“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, January 14, 2006

there are no accidents

LI was thinking of taking the day off from Schopenhauer’s essay and writing about the J.T. LeRoy hoax that is currently unraveling around a couple of San Francisco situationalists, Laura Albert and her husband, who made up and animated this faux HIV infected, trans-sexual naïf. And, from the accounts of the hoaxed – Susie Bright, Denis Cooper, etc. – it looks like the hook eventually settled in Laura’s mouth, as late night obsessive phone calls to the famous and titillated started growing their own personality.

But then we thought, fuck that. Let others talk literary scandal, at this blog we are all about the bucks and the popularity and the kind of pop stuff that Shirley Mansen and/or Winona Ryder and/or Carrie Fisher just goes crazy for: for instance, the deep probing of Schopenhauer’s more obscure essays .

Let’s put this post under a quote from The World as Will and Representation:

“Thus, although every particular action, under the presupposition of the definite character, necessarily ensues with the presented motive, and although growth, the process of nourishment, and all the changes in the animal body take place according to necessarily lasting causes (stimuli), the whole series of actions, and consequently every individual act and likewise its condition, namely the whole body itself which performs it, and therefore also the process through which and in which the body exists, are nothing but the phenomenal appearance of the will, its becoming visible, the objectivity of the will. On this rests the perfect suitability of the human and animal body to the human and animal will in general, resembling, but far surpassing, the suitability of a purposely made instrument to the will of its maker, and on this account appearing as fitness or appropriateness, i.e., the teleological accountability of the body. Therefore the parts of the body must correspond completely to the chief demands and desires by which the will manifests itself; they must be the visible expression of these desires. Teeth, gullet, and intestinal canal are objectified hunger; the genitals are objectified sexual impulse; grasping hands and nimble feet correspond to the more indirect strivings of the will which they represent. Just as the general human form corresponds to the general human will, so to the individually modified will, namely the character of the individual, there corresponds the individual bodily structure, which is therefore as a whole and in all its parts characteristic and full of expression.”

Schopenhauer’s Spirit Seer essay, in all its eccentric embrace of magnetic somnambulism, clairvoyance, mesmeric healing and its explanation of ghosts, is logically derived from Schopenhauer’s central philosophical positions, and in particular two principles: a., the application of his Will as a sort of general solvent into which all matter dissolves and b., the Satz von Grund, the principle of sufficient reason. Since “Over the implications of spirit seeing” is too long for us to simply cull quotes to mark our breadcrumb trail through it, let’s drastically summarize the argument and get to the stranger bits about dreams.

This is how Schopenhauer procedes:

1. First, he gives us perhaps the first respectable physiological account of dreams. Schopenhauer sticks with the standard empirical account of sense impressions – intrinsic to the sensing of objects is that they be sensed outside the subject, which means mostly outside the body, or at most located in the body but outside of the terminus of the sense mechanism – the brain. However, dreams present us with the puzzle of sense images that are not derived from outside the body. Schopenhauer’s idea, taken from the physiology of the time, is that the bodies sensing system – its nerves and secretions – fall into two channels, one of which fits the standard empiricist account, and the other of which is interior. This former channel provides us, while we are awake, with a constant “noise” or screen of sensations that effectually mask the inner sensations. However, sleep, by suspending the activities of the senses, allows the ‘echo of the organism’s workshops” to be heard. The brain, then, can now receive, without interference, these weaker signals. But since the brain is oriented to the receiving of outward stimuli, it translates these weaker signals into the language of the senses. Schopenhauer’s theory was revived – without reference, of course, to Schopenhauer – by James Watson in the 90s. LI enjoyed Schopenhauer’s comparison:

“Because at all times it [the brain] will only speak its own speech; and so, into this, it interprets these weak impulses, stemming from the inside, that reach it during sleep, just as the strong and specific ones come from the outside via regular routes during waking. Thus the brain is given the matter to make images completely like those which arise from outer excitements, even though there is hardly a similarity between both kinds of impressions. Their relationship can be compared to that of a deaf person who, from the vocables that reach his ear, composes false phrases, or even with a madman, who brings his own wild, fixed ideas, corresponding to phantasies, to accidentally employed words.”

