“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, September 22, 2007

the thrill of superstition

Alexis de Tocqueville landed in America in May, 1831 and spent nine months there; out of that experience he wrote Democracy in America and became famous.

Charles Poyen never quite became famous, and is now utterly forgotten. He came to America by a convoluted journey worthy of a Greek hero – his itinerary was littered with omens, pronounced by somnambulists. He consulted a somnambulist, Madame Villetard, in Paris, looking for a cure for a chronic pain he suffered from. Her remarkable knowledge of his disease- which, we are assured in his memoir, The Progress of Animal Magnetism in New England, was not altogether beyond Poyen’s own comprehension, since he was a medical student – led him to ask her about his proposed journey to Guadaloup, where part of his family resided, apparently as plantation owners. Madame Villetard gave her approval, so off our hero went, to convalesce and further explore the mysteries of somnambulism. He did so, using some ‘colored servants’ as subjects, and proving to his own satisfaction that the mesmeric trance touched on something universal: …the human soul was gifted with the same primitive and essential faculties among every nation and under whatever skin, black red or white, it may be concealed.”

Admirable sentiments. However, the somnambulists of Guadaloup predicted that his illness would not resolve itself any time soon, so he set off for New England, where he had relatives. He went to Maine. He went to Lowell. He taught French. And, admiring his new country, he resolved to plunge into its difficulties, writing a book that ‘was calculated to avoid all social commotions and give equal satisfaction to the parties interested.’ This was in the 1830s, and it was to be expected that a plantation owning Frenchman would attack abolitionism – but, of course, not in the meantime defending slavery. Then Poyen turned his hand to translating and lecturing on animal magnetism. Of course, he felt the heat of prejudice – after all, the theory had been exploded by the ‘great Franklin’ fifty years before, alluding to the committee, including Franklin, Bailly, Lavoisier, Thouvet and other notables that investigated Mesmer, under the direction of the royal government in 1784, which concluded that Mesmeric effects were the result of pure suggestion. It was patriotic to disbelieve in animal magnetism. But the enlightenment America of Franklin’s time had disappeared. Paine, coming back to America in 1803, had already written bitter articles about the narrow and bigoted class that had supplanted the enlightened colonial elite. Poyen didn’t find the class particularly bigoted, except, of course, among the establishment medical men.

Poyen was just the kind of enterprising individual that America in the age of the Great Awakening tended to embrace. He had a story of sickness. He had a story of a cure. And the cure was not simply a cure, but a metaphysics, a cosmology, the beginning of a new world. From our diseases we make our discoveries.

Poyen confesses that he himself could not ‘magnetize’, but he quickly found a countryman of his, a Monsieur Bugard, a French teacher, who could. Thus began a practice that was also an exhibit.

It wasn’t that Poyen was the first Mesmerist in America, but he was the first well known Mesmerist missionary. And he had an effect in America that was, in some ways, larger than Tocqueville’s. He attracted a number of New England mechanicals who put down their tools and took up magnetic cures. Among them was a Mr. Phineus Quimby – the very name is like a Jules Verne character! – who heard Poyen lecture in Belfast, Maine, where Quimby worked as a clockmaker. Poyen saw that Quimby was a natural, and Quimby believed him, so like many a disciple, Quimby gave up his former life and embarked on a new one as a healer. Among those Quimby operated upon was Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science.

Between Poyen’s stay in America and Quimby’s own practice, certain parts of the mesmeric doctrine melted away – or rather merged with other intellectual currents in New England. It is no accident that Poyen was attracted to the slavery debate – abolitionism and other social causes – woman’s suffrage, temperance, etc. - and spiritualism were joined at the hip in pre-bellum America. As was the intellectual culture that, for Edgar Allan Poe, was the only ‘aristocracy’ in America.

Poe, in the 1840s, took up mesmerism as a convenient device for producing uncanny effects. It worked – Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in a fan letter to Poe, mentioned that ‘Valdemar’ had produced a sensation in England. Indeed, it produced a sensation in mesmeric circles in general. The story begins with a pitch perfect reproduction of the tone of the animal magnetism pamphleteer, with its mixture of personal experience and scientific ‘fact’:

“My attention, for the last three years, had been repeatedly drawn to the subject of Mesmerism; and, about nine month ago, it occurred to me, quite suddenly, that in the series of experiments made hitherto, there had been a very remarkable and most unaccountable omission:—no person had as yet been mesmerized in articulo mortis. It remained to be seen, first, in such condition, there existed in the patient any susceptibility to the magnetic influence; secondly, whether, if any existed, it was impaired or increased by the condition; thirdly, to what extend, or for how long a period, the encroachments of Death might be arrested by the process. There were other points to be ascertained, but these most excited my curiosity—the last in especial, from the immensely important character of its consequences.”

