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Showing posts from June 3, 2007

bon diable, good Doctor, and very bad author

Julien Offray de La Mettrie is remembered today for his book Man-Machine – and by collectors of curiosa, for his paen to the sex, The Art of Orgasm (L’art de jouir – which is often translated as “come”, which takes the French term, with its sense of a radiant and sumptuous pleasure, a little too brutally out of its semantic field). In his day, he was considered a thoroughly disreputable figure – a doctor, he’d alienated the medical profession by writing satires of famous doctors; a philosopher, he seemed unacquainted with logic and all too willing to take an undignified and mocking tone towards the ancients; and he was unashamed and undisguised in his atheism, or so it seems – the issue of La Mettrie’s atheism is still debated. After his death, a French writer said that his writing read as though he’d written it while drunk. Voltaire, who knew him, said his talk was as like watching fireworks – a minute of startlingly brilliant, followed by ten minutes of boredom. Voltaire met La Mettr

not paul berman again!

LI has tried to bite our tongue about the recent rash of Paul Berman. Poison ivy I take, stoically, to be part of summer fun. You will never uproot all of it. But Paul Berman is a skin infection of a different kind. He's a fraud, in our eyes, and not something we want to encounter when turning on the radio. It is hard to write about the man calmly - and calmness is all when you want to stick the knife in deep. There’s nothing like a too eager assassin to muff the job. But since the World radio broadcast insisted on broadcasting an interview about his latest screed in the TNR, my patience is over. Berman has accrued a lot of media capital over the years by being a conscience. A conscience is such a great thing to cast yourself as. Especially when you can be the conscience not of the powerful, not of the CEOs, not of the plutocracy, but the conscience of dissent - indeed, he's an old Dissenter dinosaur. Being the conscience of dissent means that you get to whack away at, say, t

Darwinian blowback

In the past fifty years, there have been enough national wars of liberation against a technologically superior occupier that we can see a distinct Darwinian pattern emerge. The resistance always consists of varied groups. The groups range, tactically, from the moderate to the extreme. The moderate group is characterized by a sensitivity to civilian casualties and a willingness to find other than military solutions to the occupation. The extreme group is relatively insensitive to civilian casualties and doubtful that any other than a military solution will end the occupation. It should be emphasized that these definitions are about tactics. Thus, the most conservative mujahadeen groups in the Afghanistan war count as the most extreme, and the most nationalist and rigid faction of the North Vietnamese communist party count as the most extreme. Now, in any mass killing of living organisms, Darwinian laws of selection are going to apply. The case of the Americans in Vietnam and the Russi

if nature makes you a hog, vaunt yourself in the muck

“The truth and virtue says La Mettrie, are “existences that have value only insofar as they are service to someone who possesses them… But lacking such and such a virtue, such and such a truth, will science and societies suffer? Let that be so, but if I don’t garner any advantages from them, I will suffer. Thus, is it for me or for others that reason orders me to be happy?” This is his commentary on Fontenelle’s phrase: If I had my hand full of truths, I’d beware of opening it.” Le Mettrie is, on this point, clearer and more frank than Helvetius. Besides, he doesn’t deny any more than the latter that the elevated instincts carry man towards a conduct that is, apparently, disinterested; but, according to him, men are made variously, and they must conform to their nature: “if nature makes you a hog, vaunt yourself in the muck, like hogs do; for you are incapable of enjoying a more elevated happiness.” – Guyau, Le Morale d’Epicure. Plutarch saw the Epicureans as the enemy, and wrote an es

the withdrawal project blog starts

I've started the Withdrawal blog - the first step in the Withdrawal project. I hope to transfer all the posts on LI about Iraq - there must be three hundred of them at least - to the Withdrawal blog. Then I'm going to include much more inclusive links. Finally, the blog will then be open to those who want to contribute posts. They'll merely have to ask me for the password. It is a small step. The Withdrawal project is certainly not about starting another fucking blog, but it needs a base. I haven't yet started the search for a power point pro. I need to put up some notices. Remember, readers, to send me suggestions.

