“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, September 29, 2012

Romney and Locke


Romney’s video – which is now as famous as Paris Hilton’s sex video, and like P.H.’s, shows what the rich do when they are naked – actually plays on the strings of national memory, going all the way back to our beloved John Locke. Locke, as we all know, was very important to the founders. In his own life, actually, he was very concerned with America, for he was, as Robin Blackburn points out in his history of New World slavery, a member of the Board of Trade, which dealt with matters from the colony. Incidentally, one of those matters was  slave conspiracy. Locke had an excellent opportunity, whilst attending such meetings, to put into policy terms his notion that slavery was a natural consequence of the state of war between “a lawful Conquerer and a Captive.” As Blackburn notes, during Locke’s time on the Board, it vetted many documents coming from the colonies, including the Act for Suppressing of Outlying Slaves, in which we read this:

“WHEREAS many times negroes, mulattoes, and other slaves unlawfully absent themselves from their masters and mistresses service, and lie hid and lurk in obscure places killing hoggs and committing other injuries to the inhabitants of this dominion, for remedy whereof for the future, Be it enacted by their majesties lieutenant governour, councell and burgesses of this present general assembly, and the authoritie thereof, and it is hereby enacted, that in all such cases upon intelligence of any such negroes, mulattoes, or other slaves lying out, two of their majesties justices of the peace of that county, whereof one to be of the quorum, where such negroes, mulattoes or other slave shall be, shall be impowered and commanded, and are hereby impowered and commanded to issue out their warrants directed to the sherrife of the same county to apprehend such negroes, mulattoes, and other slaves, which said sherriffe is hereby likewise required upon all such occasions to raise such and soe many forces from time to time as he shall think convenient and necessary for the effectual apprehending such negroes, mulattoes and other slaves, and in case any negroes, mulattoes or other slaves or slaves lying out as aforesaid shall resist, runaway, or refuse to deliver and surrender him or themselves to any person or persons that shall be by lawfull authority employed to apprehend and take such negroes, mulattoes or other slaves that in such cases it shall and may be lawfull for such person and persons to kill and distroy such negroes, mulattoes, and other slave or slaves by gunn or any otherwaise whatsoever.”
Or as us Continental Philosophe types say: Martin Heidegger, eat your heart out.
But besides countenancing genocide, Locke was also on the cutting edge of freedom. Freedom, in the Anglosphere tradition, takes a rather bizarre turn from its old theological and philosophical uses. It becomes attached more and more to property. The freedom to own becomes, in this tradition, the very soul of freedom, its breath, its majesty. Tacitly, the more you own, the free-er you are – which is of course reflected in a legal system tilted massively against the poor and towards the wealthy, which we keep like a beloved pet barracuda to this very day in our mock democracies.
Still, if property is the root of freedom, those who have no property are an embarrassment in a free state. They represent, well, non-freedom. Naturally, their superpowers of non-freedomness involve them in sucking the property from those who have them – or, in other words, quantitatively lessening their freedom. The image of the poor as parasites was not an invention of Locke’s – it was certainly part of a larger fear of the masses that one finds in all over Europe at the time –but what was different was attaching this fear of the poor to the idea that they were, in a sense, the antithesis of freedom. Thus, by a rather bizarre alchemy, those people who benefited least from the system, who, by any practical view of the system, had the least power, posed the gravest threat. This inversion of social reality has had a long and glorious career in the Anglosphere: most recently, the right has been drooling over its theory that the financial crisis arose cause black and Hispanic poor people, prodded by the government, tricked poor honest bankers  into subprime loans and couldn’t pay them, thus causing the downfall of the true and onlie system of Operation Freedom, under our beloved Bush.
Locke would have recognized the truth in this story. Locke, in his pamphlet to the Board of Trade on the Poor Laws, which responds to the appalling rise in the charge for keeping the poor (a diminishment of freedom if there ever was one), cast about for ways to repair the situation. He came up with solutions that Romney himself might consider. There were the working schools, where poor children from three (when idleness starts cropping out like a disease) to fourteen could be maintained in blessed industry; then there is the revival of Elizabethan laws against beggars, where Locke proposes seizing them and taking no shit from them, but hustling them off to seaports, finding places for them on ships, and treating them like galley slaves for three years time – which should be sufficient to do them in; and the maimed, of course – who have an excuse for begging – should be stuffed into a house of correction.

