Book of the World Courant XLIV

Danger – banker in the hole! David Rockefeller in the One Chase Plaza pit, ca. 1955. Photo: Slim Aarons
Danger – banker in the hole! David Rockefeller in the One Chase Plaza pit, ca. 1955. Photo: Slim Aarons




Aphorisms of Charles James, designer of structurally virtuosic ball gowns:

“Let the grain do the work.”

“All creative work begins by doing something with the hands.”


You have the right to remember.

You have the right to forget.


Like other manifestations of the non-material, we only know reason by the forms it takes.


The most varied sounds are contained equally in the wind, without exclusion, and are all stimulated at the same time, says Zhuangzi, in speaking of natural music.


The gaze conditions the mind and vice versa. Zhuangzi speaks of a tendency “set-mindedness,” which gives rise to a “point of view,” one which, when adopted, will automatically exclude the others. Flowing into language, this can cause us to lose sight of the fundamental unity of things. What, for example does linear perspective give and take away when applied to objects for purposes of representation? Linear perspective provides a very powerful experience of order and fixity with regard to size, distance and the disposition of objects within a visual field. But in accepting the organization of things described in such a perspective, we may be obscuring a more replete and less exclusive order that feels less like an aha! than a silent breath winding and unwinding.


Borromini Perspective, Palazzo Spada, Rome
Borromini Perspective, Palazzo Spada, Rome


I wish to use speech to sublimate speech, to invent, as Jullien puts it, “a speech that baffles its condition.”


In the northern ocean lives a fish named Kun. I do not know how many thousand li long. It can change into a bird called Peng, whose back is I do not know how many thousand li long. When it takes flight, its wings are like the clouds in the sky. Gliding on the movement of the sea, it flies to the southern ocean…

From “Xiaoyaoyou,” [transliterated “free,” “distant,” “wandering”] in Zhuangzi.


What’s flyable?


“Take Nigeria, for example, with its hundred and seventy million people, They have barely the beginning of branded pharmacies…”

Such is the state of café conversation in this most wondrous of all cities. He continues, addressing the young female Asian women he is presumably recruiting for his company:

“I’d personally like to jump on a plane and visit a bunch of geographies where I’ve got something going.”


Zhuangzi… aims to detach us from the limitations and oppositions in which we contain reality. In other words, the heights it invites us to reach lead to the emancipation of experience – not to belief in another world. The gesture of going beyond suffices; and transcendence is not objectified into a Truth. And if Zhuangzi comes the closest in Chinese Antiquity to the Western aspiration to a sense of the beyond, such a beyond assumes no theoretical consistency for him.

Says Jullien in Detour and Access.


The Wizard of Oz, a Daoist text?


Access is the work. The work is access.


World without end [WWE].


It is not that things have no signification, or no longer are capable of absorbing signification. It is rather that the systems of signification we evolved had become so sclerotic that meaning could no longer flow through them to nourish the growth of things.

In such a situation, all institutional structures, and systems of authority, turn monstrous – including, lamentably, those attempting to reform. It is simply too late for correctives. The tendencies are so strong that they simply have to run their course.


See, gull is just a four-letter bird.


May I ask what line of work you are in?

I make distinctions.

What kind of distinctions?

As many kinds as I can. There’s really no limit once you get going.

Do you make them 24/7?

Good Lord, no. Only nine to five weekdays. Saturday for half a day if things are slow.

What do you do on weekends, then?

I work at forgetting the distinctions I made on the other days. If too many distinctions have piled up, I take Monday off.

Wait a minute – how can you say you make distinctions when they are simply there for the taking?

You really think so? Look around. Every distinction is one someone made.

How does this line of work pay?

I do alright. Making distinctions is its own reward.

And, uh, how do you qualify to make distinctions? Suppose I wanted to get into that line too?

No problem. Like I said, the number of potential distinctions is limitless. You can start any time.

How do I begin?

Well, for instance, ask yourself what’s the distinction between you and me?


I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything that I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded…

Said Edward Snowden.


Bike lanes are OK, but I like to ride in the space between things.


A leveraged rub-out.


Recent and present Chinese geopolitical reasoning is very simple and goes something like this: It is clear that the West wishes to own the world and all its vital resources. However large our country is physically, and however populous, eventually the Americans and their market system will surround and control us. But the Americans are unclear in their intention and make many mistakes. The best strategy, then, is to buy them and also the bits of the world they don’t already own. The first part is easy since they are so eager to sell. But we will have to use great stealth to accomplish the latter.

That seems the general trend of things. But that said, the Chinese have given little indication what they plan to do with the world once they own it. Of course it is possible they have not thought out that part yet.

To me, the best possible outcome would be that they simply stamp the West with a bright red chop, and hang it in a museum.


