Saturday, July 07, 2007

suicidal ideation

LI saw the well intentioned snuff film, The Bridge, this week. For those who haven’t seen it – the bridge in question is the Golden Gate Bridge. The film is the result of a sort of birdwatching project, the birds in question being suicides swandiving off the bridge. The crew set up cameras on both sides of the bridge, equipped themselves with cell phones, and kept on scanning the bridge till they would come upon a likely prospect. Then, doing their duty, they would call up the police, while trying to keep the camera focused on the potential diver. 24 people killed themselves in the year they were watching, but a documentary that just did the highlights would be rather short, so we are given interviews with family and friends. And there is one spectacular suicide, a man in a leather coat and fine, dark as a raven’s wing long hair, a rock n roller type, whose indecisive postures and agitation as he walks about and sits staring out at the water are intercut with the rest of the film. There’s a woman who is rescued, apparently a regular attempter. There’s a wonderful, jug eared young man – a nineteen year old – who survives his plunge with a broken rib and some other internal injuries, and is trying hard to understand how he ever got to that point.

There is, obviously, a lot of tastelessness about this enterprise, but one has to be tastelessness to get anywhere with the topic of suicide. The film does try to sample the variety of suicides. Most of them are men, as statistically most suicides are men. Suicides, as we all know, are undercounted – and even of the one that is successful, there are eight to twenty five that are not, making suicide a pretty common occurrence - 35,000 some being counted in the U.S. each year, making hundreds of thousands of attempts. Car crashes, odd accidents – there are a lot of other suicide-like phenomenon that just aren’t put in those stats.

While the swan dives hold a gawker’s interest, the most interesting part of the film to LI was the number of people of different types – family, friends – who talked about the suicides. There’s a limit to how much one can talk in public about suicide – it is one of those forms of speech that, too much indulged in, can get you committed. Which immediately makes the topic weirder than it really is. Psychiatry simply makes that weirdness official. I don’t hold myself out as an entire model of normality, but still, my own experience is derived from the main, and my own experience is that suicide is and always has been one of the normal ‘ideations’ in the longue duree of my experience. It takes on all the technicolor of any object of repeated reflection: at time it is a comfort, sometimes it is a threat, sometimes it is a silly melodrama, sometimes an inevitability. I find this all pretty normal. Now, there are probably human beings out there who don’t think of killing themselves, or who think much less frequently than I do. But it is hard to image that someone committed in some vague way to the arts doesn’t have a lively dialogue going with a suicide double at some point or another.

The science of psychology has always wanted to come up with a classification schema that is as non-controversial as accounting, but it has always had to deal with the problem that the human mind consists of swarms of multicolored and fantastic lifeforms, ideas that swim about and breed and brood. As a result, most psychological classification reduces the inner life to a pitiful handful of concatenated moods. Worse, unlike, say, biological taxonomies, which strive to construct themselves about some generative principle – and thus create a map of relationships and lineages – psychological taxonomies carry a certain air of committee work – definitions that seem simply to absorb the given and the fashionable in a suitably esoteric vernacular. In a recent article in Psychiatry by Robert W. Daly entitled “Before Depression: The Medieval Vice of Acedia,” Daly sums up the current medical definition of depression like this: “Contemporary depression is characterized by the continuing presence of a depressed (pressed down) mood, diminished interest or pleasure in most or any activities, weight loss, insomnia or hypersomnia, psychomotor retardation or agitation, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate
guilt, diminished ability to think or concentrate, recurrent thoughts of death, and suicidal ideation.” Welcome to my week! Although, in truth, my own pressed down moods are often countered by the momentary elations that help me bounce through the day, often like a fucking speedfreak bunny rabbit. There are, in truth, two souls within my breast – and sometimes a whole dinner party of souls – and certainly there are different, concurrent streams of mood.

Daly’s essay asks a good question: how was acedia a vice? why did it become a vice? To answer it, he goes back to the desert fathers, one of whom, Evagrius Pontus (345–399 A.D.), seems to have given the first thorough definition of acedia:

“The most serious tempter was the “noonday demon.”4 Evagrius’s writings characterize this demon (or spirit) as manifesting itself in psychic exhaustion and listlessness caused by the monotony of life and the immediate surroundings or by the protracted struggle with other temptations. This boredom signals that the hermit is still too much attached to sensual pleasures. Its effects are dejection, restlessness, hatred of the cell and the monk’s brethren, desire to leave and seek salvation elsewhere—the latter temptation often suggested under the appearance of charity. (Evagrius, 1970, pp. 18–19).

The remedies for ridding oneself of this temptation are to try to encourage (one’s self?) and to be encouraged “to sow seeds of a firm hope” by singing psalms, to remain in one’s cell, to face one’s conflicts, to live “as if he were to die on the morrow but . . . treat his body as if he were to live . . . for many years to come” (Evagrius, 1970, pp. 23–24).”

I have to hand it to Evagrius – that’s a genius solution. Combining song with the idea that you are going to die tomorrow, but treating your body as though it were in for the long haul – that is the solution searched for by all the great rock n rollers, the bluesmen, the hip hoppers, the divas, n’est-ce pas? Even though things do get fucked up in the drug channel, and there’s always the possibility that your body will live on and your soul would wither and die – the Mick Jagger complex. Becoming your own re-run is a terrible fate.

