Friday, October 19, 2007

the psychoanalysis of electricity

I'm the High Voltage Messiah.
… The Electric Christ…

I saw my son Jamie die.
He had a cancer at the base of his spine...
and one in his head.
They put the black spider treatment on him.
They crawled all over,
cracking the body vermin with its nippers!
I can cure your bursting.
Fire a laser beam into you to clear away the sick pus...
the sack of pus, the white pus,
the dead fetus!

- The Ruling Class

Gustave Jäger is best known today as one of the coiners of the word, homosexual. In his day, though – the 1890s – he was a well known naturalist. In the book in which he dropped his coin to fame, the Discovery of the Soul, he also wrote a sort of materialist prose poem to that thing, the brain. If we have decided that the Geist – the mind/spirit – is material, Jäger reasonably asks, what form of matter does it take? Is it a gas, a liquid (tropfbar fluessig – dissolvable into liquid drops), or a solid?

“The answer easily reveals itself. The first two forms of aggregation are completely expluded, since the midne obviously doesn’t follow the laws of diffusion which governs all fluids – otherwise it couldn’t be localized in the brain surface; and as a gas it must rarify and be at least quantitatively injured by the process of filtering, which, according to what we have described previously, is not the case. As a fluid dissolvable into drops it must, in case it is supposed to move, mix with blood and lymph, and then it would be everywhere – but if it didn’t move, then movements as those that have been shown by the faculty of attention wouldn’t be possible.”

So, the mind doesn’t drip and it doesn’t rarify. And, since it has to move, it isn’t, Jaeger insists, a solid. He concludes, then, that it is another form of matter, and this takes him to “the often made comparison between the mind and electricity.” Jaeger likes the analogy in some ways – for instance, both seem to exist on the surface of their carriers; both are unities even in motion; and both do move. However, two things are dissimilar. Electricity can be discharged in contact with a metal conductor – and that seems to have no analogy with the mind; and the mind is plastic, and electricity isn’t.

“One million volts.
Two million volts.
Three million volts.
Four million volts!
Five million volts!
Six million volts!
Seven million volts!
Eight million volts!
Nine million! Ten million!”

This naïve inventory of the mind’s characteristics interests me not so much for the physiology behind it as for the mythology it reveals. For the connection between electricity and mind is of the utmost importance in the creation and spread of the polarity affects model. Reading Hartley, whose mental metaphysics are taken from Newton’s corpuscular theory of vibraticules, I’ve been struck with how the substitution of electricity for ‘animal spirits’ plugs into a mystique, a mythology of electricity, that most scientific of substances for the 18th century, on the one hand, but a substance deeply steeped in folk myth, on the other. Electricity has a natural affinity with the more elaborate cosmologies of the insane, from James Matthews’s Air Loom to Schreber electrified body. Lenin plugged into the way the peasants’ world and the scientific world view crossed when he said that “Communism is Power of the Soviets plus Electrification.” Nobody has yet done a Bachelardian psychoanalysis of electricity, but I am longing for one as I venture into the lumberyard of notions about the passions, the sentiments, the affects in the 18th and 19th century.

No god of love made this world.
I have seen a girl of four whose nails had been torn out by her father!
I have seen the mountains of gold teeth and hair...
and the millions boiled down for soap!
S- S-Sometimes God...
turns his back on His people...
And breaks wind...
and the stench clouds the globe!
I am the High Voltage Man...
closer to God than you,
you sentimental clishmac-laverer!

like articles abandoned in a hotel drawer

'I tell you when I leave the Wise Man I don't even feel like a human. He converting my live orgones into dead bullshit.' "So I got an exclusive why don't I make with the live word? The word cannot be expressed direct.... It can perhaps be indicated by mosaic of juxtaposition like articles abandoned in a hotel drawer, defined by negatives and absence.... “ – William Burroughs

LI needs to plunge into a boring topic but fun fun fun I’m going to attempt this with the maniac eye of one of Burrough’s doctors, hop heading it through the normal to the ectoplasmic. Although this will just be a lecture in 18th century psychiatric fun, so… so bear with me… I’ll chain the fire doors just in case. And go back to …

To my lovely little post regarding ‘sensualism” (I like that term much, much better than sensationalism. Don’t you know, the Victorian historians would want to bowdlerize away the sex part of the philosophy, or even its distant echoes. But I’m not like them. I’m a much friendlier autofellator, don’t you know). Anyway, in that post, I made a point that I ought to modify, i.e. the detachment of the physiological from the philosophical, re history of philosophy, and Locke as the codifier of the subjective view, no doctors allowed. I should point out that empiricism, neatly pursued from Locke to Berkeley to Hume in various anthologies, has its edges rounded out in this separation. But this is to rely too much upon anthologies, an intellectual history that selects certain star intellectuals to light our path to good grades and empty heads. In reality, the Lockian dispensation was a disputed heritage even back in the day. There’s a line going through the minor figures who, nevertheless, each contributed their mite to the enlightenment episteme. Figures like David Hartley.

David Hartley M.D. The man made contributions in his day, especially to the curing of kidney stones, which could be done, according to David Hartley, M.D., with a little elixir he had tried his own self, during a painful and near fatal time of trial with said stones, an elixer devised by one Joanna Stephens. His campaign to get the government to reward Joanna Stephens five thousand pounds for her genius concoction found its way through the gears of the patronage machine and succeeded, in the end. But no one would remember him for this. No, it was his vibrationism, combined with sensualism by way of associationism, that seared his name into the common memory. Lightly seared, a little raw in the center.

Hartley was not the first to take up Newton’s suggestion, in the Opticks, that interior human body, like any physical body, was fundamentally vibratory. He conjoined that notion to Locke’s associationism. Of course, since he is following Newton’s footsteps and we are just a couple of decades away from the most modern of modern things, electricity, he is considered a forerunner of a more scientific way of looking at things. But it is a fair question to ask whether this was really a progress or a regress in neurology. After all, the humoral school at least had a firm grasp on the fact that human biology was chemical, whereas one could accuse Hartley of premature reductionism. Yup. I’ll do the honors. By taking us down to a lower, atomic level, Hartley was definitely responding to a reductionist bent that always evokes pious pledges of allegiance from scientists. However, until this day, nobody knows how that level of the human body really effects neurology, besides giving us pretty CAT scans of our Christmas Tree innards when plugged into some shock or told to look at pictures of mice or something. However, the chemical level is certainly where the action and the understanding is. Philosophers have a casual way of simply assuming the work of reduction is done, and talking about the brain as some kind of wired unit – and in fact, since Putnam’s essay that downplayed the matter of the brain in favor of the computational structure, it has been the cog psy credo that meat or silicon doesn’t matter, any more than it matters if you scribble out your mathematical formulas with chalk or ink. However, it is a credo that requires faith – for instance, the faith that because we can make computers to do thought like things and using algorithms to instruct themselves, we must be projecting what the human brain does. But when we look at the human brain, we definitely see organic chemical processes at work, often in ways that defy our localizations and that require us simply not to look at the unusual way the brain can refunctionalize, or the way the brain lights up in parts that shouldn’t light up when we turn on our Magnetic resonance scanning equipment.

However, I am not writing this post to discuss Hartley’s pioneering role in neuroscience. I’m more interested in his role in moral science. This is about happiness, goddamn it.

Nicholas Capaldi has this to say – ever so briefly – about Hartley in The Enlightenment Project in Analytic Conversation:

“… associationism did not become an all-encompassing doctrine until articulated by David Hartley in his Observations on Man (1749). What gives special significance to associationism is the additional thesis of intellectual hedonims, namely, that the sole origin of human response to environmental stimuli is the desire to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.”

I think this is a pretty standard reading. It makes sense. Hartley influences the Edinburgh school, including Smith, who influences Bentham. Badda badda boom. Dat’s intellectual history, folks, as we all make like Jimmy Durante and say, in chorus.

But the interesting thing about Hartley is that his vibrationary philosophy – which made it hard for him to separate intellectual thoughts from passions – also made it hard for him to accept a straightforward hedonistic psychology, one in which we automatically seek the pleasant and shun the painful (about which I truly need to do a couple of posts – why this idea that emotions are all, at the center, about pleasure and pain?).

In the chapter of the affections, which I am now going to roll up my sleeves and dissect before your disbelieving eyes, Hartley begins with a semi-standard definition of the passions:

‘…That our passions of affections can be no more than aggregates of simple ideas united by association. For they are excited by objects, and by the incidents of life. But tthese, if we except the impressed sensations, can have no poer of affecting us, but what they derive from association…

Secondly, Since therefore the passions are states of considerable pleasure or pain, they must be aggregates of the ideas, or traces of the sensible pleasures and pains, which ideas make up by their number, and mutual influence upon one another, for the faintness and transitory nature of each singly taken. This may be called a proof a priori. The proof a posteriori will be given when I come to analyse the six classes of intellectual affections, viz. imagination, ambition, self interest, sympathy, theopathy, and the moral sense.”

As you can tell from this small sample, Hartley is a pretty eccentric writer. There are passages where he seems to prefigure Gertrude Stein with an almost painful relentlessness, forcing us to extract the sense from his monstrous sentences with the huge efforts of a man… well, of a man pissing out a kidney stone.

To be continued.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

ITT - Once a criminal, always a criminal

Any reader of the classic nineteenth century novels has just gotta be interested in corporate crime. LI is. But man, we are behind the ball on this one – we just discovered Footnoted org, your one stop shop for reading disclosure statements from our friendly corporate giants. It is full of the letter that killeth – in this case, the explanations of expenditures, profits, strategies hidden in quarterly reports that gives the knowing reader an x ray vision - or perhaps I should say Piranesian vision - of various fouls, small illegalities, and the legalized fraud that goes into making our economy tick like a clock.

In corpo world, nothing is as good as dropping straight into the bowels of the state and operating like a big old tape worm, sucking up tax money. For, while nobody wants to pay for the State, everybody wants the State to pay them – this, by the way, is called conservative economics.

Anyway, race on over there and read the tres funny post about ITT, a merchant of death that at one time got all kind of publicity when it coordinated with the Nixon gang to take down this podunk country – Chile – which had got this wild idea in its head that it was sovereign. Fuck that! as we cheerfully say in Gringo city. Anyway, since those wild and woolly days, ITT has calmed down. Nowadays, it only quietly violates U.S. law when it feels like it, and is punished by being awarded more tax money, since you just can't get made at their loveable pranks. As I said, this is Gringo City, where we practice a special brand of Christianity in which the sins of the rich are pre-forgiven. Hey, its been checked out by the theologians of the Southern Baptist church themselves!

“ITT, a major defense contractor, pled guilty back in March to violating U.S. arms trafficking regulations. On “numerous occasions” dating back to the 1980s, it was said to have sent data, services and equipment related to “classified military night vision systems” to parties in foreign countries (including China), and lied to the State Department about it. The firm paid some fines and agreed to an additional $50M penalty which, under this agreement, it can work off by putting the money into new night vision technology for the Army over the next 5 years. (Kind of like some deadbeats allowed to pay their restaurant check by washing dishes, except for the national security part.)

Meanwhile, in September the firm got a new $37M contract to supply night vision equipment to the Navy and Coast Guard and another big order from the Army. No senior heads at the company have rolled. Indeed, it’s been busy acquiring another defense technology firm, and the stock has been pretty much chugging along.
Ironically, on Friday the Justice Department announced an initiative “to combat the growing national security threat posed by illegal exports of restricted U.S. military and dual-use technology.”

Monday, October 15, 2007

margot and the cosmopolite

Julia Kristeva, in Strangers to Ourselves, explores an interesting notion – that of the “lumpen intelligentsia”. Rameau’s Nephew, a favorite reference here at LI, serves as Kristeva’s reference to talk about this hitherto unnamed tribe. Kristeva focuses on a man who has sometimes been seen as one of Diderot’s models for RN – Fougeret de Monbron.

Now, by coincidence, I’ve been reading Fougeret’s ‘bad’ novel, Margot La Ravadeuse – or Margot the stockingmender. This is a novel of the Fanny Hill type – in fact, Fougeret may have translated Fanny Hill – but it is much less lubricious than realistic – a forerunner of Zola’s researches, a century later, into the depth psychology of the ‘laboring and dangerous classes”. Fanny Hill does seek to arouse, which makes it, inevitably, sentimental. Fougeret, however, seems to have been on a lifelong crusade to offend as many people as possible, starting with his family in Peronne, the place he was born. He once charmingly qualified the inhabitants of Peronne as ‘the excrement of the human race” and as an “assembly of imbeciles”. He of course shook the dust of his natal village from his shoes as soon as he could – in 1726 – and started wandering about Europe and the Meditteranean. One account of his travels – The Cosmopolitan, or the citizen of the world – was apparently read by Byron before he set off for Greece, which is how a sentence from that book became the epigraph of Childe Harolde.

The Cosmopolitan starts off with a passage worthy of Paul Nizan’s Aden, Arabie:

‘The universe is a kind of book of which one has only read the first page when one has only seen one’s native land. I’ve leafed through a number of them, and have found them all equally bad. This examination has not proved fruitless. I hated my country. All the impertinences of the diverse peoples among which I have lived has reconciled me to it.”

As Kristeva says:

“Fougeret’s cosmopolite is shrill, bitter, full of hatred. A character trait or a rhetorical figure – or undoubtedly both at the same time – such malevolence is truly dynamite that destroys borders and shatters the hallowed legitimacy of nations.”

For Kristeva, Fougeret becomes the figure of one kind of intellectual development – what LI has called, in earlier posts, the odd coupling of the buffoon and sage. But he is interesting more than as the person who could have been the model for Rameau’s Nephew. He is actually rather a good writer. For instance, Margot begins with a ‘seduction’ scene. Margot is fourteen years old. She’s seen her parents go at it, and is hot to have sex herself, so much so that she can’t sleep. So, after introducing her beau – a stable boy named Pierrot –this is how Fougeret, through Margot, describes the scene:

‘It should satisfy the reader to know that Pierrot and I were soon in agreement, and that a few days afterwards we sealed our liaison with the great seal of Venus, in a little shabby tavern near Rapee. The place of the sacrifice was garnished with a table laid across two decaying supports, and a half a dozen broken down charis. The walls were covered with a quantity of licentious hieroglyphics, that some amiable gangbangers in a good mood had usually chalked in with coal. Our little celebrations responded to the simplicity of the sanctuary. A pint of eight cent wine, two cents’ worth of cheese, and an equal amount of bread; all of it, added up, mounted to the sum of twelve cents. We officiated nevertheless with as light a heart as if we were doing the louis a plate dinner at Duparc. One shouldn’t be surprised. The most humble meals, seasoned with love, are always delicious.

At last, we came to the conclusion. At first, we had a hard time arranging ourselves. For it wasn’t prudent to trust to the table or the chairs. We thus decided to remain standing. Pierrot glued me against the wall. Oh! all powerful god of the gardens! I was frightedn at the faces that he showed me. What shaking! What assaults! the wall itself shook under his prodigious efforts. However, on my side, I was killing myself, laboring away, not wanting to be reproached by the poor boy for leaving all the fatigue and painful work to him. Whatever, in spite of our patience and mutual courage, we still made very mediocre progress, and I was beginning to despair that we would never crown the work, when Pierrot remembered to moisten with his saliva his thunderous machine. O nature! Nature, whose works are so admirable! The redoubt of pleasure opened; he penetrated; and what more can I say? I was well and totally deflowered. Since that time I slept better.”

It would be hard to read this and get aroused. It is easier to read this and get seduced into thinking this is Margot’s voice, not the voice of a fourteen year old Parisian girl imagined by a forty year old man. The reason for that, the only true seduction here, is that Fougeret seems to have talked to more than a few prostitutes in his time. In that little greasy courtyard, with all that humping and bumping, something really does happen. Margot really has solved her sleep problem. Although she soon gets into others.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

links to here and there

First, LI sends happy birthday wishes to IT. Long may she herd the cats of theory! Long may she operate as a provocateur in the Oxbridgian garden party of philosophy!

Second, in order to get your omni-depressent buzz on, do go to the debate on Iran being hosted at the Brittanica site. The hawks are out in force, saying the same dismally stupid things they always say, advocating the usual death and destruction, from which of course they expect to be spared themselves. The debate is called Target Iran? Which has a very nice, blind as a bat sound to it. I do wonder if it would cause a bit of a scandal to have, say, a debate entitled Target America, in which various Al qaeda members and others debated whether to take down certain pieces of American infrastructure with maximum casualties? But of course, the moral asymmetry here reaches deep down into the language of this war enabling culture.

