“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

Saturday, July 21, 2001

Yesterday�s post about Trollope�s The Prime Minister ended just as I was about to get into the first chapter � the marvelous first chapter. Anyone who doubts Trollope�s artistry should read the first chapter of this novel, which has the clean unswerving course and direction of a well aimed pistol shot. He begins the chapter with one of those authorial interventions that fascinate my friend Sarah, the woman I mentioned in yesterday�s post. Her dissertation, in fact, is an attempt to get at these moments in the classic 19th century novel and look at what they really do. The authorial intervention, according to Sarah, who I hope won�t be mad if I borrow one broad feature from her upcoming diss, finds itself most at home in the generalization. At least in Trollope, this is certainly true. He love these authorial asides. It is no use ignoring them, because they are a very real part of the text's structure. But we should ask - how can we talk about them?

First, let's recognize that these generalizations are modeled on that most political rhetorical form, advice. They fall into topics common to what Kant called prudence - hedged truths about society, sex, age, or status. This is an old tradition, running through sermons and moral essays (going all the way back to Seneca), and reiterating the truths of egotism. French moralistes, like La Rouchefaucauld, turned this into the maxim. And the maxim, in turn, was systematized by the ideologues - I mean, the ideologues proper, in the French Revolution, Tracy Destutte and the like.

Because our tendency is to think, oh, here�s the author, a real being, interfering in his story, which consists of made up beings doing made up things, we have trouble reconciling these moments, on a theoretic level, with the basic premise of fiction � that it be fictional. That's why Victorian fiction sometimes seems so moralistic to us. On a reading level, however, we don�t have this problem. That�s because stories don�t emerge in self-selected contexts � reading a novel, I don�t myself become novelistic. The reader, unconsciously, recognizes the maxim as a passage between the reader�s world and the fiction�s world. The generalization, in other words, is, on one side, a reader�s ritual, and gives us those kinds of truths native to ritual � performative truths. On the other side, for the fictional character, the maxim is fate, and the authorial intervention always has a slight whiff of destiny. This, incidentally, should remind us that the mythic root of Kant's counsels of prudence is found in the oracle. In fact, if we see this textual mode as originally home in the essay, and migrating to the novel in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, we should think a little bit about the importance of oracles for the ancient essayists - Plutarch, Cicero, and Seneca. What distinguished them as essayists, rather than philosophers, was their fascination with fate - with the irrational arrangement of the life of rational beings. Stendhal, who was very consciously close to the ideologues, picks up this thread in La Chartreuse de Parme.

So here's one way to think about these moments of authorial presence. In them, fate speaks. If our fates could, in fact, speak, they would speak in just these kinds of generalizations. We would, then, understand our luck.

Well, we don�t, and neither do fictional characters, who never hear what their authors have to say.

But Trollope does not make heavy going of the oracular mode. He simply paints a picture of Ferdinand Lopez which tells us he is ineffably foreign, that his origins are mysterious, and that gentlemen, according to Samuel Johnson, are distinguished in one thing above all others � that their origins are never mysterious. Ferdinand Lopez is no gentleman, then. Trollope takes, at least consciously, the normal position of the privileged class with regard to gentlemen � they are the summit of English civilization, the vital difference between the Anglo-Saxon race and all lesser breeds without the law. A man with the name Ferdinand is, of course, going to be especially suspect. King Ferdinand was a notoriously Machiavellian ruler, much disliked by Whig historians.

So we have a moral sketch of Lopez, and then we see him going into the City by an almost hidden, dark route, to the office of a vulgar man vaguely connected with finance, Sextus Parker. We are never told Parker is a moneylender � we assume he is a jobber, a man who makes his money work in many different and hard to pin down ways. Perhaps an unsightly man, perhaps an unethical man, but certainly a necessary man. Lopez pops the question to him right away:

�Then he [Lopez] continued without changing his voice or the nature of his eye. 'I'll tell you what I want
you to do now. I want your name to this bill for three months.'

Sexty Parker opened his mouth and his eyes, and took the bit of paper that was tendered to him. It was a promissory note for 750 pounds, which, if signed by him, would at the end of the specified period make him liable for that sum were it not otherwise paid.�

Notice that sum, that beautiful sum. A thousand pounds would have been too much � Parker would never have gone for it. Five hundred pounds would be too little � our sense of Lopez� largeness would have been dampened. But 750 is just right. It is the kind of sum that inevitably turns up in political scandals, which never seem to be about really large sums � how much did Spiro Agnew take, something like 10,000 dollars? No, they are always those awkward, intermediate sums � and Trollope has that down. It is that 750 pounds which makes us trust him.

