Monday, September 29, 2014

Healing the Hegelian Wound

For Hegel, spirit is the wound of nature, it derails every natural balance, but it is at the same time spirit itself which heals its own wound. This Hegelian insight will be developed in its philosophical, theological, and political implications: why is the Fall a happy occurrence? How does permissiveness turn into oppression? Why does only the most brutal capitalist alienation open up the possibility for freedom?
In the tradition of Kabbalah, this primordial wound appears in the guise of »broken vessel.« According to the so-called Lurianic Kabbalah (named after Isaac Luria (1534–1572), Ein Sof created the world in order to understand itself better. Because it was infinite, Ein Sof was also formless and without purpose — it existed as pure energy. Ein Sof therefore resolved to create something with both form and purpose — human beings. Because Ein Sof‘s energy had filled up the entire universe previous to the creation of human beings, Ein Sof‘s first action had to be tsimtsum, ―withdrawal.‖ In order to make room for creation, Ein Sof had to first create a void inside itself, a space in which to make yesh (something) from ayin (nothing). However, as Ein Sof attempted to fill the vessel it had created with its light, catastrophe struck, the light was too intense to be contained within the vessel and the vessel shattered. The breaking of the vessel destroyed the ordered universe that Ein Sof had begun to create: tiny pieces of the vessel, like shards of glass, scattered and brought chaos to the universe. When the shards of the vessel began to fall, they brought with them sparks of Ein Sof‘s light; together, the shards and the sparks fell into what would become material reality, or the human world. In place of a harmonious world, human beings entered a broken world filled with »husks,« scattered sparks of divine light. Every human being is required to liberate the sparks of light from these husks through righteous study of Kabbalah - only when all the sparks are freed will Ein Sof become whole again, ushering in the perfect world that Ein Sof designed at the moment of creation.

What this implies is that Ein Sof is not an all-knowing God but a dependent God that needs human beings to restore it to wholeness. That is why God is a becoming, not a being: as the world develops, sparks are liberated, people are born, and Ein Sof evolves to become more and more true to itself. The creation of the world is thus an act of God‘s self-sacrifice: a disaster, a catastrophic descent into chaos - the world and human beings form not according to God‘s perfect plan, but as a result of destruction. Yet because human beings can liberate the sparks from the material world and help to restore God, the universe becomes filled with good deeds and the hope for redemption. – How, then, should we change this myth in order to provide its materialist version? The »materialist« solution seems obvious: there never was any vessel, no breaking, the universe is just a contingent collection of fragments we can tinker with to produce new assemblages... What gets lost in this solution is the immanent antagonism/tension/blockage (the barred/impeded Whileness) which underlies and sets in motion the movement of fragmentation. The consequences of such an approach were spelled out by Walter Benjamin who, in his early essay "The Task of the Translator," used the Lurianic notion of the broken vessel to discern the inner working of the process of translation:
―Just as fragments of a vessel, in order to be articulated together, must follow one another in the smallest detail but need not resemble one another, so, instead of making itself similar to the meaning of the original, the translation must rather, lovingly and in detail, in its own language, form itself according to the way of signifying [Art des Meinens] of the original, to make both recognizable as the broken parts of a greater language, just as fragments are the broken parts of a vessel.
The movement described here by Benjamin is a kind of transposition of metaphor into metonymy: instead of conceiving translation as a metaphoric substitute of the original, as something that should render as faithfully as possible the meaning of the original, both original and its translation are posited as belonging to the same level, parts of the same field (in the same way that Claude Levi-Strauss claimed that the main interpretations of the Oedipus myth are themselves new versions of the myth). The gap that, in the traditional view, separates the original from its (always imperfect) translation is thus transposed back into the original itself: the original itself is already the fragment of a broken vessel, so that the goal of the translation is not to achieve fidelity to the original but to supplement the original, to treat the original a broken fragment of the »broken vessel« and to produce another fragment which will not imitate the original but will fit it as one fragment of a broken Whole may fit another. What this means is that a good translation destroys the myth of the original's organic Wholeness, it renders this Wholeness visible as a fake. One can even say that, far from being an attempt to restore the broken vessel, translation is the very act of breaking: once the translation sets in, the original organic Vessel appears as a fragment that has to be supplemented - breaking the vessel IS its opening to its restoration.

