“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, January 31, 2009

Rough Theory's Marx - a comment.

N. Pepperell is unfolding her dissertation chapters on Marx’s Capital on her blog. LI is finding them extremely helpful. We are, of course, all down and shit with N.P.’s framework of seeing Marx in terms of an “anthropology”: “many of these passages [in the first book of Capital] can be better understood as anthropological depictions of peculiar qualitative properties that are specific to capitalist societies – and often specific to quite limited dimensions of capitalist societies – but that present themselves to social actors in a decontextualised and apparently asocial form.” And we sign on the dotted line for this:

“I suggest that the form of the first chapter expresses what I take to be a substantive claim about the way in which capitalism itself possesses a theatrical character, due to its constitution of a set of social relations that are peculiarly disembedded from the human agents who enact them, rendering these agents into social actors in a particularly literal sense – into bearers of economic roles who, to the extent that they step forth onto what Marx often explicitly calls the economic stage, find themselves performing acts and voicing scripts that are in some meaningful sense not reducible to those agents’ personal subject positions, but are instead externalised and collectively-constituted parts that transcend the actors who happen to perform them in any particular production of capital.”

I love it that N.P. is picking up on the dramatological cues Marx is giving us here – which, I should say, continues a form of presentation that he first develops in his political writing, especially the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, which gives us, in one of Marx’s typical bolts of lightning, the idea that revolutions tend to a peculiar kind of ritualistic pattern, in which the actors put on the masks of the ancestors. It is a very Kenneth Burke-ian gesture, although I don’t want to imply that Pepperell’s overall approach is Burkian. All that is solid does not vanish into rhetoric. Still, it makes us think about the meaning of our last two posts, on Marx and vulgarity. As we noted, here, in a brief flicker, Marx describes the economy of satisfaction [Befriedigung] and dissatisfaction that defines the Modern in terms of the responses of the agents that inhabit it, with whatever degree of consciousness they bring with them to the Artificial Paradise. This is why vulgarity, seemingly a topic for the bitchery of flaneurs and aesthetes, not Marx, casts a light upon the erasure of the human limit – the overcoming of that Borniertheit of the classical polis.

Originally, I meant to dance this thread to the third chapter in the L’anti-oedipe, which is the one, you will recall, where Deleuze and Guattari make clear that they are engaging in creating a universal history – which is also a history of how universals were made. A history, then, of “chance” encounters – D. and G. adduce the encounter between private property and the market, but leave to the side – being French – the chance encounter that, as Lou Reed puts it, brought Columbus to New York – that is, the discovery of America. A discovery that created, in the docking of one boat, a population of the discovered. Event/epistemology/mass death. You gotta love it. Or commit suicide. Ladies and gents, I give you the modern.

But – well, I am pulled back to the time frame I set up for myself. I need to talk about Joseph de Maistre’s letter to Potocki, I need to talk about the irrevocable. I need, I need…

And yet, I can’t resist taking a sidelong look at D. and G.’s notion of encounter. What is this if not discovery? Discovery is one of those epistemological forms that slipped by Foucault – you could never tell, reading Les mots et les choses, that any new world had been discovered in the time frame he is using. Discovery isn’t included in the select vocabulary of the Classical episteme. This, I’ve always thought, is a big, puzzling hole in Foucault’s story, and where, if I were inclined to critique MF, I would start.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Marx and vulgarity, take two

In a comment to LI’s last post, Amie pointed to Kant’s notion of the sublime in the Critique of Judgement as one way – a back way – into what is going on in the passage from Marx’s Grundrisse that presents us with a curiously familiar semiotic of the ‘leveling’ that characterizes the transition from the ancient to the modern.

Curiously familiar in that many of the canonical critics of modernity – Flaubert and Nietzsche, to name two – spoke in this same language, and were often roundly drubbed for it by twentieth century Marxists. I’m thinking in particular of Lukacs. Surely there is something to Lukacs’ thesis. There is definitely, in Marx’s texts, a certain scorn for those who take the romantic point of view about capitalism’s disenchanted world. Marx, with his curious dialectical lucidity, a lucidity that sees the double in sentimental, the sophisticate in the naïve, thus saw through that hopeless rentier nostalgia accompanying the bourgeois point of view – Don Quixote and Sancho Panza reversing roles. But dialectical lucidity is, itself, a strategy, and Marx the outlaw in his own works seems to double back just as you think, posse like, that you are on his trail at last and about to bust into his camp.

