“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, May 24, 2008

the demomaniac of agen




Joan DeJean, in her fascinating book, The Re-invention of Obscenity, points to a strange omission in the charges leveled against Théophile de Viau’s trial in his trial in 1623. Théophile’s arrest was, in part, part of a battle that he had nothing to do with. As the result of the proliferation of publications in the early 17th century, the government of Louis XIII to propose an office of censorship, which immediately aroused the indignation of the doctors of theology at the Sorbonne, who, traditionally, had the censor’s powers. Théophile was thus charged for an obscene poem, but the charges were translated into theological language – thus, the awe-inspiring line in which the poet contemplates fucking his lover Phylis in the ass was construed as a form of blasphemy. DeJean makes an interesting case for the threefold importance of the trial:

“Théophile’s trial makes three things clear. First, the modern obscene would not have taken shape as it did, and perhaps not at all, without the decisive role of print culture. Second, whereas all censors, civil and religious alike, claimed to be interested only in religious issues, they were really more concerned with trying to convict Théophile of sexual crimes. Third, their obsession with Théophile’s sexuality, in particular with what we would now term his sexual orientation, ultimately played a crucial role in giving obscenity its modern form.”

As DeJean explains the latter, before Théophile’s trial, bawdy literature was saturated with references to the male organ; after Théophile’s trial, the male organ is figleafed, and the vagina starts to get all the textual attention. Which is a shift that surely has to do with more than the trial – but the trial is the largest social marker of the shift.

But it is the second point that is of interest to me. If Théophile was truly to be charged with blasphemy, his sodomite sonnet was not the place to start. Indeed, there were plenty of other provocations scattered throughout Théophile’s writing, including a scene in Fragments d'une histoire comique in which the author – describes adventures ensuing from his banishment from Paris in 1619. Among those adventures are two with a religious cast - a visit to a possessed woman in Agen, and a riot that ensues when one of his companions, a fellow Protestant (and, more importantly, a “beautiful spirit”, as Théophile’s enemy, the Jesuit Garasse, describes them) refuses to kneel in the street while the consecrated host is being taken from one place to another.

Stuart Clark, pondering the mysteries of the belief systems of early modern Europe (about which a battle has been waged for a long time over the question of whether disbelief in the modern sense would even be intelligible to people in the societies of that time), set up a thought experiment type question in his book, Thinking with Demons: the idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe. After showing the changes going on in the definition of the natural and the preternatural among writers in the sixteenth century, he writes:

One way to bring together this array of changes from a position of relative stability to one of confusion in the application of categories to phenomena might be to ask, simply, how hypothetically well-informed inhabitants of early moder urope were expected to make sense of some typically marvelous happenings. Faced by prodigious appearances in the skies, were they to interpret them as signs of divine anger, exhalations of vapours from the earth, or tricks played on the sight by the reflection of light? If they saw a dead person bleed freshly in the presence or at the touch of the suspected murderer, was this a miracle to sustain God’s justice, the effect of physical links between two bodies agitated by antipathy or connected by corpuscular effluxes, a crude deception designed to remove the need ofr harder evidence, or the result of distubing the corpse before the blood was fully coagulated. Was the visitation of an apparition a spiritual reality, a physical counterfeit, or merely a dream? Did a healer like the Restoration sensation Valentine Greatrakes cure by means of a heavenly dispensation, a natural quality in his own physiological make-up transmitted, again, by material effluvia, or by psychosomatic delusion?” (266)

The last question I have quoted rather sneakily. I have already posted about Robert Boyle and his strictures on the word ‘nature’ as having any explanatory force in natural philosophy. In fact, Boyle met Greatrakes, a man who had a chased away pains, like migraine headache, by stroking a person along lines felt to Greatrake’s fingers line the lines of flight of the pain, which he would lead to some outlet and free into the air – for instance, the opening of the ear. A Hobbesian physician, the radical Henry Stubbe, wrote a pamphlet about Greatrake. Stubbe was just the kind of materialist Boyle did not trust – he was forever turning the supernatural into the natural. Stubbe, interestingly enough, met Greatrake, who was raised in Ireland, in 1666, after Stubbe had been in Jamaica for three years. Early modern Europe didn’t really exist – who knows, after all, if Stubbe’s notion of the natural effluvia of the body came from his conversation with some African in Jamaica? The medical body was created out of a confluence of many belief systems. Stubbe’s naturalism, most commentators say, came from a distinctly English tradition, through Hobbes. Yet he is repeating Campanella’s notion of the natural power of certain bodies. Nature, we should remember, does not have a canonical semantic force such that we can look back at these writers and think that they are “humanizing” or disenchanting the world. On the other hand, the imperfect rise of volupte, I’d contend, thematically prefigures the humanization of the world. At least, in Theophile’s case, taking nature, whatever it includes, as all the case is. One has to always remember how the New World showed that it was very had to say what nature did include.



