Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Boat on the Serchio

Our boat is asleep on Serchio's stream,
Its sails are folded like thoughts in a dream,
The helm sways idly, hither and thither;
Dominic, the boatman, has brought the mast,
And the oars, and the sails; but ’tis sleeping fast,
Like a beast, unconscious of its tether.

The stars burnt out in the pale blue air,
And the thin white moon lay withering there;
To tower, and cavern, and rift, and tree,
The owl and the bat fled drowsily.
Day had kindled the dewy woods,
And the rocks above and the stream below,
And the vapours in their multitudes,
And the Apennine’s shroud of summer snow,
And clothed with light of aery gold
The mists in their eastern caves uprolled.

Day had awakened all things that be,
The lark and the thrush and the swallow free,
And the milkmaid’s song and the mower’s scythe
And the matin-bell and the mountain bee:
Fireflies were quenched on the dewy corn,
Glow-worms went out on the river’s brim,
Like lamps which a student forgets to trim:
The beetle forgot to wind his horn,
The crickets were still in the meadow and hill:
Like a flock of rooks at a farmer’s gun
Night’s dreams and terrors, every one,
Fled from the brains which are their prey
From the lamp’s death to the morning ray.

All rose to do the task He set to each,
Who shaped us to His ends and not our own;
The million rose to learn, and one to teach
What none yet ever knew or can be known.
And many rose
Whose woe was such that fear became desire;--
Melchior and Lionel were not among those;
They from the throng of men had stepped aside,
And made their home under the green hill-side.
It was that hill, whose intervening brow
Screens Lucca from the Pisan’s envious eye,
Which the circumfluous plain waving below,
Like a wide lake of green fertility,
With streams and fields and marshes bare,
Divides from the far Apennines—which lie
Islanded in the immeasurable air.

‘What think you, as she lies in her green cove,
Our little sleeping boat is dreaming of?’
‘If morning dreams are true, why I should guess
That she was dreaming of our idleness,
And of the miles of watery way
We should have led her by this time of day.’--

‘Never mind,’ said Lionel,
‘Give care to the winds, they can bear it well
About yon poplar-tops; and see
The white clouds are driving merrily,
And the stars we miss this morn will light
More willingly our return to-night.--
How it whistles, Dominic’s long black hair!
List, my dear fellow; the breeze blows fair:
Hear how it sings into the air--’

--‘Of us and of our lazy motions,’
Impatiently said Melchior,
‘If I can guess a boat’s emotions;
And how we ought, two hours before,
To have been the devil knows where.’
And then, in such transalpine Tuscan
As would have killed a Della-Cruscan,


So, Lionel according to his art
Weaving his idle words, Melchior said:
‘She dreams that we are not yet out of bed;
We’ll put a soul into her, and a heart
Which like a dove chased by a dove shall beat.’


‘Ay, heave the ballast overboard,
And stow the eatables in the aft locker.’
‘Would not this keg be best a little lowered?’
‘No, now all’s right.’ ‘Those bottles of warm tea--
(Give me some straw)—must be stowed tenderly;
Such as we used, in summer after six,
To cram in greatcoat pockets, and to mix
Hard eggs and radishes and rolls at Eton,
And, couched on stolen hay in those green harbours
Farmers called gaps, and we schoolboys called arbours,
Would feast till eight.’


With a bottle in one hand,
As if his very soul were at a stand
Lionel stood—when Melchior brought him steady:--
‘Sit at the helm—fasten this sheet--all ready!’

The chain is loosed, the sails are spread,
The living breath is fresh behind,
As with dews and sunrise fed,
Comes the laughing morning wind;--
The sails are full, the boat makes head
Against the Serchio’s torrent fierce,
Then flags with intermitting course,
And hangs upon the wave, and stems
The tempest of the...
Which fervid from its mountain source
Shallow, smooth and strong doth come,--
Swift as fire, tempestuously
It sweeps into the affrighted sea;
In morning’s smile its eddies coil,
Its billows sparkle, toss and boil,
Torturing all its quiet light
Into columns fierce and bright.

The Serchio, twisting forth
Between the marble barriers which it clove
At Ripafratta, leads through the dread chasm
The wave that died the death which lovers love,
Living in what it sought; as if this spasm
Had not yet passed, the toppling mountains cling,
But the clear stream in full enthusiasm
Pours itself on the plain, then wandering
Down one clear path of effluence crystalline
Sends its superfluous waves, that they may fling
At Arno’s feet tribute of corn and wine;
Then, through the pestilential deserts wild
Of tangled marsh and woods of stunted pine,
It rushes to the Ocean.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley

dedicated to FT, who definitely needs to take a "boat ride"! ;)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Not Your Founder's Republic

As for the US themselves, Zakaria's diagnosis is that "America is increasingly embracing a simple-minded populism that values popularity and openness as the key measures of legitimacy. /.../ The result is a deep imbalance in the American system, more democracy but less liberty." The remedy is thus to counteract this excessive "democratization of democracy" (or "deMOREcracy") by delegating more power to impartial experts insulated from the democratic fray, like the independent central banks. Such a diagnosis cannot but provoke an ironic laughter: today, in the alleged "overdemocratization," the US and the UK started a war on Iraq against the will of the majority of their own populations, not to mention the international community. And are we not all the time witnessing the imposition of key decisions concerning global economy (trade agreements, etc.) by "impartial" bodies exempted from democratic control? Is the idea that, in our post-ideological era, economy should be de-politicized and run by experts, today not a commonplace shared by all participants? Even more fundamentally, is it not ridiculous to complain about "overdemocratization" in a time when the key economic and geopolitic decisions are as a rule not an issue in elections: for at least three decades, what Zakaria demands is already a fact. What we are effectively witnessing today is a split into ideological life-style issues where fierce debates rage and choices are solicited (abortion, gay marriages, etc.), and the basic economic policy which is presented as a depoliticized domain of expert decisions - the proliferation of "overdemocracy" with the "excesses" or affirmative action, the "culture of complaint," and the demands for financial and other restitutions of victims, is ultimately the front whose back side is the silent weaving of the economic logic.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Too Much Democracy" (4/14/03)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Surreal Realities? Or Symptoms of Rising Anxieties?

