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Showing posts from January 4, 2009

the birth of alienation from the severed head of Olympe de Gouges

The split up came violently. Three delegates, Georg Forster, Adam Lux, and Andreas Patocki, a Mainz businessman, left Mainz just before the reactionary forces took the city. Therese was already gone – she’d joined her lover with her children. Caroline Michaelis wasn’t so lucky – she and her daughter left, but were unable to get out of the area, and were forced back into the city. In the background was not only the terror in Paris, but the white terror in Frankfurt. Forster and his fellow delegates made it to Paris and settled in a hotel run by a “patriotic Dutchman” in the Rue de Moulins, close to Tuileries and the Palais Royale. “The poissarde, the women from the fish market, cried out to them according to their custom a welcome to the city, and thereby earned a tip.” (Uhlig 325) It was here that Forster met many of the other transplants in Paris, including Mary Wollstonecraft. I like to speculate that Forster saw Olympe de Gouge’s affiches denouncing Robespierre, which were put up at

Zona report

It's all right To be mean The Zona report today was strong enough to flummox even the priests. On Economix, the NYT blog, economists have been invited to do their usual ritual dances – they step on the skulls of the evil greedy and lazy laborer, they pray for efficiency, they come up with irresistible reasons to give one of the class of the 10,000 richest households another million or billion. During the Zona, however, the dances begin to seem frantic. The old prayers, the old demons and heroes, seem to get out of focus. Obviously, the normal order and the full stop of all human history was 2006, a year in which everything came together – corporate profits popping, median household incomes stagnating, the great warriors freer than ever before from the bonds of the Demon Regulation and the Demon Taxman. Now, however, with every month another half a million people sliding down the chute of darkness and into the netherworld of unemployment (surely, of course, by their own choosing – i

Queen of the fern

What becomes a legend best? This was the hook of an old furrier advertising campaign, famous for showing Liliane Hellman in a mink stole. But the hook deserves a better fate than to go to advertising heaven in a chorus of skinned weasels. For what becomes a legend best is a bad end, which is what happened to Olympe de Gouges, that fabulous existence, the bastard daughter of a seller of used clothes and – so she claimed – one of the great 18th century literary talents, although she named no names. Others claimed Louis XV. In fact, Gouges’ downfall was due to her strenuous and heroic advocacy for Louis Capet, who she was by no means willing to see led to the guillotine. Was this an act of sisterly sympathy? No, it was the common sense of genius. As the anarchist Malatesta said, a century later, far better kill a chicken than a king, for at least you can eat a chicken. Which is pretty much the definitive argument against all capital punishment, if you ask me. How is a woman of such doubt

demography and poetry

On July 4, 1793, a group of children coming from the faubourg Saint-Antoine shelter for foundlings paraded before the national convention in order to thank the deputies for the recent law that promised the principle of rights of succession to natural children. “You have shown yourself fathers in rendering to them the rights that they lost in being born in a manner one has always regarded as illegitimate,” declared the teacher of the children. “You did more: you have returned them to the social body… You have established the base of government upon equality.” In a few words, in its fashion, the Convention gave body to its promise. The astonishing and controversial law of 12 brumaire Year II (2 November 1793) accorded to illegitimate children, when they were recognized by their parents, rights of succession equal to those of legitimate children. The same law implicitly suppressed the customary right which permitted single mothers or their progeniture to petition for action in recognitio

Things fall apart.

- Edvard Munch, Death of Marat According to no less an authority than Josiah Royce, to understand the philosophy of Schelling, one must understand Caroline Michaelis, his wife. In 1792, when she joined Therese Huber’s household, she was still Caroline Boehmer, recently widowed. Already August Wilhelm Schlegel was obsessed with her – and already she felt herself puzzingly superior to him, an intuition she was never to overcome. Later, after the occupation by the French and the counter-occupation by the forces of reaction, later, after Therese had fled to Strassbourg (which is when, apparently, she wrote Georg that she was leaving him for Hubner), after Georg left for Paris and received the condemnation of almost the entire German intelligentsia (poor mistaken Forster, Wilhelm Humboldt signed), and that after Therese might have written Caroline a letter giving her a green light for Caroline’s own affair with Georg, after the pregnancy with the unknown father, probably a French office, af

a humble suggestion for a whole new model of Value at Risk

- Alfred Kubin Sunday’s article by Joe Nocera about the rise and apparent fall of Values at Risk models, which were used by banks, hedgefunds, ponzi schemes and assorted big and little fish, as well as their captive regulators, to justify mad and bad leverage, has caused a lot of commenting on the financial blogs – Yves Smith, hat treasure, provided, as usual, the hectoring chorus, with that radiant skepticism which always sets apart the Wall Street dissident from the usual greed jughead, seeing in Nocera’s simplifications that cool anaesthesia of conventional wisdom which, at the moment, is the way the financial press has been self-medicating itself. It is a story that will no doubt stretch on for years – the story of how everything will return to what it used to be after a few knobs are pushed, a few wires are connected. The model talk is, to an extent, disingenuous, dancing around the question of whether we would really want a financial system that sucks up such appreciable amoun

the revolution of ugly men

Events in Mainz in 1792 (continuing the thread broken off before I went to mexico) In 1792, Georg Forster had ended up in Mainz, a city in Hesse. The region had become a conflict zone between the French revolutionary armies and the various armies of the coalition formed under the terms of the Brunswick manifesto, to rescue the ancien regime, i.e. the house of Bourbon. Forster was overworked as the head of the archive and library. At the beginning of 1792, he had not taken a public political stance, although in private letters he expressed a clear sympathy for the Jacobins. He was hiding from his wife Therese the exact extent of his indebtedness, which was crushing – Georg Forster was never a prudent man when it came to cash. Therese seems to have been emotionally and intellectually of the left. Geiger, her biographer, in 1909, found this so scandalous that he tried to mitigate it by claiming that Therese was Forster’s ‘pupil’. It was far more likely she was his comrade. This marriage a

from the other shore

My friend R., M.’s husband, is skeptical of my book. Unfortunately, at one point I described my project as “against happiness” – which is true in a complicated sense. Still, R. quotes that back at me – he has a good ear for the ridiculous things I say. And that phrase certainly goes against R.’s New Left politics. On New Years Eve, we were all in Malinalco. Chepe has a country house there. I’d previously been down there in 2005. It is a compound of three houses – one is Chepe and Tania’s house, one is a guest house, and one is the house that Tania’s mother lives in. It is a perfect place for long, wordy afternoons, as though cut from a Tom Stoppard play. We all drink, smoke and snack, waiting for dinner, which will be the trout M. bought from the market about half a mile away. The kids throw each other into the cold swimming pool behind Tania’s mother’s house – we can hear them shriek. Friends and relatives show up, say hi, disappear. M., in the hammock, complains to me that the beginn