Saturday, February 07, 2009

the image of LI's art

The symbol of Irish art, for Stephen Daedelus, was the “cracked looking glass of a servant.” Ah, those mirrors – surely Buck Mulligan’s was related to Stendhal’s, who wrote, in The Red and the Black, that a novel is a mirror that one walks along a street. But such handling of mirrors requires care – they so easily slip out of one’s hands. And once they get a crack in them, the crack will leap out, like an imp, from realism to the real. For instance, Stendhal’s phrase is actually attributed to someone else – Saint-Réal. And who was Saint-Réal? Some critics say that he was no person, but Stendhal himself – who thus quotes a saint of reality who doesn’t exist, carrying a mirror in which he doesn’t look at himself - for what would he see - down a street. Lawrence Scher, in his book on French realism, writes: “by all accounts, the reference to Saint-Réal is spurious, for the quote has never been found in Saint-Réal’s work; thus we can immediately consider the remark to be an ironic commentary on the very process of verisimilitude.”

Others would say that this Saint-Réal must be the same as the author of the Conjurations des Espagnols contre Venise, which Saintsbury claims is a masterpiece of style. Also according to Saintsbury, Saint-Réal associated with the libertines around Saint-Evremond and ended up as the historiographer for the Duke of Savoy.

Scher's remark would seem to answer all questions except one – why did Stendhal feel the need to invoke Saint-Réal at all? Which helps us notice that Stendhal does not quote from one of Saint-Réal’s works, but quotes the man - as though this were a phrase in a conversation, an oral delivery. This is all the more possible in that Stendhal, like Saint-Réal, frequented circles in London and Italy which were infused with both the moraliste precept that history is a great reserve of exempla and the hardheaded materialist psychology of amour-propre (which was transmuted, via Cabanis, into a mystifying discourse about nervous impulses). Of course, a full century stands between Stendhal and Saint-Réal, during which even the wittiest remarks tend to be forgotten. So perhaps Scher is right, and Stendhal made up the remark and hung it on Saint-Réal as a joke. Although the joke depends, for its success, on there being such a thing as “realism”, which wasn’t the case when the Red and the Black was written.

We walk down the street and turn and walk down another street and turn and we are back on the street we began with. Thus, the phrase is not only a spurious attribution to the saint of realism, but a joke of which the punchline is also a prophecy. Well, as Wittgenstein said, he could imagine a work of philosophy consisting entirely of jokes. Which is not a thing he wrote down himself – he said this in a conversation with Norman Malcolm, who wrote it down in a memoir. And there it stands, the mirror of Wittgenstein’s thought, not Malcolm’s – to whom the phrase is never attributed.

All of which is by way of a preface to another symbol of the art of the novel. This comes from the Ludwig Hohl. As is always the case in the Notizen, Hohl’s jottings seem to come out of the air of the ordinary – a walk down the street with no mirror at all, or blue days in his little room under the bar in that working class section of Berne. So, Hohl is writing about strength and exercise – or performance, Leistung. Hohl, as always, seems on the edge of losing control of his topics. This is fatal, since it is the equivalent of becoming boring, even to oneself. I, for instance, am almost always at that point, as this blog abundantly illustrates. But the crooked genius inside of Hohl understands, like a shape shifting messiah, that the air of the ordinary is only a disguise, only another disguise. Hohl ends the note on muscular strength with this story:

“Hard earned strength”, they say – do they imagine that the opposite is stolen strength? I once saw a man in the circus who lifted with one arm a weight on which was written, 200 Kilos. He lifted it up to his head and, always using just one arm, over his head, with obviously the most extreme effort; and as the weight had reached the end of his outstretched, upward arm, then it lifted itself all alone somewhat higher and – o unforgettable sight! – kept climbing up to the ceiling of the circus, pulled by a string – for it was made out of cardboard.”

O unvergesslicher Eindruck! Here, indeed, is an image of art for you. Here, among the popcorn chewing innocents, we suddenly catch a glimpse of the imp of realism, that most fabulous of cryptozoological creatures, as it tries to make its escape.

Friday, February 06, 2009

spies from the house of love

In Gunzberg, on his itinerary down the Danube, Claudio Magris was reminded of one of its most famous citizens, Joseph Mengele. Mengele was hidden by the monks at Gunzberg after WWII, who then helped him ratline it to South America. In 1959, he was so confident that Adenauer’s Germany wasn’t too interested in his ass that he returned for his father’s funeral. Upon Mengele’s story – the banal bureaucrat who used to “hurl babies into the fire, tear infants from their mother’s breast and dash their brains out, extract fetuses from the womb… gouge out eyes, which he kept threaded on strings and hung on the walls of his room, and then sent to Prof. Otran van Vershauer (Director of the Berlin Institute of Anthropology, and a professor at Munster University even after 1953)”, Magris hangs his complaint about the cult of transgression. Magris starts by laying down a liberal principle that perhaps two thirds of Americans would disagree with – “As long as transgression is applied to codes of sexual behavior things are easy, because infractions of erotic taboos do not constitute evil if performed by responsible persons and inflicting no harm on others” (92) – a strangely naïve view of sexuality. But having laid this down as an “easy” principle – it being easy to argue for if one simply pays no attention to history, experience, the cultural codes that have been in place for millennia, and other trivialities – Magris makes the ‘hard” argument – or is it easy? that transgression equals Mengele.