Rene Magritte, Where are you?
My wife with the hair of a wood fire
With the thoughts of heat lightning
With the waist of an hourglass
With the waist of an otter in the teeth of a tiger
My wife with her rosette mouth and a bouquet of stars of the last magnitude
With the teeth of tracks of white mice on the white earth
With the tongue of rubbed amber and glass
My wife with the tongue of a stabbed host
With the tongue of a doll that opens and closes its eyes
With the tongue of an unbelievable stone
My wife with her eyelashes in the strokes of a child's writing
With eyebrows from the edge of a swallow's nest
My wife with brows of slates on a hothouse roof
And with steam on the windowpanes
My wife with shoulders of champagne
And of a fountain with dolphin heads beneath the ice
My wife with wrists of matches
My wife with fingers of luck and the ace of hearts
With fingers of mown hay
My wife with armpits of marten and of beechnut
And of Midsummer Night
Of privet and of an angelfish nest
With arms of seafoam and of riverlocks
And of a mingling of the wheat and the mill
My wife with legs of flares
With the movements of clockwork and despair
My wife with calves of eldertree pith
My wife with feet of initials
With feet of rings of keys and Java sparrows drinking
My wife with a neck of unpearled barley
My wife with a throat of the valley of gold
Of a tryst in the very bed of the torrent
With breasts of night
My wife with her undersea molehill breasts
My wife with breasts of the ruby's crucible
With breasts of the spectre of the rose beneath the dew
My wife with the belly of an unfolding of the fan of days
With the belly of a gigantic claw
My wife with the back of a bird fleeing vertically
With a back of quicksilver
With a back of light
With a nape of rolled stone and wet chalk
And of the drop of a glass where one has just been drinking
My wife with hips of a skiff
With hips of a chandelier and of arrow-feathers
And of shafts of white peacock plumes
Of an insensible pendulum
My wife with buttocks of sandstone and asbestos
My wife with buttocks of swans' backs
My wife with buttocks of spring
With the sex of an iris
My wife with the sex of placer and platypus
My wife with a sex of seaweed and ancient sweetmeat
My wife with a sex of mirror
My wife with eyes full of tears
With eyes of purple panoply and of a magnetic needle
My wife with savanna eyes
My wife with eyes of water to be drunk in prison
My wife with eyes of wood always under the axe
My wife with eyes of water-level air-level earth and fire
- André Breton, "Free Union" (1931)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Towards a New Subjectivity?

Nietzsche’s opposition between "wanting nothing", in the sense of "I do not want anything", and the nihilistic stance of actively wanting the Nothingness itself. Following Nietzsche, Lacan emphasized how, in anorexia, the subject doesn’t simply not eat anything, he rather actively wants to eat the Nothingness itself. The same goes for the famous patient who felt guilty of stealing, although he didn’t effectively steal anything — what he did steal was, again, Nothingness itself. Along the same lines, in the case of caffeine–free diet Coke, we drink Nothingness itself, the pure semblance of a property. This example makes palpable the link between three notions: that of Marxist surplus-value, that of Lacan’s objet petit a as surplus enjoyment, a concept which Lacan elaborated with direct reference to Marxist surplus value, and the paradox of the superego, long ago perceived by Freud. The more profit you have, the more you want, the more you drink Coke, the more you are thirsty, the more you obey the superego command, the more you are guilty.
This superego–paradox also allows us to throw new light onto the functioning of today’s art scene. Its basic feature is not only the much deplored commodification of the culture, but also the less noted, perhaps even more crucial opposite movement: the growing culturalization of the market economy itself. Culture is less and less a specific sphere exempt from the market and more and more its central component. What this short’circuit between market and culture entails is the disappearance of the old modernist avant-garde logic of provocation, of shocking the establishment. Today, more and more, the cultural economic apparatus itself, in order to reproduce itself, has not only to tolerate but to directly incite stronger and stronger shocking effects and products. Let us recall recent trends in visual arts: gone are the days when we had simple statues or unframed paintings — what we get now are expositions of frames themselves without paintings, expositions of dead cows and their excrement, videos of the inside of the human body, inclusion of smell in the exhibition, and so on. Here, again, as in the domain of sexuality, perversion is no longer subversive: the shocking excesses of part of the system itself.
So what is superego? The external opposition between pleasure and duty is precisely overcome in the superego. It can be overcome in two opposite ways. On one hand, we have the paradox of the extremely oppressive, so–called totalitarian post–traditional power which goes further than the traditional authoritarian power. It does not only tell you "Do your duty, I don’t care if you like it or not." It tells you not only "You must obey my orders and do your duty" but "You must do it with pleasure. You must enjoy it." It is not enough for the subjects to obey their leader, they must actively love him.
It’s my old thesis that Freud was right, he just got it in the wrong temporal succession. I claim that in this obsession with false memory syndrome, imagining some brutal raping father, it is not that, as Freud thought, the we have first in some mystical past the rapist father who possessed all the women of the tribe and then through the murder of the father, the father returns as symbolic authority. It’s rather the opposite. The symbolic authority disintegrates and what fills in its void is this brutal Ur–Father. It’s the modern totalitarian masters who are much closer to this Ur–Father figure.
So what happens with the functioning of subjects when symbolic authority loses its efficiency? I claim we get subjects who are strangely de–realized, deprived of their psychology as if we are dealing with robotic puppets that are obeying some strange blind mechanism.
Let’s say that you have a wife who sleeps with other men and you are pathologically jealous. Even if your jealousy is grounded in fact it’s still a pathology. Why? Because, even if what the Nazis claimed about Jews was up to a point true, anti–Semitism was formally wrong, in the same sense that in psychoanalysis a symptomatic action is wrong. It is wrong because it served to replace or repress another true trauma, as something that inherently functioning as a displacement, an act of displacement, as something to be interpreted. It’s not enough to say anti–Semitism factually wrong, it’s morally wrong, the true enigma is ,why did the Nazis need the figure of the Jew for their ideology to function? Why is it that if you take away their figure of the Jew their whole edifice disintegrates. For example, let’s say I have a paranoiac idea that you are trying to kill me. You miss the point if you try to explain to me that it’s morally wrong for me to kill you in pre–emptive self–defense. The point is, why in order to retain my balance do I need the fantasy of you trying to kill me? As Freud points out paranoia is not simply the illness, it’s a false attempt of recovery. The true zero point is where your whole universe disintegrates. Paranoia is the misdirected attempt to reconstitute your universe so that you can function again. If you take from the paranoiac his paranoiac symptom, it’s the end of the world for him. Along the same lines, we have false acts. What an authentic act is precisely what allows you to break out of this deadlock of the symptom, superego and so on. In an authentic act I do not simply express, or actualize my inner nature. I rather redefine myself, the very core of my identity. In this since I claim that an act is very close to what Kierkegaard was trying to conceptualize as the Christian rebirth. Kierkegaard was very precise in opposing the Christian rebirth to the pagan pre–modern Socratic logic of remembrance. This is the crucial choice that psychoanalysis is confronted with. Is psychoanalysis the ultimate in the logic of Socratic remembrance, where I say "I must return to my roots, it’s already deep in me the truth of my unconscious desire, I just must realize my inner self", or is psychoanalysis dependent on an act in the way that Christianity is an act, where you are born again, not in a religious sense, but redefine what you truly are. You go through a symbolic suicide and become another person.
Something like this is always at work in an authentic act. You always have this dimension of sacrificing the most precious part of yourself. This is the generative moment of subjectivity.
Lacan proposed as one of the definitions of what he calls a "true woman" a certain act of taking from her partner, obliterating or destroying, that which means everything to him. The precious treasure around which their life turns. The exemplary figure of such an act in literature, of course, is Medea. Upon learning that Jason plans to abandon her, she kills her two young children, her husband’s most precious possession. Perhaps it is time against the overblown celebration of Antigone to reassert Medea, her uncanny counterpart. To make this point clear, let me quote you perhaps the most tragic example of such a Medea–like act which constitutes modern subjectivity. Do you know Toni Morrison, her novel "Beloved"? We have exactly such an act there. This is the novel about the painful birth of African–American subjectivity. "Beloved" focuses on the traumatic desperate act of the heroine "Sita". After escaping slavery in the middle of the last century with her four children, and then enjoying a month of the colored life in the North with her mother–in–law in Cincinnati, the cruel overseer of the plantation from which she escaped attempts to capture her by right of the fugitive slave law. Finding herself in a hopeless situation, she resorts to a radical measure in order to spare her children the return to bondage. She slices the throat of her eldest daughter, tries to kill two boys and bash out the brains of her infant daughter. Crucial to understand this desperate measure, let’s examine Sita’s apparently paradoxical ruminations. "If I hadn’t killed her, she would have died and that would have been something I could not have beared." Killing her daughter was the only was to preserve the minimum dignity of her life. In an interview Morrison says "By what may seem the ultimate cruelty of killing her offspring, she is claiming her role as a parent, claiming the autonomy, the freedom she needs to protect her children and give them some dignity". In a radical situation of a forced choice, in which because of slavery relations Sita’s children weren’t hers at all, the only way to protect them, to save their dignity, was to kill them. The character of Sita’s act becomes clear if we compare it with what is perhaps one of its literary models, William Styron’s "Sophie’s Choice", in which the heroine, confronted with the choice of saving one of her two children from the gas chamber, concedes to this blackmail by the Nazi officer and sacrifices her older daughter in order to save her young son, with the predictable result that this choice will haunt her for the rest of her life, driving her to suicide years later. Although Sita’s act haunts her as well, we’re dealing with the exact opposite action. While Sophie’s guilt results from her compromising attitude of accepting the terms of the choice, with Sita what she was not able to come to terms with was the properly ethical monstrosity of her act. At the end of the novel, the ghost of her daughter disappears and she can finally subjectize and assume her act. What makes her act so monstrous is, to use the Kierkegaardian term, the "suspension of the ethical" involved in it. In reading of Antigone, Lacan emphasizes that after her excommunication from the community, she enters the domain of what in Greek is called ate, the domain unspeakable horror of being between two deaths, still alive but excluded from the community. The same goes for Sita. Morrison has said that "She has stepped across the line. It’s understandable but it’s excessive. This is what the townspeople in Cincinnati respond to by excommunicating her. Not her grief, but her arrogance. They abandon her because of what they felt was her pride. Her statement about what is valuable to her damns what they think is valuable to them. They have had losses too. In her unwillingness to apologize or to bend, they know she would kill her child again. That is what separates her from them." What makes her monstrous not her act as such, but the way she refuses to relativize her act, accept responsibility and concede that she acted in an unforgivable way out of despair or madness. She doesn’t compromise, she says "No, it was a free act, not a desperate psychopathological confusion".
-Slavoj Zizek, "The Superego and the Act"

