Imagining Victims by Paul Michael Whitfield

Outlying the Avenues


I’d like to discuss Diana Tietjens Meyers’ look at the edifying value of victims’ stories in her 2016 Victims’ Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights in comparison to José Medina’s suggestion of ‘resistant imagination’ in his 2013 The Epistemology of Resistance. I suggest Medina’s concept has the potential to facilitate how victims’ stories can be morally motivating narratives.


Meyers explores the importance of listening to and understanding victims’ stories, and explains this merits changes not just to theoretical accounts of what exactly such stories are and what they do morally, but also to their legal and political use. I’ll focus on the former, and Meyers’ proposed update to our concept of narrative structure.

In traditional accounts of such structure, narratives with moral urgency must begin with a “steady state” of morally neutral (or acceptable) circumstance that’s disrupted and then repaired. Meyers shows, with vivid examples, that the “very conditions that others regard as legitimate and ordinary are the cause of their victimization.” In distinction to those traditional accounts of structure, their stories ex vi termini begin and end morally fraught.

As Meyers points out, the change to our theoretical account of narrative structure must include a form of narrative closure that isn’t a resolution but “a moral void” and “a moral demand.” These stories are morally complete narratives, and the sort of moral completion they involve is a response of “moral self-examination,” where readers are lead by the all-around fraught narrative toward a “clarion moral appeal.”



Medina explores the serious imperative of our “need to reimagine our categories . . . so that our reconceptualizations redirect our ordinary practices and our ways of relating to each other.” The personal and political effects of injustice and oppression merit more than merely working within the common and accepted practices of knowledge creation and production, but going further, so as to leave open the possibility of an effective and proactive response to the experiences of others who live (let alone work) within those practices that are not common or accepted.

Medina offers various concepts we might use to better understand this need from the point-of-view of someone who is outside those othered experiences, with the key concept being the imperative for resistant imagination.

If we are to critically examine and morally improve how we engage with others, if we’re to look closely at our daily practices and what we habitually recognize as permittable and unacceptable possibilities of social growth and melioration, one area that can be relevant to opening up latent conceptual space is our imaginative sensibilities. Medina directly positions his account of resistant imagination as direction for this potential.

Exploring the concept of imagination, he begins in the context of fiction, a common area for such exploration, and initially asks a question drawn out of the work of Tamar Szabo Gendler:

Why do we experience such resistance when invited to entertain fictional scenarios that violate our moral intuitions and values, and not when asked to imagine fictional worlds that violate our factual sense or the laws of physics? (Medina, 254)

We have a difficult time with the invitation to imagine a moral world different than ours, especially if that world conflicts with our own, or even causes us to imagine ourselves with more culpability than the ‘real’ moral world we feel comfortable and live in.

This causes us to develop what Medina calls imaginative resistance, where rather than the usual hypothetical reasons we use in other forms of reasoning (“cold counterfactuals”), we’re presented with scenarios where our affective and sociopolitical realities are put into serious question (“hot counterfactuals”).

Presented with a fictional scenario that implicates us in moral harm, our imagination itself becomes resistant, and places us further away from the possibility of that world to sustain our individual ‘real’ world stability.


Steel Wool spinning, Ballarat East, 2012 by Peter Thurgood


This sort of response is exactly what Medina suggests we switch out: imaginative resistance for resistant imagination. Instead of our allowing our imagination to control how we react to moral scenarios that are uncommon or harmful to our sense of stability within our real “positionality and relationality,” we can instead use these fictive differences to instigate what he calls “epistemic counterpoints,” where the difference we experience itself becomes a cause for moral education and the possibility of better understanding what we have yet to experience ourselves.

The resistance of our imagination not to the transgression of its limits but, inversely, to the limits of our transgression where “what is to be avoided is letting one particular imaginative horizon or frame rule the day and become hegemonic . . . and making the subjects who grow under their influence become insensitive to the blind spots of the frame.”

Medina suggests this sort of resistance can move beyond our engagement with fictional worlds, and expand into our engagement with the real experiences of others who live lives we can only imagine, so as to be vigilant towards and repair “the circulation of ways of imagining collective subjectivities (e.g., racial or sexual identities) that demean them and prevent their inclusion in the community or their equal standing within it.”


“communication” by Chris Garcia


Medina’s concept of resistant imagination, then, seems relevant to and useful for Meyers’ account of how we might better approach and engage with victims’ stories.

To reimagine our categories, as Medina suggests, in order to include those different than us, one (admittedly rather small) part of this is to reimagine our category of narrative structure.

Victims’ stories can be both complete narratives and morally motivating accounts. An explanation of how to imaginatively resist the thought that narratives must begin and end with morally positive (or neutral) circumstances, the idea that motivation can come from a story’s ending morally fraught rather than morally resolved, is located within a combination of Meyers’ and Medina’s insightful books.

If the victim’s story ends with implicating the reader themselves, even, that reader can realize this as a chance they have to imagine what it’s like ‘on the other side’, to realize sometimes it doesn’t get better, that it still hasn’t, and that there’s a need for their work towards a real world that matches up morally both with their own experiences and those of others, even and imperatively when such a possibility seems unimaginable.



Diana Tietjens Meyers. Victims’ Stories and the Advancement of Human Rights. Oxford UP. 2016.

José Medina. The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant Imaginations. Oxford UP. 2013.


Found: A Letter for the Art of Love and Colors by Paul Michael Whitfield

Outlying the Avenues


In Safe and Sound,


I write as the crow flies—ashore, on the hard. Something’s happened, my friend. I’m aground, at liberty, and I think you must know. You’re on a run, of course, and a leg from the vanishing angle. There’s nothing so much to say, after all. A sliding pond across the pond, to think of it! And so, I write to you, the manifest all theirs.

I was leadsman and three sheets to the wind after a jump. The shifting tides felt like wild gleams, and yelling, “La mal du siècle est le fin de siècle!”

