Saturday, February 24, 2007

I am finishing up a project that has powderized the marrow from my bones and snuffed it up its big fat nose. So, no big post today, no flapping of my dusty moth wings against the infamies of empire. No rousing and pointless charges at my usual tilts. Instead, go to this link, which is about something capitalism is getting right for a change: the google book project! I have a tragic and total love for the google book project. Gots to testify, here, friend, neighbors, mooks and gibberers! As a editor and researcher for hire, this project has certainly revolutionized my life and given me a stiff neck from hours of searching for hire. I haven’t used this blog to advertise myself, lately, or shill for buckos, but let’s just say LI is an early adapter, and well worth the pittance if you are in need of a research scout for that paper.

Friday, February 23, 2007

good news (again) in Iraq

As LI has said before, there is something curiously hollow about the Bush administration’s policy stated aim of victory in Iraq. On the one hand, we already won – you will remember the Saddam Hussein hanging. On the other hand, we are still there, fighting for something. Often, that something is simply conflated with “defeating Al Qaeda.” It is an interesting policy – one perhaps stemming from Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable - that seeks to protect the Iraqis from Al Qaeda while allowing Al Qaeda to regroup and party in Pakistan. Is this due to the saintliness of our president? Bravely trying to wrestle the control of the White House plane away from the pilot on 9/11/2001 so he could go mano a mano with the terrorist fiends, did Bush’s thoughts drift to the potential danger to the Iraqis – in Kirkuk, Mosul, Basra, Baghdad and all of those cities he had difficulty finding on a map – from an Al Qaeda that didn’t exactly exist in Iraq, but could, if America didn’t challenge them by inviting them in and then fighting them interminably.

Well, that’s our president. Even when he was knee high to a grasshopper, he was always in a sweat about Iraqis. Were they happy? Was their burning yearning for liberty being satisfied? Were there enough of them happily vacationing (in that funny way Iraqis vacation – they bring all their money, as many possessions as they can, and their families) in Jordan and Syria? Even then, he knew that when he grew up, he would protect them against the terrorists that he invited into their country and win a big victory and go down in history as one of our great presidents, like George Washington – except with better teeth.

Now that the British have started to withdraw from Basra, our Vice President has remarked that this is good news. This is all about success in Iraq. So now, at least, we can catch a glimpse of what victory means – what the Iraq of our dreams is going to look like. That’s why readers should go to Patrick Cockburn’s report in the Independent. It is a heady thing, victory, and this is what we are fighting for:

The British forces had a lesson in the dangers of provoking the heavily armed local population when six British military police were killed in Majar al-Kabir on 24 June 2003. During the uprising of Mehdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr in 2004, British units were victorious in several bloody clashes in Amara, the capital of Maysan province.

But in the elections in January 2005, lauded by Mr Blair this week, Sciri became the largest party in Basra followed by Fadhila, followers of the Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, the father of Muqtada al-Sadr. The lat-ter’s supporters became the largest party in Maysan.
Mr Cordesman says the British suffered political defeat in the provincial elections of 2005, and lost at the military level in autumn of the same year when increased attacks meant they they could operate only through armoured patrols. Much-lauded military operations, such as “Corrode” in May 2006, did not alter the balance of forces.

Mr Cordesman’s gloomy conclusions about British defeat are confirmed by a study called “The Calm before the Storm: The British Experience in Southern Iraq” by Michael Knights and Ed Williams, published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Comparing the original British ambitions with present reality the paper concludes that “instead of a stable, united, law-abiding region with a representative government and police primacy, the deep south is unstable, factionalised, lawless, ruled as a kleptocracy and subject to militia primacy”.

Local militias are often not only out of control of the Iraqi government, but of their supposed leaders in Baghdad. The big money earner for local factions is the diversion of oil and oil products, with the profits a continual source of rivalry and a cause of armed clashes. Mr Knights and Mr Williams say that control in the south is with a “well-armed political-criminal Mafiosi [who] have locked both the central government and the people out of power”.

