Saturday, July 21, 2007

the hearsties

The prizes for journalism are not, perhaps, as well known outside of journalism circles as within. There is, for instance, the Pulitzer “cockroach” award, given for the columnist who has done the most to promote exterminationism and war crimes – and though most people thought Christopher Hitchens had the lock on it again this year, that award went to the ever egregious Fred Hiatt. And there is the Hearst award for Bootlicking, which goes to the journalist who has displayed the most valiant brownnosing in the areas of celebrity interview, sports, business, and political reporting. The Hearstie is prized by the writers of Teen People and the business journalists from Forbes, two pools that have traditionally dominated, but this year, I see a strong showing by the New York Times. Harriet Rubin, for instance, turned in a stunning performance yesterday in the business section.

An article entitled “C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success” had a certain magnificent abasement, a certain saucy extra lick to the ever delicious brown pucker of many of our wisest titans of industry, that it sent a responsive shudder through through the media world. It was said that Louis XIV’s tutor would agree with the prince’s anwswers even before Louis spoke them – prudent man. Today’s journalist takes the same route, which is the safest with the obviously great, world class figures they have the honor and the privilege to actually address. Wasn't it the NYT's political correspondent who spoke, in 2003, of how scary it was to ask the President - a man, and yet really, so much more than a mere man! - questions in press conferences. One had to come up with questions in a trembling voice, like, do you rate yourself, as a leader, as slightly better or much better than FDR and Churchill? Could you give us the secret of your brilliant decision-making? etc. Things like that. Things that our fourth branch can be proud of.

The subject of Rubin’s piece is of that our CEOs are not only Einsteins, are not only the genetically perfected group of mortals that sit atop the most perfect meritocracy in this most perfect of meritocratic worlds, but that they are also readers. Reading has apparently just been discovered – the woman who writes the Harry Potter books invented it – and it has been discovered, moreover, to be good. It is good to read! And so we get stories like this:

Serious leaders who are serious readers build personal libraries dedicated to how to think, not how to compete. Ken Lopez, a bookseller in Hadley, Mass., says it is impossible to put together a serious library on almost any subject for less than several hundred thousand dollars.

Perhaps that is why — more than their sex lives or bank accounts — chief executives keep their libraries private. Few Nike colleagues, for example, ever saw the personal library of the founder, Phil Knight, a room behind his formal office. To enter, one had to remove one’s shoes and bow: the ceilings were low, the space intimate, the degree of reverence demanded for these volumes on Asian history, art and poetry greater than any the self-effacing Mr. Knight, who is no longer chief executive, demanded for himself.

The Knight collection remains in the Nike headquarters. “Of course the library still exists,” Mr. Knight said in an interview. “I’m always learning.”

Or like this:

“If there is a C.E.O. canon, its rule is this: “Don’t follow your mentors, follow your mentors’ mentors,” suggests David Leach, chief executive of the American Medical Association’s accreditation division. Mr. Leach has stocked his cabin in the woods of North Carolina with the collected works of Aristotle.”

And then, of course, that vignette that helps us, outside the golden circle, sympathize with these titans, these brains, these possessors of the biggest cocks ever to rape the planet Earth. This one is touching on every dimension:

Personal libraries have always been a biopsy of power. The empire-loving Elizabeth I surrounded herself with the Roman historians, many of whom she translated, and kept one book under lock and key in her bedroom, in a French translation she alone of her court could read: Machiavelli’s treatise on how to overthrow republics, “The Prince.” Churchill retreated to his library to heal his wounds after being voted out of power in 1945 — and after reading for six years came back to power.
“Over the years, the philanthropist and junk-bond king Michael R. Milken has collected biographies, plays, novels and papers on Galileo, the renegade who was jailed in his time but redeemed by history.”

Ruben might have bowed to that silly journalistic rule about including all the highlights of a career in her description of the philanthropist and junk-bond king by adding ‘jailbird’ to that list of glittering titles – but the comparison of Milken and Galileo is, well, almost a masterpiece. The probing tongue has discovered, here, a piece of hardened excrement beyond price, and swallows it down with an insouciance that would make Louis XIV’s tutor shiver all over. One is reminded of that great scene in Gravity’s Rainbow of the encounter between Brigadier Pudding and Katje:

‘Now her intestines whine softly, and she fells shit begin to slide down and out. He kneels with his arms up holding the rich cape. A dark turd appears out of the crevice, out of the absolute darkness between her white buttocks. He spreads his knees, awkwardly, until he can feel the leather of her boots. He leans forward to surround the hot turd with his lips, sucking on it tenderly, licking along its lower side..”