Of course, the experiment in magnetic influence is held upon M. Ernest Valdemar – who is, of course, originally a Frenchman now resident in Manhattan. Poe has a lot of his usual fun setting up his joke: Valdemar, skinny and dying, is prevailed upon to allow himself to be subject to the mesmeric influence during his ‘dissolution’. Startlingly, after his death, Valdemar still communicates with the mesmerist:

“… here were two particulars, nevertheless, which I thought then, and still think, might fairly be stated as characteristic of the intonation—as well adapted to convey some idea of its unearthly peculiarity. In the first place, the voice seemed to reach our ears—at least mine—from a vast distance, or from some deep cavern within the earth. In the second place, it impressed me (I fear, indeed, that it will be impossible to make myself comprehended) as gelatinous or glutinous matters impress the sense of touch.
I have spoken both of "sound" and of "voice." I mean to say that the sound was one of distinct—of even wonderfully, thrillingly distinct, syllabification. M. Valdemar spoke—obviously in reply to the question I had propounded to him a few minutes before. I had asked him, it will be remembered, if he still slept. Now he said:
"Yes;—no;—I have been sleeping—and now—now—I am dead."
The story was published as a true account, originally, in England, although Poe didn’t intend it as a hoax. Poe’s own obsession/compulsion was with erotic resurrection. Always a great griever, Poe found a woman who reminded him of his dead wife – one Sarah Helen Whitman. She knew of him from common friends, one of whom had written to her about his ‘uncanny’ ways – ‘the strangest stories are told, and what is more believed, about his mesmeric experiences.’ He had talked to her a total of one time when, in 1848, he received a Valentine from her. That prompted one of his spookiest love letters, an outpouring that even ‘Helen’, as he decided to call her, must have found daunting. This includes this passage:
“Immediately after reading the Valentine, I wished to contrive some mode of acknowledging – without wounding youy b6y seeming directly to ackowledge – my sense – oh, my keen – my exulting – my ecstatic sense of the honour you had conferred on me. To accomplish as I wished it, precisely what I wished, seemed impossible, however; and I was on the point of abandoning the idea, when my eyes fell upon a volume of my own poems; and then the lines I had written, in my passionate boyhood, to the first purely idea love of my soul – to the Helen Stannard of whom I told you – flashed upon my recollection. I turned to them. They expressed all – all that I would have said to you – so fully – so accurately and so exclusively, that a thrill of intense superstition ran at once through my frame.”

Poe to Hitchcock - it is the same thrill of superstition that runs through Vertigo – oh, the male desire for the resurrected femme fatale!

And so this note of gloom and ecstacy became their intimate medium, if their letters are any evidence. As he writes in another letter to her:

“I am calm and tranquil, and but for a strange shadow of coming evil which haunts me I should be happy. That I am not supremely happy, even when I feel your dear love at my heart, terrifies me. What can this mean?”

Huh. Pursuing the modalizations that converged in PAM means pursuing the convergence of trans Atlantic cultures, which take us to strange places.

Here’s to the naked years, Takeo-chan!

If Douglas Sirk had worked in the Soviet Union, he would have made Slave of Love, the 1976 movie by Nikita Mikhalkov I saw last night. The movie depicts a film crew trying to make a melodrama starring the silent film star Olga Voznesenskaya in the South of Russia, on territory still held by the Whites. The camera man, Victor Pototsky, a handsome, Lermontovian dandy type with a car, obviously has a thing for the actress, who is publicly involved with her co-star on other films, a man named Maksakov. Maksakov is held up in Red Moscow, but expected to arrive momentarily – although he never does. During the course of the film we learn that the supposedly devil may care Pototsky is actually filming White atrocities.

Well. There is a small scene in the film in which Olga and Victor go walking through a park. The two are wearing Great Gatsy-ish clothing, and the light is falling at the right angle for sundrenched love love love, and they have gotten to that point in the age old ritual when Victor is about to explain himself – his wound in 1914, his war - when suddenly the sunlight dims, and a storm comes up. The storm is preceded by a blast of wind. In that blast, Victor tells Olga, “you want to live in the comfortable world you’ve been used to, but its no more. It’s been caught by the throat, in a deadly grip. … A new world is being born, and you are dying of an abominable boredom and ruin.” But Olga is distracted by the wind, which takes one of her veils and blows it away, and doesn’t hear him. As the wind calms down, we see Victor grimace – he knows he has said too much, and he knows he’s said it badly, stupidly, melodramatically - and then the camera pulls away to show Victor walking away, while Olga yells after him that he (dear enigmatic Victor) is only jealous of Maksakov, but shouldn’t be.

