MF: Mahmood Fazal
DX: Daniel Stewart
JC: Justin Clemens
MF: Welcome to Mont Icons.
In this episode, we speak with Dr. Justin Clemens, a prolific writer, philosopher, and poet. Justin Clemens is best known for his work on the philosopher Alain Badiou, psychoanalysis, contemporary literature, and art.
Dr. Clemens, welcome to Mont.
JC: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
MF: It's a pleasure. We want to begin with with just a bit of backstory. How did you get into philosophy? What What were you doing in your youth? Were you as troubled as DX and I?
JC: know that's, like, it's so boring. It's so I thought you might ask me this. And I was trying to I've been desperately trying to think of interesting things about myself to say that there aren't any. So I literally, literally had no idea what was happening when I was a teenager, all this stuff happens, right? And then didn't do anything really ended up at university. And then the thing actually, and this is kind of like getting on drugs, because, you know, I just was reading all this all this shit that was on that there was set on the course and just hanging out and you know, being at uni and getting drunk. And I read this actually, a book by this French philosopher is very famous Jacques Derrida, like It's called Plato's pharmacy. So it's about me, it's a rereading of Plato, but just as if the guy was actually a guy. So when you drugs over a counter, like not just any drugs, but state sanctioned drugs, right, that's what a pharmacist does. Those drugs are official drug. Anyway, that's the that's an interpretation of Plato, which I don't think many people have have given before I actually read this story about Plato being a kind of drug official drug seller, and I've got high and literally was, as I was reading this philosophy, I was like, it like it was like, it was like having a trip, like I swear, I swear, swear this is true. And I just wandered around for two days after that, just going, not even knowing what I was thinking about. I wasn't in the world, everything was like flashing lights and colours. And just thinking about, well, yeah, everyone's fucking retailing some sort of drug to you, right? You're, you're a body, like Plato is meant to be the guy who takes you from the body up to the heaven of ideas, right? But actually, he's just a guy selling another product to you and that products getting your high. And actually, that's what Derrida has just done to me doing with this. And I'm like, Are we all just like taking drugs, man, when we take so not a very particularly profound revelation, but just the fact that Yeah, something's happening to your body? And why would you say that this kind of drug is different from this kind of drug? Where Where do you draw the line, who draws the line? What sort of powers and violences are involved and stuff like that. And that's the sort of thing that I think that was the first actual kind of experience I had of what philosophy was in is as opposed to just buy BLUE, BLUE, BLUE, BLUE, BLUE, BLUE is some whatever, something that really affects your life, you know, where you'd like, wow, I don't even know why. I'm like, I'm an idiot. Right. But that that, that it had a massive effect on me.
MF: So yeah, and, and that kind of lends itself to the whole continental philosophy thing, right? Where it's quite subjective than analytical philosophy. Is that what drew you to it? It's kind of more sensory
JC: Look, that's, that's absolutely right. But, but at the same time, one of the things that I liked about whereas analytic philosophy was really, you know, I did, you know, I did do a first year philosophy course. And it's just completely average shattered. And it had it was completely standard. It was a morals course. So people talking to you about what are those people have said about what it means to be moral as like completely, completely dull and unaffected. And the other half was Descartes, which was surely a great like series of lectures given by this quite, quite amazing guy, he gave a very tailored give lectures off the top of his head would stop have these kind of spasms and stuff. So it was pretty impressive. And it was nice to say, but but the difference was, was with the Continentals it was it was more sensory was moving to the body, it wasn't any less kind of logical OR speculative. It brought together your body, like ideas like and at the same time in this in this in this deridder way that I'm talking about where it's like, now we've got to talk more about the connections, these are not just logical OR analytical actions, these are connections which are like hitting you hurting you doing something to you people are doing something to you, how is it being done? How do you talk about what's being done? What can you do about what's being done to you? Is there another way of thinking of getting it? Or are you just in a kind of repetition machine yourself in you know, like, so it continental philosophy was just much, much bigger in the in the in the way that I encountered it and you know, Maybe, I don't know, I don't think less rigorous but definitely has to be has to it has to hit you. Right?
DX: Like if we could do we could pursue that Derrida thing just for a moment. Did you have any experiences with like street level pharmacists like as in like non academic, philosophical revelations that you could kind of use to draw out what that experience was like? And what kind of what's the difference between getting a drug across the counter and getting a drug off the street? As far as that stuff goes?
JC: Yeah, that's a really good question. One of the and, you know, it's, I think that's, that's a proper philosophical question, right? Because Because the thing, the thing after like a lot, you know, after a long time and going, you know, why was Socrates still, you know, such a figure for actually world culture in a number of a number of ways is because, you know, he's in this, you know, I've often say this now, cuz at one stage, one of my bosses was from Horsham. I was like, well, I'll not even Horsham a small town outside Horsham, which I think is a small town. And I was like, you know, I was like, you know, it doesn't sound like it was very philosophical. And he was like, yeah, Justin, but you got to remember, Athens at the time of Socrates was the size of Horsham, right? So it's a small, shitty little place. And all of a sudden some guy turns on who's just paralysing everyone who meets you on the street. He's the off the street guy. This is exactly I guess, part of Derrida's point is Plato's doing it over over the counter, he's authorised, or at least he's authorised himself in selling these drugs in a very clear, they're all organised, all the packets are lined up. But actually, then there's the straight guy who's like, Who's, who was the guy who taught Plato everything who's Socrates is on the straight, he just wanders up to you. He can happen at any any time, right? Like, and then you're in this conversation, you couldn't even imagine what even what when they were talking about Gods, you know, a Gods on the street corner in you know, in the dust of the the gore and so on. And I think that that, that that, you know, sorry that to use the word suture and division between the straight the straight dispenser Socrates. And, and the the official one, Plato, they're kind of fused together as well, you can't, you can't, they're both really different. And you also you also can't separate them. But when we're you know, so even street people are sometimes already full of full of the stage. And sometimes people you think are just state operatives, a really, you know, a lot more radical thing
DX: I'd like to hear about I think Diogenes would be a character that people who listen to this would be interested to hear about. So let's try and draw him into this little circle. Oh, like, where does? Where does he fit as far as things go? Because like, if we could say that there's a bit of the state in, in some of us, like, there's there was very little of that in him. It was, he was very much like your back alley. Deal.
MF: Like, yeah, but like to buy this to like, why do we think that the street guy or that the obscene or the scam of the system held more true than the guy in the ivory tower? Like preaching, preaching?