The war’s supporters, of course, have reason to feel smug. Our long nightmare is over. As a people, Americans – rich and poor, black and white – have, for over a decade, been clamoring for an Iraq ruled by Sciri and Sadr. It is all that we talk about. Sometimes we entertain ourselves with a few celebrity deaths or haircuts, but here in the States – I’m writing this down so that readers overseas get a feel for the American reality – conversations about money, sex, jobs invariably drift to that dreamy moment when your average American says, I don’t care how much money it takes or how much blood, I want to see an Shi’a fundamentalism take control in Mesopotamia – it is a long held childhood dream, actually! Then Americans get all misty eyed, thinking about how they can die happy if only things go the right way in Kirkuk.

One thing you have to say about this country – we are willing to sacrifice any amount of Iraqi blood to make our dreams come true. It is the way we are. Morally superior to the rest of the world. Which is why GOD has promised us victory, damn it, and we are going to reach for it!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

fightin' al qaeda at abu ghraib

“I beg you, let us establish from the start as the solid bases of any such system,” said Verneuil, that in the intentions of nature there is necessarily one class of individuals essentially subordinate to the other by weakness and by birth: given this, if the subject sacrificed by the individual who gives himself up to his passions belongs to this weak and deficient class, then the sacrificer has no more done anything evil than the owner of a farm who kills his pig.” – D.A.F. de Sade, quoted in Luc Boltanski’s Distant Suffering.

Boltanski’s book has a section devoted to the pure spectator. He uses painting and its placement to illustrate the evolution of the spectator, and his erasure from the painting. In Florence, the paintings that depicted the tortures of the damned were placed in chambers of justice where the tortures of the living – the criminals – were enacted. “The works analysed by Edgerton which represent the Last Judgment (or, in the upper part a Last Judgement and, in the lower part, a trial and execution) are not directed at a spectator who contemplates them for pleasure. These pictures, which are sometimes displayed in the rooms where the tribunals are held or in the chapels of places of detention (like the Bargello in Florence), place the prisoner before the sufferings awaiting him in the hereafter and also – the demonic cruelties reproducing farily exactly the procedures of interrogation and execution in force in Renaissance Italian towns – before those due to him and soon to be inflicted on him in the world below. They have meaning only in an active relationship with the culprit who, exposed to what they illustrate, must find the way to contrition.”

This, of course, reminds LI of the dialogue between Mr. Shiftlet and the old lady in The Life you Save May be Your Own:

“"I told you you could hang around and work for food," she said, "if you don't mind sleeping in that car yonder."
"Why listen, Lady," he said with a grin of delight, "the monks of old slept in their coffins!"
"They wasn't as advanced as we are," the old woman said.”

How advanced we are comes home to this reader from Alessandra Stanley’s review, more in sadness than in anger, of “The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.” The sadness, of course, is for the lack of good old American know-how:

“The problem with the Fox thriller “24” is not that it justifies torture but that it fosters the illusion that the American government is good at it.

The practices of Abu Ghraib suggest the opposite. The mystery of that shameful episode was not the cruelty of American troops assigned there. After the initial disbelief over the obscene snapshots, their smile-for-the-camera barbarity turned out to be another painful reminder that the banality of evil has no borders.
The real puzzle is why the administration, which argued that the war against terror required extreme interrogation techniques — the kind critics call torture — would then entrust such measures to untrained amateurs.”

Now, of course, it is rather banal to condemn torture. But Stanley’s idea of spiffying up the tired subject by taking a “we can surely torture better than this” approach to Abu Ghraib does have a way of revealin’ just how fuckin’ advanced this great, this moral, this benign superpower has become. From Stanley’s tone, one can tell that if she was at Abu Ghraib, why she would have been producing memos about better torture techniques left and right. Why, just the introduction of some of those lovely power tools you can purchase at home depot for those basement repairs would come in handy! But no, it strikes her that her country is letting her down in the torture department.

But the raw material never ceases to shock. How is it that a government that took such bold steps to reinterpret the Geneva Conventions and update the rules of combat did not pay closer attention to how its policy changes were carried out on the ground?

