Saturday, June 30, 2007

How many licks: another effort at explaining Bataille

How many licks does it take till you get to the center of the
-Kimberly Jones

While it's true that LI enjoys the infradig like a boorish moviegoer enjoys an obnoxious ringtone, perhaps we should have been a bit more explicative vis a vis Georges Bataille in our last post. It might just be the case that not all readers of LI have immersed themselves in Bataille’s O.C. So we looked around yesterday for Bataille’s 1933 essay, The Psychological Structure of Fascism. Surprisingly, it is not to be found, in French or English, on the web. Somebody is holding tight to that copyright!

Boris Souvarine published Bataille’s essay in La Critique sociale. Souvarine moulders in the memory hole, now, but in the thirties he and a few likeminded souls – including the surrealists, one should remember (I forgive Breton a lot for punching out Ilya Ehrenburg in 1935, God damn it) – created the cold war anti-communist left. Of course, it took the cold war itself to make this political variety viable, but when the language flew at innumerable international conferences in the fifties, it would sound much like the language Souvarine used in his bio of Stalin. Souvarine’s group, the Cercle communiste democratique, included Simone Weil – which is perhaps how Bataille met her. Bataille used Weil for the character ‘Lazare’ in The Blue of Noon. (Sky Blue) It is funny to think of Weil, who has been the object of an intense Catholic cult for decades, and Bataille together. But a woman who practiced putting pins under her fingernails in Barcelona in 1934 (the year of a worker’s revolt), so that she could bear up under torture when the reactionaries captured her, was sure to get Bataille’s attention. For the CS, he wrote three articles that Francois Furet justly calls among the “most interesting ever written on political thought”: La Notion de Depense, La probleme de l’Etat, and finally La Structure Psychologique du Fascisme.

The Psychological Structure of Fascism was translated in 1979 by John Brenkman for New German Critique – it took that long to travel to America. But it was known to Benjamin, Adorno, Sartre and, in the sixties, became one of the classic texts in France, a reference point for Foucault, Derrida, Althusser, the Lacanians, the whole Family. So it has been a busy pollinator.

I’ll use the rest of this post to describe and quote from it, then I’ll go on and on and on about it in some other post. In LI’s campaign against happiness triumphant, Bataille’s concepts, percolated through our wary experience, do play a big part.

Bataille sets the terms of this essay by dividing the socius into two parts, or rather ideal tendencies – one is the ideal tendency to homogeneity, the other to heterogeneity. Homogeneity encompasses the classic economist (and Marxist) sense of the system of production:

“Production is the basis of social homogeneity. Homogeneous society is productive society, namely useful society. Every useless element is excluded, not from all society, but from its homogeneous part. In this part, each element must be useful to another without the homogeneous activity ever being able to attain the form of activity valid in itself. A useful activity has a common measure with another useful activity, but not with activity for itself.”

The common measure, in this situation, takes on a more than metric force. The common measure is money, of course. And the homogeneous tendency is embodied in the homogeneous individual, which is the homo oeconomicus of the classical school, set loose upon the landscape and marrying and giving in marriage and, in all things, tending to the middle. “In industrial civilization, the producer is distinguished from the owner of the means of production, and it is the latter who appropriates the products for himself; consequently, it is he who, in modern society, is the function of the products; it is he – and not the producer – who founds social homogeneity.” So far Bataille will go with the classic Marxist model, but he is already substituting another form of socialization – social homogeneity – for the classical Marxist notion of exploitation. This seemingly small shift determines the larger theme in the essay, which portrays the violence at the center of the socius not as a struggle between classes, but a struggle between asymmetrical functions – on the one hand, the homogenizing function, on the other, the heterogeneous function, the useless. The proletariat, in this picture, is placed on the side of the heterogeneous merely as a temporary ally – there is no intrinsic reason that a better rearrangement of the distribution of the social product – Keynesian economic policy, for instance - won’t bring him over to the side of social homogeneity.

Here Bataille makes his first thrust at Marxism, although the swordplay is muffled enough that only those who have the ears to hear it – who are familiar with the dreary 30s idea that Marxism is “scientific socialism” – will catch what is happening:

“Thus, the heterogeneous elements excluded from the latter [the homogeneous field] are excluded as well from the field of scientific consideration: as a rule, science cannot know heterogeneous elements as incompatible with its own homogeneity as are, for example, born criminals with the social order – science finds itself deprived of any functional satisfaction (exploited in the same manner as a laborer in a capitalist factory, used without sharing in the profits.) Indeed, science is not an abstract entity: it is constantly reducible to a group of men living the aspirations inherent to the scientific process.”

