Saturday, May 24, 2008

Dr. Causabon scribbles a bit more in his notebook

J'devrais penser
à m'forger un moral en acier trempé
ne plus m'ronger
mon vernis bleu cyber nacré
m'sentir en sécurité
sous protection à indice élevé
faudrait pas stigmatiser
pas compliqué c'est pas compliqué
j'trouve pas ça tell'ment sorcier
bien décidée

mes idées se sont arrêtées
–Ysa Ferrer

William Lilly, the astrologer and antiquary, left an autobiography. The beginning of his real life, outside of school (where he learned to speak Latin as well, he claims, as English) went like this:

My father had one Samuel Smatty for his Attorney, unto whom I went sundry times with letters, who perceiving I was a scholar, and that I lived miserably in the country, losing my time, nor any ways likely to do better, if I continued there; pitying my condition, he sent word for me to come and speak with him and told me that he had lately been at London, where there was a gentleman wanted a youth, to attend him and his wife, who could write, etc.

I acquainted my father with it, who was very willing to be rid of me, for I could not work, drive the plough, or endure any country labour; my father oft would say, I was good for nothing.”

These storms about Marx that have lately raged through LI have done me a world of good. I was reminded of the broad outline of elements at play in the construction of the happiness culture, one of which looms largely: the opening up of the positional economy. As I wrote, Marx’s suggestions about “mental products” were, unfortunately, off-tracked by his materialism, ending up giving us a very unsatisfactory picture of mental production. But if we dispense with the idea that there intellect somehow operates on top of a society, as an epiphenomena, a mist rising from the surface, unable in itself to do anything but operate as a distributor for the ideas of the ruling class, or – most pernicious of metaphors – a mirror reflecting ideas - and instead look at Marx’s much more radical analysis of labor as necessarily compounded of ideas and ‘matter’, than we can start to understand mental production as horizontal to other forms of production, which allows us to look at its scope and effects as taking many forms in the social: as a means of social ascent, or descent; as the creator of life styles; as a necessary factor in the creation of the techno-industrial structure, etc. The early modern era in Europe saw the opening up of the positional economy – or, in other words, the lessening of feudal barriers to social mobility – due, in great part, to print culture. Sad young men like Lilly, alien among the corn, were not uncommon in the seventeenth century. They became the ranters, secretaries, natural philosophers, lawyer’s clerks, astrologers, poets, actors, etc. that wove a certain narrative, the adventure narrative, in Europe itself, in tandem with the adventure narrative in the New utopias of the New World. This was the beginning of the third life as a distinct social entity. The techno-industrial structure central to capitalism simply could not have existed without this third life. Similarly, the reshaping of the passional norms was dependent on the effects of the third life – the breaches and cracks it made within the social hierarchy.

A note to the side, this. I still haven’t translated Theophile’s encounter with the possessed woman of Agen. I’m halfway through it, but… this has simply been a busy week. And here I am, Memorial Saturday (on this weekend that we forget the violence that has made America great and make great sacrifices of petroleum to the sky god), behind on my reviewing. Oh, LI is so sorry for himself!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Turn on the news, it looks like a movie
It just makes me want to sing Louie Louie

From looking at my stats, I see what the vast majority of LI’s readership wants: naked pictures of Lady Bitch Ray. Unfortunately, she hasn’t mailed me any lately. So I will revert to a few jottings about a subject so sexy and hot that surely, aficionados of LBR’s perfect derriere will not be totally unhappy. I’m speaking, of course, about Marx and the German Ideology.

Ho ho.

Northanger, at a certain late point in the comment stream on Phantoms of Ideology, asked me what it was that I found particularly stunning about Amie’s discussion of ideology in Marx. What I found stunning about it was that Amie took Marx’s notion apart, and showed how it worked and didn’t work. This is in the best tradition of what Victor Skhlovsky, the Russian critique, called “estrangement” – by examining a thing as a composite rather than as a immediate whole, one gains a certain intellectual and moral mastery over a seemingly opaque totality. In his great essay about the estrangement in Wooden Eyes, Carlo Ginzberg relates the technique to folk riddles and the Stoic moral training found in Marcus Aurelius. “First of all, we must pause and take stock. That which is dear to us must be broken down into its component parts.” This, one of the pre-eminent intellectual urges inherited by the early modern moralists from the revival of the Stoics (see La Bruyere’s passage about going into the kitchens of the rich and observing each (disgusting) stage in the preparation of their delicacies) flows into the ideologues proper of the Napoleonic era, and then into Marx’s own use of “ideology” in The German Ideology. As Amie points out, if we go back into the kitchen and see when and how Marx composed a book in 1846 that did not get published until 1932, we will experience a certain lessening of our sense of, well, our grasp on the text. That lessened grasp is important, especially in light of the fact that there is a central Marxist tradition that believe it “owns” the text. Chabert, whose reduction of Marx's use of ideology as three memorizable uses, seems to assume something opposite: we can simply pluck out the “concepts” that constitute the meaning of Marx's text and arrange them synchronically, like bulleted items in a power point presentation.

