Saturday, January 10, 2004


We’ve examined the combinations with regard to Iraq. Let’s examine the combinations with regard to Bush’s re-election.

Most analysis of the election that LI reads in the paper is determined by a very short horizon: what happened this week. Or last week. And what the polls say about it.

But let’s try to take another approach, and look at the bad news and good news possibilities held by this year. If good news is taken to help Bush, what good news can he expect?

It was the orthodoxy – from October to December – that he would be enjoying great economic headlines in 2004. The newest employment figures rather kick that in the head. Plus the figures that aren’t being publicized – the dip dip dip of the value of the dollar. If unemployment doesn’t go down, the money flowing into the market might start seeking to take advantage of the dollar’s currently low status. This would be a double whammy of bad news for Bush.

This is the hardest thing to predict. Economists have never found a way to map their models over the actual working economy, even though certain models do have predictive power in the long run. But what matters, at the moment, is that if there is no change, this will be bad news for Bush. That possibility should hedge any prediction of a Bush landslide, such as those that are being pitched about by the right. Because bad news, here, is either remain the same news, or actual bad news – the return of the recession --

The best news, outside of a boom, for Bush would be the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden. The timing of Saddam H.’s capture was really fortunate for the Dems – if it had happened in June of this year, for instance, the good news would certainly float Bush into the general election like the Queen of the Rose Bowl.

So, one would expect a stirring up of the troops to bring Bush Osama’s head. Best time for him would be about August. If I were a Democrat, I would be figuring out how to pre-empt that. Bush has rather screwed himself, here, however: there are not enough American troops, we think, to operate against Osama as Americans operated against Saddam. This means relying on the Pakistanis or Afghans to capture the guy. We imagine that there will be some shift of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan this year, but we wonder whether that won’t bring up more questions than it is worth.

I think all the good news has been squeezed out of Iraq. The news from now to November is probably going to be bad. American casualties, recalcitrant Iraqis, blah blah blah. The best option for the administration is closing down discussion of Iraq, but that will be difficult when it defines the administration. Especially given the jingos who want to take a shot at Syria and Iran. The consensus of D.C. people seems to be that Iraq will be a net gain for Bush, but I don’t see how they figure that.

LI thought surely corruption – the culture of corruption in top management, and the complicity of Bush’s people in that corruption – would be a big Bush deficit. It hasn’t worked out that way. Put this down to our class bias. In actuality, even people who were totally screwed by Enron just aren’t interested in seeing Jeff Skilling’s head on a platter.

As for Bad news that could help Bush – the one thing that springs to mind is another attack on the Homeland. LI believes that this possibility should sink the Prez – after all, he’s been in office three years. No way to blame this one on Clinton. But the Republicans have invested years of irrationally aggressive rhetoric with the electorate. We all like to think that the bully is unmasked, in the end, but in reality, the bully can go on for a long time. If there is an attack in September or October, Bush is a shoo-in. Again, this is due to multiple failings – for instance, the failure of the press to investigate why we were vulnerable to four parties of truly amateur hijackers in 2001; whether the Bush administration’s findings about the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in June of that year should have sent up flags; etc. etc. The official story has solidified: a heroic president, making it back in a crisis to D.C., and directing a response that crushed the enemy. The counter-story is confused: should Bush have pre-empted Osama bin? But aren’t we critics of pre-emption? It doesn’t have clarity or momentum. If an attack comes early this year, a lot will depend on the scope .of it. LI doesn’t see how the U.S. can scrape up an extra 400 billion dollars to inject into the economic system to counter the inevitable bad effects of an attack on the scale of 9/11. However, never underestimate the credit limit of Uncle Sam.

That’s the coldest eye we can cast on the possible major good and bad news during the next eleven months. Of course, LI is not a prophet or magician. Low level events – from some personal failing or virtue of Bush, to some celebrity trial, to whatever – can change the value of these factors trememdously. But it is a good start on constructing the salient combinations for this election – and a much better exercise than some exegesis of the polls, which seems to be the only thing journalists know how to do.

In a later post, we will try to properly construct these factors into combinations.