Daly traces the course of thinking about acedia through the whole monastic tradition, where it seemed to breed as a vocational vice – the result of too much contemplation and too little company. As it sprang out of the monastic circumstance, it was connected – notably by Aquinas – with lack of love. Lack of a disposition to love, uncharitableness – this is the cold heart of that boredom unto death. Daly’s essay proceeds to find the place for acedia as a vice – a disposition – rather than a sin – an act – in the Christian schemata, although as he admits, vices and sins are not so clearly distinguished at all times. Myself, Nietzsche-lover that I am, I’m attracted to the Christian notions of vice and sin not just for the truths they might hold but the counter-truths they hold at bay, the ruling values they seek to establish.

Friday, July 06, 2007

and now... for the plague of christo-corporate leeches

Via Jim Henley’s blog, we went to see the latest blast of inanities from Chuck Colson, who – appropriately enough – was once a symbol of Watergate and how has a permanent leech position in the hilariously misnamed “Faith” section of the online Washington Post, managed by no less a faith playa than Sally Quinn. Sally was last seen placing her faith in the muscularity of Fred Thompson, and before that her faith in Ahmed Chalabi was as steady as a rock, and filled with thrilling currents of bygone days, when you just knew the Dark Skinned oriental crept around outside the military hq, full of treachery and lust for the European Woman.

Colson is, of course, not only a leech on the Washington Post, but a large and repulsive leech on the Republic itself, as his organization, the cultish evangelical prison fellowship, has tried ardently to produce a Christian gang out of prison inmates and, for their efforts, are shunted beaucoup government funding. As has been amply documented, Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministry operates by systematically denigrated any but the evangelical Christian faith, and does so while being supported by the monies collected from Catholic, jew, pagan and Buddhist. As so often, conservatism, here, has become another name for diverting government funds to some bloodsucker’s project or other. Luckily, there are organizations out there battling the bloodsuckers – notably the Americans united for separation of church and state, which won a battle against the funded fundies in Iowa last year. They have a blog, another one that I should put on my sadly neglected sidebar.

As the AU has pointed out, Colson is well known for attacking other religions.
Recently he addressed the Southern Baptist convention in San Antonio, where before the prayer n lynchin’ meeting – always a favorite of the pastors, rousing their blood and all – he attacked Islam in the usual Foxfed terms:

Prison Fellowship Ministries founder Charles Colson recently addressed the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Ethics reports that the speech was a no-holds-barred attack on Islam and atheism.
“Colson derided the former for spawning “Islamofacism,” a religion-political ideology that is “evil incarnate.” “Islam is a vicious evil,” he said. Comparing Christianity to Islam, Colson said “these are two completely different views of life and reality. Islam is a theocracy, which means that it is a church state.” On the other hand, he said, Christianity promotes “free will,” each person’s right to “make his own choices.”
Given Colson’s concern for free will and non-theocratic rule, you’d think he would support at least some distance between church and state. On the contrary, he immediately urged the audience to proactively install a Christian theocracy in the United States!
“What is our purpose in life?” he asked the pastors. “It is to restore the fallen culture to the glory of God. It’s to take command and dominion over every aspect of life, whether it’s music, science, law, politics, communities, families, to bring Christianity to bear in every single area of life”

Ah, we are but the ants in the antfarm, while Colson and his minions are the Far Side lunkheads, taking “dominion” over every aspect of our life. No wonder he is contributing to the Faith column at the WAPO! Perfect geneology – from the felonious side of the GOP – perfect rhetoric – nonsense and bluster – perfect coordination with the Christo-corporate mindmeld that is, I guess, what passes for the program of the Bush administration.

Now that we’ve got down that Islam is evil, time to roll up our sleaves and get back at Paganism – especially since the Pagans, not on the government payroll, have much more to say to prisoners than the funded fundies do. In the timetested manner of all rightwingers, Colson defends his attempt to achieve a government sanctioned monopoly by piously opining that paganism is no religion, and if it is a religion, the U.S., being all Judeo-Christian and shit, shouldn’t be using our tax dollars to support it! Gall itself would blanche at this mouthy Tartuffe.

Here he is:

“It is debatable whether paganism is a religion, per say (sic). It is generally defined as a pre-Christian state, but it takes a wide variety of forms—all the way from relatively benign New Age-style nature worship, to pantheism, to witchcraft, and even human sacrifice.

Those who publicly identify themselves as pagans are at best a marginal number and are basically no different from dozens of other cults.

I see no reason why Wiccans or pagans generally should have the services of taxpayer-paid chaplains. It is perfectly appropriate, if a group meets court tests for religion, that outside priest/ministers be allowed to come into federal facilities and minister. But historically, with standards that have been spelled out carefully by the courts, chaplains are appointed to represent mainline religions.”

A good butter wouldn't melt beginning, giving us a refreshing blast of ignorance about pagans and then giving us a false interpretation of court rulings, which have already accorded Wicca religious status, as is pointed out by one of his commenters. So much for the sane Colson – now onto the rabid Colson whose words come out of a strain of legitimism that is pretty big among the ultra-right Christers. They have reluctantly recognized the secularism of Jefferson – and have, of course, pretended Tom Paine never existed – and they have done battle for years with the separation of church and state:

“… it is very clear from reading the writings of our founding fathers that a sound adherence to the values of the Judeo-Christian tradition—or at the very least, deism—was essential as a basis of the moral law that would sustain a free society.

The writings of all the founders are clear on this. I would refer anyone interested particularly to Michael Novak’s book On Two Wings, in which he describes the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition on one wing and the influence of the Enlightenment on the other. They were finally balanced in our founding. But everyone, devout believer or deist or otherwise, saw the necessity of a strong moral law which would provide self restraint. Without self restraint, free governments cannot succeed.

