“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, December 23, 2006

IT's pig metaphysics

LI’s readers are, presumably, the same people who read Infinite thought. For those who haven’t read IT’s prolegomena to all future pig metaphysics, go here.

“What we have to understand, as a matter of some urgency, is that the transcendental pig is our friend, just as the empirical pig is our lunch.”

the passion for ascendancy

“The good Samaritan he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show…”

Mark Danner begins his NRYB essay (see last post) with an exemplary historiette concerning a young State Department employee in Falluja who reminds him of a:

“… young Kennan's reincarnation in the person of a junior State Department official: a bright, aggressive young man who spent his twenty-hour days rumbling down the ruined streets in body armor and helmet with his reluctant Marine escorts, meeting with local Iraqi officials, and writing tart cables back to Baghdad or Washington telling his bosses the truth of what was happening on the ground, however reluctant they might be to hear it. This young diplomat was resourceful and brilliant and indefatigable, and as I watched him joking and arguing with the local sheikhs and politicos and technocrats —who were meeting, as they were forced to do, in the American bunker —I thought of the indomitable young Kennan of the interwar years, and of how, if the American effort in Iraq could ever be made to "work," only undaunted and farseeing young men like this one, his spiritual successor, could make it happen.”

This was in the days leading up to the vote on the Constitution. You will remember that Falluja is a mainly Sunni city. It was also razed by American troops in November, 2004. The inhabitants, returning to the ruins of their home, are treated like parolees in a work camp by the Americans. A little background for what the young Kenner told Danner: “And so as I sat after midnight on the eve of the vote, scribbling in my notebook in the dimly lit C-Moc bunker as the young diplomat explained to me the intricacies of the politics of the battered city, I was pleased to see him suddenly lean forward and, with quick glances to either side, offer me a confidence. "You know, tomorrow you are going to be surprised," he told me, speaking softly. "Everybody is going to be surprised. People here are not only going to vote. People here—a great many people here—are going to vote yes.”

Now, only a true mook could think something so unutterably stupid. And yet, the bright young thing almost dazzled Danner into disbelieving his own peepers. Until, of course, the elections showed that the Sunni population voted against the constitution which would basically immiserate them forever) by around 97 percent.

I think that mook was not stupid, but, rather,representative. In LI’s last post, we tried to show that the twilight of the Cold War witnessed a huge economic shift away from the Social Democratic policies of the early Cold War period within the structure created by the Cold War. The end of the Cold War, in a sense, stripped bare these shifts. George Santayana, speaking of patriotism, claimed that, without an ideal, patriotism reduces to a mere “passion for ascendancy.” This was the code of the post-war order. And it is with this code that the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Yet historic forms just don’t pop like the pricked balloons at the end of a children’s birthday party. The intensity of the anti-communist crusade created a whole discourse of righteousness that was extremely potent in America. That discourse no longer had a set object. The idea that our defining anti-thetical is now Islamo-fascism has proven to be a massive flop. Except among a small zombie contingent, Islamofascism hasn’t even entered into the public domain. If you ask around, you will find that the average person hasn’t even heard of it. This shows the common sense of the average person, since, of course, there is no such thing as Islamofascism. The closest actual thing in the world to that hybrid nothing was the government the U.S. conjured up in Iran after overthrowing Mossedeq, since it relied on a heavy contingent of those people around the Pahlavis, in the 1950s, who had ardently supported the Nazis in the 1940s. That ardor was obviously premature anticommunism, and so given a big round of applause by America’s handlers at the time. But there is nothing else on the face of the earth that resembles, in any way, this neo-con anxiety dream.

So… we are left with the passion for ascendancy. The State Department official in Danner’s article walks about in a kind of dream of this passion, as does most of the Bush White House. Mere ascendancy, however, is never sufficient to prompt social action. It generates legitimating stories. These stories are essentially heroic in nature. This, for those who have the eyes to see it, is why the Bush people are so… well, funny. They think of themselves in heroic terms, which is in stark contrast to their incredibly pampered existences and their lifelong avoidance of any real existential risk outside of quailhunting with the gross V.P. These are Chihuahuas dreaming they are lions. They are uniquely disqualified from understanding Iraq -- not because they are unfamiliar with the facts about Iraq, but because their very lifestyles have stifled the faculty of imagination within them. Imagination, for them, is merely projection. Thus, the state department boy projects onto the Iraqis he meets a passion for… well, for the ascension of the state department boy. In their hearts, they all want him to climb the ladder. And to climb the ladder, he needs them to get on board. It is a photo op world, but the reward is that we happy plebes, we rude mechanicals can say, “we knew him when.”