The Pentagon didn’t even manage to shield the worst excesses from public view.

The power of photography was yet another forgotten lesson of Vietnam, one relatively easy for the military to have remembered. If school principals can ban cellphones from the classroom, it seems strange — or reckless — that generals did not apply the same common sense and forbid cameras inside top-security cellblocks.”

The future Stanley guide to the subject (7 highly efficient tortures for highly efficient soldiers!) will certainly advise against those cameras!

“If there were no photographs, there would be no Abu Ghraib, no investigation,” says Javal Davis, an M.P. interviewed on camera who was court-martialed and sentenced to six months in prison on charges of prisoner abuse. “It would have been, ‘O.K., whatever, everybody go home.’ ”

However, though Stanley’s concern that the torturing business in the U.S. needs a definite overhaul – dental drills, front and center! – we beg to differ on the picture issue. For what signals total domination more than being able to take a picture, any time any where, of a subject? Here the world surely closes in. The Florentines, it turns out, just wasn’t advanced like we are, digital cameras in hand. If Boltanski is right to connect the evaporation of the spectator from within the picture to the pure spectatorship of the bourgeois era, starting in the 18th century – a cooler relationship that prefigures tv – the Abu Ghraib pics might just figure the foreclosing of the possibility that Iraqis could be spectators – our form of subjectivity in these here states, gimme the channel changer would ya, honey – and that, in turn, would be perfectly consonant with their erasure from the Iraq story as it is reported, day after day, in the newspapers. I notice that the NYT published, today, on the same day as Ms. Stanley gets depressed about America’s torture deficit, an op ed about the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq that goes on and on as if the occupiers were just the most popular things with the Iraqis since clay bricks. That even the Pentagon’s polls have shown, for years, that a majority of Iraqis approve of attacks on the coalition troops, that they overwhelmingly support withdrawal, is one of those cutting room sequences. There is a buncha those piled up on the floor, from what the Iraqi government thinks of Iran’s interference in Iraq (they are trying to get more of it, as every Iraqi politician who has traveled to Teheran has been saying for three years) to the popularity of free enterprise reform in Iraq (overwhelmingly rejected by the population).

So, as we blissfully ignore what the Iraqis say, we torture them to give us Intelligence. Not that we could fuckin' understand it if they gave it. The motherfuckers insist on speaking Arabic.

But let’s let Ms. Stanley, valiantly getting bi-partisan about the torture issue (some are for it, some agin – but us advanced folk are willing to look on both sides) have the last word:

““Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” will appall and sadden viewers worried about human rights and international law. But it will be just as discouraging for those who believe that the danger posed by Al Qaeda trumps even those humanitarian concerns.

Abu Ghraib wasn’t just a moral failure, it was a strategic setback in the war against terror.”

“That danger from Al Qaeda” – yes, that is just just jjjjust why we are in Iraq! It is simply bliss to be alive at a time of such record levels of cretinism. I’m going to die of being so tickled every day.

check out lumpenprofessoriat on the love boat to mesopotamia

A friend of mine has started a blog, and has a nice, rabble rousing post up for today. Check out lumpenprofessoriat! LP argues that we can see the outpouring of love, love, love in the wreck and murder of Iraq: “Love of country, love of freedom, love of the troops, and love for the victims of 9/11 becomes transformed into the injustice and evil of shock and awe, of Abu Ghraib, and of the hundreds of thousands dead in Iraq. This seems to fit well with both the experience and rhetoric of the war to date where noble sentiments and endless shit have marched hand in hand.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

a post that bristles with references like a porcupine bristles with spikes

“Let’s be clear. There is simple ass kissing, and there is metaphorical ass kissing.” –Rameau.

