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Showing posts from April 8, 2007

blasts from the past

Mike Davis has a new book out on the history of the car bomb. LI wanted to review this book, but we have fallen behind on our querying, and so … here it is April, and the book is already out there. But lucky internauts don’t have to spend no stinking money nowadays to get to the heart of the heart of it. Davis spun the book out of two articles he posted with Tom’s Dispatch, here and here. Davis is ragpicking history here – but what rags! His conceit – that the car bomb is the poor man’s bomber airplane – is one of those immediately clarifying images – especially for those who are familiar with Sven Lindquvist’s oneiric history of air bombing. Lindqvist did a lot of vampirehunting through the vaults in his book, ranging through the dream images of literature as well as the newspapers, the military reports, the testimonies. He grasps the idea that the war culture is not just found on the battlefield: “In an illustration in Jules Verne's The Flight of Engineer Roburs (1886),

Oraison funebre for Kurt Vonnegut

The old men are dying in a sordid time. They trooped off at 19, 20, 21, and saw something form that they spent their lifetimes trying to understand – they saw the synthesis between affluence and war, they saw the latest and maybe last form of the war culture that had risen up on its immense hind legs long before then and before Goya saw it from the rear and painted it and before it was lamented by Jeremiah and that had grown to niche in the sea, the land and the air, they saw the war which we eat in our bread and drink in our tap water today, that educated the kids in suburban schools and spread the suburbs out on the off chance that there would be survivors on the tenth circle, the twelfth circle, the twentieth circle out from ground zero. They saw the multiple shapes of the same worldwide system of production, called, for a while, communism and capitalism, battling it out but in fundamental agreement about sucking the earth dry on the short time horizon – here, destroying Lake Aral,

the wiring diagram of scandal: Imus

Instead of the post I had planned, about European savages and the Heart of Darkness, this seems to be an editing day. Besides, there is much more interest, apparently, among my disgruntled readership, about Imus. Disgruntled at me, LI, for making my fine media analysis of this scandal! Questioning LI's media chops and novelistic sensibility! Scandals and outrages have a wiring diagram, a simply path between connectors, and you simply have to plug the wire in according to the scandalized object. Is it, as in Imus' case, race and sex? We know how first there is the denial, then the trivialization, then grief, then anger, until finally we reach the normal equilibrium of self righteousness. In this case my two commentators, Northanger and Patrick, think I am off the track, here. Instead of continuing that thread on the subversive post, I'm putting up this one, with the nice picture of Mme Castiglione, Napoleon III's mistress, and an Italian spy, and a very strange partner i

Some cold words about war

LI has noticed a very American thing in the papers: an unconscious reversal of one of the benchmarks of the Bush escalation. The pro-war people and the anti-war people are seemingly agreed that one of the benchmarks of the success of the escalation is a downturn in American casualties. This is … wrong. And very typical of the struggle for the soul of the American war machine since Grant and McClellan’s day – I refer you to various tiresome posts I’ve made on this point. The number of American soldiers killed per diem since American forces concentrated in Baghdad has gone up. But – and here is the sick thing about war – it has gone up way too little, if what the Americans really intend to do is pacify Iraq. This points to the central flaw of the American strategy - it refuses to confront violence on every front in Iraq, but allows the carriers of violence elbowroom in which to operate. You often see hawks bemoaning the 'restrictions' on the American military. Just let em go! Exc

eureka! LI figures out what has been bugging us about the term 'subversive'

It struck me today that I was on the wrong track. I’ve been searching for some use of subversive in art or literary criticism in the 19th century. And I have found texts that are about things that I associate with subversion – for instance, many, many texts about overturning conventions and rules in painting, poetry, fiction. And I have been doing what seems natural - grouping them together, looking for the subversive theme, style, attitude. Yet the actual use of the word subversive is lacking. That isn't a big deal, but it was available. It was certainly as there for Baudelaire or for Delacroix as for me. Yet ... the first use of it in the modern sense that I’ve found, so far, is from a Lionel Trilling essay in the 30s. And then it struck me: I was not seeing the blank where the blank was. To see a blank is not always the easiest thing. Especially when you are vampire hunting in the vaults of history. Artists, writers and critics wrote in the beginning of the 20th century wrote

what is that noise of creeping and crawling in the family vault

It is difficult for us in such a short space of time to get together all the reflections which a work of this nature naturally gives birth to; we can only lament here publicly on the kind of frenzy which seems to agitate these turbulent spirits that the love of liberty and independence carries into excesses, and which makes them envision happiness in the subversion of all rules, of all principles, and in the destruction even of those laws that up to now have been the security of the proprieties not only of the family, but of the person and even of the sovereign --- The warrant [arrêt] for the pamphlet, the Inconveniencies of feudal rights by Pierre Francois Boncerf, which was burned in Paris in 1776. Boncerf was a lawyer, the clerk of the great physiocrat, Turgot, and his pamphlet was directed against serfdom on economic grounds – a small moment in the Great Transformation of the European economy. LI feels like we have distinctly advanced on this whole subversive festuche and debauch w