The Journalist and the murderer - Janet Malcolm

True Crime!


Real people seem relatively uninteresting in comparison [to characters in novels], because they are so much more complex, ambiguous, unpredictable, and particular than people in novels. The therapy of psychoanalysis attempts to restore to the neurotic patient the freedom to be uninteresting that he lost somewhere along the way. (p. 122-3)

I am reading a series of books by Janet Malcolm my good friend Elliott lent me. I just finished one of the books, The Journalist and the Murderer and it was both a gripping reading and completely thought provoking on a matter that I thought I would have no interest in – Journalism. The whole book is about the subject-writer relationship. If I thought about writers at all (non-fiction, fiction, journalistic, and otherwise) I never considered a writer in relation to anything, but instead sort of like a monad isolated from the rest of existence – floating it her own constructed reality.

How much richer my experience is now!

So this book is really about exploring this dyad.  What are the responsibilities that one has to another in the writer-subject relationship.  What are the psychologies of each that propels them into the relationship, what are the structures of each particular writer-subject relationship.

But, I have not all together given up my earlier monadology.  When a writer writes a book she enters into relation with a subject. This could be a journalistic/non-fiction subject or a fictional/purely imaginary subject.  As this relation comes into being, there is a third thing that happens, and that is the creation of the milieu, or what we could alternately call the environment, or ecology, or WORLD of the relationship.

It is the construction of this world that will ultimately be the book, or from which the book will derive. The construction of this world cause other relations to appear, such as the relationship, between witnesses and friends, or relations from shared experiences.  A network structure arises, but from the point of view of this original writer-subject relationship. However as the physics of this created world unfold, it is possible that this original relationship changes, or that it becomes less primary.

What is the role of psychology to this?  I opened this blog post with a quote about psychology, and the next book by Janet Malcolm in my pile from Elliott, is about Freud (and which echos the libel lawsuit between Jeff and Joe). There is this manifest, present thing, in the creation of the story. But then there is this hidden world that gives dynamism to the whole thing and creates a certain vitality. This is perhaps the difference between a good book and a bad book, a story with a certain dunamis and a story with a certain stasis. So what gives rise to this vitality, what turns the relations that create this world (of the story) into a humming vibrating thing?  It is that each node in the relation map have their own psychology, in the original greek meaning of the word: psūkhā́ or soul, or desire.  This is the physics of the story, but it is not a psychology in the way we normally mean it – as some mental explanation for an action.

This book as a whole was vital. And completely different from most, if anything, that I read today of contemporary non-fiction (because it is so static).

It was written with such vitality and search for a truth that does not exist, or for a deeper understanding that does,  is missing in long form journalism today, or in books that arise from long form journalism.   There is something so formulaic and camera ready about journalistic non-fiction these days. Perhaps this was the case when this book was written as well  (1990), and Janet Malcolm is just a welcome anomaly. But it does seem related to a pervasive risk aversion that pervades our culture. It also seems to be related to the rise of mediation, as people package themselves (commodify) for consumption on various social media channels.


Brassier on Intelligence & Reason / Hegel on Love – Reading Group Readings


These are some notes I made on the reading for my reading group a while ago. The first reading was a short blog post by Ray Brassier on Intelligence Vs Reason.   The closest I can get to making any meaning out of this blog post is that it posits that the way out of reason (or critical philosophy) is a negative philosophy (like negative theology). We must talk about all those things Parmenides writes we cannot talk about.  (IE those things that are NOT). Also we must move away from anthroposophy/correlationism/etc – perhaps practice some sort of object oriented ontology.

Reason is biological/organic/mammalian, intelligence is something else (ie we can have artificial intelligence).  The way beyond reason towards intelligence is through negating the human (the rational). “To be in the real does not imply that you are aware of this rather than that, a man rather than a thing. We know ourselves to be nothing… And it is this fundamentally arbitrary identification of the real with the human individual and transcendental individualism which must be abolished in order to definitively separate the real from being.”  

The idea is that the real cannot be apprehended through reason (which is tied to humanness), but only through intelligence (I am not sure what that is).

“The real is not effectuated ‘once for all time’ according to a multiplicity which is conclusively nothing other than those empirical beings (supposedly) human, but occurs never and for nothing; this is precisely why liberating the intelligence-(of)-the-real from its bio-phenomenological base liquidates man once and for all.”

This makes me sad, because I am all about the multiplicity! The one is fascist. Is it really correct to oppose the real to the nothing and the intelligence to biology? This also seems sexist and regressive.  It is the age old esoteric ascetic dream of liberating the spirit from the base body. That would be the original hylomorphism.

Next up Hegel’s Fragment on love. 

First I am compelled to reveal that while looking for a picture to post at the top of this blog post I found a band called – Kegels for Hegel! I love the internet.

I really enjoyed Fragment on Love. Google it, read it, it’s only 7 pages long. The gist is that love dissolve the subject/object distinction, with poetic language full of feeling(s). There is an analysis of what love means from a dialectic perspective, the types of things/people that can fall in love, and what is love.  I have not read a philosophical treatise on love in a while, it was a treat.

Some choice fragments:

“Nothing is unconditioned; nothing carries the root of its own being in itself.” The ultimate argument for turtles all the way down.  “True union, or love proper, exists only  between living beings who are  alike in power and thus  in one another’s eyes living beings.”   This is interesting because it posits that love can only exist when we recognize the other as a living being, not as an inanimate object, and that recognition is reciprocated.

