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Showing posts from June 21, 2009

towards the republic of Cocagne

“Man is, of course, at home in history, but from your words one could infer that he is only a guest of nature’s as though there were a stone wall between nature and history. It seems to me that he is at home in both, but not dominant in either… In history man labours under the delusion that he is unhampered and free to do whatever he chooses. All this is the bitter trace of dualism which has long made us see double and waver between two optical illusions. Though dualism has long lost its crudeness, it lingers inconspicuously in our hearts. Our language, our fundamental conceptions, become natural out of habit and repetition, obstruct the truth. Had we not know, from the age of five, that history and nature are two different things, we would have no difficulty in understanding that the evolution of nature passes imperceptibly into the evolution of man, that these are two chapters of a single novel, two phases of a single process, far removed from one another at their perimeters, but ver

note on the the calendar as a prison

There’s a certain magical attachment in history to years. A year serves not only as an organizing principle, but also as a spell – it gathers around itself a host of connotations, and soon comes to stand for those connotations. Yet, what would history be like if you knocked out the years, days, weeks, centuries? How would we show, for instance, change? In one sense, philosophical history does just that – it rejects the mathematical symbols of chronology as accidents of historical structure. These are the crutches of the historian, according to the philosophical historian. Instead, a philosophical history will find its before-after structure in the actual substance of history. In the case of the most famous philosophical history, Hegel’s, a before and after, a movement, is only given by the conceptual figures that arise and interact in themselves. To introduce a date, here, is to introduce a limit on the movement of the absolute. A limit which, moreover, from the side of the absolute, s


After Louis Napoleon had finally crushed any hope for revolution in France, Herzen published a letter – which he included as his fourteenth letter in the Letters from France and Italy – in which he draws some conclusions about the morphology of revolution. Some of his observations seem particularly applicable to Iran – which is no surprise. As Herzen observed, revolution no longer has a definite place, but, like a drop of mercury in a heated pan, jumps from one place to another. I found this passage pertinent – as pertinent as a knife in the heart: “It has at last fallen into ruin, that decrepit world which survived its own self [this sounds much better in French: Il s’est enfin écroulé, ce monde décrepit qui s’était survècu a lui même] , which dissolved itself, which divided into two opposing principles, clever world, which at last came to lying and the confusion of all ideas, to pussilanimous concessions, which was arrested before impossible combinations. Everything that this world

Where does a revolution happen?

-photo by Gilles Peress One possibility is that it happens inside, in the spirits of the people. But this is a frustrating notion to the philosopher – as frustrating as it would be to a bank robber to be handed a safe with all the money in it, and no combination to open it. As we noted with Georg Forster, the enlightenment project, which bound the governors to the governed through happiness, immediately creates a set of new problems. One of those problems is posed by the claim that the collective happiness was, indeed, achieved in the old order. “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains” – strong indication that man prefers chains. Inequality, far from leading to happiness, is central to the way homo hierarchicus views the world. But already the answer to the puzzle, here, had made its way into the enlightened progressive consciousness. The key was in human perfectibility. The old order’s original sin was in creating a system that forever blocked human perfectibility – and in

of what is the statue guilty, your honor?

It's a wicked life, but what the hell Everybody's got to eat Around March 4, 1848, Alexandre Dumas wrote a public letter Emile de Girardin, the editor of the newspaper, The Press: ‘Yesterday, I walked across the court of the Louvre and I saw, with astonishment, that the statue of the duc D’Orleans was no longer on his pedestal. I asked if it was the people who had knocked him over; they told me that it was the governor of the Louvre that had had him taken off. Why this? From whence comes this prescription that digs into the graveyard?” The Prince - the Duc D'Orleans - was a famously liberal patron of the arts. Among the artists he supported was Delacroix. He was a friend of Hugo and Dumas. And he'd fled with the rest of the royal court in February. After recounting an anecdote about the disagreement between the Duc and the King, Dumas continues: “The people, this people who are always just and intelligent, knew this like us, and, like us, understood it. You can go to t