“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, November 17, 2007

faustian pessimism

So far in my happiness work I’ve been digging at the roots of the happiness culture – connecting that culture with the apparent freeing up of the positional economy as the industrial and market system established itself – looking for the routes of dissemination that connected a new vocabulary and a conceptual structure with the vocabulary and conceptual structures of ordinary language and ordinary practices – etc. But I have intentionally not, up until now, looked at another vocabulary and conceptual structure which emerged after the French Revolution and flowed into twentieth century fascism. This was the reactionary attack on happiness. When, in Thomas Mann’s Observations of a Non-Political Man – the famous essay that made him seem to be one of the conservatives in the Weimar period – he attacks happiness, he is signaling a taking of sides, a polemical position, with a conventional reference. When, hearing of the murder of Luxemberg and Liebknecht, Mann, in his diary, called them stupid Berserkers and “Beglückern”(quoted in Lehnert and Vessell, 30) – he is pointing to the same complex of things that served as the object of De Maistre’s attack on democracy and the rights of man in the 1790s.

When Mann writes: “I hate politics and the belief in politics. I don’t believe in a formula for the antheap of humanity, the human beehive. I don’t believe in the democratic, social and universal republic. I don’t believe humanity is made for happiness, I don’t even believe that it wants happiness…” - there 's a certain merging of intelligence and extreme dumbness there. Dangerous currents were obviously in play. Spengler, whose Decline of the West was published soon after The Observations (and was carefully read by Mann), wrote:

"Socialism – in its highest sense, not in that of the street – is like everything Faustian an exclusive ideal, that owes its populism only to a complete misunderstanding, even under the masters of words, that is is, namely, quintessentially a thing of rights, and not duties, that it is a casting aside, rather than a sharpening, of the kantian imperative, a neglect of, rather than a tightening of the directing energy. This trivial superficial tendency to well being, “freedom”, humanity, the happiness of the greatest number contains only the negative of the faustian ethic, very much in opposition to classical Epicureanism, for which the blessed circumstance was really the center and sum of all ethics. (I 500)

We can look back and see where that line of thought, that socialism, led to. But perhaps this ‘looking back” is a bit of a delusion itself, as though we understood the inner line of fate of a culture due to the accident of being born after the historical chaser to the metaphysical cocktail – a chaser composed of concentration camps, bombs, mass graves and Autobahns. Julien Benda, in the Betrayal of the Clerks, written in 1927, and revised in 1946, understood how central the attack on happiness was to the ideology of order, and how much the ideology of order was parasitic upon the order of war:

« More generally, the scarecrow of the men of order is the modern claim of the people to happiness, the hope of the disappearacne of war being only one aspect of this. In which they [the men of order] find a strong support in the catholic church insofar as it, for theological reasons, condemns man’s hope to be happy in the world below. It is nevertheless curious to see that the church has vividly accentuated this condemnation since the coming of the democracies (against whom it throws the reproach, in particular, of forgetting original sin). On could cite in this sense catholic texts which, before this time, one would have difficulty finding the equivalents. One can’t deny, for instance, that the attitude of Joseph de Maistre, proclaiming that war is the will of god, and that in consequence the search for peace is impious, had never been taken by Bossuet or Fenelon, but that it is intimately tied to the apparition of democracy, that is to say, the claim of the people to be happy. A claim which, according to de Maistre, leads to insubordination. Napoléon said : Misery is the school of the good soldier. Certain social parties freely say that it is the school of the good citizen. »

Given this intellectual lineage, it is time for LI to confront this aspect of ‘faustian’ culture – especially after Frankenstein. So we will do some posts about pessimism in the next week or so.

Friday, November 16, 2007

people have the power...

...to redeem the work of fools.

LI, much like the New York Times, Fox News, and Vogue, has an international staff of dedicated journalists working 24/7. Our correspondent in France, Amie, recently sent a far ranging response to our post about Mailer as a philosopher/buffoon, which she has kindly agreed to let us publish.

The passage from Hippias Minor really is remarkable, the way it articulates power, knowledge, justice -- and the 'subject' (in the double sense) of 'true' discourse. Who is speaking? Socrates seems to occupy all the positions in turn in this dialogue's theater -- Homer, Achilles, Odysseus! In the end he cannot even quite believe or agree with or even quite know what he is saying himself. In Socratic terms, this would mean, at this juncture, he doesn't know himself! And ah, what of the silent narrator, Plato 'himself', seated in the wings, 'merely' observing, recording, reporting. Quite.

