Diary

ORIGINS: Black Coffee

I've been watching the ORIGINS series by SONOS & Resident Advisor and while most videos' production and storytelling so far have been excellent, this one featuring Black Coffee takes things to another level. The political and social commentary inherent to this film add extra weight that goes beyond a single DJ's story, to a whole people's.

Although I am slightly biased, having been to South Africa, I definitely think it's worth a watch. Further viewing: Jackmaster, and the rest of the series.

How Pleasure Works, by Paul Bloom

[...] people naturally assume that things in the world — including other people — have invisible essences that make them what they are.

The psychologist Steven Pinker notes that people are happiest then “healthy, well-fed, comfortable, safe, prosperous, knowledgeable, respected, non-celibate, and loved.”

It’s easy to satirize the political correctness here, but nouns really do carry essential weight.

Pleasue from pain is uniquely human. No other animal willingly eats such foods when there are alternatives.

[...] sexual pleasure is not merely a matter of physical sensation. It is also rooted in beliefs about who someone really is and what someone really is.

[...] sex, like food, is the sort of thing that one usually has to work to get; it won’t just come to you.

Prostitution exists largely to satisfy this male desire for variety, as does pornography. There are male prostitutes and depictions of male nudity and male sexuality in pornography, but, for the most part, these exist for gay men.

We can be smart and we can be kind. Smart enough and kind enough, for instance, to divert ourselves through fantasy, to deny ourselves pleasures that we believe to be wrong, to take the perspective of another person, to rationally compute costs and benefits, and so on. We can choose to be like those adorable penguins.

Even when we are with actual individuals, we can be transfixed by a body part while being indifferent to the person who comes with it.

[...] in the largest study ever of human mate preferences, looking at people in 37 cultures, the most important factor for both men and women is kindness.

[...] the best gifts for someone you live with are those that you, yourself, wouldn’t want.

”Love is a gross exaggeration of the difference between one person and everybody else.”

In a clever experiment, the psychologist Philip Tetlock and his colleagues presented subjects with stories about a person who deliberates over a taboo trafe-off — a hospital administrator who has to choose whether to spend a million dollars to save a dying five-year-old — and they found that subjects disapproved of him regardless of what he ultimately decided. It taints one to think about such choices.

He finds that MIT graduates and Harvard MBA students are more likely to steal cans of Coke than dollar bills.

Yale students are busy, and often rich, and if we offered them $2, few would stop. Instead we offer Snapple or M&M’s. This works better than cash — even though the value of what we offer is less than $2. Money would frame our request as a commercial transaction, and not an appealing one, while the offer of a snack brings out people’s best natures.

You might thing that we choose what we like, which of course is true. But what’s less obvious is that we like what we choose.

What you’ll tend to find is that the rejected object has dropped in value — is tainted by not having been chosen the first time around, and so the tendency here is to chooose the new object.

Much of the pleasure that we get from art is rooted in an appreciation of the human history underlying its creation. This is its essence.

Most people are 20 or younger when they hear the music they’re going to want to listen for the rest of their lives.

Still, if art is a performance, two facts follow:

  1. Artwork is intentional.
  2. Artwork is intended to have an audience.

In rural England, there are gurning competitions, where people compete to distort their faces into hideous positions. The rules are straightfoward. Competitors put their heads through a horse collar and have a set time in which to contort their faces into the scariest or silliest expression possible. False teeth may be left in, taken out, or turned upside down if desired.

”I am interested in when and why individuals might choose to watch the television show Friends rather than spending time with actual friends.”

We enjoy imaginative experiences because at some level we don’t distinguish them from real ones.

This capacity to reason about another’s false belief is important. It makes it possible to teach, a skill that involves keeping in mind that another person knows less than you do.

”There is very little difference between one man and another; but what little there is, is very important.”

”Fiction is life with the dull bits left out.”

Fiction is a form of performance and, as such, we take pleasure from what we see as the virtuosity and intelligence of its creator. There is the thrill of being in the hands of someone who controls the story, someone who persuades and entrances and misdirects, someone who is (in this domain, at least) smarter than we are.

Freud suggested that masochism is sadism directed inward; the idea here is similar — perhaps severe masochism is punishment directed toward oneself.

