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Showing posts from October 19, 2008

Social Darwinist Rats Leave Ship - Dog bits Man

We have probably expressed the opinion in the past – LI is nothing if not copiously opinionated – that James Buchan is the best writer on money who we have ever read. Not the best theorist, mind – he doesn’t try to compete in the heavy lifting department - but the best essayist. We missed his review of Neill Ferguson’s new book in praise of lucre, when it came out last week. That was a mistake . Now, the truth is we have a sneaking liking for Ferguson, bloody imperialist and Thatcherite that he is. His history of the British Empire, which makes a stout attempt to defend that worldwide pillage on the premise that it was made on behalf of civilization – with the pillagers blindly creating a better world as they thought they were creating their own fortunes - makes the best case for colonialism that can currently be made. In the end, of course, it suffers from that foundational problem which Jesus, a carpenter and thus eminently familiar with construction specs, once pointed: a house b

Irrevocability: hope of mankind (Nemesis again)

LI has been considering Chamfort in the light of Herder’s Nemesis not simply because Chamfort is another late Enlightenment writer, but because both Herder and Chamfort would seem, by their intellectual silhouettes, to be the kind who would go easily into the anti-revolutionary column. Herder with his doubts about the enlightenment “man”; Chamfort with his ferocious pessimism. Yet neither were reactionaries. Herder never renounced the revolution, but retired from all comment upon it after the Terror. And Chamfort… Well, Chamfort threw himself, body and soul, into the revolution. He impoverished himself, he wrote speeches for Mirabeau and Tallyrand, he, it is said, suggested the title for Sieyes critical pamphlet (Qu' est-ce que le Tiers-Etat? Tout. Qu'a-t-il? Rien) which neatly summarizes what, actually, all modern political revolutions are about – the struggle between what is really All – the working class – and its false political position – what does it have? Nothing. A titl


“And now, being received as a member of the amiable family whose portraits we have sketched in the foregoing pages, it became naturally Rebecca's duty to make herself, as she said, agreeable to her benefactors, and to gain their confidence to the utmost of her power. Who can but admire this quality of gratitude in an unprotected orphan; and, if there entered some degree of selfishness into her calculations, who can say but that her prudence was perfectly justifiable? "I am alone in the world," said the friendless girl. "I have nothing to look for but what my own labour can bring me; and while that little pink-faced chit Amelia, with not half my sense, has ten thousand pounds and an establishment secure, poor Rebecca (and my figure is far better than hers) has only herself and her own wits to trust to. Well, let us see if my wits cannot provide me with an honourable maintenance, and if some day or the other I cannot show Miss Amelia my real superiority over her. Not t

Election thoughts

I have quoted this passage from Merezhovsky on Gogol before – but the current election season makes this seem all too relevant: “Everyone can perceive evil in great violations of the moral law, in rare and unusual misdeeds, in the staggering climaxes of tragedies. Gogl was the first to detect invisible evil, most terrible and enduring, not in tragegy, but in the absence of everything tragic; not in power, but in impotence; not in insane extremes, but in all-too-sensible moderation; not in acuity and profundity, but in inanity and planarity, in the banality of all human feelings and thoughts; not in the gratest things, but in the smallest.” –58 This, of course, describes the American election year to a t. When, in the holy years of democracy, the revolutionary period from 1776-1793, the election in its modern form was created, the inventors had high hopes. The election was to be the poetry of the people, the highest expression of their choice. And what was their choice? Their choice was

the executioner's melancholy

“… writing, on the contrary, is always rooted in a beyond of language, it develops like a seed and not like a line, it manifests an essence and threatens with a secret, it is a counter-communication, it intimidates. We will find in all writing the ambiguity of an object which is at the same time language and coercitation: there is, at the bottom of writing, a “circumstance” that is foreign to language, there is something like the glance of an intention that is already no longer that of langauge. This glance can very well be a passion for language, as in literary writing; it can also be the threat of a penality, as in political writing: writing is then charged to join in a single dash the reality of acts and the ideality of ends.” – Barthes, The Degree Zero of Writing (…l'écriture, au contraire, est toujours enracinée dans un au-delà du langage, elle se développe comme un germe et non comme une ligne, elle manifeste une essence et menace d'un secret, elle est une contre-communi

Scrounger’s Ball day 2

PATRONS OF LI LI got a few contributions yesterday, but we are far from our goal. This is our week to pick the pockets of our readers: please contribute via the paypal button!


Chamfort was not his real last name. In fact, it is still not certain whether his name was really Sébastien-Roch Nicolas, son of a Clermont grocer, or whether he was the bastard child of a Clermont canon. Sébastien-Roch-Nicolas Chamfort, like many another Enlightenment demi-sage, came up through the ranks from a seemingly engulfing provincial obscurity by inventing himself in a different milieu. His success as a writer falls in the period of the 1770s. He earned money from a hit play; he wrote for enlightened journals; he found an aristocratic patron. And he enjoyed eating, drinking, talking and fucking. He mingled with some of the big names, wrote a catty little verse about Candide, received a letter of praise from Rousseau. His life, although he didn’t know it then, was falling into a pattern of anecdotes. For instance, on the subject of making love, his biographer Pellison recounts that a woman told him, once, “this curious thing. I don’t love smart men in love – they are watching t

a scrounger's plea

Patrons of LI! I was so hoping to avoid my usual scrounger’s week this year – the week in which I beg for contributions to maintain LI as a viable blog. But, after floating through this year in a shimmer of good luck, Nemesis, the Devil and little baby Jesus all spotted me crawling about on the earth whistling a happy tune, and intervened to throw a little shit into my life, financially speaking. Last Thursday, my decade old computer gave up the ghost. I went to have it repaired at a computer shop stocked with used computers, and under the suave ministrations of the pirate at the counter, was pursuaded to purchase a better computer from that golden year, 2004. Mistake! It turns out I was dealing with the computer shop of horrors, a veritable den of lemons. Things have changed in ten years. Computer shops used to be run by computer geeks – a band of mostly young men obsessed with the ins and outs of the machine. A band who had switched off their Oedipal affection for the mother and swit

Nemesis and the pursuit of happiness

I want somethin different, I want somethin special Oh no, honey, not for ten dollars… In Herder’s essay, the beauty of Nemesis is an aspect of her indifference –or is it that here indifference is an aspect of her beauty? It was, of course, one of the less discussed problems with founding a society on happiness, or the pursuit of happiness. It isn’t self-evident that everyone is happy about the happiness of others. The chthonic Nemesis, the frightening Nemesis, is always in pursuit of the happiness of others. The evil eye is buried beneath the tolerant society, the society in which all interests busily converge, drawn by invisible threads. The chthonic Nemesis can be pictured with one foot on the neck of some iconic image of Superbia. For the exceeding happiness of one pulls at the others. The threads fray. In a Borges short story which is in the form of a report about some jungle community, the explorer remarks that the inhabitants all cover their mouths when eating, since to be seen