Tuesday, March 29, 2016
-E.A. Poe, "Al Aaraaf (Part II, 'Maiden's Song')"
“‘Neath the blue-bell or streamer —
Or tufted wild spray
That keeps, from the dreamer,
The moonbeam away —
Bright beings! that ponder,
With half closing eyes,
On the stars which your wonder
Hath drawn from the skies,
Till they glance thro’ the shade, and
Come down to your brow
Like — eyes of the maiden
Who calls on you now —
Arise! from your dreaming
In violet bowers,
To duty beseeming
These star-litten hours —
And shake from your tresses
Encumber’d with dew
The breath of those kisses
That cumber them too —
(O! how, without you, Love!
Could angels be blest?)
Those kisses of true Love
That lull’d ye to rest!
Up! — shake from your wing
Each hindering thing:
The dew of the night —
It would weigh down your flight
And true love caresses —
O, leave them apart!
They are light on the tresses,
But lead on the heart.
My beautiful one!
Whose harshest idea
Will to melody run,
O! is it thy will
On the breezes to toss?
Or, capriciously still,
Like the lone Albatros,
Incumbent on night
(As she on the air)
To keep watch with delight
On the harmony there?
Thy image may be,
No magic shall sever
Thy music from thee.
Thou hast bound many eyes
In a dreamy sleep —
But the strains still arise
Which thy vigilance keep —
The sound of the rain,
Which leaps down to the flower —
And dances again
In the rhythm of the shower —
The murmur that springs
From the growing of grass
Are the music of things —
But are modell’d, alas! —
Away, then, my dearest,
Oh! hie thee away
To the springs that lie clearest
Beneath the moon-ray —
To lone lake that smiles,
In its dream of deep rest,
At the many star-isles
That enjewel its breast —
Where wild flowers, creeping,
Have mingled their shade,
On its margin is sleeping
Full many a maid —
Some have left the cool glade, and
Have slept with the bee —
Arouse them, my maiden,
On moorland and lea —
Go! breathe on their slumber,
All softly in ear,
Thy musical number
They slumbered to hear —
For what can awaken
An angel so soon,
Whose sleep hath been taken
Beneath the cold moon,
As the spell which no slumber
Of witchery may test,
The rhythmical number
Which lull’d him to rest?”
Thursday, March 24, 2016
‘Rule Girls’ are heterosexual women who follow precise rules as to how they let themselves be seduced (accept a date only if you are asked at least three days in advance etc). Although the rules correspond to customs which used to regulate the behaviour of old-fashioned women actively pursued by old-fashioned men, the Rule Girls phenomenon does not involve a return to conservative values: women now freely choose their own rules – an instance of the ‘reflexivisation’ of everyday customs in today’s ‘risk society’. According to the risk society theory of Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck and others, we no longer live our lives in compliance with Nature or Tradition; there is no symbolic order or code of accepted fictions (what Lacan calls the ‘Big Other’) to guide us in our social behaviour. All our impulses, from sexual orientation to ethnic belonging, are more and more often experienced as matters of choice. Things which once seemed self-evident – how to feed and educate a child, how to proceed in sexual seduction, how and what to eat, how to relax and amuse oneself – have now been ‘colonised’ by reflexivity, and are experienced as something to be learned and decided on.- Slavoj Zizek, "You May!"
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
- Anonymous; "John Henry"
When John Henry was a little tiny baby
Sitting on his mama's knee,
He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel
Saying, "Hammer's going to be the death of me, Lord, Lord,
Hammer's going to be the death of me."
John Henry was a man just six feet high,
Nearly two feet and a half across his breast.
He'd hammer with a nine-pound hammer all day
And never get tired and want to rest, Lord, Lord,
And never get tired and want to rest.
John Henry went up on the mountain
And he looked one eye straight up its side.
The mountain was so tall and John Henry was so small,
He laid down his hammer and he cried, "Lord, Lord,"
He laid down his hammer and he cried.
John Henry said to his captain,
"Captain, you go to town,
Bring me back a TWELVE-pound hammer, please,
And I'll beat that steam drill down, Lord, Lord,
I'll beat that steam drill down."
The captain said to John Henry,
"I believe this mountain's sinking in."
