“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, August 08, 2009

Fund drive

This is going to be my August reminder to donate to LI and News from the Zona if you feel like it.
And for today’s music, Spiritual Front!

But I need (a need) a slave
Who will stab me and a faithful dog
That will devour my body

Notes on solitude

Solitude is feared by all wardens – whether they watch over a prison, a church, a factory, an office, or a school. Solitary, that American torture, is the jailkeeper’s mockery of solitude, stripping the self of its senses and making the self bear, weightily, upon the self – a weight that soon enough becomes a torture. Solitary is not, of course, merely a thing of prison basements, but is out there in the fields of everyday life, a scarecrow to enforce subservience in the general population. Schools socialize children, but you will never be taught solitude there.

It may seem tendentious to contrast solitude to individuality, but these are very distinct social modes, and it is the underplaying of solitude that has allowed individuality to dominate the discursive field of the self. Solitude is existential and original, individuality is derivative and legal. Solitude is the release from self interest, individuality is its tightened grip. Solitude tends towards sovereignty or abjection, individuality tends towards the normal.

In Rousseau’s thought (and Rousseau was the poet of solitude), equality, which is tacitly posited against the old order, collapses without solitude. This is not to say that a republican society must purge individuality; but it must never confuse it with solitude. This is the real work of culture. From this, Rousseau thought, sprang real happiness.

This is why Rousseau’s denial of the capacity for solitude to women, a conclusion based on a shady rhetorical move, is at the heart of Rousseau’s sexism. Without solitude, women must always, in the end, be essentially companions – and companions to men. The denial of solitude is the denial of the basis of community.

Notes, these, as aids to reflection.

Friday, August 07, 2009

It's a man's man's man's world - but it wouldn't be nothing...

This is a man's world...

Susan Okin’s 1979 essay on Rousseau, Rousseau’s Natural Woman, remains a feminist landmark in the literature on Rousseau. Okin carefully goes through the Second Discourse to disentangle what Rousseau meant by natural and how human nature within nature – a human nature unencumbered by society – is to be imagined. She notes that Rousseau does not imagine that the nuclear family existed at the beginning. Rather, men and women existed, so to speak, side by side, and if their sexual congress resulted in a pregnancy, this did not particularly concern the man, nor did it particularly concern the woman to make any claim on the father. In this section, in a long footnote on Locke, Rousseau attacks the British version of the state of nature:

“At this point in the Discourse, there is a long footnote in which Rousseau attacks Locke for his argument that the nuclear family existed even in the state of nature.5 Whereas Locke had claimed that the helplessness of human offspring meant that the race could not survive without the institution of monogamy, Rousseau argues that this is a prime example of the failure of phi- losophers to get beyond social and moral developments and back to the true state of nature. The human female, he asserts, is quite capable of rearing her child unaided, and since no man knew which child was his, what possible reason could there be at this stage for any man to participate in the rearing of any woman's child? Though Locke may want to justify the family as an institution, he cannot show it to be necessary, or even comprehensible, in the natural order of things. As Rousseau says (and it is important to note the form of this argument because of what he himself does subsequently):

Although it may be advantageous to the human species for the union between man and woman to be permanent, it does not follow that it was thus established by nature; otherwise it would be necessary to say that nature also in- stituted civil society, the arts, commerce, and all that is claimed to be useful to men. [Okin, 1979: 397]

As Okin notices, Rousseau’s conception of human nature accords to women, in this Ur-scene at the beginning of the world, a full independence in relation to men. Which is why the next move he makes is so logically puzzling:

“The transition, in the Second Discourse, from the original state of nature, in which the sexes were equal and independent, to the patriarchal family, is very sudden, and of critical importance for the subject of this paper. In a single paragraph, and virtually without explanation, Rousseau postulates a "first revolution," in which, to- gether with simple tools and the first huts, which together constitute "a sort of property," appears the very first cohabitation in the form of the monogamous nuclear family. Suddenly, and without justification, since up to this time women have been supposed capable of fending for themselves and their offspring alone, Rousseau intro- duces a complete division of labor between the sexes. Previously the way of life of the two sexes has been identical. Now, he says, "Women became more sedentary and grew accustomed to tend the hut and the children, while the man went to seek their common subsistence."10 With no explanation, then, we have the division of labor between men as breadwinners and women as housewives. This division of labor, moreover, means that the entire female half of the human race is no longer self-sufficient. Since it was this very self-suffici- ency which had been the guarantee of the freedom and equality that characterized the original state of nature, one might expect some commentary on this suddenly introduced inequality, but one will not find it. Rousseau describes these original families as united only by the bonds of "reciprocal affection and freedom," but it is also made very clear that, since the male is assigned the only work which Rousseau considers to be productive of property, the family's goods belong to him alone.”