One does hope that Ms. Rubin got the proper antibiotic shots after her own performance with Milkin, et al. This is truly an article to cherish.

Friday, July 20, 2007

search me with this salt

- Lot's wife, Anselm Kiefer

But the storehouse, and the very life of memory, is the history of time; and a special charge have we, all along the Scriptures, to call upon men to look to that. For all our wisdom consisteing either in experience or memory – experience of our own, or memory of others, our days are so short that our experience can be but slender… - Lancelot Andrewes

In his great, skewed sermon on Lot’s Wife, preached before Queen Elizabeth, Lancelot Andrewes remarks there are only seven instances, in the Vulgate, when we are called upon to remember something – a memento is laid down, as he puts it:

“Seven several times we are called upon to do it: a. Memento dierum antiquorum, saith Moses. 2. Recordamini prioris Seculi – Esay. 3. State super vias antiques-Jermy. Investiga patrum memoriam-Job. 5. Exemplum sumite Prophetas-James. 6. Rememoramini dies priscos-Paul. 7. Remember Lot’s wife- Christ here; that is, to lay our actions to those we find there, and of like doings to look for like ends. So read stories past, as we make not ourselves matter for story to come.”

Of course, it isn’t hard to pick out an odd discrepancy here in the chain of taboos – for if Lot’s wife was cursed for looking back, what is Christ doing but asking us to look back to that act? In a sense, the reason to remember the story within the memento seems to contradict the command of the memento. Except: what is that command?

Which brings us closer to the fate of Lot’s wife and her pitiful story. LI is a great fan of this story.

It is the more pitiful in that the story ends with Lot’s wife appearing as a sort of footnote to the whole adventure. One is reminded of that great Brueghel painting - the subject of Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" - of the fall of Icarus – the boy’s legs waving just above the encroaching waves, and the placid and roundabout ignorance of the event as life goes on: the herdsmen, the sailors, the laborers.

Briefly, this is what Genesis has to say:

Lot dwells in Sodom, with his wife, two daughters, and his sons in law. The Lord sends angels into the city to check it out – he is doing a survey, and if the angels can find a just man in the place, the Lord will spare it. But the Sodomites throng before Lot’s door, demanding to have sex with those angels. Lot offers his daughters in their place, but the Sodomites won’t have it. The angels then tell Lot to go, but:

“019:016 And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and
upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two
daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him: and they brought
him forth, and set him without the city.

And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad,
that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee,
neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain,
lest thou be consumed.

019:018 And Lot said
unto them, Oh, not so, my LORD:

019:019 Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and
thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me
in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest
some evil take me, and I die:
019:020 Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little
one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and
my soul shall live.

019:021 And he said unto him, See, I have accepted thee concerning
this thing also,
that I will not overthrow this city, for the
which thou hast spoken.

019:022 Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do anything till thou
be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called

019:023 The sun was risen
upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar.

019:024 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone
and fire from the LORD out of heaven;

019:025 And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the
inhabitants of the
cities, and that which grew upon the

019:026 But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a
pillar of salt.”

When Christ lays his memento on Lot’s wife, commanding us to remember her, he doesn't give her a name. Unlike Abram’s wife or Joseph's, we aren't given her first name in the story. As she figures, a diminuendo, at the end of the great destruction of the city, that diminuendo is made tinier still by the absence of a name, as though by degrees we were getting down to granules of her, flakes, a mere seasoning. By looking back and becoming a pillar of salt, she became one of the two great Western myths about looking back – the other being Orpheus’ backward glance at Eurydice as the two were coming out of the underworld. In Orpheus’ case, too, the taboo was that he could not look back. And in Orpheus’ case – just as in the case of the memento laid on Lot’s wife – the original taboo did not effect the chain of glances backwards to the moment of violation. The poem - the story - escapes the rule. Such a limit to the taboo implies that memory and the gaze backward are on two different planes…

But LI is not as concerned with this as with the career of Lot’s wife. Lancelot Andrewes’ sermon is constructed around the orthodox version of the story – Lot’s wife is an instance of faintheartedness. In one sense, of course, she links up with Eve, another woman who disobeys the Lord’s word. But in another sense, Lot’s wife has put up with everything. She left Ur, the wicked city, with Lot. She wandered with Lot for years. She put up with Lot offering to protect the angels of the Lord at the price of giving the men of Sodom her daughters. So her great sin was quailing at the last moment. It was frailty of the will.

