Friday, March 24, 2023

Illegitimacy in France: Macron's bossism


You can hear the cop cars at night. Distant booms. In the morning, there are ashes on the sidewalk and the street. Practically, the 49,3 regime has reposed its awesome littleness in the hands of the Minister of the Interior, a man named Gérald Darmanin. A man born out of time - he would certainly have flourished in the good old days, circa 1943, 1944. A rightwinger pur et dur, he has been stirring up his forces to do their utmost - illegitimately hassling demonstrators in all four corners of the Hexagon.

You can smell the illegitimacy. It smells like smoke and tear gas.
Macron always goes below the line that you have drawn in your head - surely he couldn't be that arrogant, that blind, that clueless? Yet this product of a thousand McKinsey position papers always comes out with the boss-ist position, like a vending machine always comes out with the chewing gum when you put in the dollar in change. Unless something jams. It is a bit of a mistake to look for comparisons in politics - Macron's choreography is pure business. He's a corporation type through and through. What he would like to do in France is enact a mass layoff. Alas! Certain U.N. decrees make this impossible.
Oddly, for such a business oriented guy, Macron apparently never took the class, "how to hide your evil". So he shows it again and again. However, he has cleverly figured out how to strategize the fascists. Thus, he is always looking for some future point where it is either Macron or the fascists. Hence, the many subtext in Macronie - by which I include Le Monde - where Macronist worry that the result of all the "fuss" over the very very very necessary reforms will benefit the Le Pen fascists. Very worried, worried to tears, these Macronists. And their solution to that worry is: get behind the great man!
While this goes down like a refreshing drink among the media elite who have benefitted from Macron's tax cuts for their class, out in the street people, the vulgar crowd, want to take a big dump on it. And on the chief.
One thing to note before I end this rant: the reforms are advertised as changing the age of retirement to 64. That is inaccurate, though, for millions of cases, where the protocol for full retirement will change to 67, 68. If you are one of the people who started work at 18 and stayed with the same work - well then, you might be a lucky 64! Otherwise, good luck.
France is experiencing that part of neoliberalism called shamelessness. But the shame is comin' at you from the street, all you think tankers and nudgers!

Thursday, March 23, 2023

poem by K. Chamisso

Oh poet without portfolio!
In the raplines of this city
Cell phone to cell phone
You seek some operator’s voice.
Control without purpose, purpose without heart
Out of the stones themselves some grotesque starts
To urge us to turn turn turn again
And change our stone stare into
Something living and lost.
But the wire in our ear is inexorable
And we’ve forgotten what we meant to say.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The plutocrat problem, or What Macron hopes to accomplish by lowering the quality of French life

 The paradox of the plutocracy can be x-rayed by the simple application of marginal utility theory. This theory differentiates between percentages of total sums of income and wealth. Thus, the quality of life that is diminished by taking away half the income of a person making 20,000 dollars a year is considerable – it would actually throw that person into poverty. The quality of life that is diminished, on the other hand, by taking away fifty percent of the income of someone who made 100 million dollars a year would be, on the contrary, zero. There would be no effect whatsoever on their housing, their nourishment, their entertainments, etc.

When we extend this insight, we can see that the plutocrat might be abstractly satisfied by the state cutting their tax burden to zero, but in truth, this will not add to their quality of life. Which is why at a certain point in the money chain they switch to the quality of power.

The quality of power of the French upper one percent has long been nagged by the successes of the French working class in the forties through the eighties. This was viewed as an affront to their entire ideology of success: the unsuccessful should be unhappy. This is often presented as an incentive, but it is really a derivative of the plutocrat’s dilemma. To increase their quality of life, when money itself doesn’t do it, one must measure it against the diminishment of the other’s quality of life. This, more than anything else, explains Macron’s social policies. To make the average person work two more years has its economic logic – surplus labor value is always a plus! – but that doesn’t really drive this train. What is desired is that the unsuccessful – that is, the non-upper class – feel that non-success. They feel it in their very bones and muscles. In this way, the upper class can feel that their own quality of life has improved on a moral scale, which is recognized by the state: the moral scale of money. It is a deep counter-movement towards the very enlightenment that “liberated” commerce. It provides relief for those who actually exist for a man like Macron – those who can afford to shell out hundreds of millions to repair Notre Dame without having to sell a single bottle of expensive wine in their cellars, without losing a night of sleep, or a vacation, or a notice in the papers. Those who can afford, as the late head of Renault did, to “rent” the Versailles for a wedding anniversary party.

This is the real battle. The odds, as any Le Monde lapdog can tell you, are on the side of the plutocrats. As Francoise Fressoz put it yesterday: “… the strong opposition of the French to 64 years is from the beginning accompanied by a sort of resignation born of experience: all the reforms of retirement are contested, but none have been put back into question.”

None up until now. Is this the magic moment?

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

manif sauvage


I drifted down Rue de Temple around 9:45 last night. My goal was the Place de la Republique. I thought there might be an impromptu demonstration – a manif sauvage – there, if anywhere. When the censure was rejected and the “reform” became law, I felt that I had to see what was happening in the streets. I told A. that if I felt I was in some spot where the cops would target me – or demonstrators in general – that I would ghost. But in my neighborhood everything was just the same. We live, in the Marais, in a sort of cloud cuckoo land, where the garbage is still being picked up.

The first indication that the night was going to be a little less calm came as I passed the park which is in front of the Mairie. On my left, there’s a little alley by a church, where usually there are a lot of homeless people camped. Out of the alley, suddenly, came a stream of running people. As I went farther and saw more clearly, I saw the cops, all geared in their Robo-wear, moving at a trot down the alley. They were yelling stop. Nobody fleeing them was that stupid. The people who emerged from the alley managed to reach the other side of the street and simply dispersed. You couldn’t tell the people at the café from the potential manifesteur. Up ahead, I saw the usual flotilla of cop vans, about ten or fifteen. I decided, after standing there for a moment, to continue.