Speaking of ruin in a great wind to nobody seems to be an appropriate allegory for the last decade for those of us with ears to hear. If Olga had listened, of course, the events that unfold in the movie would have been different. And yet, perhaps not. For ourselves, for us American living in that national resort, the U.S.A., the wind blows elsewhere in the world at the moment, even if it has been unleashed by us. Meanwhile, what golden American days! What an amazing paradise of stuff and stuffing, and how cheap the most expensive things are! We can live as no human beings have ever dared to live, and we can unconsciously expend as much energy in a year as a whole peasant community would have expended in a year in 1800 – or 1900. The crazy geeks that are screaming as though they are in a great blast must simply seem delusional, and let’s admit it, they have a lousy record, always predicting ruin, and always things get better and better. Every ruin is a fixer up opportunity at zero percent down! But the geeks aren’t totally bats. There is something tedious, something artificial, something deadly about all of this embalming golden light, soothing us into thinking that we have only to perpetuate this sensation of drifting, that we only have to make sure that nothing disturbs it, that we have only to make sure not to look at what it is built on, in order for it to continue forever. Everything from the past cries out against this tendency.

This might seem like a downer speech to give to greet a little nouveau-né, but it is quite the contrary. Our far flung correspondent, Mr. T.'s ever golden wife, K., had a baby yesterday: Takeo-chan. What we are struggling to say, here, is that Takeo-chan, born in a peculiarly poisonous decade, will grow up in a better time, surely, one that will see the inevitable overthrow of the white magic and the zombie death drive that undergirds our massively sedated lives, one that will strip away the marbled fat and the toxins, apocalyptic jam on the highways, mental prison industries and universal yapping, throw it all away and be a little more naked. Or quite a bit more. Here’s to the naked years, Takeo-chan! And forgive those of us, Olgas all, who haven’t quite comprehended what our lives are all about.

Friday, September 21, 2007

a rough passage

One of the great contributions of Greimas’ semiotics to the world at large, or – more to the point - to the petty world maintained here by LI, is the notion of modalization, which is, briefly, that there are instances in discourse in which modals overdetermine descriptive utterances. Now, those of you who have taken a foreign language know what modal verbs are. They are verbs of ability, obligation, necessity, belief, and knowing, which usually take as their objects other verbs. Thus, ‘he goes’ can be turned into ‘he can go’, ‘he needs to go’, ‘he wants to go’, ‘he may go’, or even ‘he knows that he can go’, ‘he believes he needs to go,’ and so on. In logic, modals are about degrees of possibility, which highlights the linguistic modals around ‘can’ in our example – but in Greimas’ scheme, possibility leads us to the objective and subjective theories of possibility, which in turn leads us to knowing, believing, desiring, feeling – the propositional attitudes.

Now, LI is making this foray into the Antarctica of the arid for a reason. It is by using the notion of modalization that one is able to, as it were, crack the code of the polar affect model. A code that is rooted in the geneology of the ascription of positive or negative to feelings. As we noted in a previous post, the three sources that seem to be of interest in the development of this Sprachestil go back to the utilitarians, the energetics models of the 19th century physicists, and the language of animal magnetism. What is interesting, with relation to the latter, is that animal magnetism stands at the beginning of the great American idea of ‘positive thinking’. Positive and negative thinking arises out of the mixture of religious, therapeutic and social discourse in 19th century America, particularly in the North. It was made popular by that peculiar semi-religious precursor of New Age thinking called New Thought – the first self-conscious self help movement in the U.S. That movement was imprinted with the vocabularies of Christian science and a faint echo of transcendentalism, and was characterized by that thing that pops up in America again and again – the peculiar elasticity and availability of fact in the face of thought. Positive thought implicitly references the mentalist idea that the world is thought, and so thought can do things in the world – change the world. Now, there are many roots for this notion, but one of them is definitely animal magnetism. I am going to write a post about the voyage of Dr. Charles Poyen to these here states in 1839 – a little transatlantic epic that would have fascinated Charles Olson. But my larger point – for my essay – is that the polar model as it is used in everyday life now is dialectically divided between two modalizations, one inflecting ‘thought’, the other ‘feeling’, which are borne along by antithetical presuppositions.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Boxer resolution on the enormous size of President Bush's penis

LI had a full report from one of our far flung correspondents about today’s exciting session of Congress. Surely it is a day that will go down in history! In the past, some have criticized the Democrats for not doing enough to help support our troops. The Washington Post, clinging to the moderate consensus, has accused Senator Reid of high treason and asked, rhetorically, whether it is not high time to remove his testicles. They also pointed to the unbelievable Democratic Party interference with the project of destroying the Earth’s atmosphere by 2020, an initiative being organized in the Vice President’s office by the Committee on Atmospheric Reform and Counter-Terrorism. Well, there are those who have bewailed the apparent deafness of the Democrats to what the wiser heads in Washington are saying, but I think today, the Democrats lashed back loud and clear. Senator Boxer and Senator Levin, two of the most respected moderates, offered a Senate resolution, the so called “Our President has the Biggest Dick” resolution, that sends a patriotic message to the troops as they succeed once again in Iraq.

