“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, May 02, 2009

eternal sucklings of the world unite



In 1779, Emperor Joseph II was contemplating a second wave of land reform, removing certain burdens from the peasantry. Habsburg officials in Vienna conducted a survey among the empire’s official’s in the field, including Justus Moeser, who is, surely, among the counter-enlightenment’s greatest lights, along with his friend Friedrich von Gentz. Moeser was an administrator in Osnabrück, and responsible for the reforms there. Technically, Osnabrück was not a Habsburg territory, but Moeser had a reputation for understanding the incredibly complex structure of legal obligations that bound together the peasants and the masters in a relation of Horigkeit – dependence. Jonathan B. Knudson used the discovery of Moeser’s response in the state archive in his book about Moeser:

‘He states at the beginning: “serfdom (Leibeigenthum) is a notion which can be eradicated by a carefully conceived theory or better [which] can be regulated, so that it is beneficial to the state; and I have ventured to eliminate it without either lord or peasant noticing [what was taking place]. … Moeser was able to speak of abolishing serfdom without anyone noticing because he felt that serfdom embodied a concrete set of social and economic relationships that could be reformed, after which an independent peasantry would exist regardless of the label.” [134]

The dream of invisible emancipation is one of the keys to the conservative response to modernity.

So successful, in one way, was that invisible emancipation that Freud, in his search for father substitutes, overlooked the object and intent of Haizmann’s contract with the devil. This isn’t to say that Freud’s sense of the paternal is not at work here – after all, the contract with the devil is a gift of blood – literally, in terms of the ink, and figuratively, in terms of the declaration of “serfdom” – Leibeigentum. It is one of Deleuze and Guattari’s claims, in the Anti-Oedipus, that psychoanalysis has employed the sexual template to reduce a power relationship to natural terms; and that, in so doing, psychoanalysis reflects a certain high capitalist stage of universal history.

‘Perhaps he himself was only a poor devil who simply had no luck; perhaps he was too ineffecgtive or untalented to make a living, and ws one of those types of peope who are known as ‘eternal sucklings” – who cannot tear themselves away from the blissful situation at the mother’s breast, and who, all through their lives, persist in the demand to be nourished by someone else. – And so it was that, in this history of his illness, he followed the path which led from his father, by way of the Devil as a father-substitute, to the pious Fathers of the Church.”(Freud, 50)

Next, I want to look at Michel de Certeau’s essay about … Freud’s essay.

Friday, May 01, 2009

I, Christoph Haitzmann

We come to know him as a man who fails in everything and is therefore trusted by no one. – Freud, A demonic neurosis from the seventeenth century

Ich Christoph Haitzmann unterscheibe mich diesen Herrn als sein leibeigener Sohn auf 9 Jahr. 1669 Jahr” .

I shouldn't entitle this post I, Christoph Haitzmann – although what I should and shouldn't do, what I am tempted to do, and how I fail to resist temptation, can be seen not only in the title but in grain of Haizmann's life itself – since that long dead painter is not going to come to life again under my fingers, nor his shadow, his fiction, his mask. Instead, I’m going to consider Freud’s notion that Christoph Haitzmann could be analyzed as a neurotic. In fact, Freud’s notion – which not only has its place in universal history but depends on the series of equivalents (the savage = the infant, sacred gestures = neurotic personality types) that are the circus figures of universal history – is one of the touchstones of the twentieth century. It puts the discovery of the unconscious in the light of a whig history – a progress. Freud’s most famous remark about history seems, on the surface, extremely un-whiggish. He said that the revolutions of science progressively displaced man – the Copernican revolution displaced the earth from the center of the universe, the Darwinian revolution dissolved the difference between man and animal, and the Freudian revolution displaced the consciousness from the center of the human.

However, all of this displacement, these successive discoveries of human finitude, operate at the same time, in the same project, of humanizing nature, controlling the world, destroying any barrier erected by superstition or belief to man’s enjoyment of the world. Again, as with Foucault, reading backwards helps one see that the positivist version of progress requires an odd division between man, prey to superstition and thus prevented from exerting his knowledge and technique to make himself happy, and man, the object of study, whose cosmic delusions of grandeur must be demystified.

