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Cologne, Germany - Sept. 30 - "The Hopeless Animal and The End of Nature"

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  • Cologne, Germany - Sept. 30 - "The Hopeless Animal and The End of Nature"

    The Hopeless Animal and The End of Nature

    The question of humanity’s dilemma with place will be addressed in terms of the nomenclature of the natural and more precisely the positioning of the animal as interlocutor, antagonist, anecdote, docent, screen, allegory, substitute, vessel, guardian, difference, the indifferent, necessity, prisoner, deity, cipher and finally as the unimagining human. Of course this will bring up subjects ranging from the emotional topographies of fear and hope, manufactured surfaces (and vocabularies and vegetables) of denial to nudity, fur fetishes, mechanized companionship as well as medieval bestiaries, zoos, the pet industry not to mention the pictorial pastoral, wildlife photography and youtube funny creatures; with some glancing attention paid to Walton Ford, Giorgio Agamben, Valentino Braitenberg, Temple Grandin and perhaps Cesar Milan. It’s unclear whether Danielewski will actually succeed in drawing all this together into a cohesive whole, especially since that whole must obviously also include matters of synthetic intelligence, speculative fiction and the architecture of fate. Still, perhaps by the end of the hour he will have managed to trace out a line describing why in framing the human dilemma with place, in terms of the animal, nature is now necessarily at an end. Then again perhaps this is all just a grandiose way of giving himself an excuse to talk about his cat.

  • #2
    Originally posted by Hazel
    The Hopeless Animal and The End of Nature
    Is this going to be a sequel to "The End of History and the Last Man"?


    • #3
      Will this be recorded/transcribed?


      • #4
        About the Museum.
        Walraff-Richartz Museum is one of the biggest Museums in Cologne but also one of the largest of its kind in Germany. It owns a collection of paintings and graphic art, containing medieval art, fine art from the 16th and 17th century and a collection of impressionistic paintings. They have a very impressive exhibition concept with focus on special topics. I saw for example shows on Scandinavian symbolism and a show about the moon. They also had a Balthus retrospective.

        "The hopeless animal" will be part of a frame programme for an exhibition about the human body, called "Do or die - the human condition in painting and photography". More information here.
        Last edited by Magda; 09-25-2010, 03:26 PM.


        • #5
          Temple Grandin
          Two or three years ago I saw a mini series on Arte, the public French-German television. The programme was called "Expedition into the brain", a documentary about the life of "savants": people with am extremely special gift, usually combined with a psychic deficit. One of them was Temple Grandin, a scientist with Asperger autism, who is a specialist and teaching professor for stock breeding and animal psychology. She is responsible for that we can eat our Big Macs with a good conscience, because she developed guiding fences for McDonald's that lead cattle peacefully into the slaughter. In the interview she said two things that really sadly fascinated me: "I think like a cow", and "I never fall in love". But this is due to her gift and to her Asperger. Because of the latter she has difficulties to tolerate physical closeness, and that's why she developed a device that sort of imitates intimacy: two leather cushions which can embrace her like living bodies. Otherwise she is a highly reputed consultant both for Asperger questions and for "humane" stock breeding.

          [Edit] I remember now that she comes to the results of her work by visualising things. Mathematics and language are not easily approachable for her - she learned to speak at the age of five, which does not mean that she is unable to think logically - only that it is a visual logic she uses. Thus she understands immediately that "cows can be frightened by a coloured piece of candy paper in the grass". [/Edit]
          Last edited by Magda; 09-26-2010, 07:03 AM.


          • #6
            A brief – and yet very incomplete – first rendering of the evening in Cologne with Mark’s lecture/performance/play on ‘The hopeless animal and the end of nature’ or how Mark indicated 'Parable n° 9' at the Wallraf Richartz Museum. Where to start is indeed a difficult question. After several hours travelling from Belgium to Cologne, Germany with the obliged bad weather, traffic jams and all sorts of other minor issues on the road (i.e. bad turns, hectic traffic…) I arrived in time for the event. At the beautiful location of the Stiftersaal of the Wallraf Richartz, Mark was introduced and the audience was submerged in what may be a small portion of the first rough take on what’s to come, namely THE … Mark talked us through the idea that the evening would involve a story with no real ‘definitive’ structure. Maybe some people would leave the conference room, maybe some would fall asleep… This could alter the story as it unfolded. Mark just had some small notes with him that guided him through the story with no few philosophical sidewalks. This would definitely not become a lecture of a written story, it would more or less evolve more organically. As Mark states: 'what I do here, is not what I do. What I say here, is not what I say'.