Friday, January 09, 2004


In our series of posts about Libya, we listed three dishonorable honorables – federal judges whose recently disclosed behavior during the Edwin Wilson trial should lead to the resignations of the two of them still on the bench, D. Lowell Jensen and Stephen Trott, and should cast a shadow over the third, Stanley Sporkin, who served as a judge in the very prominent D.C. Federal Court.

Today, the NYT has a story about the Monsanto Judge. It is so nice when a major corporation has a judge in its pocket, it so makes one feel that capitalism is being guarded from its enemies.. The judge, Rodney W. Sippel, is a Clinton appointee – by way of Gephardt. When he was a mere lawyer for Husch & Eppenberger, he worked as a lawyer for Monsanto, and is even listed as a Monsanto lawyer on a price fixing case. Now, as a Judge, he is presiding over a Monsanto price fixing case. Oh, and he forgot to disclose that previous connection. But not to worry! We are assured by the archons of good behavior in the law world, consulted by the Times, that he is an honorable guy and would NEVER, EVER be biased in favor of his former bread and butter.

After quoting the code in the matter of when a Judge is supposed to recuse himself (“The Judicial Code of Conduct says that "a judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances in which: the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding." The code also says a judge should disqualify him or herself if "the judge served as lawyer in the matter in controversy, or a lawyer with whom the judge previously practiced law served during such association as a lawyer concerning the matter"), the Times got a Professor Stephen Giller on the line. Giller is sophisticated enough to know that if we are going to go by the wording of the judicial code, why, you just aren’t going to get the kind of rulings that will countenance the spirit of blithe corporate corruption:
“Prof. Stephen Gillers at New York University Law School, however, said that while Judge Sippel probably should have disclosed his relationship with Monsanto, there did not appear to be enough evidence to disqualify him from the price-fixing case because the earlier case - even if he had worked on it for Monsanto - was not the exact same case.
"These are not sufficiently connected to be the same matter," Professor Gillers said, referring to the code of conduct. "The judge has not violated the code of conduct but he could have and should have told the parties about his prior relationship."”
Gillers interpretation of the code would, of course, practically eviscerate it. But what the hell, eh? How are you going to put in those billable hours for corporate giants, bring home the half a mil, and still get your cushy behind ensconced in the seat of judgment otherwise?
Sippel, meanwhile, has put the letter asking him to be recused under seal – which is not, according to the article, very standard behavior. Using the Giller principle, however, that unless a judge is caught slaughtering people with an automatic weapon on a downtown street at noon, he hasn’t violated any petty code, Sippel’s behavior isn’t going to earn him any demerits.
However, perhaps the Gillers principle only works when the Judge has been appointed by a Democrat president. In a case this summer in which a Wyoming Judge, a Republican, overturned Clinton’s rules against roads on national lands, it came out afterwards that the Judge had about a million dollars invested with oil companies. Gillers is quoted in the Denver Post as saying “Brimmer [the Judge in question] had an obligation to notify the parties of his holdings. 'You can't bury your head in the sand. You have to know your assets and know how they may be affected by cases that come before you,' he said.
Gillers said that in his opinion, Brimmer should have recused himself.”

Conflict of interest, you know, a veritable mosaic. It’s why we need ethical “experts.”

LI readers should rush right out and read the winter issue of Common Knowledge. Surely that is the best general scholarly journal since Raritan. Well, okay, there’s Critical Inquiry, but let's not quibble. Common Knowledge has devoted the to the ‘second world:” Central and Eastern Europe. This is a world of drowned kingdoms – Austro-Hungary, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, Bohemia, and the like. Even as they were drowning, certain writers – Joseph Roth, Robert Musil, Andrei Bely – caught a last, fantastic glimmer.

But we wanted to quickly go to the Galin Tihanov’s “Why Did Modern Literary Theory Originate in Central and Eastern Europe? (And Why Is It Now Dead?).” Cognescenti will know that we are according the highest praise when we say that Tihanov encyclopedic, smart essay reminds us of T.J. Clark. Tihanov doesn’t have Clark’s tactile ability – Clark’s ability to describe a painting so that you can track it with your eye, if your eye was endowed with super-intelligence (alas, as Duchamp pointed out, the eye is dumb). Tihanov isn't quite to that point yet, and he is too specialized, from what I have seen of his other work, but he does pose pertinent questions, and comes up with really interesting answers.