John Adams famously wrote, “We have no government, armed in power, capable of contending with human passion unbridled by morality and religion . . . our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” And George Washington said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to a political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

Not being as familiar with paganism in its various forms, I do not wish to condemn it unfairly. But from what I know of it, I do not think it can provide the “indispensable supports” Washington wrote about.

So I would not appoint pagan chaplains, nor would I, as a personal decision but influenced greatly by the founders, vote for a pagan.”

I should give the On Faith section some credit, however. Although bringing this reprobate aboard as a regular commenter is offensive, at least they did spotlight the demo by Pagans on July 4. The military, which has a problem, actually, with a pretty active evangelical clique in places like the Air Force Academy, has been trying desperately not to hire any pagan chaplains, although it happens that there are thousands of troops – something like four thousand – who are pagans. Hire the chaplains, and purge the military of the small group of rabid evango-missionaries. Things on the national to do list that won’t get done anytime soon.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


In the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, William Hazlitt produced a polemic in his highest style that presented the classical liberal way of looking at war in an essay entitled “War and Taxes”. He begins with the distinction between productive and unproductive labor, and proceeds to show that war falls under the latter category. However, even if a project is unproductive, it must be paid for somehow. It has a cost:

“If the sovereign of a country were to employ the whole population in doing nothing but throwing stones into the sea, he would soon become the king of a desert island. If a sovereign exhausts the wealth and strength of a country in war, he will end in being a king of slaves and beggars. The national debt is just the measure, the check-acount of the labour and resources of the country which have been so wasted – of the stones we have been throwing into the sea. This debt is in fact an obligation entered into by the government on the part of the tax-payers, to indemnify the tax-receivers for their sacrifices in enabling the government to carry on the war. It is a power of attorney, extorted from nine-tenths of the community, making over to the remaining tenth an unlimited command over the resources, the comforts, the labour, the happiness and liberty of the great mass of society, by which their resources, their comforts, their labour, their happiness and their liberty, have been lost, and made away with in government knick-knacks, and the kick-shaws of legitimacy.”

This is a vivid and captivating idea. LI has often plugged into the notion that war is paid for by the loss of liberty.

The question is: is it a true idea? Does it really describe modern war?

Hazlitt wrote this in 1816. This is what had happened over the past two decades: France, after overthrowing the monarchy, had borrowed money to pursue its wars by liquidating the estates of the church and the nobility and divvying them up as paper. These assignats have a complicated history – in fact, the spider web of loans consolidated into mandats, which were divided between those to which the nation pledged its sacred purpose to redeem and those that were, in fact, left unredeemed – in other words, a form of bankruptcy – plunged European markets into chaos and has plunged every succeeding generation of economic historians, seeking to understand the system, into chaos too. Suffice it to say that the interest on the loans to the French created pressure on the English, so that Pitt was forced to suspend the gold standard, and designed a great system for floating loans to conduct the war – conduct which involved, among other things, financially supporting the opponents of France, Austria and Prussia. By 1815, the National Debt seemed overwhelming.

To the average textile worker or artisan, the English economy must have looked hopeless in 1816. Add to that, in Hazlitt's case, the extinction of his hopes for liberty. Hazlitt supposedly wandered around in a daze after Waterloo. He could not get over the return of the Bourbons, the repression of liberty, and the seeming return of the revolutionary energies unlocked by 1793 to the dungeon of history. On all of these counts, he was... well, not utterly wrong, but definitely not right in foreseeing the apocalypse. Britain was about to expand as never before. To see why, one has to put the British system of financing the great wars against France in an even larger context – that of the British system that had brought England not only back into European history since 1688, but that made England – a relative non-entity in terms of world power in 1688 – the greatest world power a mere century later. The rise of Britain is a mystery shrouded in the complacent assumptions we bring to the idea that the British empire was some kind of eternal thing, or that the British were a well respected European power. They were respected mainly for their pirates until the Stuarts, a subsidy of Louis XIV, were chased out. How did they become such an event?

Lawrence Stone, in “An Imperial State at War; Britain from 1689 to 1815” puts the issues into a liberal political form that Hazlitt would have appreciated:

“It is only very recently that historians have begun to study this paradox of, on the one hand, the use of massive external military empire to block a rival hegemonic power and to create a maritime trading power and, on the other, the preservation of internal liberty and the rights of private property – a rare combination only paralleled by Periclean Athens and America from 1941 to the present day. Judith Sklar described 18th century Britain as ‘a commercial, extensive, non-military, democracy disguised as a monarchy.” This is largely, but not entirely, correct.” Stone points out that the non-military part disguised the use of mercenaries – he doesn’t correct the democracy part, which is obviously insane. And he writes: It is also true, however, that British politics and society were bound to be deeply affected by a prolonged war with France. In order to win, the ruling elite were prepared to spend immense amounts of treasure and also torun up the national debt on a scale comparable only to the activities of the Reagan-Bush administrations in the United States.” The comparison in that last sentence is severely understated. The U.S. during the Reagan-Bush years contained a manufacturing stock undreamt of in the 18th century, as well as a wholly transformed sector of human capital that is hard to compare to a society in which bare literacy was the norm.