So taking Amie’s suggestion, one finds, in the inexhaustible old Kant, a passage about vulgarity – waiting there patiently for the weary hermeneut:

“The general human understanding [der gemeine Menschenverstand], which we can regard simply as healthy (and not cultivated) understanding of petty things that may be expected from those who claim to be human beings, has thus the sickly honor, to be labeled with the name of common sense (sensus communis). Really, it is that we are to understand by the word common [gemein] (not simply in our language, which contains here an ambiguity, but in many others) something like vulgare, which we meet with everywhere, and of which the possession does not imply either merit or privilege.”

Now an offstage voice might say: aren’t we playing a game with the deconstructionist’s usual pack of trick cards, taking our eyes off the serious things that Marx is saying? So I should say that, firstly, the serious call – let’s get serious! – assumes a horizon which I am questioning. Mutiply, as in whose horizon is this, who constructed it, and why should I assume it? Secondly, the vulgarity – the gemein – of the modern emerges from a self-reflective gesture that is inscribed in the text in terms of an economy – in terms used to talk about the political economy: “Sie [the classical attitude] ist Befriedigung auf einem bornierten Standpunkt; während das Moderne unbefriedigt läßt oder wo es in sich befriedigt erscheint, gemein ist.” The Modern is caught in an economic paradox between being unsatisfied, in which case it appears lesser than its predecessor, or being satisfied, in which case it appears “gemein”. This isn’t just an accident, apparently – it is the way the structure of the Modern lays itself out. Striver or vulgarian, failure or prig, this is the neurotic position of the vulgar.

Calasso tells the following story: ‘In December, 1861, the treacherous Saint Beuve advised Baudelaire to write a letter in which he would formally seek nomination to the Academie. It was to be addressed to the current Secretary Perpetual de L’Academie Francaise, Abel Villemain, who by virtue of his position was the perfect embodiment of Baudelaire’s notion of stupidity, or la Sottise (“I have a passion for la Sottise”)…When Baudelaire paid the obligatory call on Vigny, one of the Forty, the latter shook his big aristocratic head. It was a faux pas, he declared, unforgiveable. All too often he had heard his colleagues whisper, “We’ll make that fellow bow and scrape, and then we won’t appoint him.” Meanwhile, he made a mental note: ‘Baudelaire seems of no literary consequence, except as the translator of that philosophical novelist [Poe]. Has the distinguished, suffering look of a studious and diligent man.” But Baudelaire still had to see the enormous Villemain, enormis loquacitas. “The hatred of a mediocre person is always an enormous hatred.” He listened as the man lectured him, “with indescribable solemnity” about Les Paradis artificiels: “La Toxicologie, monsieur, n’est pas la Morale!”… In masterly fashion, Baudelaire transcribed the sentence inserting two harsh capital letters. Ever childish, he said to himself: “I’ll make him pay dearly for this.” They took leave of each other with the following words: “Villemain, insisting, “I have never had the slightest originality, monsieur!” Baudelaire, insinuating, “Monsieur, how would you know?”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Marx and vulgarity, take one


“They ought to take this Kant and give him a three year stretch in Solovki for such proofs! Ivan Nikolaevich plumped quite unexpectedly.”

One problem with trying to deal with Marx in a blog, or in the fragment form of my The Human Limit, is that Marx is a whale and LI, by design and ability, through all possible worlds, is a minnow. Thus, my analysis of Marx takes on the appearance of a conjuring act, similar to Houdini’s legendary trick of making an elephant vanish. A trick which may never have happened, and has certainly never been explained to any magician’s complete satisfaction. The minnow shall, in one tremendous bite, eat the whale, ladies and gentlemen. As a proof positive, we will then x ray the minnow, and you will be able to discern the whale’s peculiar skeleton within its sad little stomach.

