And by a prudent flight and cunning save A life which valour could not, from the grave. A better buckler I can soon regain, But who can get another life again? Archilochus

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dark Echo

Krist Novoselic remembers Cobain writing "Polly" after reading a newspaper article about the abduction, torture and rape in June 1987 of a 14-year-old girl by Gerald Arthur Friend; Friend had picked her up near the Tacoma Dome in his car after she had attended a rock concert.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Just a Punk with a Stutter

Κῆ δ' ἀμβροσίας μὲν κράτηρ ἐκέκρατο,
Ἐρμᾶς δ' ἔλεν ὄλπιν θέοις οἰνοχόησαι.
κῆνοι δ' ἄρα πάντες καρχησιά τ' ἦκον
κἄλειβον, ἀράσαντο δὲ πάμπαν ἔσλα
τῷ γάμβρῳ.

And there the bowl of ambrosia was mixed, and Hermes took the ladle to pour out for the gods; and then they all held goblets, and made libation, and wished the bridegroom all good luck.
- Sappho of Lesbos (Fragment 51)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Duty, Like All Virtue, Must Always Be its' Own Reward

Ὄττινας γὰρ
εὖ θέω, κῆνοί με μάλιστα σίννον-
ται ....

For they whom I benefit injure me most.
- Sappho of Lesbos (Fragment 12)
We may fairly wonder how, after all previous explanations of the principles of duty, so far as it is derived from pure reason, it was still possible to reduce it again to a doctrine of happiness; in such a way, however, that a certain moral happiness not resting on empirical causes was ultimately arrived at, a self-contradictory nonentity. In fact, when the thinking man has conquered the temptations to vice, and is conscious of having done his (often hard) duty, he finds himself in a state of peace and satisfaction which may well be called happiness, in which virtue is her own reward. Now, says the eudaemonist, this delight, this happiness, is the real motive of his acting virtuously. The notion of duty, says be, does not immediately determine his will; it is only by means of the happiness in prospect that he is moved to his duty. Now, on the other hand, since he can promise himself this reward of virtue only from the consciousness of having done his duty, it is clear that the latter must have preceded: that is, be must feel himself bound to do his duty before he thinks, and without thinking, that happiness will be the consequence of obedience to duty. He is thus involved in a circle in his assignment of cause and effect. He can only hope to be happy if he is conscious of his obedience to duty: and he can only be moved to obedience to duty if be foresees that he will thereby become happy. But in this reasoning there is also a contradiction. For, on the one side, he must obey his duty, without asking what effect this will have on his happiness, consequently, from a moral principle; on the other side, he can only recognize something as his duty when he can reckon on happiness which will accrue to him thereby, and consequently on a pathological principle, which is the direct opposite of the former. I have in another place (the Berlin Monatsschrift), reduced, as I believe, to the simplest expressions the distinction between pathological and moral pleasure. The pleasure, namely, which must precede the obedience to the law in order that one may act according to the law is pathological, and the process follows the physical order of nature; that which must be preceded by the law in order that it may be felt is in the moral order. If this distinction is not observed; if eudaemonism (the principle of happiness) is adopted as the principle instead of eleutheronomy (the principle of freedom of the inner legislation), the consequence is the euthanasia (quiet death) of all morality. The cause of these mistakes is no other than the following: Those who are accustomed only to physiological explanations will not admit into their heads the categorical imperative from which these laws dictatorially proceed, notwithstanding that they feel themselves irresistibly forced by it. Dissatisfied at not being able to explain what lies wholly beyond that sphere, namely, freedom of the elective will, elevating as is this privilege, that man has of being capable of such an idea. They are stirred up by the proud claims of speculative reason, which feels its power so strongly in the fields, just as if they were allies leagued in defence of the omnipotence of theoretical reason and roused by a general call to arms to resist that idea; and thus they are at present, and perhaps for a long time to come, though ultimately in vain, to attack the moral concept of freedom and if possible render it doubtful.
- Immanuel Kant, "The Metaphysics of Ethics"