Bataille’s second move is to fill in the dynamic of exclusion. Here, I think, Bataille foreshadows what I’d call the dialectic of vulnerability that formed the global culture of the Cold War era, and that remains with us in a more farcical form, as the War on Terror.

“As a rule, social homogeneity is a precarious form, at the mercy of violence and even of internal dissent. It forms spontaneously in the play of productive organization but must constantly be protected from the various unruly elements that do not benefit from production, or not enough to suit them, or simply, that cannot tolerate the checks that homogeneity imposes on unrest. In such conditions, the protection of homogeneity lies in its recourse to imperative elements which are capable of obliterating the various unruly forces or bringing them under the control of order.

The state is not itself one of these imperative elements; it is distinct from kinds, heads of the army, or of nations, but it is the result of the modifications undergone by a part of homogeneous society as it comes into contact with such elements.”

The state, in Bataille’s schema, doesn’t exist as a homogeneous constant, but as a variable that functions to enforce homogeneity, either through command and control authority – in the despotic form – or by coordinating with the ‘spontaneous’ enforcement of homogeneous norms in democracy. But here’s the thing for Bataille – in 1933 – in an era in which democracy seemed to be failing some essential test of social experience: the state can be captured by heterogeneous factions. Before fascism exists as a fact, it exists as a possibility inherent in the state:

“Even in difficult circumstances, the State is able to neutralize those heterogeneous forces that will yield only to its constraints. But it can succumb to the internal dissociation of that segment of society of which it is but the constrictive form.”

Oh oh. I can see that I am going into post nova – I could go on like this for pages, thus destroying the patience of the blog reader, accustomed to reading short, spiffy paragraphs, usually about Paris Hilton, pro or con. Oops. Well, I will continue this later.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

the decline of degradation, or abjection kitsch

The real showstopper, though, is in Abel Ferrara’s “Go Go Tales.” As an exotic dancer — introduced as the “scariest, sexiest, most dangerous girl in the world” — she storms a strip-club stage, pet Rottweiler in tow, and proceeds to entwine tongues with the slobbering dog. – NYT

Having already provoked parents, women’s groups and the ratings board with explicit ads for the coming torture movie “Captivity,” Mr. Solomon and his After Dark Films now intend to introduce the film, set for release July 13, with a party that may set a new standard for the politically incorrect.

For starters, Mr. Solomon has ordered up what he calls the three “most outlandish” SuicideGirls available from the punk porn service, even if they’re as frisky as the ones he is told once set a Portland, Ore., restaurant on fire. Some lucky fans will get to take the women as dates for party night, July 10, on two conditions: “People take the date at their own risk, and everybody on the Internet gets to watch.”

Cage fighting too is likely. Mr. Solomon’s planners are angling for Kimbo Slice, the bare-knuckle bruiser whose vicious backyard brawls are a Web favorite and who made his Mixed Martial Arts debut on Saturday.”

I was pleased to see that IT’s KinoFist group (or here) is going to be showing Dušan Makavejev’s WR – Mysteries of the Organism, since, by an amazing coincidence, I just watched WR myself. It is impossible to take against a film in which a glacial female voice in something that sounds like Serbo-Croatian encourages all Comrades to take full advantage of the 4,000 orgasms we experience, on average, over a lifetime, as a sepia iconostasis of revolutionary fucking flickers encouragingly before us.

The film’s protagonist chief actress and protagonist – if it is possible to be the protagonist of a scrap book – Milena, seeks that moment in which the convergence of revolution and transgression produce… well, not the zipless fuck that Americans in the 70s were so bent on procuring, but a moment of bliss that would knock down the sedimented oppression of old, exploitative economic and patriarchal ties. Fucking, here, is the revolution’s sympathetic magic – by relieving the productive norms that weigh like nightmares on the fuckers, we will relieve the productive norms that weigh like nightmares on our industrial system, wedded, as it has been since Hitler’s eureka moment, to war. New War is not an accident that happens to the system, a snafu, but a positive element of the economy, a central value. The looting associated with old war is replaced with an inherently mobile, never to be realized goal legitimating all waste. Not that looting becomes obsolete, of course, but it is put on a business basis. Is it possible that this is simply a neurotic disposition writ large? Can we fuck our way to rationality?

A good question - but let's admit there is a bit of an antique glaze about the film. It was made at a time when transgression was undergoing a sea change. Where transgression had been the great weapon of the outlaw up until the sixties, it was becoming the marketer and coolhunter's great weapon in the sixties. Transgression, in other words, was being annexed by the ethos of Happiness Triumphant.