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Racism Will End the Day We Forever Ban these....

Stultus est sicut stultus facit

American Decaffeinated Politics - All of the Arguments without Any Lasting Beneficial Results
The ultimate model of a commodity today would be to get the experience, without paying the price for it. You will get the taste of the real thing, without the thing itself. This is why when people asked me: what is for you the ultimate commodity today, I wouldn't say: a car or Coca Cola. I would say something like: diet Coke, beer without alcohol, where you have this virtual logic. It tastes like alcohol, it tastes like beer, but it is not beer. Or diet fat-free chocolate. You get the real thing, without paying the price for it. And I claim that this logic, which then is expanding... We've got fat-free meat, we are getting of course alcohol free, the big problem is that they can not do smoking. They put a lot of money, I read somewhere, into cigarettes, but they can not replace nicotine, you know. I think that the same even holds for our inter-subjective experiences. I remember how Collin Powel, when he was still more influential in American politics, proposed this theory, his new idea of war, which should be a totally technological war, practically without victims on our side. It is again war, where you don't pay the price. Like decaffeinated war. Decaffeinated coffee would have been a model for me. Again, it is the same. And what I claim is that when we are 'multiculturalists', we are a little bit hypocritical at this level. We want the other, Pakistani, Indonesians, Indians, whatever, Muslims, to be decaffeinated: a nice folkloric other, without their dirty side. This, I think, is again our everyday ideology, which is why I would say it is not true when people claim we live in a consumerist society. True consumerism would have been for me that you go to the end and you don't care about the consequences. Those who have free sex, without caring for aids. No, the formula there is decaffeinated sex. Sex with condoms and so on. Safe sex. Or drugs. It is typical how we pretend to be a consumerist society, but drugs are such an object of horror. I am always shocked, and I think there is an ideology in it... I don't smoke, to avoid misunderstanding, and I believe smoking is dangerous, but nonetheless, this obsession with the danger of smoking, it is another obsession of being afraid of the other. Ultimately, the dangerous guy is the other person: the neighbour himself. This is why the central notion of today's ideology, I claim, is harassment. What is harassment? Harassment can be, if you are in a politically correctly developed country like the United States, almost everything. You can imagine, with my primitive Balkan-European attitudes I am often accused of harassing people. Because when you use dirty words, they claim it is verbal rape. When you look at a woman directly, it is visual rape. What makes me very sad is the vision of inter-subjective relations, which is implied here: when you come too close to me with your fantasy's desires, you intrude my space. So, this is our everyday ideology: I love you, but don't come too close me.

Monday, June 22, 2015

If I Were Ever King...

... and not a mere Democratic Subject or other such member of an autonomous collective
The protests on Wall Street and at St Paul’s Cathedral are similar, Anne Applebaum wrote in the Washington Post, ‘in their lack of focus, in their inchoate nature, and above all in their refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions’. ‘Unlike the Egyptians in Tahrir Square,’ she went on, ‘to whom the London and New York protesters openly (and ridiculously) compare themselves, we have democratic institutions.’

Once you have reduced the Tahrir Square protests to a call for Western-style democracy, as Applebaum does, of course it becomes ridiculous to compare the Wall Street protests with the events in Egypt: how can protesters in the West demand what they already have? What she blocks from view is the possibility of a general discontent with the global capitalist system which takes on different forms here or there.

‘Yet in one sense,’ she conceded, ‘the international Occupy movement’s failure to produce sound legislative proposals is understandable: both the sources of the global economic crisis and the solutions to it lie, by definition, outside the competence of local and national politicians.’ She is forced to the conclusion that ‘globalisation has clearly begun to undermine the legitimacy of Western democracies.’ This is precisely what the protesters are drawing attention to: that global capitalism undermines democracy. The logical further conclusion is that we should start thinking about how to expand democracy beyond its current form, based on multi-party nation-states, which has proved incapable of managing the destructive consequences of economic life. Instead of making this step, however, Applebaum shifts the blame onto the protesters themselves for raising these issues:
‘Global’ activists, if they are not careful, will accelerate that decline. Protesters in London shout: ‘We need to have a process!’ Well, they already have a process: it’s called the British political system. And if they don’t figure out how to use it, they’ll simply weaken it further.
So, Applebaum’s argument appears to be that since the global economy is outside the scope of democratic politics, any attempt to expand democracy to manage it will accelerate the decline of democracy. What, then, are we supposed to do? Continue engaging, it seems, in a political system which, according to her own account, cannot do the job.