Oh well, I�m probably boring those of you who haven�t read, and don�t care for, Trollope.
Write me at Editor.
Terrible, violence at Genoa - displayed, of course, by the G8 leaders, whose meetings are taking on more and more the air of some ghostly collocation called up by Metternich. That these paladins of globalization on capitalism's terms refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the protesters, and that for the most part, in the US, the police lines are backed by the media lines, has a familiar feel to it - it's the US in Vietnam, 1966. Here's a link to Lib�ration - L'information avec l'AFP, which has the most articles.

Friday, July 20, 2001

I posted the last two posts out of order. Read the first before the second.
So when Ferdinand Lopez borrows 750 pounds from Sextus Parker, I get a pleasurable tingle of anticipation. The race has begun. And I know that this is a magical race, in which the runner who chooses to enter it will lose his skin. There are races like that in Greek myths � the suitors who raced for Atalanta�s hand, for instance. I think it was Atalanta � I must look this up. These suitors had to confront a great pyramid of skulls when they came to ask for her hand � all the suitors who had lost.

Trollope, as I said before, is a great favorite of mine. I keep urging him on my friend, Sarah Raff, who is doing a dissertation on Jane Austen. I always connect those two writers � they are both, it seems to me, supremely insular. But so far, Sarah has resisted Trollope, and I have wondered why. Am I wrong about their similarity? More in my next post. Write me at Editor.

The Prime Minister begins with borrowed money. A lot of the great 19th century novels begin with borrowed money � La Peau de Chagrin and Crime and Punishment come immediately to mind. In La Peau de Chagrin, Raphael is first seen losing all his money gambling - but he is gambling because he has come to the end of his rope. He can't think of any other way to pay off his creditors. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov is not only mad enough to think that God is dead, but has just that little extra micron of lunacy that convinces him he can fight Mammon � which he does by hacking up an old money lender. But as every reader knows, Mammon, in the form of borrowed money, always wins.

What is it about borrowed money that encodes a narrative pattern so at home in the 19th century? Well, think about how Marx describes money in terms of dead capital and living capital. The dead and living metaphor isn�t his � it is a commonplace of the time. To animate capital � to use your money - was to make it earn interest. But money, as we all know, is actually dead. It is a coin, or a bill. In the French Revolution it was the terrible assignat. So to animate money is to animate a dead thing, or, even more frightening, a dead troupe � and of course we know how rich that trope is with gothic anxiety. That way lies Frankenstein and Dracula. After all, these novels are appearing in a society that is witnessing the long, prolonged death of feudal culture. And that death, though keenly felt, is not clearly understood. When the fundamental concepts native to peasant Europe are suddenly either in disrepute or void, you get a historic moment in which the metaphors betray a basic confusion of the founding binary opposition of life and death. This confusion had, before, only been dreamt of � now the dream seemed to walk abroad, not a pleasant thought. Once the dead things come alive, they have to do what the live things do, only with a more thought out purpose. They have to reproduce themselves, in other words. So we get the common complaint that the dead feed off the living, and in Dracula we get the combination of feeding and reproduction � it becomes one act. This is a nightmare model of power, but it is a different nightmare depending on the level of power one actually holds (or believes one holds) in society. So for the landed aristocracy, which, contrary to the schematic of classroom historians, did survive the French Revolution, and in fact managed the great latifundia of Pomeria and Galicia in Central Europe, and intermarried with the haut bourgeoisie in England and France, and ground down the wealth of peasants in Southern Italy, this particular nightmare was identical to the Industrial Revolution. The conservative romantics, from Chauteaubriand to Ruskin, saw in the factory only the shadow of death, and in the factory worker the products of death, automatons all.

But Trollope, though influenced by that current, was more deeply tied to another sector of privilege � the merchant/professional class. These people, while heirs to the folkloric archetypes of feudal Europe, were halfway committed to the new economic order. So yes, they wanted to maintain that structure which put the outsider, the slave, the criminal, under the ban of social death. But they had also a sneaking liking � and more, a need � for the energy of the upstart, the tycoon, the mover and shaker mysteriously arisen from out of the depths. Frankenstein could, after all, really be the new Prometheus � a myth viewed with particular fondness by both Balzac, Napoleon and Marx.

So naturally the figuration of the second, social death � death-in-life and life-in-death � will have a different aesthetic footing and effect for this set; a set from which most of the great European novelists came.