Typically, Théophile sets up the occasion for his visit with a joke. He is in a garden with his friend, Clitiphon. Clitiphon has touched a rose. The scent getting on his hand, Clitiphon turns pale and rushes to some other flowers to get rid of the smell. It turns out he has an aversion for roses.

“That flower,” I told him, “is the breath of your bad angel, the one that bewitched you and gave you the convulsions of a demomaniac: your eyes rolled up, you gritted your teeth and opened your lips with grimaces that were exactly like the obsessed girl that I visited yesterday. – I don’t have any other devil than that odor, said Clitiphon, but if you love me, tell me the story of that adventure, for they say it is pleasant; I didn’t dare enjoy it, for fear that it was false; and since you have the reputation for being exactly truthful in the least little things, instruct me in what happened, in order that I may dare to assure myself that I know the facts. – Here, I told him, is all there is to it. The noise of this accident had already alarmed all the countryside, and the most incredulous let themselves be convinced at second hand by the infinite number of people who believed to have truly seen effects far above those of the forces of nature in the person of this girl. I found myself on this occasion in the village, where already she had been playing her game for a long time. And since I have been held to be a person whose nature is such as to not easily believe impossibilities, two of my friends, in order to overcome the doubts I entertained about this, pressed me to go see her, with the promise to not believe themselves if, coming away from her, I didn’t find myself of their opinion. She was lodged near the walls of the village, in a mean little house where a priest came to exorcize her regularly two times a week. A very old woman and two small children were inseparably next to her, which gave me the first conjecture of some kind of trick. For, firstly, I see in her room that the feeble and most timid sex and the most aged lived quite securely near the devil, for which reason I supposed it wasn’t the worst of them. After having knocked loudly, an old man, who opened the door for us, told us that the patient had need of a little rest, because of the extraordinary work she’d been put to by the by the bad spirit a little before; but if we returned in two hours, we could content our curiosities. I knew that he had demanded this period to give him the leisure to prepare her ‘supernatural’ faces, and, without stopping for his speech, I promptly went into the chamber where the girl was with her old woman companion and the two children. Starring at her good and hard, I saw she was surprised and could easily see that she fixed her face [contraignoit son visage] and began to study her posture. At that feint, a little too obvious, I hardly held back a smile, which the old woman found to be very unpleasant, and told me that God would punish me for my mockery by the same punishment he inflicted on this poor body. I told her I was smiling because of something else, and that we weren’t people incapable of being converted in spite of our appearance, but that we asked for some visible witness which could make us believe in something so incredible. However the demomaniac began to agitate her body, to make herself look savage and to tell us, breathlessly, that she felt she was in the presence of non-believers and that this pained her. Insensibly, voila, here she was now in a rapture; she threw to the floor a distaff that she held and, passing by us into another room, she threw herself onto the floor, counterfeited the grimaces of a hanged man, the cries of a cat, the convulsions of an epileptic, crawled on her belly, rolled on the beds, jumped to the windows and made as if to jump out, except that the children intervened, before whom she stopped short and growled some words of badly pronounced latin. I spoke the most distinct latin to her that I could, but I saw no appearance that she understood it. I spoke to her in greek, English, Spanish and Italian, but the devil couldn’t articulate a word in response. As for gascon, she didn’t lack curses to throw at me, for she was of the country, and the priest coming by, his latin communicated to her. She understood his questions, and him, her responses. In a word, according to the terms of their dialogue, she would assume or relax her postures, to the fright of his assistants, who I couldn’t help but mock, saying that this devil was ignorant of languages and must not travel much – but since at each time the demomaniac had phrases to throw into my eyes, I didn’t wait for the end of her fit, knowing well that, at least if she didn’t transform herself into something stronger and more savage than a girl, no devil was going to get away with insulting me that easily. The easy resolve with which I witnessed an occurance that everybody thought was so dangerous was the reason that the abuse did not last hidden for long. For the justified suspicions that this event arose permitted many the curiosity to examine this mystery a little closer, and as minds were being slowly delivered of this superstitious credulity, there came a point when a testimony was produced that relieved any incertitude. For, after being treated by a good doctor, it was found that her problem was merely a little melancholy, and a lot of faking.”