There is no shortage of anti-capitalist critique at the moment: we are awash with stories about the companies ruthlessly polluting our environment, the bankers raking in fat bonuses while their banks are saved by public money, the sweatshops where children work overtime making cheap clothes for high-street outlets. There is a catch, however. The assumption is that the fight against these excesses should take place in the familiar liberal-democratic frame. The (explicit or implied) goal is to democratise capitalism, to extend democratic control over the global economy, through the pressure of media exposure, parliamentary inquiries, harsher laws, police investigations etc. What goes unquestioned is the institutional framework of the bourgeois democratic state. This remains sacrosanct even in the most radical forms of ‘ethical anti-capitalism’ – the Porto Allegre forum, the Seattle movement and so on.

Here, Marx’s key insight remains as pertinent today as it ever was: the question of freedom should not be located primarily in the political sphere – i.e. in such things as free elections, an independent judiciary, a free press, respect for human rights. Real freedom resides in the ‘apolitical’ network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed in order to make improvements is not political reform, but a change in the social relations of production. We do not vote concerning who owns what, or about the relations between workers in a factory. Such things are left to processes outside the sphere of the political, and it is an illusion that one can change them by ‘extending’ democracy: say, by setting up ‘democratic’ banks under the people’s control. Radical changes in this domain should be made outside the sphere of such democratic devices as legal rights etc. They have a positive role to play, of course, but it must be borne in mind that democratic mechanisms are part of a bourgeois-state apparatus that is designed to ensure the undisturbed functioning of capitalist reproduction. Badiou was right to say that the name of the ultimate enemy today is not capitalism, empire, exploitation or anything of the kind, but democracy: it is the ‘democratic illusion’, the acceptance of democratic mechanisms as the only legitimate means of change, which prevents a genuine transformation in capitalist relations.

The Wall Street protests are just a beginning, but one has to begin this way, with a formal gesture of rejection which is more important than its positive content, for only such a gesture can open up the space for new content. So we should not be distracted by the question: ‘But what do you want?’ This is the question addressed by male authority to the hysterical woman: ‘All your whining and complaining – do you have any idea what you really want?’ In psychoanalytic terms, the protests are a hysterical outburst that provokes the master, undermining his authority, and the master’s question – ‘But what do you want?’ – disguises its subtext: ‘Answer me in my own terms or shut up!’ So far, the protesters have done well to avoid exposing themselves to the criticism that Lacan levelled at the students of 1968: ‘As revolutionaries, you are hysterics who demand a new master. You will get one.’
- Slavoj Žižek, "Democracy is the enemy" (28 October 2011)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Can Republicans Ever be Populists?

Since by the Left's identity politics victory in the Culture Wars and imposition of political correctness, every formerly "political" or "moral" issue/problem has been mystified into an immutable and unalterable (multi-)"cultural" one, or totally mutable and alterable "identity" one.
What? You want me to get a job? I don't currently "identify" as Caucasian, so I now insist that you stop attacking my assumed culture by pretending that you racist right-wingers don't really think that we are all "lazy"!

Friday, June 19, 2015

American Inception

Right to rule
to banter and delegate
a favorable solution
they waste days and lives
in obvious delusion

when war breaks out
much relief is sent
alongside guns and bombs
from governments bent

then, lie to the people
and reinforce resolve
with hope that resounds
and eventually dissolves

selling pawns like hot cakes
in the business of hypocrisy
you think dictatorship is bad?
take a closer look at democracy
-13, "Right to Rule"

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Moonlit Visions...

With chaste heart, and pure
I celebrate you, my beauty,
restraining my blood
so that the line
surges and follows
your contour,
and you bed yourself in my verse,
as in woodland, or wave-spume:
earth's perfume,
sea's music.

Nakedly beautiful,
whether it is your feet, arching
at a primal touch
of sound or breeze,
or your ears,
tiny spiral shells
from the splendour of America's oceans.
Your breasts also,
of equal fullness, overflowing
with the living light
and, yes,
your eyelids of silken corn
that disclose
or enclose
the deep twin landscapes of your eyes.

The line of your back
separating you
falls away into paler regions
then surges
to the smooth hemispheres
of an apple,
and goes splitting
your loveliness
into two pillars
of burnt gold, pure alabaster,
to be lost in the twin clusters of your feet,
from which, once more, lifts and takes fire
the double tree of your symmetry:
flower of fire, open circle of candles,
swollen fruit raised
over the meeting of earth and ocean.

Your body - from what substances
agate, quartz, ears of wheat,
did it flow, was it gathered,
rising like bread
in the warmth,
and signalling hills
valleys of a single petal, sweetnesses
of velvet depth,
until the pure, fine, form of woman
and rested there?

It is not so much light that falls
over the world
extended by your body
its suffocating snow,
as brightness, pouring itself out of you,
as if you were
burning inside.

Under your skin the moon is alive
Pablo Neruda

Monday, June 15, 2015

Un-Americans Unite!

The un-American
Needs a personal Jesus
Private insurance
An obedient wife
The un-American
Should really stop complaining
He oughta take a trip to Disney
Get his head on right
Buy a new buy a new buy a new buy a new
It'll be alright
Buy a new buy a new buy a new
That should fix the un-American
A threat to security
Feeding on literature
From a socialist state
The un-American
It really breaks my heart
To see a promising citizen deviate
Buy a new buy a new buy a new buy a new
It'll be alright
Buy a new buy a new buy a new buy a new buy a new buy a new buy
That should fix the un-American
Oh oh
The un-American
Could be your own neighbor
He could be talking to your children
Sleeping with your wife
Oh what if you're the un-American
Oh what if you're the un-American
Oh what if you're the un-American
Oh if you're the un-American
Buy a new buy a new buy a new buy a new
It'll be alright
Buy a new buy a new
And it'll be alright
Be alright
Somebody please sell me a cholo headband!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

All that we do is lie to ourselves

So the conclusion to be drawn from all this is that the category of the real is ultimately a purely formal category. It's not a category of some formless content disturbing order, it's a pure structural gap. It's an entirely non-substantial category. It's...If we may put it in these terms, it's a difference, but a pure difference. A pure difference in the sense that it's a difference which is paradoxically prior to what it is the difference between. So it's not simplythat we have two terms and there is a difference between the two terms. Paradoxically, the two positive terms appear afterwards as attempts to dominate, cover up the tension etc. of this difference.
-Slavoj Zizek, "The Reality of the Virtual"

The lesson of this is ontological lesson: is: one cannot coincide with itself, pure difference, because of this pure difference as a secondary effect the multitude explodes.
-Slavoj Zizek, "The Reality of the Virtual"

Then may we not sum up the argument in a word and say truly: If one is not, then nothing is?


Let thus much be said; and further let us affirm what seems to be the truth, that, whether one is or is not, one and the others in relation to themselves and one another, all of them, in every way, are and are not, and appear to be and appear not to be.

Most true.
- Plato, "Parmenides"

Friday, June 12, 2015

Mellow Out...

