Second Balcony
Weaponized Moods, or ‘Twitter as a Nightmare We Will Never Wake From’

When I was fourteen I bought ‘Philosophical Investigations.’ It’s a book that’s famous for three things apart from its ideas about mind and language: 1) Nobody that reads it can deny that Wittgenstein was probably the smartest person that has ever lived. 2) Nobody that reads it can deny that Wittgenstein was probably the purest person that has ever lived. 3) The book says that if you disagree with anything in the book it’s because you are confused or lying to yourself.  I spent most of the year between fourteen and fifteen reading it and crying and throwing it at the wall and hiding it around the house hoping I can’t remember where I put the book. The internet is harder to hide underneath the sink, and though there may not be a Wittgenstein on it it’s full of people that perpetually make me go ‘this person isn’t stupid or corrupt, I can tell, and they’re saying you got to be stupid or corrupt to disagree with them, and only someone stupid or corrupt would say a thing like that if it’s not true, and even if I’ll tell myself that I agree with them I’ll know I don’t really agree with them, and even if I tell myself they’re stupid or corrupt I’ll know they aren’t really stupid or corrupt, so really the best thing is not to be born and the second best thing is to die soon.’  

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Mainstream literature is boring cause it’s mostly about people not being their best selves. Way more interested in how ideals are knotty than in how we don’t rise up to them.

A Letter About Art

'So this is going to be way too specific to be something that I can directly reuse, but whatever. I think the issue underlying lots of what came up in our conversation is something like this: 

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What ‘Rick and Morty’ did is figure what exact emotion cartoon cruelty is the escape from.

My favorite works of art mostly depict how every emotion is just a specific constellation of rage.

Here’s a taxonomy of social-performance theories of taste I wrote down once: 

0th degree
 social-performance theories of taste propose that taste-judgements are directly determined by the subject’s (implicit or explicit) expectation of gaining (or maintaining) social status by expressing said taste-judgements.

1st degree social-performance theories of taste propose that taste-judgements are (at least partially) determined by the subject’s experience of aesthetic pleasure or displeasure, and that the subject’s experience of aesthetic pleasure or displeasure is directly determined by the subject’s (implicit) expectation of gaining (or maintaining) social status by expressing taste-judgements determined by said experience. On such a view, one’s raw feeling of aesthetic pleasure at some x tracks one’s subpersonal (i.e. unconscious) calculations of the expected status-gains from a taste-judgement endorsing x. This may be compared to the way in which one’s raw feeling of fear tracks one’s subpersonal calculations of the likelihood of harm.

2nd degree social-performance theories of taste propose that taste-judgements are (at least partially) determined by the subject’s experience of aesthetic pleasure or displeasure, and that the subject’s experience of aesthetics pleasure or displeasure is indirectly determined by the subject’s (implicit) expectation of gaining (or maintaining) social status by expressing taste-judgements determined by said experience. On such a view, one’s raw feeling of aesthetic pleasure at some x tracks some autonomously aesthetic property p of one’s cognition of x – some unique sort of interaction between x and the rest of one’s cognitive landscape –, but relevant aspects of one’s cognitive landscape are themselves socially determined. More specifically, such a view contends that relevant aspects of one’s cognitive landscapes are determined by one’s (implicit) expectation of gaining (or maintaining) social status from the taste-judgements that follow from having said cognitive landscape. While this may sound pretty contentious, it’s actually largely common-sensical: one’s cognitive landscape depends on what one spends one’s time consuming, doing, noticing, talking-about, worrying-about, exploring, avoiding, and so forth – and an important motivation that determines what one spends one’s time on is the desire to develop or present a socially-lauded taste. (Compare: people usually don’t enjoy beer unless they already have some prior experience with beer, and this prior experience usually comes from trying to enjoy beer because enjoying beer has social-status import.)


1. ‘It’s also that those Cooper Union kids have, like, the best handle out of everyone on this style that I like and think is interesting — this iced-out-dreamy-whimsy-sleaziness, like, Bergman-on-Spring-Breakers style — and are grossed out by anything that isn’t it, and I have no resolve so anything that’s narrow minded + not maladroit + not boring yet is a black hole to me.’

2. Wait what if having a strong personality or strong aesthetic style – being cool, basically – has to mean being narrow and refusing to engage with most things not just because of Bourdieu distinction or whatever but because you only do or say things that can easily be said or done in a way that’s consistent with your personality or style, and there aren’t that many of these.

