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Showing posts from August 12, 2012

Repost, edited: Marx and the devil

Marx and the devil “He’d sell his soul for gold, and he’d be right, for he’d be exchanging dung for gold” – Mirabeau on Tallyrand. The great myth under which modernization understood itself in Germany was an old chapbook tale about an obscure professor selling his soul to the devil – an old story indeed. The professor, Faust, was taken up by Goethe and placed at the center of a poem which touched the thoughts of every German intellectual in the 19th century, including, certainly including, Karl Marx. The devil intrudes fairly often in the narrative of capitalism – as it is woven on the heights, in the heads of the economists, and as it is unraveled at the depths, among ordinary people. Marx was, among other things, a great tracker of Mephistopheles. More than any other thinker of the nineteenth century, he sensed the shape of the web that was being blindly woven by the colonial offices, the businessmen, the political economist, and the rentier, and he saw what they couldn’t

The New York Times "our"

Perhaps nothing is as alarming to the average person as those moments when the elite tries to get cozy. It is rather like a boa constrictor asking you for the next dance. Politicians do it by using the word “folks” – an affectation shared by George Bush and Barak Obama. Mitt Romney does it by confiding that after the torture-death of his dog Seamus, he and his family (cue Romney-laugh) have had “many” dogs. But the one that sets me back the most is the NYT “our”. The NYT reporters, secretaries, and crewe doubtless bring home enough bacon to chase the middle class dream in the NY/NJ area. But these are not the people who make with the “our” – that is the specialty of the columnists. And one thing that is guaranteed about the columnists: they swim among their own kind, the upper class in America. Although sometimes they go out among the unwashed, they prefer them to be exotic - in India, or Angola - and they are definitely not spending the night in some crummy hotel in Whee

character sketch

John Earle’s Microcosmographia, published in 1628, is one of the English character books. It delineates characters – in the footsteps of Theophrastus, whose Characters was recovered and translated into Latin by Casaubon in the 1590s, and thus spread to England, where - in a highly theatrical culture -  character books became fashionable. These books all had the same format, in which, under some title, a character was “sketched” out. The drawing reference, with its implication of a quick impression, a first draft of a picture - imposed itself universally. The sketch and the portrait, the impression of the face and body, as though for a mask, kept a sort of secret faith with the etymological roots of “character”, with all that meant in terms of a metaphoric of stamps, of reliefs, of coins, etc. What strikes me is that the notion of character – the type - is still, in a sense, larger and more diffuse than the samples of it – the tokens. That character is, literally, a type, a let