mapping costello

Just finished reading “Elizabeth Costello” by Coetzee.  Fantastic book.  I decided to try to map out/ dwell over some of the major themes/tensions explored, came up with this little bit, and decided to post it.  I’m worried it will be incomprehensible to anyone but myself, but maybe it can serve as a recommendation or commiseration w/ others seeking to dwell a bit upon finishing:

(To begin with the oppositions/identities:)

sympathy -vs- ideological projection
(‘Putting yourself in another’s shoes’ vs ‘aggressively attributing allegorical significance to things “as they are”‘)

‘things as they are’ -vs- rational deduction
(‘actual tree’ -vs- ‘science of biology’)

but: the impossibility of accessing ‘things as they are’ in any meaningful way (see first tension)

‘becoming bat’ -vs- sympathy
(why do we care more about pandas than cattle?)

and: holocaust -vs- slaughterhouse


heidegger double-whammy:  1) “no longer cogito ergo sum,” but “being”
2) “agriculture is now a mechanized industry, the production of corpses in a death chamber is essentially the same thing.”

‘slaughterhouse as antecedent’
‘animal rights as practical safeguard to human rights’
but that’s not right; rather, witness the parallel:
“At every turn Sultan is driven to think the less interesting thought. From the purity of speculation (Why do men behave like this?) he is relentlessly propelled towards lower, practical, instrumental reason (How does one use this to get that?) and thus towards acceptance of himself as primarily an organism with an appetite that needs to be satisfied.”

Then: (think ‘ideological projection’): the ‘rationalist’ conception of dumb animals as ‘biological automata’ is unstuck: they are biological automata only because we project our worldview of instrumental reason.
Likewise, the worldview of instrumental reason renders us biological automata.  (our need to exist in the market drives us from ‘pure speculation’ to instrumental reason)

Then, either we elevate animals (by valuing ‘joy’ and ‘being in the world’) or we degrade ourselves (by valuing abstract reason/logos)
But either way we are no more or less dignified than animals.

But remember the irony of thinking of this text in terms of neat deductions
(“She hates sentences that hinge on because. The jaws of the trap snap shut, but the mouse, every time, has escaped.”)

Then: “Will joy be her epitaph? ‘If you wish it.'”

So we are left with joy, but that mouse has escaped.
(The logical structure that depends on deductions would have killed it.)

To go on a bit longer:

(not only animals:  gender/ national)

Costello (Coetzee’s female alter ego) repudiates feminist academics who laud her for “taking back literary-historical female characters,” because she believes that humans can sympathize adequately; that JJoyce really can inhabit his female characters (as opposed to merely projecting a masculinist worldview onto them).

Her son, John, named after the author-Coetzee, apparently agrees, recognizing himself and others in their life in her books, both ‘indecently’ and ‘insightfully’ using/sympathizing/exposing them.

This is also illustrated by the mere existence of the character Costello.

But isn’t Costello just a vehicle of Coetzee’s own ideology (at some points it seems conspicuous masculine), or his network of meanings or allegorical interpretation of ‘real life’?

And then the ‘war with animals, that has just ended recently a couple hundred years ago’ passage, along with the ‘breaking bread’ passage.  Are the ‘rationalist’ categories of, for example, ‘human vs animal’ even useful?  Can it just become a matter of who we want to ‘break bread with?’  With whom we can share joy?

This appears to resolve the “why do we care more about pandas than cattle question” as a potential problematic for animal rights arguments.  (pandas are more fun at parties)

But what does this do to ‘sympathy’?  If we adopt Costello’s Joy/Being/Becoming-other/Sympathizing framework, do we then exclude those we simply don’t like from our joyful inter-species family, for example those analytic philosophers who would justify imperialism and slaughterhouses?  But she also warns us (as she certainly should) against exclusionary frameworks!  But exclusionary frameworks also preclude Costello’s idea of sympathy!

And: (to go on slightly longer):  The presence of power!– How is the joyous family formed/governed/separated from its rivals?

Costello as reformer-priest -vs- Costello as controlling and self-righteous — Can a reformer-priest be all-inclusive?  She must enact change, pass judgment.  She must say what is right.

But also, she “doesn’t have any beliefs.”

She is just a vessel through which Being can present itself in all its naturalness and joy.  (but she knows she is not outside of ideology, and she could be a false prophet)

 And how does Coetzee’s status as white south african/australian writer factor into this?  And what about the passages on the exotic/unassimulable?  Which Costello correctly identifies as creating exclusionary pockets of humanity (if we think of Africa as ‘exotic’ / intrinsically different, then we will never be able to access it, inhabit it, or authentically sympathize with it).

But then Costello advises the self-consciously exotic African writer to rectify this by finding his african audience– and writing for them.  (Talk about exclusive and closed off!)

And how perfect, in the final letter, that Coetzee creates a fictional presence (sympathizes her into existence) only to have her condemn her husband’s insistence on an allegorical significance for all things!  Her very existence runs counter to the argument she makes, the very purpose of which warranted her existence.

Then the Being/Joy framework runs into many of the same problems as the rationalist/humanist one (the problem of ideology, the exercise of power, the necessity of exclusion).

What matters then, but outcome?  (A joyous family certainly does sound better than holocaust/slaugherhouse.  Pure speculation certainly is nicer than instrumental reason.)

So do we end with a political slogan:  Power to the poets!

(But surely that is a joke.)


image searching the nebraskan countryside (sad children’s poem)

When he got on his bike,
to go to the river,
he was honked off the highway,
and walked instead though a ditch.

Though he soon found his way
to a quieter street,
where he would bike now more slowly,
while listening close

for small imperfections,
like his brake,
now off-center,
rubs on the wheel.

He gets off his bike,
he hopes he can fix it
but it was all he could do
to imagine the lake.