In the domain of telling stories, a gesture homologous to translation would have been a change in the plot of the original narrative which makes us think ―it is only now that we really understand what the story is about.‖ This is how we should approach numerous recent attempts to stage some classical opera by not only transposing its action into a different (most often contemporary) era, but also by changing some basic facts of the narrative itself. There is no a priori abstract criterion which would allow us to judge the success or failure: each such intervention is a risky act and must be judged by its own immanent standards. Such experiments often ridiculously misfire - however, not always, and there is no way to tell it in advance, so one has to take the risk. Only one thing is sure: the only way to be faithful to a classic work is to take such as risk – avoiding it, sticking to the traditional letter, is the safest way to betray the spirit of the classic. In other words, the only way to keep a classical work alive is to treat it as ―open, pointing towards the future, or, to use the metaphor evoked by Walter Benjamin, to act as if the classic work is a film for which the appropriate chemical liquid to develop it was invented only later, so that it is only today that we can get the full picture.
Slavoj Zizek, "The Wound..."Getting Stuck"

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ever Rising Lemon Socialism in America

“Privatize the Gains, Socialize the Losses”

They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
That steals the common from the goose.
— English folk poem, ca. 1764

Lemon socialism is a pejorative term for a form of government intervention in which government subsidies go to weak or failing firms, often with the intent of preventing further, systemic damage to what might otherwise be considered a free marketplace. When these subsidies take the form of a full or partial bail-out, as happened during the 2008 financial crisis, they may be seen as a form of state or crony capitalism. The pejorative comes from the perception among laissez-faire capitalists that failing companies are defective lemons that a working free market would replace with better-functioning companies in response to market demand, and the public-sector involvement this type of state intervention shares with socialism. Lemon socialism is not actually socialism: a marketplace still exists, even if that marketplace is not completely free.

Confusingly, lemon socialism may also refer to government efforts to transition from capitalism to actual socialism; in this case it refers to a deliberate strategy of absorbing the losses entailed in saving jobs within the worst-performing sectors of the economy — the lemons — before the nationalization of more profitable industries.

"I too have been a close observer of the doings of the Bank of the United States. I have had men watching you for a long time and I am convinced that you have used the funds of the bank to speculate in the breadstuffs of the country. When you won, you divided the profits amongst you, and when you lost, you charged it to the Bank. … You are a den of vipers and thieves."
- Andrew Jackson in 1834 on closing the Second Bank of the United States

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Along these lines of the constitutive "homelessness" of philosophy, Kant formulated the idea of the cosmopolitan "world-civil-society [Weltburgergesellschaft ]," which is not simply an expansion of the citizenship of a Nation-State to the citizenship of a global trans-national State; it involves a shift from the principle of identification with one’s "organic" ethnic substance actualized in a particular tradition to a radically different principle of identification —one can refer here to Deleuze’s notion of universal singularity as opposed to the triad of individuality–particularity–generality; this opposition is the opposition between Kant and Hegel. For Hegel, "world-civil-society" is an abstract notion without substantial content, lacking the mediation of the particular and thus the force of full actuality, i.e., it involves an abstract identification which does not grasp substantially the subject; the only way for an individual to effectively participate in universal humanity is therefore via full identification with a particular Nation-State—I am "human" only as a German, Englishman ... For Kant, on the contrary,"world-civil-society" designates the paradox of the universal singularity, of a singular subject who, in a kind of short circuit, bypassing the mediation of the particular, directly participates in the Universal. This identification with the Universal is not the identification with an encompassing global Substance ("humanity"), but the identification with a universal ethico-political principle— a universal religious collective, a scientific collective, a global revolutionary organization, all of which are in principle accessible to everyone.

This is what Kant, in a famous passage of his "What is Enlightenment?", means by "public" as opposed to "private": "private" is not the individual as opposed to one’s communal ties, but the very communal-institutional order of one’s particular identification, while "public" is the transnational universality of the exercise of one’s Reason. The paradox is thus that one participates in the universal dimension of the "public" sphere precisely as a singular individual extracted from or even opposed to one’s substantial communal identification— one is truly universal only as radically singular, in the interstices of communal identities.

