Saturday, January 12, 2019

Cocteau, fast motion film, and Ce Soir

I have a passion for old newspapers, which is one of the reasons I love the internet. You can find old newspapers all over the internet. It is as if all the old birdcages have shed their papers, for here is the news from London in 1778 to Paris in 1947. No longer does one need to get up, go down to the library, and search out the musty, lumbering volumes in the periodicals section, where the old paper dies a little every day. The internet is to the periodicals section as the book of forensic photographs is to the morgue: the bodies are in the latter, but the former captures their looks in their last agony.
What I especially like are the legendary papers: among which surely counts Ce Soir. It was set up with Louis Aragon as its editor in the mid 30s. It was supposed to be a communist paper, but it was as communist as Louis Aragon – which is to say that it would mouth communist verities, but its heart was in the intersection between the sensational and the glamorous. Full of great and gory murders, starlets running off with tycoons, and foreign correspondents reporting from distant battlefields, with the print flowing around big bold photographs, the newspaper looked exciting – an art lost in our time, with the bland layouts of all the serious papers. Even the tabloids don’t quite have that Weegeeish look.  Aragon had certain of his buddies write for the rag: for instance, Jean Renoir, the great director, who had a regular column. Jean Cocteau also had a column. I came across one of Cocteau’s pieces, The Branch of the Orange Tree, and looked around to see if it had been translated. It should have been. A short piece – this was after all a newspaper – it read like a premonition for his Orpheus film. Yet I couldn’t find the translation, so I thought: I’ll do it. Why not?
The Orange Tree Branch
Since the existence of time-lapse documentary films (films of the lives of plants), it is impossible to walk in a garden without an uneasy feeling, or to lean over the flowers with the soul of a young girl. Nothing is crueler than the plant world, or more erotic. A German film, which was banned by the French censors (certain passages in the film recall those movies that they show in Marseilles in certain seedy venues) denounces the horrifying habits, the mad mecanisms of a realm that man had previously believed to be immobile and uniquely preoccupied with pleasing us. The science and patience of the makers of the film, which let a plant live in its own rhythm and then brought it up to ours by accelerating it, proves just how unconscious man is.

The results of their espionage work would astonish the romanticism that sings “phlegm”, the haughty attitude of nature and would furnish new bases for its inspiration. For it is not only an affair of a difference of rhythm, speed, “tempo”. The secret has been well guarded. Thanks to the extraordinary slowness of the gestures of a tree in comparison to ours, a park could lead a ferocious life under our eyes, a curate’s garden could make love, do its make up and its murders without anyone having a clue.
In fact, no witch’s sabbat equals what happens in these gardens where the vegetation overlaps. A prodigious erotic activity directs the flows of life and the explosive pollen. The stems curl, the petals grimace, roll out and in, the leaves contract and the scents, the nuances that transport beautiful dreamers appear to us suddenly like the violent signs of an erotic fever.

At Promousquier where I live, I see outside my window, on the little terrassed plot that juts out over the sea, three orange trees. These are old acquaintances. After eighteen years (I think of them and ask myself – are they still living) I always come back to them with emotion. They were in their pots and now they have been planted in the earth, in the same place.
These wild oranges have little by little ceased to be wild. They’ve been domesticated. Certainly the oranges they bear are bitter, but the flowers emit a powerful scent. Not having to defend themselves against mouths and muzzles, the branches only grow rare and short thorns. Certain branches are defiant, but the majority have renounced these habits.
 And now, now the films that I mentioned have put us on guard and made us look at bushes in another way concerning a strange detail which teaches us something about the intelligence of the vegetable kingdom. Not that we have to suppose that the plants are geniuses because they astonish us with their obscure mecanisms. I will continue to be very simple about this. A palm tree keeps the sunlight off one of my little orange bushes. Alas! I pruned back the palm tree too late. The branch died. But hardly did it feel itself in danger when it “defended itself with all its forces”, silently, blindly. For, alone of all the branches of this orange tree, this branch boasted thorns as long as my finger. Thus, it told me of its struggle. I leave to the readers, to those who love trees, and who are intrigued by nature, this mysterious witness of a struggle against the unknown. A bitter, solitary fight, which recalls Daudet’s story of the fight between M. Seguin’s goat and the wolf.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Zarquawi effect in France