In one clever study, undergraduates were invited to give themselves electric shocks by turning a dial. The interesting finding is that the intesity of the shock went up if, before being hooked up to the machine, they were asked to recall some sin, something they had done wrong in their lives.

The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze might be partially right, then, when he insisted that masochism isn’t really about pain and humiliation, it’s about suspense and fantasy. Control is essential, and this is what makes masochistic pleasure so different from ordinary pleasure.

[...] so many real-world pleasures involve some loss of control and in a daydream you have perfect control.

The point was appreciated in a classic Twilight Zone episode in which a violent thug dies and finds himself in a place in which his every wish is satisfied. He is shocked to be in paradise and at first has a wonderful time. But he gets frustrated and bored, and after a month tells his guide: “I don’t belong in heaven, see? I want to go to the other place." The guide responds: “Whatever gave you the idea that you were in heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!" Cue maniacal laughter.

Daydreams are the opposite of dreams, then, because in dreams you typically have no control at all. This means that a good dream can be more pleasurable than a good daydream, while a nightmare can be terrible indeed.

[...] evolution is a satisfier, not an optimizer.

Economists such as Robert Frank and Richard Layard and evolutionary psychologists such as Geoffrey Miller have argued that the obsession that many of us have with acquiring luxury goods has a social cost, and that society would do better if such acquisitions were blocked or discouraged.

When it comes to nature, we want the real thing; we are uncomfortable with substitutes.

There is something more basic that all religions share and which spills over as well to what is often described as spirituality. This is the notion that there is more to the world than what strikes our senses. There is a deeper reality that has personal and moral significance.

This experience of the transcendent may be connected to the fascinating and little-understood emotion of awe.

Awe is a mystery from an evolutionary perspective. Keltner suggests that at its core, awe is a social emotion; it corresponds to a “sense of reverence for the collective." Its primary trigger is powerful people who unite the community, and we diminish ourselves and are subservient to these awe-inspiring others.

I think the world would be better off if awe didn’t exist. We would be better off if we would cold-bloodedly assess the abilities and goals of prospective leaders and weren’t so prone to swoon.

Alison Gopnik makes the connection between the satisfaction of orgasm as a spur to more sex and the satisfaction of a good explanation as a spur to further exploration.

In other words: don’t ask. I think Winnicott’s remark captures the ambiguity that many people feel with regard to their religious beliefs. They have an odd and fragile status. For science too, there are questions that arise about certain more theoretical constructs. Are quarks and superstrings real or convenient abstractions? Some would advise: don’t ask.

There was a six-year-old girl sitting with her arms curled around a piece of paper, intensely absorbed in her drawing. Her teacher waited for more than 20 minutes and then went up to the girl and asked what she was drawing. Without looking up, the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God." The teacher was surprised and said, "But nobody knows what God looks like." And the girl said, “They will in a minute.”

Left Bank, by Agnès Poirier

[...] all had learned by heart what was expected of them: as soon as the boat ramps go down, jump, swim, run and crawl in the sand, up to the cliffs two hundred yards in front of you. [...] Hell was upon them.

Almost seventy-five years later, the bullet holes are still there on the buildings.

The more passive they had been during the Occupation, the more revengeful they proved towards alleged collabos. The personal shame they felt at their inaction made them all the more aggressive.

“[...] When I feel like saying yes, I do not know how to say no.”

“What you will ever know of a painting is how much you love it, and perhaps, if it interests you, why you love it.”

“One cannot be and have been.”

It was the lesson learned from the war: indifference bred chaos.

Responsibility for their actions as much as for their inactions, for their commitment or lack of it, was theirs and theirs alone.

“Why not?”

Boris Vian, whom Simone had invited to join the writers’ team, had forgotten his umbrella but had thought of bringing his trumpet: one never know, it could prove useful.

What he resented most was the lack of time for his work and the silent demands made on him by his wife. He now started to understand and greatly envy Beauvoir and Sartre’s pact: no children, ever, together or with anybody else.

They worked hard, they played hard, they had an iron discipline, writing fourteen hours a day, going out every evening, cultivating a large family of loyal friends and lovers, living in hotel rooms with no issues of domesticity and spending every penny they earned — was not this the only, and truly revolutionary, way for a writer to live?

