“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, July 05, 2008

and idiot begat moron, who begat imbecile...

Well, finally an article about a presidential candidate who gets Iran right. A candidate who demands peace with Iran. A candidate who sees through the bullshit...

Alas, it is not MY candidate, Barack Obama, who has somehow floated into the hands of the D.C. consultant class over the last couple of weeks. I don’t see in Obama an ultra-liberal, but I did see in him a man who had figured out that our foreign policy was as dysfunctional as the Manson family, with much more bloody consequences. Alas, he seems to be trying to placate an establishment that has been seriously weakened by its contradictions, failures, and pathology. The current meme: things are goin’ right in Iraq, because the surge was so awesome, is the latest bs being tossed out by that establishment. To which Obama’s reply should be, the surge was not awesome at all, but was simply a compound of misbegotten policies sinking us ever deeper into a country from which justice and self interest both demand we withdraw. The Obama that exploited Hilary Clinton’s weakness for U.S. directed blood baths was the Obama who won. Unfortunately, that guy is absent at the moment. Where is he? Obama, come back.

In the meantime, put a knife in my heart and turn it – the person who does get it is Bob Barr. Bob Barr! The libertarian idiot from Cobb County, Georgia. He gets it so much that he joined the It’s Time to Talk to Iran conference sponsored by a grassroots group, along with Barbara Lee, the sensible Dem representative from California.

The Diplomatic Courier’s reporter clutters up the story a bit – I don’t think the Barr part makes sense as it is reported – but these two grafs tell the story:

“As part of a larger grassroots diplomatic initiative entitled “It’s Time to Talk to Iran,” the discussions were preceded by a press conference whereby politicians and activists advocated “a diplomatic surge for peace and reconciliation.” Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), her usually calm features tensed with determination, thundered, “It is time to put an end to [an American-Iranian policy marked by threats and fear-mongering]… The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said that ‘we must learn to live together as brothers or we will surely perish together as fools.’ It is time to talk to Iran. All it takes to begin is one ‘Hello.’” Others seconded Rep. Lee’s sentiments, alternately describing diplomatic engagement with Iran as a “mission of mercy” to unfortunate Iranian citizens.
Underlying these passionate statements was the premise that engaging Iran militarily would represent a devastating political, economic, and humanitarian loss for the United States preceded by a “tragic series of lost opportunities.” According to former Georgia representative and current Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr, American “strategic and tactical interests” in the Middle East could not bear the loss of benefits from a better relationship with Iran. However, two questions lingered: what kind of “strategic and tactical” significance did Iran actually have and what could grassroots diplomacy do in an escalating conflict of hard rhetoric?”
Perhaps what Barr said is that the beneficiaries of the current policy would suffer a serious blow if detente with Iran were put in place. Which, of course, is true.
What puzzles, though, is why this truth isn’t discussed at all in a period when, it would seem, its time has come. The GOP has come up with an answer – a spurious, fraudulent answer – to the cost of gasoline. The answer is to destroy our coastlines. The Dems could easily, very easily, countercharge by a proposal that would lower the cost of gas immediately: lets have detente with Iran. Let’s have a peacetalker in the White House. Let’s give up publicly, once and for all, the American government’s often hinted at desire to overthrow the regime in Teheran. The Dems should be publicizing the effect of Bush’s increased sanctions on taking oil off the market right now. They should be burning into the American mind the fact that we are now paying about a dollar more per gallon for the Middle East policy of colonialism and aggression.
They aren’t. It is a no go zone. Silence. There are many reasons. One of them is the tie between rightwing Americans and rightwing Israelis. The Courier article floats the completely bogus story that Iran micromanaged the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel. That of course is simply and completely a lie, from beginning to end. However, it is a comforting lie from the point of view of Israel’s leadership, since it blames another power for what was evident in that war: Israeli overstretch. The Israeli ambition to be the Middle Eastern superpower which deals with the U.S in the Middle East, sort of lead dog as the U.S. colonizes the area, met an obstacle: reality.
But the tie between rightwing parties is a result of the military industrial/petro complex, not, of course, the cause of it. Israel no more pulls the strings in our foreign policy than Saudi Arabia does. Stringpulling is the wrong metaphor. There are no puppets here. There is collusion between interested parties, quite a different thing.