The question in my mind, here, is why am I the first person to translate this? Or has there been another? This is amazing stuff.

Dr. Causabon scribbles a bit more in his notebook


J'devrais penser
à m'forger un moral en acier trempé
ne plus m'ronger
mon vernis bleu cyber nacré
m'sentir en sécurité
sous protection à indice élevé
traumatisée
faudrait pas stigmatiser
pas compliqué c'est pas compliqué
j'trouve pas ça tell'ment sorcier
bien décidée

mes idées se sont arrêtées
–Ysa Ferrer


William Lilly, the astrologer and antiquary, left an autobiography. The beginning of his real life, outside of school (where he learned to speak Latin as well, he claims, as English) went like this:

My father had one Samuel Smatty for his Attorney, unto whom I went sundry times with letters, who perceiving I was a scholar, and that I lived miserably in the country, losing my time, nor any ways likely to do better, if I continued there; pitying my condition, he sent word for me to come and speak with him and told me that he had lately been at London, where there was a gentleman wanted a youth, to attend him and his wife, who could write, etc.

I acquainted my father with it, who was very willing to be rid of me, for I could not work, drive the plough, or endure any country labour; my father oft would say, I was good for nothing.”

These storms about Marx that have lately raged through LI have done me a world of good. I was reminded of the broad outline of elements at play in the construction of the happiness culture, one of which looms largely: the opening up of the positional economy. As I wrote, Marx’s suggestions about “mental products” were, unfortunately, off-tracked by his materialism, ending up giving us a very unsatisfactory picture of mental production. But if we dispense with the idea that there intellect somehow operates on top of a society, as an epiphenomena, a mist rising from the surface, unable in itself to do anything but operate as a distributor for the ideas of the ruling class, or – most pernicious of metaphors – a mirror reflecting ideas - and instead look at Marx’s much more radical analysis of labor as necessarily compounded of ideas and ‘matter’, than we can start to understand mental production as horizontal to other forms of production, which allows us to look at its scope and effects as taking many forms in the social: as a means of social ascent, or descent; as the creator of life styles; as a necessary factor in the creation of the techno-industrial structure, etc. The early modern era in Europe saw the opening up of the positional economy – or, in other words, the lessening of feudal barriers to social mobility – due, in great part, to print culture. Sad young men like Lilly, alien among the corn, were not uncommon in the seventeenth century. They became the ranters, secretaries, natural philosophers, lawyer’s clerks, astrologers, poets, actors, etc. that wove a certain narrative, the adventure narrative, in Europe itself, in tandem with the adventure narrative in the New utopias of the New World. This was the beginning of the third life as a distinct social entity. The techno-industrial structure central to capitalism simply could not have existed without this third life. Similarly, the reshaping of the passional norms was dependent on the effects of the third life – the breaches and cracks it made within the social hierarchy.

A note to the side, this. I still haven’t translated Theophile’s encounter with the possessed woman of Agen. I’m halfway through it, but… this has simply been a busy week. And here I am, Memorial Saturday (on this weekend that we forget the violence that has made America great and make great sacrifices of petroleum to the sky god), behind on my reviewing. Oh, LI is so sorry for himself!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Morons - tasty eatin'!

LI would advise readers to go to this superfinereview (heh heh) of Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort. Who is that reviewer, anyway? Give him a raise!

At the moment, I am using Bishop as my template for political prognostication.

Which gets us to the moron tax.

