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January 13, 2008

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patrick j. mullins

This is wonderful and then becomes funny because I've been out of the loop and had never heard of a 'whatever being'. When I started reading it, I thought that a 'whatever being' must be just what it turns out to be, but that nobody would have produced this particular nomenclature yet. As recently as 2 years ago, a 19-year-old I knew went on and on about his wonderful traffic violations and other juvenile delinquency, always concluding with 'that's the way it is with me...if you don't like it, whatever...' I thought he was one of the biggest idiots I'd ever met, and still do--even for his age (as teenagers, some legal transgression can be considered cool, but I didn't think 30 speeding tickets, leading to his mother having to throw him into jail for drunk driving one night constituted anything 'cool'...whatever...).

This makes me think about things you and others have brought up about ideas of jobs and work and especially 'professionalism', because these are all very modernist, aren't they? And when you've brought up the 'informal economy', that still teeters a bit toward the abnormal, but less so than it did, say, even two years ago: The informal economy is perhaps related to the energy of job-hopping (which thought is enough to make you want to kill yourself) as a means of making ends meet not only minimally but even well--it's not the same as job-hopping, but they're both modern modes that don't have any relation to the traditionalist modes of what you have as a professor, or traditional pianists and singers and dancers and actors (if they become established) have. And these modes aren't dead, but they're getting leaner and meaner, aren't they?

Agree with all the love stuff, new loves don't cancel old ones, in fact they always eventually enhance the old ones. All the more reason for informal loves, if one is not too...whatever...

patrick j. mullins

"modern modes that don't have any relation to the traditionalist modes of "

'modern' in the sense of current and contemporary, not modernist.

Joe

How does this differ from Kitaro Nishida proposing a blending of Zen and Hegel? Specifically, when he claims life is an identification with the contradiction inherent to Spirit's self-positing. Spirit or Self in this sense is only fully realized when it identifies with what it is not, which is to say the internal diremption and relating of self and other. This is not merely an identification of self with other, a Romantic re-unification, but an identification with the dispensation of self and other entirely.

Nishida, influenced by Zen as he is, does not use a rhetoric of Being, but as Ha Tai Kim puts it, a rhetoric of Nothingness. "Nothingness," however, has the notorious history of misapprehending what has been more favourably translated as "emptiness," understood really to mean emptiness of being. It was the term both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche would encounter in their exposure to Buddhism, and probably counts significantly to their much contested views about Buddhism. Specifically, it brought about the view of the Buddhist ethos as an absolutely passive one. The rhetoric of Nothingness/Emptiness, of destruction of Self, scared the bejesus out of most of the 19th Century who knew anything about it. I wonder if there is something of this in the phrase "whatever being."

Whatever-being sounds like the serenely passive character that seems to trouble both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Timothy Morton writes an impressive essay on Buddhism influence on Hegel, and his own curious-revulsion with a Tibetan Buddhist painting. It also sounds like the existence that Sartre claims precedes essence. In a more contemporary vein, as I think whatever being back through Nishida, it also sounds like the gap of subjectivity Zizek goes on about.

I suppose I'm asking the same question you are, if that question is what is new or helpful in this notion, but I'm turning it back on the notion itself. Perhaps I just have to go back and read more Agamben and now Pettman.

Craig

This is an aspect of Agamben that I've never really gotten... how does whatever being and particular being relate to zoe and bios?

glen

interesting disscussion of the tension between interchangeability and irreplaceability, and seriality.

Adam Thurschwell

Great post, Jodi. I agree with you; I'll start looking for "postsovereign subjects" after I encounter my first sovereign one (haven't met one yet, although I've met quite a few who thought they were . . .). Despite the "coming" adjective, I don't think Agamben thinks of whatever beings as "emergent post-" anything. What he's trying to describe is really a "pre-" concept; human life before (in some nontemporal sense) the imposition of essential identities and forms by sovereignties of various kinds (political, linguistic, ontological) -- a zoe that's its own bios, as he says at the end of Homo Sacer. And I think Joe is exactly right to detect a cross of Zen and Hegel in this (although I haven't read Nishida -- have to now). I've always thought that Agamben is a mystic at heart -- or to be more precise, a "philosophe of '67" rather than '68, of Be-Ins and the Summer of Love rather than barricades and the summer of revolution. (That's why I also agree that there's an inherent passivity to his political positioning.) Which also explains his attraction to kabalah, since the ultimate source (not the right word, but whatever . . . ) of whatever being lies in the linguistic being of beings -- "language as such", "the thing itself," "being-in-language" and so on. As you know, I've been deeply suspicious of his shtick, but I've come to admire and enjoy it, especially when he talks about love -- I just don't think it tells us a damn thing about politics or "the political," or helps us get to any actual "coming [political] communities." But hey, politics isn't everything -- in fact, there are things that are better than politics, like love, for instance . . . .

