“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, October 01, 2005

hell and worse ahead

The NYT Mag has an admiring portrait of the ultimate horror that is Hillary. Oddly, the more hopeful article is about Buckley’s campaign for mayor in 1965. While Buckley exhibited the thinly sheathed bigot in that campaign – in one of those odd, convulsive spasms of coercive moralism to which conservatives are liable he even proposed that drug addicts be quarantined, one of those bizarre notions like tattooing people with AIDS that seem to emerge in the Buckley brain, and of course in the face of real civil morality, ie Martin Luther King, Jr, he was clueless -- he also campaigned to legalize drugs for adults. A simple measure that would have removed infinite misery in the last forty years, and probably even more in the next forty. In a strong sense, that move, if it had caught on, would have retrieved millions of black men from the clutches of the legal system, and would have put states like Alabama (where 30 percent of African American men can’t vote, due to felony convictions) and Florida (ditto) and all over the South into play for much more liberal politicians. Not only in the U.S. would the past forty years have been gentler, but all over the world – for instance, Mexico, where realistically, narco-trafficking is as it should be, an economically sound venture, the repression of which is insane, leading, naturally, to massive corruption, since the only way to produce and market drugs is outside of the law. And of course this diverts the flow of income that could be really be used by average Mexicans into the pockets of the most violent. One can’t say the same about the income flow generated by, say, viagra, which is legal due not for any moral or health reason – hell, viagra is no more safe and no more moral than a joint -- but simply because it was developed by big pharma and marketed by them. I do know that if joints gave you an automatic woody, that would be down on the black list of reasons why it must be banned. Since only in hell is rationality a product manufactured by corporations, and since rationality about drugs seems wholly manufactured by corporations, I think it is evident we live in Hell. I hope that is clear.

The other hopeful thing was Lindsay. An awful mayor, but still -- a genuine powerful liberal Republican. They once existed. They can exist again...

As for Hillary – she represents the worst instincts of the right and the worst instincts of punitive liberalism in a sort of corporate identity of all that is evil -- Newt Gingrich's feminine side. She is so bad that she seems almost destined to lead this Republic as it continues to fall apart. God’s curse is obviously on the land. Luckily, the NYT Magazine is almost always wrong about American politics. I trust my older sister, a feminist since the seventies who tells me, Hillary doesn’t feel right.

Give them stones

“In Wilhelm Meister (Part I, Chapter XV), Goethe, on the basis of his own personal experiences, describes his hero's emotions in the humble surroundings of Marianne's little room as compared with the stateliness and order of his own home. "It seemed to him when he had here to remove her stays in order to reach the harpsichord, there to lay her skirt on the bed before he could seat himself, when she herself with unembarrassed frankness would make no attempt to conceal from him many natural acts which people are accustomed to hide from others out of decency—it seemed to him, I say, that he became bound to her by invisible bands." We are told of Wordsworth (Findlay's Recollections of De Quincey, p. 36) that he read Wilhelm Meister till "he came to the scene where the hero, in his mistress's bedroom, becomes sentimental over her dirty towels, etc., which struck him with such disgust that he flung the book out of his hand, would never look at it again, and declared that surely no English lady would ever read such a work." I have, however, heard a woman of high intellectual distinction refer to the peculiar truth and beauty of this very passage.” – Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex.

Reading over our last few posts, we’ve been struck – unpleasantly – by our easy usurpation of a trope that we once ridiculed in Christopher Hitchens – the use of disgust as a substitute for argument. Myself, I can’t read Wordsworth’s reaction to Goethe’s “dirty towels” without wanting to smack some intimations of mortality into the Lake Poet. The vice of wanting to leave out that between which we are born (inter fæces et urinam nascimur, as the ancient Christians liked to put it) did nothing good for English literature. And it probably does nothing good for political commentary.

On the other hand, with faeces et urinam running rampant in D.C., it would be wrong to repress the preliminary shudder before getting down to brass tackinesses.

What is a writer to do? Especially one who is basically powerless, and whose sense of the power worth having, that power vested in language, has turned cruelly against him – after all, by that standard, my powerlessness is not only a failure to achieve a position in life, it is a failure of the skill upon which I’ve staked my dignity. It is only when I raise my voice to the highest pitch that I discover that it is the reedy voice of a cockroach. I am essentially vermin.

Brecht said that humans learn as much from catastrophe as laboratory rabbits learn about biology. This phrase is rich in implications, one of which might be that just as there is a science that registers the rabbit in a certain order that is beyond the rabbit’s capacity to understand, so, too, there is a science, or at least an art, to catastrophe. Biology isn’t expressed in any one biologist, and catastrophe isn’t expressed in any one powerbroker. Rather, the artists of catastrophe exist in a community that works to make sure that the conditions of catastrophe bear down with a crushing weight on its victims. The members of that community don’t recognize themselves as artists of catastrophe at all, perhaps, but only in terms of the individual roles that, individually, seem to be about anything other than catastrophe: they are about petroleum, they are about chemicals, they are about tax policy.

So – to continue in the vein of disgust for a minute – our attacks on individuals here or there, our clever commentary on this or that political event, always seems to be just at a tangent to the real thing, to the catastrophe that is actually happening before our eyes.

Well, so much for our self-critical moment.