If I were one with the universe, why would I fear becoming one with the universe?


Being centered. Wouldn’t trade it for the world.


The older you get, the harder it is to be what you’re not.


Memorial Day: the stench of raw power on the grill.


One if by land, two if by drone.


The bear suit of happiness.

And Lady, mon


Victorious secrets.


Waltz Street.


Daß bright, elusive Schmetterling uf luf.


And so Sir Gawaine, a little tofore noon of the day of Pentecost, espied at a window three men on horseback and a dwarf on foot…

I did not make this up. Malory did, oncet in a Mort D’Arthur state of mind.


(fairly) Green Godzilla.


What would happen if we didn’t peruse happiness?


Thus do go about, about,

Thrice to thine and thrice to mine

And thrice again, to make up nine.

Peace! The charm’s wound up.



What did the West know?


A lot of shipping flows through the Panama Rationale.


In classical economic terms, a crisis of overproduction occurs when there are insufficient buyers for the goods produced. In Daoist terms, the West has been living through a drawn-out crisis of overproduction since the triumph of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. Alongside, and often taking precedence over human necessities, we have been producing a superabundance of material stuff driven by a goal of “more,” necessitating a restructuring of personal and social life to accommodate a vast superfluity of goods. In such excessive, super-saturated quantities, goods cannot help but turn bad. Any extreme in one area produces a depletion in another. I cannot have a hundred percent of my weight on both feet at the same time. But by the same token, if I persistently favor one foot over the other, imagine what this will do to my gait. Over time, it will skew both the alignment of my body and even what I think of as alignment.

Fortunately, my children, whatever else they may inherit of my genetic makeup, will not be born structurally subject to their father’s imbalance – even over a thousand generations. If they want to walk this way, they will have to learn to imitate it. I will doubtless have left them a built environment designed to accommodate my peculiar mode of locomotion, but that too is something they can choose to reengineer if they wish to.

As for our culture of overproduction, I have no magic prescription. But it may be of some value to acknowledge the systemic imbalance we have evolved, and realize that this results from a set of social practices that, while representative of powerful tendencies, are far from immutable. One can never go “back,” but one can go forward differently. Another way to look at what we call globalization is that the diverse people of the world have become aware of themselves and one another in a different way. It is interesting to imagine what shifts in practice will, of their own accord, arise from that awareness.


What are your modes of exchange?

What are their currencies?

By what method do you do your accounting?


Plunder is always stupid.


Time to clean zoo.


This detour [via Zhuangzi’s “fluctuating words”: words that refuse partiality] does not grant access to something else, such as a sense of a beyond on another level – a metaphysical or religious conception of the heavens – as the allegorization in Greek myths or biblical tales does. Words need only overflow the limitations of language, no longer approaching the real in a compartmentalized and arrested way – in short, they need only ceaselessly be an allusive variation to allow us to rejoin the spontaneous coexistence of things and to give us access the natural. In reabsorbing the exclusive points of view created by language, and therefore in liberating us from the partiality of its usage, words bring us up to heaven as a horizon of the real. Says Jullien on p. 332 of Detour and Access.


Only the victims can liberate the victims.


We’ve got to be as clear-headed about human beings as possible, because we are still each other’s only hope. Said Baldwin in A Rap [with Margaret Mead] on Race, p. 45.


If one changes the point of departure repeatedly, if one takes as much distance as possible from the subject each time in order to return to it by meandering, to the point of approaching it and then stopping, one never flatly copies what one has in view, and one allows others to cast a glance beyond the text and see for themselves. Writes Jullien in Detour and Access, citing the Ming Dynasty poetic theorist Jin Shengan (1610-1661).


The world: coming to a China near you.


It all boils down to…

Yes, but is it soap yet?


…one must neither stick to what one wants to say nor lose sight of it – neither “quit” it nor “attach” oneself to it, according to the Buddhist formulation. These contrary requirements define the ideal distance – what I call allusive distance. This distance maintains the tension, while giving free reign to the capacity for evolution. It concentrates attention on its object without immobilizing it as an object: by eluding the grasp, the object preserves its animation, continuously exceeding what one says about it, constantly taking wing. Jullien, again.

But François, is it really about “distance,” (though this could be your translator’s term) or is it more a practice of renouncing the fixed and fixing gaze in favor of more supple and less insistent focalization that alternately engages, and fades, firms and softens? Or, as the time-honored mnemonic goes: Yong yi bu yong li, use intent, not force.


Proposal for a new magazine: Time Up New York


Whatever we do, however banal or dramatic, however loving or vicious, heroic or craven, we do in a language. Wherefore it follows that the language in which we do something conditions what we do, how we do it, and even why.