Since the title is a question, let’s cut to the chase. Here is the answer, two thirds of the way through the essay:

“A new form of conceptualization is the reliable, if often belated, sign of the arrival of a new regime of relevance, as whose product it eventually emerges. Thus despite the many, if subtle, links and shades between regimes of relevance in the twentieth century, we can say that literary theory emerged in Eastern and Central Europe in the interwar decades as one of the conceptual products of the transition from a regime of relevance [End Page 78] that recognizes literature for its role in social and political practice to a regime that values literature primarily for its qualities as an art. Literary theory, however, was only one such form of conceptualization, though probably the most representative and interesting: the regime of artistic relevance (as opposed to that of social and political relevance) had been in evidence, after all, since long before the seventy years during which literary theory flourished. This regime emerged in the last quarter of the eighteenth century as a response to the changing status of art in the bourgeois marketplace; it made its first important, but self-contradictory and not always consequential, moves in the work of the Romantics (hence the significant if often vague role of Romanticism in the work of modern literary theorists); it continued through the years of aestheticism and l'art pour l'art, down into the first decades after World War II, with the American New Criticism as its high point and death knell.”

A few explanations. By ‘regime of relevance,” Tihanov is referring to the set of assumptions, the tones, the examples, and the privileged references that constitute the unity of a certain discourse over a certain time within a certain social group It is a unity not of ideas, but of ways of considering ideas.

By literary theory, Tihanov is not talking about the endless stream of student papers finding symbolism in the Scarlet Letter. Even though those are the social detritus left over as literary theory mummifies. Tihanov’s idea is that literary theory constructed, as an object, literature; it endowed literature with the characteristic of autonomy within the social whole; it then explored literature with reference to that founding autonomy; and it used that autonomy to legitimate its analysis of the peculiar linguistic structures that populate literary texts.

As Tihanov sees it, that view of literature, and by implication that kind of literary theory, originated in the 2nd world – in Russia, parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Poland, etc. – between the first world war and the thirties. The great figures of this era – Jakobson, Lukacs, Ingarten, Mukarovsky, Bakhtin, Shklovsky – circulate, in Tihanov’s view, as innovators and connectors, condensing their own sometimes marginal experience – as exiles, for instance, or opponents of particular political orders – into the constitution of literary theory. Now, of course, anyone familiar with the English school, from I.A. Richards to Leavis, or familiar with the influence of Taine not only on a generation of French literary critics, but, in this country, on Edmund Wilson, might want to protest on the foreclosure of some of the main lines of literary theory’s history. And there is certainly a problem with including Lukacs in this group, and excluding Benjamin and Adorno. I would certainly revise Tihanov’s last sentence: “aestheticism and l'art pour l'art” did indeed continue, as the organizer of a regime of relevance, “down into the first decades after World War II, with the American New Criticism…” but surely Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory was its “high point and death knell.” In fact, Adorno writes in that book like a tolling bell, with the clapper of dialectic going back and forth until the bell cracks.

Adorno, unmentioned, seems to be the ghost of Hamlet’s father in this piece, moaning under the elaborate woodwork. As Tihanov surveys, rather gloomily, the end of the golden age, isn’t that the Cultural Industry I hear creaking in the background?

“A good example of this interpenetration and competition of regimes within the space of a single article is Jakobson's 1919 piece "The Tasks of Artistic Propaganda," where he uses Marxist parlance and arguments to champion a Formalist and futurist agenda. 51 The interaction of regimes of relevance also explains, to a degree at least, the attempts of the Formalists and the Prague Circle to participate in the struggle for the distribution of social and cultural capital in the new states. Perhaps needless to say, the regime of social and political relevance was eventually imposed by force at the expense of the regime of aesthetic relevance, and with devastating consequences for literary theory in Russia. Similarly, in the 1960s we can begin to discern the complex overlap of all three regimes that I have described: a lingering appreciation of literature on the basis of literariness; the eruptive sway of literature in social and political discussions at universities in Paris, Prague, and Berkeley; and finally, the withdrawal into private consumption of literature as a largely escapist medium in the face of increasingly mediated forms of communication and the enhanced commodification of leisure. Today, the regime of relevance validating literature as a source of experience and entertainment overlaps with the freshly transfigured regime of social and political relevance exemplified in the struggle for "representative" national and global canons. What we need especially to bear in mind while studying literature and literary culture is that, while quite different regimes of relevance coexist at any one time, one of them comes to the fore—whether manifestly or obliquely—as the leading component in the mix.”