He would simply have to cheat and lie the way the bourgeois had always done.

He dreamed of a hotel room where he could write, where he could be alone, where there would be no inlaws, no babies screaming, no smell of vomit and nappies.

[...] despite his feelings for her, he longed to go back to the many flaws of Paris and Europe, to a place where people did not just “pretend to live”, a place where “conversations were full of wit, even bad, full of irony, of passion and its string of lies”.

She was silently resentful; he was silently offended and angry.

Camus nonetheless feared intelligent women. Brought up in a male chauvinist French North African culture, he had difficulty reconciling desire and intellect in his relations with women. He needed to dominate one way or another.

He was one of France’s public moral thinkers, and yet the private man could not reconcile his longing for truth with his thirst for freedom.

“Édith, this is an ambush.” She looked pale and troubled, almost ill. “I love you as a man loves a woman.”

Sartre and Beauvoir constantly learned from the young. It was an enriching exchange for all involved.

Mamaine was everything Beauvoir and Thomas had refused to be and had fought hard not to be. Mamaine, like Francine Camus, was going to be a wife whose talents would lie in fostering her husband’s career without ever getting the credit for it. This imbalance, this injustice, and the hypocrisy surrounding it would both poison their marital and family lives and ruin their health.

“In America, there are a thousand taboos that ban love outside marriage and there are those thousands of used condoms littering the back courtyards of university campuses, there are all those cars, lights switched off, parked by the road, there are all those men and women who need a stiff drink before making love, in order to copulate and forget all about it. Nowhere will anyone find such a discrepancy between myths and men, between life and its collective representation.”

“There are days, just after I have worked very hard for days on end, when I feel like those flatfish washed on to the rocks after hey have fucked too much, moribund, emptied of their substance.“

This was Sartrean rhetoric in all its glory: witty but questionable.

The fear of love, he observed, produces nervous disorders.

“And in the end the passionate idealists forget the omelette, and just go on breaking eggs.”

“Clandestine life had given us a heady freedom: travelling, leather jackets, risks, woolen cardigans and fraternity. When liberation came, we felt unable to adapt to peace, to have a career, to obey conventions, to accept life’s new monotony.”

“I take great liberties in my private life and concede the same liberties. Naturally, this leads sometimes to somewhat painful conclusions. On the other hand, it gives more basic stability to a relationship than things done on the sly.”

“[...] American youth prefers pretending that politics is for experts and specialists.”

“Often preached but rarely put into practice, sexual faithfulness is usually experienced by those who abide by it as a mutilation: they try to get over it by way of sublimation, or with wine.”

There was a Dr Polin, a female gynaecologist: “I can’t help but marvel at how intensely feminine and at the same time intellectual the French woman is,” he wrote in his diary on 17 August 1947. And two weeks later: “I must hide this journal. Ellen is looking at me as though she has read some of it.”

Sartre preferred Benzedrine or Corydrane, another stimulant freely available over the counter, which he said he was taking to both relax and focus. “But whereas journalists woud take a tablet or half-tablet to get them going, Sartre took four. Most people took them with water; Sartre crunched them.” Besides Corydrane, Sartre smoked two packets of unfiltered Boyards a day and gulped litres of coffee and tea. At night, he usually drank half a bottle of whisky before taking four or five sleeping pills to knock himself out.

[...] had managed to get his unpublished novel Murphy translated into French and published by Bordas. The miracle was short-lived, though, and turned into disaster. Only a dozen copies were sold in the first twelve months. Used to failure, the news did not upset Beckett too much.

The seductress Dominique had fallen for Jean Paulhan, twenty-three years her senior but her perfect intellectual match. Their paths often crossed at Gallimard and the inevitable gentle stroking in the publishing house’s narrow corridors had led to more serious cavorting behind closed doors. [...] They were clear from the start: Paulhan would never leave his wife, and Dominique was neither the marrying nor the exclusive kind. [...] The terms did not, however, preclude passion and lasting love, quite the opposite. They remained lovers and soulmates for more than twenty years, until Paulhan’s death in 1968.