Okin presses here upon a “rhetorical syllogism”, as Aristotle would call it, that reappears in Emile. The two works were composed in the 1755-1760 period, which also included the writing of Julie. The pattern is the same: we have, on the one hand, a primary equality, and on the other hand, a defense of dependence. Let me get ahead of my texts, here, and say that what is at issue here is solitude. Can a woman be solitary? In the creation story as Rousseau has inherited it, women are simply dependent by way of a divine fiat. The enlightenment gesture one would expect would be clearing away the theological impression – which Rousseau, following Locke, does. But Rousseau does not want to import England into the primal scene: rather, the New World. In so doing, Rousseau creates an insurmountable logical problem for himself – from the New World, we only get to the patriarchal world by an illegitimate violence – illegitimate in that it does not reflect or extend our nature. This is a truth too far for Rousseau, which is why he revisits the creation scene, this time using the language not of Locke, but of the Bible. And yet still, the dice give him snake eyes – one and one.

I’ll end here with this passage from Emile:

In everything that concerns sex [sexe – sexual parts, sexuality], women and men have throughout relations and differences: the difficulty of comparing them comes from that of determing in the constitution of one and the other what is a matter of sex and what isn’t. By comparative anatomy, and even by one’s particular inspection, one finds between them general differences that don’t seem to concern sex. But they do, although by ties that are outside of our capacity to perceive: we only know where the ties are extended [LI NOTE: I’d bet Charles Darwin knew this passage, since it so exactly reflects what he says about sexual selection in the Descent of Man] the only thing that we know with certainty is that all they have in common is the species, and all that they have that is different concerns the sex. Under this double point of view, we find between them so many relations and so many oppositions that it is perhaps one of the miracles of nature to have made two beings that are so alike in constituting them so differently.

These relations and these differences ought to have some empire on morals: this consequence is sensible, conformable to experience, and shows the vanity of disputes on the preference or equality of the sexes: as if each of the two, going towards their natural ends according to their particular destination [LI NOTE: I have italicized this phrase, which we shouldn’t let slip past – this is, of course, the logic of the proper place, which we have seen in Aristotle – the power of place is just in being the proper destination of the thing of which it is the place], were only the more perfect in this, that they resembled each other the more! In what they have in common they are equal; in what they have that is different, they are not comparable. A perfect woman and a perfect man ought to resemble each other in intellect no more than they do in face, and perfection is not susceptible of more and less.

In the union of the sexes, each concurs equally in the common object, but not in the same manner. From this diversity is born the first difference assignable between the morals of one and the other. One must be active and strong, the other passive and weak: it is necessary that one will want and can do, and it is sufficient that the other resists little.

This principle established, it follows that woman is especially made to please man. If man must please in his turn, it is by a necessity less direct: his merit is in his power: he pleases by this alone, that he is strong. This, I agree, is not the law of love: but it is that of nature, anterior to love itself. “ [My translation]

LI will treat this in another post.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Time for the bi-annual fund drive

Well, let's see, my last fund drive was, I think, back in January. I aim, this summer month, to raise the dough for Limited Inc and News from the Zona. We'll see. So I'm going to put up these donate to LI reminders.

Armes Deutschland,
kannst du deine Kinder sehen,
Wie sie vor dem Abgrund Schlange stehen.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

names and places

Historians say that the period of the 1760s, in France, marked a resurgence of censorship. The strict controls instituted by Louis XIV had collapsed under the regency – the time period in which Montesquieu and Voltaire both started publishing. But as Louis XV’s regime ended amidst the squalor of a court in which major decisions on personnel and policy depended on who could get the Well Beloved’s dick to rise, popular discontent rose too. The solution, as always, was to find scapegoats. Rousseau, when he was still living in France, was more than a little alarmed by the Calas affair, in which the old system of targeting the Protestants was brought into play to burn another of them on trumped up charges.

However, even given the reactionary forces at work in the 1760s, Emile was targeted by extraordinary persecution. It caught Rousseau off guard, as he had been assured by the enthusiasm of his protector, le Marechal and Marechale Luxembourg, and the royal censore, Malesherbes, that Emile’s publication would pose no problem. When it did, the Luxembourg’s spared no time in telling Rousseau to fly – they were not going to expend any social credit in defending the son of a poor Genevan watchmaker. In the last thirty reactionary years, since the eighties, under the watchful eye of Furet, historians have tended to emphasize the awfulness of the terror and the ‘civilization’ of the ancien regime. One has to remember that in the historian’s book, the beheading of a queen counts for much, the decimation of a regiment counts for nothing. And thus, that patchwork of dynastic wars and famines that constituted Louis XV’s policy melts into the hazy background, while in the foreground we concentrate on the plump rumps of Boucher’s pinups. But this picture is, of course, utter bullshit.

