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Showing posts from December 29, 2013


My darling, knowing my heart with its eleven year old’s thirst for encyclopedias and atlases, bought me what I really wanted this Christmas: the complete works of Roland Barthes. Sturdily made paperbacks, published by Seuil, divvying up the work chronologically. So the plan is, read Barthes this year. Beginning at the beginning, the first thing to notice is that Barthes has comparatively little juvenilia. There he is, in 1951, in his first major essay, Michelet, history and death (published in Esprit) and we are already off. Like a horse race, there’s no warm up steps, just an out of the gate sprint, one of course that will lead us through five volumes to Barthes death in 1980. The essay is one of those amazing, monumental texts which even as you read seems to slip from your grasp. You advance across it continually losing your baggage, continually needing to stop and to note, inscribe on some piece of paper of your own a comment, a quote. According to his biographers, Barthe

comments and games

“Flies … to let them live… What is more difficult?” – Paul Valery One of the loveliest apps of our day is the lowly technology that allows for  comments sections on the Web. I think it is lovely because, among other things, it materializes a phenomenon that is usually oral and uncaptured – the ways of argument. In fact, the ways of argument are much more mysterious, since the advent of omni-pornography, than the ways of a man with a maid, or a maid with a man, or a man with a man, or a man with a maid with a maid with a man, etc.  We have all seen every variety of corporeal groping, but have we all pondered every variety of rhetorical poking? That’s what I aim to do here. My starting point is a post that recently appeared on the Crooked Timber blog. This blog has a certain returning constituency, among which I count myself. We’ve been with the blog through the Iraq war, through the great recession, through Bush and Blair and Brown and Obama. In a sense, then, the responses t

a history of the little

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,for, not seldom, simple accident leads a weak head to a discovery, that only later generations learned to use.” This is  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

a pageant for our military heroes this holiday! Led by the New York Times

“ Denn uns fehlt der kritische Blick für uns selbst. ” “…alle kriegführenden Staaten noch unter den bösen Geistern zu leiden haben, denen sie selber den Weg freigegeben haben. ” Carl von Ossietzky. As we were disembarking from our plane, yesterday, the steward made a few of the standard announcements about baggage and transfers and thanking us for choosing Southwestern. He then wished us a good stay in Los Angeles and assured us that this holiday, Southwestern Airlines was keeping our “military heros” in their thoughts. I stopped looking under the seat for various things Adam had scattered for a second, so dumbstruck was I by the intrusion of “military heros” into a simple arrival. I thought that I never keep our military “heros” in my thoughts, but wished, instead, that if we were going to remind each other of the series of aggressions that the US has committed over the last fifty years, that we would turn our thoughts to the victims of those aggressions. Now that would be a ho