Hazlitt and in some way Stone speak of war, then, purely in terms of a cost – a waste. The accursed portion, the sacrifice, to use the more elevated rhetoric of Bataille. In this way of thinking, the older notion of war – war as looting – is left behind. The looting system is divorced from the new system of paying for war – which was the genius of the British system. From 1688 – the year that James II was deposed – onward, the British instituted a two tier system for paying for war – short term loans that would be repaid by long term loans. In this way, the British were able to get past the limits traditionally imposed by direct payment for war. Instead, the British steadily cultivated a national debt that was composed almost entirely of old loans, consolidated into long term ones, for an endless series of wars. But loans aren’t merely negative things – if they were, nobody would loan, and there would be no bond market. Rather, by producing a lively bond market, the English spread the debt for their wars around. To do this, the state had to perform a one/two step – on the one hand, centralizing organization enough to manage wars, and on the other hand, decentralizing finance to the extent of divvying its debts up among the upper bourgeoisie. Thus, when France, with its autocratic model of government and its dysfunctional parliamentary system, suffered untold misery trying to pay for its part in this series of wars, the British, whose debt to GDP ration was on some accounts worse than France, flourished.

Loot had not been forsaken as a motive to war. On the contrary, by 1794, the British were in possession of India and bleeding it for all it was worth. But the art of looting had gone up to another level.

The system wasn't, of course, flawless. Even the most beautiful system of finance does face the fact that payment must be made on debt. Here is another area in which war can have an unexpectedly blessed result. One of the takers on the British bonds was the Dutch, which had the most developed financial infrastructure on the Continent. What it did not have was a large army. When, in the 1790s, the French threatened Holland, the Dutch naturally turned to the British. Eventually the French occupied Holland, with the Dutch banks fleeing before them and relocating in London. By 1815 London had displaced Amsterdam as the world center of banking.

All of which is a way of saying that the distinction Hazlitt makes, the distinction that is still made, between productive and unproductive labour, is a much softer distinction – and is sometimes no distinction at all – than Hazlitt, and after him a whole liberal tradition, would like to be the case. As the Cambridge Economic History of Europe puts it, nicely: “Already in the eighteenth, more strongly in the nineteenth century, there existed among the British population a wealthy section capable and willing to invest part of its income in state bonds. Between 1761 and 1820, about 305 per cent of British public expenditure was financed from this source; between 1689 and 1820 the proportion did not fall as low as 29.5 per cent. This section of the population derived from these loans an income in the form of annual interest which grew to a substantial independent source of incomes within the total economy. Interest due to the wealthier section of the population was defrayed via the budget mainly from revenues derived from indirect taxes, paid overwhelmingly by sections of the population in receipt of lower incomes.”

The new system of financing war produced a whole new system of looting. The wealthy, in the anglosphere, have never forgotten this lesson. Those in “receipt of lower incomes” have never, ever learned it. And the liberals pretend, by and large, that it never happened.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Dogs against Romney - go post your dog pics on this site

Hey, if you own a dog and have pics, go over to the dogsagainstromney site and post them and a message from your pooch. The dogs over there say, Romney is mean! Not only should he not be president, he should get help!

Happy fourth, North!

And to all our LI readers!

the peapod of evil

In my last post, I made the point that George Bush isn’t a fascist or America’s worst king. But go to the Obsidian post to understand why he is your typical lamebrained, countryclub accessory to kidnapping and murder, ie that Texas corn-promise between the your middlin' peckerwood's desire to lynch people, especially black people, and the need to respect the spirit of the law as it functions in railroading people into the death chamber.

My shit’s imperial

Disrespect my click, my shit's imperial
Fuck around and made her milkbox material
You feel me? Suckin dick, runnin your lips
'Cause of you, I'm on some real fuck a bitch shit, uhh.. – Notorious B.i.g, Get Money

Bush is not a fascist. Is he the worst American king? I doubt it. Match him insignificance with the insignificances of the pygmy American kings – the Pierce’s, Hayes’ Arthur’s, Coolidge’s – and he is at home in it, a pig in shit. As for the pharaohs, a Kennedy, an Eisenhower, a Reagan, they all contrived moments of horror infinitely more dangerous than Bush’s pipsqueak war on terror. However, the common perception of fascism that haunts the lefty commentariat and has spread to the liberals is not wholly wrong. As in the 1930s, before our eyes and under our noses the democracies are rotting. And as in the 30s, there’s a palpable rise in the level of political frustration. It is as if the political process has ground to a halt. At the same time, the political stakes, at least rhetorically, rise higher and higher. It is the auction effect – the objects upon which we bid are second rate, and we even know that there are more important objects, ones that our lives depend on, that aren’t included in the auction, but we are under the spell and can only bit as the auctioneer manifests some other object – here’s the Libby trial and commutation, here’s the wiretapping and the illegal torture prisons, here’s Cheney’s claim that his office is somehow separate from the executive branch, here’s the lying attorney general. The auctioneer has been selling cheap knock offs since the Berlin wall fell, and we know it, but we are afraid to leave the auditorium. The slogan of the nineties – no alternative – which found its disgusting prophets in Friedman and Fukayama, is now where we live. That hurts. And yet the living is good – the middle class, it is true, stagnates, but its credit cards are ever hopeful, the CEO class has impressed upon the worlds most advanced economy a Brazilian like inequality and no one cares or can even see it, the American army in Iraq is but a ghost coming home in ghost coffins or shut up in the VA hospitals where the bits are extracted from their brain stems and they are sent home to merry lifetimes full of unremittingly violent nightmares but that is their business, party contributions from the blogosphere are rising and rising and candidates have broken through to that blockbuster movie level where the amounts by which they are bribed have become a competition we can all look on with pride. It’s paradise. Everybody thinks the country is on the wrong track and the future is black, but don’t send your son or daughter marching into it without an I-phone and tutorials in raising the SAT score. Perhaps they won’t be useful when the world turns belly up, fucked out and poisoned, but we’ll hopefully be dead by then.

