Limited, Inc.

“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

isolationism and bitcoin libertarianism

... and they just said
what they always say

I don’t think of Trump or Trumpism as particularly isolationist, which is the standard charge by the neo-liberal crowd. An isolationist does not increase the already horrific amount of money devoted to the American military. That isn’t just a symptom of some deeper non-isolationism – that is the whole ballgame. Rather, Trumpism exists as another twist in the long logic of power that has made it unthinkable, for the establishment, that the U.S. could for good reasons simply cease to be a superpower. That logic makes it the case that if, say, China, with its newfound wealth, does things in Africa, this is a net minus for the U.S. – because it is always a binary, always win/lose, with our “rivals”.

Fundamentally, I can’t think of any political reason to countenance the seizing of excessive world power by any nation. It has always puzzled us that the right, which doesn’t trust the state to deliver mail, trusts the state with the means of ending the human species. This, indeed, is straining at the gnat and swallowing the ICBM missile. My view is that this disproportion shows the fundamental contradiction in a theory of the state that starts out with an anti-statist ideological coloration while having no real philosophy of governance – that is, having no recognition that governance is in question in every organization. In other words, the question of governance is in play in both the power held by public and that held by private entities. Fetishizing the “contract” – an all purpose, ontological bandage here – allows the anti-statist not to look at the results of the exercise of private power. Given the course we are going in this world of ours, it is only a matter of time before a corporation builds its own nuclear missile. To the cheers, no doubt, of bitcoin libertarians.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Hitler - a screen memory from America

As is well known, the Hitler comparison is a standard trope among the Internet commentariat. The standard rhetorical reply is to evoke the Godwin’s law, which says that once the Hitler comparison is reached, all further argument is reduced to absurdity or repetition.
Godwin’s law may be right as far as the measurement of information is concerned. However, there is more to say about the insistent use of Hitler, at least from the semi-Freudian/Marxy p.o.v.  
Freud introduced the useful concept of the “screen memory” quite early in his career, in a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fleiss.  In an essay in his “Small Writings” about a childhood memory in Goethe’s autobiography, written in the midst of the horrors of World War I, 1917, he condenses the notion down to its essence:

“Obviously, the important value of such childhood memories is only rarely evident. Mostly they seem indifferent, even nugatory, and it seems incomprehensible that it is just these memories that succeeded in defying our amnesia; thus those, who retain them as their memory properties over the course of many years, know as little how to measure their importance as the people to whom they recount them. In order to recognize their significance, it requires a certain art of interpretation, that either shows how their content was substituted through another, or shows their relationship to some other unrecognized but important experience, for which they have emerged as so-called “screen memories’”.
It is, of course, an enormous step from the memories of an individual to the collective memories of a culture. But I’ll leap it here, to ask, what screen memory is “Hitler” the name for?

My theory is that it is the screen memory that allows Americans to project on a completely foreign leader, and events that happened in Europe, a chain of events that were located firmly in the New World, from the ethnic cleansing of the Indian nations to slavery to post Civil War apartheid all the way up to the mass incarcerations that have marked our last thirty years. In other words, the correct comparison for evils that happen in America is not Nazi Germany, but the American past, with all of its complexities. The correct comparison for Trump, for instance, is evidently and obviously George Bush, whose footsteps he is following pretty closely. When the absurd editor of the New Yorker, David Remnick, writes about Trump as a “Nero”, I have to laugh, since this same Remnick was all too happy to publish fakey news accounts about how closely Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were bound together in the year leading up to the invasion of Iraq – the bloodiness and awfulness of which is being softened to nothing by the same American amnesia that has now made the war in Vietnam a question of heroic American P.O.W.s, instead of say the multiply more Viet Cong and North Vietnamese P.O.W.s who faced much worse conditions in camps in the South.

You would think that 9/11 would have made us think a bit about how a society treats people who bomb it, but then, that would be a little too much thinking.