She knew better than to try to fence Dominique in; she would have to endure it, swallow her pride, repress her jealousy and share her lover with others. It was a painful thought, but it was more painful still to think she might lose Dominique.

The idea of a united and independent Europe as a counterbalance and counterpower to the bloc politics was emerging, a Europe that would adopt non-Communist socialism and divest itself of its colonies.

“[...] Sartre started attacking Kaplan in violent terms. K got so cross that he let fly at Sartre and said who are you to talk about liberty when for years you’ve run a magazine which was communisant and thus condoned the deportations of millions of people from the Baltic States and so on? Sartre was a bit taken aback by this. We left.”

“[...] At this stage of extreme youth of nature and men, neither the beautiful nor the ugly exist yet, neither taste nor people of taste, not even criticism: everything is waiting to be created.”

Mamaine went with them and just watched, as everyone else did, even Koestler, Malraux being Malraux, master of his own pyrotechnics. “Malraux was more extraordinary than ever. He spoke for four hours non-stop. Usual brilliance,” summarized Mamaine in a letter she wrote the same evening to her sister.

He did not know what he enjoyed more that evening: speaking German all night or peering closely into those piercing blue eyes.

“[...] nowadays everyone manufactures. Few create. If an individiual knows the difference, and I do, the failure to create leaves only one conclusion: one has manufactured.”

He had a title in mind and asked Suzanne what she thought of it. What about En attendant Godot? She looked puzzled. Waiting for Godot? And who was this Godot? Of course, Beckett would not tell her. He mumbled something about a wordplay on “God”. He would later confide to his friend Con Leventhal the real origin of the title. Beckett often went to the rue Godot de Mauroy, in the 9th arrondissement, popular with prostitutes. One day a girl asked if he needed her services; when he turned down her offer, she replied sarcastically, “Oh yeah, and who are you waiting for, then? Godot?”

And unlike in other countries such as Britain, home ownership in France was not considered a great personal achievement, or a landmark in one’s life.

Instead of butter, Parisians increasingly fed on Jazz.

In the intellectual and artistic world of Paris 1948, if your skin colour, your religion and your nationality were irrelevant to the way you lived and were seen, your gender had far-reaching repercussions for your happiness, ambitions and health. To be a woman, even in liberated Paris, was a congenital predicament.

Meanwhile, she continued to work as his secretary, translator, copy-editor, governess and souffre-douleur (punching bag), while receiving no credit for her work and being completely dependent on him financially. Mamaine thought she had to endure Koestler’s moods and whims. She thought it was her moral duty and the lot of all life companions. She would soon develop ‘asthma attacks’, or so a succession of perplexed doctors told her. Was it asthma, or was she growing allergic to Koestler? When Mamaine finally mustered the courage to leave the violent Arthur, her health had deteriorated beyond repair.

Koestler even gave her a Leica [...] in order to take pictures — pictures that would illustrate his articles, though her name would not appear alongside his. Mamaine thought it normal; she was just helping her partner, who was the brain, after all.

But what about Francine? Albert might have been spending some of his nights with his wife and children, along with family holidays in the summer, but she knew, as well as everybody else, that Maria was his true love, or rather his equal in love, while she was the wife at home and mother of his children, a lesser love. She had once had ambitions to be a concert pianist, but that was now a fading memory. Her family had originally been very happy that she married a promising writer. Now, her mother and sister had to fly from Algiers and keep her company and help with the children as she felt less and less well.

“And here is a song for you, I wrote it, it’s a gift. Go and see Joseph Kosma, he’ll write the music for you.”

Just like love, youthful beauty always ends in tears.

Cazalis lent her some money and told her to go to Pierre Balmain and get herself the cheapest garment in the couture shop. Juliette bought a little black dress.

“This Bohemia has ceased to believe in style, has ceased to believe in art and, to a serious degree, has ceased to believe in man.”

According to French belief, creativity did not spring from chaos but could only be achieved through discipline and knowledge.

For six months Kelly and Youngerman went every day, sketching, copying, soaking up others’ style like sponges. Kelly painted half-length portraits that combined the influence of Picasso and Byzantine art, while Youngerman was experimenting with Geometric Abstraction, Kandinsky on his mind.

Anita had seldom seen him so spiteful. “When Bellow was intimidated, he went on the offensive.”

