Saturday, January 29, 2022

post-dogma

 


Commentaire, the French magazine (a thick journal, to use the Russian phrase), was founded on the idea that communism in France, and more generally Marxism, required gravediggers. The last phrase of the Cold War was, intellectually, a mop up operation, destroying the utopias of the postwar years in the “West” – as the loose coalition of nation states, from Germany to Australia, were called by the Cold Warriors. The name and concept was wrested out of a conservative historiography that had left its sad mark in Germany. The “West” of course called for an “East” – and in due time a South and a North.

I’ve been reading its back pages, and came upon Jacques Revel’s introduction to a rather obscure French philosophe of the early 19th century, Theodor Jouffroy (1796-1842), whose essay, How Dogmas Finish, had a little cult following of rather disparate figures since it was published in The Globe on May 24, 1825:  Sainte-Breuve, Louis Aragon, and a communist clique that included Andre Thirion.  Jouffroy’s essay is an attempt, after the restauration, to sort out the good and the bad from the French revolution and, in general, the modernisation of the 18th century. It is a project that attracted the great Liberals of the 19th century, with Jouffroy’s essay striking notes that one hears, as well, in John Stuart Mill’s much more famous essay on Coleridge. For Revel, of course, the “dogma” in Jouffroy’s title – an obvious reference to the Church – was applicable to communism in the 20th century. As Communism, according to the Cold War liberals, was the heir of the negative side of the French revolution, one wanted a history to show how it went so wildly bad – how it became the God that failed. The mopping up operation in the 1980s, when the failure of communism, embodied in the Soviet Union, was pretty much a given on all sides, required some larger historiographic framework. Of course, the framework at hand, totalitarianism versus authoritarianism (the latter justifying putting Pinochet’s Chile, the junta’s Argentina, the death squads of El Salvador and the dictatorship in South Korea and Taiwan in the “Free world” camp), was being given a good workout by the Americans. Yet it did not accord enough energy to classical liberalism.

Theodore Jouffroy is recognizably a contemporary of Stendhal – his French has that malleable structure, like, famously, Napoleon’s letters to the troops. The thesis Jouffroy pursues is about the “post-truth” era of a systematic belief system begins the process of the system’s loss of power – its hold on the masses. This elevates the intellectual to a high place, one in which the discovery of truth, for instance, about the facts of the Christian religion, leads from desire for truth itself to a strategic power position in a society whose rulers want those facts obscured.

“… if the beliefs by which power lives and reigns are destroyed, power will fall with them, and with power those who held it; the power will pass to new doctrines; it will be exercised by their partisans; in a word, the revolution of ideas will bring in its train a complete revolution in interests; everything that is will find itself threatened by everything that will be.”

Jouffroy accords a strong place, in his schema, to ridicule and mockery. Here I think his essay still has a certain pertinence. In the era of media penetration of all spheres of private life, mockery and ridicule have a political potency that has not been properly theorized. John Stuart Mill was too English to go here. In French culture, however, ridicule has a strong place in the mix of reasons to hold a belief. To welcome ridicule is the move of either a saint or a fool. Ridicule arisesas a consequence of the subtle detachment of passion from belief. To belief passionately becomes ridiculous. This is the trap set by the philosophe for the devout. It is a dangerous trap, however, since it can catch the philosophe as well – after all, why be so passionate about the truth as to set about discovering it? “Thus the people despair of the truth. They only see tricksters around them. They become defiant towards all, and think that in this world the unique business is to be as little miserable as possible; and that it is crazy to lend an ear to the beautiful discourse and big words of the truth, of justice, of human dignity; that religion and morality are only means to catch them and to make them serve projects that hardly touch them. They become skeptical about everything, save their own interest; and passing from indifference for every dogma and for every party, that value as best only that which costs them least.”

The social costs of enlightenment – a theme that we are riding down in our own era of dying dogmas.

Jouffroy's essay was translated in the 1840s by George Ripley. His Ethics was translated by Emerson's friend, William Channing. I'm sure that Emerson comments in his Journals about Jouffroy somewhere. 