Perhaps the worst thing Chalabi, the prototype D.C. salon Iraqi, ever did was to convince policy-makers that Iraq has the best interests of the U.S. at heart, and in particular the best interests of the 0.00001 percent of the U.S. that owns an AEI card. The ingratitude of the Iraqis must painfully remind these people of other betrayals that strew the path of the meritocratic - like that trusted maid one caught rummaging in the medicine cabinet, pilfering those very expensive mood changing pills. How could she? And just as we gave that made the best hand me down toys and clothes for her squalling brats, in truth, we had given the Iraqis the best of hand me down constitutions -- we trained their savage young men in the best policing techniques, though we did have to laugh behind our hands about how new it all was to them - and we are all about training up an army for them. But of course they know nothing, and in the end you can’t turn your backs on these people.

And so the disappointments of that cadre of people like the eager State department boy have mounted, until we have polite articles in the Sunday NYT debating the pros and cons of Sunni genocide – should we kill one million, or maybe three? The memos, as we know, have been emanating from the V.P.’s office. These articles that are conveniently right next to blasts at the President of Iran for threatening to wipe out Israel, so that we can get the full flavor of the moral arrogance on hand here, a moral arrogance inseparable from the passion for ascendancy.

That passion, we think, is going to get a good and stout fucking in the next year.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

bush at the end of the daisy chain

LI finally got around to reading Mark Danner’s article on Iraq. It is very good. However, one notices that Danner makes the blunders in Iraq stand out against a rather blurry background of America’s foreign policy history, one which exudes a lot of feel good aura but little content. That’s a shame. As we have pointed out before, one of the truly underreported aspects of the American debacle in Iraq goes back to class. Namely, America’s natural tendency to work with the upper class in third world countries was, in Iraq, uniquely negated by the fact that much of that upper class was Sunni, or was perceived to be supportive of Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, the working class justly saw America as its enemy, since in fact America is always the enemy of the working class in any third world country you want to name. That class aspect only comes into view once one starts viewing America’s foreign policy critically – i.e., once one departs from the consensus about the Cold War that has been dribbled over the establishment like Ronald Reagan’s hair mousse.

You cannot see Iraq, you cannot see the long war, you cannot see 9/11, until you have a clear view of foreign policy past. A timely reminder of what that was all about is given to us by the recent fascistic salute to Jean Kirkpatrick in Hiatt’s Washington Post editorial. To quote it again: “The contrast between Cuba and Chile more than 30 years after Mr. Pinochet's coup is a reminder of a famous essay written by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the provocative and energetic scholar and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who died Thursday. In "Dictatorships and Double Standards," a work that caught the eye of President Ronald Reagan, Ms. Kirkpatrick argued that right-wing dictators such as Mr. Pinochet were ultimately less malign than communist rulers, in part because their regimes were more likely to pave the way for liberal democracies. She, too, was vilified by the left. Yet by now it should be obvious: She was right.”

Kirkpatrick’s terms were, actually, not a change in the weather, but a call to order – a way of reminding the Carter administration of what American policy makers since Truman had always stood for: the implantation, in third world nations, of governments that implemented the Hitler model circa 1938. And, of course, that train of action lead directly to 9/11. There’s a nice reminder of this in Tariq Ali’s concise essay about Pakistan’s history in the LRB. And it calls for some overview.

While Kirkpatrick’s terms simply made visible an old pattern, it is true that the legitimacy of that pattern had been undermined by the obvious U.S. viciousness in Vietnam. Vietnam brought to the surface a critical view of U.S. aims sadly lacking now. It made visible, behind the window dressing of democracy, the real policy of instituting and supporting “authoritarian” regimes. But the critique projected that foreign policy back into the domestic realm in a way that overlooked the contradictions of the system. The foreign policy-maker’s fondness for authoritarian states was in constant tension with America’s political culture. The same liberal newspapers that could support the extension of the liberal program – for instance, disestablishing Dixie apartheid, sustaining the structures of the Keynesian welfare state in health, education, and retirement – could also maintain, without blinking, a network of assumptions shared among foreign correspondents and editors that adopted a wholly other attitude towards third world countries. Eventually, this would have a domestic political effect – cultivating reactionary political economies in Asia and South America was like creating a laboratory for the design of macro-economic policies that would hit the U.S. in the eighties, creating the conditions for a reactionary culture: heavy on military spending, using an unleashed credit sector to weaken the labor movement, with its narrow focus on pay and its inability to understand the new factors brought into the economy by easy credit, the piecemeal de-industrialization, etc., etc. Thomas Friedman, the idiot savant ideologist of neo-liberalism, was right: the whole aim was to take the economy out of politics – to put it wholly in institutional hands unaffected by popular mandate or need.

