“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 14, 2013

style



We bought a big semi-transparent plastic box in which to stash Adam’s growing stash of toys – his treasures, except that Adam is still too young to have even a glimmering of the meaning of primitive economics and its symbols Although perhaps it is I who am the prisoner of my concepts, here, since Adam thinks through his body as the neurons bloom there way inside, and he immediately knew that this box was itself a toy. It quickly became one of his favorites (besides the quickly snatched away electric chords and the dustpan that he has access to when his parents let down their guard and allows him in the kitchen).Adam uses the sides of the box to pull himself almost all the way to a standing position, and there he will totter for a moment, and then come down with a plop back into sitting position, pulling the box with him. At a tilt, all the objects in the box are accessible to his probing hands, and so the fun begins. Gently burbling to himself – and sometime making loud squawking sounds or ak ak sounds, as if disagreeing with someone – he’ll pull the things out.
The pulling out is what interests him. Once they are out, he has a way of casting them aside with a perfect indifference that would break Melanie Klein’s heart. This is not the angry flinging away of breast substitutes, condemning the male child to futile quests and depression in the life-course. No, this is something else – this is the beginning of style.
Style, after all, is merely the ritualization of selection. The very emblem of style is the way the practiced smoker, having consumed as much as he wants of the cigarette, flicks away the butt. Now, Adam’s way of flinging things shouldn’t be mixed together as though it were one gesture. There is, for instance, the way he will simply drop over his shoulder the things that we thrust upon him that interest him in no way shape or form. Heartbreakingly, the soft animal dolls don't even get tossed over the shoulder, but are dropped immediately on the floor – Adam, from the heights of his baby futurism, has no time for the bourgeois fetishes of his parents. On the other hand, a plastic cap – ah, the functionality of it – will fascinate him. He’ll tenderly turn it around, and then gingerly put it in his mouth, unless his uncomprehending parents snatch it from him first.
The end result of the plastic box game looks, to me, like the pointless strewing of objects across the room. But what exactly is a “point” – and isn’t that suspension of the point what style is all about? The point as I clumsily cling to it is some catch in the structure that entropy has inexorably condemned to dissipation. Or something like that. Adam, however, is unperturbed by the adult panic codified in the purpose. Nor is this strewing a fort/da strewing. Fort/da objects are special things, like the pacifier. He’s simply squandered his treasure and moved on, hunter gatherer style. And what lottery ticket winner among us can blame him?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

a stroll through the past...



Finally, in India he had, as he thought, found his ideal realised. There, with whatever shortcomings, there was at least a strong Government; rulers who ruled; capable of doing business; of acting systematically upon their convictions; strenuously employed in working out an effective system; and not trammelled by trimming their sails to catch every [316]temporary gust of sentiment in a half-educated community. His book, he often said, was thus virtually a consideration of the commonplaces of British politics in the light of his Indian experience. He wished, he says in one of his letters, to write about India; but as soon as he began he felt that he would be challenged to give his views upon these preliminary problems: What do you think of liberty, of toleration, of ruling by military force, and so forth? 
At the beginning of our last series of wars, in 2001, I became interested in the interconnected problems of empire and central planning. At the time, I thought of war in the normal way – as derivative of the state. I am now not so sure that war isn’t, as Heraclitus thought, primary, and the state secondary, something dragged behind the one human organization that will always be with us.
At the time, there was a spate of essays in the thumbsucking journals assuring us that America was an empire and it was time to get with the white man’s burden. It was spring time for Niall Ferguson, in other words.
I noticed that one emblematic figure from history was sometimes mentioned in these Imperialist pep rallies – Pilate. Tony Blair, perhaps the most unctuous figure in recent history, had mentioned Pilate with some sympathy in a speech lauding “humanitarian intervention” – a beautiful phrase that was as meaningless as, say, loving rape, or charitable robbery. A conman’s phrase, in other words. Conman’s phrases go through the thumbsucking journals like berries through the belly of a goose – they come in all sweet and gooey, and they come out shit.
I found, I thought, the definitive topos on the Pilate as tragic colonial governor – or tragic humanitarian intervenor – in an obscure Victorian book, Liberty Equality Fraternity, by Virginia Woolf’s uncle, Fitzjames Stephen. The more I learned about Stephen, who is mentioned by a lot of late nineteenth century worthies – for instance, William James – the more I thought he was the kind of marginal figure through which major currents of history flowed in an exemplary fashion.
Well, my essay on Pilate, and on the imperialist effect on politics in the twentieth century, fell by the wayside. But I remembered it recently when I saw an allusion in the TLS to Leslie Stephen’s biography of his brother, and looked up the chapter on the book. I was impressed – the chapter is a minor classic in sorting out various currents in the philosophy of law and politics which we have all but forgotten, having decided, by warrant of the 101 class, that utilitarianism runs straight through John Stuart Mill and then gets taken up by various analytic ethicists in the 1950s and 60s, thus missing its whole historical effect.
To which I have to return…