But John Henry said, "Captain, just you stand aside--
It's nothing but my hammer catching wind, Lord, Lord,
It's nothing but my hammer catching wind."
John Henry said to his shaker,
"Shaker, boy, you better start to pray,
'Cause if my TWELVE-pound hammer miss that little piece of steel,
Tomorrow'll be your burying day, Lord, Lord,
Tomorrow'll be your burying day."
John Henry said to his captain,
"A man is nothing but a man,
But before I let your steam drill beat me down,
I'd die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
I'd die with a hammer in my hand."
The man that invented the steam drill,
He figured he was mighty high and fine,
But John Henry sunk the steel down fourteen feet
While the steam drill only made nine, Lord, Lord,
The steam drill only made nine.
John Henry hammered on the right-hand side.
Steam drill kept driving on the left.
John Henry beat that steam drill down.
But he hammered his poor heart to death, Lord, Lord,
He hammered his poor heart to death.
Well, they carried John Henry down the tunnel
And they laid his body in the sand.
Now every woman riding on a C and O train
Says, "There lies my steel-driving man, Lord, Lord,
There lies my steel-driving man."
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Nicholas Prior is a photographer and artist based in New York
Conspiracy of Silence; Sociologist Norbert Elias wrote that, in order for childhood to exist, their must be a “conspiracy of silence”, whereby adults intentionally withhold information from children in an effort to preserve their innocence. For this project, a cabin was built in the New Hampshire woods that only adults were permitted to enter. Children approached with increasing curiosity the obscured windows of the cabin, which become metaphors for the conspiracy of silence, an elusive division created by adults to shield children from adulthood. This series also explores the notion of the gaze, and the shifting and reciprocal roles of voyeur and object
music; Oskar Schuster - Matilda
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.1 Corinthians 13:12
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Why didn’t I keep it? It was used to me and I was used to it. It molded all the folds of my body without inhibiting it; I was picturesque and handsome. The other one is stiff, and starchy, makes me look stodgy. There was no need to which its kindness didn’t loan itself, for indigence is almost always officious. If a book was covered in dust, one of its panels was there to wipe it off. If thickened ink refused to flow in my quill, it presented its flank. Traced in long black lines, one could see the services it had rendered me. These long lines announce the litterateur, the writer, the man who works. I now have the air of a rich good for nothing. No one knows who I am.- Denis Diderot, "Regrets on Parting with my Old Dressing Gown" (1769)
In its shelter I feared neither the clumsiness of a valet, nor my own, neither the explosion of fire nor the spilling of water. I was the absolute master of my old robe. I have become the slave of the new one.
The dragon that guarded the golden fleece was no more worried than I am. Care envelopes me.
The infatuated old man who turns himself over to the whims , to the mercies of a young girl says, from morning to night; where is my good, my old housekeeper? What demon obsessed me the day I chased her away for this one! And then he cries, he sighs.
I don’t cry, I don’t sigh, but every moment I say: Cursed be he who invented the art of putting a price on common material by tinting it scarlet. Cursed be the precious garment that I revere. Where is my old, my humble, my comfortable rag of common cloth?
My friends, keep your old friends. My friends, fear the touch of wealth. Let my example teach you a lesson. Poverty has its freedoms; opulence has its obstacles.
O Diogenes! How you would laugh if you saw your disciple beneath Aristipius’ luxurious mantle! O Aristipius, this luxurious mantle was paid for by many low acts. What a difference between your soft, crawling, effeminate life and the free and firm life of the rag-wearing cynic. I left behind the barrel in which I ruled in order to serve a tyrant.
But that’s not all, my friend. Lend an ear to the ravages of luxury, the results of a consistent luxury.
My old robe was one with the other rags that surrounded me. A straw chair, a wooden table, a rug from Bergamo, a wood plank that held up a few books, a few smoky prints without frames, hung by its corners on that tapestry. Between these prints three or four suspended plasters formed, along with my old robe, the most harmonious indigence.
All is now discordant. No more coordination, no more unity, no more beauty.
A new, sterile housekeeper who succeeds to a presbytery, the wife who enters the house of a widower, the minister who replaces a disgraced minister, the Molinist prelate who takes over the diocese of a Jansenist prelate cause no more trouble than the scarlet intruder has caused in my household.