Myself, I think the “Bush’s Big Cock” resolution is a strategic win win for the Dems. It marks a repudiation of the ultra-left wing of the Democratic party, which is rife with slanderous accusations of Bush's penile inadequacy (I agree so 150 percently with Richard Cohen's latest column, Why Doesn't Hilary admit Bush has the Biggest Dick, which chimes in from the Truman Democrat p.o.v.) and it shows the Dems standing tall with the administration as we face a truly supernatural threat from Iran, which is threatening to send a spaceship into the sun, loaded with dynamite, and blow the whole thing up – even before our monetize the atmosphere project takes off! This is wrong ethically, and it is wrong from the free enterprise standpoint.

The Boxer and Levin resolution reads: Whatever the nature of our disagreements in this great, great, great, great, great, great nation of ours, all Americans are proud of the tremendous size and vigor of President Bush’s cock. With a girth far exceeding that circumscribed by your average Iranian milkmaid's cupped hand, and a reported 17” height when fully aroused, Persident Bush’s cockadoodledo puts to shame the reputed teeny five incher hoisted by President Ahmenedickad. Incredibly, the monstrous Iranian President has threatened to use his dick like a rubber truncheon, smacking each Israeli into the ground with it like a fence post until he or she can’t move their feet. Surely, all options should be on the table to prevent this horrible penile crime against humanity from being affected, including first strikes against the augmentation plants that are working day and night to give the Iranian leadership much bigger, baseball bat like dicks. That we, as a country, need to beef up our beef is the only logical defensive measure – augmentation now, augmentation forever, we proudly say, Democrats and Republicans alike. Be it resolved that:
- no loyal American shall now or in the future make disparaging comments about the girth, the height, the eruptive force, the hardness, and the durability of our president’s wonderworking woody woodpecker;
- that all previous presidents be recognized for their ‘God bless America,’ their 3rd legs, their willie wonkers, their Moby and we do mean Moby Dicks, so help us God (except for expresident Carter);
- that the image of President Bush, brandishing his thwacker, be inscribed on the dime, or the quarter, or some other suitable coinage, with the engraver’s skill especially to be focused on the crest and crown of the thing in all its marvelous and intricate detail;
- and, finally, that any advertisement by Moveon Org or any other radical organization making fun of any President’s dick-o-licious be a capital offense, unless said members of the group can show that repressed memories or Satanic Cult induction made them do it.
LI is in total agreement with Fred Hiatt, who will point out in an editorial on Sunday how the reported monstrous growth of Iranian dicks give us all the more reason to nuke the place, but we dissent from his also foreseeable accusation that with the Democrats, it is always too little, too late. True, nobody has worshipped the Presidential Dick like Fred Hiatt. Still, I think loyal Democrats, serious Democrats, the Democratic leadership has rallied around the President’s dick more than Hiatt is giving them credit for. But looking forward, this great great great great great great great resolution will inoculate the Democratic leadership from the charge that they aren’t serious about Presidential dick, while at the same time the ultra-left wing, after a small outcry, will no doubt go back to their own collecting for a monument to Senator Webb’s war hero sized dick, which, it is proposed, should go next to the Lincoln Memorial.

From all of us here at LI, let’s hear it: hip hip hooray for Bush’s dick! Long may it fuck us over.

Deutsche Herbst

It is thirty years. Thirty years since the Deutsche Herbst – the attack by the RAF in Germany that was meant to free their imprisoned members. Spiegel, which is falling all over itself with nostalgia and comparisons to 9/11, labels it the war of “six against six million”. The fall brought the assassination of General Siegfried Bruback, an attack on the government offices in Karlsruhe, the kidnapping and execution of Hanns Martin Schleyer, the head of the German Employers Association, and the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181 in which the hijackers coordinated their demands with the Schleyer kidnappers. The airplane eventually landed in Mogadishu, after the hijackers had killed the pilot. The plane was stormed by a special commando force from the BDR and all of the hijackers were killed. That night, Death Night, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe supposedly committed suicide. The one survivor, Irmgard Möller, who nearly died of stab wounds she supposedly inflicted on herself with a regulation piece of cutlery – a butter knife - has always denied that they committed suicide. You can read her side of the story in this interview. The laborious inquiries set in motion by the state came to the suicide conclusion in spite of the fact that the story is, even on the face of it, preposterous. Myself, I don’t believe that Andreas Baader had a gun smuggled into prison so that he could shoot himself in the back of the head. According to the official account, they were able to communicate with each other, in spite of the prison’s attempt to stop them communicating with each other, by wired together their radios and turning them into transmitter/receivers, although they had been caught at this before, and - as Moeller points out - their cells were often searched. A lot of wire was definitely ‘found’ in their cells, enough for Gudrun to hang herself, the next morning. However, the wire and smuggled ammo stories never did become believable. Yet the press accepted it, mostly without question – since to question the story would be to admit that the State operated outside the law in crushing a Revolutionary group that claimed that the State’s laws themselves were a form of violence.