“Looking back might proceed of divers causes, so might this of hers, but that Christ's application directs us. The verse before saith, 'Somewhat in the house;' something left behind affected her, of which He giveth us warning. She grew weary of trouble, and of shifting so often. From Ur to Haran; thence to Canaan; thence to Egypt; thence to Canaan again; then to Sodom, and now to Zoar; and that, in her old days, when she would fainest have been at rest. Therefore, in this wearisome conceit of new trouble now to begin, and withal remembering the convenient seat she had in Sodom, she even desired to die by her flesh-pots, and to be buried in 'the graves of lusts;' wished them at Zoar that would, and herself at Sodom again, desiring rather to end her life [67/68] with ease in that stately city, than to remove, and be safe perhaps, and perhaps not in the desolate mountains. And this was the sin of restlessness of soul, which affected her eyes and knees, and was the cause of all the former. When men weary of a good cause which long they have holden, for a little ease or wealth, or I wot not what other secular respect fall away in the end; so losing the praise and fruit of their former perseverance, and relapsing into the danger and destruction from which they had so near escaped.
Behold, these were the sins of Lot's wife, a wavering of mind, slow steps, the convulsion of her neck: all these caused her weariness and fear of new trouble--she preferred Sodom's ease before Zoar's safety, 'Remember Lot's wife.”

In a great phrase, Andrewes later says that we are searched with her salt. This vivid picture of Lot’s wife is, in fact, why I am in absolute agreement with Kurt Vonnegut, who dedicated Slaughterhouse Five to her:

“Those were vile people in both those cities, as is well known. The world was better off without them.

And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because
it was so human.

So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes.”

Oddly enough, Vonnegut’s interpretation imputes to Lot’s wife feelings that are not often interpreted to her in the afterlife of her story. A more common interpretation is that Lot’s wife was drawn by the sensation of the destruction. That the taboo was a taboo on enjoying violence. Just as in the story in Plato, where Leontius was so drawn and at the same time repulsed by the bodies that lay on the execution field outside of Athens that he rushed to one and addressed his eyes, saying, there, ye wretches, take your fill of the fine spectacle. Myself, though, my instinct is that Andrewes notion of a certain sloth, a certain nostalgia, a certain weariness, a desire to, at last, to “die by her flesh-pots, and to be buried in 'the graves of lusts’” rather than continue on this unending quest with her husband, in the service of a dangerous god, in the hands of an inhuman justice, can be combined with Vonnegut’s notion of a certain instinctive human compassion to give us a sense of the meaning of remembering Lot’s wife. To LI’s mind, Lot’s wife is the genius of our reactionary instincts. It is where we are reactionary – politically, socially, emotionally.

Although Lot’s wife is a strong figure, the only figure in the New Testament, as Andrewes points out, who has a memento laid on her by Christ, she is not the subject of a lot of poetry. But Anna Akhmatova wrote one poem for her. Here it is:

And the just man trailed God's shining agent,

over a black mountain, in his giant track,

while a restless voice kept harrying his woman:

"It's not too late, you can still look back

at the red towers of your native Sodom,

the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,

at the empty windows set in the tall house

where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed."

A single glance: a sudden dart of pain

stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . .

Her body flaked into transparent salt,

and her swift legs rooted to the ground.

Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem

too insignificant for our concern?

Yet in my heart I never will deny her,

who suffered death because she chose to turn.

All of which brings us back to that death sentence. If one reading of the punishment - that Lot's wife is punished for feasting her eyes on a scene of destruction - is wrong, what, then, are we to make of this taboo? In LI's opinion, we here strike upon an odd topic: the embarrassment of power. Yes, the catastrophic crimes committed by the powerful need some cover, some secrecy, so that they do not arouse such indignation in subject populations that Jehovah will be strung from a lamppost. But it isn't the case that power is simply and completely structured by rationality. Perhaps - LI hypothesizes, don't hold me to this in court! - perhaps Jehovah is embarrassed. Perhaps the reactive feelings that turn Lot's wife's head - reactive feelings that, remember, have caused Lot himself to linger and complain - are not unknown to the Lord of Hosts, or the Fuhrer, or the POTUS, or the infinite bureaucratic systems with their infinite lists that make possible the slaughter of cattle and people in equal measure, with more wastage per pound on the homo sapiens. Joseph K., you will remember, is hidden in the tavern to spy upon one of the Castle's minor officials, but a great demonic power in the village itself. There is a shame in power, in its exercise, its structure, that must be revenged upon its victims. An embarrassment even where power is most rampant and insolent.

and what are you doing? Oh, first let me tell you what I'm doing...

