“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
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, June 10, 2005
Now, as is the case with many Cockburn columns, this was too clever by half. But lopping off the too clever half, he had a point – the only people who were truly, actively against U.S. intervention in Kosovo were rightwingers like Jack Kemp.
Given that politics is mostly positioning, that opposition to war has melted on the right with the Republicans in power. But I do think it could come back. In fact, I think it has, among the grassroots. Save for those who are swayed by the logic of Suttee, which posits that sacrifice demands, in itself, further blind sacrifice (thus the soldiers killed in Iraq are not killed in vain if further soldiers are killed in Iraq), the American will to continue the madness there is crumbling. There is, unfortunately, a lot of anger on the left about this with no forum – the Democrats have long been a coalition of the cowardly, and the irritant of their presence on the scene is mitigated only by their almost total irrelevance and impotence. What LI thinks should be happening is some reaching out to the paleoconservatives. The paleos are really hostile to the wasting of American lives in the service of the great Moloch, Washington D.C. And the wasting of these lives is becoming, increasingly, a vanity project, as the courtiers around King George refuse to confront him about his madness. What one would like to see is an alliance of convenience. The recent discussion about Harry’s Place in LI’s comments was interesting insofar as the writers of that blog present themselves as leftists. So do many who support the mad war. Unfortunately, anti-war people have not yet exploited the opening given by the left-symp war supporters.
These kinds of people – their lifestyles, their vocabulary, their gestures -- evoke blind rage among rightwingers, even as they grudgingly rally to them. It would seem an eminently fair step, in terms of propaganda, to exploit that rage – to present the war as what it is, a faux Leninist project. LI has always thought that the most consistent anti-war position is derived from Burkean conservatism. Yet the antiwar left continually drives away their allies by pulling in extraneous domestic matters. Allies don’t have to be converts – in fact, every ally, in strategic terms, is a potential enemy. The fact that the left doesn’t use the enormous, pent up hostility to D.C. is a historic relic from the time that the liberals controlled D.C. That time is gone, and the D.C. centric gesture ossifies a self defeating politics.
In Lehmann’s intro, one of the problems that has to be dealt with is that Nietzsche happens to have been multiply claimed between 1890 and 1933. Here’s the way Lehnmann states the problem:
It is not the year 1900, the year of Nietzsche’s death, that is decisive in bringing to a close the mental reality that we call the 19th century. It was only 1914 that decisively pushed that reality into the past. And if we say that we are closest to Nietzsche not only of all his contemporaries, but among all German thinkers of the past, we meant that his will and his greatness only became visible through the experience of the first world war.
This is how we understand the curious fact that more than a quarter century of Nietzsche scholarship has not succeeded in bringing the philosophy of this thinker out into the open. A writer of such wonderful clarity and transparency of language, who has spoken so often and so extensively about his intentions and tasks – does it require a particular interpretation and the instrument of interpretation, “philology”, in order to grasp his fundamental concepts? Just this, that each person who reads Nietzsche thinks that he is the master of his thought, was the cause of the misunderstanding of his philosophy.”
What is behind Lehmann’s time scheme?
We are all familiar with the pictures and trivia – the picture of Hitler at Nietzsche’s house, posing with a simpering, aged Elizabeth; Hitler sending Nietzsche’s collected works to Mussolini as a present sealing the Axis pact; etc., etc. Those scenes, and their precedent in the work of people like Lehmann, succeeded in one crucial aspect: they pretty much sealed the relation between Nietzsche and fascism, driving out rival claims. But it gives us a very skewed picture of Nietzsche’s reception to think that only the fascists claimed Nietzsche at this time. In fact, the Goethe-kultur of the German speaking countries had absorbed Nietzsche as the last German classic long before then. We know about the effect Nietzsche had on the modernist generation between 1890 and 1914 (which Lehmann denigrates, following, in this, Nazi policy): the influence on Gide, on Svevo, on Shaw, on Barres, on Hamsum, on Hesse, on Mann, on Musil – it is hard to find a writer from that time who hadn’t some opinion of Nietzsche. Or several, over the course of a lifetime – Musil and Mann are notable in this respect. There was also the influence on Jewish culture – in this period, Nietzsche was considered, as Otto Weiniger puts it somewhere, a “philo-Semite.” Martin Buber translated Zarathustra into Polish. The greatest Jewish philosopher, perhaps, of the twentieth century, Franz Rosenzweig, built Der Stern der Erloesung partly out of his struggle with N. But less noted is the political claiming of Nietzsche. The liberal-social democratic party in Germany was particularly attracted to Nietzsche. The German politician who first declared himself Nietzsche’s follower was not Hitler, but Hitler’s antithesis, Walter Rathenau, who was assassinated in 1922, after Rapello. In Nazi eyes, Rathenau was an ideal devil: a rich, liberal, Jewish industrialist associated with that government party that surrendered in 1918 – which is surely not the effect Lehmann wants to emphasize. In a polemic with Sloterdjik over Nietzsche, (the Right Nietzsche in the belly of a left Trojan Horse) Detlef Hartman claims that Nietzsche work was the “most radical driver’ behind the Taylor-Fordist regime advocated by Rathenau, Weber and Schumpeter – that indeed, the idea of ‘creative destruction” has a Nietzschian geneology.
