Friday, January 15, 2021

the collective fugue


“It is precipitated not by a mechanical breakdown but by the descent of an emotional block . Its gravest form , which science has come to call fugue, embraces three classically dramatic phases.  The first of these is a brief interval of complete dissociation, closely resembling somnambulism. This is eventually followed by a period of lighened oblivion, in which only certain facts and events remain beyond the reach of the victim. The final stage, which may occur spontaneously or as a result of psychiatric manipulatin, is a return to full-functioning consciousness. But, whatever its pattern, an attack of functional amnesia is seldom susceptible to either a ready or a reassuring explanation.”

This is a passage from Berton Rouechés classic article on the fugue, Lost, which was published in 1954 in the New Yorker.  Historians have long  been fascinated by  collective memory, following in the trail first marked out by Maurice Hallwachs in The Collective Frameworks of Memory (1925). We have less of a sense of collective amnesia. That a society could go on a fugue seems an overegging of what has always seemed half concept, half metaphor. Yet surely we see things that seem fugue-like, where the desire to forget leads to mass dissociation.

In Roeché’s essay, a subject he calls Uhlan (a significant last name choice – an Uhlan is a cavalry lanceman, and in the folk memory, a very savage soldier) one day is looking through books at a kiosk when he feels something is different. And then he feels that he doesn’t know his own name or where he is. Roeché was well known for his novelistic sense of the causes and effects of disease – for writing medical histories with such a flair that not only was he read by the New Yorker popular audience, but by doctors seeking to understand the feelings and behaviors of their patients. Uhlen it appears was bereft of his mother from the age of six, and preferred to stay with his aunt than his father. He lost touch with his father at 19.

In Hallwachs’ model of family memory, poor Uhlan was lost before he lost his memory. His account shows a man subject to crippling panic attacks and a sort of overwhelming restlessness. At the time he went into his fugue, he was feeling imprisoned by his job and responsibilities. Previously, he had been able to withdraw from such things, but this time he had family responsibilities that seemed to shut down his escape route. Responsibilities depend, crucially, on memory. The routine is laced with memory reminders - the alarm clock going off, the hour you have to arrive at work, the bills you have to pay, the appointments you must meet. All of these have collective counterparts. As routines break down, as language stops fitting the situation at hand, as plagues bring down thousands a day, as the police shoot people in cold blood and are caught on cameras, as we look in horror at monuments to slavers and genocide, our memories seem to conspire against us - the us who had, at one time, dominance in the mainstream. With that mainstream's race and gender, its favorite tv programs and movies, its notion of a good time. 

Collectively, humans have always needed the escape hatch.  In the fugue state, there is an overwhelming restlessness. It takes on an almost organic quality. To go somewhere is imperative. And this, too, has a collective correlate I think. The collective fugue state crystalizes around issues – escape roots – the more violent the better. There is a sense that the issues have to be resolved, that they define sides, that nobody could not be burdened with the issue. It is, even, irresponsible to question the issue.

In Roeché’s essay, Uhlan eventually wakes up in a bed in Bellevue and remembers who he is. But the collective awakening from fugues is usually bloodier.

Maybe we are in one now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The curious case of the missing dogs

 Sometimes, a writer finishes his text. Sometimes, the text kicks the ass of the writer so hard that the writer has to stop. This text is one of the latter. It is part of a series of true/fiction Cold War stories that I've been playing around with. With some suggestion from Sebald, some from the classic use of historical fact - from Merimee to Tolstoy - and some from my own dumb curiosity. 

I have substituted, for the protagonist, the first letter of his last name. This is a warning to the reader: character N. is the equivalent to, but not the representation of, the historical personage from whose biography I have ripped these facts. 

The complete work is over on Medium.  

- A

photo is taken in the Bois de Boulogne, January 25, 1937. It is published in Excelsior, a Paris newspaper. Excelsior was in the avant garde of newspapers, trying to combine the photogenic style of Life with the quotidian pace of your usual daily. Its archive is a treasurehouse of photos. This one has a certain dramatic movement. It shows a corpse in a clearing in the bushes. All that remains of the Russian economist N. N.’s “governante”, most likely his housekeeper, from the accounts of other newspapers, stands in her woolen dress at the head of the corpse, and is making some point to the group of detectives who are grouped at the corpse’s side. There’s a rather soggy newspaper at the housekeeper’s feet. In the center of the group of detectives is Commissaire Guillaume, who is bowler hatted. In the background, the trees are bare, wintering. This grouping distinctly resembles certain Renaissance paintings — a pietá for the era of Detective magazine and the gangster.

- Another photo appeared in many papers on January 26, 1937 and afterwards, whenever some event or statement from officials made the murder hot again. It was published on the front page of L’oeuvreLe JournalLe Petit JournalLe Matin, and the Republique among other newspapers. It is an undated portrait photo showing N.’s face. Rimless glasses, a broad bare forehead, a somewhat petulant expression about the mouth, a little moustache.