            The main story was roughly said the tale of a woodcutter which MZD called R. (for Richartz as the location of the lecture) Max (look at the phonetics) who is a hunter in after hours, so he kills things. R. Max who is deprived of his stepbrother with whom he doens't have a close relationship with. His stepbrother had a childless marriage and after his death his wife is leaving the country. They had two cats, who are passed on to R. Max. The first male cat ( I don't seem to recall it's name) is a real typical hunting animal that brings mice, birds… back at home. This really is the cat that R. Max can identify himself with. The second female cat, R. Max calls Sybil (! in fact it's name was something else but Mark intrudes in the story by giving this cat the name of his own cat), is totally the opposite an and just hisses at him, scratches ,shits and pisses everywhere in his /appartment and doens't come home with prey. So this cat is the one R. Max totally doesn’t affiliate with. He first thinks about getting rid of both cats, since they were his stephbrother's and what has he got to do with these animals? He could easily go into the woods and chop their heads off, but he isn't an 'unkind' man and instead he decides to take care of both cats. Over the years he waters them like little furry plants that move around the /appartment. Sybil sometimes emerges for food, drink and warmth.

            After some time, while petting Sybil, R. Max discovers a small lump on the back of her neck. And he is disgusted by it, it's wet, soft and oozing some pus. A sudden problem has occurred to an animal that's a real prowler. R. Max starts to think about it and realizes that Sybil is really sick and his relationship with this cat, he really had no affection with, starts to change. And R. Max is worried and starts hoping (that Sybil will eventually cure and get well?). At this point Mark guided us through to the more philosophical side of the notion HOPE and how it relates to people and how animals are deprived (?) of this notion. So R. Max goes to the vet where he gets to hear that Sybill is really sick and won’t make it and that the best solution would be to put her asleep. But R. Max can’t take this decision, even when he knows that this is the most rational and humane (?) reaction. He encounters a friend who tells him at a bar that he put his dog asleep as soon as the vet told that the dog couldn’t be saved. But R. Max just can’t take this definitive decision and brings Sybil back home where he builds this small box which is nice, warm and soft on the inside. R. Max does everything in his power to make it Sybill as comfortable as possible and he keeps on hoping (that (s)he will eventually get better)… R. Max thinks that when Sybil still enjoys some play or some food, it’s good enough to let her be and he tends her. Even the other cat sees that the situation changed dramatically and start to behave different. Then one day Sybill lies really still in it’s box and gazes at R. Max and they ‘see’ each other (see also the Jacques Derrida story about his encounter in the bathroom with his cat and the way he feels ashamed and naked in front of his cat). And out of nowhere Sybil jumps to R. Max, right into his leap and there she dies… This part really affected Mark as well as the audience, since we all know what happened to the real Sybil. After the dead of Sybil both R. Max and the oterh aren't the same anymore, they've changed.
            As stated this is about 15% of the lecture/reading/play/performance by Mark. There were an awfull lot of most intriguing things said about Valentino Breitenberg, Derrida, the psychology of chalk (!) which may come back to me in due days. But here you already have a first take on the evening in Cologne. Hopefully someone will be able to post and audio and/or video reel of this evening since it was loaded with things that need to be explored.
            Afterwards we got the opportunity to shake hands with Mark and get some books signed, which really was a thrill for me. Also a big hello to Magda for the great time in the foyer! You're more then welcome Magda to complete the blanks for me.
            Still recovering…
            Last edited by DownwardSpiral; 10-05-2010, 04:02 AM.