I can bear the sight of a peasant woman without disgust. That piece of simple cloth that covers her head, the hair that sparsely falls across her cheeks, those tattered rags that half cover her, that poor short petticoat that doesn’t cover half her legs, her naked feet covered with muck cannot wound me. It is the image of a state I respect; its the ensemble of the of the lack of grace of a necessary and unfortunate condition for which I have pity. But my stomach turns and, despite the perfumed atmosphere that follows her, I distance myself, I turn my gaze away from that courtisan whose coiffure a points d'angleterre, torn sleeves, filthy silk stockings and worn shoes show me the poverty of the day combined with the opulence of the previous evening.
Such would have been my domicile, if the imperious scarlet hadn’t set everything to march in unison with it.
I saw the Bergamo cede the wall to which it had so long been attached to the damascene hanging.
Two prints not without merit: The Chute de la Manne dans le Desert by Poussin and Esther devant Assuerus of the same painter; the one shamefully chased away by an old man by Rubens was the sad Esther; The falling manna was dissipated by a Tempest by Vernet.
The straw chair was relegated to the antechamber by a leather chair.
Homer, Virgil, Horace,and Cicero relieved the weak fir bending under their mass and have been closed in in an inlaid armoire, an asylum more worthy of them than of me.
A large mirror took over the mantle of my fireplace.
Those two lovely molds that I owed to Falconet’s friendship, and which he repaired himself, were moved away by a crouching Venus. Modern clay broken by antique bronze.
The wooden table was still fighting in the field, sheltered by a mass of pamphlets and papers piled up any which way, and which it appeared would protect it from the injuries that threatened it. One day it met its destiny, and despite my laziness the pamphlets and papers put themselves away in a precious bureau.
Evil instinct of the convenient! Delicate and ruinous tact, sublime taste that changes, moves, builds and overturns; that empties the coffers of the fathers; that leaves daughters without a dowry, the sons without an education; that makes so many beautiful things and great evils. You who substituted in my house the fatal and precious desk for the wooden table: it is you who ruins nations, it is you who will perhaps one day take my effects to the Pont Saint-Michel where will be heard the hoarse voice of a certified auctioneer saying: Twenty louis for a crouching Venus.
The space that remained between the tablet of this desk and the Tempest by Vernet, which is above it, made for a void disagreeable to the eye. This void was filled by a clock. And what a clock! A clock a la geoffrin; a clock whose the gold contrasts with the bronze.
There was a vacant corner next to my window. This corner asked for a writing desk, which it obtained.
Another unpleasant void between the tablet of the writing desk and the lovely head by Rubens was filled by two La Grenées.
Here is a Magdeleine by the same artist; there is a sketch either by Vien or Machy, for I also went in for sketches. And it was thus that the edifying repair of a philosopher transformed itself into the scandalous cabinet of a publican. In addition, I insult national poverty.
All that remains of my original mediocrity is a rug of selvage. I can feel that this pitiful rug doesn’t go well with my newfound luxury. But I swore and I swear, like the peasant transferred from his hut to a palace who keeps his sabots, that Denis the philosopher will never walk upon a masterpiece of la Savonnier. When in the morning, covered in my sumptuous scarlet, I enter my office I lower my gaze and I see my old rug of selvage. It reminds me of my beginnings and pride is stopped at the entryway to my heart.
No my friend, no, I have not been corrupted. My door is always open to the needy who address themselves to me; they find me as affable as ever. I listen to them, I give them advice, I assist them, I feel for them. My soul has not been hardened, my head has not gotten too big. My back is good and round, just as before. There’s the same honesty, the same sensitivity. My luxury is brand new and the poison has not yet acted. But who knows what will happen with time? What can be expected of he who has forgotten his wife and his daughter, who has run up debts, who has ceased to be a spouse and father and who, instead of depositing a useful sum deep in a faithful coffer...
Oh holy prophet! Raise you hands to the heavens and pray for a friend in peril. Say to God: If you see in your eternal decrees that riches are corrupting the heart of Denis, don’t spare the masterpieces he idolizes. Destroy them and return him to his original poverty. And I, on my side, will say to the heavens: Oh God! I resign myself to the prayer of the holy prophet and to your will. I abandon everything to you. Take back everything, everything except the Vernet! It’s not the artist, it is you who made it. Respect your own work and that of friendship.
