great pleasure in placing my contact lenses in their fancy bubbly cleaning apparatus.  My eyes ache for both the cool of the lenses in the morning and the gentle sliding off of them in the evening.  My soul is soothed at the visage and the thought of those tiny bubbles silently scrubbing their surfaces for six straight and silent hours, in the dark, next to the sink, while I sleep.


Whether or not to insert a hyphen, whether or not to call it a dash, whether or not to capitalize, whether or not it is the time or the place for propriety.  These are the inane and mundane preoccupations of a writer with highfalutin aspirations (see: too big for his britches).  He had seen Dostoevsky use the term highfalutin, so had decided it was acceptable; he had realized at the time of remembering that he had seen Dostoevsky use the term highfalutin that it had been a translation; he had only realized that the two-worded spelling was the alternative to the one-worded variety when he finally looked it up on the internet.


“There were two of them, of course – you can’t have a duel with only one fellow… well I suppose you could have a duel of sorts with three or more, but not in the, you know, in the formal, traditionally cultural practice of dew-ullz.  Anyway they were wearing tights and blouses and everything.  Their hair was long, greasy and stringy and their goatees were far too perfectly trimmed.  They were best friends or something and one had been engaged to this beautiful woman who the other had fallen in love with and when the first one found out he started the fight and, well, yeah anyway, the guy – the one who’d been engaged before his lady fell in love with his best friend – the guy ran the other guy through with his rapier or cutlass or whatever.  It was actually really sad, when the fellow realized what he’d done. Horrifying, actually.”

* From the archives, slightly revised, and toward the end of some sort of experiment in hermeneutics / participation in the (muffled?) conversation or polemic surrounding just what it is we do, or should do, when “reading” texts.

Working Definition(s)*: Politics, Ethics, Power

The signifier is not enough.

POLITICS = Ethics + Power. Or, if you like, Power + Ethics = Politics.

Ethics is that field of activity that is delineated by the “should.” It has to do with the future. It has to do with *other* people. What we should do to get to a form of life that is better than this one.

Don’t push my buttons.

Power has to do with relations between people and/or things. It is characterized by a differential: one has more than the other. It is made known by the acts and the effects of the acts that the former is able to deploy upon the other.

Politics is the field of activity in which every action that is carried out towards a form of life that is better than this one is unable to be carried out outside of the considerations and the realities of being enmeshed within a vast network of power relations.

Duh Factor: All ethical acts are political acts. There is no such thing as a *merely* ethical act.

Future: How much does strategy have to do with the (*merely*) ethical (And how do we avoid some sort of gross pragmatic utilitarianism?)?

In order to make a simple ethical decision, must I appeal to the broadest commonalities of my constituency?

* Something “that is chosen for an occasion and may not fully conform with established or authoritative definitions,” or as “Equipment[:] conceptual in design and formulation, []pragmatic in use. Defined abstractly, equipment is a set of truth claims, affects, and ethical orientations, designed and composed into a practice. Equipment, which has historically taken different forms, enables practical responses to changing conditions brought about by specific problems, events, and general reconfigurations.”


Mirror in the Mirror

Second only to the question “Batman or Superman?,” I like to ask people what they think the most beautiful thing in the world is. Most people, I think, find both of these questions unsettling.

The word “thing,” of course, is a sort of placeholder for the word “object,” or something like it. I’m continually delighted by the fact that my answer to the second question is this song, because the words “thing” and “object” are odd designations for something that wants to defy the sort of objectness that the word “thing” wants to impose (a song is less spatial, more thoroughly temporal insofar as it is fleeting, it fleets, slips away, is connected more to the concept of “event,” etc.).

Similarly, I’m fascinated by my reticence to call it a song- not out of some reverence or desire to elevate my most beautiful thing to something sacred or divine, but because this word also seems not to be the best one for it. It seems to me that “songs” like this are most often referred to as “compositions,” and I’m happy again because I think it’s wonderful that what we call this thing when we refer to it foregrounds its very creation, or the fact that it is created in a certain manner: it’s put together, assembled, crafted as a sort of assemblage of many things, but is, by its very nature, impossible to grasp. Especially this one, which is so quiet that I can’t even really hear it as I sit in this busy coffee shop.

Equal to the Moment

True literary activity cannot aspire to take place within a literary framework… it must nurture the inconspicuous forms that better fit its influence in active communities than does the pretentious, universal gesture of the book- in leaflets, brochures, articles, and placards. Only this prompt language shows itself actively equal to the moment.

– from Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street (via Harper’s)

The *New* Fantastic: A [Working] Definition

[Working] Definition:

THE *NEW* FANTASTIC is (a piece of) equipment with which to read texts.

When practically applied, it takes the form of a question:

In what manner does what deviate from what normativity?


is [evinced] by the way(s) in which something [deviates from] a normativity.

The original formulation of the verb evinced was the adjective measurable. This was primarily because the formal structure of The *New* Fantastic is that of a scale, an extension of the formal logic of the binary. I began thinking about The *New* Fantastic in this way after spending some time thinking about aesthetics, ethics, and hermeneutics: it was the form of the logic found in the relationships inherent in each – beautiful/ not (or less) beautiful, good/ not (or less) good, and surface/ depth -that struck me as being similar, on a very basic level, to the form of the logic of my emerging concept of The *New* Fantastic, which is itself something that is seen to exist as more or less fantastic in relation to some sort of normative foundation, that does something like slide along a scale from less fantastic to more fantastic.

Similarly, the way(s) in which came to replace the original formulation the degree to which. The above formal logics involve the suggestion of the measurability of something that is not, strictly speaking, measurable (e.g. the fantasticity of a text). The strength of this suggestion of measurability is important because it introduces the concept of a metric, which has as its smallest functioning feature the distinction-making degree. To speak of the degrees of either an essentially unmeasurable thing, or of something for which the end of said measuring is mere categorization, would not only be critically questionable, but boring as well. Therefore the noun ways (a hypernym of the “methods, styles, or manners of doing something”), opens up the field of possibilities in which something might be found to be fantastic.

The field of possibilities is made possible and defined up and against what I refer to as (the working term) “the normative.” This normative can be thought of as a cluster of possible baseline foundations that make up various takes on what is often called “reality:” (what is) concrete, actual, normal, real, present, now, logical, reasonable, reasonably possible, etc. It is from these that The *New* Fantastic deviates from.

What is particularly useful to this form of inquiry is the relative mobility of this normativity: as bearing a special relationship with any number of possible subjects – reader, characters, authors, the “reading public,” etc – it can be seen to change depending on its subject position. This doesn’t negate the critique of global or hegemonic modes of normative oppression or dominant logics, it simply isolates, for the sake of inquiry, the specific contexts and manifestations of normativity and its world-making effects on reading subjects and their texts.

Questions, Comments, Refutations, Formal Requests for Collaborations, Etc.: joshuaanderson@berkeley.edu