The Britpop of football

And then dance and drink and screw
Because there’s nothing else to do.”

– Pulp, Common People

The nineties gave birth to both the Britpop scene with bands such as Blur, Oasis and Pulp as well as Premier League Football – a sublime mixture of partying and playing. Before the nineties, things were completely different; it was another world. To illustrate how and why things changed so drastically, I will recall to mind, football memories where the stadium plays a crucial role in both tying a strong ritualistic community together and hosting a collective tragedy.

Read the rest of the essay in The Football Pink

Is this the right way?

Late one August evening in a small provincial town, a woman steps out her front door. In her hand, she holds a slim leather briefcase, probably containing a laptop. When she steps down from the small landing in front of the door, a mild breeze fills the air, gently tousling her long blond tresses. She tries to pull her hair back behind her ears without any luck. From the back pocket of her jeans she pulls out a bandeau and ties those unruly locks into a simple ponytail. Now, with no hair interrupting her vision, she looks first to the right and then to the left before turning around to lock the door behind her. After checking twice that the door really is locked, she rotates to face the street for the second time. 

This time she looks to the left first. Actually, at this point, her whole body shifts as she evaluates the possibility of going in that direction. 

Is this the right way? 

Read the rest of the essay in Terse Journal.

Can I Involve You?

I took the elevator up to the third floor. Normally, I would have taken the stairs in order to get a bit of exercise. But normal doesn’t exist anymore. Did it ever?

I just turned thirty-seven and I am feeling slightly lazy after having written books for the last decade or so. Not that writing books is a cushy job. Quite the contrary. It’s freaking hard work. It’s just that I do it sitting down, five to six hours a day. And I do it every damn day! That takes its toll on the thigh muscles. At times my limbs creak more than the chair I sit on. I know, it’s an overused metaphor, but I can only blame IKEA for this unpleasant sound. Well, nevertheless, or maybe because of all this, I took the elevator. I also didn’t want to arrive sweaty or out of breath. I hate sweaty people. I hate people who are out of breath.

Up on the third floor, a youngish artist had an exhibition called Moving Borders. I had been sent to cover the exhibition for a major Spanish journal. The artist was “up and coming,” they said (the journal in Spain that is) when they called to offer me the assignment. Up and coming. Who isn’t? I thought, but of course I didn’t say that. Like so many other writers before me, I said basically nothing unless in writing. Instead, I watched everything with all of my senses open. I watched and watched until my eyes stung. I looked like the English comedian Marty Feldman. Google him, if you don’t get an instant image.

Read the rest of the short story in Daedalus Magazine

When life blooms

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, When life blooms – Breathe with Jeppe Hein will be released November 28th.

The publisher writes about the book:

“Danish artist Jeppe Hein soared to the top of the international art scene before the age of 35. His works were showcased at the world’s finest exhibitions and sold for sky-high prices. Then suddenly his body said stop. In 2009 Hein went down with stress.

In this book philosopher Finn Janning follows Jeppe Hein’s development from the tome immediately after his diagnosis with burn out and onward – a period where Hein underwent psychoanalysis and developed and interest in yoga, breathing exercises and spirituality.

Janning shows how spirituality has become more present in Hein’s works, and in the book, he develops an existential philosophy in continuation of the artists spirituality and art.”

I may add:

It’s a philosophical biography that describes the life of the artist Jeppe Hein. In doing so, I’ve tried to exemplify Gilles Deleuze’s idea that “life is not personal,” that is to say, each life is a case study.

I choose this approach as a way of addressing the narcissism of the artist without making the narrative confronting, or in anyway judgmental.

Instead, I illustrate how Jeppe is formed by the major cultural trends during the last 40 years, such as the growing accelerating and spirituality and social entrepreneurship. He is an artist of his time.

It’s a book that tests and nuances the popularity of today’s spirituality through a philosophical, primarily existential lens.

ENJOY

Whenlife blooms_cover

Last, although I’m glad to have a book of mine being translated into English (it was written in Danish), I’ve detected a few mistakes, see more here.