In any case, the Hitler comparison and in general the fascist comparisons that are continually thrown up in political discourse in this country are products not of solemn historical reflection, and not of deep and vigorous resistance to Trump, but, just the opposite, of a resistance to see how Trump fits into our national narrative. Trump, as H. Rap Brown mighta put it, is as American as apple pie.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

the ideology of who bears the burden

The right argues that society as a whole has no responsibility to an individual who gets sick. The taxpayers, the argument goes, should not pay for this individual's healthcare.
Which is at least a logical argument. But it is a strange one: for how about crime? An individual, x, is robbed. Well, that is sad, but why should taxpayers pay for the tracking down and incarceration of the robber? After all, the robber didn't rob y, who is having to pay for the building and maintenance of the jail in which the robber is held.
The right's response is that the individual, here, should be taken care of by society, but it isn't clear why. Is it because y has an interest in not getting robbed him or herself? But y has a similar interest in not being made ill by a person whose sickness is contagious. And, more broadly, y has an interest in being taken care of herself if she is sick.
To go further: myself, I have no interest in or concern about investing, and if somebody defrauds investors of hundreds of millions of dollars, what do I care? Yet those with investments have an awful big interest in seeing the state punish those who would defraud them.
The logical path that leads to the rejection of universal healthcare is the one that must also lead to the dissolution of public support for the police department and prisons. There is really not a logical difference between a sickness and a felony, from the point of view of the state's interest.

To further the argument: if we treated crime like we treat sickness, then surely the cost of the police work, trial, and prison for the condemned should fall on the person benefited. The robbed family, or the family of a person who was murdered, etc., should, by the same argument that would make them bear the cost of hospital care, be forced to pay the state to keep the murderer or thief in jail. This might be ruinously expensive to families of all but the wealthy – but the answer of course would be to spread the costs privately. We could all buy crime insurance.

The crime insurance would, of course, reproduce what happens now in terms of costs. The costs of justice are shouldered by taxpayers. Insurance, whether public or private, points at one thing: there are costs that the average person can’t bear.

In the past, plutocratic rule was based on the exploitation of the worker, while the exploitation of the consumer was a lesser factor. In the present neo-liberal order, both the worker and the consumer are exploited, with the explosion in life-event costs – health and education, mostly – being the site at which this exploitation is most evident.

And what are we going to do about it? I have a suggestion: get rid of the plutocracy. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Being lost/Being home

There's the geography of maps, where the objects are a town, a river, a mountain, and then there is the subjective map, where the objects are all object-events: getting lost, coming home, being-in-a-strange-apartment. The subjective map has a very different scale - it measures not inches, miles, or kilometers, but uniqueness and repetitions. For instance, the geography of getting lost depends upon its position in the scale of encounters with a place - getting lost in the same place the second time is a harder thing to do, and eventually, if you keep coming back, you aren't lost at all and the lostness that you once experienced seems like a dream. Coming back home is perhaps the opposite of lostness, an East to lostness's West. Lostness is tied to the radical lack of experience of a place, a failure of recognition, while coming home is tied to the ultra experience of a place, the place raised by the power of some square of the mind and senses.

Friday, January 12, 2018

the reactionary rhetoric of victimization and the ideology of strength

I watched the interview with Catherine Millet on French Tv about the “Tribune” in Le Monde against the #metoo moment.

It was an interesting exercise in the rhetoric of reaction.

That rhetoric serves the ideology of reinforcing the power of the establishment, and dis-establishing attacks upon it.

Millet use of the terms “victim” and “strength” – as in strong women – in an almost exemplary way. I could almost draw a Greimas square (but I won’t) to analyze her responses.
Millet’s chief rhetorical instrument is to speak of women imprisoning themselves in “victimization.” It does have an unpleasant feel, this victimization. How much better to be strong!
But an odd thing happens as the conversation proceeds. Using the example of a man putting his hand on a woman’s thigh in public transport, Millet reveals that she is a “strong” woman cause it doesn’t effect her, and that the men who do this are pitiable. They are, hmm, victims, and as such they shouldn’t be denounced.

Such are the odd somersaults that victimization has to go through.

In the age of plutocracy, the ideology conceals (as is the tendency of ideologies) a contradiction.
On the one hand, public opinion has long been bombarded by the notion that strength is not merely a description of a contingent use of force in a given situation, but is a virtue all by itself. Once we marry the fetishization of strength to the real image of our society, where there is a chasm between a small group of economic winners and the much larger group of economic losers, the worship of strength legitimizes this order – it even ordains a certain shame in the losers. They are weak!

On the other hand, the establishment gets in on the victimization racket itself. Millet’s “pity” for the “guys” is parallel to such rhetorical tactics as making any attempt to limit the power and the wealth of the wealthy a form of victimizing the successful. Long ago, a conservative mook named Grover Norquist even pushed this rhetoric to urge a parallel between the estate tax and the Holocaust.

Millet’s rhetoric does catch a bit here. After all, to speak of people as powerful as Hilary Clinton as “not being allowed” x or y – a popular ploy among certain of Clinton’s supporters – is at once ridiculous and disempowering. I think that this did real damage to Clinton’s campaign, as advisors became convinced that Clinton could not reveal who she is because it would offend people. But what people? Sexists? What would be the point of not offending them?

