“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

Friday, January 19, 2007

emancipation

LCC has links to articles about Representative Barbara Lee’s bill to open a truth commission about the facts surrounding the political claustration of Aristide, which is further explained here. As it happens, LI is writing a review of Madison Smartt Bell’s biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture (who was, like Aristide, kidnapped by a hegemonic power with malign intents towards Haiti). We are great fans of Bell’s three volume trilogy about the great slave revolt of Saint-Domingue, which is still mostly a blank in the American eye. In the biography, Bell translates and prints the first Emancipation Proclamation in the New World – this one composed by the leaders of the slaves themselves. It was sent as a letter to S-D’s General Assembly in July 1792, signed by Biassou, Jean-Francois, and Belair – and not, significantly, not by Toussant a Breda, as he was known at this time.

Toussaint very probably had read the Prince, and in any case, he had an appreciation amounting to genius of the uses of invisibility – a way of merging into the very air of the kalfou, the crossroads. The uninitiated, unaware of the paths down which they were walking, usually had already passed through him before they realized their mistake. To be underestimated was power. Thus, at this time Toussaint may well have claimed to different persons he did not know how to read or write. There is a story that Toussaint was once confronted about reading a book by a white manager – of the class of petits blancs – and beaten. That man latter was killed by Toussaint.

So Toussaint might well have had a hand in the composing and sending of that letter. Surprisingly, the letter isn’t well known outside of Haiti. Here’s two paragraphs:

For too long, Gentlemen, by way of abuses which one can never too strongly accuse to have taken place because our lack of understanding and our ignorance – for a very long time, I say, we have been victims of greed and your avarice. Under the blows of your barbarous whip we have accumulated for you the treasures you enjoy in this colony; the human race has suffered to see with what barbarity you have treated men like yourselves – yes, men – over whom you have no other right except that you are stronger and more barbaric than we; you’ve engaged in slave traffic, you have sold men for horses, and even that is the least of your shortcomings in the eyes of humanity; our lives depend on your caprice, and when it’s a question of amusing yourselves it falls on a man like us who most often is guilty of no other crime than that he is under your orders.

We are black, it is true, but tell us, Gentlemen, you who are so judicious, what is the law that says that the black man must belong to and be the property of the white man? Certainly you will not be able to make us see where that exists, if it is not in your imagination – always ready to form new phantasms so long as they are to your advantage. Yes, Gentlemen, we are free like you, and it is only by your avarice and our ignorance that anyone is still held in slavery up to this day, and we can neither see nor find the right which you pretend to have over us, not anything that could prove it to us, set down on the earth like you, all being children of the same father created in the same image. We are your equals, then, by natural right, and if nature pleases itself to diversify colors within the human race, it is not a crime to be born black nor an advantage to be white….

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Bob Solomon, r.i.p.

A friend of mine died last week. I have an obit up in the Austin Chronicle.

I don't know whether I want Bob to rest in peace - he was never the retirement type, and I don't like the idea of death to be of the life depicted in About Schmidt. No, I hope death brings a more complex release, Bob. EWG.

hawks shedding feathers

In the early 1840s, a Baptist named William Miller began doing some serious work on the Book of Revelation. Using his mathematical genius, Miller came up with a formula showing precisely that the world would end in March of 1843. Due to an overlooked erasure, that date proved incorrect. The world was really going to end in 1844.

Miller collected thousands of followers. Unfortunately, God didn’t stage the drama he’d outlined in the book of Revelations in 1844, either. Hiram Edson, who later figured out that Jesus was coming in stages to the earth after making a tour of the universe, wrote about gathering with others on 23 October, 1844:

“Our expectations were raised high, and thus we looked for our coming Lord until the clock tolled 12 at midnight. The day had then passed and our disappointment became a certainty. Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before…”

Civilization rolls onward. Hiram Edson, more savy than Scott Fitzgerald, realized that America is the home of second acts, especially if the first act involved apocalyptic failure, and went on to found the very successful Seventh day Adventists. The war party is going through a similar blasting of expectations. Since the expectations were founded, generally, on mutually contradictory premises, vague allegories, and an almost complete lack of knowledge about… well, Iraq, the sackcloth and ashes phase should, one would think, involve absorbing a certain skepticism, and of course a reconsideration of the entire war culture – at this time, under the guise of the Global war on Terrorism – that has mangled so many bodies without any necessity at all.