 

 

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Clock Repairman's gesture

 
In his essay, A kaddish for Austria: On Joseph Roth, W.G. Sebald zeroes in on a bit of personal trivia (one of those bits that operate as signatures of some nameless process) that he gets from Roth’s biographer:

“Bronsen reported that Roth collected clocks randomly; and that fooling with clocks in his final years grew into a mania. What fascinated Roth with clocks was condensed into his last piece of published prose in the first weekend of April, 1939  in the Pariser Tageszeitung.
The essay – one of those feuilleton of which Roth was one of the great masters – was entitled “At the clock repairs shop.” Sebald takes the piece as revelatory of something essential in Roth’s conception of the artist – or storyteller:

„Thus he sat, like the clock repairman, with a magnifying glass stuck in place before his eye, and looed into the broken wonderwork of wheels and gears, “as if he gazed through a blackframed hole into a distant past”. The clock repairman’s hope, like that of the writer, ist that by a small turn of the wrist [durch einen winzigen Eingriff] he can bring everything back to the beginning to restart it all in its correctly intended order.”

That’s a powerfully nostalgic and hopelessly anachronistic image of the power of the writer. Especially given the historical circumstances in Paris at the time, the Paris in which Roth was drinking himself to death, sensing the mass death to come. Our own sense of the mass death to come has now been sucked into the mass media and banalized as a zombie apocalypse, which is also, in its way, something Roth foresaw – or rather saw about his own time. In an essay that Michael Hoffman has not, I believe, englished, “Self-critique”, from 1929, Roth described his realism as the realism of the irrealism of his time – a time in which the self has hollowed itself out. The artistic response to this, Roth wrote, was to bring the reader face to face with that most difficult of all things to represent: boredom. The essay begins on a typically hard to measure sentence: “It is in some ways painful to deal with an extraordinarily good writer, such as myself, without severity and blame.” Roth goes on to say that his book, Right and Left, has hardly any beginning, really no end, has no characters and no psychology. It is not that he feels that there are no books with beginnings, ends, characters and psychology – the 19th century epic novel up to Proust has them – but Roth believes that this is no longer possible in the world in which he and the reader exist. The substance of the reader’s grandparents is of a different type from the substance-lessness of his contemporaries.

„But I have attempted – on the contrary – to produce in my reader a certain feeling of boredom, which is a necessary consequence of linguistic precision and the effort to portray the hollowness of the present not convexly, not to present the insubstantability of our contemporaries as “tragic” or “daemonic” but instead to precisely mirror the hopelessness of this world.”

One could say that Roth is enjoying a little too much his stay at the Hotel Grand Abyss. He was a man who knew Europe’s hotels, eventually making his circuit of the sleaziest among them. Still, there is something in the connection between boredom and Roth’s sense of the impending pogram. Perhaps the boredom is the necessary preface. It is a boredom that emerges from the planned system of excitement, which had its model, in the twenties, in the hypermodernity of Berlin. And which is now our wonderful world.

Or so says one mood. Another mood is: fuck that. Expropriate that boredom. Use it against the military-industrial perpetual entertainment complex. Stand up.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Deep (trance) state

My latest cold war story. The whole thing is at Medium, here. I fear this story might be too long and too disconnected to all but CIA mooks. But I had to write it as it jazzed outta me. I'm a victim of my muse.