So then, to return to the rules of this thread, the goal, here, is to shine a light on Marx’s idea of the romantic viewpoint. He puts it in terms of a nostalgia, of sorts, for the universal individual, the complete human, the Goethe, the Leonardo. In conjuring up this ideal, it posits itself, necessarily, as critical of the bourgeois viewpoint – which wears the complete human down to a useable stub, like a number two pencil. The well rounded individual becomes an Andrew Carnegie at best, a sage of money. Yet these two viewpoints, Marx says, are always linked together, always accompany each other. We’ve taken long hard looks at these adventure stories before – these comedies of the sage and buffoon, the Don Juan and the Sganarelle, Bruno’s asinine wisdom and the infinity of worlds. Are these viewpoints, as Marx calls them, transformations in this series, or something new?

That, at least, was one of the questions we wanted to answer – although the rules of the game require that all answers be posed with the fine irony that slips between the true and the believable.

But speaking of vulgarity – wasn’t I speaking of vulgarity? Yes, I believe I was. Well, as I said to Marx that spring in London, I am not at all sure of that sticking universal history into these notebooks in bits and pieces is the way to go about it. But I’m becoming more convinced, as the centuries wear on, that there is a method in the madness – and that method is precisely the finest form of madness, the flower, so to speak, of dementia. There is a minnow in the whale, there is a midget chessmaster in the Turk, there is, if not a theologian, still an alchemist, a treasure seeker, and Catherine the Great’s shaman behind the curtain of dialectical materialism. Or have I gone too far here?

Anyway, here’s a bit I want to deal with next. In his notebooks, Marx is using a vocabulary that he has already tried out in his political writings; this sets up a field between them of conceptual and semiotic turns; in particular, one feels that the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon breaths down the neck of Marx’s universal history in the Grundrisse. As, for instance, here, in which Marx, with the secret arrogance of a man who understands, on one level, the fallen nobility and fierce regret of the reactionary writers (if on another level he pours contempt on their nostalgia for the irrevocable and the consequent imprecision and mystification that envelops the past from which they have been expelled), sussing out the origin of the peculiar vulgarity of the bourgeois lifestyle. Marx, as we have emphasized, borrows Hegel’s dialectic and infuses it with the Wiccan insight that backward is not merely forward subtracted, but an entrance into the Night, that other order:

“Now, wealth is on one side a thing, realized in things, material products, which a human being confronts as subject; on the other side, as value, wealth is merely command over alien labour not with the aim of ruling, but with the aim of private consumption etc. It appears in all forms in the shape of a thing, be it an object or be it a relation mediated through the object, which is external and accidental to the individual. Thus the old view, in which the human being appears as the aim of production, regardless of his limited national, religious, political character, seems to be very lofty when contrasted to the modern world, where production appears as the aim of mankind and wealth as the aim of production. In fact, however, when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces etc., created through universal exchange? The full development of human mastery over the forces of nature, those of so-called nature as well as of humanity's own nature? The absolute working-out of his creative potentialities, with no presupposition other than the previous historic development, which makes this totality of development, i.e. the development of all human powers as such the end in itself, not as measured on a predetermined yardstick? Where he does not reproduce himself in one specificity, but produces his totality? Strives not to remain something he has become, but is in the absolute movement of becoming? In bourgeois economics -- and in the epoch of production to which it corresponds -- this complete working-out of the human content appears as a complete emptying-out, this universal objectification as total alienation, and the tearing-down of all limited, one-sided aims as sacrifice of the human end-in-itself to an entirely external end. This is why the childish world of antiquity appears on one side as loftier. On the other side, it really is loftier in all matters where closed shapes, forms and given limits are sought for. It is satisfaction from a limited standpoint; while the modern gives no satisfaction; or, where it appears satisfied with itself, it is vulgar.”

PS - Rough Theory has put up the first chapter of her reading of Capital. LI, like all readers of Marx, can only echo her introductory remark: "In this chapter, I explore just how difficult it can be to tell when it is safe to read Capital, by reconstructing what I take to be the main narrative arc for the opening chapter. To anticipate and foreshadow the argument I make below: my central interpretive claim is that this narrative arc is surprisingly difficult to find."

Updike RIP

Updike is dead, and now he is being obituarized past all scandals and humors.

This is from Rabbit Redux:

"Take off your clothes here."