            • #7
              Nicely done, DownwardSpiral, and a big hallo back, it's been a pleasure! Yes, it was like a play on a catwalk, wasn't it? I think there's something to be said about the end of the lecture which concerned "the end of nature", but being in a hurry I am not able to word the impressions that are spinning in my head and need to be settled. So thanks that you took the part, DownwardSpiral.

              [Edit]The rest is moved[/Edit]
              Last edited by Magda; 10-07-2010, 05:27 AM.


              • #8

                Here's a fairly good recording sent via the Wallraf-Richartz Museum:


                • #9
                  Many, many thanks !


                  • #10
                    Thanks Hazel!


                    • #11
                      Just finished listening to that recording and I'm darn near floored. Danielewski has this weird way of hooking his words into whatever you happen to be thinking about and then throwing them right over the horizon. It was nice to hear a semi-improvisation of his be as dense and fertile as his writing (and yet a little more open), and even nicer to see him struggling with issues in his own writing (e.g. his mention to Kasey of "uncompletion" and the improvised nature of the lecture/"parable"/dictend).
                      I'm not sure whether I'll listen to it again; on one hand it's as dense as his writing and there were quite a few elements that went over my head, but on the other hand those were qualities of the (live) performance he anticipated and even acknowledged.


                      • #12

                        Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin parabola, from Greek parabol, from paraballein, to compare : para-, beside; see para-1 + ballein, to throw; see gwel- in Indo-European roots

                        1. a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson.
                        2. a statement or comment that conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison, analogy, or the like.

                        1275–1325; ME parabil < LL parabola comparison, parable, word < Gk parabolḗ comparison, equiv. to para- para-1 + bolḗ a throwing

                        1. allegory, homily, apologue.


                        • #13
                          my take, and just that...

                          I have to say I’m not a man who enjoys the suffering of anyone. That may sound like a no-brainer, but there are entire latitudes and longitudes of people who thrill and delight at the suffering of others. Just thought I’d get that out. It was hard to hear Mark share the experience of Sybil – this was something he only glinted at in our interview. I am glad I wasn’t there in person, it would have felt too voyeuristic for my tastes.

                          Mark’s speech (for lack of a more succinct definition, as “performance” seems too cheap, and “talk” seems too septic) or perhaps his confession (and by this I am not implying anything religious, but of a shared secret, his share) - that’s what I’ll call it, Mark’s “share”. Mark’s share at this event was pretty profound for me on several levels, not the least of which was the inescapable truth that no amount of intelligence, no amount of philosophical hedging, no amount of reverent faith can prepare us for suffering. I have my own personal maps and trails for this particular journey, for perhaps another time. For now let’s just say I empathize and then some.

                          There are no constructs of the mind, the heart, nor anything in between that can assure us safe passage through a shared anguish, a suffering be it from ani-mal or something more human. We can endure our own suffering so much easier than when we are witness to another’s and yet powerless to do anything about it. It is this particular brand of hopelessness, of impotence, of abject uselessness, that we are always at a loss to comprehend, let alone get on top of.

                          Why is this? I hold to it that we were never designed for it. Suffering was not part of our original makeup. As such, we do the best we can with what we have. We are all of us trying our best at round-holing a square peg.

                          R Max understands this. He understands the situation. He sees it for what it is. It is neither fair nor unfair, it simply is, and despite the neutrality of that existence, it definitely tips the scales towards pain, guilt, tears, regret, fear and a general anger at the gods real or perceived. To be presented with a problem without a readily available answer is a cruel trick, and one that is not allowed in nature (doesn’t nature have a solution to every problem with which it is presented?), mathematics, and shouldn’t be allowed in our lives, yet there it is. Or is it? I propose there is a clear and definitive answer to that equation, though it does require effort on our part, something more than just negative reaction to the situation. Something more that R Max seems to understand, at least prematurely.

                          And Sybil too seems to understand this, though in what we might come to understand as a more benign way, might very well in fact be a more proper way – a simple accepting of that which she cannot change. She deals with her lump, she accepts the kindnesses of R Max, her protector and provider, she also accepts the sight of the finality, and makes her leap, physically and other.