 - You begin by drawing circles around names. You draw lines connecting these circles. You make the lines into arrows. In this way, you build up a profile, a diagram, a secret history. Everyone is interested in a secret history. Secret, put it in the subtitle, market the fuck out of it. That history is like the aether in physics, it fills up the space of history, it mediates between events, mysteries, cases, disappearances, suicides, cries in the asylums, the low watt shadows in solitary. You sit in Langley, to which you have moved from the old hq in D.C., and you are James Angleton, piecing together the great conspiracies over time and place, putting your finger on Nosenko, the false defector, the one you have always expected. Or you are Mark Lane, in a London Hotel, feeling the heat coming in from Swingin’ London, becoming a celebrity yourself just like Paul McCarthy, who had actually called you up on the phone, half satisfied/half afraid that you were finally sticking it to the man on a big scale, leafing through eyewitness testimonies and notes gathered from the Citizens Committee of Inquiry. You are overlaying discrepancy on discrepancy, feeling that the Warren Commission’s tropism towards a predetermined conclusion is itself a clue. “I’m just a patsy,” Oswald tells the reporters. A slogan for our time. The conspiracy theorists out in the street, among the hippies, paranoids in the Movement and beyond, were in a parallel universe to those others in offices at 2430 E Street Northwest, the great Manichean fifties, where everything was an association, an informants tip, a hint at the greater picture of Communist conspiracy. The officers looking at the “brainwashing” of American troops in Korea, or Cardinal Mindszenty in Budapest. The ones collecting files from Wehrmacht Intelligence, 1941–1945. Hiring experts in interrogation, behavioural control. The ones who did the experiments at Dachau. The ones who developed toxins at Auschwitz. The scientists from Unit 731 in Manchuria. Bring them to America, set up labs, tap their knowledge. It was war.

- Everything after World War II was a war. The war on cancer. The war on poverty. The war on communism. The war of circles and connecting arrows.

- “On the subject of being noticed, there is an inverse point that should be noted. At times tricksters have reason to credit, or accuse, some imaginary person with what has been done. A natural mistake is to describe someone of a form, and of actions, which are unusual and striking. It usually is easy to ascertain that no such person has been in the vicinity. The proper description will be of a person average in size and coloring and normal in features, but — and this is a very essential point-having some minor oddity such as the first joint missing of the little finger of the left hand, or a large mole close behind his right ear.”

Goodbye Mr. Thornhill, whoever you are.” — North by Northwest.

2.

- “It wasn’t felt necessary really to go into a lot of detail as to exactly how they were handling the subjects. In general, patients would be of low interest.”

- The man I am after: M.A. and his “derogatory associations”. The face, the voice, the experience, the traveller and desk hound under so many redacted documents. I go into the documents I can find, the ones online, the ones released. I go into the books, in which the stories grow stale, the referent tugs free from the reference, haunts the dreams of the abused. His hasty entrances and puzzling exits, his presence at the fringe of recovered memory. I go to the State Department directory for 1945 to get my bearings.

- M.A. — “b. Washington, D.C., Mar. 6, 1910; Central High Sch. Grad.: Devitt Prep Sch. Grad.: George Washington U., 1927–1940; with U.S. Govt., 1929–1938; investigator, Civil Ser. Commn., 1938–43; U.S. Navy, 1943–46, lt., overseas service; app. Asst. security officer, CAF-12, in the Dept. of State Mar. 12, 1946; married. — CON.” Slots light up on the board. This guy.

- He emerges into the light in small ways, in out of the way places, but his life, his profile, is sketchy at best. GWU — 1927–1940? Really? How is he with the U.S. Govt. all of this time as well? I have the GWU yearbooks, 1934–1938. I search, I find his picture in the Hatchet. Did he know Bob Bannerman, also at GWU in those years? Bob, his boss at State, his boss at the CIA. Bob, though, wasn’t a presence. He was never chaplain of his frat. He doesn’t seem to have had a frat. Went to night classes there.

- The photographs that exist in the old D.C. papers — they are of the “juvenile dancer”, the prodigy from the Hoffman and Hoskins Dancing school. Specialty: the cymbal dance. Dressed up as a young Russian — or Cossack.

- D.C. is a small town. Among those donating money to the Hoffman and Hoskins Dancing school: Mrs. Allen Macy Dulles, mother of Allen Dulles. M.A. enters into the Dulles circle early.

3.

- What did the Agency psychologists make of the childhood? A dancer, this kid. And the sexual connotations thereof. Not your refined Ivy League type, not your beefy FBI type, but of a kind generally unmentioned in the literature — the D.C. type, the GWU type, the type whose father or uncle or mother is in government service. It is as natural to a D.C. kid as coal mining is to a kid in Marshall County West Virginia. But behold, such zigzag routes!