LI has written other posts on the RAF. We admit to a fascination. The RAF communiqes of the time have changed from the late sixties and early seventies. In the beginning, the RAF was communicating with a sizeable outside group of potential sympathizers. By 1977, the audience had dwindled down to two groups: the cadre and the cops. Similarly, the RAF was no longer striking to bring down the system, but merely to rescue its people. It isn’t the dull Marxist jargon that makes the communiqués so sad, but the dwindling of their scope. In 1977, remember, the Western world was going through the kind of crisis that offered a number of different possible futures. The neo-liberal path was merely one of them. Rüdiger Safranski, the biographer of Nietzsche and author of a new book defending the Romantics, points out in this interview that the RAF had a certain glamor rooted in the romantic culture :

S: How much of the great and beautiful in literature, in music has arisen out of the aetheticization of death? what would literature and art be without the glorification of violence? without the celebration of martyrs? But in politics one doesn’t want that – for good reason. There, we both want and need a system that carefully filters out these aspects.

q: The We of which you speak doesn’t include the Rüdiger Safranski of 1968. At that time Safranski propagandized the the “Dionysierung der Politik”.

S: Yes. “Imagination in power” Thus, at the end of my Romantic book I become ganz cool and say that that has never been a good idea. 68 was for me, strongly, a romantic movement, all the way up to the RAF. The described their struggle internally, in reference to Melville’s novels, as one against the white whale. This way of blending political action with literary images and thus giving political business a deeper meaning has been described by Novalis: "When I lend the common object a higher sense, the usual a secret aspect, the known the value of the unknown, the finite an infinite semblence, I romanticize it.”

I think Safranski seriously underestimates the social root that binds the artist to the politician, which was so clearly seen by Weber. Both are types which were freed, in the early modern era, from the system of patronage – it is one of those fine, archaic nuances about Goethe that he actually returned to the system of patronage, in Weimar, making himself the last kept artist, in a sense – and both unconsciously reflect that act of emancipation in everything they do. The idea that we have found an ideal political system and can now all go to sleep, in the era of Bush and the criminal war in Iraq, is one that LI rejects, of course.

I had not know about the RAF’s appropriation of Melville. So I went to an interview with Stefan Aust, which was also pointed to, last month, in Harpers by Scott Horton Horton quotes this part of the interview:

Q: In the language of the RAF [Rote Armee Faktion] the state was not just “the pigs,”[the pig system] but also Leviathan, the Great White Whale, Moby Dick. Why did the RAF members use code names taken from Moby Dick?
A: Gudrun Ensslin had this idea, in fact she thought up code names for the group members, in order to mislead those who were conducting surveillance. She took almost all the names from Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. The demonic, mono-maniacally crazy captain Ahab meant Baader, Starbuck was used for Holger Meins, the Carpenter for Jan-Carl Raspe, Quiqueg for Gerhard Müller, Bildad for Horst Mahler, Smutje for Ensslin herself. The whale Moby Dick, who appears in the book as a parable, a deeply coded complex of symbols, was taken yet again as a code. The whale is Leviathan, and Leviathan is a symbol for the state, a state whose papier mâché mask of deceptive appearances the RAF was committed to smashing. “For by Art is created that great Leviathan, called a Common-Wealth, or State (in latine, civitas), which is but an artificiall Man,” that’s the opening sentence of Hobbes’s Leviathan, which is quoted in Melville’s Moby Dick. This Leviathan-State, this white whale, was the object of the terrorists’ pursuit. That’s why this was an extremely appropriate parable for what the terrorists did. The figures that appear in Moby Dick correspond in fact very closely to the individual figures of the RAF. “

He didn’t translate the next part:

Q: Let’s stop for a second with Ahab as Baader.

A: Listen to this about Baader: „Nor will it all detract from him, dramatically regarded, if either by birth or through his particular circumstances he have what seems a half willful overruling morbidness at the bottom of his nature. All tragical greatness rests on a certain break in their healthy nature, of that you can be certain.” [this last sentence doesn’t accurately translate the passage in Moby Dick, by the way] So writes Gudrun Ensslin, citing Melville over Captain Ahab, to Ulrike Meinhof about Baader. Actually, this says a lot. Ensslin was actually a great psychologist. She was on the trace of the fact that Baader’s struggle against the state bore features of a metaphysical end struggle, similar to that which ruled Ahab against the Whale.

“I would even strike the sun itself if it offended me,” says Ahab about himself. And further on. “How can the prisoner be free, if he hasn’t broken through the wall? For me this white whale is the wall, close before my face. Behind it, I often think, there is nothing.” You cannot better formulate the transcendental self-styling of the RAF.

