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Showing posts from March 26, 2006
The man made a mess of things. He got all balled up with Christ. He made a white marriage. He had one son die of tuberculosis, the other shoot himself. He only rode his own space once—Moby-Dick. He had to be wild or he was nothing in particular. He had to go fast, like an American, or he was all torpor. Half horse half alligator. – Charles Olson The writer no more creates writing than the electrician creates electricity. Invisible currents move at their own speed, out there, among unknown elements – and the writer merely captures a bit of that invisible world in the poor conductors available to him, and measures it and deludes others – though not himself – that he made the conductor, the current, the speeds and fluctuations. New, yes, to our science, but not to that invisible world itself. Nothing is new or old, there. So … I received a salutary shock, much like that given to Franklin by the key tied on the wet kite string, from a paragraph I wrote today about ghost stories. Making a p

the unlucky world part two

(See previous post) Or so I would think. But Jo Bath and John Newton’s Sensible Proof of Spirits essay makes the story much less straightforward. Bath and Newton show how the ghost became a disputed site in seventeenth century England, taken up by intellectuals like Glanvill and More as part of a larger defense of Christian belief. But it is a mistake to infer that Glanvill and More were defending tradition – for B & N make clear, an old, unsystematic belief in ghosts was changed by their use in the intellectual “game” of defending a Christian order against a perceived threat. “By the early seventeenth century there were signs that the confessional divide upon this issue was becoming increasingly blurred as scholars and clerics, “reluctant to discard visible spirits altogether,” admitted the possibility of ghostly visitation (Thomas 1971, 705). John Aubrey records that as early as the 1590s, “when [William Twisse] was a School-boy atWinchester, [he] saw the Phantoˆme of a School fe

the unlucky world

According to an essay by Arthur Machen (the English ghost story writer who fascinates Javier Marias, the great Spanish novelist), Grimaldi, the most famous clown of Regency England, was performing one night in 1803 in a play called “A Bold Stroke for a Wife” when he was told that there were two men waiting to see him at the stage door that led from the back of the theatre into the street. Grimaldi went to see what they wanted, and confronted two apparent strangers. One was in a white waistcoat, and had evidently been living in the tropics, such was the complexion of his skin. He greeted Grimaldi familiarly. Grimaldi was at a loss as to who this person was until the man unbuttoned his shirt and showed the clown a scar. The man was Grimaldi’s brother John. This was pretty amazing – John had supposedly gone down on a Naval ship years before. Grimaldi, of course, was overjoyed, and invited the men in. John’s companion demurred – and John, after giving him instructions on when they would m

defending the enlightenment from its defenders

Madeleine Bunting is a columnist for the Guardian who is against the war (yeah!) but is also soft on religion – so that she often goes after people who are against the war, like Richard Dawkins (not so yeah!). LI has been pretty amused, however, by the reaction to her recent thumbsucking piece about the Enlightenment. The piece goes in a rather predictable way for someone who wants to combine a general leftward leaningness with spirituality – Bunting is generally not happy with the Enlightenment. This has caused various pro-war people ( here ) and anti-religious people ( here ) to the projecting of thunderous batteries of spitballs at her. Actually, Bunting’s column comes at the enlightenment from a refreshingly unique angle, at least for a newspaper columnist : “Then I began bumping into the subject with Muslim intellectuals who were acutely aware of how this legacy was being used (implicitly or explicitly) against Islam. It was as if the debate had shifted from the Reformation - why

... ending with a fable

Les anecdotes les plus utiles et les plus précieuses sont les écrits secrets que laissent les grands princes, quand la candeur de leur âme se manifeste dans ces monuments – Voltaire Well, LI has no access to the secret history of Ibrahim Jafari – we are definitely lacking the crucial anecdotes. But we thought, what the hell, we’d trail the semi-invisible man through Factiva. Surely some major newspaper or magazine profiled the man who was the first Interim Council president and has been the prime minister for a year and a half. But … though you can find profiles of Chalabi and Allawi galore, though you can find all kinds of pics and interviews with Kenan Makiya, you will find Jafari quoted, entering the newstory picture, sometimes referenced (especially by Jim Hoagland, Chalabi’s agent on the Washington Post), a full profile of him, even some account of what he was doing in London for twenty years as the head of the Da’wa branch there is simply impossible to find. However, one thing is

first part: the story of da'wa

Distance posses spatial, temporal, cultural and even personal modes. The anthropologist Edward Hall, working in the vein of ecological epistemology that had its origin in studies done for the air force on air fighter and bomber crew reactions, even suggested a science of the near and far: proxemics. Newspapers and tv deal in various degrees of false proximity, which in itself is not a bad thing: after all, illusion surrounds even our most personal acquaintanceship with people and events Like the lovers in Max Ernst’s version of the kiss who wear bags over their heads, even at our closest we never quite know how far away we are. But …as LI has pointed out with the tedious industry of a woodpecker tearing through the bark of a tree at 5 a.m. outside your window – the problem with the Media coverage in Iraq is less about the good news and the bad news as it is about dealing in a self-created false proximity, omitting major parts of the news that simply don’t fit the American worldview –

praising galbraith

LI has been re-reading Galbraith’s The Affluent Society lately. It is part of our re-reading of a number of thinkers – Carson, Kapp, Karl Polanyi – who developed institutional economics into the premier tool of liberal thought. The ideas of these thinkers make contact with much of the “complexity” science stuff that the Santa Fe Institute investigates. Galbraith’s theme, in The Affluent Society, was to show how private affluence and public poverty – a poverty of the regulatory infrastructure, a poverty resulting from spreading pollution over the environment, a poverty within the healthcare and educational systems – coexisted in the United States. The United States was unique, at the time in which Galbraith wrote (1957) for its economic power and wealth, so it made a good test case for seeing how economics, embedded as the dominant value system within a society, grotesquely distorts that society. The worship of wealth itself, which has become the lingua franca of American society (and w

regulation and you -- LI only slightly bores its readers

LI has been reading about the immigration issue, and looking at the pics of the amazing demonstrations. And it occurred to us that, as a public service, we should pull out the patented LI-THEORY-OF-REGULATION to make sense of it all. (thank you, thank you, people in the back row, but that last tomato you hurled up here is not appreciated!) If you will remember, regulation is bounded by two ideal poles. One is an ideal of absolute unregulation (an impossibility, by the way, but conceptually necessary) and the other is banning. As the equilibrium of the regulation of a product or a service shifts towards the banning pole, certain questions must be asked – the most important of which is the ‘cost of banning.” A cost is an indicator of possibility – if a product or service costs so much to ban that it successfully would destroy or seriously damage the political system doing the regulating, this should make us re-consider banning. It is for this reason that LI has previously advocated lifti

whew is that pesky wabbit?

Sometimes, LI has to laugh at the NYT Magazine. We just loved this précis of the main article: “The Hunter-Gatherer: Seeking a better understanding of his place in nature and in the food chain, the author entered the woods of Northern California — with a gun.” With a gun! Imagine that. And I thought hunting had been extinct for the last four thousand years! No wonder the editors mistake Bush for a bold cowboy. But enough of that. The article to go to on this leisurely Sunday is Nancy Scheper-Hughes piece in Nacla on the modern art of body (part) snatching. In anthropological circles, and even a bit outside of them, Scheper-Hughes is famous for her books on violence: Death without Weeping: the Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil and Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics: Mental Illness in Rural Ireland . Her book on the illicit organ trade is coming out from Farrar Strauss – at least according to her site . If I were the editor of the NYT Mag, I would curse the fact that I’d let go the ar