Saturday, June 26, 2004


My friend T. wants to know why I keep going on and on about Christopher Hitchens, who he thinks is an unworthy Moby Dick to my Ahab.

Well -- I happen to think that Hitchens is a writer. As opposed to the usual buffoon. That's about it, for a reason. Reason not the obsession -- if the sun itself reached out a hand and struck me on my face, I would strike back -- to answer in the most Ahab-like way.

But also, also ... this isn't heading towards a tit for tat thing about C.H. I'm after an even bigger whale -- how we argue about politics.

Now, to continue. Let me take off the Ahab mask and put on the T.A. mask.

No moral theory can ground itself absolutely on consequences, since there is nothing intrinsically good or bad about a consequence; no moral theory can entirely ignore consequences, since absolutely separating moral categories from actions is like absolutely separating words from meaning.

Kant, who comes closest to the absolute anti-consequentialist position, summed that position up in the phrase, “the moral worth of an action does not lie in the effect expected from it, nor in any principle of action which requires to borrow its motive from this expected effect.” However, in order to make this proposition plausible, Kant trumps consequences with a notion of the universal that encodes a timeless schema of consequences. The famous example of the lie is the place where Kant makes his stand:

“The shortest way, however, and an unerring one, to discover the answer to this question whether a lying promise is consistent with duty, is to ask myself, "Should I be content that my maxim (to extricate myself from difficulty by a false promise) should hold good as a universal law, for myself as well as for others? and should I be able to say to myself, "Every one may make a deceitful promise when he finds himself in a difficulty from which he cannot otherwise extricate himself?" Then I presently become aware that while I can will the lie, I can by no means will that lying should be a universal law. For with such a law there would be no promises at all, since it would be in vain to allege my intention in regard to my future actions to those who would not believe this allegation, or if they over hastily did so would pay me back in my own coin. Hence my maxim, as soon as it should be made a universal law, would necessarily destroy itself. “

The idea that one’s act “should be a universal law” is a long, pious way around consequences, but it amounts to elevating a model taken from a particular realm of consequence – the model developed in law from precedent – and purifying it of the contingent character of consequence to reach its logical core.

In our own view, there are other problems with consequences from a moral view that lie in the nature of social action itself. The problem is: how are we supposed to “count over” consequences, as the analytic philosophers would put it?

This is a technical problem that goes back, historically, to the Stoic protest against Aristotelian logic, and the connection of paradox to ethics (which is rather puzzling to the modern sensibility – that is why Cicero’s Paradoxes is such a weird text to read). At the beginning of the twentieth century, as it became evident that logic could be completely redone and its power extended by using Cantor’s set theory, the stage was set for rediscovering the force of the scattered ethical insights of the Stoics. Deleuze, in the Logique du sens, realized this in the sixties. It is still LI’s favorite among Deleuze’s books.

The technical problem has a superficial aspect and a deep, structural essence. The superficial aspect is: how to count consequences. Here is an example, from Alan Moorehead’s book, Gallipoli. On August 3, 1914, Winston Churchill informed the Turkish government that the two battleships that the Turks had ordered from the British, which were so close to the point of completion that the Turks had already sent crews to England, were being impounded. As Europe teetered on the brink of war, Churchill was afraid of the use the Turks could make of those battleships. However, Turkey was allied neither with the British nor the Germans.

On of the consequences of that act was that the Germans had a chance to move in with two of their own battleships, which they ‘ceded’ – along with the crews – to the Turks. One of the commanders of one of those ships then took it upon himself, unilaterally, to put a blockade across the Bosphorus, thus preventing Russian ships from supplying Russia with grain, armaments, and other stuffs. In consequence, the government of Turkey had to either identify with that act or renege on it. In consequence of being forced to choose, the Turks chose to identify with the act, and so allied themselves, in Allied eyes, and then officially, with the Axis.

How many of these ‘consequences” are really the consequence of Winston Churchill’s act? The superficial problem, here, is that, depending on how one construes the world, it is difficult to disinter all the consequences of any act – as difficult as it is to pick out snowflakes from an avalanche. Nevertheless, we do it all the time – in trials, in domestic life, at work. We use conventions, and we think in terms of short ranges of time, etc. Yet no sane person, looking back over his life, trusts those conventions absolutely. We all feel like there are consequences of certain things we’ve done or had done to us that we didn’t understand at the time. We all think effects are, in reality, very hard to peg to a timeline.

