Saturday, December 13, 2008

going down to Mexico city with visions in my head

LI arrived in Mexico City yesterday, after the horror of waking up at five - an hour when I am particularly averse to surrendering to the alarm clock´s diktat, as my erotic dream managers are just putting up the outerworks - the sauna, the classroom, the office, or perhaps my Grandparent´s dinnertable - for the exciting main attraction. Which I hope involves me - I do so hate dreaming about other people having sex. Anyway, at a certain point between 5 and 6, when the cab picked me up, I did or did not turn on the stove, to warm my apartment. I´ve had alarmed flashes of the stove being on, and even got a friend to go by the place so I can get the number of the management company and call them to check.

This might simply be myself wallowing in my fundamental funk. But burning out the stove´s heater would be no joke.

Anyway, I get a taxi, after going through the usual languages - English, my version of spanish, and gibberish - to explain the layout of Polanco, which you would think would not be mysterious to people who drive taxis around Mexico City. Although, granted, it is not a place that a taxi drive would live, since you would have to make about six time the taxi driver´s salary to rent an outhouse here. And as we plunged into what proved to be one of Mexico City´s banner traffic days, gridlock up your ass as far as you can see, the taxi driver pointed out the people on the sidewalk, clumps of them, carrying pictures of the sweet but remote virgin. It is the Virgin of Guadalupe´s day. They are walking to the basilica downtown. It is a long walk - twenty miles at least. Although, given the state of the traffic, I´d bet that a few made it to their destination before I made it to mine.

Later, my friend M. tells me her housekeeper took off to go on a running pilgrimage to Veracruz - the pilgrims are taken on a bus, dropped off at a spot, run for a certain distance, then are picked up by the bus and taken a little further and the process is repeated.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Free Love and the Strait Jacket

- The anonymous genius of the fairy tale is the genius of history as well, with that same penchant for the fatally ambiguous symbol, where, as though in a besieged city in an endless backlands war, love and death exchange sniper fire with each other among bombed out buildings and constantly shifting zones of engagement. This city could be the New Jerusalem. It could be Stalingrad. It could be the Republic of Mainz, where Georg Forster assumed a revolutionary role in 1792, as his household expanded to include his wife Therese's lover, Huber, and the ever present Caroline Boehmer. It was in December of 1792 that Therese took the kids and her lover and left. Forster went to Paris, as a delegate.

- One has to be sensitive enough, then, to the way the fairy tale sticks in the historic fact to understand the depth of certain symbols.

-For instance: on November 19, 1831, Prosper Enfantin, responding to the uproar in Saint Simonian circle that had greeted his proposals for free love, responded with a speech in which he outlined the details of his system, which echoed Fourier and Swedenborg in separating marriage from “true” marriage, the latter of which would rekindle the numbed feelings of conjugal couples by giving them the theoretical liberty to love. It was hard to tell how this theoretical liberty translated into physiological fact, although by this time, Enfantin had, like Swedenborg before him, lowered the barrier between the symbol and the thing.

The uproar continued, with certain leaders of the Saint Simonian family denouncing Enfantin’s plan, and the newspapers reporting on his immorality. So he lead a retreat to his home in Menilmontant of forty male apostles, who attempted to live a life of pure communism. As one of the signs of sublime fraternity, Enfantin had shirts made for the apostles that buttoned down the back - and thus could only be buttoned with the aid of a helper.

Enfantin’s shirts deserve a place with Aristophanes unsexed circular human, in the Symposium, and Magritte’s hooded lovers blindly kissing – symbols that overwhelm one’s ability to immediately interpret them. Enfantin’s shirts hang over the whole impassioned debate about free love – half a sign of mutual aid, without which there can be no freedom, and half a strait jacket. [see French Feminism in the Nineteenth Century, Claire Goldberg Moses]
- The difficulty in writing about free love now, as opposed to, say, 1890, is that the phrase has degenerated from a scandal to a tawdry joke. It is as impossible to speak of free love without irony as it is to speak of virginity.

Yet I don’t believe these ironies have a footing in anything more than the fashion of the moment. Or perhaps I should say, the ironies are in disjunction with the continuing existence of the alienating structures of the happiness culture. If all three traditions of alienation collapse in the twentieth century, if Imagination sits in a ditch, now, pee stained and bawling and only visited by the social worker or the cops, this does not mean that alienation has been conquered or that it has conquered - there is no new man. Rather, the alienated have, for the moment, accepted their own impotence on every level, and are engaged in an elaborate ritual of theoretical self-cutting, one that has invaded everyday life down to the mental soundbites and the suicidal tics of acceptance, amnesia and our collective mad passivity.

