Friday, May 27, 2022

to make the stone stony


“The lizards told me that there was a legend among the stones that God wanted once to become a stone, in order to save them from their rigidity. An old lizard opined, however, that this stony incarnation would only happen after God had incarnated himself in all the species of animals and plants and redeemed them. Only a few stones have feelings, and they only breathe out in moonlight. But these few stones who have a feeling for their circumstances are horribly miserable. The trees are much better, they can cry. The animals, though, are the best of all, because they can speak, each after its own kind, and human beings are the best at it. Once when the whole world is saved, all other created things will be able to speak, as in the primitive times that the poets sing.”

Heinrich Heine’s legend of the stones, as recounted by the lizards, comes in his travel book about the city of Lucca in Italy. It rather violates the convention of those travel books that concentrate on the sights, as evidently it begins with the lizards of the Apennines. I wonder if this legend of the stones was on Skhlovsky’s mind when, in Art as Technique, he famously wrote: “Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.”

Skhlovsky’s sentence, if it obliquely refers to Heine’s text, would not be the first time that Art was the substitute of God. This has proven to be one of the enduring themes in the era of art outside the system of patronage – the system that broke down in the eighteenth century, under the coming of steam driven printing presses that allowed for the mass circulation of newspapers, which changed the whole consciousness of the literate class.

I am very fond of Heine. I find it important – an intersignes – that as Baudelaire was crumbling in his latter, syphilis wracked years, he wrote a scathing article about an attack made by a French journalist, Jules Janin, on Heine’s poetry. Baudelaire still had a fine sense of who was illuminated and who was in darkness as far as art went. I don’t know if Baudelaire was aware of Heine’s Lucca book. But I do think he would have recognized the style of Heine’s thought, flickering rather like a lizard’s tongue flickers, out and in, testing the air. Heine was also of course Marx’s friend, and they both liked the fine ironic style of the 1820s and 30s, which combined Hegel and the extravagances of the Grimm’s tales.

I’m feeling a little tree-like myself lately. Even stony. On this day after the ascension.




Thursday, May 26, 2022

Power to the powerless?

 I read something by Sherrilyn Ifill - who I respect -in which she emphasizes that those who say we can do nothing are wrong, and that we have the power to mobilize. Meaning, to vote.

I respect the idea, but I want to ask about that power. I want to ask: what power? I think we had that power after Red Lake, we had that power after Sandy Hook, we had that power after Newtown, we had that power after Virginia Tech... so why was the power massively unused? These statements about "our" power become, after a while, disincentives, if all that supposed "power" ends up in the hands of representatives of our will who really do nothing, except ask every election year for donations and votes. The power that Dr. King had, which had to be exercized for a decade, was not in votes, but in civil disobedience and organizing to defy the powers that be. We have definitely lost that - what, after all, would happen to our credit rating? We are powerlessly powerful. The most powerful are so isolated from the rest of us that they view "doing something" as a sort of charity case, breadcrumbs for the peasants. Power doesn't come out of saying that we have power. It comes, perhaps, when we recognize our powerlessness and question the conditions that have caused it.

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...