Tucholsky made fun of the overuse of Nietzsche, in this period. Like a lot of the Vienna spirits, Tucholsky went from admiring Nietzsche to comparing him, unfavorably, with Schopenhauer:
“Tell me what you need, and I will find a Nietzsche quote for you. With Schopenhauer, this isn’t so easy. With Nietzsche? Pro Germany and anti-German. For peace and against peace. For literature and against literature. Whatever you like.”
In that atmosphere, the first and most successful Nazi move was to clear out rivals.
I am not, by the way, making an exculpatory argument – or not yet. There is a newspaper logic that goes like this: x says that the world is round, and y says that the world is flat. So the truth must be in the middle – the world is shaped like a Frisbee. That’s the very definition, to me, of what Nietzsche called herd thinking. Because many sides claimed Nietzsche doesn’t mean one side was not correct. While I think Nietzsche’s thinking contains a good many themes that allow one to see the belligerance, nationalism, and worship of power of the fascists as symptoms of nihilism, I also think there are plenty of footholds in Nietzsche lending themselves to a rightwing reading. There is a line of thought that says, the Nazis misunderstood Nietzsche – and fundamentally I agree with that. But they also understood things about Nietzsche. The hagiographic approach to Nietzsche, criticized by T.V., is all about avoiding those things. So the question is, pace Tucholsky, – did the Nazi editing of Nietzsche have internal textual and conceptual support from the man who wrote, in the Antichrist: ‘The weak and misbegotten shall be driven to extinction. This is the first law of our love of humanity. And one should give them a helping hand”? A sentence over which, as Nietzsche might have put it, a Verhaengniss hangs.
More, hopefully, tomorrow.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Our recommend for your reading pleasure this morning is this Knight Ridder article about the freedom loving Iraqi government our boys and gals are dying for. Those boys and gals are probably proud as punch that the Iraqi gov has discovered such creative uses for the electric drill as an instrument of information gathering. Gee, it is almost as if our boys and gals are dying to reincarnate the very forms and ceremonies of the last Iraq government, Saddam Hussein’s. But that can’t be – can one imagine Donald Rumsfeld, for instance, supporting that kind of thing?
Your neighbors. Their blood. Your hands. The virtuous circle rides again, and it is mornin’ in Bush’s America.
Our other recommend is a much longer and lasting read. Santayana's philosophical masterpiece, the Life of Reason, has been put up in all five volumes at the Gutenberg site. We think Santayana was the most important conservative philosopher of the twentieth century, and maybe the sole original American contribution to conservative thought. Plus, he is an excellent writer (too excellent, many philosophers claim -- he liked writing a little bit too much). He makes the Strausses and Kirks look like amateur pikers.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
So, instead of Nietzsche, a little short post about a funny blog thing. A couple of days ago, at one of our favorite blogs, Charlotte Street, there was a post about “bruschetta brigade” – which I guess is the equivalent, in the U.K., of limousine liberals. It was a nice riff that ended like this:
“Here is ‘mere talk’; meanwhile others must make tough decisions etc. ‘Bruschetta’ has the added advantage of sounding foreign – there is always something somehow foreign and unpatriotic about these intellectuals, non? Thus, the phrase glides along grooves ideologically pre-prepared. It is little more than a Barthesian mytheme.”
We made a few comments in the comments section about luxury and its ambiguity in both the classical economic tradition and in Marx.