Freud, of course, as we all know, is the supreme inheritor of the alienated marginals of the happiness culture. At the same time, his engagement with universal history is flawless positivist. It is vulgar in Marx’s sense of assuming a relation between the present and the past that is purely quantitative. In the present, we know more. In the past, they knew less. In the present, we can look back and understand what was enacted, what was expressed, how relations were forged, how symbols and images worked, confident that our enlarged knowledge absorbs, without residue, their past and lesser knowledge.
The case of Haizmann came to Freud’s attention in 1922-1923. The painter’s file was discovered by a Dr. Payer-Thurn in the archive of Mariazell. The file consisted of a report of Haizmann’s possession, and a diary of the painter.

Haizmann came to the Mariazell monastery from a nearby town with a letter from the town’s priest, explaining that the painter, who wasn’t resident in the town, had started to convulse within the church. It was soon determined that the convulsions called for an exorcist. It turned out that Haizmann had been tempted by the devil nine times, and had once signed a contract with him in the painter’s own blood. The devil had taken the contract, but – when Haizmann repented – he’d appeared as a great dragon at midnight in the Sacred Chapel on the Eve of the Virgin’s birthday, and returned the contract.

Freud shows less interest in the contract than the devil. The reason why soon becomes obvious. Haizmann’s time of visitation from the devil came after the death of his beloved father. The devil, in fact, visited him in different guises. Some of the guises were painted by Haizmann in his diary, including one in which the devil is “amply” bosomed. Freud lists a few of his dealings with the devil, including one in which the devil accuses him – like some librarian – of having damaged a book on the black arts that the devil gave him.

Freud quickly spots a system of father substitutions here (It should be noted, I’m quoting an English translation that isn’t mine):

“It does indeed sound strange that the Devil should be chosen as a substitute for a loved father. But this is only so at first sight, for we know a good many things which lessen our surprise. To begin with, we know that God is a father-substitute; or, more correctly, that he is an exalted father; or, yet again, that he is a copy of a father as he is seen and experienced in childhood – by individuals in their own childhood and by mankind in its prehistory as the father of the primitive and primal horde. Later on in life the individual sees his father as something different and lesser. But the ideational image belonging to his childhood is preserved and becomes merged with the inherited memory-traces of the primal father to form the individual’s idea of God.” (in Capps, 46)

How do we go from God to the Devil? God, it appears, moves towards an ideal that is incompatible with certain features of the primal father. And there thus ensues a split:

‘We have here an exampleof the process, with which we are familiar, by which an idea that has a contradictory – an ambivalent – content becomes divided into two sharply contrasted opposites. The contradictions in the original nature of God are, however, a reflection of the ambivalence which governs the relation of the individual to his personal father. If the benevolent and righteous God is a substitute for his father, it is not to be wondered at that his hostile attitude to hiss father, too, which is one of hating and fearing him and of making complaints against him, should have come to expression in the creation of Satan.” (47)

One father, two deities. Or rather, one father and a memory trace of a primal father. And yet, this substitute, God, and this substitute, Satan, seem to be defined by some logic beyond the substitution. For why make two figures out of an ambivalence?

Enough for today.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

making my bed of snow


And you wrap up his tired face in your hair
and he hands you the apple core


I’ve been contemplating my posts on Foucault. I like trying to combine thinking and writing in the daily format, where the writing is all about having no shock absorbers, and the longer term project, where all arguments, rhetorical feints, themes, tropes, tricks, hedges, and surprises have been milled through the thick shadow of reflection. The shadow I cast inside, my beloved, the shadow that no sunlight reaches, but only a lunar and lunatic glitter.

The Buddhists are right to compare the mind to a monkey.

So I’ve been contemplating my posts on Foucault with the shock of thinking through the Other, basso profundo O, that German import. I came upon this truth before I understood its meaning – which is of course the method of the monkey, the illuminated monkey. Although am I really saying anything more, deviating from the standard intellectual history that would make Hegel’s dialectic between the master and the servant a founding moment of our modernity?

If, however, we look at the Other as part of a system that unfolds as the human limit is dissolved and human finitude becomes the ground of the possibility of thought (which are not contradictory moments, but moments that express the two fold nature of man’s domination of the world, the wedding of the universal and universal history), then Hegel’s story is not of a struggle for recognition, but a story of new limits. We pass in review the savage, the animal, the slave, the woman, the proletariat, the peasant – and we find the faces, the many faces, of Nemesis, for this is the space into which this review is invited. It is here that alienation from the culture of happiness and the humanization of the world has its redoubt.

