Saturday, April 01, 2017

where are the radical children's storybooks?

I don’t blame Ayn Rand. I blame Batman.
Adam has become an enthusiastic fan of the comics. And so I have been learning about the comics.
American comics generally participate in an ideology which radiates out from a central preoccupation with crime. And not any crime. The two great crimes are jewel robberies and bank robberies. There’s a reason for that: these crimes make the rich the victim.
This is the great animating vision of the primal American super-world. Once you catch on, you can detect it in other children’s books as well. It nourishes the topsy turvy vision of reality that infects American politics, and that identifies celebrity with heroism.
Unfortunately, the political struggle for the hearts of children has not been fought very hard by the American Left. Mister Moneybags, that funny character who pops up in translations of certain texts of Marx, never made it to Gotham City. But as I have recently learned, looking around the Internet, some radical factions in the post 68 generation turned their eyes to this theater of struggle.
My discovery of this site has been eyeopening: Unfortunately, it does not have a long list of these ultra-leftist books. And so far, it neglects comic books. On the other hand, it does give publicity to a book that still needs to be translated into English – Histoire de Julie qui avait une ombre de garçon.
But to return to the comic book world – here one faces an ideological conundrum at the very root of the superhero ideology. Alan Moore has, I think justly, called the mania for superheros a “cultural catastrophe”; his phrase evokes that idea of a cultural product that squats like a nightmare on the shoulders of the living. 
“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence. It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times. 

The super antihero, I suppose, is yet to be born. My suspicion is that it can’t be born in a world inscribed with the principle that the rich are victims – a world of childish mystification.  

a poem

I turned off the light. In the sudden flush
Of the dark you took my blinded hand.
Leading me into the next room, hush,
you minted light in the time a coin lands

on heads, then out went the annunciation.
To bed, to bed, you said I said
In this way haloed the occasion

And bed it was, and bed…

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

origami, metaphysics, and Lichtenberg

A week ago I was going out of the public library in kind of a hurry. It was nearly time for me to pick up Adam. But, as I passed through the main lobby, I was too attracted by a display not to stop. Two people were behind a desk, making paper cranes. In front of them, an interested girl was being instructed in the oragamic art as well. I thought, Adam would like one of those cranes, so I asked the woman if I could have one. The answer was no, but I could make one. And due to one of those failures of the will to which I am subject, instead of saying no, I’m in a hurry, or saying no, I am the most lousy folder ever to set foot on planet earth, a menace to gift wrap and boxes,  I said alright. What followed was a painful five minutes for both me and my teacher, who must have thought, as I clumsily folded the wrong way here and sloppily failed to make one fold equal to its other there, that I’d been sent to test her. She passed the test. Now and then she’d grab my misshappen piece of paper and correct what I’d done wrongly, and hand it back (disappointing my hope that he was letting me off the hook) with some encouraging word. And of course once again my hand grew six thumbs. But in the end, I did come up with a crane.
I’m trying to make an analogy here, although I fear I’ve put too much thumb into it. The folding process for me involved two twin awkwardnesses. First was my mechanical incompetence in folding the piece of paper through a series that lead to the crane. Second was my mental blindness that saw in each twist of the paper another sort of shapelessness. There’s an essay by Paul Valery, Man and shell – man here being l’homme – in which Valery marvels not only at the spirals of the sea creature, mussel or nautilus, which he acknowledges a geometrician could generate with a formula, but also at the lips of it, where the marvelous symmetry breaks down and the creature itself appears and disappears, making of the mineral a living function.  The crane, of course, never takes off and flies – it is no crane. But its living function is to symbolize the crane. It is no mirror image of the bird, but a ritualistic image.
Hence, my analogy: between the oragami master and what Lichtenberg does in his Waste books. For there, too, much folding and shapelessness, much seemingly aimless advance, is generated. To call these entries “aphorisms” is to point us a little too firmly away from their waste content. Sometimes Lichtenberg is the master, sometimes not – but I think in Lichtenberg’s most beautiful examples, the final image surprises him. He represents, in a way, both my cluelessness and my guide’s artistry. To think with a pen involves a lot of seemingly unnecessary folding, and even the result, for those without the eye for symbol and silhouette, may seem arbitrary and unsupported.
Okeydokey then. Here’s the translation of one of Lichtenberg’s bits of rubbish in notebook F, 1776-1779, in which highly romantic, even cabalistic metaphors are attached to highly materialistic models. This gives a certain vertiginous feeling to the entry – this is long before the philosophy of mind had developed its controversies and categories. So we can see hints as to a wet mind theory of consciousness – which brings consciousness back to the specific material constitution of the brain, and rejects the cog sci idea that mental functions are indifferent to the material platforms where they are performed – and other hints of an entirely different orientation, in which we imagine other materials making  minds, or souls, still. Overall, though, hangs a metaphysics of the inscribed that sounds almost familiar.     

“Those psychologists that have looked around in the natural sciences have always reasoned more connectedly than the others who began with psychology. The more I compare Hartley’s theory with my experience [David Hartley, the British philosopher who tried to apply Newton’s vibration theory to the nervous system and laid down the foundations for associationism in psychology] the more it confirms itself with me, so entirely does it agree with our other experiences. If we shoot a pea into the sea outside Helvoet [a port of Rotterdam], I would presumably be able to trace the effect of it on the coast of China if the sea were my brain. This effect would however be strongly modified through every other  impression all the other objects make on the sea, through the wind that pushes against it, through the fish and ships that move through it, through the sea caves that break its force on the shore. The form of the surface of a countryside is a history written with natural signs of all its changes,  every grain of sand is a letter, but the language is for the most part unknown to us. On the surface of this earth there are crowds of round bodies with thick roots out of which arise many small ones,  which  live in the air like polyps live in water {the brain, nerves, spine) and hang down their roots like polyps do their limbs.  They sit in a sort of shelter, which serves them as a cover in which they can continue to operate, and are so constituted, that their weakest roots do not have to set themselves on other bodies, while material is through this shelter strained and purified in such a way that its outflow is being continually replaced. These bodies, too, like all others, are continually being altered, and are, as all others, written upon with natural signs that spell out the history of all the changes they have experienced. It is like a tin plate whose scratches and marks tell the tale of all the meals that it has been through. The matter in which they are constituted is of a specific constitution that is originally so soft and almost fluid, yet not capable of taking in all impressions like water; it has more stickiness. And because it records  not only  simultanea, but also of successiva, so will each moment be somewhat fixed, and the body will become ever tougher, so that at last it is less able to register than to express. I the I that writes this has the fortune to have such a body. That’s the way it is. If our soul is a simple substance, why doesn’t it read the changes of the earth as well as of the brain? The brain is not just as incapable of reading impressions of changes as the sea.   (beasts are notably changed through light, perhaps more than other bodies, perhaps through the electrical fluid, it is probable that water does not register the successiva of light). Maybe it is possible to conceive an animal whose brain was the sea, to whom the north wind meant blue and the south wind red. If a simultanea and successiva is enclosed together  in a  body that only records simultanea, or only lets in certain bodies, it would thus only compute certain changes. It is much to be wished, that one here saw something like an intention. To give you a symbolic idea of these alterations just think of a drop of water on which something is reflected or through which a ray is broken, the smallest change in its figure brings about the entire destruction of the image.”   

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...