...
Now, to resume sniping.
Surely somebody should notice the parallel between the Bush administration’s criminal slowness to respond to the disaster in New Orleans and the Democratic Party leadership’s criminal slowness to respond to the disaster in Iraq? The two cases reveal a certain underlying attitude of D.C. contempt for the opinions of cockroaches like me, and a collective and superb deafness when we raise our reedy voices. I was particularly struck with this by reading two things this morning. One of them was the horrific description of life in Baghdad at the moment in the NYT:

“Over the past year, insurgents have come to control large swaths of western Baghdad, including Khadra, the area where Mrs. Abdul-Razzaq lives with her husband, Monkath, and their two boys, ages 9 and 12, in a spacious two-story house. Their bedroom window looks out on elevated highways that are the main arteries into the capital from the north and west, where insurgents have built up no-go zones.

Four times in recent months Mrs. Abdul-Razzaq has seen men, sometimes in masks, tramping across her outer lawn, lifting rocket-propelled grenade launchers to their shoulders. Once, several men shot at an American convoy from behind a funeral tent near her house. American troops often come to look for attackers. They have searched her house six times.

Southwest in Amariya, the area that borders the dangerous airport road, street battles between insurgents and the Iraqi police have been so intense that the two main grocery stores were badly damaged and have closed. Residents must now find food elsewhere.”

The other was this Ur-D.C. discussion on the TPM site of the “strategy’ of the Democratic party. It has that Chertoff note – detached, inhuman, complicit:

“From my talks around town I derive the impression that the current Democratic Party position on Iraq is to start saying that the Administration only has three more months within which to demonstrate that it is wise to "stay the course" in Iraq.
As I understand this position, it reflects in part the members' focus on the various appropriations packages and other bills struggling toward resolution before adjournment perhaps before Thanksgiving. They don't want to do much on Iraq this fall, or even in the winter.”

Reed’s post started the usual comment flurry: indignant readers are countered by the Chertoff-ian pragmatists, who assure them that the Democrats, having followed the triumphant path of Daschle so successfully in 2002, are going to do it again.

Adamantine hearts, these people. But not vermin – oh no, those D.C. voices will be heard. In fact, they will be shoved down our throats. as they have been for the past four years, on the principle that when your children cry out for bread, you should give them stones.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Krugman gives us a nice summary of one of the more rancid D.C. scandals currently scheduled for page A-10 in your local paper:

“Mr. Abramoff was indicted last month on charges of fraud relating to his purchase of SunCruz, a casino boat operation. Mr. Ney inserted comments in the Congressional Record attacking SunCruz's original owner, Konstantinos ''Gus'' Boulis, placing pressure on him to sell to Mr. Abramoff and his partner, Adam Kidan, and praised Mr. Kidan's character.

“Last week three men were arrested in connection with the gangland-style murder of Mr. Boulis. SunCruz, after it was controlled by Mr. Kidan and Mr. Abramoff, paid a company controlled by one of the men arrested, Anthony ''Big Tony'' Moscatiello, and his daughter $145,000 for catering and other work. In court documents, questions are raised about whether food and drink were ever provided. SunCruz paid $95,000 to a company in which one of the other men arrested, Anthony ''Little Tony'' Ferrari, is a principal.”

But Krugman’s facts need to be put into a certain atmosphere that has one abiding characteristic: the assumption of immunity. The violence perpetrated by any mafia type group must be exemplary. It must not only happen, but give the appearance that there are no constraints on its happening. This is why we recommend the MSNBC column about Tom Delay’s upcoming trial, written by one of Delay’s friends, Rick Scarborough, for its title: Guilty or not, DeLay will walk. Scarborough writes a column that he calls “Regular Joe.” He means the regular guy who gives his wife a bruiser if she gets out of line, whacks off at the local strip joint and rails against pornography, tosses a brick through the window of the gay couple down the street and ponders the mysteries of that merciful deity who triumphed over the grave through his mastery of the seven habits of highly successful people. Delay’s putative ability to bull his way out of a money laundering charge is celebrated by regular Joe Scarborough, who should surely have begun his article with that key Good Fellas phrase, “ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be a gangster.”

Or, as Scarborough puts it, admiration seeping through his acids and cancers:

“Why could DeLay survive a prosecution that would destroy most other politicians? Because above all else, he is a political fighter.”

Shades of Nixon. The Bush culture gravitates to the protection racket as its natural form of governance, the wet dream of big government conservatism. We are, after all, headed by a man whose signal accomplishment, as a businessman, was to fatten on the creamy situations into which he was shoehorned by Daddy's friends. When the parasites get to the top of the food chain, the wonders that ensue delights the hearts of Scarborough's regular Joes everywhere, especially if they have had the good business sense to put a little in the Republican kitty.

PS – since we are commenting on the headlines today, we should note that the supposed “freedom of the press” issues involved in Judy Miller’s jailing are more and more absurd to invoke since Miller has mysteriously decided to knuckle under. This was not about freedom of the press, this was all about obscure maneuvers under the surface of the D.C. Court society that brought us the disastrous war. Meanwhile, neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times has bothered to headline, investigate, or even wink at a more deadly violation of freedom of the press, the U.S. decision to deny Independent’s reporter Robert Fisk entry into the country. Ah, but at least one powerhouse U.S. newspaper noticed this violation of our liberties: the New Mexican, in Santa Fe.

