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The gambling hall is an excellent laboratory for telepathic experiments. The lucky gambler is, as shall be assumed here, in contact of telepathic sorts and it shall be further assumed that this contact subsists between him and the ball, though not between him and the server attending the ball. If this would be the case, it would then be the task of the gambler to have this contact not disturbed by anyone. Who now takes into consideration how intense jealousy, the need for affection, curiosity in the gambling hall are capable of relating the gambler to his colleagues can estimate the difficulty to deviate (deflect/divert) such intentions and thereby to escape all adversary suggestions. Such a tense and yet casual attitude of the gambler isn’t possible to enforce from elsewhere through entêtement, as the loosing gambler often attempts to only to increase his loss. Maybe one could imagine the scheme of such an isolation of the lucky gambler in the following way.
Benjamin and The Roulette Ball
Walter Benjamin, writing in the 1930's, argued that the gambling that flourished during the 19th century had a typically modern character. The placing of the bet, the selection of a card, the spinning of a wheel -- these are all sudden, irreversible actions, "coups," each unaffected by past experience. Benjamin further contended that gambling created a series of "shocks" -- luck's decisions -- resembling the series of shocks he felt the modern world presented to its citizens. The gambler was isolated from society and from all sense of the past, totally absorbed in the machinery of chance. In this, the gambler may have been a representative modern figure.
In contrast to most normative theorists, Walter Benjamin considers gambling to be essential to the project of critical theory. For Benjamin, gambling provides a model – even if this does not amount to a theory – of what revolutionary action could be. Benjamin experimented with gambling, and he conceived of his work, especially that of the Arcades Project, as a game of hazard (Weidemann, 1992). In Benjamin’s remarks on play, gambling surfaces as a distinctive kind of agency and the gambler as a specifically modern form of life. It is a special form of the pursuit of happiness, one that breaks with ordinary conceptions of time and action. Games of chance promise fortune, which cannot be directly aimed at through action – as much as it can be desired and claimed by gamblers. Gambling goes beyond mere chance in that the gamble transforms chance into the destiny one lets oneself be determined by. A gambling personality is one that refuses to only determine and only be determined by what can be predicted or brought about directly by courses of action. The gambler thus appears as an anomaly or even an insult to those who refuse to be drawn to gamble freely. Benjamin claims in his typically cryptic manner that someone ‘who has never heard the language of fortune […] for whom everything is mere chance (Zufall)’ misses that ‘what he calls thus [chance] is in the grammar of happiness like what in our grammar is the irregular verb, namely the trace of original force (Kraft) which has not been blurred’ (Benjamin, 1991a: 351).
Although Benjamin emphasizes that he is not developing a theory of gambling, his conversation on ‘the hand of fortune’ presents a critique of prominent attitudes toward gambling. He objects to both the demonization as well as the rationalization of gambling. The gambling hand, for Benjamin, symbolically mediates between the head and the heart. The head, which stands for the capacity to use reason to pursue strategies, always comes too late. The gambler, if he follows his head instead of his hand, ‘might “think” what is right, but he will act in a “false” way. He will stand there just like many losers who tear their hair and scream “I knew it!”.’ While the head comes too late in understanding, the heart, which stands for morality and emotional commitment, when taken by itself, is incapable of intervening. It lacks the motivation or the courage necessary for timely action. One of Benjamin’s imaginary gamblers further refines the function of gambling as a playful engagement in a self-induced moment of danger:
Gambling […] is in reality an artificially created danger. And gambling is in a way a blasphemous probing of our presence of spirit (Geistesgegenwart). For in danger the body communicates with things by way of bypassing the head. It is only once we, already rescued, take a breath that we become aware of what we have really done. In acting we are ahead of our knowledge. And play is a discredited affair, because it is unscrupulous in provoking the finest and most precise of what our organism achieves. (Benjamin, 1991b: 776)
For Benjamin, it follows that gambler’s luck is not a matter of getting it right by chance or decree, but is revealed, rather, by being sensitive to a particular mode of reading the table. This reading is primarily performed by the player's body, what in this case Benjamin calls motor innervation "emancipated" from the interfering (but also present) promptings of rational waking consciousness. Motor innervation is to be understood not in terms of a discrete subject (i.e., as the communication between a brain and nerves) but rather as a special connection between the player and the table, what Benjamin calls "ein Kontakt telepathischer Art." Crucially, this telepathic contact, which allows the successful or "gliicklich" player to divine the winning number, is between him and the ball exclusively, concentrated on its magic thinking, which he explicitly identifies as a mode of reading and as a form of divination.