In the movie Vice, which I saw this Christmas and heartily recommend, there is a sequence on how Zarquawi, an Iraqi thug who called himself al qaeda's representative to Iraq, went from being a small time delusional to being a major player in the creation of Islamicist paramilitaries by way of D.C.'s intentionally aggrandizing view of him (with the purpose of linking Saddam H. to Osama bin Laden) in 2003. By making him seem much more important than he was - I mean, this is Washington D.C. making you a supervillain! - he attracted thousands who figured, if it pisses off the Americans, it must be good. As Vice shows, this tactical move in the propaganda war to get the American public to accept an unnecessary and stupid invasion bore terrible fruit - among them, ISIS.
It is interesting that the Macron government is playing the Zarquawi card with the Gilets Jaunes. From the beginning, instead of treating these people as citizens with complaints - which are supported, incidentally by about twice as many French people as support Macron, 55-60 percent vs. 23-28 percent - the government treated them as hooligans. As it amped up the hooligan image, and as the compliant press, lorded over by corporate heads who benefit massively from Macron's tax cuts, conveyed the government's rhetoric, there arose a considerable cohort of real casseurs. They came to the call. Now, of course, having tried to cast the GJ as hooligans, the Zarquawi effect is in stage 3: using the violence the government provoked to legitimate clampdowns on opposition to the government. As a bloomsburg article today shows the laws being proposed by Edouard Phillipe to allow the government to patrol, control, and surveille the opposition are harsher than those imposed by the Putin government in Russia. Particularly beautiful is the law against covering your face. For really, if the gendarme lob tear gas at you and you cover your face, you are violating your duty to endure pain for the state, citoyen!
I don't think this will end well.

Sunday, January 06, 2019


The ancient Greeks, those great nomenclaturists, had a word for the tale in which the hero came home after many adventures: nostos. There’s a very fine essay by Anna Bonifazi in the American Journal of Philology, Winter, 2009 – your fave journal, reader, and mine too – that explores the way this word played out in Greek literary culture.

“From the literary point of view, a nostos tale basically concerns a sea voyage, including a storm that causes a shipwreck, a landing in an unforeseen place, and the survival of the one who experiences all this. Even before the Odyssey narrative was conceived, nostos tales and Odysseus' nostos tales were presumably widespread.”

Our return to Atlanta did not, thank God, include shipwreck or the culling of our crew by one-eyed giants. But as in any return home, journey’s end puts in question the identity of the endpoint – of “home”. In fact, my relation to Atlanta – or more properly, the Atlanta metropolitan area – is not that of a native. I wasn’t born there. I was raised there. On the other hand, my mother, father, and father’s parents have all died there – it is the country of all my significant ghosts. It is where my brothers and one sister live. It is the place I left, when I was eighteen, and have come back to for variable stays, but always with the plan to depart. And maybe, maybe that really is home – it is where one plots one’s departure from. Odysseus did not want to leave Ithaca – he pretended to be mad, when the proposition was put to him that he should join the insane Greek expedition to return Menelaus’s wife to him by main force, but was found out and forced to go along. Yet when he returns, and rejoins his wife Penelope (“journeys end in lovers’ meetings”), he sets off again on a journey whose purpose is only to fulfill an oracle.

Atlanta, I think, is actually a very fine place to call home. When I was a disconsolate adolescent – moaning for arty circles and bohemian parents, like the worst snobbish teen you can imagine – I thought of Atlanta as a provincial place, where the ethos would always be Lennard Skinner. Now, so many eons later, I see that the provincial was myself. Atlanta is an amazingly diverse place: unlike Los Angeles, it is not a place, for the most part, of ethnic conclaves. The distant metro suburban counties, Cobb, Gwinnett, or even Dekalb, which in my youth were white flight chickenhouses, have long become rainbow: black, Asian, Latinx, white, jumbled together as in some advertisement or sitcom. Our last afternoon in Lawrenceville (the county seat of Gwinnett, most famous for being the place where Larry Flynt was shot by a person unknown, or at least unprosecuted - although Joseph Franklin later confessed to the deed) was spent, given the sogginess of the afternoon, going to Sugarloat Mills Mall – which turned out to be a wonderful place. The Mall’s great anchor store is a huge depot of sporting goods that stocks boats, fishing poles, bows and arrows, a huge aquarium stocked with bass and gar, and guns. Adam, in fact, got to shoot a play gun at targets in one of the store’s dioramas, and so did I. The Wikipedia entry on Sugarloaf Mills describes it, unkindly, as “struggling” and catering to “low income” shoppers. Whatever. To my mind, it was infinitely superior to the shopping mall at the end of Third Street in Santa Monica, where you couldn’t get a shirt under one hundred bucks or a belt under forty. Fuck that, as they say at Sugarloaf Mills (not really – politeness still reigns in the South!). Here, you can get that shirt for ten dollars and they will throw in a belt that is just as good as any you can get at Nordstrom for five. But what you can do, besides, at Sugarloaf mills is sit on a massage chair for five bucks, experience virtual reality at the virtual reality kiosk, play weird childfriendly variants of miniature golf, have a medieval theater dinner, race toy cars in a shop that is laid out in the most economically inefficient way possible (seemingly the shop can only accommodate five racers at a time, which means that even on the best of days, they cannot make more than a few thousand dollars – which made me wonder, as we raced cars there, how they can afford the upkeep), watch a discount movie or shop, miraculously, for books – or even get mild head shop-ish paraphernalia. I know that Walter Benjamin would pick Sugarloaf over Santa Monica’s mall every time. I’m with Walt.