The last sentence, in particular, seems to appeal to a necessity that I wouldn't grant. Under Tihanov's words is an image that comes from a distorted picture of evolution, in which there is a tree with a direction, and competition that creates one kind of every species in an environment. That, however, isn't true, as Stephen Jay Gould pointed out. To be jargonish, the rhizomatic moment occurs at the cultural juncture of TV and deconstruction. I would contend, actually, that the retreat to the internal exile of literature, in the face of TV, like some terrible Big Brother, getting into our speech, our pockets, our dreams, is a distinct regime that has rooted itself, weirdly enough, in the technology that has put TV in retreat – the technology that enables you to read this, gentle reader.

Don't count on hegemony. Tihanov needs to read the latest Nielsen ratings.

Still – a very thought provoking piece. Read it.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Note from LI

Well, we’ve been doing this for two and a half years. As our faithful readers know (LI has bitched often and loud enough that they ought to know), LI has been luxuriating in the character stiffening circumstances of the Bush recession, like a man falling downstairs on his ass who pretends it is a cheap form of chiropractery. Another tough month is upon us. As we were walking home with our groceries – you know, the Fosters and the salami – we figured, why not beg a little. No doubt, too, we’ve been influenced by a scarifying book that we are reviewing for the Austin Chronicle, The Working Poor, by David Shipler. It is a work of journalist ethnography concerning the forty to sixty million Americans who make enough money not to be considered poor, but too little money not to be considered credit risks. Shiplen went around, talking to these people. The authorial persona was sometimes condescending, but mostly pretty on top of things. For instance, he notices the way all Americans have seemingly acceded to the idea of the sacredness of businesses. He tells one of those humdrum horror stories about a woman whose 14 year old semi-retarded daughter unthinkingly confided that she was afraid when he Mom left for the late shift. Of course, her Mom has no options – there’s no welfare system that is going to support her – but the government, in the form of the principal of the school, felt bound to report abuse, or potential abuse, and so the state contemplated taking the child. The process involved consulting psychologists, driving the working mother almost crazy, and pushing for her to get another job – but nobody from this group called her factory to ask that she be put on the day shift. Nobody. I mean, one can’t interfere with the perfect working of the mysteries of capital, even as the state gets out its needle nosed pliers to pluck apart the innards of its poorest citizens.

And so it goes. The 40 hour a week, the 6.50 an hour divorcee clerk. The roofer supporting the three kids and the bedridden wife. Etc., etc.

So many anecdotes, and all of them went straight through the LI heart. The incorrigible unforesightedness of the working poor, the desire to fit in the system, to pay off debts, to be normal, to have the phone company not add that extra late fee, to have the cable and (criminal luxury!) dentistry – all of those virtues that lock you into poverty. All of the virtues whose systematic violation by the CEOs of even the most penny-ante of the Fortune 500 has become routine. An obsolescence that signals that the bourgeois ethical code is now, like something given away to Goodwill, yesterday’s fashion.

So that is what this post is about. Those of you who come here often enough, and like to come here (and from whom I haven’t already borrowed money that I can never pay back – that party can send me shaming emails) should consider sending us some of the ready as a sort of end of the year gift. And it isn’t tax deductible, either. We are talking 1 to 10 bucks --- nothing higher, and no pennies please – we detest pennies. They are always falling out of the LI pocket. We look around LI HQ, and there’s always some damn penny on the floor.

If you feel like it, then, here’s where you should send the lucre: Roger Gathman, 615 Upson, #203 Austin Texas 78703.

If you don’t feel like it, buy yourself a vodka martini on us.

Oh, and apologies to D. – he hates these kinds of posts. D. thinks I ought to have some sense of dignity.
And he’s known me, what, for twenty years?

Wednesday, January 07, 2004


Smoking guns... aborting the dreams of a swindler

Well, the WP has finally tracked down the most terrible threat ever to be faced by the American Republic. Yes, I’m talking of the truly awesome WMD capacity nursed, like a snake nurses its kittens, by Saddam the Monster. They have a picture of the reason we went to war on their site, here.

