Thursday, November 11, 2021

numerus clausus a poem by Karen Chamisso


Numerus clausus


A little extermination

is mixed into the formula.

In indifferent arms they lay


smudged by the dark angel

from whose connosieur’s fingers

they were untimely taken.


-         Untime being their time

in the ward, the asylum,

the camp, the out-of-the-way.


Its monopoly over the heart’s

promptu surges.

Henry Darger’s worlds


Charlotte Solomon’s worlds.

Feel the animal warmth

throat hunger, caried dribble


onlooker. In our larger crime

their scheduled prowling. In our time.

conservatism from the margins


Conservatism from the margins

Conservative parties have long dominated the political scene in the top OECD countries, and dominate policy choices even when so called “social democratic” or progressive parties are elected. That degree of domination has not, so far, been matched with an intellectual history of the movement that does not merely move from head to head: from, say, St. Thomas Aquinas to Edmund Burke. I  am too much the left-bot, the Marx reader, to think that this is satisfactory. I take the conservative claim to monopolize or articulate “common sense” as a clue to understanding how the conservative effect emerged in the modern world. I’d maintain that the effect has two sources: one, rooted in the establishment – the alliance of landowners and Capital  – adopted a  strategy well summed up by the Prince in The Leopard with the famous phrase, “everything must change so that everything stays the same”. But Burke, I think, is an emblem of another kind of conservatism:  a conservatism from the margins. This kind of relationship is drawn to the organic notion of the social, identifying the organic with a form of lifestyle that is in the crosshairs of liberalism. The  marginal conservatives derive from various nostalgic pictures of an original society: the Catholic population of Ireland, the Bretons  in the French revolution, the Austrians (among others) in the Austro-Hungarian empire, etc. Their effect is to produce a double vision of conservatism as not only the natural ideology of the ruling class, but also, paradoxically, as the victims of the liberal order. This victimhood is systematically undervalued, if seen at all, by the liberal order – by those who generally have succeeded in Capitalism’s circulation sphere, per Marx – the emblematic winners in the world of non-productive labor.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

University of Austin (the real one)


I suppose it is time to announce this: I, too, am starting a university I am calling University of Austin! A total alternative to "credentialled" liberal universities. Our curriculum consists of curated YouTube videos. We encourage students to take out those sweet sweet loans now! Our distinguished faculty will be such personages as Albert Einstein and Cicero and Robert E. Lee - all on Youtube of course, but we aree in negotiation to bring in character actors to portray them for you, our students - cost is no object! many of these fine actors will be found at blood banks, but we will provide them with employment - which is where some of that sweet sweet loan money will be going tol

In our classes, students will learn to oppose the horrors of political correctness, big government (get those loans now!), and entitled "minorities" - as opposed to the good ones! - who are even now brainwashing our youth. Also, evolutionary psychology will be taught (on many excellent Youtube videos, for instance by a man calling himself "avenging Bat") to show why women generally are bad at math and good in the sack! among other treasured items of our Western Heritage!
So apply now. Our tuition (10,000 per semester) is a bargain, and your education will be crowned, if all goes as planned, with a YouTube uploaded ceremony that you can design for yourself!
For those of you out therre - that brave band who have read their John Adams, their Cicero, their Jordan Peterson's Seven Habits of Highly Successful People - who want to support my venture in freedom, but are for some reason unable to attend classes, you can buy a t shirt: Proud to be Privileged - University of Austin (the real one) 2022 for the low low price of 45.99. That's right, 45.99. Along with the T-shirt you will also get an Associate's degree in Contrarianism suitable for framing!

Monday, November 08, 2021

The villainous empath


Wayne Booth’s book, The Rhetoric of Fiction, appeared in 1961 – a year of Cold War promise. It became one of the references for the exploration of fiction by a New Criticism that was organized to explicate poetry.

Booth used tools of both New Criticism and the traditional philology of sources – notebooks, letters – to explicate (a word tendered in the classroom to gently initiate the vaguely astonished, note-taking, crewheaded rows into the arcana of literature) the novel. Among the canon that passed through his hands was The Aspern Papers. I’ve been re-reading the Aspern Papers, thinking about its highly nasty narrator, and I’ve turned to the explicators for some discussion. Booth’s notion is that James set himself a rather impossible task – an irresolvable double-focused task: on the one hand, the goal of the Aspern Papers is to obtain material – letters especially – from a poet of the romantic period, a sort of American Shelley, from his now aged and dying lover, Juliana Bordereau – and on the other hand, in order to accomplish his task, he has to stoop to various deceits strongly reminiscent of a con-man.

“We have here, then, two neatly distinct subjects. There is a plot, the narrator’s unscrupulous quest for the papers and his ultimate frustration; it is a plot that requires an agent of a particular insensitive kind. There is secondly a “picture”, an air or an atmosphere, a past to be visited and record with all the poetic artistry at James’ command.”

To me, the comedy of Booth’s point comes in with that “insensitive”. There, in that word, we find summoned a whole ideology of the golden era of the University and the humanities: the notion that scoundrels are, by their nature, insensitive. And that comedy came to be exploited over and over again, starting with “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and ending with the novels of Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge, where the academic sensitives, those who memorize the verses, turn out to be quite as insensitive as Rotary businessmen, becomes a perpetual astonishment.  Booth’s notion here is that conmen, or those unscrupulous enough to manipulate people, through lies and pretences, in order to get what they want, could not possibly exude “pictures” of the high artistry of James, which entails a certain fatal counterfeiting in the confection of his story. To understand and express Venice with such language is the result of climbing Maslow’s ladder – or at least Matthew Arnold’s – where “all the best that is said and done” evidences the highest degree of sensitivity. In a latter phase of the litcrit business, this is labelled empathy and literature is worthy of study in as much as it promotes same. Myself, I think this underestimates entirely what entertainment is about. In a sense, Booth’s discomfort with “The Aspern Papers”  is with a mirror that reflects his own working procedure and self-fashioning as a critic. Though ‘science” has entered into the humanities (the epochē of the author’s life, the formalist attention to the text, etc.), still, “sensitivity”, that echo of an earlier era of connoisseur-ship, remains as the untransformable base. A base that should not be base in the moral sense. And here Booth is confronted, by one of the master texts, with a narrator proposing to use any “baseness” to get hold of Jeffrey Aspern’s private letters to his lover.

Surely, the discrepancy is the flaw in this particular Golden Bowl.

I rather like James’s transformation of the villain – although there is a sense where the villain, since at least Iago’s time, has been the better psychologist than the hero. The path of the villainous empath leads us through all kinds of matters, literary and extraliterary.


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...