Another thing to notice is that borrowed money ticks. There�s a race (as in running a race, not races of mankind race) element here � a race against the clock. Because the law of borrowed money is you have to pay it back, and you have to pay back the money owed for having it (which mounts, the longer you have it) and you have to live at the same time. So, metaphorically, the man who borrows money is on a run. Raskolnikov couldn�t solve that problem with an axe. Baron Hulot in Cousine Bette (the most interest- battered character in all literature, all dick and empty pockets) couldn�t solve it with his intricate maneuvers, his superabundance of paper. Interestingly, Jules Verne extracted the element of the race and made it the template for a certain type of novel, the novel as contest � Around the world in 80 days, etc. (and remember, that novel begins with a bet).
The British, that was going to be the topic of this post. I've been watching the battle of the Tory pretenders - not that I fully understand it. The party seems to operate on the survivor principle - put four or five Tory leaders who hate each other together, have them whisper about which one of them is gay, which a Jew, and which one is in the pocket of the French, and then unleash the hatred of the backbenchers, in the form of a vote, to decide who gets to lead the party into its next major defeat. Read about it in the
Spectator. The surprise defeat so far is of Michael Portillo - a loyal Thatcher-ite who got too wobbly for the grande dame. Really, Thatcher is an odious figure, one of the great disasters of modern times. But I do like the way her pronouncements always seem like they are outtakes from the movie, The Ruling Class. Apparently she has taken to calling Portillo "the Spaniard" - can't you just hear it? Which is why I was reminded of the Ruling Class - the way the Gurney paterfamilias pronounces the word "foreigner."
All of this Tory foolery, with the trial of Archer in the background, was on my mind yesterday when I started Trollope's The Prime Minister (by the way - I'm reading the book on-line, but the on-line version is badly transcribed. Usually Gutenberg, which is the version everybody steals, does a pretty good job of proofing their e-texts, but in this case they fell down on the job). So far, my acquaintance with Trollope has been with the Barsetshire novels. This summer has been so driven by my need to read and review and make money that I've had very little time to read for ... the reasons I usually read. Joy, I guess. Well, the first two chapters of the Prime Minister are as sharp as anything I've read by Trollope - and wierdly apposite, given that Trollope is presenting a character named Lopez who is mixing among bluebloods with the disadvantage of having no "ancestry." The book begins with Lopez getting a loan and having a lunch - in fact, the perfect beginning for a British scandal. And perfectly done. I'll get into that in my next post. E-mail comments to: Roger
I haven't figured out how to put my e-mail address up in the column to the left. So here it is - e-mail me at rgathman@aol.com. I think I will use the e-mail address as a sign off for each of my posts, so that it is available for the stray reader.

Thursday, July 19, 2001

The British. I'm going to post tomorrow, but I went today to the Guardian and was rather shocked that Jeffrey Archer is going to prison.Guardian Unlimited Politics | Special Reports | Political chancer with lots of fizz Notice that none of the conservative bluebloods have the guts to stand up for him, except for John Major. Hey, I think Archer's politics are contemptible, and his wonking around with the press - his lying in court to extract libel money from the tabloids - is, obviously, the kind of thing you must deal with by extracting some comparably ruinous sum from Archer. But why send the guy to prison? Not that I think he deserves some special immunity from the cell - I believe that most imprisoned folk, from drug users to forgers to drug dealers, would be better dealt with outside of prison. The monstrous machinery of the penal system does little good to the people inside it, doesn't compensate the people they have damaged outside it, and serves mainly as a monument to the state's own fatuous sense of power. In fact, it is people like Archer who are always urging that people be sent to prison, which is why I am directing this comment at his comeuppance. The guy committed 'perverse' acts with a prostitute, and then made her life miserable when she revealed this. Well, that was bad. By all accounts, the first trial was a farce, and if anybody is really to suffer for it, it should be the judge who presided as a sort of caricature of John Bull stupidity over the proceedings.
Now of course Archer is receiving the vials of press indignation - a mass outpouring of moral harumphing that is truly indicative of a class that seems to have long memories of tutors equipped with canes keeping order in Latin class. Give him a whack, pull down his breeches. Well, do, but send him off to jail for four years?
What is truly sad, however, is that so few of the people who so ostentatiously palled around with him stick with him in adversity. Like, say, Dean Acheson stood by good old Alger Hiss.
There�s an interview in Salon with Joe Queenan, who is one of those people, like James Wolcott, who has a reputation for fierceness that is belied by his actual work � these are strictly Wizard of Oz lions, with claws that tear not, and teeth that do not bite, nor mangle the oh so tender flesh.