JC: That's right, these are what this is exactly that this is part of the biggest question for all of us. Right? Who are you? Where are you going to get you're going to the authority gonna come from? And is it going to have power and violence behind? And if so what sort of kind right like, I reckon what you You know what, that's exactly the dioxygenase problem, because, you know, dogen is one of the students as Socrates as well, he in play so hate each other, right? Because of course, Plato's aristocrat goes up and dial genies lives in a barrel naked, basically. Right? And all the stories about him are very punk. He's very, he's very punk. He starts off the reason he ends up in Athens is because apparently, he in his dad, and their hometown was started forging currency, and were caught as like counterfeiters and had to be expelled. So he ended up in the year in a barrel in Athens. Basically, this
DX: an aside my favourite crime of all currency counterfeiting
MF: that's a federal offence, so we don't get punished very
DX: This concurrency counterfeiter in this film called To Live and die in LA Have you seen that film? Is yeah he's he's it's just portrays that crime very well. But But let's return to
JC: the it's a really important crime isn't it is seems like money is when I cut a few years ago I was had to change some money for a Slovenian philosopher who came out and surnames dollar like he's he's quite famous a Slovenian guy called Marlon dolla. If you know who Shaq is, he's kind of Best Friends of shoes. You can say. He's a great guy, but we're at the Commonwealth Bank at the time must be actually about 15 years ago, and I had this sign saying 10 cents and $2 I'm like, that's why we're here. Isn't that why I didn't slow but That's what we have this conversation of the Commonwealth Bank about dollars and the original. I was like, well, dot $1 was a silver mine in the austro Hungarian Empire which the Slovenians were, I think, um, you know, having to work so it's kind of a Slovenian. You know, it's,
I wouldn't say slave name, but but it's a serf name. Yeah, you could be, it could be, you could be the aristocrat, or it could be the guys just, like forced down the mind. So then we had, where does your money come from? What's the best thing you can do? You know, clip this currency, man, like, the fastly approaching, like redundancy. Is that kind of crime? Like being able to do that that's
why they want Bitcoin and crypto just to make sure that you can't counterfeit Adam ruins that potential. Exactly. And isn't counterfeiting, as you said, isn't the greatest of all crimes like and since I originally started with it, we just need really a crypto Diogenes. See the simulated synthesiser it's like a blockchain ledger.
DX: I love this idea.
JC: Yeah, so where were we?
DX: Well, we were at the point where Diogenes was expelled to Athens. of counterfeiting crime of
JC: passion, the crime of passion, and we're doing it with your dad as well. It's a family business, right? Yeah, my dad was a counterfeiter armour. Will he? Look, you must know some of those stories. They're pretty famous, but I'm just going to tell him anyway cuz they like made me have a son. One of them is he's just like, standing there jerking off like, and which of course is you know, still rude in Athens right? despite them not being a you know, uptight society or whatever. And someone someone out praise him for it and he goes, Ash, look, if only I could assuage my hunger by rubbing my stomach in the same way. I'd do that right. And this is a body this is my body. The You know, there's a whole load of them the best one for me, though, which is when Alexander the Christ is invading Athens, this is a story and he's just sitting there reading in the sun, people are dying around him is not moving. He just like and now Alexander the Great rides up on his horse. Alexander's being that the student of Aristotle, right, the other, you know, one of the greatest philosophers of world history, blah, blah, blah. He's been a student, so he's got an appreciation for philosophers, right. And so he sees this guy reading in the middle of the I guess it's a scroll in there just well, while everyone's dying around him. He's like, Ah, it must be a philosopher. Yeah, I'm gonna go right up and see who he is. So Alexander the Great rides are blooming above you know, dial just means on on his horse like shadows covering him or whatever. And, and Alexander the Great goes, who are you? And Argentines goes on, I'm dialled in is the dog. Who are you? Who the hell are you? It's like, um, Alexander the Great's like, goes back to reading. Alexander's like, Look, no, you're very impressive. Ask me anything that you want. You can have it diagenesis like Adam, my life, man. Great, great direction, a story.
DX: I'd really like to hear like you've, you've been obviously exposed to all the crisis within academics at the moment. Yeah. And I'd like to hear your perspective on how this is going to affect the future of philosophy.
JC: Yeah, it's a big question. It's a it's a big question. But it's weird already, we seem to be talking about the same same problem from the beginning this this tension for between the street and the tower. But then even within the street, there's the state and even within the tower, there's the street. And nothing's very, very clear. But you know, on the way here, I just caught a taxi over here, and I was just talking to the taxi driver about about because his kids are at university and his his oldest son had just trash change, he had been wanting to do to an education degree to to be a teacher, which, which the, the driver was really, really like, that's what I want for him. And it decided to do computer science instead. And and, and I was like, aha has like, that seems like a pretty good thing to do, or whatever. And the drivers just go, No, doesn't he understand this debt, he had a there's all these things he's got to pay back. He's got to, and I was like, I had this just like horrible thought. I'm pretty old now. Right? And the last generation in Australia, of people who got an undergraduate degree for free, right, courtesy of Gough Whitlam in this country. And you know, I can't tell you the difference. That experience was it's just, you know, people use the word like privilege or whatever now, and that's so true, but it doesn't actually it actually gets everyone off the hook that word in this case, it was you have no idea how different it was. If you weren't in that situation where I could go into, say, the Union Building, they weren't selling, they weren't retail stores. There were just a whole lot of people people were smoking dope. Some people were drinking some people drinking tea, is just a rowdy mess. And I'd get to meet people I would never ever admit anywhere in my life before, who have come from all over the place who were there for free, who was studying the most amazing Using things and just being able to sort of talk to just is just like just even in one tiny experience of it. And then now what the dead, the control, the managerialism, the shutting down of every real possibility for, I guess, autonomy in the old sense, right of both of education of being a students of being a teacher of what that means in terms of a kind of community and access, and all those sorts of things that we think about. But quite, quite frankly, I feel like I was a little soft snail in a shell, which really was, was really beautiful for me for about three years, and then started to be corrosive itself, but I've got nowhere else to live. And so I'm being corroded by my own, what was my own hiring overhead? Like? Does? Does that make sense? Does that does?
MF: That in what ways is that from being on like, both sides as a student, and then as a teacher, how has that affected the way students are engaging with education, particularly in philosophy?
JC:Yeah, I mean, the things, the things that I think that yeah, it's, these are these are good. These are good questions. I think that there is a desire, like a desire for philosophy, one of the great French philosophers at the moment, I guess he's the last one, he calls himself the last great philosopher anyway, Alan baju. And he is a great philosopher. But as he says, you know, there is a desire for philosophy, what's the desire for philosophy, it's exactly a Socratic one, it can come from anywhere, it comes from the street, but it can come from above to it can come from anywhere, and nothing, nothing can give you what the what is the demand or the desire for philosophy right? Now, the university or the institutions, not just the university, but all the institutions of modernity, with which we're familiar are being like, deliberately disrupted, hacked away, undermined, destroyed, and like individualising people and distributing us making us less and less able to meet together, as you know, in any kind of public space at all without being interfered with, right, like, now philosophy is that, you know, in from ancient, not just an ancient Greece, but all over the world, where people gather and talk to each other in one way or another, in an open and free way. Which doesn't mean Say, say anything you like necessarily freedoms not not just blurt your fucking head off, right? I mean, that's what they say today, free speech, say anything you like, piss off, there's nothing free about that, say something free, that requires explanation, concepts, discussions, arguments. So what I guess this is a long rambling sort of response to say, there is a real desire for philosophy. And, you know, as a teacher, it's my, or there's lots of people that even though the students are now you know, going to be crippled with debt, they're still, you know, they're still doing it and white, beyond the depth beyond what you're paying beyond the world you're in, you want to hear something, you want to think about something, you know, like you've never been able to think about before, make new connections have new possibilities. So that desire for philosophy isn't gonna go away. But I'm just not sure that the official institutions or having this legitimation crisis, and undermining themselves in one way or another, again, to be up to it, so it's kind of much more punk now, in the sense that well, the Melbourne School of continental philosophy, which we're talking about before, which is a one local version, but there's versions all over the world of these places, were kind of just attempts to set up free associations of people to speak and give lectures or hear lectures to compare to dissipate if you want to, yeah, to discuss Yeah, I guess ideas but not just discuss them, their their ideas to be, you know, incarnated in your life, right, like, the does that does that answer your question was too rambley?