- His dad, Emmet his Mom Una calls him, his dad gets his law degree in Iowa, where he no doubt met Una. He does some post-grad work in Michigan. He gets the call to go to Washington D.C., where he gets a position at Treasury. Or is it Labor? The couple get a house, Emmet calls it their “villa”, out on the Northeast edge of the District. Where the streetcar tracks, newly laid down, promise to solve the problem of getting downtown. Una has her Daughters of the American Revolution projects, her church projects. Emmet makes small investments on the side.

- In 1952, M.A. has moved from the sketchy Project Bluebird (was it all about torturing informers, double agents, communists for what info load they could lay down?) to Project Artichoke. What was Artichoke? Department heads were asking. Some wanted a piece of the pie, some were disturbed by what they heard from their people in the field. A Doctor, no less, was sent in by Technical Services — Ray Treichler’s domain — to assess Artichoke. The assessment that came back was scathing. “[redacted], the present team chief, is an investigator of twenty years experience with Civil Service. He has been thoroughly trained in the use and limitation of the polygraph, received four days of instruction from a professional non-M.D. hypnotist in New York City, and has read extensively in the overt material on hypnosis. He has had no scientific background other than that that dealt directly with his work in criminology. He has had extensive contact with the communists in this country and knows their methods. It is not known whether he has a college degree.

“He is not an unusually intelligent man but has a vivid imagination that would be most valuable in the pursuit of this project. He has on several occasions created antagonism in his co-workers because of tactless management. He tends to be cautious and cons3ervative. His long government service has soundly grounded him in the ramifications of intra-Agency politics.” I read this assessment with a pang for M.A. “It is not known whether he has a college degree.” The old farts, retired, often complained of the kind of Ivy League snobbery they bore the brunt of. An image of the multi-lingual, dashing espionage agent, for public consumption. M.A. is not even dashing — cautious and conservative. A Joe Friday. A Dragnet cop.

“He has apparently become a rather able hypnotist, but is hampered in his efforts by his lack of confidence which it is felt stems from his scientific void.”

“It is suggested that the Medical Office with the support of I&SO recommend [sic] that a high-level control of the project be set-up, to consist of civilians with no service affiliation, who are scientifically well-qualified, and who would be full time, to coordinate, evaluate and direct the ARTICHOKE PROJECT.”

- His star routine as an Indian dancer, performed in the Hoffman-Hoskins Kiddies Revue in Washington D.C. at the age of 13. Performed in New York City, where he won a prize for his age class. At that time, Gertrude Hoffmann herself called him “one of the most clever juvenile dancers in America.” But our childhood is an elaborate cut-out, no? It passes, interest wanes, a few pictures (b & w) are put in the album, which falls from the hands of M.A.’s mother, Una, sitting in her cane chair on 131 R street in 1934, dying. “I don’t feel well, Emmet”, she says. But Emmet is always out. He’s got his fingers, or his clumsy hands, in pies. Developing land in the suburbs. Retired from the stats department under Hoover. Her boy at the time was dating that girl named Dotty, whose family seemed nice — but could they trace their heritage back to one of Iowa’s premier pioneers? Back to the Revolution? A DAR girl. Marry a DAR girl, Emmet would say to their son, at the dinner table, big jovial wink. Una dies, and M.A. marries, a year later, in Baltimore.

  • Dot: her childhood house on T. Street. Did she meet M.A. when he was fourteen, struggling with pimples and sexual urges, at the streetcar stop, the Eckington Station. Getting off at 13th street, still a little afraid entering the world of Central High. Or was it later?

Monday, January 24, 2022

The prisoner of cool

 

 


I’ve always believed that you will only see a culture in its totality, see it thoroughly, sees its wonders and damage, when you go through the cracks.

 

I don’t know where this belief comes from. Perhaps it is a vestige of the New Testament I was taught in Sunday School. It severely underestimates the effects of going through the cracks – this I know from experience. Most often, instead of trying to understand the culture you spend that experience counting your pennies and looking for cheap intoxicants, Going through the cracks is terrifying, and terror is not conducive to collecting the forces of your spirit and understanding the mechanics of the great wheel of fortune that is crushing your bones. Splinter and crack, splinter and crack.