In actuality, the ancien regimes never stop coming on line, and their awful decline is structurally constant, whether it is Marcos’ Philippines or Louis XV’s France. They all generate a structure of covert culture. On the one hand, there is the official culture and its fierce protection by the police, and on the other hand, what is allowed in the private space created by the elite. The parlement’s judges could well have the hangman burn the same books that were treasured in the judges’ library. It is this double system that Rousseau set out, in his literary practice, to slay. And it is for this reason that the same system that could give a pass to the materialist atheism of Helvetius (as long as the volumes were anonymous and printed in Holland), could find so much to burn in Emile, for all its piety.

Since Paul de Man made the second preface to Julie the subject of one of his essays in the Allegories of Reading, it has become a much commented upon text. But there seems to be a gap between de Man’s reading of it within the system of Julie itself, as a text, and the system of texts in which Rousseau’s signature was consciously set in defiance against the erasures of the censure. Derrida, in On Grammatology, extensively analyses an episosde in Levi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques in which Levi-Strauss recounts how he was able to obtain the ‘real’ proper names of the Nambiwara. The people kept their real names a family secret, for their real names had power. Levi-Strauss tells of how he was able to obtain those names, nevertheless, from some ‘little girls’ in the tribe, who he manipulated, very simply, into making a game of name telling. In a passage that is still thrilling, to me, Derrida uses this story as a scene in which the alliance between logocentrism and power exposes itself:
Before we approach this, lets remark that this prohibition is necessarily derived from the gaze of the erasure constitutive of the proper name in what we have called archi-writing, that is to say in the play of difference. It is because the proper names are already no longer proper names, because their production is their obliteration, because the erasure and the imposition of the letter are originary, because they do not supervene on a proper inscription; it is because the proper name has never been, as a unique appellation reserved for the presence of a unique being, anything else than myth of origin of a transparent and present legibility under the obliteration; it is because the proper name has never been possible as anything other than by its functioning in a classification and thus in a system of differences, in a writing retaining the traces of differences, that the interdiction has been possible, could play, and eventually be transgressed, as we are going to see. Transgressed, that is to say restored to the obliteration and the non-proper of the origin.”[159 – my translation]

There is a queerly compelling parallel here with Rousseau’s system of signing his name, and thereby bringing to the surface not just the anonymity by which the ancien regime could sustain in the play of its own classifications both the condemned book and the celebrated name (as Christopher Kelly points out, Montesquieu used the Persian Letters as his way to gain entry into the Academie Francaise even as he officially denied his authorship of the letters, which would have interdicted his entrance into the Academie Francaise). In a sense, Rousseau combined the function of the ‘fillette” and the anthropologist. The second preface is a powerful illustration of Derrida’s point, here, for the name of the author of Julie is caught up, in the dialogue between R. and N., in a double bind: on the one hand, Rousseau felt the need to throw one’s name against the regime by signing his text; on the other hand, Rousseau called himself the ‘editor’ of this collection (recuil), and throughout retreats from saying that he wrote the letters. In fact, N., his interlocutor (who is written by R., but figures, commentators say, as D – for Diderot) says at one point that if the letters were truly from Julie, he would treasure the book and read it a million times over, but if they were from R., then the book is flat and inartistic. Julie, N. claims, maliciously, acts like a sorceress in the book – everybody ends up sounding like Julie.

The dialogue in which R. and N. discuss the name is as follows:

R: Does An honest man hide himself when he speaks to the Public? Does he dare to print what he doesn’t dare to recognize? I was the editor of this book, and I will have myself named as editor.
N: You will name yourself here? You?
R: Myself.
N: what? You are going to put your name to it?
R: Yes, Monsieur.
N: Your real name? Jean Jacques Rousseau, all the letters?
R: Jean Jacques Russeau in all the letters.
N: You aren’t thinking about it! What will people say?
R: What they want to. I am naming myself at the head of this collection not to appropriate it, but to respond for it. If there is bad in it, let it be imputed to me. If there is good, I don’t intend to make that honor me. If they find the book evil in itself, it is a reason more for me to set my name to it. I don’t want to pass for better than I am.
N: You are satisfied with this response.
R: Yes, in a time when it is not possible for anyone to be good.
N: And the beautiful souls, have you forgotten them.
R: Nature made them, your institutions spoil them.
N: At the head of a love story one will read the words: by J.J. Rousseau, citizen of Geneva.
R: Citizen of Geneva? No not that. I am not going to profane the name of my country. I only put it on writings that I believe will do it honor.” (oc 1769: v:xxx – my translation)

Since I promised Northanger in the comments that I would write a ps, here it is:

Anonymity, in the ancien regime, is systematic and signed. When Rousseau, in effect, tells on the system by signing his name, he is not only contrasting his work to the philosophes, he is also pointing to the essential subservience that possesses the writer who has signed into, signed onto, his anonymity. While the philosopher can criticize the entire system from under the shadow of that anonymity, the entire system has signed that criticism with every one of the critical writer’s pseudonyms. The writer has made the regime responsible for his or her name.