Joseph Frank’s group evidently crystallized around transgression – in fact, the rumor about Frank is that he destroyed a Talmud in front of his followers. He also, like many Sabbataians, found no reason not to seem to convert – in his case, not to Islam, as did Sabbatai Zev, but to Christianity, signaling to those who could read the signs that he was the successor to Jesus Christ. To do this in Poland in 1760 was a transgression against the very survival of Judaism, or at least so the rabbis thought. And they had an excellent case.

Magris, of course, is not arguing against the messianic impulse, but rather, against the notion, made intellectually fashionable in the 70s by the posthumous edition of Bataille’s work, that transgression was a way out of the iron cage of the liberal, bourgeois lifestyle – a lifestyle in which, among other things, it is “easy” to argue for infractions of erotic taboos, since after all, sex is exactly equal to and only about pleasure. As such, tabooing consensual fun and games is silly – it is all chocolate, anyway. Chantilly. Lace.

However, Magris (I am being harsh about him here, but I do like the little essays that make up the Danube) has at least found the right problem. Of course, that problem was found long before – Artaud found it in Heliogabule, and Bataille took it up as his life task. Given an unequal social order, how can the powerful possibly transgress? Mengele received a salary from the state. When Beria had Meyerhold, the greatest theater director of the twentieth century, some say, taken to the Lubyanka and beaten on a regime that soon left him so crippled he couldn’t stand – then had his wife murdered – then moved into his apartment in Leningrad, perhaps on the same day they shot Meyerhold, burned his body, and mingled his ashes with a thousand others that they dumped in a grave – he was not transgressing.

And it was against this “glitch” in the social order, a glitch that caused and forgot the wars, the terror famines, the conquests, that the idea of transgression came about.

I’ve already given a hasty outline of libertinage in a number of posts from last year. In brief, my idea was that the standard story was skewed a little too much by the end of the story, the decline of libertinage in the eighteenth century. Volupte, I claimed, was a central and crystallizing libertine idea, but it was not, in the seventeenth century, synonymous with sensual pleasure. Rather, it was a social pleasure, firstly, and it was closer to what Edmund Burke, in his Essay on the Sublime, called delight. It was a delight that waited at the portals of the senses as the senses opened to nature, as the senses became nature. And that opening was made in defiance of the supernatural order – but it preceded the very idea that the world was human. In its defiance, it generated a code of revolt that naturally gravitated to the great Christian model of revolt: Satan’s. Those who read Paradise Lost and identified with Satan at the end of the 18th century were not engaged in a total misreading: after all, the Milton who wrote that epic was a regicide. In France, alas, the wrong king was beheaded –surely Louis XIV deserved that honor. A maker of battlefields and hunger. But the Fronde, which gathered free thinkers, “bold spirits” to itself, failed.

So when the volupte of the libertines was transformed, in the eighteenth century, to sexual pleasure, the transformation was part of the collapse of the original libertine agenda, in which the human limit existed, briefly, outside of any sacred sanction. However, even as volupte was being transformed, the gesture of defiance, dimly linked to Lucifer, transposed itself to new modalities. The mechanical libertine and the mesmerist met on unexpected psychological and social levels. Just as there is a Marxism of the people, symbolic understandings of commodity fetishism that crop up where a more fully developed capitalism meets an economy in which exchange value has not yet become hegemonic, so, too, messianic movements that center around transgression are a form of the libertinism of the people. At least, one can hypothesize that this is happening, in the oddest way, at the intersection of Poland, Russia and the Ottoman empire in the 18th century.

Of course, the fantastic conjunction of gnosticism and libertinage has a long presence in our collective dream life. Norman Cohen has shown that the story of a esoteric group that engages in sexual orgies to break the social ties of the members and incorporate them into the worship of strange gods – that total cosmic reorientation – is told and retold about the Christians (by the Romans), the Cathars, the witches, the Jews, the Templars. Galinsky’s report could be put in the category of myth, except for the fact that we know such things also happen. There is something psychologically plausible in the fact that Jacob Frank became the seigneur of sexual bestiality, keeping a cold eye on the couplings of his followers, after his wife died. Was it at this point that he made his daughter, Eva, the mother of God?

Eva Frank. Driving about Offenbach in a carriage, visiting respectable houses, dying well off. One wonders, I wonder, about her story.

Fringe viewpoints, and yet it is here that I see so many crossings – Marx with Michelet’s Sorciere, Nietzsche with Jacob Frank, Hazlett with Huene-Wronsky. All the spies in the artificial paradise, sleeper cells from the very beginning.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Jan Potocki among the Khazars

“… we arrived at last at [the aoul] of Din-Islam, where we saw from a long ways off a crowd that parted before us.