Another remarkable aspect of this passage from an early and 'minor' dialogue is that this matter of the character and the discourse of a polytropos pretty much relates to THE question for Plato -- that would necessitate the booting of the poets from the Republic -- regarding that pesky jobie so hard to pin down let alone resolve: mimesis.

Er, not to worry, I'm not about to launch into a 'commentary' on the Republic! I do beg your indulgence if I cannot help but relate these amazing passages to what is happening in this here Republic of France. You've likely heard of the strikes underway by the Unions and students, and can well imagine the punditry in response. The unions and students are portrayed as spoiled and self-centered, ungrateful of their privileges. "France" is told it can longer live in the 60s and 70s and must modernize, i.e., accept the generous reign of the 'free' market, the benevolent rule of the 'invisible hand'. (Thatcher and Reagan are the very models of modernity, don't ya know!)

As a pharmakon to the nauseating punditry, I've been reading Rimbaud's Saison and am struck again by the magnificent tenir le pas gagné. AR wanted to have done with canticles to Science and Magic, liars all! Alas, their hymns to the invisible hand still need to be fought, exposed, mocked. The fucking invisible hand has blood on it! The question for the 'seer' is to render it visible, legible in its violent mechanisms. One needs to have the 'eye' for it, as you say. And of course such an 'other' eye has its violence and madness...

Such hymns are not content to just praise their Holy Invisible Hand which smites public services and reduces them to rubble, which is for the public good - if only the infidels could see! The choir knows that its praise and good work is in vain if it does not also accomplish an abasement of public discourse, the effacement of social relations.

Sorry. I rant. But one last comment. I might be wrong, but I think the hymns to the invisible hand go hand in hand with what you call Happiness Triumphant. Unless I'm mistaken, the latter has ab-solute disconnect as a defining characteristic. It is like a perpetually and feverishly expanding bubble that can never be or have enough. A bubble that nothing can touch or burst, that knows nothing of the voluptuousness of a touch and of mortality, except in the form of fear and fascination, of revulsion and murder.
"Enough" is the title of a very beautiful short text by Beckett. Here is the last line:

Enough my old breasts feel his old hand.”

And for more on the strikes, and Sarkozy’s ‘strategy of the scapegoat’ – which consists of provoking the most vulnerable unions to strike in order to pick off, piecemeal, the whole system of unions, a la Thatcher – see many of the posts at the Betapolitique site.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Iraq news

Since the American press has fallen even below its previous wretched standard of reporting in Iraq - to no reporting at all - LI will now ocassionally point our readers to news Iraq articles. Here's an Asian Times article that says important things about what it happening there.

Locke's monster

One of the classic pedantic routines is to object when someone refers to Frankenstein’s monster as Frankenstein. But there is a two fold objection to this objection. One objection is it gives us no reason to make an exception for the standard procedure for naming descendants. Either by birth or adoption, Frankenstein’s children would be called Frankenstein. If Frankenstein’s monster would not be so called, we need a reason why. And that reason would surely depend on some break, some tremor of distress, some disturbance in the patriarchy itself. There is good reason for this text to have attracted so many feminist readings.

The second objection is narrower - but it does lead us into the depths. Throughout the text, Victor Frankenstein refers to his creature in many ways, and that multitude of descriptions add up to the fact that the creature doesn’t possess a canonical name.

Names have been of interest to philosophers because of their connection to description, on the one hand, and to possible worlds, on the other. Russell codified a way of regarding names as descriptions that emphasized the way a name has to operate in a system. You can define a system as, among other things, that set of processes in which there is a standard method of substitution among variables. In On Denoting, Russell wrote:

“My theory, briefly, is as follows. I take the notion of the variable as fundamental; I use `C(x)' to mean a proposition in which x is a constituent, where x, the variable, is essentially and wholly undetermined. Then we can consider the two notions `C(x) is always true' and `C(x) is sometimes true'. Then everything and nothing and something (which are the most primitive of denoting phrases) are to be interpreted as follows:
C(everything) means `C(x) is always true';
C(nothing) means ` ``C(x) is false'' is always true';
C(something) means `It is false that ``C(x) is false'' is always true.'