So come the next day,
he went on a walk,
but it was already too late
for him to go by that way.

He was walking so slowly,
and bored the whole way.
Listening to headphones,
while traffic blew the notes away.

Then he was called in for work,
and when he picked up his phone
all he could think,
was: ‘why was it this,
of all the sounds that I could have missed?’

though he knew if he’d have ignored it,
he’d soon have to forgo
the privilege of eating
and he’d starve soon enough.

So he wonders at how lucky
he truly must be
to have his walk to the river
ruined in this way.

Then on the coming weekend
he called up his close friend
but they could not walk together
again by the lake.

It’s been years now,
and they’ve come so far since meeting,
that his close friend, he now lives
in the next state.

They talk on the weekends
and sometimes the evenings
although the friend’s commute
sometimes stretches all night.

Maybe a year or two later,
they plan, though quite sadly,
‘we will both quit our jobs,
and buy a home on the bay.’

He knows it’s expensive
and carries the matters
of insurance and eating
and paying off loans

But the bay’s not the plan,
it’s just there to kill time.
Something he can laugh at a bit later,
when he’s begun to feel great.

A Wage Slave to Love

– bourgeois bohemian (a rom-commentary) : a college-grad gets a job in finance, planning to retire after five years and support/reignite the occupy movement after a few years making 80k or so a year.
He puts on himself two stipulations:
1) cannot live on more than 600$ a month (affect saving rate, threat of losing track of goals)
2) he cannot fall in love
But of course the second one is broken.  He falls in love and marries.

A few years of highly profitable marital bliss pass (his wife makes jokes about “tax breaks”, indicating the tension growing between them), but things are beginning to go sour.  She wants an aquarium, “Why don’t we go to the public aquarium,” he asks; “Do you want to take away people’s incentives to work,” she responds.  He asks whether work can still be said to be necessary and virtuous in the age of automation; she says they don’t have the particular type of fish she likes in the public aquarium, etc, etc.

Their fighting reaches a fever pitch as he is reaching the scheduled termination of his job (He has invested well, his savings have turned to almost a million dollars), and, right as he is about to quit— she divorces him.

He is forced by the divorce court to pay her a stipend equal to half his income (but I was about to quit!  But we never actually spent all that money!)  He has become a wage slave to love.


RESOLUTION: He plans to make a movie that could both raise awareness around the absurdities of the financial system AND generate enough money that he could pay his wife– art really is the way out!

or so he thought(?).  The movie bombs, it gets him fired from his finance job, and he is forced to work twelve hours a day as an administrator for a company that sells iphones in Africa.


Any producers reading this please contact me.

okcupid limericks

Some like the heat,
some like the cold.
some like the beach,
or the mountains and snow.

Some dig pajamas,
some dig croquet.
I think I could go either way.

In a green garden, in orange and red plaid
hitting the ball, scratching my head–
did I make this wicket?
How could I have missed it?
It was right there before me
but my ball only kissed it!

deep blue with a pale sullied stripe
(rolling in dirt, washed over in dew)
my ball rolls by swiftly
(alas) it does not roll true
You saw how I hit it,
you saw what I did.
Failures happen so quickly,
success never did.

Stuck at a tea party
on my rich friend’s yacht
laughing and rolling
and eating a lot
Who could have said truly
A riot I’d start
when I ordered sushi
for deliv’ry at dark
It was came after dusk
(well, well before dawn)
the guests were all hungry
They came down like a swarm.

Who could say truly
“you just must do you”
if hunger drives us
to devour our crew?

An insect lays eggs
A kangaroo hops
Humans do actions
and must pay their rent

between these constraints
(and hunger and thirst)
we all have the freedom
to do what we want

it is a cliche,
or may be perhaps
a willing lapse
(as we forgo reason,
and abandon the past.)
But before I go on
I must surely admit,
I do do like your slogans,
and more than a bit)

but surely we take them
with a cautious attitude
so we don’t fall in error
and believe we could be:
doin’ ourselves, doin’ our best–
’cause what could that mean if
who does what to whom?

In a dream i was distorted

 In a dream I was distorted. I had been peering over some unspeakably majestic landscape. The German Alps, I think, or Nebraska. But then the sun was in my eyes. I squinted and pressed my face against an amorphous rock slate, but the soft green slope, which had previously existed as a sort of subconscious expression of potential, or something, if you buy all that, became now a convex mirror focusing the sun into my eyes. And I’m worried about my eyesight, at least when the sun is in my eyes. But in a dream I have tremendous strength of will, but I’m none too bright, in a dream, and soon sunglasses materialized in front of my eyes. So I had this, at least, but I wasn’t tipped off that it was only a dream, by the sunglasses, and the amorphous rock, and the sun that would remain in my eyes and block, or rather, illuminate, rolling green expressions of potential, and I only thought, “it’s reflected off this amorphous rock and I’m wearing sunglasses, and my eyes are closed, so this shouldn’t be causing too much retinal wear.” But I wasn’t entirely convinced. I’m predisposed to retinal disintegration, and, when the sun’s out, this is often at the front of my mind. I like fall evenings and pre-dawns. But fall evenings are fleeting, and I can’t sleep after a calm pre-dawn. I think there’s a circadian demarcation at around five am, when the deep blue pre-dawn seeps through your skin and red slits of early sun dribble down your eyes, because these colors are an adrenaline rush and rolling green is a subconscious expression of potential and I’d cut slits in my life and slide toward the Nebraskan countryside if only the sun weren’t in my eyes. But if you buy all that you’re a fool because when I woke up the sun was still in my eyes, its foot in the thin slit of a windowsill. It was one pm and the night before I had watched a movie that took place in the German alps and now I can’t be sure whether I’m profoundly lazy or only anxious.