The quiet quite still and, the ocean conceiving itself a pond, so said staid:

“At times, there arrives a silence of such definitive conviction, only breathlessness awaits in reply. Before a heavy void, abrupt in infinitesimal place, broad-bosomed earth spawns light, deities, and creatures. And yet void stands, eerily genial in a forbidding concealedness it abides, exact—heavy-handed with the awesome settling of null. There are, of course, those remnants of Iapetus’ progeny: a thoughtful, doomed unconcealedness of the world.”

There were dripping sounds at this, I remember, and the wet of tell-tale and the atmosphere. Some of us had silently smoked, like xylological fumes. We were trees, my friend, and the pond was… always water and wet. The drink. Something was happening.

“The world is everything that is the case.”

And, said so, that pond in the middle of the forest talked with the batch of banked reeds about how little our Sol’s rays were involved in its ecosystem. The whole forest listened quietly, and over the following seasons many limbs slowly spread above the pond, until it sighed its happy content of a cool summer to the reeds. As autumn set, the brisk air began ossifying all these ponderous bodies, crisping icy plates on its blooming surface which melted each morning, inviting fauna and flora to sink themselves with stark refreshment.

Appreciating such communal spirit, the pond rippled a quiet return to the forest and limbs.

Later, in a womb of the icing winter, the pond lazily sludged along its floor shipping nutrient muds and clays below its breeding, frozen husk. Snuggled with the earth beneath, it glowed its reverent anticipation of the coming spring thaw. Then, it glimmered, it would banter its banks and banked reeds with freshwater biota and loudly call in laughter to the limbs just above, swinging:

“A no-sided, 4-sided figure is unfathomable—even confusingly so—to our so natural bodies, but what about that rule entails that there, in fact, is or is not a round square object, somewhere? All objects are possible objects?”

Like at some Jack a Jonah rippling the state, we’d listened poised—frozen by such cold.

“In such a proposition—and eo ipso statement, etc., etc.—is it not that its subject noun’s adjective is epistemically dissimilar, categorically, from the predicate noun’s adjective, such that render the proposition’s truth ambiguous without some formality of warrant?”

The arc of visibility the dead wake of a question. It was a wonder indeed, my friend. You would’ve imagined it admirable, as it were.

“Indeed, O Limbs, when contemplating this, prodigious, I think to remember ‘All’ as adjective, and the phrase ‘objects are possible objects’ metaphysical triviality—for, as we all well know, the convention of beginning such cosmic inferences with ‘All’ is merely convention only, useful in determining the universal from the particular formally, carrying no ontological information to the semantic table that isn’t there with the noun—and, in point of fact, serving, in this most serious of cases, that of our sea trial, to build common cloud over the way of inference. An ox-eye, O Limbs. Removing the adjective—using, instead, ‘Objects are possible objects’—might help the clear: to suggest the proposition ‘true’ is to want of warrant for why possibility is universality here. Would not there only then be unity?”

The doldrums becalmed, my friend! The forest spelled. I was forgotten, for the moment, I think.

“That we can’t conceive the experience of a round, square object has, at best, obscure bearing on the existence of such objects in such sense as said.”

Silence, some thought, hearing—already ready to stove in. Scud and iron wind. Sailors, you know.

“Though, such talk is, yes, suspect. As it should be, experience being what it is as the origin of this digression.”

The pond let lit by losing the forest among these trees, and the scat of conversants. All the talk of those aboard, that time, I remember, that cat and the devil to pay.

I won’t ask about the weather of being still at sea, my friend. There’s enough play to run with such paws.

“The map is make-able but never at all necessarily made,” rustled the limbs, “there’s just the effort of trying, ever unable to deduce whether what’s got is right, all, or some. Knowledge doesn’t exist outside knowing minds but its content is everything.”

I think here the pilot coughed, if memory serves. I mean, I’m not sure if any else of us heard, it is.

“It’s that, we understand or misunderstand the world, and the world is. For us, what the world is, what it will be, what it was, and what it can and can’t be, are common features of metaphysics, sought-for but unreached in the concepts of minds trying—some nihilism perhaps excluded. For the world, what it is, what it will be, what it was, and what it can and can’t be are logical categories which denote everything, from the geology of obsidian to this.”

It became a glacial wood soon to be warmed by the heat of summer, and all the many rays of bright shine that’s growth and substance. The master at arms with no room to swing a cat, I guess.


And so, at this, like some carpenter the pond replied in allegory, “The clear of an annulled sky.”

“‘I’ll participate in what you believe if you give me the attention’, came tumbling over the pearls and the bloodied beaver, Limbs.”

The limbs listened as a brush is swept, the forest petrified—fossilized fuels bearing the point, as it were. I remember it said it looked like a mirror. Something about… some hellenic and theophanic rope and yarn, I think. The pond had begun to speak of being a body of water.

“Jackal surveys the land,” the pond had sounded, “edifying Paintings’ touched and embalming the ideal. ‘Say that again?’ With concussion, Lettuce extrapolates. Those binary cartographers imbibe hilarity—albeit, Jackal’s cross and preempts her own ostensible fury by way of a barking cough.”

“Lettuce in chagrin—perplexed.”

Groves, it was by then. I could’ve heard such story, myself—stories like storied buildings.

I think of the fact that, it’s here I find myself found writing letters to you, my friend. Nothing short for lamplight, however much I should have to say, in the end. I’ve even written poems, but that of late and dire.

The pond kept up swinging the lamp like lead.

“All her pink, translucent schemata want of reality—of ossification. Painting mediates: what better than to supplant a foe by fouling foliage? The land fallow, Jackal honors the entreatment—one’s employer reigns this solar day. ‘Painting,’ Jackal claims, ‘we’re apt to mark off the upper ridge for agriculture, the mountain for The Captain’s roost, and the shoals for a defense buttress, leaving the basin for folks.’ Parched, the ink dries and the anxiety of the panorama sets with the star entombing the now elucidated police in time.”

At this, some of the limbs laughed and, in the way, taunted: “Jackal sighs at Lettuce’s prone attack, and revives facility?”