LI is going to Mexico tomorrow, and will post from there haphazardly. If I don't post again until after Christmas, let me wish you all the very best.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Blackwater, whitewash: prosecute Moonen and Scobey for murder

We are, of course, watching the action being taken on the Blackwater massacre. We expect the trial to end with a non-guilty verdict. The Justice Department wants to lose this one.

Now the question is: why is Andrew Moonen, the Blackwater guard who shot and killed a bodyguard to the Iraqi vice president “while drunk last Christmas Eve”, to quote the Washington Post article of Oct. 7, 2007, is still at large. And why Margaret Scoby, who was acting ambassador to Iraq in December, 2006, and facilitated Moonen’s return to the States within 35 hours with no charges against him, is not being investigated, at least, as accessory to murder.

I believe the answer to that is: it would be hard to find a jury anywhere who wouldn’t convinct Moonen. As the point of these prosecutions is to appear to do something while continuing the whitewash of Blackwater and, more significantly, the utterly corrupt relationship between Blackwater and the State department, the latter of which has been on record, through its spokesman, about how pleased they are that State department officials have never been injured while Blackwater decimated Iraqis. The logic here is impeccable – the State Department sets the value of an Iraqi life at something like 15000 dollars, while the lives of its own personnel are priceless.

From Talking Points Memo

After an infamous December incident wherein a drunken Blackwater contractor shot and killed a bodyguard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi, one U.S. embassy official wrote to another:

Will you be following in up Blackwater [sic] to do all possible to ensure that a sizable compensation is forthcoming? If we are to avoid this whole thing becoming even worse, I think a prompt pledge and apology -- even if they want to claim it was accidental -- would be the best way to assure the Iraqis don't take steps, such as telling Blackwater that they are no longer allowed to work in Iraq.
In State's defense, an embassy cable from Secretary Condoleezza Rice argued "strongly" that "justice had to be done." But justice is a relative thing. When embassy officials proposed the price for the guard's life be pegged at either $100,000 or $250,000, a State diplomatic-security official countered with $15,000. The figure needed to be lower, the diplomatic-security official contended, so Iraqis wouldn't "try to get killed to set up their family financially." Two days after the shooting, Blackwater and State agreed that the guard's family should receive $15,000."

Thus, a few hunting accidents, a few trophy Iraqi deaths, all come out in the wash – in fact, a trophy Iraqi head is less expensive than a safari trip to shoot bear.

Prosecuted Andrew Moonen. Prosecute Margaret Scoby.

Tahitian overture

LI has so far concentrated on Therese Heyne’s side of the Heyne-Forster-Meyer triangle. However, I've wanted to harken to Swedenborg's entrance, so embarrassing to those who like their intellectual history straight. Although not a perfect parallel, you could make a case that, just as Spinoza is the hidden enlightenment eminence, so,too, Swedenborg and Mesmer are hidden eminences in that covert history of the passions in the nineteenth century, an underground rumble among the network of enlightenment philosophes, and the prophet of free love afterwards, with with Henry James, Sr., becoming his chief expositor in the U.S. And if that certain mixture of the spiritual and the sex drive embarrasses your true enlightened public much more than open mechanistic libertinism ever did – there is another track leading into free love, a rational track. It is at this point that the wide world enters Gottingen with tortured look of Georg Foster's face, that survivor of scurvy. Georg Forster and his father, Johann Reinhold, sailed with Captain Cook on his second voyage in the South Seas as scientists. JR’s Observations and Georg’s Voyage around the World were much read and praised, the latter coming out first in English a few month’s before Cook’s own account.

Above all, the South Sea islands, for 18th century Europeans, meant the Isle of Cythera, the Eldorado of all the old boys, as Baudelaire would say in the nineteenth century – Tahiti. Here, it was possible to think of angelic sex, a perpetual spring of virginity and fucking, in which the latter never negates the other. Tahiti was the fashion in the literary public of the 1780s. Caroline Michaelis, that ever present woman, created a sensation in Gottingen, strolling about in the Tapa that had been brought back for her by Forster. Christian Williams in Erotische Paradies gives both Forsters credit for casting a critical eye on the imperialist dream of the South Seas as a kind of paradise. Although of course Georg and his father’s accounts are couched in the language of progress, by which, as the native’s powers and resources are stripped from him, his time is stolen as well. It appears he is living in European time, and thus is both a contemporary and an ancestor. This is what was meant by stealing souls.