2. Unlike James Watson, though, Schopenhauer doesn’t take the physiological theory to mean that dreams are as meaningless as the sounds you might get by dropping stuff on a piano keyboard. Dreams weave together into apprehensions and meaningful messages, depending on the dreams origin in one or another part of the dream cycle. Schopenhauer spends a lot of time distinguishing one phase of sleep from another, and then investigating “magnetic somnambulism,” or hypnosis, which he takes to be parallel to sleep. Schopenhauer was very impressed with research into mesmerism, just as Balzac was, and many of the Victorians. Because 19th century philosophy is taught will little reference to 19th century psychology, we tend to miss this kind of thing. This is one of the reasons that this essay of Schopenhauer’s has been studiously avoided. If you stripped Freud and Skinner out of the history of twentieth century philosophy, you would have some puzzling patterns on your hand.

3. Schopenhauer has the idea that the dexterity of magnetized sonambules shows that the “dream organ” has a curiously instinctive sense of the world. If we recall that the world is the objectified will, and that our information about it, via our waking senses, is about surface phenomena – in a sense, is an ornament produced by the experience’s instinctive forms, time and space, which have merely the interactive reality that comes from experience – Schopenhauer has philosophical reasons to justify believing that dreams tell the truth – or foretell the truth. In fact, he “proves” this with a story from his own experience. One day, while writing, he absent mindedly reached out his hand to sprinkle sand on the page he had just penned, but accidently dipped his hand in ink and scattered it on the page and on the floor. One of his maids came in and cleaned it up, and she remarked that she had dreamed that this would happen the night before. Schopenhauer questioned her, and she claimed that she had mentioned this to the other maid earlier in the morning. Schopenhauer being Schopenhauer, he immediately rang for the other maid and demanded to know if she had been told anything by the first maid that morning. Upon the story being confirmed, Schopenhauer drew various satisfying conclusions. Firstly, the seeming accident of scattering ink was foreseen, which meant that it was not an accident. Schopenhauer’s philosophy had already, of course, shown this – everything that happens happens by necessity! One imagines he imparted this important message to the maids. And the second conclusion was that the unitary force of experience was weakened during sleep, so that time’s secondary structure of past, present and future was, in a sense, dissolved.

Okay, one more post and then I’ll have this thing done. We all have our obsessions. What can I say?

Friday, January 13, 2006

random walks of the old mole

While Schopenhauer’s essay begins with ghosts, ghosts are not the figures that haunt the essay: sleepwalkers are. One believes one is wandering into a production of Hamlet, but it turns out that this is Kleist’s the Prince of Homburg.

All of which is to say that Schopenhauer’s notion that the analysis of spirit seers should be left to the experts – the philosophers and physiologists – gives him the framework for the next move in his essay – a departure from the empiricist tradition that tries to keep faith with the empiricist principle of tracking ideas to the senses.

But LI would be remiss if we didn’t point out that the philosophical topic of ghosts has been, apparently, picked up again by Dennett. George Johnson begins his review of Dennett’s latest book, Breaking the Spell: RELIGION AS A NATURAL PHENOMENON in Scientific American with these finely turned out two grafs:

“If nowhere else, the dead live on in our brain cells, not just as memories but as programs--computer like models compiled over the years capturing how the dearly departed behaved when they were alive. These simulations can be remarkably faithful. In even the craziest dreams the people we know may remain eerily in character, acting as we would expect them to in the real world. Even after the simulation outlasts the simulated, we continue to sense the strong presence of a living being. Sitting beside a gravestone, we might speak and think for a moment that we hear a reply.

In the 21st century, cybernetic metaphors provide a rational grip on what prehistoric people had every reason to think of as ghosts, voices of the dead. And that may have been the beginning of religion. If the deceased was a father or a village elder, it would have been natural to ask for advice--which way to go to find water or the best trails for a hunt. If the answers were not forthcoming, the guiding spirits could be summoned by a shaman. Drop a bundle of sticks onto the ground or heat a clay pot until it cracks: the patterns form a map, a communication from the other side. These random walks the gods prescribed may indeed have formed a sensible strategy. The shamans would gain in stature, the rituals would become liturgies, and centuries later people would fill mosques, cathedrals and synagogues, not really knowing how they got there.”