There has been a blog hubbub about the post by Jane Galt, aka Megan McArdle, in which she explains why she was slightly wrong about ardently supporting America’s pre-emptive invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. It turns out that McArdle was mislead by her faulty sense of empathy. In the end – as one would expect from a woman who names herself after an Ayn Rand character – the sum of novelistic factors that constituted America’s favorite Punch, Saddam Hussein, was beyond her. On the other hand, she remembers no dove who got anything right in the leadup to the war, except, by some odd quirk of fate, they were right that the war in toto.

Many of the doves seem to be reconstructing their memory of why they objected to the war, crediting themselves with having predicted that the invasion would fail in this way. Many hawks are also reconstructing their memories to make themselves less hawkish. Fortunately, or unfortunately for me, I wrote my predictions down, so I know that I was an unabashed hawk, 100% convinced that Saddam had WMD.

The lesson that I can unequivocally take out of this is: do not be so confident in your ability to read other people and situations. Saddam was behaving exactly as I would have behaved if I had WMD, so I concluded that he had them. I will never again be so confident in the future.


That is so sweet of her! The hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead have contributed to her education, and I bet she is going to be nicer to elderly neighbors, too!

McCardle leans libertarian. The occupation in Iraq has taught her to distrust government. Or so she writes. LI quietly tore out all of our hair, reading that, and flushed it down the toilet. Say what? If it wasn’t an analytic truth in January, 2003 that the invasion involved every feature of governmental overreaching that had been harped upon for two hundred years by liberal thinkers – as Limited Inc pointed out by going exhaustively through the catalogue of classical liberalism, from Burke to Constant – and McCardle couldn't figure that out herself, well, I'd guess there is a large hole in her libertarian ideas. The hole can be labeled - automatic respect for authority figures. I wish libertarians would just call themselves richophiles – a love of the wealthy the desire that all of society be shaped to please them is pretty much the alpha and omega of the McArdle strain of libertarianism.

Another hawk who shed his feathers a couple of months ago, Norman Geras, is an interesting case. He has made a career as a political intellectual – yet, his politics seem as easily distracted by the most juvenile mock arguments as the audience of American Idol, and that worries me about the way people become political intellectuals in the U.K. Geras recently raved about a Martin Amis quip – Amis denounced those who “waddled” out in the streets of London holding we are all hezbollah signs in the demonstrations against Israel’s bombing of Lebanon last year. Now, “waddled” is an interesting verb. I don’t believe that it is the verb that really occurred to Amis, seeing the tv footage of the demonstrators. They were mostly young and sprightly. Waddling wasn’t in it – waddling is confined more to the over the hill cigarchompers Amis might meet at his friend Chris Hitchens’ parties. The difference between insult and satire is the difference between using the verb “waddling” – which lights up the children and the Geras typses - and using a verb that really does break through the human crust, that puts the fishing hook through that bare forked creature and reels him in.

Anyway, Geras coyly links to a defense of the surge published in Foreign policy by a man named Donald Stoker. And what do you know – Stoker comes up with a defense that is another pony ex machina argument, of the same type that the hawks have made, over and over again, during the past three meat mounding years.

To read the Stoker article, it is best to skip the main part – a mélange of cases in which insurgents lost, insurgents won, etc., etc. – and get to Stoker’s case:

“Combating an insurgency typically requires 8 to 11 years. But the administration has done such a poor job of managing U.S. public opinion, to say nothing of the war itself, that it has exhausted many of its reservoirs of support. One tragedy of the Iraq war may be that the administration’s new strategy came too late to avert a rare, decisive insurgent victory.”


8 to 11 years, eh? To what end? I want to try to put a fairer cast on suggestions that are clearly lunatic, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths, billion of dollars spent per month, in order to perhaps put down an insurgency and create (ta ta ta da!) a theocratic Shi’a government indistinguishable, in its ideology, from … Hezbollah. Indeed, Amis might have wanted to watch Chris Hitchens neo-con friends waddle at the next party he goes to, since they are doing infinitely more for Hezbollah than the young bucks of London.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

ka

Austin is moping under that hideous counterfeit of winter that goes by the name of a winter storm warning – or is it watch? What this means is that there is ice on the branches of the tree outside my window, which obviously took the tree by surprise – and that the streets have icy patches, and the sidewalks do too – and that we can all stay inside and listen to news about traffic accidents on the highways, and those of us who have stocked up on either hot chocolate or cider or marijuana can enjoy the forced hibernation like in a Christmas card. Those of us who, like LI, suffer from vicious ricocheting coughs, the butt end of a chest cold that doesn’t seem to know how to leave the party my body threw for it (get your coats, guys! my, the time!), have to settle for shivering and cabin fever and Kagome purple roots and fruits juice.

This is no condition to ponder the Vedas.

However, as we said in our post before last, or some fucking post, how am I supposed to keep up, we were going to write about Calasso’s Ka. The idea I’ve been kicking around is that the form of giantism in the Indian sacred books is of a different type entirely than that associated simply with wonder. It is a giantism that is both discontinuous and in unlimited, systematic expansion, like certain of the dreams described by De Quincey in the Pains of Opium section of the Memoirs of an Opium Eater. An amazing section that contains, among other things, a description of the close connection between psychosis and racism (it is in this section that De Quincey claims that the very idea of having to live among the Chinese gives him an almost bodily disgust).

But being a sickly critter, I think I’m going to content myself with comparing the creation story in Ka with the creation story in the Samapatha Brahmana, as translated by Mueller.

Here is the story of the first man – Prajapati - via the latter:

Verily, in the beginning this universe was water, nothing but a sea of water. The waters desired, “How can we be reproduced?’ They toiled and performed fervid devotions, when they were becoming heated, a golden egg was produced. The year, indeed, was not then in existence: this golden egg floated about for as long as the space of a year.

In a year’s time a man, this Pragapati, was produced thereform: and hence a woman, a cow or a mare brings forth within the space of a year; for Pragapati was born in a year. He broke open this golden egg. There was then, indeed, no restingplace: only this golden egg, bearing him, floated about for as long as the space of a year.

At the end of a year he tried to speak. He said bhuh: this (word) became this earth. buhuvah: this became this air - svah: this became yonder sky.”


There are many complications here – Pragapati, who turns into Brahma, is also described as the composite of seven men that the gods put together, and the egg here might be Pragapati’s own egg with the waters, that he inseminated – complications that hint at the maddening impossibility, for the mere amateur, to make sense of the Indian myths. The way events are enchained in the Indian sacred books gives one a certain double vision because there are all of these logical hallucinations, these moments of self-contradiction from which the stories branch off. But I could not help but think as Pragapati speaks in that blubber of Handke’s Kasper Hauser – and, indeed, the figure of the stutterer in Deleuze’s Logic of Sense. Just as the stutterer breaks through the floor of speech, gets into the basement, Pragapati’s stuttering sounds become words that become things because the words have no speech within which to be words. To be a word means to be a word in a language. To be a syllable in a word means to be a syllable in a word in a language.

In the Upanishads, it says:

LET a man meditate on the syllable Om, called the udgîtha; for the udgîtha (a portion of the Sâma-veda) is sung, beginning with Om.
The full account, however, of Om is this:--
2. The essence of all beings is the earth, the essence of the earth is water, the essence of water the plants, the essence of plants man, the essence of man speech, the essence of speech the Rig-veda, the essence of the Rig-veda the Sâma-veda 1, the essence of the Sâma-veda the udgîtha (which is Om).
3. That udgîtha (Om) is the best of all essences, the highest, deserving the highest place 2, the eighth.
4. What then is the Rik? What is the Sâman? What is the udgîtha? 'This is the question.
5. The Rik indeed is speech, Sâman is breath, the udgîtha is the syllable Om. Now speech and breath, or Rik and Sâman, form one couple.
6. And that couple is joined together in the syllable Om. When two people come together, they fulfil each other's desire.
7. Thus he who knowing this, meditates on the syllable (Om), the udgîtha, becomes indeed a fulfiller of desires.
8. That syllable is a syllable of permission, for whenever we permit anything, we say Om, yes. Now permission is gratification. He who knowing this meditates on the syllable (Om), the udgîtha, becomes indeed a gratifier of desires.
9. By that syllable does the threefold knowledge (the sacrifice, more particularly the Soma-sacrifice, as founded on the three Vedas) proceed. When the Adhvaryu priest gives an order, he says Om. When the Hotri priest recites, he says Om. When the Udgâtri priest sings, he says Om,
--all for the glory of that syllable. The threefold knowledge (the sacrifice) proceeds by the greatness of that syllable (the vital breaths), and by its essence (the oblations) 1.
10. Now therefore it would seem to follow, that both he who knows this (the true meaning of the syllable Om), and he who does not, perform the same sacrifice. But this is not so, for knowledge and ignorance are different. The sacrifice which a man performs with knowledge, faith, and the Upanishad is more powerful. This is the full account of the syllable Om.”


To my addled mind, a strange path opens up here: it is a path I've been treading for a while. It is Red Riding Hood's path of needles, if you will, or the path of the wiccan Marx - the path that you move forward on will, it turns out, be different from the same path you return on. To go forward is the path of creation, and it seems pretty much what we are used to – in the beginning is the word, and the word becomes earth, and earth is the place for the speaker of the word – etc. But going backward, the word is no word at all, having no language within which to be a word, and the syllable, then, becomes no syllable at all, since it aims at no sense. This is the essence of the gigantism that so frightens De Quincey in the Opium Eater.

As the Upanishad passage says, the syllable is the place of desire and gratification – which gets us back to Prajipati. In Ka, after Prajipati has created the earth and produced the first gods, this happens:

Prajapati sensed that he had a companion, a second being, dvitya, within him. It was a woman, Vac, Word. He let her out. He looked at her. Vac “rose like a continuous stream of water.” She was a column of liquid, without beginning or end. Prajipati united with her. He split her into three parts. Three sounds came out of his throat in his amorous thrust: a, ka, ho. A was the earth, ka the space between, ho the sky. With these three syllables the discontinuous stormed into existence.

Monday, January 15, 2007

peter beinart speaks

Dear sir,

Peter Beinart, nude model, here.

Since I have been making some very high energy adult entertainment on location (let me hint to my fans that, for the first time, I play CHIEF STUD – that’s right, the poolboy roles that graced such films as Operation Free Lickin’ and My Master, My Decider, are now a thing of the past – and let me also say that I have learned from my mistakes in those roles – for instance, the premature problem I had in Operation Free Lickin’ is, I admit, an embarrassment, and I apologize to my faithful viewers) – but anyway, to veer this sentence back to the straight and narrow, due to this schedule I was not aware of the many unfair hits yours truly was taking from various objectively terrorist sympathizing media persons. Apparently my factotum, who I left in D.C., signed a contract for me (aka him) to appear in Time Magazine. On the face of it, writing a column for Time seems just the opposite of what, as you know, I vowed to do last year, viz., leaving punditry for nude modeling. But, as with any vow, there is a time clause – after all, my booboo about Iraq doesn’t excuse me from battling Islamofascism wherever it rears its ugly head. I was, I admit, surprised by the Time announcement. However, after a long conference call with my fac (which was interrupted by my director’s need to have me stiffen my resolve for a scene I was playing with my co-star, Cruella, a charming Southern girl), I decided to see how this Time magazine gig works out.

As this was playing out, I glanced through the LA Times, looking for my friend Jon’s fabulous reflections. And boy, was I rewarded! He is truly sticking it to the doves today! Going through the pitiful records of one of the appeasers who have so damaged the dear, dear Democratic party, Jonathan Schell, he produces one of the great paragraphs of our time, a time crying out for the lucidity of a Harry Truman as the long long long long war continues to threaten all freedom loving people:

“Or go back to the last war we fought with Iraq. Schell insisted that we could force Iraq to leave Kuwait with sanctions alone, rather than by using military force. But the years that followed that war made it clear just how impotent that tool was. Saddam Hussein endured more than a decade of sanctions rather than give up a weapons of mass destruction program that turned out to be nonexistent. If sanctions weren't enough to make him surrender his imaginary weapons, I think we can safely say they wouldn't have been enough to make him surrender a prized, oil-rich conquest.”

Sometimes, the doves – who I give every credit to for their intentions – obscure the important issue. The most important issue of our time was simply this: Hussein would not surrender his imaginary weapons! An America that is threatened by imaginary weapons is an America that can never be as strong, as erect, as lubricated as the America I see in my dreams. In the future, we cannot allow the stockpiling of imaginary weapons – this is something we can all agree on, whether we are Joe Lieberman in the center or Hilary Clinton on the far appeasement left.

However, Jon misses something essential, here: where are OUR imaginary weapons? Without imaginary weapons, the world will think, basically, that Uncle Sam is the Bend Over Kid (fans will recall my scene on the hood of that vintage Mustang in the film of the same name – and no, to answer the query from S.T. in Seattle, augmentation, as dear Condi would put it, was not involved).

We now have a chance to catch up in the imaginary weapons department, and this will be a test – a test of the resolve of the Democratic Party. For if we cannot build the imaginary weapons of tomorrow, that party, sadly, will show itself mired in its McGovernist yesterdays.

I remain, strong in resolve
Peter Beinart
Nude Model

through the ringer with some NYT reviewers

LI is suffering from some damned confederation of leaks and clogs in his pipes – sick to you, damned sick, and I don’t, as our blessed VP put it so teeth grittingly yesterday, have to put my little fucking pinkie in the air and see what a lot of the low use population has to say about that. Sick is sick, you fuckers (the endearing phrase Cheney uses to talk about the cowardly, Islamofascist favoring populace) . Thus, I couldn’t exactly go forward with my plan to explore Ka in relation to De Quincey, the natural next step from my last post.

So instead, a review of a review.

LI is a great fan of the early Martin Amis – the period from Money to London Fields – and is, consequently, very much thumbs down on this ill formed, ill thought out toss off of a new novel, the House of Meetings, a sort of test tube baby that resulted from the unprotected meeting of Anthony Beevor’s Berlin and Anne Applebaum’s Gulag on Amis’ bookshelf. Martin Amis has decided that he, unlike other British comic novelists of the past, is peculiarly gifted with insights into vast swathes of human history – he’s Tommie Mann, if you will, sledding down the Magic Mountain. Unfortunately, the U.K. just doesn’t create the exciting world historical stuff anymore for a novelist of his caliber, so he has to go abroad. (There is a funny dismissal of Robert Graves, of all people, in the House of Meetings - but no, no, no, I must include this in a ps - it is a funny one-off comment that says everything about the safari tour morality of not only Martin Amis, but of the whole liberal warhawery as constituted at present). The premise of House of Meetings is that this Russian expat, magically rich – it is a symptom of how bad this novel is that the striving for money, one of Amis’ great themes, is tossed aside for the scriptwriter’s given of affluence – is moved to write patronizing screeds to his step daughter, an American who apparently went to college in a Tom Wolfe novel (she is a wavering fantasy of PC gestures and, for some reason, blameable money – that she has never had to lie in her own shit in a prison camp has definitely put her lower on the gravitas scale both for her stepfather and for Amis) whilst returning, via a tour boat, to the Gulag camp in which he and his brother were held in the late 40s and early 50s. Oh, and the narrator went marching through Germany raping, vide the Beevor. This sadly loose premise, especially compared to the fine little traps Amis used to make to squeeze his characters, allows for a lot of pontification, as well as for a very weird metaphor for the ass of the woman that both the narrator and his brother are in love/lust with.

Well, this is just the kind of studly, liberal hawk stuff (against the Gulag, check; against the softhearted PC-ers, check) that some reviewers – notably, Michiko Kakutani -are going to find absolutely thrilling. But the cover review of the novel in the Sunday NYT by Liesl Schillinger has to be one of the worst reviews I’ve read there in years. Already, the paper has published the following correction:

“The cover review in the Book Review today, about Martin Amis’s novel “House of Meetings,” misstates the relationship between the unnamed narrator and Venus, the young woman he addresses throughout. She is his stepdaughter, not his daughter.”

Now, since one of the few episodes set in that part of the narrator’s life in which he becomes rich in America is explicitly about Venus choosing to stay with the narrator, it is a measure of Schillinger’s shall we say hit and run way of reading the novel that this passes her by. Not that she doesn’t pretty much broadcast that she is a woman who skips a lot in novels, as for instance in this astonishing paragraph:

“Writers seeking to capture the nature of Russia in one take have often favored grand oppositional schemes: “Crime and Punishment”; “War and Peace”; or, in the case of Woody Allen, “Love and Death.” It goes without saying that there’s more punishment than crime in Dostoyevsky’s novel; and a guilty secret of Russian bookworms is that many of them skim or skip the war parts of Tolstoy’s classic, focusing on the romantic sections devoted to peace. But “House of Meetings” is primarily, obsessively, occupied with the gulag and lacks a counterweight, at the expense of the usual teeter-tottering Amis brio. A woman named Zoya masquerades as a love interest. Luscious, lurching, swivel-hipped and Jewish, she is the wife of the narrator’s brother, Lev.”

Right, skipping those war scenes is just what Russian bookworms are all about – just as readers of Hamlet often skip the tawdry bits about revenge and shit to concentrate on whether Ophelia and the Prince are going to make it, or whether they’ll have to break up, which would be such a bummer for Ophelia.

I have, maliciously, quoted the nadir paragraph of Schillinger’s review, but the rest is equally incoherent. She seems to have decided, having skipped the gross parts in House of Meetings, to free associate about Russian literature in lieu of, like, actually reviewing House of Meetings. If she couldn’t take Prince Andrei loosing consciousness on the battlefield of Austerlitz, it is unlikely she is going to read about lice with any happiness. I have never read a review that made me suspect more that the author reached page 30, went to the middle of the book, and then took a look at the last ten pages. And this is a short book.

I will give Schillinger this – she never commits blurb language. Kakatuni’s first graf about the novel ends like this: “a bullet train of a novel that barrels deep into the heart of darkness that was the Soviet gulag and takes the reader along on an unnerving journey into one of history’s most harrowing chapters.”

This is a bullet train of a sentence – one that crashed as it hit the heart of darkness that was the Soviet Gulag, and out of which passengers leaped as it was going off the track, explosions racking the lead train, balls of fire casting shadows over Nyt readers trying desperately to avoid the harrowing clichés ahead as they tumbled into the outer darkness.

ps - about the Robert Graves comment. Here it is. Remember, our narrator has served in the Soviet army and spent a decade in a slave labor camp:

... I read the famous memoir by the poet Robert von Ranke Graves (English father, German mother). I was very struck, and very comforted, by his admission that it took him ten years to recover, morally, from the first World War. But it took me rather longer than that to recover from the Second. He spent his convalescent decade on some island in the Meditteranean. I spent time above the Arctic Circle, in penal servitude.


The balance between the pendantic precision accorded to Graves name - here's a wanking toff, look at that von Ranke, will ya - and the imprecision of what Graves did - he actually went to Majorca in the twenties after spending a very stormy time in Britain that ended with his attempted suicide, so it wasn't exactly that he took a cruise boat tour - and of course he fled Majorca in the end because of a little thing called the Spanish Civil War - is indicative of Amis' odd notion that, deep from within the bright heart of his affluence, he is more of a he-man, really, than this Graves chap, and all of those earlier generations that had no appreciation for the really heroic gestures - except perhaps George Orwell, one should never forget him: we are all Orwells today! A little trench warfare and that sissy Graves has to go to Majorca!

For connoisseurs of the ridiculous, Amis' career since he discovered the Gulag, what was it, in 1998, offers a case study that just keeps on giving. Compared to Graves life of luxury in the trenches, one can only see Amis' agonizing encounter with the Gulag in book after book as a sort of martyrdom, much like Joan of Arc's, except with better lunches in between.

The House of Meetings, by the way, is packed with these invidious comparisons between the decadent West, full of Gulagofascist supporters, and the horrors, absolute horrors, gone through by the narrator. Usually one would say - well, the narrator is not to be identified with Martin Amis, the author - but these off the cuff remarks are so consistent with the remarks Martin Amis, the author, likes to make in newspaper articles and so inconsistent with what we imagine the narrator saying (for instance, about, of all people, Robert Graves) - that we have good reason to conflate the two.