1. I think the biggest straight-up error of the activist left is the belief that no one of any consequence changes her or his mind about policy or social practices by looking at which side has better epistemic hygiene. The formalist nerds are many, they are influential, and they hop real far across the spectrum case-by-case based on their judgements about which side is more intellectually honest, well-informed, and searching. (Which is partly their best heuristic for first-order empirically informed decision-making, partly an aesthetic-social preference about whose side they want to be on, but that’s like anything else). And if these formalists are easily prey to false positives, biasing their conception of epistemic hygiene to the tactics of the libertarian right, they are also irreproachably reliable in recognizing a good argument, including a good refutation of a meretricious argument, biasing them all the way back to the tactics of a left that’s doing its damn job.

2. Not so obviously wrong, but probably wrong, and accepted as a given, is the theory that anything proffered as leftist thought should only ever be critiqued for propagating failures of solidarity or failures of intersectionality, and every other way in which a text or theory or programme might be normatively or methodologically or empirically messed up, on one’s best judgement, should be passed upon in silence cause these other modes of failure don’t have consequences worth the social price of a critique.

3. Both of these theories are weird artifacts of being a community that operates by putting pressure on institutional policy-making on a case by case basis, but lives off a theoretical folklore evolved for literally revolutionary politics – like, the lead-up to the Russian revolution – wherein the consolidation and mobilization of a vanguard could be separated from, and chronologically prioritized over, the deliberation over policy, and where convincing the ideologically uncommitted of the value of an individual policy is basically worthless cause you’re only ever looking to recruit, not looking to negotiate. This theoretical folklore makes zero sense when what you actually do when you do radical left activism is pick a policy decision you want made or changed and try to get a lot of people to agree with you out loud. 

I want to claim Mallory Ortberg for conceptual writing. Her best works do simultaneous ‘that’s so random,’ parody, and allegory with a single formal operation more or less mechanically executed. That weird interplay between destroying meaning, laying-bare a structure, and creating a new meaning is a lot of what I love about conceptual writing. 

If you’re going to be reading Aaron Bady-style defenses of the excellence of modern online activism’s fast and furious performative broad strokes against injustice, maybe keep in mind the magic mixture of utilitarianism and intentionalism that they’re always built on: it goes something like ‘it’s good you punched this person as an action to end capitalism, because capitalism ending is more important than a person’s supposed right not to get punched,’ bracketing any question of whether the punching’s gonna contribute to ending capitalism, and even of whether the puncher had a reason to think punching’s gonna contribute to ending capitalism. The formula is that an action that’s affiliated with some radical agenda is measured by contrasting its costs or damages with the importance of the agenda, not with its expected contribution to that agenda.

Ever since turning 26 – I’m 27 – I’ve felt violently ashamed of there still being things that I want to experience and not just things I want to make. I don’t know if it’s metaphysically driven or it’s people-my-age-have-kids driven. 

Buffy Season 6 was an extremely strong and very strict revival of the the early 1600’s Life is a Dream wave (like, Quixote and The Tempest and L'illusion Comique and Lo Fingido Verdadero and Doctor Faustus and La vida es sueño): failure of narrative + magic + illusion + pyrrhonian skepticism + melancholy + cyclicality + genre-switching + grief + metafiction + theatrum mundi. 

It’s amazing how much Sarah Nicole Prickett’s glam-radical bullshit hinges on equating female sexuality with the desire to be sexually desired. In SNP world being sex-crazed makes you go become a stripper, not go patronize a strip-club; it makes you go be a prostitute, not go call a prostitute; it makes you model nude, not masturbate to someone’s picture… I mean, sexual narcissism is a major part of lots of people’s lives and it deserves an aesthetic and political defense, but in the SNP world it’s intensity of sexual narcissism, not intensity of wanting someone sexually or wanting everybody sexually or wanting to have sex, that makes a woman sexual or prudish. 

The reason that I love Wes Anderson’s first four films is his once amazing talent for the interaction between way-of-being and Aristotelian action as constituents of character. It’s so rare that a character’s vibe and a character’s narrative choices mutually illuminate the way they did for every character – he was the best since Chekhov. 

What’s the relation between irony* and cuteness? Why is there a whole aesthetic category — ‘twee’ — that means ‘cute+ironic’? Is it cause the alchemy of fusing opposite affects — if cuteness stands for innocence and irony for knowingness —  is neat enough to mark a genre, like the Gothic is the fusion of the beautiful and hideous? Or is it cause relating to something as cute is in itself a stance of both immersion and superiority toward the thing, so to be cute in one’s own eyes entails an irony-relation to oneself? Or cause weak irony, the kind amounting to admission of contingency but without pushing further**, is akin to cuteness in employing vulnerability as self-defense?

*I’m talking irony as distance here, not irony as actually-I-mean-the-opposite. 

**The contrast class is irony pushing for sublation, so Hegel-strong-irony, or irony pushing for diffusion into the field of possibilities, so Schlegel-strong-irony, or irony pushing for having a comeback for everything, so Fichte-strong-irony.