The pond waved isomorphic.

“Jackal spoke: ‘Lettuce… my beliefs are of liquid. I attend objects only, and them with a definite distance.’ Lettuce would gasp. ‘And, Lettuce, I’m a cartographer. Too narrow for your width.’ A fountain, Lettuce pontificates medium, naturalizing chaos. That the Jackal stares, cessation swiftly returning to Painting’s palette the bounty of a nearly aerial view of what—if for Painting only—is ideally incommensurable with identity. So much tranquil settling, as obviating Lettuce’s receding futility and path traversing below.”

“To Painting Jackal inscribes, ‘I am bulimic.’ A laugh, then jest in rebuke, ‘You are?’ They leave the sight.”

The limbs were silent still, having chanted the reflection that: “The beginning of the end is the end of the beginning. To begin the reason is the reason to begin the reason to have begun. The end of the beginning is the beginning of the end. The reason to begin is to begin the reason to have begun.”

I would’ve said something, then, my friend. I write you now, because that wasn’t what happened. The pond took what was a spell to mull and sludge, and was soon quite on, again, about it all.

“It’s that there’s a difference between. An oil portrait by Villers comes to mind.”


Marie-Denise Villers
Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes
, 1801

“An artist is painted by the painter drawing the painter—looking out at us, studying studying while they work. They paint the artist as drawing within a room, face away from a large window to their left. Through that window, we see the view out into painted open air, and, in the near distance, a painted couple walks close together alongside a painted building separated from that within which we see the artists sit, each working at their craft.”

At this submerged and aesthetic mise en abyme, even I was knocked down, my friend. It was as if liminality were sublimity.

“Villers depicts the artist as turned away from the couple without, from that life-style and choice to be one in a relationship, one outside, there walking and heavily clothed, as having chosen to remain within, at methodic vocation and a sole focus on us—the viewer, the painted. The subject.”

The pond pondered paint in prodigious profundity—paying, by and large by the board. Pelagic, at last it remarked:

“Kierkegaard was polite as ever to the King when at court, yet his journals characterize Christian VIII in language beneath a private subject of an enlightened sovereign! Logic leads, and I heckle and foray riotous! Nobody ever understands him, anyway, you know! The works!”

The limbs, like the Dormouse at tea and, perhaps, Aristotle, were quite asleep. As slumbering arms, indeed, there among the wood and water—the brightwork and deadwood of boatwrights. I’d said nothing—snagged and foul.

I write this all, my friend, because Heraclitus once said aloud that, that war and strife are the facts of life—that to think even of something like a Pax Romana is still yet that lit lamp of the sea state.

We’re at war, my friend. Extremis. This world of war. Sailing wind-over-tide, line astern without letter of marque. A rogue wave.

Be vigilant. Sail.


Your prize, In all regard,
And for the art of love and colors,

Fair winds and following seas,
Anon, Anon,


Nietzsche Never Went Mad, He Walked Off Like Cassady by Paul Michael Whitfield

Outlying the Avenues


Image of German humor magazine Fliegende Blätter’s 1892 “Rabbit and Duck”


Madness, of course, is multifarious.

It’s August. I value August. I like beginnings, for example, and August begins de dicto with the first letter of what we name the alphabet and de re the season of the harvest of endings for beginnings—autumn, itself de dicto so too. August is prudence and eo ipso sanity. It is power, with which madness is often inversely related.

August has been power for some time, in the West. Pax Romana, two centuries of relative peace in Rome, was inaugurated by the ruler Augustus who, like his famous predecessor, Julius Caesar, would be honored by the gift of a month being named after him—Caesar’s July the only other such honor. Yet another of the regent’s many names, it meant ‘venerable’ or ‘esteemed’, and was meant to give notice of his continued successes for the de jure Republic—de facto, of course, he was, as power often is, an autocratic (however benevolent) ruler. Both names—Caesar’s and Augustus’s—were common epithets for later, also autocratic sovereigns of Rome. Power begetting power to the letter.

The letters of language the alpha-bet. The power of language ex vi termini, so to speak, because power is responsibility, and responsibility is a bet. It’s a form of hospitality, which I’ll talk about later vis-à-vis Heidrun Friese.

Yes, that rhymes a bit there, and, yes, so too is sanity all these. The epistemological tree of knowledge and the etymological tree of language. The Abrahamic and geometric beliefs of those from whom I descend consecrate two theoanthropomorphic trees, knowledge of good and evil growing with life. The entwining branches of reason and synapse reaching toward that cognate Sol.

lovely tree, isn’t it?

I grew up around eucalyptus. I grew up on Vargas Road, after my maternal patronym—Azorean loves there on our plateau. I grew up in the East Bay, outlying these avenues of San Francisco.

The reason for naming where I live what it’s named, one of its names, California, is the conquest of lands brimming with culture. It’s the idealized fiction of it, even—the glorious setting of its whole conquest. I mean to say it comes from a book about people going to America and taking land from those already there, that was read and loved by people who chose to do exactly what they read, and then, to name the place after what they’d read in the book about doing it, upon doing it. Seriously. Imperiously.

California is a queen for conquest. I am inhabitant and inheritor of a victim—the finally diagnosed contagion of the ἐπιστήμη of λόγος.

We weren’t from there, you know. Just needed a place to stay, while coming to join in the righteous and god-fearing resources of the glorious bounty of his… yeah… you get it. Reasons for being here and so we went there. There’s a living in dying, you know.

there’s a logic to it.

Lewis Carroll wrote a children’s book based on logic. It’s rather novel, I can say that. However, I think the point of the book is that that isn’t to say much of anything, all things considered—as logic goes down a hole and never leaves, for Alice, dreaming, because Carroll wrote literature influenced by his mingling the vicissitudes of modern logic into stories he told for his nieces.

The world a land of ad-venture—signs of the wonder full game in living.

Of Alice’s adventure, I read closely that untimely tea party with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and that dormouse. Carroll is known for packing his tale full of potential interpretations and symbolism. Gilles Deleuze was famously intrigued, for example.