Our first homage was for the troop of young girls who had gathered together on a hillside around a swing; but at our approach these savage persons quit their games, and in advancing we saw no more than a pile of silk veils.

Then Tumen addressed himself to them in the Nogai language, making them a compliment in the following sense: that they need have no fear of us, seeing that we had not come to do them any harm, but only to ask them to dance. The gentle words, accompanied by the music of the kabour, tamed these young beauties, who deigned to lift their veils and show us the ends of their flat noses; then, two got up and advanced towards us. A musician lifted their veils, and at that signal they began to dance; but their eyes were so cast down that I believed they were completely shut. Besides, they lacked neither an ear for the measure nor grace in the arms. When they finished, they put their two hands over their faces with the air of modest embarrassment; the musician pulled back down their veils, and they stepped away.” – Jan Potocki, August 20, 1797

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Alphone de Lamartine, who knew Joseph de Maistre, described him, after he was dead, as being “large [d’une grande taille,], handsome and male of form and face.” Madame Swetchine, who also knew de Maistre, was taken aback by those lines: “M. de Lamartine says that he saw a lot of M. de Maistre. The number of those meetings makes it all the more surprising that his description of the man was misleading to such a degree. Not one touch was precise or faithful to the original. Count de Maistre was of middling size, and his features were irregular. There was nothing incisive in his eye, to which his short sightedness lent something lost in his gaze. This irregular, and not very brilliant face nevertheless had a majestic radiance.”

The witnesses summoned by the historians are all fed their lines by someone, usually the insatiable self, the vulgarian whose dirty fingers are even in our hot tears. Leaving fingerprints. Lamartine is the biggest goose of French literature, with his tedious lyrics and his lukewarm liberal politics. He is the very type of the sots from whom Baudelaire, later, begged in vain for a break to keep him from slipping into the abyss of want and madness. Madame Swetchine, bless her soul, did not reckon that there was a stye in Lamartine’s eye – his ego. The problem with history is that it is packed with Lamartines. The process is fucked, the jury is packed, the judge is limited by his caseload, his languages, his headache, his faulty hardons.

Any good carpenter knows a rotten two by four. Anyone with a nose for it knows a rotten fact. But we have to build with available materials.

Scholem’s picture of Jacob Frank is takes the picture of Frank that was promoted by, among others, Heinrich Graetz, who wrote a popular history of the Jews in the 1880s. Graetz even devoted a whole book to Frankism. In his history, Graetz wrote that “Jankiev Lejbovicz (that is, Jacob son of Leb) of Galicia, was one of the worst, most subtle, and most deceitful rascals of the eighteenth century.”

Graetz’s sketch is of a monster, a man who “boasted of …how he had duped his own father.” Yet Graetz’s sketch contains several of those rotten facts – for instance, Graetz ignores Frank’s father’s own adherence to the Sabbatain messianic cult. Graetz portrays Frank as a sort of Figaro or Sganarelle, alert for the scam, “traveling in Turkey in the service of a Jewish gentleman” . Others however have connected the Turkish travel with the study of the Kaballah, particularly the Zohar, which seems to have tied Frank to the Salonika community. In any case, much of this material is simply transmitted from one denunciation to another.

In 1967, Oskar K. Rabinowicz published an article on Frank in the Jewish Quarterly Review that reported his discovery of documents passed between Habsburg officials between Brno and Vienna, the most important of which was the testimony of a penitenti, a former Frankist.

Frank, with the great pomp that seemed to attend all of his arrivals, entered Brno, the capital of Moravia, with a train of 17 people in 1773. He immediately informed the authorities of his whereabouts, and presented three passports. He went to the Blauer Loewe, then took up quarters in the home of “freeman Pitsch.”

The entourage alarmed Brno officials. His story did too. He told them he “hailed from Smyrna”, with which he was connected on matters of business. In an interview with the police, he claimed to own grazing land in Poland and be a trader in livestock.

“Von Zollern reports further in the same document that his additional enquiries showed that Frank’s and his people’s behavior was beyond reproach, that they actually lived off his means, and that he had not contracted any debts.”

A year went by, and then the Brno officials received word from Vienna that this Frank had been accused of claiming to be the anti-Christ. He had been jailed in Czestochowa, and released in 1770.

Why the sudden interest? According to Rabinowicz, the Viennese officials were responding to a complaint lodged by Jacob Galinsky, a former follower. Galinsky’s immediate concern was that Frank owed him 1000 ducats. But Galinsky was more concerned that Frank was a devil. Concerned enough that he had sent letters to Marie Theresa, and that he sent documents to the Brno officials. According to Galinsky, Jacob Frank was born in Karlupke ‘as the son of a Jewish teacher who, having been found to be an adherent of Sabbatai Zevi, had lost his job and settled with his family in Wallachia”. This testimony is interesting in itself, in that there is another story about Frank’s heritage which has spread in the histories, in which it is claimed that Frank’s father was an innkeeper. There is obviously a Lamartine in our chain of evidence. However, as Galinsky is convinced that Frank is a very evil man, I’d give him some credit – besides which, he is a contemporary witness.