Well, these comments were seized upon as the quintessence of po-mo nonsense by another blog, Harry’s Place. And, in order to add a little of the necessary irony to the mix, the comments were then attributed to the guy who writes Charlotte Street. Who then writes about the HP people coming to his site and making pissy comments on the post. Thus completing the circle, which is either a vicious circle or a circle jerk – or both. First, you get the drift of the signature. Second, the politics of citation. Third is the blissful repetition of the gesture I was criticizing in my thesis without any consciousness that the gesture was being repeated. The unconsciousness is not my subjective interpretation -- several remarks showed that commentors had inversed the sense of the thesis I was making. And it wasn't a difficult thesis. The scorn poured on the meaningless phrases, all with words of more than two syllables, all obviously “unnecessary” when common sense would tell you all about luxury – how could this be anything other than the reactivation of the very trope I was pointing to? And finally, to put the icing on the eclair, I believe that some commenters on the HP blog must have read earlier posts of mine, stuff I’ve written over the years about my habitual destitution, and transferred the sense of that to the writer of the Charlotte Street blog – there was some discussion about whether the writer of the latter was unemployed.
All of which is pretty funny. If I’d set up a psych experiment on Derrida’s notion of the effects of a text, I couldn’t have come up with a set of more validating inputs. Plus, to me, the luxury of watching my original tracing of the psychopathology of luxury create responses that blindly repeat that psychopathology in another domain (that of rhetoric). I wonder if this is how Pavlov felt when walking through the kennel?
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
A busy schedule has made LI haphazard and sloppy about posting, lately. We hoped to have up a post about Nietzsche, today, but instead we have this galimatias.
Nietzsche is surely the writer we have studied most closely, and who has had the greatest impact on our life. Consequently, we don’t really like to write about the man. Arguing about Nietzsche is much less fun, in our view, than applying Nietzsche’s m.o. Still, we’ve been following UFO Breakfast’s intermittent series of posts attacking the Big N. and, in particular, his status right now on the left. LI is, if anything, a lefty Nietzschian, so we are going to take a crack at replying to this charge:
“I do think that even if Nietzsche was an innocent reactionary aphorist, there is something peculiar about his work that, when appropriated by progressives, leads not so much to fascism as fecklessness.”
The writer of the blog, Turbulent Velvet, is very good. He employs those methods approved of by the legendary Mike Fink, who always began his fights with:
I'm a Salt River roarer! I'm a ring-tailed squealer! I'm a reg'lar screamer from
the ol' Massassip'i WHOOP! . . . I'm half wild horse and half cock-eyed alligator and the rest o' me is crooked snags an' red-hot snappin' turkle. I can hit like fourth-proof lightnin' an' every lick I make in the woods lets in an acre o' sunshine. I can out-run, out-jump, out-shoot, out-brag, out-drink, an' out-fight, rough-an'-tumble, no holts barred, ary man on both sides the river from Pittsburgh to New Orleans an' back ag'in to St. Louiee. Come on, you flatters, you bargers, you milk-white mechanics, an' see how tough I am to chaw!
The no holts barred polemic he launches on Nietzsche chaws right through him, using a reading of Geoff Waite’s Nietzsche’s Corpse to make the milk white followers of the zeitgeist, the fans, the causuists, the excusers, tremble in their boots:
“It's popular & common to forgive fascists because they invent funny one-liners at the expense of the weak and helpless. It's the main reason Clear Channel has taken over our culture. "He's just an entertainer."
Nietzsche hagiography is simply the tweed/punk sublation of that formation with a lacuna as big as the fuckin' sun.
There's not much point in reading a dusty biography of Alexander Pope organized around the argument that "he was more sinned against than sinning." Why? Because a critic who derives all of his primary categories for evaluating an author directly from that author himself is doomed not just to write a hagiography but the precise hagiography that the author programmed him to write.
For the same reason there is no point in reading an approach to Nietzsche which takes him to be a "buffoon" or that his work should be divided into three stages because that's what he told us to think about him. Nietzsche fans are such good little boys and girls: they always do what they're told. (Granted, it's hard for Nietzsche fans to think for themselves because he makes them feel like such courageous naughty little rebels if they think like him instead. Rebel against me, said Zarathustra! And the fans quote him, even as they don't!)
Nietzsche is unique in his ability to inspire universal hagiographic abjection. And along with the hagiography comes an even more bizarre suspension of any suspicion about its obvious universality. For all other major philosophers one can find shelves of books written polemically against their work, often with no quarter given. The "anti" gesture is part of the tradition: Marx writes the anti-Hegel, Nietzsche the anti-Christ, D&G the anti-Freud. But there is no tradition of anti-Nietzsche to speak of, not even a tepid desire there should be one--especially on the Left where one would expect to find little else.”