I was talking on the phone last night with a friend who is thinking of going to the Frankfurt Book Fair this November to peddle her translating talent. She lives in Barcelona and has translated two novels from Spanish, one for FSG. So we talked a little bit about plans and projects, and I admitted that I am in a trough vis a vis fiction. But, I said, I’ve been doing this thing on my blog that I’d love to, to do something with. Then I started spieling to her about how for the last year I’ve been developing these different themes that have a certain coherence: the career of the sage in the West, and the expulsion of the sage as one of the founding gestures of modernity; the construction of Happiness Triumphant, as happiness became not merely a mood or a feeling, but the keystone of all moods and feeling; the dialectical career of volupte, originally a liberating opening to pleasure, under the sign of Epicurus, rediscovered by the libertines, but soon adopted by the bourgeoisie as part of the pleasure-pain calculus legitimating capitalism; and these numerous capillary connections to two events of the longue duree, the treadmill of production (underneath capitalism and socialism) and the war culture. Such was my spiel. Well, believe it or not, I’m a spieler. It is unbelievable, sometimes, the bullshit that falls from my lips, as though the devil rode my tongue. I’ve exerted, to the right audience, a sinister and bizarre influence.

However, even to myself I could tell that these themes form something more like a cloud, a diffuse atmosphere, a certain temperature, rather than anything solid enough to climb upon. Imagine the Decline of the West as composed within the brain of an amorous cricket and you get some idea of the essay I’d like to gestate. But there it is…

My pre-occupation with these things has brought me back to certain philosophical concerns of my LI's wild years. Yet, as I look around at philosophy blogs, I don’t see a lot I feel akin to. Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze, to me, were all about tracing paths. Their successors are more like Calasso, or Ginzberg, or Hadot, or Veyne, rather than those who are currently popular with the theory crowd. Who are pretty indifferent to genealogies, traces, histories, all the old fuddery. That makes LI a bit of an outlier, eh? Still, I can see this … project, in the distance – a glorious outline in a pea soup mist, getting underway as crowds wave handkerchiefs and the crew blows kisses, goodbye!

ps - I can't wholly lament my inability to get ahead with this blog. I went to a google search reference that brought someone to limited inc and I'm proud to say that we are SECOND if you are searching for Suck My Big Cock. My parents will be so proud!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

our blue planet - one of the galaxy's premier outhouses!

I am reviewing the book, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. The book is about the world as it would be if humans disappeared about now – perhaps prey to some human created virus, or swept up in the Rapture.

It is an impressive reminder that when the U.S. sent up that satellite in the seventies, the one with the famous drawing of a heroic human figure by Leonardo Da Vinci and various emblematic signs indicative of our human kind, we forgot the sign for endless shit. What is that sign, anyway? It should be in the zodiac. Some star cluster spelling out turd. Humans are characterized, more than anything else, by their tremendous ability to create garbage. No other creature has ever created garbage on the human scale. We each use more energy than a blue whale, and we each turn it into more waste than a blue whale weighs.

Take plastic. Since its invention, about fifty years ago, it is all still here.

“EXCEPT FOR A SMALL AMOUNT that’s been incinerated,” says Tony Andrady
the oracle, “every bit of plastic manufactured in the world for the last fifty years or so still remains. It’s somewhere in the environment.”

That half century’s total production now surpasses 1 billion tons. It includes hundreds of different plastics, with untold permutations involving added plasticizers, opacifiers, colors, fillers, strengtheners, and light stabilizers. The longevity of each can vary enormously. Thus far, none has disappeared. Researchers have attempted to find out how long it will take polyethylene to biodegrade by incubating a sample in a live bacteria culture. A year later, less than 1 percent was gone.

“And that’s under the best controlled laboratory conditions. That’s not what you will find in real life,” says Tony Andrady. “Plastics haven’t been around long enough for microbes to develop the enzymes to handle it, so they can only biodegrade the very-low-molecular-weight part of the plastic”—meaning, the smallest, already broken polymer chains. Although truly biodegradable plastics derived from natural plant sugars have appeared, as well as biodegradable polyester made from bacteria, the chances of them replacing the petroleum-based originals aren’t great.”

I’m quoting from the Orion magazine excerpt. Reader, do read this article. Orion is one of the smartest magazines going at the present time, and their environmental reporting and essays are so much better than the gasbaggery of most magazines that it is depressing.