Thus, the work of the foreign policy establishment in seventies and eighties was to create a new international order of capital, founded on easy credit and pre-30s economic inequality. To buffer the economy completely – to surrender it to investors and business leaders – meant, before anything else, breaking labor’s power decisively. Thus, in the zones outside the ‘democracies’, the ‘fumigation’ began, provided at first by the Hitlerite model – National Security States - and could then become transit points in which loans (for fraudulent, state sponsored projects) and capital flight could come together to bring money into the House – the U.S. and Western Europe.

This structure required the Soviet Union as the enemy that would keep it all together. But that necessity led to a second contradiction in the system – and like one would expect, contradictions lead to innovations. The innovation that the U.S. cultivated, funded, directed and then abandoned happened to be the arming of Islamicists within the structure of fungible National Security States. This is where Tariq Ali’s history comes in as a nice reminder, since the fake history that gives us a fake debate is all about grievances – ah, the framework of victimization, so convenient as a decoy. The real history, which is deeply embedded in the pathological anti-communism and industrial policy of the American foreign policymakers can then be comfortably ignored. The problem, of course, is that it is unignorable – Iraq is a debacle, as Danner says, of the American imagination, or lack of it, but it is also a debacle exposing the way the system has been run, and the antitheses that are now coming, with IEDs and mortar fire, to ruin our ‘freedom loving’ President’s party Middle Eastern bash for himself. There is a sense in which Bush is the victim of a very old and respected Texas fraud – he’s the last link in the daisy chain. A daisy chain is not a mass fuck, in this case – a daisy chain consists of buying a property and selling it to a confederate for an inflated value, who sells it to another confederate for an inflated value, until it is laid off on a mark who, believing these values, shells out some fantastic sum for what turns out to be a world class lemon.

In the case of the Central Asian lemon, as Tariq Ali points out in this overview of Pakistan, the story has roots in the dawn of the independence period. That is when the Free World had need of a subordinate system of non-free gunga din states:

“Pakistan’s first uniformed ruler, General Ayub Khan, a Sandhurst-trained colonial officer, seized power in October 1958 with strong encouragement from both Washington and London. They were fearful that the projected first general election might produce a coalition that would take Pakistan out of security pacts like Seato and towards a non-aligned foreign policy. Ayub banned all political parties, took over opposition newspapers and told the first meeting of his cabinet: ‘As far as you are concerned there is only one embassy that matters in this country: the American Embassy.’”

In Ali’s version, the familiar scenario enfolds – the fakery of pressuring a NSS client into an election that is rigged – by suitable murders, kidnapping and torturing of radicals, students, civilians, etc., etc. – the electing of our man in Karachi, and then the praise showered on him by an adoring American press.
Let’s quote a few grafs that cluster around the Reaganite adventure in creating a jihadi network, arming them, and encouraging them to attack a superpower – a fabulous success that was somehow left out of the funeral orations over the Great Communicator’s corpse:

“Always a bad judge of character, he [Bhutto] had made a junior general and small-minded zealot, Zia-ul-Haq, army chief of staff. As head of the Pakistani training mission to Jordan, Brigadier Zia had led the Black September assault on the Palestinians in 1970. In July 1977, to pre-empt an agreement between Bhutto and the opposition parties that would have entailed new elections, Zia struck. Bhutto was arrested, and held for a few weeks, and Zia promised that new elections would be held within six months, after which the military would return to barracks. A year later Bhutto, still popular and greeted by large crowds wherever he went, was again arrested, and this time charged with murder, tried and hanged in April 1979.