The Christmas week was soggy. About five -ten years ago, Georgia and the whole southeast was suffering such a drought that Alabama, Georgia and Florida nearly came to armed battle over who got dibs on the Chattahoochee water flow. Now – according to the Viconian rule of corsi e recorsi that rules the Gods, the stars, and mankind – Georgia has an overabundance of the stuff that W.C. Fields so despised. We sortied out to several parks during intervals of non-sogginess and saw the landscape, which gave me a deep satisfaction. I’ve always liked the Northern Georgia forests – even when I was a teen, I would apply to them that line from Yeats: “The trees are in their autumn beauty”. Melancholy was my fave teen mood – followed by brooding and above it all. Hey, I was a snot, what can I say? Everyone to their own teenage emotional shell, and devil take the hindmost. I retain, as a merry old man, my liking for oaks that are bluesing their loss of leafage. We went out and saw plenty of that action. We also surveyed the new developments around Emory University, thus upsetting my mental map of the area. In contrast, the area around Stone Mountain and Lithonia seems still to be in the era of Flannery O’Connor. While my hometown, Clarkston, long ago became an emblem of immigration and change. Never in my wildest dreams – when I was a teen – did I imagine that the most vibrant religious denomination in Clarkston in the 21st century would be centered around a mosque. My sister told me that the Baptist Church in Clarkston, amazingly, has been sold to some other denomination. There goes the very symbol of everything I rejected when I first read Nietzsche. Somehow, I feel it is a case of lese majeste – they can’t do this to Nietzsche!

Adam was a great hit with my family. And they were a great hit with him – at a certain point, he started complaining about how “boring” Paris was compared to Atlanta. It is true – your kids are your parents revenge on you.

And then we came back to Paris. Hope this New Year is better on every dimension than 2018 for all who read this – and for all who don’t!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018


My Christmas poem. Upbeat - not.


It was the age of golden coincidences.
That night, when I fell from the deck
It was not, to my surprise, the wine dark sea
Received me, but an undertow of milk
Dragged me through the panics of the birth canal

We woke to screams along the street
Flames taking the palace walls. Our faces flickered
As we streamed out of the South Gate
Hidden in the Goddess’ hand. First things last
Nursery rhymes turned to ash in our mouths

Have you ever seen the farmboy kill
The cubs of the rat, by chance uncovered in the barn.
He raises the shovel and one two three
Swift successive blows batter down
At once the entire dim lineage. Such were our faces.

Down to the water then. Our leader spoke
Only of things of the ship
We crossed the rippling shadow cast
By what seemed impossible to overthrow
Walls built by giants and by gods.

All at once I thought, everything that could be lost
Would be. Which is why I was surprised
How the walk home from school came back
Impregnable, as the milk carried me down,
And I counted every step.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Trump's great idea: the national prison monument!

“We are building artistically designed steel slats, so that you can easily see through it,” the president wrote. “It will be beautiful and, at the same time, give our Country the security that our citizens deserve.”NYT

And here I was, thinking that we’d elected Boris Badonoff president, when all along Trump was hiding his Christo soul! The border wall as an art project – this has to be Melania’s input. Our jetsetting racists strike again, a blow to remind us that we Americans are good at something - call it slapstick, call it kitsch, call it homebrewed fascism. Whatever!