Is it scary or what? One wonders if the paper got an ultra security clearance to publish these two extremely dangerous and war-worthy diagrams. Perhaps they can be waved in the air when our POTUS addresses Congress for the annual round-up.

In other Iraqi news today...

The WSJ is fronting an important story about Iraq’s oil industry, today. After extensively pondering how to get away with it, the U.S. is apparently backing away from privatizing Iraq’s oil.

“U.S. advisers and Iraqi oil officials, now studying how to organize Iraq's vast but dilapidated oil industry, are leaning heavily toward recommending the formation of a large state-run petroleum company. If adopted, the move could sharply curtail the role of international oil corporations for years.

'Officials of the U.S.-led occupation have been pushing liberalization in most parts of the Iraqi economy. But in the politically sensitive oil sector, occupation advisers say they strongly support establishing a state-owned company similar to those in neighboring Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.”
here are some interesting sub-themes about the swindler – Chalabi – the Pentagon’s point man in Iraq -- who has “championed a much firmer free-market line,” and will probably be unhappy at the thought of having this opportunity for his brand of corruption being taken out of his hands. Chalabi’s dream of being Iraq’s Mussolini has been rudely handled by reality since the fall of Baghdad. But who needs Mussolini when you have the Russian oligarchs? Obviously, the man’s licked his lips over that kind of money. His theft of some millions in Jordan pales by comparison.

“In an interview this fall, Mr. Chalabi chided U.S. occupation officials. "They won't act in any way to give the impression that they came to Iraq for oil," he said. "This is a correct policy, of course, but this delays us."

"Mr. Bahr al-Uloum, the interim oil minister, appears to share views similar to Mr. Chalabi's. The son of another prominent Governing Council member, Mr. Bahr al-Uloum is a New Mexico-educated petroleum engineer. He has aggressively courted foreign oil companies and publicly backed privatization of oil-related businesses such as refineries and pipelines. He also has recently purged a number of the senior oil technocrats who are counseling a more conservative approach.””

Chip Cummins, whose byline is on this piece, ends with some speculation as to the replacement of al-Uloum if the state run oil company idea goes through.

Well... this reminds us of our frequent reference to the combinations that are possible in Iraq. If you will remember, we pointed out that Bush's betting on privatization, democracy by appointment of the Americans, and thinning down the troops was improbable -- the improbability compounded by each conjunction. We will have to review the combinations pretty soon. So far, the Shi'ite response to Hussein's capture has been much less intense than we expected.

What's up with that?

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


And in other Cambodian news…

When LI was a mere whisp of a lefty, we worked at a now defunct hardware chain store in the paint and crafts department as a clerk. It was a good time for LI. We were moonily enamored of the woman who ran the department – a small, fierce, and (unfortunately for our heart) married woman, D. D. was a little Nubian queen, or thought she was; she was in continuous flirtatious battle with the assistant manager of the place, Henry. We were also going to college then. While the thought of attending a class is enough to makes us ill, now, then we were in the magic undergraduate continuum – everything in class connected with everything in life. It was like being an astronaut and discovering, after landing on a dark planet, a whole other civilization outside the capsule door.

It was around that time that Jesus fell out of our life, and Marx fell into it. We had the zeal of a convert when it came to politics. So we left political materials around in the lunch area, hoping … well, that some of the crew would be turned on to the theory of surplus value. Barring that, at least we could make people aware of the criminal American policy as it had been ruthlessly pursued in Southeast Asia. The latter was somewhat successful. I remember one of the crew asked me whether, as a communist, I had ever been beaten up. With the unspoken assumption being that it might be a good idea for someone to do the beating. Martyrdom! we treasured that remark.

One of the books LI put out was Sideshow, William Shawcross’s indictment of the Nixon/Kissinger war in Cambodia. That is still an eyeopening book. That the U.S. countenanced the wholesale, blind bombing of a country is still mindboggling. When we hear the likes of Hitchens condemning the criminal acts of the Iraqi guerrillas, we think about the fact that he is now pals with a set of people who were implicated in the much more extensive mass murder wrought by random carpet bombing, and we think: wow. It really isn’t worth it, gaining a pittance of notoriety in return for his soul. But who are we to understand these exchanges?