  • The posthumous life of the murder of N. has become a variant in one of the great binary structures that define Cold War mythology. Depending on who one’s favorite candidate for the murderer is, his name figures in two series of victims. One series consists of Eugen Miller, Rudolf Klement, Walter Krivinsky, General Koutiepov, and Ignaz Reiss. This is the Comintern series. Another, opposing series consists of Laetitia Toureaux, Carlo and Nello Rosselli, and Marx Dormoy. This is the fascist series. Left/Right, powerful absolutes. There are other names one could add to the first chain — for instance, Juliet Stuart Poyntz, or Leon Trotski. To the second chain one could add Maurice Juif and Jean Zay. The first series haunted the Cold War liberals; its shades attended parties with the Partisan Review notables and went to Cultural Conferences where, it was decided, Communism was the God that failed. The second series ended up in court in 1947–1948, in the Palais de Justice in Paris, where it was called the trial of the Cagoule — the nickname for the underground, extreme-right group of terrorists that operated in France from 1936 to 1938. More properly the Comité secret d’action révolutionnaire (C.S.A.R.), or as they called themselves, Organisation secrète d’action révolutionnaire nationale. Cagoule means hood, and the word comes, vaguely, from the initiation ceremony, which involved a black hood and an oath that bound the life of the oathtaker to the organization. The ferocity of the ceremony was devised by F. — who in this narrative murdered the Russian economist N.

- The postwar trial was not, by all accounts, a satisfactory reckoning; strings were pulled and the bloodiest perpetrators fled abroad — for instance, F. — to other lives and names. Many of the accused were out of prison in less than a year. One of them, in fact, went on to rise to the head of a huge international corporation, L’Oreal, successfully navigating the postwar world until, at the end of his career, attention was suddenly focused on his anti-semitic salad days. The burning of Paris’s synagogues. Under the approving eye of the German occupiers.

- After the postwar excitement of the purges, the collaborators, the lovers of German soldiers with their shaved heads, the affair was buried under the non-gaze of the turned backs of the French establishment, generally.

- N.’s corpse is one of the facts in our universe of facts, we hold this truth to be self-evident. As for everything else about the scene, from January 1937 until now, self-evidence has not been the order of the day. The blurring began with the first newspaper reports, with their conflicting details (mostly small) and their heavy implications about who did this (a bigger and bigger argument), and none of this was really cleared up.

- There were witnesses: one, M. Theophile Levoeuf — sometimes misspelled Leveuf or Le Veuf. The ligature is often bobbled. Use your search spelling accordingly. Two, M. Mallet. A cantonnier. That is, a roadworker, streetsweeper, repairer of the trails in the park, general presence in the streets of this part of Autueil. He’d been operating on Rue Michel-Ange, he’d often swept the sidewalk in front of 28 Rue Michel-Ange, “a pavilion” that went for at least 24,000 francs in rent per annum (the corpulent corpse it appeared, lived well, on an income estimated at “300,000 francs” per year). Three, the people who fled when the cops arrived, which always happens. Four, the anonymous sources feeding info to the police, or to private investigation agencies, blackmailers, informants, whisperers, who play it back to interested parties and the press. A political assassination is what we have here, with the attendant confusions, both real and designed. Agendas out the ass.

- Mr Levoeuf, January 25, 1937, 10:20 a.m. The weather is — as all accounts agree — “glacial”. Mr. Levoeuf, an unemployed accountant, living at 25, Rue Le Marois (the addresses in this story are, oddly, of a specificity…) is making for the bus stop near the gate to the Bois de Boulogne park, the Porte de Prince, across from the Roland-Garos stadium. “The witness crossed paths with an elegant, corpulent man with a still young face, under a crown of white hair, dressed in a beige tweed jacket and gray flannel pants, accompanied by two dogs, a white fox terrier and an auburn haired spaniel.”

- The clock is ticking.

- M. Levoeuf moves forward. Somewhere on the street the roadworker, M. Mallet, is busying himself with his usual observations of the neighborhood. M. Mallet, we suspect, was the kind of man who had a drink with the cops now and then. Had a second source of income, perhaps. His tips, their tips. As we will learn from the papers in the days ahead, M. Mallet is no ordinary streetsweeper, but a man of parts in his own way. He spent time, in his youth, in a Russian speaking milieu. He prides himself on accents, and can tell proper French from sloppy French, a Slavic accent. What an appropriate streetsweeper for the Russian economist N.’s street!

- M. Levoeuf is now at an angle from the gate into the park. He can look over the barrier into the park. ‘The gate of the Princes, which gives access to the woods, faces the street of the same name. The place where the body fell is thirty meters to the left of the [walking] path, which is to say, seen from the gate, slightly to the left of the line going perpendicular to the gate. Levoeuf… was on the side not of the woods, but on the opposite side, near the busstop where he was waiting to attend to his “business”. The distance between these points is 150 meters.”