See that lighthouse, see the adjacent tower that rises to the right. See the old tree that the winds have torn. How beautiful that masse is. Above that obscure masse, see the rocks covered in verdure. It is thus that your powerful hand formed them. It is thus that your beneficent hand has carpeted them. See that uneven terrace that descends from the foot of the rocks to the sea. It is the very image of the degradation you have permitted time to exercise on those things of the world that are the most solid. Would your sun have lighted it otherwise? God, if you annihilate that work of art it will be said that you are a jealous God. Have pity on the unfortunates spread out on these banks. Is it not enough for you to have shown them the depths of the abyss? Did you save them only to destroy them? Listen to the prayer of this man who thanks you. Aid in the efforts of he who gathers together the sad remains of his fortune. Close your ear to the imprecations of this madman. Alas, he promised himself such advantageous returns, he had contemplated rest and retirement. He was on his last voyage. A hundred times along the way he calculated on his fingers the size of his fortune and had arranged for its use. And now all of his hopes have vanished; he has barely enough to cover his naked limbs. Be touched by the tenderness of these two spouses. Look at the terror that you have inspired in that woman. She offers you thanks for the evil you did not do her. Nevertheless, her child, too young to know to what peril you exposed it, he, his father and his mother, takes care of the faithful companion of his voyage: he is attaching the collar of his dog. Spare the innocent. Look at that mother freshly escaped from the waters with her spouse: it is not for herself that she is trembling, it is for her child. See how she squeezes it to her breast, how she kisses it. O God, recognize the waters you have created. Recognize them, both when your breath moves them and when your hand calms them. Recognize the black clouds that you gathered and that it pleased you to scatter. Already they are separating, they are moving away; already the light of the day star is reborn on the face of the waters. I foresee calm on that red horizon. How far it is, the horizon! It doesn’t end with the sea. The sky descends beneath it and seems to turn around the globe. Finish lighting up the sky; finish rendering tranquility to the sea. Allow those seamen to put their shipwrecked boat back to sea. Assist in their labor, give them strength and leave me this painting. leave it to me, like the rod with which you will punish the vain. It is already the case that it is no longer i that people visit, that people come to listen to: it is Vernet they come to admire in my house. The painter has humiliated the philosopher.
Oh my friend, the beautiful Vernet I own! The subject is the end of a storm without a harmful catastrophe. The seas are still agitated, the sky covered in clouds; the sailors are busy on their sunken boat, the inhabitants come running from the nearby mountains. How much spirit this painter has! He needed but a small number of principal figures to render all the circumstances of the moment he chose. How true this scene is! With what lightness, ease and vigor it is all painted. I want to keep this testimony of his friendship. I want my son-in-law to transmit it to his children, his children to theirs, and these latter to those that will be born of them.
If only you saw the beauty of the whole of this piece, how everything there is harmonious, how the effects work together, how everything is brought out without effort or affectation. How those mountains on the right are wrapped in vapor. How beautiful those rocks and superimposed edifices are. How picturesque that tree is and the lighting on that terrace. How the light there fades away, how its figures are laid out: true, active, natural, living. How interesting they are, the force with which they are painted. The purity with which they are drawn, how they stand out from the background. The enormous breadth of that space, the verisimilitude of those waters. Those clouds, the sky, that horizon! Here the background is deprived of light, while the foreground is lit up, unlike the usual technique. Come see my Vernet, but don’t take it from me!
With time all debts will be paid, remorse will be calmed and I will have pure joy. Don’t fear that the mad desire to stock up beautiful things has taken control of me. The friends I had I sill have, and their number hasn’t grown. I have Lais but Lais doesn’t have me. Happy in her arms, I am ready to cede her to she who I'll love and who she'll make happier than me. And I want to tell you a secret: that Lais, who it cost others so much to buy, cost me nothing.
Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Monday, March 14, 2016
- Henry David Thoreau, "Inspiration"
Whate'er we leave to God, God does,
And blesses us;
The work we choose should be our own,
God leaves alone.
If with light head erect I sing,
Though all the Muses lend their force,
From my poor love of anything,
The verse is weak and shallow as its source.