So much for the superficial counting over of consequences. In the next post, I want to approach the deeper problem – which is the problem of complexity itself. But I thought I’d end this post with a translation, from the French, of a couple of grafs from Cicero’s third paradox, Les fautes ont toutes la même valeur, comme les bonnes actions – “Faults all have the same value, just like good actions” – to show that the Stoics were alive to the quantitative problem in ethics. They were interested in what we now call the problem of the continuous and the discrete:

The thing is without gravity, they say. But the culpability (culpa) is great; for the faults (peccata) ought to be evaluated not according to events, but according to the defaults (vitiis) of the persons. What makes for the commission of a fault can be more or less important: however one approaches the problem, the committed fault is one. That a pilot navigates a shipload of gold or straw into a shipwreck makes for a large enough difference between the facts, but none in the incompetence of the pilot. That someone violently mistreats a plebian woman: our emotional response to this is much less than if someone struck a woman from a respectable and noble family, but the agent has not less committed a fault, since to commit a fault reduces, essentially, to going over a limit (transire lineas): when one takes a step across it, the fault is established; it doesn’t matter how far one then advances in the fault, nothing contributes more to aggravate the transgressed interdiction. It isn’t permitted to anyone, certainly, to commit a fault (peccare). Thus, what isn’t permitted holds itself in a single block (in hoc uno), if it is proven that it isn’t permitted. If the interdiction cannot exist in terms of more or less gravity, or greater or lesser – since, if the interdiction has been pronounced, the fault (peccatum) resides in the fact that it is always one and identical – then it is necessary that the faults issuing from that interdiction must be equal (aequalia) to it.”

I’d urge anyone interested to read Cicero’s crazy little treatise, which is pretty short.

Thursday, June 24, 2004


The importance of being wrong

Christopher Hitchens’ mission, in his article in Slate on the “Lies of Michael Moore”, is as delicate a one as, say, the work of a police snitch. Hitchens shuffled off his leftist convictions and became a firm Bush supporter over the last couple of years, which some might call a conversion, and some might call a flip flop. But while he will allow himself the freedom of gaily adapting his opinions to suit his view of circumstances, he isn’t so tender minded about Moore – hence, the heavy sarcasm about Moore’s changing beliefs about the war in Afghanistan.

After demonstrating, to his own satisfaction, that if Moore’s pacifism is over-ridden by an unexpected hostility to Al Qaeda and Bush’s decision not to make a major effort to destroy it in the spring of 2002, then the change of heart must be prompted more by the vicious desire to hit out at Bush rather than any nobler motive, Hitchens gets down to what he takes to be lies in Moore’s film.

LI hasn’t seen the film, and doesn’t have a large stake in it. Hitchens thinks that it is proven that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD in 2002, that he was allied to Al Qaeda, and that the Bush administration’s interest in democracy has guided the entire American occupation. This is, nowadays, a pretty lonely position, and if the Lies of Michael Moore depend on the Truths of George Bush, I don’t think Hitchens is going to win the debate. But that isn’t our point. What interests us is a larger question brought up by his last paragraph:

“If Michael Moore had had his way, Slobodan Milosevic would still be the big man in a starved and tyrannical Serbia. Bosnia and Kosovo would have been cleansed and annexed. If Michael Moore had been listened to, Afghanistan would still be under Taliban rule, and Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq.”

We will overlook – except for this catty aside – that Kuwait would have remained part of Iraq if Christopher Hitchens had had his way in 1991, since he, too, opposed the first Gulf War. So did LI. What is more interesting to us is whether we are supposed to judge someone’s belief’s by matching them, point by point, with their consequences. There are two themes here, actually. One is: how well does consequentialism work as an ethical – or, as Derrida would say, an ethico-political - theory? The other theme is more dialectical: is there a value in having and expressing an erroneous opinion?