The delicate sensibilities at the NYT who could swallow a camel and strain at a gnat – or to be less Biblical, who could fire a reporter for filing a description of a news conference he didn’t attend but feel no compulsion to fire a woman whose stories about WMD in Iraq make Laurie Mylroie's fantasies seem serious by comparison -- haven’t yet felt that Fisk’s banning requires the kind of heated indignation that Judy’s plight inspired. Why am I not surprised?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

underground

LI has been thinking about the “reality effect” since reading Underground, Haruki Murakami’s account of Aum Shinrikyo’s poison gas attack on the Tokyo Subways. Murakami’s book is divided into two sections, which were published as two separate books in Japan. In one section, he interviews victims of the attack. Some of these victims have recovered, at least physiologically, and some still deal with various degrees of injury, up to and including being permanently on life maintaining systems at a hospital. The other, smaller section is a group of interviews with Aum members. Some of the members have moved away from the group, some remain with it.

Although I’m not sure that this was Murakami’s purpose, one of the results of the book is to contrast two kinds of “reality” effect. It was, perhaps, unconsciously one of the reasons that Aum targeted a subway system, insofar as subways represent almost pure routine, that part of life in which everything exists under the sign of the minus. By which I mean that the experience is oriented exclusively to getting somewhere, and thus is ‘subtracted’ from real experience. Very few autobiographies concentrate on the phenomenology of taking a subway train to work. If one did, undoubtedly it would be one subway ride – the general subway ride, which absorbs into its general features the features shared by all particular subway rides, and is thus not a description of a specific subway ride at all. It is hard to imagine an “On the Road” devoted to riding the subway. This is why subway rides are routine –routines are experiences under the minus sign. The feel of their collective reality is unimportant. This is, I think, partly what Santayana means when he claims that we experience essences. It might be that Santayana's claim confuses description with experience, but the problem with sending a philosophical probe into experience to find out what it is in itself, beyond description, is that this restricts description to a narrow and specific verbal activity. But description is much more mixed up in experience than this, as you can tell from accounts of almost any disaster. Those accounts are full of people instructing themselves to respond to things. These instructions imply, in fact, a stream of descriptive activity that is implicated in the very stream of experience. And one effect of the mingling of those supposedly different planes, description and experience, is that experience is oriented towards the general features of a situation -- maps the present with its expectations about the present. The present, in other words, is experienced as the description of the present in many more cases than the philosopher likes to admit.

This negation of the value of the feel of reality (and yes, that’s a lot of “of” – ofs are the subway train rides of grammar) is precisely what the interviewees in the Aum section abhor. The victims all begin their accounts like “ On March 20th I wasn’t especially busy at work, but it being the end of the fiscal year there was plenty to do.” Or ‘March 20 coincides with our spring fashion sales peak, which keeps us pretty busy.” Or “So there I was, going back to work that day, after my absence, which is why I wanted to get to the office a little early, to make up for lost time.” The subways exist in the realm of busyness – the schedules are about down time between home and “plenty to do,” “making up for lost time”, etc. Busyness, of course, is both absorbing and fills the place of the feeling of reality.

The Aum people begin differently. Of course, this is partly because Murakami is not trying to pin them down to a particular day, or sequence of events. He is after what it felt like to be in the group, in a way that he is not after what it felt like to be on a subway train day after day. The closest he comes to treating the subway experience as a salient and complete thing in itself, an object for understanding, is when he interviews the subway employees. For them, the subway exists under the sign of busyness – that is, it is fully real. But the Aum people begin by saying things like “I had some sort of philosophical struggle going on in me, a period of great discontent.” Or “When I finished high school I felt like I would either renounce the world or die…” Or “I never felt any major frustration or difficulty in my life, really. It was more like something was missing.”

The disturbing thing about the Aum accounts, of course, is that the reality of life in Aum was also full of busyness. Certain people were busy being given drugs and shut in boxes. Certain people were busy building vats to hold poisonous chemicals. And, in the most astonishing account of all, to me, one of the Aum interviewees was given electroshock after she committed some trespass, and has no memory of two years of her life. The astonishing thing is not so much the electroshock as the fact that it and the vanished two years are so completely assimilated to what is normal to her:

“I underwent electroshock. I still have the scars from the electricity right here. (Raises her hair to show her neck, where a line of white scars remain). I remember things up to the time I entered the Dubbing Division [a division of the Aum Shinryko “Ministry of Communications”], but after that it is a blank. I have no idea at what point, and for what reason, my memory was erased. I asked people around me but no one would tell me. All they’d say was, “It seems you and a certain somebody were getting to a dangerous point.”

And, after another question:

“Anyway, my memory was erased, and when I came to myself it was already the beginning of the year of the gas attack [1995] I’d gone into the Dubbing Division in 1993, and the two years after that are an absolute blank. Except I suddenly got a flashback of me working in the Aum-run supermarket in Kyoto. All of a sudden this scene came back to me. It’s summer, I’m wearing a t-shirt and I’m sticking price tags on packets of ramen.”

A routine sticking price tags on packets of ramen is just the sort of objective that the subway system serves. It is interesting that the negation of this woman’s experience, the memory loss, is interesting, dramatic, frightening because of the surrounding narrative – in the same way that the subway ride on the morning of March 20, 1995, suddenly glows, suddenly reverses the minus sign above it, because of the attack. The subway ride on the morning of March 23, 1995, for example, has fallen into nothingness. It could have been erased by electroshock, for all the impression it makes upon us.

I am bringing these things up because lately, I have vowed to work more on my novel. The writing life is much like being a member of Aum, actually. It is full of what is missing in life, full of “training,” and – inevitably – full of busyness. But to continue to do this, I have to have a sense about what a novel does, or what I would like one to do. And the problem is in achieving the kind of intensity throughout that is of the same substance – that has the same attitude towards reality – as the day the woman in Aum “woke up” from her blank two years.