LI also recommends Thomas Powers article in the current NYRB, also greeted with complete silence, about Iran.

Rashid

LI noticed, with resignation, that the press largely ignored Ahmen Rashid’s book on the war in Afghanistan. It came out last month, and we reviewed it in the Statesman. There must be other reviews around somewhere, but I haven’t seen them. This is because s Rashid handily dispatches the media woven legends of the war, and shows how appallingly the Bush administration conducted the war in 2001 – 2002, guaranteeing its continuance and expansion. The latter point is never, ever expressed with any energy in these here States. Over the years, I have developed a sort of instinct about the lines that separate the serious from the never spoken in this country that arises from the comments sections in political blogs. One thing that leads to complete lack of response – to silence – is to mention what happened in Afghanistan in 2001-2002. Luckily, campers, LI does have notes – on this very blog! – recording the deadly propaganda offensive. Our fave piece of thumbsucking vis-a-vis Afghanistan came from Jack Shafer at Slate. On the eve of the Iraq war (March 27, 2003) Shafer, a gung ho journalist who would really, really have liked to have been there, bullets whizzing by his head, but, sadly, had instead to take up the burden of informing us folks at home of our superduper victories, criticized the late Johnny Apple, a NYT reporter who had apparently worried that we were getting into a quagmire in Afghanistan, with a contrarian bolletino that was stuffed with the narrative the press stuck to for years:


“Apple's fear that dropping bombs on civilians wouldn't "win Afghan 'hearts and minds' " and that the country would prove ungovernable even if the United States won turned out to be unfounded. Two weeks after his comparison of Afghanistan to Vietnam, the allies liberated Kabul, and 16 months later the place is at least as governable as San Francisco.”

Now, that Shafer thinks that if American bombed him, eviscerating his wife, burning the skin off his children, destroying his property, and perhaps incapacitating him for life, that he'd cheer them on, is a view that radiates from an inability to imagine that is so deep, has been nourished so long by a predatory lifestyle, that it can well be called a form of moral autism. To put Shafer’s screed in the proper perspective of evil, hubris, and warmongering, this is from the Slate of June 17,2008:

What is going on in Afghanistan?
In the past week, Taliban fighters staged a prison raid and freed at least 1,000 of their brethren. Soon after, they mounted offensives on seven villages and are moving in on the southern stronghold of Kandahar. One of the fiercest Taliban leaders, Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, a major U.S. ally during the days of resistance to Soviet occupiers, is bringing in foreign jihadists from all over the region to help his cause.
Meanwhile, Taliban attacks are up considerably from last year despite increases in NATO and Afghan troop levels. Gen. Dan McNeill, who recently finished a 16-month tour as NATO commander in Afghanistan, said last week that we need 400,000 troops to control the country. There are now just 110,000 (including 58,000 from the still-green Afghan National Army) and few prospects for recruiting many more—none for remotely approaching McNeill's desired head count.


Shafer wasn’t mislead by the subtle Bushies, but, instead, was one of the misleaders. He wrote well after the failure at Tora Bora, after the failures of the Anaconda campaign, after Kunduz. Kunduz? Rashid has a passage about the Kunduz airlift in his book. I’d bet 99.9 percent of the American population has no idea what that is. I’ll quote my review:

“The trouble began in the early phase of the war the press celebrated, back in 2001. Osama bin Laden's escape from Tora Bora has been well documented; Rachid notes that "Pakistani officers ... were amazed that Rumsfeld would not even put 1,000 U.S. soldiers into battle," and concluded that America was not serious about the war. This reaffirmed Musharraf's belief that the Americans would grow tired of Afghanistan and allow it once again to fall to forces more pliable to Pakistani ministrations, namely, the Taliban.