We are gonna talk about that in the next post.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


In order to judge whether Iraq stood out as some heinous partner of Al Qaeda, we need to have some metrics.

Let's use money and Logistic support as our measures.

Let’s compare what we know about the Iraqi funding of Al Qaeda to the funding it received from other states.

Saudi Arabia

We have, according to a cache of docs recovered from the Taliban government, a money trail that leads to the Saudis.
Newsweek reported that there is documentation, for instance, of a bin Laden associate,
Jon Juma Namagani, receiving two million dollars in Saudi “aids” on Nov. 21, 1999.

According to testimony before the house by Matthew Epstein and Stephen Kohlman, the flow of funds to Al Qaeda went through many channels that have been associated, in the past, with Saudi Arabia. One should remember that charities, in Saudi Arabia, have traditionally had a strong government direction. It would be unlikely, for instance, that a charity directed at helping Israeli victims of suicide bombings would endure the House of Saud's disapproval. In an authoritarian theocracy that has officially embraced an interpretation of Islam as its doctrine, the distinction between private religious charities and public expenditures is narrowed. Often the distinction exists in order to establish deniability rather than as an expression of the origin of the charitable impulse. The U.S. government has used that distinction itself, running money to the anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan through the jihadi networks in the eighties, and then -- after the defeat of the jihad -- leaving those networks be. However, we feel comfortable in supposing that if there were charities headquartered in Baghdad in 1999 running money to bin Laden, it would have provoked massive U.S. directed uproar.

Epstein’s list includes the Muslim league and The BIF. I urge the reader to take these testimonies with some caution – terrorism “experts” rely on facts that often reduce into assertions from unnamed sources in newspaper stories which often suffer the further diminishment of having been propounded, in the first place, by the terrorism experts themselves. It is that vicious circle in which proof is replaced by punditry, and proof by the journalistic version of “truth” - a hook or a scoop. Given their prejudices, the testimony seems pretty unexaggerated. The Muslim League, according to Epstein and Kohlman, opened a branch in Peshawar, Pakistan, in the eighties to support the jihadis in Afghanistan. The office was subsidized by Usama bin. The Muslim League evolved something called the Rabita Trust in Pakistan. According to the U.S. Government post 9/11, it provided financial and logistic support for bin Laden and was designated as an illegal corporation.

Another organization, hq-ed in Jeddah, the International Islamic Relief Organization, maintained a military training camp in Afghanistan in 2000.


The Jamestown Foundation, which has shined the kind of unblinking eye on Putin’s insalubrious record in Chechnya that, in another context, would drive a typical Poe character to murder, has a nice interview with Jonathan Winer on the situation in Yemen. Winer mentions that the Afghanistan vets embedded themselves in the Yemen security
force. This is interesting in itself, since it shows us the vehicle by which Al Qaeda sympathizers can escape surveillance.

TM: Could you comment on terrorist financing as it relates specifically to Yemen, including any links with government officials?

JW: There are three or four main strands when it comes to this subject. One is the honey trade, with Abu Zubaidah and Khalil al Deek - both al-Qaeda members - who have been linked to the honey business. This is one sector.

The second sector involves the entities Osama bin Laden got going a decade ago in Yemen, including companies dealing with electrical appliances, ceramics, and publishing. These were operated through middle men and were linked to certain tribes: the Sana'a, the Sa'dah, and the Abayan. It is difficult to know a decade later to what extent these operations still exist.

There is also a huge amount of activity related to the Palestinians, especially Hamas, with the president of the country openly encouraging Yemenis to send arms and money to that group as recently as 2003. Charities and religious institutions have also been linked to support for terrorism. [...] Another aspect of the problem is the hawala dars [informal network for money transfer], who are tied to narcotics traffickers. They also have links to money launderers in the US, especially in New York.

TM: Were there strong ties to Afghanistan prior to September 11?