Galinsky, according to his own account, accepted Frank’s revelation of himself as Sabbatai Zevi – the shapeshifter messiah, who is now Islamic, now Christian, but in actuality remains hidden behind public ceremonies – like the Duke of Vienna in Measure for Measure, he is a Lord of Dark Corners.

It was in Warsaw that Galinsky started to become alienated from Frank. Frank had declared that none of his followers would die – much as Jesus did in the Gospels – and some did die. Death, Frank claimed, only showed that these followers had lacked faith. When complaints were made and Frank was sent to the jail/monastery in Czestochowa, Galinsky went with him. Then the second blow against Galinsky’s faith occurred – Frank’s wife died. After she died, “Frank began preaching immoral behavior, even acts against human nature. Galinsky became his open enemy, and returned to his own wife and child in Warsaw. His wife rejoined Frank in 1772, and had lived since then with Frank in Brno. Yet, while separated from Galinsky she nevertheless informed him about a Frankist plot to kill him and the other opponents of Frank.”

Finally, this is how Frank lived in Brno, according to Galinsky: all his servants were baptized Jews only. Every two weeks men and women arrived in Brno from all over the land, and brought Frank presents. These adherents wre so devoted to him that they kissed his feet, remained a few days near him, and then returned home.”

This report may seem damning, especially since Galinsky claimed he was even eager to confront Frank, should it be necessary. But, as Rabinowicz remarks, “an air of enlightenment” accompanied Joseph II’s accession to the throne, and the Vienna bureaucracy was now indifferent to sectarian disputes. They simply advised Zollner to keep a good eye on Frank.

Over the past three months, I’ve been dancing in many threads – that of suicide, that of free love, that of universal history. This thread is on the linki between libertinism and messianism.

the prophets of baal in the zona

20So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel.
21And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
22Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men.
23Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
24And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
25And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
26And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.

27And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

In the 2004 election in which the people elected the guy who’d stood by when the WTC was attacked and invaded Iraq because he fucking felt like it, I was bummed about the whole United States thing. However, “Even LI sees one 'ray of hope' in the election -- Tom Daschle, a leader of utmost smallness, a stunted mediocrity whose instincts have lead the Democrats from defeat to defeat, was defeated himself.”

That Daschle, that Great Fly minion, is not going to have his paws on the health care plan is excellent news. The story of his D.C. lifestyle is unsurprising. It is part of the political marketplace that the fucks in the Congress and the fucks in the Executive are bribed with the promise of future spoils.

But then there are those who are wired bribed. Like Larry Summers. Before he was appointed head of the board of Economic advisors, LI warned, we blasted, we pleaded in our little corner of the world that Summers press corps claque be ignored. Summers is a neo-liberal through and through – hence, his knee jerk reaction to the bank crisis has been that “government” is bad at running banks – why, then they would be run for political reasons! This, of course, is the kind of nonsense they churn out in Chicago, where the pretense is that the market is ‘non-political’. And so we non-politically get a collapse. Of course, all of that is horseshit. Politics is a market and the market is political. In fact, the claim that the market, whatever that is, is non-political is a political move, a way of saying that politics is irrational – or, in other words, that politics allows people without economic power to influence economic outcomes. Like, the common working people. Can’t have that!

Summers apparently has not noticed the Fed, nor Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. The latter got in trouble because they… followed the market. They tried to follow the beaucoup bucks for the upper management racket so popular at clip joints like WAMU. They wanted, as Bob Rubin would say, to move into more risk – since it would pay off for shareholders. The lesson is not that banks shouldn’t be political, the lesson is that the semi-privatization of government functions hasn’t worked. Private is not good, public is not bad. Good and bad are determined by the scope of the function, its benefit to the social welfare, its cost, etc. At the present time, it looks like Summers and Geithner are actually going to continue Paulson-omics – the bank robbery, on a trillion dollar scale, performed by the banks – which is premised on the idea, laughable but still held by the deadenders, that after this temporary bump, things will go back to normal. Yes, those mortgages will be redeemed as an opulent population goes back to selling 300 thou McMansions to each other in the suburbs of Phoenix. You can tell that the crowd that doesn’t get it has the upper hand at the moment. My favorite stupor economist of the moment, much favored in the center-liberal mags, Edward Glaeser, popped his hand up and stuttered out the conventional wisdom yesterday with his lighthearted look at the Super Bowl, which included this howler:

“The fact that Phoenix has experienced a 42 percent housing price drop since its June 2006 peak is a sign of the area’s strength, not weakness. The high housing prices were always unsustainable, because of Phoenix’s capacity to build. Unrestricted supply meant the price boom was always a mirage. The decline in prices reflects the ability of Phoenix’s great growth machine to create inexpensive housing.”

Right. The growth machine created inexpensive housing. That’s so sweet! And they did it thinking they were producing expensive housing. The invisible hand, don’t you know.

When everything proves the market is self-adjusting, it is easy to be an economist. Anybody can do it.