MF: I wonder if, you know, a lot of when I think back on a lot of my favourite philosophers, they were all rebelling against the institution, although they were always near the beginning. immersed within them. Yeah. Do you think do you think the institutions will always be necessary for that kind of thought?
JC: You know, it's a really good question. I think I think I really, and I like the way you put that too, because I think it really is at the edge of institutions, like you don't want to, like you don't want to destroy everything. Because if you destroy everything you're in, what are you You've got nothing to reform and, you know, that's, I feel that that's what like capitalism is doing. It's just destroying without without sustaining anything. Right? So institutions are often corrupt as a, you know, in fact, it's kind of constitutional, but you need something of that poison, to give sort of to give you this is what the state pharmacy looks like. And actually, if you just go down the road, you're gonna find some, you know, unifying magic, you're going to find a street pharmacist is going to offer you something you've never, you've never, never had before. Right.
DX: Yeah, to continue the analogy that there needs to be a sense of legitimate To an argument and what brings legitimacy is other people agreeing together. Like in some framework, some institution needs to be around an argument to be like, this is sound, this makes sense. This this, this follows from this and, and we felt this way we, we felt this way. Exactly. So wherever you lose, we lose the tower inside entirely. The only, like drugs we can use to, you know, to continue this analogy as far as we can put it off on the street. Yeah, we don't know we're putting in ourselves, we there's no balance of what kind of concentration of dose or whatever, like we, we depend on some people to make sure that there's a consistency between dosage if that's the easiest way of kind of expressing what happens when we lose the towel.
JC: Yeah, what otherwise, because this is a big problem in the history of just even in the history of political philosophy, and we're really like stupid, this is a kind of dumb thing to have me to say, but in a stupid sense is like, you know, you know, say, say Thomas Hobbes in the 17th century known Leviathan, one of the great books of, I guess, political philosophy, or is this like, Look, if that happens, if you have a disintegration of all institutions, what have we got is back to the war of all against all, it's the law of the strongest, there's no legitimacy or whatever legitimacy there is, is just seized for the moment by the guys the strongest, and tomorrow, he's not going to be the strongest either, because it's just going to be an endless chaos. And that's fine. That's just worse. Now, the other option is some institutions and those institutions can be pretty corrupt, right? Like Hobbes isn't, isn't praising them. It's just getting your choice. Bad or worse, right? So his his that's his kind of really basic, I guess, aspect of political philosophies. That's why you can have to put up sometimes with sovereigns who are unbearable, think of the Roman Emperor Emperor. It's right. unspeakable scam, basically. But in the end, everyone's just like, yeah, it's better this than just war of all against all or
MF: life can always get shorter and wider. Really? Yes. Yes, it can.
MF: Yeah. I mean, think about the Middle East, you know, so many examples of that. Libya, Iraq, God.
JC: Oh, my God. Absolutely. And just the UN, you know, and that's one of the things about, you know, yeah, yeah, absolutely. And just that just the idea that you think that you can go in and totally destroy a society in order for your own own ends. That's, I think that's part of a form of thinking today that even the kind of, you know, violent, sort of reactionaries of the 17th century would never have gone that far. You never just go in, you know, commit massive war crime, you go in for a purpose. And it's not that purpose is governance, as much as it is, even if it's, you know, to your benefit, rather than just simple to strike destruction or attempted destruction. And then, you know, syphoning off the surplus for your for yourself, which, which I see particularly in, you know, in in Iraq, as, as you mentioned, that, that it was it's not a war, it's, it's a it's a, it's a, turn everything into absolute confusion, and then just make sure you profit from that, from that from from the oil.
MF: I guess, going back to the Academy. Academy is an institution. What do you make of the way it's being used as a political football in all this identity politics and yeah, leftist sort of kind of current, you know, corrupting our children in universities for what do you make of that?
JC: Well, you know, I look, there's so many things about it, that I just get a kid. I just don't, it makes me so confused. And I feel so weird. When I think about the public debates, I can't turn on public TV anymore, like commercial TV or read the, I just can't read the newspapers because I just think, wow, this is why I'm a snail in the shell. Like, I just never want to touch this, the level of this debate. It's like, Well, you know, Socrates was killer. But the point about Plato's sets up the first Academy in a grove outside Athens, which is called the sacred to her to a hero called hackaday mass, right? So that's where the name comes from. It's about it's about, you know, you killed you killed my teacher, that the state killed my teacher. So we're going to set up an institution of our own outside the walls and like we're going to have some free you know, free philosophy together. Now the state today like obviously, the university is an integral part of the of the of the contemporary state. And so, you know, starting to worry about all the all the little, all the little kids who are doing disgusting things and and being perverted disturbingly by, Well, the first thing I'd say is like, even if that were true, why do you think that's a bad thing? Like honestly, like I think of this Friedrich naisha thing where he says, you know, people complaining about their parasites or I've got so many you know, like knits and Lies, and he goes, but you know, if you're if you were actually strong, you'd be boasting about it going, you've only got 100,000 lives. me, sir, I have 10,000 1000 billion lives, right, you should be proud of your parasites if you had any strength. One of the so one of the indications I take from this debate, and not only that it's stupidity. But the very weakness of the people who have got incredible power over us. They're telling us how weak they are as well, like, and we just have to also hear, they're complaining about that. That's what you that's what you complain about. Oh, my God, you were urine, urine, a terrible position yourself. So?
DX: Yeah, I think that's a very, that's a very good way to understand so much of contemporary debate about coming from people with power and privilege or losing that. Well, they will say that they're losing that and the way that they articulate that doesn't really follow that the white race is the strongest, the most superior race but cannot survive. Immigration, for instance, like those two things don't make sense next to each other. But that's the argument that Australian racist kind of like, bring people towards themselves where there's like, the this like this, this incapacity to sustain more nets, or more more parasites and then blaming someone else for
JC: Absolutely, I mean, even if you're even thinking about things, as parasites is already a decision, right. But you know, you've already made your decision that these, you know, but but but, you know, that's why I like the Nisha thing, too. It's like, yeah, they're only parasites for you on you. Because because they need something from you. Are you strong enough to give it to them? Or are you are you are you weak? Right, and, and the other thing that I was talking to a friend about this the other day was, was, you know, you've pointed to something around, say, white Australian racial discourse, which is racist discourse, which is like just a flat out contradiction, right? Like, just flat out. Thinking about, you know, in, in, in Sigmund Freud's, you know, the interpretation of dreams, where he's just talking about people's dreams and desire and the unconscious. Right. So, and that it's totally obscene. And his point is, is that, you know, he talks about something called castle logic, where he says, there's this, this jokey, Linda castle to your neighbour. And it's perfectly good when you lend it to them, they bring it back, it's completely fact. It's got holes in it's damaged. So you're like, Look, you go back to the neighbour and say, What have you done with my castle and the neighbour goes, ah, I returned it and damaged. And then the neighbour goes also are also it had those holes when you enter to me, and then the neighbour also goes, Oh, yeah, and you never lent me the kettle in the first place. Right? And Freud says, look, all of these are false excuses. Every one of them is false, right? So they're not even true on their own. But you could be at least plausible if you just kept to your story. But the sign of desire, I have a repressed truth that you can't be is that contradictions that emerge? So whenever you see contradictions, you know, that desire is at work right? Now, the problem is, when he's Freud's talking about dreams, that's about our dirty personal desires. But when you see it in a political sense, it sort of changes. It is a contradiction. And it is a it is a horrible sign of weakness. But at the same time, it's also in political, political stage is also a sign sometimes like, of I'm so I'm so big, I'm just going to, I'm going to not only lie to you, I'm going to show you that I'm lying, and I'm going to undermine my own lies. And I'm going to show you that I don't even care about until and undermining my own lies, and then you think, right, then you could either be going down, like you say, or you're actually so confident, you just don't even need to hide it. In fact, you're rubbing in enough. All right, so I always felt that that double fear. Do you know what I mean? There's a lot of terror around in the world. Right? And, you know, yeah, you know, that the people rolling over us when they you know, I mean, this would obviously never happen in Australia, but perhaps someone in in power was accused of rape, right, which No, it would never happen in this country. But obviously, Navy another pullet. Pacific Island somewhere close by, right? You didn't, you know, you'd never, you'd never believe that they you know, that that person would cry and present themselves as the victim or whatever.