The Philosophical Imagination

In The Philosophical Imagination, Richard Moran brings together a wide variety of essays that cover art, moral psychology, and philosophy of minds, as well as some essays that can be read as small monographs of contemporary philosophers.

He segmented 16 essays into three parts: Art and Aesthetics, Reading of Contemporary Philosophers, and Agency and the First person. The first part explored the concept of imagination as more than just a capacity to imagine certain things. Moran understands imagination as an approach to life or a way of connecting. Imagination, he said, “Has less to do with simply imagining something to be the case, or imagining doing or feeling something, and more to do with what we ordinarily think of as ‘imaginativeness.’ It is concerned with the ability to make connections between various things, to notice and respond …”

To some extent, this explanation could serve as a methodological guide for most of the essays, in which Moran was making connections with art and other philosophers—as he did in the second part—such as Iris Murdoc, Stanley Cavell, Bernard Williams, and Kant. Moreover, certain themes are linked together, e.g., when Moran unfolds Murdoch and her critique of existentialism, he ends up writing, “The personality is already interested in the choice before one chooses, and when the choice is postponed, the personality chooses unconsciously or the choice is made by obscure powers within it.”

These ideas are clarified later, in the third part, e.g., in the essay Interpretation Theory and the First Person, where he states, “A future theory of behavior could do very well without providing a reason to eliminate reference to persons and beliefs in our relation to ourselves and to others.” Furthermore, this idea is present in the essay called Self-Knowledge, “Transparency,” and the Forms of Activity, where self-knowledge is indicated as “a form of ‘transparency’ where a person can tell us what they think about some possibility by reflecting on that possibility itself.”

Philosophical imagination emerges in the gap between what is conscious and what is unconscious, or what is real and what is fiction.

In a way, Moran illustrates that the difference is blurry (i.e. between fiction and non-fiction), which is why art and literature can affect us or enrich us just as powerfully as anything “real” in life.

The essays in this collection are well written, they are accessible to non-academics as well as useful for academics—particularly in the area of aesthetics where Moran with impressive ease has blended Plato, Aristotle, and Hume, to clarify the concept of beauty in Kant and Proust. Moran’s style of writing is not polemical, but educational, although he is never pedantic. He embodies that philosophical thinking takes time. Actually, he lives up to his own credo, when he says, “I am working in a tradition of doing philosophy that takes the work of reading to be as centrally a form of philosophical thought as any other, and not a substitute for the real thing.” Personally, I found Moran to be a good companion to think with and to learn from.

I will return to some of the essays, if and when, I will work with rhetoric, metaphors or art in a more classical sense.

Published in Metapsychology, Volume 22, Issue 45

Life is a shockingly hairy crotch

“The smooth is the signature of the present time,” writes philosopher Byung-Chul Han in Saving beauty. This kind of smoothness, he continues, “connects the sculptures of Jeff Koons, iPhones and Brazilian waxing.”

Han claims that today smoothness is the same as beauty, and this concept embodies today’s society of positivity. We live in a society that offers no resistance; we simply look for others to like us or like what we have posted. Smooth, smoother, smoothest = good, better, best.

Another way of saying this is that a lot of contemporary art works in concert with neoliberal capitalism, instead of resisting or working against it. For instance, Han contends that Koons is, “arguably the most successful living artist at the present is a master of smooth surfaces.” In other words, Koons is playing the capitalistic game. What determines success is the ability to sell your art. Success is here being defined as being known and admired.  Koons’ version of art does not require the artist to open an “echo chamber, in which I assure myself of my own existence,” as Han writes. “The alterity or negativity of the other and the alien is eliminated altogether.”

Koons is about as progressive as a Brazilian waxing.

For readers, who are familiar with Han’s work, Saving Beauty unfolds the same arguments against today’s achievement society. Han discusses the transparent, porno, and burnt-out society we have become. What is sad, of course, is that art, apparently, has also been reduced to something kitsch: shiny tulips, balloons, and smoothness.

