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Showing posts from November 25, 2007

wife beaters and amazon hooligans

Tracing the rise of the culture of happiness, one can too easily forget the reality of, one can too easily become nostalgic for, the sweetness of life it replaced – the ancien regime, panned with a camera lens suitably vaselined over. But this nostalgia is shot through with bad faith. Although I am determined to show the price we have paid for the triumph of happiness, I want to make sure to make clear that I am not tracing some vast mistake or horror. It is the dialectician’s curse to be mealy mouthed – but too bad. I’m not going to try to avoid that fate by creating a bunch of rigid oppositions, negation pitted against affirmation, antithesis pre-loaded. Fuck that. So – on to women. Women as they were routinely treated in the ancien regime. And into the nineteenth century. Let’s start with Zola, always the most … registering of nineteenth century novelists. He was attacked for his ‘disgraceful’ representation of the working class in L’assommoir – and in a letter in defense of the

cioran 2

If you want to write a great literary essay, here’s what you do. You put the point of the thing, the judgment you are making, as high in the essay as possible. Maybe you start out with an anecdote. Maybe you start out with a quote. But the essayist is in the position of the judge, after the jury has read its verdict. He is in the business of sentencing. It helps, then, if you work on your sentences. Cioran, a Romanian writing in French, did just that. Here’s the second paragraph in his essay on Joseph de Maistre: “Towards the end of the last century, in the period when the liberal illusion was strongest, one could give oneself the luxury of calling him a prophet of the past, of considering him something like a relic or an aberrant phenomenon. But for us, in an epoch that has been otherwise demystified, we know that he is ours just to the extent that he was a ‘monster’ and that it is precisely by the odious side of his doctrines that he remains alive, that he is of our time. Even if he

more pig, anyone?

Everybody knows that the deal is rotten Old black Joe’s still picking cotton For your ribbons and bows… Everybody knows. I just finished reviewing Robert Kuttner’s new book, The Squandering of America. The book is obviously catnip for a liberal like me, but there was something deep in the book that bothered me. I don’t think I quite expressed that bother in the review. Let’s see if I can spell it out here. Kuttner’s history is a two panel deal. One panel shows the thirty glorious years from 1945 to about 1975. What do we see? The sun shines on managed capitalism. Union strength rises to almost thirty percent of the work force. Social security is joined by medicare and Medicaid – and even, although this has now been buried, a welfare system for the poor. Public investment is made in building interstates, sending jocks to the moon, combating malaria, and the like. Indirectly, the state takes the risk for an enormous expansion of mortgages, and it loans money to middle class kids so that

Uncle Sam is always a Pal!

Mickey Rat by Robert Armstrong Sometimes, LI gets a little down. We think that we have no money for medicine. No money for dentistry. Perhaps not enough money to shelter ourselves, or buy food… But then we perk up. Because, when the chips are down, the Government is always a pal! For instance, look at the heartening story of Countrywide Financial Corp., Washington Mutual Inc., Hudson City Bancorp Inc. They was feeling all blue this summer. Sup primes were looking sorta disgusting in the old fridge. Some of the CEOs wanted bigger yachts. And their blood felt tired. Yep, they felt tired all over. So what did they do? What you or I would do! They went to Uncle Sam. They went to the Federal Home Loan Bank. And they said, Uncle Sam, I’d sure, sure appreciate a loan of $163 billion dollars. Pretty please, with a cherry on top? Uncle Sam is a jolly old soul, a jolly old soul is he. You know that if you or I went to him and asked for a small loan, say 100 million dollars, he’d look us sternly


Because I am researching the pessimists at the moment, I’m reading Joseph de Maistre – which is always a pleasure, even if one can’t believe the transformation going on right before your eyes, as Christianity becomes, in de Maistre’s hands, a kind of Satanism presided over by the God of war. Looking around for secondary literature on de Maistre, I was lucky to find a long essay by Cioran that somebody had, no doubt illegally, put up on the web. Cioran rather beautifully understands the programmatic futility of the reactionary temperament, and I am certainly going to use that essay later. But neither de Maistre nor Cioran’s essay is my focus in this post. Rather, it is the variability of critical judgment. I wanted to see what the reaction to Cioran’s essay was. The essay was translated by Richard Howard in Anathemas and Admirations, so it is available even to your average mono-lingual American academic. I was surprised that so little was said about it. In Edmund White’s review of Anat

the ontogenesis of the critic

When LI was a child, we were particularly prone to nightmares. I developed a remedy for the nightmares that would wake me up in a fright. I would compose a happy ending scenario – often involving shooting a bad guy – with which to go back to sleep. I don’t know how common this is – obviously, if you are small, need sleep, and are at the same time afraid to go to sleep, you need to develop some method to negotiate between those two enormous pulls, panic and metabolism. I am not one of nature’s insomniacs, like Nabokov – before the age of thirty, I don’t recall having much of a problem getting to sleep. Now, of course, I sometimes have whole weeks of insomnia, in which I experience vast patches of shallow or no sleep interspersed by blurry days of a tiredness that haunts me like a guilty conscience until I decide to give into it – at which point it disperses, leaving me wide awake and facing the horror of another night. I know intimately the moment of cock crow, when Hamlet’s father flee

army of vestals - taxonomy 2

I am going to have to deal with Fourier in my happiness project. Fourier, more than any other utopian thinker, dealt seriously with the enlightenment vision of happiness as the key criterion for the political order. Rather than the nebulous pursuit of happiness, Fourier felt that one could build an environment that embodied the particular ruling passions of particular subjects. Building on the base of the three basic passional types (the papillone, - or the going from activity to activity; the cabalist, or the creation of intrigues; and the composite, or the enthusiast) which he felt differentiated people, he imagined a dizzying structure, like Leibniz’s pyramid at the end of the Theodicy – Fourier called it a phalanstery - in which each monad is inhabited by different types whose ruling passions finally find corresponding expression in the best of all possible mini-worlds. The primary types – defined by their ruling passions - multiply in the passional series as they are modified by