Weisman’s chapter is about where that plastic is mostly going. It is mostly going into that part of this beautiful planet that God looked down upon, and said – to his angels – this shall be man’s toilet bowl, where he can dump all the shit and crap he needs, after filling his guts with twinkies and potato chips. You guessed it: the oceans! yes indeed, this little hominid critter is doing a bang up job on the oceans. There is a part of the Pacific ocean in the horse latitudes between California and Hawaii known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. It is mostly avoided by ships, since the water in it is warm and slowly rotates in a vast vortex. It is the size of Texas. The plastic bag I took my groceries home in two years ago this day is probably there; as is the potato chip bag I crumpled up, the Styrofoam that my computer was packed in, and a bike tire or two. The plastic in the upper waters has been measured. It now outnumbers the plankton. Plastic is made in little pellets called nurdles, and those little pellets find their way, by wind and water, to the ocean two. It is estimated that two hundred fifty million pounds is manufactured each year. And the pellets then go through guts. Just as sea birds and turtles consume empty balloons and rubber bands, these miniscule nurdles are eaten by tinier creatures. A biologist named Richard Thompson has been studying this:

“Thompson’s team realized that slow mechanical action—waves and tides that grind against shorelines, turning rocks into beaches—were now doing the same to plastics. The largest, most conspicuous items bobbing in the surf were slowly getting smaller. At the same time, there was no sign that any of the plastic was biodegrading, even when reduced to tiny fragments.

“We imagined it was being ground down smaller and smaller, into a kind of powder. And we realized that smaller and smaller could lead to bigger and bigger problems.”
He knew the terrible tales of sea otters choking on poly-ethylene rings from beer six-packs; of swans and gulls strangled by nylon nets and fishing lines; of a green sea turtle in Hawai’i dead with a pocket comb, a foot of nylon rope, and a toy truck wheel lodged in its gut. His personal worst was a study on fulmar carcasses washed ashore on North Sea coastlines. Ninety-five percent had plastic in their stomachs—an average of forty-four pieces per bird. A proportional amount in a human being would weigh nearly five pounds.

There was no way of knowing if the plastic had killed them, although it was a safe bet that, in many, chunks of indigestible plastic had blocked their intestines. Thompson reasoned that if larger plastic pieces were breaking down into smaller particles, smaller organisms would likely be consuming them. He devised an aquarium experiment, using bottom-feeding lugworms that live on organic sediments, barnacles that filter organic matter suspended in water, and sand fleas that eat beach detritus. In the experiment, plastic particles and fibers were provided in proportionately bite-sized quantities. Each creature promptly ingested them.
When the particles lodged in their intestines, the resulting constipation was terminal. But if the pieces were small enough, they passed through the invertebrates’ digestive tracts and emerged, seemingly harmlessly, out the other end. Did that mean that plastics were so stable that they weren’t toxic? At what point would they start to naturally break down—and when they did, would they release some fearful chemicals that would endanger organisms some time far in the future?

Richard Thompson didn’t know. Nobody did, because plastics haven’t been around long enough for us to know how long they’ll last or what will happen to them. His team had identified nine different kinds in the sea so far, varieties of acrylic, nylon, polyester, polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride. All he knew was that soon everything alive would be eating them.”

Now, some would call this a shame and maybe even get all environmentally sappy. But luckily, in the country that counts, the U.S. of A., we have a hard core of people who have it on the authority of Jehovah himself that we can fuck with the planet any old way we want to. It is called the gang bang theory of human domination – oh, I’m sorry, that’s wrong. It is called Christianity. Not all Christianity, let’s not be unfair. The Catholic church, for instance, is so concerned about the plastic that goes into making condoms that they are doing the Lord’s work in trying to get condoms out of, like, Africa. I’m thinking more of the punkass peckerwood right. And they have an organization! Is that cool or what? it is called the interfaith punkass peckerwood movement. Just joking! It is called the Interfaith council for Environmental Stewardship. By Environmental Stewardship the IES means the same thing RJ Reynolds means by Public health – don’t believe the hype! cigarettes are good for you, Al Gore made up that thing about global warming, and God doesn’t want you to do anything romantic – pagan even – and against free enterprise (his other commandment) by making the ocean into something other than what God wanted it to be: a vast toilet.

And to think: some say this isn’t the greatest country in the world.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Intrepid pedicons unite!

“Who does not know', Forberg exclaimed at one point, 'that the Greeks and Romans were intrepid pedicons and determined cinaedes?” – Whitney Davis, “Homoerotic Art Collection from 1750 to 1920”, Art History 2001.