The unreal is more powerful than the real, because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it, because it's only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles, wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on.
- Chuck Palahniuk

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Art for Art's Sake vs. Art for Social Purpose

The relation of art to social life is a question that has always figured largely in all literatures that have reached a definite stage of development. Most often, the question has been answered in one of two directly opposite senses.

Some say: man is not made for the sabbath, but the sabbath for man; society is not made for the artist, but the artist for society. The function of art is to assist the development of man’s consciousness, to improve the social system.

Others emphatically reject this view. In their opinion, art is an aim in itself; to, convert it into a means of achieving any extraneous aim, even the most noble, is to lower the dignity of a work of art.

The first of these two views was vividly reflected in our progressive literature of the sixties. To say nothing of Pisarev, whose extreme one-sidedness almost turned it into a caricature, [3] one might mention Chernyshevsky and Dobrolyubov as the most thorough-going advocates of this view in the critical literature of the time. Chernyshevsky wrote in one of his earliest critical articles:

“The idea of ‘art for art’s sake’ is as strange in our times as ‘wealth for wealth’s sake’, ‘science for science’s sake’, and so forth. All human activities must serve mankind if they are not to remain useless and idle occupations. Wealth exists in order that man may benefit by it; science exists in order to be man’s guide; art, too, must serve some useful purpose and not fruitless pleasure.” In Chernyshevsky’s opinion, the value of the arts, and especially of “the most serious of them,” poetry, is determined by the sum of knowledge they disseminate in society. He says: “Art, or it would be better to say poetry (only poetry, for the other arts do very little in this respect), spreads among the mass of the reading public an enormous amount of knowledge and, what is still more important, familiarises them with the concepts worked out by science – such is poetry’s great purpose in life.” [4] The same idea is expressed in his celebrated dissertation, The Aesthetic Relation of Art to Reality. According to its 17th thesis, art not only reproduces life but explains it: its productions very often “have the purpose of pronouncing judgement on the phenomena of life.
In the opinion of Chernyshevsky and his disciple, Dobrolyubov, the function of art was, indeed, to reproduce life and to pass judgement on its phenomena. [5] And this was not only the opinion of literary critics and theoreticians of art. It was not fortuitous that Nekrasov called his muse the muse of “vengeance and grief.” In one of his poems the Citizen says to the Poet:
Thou poet by the heavens blessed,
Their chosen herald! It is wrong
That the deprived and dispossessed
Are deaf to your inspired song.

Believe, men have not fallen wholly,
God lives yet in the heart of each
And still, though painfully and slowly,
The voice of faith their souls may reach.

Be thou a citizen, serve art.
And for thy fellow-beings live,
To them, to them thy loving heart
And all thy inspiration give. [6]
In these words the Citizen Nekrasov sets forth his own understanding of the function of art. It was in exactly the same way that the function of art was understood at that time by the most outstanding representatives of the plastic arts – painting, for example. Perov and Kramskoi, like Nekrasov, strove to be “citizens” in serving art; their works, like his, passed “judgements on the phenomena of life.” [7]

The opposite view of the function of creative art had a powerful defender in Pushkin, the Pushkin of the time of Nicholas I. Everybody, of course, is familiar with such of his poems as The Rabble and To the Poet. The people plead with the poet to compose songs that would improve social morals, but meet with a contemptuous, one might say rude, rebuff:
Begone, ye pharisees! What cares
The peaceful poet for your fate?
Go, boldly steep yourselves in sin:
With you the lyre will bear no weight.

Upon your deeds I turn my back.
The whip, the dungeon and the rack
Till now you suffered as the price
For your stupidity and vice
And, servile madmen, ever shall!
Pushkin set forth his view of the mission of the poet in the much-quoted words:
No, not for worldly agitation,
Nor worldly greed, nor worldly strife,
But for sweet song, for inspiration,
For prayer the poet comes to life. [8]
Here the so-called theory of art for art’s sake is formulated in the most striking manner. It was not without reason that Pushkin was cited so readily and so often by the opponents of the literary movement of the sixties [9].

Which of these two directly opposite views of the function of art is to be considered correct?

In undertaking to answer this question, it must first be observed that it is badly formulated. Like all questions of a similar nature, it cannot be approached from the standpoint of “duty.” If the artists of a given country at one period shun “worldly agitation and strife,” and, at another, long for strife and the agitation that necessarily goes with it, this is not because somebody prescribes for them different “duties” at different periods, but because in certain social conditions they are dominated by one attitude of mind, and by another attitude of mind in other social conditions. Hence, if we are to approach the subject correctly, we must look at it not from the standpoint of what ought to be, but of what actually is and has been. We shall therefore formulate the question as follows:

What are the most important social conditions in which artists and people keenly interested in art conceive and become possessed by the belief in art for art’s sake?

As we approach the answer to this question, it will not be difficult to answer another, one closely connected with it and no less interesting, namely:

What are the most important social conditions in which artists and people keenly interested in art conceive and become possessed by the so-called utilitarian view of art, that is, the tendency to attach to artistic productions the significance of “judgements on the phenomena of life"?

The first of these two questions impels us once again to recall Pushkin.

There was a time when he did not believe in the theory of art for art’s sake. There was a time when he did not avoid strife, in fact, was eager for it. This was in the period of Alexander I. At that time he did not think that the “people” should be content with the whip, dungeon and rack. On the contrary, in the ode called Freedom, he exclaimed with indignation:
Unhappy nation! Everywhere
Men suffer under whips and chains,
And over all injustice reigns,
And haughty peers abuse their power
And sombre prejudice prevails.
But then his attitude of mind radically changed. In the days of Nicholas I he espoused the theory of art for art’s sake. What was the reason for this fundamental change of attitude?

The reign of Nicholas I opened with the catastrophe of December 14 [10], which was to exert an immense influence both on the subsequent development of our “society” and on the fate of Pushkin personally. With the suppression of the “Decembrists,” the most educated and advanced representatives of the “society” of that time passed from the scene. This could not but considerably lower its moral and intellectual level. “Young as I was,” Herzen says, “I remember how markedly high society declined and became more sordid and servile with the ascension of Nicholas to the throne. The independence of the aristocracy and the dashing spirit of the Guards characteristic of Alexander’s time – all this disappeared in 1826.” It was distressing for a sensitive and intelligent person to live in such a society. “Deadness and silence all around,” Herzen wrote in another article: “All were submissive, inhuman and hopeless, and moreover extremely shallow, stupid and petty. He who sought for sympathy encountered a look of fright or the forbidding stare of the lackey; he was shunned or insulted.” In Pushkin’s letters of the time when his poems The Rabble and To the Poet were written, we find him constantly complaining of the tedium and shallowness of both our capitals. [11] But it was not only from the shallowness of the society around him that he suffered. His relations with the “ruling spheres” were also a source of grievous vexation.