Less noted was another great escape. In Kunduz, in the northeastern part of Afghanistan, the U.S. surrounded 8,000 Taliban, Arab and Pakistani forces in November 2001. The Pakistanis were ISI, Pakistan's secret service, who were fighting with their Taliban allies against the Americans. At Musharraf's request, the Americans allowed Pakistan to send in two planes and airlift its people out. It's unclear who, precisely, was evacuated, but according to Rashid's sources, "Hundreds of ISI officers, Taliban commanders and foot soldiers belonging to the IMU (an Uzbekistan guerilla group) and al-Qaeda personnel boarded the planes."

So, I was pleased that someone was dispatched from the Olympian heights of the NYT to interview the guy.

It is still a bit of a kid glove interview. It doesn’t deal with what Rashid shows of Rumsfeld’s dealing, for instance, with Afghanistan, for which he should certainly be on trial right now. But it actually acknowledges he exists. Amazing!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Antiquitas saeculi, juventus mundi




Man möchte sagen: Dieser und dieser Vorgang hat stattgefunden; lach', wenn Du kannst.
-Wittgenstein, Remarks on Frazer’s The Golden Bough

Amie, in her comment on a post a couple of days ago, wanted another post on Ricdin-Ricdon. Her wish is my command. Although... well, we will see about wishes.

M
algré le séjour du village et les faibles lumières de mon éducation, je me trouvai des sentiments et des inclinations beaucoup au-dessus de ma naissance, dont la bassesse me désespérait. Les traits de mon visage seuls étaient capables de m'en consoler; ils me donnèrent de bonne heure de flatteuses espérances pour ma fortune; et je n'avais pas encore douze ans que déjà je ne trouvais point de fontaine ni de ruisseau par qui je n'aimasse à me faire redire que je ne resterais pas assurément sous une chaumière.

“In spite of village life and the feeble rays of my education, I found in myself sentiments and inclinations that were above my birth. The features of my face alone were capable of consoling me; they gave me a pleasant hour of flattering hopes for my fortune; and already, by the time I was twelve years old, I never passed by a fountain or a stream without loving to retell myself that assuredly, I would not remain under a thatched roof.”


Such is Rosanie’s story, told to a strange man she finds on the path in the park of the queen she served as a “spinner,” Queen Laborious. This being, this “unknown man”, as Rosanie calls him, is a character out of Jean Baptiste Della Porta’s Natural Magic – which compendium contains everything from instructions for engines to how a woman can “narrow her matrix” after giving birth, and so please her husband. He holds a wonderworking “baguette”, made out of some unknown wood, with an unknown jewel set in it. This wand, he claims, can spin the finest cloth and even make tapistries at a touch, without the mistress of the wand having to make the slightest effort. The deal is this:

Je vous prêterai, poursuivit-il, cette merveilleuse baguette pour trois mois, pourvu que vous demeuriez d'accord de ce que je vais vous dire. Si d'aujourd'hui en trois mois, jour pour jour, lorsque je reviendrai quérir ma baguette, vous me dites, en me la rendant: "Tenez, Ricdin-Ricdon, voilà votre baguette", je reprendrai ma baguette sans que vous soyez engagée à nulle obligation envers moi ; mais si, au jour marqué, vous ne pouvez retrouver mon nom, et que vous me disiez simplement: "Tenez, voilà votre baguette", je serai maître de votre destinée: je vous mènerai partout où il me plaira, et vous serez obligée de me suivre.

“I will loan you, he continued, this marvellous wand for three months, as long as you agree to what I am going to say. If three months from today, to the day, when I return to retrieve my wand, you tell me, in giving it to me: Here Ricdin-Ricdon, here is your wand” – I’ll take the wand back without you being engaged to me in any fashion. But if, on the day so marked, you cannot rediscover my name, and you say simply: Here is your wand, I will be the master of your destiny. I will lead you wherever I please, and you will be obliged to follow me.”