As I crossed from Temple to the Place, I noticed that some of the people who’d run out of the alley were with me. And as we reached the Place,these people walked ahead. Nothing was happening, and then suddenly a crowd formed. It got larger. The police didn’t respond right away. And then the crowd started singing. To my astonished ears, it sounded like Ca ira. It wasn’t. Later, at home, I looked it up: On est la. The song of the gilet jaunes. The song of the Macron mini-ice age:

On est là !

On est là !

Même si Macron le veut pas,

nous on est là !

The other part, which I didn’t hear sung – because a demonstration is not a chorus – is :

Pour l’honneur des travailleurs et pour un monde meilleur,

même si Macron le veut pas, nous on est là2 ! 

Usually, it is simpler to say Macron, demission, foutre!

I decided to drift up the street in the direction of the Bastille. I called A. I said everything was fine. Then the crowd started to head my way. I walked with them. My companions to the right seemed to know exactly what to do. As we passed by some construction site on the sidewalk, with its barriers, they grabbed the barriers and took them into the street. Other people brought other matter. It amazed me how easy it is to make a barricade. Oncoming traffic came to a stop, and the crowd poured into the street.

At this point I began to chicken out. I saw the empty spot behind the marchers and the cops coming up behind, and I suddenly had visions of the kettle. There’s been a lot of violent face to face at Republique over the last couple years with cops and protestors. So I called A. up, and she advised duck down an alley and come home.

Which I did.

All pumped, I looked at the live stream someone was sending over Twitter. I watched the cops milling around the Bastille. Then the noise of the demonstrators. Then the strategy – a crowd of disparate pedestrians suddenly coalescing into a group. Then the cops massing. Then the fires – in garbage cans, spreading to bikes – and the dissolving of the protestors before the cops and their re-coalescence. It isn’t guerrilla war, and it ain’t beanbag. We will have to see whether a government by the rich, for the rich, and of the rich will rule France – or whether their Plan B., Le Pen, comes in. Or whether by some miracle we can rescue France from this awful, mediocre version of reaction.

Monday, March 20, 2023

the living line, the unbearable genius of the self


Marcel Schwob bel

onged to the same fin de siècle generation as Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson, his colleagues on the other side of the channel, and Jules Renard and Felix Feneon, the great art critic and anarchist terrorist. He, like RLS, and his friend Renard, was not destined for the long life on the pedestal – which makes it appropriate that one of his best known works, Imaginary Lives, is full of praise of John Aubrey’s Brief Lives.

It is hard for me to read the introduction of Imaginary Lives and not think of Borges, who, like Schwob, separated the paradox from the apology. In the Western tradition, or at least the high church version of it, paradox has an essential and divine place: to believe in an absurdity is a surrender wreathed in cosmic drama. But if the absurdity does not induce belief, what we are left with is paradox itself, as an aesthetic and ethical object and ploy. Schwob’s paradox, in the Imaginary Lives, is that biography stumbles aesthetically when it attaches the figure to the world event – when biography is taken not as art, but as history. To get to this argument, Schwob uses  Aubrey and Diogenes Laertes Lives of the Philosophers,  inserting  an elegant, emblematic reading of a story about the Japanese artist, Hokusaī:  

« The painter Hokusaï hoped to arrive, when he got to his one hundred and tenth year, at the ideal of his art. At this moment, he said, every point, every line traced by his brush would be living. By living, read individual. Nothing is more similar than points and lines: geometry is grounded in this postulate. The perfect art of Hokusaï demanded that nothing be more different. Thus the ideal of the biography would be to infinitely differentiate the aspect of two philosophers who had invented nearly the same metaphysics.”

We have something near this idea in geometry itself – the fractal. That self similarity that creates a difference. This, of course, is not what Schwob was thinking about – rather, Schwob was thinking about the way art ideologies, theories, schools, tend to want the lines to be similar. They want realism, or symbolism, modernism or post-modernism. They want the lines to be lines and the characters to be characters, because life is short. But if life is long, if you achieve the one hundred and ten years, you will perhaps stumble upon a line that is not like any other line, and a point that is not like any other point. At the end of The Man who Was Thursday, Chesterton summons up the same paradox, but as a nightmare. The poet-detective, Syme, pitting himself against an anarchist gang, pauses in his breakneck quest and reflects:

“Sometimes he saw for an instant that these notions were subjective, that he was only looking at ordinary men, one of whom was old, another nervous, another short-sighted. The sense of an unnatural symbolism always settled back on him again. Each figure seemed to be, somehow, on the borderland of things, just as their theory was on the borderland of thought. He knew that each one of these men stood at the extreme end, so to speak, of some wild road of reasoning. He could only fancy, as in some old-world fable, that if a man went westward to the end of the world he would find something--say a tree--that was more or less than a tree, a tree possessed by a spirit; and that if he went east to the end of the world he would find something else that was not wholly itself--a tower, perhaps, of which the very shape was wicked. So these figures seemed to stand up, violent and unaccountable, against an ultimate horizon, visions from the verge. The ends of the earth were closing in.”

Chesterton had an ultimately comfortable idea that the Church was the answer to all that. But if the Church is just an ordinary institution, then the unnatural symbolism becomes a haunt in a world without ghosts. And this, even for spirit seekers – or especially them, with their middle class desire that “science” prove the paranormal – is too much uniqueness. And who can bear too much uniqueness? It is hard to be the geniuses that we all are.

Elia meets Karl Marx at the South Sea House

    When Charles Lamb, a scholarship boy at Christ’s Hospital, was fifteen, one of his patrons, Thomas Coventry, had a discussion with a...