Madness is this party’s theme, and there are histories to madness. There are histories of it. My fellow columnist Tini Ngatini’s thoughts, for example. Michel Foucault’s, which famously caused quite the stir with Jacques Derrida. Foucault the professed Nietzschean.

The West knows madness, and therein lies the force of these terms. The power in the words and the wordsmiths of the world, and the thought that power is method, and that I am against method.


Image of the Cover of Paul Feyerabend’s 1975 Against Method (partial)


The method of the party, for example.

Some party, this—some state of affairs. The party line, the personal nightlives—the good.

The Greeks and their eudaimonia.

the good life.

It’s just a part of everything else, after all. There is the bad. There is wrongdoing and error. There are those considered insane—synoptically incorrect, in some sense, so to speak. It’s been this way for some time now, too. There are paintings studied for insight into artists who died confined in asylums.

Alice is directed to the mad by the Cheshire Cat, and arrives at their party in media res. The hare had lost his mind during or just after the month of his namesake, because of the hatter’s previously good relationship with Time spoiling due to the Queen of Hearts’ poor opinion of the hatter’s objectionable recital of a (modified) ‘Twinkle Little Star’, the party becoming forever in media res and Alice a (somehow) later and unwelcome interruption.

The dormouse, often abused while dozing, is soon picked as their storyteller, politic conversation with Alice going awry, and pieces together a story about three sisters who lived in and ate treacle, at the bottom of a well of it, even learning to draw treacle along with everything that begins with ‘M’—relating that letter to ‘T’, a relation which becomes more explicit after the party with the Mock Turtle (really a tortoise, and friends with an outright imaginary griffin) and its sad nostalgia for the bygone and obscure unity of an academic and subterranean age, and is itself related, as a relation, to a reciprocal relation of the former letter to ‘H’, ‘M’ becoming the middle figure of an allegorical syllogism, so to speak, perhaps—before Alice, offended by that mad hatter yet again, abruptly leaves, and the poor dormouse is last seen being shoved into a teapot by the hatter and hare.

So, she arrives, has the worst time, and abruptly leaves. That’s how Alice fares at the party.

That’s how logic fares in the world. I recall Plato’s Charmides, its aporetic elenchus and the elusiveness and superfluous meaninglessness of wisdom.

There is nonsense in all of this, as Carroll’s lyrical epigraph to his tale suggests. There is the mad.

Notable is the complete absence of conversational rapport at this party. Nothing said between Alice and her companion partiers ever goes well. Either she’s been offended, or caused offense, or simply doesn’t understand what she’s told at all, and while we’re given some of Alice’s own perspective—for example, she’s very interested in questions about eating and drinking, to which we can attribute the dormouse’s fascination with treacle, and is so much less than keen to switch places at the table when candidly directed to do so by the hatter—her companion’s perspectives are almost uniformly opaque, as we’re told nothing—even the conversation they hold among themselves is senseless to the reader. I mean, who indeed knows why the butter ‘wouldn’t suit the works’?

The hatter even denies knowing the answer to his own now very famous riddle, Carroll himself giving his reply only later as afterthought for ardent fans, suggesting what is the manifold meaninglessness of the whole party tout court. Utter madness, down to the dormouse’s syrup, that treacle, which I think of as a complex element that suggests skepticism and decadence as resolution to confusion. Immanuel Kant called pure reason the logic of illusion, you know, whatever that means in the end, I guess.

A further mark of the party’s novel part to play in the novel is their introduction by the cat, who relates them to everyone else in Wonderland: the grinning feline tells Alice that not only are the partiers mad, but everyone else is, too, including Alice and the cat stating it all so.

The lot of them, beginning to end, the whole of Wonderland, quite, quite mad.


Image of an illustration by John Tenniel for the 1865 first edition of Alice in Wonderland (partial)


The partiers, of course, say little to Alice, who thinks herself sane. They speak as if confused about everything, even having spoken to her—expertly following some topoi of the epoche she hasn’t the faintest chance of catching let alone employing. They’re absent even as they sit at the table. They talk and drink, and nothing gets said, nothing gets done—timeless perplexity. It’s a party of parties and a party for parties.

Parties suggest the state, the partisan, and eo ipso those who must not be named. The terrible and the unethical—the ex communicado and the damnatio memoriae. The city’s vagrant. The outliers…

Foucault writes of a City of Reason being founded where the mad are nothing but mad, at the price of estranged citizenship. There is a sense of method, and Foucault studies those facilities which are the site of exchange between sane and insane—houses of confinement first built for lepers only later becoming asylums, and each as a harbor for the constant mooring of the Ship of Fools. The relation of the city to the mad is both real and imaginary—those ships of the ejected mad sent both somewhere and nowhere by both real and imaginary expulsion and isolation.

He writes: “Incessantly cast in this empty role of unknown visitor, and challenged in everything that can be known about him, drawn to the surface of himself by a social personality silently imposed by observation, by form and mask, the madman is obliged to objectify himself in the eyes of reason as the perfect stranger, that is, as the man whose strangeness does not reveal itself. The city of reason welcomes him only with this qualification and at the price of this surrender to anonymity.”

Madness changes over time for Foucault—continuity is more historiographical than historical—and he observes prima facie relevant medical knowledge as the 20th century’s historical instantiation.

Today’s pathologists studying the lack of a lack of a lack.

The madness of the 16th century is different from that of the 18th. The experience of and response to it, tending from the awe-full fear of the animal in man—eo ipso its equally awe-full cage—to the developing theory of man’s foray into his ‘self’, into being human qua intellectual qualia, knowledge learning more about knowledge.

The former, earlier, is perhaps more external—a beast of the inhuman sensualities of mysterious, noncognitive agency, and eo ipso a sort of civil foil as a wild Stranger—the latter, a self-reflective madness, perhaps more internal, in inverse relation to man’s ‘divine’ grace and psychic faculties, their prudence, and eo ipso more of a darkened mirror—the empty, faceless Stranger. I recall Herodotus’s folk etymology of the word ‘barbarian’, being the work and word of Greeks who named those others, those not Greek in table and tongue, as they sounded—’bar bar bar…’—letters and language everywhere, even elsewhere (the radical modern’s rather ageist anti-aestheticization of the infant’s ‘dada’, for example).