 

Nevertheless, the theory is not wholly flawed. A culture’s vision of itself is manufactured by those paid to manufacture such visions – follow the money and you will soon find that the mass of our images and understandings attach to the advertisement for reality these people manufacture, often in all sincerity. This is the vision from the gated community, from the Eloi and their children. It has long been stuffed down my throat good and proper.  I’m no longer the Morlock I once was, but I know I am made, essentially, of mud, and am not going to rise much higher. The Eloi will forever be out of my grasp.

 

Politically, we are supposed to believe that these issues can be understood by a simple dualism between left and right. I lost that illusion in the 00s, at least. To understand the culture when you are going through the cracks, your best guide is to follow your instinct and think of the culture as a many-splendored thing, for which you have to make up categories in your own home or hole.

 

What struck me in the Bush era wass how, instead of a left opposition, in America, you have an opposition that is the prisoner of cool. Cool has taken the place of ‘respectability’ as the ‘moral civilization’ in which all move in lockstep, even those who have some contempt for the images projected by the Eloi.

 

It is a long, strange trip for cool. At one point, in the fifties, cool came in a binary: its opposite was square. Square, now, is one of those words that can only be quoted, never said straight. It is all too reference laden with a certain ersatz Hollywood swinging culture – a culture that seems more improbable than the culture of Edwardian England or the fictional Mad Max cultures of the apocalypse.

 

Square, of course, stood in for the respectable back in the early era of cool – which would make cool its negation. And it is in this vein that the change from respectability was actually interpreted. Robert Erwin, in a 1983 essay, What Happened to Respectability, assessed the changes of the 60s and 70s in terms of a wholesale decline in the forms of the culture that used to add up to respectability, and the triumph of the informal – a dialectic that he captures by contrasting Nixon and Saturday Night Live. Incredibly enough, in 1983 Erwin could plausibly present the rather pallid vaudeville of Saturday Night Live as a sort of revolutionary symbol of a change in mass behavior.

 

|”The degree to which the ideal [of respectability] was internalized also indicates its strength. Richard Nixon seems classic as well as villainous when he wears a suit, pressed and buttoned, to board a private airplane. Elliott Gould seems only show-biz carbonated when, smiling sweetly and wearing a ratty football jersey, he tells a national television audience that he is glad to host “Saturday Night Live” because the progam, in his words, “has balls.” You cannot imagine, Class of 1975, what a fright, embarrassment and hostility Gould’s breaking of a taboo would have triggered in the heyday of respectability. Millions upon millions of ‘dent’ people in 1860 or 1960 went from one year to the next rarely speaking, hearing or reading such words in the open.”

 

Erwin, I think, mistakes a shifting of exterior symbols for a change in substance. What he was watching, I think, was the absorption of cool into a new domain of servitude – the servitude inherent in the service economy – rather than a true Bastille moment. Gould’s audience, perhaps, could not imagine a figure like Father Coughlin, in the 30s, casually talking down Jews on national radio time, or the kind of dialect humor that was omnipresent in the Gilded Age and right up to the 1950s. This is not to say that the shifting of terms was insignificant – it is merely to say that in the shift from formal to informal, from an ideal of respectability to an ideal of cool, the contradiction traversed was shallow.

 

2.

The January 1, 1951 of Commentary carried an article by Anatole Broyard entitled KEEP COOL, MAN: The Negro Rejection of Jazz. In the corner of the article, there was a little bio of Broyard:  “Anatole Broyard, anatomist of the Negro personality in a white world, here lays open the deeper meaning of the injuction to “be cool, man” now current in Harlem music-making.” The ambiguity of being the anatomist of the Negro personality in a white world trailed Broyard around throughout his life.  He was a pale skinned man, apparently, and though he did not call himself white, there was a rumor that he ‘passed’ as white. Race, that chopping block in American culture! Broyard was, it is said, the figure that Phillip Roth referenced with his character Coleman Silk in The Human Stain. Roth himself denied it, in a strange “letter” to Wikipedia, where this rumor was referred to as fact.