According to the touching and very widespread legend, in 1826 Nicholas I graciously “forgave” Pushkin the political “errors of his youth,” and even became his magnanimous patron. But this is far from the truth. Nicholas and his right-hand man in affairs of this kind, Chief of Police Benkendorf, “forgave” Pushkin nothing, and their “patronage” took the form of a long series of intolerable humiliations. Benkendorf reported to Nicholas in 1827: “After his interview with me, Pushkin spoke enthusiastically of Your Majesty in the English Club, and compelled his fellow diners to drink Your Majesty’s health. He is a regular ne’er-do-well, but if we succeed in directing his pen and his tongue, it will be a good thing.” The last words in this quotation reveal the secret of the “patronage” accorded to Pushkin. They wanted to make him a minstrel of the existing order of things. Nicholas I and Benkendorf had made it their aim to direct Pushkin’s unruly muse into the channels of official morality. When, after Pushkin’s death, Field Marshal Paskevich wrote to Nicholas: “I am sorry for Pushkin as a writer,” the latter replied: “I fully share your opinion, but in all fairness it may be said that in him one mourns the future, not the past.” [12] This means that the never-to-be-forgotten emperor prized the dead poet not for the great things he had written in his short lifetime, but for what he might have written under proper police supervision and guidance. Nicholas had expected him to write “patriotic” works like Kukolnik’s play The Hand of the All-Highest Saved Our Fatherland. Even so unworldly a poet as V. A. Zhukovsky, who was withal a very good courtier, tried to make him listen to reason and inspire him with respect for conventional morals. In a letter to him dated April 12, 1826, he wrote: “Our adolescents (that is, all the ripening generation), poorly educated as they are, and therefore with nothing to buttress them in life, have become acquainted with your unruly thoughts clothed in the charm of poetry; you have already done much harm, incurable harm. This should cause you to tremble. Talent is nothing. The chief thing is moral grandeur...” [13] You will agree that, being in such a situation, wearing the chains of such tutelage, and having to listen to such instruction, it is quite excusable that he conceived a hatred for “moral grandeur,” came to loathe the “benefits” which art might confer, and cried to his counsellors and patrons
Begone, ye pharisees! What cares
The peaceful poet for your fate?
In other words, being in such a situation, it was quite natural that Pushkin became a believer in art for art’s sake and said to the Poet, in his own person:
You are a king, alone and free to go
Wherever your unfettered mind may lead,
Perfecting, fostering the children of your muse,
Demanding no reward for noble deed. [14]
Pisarev would have taken issue with me and said that Pushkin the poet addressed these vehement words not to his patrons, but to the “people.” But the real people never came within the purview of the writers of that time. With Pushkin, the word “people” had the same meaning as the word which is often to be found in his poems: “crowd.” And this latter word, of course, does not refer to the labouring masses. In his Gypsies Pushkin describes the inhabitants of the stifling cities as follows:
Of love ashamed, of thought afraid,
Foul prejudices rule their brains.
Their liberty they gladly trade
For money to procure them chains.
It is hard to believe that this description refers, say, to the urban artisans.

If all this is true, then the following conclusion suggests itself:
The belief in art for art’s sake arises wherever the artist is at odds with his social environment.
It might be said, of course, that the example of Pushkin is not sufficient to justify such a conclusion. I will not controvert or gainsay this. I will give other examples, this time borrowed from the history of French literature, that is, the literature of a country whose intellectual trends – at least down to the middle of the last century – met with the broadest sympathy throughout the European continent.

Pushkin’s contemporaries, the French romanticists, were also, with few exceptions, ardent believers in art for art’s sake. Perhaps the most consistent of them, Théophile Gautier, abused the defenders of the utilitarian view of art in the following terms:
“No, you fools, no, you goitrous cretins, a book cannot be turned into gelatine soup, nor a novel into a pair of seamless boots... By the intestines of all the Popes, future, past and present: No, and a thousand times no!... I am one of those who consider the superfluous essential; my love of things and people is in inverse proportion to the services they may render.” [15]
In a biographical note on Baudelaire, this same Gautier highly praised the author of the Fleurs du mal for having upheld “the absolute autonomy of art and for not admitting that poetry had any aim but itself, or any mission but to excite in the soul of the reader the sensation of beauty, in the absolute sense of the term” (“l’autonomie absolue de l’art et qu’il n’admettait pas que la poésie eût d’autre but qu’elle même et d’autre mission à remplir que d’exciter dans l’âme du lecteur la sensation du beau; dans le sens absolu du terme”).
How little the “idea of beauty” could associate in Gautier’s mind with social and political ideas, may be seen from the following statement of his:
“I would very gladly (très joyeusement) renounce my rights as a Frenchman and citizen for the sake of seeing a genuine Raphael or a beautiful woman in the nude.”
That, surely, is the limit. Yet all the Parnassians (les parnassiens) [16] would probably have agreed with Gautier, though some of them may have had certain reservations concerning the too paradoxical form in which he, especially in his youth, expressed the demand for the “absolute autonomy of art.”

What was the reason for this attitude of mind of the French romanticists and Parnassians? Were they also at odds with their social environment?

In an article Théophile Gautier wrote in 1857 on the revival by the Théâtre Français of Alfred de Vigny’s play Chatterton, he recalled its first performance on February 12, 1835. This is what he said:
“The parterre before which Chatterton declaimed was filled with pallid, long-haired youths, who firmly believed that there was no dignified occupation save writing poems or painting pictures... and who looked on the ‘bourgeois’ with a contempt hardly equalled by that which the fuchses [17] of Heidelberg and Jena entertain for the philistine.” [18]
Who were these contemptible “bourgeois"?

“They included,” Gautier says, “nearly everybody – bankers, brokers, lawyers, merchants, shopkeepers, etc. – in a word, everyone who did not belong to the mystical cénacle [that is, the romanticist circle. – G.P.] and who earned their living by prosaic occupations.” [19]

And here is further evidence. In a comment to one of his Odes funambulesques, Theodore de Banville admits that he too had been afflicted with this hatred of the “bourgeois.” And he too explains who was meant by the term. In the language of the romanticists, the word “bourgeois” meant “a man whose only god was the five-franc piece, who had no ideal but saving his own skin, and who, in poetry, loved sentimental romance, and in the plastic arts, lithography.” [20]

Recalling this, de Banville begs his reader not to be surprised that his Odes funambulesques – which, mark, appeared towards the very end of the romantic period – treated people as unmitigated scoundrels only because they led a bourgeois mode of life and did not worship romantic geniuses.

These illustrations are fairly convincing evidence that the romanticists really were at odds with their bourgeois social environment. True, there was nothing dangerous in this to the bourgeois social relationships. The romanticist circles consisted of young bourgeois who had no objection to these relationships, but were revolted by the sordidness, the tedium and the vulgarity of bourgeois existence. The new art with which they were so strongly infatuated was for them a refuge from this sordidness, tedium and vulgarity. In the latter years of the Restoration [21] and in the first half of the reign of Louis Philippe, that is, in the best period of romanticism, it was the more difficult for the French youth to accustom themselves to the sordid, prosaic and tedious life of the bourgeoisie, as not long before that France had lived through the terrible storms of the Great Revolution and the Napoleonic era, which had deeply stirred all human passions. [22] When the bourgeoisie assumed the predominant position in society, and when its life was no longer warmed by the fire of the struggle for liberty, nothing was left for the new art but to idealise negation of the bourgeois mode of life. Romantic art was indeed such an idealisation. The romanticists strove to express their negation of bourgeois “moderation and conformity” not only in their artistic works, but even in their own external appearance. We have already heard from Gautier that the young men who filled the parterre at the first performance of Chatterton wore long hair. Who has not heard of Gautier’s own red waistcoat, which made “decent people” shiver with horror? For the young romanticists, fantastic costume, like long hair, was a means of drawing a line between themselves and the detested bourgeois. The pale face was a similar means: it was, so to speak, a protest against bourgeois satiety.