That said, Queenan does throw a stone against the �Greatest Generation� garbage. That�s nice � I don�t really understand the current wave of delayed gratitude for Victory over Berlin, except as a ploy to re-invest the war movie with audience interest. Nobody, really, is going to pay to see too many movies about our brave bombers in Serbia, right?

Still, this generational patronizing is not only insulting, but betrays a severely limited historical scope. Well, that such as Tom Brokaw exhibit severely limited historical scope, or none at all, perhaps goes without saying, but the promotion of this G.G. trope through book reviews, and the elevation of conservative historians like Stephen Ambrose, makes me want to put myself athwart the tide and yell stop. What, after all, about the generation of 1789? Or how about the 1620s generation � you know, Blaise Pascal and that lot? At least intellectually, surely civilization peaked about 1670. It has been downhill ever since.

Now, it isn�t that I am wholly without admiration and even nostalgia for the post World War II order � although I could do without the military industrial complex, McCarthyism, and the manic building of missiles. But I am definitely sentimental about Truman�s tax policies � it makes me all old fashioned inside, taxing the rich at about 60-70 percent of their incomes. Plus the encouragement to unionism, another feature of the trente annees glorieuses, as the French call the Keynsian era � roughly from about 1945 to 1975. But spare me the generational talk. It is the supreme historical pseudo-category � spawned by the conservative philosopher/sociologist, Wilhelm Dilthey, for those of you out there curious about the genealogy of this nonsense (the link is broadly about Dilthey, and is, yes, in German), and given its resonance by those who insist that a commonality of knowledge about the hit songs of 1964 is the most important thing about 1964. This is not only a trivial pursuits-like foreshortening of history, but of personal experience, too � slipping the death mask of the eternal over the ephemeral so that we can�t even look into the mirror of our lives without the knowing rictus of pop culture staring back at us.

Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Hey, my review's up! It's at THE NEW YORK OBSERVER.

Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Here's a nice site about the FBI -
TRAC: FBI Site - Comprehensive, independent, and nonpartisan information about FBI. I don't know about you, but the crime that fascinates me even more Chandra Levy's abduction by minions of the evil Condit � oops, I�m just speculating, really no need to get out your libel lawyers - is the continuing saga of Whitey Bolger, the eminence coupable of South Boston, who is being chased using the usual Keystone Cops method by an FBI that has every reason not to want him caught. Bolger, for those of you who haven�t read BLACK MASS, had the Boston FBI pretty much on his salary in the 80s. And if recent stories are true, the Boston office has always had a chummy relationship with certain gangster types in the Boston area � they even, obligingly, hid evidence to frame a guy for murder in the 60s, because the faux perp was a great cut-out for the real perp, who was being protected as an �informer.� See Boston Herald's coverage in particular - . I know, it is a Murdoch-y paper, but I do love the classic tabloid crime coverage - Weegee in Boston style.

One of the great myths of the FBI, abetted by movies and television, was that of an incorruptible national police force. There�s a historic background to that myth. In the late twenties, the FBI evolved out of the very corrupt Bureau of Investigation. There's a nice little summary of the history at CCrime Library. Prohibition gave the then Bureau of Information an impetus to corruption that was not present when Mitchell Palmer, Woodrow Wilson's attorney general, was rousting anarchists - rousting them, in fact, right out of their constitutionally guaranteed rights. Politicals are notoriously an impoverished lot. But practicing the raid, the employment of informers, the agent provocateur, on the anarchists provided wonderful exercises in policework that could be applied on rum-runners and bootleggers - and it was. Under Harding, however, these tools were simply potential - the Bureau of Investigation was apparently on the cutting edge, seeing in the suddenly enlarged pool of �criminal� behavior a definite source of graft.

When Harding's corrupt cronies were exposed, an interesting thing happened - instead of questioning the definition of drinking as a crime, the press presented the issue as one of honest law enforcement versus corruption. Honest law enforcement is thus quietly separated from the laws it enforces, even if they are inherently dishonest. This binary opposition has carried over to this day.

In fact, there's no reason to suppose that the FBI is any less corrupt than any other large police organization. The unappealing fact that Hoover refused to even recognize that the Mafia existed up until the 60s, and his well known dislike for messing with it, have always been attributed to some quirk in his character, even though Hoover's sex life and penchant for gambling are now pretty well established facts about his life, and excellent handles for either subtle forms of bribery or blackmail.