But if with bended neck I grope
Listening behind me for my wit,
With faith superior to hope,
More anxious to keep back than forward it;
Making my soul accomplice there
Unto the flame my heart hath lit,
Then will the verse forever wear--
Time cannot bend the line which God hath writ.
Always the general show of things
Floats in review before my mind,
And such true love and reverence brings,
That sometimes I forget that I am blind.
But now there comes unsought, unseen,
Some clear divine electuary,
And I, who had but sensual been,
Grow sensible, and as God is, am wary.
I hearing get, who had but ears,
And sight, who had but eyes before,
I moments live, who lived but years,
And truth discern, who knew but learning's lore.
I hear beyond the range of sound,
I see beyond the range of sight,
New earths and skies and seas around,
And in my day the sun doth pale his light.
A clear and ancient harmony
Pierces my soul through all its din,
As through its utmost melody--
Farther behind than they, farther within.
More swift its bolt than lightning is,
Its voice than thunder is more loud,
It doth expand my privacies
To all, and leave me single in the crowd.
It speaks with such authority,
With so serene and lofty tone,
That idle Time runs gadding by,
And leaves me with Eternity alone.
Now chiefly is my natal hour,
And only now my prime of life;
Of manhood's strength it is the flower,
'Tis peace's end and war's beginning strife.
It comes in summer's broadest noon,
By a grey wall or some chance place,
Unseasoning Time, insulting June,
And vexing day with its presuming face.
Such fragrance round my couch it makes,
More rich than are Arabian drugs,
That my soul scents its life and wakes
The body up beneath its perfumed rugs.
Such is the Muse, the heavenly maid,
The star that guides our mortal course,
Which shows where life's true kernel's laid,
Its wheat's fine flour, and its undying force.
She with one breath attunes the spheres,
And also my poor human heart,
With one impulse propels the years
Around, and gives my throbbing pulse its start.
I will not doubt for evermore,
Nor falter from a steadfast faith,
For thought the system be turned o'er,
God takes not back the word which once He saith.
I will not doubt the love untold
Which not my worth nor want has bought,
Which wooed me young, and woos me old,
And to this evening hath me brought.
My memory I'll educate
To know the one historic truth,
Remembering to the latest date
The only true and sole immortal youth.
Be but thy inspiration given,
No matter through what danger sought,
I'll fathom hell or climb to heaven,
And yet esteem that cheap which love has bought.
Fame cannot tempt the bard
Who's famous with his God,
Nor laurel him reward
Who has his Maker's nod.
Saturday, March 12, 2016
The Four Errors. Man has been reared by his errors: firstly, he saw himself always imperfect; secondly, he attributed to himself imaginary qualities; thirdly, he felt himself in a false position in relation to the animals and nature; fourthly, he always devised new tables of values, and accepted them for a time as eternal and unconditioned, so that at one time this, and at another time that human impulse or state stood first, and was ennobled in consequence. When one has deducted the effect of these four errors, one has also deducted humanity, humaneness, and "human dignity."- Nietzsche, "Gay Science" (115)
- Joseph Addison, "The Transformation of Cycnus into a Swan"
Cycnus beheld the Nymphs transform'd, ally'd
To their dead Brother, on the Mortal Side,
In Friendship and Affection nearer bound;
He left the Cities and the Realms he own'd,
Thro' pathless Fields and lonely Shores to range,
And Woods, made Thicker by the Sisters Change.
Whilst here, within the dismal Gloom, alone,
The melancholy Monarch made his Moan,
His Voice was lessen'd, as he try'd to speak,
And issu'd through a long extended Neck;
His Hair transforms to Down, his Fingers meet
In skinny Films, and shape his oary Feet;
From both his Sides the Wings and Feathers break;
And from his Mouth proceeds a blunted Beak:
All Cycnus now into a Swan was turn'd,
Who, still remembring how his Kinsman burn'd,
To solitary Pools and Lakes retires,
And loves the Waters as oppos'd to Fires.
Mean-while Apollo in a gloomy Shade
(The native Lustre of his Brows decay'd)
Indulging Sorrow, sickens at the Sight
Of his own Sun-shine, and abhors the Light:
The hidden Griefs, that in his Bosom rise,
Sadden his Looks, and over-cast his Eyes,
As when some dusky Orb obstructs his Ray,
And sullies, in a Dim Eclipse, the Day.
