“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

Thursday, November 30, 2006

identifying marks

LI has wanted to get rid of the picture of himself here since he put it up - but in the interest of being identifiable in the dark corner of a bar in Alphabet City, we let it hang around on this blog.

Well, yesterday's meeting was more of a success in terms of translators than of readers of LI - one reader, Mr. NYP, did show up, bearing a delicious tartine like confection baked to honor Vermin Direct. Alas, Mr. Scruggs couldn't make it. Our far flung correspondent, Mr. T, was there, and he pointed out that LI's riff on Coriolanus - hey, we are a literary bunch! - was not necessarily necessary. An old friend of mine, Lorin, who hadn't read my blog, nonetheless said that he believed I was well on my way to becoming a backwards Jesus - but Lorin has always expected me to eventually follow the narrative track of the protagonist in Wise Blood. When I do, he wants to get rights for the made for TV movie. Natasha Wimmer, who just translated Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives - the best novel I've read this year, which is coming out this spring, when all people of good will will be buying it - was there, and an editor at Publishers Weekly, Michael Scharf, and a filmmaker friend of mine, James Carmen, who, after the crowd broke up, told me some Bela Tarr stories - turns out he knew Tarr in Berlin, and Tarr eventually denounced him for having no taste. There you are - not quite Page Six, or whatever the fuck that page is in the Post, b-but so sue me.

I am trying to store memories of the cold to take back to Austin. Sunday, Mr. T. and I went to the Met to see the Neue Sachlichkeit exhibit - and it shamed me. I need to be much more savage about this country. It also gave me some ideas for my graphic novel. I was planning on going to Church street, where Tom Paine, in the greatest pain, warded off the ambitions of young preachers eager to convert the old reprobate and died unrepentent, but I probably won't have time - I hope his spirit forgives me.

More details on the LI in NYC thing

LI is swimming against the current of duty today – reviews to finish, papers to edit, clothes to sort through, and cross your fingers for that last check in the mail. So all the pretty things we had to say about Coriolanus are going to have to take a back seat. Shit. In place of commentary on the Romulus and Remus of War and the State, we can only recommend the knee breaking tackle of a review in , the LRB of Christopher Hitchens book on Tom Paine (the very existence of which LI, by the way, bitterly resents – Paine does not deserve to be kidnapped by an imperialist tool with a bungalow Bill vocabulary. Hitchens sticks onto the book a dedication to the man who is currently conferring with the leaders of Iran, Talabani, thus doubling the insult - a book dedicated to a warlord, written by a buffoon, about a man who put the crusher, the kneelock and the backflip on both types).

Also, our plans for a NYC LI-orama are on track. We’ve received some heartening emails, some threatening phone calls, and the FBI has proposed photographing all participants! The time will be Monday, Dec. 4, at 6:30, at 7b, a bar that apparently fell so in love with iteration that it named itself after its location, at the corner of 7th St and Ave B. LI and our far flung correspondent, Mr. T., will try to get a table. LI can be easily recognized, since I look like Joan of Arc at the moment – or, rather, I will be the only man in the joint who looks like he mistakenly thinks he looks like Joan of Arc. Also, there will be a red baseball cap with the slogan, Sipahi on guard, on the table, for those not gifted with the ability to see what people think they look like – out of towners, this latter group, surely.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

coriolan - polemos vs. polis

Cavell is a pretty fine reader of Shakespeare, and he tosses out some great bon mots in his discussion of the plays. For instance, this, which begins the essay on The Winter’s Tale in the lectures, In quest of the ordinary. Cavell is giving a philosophical defense of romanticism, and he moves from considering a poem by Wordsworth to the play:

Apart form any more general indebtedness of the romantics to Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale is particularly apt in relation to the romatic themses I have emphasized of reawakening or revival, beginning with the figure of the six year old boy of Wordsworth’s Intimatins Ode and the ode’s idea of the adult’s world as “remains”, as of corpses. In my precedeing lecture I associate this figure, especially in view of his difficulties over remembering, with Freud’s report of a phobia in a five year old boy, partly simply to commemorate Freud’s acknowledgement that he was preceded in his perceptions by the poets, more specifically because of Freud’s consequent perception, in this case, of adult human life struggling toward happiness from within its own ‘debris’.

That last sentence tells me so much about psychoanalysis that … it puts the fear of God in me. As in, where to start?