So -- I am not going to take on Waite. Rather, I’d like to take the case of Nietzsche as fascist or Nazi from the mouth of the people who first made that case: the Nazis themselves. Luckily, Lehmann’s 1939 preface to Nietzsche’s works, which was produced in Nazi Germany, is up on the web. I often find it puzzling that the case for Nietzsche’s fascism is discussed as if it were a matter of Nietzsche and Heidegger and contemporary American and European philosophers, none of whom openly espouse fascism. As Husserl said to the blind man, go to the things themselves. What is left out of the equation are those who did espouse fascism, and thought Nietzsche was its prophet.
My argument that N. leads neither to fascism nor fecklessness is that: a., the fascist interpretation begins by seriously distorting Nietzsche’s reception, which is part of the general fascist reaction against modernism; b, that the reading of Nietzsche as a fascist systematically segregates and diminishes the critical dimension in Nietzsche; c, that the fascist interpretation, while rightly seeing the Will to Power as essential to Nietzsche’s philosophy, conflates it with “Macro Politics” (grosse Politik); and d, that the conflict in Nietzsche’s own politics, in the latter part of the work, has to do with finding the scale at which his models of power work. C. was the whole point of Bäumler’s work, which was key to the Nazi interpretation of Nietzsche. As Lehmann puts it:
“He has further shown, that Nietzsche, the political thinker, was the only one among his contemporaries to set the demands of the future and the making of Macro-Politics (“grosse” Politik zu treiben) in opposition to the Christian-nationalist state, the Second Reich, the bourgeois mass and class state, whose downfall he forsaw.”
This finds the right locus in Nietzsche, for it is his opposition to Bismarck and the Germany of his time that, to the fascists, skews Nietzsche to the right – and to me, skews Nietzsche to the critical. I wouldn’t say to the left, which was worker based and for which Nietzsche had no feel and only a distant appreciation. Nietzsche was no socialist. His own sense was that he had no political faction in Germany. His politics as a practical matter were hopelessly out of date -- he was a Frondeur, a supporter of the nobility against the monarchy, an impossible political position in the late 19th century, although a lively one in 17th century France.
But the obsolescence of his politics, his dandyism, freed him from being a partisan -- gave him the "fecklessness" to be critical. What I would say is that Nietzsche’s own political thinking picked out the totalitarian seed in the democratic state. I would say this is why, contra Mr. TV, Nietzsche's shock effect is not comfortably contained within an academic s/m fan club. The reigning myth is that democracy is opposed to totalitarianism – that totalitarianism comes from outside democracy, infests it like a disease, sickens it, overthrows it. Churchill's image of Lenin being conveyed into Russia on a sealed train like a bacillus picks up on this myth. Nietzsche, on the contrary, claims that the organizational form to which democracies tend – the party form – prefigures a new kind of tyranny. He saw that the party organization flourished in the democratic culture of the nineteenth century, and he saw how that organization reproduced itself by coordinating ideology and party interest. He saw how the tie between those two tends, inevitably, to advance party interest and hollow out ideology, insofar as the representatives of ideology becomes the party's ruling clique. He was certainly right that all of the significant tyrannies of the twentieth century in the West have come through parties, and have ruled through parties. This isn't true of tyrannies in the past.
This makes things interesting. The fascist claim on Nietzsche, here, and the left Nietzschian claim, both rely on constructing Nietzsche’s response to German statebuilding (even if that theme has been undercontextualized among contemporary Nietzschians) which of course happened while he was alive. That is probably where I will go after doing a post on Lehmann. I’m not sure if I am going to go into the d. too much. And I’m not sure if I will have time for too much of any of this. And, as I say, I find arguing about Nietzsche oftentimes besides the point. But as I am myself wondering about American politics in the age of Bush – and especially the debilitating lock of the parties on political alternatives – it fits with my present preoccupations.
Monday, June 06, 2005
"The states' core police powers have always included authority to define criminal law and to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens," said O'Connor, who was joined in her dissent by two other states' rights advocates: Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas.
The legal question presented a dilemma for the court's conservatives, who have pushed to broaden states' rights in recent years. They earlier invalidated federal laws dealing with gun possession near schools and violence against women on the grounds the activity was too local to justify federal intrusion.”
The present court has, however, no problem with inconsistency – they simply convey the conservative agenda in all its many splendid contradiction, regarding the reach of state power. Still, the drug issue has been tied in for years with the system whereby the Federal government has increased its power over the states – the ban on narcotics traffic being, along with the protection of endangered animal fur and feathers, one of the first areas in which the Fed asserted its preemptive regulatory right to reach into the states economies, and thereby shape their general political culture.
If this were a consistent court, this ruling would lead to the affirmation of a broad array of federal regulatory powers – it would be, in other words, incredibly New Dealish. But this is a political court, and its rulings about Federal power over, say, land use will hew to that line which pleases the rich, while its rulings about drug use will hew to that line which pleases the evangelicals.