And since the Trump administration is shitting as hard as it can on our national parks and wilderness areas, isn’t it nice that they want to build a great wall tourist attraction that can compete with China as a sort of compensation? Steel slats, to represent the great and beautiful jail industry, which might be the last one that American elites will keep at home, rather than seeking abroad for cheaper labor costs. It is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Apollinaire, the streets, time

I threw into the noble fire
With human hands made of that pyre
That void socketed dead man beneath,  
That past, and worshipped within me the fire.
Flame, I do what you breath.
– Free translation of the first stanza of “Brazier”
I live some three blocks from the Rue Franc-Bourgeois, which is where Apollinaire locates the boutique that is at the center of his story, “The Shadow Departs”. Going by the Google Map, I can reach Rue Saint-Merri – which features in Apollinaire’s Marais heavy poem, The Musician of Saint Merri – in ten minutes. In fact, just this morning, returning with my son from a visit to the doctor, we walked past Eglise Saint Merri – a church I never notice, since its massiveness seems to fade into the neighborhood – and went down Rue de Saint Merri. The route was an accident, just a matter of turning here and there to reach our street, but I was happy when I saw the name on the street plaque, as I was writing about Apollinaire as I was waiting in the doctor’s office for Adam. I’ve been writing a lot about Apollinaire lately, piling up notes, but not really getting anywhere. Saint Merri, however, smiled at me. The city walker lives for signs and dies without them – or stays home, defeated, and calls for the Uber. This was a sign. As Apollinaire said in his poem, On Prophecies, “I don’t believe but I look and when possible listen.”
Yes, I’ve been piling up notes, signs: but as happens sometimes in the essay you want to write, the signs are all wrong. It is as if the vandals came and took down all the streets signs and then put them back up randomly.  So I keep going down the wrong street, a victim of some mysterious disorientation, haunted by Benjamin and his unfinished, unfinishable monster essay of the Arcades Work, which started with a simple, sweeping premise, so sweetly, how that music must have sounded in Benjamin’s ear (even though the man was notoriously unmusical)  and soon swallowed everything in its path. It is natural characteristic of monsters, this threatening, total appetite – it is how you know them.
So at last, instead of pinning my hope on texts and commentaires, it occurred to me that I have walked these streets too, I have entered into the living space, the animal territory, of Guillaume Apollinaire. There’s a wonderful essay by Marc Poupon that ties The Musician of Saint Merri to the streets of Marais on May 21,1913, as represented in the newspapers, and in Apollinaire’s own cultural reportage: a bakers’ strike in which the windows of two new bakeries on Rue de la Verrerrie were shattered, and a lover’s murder on 17, Rue Simon le Franc. These are material circumstances that have gone to newspaper limbo; but a poem that contains a date and so many Marais streets, that recounts a fantastic, erotic mass hypnotism, introduces a blind, impossible pied piper of the Marais whose subjects are neither rats nor children but women – all those women that thronged Apollinaire’s imagination and formed his most vivid correspondents – lives in newspaper time, the time of “actualite,” of the “new”, caged in all its blind simultaneity in the pages of Le MatinL’Intransigeant, Paris-Midi, etc. It is as if the typography of the newspaper, the columns that we learn to read as paths going separately down the page and sometimes diving underground to crop up on another page, were the real story of the world, here: this is the simultaneity that fascinated Apollinaire, that he experimented with.
A date in a poem is a surprise. We are used to dates in novels, although classically, they are disguised – the year is 18.., in the nineteenth century novel, which treats exact dates with a certain modesty, a certain ethical reticence. Fiction, in this ethic, has to remain in its place, and mark its place. The made up name exists on another plane from the made up date, in this ethos: the one being a private affair of fantasy, the other being a public affair of fact. The dates that Apollinaire puts into his poems and stories create an interesting moment, a newspaper moment, in which the date, as it is shared by poem, story, and newspaper, put them all on the same temporal plane. And this is a clue to what Apollinaire is up to, or so I take it. And yet this question of dates…
Apollinaire, always a reader of the periodicals, might well have read Gabriel Tarde three part series in La Revue des Deux Mondes in 1901, which later became his book, Opinion and the Crowd, which that takes into account the temporal shift that comes epiphenomenally out of the development of public opinion from its primitive state as the crowd, the savage crowd. The haptic space of the crowd, with the physical proximity one to another of the members of the crowds, cedes and becomes subordinate to another kind and degree of proximity, which is mediated by a the simultaneity which is both the ontological and typological principle of the Newspaper. News, as we have pointed out, is actualité in French. Between the English and the French word, an important movement between kin temporalities is captured. News becomes the now. In the old order, the evidence of universal and intemporal processes (which is why history “teaches”, is exemplary) is undermined by the sensational and a present in movement.  Tarde speaks of the newspapers giving their readers a ‘sense of simultaneity.”  He does not, unfortunately, disinter the phenomenon of simultaneity, instead  vaguely pressing on the idea of “at the same time”. But ordinary simultaneousness is transformed in the social mode of simultaneity. We speaking of catching up with, keeping up with, or following the news, or fashions, or tv, or books, or sports. It is in this sense that we are not simply conscious of being simultaneous with, but as well, and more strongly, that the simultaneous is moving ahead of us even as we are part of it, like a front.
The anthropologist Johannes Fabian coined the term allochrony to speak of the peculiar way in which Europeans, starting in the seventeenth century, started to divide up the contemporary world into different cultural time zones. Europe, of course,appropriated the modern to itself. Other contemporary cultures were backward,savage, stone age, traditional – they were literally behind their own time.Modernity exists under that baptism and curse. But Fabian’s concern was so completely focused on cultures exogenous to Europe that he ends up treating Europe,or the West, as a homogenous, total mass. Of course, it isn’t. This is why what happened in the colonial periphery was related to the social forces in motion within the metropoles, the imperial powers. There is, as it were, an allochronic competition, here – here in Paris in 1911, for instance. Simultaneity is the horizon for a temporal competition – one in which the new, the young, the latest compete against the old, the laggard, the out of touch. One of the stories in The Murdered Poet is ariff on these themes. In The Deified Cripple, a chauffeur named Justin Couchot is involved in a vicious car accident that tears off one of his arms and one of his legs and leaves him in a coma fora long time. Once he gets out of the coma, he has to hop around on his one leg,since the stump of the other is so tender that they cannot attach a prosthetic limb to it. This is a very twentieth century wound. 
Read the rest at Willett's!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Is the Opinion Page of the New York Times just for stupid people? a rhetorical question