- We will get back to this, the moment on which the entire plot turns, in a second. Wishes are the contract at the heart of the fairy tale – wish making and wish granting. LI would like the wish to be distinguished from desire qua desire – wishes being one form of desire with the major formal characteristic, in fairy tales, that it can be granted – that there are wish granters. But that wishes and wish granters exist, meet, contract, points to another feature of the fairy tale world in its relation to the real social world – that the social world is not closed. There are moments, coincidences, intersignes, encounters, which the social world does not govern, and these are the moments in which magic has a chance – in which the wish and the granting of the wish can occur. These are moments in which hierarchy is, apparently, suspended. ...

- But here, LI wants to drive us to a coincidence, an encounter, an intersigne between the fairy tale and the modern. The meeting, obviously, is in Perrault, the most ardent and loquacious defender of the modern, while at the same time the most famous writer of fairy tales.

We claim this was no coincidence. We claim that this was quite a coincidence.

What is this coincidence about?

When Perrault was writing his defense of the modern, the works of Bacon were circulating in France, and even quoted by partisans on either side of the quarrel of the ancients and the moderns. Bacon produced the trope that became the guiding metaphor of the moderns. And – surprisingly/unsurprisingly (in the woods, we encounter the wolf with shock, but without surprise) the trope involves the rhetoric of ilinx. This is what he wrote in the New Organon:

“As for antiquity, the opinion touching it which men entertain is quite a negligent one and scarcely consonant with the word itself. For the old age of the world is to be accounted the true antiquity; and this is the attribute of our own times, not of that earlier age of the world in which the ancients lived, and which, though in respect of us it was the elder, yet in respect of the world it was the younger. And truly as we look for greater knowledge of human things and a riper judgment in the old man than in the young, because of his experience and of the number and variety of the things which he has seen and heard and thought of, so in like manner from our age, if it but knew its own strength and chose to essay and exert it, much more might fairly be expected than from the ancient times, inasmuch as it is a more advanced age of the world, and stored and stocked with infinite experiments and observations.”


The moment of ilinx, of course, occurs because the usual way of thinking of the relationship between antiquity and modernity is here reversed. Rather than antiquity connoting all the old graybeards, all the sages, the lawgivers, the Moseses and the Solons, around whose work we, their children, crawl – they become the children, their laws and speculations become a work of child’s play, and we become the men of riper judgment. We are older than they are. The paradox of the modern is not simply an inversion of perspective – it takes the whole social order, founded on the ancient pedigree of blood, and turns it upside down. And while this might be a collateral and accidental effect of a scholarly imbroglio, that it can happen, that the possibility exists for it to happen – that the moment opens up, the hierarchies are suspended, the wind dies in the forest, we see, as though in slow motion or a freeze frame, the drop of slobber fall from the wolf’s muzzle and we look slowly upwards and our gaze takes in the wolf’s eyes, what big and incalculable eyes, staring at us – is parallel to the moment in which the wish can happen.

For how do wishes happen? There is a Grimm’s tale that, in a way, is a fairy tale about the limits of the fairy tale. Of The Fisherman and his Wife was sent to the Brothers G. by the romantic painter, Phillip Otto Runge, who also contributed the Juniper Tree – which contains my favorite song in all the Maerchen:

M
y mother, she killed me,
My father, he ate me,
My sister Marlene,
Gathered all my bones,
Tied them in a silken scarf,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I.


Although in Runge’s dialect German, it is actually “My Mother she butchered me”.

In this story, a flounder – a Butte – is caught by a fisherman. It turns out the fish can talk. It claims to be an enchanted prince, and begs for its life. The fisherman tells it that it needn’t beg for its life. It is a talking fish, for God’s sake. Do you think the fisherman goes around killing the talking? The story comes out of Pommeria – out of Gunter Grass’s homeland. It is only when the fisherman goes home that his wife points out that the fisherman had chanced into a moment in which he could wish, and the wish could be granted. How did she know? What was the intersigne? Well, because the fish talked. Yet if the fish could really grant wishes, why would it be in the vulnerable position, in the first place, of being an enchanted prince, a prince in fish form, caught by a fisherman? Yet this is how it is in the wish moment. The wish granter, far from being powerful, is at his or her most vulnerable.