The dialogue between Diderot and Rameau’s nephew seems, like a normal conversation, to touch on one thing and then another. The theme of it, though, keeps returning to Rameau – how he lives, and how he lives with himself. Rameau is a flatterer, a backbiter, a crook (escroc), a go-between, a lover of good food and riches. But he is also endowed with good taste, or at least steady, classical taste – he doesn’t delude himself about the quality of Voltaire’s work, but he does comfort himself with the badness of the worst of Voltaire's moral character. To illustrate his world, he tells several anecdotes. Now,the curious thing about these anecdotes is that they operate as a test. It gradually becomes clear that there is a competition, a game, going on between Diderot, the moi in the dialogue, and Rameau, the lui.

What is this game?

It is a test we all go through as kids: the test of disgust. The test, as it happens on the playground, consists of being told something disgusting, or being the witness of something disgusting, and not giving vent to any sentiment, any shrinking, any shame. LI is not, by the way, trying to disparage this particular sequence of our common education. There is something that pisses me off about people who are too particular, too grossed out about blood and shit and the whole general stink of life – the full diaper, the squashed cockroach.

So let's not load the dice. I have zigzagged against the buffoon, but this swerve should be seen within a dialectical history of the disappearance of the sage. Look at this as a plea for the counterbalance, as well as an indictment for social murder.

Perhaps there is something in this playground test that is particularly male – although I’m cautious about this kind of gender generalization. In William Miller’s anatomy of disgust, he quotes the case of the wild boy of Aveyron, reported by Doctor Itard: ‘The well documented early nineteenth century wild boy of Aveyron had no sense of pure and impure, was extraordinarily filthy, was not “toilet trained”, and clearly disgusted Jean Itard, the doctor who supervised him and to whom we owe our knowledge of the case. Itard’s evidence, however, is not without some problems. Although the boy would sniff like an animal at everything no matter how malodorous, he would not eat everything. “A dead canary was given him, and in an instant he stripped off its feathers, great and small, tore it open with his nails, smelt it, and threw it away” The boy was not exactly omnivorous. He was initially willing to eat a canary, but this particular canary had an unappetizing odor. Certain odors might indeed have disgusted him, although his aversion might have been more simply constituted, that is, it might have given rise to no thoughts of contamination and pollution. We would surely like to know how he felt about his hands after discarding the bird.” Contamination [Ansteckung] is, in fact, the word Hegel uses to speak of one moment in the struggle of Enlightenment – borne by an intelligence that is founded on universal principles, and yet confronts, as an individual, the belief of the masses – as it carries out its social strategy of stripping belief from its supports: “The communication of the pure intelligence [Einsicht – understanding] is thus comparable to that of a scent in an unresisting atmosphere. It is a penetrating contamination, which does nothing at first to call attention to itself against the indifferent element, in which it insinuates itself, and thus cannot be guarded against. Only when the contamination has spread is it something for the consciousness, that had carelessly permitted it.”

Thus, in one sense the Nephew of Rameau recapitulates a primal, playground scene, the moment in which shame and shamelessness engage in a ritual contest. However, there are limits to a test that is so structured that victory must go to the shameless. These limits are embodied in the moment that the surrounding silence, the spectatorial silence, the silence of accommodation, is broken. The ‘consciousness’ – which in this passage in Hegel is embodied in the institutions of the state, the church, and the third power of the bourgeoisie – finally reacts. In so reacting, they claim dominion over shame itself. But the Café de la Regence lies, for a moment, outside of those institutions. While the pure intelligence of chess (a use of virtuosity about which Diderot was doubtful) is being played around our pair, the game of shamelessness procedes without witnesses, so to speak, allowing Rameau to bare not only himself, but the shamemaking institutions themselves, and the political strategy they have taken against the ‘contamination’ of the enlightenment philosophes. This is the beginning of a wobble – that wobble which, in the history of the pairing of the buffoon and the sage, will eventually turn the buffoon against the sage and, at the same time, seem to ordain the sage’s place for the buffoon. Diderot represents both himself as the philosophe, being half jokingly led through this trial (and getting in his own strokes as well) and the common sense, the massed, silent witness, which is the aftermath that supposedly belongs to the writer – although the trajectory of the manuscript of the Nephew of Rameau provides an ironic commentary on that writerly certainty. As Jacques D. once wrote, in an essay on Poe’s Purloined Letter, another story about the competition between shame and shamelessness – about provocation as an instrument of power - "a letter can always not arrive at its destination".

the true victims of the Iraq war - some of them not wearing underwear

Here’s an article that probes that American concern, anguish really, about war, peace, and freedom, and the death of half a million Iraqis, and the flight of at least two million so far. And - impressively - it turns out that the big victims here, the real victims, are Americans. The stories of going to Europe and being victimized are just heartbreaking. People, good people, are being treated meanly! In Europe!