MF: I mean, it just, yeah, yeah, we'll be done that whole line that he pushed. Just imagine for a moment. It wasn't true. Not thinking the complete opposite.
JC: Oh, my God.
JC: That's the present. That's right, like and that's why I think this ketologic thing is actually quite a good way of thinking about things. For Freud. It's always a sign of repression. Personally, that's Yeah, you've got some desires you don't like but that's also you and they're going to come back, but in a political frame, they're a bit that That that structure is has different, different implications. I think like,
MF: is that? Would that be a tautology?
JC: I don't think so. I think it would be. I think it would be a scary thing. Maybe it should be a tautology, but no one no a red light. Like, I mean, I don't know. I mean, maybe politics is a place where this this happens a lot where I was feel that I've got everyone else's crazy and I'm the only person who knows, it knows anything at all. And I think now I'm clearly freaking crazy. I don't understand what any of them is saying why they're saying it, why they're doing this is this, are they are they? Like, really the contemporary political discourse could be just like people squealing and absolute agony, or just like monster predatory monsters? I think a bit of both actually like, but having no way of duplicating that in a public sense is pretty to come back to the legitimacy of institutions.
DX: Yeah, well, that's just thinking this we've this one of the themes of this podcast has been always been to kind of explore what, what what even the idea of counterculture could mean in a time like ours. We only recently put it to one of the people that we spoke to and Brace Belden the last podcast was just like, I just do not flat out just don't think it could exist right now. And one reason that just occurred to me as we're talking, as I'm finding myself, somehow, like, trying to defend the legitimacy of institutions is that unless there is a legitimate institution, there can't be a counterculture. Like, does does that follow to you? Yeah, what does it counter to?
JC: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, that's, that is a tautology, in a way. Right? That and I think that's absolutely right. But just there has to be a difference, right? But we're not in a time that likes difference in my opinion at all. In fact, we're trying to obliterate the attempt to obliterate difference is a real, it seems to me real programme, whether or not it's conscious or not. And one of the things that that is to do that, like, you know, you're actually obliterating the differences that institutions made, and also even obliterating the desire or the recognition to come back to exactly what you said that these institutions are not always there to normalise they are, but no one had to take them seriously. Right. Like, you could also say, Yeah, I know, this is institution, we're going to do this. But actually, it's not total. It's not totalitarian. We're gonna have our streets and counterculture as well. But if you get rid of one, you do get rid of the other.
DX: So what's what's what's the calm? Like? How do we? How do we look at the future of like, any situation being legitimise or if we are looking at this situation? you've you've thought a lot about nihilism. Yeah. And, and you're familiar enough with Nietzsche to kind of be able to speak about the time of like that, you know, the last people pay. That's right. And so tell me the last people Yeah, can you can you kind of just explain that concept, because I think it's something that will be quite rewarding to hear your perspective.
JC: Yeah, I guess this goes back to some of the post true things I guess we're talking about, and in one way or another legitimacy crisis, or the legitimation crisis, and so on. But the thing that, that Nisha said, this is one of the things that he says about nihilism, and it's really important in a kind of Post truth, any Post truth analysis where everyone goes, we've lost the truth, we need the truth back, we just need to establish another institution, we need some ways of, you know, getting Trump to tell the truth is like, you poor bastard slide, the nation of knishes points is, is a much more a weirder historical point, which is, it goes back to I guess, Plato in a way goes, you know, what did Plato do? He said, Plato said, Here we are in the in the material world, but actually, it's not the real world, the real world is somewhere else. It's a higher world. It's an idealised world. And you know, there's, you know, that difference is what we have to think as philosophers in the material world, which is one of flux and mutability, but we want to get back up to the immutable, you know, realm of the ideas, or at least this is a standard way of thinking of Plato, and he and Phoenicia, Plato, thereby does a couple of things he established as truth as the criterion in the mutable world of what speaks to the ideas and what's false as well. But then Nisha says the problem with establishing truth on this two worlds and you know, you can see it in all sorts of religions, right, most monotheism have that have a comparable distinction many other religions and practices do too. But knishes point is that the very installation of truth at the centre of this machine, truth undermines itself because it keeps questioning itself so thoroughly, it actually in the end ends by breaking down. And so the nihilism that that Nisha saw in the 19th century Imperial colonial Europe, which he actually despised, and condemned as a kind of sign of nihilism, his point was that you can't just say we want the truth. This is true. And this is false. He goes, that's, that's the problem itself was thinking that there was a false world and a true world in the first place. And so whenever you want to say, Oh, we just need to get truth back. It's like, No, that was the poison, not the cure, you're asking for more poison. And that works homeopathically, but only to a point, right, like, and so that's part of the problem for nature of the nihilism of the world we're in. You can't just fix it by saying, We need truth again, who's going to who's going to impose that and you know, part of the problem for Nisha, then, and you can see it in the Nazi interpretations of his work as well to power. It just takes that fewer all that strong man to be the neck the next person to implement what is going to be the new regime of truth for everyone. Right? But Phoenicia, that's also nihilism. Again, it's just repeating the same phenomenon. So his question, which is an open question, I reckon is out of this chaos? Is it possible to form new ways of new ways of thinking that don't don't end up repeating the nihilist drama and the nihilist drama, it's literally around around the primacy of truth itself. So you can't just separate them and go it's truth against nihilism. It's Phoenicia, truth, you know, putting truth at the centre, like ends up necessarily as a denialist. nihilist. And does that make sense?
DX: Yeah. AndI'm curious as because this is a process that can be quite traumatic to think through. Yeah, it definitely was for me, and I know a lot of people that are caught at various stages of it. And you can really see just how far advanced someone is through that process of thinking in terms of how traumatised, they are by it, because it can it can lead you in a real dark spiral. Yeah. So how did you process this?