So I quite respect Cavell’s decision not to give a political reading of Coriolanus, but a psychoanalytic one. In his view, there is a core of baffled narcissism at the heart of Coriolanus. To make that view work, he takes Coriolanus’ relationship to his mother as central to the play, and the images of “feeding upon oneself” and other metaphors of cannibalism as the metaphoric of a narcissistic meltdown, essentially determining Coriolanus’ failure. Yet I think that there is a false distinction at work, here, separating the two domains, as though the self and the family could be walled off from the dynamics of the polis and, to my mind most particularly, polemos.

So, I’m going to leave that as something to return to – and no doubt I will forget it.

I want to look at Coriolanus in terms of war, politics and exile. It is striking to me how much more ‘likeable’ Coriolanus is in the scene in which he actually bids farewell to Rome – his speeches remind me very much of another battle hardened man taking grief in stride: the Earl of Kent. When Kent, over Gloucester’s objections, is put in the stocks, this is what he says:

“Glou. I am sorry for thee, friend. 'Tis the Duke's pleasure,
Whose disposition, all the world well knows,
Will not be rubb'd nor stopp'd. I'll entreat for thee.
Kent. Pray do not, sir. I have watch'd and travell'd hard.
Some time I shall sleep out, the rest I'll whistle.
A good man's fortune may grow out at heels.
Give you good morrow!
Glou. The Duke 's to blame in this; 'twill be ill taken.

This is very like Coriolanus at the gates of Rome.

“My (sometime) Generall,
I haue seene the Sterne, and thou hast oft beheld
Heart-hardning spectacles. Tell these sad women,
Tis fond to waile ineuitable strokes,
As 'tis to laugh at 'em.”

What hangs over him at this point – what hangs over the play itself – is a double act of banishment. Coriolanus has been banished from Rome – but he himself has “banished’ Rome, in an act that, to my mind, raises up all kinds of questions the relationship between war and the city:

“Corio. You common cry of Curs, whose breath I hate,
As reeke a'th' rotten Fennes: whose Loues I prize,
As the dead Carkasses of vnburied men,
That do corrupt my Ayre: I banish you,
And heere remaine with your vncertaintie.
Let euery feeble Rumor shake your hearts:
Your Enemies, with nodding of their Plumes
Fan you into dispaire: Haue the power still
To banish your Defenders, till at length
Your ignorance (which findes not till it feeles,
Making but reseruation of your selues,
Still your owne Foes) deliuer you
As most abated Captiues, to some Nation
That wonne you without blowes, despising
For you the City. Thus I turne my backe;
There is a world elsewhere.”

Well, I’ll take this up tomorrow if I can. These are hasty days, as I finish up my affairs before taking my big trip. There is a world elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


First, some LI stuff. LI is comin’ to NYC – due to the generosity of our far flung correspondent, Mr. T. – next week. And we are thinking of having a happy hour reception for our own self next Monday – which is Dec. 4th, I think - at either Sophie's (5th Street between Aves A and B) or 7B (corner of 7th St and Ave B). But we would like to know if any Gotham LI readers are interested in this, or if you all think that sounds infinitely tedious, the downing of the dominoes in that gray hour when the ball has lost its coherence, and the guests have drifted off to private parties, bearbaiting or bed. Anyway, write me at rgathman@netzero.net to tell me if you think this is a good idea. If I get some responses (and please, tell me which bar you think it should be), I’ll pick one of them and a time and inform you in an upcoming post. Oh, and of course, there will be an animated discussion of the Zizekian sublime and last year’s American idol finale…

Ho ho ho. I’m joking. I’M JOKING!

Okay, second. On to… Coriolanus.

Coriolanus is the most unloveable of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, and he casts an eagle’s cold shadow over the play. In the 30s, the play came in for a lot of attention from the likes of people like Wyndham Lewis, since there seemed to be such obvious hookups between Coriolanus and fascism – in an era when fascism still designated a tight bundle of material characteristics, instead of now, when fascism designates a loose set of unpleasant psychological attitudes. Among the material characteristics for English writers (not only Lewis, but, for example, Shaw) was the idea that politics ultimately boiled down to leadership.

