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Showing posts from October 2, 2022

The death of the author, the life of the misprint

  (Cartoon from Punch) In the Summer Critical Quarterly, Chris Townsend has published an article that almost directly targets a person like myself – a person who loves to chase through old newspapers and current biographies and pop history books, looking for the errant factoid, the misspelled name, the comedian as, indeed, the added or subtracted letter, messing up names and causing vast comedies of misrecognition among the minor players of history. Forgive me for being obscure – I am writing a story, at the moment, about J., a woman whose head was supposedly shaved in the Liberation because she had collaborated with the Nazis. It is a story that is extremely minor, save for J.’s family relationship with Winston Churchill – a very stretched and tiny one – and her walkon role among the Anglo French glitterati of the thirties and forties. As I have plumbed what plums there are in her story, I find her

Voltaire and commercial society

  Voltaire’s history of the reign of Louis XV begins with a study of the system of John Law, seen from the point of view of the civilizing process – or at least the domesticating process. Voltaire is at pains to put Law’s bubble in the context of the “habit of obedience” ingrained in the French under the reign of Louis XIV, comparing the troubles that the latter Louis faced, in his regency, from an upstart aristocracy, with the mildness faced by the regent, the Duc D’Orleans, even in the exercise of truly autocratic power. Out of the disempowerment of the nobility brought about by autocracy of the Sun King, Voltaire spotted another power on the rise, which would maintain a social order by the somewhat paradoxical support of those whose political power was abridged by it.   This passage should be underlined by those looking for the genealogical ancestors of Marx’s sociology of capitalism: “Finally, Law’s famous system, which seemed that it must ruin the regency and the state, actually

The Third Wish

  A. says I am obsessed. She keeps catching me watching Hurricane Ian related videos on YouTube, or Twitter, or Tik Tok. The amazing footage of the waves rolling down the main street in Naples, or the water rising against the window of a house in Fort Myers. The from-the-air footage of drones, or planes, or helicopters. The waters receding, leaving that enormous ring around the shore of houses reduced to gunk. The piling up of everything one had on the sidewalk. I am obsessed. I understand the hurricane and tornado chasers. The longing and fear that come together in some apocalyptic act, which passes – as all apocalypses in America pass – with aftermaths of junk piled by the street. Our enduring symbol of … what? The pioneer spirit? William Carlos Williams missed an important moment in the American poetic when he passed over junk piled by the side of the street. The rent is way passed due, the billcollectors and the sheriff, in that enduring tandem, are wheeling away the moveables and

And here's our old friend, the reindeer

  I ’ve been reading one of Calasso’s last big books – The Celestial Hunter. As is often the case with Calasso, I am struck not just by the “shock of recognition”, but by the shock of deja-ecrit. The theme of this book – the dive into the period 20 thousand years ago when God saw that the world was good and the people in it saw that the world and the animals and the trees and the spirits were immensely bigger than they were – is more than congenial to me. It touches on an obsession of mine, which springs from having read books about the cave paintings and being fascinated by Chauvet (which I have “seen”, in as much as seeing it is going to a cave that is the simulacra of it). Long ago, in 2006, I wrote a review of a book by Greg Curtis, a man who edited Texas Monthly and then just suddenly decided to follow his spirit and write   a book about cave painting, I wrote, in part:   “Reading it, we were struck like by 100 000 volts that during the Upper Paleolithic – that wonderful time

The fascist franchise

  On September 11, 1936, two bombs exploded in Paris, one in front of the Conferation du patronat francais, the other in front of the building housing an association for metallurgy on 45 Rue des Boissieres. On December 12, 1969, a bomb exploed   in the Banca dell'Agricultura on Milan's Piazza Fontana that left seventeen dead and eighty-eight injured. On January 6, 2021, a mob stormed the Congress in Washington, trying to annul the results of the 2020 election in the United States. What unites these events is that they were all committed by far right groups, and the first two were committed, we know now, as part of a strategy to create a seemingly “leftwing” terrorism that would justify a coup d’etat. In the case of the Trumpists, there was a considerable campaign, after the attack on the capital was made, to blame the so-called anti-fa. It is interesting to consider the success, or at least partial success, of   this false flag strategy. In Italy, the blaming of right w