Jodi

Thanks, Adam. Your comment also answers, I think, Craig's question above.

Seb

I wonder if the idea of coming communities based on inessential commonality underestimate a reactive hardening of commonalities - much in the way that certain countries ("threatened" by falling birthrates & rising immigration) dig their heels into some imaginary cultural ideal.

But then I wonder if such a reaction wouldn't just accelerate a proliferation of whatever-being: a lumping together of outsiders into an mass undefinable in every way except that they are not "native" or "local" or whatever other myopic term would be used. This is what I've seen amongst the immigrant community (if I dare call it such) in various countries.

patrick j. mullins

Yesterday I saw an ad in a Chase window that said 'With OLN you're free to whatever'. I need to check it out again, and even then I had to go back and make sure it really said it like that. I hadn't thought of 'whatever' as a verb yet, rather that they'd still write 'do whatever', but they'd lose business without 'be whatever', and both would be too busy (all of it is, but nevermind that.) But 'whatever' seems to be an almost-verb just like 'whatever' is almost-something wherever you find it. Implied more brazenly than in other forms may be 'do your goddam whatever without telling us anything about it, please...'

Whatever is all about degradation.

Jodi

fascinating--great catch with the OLN

but why degradation? as in information decay over time (poor VHS)? or something more humiliating? or something like diffusion/dispersion into the non-definite? I'm not saying all this because I am pro-whatever being or whatever verbing or even whatevering but because I'm trying to get a better handle on the phenomena we're describing/witnessing.

patrick j. mullins

All of those things you mean, especially the planned obsolescence, even though maybe, you know, like, 'dee-graaaayyyy-dinnng' is too strong a term..

In all of 'whatever' is an implicit apathy, isn't there? For kids who use it more than anyone else, it's a coolness, which accompanies the 'it's like...' which I bring up again because that weird use of 'like' has always been a symptom, and Gore Vidal pointed it out as far back as 'Myra Breckenridge'; meaning it started even earlier, in the early 60s, even before the hippies. BUT--what is interesting about 'it's like...' is that it's never gone out of style, but has simply sped up in its use, to such point where the most manic don't even say a phrase or clause without it.

When slow-moving types use whatever in speech, it refers to things like not wanting to exert much more energy into reaching for something or looking something up, because what we have will do. We are too demoralized to care what the correct usage or answer is.

I think maybe since it always indicates something vaguely okay 'either way', that the problem is mainly that even when it does really matter to be exact, a laziness creeps in...especially in some of the big chain stores where the rhythm of the exchange even changes. By now, I've learned, for example, how to navigate Duane Reade and Rite-Aid customs, legends, myths, rituals and edicts; but when I first started using Duane Reade in 1994, I was still mostly used to small drugstores where the exchange was still on a smart, sharp scale and some personal attention was paid (at my Rite-Aid that I use all the time, I recognize all the people that work there and know what has changed in the place, as when they stopped stocking the piles of Village Voice, but they neither recognize me--even in the store! I'm used to the barbaric NYC custom of being unctuous in the neighborhood store and ignoring you on the same street--nor do they know what has happened to the Village Voice non-supply.

There's another version of 'language whatever' that I think is part of the whatever, but am not sure, but that I find more amusing and intelligent; it's like a jazzy riff on 'whatever', a rare decision to 'own whatever' and make it one's own (as I write this, I see this is the degrading part, it's rarely given any new life, and just fills in time and space): In 2004, September, on one of my LA trips, I was unsure of how to pay for my bus fare, or didn't have a token, and was asking which one of three ways I named it was necessary to do; and the driver said 'Eithah one you waunt..' which I thoroughly loved, because he made me realize that it was not important that all three of my options be considered, but rather if I would do at least one of them out of two, that would be all we need discuss.

Jodi

"that it was not important that all three of my options be considered, but rather if I would do at least one of them out of two, that would be all we need discuss."

This is so wonderful. It captures a something else that I suspect idealistic versions of whatever being my hope for but which the apathy drowns out. Whatever suggests that one could not care less; "either way" suggests that there is more than one way to get to where one wants to be. And, that there is no need to rehearse a bunch of options, or make sure that every possibility is considered, that this sort of minute parsing is (slowlee slowleeee) is really not necessary because 'eithah one you waunt' will do just fine.

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