JC: That's Nietzsche’s point is he says, I'm the first accomplished nihilist in all of Europe. I went 200 years into the future and came back and I'm telling you, God is dead. Like, there's no institution that's going to stabilise this slide this this rain, right. And his point is exactly what you said is once you start, it's like a Pringles ad, right, you can't start, once you pop, you can't stop, right, like, because you can't stop. So at some point, like knishes thing as well, you have to if you're talking about this in a therapeutic sense, which I think is one of the things that's great about, you know, proper philosophy to come back to how we sort of started, it's going to speak to you and your personal body, right, like to your personal body, but it's stupid, sorry, I'm going to say, say even more stupid things like, but it's got to speak to you directly. And not everything does ride. But at some point, it's also got to tell you about things, they've got nothing to do with your body at all and to which your body is irrelevant, but where some connection I think can be made, right. But sometimes nothing stops that for right. But in all of us in a kind of individual therapeutic sense, I guess in a nation therapy, which is you get to a point, I think he's got this in Zarathustra, this, you know, you have to be a lion and roar at the world light. But then you open up a desert, because if you've destroyed if you've brought the world, what's left in the world that's going to support you while nothing you quite rightly destroyed that. So then says you've got to become a camel, like he's got this metamorphoses of the soul. And you got to go across that desert, right? Who knows how long that desert is, who knows if you're going to get to an oasis, who knows if you're going to get to the end grind, but at the end, then you can have a rebirth and you'll become a child, which is obviously a new beginning on earth, and we don't know what they're capable of. Right. So, you know, I think that's the, the, the kind of nation thing is, maybe nothing will stop it. Right. But maybe something will but we're in the dead. We're in the desert of the rail as, as john paul Girard put it, but in the desert, the real let's take that seriously. And while it's topological, in, its in its geographical. And it's it's kind of, you know, symbolic significance. And I think that's what nature does. I mean, you got to be a camel at that point. Nothing sustains you. You're just one of the ugliest animals on the planet. But
DX: I think that's Yeah, that's. That's really well put. Yeah. You have to bear the weight.
JC: Absolutely. But also in Nietzsche. Sorry. Sorry, keep crapping on but he also has this thing about Yeah, you got to say yes to that destiny, too. That's why it says that's the affirmation, affirmation, but the affirmation is really hard. And he also says, and this is to come back to what I said a bit. Sometimes you can't tell whether these people are squealing in pain or laughing at you from power or egos. You know, sometimes you hear the Yang here. It's basically a donkey just being loaded down. Gang gang. Yeah,yeah, I'm thinking it's being Affirmative. But in that case, you just a donkey toe. So when you're even even in the midst of F formation, something something that you know, you never know, you never know. You never know. You're never in a safe place. Basically. Under those, like everything you're doing is on the edge of something, right. And if you think you think you've got it made, then well, Phoenicia, where you haven't roared, you haven't been in the desert, you're not a child, because you haven't viewed child, you haven't got anything made. And you're, you're, you're in the in the, yeah.
MF: So what point for you after reading that, there are a double did you decide to roll and become become a teacher and just do it.
JC: And that's one of the things like universities have always been like, since the middle age has been considered terrible places that you've got to get out of, and there's always been student riots, and they've always been full of corrupt, corrupt church, church going preachers and stuff, right. So, you know, the problem is, is that like, sometimes they're apparatuses of capture, right? And I just like, never wanted to stop, like, after, you know, and the problem is, yeah, as one of my friends says, you don't want to just keep chasing that feeling either, right? But I guess I was chasing the feeling of being high on Derrida and then just bit just kept going. And then yeah, basically never left, like, like I say, like a snail. And but, you know, you know, God got got a job in 2000, at a university in in Australia, and it was, you know, just to, which was fantastic to have the money and have some Yeah, as you know, you need, you know, money instability for that sort of thing, and, but just to meet students to what I was teaching at a regional university, and just to meet, also students who had, you know, who were their first generation of their families ever to be at university, like many of them, and just to, you know, just go Actually, this isn't just bullshit. Everything in the world says, this is just blah, blah, blah. And for the most part, that's that's kind of true. But to come back to what we were talking about before, there is a desire for there is a desire for something right? Like that desire doesn't always have a no. And so to talk to students and have arguments with students or read books and discuss these arguments, go to whatever, like, Is this good? wise? It's not good. What is this? I don't it's really it's Yeah, I think it's, yeah, there's nothing like it, right? My you can do it anyway. You can do it. You know, it's like having a VP or whatever it is, it is. Even with the rise of the Internet, I find that those conversations are happening far less and less, maybe an obscure Reddit threads or something where people are really getting together and saying, motherfucker, we learn here. Why are we here? What? How do I know what I'm doing is good, or I think you need to break the frame. That's why institutions are also important. And the worst institution of the world we're in is now as the is the internet because exactly even obscure Reddit things. You're not just you know, you're connected to the to the techno capitalism, by these devices, which are recording you the whole time as surveilling you who monitoring you, you know, the Australia's monitoring you the US prime Israel, China, who isn't, you know, I think I think this is well known. And so everything and you didn't make that equipment, you don't know anything about how it works. Basically, you're not like no one does. I mean, there's so complex now that I was saying, you know, as you said, You don't know very much you don't know very much. So you have to be lucky. This is also one of the stories of philosophy is you have to accident, you know, okay, you've been you've been you've been prosecuted for like counterfeiting the currency. What the fuck am I going to do now? I'm going to Athens maybe. And then you meet the absolutely by chance and absolutely demented person called Socrates. He like, yeah, this is it, right, but it's by chance. Or another thing because I was one of the guys was one of the things I liked about the university was at they had a psychoanalytic studies programme, which was really fantastic. And I'm teaching Lacan like this was a deacon and Russell Greg was a big local Acadian was translator of Lacan, was there so reading a lot of Jacques Lacan, French psychoanalyst, mid 20s, mid to late 20th century, whatever. But this story is about him. This is one of his students, this guy called most of us are foreigners. It was an Egyptian Egyptian guy, who ended up becoming a Kenyan, big lacanian psychoanalyst in France and he basically just is trying to get it's after the Second World War is trying to get to Oxbridge so he can study logic and proper analytic philosophy. It's basically run out of money. He's on the streets of Paris meets this like bizarre buffoon guy, who says, How about coming back to my apartment and having some teas like, it turns out like like cons running a seminar or whatever, and just wants to talk about psychoanalysis. And Stefan himself says, I mean, That was the feeling you must have had when you met Socrates. You're alone, you're lost, you don't know anyone, you're not quite you don't have the money. You're not quite where you want it to be. And all of a sudden you have this chance encounter. But that's, it's not very, it's not very much, but that's what you got, which, which then changes your life? I think that there is something in that you just have to be you have to be lucky as well. Right. Like to Yeah, and open, lucky and open. And sometimes desperate. Yeah.
MF: And was, was there something particular about continental philosophy that drew you in, like psychoanalysis in the work of Alan Badiou that, yeah, that made you want to teach it? Or was that? Was that why was that always the pathway for you? Well,
JC: that's right. Well, I don't think it was always but but you know, you know, I like that Badiou himself has these descriptions or psychoanalysis, you know, like on is this great thing about what's ethics? Well, you know, in the ethic, in the end ethics is just following your desire, right? Will it be good for you? No, it won't be desire isn't good for you, right? And will take you to places that you didn't expect, and you didn't want to go. And also in that process of desire turns out, as you continue, you'll find a whole load of I guess, there's a redescription of this sort of things, which I was saying before about Nisha to, something's going to emerge that you didn't expect, that turns out to be non negotiable, even though it doesn't bear any resemblance to your earlier life, nor to your projections, nor really what you're, you're doing now. And and the problem was, I think, is just, you know, as I said, I think that's the thing that, above all captivated me is that relationship between a strange encounter, which in which overwhelms me why, and I don't know what's happening, or why it's happening, and then starting to read and do things in a way that or be really, and then start to meet all these other people are into them who are all quite, you know, some of them are quite weird people, as I think, you know, we can all testify. And then actually, all of you being there, united and divided, just trying to go What's going on? How do we know more is no more good, you know, by that stage, and then what you're reading is actually reflecting upon all those questions, too. And by that stage, I'm just sort of lost, maybe lost in bullshit. But like, you know, I'm still going to keep bullshitting if that's the
DX: what's the most recent experience like this view, like, in terms of maybe a more contemporary thinker, or an engagement with a contemporary thinker?