This book is full of startling, precise statements. For example, he says, “A selfie is precisely such, an empty, expressionless face.” The addiction that our current society seems to have with taking selfies only illustrates an actual emptiness of the ego. It lacks character, and instead, it is smooth and easily likeable.

The core argument in Savage beauty is that today, beautiful equals smooth, clean, and transparent. In contrast, in earlier times, like during the era of Plato, Kant, and Hegel, there was no distinction between beauty and the sublime. Experiencing sublime beauty is not supposed to be pleasurable; rather, it hurts. It makes you fall and stumble. It is similar to falling in love because you can lose yourself and act rather stupid.

“The sight of beauty does not cause pleasure, but shocks,” Han stresses. I must admit that although I attend exhibitions monthly, I rarely am affected. Visiting the Guggenheim in Bilbao earlier this year, I had a chance to experience Koons’ tulips, which was a pleasurable experience. However, they did not affect me like Richard Serra’s The Matter of Time did. With Serra’s work, I found that his huge iron sculptures opened for me an encounter where I interrelated with the work in a way that affected my equilibrium. The viewing his work made me become someone else. That is the beauty of experiencing your own fragility.

“Instead of opposing the sublime to the beautiful, one should return to beauty a sublimity that cannot be subjected to inwardness,” writes Han. Art can shake us, make us see the world differently, and make us perceive our own limitedness and flaws. “The longing for beauty,” Han says, “is ultimately the longing for a different mode of being, for another, altogether non-violent form of life.” Unfortunately, the digital nature of beauty in our current age has removed all negativity or otherness that might have existed. All there is left is something likeable. Yet, following Heidegger, Han suggests that concealment is essential to beauty since “transparency and beauty do not go together.”

This reflects how information cannot be veiled, whereas knowledge can retreat into secrecy. Art is related to the secret story as Roberto Bolaño once said. It conceals something for us, but it often does so in a way that it painful and not pleasurable. Art  requires hard work. “Without injury, there is not truth,” Han claims. The smiles and likes of today, “lacks any intensity, any quality of a shock.”

Beauty is located, somewhere “between disaster and depression,” according to Han, “… inherent to beauty is a weakness, a fragility, and a brokenness.” I have experienced that feeling with the artwork created by Serra, not with Koons’ work.

In today’s transparent consumeristic society, art is rarely contemplative. The ideal consumer, Han argues, is a person without character. The ideal worker or citizen in today’s neoliberal and capitalistic society tolerates everything as long as it sells. Nothing is avoided because there might exist a market somewhere for it. “Facebook is a characterless market,” Han writes. Art, when it is made smoother, is characterless as well.

Still, why all the fuss about saving beauty? Why must we fight to save it?

“Beauty promises freedom and reconciliation,” and “truth is freedom,” as Han writes. In other words, a world of smoothness is false; it’s a world of “post-truth.”

For Han, the beautiful is both true and good, it’s almost like the Korean-German philosopher is turning Platonic.

Han is a strong critic of contemporary society. He elegantly hides his own moralism (most of the time). When “beauty frees me from myself,” Han points out, then saving beauty is also a way to rescue the other. It represents an opportunity to save the negative and that which constitutes me as another.

Han ultimately ends up embracing the philosophy of Alain Badiou, especially, his idea that the task of philosophy is to be loyal or faithful towards whatever binds us together. (Han also ended up with Badiou in his essay, The Agony of Eros).

If there is a morale, it is that we have to show fidelity to what takes place. Fidelity is unconditional in that it presupposes commitment. That means, that we once again should try to become capable of matching all parts of life, not just when life is pleasurable and smooth. We must do so even when life is a shockingly hairy crotch or chest. To do so is to save democracy. Or as Han finishes his essay: “The saving of beauty is the saving of that which commits us.”

I recommend the book.

See also my review of Buyng-Chul Han’s In The Swarm.