One doesn’t understand the mad, however, in any case. That is the form of the continuity.

the ends of reason and the end of reason.

I wonder if this continuity is myopia, or the observation of something and the history of knowing about it? Both Aristotle and Descartes discount out-of-hand the opinions of those they call mad. No reason to even think of such thoughts, let alone their analysis.

I wonder, are these pathologized ‘psychos’ more-or-less the same? Is theirs a path or paths? Is madness a recurring thing or something new ‘each time’, later evaluated and so labeled as itself? To what all do we refer when we speak about madness? ‘I don’t know.’ Is this, too, merely naturalized anthropology, so to speak? If the mad aren’t human? Foucault discusses art, articles, studies, journals, private letters, medical and state records, encyclopedias…

Is the proliferation of knowledge the proliferation of a plethora of interpretive histories? What do I do when I wish to ask, as I just did now, “What, in the end, is madness?”, if such a wish is to ask, “What does it mean?”, I wonder.

Madness is formidable, powerful, and not just Carroll’s wondrous partiers can recall a lot in this regard.


Image of Hieronymus Bosch’s c. 1490-1500 The Ship of Fools (partial)


Alice spends most of the time in Wonderland smaller than she is, shrunk down by eating and drinking, and only begins to expand back to her usual size near her adventure’s denouement at the Knave’s trial in the King’s court. Eating and drinking relate, I think, to Alice’s propensity for wishing, her curiosity, and her constant desire to be aware and in control of whatever situation she comes upon while in Wonderland—to epistemic power. To reason and rationality, as it were.

After the hatter’s nervous testimony in the case against the knave, when he’s put on the spot by the king to state his evidence and falters under the queen’s piercing gaze, Alice’s growth, eventually becoming problematic for the entire ‘pack of cards’, whose court of justice she’s found herself in at last, finishing her adventure in waking up to her sister’s caress of her hair imagined as her own swiping at the attacking cards, is at first only problematic for the dormouse, who can’t breathe because of her ‘ridiculously’ increasing self. As, telling her, she has ‘no right’ to do so ‘here’. There’s a law to this land (somehow).

The court case, perhaps, is concerned with Alice’s reason for being in Wonderland, by way of eating, drinking, and that wishful curiosity. Knavery, to be sure, as alluded to, I think, in Carroll’s introduction of her eating and drinking, and eo ipso her growing and shrinking, by way of her ostensibly quite wise for her young age—definitely not ‘childish’ like those other children her age, Alice thinks—sensibilities toward things labeled ‘poison’.

Alice knows, you see.

The witnesses called before Alice herself is at the stand are the hatter and the Duchess’ cook, and we read the latter’s latent answer to cross-examination corrected, after first bluntly refusing to give her testimony, as the tale’s final mention of the partiers, when she replies that tarts are made of pepper. ‘Treacle’, the dormouse mumbles. Nobility’s cook thinks that tarts are made of pepper and it’s the mad of the mad who correct her—no, they say, it’s treacle all the way down (the well, as it is).

It’s the untenable relation between logic and its adversarial other—a sickening sweetness of there being wrong among the good, regardless of which way we slice it. That we can fail—we can fail to understand, fail to know, fail to do good. We can be confused by everything at a party, because none of it seems to make sense except some in the particulars and even then merely perhaps.

That logic only goes so far, but going further is something we nevertheless can do. We can indeed be irrational. In María Lugones and Elizabeth Spelman’s provocatively titled 1983 paper, “Have We Got a Theory for You! Feminist Theory, Cultural Imperialism and the Demand for ‘The Woman’s Voice’”, there are thoughts that recall this element of existence.

They speak to those who aim to theorize with others different from themselves—others othered by the hands of power—and remind prospective feminist scholars of what to expect, and where they are to be ready to have their entire world thoroughly and critically disrupted, put to question on all sides and given no quarter, thought of purely as object of mistrust—as those others have had done to them.

It is this such praxis I imagine when reading Alice’s exchanges with the hatter, the hare, and the dormouse. The Combahee River Collective’s 1977 statement of commitment to the “continual examination” of their politics. The world is there to talk about, it is.

There is a world of difference between Alice and her new companions, whose name also begins with that alphanumeric letter, so to speak, of autumn, and these chaotic ambiguities and misunderstandings venture a metaphysical cacophony to the tale.

A lesson for the moralistic reader is palpable: just listen, Paolo Freire, too, had counseled—listen to those who are oppressed for the way out of oppression. Here them.

I note that Freire’s thoughts wouldn’t be done justice, I think, if taken as placing the work of ending oppression in the hands of the oppressed—instead, there’s the idea of active listening. Desmond Tutu’s wise words reproach those who are neutral, for the very real and culpable part they play in abetting situations of injustice, and the thoughts of my fellow columnist Anwar Uhuru, for example, are imperative in light of current and longstanding tragedies.


Image of Franz Pohl’s c. 1864-1922 The Exterminating Angel (partial)


Carroll seems to have felt there were morals to Wonderland, himself. The duchess, whose cook is at the stand later in the king’s court, is prone to offering a moral for everything, and offers readers the following: “Oh, ‘tis love, ‘tis love, that make the world go ‘round!”, “Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves”, “Birds of a feather flock together”, “The more there is of mine, the less there is of yours,” “Be what you would seem to be,” and, a revision of this last, one of the more difficult passages of the book, “Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.”

I’m sure I’ve gotten that down right, yes.

If anything is obvious, I think, it’s Carroll’s dexterity with the English language. His also dexterous (and English) sense of humor, of course, as well.