A small personal interlude. I was sitting in the University library at Montpellier in the early eighties. I had the first volume of Georges Bataille’s OC in my hand. I was reading the Story of the Eye. I’d never heard of either Bataille or the Story of the Eye before. For those who don’t know the book, The Story of the Eye involves a series of improbable events, linked together by a claustrophobic erotic urgency, in which the narrator and his lover Simone, who are in their teens, perform a number of sexual and sexually metaphoric acts, insinuate the shy Marcelle into their activities and basically turn her into a catatonic, and then flee their parents’ houses and join up with an English lord. At one point, the group arrives at a church. They lure the priest of the church from the confessional. Simone seduces him, and then the priest dies of a strangulation/ejaculation combo – at which point Sir Edmond kindly cuts the priest’s eye out and gives it to Simone. She playfully stuffs it up her cunt. The narrator says:

“Now I stood up and, while Simone lay on her side, I drew her thighs apart, and found myself facing something I imagine I had been waiting for in the same way that a guillotine waits for a neck to slice. I even felt as if my eyes were bulging from my head, erectile with horror; in Simone’s hairy vagina, I saw the wan blue eye of Marcelle, gazing at me through tears of urine. Streaks of come in the steaming hair helped give that dreamy vision a disastrous sadness. I held the thighs open while Simone was convulsed by the urinary spasm, and the burning urine streamed out from under the eye down to the thighs below.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have the book with me, so I am quoting from the English translation. It is hard, in English, to convey the … the elegance of Bataille’s prose. If I were to translate that passage, I would probably write “guillotine waits for a neck”, not a neck to slice – sometimes, you have to bow to English bluntness to convey the more abbreviated sense of the French. In any case, I remember the total shock I felt, reading Bataille. The book reached out and pulled my nose, stroked my cock, and bit me on the ass, all at the same time.

After all, I’d come to Montpellier from Shreveport, Louisiana. I wasn't used to this kind of thing.

So in the early eighties, Bataille’s notion of transgression was truly important to me. However, looking back, I can see how retarded I was – I never paid any attention to what was happening in popular culture back then. Not only did I not own a tv in the eighties, I rarely even glanced at one. I just didn't care. I didn't give a fuck about Reagan kultur. Thus, I had no clue that transgression had become a sitcom norm – it was a farting, nosepicking, let’s stuff body parts up my asshole world out there, and transgression had settled in to become just a b movie plot, before one moved on to action movies and the like. The Surmale quickly became the everymale, and the everymale immediately sought out his own. While, on the one end, political correctness sent up a fog to disguise the reality of the Gated Community, on the other end, it was endless tits and ass, not, of course, as fuckable matter, but as platform for incredible business opportunities in aesthetic surgery. The time was right for rubber, for pod happiness, for a Burroughs routine that swallowed all other routines:

“But the warren of live torture rooms is a must. As Mr. Solomon envisions it, individuals in torture gear will wander through the West Hollywood club Privilege grabbing partygoers. All of which is a prelude to an undisclosed main event that, he warned last week over slices of pizza a few doors from his company’s new offices on the Sunset Strip, is “probably not legal.”

“The women’s groups definitely will love it,” Mr. Solomon hinted. “I call it my personal little tribute to them.”

Mr. Solomon, a fast-talking 35-year-old, and his genre-film company were barely noticed until outrage at the “Captivity” billboards — which chronicled a young woman’s torment, with frames titled “Abduction,” “Confinement,” “Torture,” “Termination” — led to a rare censure by the Motion Picture Association of America this spring.”

The Motion Picture Association of America finally put its foot down about torture … for pleasure. Torture, as the MPAA knows, should only be seen, enjoyed, and distributed for the sake of duty. Hence, 24. But never masturbate after you torture Moslems. We do have some codes left in this country, after all!

That abjection has become kitsch does make me laugh. Behind Bataille’s elegance, perhaps, there always lurked the gag. In Norman Klein’s Marx-y reading of 1930s cartoons, Seven Minutes, the golden age of cartoons – the age that produced the ageless diva, the Simone of cartoonland, Betty Boop - is discussed in relation to the transposition of the gag – a vaudeville routine – to the machina versatilis that produces the elastic cartoon body. The dreamlike liberation of objects from their objecthood is one way of viewing the goal of Bataille’s via negativa – one sinks as far as one can into becoming a big toe, a dislocated eye weeping urine in a teenage cunt, and at that moment one becomes … a cartoon, much like Porky Pig or Paris Hilton. For a moment, toonville characters think they can escape...

