“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

Friday, August 13, 2004

Bollettino

Martin Luther had suggested that before his Fall Adam "could have seen objects a hundred miles off better than we can see them at half a mile, and so in proportion with all the other senses."
-- Original Sin and the Problem of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe, Peter Harrison, Journal of the History of Ideas 63.2 (2002) 239-259

LI promised. last week, to dilate upon the charming intricacies of Joseph Glanvill – one of our promising posts, which the ardent reader might have reckoned among the graveyard of so many others – the extended post about ritual and novel reading, the post that continued the study of Francis Bacon and Thomas Babbington Macaulay, all the dead soldiers, all the semi-erudition, all the LI voice – trumpery and desperation. But no! We were serious this time.

However, after reading Peter Harrison’s excellent article, that deflation of our original motive set in. Glanvill, we originally thought, was some ignored genius of bad ideas – rather like that Victorian savant, Gosse, who wrote Omphalos, a book suggesting that the oh so uncomfortable fossil record indicating a date for the creation of the earth somewhat greater than Bishop Ussher’s reckoning of 6000 years was actually due to God strewing the planet with counterfeits – evidences of a past that never was. Borges, as our readers know, devoted an essay to Gosse, even as he admitted to never having read the book. But surely Glanvill’s thesis that all the instruments of science in the Early Modern Era – the microscope, the telescope, the improved compass – embodied, in dead metal and glass, Adam’s everyday sensorium – surely this deserved an essay in Borges’ finest style.

Glanvill is not a writer of Sir Thomas Brown’s dignity – is involuted prose seems less an attempt to overlay English with a Latinate brilliance than a flailing attempt to communicate from deep inside some ecclesiastical-scholarly hole. But about Adam, he is clear enough:

“Adam needed no Spectacles. The acuteness of his natural Opticks (if conjecture may have credit) shew'd him much of the Coelestial magnificence and bravery without a Galilaeo's tube: And 'tis most probable that his naked eyes could reach near as much of the upper World, as we with all the advantages of art. It may be 'twas as absurd even in the judgement of his senses, that the Sun and Stars should be so very much, less then this Globe, as the contrary seems in ours; and 'tis not unlikely that he had as clear a perception of the earths motion, as we think we have of its quiescence.”

Now, this emblematic, instrumental Adam, we thought, was a will of the whisp of Glanvill’s brain. But Harrison shows that, for the early modern scientists, science itself was a sign. For some, it was an eschatological sign – the regaining of Adam’s original perceptions, via, say, the microscope, meant that we were, perhaps, in the last days. This is a way of interpreting science that is simply bizarre, according to the positivist tradition. But there it is. Harrison’s essay refers to the work of other researchers who have complicated, to say the least, the Whig tradition of science history.

Harrison (whose insights into these historic currents make LI extremely jealous) has a nice graf summing up the Catholic religious context:

“A major point of contention in early-modern assessments of Adam's Fall and its cognitive effects was to do with the extent to which the faculties which Adam used to acquire knowledge were damaged. The Protestant reformers had typically tended to elevate the abilities of the prelapsarian Adam and stress the comparative depravity of the present human condition. Their negative appraisals of human cognitive powers were opposed to a long-standing scholastic view, according to which the natural perfections with which the human race had been originally endowed—including the powers of reason—had emerged relatively unscathed from the sorry episode in the Garden of Eden. The "natural gifts," wrote Thomas Aquinas, "remained after sin." Reason was one such natural gift. The "light of natural reason," Aquinas explained, "since it pertains to the species of the rational soul, is never forfeit from the soul." 26 What befell Adam after the Fall, was for Aquinas and his scholastic successors a privation only of supernatural powers, rather than a corruption of human nature. Subsequent developments in the theology of the Franciscans were even more dismissive of original sin, harking back to the more benign assessments of the nature of Adam's sin more typical of Church Fathers before Augustine. 27 The whole enterprise of natural theology, for which Aquinas' "five ways" is the classical model, was premised upon this optimistic view of the natural powers of the human intellect. Moreover, it was on this basis that the natural philosophy of the "pagan" writers, most notably Aristotle, was in principle acceptable to the medieval schools, for there was no reason to be suspicious of learning which had sprung from the exercise of natural and universal principles of reason. To be sure, Aristotle and the other ancients had known nothing of the divine will, nor of God's salvific plan; neither could they cultivate the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love. But these deficiencies, however crucial they might prove on the day of judgment, would not prejudice the accumulation of natural knowledge.”