Who indeed? Davis’ interesting article outlines the gay millionaire boho culture of the late nineteenth century and the early 20th, which was centered at Capri in particular, where Jacques d'Adelswaerd Fersen, the son of a Swedish, I believe, millionaire established a famous pleasure palace and enlivened its grounds with faux classical sculptures of his boyfriends, dancing and generally rippling muscularity for all to see. This was the world of Gide, Symonds, Wilde, and Norman Douglas. This culture looked back on a surreptitious tradition going back to LI’s man, d’Hancarville:

“The classical philologist Paul Brandt (1875-1929) was the 'Hans Licht' of a widely read three-volume social history of Greece, emphasizing her sexual practices and erotic art. In its depth and range the book and art collection of Brandt and his partner Werner von Bleichroeder was probably the most important of the period.[ 6] It included refined contemporary homoeroticist visual fantasy and pornography -- some of it by top semi-clandestine artists, like Otto Schoff, connected with Jugendstil and Art Nouveau -- intercut with stylistically more classicizing or mock-classical materials. The latter included the prints for a 1907 luxury edition of the frank and learned commentary (an Apophoreta, or 'second course') by Friedrich Karl Forberg (1770-1848), first published in 1824, on the Hermaphroditus of Antonio Beccadelli (1394-1471) of about 1460, which was itself a collation of Latin erotic epigrams and quotations culled from ancient Roman sources (such as Martial) and edited by Beccadelli. For nineteenth-century readers, Forberg's Apophoreta was perhaps the single most detailed source for unorthodox sexual practices, and certainly for the sexual vocabularies, of the ancients.[ 7] Forberg corrected the text of a sixteenth-century manuscript of Beccadelli published in Paris in 1791. Most such copies had been suppressed in the Renaissance; as Symonds observed, the 'open animalism' of the text did not sit well with moralists.[ 8] Several attempts were made to suppress Forberg's edition. But it was assiduously preserved in nineteenth-century erotic book and art collections and rescued by publishers of erotica. Isidore Liseux issued a poor French translation of the Apophoreta in 1882. And at the end of the century Charles Carrington published a good English translation, accompanied by further notes; in a nod to the now-notorious circles of Symonds, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde, it was supposedly produced by 'Viscount Julian Smithson, M.A.' for his friends.[ 9]

Some copies of Forberg's edition of 1824 had been illustrated with a number of engravings taken over from P.F. Hugues d'Hancarville's pornographic publications of mock-ancient gems, produced in the 1770s and 1780s, to be considered in more detail below.[ 10] These were reproduced yet again in a special album of prints published to accompany a 1907 French translation of the entire edition of 1824 --Hermaphroditus and Apophoreta.[ 11] Throughout his Apophoreta Forberg continuously cited d'Hancarville's engravings as pictorial illustrations of the sexual possibilities mentioned in Beccadelli's or the collated Roman texts -- the postures of pedicatio (anal intercourse), irrumatio (oral intercourse) and so on, whether heterosexual or male and female homosexual.[ 12] Brandt and Bleichroeder owned a luxury new edition of the English translation; published by Charles Hirsch in Paris and dated 1907, it contained twenty new obscene plates, three of them explicitly homosexual.[ 13] That Beccadelli-Forberg highlighted homosexual practices is clear from the text -- 'who does not know', Forberg exclaimed at one point, 'that the Greeks and Romans were intrepid pedicons and determined cinaedes?'[ 14] -- and had been noted by Symonds. Brandt knew the work well; for his own use he prepared an index to the first German translation (printed after his death), which had been produced in Leipzig in 1908 by the homosexualist publisher Max Spohr accompanied by a new, modernized sexological commentary on Forberg's original Apophoreta by Alfred Kind.”

The Hermaphroditus has a special place in LI’s heart – long ago, in the 80s, we wrote a forty page essay about it as an example of my work for the U.T. philosophy department. Those forty pages have long ago departed this world, but we vaguely remember that this paper was about the enlightenment system of the senses, with its emphasis on touch and its problem with that emphasis when it came to admiring the luscious buttocks of the Hermphroditus, a sculpture that was particularly appreciated by Winckelmann (DC) and Herder (AC). The problem of arousal and the problem of the sense that art appeals to – that sweaty palmed urge of these German travelers to the museums of Italy – found an echo in the emphasis on distance and disinterestedness in Kant. All of which is so much gone pedantry. Still, the notion that the world is made up of atoms of feeling has had a long and honorable career in many cultures, and still has an underground career in erotica – the sexualized universe turns the hierarchy of the senses upside down, with dumb touch being crowned phallic king.