Which is why it was especially distressing, this year, that William Shawcross came out in virulent defense of Pax Americana. The New Statesman’s Jason Cowley, last month, wrote an article about the man that crawled in on little cat’s feet, and then inserted jaguar claws in the jugular. Shawcross has become a heavy defender of the Bush Pax idea. Worse, he is now proposing (oh say it isn’t so!) to write the biography of the Queen Mother for a cool million. This, from the man who quit the London Times when he found out that the editor was ghostwriting Henry Kissinger’s stuff.

According to the article, Shawcross, who is the son of one of the Nuremburg prosecutors, was a pretty glamorous item back in the late sixties.

“From the beginning Shawcross, who in 1971 married the writer Marina Warner, was interested in US power and the role and influence of that power in the world. He was a liberal internationalist; he wanted the United Nations to be strong so that it could act as a check and balance to US power, and to spread human rights and democracy. As a reporter, he witnessed the catastrophe in Vietnam, he understood how south-east Asia had the potential to become a laboratory for world destruction, and he wrote from Cambodia during the rise of the Khmer Rouge. He particularly despised the cynicism of Henry Kissinger. Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the destruction of Cambodia (1979), in which he highlighted the secret US bombing of Cambodia, is a fierce indictment of both Richard Nixon and Kissinger, whom he blamed for the American invasion of peaceful, agrarian Cambodia, the removal of Prince Sihanouk and, later, the murderous excesses of the Khmer Rouge. 'Cambodia was not a mistake,' he wrote. 'It was a crime.'

Page remembers how Shawcross became disaffected from the Sunday Times when the then editor, Harry Evans, agreed to edit Kissinger's memoirs. 'Kissinger is subliterate and William, like many others, thought that Harry, who is a good writer, was wrong to lend a war criminal like Kissinger such grace.'

Ah, the days of vivid, cartoon like enemies! Nixon was such a gift, in a way, to the band of leftist cultural critics – half journalist, half polemicist – and his withering away took away their great subject.

The article is mainly concerned with Shawcross’ conversion. The use of religious terminology doesn’t really seem quite right, here. Shawcross is simply growing more comfortable with his money, his position, and his self interest – a self interest that, carefully cultivated, lands you in deals for official biographies. Which is pure cream, since the point is to flatter the wealthy, not sell the damn things. For selling, go to the unofficial biographers – the Kitty Kellys. The official biographies are coffee table books that have all the bland tedium of coffee tables.

While contemplating the vastness of the Queen Mother’s intellect and her imprint on our time, Shawcross has apparently found the time to write another book, this one a rip roaring defense of the War in Iraq and a charge against its enemies – Saddam, Chirac, and the whole damn pack. The vituperation comes from years on the left – which is all the left leaves a writer like Shawcross, or Hitchens. This is much different from what it used to leave the conservative convert. In an earlier generation, the James Burnhams gained, from their years with Marx, a sense of method, a sense for the whole. The new lefts James Burnhams are pretty much at sea when it comes to method – underneath it all, they are led by their feelings. Feelings are very much a product of the environment – especially when the environment gets more and more upscale.

However, to be fair – it would be easy to feel like getting rid of Saddam H. would be a good thing. In fact, in the 90s, LI felt this strongly. We felt it strongly enough that we felt like the neo-cons were partially right – the U.S. had a moral obligation to help rid Iraq of the man. That obligation emerged from the Kuwait war, and from the regime of sanctions. It entailed supporting revolution in Iraq, no question. And no question, nobody was going to really support revolution in Iraq – the regime of scoundrels that the U.S. tried to implant after the fall of Baghdad was evidence enough of that. Our opposition to the war in Iraq was to this particular war, at this particular time -- not to the idea.