However, Coriolanus acted, even then, as a counter-case to the cult of leadership – even if it did not lead one to a possible politics of non-leadership. Now, LI is obviously obsessed at the moment with the state, war, and the treadmill of production, and just as the jealous man sees the world in green and the man on the blue guitar sees the world in blue, LI sees the system of commodified violence, the epoch beginning with the mass death initiated in 1492, reaching its extreme limit in the death of the ocean and the theft of the atmosphere, those approaching norms of planetary mortality, in every raindrop that falls – so we are certainly going to import our obsessions into a play that seems to invite them.

We’ve been reading the play in conjunction with North’s translation of Plutarch’s life, and with Stanley Cavell’s essay, who does the wolf love? While Coriolanus might seem – fuck it, is – a bit of an illogical jump from our previous thread about Lenin and the percipient/agent dialectic, what can we say? LI has as little talent for staying on topic as a Mexican jumping bean. But one of the great things about obsession is that you don’t have to worry to much about staying on topic – you will inevitably find your way back to the topics of your particular cancer. You will inevitably bump against the shore you are seeking, which will, unexpectedly, appear in Shakespeare, or a news story, or a burst of static on the radio. This is a good thing, until it becomes a very bad thing.

So LI is going to do a post or two about Coriolanus. Here, let’s remind my readers of the plot and context of the thing. The events in the play are set at the beginning of the Roman Republic. The plebians have rebelled against the debt they have been forced into in order to feed themselves, and which they are desperately repaying by selling themselves and their families into bondage. The oligarchs, of course, then as now, are on the lender’s side. The rebellion finds expression in a threat to migrate from Rome, and the plebes even settle on a hill near Rome. They are persuaded to come back by an embassy from the oligarchs headed by Menenius, depicted by Shakespeare as one of those grand old pols: a drinker, close to the oligarch families but able to understand, if not approve, of the plebe culture. Think of a machine Democrat – or even one of the Longs. Earl Long, for instance. Menenius tells the plebes the ‘parable of the belly’ – which is basically the same in North’s Plutarch and in Shakespeare – and – as much by his willingness to talk to them at their own level as by the parable itself – wins them back to Rome. At this opportune time, the Volsces threaten the Roman state. Caius Martius (aka Coriolanus), who has been the most intransigent opponent of the plebes, and especially indignant at the creation of plebian offices, like the tribunes of the people, joins the Roman army and performs such heroic feats against the Volsces that he almost personally drives them back. According Coriolanus is heavily favored to become consul. However, in order to take that office, he must gain the voice of the people through the ritual forms – and in the process, Coriolanus shows himself so scornful of the people and the forms that he incites the popular will against him and is exiled from Rome. In exile, he joins the Volsces to get revenge on his native city – only to be greeted, at the gates, by his mother, who begs him to spare Rome. Coriolanus bows to his mother’s will, betrays the Volsces, and suffers for that betrayal.

Now, one interesting note about the above described plot. In Plutarch, the revolt of the plebes is described like this: “… it fortuned that there grew sedition in the city, because the Senate did favour the rich against the people, who did complain of the sore oppression of usurers, of whom they borrowed money. For those that had little, yet were spoiled of that little they had by their creditors, for lack of ability to pay the usury: who offered their goods to be sold to them that would give most. And such as had nothing left, their bodies were laid hold on, and they were made their bondmen, notwithstanding all the wounds and cuts they shewed, which they had received in many battles, fighting for defence of their country and commonwealth: of the which, the last war they made was against the Sabines, wherein they fought upon the promise the rich men had med them that from thenceforth they would intreat them more gently…” In a brilliant bit of the negation of the negation, Shakespeare inverts this (o black magic moment, that hath such monsters in it!) and makes it Coriolanus who has to show his wounds to the people in order to get their voice – a ritual he is unwilling, in the end, to go through with. So the people never really see his wounds – he is a wound tease – although the people (in the audience) have witnessed the getting of them. It is part of the unloveliness of Coriolanus that his attack on the people extents to an attack on the audience, of which it is a safe bet that 99 percent will not possess the bloodlines such as a Coriolanus would respect. Talk about putting a shark filled moat around identifying with the hero...