While the history of art, dirty art with an emphasis on big dicks, might seem like an aleatory tradition at best, it is LI’s belief that the enlightenment interest in the cult of the phallus was connected with many of those things that made up the radical enlightenment. The Dilettanti club that sponsored Richard “Phallus” Payne also sponsored Sir William Jones, whose favorable opinion of the Persians and the Arabs and the Hindoos would be treated to immense scorn by John Stuart Mill’s father, James, in his influential History of India – a document that marks one of the turning points in the Imperial mindset. While the idea that non-European people were savages, being visibly unchristian, had long been part of the stock of European prejudices, the idea that Europe was far ahead of them, - an idea that took root, at first, in the notion of the European superiority in culture, and quickly became mixed with the idea of some superiority in stock, or race – was not part of the orthodoxy of the Enlightenment, but was, nevertheless, created within the Enlightenment. There’s an unfortunate notion that the issue about which the Enlightenment struggled was universalism. It is true that universal claims were made in the Declaration of Independence, by Kant, and by other paragons of Enlightenment thought – and of course Tom Paine was unable to get any mention of the equality of Africans in the Declaration. But LI would maintain that it was still around the issue of religion that various and opposing themes about race, sex, and progress were shaped, with a sort of second wave of relativism hitting the enlightenment intelligentsia. The first wave, of course, had hit with the discovery of the New World. The second wave hit with the discovery of the connection between non-Europe and the European past. And it played a nicely dialectical role – it both confirmed a European myth – that Europe’s past was the savage present, and that Europe was, consequently, more mature, more grown than the non-European world – and it put into question the foundation of European legitimacy, the classical heritage.

So there is a lot that comes together in the galantes archaeology and anthropology of the late eighteenth century. As we shall see in another post.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

in the era of the crab louse

At one point in the 90s, I was working in a closet in a building on the Yale campus that looked, for all the world, like a pile of giant dog turds ascending fourteen stories. A Philip Johnson special. I have always despised Philip Johnson’s work, and sitting in that awful structure confirmed my view of the man. Anyway, I was working for a construction company that was doing interior reconstruction work on some of the laboratories. I was depressed, because it is hard to sit in a closet all day. Plus, it used to contain chemicals, this closet, so there were taped messages everywhere proclaiming sterile area. This struck me as a downer to my natural optimism. Besides, I wasn’t used to the North’s winters, which, to my horror, swoop down upon you and enclose you in a cloak of gloom starting in October and muffle you fucking up until March. To cheer myself up, I played my little tapes on a boom box. One in particular would drive my boss crazy. He was rarely in, but when he was in, he would nest in the outer office. It was my Lords of Acid tape. Somewhere around then Lords of Acid did a sex tour with My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult and were arrested in Hartford or something. Anyway, exciting times, except for me in the closet. I thought they were sufficient unto the day thereof.

I hadn’t thought about that for a long time. Today, I went on a nostalgic little trip on YouTube, looking at a buncha Lords of Acid vids of yore. And it struck me that the lyrics to Crablouse almost exactly describe my feeling about how the body politic has been penetrated by war criminals of the Bush-Cheney-HillaryClinton type. For those who haven’t heard this rousing anthem, here’s the chorus and the second verse:

“It's there to stay, it sucks all day
It's there to bite, my parasite

The little vampire, horny and so greedy
It doesn't care about a penis and it's envy
It's intelligent, nasty and it's sick
A party animal, a pervert and a pig
If a crablouse gets mixed in your saliva
Stumbles through your body right into your vulva
Then waits patiently until a penetration
Gets it out of there and right into salvation.”

That pretty much summarizes the last six years, don’t you think? Since the coup, that thing has sucked all day, and it has sucked the political life out of many, while with others it has contented itself with their blood and ouns. Every day, another mass murder in Iraq hosted and enjoyed by the American taxpayer, another innocent frying in some Southern death and jim crow juke joint, another fake terrorist scare. This is the era of the Crab Louse. The hatchlings of its eggs inside us will be here for as long as I’m alive.

Monday, July 16, 2007

not the phallus again!