Monday, July 16, 2001

I unfortunately duplicated the item below, and now I'm trying to erase one of the copies.
Let's hope this works.
Yesterday the LA Times had a very interesting book section devoted to the Spanish Civil War. I love the LA Times Sunday book section. Even when it is weak, it displays an editorial personality absent from the NY Times Sunday book section.
Of particular note are the two essays by Bernard Knox and Christopher Hitchens. Knox writes as an old veteran of the International brigades, and would no doubt be jeered at as a dupe by the New Republic crowd. Hitchens has a nice piece on Orwell, prompted by a collection of Orwell�s pieces on the Civil War � which, of course, Orwell fought in. By accident, Orwell was able to experience the hunting down of the POUM, Andres Nin�s party � for which Serge tried, vainly, to get Trotsky to speak up � and which was defeated partly because Nin was kidnapped, tortured and killed by the Stalinists. I�ve always thought Neruda�s part in these events was particularly dirty. Last year I read a biography of the photographer, Tina Modotti, and I was surprised to discover that she and her husband, a Soviet agent, played a part in this business � in fact, her husband might have been one of Nin�s torturers.
But I�m getting off topic � what is nice about Hitchens� piece is that he touches on a tension in his own perception of his intellectual forebears by contrasting Orwell and Auden. This is nice, since Hitchens too often lets Orwell off all the hooks. I admire Orwell, but there is a distinct streak in him of Puritanism � in a sense, it is this streak that made him such a bad prophet. Over and over again in the forties, Orwell took the lesson of the thirties to be that hedonistic societies had no chance against societies with strong anhedonistic ideologies � like fascism and communism. There had to be more steel in the liberal mix, in other words, for the democracies to survive. That lesson, though, was precisely wrong. An argument can be made that it was just the disgust with steel, its obsolescence as a motivation for collective action, that eventually undid the Soviet Union. The Russians wanted stuff. While the hedonistic West experienced, after Orwell, an explosion of hedonism. Orwell was very uncomfortable with that kind of thing, which is one reason he mistrusted the U.S. � there�s a very (unintentionally) funny essay Orwell wrote in the forties about American fashion magazines, which filled him with despair and disgust. That austerity was naturally not going to respond to Auden�s sensibility.
Finally, the lead review, of Radosh et. al.�s edition of documents relating to the Spanish Civil War culled from the Soviet Military Archives, is by Stanley Payne. Payne seems to bring a conservative p.o.v. to his reading of Radosh�s work � the point of which seems to be something like: the model of the Stalinist takeover of governments in Eastern Europe was developed in the 30s in Spain; projecting from that takeover, the better course was that Franco win, as he did. I think that the first thesis is partly true, and that the conclusion is nonsense. Payne thinks

Calendar Live - For Whom the Bell Tolls
The truth is that each of the Spanish leftist parties desired its own form of "People's Republic" or all-left republic, with all conservative political and economic interests liquidated. This was the root cause of the Civil War.

That, of course, is nonsense, like saying that the �root cause� of the American Civil war was Northern industrialism or something. It sets up the idea that Franco�s aggression, his invasion of the Republic, was some surface cause � some negligible event. It also divorces the Spanish Civil War from the history of Spain, a history in which, for the most part, the right had ruled � from the end of the Napoleonic wars all the way up to the early thirties. And that rule had been marked by the most ignorant, anti-semitic, anti-labor clericalism � by the wholesale oppression of unions, anarchists, and regionalists � and by the insufferable maneuvers of a dying ruling class to maintain an economically disastrous colonial system, with a swollen military. What Payne and Radosh are doing, actually, is quietly reviving the appeasement view of the thirties � it is a view that ignores the Nazi recognition that Franco was an ideological ally, and, further, surreptitiously, urges the Oswald Mosley line of 20th century history � if only Chamberlain had allied with Hitler and driven back the red menace. If only the democracies hadn�t provoked the fascists with that distressing pact with Poland. Of course, Payne would probably protest that this is not what he meant at all, but historic judgment doesn�t necessarily work better backwards � it works by having some notion of what the imminent effect of one�s judgments are. Orwell had it right � the failure of the democracies to support the Republic was vicious, stupid, and ultimately counter-productive.

Sunday, July 15, 2001

Wow - I just posted a long bit, and the blogger ate it. I don't really understand that. Nor am I pleased.
Okay. Since it was a long and funny, or so I thought, diary piece - I'll just have to swallow the insult to my creativity and start again, right? Which is the really stupid thing about computers - when something misfunctions and you lose something of value, it is a real confrontation with absense - it isn't like losing something which is retained, somewhere, in the system, it is more like dying.