Gautier says: “In those days it was the prevailing fashion in the romantic school to have as pallid a complexion as possible, even greenish, almost cadaverous. This lent a man a fateful, Byronic appearance, testified that he was devoured by passions and remorse. It made him look interesting in the eyes of women.” [23] Gautier also tells us that the romanticists found it hard to forgive Victor Hugo his respectable appearance, and in private conversation often deplored this weakness of the great poet, “which made him kin with mankind, and even with the bourgeoisie.” [24] It should be observed, in general, that the effort to assume a definite outward appearance always reflects the social relationships of the given period. An interesting sociological inquiry could be written on this theme.

This being the attitude of the young romanticists to the bourgeoisie, it was only natural that they were revolted by the idea of “useful art.” In their eyes, to make art useful was tantamount to making it serve the bourgeoisie whom they despised so profoundly. This explains Gautier’s vehement sallies against the preachers of useful art, which I have just cited, whom he calls “fools, goitrous cretins” and so on. It also explains the paradox that in his eyes the value of persons and things is in inverse proportion to the service they render. Essentially, all these sallies and paradoxes are a complete counterpart of Pushkin’s:
Begone, ye pharisees! What cares
The peaceful poet for your fate?
The Parnassians, and the early French realists (the Goncourt brothers, Flaubert, etc.) likewise entertained an infinite contempt for the bourgeois society around them. They, too, were untiring in their abuse of the detested “bourgeois.” If they printed their writings, it was not, they averred, for the benefit of the general reading public, but for a chosen few, “pour les amis inconnus” [25], as Flaubert puts it in one of his letters. They maintained that only a writer who was devoid of serious talent could find favour with a wide circle of readers. Leconte de Lisle held that the popularity of a writer was proof of his intellectual inferiority (signe d’infériorité intellectuelle). It need scarcely be added that the Parnassians, like the romanticists, were staunch believers in the theory of art for art’s sake.

Many similar examples might be given. But it is quite unnecessary. It is already sufficiently clear that the belief in art for art’s sake naturally arises among artists wherever they are at odds with the society around them. But it would not be amiss to define this disharmony more precisely.

At the close of the 18th century, in the period immediately preceding the Great Revolution, the progressive artists of France were likewise at odds with the prevailing “society” of the time. David and his friends were foes of the “old order.” And this disharmony was of course hopeless, because reconciliation between them and the old order was quite impossible. More, the disharmony between David and his friends and the old order was incomparably deeper than the disharmony between the romanticists and bourgeois society: whereas David and his friends desired the abolition of the old order, Théophile Gautier and his colleagues, as I have repeatedly said, had no objection to the bourgeois social relationships; all they wanted was that the bourgeois system should cease producing vulgar bourgeois habits. [26]

But in revolting against the old order, David and his friends were well aware that behind them marched the serried columns of the third estate, which was soon, in the well-known words of Abbé Sieyès, to become everything. With them, consequently, the feeling of disharmony with the prevailing order was supplemented by a feeling of sympathy with the new society which had matured within the womb of the old and was preparing to replace it. But with the romanticists and the Parnassians we find nothing of the kind: they neither expected nor desired a change in the social system of the France of their time. That is why their disharmony with the society around them was quite hopeless. [27] Nor did our Pushkin expect any change in the Russia of his time. And in the period of Nicholas, moreover, it is probable that he no longer wished for any change. That is why his view of social life was similarly tinged with pessimism.

Now, I think, I can amplify my former conclusion and say:
The belief in art for art’s sake arises when artists and people keenly interested in art are hopelessly at odds with their social environment.
But this is not the whole matter. The example of our “men of the sixties,” who firmly believed in the early triumph of reason, and that of David and his friends, who held this belief no less firmly, show that the so-called utilitarian view of art, that is, the tendency to impart to its productions the significance of judgements on the phenomena of life, and the joyful eagerness, which always accompanies it, to take part in social strife, arises and spreads wherever there is mutual sympathy between a considerable section of society and people who have a more or less active interest in creative art.
How far this is true, is definitely shown by the following fact.

When the refreshing storm of the February Revolution of 1848 broke, many of the French artists who had believed in the theory of art for art’s sake emphatically rejected it. Even Baudelaire, who was subsequently cited by Gautier as the model example of an artist who believed staunchly that art must be absolutely autonomous, began at once to put out a revolutionary journal, Le salut public. True, its publication was soon discontinued, but as late as 1852 Baudelaire, in his foreword to Pierre Dupont’s Chansons, called the theory of art for art’s sake infantile (puérile), and declared that art must have a social purpose. Only the triumph of the counter-revolution induced Baudelaire and artists of a similar trend of mind to revert once and for all to the “infantile” theory of art for art’s sake. One of the future luminaries of “Parnassus,” Leconte de Lisle, brought out the psychological significance of this reversion very distinctly in the preface to his Poèmes antiques, the first edition of which appeared in 1852. He said that poetry would no longer stimulate heroic actions or inculcate social virtues, because now, as in all periods of literary decadence, its sacred language could express only petty personal emotions (mesquines impressions personnelles) and was no longer capable of instructing (n’est plus apte à enseigner l’homme). [28] Addressing the poets, Leconte de Lisle said that the human race, whose teachers they had once been, had now outgrown them. [29] Now, in the words of the future Parnassian, the task of poetry was “to give an ideal life” to those who had no “real life” (donner la vie idéale a celui qui n’a pas la vie réelle). [30] These profound words disclose the whole psychological secret of the belief in art for art’s sake. We shall have many an occasion to revert to Leconte de Lisle’s preface from which I have just quoted.

To conclude with this side of the question, I would say in addition, that political authority always prefers the utilitarian view of art, to the extent, of course, that it pays any attention to art at all. And this is understandable: it is to its interest to harness all ideologies to the service of the cause which it serves itself. And since political authority, although sometimes revolutionary, is most often conservative and even reactionary, it would clearly be wrong to think that the utilitarian view of art is shared principally by revolutionaries, or by people of advanced mind generally. The history of Russian literature shows very clearly that it has not been shunned even by our “protectors.” Here are some examples. The first three parts of V. T. Narezhny’s novel, A Russian Gil Blas, or the Adventures of Count Gavrila Simonovich Chistyakov, were published in 1814. The book was at once banned at the instance of the Minister of Public Education, Count Razumovsky, who took the occasion to express the following opinion on the relation of literature to life:
“All too often authors of novels, although apparently campaigning against vice, paint it in such colours or describe it in such detail as to lure young people into vices which it would have been better not to mention at all. Whatever the literary merit of a novel may be, its publication can be sanctioned only when it has a truly moral purpose.”
As we see, Razumovsky believed that art cannot be an aim in itself.