Here the notion `C(x) is always true' is taken as ultimate and indefinable, and the others are defined by means of it. Everything, nothing, and something are not assumed to have any meaning in isolation, but a meaning is assigned to every proposition in which they occur. This is the principle of the theory of denoting I wish to advocate: that denoting phrases never have any meaning in themselves, but that every proposition in whose verbal expression they occur has a meaning.”

Victor Frankenstein, one finds as his story unfolds, never gives his creature a proper name. Instead, the creature is subject to a repertoire of descriptive phrases. He calls him, in the space of one page: “the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life”, “that wretch”, “a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived”, “the wretch whom I feared every turning of the street would present to my view” – and this is just the start of a vast aria of descriptive phrases (aria is the word that comes to mind – it is rather astonishing Frankenstein was never turned into an opera).

The proliferation of descriptive phrases, the inability of denotation, here, to coalesce around a proper name, is not just an odd structural feature of the narrative. Rather, it is about a basic trauma done to the creature, another description for whom would be Locke’s monster. Like Emile, that foundling of modernity, Frankenstein comes gradually to consciousness among a landscape of mountains and streams as his sense impressions generate equivalent ideas in his head. The wretch’s own account of inventing fire and feeling pain, distinguishing bird from bird and birdsong from birdsong in splendid titanic isolation is classic Locke. Here the wretch explains his first days of the ‘original era of his being’:

"It was dark when I awoke; I felt cold also, and half frightened, as it
were, instinctively, finding myself so desolate. Before I had quitted
your apartment, on a sensation of cold, I had covered myself with some
clothes, but these were insufficient to secure me from the dews of
night. I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew, and could
distinguish, nothing; but feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat
down and wept.

"Soon a gentle light stole over the heavens and gave me a sensation of
pleasure. I started up and beheld a radiant form rise from among the
trees. [The moon] I gazed with a kind of wonder. It moved slowly,
but it enlightened my path, and I again went out in search of berries.
I was still cold when under one of the trees I found a huge cloak, with
which I covered myself, and sat down upon the ground. No distinct
ideas occupied my mind; all was confused. I felt light, and hunger,
and thirst, and darkness; innumerable sounds rang in my ears, and on
all sides various scents saluted me; the only object that I could
distinguish was the bright moon, and I fixed my eyes on that with

"Several changes of day and night passed, and the orb of night had
greatly lessened, when I began to distinguish my sensations from each
other. I gradually saw plainly the clear stream that supplied me with
drink and the trees that shaded me with their foliage. I was delighted
when I first discovered that a pleasant sound, which often saluted my
ears, proceeded from the throats of the little winged animals who had
often intercepted the light from my eyes. I began also to observe,
with greater accuracy, the forms that surrounded me and to perceive the
boundaries of the radiant roof of light which canopied me. Sometimes I
tried to imitate the pleasant songs of the birds but was unable.
Sometimes I wished to express my sensations in my own mode, but the
uncouth and inarticulate sounds which broke from me frightened me into
silence again.”

The lesson of cold, the lesson of heat. The origin of language. That wretch, the isolato. There is a convergence between the power of these isolato narratives and the breaking apart of the traditional positional economy under the stress of capitalism. The isolato, I should point out, substitutes for a previous system of imitatio. But enough! The orb of the day is passing all too quickly over myself, a freelance isolato if there ever was one.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

digging the monster up again

Frankenstein certainly ranks up there among the most interpreted books of our time – it has been so tracked across by interpreters, so used for this or that thesis, that LI, whose meditations on happiness have intersected with Frankenstein lately, feels a bit like a thrift store irregular in talking about the book at all. It is a book that, more than most, projects its visionary schema upon the critic – after all, what critic of a book about creating a giant by stitching together the dead bodies of human beings doesn’t feel the eerie doubling effect of creating another Frankenstein by stitching together parts of Shelley’s biography adn passages from the book in the giant frame of one’s own favorite schema? Monster begets monster.