The woman, by the way, woke up in a sealed room, three feet by six feet, without even a peephole through the door. Aum leaders had a habit of punishing the wayward by locking them in such holes. The woman is not completely cool with being shut in a box, it turns out.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

party party party

LI’s post that compared factions in Constantinople with the two parties that now bicker within D.C. court society was picked up and disseminated by Chris Floyd’s Empire Burlesque, for which we’d like to give a big shout out. Floyd is a journalist for the Moscow Times with a bigger readership than LI will ever have. And while certain of LI’s manias – for instance, about Balzac – are really… what’s the word? eccentric, the politics of movements as opposed to the politics of parties is something about which we have something to say that might be less eccentric.

Our point was not that the Democratic party is dead. Our point was, instead, that ideologies and parties are joined contingently, not organically. The Democratic party was much more conservative on social issues than the Republican party in, say, 1904. arguably the Democratic party, under Grover Cleveland, did more to shape the peculiar absence of a real leftist force in the U.S. by breaking a national strike than anything done by Harding, Coolidge or Hoover in the twenties. The Democratic party prolonged Jim Crow in the South for as long as it could. Conversely, the Republican party created anti-trust legislation, and civil service reform, and, under Hoover, greatly expanded the economic aggressiveness of the national government.

Since the sixties, the ideological character of the parties has hardened. Or, I should say, the public persona of the parties has taken on a more definite ideological cast, with Democrats being more or less identified as liberals, and the Republicans as conservatives. For anybody who is liberal, this is incredibly frustrating. Myself, in the nineties, I got into numerous arguments with friends who, about the time of the presidential elections, would be mysteriously moved to a passionate and, I felt, undeserved regard for the Democratic candidate. I would be moved, too, to different positions. In 1996, I truly felt that voting was a waste of time. But I was shamed into registering, and voted, of course, for Nader. In 2000, I felt more excited, and again voted for Nader. But I never really had a grasp of what parties are and what they do. I floundered. I thought, for a long while, that the Green party was going to do… something.

Waiting for the Green party to do something is like waiting for homeopathy to cure lung cancer. It’s going to be a long wait.

Over the last four years of shock at the Bush culture, I’ve tried to re-think, from the most rational point of view, the whole party thing. So far, I’ve come to two conclusions.

One is that passionate like or dislike of a party is the neuroses that is at the bottom of the mysterious passions that seem to move people during presidential election years. One way this plays out, on the liberal side, is a passionate contempt for the Democratic party. However, the odd thing about this contempt is that it is kept unconsciously in the magic circle around the Democratic party. The idea is that the party is conformist, that it is weak, that it accedes to the Republicans, that it isn’t liberal, or liberal enough. That idea is derived from, I think, a false notion of the history of the parties in America, one that the parties have learned to exploit.

Another way it plays out on the liberal side is the stereotypical use of Republican to mean conservative. Again, this ignores a great deal of Republican history. This stereotype is more helpful to conservatives than it is to liberals, since it predetermines the absence of any progressive politicking on the G.O.P. side, and thus makes liberals ever more dependent on Democrats. Conservatives, on the other hand, are not at all averse to politicking on the Democratic side. Astonishingly, they are then lauded by liberals for doing so – hence, the persistence of the meme of moderate Democrat so beloved of TNR, and (come presidential election time) of the Nation, etc. I can’t really remember the Nation, for instance, ever getting excited about a G.O.P. candidate. The very suggestion would, of course, cause bellylaughs at the editorial board, but it shouldn’t. Demonizing the Republicans is just the flip side of ceding a vital political struggle to certain Republicans – those of the Bush stripe. It is a defeat, and we are all paying for the consequences of the destruction of the Eastern liberal line in the Republican party.

The second thing is that neuroses don’t have “solutions.” Rather, one tries to get over them, create an emotional distance from the compulsions that pullulate within them, sublimate them, etc. To my mind, the start of that process begins by viewing the parties as dead machinery. Not as ideologically colored, but as primarily vehicles to achieve political power by politicians. Now, just as we know that goth lead singers are going to be morbid, we know that politicians and those in the inner circle of politics are mostly going to be disgusting. I mean that special level of disgusting, that level on which every act of niceness, of goodness, is actually aimed at some incredibly narrow self-interested end. Politics collects manipulators. Furthermore, it is impossible to view politicians merely in terms of their political careers. In the age of big national governments, politicians long ago learned that this is a very good way to channel upwards and make money – with an elective office merely the junket that prepares one for the bucks of lobbying, corporate board membership, or the thousand and one ways to milk the cow that have developed since 1940 in D.C. Cheney simply puts into starker terms the reality of D.C. politics – it is all about making it in the “private sector,” which is actually as connected to the public sector as the function of the dryer is connected to the function of the washer. For a liberal like me, keeping my eyes on this primary fact – thinking, for instance, that it is as important in the career of Madeleine Albright that she lobbies for the Kuwaiti government as it is that she used to work for the Clinton administration – that the switches, here, are seamless -- is one way to get out of the magic circle cast by the reputation of the Democratic and Republican parties. For more politically important people than myself – people who govern NGOs like the Sierra club, or Moveon, etc. – this is a crucial step, although somehow I doubt they will ever take it. Eventually, they all plug into D.C. court society. But if they did, if just once they freed themselves from viewing the parties as being attitudinally committed to one or another ideology, they would be on the road to figuring out how best to use them. That step, inverting the master/slave relationship between party and political action, is going to be difficult as long as the end result of political action is cast in terms of electing politicians. Something businesses have long known is that political action is about dealing with politicians. Electing them is secondary. Election is actually their vulnerability.