It is this kind of victimizing down that led her, for instance, to speak of “deplorables” instead of “racists”. That was a gift to Trumpites. They can all race around in t shirts with deplorable written on them – whereas I have a feeling the t shirt industry wouldn’t have had that influx of money for t shirts saying “racists for Trump.” Here, the negative effects of the victim delusion are apparent.

That said, victims are not some nasty thing that needs to be expelled from the body politic. I have a strong feeling that if the guy in Millet’s case put his hand not on her knee, but in her purse, and drew out her credit card, she’d have no hesitation about going to the cops. Nor would she be deterred by the reminder that she was acting like a “victim” – because, hmm, she was a victim.

I have strong doubts that Le Monde would publish a tribunal decrying the outcry against those who stole from the wealthy, say. It is only a small part of their collected assets! We should not have a witchhunt against frauds or thieves! I can almost guarantee that if the conversation wasn’t about the ever ambiguous notion of strangers or bosses putting their hands on women’s bodies, or sending them dick pics – but was about robbing male bosses, picking their pockets, breaking into their homes – there wouldn’t be a tv show about it.

Cause there are victims and there are victims, guys! 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Confederate monuments - and phallic ones

Sometimes I think I should find some untranslated minor French classic and translate it. With this in mind, I picked up Jacques Yonnet’s Rue des Malefices, which Raymond Queneau considered to be one of the great books about Paris. It does do that surrealist mixing thing, cutting autobiography and legend, street history and street voices, into a herky jerky narrative about being down and out and under a pseudonym in Nazi occupied Paris.
If I were really to translate the book, obviously I’d need help with those street voices (which were also dear to Queneau’s heart). Here, for instance, is la mere Georgette, naturally a “laveuse”, talking about a neighbor: Formidable qu’il est ce gniar-lá. Je vais sur soixante-dix piges et j’ai l’ai toujours connoblé. Reparouze de pendulettes et fourgueur  d’oignons d’occase. Jamais de bruit.”
Jamais de bruit is the highest compliment one Parisian resident can give another, by the way. As for his repairing clocks and second hand watches – the oignons – I would have to find the street equivalent, and probably end up making Georgette speak in Brooklyn gangster lingo.
So who knows.
But the point, here, is elsewhere. Yonnet, as I said, is immersed in a life of short term flights, among a group of people who are suffering from hunger and foraging the streets in the cold winter of 1941. And he writes this: “They penetrate the hostile night with an enormous fear in their bellies, like we screw by main force a woman who refuses.”
I was brought up short here. It is as if I were walking in a city and suddenly became aware that there was a monument to something nasty – for instance, to a Confederate general.
These monuments are, in fact, scattered all through the literature of the West, and East, and North, and South.  The walker in the city of books will never escape them, never find a route where there isn’t some doomladen shitty sexist thing there in the path.
This doesn’t mean that I give up on Yonnet. To do that would be to give up on Georgette as well, among other things. But it does make me think that there are enormous reckonings that we keep avoiding in this world, with as much energy as we avoid thinking about the future that we are handing to the people of fifty years from now, or twenty-five even. The Tribune in Le Monde that was signed by many other peeps than Catherine Deneuve is a reaction to the fall of these monuments, written in the elegiac tone of a lament for the end of sexual liberation. But of course sexual liberation doesn’t happen in a segregated space – it happens, if it happens, all over. And its shadow side, the exploitation of the rhetoric of sexual liberation to continue gender domination, is a familiar since the dawn of modernity. It was one of the central reactionary moments in surrealism that Bataille, in his over the top essay on Sade and the Surrealists, picked out with cruel accuracy.
It strikes me as no coincidence that the overthrow of confederate monuments and the overthrow of a few phallic monuments – shitty men from the media, firstly – are happening at the same time.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The novel ain't dead