Harrison holds on to an important binary in finding his way through the labyrinth of Early Modern controversy. On the one hand, there is the view of imperfection as a negative thing, a loss; on the other hand, there is imperfection as corruption. Many English Protestants seem to cluster around the latter idea. From our viewpoint, the modern view – the rejection of reason as the guide to science, and the elevation of the senses – seems a wholly secular thing. But it was, at the time, interpreted by the actors involved in it in heavily theological terms. Adam was a continual reference. Harrison has dug up some wonderful quotes. We love this one from Robert South, an English divine, who contrasts Adam’s time, in which "Study was not then a duty, night watchings were needless," with our current sad state: “the doom of fallen man, to labour in the fire, to seek truth in profundo, to exhaust his time and impair his health, and perhaps to spin out his days, and himself into one pitiful, controverted conclusion."

LI could easily take that as a motto.



Bollettino

So we are having an election between two candidates who both think going into Iraq when we did was just fine and dandy. One believes in magic thinking, as Freud called it – that his thoughts directly operate on the world. It helps that God, in the usual trinity shape – your Dad, Dick Cheney, and the holy ghost of CEO America – has spoken to you directly. One believes in complicated thinking—that is, he believes that you have to amass a bodyguard of excuses to justify hope being on the way as you carefully avoid making any commitment to any action whatsoever. One believes in the Coalition of the Willing, the other believes in the Coalition of the Unwilling -- that somehow other allies are going to take a look at the shark filled pool in Iraq and want to jump right in, given a sweet invitation with an RSVP attached. One asks the question, knowing what we know right now, would you have gone into Iraq, and the other answers yes, proving that Mutual Destruction is not only a theory of nuclear deterrence but an apt description of the Bush/Kerry contest.

Meanwhile, the polls show the majority of Americans would answer no. Those people don’t have a candidate.

What the war is about – what the mission accomplished – is glimpsed in this offhand report from the WP. The reporter, who is obviously having an identity crisis (am I a war correspondent or a rodeo rider?) begins with a few macho references to 'dip', as though he'd been embedded in a baseball dugout. But he proceeds to describe, in detail that cannot be excrutiating enough, the senseless deaths of two American soldiers, one a boy of 19, the other a father, patrolling, for reasons that nobody understands, a region of Western Iraq that we had no business occupying, and that we are busy enacting our Pavlovian passive aggressive foreign policy on. Here's what happens -- a sniper kills one guy, a bomb kills another, and a town is searched for the sniper; an Iraqi military officer is consulted, and he unrolls the Allawi world vision -- shoot one person from each residence -- that has "same as the old boss' written all over it. It is evident, just from the description of the Iraqi young men that were forced to lie in the dirt with their hands behind their backs while soldiers broke locks on various shop doors, that another reason to hate America is being generated in this little affair. If there were any justice, the names of the guys -- Gunnery Sgt. Elia Fontecchio, 30, and Lance Cpl. Joseph Nice, 19 -- would be tatooed on Bush's butt.

But they won't be. There is no justice. This war shows, among other things, how far this country has drifted from having political mechanisms that are ultimately controlled by the people. The only thing the people can control are their tears, as they count up the losses and fight undignified battles with a government for a bare minimum of benefits.

And Kerry -- ready to report for duty Kerry -- would have said yes to this marriage to the bride of Frankenstein? I can't think of a sicker statement.
Bollettino

So we are having an election between two candidates who both think going into Iraq when we did was just fine and dandy. One believes in magic thinking, as Freud called it – that his thoughts directly operate on the world. It helps that God, in the usual trinity shape – your Dad, Dick Cheney, and the holy ghost of CEO America – has spoken to you directly. One believes in complicated thinking—that is, he believes that you have to amass a bodyguard of excuses to justify hope being on the way as you carefully avoid making any commitment to any action whatsoever. One believes in the Coalition of the Willing, the other believes in the Coalition of the Unwilling -- that somehow other allies are going to take a look at the shark filled pool in Iraq and want to jump right in, given a sweet invitation with an RSVP attached. One asks the question, knowing what we know right now, would you have gone into Iraq, and the other answers yes, proving that Mutual Destruction is not only a theory of nuclear deterrence but an apt description of the Bush/Kerry contest.

Meanwhile, the polls show the majority of Americans would answer no. Those people don’t have a candidate.