You will even find this when you look behind the other code names. As I said, Starbuck, the chief mate, was Holgar Meins. About Starbuck Melville writes in Moby Dick: Sie werden das auch finden, wenn Sie hinter die anderen Decknamen schauen. Wie gesagt, Starbuck, der Erste Steuermann, war Holger Meins. Über Starbuck heißt es in „Moby Dick“: „Starbuck’s body and Starbuck’s coerced will were Ahab’s so long as Ahab kept his magnet at Starbuck’s brain; still he knew that the chief mate, in his soul, abhorred the captain’s quest, and could he, would joyfully disintegrate himself from it.“ Yes, this was exactly what it was like between Holger Meins and Baader.”

For the standard view of the deaths of Baader, Ensslin and Raspe, you can read this LBR article, focused mainly on Gerhard Richter’s paintings. You will notice that the state's version of those deaths and the smuggled in guns is accepted without a whimper, or even noting that the one survivor disagrees absolutely with the account.

Surely some of this stirred Delillo to make one of the characters in Falling Man an art dealing sympathizer with the RAF.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Usually, histories of the radical enlightenment wind through the philosophers and the natural scientists. May LI suggest another path? A primal scene of resistance, no less – which, like all primal scenes, begins with the opening of the eye – although in this primal scene, there are only shadowy proxies for Daddy fucking Mommy. It begins like this:

“Don Quixote raised his eyes and saw coming along the road he was following some dozen men on foot strung together by the neck, like beads, on a great iron chain, and all with manacles on their hands. With them there came also two men on horseback and two on foot; those on horseback with wheel-lock muskets, those on foot with javelins and swords, and as soon as Sancho saw them he said:

"That is a chain of galley slaves, on the way to the galleys by force of the king's orders."

"How by force?" asked Don Quixote; "is it possible that the king uses force against anyone?"

"I do not say that," answered Sancho, "but that these are people condemned for their crimes to serve by force in the king's galleys."

"In fact," replied Don Quixote, "however it may be, these people are going where they are taking them by force, and not of their own will."

"Just so," said Sancho.

"Then if so," said Don Quixote, "here is a case for the exercise of my office, to put down force and to succour and help the wretched."

This is from Chapter 22 of the first book of Don Quixote. It is a key chapter, for it provides the motor that ties together the first book. By freeing the prisoners, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza become, themselves, outlaws. This provides the loose plot into which Cervantes can fit his episodes – a blessed structure, that shows up, in variations, throughout the succeeding centuries of the European novel.

Blockhead!" said Don Quixote at this, "it is no business or concern of knights-errant to inquire whether any persons in affliction, in chains, or oppressed that they may meet on the high roads go that way and suffer as they do because of their faults or because of their misfortunes. It only concerns them to aid them as persons in need of help, having regard to their sufferings and not to their rascalities. I encountered a chaplet or string of miserable and unfortunate people, and did for them what my sense of duty demands of me, and as for the rest be that as it may; and whoever takes objection to it, saving the sacred dignity of the senor licentiate and his honoured person, I say he knows little about chivalry and lies like a whoreson villain, and this I will give him to know to the fullest extent with my sword…" – Chapter 30

The relationship between the intellectual and power has always fascinated intellectuals, who like to think that they are the repositories of true power – the poets will always trump the legislators in that long run where we are not, contra Keynes, all dead – some of us live on in books. But the line of philosophes, sages and, I’ll admit, buffoons who represent LI’s notion of the intellectual elect spring out of that twenty second chapter of Don Quixote.

It is much to my purpose, here, that the whole of Don Quixote can be read as a comically misshapen imitatio. Indeed, Don Quixote is just at the right age – middle age – to have his head so addled by romances that the traditionally strong urging of the middle aged heart in the pre-capitalist world takes its shape not through a meditation on the savior, but through a meditation on the knight redeemer.

Cervantes does not present his knight as a completely deluded man in this chapter. In fact, he raises the moral risks by having Quixote talk to the prisoners. Each confesses to his crime, and one of the criminals is “the famous Gines de Pasamonte, otherwise called Ginesillo de Parapilla,” whose feats have apparently entered into common lore. Unlike the headlong charge against the windmills, here there is no case of hallucination, even if there are comic verbal confusions. At the end of learning that one man is a thief, another a pimp, another a committer of incest, Don Quixote still tells the chief guard to let the men go free – and when he refuses, Don Quixote attacks. Later, in chapter 29, a curate, who has been told of the action by Sancho Panza, will supply the liberal voice of conscience that tells us of the consequences of our knightly acts. Of course, the consequences, as described by the curate, are entirely fictitious:

"I will answer that briefly," replied the curate; "you must know then, Senor Don Quixote, that Master Nicholas, our friend and barber, and I were going to Seville to receive some money that a relative of mine who went to the Indies many years ago had sent me, and not such a small sum but that it was over sixty thousand pieces of eight, full weight, which is something; and passing by this place yesterday we were attacked by four footpads, who stripped us even to our beards, and them they stripped off so that the barber found it necessary to put on a false one, and even this young man here"—pointing to Cardenio—"they completely transformed. But the best of it is, the story goes in the neighbourhood that those who attacked us belong to a number of galley slaves who, they say, were set free almost on the very same spot by a man of such valour that, in spite of the commissary and of the guards, he released the whole of them; and beyond all doubt he must have been out of his senses, or he must be as great a scoundrel as they, or some man without heart or conscience to let the wolf loose among the sheep, the fox among the hens, the fly among the honey. He has defrauded justice, and opposed his king and lawful master, for he opposed his just commands; he has, I say, robbed the galleys of their feet, stirred up the Holy Brotherhood which for many years past has been quiet, and, lastly, has done a deed by which his soul may be lost without any gain to his body."

According to Roberto Gonzalez Echeveria’s Love and the Law in Cervantes, the 1560s saw a typical modern response to a military and economic crisis: the state swelled the numbers of prisoners, who could then be used on galley ships. To do this meant expanding the number of offenses and expanding the role of the police, such as they were, much as such things have been done for twenty years in the U.S. The crimes, of course, are all individual, and fill, link by link, the prison factory space, while the larger crime – a system of criminal law that constitutes itself a crime – is committed by nobody. Don Quixote, charging against the proxy person of the king in attacking those raffish guards on the open road, makes himself a criminal, and turns Sancho Panza into his accomplice. Yet according to his own standards, he remains evermore the loyal knight to a king whose real traits are supplanted by romantic ones.

Without the outlaw knight, the radical enlightenment would be a legalism. With it, it becomes a rich drama of false starts and causes. A true outlaw knight ventures even outside that law which the intelligentsia now imposes on itself – the law of the smart. The law of the test. The law of the grades. The insane chain gangs of meritocracy. It is colder outside, and you might work in a gas station or a grocery store, but … this is where the knights are.

Monday, September 17, 2007

NYT - in the genteel psycho tradition

LI has to point our readers to a fine, fine example of media contempt, brought to us by our good friends at the NYT, a newspaper that has showcased so many of the great intellects of our time: Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Condi Rice – you name it. Intellects like sounding brass and organ music to the ever sycophantic promoters of the current elite. Yet outside of the magic circle, occasionally some upstart Gunga Din figure creeps in. One who isn’t with the program! One who isn’t on the page! Such, of course, is Mohamed ElBaradei. The wog won a Peace Prize, which marks a man as a deluded leftist, unless the man is a distinguished op ed contributer, like the blessed Henry Kissinger. And here he is again, in fuck up mode, keeping the Bush administration from rolling out their next war! The latest round of negotiations with the Iranians is described in these intro grafs:

“Late in August, Mohamed ElBaradei put the finishing touches on a nuclear accord negotiated in secret with Iran.

The deal would be divisive and risky, one of the biggest gambles of his 10 years as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran would answer questions about its clandestine nuclear past in exchange for a series of concessions. With no advance notice or media strategy, Dr. ElBaradei ordered the plan released in the evening. And then he waited.

The next day, diplomats from the United States, France, Britain and Germany marched into his office atop a Vienna skyscraper to deliver a joint protest. The deal, they said, amounted to irresponsible meddling that threatened to undermine a United Nations Security Council strategy to punish, not reward, Tehran.”

This sets us up for an exciting and comic adventure in El Baradei’s personal life.
Oh, the quotes!

“He has become a compulsive name-dropper, diplomats say. ''He remains a shy man, but one who is somehow dazzled by his own destiny,'' said one European nonproliferation official who knows him well. ''He's always saying, 'Oh, I talked to Condi last week and she told me this,' or 'I was with Putin and he said this or that.' He's almost like a child.''

Or this long description:

“That Nobel night, he was celebrating with friends in his suite at the Grand Hotel in Oslo when thousands of people appeared on the street below, holding candles and cheering. Unsure of himself, he froze.

''He was clearly nonplused and adrift at what to do,'' Mr. Franck recalled. ''His wife told him to wave back.''

A tall, shy man with a salt-and-pepper mustache, Dr. ElBaradei is so averse to small talk that he refuses even superficial conversation with staff members in the agency's elevators, aides say.

Rather than venture into the dining room or cafeteria, he brings lunch from home and eats at his desk. He must be arm-twisted to make even the briefest appearance at important agency functions.

''He is very reserved, very aloof,'' Mrs. ElBaradei said recently over tea in their apartment, filled with rugs from Iran and the awards and other baubles that come with her husband's persona as a campaigner for world peace. ''He thinks these diplomatic receptions and dinners are a waste of time.''