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Leda's Hyacinth

They say that Leda once found

an egg—

like a hyacinth.
-Sappho of Lesbos
SOME say that when Zeus fell in love with Nemesis, she fled from him into the water and became a fish; he pursued her as a beaver, ploughing up the waves. She leaped ashore, and transformed herself into this wild beast or that, but could not shake Zeus off, because he borrowed the form of even fiercer and swifter beasts. At last she took to the air as a wild goose; he became a swan, and trod her triumphantly at Rhamnus in Attica. Nemesis shook her feathers resignedly, and carried to Sparta, where Leda, wife of King Tyndareus, presently found hyacinth - coloured egg lying in a marsh, which she brought home and hid in a chest: from it Helen of Troy was hatched. But some say that this egg dropped from the moon, like the egg that, in ancient times plunged into the river Euphrates and, being towed ashore by fish and hatched by doves, broke open to reveal the Syrian Goddess of Love. Others say that Zeus, pretending to be a swan pursued by an eagle took refuge in Nemesis’s bosom, where he ravished her and that, in due process of time, she laid an egg,which Hermes threw between Leda’s thighs, as she sat on a stool with her legs apart. Thus Leda gave birth to Helen, and Zeus placed the images of Swan and Eagle in the Heavens to commemorate this ruse. The most usual account, however, is that it was Leda herself with whom Zeus companied in the form of a swan beside the river Eurot: that she laid an egg from which were hatched Helen, Castor, and Polydeuces; and that she was consequently deified as the goddess Nemesis. Now, Leda’s husband Tyndareus had also lain with her the same night and, though some hold that all these three were Zeus’s children—and Clytaemnestra too, who had been hatched, with Helen, from a second egg—others record that Helen alone was a daughter of Zeus, and that Castor and Polydeuces were Tyndareus’s sons; some others again, that Castor and Clytaemnestra were children of Tyndareus, while Helen and Polydeuces were children of Zeus. Nemesis was the Moon-goddess as Nymph and, in the earliest form of the love-chase myth, she pursued the sacred king through his seasonal changes of hare, fish, bee, and mouse—or hare, fish, bird, and grain of wheat—and finally devoured him. With the victory of the patriarchal system, the chase was reversed: the goddess now fled from Zeus, as in the English ballad of the Coal-black Smith. She had changed into an otter or beaver to pursue the fish, and Castor’s name (‘beaver’) is clearly a survival of this myth, whereas that of Polydeuces (‘much sweet wine’) records the character of the festivities during which the chase took place.
Lada is said to be the Lycian (i.e. Cretan) word for ‘woman’, and Leda was the goddess Latona, or Leto, or Lat, who bore Apollo and Artemis at Delos. The hyacinth-coloured egg recalls the blood-red Easter egg of the Druids, called the glain, for which they searched every year by the seashore; in Celtic myth it was laid by the goddess as sea-serpent. The story of its being thrown between Leda’s thighs may have been deduced from a picture of the goddess seated on the birth-stool, with Apollo’s head protruding from her womb. Helen and Helle, or Selene, are local variants of the Moon-goddess, whose identity with Lucian’s Syrian goddess is emphasized by Hyginus. But Hyginus’s account is confused: it was the goddess herself who laid the world-egg after coupling with the serpent Ophion, and who hatched it on the waters, adopting the form of a dove. She herself rose from the Void. Helen had two temples near Sparta: one at Therapnae, built on a Mycenaean site; another at Dendra, connected with a tree cult, as her Rhodian shrine also was. Pollux mentions a Spartan festival called the Helenephoria, closely resembling Athene’s Thesmophoria at Athens, during which certain unmentionable objects were carried in a special basket called a helene; such a basket Helen herself carries in reliefs showing her accompanied by the Dioscuri. The objects may have been phallic emblems; she was an orgiastic goddess. Zeus tricked Nemesis, the goddess of the Peloponnesian swan cult, by appealing to her pity, exactly as he had tricked Hera of the Cretan cuckoo cult. This myth refers, it seems, to the arrival at Cretan or Pelasgian cities of Hellenic warriors who, to begin with, paid homage to the Great Goddess and provided her priestesses with obedient consorts, but eventually wrested the supreme sovereignty from her.
Hyacinth Hair - Music by Mozart (aged 11)

Echoed the Warbling Bird

And now I will tell a fable for princes who themselves understand. Thus said the hawk to the nightingale with speckled neck, while he carried her high up among the clouds, gripped fast in his talons, and she, pierced by his crooked talons, cried pitifully. To her he spoke disdainfully: `Miserable thing, why do you cry out? One far stronger than you now holds you fast, and you must go wherever I take you, songstress as you are. And if I please I will make my meal of you, or let you go. He is a fool who tries to withstand the stronger, for he does not get the mastery and suffers pain besides his shame.' So said the swiftly flying hawk, the long- winged bird.

