Friday, June 12, 2020

Police and the "whitening" of Americans

There is an important, but under-discussed part of police history is that is also the history of the "whitening" of immigrant groups that came to the United States.
In the early 19th century, American cities didn't have police departments. Boston was one of the first. At the same time that Boston was constructing a police department specifically to control the less well off or immigrant areas in town, New England and America in general was receiving an enormous influx of Catholic Irish, fleeing the famine and oppression. Famously, what they met on the white Protestant shores of the New World was, at first, No Irish need apply signs. The Irish were considered sub-English - in England especially, but as well in the U.S. Although Germans were also migrating, on the whole, they were protestant. The combination of religious prejudice plus the aura of prejudice against the Irish in England put them into the class of the "not-quite white".

In the U.S., the rituals of becoming white have been explored for the last twenty years by many scholars. Here's an overview of the field.
What interests me is the way police work acted as a vector into whiteness, partly because police work allowed for the direct targeting of black subjects. To become white in the white settler state, a common strategy was to distance oneself from, and stigmatize, black people.
I'm not aware of any borrowing in this field from Rene Girard's theory of negative mimesis. In simple terms, Girard hypothesizes that the social order is built around a fundamental violence: the targeting and expulsion of a scapegoat. In order to not be the scapegoat, one engages in negative mimeses - trying to become the scapegoat's Other.
I have many criticisms of Girard's total explanation of the social order, but the scapegoating and negative mimesis process does work well with the becoming-white of various ethnic groups - the Irish and the Italian-Americans in particular - and the way that policing played a symbolically central role. One that carries over today. The police enact the neurosis of whiteness, to put it in sharp and exaggerated terms.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The meatmarkets I have seen

The meatmarkets I have seen
- Karen Chamisso

Birdsong pulled a labyrinth from my ear.
The birds have their nests, the foxes their holes
who will live with me
in the maze?

Wind and unwind, turn and turn back.
The heroes were netted and dispatched.
I stepped on a crack and a dynasty died.
Their ghosts follow me to this address.

A centerfold is at the center of it all.
O land of cockayne, free drinks and pussy!
To every sailor and peasant, tonight:
Tenderloin, tenderloin, the sirens sing.

‘The gates and yssues of this town are kept with watch and wards.”
Ariadne’s blues echo in the common pissoir.
My tears, my tears flow riverwards.
Jack comes to my  bed to bone ce soir.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

The Flaubert-Sand letters: part one

George Sand came in for a pummeling from several of the leading lights of modernism. Proust, for instance, told his friends that he disliked Sand, and that Flaubert, who he revered, must have been “insincere” when he praised her in his letters. Baudelaire was much more venomous. Sand was the perfect opposite of Baudelaire: liberal when he was illiberal, a lover of nature when nature, to him, was irradiated with symbols of its fallen state, and in no way an adherent of his own peculiar Sadian Christianity. In the wake of the controversy raised, in 1862, by her anti-clerical novel, Mademoiselle la Quintinie, he wrote a series of notes comparing her to a latrine (because she fucked who she wanted to and didn’t make any bones about it) and compared her to a concierge and a kept woman. He found her the very type of positivist bourgeois he couldn’t stand: why, in her novel, she even dismissed hell! Hell was as necessary to Baudelaire as it was to Dante. Nietzsche, who read the version of the Flaubert-Sand correspondence edited by Maupassant, attacked her in his usual oblique way in Twilight of the Idols:

George Sand. - I read the first Lettres d’un voyageur: like everything deriving from Rousseau, false, artificial, gassy, exaggerated. I cannot endure this multicolored wallpaper style; as little as I can the plebian-ambition for generous feelings. The worst is the womanly coquettishness with masculinity, with the manners of an undeveloped youth – how cold must she have been by all of this, this insufferable artist! She winds herself up like a clock – and writes. Cold, like Hugo, like Balzac, like all the romantics, as soon as they begin to compose. And how self-pleased she must have been, this fruitful writing-cow, who had something German about her in the worst sense of the word, like Rousseau himself, her master, becoming possible only because of the decline of French taste! – But Renan adores her…”

As always with Nietzsche, there are catches and turns in the vituperation that make it seem unconsciously respectful. One could imagine this inverted. When I first read this, I thought the 'writing – cow' crack was typical Fritz misogyny. But later, reading her letters, I see that Sand uses that phrase about herself, or rather, often compares herself to a cow.

Nietzsche was as well a critic of Flaubert and his theory of impersonality ( behind his visceral dismissal of Sand is that he shares her criticism of that theory - nothing disturbs Nietzsche like the touch of an unwanted ally), and this is why he wants to speak of her coldness, and the coldness of the romantics, whose cult of the self was not, Nietzsche hoped, similar to the beyond-human of his own invention.
Proust, though, admired Flaubert, as did almost all the modernists. This made it puzzling to them that Flaubert clearly thinks of Sand, who from one point of view was the very opposite of the modernists, as a great figure. He even praises her writing and – more than that – has the discernment to mention the novels that, according to today’s Sand-ians, are the height of her art: Consuelo and La Comtesse de Rudolstadt.

I’ve been reading the correspondence with a lot of admiration, and want to say a few things about it. So I’m going to amuse myself this week, taking a break from the protests, by saying them.

The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...