That is the traditional way of interpreting Marx.

Well, I wrote at mindboggling length in the comments about this in response to Chabert. However, I’d like to pull away from the duel and scratch out a few notes about the German Ideology that I will no doubt later use in my happiness book.

Anyone who tries to read the entirety of the German Ideology quickly finds that it is the gaudiest, oddest text in Marx’s canon. It goes on forever, contains gigantic, brilliant guesses and then ties them to a pitifully provincial controversy. It is crucial to remember that this text is written long before Marx had anything like a model of capitalism. In this, it is a sort of unique document in science – not only does Marx lack empirical evidence for his claims, he even lacks a model to generate that evidence. And yet, he advances with an amazing confidence, in the process creating a radically new social science.

The title is, of course, meant seriously. This book is Marx’s spirited entry in the contest to pull Germany – a nation that doesn’t even exist – into the sphere of the vanguard European nations. There is no doubt in Marx’s mind that the industrial system invented in Europe is the future. Unlike, say, Gandhi, who confronted a similarly backward economy in India, Marx does not think the industrial system is evidence of Western ‘vice’. His tone is all the more sarcastic as he is waging this polemic against a handful of former theology students who are rich in a sophisticated philosophical vocabulary, but poor in their sense of reality. If Germany does not become part of civilization, its destiny will be decided on the outside, without it. This intuition is perfectly correct – Marx doesn’t have any sympathy for concerns about Kultur, which, to him, is just the last mumblings of the feudal aristocracy. Marx is, to use an anachronistic vocabulary, completely Eurocentric. The European idea is not that Europe is mystically superior, but that the industrial system developed in Europe is globally applicable. This is the essence of the Western idea. Without it, there would be no universal working class for Marxism to work with. Marx wholeheartedly supported 'civilization'. In political terms, this meant support for the advances of bourgeois liberal democracy, which he vociferously supported in 1848. And good for him. But it also meant that the global phenomenon of the 19th and 20th century – the triumph of the West - was advanced both by Marxism and capitalism. Left and Right (those incredibly provincial terms, referencing a temporary assembly in Paris and projecting it onto the global conceptual space as if were a god given filter) fundamentally agree on their vision of the world – that is, on the necessity of the industrial system, which is the central term defining civilization. No communist party in the 20th century - neither Bose's in Bengal, Ho Chi Minh's in Hanoi, or Castro's in Havana - disagree with that. (Hmm, well, no, there are two exceptions - the Khmer Rouge and Mao, which, in their monstrosity, speak for themselves.) Whereever these two forces went, they left behind factories. Whether the management of that industrial system was market based or based on the enfranchised power of the laborer was the question, but the industrial system was never questioned.

In making his case against the German ideology, Marx begins the book with his biggest and most fruitful guess. Taking the conjectural history of progress that characterized the Edinburgh enlightenment and the French ideologues, i.e. folks like Smith, Ferguson and Condorcet, Marx reorganizes it under the sign of a brilliant insight: instead of freedom or the arts and sciences being the driver of progress, Marx redefines the historical dynamic in terms of systems of production. At a stroke, Marx gives us a sociology that does not appeal to some final, qualitative absolute.

This was brilliant. It was revolutionary. And it was also without any support from either a model or empirical data. At this point, Marx’s economic model is solely that created by the bourgeois economists.

Along with this insight, Marx makes a second move, one as important as the first. He discusses systems of production in terms of labor, and – at least partially – founds a social ontology that frees labor from both feudal hierarchical thought and the ‘ideologues” dualism. Consciousness is being. All production uses both thought and bodily power. Social being is founded on the life processes. This is an exciting moment in Marx. He has given himself the tools to discuss labor outside of the idealist model of his theological opponents, but he has provided grounds for discarding the dualism between ideas and matter. At this point, one would think he would discard all –isms.