The NYT opinion page never fails to come up with the stupidest headlines that one can imagine - headlines that put National Enquirer to shame. The headline today is: Is Environmentalism Just for Rich People? A WTF juxtaposition of words if there ever was one.

I propose an elementary exercise in logic, here, substituting for the class "rich people" tokens of rich people (you know, the demographic that voted most strongly for Donald Trump): For instance: Is Environmentalism just for the Koch Brothers. Or: Is Environmentalism just for Exxon executives? Or: Is Environmnetalism just for bitcoin billionaires? Or: Is environmentalism just for bankers who lend to Freeport Macmoran? Is environmentalism just for corporations that demand taking law be inserted into Trade Treaties? Is environmentalism just for Monsanto Investors? Is environmentalism just for Agribusinesses? On and on. the beat don't stop until the break of dawn - and your brains are mush.

This is such obvious nonsense that there must be a powerful override behind it, one that ignores the massive, falsifying counter-evidence. And there is such an override: it is called neo-liberalism. It is a handy portmanteau term, to encompass everything from the Romney wing of the R party to the Clintonite wing of the D party.

Such is the power of illusion in the rentier class, however, to which the NYT directs its rays of enlightenment, that this class thinks of Macron as a radical environmentalist. You know, the president who raised the carbon tax, but not on corporation using a lot of carbon.

The problem here is that the walls are thick and will not hear anything to upset the "narrative".Neo-liberal deafness and Trumpian deafness dominate the "discourse", to the detriment of 99 percent of the world's population. And this is the nuclear weapon that is heading for the planet's climate.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Macron's program, and the ex-Miss France's

In the state of economic emergency, proclaimed last night by our fearless leader, we look for comedy where we can find it. I found it in this declaration signed by, among others, Bernard Henri-Levy and Miss France (of the two, of course, it it Miss France who has all the brains) that the gilets jaunes should immediately stop what they are doing, which has been successful, and begin debating, which would be utterly unsuccessful but would give Bernard Henri-Levy (and Miss France) a chance to appear on TV with a few random Gilets Jaunes and pontificate. 

Miss France might gain an audience with the Gilets Jaunes, but not, I’m betting, the well coiffed, faux philosophe.

More seriously: we watched Macron’s speech last night. Macron started off with a song of love, and he ended like a Chanel commercial. The song of love was directed to the cops. As we know, from the affair Benalla, which involved Macron’s body guard donning police gear and beating the shit out of some passive protesters this spring, there is one exception to Macron’s general contempt for public sector employees: the cop. Macron’s handlers made a mistake in not cuing his words to music: surely this heartfelt paen to order and its masculine forces should have been backgrounded by Gang of Four’s “I love a man in a uniform”.  

