Thursday, October 01, 2009

little things and the deathgame


World history, Ludwig Schlözer wrote in 1787, was synonymous with the history of “Erfindung” – a word that can mean either discovery or invention.
“Everything that makes for a noble progress or regress among mankind, every new important idea, every new kind of behavior, pregnant with consequences, which the rulers, priests, fashion or accident enduringly bring among a mass of men should be called by us, out of a lack of a more appropriate word, invention.” [67 Weltgeschichte]

Invention or discovery – this, Schlözer thought, was the secret hero of history. Not the discoverer, necessarily: “The inventors (alphzai) themselves are mostly unknown. Often they don’t deserve to be eternalized: than not seldom, simply accident lead a weak head to a discovery, that only later generations learned to use.”

It was also the secret of Europe’s dominance. For small Europe was the ground zero of discovery. Europe, not coincidentally, defined discovery – the verb preeminently described the European act or gaze. America, to use the most obvious instance, may have been seen by millions of its children, and yet it was only when it was seen by Europeans that it was discovered. Thus, like the meat in a nutshell, crack open the word discovery and you find universal history itself before you.

It is a curiously non-heroic heroic history. Schlözer, one of Germany’s truly Enlightened intellectuals, was ruthlessly mocking of an older, heroic history that placed kings merely because they were kings at the center of historical action.

“It goes back to the decadent taste for the deathgames (Mordspielen) of old and new man-murderers, named heros! Lets not rejoice any longer in the smoking war histories of conquerors (Eroberer), that is, over the passionate story of these evil doers who have lead nations by the nose! But for the present believe that the still musing of a genius and the soft virtue of a wise man has brought about greater revolutions than the storms of the greatest bloodthirsty tyrant; and that many happier sorites have ornamented the world more than the fists of millions of warriors have desolated it.”

Given this shift in the emphasis on what history – world history – is about, it isn’t surprising that Schlözer wants us to see the “little things” as the great ones: “… the discovery of fire and of glass, carefully recounted, and the advent of smallpox, of brandy, of potatoes in our part of the world, shouldn’t be left unremarked, and so one shouldn’t be ashamed to take more notice of the exchange of wool for linen in our clothing than to seriously and purposefully deal with the dynasties of Tze, Leang, and Tschin.”

Schlözer’s separation of the ‘little things that one shouldn’t be ashamed of noticing’ and the deathgames of the tyrants would not, of course, survive the scrutiny of a master of world history like Marx. He would notice that deathgames are ingrained in those little things, and those little things are engrained in the deathgames. We kidnap Africans to raise sugar cane to make rum to intoxicate the sailors who kidnap Africans. This circle of biota, human bodies, taste buds, brain cells, and money can be named circulation, lightly lifting up the name given by Harvey to the movement of blood in the body. Looked at, as Fielding did (whose Enquiry uses the word circulation to discuss London “life”), one sees that a creation story that separates the liquids and the solids won’t do. In a sense, the Fielding of the Journal to London, being eased of the deathgame at play in his body by being drained of his built up liquids, is an emblem of the monster-London he depicts in the Enquiry, where the solids – the solid division of the classes, recognized in the law statutes he cites that go back to Richard I – are melting under the “torrent” of currency, and the liquids – the circulation of traffic in the street – are solidifying under the ambush of robbers.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time- in qualudes and red wine

Time is waiting in the wings

While it may seem that the history of the happiness culture and the history of policing are on two entirely different trajectories, they really aren’t. When the bond between the governors and the governed becomes that of a project of collective happiness – even and especially in the form of a government that permits the pursuit of individual happiness – then Nemesis, the gaze in which the happiness of some is exactly the cause of the unhappiness of others, is going to be at its crack work. That is, even as the edifice of collective happiness is built, the cracks in the edifice give rise to surveillance and order. And this order is embodied in the policeman. The eighteenth century brought about both the outlines of the modern paradigm of happiness and the project of substituting a government hired and supported police force for the old order of private justice, an old order that made do with private thief catchers, private ransoms for goods stolen, and enforcement of norms by ad hoc crowds, charivaris and the like.