The origin of religion in the ghost story is an old story itself – reverence for the dead being the kind of ritual that interests both a Durkheimian and a Freudian, and that has had quite an impact on 20th century anthropology.

Oddly enough – and perhaps this oddity shapes the essay – Schopenhauer does not mention the dead with relationship to ghosts in his introductory paragraph. In fact, the dead are sublimated into what is present and what is absent, as if life were a matter of secondary metaphysical import. The random walk Schopenhauer wants us to follow is the somnambulist’s, to whom Schopenhauer attributes a Caligari like ability to navigate obstacles.

But… let’s give you a flowsheet of the essay, and not get ahead of ourselves. In the next post.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

haunting schopenhauer

Schopenhauer’s essay on spirit seeing begins like this

“Ghosts, which in the recently elapsed, superclever century, in spite of tradition, were not so much banned as despised, have been rehabilitated in the last 25 years in Germany, much like magic was before them. Perhaps not unjustly. Because the proofs against their existence were in part metaphysical (which stood on shaky ground) and in part empirical, which only proved, that in those cases where no accidental or intentionally designed delusion was discovered, nothing was present which could have had an effect by means of the reflection of lightrays on the retina or vibrations in the air on the eardrum. But this speaks merely of the presence of bodies, whose presence nobody had observed, and whose manifestation on the aforesaid physical manner would have negated the truth of the spirit phenomenon; since the concept of a spirit actually lies in the fact that its presence is announced in a wholly other way than that of a body. A spiritseer who understood his business and knew how to express it would observe that this is simply the presence of an image in the apperceiving intellect, completely undistinguishable from that which, under the medium of light and the eyes would be left behind by bodies themselves, and yet without the real presence of such bodies. The same thing, in regard to present audible phenomena, noises, tones and sounds in the subject’s ear being brought forth, without the presence or movements of such phenomena. Here lies the source of the misunderstanding which goes through everything that is said for and against the reality of spirit phenomena: that the spirit phenomena presents itself as a bodily phenomena. Yet it is none, and must be none. This difference is perhaps difficult to illustrate and demands technical knowledge of the philosophical and physiological kind. Because it requires that we conceive that an effect from a body doesn’t necessarily presuppose the presence of a body.”

Someone once called mesmerism the materialism of anti-materialists. Something is going on in this essay that has the same pattern. In Schopenhauer’s case, the idealism for which he is known, in the dictionaries of philosophy, doesn’t predict the way in which he deals with these phenomena which simulate the body as to effects upon a subject's body without themselves being a body – in fact, which are necessarily disembodied. The thought intrigued him because, by means of the possibility of the “spirits” he was able to advance to the mechanism, as he thought of it, of dreams, and from there to sleepwalking, and from there to the phenomena of premonition, or second sight.

LI thinks this is fascinating for a number of reasons, not least those having to do with the first half of the nineteenth century’s way of dealing with the super-clever materialism of the eighteenth. The eighteenth century killed a certain kind of argument. This is the argument that supernatural stuff happens. Arguments die for a lot of reasons, only one of which is that they are refuted. I would say that the supernatural argument died from shame. And, indeed, Schopenhauer was so famously an atheist that one imagines that he could not but be scornful of the mass of “paranormal” phenomena thrown out by folk belief and treasured, for various strategic reasons, by the Romantics. So I found this beginning a little unsettling.
More on this tomorrow, I think.

great and anti-schopenhauerian news

Well, I was going to do a post about Schopenhauer today, but I received very anti-Schopenhauerian news this morning from Barcelona. Congratulations, Bernat and Cheryl and welcome to the world, Arlet!

Life on the sofa for Cheryl, reading Middlemarch, is suspended as of today.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

schopenhauer's spooks

LI was looking around our bookshelf, the other day, for a book by an author whose new book we are reviewing. The new book is so, to be frank, non-book length that we were thinking of doing the long view – the other books that came before kind of business. We had been sent a bunch of this author’s books at one point in our miserable freelancing history, but – we either cut them up (sometimes, to make little collages, we have to make some sacrifices of our spiny backed friend, the book) or sold them or threw them out. Whatever. Out of the minor dust hurricane, we hauled another book – a little volume of Schopenhauer’s Parerga und Paralipomena. So, with that absent mindedness that marks the loser, we got lost in reading certain of S.’s essays. Particularly one entitled Über das Geistersehn und was damit zusammenhängt, which has been officially translated as: "Essay on Spirit Seeing and Everything Connected There-with.” We aren’t sure about the everything, and we would translate it much less literally as over the implications of spirit seeing. But what the hey.