And of course, ever since Mary Poovey, long ago in the Derridean eighties, hung her feminist interpretation upon Mary Shelley’s words in her 1831 introduction to a new edition of the novel – Shelley called the book “my hideous progeny” – Frankenstein has served as a constant reference for a number of critical schools – for feminist analyses of science, for cultural studies, for a sort of lit crit trick Freudianism. It is no accident, either – the myth around the text seems built to invite larger ponderings. What other novel has ever resulted from a bet between a gathering of famous writers? In Byron’s case, perhaps the most famous writer of the epoch. Even the origin of the book seems hideously artificial – a work galvanized into existence, rather than organically formed in the womb of the author’s soul – to tease us all a bit with sexist metaphors.

For a feminist, Mary Shelley has to be one of the most irresistible figures in history. Here she is, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the world’s first true self conscious feminist – and here she is, the ur-Victorian, as Poovey puts it:
“Indeed, only by viewing Shelley’s public persona in the context of her private comments and actions can we fully appreciate the paradigmatic place this very unusual woman occupied in the final triumph of Victorian propriety. For in the tensions between the public Mary Shelley and the private one we can identify both some of the sacrifices a young woman had to make in order to conform to propriety and the stages by which unladylike feelings could be reformulated so as never to exceed a woman’s proper, altogether tractable, desires.”

Recall that these words were published in 1984. The Meese commission, which saw the strange alliance of certain feminist leaders and Ronald Reagan’s attorney general in a treatise that was all about tractable and intractable desires, comes out in 1986. The crossroads crowd in upon us – but LI is forgetting hisself. Crossroads are for vampires.

Still, having allotted myself the lonely and grisly task of digging through the past – or rather, imagining the undergrounds that have lead to the global disaster of the happiness culture – I am going down to the damps of the grave and have my fling with Mary Shelley’s novel in some posts to come.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Philip Davis, in a blog or something internetty I came across a few days ago, More Intelligent Life.com, offers a complain about the lack of suspicion of the hermeneutics of suspicion. Since I am in the latter camp, I should say: I dislike it too. How often have I read articles that start out from the ‘facts’ established by a relativism that proposed to undermine facts. More suspicion about the hermeneutics of suspicion, please.

Davis is talking about Brigid Lowe’s Victorian Fiction and the Insights of Sympathy:

“It is a brave book, with one big simple message: all too often literary scholars merely use books (they call them "texts") for the sake of their own agendas and careers. Here's the novel; here's the ideological agenda to which it is to be fitted; and here's the critical mallet to whack it into shape. For example, here is the opening of another recent book on Victorian Sympathy from Stanford University Press which goes something like this: "The Victorians were very interested in sympathy - which was all about consolidating the male sense of identity, and an early example of interpellation in action." So that's what it's all about.

Instead Ms Lowe offers a vision of sympathy—both within Victorian novels and in the reading of them—that is too generous and too complex for prescriptive and self-righteous narrow-mindedness. A character in Mrs Gaskell will have a prejudice, a theory, a plan or a principle—and then suddenly, when confronted by a particular person in a specific human situation and moved or pained, will give it all up. That's what the novel does, and it is what novel reading helps to foster.

I was really looking forward Dr Lowe's book making a stir. But in the Times Literary Supplement on Sunday, her book was loftily dismissed by a foremost American literary scholar. Ms Lowe is a member of the "younger generation" of literary scholars, the reviewer argues, but the book is rather "dated". Apparently, all of Ms Lowe's targets in the world of literary theory—Terry Eagleton, Mary Poovey, Catherine Gallagher, Roland Barthes, Edward Said and J.Hillis Miller—are not a problem any more. We have "gone on" to new ideas.”

Actually, I don’t see how either Barthes or Said would be opposed, in principle, to Lowe’s thesis. However, I can easily see why they – and me, a distant epigone – would be repelled by Davis’ tone. Or at least fascinated by the psychodynamics of quotation and quarantine here – starting with the quotation and quarantining of the word ‘texts’, as if this word had come from Mars instead of being firmly part of interpretive history, going back through the Church Fathers to the scholiasts. Then there is the oddity of the accusation of self-interested motive in the reading – apparently, self interest stops when one finds an interpretive school one likes. Then, at that point, self-interest turns into love, disinterested love. Indeed, there is something to that – the polemic against theory often does take on the tones of the angry lover, the stalker. Love, as every cop knows, so often leads to death threats.
But putting aside that bizarre stylistic quirk, I have a lot of sympathy for reading novels in terms of sympathy, which is Davis’ point. That is, I take them seriously – so seriously that there are a series of novels which, in a sense, mark the whole course of my inner life. If the TLS reviewer sees Lowe’s viewpoint as dated, he obviously hasn’t been reading the literature on sympathy which began to appear in the late 90s – the high point of neo-liberal triumphalism – that went back to the fons et origo himself, ladies and gents a big round of applause for Adam Smith. (I myself have been working around Smith’s book on sympathy (which incidentally was translated by Cordorcet’s widow) in my research on happiness. But this post is not another variation on my usual tune).

