Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Pure products of America


William Carlos Williams knew a few things about America. He knew the pure products of America went crazy, and he knew of the American lovemaking out there in the fields:

succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum—
which they cannot express—

William was torn between admiration and horror, fight or flight.

And listen to American balladeers. They are never so wrought to a pitch as when the song is about killing women. Leadbelly via Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix via Patti Smith. Joe is going to shoot his old lady. And that, that is terror unnumbed. That is terror that comes out in buckets, and that entertains us all, one slasher audience under God, with liberty and justice for all.

Patti Smith is the interesting transitional figure here. Her way of collaging Hey Joe and Patti Hearsts kidnapping – or Patti Hearst’s joining the Symbionese Liberation Army, an Army dedicated to the liberation of nothing – has to be a nodal point, a cultural political nodal point, of the seventies.

But I don’t understand it. I sing along, but I don’t understand it.

Joe won’t have a noose around his neck – a symbol, an event, that is linked by every vein in our American bodies to lynching. And Patti Hearst – Patti Smith’s secret sharer of the name – won’t wear that name around her neck, the name her father and mother gave her. Her father’s pathetic speech to the press that she was a good girl – grind that back into his face.

But whose bodies litter the path to this liberation? And why is it, why, a “freeing”? Why this ecstasy in the face of such violence? On the down low side of an inheritance from the darkest Child ballads.

Williams came to no conclusions in the 1920s, when he wrote his poem. Although he was writing In the American Grain, he was never going to give you the word on high, like his Enemy-Double, T.S. Eliot. Categorical judgments put a noose around all our necks. But the game, that patriarchy speaks for “women”, is crooked, a matter of House rules when the House is an All Male Pimp show.  Which might be what Patti Smith, inveterate trans-performer, was moving towards.

Friday, July 12, 2024

Gaza notes

“The question of the qualification of the enemy is at the heart of the modern law of war. Without a doubt, since antiquity one has distinguished the private enemy (inimicus) from the public enemy (hostis), and that last from the brigand and the criminal. The distinctions were taken up by theoreticians of the rights of man in the 18th century. The question, thus posed, is not only who is one’s enemy, but what type of enemy one is dealing with.”

These magisterial lines open an essay by Michel Senellart entitled “The Qualification of the enemy in Emer de Vattel” , an obscure name to introduce one of the great turning points in Western “civilization” – which is more often an alibi than a description, but what the hell: one can hope.

Senellart’s topic is the civilizing of warfare in the eighteenth century – and by extension, the “barbarization” of warfare in the 20th and 21st century.

“I want to examine, in this article, the way in which the division between a combattant force and a non-combattant population was established in the law of modern war, and what consequences ensued. This distinction, as we know, is the foundation of the laws of war formulated for the first time by the Brussels conference in 1874 and then that of the Hague in 1899 and 1907, with the view of “serving the interests of humanity and the progressive demands of civilisation.” It cannot be separated from another distinction, the object of bitter controversies, between legitimate and illegitimate combattants. It is in the work of jurisconsul Emer de Vattel (1714-1767), author of a celebrated treatise on human rights (droit des gens), that their articulation appeared most clearly. However, it gave rise to two opposed readings, the conflict between which manifested the tensions inherent in the modern law of war.”

The use of this distinction has been, of course, utterly annihilated by the state of Israel, which has thus pledged its troth to a disastrous moral catastrophe, adopting the very means by which, once, the Jews of Europe were massacred and tortured to death.
One of the deep structural factors in racism is the unwillingness to recognize the Other’s imagination even to the degree of recognizing the other’s humiliation by the culture of violence and subordination visited upon him beyond the Pavlovian exterior marks that come with electroshock and reward. Sense, in the Other, doesn’t develop into sensibility. That is, from the point of view of the temporary Master. But the Other knows the master’s moves and the supposed rules of that Master utopia, civilization.
Within the Other a judgment forms. A sort of Last Judgment. It is shaped by every bomb dropped, every child smeared across the landscape, every widow and widower, every leg or arm torn away.
Having done away with the difference between inimicus and hostis, the government of Israel has endangered its population – and by propagating the myth that Israel “represents” the Jews of the diaspora itself, it has, with sinister intent, tossed that population into the same trap.
We’d do well, or at least we would be less satanic, to listen to the word that came out of the prophets and exile:
“Vanity[a] of vanities,” says the Preacher;
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”
What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?
One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
But the earth abides forever.”