Now secretly with inward Griefs he pin'd,
Now warm Resentments to his Griefs he joyn'd,
And now renounc'd his Office to Mankind.
" E'er since the Birth of Time, said he, I've born
" A long ungrateful Toil without Return;
" Let now some Other manage, if he dare,
" The fiery Steeds, and mount the burning Carr;
" Or, if none else, let Jove his Fortune try,
" And learn to lay his murd'ring Thunder by;
" Then will he own, perhaps, but own too late,
" My Son deserv'd not so severe a Fate.
The Gods stand round him, as he mourns, and pray
He would resume the Conduct of the Day,
Nor let the World be lost in endless Night:
Jove too himself, descending from his Height,
Excuses what had happen'd, and intreats,
Majestically mixing Pray'rs and Threats.
Prevail'd upon at length, again he took
The harness'd Steeds, that still with Horror shook,
And plies 'em with the Lash, and whips 'em on,
And, as he whips, upbraids 'em with his Son.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
- ICN, "Inescapable Labyrinths" (2015)
I would lie,
I would change myself because I wanted to be with you so much that
I would omit and stretch the truth.
But then I found out that I couldn't find myself in this labyrinth of lies that I had made.
I was lost inside my own maze.
Monday, March 7, 2016
W. H. Auden, "The Shield of Achilles" (1953)
She looked over his shoulder
For vines and olive trees,
Marble well-governed cities
And ships upon untamed seas,
But there on the shining metal
His hands had put instead
An artificial wilderness
And a sky like lead.
A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.
Out of the air a voice without a face
Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.
She looked over his shoulder
For ritual pieties,
White flower-garlanded heifers,
Libation and sacrifice,
But there on the shining metal
Where the altar should have been,
She saw by his flickering forge-light
Quite another scene.
Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
A crowd of ordinary decent folk
Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
As three pale figures were led forth and bound
To three posts driven upright in the ground.
The mass and majesty of this world, all
That carries weight and always weighs the same
Lay in the hands of others; they were small
And could not hope for help and no help came:
What their foes like to do was done, their shame
Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
And died as men before their bodies died.
She looked over his shoulder
For athletes at their games,
Men and women in a dance
Moving their sweet limbs
Quick, quick, to music,
But there on the shining shield
His hands had set no dancing-floor
But a weed-choked field.
A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
Of any world where promises were kept,
Or one could weep because another wept.
The thin-lipped armorer,
Hephaestos, hobbled away,
Thetis of the shining breasts
Cried out in dismay
At what the god had wrought
To please her son, the strong
Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
Who would not live long.
- Oscar Robles
It dissipates through the air
Gently teasing your nose
A fragrance so lovely
Grabbing as it goes
Its beauty so dazzling
That you can’t even see
But a mural so enormous
Is what it brings to me
The scent of a Gardenia
Filled with memories
Applied very lightly
To one’s porcelain skin
Ambience of invisible beauty
A love trail begins
The scent of Gardenia
Filled with memories
An aroma so blinding
That of romantic power
Only but a shrub
Not even a flower
The scent of Gardenia
Saturday, March 5, 2016
The true question is not “are immigrants a real threat to Europe?”, but “what does this obsession with the immigrant threat tell us about the weakness of Europe?”- Slavoj Zizek, "What our fear of refugees says about Europe"
Jacues Lacan claimed that, even if a jealous husband's claim about his wife – that she sleeps around with other men – is true, his jealousy is still pathological. Why? The true question is “not is his jealousy well-grounded?”, but “why does he need jealousy to maintain his self-identity?”. Along the same lines, one could say that even if most of the Nazi claims about the Jews were true – they exploit Germans; they seduce German girls – which they were not, of course, their anti-Semitism would still be (and was) pathological, since it represses the true reason why the Nazis needed anti-Semitism in order to sustain their ideological position.
And is it not exactly the same with the growing fear of refugees and immigrants? To extrapolate to the extreme: even if most of our prejudices about them were proven to be true – they are hidden fundamentalist terrorists; they rape and steal – the paranoid talk about the immigrant threat is still an ideological pathology. It tells more about us, Europeans, than about immigrants. The true question is not “are immigrants a real threat to Europe?”, but “what does this obsession with the immigrant threat tell us about the weakness of Europe?”