 There seems to be a perpetual market for thumbsucker pieces predicting the end of the novel. The piece is never written from the point of view of good riddance to bad rubbish – the Surrealists stance on the novel – but rather as an exercise in concern trolling. It starts out with how the novel was once important, then moves on to what is important today – which may be video games, or movies, or television.
“The question, however, remains: Should the demise of the literary novel trouble us? I think the answer is “yes,” but not nearly as much as some literary novelists would have you think.
Great television is taking over the space occupied by many novels, and taking with them many excellent writers. And by and large, it’s delivering the same rewards to its audience. But what about novels that exploit the opportunities that are available only to the form of the novel, such as novels that explore interiority, or rely on the novel’s versatile treatment of time and causation? Who will speak for such novels?
If I seem reluctant to sound the alarm for the demise of the literary novel, even as a novelist myself, it is because modern fiction, particularly English-language fiction, has moved in the direction of the televisual, anyway. Much so-called literary fiction is evidently written with an eye to an option for film or TV adaptation. The response to the challenges from television and other media has been to become more like the offerings of those media. In some ways, this is understandable behavior on the part of each novelist. For all but a tiny few, it’s nearly impossible to make anything even approaching a living from writing literary fiction.”
There are two arguable premises that underlie all these laments about the death of the novel.
The first one is that there is one space allotted to every media form, with the implication that it’s a jungle out there, and social Darwinism gives us a precise outline of how our larger social forces work. This, it seems to me, has been amply disproven by the real history of technology, which is much more about the intermeshing of media than the competition between same. In other words, if TV competes with the novel, it also borrows from it, uses it, promotes it. And vice versa. They are in other words symbiotic, exist in linked spaces, rather than in a struggle for the crown that leaves one dead on the field. Same thing is actually true for poetry, which is in the same symbiotic relationship with song.
The struggle for the crown has always been an American macho thing. This gets us to our second hidden assumption: that the novel is losing out because it is losing its important MALE audience.
Undoubtedly, white American males at the moment are much more like Donald Trump – a vindicative non-reader – than Barack Obama – an erudite guy who could discuss lit with the likes of Marilynne Robinson. Let’s say that as a class, this group of the population has been suffering a disastrous deficit of narrative intelligence, which is in inverse proportion to their grasp on our lives.
For proof, look at the discourse leading up to the invasion of Iraq. It was conceived and talked about exactly like some primitive video game – in fact, the ones that first came on the market in the eighties, when these guys were kids – in which the important fact about the “enemy” is that they are programmed to sneak attack and you win by wiping out as many of them as possible. The enemy, in these games, has no memory or imagination. They have no content, only form: they form a “side.” They are the “bad guys”. That the good guys with weapons in their hands are invading the space of the bad guys doesn’t even register. After all, who owns the video game?
It is no coincidence that, as the novel lost its male readership, all of these bemoanings of the end of the novel appear in all the midlevel media places. Just as the feminization of certain forms of work – say, the replacement of male secretaries in the late nineteenth century with a female workforce – led to the financial and symbolic downgrading of the role of secretary, so, too, the same sexist shit happens with the novel.
Even here, though, we can see a meshing, rather than a competition for the crown. Tom Clancy, who names not an author but an industry of military wankership, preceded and in some ways projected the form that those early vid games would take – and of course soon he developed a whole line of those games himself.
The reason for this is that the novel form comes from what the Russians call skaz. Skaz are routines – the story-routine in oral form. Go to, say, Reddit, or comparable sites, and you will find guys – very male-y guys – skazzing away. If your sense of the novel is delineated by the commodities  sold on Amazon, you will, of course, lament and lament the decline of the literary novel. So few peeps can make their living on them! But in truth, it was always thus. Samuel Johnson’s London, Baudelaire’s Paris, Joyce’s Dublin – always, always, the writer (whether poet or novelist) is a scrounger.
However, the novelist today – Margaret Atwood, or Joan Didion, or Rachel Kushner, etc. – does fairly well for herself. Besides which, there is the teaching. This is, from a financial point of view, really the golden age of the literary novelist, not its flameout. It is just that the patrons of the art have changed.
Big deal. In the end, the responding echo is not monetizable. And guess what? It was always like this. I would like thumbsuckers about the sad plight of the daycare worker and the nursing home caretaker, but as for the novelist, they are doing all right.

January's Paris

In Giles Fletcher’s Of the Russe Commenwealthe, written in 1591, there is a marvelously tossed off phrase in high Elizabethan style: after describing the terror of the Russian winter, Fletcher says: “It would breede a frost in a man to look abroad at that time, and see the winter face of that countrie.” The idea of inner temperature mirroring outer, or rather, inner weather being the broadcast of outer vision, is a powerful thought. The icicle is the icicle of the mind, so to speak – to paraphrase the Macbethian theme of daggers. I find it interesting, although impossible, the way the visual takes a different track from the tactile: Though the imagination may well break through time, so that one loses track, such is time’s touchlessness, it never breaks through temperature – however much I dream of Florida in the streets of January’s Paris, it provides no kindling.