He would soon find that Paris was, after all, “a great machine for stimulating the nerves and sharpening the senses” — and a great place for discreetly conducting extramarital affairs.

“He had no idea what Europe meant. He would discover how Europeans tormented each other and continued to torment each other, all the while creating the values by which civilized men live.”

“Twenty-five beds in a long hospital ward painted green. For twelve days, I am Madame number 10. Out of the fifteen miscarriages, I will soon discover that a dozen have been ‘triggered’. It only took Madame number 9’s announcement that it was her fifth self-inflicted abortion for everyone else on the ward to start speaking up. Doctors and nurses know about it all, of course, and so do not use anaesthetics. The operation is short, between seven and twelve minutes, but extremely painful. Society gets its revenge the way it can.

[...] found him “cocksure, opinionated and dogmatic”. In other words, they found him too French.

He found a room at 8 rue Verneuil, in a hotel owned by a Corsican family known for being very understanding with its lodgers, and managed by the arthritic Madame Dumont. They not only tolerated the eccentricities of their young penniless bohemian tenants, but also accepted that they paid whenever they could. Jazz could be heard in the hotel’s corridors around the clock. When Mme Dumont wanted to sleep, she simply switched off the entire building’s electricity.

Jealousy, along with the fear of rejection and of failure, consumed Bellow. Instead of going out of his way to socialise with Parisian intellectuals, he preferred to engage within a reassuring Chicago crowd while bitching about them.

He found Paris as beautiful as it was strange. “It is a city that must have been designed for meeting others. Chance meetings had taken in Paris the power of design.”

Some of the brightest stars of the Left Bank managed to see people at night and in the daytime, and to work. Sartre and Beauvoir had an unflinching discipline. They worked from nine in the morning until one in the afternoon, had lunch and saw people until five, then went back to their desks until nine at night, after which they would have dinner and often go out. They stuck to their routine, even on holidays.

Michelle wanted Boris to be a “serious” writer, interested in politics and engagé, but he had no time for seriousness. He knew he was slowly dying. Why should he waste time being serious? He cared only for his own brand of poetical fiction, and for jazz. The rest was futile.

Attacked on all fronts, Sartre managed to withstand storm after storm. He was too big to fall.

He took out his brown carnet and wrote: “The RDR has imploded. Tough. New and definite lessons in Realism. One doesn’t give birth to a movement. Circumstances only apperared to favour its creation. It did correspond to an abstract necessity, defined by an objective situation; however it didn’t answer an actual and real need in people. This is the reason why, in the end, they didn’t support it.”

They both found his style unlike any other; “hypnotic” was probably the best word to describe its effect on readers. Whether in his essays, his literary biographies like the one he was writing about Jean Genet, or his novels, Sartre never let his words rest. Reading Sartre often felt like watching a breathless chase or a daring highwire act.

What Paris provided was an education, “not the lessons of school but a view of existence: how to have leisure, love, food, and conversation, how to look at nakedness, architecture, streets, all new and seeking to be thought of in a different way”.

Frugality was their way to deal with the absurdity of life.

Miles and Juliette spent their evenings walking in the streets of Paris, hand in hand, going from one jazz club to another, café to bistro, friend to friend, without anyone staring at them. Juliette did not speak English, Miles did not speak French. “I have not a clue how we managed. The miracle of love,” explained Juliette years later.

Jean-Paul, meanwhile, was busy making Michelle Vian laugh; everybody around him knew what it meant, except Boris, the soon-to-be-cheated-on husband.

“Desire and pleasure seem to her truer than precepts and conventions. She does what she pleases and this is what is so troubling.”

Moving Cities

Happily bumped into this while uploading some photos to WeTransfer. Although I don’t generally enjoy watching dance, I found these movies beautiful.

The WeTransfer article describes the work and includes snippets by the author and links to the project’s original website.

This Diary

An experiment. I want to use this as an excuse to write more (and thus become a better writer), and share more, but I also got the idea from another website to include some photos that are significant at any specific time, and am extending that with things that inspire me like videos, music, book notes, etc.

It’ll then be a personal archive of sorts, plus a blog, which hopefully won’t be too chaotic.