“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

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

the ethics of garbage flies

Yesterday I scribbled down a post about the news that Bush aided, abetted and ordered torture. At the end of it my heart dribbled out of me. Though I believe that my posts are full of sound and fury and signify quite a lot, thank you very much, there is good reason to ask whether writing in every register, from the satiric to the analytical, about the scurrilous people who rule us is doing any good. From the aesthetic point of view – which is my point of view – what counts is the intangible quality of the insult, not whether it breaks your bones. However, the aesthetic point of view does merge, at some point, with the magical point of view. A curse might be beautiful poetry, but it should still be a curse. Richard III should go to hell with the ghosts’ voices ringing in his ears, even if, in the end, Richard III is a puppet imp.

Such are the intangibles. Yesterday, I got hold of a copy of Steven Coll’s Family History of the Bin Ladens, and I’ve been enjoying the evidence pouring out of every page of the interlocking Saudi and American oligarchies, which explains a whole hell of a lot about our current politics. Perhaps instead of wailing about Bush, I should devote a little space to the intentional gap in our sense of America’s historical engagement in the Middle East. It is into this vacuum that nature – in the form of such Gandarene swine as Paul Berman – has rushed with a vengeance, creating the comic figure of the Islamofascist and the “terrorist” against which we are carrying out our global war.

And I will… but as LI is boundless in space and time, we decided that, after all, ranting about our torturing president would serve at least a cathartic purpose. So here’s the post:


Although here and there you can find appropriate responses to the news, reported by ABC, that the President not only knew about torture but, after his Vice President attended meetings designed to hammer out a torture agenda for prisoners captured by the Americans or sold to them or whatever, approved it knowingly and with malice aforethought, on the whole, the nation has been unmoved by this latest revelation about our national Garbage Fly.

I’m with the nation. We aren’t moved. The moral faculty, insofar as it extends into and identifies with this place where I am a citizen has been so desensitized that it is no longer even a phantom limb. Our National Fly has, at least, ground the residue of patriotic illusion out of me. In fact, the vision of the Fly and his country club desperadoes pretending to be serious S.S. officers is more comic than tragic, more evidence that crime, in D.C., no longer requires the dark brilliance of Richard Nixon, but can be entrusted to a bumbling cadre of Farside nosepickers, who will spill the beans to a complacent and enabling press confident that that same press will not print the beans on the front page and put the whole affair into the amnesia hole, while selecting the donuts for their favorite next superfly, John McCain.

Admittedly, the story that ABC news broke was easy to guess. Torture would be one of the Fly’s responses to 9/11, an event that we still have not fully measured, vis a vis the Fly’s reaction to it. When the planes rammed into the WTC and the Pentagon, we know now that Bush had to remember the warnings he had received and coldly dismissed a mere month before. Knowing, as we do now, what he knew then, his actions fall into a familiar pattern. For here, once again, the Fly was face to face with the fact that he sucks as a man, by every criterion of manhood instilled in him by his education and breeding. His projects are always utter failures; his responses to them, while they are ongoing, are always utterly wrong; and his susceptibility to great bouts of panic are witnessed by all the people around him, who, he will later remember, know this key fact about him. It is a fact that he retrospectively tries to hide with swagger and the bizarre assortment of things that come out of his mouth – the “bring it ons”, the “mission accomplisheds”. The Fly’s long history of failure and panic have made him vulnerable to the emotional blackmail of those he thinks of as tough. There’s something alarming and pitiful about the Fly, going around day after day, calculating toughness – but such is the life of this beast, written in every trace he leaves behind him. And, to be fair, while he gulled the population post 9/11, it was a population longing to be gulled, longing for fairy tales, longing for easy credit, longing for a sloppy, third world fuck atop its wretched piles of junk and mcmansions.

So yes, the Fly’s a war criminal, and yes, he’ll go unpunished, and even remain the object of veneration to the cult that twitches with love for him. I actually know some members of the cult. Some of them I like, bracketing their politics. On the other hand, on days when the Fly’s nature is rubbed in my face, I want to go out and bite their necks and suck them dry of blood. Which is how LI has come to sympathize with the Comte de Lautreamont:

Debout sur le rocher, pendant que l’ouragan fouettait mes cheveux et mon manteau, j’épiais dans l’extase cette force de la tempête, s’acharnant sur un navire, sous un ciel sans étoiles. Je suivis, dans une attitude triomphante, toutes les péripéties de ce drame, depuis l’instant où le vaisseau jeta ses ancres, jusqu’au moment où il s’engloutit, habit fatal qui entraîna, dans les boyaux de la mer, ceux qui s’en étaient revêtus comme d’un manteau. Mais, l’instant s’approchait, où j’allais, moi-même, me mêler comme acteur à ces scènes de la nature bouleversée. Quand la place où le vaisseau avait soutenu le combat montra clairement que celui-ci avait été passer le reste de ses jours au rez-de-chaussée de la mer, alors, ceux qui avaient été emportés avec les flots reparurent en partie à la surface. Ils se prirent à bras-le-corps, deux par deux, trois par trois; c’était le moyen de ne pas sauver leur vie; car, leurs mouvements devenaient embarrassés, et ils coulaient bas comme des cruches percées... Quelle est l'armée de monstres marins qui fend les flots avec vitesse? Ils sont six; leurs nageoires sont vigoureuses, et s’ouvrent un passage, à travers les vagues soulevées. De tous ces êtres humains, qui remuent les quatre membres dans ce continent peu ferme, les requins ne font bientôt plus qu’une omelette sans oeufs, et se la partagent, selon la loi du plus fort. Le sang se mêle aux eaux, et les eaux se mêlent au sang. Leurs yeux féroces éclairent la scène du carnage... Mais, quel est encore ce tumulte des eaux, là-bas, à l’horizon. On dirait une trombe qui s’approche. Quels coups de rame! J’aperçois ce que c’est. Une énorme femelle de requin vient prendre part au pâté de foie de canard, et manger du bouilli froid. Elle est furieuse, car, elle arrive affamée. Une lutte s’engage entre elle et les requins, pour se disputer les quelques membres palpitants qui flottent par-ci, par là, sans rien dire, sur la surface de crème rouge. À droite, à gauche, elle lance des coups de dents qui engendrent des blessures mortelles. Mais, trois requins vivants l’entourent encore, et elle est obligée de tournée en tous sens, pour déjouer leurs manoeuvres. Avec une émotion croissante, inconnue jusqu’alors, le spectateur, placé sur le rivage, suit cette bataille navale d’un nouveau genre. Il a les yeux fixés sur cette courageuse femelle de requin, aux dents si fortes. Il n’hésite plus, il épaule son fusil, et, avec son adresse habituelle, il loge sa deuxième balle dans l’ouïe d’un des requins, au moment où il se montrait au-dessus d’une vague. Restent deux requins qui n’en témoignent qu’un acharnement plus grand. Du haut du rocher, l’homme à la salive saumâtre, se jette à la mer, et nage vers le tapis agréablement coloré, en tenant à la main ce couteau d’acier qui ne l’abandonne jamais. Désormais, chaque requin a affaire à un ennemi. Il s’avance vers son adversaire fatigué, et, prenant son temps, lui enfonce dans le ventre sa lame aiguë. La citadelle mobile se débarrasse facilement du dernier adversaire... Se trouvent en présence le nageur et la femelle du requin, sauvée par lui. Il se regardèrent entre les yeux pendant quelques minutes; et chacun s’étonna de trouver tant de férocité dans les regards de l’autre. Ils tournent en rond en nageant, ne se perdent pas de vue, et se disent à part soi: “Je me suis trompé jusqu’ici; en voilà un qui est plus méchant.” Alors, d’un commun accord, entre deux eaux, ils glissèrent l’un vers l’autre, avec une admiration mutuelle, la femelle de requin écartant l’eau de ses nageoires, Maldoror battant l’onde avec ses bras; et retinrent leur souffle, dans une vénération profonde, chacun désireux de contempler, pour la première fois, son portrait vivant. Arrivés à trois mètres de distance, sans faire aucun effort, ils tombèrent brusquement l’un contre l’autre, comme deux aimants, et s’embrassèrent avec dignité et reconnaissance, dans une étreinte aussi tendre que celle d’un frère ou d’une soeur. Les désirs charnels suivirent de près cette démonstration d’amitié. Deux cuisses nerveuses se collèrent étroitement à la peau visqueuse du monstre, comme deux sangsues; et, les bras et les nageoires entrelacés autour du corps de l’objet aimé qu’ils entouraient avec amour, tandis que leurs gorges et leurs poitrines ne faisaient bientôt plus qu’une masse glauque aux exhalaisons de goémon; au milieu de la tempête qui continuait de sévir; à la lueur des éclairs; ayant pour lit d’hyménée la vague écumeuse, emportés par un courant sous-marin comme dans un berceau, et roulant, sur eux-mêmes, vers les profondeurs inconnues de l’abîme, ils se réunirent dans un accouplement long, chaste et hideux!... Enfin, je venais de trouver quelqu’un qui me ressemblât!... Désormais, je n’étais plus seul dans la vie! Elle avait les mêmes idées que moi!... J’étais en face de mon premier amour!



4 comments:

P.M.Lawrence said...

I just posted this at John Quiggin's site :-

I recently downloaded Belloc’s The Servile State, and I was interested in the many contrasts between how things are now and the state of play then (the world Belloc was extrapolating from, in the full knowledge that things could well turn out differently). In particular, I was struck by the contrast between current US contortions over what is torture and a passing illustration of Belloc’s, that took it as given that people would be concerned about how to eliminate torture:-

"It is always possible by establishing a cross-section in a set of definitions to pose the unanswerable difficulty of degree, but that will never affect the realities of discussion. We know, for instance, what is meant by torture when it exists in a code of laws, and when it is forbidden. No imaginary difficulties of degree between pulling a man’s hair and scalping him, between warming him and burning him alive, will disturb a reformer whose business it is to expunge torture from some penal code."

P.M.Lawrence said...