Benjamin says that gambling produces the lightning-quick process of innervation at the moment of danger–a process he will later explicitly compare with the tempo, swiftness, and rapidity of reading (and writing:handwriting)--that shuts down or outpaces the processes of rational consciousness and its ordinary, progressive temporality, and so creates the occasion for the unimpeded openness to telepathic contact or sympathetic connection with the non-human object world, its communication, and its other temporality (its other meaning). Acceleration, we might say, inflects the nowness, the occasion of the present moment with a kind of future thrust, and in such a way as to produce the "Grenzfall" in which presence of mind becomes divination–which Benjamin calls one of the highest, rarest moments in life.
The gambler's "reading," then, of this "hidden" (versteckt) world of signs, is dependent not only on an open boundary between himself and the non-human world, freed from the promptings of the rational human world, but also on a particular occasion which alone opens up that boundary and provides that freedom--an occasion itself dependent on an accelerated temporality to transform its mere presence into magic divination.
In calling the moment of divinatory reading one of the highest and rarest in life, Benjamin underscores what is at stake for the gambler qua reader: happiness or "Gluck."
Eric Downing, Diving Benjamin: Reading Fate, Graphology, Gambling walter benjamin on reading, telepathy, magic | fleurmach
Walter Benjamin on reading, telepathy, magic
Near the end of his 1929 essay on surrealism, Walter Benjamin suggests a connection between investigations into reading and into telepathic phenomena, a theme he returns to again, in the context of reading and more ancient traditions of magic, in his 1933 essay “Doctrine of the Similar.” This connection he suggests between reading practices and the occult is a profound one, both historically and for Benjamin’s own time and work, and not just in terms of telepathy. Some of the earliest practices of reading were not of letters, words, or books, but of stars, entrails, and birds, and these practices had a significant impact on the way reading was understood in the ancient world. And the relations between such ancient magic and reading were still (or again) of crucial importance to the modernists of the early twentieth century, including Benjamin and his sustained interest in what he called ‘das magische Lesen.’
Language, Benjamin says, has a body, and graphology is concerned with this bodily aspect of language. He illustrates what he means by this with a "most revealing and appropriate" comparison between children's drawings and handwriting, wherein letters behave'' just as their models–people, animals, and objects"–with tails and legs, heads, eyes, and mouths, and wherein reading them graphologically is a matter of transforming letters back into their bodily representations (in korperliche Darstellungen zuruckverwandeln). To some extent, this is about projecting the human condition onto externalized objects and animating them with a life or formative force that is not their own, and so reading them as a matter of transforming them back into human representations (more anon). But to an equal and equally important extent, this is also about the direct, inherent connection of material words, qua things, with the material world, the thing-world (die Dingwelt) and hence natural world, and reading them as transforming them back into the representations that body forth that world, that life, and writing's connection to it.
In any case, in graphology as in ancient divination, the signs to be read are visual, moving objects-in this case words and letters-that operate apart from rational interference and from their normal significance and context; that function as animate signs-even as animals-implicitly grounded in a natural, bodily world; and precisely because they bypass the realm of human intent and participate instead in a sub-human, creaturely, non-(self)conscious realm, they are privileged signifiers for knowledge about the human.
All possible actions and outcomes, he says, are essentially pre-existent potentialities that remain hidden and unrealized and emerge into conscious realization only at the moment of chance intersection with a concrete specific occasion. And, although Benjamin doesn't foreground this point, the future does play a crucial role in the graphologist's reading of the signs, the moving line of writing itself, serving as a directional space toward which all script tends, and keeping open and then finally fixing the meaning, the sign-quality, of the hand strokes themselves-which without that implicit futurity and until that future moment remain hidden, unrealized, unknown. Graphology might not be required to read signs of the future, but it does require the future to read the signs at hand. On the other hand, for all his reluctance regarding prediction, Benjamin seems quite willing to grant both clairvoyance and telepathy a place in graphological reading. What we see, then, in Benjamin's description of graphology that connects it back to earlier traditions of magic reading is this: it approaches words as conveying an ancillary mode of signification attendant on their ordinary, intended, and differently present meaning, where signs speak of a cognitive mode distinct from rational consciousness and point instead to another hidden world both inside and around us; that this world that animates signs-and so makes them signs-is in essential ways a natural, even animal, one that connects man to language in ways that bypass the most exclusively human dimension of the world, recognizing or realizing both as linked in invisible but fully natural ways; and that, precisely in this non-human and invisible form, the "magic" reading of script makes visible in microcosmic form the very nature of "the integral riddle of mankind" and its relation to the great external world or "Welttheater."