Alas, he doesn’t. This is where the polemical nature of the book, which makes it fun to read, exacts its price from Marx’s theory. To admit that ideas are part of the life process would be, strategically, giving a hostage to fortune – and Marx is a take no prisoners kind of guy. Thus, he proclaims himself, absurdly enough, a materialist, and distorts his discovery to produce a whacky idea of ideas as these things that sort of float, effeminately, in the ether, while labor goes on, ever material. The hammerer and the hammer are one.

This theme muddies Marx’s clarity. It is also the first appearance of what becomes a truly vicious habit in Marxism, and on the left, where everything gets dubbed “material”. Materialism is the Semper Fi of Marxism, a meaningless slogan to excuse mean and disgusting actions. Moreover, by embracing a dualism he has just exploded, Marx burdens himself with an unnecessarily idealistic conception of ideas. He misses their materiality.

This confusion is compounded in Marx’s first definition of ideology. You can tell Marx is going backwards when he uses a metaphor that naturalizes a cultural phenomenon:

“The fact is thus this: particular [bestimmte] individuals who are productively active in particular ways, enter into particular social and political relationships. Empirical observation must in every individual case point to the empirical coordination of a social and political division with that of production and without any mystification and speculation. Social division and the state issue constantly out of the life process of particular individuals; but these individuals may not appear as they exist in their own or in other’s thought, but as they really are, meaning, as they operate, materially produce, thus as they are active under specific material limits, presuppositions and conditions, independent of their will.

The production of ideas, thoughts of the consciousness is firstly immediately imbricated in the material activity and the material intercourse of men, languages of real life. The thoughts, thinking, the spiritual intercourse of men appear here still as the direct overflow of their material relations. [Das Vorstellen, Denken, der geistige Verkehr der Menschen erscheinen hier noch als direkter Ausfluß ihres materiellen Verhaltens] The same thing goes for the spiritual production, as they are represented in the language of politics, of laws, of morals, of religion, metaphysics, etc., of a people. People are the producers of their thoughts, ideas, but real working people, as they are conditioned through a particular development of their productive forces and of the corresponding intercourse up to its broadest formation. Consciousness can never be something other than conscious being, and the being of men is their real process of living. If in the collective ideology of people, men and their relations appear, as in a camera obscura, standing on its head, so, too, this phenomenon is attributable to their historical living process, as the inversion of the object on the retina is to their immediate physical ones.”

Magnificent rhetoric, but one that puts Marx himself, as the writer of the German Ideology, in the uncomfortable position of writing from a practically supernatural viewpoint – after all, if the collective ideology of a people is as ingrained as the image is on the retina, one can only overcome that ideology by operating, in a metaphoric way, supernaturally. Such exaggeration is normal to Marx when he polemicizes – polemic operates both to get his best ideas on paper and then to contour them to the amazingly petty matters at hand. Thus, a quarrel in a backwards European state between journalists and junior academics has the result of dividing the whole world of human thought into the materialist or the idealist. Which leads Marx to soem fatally dismissive talk about ideas, as though they were somehow not material, as though they didn't arise and return to living processes, as though the brain were composed of ghost stuff.

Thus, it is this overabundance of the material that leads to those rather unfortunate passages in which Marx puts his ideological idea to work. I’ll quote from a passage that I’m not going to translate – I don’t have time! – but take from the often suspect International Press translation:

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for mastery and where, therefore, mastery is shared, the doctrine of the separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an “eternal law.”

Again, what magnificent rhetoric! And surely right in parts, in that the material of ideas in a social reality are taken from that social reality. And yet, it is a generalization that depends on a mystified notion of “intellectual force,” which makes no sense outside of the mechanism where ‘ideas’ occur. Thus, somehow we are supposed to think that the idea of separation of powers proves (how?) to be the dominant idea – really? – and is expressed as ‘eternal law’ – seriously begging the question of where this cultural value comes from. This kind of simple, unmediated ideological critique makes for a nice journalistic shorthand, but as a description of social reality, it, of course, sucks. The royal power, aristocracy and bourgeoisie are stripped of their historic specificity, here, the material means by which they actually existed in real life, and defined in the abstract terms of their interest in domination. Again, there is some truth to this, but these words mystify more than they explain, creating a tableau of ghostly forces struggling for ‘material’ and ever more material prizes – although, of course, after a certain level, the life process of the human being in the ruling class is tidily taken care of, if we take material literally. Power becomes, then, another “force”, another mystery. I like the way Derrida uses the term program for this kind of thing, which is preferable on every level – the idea in the head, the spoken word, the written text, they are all involved not in a mysterious expressive relationship to ‘dominant material relationships’ – matter being again the compulsive word – but are embedded in them, are on the same level as them. Court society wouldn’t exist without those ‘expressive’ relationships – in fact, no society would. Marx forgets his notion of living processes, here, he forgets that the brain is what thinks, and that throughout the career of a thought, it is never outside of its ‘material’ nexus.