MF: Or just some something that has happened recently, engagement with a student?
JC: Yeah, yeah. These are, these are good questions. I mean, I think I think I'm probably, you know, nature also has this line about, you know, a person who's a teacher, and he takes things ever, ever takes things seriously with respect to his students, even himself. And I found, you know, I don't know, I don't think I've got any real details. But, you know, I just really, you know, students, just particularly sort of guys who are doing PhDs, you know, who or whatever, you know, who, and whatever the PhD is on, these, these people are making a claim, and I'm become interested and excited by what it is that they're doing, even if I'm not originally very interested, or sometimes I shouldn't be doing, you know, it's not, you know, it's not the best thing for me to be doing. Or maybe I'm not the best person for the job or whatever, but to one accident or another, just to be captivated by students, students own desires. And you know, that's not, that's not always sorry to be woke up. But I don't think I can give details around that for all sorts of reasons. But just just to sort of, I guess, testify to the feeling, once again, that there is a desire for philosophy, it really is out there. It comes from all over the place. It doesn't have any particular it doesn't have any petite, it doesn't look like anything at all right, like, but every now and again, someone turns up and goes, I need to do this more. And that itself is a kind of absolute, and it has, you know, it looks pretty weird in the in the eyes of the world, or whatever the world world is or what you imagined, you know, the Yeah, the people generally, whoever, whatever that means to think that that I find that unbelievably great. Like, I just can't, I can't tell you.
DX: Yeah, I think that that would obviously go a long way towards explaining why we're doing this.Yeah. Not justto sit down with you. But to sit down with anyone have these discussions is because we're these experiences is so valuable for both of us.
JC: Well, you know, I mean, if you want to, if you want to name of someone I've been reading recently, who I think is really amazing. And I can tell you, I can tell you, I can give you sort of propositional reasons why in this case, which is a guy who teaches in South Africa called or killed my bamboo. And he's written like a lot of books, ones, just the ones called brutalism. One's called Necro. Politics, one's called critique of black reason, and so on, and he just has this incredible increase. double vision, which is that, you know, for 500 years capitalism and slavery, blackness has been has been, you know, has been enforced by by the most extreme iniquities of a colonial organisation right now we're at the end of that it's decaying, and it's collapsing, and people are desperate and obviously hanging on to power acting wildly, he goes, Well, now it's time to think through what those 500 years meant, how it happened, what the what the, what the consequences are, what how we're going to think of a future, which is often in a global frame, but he's thinking it from a particular point and from a particular, you know, like, attitude, which implicates a saw. And of course, his thing is, I mean, he, you know, he even talks about things like, you know, what, we need to set up zones of conviviality, right? What does that mean? It just means a place where everyone can make, right like in this, you know, let's not, let's not, let's not seek revenge, necessarily, let's definitely do name names, and let's definitely, you know, bring down those statues of Rhodes, right. But also, let's try and go forward by creating new zones of, you know, his phrases, zones of conviviality, where where people can make where, you know, yeah, what, what, what is it where, yeah, you have to be you have to be, you have to be able to speak and you have to be able to be listened to. And you also have to be able to hear, hear the or hear hear others as well. It's a very minimal sort of dream, and he puts it much better. But I want to say it's not the most radical thought I've ever read. But it's a really strong one at this time, and particularly in this moment. And it's a particularly his analyses are pretty, pretty, pretty amazing. Basically, if the the history of slavery of Negritude and so forth, and you know, what, what's more? What's more, what's more pressing? Like, we're just gonna go back to what we were talking about earlier, about, you know, what, what's happening in politics is kind of trying to block it out. But it seems kind of always present when you're talking about philosophy and literature, which you write about a lot. How do you negotiate those two things when you're teaching? Or when you're writing up a course and deciding what to teach people and, and how do you negotiate that balance of the world around you and the ideas that you want to present? Yeah, I always think interconnected that I look, they really are. Sorry, I you know, I'm just gonna say something, you know, I guess, I guess, in a way it's been good to, it's been, it's been good to talk to you because I realise I like sounds of conviviality. Right, let's let me say that I definitely. I definitely like limit conditions as well. Like, you have to be prepared to talk about things that are difficult, like whether that whether they're personal desires or political, political terrorism or something, also, you need to be prepared to continue with it like, right, right. So keep going like not just dip in and dip out. And at the same time to come back to the thing I was saying about, I guess the deridder thing is like, your body has to be connected to the to something like a universe or something that's not you, that has nothing to do with you and whether that can so yes, it turns out, there's always a connection. So like to give you an example of just one subject I taught last year, it's about poetry. It's basically English poetry. So it's all in English or whatever. But we go from a went from a kind of 16th century poem by a guy called john Skelton who was Henry the eighth's chooser. By the way. This is a pretty weird guy. And it's really This poem is called speak parrot, which is basically a parrot, quacking and outlasts squawking and is also languages, how much it hates a cardinal Woolsey so I mean, it's a pretty weird poem. No one really understood at the time if they properly understood it properly, you know? And we were we went from there through a whole series of you know, both classic English, both classic poems, you'd poets, you'd know. But we finished with them. The buzzy Philip, who's a Canadian Tobago woman has Zong, which is the most recent book, and that's about this appalling event in which a British slave ship threw over board 108 of the slaves and then claimed it on insurance basically. So it's a huge events in in the history of colonial slavery from the 18th century the ships called Zhan it which means it means song right so ballsy. Philip has got this incredible power. I'm I can't recommend it highly enough Zong exclamation mark, which does all of the most extreme sort of Mallanna may in formal experimentation. But it's about this. You know, you can get a more political political politicised event as well. So I guess what I would say is it would it I Need to when I say if I'm thinking about setting something up? Yes, I always think of what we have to have English poetry from here to here. And we'll give the students a range of genres and blah, blah, blah. But in the end, it's got to be both absolutely personal. And absolutely, and political. And that's not me putting that in there. That's the that's the that's the that's the objective state of this, of this literature, for instance. And like, it's our job to, you know, show people that it's now just go Look, look at this. It's fantastic. Then talk about it then. So here's some things you can look at this. Take this, have a look at this. Look at what are you going to assemble, assemble from that? So I see that's a kind of pedagogical mode. But to answer your question directly now never, you know, no matter how much you're trying to force it out, or get it away from you, you know, we're all politicise. We can't can't avoid that, but not always in its director way as people think. And we're all we've got our own absolutely personal, disgusting desires, but also not quite as we think either. Right.