The advantages of inconsistency in politics outweighs the ponderous benefits of precedence. I think liberals have to start thinking of states rights in a new way, as the U.S. becomes more and more Confederate. The use of the federal government to break up apartheid was a great victory – but one shouldn’t be tied to an ossified form. That was then, this is now. When the AG’s office is filled by a torture advocate, the time to get out of the habit of increasing federal power is now.
Sunday, June 05, 2005
A reader wisely scored LI for suggesting that Central Europe would do better to create an EU-style union with Russia than with the EU. This is not going to happen – not only are the hostilities still too deep, but Russia has drifted back into its own history of disastrous strong men with Putin. There is a nice personal essay – St. Petersburg Portraits -- by Emma Lieber in this season’s Massachussetts Review. Portraits of St. Petersburg are a motif in Russian literature – Gogol’s Nevsky Prospect, for instance, which begins with the Prospect itself as a sort of generator of drama, out of which its characters -- its artist and the young prostitute -- arise as geographic coordinates of what becomes a typical Gogolian delirium. Lieber visited St. Petersburg as a student for a year – and her voice has that comfort with… no, more, that quiet relish in the slightly bizarre and backwards and louche that one picks up from all the American expat lit that has come out of stays in Eastern Europe (Arthur Phillips’ Prague is a good example). Americans have a special status there, since the scramble for existence in the capitalist system is being done by people who have learned it by the book -- learned it, that is, by inference from those books that demonized it. It is as if a culture had adopted Christianity as they had inferred it from the works of Alistair Crowley. Lieber has the preternatural actuarial wisdom that comes from having absorbed the statistics, which I guess is part of growing up and getting into a good college now. So she is grimly aware, for instance, of the statistics concerning life expectancy. For males in Russia, the emptying out of the male slot after forty has an alarming visibility:
“Vysula was my host father for five months of my stay in St. Petersburg. He is around 50 years old, and he expects to live another five years or so, ten years tops. Of his class of twelve boys at school, ten are already dead, from sickness or alcoholism or Communism, or some combination of these.”
“At any rate Vysula remains, alive and sober, one of the last of his childhood friends to have reached middle age, though while I was there he was always sick in some way. He usually had a cold or the flu and would wander from room to room with a scarf around his neck, quizzing me constantly about American medicines and offering absurd advice about how to stay healthy
(which always reminded me of the Woody Allen character in Sleeper, a '70s health-food nut who has been cryogenically frozen for several centuries and thaws out to find that cigarettes, deepfried
fat, and chocolate had been the healthy stuff all along). In general Vysula looked well-fed and sturdy, and I never could quite believe that he was sick. But if we're to judge by the statistics,
he probably will die in the next five or ten years.”
We’ve been told, again and again, that the free market shocks of the nineties were making all the difference for the Russians – and at the same time we’ve been told, again and again, that Russia is held together by criminal activity. Lieber is, of course, giving only her impressions, but it doesn’t seem too far fetched to think that an atmosphere so constituted by a monstrous past at the heel and the inability to shake off whole geological strata of expectations in order to free oneself to act must bear down upon people. On the advise of friends from Massachusetts, Lieber gets in touch with a Solugub scholar, Elizabeva, and meets her daughter and mother – no men in the household, another exemplar of the statistical norm:
It is perfectly typical in St. Petersburg for three generations to share their living space, because apartments are hard to come by and Russians don't tend to move out (although luckily the country is past the point where ex-spouses must live together for decades, as they did until rather recently). It is also fairly typical that these three generations should be made up entirely of women, since Russian men tend to die. Elisaveta's family, she
once told me smilingly, can't hold on to its men—first her father died, then her husband, then her brother. When her dog gave birth last year the male puppies died right away, but the females were healthy and strong.”
There is this amusing riff about Elisaveta’s mother:
“She lives with her two college-aged daughters, Valentina and Maria, and her mother, a
true Russian babushka (literally, grandmother), who is huge, takes a shot of vodka before every meal, dresses in a housedress and slippers, and paddles around making outraged remarks in a raspy, slurred voice to no one in particular. Elizavetas mother never leaves the house. I assumed that the reason was her much discussed bad heart, but Elizaveta explained matter-of-factly that "Mama hasn't wanted to go out since 1943," when, as a young woman during the siege, she was chased through the streets of Leningrad by cannibals.”
History is a matter of more trick or treat than we like to think. And once you start getting the tricks, it is hard to stop.