The Glaesers multiply in the media, which is stocked full of the rancid and the wrong. It is one of the things I love about the NYT’s economix blog – it is like reading Judy Miller on Iraq. Read today’s Casey Mulligan commentary and laugh your ass off. This crew of the botched gives one clues about the zona and its long reach. The zona, after all, is not just a ghost wind, but it is conjured up by, or rather conjoined with, the spell of the magicians. Our magicians are all into that white magic mojo. They are the white magicians par excellence, who think backwards is equal to forwards. The winds blow higher, and the hurricanoes come, and the white magicians say, don’t worry! The weather is self-adjusting.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I came across the story of Jacob Frank in Czeslow Milosz’s History of Polish Literature. I was looking up Jan Potocki (whose Turkish valet, Ibrahim, is, for some reason, given the name Osman by Milosz – out of such small deviations in the constant rain of microscopic facts come our free will and our myths).

Milosz wrote that Frank came from a family of Sabbateans – Jews who followed the heretical beliefs of the Sabbatai Zevi. His family fled to Turkey, which is where he had a vision of Poland as the promised land. “Upon his return there, he was greeted enthusiastically, mostly by poor folks opposing the rabbis, but also by some Jewish notables. Frank, as a new messiah, proclaimed the end of Jewish law and, as a matter of fact, of all law – “I have come to abolish all laws and religions in order to bring life to the world.” The ascent to the kingdom of freedom and wealth was to be accomplished by a descent into abomination and perversion. A Manichean tradition, so strong in the Balkans, is clearly perceivable in Frank’s teachings. Evil was to be overcome by doing evil, sin by sinning. The Frankists, like the Hasidim, practiced ecstatic dancing and singing accompanied by the clapping of hands, but also held orgiastic rituals whereby men and women undressed “to see truth in its nakedness” and copulated indiscriminately – while only the leader stood apart. Frank interpreted the idea of the mystic trinity in the cabbala as a union of the Holy Primeval (attika kadisha); the Holy King (Malka kadisha, who was the messiah (Frank himself); and the Primeval Mother (Matronita elyona), who was none other than Frank’s daughter, Eve.”

Frank’s followers were brought up before the Polish authorities by the orthodox rabbis, but turned the tables by “converting” – baptism being the lowest and most abasing thing one could do. Apparently the Christians themselves, after gloating about the conversions, began to suspect that Frank was not what he seemed, and ‘imprisoned’ him for thirteen years in a monastery, Czestochowa, where he was – oh how loose the world can become – inexplicably given leaway to practice his own rituals. His followers slowly filled up the region, and he was well supplied with money. Eventually, he ‘migrated to Offenbach in Germany, where, as “Count Frank”, he was surrounded by a mounted bodyguard in fanciful uniforms and used to drive in a princely coach. The French Revolution seemed to be an accomplishment of Frank’s prophecies, and many Frankists joined the Jacobins (among them, the heir apparent and nephew of Frank, known in Vienna under the name of Frank Thomas Edler von Schoenfeldt, and his brother Emanuel), only to be beheaded on the guillotine in 1794 along with Danton.”

Milosz’s source for this information is evidently Gershom Scholem, Benjamin’s friend, whose essay about Frank, Redemption through Sin, was, according to the famous Italian historian Arnaldo Momigliano, “perhaps one of his greatest essays”. Steven Wasserstrom makes the case for a parallel with Pierre Klossowski’s essay on Sade, “The Marquis de Sade and the French Revolution”, given in 1939 to the College of Sociology. The connecting link here is Klossowski and Scholem’s mutual friend, Walter Benjamin. Klossowski had this to say about Sade’s notion of evil: ‘the evil must, therefore, erupt once and for all; the bad seed has to flourish so the mind can tear it out and consume it. In a word, evil must be made to prevail once and for all in the world so that it will destroy itself and so Sade’s mind can find peace.” [quoted, Wasserstrom, 1999:219]
This is Scholem’s summary of Frankism:

“. . . just as a grain of wheat must rot in the earth before it can sprout, so the deeds of the
“believers” must be truly “rotten” before they can germinate the redemption. This
metaphor, which appears to have been extremely popular, conveys the whole of sectarian
Sabbatian psychology in a nutshell: in the period of transition, while the redemption is still in
a state of concealment, the Torah in its explicit form must be denied, for only thus can it too
become “concealed” and ultimately renewed.”

One might wonder why Milosz would even include a mention of the Frankists in a history of Polish literature. He was no doubt influenced by Mickiewicz, who mentioned the Frankists indirectly in his lectures on Poland before the College de France in the 1840s. After discussing the political mystic and mathematician, Wronski, who proclaimed the religious mission of Napoleon, Mickiewicz adds:

I would draw your attention to the fact that during this time, in Poland, there were numerous Israelite sects, half Christian and half Jewish, which were also messianic, and which believed to see in Napoleon a messiah or at least a precursor.” [Les Slaves, Mickiewicz 306]

According to Abraham Duker, ‘A correspondent from Warsaw in the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums in 1838 referred to Mickiewicz as a Frankist “belonging to our nation.” [Duker, 1963, 292]

To be continued

Monday, February 02, 2009

chop off the heads of the bankers and kick them down the street - a modest suggestion

Read Paul Krugman's column today. I didn't think it would be too long before the odious Summers (did I say the guy was the worst, the very worst, for the job? I couldn't believe Obama appointed him head of the economic council - a mistake that he is going to regret, I think) pissed off Krugman.

