Friday, February 28, 2014

what the newsman gives us

“The least sophisticated reader, whenever he takes an old book in his hands, knows in advance that he is entering a world where even the most familiar words will not mean quite what they do today. This is the unsophisticated
reader’s historical intuition.” – Lidiia Ginzburg, On Psychological Prose

The least sophisticated reader has all the advantages against today’s sophisticated news reporter. The news can be described as that discourse that does its best to eliminate the reader’s historical intuition. Some news items really make this clear. Take, for example, this platitudinizing item in the New Yorker today, which begins on a note of unconscious propaganda that it sustains to the last sentence: “On Saturday, Mexican authorities arrested Joaquín (El Chapo)Guzmán Loera, who was the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, acriminal organization responsible for violence and drug trafficking."  This seemingly bland announcement ends by associating El Chapo’s “organization” – of which he is supposedly the leader – with violence and drug trafficking – thus distinguishing him from the unnamed Mexican authorities. This is very sweet. Another way of this release could be written is: Mexican authorities, who have been complicit in the violence and drug trafficking associated with so called cartels, arrested the man who they helped escape from prison the last time they arrested him.” In fact, a glance at Anabel Hernandez’s Narcoland, which has an exhaustive chapter about Guzman, his previous arrest, his first confession (which named the people in power he was paying off), and the threat he received from “Mexican authorities” to change it (which he did), and what it means to be a “leader” of a cartel, would actually help the unsophisticated reader to know what is going on – what these words like “criminal” and “violence” really mean.
But that of course is not the point of this little news item.  Its point is to operate as both an establishment mouthpiece, destroying any alternative reading of this event, and to keep the system of selling drugs, putting dirty money into the system (that money, after all, has been truly vital to parts of the American economy – what would Miami be without it?) and police and military arrests going. It benefits everyone except that majority of people.
Arresting Guzmán was an inarguably worthwhile goal, but there is concern about how much his absence will affect the organization’s operation. “There are a couple of senior guys in the Sinaloa cartel—one called El Mayo and another one called El Azul—who are still functioning,” Finnegan says.
Yes, one wouldn’t want to call the goal into question. One wouldn’t even want to think that an argument could be made that the goal, that all the goals in this context, are dirty and worthless, from the, well, human point of view. What we need is the elite point of view here, the only point of view that counts, that has “worth” – and from this point of view, guys “function”. We get a nice, faux insider sense from knowing these guys are called El Mayo and El Azul. And faux insiderdom is what the newsman can give us, in exchange for destroying our historic intuition.

It is, inarguably, a shitty exchange. 

the moraliste and the ethicist

Here’s a couple of sentences from Cioran’s Thinking against Oneself: “Assaulted by the malediction attached to actions, the violent man only forces his nature, only goes beyond himself, in order to return furious, as an aggressor, trailed by his enterprises, which come to punish him for his having instigated  them. No work fails to turn against its author: the poem will crush the poet, the system the philosopher, the event the man of action.”
This is the voice of a moraliste. A moraliste is an expert in generalizations that are rooted in his exacerbated sense of the world as a place where he tests himself, and fails – taking each failure as a mark left by the world on his hide, and worth studying for that reason. The ethicist, on the other hand, is an expert in generalizations that are, ideally, not suppose to make contact with his personality at all. From the ethicist’s point of view, the moraliste is carelessly and unforgiveably unconcerned with the truth of his generalizations, and is thus an untrustworthy and perverse guide to conduct. For the moraliste, the ethicist derives truths from cases that are so thin and so abstract, so lacking human meat and gusto, as to be caricatures. There is no investigative surprise in such work: it has the quality of fables composed by a bureaucracy.

The moraliste’s problem with the truth is that a too close adherence to it – which presumes success in its pursuit and capture – creates mere sententiousness; while a too intense sensitivity to the failure to discover the truth leads to unending paradox. Both sentiousness and a too facile way with paradox lead to tedium – primarily, in the life of the moraliste himself. Cioran, who began his literary career as a partisan of fascism and an admirer of Hitler and apparently changed his mind in 1940, when he managed to migrate from Romania to France, was the violent man whose work turned against him. And in the work he did after that repentence, the work for which he is known, the work in French, the tension is always between the feeling that fascism gave him – which he identified with youth and energy – and the feeling that the repentence gave him – which he identified with old age and nihilism. Thus, his life and work was an endless political cold turkey. The leveling impulse, as he saw it, of the ethicist who dismisses exhilaration and elevates the rules, enraged him, for that way lead to the crippling of high spirits and the impulses, generous or horrible, of life; and at the same time he had visible proof that the only social order he could really live in either had to cage hatred, violence, bigotry, and hysteria or collapse.    

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Barthes and the paragraph

To read Barthes properly, one must be equipped with a pen and a piece of paper, a notebook, have them at hand, cite and dissect. There’s a reason for this besides the difficult theoretical terms and arguments in the text – that reason being that the texts tend to be disconnected in subtle ways, and one needs to have some record to chart the gaps. We know that his method of composition was to write on index cards and arrange them – which he did not only in his study of Michelet, but, according to his colleagues, also in his other work, throughout his life. Thus, Barthes’ text offer not the forward flow of a text that moves over a notebook, or over the loose pages of a typewriter, but instead in short bursts. Barthes once wrote an essay entitle Flaubert and the phrase. It seems natural to associate Flaubert with phrases, since he made so much of them. A similar essay could be written about Barthes and the paragraph.
The paragraph is eminently prosaic. Poetry – save for prose poems – does not settle into a paragraph. The poem must ultimately remain in touch with the vatic, the riddle, the omen – and the paragraph is antithetic to these presumptions and devices.
And yet – it isn’t precisely correct to speak of the product of these cards as paragraphs. Barthes entitle his perhaps most popular work Fragments of a lover’s discourse, and surely there is something to that ‘fragments’. The fragment is closer to the poetic line, it possesses a certain rawness that is groomed out of the properly constructed paragraph. The fragment extrudes its unity, which becomes the number that marks it from the outside – think of Wittgenstein – or the date, or some other indexical sign. It is as if here the paragraph is either too exhausted or too indignant to do its job – to pull itself together and express its topic organically. The topic thus becomes a sort of title or caption outside of it, names the fragment rather than being the interior connector that keeps it together.

Southern California Death Trip

    “He was kind but he changed and I killed him,” reads the caption of the photo of a woman in an old tabloid. She was headed to ...