Friday, May 01, 2020

Measuring Progress by refusing to cry

Tränengruss – the greeting by tears – is a ritual that fascinated a number of anthropologists in the early 20th century, especially Georg Friederici, who wrote a monograph entitled Tränengruss der Indianer. Friederici gathered material from the oldest European – Indigenous encounters. The colonialist and exotic fascination was a factor in his descriptions, but clearly the weeping greeting was not a myth:

[Among the Tupi] The women of the family performed the chief role in this ceremony. When a foreigner or even a native of the same tribe neared one of their huts as a visitor, he was allowed to enter and take his place on one of the hammocks. The naked women placed themselves strategically around him, laid both their hands before their faces and began to vigorously weep and lament, pitying the overcome fatigue and dangers of the way of the guest, and making him compliments. The rule demanded that the guest also cry, or, if he, as a European, had no stock of tears on hand, that at least he acted as though he did.”

The naked women and the dry eyed Europeans – it is a powerful colonialist image, no? Marcel Mauss, whose essay, L'expression obligatoire des sentiments, written in 1921, concerned not only about the ritual of tears described by ethnologists but also, as was pointed out by Chris Garce and Alexander Jones (2009), the mass mourning and numbness that was felt across the world after World War I – the European lack of tears – pointed out that the weeping greeting was also known in Australia. Garce and Jones speculate that Mauss was thinking hard about how to mourn the unknown soldier, the unknown flu victim, the unknown civilian casualty, the massacred and the massacre-ers. This was both the obvious question, post-war, and the buried question. Buried, repressed, and returning like the repressed on a national scale with the Nazi seizure of power in Germany. As Garce and Jones put it:

“Mourning for those who never returned from the battlefields--i.e. those masses of individuals whose deaths could not be assimilated within the logic of national sacrifice--quickly assumed a spectral quality of unresolved political significance. "The obligatory expression of feelings" thus symptomatically draws attention to "our much missed Robert Hertz and Emile Durkheim" and to these fallen compatriots' studies of Australian funerary rituals. In re-reading his colleagues' ethnological works, Mauss would rediscover Hertz's and Durkheim's arguments that aboriginal women, more than other segments of so-called "archaic societies," occupied a mediating role between the living and the dead. He also noticed the prevalence of "greeting by tears" not just in Australia, but sheer across the ethnological record.”

We’ve seen a return of the idea that women mediate between the living and the dead in the notion that the female leaders of states have been much more competent in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, the neo-liberal ban on tears – except when shed by men, who are, de facto, brave men, preferably with military service – has still been the norm, and has had its effects in the settler countries – the U.S., for instance – as well as elsewhere. Such is the rule that forbids the stock of tears that when the lockdown comes to an end, the story will all be about “rebuilding” the economy, and the dead will have to bury their dead.

It poses a question, doesn’t it? When did the Europeans and all those societies upon which they put their heavy hand lose their stock of tears?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Midlife crisis of the oracle

“To Serapion of Athens, the stoic, who was himself a poet and who criticized the bad literary taste of his times in sustaining the point of view that the verses of the oracles, since they were authored by Apollo, chief of the Muses, could only be excellent, Boethius the Epicurien replied, pertinently and impertinently: have you heard the story of the painter Pauson?
“No”, responded Sarapion.
“You should know this story. Having received a commission to paint a horse rolling on the ground, he painted one that represented a horse running; as the buyer got angry, Pauson began to laugh and turned the canvas upside down: thus, the bottom became the top, and the horse no longer seemed to gallop, but to roll on the ground. This, according to Bion, is the fate of certain trains of reasoning, when they are reversed. Thus some, instead of pretending that the verses of the oracles are beautiful because they are written by God, would say, on the contrary, that God was not their author because they are so bad. The first claim may be uncertain, but what is certain is that the oracles are composed in a manner that is unworthy of divinity.” – The oracle controversy, Robert Flacelière

The oracle is bored, finally, of the future
Ablution in the cold water of the spring  
Autopsy of the victim, the signature
In the disposition of the organs, fate’s writing.
The wisecracks from all the golden codgers on the wall
The epsilon, the laurel wand, moving down the hall
To the chamber where you get your meds and electroshock

So little and so much makes a poet
When the gods have decided to put in their hand
Just as the city’s sack is found where nobody knows it
In the spilled guts of the sacrificed ram
Oh Popeye when you play upon your guitar
Do you play the things that will be or that are?

She sees ambiguity shaped by ambiguity
and that wisdom is hidden in a children’s joke
or in some stray, scrawled obscenity
in a jakes or toted in a poke.
To pose riddles and not ever guess her own
Has turned her voice into a frog’s voice, and her heart into a stone.

Biden's foreign policy: let's bet everything on authoritarianism!

  And watch it all slip away (Por fin se va acabar) Or leave a garden for your kids to play (Jamás van a alcanzar)  --- The Black Angels, El...