Friday, October 03, 2008

the zona

Ah, there is nothing so fine as comments sections. The NYT and the Washington Post have been filling up with indignant comments since Paulsen’s Wall Street Cargo Cult plan – (buy holy objects, wait until spirit appears, sell again) – shocked the complacent American householder. And, surprisingly, from shore to shore, they’ve been hardworkin’ savin’, scrimpin’ and so squeakily virtuous that heaven looks down in envy! Who would have guessed? All the time I thought it was the householders that elected Bush twice, looked on with bloodlust and shiteating grins as we invaded Iraq, took out 800 billion dollars in home loan equity, and watched with greed and no inclination to question as housing prices became the little guy’s stockmarket – bound to go up! Are these the same people who resided in a country most known, for the last eight years, for its trade deficits and its charming deal with China – buy our T-notes and we will buy your bloodspeckled plastic toys! I musta been livin’ in the wrong country.

And now, of course, the bills for the fun filled political vacation come due. When Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California, the first thing he did was Charge IT! – to a round of cheers from those scrimpin and savin’ burgermen, working all day, thinking of Jesus Christ all night. After all, why pay for the structures you need every day when – as Mr. Magician said in that beautiful Christmas Classic, It’s a Wonderful Reagan-y Kinda Life, – the magic of the marketplace makes lower taxes bring in more revenue! We owe it to ourselves! We can’t surrender to terrorists! We can’t return to the days of tax and spend! Class warfare! As the man says:

Quelli che son dentro la merda fin qui, oh yeah
Quelli che con una bella dormita passa tutto anche il cancro, oh yeah
Quelli che, quelli che non possono crederci anche adesso che la terra e’ rotonda, oh yeah, oh yeah
Quelli che hanno paura del aeroplano, oh yeah
Quelli che non hanno mai avuto un incidente mortale, oh yeah
Quelli che non ci sentiamo
Quelli che a un certo punto della vita ci vorrebbe una arma segreta, ostia, oh yeah

I’m sure there are whole sections of Abu Ghraib that are on lockdown, so intense is the sympathetic weeping for those who trying to sell their McHummers, those calling in about the “minorities” getting special deals from the government and hasn’t this brought the whole fuckin’ thing down, those who have to eat out less, those who have to tell their kids, we’ll go to the dentist next year... oh yeah!

You can tell LI is deeply, deeply moved. I like the timing of the California plea (dear Santa, send us Eight billion dollars and we promise to be good all year!) as the Cargo Cult bill is signed by the Great Fly himself, going out of office in high drama – tough and weathered, a cowboy who has brought us Victory with a V, not white flags with a W, in Iraq – and don’t you feel so much freer? Constipation gone? Song in your heart? Perhaps you are triphoping down HangSaddam Avenue this very afternoon! I know I am.

This is the Zona. The “ghost wind.” The Fore have a long history with the Zona. When it blows, the victims of kuru tremble. Others pile up leaves, dirt and excrement and carefully store it in their huts, thinking that it will turn into metal. The Zona is in control here, people. I am merely its scruffy little pissant prophet.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I, the substitute 2

“All planned out human sacrifice ceremonies betray the God to which they are consecrated: they subordinate him to the primacy of human goals, dissolve his power, and this deception of him is seamlessly transposed into that which the unbelieving priest performs on the believing congregation. Cunning arises in the cult. Odysseus himself functions as both the victim and the priest. Through calculation of his own obedience he effects a negation of the power to which the obedience is pledged. So he redeems his fallen live. But in no way do deceit, cunning and rationality stand in simple opposition to the archaic element of sacrifice. It is only that through Odysseus, the moment of the deception in sacrifice, the most inner ground perhaps for the pseudocharacter of myth, is lifted into consciousness. It must be a primeval experience that the communication with the gods through sacrifice is not real. The sacrifice of the substitute, glorified by new fashioned irrationalists, isn’t to be separated from the divination of the sacrificed, the deceit of the priestly rationalisation of murder through the apotheosis of the chosen. Something of such a deceit, which still lifts the picked person to the bearer of divine substance, can be traced from then in the I, that has itself to thank for the sacrifice of the moment to the future. Its substantiality is an appearance like the immortality of the slaughtered. It isn’t surprising that Odysseus seemed a divinity to many.” – Adorno and Horkheimer, The Dialectic of the Enlightenment (my translation)

Calasso makes a sweeping thematic statement in The Ruin of Karsch, a book that was written in the shadow of the horrors of the seventies:

“History is summed up in the fact that for a long time men killed other beings and dedicated them to an invisible power, but after a certain point they killed without dedicating the victims to anyone. Did they forget? Did they consider that act of homage futile? Did they condemn it as repugnant? All these reasons had some sort of bearing on the matter. Afterwards, nothing remained but pure killing... (135)

Calasso is writing to tease out the infinite subtleties in the system of war which, in his view, is the real name of modernity. The economic system, whether managed by the private sphere or commanded by the state, exists in the void left by a mechanical and blind system of human sacrifice that no longer has any belief in any invisible power that could explain the compulsive bloodletting. Although this seems to be miles away from the rise of the happiness culture, the two develop in tandem, one with the other.