The moron tax is the increase in the price of commodities, particularly oil, which have reliably fever charted its way across the Great Fly’s America. One statistic that truly struck Bishop, and should strike any politically astute observer, is the correlation between party affiliation and population density. The lower the density, the more likely the area will be GOP leaning, and vice versa.

Now, it is easy to deduce from this handy factoid a few things: those exurbs were, in the naughties, some of the hottest construction sites around. Maricopa, Arizona is an exemplary GOP exurb: it is economically dependent on a larger metropole, it was constructed wholly on spec by drive by land speculators, it is an environmental horror, soaking up water at an astonishing rate in a desert environment, and it is built with total disregard for public investment – no parks, libraries, high schools, crappy roads, the whole nine yards. Paradise, in other words, for the GOP inclined. But ignorance, it turns out, isn’t bliss as the policies one advocates, all at a satisfying long distance, start biting your ass. Thus, this is the kind of patriotic population that could be led by the nose into supporting the war in Iraq, could easily be snookered by the fake war against Al Qaeda, and is no doubt twitching to get going on the bombing of Iran. All, of course, are actions laid down in the Bible, as the exurbanites would find out from the televangelically friendly churches they attend.

Well, of course, the housing speculation bubble collapsed; the crappy roads produce giant traffic jams; and the Bible Based foreign policy has produced the kind of meaty, beaty security action speculators just love. Every time Bush rattles his dick at Iran, the price of a barrel of oil goes up. Sweet – the moron leader has finally started taking huge, tasteful bites out of the moron ass. If you are going to milk the morons, though, you have to do more than sell them junk minimansions and crappy paradisial living conditions – you have to get that last drop of milk. Helpfully, the Fed has been loaning money at zero down and give me your junk for collateral rates to the financial community. 450 billion dollars, this quarter. Hey, that’s some nice money. Now, if you were an investment bank, where would you put that money? In fucking mortgages? No thank you. The moron gang bang is over. So you load up on equities – one bubble – and you look around to see what is hot. What is hot is commodities – it is as exciting as 2006 mortgage securities, and up is the only direction anybody knows. So, take another bite out of the moron ass and see how good it tastes! Like ham hocks!

Exciting times. One thing about the morons, though. After their own personal ass is chewed on for a while, they start screaming. Usually it is for war, but – who knows, given an argument that will have to break through the pressjam – even for peace if they find out that they can benefit from it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Marxalot

Turn on the news, it looks like a movie
It just makes me want to sing Louie Louie


From looking at my stats, I see what the vast majority of LI’s readership wants: naked pictures of Lady Bitch Ray. Unfortunately, she hasn’t mailed me any lately. So I will revert to a few jottings about a subject so sexy and hot that surely, aficionados of LBR’s perfect derriere will not be totally unhappy. I’m speaking, of course, about Marx and the German Ideology.

Ho ho.

Northanger, at a certain late point in the comment stream on Phantoms of Ideology, asked me what it was that I found particularly stunning about Amie’s discussion of ideology in Marx. What I found stunning about it was that Amie took Marx’s notion apart, and showed how it worked and didn’t work. This is in the best tradition of what Victor Skhlovsky, the Russian critique, called “estrangement” – by examining a thing as a composite rather than as a immediate whole, one gains a certain intellectual and moral mastery over a seemingly opaque totality. In his great essay about the estrangement in Wooden Eyes, Carlo Ginzberg relates the technique to folk riddles and the Stoic moral training found in Marcus Aurelius. “First of all, we must pause and take stock. That which is dear to us must be broken down into its component parts.” This, one of the pre-eminent intellectual urges inherited by the early modern moralists from the revival of the Stoics (see La Bruyere’s passage about going into the kitchens of the rich and observing each (disgusting) stage in the preparation of their delicacies) flows into the ideologues proper of the Napoleonic era, and then into Marx’s own use of “ideology” in The German Ideology. As Amie points out, if we go back into the kitchen and see when and how Marx composed a book in 1846 that did not get published until 1932, we will experience a certain lessening of our sense of, well, our grasp on the text. That lessened grasp is important, especially in light of the fact that there is a central Marxist tradition that believe it “owns” the text. Chabert, whose reduction of Marx's use of ideology as three memorizable uses, seems to assume something opposite: we can simply pluck out the “concepts” that constitute the meaning of Marx's text and arrange them synchronically, like bulleted items in a power point presentation.