A film still, like a quotation or a tarot card, calls back to the film/deck/text it slipped from. Simultaneously, it opens other lines of sight/flight as it swirls into new contexts and correlations. This process can be disruptive, tricky, and illuminating. On this trip into telepathic reading, I’m taking:
One film still: It’s a spell, an incantation.
The Magician card from the tarot.
Space for experiences, times, and texts to seep in from here and far.
Telepathy’s etymology: feeling from afar.
An excerpt from “THREE SPACES,” one entry in Vilém Flusser’s Artforum column CURIE’S CHILDREN:
WE ARE LIVING TUBES (WORMS). The world flows in through one of our openings (the mouth) to flow out again through the other opening (the anus). This is why we can distinguish between “forward” and “backward.” Most of us are bilaterally symmetrical, and this is why we can distinguish between “right” and “left” (though some of us, like sea urchins, are too many-sided to do so). Originally we all crawled forward and backward, and left and right, on the beach of some Precambrian ocean, and thus there was no need or possibility for us to distinguish between “upward” and “downward.” Somewhat later some of us (the birds and insects) took off from the ground, and some others (the cephalopods and humans) stood upright, though still sticking to the surface. For those who had taken off, a sphere of dimensions like “up to the right” or “down behind” opened up; for those who began to stand upright it was instead a hemisphere that became accessible to locomotion. This may be taken to be a description of vital space, of which all other kinds of space are either derivatives or abstractions…
Consider what has just been said about cosmic space and about virtual space, and then consider how people all around us talk about it. Every teenager talks about cosmic space, and every artist about virtual space, as if they and everybody else knew what those words mean. One thing is certain: they mean something that does not fit into our vital space, that long and broad but flat box wherein we live for the simple reason that we are upright worms. You might say that all those people use those words because they are worms with brains attached to their mouth end. And a brain is a well-known paradox: it contains the cosmic space of which it is a part, because particles jump within the brain over nerve synapses, which means that the brain contains the virtual space that contains the cosmic space that contains the vital space in which the brain lives. But if you said so in order to explain why teenagers and artists speak about the three spaces here discussed, you would have contributed to the confusion instead of simplifying the situation. And a different sort of effort is needed if we are to understand what is happening today.
It is a fact that for more than a century we have been learning how to fly, and that, although we have not yet learned to do it properly, we can already experience space more or less as birds do. Another fact is that for some time now we have had things that begin with the prefix “tele-,” which literally may mean “far” but which really means “to bring nearer.” Thus with the telescope we can bring things like the moon and the planets so near that they no longer look as if they are in cosmic space; thanks to the telephone we can approach people who cannot be heard and seen in vital space; thanks to the telegraph we can correspond with people over long distances as if they were in the same town in which we live; thanks to television we can see events as they happen in a quite different place within vital space; and thanks to telematics we can become neighbors with everyone equipped with the same type of apparatus. Thus that long, wide, and flat box we call our vital space is beginning to burst at its seams, and its lid is coming off to enable us to get up and leave it.
But there is another fact that may be even more decisive: we no longer have a feeling that we can trust our vital space or the time that blows through it. We are now capable of simulating things so perfectly that we can no longer distinguish them well from “true things.” For instance, we can no longer say for sure whether we are watching a real or a staged scene when looking at the TV screen, or whether that voice that speaks to us is human or the voice of an apparatus. On the other hand, the fad that we can be telepresent instantly all over the place makes us doubt whether we are truly present here and now, or whether we are only dreaming. This means that we can no longer distinguish well between fact and fiction, between science and art, between the real and the unreal. Now this is a feeling that accords very well with virtual space, where true and untrue statements have literally no meaning.
If you take those two sets of fads together—on the one hand, vital space is no longer closed but is opening up to cosmic space, and on the other hand, it is becoming as untrustworthy as virtual space—you begin to understand why all those people speak about cosmic and virtual spaces. They no longer feel at home within vital space, so they are beginning to crawl out into those other spaces that can be calculated, and that everybody can contemplate on computer screens, but that nobody can understand in the true sense of that term. The upright worm that we are is beginning to take off, but nobody can say as yet where it is going, or what it is plunging into. We cannot even say whether it is going to continue to be a worm, whether it is going to be crushed, or whether it is changing into a bird or an angel.