- Does M. Levoeuf have any idea that his face, with a black beret, his everygull’s face, is going to be on the front page of many of Paris’s papers tomorrow? He does not. Did his friends goof about it with him? Or did he have friends? We know little about the life of this unemployed accountant at the beginning of 1937. After the difficult year, 1936. Year that Leon Blum was elected, on the Left. The Popular Front. Year of the strikes, the reforms. The civil war breaks out in Spain. But M. Levoeuf is a minder of his own business, from the brief bit of his life that surfaces in the paper. So when he sees the man with the dogs and another man arguing, it doesn’t attract his attention. Maybe they are exercise partners. Not M. Levoeuf’s world, frankly. This is Autueil, where the residents have the big francs, and perhaps M. Levoeuf is even here this morning to dream a little about becoming, one day, a success and getting a villa or apartment here.

- As an unemployed bookkeeper, he is probably not on the side of the factory worker. Petit bourgeois, this guy. These distinctions count in 1937. The headlines in the great dailies are about Stalin’s show trials, with the fantastic confessions of the great group that once made the Russian revolution. One of the accused was a friend of the man in the park, L’Humanité -the Communist newspaper — thunders that they are traitors all. Le Jour, on the right, goes in for the irony of quotation marks: The accused Trotskyists of Moscow continue their “spontaneous confessions”. LeVoeuf is likely more interested in the Petit Parisien story about the soccer match Sunday at Roland-Garros: “The Austrians squarely beat France.” Being unemployed, though, does M. LeVoeuf even give the newsvender 30 centimes for a paper, or does he simply forage among the newspapers left behind on benches and bus seats?

- M. Levoeuf is taken out of whatever daydream he is nourishing by the sight of the conclusion to the dispute in the park. “The two men appear to be boxing!” “Suddenly one of them collapses”.

- One account of what happened at some point between 10:30 and 11: “The witness heard no cry, no shot. Two small dogs walk around the fallen man, barking furiously. M. Levoeuf hurries to where the pugilist lay. He found the corpulent man, comfortably clothed in a beige tweed sweater and flannel pants, with expensive moccasins, extended, face down. He leaned over, wanting to help the wounded victim. He turned him on his back. But he saw, with horror, that the blood was escaping in abundance from a gash in his left cheek. A red spot was growing larger and larger on the gray wool vest of the victim. M. Levoeuf saw instantly that the man was dead. He cried for help. A park guard came, stopped for a moment, stupefied, and said he knew the man.” (Le Journal, January 26, 1937).

- Or: perhaps: “In his clenched hand he [the victim] still held the two leashes of his dog. The two dogs were there, a spaniel and a fox terrier, at the foot of the master, two poor beasts who understood nothing of what had just happened, whose worried looks seem to await an order.” (le Petit Journal, Jan. 26, 1937)

- Or perhaps: “the dogs were howling” (Le Jour, Jan. 26, 1937). Or perhaps: M. Levoeuf had “a difficult time separating the dogs, a fox terrier and a German shepherd [sic], who vigorously defended the remains of their master as he approached.”(Petit Parisien, Jan. 26, 1937). Or perhaps, as Candide, a weekly, reported later, after Levoeuf turned the body over, and saw the man was dead, “at that moment a road mender was passing by with his cart. Levoeuf hailed him and asked him to remain by the body, while he himself, stopping a car, went to find a guard.” (Candide, Feb. 25, 1937).

See the rest here. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

False flags - the 2020 strategy of tension


I'm sorta interested in the false flagging, by rightwing groups, of leftwing groups. It has been a common thread in rightwing extremism since at least the 1930s, and flowered into the strategy of tension in Italy in the 1970s. The explosion that destroyed the Bologna railroad station and killed 85 people in 1980 was plotted by extreme righwing groups with the intent that the government and media would blame the left. There has been a long struggle in Italy to hold the neo-fascist perpetrators responsible. In the U.S., the strategy of tension has fallen into the hands of clueless militia members and the like. However, aided by high officials in the Trump administration and rightwing cops, this will eventually work some pissant masterpiece of a massacre here. Starting with the famous "umbrella man" who tried to provoke a looting riot during the protests in Minnesota this summer - who turned out to be connected to a white supremicist group, as was suspected by protesters at the time - to the Boogaloo bois who killed two cops in Oakland with the intent of throwing blame on the protesters to the man who firebombed a police station in Minnesota who, in contact with the Oakland killers, was trying to throw the blame on the BLM - a mini strategy of tension has been going on, favored by conservative media. The intersection between rightwing media and these groups is essential.

The strategy of tension rarely works to achieve the intended coup. In the 30s, the C.S.A.R., a right wing French group, tried to pull this off to overthrow the Popular Front government and failed. However, many of the members of this group got a fantasy chance to do their business once the Nazis occupied France. The people who supervised the blowing up of the synagogues of Paris were ex C.S.A.R. members. After the war, they were given light punishments, and went on to important places in French society - one of them, Mitterand's boyhood friend, Jacques Correze, eventually became the CEO of L'oreal, which was for a while your perfume company to meet all your anti-semitic needs - so heavily did their employee force depend on former collaborators.
That the Washington Times has printed that there were no antifa people among the Capitol incursion group is a real blow for the time being. But the lie that it was really antifa is being shaped right now, and will eventually come out of Donald Trump's mouth.

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 ...