Or, as Google language tools would say:-

Standing on the rock, while Hurricane fouettait my hair and my jacket, j'épiais in ecstasy this force of the storm, s'acharnant on board a vessel, under a sky without stars. I followed, in a triumphant attitude, all the vicissitudes of this tragedy, after the ship threw its anchors, until he s'engloutit, which led to fatal habit, in the bowels of the sea, those who them were dressed as a mantle. But the moment was approaching, I went myself, as an actor I mingle with these scenes of nature upset. When the place where the ship had supported the struggle showed clearly that he had been spend the rest of his days at the ground floor of the sea, then those who had been swept away with the waves reparurent partly on the surface . They took arm-on, two by two, three by three, it was a way not to save their lives, because their movements became embarrassed, and they flowed down as pitchers breakthroughs ... What is the army of sea monsters that cleaves the waves with speed? They are six, their fins are vigorous, open a passage, through the waves raised. Of all these human beings, who pull the four members in this continent little farm, sharks do that soon omelet without eggs, and the share, according to the law of the strongest. Blood mixes with water, and water mixed with blood. Their eyes fierce illuminate the scene of the carnage ... But what is this tumult of the waters, there on the horizon. It looks like a jackrabbit approaching. What blows oar! I see what it is. An enormous female shark just take part in pâté de foie de canard, and eat boiled cold. She is furious because, she arrives hungry. A fight between her and undertakes sharks, compete for the few members who float through exciting Here and there, without saying anything, on the surface of red cream. On the right, left, it launches shots teeth that cause fatal injuries. But three sharks living around it, and it is obliged to tour in all directions, to foil their tactics. With a growing feeling, unknown viewers, placed on the shoreline, follows the naval battle of a new type. It has its eyes fixed on this courageous female shark, teeth so strong. He repeatedly addition, it supports his gun, and, with his usual address, it lodges its second shot in the ear of one of the sharks, when he showed over a wave. That leaves two sharks who do testify that a larger hard. On top of the rock, the man in the saliva brackish, empties into the sea and swim to the pleasantly colored carpets, taking in hand the knife steel that abandons forever. Now every shark dealing with an enemy. He moved toward his opponent tired, and taking his time, knocking him in the belly his blade acute. The Citadel mobile easily get rid of the last opponent ... Se faced with the swimmer and the female shark, saved by him. He looked between the eyes for a few minutes, and everyone was astonished to find so much ferocity in the eyes of the other. They run in circles while swimming, are not lost sight of, and feel themselves part: "I made a mistake so far, here is one that is more wicked." So, by mutual agreement, between waters They glissèrent at each other with mutual admiration, the female shark removing water from the fins, Maldoror flying wave with his arm, and retained their breath in a deep reverence, each eager to contemplate, for the first time, his vivid portrait. When you reach three metres away, without making any effort, they fell sharply against one another, like two magnets, and s'embrassèrent with dignity and recognition in an embrace as soft as that of a brother or " sister. The desire, closely followed this demonstration of friendship. Two thigh nerve is stuck closely to the skin of the viscous monster, as two leeches, and, arms and fins intertwined around the body of the object they liked surrounded with love, while their throats and breasts did soon more than a mass of exhalaisons glauque to goémon; in the middle of the storm continued to rage, in the light flashes; whose bed hyménée frothy wave, carried by a current submarine as in a cradle, and rolling on themselves to the unknowable depths of the abyss, they sat in a long mating, chaste and ugly ... Finally, I had to find someone who ressemblât me ... Now, I was no longer alone in life! She had the same ideas as me ... I was facing my first love!

roger said...

Mr. Lawrence, interesting quote from Belloc. I've been looking for a copy of the Servile State - where did you download it from?

When Abu Ghraib happened, I wrote a post, which is somewhere in this shambles, that many things allowed in the U.S. penal system seemed like torture to me, so I wasn't that shocked. But the more I've read about the CIA chamber of horrors, the more I realize that this goes beyond the indifference to jail rape - it goes towards the death of at least 109 people so far.
Sorry about not translating the bit from Maldoror. After searching about, I notice that there is no English translation on the web that is freely available. But a translation, page 111 of Maldoror and Poems translated by Paul Knight, can be found on Google Books.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Wikipedia's Servile State article gave this download link. The PDFs are awkward, and the text has scan errors, but the site is usable.

Belloc missed a few tricks about reaching collective ownership through gradual purchase. In particular, funds for it can be obtained through issuing fiat currency (which Marx had already suggested, because it would also damage the bourgeoisie), and taxes and other burdens on private industry can create a competitive advantage for the other sort (think Zimbabwean agriculture). Neither did he foresee today's corporate system in which managerialism has crowded out actual individuals rich in their own right as the class needing to be squared - but that is a detail, as far as his thesis is concerned.

Belloc also did not foresee the present situation in which industry would be willing and able to sideline workers, instead thinking of conditions in which workers would be desired and the need would be to marginalise them. But still, the trends are there to have the remaining workforce dependent, if not yet receiving the quid pro quo of security that he thought necessary for stability. That may be a matter of not yet having reached the level of instability he saw coming - but the trends are there.