Carroll also had a command of mathematical logic. He wrote academic papers. One way I like to think of Wonderland is along the lines of its being a complex metaphor for a non-classical, trivalent (or n-valent) topology, and this, because Carroll studied Western logic in the midst of its revolution.

Alice embodies, perhaps, all those well-versed, ‘old boy’ logicians who’d found themselves rather adrift in the serious, leaping gains made in the field—much of it showing up in David Hilbert’s problems of 1900 and the proliferation of schools of thought over the next fifty years (to say nothing of the formation of structures which would abet the rise of Analyticity, e.g., Bernard Bolzano’s critique of Kant, which, as a philosopher of the US academy, jr. academic, I attest even today).

Alice finds herself in a place where concepts like contradiction, mutual exclusion, quantification, and correspondence, all slip away as parts of something more complex than proof and refutation. I recall Graham Priest’s 1998 paper, “What Is So Bad About Contradictions?” and the implosion of the reign of the classical logician’s explosion, and the introduction to Margaret Cuonzo’s 2014 book on paradoxes: “Is There Trouble in Paradox?”

Wonderland, indeed (and in deed, as it were). Port-Royal problems, anyone? Pascal? No? Wonderful.

This revolutionary place nevertheless has its own magnificent logic—its own bewildering science. It is the advent of this newfangled and coherent difference that Wonderland would represent, and Alice’s disjointed conversations, here at the party and elsewhere, are a series of caustic episodes where she finds herself at the mercy—and, at times, the lucky advantage—of her old beliefs and dispositions.

That the partiers at least seem to be disconcerted by Alice’s responses could caution against thinking, when all seems lost and beyond oneself, of others to be any better off, let alone doing well in whatever the ways they would wish. That to think of the self says a specious little in the way of thinking of the other, for whatever it might be worth to do so nevertheless, because, as we might draw from Victor Hugo, nihilism, of course, “has no substance.”

The madness of Foucault’s madness… the lunatics and merry fools of the confines of the imminent asylum the legatees of beings now only of mere verisimilitude. The gaping horror, the incessantly wailing vessel of infant tyrants marooned here among our plants and animals—flora and fauna—the duchess’ wailing baby becoming a grunting pig in Alice’s arms, to run off into the forest and wild.

It really is turtles all the way down. Mock turtles, treacle, and terrible things, nevertheless, in the end.

the mad and the bad.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, it’s said, asked on his deathbed: “Tell them I had a wonderful life.” He had written that even standing by a large tree and looking up at it, greeting it so, “Lovely tree!”, only does so much alethiologically, however much it necessarily, trivially, does epistemologically. That there are problems with classical models of knowledge, such as what Edmund Gettier’s 1963 paper, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” gave notice to, those serious equivocations in its mere three pages, and problems still in all these many modern opinions.

Logic does little to help things like what David Hume’s thoughts about induction might point to, perhaps, for example. (Get it? Example!? I can’t believe I get to write this!)


Image of Raphel’s 1509-11 The School of Athens (partial)


Sense and sensibility. Rules. Life black tie.

Writing at the end of his, in Europe in 1951, Wittgenstein was thinking about the logic of certainty. He observes situations like teaching a child what a tree is by ostensive definition, standing there stating aloud:

Lovely tree, isn’t it?

He writes: “My ‘mental state’, the “knowing”, gives me no guarantee of what will happen. But it consists in this, that I should not understand where a doubt could get a foothold nor where a further test was possible.”

“it is as if “i know” did not tolerate a metaphysical emphasis.”

He reproaches us philosophers: “Forget this transcendent certainty, which is connected with your concept of spirit.” That we’re to remember there will be nonsense in it all—in the world at large.

Friese wrote about the idea of hospitality, which I suggested is relevant to everything here. Friese’s clarification of what that concept means—work characteristic of philosophers, if you ask Wilfrid Sellars—in her 2004 paper, “Spaces of Hospitality” begins with exegesis of Franz Kafka’s unfinished, deathbed novel The Castle.

That place of a castle where K is a stranger no stranger to what it’s said Kafka said, on his deathbed, were K’s own deathbed “auxiliary circumstances” vis-à-vis, Friese now, “the usual order of things.”

The order of things, I said. We’re in the thick and thin of it all, I think, it is. Hospital. The Latin hospes and the Greek Ἐμπειρικοί, whatever Sextus Empiricus’ statements to the contrary, as it were, I guess.

Friese writes: “The question that the arrival of the other raises is thus that of responsibility – the response to a request posed by an Other – and how to do justice to its unmistakable, irreducible singularity and subjectivity.”

Hospitality is the tension of agreeing with someone. Agreements are a form of drawing terms, and are kept to per those terms, as is hospitality. Violating the terms disavows the agreement. I think of both language and knowledge as similar in just this such sense, where not only is the use of the alphabet, and conversation, and understanding, and knowing, and reason, etc. ad infinitum est in intellectu, an agreement with terms to be kept, but so too are all these merely parts of a far more insensible and wondrous, far more wide and real whole.

Land as far as the eye can see, and still yet further.

It isn’t for nothing, I think, that the three sisters in the dormouse’s tale live at the bottom of a well while Alice, too, enters Wonderland, having followed that White Rabbit out of sheer curiosity, by the tail, by falling ever so far down a well, and, further, while falling even falls into a dreamy state, coming to ask the same questions, over and again, about the very animals (bats and cats) heard in that recital judged objectionable by the queen, getting the whole party stuck in timelessness, in Carroll’s adept use of mise en abyme.

Arms within arms, and G. E. Moore looking down at his hand and back up at you.

Here it is. You see it.

Wittgenstein, famously in response to Moore, even renders demonstration—a tool of reasoning that Aristotle held hallow for resting inferentially on first principles of inviolable efficacy—some sort of powerless peripateticism. Even inference, Wittgenstein writes, is only so much itself and such so much use. Certainty is self-confidence, so to speak, and nothing more. Spiritless, certainty is… being no more right than when saying aloud that it’s raining in one’s dream when it is in fact, unbeknownst to one as merely dreaming, raining while one sleeps.