Monday, November 27, 2006

let a thousand pundits pout - Max Boot

The pack of pundits, LI has noted, has generally been pouting about the war they so ardently helped blow into life three years ago. When the American populace goes off the reservation, as they did in 1998 when they refused to knock the president off for his office quickie, the pundits do this. Centrists of mammon, shills of the war culture, the pundits generally consider that they have backdoor privileges on the American psyche, which shuns extremes and loves reforms and finds its true voice in the arthritic angers of the various wattled turkeys that end up on news talk shows, endlessly retreading cliches. This is what the American people love. Strong on defense. Oh how they love defense. And reform, too. Oh how they love reforms. Plus they love spreading democracy. Gots to spread that democracy. The last time the American populace failed their pundit spokesman, in 1998, the turkeys spead their wings. They got angry. It was the death of outrage and the slouching towards Gomorrah.

Is it time for that again? The neo-cons, after covering reams of paper with bullshit paens to the City on the Hill, are radically revising their view of American history downward, or so at least seems to be the distinct undercurrent. It broke cover in Max Boot’s column in the LA Times this Sunday, which is full of pop gun anger usually to be directed against, say, the French:
“MANY AMERICANS have been wondering why so many Iraqis are willing to fight for militias and terrorist groups but not for the American-backed government. Look at it from their perspective. Would you stake your life on a regime whose existence depends on Washington's continuing support? Given our long, shameful record of leaving allies in the lurch, that has never seemed to be a smart bet.”

“Long, shameful record”??? Whatever happened to the benign empire? How quickly we’ve fallen from the cynosure of history to the dunce. But, besides the usual grumblings of a discredited faction, the interesting thing about Boot’s column is how thoroughly it ventilates what one could call the state of the art in American thinking. That is, non-thinking.

Here’s the theme. Since the war against the Barbary pirates, the U.S. has promiscuously picked up and discarded allies. Shocking, eh?

“We have been betraying friends since our first overseas conflict, against the Barbary pirates who captured ships off the African coast and enslaved their crews. To defeat the pasha of Tripoli, the U.S. made common cause with his brother, Hamet Karamanli. In 1804, American envoy William Eaton led a motley force of mercenaries and Marines across North Africa to install Karamanli on the throne. The offensive was called off prematurely when President Jefferson's envoy reached a deal with the pasha to free his American captives in return for $60,000. Karamanli was evacuated to the U.S., but his family members were left as hostages. Eaton raged: "Our too credulous ally is sacrificed to a policy, at the recollection of which, honor recoils, and humanity bleeds." “

Now, let’s grant for a second the premise here. Actually, it is eminently grant-able – since the U.S. is simply operating as all nations have operated since the beginning of the nation state. What is interesting, here, is that this history should certainly have applied three years ago as well as now. In other words, when Boot was advocating swarming into Iraq back in 2003, he should have know that “we have been betraying friends since our first overseas conflict…” So, this should have effected his thinking re said attack. You go to war with the history that you have, not the history you pull out of your ass – as per Donald Rumsfeld. Meaning…

Meaning that any conflict labors under a time constraint. The constraint runs something like this: American wars have certain broadly agreed upon goals – and then some of them have less broadly agreed on goals. The agreed upon goal in the war against the Barbary pirates was to free the American captives – not to overturn piracy. The war in Iraq was about overthrowing Saddam Hussein – not about making good Chamber of Commerce Republicans out of the sheiks of Ramadi.

Say, however, you want to piggyback your war on the war that the Americans are fighting – which is the essence and body of the neo-con deal. That means you have to fight the war right – in other words, no drift, no aimless strategizing, no fiasco. Given this goal, the neo-cons should have been the most radical critics of the pursuit of the occupation from April, 2003, onward. In fact, they became a chorus line of approval for every dumb and dumber move made by the administration in Iraq. A chorus line of zombies.

And now they are suddenly aware that the time is running out???

Which gets us back to the state of the art of American thinking, circa this year of our lord, 2006. The characteristic that strikes the unbiased observer is an astonishing inability to put puzzle pieces together to form a coherent image. Rather, like monkeys at a jigsaw puzzle, our pundits continually put together a botch and call it a picture. Small people, misused forums, lightless imaginations, failures on the ever upward track – that is what American thinking, at the moment, consists of.

please send me a note

Oddness. LI got up this morning, went to this site, and confronted a picture in the middle of the post we put up yesterday that we did not put there. Worse, it destroyed the post. The security of my blog has never been an issue with me, or even a thought in my head. However, the person who inserted that photo should send me an email and tell me how and why you did it, please.