But you, Perses, listen to right and do not foster violence; for violence is bad for a poor man. Even the prosperous cannot easily bear its burden, but is weighed down under it when he has fallen into delusion. The better path is to go by on the other side towards justice; for Justice beats Outrage when she comes at length to the end of the race. But only when he has suffered does the fool learn this. For Oath keeps pace with wrong judgements. There is a noise when Justice is being dragged in the way where those who devour bribes and give sentence with crooked judgements, take her. And she, wrapped in mist, follows to the city and haunts of the people, weeping, and bringing mischief to men, even to such as have driven her forth in that they did not deal straightly with her.

But they who give straight judgements to strangers and to the men of the land, and go not aside from what is just, their city flourishes, and the people prosper in it: Peace, the nurse of children, is abroad in their land, and all-seeing Zeus never decrees cruel war against them. Neither famine nor disaster ever haunt men who do true justice; but light-heartedly they tend the fields which are all their care. The earth bears them victual in plenty, and on the mountains the oak bears acorns upon the top and bees in the midst. Their woolly sheep are laden with fleeces; their women bear children like their parents. They flourish continually with good things, and do not travel on ships, for the grain-giving earth bears them fruit.

But for those who practise violence and cruel deeds far-seeing Zeus, the son of Cronos, ordains a punishment. Often even a whole city suffers for a bad man who sins and devises presumptuous deeds, and the son of Cronos lays great trouble upon the people, famine and plague together, so that the men perish away, and their women do not bear children, and their houses become few, through the contriving of Olympian Zeus. And again, at another time, the son of Cronos either destroys their wide army, or their walls, or else makes an end of their ships on the sea.

You princes, mark well this punishment you also; for the deathless gods are near among men and mark all those who oppress their fellows with crooked judgements, and reck not the anger of the gods. For upon the bounteous earth Zeus has thrice ten thousand spirits, watchers of mortal men, and these keep watch on judgements and deeds of wrong as they roam, clothed in mist, all over the earth. And there is virgin Justice, the daughter of Zeus, who is honoured and reverenced among the gods who dwell on Olympus, and whenever anyone hurts her with lying slander, she sits beside her father, Zeus the son of Cronos, and tells him of men's wicked heart, until the people pay for the mad folly of their princes who, evilly minded, pervert judgement and give sentence crookedly. Keep watch against this, you princes, and make straight your judgements, you who devour bribes; put crooked judgements altogether from your thoughts.

He does mischief to himself who does mischief to another, and evil planned harms the plotter most.
- Hesiod, "Works and Days"