All reactions:
Patrick Pritchett, Roy Skodnick and 1 other

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Who gives a flying fuck about clarification?


The establishment press and commentators on France, both in the country and out, have a common judgement, best put by PhilippeMarlière on the ucleuropeblog:

“All in all, this snap election has provided anything but clarification. France is still in a severe political conundrum with months, possibly years of political instability and crisis.

“Political instability and crisis” is centrist code for democracy. Instead of neoliberal “stability”, the politics of no alternative in which the plutocracy just, alas, is so necessary and de-regulation is just the ticket, you have a politics where this is questioned by the people who, well, somehow have the right to vote.

Clarification, which Macron tossed into the discourse, has been seized on by all commentators center-right and center-left – as if it were the real question in the election. The real question for real people is how to afford meat, how to go out occasionally for a meal, how to educate the kids, how to retire, and so trivially on – you know how the proles are.

Having been whammed by war in the Ukraine (where Russia is at fault) and Gaza (where we are pretending the government of Israel is not effecting a mass murder that will “destabilize” the Middle East for years), having had Covid managed by nudgery and the era of cheap ended by Covid plus the aforementioned wars, having de-industrialized and financialized until the trust fund babies beamed and the rest of us sweated and sank, “clarification” was a dodge, a way of saying nothing, but very seriously.

Thus, of course, all the serious people in the sea are swimming after it and giving us “analyses” that are all about continuing more of the same, since it has buttered their bread.

Myself, I could give a flying fuck about clarification. Let’s have good schools, controls on prices, and taxes on plutocrats instead.

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Elephant names and Pliny's Elephantology

Pliny was right.

The big story about AI (when it wasn't AI but some pattern recognition computing mechanism) sorting through elephant rumblings and finding that special phonic composites are used among elephants - that they have "names" - is being touted as an ultra 21st century discovery. 

Elephant rumbles can be difficult for the human ear to differentiate, so the researchers used machine learning analysis: Essentially, they relied on A.I. to break down different elephant calls.

Individual elephants seemed to respond to certain rumbles from other elephants, and the researchers fed those sounds into their A.I. tool. “If the calls have something like a name, you should be able to figure out who the call is addressed to just from the acoustic structure of that call alone,” Dr. Pardo said.

So far, the scientists are not sure precisely which part of a vocalization might be the elephant’s “name.” But they found that their A.I. tool’s ability to identify the intended recipient of a rumble far exceeded what random chance would dictate."

Pliny the Elder finished his Natural History in 77 A.D.  Or rather, his Natural History, in terms of the volcano Vesuvius, finished with him. Here's how Pliny begins his elephantime topic:

"LET US now pass on to the other animals, and first of all to the land animals. The elephant is the largest of them all, and in intelligence approaches the nearest to man. It understands the language of its country, it obeys commands, and it remembers all the duties which it has been taught. It is sensible alike of the pleasures of love and glory, and, to a degree that is rare among men even, possesses notions of honesty, prudence, and equity; it has a religious respect also for the stars, and a veneration for the sun and the moon.1 It is said by some authors, that, at the first appearance of the new moon, herds of these animals come down from the forests of Mauritania to a river, the name of which is Amilos;2 and that they there purify themselves in solemn form by sprinkling their bodies with water; after which, having thus saluted the heavenly body, they return to the woods, carrying before them3 the young ones which are fatigued. They are supposed to have a notion, too, of the differences of religion;4 and when about to cross the sea, they cannot be prevailed upon to go on board the ship, until their keeper has promised upon oath that they shall return home again. They have been seen, too, when worn out by disease, (for even these vast masses are liable to disease,) lying on their back, and throwing the grass up into the air, as if deputing the earth to intercede for them with its prayers.5 As a proof of their extreme docility, they pay homage to the king, fall upon their knees, and offer him the crown. Those of smaller growth, which the Indians call bastards,6 are employed by them in ploughing."