What the war is about – what the mission accomplished – is glimpsed in this offhand report from the WP. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A61168-2004Aug12?language=printer The correspondent, who is obviously having an identity crisis (am I a war correspondent or a rodeo rider?) begins with a few macho references to 'dip', as though he'd been embedded in a baseball dugout. But he proceeds to describe, in detail that cannot be excrutiating enough, the senseless deaths of two American soldiers, one a boy of 19, the other a father, patrolling, for reasons that nobody understands, a region of Western Iraq that we had no business occupying, and that we are busy enacting our Pavlovian passive aggressive foreign policy on. Here's what happens -- a sniper kills one guy, a bomb kills another, and a town is searched for the sniper; an Iraqi military officer is consulted, and he unrolls the Allawi world vision -- shoot one person from each residence -- that has "same as the old boss' written all over it. It is evident, just from the description of the Iraqi young men that were forced to lie in the dirt with their hands behind their backs while soldiers broke locks on various shop doors, that another reason to hate America is being generated in this little affair. If there were any justice, the names of the guys -- Gunnery Sgt. Elia Fontecchio, 30, and Lance Cpl. Joseph Nice, 19 -- would be tatooed on Bush's butt.

But they won't be. There is no justice. This war shows, among other things, how far this country has drifted from having political mechanisms that are ultimately controlled by the people. The only thing the people can control are their tears, as they count up the losses and fight undignified battles with a government for a bare minimum of benefits.

And Kerry -- ready to report for duty Kerry -- would have said yes to this marriage to the bride of Frankenstein? I can't think of a sicker statement.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Bollettino

“Genocide by force of habit”


We highly recommend Alex de Waal’s essay on Darfur in the London Review of Books. de Waal has been in contact with Darfur since the seventies. The piece is full of heartbreaking contrasts. For instance, de Waal presents a Bowles-like picture of meeting one of the leaders of a nomadic group in Darfur, the Jalul, a nazir, Sheikh Hilal Musa, in 1985.
“I met the elderly nazir, Sheikh Hilal Musa, in 1985. His tent was hung with the paraphernalia of a lifetime's nomadism - water jars, saddles, spears, swords, leather bags and an old rifle. He invited me to sit opposite him on a fine Persian rug, summoned his retainer to serve sweet tea on a silver platter, and told me the world was coming to an end. At that time, Darfur was gripped by drought and disturbing changes were afoot. The Saharan winds were blowing sand onto fertile hillsides, and when it rained the water was cutting gullies through the rich alluvial soil along the wadi. Worse, the villagers who had always played host to camel nomads were now barring their migrations, and stopping them from using pastures and wells.”

It comes as a shock to read that this man’s son is Musa Hilal, the leader of the Janjawiid, the militia group used by Khartoum to massacre the Fur. Among other interesting things that go against the grain of the CV in the West and my expectations as a reader, de Waal writes about the spiritual founder of the current Islamicist regime, Hassan al-Turabi (who is now languishing in prison for disturbing the Bashir government with a little too much fervor) that he “broadened the agenda and constituency of the Islamist movement. For example, he insisted that women had rights in Islam, and today more than half of the undergraduates at Khartoum University are women. He also recognised the authenticity of western Sudanese and West African Islam, thus embracing the traditions exemplified by the early 19th-century Fulani jihads and the wandering Sufi scholars of the Maghreb.”