In any case, we found it a very entertaining essay – but when we went looking for commentary “therewith and thereupon”, we came up with an almost perfect blank. Which led to some headscratching – where are my fellow deconstructionist droogs when you want them? An essay that begins by considering that the “superclever” eighteenth century, in dismissing ghosts, misunderstood the whole criteria of proof for a ghost, is surely worth a look – especially given Schopenhauer’s notorious atheism. And an essay that contains a goofy, but not dismissable theory of dreams, second sight, and why it may be the case that human beings can foresee the future is surely to be of some interest to those of us who see, in the early nineteenth century’s gothic revival, a social complex that tells us a lot about religion, political legitimacy, and the shaky status of the emancipated philosophe.

So we thought, why not spend a little quality time with this little known essay?

a few humble suggestions

H.L. Hunt was a genius in many ways – or perhaps the better word is idiot savant. One of his firm beliefs was that the wealthier you are, the more votes you should get. Hunt’s prophetic vision, which was poo pooed in the sixties, has proven itself to be the bedrock of current American politics. As D.C. insiders look at the Abramoff scandals, they are as one in having this kind of response, from the WP’s Tom Edsall:

“If history is any guide, there may well be some forms of lobbyist reforms passed but there will continue to be as much or more money flowing in the system. There are some benefits if new laws increase transparency, but attempts to restrict the influencing of legislators has in the past simply created roadblocks that soon can be driven around.”

This view of the everduring power of corruption, which is also known as the lie there and enjoy it doctrine, should be used to reform how we do our national business. LI thinks that the biggest reform, one that is urgently called for, is to stop letting States elect representatives. Rather, corporations should. We know, for instance, that the current House Republican contest between John A. Boehner, who is listed as representing a district in Ohio, and Roy Blunt, who is listed as representing a district in Missouri. This is much like LI claiming to be a citizen of Dekalb Country, Georgia, which we last lived in decades ago. Obviously these two men took the earliest opportunity to flee the hinterlands, as so many go-getters do. Once launched, they hooked up with like minded people who could see, at a glance, that these men were the kind of guys Post-Reagan America is built on – wired for servility, unscrupulous, greedy, and willing to implement a win win plan to piss on their grandma’s graves if it meant they could eat a free lunch tomorrow.

So, having shaken the dust of Ohio and Missouri from their expensive shoes (dollars to donuts that eventually, when they retire or are defeated, they remain in D.C.), who does Boehner and Blunt really represent?

Blunt is easiest. He represents Philip Morris. It is really an injustice that yokels in Missouri who don’t have a pot to piss in or a McMansion to lounge around in have anything to do with his seat in Congress. Adjusting the law to allow Phillip Morris’ stockholders the right to elect him would align, we think, the interests of the people who count in the country with the governing class. Boehner, who is more of a Renaissance man, represents the Baby Bells, the Tobacco industry, and Sallie Mae, according to the Post. He also gives fabulous parties, apparently. I think that here a law that forced him to choose – does he represent SBC, or Sallie Mae – would be best for all parties.

A House of Representatives that was elected by the stockholders of the corporations they represent would, we think, get the approval of such D.C. observers as Edsall. The liberating disappearance of hypocrisy would also do us good in our war against terrorism – for what is good for the D.C. establishment is automatically good for our war against terrorism. I hope no reader of this blog doubts that.

Finally, after our reforms are enacted, we might think of building some kind of monument to H.L. in D.C. – I’d suggest tearing down the Vietnam memorial to do so, since that memorial is defeatist and doesn’t include the names of those of our men who bravely guarded our own soil, like our President and Vice President, during our time of peril back in the Sixties. If we keep harping on casualties, as we know, we are doomed as a great power.

Monday, January 09, 2006

sin camp for me

LI’s work load has suddenly shot up. This means that we are going to be a little less diligent in filling out our readers days with those happy juxtapositions that make this blog so much like the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.