The command startles her; her chin dents and her eyes go wide with fright. No reason he should be the only scared person here. Rich bitch calling his living room tacky. Standing on the rug where he and Janice last made love, Jill skins out of her clothes. She kicks off her sandals and strips her dress upward. She is wearing no bra. Her tits tug upward, drop back, give him a headless stare. She is wearing bikini underpants, black lace, in a pattern too fine to read. Not pausing a moment for him to drink her in, she pulls the elastic down with two thumbs, wriggles, and steps out. Where Janice had a springy triangle encroaching on the insides of her thighs when she didn't shave, Jill has scarcely a shadow, amber fuzz dust darkened toward the center to an upright dainty mane. The horns of her pelvis like starved cheekbones. Her belly a child's, childless. Her breasts in some lights as she turns scarcely exist. Being naked elongates her neck: a true ripeness there, in the unhurried curve from base of skull to small of back, and in the legs, which link to the hips with knots of fat and keep a plumpness all the way down. Her ankles are less slim than Janice's. But, hey, she is naked in this room, his room. This really strange creature, too trusting. She bends to pick up her clothes. She treads lightly on his carpet, as if watchful for tacks. She stands an arm's-length from him, her mouth pouting prim, a fleck of dry skin on the lower lip. "And you?"

"Upstairs." He undresses in his bedroom, where he always does; in the bathroom on the other side of the partition, water begins to cry, to sing, to splash. He looks down and has nothing of a hard-on. In the bathroom he finds her bending over to test the temperature mix at the faucet. A tuft between her buttocks. From behind she seems a boy's slim back wedged into the upsidedown valentine of a woman's satin rear. He yearns to touch her, to touch the satin symmetry, and does. It stings his figertips like glass we don't expect is there. Jill doesn't deign to flinch or turn at his touch, testing the water to her satisfaction. His cock stays small but has stopped worrying.”


I love the way the body takes on the action verbs. Not just that the cock stops worrying, there is also the lovely legs keeping a plumpness all the way down, and the curve of the neck that doesn’t hurry as it goes from the base of the skull to the small of the back. The work inside these paragraphs is about the easy, miniscule and multiple detachment of the subject self from its claim to be the master of the verbs, the loss of that standing here, the devolution of all capital power to cock and ass and their tactile sense of time and space as these categories come out of their abstract stupor. This is what made Updike love describing sex. Even Mailer, who shared that passion, is all too ready to let the subject parachute back into the fuck, whence it becomes a demonstration in a theorem. Not so Updike, for whom flesh is flesh all the way through. Of course, he has his ideas about it – sex is always about the war between men and women, and Updike is on the man’s side, and ultimately on God's – but his attitude towards fuck is much like that of Robert E. Lee’s toward the tactics and strategy of battle: It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grow too fond of it. Which is where Presbyterianism lands you in the late 20th century.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

a parable from Potocki


Consider this a parable.

Consider, too, that where there are parables, there is wisdom. For the parable is the preferred genre of the wise.

And finally, consider the status of the parable in a world in which the wise have become as extinct as the dodo or the passenger pigeon. Shouldn’t the parable follow?

In 1797, the ever mysterious Jan Potocki set off from Moscow on a journey that would supposedly take him to China. On the 27th of May, he passed from Europe into Asia, although the two continents are not clearly demarcated by any particular geographic feature. At this point, he was in the territory of the Kalmucks. He had become part of this expedition as a scholar, researching the pre-history of the Slavs. He was thus continually reminded of his reading of the ancient historians and geographers, Herodotus and Strabo.

“My dog created a great sensation among them. I was told, in reference to this subject, that they attached to this animal ideas of metempsychosis, and that for this reason they held it a great honor, after their deaths, to be devoured by their dogs, who always in fact did them this honor. For, in spite of the great respect given to them by the Kalmucks, they hardly ever fed them, since they were too miserly with their dairy products to give them any; as for their dead animals, the Kalmucks ate them too, without any fuss. So much was this so that the dogs, when they hadn’t had any Kalmucks to devour, were reduced to living as they could by hunting sousliks. …

A citizen of Sarapta, who had long followed the hordes, told me that it was a horrible spectacle to see the dogs in frenzied attack on a corpse, of which they then left pieces throughout the steppe. Yet all this is quite gentle compared with the Scythian practice of yore. Strabo, speaking of the customs of the Scythian nomads, which were conserved among the Sogdiens and the Bactrians, says: In the capital of the Bactrians dogs were raised up to whom were given a particular name, which, would mean, in our tongue, the undertakers. These dogs are charged with devouring all those who have begun to become feeble, by reason of age and or disease. For this reason, the outskirts of the capital offer no views of any funereal monuments. But inside the walls there are plenty of ossuaries. It is said that Alexander abolished this custom.”