All of which means that we can appreciate how someone like Shawcross could be for a war to take Saddam H. down. However, Shawcross isn’t simply for taking someone like Saddam down – he is for establishing a U.S. empire. The Iraq War turned out to be a peculiar ideological transit point for ex lefties to get on the bus. It is a pretty good bus too -- the Murdochian bus, the Fox News bus, the Washington Post bus. And so they are off…

Our favorite graf in Cowley’s article is about Shawcross’ current circs:

“The home of the Shawcross family, an Elizabethan mansion called Friston Place, is at East Dean in East Sussex. It is there, with his third wife, the society heiress Olga Polizzi (of the Forte dynasty), that Shawcross regularly entertains Christopher Hitchens, John le Carre, assorted Saatchis, Richard Perle, the restaurateur Oliver Peyton, Tory grandees and other right-wing establishment figures. 'I remember going to Friston for a lunch party old Hartley was hosting for Margaret Thatcher,' says his friend and Sussex neighbour, the writer and academic Robert Skidelsky. 'Thatcher was on her way to Glyndebourne, and I remember that every time she wanted to make a point, she stamped her foot on the ground. And every time she stamped her foot, she unwittingly pressed a bell under the table, which sent the servants rushing into the room. William was there that day, and he is very good in that kind of company, because he's so charming. But I don't think he's serious in his work about the things I'm serious about, especially the search for truth . . . You begin by rebelling against pomp and power and end up by identifying with them.'

Maggie the mad and her stamping foot – what a great story! Really, it takes us back to the movie, The Ruling Class -- which, it turns out was not a black comedy, but a straightforward documentary about how the denizens of this ecological niche live. Pickled in their own preposterousness, how can you not love the wealthy and their bootlickers? They make for such rich anecdotes.

A final comment, then, which is a bit too revisionist about Shawcross for our taste, but still captures what happened to the guy:

“Others are less generous. 'Shawcross is a vintage product of the Eton/Oxford/Foreign Office elite,' says John Pilger. 'His coming hagiography on the Queen Mother is entirely understandable, as is his hagiography of Rupert Murdoch, whose rapacious power he admires. He was once thought by some to be a progressive, which was useful social currency then; we now understand better the kind of liberalism that wears a mask for great power.'”

Sunday, January 04, 2004


The new year begins, and one resolves to read the pile of academic journals that have accumulated under the socks and wine bottles in the corner. Yes, I know, faithful LI readers – where to start? Slavic Studies? The Psychoanalytic Journal of Society and Culture? American Studies?

Well, we recommend that you fling off the footware and testimony of bibulous nights from your winter copy of Journal of Religion, for there’s an article about one of those obscure figures we have all read and not read – the sad fate, that self-annullation, of the translator. The translator in question is James Legge. Anyone who has read any of the “Oriental Classics,” picked up an anthology of Confucian texts, or pondered the Tao Te Ching in a cheap and older paperback has read Legge. He was one of the indefatiguable Victorian era translators, like Max Muller. Yet what do we know about the man?

An article by D.E. Mungello entitled A Confucian voice crying in the Victorian wilderness *. Norman J. Girardot, The Victorian Translation of China: James Legge's Oriental Pilgrimage renders a portrait through a review of the recent book by Legge’s defender, Girardot.

What does Legge need to be defended from? Mungello puts the two sides of Legge’s unscholarly reputation pretty well:

“For a century after his death in 1897, Legge remained to most people an obscure Victorian anachronism. He was criticized from several sides. On the one hand, fellow Christian missionaries attacked him for his claim that the Chinese had recognized God in their ancient texts. They were appalled by his willingness to translate the ancient term Shangdi (Lord Above) as "God," which most of them regarded as blasphemous. They were even more appalled when he removed his shoes at the Altar of Heaven in Beijing in 1873 because he felt he was on "holy ground" (p. 87). On the other hand, professional sinologists criticized him for reading too much religious significance into Confucian and Daoist texts, which they preferred to interpret in more agnostic and secular terms. While Legge's translations were regarded as significant achievements, he was regarded essentially as a translator, without substantive intellectual breadth or depth. Those negative judgements diminished Legge's reputation for a century after his death. Now they have been revised in a carefully researched work by Norman J. Girardot. This revised assessment is not just about Legge, but even more about a fundamental reassessment of the importance of religion in Chinese philosophical teachings, particularly Confucianism and Daoism.”

Legge’s problem is, in a microcosm, the problem of the Victorian age – one in which the dominant intellectual current was a seemingly incompatible mixture of positivism and religion.