JW: Yes, with the most prominent and important links being those involving Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani, who has been very close to Osama bin Laden. Zindani is a major player in Yemeni politics and has likely been as significant a threat as has existed to Salih's control of the country. He was the central figure sending Yemenis to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban and the central figure training and recruiting them as well. Zindani was designated as a global terrorist by the U.S. Treasury this February, and Yemen was asked to freeze all of his assets. Treasury has charged him with actively recruiting for al-Qaeda training camps and purchasing weapons on behalf of al-Qaeda and other terrorists. He was a leader of the Islamic Front, formed to channel Yemeni volunteers to the Afghan Jihad while enhancing Riyadh's influence in Yemen. The Islamic Front in turn evolved into the Islah party. Although Islah is part of the current government, it and Zindani also represent a major source of covert and overt opposition to Salih's government .

TM: Were there strong ties between members of the Yemeni government and Al Qaeda prior to September 11?

JW: Yemen was a prime location for the building of al-Qaeda in the early 1990's with Zindani and his Al-Iman University playing a substantial role in recruitment. Yemen also housed a number of Osama bin Laden's business interests. It's difficult to determine from the outside how governmental and private business interests relating to al-Qaeda were intertwined in Yemen prior to September 11. The government of Yemen has been largely run by and for a small group close to the president of the country. Corruption is rampant in the private and public sector, extending to the higher levels and exemplified by government conferred monopolies and contracting and licensing abuses. So to the extent that bin Laden had businesses in Yemen, senior officials or friends of the government of Yemen likely played some facilitation role at least. Separately, it is also pretty clear that there was senior support for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Yemen's police, security and military services prior to September 11.”


Douglas Farah, the Washington Post reporter whose book on the Blood Diamonds is sitting on my desk, the victim of an interview project that never got off the ground, had this to say about the intermediaries between the money al q.’s auxiliaries were making in Africa and the use of that money by Al Qaeda:

"Since it is exempt from international reporting requirements for financial transactions, gold is a favored commodity in laundering money from drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorist activities, U.S. officials said. In addition, Dubai, one of seven sheikhdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates, has one of the world's largest and least regulated gold markets, making it an ideal place to hide.

"Dubai is also one of the region's most open banking centers and is the commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates, one of three countries that maintained diplomatic relations with the Taliban until shortly after Sept. 11. Sitting at a strategic crossroad of the Gulf, South Asia and Africa, Dubai has long been a financial hub for Islamic militant groups. Much of the $500,000 used to fund the Sept. 11 attacks came through Dubai, investigators believe.

' "All roads lead to Dubai when it comes to money," said Patrick Jost, who until last year was a senior financial enforcement officer in the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. "Everyone did business there." When the U.S. bombs began pounding Taliban and Al Qaeda targets last autumn, the rush of gold and money out of Afghanistan intensified.
The Pakistani financial authorities said that $2 million to $3 million a day is usually hand-carried by couriers from Karachi to Dubai, mostly to buy gold. Late last year that amount increased significantly as money was moved out of Afghanistan, they said."


Let’s do this Donald Rumsfeld style.

Were there any charities in Iraq funneling money to Al Qaeda? No. No charities have popped up equivalent to the Muslim League, et al, which functioned in Saudi Arabia.

Did the government of Iraq send money or arms to Al Qaeda? Here is a nice line from the 9/11 commission : “The September 11th commission report said that a senior Iraqi intelligence official reportedly met with bin Laden in 1994 in Sudan, and bin Laden "is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded."

Have any news reporters asked this simple question of Dick Cheney? No.
Will any news reporters ask this question of Cheney or Bush? No.
Why? Reporters have one parameter above all others: never embarrass the powerful unless you are sure they are absolutely unable to get revenge. There is a pretence in the press that there is a difference between celebrity journalism and hard journalism. There isn't.


Support for Al Qaeda can be financial, moral, or logistical. Logistical support is rather mixed with financial support – the two can’t be completely separated. But for LI’s purposes, we will take logistics to be about training or any kind of military or intelligence cooperation with Al Qaeda.