An excerpt:

“Jacqie Venable, a 40-year-old music producer, was wearing a beret and jeans. She said she wasn’t wearing underwear.

She said the war in Iraq was meant to happen “karmically.”

“In my spiritual picture, it has to do with karma,” she said. “Everything that happens in life, to each of us, is what we call into our space. Everything comes full circle. So right now, it’s going to work out to whatever it works out to be. It might be happy for me and not happy for you.

“The people who are there fighting—it’s their journey. This is our journey,” she continued. “People are dying all around the world. Forget Iraq—they’re dying in this country. And their parents are suffering with them, and our parents suffer for us because we’re at Bungalow. There is no separation in the trauma.”

The guy who wrote it, incidentally, George Gurley, also did the drooling piece over Ann Coulter in the Obs.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


This is from Ashton’s The History of Gambling in England. It is what Ivan Karamazov would call an allegory. Yes, for LI, there is something about this story of drunken hanging that reminds me of the paired destiny of the buffoon and the sage, this thread that I have been following – into my own asshole, certain cruel readers might say. No – into even drier gulches of history than that.

"The Annual Register about this time supplies us with several gambling anecdotes, the following being almost incredible: 15th April, 1812 – “On Wednesday evening an extraordinary investigation took place at Bow Street. Croker, the officer, was passing along the Haampstead road, when he observed, at a short distance before him, two men on a wall, and , directly after, saw the tallest of them, a stout man, about six feet high, hanging by his neck, from a lamp post attached to the wall, being that instant tied up and turned off by the short man. This unexpected and extraordinary sight astonished the officer; he made up to the spot with all speed; and, just after he arrived there the tall man, who had been hanged, fell to the ground, the handkechief, with which he had been suspended, having given way. Croker produced his staff, said he was an officer, and demanded to know of the other man the cause of such conduct. In the meantime, the man who had been hanged recovered, got up, and, on Croker’s interfering, gave him a violent blow on the nose, which nearly knocked him backwards. The short man was endeavouring to make offl however, the officer procured assistance, and both were brout to the office, when the account they gave was that they worked on the canals. They had been together on Wednesday afternoon, tossed up for money, and afterwards for clothes; the tall man who was hanged,won the other’s jacket, trousers and shoes; they then tossed up which should hang the other, and the short one won the toss. They got upon the wall, the one to submit, and the other to hang him on the lamp iron. They both agreed to this statement. The tall one, who would have been hanged, said, if he had won the toss, he would have hanged the other. He said he then felt the effects of his hanging in the neck, and his eyes were so much swelled he saw double. The magistrates expressed their horror and disgust, and ordered the man who had been hanged to find bail for the violent and unjustifiable assault on the officer, and the short one for hanging the other. Not having bail, they were committed to Bridewell for trial.”

If the short man and the tall man weren’t named Estragon and Vladimir, fate missed a trick.

Surely it is odd that LI is railing, in these posts, against the buffoon, when this is the same LI that claims to be lead, as if by supernatural light of the muse of ludicrousness, through the shadow of the valley of the moronic inferno I call my own country, my life and times. However, what I want to know is why, of the sage and the buffoon, the moi and the lui of Rameau’s nephew, only the buffoon made it into the present – and how it came about that the sage has been so utterly throttled by circumstances. What was the toss about? What were the stakes? How did they meet (illmet) and how did they part (one alone)? So, these are the questions, which I’m laying out like a deck of cards in this game of solitaire.