In the meantime – we rather missed all the Beatles folderol last autumn, but we must recommend this link for the deeper meanings of Paperback writer: Into the Abyss, by Thomas Ramirez, author of Troop Tramp, of Girls for Gil Savage, and of course Sin Camp. All sixties paperbacks put out for the heavy breathing crowd as quickly as you can put things out. LI definitely enjoyed the atmosphere:

“Many of my alleged plots came out of my own fevered brain. But after awhile, as expected, I was bound to run out of ideas. Thus I took to borrowing plots from fellow authors. A couple examples: Sin Camp [by Anthony Calvano, NB1545, 1961] was a spin on James Jones’ epic From Here To Eternity. Once I even stole some Buenos Aires carnival stuff from Rona Jaffe.
National Geographic became a major resource as I set my stories in every place under the sun – the diamond fields of Brazil, Arabian oil sheiks, Denmark, Germany, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Etc. Read the article, study the photos – my readers were there! My plots featured bootleggers, the aforementioned white slavers, mobbies of all sorts, the fashion industry, the cosmetics industry, and one even delving into the electronics racket – the first flat TV screen was featured in one of my novels. (Was I ahead of the curve or not?) Another book, based in Appalachia, later appeared on TV as The Waltons. Can you believe? Dirty crooks! “
Ramirez and his wife Fern were willing to take time off from his dayjob to experience the derangement of the senses necessary to create his masterpieces:
“An overnight in Tijuana, Mexico (definitely on-the-scene research) on May 11, 1962 on my way to San Diego to do other library-lookup was used and embellished extensively in Lust Slave [MR457, 1962]. (See pps. 98-107 starting with “The Red Door.”)
That night Fern and I somehow got suckered in by one of the gypsy cabbies – “Taxi to zee border, señor?”– who promised a party. What did we know? We ended up at a crib and were settled in a waiting room until the sleazy male host appeared to ask about our special kinks. Did we want to watch, how about a guy for the wife or a gal for me? Or maybe ménage a trios?
We settled for viewing a grainy, black-and-white porno film – made back when the men wore black socks during screw scenes – while on a couch across from us, another guy was doing pre-fuck drills with his Mexican whore. To this day I can still visualize that long, gloomy hall where we entered, looking down the line where the dozen-or-so prostitutes – many of whom couldn’t have been over thirteen, fourteen – sat in chairs outside each crib, waiting on business. “

Ramirez burnout is, mas o menos, what LI went through two years ago, giving up book reviewing:

“So it went, year after year. Along about Nightstand number 70, I began to agonize over the sameness of it all. I was getting burned out. Was I going to be writing crotch the rest of my life? It got harder and harder for me to bring anything new to my novels. By this time (I once received a note from an editor asking for partial rewrite, and in an aside he asked why I was such a pussy in my sex scenes – couldn’t I bring myself to write fuck, tits, cocks?) I was using all the words and, God, weren’t they so deadly wearisome?”

Sunday, January 08, 2006

smoke, mirrors, nonsense

LI doesn’t think that, at this point, reason will prevail about the so called war on terrorism. Still, it is a good idea to repeat: the U.S. is spending about 400 million dollars per terrorist head. Mostly, the terrorists are illiterate, unemployed guys like the ones profiled in the NYT Magazine article by Jonathan Mahler. Mostly the money is dispersed to National Security industry types who spend it hosting conferences in chic hotels about distributing largesse in Wyoming and such. We know exactly where most of the terrorists are – we don’t even need to tap phones for that. They are practically listed in the phone book. We’ve known where they are for the last five years. We have no intention of actually spending any money or real effort to get rid of them. We prefer them to be on tap. Nothing is better for a large security industry than a couple of attacks per decade. Not of course that the Bush administration’s incredible inability to do almost anything real about terrorism since 2002 is simply dishonest. I’d credit them with massive stupidity, too. Never let it be said that LI is unfair.

And, due to unemployed taxi drivers in Yemen, it appears we have to crush the Bill of Rights like a dirty Dixie Cup and trust Dick Cheney.

LI doesn’t think you can fool all the people all of the time. To do that, you need objective journalism. But even with all the Washington Post’s editorial writers and all the King’s men, eventually Americans might wonder why we are fighting people, on the one hand, and preserving a terrorist organization, on the other hand. It might begin to make no sense.

Not, of course, that nonsense has ever been a bar to policy.