All of this might be self-evident to more sophisticated political operatives. But it has never been self-evident to me. If the last five years have been a disaster, they’ve also been, as kindergarten teachers like to say about particularly incorrigible brats, a learning experience.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Uriah heep's party

“Consider a person who had every reason to be happy but who saw continually enacted before him tragedies full of disastrous events, and who spent all his time in consideration of sad and pitiful things. Let us suppose that he knew they are imaginary fables so that though they drew tears from his eyes and moved his imagination they did not touch his intellect at all. I think that this alone would be enough to gradually close up his heart and to make him sigh in such a way that the circulation of his blood would be delayed and slowed down…”

Thus Descartes, quoted in Stephen Gaukroger’s marvelous Descartes: an intellectual biography. Descartes imaginary person is in much the same situation as LI – we have our eyes full of the newspapers, we understand that the tragical events depicted in them are such as to be skewed almost to the point of sheer fiction, and yet they draw tears from our eyes. Surely a headline like this one can only delay and slow down the circulation of your blood – a sure cause of melancholia:

Blair in secret Saudi mission

Expulsions link to £40bn arms deal


We must distinguish between passions raised by the president of the U.S. and the prime minister of the U.K. The former arouses contempt, but how can the latter not arouse something worse? This newspaper fable, this Uriah Heep voice full of the most ludicrously hypocritical sentiments attached to a bloody, dead end war full of atrocity and powerlust really is something out of Dickens. Let’s collate the fables, shall we? This is from the report of Blair’s speech today:

“Today, of course, we face a new challenge: global terrorism. Let us state one thing: these terrorists do not, never have and never will represent the decent, humane and principled faith of Islam.Muslims, like all of us, abhor terrorism; like all of us, are its victims. It is, as ever, only fringe fanatics we face.”

This is from the article:

“Tony Blair and John Reid, the defence secretary, have been holding secret talks with Saudi Arabia in pursuit of a huge arms deal worth up to £40bn, according to diplomatic sources.

Mr Blair went to Riyadh on July 2, en route to Singapore, where Britain was bidding for the 2012 Olympics. Three weeks later, Mr Reid made a two-day visit, when he sought to persuade Prince Sultan, the crown prince, to re-equip his air force with the Typhoon, the European fighter plane of which the British arms company BAE has the lion's share of manufacturing.”

This is from the speech:

“But we need to make it clear: when people come to our country they have and should have the full rights we believe in. There should be no second-class citizens in Britain. But citizenship comes with a duty: to give loyalty to our nation, its values and our way of life.”

This is from the article:

“Defence, diplomatic and legal sources say negotiations are stalling because the Saudis are demanding three favours. These are that Britain should expel two anti-Saudi dissidents, Saad al-Faqih and Mohammed al-Masari; that British Airways should resume flights to Riyadh, currently cancelled through terrorism fears; and that a corruption investigation implicating the Saudi ruling family and BAE should be dropped. Crown prince Sultan's son-in-law, Prince Turki bin Nasr, is at the centre of a "slush fund" investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.”

This is from the speech:

“This is a global struggle. Today it is at its fiercest in Iraq. It has allied itself there with every reactionary element in the Middle East. Their aim: to wreck this December's first ever direct election for the government of Iraq.”

This is from the article:

“The Typhoon, currently entering service with the RAF, has a price of more than £45m a plane. Saudi Arabia previously bought a fleet of its predecessor Tornados from Britain in the Al Yamamah arms deal. Mike Turner, the chief executive of BAE, Britain's biggest arms company, was quoted in Flight International magazine on June 21, just before Mr Blair's Riyadh trip, saying: "The objective is to get the Typhoon into Saudi Arabia. We've had £43bn from Al Yamamah over the last 20 years and there could be another £40bn."

This is from the speech:

“And the way to stop the innocent dying is not to retreat, to withdraw, to hand these people over to the mercy of religious fanatics or relics of Saddam, but to stand up for their right to decide their government in the same democratic way the British people do.”

And this from the article:

“There is concern within the Foreign Office at the apparent partiality of No 10 to BAE's commercial interests. Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair's chief of staff, and his brother Charles, Lady Thatcher's former adviser and now a BAE consultant, are believed to be in favour of the deal.”

rwg communications

I received some feedback from readers on the RWG Communications letter that I am sending out. However, editing jobs have stopped. You know what this means, gentle readers – I will have to go out and try to get reviewing jobs. And that means nervous breakdown and starvation. In fact, at the moment I have agreed to write entries for a reader’s guide to novels for ten dollars an entry – which is desperation indeed. You try describing The Man Who Loved Children in one hundred words or less…

Anyway, every week I am going to include, in one of my posts, my solicitation letter. Floating it out into cyberspace, who knows? It might reach someone who needs editing, ghostwriting, proofreading or translating – my four strengths. As I’ve been going through academic journals, sending off to editors, I’ve also been collecting paragraphs of bad English culled from the articles in said journals. I have an impulse to use this material somehow. For instance, to append examples of wildly incorrect grammar or of disorganized discursive prose to my solicitation letter in order to hammer home my point: you need my service, or some editing service. But I’m not sure this won’t simply offend my potential clients. Readers, tell me what you think.