Over the next ten years the political culture of Pakistan was brutalised. As public floggings (of dissident journalists among others) and hangings became the norm, Zia himself was turned into a Cold War hero – thanks largely to events in Afghanistan. Religious affinity did nothing to mitigate the hostility of Afghan leaders to their neighbour. The main reason was the Durand Line, which was imposed on the Afghans in 1893 to mark the frontier between British India and Afghanistan and which divided the Pashtun population of the region. After a hundred years (the Hong Kong model) all of what became the North-Western Frontier Province of British India was supposed to revert to Afghanistan but no government in Kabul ever accepted the Durand Line any more than they accepted British, or, later, Pakistani control, over the territory.”

Then we get into it – although these facts are known, it is always good to have a concise account of how the U.S. fought the Cold War, outside of the purview of the population:

“In 1977, when Zia came to power, 90 per cent of men and 98 per cent of women in Afghanistan were illiterate; 5 per cent of landowners held 45 per cent of the cultivable land and the country had the lowest per capita income of any in Asia. The same year, the Parcham Communists, who had backed the 1973 military coup by Prince Daud after which a republic was proclaimed, withdrew their support from Daud, were reunited with other Communist groups to form the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), and began to agitate for a new government. The regimes in neighbouring countries became involved. The shah of Iran, acting as a conduit for Washington, recommended firm action – large-scale arrests, executions, torture – and put units from his torture agency at Daud’s disposal. The shah also told Daud that if he recognised the Durand Line as a permanent frontier the shah would give Afghanistan $3 billion and Pakistan would cease hostile actions. Meanwhile, Pakistani intelligence agencies were arming Afghan exiles while encouraging old-style tribal uprisings aimed at restoring the monarchy. Daud was inclined to accept the shah’s offer, but the Communists organised a pre-emptive coup and took power in April 1978. There was panic in Washington, which increased tenfold as it became clear that the shah too was about to be deposed. General Zia’s dictatorship thus became the lynchpin of US strategy in the region, which is why Washington green-lighted Bhutto’s execution and turned a blind eye to the country’s nuclear programme. The US wanted a stable Pakistan whatever the cost.

As we now know, plans (a ‘bear-trap’, in the words of the US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski) were laid to destabilise the PDPA, in the hope that its Soviet protectors would be drawn in. Plans of this sort often go awry, but they succeeded in Afghanistan, primarily because of the weaknesses of the Afghan Communists themselves: they had come to power through a military coup which hadn’t involved any mobilisation outside Kabul, yet they pretended this was a national revolution; their Stalinist political formation made them allergic to any form of accountability and ideas such as drafting a charter of democratic rights or holding free elections to a constituent assembly never entered their heads. Ferocious factional struggles led, in September 1979, to a Mafia-style shoot-out at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, during which the prime minister, Hafizullah Amin, shot President Taraki dead. Amin, a nutty Stalinist, claimed that 98 per cent of the population supported his reforms but the 2 per cent who opposed them had to be liquidated. There were mutinies in the army and risings in a number of towns as a result, and this time they had nothing to do with the Americans or General Zia.

Finally, after two unanimous Politburo decisions against intervention, the Soviet Union changed its mind, saying that it had ‘new documentation’. This is still classified, but it would not surprise me in the least if the evidence consisted of forgeries suggesting that Amin was a CIA agent. Whatever it was, the Politburo, with Yuri Andropov voting against, now decided to send troops into Afghanistan. Its aim was to get rid of a discredited regime and replace it with a marginally less repulsive one. Sound familiar?

From 1979 until 1988, Afghanistan was the focal point of the Cold War. Millions of refugees crossed the Durand Line and settled in camps and cities in the NWFP. Weapons and money, as well as jihadis from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Egypt, flooded into Pakistan. All the main Western intelligence agencies (including the Israelis’) had offices in Peshawar, near the frontier. The black-market and market rates for the dollar were exactly the same. Weapons, including Stinger missiles, were sold to the mujahedin by Pakistani officers who wanted to get rich quickly. The heroin trade flourished and the number of registered addicts in Pakistan grew from a few hundred in 1977 to a few million in 1987.”

Well, enough for today. I am going to add to this post tomorrow, I hope.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

the new Mount Rushmore

Fred Barnes is glowing with pleasure today. He knew that the Rebel in Chief had super powers. He knew that that face, those abs, the incredibly long member, that loveable grin, could only have come from the Planet Zygon. And today, the President shyly let the cat – or as they say on Zygon, the endless stream of copulating cockroaches – out of the bag, in this interview with the Washington Post:

“Bush, who has always said that the United States is headed for victory in Iraq, conceded yesterday what Gates, Powell and most Americans in polls have already concluded. "An interesting construct that General Pace uses is, 'We're not winning, we're not losing,' " Bush said, referring to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the Joint Chiefs chairman, who was spotted near the Oval Office before the interview. "There's been some very positive developments. . . . [But] obviously the real problem we face is the sectarian violence that needs to be dealt with."

