Over the last few years, Ark Books enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with the all star team at KBH Læser. In 2015 we hosted reading by and a debate on love between Pia Tafdrup and Caspar Eric hosted by long-time friend of the store, Rasmus Varnich Blumensaat. With the introduction of the Ark Audio podcasting platform at the end of 2015, it became easier to document and share the events that take place in our tiny book shop. So even if you couldn’t be there, you can still hear everything that went on on the Ark Live channel. In 2016, engaging with the festival’s theme of Men, we held an event exploring the concept of nice-guy misogyny through David Foster Wallace’s story collection, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, with the help of our esteemed guests the researcher and writer, Mikkel Frantzen and activist and critic, Emma Holten. In 2017 and after the launch of the Ark Review, we organised, not only a whole month of pieces exploring the theme of growth, but also the even Accursed Growth!, in which the philosopher and founder of SORt SNAK Jon Auring Grimm and researcher and feminist activist Rebecca Lund engaged with Bataille’s radical theory of general economy and recontextualized it through a feminist reading of Han Kang’s novel The Vegetarian. If this sounds a little technical, you can also read Macon’s primer for the event.
This year the theme is Manifesto. We’re still trying to work out what it’s going to look like—the festival will take place between 23rd of February and 4th of March 2018—but we are definitely on board. Last month, the KBH Læser team caught up with Franek and Macon at Ark Books to get some recommendations of “manifestos” in a broad sense of the term. And you can check them out below.
Franek: ‘What is Metaphysics?’ by Martin Heidegger
There are texts, which, stretching language to its very limits (maybe even venturing beyond them), manage to manifest the seemingly un-manifestable. One such text is Heidegger’s 1929 lecture ‘What is Metaphysics?’ It is this unique power of manifestation, which permeates the entire text that allows me to call it a manifesto, even if it is of a peculiar kind.
I do not mean the un-manifestability of the essay’s subject in the metaphorical sense. Were that the case, the idea to call Heidegger’s essay a manifesto would be at least a farfetched one. Instead, I mean it literally, since what Heidegger is after in this short, paradoxical and beautiful text is that which truly defies logic, reason and language: it is Nothing.
Despite the illusive nature of the object of inquiry, the defiance of these three fields does not banish them. They remain Heidegger’s only recourses in trying to spell out the answer to the question the text raises: ‘How is it with the nothing?’ In doing so, their limits, status and capacities become remarkably probed—Heidegger ventures precisely there, where Wittgenstein, commenting on this undertaking, advises not to: ‘Man has the impulse to run up against the limits of language. Think for example of the astonishment that anything exists. This astonishment cannot be expressed in the form of a question, there is also no answer to it.’
Yet, although the text often verges on what common sense would render absurd, there is a strong sense prevailing after this lecture that, after all, something had been said of nothing. That something of Nothing has truly been manifested. Heidegger manages this by discussing the phenomenon of anxiety, one that reveals Nothing to us. Anxiety not understood as an uneasy and unpleasant yet a fairly commonplace sensation, but as rare and peculiar one, characterised by, among others, the disappearance of the basic structures enabling the world to be understood as significant. And as such, by the collapse of language: Not because facing Nothing we suddenly find ourselves at a loss for words, but because that which makes words possible in the first place dissolves.
And yet, words remain all we have at our disposal when we want to talk about what renders them invalid and futile. Heidegger has to hope that the power to manifest that dwells in the language will stand up to the challenge. It seems to me, that this tour de force proves that it does. Although, of course, I may be wrong. Maybe it is Wittgenstein who is right, when he concludes his comment by claiming that: ‘Everything we feel like saying can, a priori, only be nonsense.’ Perhaps, it is all nonsense? An ‘empty’ as Heidegger himself asks at some point, ‘squabble over words?’ Well, ‘What is Metaphysics?’ is either this, or one of the most fascinating exercises in manifestation there is.
Macon: Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher
The cultural theorist Mark Fisher took his own life earlier this year. This was an unqualified tragedy, especially for those closest to him. But his loss is also a real loss for everyone invested in the project of emancipatory politics. Books remain unwritten.
His first book, Capitalist Realism (2009), is remarkable for a number of reasons, but chief among them is that it takes seriously the leftist project of which it is a part, not only at the level of content but of form. It is a short book, which has been written with incredible clarity, that engages some of the most complex cultural and political theory ever produced as a matter of concrete urgency. Through the analysis of political struggles, popular culture, and by politicising mental health, Mark was able to make the abstract appear tangible and the insurmountable seem possible.
Mark’s writing in this book offered a starting point for many who had suspected something was deeply amiss with the world around them but had been prevented from the feeling there was any way to question it by the cloistered impenetrability of the academic left. And to those already submerged in the academy’s linguistic excesses, it issued a sharp reminder to cut the crap. There is too much at stake.
To close by quoting from the end of the book, which I believe is best served by being spoiled;
The long, dark night of the end of history has to be grasped as an enormous opportunity. The very oppressive pervasiveness of capitalist realism means that even glimmers of political and economic possibilities can have a disproportionately great effect. The tiniest event can tear a hole in the grey curtain of reaction which has marked the horizons of possibility under capitalist realism. From a situation in which nothing can happen, suddenly anything is possible again.
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace
The Accursed Share by Georges Bataille
The Vegitarian By Han Kang
‘What is Metaphysics?’ by Martin Heidegger
‘On Heidegger on Being and Dread’ by Michael Murray (quoting Ludwig Wittgenstein)
Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher