“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, March 17, 2007

poets vs. policymakers

Re: the poets

I went to the Boston Review site, to a symposium held in Spring, 2006 about exiting from Iraq. The symposium centered around an essay by Barry Posen, a war intellectual. There were replies from politicians and experts, like Senator Biden and Lawrence Korb. There was also a reply by Elliot Weinberg, a poet who has been writing about Iraq for the LRB. Unsurprisingly, to me, almost everything said by the politicians and the war intellectuals – for instance, their assurance that by late 2007 the U.S. was going to be pulling troops out of Iraq – has turned out to be wrong. Posen proposed what will be the Hilary Clinton policy, one of perpetual stationing of U.S. troops in the Middle East under cover of fictitious threats – for instance, the “threat” posed by Iran to Iraq:

“American military planners should be directed to develop “over the horizon” strategies for the defense of Iraq against conventional aggression. The United States should exploit its command of the sea, space, and air to develop credible threats against conventional aggressors. Its ability to mount devastating attacks from the air, in particular, has been demonstrated several times in the Persian Gulf since the 1991 war; Iraq can benefit from American carrier aviation, strategic bombers, and bases in the region. (Iraq may wish to maintain ready air bases to aid rapid reinforcement by American land-based aircraft, as Saudi Arabia did in the 1980s.) American intelligence agencies and the U.S. Special Operations Command should maintain relationships with their official and unofficial Iraqi counterparts among the Kurds, the Shia, and the Sunni to help them act in their own interests despite the meddling of neighboring states.

An interval of 18 months provides ample time for the United States to help the Iraqis complete the project of training and organizing an army capable of maintaining internal security. In effect, this means training Shia-dominated security forces capable of policing and defending Baghdad and Shia-majority areas to the south. (The Kurds already have functioning police and military forces.) The prospect of taking responsibility for their own security will surely focus the attention of Iraqi politicians—especially the Shiites. Because the United States will continue to be responsible for Iraq’s external defense after the withdrawal, and because the insurgents operate in small groups, it is not necessary to train an army capable of large-scale mechanized operations; infantry units fortified with small amounts of artillery and armor and capable of a limited repertoire of operations at the level of brigade, battalion, and company should prove sufficient. Such a force has not yet been created. But if Iraqis—especially the Shiites—are motivated by the knowledge that they will soon be on their own, they can achieve such a capability with a year’s hard work. Iraq is now full of individuals who have had some kind of military training or experience.”

The poet makes an irresponsible reply to this to do list with an irresponsible reminder that, actually, the United States doesn’t own Iraq or seem to have any intention of understanding Iraqis, making all to do lists so much D.C. garbage.

“Posen’s arguments are couched in terms of “American interests,” as though he were trying to persuade Republicans on their own grounds. This strikes me as a futile gesture, however noble. In the undoubting group-mind of the Bush junta, the United States isn’t going anywhere. It wants the bases and it wants the oil, particularly as its think-tank cohorts, not unrealistically, see the future as a long economic, possibly even military, war with China over vanishing resources. (By the way, Posen’s statement that “the interest of the United States in oil is not to control it in order to affect price or gain profit” may be theoretically true but is inapplicable to the Bush crowd.) Even if the Rapture were to come to Washington tomorrow and Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and all the rest were to ascend to the big War Room in the sky, we’d still be left with the Democrats, among whom not a single major figure has called for an immediate end to the occupation, and all of whom seem to be auditioning for an election-year remake of Clueless.

"This is an academic debate of imagined scenarios, but I don’t quite see how Posen’s “new strategy” is more realistic than any other. The idea of a loose federation of Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia semi-autonomies crashes on the rocks in Baghdad unless there is some sort of divided city on the model of Jerusalem or the former Berlin, which will only create more barriers, checkpoints, and tensions. (And what to do about Kirkuk?) It is unlikely that the Shia will allow the Sunnis to have their own army, and unlikely that the Shia will gather many recruits for the military and security forces when recruits have been precisely the targets of insurgent attacks. Moreover, the strategy envisions that these armies, after having been trained by the Americans—a dismal failure so far, but sure to succeed after “a year’s hard work”—would continue to “maintain relationships” with U.S. intelligence agencies and U.S. Special Operations Command, which in the future would somehow become more welcome than they are now. I find unconvincing the military threat from neighboring countries (excepting, of course, Turkey, if Kurdistan declares its independence) that the United States would police. The strategy tends to treat the three groups as monoliths and does not account for the many “Sushis” (mixed Sunni-Shia marriages), nor for the divisions and rivalries within each group, nor for the surprising temporary alliances between groups, such as Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sunnis in Fallujah, that are sure to occur. And Posen does not say a word about reconstruction.”

This has proven to be a much shrewder analysis of the real setpoints of the Bush administration than Posen gives. And Weinberger comes up with an on the fly scheme that would be much better, all the way around, for all parties, save the War Industry party in these here states:

“We need to stop thinking about U.S. interests—in the name of which the world is being bulldozed—and start thinking about human interests. There is no possibility of stability and peace in Iraq as long as the Americans are there. (And “Americans” means not only troops, but the tens of thousands of unregulated mercenaries and the corrupt legionnaires of the corporations that are pocketing billions for doing nothing.) In an ideal world, the United States would declare an immediate cease-fire—no more missions, no more leveling of cities like Fallujah and Ramadi in the futile attempt to “flush out” insurgents—and begin to dismantle the huge wall around the Green Zone and the endless checkpoints and barricades. This would be followed by an accelerated withdrawal of all American troops and the introduction of UN peacekeeping forces in the hope of warding off open civil war. Simultaneously, the withdrawal of all American corporations, with reconstruction projects turned over to nations not associated with the Coalition of the Willing, most obviously France, Germany, and China. (Given what is happening in China now, the Chinese could probably rebuild Iraq in ten minutes.)”

The only thing I’d disagree with is the corporation withdrawal – while as a moral move, this is irreproachable, in reality, you are never going to get Americans do anything without promising them candy. The ideal should approach the real insofar as America has to be part of ceasefire talks. The word “ceasefire” has still not passed the lips of any American politician of national repute – in fact, it is hardly even mentioned by the so called anti-war movement. General Petraeus has, however, hinted at it, and eventually it will either come or the American driven catastrophe will get infinitely worse, and not to the betterment of any American interest – even those of the WarIndustry. In the long run, they depend on the mass American delusion that we win all wars, and that all the wars we fight are moral. Not that the War Industry people give a shit about the long run, of course.

the west is the best...

A little collage today. This is from a review of three books about the slave trade by Peter Ackroyd in the Times:

Two hundred years after the House of Commons voted for the abolition of the slave trade (although not of slavery itself) a number of books are being published to celebrate the anniversary. If their focus is largely on England, that is because slave trading became a thoroughly English business. Half of the ships crossing the Atlantic with their infamous cargo came from English ports, the three most prominent being London, Bristol and Liverpool. They left carrying goods for African merchants; in return they acquired slaves, the remnants of conquered tribes. Once the human merchandise had been sold in the Americas, the ships returned laden with sugar and tobacco. In the 1780s alone, 794,000 Africans were transported. It can safely be estimated that many tens of millions made the fatal journey.

Not all of them arrived. Approximately 15 per cent of them died during the Atlantic voyage. They were chained together in the holds of the ships, trussed up like bundles of kindling wood. They died from dysentery and a host of other infectious diseases. They died of thirst, when the drinking water ran out. They died of despair. Those left alive were often in mortal peril. There is a famous case of one English captain who threw overboard many living slaves, so that he could claim on insurance.

And this is from an essay-reply to another book review, Timothy Garton Ash’s review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book in the NYTBR, which provoked an attack on Ash and Ian Buruma (who wrote a book about the murder of Theo van Gogh) by Pascal Bruckner. Various replies and counter-replies are piling up on the Sight and Sound Site. This one is by a Dutch professor of jurisprudence, Paul Cliteur:

For many years, the official credo of the Dutch government was multiculturalism, an approach that fitted well with Dutch history and culture. Multiculturalism is nowadays affiliated with a postmodern outlook. The pivotal ideas of this vision of life are relativism (cultural relativism, in particular), a negative attitude toward Western political tradition, the cultivation of collective guilt for the transgressions of the colonial past, and other real or presumed black pages in Western history.

For multiculturalists, European civilization has been fundamentally on the wrong track since the Enlightenment. The Holocaust, Nazism, communism, slavery - these are seen not as deviations from the generally benign development of Western culture but as inevitable products of the European mind, which is inherently oppressive.

Multiculturalists also reject the universality of Enlightenment ideas of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, viewing them instead as isolated preoccupations of no universal appeal. It is preposterous and a manifestation of cultural arrogance, on this view, to invade foreign countries to export democracy and other Western ideals; it is likewise ridiculous to expect that religious and ethnic minorities in Western societies should be expected to adopt these ideas and integrate into liberal democracy. Minorities should live according to their own customs; and, insofar as national culture is at variance with non-Western ideas, the national culture should adapt itself to new conditions. This attitude has grave consequences for the way liberal society is organized. Think of the principle of free speech. The answer of postmodern cultural relativism is: refrain from criticism. Be reticent to comment on unfamiliar religions. Let reform come from within and avoid provocation and polarization.


he owners of slaves were no less brutal. They raped, mutilated or murdered the human beings in their charge. We know this from their own testimony. One of their number, Thomas Thistlewood, arrived in Jamaica in the summer of 1750; he kept a diary, in which inadvertently he left a record of his slow degradation. "Had him well flogged and pickled," he wrote on May 26, 1756, of a slave who had been caught eating sugar cane. "Then made Hector shit in his mouth." To be "pickled" was to have raw wounds marinated in a concoction of pepper and lime juice.

The bodies of all the slaves were at Thistlewood's disposal. He whipped and tortured the recalcitrant, raped any woman who caught his eye and, as a matter of routine, maltreated every slave as if by right. The bodies of the abject and dispossessed were simply another commodity to be bought and sold. It was a matter of commercial economy. Yet he feared his slaves. Blacks outnumbered whites by a ratio of ten to one. Any successful uprising would have led to great slaughter on both sides. So the whole system was of fear compounded by brutality. It was corrosive and destructive.

Postmodernism does not hold the Western tradition of rationality in high esteem, but would it also deny the right of the Western world to defend itself? The whole outlook that advocates the ideals of the Enlightenment, including democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, is to be replaced by the glorification of "otherness," by non-Western cultures, and especially by the conviction that all cultures are equally valuable.”


It was a thriving trade, AS newspaper advertisements from 1787 can testify. "To be sold for want of employment. A healthy Negro wench of about twenty-one years old .
. . she has a female child of nigh three years old, which will be sold with the wench if required." Or the reader might have preferred "a well-made good tempered black boy, he has lately had the small-pox, and will be sold to any gentleman".

A good illustration of this outlook on life can be found in the work of Stuart Sim, a professor of critical theory at the University of Sunderland (UK). The core of the problem is fundamentalism, a concept he was inspired to analyze after the attack on the World Trade Center. So far, so good. But, like other postmodern cultural critics, Sim has a very broad definition of fundamentalism. In his book "Fundamentalist World: The New Dark Age of Dogma", alongside religious fundamentalism, Sim discerns "market fundamentalism," "political fundamentalism," "national fundamentalism," and more. For Sim, every single set of ideas that is not completely relativistic is fundamentalist. So the only way to escape from the indictment of "fundamentalist" and "fundamentalism" is to adopt the postmodern relativistic outlook that Sim himself favors.

Of course, LI should declare a parti pris. We consider Cliteur a complete and utter idiot, who seemingly doesn't even understand the "multiculturalism" he is criticizing, and gives the most far fetched account possible of its origin and influence. Multiculturalism doesn’t come out of some mass hypnotic reading of Orientalism, but out of the material history that made it the case that a small piece of land shored off from the ocean was able to control, for three centuries, and much to its profit, a large piece of land, now called Indonesia. Or rather, it started in the system that made that possible, a complicated process of empires battling empires, with poor European states leveraging small advantages in arms and transport technology and a large hunger for the wealth that the Europeans couldn't produce themselves into global colonial empires. It wasn't Edward Said, but Christopher Columbus, who started multiculturalism as an ongoing and ever present global fact.

Somehow, nobody in Holland was worrying about the immigration problem in 1800 or 1900. See, there were a lot of emigrant Dutch. They were immigrants in, say, Java. Instead of congregating in small ghettos and competing for menial jobs, however, they were overthrowing the government, killing native Javanese, taking control of their land and produce, and shipping the profits to Amsterdam. In comparison, the Muslim immigrants to Amsterdam today are models of civilized behavior. Never has an immigrant community been so polite, so peaceful, so full of good will. They ahve arrived as a result of the fact that, uh, the labor market is global. It is mobile, flexible, revved up by capitalism. Cliteur doesn't like it, and to that LI sayS: tough tittie.

As for the image of the world turned upside down promoted by Bruckner and company, it would be to laugh if it wasn’t all so sad. Let’s see. We have the Soviet attack on Afghanistan. We have the Russian attack on Chechnya. We have the Serbian attack on Bosnia. We have the American attack on Iraq. By my count, in this horrid uprising of those Islamic beasts, somehow the casualty count at the moment stands in a ratio of Christians 1 to Muslims 10. The colonialist mentality of the Bruckners (oh so Leftist in his anxiety to spread, uh, secularism, that’s it – the secularism of the bulletjacket and the phantom fighter jet) and the Cliteurs is the icing on the mass murder cake.

Not that LI would call them fundamentalist, because … we don’t care! These are sticks and stones that are not even worth throwing. But we did like Cliteur's use of "benign" to describe the rise of the West. So fucking benign we are all in awe.

One scholarly note, however, is in order. The enlightenment was as relativistic a movement as any Cliteur deplores. The Early modernists - from Leibnitz to the great Orientalist, William Jones - had a deep appreciation of non-European cultures. As well they should. The stupid universalism of the Cliteur type is actually a reaction against that relativism, which began in the romantic, conservative reaction to the French Revolution. Please, if you are going to defend Europe's intellectual history, at least learn a little bit about it.

Friday, March 16, 2007

another baudelaire post

- Hugh H. Diamond, studies in puerperal mania.

“Also, I have to admit that, for the last two or three months, I’ve let my character go, I’ve taken a particular joy in wounding, in showing myself impertinent, a talent in which I excel when I want to. But here that isn’t enough: one has to be gross in order to be understood.”- letter, October 13, 1864

It is odd that – at least as I remember it – Sebald, in his last novel, Austerlitz, part of which is set in Belgium, never mentions Baudelaire. Could I be forgetting something? The 1887 edition of the Oeuvres Posthumes contains a biographical introduction by Eugène Crépet that explains the peculiar horror that overcame Baudelaire in 1864 as he familiarized himself with Belgium – it was another piece of his habitual bad luck that he chose to flee from France to, of all places, Belgium. It was the kind of place, as he explains in a letter, where the only thing that could possibly move the people to revolt would be raising the cost of beer. He was tortured by the stink of Brussels – Crépet explains that Baudelaire had an extremely developed olfactory sensibility – and the ugliness of the people and the yawning lack of conversation.

By March, 1866, the devil that had tracked Baudelaire through his life, condemned all his books to failure for various reasons – here a press goes bankrupt, there the critics condemn him, and of course there is that most comic of volumes, Fleurs de Mal, a bunch of filth that can’t compare with the beautiful and healthful lyrics of a Musset or Beranger – and so patriotic, too, that Beranger – began to pursue its endgame. Baudelaire started suffering more and more visibly from some mental derangement. On a train going to Brussels, Baudelaire asked for the door to the compartment to be opened. It was open. He meant to ask for it to be closed, but he couldn’t find the words for that phrase. They came out backwards. In an article in the Figaro, 22 April, 1866, a journalist noted that Baudelaire’s symptoms were “so bizarre that the doctors hesitated to give a name to this sickness. In the middle of his sufferings, Baudelaire felt a certain satisfaction in being attainted with an extraordinary illness, one which escaped analysis. This was still an originality.” His mother took him to Paris, where he was confined to an asylum. By this time he couldn’t speak, except to say non, cré nom, non. He tried to write on a small chalkboard, but he couldn’t shape the letters. He could, however, gesture, and did.

At his death, a few journals noted, with satisfaction, the death of a degenerate who would now no longer bother the public with his childish pornography. The kind of things you’d expect in, say, the NYT today. Same complete nullity, the same numbskull public intelligence, that combination scold and lecher that is the voice of a million articles, with the point being to erect a wall, a protective blankness, to keep at bay any doubt the consuming animal might form about the system in which it moves and breathes.

So: all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. It is in the mood of these last years that Baudelaire read the article by his friend, Janin.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

the sibyls of modernism

« Aujourd’hui, 23 janvier 1862, écrit Baudelaire sur son carnet, j’ai subi un singulier avertissement, j’ai senti passer sur moi le vent de l’aile de l’imbécillité. »

“En 1863, le Figaro insère, en extrait, une violente attaque de Pontmartin contre Baudelaire. En 1864, le même Figaro condescend à publier une série de Poèmes en prose. Seulement, après deux publications (7 et 14 février), Villemessant met fin à cette fantaisie et voici la raison qu’il donne sans ambages à l’auteur, pour expliquer la mesure prise : « Vos poèmes ennuyaient tout le monde. »

- La Vie doloureuse de Baudelaire, by Francois Porche

I recently re-read one of my favorite books of the nineties, James Buchan’s Frozen Desire, an essay on money that gives as much weight to paintings of Judas, the life of Baudelaire, and Raskolnikov (the final dire dialectical figure at the end of laissez faire) as it does to Adam Smith, Keynes and Simmel – and of course it ignores the horrid Milton Friedman, God rest his soul.

About Baudelaire, Buchan quotes Proust’s phrase that Baudelaire sympathized with the poor as a form of anticipation – which is so wholly lovely that it is almost spoiled by going on (which, after all, is what determines, more than voice or rule, the way a line of poetry runs – it is only over when it is over for good – when nothing on that same line could be added that wouldn’t stain or destroy it – and thus the blank is part of the poem - and thus we fall down the poem as we fall down a ladder, rung by rung). Of course, in LI’s me me me way of looking at things, we thought that is exactly our own stance, or was. Of course, now anticipation is instantiation, and we have long had no pity whatsoever for the poor – simply a fanged and competitive attitude. Buchan adds that in the end, as Baudelaire was reduced to rags (but never dirty underwear, according to his biographer Porche), he compiled lists in his last journals. He listed all his friends. They were all prostitutes.

“Here the epoch has arrived of that long haired, graying Baudelaire, his neck enveloped – as per his hypochondria – with a violet scarf; the Baudelaire that was see walking like a shadow, a huge notebook under his arm, in company with the old Guys, at Musard’s, at a casino on the rue Cadet, at Valentino’s. To Monselet who, one evening, in one of those low dives where workers danced, asked him what he was doing there, he replied: I’m watching the death’s heads pass by (« Je regarde passer des têtes de mort. »).”

In these circumstances, when the old bird has almost molted its last feathers and the street reaches out its arms at night to take back its own, there is a moment of collapse and flight. This is when Baudelaire made his journey to Belgium. A complete disaster. And it is when he encountered an article by Jules Janin about Heine, in which Janin, praising Heine, still reproached him for being unreasonably melancholic at times – a point that Janin extended to all of contemporary literature. Where was the gaiety, the song? Where was that lie that eventually became La Traviata? Let’s have a little happy art, for a change. And of course, lets have no unexplained irony – irony is always being chased out of the city, fed hemlock, and in general fucked in the ass and thrown in the gutter – it is the dread of the Janins of the past, just as it is the dread of the Janins of the present – James Woods, for instance, to name a comparable contemporary critic. Baudelaire wrote Janin a letter – which he never sent him. It is a fantastic document, one of those texts in which something blazes out that … it is unfair to call prophetic, as though it were high praise that someone in the past anticipated our moo cow and nukes culture. What blazes out, just as what blazes out of Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, is the world within the world of the sibyls of modernism …

Okay, I’ll translate some of the letter in another post.

the portmanteau tombstone

Le voyez-vous, dit-elle, il meurt, ce vieux pervers,
Tous les frimas du monde ont passé par sa bouche – Nerval, “Horus”

Nerval is a poet of strange, strange lines. All the frost of the world passed through his mouth – a truth that could shatter some world, one you possibly live in, if you could find the key to it.

An anecdote: When Nerval went mad in 1841, he naturally tried to suppress the news of this from leaking out. He was the most discrete of men. So imagine his shock when his friend, the critic Jules Janin, wrote a charming mock obituary for Nerval’s reason. So funny! Nerval, in public, even played along with the image Janin had stamped upon him, but in a despairing letter to Janin Nerval denounced the article and Janin for ruining that thing in a life that you can’t get back: the seriousness that surrounds one. He’d been made a buffoon, who feared being made a buffoon.

Here’s how Jonathan Strauss, in Subjects of Terror: Nerval, Hegel and the Modern Self, describes what happened to Nerval that first time, borrowing from Aurelia: “The importance and complexity of Nerval’s role as a mad writer have evolved over the years since the evening of late February 1841 when, following the appeals and declination of a certain star hanging over the horizon, he wandered naked through he streets of Paris, into the arms of the night patrol, and into what was to be the first of a long series of voluntary and involuntary confinements.” The result of Nerval’s stay in Dr. Blanche’s madhouse (a few blocks down from Balzac’s house) was, according to the reliable introduction to the Penguin Nerval, a necronym. Nerval named himself Gerald Nerval after having given himself an immense and mythic geneology. He convinced himself that he was really related to Napoleon, the bastard child, unacknowledged, of Napoleon’s brother. But he was related, as well, to more ancient monarchies. “Gerald Nerval” complicatedly encodes a secret message from the dead – who, in Nerval’s books, are never really dead. They pass into a realm of haunting. Nerva is from the Roman emperor, Averne is the realm of death, vernal of spring, geras is the Greek for glory – and thus a portmanteau tombstone name. He put his suicide into his name – who among us can say as much?

But I have more to say about this Janin.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

LI was going to put in this here space one of our ever popular posts about Janin, Nerval and Baudelaire, but unfortunately, where does the fucking time go? LI can't be translating French stuff today, ladies and gents.

We did want to announce that we got a contribution of enormous proportions for this site, yesterday. Thank you, Mr. ....

And, in lieu of something interesting and fun, it is compare and contrast day. Here is an article about the new oil law in Iraq from a warmonger. The gentleman has never been right about Iraq, has found the killing fields in Iraq something of a bracer, supported installing a convicted criminal as the head of the conquered territory, and has never met an opposition argument that he hasn't disposed of by dishonestly manhandling it. We are talking about one suave voiced peckerwood here. And over here is one from a sensible person who knows about the oil business. You decide which one is within the ballpark of reality, and which one is another sad evidence of debility, decay, and decline.

Monday, March 12, 2007

An anecdote for IT

Grimod de Reyniere was a famous gourmand of pre-revolutionary and revolutionary France. We have mentioned him in an earlier post. He is mentioned by Nerval as an esprit faible – Nerval tells the story of the two philosophical feasts that were given by Grimod in the Roman fashion, at which women with long hair were scattered among the guests so that their hair could be used by the guests to wipe their hands – just the kind of touch that drove Carlyle and Dickens crazy about the ancien regime.

Anyway, Grimod de Reyniere was notoriously fond of pigs, and not so fond of women – or at least, of his mother. I have found a quote from him from a history of feasting, Charlemagne’s Tablecloth:

Everything in a pig is good. What ingratitude has permitted its name to become a form of opprobrium?

Is there a woman, no matter how pretty she may be, who can equal … Arles sausage, that delicacy which makes the person of the pig so valuable and precious?

And yet, this pig love is a rather odd thing. Grimod de Reyniere was born with deformed hands – one was a “webbed pincer, the other like a bird’s claw, both required false hands to be fitted”. And to cover up the shame of the deformities, his parents made up a story that he had been mauled by a pig.

Of course, there are those who say the praise of the pig was ironic. And there are those who say Grimod de Reyniere spent too much time with his friend, the Marquis de Sade.

This site gives a different view of Grimod de Reyniere, and has an example of his handwriting – sadly, with his chicken claw hand, Reyniere’s handwriting is better than LI’s.

our standard begging post

Limited Inc has not posted a begging contribution post in a while. So I figure it is time to post one. This is an excellent month to contribute to the maintenance of this enterprise if you are so inclined, since this month is proving to be a cruel one to LI's bones. We had a nice anonymous contribution last week - for which, much thanks! Contributors large and small, check out the little paypal link.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

the soundtrack

Q: In everyday life, do you sometimes have the impression of being in a film?
Baudrillard: Yes, particularly in America, to a quite painful degree. If you drive around Los Angeles in a car, or go out into the desert, you are left with an impression that is toally cinematographic, hallucinatory. You are … steeping in a substance which is that of the real, of the hyper-real, of the cinema. This is so even with that foreboding of catastrophe: an enormous truck bowling along a freeway, the frequent allusions to the possibility of catastrophic events, but perhaps that is a scenario I describe to myself.”
-From Baudrillard Live: selected interviews.

LI is of the opinion that post-modernity never happened, that all the features that are supposed to be postmodern – the hyperreal, the self as self-reference, the undermining of epistemic certainties by pure doxic moments (doxa, you Platonists will remember, are the half way real) – that all of this is what happens as we wander about the extended sensorium created by modernism. When Gerald Nerval in Aurelia recounts the l'épanchement du songe dans la vie réelle (the effusion of the dream in real life), the segues and montages and dissolves could be referenced, at best, to paintings and optical instruments like the microscope, telescope, and kaleidoscope, but now the dream is shot through real life in every grocery store and gas station rest room. And as for Nerval’s own version of the occult influence of the ordinary on his life – “I’ve often had this idea that in certain grave moments in life, the exterior world spirit, as such, incarnated itself suddenly in the form of an ordinary person, and acted or attempted to act on us, without the knowledge or memory of that person” – this is what I think I meant in yesterday’s post by saying that everything we touch turns to mythology, and it is that quality, raised to the power of an external system, that is the sensorium of modernity, on all tracks.

Which leads me to movie music, and in particular, the way my sense of myself has been bound up, at least since early adolescence, with the idea that there is a soundtrack to my life. Here we have a question for psychologists: what is the meaning and history of the life soundtrack? I know many people who definitely have this same sense – and in fact, those are the people who have always fascinated me in my life. There are many things that go into elective affinity – one of them for me is the intuition that a certain person has this soundtrack, lives with it, nourishes it, realizes, obscurely, that it is important. These people are poseurs, and I do love poseurs – it requires a lot of push back against the inertia of the everyday, which, after a while, wears on even Popeye’s muscle. I do think the soundtrack dies, for a lot of people – who knows, perhaps most people – in the twenties. It might be a sign of one’s retarded development in late modern capitalism to retain it, as I do, into middle age.

I do know, however, that Baudrillard’s sense of living in a film in America leaves out that very important thing – the radio. The cd deck. Without it – especially in those vast eyeaching spaces that you have to speed through, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Texas – the movie-in-life becomes simply a trance of sleep inducing landscapes. I have left behind a little bit of myself – the little bit that lived at a fictitious address in Georgia - in the computers of the state police of each of those states, just trying to get out of there.

Liars all the way down

LI recommends this article by Gretchen Morgensen today. Although it scares the living bejesus out me – since one of the things about the temporary collapse of capitalism is that poor people tend to get wiped out first, and I tend to be a poor person. Shit. In the dream, I am at the wheel of the car, and the brake stops working, and the accelerator jams, and there is a brick wall looming just ahead.

There is a conservative mindset which pops up among the Clinton liberal set that is all about balanced budgets. I think that is fucking braindead. Debt is not a bad thing – for instance, the European economy, with its paralyzed fear of inflation, did not do the necessary in the past six years, ease up lending requirements and use the European real estate market, in classic Keynesian fashion, to operate as a multiplier at the same time as it transferred savings into investment - but reading this made me sick. This is when the evaporation of savings becomes, uh, real:

In 2000, according to Banc of America Securities, the average loan to a subprime lender was 48 percent of the value of the underlying property. By 2006, that figure reached 82 percent.

Mortgages requiring little or no documentation became known colloquially as “liar loans.” An April 2006 report by the Mortgage Asset Research Institute, a consulting concern in Reston, Va., analyzed 100 loans in which the borrowers merely stated their incomes, and then looked at documents those borrowers had filed with the I.R.S. The resulting differences were significant: in 90 percent of loans, borrowers overstated their incomes 5 percent or more. But in almost 60 percent of cases, borrowers inflated their incomes by more than half.

While the poet in me experiences a certain frisson that the Weltgeist so brilliantly propped up the liar war and the liar government on the back of the liar loan economy - the poor forked creature who is worried about bread and shelter is not happy. I do get antsy when bad things impact the "$6.5 trillion mortgage securities market" - I'm funny that way.