If I were Romney, I’d be reading my Locke. He’s your man for regaining the Freedoms We Have Lost to the rascally 47 percent.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

hide and seek from a metaphysical point of view





The essence of childhood is playing. For me, the essence of that essence was not War, not Red Rover Red Rover, not baseball, kickball, badmitten, solitaire, smear the queer, acorn fight, not Battleship, Monopoly, Chinese Checkers, Life, Operation, not dress-up, swinging on the door, birds, spying – no, the sum and mirror of childhood and, I think now, life was hide and seek. I look back over the vast and forbidding snowfall of years, I look back over the forbidding terrain of physical growth, short term memory loss, and the painful and constant realization of the drain of a million trivialities that has utterly wasted 99 percent of my spiritual energy, I look back  on myself pintsized (a vision that substitutes a photo of myself for a tactile and living image – I cannot imagine being three feet high, it is beyond the limits of my imagination), and hide and seek looms up  as the emblem of the labyrinth into which I had fallen from another labyrinth, that which extends on the negative  side of the zero hour of birth and touches nothingness – labyrinth to labyrinth. Hide and seek involved the elemental spirits: an It, a countdown, hiding places, a base, and tagging. I still remember certain successful hiding places: the clothes hamper in the Colonial, a large cardboard box – a mover’s box in which to hang clothes – in Dad’s part workshop, the prickly vacancy between the pittus porum and the house on Nielsen Court, the upper branches of a pine tree in the bit of woods three blocks away, bellydown among the dust under a bed somewhere… Of course, finding a hiding place was only the first order of business, since the point was to creep out of it at the right moment and make a dash for the base without being tagged by It. The game involved an uneasy détente between the senses – the visible (hidden/not hidden) and the tactile (tagged/not tagged). We could easily come up with the semiotic wiring of the game through the putting into play of such oppositions.
We could do that. But I want to think about It. In a way, It was the most interesting figure in the whole drama. That It was called It may still be the most tremendously poetic event of my life; it is an unending source of wonder. I have read philosophers speak of the beginning of their vocation as a wonder about how things were made – how, to be more general, there was something instead of nothing – but my vocation started with the wonder of It. It seemed distilled from the adult metaphysics that papered over all the mysteries with farreaching linguistic assumptions. It rains, it happens, it is what it is, how is it out there, how is it going – that it is the old mole for true. It, in other words, is a premonition in ordinary life of what Nietzsche called the Ubermensch, and I’d really like to know if the young Fritz played hide and seek, and if the German version of the game calls the counter It.
 
However, It is not just about the more-than-human. It is about the transmission of negative power. It is about being the King of the Golden Bough. With one touch, an It conveys its succession. This is the origin of politics,
I think – politics begins and ends in hide and seek. 

And it also speaks to touch, that especially uncanny sense, which we have a tendency to make the hands responsible for, although of course our feet touch, our sphincter touches,  our lips touch, our noses touch, and we touch where we have the skin for it. We touch things outside of us. Living in this interface is no joke, and  confusing enough that we need, quickly, to sublimate some touches and highlight  others and come up with rules.
From these rules, the flowers of anxiety spring.
One of the great things about hide and seek is it casts that anxiety into the 
form of art. This is something we can do. The music of hide and seek pitches 
numbers (in the form of a countdown) against giggles. Giggling was always part 
of the rivalry between the hiders and It. Hiders sometimes were discovered 
because they giggled – but on the other hand, giggles tease the hunting It. 
“Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer.” The It, like Mallarme’s faun, both
loves and regrets the tipping point moment when the nymphs recede – 
when the hiders reveal themselves – not only because the It can then 
transmit Itness to some lagging hider, but also because, opening his 
eyes at the end of the countdown, he has in a sense reversed the world. 

That is the point of counting backwards – backwards is the witchy direction, 
the anti-dialectical motion, it is the motion of the Sabbat, reflected in 
saying the lord’s prayer backwards, or in general in all backwards rituals
 – and thus the world in which the It’s eyes are opened is not the world 
of waking, but the world backwards, the world entered by a back door 
(Kleist, in On the Marionnette theater, has his dramaturge speak of our loss 
of Paradise in this way - "But Paradise is locked and bolted, and the cherubim
stands behind us. We have to go on and make the journey round the world to
see if it is perhaps open somewhere at the back." This is a precise description
 of hide and seek). That is of course the world of dream, which in so far as 
it is identical with itself, is simply the world.  At the same time, it isn’t,
 that is the dream world is a play world, since the dream is solitary, and 
It –whose solitude is so extreme that it is an It – is about to cast off his
solitude and his It-ness in an act of contact. He couldn’t do so if the very
ground of the possibility to do so wasn’t encoded in hide and seek. Hence, 
the giggles, which are – as any Kantian could see – transcendental. And this
is the proper way to take transcendental moments – they are funny.

It is the funniest thing in the world, being It, being a hider, playing hide
 and seek. My intellectual development is arrested, or just arrested enough, 
to see the glimmer of the messages here – but I have spent my whole life 
trying to decode them.  

 

Monday, September 24, 2012

the myth of the modern reader


This happens.