The substitute in the sacrifice, as Adorno and Horkheimer point out, is both a trick of human rationality, played on the invisible power, and the first step in the long undermining of the need for sacrifice.

Now, it might seem, at first glance, that nothing could be as repugnant to a society organized around the image of the limited good as sacrifice. Sacrifice would seem to violate the assumption that resources are so distributed that the acquisition of them is a zero-sum game. What I have, you don’t have. And this is the genius of sacrifice, its tie to power and wealth and essentially predatory and contingent qualities. As we pointed out in a number of posts, wealth as treasure is wealth as accident – wealth as a thing that comes purely from the exterior, a sign and symbol of it. And that exteriority marks treasure as a part of power, which is that into which all exteriority is merged. If Adorno and Horkheimer are right, then the logic of sacrifice is shaped by these social assumptions. Sacrifice is the symbol of predation, and the predatory portion that goes back to the predator. The predator’s claim is, essential, to ownership of everything, and that claim is the basis of the invisible order of things. The portion sacrificed is the substitute for that all, against the impossible realization of the predatory power’s claim – which would be the end of the world. Death is of course the predator’s triumph, and it is this which the sacrifice wards off for a little while.

Bataille’s idea is that sacrifice defines the sacred and the accursed. The social correlate, here, is treasure and waste. Between the two there is a strong bond. The substitution of waste for treasure, or the magic that makes waste into treasure, or the secret power of waste – these are all deep fairy tale motifs. The substitution of treasure for waste, on the other hand, this was the great Christian paradox of God’s sacrifice of his son. It is such a mad gesture that the first become last in its aftermath, and the world is turned upside down. Theologians, of course, spend centuries turning the world back upright, but the idea of treasure substituted for waste still emits a powerful revolutionary frequency below the official discourse.

LI’s notion, then, is that the substitute has different meanings in the two regimes sketched out by Calasso’s sweeping gesture – the regime in which sacrifice has a meaning, and the regime in which sacrifice turns into futile superstition. Thus, the moment that the substitute is no longer a marker in the intricate transactions by which pure exteriority is appeased with its share, it is, in a sense, freed. First as a character, then as a personality, first as an autonomous subject, then as a sociological object. In the atmosphere of liberty, the substitute seems to disappear entirely – for what is liberty but the absolute uniqueness of the individual? But in that ephemeral moment, the stress of the purposelessness of the unique individual on the system forces the return of the substitute as the subject –its transit through the tropic of liberty returns it to the system freed, more practically, from the mark of the sacred, and ready to get to work. The lack of that substitute within disturbs what Tolstoy calls the animal personality, and there has to be a substitute for the missing substitute – there must be, for instance, self-interest – or there looms the menace of social rejection, various deaths in the madhouse. These are the stakes of transgression, and why, for Bataille, it bears the impress of that unbearable moment when the substitute, in the triumph of rationality over all exteriority, all invisible powers, disappears.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

the golden rule

In Wittgenstein’s notes on Frazer’s The Golden Branch, he writes:

“Already the idea of wanting to explain the practice – for instance, the killing of the priest king – seems to me to miss the mark. All that Frazer does is make it plausible to men who think as he does. It is very remarkable that all these practices are finally so to speak portrayed as stupidities.

But it will never be plausible that people did all this out of stupidity.

When he explains to us that the King must be killed in his blood, because after the ideas of the savages, otherwise his soul will not be fresh, one can only say: where this practice and this idea go together, the practice does not spring from the idea, but they are both simply there. “

I view this as a sort of golden rule of social explanation. This is why I’ve always found the idea, so popular since the Bush election, that – as my commentor Abb1 puts it – the people are just gullible one that simply says, all people would think like the people in my circle if they were simply not dumb.

But what if there are different kinds of intelligence views of what is advantageous in different circles? Surely liberal circles, which are charmed by the long term, seem intolerably ... constraining to those who dream of quick bucks. Different time frames, different institutional biases. What seems to be the rightwing habit of claiming a and not-a at the same time has often driven me mad with frustration, or the thought that there was some kind of cultural mindfuck going on, some degradation of the native powers, some dimming of vision, some common damage to the frontal lobes out there in the prairies and the pine forests. Some return to infancy. But it is easy to see that this explanation has the advantage of lifting myself up to a self-evident point of superiority.

The popular rage about the failure of the kind of capitalism that, merely a year ago, was held up by these very same people, or their tv heroes, as the very model and acme of what the years of the Great Moderation were all about – the neo-liberal principle untrammeled by any traditional ties or chains – has led to all kinds of explanations that walk around the central fact of that failure, sniffing out traditional demons. And, of course, in this case the traditional object of American anxieties: the black man. Who happens, thank you very much, to be heading closer and closer to the presidency.