Legge was raised in a pious Scottish household – one of those where, as Legge puts it, "the voice of Moses was allowed ... too often to overpower the voice of Christ.” This, of course, is a typical Victorian dichotomy – a way of transforming Christ into a sentimental figure out of Dickens, good with children and stern about industrial accidents, but otherwise comfortable taking tea with Gladstone.

Legge became a missionary, and he developed a fascination with China. Alas, according to Girardot, “He was a good Latinist but lacked a musical ear, and this frustrated his desire "to speak and write as a Chinaman" (p. 34). Consequently, the master translator of ancient Chinese texts never mastered the tonal variations in the various Chinese colloquial dialects and could speak in only halting fashion with contemporary Chinese.” Legge was the opposite of a swashbuckling translator like Burton, of Arabian Nights fame, who viewed the mastery of languages as a sort of athletic achievement, with himself the decathlon champ. Nevertheless, Legge hied for Hong Kong soon after the British stole it. His first wife was made of too thin a material to endure the Far East, and like many a Victorian colonizer, Legge was soon left a widow. However, on a trip back to Britain he found himself a more durable mate. Apparently, as the minister of the Union Church, Legge advanced in Hong Kong society.

Legge wasn’t, however, the most successful of missionaries. Girardot tells the story of three Chinese boys that Legge took back to England with him as exhibits of the work of the English Christ in the Far East. They were seen by the queen, but on their return to Hong Kong, they quietly departed from Christian doctrine, and one of them even became a crook.

Legge’s translations would never have had the circulation they have had without Max Muller. The grafs about Muller are, to LI, fascinating. We have always enjoyed the dark brown volumes of the Sacred Books of the East. LI’s first acquaintance with Buddhism and Daoism was made when we were knee high to a post-structuralist, in the Decatur, Georgia public library. We stumbled across some of those volumes, checked them out, and found them absolutely puzzling. They were heavy with notes and Chinese writing. Every once in a while something like Biblical grandeur would glimmer out of a sentence or two. But obviously, we were in a very different world than the one projected by the Clarkston Georgia Baptist Church. At the same time, uhbeknownst to us, hippies around the world were getting turned on to the I Ching, which Legge translated -- although his translation was soon supplanted. Still, it must have puzzled his ghost.

Here are the grafs about Muller:

“One of the more fascinating subtopics of Girardot's work is his treatment of Legge's professional association with Max Muller (1823-1900), whose Sacred Books of the East Series (1879-1910) established the academic discipline of comparative religion. This was an age characterized by massive literary projects. The Sacred Books of the East project was one of several large team efforts of scholarship (including Benjamin Jowett's multivolume edition of the Greek classics and the Oxford English Dictionary) involving the Oxford University Press. Several large commercial publishing projects had been undertaken at that time, including the Encyclopedia Britannica and Leslie Stephen's Dictionary of National Biography, which appeared in sixty-three volumes in the years 1885-1900. But whereas these more commercial projects were very profitable, the Oxford University Press projects were published with great uncertainty about whether they would recoup publication costs. Hence, it was essential that a project like the Sacred Books of the East had a prominent scholar like Muller who could convince the press that the noble motive of advancing learning justified the financial risk. The series eventually produced fifty volumes in the years 1878-1910, and Legge's contributions were among the most significant. Moreover, the series generated a small profit for the press.
Girardot is fascinated by the contrasting lives of Muller and Legge. Whereas Legge was the quiet, misunderstood, and underrated missionary-scholar who lived an austere life, Muller was one of the academic stars of his age, constantly in the limelight and a welt-connected "prolific academic entrepreneur" (p. 2). Friedrich Maximilian Muller was born in Dessau the son of a German poet, published a work on Sanskrit fables at the precocious age of twenty-one, studied at Paris, and arrived in England in 1846 to edit Sanskrit manuscripts preserved in London and at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Unlike Legge, Muller cultivated an active social life in England, mixing with literary figures, meeting politicians, and visiting Buckingham Palace. He married the socially prominent Georgina Grenfell.”

If, like LI, you find this kind of information inexplicably fascinating, read the article.

PS: For a truly bizarre view of Girardot's book, go to this First Things review. The victorian world view is not as superannuated as one would like to think. Alas.

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