To jump forward from Gaskell.. As a reviewer, I vaguely hear about a lot of books. I had vaguely heard of Dana Spiotta’s Eat the Document. I picked it up in a D.C. bookstore last week, and decided I should read it (and put it back and went to the library in Austin when I came back and checked it out – shocking as this news may be, I am not in the economic category that buys books I can check out of the library).
I will not give too much away about the plot of this book when I say that it traces two members of a radical collective from the seventies after the collective succeeded in pulling off a bombing. Or rather, after that bombing went wrong. One of the members, Mary Whittaker, is traced through a number of countercultural moments as she finds an uneasy place in the placid flaccid era of Reagan and beyond. Has the kid. Has the husband. Husband dies. Keeps the secret. Wonders what she is doing. Wonders if she should turn herself in. The other, Bobby Desoto, takes a course that is made less … obvious by Spiotta, and because I want you, reader, to read this book, I am not going to say too much about that.

It is necessary to know this: the bombings were directed against the executives of companies that made the weapons and chemicals that armed the American war in South Vietnam. To the collective, this was a war crime. That is a crime, of course, that contravenes a law written on the human heart. John Brown long ago recognized those letters on his own heart, and could only move forward once he had started. And so we confront something interesting here. Let’s return for a second to the characters of Mrs. Gaskell – as Davis says, “A character in Mrs Gaskell will have a prejudice, a theory, a plan or a principle—and then suddenly, when confronted by a particular person in a specific human situation and moved or pained, will give it all up.” This is the bourgeois experience in a nutshell. But let’s move this renunciation of prejudice and action into another context: that one where Gaskell’s novelistic career overlaps the famine in Ireland. That bourgeois renunciation of prejudice became enshrined in political policy, there. It was kinder to do nothing. The state should never interfere with nature. This is not to knock Gaskell, but it is to ask about the limits of that sympathy in the face of a collective act of inhumanity.
Spiotta has not written a classic, but she does take sympathy and ‘the giving up of plans’ with a bit more existential depth. How far should one go in opposing a war? That’s a good question now. And we know the answer – one should vote for a moderate democratic senator and advocate a humane withdrawal ten to twenty years from now. However, those who think that Iraq is a crime that keeps on spreading, a massive trauma that has effected both the Iraqis and the Americans – in ways the Americans have so far refused to feel – might not find that answer is particularly satisfying. They might feel that it is ghoulish, ghastly, a historic moment when, as though in a lightning flash, one sees that one is chained to a veritable corpse, a society in full disorganization. That we facing the abyss. And that there are a web of connections between America’s spoiled shopper’s trance and our incremental loss of liberty, along with the brutalization of our discourse and the increasing childishness of our national imagination – becoming a romper room version of the American Greatness project.
There’s a conversation between Mary and Bobby at the end of Eat the Document. I’ll disguise their names, which would give away too much.

“I knew someone was going to end up dead,” … said. Someone sat in the booth next to theirs. … leaned toward her a bit and spoke in a low voice. ‘There was a moment, a very clear moment, when I knew not only that it might happen but that it would definitely happen. And I was still willing to do it. And not because I really believed we would change anything for the better. I did it as a testament to my own certainty. I needed to prove to myself that I could go all the way.”

“I didn’t realize we could kill someone,” said …

“Let me ask you something. If we had killed one of the targets, one of the board guys who knowingly developed land mines or antipersonnel devices, dioxin poison or napalm. If we had taken out someone like that …, how would you feel about it.

‘It would feel no different. It still would have cost everything and probably changed nothing. Nothing for the better, anyway.”