The story is, in a sense, about the difference between desire and the wish. The woman, the wife, is filled with desires. The desire for a better hut, and then a palace, and then a kingship, then an emperorship, then a popeship, and finally the desire to be god. Each time, the fisherman (our good male) goes out and sings a song to the sea, to the flounder. He goes out and takes revenge on his wife in a little song. The song goes: »Manntje, Manntje, Timpe Te/ Buttje, Buttje in der See/myne Fru, de Ilsebill/will nich so, as ik wol will.« “... my wife Elsebill/ doesn’t want what I will”. (And so there is complicity between the fish and the man. There is something they share. A little joke. A little joke about the old woman. The insatiable little woman. The little woman who married a fisherman and lives in the stink and dirt of a pot. And the song, as though the fisherman were serenading the fish. The enchanted prince/fish grants the wish, but the wishing then goes on. The greed of women. Their insatiability. The little joke in the song. And the sky changes. And the sea. The sky changes and the sea becomes choppy as the wishes mount up. There came a wind over the land, and the clouds fled before it, it became as dark as evening, the leaves blew from the trees and the water foamed as though it were boiling and struck the shore, and farther out he saw ships giving distress signals, dancing and jumping on the waves. The elbows of the woman in the fisherman’s side. Her voice at night in the dark, both of them in bed. The little songs of the little fisherman. A friendship between them, at least on the fisherman’s side, but in the end, the fish is an enchanted prince, and the fisherman is a putz, a nobody. The fisherman is a man who had an opportunity, but it was too big for him. That kind of guy. Forever.)

According to Paul Sebillot, there is a version told in Languedoc in which the fish is a sardine. The fish left a little line of blood behind it when the man let it go the first time. And then of course there’s the last wish, the wish to be God almighty, and the fisherman and his wife return to their first state. In the Languedoc version, it is the fisherman’s fault. Rich from all that unearned capital, he insults a beggar. The beggar is the sardine-fée.

The story touches on what can be wished for, as opposed to what can be simply desired – and the limits of the wish – wish granting contract. There are always limits. They inhere in the contract, but they are mysterious at the same time. Such, at least, is the mystery in the contract – the potential debt – of Rosanie and Ricdin-Ricdon.

LI started out with the proposition that, to understand the happiness culture, we have to understand how the relatively frozen positional economy, which left little room for upward movement save by war, was opened up by commerce, and then, finally, by the market based industrial system. Obviously this all too broad thesis, even if true, gives us the conditions for the shift in passional customs, and doesn’t explain the particular pattern of them. In particular, we’ve not said much about women. However, in the fairy tales, we do have, in the wish-wish granting contract, information about the positional economy as it was viewed at least by some in the seventeenth century. And we notice that there is, for every move up to a new position, something taken from nature, some power used and depleted.

One of the great bourgeois discoveries was how untrue, how deeply untrue this is.

A coincidence is just a coincidence.
There are no coincidences.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

... the pins that lay in the house that Adam built

We’ve tried to use fairy tales, so far, to make visible a dimension of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations that has ... well, never been made visible, or mentioned at all, even to be dismissed. And the reason for that lack of mention is easy to understand: like any science, economics demands, first of all, to be taken seriously. What is serious and what isn’t remains in the domain of those presuppositions that are both unexamined and as powerful as household gods. The ludicrous and the serious is that domain into which the old taboos migrated in modernity. Wittgenstein, in whom seriousness took the form of a crippling, lifelong neurosis, asked seriously, once, whether it wouldn’t be possible to express philosophy in terms of a series of jokes. I don’t know of an economist who has pondered that possibility for his or her science.