The key to the conversation of Rameau’s nephew is shamelessness – that most dialectical of attitudes. Shamelessness not only assumes shame, but it also assumes innocence – but only as a supreme lie. The lie of innocence is embodied in the peculiar way in which Rameau’s nephew not only speaks, but pantomimes – as if word and act were indivisible, which is indeed how a child has to learn to speak. It is later that we ignore the act of the tongue. Yet the charm of the pantomime is fully intended – Rameau’s nephew is nothing if not intentional in all things, even as he is described as being self-contradictory and a ball of contradictions. Shamelessness has become his strategy – just as it is the strategy of Sade’s fuckers. Shamelessness, vanity and flattery are the circuit of acts and attitudes in which Rameau has his existence, and they collectively have a political value. One that is fairly new. The ideology of the old right, the legitimist or the Tory, is about tradition and order – but the new right, that represented by Rameau, is about provocation. What takes shape here is a foretaste of the system that dominates us now, the mixture of shamelessness and outrage by which we drift over the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and howl at, say, the nasty language of bloggers. To use the U.S. for one example – but the same thing happens in Italy, in France, in the U.K.

A couple more posts on this and then I have done.

Monday, February 19, 2007

two trillion dollars - where is that pesky wabbit?

As LI has written again and again and again, there is no war on terrorism, and President Backbone is its prophet. Nothing changed, for the White House, on 9/11. Not a damned thing. Garbage in has meant garbage, oh so much of it, out. So much movement around so much stasis. This lovely article from the NYT gives us an exciting glimpse into the future that was decided when the U.S. “allowed” Osama Who to escape in 2001. Now, let’s see. In the past six years, conservatively, the U.S. has spent two trillion dollars are “defense”, and Mr. Who has spent maybe a cool million or two becoming a video star. And the end result of that is, as anybody would have expected from the unparalleled criminality of our Little Caesars in D.C. – that Osama is becoming the Toyota of terrorists. Moving up fast!

As recently as 2005, American intelligence assessments described senior leaders of Al Qaeda as cut off from their foot soldiers and able only to provide inspiration for future attacks. But more recent intelligence describes the organization’s hierarchy as intact and strengthening.
“The chain of command has been re-established,” said one American government official, who said that the Qaeda “leadership command and control is robust.”
American officials and analysts said a variety of factors in Pakistan had come together to allow “core Al Qaeda” — a reference to Mr. bin Laden and his immediate circle — to regain some of its strength. The emergence of a relative haven in North Waziristan and the surrounding area has helped senior operatives communicate more effectively with the outside world via courier and the Internet.
The investigation into last summer’s failed plot to bomb airliners in London has led counterterrorism officials to what they say are “clear linkages” between the plotters and core Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. American analysts point out that the trials of terrorism suspects in Britain revealed that some of the defendants had been trained in Pakistan.

