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Showing posts from August 17, 2008

A factory for making universals in the bowels of the folk consciousness

In Brown’s book on Cosi fan Tutte, which is a treasure trove of quotations, there is a passage from Jonathan Miller [who LI once shared a drink with, ho ho] explaining how he envisions the opera, and particularly the role of Don Alfonso. It is Alfonso who begins the action with a bet: he bets Ferrando and Guglielmo, two soldiers, cento zecchini, that he can prove their fiances can be seduced in a day. It is simply a matter of rearranging the tableau – by a simple ploy, he has the two announce they are going away, then has them disguise themselves and has each soldier woo the other’s fiance. A recto, we have Despina, the maid who tries to convince Fiordiligi and Dorabella that all men are essentially fickle, especially soldiers. Miller views all of this in the light of Don Alfonso’s fundamental motive: “I have always seen him as a genuine eighteenth-century philosopher, a mixture of Diderot and Voltaire, and this means that the opera then becomes an experiment with human nature. In t

boy's world

Roberto Calasso has an amazing eye for the damning quotation. He is, after all, an admirer of Karl Kraus. In The Ruin of Kasch, he devotes a chapter to the ‘anti-romantic child”, Bentham. I read that chapter yesterday, and immediately recognized that it was about the U.S., circa 2000-2008. Here are some Bentham quotes, taken from Halevy’s book about the Utilitarians; “Directly or indirectly, well being, in one shape or another, or in several shapes, or all shapes taken together, is the subject of every thought, and the object of every action, on the part of every known Being who is, at the same time, a sensitive and thinking being.” “Money is the instrument of measuring the quantity of pain or pleasure. Those who ar not satisfied with the accuracy of this instrument must find some other.” “The only common measure the nature of things affords is money.” These statements have a familiar ring to the American ear. Surely we just heard them. Wasn’t somebody on the radio, on the news, in the

And where's my nobel prize???

Limited Inc – you might think our little suggestions fall dead from our pages. From my mouth to God’s deaf ear, as they say. But notice this, from our March 20, 2008 post: “What the Government should do is place all securities under the sweeping powers of the same kind of agency that regulates drugs. And, just as drugs are tested for their real effects and approved with regulatory strings, securities too should be subject to testing (which would be in the nature of simulations) and approved, if found not to have malign side effects and found to be useful, only with their own regulatory strings. The ‘shadow’ financial system, as Roubini calls it, has become a giant ectoplasm of iffy puts and options, in a system that really has already developed the vehicles it needs for investment, thank you very much. And, as we have seen, Alien turns to the nanny state as soon as the downside whacks it. Thrust the fuckers into the light. Regulation now, regulation forever.” And notice this, in today’

Dove son? che loco è questo?

LI has been thinking that what I need to do, if I am to satisfy the armies of periodizers that inhabit my nightmares, is to go from showing how the conditions for the change in the attitude towards happiness came together in the seventeenth and eighteenth century (this is what all these themes over the past half a year have been about, captain!) to showing how happiness became a norm. That is, showing how it ended up filling three places normatively - as a feeling; as a judgment over the life order (or a judgment over lifestyles); and as a justification for political and economic arrangements. So far, I’ve been trying to show that those spaces haven’t always been connected by happiness. That this threefold social phenomena isn’t simply a matter of one feeling taking over from a previous dominant one. That the three places condition each other; and that in the wake of the slow vanishing of the human limit, there was play room for a number of affective political structures. Most not

Three stories about Gerhard Van Swieten, an enlightenment doctor

Everybody knows that baby's got no clothes Story one. Van Swieten was the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa’s personal physician. In 1740, Maria Theresa asked his advice about a terribly personal matter. She’d been married three years by then, and had no children. Van Swieten delivered the following famous prescription: “Praeteria censeo, vulvam Sacratissimae Majestatis, ante coitum, diutius esse titilandam.” That is, Maria Theresa should have her clitoris stimulated before coitus. It worked. Her shy husband Francis I tried it, and Maria Theresa went on to get pregnant a lot. Such is the story recounted by Jonathan Margolis in O: the intimate history of orgasm. The story is almost certainly false. Van Swieten did not meet Maria Theresa until after treating her sister in 1744 – he probably came to Vienna in that year or a year later. By this time, Maria Theresa had had several children. Her first child was born before 1740, incidentally. Margolis did not, however, simply make up his fa

The return of the pannier

This Sunday, forget Bill Keller’s frothing at the mouth about Westerners “kowtowing” to Beijing – not only is McCain bringing back Teddy Roosevelt but the whole glorious vocabulary of his time, which is like steak tartar in the mouth of our adorable, bloodthirsty MSM-ists! – and make a beeline to Caroline Weber’s article, The Belle Curve. There are those who have criticized LI’s obsession with the 18th century – but apparently we were simply mindmelding with today’s hottest fashion designers: “ But every now and then, a trend comes along whose sheer, unalloyed improbability startles even fashion’s strictest devotees. A case in point: the return this season of the amplified hip. From panniers at Louis Vuitton and Charles Nolan to crinolines at Alexander McQueen to peplums at Chanel, the fall/winter looks encourage women to channel PJ Harvey, who in ‘‘Sheela-Na-Gig’’ sang of her shapely charms: ‘‘I’ve been trying to show you over and over / Look at these, my child-bearing hips.’’ Incongr

Voltaire's shamans

Via dons maps Even the Greeks were once, if you will, savages... – J.G. Herder In the 1780s, both the model enlightened despots in Europe – Catherine II and Frederick of Prussia – suddenly found that the fashions were shifting. The old railing against superstition and spiritualism, which was so congenial to their hearts, was in conflict with the new interest in freemasonry, mesmerism, the hermetico-Egyptian philosophy – as Frederick the Great’s librarian, Abbe Pernety, called it – and, in Russia, with shamanism. Frederick’s nephew, who inherited the old man’s throne, immediately surrounded himself with a cabal of Rosicrucians. Catherine, who died in 1796, was already cracking down on what she regarded as the sinister power of the Masons in the late 1780s. She arrested the writer and publisher at the center of Russian freemasonry, Novikov – sentencing the old man to life in prison – and wrote a play, The Siberian shaman, mocking spiritualism as hypocrisy and faking, in much the spirit o