But LI, rank ponderer and an ardent practitioner of the suicidal practical joke (look at my career, ladies and germs!), is more than willing to free our mind to ludicrous possibilities. Here’s one: that Smith’s catalog of the way pins are made, which, according to Jean Louis Peaucelle’s article, “Adam Smith’s use of multiple references
for his pin making example”, owes its content to numerous French sources (Deleyre’s article on l’épingle in the Encyclopedie, Duhamel du Monceau’s L’art de l’épinglier, etc), owes its oneiric fascination to This is the House that Jack Built.

Here, again, is Smith’s description:

“One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them.”

What makes this a peculiar business is that all of this detail goes into all this tininess – and this tininess proves to be a compound, a matter of this AND this AND this, until the pin is done. The difference between the Enlightenment prose of Smith and the 17th century prose of the King James Bible is that Smith omits the ands, using commas instead to speed up the rhythm of the sentence.

The Mother Goose version of the House that Jack built goes like this:

This is the house that Jack built.
This is the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the priest all shaven and shorn,
That married the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the cock that crowed in the morn,
That waked the priest all shaven and shorn,
That married the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.
This is the farmer sowing his corn,
That kept the cock that crowed in the morn,
That waked the priest all shaven and shorn,
That married the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

Ruskin, in Fors Clavigera, notes that this nursery rhyme depicts the slaying of the Minotaur in the labyrinth in Minos. In one of the more wonderful passages of English prose, in Letter xxiii, Ruskin attempts to show how we are still under the rule of that “great Athenian squire, Theseus”, although the liberal historians who, like John Stuart Mill, see in the marble statue of Theseus in the British museum only “utility fixed and embodied in a material object” doubt such a squire existed. “Not even a disembodied utility – not even a ghost – if he never lived. An idea only; yet one that has ruled all minds of men to this hour, from the hour of its first being born, a dream, into this practical and solid world.

Ruled, and still rules, in a thousand ways, which you know nomore than the paths by which the winds have come that blow in your face. But you never pass a day without being brought, somehow, under the power of Theseus.”

Which is the power of Athens, as Ruskin goes on to show, although it is a power brought about by Daedelus – the master Jack of the Greeks. And, to tell the truth, we are not so much in the power of Theseus as we are in Jack’s house, which is the house in which Ruskin pounds on the bars and howls at the moon. The house in which Ruskin lost his mind.

Evidence for his connections, here, comes from odd bits of bric a brac in the European attic. For instance, a symbol on the porch of the cathedral at Luca, where Ruskin found a slightly traced piece of sculpture and a six hundred year old inscription which, translated from Latin to English, read:
“This is the labyrinth which the Cretan Dedalus built,
Out of which nobody could get who was inside,
Excep[t Theseus; nor could he have done it, unless he had been helped with a thread by Adriane, all for love.”
Adriane, Ariane. The “maiden all forlorn” – and what happens to maidens all forlorn when they are shut up and shut in is that they deal with thread, with spinning. No, LI has not forgotten Ricdin Ricdon, and our promise to deal with that tale by Perrault’s niece, Mlle L’Heritier – a heritage here indeed. We are not, of course, advocating Ruskin’s peculiar history here – although a history that goes back from the British Museum to Chaucer – who tells a version of the tale of the maiden all forlorn, and the cow with the crumpled horn – to St. George and the Dragon, to Minos, hangs together in a dreamlike way.

Here’s a bit more of Ruskin’s explanation:

“Theseus, being a pious hero, and the first Athenian knigh who cut his hair short in front, may not inaptly be represented by the priest all shaven and shorn; the cock that crew in the morn is the proper Athenian symbol of a pugnacious mind; and the malt that lay in the ouse fortunately indicates the connection of Theseus and the Athenian power with the mysteries of Eleusis, where corn first, it is said, grew in Greece. And by the way, I am more and more struck every day, by the singular Grecism in Shakespeare’s mind, contrary in many respects to the rest of his nature; yet compelling him to associate English fairyland with the great Duke of Athens, and ot use the most familiar of all English words, “acre”, in the Greek or Eleusinian sense, not the English one!