And who am I to say they can't? I was going to give this post a nice dying fall, a little pessimistic sendoff, a little hint that the system is total, we are doomed, no exit, all that shit, but really, I'm not going to take the bait, get into the outrage orgy, care... care in the least about the fast talking thirty five year old Mr. Solomon. I'm just going to collect him here, in this post, and then forget all about him.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

UM is coming - Michael Erard's new book

A book is coming out from a friend and supporter of this site, Michael Erard. The book, UM, is about, among other things, the mysteries of that sublime linguistic object, 'um' - or erm, as the Brits put it, or hein, as it appears in French, to the bewilderment of all students of French, forever and forever. Here's the site for the book. I can testify that Michael does not look like the solemn guy whose phiz graces that page - but bookjacket pictures are always a fucker, an uncertain compromise between the dyspeptic seriousness of a man whose been locked in a closet and chuckleheaded foolishness of a man who should be secured in a straight jacket. They eternally grate against an author's vanity, which is why, when an author shot, by some miracle, comes out right, the author has a tendency to use it book after book, giving the book jacket a slightly Dorian Gray feeling. Beryl Bainbridge's novels are a perfect example - novels that you know were written by a 50 to 60 year old woman are graced by a picture of a thirty year old woman, at the most.

Now, go to the UM page, PEOPLE!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Yahweh, Marx and LI: a group discussion

Sleep. LI actually got 8 hours of z-s last night. Or almost. We’ve been suffering a massive insomnia attack, which is much like a denial of service attack, except that instead of being mounted by angry hackers, it is mounted by angry brain cells. There is nothing like going through the day on the dimmest wattage – ghosting your own self.

So, we have not been pouring out the deathless prose re: Heine’s Gods in Exile essay, like we promised last week. The tears of our readers have, no doubt, been shed copiously in consequence.

But dry those eyes! Getting back to that post, you might want to ask – we asked, actually, this morning, trying to figure out what the fuck we were talking about – why we jumped up and down about the fact that the great mythical systems actually encode their own dissolution. There are two aspects that cause our heart palpitations. One is this: to our mind, the moment the myth tells about the downfall of the mythical system – projects a Götterdämmerung – is the moment that history becomes possible. It is the recognition of the system within the system, and, at the same time, the recognition of the system’s contingency, which gives history both an object and elbow room.

And that’s pretty cool. The second aspect that interests us is tied up with what we have called the logic of figuration – all this poetry we’ve been pouring out about sages and buffoons. What God is is not just a question that interests us in itself – rather, it extends to what a woman, a man, a child, a sage, a slave, a manager, a president, etc., etc. is. It is an archetype - from the beginning, it has always been a question of the split between the god and his image. The Yahweh that flees from his graven image is the Yahweh that tries to solve this question by main force. Plato, living in a very different society, captures the issue and its secularization pretty well in this passage in the Laws, spoken by the Athenian stranger:

“There are ancient customs about the Gods which are universal, and they are of two kinds: some of the Gods we see with our eyes and we honour them, of others we honour the images, raising statues of them which we adore; and though they are lifeless, yet we imagine that the living Gods have a good will and gratitude to us on this account. Now, if a man has a father or mother, or their fathers or mothers treasured up in his house stricken in years, let him consider that no statue can be more potent to grant his requests than they are, who are sitting at his hearth if only he knows how to show true service to them.

Oedipus, as tradition says, when dishonoured by his sons, invoked on them curses which every one declares to have been heard and ratified by the Gods, and Amyntor in his wrath invoked curses on his son Phoenix, and Theseus upon Hippolytus, and innumerable others have also called down wrath upon their children, whence it is clear that the Gods listen to the imprecations of parents; for the curses of parents are, as they ought to be, mighty against their children as no others are. And shall we suppose that the prayers of a father or mother who is specially dishonoured by his or her children, are heard by the Gods in accordance with nature; and that if a parent is honoured by them, and in the gladness of his heart earnestly entreats the Gods in his prayers to do them good, he is not equally heard, and that they do not minister to his request? … May we not think, as I was saying just now, that we can possess no image which is more honoured by the Gods, than that of a father or grandfather, or of a mother stricken in years? “

The parallel in the relation between the ‘unliving cult statues’ of the Gods and the Gods, and the parents and the Gods, is a way of underscoring the double role of ‘parent’. Social roles and functions, in other words, function in a double register, at once social and celestial/chthonic. Marxism, reproducing the gesture of Yahweh, seeks to compress the doubleness, making it derive from one material fact: the division of labor. Myself, I am with Plato and the poets – there is a destiny of the figures outside of the system of production.