The regime, even in a period in which a considerable minority can’t sign their names, has already developed a system of who signs for what. Thus, to deliver a blow against the system and the enlightenment crewe that depends on very the system whose foundations in truth and reason they destroy - Rousseau signs his name. Everything, at this moment, is clear. Through the signature, you can see the man. Or so goes the first movement. In the moment of signing his name, Rousseau takes responsibility – and who does he take it from? The system that cares for responsibility, that guards it, that keeps it – the whole of the social order.

But the first movement will turn out to be not enough. For it will turn out that one has to sign somewhere. And as one searches for the place to sign, what role the signature plays, what text it is part of, becomes an issue for the man whose honesty, whose responsibility, is embodied in the signature. Now, on the conventional level, these problems are brushed aside. Rousseau is the author of Julie and the preface to Julie. Rousseau signs for R. and N., for the citizen and the philosophe, for Emile, for every letter he sends to the authorities, for his “philosophical” works and his Confession. Sign here, sign here. And yet, as soon as the conventional view has had its say, has dispensed with the cobwebs woven around the signature, it begins the work of identification – N., it will turn out, is Diderot, and the tutor in Emile, it will turn out, is Rousseau. And so the figure who advises R. not to sign is both assimilated to Rousseau and assigned to Diderot, and the figure who tutors a fiction, an imaginary figure, turns out to be a real figure, who signs his name Jean Jacques Rousseau.

This, however, returns us to our dilemma, except on a second level. On this level, N. is so taken with, shaken with Julie that if the letters were “real”, it would be the best book in the world. And yet, if the letters are Rousseau’s invention, the value of the book will be inversed. It will be flat, stale, provincial, badly written.

At this point one has to ask about the power of the signature. For it is on this level that the problem of the place of the signature, whether in the text (and thus, signing itself signing itself, in the vertigo of a hall of mirrors that has no limit), or outside the text, and thus forming – what? Another text?

You can frame Rousseau’s gesture in breaking with the system of anonymity as one of those moments when the hidden transcript, to use James Scott’s term, composed of all the gestures, jokes and beliefs of the subordinate, the enslaved, ‘storm the stage’ – suddenly the hidden dissolves and the content of that thought, of what was said in the kitchen and in the yard and among the apprentices and among the women in the needle factor suddenly gets said and named and names. But at the same time, there is curb, here, and it is the curb of the truth – for the opening of the hidden is not, after all, the truth. And the signature is never protected from the elaboration of the text, or the dream – it is never totally safe from the power of ficticity, a power that may seem to zap the charisma of responsibility, that emancipatory gesture, before it even get going.

And yet, much as I hate to say this: there is no revolution in language. While Rousseau fights against the anonymous system, he works within the hybrid genre that the enlightenment writers perfected, none more so than Diderot. In this genre, real figures show up next to fictitious ones and thus are both real and fictitious: real arguments are absorbed into the fiction of conversation. And who can tell who is signing?

Another remark needs to be made about the ancien regime’s enforcement of the regime of anonymity. Rousseau very shrewdly saw that this system of rule was nurturing intellectual irresponsibility. Or perhaps I should say thwarted responsibility. It was not just the oppression that stroked the rage of the subordinated population, but its feckless inconsistency. Rousseau experienced to the full the senility of the system in trying to publish Emile, for he was guaranteed by the Luxembourg’s and Malesherbes, and yet neither was able to prevent Emile from being burnt by the public hangman. And thus was the system of patronage debased – not, of course, in the eyes of the patrons, who forget everything except their own generosity, but in the eyes of the patronized. This is no little thing. Any system that forces you to swallow your name is manufacturing poisons, for a name will rankle. The system that allowed and then censored Emile tore a breach in its structure, the homogeneity of the face it turned towards the governed and obscure. Like a crack in the foundation of a house, that breach was bound to tell a story one day or another.

But – to sum up and return to the problem of the signature – what Rousseau could not escape by opposing the system of signed anonymity with his own signature as a citoyen of Geneva is the fact that this opposition on behalf of transparency and authenticity inevitably threw him into a self-undermining process in which no closeness of the text to the signature or of the self to the responsibility it took on could ever be total. Although it could be mortal – we should always remember that the anchors of history are made out of human flesh, throw them out for mooring or bait, one. The signature’s very place, or placelessness – sign here and here – makes the task of absolute authentification hopeless.