De Waal has found himself in the predicament, so flattering to the vanity of the expert, and so indicative of the disaster that has befallen his particular field of expertise, of appearing in all the papers and magazines that give us the instant wisdom about Sudan. He wrote a book about a previous famine in Darfur. However, one must also admit there is something tired about de Waal’s vision – it is as if he had fatalistically accepted the fact that other nations will simply talk themselves through the Darfur famine/massacre. They will neither prevent the burning, looting, raping and mass murder, nor satisfactorily alleviate the deaths from hunger, dehydration, and various ensuing diseases. Ghost after ghost will burn.
LI has been in correspondence about Sudan with a conservative friend, who thinks it is all the French. This is a weird idea, stemming from the misconception that the French have a large, vital economic stake in Sudan’s oil fields. In actuality, Total/Elf’s stake, although large in acreage, is actually a dead loss to the company, since the stake hasn’t produced for some twenty years.
Beyond the French, this friend’s challenge to LI has been, what would you do? And LI’s answer is that if we had the power, we would like to see some no-fly cordon thrown over Darfur like the cordon that was thrown over Northern Iraq in the early nineties. Apparently, the Janjawiid, use helicopters to make their raids. Apparently, those helicopters are supplied by the Russians and the Chinese. These, we think, should be knocked down. Similarly, convoys or encampments of Janjawiid should be dispersed.
There are a lot of problems with our “solution.” The first one is – a man can’t glance in the papers once every decade, read about a distant battle between unknown forces on a terrain he has never seen, and pluck his solutions from the air. My solution is one endorsed by many visiting experts and op ed handjob artists. But they are not, themselves, going to suffer if it fails. Here are some problems I foresee: its potential for inciting the Sudanese government to once again go psycho; or, alternatively, creating a zone in which the Fur people feel comfortable enough to massacre the Arabs.
This is what de Waal writes: “The best, and perhaps the only, means of disarmament is that employed by the British seventy-five years ago: establish a working local administration, regulate the ownership of arms, and gradually isolate the outlaws and brigands who refuse to conform. It took a decade then, and it won't be any faster today. Not only are there more weapons now, but the political polarities are much sharper.”
Samantha Powers, who has another view, is interviewed by Liberation and has this to say:

And what to do if Khartoum refuses to bend?

Build a diplomatic coalition to pressure the government, which brilliantly exploits the least division in the occidental camp. And encourage the deployment of a international standing for composed of African contingents in order to avoid Sudan playing the card of the Occident against the Moslems. The West’s essential role would consist of the delivery of these troops.




Sunday, August 08, 2004

Bollettino

LI feels pretty shamefaced that we are way behind a breaking story. Corinne Maier is an economist at Electricité de France. She works part time. She usefully used her free time to write a guide to fooling around at work, Bonjour Paresse, or Hello Laziness. Sensibly enough, she knows most of us, while filled with bitterness and mockery towards the corporate behemoths, still labor in our little cubicles to make them happy. What are we to do – become revolutionaries? That’s a bit out of date, and they pick you up and put you in unpleasant prisons and whatnot. So Maier advises the art of reading the newspaper discretely, missing meetings, taking long lunches, and leaving early. Also – never go out in the hall without a file under your arm.

The poor woman somehow attracted the attention of the bosses. Her pamphlet was published by a small press, but somebody must have slipped a copy under some muckety muck’s door. According to Liberation:

En mai, Corinne Maier, chercheuse économiste d'EDF, publie un pamphlet sur le monde de l'entreprise : Bonjour paresse, de l'art et de la nécessité d'en faire le moins possible en entreprise (1) (Libération du 10 mai). Deux mois après, elle est convoquée pour un entretien en vue d'une sanction. Motif : «Non-respect de l'obligation de loyauté manifestée à plusieurs reprises : lire le journal en réunion, quitter les réunions de groupe, révélateur de la stratégie individuelle clairement affichée dans l'ouvrage Bonjour paresse, visant à gangrener le système de l'intérieur.» [Aiming to gangrene the system from within? Shades of Stalin’s wreckers!!!] Et avoir fait état de sa qualité d'agent EDF sans autorisation.
Prétextes. «Depuis douze ans, je suis une salariée sans histoire, s'étonne Corinne Maier. Et subitement, ils découvrent que je suis une pétroleuse car je sèche une réunion...» Les motifs affichés par la direction ne sont que des prétextes, estime l'intersyndicale montée pour l'occasion : de nombreux chercheurs EDF écrivent articles et livres sans jamais être inquiétés. «Quant à lire son journal en réunion, n'en parlons pas, rigole Yann Cochin, de SUD Energie. Arriver avec une pile de dossiers et travailler dessus en pleine réunion pour montrer qu'on est débordé, c'est le top du top... [As for reading her newspaper at meetings, don’t even say it,” chuckles Yan Cochin, of SUD Energy. “You come with a pile of files and you work on them in plain sight to show how overwhelmed you are, that’s the top of the top]. Au mieux, la réaction de la direction est un gag grotesque. Au pire, un acte liberticide : l'entreprise veut tenir un rôle grandissant dans la société et nous n'aurions pas le droit de la critiquer ?»

Another article about her is in the Telegraph, which gives the colorful list of her chapter titles: “Chapter titles include "The cretins who sit next to you", "Business culture my arse" and "Why you lose nothing by resigning".

Googling her name, I discovered that she is, all so discretely, a Lacanian. Who says the Lacanian Maos are dead? We are just sleeping, darlin'.