When I read recent remarks on financial policy by top Obama administration officials, I feel as if I’ve entered a time warp — as if it’s still 2005, Alan Greenspan is still the Maestro, and bankers are still heroes of capitalism.

“We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we’d like to do our best to preserve that system,” says Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary — as he prepares to put taxpayers on the hook for that system’s immense losses.

Meanwhile, a Washington Post report based on administration sources says that Mr. Geithner and Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s top economic adviser, “think governments make poor bank managers” — as opposed, presumably, to the private-sector geniuses who managed to lose more than a trillion dollars in the space of a few years.

But I must quote myself from my October 30 2008 post, all the money in the world. Since that post has proven to be totally correct. I'd brag about being a prophet, except millions and millions of poor people just like me saw the same thing. You had to be an economist to believe the bullshit:

"As I said in my vulture of doom post about the bailout, there is not enough money in all the world to successfully bail out the system. The managers of the great Popping sound (the sound of 100,000 hedge funder penises exploding all at once) have established a nice rhythm for the deathfuck: they come up with a solution and for a month, a relative calm prevails, and then another shoe drops. From last week to this week, the new idea is that the worst is behind us. So the markets go happily upward. But do we have any reason whatsoever to think that counterparties are now protected from the almost sure consequence of housing prices dipping another ten percent? I don’t think so. The write downs have been so many stabs in the dark. Meanwhile, every developed nation has put its government money on the line – a unique event! – to stop the oncoming tide of losing bets. All the money in the world, in other words, is on the line, because more than all the money in the world has been bet. Eventually, many of those bets will simply have to be canceled. Sorry charlie! And as the players don't even know they made the bets - charming megachurch x in San Diego, the school system in Xville, Minnesota, the Icelandic Tuna Fisherman's pension fund, and so on - this will not be happy. As every fan of cheap sadomasochistic entertainment knows, surrender is a long process, but game by game one gets to that final, liquid moment of mutual pain and cumming. It isn’t Wall Street, among the cheesy films of the eighties, that describes the current situation. It is 9 ½ weeks."

the talking royal heads -1

In September, 1783, the visitor in search of virtuoso curiosa could go to see the two bronze talking heads designed by Abbè Mical on display at Rue de Temple, Marais, in Paris. Mical had been working on his design for thirty years, or so we are told by Antoine de Rivarol, who wrote an enthusiastic report about the heads in the Journal de Paris that evidently benefited from some inside information. “These two bronze heads speak and pronounce clearly entire phrases.” According to Rivarol, Mical had designed a kind of keyboard (clavier) which responded to pins attached to a cylinder in the same way you turn a crank to get a sound out of music box.

And what did the two heads say? “The king has just brought peace to Europe.” “The peace crowns the king with glory.” “Peace makes for the happiness of the people.” [Memoires de la Societe de Linguistique de Paris, 1878 3:5 259]

Mircal had apparently made a previous head or two, but, as they weren’t good enough, he destroyed them. He presented his heads to the Academie in the hope that he could sell them to the court. They were, after all, eminently royal heads. Unfortunately, Mical did not find a buyer, and destroyed them. Then he died, of a fabulously broken heart, in 1789. Or so goes one version of history. In another version, another branch of events that could have happened, he did find a buyer and they disappeared into that buyer’s cabinet of curiosities. And his deathdate, along this branch, is more uncertain.

It is said that Mical was shy, yet he seemed to find a way into the newspapers well enough. In 1783, his hand might have been forced, as there were two other automaton makers in Paris at the time, also promoting talking machines – a Dane named Kratzenstein and the famous Kempelen, who displayed the Turk, the chess playing automaton, at the Café de las Régence that year. The Turk was a mystery to two generations, defeated in chess both Frederick the Great and Napoleon, and ended up, in the 1830s, in America, where the solution to its human-like mastery was deduced by one E.A. Poe, who witnessed the machine in an exhibit in Richmond, Virginia.

To read the signs and portents of carnival shows and curiosity cabinets is no mean feat, but surely Rivarol must have felt some kind of prognostic shiver. These two royal talking heads pointed to more than the future of phonetics.