Jessica Warner uses Fielding’s ‘Enquiry into the Late Increase of Robbers’ as a sort of boundary marker that indicates the end of the almost fifty year long moral panic about gin. Much of Fielding’s language – about the dangers of idleness and drunkenness among what he calls the lower sort – has by this time achieved a canonical status in the battle between the reformers and a political establishment that was quite comfortable with using the tax revenues from gin to fight its battles. As Fielding complains that gin is debauching the child in its mother’s womb, making him unfit for soldiering latter on, the soldiers were literally being paid out of the proceeds from taxing gin.

The question of idleness is still a hot one in the history of the industry revolution. The old Marxist claim was that the industrial revolution sucked the time, and thus the life, out of the worker. In the 60s, the group around E.P. Thompson claimed that the increase in working time through the eighteenth century was to be judged in terms of the intesification of labor A 1998 paper by Hans Joachim Voth, Time and Work in 18th century London, surveys the standard positions, the most interesting one being as follows:

“The importance of holy days in England before and during the Industrial Revolution has been a matter of discussion for some time. Herman Freudenberger and Gaylord Cummins added another aspect to the issue of labor intensification when they argued that the observance of holy days was sharply reduced during the eighteenth century.5 The basis of their contention is a list of holy days contained in a handbook published by J. Millan in 1749.6 He gives 46 fixed days on which work at the Exchequer and other government offices ceased. Later, during the second half of the century, the observance of these holy days is said to have vanished slowly. Consequently, Freudenberger and Cummins argue, annual labor input possibly in- creased from less than 3,000 to more than 4,000 hours per adult male between 1750 and 1 800.”

Others have expressed their doubt about all this:

“N.F.R. Crafts, commenting on the substantial body of literature that suggests an increase in the number of working hours per year observed that "[m]easurement of this supposition has never been adequately accomplished.'"'11 Joel Mokyr concurs: 12 "We simply do not know with any precision how many hours were worked in Britain before the Industrial Revolution, in either agricultural or non-agricultural occupations."

Voth, however, thinks he has found a clever way to accomplish this measurement, at least in London. He took 7,650 cases found in the "Proceedings of the Sessions of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer for the City of London and County of Middlesex" and analyzed the testimonies of witnesses about their time use.

“Crimes are committed on all days of the week, during all seasons of the year. All hours of the day are present in the sample. We can thus replicate a method for measuring time-use that modem-day sociologists favor: random-hour recall."9 In modem surveys, individuals participating in the study are asked to provide a thorough description of their activities for a randomly chosen hour of an earlier day. Very much the same occurs in front of a court when witnesses are asked to testify. Witnesses very often not only mention their occupation and sex (and, in a substantially lower number of cases, age and address), but also report what they were doing at the time of the crime, at the time when they last saw the victim, or when they observed the perpetrator trying to escape.”

From his sample, Voth has concluded that, as Freudenberger and Cummins claim, there was a crash of holidays and offdays in the last fifty years of the 18th century. In particular, Monday, which was a day often taken off by working men, gradually became a regular work day. Plus, of course, the holiday schedule was radically shortened. Voth concludes that the working year rose from approximately 2,763 hours in 1760 to 3,501 in 1800. Voth believes this solves a puzzle: how is it that wages fell during this time, but consumption rose? In fact, as in our own time, the rise in consumption and lifestyle was coupled with the rise in working hours. In the U.S., it is estimated that the average median household puts in 350 more hours per year now than it did in 1970. Hours haven’t risen for the male worker, but the female in the household is now much more likely to work – hence the rise. And the further rise in consumption even as wages for the male worker stagnate.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

this beatitude comes in terror - replay

This April post should really, I think, be on the margin of these Fielding posts. And I don't think it got enough attention at the time. So I'm pasting it here, a sort of onlooker text.


"It would be impossible to film this. It would be impossible that is to score the film to a proper time. There is the rhythm of time given by the historian, with its units – “the age”, for instance – of varying duration in which the content somehow determines the boundaries of the unit, and there is the real time, which opens up, upon being represented, to an audience who must trade their own real time for it, and there is slow mo and fastforward, which operate on the object of representation, the film, to create a difference in the content that picks up things unseen in real time.