The rest of the speech was a curious performance. The raising of the minimum wage by something like 75 centime per hour “without costing the employer anything” seemed like a magic act. In American terms, it is like raising the minimum wage by subtracting the amount from the Earned Income Credit. It was as if Mr. Burns on the Simpsons told his workers that they all get Christmas presents, and then deducted it from their paychecks. But it sounded good – it must have been rehearsed to have the feel good vibe, which is why it was announced as one hundred euros per month rather than 75 centimes per hour.

On the main point, though, Macron held firm. His supply side tax cut to the wealthy still stands. His reasoning still stands too: cutting that tax is supposedly going to bring investment money into France. It is what the late George H.W. Bush, in 1980, called voodoo economics. At least under Reagan the tax cut was made with a fine indifference to the deficit, since investment is not going to happen in an atmosphere of declining demand. The Reaganite solution was, in fact, to inflate two deficits: by easing regulations on credit, the medium household can take on a larger amount of debt in order to sustain a consumer lifestyles that feeds into an economic boom. The second step here, of course, involves mock horror about the government’s debt, which then leads to cuts in the social welfare system, which then leads to either further indebtedness by the household or bankruptcy. In France, the loosening of consumer credit on the American model has not happened, at least on the Reaganite scale. What has happened, especially as Macron is all about being a deficit hawk, is that his policies have essentially been deflating consumer demand. The carbon tax, with its exemptions for big carbon producers – the corporations – was a final straw. In France, one can actually see what taxes are paying for, in terms of healthcare, infrastructure, education and retirement: and what the people see is a decline in the degree and quality of all of these things. You can’t sustain Popular Front programs on a Thatcherite fiscal policy.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Macron in the chocolate factory

As was obvious from the beginning, Macron is unsuited, temperamentally and intellectually, to be the president of France. His astonishing reaction to the rejection of the "reforms" - a word that oozes with bad faith, since the reforms are actually the stripping away of the reforms of the past, and should be so characterized - by the French street is to flood said street with armed policemen in tanks if necessary, and to send his friendly unshaven front man, Édouard Philippe, out to talk about how thousands of hoodlums are going to rock and ruin lovely Paris and murder people. Oh, and ps, we'll postpone the gas tax and use this issue to make a plea to lower our funding of France's social insurance system. Nothing says responding to the cry of the lower and middle income level that their lifestyle is seriously deteriorate than feeding them a big dose of neo-liberal whoopass. You want healthcare? well let's lower funding on that! you want a clean ecology? Let's do nothing about rising housing costs that force people to live out where the car is their only means of access to job and life. Oh, and for good measure, let's just manage the railroad system into ruin, then auction it off and let the ticket prices go sky high. You want education? Well, tyr to get it as we freeze funding. The Macronists came from some casting call for the movie, "Atlas shrugged, then pissed, then had champagne and oysters" - a movie only a banker could love.
It appears that France is saddled with this boy-prince for another four years. That is going to be a long fall down the stairs. Macron is another in the long line of French conservatives who refuse to understand that a crisis in capitalism caused by the shortfall of demand cannot be solved by weakening even further the purchasing power of consumers. Rather, the magic formula is "investment", which magically appears when you shuffle money to Capital with no strings attached. You then partition off the part of your brain that just performed this trick from the part that urges the reality of globalisation - which is, precisely, about the liquid flows of capital that seek the highest return on "investment" globally. In other words, the investment you have generated is not going to go to productive activities in France, but to hedge fund bets in New York.
It is all the logic of the spoiled child, which aims at one thing: getting all the candy. We have been trapped with the spoiled kids in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory for some time now, with the plot twist that these kids took over the factory, and made Charlie work for them. In my view, Macron's candystore visions are going to be stuffed down the throat of his party if some grown up doesn't call a halt. Not that I think said grown up is going to appear: when the problem is so simple - the insane divide between the misery of the producers of wealth and the opulence of the profiteers - the solution has to be obfuscated into an incredible complexity, suitable for many a Le Monde editiorial about how complex things are.
Lefty parties were, as usual, late to the gate, but with opportunity throwing a brick at their heads, they finally are waking up. Not totally - connecting the dots between a French foreign policy mainly interested in bombing and droning peeps in the Middle East and North Africa and refugees streaming out of said countries still seems to be a conundrum they don't get. But at least they are getting over the idea that gilet jeunes are just your dumb racist hicks who should pipe down and die behind the screens of the video games they all probably play. Let's hope this goes much further. Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin, or Boil Boil, Toil and Trouble - mottos of the day! And now for a video the French cops proudly released.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Fin de régime