“I’m not sure. I’m more culpable, see? You are excused. I am not.”

This conversation isn’t really imaginable anymore. The sympathetic ethos that has won has the huge advantage that it advocates a perpetual flutter between all options, and a perpetual denial that any of the options are good, that any single act will work. This requires compartmentalizing the sympathetic ethos from the market ethos which gave it rise, for there it is explained that all acts should be viewed in terms of a system - which rather casts a different light on the question of what acts succeed, and how they do so. Myself, I think the Weather underground and all the sixties era guerilla groups failed partly because they became incestuous - the goal quickly became freeing their members when their members were scooped up by the cops. And they were unattached to any larger movement. But did they fail? I am more suspicious of that. I think it was certainly noted by the establishment that plunging the country into a war that had to be fought by a draft would lead to a spiral of violence inside the country. And I have a theory that the governing class does learn things. So I am not so sure that the collective of those acts failed. But I do know what the triumph of the sympathetic ethos has wrought. It has lead to no acts at all.

Monday, November 12, 2007

the murder of Mohamad Khalil Khudair

Sensiz tutmaz dizlerim dermaným ol
Gel gel gel gel gel gel
Gel efendim gel gel gel sultaným ol gel
Gel efendim gel gel gel mihmaným ol gel
- Cem Karaca

I was talking with my brother on the telephone the other day. I mentioned that I was campaigning to get Andrew Moonen prosecuted for the murder of Raheem Khalif Habaichi. My brother asked: what was different between that murder and the other Blackwater murders? I explained that in the case of the 17 people killed and 24 wounded at Nisour Square, the government and the mercenaries could plead that they were reacting to a security situation. They could at least plead to that. But that in the case of Moonen, the offense was naked. That it was that romantic moment, so ardently sought after in the sixties by the American new left, when a case comes up that clearly, indisputably conflicts with the claim of the governing class to be operating democratically and with respect for the law. It is an open grave of injustice, an exhumation of the dead body in the back yard of the killer. One corpse can, theoretically, show the entire disposition of forces that eventuated in the radical transformation of living to dead tissue, otherwise known as blowing someone away, putting someone down, wacking someone, etc., etc. And if the governing class is found to be governing illegally, if they break the most fundamental law by allowing random murder, and if they do it by guarding a praetorian guard, surely they give up the right to judge. How could they claim to indict and accuse the activist who is using the means at hand to right a wrong?

My brother wasn’t buying any of my bullshit. And he’s right. We live in a different age, one in which the indifference to our own political freedom has become a form of entertainment – which, like all entertainments in the good old U.S.A., consists of watching millionaires cavort around on a big or little screen. Often with pixel animates, since there is never, ever enough infantilization in this country. We can always use a little more. We live in an ice age of gelatin. We woke up one day and the U.S. was covered with a thick, transparent layer. We go about our deadened business in it, but it covers us every second. Every word spoken or written under it is a dud. The gelatin is made of affluence, fatigue, deadened imaginations, sadism, fear, and a mass drifting vacancy, a sort of shopper’s trance. It is so hard to raise your hand, to change your life, to strike out and in so doing commit yourself for life – that nobody does it. Don’t plan on it. There is a simulacrum of oppositional activity, but it never cracks the mile high gelatin. Way up there, the surface of the gelatin is uniform and unbroken.

Here’s today’s story from the NYT:

An Iraqi taxi driver was shot and killed on Saturday by a guard with DynCorp International, a private security company hired to protect American diplomats here, when a DynCorp convoy rolled past a knot of traffic on an exit ramp in Baghdad, the Iraqi Interior Ministry said Sunday.

As in several previous shootings involving security companies affiliated with the State Department, witnesses to Saturday’s shooting said they saw no reason for the guards to open fire on the car, a white Hyundai with a taxi sign on the roof, driven by Mohamad Khalil Khudair, 40. It was unclear where the convoy was headed, or whether it carried any American officials.

“The poor cabdriver was stopped here,” said one witness, Raafat Jassim, 36, who said he was standing outside a barbershop near the exit ramp at the time. “He had his hazard lights flashing, and the convoy was a long way away from him,” Mr. Jassim said, pointing to a spot about 50 yards down the ramp, which comes off a bridge over the Tigris River in a neighborhood called Utafiya.