Still, Forster’s version of progress had an interesting marker. Civilization in the South Seas was symbolized by the treatment of women. The better women were treated, the higher the civilization.

‘The more debased the situation of a nation is, and of course the more remote from civilization, the more harshly we found the women treated… and they are looked upon as being calculated for the mere satisfaction of brutal appetites, nor treated better than beasts of burden, without being allowed to have the least will of their own: which incontestably proves how much men, in a degenerated and savage state, are inclined to oppress the weaker party.” (Quoted 131)

The signs of debasement are not only shown by the mistreatment of women – children striking their mothers, for instance – but in the looks of the women. According to this schema, the Tahitians are eminently civilized – the women are beautiful and powerful – while the women on other South Sea Islands are ugly and oppressed. A sidelight on IT’s theory of ugly women, perhaps, in as much as the dichotomy between the ugly and the beautiful replays the war of civilizations. So of one Melanesian island, JR Forster writes: “The females are generally thin, a few only have tolerable features: the rest are ill-favored, though their shape and limbs are not without proportion. Their knees are equally enlarged with those of the men…”

But this ugliness and oppression have another side. In a prevision of Hegel’s master slave relationship, Forster observes that the situation of the women, just because ‘they have been early taught to suppress the flights of passion; cooler reflexion, gentleness and every method for obtaining approbation and for winning the good-will of others have taken their place” – makes them accessible to the “first dawnings of civilization”. What is lacking is the ruse and the rebellion.

Georg Forster took these experiences and ideas into his unfortunate marriage to Therese Heyne.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I Guess I'll Get Rid of the Maid

We have had decades in which to learn of the perils of planning. Everyone, from the radical Weberian to the repentant Marxist to the gleeful Milton Friedman-ite agrees that you can’t have central planning. And so we haven’t.

And now we need some. Badly.

The car company bailout is an excellent example of where we need, and are not going to get, central planning. Instead of seeing this in the real context of our transportation system – the massive government investment in roads, the petro-chemical system, and the manufacture of automobiles being all aspects of one system – we are discussing a massive bailout on the smallest scale. In essence, what is needed is to think in terms of steps towards a much better future with the automobile. LI is no fan of car culture – we’ve owned three cars in our entire life, and we don’t own one now. We bike or walk or bus. And nobody who bikes every day has any respect for cars – they are a constant danger. Ask the dik-dik about the lion.

But there is no way our transportation tastes are ever going to become a majority position in this Land of the Free Riders. At least not until the oil runs out.

A coordinated response to the car company crisis would see all the aspects of it. LI thinks that one of the principles that should be involved, here, is a step by step program to reduce oil use considerably. It would be nice to think that the electric engine is the deus ex machina for that. But the non-nice thought is that, at this time, that seems very unlikely. What does seem doable is reducing the amount of fuel used by switching, as they have in Europe, to diesel – using the refining technology that has made diesel basically odorless and lessened the emission problems associated with it. This is where coordination comes in – Detroit could not switch its lines to diesel if diesel is so expensive that consumers will baulk. The oil companies aren’t going to refine more if the cars aren’t going to use it. So it is up to the gov – to finance refining capacity. To coordinate between those industries. As it may be to coordinate the use of natural gas here. And as it may be to create the network that would allow recharging for an electric car battery. All of these measures would require a positive government response, going so far as to create government funded companies, in the absence of any private company to work with. This moment of economic collapse comes, actually, at a very fortunate time, since the collapse is in the exact center of the enormous political and environmental problems that the U.S. has put off thinking about. We can now actually do things about the insane CO2 menace, and the dysfunctions of America’s quasi imperialistic role in the Middle East.

If not now, when?

ps - Oh, and who can resist contrasting scenes from the Zona? First the workers of the Republic Windows and Doors factory:

“The scene inside a long, low-slung factory on this city’s North Side this weekend offered a glimpse at how the nation’s loss of more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs in a year of recession is boiling over.

Workers laid off Friday from Republic Windows and Doors, who for years assembled vinyl windows and sliding doors here, said they would not leave, even after company officials announced that the factory was closing.

Some of the plant’s 250 workers stayed all night, all weekend, in what they were calling an occupation of the factory. Their sharpest criticisms were aimed at their former bosses, who they said gave them only three days’ notice of the closing, and the company’s creditors. But their anger stretched broadly to the government’s costly corporate bailout plans, which, they argued, had forgotten about regular workers.”