Since so much has been made of the supposed contact between some Iraqi official and Mohammed Atta, a contact that the FBI has pretty much scotched – to believe it, one has to believe that Atta somehow had such foreknowledge of his posthumous reputation that he deliberately seeded a cut out in the U.S. to cover his connection to the Iraqis, which is standard logical procedure for Kennedy assassination conspiracy freaks – lets look at a connection for which the administration has supplied much less publicity – that between the chief of the Pakistan ISI, Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmad, who by coincidence was in the U.S. on 9/11, and Atta, who was also, as we know, in the U.S. that day – no cutouts need apply.
Here’s the story that the Times of India broke in the wake of 9/11:

“NEW DELHI: While the Pakistani Inter Services Public Relations claimed that former ISI director-general Lt-Gen Mahmud Ahmad sought retirement after being superseded on Monday, the truth is more shocking.
Top sources confirmed here on Tuesday, that the general lost his job because of the "evidence" India produced to show his links to one of the suicide bombers that wrecked the World Trade Centre. The US authorities sought his removal after confirming the fact that $100,000 were wired to WTC hijacker Mohammed Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh at the instance of Gen Mahumd.”

This is aid with a vengeance. Ahmad Umar Sheikh at that time was pretty much unknown to Americans. However, he’s become known since, as the organizer of the murder of Daniel Pearl. In fact, he is in captivity in Pakistan. Apparently, the U.S. government is superbly uninterested in whether the Indian secret service story is correct. One would think that the war on terrorism, or the 9/11 commission, or someone might be interested in a man who, it is claimed, sent money to Atta in the pre 9/11 period. Especially as we are willing to go to war on the claim that Atta might have met an Iraqi agent, if he had the power of supernatural co-location and could have existed in Virginia and Prague at the same time.

Here’s a recent story about the Sheikh:

“ISLAMABAD, January 19 (Online): Authorities plan to interrogate a convicted man in the murder plot of US journalist Daniel Pearl over his group’s possible involvement in an assassination attempt on President General Pervez Musharraf, security officials said on Sunday.
The British-born, Ahmad Saeed Umar Sheikh is to be shifted to Rawalpindi "soon", the official said on condition of anonymity. Investigators probing the Christmas day attempt on Musharraf’s life believe one of the suicide bombers identified as Muhammad Jamil, from Rawlakot in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, belonged to the Harkat Jihad-e-Islami, which is blamed in Pearl’s murder, he added.”

The connection between the Pearl murder and 9/11 is Bernard Henri-Levy’s obsession – which is perhaps why the assertion is better known in France than in the U.S.

The question is, what would give that accusation credibility? And, more importantly, if the Iraq connection to Al Qaeda turns out to be much less significant than the Pakistan connection – down to a possible financing of the feat – why don’t we ask questions of the Cheney’s and Bush’s about the matter?

We will do another post soon on the ISI.

Monday, June 21, 2004


The Bush administration’s spin on the absence of any evidence of alliance between Al Qaeda and Iraq has been covered by the word “relationship” in the normal, deceitful way in which the Bush administration has chosen to talk about all foreign policy matters in the last three years. A point amply made by Fred Kaplan in Slate, who is repenting for his support for the war not by engaging in the Newspeak of such as the New York Times, retreating glacially from their record of misreporting while supporting ardently their misreporters, but by acts of real contrition. Making him almost unique in the press.

Why, however, don’t reporters uncover the meaning of the word “relationship” by asking simple comparative questions? As for instance – who was closer to al qaeda in 2001 – the government of Pakistan or the government of Iraq?

Who supplied al qaeda with more money – Saudi Arabia or Iraq?

Who supplied al qaeda with more weapons – the Pakistan Secret Service or Iraq?

Simple questions. Which, of course, will never be asked.

Sunday, June 20, 2004


One of LI’s favorite of all passages in English literature is that ending of Sir Thomas Browne’s Gardens of Cyprus:

“Though Somnus in Homer be sent to rouse up Agamemnon, I find no such effects in the drowsy approaches of sleep. To keep our eyes open longer were but to act our Antipodes. The Huntsmen are up in America, and they are already past their first sleep in Persia.”

LI found his intellectual antipodes, Matthew Arnold, yesterday. We were mulling another shot at this interminable discussion of elitism. So far, LI had been concerned with elitism from the constructive perspective of the artist. But how about the perspective of the critic? Since Arnold famously thought that ‘all the best that has been thought and said” should be the standard of art, we decided to dip into the Works. Dipping, here, it turns out, should be done with one's bowler hat on.