Monday, January 26, 2009

Employment,efficiency and bullshit

LI has been pushed over the edge, a bit, by Matt Yglesias’ link to University of Chicago economist Kevin Murphey’s “best anti-stimulus argument I’ve seen.”

Of course, meritocratic liberals love to be entangled in a discourse full of lambda’s and “model” talk. It is like being a smart sophmore again. The professor’s favorite!

But of course it is all bullshit. Unfortunately, this bullshit is increasingly setting the agenda – that is, it is being answered in its own terms. I’ve seen this happen before – it happened with Clinton’s health plan. We are in a much worse place, but it is worth noting that any conversation with bullshit has to call bullshit correctly, otherwise we go into the Laocoon dimension where liberal pundits flail and weep.

Here’s the truth. Since WWII, the government has gone from employing about 13 percent of the workforce to close to 17 percent. At the moment, according to the Bureau of Labor, there are around 22 million Americans employed by local, state and federal governments.

This means, at first glance, that the private sector employs on average about 82-84 percent of the work force. In actuality, given a very rough average of unemployment of 5 percent, the private sector ends up employing closer to 80 percent of the work force.

At the moment, what has happened is that the private sector employs about 78 percent of the work force, as unemployment has gone up. Although government has held steady, no doubt in the next year, there will be layoffs from the government, too, This means that neither the private sector nor government will employ the percentage they do on average since WWII.

I put these figures out there so that one isn’t lulled into a discussion of whether the neo-classical models assume full employment or not. This is a nice, liberal discussion, but it overlooks the more fundamental lie of Murphy, et al., which is the assumption, which is swallowed like the sugar in liquid cough medicine, that the private sector somehow could efficiently employ 100 percent of the work force. It can’t. It has never been able to get past 85 percent in the post war period. There is a limit to the weight it can lift. We know what it is.

So the only argument about the stimulus is this: should the government absorb the extra unemployed or not? That is, should the government grow 3 or 4 percentage points?

The argument against this is not an efficiency argument. That is a stupid argument. The argument is, rather, that somehow, business can absorb the extra unemployed. Which means that the right is saying that, in the next year, the private sector can expand 4 or 5 percentage points to assume its usual standing in the economy.

Do you believe this? Does anybody? No tax break tax cut bullshit should take anybody’s eye off that ball. The question is: how can the private sphere possibly expand to absorb the 4 to 5 percent of the unemployed?

In reality, the right is saying, let the unemployed grow. And underneath that is the notion that if we can actually diminish the salary of the average worker, then businesses will be inclined to hire them. This, without the bullshit, is the righ’s position. The recession is an opportunity for business to gain permanent tax cuts and hire people at reduced rates.

Now, the only way this will actually bring business back up to its traditional 80 percent position is if the pie shrinks.

I foresee that laying out the numbers in a way that everybody can understand them will not happen. Rather, we will have more endless droning about endlessly bogus functions from conservative economists, who will be countered with ever more esoteric models from liberal ones. The point will be to cover up the real situation, so that we will be fogged in, and deprived of the ability to use our own two eyes to see what the situation is, and decide for ourselves what we want done.

Class dismissed. Oh, and watch this economics lecture for an important message.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ghost dances of the superrich


George Marcus begins his comparison of the world of the Kaluli, in New Guinea, with the world of the rich, in Texas, by making a comment about the binary that has defined the modern project since the enlightenment:

“This paper is an effort to outline a major challenge (as well as opportunity) for a developing ethnography of modernity within anthropology through ironic reference to a traditional anthropological problem in the traditional arena of traditional society.”