MF: So that leads us to want to talk about your poetry. When did that start for you? When did you decide to start writing
JC: I always wanted to be a poet when I was little, I thought I you know, I read I remember reading like, you know, the Alice in Wonderland books and chapel walkie, you know, the Jabberwocky poem, which is just such a great poem. Like I get, you know, I can bore you I could pull the bore the shit out of you, which we go into is brillig and the slithy Toves. I was just this is I was like eight or something's like, this is the best thing I've ever, ever read. And, and one of the things then obviously, I just sort of kept reading poetry, but, but and I've always wanted to write poetry. And I'd like people to go, Oh, yeah, he's a good poet, or I've always wanted that. But now, I also just think actually, poetry is something that's radical as well, people have a desire for poetry in this world. Like they have a desire for philosophy, and poetry and philosophy. They're obviously very old enemies, at least according to titillate.
MF: Iwanted to say, was poetry doing for you that philosophy wasn't?
JC: Yeah. Well, it's funny, because, like, in the end, I think I've, I'm not good enough, I like are quite serious about this is that if you, you know, you know, the captain, just the captivation, there's a well, you know, the captivation that a poem gives is very different from a captivation that philosophy gives, I think, I mean, just at least personally, it's very different forms of attention, different forms of thought, different parts of my brain do feel different. When I read different, I've got different practices. But, you know, one of the things about responding to write poetry and like, you know, like giving readings, and then reading other Australian power, local poets and whatever, and just meeting people who are really, really serious, just about poetry, like some people are really, really super serious just about philosophy or whatever, and just realising like the incredible yet, just the incredible work and vision they have. And then it's like nothing else on earth. And so like some of these people, like it strays, you know, it's not a very big place, not very important place. It's not a slide. But I think some that there's some absolutely amazing things happening here and voices that are just, they're quiet, they're almost unhireable, you might might and recognise them, but that's what I, you know, that's what I'd want for myself. But I can also recognise that these some of these poets are just know that it's of another order, and there's no way there's no way I'll ever be like that. And I don't want to embarrass myself, but I'm not going to stop trying, like if that I will embarrass myself.
MF: It was how difficult is poetry writing to you in comparison to philosophy, writing philosophy,
JC: I look, I feel that I feel that I'm, you know, this is this is a kind of failure thing, which is, I do feel that most of my work is as a teacher, rather than either as a philosopher or a power. And that's, that is a kind of admission of a kind of failure. But what what why I say that is that I can, I can now pump out like academic articles, like there's no tomorrow, like, your brain is like, Alright, like, absolutely unreadable. Can't you know, almost die reading it might rereading it myself, just like fall asleep, whatever it so that's not quite right. Every now and again, you know, philosophy writing philosophy is, I really am at the edge of what I know. And I really don't know how to proceed. But I know there's something there because I can't find anything else that will quite sort of like cover over that gap that's opened up and that gap is actually saying, Can you think about me and in a way that you can explain that to other people. doesn't go through all these no reservation and not reservations but but but but thickets and complexities and unhide. And can you can it? Can you just say that right? Like, where's the poetry seems to me is like, I don't care. This just has to be said absolutely. Right. And I, you know, I don't even know, it's a different kind of two forms of not knowing I would say, like, or two forms of limit, knowing
DX: if I could bring something else to that. Um, you're you're very familiar with, with Lacan, and and obviously, psychoanalysis, which is like a form of therapy, which which do you lean on in a therapeutic sense?
Hmm. All right, actually. Yeah. Look, I don't know. Because I think that's one of the reasons why I guess the three things that I've been talking about, you know, philosophy, poetry and psychoanalysis, the thing I like about psychoanalysis is it tries to join the two in a therapeutic way, right? And in a way I can see the practice of it. And the practice of it, which is the best one of the best things about it is that is that, you know, it's the principle for Freud of free association, where the patient just lies there, and you just say, anything that comes into your head no matter how obscene, stupid and missal and as you keep talking, first of all, that's impossible because you're always censoring yourself and then you catch yourself censoring yourself and then you have to start thinking about why you're censoring self and then you try not to censor yourself, but that's another form century and then you can see the the Abyss there. But that form of speech with no end in sight, right? And no aim, no goal. You don't want to convince people you don't want to show them the truth. You don't want to it's just for you Just like with our what's going to come up but you need someone else there as a kind of witness and maybe an editor or an interrupt to go hang on. What about about that contradiction? You know, what does that mean? Whereas with with poetry, it's with philosophy, there is still a drive to explain necessarily, like, I mean, you can sit in, you know, someone like Reza negra, Stan, like, you know, who's incredibly complex, massive. Now, like rescue, and that's donations explaining every moment and every change that you know, every, you know, whether or not it succeeds is nothing, but that's kind of an epitome of that drive. In poetry. It's it's a different sort of different sort of thing, right, but I'm not sure that thira therapeutic therapeutically. I'm not sure what they would do therapeutically. But the thing about poetry is I think it harbours, it definitely harbours, I mean, all of these things, they harbour all effects, and they're open. They're open to everyone that's there, but not in the same way and not with the same, you know, same outcomes. I don't know if that answers your question.
DX: It does. It does, it does, in the sense that I was really trying to get you to talk about how they relate to each other.
JC: Yeah. Let me add like, like, are these connected or these things disconnected? I'm really interested in in, you know, baju has this great phrase for it, you know, you have to construct a space of composability for the disparate, right things that have nothing to do with each other for like, a, you know, a philosophy can say, No, they might seem utterly different poetry, mathematics, politics, love, for instance. But actually, there must be a way to think these incredibly disparate processes in there, not their unity, but the fact that they there must be a place where some truth is communicated between all of them, but without reducing them. Right. And I think that, you know, whether it's in poetry or philosophy or psychoanalysis, I think that's, that's a really bad use sense. We need a piece of the discontinuous, which is another way talks about that same, same thing. That's what I think I'm interested in, in, in principle, and in my life, it's like, you know, you can't, you know, yeah, you don't want you don't want to unleash this into a war of all against all you don't want to reduce this into just a one How can you be between you know, the allowing, allowing heterogeneity, the difference to be different, and at the same time, find a place to use now this time of bemba's phrase, again, a zone of conviviality for for heterogeneity, like not just people but but ideas and things? Is there a place where that that's, it's our job to construct that place? Like I think, why
MF: have you tried to exploit some of that automatic kind of stream of consciousness writing in your poetry? I mean, it's always something I'm wanting to do, but it's it's nerve wracking because you reveal a side of yourself that you're kind of trying to hide but then the way you're describing writing philosophy and poetry was as though you were revealing constantly something to yourself almost.
JC: Yeah. You know, what you say is exactly right. And but it also I have, I have a lot of fear, right, and I can See my friends because I have some friends who I know, they are real artist, whether they're good assets or bad assets, but their life is a kind of, and they're always, you know, they're both the some of the people I'm thinking of some of them are just exactly stream of consciousness. And they're happy to go with some shameful things that are shameful for them not just subjectively, that have come out. And I'm like, that's part of your courage. And that's part of your courage and being an asset stride like, and, you know, sometimes it looks like flagrant self, you know, narcissism or, you know, exhibitionism or something, but the thing about the art bit of it is that, no, it needs something more than just being a, like a, like a social, social media narcissist, or whatever. And they prepare to go with that, and, and actually expose themselves and I find that, you know, even though I find it, anxiety inducing, like I can, which is maybe part of the point, actually, I can admire their courage in doing that. Whereas other people are incredibly controlled artists, like who think through everything, and but also quite, you know, quite flat and definite about No, that's it, there's no other way that's going to be done, that's going to be, it's like, well, that's, they're both kinds of art that I kind of admire, which I can't quite get my, you know, because I keep up keep talking about this, you know, sorry, I'm a bit Pollyanna ish, right? Or a bit of a balance between me. So, you know, maybe that's unfortunate, but I can see, you know, like, like, like, if you if you don't get your your art, right, you can just like vitiated, but you have to be on the edge of something, right. And these people are hyper cerebral, and they do this incredible stuff, and other people who are like, prepared to, you know, just just be ashamed of themselves. But you know,
MF: do you have, do you have any particular process that you go through when you're writing your poetry?