What to do about this huge, everpresent problem? Is it possible to make America a normal country, or are we doomed to be lead by the seediest, the greediest, and the stupidest into the valley of the shadow of death? There is a wolfish Freikorps tone to the militant warmongers that is all the more ridiculous in that none of them have actually served in the military. It is proxy Naziism – a GI Joe doll version of it. It doesn’t even have the good taste of being a reaction to violence on the front – the only violence the warmongers have ever faced is a queasy stomach after too many fried foods at the AEI banquet. Judging by the insufferable tone alone, I would say we are close to a war with Iran. But judging by what is actually happening, I don’t think we are. Gates, according to the British newspaper, the Telegraph, has taken over the caretaker job of keeping our lunatic Vice President at bay. That we are hedged about and protected from the worst by an old appartchik from the Cold War is cause for grimness in itself. Or rather, protected by Gates and by the unwinnable war that has bogged the American military down in Iraq – one war blocking the other.

Such a state of affairs can’t last. To prevent war with Iran, the only real hedge is to recognize Iran. The only real hedge is to establish economic relations with Iran. Which is also the only way to have any say in what happens in Iran – for only when, say, an Iranian president speaks at a U.S. university can you protest said Iranian president speaking at a U.S. university. This should not be hard to figure out: U.S. foreign policy that simply bars contact and freezes relations with a country hardly ever works. However, once those relations are in place, it is excellent to have outraged people in the U.S. protesting to have contact barred and relations frozen. Grass roots threats to an existing set of relationships can work.


Oh, and I should link to this Foreign Policy blog post, which admiringly cites Wayne White:

Wayne White, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute who was, among other things, principal Iraq analyst at the State Department's highly respected Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 2003-2005. Most of his post is a fairly straightforward synopsis of the state of play. But here's an interesting nugget:

“If the U.S. attacks Iran, for either reason, it would most likely do so during the days of maximum darkness in order to capitalize on its significant advantage in night warfare. That period begins around now and ends next March. The following winter, the president would be in office for only a portion of that militarily advantageous period, and also would have to consider the awkwardness of ordering an attack during an election campaign or in the period between the election and when he leaves office on January 20, 2009.

Unless last month's IAEA "work plan" with Iran (aimed at clearing up some matters by November) shows real progress, offering genuine hope that the diplomatic logjam over nuclear enrichment can be broken, this December through March could be the first period during which U.S. military action against Iran becomes a real possibility. Because of the military considerations noted earlier, roughly the same period would be the most likely timing for a fairly robust and mainly aerial assault against IRGC targets inside Iran.”

This is a blast from the past! Reminiscent of 2002, when numbers of warmongering, highly testosteroned bloggers were eagerly planning the invasion of Iraq. Would we use the new military Y weapon – specs would then be brought out – or would we invade with our Black “C” Calvary from the North. One of the funniest of the rightwing bloggers, Steve Van Beste, made quite a name for himself by spinning fantasy scenarios that were just like those of some sub b action movie. This kind of thing really moves the starch heavy white American male to emotional heights even beyond the latest viagra pak upload. It is technical, so it gives one hours of tech doll playing fun – a boy’s own play war game – yet detached enough that one isn’t involved with the messy evisceration of people oneself. Leave that to the guy who, twenty years from now, will be shaking with the vibrations of mass murders past while holding a cardboard sign up, begging for money.

Notice the cool lingo of the scenario setting too, the oh so maleish“days of maximum darkness” – doesn’t it remind you of that movie where the Navy Seals defeated the Russians after putting on their nighttime concealment makeup? And the “fairly robust” – it just bursts with the stategery of nincompoops. It is so Bush era.

Kurt Tucholsky nearly went crazy in the face of this kind of headless militarist mindset in Weimar Germany. We face the same thing in this country, but there are some advantages held by those who prefer peace to thuggery, mass murder, and imaginary blood baths. The country, for one thing, is tired of its Disney vacation in hell, with action soldiers. And of course the six hundred billion (with the cost really mounting to a trillion and a half) for the Iraq war is starting to weigh even on the spirits of the stay at home mass murder cheerleader section. Thus, the rightwingosphere just can’t seem to get up the same Nuremberg spirit that accompanied the rush to war in 2002. The rah rahing is now more in anger that, generally, nobody else is singing along.

But one should always be cautious. Precious specimens like this Wayne White person are actually on the public payroll, instead of tucked into middle management jobs at dog food factories. And that is tragic.

Elia meets Karl Marx at the South Sea House

    When Charles Lamb, a scholarship boy at Christ’s Hospital, was fifteen, one of his patrons, Thomas Coventry, had a discussion with a...