An official at the local police headquarters said that the victim’s brother had insisted on pressing charges against the company and that as a result, the case had been referred to an Iraqi judge. But legal loopholes and immunities in Iraqi and American law have raised questions about whether private security companies operating in this country can be called to account in any court.

Both the State Department and DynCorp confirmed that there had been a shooting involving one of the company’s convoys on Saturday. Possibly because the convoy sped away after the shooting, neither the company nor the State Department could immediately confirm that Mr. Khudair had been killed.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

New Accidental Look

Unfortunately, I tried to make one change on my template, which led to a cascade of ever deeper changes. Sorry! Still, everything is still here except my links. As soon as I figure out how to put them in, Limited Inc might be a bit nicer. If someone out there has a clue as to an easy way to add my links, email me!

mailer again

In the Hippias Minor, Socrates challenges Hippias, a vain sophist, over the matter of who is the better man: Achilles or Odysseus. Hippias holds that Achilles was the truest, strongest and best of the Greeks, while Odysseus was the wiliest – polytropos – or the falsest, the most cunning, the most deceptive. But Socrates, surprisingly enough, comes up with an argument to show that either both Achilles and Odysseus are mixtures of the good and the false, or that – if Achilles lies and deceptions come about involuntarily, whereas Odysseus voluntarily takes on the deceivers role, as Hippias maintains – that Odysseus must be the better man. This is the end of the dialogue:

Socrates: Is not justice either a sort of power or knowledge, or both ? Or must not justice inevitably be one or other of these ?
Hippias : Yes.
Socrates : Then injustice is a power of the soul, the more powerful soul is the more just, is it not ? For we found, my friend, that such a soul was better.
Hippias : Yes, we did.
Socrates : And what if it be knowledge ? Is not the wiser soul more just, and the more ignorant more unjust ?
Hippias : Yes.
Socrates : And what if it be both ? Is not the soul which has both, power and knowledge, more just, and the more ignorant more unjust ? Is that not inevitably the case ?
Hippias : It appears to be.
Socrates : This more powerful and wiser soul, then, was found to be better and to have more power to do both good and disgraceful acts in every kind of action was it not ?
[376a] Hippias : Yes.
Socrates : Whenever, then, it does disgraceful acts, it does them voluntarily, by reason of power and art ; and these, either one or both of them, are attributes of justice.
Hippias : So it seems.
Socrates : And doing injustice is doing evil acts, and not doing injustice is doing good acts.
Hippias : Yes.
Socrates : Will not, then, the more powerful and better soul, when it does injustice, do it voluntarily, and the bad soul involuntarily ?
Hippias : Apparently.
[376b] Socrates : Is not, then, a good man he who has a good soul, and a bad man he who has a bad one ?
Hippias : Yes.
Socrates : It is, then, in the nature of the good man to do injustice voluntarily, and of the bad man to do it involuntarily, that is, if the good man has a good soul.
Hippias : But surely he has.
Socrates : Then he who voluntarily errs and does disgraceful and unjust acts, Hippias, if there be such a man, would be no other than the good man.”

Socrates pulls himself up short, here. How could he come to this conclusion? It is as if the Socratic method had revealed a little too distinctly its daemonic side. But out of this little snatch of dialogue, in a dialogue that never receives very much attention, we see the outlines of the philosophe buffoon – such a man as the one who died today, Norman Mailer. Mailer, of course, believed supremely that the goodness that comes from never testing one’s capacity for badness is not goodness, but sloth – the expression of the soul in a bad state. This is the social via negativa. Neither the right nor the left like it. School will not teach it. You have to learn it outside of school, if you want to learn it at all. It is at the root of many liberation movements. It clenched Frederick Douglass’ hand into a fist and made him beat his overseer, which was done as much to honour the bad man as the good man in Douglass’ soul – the whole man, not the candycane liberator, all fucking sweetness and light. In Dana Spiotta’s excellent novel, Eat the Document, which tracks a Weather style ‘terrorist’ named Caroline aka Mary up to the nineties in tandem with a nineties, Northwestern anti-globalist anarchist, the anarchist actions are called ‘tests’. Caroline, in 1972, has the underground mantra down: Count on bad luck. In 1998, bad luck, for the children of America, is unimaginable.
Well, we are beginning to feel bad luck again.