 

Whether Broyard presented himself as black – whatever that means – or had some responsibility to do so is wrapped up in the white supremacist subtext of the American dream: one that it is difficult to drain out of that dream without popping it entirely. However it is certain that he wrote a lot about black culture for magazines like Commentary, who accepted him as a “guide” – setting up one of those informant-explorer relationships that always come to a bad end, unless you have the genius to understand how to make the joke and slip the yoke, like Ralph Ellison.

 

Broyard’s essay is notable for appearing about the time that the notion of “cool” was slipping into the vocabulary of a certain white subculture, after circulating in a black sub-culture. For Broyard, the concept marks a certain loss of innocence. Broyard’s essay supposes, again and again, an equation between negro and primitive – meaning, positively, an innocent autonomy, and meaning, negatively, a certain essentialist imprisonment in which “civilization” is seen as the corruption of this innocence. The boundary at which innocence trucks with corruption is music – particularly jazz.

 

“In this period, Negro popular culture began to incorporate into its body proper certain elements of white society, drawn for the most part from the less favored ethnic and economic groups… Their incorporation as spectator, participant and devotee served to further split the consciousness of Negro popular culture. The Negro became increasingly aware of his role as creator and performer. He himself however  was still the subject matter of his performance. His music – in lyrics and feeling – remained autobiographical and continued to express his reactions to his situation.”

 

The fifties was the heyday of the Hegelian notion of the master-slave relationship – you can call it the Partisan Review effect, or at least I will call it that, ho ho. It turns up all over as the master trope to understand American society, and particularly, for obvious reasons, America’s system of apartheid. This is the context in which music and civil rights and oppressions background the formation of an existential attitude. That attitude takes the term “cool” as its own master-trope. Jazz, in Broyard’s view, is terminally anchored to “hotness”, which in turn has become, after the moment of spectatorship by a curious white sub-class – one that is marked as deviant by its very interest in black culture – a property lost, an innocence that could no longer be sustained. In the moment of that gaze, hotness turns to jive.

 

There is a lot of futurity in Broyard’s essay, themes that continue – through Mailer’s The White Negro – into the sixties and into the Black Power movement itself. My view is that the imprisoning idea of “cool” comes out of this image of an innocence that is corrupted in the moment of its consumption, which is less history than a nostalgic substitute for history. Here's Broyard pursuing his thesis: “Bebop, which began in the mid-40s, was the expression of the Negro’s search for new material in this period. It was the improvised interpretation of experience of the Negro musician as immigrant in white society. Because he was a foreigner, it was a kind of gibberish.”

 

The idea that he was a “foreigner” is a product less of the real economic and social situation of apartheid – for this foreigner was, actually, a laborer and consumer in the system, and had made the system work from the very beginning not as an immigrant but as a kidnapped hostage – than  of the magic of the image of the master-slave relationship, which seemed to explain so much about racism while relying on highly abstracted essential types that could not explain the reality of a person like, say, Anatole Broyard.

 

3.

So much for cool’s background. The problem with the history of concepts is the same problem that the cowboy faces on the plain – how to move the doggies forward. In other words, how did cool transform from an existential attitude into an imprisoning trivialization of affect? Which is, you might say, sharp eyed reader, a transformation of Broyard’s myth – the fall from innocence leading us to the corruption of the present. The story surely has to do with the attractiveness of “cool” in a postwar consumer society, in which “like” and “dislike”, those responses to the handcrafted, are elevated quantitatively to responses to the mass produced. The time to like, that is, the education of the sensibility that creates a patterned liking and disliking that signifies something about character, becomes something hard to resource. Where is one going to get this time, and how is one going to afford that education? Out of this dilemma, I think, comes the solution imposed by the ”cool”. Imported from the “stranger”, the black entertainer/artist, it goes out there as a short-cut to the sentimental education that is overwhelmed by consumer culture. Which Broyard lays out in racial terms that are pretty marvelously put. I’ll finish with this paragraph about “cool music”, or jazz beyond the swing era, and its tragic flaw:

 

“The circular quality of cool music is unmistakable. The orchestrations and the solos turn back on themselves as a result of the “cool” musician’s lack of interest in the autobiographical continuities which served as program, mood or configurations of jazz, jump or wing. The circle is the most self-contained form in nature, and thus, in cool music, nothing obtrudes, the effect is zero. The supporters of this music might argue that all music- i.e. “classical” “serious, nonfolk music – is tautological or equal only to itself, but their own habit of interpreting cool music and describing the musicians’ attitudes in psychological terms would contradict this. In other words, this zero is attitudinal, not an aesthetic effect. It is the cool man’s answer to the difficult algebraic problems of the marginal man’s place in society.”

 

The algebraic problems! The problem, I guess, of the variable that represents a number which itself varies according to the formula that gives the variable its value. Now that is something for the marginal man to ponder. Un-coolly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

a poem by Weldon Kees

 A poem by Weldon Kees, which is pertinent to our present situation, with all the warmalarky being drummed out by the media vis a vis Russia, China, etc. When of course we should be stripping the Pentagon of the vast majority of its funding and using that funding to solve the problem of climate change, no less. The Aztecs used to keep up their social order by staging battles, the Spanish reported. These "flower wars" were arranged so that the proper blood sacrifices would bring fertility to the earth. Georges Bataille was fascinated by this ethnological tidbit.

"The priests killed their victims on top of the pyramids. They would stretch them over a stone altar and strike them in the chest with an obsidian knife. They would tear out the stillbeating heart and raise it thus to the sun. Most of the victims were prisoners of war, which justified the idea of wars as necessary to the life of the sun: Wars meant consumption, not conquest, and the Mexicans thought that if they ceased the sun would cease to give light."


Bataille's account is usefully contrasted with this New York Timesaccount of the drone assassination system. The article focuses on a drone strike in West Mosul, which entailed a meeting of officials to sign off on:

"They had also concluded that there was no civilian presence within the target compound. Though the surveillance video had captured 10 children playing near the target structure, the military officials who reviewed this footage determined the children would not be harmed by a nighttime strike because they did not live there: They were classified as “transient,” merely passing through during daylight hours."

After which, behold, the drone came: 

"Across town, Ali Younes Muhammad Sultan, Sawsan’s father, heard the news from his brother. Everyone at the dinner had been killed: Zeidan and his wife, Nofa; Araj, Ghazala and their four children; Zeidan’s adult son Hussein, Hussein’s wife and their six children; Zeidan’s adult son Hassan, Hassan’s wife and their two children; and Sawsan, their own beloved daughter. Sultan and his wife went to the hospital where Sawsan’s remains were taken.

“If it weren’t for her clothes, I wouldn’t have even known it was her,” he later told me. “She was just pieces of meat. I recognized her only because she was wearing the purple dress that I bought for her a few days before. It’s indescribable. I can’t put it into words. My wife — she didn’t even know whether to go to her daughter, or the rest of the family first. It is just too hard to describe. We’re still in denial and disbelief. To this day, we cannot believe what happened. That day changed everything for us.”

America (United States of) has refined the flower wars for its own purposes, which are well known among the population. The more money pumped into the military, the more profit made by those associated with the military. So now we have, according to the NYT account, drone wars in which we kill 4000 peeps a year, about, mostly darker colored, Islamic people, and we are all happy about it. We should be less happy about it.

YEAR'S END
The state cracked where they left your breath
No longer instrument. Along the shore
The sand ripped up, and the newer blood
Streaked like a vein to every monument.
The empty smoke that drifted near the guns
Where the stiff motor pounded in the mud
Had the smell of a hundred burned-out suns.
The ceiling of your sky went dark.
year ago today they cracked your bones.
So rot in a closet in the ground
For the bad trumpets and the capitol's
Long seasonable grief. Rot for its guests,
Alive, that step away from death. Yet you,
A year cold, come more living to this room
Than these intruders, vertical and warm.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...