Now, we have always liked Dover Beach. But Arnold’s prose is a rather unpleasant chore. One vibrates from a choking dislike of the man whose tone is so pervasively Pecksniffian. Arnold strangled the artist within him in favor of a critic who is, above every other consideration, desperately respectable. Not only that -- Arnold is an expert practitioner of what I call Kaelism – Kael-ism avant le Kael. Kaelism, as Pauline Kael, the movie critic, practiced it, is a critical form that concentrates firstly on the audience that one imagines is being enticed to a movie, or enjoys it; secondly, on what other critics have said about the movie; and only thirdly on the thing itself. It is envious of those pleasures it cannot participate in. It is exclusive about those pleasures it does experience. It is an amalgam of uninformed sociology and prejudice, and at its best creating negative images of what it dislikes.

It is also perhaps the dominant reviewing style of our time. It has never been the case that the critic can ignore the audience – and guilt by association is sometimes too irresistible not to indulge in. But it is a weakness, not a strength. Kaelism is particularly good at creating and maintaining cliques. This – end excursus – is why reviews are so often the most boring part of a magazine or newspaper.

Arnold’s clique was, of course, the Victorian professional class. A good example of Arnold at his dimmest is his essay, On Translating Homer, in which he considers criteria for good translation – should the translation mirror the original, or should it transpose the original so into the English language as to make the work seem native? He dismisses both of those goals in favor of another one: a translation should please those who can read in both languages. In other words, it should please the scholars – or the scholars of Oxford and Cambridge:

“Let not the translator, then, trust to his notions of what the ancient Greeks would have thought of him; he will lose himself in the vague. Let him not trust to what the ordinary English reader thinks of him; he will be taking the blind for his guide. Let him not trust to his own judgment of his own work; he may be misled by individual caprices. Let him ask how his work affects those who both know Greek and can appreciate poetry; whether to read it gives the Provost of Eton, or Professor Thompson at Cambridge, or Professor Jowett here in Oxford, at all the same feeling which to read the original gives them. I consider that when Bentley said of Pope’s translation, “it was a pretty poem, but must not be called Homer,” the work, in spite of all its power and attractiveness, was judged.”

In other words – let the mortician tell you the cause of death.

Luckily, the deathly hand of Jowett – that mummified respectability – does not lie upon the great Victorian and Edwardian translations – Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat, Burton’s Arabian Nights, Garnett’s Dostoevsky. Actually, I rather like Jowett’s translations of Plato, but the idea that success in translation depends upon the judgment of “experts” is just the type of thing that LI blindly dislikes.