Wittgenstein says, further: “No opinion furnishes the ground for a religious symbol. And error only corresponds to opinion. One would like to say: this and this event happens. Laugh if you can.”

spin the pistol

Well, there will be another round of Russian Roulette tomorrow. The protest against the insane bailout, one might have noticed, has been a young affair. The crowd that just lost their 401 k shit are an older bunch. Finally, we've reached a red state level where the gain/loss equation is clearly on the side of doing anything to keep the pain away.

Since I am poor as shit and have nothing at stake, here, I can just watch this for the sheer drama of it. The bailout bill was given such an ominous aura that it multiplied the effect that would happen once it was knocked down. I can't imagine that the markets will calm down in Asia, or in the U.S. tomorrow. Which is why I think there might be an extraordinary executive order coming.

... And in other news, I sent IT a find on You Tube which I knew would go straight to her heart - a pig in a 1908 interjecting himself into a softcore tease, or at least the hidden version of Mallarme's L'apres-midi d'un faune that begins: "Le Cochon:
Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer."
Well, our favorite Wiltshire goth philosopher proceeds to perpetuer a few archetypes herself. Check it out!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Click click

Bush couldn't persuade the Republican party to pull the trigger. The bailout is dead - at least for today. If the GOP had pulled the trigger, that would be the end of the party in the Red States. The reps understand this. The Bush bubble has finally become impervious even to the faux reality it has spun for itself.

These fucker, these fuckers, go ahead Nicky. It's gonna be all right. Put an empty chamber in that gun. Shoot Nicky, shoot shoot!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I, the substitute

“In einer höheren Phase der kommunistischen Gesellschaft, nachdem die knechtende Unterordnung der Individuen unter die Teilung der Arbeit, damit auch der Gegensatz geistiger und körperlicher Arbeit verschwunden ist; nachdem die Arbeit nicht nur Mittel zum Leben, sondern selbst das erste Lebensbedürfnis geworden; nachdem mit der allseitigen Entwicklung der Individuen auch ihre Produktivkräfte {8} gewachsen und alle Springquellen des genossenschaftlichen Reichtums voller fließen - erst dann kann der enge bürgerliche Rechtshorizont ganz überschritten werden und die Gesellschaft auf ihre Fahne schreiben: Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!”

In a higher phrase of communist society, after the slavish subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and thus, also, to the opposition of mental and physical labor has disappeared; after labor has become not only a means to life, but even the first of need of life [sondern selbst das erste Lebensbedürfnis geworden]. after the productivity of the individual has grown along with his all around development, and all the springs of social wealth flow fully – only than can we surpass the narrow horizon of bourgeois rights and society can write on its banner: from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!”

Marx took this irresistible phrase from Louis Blanc. In the History of the Revolution of 1848, Blanc, a Saint-Simonian, wrote:

Weakness is the creditor of force; ignorance, of instruction. The more a man can do (peut), the more he ought to: and this is the sense of those beautiful worlds of the Gospel: that the first among you must be the servant of the others. From whence, the axiom: from each, according to his capabilities (facultés). This is the obligation.

But, with the capabilites, man has received needs from nature: intellectual needs, moral and physical ones; needs of the heart, of intelligence, of sense, of imagination. Thus, by what means may each fill the function in which nature created him, if social institutions which weigh on him make a barrier to the complete development of his being, in refusing him the satisfaction of needs inherent to his particular organization? From whence – in the limits of common resources, and in taking the word needs in the largest and most noble of acceptations – this axiom, which corresponds to the first and completes it: to each according to his needs. This is the right.” (148)

Droit and Recht, by the way, don’t translate well into English, which lexically distinguishes between the law and right in such a way that ‘rights’ doesn’t carry the load of connotations that the translator would like to imply.

Traditionally, this phrase has been analyzed from the distributive side. The “to each according to his needs” seems to give us a principle of fairness for our economic system – while from each according to his capabilities, or abilities – Fahigkeiten or facultés – sinks into the texture of everyday modern life, a revolutionary demand, perhaps, to make to a semi-feudal order that would condemn the child to follow the parent, but nowadays a commonplace, which we have no need to worry about.

Li does worry, though. For in sweeping away the traditional compulsions, the industrial-market system also sweeps away the craftsman’s attachment to the craft, the farmer’s attachment to the fields – putting in its place the demands of abstract labor. Whether in a market society or in a socialist command and control society, the bond between the person and the labor undergoes a weird dialectic – on the one hand, the person is freed to do what he or she wants, and on the other hand, the bond of affection to one’s chosen faculty becomes so dependent on either market forces or the planning of the state that, in effect, the laborer becomes interchangeable. That interchangeable entity has a name, now: human capital. The momentary intensification the individual, to use Marx’s word, the liberation from feudal bonds, passes quickly into the bonds of a collectivity that can, ideally, shuffle the individual from one situation to another – making this or that skill obsolete, shuttering an economic sector, mobilizing the masses to work on this or that task. It makes one wonder about the slogan on the banner.

I, the substitute – this could be written on the tombstone erected above the individual’s individual moment. To go from one slogan to another. LI wants to bring together the substitute and transgression – to go back to Foucault’s essay. Which we will, hopefully, do soon.


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...