In the Tractate of Steppenwolf, that mysterious text magically popping up in the novel, the writer analyzes Harry Haller’s error in thinking that he is divided between a man and a wolf – for even the wolf has more than two souls. We are, instead, knots of an indefinite number of selves, just like the Indian Gods in the Vedas.

“He would like to overcome the wolf in himself and become completely human, or renounce the human and at least live a unified, untorn life as a wolf. It is possible that he had never really precisely observed a wolf – because then he would have perhaps seen that even the animals have no unified souls, that even with them, behind the beautiful, austere form of the body lives a multitude of wants and circumstances, that even the wolf has its abysses in itself, that even the wolf suffers.”

The Socrates of the Hippias Minor is closer to the Antisthenes’ Socrates than to Plato’s. After all, the philosophical lineage runs not just from Socrates to Plato to all the history of philosophy that comes afterwards, but also from Socrates to Antisthenes to Diogenes to the cynics, to the anti-philosophical philosophers, the parasites, Rameau’s nephew, and so on – a bunch of dangerous farceurs. Antisthenes, too, was a great admirer of the polytropos Odysseus – in the one major fragment we have from him, in Porphyry, here is how he defends Odysseus (to quote from David Levystone’s excellent 2005 article, La figure d’Ulysse chez les Socratiques : Socrate polutropos):

Antisthenes says that Homer neither praises nor blames Odysseus in calling him “polytropos”.
However, he doesn’t make Agamemnon and Ajax polytropoi, but frank and noble, no more than he gives, by way of Zeus, a feigning and shifting character to wise Nestor. On the contrary, Nestor sincerely helps Agamemnon and all the others, and if, for the army, he knows something good, he advises it. He doesn’t dissimulate it. Achilles is so far from accepting such behavior that he calls odious like death the ‘person who in his heart hides on thing and says another.”
In order to resolve this difficulty, Antisthenes says: what then? Is it true that Odysseus is a scoundrel because he has been called polytropos? Isn’t it, in fact, the contrary, that he has been so qualified by Homer because he is wise? Probably, tropos signifes, on one side, the character, and on the other, the usage of discourse. The man is morally good whose character is ‘turned’ to the good. On the other hand, tropes are the invention of a discourse of such and such a kind. Homer utilizes tropos with reference to the variations of voice and melody, as in the case of the nightingale “who changes frequently, fills its voice with varied sounds”.
If the wise are good speakers, they know how to express the same thought in many ways. And because they know how to say the same thing in many ways, they can thus be polytropos. Thus, the wise are equally good. This is why Homer says that Odysseus, who is wise, is polytropos. He know how to talk with men in using multiple modes of discourse. This is also the fashion to which Pythagoras, when asked to talk to children, adhered, they say, in giving discourses to children. While in talking to women, he adapted his discourse to women. To leaders, he spoke as to leaders and to ephebes, he spoke as to ephebes. In fact, to discover the style of wisdom which belongs to each is a sign of wisdom. It is, on the contrary, a sign of philistinism to only use one unique style (monotropos). From this fact, too, the doctor depends for the success of his art, since therapy practices polytropy on account of the diversity of states of the patient.”

This speech of Antisthenes was obviously read by Bakhtin – and by St. Paul, who wrote that he was all things to all people. But it is a curious and paradoxical speech. For to say one thing in many ways was, according to Antisthenes philosophy, to say many things, not one. Antisthenes, famously, held that there was no such thing as contradiction. There was no contradiction because there was no essence. As there was no essence, there was no definition. There are two famous anecdotes about Antisthenes and Plato – in one of which, Plato told Antisthenes that his book against contradiction was a contradiction of itself, since the point of the book was to contradict the philosophers. The other anecdote is that Antisthenes once remarked: we see man and we see horse, but we don’t see manness and horseness. Plato replied: You possess that eye by which horse is seen; but you have not yet acquired the eye by which Horseness is seen.”

Ah, that eye – that third eye, perhaps, from the angel of death. And yet Plato’s third eye institutes essences and contradictions, while Antisthenes two eyes simply see. It is not so easy, when you set out to do it systematically, to place the sage on one side and the buffoon on the other.