Asked yesterday about his "absolutely, we're winning" comment at an Oct. 25 news conference, the president recast it as a prediction rather than an assessment. "Yes, that was an indication of my belief we're going to win," he said.”

There it is. The stabbers in the back who, inexplicably, aren’t being tortured to death so that we can preserve our democracy, have accused our Greatest President of lying. But those who wore the special glasses (mail the Weekly Standard for your own pair, kids!) already knew that English verbal structure is much too primitive for a Zygonite. Our President travels through the past, present and future with the greatest of ease, and thus sometimes makes statements that seem like they are set in the present when they are actually set at some other time. For instance, the statement that Iraq has WMD meant that in 1989, Iraq had WMD. But had, has, and all temporal modes of having are Earthling delusions – all time is now time, or as the Zygon proverb goes: it is always time to take a shit! According to Zygonites, we must temporally orient ourselves by unloading our bowels on unworthy specimens of unfreedom. Zygonites also recommend, for maximum skin care, a lotion that is compounded of the blood of six hundred thousand human beings who have met violent ends. Since skin care is the number one priority on Zygon, you can of course see with what joy the properly constituted Zygonite would regard the war in Iraq.

In truth, all time, to the Zygonite, dissolves into what they call the great Narcissistic time. The great Narcissistic time flows out of the brain of the greatest and wisest of the Zygonites – the Rebels in Chief – and creates reality itself. It would seem that all Earthlings, being relatively primitive beings, would not even be able to comprehend the complexity of the Zygonite mind. But some Earthlings do! Magically transcending their own brainstem, Fred Barnes and a few selected journalists (all of whom, by a happy chance, have been hired to analyse the news endlessly on our freedom loving tv channels!) could see that the Rebel-in-Chief was no ordinary man, but a fierce extraterrestrial on a mission. His mission will only be accomplished when he has made a just distribution of the goods of the earth (which, by right, belong to members of the Carlyle Group), changed the atmosphere of the earth for the better (eliminating inefficient life forms), and Christianized forever the backwards Middle East.

Isn’t it time for the press, having had its week or two of celebrating the stab-in-the-backers of the Baker-Hamilton group, to get back to marveling at our Zygonite leader? I always like to think of the high point of the last six years, in which our long, long long war gone wild! has gone from climax to climax, was that heartwarming moment when our President brought a smile to the lips of the hardened Press with his hilarious skits – you remember! Back in 2004, as described by the Post:

“President Bush opened his 10-minute remarks to the gathering with a reference to what he referred to as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's "favorite show" on television. Those anticipating an "Apprentice" punch line -- the Donald, after all, was only a few yards away -- guessed wrong.

"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," Bush said, generating a roomful of laughter. "My Cabinet could take some pointers from watching that show. In fact, I'm going to have the Fab Five do a makeover on [Attorney General John] Ashcroft."

“From there, Bush went on to poke at his own malapropisms before unveiling a slide show titled "White House Election Year Album" that had the crowd chuckling. Yes, there were a few jabs at the Democrats, including a couple of shots taken at Democratic challenger John Kerry. Bush described a picture of himself doing what looked like the shuffle in the Oval Office in front of Condoleezza Rice as "here I'm trying to explain John Kerry's foreign policy to Condi." He also faked a phone conversation between Kerry and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. "Hey, John," he said. "Kim Jong Il here. Just wanted to let you know, you're my guy."

Mostly, though, he put up dorky-looking pictures of himself. A recurring joke involved photos of the president in awkward positions -- bent over as if he's looking under a table, leaning to look out a window -- accompanied by remarks such as "Those weapons of mass destruction must be somewhere!" and "Nope, no weapons over there!" and "Maybe under here?"

That was as funny now as it was then, since, of course, now and then are one now, one big Zygonite now without end. And from this perspective, our Greatest President is President forever!