This polemically obsessive turn to the material that, ironically, is copacetic with the most highly idealistic notion of thought, is part of the program that Marx has to revamp after 1848, per Amie. But the compulsive display of toughness, the superabundance of “materiality”, the misbegotten contempt for ideas, based on a misbegotten notion of their function and their social place, existed as part of one of the programs in Marx’s texts. And they were used, with various catastrophic results, in 20th century Marxism.

Which I’ll come back to, at some point, if I have time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The britneyological report of the week

Again, a heavy schedule of editing is keeping LI from being the usual mad gabber. We have another post in the Marx and liberalism vein coming up, but a more urgent matter has loomed. As thousands of you have pointed out in outraged emails to me, LI has not taken a position on the all important Britney-Mel Gibson shocker. As a Britneyologist, I should have seen this coming. Mel, an aging rogue, is in a way a perfect protest pal. If she is going to be deathmarched by her Dad through terrible sitcoms and through court appearances involving chaste dresses with sensible shoes, why not chose the Leninist strategy of exacerbating the contradictions? This is my own take on what I can’t help but regard as a weakness, on Brit’s part, for manifest scoundrels. But luckily, reports are surfacing of one Felipe, who seems much better for Brit than the antisemitic drunk:

Britney Spears is clearly working hard on her sobriety, rebuilding her career (''How I Met Your Mother'') and, I've learned, spent serious time down at Mel Gibson's place in Costa Rica restudying Kabbalah teachings and doing serious yoga and pilates.

However, a few eyebrows were raised when the entertainer, uh, entertained a very brief fling with a beach boy -- who rents chairs, etc. -- only known as Felipe.

Screw it: cutting a sexual path through scoundrels is Brit's way of going down the path of needles - instead of the Kabbalah, I'd suggest Perrault. And I have a lot of confidence that in the final moment, as Britney confronts the wolf in his full penile glory, she will swing the axe like a fuckin’ archetype.

And, while I'm on the suggestion jag, may I offer another one to Britney’s people? You need to team her up with Ysa Ferrar! Watch this video , (which, for some reason, totally cracks me up - the insane hat, wig, dress and choreography) and tell me that these two wouldn’t make a great duo. That Ferrar is trying to literally become a manga figure puts the cherry on the deal, if you ask me. However, it is also possible the side job I have fact checking the captions of a fashion mag is starting to melt my brain.

Monday, May 19, 2008

amazing news from the relative impoverishment front!

You don't know me I am an introverted excavator...

Alas, LI is up to his keister (whose word is that, I wonder? my mom’s? My grammie’s? the words that come out of a person went into a person first, and that mild word for butt, ass, or – for my Americanismophobe, Mr. Lawrence – arse must have been put in me a long ago) with editing. There is nobody quite as demanding as a Ph.D. student with a week to turn in the final product. I think this is a truth universally recognized.

LI found the tussle of the comment thread that followed Amie’s post totally cool. For me, thinking about the the construction not only of a marketbased industrial system, but of a shift in emotional norms and in the legitimation of political action, there was a lot of good hints about paths to follow. We’d like to write a post about, say, Marx, ideology, liberalism. I’d like to write it today, and drop everything, but, ho ho ho, the spirits of the telephone bill and the electric bill will have something to say about that. They will say: no.

Today, the article to read is in the Financial Times. I was turned onto it by Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism. I should include more of the biz bloggers on my roll – Smith and Tanta at Calculated Risk are especially worth reading. The FT article is the result of a poll that shows that worldwide (drumroll please) most people don’t want to become relatively poorer. Astonishing! The poll asked people if income inequality had become too great. Read the results here.

Now, back to editing. At the moment, I take breaks by going to YouTube and watching vids of live performances of Santi White of Santogold, like this one, or this one.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Will Andrew Moonen be charged with Murder at Last?