Why an ironic reference? Because, since the philosophes, it is through irony that we understand the irrationality of dualisms – or perhaps I should say, their fundamentally conventional nature. The irony, for the philosophe, can both attack the superstitions upon which established power erects itself and, at the same time, distance itself from the rituals and schemas of the folk. When Forster writes about the frozen revolutions that have kept the serfs at an animal level, he is saying, on the one hand, that all non-democratic principalities rest on a crime against human nature, and, on the other hand, that the crime was successfully carried out – that, in fact, the serfs make sense of their world within the limits defined by the masters. This was a common enlightened view. Another German radical of the time, the influential historian August Schlözer, who conducted a passionate campaign against Leibeigenheit – “ownership of bodies”, i.e. serfdom, also concluded that the struggle for liberation had to start at the top. In a fascinating essay on serfdom and honor by David Martin Luebke, Luebke, while conceding that Schlözer burned the connection between slavery and serfdom into the consciousness of enlightened public opinion, claims that he still “underestimate[d] the fundamental role of social perceptions in the formation of early modern popular politics” – that, in other words, Schlözer didn’t see that his conclusion, that triumph of an educated brain, was being made by the serfs themselves. made the connection As Lenin would put it in 1905, a revolutionary party had to be the vanguard of the working class – and not depend on the spontaneous order of liberation dreamt up by the working class itself. The recent upsurge in studies of popular “resistance” – in which resistance quickly becomes an inflated term that applies to Britney videos and Batman movies – is, on the face of it, an attempt to reverse this long tradition. However, it almost always turns out that the ‘resistance” extracted is secondary to the theory applied – with little regard for the semiotic unit itself. Resistance becomes the booty brought home in triumph by the critic, who demonstrates not so much the expression of the ‘people’ as the amazing elasticity of the theorie du jour.

Which is another way of saying, when the people write the text, you can fuck with it any way you want to – including supposing that the people are writing the text.

But what if one supposes that the writers of the text, the managers, the bourgeoisie itself, while pitted against superstition and promoting the making of universal history in every household, are themselves hostages in a ghost dance?

But let’s go back to Marcus. After posing the question in terms of the modern, he returns to the Kaluli, quoting from an anthropologist who did field work among them, Ed. Schieffelin:

“In talking about the people of the other world, the Kaluli use the term mama, which means shadow or reflection. When asked what the people of the unseen look like, Kaluli will point to a reflection in a pool or a mirror and say, "They are not like you or me. They are like that." In the same way, our human appearance stands as a reflection to them. This is not a "supernatural" world, for to the Kaluli, it is perfectly natural. Neither is it a "sacred world," for it is virtually coextensive with and exactly like the world the Kaluli inhabit, subject to the same forces of mortality .... In the unseen world, every man has a reflection in the form of a wild pig . . . that roams invisibly on the slopes of Mt. Bosavi. The man and his wild pig reflection live separate existences, but if something should happen to the wild pig, the man is also affected. If it is caught in a trap, he is disabled; if it is killed by hunters of the unseen, he dies. [1976:96-97]”


I’m sure Infinite Thought would be intrigued by the wild pig reflection. She always knew it!

About the Kaluli, Marcus makes a very interesting remark:

Phenomenologically, this unseen world is experienced through an aesthetic of sounds and sounding, as Steve Feld (1982) has re- counted. In the richly diverse sounds of the forest, the unseen world is always present for the Kaluli. What happens is always here and there, never being fully present. In this sense, the Kaluli would be Derrida's own model of Rousseau's primitive who defies logocen- trism: they live largely without the Western metaphysics of pres- ence, and thus represent the antithesis of the desire for self-suffi- ciency, for the unqualified and the unmediated. Yet, while known by the Kaluli in everyday life in an episodic, commonsensical, and fragmented way, the unseen world is systematically imagined in rit- ual (the Gisaro) and discourse through mediums who, roughly like an ethnographer, have been to this other world and have seen what ordinary persons can only hear traces of. Communication with the unseen world and authoritative interpretations of events in the here and now world of the Kaluli thus depend on the coherent vision of mediums, who at certain moments give presence and order to Kaluli culture by creating primarily visualized representations (rather than sounded evocations) of the unseen world within the fully sensed world of the here and now. (Marcus, 1989, 115)


The shadow world – it is such a natural term. We talk about the ‘shadow financial system” in the same way – as a wholly natural entity, with rather fantastic attributes. Having a superstitious belief that numbers are a power, we are all duly impressed that the shadow amount of derivatives in the world is 500 trillion dollars. And of course, if this amouth is caught in a trap, we are disabled: if it is killed on the OTC range, we die. Or so we have been told.