I should mention that our former president, a pseudo-Zygonite if there ever was one, once hinted at his own power over time by saying, “that depends on what your definition of is is.” How we were shocked at the way he lied about getting a blowjob! He wasn’t a true Zygonite at all. Saying that in front of the whole nation too. However, a true Zygonite president transcends the question of ‘lying’ – nobody is going to question him about ‘lying’ when he said we were winning in Iraq. That would be too laughable. It is not an issue that is as important as a blowjob. As Barnes has pointed out, our Zygonite president has a member that is so extremely and awesomely huge that one thinks not of blowjobs, but of a special, maybe new like Mount Rushmore thing which would be exclusively dedicated to his dick. I am totally behind this project.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

why I love the Washington Post

Moments in the dreamlife of the governing class

This exchange in the Washington Post deserves an award of some kind – it so exactly represents the way in which, in D.C. circles, conventional wisdom deals with those truths that upset it:

“Waterville, Maine: Good Morning Dan,

President Bush's proposal to increase troops in Iraq by 20-30,000 has received a lot of attention this weekend and has sparked considerable debate and controversy. On the one hand, incoming Majority Leader Reid stated he would support a short-term increase. On the other hand, I thought it was very interesting that former Secretary Powell and Hillary Clinton spoke out against the idea. Powell even suggested that the army was "nearly broken" and could not sustain another build-up. How is the White House responding to all this? Are we seeing evidence of a growing rift between Democratic leaders? How many other Republicans will speak out now that Powell has come out publicly?

Dan Balz: These are all good questions and the focus of a considerable amount of reporting these days here and elsewhere. You've got two conflicting forces at work. The November elections clearly sent a message that the American people want a change in Iraq and that what they most want is a plan that begins to draw down U.S. forces. Because there are worries that an abrupt pullout would leave Iraq and the Middle East in even more chaos, there is a desire to find a way to reduce the warfare in Baghdad. Can the addition of more U.S. troops, for a short period of time, accomplish that? People who are far more expert than I in military matters are debating that right now.”

So, an election in which people seemed to vote for withdrawing from Iraq really requires “the addition of more U.S. troops, for a short period of time.” Just as an election in which people didn’t voted against withdrawing from Iraq would seem to require “the addition of more U.S. troops, for a short period of time.” A surge, if you will. The tiptoeing language of "for a short period" is so beautiful - I mean, you get a serious turd from the White House and you have to dress it up like a Christmas turkey, so you say things like that. And of course Balz is inexpert in military affairs. Goodness gracious, we have to leave those military affairs to the generals, who have been doing such a truly outstanding job so far.

It is a joke. I laughed at this exchange so heartily I could almost taste fresh Iraqi blood in my mouth. While I have emphasized, and will continue to emphasize, that the only interest served by the occupation of Iraq is that of Bush’s vanity, one must always remember the context: vanity is the stock in trade of these people. They are attracted to vanity, parasites of it, investors in it. Little pieces of the imperial vanity are broken off and carried by the little drones like pieces of the cross. Really, it is hard to imagine a viler elite. They get in their little Hummers after a good days work, they get home and play with their meritocratic 2.1 kids, and they have not a single thought in their heads that wasn’t put there by some boss figure from the time they are 18 to the time they die. Complete servility, complete nullity. Withdrawal from Iraq – which will happen only when the army is so squeezed that the U.S. will have to withdraw in self defense – is only the first condition for a more peaceful, just world. A deeper condition is disempowering these terrible buffoons.

Monday, December 18, 2006

the age of the airloom

LI was pleased to receive some compliments on our Pinochet post from our friend in Mexico City, M., the more so as we seem, lately, to have either stunned or bored our readers to the extent that we sadly, visibly lack comments. On other blogs, there are lively debates about censoring or not censoring comment sections, but we don’t have that sort of problem here. Christ, you write an anti-Christmas piece that ties together father Christmas and Hitler and nobody even peeps.

We’ve been thinking, perhaps we haven’t been mad enough. Or is it that we are too mad? And this thought naturally led us to consider the autobiographies of mad political cosmologists before us. The most famous, of course, is Paul Schreber, the son of Germany’s greatest anti-onanist, Moritz Schreber. Paul Schreber’s spacewalk into a new heaven and new earth, which occured in the nuthouse where he was committed, was published in book form and, famously, analyzed by Freud, and then by Canetti, and then by all the epigones.