Hazlitt, talking about a similarly poisonous calm in 1816, wrote that the Jacobin’s “hatred of wrong only ceases with the wrong. The sense of it, and of the barefaced assumption of the right to inflict it, deprives him of his rest. It stagnates in his blood.” Soooo true – as one misfit liberal can testify.

So these are the similarities that bring us back to – the Bataille essay! So let’s plunge into it:

“In opposition to the impoverished existence of the oppressed, political sovereignty initially presents itself as a clearly differentiated sadistic activity. In individual psychology, it is rare for the sadistic tendency not to be associated with a more or less manifest masochistic tendency. But as each tendency is normally represented in society by a distinct agency, the sadistic attitude can be manifested by an imperative person to the exclusion of any corresponding masochistic attitudes. In this case, the exclusion of the filthy forms that serve s the object of the cruel act is not accompanied by the positioning of these forms as a value and, consequently, no erotic activity can be associated with the cruelty. The erotic elements themselves are rejected at the same time as every filthy object and, as in a great number of religious attitudes, sadism attains a brilliant purity. This differenciation can be more or less complete – individually, sovereigns have been able to live power in part as an orgy of blood – but, on the whole, within the heterogeneous domain the imperative royal form has historically effected an exclusion of impoverished and filthy forms sufficient to permit a connection with homogeneous forms at a certain level.” – Bataille, The psychological structure of fascism.

Having developed an overview of society in which the homogeneous and heterogeneous tendencies are defined, functionally, with relation to each other as they make up the social whole, and defined, substantially, with relation to utility, Bataille can now address the specific topic of the psychological structure of fascism. For Bataille, fascism is not an exception to other forms of rule, but rather is an exaggeration of previous tendencies in the fraught relation of the sovereign to the ruled. This relationship has several levels of concurrence and of conflict. As in the quote above, the form of the relation should be sexual, and yet in practice it is systematically a-sexualized. Policy is the anti-fuck. The evacuation of a sexual content from the sexual form is reflected, actually, in the violent, sexual language of political polemic, which has always been full of assfucking, dicksucking, being fucked over, shitting, pissing – an orgy of malign frustration that whirls through Mazarinades and revolutionary tracts and the whole subliterature of politics, even up to now. In a sense, politics is sex without arousal.

Bataille was very impressed with a religious fact that also impressed James Frazer in The Golden Bough: the untouchability of the sacred person. Any theory of sovereignty that avoids the issue of untouchability, to Bataille, detours around the central sovereign function, and in fact misses the social configuration in which that sovereignity gains its real power – which is not the power to be obeyed, to use Weber’s metric, but the power to infuse a certain standing moral panic within the homogeneous social part.

Taking this view, Bataille sees in the fuhrer prinzip merely the latest outcropping of an old and archaic form of power:

‘There is hardly any need to suggest at this point that the possibility of such affective formartions has brought about the infinite subjugation that degrades most forms of human life (much more so than abuses of power which, furthermore, are themselves reducible – insofar as the force in play is necessarily social – to imperative formations). If sovereignty is no considered in its tendential form – such as it has been lived historically by the subject to whom it owes its attractive value – yet independently of any particular reality, its nature appears, in human terms, to be the noblest – exalted to majest , pure in the midst of the orgy, beyond the reach of human infirmities. It constitutes the region formally exempt from self-interested intrigues to which the oppressed subject refers as to an empty but pure satisfaction. (In this sense the constitution of royal nature above an inadmissible reality recalls the fictions justifying eternal life.) As a tendential form, it fulfills the ideal of society and the course of things (in the subject’s mind, this function is expressed naively: if the king only knew…). At the same time it is strict authority. Situated above homogeneous society, as well as above the impoverished populace or the aristocratic hierarchy that emanates from it, it requires the bloody repression of what is contrary to it and becomes synonymous in its split-off form with the heterogeneous foundations of the law: it is thus both the possibility of and the requirement for collective unity; it is in the royal orbit that the State and its functions of coercion and adaptation are elaborated; the homogeneous reduction develops, both as destruction and foundation, to the benefit of royal greatness.”

This paragraph will lead us into a consideration of another modality of the heterogeneous: war.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The gods and deceit

The Mesopotamian gods were sensitive sleepers. They were always complaining about noise. Also work. They had to work all the time. Finally their complaints about the work load became too much, so they agreed to create human beings. Human beings could do the work:

“They called up the goddess, asked
The midwife of the gods, wise Mami,
You are the womb-goddess, to be the creator of Mankind!
Create a mortal, that he may bear the yoke!
Let him bear the yoke, the work of Ellil
Let him bear the load of the gods!
Nintu made her voice heard
And spoke to the great gods,
On the first, seventh, and fifteenth of the month
I shall make a purification by washing.
Then one god should be slaughtered.
And the gods can be purified by immersion.
Nintu shall mix the clay
With his flesh and blood.
Then a god and a man
Will be mixed together in clay.
Let us hear the drumbeat forever after,
Let a ghost come into existence from the god's flesh,
Let her proclaim it as her living sign,
And let the ghost exist so as not to forget the slain god.”