Pliny remains within the old Wild West tradition of measuring all intelligence by human intelligence, against the manifest fact that intelligence is adapted to species form. What the grasshopper can do, humans cannot do - be a grasshopper. Note, however, that Elephants, vide Pliny, are religious beasts - which is evidently a matter of study far outside what scientists can imagine. They can test for names, but not beliefs. 

Pliny, you old soul, our elephantology is slowly catching up to you. 

Monday, July 08, 2024

Veronique Nahoum-Grappe and existential vertigo


Véronique Nahoum-Grappe is almost unknown in the anglosphere.

More’s the pity.

She is the daughter of Edgar Morin and the associate of Felix Guattari – she’s spent her career in the circuit between Morin’s communication principle and Guattari’s schizanalysis. It is a bit unfortunate to haul in the two patriarch’s to locate Nahoum-Grappe, however.  It shows, in me, a certain lack of imagination.

She is that rare thing, a real philosophical anthropologist.

She has written a column in Esprit, and she was a strong voice pointing out the massacres in Bosnia in the 1990s. She’s a good old fashioned French intellectual of the type coined in the early Cold War period.

Her notion of good old Anthropos does not see it in terms of cogito. Or rather, not in terms of calculation. Or rather, to rather this up, in terms of a successful calculation, although there are calculations on the path. Instead of I think, she begins with “I am dizzy”.  The ontological meaning of dizziness fascinates her, in as much as dizziness is played with, chosen.  Vertige is at the bottom of it all. Which is why Nahoum-Grappe writes so much about violence, drunkenness, and the sublime. To use a term  I am borrowing from Caillois’s book on games, we begin with ilynx:

“The attempt to redefine human nature as capable or not of an extreme exploit can only be given in a radical alternative décor, at the antipodes of the average framework of life, situated in the imagination at the end of the civilized world, where nature is extreme. Down there, one attains, one touches the limits of the possible, of the thinkable, of the envisageable. Human nature that produces the performative extreme distances itself from the social and fixes itself in relation to a natural abyss, or rather, nature as an abyss. The idea of extreme natures implies a distance from society, the world of the “milieu’.” – From the Siesta and the Adventure.

Nahoum-Grappe’s work on dizziness – on, so to speak, existential vertigo – was developed in a number of essays from the 90s, published for the most part in Communications, the journal co-founded by Roland Barthes and Edgar Morin. To my mind, her richest essay in this series, and one that remains curiously isolated so far as I can see in literature, is “L'ingouvernable gratuité : les conduites de vertige” – The ungovernable gratuity: vertigo lines.

Nahoum-Grappe consciously organized this essay to be an extension and transformation of certain themes in Bataile – especially Bataille’s exploration of extremes (of sexual desire, of violence, of power).

It is remarkable that Nahoum-Grappe’s coordinates, in this and the essays that group around it – her essay on beauty, her essays on intoxication – are so close to those in Aristotle’s Poetics, where we have a fourfold space, with the vertical axis being the high and the low, and the horizontal axis described by the ugly and the beautiful.