That is the traditional way of interpreting Marx.

Well, I wrote at mindboggling length in the comments about this in response to Chabert. However, I’d like to pull away from the duel and scratch out a few notes about the German Ideology that I will no doubt later use in my happiness book.

Anyone who tries to read the entirety of the German Ideology quickly finds that it is the gaudiest, oddest text in Marx’s canon. It goes on forever, contains gigantic, brilliant guesses and then ties them to a pitifully provincial controversy. It is crucial to remember that this text is written long before Marx had anything like a model of capitalism. In this, it is a sort of unique document in science – not only does Marx lack empirical evidence for his claims, he even lacks a model to generate that evidence. And yet, he advances with an amazing confidence, in the process creating a radically new social science.

The title is, of course, meant seriously. This book is Marx’s spirited entry in the contest to pull Germany – a nation that doesn’t even exist – into the sphere of the vanguard European nations. There is no doubt in Marx’s mind that the industrial system invented in Europe is the future. Unlike, say, Gandhi, who confronted a similarly backward economy in India, Marx does not think the industrial system is evidence of Western ‘vice’. His tone is all the more sarcastic as he is waging this polemic against a handful of former theology students who are rich in a sophisticated philosophical vocabulary, but poor in their sense of reality. If Germany does not become part of civilization, its destiny will be decided on the outside, without it. This intuition is perfectly correct – Marx doesn’t have any sympathy for concerns about Kultur, which, to him, is just the last mumblings of the feudal aristocracy. Marx is, to use an anachronistic vocabulary, completely Eurocentric. The European idea is not that Europe is mystically superior, but that the industrial system developed in Europe is globally applicable. This is the essence of the Western idea. Without it, there would be no universal working class for Marxism to work with. Marx wholeheartedly supported 'civilization'. In political terms, this meant support for the advances of bourgeois liberal democracy, which he vociferously supported in 1848. And good for him. But it also meant that the global phenomenon of the 19th and 20th century – the triumph of the West - was advanced both by Marxism and capitalism. Left and Right (those incredibly provincial terms, referencing a temporary assembly in Paris and projecting it onto the global conceptual space as if were a god given filter) fundamentally agree on their vision of the world – that is, on the necessity of the industrial system, which is the central term defining civilization. No communist party in the 20th century - neither Bose's in Bengal, Ho Chi Minh's in Hanoi, or Castro's in Havana - disagree with that. (Hmm, well, no, there are two exceptions - the Khmer Rouge and Mao, which, in their monstrosity, speak for themselves.) Whereever these two forces went, they left behind factories. Whether the management of that industrial system was market based or based on the enfranchised power of the laborer was the question, but the industrial system was never questioned.

In making his case against the German ideology, Marx begins the book with his biggest and most fruitful guess. Taking the conjectural history of progress that characterized the Edinburgh enlightenment and the French ideologues, i.e. folks like Smith, Ferguson and Condorcet, Marx reorganizes it under the sign of a brilliant insight: instead of freedom or the arts and sciences being the driver of progress, Marx redefines the historical dynamic in terms of systems of production. At a stroke, Marx gives us a sociology that does not appeal to some final, qualitative absolute.

This was brilliant. It was revolutionary. And it was also without any support from either a model or empirical data. At this point, Marx’s economic model is solely that created by the bourgeois economists.

Along with this insight, Marx makes a second move, one as important as the first. He discusses systems of production in terms of labor, and – at least partially – founds a social ontology that frees labor from both feudal hierarchical thought and the ‘ideologues” dualism. Consciousness is being. All production uses both thought and bodily power. Social being is founded on the life processes. This is an exciting moment in Marx. He has given himself the tools to discuss labor outside of the idealist model of his theological opponents, but he has provided grounds for discarding the dualism between ideas and matter. At this point, one would think he would discard all –isms.

Alas, he doesn’t. This is where the polemical nature of the book, which makes it fun to read, exacts its price from Marx’s theory. To admit that ideas are part of the life process would be, strategically, giving a hostage to fortune – and Marx is a take no prisoners kind of guy. Thus, he proclaims himself, absurdly enough, a materialist, and distorts his discovery to produce a whacky idea of ideas as these things that sort of float, effeminately, in the ether, while labor goes on, ever material. The hammerer and the hammer are one.

