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Showing posts from April 17, 2022

The city encyclopedia

   If it were possible to print every said in Paris about current affairs in the course of a single day, one would have to concede that it would make a very strange collection. What a pile of contradictions! The very idea is grotesque!  – Sebastian Mercier. The modern idea sometimes leans out at you from an old volume when you least expect it. This becomes a specialty of the modernist writer – Borges, for instance. I was leafing through the Tableau de Paris, Sebastian Mercier’s masterpiece of urban psychogeography, written in the 1780s and 90s, and I came upon this phrase, and I immediately thought of Ulysses , of Flaubert’s Bovard et Pecuchet , of Benjamin’s arcades.   Modernism is inseparable from modernization, and modernization is inseparable from the city. The city as laboratory and assembly line, the city as a hive of opinion and of the various media cultures – image, paper, entertainment and spectacle, etc. This is what James Scott calls the “Great Tradition” – in contrast wit

I don't like Mondays

  In 1969, Combat – a journal of the left – featured a commentary on the upcoming contest between Georges Pompidou. Alain Poher of the Democratic Center, and Jacques Duclos of the French Communist Party. Combat was unenthusiastic about all three candidates. In the event, Duclos took the greatest score ever achieved by a PCF candidate – 21 percent of the vote. And of course Pompidou won over Poher. Combat, though, was against abstention, which was a choice discussed on the left. The commentary, by Jean Rous, extensively quotes Lenin, who wrote about the two views that must be taken by a communist in relation to elections in bourgeois republics. On the abstract level, Lenin wrote, the differences between two candidates such as Lloyd George and Winston Churchill in England are “denuded of all meaning” and derisory. But from the practical aspect, the view of the masses, these differences are of extreme importance. Thus, Lenin concluded, one should not abstain or boycott the vote unless all

On leveling the playing field, a metaphor in economics

"Only through the forgetting of this primitive metaphor-world, only through the hardening and rigidifying of the primitive capacities of human fantasy that flowed out originally in a hot stream of images, only through the unbeatable belief, this sun, this window, this table is a truth in itself, in brief only through the fact that man forgets himself as a subject and really as an artfully creative subject, does he live with some rest, certainty and consequence. If he for one moment could escape out of the prison walls of this belief, immediately his self consciousness would be over and done with. Already it costs him some effort to admit to himself that the insect or the bird perceives a whole other world than humans, and that the question, which of both world perceptions is more correct is a completely senseless one, since here we have to measure with the standard of the correct perception, that is, a standard that is not at hand.” – Nietzsche. The metaphor-world of economics is

The ultra right and the politics of gesture

  Walter Benjamin begins his 1931 essay on German fascism with a quote from one of his favorite reactionary writers : “ Léon Daudet, the son of Alphonse Daudet and himself an important writer, as well as a leader of France’s Royalist party, once gave a report in his Action Française on the Salon d’Automobile – a report that concluded, in perhaps somewhat different words, with the equation: L’automobile, c’est la guerre.” I’ve looked around for Daudet’s article. I haven’t found it. However, I understand why Benjamin, a collector of lines – of those moments in which thought seems to be utterly transformed into its primal element shock, as though an oracle had spoken – remembered Daudet’s report. It casts a prescient light over the system of which the automobile was as impressive a product as, say, some fossil by which a palaeontologist maps, in shorthand, a geological epoch. The creature that left that fossil was at the convergence of conditions both sheerly geological and evolutiona

Rhythm under oath: Python, the sage and the poet

  I’ve always liked Alain, the French philosopher who published a chronicle of mini-essays, the Propos, ipn a Normandy journal. Apparently, as the publication of his diary showed, he was an anti-semite – which is surprising in as much as this was never part of his public record. Anti-semitism is the pornographic mag stash of the old French daddy intellectuals, alas. You discover it in their letters and journals, where they wank away at the subject.   Still, his chronicles are full of apercu that I rather like. For instance, the distinctions he makes between the Pythie, or prophet, the sage, and the poet.   The Pythie is a liminal figure, a beast-human, who says everything in the order of the instant – everything that comes through its head” “… she forms a perfect receptor, expressing every instant, and far beyond our thing wisdom which always distinguishes and chooses. By a view of the same kind that we see in animals, and principally in birds, evidently carried here and there by