“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

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

“He was inadequate, certainly, even laughable at times, but he was a thinker and not a dictaphone, and when he blew his brains out he did the job thoroughly. – Eleanor Clark

First, to brag: We notice that Juan Cole today quietly proposed the analogy to Mehdi Bazargan we floated last week. Hey, LI is, in its own eccentric way, sometimes ahead of the game.
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LI is growing increasingly snappy about the multitude of political imbecilities against which, as a citizen of the Leviathan, we have to strive. Mentally, at least. There was a meme on the ‘sphere a week or so ago about how liberals can express their love for America. Apparently, the thing to do at the moment is to find lyrical words to match the catch in the throat and the heart whenever Old Glory goes by. LI wants to know – how does America love us? We want a little return glow. We want America not to try to kill us, rob us, or send the cops and the taxmen to club us in order to extract the uber-tithe now demanded by the wealthy. There’s a certain battered wife pathology that comes out of all these liberal cries of amorous passion, like Olive Oil weeping for her Brutus.

The fact is, we don’t love America, and our creed is that love of country, in some utopian future, will attenuate to the vanishing point throughout the world. It is the usual Imagine-Lennon-hippie-shit thing. However, we do like America. Like it since our bones and gristle formed here, our heart first went thud thud thud here, our tongue shapes English as only an American can, and we could no more imagine ourselves exiting in this world without America than we could imagine ourselves existing without oxygen. We would like America even more if a few changes were made around here…

So – to hook up by such awkwardly indirect means to an earlier post – we were talking about how Chekhov’s The Duel explained something about Lenin. We never exactly explained what we meant. This post is still going to differ the moment of interpretation, because we want to first say philosophical things about our snappishness. Or, more generally, about impatience. To leap frog ahead, there’s a certain politics of impatience that was all over European culture in the first quarter of the twentieth century. And we’ve noticed that impatience has become our own primary mode of understanding American politics under the current regime.

Now, onto Mark 11.



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A little exegetical work, here. In Mark 11, we are told of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. This is interwoven with a story that is seemingly minor and rather shocking – it seems to have been interpolated from a book about a sorcerer, since it recounts something that is more like a magic trick than a miracle. But it was noted. The Gospels are many things, but one thing they aren’t is garrulous. What is noted there is significant.

Jesus, then, is hungry. “… seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.
And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever.”
Another story then is told: Jesus going to Jerusalem and throwing the moneychangers out of the temple. He leaves the city, then, with the author implying that he felt some threat from the Pharisees. And then we get the end of the story of the fig tree:
And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots.
And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.
And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.
For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.”

So, here is a template for an inquiry into the Sources and Nature of Impatience. What is impatience? The above story has always been rather shocking to the pious, since patience is considered a virtue, and the exemplary son of God, Little Lord Fauntleroy on the cross, is supposed to display all the virtues and good table manners too. Instead, he here displays the spoiled behavior of a prince in a fairy tale or gossip column.

A few notes:

1. Interesting that impatience should be thought of as something secondary to patience – as though patience were our primary attitude to time and the resolution of our wants. That’s a rather utopian turn for the language to take. Is it justified? One shouldn’t take language’s word for the way the world is – a mistake that philosophers make who think the royal road to the conceptual is through the etymological. At no point in its history does a word have any more semantic power than it has at any other point – I take this as a given. Still, we can take the word’s word for it that, to our society, in the vulgar conceptual schemas which web us about, there is something derivative, on the face of it, about impatience. And this would seem to indicate that patience is the thing to research, to find out about, if we want to find out about impatience. That the normal state is patience. But is the normal state felt as patient? Don’t we become conscious of our patience only in those instances in which it is called upon?

2. Mark’s story begins with hunger. Jesus is hungry. There’s a clue here, about impatience. If it is a perceptual transformation of an underlying patience, what is the stimulus to that transformation? Surely hunger, lust, need – the sharp end of the passions, scaling up from my urgent desire to urinate to the more complex desire to bring to some resolution my sexual attraction to some x. Impatience, in fact, bears the slight impress of that ritualization it achieves in fucking that we can see it in the corporal dance of impatience – the tapping foot, or the repetition of various meaningless sounds – some people hum, some people whistle, some people sigh to show impatience. Also, the angularity and jerkiness that comes over people who have reached a certain expressive point in their impatience.

3. The next element in Mark’s narrative is elegant: “And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.”
It is not, Mark carefully notes, the fig tree’s “fault” that it bears no figs. It is a healthy tree, and the time of figs was not yet. In a country where figs are common, one would imagine that the season at which fig trees bear figs was known to every adult. But the time for each tree varies. In any case, having no figs, the tree presents itself not as a medium to satisfy hunger, but as an obstacle to the satisfaction of hunger.

Now, this is the great hallmark of impatience. The fig tree isn’t actually an obstacle. It is a tree. It has its times. But impatience is projective and transformative – the hunger becomes equal to the lack of figs, and the lack of figs becomes intentional. Among other things, when impatient, I make the objects in the world intentional. Which implies that patience is an acceptance of the non-intentionality of things. Incidentally, in terms of the narrative itself, there’s some cognitive dissonance in the moral Jesus draws from the withering of the fig tree. On the one hand, there is the undoubted reference to patience in believing – to believe that what one says shall come to pass is the prophetic function. Jonah waiting outside of Ninevah for the walls to tumble is a proverbial instance. It is the condition of the catastrophe foreseen by the prophet that he can await it. On the other hand, there is undoubtedly the magician subtext – the idea that you, too, can do tricks just as good if he follow what I say. This dissonance reflects, perhaps, the conflict between the instrumental time of need, and the prophetic time of patience. One is reminded that the story of the fig tree sandwiches the story of the throwing of the moneychangers out of the temple – a fatal act of impatience on Jesus’ part.

Well, enough sermonizing for one day.

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