The stories all tell, in one way or another, of the creation of man. But immediately upon creating man, the gods will all play tricks of one type or another. Yahweh levels prohibitions that only make sense after the prohibition has been violated – thus demonstrating not only his power to Adam and Eve, but the problem with badly ordered sets. The Mesopotamian gods just wanted a break and a siesta, but they did mix in enough of the slain god into the essence of the human so that the human would always be half ghost. As for the Greek gods, the tricks they played on humans were innumerable. However, there is an obscurity in the Greek myths about who created man and woman anyway. Was it Zeus or was it Prometheus? In Hesiod’s Theogony, men already seem to exist, but not women. Women are a trick themselves. Prometheus pulls a trick on Zeus by covering up some bones with some likely looking fatty meat at a meal and asking all the gods to take a portion. Zeus takes the bones, which implies that he was tricked, but Hesiod claims that he was not tricked - as is often the case, in myths as in dreams, negation is avoided by bifurcating the story, telling both sides of the contradiction as if they were both true. From thence ensues a complicated fight:

“For when the gods and mortal men had a dispute at Mecone, even then Prometheus was forward to cut up a great ox and set portions before them, trying to befool the mind of Zeus. Before the rest he set flesh and inner parts thick with fat upon the hide, covering them with an ox paunch; but for Zeus he put the white bones dressed up with cunning art and covered with shining fat. Then the father of men and of gods said to him:
`Son of Iapetus, most glorious of all lords, good sir, how unfairly you have divided the portions!'
(ll. 545-547) So said Zeus whose wisdom is everlasting, rebuking him. But wily Prometheus answered him, smiling softly and not forgetting his cunning trick:
(ll. 548-558) `Zeus, most glorious and greatest of the eternal gods, take which ever of these portions your heart within you bids.' So he said, thinking trickery. But Zeus, whose wisdom is everlasting, saw and failed not to perceive the trick, and in his heart he thought mischief against mortal men which also was to be fulfilled. With both hands he took up the white fat and was angry at heart, and wrath came to his spirit when he saw the white ox-bones craftily tricked out: and because of this the tribes of men upon earth burn white bones to the deathless gods upon fragrant altars. But Zeus who drives the clouds was greatly vexed and said to him:
(ll. 559-560) `Son of Iapetus, clever above all! So, sir, you have not yet forgotten your cunning arts!'
(ll. 561-584) So spake Zeus in anger, whose wisdom is everlasting; and from that time he was always mindful of the trick, and would not give the power of unwearying fire to the Melian (21) race of mortal men who live on the earth. But the noble son of Iapetus outwitted him and stole the far-seen gleam of unwearying fire in a hollow fennel stalk. And Zeus who thunders on high was stung in spirit, and his dear heart was angered when he saw amongst men the far-seen ray of fire. Forthwith he made an evil thing for men as the price of fire; for the very famous Limping God formed of earth the likeness of a shy maiden as the son of Cronos willed. And the goddess bright-eyed Athene girded and clothed her with silvery raiment, and down from her head she spread with her hands a broidered veil, a wonder to see; and she, Pallas Athene, put about her head lovely garlands, flowers of new-grown herbs. Also she put upon her head a crown of gold which the very famous Limping God made himself and worked with his own hands as a favour to Zeus his father. On it was much curious work, wonderful to see; for of the many creatures which the land and sea rear up, he put most upon it, wonderful things, like living beings with voices: and great beauty shone out from it.
(ll. 585-589) But when he had made the beautiful evil to be the price for the blessing, he brought her out, delighting in the finery which the bright-eyed daughter of a mighty father had given her, to the place where the other gods and men were. And wonder took hold of the deathless gods and mortal men when they saw that which was sheer guile, not to be withstood by men.
(ll. 590-612) For from her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.”

This is a bizarre story, for among other things the gods seem to be fully sexed already, so that it is hard to see how they were astonished by woman. Woman does become a marker dividing the divine from the human in this story – for only the gods can see woman as sheer guile, whereas mortals – men – can’t – on the contrary, they are overcome by it. Again, this is odd when you consider how often the gods end up chasing human women.
However confusing all these stories are – there is always some lack of clarity in the creation story, as if the teller had forgotten the most important part, somehow, and was piecing it out with half remembered details - the creation of the human race is almost always tied up with some trickery, some deceit.

However, if the Gods trick mankind, mankind repays the favor by overturning the gods. Heine’s little sketch, the Gods in Exile, is about what happens to Gods that have fled from that particular human revolt called Christianity. He takes an old conceit, which is that the Gods became demons, or that the celestial was driven underground, and uses the logic implied in it to show how the Gods become secularized. They devolve, in a sense. Not only do they descend into the human division of labour, but they abdicate their geographic realm – the sunny gods of Greece flee to the cold north. The most powerful of the Gods go the furthest north – at the end of the Gods in Exile, Heine tells the story of the horrible end of Jupiter, trapped in the suspended animation of a long senility on an island surrounded by ice.
To be continued

Monday, July 02, 2007

Dog Torture: the key to victory for GOP candidates?

They came to New Zealand with the dogs. They came to Hawaii with the dogs. They came across the Bering Strait with the dogs. As human beings settled new territories, they always brought two animals in tow – dogs and rats. The rats have always been the happy, if unintended, beneficiary of the human habit of littering and building up environments of filth. The dogs, though, were part of a happier symbiosis. Now, as we are chuckling our way to the end of Sixth Extinction, dogs might be the last reminder that human beings once were civilized beasts – not the forked, planet destroying parasites currently trying to turn Gaia’s atmosphere all Venusian and shit.