Alice was dreaming, and thought up a great many mad things—Carroll, an astute scholar of logic’s lacks and dead-ends.

logic’s sense and senselessness.

There is another ship that comes to mind for me, these days, when I think about that ship of fools and all these thoughts. W. V. O. Quine discussed Otto Neurath’s metaphor of the ship of science, where changes needed to the methods of science are done in media res—out at sea instead of at port—while synchronous with their use in the activity of science. The methods and acts both in flux, like a couple of seaworthy salvors, and as Foucault writes of the logic of the City of Reason: “This discourse, in its logic, commands the firmest belief in itself, it advances by judgments and reasonings which connect together; it is a kind of reason in action.”

I might point to my hand repeatedly in my dream, scientific in exhortation as a dreamer.

Lovely hand, isn’t it? Lovely land, isn’t it?

Like some ship of Theseus, everything flows, and the river you stepped in… well…

I confess to thinking Nietzsche never went mad. I think he was sick and gave up caring enough to be understood. I think he finally decided the logic of sense wasn’t worth the time of day, perhaps.

About this, of course, I may wrong. I may, further, even be somewhat mad for it.

C’est la vie… une mal du siècle.

August’s Accompaniment

Boris’ 1998 LP Amplifier Worship

Advertisement by Paul Michael Whitfield

Outlying the Avenues


Front Album Cover of Corrupted’s 1995 Nadie


Beginning one of his many books, 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard writes a preface. In the book I have in mind this is followed by another and that by yet another. This book of Kierkegaard’s is a book of them. A book of beginnings of books.

i live in san francisco.

I read. I write. I listen to Corrupted and the Melvins.

My aesthetic is the literary and the λόγος, and the zeitgeist of the longue durée–the auld lang syne. This aesthetic is the love of Des Esseintes and jewel-encrusted, murdered tortoises. Like Bernardo Soares, all I want to possess is the sensation of these words.

It’s their image—material and substantial like those scents and colors of the house of Huysmans’s protagonist—that might well be read in trace here.

I want to use them.

As Audre Lorde had said, at Harvard, “In what way do I contribute to the subjugation of any part of those who I call my people?”

As a dead white man once wrote yet another white man to have said about a clearly not altogether completely different question, that is the question, and I aim to see admonishment for infelicities.

As Grace Kyungwon Hong recently wrote, for dehumanizing disavowals.

For that Banana Republic, where all roads lead to a Rome of the worst in us all. If, in the end, there will be things leftover to use, far be it from me to discover them so. I am here to problematize the problematic. I leave it to my work elsewhere to come up with ‘positive projects’.

As Warsan Shire said, we can’t make homes out of human beings. Someone should’ve already told us that.

These city lights ever the countercultural moment, I live in the bay view, beneath the avenues built during the fin de siècle of San Francisco’s golden age. Outlying these avenues, I read the books of my intellectual heritage, the west, like an appalling manifest destruction. There’s no science in such catastrophic images. There is horror and subjugation. There are lies and murders.

We’d come to California to kill and conquer—as to the New World, to the Old World—to take. In philosophy, while not at the frontlines, this is no different. Its decadence has already revealed that structures of power are structures of thought—structures of theory, belief, and conviction.

Genocidal structures of no quarter.


Jacques-Louis David’s 1787 The Death of Socrates (partial)


I am a philosopher. My name is Aenesidemus, for this venture into being terse. I come to be known as someone who had come to be known as a philosopher and I will be forgotten much as they have been—with the little of their work there is it’s enough to note they were a skeptic and be done with it—and there, too, is affinity. The skepsis of the Greeks slew those philosophers for their ways—wrote their treatises about ways to give up their own theories let alone having to listen to the exhortations of the preponderant and domineering acolytes of others.

fuck right the fuck off.

To repurpose something profound published last year by Sara Ahmed—with an eye to recompense by discussing her perceptive and critical thoughts later this year, as a first debt as columnist, I think: “An affinity of hammers.”

To meet hammers. In the end, as Toril Moi wrote, even feminism’s aim is to abolish itself.

To fix this fucking shit and have been fucking done with it.

As Toni Cade Bambara wrote, “The job of the writer is to make revolution irresistible.”

Sublime and profound ideas.

I work to consider myself the consummate professional, in such regard. I believe no less than Dr. Cornel West tweeted just this last Valentine’s Day: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

I’m an actor of the university industrial complex, as I’ve heard and rather appreciate it called. I might talk the talk with the somewhat ‘best’ of them, I think, yes—I cited the references.

Power reflecting power. And, yes. Plato. It’s called a conversation. One is a part of it, and yet still it’s a thing, yes. Absurd, I know.

This column is bifurcated as a dialogue, and, so, reflects the writer’s interest in logic and the ideas of contradiction and dissent. The dialectic is pedagogical, heaving from critic-as-student to critic-as-teacher and back—helical.

In this rhetorical quality, it reflects my interests in learning and academia. I speak to learning and to teaching as Heidrun Friese spoke to the hotel and the guest, so to speak. Inasmuch as the set eye to phenomenology, existentialism, and the literary—as it is with Aristotle, the proliferation of ways of knowing goes hand-in-hand with that of the same of being.

As the laundry list, I discuss love, art, truth, justice, certainty, insanity, sovereignty, and elements of ethical persuasion. I explore literature and culture.

Digital StillCamera

Lagoa Henriques’ 1988 Fernando Pessoa statue


“we’ve been devastated by the severest and deadliest drought in history — that of our profound awareness of the futility of all effort and the vanity of all plans.”

That is how Fernando Pessoa began The Education of the Stoic, which comes to us as fragments. History later found the manuscript in an old trunk. Pessoa was dead.

Seventy years earlier in 1851, Arthur Schopenhauer wrote down bleak notes on the “worthlessness and vanity” of existence, unless we strive in vain after distraction despite an abject condition, after transient impermanence, and spent the last thirty years of his life in quiet futility, alone in his house with small dogs. Pessoa drank himself to death. This drought they write of is quite the devastator.