Art was regarded in exactly the same way by those servitors of Nicholas I who, by virtue of their official position, were obliged to have some opinion on the subject. You will remember that Benkendorf tried to direct Pushkin into the path of virtue. Nor was Ostrovsky denied the solicitous attention of authority. When, in March 1850, his comedy The Bankrupt was published and certain enlightened lovers of literature – and trade – expressed the fear that it might offend the merchant class, the then Minister of Public Education (Count Shirinsky-Shikhmatov) ordered the guardian of the Moscow Educational Area to invite the young dramatist to come and see him, and “make him understand that the noble and useful purpose of talent consists not only in the lively depiction of what is ludicrous or evil, but in justly condemning it; not only in caricature, but in inculcating lofty moral sentiments; consequently, in offsetting vice with virtue, the ridiculous and criminal with thoughts and actions that elevate the soul; lastly, in strengthening the faith, which is so important to social and private life, that evil deeds meet with fitting retribution already here on earth.”

Tsar Nicholas I himself looked upon art chiefly from the “moral” standpoint. As we know, he shared Benkendorf’s opinion that it would be a good thing to tame Pushkin. He said of Ostrovsky’s play, Shouldering Another’s Troubles, written at the time when Ostrovsky had fallen under the influence of the Slavophiles [31] and was fond of saying at convivial banquets that, with the help of some of his friends, he would “undo all the work” of Peter [32] – of this play, which in a certain sense was distinctly didactic, Nicholas I said with praise: “Ce n’est pas une pièce, c’est une leçon.” [33] Not to multiply examples, I shall confine myself to the two following facts. When N. Polevoi’s Moskovsky Telegraf [34] printed an unfavourable review of Kukolnik’s “patriotic” play, The Hand of the All-Highest Saved Our Fatherland, the journal became anathema in the eyes of Nicholas’s ministers and was banned. But when Polevoi himself wrote patriotic plays – Grandad of the Russian Navy and Igolkin the Merchant – the tsar, Polevoi’s brother relates, was delighted with his dramatic talent. “The author is unusually gifted,” he said. “He should write, write and write. Yes write (he smiled), not publish magazines.” [35]

And don’t think the Russian rulers were an exception in this respect. No, so typical an exponent of absolutism as Louis XIV of France was no less firmly convinced that art could not be an aim in itself, but must be an instrument of moral education. And all the literature and all the art of the celebrated era of Louis XIV was permeated through and through with this conviction. Napoleon I would similarly have looked upon the theory of art for art’s sake as a pernicious invention of loathsome “ideologists.” He, too, wanted literature and art to serve moral purposes. And in this he largely succeeded, as witnessed for example by the fact that most of the pictures in the periodical exhibitions (Salons) of the time were devoted to the warlike feats of the Consulate and the Empire. His little nephew, Napoleon III, followed in his footsteps, though with far less success. He, too, tried to make art and literature serve what he called morality. In November 1852, Professor Laprade of Lyons scathingly ridiculed this Bonapartist penchant for didactic art in a satire called Les muses d’Etat. He predicted that the time would soon come when the state muses would place human reason under military discipline; then order would reign and not a single writer would dare to express the slightest dissatisfaction.

Il faut être content, s’il pleut, s’il fait soleil,
S’il fait chaud, s’il fait froid: “Ayez le teint vermeil,
Je déteste les gens maigres, à face pâle;
Celui qui ne rit pas mérite qu’on l’empale,” etc. [36]

I shall remark in passing that for this witty satire Laprade was deprived of his professorial post. The government of Napoleon III could not tolerate jibes at the “state muses.”
G. V. Plekhanov, "Art and Social Life" (1912)
Should art be appropriated to serve "effective freedom"? Or it sufficient that it serve "formal freedom"?

Hermean art examples from philokerdes past:

A reminder of Hipparchos: Walk thinking just thoughts.

A reminder of Hipparchos: Do not deceive a friend.

And where is there a place for the philonikon, philotimon, philoprotos, or philosophon in Socially Progressive Art?.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Teacher Tell Me...

“The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters. Its object is, in all cases, to maintain the authority of the master, and whether he neglects or performs his duty, to oblige the students in all cases to behave to him, as if he performed it with the greatest diligence and ability. It seems to presume perfect wisdom and virtue in the one order, and the greatest weakness and folly in the other. Where the masters, however, really perform their duty, there are no examples, I believe, that the greater part of the students ever neglect theirs. No discipline is ever requisite to force attendance upon lectures which are really worth the attending, as is well known wherever any such lectures are given. Force and restraint may, no doubt, be in some degree requisite in order to oblige children, or very young boys, to attend to those parts of education which it is thought necessary for them to acquire during that early period of life; but after twelve or thirteen years of age, provided the master does his duty, force or restraint can scarce ever be necessary to carry on any part of education. Such is the generosity of the greater part of young men, that, so far from being disposed to neglect or despise the instructions of their master, provided he shows some serious intention of being of use to them, they are generally inclined to pardon a great deal of incorrectness in the performance of his duty, and sometimes even to conceal from the public a good deal of gross negligence.”
― Adam Smith
The university discourse is enunciated from the position of "neutral" Knowledge; it addresses the remainder of the real (say, in the case of pedagogical knowledge, the "raw, uncultivated child"), turning it into the subject ($). The "truth" of the university discourse, hidden beneath the bar, of course, is power, i.e. the Master-Signifier: the constitutive lie of the university discourse is that it disavows its performative dimension, presenting what effectively amounts to a political decision based on power as a simple insight into the factual state of things. What one should avoid here is the Foucauldian misreading: the produced subject is not simply the subjectivity which arises as the result of the disciplinary application of knowledge-power, but its remainder, that which eludes the grasp of knowledge-power. "Production" (the fourth term in the matrix of discourses) does not stand simply for the result of the discursive operation, but rather for its "indivisible remainder," for the excess which resists being included in the discursive network, i.e. for what the discourse itself produces as the foreign body in its very heart. Perhaps the exemplary case of the Master's position which underlies the university discourse is the way in which medical discourse functions in our everyday lives: at the surface level, we are dealing with pure objective knowledge which desubjectivizes the subject-patient, reducing him to an object of research, of diagnosis and treatment; however, beneath it, one can easily discern a worried hystericized subject, obsessed with anxiety, addressing the doctor as his Master and asking for reassurance from him. At a more common level, suffice it to recall the market expert who advocates strong budgetary measures (cutting welfare expenses, etc.) as a necessity imposed by his neutral expertise devoid of any ideological biases: what he conceals is the series of power-relations (from the active role of state apparatuses to ideological beliefs) which sustain the "neutral" functioning of the market mechanism.
-Slavoj Zizek, "Homo Sacer as the Object of the University Discourse"
“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”
― Adam Smith
“The first duty of the sovereign [is] that of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies, [which] can be performed only by means of a military force”
― Adam Smith, "The Wealth of Nations"
“It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”
― Adam Smith
“The interest of [businessmen] is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public ... The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ... ought never to be adopted, till after having been long and carefully examined ... with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men ... who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public”
― Adam Smith, "An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Volume 1 of 2 "

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Deep South

The Photography of Sally Mann
“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
― Ansel Adams

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Know what you get when you cross Carly Simon with James Taylor? Ben Taylor