I cannot say, beforehand, that there is some incommensurability between Man and these losers. I suspect infection, however.

But to return to Foucault – I do not so much doubt the rupture Foucault describes as the linearity of the units he is using to describe it – the age, the epoch, the century, the ‘occidental’ culture. I prefer the move that Foucault makes in the seventies – where these unities are dissolved into fronts, mobile, diffuse, often overrun. It is the unities that Foucault is using, which come from the stock of universal history, which often make the reader of Les Mots et Les Choses –especially if that reader is even more a reader of the White Mythology – pause. A false sound comes from the bell.

The Other comes in bits and pieces – there’s no invention of it here, no sudden act of creation. That is simply the impression one gets from the point of view of universal history. Suddenly, a specter is haunting Europe. The Other is not so much resistant to the grid of the Great Tradition, with its obsessive knowing, than invisible to it. The Other, in other words, finds itself in another zone, a zone defined by the adventurer – by the possibility of adventure. In the world of the Great Tradition, adventure dissolves and is allocated to other vocations; in the world of the Little Tradition, the adventurer is a threat, either for good – the saint – or for evil – the witch. But the adventurer has his or her own zone, a zone under the sign of discovery, and here communication is, at its most primary, the exchange of intersignes.

Is this what I meant?

Monday, April 27, 2009

A round of laughter

1. Imagine naming a child after its mother’s laugh.
2. The mother’s characteristic laugh. Which is not the same as the characteristic way we represent a laugh – a haha, a hoho. These onomatopeia are grossly AWOL from the real sound of laughter. Yet as signs of that natural sign (laughter, since Occam, being treated in the tradition as a natural sign of joy – as, for instance, in Descartes), ha ha and ho ho have fed back into the pool of laughs. In English, at least, they sound much like the forced laugh, and perhaps this is because the forced laugh sounds like them. The forced laugh, in that sense, is quoting a laugh, which is representing a sound that has become, through some process of selection, the convention for the laugh. The sign, briefly, stands for itself. The forced laugh is humiliating. It is a way of being, for whatever reason, servile. Every forced laugh I have ever uttered has been cancerous.
3. Such a name, the name of this child, would confront the brute nature of the laugh and our way of domesticating it into the registry of signs and symbols. We recognize the laugh as a vocal expression, but what kind of expression is it?
4. Call the child. Let the child write down her name.
5. Dear Boss,
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games. I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn't you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife's so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck.Yours truly
Jack the Ripper
6. It is an odd kind of expression, as all philosophers have noted. Beyond the natural sign, it is not exactly a gesture – especially as a gesture is explained by a previous intention. A laugh can’t be totally governed by an intention. On the other hand, it is not totally unpredictable. Like a blush.
7. Ha Ha. Jack the ripper, if the Ripperologist say true, was very fond of that phrase in the few authentic letters from him. Although they may not be authentic, either.
8. Traditionally, the opposition is laughter vs. tears. Both are involuntary in one sense, in that the closer they are to voluntary, the closer they are to false. Ha ha.
9. The medievalist, Jacques Le Goff, has written that that Church created a great system opposing tears to laughter. The spirit of Lent versus the Spirit of Carnival. The church was a great organizer of tears. Laughter, however, has always been in a somewhat strained relationship with the Church. As with most of the great religions – Islam, Buddhism.
10. Laughter, as Le Goff points out, takes on different senses and has borne different names. The is a different name for mocking (laag)as opposed to joyous laughter (sakhoq) in Old Testament Hebrew, for instance.
11. Jean-Michel Beaudet in Laughter: an example from Amazonia, finds four types of laughter among the Tupi: men’s, women’s, collective, and caricatural, which, I think, is false. Beaudet is interested in the variations in the sounds of these laughters.
12. Helmut Plessner, in Laughter and Crying, uses these as border phenomena, between the body and the expressive, to look at the doubleness of the human body, iwhich we are, and “in which” we are. To be in, to be of, the prisoner is the prison. It is to laugh. Ha Ha. Plessner is especially impressed by the words associated with laughter – burst, explode. For him, it is that moment when the discipline of the body dissolves – the sense body of experience encounters that problem to which it cannot find any answer. This is the nature of the natural sign – to be the nature that human nature must work with. And work.
13. We will. Or we won’t. This is the human switch. It is a great simplifier. Laughter, being expression that is interjection, almost unprocessed matter – it is as if called up by a spell. A spell reaches for that switch. On. Off. Perhaps this is why laughter, for the church, seemed far from God. And closer to the devil. God has the last judgment. The devil has the last laugh. Ha Ha. Ha Ha. Ha Ha.