In the 19th century, Rivarol was considered to be the equal and opposite of Chamfort. In the 20th century, the French fascist Bardeche named a magazine for him – a magazine that became a favorite of Le Pen’s circle, apparently. But though the candle is still lit for him on the extreme right, few would consider him on the level of Chamfort today. Even before the revolution, they were a curious pair, a duo of talking heads who dominated conversation with their talent for hit and run epigrams. Chamfort, of course, went to the left (“Peace makes for the happiness of the people”) and Rivarol eventually emigrated to become a great propagandist for reaction, an unhesitating liar. Chamfort, when he was young, was considered strikingly handsome; Rivarol, when he was eighteen and studying for the priesthood – for which his father intended him – in Avignon, was known to the ladies as la belle abbé. [Lescure 37]

Rivarol derived from Italian nobility who had transplanted themselves into France. One of his first books was a prose translation of Dante into French. Like so many ambitious minds from the provinces, Rivarol came to Paris to make a name as a writer, a philosophe, and, not least, to escape his father’s plan for him. “Rivarol est né grand seigneur dans un cabaret,’ as Houssaye said – to paraphrase which we can say that his nobility was a sort of stand-up comic’s routine. He had a cutting tongue, and odd tastes for an enlightenment figure – not only Dante, but Pascal. However, his first real fame came in a very eighteenth century way. An academy in Berlin asked for essays responding to the question, why had French become the predominant language in Europe? The question was asked in 1785, but already German was being spoken at the Prussian court again, as Frederick the Great’s influence waned. Frederick, famously, thought German was for swine. Rivarol wrote an essay on the universality of French – you didn’t think we were giving up the universal thread, did you? that won the prize and marked, although Rivarol didn’t know it, the end of a certain ancien regime tone.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

back to the universal history - of infamy

In 1810, Jan Potocki sent Joseph de Maistre an essay in which Potocki speculated that there were several floods that happened in several regions at several epochs of the earth’s history. De Maistre sent back a letter defending Biblical chronology. He divided his defense into sections, beginning with the metaphysical. About which he says:

“It [metaphysics] teaches that everything has been made by and for the intelligence; that man began with science, and not in a state of barbarity, as all of the 18th century school falsely and stupidly supposed; that the perfectibility of man and his taste for science is only the secret instinct of his nature, which moves him to return to his native state; that the state of the savage, which one has called the state of nature, is precisely the contrary of nature and the last degree of human degredation; that it is thus impossible to reason worse than those have done who argue the state of sciences at a point in time distant from antiquity in order to suppose a crowd of anterior centuries necessary for gradually leading up to such a state of human knowledge. We cry out: how much time was necessary to arrive at this point! – Plato would respond to us: without a doubt, if nobody learned was taught what they would have learned… The human families that depart from the state of barbarism have nothing in common with primitive man, who was, following the happy expression of Seneca, Diis recentes.” Maistre, correspondance, 238

I don’t know if De Maistre ever read William Paley and his famous example of the design of the world – a watch found out in the grass. Paley’s point was that such a watch indicated intelligence. But de Maistre would see under that comparison the degenerate theory of evolution, or progress – for there are no single watches in the world. Watches are produced by watch factories, and watchmakers use instruments and parts that evolved elsewhere – for instance, the little grooved wheels that first evolved for taking water out of wells – to make the watch. Design leads us to evolution, which leads us inevitably to progress. De Maistre, of course, sees the world in inverse terms, as a place that is condemned by original sin and only redeemed by the son of God. In his strict theology, there is no progress.

De Maistre is the metaphysician of the reaction. He of course knew Jan Potocki and his family. He knew him as a fellow mason. I’ve been threading about Marx’s notion of universal history in the Grundrisse. Deleuze and Guattari in the Anti-Oedipus asked, how can we find enough innocence to make universal history? Much of Anti-Oedipus is devoted to showing how universals were made, under the aegis of capitalism and the familialism that characterizes the Great Transformation – thus neatly bringing together two of my themes, that of free love and that of the role played by universal-makers in the construction of the World System. Potocki and de Maistre were both aware of, and both working on the margins of, the fashion, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, for universal histories.

I wanted to backtrack from Marx to the formation of reactionary alienation. Since, more and more, I’ve come to think of Jan Potocki as a leading character in The Human Limit, it is fortunate that some of de Maistre’s most revealing letters were written to him.

Or rather, not fortunate. Around Potocki there comes into play myriad coincidences – he is a connector, a man with very short degrees of separation from many of the players in the transatlantic Revolutions. In other letters, Maistre refers to Potocki as a man who has helped him get books. He described Potocki going off to war in 1808, against Napoleon, bringing with him several Indian cockatoos – de Maistre loved the dandyish gesture.

Yet, in his letter to Potocki, he takes it upon himself to caution that irreligion is the infallible mark of scum – canaille.

zona mashup

Let us suppose the following case, Sâriputra. In a certain village, town, borough, province, kingdom, or capital, there was a certain housekeeper, old, aged, decrepit, very advanced in years, rich, wealthy, opulent; he had a great house, high, spacious, built a long time ago and old, inhabited by some two, three, four, or five hundred living beings.

ON Jan. 12, Richard Goodwin, who made a fortune building condominiums, publicly lamented his own real estate woes. In a letter to The Fisher Island Voice, an online forum for residents of this tiny, gilded island less than a mile off Miami, he wrote, “I have $1.2 million invested” in property here, and “I am suffering under a 40 percent meltdown of my net worth.”