And then – a maid dodges a bullet! From the Vanity Fair article that will make your heart bleed.

The new thriftiness takes a bit of getting used to. “I was at the Food Emporium in Bedford [in Westchester County] yesterday, using my Food Emporium discount card,” recounts one Greenwich woman. “The well-dressed wife of a Wall Street guy was standing behind me. She asked me how to get one. Then she said, ‘Have you ever used coupons?’ I said, ‘Sure, maybe not lately, but sure.’ She said, ‘It’s all the rage now—where do you get them?’”

One former Lehman executive in her 40s stood in her vast clothes closet not long ago, talking to her personal stylist. On shelves around her were at least 10 designer handbags that had cost her anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 each.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I guess I’ll have to get rid of the maid.”
Why not sell a few of those bags?, the stylist thought, but didn’t say so.
“Well,” the executive said after a moment, “I guess I’ll cut her from five days a week to four.”

Free Love II: on the delights of the angelic body

Wahl ist Qual – Choice is pain. Before I go on tracing the intricate maze danced (to the lascivious promptings of a lute) by Georg Forster and Sophie Huber, born Heyne, as they went through the attempt, in the Revolutionary epoch of the eighties, to find liberty in marriage and love in liberty, I want to take the long view. Free love is a phrase that is well and truly dead – dead of mockery, dead of the emotional exploitation of which it became the instrument, deniability raising the old ghost of guilt in the service of nubile bodies forever lined up at the porn shoot. Yet it had a long, long career, and it is still not so dead that the phoenix of some kind of program joining sex, liberty and utopia cannot leap from the ashes of lovers, factual and fictional, who took the principle of free love with deadly earnestness. As I’ve noted, my three ideal types of alienation – the reactionary, the liberal and the radical – all in one way or another turned from happiness to love as the foundation of society. Only, however, the liberal and the radical turned to free love – it was the contention of the reactionary that, in fact, happiness, carrying the sensualist inheritance of Enlightenment volupte, would invariably end in promiscuity – which is the only way that the reactionary could see free love. Love in the reactionary tradition is not about liberty, but about obedience – to the sovereign, whose love is emanated in rules and laws. Although at the center of the Christian tradition there was always the disturbing Pauline paradox that love transcends and destroys those laws and rules insofar as they are the marks of sin, that is, of a lack of love. Heretics hived off from the main body of the Church by taking that notion too seriously, of course – those small circles of Adamites and Levelers, those claimants to purity for whom all things are pure.

In fact, free love was not only a scandal to the church – certainly Marx, for instance, was unhappy about the association of socialism with free love. To be flip, Marx’s definition of scientific socialism sometimes seems to be socialism minus the free love nonsense.

The person who joined love and liberty together in the eighteenth century was Emmanuel Swedenborg. Even though Swedenborgians proper disclaimed the free love ideas that grew out of certain Swedenborgian factions in the nineteenth century, it is certainly true that Swedenborg was a great promoter of the notion that liberty is love. As his biographer puts it:

“We must guard, however, against supposing that the spiritual is not real and bodily; for everything inward has its last resort in substantive organization. The bodies of angels are as our’s in every part, but more expressive, plastic and perfect. Their conjugal union, which is true chastity and playful innocence, is bodily like our own; nay, far more intimate: its delights, immeasurably more blessed.”

And this, from Conjugal love:

“The Lord provides similitudes for those who desire love truly conjugal, and if they are not given in the earths, he provides them in the heavens. The Divine Providence of the Lord is most particular and most universal concerning marriages and in marriages, because all the enjoyments of heaven stream forth from the enjoyments of conjudgial love, as sweet waters from the stream of a fountain; and that on this account it is provided that conjugial pairs be born, and that these are continually educated, under the auspices of the Lord, for their several marriages, both the boy and the girl being ignorant of it; and after the completed time, then that marriageable virgin, and then that young man fit for nuptials meet somewhere as if by fate, and see each other; and that then, as from a certain instince, they know that they are partners, and, as if from a certain dictate within, think in themselves, the young man, that she is mine, and the virgin, that he is mine; and, after this has been seated for some time in the minds of both, they deliberately speak to each other, and betroth themselves.”

One notices that Swedenborg’s idea of virginity – as with the delights of the angels – is not orthodox. And the notion of an education through marriages seems to be something like education in volupte, or the radical libertine ideal as it came from Cyrano de Bergerac and others.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...