This theme muddies Marx’s clarity. It is also the first appearance of what becomes a truly vicious habit in Marxism, and on the left, where everything gets dubbed “material”. Materialism is the Semper Fi of Marxism, a meaningless slogan to excuse mean and disgusting actions. Moreover, by embracing a dualism he has just exploded, Marx burdens himself with an unnecessarily idealistic conception of ideas. He misses their materiality.

This confusion is compounded in Marx’s first definition of ideology. You can tell Marx is going backwards when he uses a metaphor that naturalizes a cultural phenomenon:

“The fact is thus this: particular [bestimmte] individuals who are productively active in particular ways, enter into particular social and political relationships. Empirical observation must in every individual case point to the empirical coordination of a social and political division with that of production and without any mystification and speculation. Social division and the state issue constantly out of the life process of particular individuals; but these individuals may not appear as they exist in their own or in other’s thought, but as they really are, meaning, as they operate, materially produce, thus as they are active under specific material limits, presuppositions and conditions, independent of their will.

The production of ideas, thoughts of the consciousness is firstly immediately imbricated in the material activity and the material intercourse of men, languages of real life. The thoughts, thinking, the spiritual intercourse of men appear here still as the direct overflow of their material relations. [Das Vorstellen, Denken, der geistige Verkehr der Menschen erscheinen hier noch als direkter Ausfluß ihres materiellen Verhaltens] The same thing goes for the spiritual production, as they are represented in the language of politics, of laws, of morals, of religion, metaphysics, etc., of a people. People are the producers of their thoughts, ideas, but real working people, as they are conditioned through a particular development of their productive forces and of the corresponding intercourse up to its broadest formation. Consciousness can never be something other than conscious being, and the being of men is their real process of living. If in the collective ideology of people, men and their relations appear, as in a camera obscura, standing on its head, so, too, this phenomenon is attributable to their historical living process, as the inversion of the object on the retina is to their immediate physical ones.”

Magnificent rhetoric, but one that puts Marx himself, as the writer of the German Ideology, in the uncomfortable position of writing from a practically supernatural viewpoint – after all, if the collective ideology of a people is as ingrained as the image is on the retina, one can only overcome that ideology by operating, in a metaphoric way, supernaturally. Such exaggeration is normal to Marx when he polemicizes – polemic operates both to get his best ideas on paper and then to contour them to the amazingly petty matters at hand. Thus, a quarrel in a backwards European state between journalists and junior academics has the result of dividing the whole world of human thought into the materialist or the idealist. Which leads Marx to soem fatally dismissive talk about ideas, as though they were somehow not material, as though they didn't arise and return to living processes, as though the brain were composed of ghost stuff.

Thus, it is this overabundance of the material that leads to those rather unfortunate passages in which Marx puts his ideological idea to work. I’ll quote from a passage that I’m not going to translate – I don’t have time! – but take from the often suspect International Press translation:

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for mastery and where, therefore, mastery is shared, the doctrine of the separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an “eternal law.”

Again, what magnificent rhetoric! And surely right in parts, in that the material of ideas in a social reality are taken from that social reality. And yet, it is a generalization that depends on a mystified notion of “intellectual force,” which makes no sense outside of the mechanism where ‘ideas’ occur. Thus, somehow we are supposed to think that the idea of separation of powers proves (how?) to be the dominant idea – really? – and is expressed as ‘eternal law’ – seriously begging the question of where this cultural value comes from. This kind of simple, unmediated ideological critique makes for a nice journalistic shorthand, but as a description of social reality, it, of course, sucks. The royal power, aristocracy and bourgeoisie are stripped of their historic specificity, here, the material means by which they actually existed in real life, and defined in the abstract terms of their interest in domination. Again, there is some truth to this, but these words mystify more than they explain, creating a tableau of ghostly forces struggling for ‘material’ and ever more material prizes – although, of course, after a certain level, the life process of the human being in the ruling class is tidily taken care of, if we take material literally. Power becomes, then, another “force”, another mystery. I like the way Derrida uses the term program for this kind of thing, which is preferable on every level – the idea in the head, the spoken word, the written text, they are all involved not in a mysterious expressive relationship to ‘dominant material relationships’ – matter being again the compulsive word – but are embedded in them, are on the same level as them. Court society wouldn’t exist without those ‘expressive’ relationships – in fact, no society would. Marx forgets his notion of living processes, here, he forgets that the brain is what thinks, and that throughout the career of a thought, it is never outside of its ‘material’ nexus.