There are two dimensions here which should be kept apart. One is the atmosphere of fear, of the struggle against the Islamization of Europe, which has its own obvious absurdities. Refugees who flee terror are equated with the terrorists they are escaping from. The obvious fact that there are terrorists, rapists, criminals etc, among the refugees, while the large majority are desperate people looking for a better life – in the same way that, among the refugees from the German Democratic Republic, there were also hidden Stasi agents – is given a paranoid twist. In this version, immigrants appear (or pretend) to be desperate refugees, while in reality they are the spearhead of a new Islamic invasion of Europe. Above all, as is usually the case, the cause of problems which are immanent to today's global capitalism are projected onto an external intruder. A suspicious gaze always finds what it is looking for: “proof” is everywhere, even if half of it is soon proven to be fake.
The other dimension is the humanitarian idealization of refugees. This dismisses every attempt to openly confront the difficult issues which arise when those who follow different ways of life cohabit as a concession to the neo-Fascist right. The tragic-comic spectacle of the endless self-culpabilization in which Europe allegedly betrayed its own humanity – the spectacle of a murderous Europe leaving thousands of drowned bodies at its borders – is a self-serving one, with no emancipatory potential whatsoever. Everything “bad” about the other is dismissed, either as our (Western racist) projection onto the other, or as being the result of our (Western imperialist) mistreatment, through colonial violence, of the other. What lies beyond this closed circle of ourselves – or, rather, the projections of our “repressed” evil side onto the other” – what we believe we encounter as the “authentic” other when we truly open ourselves up to them, the good, innocent other, is also our ideological fantasy.
There is no place for negotiated compromise here; no point at which the two sides may agree (“OK, anti-immigrant paranoiacs exaggerate, but there are some fundamentalists among the refugees...”). Even the minimal degree of accuracy to the anti-immigrant racist’s claims does not serve to justify his paranoia, yet on the other hand, humanitarian self-culpabilization is thoroughly narcissistic, closed to a true encounter with the immigrant neighbour. The task is to talk openly about all the unpleasant issues without a compromise with racism.
In this way, we prevent a true encounter with a real neighbour and his or her specific way of life. Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, noted that when he was young foreign people’s manners and beliefs seemed to him ridiculous and eccentric, until he asked himself whether our own manners and beliefs may appear the same to them. The outcome of this reversal is not a generalized cultural relativism, but something more radical and interesting. We should learn to experience ourselves as eccentric, to see our customs in all their weirdness and arbitrariness. In his Everlasting Man, G K Chesterton imagines the monster that man might seem to the merely natural animals around him:“The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being; almost in the sense of being a stranger on the earth. In all sobriety, he has much more of the external appearance of one bringing alien habits from another land than of a mere growth of this one. He has an unfair advantage and an unfair disadvantage. He cannot sleep in his own skin; he cannot trust his own instincts. He is at once a creator moving miraculous hands and fingers and a kind of cripple. He is wrapped in artificial bandages called clothes; he is propped on artificial crutches called furniture. His mind has the same doubtful liberties and the same wild limitations. Alone among the animals, he is shaken with the beautiful madness called laughter; as if he had caught sight of some secret in the very shape of the universe hidden from the universe itself. Alone among the animals he feels the need of averting his thought from the root realities of his own bodily being; of hiding them as in the presence of some higher possibility which creates the mystery of shame. Whether we praise these things as natural to man or abuse them as artificial in nature, they remain in the same sense unique.”Is a “way of life” not precisely such a way of being a stranger on the earth? A specific “way of life” is not just composed of a set of abstract – Christian, Muslim – “values”; it is something embodied in a thick network of everyday practices: how we eat and drink, sing, make love, how we relate to authorities. We “are” our way of life: it is our second nature, which is why direct “education” is not able to change it. Something much more radical is needed, a kind of Brechtian “extraneation”, a deep existential experience by means of which it all of a sudden strikes us how stupidly meaningless and arbitrary our customs and rituals are – there is nothing natural in the way we embrace and kiss, in the way we wash ourselves, in the way we behave while eating…
The point is thus not to recognise ourselves in strangers, but to recognise a stranger in ourselves – therein resides the innermost dimension of European modernity. The recognition that we are all, each in our own way, weird lunatics, provides the only hope for a tolerable co-existence of different ways of life.