emblems: There is a Fate beyond us

One of Tennyson’s poems describes the story of Persephone and Demeter. The beginning of the poem has that sensuous, Poussin-like beauty that was Tennyson’s greatest gift: “Faint as a climate-changing bird that flies All night across the darkness, and at dawn Falls on the threshold of her native land, And can no more, thou camest, O my child, Led upward by the God of ghosts and dreams, Who laid thee at Eleusis, dazed and dumb With passing thro’ at once from state to state, Until I brought thee hither, that the day, When here thy hands let fall the gather’d flower, Might break thro’ clouded memories once again On thy lost self. A sudden nightingale Saw thee, and flash’d into a frolic of song And welcome; and a gleam as of the moon, When first she peers along the tremulous deep, Fled wavering o’er thy face, and chased away That shadow of a likeness to the king Of shadows, thy dark mate. Persephone! Queen of the dead no more–my child! Thine eyes Again were human-godlike, and the Sun Burst

the pursuit of unhappiness is fundamental to liberty

“Thus, let us carefully keep the thirst for immortality within us from drying up; better to suffer gloriously in a great circle, than to be pierced by a thousand pins in some obscure corner of the world.” – Herault de Sechelles. In following the figure of Epicure, and the notion of epicurean materialism, LI is following a thought that we have played with for some time. It is that the pursuit of happiness has distorted the civilizing metric that really counts, which is of the quality of one’s unhappiness. Only after a certain level of material comfort is achieved does the question of doing without that comfort take on a deliberate cast. To break the spell of that collection of habits that went into primitive accumulation requires having reached a point at which one can turn around – a point at which inversion is possible. To quote Buchner’s letter again: “The word must is one of the curses with which Mankind is baptized. The saying: It must needs be that offenses come; but woe to him b

antoine de lasalle: an enlightenment eccentric

When Lukacs uses the phrase, epicurean materialism, to talk about the nature of the Dantonist resistance to Robespierre in Büchner’s play, he is following a theme which was taken up in the 19th century not only by Marx, but by the historians of the French revolution and of the enlightenment. Emile Dard’s biography of Herault de Sechelles (1903), for instance, is titled “An epicurean under the terror.” When Büchner’s Robespierre denounces the wealthy and the refers to people who ‘used to live in garrets and now roll around in carriages and sin with former marquesses and baronesses’, he is referring – except for the garret – to hedonists like Herault, who was followed about, as he performed his revolutionary duties, including creating a constitution that gave foreigners the right to vote, by a few aristocratic groupies. And Robespierre’s denunciation of ‘vice” and those who ‘declare war on God and property” as a way of secretly supporting the King – whether they know it or not – he is s

the withdrawal project blog

LI cut off all our hair yesterday, to get prepared to be a peace soldier – and although it looks a little mange-y, what the hell. There is something startling about seeing the pale, dead skin under your hair… So I am thinking I am going to take LimitedInc’s Iraq and war posts in the next week or so and transfer them to a new blog for the Withdrawal project. And then I will compartmentalize. Years ago, I started LimitedInc as an art project, and I had the crazy idea that I could use the blog as a venue for denunciations of the war that would resonate with the other elements in the project. But there is a downside to this: it limited the number of people who would read the anti-war stuff, because it was mixed in with material of no interest to a large group of people. That was fine with me – I wanted this to be outsider art from the beginning – but it is time to recognize that the anti-war stuff, if it isn’t going to continue to be an indulgence, needs its own place. My next post, for i

Kick it. Then kick it again. Kick it until it falls over.

I want to be eaten alive - Hanin Elias If you are looking for the kind of reactionary, bloodthirsty, Phoenix program rhetoric to make you feel good about your assumption that the U.S. elite is completely fucked, I urge you to peruse Fred Hiatt's latest missive . It has everything! The dyspeptic truculence of the highly paid talk show radio host - the nonsensical centrism, here cast as splitting the difference between the double massacre of Iraqis and American soldiers and a more manageable massacfre - sort like getting your head cut off, but just a little bit. The hint that President Backbone, whose penis is a marvel of veins and marble, is once again standing succulently for the right, the just thing, the eternal cowboy boot on your eternal face - everything is here, everything crazy, everything ludicrous, everything that should be absolutely destroyed in the D.C. establishment. The enemy of mankind does not sleep. This Pinochet loving know nothing is full to the brim with him, a