“Between the acres of the rye,
These pretty country-folks do lie”

Ruskin aptly remarks that the very lines of The house that Jack built go in a labyrinthian way. Myself, I would analyze that labyrinth as the magical product of the “and” – it is the connective that gives us the world, a thing in which all order is simply what the “and” can do. With the “and”, we enter the era of technology.

Monday, June 30, 2008

the key to the myths has a small spot of blood on it

Marie-Jeanne L'Héritier (1664-1734) was Charles Perrault’s niece. According to the reliable Joan DeJean, she was one of a group of women writers in the late 17th century who were uncommonly common writers of the French fiction of the time – in a list of French novelists of the late 17th century published by Maurice Lever, women constitute about 33 percent of the names. They were, of course, attacked as women by such upholders of the standards as Boileau. The Journal de Scavans published an Eloge de Mademoiselle L'Héritier – a sort of obituary – from which LI culls these facts

- Her father was an “amateur of the sciences” and a ‘historiograph” at the court. Her father’s family was an ancient and noble one, from Normandy, while her mother was a Le Clerc, another connected family. She was educated by her father, developing a precocious interest in history and fable. Her father, meanwhile, was translating Grotius and aligning himself with Cardinal Mazarin, who gave him a pension. Surely he must have known Gabriel Naude, Mazarin’s secretary. When her father died, she started writing poetry – and she must have done some singing, too, as it is noted that her voice was beautiful. She wrote a defense of Madame Houlieres – about whom we wrote a post a while back. Houlieres was an epicurean, and had been attacked as a blue stocking in a satire to which L'Héritier indignantly replied.
- She gained the protection, at the court, of the Duchesse de Nemours. After her death, she edited her memoirs.
- Her lasting work is the Shadowy Tower, which contains the tale of Ricden-Ricdon. This work is supposedly translated from English – the English of King Richard the Lion Hearted.
- She gathered about her a small salon. Never married. A ‘malady’ is mentioned. Never complained.
Interesting, her obituary doesn’t mention Perrault. It does ring the chimes on her distinguished moral qualities, which are the flowers that fade first – no one would say the same thing about Ninon Lenclos. In fact, Perrault was close to the age’s premier transvestite, Francois Timoleon de Choisy, who was close to Louis’ brother, Monsieur, who was a royal sodomite not shy of asserting his royal perogatives, and duly noted in Saint Simon’s memoirs. In such a society, moral qualities have to be, at the very least, accomodating.

Some recent writers on the fairy tale have claimed that Perrault’s tales survived while his female fairy tale competitors, like L'Héritier, fell into oblivion through sheer sexism. LI thinks that this is a great underestimation of Perrault. It is easy to see why Perrault survived – he had a great sense for what can be cut. He explains – in his morals – what has happened, and the explanations are at such a lower level than the tale that they pose the question of whether Perrault understood his own stories – and that, of course, has led to the endless search for their real, oral sources. L'Héritier’s stories obviously influenced Perrault’s, but she liked her explanations – which, of course, are not for children. Children might ask questions about the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, but they are all questions about how dangerous he is, and whether he might be hiding under the bed, and whether Daddy could kill him. They do not ask about the lamentable events that may have impressed him with the wrong lessons about character and fate. L'Héritier is more interested in the latter.

