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Showing posts from April 8, 2018


Pissing in a river, watching it rise  Tattoo fingers shy away from me   Long ago, in a universe far away, Hilary Clinton appeared on a talk show and was asked about Donald Trump’s race for president in the GOP primary. Clinton burst out laughing. I imagine that the scolds scolded her even at the time. Alas, the only times Clinton was likeable were the times that her advisors told her mistake! Ixnay on the laughnay. And her cult said, unfortunately, you aren’t allowed, cause-a sexism – terrible advice all the way around that made her into a stiff personality who seemed, even in her spontaneous moments, to be taking the advice of her spontaneous coach (oh God, please, let this not be true!). But the point here is not to knock Clinton, but to praise her. For even today, even when we know what a disaster the short-fingered vulgarian is, even as we watch him go from racism to sexism to tax cuts like a mad triple, even now – he is genuinely funny. This is a man who tweets a

Candide's Revenge

It is a difficult thing to satirize Christianity today, as Voltaire once did. That is because the Christianity that Voltaire knew is dead. That is, the ideology of the clerks – the ideology of what James Scott calls the Great tradition – has moved on. It is no longer about glory and redemption. It is about commerce and science.  Religion, in the Great Tradition culture, is now something to oratorically affirm on set occasions. Meanwhile, in the little tradition, in the daily life of the masses, belief has gone back to the wild. Thoughts are free – meaning it is all syncretic, a little astrology here, a little pop science there, a little Jesus, a little Oprah, a little politics. In these circumstances, the great biting ferocity of the old Candide tradition is simply out of place. Of course, there are fundamentalists, but they, too, are for the most part more moved by politics and commerce than anything like Christianity.  My own stance on fundamentalists is that they are misna

Pablum politics

Looking for ‘politically viable’ solutions to our current problems is like looking for an anti-biotic that won’t kill microbes. The latter is called a pablum. Unfortunately, the American political class consists of people who deal in little else.

fun among the fungus! politics and science in the 19th century

It isn’t known as well as it should be that both Georg F Hegel and Beatrice Potter were players in the study of the biology of the lichen, which in turn revolutionized the study of natural selection. Or at least I didn’t know. I do now thanks to Jan Sapp’s Evolution by Association: a history of symbiosis. A book I’d heartily recommend. Hegel came first. Technically, Hegel didn’t know a lichen from a snowy owl. But he did put forward a view of the master-slave relationship in the Phenomenology of Spirit which must have influenced Simon Schwendener, a Swiss biologist who looked at lichens through the microscope and was startled by the fact, as he saw it, that lichens were not plants or organisms like the oak and the tiger. Rather, he claimed, they were composites. “ Lichens, he argued, represented a master-slave relationship. The master was a fungus of the order scomycetes, "a parasite which is accustomed to live upon the work of others; its slaves are green algals, wh

the social costs of individualizing voice

I am sure that there is a relation between the ideology of the voice and the hegemonic situating of the story situation in the classroom. It is a deconstructive hunch. It is worth trying to suss it out, I think, because it would say something about politics of literature in the U.S. and perhaps the Anglophone world at the moment. The ideology of the voice is entailed by what Derrida called logocentricity – the view that writing is always secondary to speaking, always dependent on speaking. In order to be coherent, this view first has to segregate its unities – speaking and writing – in such a way that they don’t, at least ideally, overlap. This separation has to be effected so that both categories retain their essential natures. If speaking, for instance, can’t be conceived without certain traits that belong to writing, then the whole hierarchy and its claims would become unbalanced. I won’t go through the meticulous Derridian detective work that was applied to this thesis. I

fuck reform

I've read my share of stories about "reform". For instance, privatization is a "reform." The prince of Saudi Arabia imprisoning other princes and billionaires and extorting money from them is a "reform". Austerity is a "reform." The press loves the word reform so much that if, tomorrow, the GOP in Congress passed a bill re-legalizing slavery, the headline in the NYT would read: "Labor reform voted." Fuck reform.

the dream of the impossible plot

When I used to review novels for Publishers Weekly, the form was dictated partly by the editorial limitation of space: I had 250 to 300 words to operate in. Conventionally, the review would either start out with or end with some elaboration of an adjective – basically, blurb territory. Then would come characters and plot – or telling what the novel was about. If I could find the room, I might refer to the writer’s reputation. Now, this procedure relies heavily on the idea that a novel is about a plot, and that a plot is something that one can extract from the text that ‘moves’ the events and characters in the novel forward. Even if the novel varies “forward” – even if it is arranged chronologically so that it looks backwards, or it mixes up narrative patches that are in the past or future of the narrative’s present – the plot is the thing that makes the novel. The plot is to the novel what the plays are to a game – a plot encloses, in a determined field, the chances that the nar