These poles are both preserved and violated in laughter – that is, as it relates to the absolute comic. Bataille wrote of the laugh in terms of the mouth and the lips – as a rictus, mimicking astonishment or frear. For Nahoum-Grappe, the relationship between high and low, in terms of dizziness, is the relationship between the extreme moment of suspense and the plunge. The moment of suspense traverses a number of behaviors – just think, for instance, of sexual arousal. Why should it be the case that being aroused – being hard, being wet – is so often accompanied by a distinct light feeling in the stomach? Is so often enfolded in drinking? Is so often merely the breadth of a slip away from dizziness, a disorder in the thoughts – a disorder that is classically present in 18th century novels, where women, under the influence of seduction, are always described, or describe themselves, as thinking in a confused fashion. Order, here, the moral order, certainly preserves the Aristotelian grid that separates the high from the low. Interestingly, there’s a certain coordination between the plunge that is the parameter of suspense and a certain movement between ugliness and beauty. N-G relates this to speed – both acceleration and slowing down in what she calls “vertiginous sequences”.
Nahoum-Grappe’s method, like Bataille’s, is to take the phrases that are ordinarily overlooked from diverse everyday routines, and see that they have a functional seriousness:
“It is rare that an attempted suicide will explain himself with the phrase, “I am a more than 50 year old male, a transient agricultural worker and excessive consumer of alcohol” – the kind of thing we extract from the all too felicitous appropriations of statistical data. Instead, there will be phrases like – “everything seemed pointless,” “everything was going wrong”, “nothing worked”, “why live?” which risk being unheard prior to the silence preceding the fatal act: phrases which have in common the vertiginous closure of time (never again, always) and space (the world is just a pile of shit”). The addicted toxicomaniac who tries to give an account of his ‘relapse’, the excessive drinker who closes his eyes and accelerates his speed taking a hairpin curve in the night. Even the lover shutting the door in an access of chagrin, ordinary heroes in the field of social suffering, have recourse to these vertiginious closures…
This ‘nothing more is possible’ consists, on the plane of an invisible topic, to put oneself above an emptiness: a functional sociology will tend to evacuate that manner of seeing as a subjective point of view of the social actor, whereas the poet will make it a song and the psychologist will dig out its implications. But here, that attitude of ‘suspended above everything’ is taken as an objective segment of signification, as an effective intellectual posture, as a kind of belief effect the totality of behaviors. It is rendered possible by a corporal competence: that of the vertiginous perception.”
May I suggest that the idea that “French theory” is over has a very superficial view of what the period of French theory, in France, generated. And more substantially, that Nahoum-Grappe’s work on existential vertigo deserves some belated Anglophone echo.


“The domain of ordinary aethetics also offers tottering occasions : to follow intently with your eyes or in thought the extreme slowing down of an enigmatic moment (that of a leaf moving in a very light breeze, that of a poetic phrase of which the sense remains in suspense) changes our manner of being physically present, as if all imperceptible variation puts us in a light trance, as if absolute delicacy makes us slightly crazy. Besides the vertigo of acceleration there is also the vertigo of slowing down, the rhyme of imperceptible mobility of a baby’s hand when it is asleep.”


Suspense, to go further with N-G’s theme here, incorporates both rhythms. The implausibility of slo-mo in the movies, used for fight scenes, is made, perhaps, unconsciously acceptable by our own quotidien experiences of times that are both speeded up and slowed down. My dad once described to me being in passenger seat of a car being driven by a man who, coming around a curve on a mountainside, confronted a truck coming towards him in the same lane. Dad said everything seemed to slow down. There are a lot of accounts of such slowing down – battlefield accounts especially, when physical danger is immanently present.


Round two: Jean Moulin's revenge!

 We beat the miserable bastards. 

France is not brown. Jamais. 

Call it: Jean Moulin's Revenge

Monday, July 01, 2024

Petain wins, round one

 Among the orignal founders of the Front National, currently going around under a ridiculous moniker,  Rassemblement national, was Pierre Bousquet. In 1945, as a Rottenfuehrer for the French Waffen SS, he fought for the Nazis in Berlin. Victor Barthélémy, another founder, formed the LWF, a group of armed volunteers to help the Nazis on the Eastern Front. André Dufraisse, another founder, also fought with the Nazis.

Since those happy days when the Front National let its pro-Nazi flag fly proudly, the party has, as it were, Mussolini-ized. It has, under Maine Le Pen, pretended that all the nazi regalia in the party attic is actually very cute fascist regalia, a la Meloni.

This is the party that has spread its brown over the map of France. This is not just due to some sudden influx of racism. This is due to the absolute horror that we see, each day, ruling France under the technocrats, CEOs and think tankers which are the collective establishment in France. This is due to a Left that, under Hollande, and really, under Mitterand too, cut its ties with the working class, except when they were convenient. A left that is a bunch of warring fiefdoms. 

Here we are. Wait for it: the first street to be named after Bousquet will certainly entail the kind of ceremony that the President, wanting to be all centrist and unity oriented, will make a fine speech at.

The Pure products of America

  William Carlos Williams knew a few things about America. He knew the pure products of America went crazy, and he knew of the American love...