I'm also trying to figure out how to contact business consultants. This summer, I worked with a consultant and realized, these people need ghostwriters. Any suggestions about this will be really, really appreciated.

Here’s the letter.

Dear X,

I am writing to inform you of an editorial service especially designed for the needs of faculty and graduate students.

I have talked to editors of academic journals and have been told that many journals do not have off site editors to whom to refer authors of those papers that are in need of revision. At the same time, the rate of submissions is increasing. Editors and readers at journals are straining to keep up. As a consequence, the likelihood of mistakes in grammar and organization in published papers has gone up dramatically. My service addresses this problem.

I charge a competitive rate for editing. I specialize in humanities and social sciences. In the past year, RWG Communications projects have included:

substantive editing of an article on macroeconomics;
substantive editing of a book on process ontology;
substantive editing of a monograph on migration in Argentina;
substantive editing of an article on Paul Ricoeur;
substantive editing of an article on nominalism in mathematical philosophy;
substantive editing of a conference paper on scientific realism;
substantive editing of a book on supply chain management;
a partial translation from the German of a turn of the century Austrian linguist whose work on speech errors was used by Freud.


I translate from German and French into English. I have developed successful relationships with Swiss, Danish and German academics, as well as graduate students requiring translation work for their various research projects and advice about their papers. Scholars for whom English is a second language are urged to consider my editorial service. RWG Communications delivers ASAP for those on short deadlines for conference papers, articles, or chapters. You can find the link to the RWG Communications site here:

http://www.geocities.com/rogerwgathman/roger_gathman.html. Look for our new site, under construction, at http://www.rwgcom.net.


If this sounds of interest to your book series and/or department, I hope that you will post this announcement and keep these email addresses in mind for your future needs.

Yours sincerely,

Roger Gathman
RWG Communications

rwg communications

I received some feedback from readers on the RWG Communications letter that I am sending out. However, editing jobs have stopped. You know what this means, gentle readers – I will have to go out and try to get reviewing jobs. And that means nervous breakdown and starvation. In fact, at the moment I have agreed to write entries for a reader’s guide to novels for ten dollars an entry – which is desperation indeed. You try describing The Man Who Loved Children in one hundred words or less…

Anyway, every week I am going to include, in one of my posts, my solicitation letter. Floating it out into cyberspace, who knows? It might reach someone who needs editing, ghostwriting, proofreading or translating – my four strengths. As I’ve been going through academic journals, sending off to editors, I’ve also been collecting paragraphs of bad English culled from the articles in said journals. I have an impulse to use this material somehow. For instance, to append examples of wildly incorrect grammar or of disorganized discursive prose to my solicitation letter in order to hammer home my point: you need my service, or some editing service. But I’m not sure this won’t simply offend my potential clients. Readers, tell me what you think.

I'm also trying to figure out how to contact business consultants. This summer, I worked with a consultant and realized, these people need ghostwriters. Any suggestions about this will be really, really appreciated.

Here’s the letter.

Dear X,

I am writing to inform you of an editorial service especially designed for the needs of faculty and graduate students.

I have talked to editors of academic journals and have been told that many journals do not have off site editors to whom to refer authors of those papers that are in need of revision. At the same time, the rate of submissions is increasing. Editors and readers at journals are straining to keep up. As a consequence, the likelihood of mistakes in grammar and organization in published papers has gone up dramatically. My service addresses this problem.

I charge a competitive rate for editing. I specialize in humanities and social sciences. In the past year, RWG Communications projects have included:

substantive editing of an article on macroeconomics;
substantive editing of a book on process ontology;
substantive editing of a monograph on migration in Argentina;
substantive editing of an article on Paul Ricoeur;
substantive editing of an article on nominalism in mathematical philosophy;
substantive editing of a conference paper on scientific realism;
substantive editing of a book on supply chain management;
a partial translation from the German of a turn of the century Austrian linguist whose work on speech errors was used by Freud.


I translate from German and French into English. I have developed successful relationships with Swiss, Danish and German academics, as well as graduate students requiring translation work for their various research projects and advice about their papers. Scholars for whom English is a second language are urged to consider my editorial service. RWG Communications delivers ASAP for those on short deadlines for conference papers, articles, or chapters. You can find the link to the RWG Communications site here.

Look for our new site, under construction, at rwgcom.net.


If this sounds of interest to your book series and/or department, I hope that you will post this announcement and keep these email addresses in mind for your future needs.

Yours sincerely,

Roger Gathman
RWG Communications

Monday, September 26, 2005

after the withdrawal

Sometimes counting beads can be a comfort. Sometimes, returning to facts can also be a comfort. One of the facts about the current government in Iraq seems to me to be consistently underplayed. That fact is that one of the parties with which we are now allied, Daawa, or the Call, once had a much more tolerant view of suicide bombers. In fact, on December 12, 1983, Daawa’s tolerance went so far that members of the group exploded truck bombs in front of the American embassy in Kuwait. At that point, Daawa was linked to the groups that had previously done a pretty thorough demolition job on the American embassy in Beirut, earlier in the year.

The U.S. turnaround on terrorism, here, is both amazing and a sign that there is a way out of the present impasse in the Middle East. It is one of the multiple inversions covered by the “war on terrorism” – a war that is constituted by scrupulously avoiding warring on terrorists per se, in order to war on the big picture. Thus, one allows OBL to devise little explosions here and there, while American soldiers in Afghanistan guard highways to make sure that opium can get on the world market. Hence the invasion in Iraq, and hence the current paradox that American soldiers are dying so that a man implicated in the suicide bombings of Americans can safely sleep at night.

