“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

Sunday, April 05, 2009

artificial paradise

Hobbes begins the Leviathan like this: “NATURE (the art whereby God hath made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal.”

What artificial animals are these? They are the automata of which Descartes also speaks: the mechanical singing bird, the mechanical dog. And if nature can be imitated by the machine, then nature itself can be defined in terms of a machine:

“For seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within, why may we not say that all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the heart, but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the Artificer?”

But of all machines made by God or man, what is the greatest? It would have to be an artificial man. Is there such a thing?

“Art goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of Nature, man. For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; the magistrates and other officers of judicature and execution, artificial joints; reward and punishment (by which fastened to the seat of the sovereignty, every joint and member is moved to perform his duty) are the nerves, that do the same in the body natural; the wealth and riches of all the particular members are the strength; salus populi (the people's safety) its business; counsellors, by whom all things needful for it to know are suggested unto it, are the memory; equity and laws, an artificial reason and will; concord, health; sedition, sickness; and civil war, death. Lastly, the pacts and covenants, by which the parts of this body politic were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that fiat, or the Let us make man, pronounced by God in the Creation.”

Hobbes is writing in 1660. Baudelaire, writing on a seemingly much different track in 1860, introduces The artificial paradises, his variations on themes from The Opium Eater, like this:

“Good sense tells us that the things of the earth have only a little existence, and that true reality is only in dreams. In order to digest natural happiness, like the artificial, one needs first to have the courage to swallow; and those who might perhaps merit happiness are the same to whom felicity, such as mortals conceive it, has always had the effect of a vomitive.”

I’ve been using the term ‘artificial paradise’ for more than a year in these posts to refer to the product of Hobbes’ Leviathan and Baudelaire’s poison. What was eaten once has thrown us into a world in which we desperately search for something to swallow that will make us forget the little reality upon which our world hangs. And we do. The product of this monstrous but fatal conjunction is, of course, the world that the people of the developed world assume to be the only one left. It is paradise, because here, happiness has become the norm. And not only in the developed world – the artificial paradise has as much dominion in Shanghai as it has in Atlanta or Nantes. The artificial man, call it the state or the corporation, and the human product, call him the druggy or the consumer, have created between them a world of happiness, closed in on itself.

Of course, as in the first paradise, there is a dissenter.

“To dull minds it might appear singular and even impertinent to dedicate a picture of artificial voluptés to a woman, source of the most ordinary, most natural of voluptés. However, it is evident that as the natural world penetrates into the spiritual, serving it as feed, and thus concurring in bringing about that indefinable amalgam that we name our individuality, the woman is the being who projects the largest shadow or the greatest light in our dreams.The woman is fatally suggestive; she lives another life as well as that of her own proper one; she lives spiritually in the imaginations that she haunts and that she makes fecund.”

The shadow or the light – this is shapeshifting indeed, between the symbols in myth and opinion that are expressly used to stand for the absolute opposition of wo existential types. Yet there they are, in dreams, communicating one with the other, transforming one into the other.

Collage, collage. The question of women in the artificial paradise is so large it could open its mouth and swallow me, a mere piker.

This is from Michael Lewis' article about the Iceland financial collapse:

"Back in 2001, as the Internet boom turned into a bust, M.I.T.’s Quarterly Journal of Economics published an intriguing paper called “Boys Will Be Boys: Gender, Overconfidence, and Common Stock Investment.” The authors, Brad Barber and Terrance Odean, gained access to the trading activity in over 35,000 households, and used it to compare the habits of men and women. What they found, in a nutshell, is that men not only trade more often than women but do so from a false faith in their own financial judgment. Single men traded less sensibly than married men, and married men traded less sensibly than single women: the less the female presence, the less rational the approach to trading in the markets.

One of the distinctive traits about Iceland’s disaster, and Wall Street’s, is how little women had to do with it. Women worked in the banks, but not in the risktaking jobs. As far as I can tell, during Iceland’s boom, there was just one woman in a senior position inside an Icelandic bank. Her name is Kristin Petursdottir, and by 2005 she had risen to become deputy C.E.O. for Kaupthing in London. “The financial culture is very male-dominated,” she says. “The culture is quite extreme. It is a pool of sharks. Women just despise the culture.” Petursdottir still enjoyed finance. She just didn’t like the way Icelandic men did it, and so, in 2006, she quit her job. “People said I was crazy,” she says, but she wanted to create a financial-services business run entirely by women. To bring, as she puts it, “more feminine values to the world of finance.”

Today her firm is, among other things, one of the very few profitable financial businesses left in Iceland."

I am not trying to write a total apocalypse, of the post WWII kind favored by Adorno or Foucault. But for sure, I have the elements of one here. It is easy to feel that such interior invasion and exterior transformation, such a brave new world, might be the end of the world. We could die, in our artificial paradises, of pure claustrophobia. And for those who vomit up tv, they often find themselves ingesting prozac. There’s reason behind this alchemical balance. There’s reasons of state.

I put this here out of sequence in my threads. I needed to jot it down.

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