This is a site and an occurrence. The site is London in the eighteenth century – a time cue. Three things happen. One, William Hogarth publishes The Four Stages of Cruelty in 1751. It is another of Hogarth’s series of etchings, this one depicting Tom Nero’s inevitable ascent into murder. The first of the etchings depicts acts of cruelty to animals. The Tate has a succinct description of the etching: “The worst abuse is being inflicted by Nero, who pushes an arrow into the anus of a terrified dog being restrained by two other boys. Another youth is distressed by what Nero is doing and attempts to stop him by offering a tart. To the left of Nero, a boy draws a hanged man on the wall and points at him, underlining the inevitable: that Nero’s behaviour will deteriorate further and cost him his life.” Lichtenberg will write about these etchings. So will Kant, in his most extended consideration of animals as the Analoga of humans in the lectures on moral philosophy, where he writes, for instance, that “when, for example, a dog has long served his master truly, so that is the analogon of service [Verdienstes]; for this reason I must reward it and sustain the dog until the end, when it can no longer serve.”



Two, in 1745 or thereabouts, in Princess Street, Emmanuel Swedenborg has his first vision. This post is about that vision… But wait…

Third event, if we want to call these things events: John Long publishes his book, John Long’s Voyages and Travels in the Years 1768-1788 in 1791, and in one paragraph, he quietly introduces a new word into the English language:

“One part of the religious superstition of the savages consists in each of them having his totem, or favorite spirit, which he believes watches over him. This totem, they conceive, assumes the shape of some beast or other, and therefore they never kill, hunt or eat the animal whose form they think this totem bears.”

Explaining this savage belief, Long delves into civilized history:

‘This idea of destiny, or, if I may be allowed the phrase, “totemism”, however strange, is not confined to the savages; many instances might be adduced from history to prove how strong these impressions have been on minds above the vulgar and unlearned. For instance one in the history of the private life of Louis XV, translated by Justamond; among some particulars of the life of the famous Samuel Bernard, the Jew banker of the court of France, he says that he was superstitious as the people of his nation are, and had a black hen to which he thought his destiny was attached; he had the greatest care taken on her, and the loss of this fowl was, in fact, the period of his own existence, in January, 1739.” (112)

Long himself was assigned a totem, the Beaver. It was tattooed on his body.

So, let us turn to Swedenborg. Two totemic quotes, incised in this non-space, to begin with:

It often happened to me subsequently, he said, to have the eyes of my spirit open, to see in full daylight what happens in the other world, and to converse with angels and spirits like I speeka with men.
- Jacques Matter, 79

This path is difficult, secret and beset with terror. The ancients called it ecstasy or absence,- a getting out of their bodies to think. All religious history contains traces of the trance of saints,- a beatitude, but without any sign of joy; earnest, solitary, even sad; "the flight," Plotinus called it, "of the alone to the alone"; Muesiz, the closing of the eyes,- whence our word, Mystic. The trances of Socrates, Plotinus, Porphyry, Behmen, Bunyan, Fox, Pascal, Guyon, Swedenborg, will readily come to mind. But what as readily comes to mind is the accompaniment of disease. This beatitude comes in terror, and with shocks to the mind of the receiver. – Emerson, Swedenborg, the mystic

Swedenborg was the son of a bishop, an expert on metals (just as Newton worked at the Royal English mint , Swedenborg was apparently called in by the Swedish treasury to work on the silver purity of the coins), and a general polymath. Long after his death, his posthumous papers on the brain were published. Together with the Animal Kingdom, a book he published in the 1740s, these, according to Charles Gross, in his history of the neuroscience of vision, show that somehow, Swedenborg made certain deductions about the division of labor of the brain that were amazingly prescient. He not only suggested the existence of neurons, but made a number of pronouncements that were confirmed only much later:

Swedenborg’s view of the circulation of the cerebrospinal fluid was not surpassed until the work of Magendie, a 100 [sic] years later. He was the first to implicate the colliculi in vision, and in fact the only one until Flourens in the nineteenth century. He suggested that a function of the corpus callosum wasw for “the hemispheres to intercommunicate with each other.” He proposed that a function fo the corpus striatum was to take over motor control from the cortex when a movement became a familiar habit or “second Nature.”