The task of philosophy as the "public use of reason" is not to solve problems, but to redefine them; not to answer questions, but to raise the proper question. In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends: "Let’s establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false." After a month, his friends get the first letter written in blue ink: "Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theaters show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair—the only thing unavailable is red ink ." The structure is here more refined than it may appear: although the worker is unable to signal in the prearranged way that what here ports is a lie, he nonetheless succeeds in getting his message across—how? By inscribing the very reference to the code into the encoded message, as one of its elements. Of course, we encounter here the standard problem of self-reference: since the letter is written in blue, is not its entire content true? The solution is that the very fact that the lack of red ink is mentioned signals that it SHOULD have been written in red ink.The nice point here is that this mention of the lack of red ink produces the effect of truth independently of its own literal truth : even if red ink really WAS available, the lie that it is unavailable was the only way to get the true message across in this specific condition of censorship. And is this not the matrix of critical philosophy, not only in "totalitarian" conditions of censorship but, perhaps even more, in the more refined conditions of liberal censorship? One starts with agreeing that one has all the freedoms one wants—and then one merely adds that the only thing missing is the "red ink" : we "feel free" because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to designate the present conflict— "war on terror," "democracy and freedom," "human rights," etc. etc.— are FALSE terms, mystifying our perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think it. In this precise sense, our "freedoms" themselves serve to mask and sustain our deeper unfreedom—this is what philosophy should make us see.
-Slavoj Zizek, "Philosophy, the Unknown Knowns, and the Public Use of Reason"

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Obscene Praxis

An obscenity is any statement or act which strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time. It is derived from the Latin obscaena (offstage) a cognate of the Ancient Greek root skene, because some potentially offensive content, such as murder or sex, was depicted offstage in classical drama.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I Can No Longer Romania!

and beyond the canyons of city shadow these blindfold men
are marked with white paper hearts over hearts and must wait
flexing their toes in brown mudboots till the painter puts the final
finishing touches to Maximilian whose hand is at rest at last
in the milkwhite hand of melancholy Carlotta and his boot-black
beard has not yet tangled in the smoke that follows the scarlet
flash of the muzzle almost tipping his candid breast bringing everything
to be grasped in this crowded little spacetime to a full stop
- Eamon Grennan, "Firing Squad (Manet)"

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Brutally Ducky

going back
through institutional corridors
and overgrown secret paths
which cut across the backs of the hospital
like surgery scars on desolate hills
up the winding stone staircase
to an industrial ground-zero
of abandoned refrigerators
and dripping chimneys spewing
thick, grey chemical smoke
to the blackened wall
where I wrote the inscription
“Joy Division” in silver paint
sometime around 1992
when I close my eyes
the images play out
against the lids
a travelogue of childhood flashes:
piss town.
from a secluded path where
an acne scarred girl charged one cigarette
for a hand-job and a glimpse of tit
to the crumbling, faux-Victorian pub
where I was served my first beer
and the old, beaten up whores
of Clayton Street, lurking in the shadows
of the lumber yards and the gas works
waiting for trade to stumble drunkenly
from the twinkling lights of the pubs and clubs
the frozen image of a sad-eyed young girl
staring out window of a terraced house
and then stolen away in a flutter of net curtains
and a girl I once knew, half dead now,
crushed with poverty and port wine
two incubator babies and her insides
dumped into hospital bins before she turned thirty:
piss town.
I served my time
in dusty world war two bedrooms
you wrote your name in childlike letters
on a box of forgotten papers
in a stifling attic
led from my hands, my mouth,
i severed my ties
bled from my hands, my mouth,
my pen
all of the others still locked behind
a sturdy steel door of drunken recollection
preserved in amber
hand frozen over a glass of bitter
forever wired on pink amphetamines
brutalised by the intervening years
some killed by work, some by knives,
or women,
and some by the steady
passage of time:
piss town
on the news
the US secretary of state
waving from the town hall steps
with the local MP (who lives in Whitehall)
both smiling stiffly beneath
the Sunday skies
how fitting – Basra, Gaza
and now here…
while in The Swan those driven insane
by the brutal drudgery of it all
drink cider and whiskey to forget
to speed up time’s monotonous progression
desperate to skip ahead
to the final act
a misty churchyard
a handful of mourners
“it was a lovely service
just lovely”:
piss town
but sometimes, alone
underneath the crumbling architecture
of Queen Park hospital
looking down from my spot on the wall
at the empty bottles of Zeppelin and White Lightening
discarded bras and dossers blankets
I’d close my eyes and listen
to the Imam’s call to prayer
floating up from Audley Range
a welcome interloper from some inaccessible continent
the feel of the light, July wind
on my cafe, and I concede
there is something special here
hidden away from prying eyes
something private, odd,
neither from the council estates of Higher Croft
nor the abandoned terraces of Shakeshaft Street
something that appears at dusk
during stolen moments of peace like this
before it is inevitably carried away
from me again:
piss town.
-Tony O’ Neill, "Piss Town"

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bleeding Out...

Hazy vision,
Crimson streams,
Is this death,
Or just a dream?