Macron’s first instinct, after the uprising Saturday, was to go around getting photographed shaking hands with the cops. He of course cold shouldered anybody looking like a gilet jaune – such bad taste! Why, if only they had a good tailor maybe they would be part of the “dialogue”.
Melanchon, at least, did not spend a lot of time patting the boys in blue on the back. Nor decrying the tagging of the Arc de Triomphe. Paris, and the generation of 1968 that is now retired, spent a lot of time patting themselves on the back this year. Those 68 days – weren’t they the cards! And those wonderfully witty graffiti slogans: under the street is a beach, for instance.
Under the street, as we’ve learned since, there’s more street.  I much prefer the tag left Saturday on the Arc de Triomphe that reads, simply: Fin de régime.
Not that I believe that such things are accomplished in a weekend. If Macron actually did, by some miracle, fall, he’d be replaced by another suit. The suits have had a good fifty years since 1968. The rest, not so much. Inequality has skyrocketed, and finally, the people in “deep France” – or the people who work in your shops and restaurants and call you up for debts and drive the trucks that get you your goods – have watched their time for “living”, as opposed to making a living, shrink. Along with their services. The faux “eco” president has fed the inflation of housing prices in major cities and raised taxes on those who can least afford them – and who now have to commute on an increasingly ill funded mass transportation system, or in a car, to get to work. As Jeremy Harding, in a good article in the London Review put it:
“Macron has embarked on an admirable policy to mitigate climate change but he’s failed catastrophically to heed the advice of his former environment minister, Nicolas Hulot, who resigned in August. Hulot said the project would only work with grants, attainable tax incentives and green job creation for less advantaged sectors of the population. Not nearly enough of this is in place, or even in the offing. Meanwhile the people now blocking the roads in France have been left to suck up the blame for climate change. But there are few Jeremy Clarksons among them – the motorheads are mostly the ones who try to power their way through a go-slow – and no gilets jaunes I’ve talked to can afford to trade their elderly diesel vehicles for low-emissions alternatives, even with the subsidies announced in January, which are aimed at more prosperous classes and the car industry.
A recent survey carried out for the European Commission finds that transport is still the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, and that ‘rural living’ raises the per capita footprint significantly outside the cities. Nevertheless the decisive factor across urban and rural communities alike is how much money we have: the wealthier we are, the larger our footprint, by anywhere from 150 to 450 kg per person per additional €1000 in earnings. This is why wilderness-free Luxemburg has one of the highest carbon footprints in the EU and countries in the former eastern bloc – notably Romania and Hungary – have the lowest. It is inconceivable that Macron, a technocrat and number-cruncher before his entry into politics, is ignorant of these conclusions and similar findings in other climate-change studies. Why has he chosen to comply with the caricature put about by his enemies: Macron, ‘president of the rich’? Probably because he is. But shouldn’t he be bluffing by now? Even just a bit?”

I don’t think Macron is as aware of the numbers as Harding claims – the ignorance of economists when their ideology puts out its hand and says halt as they are looking at “figures” is a perpetual source of merriment and mockery to the rest of us.
Go to Willett's for the rest of the article!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Poke their eyes out

You have to poke out the eyes of painters like you do with songbirds, to make them sing better. – Picasso

The Beaubourg advertises its current exposition of cubist artworks as the most comprehensive show of its kind in Paris since 1953. How time flies. Well, I had to see this, so I bought some tix and went with my inlaws, who were in town. First things first: we had to eat. And drink, which we did sitting in the restaurant on the top of the museum – up, is it six or seven stories? In New York City, this would be nothing – we’d be face to face with the back of some mirror windowed business headquarters – but in Paris this gives you quite a view. I could see, a long way off, the Eiffel Tower, rather wobbly in a cloud. The day was misty and drizzly. To the left arose one of my favorite fragments of old Paris, the Tour Saint-Jacques, and beyond that, a little more in the headtwisting direction, Notre Dame. The buildings below us extended in yellow squares and rectangles – very, as it were, cubist. There was a famous exchange between Picasso and Gertrude Stein over Picasso’s portrait of her. Stein pointed out that the portrait didn’t look a thing like here, and Picasso said, it will. Picasso had a strong faith that life bends towards art – and he could see the proof of it all around him the streets of Paris. Life, that thing we have taken from the country, is more like the raw material of art than its opposite. This is a theory that reverses the whole romantic pastoral. That reversal was just one of many brought about by the cultural explosions of the first twenty years of the twentieth century.
See the rest at Willett's

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

all I want for Christmas is less dead Yemeni kids!