Those of us who wonder if Andrew Moonen of Blackwater is ever going to be charged with the Murder of Raheem Khalif got some news, today – amazing news. The FBI is going to investigate! 15 months after the murder. Good job, you bloodhounds of justice! Now, if Andrew Moonen is actually charged, surely Margaret Scobey, the State Department officer who prepared Moonen’s flight and paid him a tidy sum, who administered the cleaning of State Department records concerning his crime, Margaret Scobey, his assistant, his help, his staff and his rod, Margaret Scobey of the State Department who is still employed, and is nominated as our Ambassador to Egypt, which will surely give Congress a chance to evade its duty and shame us still more deeply – oh, surely there is no way to avoid bringing her to justice unless justice stops at the powerful, unless the clique of kleptocrats that run us has changed the rules to make themselves not only invulnerable to charges of treason, to fraud, but even to murder. Surely the investigation should reach deep, oh very deep, into the bowels of the collaboration between the State Department and that criminal organization, Blackwater, uncovering every email, every message, every plotted coverup and stonewalling, until we have set before the world’s eyes at least a part of the shame of this past eight years, ripped it out from the womb of its monstrous mother, that stew of in-dealing drenched with the blood of Iraqi children.

Oh, that I could bring down the criminal regime of the Great Fly:

What glorious hand gave Samson his deaths wound?
Mess. Unwounded of his enemies he fell.
Man. Wearied with slaughter then or how? explain.
Mess. By his own hands.
Man. Self-violence? what cause
Brought him so soon at variance with himself
Among his foes?
Mess. Inevitable cause
At once both to destroy and be destroy'd;
The Edifice where all were met to see him
Upon thir heads and on his own he pull'd
Man. O lastly over-strong against thy self!
A dreadful way thou took'st to thy revenge.
More than anough we know; but while things yet
Are in confusion, give us if thou canst,
Eye-witness of what first or last was done,
Relation more particular and distinct.
Mess. Occasions drew me early to this City,
And as the gates I enter'd with Sun-rise,
The morning Trumpets Festival proclaim'd
Through each high street: little I had dispatch't
When all abroad was rumour'd that this day
Samson should be brought forth to shew the people
Proof of his mighty strength in feats and games;
I sorrow'd at his captive state, but minded
Not to be absent at that spectacle.
The building was a spacious Theatre
Half round on two main Pillars vaulted high,
With seats where all the Lords and each degree
Of sort, might sit in order to behold,
The other side was op'n, where the throng
On banks and scaffolds under Skie might stand;
I among these aloof obscurely stood.
The Feast and noon grew high, and Sacrifice
Had fill'd thir hearts with mirth, high chear, & wine,
When to thir sports they turn'd. Immediately
Was Samson as a public servant brought,
In thir state Livery clad; before him Pipes
And Timbrels, on each side went armed guards,
Both horse and foot before him and behind
Archers, and Slingers, Cataphracts and Spears.
At sight of him the people with a shout
Rifted the Air clamouring thir god with praise,
Who had made thir dreadful enemy thir thrall.
He patient but undaunted where they led him,
Came to the place, and what was set before him
Which without help of eye, might be assay'd,
To heave, pull, draw, or break, he still perform'd
All with incredible, stupendious force,
None daring to appear Antagonist.
At length for intermission sake they led him
Between the pillars; he his guide requested
(For so from such as nearer stood we heard)
As over-tir'd to let him lean a while
With both his arms on those two massie Pillars
That to the arched roof gave main support.
He unsuspitious led him;-which when Samson
Felt in his arms, with head a while enclin'd,
And eyes fast fixt he stood, as one who pray'd,
Or some great matter in his mind revolv'd.
At last with head erect thus cryed aloud,
Hitherto, Lords, what your commands impos'd
I have perform'd, as reason was, obeying,
Not without wonder or delight beheld.
Now of my own accord such other tryal
I mean to shew you of my strength, yet greater;
As with amaze shall strike all who behold.
This utter'd, straining all his nerves he bow'd,
As with the force of winds and waters pent,
When Mountains tremble, those two massie Pillars
With horrible convulsion to and fro,
He tugg'd, he shook, till down thy came and drew
The whole roof after them, with burst of thunder
Lords, Ladies, Captains, Councellors, or Priests,
Thir choice nobility and flower, not only
Of this but each Philistian City round
Met from all parts to solemnize this Feast.

Biden's foreign policy: let's bet everything on authoritarianism!

  And watch it all slip away (Por fin se va acabar) Or leave a garden for your kids to play (Jamás van a alcanzar)  --- The Black Angels, El...