The rugs from Iran and the baubles are such a nice touch! These are obviously colored people, and you know colored people: tasteless gatherers of the gaudiest stuff! Children! Imagine the NYT quoting someone describing say our solemnly elected Commander in Chief as having the emotional and intellectual bearing of a retarded adolescent, going around talking about why the Iraqi's aren't more grateful. Isn’t going to happen.

Of course, here LI has to confess, our media critical side and our urge to use the NYT's genteel racism to wipe our ass came into conflict.

And so it goes, row row rowing the boat of bile and ignorance that is the trademark American style at the moment for column inch after column inch. And occasionally timidly venturing outside the psycho American circle of poisonous groupthink to hit on a few truths (after which, of course, there is the hasty retreat back to fairytale land). For instance, the truth that nobody trusts anything this administration says. The truth that Iran has a perfect right to develop nuclear power if it wants to. The truth that the knowledge of how to develop that power is not going to be expunged from Iran, by hook or crook.

So we end on this bittersweet note, taking up the first three grafs:

“In the days that followed, representatives of other countries hammered Dr. ElBaradei with sharp criticism. But a week later, many governments had begun to believe that their strategy was backfiring. They decided to try to co-opt Dr. ElBaradei rather than isolate him.

The new thinking went like this: he and the Iranians had won this round. Much of the world would consider the agreement on a timetable a step forward. By contrast, Western diplomacy was hopelessly stalled.”

You think? You think that the U.S. being run by shabby and psychotic runts like our horrendous VP, whose quarters, no doubt, contain many a bauble from many an energy company, and our collapsing President, whose TV appearances should be sponsored by Disney and Hustler, since they exude the air of some failed masturbator’s painful exercise in childish fantasy – you think this has something to do with the World?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

polarity and PAM

As one would expect, LI’s researches into the origin of the positive/negative classification of affect [I’m calling this the polarity of affects model – PAM] is forcing us to modify our original hypothesis. Our original hypothesis was modeled, to an extent, on Philip Mirowski’s history of the constituting metaphors of economics. Economists, around 1870, began to adapt a physicalist language to defend a rigorously mathematical equilibrium model of economics. Now, it struck us that the experimental school of psychology was doing the same thing. This would make psychology fit very well as a module within the capitalist field – or its cognate, after 1917, in communism. Accordingly, LI held that PAM diffused outward from the scientific high culture into industry, education, and the sphere of personal relations.

However, further research has made us see that this story, as it stands, can’t be right. While it does focus on the problem correctly – how is it that PAM became, in the twentieth century, the dominant classification system for emotions? – the answer is a bit more complex than some resort, by psychologists, to that familiar form of scientism, the borrowing a vocabulary from physics.

As we see it now, there are three sources of PAM. One, indeed, is that scientism that we have been pursuing, following in Mirowski’s footsteps.

The second is the hedonic calculus. We noted that Kant was already considering whether pleasure and pain could be represented quantitatively in his pre-critical writing. Bentham, who ‘invents’ the hedonic calculus, is drawing on work by other Enlightenment figures. But the calculus is always meant to be a heuristic. It is not meant to represent pleasure and pain in any dynamic sense. Thus, from the point of view of the hedonic calculus, pleasure and pain must appear as units. If they are not units, if they are not, for some reason, separable, then the whole basis of the calculus is overturned. This isn’t really that much of a worry to the first utilitarians, however, since the calculus is a measure suggesting action, rather than an introspective probe.

The third, and perhaps more surprising antecedent of PAM is the re-discovery, in romantic science, of alchemy. Specifically, the re-discovery of force and polarity. Schelling was so impressed by Coloumb’s experiments on magnets in the 1780s – experiments that, for the first time, showed how to measure magnetic force – that he magnified polarity into one of his cosmic principles in his natural philosophy works, such as the Soul of the World. Schelling’s followers, like Oken, tried to find allegorical schemas throughout the natural world. One of his followers, Carus, used polarity to discuss Seelenlehre. And here we begin to see a new tone added to the idea of negative and positive feelings.

I’ll have more to say about this in another post.

A warning to UFOB

Convalescing means watching a lot of YouTube, which is how I came across this alarming video of a Democratic Fund Raiser that makes me fear for Mr. Scruggs life.
I hope the crewe at UFOB resisted that invite to the Hilary-Ralph Reconciliation Potluck. Oh, it might look like a fun time, and you all might have been thinking, what the heck. We'll let bygones be bygones. That Hil has a dazzlin' plan for the Middle East, too. And talk about your single payer plan reconciling the legitimate interests of insurance company with the needs of the little guy! Why, I'm seein' stars. I'm seeing security and victory in our war on terrorism and being able to afford getting Betty Sue's appendix yanked! Sure, now, she's had that there appenddycitus for nigh on to two years. She made an awful moaning in the back house, couldn't get to sleep. Lately she does seem to have settled down, though...

But let me tell ya, fellas, it is a trap.