The house had but one door, and a thatch; its terraces were tottering, the bases of its pillars rotten, the coverings and plaster of the walls loose. On a sudden the whole house was from every side put in conflagration by a mass of fire. Let us suppose that the man had many little boys, say five, or ten, or even twenty, and that he himself had come out of the house.

Until last year, some residents of the island thought it had special features that would help shield it from economic hurricanes. It’s only 20 minutes from Miami International Airport, and it attracts a wide range of buyers. About 70 percent of residents come from outside the United States. Moreover, its appeal extends beyond retirees, or families looking for a second home; many residents live on the island year-round.

That diversity was in full view at the beach club one morning, where guests were speaking English, Spanish and Russian. The crowd ranged from sedate grandparents surrounded by a clutch of family members to fit young men in $200 Vilebrequin swimsuits.

When the economy was soaring, few worried about the high cost of living here. But the downturn has created tension, and many residents are trying to rein in spending.
That’s tough to do when you live in a place where the board of the country club recently approved a plan to spend $60 million in upgrades. That has caused some tenants, like Mr. Goodwin, whose annual expenses run to $80,000 for a 720-square-foot home, to put his property up for sale.

Now, Sâriputra, that man, on seeing the house from every side wrapt in a blaze by a great mass of fire, got afraid, frightened, anxious in his mind, and made the following reflection: I myself am able to come out from the burning house through the door, quickly and safely, without being touched or scorched by that great mass of fire; but my children, those young boys, are staying in the burning house, playing, amusing, and diverting themselves with all sorts of sports. They do not perceive, nor know, nor understand, nor mind that the house is on fire, and do not get afraid. Though scorched by that great mass of fire, and affected with such a mass of pain, they do not mind the pain, nor do they conceive the idea of escaping.

Still, some of the island’s premier properties are for sale. Bruce McMahan, a hedge fund executive, has put his 7,300-square-foot condominium, which he used exclusively to entertain business associates, on the market, along with all its art, for $30 million.

Its walls are covered with copies of paintings from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The paintings were done by a team brought over from Russia by Mr. McMahan, who heads the Argent Funds Group. There is also a collection of Fabergé eggs and boxes and original correspondence from the Romanov family, which ruled imperial Russia, all housed in what is called the “Romanov bedroom.” Two Rodin sculptures adorn a terrace that fronts the ocean and is guarded by a German shepherd.

The man, Sâriputra, is strong, has powerful arms, and (so) he makes this reflection: I am strong, and have powerful arms; why, let me gather all my little boys and take them to my breast to effect their escape from the house. A second reflection then presented itself to his mind: This house has but one opening; the door is shut; and those boys, fickle, unsteady, and childlike as they are, will, it is to be feared, run hither and thither, and come to grief and disaster in this mass of fire. Therefore I will warn them. So resolved, he calls to the boys: Come, my children; the house is burning with a mass of fire; come, lest ye be burnt in that mass of fire, and come to grief and disaster. But the ignorant boys do not heed the words of him who is their well-wisher; they are not afraid, not alarmed, and feel no misgiving; they do not care, nor fly, nor even know nor understand the purport of the word 'burning;' on the contrary, they run hither and thither, walk about, and repeatedly look at their father; all, because they are so ignorant.

It’s all but impossible to live on the island and not belong to the country club, which offers access to golf, tennis, a spa and six of the seven restaurants. That helps explain why friction intensified with the decision in early 2008 to charge a $60 million assessment to redo the club, part of which was $16 million for a makeover of the spa, at a time when other costs were rising. Even though Fisher Island’s developer agreed to contribute $25 million toward modernizing the club, that still meant the balance would have to be paid by the members — a bill of about $54,000 a member, payable over 10 years.

Then the man is going to reflect thus: The house is burning, is blazing by a mass of fire. It is to be feared that myself as well as my children will come to grief and disaster. Let me therefore by some skilful means get the boys out of the house. The man knows the disposition of the boys, and has a clear perception of their inclinations. Now these boys happen to have many and manifold toys to play with, pretty, nice, pleasant, dear, amusing, and precious. The man, knowing the disposition of the boys, says to them: My children, your toys, which are so pretty, precious, and admirable, which you are so loth to miss, which are so various and multifarious, (such as) bullock-carts, goat-carts, deer-carts, which are so pretty, nice, dear, and precious to you, have all been put by me outside the house-door for you to play with. Come, run out, leave the house; to each of you I shall give what he wants. Come soon; come out for the sake of these toys. And the boys, on hearing the names mentioned of such playthings as they like and desire, so agreeable to their taste, so pretty, dear, and delightful, quickly rush out from the burning house, with eager effort and great alacrity, one having no time to wait for the other, and pushing each other on with the cry of 'Who shall arrive first, the very first?'

Elia meets Karl Marx at the South Sea House

    When Charles Lamb, a scholarship boy at Christ’s Hospital, was fifteen, one of his patrons, Thomas Coventry, had a discussion with a...