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Man and Technics

Oswald Spengler, "Man and Technics" (Chapter XII Intro)
IN reality, however, it is out of the power either of heads or of hands to alter in any way the destiny of machine-technics, for this has developed out of inward spiritual necessities and is now correspondingly maturing towards its fulfilment and end. Today we stand on the summit, at the point when the fifth act is beginning. The last decisions are taking place, the tragedy is closing. Every high Culture is a tragedy. The history of mankind as a whole is tragic. But the sacrilege and the catastrophe of the Faustian are greater than all others, greater than anything Aeschylus or Shakespeare ever imagined. The creature is rising up against its creator. As once the microcosm Man against Nature, so now the microcosm Machine is revolting against Nordic Man. The lord of the World is becoming the slave of the Machine, which is forcing him, forcing us all, whether we are aware of it or not to follow its course. The victor, crashed, is dragged to death by the team. At the commencement of the twentieth century the aspect of the "world" on this small planet is somewhat of this sort. A group of nations of Nordic blood under the leadership of British, Germans, French, and Americans commands the situation. Their political power depends on their wealth, and their wealth consists in their industrial strength. But this in turn is bound up with the existence of coal. The Germanic peoples, in particular, are secured by what is almost a monopoly of the known coal-fields, and this has led them to a multiplication of their populations that is without parallel in all history. On the ridges of the coal, and at the focal points of the lines of communication radiating therefrom, is collected a human mass of monstrous size, bred by machine-technics, working for it, and living on it. To the other peoples whether in the form of colonies or of nominally independent states is assigned the role of providing the raw material and receiving the products. This division of function is secured by armies and navies, the upkeep of which presupposes industrial wealth, and which have been fashioned by so thorough a technique that they, too, work by the pressing of a button. Once again the deep relationship, almost identity, of politics, war, and economics discloses itself. The degree of military power is dependent on the intensity of industry. Countries industrially poor are poor all round; they, therefore, cannot support an army or wage a war; therefore they are politically impotent; and, therefore, the workers in them, leaders and led alike, are pawns in the economic policy of their opponents. In comparison with the masses of executive hands who are the only part of the picture that discontent will look upon the increasing value of the leadership-work of the few creative heads (undertakers, organizers, discoverers, engineers) is no longer comprehended and valued; in so far as it is so at all, practical America rates it highest, and Germany, "the land of poets and thinkers," lowest. The imbecile phrase "The wheels would all be standing still, Did thy mighty arm so will" beclouds the minds of chatterers and scribblers. That even a sheep could bring about, if it were to fall into the machinery. But to invent these wheels and set them working so as to provide that "strong arm" with its living, that is something which only a few born thereto can achieve. These uncomprehended and hated leaders, the "pack" of the strong personalities, have a different psychology from this. They have not lost the old triumph feeling of the beast of prey as it holds the quivering victim in its claws, the feeling of Columbus when he saw land on the horizon, the feeling of Moltke at Sedan as he watched the circle of his batteries completing itself down by Illy and sealing the victory. Such moments, such peaks of human experience, the shipbuilder, too, enjoys when a huge liner slides down the ways, and the inventor when his machine is run up and found to "go splendidly," or when his first Zeppelin leaves the ground. But it is of the tragedy of the time that this unfettered human thought can no longer grasp its own consequences. Technics has become as esoteric as the higher mathematics which it uses, while physical theory has refined its intellectual abstractions from phenomena to such a pitch that (without clearly perceiving the fact) it has reached the pure foundations of human knowing. The mechanization of the world has entered on a phase of highly dangerous over-tension. The picture of the earth, with its plants, animals, and men, has altered. In a few decades most of the great forests have gone, to be turned into news-print, and climatic changes have been thereby set afoot which imperil the land-economy of whole populations. Innumerable animal species have been extinguished, or nearly so, like the bison; whole races of humanity have been brought almost to vanishing-point, like the North American Indian and the Australian. All things organic are dying in the grip of organization. An artificial world is permeating and poisoning the natural. The Civilization itself has become a machine...

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Word of Caution for the New Secular "Democratic Fundamentalists"

Paine's political influence was greatest in England. In intellectual terms, his Rights of Man was his greatest political work and was certainly the best-selling radical political tract in late 18th century England. Before Paine, British radicals sought a reform of Parliament which would grant to all men the vote for members of the House of Commons. In his Rights of Man, Paine abandoned this approach and, rejecting the lessons of history, maintained that each age had the right to establish a political system which satisfied its needs. He rested his case on the moral basis of the natural equality of men in the sight of God. Since government is a necessary evil that men accepted as a means of protecting their natural rights (cf. John Locke), the only legitimate government was that established by a contract between all members of society and one in which all men preserved all their natural rights, except the individual right to use force. Paine argued rationally that all men had an equal claim to political rights and that government must rest on the ultimate sovereignty of the people.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Optimism Inherent in Apocalyptic Thinking

Slavoj Zisek, author of "Living in the End Times"

Melancholia, the sickness that anticipates loss and therefore precedes mourning.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Baudelaire, "Fleurs du Mal"

love Ocean always, Man: ye both are free!
the Sea, thy mirror: thou canst find thy soul
in the unfurling billows' surging roll,
they mind's abyss is bitter as the sea.

thou doest rejoice thy mirrored face to pierce,
plunging, and clasp with eyes and arms; thy heart
at its own mutter oft forgets to start,
lulled by that plaint indomitably fierce.

discreet ye both are; both are taciturn:
Man, none has measured all thy dark abyss,
none, Sea, knows where thy hoarded treasure is,
so jealously your secrets ye inurn!

and yet for countless ages, trucelessly,
— o ruthless warriors! — ye have fought and striven:
brothers by lust for death and carnage driven,
twin wrestlers, gripped for all eternity!

trans.— Lewis Piaget Shanks, Flowers of Evil (New York: Ives Washburn, 1931)