Please just stop,
I feel no pain,
But covered in blood,
I feel insane.

I try to stand,
My head starts to swim,
I fall back down,
My thoughts are dim.

Silver blade,
In a lifeless hand,
Bleeding thighs,
Testing my lifespan.
- Taylorr Meow, "Bleeding Out"

Monday, September 15, 2014

Living in the Land of the Wild Things...

Somethin' filled up
my heart with nothin',
someone told me not to cry.

But now that I'm older,
my heart's colder,
and I can see that it's a lie.

Children wake up,
hold your mistake up,
before they turn the summer into dust.

If the children don't grow up,
our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.
We're just a million little gods causin' rain storms turnin' every good thing to

I guess we'll just have to adjust.

With my lightnin' bolts a glowin'
I can see where I am goin' to be
when the reaper he reaches and touches my hand.

With my lightnin' bolts a glowin'
I can see where I am goin’
With my lightnin' bolts a glowin'
I can see where I am, go-go, where I am
- Arcade Fire, "Wake Up"

Saturday, September 13, 2014


I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
- W. B. Yeats, "The Lake Isle of Innisfree"

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Airbrushed Memories

This is where I came from.
I passed this way.
This should not be shameful
Or hard to say.

A self is a self.
It is not a screen.
A person should respect
What he has been.

This is my past
Which I shall not discard.
This is the ideal.
This is hard.
- James Fenton, "The Ideal"

Friday, September 5, 2014

Kabul Dreams

Oh, the beautiful city of Kabul wears a rugged mountain skirt,
And the rose is jealous of its lash-like thorns.
The dust of Kabul's blowing soil smarts lightly in my eyes,
But I love her, for knowledge and love both come from her dust.

I sing bright praises to her colourful tulips,
The beauty of her trees makes me blush.
How sparkling the water flows from Pul-i-Mastaan!
May Allah protect such beauty from the evil eye of man!

Khizr chose Kabul to Paradise,
For her mountains brought him near to heaven's delights.
The fort's dragon-sprawling walls guard the city well,
Each brick is more precious than the treasure of Shayagan.

Every street in Kabul fascinates the eye.
In the bazaars, Egypt's caravans pass by.
No one can count the beauteous moons on her rooftops,
And hundreds of lovely suns hide behind her walls.

Her morning's laugh is as gay as flowers,
Her dark nights shine like beautiful hair.
Her tuneful nightingales sing with flame in their notes,
Fiery songs like burning leaves, fall from their throats.

I sing to the gardens, Jahanara and Sharbara.
- Mirza Muhammed Ali Saib, "Kabul"

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

New American Values

It is not bad. Let them play.
Let the guns bark and the bombing-plane
Speak his prodigious blasphemies.
It is not bad, it is high time,
Stark violence is still the sire of all the world’s values.

What but the wolf’s tooth whittled so fine
The fleet limbs of the antelope?
What but fear winged the birds, and hunger
Jewelled with such eyes the great goshawk’s head?
Violence has been the sire of all the world’s values.

Who would remember Helen’s face
Lacking the terrible halo of spears?
Who formed Christ but Herod and Caesar,
The cruel and bloody victories of Caesar?
Violence, the bloody sire of all the world’s values.

Never weep, let them play,
Old violence is not too old to beget new values.
- Robinson Jeffers, “The Bloody Sire” (1940)

Monday, September 1, 2014

September Song (1938/9)

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
- W.H. Auden, "September 1, 1939"

But quite Suddenly, in the years 1930-5, something happens. The literary climate changes. A new group of writers, Auden and Spender and the rest of them, has made its appearance, and although technically these writers owe something to their predecessors, their ‘tendency’ is entirely different. Suddenly we have got out of the twilight of the gods into a sort of Boy Scout atmosphere of bare knees and community singing. The typical literary man ceases to be a cultured expatriate with a leaning towards the Church, and becomes an eager-minded schoolboy with a leaning towards Communism. If the keynote of the writers of the twenties is ‘tragic sense of life’, the keynote of the new writers is ‘serious purpose’...
The poets of New Signatures(1), unlike Yeats and Eliot, are emotionally partisan. Yeats proposed to turn his back on desire and hatred; Eliot sat back and watched other people's emotions with ennui and an ironical self-pity. ... The whole poetry, on the other hand, of Auden, Spender, and Day Lewis implies that they have desires and hatreds of their own and, further, that they think some things ought to be desired and others hated.
- George Orwell, "Inside the Whale" (1940)