Enlightenment, education and song

In the Styrian town of Leoben on a cold Christmas night in the year 1773, the believers in the town’s church beheld an uncanny sight: a man, dressed from head to foot in white, came into the church. The white clothing was inside out, exposing the seams. The man knelt at the altar and during the whole service seemed to be engaged in intense prayer. At the end of mass, he left with such haste that he forgot one of his white canvas shoes. Being shoeless, he was easily caught, and being caught, he was brought to the attention of the authorities. The name of the man was Jacob Kirschmueller, and he confessed that he was attempting a supernatural experiment. He’d heard that on Christmas day, the witches were out. If you went clothed all in white and knelt at the altar, you would see the devil, who would also be kneeling at the altar with his witches. At the changes in the mass, the devil would take off his cap. That was the moment to act – if you grabbed the cap, the devil would have to deal with you. Kirschmueller testified that in spite of the white, and in spite of freezing, he did not see the devil. He was very upset about this. The authorities, according to my authority, Fritz Byloff, were no longer the superstitious judges of yore. They’d been enlightened, or replaced, by Joseph II. Instead of burning him at stake, they condemned him to three days arrest, a fast, and a course of lessons from the vicar. His crime, they said, was being frivolous and stupid. Byloff uses this as an example of enlightenment – from belief in the devil to belief in the dumbness of the belief in the devil. “Reason triumphed.” (Byloff, 84)

Thirty years before, reason wasn’t so triumphant. Leoben was surely one of the towns in which, in 1734, the Jesuit college at Graz determined to make an evangelical effort. Peasants had been striking, coming into Graz and demanding less coerced labor and relief from the poaching laws, which was upsetting the establishment. A detachment of soldiers had dispersed the peasants. There were rumors of crypto-protestantism in the hill villages around.

In response, this would happen:

Jesuit organizers… customarily entered a town or village, erected a stage in the square, and proceeded to preach to their audience for a period lasting from eight to fourteen days. The via purgativa and the via illuminata et unitiva constituted the two phases of the mission. In a typical example of the former, a Jesuit, tied and bound with rope, appeared on a stage strewn with bones or pictures of hell. To illustrate the tortures of hellfire, he laid his hand on a red-hot coal or displayed a skulll while preaching to his audience. If the via purgativa was a lesson in damnation, the via illuminata et unitiva illustrated redemption through the Eucharist. Here the Jesuits administered general communion to adults or first communion to children. (James Van Horn Melton, 1986)

Van Horn Melton’s theory is that in the 18th century, Austria experienced a shift from an image to a literary society. But the intermediary to this shift (beyond the politics of secularization) was a certain combination of theatricality and music. In 1774, Empress Maria Theresia became the first monarch in Europe to make schooling mandatory for children. Although the school system was spotty, by the 1790s, in Bohemia, there was a system in which 2/3rds of all school age children were actually attending school – Melton says that this might have been the best system in Europe. At the same time, what was taught and who was qualified to teach it was unclear. At first, the qualification looked for in a schoolteacher was singing. “A major part of the school day was often taken up by the singing of hymns. The parish school in the Silesian town of Ratibor, where two hours a day were devoted to singing in 1740, was far from atypical. The English musicologist Charles Burney, a traveler through Bohemia in 1772, was struck by the dominant role of music instruction in Bohemian parish schools.”

That the great figures of the Austrian enlightenment are the composers, Haydn and Mozart, is perhaps not so surprising.

In the next couple of posts, I’m going to look at the Austrian enlightenment – how it got out in the fields – a bit. The connection between the enlightenment, the metaphor of human time (childhood/adulthood) that became very popular as a model for describing it, the two degrees of separation between Kant and Mozart, and the closing of the most powerful Masonic lodge in Europe in 1792.