The mass of Arnold’s criticism is a continual attempt to clean the sink – getting rid of the vulgar wherever it showed itself. Unfortunately, literature has an unfortunate addiction to vulgarity. Only sieved through the proper filters, those scholars at Oxford who, by the sympathetic magic of contact with the wealthy and aristocratic, are themselves respectable, can such things be enjoyed. This is how Arnold starts off his essay on Keats. It is an essay that almost makes one wish old Matt was still alive – so he could take a good punch in the nose. I am going to quote four grafs:
Poetry, according to Milton's famous saying, should be 'simple, sensuous, impassioned.' No one can question the eminency, in Keats's poetry, of the quality of sensuousness. Keats as a poet is abundantly and enchantingly sensuous; the question with some people will be, whether he is anything else. Many things may be brought forward which seem to show him as under the fascination and sole dominion of sense, and desiring nothing better. There is the exclamation in one of his letters: 'O for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts!' There is the thesis, in another, 'that with a great Poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.' There is Haydon's story of him, how 'he once covered his tongue and throat as far as he could reach with Cayenne pepper, in order to appreciate the delicious coldness of claret in all its glory---his own expression.' One is not much surprised when Haydon further tells us, of the hero of such a story, that once for six weeks together he was hardly ever sober. 'He had no decision of character,' Haydon adds; 'no object upon which to direct his great powers.'
Character and self-control, the virtus verusque labor so necessary for every kind of greatness, and for the great artist, too, indispensable, appear to be wanting, certainly, to this Keats of Haydon's portraiture. They are wanting also to the Keats of the Letters to Fanny Brawne. These letters make as unpleasing an impression as Haydon's anecdotes. The editor of Haydon's journals could not well omit what Haydon said of his friend, but for the publication of the Letters to Fanny Brawne I can see no good reason whatever. Their publication appears to me, I confess, inexcusable; they ought never to have been published. But published they are, and we have to take notice of them. Letters written when Keats was near his end, under the throttling and unmanning grasp of mortal disease, we will not judge. But here is a letter written some months before he was taken ill. It is printed just as Keats wrote it.
'You have absorb'd me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving---I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. I should be afraid to separate myself far from you. My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will it? I have no limit now to my love. ... Your note came in just here. I cannot be happier away from you. 'Tis richer than an Argosy of Pearles. Do not threat me even in jest. I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion---I have shuddered at it. I shudder no more---I could be martyred for my Religion---Love is my religion---I could die for that. I could die for you. My Creed is Love and you are its only tenet. You have ravished me away by a Power I cannot resist; and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often "to reason against the reasons of my Love" I can do that no more---the pain would be too great. My love is selfish. I cannot breathe without you.'
A man who writes love-letters in this strain is probably predestined, one may observe, to misfortune in his love-affairs; but that is nothing. The complete enervation of the writer is the real point for remark. We have the tone, or rather the entire want of tone, the abandonment of all reticence and all dignity, of the merely sensuous man, of the man who 'is passion's slave.' Nay, we have them in such wise that one is tempted to speak even as Blackwood or the Quarterly were in the old days wont to speak; one is tempted to say that Keats's love-letter is the love-letter of a surgeon's apprentice. It has in its relaxed self-abandonment something underbred and ignoble, as of a youth ill brought up, without the training which teaches us that we must put some constraint upon our feelings and upon the expression of them. It is the sort of love-letter of a surgeon's apprentice which one might hear read out in a breach of promise case, or in the Divorce Court.”

LI can find nothing to mock in this passage, so superbly does it mock itself – from the Miltonic flourish of earnestness with which Arnold falsely associates himself – Milton himself, with his most vulgar whooping it up for the death of Charles I, would certain have met with the schoomaster’s frown – to that final ending up in the Divorce Court. To write your love letter with an eye to posterity seems to be Arnold’s ideal. It is the ideal of a Gentleman’s tailor – if we are going to exchange status jabs – who takes his bride out to meet his clients. It is Arnold to the t.

Interestingly, the way in which Arnold rescues Keats’ seriousness is by showing that Keats could insult women. Misogyny is, in Arnold’s view, a step in the right direction. No underbreeding here.
“It is curious to observe how this severe addiction of his to the best sort of poetry affects him with a certain coldness, as if the addiction had been to mathematics, towards those prime objects of a sensuous and passionate poet's regard, love and women. He speaks of 'the opinion I have formed of the generality of women, who appear to me as children to whom I would rather give a sugar-plum than my time.' He confesses 'a tendency to class women in my books with roses and sweetmeats---they never see themselves dominant'; and he can understand how the unpopularity of his poems may be in part due to 'the offence which the ladies,' not unnaturally 'take at him' from this cause. Even to Fanny Brawne he can write 'a flint-worded letter,' when his 'mind is heaped to the full' with poetry:--- 'I know the generality of women would hate me for this; that I should have so unsoftened, so hard a mind as to forget them; forget the brightest realities for the dull imaginations of my own brain. ... My heart seems now made of iron---I could not write a proper answer to an invitation to Idalia.'
The truth is that 'the yearning passion for the Beautiful,' which was with Keats, as he himself truly says, the master-passion, is not a passion of the sensuous or sentimental man, is not a passion of the sensuous or sentimental poet. It is an intellectual and spiritual passion. It is 'connected and made one,' as Keats declares that in his case
it was, 'with the ambition of the intellect.'”

Arnold’s gross and naked transposition of his status anxieties into a criteria for knowledge, or into a standard of judgment on art, makes it a puzzle, to LI, how he ever acquired the reputation that he undoubtedly has. I suppose one of these days we will have to read Trilling’s study of the guy.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...