This polemically obsessive turn to the material that, ironically, is copacetic with the most highly idealistic notion of thought, is part of the program that Marx has to revamp after 1848, per Amie. But the compulsive display of toughness, the superabundance of “materiality”, the misbegotten contempt for ideas, based on a misbegotten notion of their function and their social place, existed as part of one of the programs in Marx’s texts. And they were used, with various catastrophic results, in 20th century Marxism.

Which I’ll come back to, at some point, if I have time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The britneyological report of the week


Again, a heavy schedule of editing is keeping LI from being the usual mad gabber. We have another post in the Marx and liberalism vein coming up, but a more urgent matter has loomed. As thousands of you have pointed out in outraged emails to me, LI has not taken a position on the all important Britney-Mel Gibson shocker. As a Britneyologist, I should have seen this coming. Mel, an aging rogue, is in a way a perfect protest pal. If she is going to be deathmarched by her Dad through terrible sitcoms and through court appearances involving chaste dresses with sensible shoes, why not chose the Leninist strategy of exacerbating the contradictions? This is my own take on what I can’t help but regard as a weakness, on Brit’s part, for manifest scoundrels. But luckily, reports are surfacing of one Felipe, who seems much better for Brit than the antisemitic drunk:

Britney Spears is clearly working hard on her sobriety, rebuilding her career (''How I Met Your Mother'') and, I've learned, spent serious time down at Mel Gibson's place in Costa Rica restudying Kabbalah teachings and doing serious yoga and pilates.

However, a few eyebrows were raised when the entertainer, uh, entertained a very brief fling with a beach boy -- who rents chairs, etc. -- only known as Felipe.


Screw it: cutting a sexual path through scoundrels is Brit's way of going down the path of needles - instead of the Kabbalah, I'd suggest Perrault. And I have a lot of confidence that in the final moment, as Britney confronts the wolf in his full penile glory, she will swing the axe like a fuckin’ archetype.

And, while I'm on the suggestion jag, may I offer another one to Britney’s people? You need to team her up with Ysa Ferrar! Watch this video , (which, for some reason, totally cracks me up - the insane hat, wig, dress and choreography) and tell me that these two wouldn’t make a great duo. That Ferrar is trying to literally become a manga figure puts the cherry on the deal, if you ask me. However, it is also possible the side job I have fact checking the captions of a fashion mag is starting to melt my brain.

Monday, May 19, 2008

amazing news from the relative impoverishment front!

You don't know me I am an introverted excavator...

Alas, LI is up to his keister (whose word is that, I wonder? my mom’s? My grammie’s? the words that come out of a person went into a person first, and that mild word for butt, ass, or – for my Americanismophobe, Mr. Lawrence – arse must have been put in me a long ago) with editing. There is nobody quite as demanding as a Ph.D. student with a week to turn in the final product. I think this is a truth universally recognized.

LI found the tussle of the comment thread that followed Amie’s post totally cool. For me, thinking about the the construction not only of a marketbased industrial system, but of a shift in emotional norms and in the legitimation of political action, there was a lot of good hints about paths to follow. We’d like to write a post about, say, Marx, ideology, liberalism. I’d like to write it today, and drop everything, but, ho ho ho, the spirits of the telephone bill and the electric bill will have something to say about that. They will say: no.

Today, the article to read is in the Financial Times. I was turned onto it by Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism. I should include more of the biz bloggers on my roll – Smith and Tanta at Calculated Risk are especially worth reading. The FT article is the result of a poll that shows that worldwide (drumroll please) most people don’t want to become relatively poorer. Astonishing! The poll asked people if income inequality had become too great. Read the results here.

Now, back to editing. At the moment, I take breaks by going to YouTube and watching vids of live performances of Santi White of Santogold, like this one, or this one.