eine kleine Hegelmusik

In the Phenomenology, Hegel introduces some of the dialogue from Rameau’s nephew in the section on the “self alienated spirit”. Here, the social conditions that frame the dialectical image embodied, eventually, in the “myself” and “him” of the dialogue are State Power and Wealth. They inevitably impinge upon “Bildung” – education, the development of the intelligence (Einsicht) – and there is no resigning from them, or turning away from them. Since State Power and Wealth are, indeed, the spirits that preside over our current miseries, the current sad state of American culture, American aggression, American cluelessness – the whole D.C. daisy chain – the dialogue between the sage and the buffoon takes on a whole new relevance. One has only to read, say, in the Friday Washington Post a profile of Michelle Malkin by Howard Kurz entitled Hard Right Punch to see how the transaction between decency (o decency), the false transparency of the media, and buffoonery plays out in these dire days of the mock apocalypse, how we are invited to suffer, and do suffer, as comments galore demonstrate, for the victimization of the wealthy. In the course of the article, a homespun little piece in the genre of here's looking at you kid, it is reported that “after a few liberal sites posted her home address and phone numbers last year, Malkin received a wave of harassing calls. She responded with a defiant post, headlined "I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU." Malkin and her family have moved elsewhere in Maryland” jostles, without comment, next to this description of Malkin’s rise to notoriety: (“Malkin's detractors -- whom she derides as "moonbats" -- were further riled by her book "In Defense of Internment," in which she said the confining of Japanese Americans during World War II was justified, and backed racial profiling as a vital tool against terrorism”) The opinion is driven by, with the aplomb of a person who knows that he will never have to give up his house because of his race - ah, that wonderful superiority of it all. Of course, moving Japanese families out of their homes and behind barbed wire is a question that is up in the air – was it a good thing? a bad thing? and what is the ideological slant of those who are “riled” by the defense of it?. This is neutrality pleased at its own shamelessness, the view from nowhere that just happens to look exactly like the view from the cancer zone of the status quo, with its mortgages up the asshole and its soldier f/x on tv - this is the voice of the sage, except that the dividing line, the wall, has been lost that separates it from the voice of the buffoon. Or rather, the sage has become completely vacuous, found no relation to wealth and state power that would preserve its own in-itselfness, the potential to become a beggar in a brothel - no, rather the buffoon multiplies and becomes both the sage and the interviewee, the reporter and the provacateur, the producer and the propagandist, the politician and his campaign consultant. The orgy of the minimal self, armed with the orgy of the maximal weapon - such is the environment in which the sage has vanished.

Hegel sets the stage for the entrance of the buffoon – as I am calling this figure – by giving us a history of the relationship between the state and the noble spirit, which is the spirit of “heroic” service: (this is the J.N. Findley translation).

“State-power has, therefore, still at this stage no will to oppose the advice, and does not decide between the different opinions as to what is universally the best. It is not yet governmental control, and on that account is in truth not yet real state-power. Individual self-existence, the possession of an individual will that is not yet qua will surrendered, is the inner secretly reserved spiritual principle of the various classes and stations, a spirit which keeps for its own behoof what suits itself best, in spite of its words about the universal best, and tends to make this clap-trap about what is universally the best a substitute for action bringing it about. The sacrifice of existence, which takes place in the case of service, is indeed complete when it goes so far as death. But the endurance of the danger of death which the individual survives, leaves him still a specific kind of existence, and hence a particular self-reference; and this makes the counsel imparted in the interests of the universally best ambiguous and open to suspicion; it really means, in point of fact, retaining the claim to a private opinion of his own, and a separate individual will as against the power of the state. Its relation to the latter is, therefore, still one of discordance; and it possesses the characteristic found in the case of the base type of consciousness — it is ever at the point of breaking out into rebellion.”

In our case, us in these here states, the individual, at least the individual as interviewee, both promotes the risk society and survives it pretty well - as indeed do the soldiers who are privileged to fight for the interviewee. In fact, the win win only breaks down on the margines, with the fought-for - the terrorized/terrorist masses. They are, however, not interviewees, and so have an ambiguous status. Heroic service has become properly commoditized, and thus a new form of reconciliation between state power and the noble spirit becomes possible: state power pretends to be two things, a self-abnegating force that only wants to diminish itself into small government with all its heart and soul, and a universal abstraction representing liberty that requires being able to build enough missiles and host enough armed servicemen to destroy vast tracts of the world – while nobility becomes a mere position filled in by a meritocracy that embodies clap-trap (Geschwätze), which has found a way to make every sacrifice turns into profit in its hands – a miracle much more impressive than the loaves and the fishes.

Hegel supposes that the noble self, defining itself by a mortal sacrifice and thereby preserving itself, is genealogically precedent to the alienation of the self that is the condition of the rise of state power:

“It comes thereby to be actually what it is implicitly — the identical unity of self with its opposed self. In this way, by the inner withdrawn and secret spiritual principle, the self as such, coming forward and abrogating itself, the state-power becomes ipso facto raised into a proper self of its own; without this estrangement of self the deeds of honour, the actions of the noble type of consciousness, and the counsels which its insight reveals, would continue to maintain the ambiguous character which, as we saw, kept that secret reserve of private intention and self-will, in spite of its overt pretensions.” In this way we come to language in the age of the self-divided self – and to Rameau’s nephew. Which we will return to at some future post.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

the setting

“No matter if the weather is fair or foul, it is my habit to talk a walk, at five in the evening, to the Palais-Royal.” This is how Diderot begins Rameau’s Nephew. With a walk.