The impasse, here, has been created by a situation over the last two years that has made the U.S. both much too heavily present in Iraq and irrelevant to the real history that is being made in the region. This is dangerous for all parties. LI would like to see an immediate U.S. withdrawal of troops, but we realize that, given U.S. power and interests, there is no way to keep the Americans out of the Middle East forever.

To us, this means that the U.S. has to reconcile itself with the real configuration of power in the Middle East – meaning the rise of the swathe of Shi’a states. The first step towards doing this, after the withdrawal of the troops, is simple: détente with Iran. In the murky discussions about the steps leading up to the invasion of Iraq, there has been a surprisingly blind acceptance of the constraint that made that invasion at least plausible to the D.C. cliques, for without cooperation with Iran, it proved impossible to support the successful removal of Saddam Hussein by the Iraqis. The policy of dual containment was the embodiment of foreign policy neuroses. It was senseless, it was ideologically driven, and it fed on every problem that came near its horizon.

Détente with Iran doesn’t mean approval of the horrible Iranian human rights record – and nor does it mean, on Iran’s side, approval of the horrible American human rights record. It does mean that improvement in human rights is going to occur under the real forms of governance that are in place today, rather than their violent replacement via American invasion. Nor should the democracy deficit that put in place a president who did not win the election in 2000 in the U.S. instill a false confidence in the Iranian government that the U.S. will somehow assimilate that coup and return to normal.

As a practical matter, the Americans have already tacitly conceded Iraq to the Iranian sphere of influence. In fact, the American eagerness to disarm Iraq and to keep it disarmed – for notwithstanding the pledge to “Iraqify” the war in Iraq, the Americans have so far shown a consistent reluctance to really create a modern, well equipped Iraqi army, relying instead on second hand weapons, corrupt Defense department officials, and paramilitaries – has, as its objective correlate, this subordination of Iraq to its more powerful neighbor. We don’t believe this was the intention. The intention was a one two step, with the first one being weakening Iraq, and the second one being a weak Iraq accepting a permanent system of U.S. bases. That, of course, didn’t work. Eventually, Iraq will not accept subordination to Iran, either.

All of which should drive the nations involved to some kind of cooperative framework of coexistence.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

part two

Flaubert said that the artist in the work was like God – everywhere and nowhere. For the novelist around 1900, this phrase was rather like the gate to the Law in Kafka’s The Trial. It was a phrase to sit before, while one waited for it to open. Surely the God in question was the Jansenist god, the deus absconditus, the god who elaborately creates the conditions that seal his vanishing act, and not the god of the prophets, who communicates angry messages and speaks in a still small voice in the wind. A novel, if Flaubert was right, was not a confession. Even a confession wasn’t a confession. Art was made out of stuff, descriptions, and not of sentiments. So you couldn’t understand a novel or a poem – to confine this to verbal art – better by knowing about the artist. That seemed like the conclusion to which Flaubert’s phrase moved you. Sitting before the sentence, it seemed to reveal a great and obscure truth. But if you considered it more telescopically – if you looked at what novels have done over the centuries – the phrase didn’t seem wholly credible. The division between matter and sentiment, for instance, couldn’t be right. Even the story that is built on an obvious attempt to arouse pity and terror on a low scale has to use matter, and even a novel that is built on an attempt to trace the foundations of modern stupidity, like Bouvard et Pechucet, uses the sentiments released by description to legitimize its sequence of events. It was much more credible to think that Flaubert had put himself into Madame Bovary, as he said himself. It was much more satisfying.

The heirs of this dilemma, the new critics of the fifties, resolved it by making it a rule that, in a novel or poem, the author who speaks can never be identified with the living person who wrote the novel or poem. This Gordian judgment has become the basis for teaching literature and composition as though texts derived, ultimately, from axioms. The problem with the great concordant, teased out in the sixties by Derrida and his school, has not been resolved. It has merely gelled into an orthodoxy. This orthodoxy separates readings outside the classroom – Oprah readings, you could call them – that are curious about authors, that look for sentiment, that think of a text as an annex to that much more interesting thing, the life experience of a celebrity, and look for lessons to be derived therefrom, from those inside the classroom, where the author’s godlike disappearance has produced the miracle that we still group together novels in terms of authors names: here are the novels of James, here are the novels of Joyce, etc.

When Proust set out to write a series of essays that would become a sort of novel, his theme was to elaborate on Flaubert’s notion, in a way. He aimed at Sainte-Beuve, the critic. He aimed at debunking Sainte-Beuve’s notion that the judgment of the personality of the artist is what the art leads us to. What it is for. On this principle, Sainte-Beuve could allow himself to expatiate more on some wretched book penned by some countess than on all of the works of Stendhal. Sainte-Beuve’s principle is the same principle that lies behind Vanity Fair magazine and the like. Everything is about getting a glamorous name and a confession. Everything is about the agony and the ecstasy of a certain class in beautiful poses.

Perhaps Sainte-Beuve so irritated Proust because Proust recognized his own weakness for countesses. In any case, when he came to write about Sainte-Beuve and Balzac, he came to repair an injustice. The injustice was not only Sainte-Beuve’s patronizing and in the end dismissive view of Balzac, but the echo of that view since – the notion that Balzac wrote before the God of the prophets became the God of the philosophers. Instead of being everywhere and nowhere, he was simply everywhere. He was simply busy.

