Skip to main content


Showing posts from November 9, 2008

August 12, 1771 (2)

After the conversation between Albert and Werther takes a turn towards considering whether suicide could be excusable or not, Werther takes a recent case of a girl – a Mädchen – who had recently drowned herself in the nearby river. Remembering that Werther’s falling in love was ritualized in three circles, it is surprising and interesting that Werther describes the girl’s falling in love in terms of circles, too. “ I reminded him of a girl who, some time before, had been discovered dead in the water, and repeated to him her history: a good young creature, who had grown up in the narrow circle of domestic affairs and definite weekly tasks; and in addition, who knew no prospect of satisfaction than, for instance, on Sundays, to stroll around in the city dressed up in her piecework finery with similar girls, perhaps stopping to dance once at all the festivals…” The first circle – which should remind us of the first circle in which Werther saw Charlotte for the first time, surrounded b

August 12, 1771

... But before I can go further, I need to go back to the very important conversation between Werther and Albert on August 12 – a day that changes the entire tone of the novel. On August 12, Werther records an important conversation with Albert. Albert is Charlotte’s betrothed. In fact, Werther has been making Albert his doppelganger. They both love Charlotte, and – while Werther has said nothing about this to Albert – one can guess that Albert has guessed. I won’t dwell on how much this situation reminds me of certain adulterous passages from my own past – because that would be tedious and embarrassing. Suffice it to say that I found Werther’s behavior here almost unbearably familiar. So, on August 12th, Albert and Werther have a conversation. The starting point is Albert’s pocket pistols, which Werther wants to borrow. This leads to a discussion of the etiquette of pistols – once, Albert’s servant was cleaning the pistols and showing off to tease another servant, a likely girl,

substitutes and suicide

Durkheim’s book on suicide has generated a long history of controversy regarding its statistics, Durkheim’s attack on Tarde’s imitation model of suicide, his interpretation of the data according to sex, etc. Using Bertillion’s statistics, Durkheim was able to overthrow some myths – that, for instance, the English were prone to the English malady – it turned out that they had less of a rate of suicide than the Germans – or that married men were more prone to suicide than bachelors. The latter was a very deft statistical routine, since the misconception – statistically – rested on including, in the set of bachelors, boys below the marriageable age. When adjusted for men over eighteen, it turned out that married men were significantly less likely to kill themselves than bachelors, although the ratio was closer for married men in their twenties. As for women, well, women are less likely to kill themselves period – a fact born out since Durkheim. What Durkheim did not have the statistic

Zona Komiks!

“People are grieving,” said Ms. Goldsmith, a semiretired psychotherapist who counsels fellow residents of the Gleneagles Country Club, a gated community here. “There was a death. Their money died.” The zona is proving to be quite the beast. Even LI, in whose head wheels of fire turn, and who could stick out his hand anytime to Jonah, Isaiah or Jeremiah and say, cousin, is surprised by the claws on this thing. Our own, perhaps naïve thought was that all the money in the world wasn’t going to help – that in fact, sooner or later, about 65 trillion dollars in derivatives would be nullified. A haircut! Think of the surprise lines drawn around a cartoon character whose been stunned by some sudden news – think of those surprise lines as a trillion each. Nothing, right? But lo and behold, looks like this magic money got comingled with real money. Magic money is, of course, the chief concern of all right thinking people, which is why AIG gets a nice little 30 billion dollar snack yesterda

On 2666

Here’s a small factoid. “Hyle”, the Greek for matter, is also the Greek for wood. It should be translated into Latin as materia. However, Calcidius, whose translation of Plato into Latin was what the medievals read when they read Plato, translated hyle as “sylva” – woods, or forest. So that if, say, Thomas Acquinas wanted to read the Timaeus, every time Plato uses the word matter, Acquinas would have read the word “forest”. Imagine the metaphysics of that. Translation matters. It also forests – as every translator knows, the words in the text in one language branch out and root differently in another language. I’m pleased that the New York Times, with its dogged, lagging sense of fashion, recognized that Bolano is cult and cool, and hired Jonathan Lethem to review Natasha Wimmer’s translation of 2666. However, the review, while glowing, glowed around no central fire – for it wasn’t the burning novel to which the reader’s attention was drawn so much as the unceasing flurry of names

on not needing a weatherman...

I'll be the man with the broom if you'll be the dust in the room Under the “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” department, this story in the NYT about a town where everybody is below average – that is, 90 percent of the owners of houses in the town owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth – the story of Gerry Martinez leaps out. The town is one of those jumped up suburbs of the Bay area, built because the Bay area is way too expensive. The Martinezes don’t proclaim their income in the article – but one guesses it is South of 100 thou a year. Here’s the infarction graf: “The Martinezes bought their house in early 2005 for $630,000. It is now worth about $420,000. They have an interest-only mortgage, a popular loan during the boom that allows owners to forgo principal payments for a time. But these loans eventually become unmanageable. In 2015, Mr. Martinez said, his monthly payments will be $12,000 a month. He laughed and shook his

fantasy politics and the new deal

LI has enjoyed the round-the-blogs discussion about the New Deal, which started with Eric Rauchway’s takedown of Amity Schlaes country club revisionism regarding Roosevelt ( here and here and here ) and the Marginal Revolution’s Alex Tabbarok’s attack on Rauchway ( here ) LI’s notion is that Rauchway is, obviously, right about the success of the New Deal – if one judges success as ‘did this get entrenched into the economy’ – in the same way that neo-liberalism succeeded after Reagan. In the thirties, the depression in the U.S. was prolonged not because Roosevelt was too radical, but because he was too timid. Oddly, although the Great Depression was an international slump, nobody has expanded the frame of the argument to compare the U.S. performance to other economies – which would tell us, trivially, that the 1937-1938 period was a slump elsewhere as well, but would also give us a larger picture about the Great Transformation of the Great Transformation. Among the developed countr

News we will immediately forget

My friend, M., was so busy watching the results on November 4th that she didn’t notice her whole building shaking. Then her niece called up, crying. The lights were out in the condo she lives in, close to Los Pinos. Was the building on fire? It turned out that the fire was burning down the street. M. reports that the parade of firetrucks speeding through Polanco was astonishing. But all the President’s horses and all the president’s men couldn’t put the interior secretary back again. In the U.S., few noticed what had happened, and all took the Government’s line: Calderon’s right hand man in the drug war and his best friend, Juan Camilo Mouriño, along with the chief manager of the war on organized crime, José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, had been killed in a tragic accident. The pilot lost control of the plane, that is the official story. And who believes it in Mexico, where the police chiefs of major cities, like Acapulco, have been beheaded by the narcos men, and where Calderon, prodd