So we at LI have been especially fascinated by Mitt Romney’s new appeal to the right: torturing the family dog. American politics is about character. In the liberal midst of the sixties, the character desired combined some mixture of tolerance and leadership. The tolerance was of your average sit com type, where Dad put up with the crazy neighbors with a fistful of one-liners. The leadership consisted of giving the American populace a joy ride every two or three years, bombing here, invading there, all in good fun. Foreign corpses are not anything to get too excited about, and don’t we love shock and awe!

But in these dire days after 9/11 changed everything, we want something more. Something stronger. We want someone with both the courage to keep his mind in a state as permanently empty as our own, but at the same time someone who knows that old norms just won’t do – you can’t tear down the remnants of civilization if you are unwilling to break some eggs…

Or torture the family dog! Luckily, the GOP has come up with a man for this historic occasion: Governor Romney. As LI reader’s probably know, Romney told the following story to the Boston Globe (yes, they told it to the Globe. They used this story to illustrate Romney’s character to the Globe. The Romneys are evidently proud of this story):

“The white Chevy station wagon with the wood paneling was overstuffed with suitcases, supplies, and sons when Mitt Romney climbed behind the wheel to begin the annual 12-hour family trek from Boston to Ontario.

As with most ventures in his life, he had left little to chance, mapping out the route and planning each stop. The destination for this journey in the summer of 1983 was his parents' cottage on the Canadian shores of Lake Huron. Romney would be returning to the place of his most cherished childhood memories.

Even for someone who had always idolized his father, the similarities between his path in life and the one George Romney had cut before him were remarkable. Husband to his high school sweetheart, father to a brood of young children, bishop of his local Mormon church, and businessman on the threshold of life-altering success.
If anything, 36-year-old Mitt, who had just been tapped to lead a new venture capital firm, was on track to achieve more at a younger age than his famously overachieving father.
His father had known poverty as a child, Mitt only privilege. His father had succeeded without a college degree while Mitt was launched with the finest educational pedigree. Given all his advantages, Mitt seemed restless to make his mark sooner.
Before beginning the drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family's hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon's roof rack. He'd built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog.
Then Romney put his boys on notice: H
e would be making predetermined stops for gas, and that was it.
The ride was largely what you'd expect with five brothers, ages 13 and under, packed into a wagon they called the ''white whale.''

As the oldest son, Tagg Romney commandeered the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, where he glimpsed the first sign of trouble. ''Dad!'' he yelled. ''Gross!'' A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who'd been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.

As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.”

The moronic inferno can find so much to love in this story. The privileged son of a famous father – does it strike a chord in your hearts, reader? And of course, having packed up all that luggage, you just have to take the family dog, Seamus. Oh, sure, you could have left him behind, but blissful days of electroshocking him, beating him with sticks, chaining him up with no food for days on end – all the things your regular family would do – would be left on hiatus. Emotion free crisis management called out for a solution, and solution was found.

I give a lot of credit to Anna Marie Cox for picking out the blatant weirdness in this story. The one time I interviewed Cox, when she was doing the Wonkette gig, I did not come away impressed. But she has become a lot more impressive since she’s been working at Time. For one thing, she has perfected the combination of political satire and the drunk act. It used to make American audiences howl to watch a comedian pretend to be drunk – it became part of Dean Martin’s stock in trade, for instance – but PC put the keebosh on funny while stoned. I’m glad to see it is making a comeback. Cox’s Time gig comes with a lot of limelight, and she did the right thing here:

“Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was less circumspect. PETA does not have a position on Romney's candidacy per se, but Newkirk called the incident "a lesson in cruelty that was ... wrong for [his children] to witness...Thinking of the wind, the weather, the speed, the vulnerability, the isolation on the roof, it is commonsense that any dog who's under extreme stress might show that stress by losing control of his bowels: that alone should have been sufficient indication that the dog was, basically, being tortured." Romney, of course, has expressed support for the use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques when it comes to terrorists; his campaign refused to comment about the treatment of his dog.”

The inevitable pushback has been as interesting, as the Bush base wrote heartfelt paens to the joys of torturing dogs. The most common theme is how dogs do enjoy the wind – they stick their heads out of the window when they are in stuffy cars. They are put in the back of pick up trucks. The first line of reasoning is cute – if dogs enjoy, say, drinking water, there is nothing they would like more than to be immersed in water for ten or twelve hours. The second line of reasoning is pretty unfair to Southern good old boys, who do like dogs. They like them enough not to put them into the back of a truck and zoom at seventy miles down a highway for ten hours with the dog taking the consequences.

Our favorite defense was that given in a comment by Anne Althouse, the GOP narcissist:

“How about the way they transport horses and cattle? It's not very pleasant, but we don't regard it with outrage. I'm sure some excrement emerges in the process.

Also, dogs like to stick their head out of the car and maximize the wind flow, so it's anthropomorphic to assume the dog hated it. I really don't think shit is that eloquent.”

Dogs, cattle, what the fuck difference does it make? I was surprised at Althouse’s putdown of shit, however, considering what she normally fills her site with. All this time I thought she thought she was being eloquent.