Pessoa was an early 20th-century Portuguese poet and writer who wrote prolifically and haphazardly, and created no less than 60 distinct pseudonyms. Soares was one of them. Pessoa was an artist. He engaged in automatic writing, founded art movements, published in magazines, and held a respected position in Lisbon’s intellectual scene.

Pessoa lived a craft. Ophelia Queiroz, the love of his life, was several times greeted by the fictitious poet Álvaro de Campos instead of Pessoa during their fleeting courtship. He called his pseudonyms heteronyms, and they were identities for most of which he created whole biographies and histories.

They were ideal representatives of intimate and reflective writings.

Last year at a conference in the port city of Porto, off the coast of the continent and country of my maternal heritage, I’d discussed Pessoa’s work. At a philosophy conference, I explained the work of a writer. I described a desire to expand the philosophical canon to writers and minds that didn’t write treatises like Hume or critiques like Kant, yet exemplify those last shrieking lessons of what scholars like Wittgenstein and Feyerabend set down.

That there’s an entire world out there. That it means something, and always has and it’s all nothing new. Our ivory institution has simply ignored it, towering above like some autistic savant.

I aim to be a philosophical skeptic, as columnist. Like Aenesidemus, I will work to extrapolate on what the 20th-century thinks it found out: that finding things out is an open-ended conversation.

I am influenced, and aim to comment on all these past and westphalian goings-on. I make no secret that the relation between the west and the world today is of marked concern, as I aim to illuminate elements of pervasive and problematic ethical and political circumstances that find as their genesis the antagonisms and parasitisms of that relation.

To repurpose the name of an old skeptic from a ‘school’ contending language vicious, my thoughts will be set on the thought of conceptual and epistemic revolution.


Screenshot of Paolo Sorrentino’s 2013 La Grande Bellezza (partial)


I have ideas for the coming months, though everything flows. I’ll explore Carroll and Foucault on the mad, Kant and Wittgenstein on the conversant, and Ahmed and Spivak on the political. Boris’ Amplifier Worship and Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza might feature. I’ve also got hold of a study of the lives and loves of women poets and writers of the Caribbean, by Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley. Cixous will inevitably show up in places. Los.

The involvement of the writer in culture is organic, and a part of how everything flows. If the past is gone, it is only here as the present. As you and I are. Culture is the multifarious and interpolated existence of myriad and idiosyncratic individuals—whether Deleuze lasts for days, or speculative realism dies the sudden, tragic death of the left behind, or Lorde points to the serious and deficient want of the righting of wrongs.

I want the righting of wrongs. I want the right rules. I want love and honor, not hate or fear.

Some contemporary views note that Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is leading to his Politics, yet the Philosopher—Aristotle’s medieval sobriquet—was not under the odd impression that the most important goal in Greek life—in the lives of those with which he lived—was to be politicians. To think of it as such, is to neglect historicization. The Lyceum is not San Francisco State University.

Aristotle’s point, I think, if we’re bent to give it conceptual space to breathe, is at its most charitable along the lines we heard—from consciousness-raising group to art installation, from demonstration to deliberation—during the women’s rights movement and the modern revitalization of feminism.

If eudaimonia is anything today, it is that the personal is political.

This column is personal, in such a sense. Quite like Pessoa, that I am pseudonymous does nothing to sway this. This column is Aenesidemus as the terse columnist and critic. I’m already responsible for a series of dramatic and musical compositions—tragedies and songs. A columnist, however, is something to add. There’s a sense of relevance.

there’s things to discuss.

I’m under the impression there are a staggering number of wrongs to be addressed, if not redressed, about the world. There is structural, hierarchical, and hegemonic oppression. There is something to be said.

Culture is essential—as lesson and plan. The mantra for this column is that lives are always in the balance. The personal is political. Lives are always in the balance.

We philosophers of the west love our conceptual clarity, so emphasizing that finality, of necessity, there, modally, is characteristic. Emphasizing the lives is what’s overlooked.


The Winged Nike marble statue c. 200-190 BCE


lives are always in the balance.

Pessoa wrote The Education of the Stoic using a pseudonym he called The Baron of Teive.

The Baron is pure reason embodied in text and character. Due to that drought, Pessoa has the Baron writing us a suicide note.

The preeminent rationalist finding no guide for living because, the Baron writes, the first function of life is action: a wholly intellectual life is an existential contradiction.

To think is to create an interpretation of the universe, he writes, that is a mere hallucination.

There is a metaphor that illustrates what he means in a marble statue sculpted in Hellenistic Greece at the beginning of the century after Zeno began holding his school at the Stoa, and often identified as the most famous piece of the period.

One of its names is The Winged Nike. It’s a fantastical representation of the Greek deity Nike, the goddess of victory. The winged immortal stands tall and forthright, often appraised as forcing her way forward against a strong sea breeze to signal triumph.

This statue is a striking analogue because of this perceived posture and intent, which is reminiscent of the pride the Baron feels in his conquering of that Caesar of Reality by suicide, but also because the statue no longer has its head or arms.

The Baron writes of the simple egoism of the Greeks, their Protagorean man as measure of world, and that modern culture is imbued with a tragic complex of Schopenhauerian temperament.

The statue of victory today is without a head or arms.

Modern reason achieves victory over itself by its own act destroying itself, headless and senseless.

Inorganic and empty, Pessoa’s Baron commits suicide because reason describes only the reasoner.

The world is for the unreasonable and the inhumane. Reality is for the mad.

i am mad.

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.

I’m going to do something about it.

July’s Accompaniments

1. Corrupted’s 1995 Esclavo off EP Nadie
2. Joyce Manor’s 2010 Five Beer Plan off EP Constant Headache
3. Dæphne’s 2015 Sharpness Is the Game I Play off EP Full Circle
4. The Melvins’ 1991 Boris off LP Bullhead
5. From Monument to Masses’ 2003 Comrades and Friends off LP The Impossible Leap in One Hundred Simple Steps


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