Millennials refer to this as being ‘seen’.

There is a discussion of love and private property and the relationship to shame – which I do not entirely understand: “love is indignant if part of the individual is severed and held back as a private property.”  There is then some poorly argued generalizations about sex workers and tyrants feeling shame. I do not agree with these statements, but lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

I do find it interesting that Hegel talks about shame in relation to love, since I never really thought about shame as related to love (or the opposite of love). I would argue that shame is a tool of social control, not a fundamental part of human nature or an ethical category. But I find the relation of shame to love, very insightful.

“A pure heart is not ashamed of love; but it is ashamed if its love is incomplete; it upbraids itself if there is some hostile power which hinders love’s culmination. Shame enters only through the recollection of the body, through the presence of an [exclusive] personality.” 

Hegel’s argument appears to identify identify shame with somatics, shame is something the body feels – which I would agree with.  It is not part of the Aristotelean outline of virtues  (where there is an appropriate place to feel on the shame/shameless-ness continuum. If shame is in the body, then it is not an ethical category. I would put ethical categories as subject to reason, but I digress.

I agree that shame is a product of the ego, and not only related to what people might do in love (ego eradication in the joining with another). Sometimes I feel shame about working on a personal creative project, or shame about being excited working on a collaborative project. There is perhaps something erotic about the excitement I feel and the physiological responses are what cause me to feel shame. Maybe there is something about the interaction between the mind and body which gives rise to shame. This is a concept worth exploring (note to self).

Shame dissolves, when overcome by love, since love dissolves the ego, or personality or feeling of separateness. This is probably equally true for love of another person, or love of a particular practice.

The final paragraph is a bizarre meditation on private property. It posits that private property it is opposed to love/ the union of love. Private property is referred to as a dead object (as opposed to a live object that can love back or capable of being an object of love).  Dead objects are the knot in love’s journey. So as long as an individual is in relation to dead objects/private property, she cannot be in union with love.  That is pretty brutal- maybe the problem with modern times.


Writing about Eros Vs Writing about Pleasure


I recently just read two book sort of about pleasure and sort of about eros: Crudo and This is Pleasure (on another person’s recommendation). First off, Crudo by Olivia Laing is f*ing brilliant. It is about Olivia, the author, who is in the process of getting married in 2017. The story takes place right before, during, and after her wedding. However, post-modern twist, it is written as if the author is Kathy Acker, the experimental artist, dead since 1997. It is a recording and reaction to current events, marriage, subjectivity, and narration, birds, food, whatever crosses the author’s path and can be commented on in 140 characters or less. The writing is dynamic, propelled forward by its own momentum, like a social media feed, or news ticker at the bottom of CNN.

Immediately I imagined ways I could knock off this exquisite novel.  Imagine autofiction told by Chantal Akerman, autofiction told as beautiful cinematographic, detail oriented films (or sequence of shots). Imagine autofiction told by an AI, by a video game, by kant (or Reza Negerestani – just got off a board meeting with him – actually that would be an amazing novel). Imagine, in perhaps a Jungian sense, that ourselves and our consciousnesses are comprised of multiple daimons or impulses or desires.  Then, we can interpret Crudo as a meditation  on one’s life external recording and internal reaction  through the lens of one aspect of this personality. There is something mythic in Crudo. Kathy Acker is the god(ess) that Olivia channels in writing her own life.

Next I listened to “This is Pleasure” by Mary Gaitskill.   This is a genre of writing that I don’t like. When I read this I was reminded of another story I also don’t like, Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, but at least Mary Gaitskill does not use magical realism. So what is my complaint? THE STORY IS NOT TRUE. It is too well made. It is like the well made play – like Hedda Gabler – anesthetized- although instead of a character blowing their brains out – I want to blow my brains out.

What does it mean for fiction not to be true? This is sort of a strange complaint to make of fiction. But I always imagine that fiction is the lie that is more true than the truth.  But there is no truth here since the story is a hermetically sealed perfect confection- there is only the story. The only interface to reality is the conceit around #metoo.

Yes this is a #meeto story. One third of the way through this story, I am slow, I was like why am I listening to this, and then I realized… Oh this is about #meeto.  Still not a good reason to listen, but at least I understand why the author wrote this. Because otherwise it makes no sense.

I am aggravated by stories with a punch line. I am not aggravated by stories with a good post-modern twist. That is my personal proclivity.

The story is written from multiple points of view, Rashomon style, about the actions of a man (Quinn), and how he interacts with women, which is almost entirely sexual without being seductive.  He will smack a woman on the butt with something, but then go to lunch in a platonic or non sexual fashion.  Okay, not sure what that means. Quinn’s is the only male voice we hear. The rest of the characters are various women he interacts with over the years.  There are some lines that are so offensive, and put into the mouths of women, that I cannot imagine how a woman wrote this.

Why this book is called “This is pleasure” is beyond me.  There is no pleasure, it seems Quinn is not even pleasuring himself.  It does seem like there is this reduction of sex to power, since the story opens with the line that Quinn bragged that he can understand what every woman wants to hear (or something like that). So his escapades seem just to be a drawn out personal experiment in proving this hypothesis.  I had no new insights into me too or anything, The only thing that seemed similar between Quinn and real life me too events, were the actions.

Not sure why I felt compelled to post about this, but I read these stories back to back and my contrasting opinion to both, especially while editing the tower, compelled me to record my thoughts.