Here’s a story about Perrault. He was, as my readers might not know, one of the designers of buildings and parks under Louis XIV. He adviced Colbert on public works. It is said that Colbert, at one point, had decided to close Tuileries to the public, after Lenotre had replanted the garden. Perrault proposed that they go for a stroll along the walks. While walking, Perrault observed: You wouldn’t believe, monsieur, the respect everyone has for this garden, down to the tiniest bourgeois – not only women and children never take it upon themselves to pluck any of the flowers, but even to touch them. They all walk about like reasonable people, as the gardeners can testify. It would be a public affliction not to be able to promenade here. – They are all slackers (faineants) who come here, brusquely interrupted the minister. – There comes here, Perrault began again, invalids who need to take a little air; one comes here to talk of business affairs, of marriages, of all kinds of things that are spoken of more agreeably in a garden than in a church, where it will be necessary in the future to meet. I am firmly of the belief that royal gardens are so grand and so spacious only in order that all their children can walk there.” Colbert was struck by this last reflection, and went out of the Tuileries without ordering the gates to close, which remained open as before.”

That some things should be spoken of in gardens and others in churches is one of those ideas which, in our day, have been hammered into theoretical dullness via Habermas’ notion of the public conversational space. But Perrault’s consciousness of the coming and going of people and his “town” attitude carries over into his preservation of certain oral nuances in his tales that he wasn’t always fully in control of. In Barbe-bleu, the wife of Barbe-Bleu cannot wipe off the blood on the key that she has used to open the bloody chamber because, Perrault says, the key is fee - it is fairy, it is charmed. A charmed key is the key to the mythologies, no? The messages in Perrault’s tale are in a sense like the people in the garden – they are not, in their individuality, in their entrances, exits, thoughts, words, things planned by the gardener, and yet the plan of the garden accepts them as part of it. They pass through.

... Well, LI is way behind on all projects, and has not even advanced an iota on Adam Smith/Ricdin-Ricdon and the peculiarly nursery rhyme like construction of a pin. What can we say? We suck.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

science of britney week

On Sundays, Doctor Watson would sit around and read the Times, while Holmes repressed slight shudders of craving for cocaine and prepared to have Watson read him some juicy police report upon which his mind, like a hungry spider, could feast. On Sundays, your faithful LI crewe, on the other hands, surveys the papers cyberspacically, on the q.v. for what happened this week in the exciting field of Britneyology.

This week saw major events. MTV, realizing that, without Britney, four people in a nursing home in Nome who were too disabled to get up and change the channel would be about the sum total watching their pissy awards show, threw out grandiose hints that they would allow... allow – La Brit to perform for them. Beg, MTV, is what we say. I want them down on their knees, weepin’. Meanwhile, the court, in its infinitely patriarchal wisdom, is tormenting Brit by entertaining her ex’s absurd contention that he should be the physical caretaker of the boys – or, in other words, the ex’s desire to be forever on the other end of the Spears’ money pipeline. Brit fired one lawyer and rehired another one, which is probably a good move. In my experience of divorce lawyers, the suck factor is high among even the best of them. In a gesture of magnanimity, the court allowed f... I’m not going to disgrace this blog by spelling out the name of Brit’s least favorite mistake ... to send the kids over via his bodyguards... via his bodyguards... so that they could stay with their much more interesting mother for a day. Via his bodyguards. The man doesn’t even have the guts to deliver the boys himself. Or perhaps he was too busy perfecting his paternal skills with his nose pressed up against a fine white powder line on some ass in the backroom of a Las Vegas club.

Well, this week, too, there was a thread at Crooked Timber about babysitting, playing off a post by Megan McArdle about babysitting, that explains a bit of the court’s attitude. On the one hand, parenting is so valued in this country of ours, where this little light of mine is gonna shine shine shine, that a mother is a radical haircut away from losing her kids forever – in the gated community, every hallmark moment in which an ass is wiped, an angel smiles. On the other hand, childcare itself is shit – it isn’t really work, it requires no skill, and the babysitters or bodyguards you have do it should be royally fucked in the ass as far as like compensation is concerned. In other words, schizophrenia reigns! As it has for the last five thousand years. Notice the high correlation between gender of commentors (male) and parties indignant that housework and childcare could ever, ever be considered work, on par with what these goobers do, day to day, to make the world a little more of a hellish sty to live in.

So, this week, we suggest that Brit’s best plan is to be rescued by Berbers, via this French faux group!