For the sage, the regular walk is important. Kant, that indefatigable commenter on all things under the sun, noted the importance of the walk to the scholar in The Conflict of the Faculties under the heading: “On Pathological Feelings that Come from Thinking at Unsuitable Times”. “Thinking – whether in the form of study (reading books) or reflection (meditation and discovery) is a scholar’s food: and when he is wide awake and alone, he cannot live without it. But if he taxes his energy by occupying himself with a specific thought when he is eating or walking, he inflicts two tasks on himself at the same time – on the head and the stomach or on the head and the feet; and in the first place this brings on hypochondria, in the second, vertigo.” In a note, Kant distinguishes (Kant indefatiguably distinguishes – this guy is the very Prince of distinguishers) thinking from what should be occurring in the head of our non-multi-tasker during the walk: ‘When a man of studious habits goes for a walk alone, it is hard for him to refrain from entertaining himself with his own reflections. But if he engages in strenuous thinking during his walk, he will soon be exhausted, whereas if he gives himself over to the free play of imagination, the motion will refresh him – the reports of others whom I asked about this confirm my own experience. If in addition to thinking he also engages in conversation while he is walking, he will be even more fatigues, so that he will soon have to sit down to continue with his play of thought. The purpose of walking in the open air is precisely to keep one’s attention moving from one object to another and so to keep it from becoming fixed on any one object.” The Man in the Crowd might disagree with the prospect of health Kant holds out here, for it is precisely the habit of not becoming fixed on any one object, but on one after another, on the crowd itself, on a multiplication of objects, that has brought the man in Poe’s story down in the world – made him into a human fiend.

Diderot, on the other hand, is going off to the Palais-Royal, a section of Paris built up by the Regent, the Duc D’Orleans, containing shops, restaurants, and a garden. The theater of the Comedie Francaise was there – recently, Palissot’s play, Les Philosophes, which mocked, among others, Diderot, had been put on there – and Café de la Régence was located in the garden. There was a cannon in the garden, too, that was fired by means of the light focused by a large magnifying glass, to announce the hours – the kind of clever toy that delighted the enlightened soul. Mercier, in the Tableau of Paris, devotes a chapter to the Palais-Royal, which he claims is “precisely the spot which Plato would have assigned the captive, in order to retain him without a jailer, and without violence, by the voluntary chains of pleasure…” – which I believe is a distant reference to the myth of the cave. Mercier bemoans the fact that people walk in the Palais Royal when they could have much more philosophical walks in gardens of the Palace of Luxemberg – “Whilst the Palais Royal is crowded with courtesans and libertines, the Luxemburg presents a quiet philosophic walk, and is only frequented by honest citizens with their decent families.” No doubt, the Luxemburg would have been preferred by Kant – but this is the difference between Kant and the French philosophes.

The Café de la Régence, which is where Diderot ends up, meeting by chance the nephew of the famous musician, Rameau, was a famous spot for chess players. The greatest chess player of the time, Philador, played there. Paul Metzner, in his book, Crescendo of the Virtuoso: Spectacle, Skill and Self Promotion in Paris during the age of revolution devotes a chapter to the chess players of the Café de la Regence. The place was owned by a chess amateur, M. de Kermur, sire de Légal: “For countless years he sat in the same chair and wore the same green coat, taking large quantities of snuff and attracting a crowd with his equally brilliant conversation and combinations. He had already established his reputation as the best in France when Philidor first walked into the Regence in 1740, and he continued playing into the 1780s, his own eighties, without ever having to acknowledge a superior, although he lost at least one match.” Philidor learned how to play blindfold matches from Legal, although the latter did not often do this himself.

Well, now we have a setting for the dialogue.


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...