“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

Monday, September 14, 2009

paper dolls

Fly, informer, spy, confidential agent, double agent, rat, louse, Schlamasse, squeak, squeeler. In 19th century England, it was the universal opinion that the French invented the spy system. We know that, at least for Europe, Napoleon invented the police system. Stendhal and Hazlitt’s Napoleon, the bringer of light, was perhaps the single most important figure in the modern history of European policing, since in the territories France conquered, and those governments which it controlled, Napoleon insisted on a modern police force. He himself had re-organized the urban gendarmerie under Fouche, and instituted a tighter police force in the countryside – and these innovations he pressed upon Saxony, Bavaria, the various Italian principalities. Under Napoleon, it is true, the gendarmerie were more militarized than they came to be by mid-century – that is, where they remained. But Prussia, that excellent copier of a state, soon was instituting its own urban and rural police forces.

“… who is there that disputes that intelligence respecting plots against the State in nine cases out often must arrive through polluted channels It can only be obtained from repentant traitors from accomplices or from informers Though there may be those whose minds are so philosophically turned that they wish all discoveries to be providential rather than employ such agents still I confess I must hold it prudent to employ human means to maintain human institutions.” – George Canning.

The period between the fall of Napoleon and the first reformist Whig government, in England – from 1815 to 1830, about – saw the reaction swallowed up by the new system. Stendhal, of course, saw this and recorded it in the Red and the Black – the spirit of Julien Sorel, who hides his reading of Napoleon and assumes a piety that nobody believes and everybody expects, brooded over Europe. As Napoleon’s police had, originally, mixed politics and security against crimes of property and person, so, too, did the successor police organizations. Vidocq is, famously, a sort of police god, a sort of Hermes of detectives, who crosses quite easily from criminal to cop and back.

“In what way of business were you your connection began or your began with Mr Thistlewood and Mr Watson and the other prisoners? I was in the figure making way. What do you mean by the figure making way? Such as figures for children what they call paper dolls which I took up myself? Where did you live At No 5 Newton street Holborn? That was your actual employment when your acquaintance with the prisoners began? It was. Did you not state to some of the prisoners that you were in great distress when your acquaintance began with them first? Yes I did. Were you in great distress? Yes I was. Were you ever in commitment before this time? No. Never. Upon no charge whatever? Commitment do you say? Í.. Yes I was. Were you ever at such a place as Guildford in the county of Surrey? Yes. How many times have you been in commitment or in custody before the present occasion? Twice." – Testimony of John Castle, police spy, in the Spa Fields Riot trial of James Watson.

Paper dolls. This, to borrow a term from Barthes, is the punctum, the extra reality of the surrealists, the fingerprint of Nemesis – the detail that both calls for and resists symbolization. A clue that is more than a link in the chain of causes, and less than a proof of anything. The material of history that resists the great suck and binding of universal history. What the gods do not know - our mortality. Something in it won’t give itself to meaning, to the police or the judges. And yet, of course, the judges and the police continue, they go on. John Castle, in this trial, was exposed as a government provocateur, who most likely got money from Lord Sidmouth’s minions, or some extra-governmental group formed by the government, spent it to make himself popular, and urged on the riot that ensued at Spa Fields. With the riot in hand, the government could pick up and prosecute the radicals it had targeted and hang them.

“But Adrastea holds a scale before even the true romantic character: she draws and line and speaks, saying: no further! Hermes was sent before the divine Achilles that he not misuse the slain body of his enemy, who was now only a man, a son and a brother. Every romantically happy person feels the rule in himself: not over the Rubicon! Here is the border. It is well when he recognizes or has a sentiment of this feeling in himself. We never love a hero more than when he knows how to measure himself in his fortune [Glueck] and uses it well. Then we, with him, feel that intensity of fortune; the Nemesis in us prophesies his happy future. To the eventurer [Ebenthuer] who doesn’t know this, to the Alcibiades who shortens the tails of all the dogs and overturns all the statues to Hermes so that all of Athens will speak of him, as with so many other of the Pucks of history who ride here and there in midday, without seeing that their fairy hour is long gone, to them we can’t even say farewell – for they vanish.” - Herder, Adrastea

And what happened to those against whom Castle testified?

The movies deceive us. The noose is knotted, the drop is sprung, the hanged man dies. But no, this is not how the hanged man dies. In Gatrell’s the Hanging Tree, he tells of the end of those another radical against whom a government spy testified in the Cato Street conspiracy case. Ings told the hangman “Now old gentleman, finish me tidily: pull the rope tighter, it may slip.” But:

“These precautions did little good, however. There was a common pattern in what ensued. As an early nineteenth century broadside representatively decalred, the noose of one man’s halter “having slipped to the back part of the neck, it was full ten minutes before he was dead.’So too at the very last Tyburn hanging in 1783: ‘the noose of the halter having slipped to the back part of the neck, it was longer than usual before he was dead… Ings struggled on the end of his rope for five minutes before he was still.”

Five minutes, ten minutes. Governor Wall, another spy spotted radical, fifteen minutes. Let the camera linger on that. Let five minutes go by as a man or woman is strangled by a slippery rope, hands tied behind him or her. The uterus bled, the oons of a man, his urine and shit, were expelled. And such shame was mixed with fortune, such Rubicons were crossed, as the culture of happiness was founded on the tombs of the adventurers.

1 comment:

Modulo Myself said...

The police dream of the perfect labyrinth--

There he mounts a high tower in his mind and looks out far and wide. Many solitary figures he perceives creeping through the streets; many solitary figures out on heaths, and roads, and lying under haystacks. But the figure that he seeks is not among them. Other solitaries he perceives, in nooks of bridges, looking over; and in shadowed places down by the river's level; and a dark, dark, shapeless object drifting with the tide, more solitary than all, clings with a drowning hold on his attention.

Where is she? Living or dead, where is she? If, as he folds the handkerchief and carefully puts it up, it were able with an enchanted power to bring before him the place where she found it and the night-landscape near the cottage where it covered the little child, would he descry her there? On the waste where the brick-kilns are burning with a pale blue flare, where the straw- roofs of the wretched huts in which the bricks are made are being scattered by the wind, where the clay and water are hard frozen and the mill in which the gaunt blind horse goes round all day looks like an instrument of human torture--traversing this deserted, blighted spot there is a lonely figure with the sad world to itself, pelted by the snow and driven by the wind, and cast out, it would seem, from all companionship. It is the figure of a woman, too; but it is miserably dressed, and no such clothes ever came through the hall and out at the great door of the Dedlock mansion.