But Schreber is not modernity’s only mad cosmologist. There is, for instance, Friedrich Krauss, the clerk who fell into confusion in Antwerp in 1816 as he was folded, spindled, mutilated, mocked, and had his thoughts replaced by senseless or obscene images. He realized he was being poisoned by animal magnetism, directed against him by a black magnitiseur, and wrote a warning to the fathers of families and such, Nothschrei eines Magnetisch-Vergifteten (Scream of a man poisoned by magnetism).

Then there is James Tilly Matthews . Matthews, as his biographer, Mike Jay, explains in the summation of his book at nthposition, was a Welsh tea merchant of Republican sympathies who acted as an agent for Pitt with the moderates in Paris in the Revolution. Unfortunately for Matthews, the Jacobin triumph caught him still in Paris, and he was imprisoned for three years. When he was released, he got back to London and started making harsh accusations of treason, like some Edgar Allan Poe figure. And this got him quickly committed by the political establishment to Bedlam, where he met up with the apothecary, John Haslam.

Matthews apparently shared his ideas and papers with Haslam. When it appeared that Matthews family was going to succeed in getting him released, Haslam, to prove that Matthews was truly insane, published his Illustrations of Madness, which is a mixture of Blakean and Schreberian. Haslam begins his account like this:

“Mr. M Insists that in some apartment near London Wall, there is a gang of villains profoundly skilled in Pneumatic Chemistry, who assail him by means of an Air Loom. A description of this formidable instrument will be given hereafter; but he is persuaded that an account of it is to be found in Chambers’s Dictionary, edited by Dr. Rees in 1783, under the article Loom…

It is unnecessary to tell the reader that he will fruitlessly search that work for such information.”

I must quote from Mike Jay’s wonderful summary:

"Matthews was convinced that outside the grounds of Bedlam, in a basement cellar by London Wall, a gang of villains were controlling and tormenting his mind with diabolical rays. They were using a machine called an 'Air Loom', of which Matthews was able to draw immaculate technical diagrams, and which combined recent developments in gas chemistry with the strange force of animal magnetism, or mesmerism. It incorporated keys, levers, barrels, batteries, sails, brass retorts and magnetic fluid, and worked by directing and modulating magnetically charged air currents, rather as the stops of an organ modulate its tones. It ran on a mixture of foul substances, including 'spermatic-animal-seminal rays', 'effluvia of dogs' and 'putrid human breath', and its discharges of magnetic fluid were focused to deliver thoughts, feelings and sensations directly into Matthews' brain. There were many of these mind-control settings, all classified by vivid names: 'fluid locking', 'stone making', 'thigh talking', 'lobster-cracking', 'bomb-bursting', and the dreaded 'brain-saying', whereby thoughts were forced into his brain against his will. To facilitate this process, the gang had implanted a magnet into his head. As a result of the Air Loom, Matthews was tormented constantly by delusions, physical agonies, fits of laughter and being forced to parrot whatever nonsense they chose to feed into his head. No wonder some people thought he was mad.

"The Air Loom was being run by a gang of undercover Jacobin revolutionaries, bent on forcing Britain into a disastrous war with Revolutionary France. These characters, too, Matthews could describe with haunting precision. They were led by a puppet-master named 'Bill the King'; all details were recorded by his second-in-command, 'Jack the Schoolmaster'. The French liaison was accomplished by a woman called Charlotte, who seemed to Matthews to be as much a prisoner as himself, and was often chained up near-naked. 'Sir Archy' was a woman who dressed as a man and spoke in obscenities; the machine itself was operated by the sinister, pockmarked and nameless 'Glove Woman'. If Matthews were to see any of these characters in the street, they would grasp batons of magnetic metal which would cause them to disappear."

This is magnificent – although it is a bit heartless to say so, since these ravings are so obviously rooted in vast amounts of pain. There is surely some vast underground counterpoint in operation here to Blake – the same mythological sense of the forces at work in the French revolution, some of the same images – notably the near naked, chained up woman. Is there a common Swedenborgian root? Or - as I madly suspect - is there some contact below the surface, some underground, poetic continent whose inhabitants look at the treadmill of production, the uprooting of all things by white magic, with eyes in which are reflected the burning wheels of Revelations?

For the most striking thing, to me, is that Matthew’s Air Loom seems so familiar – isn’t this some horrendous pre-cognition of television? Haven’t we seen, in the last six years, “delusions, physical agonies, fits of laughter and being forced to parrot whatever nonsense they chose to feed into his head” on a national scale?