Skip to main content


Showing posts from December 18, 2022

Gerard Macé

  Gerard Mac é , as far as I can tell, is an unknown in the Anglophone world. He is, on the other hand, revered in French literary circles. In France, there is a certain line of poetics that goes from the French moraliste tradition through prose poetry into an expanded field of the aphorism – the aphorism as insight and lyric – which doesn’t quite have an equivalent in the Anglosphere. Thus, a poet like Georges Perros, whose   series Papiers coll é es is one of the important twentieth century texts, was not translated, and then in a selection,   into English until 2021 - . I prefer Mac é to Perros, but both writers are best understood against the background of the moraliste tradition. It is a tradition which was seized and remade by Nietzsche in the 19 th century, The poetics of Emerson and Thoreau are both recognizably shaped by the moralistes of the 17 th century, plus of course the enormous weight of the sermon. I came across this b

The doormen of genius (aren't we all?)

  The great wheel of circulation is altogether different from the goods which are circulated by means of it. The revenue of the society consists altogether in those goods, and not in the wheel which circulates them. – Adam Smith   Georg   Simmel, in the Philosophy of Money, is very clear about the structure of the modern history of capitalism – it is   about the lengthening of the means – the lengthening of the instrumental interval – to ends. Marx, as well,   pointed out again and again – that capitalism becomes a global second nature that conceals the system of production under the great wheel of circulation. But this lengthening of means leads to a shortening of time – this is the Alice in Wonderland paradox for all of us, living on the other side of the mirror.   For Shylock and Bassanio, a bet on cargo would take months to come to some end – but for Sam Bankman Fried, billions of   dollars attached to pseudo currency   can be bet and lost in the course of a week, dissolving th

False friends

  Every student of French or German is familiar with the phrase “false friends.” False friends are those words one comes across that look enough like some English word that the unwise student will assume that they mean the same thing. For instance, the French verb, blesser, which means wound, and the English verb bless, which means to wish something good. The idea that false friends operate only across language lines, however, strikes me as a limitation on a very useful concept. I think that false friends operate within different subgroups with different jargons within one language. Look at how the word “woke” or the term “cancel culture” has shifted between subgroups.   When you see a “debate” between the right and the left in America, it is often like hearing one group of people using “bless[er]” to mean injure and another group meaning to wish a benediction on. Of course, often – and this is a common rightwing tactic – the use of the term will be intentionally mangled, so that the

The romantic nations: state versus culture

  I have a theory about the “romantic nations”. Those were nations that were first imagined into existence by the poets and philosophers of the 19th century. Italy and Germany are examples, as if Hungary and Poland. The nation-states that formed in the period between the 16th and 19th century – the United Kingdom, France, Spain, the United States, among others – were formed not on the principle of privileging a certain ethos, but rather on principles in which monarchy, reason and religion were the operative notions. Germany,Italy, and Hungary. on the other hand, were dreamed into existence by philosophers and writers (Fichte for instance; Leopardi; Kossuth), and the long struggle for nationhood was promoted by the idea of a certain people and language having primacy, creating a home. The late romantic nations like Ireland and, finally, Israel, were shaped by the same forces. In all these cases, you can detect a cycle: the nation exists as a culture before it exists as a nation; as a n

On Humming

  Oliver Sacks’ The man who mistook his wife for a hat is, I think, one of the best short story collections of the 1980s – a decade that dove into short stories. These stories are diagnostically true, as far as that goes, but they are mostly true as   stories. The ancestors of these stories of neurological and other disorders are to be found not only in, say, the case histories of Charcot, but as well in the short stories of Chekhov. The first story has haunted me since I read it way back when the book came out. It is about a musician who has a curious impairment of vision in which big gaps in his responses to visual stimuli open up, while at the same time he is able to get about his daily life. “When the examination was over, Mrs. P. called us to the table, where there was coffee and a delicious spread of little cakes. Hungrily, hummingly, Dr. P. started ont eh cakes. Swiftly, fluently, unthinkingly, melodiously, he pulled the plates towards him and took this and that, in a great

Doors windows beginnings endings

It is after we get a little bit bigger and stop playing with LEGOS and building blocks that we accept as a fact that you can’t build a house out of doors and windows. Such a house is an absurdity! Even the least little hovel, even a tent with a mere flap for a door, should have an enclosed space beyond that flap; the whole point of the flap or door is to lead into the enclosed space. The whole point of a window is to break the monotonous grip of a room, its fist around you. But the room doesn’t exist for the window! That would be carrying the revolution too far.   And yet, even though this is the wisdom we absorb as surely as the hair starts to sprout on various parts of our bodies after we are children, still, when we start building an article, a story, a poem, a thesis, a dissertation, a novel, etc., how often do we find that the rule of doors and houses is damn difficult to follow. Indeed, there is a certain type of critic since Aristotle which likes to judge the house exclusively b