If you are like me, this Christmas you are probably thinking of giving to some charity, of making a difference as well as having your dinner. I'm thinking that for Americans, this is easy! You can do your part: don't starve more Yemeni children to death!
Yes, in pursuing a Middle Eastern policy that is about democracy, and keeping evil Iran from evilness, we might have gone an intsy-wintsy bit too far. 85,000 dead kids too far. Oopsy, I think we can all collectively say.
In fact, gosh darn it, starving to death a kid - instead of say some Yemen adult, who surely has it coming to him for obscure reasons that the liberal hawks can come up with in a heartbeat - just might not be something you want on your Christmas agenda!

So, have a heart, write your congress critter and propose a moratorium on starving Yemeni kids to death for the 12 days of Christmas. It will make Jesus happy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Philosopher, backchannel man, spy: the case of Alexandre Kojève

This spring, the rightwing French journal, Commentaire, published a story about the philosopher, Alexandre Kojève, by Raymond Nart, a former officer with the DST, French Counter-intelligence. Commentaire, in the past, had published articles in praise of Kojève and even articles by Kojève. Kojève, after WWII, declared himself a “Sunday philosopher”, and had proceeded to devote most of his time to reconstructing France’s economy as an subminister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this post, Kojève became one of the great behind-the-scenes architects of France’s thirty glorious years, that experiment in dirigiste capitalism under the Bretton Woods system which finally came a header in the period of rampant inflation and the Oil crisis of the seventies. Notably, he helping to lay the foundation of the Common Market.
 Nart’s article was entitled, ominously, Alexandre Kojevnikov dit Kojève. Scholars of the great Cold War Communist hunts will be delighted to learn that the old rhetorical maneuver of tearing away the legal name to reveal the old, Russian name spying behind it still lives. Nart has nothing new to say about Kojève’s famous Introduction to Reading Hegel, a series of lectures that he gave between 1933-1939 which were  edited and published by Raymond Queneau in 1947. Nart’s attention, instead, is all on the Kojève who was giving the Soviets microfilm and packages of documents. What was in those documents, Nart regrets, we can only guess. But they must have been of value! Nart relies for his story on other documents, files that come from now defunct Eastern European and Soviet espionage agencies. Nart has used these sources before, in the 1990s, to claim that Charles Hernu, Mitterand’s first war minister, spied for the Soviets in the fifties. Nart is of the walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, must be a duck school of thought. His conclusion is that the philosopher was a spy.
To the broader mind, though, one that has a knowledge of both ducks and other creatures with bills, like platypuses, Nart’s proof is far from convincing. As Kojève was helping build the framework for the Common Market, he would have every reason to establish a backchannel to the Soviets. Stepping back from the narrow image of Kojève Nart presents, we might consider the mores of French ministries that enacted long term policies that were often indifferent to the political figures heading the governments, a sort of background hum of the machinery keeping it all going. Constantine Melnik, a counter-intelligence expert who has worked at Rand, has already pointed out before in the matter of Nart’s Hernu accusations that there is a difference between having a backchannel relationship with the Soviets and spying. Using Nart’s method, one could as well say that Henry Kissinger, the emblematic back-channel man, was a Soviet spy.
Yet Nart’s story is not the first time Kojève’s loyalties have been suspected. This is the White Russian who proclaimed that Stalin was the philosopher-king, the end of history, in the Paris of the Popular Front of the 30s. He was a man who had a talent for both entrancing and mystifying, and an audience that went out and changed French intellectual culture in the 50s and 60s. He was, as it were, a back-channel philosopher.
It would be nice to have an English language biography of Kojève. I thought I’d found one this summer when I picked up Jeff Love’The  Black Circle: a Life of Alexandre Kojève (Columbia University Press, 2018), but it turned out that the sub-title belonged to a book in some other parallel universe, for this book is as little like a life of Kojève as a donut is like a spare tire. Love, a professor of German and Russian literature at Clemson, is after the life of the mind, not the intrigue of the exile. Love has given us a reading of Kojève that is now fascinating, now plodding, now insightful – especially about the last sections of Kojève’s lectures on Hegel, which have mostly not been translated into English – and too often lengthy paraphrase.
Read the rest at