In a couple of earlier posts, LI was pursuing the track of Epicurus – not the real Epicurus but his double, his eidolon, who appeared in Europe in the 17th century in Gassendi’s work and soon became a background daemon in the libertine and materialist tradition. LI’s idea is that the intellectual history of happiness in the Early modern period has been traced too grossly, with too little attention paid to nuances having to do with, for instance, the career of volupte as a go between concept that mediated the pleasures of the flesh and the science of the flesh.

Well, we merely danced this maze lightly, and we broke off abruptly with La Mettrie’s anti-stoicism (and his paen to the orgasm). But we never actually give up a theme around here. Although it might seem to be farted around, ha! ha! unbeknownst to the innocent reader, we are making progress.

As we said in our post on IT’s various posts on porno, theorizing pornography has often led to ignoring the history of pornography. That history is connected with a lot of the broader features of modernity. Thus, for instance, the link, the indissoluble link, between porno, paganism and classical learning in Britain.

About which we will be make a couple of posts, starting with the Dilettanti club, an eighteenth century London institution that promoted archaeology. It had many famous members. Joshua Reynolds painted their portraits. Horace Walpole waspishly said that the Dilettanti club was formed with the “nominal qualification [of] having been in Italy, and the real one, being drunk.” The eighteenth century was one of the drunkest of all centuries, at least for the British. In fact, one could well wonder whether English culture ever flourishes in dry times.

The Dilettanti were connected to a whole libertine whig culture, which is suggested by names like the Hellfire club. As we pointed out in our earlier posts, the Epicurean tradition via Gassendi certainly flowed into the libertine moment in France, and was multitudinously imported into England by way of exiles and Hobbesians and deists. Of course, one imagines that all of these people were aristocrats – yet that is not totally accurate. The spread of this culture among radicals who were connected to the artisan/mechanical class, the budding Priestleys and Paines, gave British radicalism its divided heritage: on the one side, the goody goody temperance and vegetarian types, and on the other, the experimenters in new sexual and cultural relations, who by degrees become the seedy barflies and soakers who flit through the diaries of all the famous twentieth century writers – the Café Royal types.

The Dilettanti published Richard Payne Knight’s book, A discourse on the worship of the priapus and its connection with the mystic theology of the ancients. Then the book was suppressed by Knight, who couldn’t abide the scandal. Knight is an interesting figure, another devotee of Lucretius, and I want to get back to him, but I want to first take up the supposed Baron Pierre d’Hancarville, who set up an artist’s workshop to copy the collection of antiquities collected by a British grandee, William Hamilton, in Naples. It was Hancarville’s idea that material culture – images on pots, graffiti, and all the detritus of the antique world – could lead us into what that world was about. This was an incredibly influential idea. It wasn’t solely Hancarville’s. Yet he might have influenced Winckelmann, and through Winckelmann we can island hop up through the art historical tradition. d’Hancarville’s business – the sales of little ancient phallic charms to connoisseurs – also had an under the table effect. Freud had a collection of those phallic charms himself, and some of them might be traced back to d’Hancarville.

More on this when I have time.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

another fine and supreme moment

A long time ago LI made a mistake. We had this brain flash: since the monks of old slept in their coffins, why not trade in our old bed, which trailed more bad luck than Jacob Marley trailed chains, for a small little like couch bed? We miscalculated. It turns out that LI is not a jelly fish. We have a distinct spine. Plus, we have about six feet of body, and the bed only had about 5’11” feet of space. This was hard on the foots.

Well, so it went. Live and learn. Learn, for instance, the most intimate secrets of your vertrebrae.

Well, a couple of weeks ago a woman we know decided that she was returning back to sunny California, and gave us her bed. We only had to pick it up today. Of course, the day turned out to be rainy, U-haul decided to play us in that way they have of promising a truck and not delivering, and the bed turned out to be humongous. But who the fuck cares? We finally assembled it in our little apartment, put on the new sheets, and lay down on something that offered… resistance! Incredible as that might seem. Yes, it is big enough to fuck an elephant on. And I’m talking with all the foreplay. But it comes with no bad luck, and a certain air of nobility. O, to work, again, on a bed, writing away! Perhaps this will light a fire under all our dead fictions and LI will dwindle into mere rumbles of impotent thunder about the scoundrel era of American history.

I wonder what the first dream will be like? I find that, at important turning points in my life, all my friends come and visit me in my dreams. Like they want to say hi. Even the ones who now loathe me. Plus old lovers and my Mom, dead these thirteen years. However, possibly the spirits will not find me getting a normal bed an important turning point in my life. Well, fuck the spirits! The last time I had a good bed, a really sweet bed, was 1998. I remember that bed with longing to this day.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...