I decide that I need to understand Heraclitus’ famous fragment, ethos anthropos daimon. It is on my to do list. So I go to some journal articles. I look up Bruno Snell. I look up some books. I am trying to get a handle on daimon. I look up T.M. Robertson’s translation and explanation that daimon can me fate and can mean divinity. I look up Richard Geldard’s book on Heraclitus. And it is in Geldard’s book that I come across one of those assumptions that litter academic books – an assumption about how “we moderns” view things – that makes me doubt the sociological bones of Geldard:

“The problem with “Character is fate as the translation is that in both denotation and connotation no sense of the word daimon as spirit orsome power either within or without is even implied, unless one wishes to burden the word “fate” with excessive determinism. Moern readers, however, feeling free of ruling ruling forces (except the power of DNA, perhaps) understand such translation to say that as human beings we hold our destiny in our hands soley by virtue of our character.”

Modern readers? I have no idea what modernity Geldard lives in. The country he is writing in, the United States, contains, for the most part, readers who consistently affirm that they believe man was created by God. Another lively section of the modern readers cohort affirms a hodgepodge of new age beliefs, which seem to center around various ideas about reincarnation and past life experiences. Geldard has obviously never visited the “philosophy” section of a mall book store (if there are any left), where the shelves are crammed with “metaphysical” books in which self-help and a certain cosmology are nicely blended – for modern readers.
I am not blaming Geldard alone – phrases like this drip casually from many an academic pen. Having swallowed some notion of “modern” which comes entirely from a small part of their own lives, that passed in a classroom, they casually set forth this heuristic fiction as sociological fact.
I was raised in fairly modern circs. Air conditioning, vaccines, cars, computers, jets. All the accoutrements. And I have rarely met anyone who did not feel that outside forces were operating in their lives. One of the phrases one hears regularly, when one listens to people’s life stories, is that there was a “reason” for things. The reason one, for instance, had bad relationships x, y, and z, is so one could have good relationship “a”.  The reason Smith had a car accident is so Smith could learn to be kinder to his children. The reason Jones had to go through bankruptcy is so Jones could learn the true value of worldly goods. These heuristics proliferate not under the surface, but on it. Go to a crowded restaurant at noon and listen to what the people at the other tables are talking about, and you will likely hear a “reason” story, or a variant.  This notion of a reason operating in one’s life is as widespread in the United States as the idea of a daimon, or of a fate, in Greece, as far as I can tell.
My irritation with Geldard has to do with my encountering, all too often, casual remarks about “moderns” which seem to have no footing in anything besides the mind-forged image academics have created of each other, all believers in the most up to date modern science and masters of their rational self-interest. The creation of this fictitious image  has other consequences – for instance, the creation of a fictitious teleology, with the modern looking back on the past as something that “leads up to” us. In a sense, this is the intellectual “reason” story. It confuses a fact about the seriality of the time line with a stronger sense of ‘leading’ that, well, seems daimonic.
Once one grows sensitive to it, one begins to find the “modern readers” trope and the way it functions in academic writing fascinating. For one thing, modern readers are always better readers. Or, if they have lost some connection to the past – the past that is too sentimental, too racist, too crude – the writer is  there to do the proper brokering work. So intent is the academic on this brokering work  that he or she rarely looks up at the world of narratives in which the “modern reader”  moves, which includes a superhero with spiderlike qualities, whole cable stations devoted to dramatizing romance novels in the most sentimental way possible, other “reality” tv shows about discovering the ghosts in haunted houses, etc., etc. The video game and most crude division between good guys and bad guys are standards of modern narration, as are effectless murders’, childish FX, and periodic moral panics involving such things as widespread satanic abuse in a vernacular that is lifted almost verbatim from the witch panics of the 15th century.
So this use of the “modern reader” gives me the heebee jeebees. I want to say: The modern reader, boss – he dead.  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Michael Gordon, warmonger, up to his old tricks

Michael Gordon, the gross warmonger reporter at the NYT, has a headline story today in which big tears are shed over the fact that the U.S. didn't even get a nice little military base in Iraq - oh, the grief! I always like to think of Gordon in terms of his various triumphs in reporting about Iraq. Who can forget his eagerness to relay fake information about Iraq's nuclear weapons before the war? This is typical Gordon, lying through his teeth, helping to bring on hundreds of thousands of deaths:

“WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2002 -- More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today.
In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to
enrich uranium. American officials said several efforts to arrange the shipment of the aluminum tubes were blocked or intercepted but declined to say, citing the sensitivity of the intelligence, where they came from or how they were stopped.
The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq's nuclear program, officials said, and that the latest attempt to ship the material had taken place in recent months.
The attempted purchases are not the only signs of a renewed Iraqi interest in acquiring nuclear arms. President Hussein has met repeatedly in recent months with Iraq's top nuclear scientists and, according to American intelligence, praised their efforts as part of his campaign against the West."
It is sweet that the NYT has a policy of retaining reporters who relay absolute falsehoods - as long as they are in good with the Pentagon! Makes me feel all comfy inside.