JC: Yeah, no, I don't. And, and, you know, it's become less and less, you know, you know, I used to, I used to think inspiration would like, in a very stupid, romantic way, you'd why'd you get drunk and wait for inspiration or something, and then you'd like, like, write it down, like, but, you know, I don't, I can't do that for all sorts of reasons. And now I write poetry more and more rarely, but the things that I have to say, which is contemporary in one way, in ancient and another way, that people find different ways of, of, you know, writing, you know, stream of consciousness, cut up works or excision works, you know, you're working with things that are already there, they're collage works, they're like, and I found for me, like the the most the things are, like, a really good, it's like, reading, trying to translate works from say, say, French, or whatever, which I may not be very good at. But it forces a whole load of, you know, exigencies and controls upon me, it forces me to a point both of knowledge and non knowledge at the same time forces me to work to read really intensely, this other thing, then read around that thing to think about what they might have been doing, and then to sort of produce something in English. And that may be a direct translation, or maybe bears no resemblance to it, but get something of that that poem. So using a can, that's, that's part of my, I guess, one of the things I'm doing at the moment that I'm quite quite, it's been good for me, because it gives me It gives me It gives me a control, you know, it's an institutional thing, it gives me the institution of a poem to control my, my response, but also my response doesn't have to be completely dictated by one to one correspondence, but by so in any, in a necessarily a straightforward way.
DX: Are there any translators that you look at? With with the same kind of or that you look at a poet and like other? Is there anyone that because you'd be familiar with the strength of the translation? Can you can you can you speak of anyone?
JC: Are you just I think Lydia Davis who did the first volume of Proust's olara shisha, the Tom Perdue A few years ago, and then she wasn't involved in the rest of the translations, and they were but she just did the first first volume of that and that I thought that was an amazing translation. It was better than that. It was one of the few things better than the earlier translations of
DX: Madame Bovary as well.
JC: She might have done I haven't read it, but that's exactly yeah, she might have done it. She's a writer as well. So yeah. But I remember I think that's what she does the first one I remember being that you are amazing, like super impressed.
DX: Just draw that out a little bit as a translator like what is the skill set then that you made you say that someone's that that good?
JC: Well, I write I'm reading to my older daughter at the moment like so before she goes to bed like read a book and I'm reading this book, which was a big hit in I can't remember the title now big kid in France, but it's a young adult sort of sci fi. It's sight science fantasy adventure, really, really massive hits in in France been translated into English. But as I read the English of it, like I can tell the bad decisions about the French words that were behind it, certain phrases that are quite formal in French, it would sound formal in English but aren't so formal in French, for instance, have been translated in a kind of clunky way, a whole series of just things around bodily around the body movements and so on. Still sounds like they've they've not been fully integrated into English. It's not quite clear what idea that the translator head of why would you translate that like that? I can see yes, it's of about, you know, it's a perfectly standard translation, but it doesn't fit with that phrase doesn't fit with a sense of the rest of that paragraph. The rest of the paragraph is very lyrical, and you've just plopped that in. And it's not meant to be a disjunctive sort of, you know, interruption of the of the lyricism by really, you know, I guess I'm just saying like, teeny weird. Like, whereas that, yeah, that that first volume of I think it's one in love is, yeah, just like, totally captivating. It's like, Oh, shit, I'm reading a trap. I'm reading a translation, right? I think this is the third version, third translated version of this book. I mean, Madame Bovary is another good one for where you can see translators going, you know, you know, trying their hardest to deal with someone who's that, but I guess that's what I would say is like, you could get a sense that the hope you're actually Well, the immersive sense, at least in this case, like completely immersed in it. And also not no sense of any clangers or anything's gone wrong. I'm, I'm in that text as if it were an English text.
MF: And yet, it isn't like, I mean, it's like you almost need that kind of be attune to that poetic sentiment a bit to really read what these words mean. And then, yeah, what they evoke.
JC: Exactly, exactly, because it's not, there's no one to one translation between languages, right? Like, we're all you know, we can all pretty much say the same things like beer or slab or whatever, whatever, whatever word we're pointing to. But when you get into something like poetry, I mean, it's just like, you know, you're in a particularly unbelievably volatile zone. So, you know, one of the one of the power pilots are really like, I think I've talked about this all the time is mid 15th century French criminal call Francois villalon. Like every chance I get to talk about him.
MF: I talk about him, right, the murderer.
JC: The murderer is the poor bastard he only stabbed the guy in the groyne with a rusty penknife. Exactly. It's better right now, I think Phil on was not. I mean, Caravaggio. Yeah, he was connected with Manny Rice's. I don't know, I don't know. I'd like to be honest, like a different thing. But one of his poems, you know, it's you know, Ballad of old time ladies or however you want to think about it's a beautiful little poem which is embedded in his his big work the big guy look contest them all the big testament and you know, everyone in English has had a gala that like all sorts of like hundreds of people. So at one stage, I was just collecting all the different translations of that one poem from and then like the mental right from the mid 19th century the most famous translations Rosetta's, but all sorts of people to do even um you know, Robert law or just all sorts of poets like some famous I'm not famous some scholars some not scholar will have a go at translating is renowned as his own kind of villain. The villain knows rather than us and it's like, wow, out of this one like power this one did criminal one did murderers power I'm like, I'm allied, like, like, I think I found like 250 or something different versions of it. I was just really obsessed with all the different decisions they'd made. And that's fantastic.
DX: It's an amazing thing why I had a thing where I was there was a particular paragraph in Brothers Karamazov that which would electrify me and I'd just be in tears laughing it so I'd always looking at each translation to see how it's translated. The first time you make make karma Tobin is talking about, sorry, you know, the, the the older patriarch, and he's talking about the shape of his is huge. He is his big nose, which he describes as like a Roman nose, he boasts about it kind of thing. And then they always focused on this flabby piece of flesh on his throat. That one translated quarter meat, a meaty purse, and then there was like, someone else with something like a ham wallet or something like that. So true. So as you go through, I use that as a kind of a measure for a trend first, makes a translation work is almost like you find a passage. Yeah, that you know you love and if you want to see the next translations is We're just gonna pass agency if it works that's a really great
JC: that is a really great principle I would really like to know I would really like to know the best translation you can come up with now after
DX: the meeting has just killed me I just word for the jowls and from a bloated alcoholics throat then
MF: meaty for it's also a great band name. Just one final question after all these years with your head stuck in the codecs what is what is this life taught you? What is the one lesson that you think you can tell? Tell leave your children with leave our listeners to listen and you're dying.
JC: I I'm sorry, I can only give now that I'm all I can think about it like, like Famous last words now. couldn't hit an elephant at this distance.