Okay, enough, enough! Basta. Time to move on to Heine’s essay.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

another day, another opportunity to send Dick Cheney to jail

"How high do you want me to jump?"

Since beginning this blog, LI has been giving friendly little heads ups to the governing class, that oh so cute but sometimes sorta ditzy elite. It is the Paris Hilton among governing classes: soulless, talentless, and smug. Alas, there are so many fronts to cover, fuck ups to point to, clockwork grinding busily bloodwards to worry about. Sometime LI falls behind!

And then there is Cheney. Lately, LI’s attitude towards Cheney is much like Police Inspector Dreyfus’ to Detective Clouseau. We get a physical twitch when the name comes up. Herbert Lom got a twitch in the eye. Us, we get an unbearably stiff neck. The stiff neck seized us, for instance, last night, when we read the first of what the Washington Post promises to be a series of articles about Cheney. We recommend reading it with two caveats.

One is that the whole this is, as always, sugared by the kissass establishment fear of ever stumbling upon a truth – so that, for instance, before telling us that Bush is basically following a program laid out by his odious fruitcake of a V.P., Barton Gellman lays on this bullshit:

“Cheney is not, by nearly every inside account, the shadow president of popular lore. Bush has set his own course, not always in directions Cheney preferred. The president seized the helm when his No. 2 steered toward trouble, as Bush did, in time, on military commissions. Their one-on-one relationship is opaque, a vital unknown in assessing Cheney's impact on events. The two men speak of it seldom, if ever, with others. But officials who see them together often, not all of them admirers of the vice president, detect a strong sense of mutual confidence that Cheney is serving Bush's aims.”

The choice of words in that paragraph – for instance, of Bush ‘seizing the helm’ – signals, well enough, what the message is to insiders (whose assessments we are magically supposed to listen to – never has a paper been so awestruck, so much about insiders as the Washington Post – it is the Teen People of Insiderville). It signals that we are coming close to a time when it is alright to actually say, hey, we are are ruled by a living embodiment of attention deficit disorder who is a cutout moved around by competing court circles, one of which is headed by a man of meager intelligence and no scruples, the ever thuggish Cheney. But respect before all things for our monarch!

Two is that, of course, as in all ‘news’ reporting, the series comes five years too late. The job of the newspapers, over the course of the reign of the Junta, is to report the truth only when it is too late to do anything about it. In the meantime, sedulously copying and diffusing the bullshit is the no. 1 aim of rags like the Post – hence, their nonsensical effort to insert propaganda about Iran in every story reporting American deaths in Iraq – the IED deaths will inevitably be followed by the accusation that they came from Iran. That there’s no proof for this, that Iran supplying Sunni insurgents with IEDs is about the stupidest lie that the White House and the D.C. clique has ever tried to broadcast, doesn’t matter. Nor will these reports ever include the phrase, financed by the Saudis. That’s an independent truth, it floats around without a sponsor, and unsponsored truths are poison to the papers – until, say, six years have passed.

The Cheney series comes on the heels of the brief headlining of a story that has been out there for years, namely, the Vice President’s illegal shielding of information from an obscure department designed to account and audit classified information. The Vice President has refused to disclose even that information that it has an obligation to, such as who works in the office of the Vice President and who visits that office. Disobeying the executive order, Cheney’s office made the unique defense that it was not part of the executive branch. This has caused much laughing and goofawing in the press, which saves its indignation for important things, like interviews with OJ Simpson. And then there is the soi-disant opposition…

Ah, that opposition. On the Crooks and Liars site I came across this youtube video of Senator Durbin’s reaction to the news that Cheney has claimed not to be part of the executive branch of government. It is as fine a piece of centrist performance art as you will ever see. Durbin summons up all the gravitas and eloquence of a wet hen finding out about Kentucky Fried Chicken for the first time. Warning to adults and children: watching this video can cause twitches, aches, and the longing to live in some other country far, far away. Durbin swales a perfectly easy case – Cheney has committed a crime and should be called to account for it – in such loads of fatty tissue pomposity, such unfocused verbiage, such a stump show of obsolete gestures, that you cannot watch it without knowing, immediately, that Cheney will get away with anything he damn well pleases. It reminds me of the old T.S. Eliot line, ‘this is the way the world ends/not with a bang but a whimper.’

Lawrence's Etruscans

  I re-read Women in Love a couple of years ago and thought, I’m out of patience with Lawrence. Then… Then, visiting my in-law in Montpellie...