If the salaried bourgeoisie weren't worried about preserving their surplus salaries and social safety nets, would they even care about the influx?
Friday, March 4, 2016
Thursday, March 3, 2016
- Heinrich Heine, "Lorelei" (Translated by A.Z. Foreman)
I know not if there is a reason
Why I am so sad at heart.
A legend of bygone ages
Haunts me and will not depart.
The air is cool under nightfall.
The calm Rhine courses its way.
The peak of the mountain is sparkling
With evening's final ray.
The fairest of maidens is sitting
So marvelous up there,
Her golden jewels are shining,
She's combing her golden hair.
She combs with a comb also golden,
And sings a song as well
Whose melody binds a wondrous
And overpowering spell.
In his little boat, the boatman
Is seized with a savage woe,
He'd rather look up at the mountain
Than down at the rocks below.
I think that the waves will devour
The boatman and boat as one;
And this by her song's sheer power
Fair Lorelei has done.
The name comes from the old German words lureln, Rhine dialect for "murmuring", and the Celtic term ley "rock". The translation of the name would therefore be: "murmur rock" or "murmuring rock". The heavy currents, and a small waterfall in the area (still visible in the early 19th century) created a murmuring sound, and this combined with the special echo the rock produces to act as a sort of amplifier, giving the rock its name. The murmuring is hard to hear today owing to the urbanization of the area. Other theories attribute the name to the many accidents, by combining the German verb "lauern" (to lurk, lie in wait) with the same "ley" ending, with the translation "lurking rock".
By the German language orthographic reform of 1903, in almost all German terms letter "y" was changed for letter "i", but in some German names the letter "y" was kept, such as Speyer, Spay, (Rheinberg-)Orsoy, and including Loreley, which is thus the correct spelling in German.
Original folklore and the creation of the modern myth
The rock and the murmur it creates have inspired various tales. An old legend envisioned dwarfs living in caves in the rock.
In 1801, German author Clemens Brentano composed his ballad Zu Bacharach am Rheine as part of a fragmentary continuation of his novel Godwi oder Das steinerne Bild der Mutter. It first told the story of an enchanting female associated with the rock. In the poem, the beautiful Lore Lay, betrayed by her sweetheart, is accused of bewitching men and causing their death. Rather than sentence her to death, the bishop consigns her to a nunnery. On the way thereto, accompanied by three knights, she comes to the Lorelei rock. She asks permission to climb it and view the Rhine once again. She does so and thinking that she sees her love in the Rhine, falls to her death; the rock still retained an echo of her name afterwards. Brentano had taken inspiration from Ovid and the Echo myth.
In 1824, Heinrich Heine seized on and adapted Brentano's theme in one of his most famous poems, Die Lorelei. It describes the eponymous female as a sort of siren who, sitting on the cliff above the Rhine and combing her golden hair, unwittingly distracted shipmen with her beauty and song, causing them to crash on the rocks. In 1837 Heine's lyrics were set to music by Friedrich Silcher in the art song Lorelei that became well known in German-speaking lands. A setting by Franz Liszt was also favored and over a score of other musicians have set the poem to music.
The Lorelei character, although originally imagined by Brentano, passed into German popular culture in the form described in the Heine–Silcher song and is commonly but mistakenly believed to have originated in an old folk tale. The French writer Guillaume Apollinaire took up the theme again in his poem "La Loreley", from the collection Alcools which is later cited in Symphony No. 14 (3rd movement) of Dmitri Shostakovich.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
“The more total society becomes, the greater the reification of the mind and the more paradoxical its effort to escape reification on its own. Even the most extreme consciousness of doom threatens to degenerate into idle chatter. Cultural criticism finds itself faced with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today. Absolute reification, which presupposed intellectual progress as one of its elements, is now preparing to absorb the mind entirely. Critical intelligence cannot be equal to this challenge as long as it confines itself to self-satisfied contemplation.”-Theodor Adorno, “Cultural Criticism” (1949)