Proust wrote his defense of Balzac as though he were talking, in fact, to a countess. That is why he begins with a “tu” – a you. “Tu fronces le sourcil. Je sais que tu ne l'aimes pas.” (You make a face. I know that you don’t love him) immediately interjects the fictional into the essay – just as in Wilde’s The Decay of Lying. But the “I” here does not possess the degree of alienation Wilde threw into his essay. The I does stand, until further notice, for Proust.

The sticking point with Balzac – why a true princess makes a face at his name – is his vulgarity. As Proust writes,

“It isn’t only that at the age when Rastignac debuts, he gave for the goal in life the satisfaction of the grossest ambitions, or, at least, the most noble so mixed up with the base that it is impossible to separate them.”

I am not going to go through Proust’s essay sentence by sentence – I urge LI’s readers to do so, either in translation or here http://www.tierslivre.net/litt/Proust_Balzac.html -- but I do want to draw attention to the twists of the argument. Proust quickly throws up Flaubert as a counter-instance to Balzac.

You have sometimes found Flaubert, revealed in certain aspects of his correspondence, vulgar. But of him at least there was one thing completely free from vulgarity, his understanding that the goal of the live of the writer is in his work, and that the remnant only exists “to be used as one more illusion to describe.” Balzac totally puts the triumphs of life and of literature on the same plane.”

Having built this dichotomy, Proust goes on to show that Balzac embodies a principle of truth that, to return to Wilde and Zola, can only be denied by one who is vulgar enough to find the vices and virtues of tedious people tedious – which may well be Vivian’s fault, in The Decay of Lying, the shadow that crosses between Vivian and Wilde.

“There is nothing here to separate his [Balzac’s] letters from his novels. If we have heard perhaps too much that his characters were real for him, and that he seriously discussed if such and such a move was better for Mlle de Grandlieu, for Eugénie Grandet, one can say that his life was a novel that he constructed in absolutely the same manner. There is no line of demarcation between the real life (that which is in fact not so real in our opinion) and the life of his novels (the only true one for the writer).”

The exchange between the realities of experience and the realities encoded in art has been one way out of the conundrum expressed in Flaubert dictum. Surely the god that is everywhere and nowhere in the novel might be, by the same logic, everywhere and nowhere in the life.

Well, we are not going to keep developing this chain of reasoning, because we want to get to the point: Proust’s mention of Wilde’s opinion of Lucien de Rubempre. This occurs near the end of his essay, when he is examining Balzac’s style, which he considers strikingly explicative in the large and in the small. This brings him to consider Balzac’s treatment of p.o.v. – how does one make the explicative, which depends on the generalization, into an illustration of a perspective, which depends on the singularities of the personality? And from this topic he turns to Vautrin, whose point of view is a sort of raw parody of Balzac’s own ambition, ambition running in a world in which all values tend towards zero. This is where Wilde comes in. I’ll give you the French, and then the English:

." Et de fait, Vautrin n'a pas été seul à aimer Lucien de Rubempré. Oscar Wilde, à qui la vie devait hélas apprendre plus tard qu'il est de plus poignantes douleurs que celles que nous donnent les livres, disait dans sa première époque (à l'époque où il disait: "Ce n'est que depuis l'école des lakistes qu'il y a des brouillards sur la Tamise"): "Le plus grand chagrin de ma vie? La mort de Lucien de Rubempré dans Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes." Il y a d'ailleurs quelque chose de particulièrement dramatique dans cette prédilection et cet attendrissement d'Oscar Wilde, au temps de sa vie brillante, pour la mort de Lucien de Rubempré. Sans doute, il s'attendrissait sur elle, comme tous les lecteurs, en se plaçant au point de vue de Vautrin, qui est le point de vue de Balzac. Et à ce point de vue d'ailleurs, il était un lecteur particulièrement choisi et élu pour adopter ce point de vue plus complètement que la plupart des lecteurs. Mais on ne peut s'empêcher de penser que, quelques années plus tard, il devait être Lucien de Rubempré lui-même. Et la fin de Lucien de Rubempré à la Conciergerie, voyant toute sa brillante existence mondaine écroulée sur la preuve qui est faite qu'il vivait dans l'intimité d'un forçat, n'était que l'anticipation - inconnue encore de Wilde, il est vrai - de ce qui devait précisément arriver à Wilde.

“And in fact Vautrin is not the only one to love Lucien de Rubempré. Oscar Wilde, to whom life was to teach later, alas, that there are more poignant griefs than are given by books, said in his first epoch (that epoch in which he remarked, it is only since the school of the lake poets that there have been fogs on the Thames): the greatest sorrow of my life? The death of Lucien de Rubempré in Splendeurs et Misères des Courtisanes." There is something particularly dramatic in this predilection and tenderness of Oscar Wilde, at the brilliant period of his life, for death of Lucien de Rubempré. Without a doubt, he was moved by it, like all readers, by putting himself in the point of view of Vautrin, which is the point of view of Balzac. And from this point of view, besides, he was a reader particularly selected and elected to adopt this point of view, more than most readers. But it is hard to repress the impression that, a few years later, he had to become Lucien de Rubempré himself. And the final hours of Lucien de Rubempré at the Conciergerie, seeing all his brilliant, worldly existence flowing away with the proof of the fact that he lived in the intimacy of a convict, was only an intimation – still unknown to Wilde, it is true, of what must happen precisely to Wilde.”