This is all the more remarkable in that Swedenborg seems not to have dissected or at least experimented himself. It has been speculated that he observed Pourfour du Petit’s experiments on dogs in Paris. But there is no hard evidence for this. (128-129)

What we do know is this. Swedenborg, at some point in the 1740s, traveled to London. Being a wealthy and famous savant, honored in Sweden with a seat in the Parliament, his travels were always apparently punctuated with visits to other savants and important people. This is what he told a director of the bank of Sweden. He had come back to his lodgings for the night. He ate with a great appetite that evening. Then, he experienced a disconcerting thing. His apartment seemed to fill with fog. The floor seemed suddenly covered with reptiles. “I was all the more taken by the fact that the obscurity kept getting thicker. However, soon it thinned out, and I saw, distinctly, a man sitting in one of the corners of the apartment at the center of a lively and radiant light. The reptiles had disappeared with the shadows. I was alone, and you can imagine my horror when I heard him, the man, in the kind of tone that would inspire terror, pronounce these words: Don’t eat so much. At these words, my view was clouded again. Little by little it came back, and I saw myself alone in my apartment.” (63)

Now, it is easy to understand the terror. If this happens to me tonight, I will be a raving lunatic tomorrow. But why the words, don’t eat so much?

It is a very strange way to enter into the numerous heavens and hells that surround us, and through which Swedenborg was able to communicate, like some kind of code going through the corpus callosum.

It wasn’t until the next day, when the man reappeared again, that he explained that he was god, and that Swedenborg was his man for writing down the proverbs of heaven and hell.

“Don’t eat so much.” The sentence seems to come out of Gogol, or Kafka. That it is in the highest degree banal, and in the highest degree terrifying – that it seems to attach to no symbolic system (though Matter does try to find one), is what makes it so uncanny; this is the tyrant’s banality, which the courtier endlessly interprets. It is like the story about Potemkin with which Benjamin introduces his essay on Kafka. In that story, Potemkin is in one of his depressed states, confined to his room, and won’t sign any paperwork. The council, meeting in an antechamber to his room, is in an uproar, when a lesser functionary, Shuvalkin, tells them he will easily set things right. He takes the papers and boldly goes into Potemkin’s room, sees the great man sitting in the half darkness, biting his nails in a threadworn sleeping outfit, and presents the papers to him for signature:

“Shuvalkin stepped up to the writing desk, dipped a pen in ink, and without saying a word pressed it into Potemkin’s hand while putting one of the documents on his knees. Potemkin gave the intruder a vacant stare; then, as though in his sleep, he started to sign – first one paper, then a second, finally all of them. When the last signature had been affixed, Shuvalkin took the papers under his arm and left the room without further ado, just as he had entered it. Waving the papers triumphantly, he stepped into the anteroom. The councilors of state rushed toward him and tore the documents out of his hands. Breathlessly they bent over them. No one spoke a word; the whole group seemed paralyzed. Again, Shuvalkin came closer and solicitously asked why the gentlemen seemed so upset. At that point he noticed the signatures. One document after the other was signed Shuvalkin… Shuvalkin… Shuvalkin.” (795)


The devil is in the banal, and the devil may be the Lord. Such is the rule of ambiguity in the great cosmic tyrannies. Indeed, Swedenborg’s journeys through heaven and hell have that same mix of the celestial and the utterly banal, from what I have read of them. The law of analogies is unfolded without any more to do than Swedenborg took in unfolding the laws of the brain. One wonders whether, in fact, after all, perhaps Swedenborg’s analogies were all travels in the brain… the brain… the brain…

But to our donkey business. As is well known, Swedenborg believed that we are all doubled – our images exist in another realm, and their images are us. He could converse with those images. But there is a twist to his belief. There are three heavens, but every heaven corresponds to a part of the human body. And every part of the human body is a society of angels. We know what part of the body this society is by its position in regard to other societies of angels. In a sense, this is a vast fractal, the body composed of self-resembling bodies, and so on to infinity. The substance of these bodies seem to be a sort of entelechy of affection, and affection connects man, beast and plant. What distinguishes man and beast and beast and animal in this scheme is not reason, but degrees of affection, with man being closer to the center – God – and plants being further out.

Although this retains the traditional hierarchy, it retains it in a much different way than Kant. In fact, it is similar to Mary Douglas’ notion of how meals gain their meaning – “ The smallest, meanest meal metonymically figures the structure of the grandest, and each unit of the grand meal figures again the whole meal – or the meanest meal. The perspective created by these repetitive analogies invests the individual meal with additional meanings. Here we have the principle we were seeking, the intensifier of meaning, the selection principle. A meal stays in the category of a meal only insofar as it carries this structure which allows the part to recall the whole. “ (1972, 67)"

Biden's foreign policy: let's bet everything on authoritarianism!

  And watch it all slip away (Por fin se va acabar) Or leave a garden for your kids to play (Jamás van a alcanzar)  --- The Black Angels, El...