However, even among a 27 percent that lusts for tales of putting electrodes to Muslim genitalia, Romney’s valiant attempt to torture Seamus looks like it hasn’t had quite the desired effect. In the end, the ghost of Seamus might sink the ambitions of this awful, awful man. What do you know? There is a bit, a small small bit, of civilization left in these here states!

heterology yesterday, heterology today, heterology tomorrow

Continuing from the previous post:

Bataille’s notion that science is homogenizing and is an instrument of the tendency to the homogeneous pole in society is not only an epistemological claim, but an existential one. The scientific character of socialism may be used by the revolutionary, but the revolutionary derives – as a figure - from a whole other and previous lineage, and comes into contact with socialism in much the chance way that a sewing machine and an umbrella meet on an ironing board. For Bataille, the researcher in heterogeneity who is conscious of the necessity of not repeating the exclusionary gesture that would distort the value system implicit in the heterogeneous must, then, become a participant-observer. (Actually, the necessity for this isn't logical - here, Bataille is cheating a bit. He wants that necessity to be embraced, which is the activist component of Bataille's work at this time). The respect for scientific norms shouldn’t become, unconsciously, the need to conform to scientific institutions. This, in a sense, is the motivation behind the numerous different forms of writing Bataille tried – all of them dealt, in one way or another, with becoming-useless. In Bataille's life, the lure of becoming sacred himself led him in sometimes... odd directions. In 1933, it was leading him to consider whether a form of left fascism might not be possible. That possibility was, actually, pretty popular among French intellectuals in the thirties - although Bataille soon rejected it as untenable.

To return to the theory: taking usefulness to be defined by a sort of fort-da within the homogeneous sector of the social, a never absolutely founded value that absolutely founds all other values, Bataille sees the useless in terms of two poles - sovereignty and abjection, both of which gain their mean from the fundamentally sacred character of the excluded portion. His sense of the sacred continues a theme in Durkheim: “Durkheim faced the impossibility of providing it with a scientific definition: he settled for characterizing the sacred world negatively as being absolutely heterogenous compared to the profane. It is nevertheless possible to admit that the sacred is known positively…” It’s positive side is given to us in mana and the taboo. That is, in a useless energy, an energy that can’t enter into the equivalences of exchange, and a number of prohibitions that shape profane activity without being explicable within the profane sphere.

Beyond the properly sacred things that constitute the common realm of religion or magic, the heterogeneous world includes everything resulting from unproductive expenditure (sacred things themselves form part of this whole). This consists of everything rejected by homogeneous society as waste or as superior transcendent value. Inlcuded are the waste products of the human body and certain analogous matter (trash, vermin, etc.); the parts of the body; persons, words or acts having a suggestive erotic value; the various unconscious processes such as dreams or neuroses; the numerous elements or social forms that homogeneous society is powerless to assimilate: mobs, the warrior, aristocratic and impoverished classes, different types of violent individuals or at least those who refuse the rule (madmen, leaders, poets etc.)

This perhaps too broad and ad hoc view of the heterogeneous has proved to be amazingly suggestive, even if Bataille is often not acknowledged in various intellectual genealogies, since he goes to far. He always goes too far. For example, Orlando Patterson’s work on slavery as social death shares assumptions about exclusion and the sacred that are hinted at in various of Bataille’s passages about the offensiveness of poverty, the disgust invoked by poverty, the discourse that always seems to gravitate to sub or under – as, in the eighties, it gravitated to talk about the underclass. In the Marxist tradition, it is lumpen: “the lowest strata of society can equally be described as heterogeneous, those who generally provoke repulsion and in no case can be assimilated by the whole of mankind. In India, these impoverished classes are considered untouchable, meanting that they are characterized by the prohibition of contact analogous to that applied to sacred things.” In advanced civilizations “The nauseating forms of dejection provoke a feeling of disgust so unbearable that it is improper to express or even to make allusion to it. By all indications, in the psychological order of disfiguration, the material poverty of man has excessive consequences.”

LI will not one other important aspect of the relation of heterogeneity to the homogeneous dominant forces before we end this post, which is mainly quoting. In the next post, there will be a bit more applyin’:

The reality of heterogeneous elements is not of the same order as that of homogeneous elements. Homogeneous reality presents itself with the abstract and neutral aspect of strictly defined and identified objects (basically, it is the specific reality of solid objects). Heterogeneous reality is that of a force or shock. It presents itself as a charge, as a value, passing from one object to another in a more or less abstract fashion, almost as if the change were taking place not in the world of objects but only in the judgements of the subjects. The preceding aspect nevertheless does not signify that the observed facts are to be considered as subjective: thus, the action of the objects of erotic activity is manifestly rooted in their objective nature. Nonetheless, in a disconcerting way, the subject does have the capacity to displace the exciting value of one element onto an analogous or neighboring one. In heterogeneous reality, the symbols charged with affective value thus have the same importance as the fundamental elements, and the part can have the same value as the whole.

Bataille’s comments here might seem a bit obscure, but he is dealing with that odd fold in Western culture in which objects became something different from subjects, and the objectification of the subject became one of the taboos defining the realm of ethics. That escape from the object, or delapidation of the object, has a great importance for Bataille in his later work Here, we’ll just note in passing that the heterogeneous world, by endowing objects with mysterious charges and energies corresponding to systems that collapse in the face of rational reconstruction, is a world of fetishism unleashed, in which the “part can have the same value as the whole.” I am not sure whether Simmel influenced Bataille, but in Simmel’s model of modernity, there is a return to this reversal of the relation of whole to the part – the mediate becoming as valuable as the immediate, changing the direct relationships upon which social power is based into an unmoored system of variable power, tethered more and more to the very symbol of mediation, money. Ah, but LI is feeling an onset of jawcracker-ness – jargon, honey, will rot your tongue.

PS - IT has an essay up about WR.


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