                          I get from this, aside from the very real statement that “there is no greater bliss than this… than to end another’s suffering”, that regardless of what you choose to subscribe to, there is a spiritual need in all of us. There is a manifestation of hope, of a future - as well as a sense of responsibility to the present, that begs to be filled. Do we fill it with God? Allah? Buddha? Jehovah? Jesus? Heroin? Literature? Ourselves? Charity? Academia? Or do we push it down like a hunger that growls within us and yet we know the dinner bell is hours, days away? Sybil and R Max represent, to me, the aftermath of a loss – the static hiss of a broken connection. The central theme here is loss. The seemingly sado-masochistic promise of a relationship that is torn asunder.

                          Loss is a powerful motivator, and a more powerful catalyst, as was expressed in the changing of both R Max and Ellum/Elan (couldn’t guess at the phonetics). R Max, the mighty hunter, breaks down. Even the cyclical nature of R max’ desire to be with a woman, not as a temporal girlfriend, but a longing, a meaningful relationship, seems to be more readily apparent after Sybil’s death. After Sybil’s leap, he is in a sense rewarded with this fulfillment of his ultimate want. Something fertile and hopeful in the positive sense, not something hopeful in the sense of longing without suffering.

                          The Hebraic proposal of the new kingdom of freedom, that Mark alludes to, and how it can only come about, not through apocalyptic change, but through a shift, is a one as well. Too often secular religion points to Revelation as proof that the world has to be destroyed for us to receive something better. Those who study the verses know better. Why would one burn down a for but a few rats? Keep the , lose the rats – shift versus change. So the proposal of a shift versus a wiping of the slate is a one, as as the bible (or at least the bible interpreted as it should be). The changes needed to effect real outcomes rarely come in a diluvian manifestation, but moreso in said subtle shifts. Subtle, of course, being relative.

                          If our central theme is loss, then our central dilemma is what to do with it.

                          Can we control it? Can we will any ani-mal not to die? To suffer? Is there any way we can fix that?

                          And if so, how do we go about administering that particular inoculation? Is it through science? Technology? Is there some religion that really has it figured out? Are we ignoring the obvious? Is God patiently waiting for us to suss it out? Is it diet? Will our intelligence, as was alluded to, increase our ability for policy change along with our ever-increasing communal IQ – will the tide of our collective self-improvement manifest itself in a raising of our all our societal ships? Or are we, as Thom York would suggest, “Are you such a dreamer/ To put the world to rights?”

                          And if not, if hope is hopeless, then how do we cope with it? Do we tell grieving parents that the god they worship, a god of love needed another angel, implying some sort of selfishness in a ham-fisted attempt at comfort? Do we worry over the outcome of a life spent in debauchery? Do we find a dull comfort in the idea that we all go someplace nice? Or that we all become societal compost? Do we create a box for the object of our love and protect it from the Ellum/Elans of the world? Do we seek refuge in rationalization? Do we seek a more exotic antidote in literature, in art, in a specific song that encapsulates grief and memory, hope and healing all in one work? What recipe can we concoct to make the salve that softens this?

                          I see THE through new lenses, and they may not be accurate ones, but I think they are a far-sighted prescription at this point, and I’m able to take in a greater landscape as to what Mark is going after here.

                          I think we are seeing a man’s grasp at loss and hope. At suffering and our inbred impotence in the face of it. Mark wants a solution to it all. That’s my take on Parable #9.

                          But then it is MY TAKE, based on my own loss, my own experience, my own guilt in the feline gaze if you will, so take it for what it’s worth.

                          And if I’m right, then 27 volumes seems to me to be a proper number.


                          • #14
                            I'll probably give it another listen or four, but first thoughts it reminded me of something I pondered years ago. Which is that the root of all evil is the human imagination. Perhaps, that is the only difference between us and animals. Our over-active imaginations. The ability to think about things such as loss, hope, shame, a future. MZD mentioned Navidson's cat and dog and how they were unable to enter that part of the . Maybe its because they couldn't imagine it's depths (he might have said that, can't remember, thus the need to listen to it a couple more times ).


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by heartbreak
                              Maybe its because they couldn't imagine it's depths (he might have said that, can't remember, thus the need to listen to it a couple more times ).
                              It basically says it in the book. The epigraphs especially.