Monday, November 28, 2011

a note on perfection - Foigny, Rousseau

Foigny’s Terre Austral is a utopian Robinsinade before Robinson was conceived. Like Cyrano de Bergerac’s Voyage to the Moon, it mixes satire with libertine philosophy – of a kind – in such a way that text continually questions its own register. The narrator, Sadeur, who has the bad fortune to have been born a hermaphrodite in Europe, saves himself from shipwreck and lands in Australia – the land that is the polar opposite of Europe – only to discover a society of hermaphrodites who strangle those children that are born abnormally – that is, with one sex only. Somehow, these hermaphrodites have also perfected a form of parthenogenesis, which has the effect that every member of the society can enjoy a perfect solitude, save for the love they bestow upon their children. All, in this society, are equal. All are also naked.

The narrator is, of course, shocked at these things, and in turn shocks the Australians by wearing clothes. All of which leads to threat to put him to do, and a series of dialogues between him and one of the wisest Australians about society, sexuality, and … perfection.

The perfect has long been meditated in Europe, and assimilated into the Christian religion. As Foigny was writing in Geneva, Leibniz was publishing philosophical texts that used the idea of perfection to explain the order among all possible worlds. Foigny’s text is, in one register, a similar exploration of perfection, and in another register, a satire of it.

Thus, the wise Australian at one point explains the emotional customs of the Australians with reference to their sexual autarky as follows:

“As for us, we are total human beings, and there is none among us who does not show all the parties of our nature with all its perfections: this is the reason we live without these animal ardors one for the other, and we cannot even listen to talk about it. This is the reason, again, that we can live alone, as though having need of nothing. Ultimately, this is the reason that we are happy [contents] and that our loves have nothing charnel about them.”

The two semantic extremes at work here are the animal and the perfect. Human perfection, according to the Australians, is wrapped up in distancing the human in all things from the animal. Which reminds the narrator of Western theology: “I couldn’t hear the worlds of this man without being reminded about what our theology teaches of the production of the second person of the holy trinity, and of all the effects outside of the Divine. I had ceaselessly meditated on the great principles of our philosophy, “that the more perfect a being is, the less it has need to act.” In this case, the less it had need to feel.

The perfection of the Australians is a sort of mirror of the idea of perfection in European philosophy, but what that mirror shows is a society that is the opposite of the European, and that is, for the European reader, horrifying.

I have no evidence that Rousseau read Foigny, but certainly the renegade preacher was known to Bayle. In history, the ludicrous invariably shadows the serious, so it is not really that surprising that as Leibniz built the great baroque structure of the theodyssey, in which perfection is used a kind of cosmological rule to reconcile all possibilities and realizations, in a shabbier intellectual neighborhood, the discourse of perfection was used to discuss sex and shitting among the hermaphrodite Australians.

In the Discourse on Inequality, perfection becomes a verb – to perfect – in the best enlightenment manner. It is one of Rousseau’s chief conceptual instruments for creating his own conjectural history of the foundation of society. But to take the term as a synonym for progress, or to take it as having a wholly favorable meaning, is no doubt a mistake, one that leads inevitably to much exegetical anguish.

Another day, another crisis

According to this NYT article, the OECD is playing its usual neo-liberal role in urging austerity on Europe.

This, of course, is the end game of a long history of reaction going back to the seventies, when policy elites and the generation of 68 turned their back on 'socialism' and began the long work of demoralizing populations and installing financial regimes that deflated wages, raised credit limits to cover their unpopular policies, and inflated the compensation of the investor and managerial class to a Gilded Age level.

Here's the deal: There's no such thing as an unsustainable government debt. The banks, of course, depend on the governments to enforce debt obligations, plus they depend on the governments to either give them money or loan them money at such low interest rates that it is the same (the U.S. 'capitalized" U.S. and foreign banks, hedge funds and the financial centers of corporations to the tune of 16 trillion dollars from 20008 to 2010 without anybody batting an eyelash). So, what army does Goldman have?

It is too bad that we live in a world in which bank debts are paid by practically free loans by governments, and government debts are paid by - crushing the middle class. Eventually, our debt serfs are going to look up and ask: who, exactly, do we owe this money to? The relatively paltry investment class, which includes about a million to two million people world wide? Sorry, I see no reason that countries should go down the hole just so these people can continue to enjoy their three vacation homes and the corporate jet.

If Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece were smart, they'd band together and simply say no. If the EU central bank won't print the money this group needs to fund a bank and buy their own debt - a very easy thing to do - they should do it themselves, make up a Southern Euro. It would immediately deflate, and reverse Germany's export advantage in Europe. I see no reason that they shouldn't do this - except for the fact that the neo-lib colonies among the elites in those Southern countries would be horrified.

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...