Marcus uses Schieffelin’s language for his own project. He has been doing field study in Texas, among the wealthy. Just as the Kaluli world gets on quite well with the infinite deferral of presence, and depends on a “discourse through mediums who, roughly like an ethnographer, have been to this other world and have seen what ordinary persons can only hear traces of,” so, too, the Texas wealthy have something out there called their “wealth”, a brother/sister shadow wild pig, with which they must communicate in some way. It is impossible for LI to resist quoting the ever mad Ben Stein’s column in today’s NYT in relation to these mediums:

NOT long ago, a woman in California called me for advice. She is divorced, with two children, and has a series of interlocking financial problems.

She lives in a lovely home in a stylish inland enclave. It has an interest-only mortgage of about $2.2 million that requires a payment of $12,000 a month, very roughly. It was last appraised at $2.7 million, but who knows if it’s now worth anything remotely close to that price.
The woman, whom I’ve known since she was a teenager, has no job or other remunerative employment. She has a former husband, an entrepreneur whose business has suffered recently. He pays her $20,000 a month, of which roughly half is alimony and half child support. The alimony is scheduled to stop this summer.
She has a wealthy beau who pays her credit card bills and other incidentals, but she is thinking of telling him she is through with him. She has no savings and has refinanced her home repeatedly, always adding to indebtedness and then putting the money into a shop she owns that has never come close to earning a dime. Now she is up all night worrying about money. “Terrified,” as she put it. She wanted me to tell her what to do.
What could I say? I did the best I could, but I had to tell her that she was on very thin ice.”

Cut away to Marcus:

“The ethnographic treatment of the Kaluli thus brings me to the very edge of a methodological and theoretical problem in the prac- tice of ethnography in societies of self-styled modernity and progress, to which I now want to turn. Unseen doppelganger worlds, the equivalents of that of the Kaluli, are equally as consequential for groups of ethnographic subjects in modern societies, yet they really are unproblematically capable of conventional definition and em- pirical investigation. What becomes of the focused, local order of culture in ethnographic research when it is understood in terms, like the Kalulis', of at least dual, spatially distanced, complexly con- nected, and mutually determined simultaneous worlds? Does the ethnographer remain, as he is obliged to do among the Kaluli, with here and now accounts of these worlds, or does he move to grasp them empirically and, in so doing, to reconfigure the fundamental ground upon which ethnographic narratives and representations of cultural order have traditionally been made? How does the ethnog- rapher in his/her own academic culture, rather than the Kaluli in their here and now world, handle a subject that is never definitively or self-sufficiently present anywhere, but is continually and partially constructed in parallel, simultaneous, but separate contexts?3 Such is a subject like the contemporary dynastic rich, among other late 20th-century Americans. The dynastic fortunes that I have studied in Texas over the past few years are complex creations of various kinds of experts and of lineages of descendants two to four generations away from founding entrepreneurial ancestors. A dynasty is commonsensically a family, but after much experience with this form of social organization, I find that it is primarily a fortune instead. Concentrations of old wealth, however, have no one particular locus or materialization; in short, they have no presence. Rather, a fortune has multiple, simultaneous manifestations within a variety of interconnected but isolated social contexts that encompass the long-term fates and daily lives of literally hundreds of people. In initiating my research, I followed common sense and took the family-literal flesh-and-blood descendants, and particularly those who seemed to be leaders or in positions of authority-for the dynasty. I soon discovered in their here and now lives the profound influence of the equivalent of the unseen world among the Kaluli-the complex world of highly spec- ialized expertise that through an elaborate division of labor, not only structured the wealth but, also, created doppelganger facsimiles of the descendants-roughly similar to the Mt. Bosavi wild pig reflec- tions of Kaluli persons-variously constituted as clients, benefici- aries of trusts, wealth shares in computerized strategies of invest- ment, and accountants' files. While the unseen world is richly reg- istered through sound and imagery in the here and now of the Kaluli, it distinctly is not among the descendants within dynastic families. Being true to the metaphysics of presence that shapes their individualism, they always presume that they are self-sufficiently in control of their lives, while being vaguely aware, more so than other Americans probably, that they are constantly being moved about and determined as bearers of wealth and credit in worlds of money and finance.”


The poetry of quotations overwhelms LI. Excuse me for a minute while I get my handkerchief – tears of sorrow and tears of laughter are leaking from my eyes. In the meantime, you can listen to this.